Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Back to school dinners

It's the time of new pencil sets, endless labelling and in my house a sense of dread about returning to the punishing routine of school and after school activities.  No more lazy brunches or car picnics.  No more fish and chips (gluten free of course) on the beach.

My kids go back tomorrow and in an ideal world I would have a freezer full of food by now but instead this week is going to involve a bit of winging it.  I will be relying on a few family favourites to get us through this week!  

It is also an expensive time of the year in our house as we have just come back from holiday and everyone has had new coats, shoes, bags etc so lots of these dishes can be made at reasonable cost.  Obviously if you can afford organic great, if not then home-made is still miles better than having to pull out a Tesco's pizza.

Here are some of my favourite week night dinners:

Old skool sausage pasta  This is one of my reader's favourites.  It can be made in bulk and frozen and although I advise buying high quality sausages which are more expensive, you can always bulk this out with extra vegetables such as chopped carrot and celery. 

Meatballs (with hidden liver)  The liver is optional so this can just be a simple but tasty meatball recipe. 

Beef casserole  It's only four months to Christmas my kids have told me so although its sunny outside I feel it's okay to put casseroles back on the menu.  They do require some cooking time but can be shoved in the oven or the slow cooker in the morning or made in advance, frozen and just warmed through.  If you are really rushed for time you could add potatoes or other root vegetables to the casserole to minimise cooking on the day.

Spaghetti bolognese (with added veg)  Everyone has a spag bol recipe I'm sure - this is a useful one because the extra vegetables makes one feel virtuous after a summer holiday of sorbets and pub dinners.  It also makes the meat go further.

Shepherds pie (but with a variation on the mash!)  This is made on the stove so can be ready in as little as half an hour and is a world away from the  grey mince nastiness that you get with ready made shepherd's pie which would take just as long in an oven!

Fabulous fish bites  These home-made fish-fingers use almond flour as we are gluten free but if you are ok with wheat you can exchange this for normal breadcrumbs.   

Lamb lollipops (kofta for kids)  I love these because they take no time to prep and can be served with anything - rice, salad, baked beans!  They are also great to make in bulk and then use in packed lunch boxes.  

Cheeky chicken wings  Wings are inexpensive but so tasty with all the goodness of the chicken skin as well!  These can be served as an evening meal with home-made chips, rice, or pasta and are delicious cold for lunch the next day

The 'no it's not soup kids' noodle bowl  This noodle bowl is great as you can use leftover meat from a roast and as there is very little cooking its a very quick meal.  You could also use similar seasoning for a stirfry if you don't have any stock. 

And if you are looking for something that is good for a Saturday when there is a bit more time for slow cooking:

Chicken tagine.  This requires a few more ingredients than the other dishes but after a week of school dinners it feels like a more sophisticated dish that goes well with a bottle of white wine.   

Slow cooked flat ribs  You will only get these ribs from a butcher but this inexpensive cut of meat is worth seeking out.  A great dish to prep and leave in the oven whilst you are out at football / ballet / general taxying of children whilst you wonder where your social life went!

Coming up next on my blog - super sugar free snacks and sweets and ideas for lunch boxes. 

Shepherds pie (but with a variation on the mash!)

I am not quite sure when it became folklore that kids like mash. When my daughter gagged at the sight of mash I thought it was unusual but have since spoken to many parents whose children are the same. Even if you like it, sometimes you feel like a less starchy option or just want a change. 

So this recipe is essentially the meat part of shepherds pie and I freeze it like this to give me the option to choose the topping on the day.   My kids like it with rice, My husband likes it with celeriac gratin. Just because we can never agree on anything in our house my favourite is swede or potato mash (heavily buttered and with tons of pepper).  Cauliflower mash would also work well.   If you are going for some sort of mash you could always add this to the dish before freezing so you have less to do on the day you eat it. 

High quality full fat lamb mince is essential. A glass of red wine adds depth but is not essential. The recipe specifies passata but the resulting dish is not overly tomato tasting. However the passata could swapped either partially or fully for lamb stock if you prefer.  

I am not generally a fan on mushed vegetables but in this recipe using a food processor to get a very finely chopped vegetables does work well. It also makes it easy to disguise the vegetables from picky eaters (I am not just talking about kids here, I know if wives who hide vegetables in their husband's dinners too!) You could even add more carrots or other vegetables such as mushroom or red carrot if you need to up the vegetsble quota. 

(I don't bother getting the special grater attachment out for magimix) I just use normal large blade).

I make at least triple the amounts below in one go and fill the freezer.   


500g lamb mince 
1 large onion
1 large carrot 
2 sticks celery 
2 cloves of garlic 
1/3 bottle of passata (approximately 250ml)
1/2 tsp dried or fresh chopped rosemary 
Ghee or olive oil for cooking 


-Peel the carrots, garlic and onion and wash the celery 
-Chop the vegetables in half then process until finely chopped. 
-Add enough ghee or olive oil to cover the base of the pan and on a medium heat cook the vegetables for about ten minutes until softened 
-Add in the mince and stir round, till all the meat is browned 
-Add the rosemary, passata and seasoning 
-Turn down and simmer for half an hour (this develops the taste but you can miss this step out if in a rush and it will still be good) 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Pizza (gluten free, grain free, can be dairy free too!)

It's funny how there are things you can happily live without until someone forbids them.  This was the case with pizza. When we started eating clean and gluten free suddenly my husband became obsessed with finding a pizza base recipe despite the fact he would never have chosen to buy it in the supermarket!

It took us a while to work out a recipe that we all liked.  Lots of the recipes out there use almond flour but I think the sweetness of almond flour is just wrong.  Or there are pure cauliflower pizzas which are healthy but are not a quick option.

The answer for us is buckwheat and  We adapted this recipe from one on the fab blog - The Nourished Kitchen. It gives a lovely thin crispy base.  The dough can also be made in advance and frozen which means you can whip up a pizza in no time.

The amounts below are for four adult sized pizzas so multiply as required. 


550g  buckwheat flour
70g tapioca flour (can replace with extra buckwheat flour)
50g rice flour (can replace with buckwheat or tapioca)
470ml warm water 
120ml  olive oil 
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp  of garlic powder 
1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (optional) 


Preheat the oven to 160c fan / 180c
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a blender or a bowl 
Add in the water slowly until you have a dough consistency
Bake in the oven for ten minutes then check. We like to turn ours over and give it another 5 minutes to make it extra crispy.
Add toppings and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until the top is piping hot 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Luscious liver pate

Let's make one thing clear - I am generally not a fan of liver.  Indeed organs in general are a problem for me, despite lots of people telling me how marvellous they are for me I can't get past the texture or the smell.

However I love this liver pate!  It's smooth, delicious and versatile - working with almond crackers, sourdough or oatcakes.

It's also very easy to make.  I had the fear with this dish for quite a while as my husband had always prepared liver in our house.  Now I quite enjoy making it in the evenings when the children are in bed and I can watch something on Netflix whilst I cook!

Liver is a fantastic source of nutrients such as iron, folate and B vitamins (especially B12).  It is also high in Vitamin A.  In theory our bodies can make vitamin A from plant sources by converting beta carotene but in practice our bodies are often very poor at this (especially if you have any digestive issues) so it's good to eat foods that are a direct source.

This recipe will make enough pate for 1 large or 4 small terrines.  I tend to go for small and then I can freeze three, thus having enough pate for around a month.  Or a standby starter dish if I decide to have some friends round to eat!

I would go for the very best livers you can find.  It cost me around £5 for the organic liver needed to make this recipe so it goes quite a long way.  (I bought mine from Graig Farm)


450-500g organic chicken livers (rinsed and chopped in half)
160g of butter 
1 onion 
1 clove of garlic 
1 medium chilli 
Salt and pepper to taste
Bay leaves and peppercorns to garnish


- Add 2/3 of the butter to a large frying pan and gently fry the onions in the butter until they are translucent 
- Add in the chicken livers, garlic and chilli and fry until cooked through - should take around 10-15 minutes 
- Blend the mixture in a food processor and then spoon into containers leaving at least 1cm clear 
on the top. Press down with the back if the spoon to get a flattish surface 
- In a clean pan melt the remaining butter then pour it over the pate (I find this easiest to do it with a large dessert spoon)
- Garnish (if you care to!) with bay leaves and peppercorns
- Leave to cool and then cover and keep in the fridge

Friday, 26 June 2015

Video - Why we should buy free-range meat

So MRSA has been discovered in supermarket pork.  Is anyone really that surprised?  How long was it going to be before we had a problem with superbugs given that these animals are routinely given antibiotics as a preventive measure - in the cramped conditions they are reared disease could kill a whole herd (and a whole lot of profit) very quickly.

It looks as if this will be the tip of the iceberg - other countries such as Denmark and China have been grappling with this issue for years but ultimately whilst the demand for cheap pork continues we will not get rid of the problem.

What is the alternative?  It's pretty simple.  We stop buying imported pork from supermarkets and start buying home-grown free-range pork. The pigs from farms like this are exposed to no or minimal antibiotics as Paul White, from one such farm explains in this clip.

Watch this short video Why we should eat free-range to find out the other reasons why I choose free-range meat for my family and to find out where you can buy it from.    

Monday, 22 June 2015

Lamb lollipops (kofta for kids)

One of my most popular recipes ever!

We eat a lot of organic mince in our house as it is versatile and relatively inexpensive.  Having recently decided to clear the freezer (for its once a decade defrost) we have all seen enough of spaghetti bolognese, meatballs and cottage pie and I needed to do something a bit different with the kilo of mince that was hanging around.  I am also on a mission to get my youngest to try some more spicy food.  So I was inspired by the koftas in my local butchers and thought I would try and make my own.

These are so easy to make.  They really don't take any longer than burgers but the fact you  eat them off a stick somehow makes them about fifty times more attractive to the children!

They taste good cold as well so they are great if the family can't all eat together.  I served them to the kids with rice, green veg and a garnish of onion, cucumber and mint.  My husband and I had them later with a salad and some hot chilli sauce - recipe coming soon!  

These would also be delicious with some finely chopped onion added to the mix.


500g lamb mince
1 egg  (beaten)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp of ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste 


  • Preheat the oven to 200c fan / 220
  • Soak some small wooden skewers.  They will be ready by the time you have seasoned the meat
  • Mix together the egg, mince, herbs and seasoning. I like to do this by hand.  
  • Take golf ball size chunks of the mixture and shape into a sausage (I find it easiest to make a ball in-between my palms and then squash it down by rolling hands over it)
  • Insert the skewer though the middle 
  • Place the skewers onto a roasting dish (you can put them on top of a wire tray if you want the fat to drip through)
  • Cook for approximately 20 minutes, dependent on the size of your kofta.  I like mine to have a good colour on the outside and can be slightly pink on the outside 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

MRSA found in pork. Should my family stop eating it?

A Guardian investigation has found a strain of MRSA in pork sold at various supermarkets.  Click here  to read the articles.  

It's concerning especially as the problem is widespread in Denmark which supplies a lot of pork to Britain.  There are bound to be lots of parents who will now worry about buying pork. 

The reality is that this is a problem stemming from excessive antibiotic use within intensive farming (geared to supply supermarkets) and not all pork. 

I headed to East Lancashire yesterday to interview Paul White from Roaming Roosters who supply free range pork to find out more about the difference between intensive and outdoor reared meat - video coming very soon.  

I saw where the pigs breed, live and are butchered.  This kind of access would be unthinkable in intensive farming. There are farms like Roaming Roosters all over the country and and they often have online shops making higher welfare meat more accessible even if you don't live locally.

I am happy to continue buying my bacon and sausages from farms like these and hope that the MRSA scare encourages more shoppers to stop buying meat from supermarkets and source it instead from smaller, more responsible suppliers. 

How to buy 'clean' food. Q&A with award-winning food journalist Joanna Blythman

In my recent post Think you can eat clean by checking food labels? ... I wrote about the revelations in Joanna Blythman’s latest book SwallowThis about the processing aids, enzymes, additives and other substances that are added to our food.

The food manufacturers argue that we cannot make a definitive link between these processing techniques and health problems.  However, is this because there are no risks or because we haven’t had time to establish them yet?  It took decades for people to prove the link between tobacco and cancer, now pesticides are in the frame – WHO have declared Roundup a possible carcinogenic thirty years after its approval.  Lots of the products used in the food industry have not been around very long so how can we tell what the long term effects will be? Given we don’t know how often we are ingesting these additives, aids and enzymes how can the industry ensure our exposure is ‘low-level’ and non-problematic? 

The industry is not going to change anytime soon so what we can do to today, to try to eat clean?  

Joanna’s advice is simple -  we need to cook from scratch as often as we can and choose the best ingredients we can afford. I agree, however once you start reading about what the food industry are allowed to do with ‘whole’ foods such as meat, dairy, vegetables etc, buying food for a family can still seem like a minefield.  Add in cost and time pressure and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed. 

So I was keen to ask Joanna some further questions about how and where she shops and how we can make the best choices, whether we are in a supermarket or shopping online. 

Read her answers below for some great advice – and some surprising information about frozen and organic food!

Should families go shopping at Waitrose or Sainsbury’s instead of Asda or Aldi?  Is this about expensive versus cheap food?
Joanna: My policy is to avoid shopping in supermarkets as much as possible. That’s partly because I find supermarket shopping a soul-destroying experience, but also because I want to spend as much of my food costs as possible with independent traders: markets, farm shops, proper butchers/fishmongers, small bakeries and so on. I do shop in supermarkets some times, but I feel that nowadays, the thing is to shop around a bit. All the market signals suggest that the one-stop, once-a-week supermarket shopping expedition is last century’s shopping model. 

Are shoppers better off going to the cheese and meat counters in the supermarket rather than choosing items off a shelf?
Joanna: Basically they sell the same stuff. On the counters products are sold unwrapped, which looks different, but it’s the same stuff from the same suppliers. I particularly avoid the fish counters: everything looks so old. They can’t compare with a proper fishmonger.

Parents often buy frozen fruit and vegetables because they are a great back up and we are told they may even have more nutrients than fresh ones. Is there anything in the manufacturing process that we should be aware of?
Joanna: In general, I’m quite in favour of frozen food. I freeze a lot of fresh meat that I buy, and get through a vast amount of frozen raspberries and peas! What I have found out is that many fruits and vegetables are soaked in water containing enzymes before freezing to firm them up. This doesn’t appear on the label; yet another “processing aid”.

You discuss ‘ protective packaging’ and meat being filled with water. Is this an issue just with ‘processed meat’ such as ham and sausage or could it be an issue with any meat product bought off a supermarket shelf?
Joanna: More or less all supermarket meat is packed in MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) these days, whether a whole intact bit of meat, or processed. So it’s quite different from a traditional butcher. Imported chicken is often pre-injected with added water, sometimes with salt and starch in it. This is mainly used in processed ready meals, so check if your “chicken” has ingredients added by looking at the label.

Are there any issues with whole fruit and vegetables that one would buy from a supermarket grocery section or is it only pre-prepared items?
Joanna: Not really. Obviously, I always try to buy organic when it is affordable (things like potatoes, carrots, celery, lettuce and so on) as I try to avoid pesticide residues. Some fruits and vegetables, both organic and non-organic, are covered in wax to make them last longer, and on non-organic produce, these waxes can contain fungicides. So I always buy organic or unwaxed (eg citrus) if I’m going to use the zest. My last book What To Eat covers this in more depth.

In your book you talk about the use of enzymes to ‘mature’ food faster: is this only use to create flavourings or in whole foods as well?  For example is it just used to create mature cheddar cheese flavouring or in blocks of cheese too? 
Joanna: No, some GM enzymes are used in the production of whole cheeses, particularly vegetarian ones, and lots of salamis/charcuterie products use enzymes.

Is buying organic food the solution or can manufacturers still use ingredients / enzymes as processing aids and not declare them?
Joanna: Organic guarantees higher standards of animal welfare, no GM ingredients or animal feed, environmental and wildlife benefits, and fewer additives. But processing aids are indeed used behind the scenes to manufacture organic processed foods, and not declared on the label.

If you had a young family and were shopping at a supermarket what guidelines would you use when choosing food?
Joanna: Buy food in its whole, unprocessed form and cook it yourself from scratch. Bring your children up to eat the same as the adults, and sit down at the table together to eat meals. Don’t keep anything in the house that you don’t what the kids to eat. I don’t believe its good to use junk food as “treats”; it sends out the wrong message.

Sensible advice – it’s not about buying chia seeds or getting up at 6am to make acai berry smoothies every morning.  It’s about preparing proper meals, with real ingredients and trying to shop as locally as you can. It's about supporting our local fishmongers and butchers, (even more important following the revelations last week about MRSA in intensively reared pork). 

If we all use our (considerable) spending power wisely we can make changes for the better!

Read more of Joanna’s articles and get details of her books at http://www.joannablythmanwriting.com

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Cheeky chicken wings

I love these at lunchtime alongside a bowl of soup or salad.  The kids devour them (alongside a portion of greens or peas).  

They are super easy and having tried them you will never want to have a shop bought one again! The list of ingredients is quite long but is really just a case of making a spice mix and you could always mulitply the amounts and make up a jar.  This is a bit of a store cupboard recipe so it uses all dried spices rather than fresh. 

These also taste great cold and can be made in advance and used for packed lunches / picnics etc.


1/2 tsp of garlic powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika 
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary 
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper 
1 kg of chicken wings 


Preheat the oven to 180c fan / 200c 
Mix together all the spices 
Rub the spice mix all over the chicken wings 
Place the chicken wings on a metal rack over a baking tray so they can get crispy all over
Cook for twenty minutes and turn 
Cook for another twenty minutes and check to see if they are cooked through 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Think you can eat clean by checking food labels? Think again

‘The finest trick of the the Devil is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist’
 (Charles Baudelaire)

Is the food industry guilty of a similar trick with their ‘clean label campaign? In Joanna Blythman’s new book, ‘Swallow This’ (a read that is fascinating and scary in equal measure) she looks at whether the food industry is improving or simply rebranding.

When consumers became fidgety about e-numbers, additives and food colourings the industry decided they needed to react to this pressure.  But have they really improved our food?  On the face of it yes.  Shoppers are reassured by ‘no artificial colours or flavourings’, ‘no added sugar’ etc.  Even the most conscientious consumer who reads the small print on the back will no longer find a long list of e-numbers or the dreaded trans fats listed, instead there is the more palatable ‘modified starch’, ‘natural colourings’ etc.

However what is behind this change, according to Joanna, is not a more natural approach to food production but closer to a PR exercise. In reality there is now just a different set of industrially produced ingredients, processing aids and enzymes that are potentially no safer than the E-numbers that they replaced.  Manufacturers do not appear interested in the nutritional qualities of the food they produce.  Everything is about initial look or taste, of ‘appearing natural’ or ‘fresh-like’. 

Even if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using these ingredients their existence is to make the process cheaper and means there is lot less of real and nutritious ingredients like butter, nuts, flour, dairy and meat. Processed food is not ‘food’ anymore but  ‘complex constructions of high-tech ingredients’.  

Unfortunately there is no reassurance for those of us who like to think we have escaped the problem by avoiding the obviously heavily processed foods such as cheap biscuits and cakes, ready meals and packet sauces.  Joanna’s research covers food that even the most diligent parent would have in their shopping basket – bread, premium yoghurts, frozen vegetables, chicken, sliced meats and ready prepared fruit and vegetables.

‘You might even boycott the most obvious forms of nutritionally compromised, blatantly degraded offerings, and yet you will still find it hard to avoid the 6,000 food additives – flavourings, glazing agents, improvers, anti-caking agents, solvents, preservatives, colourings, acids, emulsifiers, releasing agents, antioxidants, thickeners, bleaching agents, sweeteners, chelators – and the undisclosed ‘processing aids’, that are routinely employed behind the scenes of contemporary food manufacture.’

Take yoghurts for example.   Low fat yoghurts are incredibly popular with families but how does a manufacturer make low fat yoghurt have the creamy goodness we associate with full fat food?  Step forward ‘modified starch’.  It sounds innocent enough – we know there is starch in rice and potatoes? However the industrial process used to create this ingredient mean it is far removed from any starch you would find in natural food.  It is a manufacturer’s dream - a cheap, bland ingredient that sticks to the inside of your mouth tricking your brain into thinking you have ingested fat.   (I happened to mention it to a friend whose husband works in the food industry – little did I know that he was a starch technologist and she confirmed it is a growing area of research precisely because it can be a great ‘filler’ in so many foods)

What surprised me the most was what manufacturers are allowed to use as a ‘processing aid’ and not include on the label. How often have you picked up some ready prepped vegetables or a fruit salad, assuming that they are in their natural state?  Would you think that they had been treated with enzymes to look fresher and firmer in their pack?  

  How about when you consciously avoid all the pre-packaged biscuits and decide instead to treat yourself to something from an in-store bakery, would you dream that it might have been pre-prepared months before and then left frozen on shelf waiting to be finished off on site?

  So why isn’t there more transparency in the industry?  During a Radio 4 discussion Alice Cadman from Leatherhead Food Research was asked about the processes involved in food production and here is what she thinks of consumer’s concerns:

  “...it’s the food industry’s job to make high quality very safe food and it’s a complicated area…I wouldn’t expect consumers to understand the ingredients, I wouldn’t expect consumers to understand the regulatory framework but I would expect them to trust the people who are making the food for them because that’s what they do”

  Hearing that I didn’t feel reassured I felt patronised. Unfortunately for the food industry the age of people trusting large institutions to serve their interests is long gone!

We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking we shouldn’t ask tough questions about the food industry because we are not clever or scientific enough to understand the answer.  The whole point of regulatory bodies and labels should be to make information accessible. We also shouldn’t be made to feel like we are being ‘difficult’ for wanting to know what is in our food! 

More on this subject and practical advice for families wanting to eat clean in further posts, coming next week.  

In the meantime check out Joanna’s book, which is on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007548338) and in the shops (possibly not being stocked at supermarkets though!!)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Wibbly wobbly jelly

The hardest part of making this dish is sourcing the gelatine sheets!  I buy mine from The Real Food Company in Crewe.  You can also source it from Amazon and even the baking sections of supermarkets (although I would plump for grass fed or organic gelatine, especially if you are making this regularly). 
Making your own jelly is incredibly simple and means you can create something that is yummy but also nutritious and sugar free!  The benefits of gelatine are numerous - it helps to heal the lining of the stomach and is great for nail and hair health. 
I like to use raspberries but any soft fruit will work. If you wish to use pineapple, kiwi, melon or papaya they will need to be cooked into a purée or the enzymes they contain will break down the gelatine. 
I use organic frozen fruit as it is cheaper but fresh would work also. 

If you want to change the quantities below keep a rough ratio of 125 ml liquid to a sheet of gelatine for a soft jelly (served in glass) or 100ml liquid to a sheet of gelatin for a firm jelly that you can turn out of a mould. 


3 sheets of gelatine 
300g frozen fruit 
2 tbsp of honey (more if very sweet toothed!) 


- Place the fruit in a pan with enough water to cover the base 
- Heat gently so that the fruit breaks down - you can help the process with a potato masher! 
- Once the fruit had disintegrated sieve the mixture into a bowl or jug (use a fine sieve so the seeds do not fall through). You can use the back if a spoon to push the mixture down and extract more liquid.
- Add the honey and stir thoroughly 
- Add filtered water until you have 400ml of mixture 
- Place the gelatine sheets in a large shallow dish and cover with water.  Ensure the sheets are kept separate so they can soften properly 
(During this time return the fruit liquid to the pan and heat very gently so that it stays warm as the liquid needs to be over 35 degrees for the mixture to set) 
- After 5 minutes remove the sheets, squeeze them to remove any excess water and add to the mixture 
- Stir thoroughly ensuring the sheets have fully dissolved 
- Pour the mixture into serving glasses (I also like to add a few slices of strawberry or blueberries)
-Refrigerate for a couple of hours until set.