Spiced tuna and Tomato Pasta

Tuna pasta dishes are wonderful. They are effortless to make, require very little preparation, and rich in protein. Also all of the ingredients (apart from the fresh tomatoes) were kitchen cupboard essentials  – in my kitchen at least (!) I came up with this particular recipe on Saturday after losing track of time painting and realising that as it was 9.55pm, there was no way I could get to a shop to buy some dinner  before the closing time of 10pm. The problems of being an artist and getting lost in art!

Anyway, with an empty fridge, a broken oven, and a hungry stomach, I needed to come up with something quickly. So, to the cupboard I went! Canned tuna and tomatoes are perfect in situations like that. The recipe for the pasta dish is below. If you have fresh carrots you could add them too for some additional goodness. Also, if unlike me, you’re not waiting for an oven to be fixed, you could bake in the oven for 20mins rather than on the hob. You could even top with a little cheese for additional tastiness.

This recipe makes a generous portion for 1 but could also be split into two smaller meals for lunch etc. The tuna contains about 27g protein so this is a great post-work out dish especially after a muscle focussed session.

Ingredients

Pasta 

1 portion dried Fusilli pasta (wholewheat is healthiest but I used white as it cooks slightly quicker)

Sauce

1 small can tuna chunks
1/2 can sweet corn
1 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tin good quality tomatoes
Handful cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
Pinch ground turmeric
Ground black pepper

Method:

For the pasta:

  • Cook pasta according to packaging instructions.
  • Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 12.04.24

For the sauce:

  • Add everything except the tuna, sweetcorn and black pepper
  • Cook for 10 mins
  • Drain tuna and stir in
  • Leave to summer for 20minutes on a low heat
  • Add in sweetcorn
  • Leave for another few minutes
  • Taste and season with black pepper if desired
  • Toss in the drained pasta and stir
  • Serve

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 12.04.09

Finished pasta

Optional: Top with fresh parsley to serve

Warm Cajun Chicken Salad

Header Graphic by HCRHere in Scotland, there has been a remarkable run of sunny days since around Easter Weekend. This has made me more in the mood for salads and maintaining a good, clean, diet. Clear blue skies and sun from sunrise to sunset have been making me feel like it’s summer already! It is mainly during summer that I have loads of salads and less hot, cooked, meals as I seem to go off hot food and also don’t require so many calories to keep me warm due to the warmer climate. This salad is served warm so is perfect as an evening meal at this time of year when, despite the sun, there is a distinctive drop in temperature by early evening from moderately warm to noticeably cool. Serving a warm salad is thus in the middle, not too hot and not too cold! (Writing that sentence has just reminded me of the children’s story, Goldilocks and The Three Bears)

Warm Cajun Salad image 1

Recipe for my ‘Warm Cajun Chicken Salad’

Ingredients

To make 1 portion:

  • 1 chicken breast (cut into chunks or diced)
  • 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp Coconut oil
  • Two mini sweet peppers (try and go for two different colours) A plateful of mixed salad leaves (spinach, watercress, lambs lettuce, and radaccio is great)
  • Black pepper
  • Balsamic glaze

Method:

In a frying pan, heat the coconut oil and add the seasoning. Add the chicken and cook until piping hot throughout and no pink remains. Spread the salad leaves on a plate. Cut the peppers lengthways, remove the middle, and quarter. Arrange on salad leaves. Top with the cooked chicken and glaze with the balsamic.

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Image 2 Warm Cajun Salad

Warm Cajun Salad image 1

Serve with garlic pitta bread or on its own.

Tip: For extra protein, add mixed beans or cooked lentils.

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Enjoy,

Helen x


©Copyright HLDCblog // Helen Redman 2015.

5 Herbs You Need in Your Kitchen

Header graphic by HCRart

In my kitchen I have a multiplicity of herbs, I love them. There hardly a dish I make without adding at least one herb. I also use a lot of spices but I’ll save that for another post later this week. My love of herbs and spices means I don’t only have one herb and spice rack but in fact have a carousel, a rack, another rack, and some cupboard shelf space for the overflow. I think I’ve made my point about how important they are to me in cooking now, haven’t I! The below list of herbs are the ones I probably use most often as they’re the ones I have to replenish stock of the most. Pretty much all of them are versatile in their uses and that is why I have included them in this list. I might publish a longer list of herbs and their uses if anyone would find that useful. (Just comment in the comments below, or pop me a Tweet if you’d like that!) Here’s the list:

Herbs

1. Oregano – I think I read somewhere at some point that this was really good for you and perhaps that’s why the contents of my container of oregano seems to disappear at an astonishing rate… It is a great herb to use and goes great with tomatoes, ground beef, and pork. I always use it in spaghetti bologna and any other Italian-style tomato-based sauce. This is a herb I always use dried.

2. Basil – A key constituent of Italian cooking, basil is a wonderfully versatile herb that works well with a variety of foods. This ranges from the obvious one, tomatoes, to the perhaps not-so-obvious strawberries. It can be used to successfully jazz up a simple sandwich or wrap because of its distinctive flavour. Or it can be used with equal amounts of mozzarella and tomato for the classic Italian starter or salad of ‘Insalata Caprese’ dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with black pepper. This must be one of the greatest salads ever devised due to it being exceptionally simple but exquisite in its combination of flavours – sweet, creamy, fragrant, acidic, and salty – and contrasting textures. If you want to be more experimental try using basil in a strawberry and basil sorbet or a basil, strawberry, spinach, and feta salad dressed with a balsamic and olive oil vinaigrette.

3. Rosemary – A wonderfully fragrant herb, great for adding to the skin of a roast – especially chicken. It can also be used in homemade focaccia, as an infuser in extra virgin olive oil to dip freshly baked bread in, or as a way of adding flavour to potato wedges. Try some rosemary seasoned wedges and roast Mediterranean veg. with a steak for a tasty meal for the senses! One quick mid-week meat I like to cook is turkey steak and I often season it with rosemary, pepper, and sage. This is sprinkled on just before cooking, no marinading necessary, making it a super speedy way of adding some flavour to the turkey.

4. Dill – The perfect match for salmon. Use either fresh or dried but using fresh dill will give the best results and it also makes a nice garnish for the finished dish. It also makes a great sauce to accompany salmon or to use as a dip for raw pepper, carrot, and celery batons. The sauce / dip is super easy to make, simply blend about 1 tbsp chopped dill, a few tablespoons of natural yoghurt, some lemon juice, and season with freshly ground black pepper and a dash of sea salt.

5. Parsley – This is so much more than just a garnish. It is best used from fresh. Parsley adds distinctive complimentary flavour to a white fish sauce and combined with breadcrumbs makes a great herby topping for baked cod. Finely chopped parsley is also lovely added to a variety of pasta dishes just before serving.

So, that’s my top 5 herbs!

What herbs do you like? Comment below or, alternatively, pop me a Tweet, write on my wall on Facebook, or send me a message. You can also follow me on Instagram where I frequently post snaps of my food!


Copyright©HLDCblog//Helen Redman 2015.

 

Wondering what to have for dinner? Read this


Everyone has days when they don’t have a clue what to buy for dinner, let alone what to cook for dinner. I’ve even gone to a shop with the intention of buying something for dinner but ended up with a conglomeration of random foods, none of which had the potential to be put together to form a decent meal! That’s why it is never a good idea to go shopping after a day of revision and exams… Ah, university life! Way before I started this blog, I used Instagram as a platform for sharing many of my daily meals and culinary creations in the hope of inspiring others to eat healthily, and I still do. Now I have this blog, though, I thought it would be good to do a post, or perhaps a series of posts, of some pictorial inspiration for meals. As I’m a very visual person, I feel pictorial inspiration is the most effective and I hope it encourages each person who reads this to try something different for their evening meal.

I always try to come up with different meal ideas and I try rarely repeat a meal on Instagram. I love the variety that comes with creating new dishes and serving ideas. Now that I’m in my early 20s I find I’m happy to eat the majority of foods and certainly wouldn’t say I’m too fussy about food, providing it’s reasonably healthy and not full of chemicals! I used to really dislike olives, for example, but now will happily eat them. The reason for my initial dislike was that many years ago when I was at a childhood friend’s party, I mistook a bowl of olives for a bowl of grapes. Olives could not be more different in taste to grapes and so the hatred of olives was born! That is, until I tried them again a few years ago, the first time since the childhood incident, and discovered they are actually quite nice so long as you aren’t hoping to bite into a nice plump, sweet, juicy grape.

Digressions on olives aside, the following meal ideas consist of various sources of protein and a range of sides. Hopefully they will give you some idea as to what you would like to have for dinner:

1. Salmon with pea and lemon risotto 

Photo

Basic method:

Salmon

Simply bake salmon, seasoned how you like it, wrapped in foil for 18-20 minutes at 180C in a fan oven.

Side 1

Bake tomatoes and yellow peppers too, with a little olive oil, in either the same or a separate foil parcel. Use a separate parcel if you’d like the side to have more bite and bake in the oven 10mins before the salmon is ready.

Side 2 (makes two sensibly-sized portions)

For the risotto, make up a quantity of stock from one low-salt organic vegetable stock cube (follow instructions on packet or use about 500ml of homemade stock). Then fry arborio rice in unsalted butter for a few minutes before adding the stock one cup at a time. Each time you add the stock stir well until it is all absorbed in the rice. Once nearing the end of the stock add a handful of frozen peas and the juice from a wedge of lemon (or more depending on your preferences). Stir in the remaining stock and add a little more lemon to taste. Finish by seasoning with freshly ground black pepper.


2. Ballotine of chicken breast 

Photo

 Basic method:

Chicken

There are many ways to fill a ballotine of chicken breast. Some suggestions are as follows:

  • caramelised onions and goat’s cheese
  • asparagus and parma ham
  • sun blush tomatoes, basil, and reduced fat mozzarella

Here is one of my recipes for ballotine of chicken breast with the full method of cooking: click here

Rice

Boiled white rice or, the healthier option, brown rice.

Baked peppers and tomatoes 

Same as Dish 1. You can also add some balsamic vinegar before baking.  Can you tell I like having that side? It is just so wonderfully simple yet scrummy and quick.


3. One pot clean-eat creamy veggie bulgar wheat

Photo

This dish is great on its own as a vegetarian dish or can be used as a ‘bed’ on which to serve a turkey breast steak or chicken breast. It would also be a nice accompaniment for a fillet of pork.

The full method and recipe for this can be found in one of my earlier blog posts: click here

NOTE: This dish can easily be made gluten free by using quinoa instead of bulgar wheat.


 

4. Duck with deliciousness!

Photo

Basic method:

Score the skin of the duck in a criss-cross pattern. Pan-fry the duck and keep draining the fat off (for timing see the packaging of the duck you buy, it varies with size – approx. 6-8mins). Transfer the duck to an ovenproof dish skin-side down and cook for to your preference of rare or medium or well-done. (Again consult the packaging of the duck for timings.)

Sides:

Steamed fine green beans, boiled blend of puy lentils and quinoa, and salad leaves (including rocket and red chard). The salad and blend of grains was dressed with a simple honey and mustard dressing.


  5. Tuna salad

Photo

This is ideal if you have under 5 minutes to prepare something to eat. It is very quick and really nutritious making it a perfect pit stop dinner in a hurry. It also contains 2 of your 5 a day.

Basic method:

The salad consists of a combination of a tin of tuna chunks, 1 portion of cooked pre-cooked quinoa (use a microwaveable packet or cook in advance), 1 portion of sweetcorn, 1 portion of peas, a tbsp dried cranberries, and homemade lemon juice, black pepper and natural yoghurt dressing. If you’d like less sweetcorn and peas half each quantity. Note: This will mean you only have 1 of your 5 a day rather than 2.


 6. Three Bean Chilli

Photo

This is a really good nutritious meal packed with plant-based protein. It contains 4 of your 5 a day too. It can be as hot as you like or can easily be made milder by adding just a dash of chilli or excluding it completely and using smoked paprika instead of chilli for a rich smoky tomato and pepper flavour.

Note: If you like a lot of heat, why not add some tobacco sauce.

It is really easy to double or triple the ingredients in this and re-heat it the next day or you could serve it cold as a filling in a tortilla with some raw baby spinach leaves for lunch.

I have blogged the recipe for this dish in the past which you can see by clicking here.


 

7. Salad Nicoise style dish

Photo

Basic method:

The photo of this meal is pretty self-explanatory. I used flaked cooked salmon for this and served it with:

  • 1 sliced boiled egg
  • a handful of spinach
  • approx. a 1/3 cup sweetcorn (either use frozen cooked then cooled or tinned that has no, or minimal, salt/or sugar added)
  • 1/4 sweet red pepper sliced
  • 2 medium-sized cold sliced new potatoes

Seasoning:

Black pepper and lemon juice over the salmon and pepper on the potatoes.


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Additionally, you can find me Tweeting over on Twitter (here) where I post a daily healthy living tip, Facebooking (here), or Instagramming mouthwatering foodie photos here!

Have a great day,

Helen x


 

Copyright©HLDCblog // Helen Redman 2015.

My perfect light and fluffy pancake recipe

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Ok, so I have made quite a lot of American-style pancakes in the past but each time I made them I used a recipe from cookery websites or bloggers. Since I have had my own blog I have been thinking I need to create my own healthy recipe for pancakes which I could share with you. This recipe was intended, originally, to merely be an experimental first attempt which would, hopefully, improve with trial and error. BUT, it actually proved to be a success the first time around with no altering needed! I think I’m going to have to give my genes some credit as my Scottish grandmother was apparently fantastic at making Scotch pancakes (a Scottish equivalent of American pancakes but smaller in size.) Hence, I’m thinking that I may have inherited some of her natural baking ability as she never used recipe books but cooked from scratch to great effect nonetheless.

I just love pancakes so I’m going to very much enjoy using this recipe a lot myself! Also, as a student, there was a cafe I used to frequent mainly for the fact they cooked the best pancakes in town. (Those who have studied at The University of St Andrews like me will know the one to which I’m referring!) Now that I have mastered how to make my own pancakes I don’t have to leave the comfort of my home to enjoy a lovely plate of pancakes!!

One last thing, before I get to the recipe, I know that this blog is focussed on healthy eating and inspiring healthy living and pancakes are not traditionally seen as very healthy at all, everyone needs a treat every so often. These pancakes are also a reasonably healthy recipe without things such as melted butter, oil, lots of refined white sugar etc. They are sweetened minimally with maple syrup, a healthy natural low-sugar content sweetener.

Right, without anymore delay – here is the recipe!

Photo

Perfect pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (add more if you’d like them sweeter)
  • 1 egg

Method:

1. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl

2. Beat the egg and combine with the liquid ingredients

3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine. Do not over mix, you do not want an entirely smooth batter, but a thick, slightly lumpy one.

4. Heat a pan and add a small amount of healthy cooking oil (such as coconut) or low-fat unsalted butter.

5. Add some batter (about a quarter cup per pancake) and cook the pancakes, turning each once when bubbles form on the top.

Photo

Photo

TIP: The first pancake is often a write off, but don’t be disheartened by this. It is just because the oil is awkward the first time around heat-wise, if that makes any sense at all?! You should see what I mean, though.

NOTE: The cooked pancakes should be evenly browned on both sides and cooked through.

7. Serve and enjoy!

Serving idea (more serving suggestions below):

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Photo

More serving ideas:

  • Sliced bananas and Greek yoghurt
  • Strawberries, Sliced Kiwis and maple syrup
  • Fruits of the forest
  • Homemade blueberry sauce
  • Frozen yoghurt and flaked almonds
  • Melted high cocoa content dark chocolate and strawberries

Hope you enjoy the pancakes as much as I do!

Helen x

For more recipes, food pics, and meal ideas, follow the blog on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest 🙂


Copyright©HLDCblog2015

 

Perfect Weekday Breakfast

Header

Extra early morning start? Make overnight oats the night before. Breakfast will be ready and waiting for you when you wake up! Overnight oats is a great alternative to porridge, and requires no cooking. The oats and chia seeds will swell and thicken overnight making a delicious filling breakfast dish. There are a number of recipes around but this is my one.

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Recipe: Berry Overnight Oats

They are ‘berry’ good!

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 heaped cup frozen berries
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp maple syrup (optional)
Photo

Step 1 before stirring

1. Add everything to a bowl or mason jar and stir

2. Cover with cling film or the mason jar lid and chill overnight

3. Remove cling film, stir once more, and eat!

(Note: All of my photos are from overnight oats I only left for around 3/4 of an hour (long story…) rather than overnight. Chilling overnight is recommended for a thicker result – hence the name ‘Overnight oats’  obviously!)

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Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 14.02.46

Basic Nutrition:

This breakfast provides a great source of slow-release energy and iron from the oats, fibre and a number of other nutritional benefits from the chia seeds (a superfood tracing back to Aztec times), calcium in the milk, and vitamins from the berries.

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Disclaimer: Nutritional information is solely from personal research and general knowledge. I am not professionally qualified in nutrition. 
Copyright©HLDCblog//Helen Redman 2015.

Ideas for a Healthy Savoury Breakfast

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A while back I posted a list of ideas for healthy sweet breakfasts (read here) and then completely to post this sister-post. I think it is by now certainly time to post this long over due content! This list of suggestions is great if you fancy something savoury rather than sweet. These ideas provide different nutritional benefits so if using them to create a meal plan for the week, remember that variety is key! Obviously there are many other healthy, savoury options but these are my top 5 and the ones which I personally have most often.

• Also, a new smoothie recipe will be coming tomorrow, thought I’d take a break from smoothies today! Here’s one from the archives if you’re currently in the mood for one – it’s a refresher smoothie (recipe here). •

Now, let’s get back to breakfast.

Here is the list:

1. Omelette (2 or 3 eggs)

A plain omelette seasoned only with black pepper is an option, but why not spice it up by adding a variety of herbs /or cayenne pepper (I LOVE this stuff for adding a spicy kick to foods) /or chilli powder etc. Add these ingredients to the egg as you whisk it up.

Also, add a little ground turmeric which will enhance the yellow colour of the egg but, more importantly, is a great spice that has surprisingly bountiful health benefits including its anti-flammitory properties and being a powerful antioxidant.

As for fillings, red pepper, sliced courgettes, finely chopped onions, half cherry tomatoes, low-salt cheese, spinach, parma ham, turkey bacon, and kale are all possible options.

Here are some combinations to try:

  • tomato, parma ham, and cheese
  • spinach, tomato, basil, and mozzarella
  • red pepper, spinach and turkey bacon
  • courgettes, mushrooms and red peppers (as seen in the picture below)
Photo

Cooking an omelette

Serve with salad leaves /or rocket or on its own.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 13.59.04

Serving suggestion

Nutrition: This breakfast provides a source of protein from the egg (filling too depending on your choice), benefits from spices, if used, and vitamins from the fillings.


2. Wholemeal toast (2 slices)

Toppings:

  • Avocado (spread a ripe avocado over the toast for a butter-like topping that is full of nutrients)
  • Scrambled egg and smoked salmon or flaked smoked mackerel (a breakfast classic!)
  • Low-fat cream cheese
  • Sliced tomatoes and a twist of cracked black pepper (a refreshing topping)
  • A poached egg (as seen in the photo below)
Egg photo

Poached egg

Or you could use a wholemeal pitta bread if desired.

Nutrition: Wholemeal bread provides a source of fibre while the toppings provide protein, and various nutrients such as omega 3 (salmon) or vitamin E (avocado).


3. Cottage cheese

If in a hurry this requires least preparation and no cooking.

Eat this with:

  • chopped fresh tomatoes
  • fresh finely chopped chives
  • celery
  • peppers
  • pineapple

Nutrition: Cottage cheese is a good low-fat source of protein and is much healthier than hard full-fat cheese. Adding fruit or vegetables adds a source of vitamins


4. A ‘grill-up’’

This is a healthy alternative to a ‘fry-up’ which is grilled rather than fried (obviously), and has healthier substitutes.

Try a combination of grilled turkey bacon (a leaner and healthier alternative to pork bacon), tomatoes, mushrooms and a scrambled egg. If vegetarian, substitute a vegetarian sausage for the bacon. You could also add sweet potato and / or reduced-salt baked beans.

Nutrition: This option provides a protein-rich breakfast.


5. Porridge

Make with just oats and water for a simple healthy breakfast or, alternatively, do what the Romans did (trust me, I have a history degree(!)), and season with herbs.

Photo

Porridge

 

Nutrition: Oats are a great source of slow-release energy and help to lower cholesterol making them a great way to start your day.


For more meal ideas, recipes, and tips follow us Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Have a great day,

Helen x


Disclaimer: Nutritional information has been gained from personal study over the years. I am a graduate of a subject which is not nutrition-based.
Copyright©HLDCblog2015

6 Salad Ideas

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This collection of salads can be used as individually plated starters or in a larger serving bowl and dish from which guests can help themselves. I have not included quantities or methods because I think for salads it varies from person to person how much of each item we enjoy most in salads so I’ve given some suggestions of things that go together well but you can decide with what quantities you’d like to go with. For me, creating any dish with food is about experimenting and I stopped following recipes years ago (I’m only in my 20s but have been cooking since I was in primary school!) There used to be a TV show here in the UK called Ready, Steady, Cook which inspired me greatly as the chefs would have a limited time to prepare dishes based on ingredients they only got to see a couple of minutes prior to beginning cooking. Who else was inspired by this programme? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below or tweet me @hldcblog! I found the methodology of the show to be a brilliant way to inspire ideas and hence, I often like to do the same – find 5 or 6 ingredients and give myself limited time to see what I can make them into! Back to salads, however, here is my selection of ideas. If I was in charge of creating a salad menu for a food establishment, these would most probably feature! Quite a few of these salads are gluten free.

TIP: If you are looking for festive salads, the last two ideas will probably suit best.


1. Mango, rocket, bulgar wheat and avocados with balsamic glaze

• The sweetness of the mango is offset by the peppery rocket, while the avocado and bulgar wheat add contrasting textures and the balsamic glaze finishing it off by adding an acidic sweetness.


2. Prawns, cucumber, avocado, served on a large romaine lettuce leave Lemon juice dressing

• This is quite a classic salad style although brought up to date with the avocado, which is certainly and rightly so, in my opinion, a popular fruit at the moment. (Gluten Free)

• A recipe for a similar salad can be found here.


3. Strawberries, rocket, balsamic glaze, and fresh basil leaves

• Surprisingly enough balsamic vinegar complements strawberries a lot, and the addition of rocket gives another flavour while the fragrant basil leaves finish off the dish creating a wonderful journey for your tastebuds! (Gluten Free)


4. Goats cheese, beetroot, spinach, balsamic, tomatoes

• Goats cheese is my favourite cheese at the moment and it features heavily as a protein source in salads I make for myself. The other ingredients I suggest combining it with go really well with the creaminess of the cheese, giving contrasting textures and flavours. (Gluten Free)


5. Festive side salad

• Dried cranberries, wensleydale, apple, pecans, rocket, watercress, lemon and balsamic vinegar dressing

•  This is a selection of sweet and sour, nutty and savoury ingredients which creates a pleasing festive salad perfect for adding a healthy supplement to Holiday dinners! (Gluten Free)


6. Cous cous, pomegranate seeds, apricots, butternut squash, rocket, and an orange-balsamic dressing

• Again, this is quite a festive salad although a somewhat alternative one as the ingredients are non-traditional. Pomegranate seeds with their deep ruby colour however can be likened to little jewels and add a festive touch. This salad would go particularly well with duck.


For more ideas, recipes and tips, follow Hldcblog on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and PinInterest.

Helen x


Copyright ©Hldcblog 2014

 

Top 10 Festive Ingredients

Top 10 festive ingredients graphic

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We are now well and truly into Advent and since I have gotten my university graduation week out of the way, I am going to try to blog more regularly. This time of year is definitely one of my favourites. There is a wonderful festive atmosphere greeting me if I go into shops, switch on the TV, walk through the High Street after sunset, or indeed, read fellow bloggers posts. Unfortunately, for the past several years during which I was in full time education, I have had the displeasure of having the festive period dampened due to exams looming over my head or, latterly, a 12 000 word dissertation deadline. Therefore, this is the first year in many that I can fully embrace Advent and the countdown to Christmas. As the focus of this blog is food, I thought I’d list my Top 10 festive ingredients. These are the fridge and store cupboard ingredients that I think on their own, or when combined with others, epitomise festive cuisine. The list has not been compiled in any particular order with the exception of no. 1. which, for me, I guess, conjures up thoughts of the divinely gorgeous scents of Christmas cooking. Although, I realise that if you are a vegetarian this won’t be featuring anywhere in your own list – apologies for this!

 So here goes,

My Top 10 Festive Ingredients:

1. Turkey

This provides the BIG EVENT for a lot of us on Christmas Day and is a great lean and healthy meat if not smothered in an abundance of fat and butter to roast! The fact it is lean is one of the reasons I eat it throughout the year, usually in the form of turkey breast steaks which I can season in a variety of ways depending on my mood. I’ll be posting some ideas on various ways to use leftover turkey closer to Christmas.


 2. Cheese

Wensleydale with cranberries cheese

Wensleydale with cranberries is my personal favourite for a festive cheese but of course there is an almost never-ending list of seasonal cheeses or year-round varieties that make for a good cheeseboard. Cheeses are not only for the after-dinner cheeseboard, however, they are also great served in cubes as appetisers, melted in a fondue, or as something with which to stuff red peppers or make heavenly smoked salmon pinwheels. (Cream cheese works best for this.) In addition, baked Camembert be used for a super easy starter. Other great cheeses are Stilton, Brie, Arran cheddar cheese (a favourite of mine), gruyere, chèvre,  and soft cheese seasoned with herbs and garlic (e.g. Boursin).


 3. Cinnamon

This is one of the key ingredients in the Christmas staple drink of mulled wine, as well as, festive hot milky drinks e.g. lattes, like my hot banana latte. Cinnamon is also a nice addition to Christmas biscuits (cookies for those in the USA) as it adds a festive flavour. And if you are a regular reader of my blog or if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I’m actually a huge fan of cinnamon year-round! TIP: For a very easy winter warming drink simply heat up some milk in a saucepan or in a microwavable mug with cinnamon and sweeten with honey. This is all natural and much healthier than ‘instant’ drinks in packets which have an assortment of artificial ingredients added.


 4. Berries

Think fruits of the forest blackberries, black cherries, red currants, and cranberries. They can be used to make an array of festive jellies, desserts, winter fruit salads, and, moreover, make an attractive table decoration. Cranberries are key. Cranberry sauce is a must for serving with roast turkey on Christmas Day and in Boxing Day sandwiches. TIP: Here is a recipe of mine for a blueberry sauce, but if you substitute the blueberries with frozen fruits of the forest, you’ll get a lovely festive sauce. Blend with a hand-blender for a perfectly smooth sauce or strain it through a sieve to get a fruit coulis.


 5. Chocolate

Now I’m not talking bog standard, chocolate, I’m talking fine dark luxury chocolate as it’s Christmas, which means the extra special varieties of foods come into play and it’s the season in which everyone deserves a treat. Give it, as it is, as an often fail-proof gift, or use it to make a luxury chocolate parfait, a rich chocolate cake, fondue or fondant cakes. It is also nice to melt some chocolate and make your own chocolate covered nuts and raisins as Christmas party snacks or accompaniments to desserts. TIP: See my post on Make-it-yourself Foodie-themed Christmas gifts for a great chocolate gift idea [COMING SOON!] Perfect for chocoholics’ palates, young and old.


 6. Apples

A selection of varieties of apples: Pink Lady, British Cox’s, and Royal Galas. Yes, apples are popular in my household!

These are perfect for making Christmas chutneys as gifts or my winter-spiced apples [my recipe here] TIP: Thinly slice and bake in the oven to make apples crisps – add some cinnamon before baking so a festive smell is wafted through your home!


 7. Cold meats (prosciutto, parma ham, black forest ham)

Parma Ham

These make perfect appetisers for dinner party guests, cheeky snacks for whoever has the task of doing the cooking (!), salads for starters [like this parma ham salad I made], and fancy ‘pigs in blankets’ (sausages usually wrapped in bacon but these are cleaner alternatives as they should be nitrate free). If buying prosciutto, make sure to buy a genuine Italian product which should be dry-cured with salt only and thus is free of artificial nitrates which have been linked to migraines as a trigger [1]. (From my own experience I can attest to this). Personally, Parma ham is my favourite prosciutto (Italian dry-cured ham). They never use nitrates or artificial products (see here).


 8. Sage

One word: stuffing. Need I say more? But, seriously, sage is a crucial ingredient in many recipes for stuffing and adds a great flavour. It is also a herb which is an antioxidant and provides a great source of Vitamin K.


 9. Nuts

These make a great Christmas party snack. There are so many to choose from and they are easy to serve. Which is your favourite? I’m most partial to pecans and coconut. Mmm…pecans! Almonds are the key ingredient for marzipan, so if you wish to make your own, you’d better stock up on a lot of almonds now! Marzipan is vital for Christmas cakes and other traditional festive foods. Christmas puddings, the traditional Christmas dessert, moreover, also contain a variety of nuts. Although, for me, neither Christmas cake or puddings make much of a showing in my Christmas dinner. *Gasp*. Too rich and heavy for me! TIP: Nut roast is a great alternative to roast turkey for vegetarians.


 10. Duck

An alternative to turkey for Christmas dinner, duck is a meat which a number of festive marinades can really compliment. Marinades and rubs for the duck really give the duck a festive taste and smell. So, for those who find turkey boring, or fancy a change this year, why not give duck a try?

There you go, that is my top 10. Feel free to reblog with a link to my post. The questions I’d love to ask you are – what is your top 10 or what do you think I should have included on my list that I haven’t? Comment below or tweet me @hldcblog.

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Have a great day,

Helen

x

Copyright ©Hldcblog2014

[1] http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/guide/triggers-specific-foods

Nutritious Salad

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This is super easy to make as it simply involves assembling the ingredients in an attractive way on a plate. The dressing is minimal but satisfying and the dish is suited for lunch and dinner alike. It also features the fruit with which I’m most obsessed at the moment: avocado!

Ingredients (to serve 1):

  • 1 portion of cooked prawns (about a handful)
  • 1/2 an avocado (peeled and chopped or sliced)
  • 2 handfuls of shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1 wedge of fresh lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 nest of rice noodles
  • 1/2 tsp reduced salt light soy sauce

Optional:

  • 1 handful of baby leaf spinach

Method:

1. Cook the rice noodles according to their packet.

2. Stir in the soy sauce and some black pepper

3. Arrange the lettuce and/or spinach on a plate and top with the avocado

4. Scatter the prawns over the salad and serve the noodles on the side.

5. Finish by squeezing the lemon juice over the prawns and salad leaves and season with black pepper to your liking.

Enjoy!

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Have a lovely day,

Helen x