Friday, 12 February 2016

Courgetti with Meatballs

During the fat-fighting, healthy eating regime one thing I have really missed is pasta.

Pasta is usually a mainstay in our weeknight meals when I'm at work as it makes for such quick and easy meals so I've been experimenting with courgetti or courgette pasta as an alternative and this one is delicious with hearty meatballs and a quick homemade sauce.

I used Tesco Finest Beef Meatballs here as this was mid-week and they are absolutely fine but obviously if making the meatballs from scratch, the calorie count will go up or down accordingly. I also added a luxurious 10g Grana Padano grated over the top of the finished meal too, which you could leave out if you don't have the spare calories left / this would shed X calories.

The below serves two with each portion coming in at around 464 calories and this can all be cooked in the one pan too which saves on the washing up. 

Courgetti with Meatballs
Here's how:
  • 2 100g courgettes
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 200g fresh tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli
  • 10g coconut oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 12 meatballs (I used Tesco Finest Beef Meatballs
  • 20g Grana Padano 

Firstly use a spiraliser to make the courgetti - I have a Linea one from House of Fraser and use the middle setting for this which makes more of a tagliatelle shaped courgetti. If you don't have a spiraliser, no problem, use a vegetable peeler and make thin ribbons of pasta instead. Now set aside.

Add the coconut oil to the pan and place on a gentle heat.

Now peel and crush the garlic and dice the white onion and add to the pan. Slice the chilli and also add to the pan.

While these are softening, chop the green peppers and tomatoes which will make the basis of your sauce and set aside for the minute.

Now add the meatballs to be pan and allow to brown on each side, turning them with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once they are lightly browned, add the tomatoes and peppers, tomato puree, paprika and oregano and give a good stir.

Cook gently for twenty minutes which will allow for lovely, tender meatballs and add the courgetti for 1-2 minutes at the end. 

Courgetti with meatballs
Dish up on two plates or bowls and add the cheese on top if you're having. Enjoy!

Skinny Steak Night: Garlic & Bay Fillet Steak with Rocket and Balsamic Vegetables

When we usually have steak, it would be either accompanied by chips or creamy mashed potato but in order to stick to my 1200 calorie/day current diet in a bid to live healthier and shift the last stone of baby weight, I've made some tweaks so we can still enjoy our favourite dinner.

Serving with these quick-fried vegetables that are cooked in the steak marinade, and having just a handful of rocket, means this delicious meal comes in at 414 calories - not bad. You can use any cut of steak you prefer but I like fillet for making this feel more of a treat, whereas Glen prefers sirloin.

The below serves two and I'd recommend leaving the steaks to marinade for at least thirty minutes or longer if you have time.

Skinny Steak Night

Here's how:
  • 2x 200g steaks (fillet)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 80-100g rocket (can use watercress or lamb's lettuce if you prefer) 

Firstly place the steaks in a shallow bowl then season each side of both steaks with the sea salt and black pepper - be generous here. Now peel the garlic cloves and slice half-ways, and add to the bowl with the bay leaves. Now finally, pour over the 1 tbsp olive oil. (Adding more than 1tbsp here will add lots more to your calorie and fat intake). Set aside and leave for thirty minutes.

On a chopping board cut the red pepper and red onion into equally shaped, bite-sized pieces and slice the mushrooms into thick pieces and set aside.

When ready to cook, pre-heat a griddle or grill for the steaks and a separate pan for the vegetables and wait for them to be very hot.

Place each steak into the griddle and time for 2 minutes (for rare - 3 minutes for medium-rare), in the meantime pour the excess marinade oil into the other pan and turn the heat down. Turn the steaks over after the timer tells you they have had two (or three) minutes and time for the same amount of time again.

Get a square of tinfoil ready to wrap the steak in to keep warm while resting and once the steaks are cooked to your preference, wrap and set aside to rest.

Now pop the vegetables into the warm pan and allow to quick-fry in the steak marinade. Add the balsamic and allow to soften for two minutes.

Pop the salad leaf you are using onto the plate and place the rested steak on top and then, finally, add the vegetables. Enjoy!

Rare Fillet

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Hong Kong: A Family Travel Destination

In November, I journeyed to Hong Kong for a fortnight with my (at the time) 14-month-old daughter, Bridget, and my parents for a fortnight's holiday.

My partner was unable to join due to work commitments and I worried about Bridget coping with the journey, the crowds and what she might eat - I needn't have worried, she had an absolute ball and nothing phased her.

I have a few posts to cover off some of the wonderful places we visited and ate during our stay, but this post is to share some of the fantastically family-friendly places we enjoyed during our stay.

Firstly Hong Kong, like the rest of the world was geared up for Christmas, and so the entire place was decked out with the most lavish decorations and trees I’ve encountered anywhere in the world and these festivities meant some of the shopping centres, especially the 1881 Heritage had a hundred photo opportunities and excited even the most Scrooge-minded person – Bridget absolutely loved it. 

Bridget enjoying Christmas display at Tsing Yi

Equally everywhere we went in terms of tourist attractions and restaurants, people made a real fuss of Bridget too, which was lovely. Highchairs were easily accumulated and she enjoyed a fantastic array of new foods with her favourites being char sui bao, steamed dim sum cake, steamed rice, noodles in all their wonderful guises and weirdly enough, octopus tentacles! 

Beach

We stayed on Ma Wan Island, or the modern day name; Park Island so the first place I should mention is Tung Wan Beach. Hong Kong might not strike you as a beach resort, but the beach here is cleaned daily and immaculate and aside from the weekend when the beach becomes busy with residents of the island, during the week it is often completely empty which is idyllic for spending time with your little ones – unusually temperatures were over 80 degrees for our entire stay so this was a happy escape from the heat. This was Bridget's first time on a beach since she began walking, and she was a little nervous of the sand to begin with, but by the second time on the beach she was running around happy as can be. 
Tung Wan Beach, Ma Wan
Bridget at Tung Wan Beach
Enjoying Milk Cake at Tung Wan Beach
If spending the day at Tung Wan Beach you could bring a picnic and the Fusion supermarket is a great place to collect supplies - their fresh baos and baked goods as well as the fruit produce is splendid. If you'd rather leave the catering to the professionals you're spoilt with a parade of beach-front restaurants that are open all week.

We were regulars at Cafe Roma where our favourite dishes were the Wagyu Beef and the Four Cheese Pizzas plus the breakfast smoothies which Bridget loved. We also loved the chocolate fondant too.

Pizza, Cafe Roma, Ma Wan
Smoothie at Cafe Roma, Ma Wan

We also tried the Pattaya Thai Island and the Chinese restaurants along the front of Tung Wan Beach - both offering good, well priced food.

Pattaya Thai Island restaurant, Ma Wan
Hong Kong also has some other great beaches such as Repulse Bay and Cheung Chau. Travelling to Hong Kong, there is literally so much to see and do, so the days spent on Ma Wan were usually when we were completely shattered from walking endlessly for a few days!

Disneyland

A place where dreams are made is a true description of Hong Kong's Disneyland. The magic begins on arrival where everything is Mickey or Minnie themed – Bridget absolutely adores Minnie Mouse so was in her absolute element. Excited children and adults ran around in an excited mode throughout the day at Disneyland and there are tons of rides and attractions throughout the park; but the true wonder was in watching the parade late in the afternoon. I was completely mesmerised by the scenes and my parents just loved seeing Bridget so excited by everything. Children under three enter for free and the price per adult is approximately £50 - worth every penny/dollar. 

Getting into the Disney spirit
At the entrance enjoying the Disney themed gardens
Disney parade
Ocean Park

This theme park, located in Wong Chuk Hang Valley, in the south, is more animal-based – with the most amazing 3-storey aquarium displaying an impressive array of sea life. The park is also home to likes of penguins, seals, dolphins and excitingly a pair of pandas who we got a really close glimpse of. There are tons of rides there too; including a selection suitable for toddlers like Bridget, as well as some more hair-rising thrill-seeking types. Prices per adult at Ocean Park are priced at the equivalent of just under £40 and again, Bridget went free. This is an entire-day out experience – there are fast-food outlets and sit down restaurants throughout the park, a cable car ride takes you from one level up to a more mountainous section which offers fantastic views over Hong Kong and the park is set in a huge space so wear your most comfortable shoes here as you will cover a lot of ground. 

Bridget on a ride with Nan & Grandad at Ocean Park
Panda at Ocean Park
Noah’s Ark

Situated on Ma Wan, this was a great morning spot for our group. Based on the story of the Biblical Ark, there is a giant wooden ark, within which, are tons of educational rooms teaching visitors all about animals, evolution, the story of the ark and the outside grounds contain an impressive array of lifelike, and similarly sized, wooden animals. Bridget really loved running wild in this area and pointing out the different animals. She also enjoyed the play area and role play sections inside – including mocked up kitchens. Noah’s Ark is aimed more at primary school aged children and there is a ton more activity they could get involved in but it’s still worth a visit if your little one is toddler age. Noah’s Ark is priced at around £16 per adult and free for under 3’s and as I mentioned is on Ma Wan, so if you’re travelling in from elsewhere on Hong Kong, plan your day to spend the afternoon on Tung Wan Beach

Bridget at Noah's Ark
Animals at Noah's Ark

Kowloon Park

Based in Tsing Tsa Tsui, Kowloon Park is a great, free national park and, is absolutely huge and runs parallel to Nathan Road but has entrances all around – including Haiphong Road, Austin road and Canton Road so you can enter from a number of directions. The gardens are some of the most picturesque and well kept, with impressive topiary and floral displays all around – and the serenity played a great backdrop for the Tai Chi displays taking place when we visited . A large adventure park had Bridget incredibly excited and was filled with excitable children when we were there. The aviary and bird lake were where Bridget really enjoyed herself – especially her first glimpse of the pink flamingos. Kowloon Park is a great place to spend some quiet time and let the children run off some energy.

Bridget at Bird Lake, Kowloon Park
Hong Kong is a fantastic place to visit for all ages but there really are an absolute wealth of activities to do with little ones here so it should definitely be on your wish list for a fun-filled, adventure-packed family holiday.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Travel with your children – it’s the best!

Reading this week about Karen Edwards and Shaun Bayes travels around the world with baby Esme I was filled with admiration – what an utterly fantastic experience for the new family of three.

The story stuck a chord with me – there’s nothing better than travelling with your family for introducing your little ones to rich new cultures and experiences. What a fantastic and fulfilling way to spend maternity leave too.

My own daughter, Bridget, is a month younger than Karen and Shaun’s daughter, and we have enjoyed several holidays in her sixteen months, when work has allowed; travelling to places such as Greece, Egypt and Hong Kong; for up to a fortnight at a time. We have streamlined ‘travel essentials’ for baby on each trip so I applaud Esme’s parents – how clever they must have had to pack.

Five month old Bridget in Egypt

Bridget aged nine months, Kefalonia
Bridget in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong aged 14months

During my pregnancy, I was warned against travelling with children by several people especially with young babies. When I mentioned at a baby shower that I was thinking of booking a trip abroad in the new year, with my four or five month old baby, an acquaintance laughed and said ‘good luck – you’ll change your mind when you realise how much stuff you’ll need.’ I didn’t.

I’m keen to dispel the myths surrounding travel with a baby or toddler – of course it can be challenging in terms of the actual journey – but the output far outweighs an only, potentially, troubling journey. Quality family time together, minus any at-home or work distractions is priceless; and introducing new types of places, food and people to your child will surely only shape the type of person they will grow into and teach them the importance of embracing different cultures. Most importantly the feel-good factor of travelling with the people you love most in the world is an incomparable high.

Here are my top tips having visited Egypt, Kefalonia and Hong Kong with Bridget aged at 5 months, 9 months and 14 months respectively:

  • Nappies are universal. You might not get your usual brand – but unless going somewhere remote, you probably will. So save on space and just pack enough for the journey and the first day or two. This saves SO much space. 
  • Get a new toy or book for the journey – this will hopefully capture little one’s attention long enough to avoid any mid-air/ on-road/on-water tantrums. Equally remember boarding a plane or boat is very exciting for little ones so make it into a real adventure for them.
  • Travel with Calpol – there’s nothing worse than a screaming baby or child on a flight, especially when it’s your own. Bridget had a nightmare flight on the way back from Egypt with teething – luckily a quick dose of procured from the flight attendants calmed her right down.
  • Research the cities or resorts you’re visiting – not everywhere will be baby/child friendly and some places will be a no-go with a buggy or pram too. Plan ahead and list the places you can go to. That said, if travelling with a partner or companion, you can take it in turns to do some of the non-baby-friendly activities. 
  • Embrace the food for little ones too – providing little one’s aren’t just taking their very first solid mouthfuls – you’ll be likely to find things they can eat. We discovered Bridget absolutely loved moussaka, feta cheese and fresh pitta in Kefalonia and not a day went by in Hong Kong where she didn’t have a Char Sui Bao but we also let her try lots of other things including octopus! Introducing them to a wide range of foods from a young age will (hopefully) avoid them becoming a fussy eater.
Bridget enjoying octopus tentacles in Hong Kong
  • That said, if you do have a fussy eater, or are worried take a good selection of little one’s favourite snacks.
  • If travelling to warm climes, 100% make sure you have plenty of factor 50 for the little ones - the last thing you want is their skin getting sore from the sun. Also don't forget you'll be carrying/cuddling your baby or child so don't slap on the oil yourself or this may rub off on them and in turn lead to them burning!
  • Don’t stress – the more you overthink or panic about the journey or the actual trip the more stressful it’s likely to become. By being as laid back as you can, will, at least in my experience make for a more enjoyable journey for all.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

This is the ultimate lemon drizzle cake for me. It’s an absolute classic that needs little introduction. I use slightly more lemon juice than in most recipes as it helps to keep the cake moist and delicious for longer.

I can thoroughly recommend serving with a cup of tea or coffee. If you’re a love of a drizzle cake you may also like this Limoncello Drizzle Cake or St Clement’s Drizzle cake too.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Here’s how:

The cake mix:

  • 225g salted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225 self-raising flour
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
For the drizzle topping:
  • 85g caster sugar
  • Juice 2 lemons, zest of 1

Firstly pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees, then grease a 20cm square cake tin with a little butter and line with baking paper.

Now in a bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and cream then crack in each egg, one at a time, stirring through each one to combine into the batter.

Sift in the flour and mix well. Add the juice and zest of the one lemon and once it resembles a thick, creamy cake batter, pour into the cake tin.

Cook for 35-40 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven and test a skewer comes out dry to test it is cooked through – the top should also be a lovely golden brown and the kitchen will be filled with a wonderful citrusy aroma.

Allow to stand in the cake tin while you organise the drizzle. Firstly zest one of the lemons (or both if you prefer) and set aside for a moment. Now in a cup or small bowl combine the lemon juice and sugar – it should be quite a thick gluey paste.

Using the skewer (or a fork if you don’t have a skewer to hand) make ten deep pricks into the cake all over to ensure the juice will travel deep down into the cake to keep it lovely and moist.

Pour over the juice and sugar allowing the entire top of the cake to get a covering.

Lemon Drizzle Cake


Then scatter over the lemon zest and leave in the cake tin for a further 30 minutes for the drizzle to set. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Pancake Day: Classic British Pancakes

There are so many variations of pancakes out there and I am fond of most, sweet, savoury, filled, thick and fluffy, flat and light, crepes...I could go on but suffice to say pancakes are a big winner at our house.

Pancake day though, to me signals a homeliness I associate with childhood - rushing home from school to eat a whole stack of pancakes lovingly prepared by my Mum and the joyful tradition of seeing how well she could flip them in the air. So for today's festivities, for me it always has to be the flat British type, topped with lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar with the additional sweetness of a 1 large tablespoon of 0% fat natural yoghurt and some mixed berries. These are great for all the family too - including weaning ones who love them as a finger food.

This variation yields perfect pancakes every time, the perfect balance between sweet and savoury too. I do insist on a good fat ratio and prefer rapeseed or light olive oil although butter works well for a richer flavour - my Mum used to use lard back in the day!

This makes about 8 thin, delicious pancakes if made in a usual pan. Try to leave the batter once mixed for at least 30 minutes as it will result in better pancakes. In fact the batter lasts overnight so make the night before if you can.

Classic British Pancakes
Here's how:
  • 125g plain flour
  • 300ml milk (full fat works best here) 
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 drop good quality vanilla essence
  • Rapeseed oil, light olive oil or butter
  • 1 lemon (a Jif Lemon will suffice if fresh is not available) 
  • Sprinkling of granulated sugar
  • 0% fat natural yoghurt (I use Yeo Valley
  • Handful mixed berries per person
  • Zest from 1 lemon

Pop the flour into a mixing jug and pour over a third of the milk, then whisk it through as best you can, slowly adding the rest of the milk till it resembles a batter.

Now add the egg and yolk, the salt and vanilla and give a good whisk till it's light and airy. Now place some clingfilm over the top, not too tightly, and place into the fridge if leaving overnight or leave on the kitchen side if using shortly.

Once ready to make the pancakes, place the oven on at 150g and pop a plate in there in preparation to keep the made pancakes warm.

Now add a little rapeseed oil (or your preferred choice of oil/fat) to a non-stick pan and place on a medium heat. Once hot, turn the pan down a bit and use a ladle to pour in enough batter for the first pancake.

Cook for a couple of minutes or until the liquid batter has formed a squidgy solid, then use an egg slice to gently slide under all the edges, till it's easy to move then flip over and cook the other side for the same amount of time.

Once cooked place on the hot plate and cover with foil and pop back into the oven, and repeat the process till all the pancakes are cooked.

Now serve with lemon squeezed over then sprinkle with sugar. Top with the yoghurt and berries and for a final, flavoursome flourish add a grating of some of the lemon zest which will also help to make a very pretty plate too. Enjoy!

Here are a few alternative pancake recipes if you prefer something less traditional:

1. Yoghurt Berry Pancakes
2. Courgette & Corn Pancakes
3. Salmon & Dill Pancakes

And here are my favourite London spots for pancakes if you won't be flipping any this year:

1. Tom's Kitchen
2. The Modern Pantry
3. My Old Dutch 

Jerk Salmon

When I make a batch of Jerk sauce I split it, usually into three batches - it freezes well and you can either cover some meat or fish in the sauce then freeze, or simply freeze the sauce in a freezer bag.

I first happened upon fish 'jerked' in Jamaica a few years back and ever since I have been experimenting and my favourite fish with the jerk treatment absolutely has to be salmon. It's the sweetness of the salmon which completely offsets the aromatic, powerfully punchy hot jerk and makes for a marvellous mouthful.

Sometimes I serve it with the traditional 'rice and pea' combination, but here during my healthy eating and fat fighting regime, I had it with 50g fried cauliflower rice (pepper up with garlic, chilli and spring onions), fresh corn and a selection of green vegetables. It is utterly delicious and completely addictive!

These days I make my jerk sauce in my Nutribullet as it's much easier to clean than my traditional Kenwood blender. 

Jerk Salmon

Here's how: 
  • 1 large onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 50g grated ginger
  • 6 Scotch bonnets (including seeds) 
  • 2 tbsp dried Thyme
  • 1 tbsp Dunne's River All Purpose Seasoning
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 4 tbsp Soy sauce
  • 100g Brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
Peel and chop the onion roughly and add to Nutribullet or blender. Peel the garlic and add to the onions.

Use plastic gloves if you have them to roughly chop the Scotch Bonnets then add to the blender. Now discard the gloves and wash your hands thoroughly - you really don't want that spice in your eye later!

Add all the other marinade ingredients, place the lid on and blitz to a smooth paste.

Now pour over the salmon, ensuring every part is covered so the sauce really permeates the flesh of the fish. I usually use a throwaway dish for jerk as it can be quite messy, so I tend to marinade in here also. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. If you haven't got that long, then leave the salmon for at least a couple of hours.

Jerk Salmon


When ready to cook the salmon, Remove from the fridge and allow to come back to room temperature whilst heating up the oven to 200 degrees. You want it nice and hot - salmon cooks quickly but you want some nice charred bits on the outside and you won't get that if the oven's not piping hot.

Place into the oven and cook for fifteen minutes. Serve with your choice of accompaniments. Enjoy!

A couple of other ‘jerked’ recipes:

1. Jerk Chicken
2. Jerk Ham