The Not So Humble Cucumber

Cucumbers, who would have thought this humble ‘salad’ ingredient contains a lot of the vitamins you need. Just one cucumber contains (wait for it)

  • Vitamin B1 Cucumber
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B5
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Folic Acid
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

Wow thats a lot of good stuff all packed into one amazingly everyday food item. There are obvious health benefits to eating cucumber but what do all these vitamins and minerals actually mean for your body and indeed home?

Benefits of Cucumber For You

  1. Got that mid-afternoon slump (or lets face it sometimes mid-morning slump)? Instead of reaching for that steaming hot mug of coffee, how about munching on some cucumber sticks? Cucumbers are a rich source of Vit B and good carbohydrates it provides a natural pick-me-up which can last for hours.
  2. Wanting a nibble? Head back in time and do what European trappers used to do…much on cucumber to ward off hunger – or in their case starvation.
  3. Had a good night out the night before and the hangover is just nicely setting in -OUCH – if only you weren’t too drunk to eat some cucumber before going to bed. Eating cucumber, which has just enough natural sugars, Vit B and electrolytecucumbers to replenish those nutrients lost on a night out can help rebalance the bodies equilibrium and helping you to avoid the headache.
  4. Gone out for a nice lunch full of garlic and other really great breath enhancing foods, but forgot your gum. Fear not the handy cucumber comes to your rescue. Why you would have cucumber in your bag/pocket, in place of gum, I have no idea – each to their own. Place a slice of cucumber on the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds and as if by magic bad breath is eliminated. Well actually its not magic its as a result of the phytochemicals killing off the bacteria in your mouth which causes bad breath.
  5. Bye Bye cellulite!! Forget all those expensive creams on sale in department stores….the humble cucumber is a cheap and effective alternative. Just rub cucumber on those ‘problem’ areas, for a few minutes, before going out or going to the pool and wow the visibility of cellulite has reduced. The phytochemicals (found naturally in cucumber and other plants) cause the collagen in your skin to tighten firming the outer layer. It also works on wrinkles and dark circles around the eye.
  6. Stressed out and wanting a cheap easy way to relax. Take a whole cucumber, cut it up and place it in a bowl of boiling water. The natural chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber will react with the boiling water to create a smoothing steam and relaxing aroma which will help reduce your stress levels.

Ok so the cucumber has sorted you out, now it is time for it to sort the home out. Gosh this cucumber is a powerful thing. 

cucumber

  1. Out of WD40 (don’t worry it happens more often than you think especially when there is a squeaky something which needs fixing). Take a slice of cucumber and rub it along the squeaky something and wow the squeak vanishes.
  2. Yucky plug hole or rather dull looking stainless steel in the kitchen? Reach for a slice of, yep you guessed it, cucumber, rub it along the surface and watch as the tarnish disappears leaving you with a shiny surface.
  3. Wish you could find something to remove the word you just wrote in pen, or you accidentally took the crayons out and drew all over the walls. Fear not the skin of the cucumber will wipe that away. Just slowly rub over the mistake (or wall).
  4. Forgotten to polish your shoes for that important event? Rub a freshly cut slice of cucumber over your shoes and the natural chemicals will provide you with a quick, durable, water replant shine.
  5. Apparently grubs and slugs do not like cucumber (they obviously don’t have cellulite) so if you are looking for a natural way to rid them from your garden cucumberchop up a cucumber place in some aluminium foil and your garden will become slug and grub free. The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminium to give off a scent which drive these pests crazy and make them dart for the hills. Luckily humans can’t smell the scent.
  6. Find it annoying when your bathroom mirror mists up after a shower? rub cucumber over the mirror and it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing spa like fragrance.

And all that from a humble cucumber.  Just to think that for most people the cucumber has been banished to salad. So next time you don’t know what to do with the cucumber sitting in your fridge…rub it on your shoes,

Quinoa

It has been what seems like a life time since I created my last blog entry. The truth is, over the past few weeks and months I have changed my eating habits and taken a total 360 degree turn into gluten free vegan. For those that know me, know that I have never been a massive meat eater, I think cheese is the devils food and cooked cream really doesn’t appeal. The only thing I really liked and, yes do miss, is the occasional ice-cream and latte. None of which are particularly good for you as they hold the key to those hidden and not so hidden calories.

One of the things I was most worried about when I went vegan was where do I get my protein from. Then I rediscovered Quinoa. I say rediscovered because originally I started eating Quinoa a good 12 years ago, only to ignore this powerful little grain 2 years ago. At the time I was eating it, it wasn’t very popular where I live and I could only find it in health foods stores. Since then it seems as though the whole world has opened its eyes up to this super grain and it can now be found in supermarkets at almost double the price.

Out of all the grains available Quinoa, has the highest nutritional value of them all and cooks quickly, ideal for people with busy lives. It originates from the Andes Mountains in South America where it has been grown and eaten for some 8,000 years.

The reason Quinoa is so good for you is that it is a complete protein, containing all eight amino acids equaling that of milk. It is also super high in B vitamins as well as a ton of minerals (iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and vitamin E) and best of all (for me anyway) is that it is gluten free.

Quinoa can be used as a substitute for any grain in a meal. Like most grains (although not all) you should rinse Quinoa before cooking. It has a naturally occurring toxic bitter coating called saponin which creates a soapy water and tastes bitter. It doesn’t need soaking before use. You can cook Quinoa in plain boiling water, however if you would like to add more flavour then adding a teaspoon of a good vegetable stock and seaweed does help.

One of the really great things about Quinoa is its versatility and as someone who is always looking for a great gluten free and protein alternative it is a very handy ingredient to have.

Quinoa Pizza Base

Ok so I know I have said you don’t need to soak Quinoa before use but it really helps in this recipe.

What you need: measuring cups, food processor, grease-proof paper, 9 inch pizza tin (I have tried this in a cake tin and it just doesn’t work as well), bowl, sieve, measure spoons, cling film.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Quinoa
  • Pinch of salt
  • Teaspoon of vegetable stock
  • Good pinch of chili (to taste)
  • Some water, a few teaspoons should be all you need

To make the Quinoa Pizza Base:

Place the Quinoa in a bowl with enough water to cover it by about 2cm. Cover with cling film and leave over night.

Pizza day

Preheat the oven to 180 and line a 9 inch pizza tin with grease proof paper.

When you are ready to make the pizza base take your presoaked Quinoa and using the sieve rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Then place into the food processor with the apple cider vinegar, salt and chili and blitz until it forms a dough. Depending on how much water your Quinoa has absorbed you may need a few teaspoons of water to aid in the processing. When its ready the mixture should resemble a thick batter.

Pour the Quinoa mix into the prepared pizza tin and bake in the oven for 15 minute or until the pizza base feels firm to the touch. Once it is ready remove from the oven and start topping it with your favourite ingredients. Pop your pizza back into the oven for a few minutes and there you have it Quinoa pizza.

Goji Berries

Goji berriesGoji berries are a glorious bright orangey red berry of goodness from the Himalayas. They are full of antioxidants and rich in vitamin A. They are an easy way to a add to your fruit and veg quota for the day and all you need is a tablespoon.

Add a tablespoon of berries to your favourite breakfast cereal, stir through your yoghurt or add to your smoothy of choice with the other fruit before you blitz it.

Looking for a healthy mid morning or afternoon snack? Then chow down on a tablespoon of Goji berries to ward off those hunger pangs.

For a healthier alternative to coffee try Goji Berry Tea. To make the tea add one tablespoon of Goji berries to a mug of boiling water and leave to brew for 5 to 10 minutes depending on taste. If you like your tea sweet add honey, stir and enjoy.

Goji berries are available in the health food section of all major supermarkets and are sometimes known as wolfberries.

Coconut Porridge with Fresh Mango

Porridge is an inexpensive healthy alternative to the sugary breakfast cereals which are on  sale in our supermarkets.

As a healthy food option, porridge oats has many health benefits including: helping aid digestion, reduction in high blood cholesterol levels, heart disease and certain cancers.

Porridge oats made into a hot cereal, is high in fibre and protein. This stabilises blood sugar levels, helping to prevent snacking on unhealthy food options in between meals. Eating porridge for breakfast has the added benefits of kick starting your metabolism which can aid weight loss.

That said, porridge is quite tasteless, especially if you are used to eating high sugar cereals. One option is to add fresh raspberries, blueberries, bananas or grated apple to porridge made as per the package instructions. The other option is to turn this traditional breakfast on its head and give it an exotic twist and this recipe does just that.

What you need: weighing scales, measuring jug, can-opener, teaspoon, medium saucepan, heat resistant spoon, sharp knife, chopping board

Ingredients

  • 4oz (100g) rolled porridge oats
  • 200ml in light coconut milk (if you are not weight conscience you can opt for full fat coconut milk)
  • 0.5 pint (225ml) cold water
  • salt – pinch
  • 2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 mango
  • 1 lime (optional, if you don’t like it, leave it out)

What to do

Weigh out the rolled porridge oats and measure the cold water. Place the oats, water and coconut milk into saucepan and stir. Place to one side and leave for at least 30 minutes for the oats to soak up some of the liquid. This makes the oats plump and absorbs some of the coconut flavour.

Add to the saucepan a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of dark brown sugar and stir. Place over a low to medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Once the porridge is at boiling temperature reduce the heat under the saucepan and leave the porridge to simmer for 10-12 minutes, untill fully cooked. Stir the porridge occasionally to prevent it sticking to the pan.

Whist the porridge is simmering peel and chop the mango into cubes.

When the porridge is cooked, serve in two cereal bowls topped with the fresh mango and fresh lime wedges if using.

Variations

  • If you would like a more coconut flavour add fresh coconut shavings to the oats when adding the sugar or with the fruit when serving
  •  Try substituting the mango for papaya or passion fruit

Lightly Spiced Hot Chocolate

Over the past few days it seems as though we have jumped head first into winter. The temperatures are dropping, burr its getting cold. Nights are drawing in with dark nights creeping upon us earlier and earlier. The need for a comforting hot of something yum is needed to help see us through. This slightly spiced hot chocolate combines hot chocolate with the warming elements of light spices to provide you a satisfying hug in a mug. But the best thing is, this recipe is super easy to make and packes a flavoursome punch.

  • What you need: small saucepan, mug for measuring, teaspoon, scales, sieve.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Milk
  • 1tbs Soft Brown Sugar
  • 4.5oz Dark Chocolate
  • ½tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/8tsp Cinnamon
  • Pinch Cyan Pepper (or a little more if you like it spicer)

What to do

Pour the milk into a small sauce pan and gently heat with the soft brown sugar. Bring to a simmer.

Add to the milk dark chocolate, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cyan pepper and stir continuously for 3 minutes or until the milk is brought back to a simmer.

Take off the heat and pour the hot spicy chocolate yumminess though a sieve to remove any skin which may have formed on the milk. Pour into two of your favourite mugs, sit back and enjoy.

Saffron, Spinach and Button Mushroom Risotto

Saffron, Spinach and Button Mushroom RisottoThis is a super easy and quick meal. The quantities can easily be increased to make more servings and is perfect for a casual dinner party with friends.

The recipe includes spinach which is rich in iron, magnesium, folic acid and vitamin C, which makes this risotto perfect for this time of year as it helps boost the immune system. The optional inclusion of a mild chilli gives a nice extra warmth. However, if you are not a fan simply leave it out as it works just as well.

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tbs garlic infused olive oil
  • 1 small red onion – diced
  • 1 mild chilli – finely diced and with seeds removed (optional)
  • 150g (5 ½oz) Arborio rice
  •  ½ to ¾ litre (1 to 1 ¼pint) vegetable stock (hot)
  • Large pinch of saffron
  • 110g (4oz) spinach leaves (if you don’t buy the prewashed version, make sure you thoroughly wash it can be very gritty)
  • 10 button mushrooms – cleaned and cut in half
  • Ground black pepper

What you need: measuring jug, medium pan, scales, sharp knife, chopping board

Method:

Heat the garlic infused olive oil in the saucepan and gently sauté the onions and chilli (if used).

Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes until the rice is coated in the oil and onions.

Add the hot vegetable stock one spoon at a time, stirring as you go.

Once the stock is fully incorporated add the pinch of saffron and stir. Cook over a low heat stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.

Add the button mushrooms and stir.

Stirring occasionally cook for another 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked but still has a little bite. The risotto should look ‘creamy’ when fully cooked.

Into the risotto stir in the spinach leaves and continue to stir until the spinach has wilted.

Remove from the heat and serve.

No Fry vegetable samosas

One of the best things about living where I do is the access to fabulous dishes from all over the world. But in my never ending desire to stay on the right side of healthy it does limit me, in part, to what I can eat. I am always looking for healthier alternatives and this recipe is a perfect example.

no fry veg samosasThese no fry vegetable samosas allow me to indulge a food item I enjoy, but without the added calories which deep-frying adds. They are perfect for lunch or accompaniment to a main dish and as they are suitable for vegetarians they are an excellent ideal for Meatless Monday.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 small carrots – peeled and diced
  • 1 large parsnip – peeled and diced
  • 100g (4oz) frozen peas
  • 100g (4oz) frozen edamame beans
  • 1 medium red onion – peeled and diced
  • 2 tbsp garlic infused olive oil
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • Pinch ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp fresh coriander – chopped
  • 270g pack of pre-made filo sheets
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

What you need: medium saucepan, small saucepan, medium frying pan, measuring spoons, cooking spatula, pastry brush, small bowl, baking sheet, grease proof paper, desert spoon, chopping board and sharp knife.

What to do

Preheat oven to 200oc, 400of, gas mark 6. Line baking sheet with grease proof paper.

Half fill the medium saucepan with freshly boiled water from the kettle. Add a pinch of salt and cook the carrot and parsnip for about 10 minutes or until tender.

Fill the small saucepan with boiling water and add the frozen peas and edamame beans and cook for 5-7 minutes (according to the packet).

Heat the garlic infused olive oil in the frying pan. Cook the onion until translucent. Add the drained carrots and parsnips and stir. Cook for 3 minutes and add the curry powder, cumin seeds and ground cumin. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the peas, edamame beans, coriander, pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Cook for a further minute and remove from the heat.

Pour the groundnut oil in a small bowl

Remove the filo pastry from the packet and unfold.

Take a single sheet of filo and brush over with the groundnut oil. Fold in half horizontally. Cut across diagonally to make two triangles. Place a desert spoon of the vegetable mixture into the middle of the pastry and fold over to cover the filling. Keep folding the pastry and filling until you have a triangular parcel. Brush the edge with a little oil and pinch to seal.

Place onto the pre-lined baking sheet and repeat until you have 12 samosas.

Bake in the ovenfor 12-15 minutes or until the samosas are crisp and golden.

These samosas can be eaten hot or cold. If you want a slightly more intense flavour make the vegetable mix, and when cold put into an airtight container and store in the fridge overnight.

Mango, Kiwi and Banana Smoothie

There are 1000s of smoothie recipes to choose from. Over the years I have tried 100s of them, both making and buying. As with everything, some I like, some I love, others I hate and it’s a struggle to finish them.

I find when making smoothies the taste really does depend on the quality of the fruit. You don’t have to use fresh fruit, sometimes good quality frozen fruit works just fine. However, the recipe below does use fresh fruit and along with a handful of cashew nuts makes for a perfect breakfast on the go.

What you need: smoothie blender, or sick blender, sharp knife and chopping board mango kiwi banana smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • 1 kiwi
  • ¾ large mango
  • 150ml (6fl oz) milk (or a little more if you like a slightly thinner smoothie)

To prepare the fruit

Peel and quarter the banana. Peel the kiwi and half. Peel the mango and carefully remove the flesh from the stone which runs through the centre of the mango. Cut the mango into pieces.

Place all the fruit into the smoothie blender with the milk and blend until smooth.

If you are using a stick blender place the fruit into a high sided bowl and blend smooth. Add the milk and on the lowest setting place the stick blender into the bowl and blend for a few seconds.

Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Please note this smoothie is best drunk as soon as it is made. You can make it the night before and store it in a bottle but the colour goes a bit grey and it is not as nice.

Oven Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Everyone has those go-to food items. For me, one of those items is oven slow-roasted tomatoes. They take no time at all to prepare and once in the oven they can be left cook. Roasting tomatoes can make flavourless tomatoes taste sweeter and more tomato like.

I always buy a large bag of tomatoes from the market and cook them in one large batch. They can be stored in an airtight container drizzled with olive-oil for about a week. I then use the tomato flavoured olive-oil for cooking or salad dressings.

What you will need: knife, chopping board, greaseproof paper, Swiss roll tin.

Ingredients

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive-oil
  • Sea salt
  • Ground black pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 150oC, 280oF, gas mark 1

Line the Swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper.

Cut each tomato in half, horizontally and though the middle. Place on the prepared tin, so the seeds are facing you. Drizzle a little olive-oil and sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Place in the oven and bake for 3 to 4 ½ hours or until the tomatoes look slightly caramelised around the top and have taken on the appearance of sun-dried tomatoes.

Variation

If you would like a sweeter taste to your tomatoes drizzle balsamic vinegar on top of the tomatoes with the olive-oil and salt and ground black pepper.