Category Archives: Healthy

My New BFFs: Quinoa and Brown Rice

In my experience, food memories can have such a lasting impact that a negative first tasting can put a food on my black list forever. For example, I cannot stand the mere smell of Black Sambuca, thanks to an awful experience with the hideous drink at my Year 12 formal after-party. I still loathe liquorice to this day.

Less traumatising, but still an unpleasant memory, was the first time I cooked quinoa. A couple of years ago my friends Amanda and Nat were constantly raving about quinoa (pronounced keen-wa, like Joaquin [Phoenix] backwards). I eventually caved in to peer pressure and tried it myself. It was awful. It smelt like dirt, had an unusual texture, and seemed like an all-round lousy substitute for my usual buttery couscous.

Another unpleasant memory is the time, not long after moving out of home, in which I tried to cook plain white rice. One of my beloved pink saucepans was destroyed by a thick black coating of burnt rice. After a few more unsuccessful gluggy rice-cooking attempts I permanently delegated the cooking of rice to Paul.

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Filed under Easy, Healthy, Recipes, Salad, Vegetarian

Baked Sweet Potato Chips (and The Diet Update)

The Diet Update

It has been over 4 weeks since I publicly announced my weight loss goal, and it is going well! I find it interesting that despite my resistance to the quit sugar movement I haven’t actually missed added sugar. I do miss milk, but I can deal with that because so far I have lost 5kg! My fat pants that had become tight are now sitting looser on my hips!

During week 1 I found the diet easier than I had anticipated, and I said no to offers of chocolate without a second thought. One of the biggest changes I noticed were my energy levels. Over the first few days, the detoxing resulted in uncharacteristically high levels of energy, especially after dinner.

 My pre-diet pre-dinner hunger was unreasonable

Pre-diet I would have arrived home from work ravenous, mindlessly snacking before cooking dinner. While I cooked I would have enjoyed a glass of wine, followed by another when eating dinner. Mmm relaxing grape juice. After this I would have been exhausted and sluggish. There would be a bit of arguing debating about whose turn it was to wash the dishes, resulting in a stalemate, then a quick shower and crashing in bed. Repeat.

Post-diet I found my hunger manageable when I arrived home, and my glass became chilled water with lemon slices while I cooked. Mmm quenched thirst. Dinner was light and full of fresh flavours, crisp vegetables and fragrant herbs. A bizarre burst of energy then followed, resulting in me washing the dishes without a whinge. I felt positive and alert, and I wasn’t weighed down by sugar or alcohol. This was new, and I liked it.

Bursts of energy after 9pm on a weeknight are, however, unwelcome and inappropriate, so I was relieved when my body adjusted after a few days and my energy returned to daylight bursts.

Cool, so you had bonus energy…

The reason for my long-winded example of the energy I had is to show the effect the new diet of no sugar, butter/oil, or wheat (or alcohol) had on my body. A small whiny voice inside me may be sulking in defiance, but I feel great without those foods as part of every meal, every day.

The next couple of weeks were hectic. Life was full of potentially diet-cancelling events, such as moving house, Easter, and several of our family and friends’ birthday events. But outside of my ‘cheat meals’ the diet continued.

Last week was the hardest yet. I had a few slip-ups (a bit of chocolate here, milk in my tea) which tasted great at the time, but made me feel dejected afterwards. If I craved something not on the plan, my well-meaning friends and my traitorous inner voice would say things like “you’re only human!”, “but it’s only 1 piece of chocolate, look how much you’ve lost already”, “go on, it’s just a splash of milk”, “I’ve brought you some homemade chocolates!”, and I did give in a few times.

The problem is that when I start having a little bit of chocolate here and there it easily becomes a daily habit. When I’ve reached my goal these things will be back in moderation, and I LOOK FORWARD TO THAT DAY, but not yet.

After some Amanda-style tough love, I reaffirmed to myself that I wasn’t going to slide back into old unhealthy, unbalanced, and unhappy daily habits because of those slip-ups. We’re pushing on!

The chocolate can wait until after my friend’s wedding in Bali (2 weeks to go!), and after I’ve reached my weight loss goal.

I did say I would blog some healthy, simple recipes, so here is the first one…

Baked Sweet Potato Chips

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Filed under Easy, Healthy, Recipes, Vegetarian

SlimPasta

Warning! This post contains phrases such as “low carb” and “low calorie”… ;)

With most of my previous posts being quite, um, indulgent and dessert-focused, you could say that I’m not usually one for… self-imposed diet restrictions.

Take pasta for example. That carb-laden delight is usually one of the first foods to go when people want to lose weight. I love pasta. One of my favourite and easiest dinners is to cook a quick, fresh sauce, stirred through a bowl of linguine, with shavings of parmesan. Oh my. It’s delicious, and one of my ultimate comfort foods.

But the reality is, pasta is something I only eat less than once a week. I love it, but I feel uncomfortably full and sluggish afterwards, and eating a bowl of pasta for dinner probably isn’t the best food option if one wants to lose a few kilos.

Sad.

With all that in mind, when WordStorm PR offered to send me samples of the new SlimPasta product (with no obligations to post about it by the way) I was intrigued by the claim of “94% less calories than white wheat pasta” and said yes please!

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Filed under Beef, Easy, Healthy, Pasta, Quick, Recipes, Sauce, Vegetarian

Cooking with Sami’s Kitchen Spice Blends (and a Giveaway!)

As a food lover, and food blogger, it can be easy to get carried away with rich food, eating out, and generally consuming too many calories. Summer is fast approaching and I’m still finding my cake-loving way to a place of balance and self-control. Happily, I know that healthy food doesn’t have to be bland and boring.

Not every day is gourmet in our house – and nor is every meal worthy of photographing ;) . In fact our usual weekday dinners are quite simple really: grilled meat of some kind with salad or vegetables, rice or couscous, or on occasion we will have pasta, omelettes, soup etc.

Healthy and simple doesn’t have to mean tasteless though. One way to turn a potentially plain meal of grilled chicken and salad into a dinner to get excited about is, of course, by using fresh and dried spices and herbs.

I love using herbs and spices but find myself continually reaching for the same ones in my after-work-oh-so-hungry auto-pilot mode. The most used herb in my cupboard is thyme (I prefer it dried to fresh), accompanied by lemon and garlic. Thyme is my favourite herb and can find its way into most of my dinners: omelettes (it’s great on fried eggs too), chicken, salad, pasta sauce, roast vegetables… Once I even had a thyme, mandarin and dark chocolate rice pudding at Fifteen Melbourne.

Now I don’t think there is anything wrong with my constant use of thyme, though Paul might disagree, but it’s good to try new things.

Claire from Food Guru, the Sydney-based online gourmet food store, recently sent me two spice blends from the Sami’s Kitchen range to sample: Shish Tawook and Shawarma. Food Guru stocks the four Middle Eastern spice blends from Sami’s Kitchen which come in 82g packets ($6.95 each or all four for $22).

The Shish Tawook blend contains garlic, paprika, pimento, nutmeg and cinnamon (and may contain thyme!). It has a sweet fragrance and is perfect for use with chicken or fish.

The Shawarma blend contains pepper, pimento, mustard, cumin, ginger, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. It has an intense fragrance and matches well with red meat.

The spice blends are versatile and can be used across a range of meat, vegetable and grain dishes. So far I have tried both blends in a few different dishes, from simply marinating free range chicken breast in shish tawook, garlic, and lemon, to my below experiments. The spice blends are bold, heady but balanced, making it so easy, convenient and simple to create a delicious (and healthy!) dinner after getting home from work. I haven’t forgotten about my dear thyme, but we’re definitely enjoying the new flavours in our kitchen.

And now to share the love, I’m excited to announce my first giveaway!

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Thanks to Food Guru one lucky Cats – Love – Cooking reader will win a pack of four Sami’s Kitchen Spice Blends!

The selection pack includes Shawarma blend (ideal for meat dishes), Shish Tawook blend (ideal for chicken dishes), Falafel blend (ideal for a vegetarian feast), and Zaatar blend (ideal for salads and as a bread dip).

For a chance to win simply leave a comment below letting me know what you would be inspired to cook with the Sami’s Kitchen range.

This competition is open to anyone in Australia, one entry per person, and ends at 12.00pm (AEST) on Friday 30 September 2011. The winner will be randomly selected and notified by email and announced on this blog.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW FINISHED – WINNER ANNOUNCED SOON
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Spiced Almond Crusted Fish
Serves 4

Baked fish is super healthy, and thanks to the almond and shish tawook crust this definitely isn’t lacking in flavour. This would be great with a thicker fish fillet, for appearances sake, but I only had thin morwong fillets. Serve with your choice of grains and vegies.

  • 4 white fish fillets
  • 80g almonds
  • 2 tablespoons shish tawook spice blend
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooked couscous and salad, to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Process almonds in food processor until roughly chopped, but not too fine.
  3. Combine almonds and shish tawook, season with salt and pepper, and spread onto a plate.
  4. Brush top of fish fillets with egg then press, egg-side down, onto almond mix. Transfer to baking tray and bake until fish is cooked, around 15 minutes depending on the thickness. Serve with couscous and salad.

Stuffed Roast Capsicums
Serves 4

I invited my Mum and sister over for dinner recently to celebrate my sister’s new job, and decided to make stuffed capsicums because a. they look quite cool, b. they’re easy to prepare as both meat and vegetarian options, and c. I thought they’d go well with the shish tawook blend. I used free range pork mince for the meat stuffing, and for my Mum’s vegetarian variation I used chickpeas. The spice went well with both the pork and chickpeas, and was delicious paired with natural yoghurt, fresh coriander, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Try to find similar sized capsicums with a sturdy base – test their balance on a flat surface in the store first!

  • 500g free range pork mince
  • 2 tablespoons shish tawook spice blend
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 brown onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 red capsicums
  • Olive oil
  • Brown rice salad, natural yoghurt, lemon, and fresh coriander, to serve
  1. Finely chop the zucchini, onion and garlic in a food processor. Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Carefully cut the top of the capsicums off and keep aside, then remove the seeds. Heat the capsicums in the microwave for 2 minutes to soften slightly.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and saute zucchini, onion and garlic for 5 minutes or until soft. Add shish tawook and stir for 1 minute. If your frying pan is large enough, add pork mince and cook until browned. If it’s not big enough (like mine wasn’t), transfer zucchini mix to a bowl, add pork mince to the pan and cook until browned, then add the zucchini back in. Season with salt and pepper. You can add more shish tawook here if you feel it needs it.
  4. Fill capsicums with pork mixture, then top with their lids. Transfer to oven on the lined baking tray and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Serve with brown rice salad, lemon wedges, natural yoghurt and fresh coriander.

Vegetarian variation: Replace the pork mince with a 400g tin of drained chickpeas, follow the rest of the steps

Shawarma BBQ Asado Ribs

Asado De Tira, or short ribs, are an Argentinian cut of meat. Asado ribs are one of Paul’s favourite meats to BBQ, though not one of mine. It’s a very fatty cut of meat which tends to be chewy, and after a couple of ribs I usually leave the messy greasiness to him.

Despite my usual resistance towards asado ribs, we had some that needed to be cooked. Traditionally you would simply season the asado with salt before grilling, but I decided to marinate these ribs in the Shawarma spice blend to jazz them up a bit.

Following the packet suggestion, I mixed 2 tablespoons of Shawarma with extra virgin olive oil, a few splashes of red wine vinegar, and sea salt, then rubbed it into the ribs, leaving it to marinate in the fridge for the day. Paul cooked the ribs on the Weber coal BBQ, with the lid on to smoke it, and so the meat develops a nice crust. The scent of the Shawarma spices when the meat hit the grill was intensely fragrant, and flavour-wise worked really well with the meaty ribs.

BBQ, beer & ribs

Visit Sami’s Kitchen for more ideas to inspire your entry. Good luck! :-D

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW FINISHED – WINNER ANNOUNCED SOON

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Filed under Beef, Healthy, Pork, Quick, Recipes, Seafood, Vegetarian

Short Bites: RSPCA Cupcake Day, Fresh Fruit Salad, Perfect Couscous, and The Garden

Being a cupcake lover I never like to miss an opportunity to bake, and being an animal lover this is especially true when I can bake to support and raise money for the RSPCA. Cupcake Day for the RSPCA was held around Australia yesterday, with cooks around the country baking cupcakes in exchange for a donation at their workplaces, schools, and communities.

There are so many fantastic and creative ideas for animal-themed cupcakes which are perfect for this day. However I knew with my busy weekend, and not arriving home from a day trip until 5pm on Sunday to start baking, that sadly I wouldn’t have time to create animal cupcakes. So I made simple cupcakes, but they were still enjoyed!

For our office fundraiser Tanya made fantastic cookie monster and rocky road cupcakes, Fiona made chocolate butterfly cupcakes, Kelli’s grandma made a variety of cupcakes, including cherry ripe (they weren’t intended for Cupcake Day, but we roped them into it!), and I made lemon butterfly cupcakes and vanilla cupcakes with rosewater buttercream and rose Persian fairy floss.

All together we made and sold around 75 cupcakes, including the few I gave Paul to take to his work, and we raised just under $200! A great effort, and with sugar-filled stomachs we look forward to doing it again next year :D

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Filed under Chicken, Dessert, Easy, Fruit, Healthy, Quick, Short Bites, Techniques, The Garden

Nigella’s Roast Buttermilk Chicken and Coleslaw

You know that old question “Are you a breast man or a leg man?”… Well I’m no man, but let’s apply it to a different subject and talk about chicken! When it comes to chicken I’m definitely a breast girl. People say chicken breast lacks flavour and is dry, but when cooked well I can’t go past the white meat.

I never cook chicken wings, thighs or drumsticks, unless I’m roasting a whole bird, but I saw a recipe for roast buttermilk chicken drumsticks in Nigella Express that looked and sounded delicious so I put aside my prejudice and gave it a go. Another dislike I overcame was coleslaw. Nigella said it goes well with the buttermilk chicken so who was I to argue?

Well I’m glad I didn’t argue, because the whole meal was delicious – drumsticks and all!

Nigella recommends marinating the chicken in the buttermilk marinade overnight, or at least 30mins-2 hours (max) out of the fridge. I was cooking these the same day so they only had a few hours in the fridge. The recipes for both the chicken and coleslaw dressing call for maple syrup, but I only had honey stocked and it worked well. Another change I made was using walnuts instead of pecans in the coleslaw.

And the end result? This was super easy to make, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the drumsticks for lunch the next day! They’re very juicy and tender thanks to the buttermilk – no stringy, dry chicken here! The skin could have been crispier, but then that would have encouraged me to eat it, so I was ok with that ;)

And whilst I won’t win any contests in knife skills (it took me a while to work out how to best chop the cabbage…), the roughly chopped coleslaw was so fresh and I loved the added crunch from the nuts. The dressing was fantastic as well, quite light but full of flavour.

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Filed under Chicken, Easy, Healthy, Nigella Lawson, Recipes, Salad

Short Bites: Serenity, Pork, Brussels Sprouts, and My New Favourite Snack

Would you look at that serenity?!

This glorious location is Wisemans Ferry along the Hawkesbury River, and it was the destination of our short break the weekend before last, with Amanda and her husband. Only an hour from Sydney, it felt like we were worlds away – it was perfect for some much needed R&R. So peaceful and quiet, with beautiful scenery and rows of trees with green, amber and gold leaves. I found a new appreciation for autumn’s beauty this weekend.

Over the 3 day stay we relaxed, the guys played golf, Amanda worked out, and I lazed around… We had an ordinary dinner at a restaurant on night 1 (which ended with a very small crème brûlée that we think used custard out of a carton), but a great pub meal on night 2. Bistros are so reliable! We also spent 4 hours fishing off a small boat, but despite our best efforts we came back empty-handed.

Pork & Brussels Sprouts

Following our ordinary dinner on the Friday night (which was over-cooked oven roasted pork) we felt the need to make amends with this fine meat, and purchased a few pork fillets for weeknight dinners.

Being the dork I am, I suggested we each cook pork for dinner in our own way over 2 nights – a His & Hers Mini-Porkfest if you will ;)

Alongside the pork on my night was the return of my most hated vegetable of my childhood: Brussels sprouts. The animosity felt towards this little green thing is unfair really. My colleague Emma said they remind her of shriveled Barbie heads! Can you believe that?! ;)

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Filed under He Cooks, Healthy, Pork, Short Bites