Recipe Review: Lemon & Ginger Cordial

Lemon & Ginger Cordial is a perfect pick me up for this time of year when the cold and flu bugs start spreading.  I am particularly fond of this topped up with hot water and perhaps a dash of something alcoholic like rum, although it is also lovely with fizzy water.

It is really easy to make as well – chop up ginger, peel lemons, squeeze lemons, boil with sugar and water a couple of times, strain, cool and bottle.  Actually, a really important tip is to cool it fully before bottling it – as otherwise the sugar can re-crystallise at the bottom of the bottle.

This is a wonderful present to make for Christmas as you can do it in bulk (my potful above produced four 500ml bottles with just enough leftover for a mugful right away) – or just as a little gift for someone you know has succumbed to a cold/flu and is in need of something really lovely to help them recover.

Lakeland do wonderful swing top bottles here: http://www.lakeland.co.uk/15020/Cordial-Bottle 

Recipe Review: Onion Rings

Every week my husband and I do a “takeaway” dinner where we make our own takeaway-style food at home – and for the last couple of weeks this has been to try to perfect the gourmet burger experience at home.  We are both rather partial to onion rings and we’ve gone through several recipes already, none of which worked particularly well, which we put down to the fact that we don’t have a deep fat fryer (and so were using a wok filled with about 1.5 inches of oil).  However, I think we’ve now found a great onion ring recipe here.

The main recommendation arising would be to use half an onion – even though we love onion rings a lot, one onion serves many more than just us two!  The rest of the onion can go into whatever mince mix is done for the burgers.   Secondly, when draining them on kitchen roll, don’t stack them as the ones underneath will get soggy.  That’s it, no more recommendations – the recipe is a winner!

Christmas Gifts for Foodies: Missed the delivery deadline?

Christmas is now 5 days away – and if you’ve been super organised you’re all set!   However, many online retailers now don’t guarantee delivery by Christmas unless you upgrade to next-day delivery.  If you don’t want to face the high street, or pay over the odds for delivery (which may still fail – the number of stories I’ve heard!), or if you’re reading this on Christmas Eve itself, you still have options for Christmas gifts for the foodies in your life.

Get to a supermarket for your ingredients and spend an afternoon making some presents (here are some suggestions from another post). This year the hamper for my immediate family is going to consist of:

  1. Pru Leith’s Gingerbread (a staple every year),
  2. Ginger & Lemon Cordial,
  3. Triple Choc Chip Cookies,
  4. foie gras (this year I’m doing this spiced recipe which goes well with toasted slices of gingerbread, as well as doing my staple fig and port version – recipe to come),
  5. and possibly… nougat (I’ve heard it is a tricky thing to make, so we’ll see if it makes it in to the hamper!).

The other alternative is to buy a voucher – the bonus here is that these can frequently be printed immediately so you can get these right up to the last minute.  This also means that the recipient can not only choose their preferred things, but can generally take advantage of the January sales, so making your money go further!  Some ideas especially for foodies include:

Blog Find: NutritionFacts.org

In my wanderings around the internet, I find many different blogs – some good, some bad, and some worth bookmarking.

Here is the latest find:  http://nutritionfacts.org/

This one I rather like as it is written by a doctor, and is free - rather than hiding the information behind the old-fashioned method of paid subscriptions (I’m looking at you, academic journals!).

Here are some posts which caught my eye:

  1. Are Fatty Foods Addictive?
  2. Are Sugary Foods Addictive?
  3. Minimum RDAs for Antioxidants
  4. Fish Intake (Mercury Exposure) and Fetal Brain Size

Going Organic – The Dirty Dozen Foods

Non-organic methods of farming are a recent invention – for millennia, humans have been farming and producing crops using natural pesticides and fertilisers, and have not traditionally given antibiotics to cattle. However, in the drive to increase yields and maximise profits, as well as to avoid famines, non-organic methods have become the norm.  Organic foods cost more than non-organic foods – it is a simple equation that organic farms have lower yields than non-organic farms and higher labour costs, so have to sell at a higher price. In our recent tough times paying over the odds is particularly difficult to stomach (puns always intended!).  While there is little scientific evidence to support the nutritional benefits of only eating organic foods (2010 review study), I think it is just common sense that we should try to avoid exposure to various chemicals which aren’t strictly necessary. This is why the USA Environmental Working Group’s annual list of dirty dozen foods is rather important (as well as their two extra “plus” foods which are nearly at the level for inclusion). You can therefore hedge your bets a bit if your budget allows a little leeway.

Foods on the Dirty Dozen list

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry Tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hot Peppers
  7. Nectarines (imported)
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Red peppers (bell peppers)

and on the plus list:

  1. Kale/Collard Greens
  2. Courgettes

However, this is a list on foods for sale in the USA and should be taken with caution by those in the UK (like I am). Since the UK imports 95% of its organic foods, mostly from Europe (BBC news article from 2010), this is still therefore relevant to the debate, as you then get into the carbon footprint issues of food miles. Organic foods are not necessarily local after all.  If you’re more concerned with your own personal intake of chemicals and less about the environmental impact of transportation, then this list can be argued to be relevant still due to the likelihood that the major pests these particular crops are susceptible to are quite universal, especially when taking into account that some of these foods have skins which tend towards absorbing the chemicals more readily.

What particularly shocked me about the UK rules for organic produce is that they’re so vague – there is no guarantee that only organic methods have been used at all. Until as recently as 2011, chicken feed was allowed to include some (5%) non-organic feed, which had been reduced from a higher number of 20% in previous years (same BBC news article as above). Antibiotics are still allowed to be used when an animal is ill – although I couldn’t find information about how that ill animal would be treated after they’d had their antibiotics on the Soil Association Website (Would they be segregated from the rest to prevent spread of infection? If they are a dairy cow, would they still be milked? If so, how would that milk be treated/labelled? If they were shortly to be slaughtered, would they be kept to the side and labelled as non-organic? Or would they keep their organic label?).  There is also a list of allowed non-organic items which can make up 5% of a supposedly organic product – is it just me, or does that sound like a cop out?

I have only recently started buying some organic fruit and veg – mostly due to finding out about the Dirty Dozen List last year. However, with meat I have always tended to go more for the food miles and free range issues – although I’m now considering going organic with them as well, but won’t until I hear either some stronger evidence supporting organic food, or some stronger rules ensuring organic actually means organic.

Further research:

  1. The Organic Food Shopper’s Guide (Amazon.co.uk link; Amazon.com link)
  2. The Organic Cook’s Bible (Amazon.co.uk linkAmazon.com link)

 

An Essential Nutrition Briefing – Vitamins

I’ve been reading a lot recently about nutrition and wanted to share what I’ve found out here in an easy to digest (pun intended!) format.  So there will be a series of posts on essential nutritional information and debates that are being raised which I think are interesting.   The first topic I’ve selected is Vitamins, but there will be future posts about specific types of vitamins in more depth, as well as coverage of minerals, the other food groups, and summaries of “hot topics” like whether you should supplement and so on.

Some basic facts about Vitamins:

  • A scientist called Casimir Funk invented the term vitamin in 1912 – here is a link to the Nobel Prize website which summarises a history of vitamins
  • Vitamins are vital organic compounds which the body needs in order to function properly.
  • They are distinct from minerals, amino acids and fatty acids which the body also needs.
  • They are required in limited amounts which means that there is a recommended daily range for each of them.
  • They cannot be synthesised by the body (although Vitamin D is controversial in that we can synthesise it in the body as well as by getting it in our diets).
  • They need to be found in the diet (so that is why we need a balanced diet).
  • They are frequently group names of which there are multiple varieties (e.g. Vitamin A includes retinal, retinol and caretenoids)
  • Deficiencies of vitamins can cause serious medical complications (e.g. rickets, scurvy etc)

There are 13 types of vitamins currently recognised:

  1. Vitamin A
  2. Vitamin B1 Thiamin
  3. Vitamin B2 Riboflavin
  4. Vitamin B3 Niacin
  5. Vitamin B5 (Biotin)
  6. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
  7. Vitamin B6
  8. Vitamin B9 (Folate)
  9. Vitamin B12
  10. Vitamin C
  11. Vitamin D
  12. Vitamin E
  13. Vitamin K

I’m going to be looking at each of these individually in future posts, keeping the briefing style of post, and will update the list above with links as I go.  So hopefully, you’ll see the list above turn into clickable links in due course!

Beat the Christmas Bulge

I’ve been planning my Christmas food this last week – and having concerns over how much high-calorie food there will be in the house which may prove disastrous to my weight management goals.  However, in the interests of preventing the average weight gain of 2kg (or 5lbs in old money), I’ve put together a list of my top tips to help bolster your intentions.

  1. Use smaller plates – studies have found that eating from a smaller plate makes us feel more satisfied than the same amount on a larger one.  Coming from a generation of children who were taught to clean the plate otherwise there would be no pudding, I’m very used to getting through everything on the plate I’m given.
  2. Don’t pile things high – especially when there is a buffet!  I’m guilty of piling things high on occasion – and mostly it is because I didn’t look at all the things available when I’m serving myself – so completely misjudging how much space there is on the plate and how many dishes there are to try out.  Start small, then go back for seconds if there are any left… (or you can do what some people do and have a good look at everything on display before joining the queue so you know what you want to save some space for).
  3. Plan ahead – try to plan in some lighter meals amongst the overly rich meals that may be on offer this season.  I’ve got some hot winter salads planned around the necessary ham, goose and beef days…  (I’m also thinking about doing some Gazpacho – my version is effectively an intense salad puree which I seem to crave to offset all the fat and starch around this time of year).
  4. Exercise – if all else fails, find some high-intensity workouts (at your appropriate fitness level of course) to offset the intake.  I am fond of kickboxing workouts as they seem to work well for me, but there is an interesting trend of 1000 calorie workouts – here’s one on youtube which I might try – which would make you feel all saintly again!
  5. Watch the booze – empty calories and hangovers!  I tend to volunteer to be the driver so I don’t look like a wimp because I don’t want to drink very much – I resent the wasted calories and get horrendous hangovers these days so feel rubbish the entire next day.  I also think that when I’m not allowed very much (perhaps one glass with lunch) I enjoy it more.