Monday, 30 April 2012 - 0 comments

USEFUL STUFF : Great Spoons!


It's so important to have utensils you're going to love using in your kitchen. I've used wooden spoons for years, but they need replacing fairly regularly, and they do absorb certain colours and flavours from foods.
I've just invested in some of these colourful silicone spoons. They are a little more expensive than regular ones, but I know they are going to have a long life, and they also wash beautifully and hygienically in the dish-washer.
I just love using them because they are so bright and funky, and make me feel happy as soon as I open the drawer.


The little spatular-ended one is great for making pastes such as garlic, soy sauce and herbs. (Often the start for soups or sauces). It just has the right amount of 'bendiness' in it and has become one of my most favourite utensils.

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Think of cooking healthily in the same way as joining a gym. Part of the fun, I believe, is choosing the trainers and the training 'kit'. (By the way, I'm not a gym-goer, I walk!)....But what I'm trying to say is, if you spend a little time organising your kitchen, by equipping it with useful and fun tools which are going to help you prepare healthy, low-fat dishes more easily and successfully, you are going to enjoy the whole food-prep business so much more.
You'll be much more inclined to keep coming back and repeating the process.

***

The only problem you might have now, is which colours to choose!

Friday, 27 April 2012 - , , 0 comments

CUPBOARD LOVE : Warburtons Square-ish Wraps


This is one of my top fave products of all time. I know I mention them frequently in my recipes, but I'm still coming across people who haven't discovered them yet...
and I realised I hadn't honoured them with their own CUPBOARD LOVE spot!
These wraps are 4pp/159 kcal each
or 9pp for two.
( The brown ones are 5pp each).
They have the most delicious, crisp, 'snappy' texture and a rich, biscuity flavour when baked or toasted. They are incredibly versatile and work well with both savoury and sweet ingredients.
They are a very cost-effective component to a recipe. A pack of 6 is around £1.49. They also freeze beautifully.

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These wraps are much thicker than the conventional tortilla-style wraps we are all used to....infact funnily enough, I very rarely use them rolled as a traditional wrap, as they are less flexible so don't hold the shape so well. However....they are MAGIC at lots of other shapes and have some very clever qualities once you start experimenting with them!

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This post is really a review of all the things I've done with them so far...and I still have quite a few ideas up my sleeve.

***

So...I introduced them as pizza bases in my very first post...

(Click HERE for link)


...Went on to show you simple folded sandwiches,

(Click HERE for link)



...Then things started getting clever with my
Cornet Wraps post...

(Click HERE for link)


From this...


....to various savoury, sweet and 'breakfast' versions...


...I sneaked some heart-shaped ideas into my Valentines day post...

(Click HERE for link)



...And introduced my gorgeous grissini idea to you. 

(Click HERE for link)


Recently I suggested making them into small square crackers to have with my Egg & Onion recipe...

(Click HERE for link)


Here's a great idea for nibbly snacks-
'twiglets', tortillas and cinnamon sticks
(click HERE for link)



***

In the meantime, if you want to refer back to any of my recipes, just pop the title you are looking for into the search bar at the very top right of the blog page. They should come straight up for you without you having to sift through everything.

***

Finally, a cyber message to Warburtons....DON'T STOP MAKING THEM PLEASE!!!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012 - , , , , , , , 0 comments

RECIPE : Egg & Onion


This is a simple little dish I grew up with. Traditionally, it's made with whole, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and spring onion, and served like a té on crackers or toast. It's an absolutely delicious snack or light meal. This is a magic Slice-of-Slim version, as I have dramatically reduced the propoint/calorie content. I've done this by removing the egg yolk from the recipe and using a very low-fat mayonnaise. This makes a lighter, fresher version of the original dish, without the sulphuric 'eggy' smell that often accompanies egg-mayo type dishes. I rather like the clean, white appearance of it too.

***

This dish is 3 propoints/184kcal for the WHOLE amount, or 2pp/92kcal per portion. 
If you want to leave out the onions, this simply becomes a super-low propoint/calorie egg mayonnaise.

***

You will need;(for 2 servings)
8 egg whites or 16 tablespoons '2 chicks' liquid egg white.
(See post; CUPBOARD LOVE:Liquid Egg white
3 Tablespoons Lighter than Light Mayonnaise
3-4 Spring onions
White pepper
Freshly ground black pepper

***


Start by placing the egg white into a microwaveable bowl. Don't whisk or disturb the egg too much as you want to achieve a nice smooth 'hard-boiled' egg finish to the cooked egg white.


Season to taste with white and black pepper.(I like it quite peppery). Don't mix it in-it will all be combined, once cooked.


Cook on high in the microwave in 20 second bursts, checking the egg each time. You can see it starts to turn a solid white from the outside edge, inwards.


Keep checking, and don't be tempted to stir it. It will cook through if you take it slowly. What you are looking for is that 'sliceable' hard-boiled egg appearance.


Here's the finished result-it's gone from a pale yellow translucent liquid, to a solid white form.


Add the mayonnaise, then 'mash' gently with a fork to break up the egg but leave some texture. Chop the spring onions into the mixture. (I do this with scissors and leave it quite chunky).


Mix together well, weigh and divide the mixture into 2 ramekin dishes and leave to cool.


This is best served at room temperature, so even if you are going to refrigerate it, take it out half an hour or so before you eat it.

***

HANDY TIP


Make a stack of baked, square 'crackers' out of a Warburtons Squarish Wrap in exactly the same way I describe in the post SMASH & GRAB:Quick Homemade 'Grissini'.
One wrap will make 20 square crackers, which is plenty between two people. This is 4pp/159kcal for the WHOLE lot, or 2pp/80kcal per portion.

***

 So... a really delicious lunch or snack for only 4pp/approx 172 kcal if you have both components. If you were really hungry, you could eat the whole lot for 7pp/343kcal!
You could serve it with a light salad, or even use baby gem lettuce instead of the crackers if you are low on propoints or calories.

***

Egg-Mayo-Tastic!

***


Monday, 23 April 2012 - , , , , , , , 2 comments

SOMETHING FOR NOTHING : Striped Bananas


I thought I'd start the week off with a fun and funky post! I was driving along the other day and had the idea for these mad bananas. I just had to come home and make one. We've been eating them ever since! This is such a fun way to eat fruit-especially if you're a big kid like me...It's a snack or dessert that will make people of all ages smile.


Select bananas and strawberries of a pretty much identical diameter. Peel the banana on two sides, leave the third strip of peel attached. Don't take the banana out of the peel, leave it sitting in the skin. Slice some strawberries about 3-4mm thick. Make slices in the banana the same width and remove every other slice, slotting in a slice of strawberry as you go. Either arrange the spare slices of banana on the plate or save and add to a fruit salad.



When completed, 'close' the banana up again and arrange on a bright, fun plate with a sprig of mint.


Let the recipient have the fun of 'peeling' the banana and revealing its strawberry stripeyness!

***

For those silly moments when only a striped banana will do!

Sunday, 22 April 2012 - 2 comments

STOP PRESS!!!!!!! : Edible Glitter


You may have noticed a couple of my recipes have used 'edible' glitter
in the past few weeks.


This is the brand that I used, but it seems that the 'Rainbow Dust' brand is more readily available.


Ironically, just as I started to recommend it, there seems to be some controversy surrounding the use of it in terms of consumption. This was sparked by a contestant on the BBC TV programme; 'The Great British Bake-Off' who used it in one of her recipes.
I've done some research and here is a statement by one of the companies who supply this 'Rainbow Dust' brand;


The Sparkle Range:
IMPORTANT UPDATE . . .  latest information from Environmental Health is that the Sparkle Range should really only be used on items which are being removed from the cake.  The consensus has always been that (as the product is specifically designed for use with cakes) if the glitter finds its way on to icing etc and is eaten then it will not cause any harm.  Environmental Health have asked the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for more research on these products and to clarify the position, so we do not recommend "intentional" use . . . eg sprinkled on cupcakes . . . even although you'll see Kirsty Allsop, The Hairy Bakers, Nigella Lawson and just about every other TV chef doing exactly that on their Christmas specials!?!?!
There is no reason to suspect that the products are unsafe but there is now a call for much more detailed information.  As with many things . . . eating large amounts is not advisable, but ingesting small amounts is safe . . . we just have to be clear about whether or not we are seen to advise customers to sprinkle these on to cakes as if they were classed as "edible" .  We've not changed our position, but we want to be clearer.  We hope you'll understand.


So...no cause for alarm if you have eaten it. It is non-toxic, but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will be tightening up procedures and information on packaging etc.
There are other products, such as 'Edible Silk' lustres etc. but to be on the safe side, I would stop using any of these products for the time being. I will keep you all informed of any further updates and information from the FSA.

***

What a sparkly shame.

***

EXCITING UPDATE!!!!!!


If you are looking for a gold or silver shimmery finish on your dishes, this spray is fantastic. It is edible and there don't seem to be any issues with it. It's available with baking goods in all the major supermarkets. Don't put it on before baking, spray lightly onto finished items.
Make sure you protect your surfaces as it gets everywhere!

***


Hooray! We've got our sparkle back!
Saturday, 21 April 2012 - , , , , 0 comments

SMASH & GRAB : Chargrilled Chicken and Avocado Salad


Here's an idea for a fabulous lunch or light supper dish for this changeable weather, when salads start to be more appealing as the sun shines.... but some of the ingredients are warm, for those blustery, wet, April days!
If I am chargrilling chicken breasts for dinner, I often do an extra one so that I have a tasty ingredient in the fridge when I want to create something quickly the following day.
I frequently use Nando's marinades for my chicken as they are really delicious and you can choose the level of chilli heat you want. 40g of this marinade is 1pp/24kcal, but that's a generous amount. So for 1 chicken breast, shared between 2 people, you won't need anything like this amount - so no need to charge propoints for this. (Calorie counters-I have roughly estimated and included the calories for the marinade into the finished calories for this dish).

***

So...this salad serves 2 people and is 4pp/ approx.200kcal per portion.


Cut up one 165g (4pp/160kcal) cooked chicken breast into chunky slices. Pop into a hot griddle pan sprayed with Frylight sunflower oil, to heat through thoroughly. At the same time, cut half an avocado into chunky slices and chargrill.

***

Take 2 serving bowls.
Throw together some interesting salad leaves; spinach, watercress and rocket is a great combination. Add some whole cherry tomatoes and some roughly chopped spring onions. Dress with some balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices.
Divide the chargrilled chicken and avocado between the 2 bowls, then drizzle some
'Lighter than Light' Hellmann's Mayonnaise over the top. If you use 15ml, it's 0pp/12kcal. Any more than that and you will need to charge 1pp.
The combination of bitter salad leaves with sweet cherry tomatoes, hot, spicy chicken with warm, creamy avocado - dressed with tangy balsamic vinegar and mild, comforting mayo is a really delicious, mouth-watering dish.

***

It will brighten up the rainiest of April days.

***

Friday, 20 April 2012 - 3 comments

USEFUL STUFF : Rubber Pastry Brush


This is a great little kitchen tool.
For healthy cooking, this is so useful as obviously, you can make ingredients such as melted butter, margarine or oil go much further with a brush, therefore reducing your precious propoint or calorie useage.
 I love it because, unlike bristle or hair brushes, it doesn't 'shed' so there is no chance of finding an unwelcome stray bristle in your food. I think it's more hygienic too as it can be washed in the dishwasher and there are no lingering smells...so the brush can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes.
It's particularly great for applying my garlic and soy concoction onto the aubergines in my RECIPE:'Hasselback' Aubergines post.
These last for years, so although slightly more expensive initially, a good investment for your kitchen utensils collection long-term.
Wednesday, 18 April 2012 - , 0 comments

CUPBOARD LOVE : Liquid Egg White


You may have noticed that I mentioned this briefly during my RECIPE:Easter'Egg' post last week. I talked about it in the context of meringues, but it is a great little product, especially for those of us watching our weight.
You will find this in the chilled section of the supermarket. It's a fresh product, so has to be kept chilled and eaten within seven days of opening.


***


Obviously, it's the yolk in eggs that provide the rich cholesterol-laden calories and I do love an egg occasionally, but this gives so much scope to recipes without wasting the yolks from separated eggs.


***


As it says on the packaging; "Liquid egg white can be used in place of whole eggs in almost every dish". I haven't experimented fully yet, but will try some recipes, and show you how they turn out.



From a low-fat point of view, this is a magical little product. You basically use 3 tablespoons if you want the equivalent to 1 whole egg, and 2 tablespoons for 1 egg white.
On the Weightwatchers plan, one eggwhite is 0pp, two are 1pp. You can have up to 5 egg whites for 1pp.
The packaging informs me that a 3 tablespoon serving of liquid egg white is 23 kcal.



You can also use it to 'pad out' one whole egg, making it go further, particularly useful for scrambled eggs.


***

So....imagine the omelettes, souffles, egg custards and batters you could create with this product. I've used it for a Spanish omelette before - beaten, seasoned and poured over peppers, onions and cherry tomatoes fried in Frylight oil. You just have to accept that the finished dish is white, instead of the usual yellow colour we are used to, but the flavour is hardly compromised and therefore nor are your weight loss or maintenance efforts!


***


Very good eggs.
Monday, 16 April 2012 - , , 15 comments

INSPIRATION : Whimsical Woodland Wedding 'Cake'


By now, you probably realise I like to think outside the box... so what I am about to show you is to inspire you, not for you to attempt to replicate unless, of course, you're up for a challenge! This is the 'fashion show' of an idea and you can adapt it to make it 'wearable'!

***

One of my best buddies in the whole world got married last weekend. She and her husband had a woodland wedding which was more magical and amazing than you could ever imagine! All of their family and friends contributed by making various decorations and foods...helping their dream to become a reality.


When she called me a few weeks ago, she said she had seen my 'fruitypops' on this blog (see post: SMASH & GRAB Strawberry and Grape 'fruitypops'), and loved them.
So, initially, I was just going to make jugfuls of them for the wedding, which would have been lovely....but this is me and my eccentric creative friends I'm talking about, so the idea got seriously out of hand!
 They kindly gave me 'carte-blanche' to do as I wished, and I think you will agree that the finished result was a great success -albeit a scary reflection of what is going on inside my head! (A little Wonka-esque, I feel).

***

There were 80 guests invited, so I decided I would make 80 of each component; Strawberry Fruitypops, Grape Fruitypops, Rose and Pistachio Meringue Hearts and Chocolate-coated Chocolate Brownie 'Cake-pops'. 
People could then pick and choose what they wanted, thereby avoiding certain elements if they had food intolerances or preferences or were watching their weight!
(For the purposes of this blog only, I calculated that if each guest had one of each item, this would come to 5pp/200kcal- less than a 60g slice of traditional, iced wedding fruit cake, which is 6 propoints or approx 240 kcal).


***

How I made it....

I decided to make each edible component on bamboo skewers so that people could graze all evening, with no plates or cutting of cake required. In order for this to evolve into a cake form, I needed to devise a way to hold or display my wares....


Over the past few weeks, I've been making all the inedible components of the finished 'cake'. As the wedding party was to be taking part in a natural woodland setting, I wanted the bases which housed all the sticks of goodies, to have a mossy/twig element to them.


I bought 3 natural brown 'hat-box' style boxes in varying sizes from a craft shop and glued polystyrene and oasis shapes from a florists' suppliers, to fit exactly on the top. I wanted them to look like natural 'hillocks', hence the staggered levels.


Then, I glued natural dried moss onto the top, also from a florists' suppliers. I used generous amounts of PVA glue to do this, and pressed it down firmly.


Finally, I glued curved twigs to the edges using strong glue, and draped gold 'angel hair' threads over the top to add a magical feel to the bases.


Then I made a collection of twiggy decorations with elements I had photocopied from the invitation, like the 'woodland party' writing, which I made into little elongated flags. Everything was wound together using copper wire. I found these little spinning metal 'clock-hands' which I added here and there to give a mechanical, whimsical feel to it all.


I also made lots and lots of little individual elongated flags, miniature bunting out of spotty sticky fabric tape I found in a gift shop, and spinning clock hands, all bound onto long and short bamboo skewers with copper wire.

***

The 'cake' components.

I made all the food the week of the wedding. The brownies and meringues could be made a few days ahead as they store beautifully. I made the Fruitypops as close to the event as I possibly could to keep them fresh.

***

The Chocolate Brownie 'Cake Pops'

 

Having experimented with various chocolate brownie recipes, this was my only 'cheat'. I found that my homemade brownies were almost too soft and pliable and didn't behave beautifully on the bamboo skewers when I chocolate-coated them. So, I bought the mini brownies from a supermarket bakery as they were exactly the right firm texture for coating in chocolate. It was also a really cost-effective way of supplying the brownie cakes. I refrigerated the cakes for a day before putting them on skewers and coating each one with melted chocolate. This made them really sturdy and much easier to handle.

I threaded each square of chocolate brownie diagonally onto a bamboo skewer. Rather than dunking the 'cake pops' straight into the chocolate, I found that the best method of coating them was to have the melted chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water, then I 'spooned' the chocolate over each square cake. I held the cake over the bowl and 'tap-tap-tapped' the skewer to allow all the excess chocolate to drop back into the bowl. Because the cakes were cold, the chocolate started to set really quickly, so I popped a sugar heart on each one and put them in glasses to dry.


I was careful not to let them touch as they dried as I wanted them to look really professional. I put each batch of brownies in the fridge to set properly before packing them flat into containers for transportation.


I made a combination of white, milk and plain chocolate-coated brownie 'cake pops'.

***

There was no nutritional information on the packaging of the brownies as they were from an instore bakery, but I looked it up online and each one works out to 1pp/40kcal. Coated in approx 8g chocolate, each finished 'cake pop' is
2pp/approx.80 kcal
2 pops = 5pp
3 pops = 7pp
4 pops = 10pp

If you were making these and  wanted them to be really low in propoints, I reckon you could do a similar thing with some of the Weightwatchers products, such as Brownies or Mini Rolls cut up....you could probably shave a propoint or two off here and there.

***

The Rose and Pistachio Meringue Hearts 


These were the scariest component to make, as they are so, so delicate. I hoped and prayed I wouldn't have to slam my brakes on when I drove to the wedding, and thankfully, my prayers were answered!
The recipe for these meringues is exactly the same as my RECIPE; Easter 'Eggs' blogpost. The only difference is that I made 45-50 meringues out of the amount quoted in my 'egg' recipe as I wanted them quite dainty. I also added 50g roughly chopped pistachios to the recipe which I sprinkled on the top before baking. I thought the green pistachios were really mossy-coloured and vibrant and seemed to go well with the woodland theme.


I made the meringue hearts with a teaspoon, carefully shaping each one. I tried to pile some mixture up in the middle so that there would be a gooey centre to 'hold' the bamboo skewer. I made quite a few more than I needed as I knew there would be a few casualties...(and there were!)

***

Each meringue works out to 1pp/40 kcal. Two meringues are 2pp, three are 2pp and four are 3pp.

***

The Fruitypops


For instructions of how to make these see the post SMASH & GRAB; Strawberry and Grape 'Fruitypops'. The only thing I would add here is to refrigerate the fruits for a few hours before you make them then the chocolate sets really quickly. Also make them as close to the event as you possibly can, then they stay fresh.


These work out to 2pp/approx.100 kcal for 5 fruitypops. I would charge 1pp/40kcal if I ate one of each grape and strawberry fruitypops.

Assembling the Finished 'Cake'


The components of the cake took up the whole back section of my car!


When I got to the venue (a beautiful yurt), I started to assemble everything. I had envisaged the finished 'cake' sitting in this kind of shape, but as I put it together it just grew and grew....


I started building the finished creation by arranging all my little flags and bunting in the centre of each mossy hillock.


I gradually built up random selections of all the yummies-on-sticks until the hillocks became huge edible sculptures...


I managed to fit all 320 sticks onto the three bases!


The finished 'cake' in situ.


 This creation appealed to everyone both young and old...there were kids running around in the woodland with stashes of my mad 'psychedelic acorn' grapepops, and men in their 60's and 70's with big smiles on their faces tucking into giant strawberries covered in chocolate and sugar sprinkles! The rose and pistachio meringues melted in the mouth and the chocolate brownies...well, they speak for themselves! Even the bamboo skewers just got thrown onto the fire, so there was no waste. All I can say is when I dismantled the 'cake' at the end of the wedding, I counted about 10 meringues and 6 brownie cake 'pops'. Everything else had been devoured. (The bride tells me even those last few disappeared as they were packing up!)
This was fun food at its very very best. 

***


 This idea could be customised for birthdays, kids parties or any special gathering. The lovely thing about it is that you can adapt the content to any theme or personal preference. I love it because it is fun, exciting and actually pretty low in propoints and calories....depending on how many individual elements you eat of course!
I hope to reinvent and recreate this idea many times over the coming years and hope you have the opportunity to do it too. You will bring smiles to peoples' faces, that I can guarantee. 

***

UPDATE!


Here's a birthday 'cake' version I made for my Dad. His favourite treat is Turkish Delight, so I dipped cubes of it in plain chocolate, then sprayed them with edible gold shimmer spray, along with my signature dipped fruits and brownies.


This shimmer spray is really effective and edible-no safety issues!


This is the finished cake with tiny bunting and little elongated flags...


Here's a close up of all the goodies...

***

Alongside the regular chocolate-covered brownies, I also made some out of Weightwatchers Belgian Chocolate Slices.


I cut each cake in half and coated them in white chocolate. They worked out to 2pp/80kcal each rather than the regular brownies which are 3pp/120kcal. They looked exactly the same.


I 'coded' the Weightwatchers version with 2 pink hearts, so that those of us watching our weight could discreetly pick the lower propoint/calorie option.


I also made the 'cake' personal to my Dad, with customised flags containing little messages for him to keep after the 'cake' had been devoured and we had all gone home.


Now I can't wait for the next excuse to make one!