Thursday, 14 January 2016

Skinny Pad Thai

Skinny Pad Thai

I feel I need to start by saying this recipe is by no means authentic. I probably shouldn’t even be calling it a Pad Thai but hey that’s the beauty of freedom of speech. It is a great, tasty way to pack a lot of vegetables and lean protein into your midweek meals.

In Asia Pad Thai is usually served from street-food vendors or at casual restaurants and has become a very popular British take-away.  You’ll often find it served with chicken or prawns but tofu is actually the traditional ingredient used to make Pad Thai in Thailand. The dish is a massive crowd pleaser – in fact I’ve yet to encounter anyone who isn’t a fan – I think it’s due to the balance of flavours. It feels fresh, slightly sweet with just a dash of spice. It can however, if done badly, be greasy and stodgy.

Here’s why I love my version; It’s really tasty, pretty quick, filling and you feel like you’re eating something a bit naughty, even though you’re not, it’s less than 350 kcals per portion and the portion is big, which I like! The prep is the longest part, once you have everything ready the dish can be cooked from start to finish in about 10-12 mins. You don’t have to use zero noodles, rice noodles would be much more authentic yet slightly less skinny, or you could use the ever trendy courgetti . I find zero noodles are a good method to trick my brain into thinking I’m eating carbs, when I’m not, in a way that courgetti doesn’t quite manage. I don’t have anything against carbs but I do find I become bloated if I eat too many so I tend to cut them out in the week and then enjoy them at the weekend. If using noodles choose medium rice noodles and soak them in boiling water for about 10 mins before you start cooking, then drain and use as directed below.

The trick for speedy cooking is to get everything ready before you start. So chop all your veggies and have them in bowls or piles on a plate or board. Get your sauce mixed and soak and drain your noodles. This way the cooking will be really simple and the veg will stay nice and fresh and wont overcook while you chop like a maniac.

Skinny Pad Thai
Serves 2
This makes a good next day lunch for work too so even if there’s only 1 of you eating I’d make the whole batch and pack any leftovers up in a  tuppawear. 

1 whole egg and 2 egg whites
1 lime
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp ketchup (KETCHUP??! Pad thai contains quite a lot of sugar, by using ketchup you can leave out the sugar and still get the sweetness along with some flavour as well)
1 tbsp Shaoxing Rice wine, Sake or Sherry 
2 tbsp light soy sauce (or if you have fish sauce already use 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1 soy sauce)
2 tsp coconut or olive oil
15g coriander leaves or chives
1 tbsp salted peanuts (optional)
1 large chicken breast or 250g tofu
200g raw peeled prawns
6 spring onions
200g beansprouts
3 baby Pak Choi
1 tbsp ginger and garlic puree
About 100ml chicken stock
Pouch zero noodles, drained and rinsed (Holland & Barrett, Morrison, Waitrose)
Fresh red chilli, to serve, optional

1 Mix together the sweet chilli sauce, ketchup, the juice from half of the lime, the tamarind paste and most of the soy sauce or fish sauce & rice wine leaving about 1/4 a tsp of each. Slice the spring onions finely on the diagonal, separating the white and the green parts. Roughly chop the coriander and peanuts. Roughly chop the stems of the pak choi leaving the leaves whole. Slice the chicken into bite size strips and drizzle with a little more soy sauce and some black pepper. Have the stock next to your pan, adding this while cooking stops the dish drying out without adding too much oil.

2 Beat the egg and egg whites with some black pepper and the reserved soy and rice wine . Brush a large non-stick frying pan with some of the oil, on a medium/high heat. Pour in the eggs and move the pan so they spread out in a thin, even layer, scatter on a few herbs. Cook for about 1 minute, until set, then tip out of the pan onto your chopping board and roll up like a pancake, then slice into strips. Set aside.

3 Use a high heat to keep the cooking quick. Wipe the pan out if you need to, if not add half the remaining oil along with half of the ginger & garlic pure, cook for 15 seconds while stirring then add chicken and a small spoon of your sauce. Fry until golden brown adding a splash of stock if you need to, then chuck in the prawns with a little more of your stock. Toss for 1-2 minutes until the prawns are firm and pink and the chicken is just cooked through. Tip into a bowl to set aside.

4 Add the last of your oil and ginger & garlic puree then tip in the white parts of the spring onions, beansprouts and cabbage with another splash of stock. Cook for 1-2 mins, until just wilted with a little crunch.

5 Add the noodles, most of the spring onions and the sauce you mixed earlier and toss so everything combined and is coated evenly. Using metal tongues will make this easier, Return the egg, prawns & chicken and mix well, add the pak choi then heat through then stir in most of the coriander and divide between bowls. Garnish with the chilli and nuts (if using) and the reserved green spring onions and herbs, with the other half of the lime cut into wedges for squeezing over. 

Approx. per serving: 344 kcals, 7.1g fat, 47g protein, 16g carbs

Friday, 8 January 2016

Holy Focaccia!

I like to think I’m pretty good at healthy eating. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet but it’s definitely one of my key skills. I think I’m just lucky that I happen to love most healthy foods. What’s more when I eat the foods my body needs I feel good, more energised and manage to maintain a weight I’m happy with. This makes the practice a whole lot easier and more rewarding. Plus I haven’t really got a sweet tooth so I never have cravings for desserts or chocolate, this helps me to keep a cap on the fat and calories I consume. There are however two main things that really trip me up.

1 Alcohol, well Prosecco to be precise.
2 Bread. (I consider pizza to fall under the bread umbrella, any fermented, flour based, baked goods)

Here my willpower really goes out the window. My other half says my face involuntarily lights up at just the sound of a cork being popped from a bottle. In my defence I just think I am a smiley person….

Real bread to me is a thing of pure beauty. It’s like edible art - just perfect. I could look at (stuff my face with) bread all day. Hence the obsession with good pizza. Neapolitan pizza, the proper stuff (that I make in my wood oven) the ‘cornicione’ or crust as we know it is about as good as any artisan bread you can find. It has a sweet, tangy flavour which is developed over the long, cold prove and a beautiful, pillowy texture created in the intense heat of the hot clay oven. Bread should never merely dissolve in your mouth upon biting. No, no, no! Good bread, like a good date, should make you work for it. There’s nothing fast about good bread. I consider myself a fussy addict, I mean it’s not like I’m wandering the streets swigging on warm Strongbow and eating Hovis straight out the bag. Hey, we all have our vices.

Having said all that, everyone has to start somewhere. I often make sourdough Focaccia, it is delicious, chewy and has a lovely firm, golden crust. The downside is it takes a lot of time… DAYS!! This recipe gives you a slightly different - but still very good- focaccia. It’s one the quickest breads I make so it’s a perfect weekend day project.

I’m using 3 x 7 inch round tins, as I am taking one for the team and showing you 3 different topping ideas. But you can make one big rectangle focaccia instead using a large baking tray or roasting tin, measuring about 40cm x 30cm. Serve with lots of Prosecco. Have a lovely weekend.


600g strong white bread flour
7g sachet of fast-action yeast
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp flavoured olive oil; I used homemade garlic and chilli, plus extra for greasing
360ml warm water
1 pack rosemary, the standard supermarket size, you’ll have some left but you want to choose all the nice sprigs.  Pull them off from the stem, each sprig should have about 3-4 needles in it.
A couple of garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced. (This is about the only time I ever use ‘real’ garlic, apart from when I make my infused oils; I am willing to admit I used garlic puree, the stuff from the oriental supermarket. I hate preparing garlic, you can never get rid of the smell and I use my hands so much it lingers for ages.
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Chilli flakes, optional
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large brown or red onions
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp sherry, cider or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
100g goats cheese

NB the third topping was supposed to be sun blush tomato & olive. When I looked in the cupboard I’d run out of both. I did however have chorizo, oregano and red chilli pesto. You can figure out the rest of the story.

About 100g chorizo or even better Italian salami, OR EVEN BETTER Nduja, cut into chunks.
3 tbsp red chilli pesto or red pesto
fresh oregano leaves

1 To make the dough, put the flour, yeast, honey, oil and salt the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Weigh out the water, this will give you the correct amount, you need 360g of lukewarm water. Pour it on to the flour mixture. Start the mixer on a low speed and allow to knead for about 10 minutes, the dough will look quite smooth and will be soft.

2 Oil your hands and remove the dough from the hook and the sides of the bowl, shaping it into a ball by folding the dough back on itself. Oiled hands will make this easier and means you don’t need to add any extra flour. This is good as focaccia is quite a wet dough. Leave to rise in the mixing bowl, covered with oiled cling film (or use a clean shower cap, stolen from a hotel. It’s like I always tell the boy, they want you to take them, or they wouldn’t keep replacing them). It will take between 1-2 hours to double in size, depending on the conditions in the room.

3 Take your large baking tray or roasting tin, or small round tins. Give it a good old glug of oil, be generous, this is Focaccia, use good olive oil or flavoured oil if you want to. Add a generous pinch of sea salt too.

4 Turn the dough out on to your well-oiled tin, using oiled hands (no flour remember) knock it back with your knuckles. Press the dough into the tray using your finger tips to ease it to the edges, don’t worry too much about how it looks – it’s meant to be rustic and might not spread out all the way to the edges yet but will be easier to shape once it’s rested. Cover with oiled cling film and leave for 30 minutes. Use this time to prepare your chosen toppings.

5 Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. After 30 minutes, the focaccia should look a little puffed up and spongy. Use your index finger to poke dimples all over the dough right through to the bottom of the tray, this should help it reach the edges of the tin as well.

Poke a sprig of rosemary & a sliver of garlic into each alternate hole. Drizzle the focaccia with the olive oil, allowing it to seep into the dimply holes. Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and some chilli flakes, if you like. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minute more. Remove the film before cooking.

Peel the onions, leaving the root in tact. Using a sharp knife or mandolin slice the onions as thinly as you can. Holding it by the root will make this easier. Heat the oil and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan, add the onions and cook gently until really soft and pale golden, stirring often. This will take about 20 minutes. Add the brown sugar, vinegar and the garlic, turn up the heat and stir until caramelised. Add the leaves from the fresh thyme. Allow to cool a little then spread over the focaccia, crumbling on the goat’s cheese. To be fair I probably should have told you to do this bit earlier, or you’ll be pushed for time, so do this when the bread is having it’s initial rise. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minutes more. Remove the film before cooking.

Scatter with the chunks of meat, pushing some into the holes and then spoons of the pesto. Season with salt and black pepper and push some oregano leaves into some of the other holes. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minutes more. Remove the film before cooking.

6 To cook, bake in the centre of the oven. Mine took 25 minutes, check them after 20, then should be risen and deep golden brown. If you’re making a large one check after 25, it may take up to 35 mins, if it’s getting a bit dark cover It with foil. Once cooked brush or drizzle with more oil and sprinkle on some more sea salt. Cool on a wire rack then remove from the tin and cut into squares serve warm or at room temperature. For best results eat on the day you’ve made it. If you’re anything like me this will not be hard.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Lighter Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana - A dish that contains most of the good things in life; garlic, crisp and salty crumbed chicken, basil, a rich tomato sauce and lots of gooey, stringy melted cheese. The alluring scent of a good chicken parm is all that you wish for in an Italian restaurant: Garlic, tomato, oregano, hope and dreams.

Sadly there are two factors that usually prevent me from eating this magical dish.

Number one.
With the exception of Nandos I have a strict no chicken policy when eating out. Why? It’s not that I don’t like chicken; in fact quite the opposite, it’s one of my most commonly eaten foods. I do believe it stems from the time when the world and their mother thought it quite ingenious to stuff a chicken breast with mozzarella cheese and then wrap it in Palma ham. Thus giving birth to the main course on 90% of all episodes of Come Dine With Me. In addition it’s usually the most boring dish on the menu, the afterthought, unloved, dry and uninspiring. Safer to avoid.

Number two.
My slight (read massive) obsession with Pizza actually prevents me from being able to enter an Italian restaurant without ordering a pizza of some description. It’s like I have tourrettes, however a rather fortunate version that always ends in pizza. Sadly all other menu items get overlooked.

So poor old chicken parm, always the bridesmaid and never the bride - it just doesn’t seem to get a look in, despite being one of my favourite dishes. Another nail in its breadcrumbed coffin…it’s not exactly the healthiest of dishes, I  do try to avoid ordering fried foods where possible.

In order to fill this parmigiana shaped void I developed a version of the dish a few years ago when I was working on a healthy makeover feature for a magazine. I’ve tweaked it a little over the years and now this virtually sin-free dish is a firm favourite on the weeknight rotation.

You can whip this up in next to no time too especially if you forgo the hidden veg sauce, and just use passata or tinned tomatoes seasoned with salt, pepper and 1 tsp of oregano. I make the sauce because I usually have the time plus I like to get as many veggies into our diet as possible; this is one of the only ways my other half will eat carrots. If it ain’t broke…

Lighter Chicken Parmigianino
Serves 2

2 chicken breasts
1 tsp chicken seasoning
pinch dried oregano
1 egg white
2 tsp fine semolina or flour
about 25g panko breadcrumbs (or use regular breadcrumbs, panko give you a lovely crunchy crumb though)
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
200ml pasatta
1 tsp garlic puree
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp of light soft cheese, ricotta or mascarpone (this helps to neutralise the acidity of the sauce)
Fresh Basil
Chilli flakes (optional)
25g Parmesan cheese, grated
About 75g mozzarella cheese, roughly chopped
Salad, greens or pasta, to serve

1 Start with the chicken. Take each breast in turn and cut through lengthways but not all the way to the edge, starting from the fatter side, to open out like a book. See pic. Repeat.

2 Sprinkle with the chicken seasoning and the semolina or flour and rub to coat evenly. Put the egg in one bowl and the panko crumbs in another, add the oregano and some S&P to the crumbs. Take each chicken breast and dip in the egg, then the crumbs, coating both side. Transfer to a plate, repeat with the next breast and keep chilled until ready to cook.

3 If making the sauce cook the vegetables in a little oil of your choice until softened. Add the garlic & oregano then stir and cook for 1 minute before tipping in both the tomatoes. Cover and leave to simmer gently for at least 15 mins but up to an hour. Season to taste and melt in the soft cheese. Blend with a stick blender. Add torn basil and chilli flakes (if using) this sauce is great for tricking boyfriends or children into eating their veggies. It’s good with pasta, meatballs, sausages most things and can be made in a big batch and frozen.

3 Heat grill to medium and oven to 200C/180C fan.  Put the chicken on a lightly oiled baking sheet and grill one side for about 3-4 minutes, until golden. Pour your tomato sauce into a roasting tray. Scatter with more basil. Place your chicken, cooked side down, onto the sauce then top with the cheeses. Cook in the oven for 15-18 mins, until golden and bubbling. For extra crunch flash under the grill again after cooking, but keep an eye on it or it will catch quickly. Serve with salad, greens, or pasta if you like.

NB. This recipe makes quite a lot of sauce, enough for when eating it with pasta, if you don’t like it quite as saucy then freeze half of the sauce or keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days.