Turmeric is my latest go-to spice

Did I mention Turmeric yet? Perhaps not. Since watching a recent ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor‘ episode, I have been inspired to include more turmeric in our diet. In a really interesting piece of research, it was discovered that eating turmeric has effects on the methylation of DNA that are not achieved by taking supplements. It is hoped that this helps to unravel some of the negative changes that may occur, and in particular may help reduce our risk of cancer.

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The use of heat, and the addition of oil and black pepper helps to increase the bio-availability of turmeric, so the ideal way of adding it to our diet is to make a curry! But actually, you can use turmeric in many different kinds of dishes and even in desserts. An easy way to increase your use of it is to make Golden Paste – you cook turmeric powder in hot water and then add in coconut oil (or olive oil) and freshly ground black pepper. 

I’ve been experimenting with ways of using this. I’ve added it to bolognese sauce, stir fries, braised vegetables, in fact almost anything savoury can take the addition of some. We often start the day with some greek style yoghurt, with half a tsp of golden paste added in, some chopped fresh figs (which are abundant at the moment in our garden) and topped with chopped toasted hazelnuts. I also discovered that banana fried in butter with golden paste, honey and lime juice is amazing! For added spice benefits, I served it with fromage blanc mixed with ground cinnamon and decorated with lime zest.

Turmeric is often used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron, as it gives a strong yellow colour – the flavour is quite different, but it does tend to work agreeably with the same food partners. Here is my variation of an Ottolenghi dish. Roast Chicken with Turmeric, Hazlenuts and Honey.

Roast Chicken with Turmeric, Hazelnuts and Honey

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Beautiful Basil…

It’s getting to the time of year when most of my gardening time is spent watering and harvesting. The first wave of beans and the raspberries are now coming to an end, but tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, summer squash, Swiss chard and perpetual spinach are growing abundantly, and the first chillies are ripening. 
For these vegetables I’ve been trying out some new ideas, most of which I have captured on my Pinterest board – Seasonal Specials

I also have some fabulous Basil plants. This year I have Purple, Sweet Green Genovese and Thai varieties. 

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So, what to do when you have a fabulous amount of basil? I make Basil Oil – it is wonderful drizzled over fish, chicken, anything with tomatoes, roasted vegetables, cheese…. This and the other following recipes are from my first book Focus on Flavour.
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Basil Oil 

I came across this in a book by Annabel Langbein and it was an instant hit with me, because I adore basil and mourn the end of the growing season. This is the perfect way to preserve the intensity of its flavour and colour. It gives a terrific visual lift to the Tomato and Feta Tartlets as well as giving its heady herbal warmth to chicken, fish, potatoes or other vegetables.

  • 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
  • Boiling water
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Pour the boiling water over the basil leaves and immediately refresh under cold water. Drain well and blot dry with paper towel. Blend with salt and olive oil until smooth. Store in the fridge or freeze in ice cube trays.

Approx 120 calories per tbsp

Tomato and Feta Tartlets with Basil OilTomato and Feta Tartlets with Basil Oil  

These little tarts are really yummy. A wonderful mixture of tastes and textures. You could use mozzarella instead of feta.

Serves 6

  • Ready rolled Puff Pastry (373 kcal)
  • 3 – 4 large ripe tomatoes (100 kcal)
  • ½ pack (75 grams) feta cheese, sliced (200 kcal)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp Basil Oil (360 kcal)

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Cut out circles about 10cm diameter from the pastry. Lay onto a baking tray and prick the bottom with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes.

Slice the tomatoes and layer on the pastry, alternating with the cheese. Drizzle with basil oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. 

Serve with a drizzle of basil oil on the plate.

Approx 175 kcals per serving

I also love to make my own Pesto, but instead of using Pine Nuts, I use Walnuts

Walnut Pesto 

Until I discovered Basil Oil this was the only way in which I could capture the wonderful aroma of basil to use beyond the season when it grows fresh. We have plenty of walnuts here, so I used them instead of pine nuts and I think they give the pesto a really fantastic flavour. It also tastes delicious without the cheese for vegans or those avoiding dairy products. 

I use this with pasta for a simple starter or lunch dish, mix it in to a vegetable soup just before serving, or spread over meat or fish (see Chicken Pesto Parcels).

  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup shelled walnuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 25g finely grated Parmesan or other hard cheese (optional)

90 calories per tbsp
Fat 9.5g, Carbs 0.6g Protein 1.6g

Put the basil, garlic, walnuts and salt into a blender with about half the olive oil to mix to a paste. Stir in the cheese, if using. Transfer to a screw-top jar and pour in extra olive oil to cover completely. Screw on the lid and store in the fridge. Mix well before using and recover any remaining paste with olive oil again. Keeps well. 

Chicken Pesto Parcels 

A super simple way of dressing up a piece of chicken, full of flavour and great for a 5:2 fast day

Cooking the chicken wrapped in paper helps to keep all the flavour and juiciness in. This is a great way to cook if you need to cater for different preferences – meat, fish and vegetarian parcels can all be cooked at the same time without transferring their flavours. 

Serves 4

  • 4 escalopes of chicken (or turkey) (164 kcals per 100g)
  • 2 tbsp Walnut Pesto (180 kcal)
  • 4 slices Bayonne ham (183 kcal)

Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Spread the pesto on the chicken. Lay the ham on top. Roll up each one and place into the centre of a sheet of baking paper, then fold up and seal into parcel. Bake for 30 minutes at 200ºC.

Lovely served with braised endive in a cheesy sauce.

Approx 250 calories per serving (based on 100g chicken)

Baked Chicken and Vegetables <500 calories

I love the idea of cooking everything at the same time in a single oven tray. So simple!

The chicken is ‘washed’ with lime juice and then sprinkled with jerk spice. The mushrooms have a little olive oil in the centre and about half a clove of crushed garlic in each one. The sprouts are drizzled with a little olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes at 180c (fan). Roasting sprouts like this is really a great way of cooking them. I have just a few left growing in the garden, so I’m looking forward to finishing them!

This was a non-fast day for us and I served it with baked sweet potato and a knob of butter (put a skewer through the middle to help them cook more quickly. I gave them about 45 minutes).

Baked Chicken and Vegetables

Baked Chicken and Vegetables 469 kcals

 

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken leg,  eaten without the skin: 250 kcal
  • 1 tsp jerk seasoning 0 kcals
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 120 kcals
  • 2 medium mushrooms 8 kcals
  • 1 clove garlic 4 kcals
  • 5 cherry tomatoes 14 kcals
  • 1/2 cup brussels sprouts 19 kcals

Per serving: 469 kcals
 Carbs 8g Fat 26g Protein 49g

  • 1 sweet potato 100 kcals
  • 15g butter 108 kcals

Per serving: 208 kcals
Carbs 24g Fat 12g Protein 2g

Hot and Sour Soup

 

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I had forgotten how great this soup tastes! Spicy, slightly sweet, sour, bitter, salty – it has that umami savoury satisfaction factor.

Especially with home made chicken stock…  but you can use Marigold bouillon or even plain water and it is still yummy.

Hot and Sour Prawn Soup

 

You may know it as Tom Yam Gung – Prawn, or Tom Yam Gai – chicken. The fish sauce is an essential part of the flavour combination, so this won’t work for strict vegetarians, but you could try using soy sauce and a little sugar instead and some cubes of tofu.

I buy lime leaves and lemongrass from time to time at an Asian store in Toulouse, and freeze them.

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If you want to see my meal plans for the week, please go to  Meal Plans – you’ll find my outline plan for the current week, and more detailed calorie counted plans for previous weeks.

 

Baked Orange Chicken with Pumpkin, Parsnips and Peppers

The idea here is to have the enjoyment of a roast chicken, but by using orange juice instead of fat and having other veggies instead of potatoes, the whole meal is lighter and healthier. When there are just the 2 of us for lunch, I can get several meals from an average sized bird, plus then there’s the bones to make stock with for a tasty soup.

a great alternative to a Sunday Roast - Baked Orange Chicken with Pumpkin, Parsnip and Peppers

a great alternative to a Sunday Roast – Baked Orange Chicken with Pumpkin, Parsnip and Peppers

Serves 4
325 calories per serving, 22g carb, 28g protein

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lime
  • 500g pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 1 med-large parsnip
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp jerk seasoning
  • 1 tsp Bisto gravy powder (optional)
  • 300 ml vegetable stock or water

Heat the oven to 180C.

Remove any visible fat from the chicken.

Peel the pumpkin or squash, the parsnip and the red onion. Trim the pepper and  chilli and remove the seeds and pith. Cut all the veggies into wedges and put into a roasting tray.

Make slivers from some of the orange and lime peel (no pith) and reserve. Lightly grate the remainder over the veggies. Squeeze the juice of the fruits and pour half over the veggies. Put the chicken on top and brush the remainder of the juice over. Rub in the jerk seasoning.

Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, until the chicken is cooked through, basting regularly with the juice.

Put the chicken to rest on a warm serving plate and keep the veggies warm while you make the gravy.

If there is any visible fat in the pan juices, strain it off. Add stock or water to the pan together with the orange and lime rind. I like to use a little Bisto mixed with water to make the gravy a little thicker, but it will have a good colour anyway from the jerk spices. Bring to the boil and simmer for few minutes whilst steaming other veggies to serve with it, such as julienne carrots, broccoli spears and peas.

Serve slices or portions of meat without skin, the wonderful coloured vegetables alongside and gravy with some of the peel to bring the whole dish together.

You could use sweet potato or beetroot instead of parsnip.

Based on a recipe in an old Good Housekeeping cookery club book “Healthy Eating”, 1995.