Healthy

Hitting the Reset Button

Lunch at my desk

Lunch at my desk: homemade falafel and hummus, salad leaves, cucumber and mint salad, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, olives and feta topped with sumac, seeds & Sriracha

We talked a little towards the end of last year about my need for some lifestyle changes. Well, it’s finally time for an update! After a good start, early 2015 brought Leeds Indie Food and all that entailed with it, and from January to May I had far less time and quite a lot more stress. You know, my eight hour days turned into 12 or 14 hour days and all that stuff.  Naturally, my health took second string, I indulged to the max and, man, was it was glorious. Burgers for lunch, gins every evening, plus some of the most exciting food I’ve ever eaten during the festival itself.

So, with my health goals still in mind, it’s no surprise that June had to bring a shift in what I ate and how I ate it. All that indulgence meant I was feeling pretty run down, tired all the time and I still had a way to go if I was gonna get on top of my diabetes and get myself to baby-ready status. We all know that my life revolves completely about what I eat, but it was time to reset, knuckle down and fine-tune. I decided to go all-in.

My aims (explained in more detail over here):

  • Nourish my body, give it everything it needs to function properly and happily 
  • Reduce any stress, inflammation and pain my body is experiencing and make it a healthy, happy place for a little person to live
  • Keep my blood sugars as level as humanly possible with a faulty pancreas
  • Work less, exercise more and sleep more
  • Maybe get stronger, healthier, more luxurious looking nails and hair in the meantime? Maybe lose a few pounds too?

HittingtheResetButton2

What with the diabetes and the general interest, my food knowledge is pretty good. I know my carbs from my proteins, my zinc from my beta-carotene. However, even with that back-up, the world of nutrition is a flippin’ minefield. So fat is good for you? Fruit is bad? But, hang on, what about cholesterol? -__- I’ve always adopted an “everything in moderation” philosophy before (even if I haven’t stuck to it) but it’s become clear that in this situation that just ain’t gonna cut it. So what do I do? Go paleo? That seems alright. What about Whole 30? Someone told me charcoal is really good for you? *rolls eyes/bangs head against wall*

One fail-safe way to start is with processed foods, kick them to the curb and you can get back on track. That, along with a few small changes, meant I could easily get on top of things, especially when eating at home. I cut down on high carb, high sugar foods straight away (heck, I know I’ll never kick that burger habit completely, and honestly who would want that? Not me) and it’s been pretty easy for me to make everything from scratch.

One area I’ve struggled with over the years, as supportive as Matt and my friends are, is that personally I need something more than that to keep me on track and answer the myriad of questions that pop up. On my own it just feels more difficult. Spinach versus kale? Peanut butter versus almond? Fuck it, I’ll have a brownie. You know the stuff. So I started talking to Laura. She’s a nutritionist. She first came on my radar when her then-blog, Peaches and Greens, was nominated with mine in the Blog North awards last year. She’s plant-based, which – as I understand it – is basically vegan without the stigma attached. I started talking to her and she cleared a lot of things up for me. I’ve been meeting with her every few weeks, keeping a food diary when I remember and packing as much veg into my meals as humanly possible. To be quite honest, it’s helped massively in keeping me on track.

HittingtheResetButton1

Now, I’m only a month or so in, but I’m already seeing a difference. I’ve ditched simple carbs for the most part and quite a lot of meat and dairy – around 70% of my meals every week have been meat-free – and that’s lead to a decrease in my daily insulin of around 30% so far. Oh, and I’ve given up booze, fish and caffeine. That’s not totally necessary, but it helps with the whole conception/pregnancy thing. I also feel quite a lot more energetic, I don’t get that afternoon slump at my desk, I’ve lost the post-meal discomfort I used to get during the evenings and my skin looks better than it has in ages. I’m hoping I can maintain the way I’m eating at the moment (peppered with one or two cheat-style meals a week, naturally) and that’ll get me to where I want to be (mum to a healthy, normal sized bambino). 

If you’re interested, here are my starting tips for eating better for health and wellness reasons aka not weight-loss:

  • You can’t do it all at once When I first committed to making a change, I was like “Yes. This is it. I’m in this. All kale all of the time”. Turns out, that’s probably not a helpful attitude. Six days in, I looked up from my plate of fish and chips and thought “Oh bugger, I’ve failed”. It’s great to get excited, but if you’re anything like me you’ll need to reign that in to keep things up. If your diet currently consists of quite a lot of everything, the way mine did, deal with one thing at a time. Burn out will sneak up on you, and there’s no point in beating yourself up. Just take things easy and don’t expect results in seconds.
  • Increase the good stuff before you cut out the bad When Laura helped me work out what I was aiming for, she put it in a really interesting way. I was aiming to reduce the amount of “anti-nutrients” in my diet and replace them with nutrient-rich foods instead. I thought about this kind of how I think about skincare. I don’t just want to clean my skin at the end of the day, right? I want to nourish it. So don’t just stop eating things, silly! Just make them better things. Nowadays I’m filling up on grains, nuts and seeds. I’m not fixated on calories, that’s not what this is about after all, I’m all about the nutritional value and taste (cashew butter, I’m looking at you). 
  • You honestly won’t be hungry As above. My tendency to view this as a “diet” has quickly disappeared. My plates are always full and I’m never hungry after I eat. That’s what I’ve always feared about “low carb” and it just isn’t true – for me, it’s all about variety. Give me a plate of leaves and I’m miserable – gimme a selection of loads of stuff, however healthy, and I’m into it.
  • Eat the rainbow Plates that look prettier are the ones you’ll want to eat, trust me. I try to make my meals as colourful as possible – red peppers, sweetcorn, beetroot, loads of greens etc to keep my enthusiasm up. No one wants to eat a plate of muddy-green and beige.
  • Vegans have good treats When I’m on the run, I generally try to look for vegan snacks, just because it’s easier to understand the ingredients list – there are generally fewer of them – and a lot the time they’re also refined sugar and gluten free too (bonus!). I’m totally into Bounce Balls @bounceballsUK and Ombars @OmbarChocolate, as well as the coconut mylks by @Rebel_Kitchen

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One of the things I was super quick to realise, is that food that’s good for you actually does taste quite nice. You can also get food that’s good for you when you’re out and about (!!) you just have to know the best places to go. If you live in Leeds, check out Laura’s Feel Good Guide for tips and discounts. I think I kind of already knew that, because I’m lucky to like a lot of different foods, so with lots of variation and a little expertise in the kitchen I’ve been making meals which I’m pretty into without any trouble at all. Last night’s tea (and today’s lunch) for example:

Homemade Falafel with Cucumber & Mint Salad
Serves 4
Warming, spicy bites that are quick, veggie, packed with protein and basically guilt free.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For the falafel
  1. 4 small onions
  2. 8 garlic cloves
  3. 2 tins chickpeas
  4. 1 handful fresh parsley
  5. 2 handfuls fresh coriander
  6. 2 tsp sea salt
  7. 1 tsp mild chili powder
  8. 3 tsp cumin seeds
  9. 2 tsp baking powder
  10. ½ cup gluten-free wholemeal flour
  11. 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
For the cucumber salad
  1. ½ cucumber
  2. 1 handful fresh mint
  3. 1 green rocket chilli
  4. ½ tsp sea salt
  5. Squeeze of half a lemon
  6. 2 tsp white wine vinegar
Instructions
  1. Skin and halve the onions and garlic cloves and pop them in your food processor. Pulse them until they're roughly chopped.
  2. Add the oil to a large, heavy bottomed pan and heat it over a medium heat.
  3. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients to the processor and pulse to the consistency you like - I like mine pretty smooth but if chunky's your thing - work it.
  4. When the oil is hot enough (see notes), use an ice-cream scoop to drop balls of the mix into the pan. You'll hear sizzles when it hits the pan. Don't crowd the pan - I fried no more than four at a time - it's time consuming, but worth it.
  5. Leave the falafel to fry for 3 minutes or until a nice, golden brown crust has formed, but keep busy - while the pan is sizzling, dice your cucumber into 1cm-ish pieces and chop your chilli. Transfer to a bowl and add your fresh mint, roughly chopped.
  6. It's probably time to flip your falafel! This should be easy, Use a spatula or slotted spoon to turn those babies over. Fry for another two minutes, until golden brown, and then transfer to a tea towel or kitchen paper to drain. Wait a few seconds for the oil to come back up to temp, and crack on with the next lot!
  7. The next break you get add the salt, lemon juice and vinegar to the cucumber salad. Mix well. To plate, sprinkle that stuff on a bed of hummus and top with delicious, warm falafel. Serve with pitta or salad for ultimate satisfaction.
Notes
  1. To test my oil temperature I use a wooden chopstick. When you think the oil might be hot enough, dip the tip of your chopstick into the pan. If tiny bubbles form around the outside, you're on the money!
Adapted from Just a Taste
Adapted from Just a Taste
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
 These falafels are seriously delicious and they make for such a filling, satisfying tea that weirdly feels very naughty even though it’s basically all good for you. Try ’em, you won’t regret it.

So that’s where I am right now. No doubt it’s easier to eat better in the summer, especially with all this uncharacteristic weather we’re having, but I’m hoping that with planning, research and a little effort I’ll be able to slide on through to Autumn without much trouble. I’m going to try to post here more often, not just about this, but with a variety of recipes, reviews and much more besides. If you’re interested in following my journey a little more closely, you can follow me on Twitter over @whipuntilfluffy and on Pinterest too, where I basically spend all my time these days.

Happy weekend!

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Every now and then I like to try my hand at something a bit fancy. I first made gyoza about three years ago, when I was still in my old flat. I was new to Leeds and Matt used to work long shifts, so I’d spend my evenings in the kitchen, trying new things. I covered all sorts of stuff, from Thai fishcakes to chicken kievs. Because I had time, I made things you might usually buy ready-made, just to teach myself a few techniques – the more complicated (and far from essential) stuff you can only really attempt if you’ve got hours on your side.

Crimping gyoza is the kind of long job that becomes weirdly therapeutic. The first few are fiddly, but after a bit you settle into a system and before you know it you’ve got a whole tray crimped and ready to steam. I’m not even going to attempt to explain to you how to do it, so have a look at this video to guide you – I owe it everything. Last night, I had plenty of mix, so I made fifty. After sharing 16 yesterday and demolishing six today alone, 28 are now nestling between layers of greaseproof paper in my freezer to steam or fry at a later date. They’ll last quite happily in there for about three months – tidily achieving one of the 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life I wrote about last week. Stock that freezer, readers!

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Believe it or not, this was one of those “let’s see what we have in the fridge” meals. I use my local asian supermarket pretty well – stocking up on sauces, vinegars and spices regularly. It’s cheap, and you can find more exciting things than you might see browsing the shelves at Tesco Express. I usually have a store of gyoza wrappers hanging around. I buy them frozen for about £1.75 a packet, and each one contains about 60 skins. While I love stuffing them with minced pork or shredded duck, these babies are particularly cost effective when you rifle through your crisper drawer to see what’s left.

On Saturday afternoon, during a search of the fridge and cupboard, I found a shrivelling piece of ginger, a wrinkled red chilli, an onion, a corn on the cob, one carrot left in the bottom of the packet, some sorry-looking spring onions and three cooked beetroots that had been stewing in a tupperware since Christmas. Grated up and mixed together, this veg that might’ve just as easily ended up in bin came together as fragrant, spicy bites which don’t just fill a hole, but genuinely impress whoever’s eating them. I added a squeeze of (again, shrivelled) lime, a dash of soy and a slug of rice vinegar to help, too.

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

So are we steaming or are we frying? Well, both of course! These guys get their underside fried til golden, then we add water to the pan to steam them through – potsticker style. This way, you get crunch and chew. It’s the best. What I especially love about these is that the beetroot starts to bleed through the skin so they turn pink. Simple pleasures, eh?

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza
Yields 50
Cheap, healthy bites that'll seriously impress your guests
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
For the Gyoza
  1. 3 Cooked Beetroot
  2. 1 Carrot
  3. 1 Corn on the Cob (or half a small tin)
  4. 1 Red Chilli
  5. 1 Knob of Ginger
  6. 5 Garlic Cloves
  7. A Sprig of Coriander
  8. 1 Onion
  9. 3 Spring Onions
  10. 1 tsp Light Soy Sauce
  11. 1 tsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  12. Juice of Half a Lime
  13. 1 Pack of Gyoza Skins
For the Dipping Sauce
  1. 60ml Light Soy Sauce
  2. 60ml Rice Wine Vinegar
  3. ½ tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
  4. Chopped Spring Onion to Garnish
Instructions
  1. If using a food processor, throw in your peeled garlic cloves, peeled ginger, roughly chopped red chilli, halved onion and trimmed spring onions. Pulse for 10 to 20 seconds until the mix is chopped finely. If you don't have a processor, either dice all ingredients as finely as possible or grind in a pestle and mortar until the correct consistency is reached.
  2. Remove the mix from the processor and transfer into a frying pan. Add a slug of vegetable oil and fry, keeping the mix moving, for four-five minutes to soften the onions and bring out the flavours.
  3. Back in the food processor (don't panic - there's no need to clean it), pulse your sweetcorn, carrot and beetroot until it looks as though it's been grated - you want to keep the texture chunkier so it has a bit of bite to it. When finished, transfer to a bowl with the ginger and onion mix and combine.
  4. Add your soy sauce, vinegar and the juice of half a lime to the mix and stir through. Set aside.
  5. Pour a little water into a glass or ramekin and set it next to your bowl of mix on a chopping board. With a gyoza skin in one hand, spoon around a teaspoon of the mix into the centre.
  6. Dip your finger into the water and trace it around the edge of the skin and fold the skin in half, the bottom up to the meet the top, being careful not to seal it. Use your fingers to create folds in the front flap of the skin, crimping around 5 times per gyoza. For reference - have a look at the video mentioned earlier in this post, a visual speaks a thousand words, after all.
  7. Repeat, getting into a nice rhythm, until all your skins are used. You'll probably have a little mix leftover. Put a frying pan on a medium heat, and add a good slug of vegetable oil to the bottom.
  8. When the pan is hot, place your a few gyoza into the pan, so their folds point straight up. This flat bottom will get nice and browned as they fry. I can fit around 12 in my large frying pan, but you can pack them in quite tightly if necessary. Keep an eye on them and after 3-4 minutes, the bottoms should turn a golden brown colour.
  9. When the frying stage is complete, get around 65ml (that's roughly a quarter cup) of water from the tap and throw it into the pan, still on the heat. Be sure of yourself, and as soon as the water hits, cover the pan (with anything - if it doesn't have a lid, use a plate or a baking sheet!) and allow the gyoza to steam for 4-5 minutes, or until the water is gone.
  10. As the gyoza steam, pour equal parts light soy and rice wine vinegar into a small dish. Sprinkle with dried chilli flakes and drop in some chopped spring onion. Take to the table.
  11. When the water is gone, turn off the heat and transfer your gyoza to a dish. Take them to the table with pride! Alternatively, keep your gyoza in a a simmering oven - about 80ºC - while you fry and steam your second batch.
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Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Have you ever made gyoza? If so, let’s compare notes! If not, what’s stopping you? Next time, I’m thinking I could experiment and stuff my skins with confit duck. I think I’ll deep fry them too, and serve with a plum sauce. I love these ideas from Serious Eats – maybe I’ll add a fig or two?

Smashed Avocado on Toast

Smashed Avocado on Toast with Chilli

Ah, that special moment when you find something good for you that actually tastes nice. As a slave to all things basted in butter and deep fried to oblivion, it’s rare that a “healthy option” provokes anything other than a suspicious side-eye from me. While not 100% skinny-minnie, what I had for brunch this Bank Holiday weekend was packed full of nutrients and had me feeling spritely afterwards, a far cry from that fry-up fugg that comes with crispy pork fat and your weight in carbs before 11am (OMG I love it tho). 

Brunch on the weekend always sounds great. Like, yeahhh I’ll just roll out of bed, open my bountiful fridge and whip up eggs, pancakes, or whatever I have for all the beautiful people in my home. In reality, the need for brunch usually accompanies a hangover, or at least a late night the night before, and you have to be super prepared and full of energy to get it done without killing someone (usually a long suffering other half). That’s where this recipe comes in. It ain’t rocket science. It takes 10 minutes from start to finish and if the ingredients aren’t things you’ve usually got in your fridge and cupboard, it’s a very short shopping list for the day before. 

Smashed Avocado on Toast with Chilli

Smashed Avocado on Toast with Chilli

I always have sourdough in the freezer. It originated because Matt and I can never get through a full loaf before it goes stale, and a back-up stash comes in pretty useful. I buy my sourdough from Leeds Bread Co-op via my neighbourhood coffee shop, and when I get it home, I slice the whole loaf and put half of it in the freezer. You can defrost it in the toaster no trouble, I find it just needs one and a half goes through the defrost setting otherwise you get a cold bit in the middle. It’s great for breadcrumbs too, instead of freezing in slices just blitz in a food processor and freeze in bags. Having a store of crumbs is really handy for dishes like meatballs, fishcakes and mac n cheese – making your weeknight meals so much easier.

To my avocado I add chillies, sunflower seeds and a squeeze of lime. Avocados can be delicious but as is they’re pretty bland, so they take buckets of salt and pepper – perfect for replenishing after a skinful of booze. Personally, I find that spice really helps my hangover so I load up on the hot stuff, sometimes adding a sprinkling of Tabasco too, but you can plus or minus chillies as you see fit. Here’s a bit more info on why this dish is good for you (great for diabetics):

  • Sourdough: easier to digest than normal bread, thanks to lactic acid. Low GI so causes fewer spikes in insulin production.
  • Avocados: monounsaturated oleic acid helps lower cholesterol. Rich in vitamin E, folate, potassium and dietary fibre. Great for skin and hair.
  • Chillies: packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and also capsaicin which does loads of good stuff, including lower cholesterol.
  • Sunflower Seeds: vitamin E helps cardiovascular health, magnesium helps muscles and nerves stay healthy and, yep you guessed it, sunflower seeds can also help reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Lime: keeps scurvy away like nothing else, also thought to be a “diabetic superfood” thanks to high levels of soluble fibre which helps regulate the bloodstream’s uptake of sugar.

Have I sold it yet? Follow the recipe below for a guilt-free, smug-face-inducing way to start your day.

Smashed Avocado with Chilli on Toast
Serves 2
A simple, healthy breakfast recipe with just a hint of spice.
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 Large Slices of Sourdough
  2. 2 Avocados
  3. 2 Red Chillis
  4. 1 tbsp Sunflower Seeds
  5. 1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  6. 1 tsp Flaked Salt
  7. ½ tsp Black Pepper
  8. 1 Lime
  9. 2 Eggs (optional)
Instructions
  1. Scoop the avocados out of their skins and into a small bowl.
  2. Finely chop your chillies, removing the seeds, and add them to the bowl along with the flaked salt and black pepper.
  3. Put the sourdough in the toaster and while you wait, smash the bowl's contents together lightly with the back of a spoon.
  4. When they pop up, chop each slice of bread in two and drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of smashed avocado mix onto each half slice and spread out, careful not to obliterate the chunky texture.
  6. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds and douse with lime juice.
  7. Add a poached or fried egg on top if you fancy it.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
Smashed Avocado on Toast with Chilli

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: a Recipe for The Yogurt Council

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A few weeks ago, something quite exciting happened. I won a competition! Love Yogurt were looking for an official “Yogurt Stylist” to work with them on a few recipes as part of Yogurt Week. It was easy to enter – just upload a pic of your favourite recipe including yogurt for a chance to win. I did that, and after being shortlisted due to my Instagram likes (big thanks to all of you for following and liking my pictures – I really appreciate it), my shot was plucked from the other nine finalists by a couple of expert judges: Jo Sweetman, top nutritionist and advisor to many of the UK’s biggest food brands, and Karen Burns-Booth – food writer, blogger, recipe developer and food stylist extrordinaire who runs Lavender and Lovage.

I like courgette bread. I’ve been making it a lot over the past year or so, so my recipe for the competition was easy to come up with. It’s a much more nutritious way to consume baked goods than a sandwich loaf or a cupcake, it tastes really good, and the vegetable content means it stays moist too. I’ve tried it lots of different ways, but this recipe is the one I’ve settled on. The pecans and sunflower seeds give it an extra bit of bite and the spices provide a subtle warmth. In baking, I think yogurt really comes into its own. I use it a lot in place of buttermilk in recipes – since that isn’t easily obtainable here in the UK. Yogurt adds a tangy freshness and makes for a really soft, light crumb. What I like most about these loaves is the way they rise – giving you that perfect, golden dome bakers everywhere long for.

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The image above is the competition winner. I chose to keep things simple and according to feedback, that’s why the judges chose me. They liked that the recipe was clear and achievable for even novice bakers, and that my photos were styled in a clean and honest way. The recipe is simple – completed in little over 30 minutes, and the loaves will last for around five days in a sealed container.

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves (makes 6 small loaves)

nb. If you don’t have small loaf tins you can use one large loaf tin and enjoy in slices, or you can split the mix into 12 and use a muffin tin for smaller, snackable bites.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

120g plain flour
120g wholemeal flour
140g courgette, grated
2 large eggs
125ml natural yoghurt
100ml vegetable oil
30g pecans, chopped
20g sunflower seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, together with the vegetable oil, yogurt and vanilla.

3. Drop in the grated courgette and set aside.

4. In another large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except the pecans and sunflower 
seeds.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture about a quarter at a time until a batter forms.

6. Fold in the chopped pecans and sunflower seeds.

7. Grease your loaf tins and divide the batter between them.

8. Place in the oven and bake for 18-22 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.

9. Leave to cool and enjoy plain or spread with butter.

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I’m pretty chuffed with my win. I’ve been putting a lot of work into my styling and photography over the past few months – trying to post quality over quantity, with really top notch images. That’s mainly because those are the type of posts I enjoy reading on other blogs. It’s nice to get confirmation that it’s paying off! I’ve had a lot of feedback recently from you guys, telling me that you like my photos and I really appreciate it – thank you. Hopefully I can keep improving.

As for the prizes, I won £1000 prize money (!!) which I intend to plunge right back into the blog. I’ve bought a new 50mm camera lens so I can capture higher quality images, and I’ve invested in some cooking equipment to bring some more diverse recipes to Whip Until Fluffy. Those of you who know me will know that my ambition is to integrate food styling into my day job, so this is a real boost to morale and a very welcome surge of funds. I also won a trip to the South of France to take part in an edible food styling masterclass with Karen of Lavender and Lovage at her home there. I’ve just had the date confirmed and I’m so excited to be going – I can’t wait to pick up new skills, travel and take advantage of a fantastic opportunity to do the thing that I love with someone I can learn a lot from. On top of those prizes, I now hold the title of Official Yogurt Stylist for 2014, which means I am working with The Yogurt Council to come up with more recipes to really show how versatile and tasty yogurt can be.

Want to take a look at my competition? Browse the #YogurtStylist tag on Instagram to see what I was up against – the competition was stiff #humblebrag. Runners up include @me_and_orla who runs the beautiful Me and Orla blog, @kateveggiedesserts who makes amazing cakes and sweet dishes from all kinds of veg at Veggie Desserts, @sylviahappiness who writes at Happiness is Homemade, and @eat_your_veg who caters for the little ones over at Eat Your Veg. All gorgeous entries well deserving of the prize – it’s genuinely such a pleasure for me to be counted side by side with them.

Courgette-&-Yogurt-Loaves--2

I’ll be reporting back on my adventures over the summer as well as sharing the links to the recipes that I write for The Yogurt Council, so you can look forward to lots of content from me over the coming months. And in conclusion, thank you. For reading, commenting, liking and sharing. I really appreciate every single person who reads my blog and I value your feedback, so drop me a note down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy to say hi. Follow The Yogurt Council over at @LoveYogurtUK on Twitter and @LoveYogurtUK on Instagram.

You can now also Like my page over on Facebook if you fancy it – find me at Whip Until Fluffy.

A Low-Carb Italian Feast

Italian1

I’ve had a bit of a challenging time at work lately. Over the May bank holiday, I launched my freelance website, CopyStorm. I’ve been busy anyway, working all sorts of hours (and a lot of weekends!) to keep up, but with the new site on top of that, things got a little crazy. Matt was away a few weekends ago, frying up a storm with Fish& on Liverpool Dock, so I was alone in the evenings. During the day I had to work and clearly Saturdays are not the ideal time to be slaving over your laptop, especially when the sun is out. As the afternoon rumbled on I became convinced that I owed it to myself to get a takeaway as a reward. I’d worked so hard after all. You deserve it, said the voice in my head. You need a treat for the weekend. And I nearly did it.

Thing is, sometimes, you deserve a takeaway, if that’s your thing. I am a firm believer that if sweet & sour pork or a battered sausage and chips is the way you give yourself a pat on the back,that’s fine. As a diabetic though, sometimes that’s stupid. Not always. But sometimes. So on this particular weekend, and for no apparent reason, my blood sugars were running the highest they’ve been in a while and despite treatment, they just didn’t want to come down and stay there. I gave myself a stern talking to and I went to the Co-op instead of the chip shop. I bought a courgette and an aubergine, some tomatoes, and I set some minced beef from the freezer to defrost. At first, I was miserable about it, but by the time I served up, I felt pretty smug. Just call me Saint Lil. Careful of my halo now! 

Italian2Italian5

So, Italian food. It’s not exactly a carb counter’s dream. It’s rich, it’s delicious, and by golly is it mostly made of flour. I had a hankering for bolognese, so I started with that. Matt and I have worked together on what we think is the perfect beefy ragu for almost the entire time we’ve been together. I think, after about four years, we now have it down to a fine art. It needs a bit of time. Eight hours if you have it. If not, four’ll do. It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it. It’s a delight: the perfect, methodical thing to do when you’re stressed, or if you just want to time-out for a while. Prep, throw everything in, and leave it to bubble away. At the finish line you’ll be left with a dark, silky sauce fit for kings. And your house will smell heavenly.

So this recipe is low-carb. To keep my blood sugar levels from unexpected spikes, I decided to skip the pasta. I’d just like to clarify that I don’t find this kind of thing easy. For reference, I’m not on board with “squashetti” or “courgetti”. Cauliflower “rice”? No thank you. With all the respect in the world, ain’t nobody got time for that. Well, at least, I haven’t got time for that. Aubergine slices in place of your carb, though? That’s legit. And it’s easy! The only form of carbohydrate in this dish comes with the béchamel sauce, and if you’re really feeling angelic, you can replace the plain flour with an alternative thickener, and use soya or almond milk in place of your regular cow juice. For me though, one heaped tablespoon of flour and 400ml of semi-skimmed split between six portions is good enough to slip through the net.

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Aubergine Lasagne (makes enough for six portions)

1 Large or 2 Small Aubergines

For the ragu:

2 Onions
2 Celery Stalks
1 Large Carrot
2 Cloves of Garlic
65g Pancetta
400g Beef Mince
100ml Milk
250ml Red Wine
400ml Beef Stock
1 Punnet of Plum Tomatoes (between 250 & 400g)
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Nutmeg
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
Fresh Basil

For the Béchamel sauce:

50g Salted Butter
35g Plain Flour
400ml Milk
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Salt
40g Parmesan

This is long – stick with me.

1. Approximately 8 hours before you plan on serving, dice the onions, celery and carrot. Place a heavy-bottomed casserole pot on a low heat and add some oil (about 2tbsp if you’re the measuring kind). There’s no need to wait for it to heat up, so just chuck in your onion and cook for around 5 minutes – until it starts to turn translucent. Throw in your celery, then 3 minutes after that, your carrots. Add your garlic too – you can crush it if you fancy, but I can never be bothered to wash up the grinder – so a rough chop will do.

2. After your veg has softened (around 5 minutes), turn your heat up to medium, clear a space in the middle of the pan and add your diced pancetta. The only reason I like to get pan-bottom-on-pancetta-action is that you get a nice golden crust on the edges of the meat. Let the pancetta crisp up and when it’s nearly done, stir it through the veg.

3. Next up is mince, repeat the process – trying to get a bit of surface area contact – until all the pinkness has disappeared. Pour 100ml of milk over your meat – this may seem weird, but it’s one of the secrets to such a rich and unctuous sauce. Let it bubble away with the heat on high until there’s barely anything left. Stir in the bay leaf, nutmeg , salt and pepper.

4. Add your tomatoes, sliced lengthways into 2 halves. Cover with red wine. Repeat the same process you went through with the milk, letting it bubble and reduce by two thirds. It’ll take 5-10 minutes depending on the heat from your hob, gas versus electric etc. If you can’t get fresh tomatoes, add one tin of chopped tomatoes instead. There’s no problem with that, but I think the fresh ones just elevate your sauce slightly – ramping the sweetness up a notch. Put the kettle on.

5. Give the mix a stir while you wait for the kettle to boil. When it’s ready, pour 400ml of water over a beef stock cube in a jug or bowl and whisk quickly to dissolve it. Pour in the stock. Turn the heat as low as it will go and set the lid on your pot at a jaunty angle, leaving a small gap for the steam to escape. Step away and let your bolognese do its thing. Check on it every now and then and give it a stir. Top up with a bit of water if it looks a little dry around the 6 hour mark.

6. When you ragu is done, preheat your oven to 180ºc. Then, melt 50g butter in a saucepan. Add in the 35g flour and stir, to make a roux. The mixture should form a thick, beige paste. Keep it moving over a low heat for a minute or two, and bit by bit pour the milk over. Do this slowly and your sauce should thicken as you stir, leaving you with a consistency that should easily coat the back of a spoon. As the sauce bubbles on the stove top on the lowest heat possible, grate your block of parmesan. Take approximately 75% of it and fold it through your sauce. Stir in the nutmeg and salt (don’t be tempted to add more, parmesan itself has a high salt content) before removing it from the heat and setting aside.

7. Slice the aubergine in approximately 0.5cm rounds. Move quickly so it doesn’t colour. Begin to layer the lasagne, starting with bolognese on the bottom, then a thin layer of béchamel, followed by aubergine slices. Repeat the ragu, béchamel, aubergine layering until you fill your dish. Make sure the top layer is béchamel, and then scatter over the remaining parmesan.

8. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Garnish with torn basil leaves.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

While you’re playing the long game, listening to that beauty bubbling on the stove, you’re going to need something to tide you over. I’ve talked on the blog before about my love for Zucco, a restaurant not far from where I live which serves Italian small plates. One of my three regular orders there is the Deep Fried Zucchini with Mint. I thought I’d have a crack at replicating it at home. I’m having a bit of a courgette moment right now. It’s near on my favourite vegetable at this time of year. I can’t get enough!

Deep fried courgette slices with fresh mint (makes enough for two sharing)

nb. there’s an egg in these pics. I started making this recipe, breading the slices with flour, then egg, then flour. It was a little too claggy and thick for me, so I dropped the egg. After I’d made this, I went back to Zucco – they’d seen my tweet about this recipe and told me the secret is to use milk and flour instead – next time!

1 Large Courgette
80g Plain Flour
1 tsp Rock Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tsp Nutmeg
6 Fresh Mint Leaves

1. In a shallow bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Slice your courgette. I stuck to approximately the thickness of a 20p piece, you need a little bite or you’ll end up with crisps. Chop each round in half so you have semi-circles.

3. Roll your courgette slices, a handful at a time, in the flour mixture. While you’re doing this, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed, deep frying pan.

4. When your oil is up to temperature (stick a wooden utensil in – the handle of a wooden spoon, maybe – the oil should bubble gently around the handle) drop in your courgette slices. Be careful not to overcrowd your pan.

5. It should take around 5 minutes for your slices to start browning around the edges. When they’re nicely coloured, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and set them on a couple of pieces of kitchen paper. Repeat with the next batch.

6. Dress your slices with a sprinkle of rock salt, pepper and a slug of olive oil. Chop your mint and throw it in. Toss them around for an even covering. Serve warm.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

Aubergine Lasagne

It’s a big meal – but when it comes to carbs, it’s pretty virtuous. I’ll be making this time and again in the future. Happy feasting!

Got any tips and tricks to share about lasagne making, carb-swapping or courgettes? Share them with me in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy.

Tequila Soaked Prawn Tacos with Mango Corn Salsa + Update

TEQUILA SOAKED PRAWN TACOS WITH MANGO CORN SALSA

Sooo… that posting twice a week thing? Yeah, that didn’t happen. Sorry.

But hey, I’ve been eating tacos! I’ve been trying to spice up week night dinners. We don’t eat a lot of Central and South American inspired cuisine in our house, so this was a little experiment that turned out rather nicely. I didn’t intend to blog these guys but they happened to be pretty bitchin, so I thought I’d share. They’re boozy, zingy and quite spicy. Overall: pretty satisfying.

I think fish is my new jam… which makes me think of fish flavoured jam. Which is gross. Correction: I think fish is my new thing. It’s great for a lighter tea that still feels pretty flashy. I had Moules Marinere last night, for example, and it felt very luxe. I paid about £4 for half a bag of mussels at the market and that amount would easily feed four. Classy and cheap. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

I was making these tacos on the fly, so in an idea world I would’ve used proper corn, soft tacos. Instead I used tortillas, which worked fine but wasn’t quite the same. I bought mini ones but if you can’t find them just trim the regular size ones down using a knife around an up-turned cereal bowl. Voila!

Tequila Soaked Prawn Tacos with Mango Corn Salsa (makes enough for 4) 

1 Pack of Mission Deli Mini Wraps
200g Raw, Peeled King Prawns
50ml (about 2 shots) of Tequila
1 Lime
½ Iceberg lettuce

For the Mango Salsa:

1 Small Onion, diced
1 Mango, diced
½ Tin of Sweetcorn
3 Birds Eye Chillies
A Small Bunch of Coriander, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. About an hour before you plan to eat, place your prawns in a bowl and pour over the tequila. Squeeze over the juice of half your lime. Place to one side.

2. Dice your onion and mango, the smaller the better, and mix in a bowl together. Add the sweetcorn. Slice the birds eye chillies very finely (remove the seeds if you want to keep the heat down, I left them in) and chuck those in too. Then add the coriander and season with rock salt and black pepper to taste. Mix everything together and squeeze in the juice of your remaining lime.

3. Place two frying pans next to each other on the heat. While they’re warming up, shred the lettuce and place it in a bowl. In the first pan, warm the tortillas one at a time, flipping every 30 seconds or so until they’re nicely golden on each side, but take them out before they turn crispy. In the second pan, empty your bowl of prawns. They’ll have turned slightly pink already from the citrus. Cook for 1 minute on each side until they’re nice and rosy and turning out at the edges.

4. Take your bowls to the table and dig in. We added a drizzle of natural yogurt spiked with Tabasco, but if anything, that brought too much heat on top of the chillies in the salsa. I don’t think you need it, but you could add the yogurt on it’s own if you fancy.

TEQUILA SOAKED PRAWN TACOS WITH MANGO CORN SALSA

Next time, I want to try tacos with fried white fish of some sort too, more like a traditional fish taco, I bet the crunch would be amazing. But I’m a bit concerned about losing the tequila taste, because it’s on of the best things about this dish. Maybe I could experiment with some flavoured batters? My mouth waters at the prospect.

A little update: as I said earlier, sorry I’ve been away so long. There’s been loads going on, but the real reason is work. I’ve picked up some jobs from a couple of food clients over the past few months and it’s been really fun working on a subject matter I love. I plan to talk a bit more about what I do as a job here soon so hold tight for that, if you’re interested.

In the coming weeks (no promises on when, I’ve learnt my lesson!) I’ve got posts on all sorts coming – a trip around one of my favourite local foodie spots, a few more recipes and something a bit different too. Thanks for sticking with me! To round off, some stuff I’ve been enjoying lately:

Watching: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Trip to Italy, both equally entertaining.
Reading: A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin – please, no spoilaz.
Eating: Low sugar snacks, more on that later.
Drinking: Aperol Spritzes.
Celebrating: My 27th birthday with a trip to Norse in Harrogate. It’s incredible.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

I can’t lie, health conscious food is not something I usually look for when I’m dining out. Meals out are generally a treat, something I don’t eat at home and, let’s face it, preferably something fried. I know I know, that’s not the right attitude. But sadly, a carb lover never changes her spots. However, being a diabetic, my choices are often limited, so I appreciate that something of a food haven exists for those with dietary requirements, and that a diet-savvy alternative is there for those who want to dine out without fearing the calorie intake.

About two weeks ago I had lunch at Filmore & Union in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds City Centre. It’s kind of an odd spot. A cluster of tables sectioned off in the middle of a shopping centre, albeit a beautiful and upmarket one, the design of the place is modern and rustic. It’s gorgeous but it’s not an obvious lunch choice, especially on such a cold and blustery day in January. Arriving with hands bundled in pockets, I was pleased to see patio heaters belting out waves of warmth, with an army of fluffy throws on the backs of chairs, perfect for covering chilly knees. Obviously this kind of venue will flourish in the summer, but I snuggled up and within 5 minutes I’d already forgotten the draft. The environment was relaxed, some customers sipping on tea, others tucking in for 2 courses. The restaurant manages to be airy, open and light but without being loud. Holding a conversation across a table was easy, unlike a lot of shopping centre eateries, and the presence of other diners and wait staff was unobtrusive.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

We started with juices. Just the menu itself is a pretty good read, packed full of seasonal information and health tips plus information on the brand’s philosophy. Eat Clean, Eat Pure is the idea. To your smoothie or juice, you can add loads of healthy boosters including chia seeds, echinacea and vanilla whey protein powder, depending on what you’re in the market for. I opted for the Joluxe Immune Booster (£3.75)  juice. It’s made up of blended yellow pepper, carrot, ginger and orange. I topped it off with an Aloe Vera shot (£2) for an added kick up the immune system’s backside. Aloe Vera is a super healer, they say, great for digestion.

Now I’m not big on fruit, I’m a naturally savoury person, so I was interested in trying something vegetable heavy. The juice was zingy, tangy, it seriously sang inside my mouth. I genuinely felt shaken up after I drank it, more alert and productive for the few hours that followed. Plus it left none of the sticky aftertaste I dislike from packaged juices. The best thing about it was purely how orange it was, a great change from the dull greens and browns I usually associate with juices and smoothies. Lauren’s smoothie, Super Antioxidant (£4.95) was packed with strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, apple, mint leaves and coconut water. Jen went for the Raw Choco Fix (also £4.95), made from almond milk, raw cacao, raw cashews, banana and agave syrup. It was weirdly chocolate bar like, but with none of the sickly, cloying characteristics. Healthy and indulgent at the same time! None of the three drinks we tried were overly sweet or filling, which contrasts with the juice bar experiences I’ve had before. They felt clean, simple and fresh.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

For my main I went for an Open Steak Bagel with Sweet Onions, Tomato Salsa and Tzatziki (£12.95). The steak was cooked perfectly, pink in the middle and with a charred crust. There was barely a chew to it and loads of fresh, juicy crunch from the salsa. I was pleased with the generous portions, wrongly thinking eating healthy meant eating small, the bagel came piled high. On the whole, I enjoyed it, my only criticism is that the dish was a little sweet. The sweet potato and caraway chips promised a bit of spice but I couldn’t taste the caraway and I didn’t really think they were necessary, they left a sweet aftertaste I could’ve done without, with no crunch or heat to balance them. The salsa, onions and tzatziki were all very good, but without something spicy or sharp to cut through it the bagel fell just short of full marks. I’d have preferred it with a small side salad or slaw, and maybe a slick  of wholegrain mustard on its lid. My second choice would’ve been what Lauren ate, the Asian Smoked Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes (£10.95). Again a generous portion, two round fishcakes sat atop curly kale and orange segments, with pomegranates and almonds dotted in. The dish was an absolute beauty.

The ingredients in all our mains were clearly so fresh, their colours jumped off the white background. Obviously nothing had been sitting around, there wasn’t a wilted leaf or past-best vegetable in sight. They looked, shock horror, like they’d been pulled right from the ground. Imagine that! The 100% Fresh, 100% Natural produce is a huge part of what Filmore & Union are offering and for me that’s a massive plus. They make a point to source their ingredients from the local area, so there’s every chance your lunch has come from ground to plate within hours.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

We finished off with dessert, of course. I have never seen so many beautiful but virtuous looking cakes in one place at one time. The counter was overflowing with platters and cake stands offering everything from a gluten free lemon & polenta cake to a vegan chocolate and blackberry cake. It looked good. Like, the kind of good where there’s absolutely no guilt to come from ordering a pudding. It feels like it’s actually the right thing to do. The whole menu obviously caters fantastically for those with dietary requirements and the cakes really don’t disappoint, with more range than I’ve ever seen before. I opted for a Banana, Oat and Flaxseed Muffin (£3.75). There are a lot of oats in my diet for their low GI credentials (again, the diabetic thing), keeping blood sugars level without the peaks and troughs that simple carbs can bring, something that the whole F&U menu boasts. The muffin was a good way to round off the meal, it was fluffy, and came with a deep, nutty texture you don’t find in mass-products desserts in chain coffee shops and cafes. I loved it and I will go back for it again, maybe to take out for breakfast on my way to work. The other desserts our table ordered looked scrumptious, without fail. Even the giant Granola Bar (£3.95) got me salivating. It was so interesting to see a sweet menu really come alive with unusual ingredients, not a nasty in sight. Plus, every dessert comes with a little pot of natural yoghurt and a few berries. A lovely little touch, as if your halo could shine any brighter.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

It was lovely to go back to work without the hangover from a too-large lunch. So many times I’ve come a cropper to grabbing something too heavy in my lunch hour, giving me a headache and having me snoozing at my desk all afternoon long, to-do list forgotten. It’s good to know that you can eat a great meal and leave with a spring in your step, without the threat of the inevitable sugar come down. I’d really recommend Filmore & Union to those looking for not just low cal or carb, but a nourishing, nutritious option for lunchtimes, breakfasts or early evenings. For me, it’s probably best as a brunch spot. They have a great bagel menu, plus muesli, porridge, granola and more. They have a good range of teas and organic coffees, and I’ve already waxed lyrical about the healing power of the juices. It’s also an ideal fit for its environment. The Victoria Quarter is beautiful, with a huge sky light, amazing architecture and luxury stores. F&U is a great pitstop to rest your aching feet, or a great place to drop off anyone who’s holding you back. Got a husband dragging his feet? A nagging teenager? Leave them here, there’s free wifi. The prices are, I think, slightly high. So just bear that in mind when you’re adding extra shots to your smoothie.

I think it’s also important to add that the staff were incredibly knowledgeable about the menu. They answered all our questions, made some great recommendations and really had me feeling like I was in safe hands. If you’re gluten free or vegan, lactose intolerant or allergic to anything, you can really put your confidence in this lot and you won’t leave unhappy.

If you eat clean or you’re trying to be good, you’re going to love this place. If you’re partial to a chicken nugget… maybe not, but give it a go, it might change your life! I haven’t been converted, I’m afraid I’m too devoted to burgers, but I am interested in trying more. Open to eat in and take out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 8am-7pm, Thursday 8am – 8pm, Sunday 9am-6pm.

Filmore & Union Restaurant and Express Bar Victoria Quarter Leeds LS1 6AZ | @FilmoreandUnion

Disclaimer: The Victoria Quarter invited me down to try Filmore & Union free of charge. That has had no effect whatsoever on my opinion. All honesty here, friends.