Clean Eating

The other day, I watched a documentary on iplayer about something called “clean eating” and before I go any further I would like to say that I am NOT an expert on this at all. It is not a term I had ever come across before but I was genuinely astounded by what Grace Victory (a “vlogger” – again, someone I had never heard of before but actually thoroughly enjoyed watching) had to say on the subject. Apparently, “clean eating” encompasses a whole range of things: protein free, gluten free, dairy free, raw vegan, starch only… The list went on. This trend mainly seems to come from instagram (a platform I neither understand nor use) where people post pictures of food (currently over 36 million pictures with the tag #eatclean) that looks pretty because it literally has nothing in it. eat-cleanAmong those 36 million pictures are countless photos of people with great abs, no body fat and bodies that make even the most comfortable person feel bad about themselves.

Now, all of this, and the claims that went along with it, honestly blew my mind. I was sitting there, eating my malteaser chocolate, wondering what was wrong with these people. Here they were, tall, fit and skinny, promoting something that basically sounds like starvation. Even from my basic understanding of biology (I’m a chemistry student over biology any day) I knew that the things they were saying were TOTAL CRAP. The science was amazingly flawed, and I reckon any GCSE student could tell you that what they were saying was just plain wrong. And these are people with hundreds of thousands of followers, trusting their every word.

The basic idea of “clean eating” is actually sort of sensible, and that is the bizarre thing! What it means, in my eyes at least, is to cut down on the processed food and cook meals yourself from fresh foods. That, to me, makes perfect – and scientific – sense. But what they were suggesting, and trust me there were some strange things, was just wrong. Eliminating any group of food from one’s diet is ludicrous. There is a reason that the “eatwell” plate exists and every kid is taught about it in school! IT MAKES SENSE AND TELLS YOU WHAT IS GOOD FOR YOU! Eatwell_guide_600dpi.jpg

You should never, ever, eliminate one group from your diet. Your body needs all of them to be healthy! It hasn’t really changed from when I learnt it as a child, except they’ve moved the sweets to the outside and added in about healthy oils and fats. It tells you what the government recommend for a healthy diet and in no part does it say don’t eat this. It says “eat less”. THAT DOESN’T MEAN NOT AT ALL. OKAY? By all means, eat your super foods and vegetables, cut down on your red meat, don’t eat as much chocolate but be sensible people!

What also struck me while watching this documentary was the insane cost of eating “cleanly”. It has been noted by others that this trend is basically for the middle classes who want to be a part of something. Looking at a loaf of bread no bigger than my hand that costs £6, I can understand that logic. I know a guy who is a total sweetheart but I can’t help roll my eyes at him sometimes. Every now and then, he does a “detox” where he goes completely vegan and cuts all animal based products from his life. For one, it makes no sense to me at all. It is hardly going to undo any previous damage and has no real health benefit that I can see. For another, when he wants cheese he has to have something that legally can’t be called cheese and has more chemicals in it than ANY processed food I can think of. Plus it tastes awful (I know, I tried some when he brought it round our house).

Apparently, people actually think that these detoxes work. I’ve heard other people around the university talk about it too. How people can buy into something so strange and against everything that I hold to be true about eating well astounds me (note that at this point I am beginning to run out of adjectives to portray my shock and disdain on the topic).

I had a read around on the internet – as one so often should when they want a good laugh – and I found so many conflicting ideas on the subject, along with supposed rules to help you live “long and lean” (what even?!), and one thing that made me laugh was the rule that you shouldn’t eat anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce. Now, for me, that rules out quinoa – which I only learnt after watching this documentary isn’t pronounced like it looks, instead some way totally different – but means that sodium aluminosilicate, butylated hydroxyanisole, and potassium metabisulfite are all totally fine. wonder-bread-ingredientsSure, I play with chemicals like this all the time so really should be able to pronounce them, but do you see my point? Chemicals are added to foods for a reason. Companies don’t just throw things in for the sake of it. Half of them actually do help our body and reduce the chances of us getting ill from eating these foods. To be honest, it doesn’t bother me all that much. This supposed “wonder bread” has a great number of chemicals in it, and I can say with confidence that I have played with a great number of these chemicals in labs! I can probably draw the structures of most of them too. But that doesn’t mean they will kill you!

I think I may have strayed from the original point I was trying to make. This “clean eating” trend is dangerous in my eyes. Young people are being told that it is good for them but it is at best creating a strained relationship with food and at worst increasing the risk of developing an eating disorder. And what is worse, the people that they are trusting to tell them how great this lifestyle is generally have no idea what they are talking about. But then that sums up most of society now anyway.

In my opinion, not that it counts for much at all, is that all you need to be healthy is a balanced diet. There is a reason that this has been a well held belief for a few centuries now. Eat veggies, carbs, protein, fats, oils, sugars… ANYTHING you want so long as you do so in MODERATION. That is probably the most important word of this entire rant. MODERATION is the best way to a healthy life. Sure, exercise if you want. I don’t go to the gym. I don’t do sit ups or press ups or weights. I walk to and from uni when I feel like it and I eat what I consider to be healthy food in portions that I am comfortable with. I am pretty comfortable with how I look most of the time and have a pretty decent relationship with my food. I hope that, if nothing else, this blog helps you to be a step closer to that too.

Well done for reaching the bottom of what is probably the longest post I have/will ever write. This was just something that truly and deeply shocked and irritated me. Knowledge is the key to power, but it seems that in today’s society lack of knowledge will also give you power over people who want to believe. Before you go doing anything that may end up causing you more harm than good, just think about what you are about to do. As they say on D-News, “more research is needed”. Have a really great day.

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Back to Basics: If It’s

In my family, there is a special type of meal that we call an “if it’s” dinner. Originally it meant a last minute dinner made up of whatever packets were in the freezer – if it’s in the freezer then you can have it for tea. When we stopped eating ready made meals and packet food, it started encompassing what was in our cupboards instead.

It means that you have to get creative, which can be either a lot of fun or a complete disaster depending on how much/little time you have to make your dinner! Now, generally, I make sure that I have certain things in my cupboard at all times. These basics (which I really recommend everyone having!) include:

·  Spices: Cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli, ginger, garam masala, curry powder, paprika, saffron ·   Soy sauce (light and dark) ·  Teriyaki sauce · Beans (baked, kidney, mixed taco etc)
·   Worchester sauce ·   Vinegar (Balsamic and White wine) · Tomatoes (tinned and puree)
·   Sweet chilli sauce ·   Mixed herbs · Fish sauce
·   Oil spray ·   Flour ·  Garlic

 Along with all of this, I generally always have rice, noodles, pasta and potatoes in my cupboard – so as you can see, I basically have everything I could ever need to make any dinner! I just look at what vegetables I have in the fridge and decide if I want a stir fry, pasta bake or some kind of stew.

The main skill with an “if it’s” dinner is to work out what combinations of store cupboard things go together. If I am using spices, I will chuck equal amounts of cumin and coriander in, and never more than 1/2 tsp of chilli (I don’t really like my food hot, I just like the tastes of spices). Stir fries are always good with a tbsp of soy sauce and a tbsp of teriyaki sauce, maybe with a little sprinkling of ginger too.

See, it all depends on what you fancy. So really, what this post has ended up being is a suggestion of what you should have in your cupboard and then a thought that if you have these things then you will always be able to make something up! Perhaps not the most useful post in the end but oh well! Have a great day!

Back to Uni!

On Tuesday I moved back to Canterbury and into my new house for the year. It is so lovely and right now I am the only person living in it so I have this huge space all to myself. That also means that I have sole use of the kitchen – and that has resulted in huge amounts of cooking!

So far I have made up a batch of sweet potato and carrot tagine, chilli con carne, veggie chilli and vegetable curry. I have also spent my time preparing the huge amounts of meat that I bought. I chopped up 4 steaks into strips for stir-frying, split up a huge pack of bacon, made some meatballs, two beef burgers and today I am preparing all my chicken for the freezer.

Preparing chicken is pretty easy really. I’m not going to lie, just over a year ago I hated touching raw chicken. A lot of people do. It is slimy, squishy and just feels horrid but the more I used it and the more I started preparing it myself the less scared I got. Now I am perfectly happy to deal with it in any form.

Of course, if you don’t want to deal with the squishy-ness you can buy pre-frozen chicken breasts which are very cheap and work great for everything. The downside of these, for me, is you can’t then do a batch of food to freeze as they’ve already been defrosted and it isn’t safe to re-freeze meat after it’s already been frozen/defrosted.

Yesterday and the day before I was cleaning the chicken breasts – this just means cutting off all the little white bits and taking out any veins etc – so they can be used in meals or frozen as they are and I am also preparing drumsticks. I don’t like eating the skin so I take it off. Just hold it at the bone and – with as much force as you feel comfortable – rip the skin down and off.You’d be surprised how therapeutic it can be (however strange that may sound… I’m sane, honest…) These can then now be frozen or cooked and frozen depending on what you do with them.

For the breast meat I left some whole and plain, chopping a few into chunks that I can stirfry later on and putting the rest into curries – the recipe for one can be found here. The drumsticks are being frozen (freshly de-skinned) except for two that I used for my dinner yesterday. With this all now in the freezer, which is considerably less empty than it was when I moved in a few days ago, I am probably set for meat for a good many weeks.

So whilst I spent an awful lot of money in my back to uni shop (over £90 in the end…!) I think that it will work out for me in the end. I reckon that all I will need to buy for the next few weeks will be fresh milk, eggs and vegetables so that shouldn’t come to much at all. I’ll let you know!

Have a great day!

Back To Basics: Mince

Mince is a great thing. It comes in many varieties: beef, pork, turkey, quorn (although I don’t eat this as I personally don’t like the taste) and many more. It also lends itself perfectly to batch cooking as you can buy it in huge packs for not much money. So, what do you need to know about mince?

Whilst you can eat raw beef, I really recommend you don’t. Even if you follow all basic rules of hygiene, there is still a good chance that there will be bacteria present and you will almost certainly end up ill. You most certainly should NEVER eat raw pork or turkey. Ever. If you take nothing else from this post, remember that!

It is very easy to cook, making it perfect for inexperienced students! Spray a pan with Frylight (or oil if you use that) and just chuck in the mince. Move it around, poke it, break it up… do whatever you want. Tilt the pan backwards after a few minutes to collect the fat and juices from the meat and drain it using a piece of kitchen roll. Just chuck it in the bin and repeat with a new sheet if there is still fat left. You don’t have to do that, I just think it a) makes it healthier and b) stops the final dish from being fatty and greasy.

So, some basic ideas for mince recipes:

  • Tacos/Burritos: To be honest, I find the easiest thing when making tacos or burritos is to use a store bought spice mix. Old El Paso are the famous brand but the supermarkets’ own is generally pretty close anyway. Just fry the mince with the spice, along with onions if you fancy that, and then serve with taco shells/wraps, salad, cheese, soured cream… Whatever you like most with your Mexican. Average cost with salad etc: £1.20+ (obviously the more you have with it the more it will cost)

 

  • Homemade Meatballs: This is very simple. Put the mince in a bowl, season with mixed herbs, salt and pepper etc (sometimes, depending on what I plan to serve it with, I also add paprika). Take the mix and roll into balls. They take about 10 minutes to cook, depends on the size of course, and can be frozen and used later. Average cost: around 60p for the meatballsmeatballs

 

  • Lasagna/Spaghetti base:This is really versatile and can be used as the base of so many dishes that I just can’t name them all today. To make this very simple starting point, fry the mince with some onions, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and 100ml of stock with one oxo cube – just enough to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Season to taste. To this you can add vegetables (carrots, peppers etc.) or a tbsp of Worcestershire Sauce for a bit of extra flavour.  Average cost per portion: £1.10

 

  • Chilli Con Carne: This is a classic dish that is another one that is exceptionally easy to make. You do exactly the same as you would for the lasagna/spaghetti base and just add a tin of kidney beans and a tsp of chilli powder (more if you like it hot) to it. Average Cost per portion: £1.40chilli

This is only the start of what you can do with mince. It could be used in many Indian dishes as a part of curries or, like with meatballs, used to make your own healthy burgers. Over the year I will give you lots of other recipes too. Until then, have a great day!

Back to Basics: Potatoes

lotr-sam-gamgee-says-potatoes

Potatoes are great (although I do have a very strange friend who won’t touch them…). Honestly. They are cheap, filling and very easy to get a hold of. They are actually the 4th most consumed food in the world. You can buy kilos of the damn things for only a few pounds in any supermarket. Some useful information to start, then I will show you just how just how versatile spuds can be.

So, storing your taters. To get them to last the longest possible time, keep your potatoes somewhere dry and dark e.g. in a cupboard, under the stairs or in a cellar. You can just keep them in the bag they came in – poke a hole in the bag to let a little air in – or transfer them to a basket, but don’t put them in an airtight box. Don’t put them in the fridge, don’t get them wet and don’t expose them to light because if you do they will go soft, green or sprout (sounding a little like Gremlins now…) If you follow these simple rules there is no reason that your bag of potatoes won’t last a month plus.

When preparing them, you can peel the taters but I honestly recommend keeping the skin on most of the time because that is where the good nutrients and vitamins are – it also tastes amazing. A normal potato will give you 45% of your vitamin C, ~20% of your potassium and 10% of vitamin B for the day. You can also leave the skins on sweet potatoes so long as you wash and scrub the outside before you cook them.

So, what can we do with potatoes? In one word: Loads.

  • Chips: I often make my own chips rather than using oven chips or deep frying them. It takes longer but they taste nicer and are far healthier for me – also most university halls don’t like it when you use oil and deep fry things as it is very unpredictable. For one portion, use one medium potato – very easy to remember! Chop your potatoes into thick slices, like chips, and part boil them for around 8 minutes, or until the edges have started to go see through. Once done, dry them off with kitchen roll and put on a baking tray. Spray with Frylight (or whatever you are using) and cook at 180C for about 15-20 minutes – the time depends on how thick your chips are. Cost: one potato, less than 30p

 

  • Jacket Potato: Perhaps the easiest method of preparing a potato. Turn on the oven. Put potato in oven. Leave to cook for about an hour then take out and eat. If you don’t have the time to do this, stab it with a knife a few times then put it in a microwave for 10 minutes. This doesn’t give the same crispy skin (my favourite bit) but if you have time you can shove it in the oven for another 15 min to crisp it up. You can serve it with all manner of toppings: classic baked beans and cheese; tuna and sweetcorn mayo; chilli con carne; salad etc etc. Literally whatever you want. Average cost: potato + filling, probably no more than 80p

 

  • Potato skins: These can be a killer calorie-wise when brought from a shop. As a kid I absolutely loved those bacon, cheese and sour-cream potato skins that always came out in BBQ season. Turns out they aren’t that hard to make. You cook the potato like you would for a jacket and take it out when it is ready. Leave it to cool for a few minutes then scoop the flesh out from the middle into a bowl. You can put whatever you want into the middle – another favourite combination of mine is fried onions, ham, cheese and ketchup (I know it sounds odd but really it is great). Just mix all the ingredients in with the flesh then shove the mixture back into the skins. You can then put them back in the over for a few minutes to crisp up the top or, at this point, freeze them to use on another day. Average cost: potato + filling, probably no more than 80p

 

  • Sweet potato, potato and carrot tangine: I mentioned this recipe in my post on couscous and it’s great. Check it out here

 

  • Peanut Stew: One of my flatmates introduced me to this recipe last year, and it is yummy. Start by frying a chopped red onion with 1tsp ground ginger and garlic to taste. Add in 4 chopped chicken breasts and stir til that has browned. Season with salt and pepper then pour 1.2L of chicken stock over the top. Add in 3 chopped small potatoes (either normal or sweet potato) and cook for 15 minutes. Then stir in 1 tin of chopped tomatoes and any other vegetables you happen to have (green beans, sweetcorn, carrots, red peppers). Cover the pot and cook for another 20 minutes. Average cost: 85p a portion (makes between 4 and 5 meals) N.B without chicken it will cost considerably less

 

  • Veggie Thai Curry: This is the sort of recipe that can easily be adapted to fit whatever vegetables you have in your fridge/cupboard etc. Chop all of your vegetables (e.g. onions, peppers, carrots, potatoes etc.) and put into a saucepan/pot with enough stock to comfortably cover all the vegetables. Add in a tsp or two of green Thai curry paste and simmer over a medium heat until the vegetables are soft. Just before serving pour in some coconut milk  (this is something I do by sight and taste. I keep adding it in until the spices aren’t too harsh and my mouth isn’t tingling) and serve with rice. Average cost: 85p

I hope this has given you some ideas as to how turn the humble potato into something special. Have a great day!

Back To Basics: Couscous

Only a short post for you today as there really isn’t much to say about couscous. That being said, it is a cheap, filling meal unto itself.

Couscous may not be the sort of thing you normally go for but it is great for midweek dinners. All you need to do to cook it is pour out around 70g into a bowl or pot and then pour over 100ml of stock. Then simply cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave for a few minutes until the liquid has been soaked up. It really is that simple.

It is generally served with tagines or other African/Moroccan style foods, most of which can be batch cooked and served in single portion sizes from frozen – which is what I tend to do. It can also be used as the base of a lunchtime salad too.

Over the next few months I will be giving you lots of recipe ideas, many of which that can be served with couscous, but here is one that I absolutely love: Sweet potato, potato and carrot tagine. It is another very easy recipe that I make up in huge batches and freeze into single portions. An average portion will cost you only 40p a portion with couscous (assuming you make up a batch).

You need 300g of sweet potato and potato and 2 large-ish carrots. Chop these into chunks and throw into a large saucepan or pot on the hob along with a medium sliced onion. Pour in 250ml of vegetable stock and a 400ml can of chopped tomatoes.

For the spices I actually have a special tagine spice that is already mixed up – if you do too, use a good few tsp of it depending on its strength – but if you don’t have this you can make it from scratch quickly by using 1/2-1tsp of chilli powder (depends how hot you like your food), 1tsp ginger/ground coriander/turmeric and 2tsp cumin/cinnamon. Once you’ve got the spices, mix it in with everything else in the pot, season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Serve with your couscous. I also have pitta bread and a cucumber raita too, just because I can!

tagine

As I said, really easy! Have a great day!

Back to Basics: Pasta

After good old fashioned beans on toast, pasta is probably the most common student dinner. There was a guy in my flat last year who I swear only ever ate pasta, often with tomato ketchup – much to my horror! But today I am going to give you a few ideas of how else pasta can be served to make a relatively boring ingredient part of a great dish.

There are always stories circulating the internet of idiots who thought that it was a good idea to cook their pasta in the kettle – I suppose you can see the logic, the packet does say put into boiling water but really? It makes you wonder, sometimes. Anyway, on behalf of universities all over the country, please don’t cook your pasta this way. It will stick to the inside and kill the heating elements. You will not be popular with your flatmates when they all have to chip in to buy a new one.

Cooking pasta is easy, as I pray that you know already. Like when cooking rice I don’t weigh out my pasta, as I know that for me a few handfuls is enough. An average portion though is about 75-80g.

To cook it, take a saucepan and fill it between 1/2 and 3/4 with water (either from the tap or pre boiled in the kettle). Put it on the hob and bring it to the boil. Add the pasta to the water – my advice is to add a few pieces in first and then add the rest, you will see why when you do it – and then cook for how ever long it says on the packet. See, simple. If you can’t manage that… Well…

Now that you know how to cook pasta (although I hope you knew already), let’s talk about what you can do with it:

  • BBQ Chicken Bake: To make it for one person, you need a pre-cooked chicken breast (depending on the size, cook in the oven at 220C for 25 minutes on one side then 15 on the other. You can do this the morning before, the day before or just buy pre-cooked chicken from the supermarket). Slice half an onion (I use red as I prefer the taste but white works perfectly well too) and fry it until soft over a medium heat. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the instructions. Drain the water from the saucepan you used to cook the pasta and put it back over a medium heat. Add 100ml tomato passata, a squirt of BBQ sauce, the chicken (sliced) and the fried onions and mix together. Transfer into an oven safe dish, sprinkle cheese over it and bake in the oven for between 15-20 minutes. Average cost: £1.49 (using fresh chicken)

 

  • Pasta and Ratatouille: You can make the ratatouille in advance and freeze it in portions. With this recipe I can generally get 4-5 portions out of it. To make the ratatouille take an onion and chop into thick slices. Take a red, yellow and orange pepper. Take out the core (if you don’t know how to chop a pepper without losing a finger, I will be putting up a quick guide to chopping vegetables soon) and cut into chunks. Put these vegetables into a pan with some oil (or whatever equivalent you use, I use frylight spray) and fry for a few minutes. Add a courgette that has been sliced into think chunks. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil. Season with salt, pepper and a tsp of mixed herbs. Leave on a low heat until the courgette is soft. At this point you can cook the pasta and then serve with a ladle of the ratatouille. Average cost: 55p (assuming you batch cook the ratatouille)

 

  • Cheesy Leek and Onion Pasta: Slice half and onion and 1/4-1/3 of a leek. Fry the onions for a few minutes and then add the leeks. Meanwhile make up your cheese sauce. Whilst you could make it from scratch, I find that using a packet of cheese sauce mix always works better and fails far less often! Whilst doing that, cook your pasta. When the onions and leeks are soft and the cheese sauce is ready, mix all with the pasta and serve. Average cost: 65p

Obviously none of these ideas quite match up to the technical skills required to squirt tomato ketchup over a portion of pasta but they are very tasty nonetheless. Pasta is such a versatile ingredient and these recipes can easily be adjusted to your tastes. Add any vegetables you want to the ratatouille or fry some mince and throw it into the cheesy leek and onion pasta for a change.

Anyway, I hope this has given you some ideas for dinners. Have a great day!