Health Conscious

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.

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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 https://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!

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa for the Yogurt Council

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

This week, my second official recipe for the Yogurt Council went live. This time, I attempted to tackle savoury, and while yogurt marinated meat is always a hit (chicken marinated in yogurt, for example, makes for the tenderest bird EVAH), I wanted to think outside of the box and produce something there wasn’t a million recipes on the internet for already.

The flavours of North Africa are among my favourites. An easy go-to dinner for me is pretty much anything with couscous and a sprinkling of paprika, maybe a dollop of harissa, some sumac or pomegranate jewels. Yogurt goes had in hand with all this stuff, a no-fuss way to cool the spice. These meatballs pack a lot of warmth, so I created a yogurt and cucumber dressing as well as using yogurt to create soft, pillowy flatbreads. Sweet peppers, shallots and kalamata olives balance this dish and make it a very satisfying treat for lunch or tea. 

Read the full recipe over on the Love Yogurt UK Blog…

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

Does anyone else think this ball of dough looks like a baby dinosaur’s head? Or am I just extra weird today?

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

Roll those babies out

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

I’ve made these flatbreads in various forms a lot over the past year or so. They don’t need much kneading, time to prove or work – just mix up, roll out and dry fry in a pan. For these, I used half white flour, half wholemeal, but plain white works well too, alongside dough studded with cumin seeds and raisins too. You can also skip the Moroccan feel and eat these without the spices, stuffed with asian glazed pork meatballs as a kind of cross between a kebab and a bao. These flatbreads, and soda bread, are my go-to quick bakes if I want a carby hit with tea but potatoes and rice don’t fit.

I’ll be back over the weekend with some meal planning ideas, some link love and THAT mac n cheese. See you soon! Remember in the meantime, you can find me on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and over on Facebook too.

Disclaimer: As part of my #YogurtStylist win back in June, I was asked to work with the Yogurt Council from Love Yogurt UK to provide three recipes showing off how versatile and practical yogurt can be as an ingredient. This is the second in the series, the third if you include the recipe I won with. Read about my win and what I received here: Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: A Recipe for the Yogurt Council

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 https://whipuntilfluffy.com/
Smashed Avocado on Toast with Chilli

Mixed Berry Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches for the Yogurt Council

Mixed Berry Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches

This week, my first recipe for the Yogurt Council went live. Frozen yogurt is having a bit of a moment right now, so for my August recipe I wanted to focus on that, as well as adding a little bit of extra sparkle to make it stand out. I think an ice-cream sandwich is one of those things which instantly conjures an image. It’s a bit of whimsy, the food that dreams are made of. For me that image is America: jean shorts and baseball jerseys, the hazy heat of summer vacation with hotdogs at the diner followed by coke floats and an ice-cream sandwich on the walk home. Sticky fingers and a full tummy. It’s a memory I’ve created, romantic and wholly unrealistic, something I’ve picked up from films and books. But it seems overwhelmingly perfect.

Of course, ice-cream sandwiches (like most good things) are terrible for your health. At least 600 calories in one sitting, that stuff is reserved for days when you’re determined to shake that halo right off. Frozen yogurt though? That’s positively good for you, right? Right! While I’m not boasting that this is a low-carb or low-sugar recipe, it is certaining a little more virtuous than it’s heavy weight big brother. The yogurt needs sweetening because freezing dulls flavour – so for that I used honey. For the cookies, I used oats and wholemeal flour to keep the sins down. There’s still butter and brown sugar a-plenty, but hey, you gotta get your kicks somewhere.

Read the full recipe over on the Love Yogurt UK Blog…

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Ingredients for the oat cookies: there’s wholemeal flour, rolled oats AND oat bran in there…

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Scooping makes portioning easy!

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

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Things might get a little messy: a bowl and spoon help!

Have you ever experimented with frozen yogurt? I’m dying to try out some more flavours. I’m thinking next time I’m going for a greek yogurt, honey and banana mix.  For a naughtier take, I’d make mini sandwiches from chocolate yogurt and Ritz crackers for a little bit of salt and sweet together. Roll these out at barbecues and picnics, or wrap them in cling film and freeze them for a sneaky mid-week pudding.

I’ll be back here on the weekend, and my next recipe for the Yogurt Council will go live next week – not long to wait!

Disclaimer: As part of my #YogurtStylist win back in June, I was asked to work with the Yogurt Council from Love Yogurt UK to provide three recipes showing off how versatile and practical yogurt can be as an ingredient. This is the first in the series, the second if you include the recipe I won with. Read about my win and what I received here: Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: A Recipe for the Yogurt Council

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.

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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

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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! 

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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.

Having Diabetes

Having Diabetes

On New Years Eve 1992, I spent my first night in hospital. I was five years old and my parents had taken me to my GP because I’d started feeling ill. I lost 5lbs, was guzzling water by the pintful and, errr… I was weeing a lot. I felt sick and tired and I couldn’t get the energy up to do anything much other than nap. Or so I’m told. I don’t remember much. Within hours I was admitted to a children’s ward and diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

22 years later and I’m not a model diabetic. I’ve had my highs and my lows. As a child I adapted well, dealt with the needles and blood, wasn’t squeamish and worked hard with the help of my parents to maintain good control. But as expected, puberty rolled around and with it came the cliche rebellion phase. I ate all the wrong foods, skipped injections to save being embarrassed in front of friends, went an afternoon or five without testing my blood sugar. Thankfully, those things didn’t last long. I was just testing the limits. Overall, as diabetics go, I was pretty standard.

Stay with me… I’ve got a point, I promise.

Type 1 Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, results from the autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Essentially, my pancreas doesn’t work. When you guys eat, your pancreas will secrete insulin, a hormone to help regulate the levels of sugar in your blood. Without insulin, the sugar levels in my blood are not regulated. This means they naturally run high, and I have to administer insulin manually in order to combat it, making my sugar levels run in a zig-zag-esque fashion that can peak or drop, instead of the smooth, regulated wave that a healthy person’s would.

As I grew up I got better at controlling my sugars again, adapted to normal life as an adult and didn’t let my diabetes affect me too much. But this last year or so, I’ve let things slide a little due to a few massive life events (getting married, buying a house, being self-employed… you know, the usual) and I’ve been becoming less happy with the way I feel, health-wise. On top of that, it’s no secret to those who know me, Matt and I are planning to have our first baby within the next few years. Pregnancy and diabetes is a difficult mix for a number of reasons I won’t go into at the moment – but lets just say, it involves a lot of monitoring and some hard work from me to carry a healthy, bouncing baby to term.

Thing is, people don’t always take diabetes seriously. “You’re basically fine though, right?” is a common reaction, “You can pretty much do what you want?” another. “Do you have the fat kind?” is also a classic (No, but thanks for asking). While it’s true that, indeed, I basically can do what I want, people tend not to understand the work that goes into being a diabetes sufferer and staying healthy. Without tight 24/7 monitoring and control, diabetes can lead to ketoacidosis, coma and death, not to mention kidney failure, blindness and loss of limbs. Plus there’s an increase in the risk of heart disease and a reduction in life expectancy of 12 years. Pity party this ain’t, but it would be irresponsible of me to play the complications down.

You’d think that Type A personalities like me would find diabetes easier to deal with. “Treat it like a job, babe” said one friend after I received a particularly sub-par blood test result and a stern telling off from my doctor. Well, yes. She had a point. I could throw myself into a healthier diet, monitor and analyse full time and while my health still wouldn’t be perfect, it would be a lot closer to it. The thing is, and I’m not sure if any of you know this, I really love food. So while being a home cook and interested in the nutritional value and origin of what you eat is a plus point, eating out multiple times a week and having a particular penchant for potatoes and butter, well… that isn’t.

So you see, when I say that food is my life, I mean it literally.

I wear an insulin pump. I’m sort of like a robot. I have this little piece of machinery attached to me 24/7, via a piece of plastic tubing and a cannula, feeding me a constant drip of insulin. That drip has to be regularly monitored, amounts calculated and tweaked. I then have to adminster a “bolus” of insulin everytime I eat. I work that amount out by counting my carbs. The grams of carbohydrate I eat directly correlate to the units of insulin I have to feed my body. And there are carbs in things you don’t realise there are carbs in. The more you eat out, the less you know about your food, the more you have to guess at what quantities you’re eating. Get it right and you might maintain blood sugars in the safe zone. But that’s without factoring in stress, activity and hormones, all of which have their own impact. In short, it’s a battlefield. A battlefield paved with potato dauphinois and Curly Wurlies.

The point of this post was to explain the change. I’m conscious that now that my life has become a constant rotation of blood glucose testers, iPhone monitoring apps and online forums again, I might be dropping the d-bomb more often, both here and over on Twitter, and I didn’t want it to come out of nowhere. That’s the kind of thing that encourages comments like “Oh, she’s a diabetic? I saw her eating a piece of cake last week!”. It’s a common misconception, but people with diabetes can eat whatever they like. We just have to account for it. We all have to work out a system that works for us. For me, everything in moderation works, so that’s what I’m going with. Life without a Twix or a Chinese takeaway doesn’t bear thinking about.

So things might be slightly different around here. That doesn’t mean there won’t be complex carbohydrates in abundance. I promise you that quinoa will never form the bulk of my diet. But there will be low sugar, low carb recipes every now and again. Sometimes I might like to share my experiences in trying to get that perfect HbA1C result, or the reasons why I’ll never eat a Dominos pizza again (lies, every time). I also want this to be a place where other people with diabetes, friends or family members can come as a resource, a place to ask questions and learn something new. We’ll see.

So that’s that then.

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.

Overnight Oats: 2 Ways

Overnight Oats

Let’s start from the beginning. I never thought I’d be an oats for breakfast kind of a gal. My dad tried relentlessly for years, but porridge was never really for me. There was always something about the warmth of it, mixed with a weird, wallpaper-paste texture I just couldn’t stomach. And, of course, my parents didn’t believe in adding sweetness to anything when I was a kid, so bowls of soggy oats were always just that… soggy oats. Now I’m a grown up and I can mix fruit, honey, jam, goshdarnit even chocolate, into my oats, I thought I’d give them another go.

So, at the start of this month I resolved to take breakfast into work with me. I’m a terrible breakfast-dodger. And when I do it, let’s be honest, it’s usually pastry. In a bid to banish hunger and to eat less for lunch and throughout the day in general. I started filling the new Ball Quilted Jars I got for Christmas with natural yoghurt, a small layer of rolled oats and then topping them with some frozen berries. It seemed healthy and cost effective, best of all it tasted nice! After a few days I started toying with the idea of tarting it up a bit, and having read what seems like 101 recipes for overnight oats, I rustled some up one night. The rest is history.

Real talk: these oats take less than five minutes, they sit in the fridge overnight and you can just grab em on your way out of the door. Great for eating at your desk, or hell, even on the bus. They mostly contain ingredients that don’t need to be fresh (I use frozen fruit, generally) so you don’t even need to be that organised. They can be varied in so many ways you’ll likely never get bored. If you’re not great at diary, switch for almond milk. Guys, there is literally no excuse. Never is a day without breakfast to be seen again! Plus, get yourself some jars and COME ON your breakfast has never looked so cute. Totes adorbs. Get decent quality (the kind with lids that seal, Kilner will do nicely) and you can cart them around willy-nilly. Not a spill in sight! And if jars aren’t your thing, no biggie, tupperware will be fine. Just pick something that seals tightly.

NB I am by no means the inventor of these recipes. These are simply my favourites, tweaked from the hundreds on Pinterest; the ones I’ve been turning to again and again throughout January. Give them a go! Make sure you report back on what you think. Got a recipe you love? Share it!

OvernightOats4

Raspberry Coconut Overnight Oats – this one is fruity, almost tropical. A nice change from the creaminess of regular milk. I find it to be an energising and fresh way to start my morning.

1/2 Cup Rolled Oats
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Berries (I use frozen mixed berries, but you can use fresh)
1 Tsp Light Brown Sugar

1. Go ahead and pop your oats in the jar. Place the berries on top. Sprinkle your brown sugar on top of them. You could also use honey in place of the sugar – one large squidge from a squeezy bottle should do it.

2. Pour your milk on top of your layered ingredients. Half a cup or to the top of your jar, whatever comes first. It’s worth taking this slowly, wait for the milk to soak through for a few seconds, those guys are absorbent!

3. Screw your lid on tightly. Give it a shake. If you use frozen berries your milk will turn pink – pretty! Pop it in the fridge and don’t come back until morning.

OvernightOats6

Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oats – great for those cold mornings, the spice adds something comforting. You can also warm this one up if you fancied!

1/3 Cup Rolled Oats
1/2 Banana, mashed
1/2 Apple, diced
1/2 Cup Milk
1 Tbsp Ground Almonds
1/2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

1. Pop your oats in. Pile on the mashed banana, this gives the oats a lovely silky feel. Chuck in the ground almonds and cinnamon and stir it up.

2. Throw in your diced apple and then top with milk. Screw the lid on tight and shake it up.

3. Pop it in the fridge. When you serve up, sprinkle a little cinnamon on the top. Yum!

Overnight Oats