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 #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 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-ish Dinner Idea #1 Aubergine Bake

Crispy topped aubergine bake with homemade tomato sauce...
Crispy topped aubergine bake with homemade tomato sauce…

I love carbs. There I’ve said it. In the world today many people seem to be obsessed with Atkins or Paleo diets, many a time have I seen on forums, websites etc. “Oh but I’m Paleo, how can you make the recipe Paleo…?”. You can be regarded as some kind of food-criminal if you suggest that you enjoy nothing more than a large bowl of steaming spaghetti carbonara. Made with white pasta, natch.

This recipe did not stem from a desire to have a carb-free tea or to avoid the sluggish, bloated feeling you get from eating pasta. Rather, I wanted to approach it with the meat-free attitude in exploration of alternatives to our staple dinner ingredient: chicken. I found the recipe online and tweaked and meddled with it to suit the cupboard, local supermarket and refined foodie palates(!) it was going to be serving.

It is at heart a vegetable bake, mere mention of this to my partner would normally lead to him sprinting to the butchers or supermarket or stuffing handfuls of ham in his mouth. Quite often, we’ve tried vegetarian meals only to find ourselves commenting, “that would have been nice with a bit of beef.” This one was different though.

You essentially make a spinach and ricotta filling, stuff it inside thin slices of pre-grilled aubergine, roll the whole thing up and shove it a bakeware dish with a smothering of tomato sauce before baking. For the people out there who need a more defined recipe, see below:

1 large aubergine

1 pot of ricotta cheese

1 large bag spinach

nutmeg

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 small white onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic (I’m a huge fan, 1 would probably suffice), finely chopped or crushed

1 tbsp tomato puree

2 tbsps balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp mixed herbs

1 handful breadcrumbs

3 tbsp Parmesan cheese (or veggie alternative)

Preheat your oven, it will need to be on a medium-high heat. Slice your aubergine reasonably thinly lengthways and drizzle with olive oil and seasoning before grilling. Turn over when lightly coloured on one side. Lightly steam the spinach and when cooked, squeeze as much of the excess water out of it as possible. Mix this with ricotta cheese and a sprinkling of nutmeg and seasoning. Drizzle some olive oil into a saucepan and sweat the onions and garlic until cooked but not brown and crunchy. When translucent and soft, tip in the chopped tomatoes and add the puree, vinegar and dried herbs. Let this simmer together for about 5 minutes – or longer if you want an extra-rich sauce. I find that balsamic vinegar is an excellent addition to tomato-based sauces and now never leave it out. Whilst your sauce is simmering, take a piece of aubergine and plop a generous spoonful of ricotta in the middle, roll it up and place seal side down in an ovenproof dish. Cover with your homemade tomato sauce and top with a handful of fresh breadcrumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until heated through, approximately 20 minutes.

Serve with a side salad and if you want to be extra-naughty some pasta or crusty bread. We both found the side salad to be sufficient as the bake is deceptively filling. Enjoy!

Healthy Lunch Idea #1

So, in my week off – I’m a teacher by day and want-to-be food blogger by night – I decided to whip up a warm salad to stave off the cravings for all things naughty. Sometimes it actually feels like the biscuits are calling me from the cupboard and I’ve often found that in my plight to be “healthy” I’ve eaten a small lunch, only to be undone by an afternoon cuppa and several digestives. Then once the taste of refined sugars and buttery fats has taken hold, I’ve found myself delving in to chocolates (still leftover from Christmas!) and anything else that’s calorific and lurking in the back of my cupboards. Rocky road, anyone? With guilt washing over me, I consider the soggy salad, or tasteless egg white omlette I had for lunch and just wish I’d had a bacon sandwich instead.

I digress.

I found this recipe online and tweaked it slightly to suit my needs and what was in my cupboard and supermarket at the time. With nourishing, vitamin-filled pearl barley and a healthy kick of smoked paprika (containing capsaicin which helps lower blood pressure) and all the benefits of onions, olives and hit of protein from the feta cheese, it felt quite naughty but on reflection is much better for you and helps to keep cravings at bay. If, like me, you don’t mind eating cold leftovers, I see no reason why you can’t increase the quantities and take some for lunch the next day. It would also taste good with grilled chicken and gently panfried chorizo, if you really wanted to up the naughtiness – perhaps on a workout day? You could also add some beans – I think butter beans would absorb the flavours of the paprika and also provide an extra protein hit.

Here’s my recipe – for one.

50g pearl barley

1/4 White onion sliced

1 large garlic clove (I’m a big fan) crushed

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp tomato puree

small handfull black olives chopped

small handful sunblush or sundries tomatoes chopped

feta cheese (as much – or as little – as you like)

parsely to serve

Place the pearl barley in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil for approximately 25 minutes. Gently pan fry the onions and garlic in olive oil and when softened, but not coloured, add the smoked paprika. At this point, I added a little water with the tomato puree to make a slightly wetter sauce. Keep adding water as needed, a few splashes at a time, while the flavours mingle together. When cooked through for a few minutes, add the olives and sunblush tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil. When the barley is cooked, tip into a bowl and smother with your sauce and crumble some chunks of feta over the top before finishing with some torn, or finely chopped, parsely.

There we have it. Not the least calorific lunch on the block but healthy and satisfying all the same. A bowl yesterday saw me through until dinner time in the evening and because I’d been “good” and avoided sweet, sugary snacks, I was more inclined to enjoy a healthy, nourishing dinner too.

Warm wintry salad with a hit of the Med...
Warm wintry salad with a hit of the Med…

Enjoy!