My embarrassing middle-class allergy

Some people are born with unfortunate allergies, others develop them later on in life. Both are very annoying, but arguably the most infuriating variety are the ones you create for yourself (not on purpose, obviously. That’d be insane.). Typically, my embarrassing middle-class allergy falls into this category. Confused? Don’t worry, I’ll explain and hopefully you can avoid this shameful fate for yourself.

Last year, I developed a rather unpleasant allergy to a very popular healthy food. I’d never had any real issues with food before (other than eating too much of it), so it came as a rather nasty surprised when I figured out what was causing the horrible stomach cramps and intense vomiting sessions. The culprit?

QUINOA.

Quinoa. Quinoa. How pathetic and embarrassing is that? Even as I write this, I cringe. When I’ve been forced to admit to it in public, I can see the look of judgement in people’s eyes. I can almost hear them thinking, “Ohh, poor little princess can’t have her quinoa! I wonder if she’s allergic to caviar too?”

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No quinoa for me, thanks.

Regardless of how ridiculous it is (and I know it really is), the fact remains that it can be physically very painful. There are definitely worse allergies out there and I am comparatively very lucky, but it’s still not much fun. This delicious protein-rich “wonder grain” went from being my best dinner time friend to my sworn enemy, and it didn’t happen over night. My intolerance to the little buggers came as a result of eating it a lot (several times a week) and not washing it properly. Who knew that those instructions to thoroughly wash it on the packets and on numerous websites were meant to be taken seriously? It turns out if you don’t rinse it really really well before you cook and eat it, the saponin – the natural oily residual on the grain – can build up in your system and lead to pure agony at any time. Hooray! I only found this out after stumbling across this blog post from Embracing the Absurd, which was a big help as there’s very little information out there about this.

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I even made quinoa bread, ffs.

I’m writing this blog post for two reasons: the first is to encourage all you quinoa fans out there to wash the hell out of those damn grains before consumption, and the second is because as of next month, it’s been a year since I last ate the stuff. Apparently if you wait a year, you should be able to eat the food again. The question is – is it worth it? I’ve read a few articles about how the increased popularity of quinoa has put intense economical pressures on countries that farm it, such as Bolivia, and shockingly, I’ve managed to survive without it in my diet. I really like bulgar wheat and cous cous, which work just as well. No grain, no pain?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

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RiverSide delights

Have you ever been to RiverSide Walk in Kingston-upon-Thames? If not, you really should do, especially if you like good food and stunning views.

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How’s that for a view?

I was invited to “Taste the World” with RiverSide a few weeks ago, and I still find myself thinking about the tasty treats on offer there! A word of warning – not all of the food there is strictly healthy, but the quality is well worth the justification of a “cheat” meal.

The first restaurant we visited was Cau, and it was also my favourite of the night. Their contemporary Argentinian cuisine features so many delicious cuts of mouthwatering meat. Their steak and chorizo in particular was mind-blowing, and their chicken was so tender! I’m dribbling a little just thinking about it.

The next restaurant on the menu was Comptoir Libanais. I’ve been to different branches before, but this one is lovely and, as with all of them, adorably decorated with bright coloured prints and authentic Middle Eastern design. Not only is Lebanese food delicious and so full of flavour, it can also be very healthy if you opt for aubergine-rich baba ghanuj, houmous and grilled meat, such as chicken and lamb. As a non-drinker, I was also delighted by their vast array of fresh and fruit juice option – the Roomana (pomegranate and orange blossom) was a definite favourite.

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Last, and certainly not least, we visited Côte Brasserie. At this point, we were absolutely stuffed, but there’s always room for pudding, right? Especially with their Dark Chocolate Mousse and signature Crème Caramel on offer! If you like French food or are keen to try some, Côte is an ideal choice.

Even though I was invited along and treated like a Queen (HUGE thanks to Ushma and the gang), I promise I’m being 100% honest when I say that Riverside is a beautiful place to visit and all of the restaurants there are fantastic! There’s something for everyone, and I can’t think of a better place to visit in the summer sunshine for a delicious meal and stunning scenery. You’ll feel more like you’re abroad on holiday than in a London borough! Get down there.

Perfect poached eggs

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Who doesn’t love an egg? Apart from vegans, obviously (sorry vegans). They don’t just taste good – they contain plenty of powerful protein, which will give you lots of energy and help your body to heal itself. Isn’t that egg-citing?

I’m not good at many things, but one thing I’ve become something of a master at is poaching the hell out of eggs. I’ve seen all of the tutorials on Pinterest and I’ve tried various techniques, but this way has proven to be the easiest and most successful. Together with the right timing, you should be left with perfect eggs with a wonderfully runny yoke. Life will never be better.

Perfect poached eggs

Ingredients

2 eggs (per person)
A pinch of sea salt
A generous glug of white wine vinegar

Method

Take a medium-sized sauce pan and fill it 3/4 full with water. Put it on the hob on a medium heat, and add the salt and white wine vinegar. Wait until the water just starts to bubble – you don’t want it too hot. Break your first egg into a teacup and place it into the water (the egg, not the teacup). The egg will stay together well if you don’t move it around too much, hence the placing. Repeat for the second egg.

When all of your eggs are in, mark your timer for 4 mins – this is the perfect amount of time for making sure the egg is cooked well while still keeping the yoke nice and runny. When the time is up, fish the eggs out with a spoon that has some holes in it (ideally) and drain as much water off as possible. Serve however you bloody well like, and enjoy!

Homemade maple granola with nuts and seeds

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Late to the party as always, I recently got my hands on the Thug Kitchen cookbook. Have you heard of those guys? They’re awesome. I’m not a vegan by any stretch of the imagination, but the book is full of insanely delicious recipes – definitely worth a purchase.

This recipe caught my eye straight away and, even though it makes a big batch, I’ve already made it twice in two weeks. The kinds you can get from the supermarket often contain so much sugar and other nasty stuff, so making your own is a great way to keep a good eye on what you’re eating. It’s super easy, and the best part is you can add pretty much anything you like to it! I’ve adapted their recipe to suit my diet better (swapped out olive oil for coconut oil, dried cranberries for raisins etc.), so here’s my take on their brilliant breakfast staple.

Homemade maple granola with nuts and seeds

Ingredients

3 cups of whole rolled oats
1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
1/2 chopped almonds
1/3 flaxseed
1/3 chia seeds
1/2 maple syrup
1/3 cup of coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla powder (I prefer the fancy Madagascan kind)
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A pinch of sea salt
1/2 raisins

Method

First things first, heat your oven to around 150 degrees Celsius (300 Fahrenheit) and line a big rimmed baking sheet with some parchment paper.

Pour the oats, various seeds and almonds into a big bowl and mix them all together. In a microwave-safe mug, melt the coconut oil (30 seconds should do it) and then mix in the maple syrup and vanilla powder. Pour the syrup-y oil all over the oat mix and give it a really good stir. You want to make sure all of the oats are good and covered.

Spread the oat mix all over the baking sheet, and stick it in the oven for about 40 minutes. Take it out every 10 minutes and give it a stir to make sure all of the oats get good and toasted.

When the time is up, take the tray out and stir in the raisins. Leave it to cool, and then pour it all into an air-tight container. It should last for up to two weeks, but I challenge you not to finish it in a few days. My favourite way to eat it is with Greek yoghurt, fresh berries and a dash of honey because IT’S SO GOOD. Enjoy!

My 5 Favourite Sweet (and Healthy) Treats

One of the biggest stigmas around healthy eating is that you have to deny yourself. I certainly used to think that. In my mind, being good meant cutting out anything that tasted good, especially if it’s sweet. Thankfully, this is not the case. We’re entering a golden age where there are a wide variety of treats available to buy that are not only delicious, but are also nutritionally beneficial. And that’s not even counting the ones you can make yourself. What a world!

At this point, I feel I should say that although these foods are healthy, they should be considered and consumed as “treats”. Too much of anything isn’t good for you, and natural sugars are still sugars at the end of the day. Enjoy them every now and then as part of a balanced diet, and you’ll be fine and dandy.

As someone with a powerful and all-consuming sweet tooth, I’ve made it my mission to try a number of the options available from fine establishments such as Holland & Barrett, Whole Foods and even the internet. Here are a few of my favourite sweet treats:

1. Pulsin Raspberry & Goji Berry Raw Choc Brownie

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These don’t have the same texture or consistency of a “normal” brownie, but they taste just as decadent. The richness of the raw cacao is perfectly balanced with the gentle zing of the raspberry. They’re vegan, gluten free, dairy free, and contain no added sugar or other nasty stuff. They also go perfectly with a cup of tea!

2. Buff Bake Protein Peanut Butter

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If you work out or need more protein in your diet, Buff Bake is the most delicious way to get it. Their range of protein nut butters is not only vast and incredible, but they’re also full of good stuff! Made with added whey protein, chia and flax seeds, they contain no added sugar and are also gluten free. I’ve tried a few of their flavours now (for research purposes, of course…), and I can safely say that they all taste amazing. They’re a little bit pricey, but totally worth it. I like to add a spoonful to a post work-out shake with a frozen banana – it tastes even better than a chocolate milkshake!

3. The Giving Tree Strawberry Crisps

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I love strawberries, but eating fresh ones on the go can be a little bit messy. Enter The Giving Tree with their lovely and convenient bags of freeze dried ones. There are no added ingredients – just beautiful strawberries that are dried whole. Each bag equals one of your 5-a-day too, so they’re definitely a better option than a bag of regular crisps. Add them to desserts or eat them on their own – the possibilities are endless!

4. The Raw Chocolate Co. Organic Raw Chocolate Raisins

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If chocolate is your weakness, you have to try these bad boys. Raw chocolate is so much more rich and chocolate-y than a bar of Dairy Milk could ever dream of being, and as a result it’s so much more satisfying. They’re also vegan, gluten free and kosher, so they can be enjoyed by all!

5. nakd Bakewell Tart bar

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I don’t know how they’ve done it (witchcraft?), but the clever folks at nakd have managed to make a raw fruit and nut bar taste EXACTLY like a bakewell tart – and it’s one of your 5-a-day! They have a wide variety of different flavoured bars available, but this one is definitely my favourite. All of their bars are made from 100% natural ingredients with no added sugars or syrups, and are also wheat, dairy and gluten free. In your FACE, Mr Kipling.

What are your favourite healthy sweet treats?

Roast chicken with garlic and coconut oil

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Is there anything better than a Sunday roast? It’s a British institution for a reason, and that reason? It tastes incredible. I’ve also found buying whole chickens to be very economical – roast it up on Sunday and enjoy the meat for the rest of the week! You can even make a stock from the bones, but more on that later.

I’d had this recipe forming in my mind for a little and, after finally trying it today, it did not disappoint. Not only that, but it’s clean and pretty healthy – hooray! If you love garlic as much as I do, then you have to stop what you’re doing right now and try it. Combined with the coconut oil, the results are bloody brilliant: fall-off-the-bone tender garlic-infused meat with a beautiful crispy skin. The best part? It’s super easy! Just be prepared to have your home smell of garlic of a few days…

Roast chicken with garlic and coconut oil

Ingredients

One medium/large (depending on how hungry you are) good quality chicken (I used a corn-fed one, and it was really good)
A whole bulb of garlic (approx. 8 cloves)
2 tbsp coconut oil (with a little extra for greasing)
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 red onion

Method

The first thing you need to do is make your garlic butter. That’s right, you read that correctly – garlic butter. This is the secret to making your chicken amazingly moist (sorry, I know a lot of people hate that word, but I don’t know how else to describe it). To make it, melt your coconut oil in the microwave about 30 seconds. Mince 4 cloves of garlic and add to the melted coconut oil, followed by the herbs. Mix well. Line a small tupperware container with cling film and pour the mixture in. Pop it in the freezer and leave it in there for at least 30 minutes.

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Next, preheat your oven to 190 degrees C/Fan 170 degrees C/Gas 5. Cut the red onion up into slices and put it in a roasting tin to make a little bed for the chicken to sit on. We want it to be comfortable.

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Take your chicken and cut/remove any string tying the legs and whatnot together. Remove giblets if it comes with any. The next step is a little gross, but be brave: slide your fingers under the chicken’s skin to separate it from the meat. The skin is stronger than you think, so don’t worry about tearing it. If you have small fingers like me (welcome to the small hand club!), use the end of a wooden spoon to get to the end of it. Take your garlic butter out of the freezer. Cut it up, and insert it under the chicken skin.

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It looks a bit like a Klingon, doesn’t it?

Take another 4 cloves of garlic (I told you this would be super garlicky), peel them and put them in the chicken’s bum (teehee). Rub the extra coconut oil on the outside of the chicken. Put the chicken in the oven and cook for as long as it’s supposed to – mine said a cooking time on the packaging (1 hour 35 minutes), but you can always ask your butcher if you’re unsure.

When the time is up and the juices from the chicken run clear, take it out of the oven. Cover it up with tin foil and tea towels, and let it rest in a cosy little fort for roughly 15 minutes. This will make the chicken really tender so don’t skip this step, no matter how hungry you are.

After the rest, remove the blankets. Carve it up and enjoy!

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Porridge with hazelnut milk, raspberries, banana and coconut honey

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Porridge (or oatmeal, as our American friends like to call it) is a bit of a classic, isn’t it? So simple, yet so filling and satisfying. It’s taken me a very long time to realise that you don’t need to add a ton of sugar to make it taste good either! Turns out raspberries work amazingly well, as they basically turn to a pureé as you mix them in with the lovely warm oats, and the banana gives it a wonderful richness.

Regular honey or maple syrup make for perfect sweeteners but I was given this beautiful Coconut Honey from Ceylon Coconut Company, so I had to try it out. Have you tried Coconut Honey? It’s really quite something, and made from the sap of coconut blossoms. I’d say it’s more like a dark syrup than a honey really. I’ve tried to find this exact product online, but the closest I can get is this Coconut Syrup from Coconut Merchant (their stuff is amazing, so I have no doubts that it’ll be delicious).

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Porridge with hazelnut milk, raspberries, banana and coconut honey

Ingredients

1 cup of rolled oats (not the ground-up instant kind)
2 cups of hazelnut milk (pretty much any milk will work)
1 cup of fresh raspberries (keep a couple aside to go on top so that it looks pretty)
1 large/medium or 2 small banana(s)
2 tbsp coconut honey (or your sweetener of choice)

Method

Add your oats and milk to a saucepan, and warm up on a medium heat. Stir it occasionally. Meanwhile, chop up your banana into little chunks. You could always blend it or mash it up if you prefer a finer consistency.

As the oats start to absorb the milk, keep a close eye to make sure it stays nice and moist (sorry, I know people hate that word). When it’s reaches your desired texture, take the pan off the heat and stir in the banana. Once it’s well combined, add your raspberries and stir vigorously. Your aim here is to break them up so that the porridge is good and flavoured. Once it’s all mixed together and looking lovely, pour it into a bowl and add your coconut honey on top (you may want to add a little extra – just listen to your heart), followed by the remaining raspberries. Eat up while it’s hot and enjoy!

4 Items That Can Make You Healthier

Let’s be honest: most of the time, being healthy is not convenient. If you fancy a quick snack at work or need to grab breakfast on the go, you often have to settle for whatever’s on offer at your local shop and usually, it’s crap.

The best way to avoid this situation is simple – BE PREPARED. But how, dammit?

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Fortunately, there are a number of wonderful items available to help make the whole process easier. Here are four things that have helped me to be healthier on a day-to-day basis, and hopefully they can help you too. They’re all affordable too – hooray!

1. Blender Bottle GoStak – starting from £9.00
So simple, and yet so bloody clever. I stock up on bags of nuts, seeds, dried fruit etc., and fill each of the little interlocking jars so that I have my snacks for the day ahead. This way not only do I have tasty treats to hand at all times, but I’m also able to make sure I don’t overindulge. I could quite easily inhale a whole bag of cashews in one sitting but with my handy GoStak, I have just enough to keep me going. BOOM.

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My GoStak in action

2. Water Infuser Bottle – starting from £6.99
If you find drinking or even enjoying water a struggle, why not try infusing it with good stuff? Lemon, strawberry, cucumber – whatever you want! It all tastes amazing in water-y form. Just chop up your chosen fruit or veg, pop it into the little cage, fill the bottle with water and leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, drink up and delight in your delicious refreshment.

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Water Bottle Infuser

3. Vacu Vin Banana Guard – £2.49
I love bananas, but I do not like bruised ones. This handy guard allows me to transport my banana in safety, free of any nasty black marks. There are a few varieties of guard available, but I like this as it accommodates any shape banana. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.

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Banana guard

4. A blender with a portable cup – starting from £19.99
When I’m in a rush in the mornings, I love a good smoothie or shake for breakfast as it’s a quick way to get fruit inside my body. Now it’s even easier thanks to blenders that come with portable travel bottles or cups! I started off with this Breville bargain, but my bearded man kindly upgraded me to a NutriNinja last year and it’s brilliant. Here’s me enjoying a shake on my way to work. Look how big my hand looks!

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My NutriNinja bottle and I

So, there we have it! What handy items help make you healthier?

Chocolate Banana Pancakes

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Happy almost Easter! Or, as I like to call it, Eat-ster. It’s hard to be healthy on holidays that are so centred around food, especially this one. Who doesn’t love a good chocolate egg? There are healthier ways to enjoy them (dark chocolate and the like), but it helps to at least start the day right with a nutritious and breakfast. That being said, this doesn’t mean it can’t be decadent!

I make these pancakes all the time, but I never thought to make them chocolatey until now. The rule is one banana and two eggs per person, which will make a stack of three or four depending on how big you like them. They’re so quick and simple to make (only three ingredients), are gluten-free and full of protein. If you don’t like chocolate, they’re just as delicious with vanilla. As you can see, I had these with the cherries left over from my Cherry and Cacao Chia Pudding recipe, but you can top them with whatever you like. I do highly recommend fresh berries and maple syrup or honey though. They almost taste too good to be healthy.

Chocolate Banana Pancakes

Ingredients

1 banana
2 eggs
1 tbsp cacao powder
1 tbsp coconut oil (with a little extra on standby, just in case)

Method

In a blender, mix together the banana, eggs and cacao powder. You can do this by hand if you prefer, but I’ve found the pancakes taste better when the batter is good and smooth.

Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and melt the coconut oil. Spread it all around the pan so it’s well-coated, and ladle in a big spoonful of the batter. As there is no flour to bind these, the pancakes will be more delicate than the normal kind, so many sure they’re fully cooked on the bottom before you flip them – this should take roughly two minutes. Repeat this process until you use all of the batter and have a sexy little stack (I’m bringing sexy stack). You might need to add more coconut oil between pancakes. Add your toppings of choice, and eat them all up. Enjoy!

Chicken and Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

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This curry isn’t big in the looks department (thanks for sticking with it, much obliged), but trust me – it’s big taste more than makes up for it. It’s become a favourite in my house, as it’s pretty damn tasty and quick to make. The main reason? A majority of the ingredients are frozen. That’s right, I said the f-word – FROZEN. I’ve found there’s still a bit of snobbery around using frozen vegetables in healthy cooking. Whilst using the fresh variety is preferable for ensuring you get the most nutritional goodness, buying them on the reg can get pricey and the (fridge) shelf-life isn’t long. Having a good stock of frozen vegetables means you can just whack them into your dishes quickly with minimal fuss (I hate chopping), and some veg is better than none, right? Plus, it’s much more affordable. This recipe makes for a whole lot of curry, so be prepared for leftovers – ideal for taking to work the next day…and possibly the day after.

Also, sweet potato is AMAZING in curry. It goes so well with coconut milk, and it makes the texture much creamier and more luxurious. It definitely plays a bigger part than the chicken does, so you can always leave that part out if you want to make it a veggie meal. I keep it in for the extra protein.

Chicken and Sweet Potato Coconut Curry with Peas and Spinach

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts (optional for all you veggies out there)
1 large sweet potato (or 2 medium ones)
1 can of coconut milk
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chilli powder (as hot as you like, or not)
1 cup of frozen onions
1 cup of frozen peas
1 cup of frozen spinach
1 pinch of sea salt and pepper (to taste)
1 tbsp coconut oil

Method

Let’s get preppin’! Cut the chicken breasts into cubes. Peel the sweet potato and cut that into cubes also – the smaller they are, they faster they cook.

Heat a large wok or saucepan (I prefer a wok, as it gives you more room for activities) on a medium-high heat and melt the coconut oil. Once it’s clear and the pan is nice and hot, add in the frozen onions. It’ll take longer than the fresh kind to cook, as the water will need to cook off. Once the onions appear dry and start to brown, add the chicken. Make sure the chicken is cooked all over (no pink, please), and then add the spices: cumin, ginger, turmeric, garlic and chilli powder. Make sure the chicken is well coated with the spices, and then add the sweet potato and mix well. Once everything is nice and coated, add the coconut milk. Stir it all together, reduce the heat to medium and pop a lid on it for five minutes. This makes the chicken and sweet potato so soft and really infuses them with flavour – trust me, you’ll love it. At this point, I normally start cooking my brown rice to go with it. The timing normally works out perfectly.

After 5 minutes, add in the frozen peas and frozen spinach. Make sure the spinach in particular is submerged in the coconut milk so that it can melt. Put the lid back on for another 5 minutes, and then stir to break up the spinach. Leave it to simmer away for another 10/15 minutes. Serve with the brown rice and enjoy!