Tomato Tales – Sundried Tomatoes

A lot of people know that I love to grow tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes. Lots of different varieties. This year I think I have about 60 plants of 20 or so different sorts. Not only do I love to eat a simple tomato salad, I like to have enough tomatoes so that I can avoid buying canned tomatoes or pizza or pasta sauce altogether. I also generally find that those you buy from the supermarket are pretty tasteless, especially out of season, so I prefer to use my own frozen or sundried tomatoes instead throughout the winter and spring.

Tomatoes Galore

With the smaller tomatoes, I generally sundry them and then store them in olive oil. I find they only need 2 or 3 days in the sunshine. Cut them in half, lay them cut side up on a tray, sprinkle with sea salt. I usually put a wire rack over the top which keeps flies off successfully. Leave them in a sunny spot, but bring them in overnight or if there is any hint of rain.

Tomatoes drying in the sun

If it looks like they aren’t going to get fully dry because of poor weather, they risk going mouldy, so then I finish them off in the oven – at about 80c until they are the texture I like, which is still kind of soft, but crinkled, what the French would call mi-cuit. If you don’t have sunny weather at all, you can do the whole thing in the oven, or you could use a dehydrator. But I think the sunshine gives the most flavourful results and the best texture.

Sundried tomatoes

Once they are dried to your liking, you can store them in a jar of olive oil. I push in as many as I can fit in the jar and then pour in good quality virgin olive oil to completely cover them. Use a chopstick or spoon to ensure there are no air bubbles. I can get at least a whole tray full in one jar, so it is a good space-saving method of storing them. Keep them in a cool, dark place and I find they last at least a year and even two (on the occasions when I have made more than we get through).

Sundried Tomatoes

Another way of storing them that I am trying this year, is putting them in a ziploc bag and freezing them. I think this could be an excellent way of saving them to make a paste with later, or just to add them in to all sort of savoury dishes.

Sundried tomatoes for the freezer

So to finish with, here is one of my favourite ways of using sun dried tomatoes

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes

Quercy Melon, Cucumber, Goat’s Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes

Per person

  • ¼ of a Quercy (charentais) melon, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3 wedges (41 kcal)
  • 40g of soft goat’s cheese (77 kcal)
  • a chunk of cucumber, halved, peeled, deseeded and sliced into thick chunks (8 kcal)
  • 6 small sundried tomatoes, or slices of 2 large ones (18 kcal)

Dress with a drizzle of vinaigrette made with olive oil, walnut vinegar, balsamic vinegar, grainy mustard, garlic, sea salt and pepper and scatter with some fresh basil or finely chopped mint.  Add about 40 kcals for a tbsp of dressing (ratio of olive oil to vinegar 1:2).

Per serving: kcals184
Carbs 18g Fat 10g Protein 7g

This makes a fabulous starter, or a light lunch. I really like it best with the soft goats cheese, like a buche fraiche (fresh log) that I can buy in the market, or the Petit Billy type of chèvre frais; but you could also use cabecou, or perhaps some sheep’s cheese like feta or buffalo mozzarella.

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomato

This recipe first appeared in my book Focus on Flavour: Recipes inspired by living in South West France.

Bon Appetit!

A Fast Day Menu for June

Lots of people ask what they should eat on Fast Days.

There are no restrictions as such, but it is helpful to stick to low-GI foods and avoid refined carbohydrates. Protein is great for making you feel full and keeping you satisfied and veggies provide lots of bulk without a lot of calories. So most of our fast days are based on that. I prefer to save all my calories for an evening meal – skipping breakfast seems to make no difference to how hungry I feel during the day, and I get the added benefits of an overall fasting time of about 24 hours without eating – more cell repair time and more fat-burning time!

I get into a bit of a rut sometimes, eating more or less the same things which are quick to prepare and I know work – but I have lots of ideas in my recipe book and a lot of strawberries to use, so here’s what I’m planning for tomorrow.

  • Spring Minestrone – 150 kcals 
  • Masala Baked Haddock – 162 kcals
  • Kachumber Salad – 45 kcals
  • Strawberries with a spoonful of creme fraiche – 60 kcals

Spring Minestrone SoupMasala Baked HaddockKachumber Salad

 

 

There’s enough calories left for a cup of tea to start the day and a cup of hot bouillon somewhere around lunchtime.  I may add a drizzle of argan oil to the salad, since I brought some back from Morocco, it is a great addition to this. Recipes below, which can also be found in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life.

Spring Minestrone

For me, broad beans and asparagus are star ingredients when they are in season.  Just a spoonful of crème fraîche and some basil oil gives this soup some extra va va voom and transforms a simple vegetable soup into something luxurious.

Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp olive oil 120 kcals
  • 1 leek, chopped quite small 56 kcals
  • 1 litre vegetable stock, made with 2 tsp vegetable bouillon 24 kcals
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 4 kcals
  • 250g green asparagus, trimmed, cut in 1cm slices 52 kcals
  • 250g shelled broad beans 212 kcals
  • 1 tbsp half fat crème fraîche 24 kcals
  • 1 tsp basil oil (or pesto) 16 kcals

To garnish

  • 25g freshly grated Parmesan 80 kcals

Heat olive oil and cook leek gently until soft.

Add stock and garlic and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add remaining vegetables and simmer for a further 5 – 7 minutes.

Stir in crème fraîche and pesto.

Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.

Per serving: kcals 150
Carbs 14g Fat 7g Protein 10g

Masala Baked Haddock

I came across this idea when watching Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. The first time I tried it I found it far too mustardy and bitter, but the idea of coating a piece of white fish with a masala paste and topping it with onions, then wrapping it in foil or baking paper to cook in the oven won me over. So I have now adapted it and am much happier with the result.

You can make the masala paste in a blender or you can pound it in a pestle and mortar.

This will be good with any firm white fish.

Serves 2

  • 250g haddock or cod fillets 200 kcals
  • 1/2 red onion, finely sliced
  • Some red or green chilli, sliced (optional)

For the Masala

  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds 16 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds 4 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder 2 kcals
  • 2 tsp sunflower oil 80 kcals
  • 1/2 onion, sliced 22 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric 4 kcals
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed 4 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180c (fan)

Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently fry all the masala ingredients until the onions soften and start to colour, adding a splash of water if needed to stop it sticking.

Blend into a paste, using a food processor or pestle and mortar.

Put the fish in the centre of a piece of foil or baking paper and smother with the paste.

Top with some slices of red onion and maybe a few slices of red or green chilli.

Wrap the parcels and fold over the edges securely.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets, until just cooked through.

Per serving: kcals 162
Carbs 4g Fat 5g Protein 24g

Kachumber Salad

This is the perfect salad to go with spicy Indian style food and introduces the idea of adding spice seeds to enhance everyday ingredients. This goes perfectly with the Masala Baked Haddock (page 94).

Serves 2

  • 100g baby plum tomatoes, halved or quartered 22 kcals
  • 1/2 red onion, finely sliced 22 kcals
  • 1/2 small cucumber, peeled and sliced 22 kcals
  • 1/2 lime, juice only 5 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed 4 kcals
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
  • sea salt

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan, shaking frequently, until they become fragrant but before they burn.

While the seeds cool, arrange the vegetables on a serving dish.

Crumble a little sea salt over the top and scatter the seeds and coriander leaf over.

Per serving: kcals 45
Carbs 11g Fat 0g Protein 1g

Roast Pumpkin and Glazed Walnut Salad <200 kcals

Roast Pumpkin and Glazed Walnut Salad

Roast Pumpkin and Glazed Walnut Salad

Glorious colour to brighten up a dull day. This would be very good with some bacon lardons running through it, or topped with chopped feta or blue cheese or slices of taleggio. You could also dress it with toasted pumpkin seeds.  As an alternative to pumpkin, use butternut squash

Serves 2

  • 300g pumpkin, peeled and cubed 102 kcals
  • 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil 62 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp aged balsamic vinegar 3 kcals
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 25g walnut pieces 155 kcals
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup 52 kcals
  • 2 tbsp walnut or cider vinegar 6 kcals
  • 75g rocket leaves 19 kcals

Preheat the oven to 180c (fan).

Put the cubes of pumpkin on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 25 – 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and starting to brown.

Heat the maple syrup and vinegar in a small pan until they are well combined then toss the walnut pieces in to coat thoroughly.

Dress the rocket with the pumpkin and walnuts, drizzling over any remaining dressing.

Serve warm.

Per serving: kcals 199
Carbs 22g Fat 12g Protein 6g

Greek Salad with Feta and Olives – less than 200kcals per serving

 

I know it’s only February and the tomatoes and cucumbers will have to come from Spain or Morocco, but with a little bit of sunshine streaming in through the window, I really feel like having something summery.

This goes brilliantly well with meat or fish, or for a vegetarian option falafels would be wonderful.Greek Salad with feta and olives

Greek Salad with Feta and Olives

Making a salad like this always brings me happy memories – of holidays in Cyprus or meals at one of our favourite Greek restaurants in London. Of course it goes wonderfully well with Lemony Lamb Skewers (page 106) or Lemony Tuna Kebabs (page 99). No need to make a complicated dressing for a salad like this – a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon is all you need.

Serves 2

  • 1 Little Gem lettuce or romaine heart 15 kcals
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks 23 kcals
  • 2 large or 4 medium tomatoes, sliced or halved 52 kcals
  • 1/2 onion, sliced 22 kcals
  • 50g feta cheese 132 kcals
  • 8 black kalamata olives 45 kcals
  • 1 tbsp flat leaved parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tsp olive oil 80 kcals
  • 2 lemon wedges 4 kcals

Per serving: kcals 186 Carbs 15g Fat 13g Protein 6g

Please note: page references are to 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life – available on Amazon in print or kindle formats.

Moroccan Cucumber & Tomato Salad – 40 kcals

Back from Morocco with a bag full of foodie ingredients! The light, fresh salads and use of spices was inspiring – and delicious.

Here’s something simple that I made as a side dish for lunch today that was lifted out of the ordinary by some fresh coriander leaf (cilantro), toasted ground cumin seed and a drizzle of argan oil, which has a lovely toasted nutty flavour. If you haven’t got argan oil (which is only produced in South West Morocco), use walnut oil or toasted sesame oil instead.

Moroccan Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Despite the fact the hothouse veg from Spain are not as flavourful as they would be in summer, this makes a real impact. It goes really well with cheese or cold meats and would be an excellent partner with some hummus in a lettuce wrap for a fast day snack or starter. You could add some chopped red or green pepper for variation, and also I considered sprinkling with a few sesame seeds or chopped almonds.

Moroccan Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Serves 2
Simple and really tasty salad using two basic ingredients, a herb, some spice and some oil.
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Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
5 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 medium tomato, chopped
  2. 1/4 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  3. 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  4. 1 tbsp coriander leaf, finely chopped
  5. 1 tsp oil (argan, walnut or sesame)
Instructions
  1. Mix the vegetables and coriander leaf together and turn into a dish
  2. Sprinkle with cumin
  3. Drizzle with oil
Notes
  1. If you can't get argan oil, use walnut oil or toasted sesame oil
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/

A bowl of cherries becomes….. cherry cole slaw

When faced with an abundance of something, it is well worth trying some new ideas……

Our cherry season is short and I tend to stone and freeze the majority of them, so that I can make pies, compotes, jam or whatever later on. 

Cherry Cole Slaw

I was making cole slaw to go with one of our BBQs and usually I add dried fruit, such as raisins, or maybe some chopped apple, but there was this big bow of fresh cherries in front of me, so I added some of those instead. They added just the right note of acidity and sweetness to contrast with the cabbage, carrots and creamy yogurt and mayo dressing. The borage flowers gave a rather lovely visual lift, I thought.

Broad Bean and Walnut Salad

I just love this time of year, when there are fresh broad beans to pick from the garden!

Here is a salad to celebrate delicious broad beans.

Broad Bean and Walnut Salad

Broad Bean and Walnut Salad

Ingredients:

Broad beans, lightly cooked
Red onion, finely sliced
Spring onion, finely sliced
White Radish, finely sliced
Walnut pieces, toasted
Parsley, chopped
Vinaigrette made with walnut vinegar*

This would work so well with a light fresh goat or sheep’s cheese, like feta! For my meat-eater I served it with some slivers of serrano ham and rosette sausage.

I had it on a pile of green leaves with some Cantal cheese and sliced tomato.

I haven’t calorie counted it as I didn’t weigh the ingredients, but it is the sort of healthy food that can be part of any day of eating.

*vinegar aromatised with walnuts is a common ingredient here in South West France, where walnuts grow happily. If you can’t find it, then you could use some walnut oil to get that lovely nutty flavour.

I used white radish as the red radishes looked a bit wilted in the shop, but they would be so pretty in this salad.

Hazelnuts would work too, as an alternative to walnuts.

Cabbage, Green Pepper and Caraway Salad

This Spanish style salad makes a great change from Cole Slaw having a light dressing, lovely crunch and an excellent combination of flavours.Cabbage, Green Pepper and Caraway Salad

We ate it with Chicken with Garlic and Saffron (Pollo al Ajillo) and Potatoes with Spicy Tomato Sauce (Patatas Bravas) – about 400 kcals in all for me.

Chicken with garlic and saffron; patatas bravas; cabbage, green pepper and caraway salad

I have reduced the amount of olive oil and raisins used in order to make this a light, low-calorie salad that is suitable to use on a 5:2 Fast Day, or on any day as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Caraway Seeds contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, essential oils and anti-oxidants with many potential health benefits. They go particularly well with cabbage, as their anti-flatulent properties are particularly helpful.

Cabbage, Green Pepper and Caraway Salad
Serves 2
Spanish influenced crunchy and tasty alternative to cole slaw. The addition of caraway seeds helps to temper the sometimes flatulent effect of cabbage!
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 100g white cabbage, finely shredded
  2. 1 medium carrot, cut in fine julienne strips
  3. 1/2 green pepper, cut in fine julienne strips
  4. 10g raisins
For the dressing
  1. 1/2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  2. 1/2 tblsp white wine vinegar
  3. 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  4. sea salt
  5. freshly ground black pepper
For the garnish
  1. 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
Instructions
  1. Put the shredded vegetables in a serving dish.
  2. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well.
  4. Sprinkle the caraway seeds over the top.
Notes
  1. I like to use vinegar aromatised with walnuts, vinaigre noix - a fab ingredient that is common here in South West France, it lends a wonderful nutty flavour to salad dressings. Look out for it!
  2. As a side dish, this would serve 4 (42 kcals each), or as a more subsantial salad, serves 2 (84 kcals each).
  3. My calculations using myFitnessPal are a little different from the beta version below, I don't really know why.
Adapted from Tapas, the little dishes of Spain by Penelope Casas
Adapted from Tapas, the little dishes of Spain by Penelope Casas
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/

5:2 Fast Day dinner: Asian Poached Chicken with Vegetable Salad and Vietnamese Dressing

Asian Poached Chicken

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Asian Poached Chicken with Vegetable Salad and Vietnamese Dressing

I discovered the joys of poached chicken when one of our Images of France photography course guests introduced me to the work of a New Zealand cook, Annabel Langbein. Her book, Cooking to Impress without Stress not only has a fabulous title, it also contains some excellent ideas, of which this is one.

I love the fact that this is an easy and low fat way to prepare chicken. The flesh is moist and full of flavour. Then there is the added bonus of having tasty stock made at the same time, which makes home made soups even better.

The slightly spicy aromatic flavour of this goes particularly well with Asian Vegetable Salad and a Vietnamese style dressing. Leftovers could be used for No-Carb Caesar Salad and a Chicken Noodle Soup.

You could use the same idea and cook just a single chicken breast, or a joint or two.

Calorie count for chicken poached in this way : 165kcals for 100 grams

  • 1 whole organic or free range chicken
  • 2 dried chillies
  • 3 star anise
  • 2.5cm of root ginger, cut into fine slices (no need to peel)
  • 2 or 3 spring onions, or leek trimmings
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 12 whole mixed peppercorns

Cold water, to cover.

Put the whole chicken into a large pan with the spices and flavourings and cover completely with cold water. Bring to the boil. Simmer very gently for 25 minutes, removing any scum that forms on the top. Then remove from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to cool in the liquid.

Lift out the chicken when completely cool and store in the fridge until ready to use.

Remove the flavourings from the stock with a slotted spoon and discard. Bring the stock to the boil and reduce to about half the volume. Then strain and refrigerate.

Use the stock for soups such as Piquant Leek Soup or Chicken Noodle Soup.

As an alternative to the Asian flavourings, you could poach the chicken with bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and onion.

Raw Vegetable Salad

Vegetable Salad with Vietnamese Dressing

Raw Vegetable Salad with Vietnamese Dressing

per person – 65 kcals

  • Handful of Rocket
  • 25g Celeriac, grated or cut in julienne strips
  • 1/4 Red sweet pepper, cut in strips
  • 1/4 Cucumber, sliced diagonally
  • 1 Celery stick, sliced diagonally
  • 1/2 Carrot, sliced into ribbons
  • 25g Broccoli, small florets
  • 1 tsp Sesame seeds, lightly toasted
  • Thai Basil or Coriander leaves, to garnish

Lay all the prepared vegetables on a platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Serve with the white meat from Asian Poached Chicken, sliced.

Pour the dressing over the chicken and garnish with basil or coriander.

Other veggies you could use: bean shoots, finely sliced spring onions, raw beetroot strips, courgette ribbons, cauliflower florets, shredded cabbage.

Vietnamese Style Dressing

per person – 45 kcals

  • Juice and grated zest of 1/2 lime
  • a few drops of sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Chilli Dipping Sauce

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients.

Total for this dish, with 80g chicken: 240 kcals, with 100g chicken : 290 kcals

Before the Chicken, we had Simple Vegetable Soup (67 kcals). For dessert we had 30g of fromage blanc with a few cherries and a fine dusting of 100% chocolate (40 kcals). Total meal count : 350kcals for me, 400 kcals for my husband.

These recipes are taken from my book “Focus on Flavour – recipes inspired by living in South West France”

This recipe submitted to At Home with Mrs M! Mrs M’s Recipe Linky Party