Healthy Dinner Idea #6 Aubergine Pizza

Aubergine pizza bases...yum!
Aubergine pizza bases…yum!

There has been a big gap in posts since I first started my blog, however I just had to share these. Before we begin, I need to share my obsession with aubergine. I love aubergine grilled with a little seasoning and olive oil and am managing to find a way to eat it with every dinner. I almost have a breakdown when it isn’t in my local supermarket – and that is quite frequently! Also, on a Tuesday, I have to fend for myself food wise and need something quick, easy and satisfying to eat after an exercise class.

I am also currently on a low(er) carb push at the minute and am aiming for 150g a day. My Fitness Pal is really helpful for this and I have found that I’m making much more healthy food choices. I can’t completely cut a food group out though and even though I’m not shovelling down white pasta at the minute – though if I wanted to, I wouldn’t deny myself – I’m certainly making a few food swaps. I’m no longer having couscous or bulgar wheat at lunch time and am upping the amount of protein I eat as a result. We’ll see how it goes. I certainly feel healthy at the moment and am the only member of the department left who hasn’t had some kind of sickness.

I digress. So, tonight’s dinner had to be an easy one. I simply cut an aubergine into four lengthways and topped with sundried tomato paste and other goodies before baking in the oven on a medium-high temperature for 25 minutes. The aubergine held its shape well and made a perfectly good pizza base. I decided tonight to go with mozzarella, red onion, garlic and chilli flakes.

Aubergine is full of fibre and a good source of B vitamins, which are perfect for me at the moment to help fight the barrage of illnesses at work. The manganese will also be perfect in my quest to have nice hair and skin when I’m a bride in about 11 weeks time. I added to this veggie base with a nice hit of protein from the mozzarella and some red onion for a bit of crunch. I finished with garlic and dried crushed chilli flakes. A feta and olive rocket salad made the perfect accompaniment.

Yum.

You will need – for two people:

1 aubergine, sliced in 4 lengthways

4 tsp of sundried tomato paste

1 garlic clove

1/4 red onion

1 ball mozzarella (about 125g)

sprinkle of chilli flakes

Assemble the aubergine pizzas and place in a pre-heated, medium hot oven for 25 minutes until the aubergine is soft and the cheese is melted and delicious.

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Healthy Dinner Idea #5 Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Warming, spicy soup...delicious
Warming, spicy soup…delicious

I needed soup. Usually, I want soup but today it was definitely a need. Yesterday was food heaven but food heaven in the naughtiest way possible. Let me begin. Breakfast was granola topped with a banana…so far so good, right? Then lunch was at a top restaurant in Lincoln. Yes, a full three courses with butter laden sauces and a dessert. What a dessert though! A moussey-cake chocolate thing with almond cream. Heaven! This is exactly the reason that I don’t diet as such: I couldn’t live without food like this as a treat.

Stuffed to the brim by 1:30pm, dinner seemed like a mere dot on the horizon. It soon rolled around though and just as soon as I had got over the decadent lunch, I was eating pasta. The pasta was delicious though, with roast chicken and a lettuce, pea and mushroom sauce, finished with a drizzle of truffle oil and sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. I also believe that the mushrooms were fried-off in some porcini and truffle butter that we had picked up at the market in Lincoln.

The problem that I find though, is after a couple of indulgent days, it is very hard to reset your buttons and get back into the healthy regime. It makes me more ravenous, more desperate for fat and sugar and more willing to shun salads and healthy things. This is where soup comes in. Soup seems to cure this for me. A bowl of warm, vegetable-filled goodness makes me forget the mousey-cake chocolate thingys of the world and shun the mushrooms fried in porcini truffle butter.

At the back end of this week, I made roasted butternut squash chunks for salads at work and found after one helping that I was a little bit fed up of them. The remaining chunks had lingered in the fridge on Friday and Saturday and came dangerously close to being bin-food when I got my soup craving. I have included the recipe below and it made two portions…one is going in the freezer for the next time I have an over-indulgence emergency.

Enjoy!

1 medium onion, finely sliced

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/2 roast butternut squash

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into chunks

500 ml chicken stock

a good grind of pepper

In a saucepan, heat some olive oil and gently fry the onions until they start getting soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli. Stir around for about 5 minutes. Add the butternut squash chunks, sweet potato chunks and stock. Simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the sweet potato is cooked. Grind over plenty of pepper and blend until smooth.

Healthy Dinner #4 Sushi

Raw tuna...
Raw tuna…

On Friday night, I broke through the 3 mile barrier for a run…ok, I’ll stop exaggerating, it was more like a leisurely jog but hey I made it round the circuit. I was hot, sweaty and pink when I collapsed through the door and remembered reading about having lots of protein after exercise to help rebuild your muscles. The usual Friday night takeaway wasn’t going to cut it, so I made a Korean style beef salad with rice and an egg. Steak and egg. Continue reading

Healthy Dinner Idea #3 Salady Bits

A smorgasbord of delicious and healthy(isn) treats...
A smorgasbord of delicious and healthy(isn) treats…

I feel like a fraud writing the words ‘healthy dinner’ today, so I’m just going to be honest. I have eaten a lot of Easter egg in the past few days. Perhaps not as much as I used to (as a kid, I remember getting something like 11 chocolate eggs and eating most of them before going back to school), however, perhaps a little more than I should. Chocolate just tastes so good with a cup of tea. I’m also desperately trying to claw my way through series 1-4 of Game of Thrones before going back to work next week and it is so easy to just keep dipping your hand into those foil-wrapped fragments of chocolate whilst absorbed in the happenings in Westeros. Watching all 40 or so hours might be a slightly tall order, if I’m to enjoy any of this spring sunshine. And have a life. To assuage some of the guilt, I’m going to an exercise class in an hour so when I’m practically on my hands and knees crawling back down my street, I can tell myself that I earned my Easter eggs. Oh, and I did a 2.4 mile jog on Tuesday and a 4.6 mile walk. So there.

One of my favourite summer dinners, is when we have what are affectionately known in our house as “picky bits”, this is usually assisted by having a wonderful delicatessan and bakery in the village, which sells olives, Parma ham, cheeses and this oil-soaked deliciousness called olive bread. You basically just assemble lots of different flavours and textures on your plate and dig in. Not everything on my plate was totally healthy – I could have just eaten a bag of rocket and called it a day. But this blog is all about the more healthy, not the I’m never going to enjoy my food again. 

My plate started with two slices of Parma ham – from the bakery and therefore cheaper and better quality than supermarket-bought and some grilled halloumi cheese with a chilli and garlic dressing. I just love halloumi cheese with its squeaky texture. Then, I made a sweetcorn salsa with sweetcorn, tomatoes, spring onions, chilli, coriander, lime juice and olive oil and placed this next to a simple rocket and sun-dried tomato salad. I plonked a few sweet potato wedges that were roasted in olive oil with a dusting of cinnamon in a bowl in the middle and the final touch was some homemade coleslaw.

Whilst not everything on the plate fulfilled the tick sheet for a completely healthy dinner, I had only had a bowl of broccoli and spinach soup for lunch so felt this was a good way to balance my day without being too ‘naughty’.

Still to come are sweet potato brownies and I’m going to have a crack at some butternut squash gnocchi…as in, make the gnocchi from the squash instead of potato. Fingers crossed!

 

Healthy Snack Idea #3 Banana Loaf

Banana Loaf and Almond Buter

I watched a programme recently about what type of eater you are. You know, if you’re stressed, you dip your hand absent-mindlessly into the biscuit tin; if you’re angry, you chomp through an entire cake in one sitting; if you’re tired, you crave sweets and sugary snacks etc. I decided that I was all of them. But perhaps the worst culprit was the boredom eater. The clock ticks by and you think “Oh, I know…I’ll have a tea and a slice of cake and that’ll pass half an hour.” Or, if you’re sitting around at home, your mind starts to wander to the fridge and that chocolate bar you’ve been saving for a “special occasion”. Or the crisps that are left over from the last “special occasion” (otherwise known as it’s Friday night goddamit and I need something savoury to go with my wine!). Without even being remotely hungry, you can polish off huge amounts of empty calories if you aren’t careful.

Well, forearmed with the knowledge that I tend to eat more whilst on holiday – well, lounging around and reading/watching Game of Thrones is quite tiring and requires lots of snacks – I armed myself with some healthy snack recipes and have decided to share the banana bread one here with you. It has ground almonds, which help keep it soft and moist – no doubt also helped by the four mashed, ripe bananas. It isn’t cakey at all. There’s no white flour, or butter, or sugar to help give it that light airy lift that we expect from a cake, so the result is rather dense. I like to think of this as a ‘nutrient dense’ snack. But it is delicious, especially when topped with crunchy almond butter.

You’d also be amazed at just how little maple syrup is needed to add the sweetness, but again, the bananas certainly earn their money in this little loaf. The cinnamon also gives a slightly, spicy sweetness to the mix and is an excellent spice for digestion and anti-bacterial to boot.

I hope you enjoy it if you make it. I have a healthy dinner planned for tonight, so will hopefully have a chance to share that…oh and my next kitchen adventure is Sweet Potato Brownies. Fingers crossed!

Here’s my recipe:

4 ripe bananas, mashed

1 cup ground almonds

1.5 cup wholemeal flour

3 tbsp chia seeds (I used milled chia seeds here because I bought them and they don’t taste nice on porridge)

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 tsp baking powder

Mash the bananas in a bowl, add the egg and beat gently. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Tip the bananas in to the flour mix and add the maple syrup. Mix until combined and pour – ok, spoon, into a greased loaf tin. I used olive oil to grease mine. Bake in the oven 200C/Gas mark 6 for 35-40 minutes. Until the top is nice and golden and a cocktail stick comes out clean.

When eating, spread with almond butter and enjoy!

Healthy Lunch Idea #3 Butternut Squash and Feta Salad

Pumpkin seeds add delicious crunch...
Pumpkin seeds add delicious crunch…

I have to admit, I’ve been making a bit of an effort this week where lunch is concerned. Ok. Not a bit: a lot. It has been time-consuming and has created extra washing up both in terms of the utensils and pots to prepare the food and the plastic tubs that need washing at the end of every day. Has it been worth it? Yes. I certainly feel like I can wear my food halo with pride and relish my inner smugness at avoiding the carb overload that is the canteen.

I have found that preparing enough food for a few days is the way forward with this one. Nobody wants to be faced with extra washing up every night. Having a salad ready-to-go in the fridge the night before means that mornings are freed up and there is no excuse to buy unhealthy convenience foods en route to work. Or try to survive a day on flapjacks, cookies, cakes, crisps etc. I have also discovered that the must-buy to healthy eating at work is a lunchbox. Allow me to indulge in a little nostalgia here. I had a Ninja Turtles lunchbox when I was at primary school and it was cool – I even liked it when the picture on the front went a little crinkly and started to peel off with too much vigorous washing. Anyway. You also need some of those mini gel packs that you can pop in the freezer to keep your food cool and I recommend a tiny plastic pot or jar to keep your dressing separate until you eat. Nobody in their right mind likes soggy salad leaves.

Whilst admittedly still in its infancy, my new-found love of portable healthy lunches has kicked off to a good start and I have decided to share one of my ideas here for all of those people looking for ways to boost their daily vitamin and mineral intake, as well as trying to attain the holy grail of healthy eating: the five-a-day. It is essentially a collection of salady things: rocket, roasted vegetables, feta, tomatoes and cucumber with a sprinkling of olives, tossed over a bed of bulgur wheat and drizzled with a homemade tangy dressing. I’m fairly new to bulgur wheat and was intrigued by its promise of being high in fibre and protein, as well as packing a punch nutritionally with iron and B vitamins, along with vitamin E. It also tastes great along with the other items in this dish.

To prepare this salad, roast chunks of butternut squash in the oven for about 45 minutes, until golden and cooked through. You can add any flavourings here, like chilli flakes, thyme, salt and pepper etc. Simmer some bulgar wheat until cooked according to the instructions on the packet. Then layer up your salad with some iron-boosting rocket, some lycopene-loving tomatoes and cool slices of cucumber with a sprinkling of olives. Last but not least, a healthy crumble of feta cheese over the top – but not too much! Prepare a lemony dressing in a small pot of jar with olive oil, lemon juice and a blob of honey, which can be shaken and poured over the salad before eating.

When eating: sit back, relax and be safe in the knowledge that you are doing your body a favour and providing it with the fuel it needs to get through a busy afternoon. It also becomes easier to resist the biscuit tin in the afternoon if you are making an effort with lunch!

Healthy Lunch Idea #2 Avocado and Eggs

Add crispy, oven-baked Parma ham for a crispy, crunchy side...
Add crispy, oven-baked Parma ham for a crispy, crunchy side…

I’ve read a lot about the many health benefits of eggs and avocado and had, to my surprise, seen them combined together in recipes and dishes. Eh? Surely the texture of both together would be slimy, wet and somewhat lacking in a crisp crunch from somewhere? I decided to combine the healthy, nutritious elements from both in my more healthy way and added wholegrain toast and oven-baked Parma ham for that much needed crispy element.

Avocados have long been lauded as the holy grail of nutritious choices – good fats to help rid your body of cholesterol, potassium and a range of B vitamins, as well as contributing well to your daily dose of fibre with a protein kick to boot. I have to say it was a long time before I was a fan. I couldn’t stand the slimy, creamy texture and despite several attempts, I eventually relegated them to the bottom of my loves list. The thing that turned it around? Guacamole. Guacamole smothered on salty tortilla chips, guacamole stuffed into chicken fajitas and guacamole on its own with a teaspoon. Then I branched out. I found a recipe for pan-fried, parmesan-crusted chicken breast, which came with a salad of avocado, cherry tomatoes and red onions with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. I don’t even particularly enjoy raw red onion but thinly sliced in this salad…yum. It transformed me from someone who desperately wanted to love avocados and the multiple health benefits from eating one – who doesn’t want beautiful, glowing skin? – to someone who could actually enjoy them.

Back to today’s recipe: the combination of crisp grilled toast, soft ripe avocado and boiled eggs with a just soft centre was deliciously offset with a salty kick from the Parma ham. It would be a perfect breakfast for the weekend and I would have liked to have added some oven roasted, or grilled, vine tomatoes but a trip to the dentist had resulted in needing a quick-fix lunch.

Give it a try, here’s the recipe:

2 slices wholemeal bread

1 ripe avocado

1 egg

2 slices Parma ham

chilli flakes and pepper to season

Preheat your oven to a high heat.Place a pan of water on the stove to boil and when at a gentle, rolling boil drop in your egg and boil for 6 minutes (if you want a just soft centre, less time if you want a runny yolk). Whilst this is boiling, pop your Parma ham in the oven on a baking tray (it only takes about 5minutes to crisp up), get the toast on and slice your avocado. When the egg is ready, peel the shell. To assemble, place your avocado slices on the toast (ok, ok, I used a thin spread of butter too but with hindsight could probably omit this!) and chop the egg into four and place on top. Put your crisped up Parma on the side and sprinkle with chilli flakes and pepper. No salt required on account of the ham. Enjoy!

Let me know if you make this recipe and whether you make any changes.

Healthy Breakfast #2 Greek Yoghurt and Strawberries

Even though I haven’t posted for a while, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t still been trying to eat well and exercising (well, no running in this heat!). Just the other week, we decided to enjoy our weekly Friday evening takeaway – yes I still have those – and decided on Indian. I came home from work, went out for a run and then came home to order the food. However, instead of ordering rice, I made cauliflower rice to enjoy with my curry. I just chopped it very fine with my Pampered Chef food chopper, but a food processor or some fine knife skills should do the job, and blanched it in some boiling water with half a lemon in it. It isn’t completely carb free but felt much healthier than the usual rice accompaniment and another veg on the plate for good measure.

I’ve also found a love for greek yogurt – full-fat, no added sugar and full of protein. It actually tells me this when I load it into Myfitnesspal and I feel quite smug that I’m working towards including more protein in my diet. I also feel smug when it tells me “This food is high in Vitamin A” or “You’ve reached your fibre goal for today”. It’s like a PT in your pocket. Anyway, I first started with the Muller Fruit Corner version of greek yoghurt with a fruit side or honey side and not surprisingly they are full of sugar. I’ve gradually managed to wean myself off them and now enjoy plain greek yoghurt but with some dried seeds and fruit mixed in or with strawberries dipped in.

I love strawberries and believe they are a good source of vitamins C and K. They also contain lots of fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium. Which is good, because I believe that coconut water is a great source of potassium and I can’t stand the stuff (even if it’s flavoured!). They can even contribute to your pearly whites!  We have grown these mighty berries in our garden every year and I love doing a little bit of PYO in the morning for breakfast. We are also lucky to have a wild strawberry plant and these are like mini-strawberries with a highly condensed sweet flavour.

This morning, after another sweltering night, I stumbled into the garden armed with a sieve and picked a few berries for breakfast. They were a scrumptious accompaniment to greek yoghurt, coconut flakes, muesli, chia seeds and mixed seeds.

I feel quite virtuous now, until I break in the heat later and have an ice-cream. But maybe I’ll stick to my healthy ways and blend some frozen bananas instead.

Enjoy!

Delicious homegrown strawberries with greek yoghurt...
Delicious homegrown strawberries with greek yoghurt…

 

Healthy Lunch Idea #4 Broccoli and Spinach Soup

Packed full of green goodness
Packed full of green goodness

Just a few short weeks ago, it felt like spring had heralded its arrival. There were lighter mornings, warmer temperatures and less rain than usual. Then came the cold snap. For some reason, we seem to have gone back to having to scrape sheets of ice from the car windscreen again and getting the gloves out of a morning. With this inclement weather though, came the opportunity to revert back to soup. I dusted off the old trusty microwave soup pot and whipped up something nutritious and delicious.

Making enough soup to last for a few lunches is always a good idea. The only problem that I have is making the trek down to the microwave. Ok – it really isn’t that far but, on a busy day, it is far enough to resort to a few biscuits or sweets or cereal bars or something instead of sticking to my healthy eating. This time though, I really made the effort and I’m pleased I did. This soup does have some spring like qualities – the vibrant green certainly acts as a glorious pick me up and it isn’t a heavy pearl barley broth by any stretch of the imagination. Yet it still provides some key warmth on a chilly afternoon.

I think the real key here is the butter beans. They are a great source of protein and so really help to fill you up and they also give the soup a lovely creaminess. Without cream. When you incorporate the fresh zing from some lemon and coriander, it gives the soup a cleansing, vibrant kick: you can almost trick yourself that you’re eating a real summery dish. The broccoli, spinach and coriander also create this wonderful vibrant colour and I was pleased to read the other day that spinach packs a harder nutritional punch when it cooked, compared to when it is raw. Who’d have thought it?

Here’s the recipe:

700ml chicken stock (or vegetable stock, or water)

1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets

1 bag of spinach (200g)

1 handful coriander

1 white onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 lemon, halved

1 tsp cumin

Fry off the onion and garlic in a large pan until soft and translucent but not coloured – I use olive oil. Add the cumin and stir well. Once incorporated into the onion and garlic mix, add the stock and broccoli. Place the lemon halves in the pan and cover, simmering for approximately 8 minutes. Add the coriander and spinach and leave to steam down with the lid on until wilted. Once it is cooked, removed the lemon halves and blend with a stick blender.

I enjoyed this soup for dinner with some feta cheese and fresh pea shoots; sticking to just plain old soup (but not quite!) for lunch. It freezes well.