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 #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.

Healthy Breakfast Idea #1 Chia and Raspberry Porridge

Pumpkin seeds give a wonderful crunch to this cold porridge...
Pumpkin seeds give a wonderful crunch to this cold porridge…

So in lieu of what promised to be a heavy(ier) weekend, on both the eating and the drinking front, I decided to make Saturday morning as healthy a start as possible. This was all in the knowledge of two meals out and several gin and tonics (and/or wines) to contend with. Awake at dawn, for some inexplicable reason, I decided to get a healthy breakfast prepared for when I came back from my morning run. Again, this was another sly manoeuvre –  all in the name of damage-limitation.

Contrary to how it might sound above, I really don’t mind sacrificing a day or two from my health(ier) regime for family occasions or drinks in a pub. It’s just that in the past, that could have been an excuse to forgo all healthy eating in the run up to the event just because I knew I would be dining out and what’s the point of eating a bowl of fruit for breakfast when you’re having a pub lunch, just start with a fry-up now or it would have been the start of a very slippery slope. One that winds up with me drinking alcohol most evenings and demolishing family packs of greasy crisps…then eating biscuits and cakes in the week just because I let my (rather short) hair down for the weekend.

Well, this weekend, I have had my weekend. I had a Friday-night takeaway and wine; I had gnocchi; I had birthday cake (at least twice!); I had a slab of chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and hazelnut ice-cream; I had chips; I had a fry up with two sausages and white bread, with a croissant and jam chaser; I had crisps; and I washed the whole lot down with at least one bottle of white wine and several gin and tonics. Do I feel guilty? No, not really. This is because I knew I laid good foundations with my salads at work this week and with my physical activity. I also felt the metaphorical return of light and brightness to my health-food halo when I went food shopping and stocked up on broccoli, avocado, butternut squash, spinach and salads; it was a good feeling because I knew I was back in control. I’m making a cleansing green soup for dinner tonight, packed full of veggies to help re-nutrify my body and get it ready for the week ahead.

One of the reasons that I feel able to regain control is the fact that I made a healthy start to my weekend. I had a cold Chia Seed and Raspberry Porridge. And it was delicious. It sat marinating in my fridge, whilst I went for my run and was perfect with a cup of tea – it was cold on Saturday morning – when I got back. I am a big fan of the tapioca texture derived from simmering chia seeds in with my porridge but knew time would be precious when I got back so I bit the bullet and tried them soaked, but without cooking. I’m glad I did, because I suspect this mixture works well over night and will be welcome in summer when I have relinquished my grasp on steaming bowls of oats.

To prepare: put about two handfuls of raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork. Drizzle in a little honey at this stage to balance the tangy bite from the fruit. Add two tablespoons of porridge oats, a tablespoon of chia seeds and just cover with milk. You could use almond, hazelnut or rice milk I guess, but I went for good old semi-skimmed. Leave this in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and then add some more oats, a drizzle more honey and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds for some much-needed crunch. With the protein hit from the chia seeds and milk and vitamins from the fruit, I felt it was the perfect remedy to an early start with exercise. It would also be great with a blob of Greek yoghurt.

Enjoy!