Sunday, 9 June 2013
You might well have wondered what happened to the 5:2 diet which has been conspicuously absent from the blog lately?
Well, I'm still on it. Sort of. Six months on it's not as regular as it was - I've been busy and travelling a lot but have also found ways of keeping my weight under control without it simply by skipping the odd meal. However I managed to have a fast day last Sunday (no, not ideal) and again today as I'm off to Holland for 5 days next week. Which is bound to mean loads of cheese and Dutch baking.
Anyway if you're going to fast on a Sunday you might as well have something nice and this was tonight's supper, built around some leftover asparagus and some other bits and pieces in the fridge and storecupboard (See! Frugal habits die hard!). I made double the quantity but always think it's more useful to have quantities for 1.
Hot-smoked salmon, avocado and asparagus salad (275 calories)
75g cooked asparagus spears (trimmed weight) - or steam, simmer or microwave it and cool it. No oil or butter, obviously.
20g cooked fresh or frozen peas. Again, NO butter!
A good handful of rocket (about 30g)
A spring onion, trimmed and very finely sliced (optional - just flung it in 'cos I had some)
Half a small avocado (mine weighed 45g) roughly broken up
50g hot-smoked salmon fillet, flaked (I got mine from the Co-op*)
A few torn mint leaves. Not essential. Just because I had them.
1 tsp olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon
Cook the asparagus and peas if you need to and cool. Arrange the rocket on the plate, top with the spring onions and avocado. Arrange the asparagus on top and flake over the salmon. Tear over the mint leaves and scatter with the peas. Season with salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. and drizzle over the oil (which I left out when I made it because I thought it might take the day's intake over the 500 calorie limit. I needn't have worried.)
*In the mis-named Truly Irresistible range. I could have resisted it if I'd wanted to. I'm hard after months of 5:2!
Friday, 7 June 2013
Having bought a £1 bag of veg at the Feeding the 5000 event last Saturday I decided to make it the basis for the next day's meals - fortunately a quiet Sunday at home with just me and my husband to cook for. I decided I wouldn’t buy anything extra and make do with what we had in the house.
The tomatoes went into a tomato bruschetta - simply quartered, seasoned, anointed with olive oil and, at the last minute, a drizzle of balsamic (you could use a few drops of wine vinegar instead). Oh, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme - I didn’t have any parsley, basil or chives. I split two of the rolls I'd also picked up, toasted them and rubbed a clove of garlic on the cut sides as the base. If I’d had some feta or goats cheese I’d have crumbled a bit on top.
I could alternatively have fried the tomatoes, added a dash of chilli sauce and served them with eggs for breakfast. Or turned them into a fresh pasta sauce or a tomato and rice salad like this one on the blog.
Next, what to do with the lettuce and leeks? I washed the lettuce and decided to make a soup with the outer leaves and two of the leeks along with a handful of frozen peas from the freezer to give it a bit more colour and texture. This is roughly the recipe I used though you could easily vary it. It was so delicious I'll make it another time.
Leek and lettuce soup
(enough for 3-4)
1 tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
A slice of butter (20g or thereabouts)
2 leeks, trimmed and sliced or a large sweet onion
A handful of frozen peas (about 50g)
Outer leaves from a round lettuce, washed and roughly sliced
700ml vegetable or light chicken stock
sprig of fresh mint (optional but unnecessary if your peas are minted)
Salt and pepper, preferably white
Heat a saucepan over a moderate heat, add the oil and then the butter. Once the butter has melted, stir in the sliced leeks, put on a lid and cook over a low heat until the leeks begin to soften. Add the peas, cook for another couple of minutes then tip in the lettuce and the mint, if using and stir. Pour over the hot stock bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until the leeks and peas are cooked.
Take the pan off the heat and cool slightly then ladle the lettuce and a few other chunky bits into a blender or food processor. (Leave some behind for texture*). Whizz then return to the pan. Adjust the seasoning and reheat gently but don't cook it too long or you’ll lose the colour. If you had a little leftover cream to stir in at the end or some extra herbs to scatter that would be extra good.
You could also add some fried bacon or ham if you had some for the final heat-through which would make it more substantial. Even then we had enough for 4 bowls.
The remaining leek went into a favourite pilaf along with the mushrooms (could have sworn the recipe was on the blog but I can’t find it. It’s in the book though). It wasn’t as good as usual as I didn’t have any cashew nuts (I used walnuts instead which were a touch too bitter), had to use tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes and had no fresh coriander.
As you can see it was all a bit brown, relieved only by the remains of the lettuce which I served as a salad with a yoghurt dressing (see below) and a slosh of hot pepper sauce which I acquired from a guy in a pub. As you do . . . Easily enough for 3 though, especially given the soup we had first.
What else could I have made with the mushrooms? A pasta sauce. Garlic mushrooms on toast. A sort of stroganoff if I’d had a dash of cream. Mushrooms à la grecque. And with the leeks? A frittata. Leeks vinaigrette, This smoked cod and leek chowder. Leek bhajis, maybe (I did think of that but didn’t have any gram flour).
The main thing, as I said at the beginning, was I didn’t buy anything I didn’t already have in the fridge or the storecupboard even if it meant altering an idea or a recipe. And that’s the whole point - to adapt what you cook to what you have available, which is easy enough to do assuming a basic set of spices and seasonings (though I accept this is tough on a really tight budget). For most of us though it’s primarily a question of not wasting what we have. And that’s what this event was all about.
What would you make from these ingredients?
For more information about Feeding the 5000 and Fare Share UK visit their websites.
* Or, if you prefer or don't have a blender, just serve the veg un-whizzed which also preserves the colour better. (Note how the arty photography app Oggl I was playing about with also improves the look of the dish ;-)
** (1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp cider or wine vinegar, 3 tbsp olive or other oil and 2 tbsp plain yoghurt - and a splash of water to thin it)
Sunday, 2 June 2013
How do you make people - enough people - care about an issue like poverty? The answer might seem superficial but it’s to give them a good time as yesterday’s #feedingthe5000 event on Bristol’s College green showed.
The (rare this year) sunshine obviously helped. There was free food - obviously a winner though stewards were quite rightly asking for contributions towards the meal (veggie curry, rice and salad) which was provided by the local Thali Cafe.
There was some great music from Joe Driscoll and kora player Sekou Konyate which gave the event a festival-like atmosphere. And there were cooking demos by well known local chefs and cooks such as Richard Bertinet and Tom Hunt of Poco who was apparently smoking cod with used tea bags (shame I missed that)
This week a report by Oxfam and the Church Action Poverty Group revealed that half a million people in the UK now rely on food banks, a situation they describe as a ‘national disgrace’. One way FareShare South West and Feeding the 5000, the charities behind the Bristol event, are tackling the problem is by drawing attention to the amount of food that is thrown away, their catchy slogan being ‘feed bellies, not bins’.
To underline the point they were handing out £1 bags of vegetables which would otherwise have been chucked away. I'm going to use the one I bought to cook with today. But the thing is - I can work out some good things to make with them. It’s a lot harder for inexperienced cooks.
How can we get round this? It’s a well-rehearsed observation - most recently by Michael Pollan - that the huge number of programmes on TV hasn’t resulted in more people cooking from scratch in their own homes. Fewer do, if anything.
An idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time is that there should be street cooks where a designated cook - or two - in each road offers to teach their neighbours how to make simple meals - or even makes home-cooked food for those who don't have the time or energy to make meals themselves - new mothers or those who are recovering from an operation, for example.
It could be a great thing for older people with time on their hands to get involved in and a way for younger people to learn provided bureaucracy in the form of health and safety regs doesn’t stand in the way. Well worth a pilot project or two I’d have said.
What do you reckon? Would it work?
Saturday, 27 April 2013
On Monday a major campaign kicks off called Live Below the Line to show that it is possible to feed yourself on £1 a day for 5 days - i.e. £5 for the whole week.
As I'm not taking the challenge (a long-standing few days away with my husband) I feel a bit hypocritical about urging anyone else to do so. Particularly as I know that I could have offered to do it another time but it's not easy to find the time when you make your living out of eating and drinking (no, I don't expect any sympathy for that!) I have the luxury of choice about the matter. Many people don't.
Anyway if you're feeling inspired to have a go there are plenty of tips on the livebelowtheline.com website including a downloadable recipe book and video testimonies from those who did it last time. And some ideas on this blog like my 2 meals to make from a 15p bag of carrots post though some of the spicing might take the recipes over budget.
Jack Monroe whose blog A girl called Jack I flagged up a couple of months ago has been active in promoting the campaign on radio and TV - she's consistently shown that it's possible to not only eat cheaply but well. Possible, but no joke when you have to do it all the time.
If you want to support her or anyone else who's doing the challenge or one of the partner organisations you can do it through the Live Below the Line donations page.
Sunday, 31 March 2013
Given the success of the 5:2 diet it was inevitable that there would be a rash of cookbooks cashing in on it but having looked through a few I’m wondering how useful they really are.
I mean how much do you actually want to cook on fast days? Not much in my case - the less time I spend faffing around in the kitchen the better. If I do cook I want it to be tasty, of course, but above all quick and simple. Ideally not involving more than 5 or 6 ingredients.
Yesterday's fast day supper for example was a piece of grilled tuna and a salsa/chopped salady sort of thing made from cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and some marinated olives which contributed enough oiliness to do without olive oil. Squeeze of lemon, handful of rocket - 10 minutes work max.
The idea that you want recipes for 4 or more seems just plain daft. Most books emphasise that kids shouldn’t be on the 5:2 diet so you wouldn’t be cooking for them.
For your friends? Why not have them round on a feast day when you can cook and eat what you like?
You’d only need recipes for more than 1 or 2 in the hypothetical situation that you have 4 or more adults in the house, ALL on the 5:2 diet. Which is obviously not impossible but highly unlikely. And recipes that cater for more don't take account of the fact that those of us who are overweight are unlikely to stick to our allotted portion. The temptation to overeat is just too great.
Two of the books I’ve read have recipes that are not written by cooks but by nutritionists. While I’m sure that makes them healthy and accurately calorie-counted it doesn't necessarily make them inspiring - or even easy to follow.
I tried a mushroom and artichoke bake from The 5:2 Cookbook at 168 calories a head - one of the few recipes in the book for 2. The quantities were confusing: 500g canned artichoke hearts, drained - was that the weight of the artichokes or the weight of the can? If it was the artichokes you’d need two cans - a lot for two people. I made do with one and adjusted the amount of mushrooms - an over-generous 300g - downwards too.
It wasn’t very frugal either - fresh basil and oregano - surely you didn’t need both? Lemon juice and white wine - would you open a bottle just to take out 1 tablespoon? A tablespoon of brown breadcrumbs. Dried or fresh - and why brown?
I adapted it slightly but was still underwhelmed with the result. My husband chomped manfully through it but I definitely won’t be making it again. (The artichokes on the other hand are rather useful. I can imagine combining them with hard boiled eggs and tinned tuna for a simple low cal salad.)
If you’re short of inspiration there are more appetising suggestions on some of the women’s magazine sites, the Channel 4 website, on established cookery sites like the 200-400 calorie meals on the BBC Good Food website and in some of the other new diet-conscious books like Gizzi Erskine’s new Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts which I’ll be reviewing shortly.
But in general I think it’s more about having a simple repertoire of dishes made from ingredients you know are low in calories rather than trying to push the boat out and experiment on your fast days. After all we’re only talking about two days a week.
What do you do about recipes? Do you have one of the 5:2 diet books and if so what do you think of it? Do you spend much time cooking on a fast day?
Saturday, 16 March 2013
After 9 days in Paris (it should have been 7 but we got marooned when Eurostar services were suspended) I was dreading getting on the scales. What would the damage be from a week's solid eating - the first time off from fast days since I started the 5:2 diet? An extra 2 kilos, 3 even?
You know what? I only put on half a pound. Incredible, eh?
I ate exactly what I wanted. Charcuterie, bread, cheese, wine, desserts, pastries - not in ridiculous quantities but enough to pile on the pounds - or so I thought. Hearty helpings too - nothing pickily pushed to the side of the plate as I always suspect those fabled Frenchwomen do. On one day (inadvertently) we had two four course meals.
Yet next to nothing on the scales.
The secret? We walked. And walked. And walked - all over Paris. At home I sit in front of my computer for hours on end - sometimes not leaving the house at all if I'm busy. And I wonder why my weight plateaus for weeks.
So back on the diet today - and off for a walk
As many have said: Eat less. Move more.
Monday, 4 March 2013
The question I get asked most often (mainly on Twitter) is whether the 5:2 diet actually works. And the answer is? Absolutely, yes it does. In the three months I've been on it I've lost almost a stone and a quarter (8kg) and dropped a size. I needed to, mind you, but nevertheless it's a massive achievement for one who has never managed to say no to food for that length of time before.
It doesn't tell the whole story though. I haven't lost much in the last 3-4 weeks and have been trying to work out why. Maybe being slightly less careful on the 'feed days' although at least I've got in the habit of skipping dinner when I've had a big lunch. Maybe being busier than I was just after the new year. And eating (and drinking) out more. You actually have to be quite mindful about your eating on non-fast days. It's not 'anything goes'.
A few other things I've noticed. If I'm active rather than sitting in front of my computer all day I tend to lose more. (No surprise there but I hadn't realised how big a difference it made.) When I say active I don't mean going to the gym (god forbid!) but just going for a reasonably brisk walk. Even getting up from your chair every 20 minutes is advisable, according to Dr Michael Mosely author of The Fast Diet. In fact essential. 'The chair kills!", he's just tweeted.
Meals that are heavy on salt, fat and sugar put on A LOT of weight. I was 3lbs heavier after my Chinese New Year feast and it took a couple of days to lose it again.
I don't get so hungry on fast days and slightly less ratty (although my nearest and dearest might tell you otherwise). I can manage on two meals now instead of having three and a snack. On the other hand the rather wonderful feeling of euphoria the morning after a fast day has diminished. I guess the body just gets used to semi-fasting.
I am, if I'm truthful, slightly bored with it at times. Less inclined to dream up ingenious ways of creating meals at less than 250 calories - fewer still if/when I have lunch. But that's not good because bought-in diet food like miso soup and milkless porridge (above) is boring - though I have, as I mentioned, come round to cottage cheese.
I think I probably need to shift another 2-3lbs to rekindle my enthusiasm though as I'm just about to disappear to Paris for a week during which I don't intend to fast at all, that certainly isn't going to happen any time soon.
So my mid-term report is 'could do better' and certainly 'could get her butt off the chair more often' but I still have 10lbs to lose. I''ll let you know how it goes.
How's it going for those of you who have been on the diet for a while?
Friday, 22 February 2013
Fellow 5:2 dieters will almost certainly have discovered prawns are a great fast day food. What you might not know is that brown shrimps even tastier.
Not that they’re cheap - a 90g packet will cost you about £3.40-something in Waitrose although they’re currently on offer in Sainsbury’s at £6 for two packs - but because they’re so small it looks like you’re getting far more than that weight suggests (great psychology).
The other advantage is of course that unlike potted shrimps they’re not coated in calorific butter which makes them only 87 calories per 100g - or 39 calories for half a pack.
I’ve scattered them over the top of a finely sliced fennel salad (with chilli, mint and lemon juice) and also added them to celery to jazz up a piece of baked fish. Incidentally celery is another wonder ingredient that contains practically no calories at all, if you can face it. Try it this way.
Baked cod with celery and brown shrimps
Serves 2 at 189 calories per portion
1/4-1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp coarse salt
300g cod (300 cals)
125ml veg stock made with 1/2 tsp bouillon powder (6 cals)
10 sprays oil (10 cals)
50g brown shrimps (44 cals)
110g celery stalks and leaves (10 cals)
1 tsp fish sauce (3 cals)
A wedge of lemon (5 cals, if that)
Heat the oven to 190°C. Grind together the chilli and salt. Season the fish on both sides with the chilli mixture and pepper.
Spray half the oil over a baking dish, place the fish in the dish and spray with the remaining oil. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until just cooked. Set aside in a warm place to rest.
Wash, de-string* and slice the celery. Put in a pan with the veg stock and fish sauce, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the shrimps.
Serve the cod on warm plates with the celery and prawns and a wedge of lemon.
De-stringing celery really helps makes it more digestible. just snap it in half and pull away the strings away from the stalk. Simple