Thursday 26 April 2012

The handy leftover meal

On my Quick Meals Quest, this week I made another recipe that won’t take more than 10 minutes of your time in the kitchen, as you will use some of those vegetable leftovers. The good thing about this recipe is that you can add any vegetable or ingredient you like to it.

The leftover vegetables plus eggs and goat's cheese to add 
the finishing touch.
Fry the vegetables for a few minutes in butter and olive oil
Whisk the eggs, season with sea salt and black pepper
Add the egg mixture to the vegetables
Place the goat's cheese on top
 and finish cooking the frittata under a hot grill.
When it is done, sprinkle some fresh herbs on top.
My quick and nutritious frittata!

Leftover vegetables and goat’s cheese frittata
Serves 4-5

This dish is also a great choice for your picnic basket. Full of good protein and fibre.


Knob of butter mixed with 1 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet potato, sliced and cooked
1 courgette, sliced and cooked
Small handful of steamed French beans
5 eggs
60g goat’s cheese, sliced or crumbled


Heat the oil and butter in a 20cm frying pan. Add the potatoes, fry for a few minutes, then add the courgettes and beans. Toss and fry for a few more minutes.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat. Season. Pour the beaten egg into the pan evenly distributing the egg. Cook the frittata for a few minutes until set on the bottom but still with some wet egg on top.

Place the sliced goat’s cheese over the top of the frittata and finish cooking under a hot grill - the cheese should melt and the top should have a lightly golden colour.

Serve with salad.

Some of the ingredients and their functional properties 

Egg: is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains lecithin, which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Lecithin is also a source of the B vitamin-like choline, which is necessary for brain development at pregnancy. Choline is an important nutrient for the prevention of fatty liver and is a neurotransmitter involved in many functions, including memory and muscle control. Egg also contains biotin, another B vitamin-like compound, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein, and essential for the health of hair, skin and nails. Egg contains an antioxidant called glutathione (it prevents the formation of free radicals). It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevent diabetes, obesity and depression. Egg contains vitamin A and E, folic acid and lutein (an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that helps to keep the eyes healthy and safe from oxidative stress).

Courgette or zucchini (Cucurbita pepo): has a cooling and refreshing property. It is also diuretic, helps to reduce constipation and can be protective against colon cancer. It contains B vitamins, potassium, zinc and bioflavonoids. It helps reduce blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium
m. Its skin is a good source of dietary fibre.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batata): contains high levels of vitamin B6 (it has been linked with prevention of heart attacks and reduces high levels of homocysteine in the body). Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin C and D and the mineral potassium. Due to its orange colour, it’s also high in beta carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A. Sweet potatoes contain lower glycemic index than white potatoes, therefore their natural sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream. They are known as the “anti-diabetic” food, as they stabilize blood sugar levels and improve response to the hormone insulin.  
Studies have shown that the proteins found in this root have  considerable antioxidant effects. The presence of these proteins, plus vitamin C and carotenes (beta-carotene) can boost antioxidants in your body.

Till next week!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Quick, quick, quick...meals

Courgettes are now in season

I am back, after a short break. I’m still pretty much on the go, with a hectic life at the moment. Yesterday, for instance, I needed to prepare a very quick bite to eat as I had to run out of the door to pick up my brother and sister-in-law who are arriving from Brazil.

I remembered a conversation I had with my friends Guilherme and Solange about their visit to Gabrielle Hamilton’s restaurant, Prune, in New York. One of Gabrielle’s recipes is part of my repertoire of touch-and-go dishes. I mentioned to them how I was having a bit of a cook’s block, as a result of having been very tired and uninspired in the past month.

The problem is that, on top of everything, cooking, which is one of my biggest pleasures, was starting to wear me out and become a chore. (I can almost hear some of you saying or thinking “yes, I know the feeling”).

I think the way to deal with this is not to put too much pressure on oneself and just make the quickest, most delicious and nutritious meals possible. Eventually, I will have the time and pleasure again to spend long hours in the kitchen.

For now, folks, it’s all about embracing the fast (not junk or ready-bought) meals.

So, a quick courgette meal inspired by Gabrielle and a chat with my friends it will be!

The ingredients minus the lemon that didn't make to the shoot
Harissa paste
You will need a pot with water and any steamer
Place the bamboo steamer on the top of the pot
Don't let the courgettes become too soft
Combine lemon juice, harissa paste, olive oil and garlic
Whisk them well
Add the courgettes to the serving bowl and gently toss
Add the olive, feta and parsley. The salad is ready!
And enjoy it warm with a nice piece of sourdough bread!

Courgette with Harissa, Olives and Feta
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a light lunch

This dish is a great source of fibre, protein and omega 9. The heat from the chilli ingredient can help improve your blood circulation. A good option to treat your heart.


Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons harissa* paste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
4 courgettes, thick slices
Handful pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped


You will need a steam rack (or a bamboo steamer) and a pot. Bring an inch or two of water to the boil. Place the courgettes inside the steamer and cover. Steam them until they are done, about 5 to 7 minutes. They should not be too soft or falling apart.

Combine the lemon juice, harissa, olive oil and crushed garlic in the bowl and whisk well.

Add the courgettes to the serving bowl and gently toss with the harissa dressing while still warm.

Add the olives, feta, and parsley.

Enjoy this salad while still warm with a nice piece of sourdough bread or as a side dish.

*You can find harissa paste in nearly every supermarket in London these days.The recipes vary according to the region. Some of the variations include cumin, red peppers, coriander, lemon juice and garlic. If you want to prepare your own harissa paste, here is one version and here is another.  

Some of the ingredients and their functional properties 

Courgette or zucchini (Cucurbita pepo): has a cooling and refreshing property. It is also diuretic, helps to reduce constipation and can be protective against colon cancer. It contains B vitamins, potassium, zinc and bioflavonoids. It helps reduce blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium. Its skin is a good source of dietary fibre.

Feta cheese: a very good source of protein, calcium, vitamins B2 and B12. Cheese is not only nutritious but a very enjoyable food. Do choose a traditional feta made with sheep’s or goat’s milk. Feta is a salty cheese and, if you are worried about its salt content, soak it in water for a few minutes and then rinse thoroughly before using it.

Olive (olea europaea): is a source of many beneficial plant compounds, including tocopherols, flavonoids, sterols, anthocyanins and polyphenols. Polyphenols have anti-inflammatory activity, improve immune function, help preventing damage to DNA and protect the cardiovascular system. Olives contain the monounsaturated fat oleic acid which has been associated with great levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”). To sum up, research has shown that olives can prevent atherosclerosis, ischemic heart diseases; stimulate the secretion of bile, lower blood cholesterol, and have antioxidant properties.

Till next week! 

Monday 2 April 2012

Chocolate for the five senses

                                    Cocoa pods on tree                       getty images

I said in my previous post that I would be back here after Easter. As I mentioned to you, work and house chores were preventing me from doing much else,  but I had the opportunity to attend a chocolate masterclass at the weekend, and I just couldn’t turn it down! So, here I am, in the Easter spirit, to share with you a ganache recipe I made at the class.

I tried to attend this class at William Curley’s ages ago. William Curley is Britain’s top Chocolatier. He won the title of Best British Chocolatier for several consecutive years. The masterclass was only a taster which lasted 2h30m, but I learnt some handy tips and tricks to make a truly delicious chocolate truffle.

Before the course started we were offered a flavoursome William Curley’s hot chocolate (the “liquid gold”), perfect for the freezing day outside. Elle, one of Curley’s chocolatiers/patissiers, who was lovely and very enthusiastic, gave us a quick introduction to the world of chocolate and taught us how to make dark chocolate truffle and framboise (raspberry) ganache .

I have an old love affair with chocolate, and when I find a good chocolate, I cherish with enormous pleasure each bite that melts in my mouth. In order to appreciate a good artisan chocolate bar it is best to use all five senses to taste its flavours. Contrary to common belief, a good quality dark chocolate contains several nutritional benefits (see below). So now you have an excuse.

Enjoy it!
The different stages and percentages of chocolate 
plus a vanilla pod and sugar
Mix boiled cream with the chocolate pieces...
then add the butter which will give a beautiful
shiny creamy consistency
piping the truffles on to greaseproof paper
the tempered chocolate and a tray of chocolate
the artisan truffles ready to be coated with tempered chocolate
and powder
They come out in different shapes
Ready to be taken home

Artisan Dark chocolate truffle as taught at William Curley’s


160g 70% chocolate
145g whipping cream
25g unsalted butter (soft)
250g tempered chocolate *
150g cocoa powder


Bring cream to boil and let it rest for one minute. Chop the chocolate finely and gradually add the hot (but not boiling) cream, stirring continuously, until the mixture forms a smooth emulsion. Add soft butter, mix until fully incorporated and leave it to set.
Once the ganache is firm, spoon into a piping bag and pipe bulbs onto a silicone lined tray or greaseproof paper.
Leave to set in a cool place.
Prepare a bowl of tempered chocolate* and a tray of cocoa powder.
Coat each truffle in tempered chocolate and roll individually in cocoa.
Allow the chocolate to solidify and then “sieve” the truffle to remove any excess cocoa.

*Tempered chocolate is chocolate which has been heated and specially cooled so that it forms a precise crystal structure. It is melted and kept in a liquid state. Here goes my personal tip for those who find it too difficult, or don’t have the time, to temper the chocolate: you can hand roll the ganache into little balls and coat them with the cocoa powder. And you’ll still have a delicious truffle for your Easter.

The main ingredient and its functional properties 

Dark chocolate/cocoa (Theobroma cacao): What’s not to like about chocolate? It tastes good, stimulates endorphin production and contains serotonin. I am talking here about the real chocolate with at least 60% percent or higher cocoa content. It’s loaded with flavonoids (a compound found in plant pigments). The particular compound found in cocoa called Flavonols make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause clots. Another key flavonoid is proanthocyanidins (similar to those found in grape seed extracts, berries and apples).

Dark chocolate can provide arginine, an amino acid that is required for the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and helps to regulate blood flow, inflammation and blood pressure. Dark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter released by neurons at times of euphoria. That is one of the reasons why chocolate can be considered addictive.

The fats found in chocolate come from the cocoa butter and do not elevate LDL (“bad”cholesterol). Cocoa butter contains oleic acid (the same found in olive oil); stearic acid (it has a neutral effect in the body), and palmitic acid (the same found in palm oil). Because cocoa butter is expensive, cheap chocolate brands replace it with milk fats or hydrogenated oils. Make sure you read the labels of your chocolate bar before buying it.

Cocoa contains the highest source of magnesium – for the ladies who suffer from those nasty mood swings in their pre-menstrual cycle, the good news is that adding magnesium to the diet can increase pre-menstrual hormone levels (progesterone) and alleviate the symptoms. Dark chocolate also contains calcium, iron and potassium. Vitamins A, C, D and E.

Caution: Chocolate shouldn’t be given to some pets (dogs or cats, for instance), as they don’t produce enzymes that metabolize a compound of the chocolate called Theobromine, therefore making chocolate a poisonous option for them.

Roasted cacao beans 
ripe cacao pod
In Brazil they make a juice from the white flesh that
surrounds the beans
Happy Easter!
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