By the time I returned from a recent trip to Southern Italy you might have thought I’d be ready to eat something other than tomato bruschetta. Oh no. I love it. Sadly the miserable weather in the UK has put paid to my dreams of fresh crusty bread mopping up slicks of tomato juice and puddles of olive oil. So how to get my fix?
Bruschetta tarts, that’s how. By replacing the bread with puff pastry and by baking the tart and tomatoes I could keep the flavours I craved without giving myself a chill. The slight roasting of the tomatoes also gets over the fact that at the moment most British tomatoes haven’t seen much sunshine and are occasionally somewhat insipid. Roasting concentrates their flavours well. I used the Ischia bruschetta herb mix I bought on holiday. You could easily replicate it by using oregano, garlic, chilli flakes and salt.
Use all butter puff if you can. I popped my tomatoes on a bed of caramellised onions as I had some in the fridge. You could easily use pesto or mozzarella too. If you wanted to make a family sized one just use a whole sheet of puff rather than cutting the sheet into four individual pieces. Ideal for a picnic, canapes or as lunchtime dish. Use any and every tomato variety you like, mix colours, sizes and varieties for flavour and effect.
1 pack all butter puff pastry, ready rolled.
A variety of tomatoes thickly sliced,
caramelised onions, pesto or mozzarella to make a base for the tomatoes.
salt, pepper, dried oregano etc to season.
- Unroll the pastry and allow to come to room temperature for 10 minutes or so.
- Preheat the oven to 200c.
- Either place the whole sheet of puff onto a parchment lined baking tray or cut the puff sheet into four equal pieces and place onto the lined tray.
- Take a sharp knife and run a line almost through the pastry 1 cm from the edge of the pastry. Use a fork to prick the base area of the tart.
- Part bake for 5 minutes and then remove from the oven. Leave on the baking tray and add the filling. Lay a base of onions and top with layer of tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Make it look as attractive as possible.
- Bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Serve with a salad and a glass of wine if you can.
Now, I’m of an age to remember family members spending time on the Cabbage soup diet. No taste, no pleasure and far too much flatulence. There was an amount of weight loss but boredom quickly set in and the lure of a sticky bun often won the dieters over. Za’atar spiced pepper and aubergine soup is different. I’m determined that the soups I make are tasty. These soups are really helping me in my #fattofitter journey but taste and satisfaction are vital too.
Simply roasting the aubergine, peppers and tomatoes with a thin smear of oil and a good dust of the savoury and sour za’atar spice mix really enhances all the flavours. The aubergine gives the soup a silky smoothness too. Roasting makes the dish a little smoky also. Next time I make this I’ll add in a clove of garlic as I roast the vegetables. You can try with or without the garlic. It’s up to you.
I had some lovely homemade jelly like chicken stock which I used as a basis for the soup but a vegetable stock or bouillon would work just fine.
Za’atar spiced pepper and aubergine soup
1 aubergine, halved lengthways
1 pepper, seeded and cored, cut into large chunks
2 tomatoes, halved
1 clove of garlic
500 ml stock
1 tsp olive oil
za’atar spice blend
salt and pepper
Sour cream to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 220c.
- Place the vegetable pieces onto the baking tray, add the oil. Scatter over a tsp of za’atar and mix well with your hands until the vegetables are well coated.
- Roast the vegetables for 25 to 30 minutes until softened and a little charred.
- Allow the vegetables to cool a little, remove the skins and place the vegetables in a large saucepan.
- Pour over the stock. Bring slowly up to temperature. Using a stick blender blitz until smooth. Taste and season with the salt and pepper.
- Serve with a spoon of soured cream if you wish and a pinch of za’atar too.
Many apologies for a lack of posts at Mintcustard. I’ve taken a little break completely as I was on holiday and given my recent health blip I wanted to go away and relax completely. The trouble with holidays are that they often accompanied by indulgence and treats. But I am trying hard to change my diet and my lifestyle. How was I going to do that and still have fun?
As I have said in the past, no food should be demonised. For me, the changes I’m making are all about balance. As we were holidaying in Ischia, the sister island to Capri that few people have heard of, there would be some challenges. At a first glance Southern Italian food might seem to be carb loaded pizza, pasta wine and gelati.
Look a little further and glorious plates of seafood appear, alongside the freshest of vegetables and simple one or two ingredient dishes in the cucina povera style.
The fact that the weather was scorching, the hotel was a third of the way up the volcano and we walked everywhere meant that we were burning up calories all the time. I kept track of both my food and my exercise via an app on my phone. I swam everyday too, so the odd pizza or cold beer wasn’t a problem.
One dish that I love and rediscovered during our trip was bruschetta. Every restaurant, bar and nonna has their own version. Each one different and every single one I tried was delicious. Some toasted the bread, others simply warmed it with garlic. One had celery and chilli added, others were spritzed with lemon. They all had the freshest, reddest tomatoes as the star ingredient. Many were straight from a garden next to the place they wer ebeing served. Tomatoes that dripped liquid sunshine and who I suspect had never been in a fridge in their lives.
Oh, an I lost another kilo whilst we were away. Even with pizza, pasta and several sorbets being consumed too!
I have a version of bruschetta on Mintcustard but I’ll be making a new twist on this as soon as the sun comes out.
Not every tomato you come across in the shops really tastes as tomatoey as it should. Roasting tomatoes is a way I find intensifies their flavour. Adding a few cloves of garlic and a sprig or two of basil adds to the flavour profile also. I’m trying out lots of soup recipes at the moment. Partly to get me to eat more vegetables and also as a way to have a nutricious lunch that can be eaten one handed. Teachers are often marking or peacekeeping with the other. Sadly the other inhabitants of Mintcustard Mansions have decided they like my soup too, having spent years telling me that soup wasn’t a proper meal! I’m having to make a larger quantity to keep everyone happy.
I’ve lost another kg too.
Garlicky roasted tomato minestrone soup.
6 good sized tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, squashed but not peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to season
sprigs of fresh basil
1 litre of stock
75g minestrone soup pulse and pasta mix (I use the Waitrose one)
How to …..
- Preheat the oven to 220 c.
- Place the halved tomatoes, garlic, oil, seasoning and basil into a heatproof dish. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the house begins to smell sweet and garlicky.
- Whilst the tomatoes and garlic roast, bring the stock to a boil. Tip in the minestrone soup pulse and pasta mix and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes.
- Once roasted, peel the tomatoes and garlic and tip into a large sauce pan. Add in any cooking juices from the pa and the roasted basil too.
- Strain the pulses, reserving the liquid. Keep the cooked pasta and pulses to one side for the moment.
- Pop the liquid in with the tomatoes and garlic. Blitz with a hand blender until smooth.
- Stir in the pasta and pulses.
- Serve with a chiffonade of basil, or a swirl of basil oil if you have it.
You may have noticed from my posts on Mintcustard in the past, America and brownies tend to feature fairly regularly. So when I spotted a bag of red, white amd blue M & Ms I knew they had to but used in a tray of Independence day brownies.
I used a recipe from The Guardian for “best ever brownies.” I think I need to play around with the tin I used but the brownies were fantastic. I know I’m on a diet but a very small slice was all I needed. The M & Ms worked really well, keeping their colour and giving extra crunch to the brownies too. If you don’t have any red, white and blue chocolate beans in your kitchen then roughly chopped chocolate, fudge chunks, nuts or even salted pretzels would work just as well. One brilliant tip from the article is to plunge the base of the baking tray into iced water once the desired level of internal brownie squidge has been reached. This rapid cooling stops the cooking straight away and retains the soft interior whilst still allowing for that crisp crunchy outer layer.
If you happen to becoming along with me on my journey from fat to fitter then pull up your chair. On the weight loss and exercise front I’m doing well. I have lost about 3 kg so far or about about half a stone. I do realise most of that is water but the numbers are travelling in the right direction. I’m enjoying my food and can honestly say somedays I eat far more than I used to. The crunch will come tomorrowwhen I’m back at work. I’m determined to make time to eat properly. Schools are never good places to do this, so much to do and such a short time frame to work within. I’m taking hummus, rice cakes and some fruit. I’ll take a couple of snacks for break and after school.
The blood pressure isn’t coming down as fast as it should but the headaches are gone so changes are afoot I hope.
As I said before I’m not into demonising any foods, I’m just being very strict about getting a balance between what I can eats lots of and those foods that I need to be wary of. I’m baking brownies as I type but I’m only having a very small piece. Spices and pickles jazz up any dish. The tastier a dish is, the slower I need to consume it. I find I savour the flavours more.
Adding chilli to my sweetcorn fritters did just this yesterday. I made these as a starter for a barbecue yesterday. I served them with a low fat sour cream dip.
Chilli sweetcorn fritters
1 large (325g) can of naturally sweet corn, drained
1 large egg
3 heaped tbsp plain flour,
1 green chilli chopped or a big pinch of chilli flakes
milk to slacken
oil to fry
- Place the corn into a big bowl. Stir in the chilli and salt.
- Beat the egg and stir into the corn.
- Sprinkle over the flour and combine well.
- Add enough milk to slacken the mixture. You want a dropping consistency.
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil to a medium heat. Drop in spoons of the mixture and cook gently until crips and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh coriander, chilli and sour cream to dip.
Not to be confused with fridge bottom soup where you use up as many of the odds and ends as you can, but a bright green vibrant soup that screams summer and vitality. If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I’ve begun to change the way I eat. A wake up call from my doctor recently gave me little choice.
I have begun to focus on balancing what I eat. Nothing is banned, no food is demonised and I am not making myself feel guilty. If I fancy strawberries and cream with a little meringue crumbled over then fine but I’m making sure the strawberries are the main event with just a drizzle cream and a few meringue crumbles. After all everyone loves a strawberry during Wimbledon fortnight.
So far so good, going to get my BP checked today but I have lost 2 kg already. I have yet to feel hungry. I feel fed up that I can’t indulge but a small slice is better than none so I’m getting used to it. One big change is eating lunch. I didn’t really get round to it before, so fell into the habit of snacks and sugar and caffeine to sustain me. Now it is soup!
Summer garden soup.
1 large courgette diced,
1 onion diced
1 garlic clove crushed
150g broccoli chopped, stalks and all, just remove the really woody bits. Cut the stalks up into dice.
1 tbsp olive oil
1.25 litres of stock
- Dice all the vegetables before you start.
- Heat the oil in the pan and sweat down the onions until soft and a little sticky but not darkly coloured.
- Add in the garlic and cook out the rawness.
- Slip in the courgette and broccoli, pour in the stock and simmer for 10 minutes until the broccoli stalks have softened.
- Cool, blitz with a stick blender and portion up.
- Reheat the amount you want for lunch and freeze the rest. Just right to zap in the microwave atschool for lunch.
In case you are worried that this isn’t really calorifically dense enough to fill me up. Don’t worry I always add a multi seed pitta with ham or today I’m having low fat pate. You have to eat enough to lose weight, strange as that sounds.
Roast chicken has to be one of this family’s favourite meals. I love roast chicken as you can add such a variety of flavours. Spices, smoked or plain and simple, roast chicken rules. Not only do you get the most wonderful plate of food but you also get leftovers. Tonights chicken was flavoured with lemon, garlic and oregano, it was then barbecued. Delicious.
Spatchcocking a chicken is easy, poultry shears are used to remove the backbone and then you press the chicken flat with the heal of your hand. You can of course ask your butcher to do this for you.
Spatchcock the chicken before you marinade it as the flavours can penetrate inside and out far faster.
juice and zest of a lemon
a handful of fresh oregano
1 garlic clove crushed
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
- Mix the marinade ingredients together in a non metalic bowl.
- Add in the chicken and massage the marinade in well. Leave to infuse for between and hour and four hours.
- Light the BBQ and leave to come up to temperature. Look at the temp gauge or wait until your coals become white hot.
- Place chicken on the grill cut side down and leave to roast. You need to turn the chicken every 15 minutes for an hour. After the hour check the thickest part of the chciken and if the juices run clear then the chicken is cooked through. Rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Carve and serve. You can have roasties and traditional veg, rice and peas or cous cous and salad. It is up to you and ring the changes.
You may know I’m trying hard to change the way I view food and my diet. I’m not denying myself anything. Nothing is bad, everything is good. It is the balance that makes the difference. I’m also increasing my level of positive exercise. Exercise that does me good both in body and in spirit. So my most recent walk was around a local lavender field. Wonderful colours, amazing fragrances and the sheer joy of others sharing the experience.
Garden sauce! Garden sauce? What is the woman on about? The meatballs are in a tomato and whatever you need to use up in the fridge that works together sauce.
Turkey mince is one staple you will almost always find in the fridge. It can be used in almost every mince dish imaginable, has less fat, carries flavours brilliantly and is cheap!
Last night I made turkey meatballs. Quick, easy, tasty and filling. In short an ideal family meal. If you have little ones just make the meatballs smaller and puree their sauce to hide the vegetables if that’s what you need to do.
400g lean turkey mince
1 onion finely chopped
1 pepper (you choose the colour!) finely chopped
half a dozen mushrooms, quartered
300 ml of passata
salt and pepper
2 tsp olive oil
- Season the turkey mince with salt and pepper and form into walnut sized balls. Put into the fridge covered to set up a little before cooking.
- Heat the oil in a pan and saute off the vegetables. Add in the turkey meatballs and cook until browned on all sides.
- Pour in the passata. Cook until thickened and reduced.Taste and season.
- Serve over large tube pasta.
This is another meal of my fat to fitter campaign. After eating I went for a walk, just a half an hour stroll and saw this beautiful poppy. So pretty I just had to share it with you.
I have already mentioned that a teacher’s lunch needs to be portable. Lunches often needs to remain edible until 4pm because that is usually when it finally gets consumed. If you have ever gone into a school staffroom you will see the staff are mostly fuelled by caffeine and cake. This is the habit I’m in. Skip lunch, have a couple of coffees, eat a snack late afternoon and then not really feel like much dinner.
Whilst I’m bored rigid being at home, (I’ve embarked on a mission to read all the Harry Potter books back to back, that is how fed up I am) at least I get to have a proper lunch.
A decent lunch will stop me from snacking too. Lots of vegetables for crunch and texture but I am aware I need some fat and protein too.
This was lunch Day 2. Quorn and vegetable stuffed summer spring rolls. Summer spring rolls are NOT deep fried. Transparent, gossamer thin and seemingly ephemeral rice paper wrappers barely contain the delights within. You can get away without any cooking here if you used ready cooked meats. These are an ideal way to use up sunday lunch leftovers the following day too.
Quorn and vegetable stuffed summer spring rolls. (serves 1)
3 rice paper wrappers, water to rehydrate.
75g quorn chicken pieces, frozen
1 tsp oil
1 tsp curry paste
1 tbsp yogurt
a variety of vegetables cut into julienne. I had peppers, spring onions, carrots, lettuce and cucumber.
soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chopped green chilli and a dash of sesame oil, pepper. Lime if you have it.
How to …..
- In a frying pan heat the oil and cook off the curry paste, add in the quorn pieces, yogurt and a splash or two of water. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until cooked through. You may need to add more water if the pan gets very dry.
- Julienne your vegetables and lay them out.
- Mix together the dipping sauce ingredients.
- Fill a dinner plate with water – humour me, this is to rehydrate the wrappers.
- Lay the wrappers one at a time into the water, make sure both sides get wet. Once pliable place on a plate and fill.
- I popped a thin smear of mango chutney on, then the vegetables and finally the quorn.
- Tuck in the ends of the wrapper, dip into the dip and tuck into your lunch.
Wash down with plenty of water and give yourself time to enjoy your meal. if you want to take this to school then use iceberg lettuce leaves to wrap up the filling and take the sauce in a small, resealable pot.