4 Tips For Healthy Eating

Recently The Huffington Post has started in the UK. I am now writing for them about food for the Lifestyle Section of the paper.

Here is a link to my first article which I hope you might enjoy. It is 4 tips for eating more healthily and getting more from your food experiences.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/elisa-ashenden/four-tips-for-eating-heal_b_909507.html

Let me know what you think!

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Fastest Way to Peel Garlic

Hello! I am busy with rehearsals this week so posting has been a little intermittent. This afternoon while getting a new recipe ready and marinating, I thought it was a good time to show you a quick and easy way to peel the skin off garlic. I’m sure many of you already do this, but for those who don’t, it makes this task very very simple. The short video below shows you how it is done, and will also explain how to choose fresh garlic.

 

Sunday Roast Lamb

It is a rainy and grey Sunday in London today, and after coming home from a 4 hour photography class in the elements (in an attempt to get my snaps to a new level), I was in need of a great bottle of red and something hearty to eat for dinner. I chose a beautiful 2kg leg of New Zealand lamb, and stocked up on some root veggies for roasting.

With large glass of red firmly in hand, I made my garlic and rosemary paste to smear over the lamb. Although I used a mortar and pestle for this task, if you don’t have one, the end of a rolling pin and a sturdy bowl will do the trick nicely. This would serve 6 quite happily, but we tend to eat a LOT in this house of two, and we also love cold meat (and roast veggies) as left overs.

Before I used the rosemary sprigs that I had picked from our garden, I held them over the sink and poured boiling water all over them. My husband asked me if I was cleaning them, and it reminded me that I ought to mention what it was all about. Whenever using woody/stalky herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano etc, it is a great idea to pour a little boiling water over them to bring out their flavour (and yes it will also clean them nicely too). If you do this with soft stalked herbs like basil, it will just make them wilt. With your rosemary, take a good sniff of the sprigs before and after doing this, and you will realize how much aroma (and flavour) the scalding water will release.

This lamb was cooked on a wire wrack directly on top of the vegetables so that all the juices from the meat would drip over the veggies while they cooked. I don’t have an oven wire tray, but I used a wire rack that I placed directly over the vegetable roasting dish to achieve the same effect and it worked perfectly, so as always, just make do with you what you have got.

For the lamb:

  • 2 kg leg of lamb
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary, blanched and leaves removed.
  • zest of 1 lime
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon rock/anglesey salt
  • pepper
For the vegetables:
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and in chunks
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and in chunks
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 parsnips
  • 6 gloves garlic, skin left on
  • 4 sprigs rosemary, blanched but left whole
Heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius, leaving the wire wrack and roasting tray inside while you do. Wash the lamb, trim off any excessive fat and pat it dry. Slash some gashes into the lamb with a sharp knife.
In a mortar and pestle (or bowl and rolling pin device substitute) pound together the 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, leaves of 3 blanched rosemary stalks, and the lemon and lime zest. Scoop this out and push it into the lamb gashes and all over the meat. Salt and pepper the meat once more.
Parboil the potatoes for 6 minutes. (Parboiling is partially cooking something by boiling it) Remove and drain the potatoes and then put the lid on the saucepan and “shake it all about”. This is also known as ‘smashing’ the potatoes, it gives them edges that get all crusty and fabulous when you roast them…thank you Jamie Oliver for making this technique a standard in roasting! (In fact the idea of cooking the roast over the vegetables is also one I saw him do, but I would only do this with a leanish cut of meat or you will have too much fat dripping on to your vegetables.)
Take the roasting dish out of the oven and toss in all the cut vegetables, the 6 whole cloves of garlic and the whole sprigs of rosemary. Salt and pepper it on the top. You can add a few sprays of olive oil if you wish, but the dripping from the meat will suffice if not. Put the vegetable tray in the bottom shelf of the oven and place the lamb above it on the wire wrack.
Cook for 1 hour for pink meat in the middle, or 1 hour 15-20 minutes for well done meat. Take the lamb out and wrap it in tinfoil for 10 minutes while you turn the vegetables over in the tray and move them higher in the oven to crisp a little more.
I served ours with a packet lamb gravy (which was actually really good!) and some steamed broccoli. It was soooooo tasty we didn’t end up with nearly as much left over as we should have?!?! Next time I make this I will DOUBLE the garlic and rosemary paste I made and well and truly smother the lamb with it. You would not need a gravy if you do this as this paste is just so delicious on its own…but then garlic and I are close friends…if you and garlic on not on great terms, stick to the above!

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Avoid Food Smells in Your Hair

My husband is in Paris for work, so I had organized for a girlfriend to come over last night for dinner and a bottle of champagne (as you do, on a Wednesday). It was such a delightful evening, we talked for hours, and enjoyed a meal I had started preparing before she arrived. When the doorbell rang I was so excited to see her I ran out to greet her still wearing a showercap on my head! Yes I was fully clothed, no I had not just jumped out of the shower, and it wasn’t until she collapsed in a fit of laughter that I realized I still had my ‘cooking cap’ on.

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Whenever I’m cooking something that gives off much odor, like garlic, onions, meat, fish…most things it seems, during the sautéing stage I wear a showercap on my head. Why? I have short curly hair, but enough of it bouncing around that food smells seem to stay locked in it long after I finish cooking. I love the smell of food while I’m making it, but the smell of kitchen on your person after you have eaten takes me back to the days I worked part-time as a waitress, and came home smelling like a commercial kitchen. Ugh! I hated it. To ensure my husband still snuggles me after dinner, and to avoid food smells in my hair, this is the simplest trick and I highly recommend it! I learnt it from my mother (like most of the good things I do in the kitchen) and there has been no looking back ever since. If you have guests, you may like to just endure food smells, it’s up to you. I just use one of those free hotel shower-caps and have it in a drawer next to the oven ready to go!!

Colour, Texture and Presentation of Food

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When I was little living in Japan, we were fortunate enough to live in a beautiful old Japanese home that also had a big garden. We had a gardener to look after it, and he was an old Japanese man who would come to work dressed in his very traditional clothes and Jika-tabi/outdoor shoes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jika-tabi

What fascinated me about him, was that every lunch time he would produce a lunch box carefully wrapped in cloth and sit down on the lawn to eat. First he would untie it, then ceremoniously lay out the cloth before him to use as a table-setting or placemat. Each small compartment of his food that emerged from the box was then very deliberately laid out on this cloth. Attention was given to spacing of the individual portions and placement of various types of food. Lastly he would set out his chopsticks on the mat, and lay out a little napkin. Sometimes he would rearrange this 2 or 3 times before reviewing it and then, deciding it was to his liking, would begin to eat. It was magnificent!!! This man in the garden who was dining alone, on the grass, would not begin his meal unless it first looked perfect. A memory that will never leave me, and has influenced the way I present meals (even when I’m eating home alone) ever since.

You may have noticed from my photos that my food tends to be very colorful. This is no accident. These photos aren’t taken of food that is for special occasions, or  has laid out nicely  just for photos, it is the food I eat at home every day and the way I like it to look.

In a restaurant for example, the first thing you are most likely to say when you see food whizzing past  is ‘oh, that looks good’! Other than smell, sight is the first sensory reaction we have to our meals, and so it makes sense to me, that it should be an exciting and pleasurable one, increasing your desire to taste the food. It is true what they say after all; first impressions last.

Colour is a big factor here, and I also believe that you are more likely to get a thorough nutritional spread across your meal if you are not eating foods that are all of the same colour. If you look at your plate and it doesn’t have green, add some, if it only has green and the brown of a meat, add colour (which will result in flavor too!) like tomatoes, capsicum, carrot! Not to say that all your food need look like a rainbow, simplicity is also wonderful, but if you make sure there are a few different colours on your plate in every meal you are off to a good start.

Texture is also really important. An extreme example of this is thinking about how appetizing it might be to sit down to various bowls of pureed food. No thank you. I like to have lots of different shapes and sizes in salads or in any meal. I once had a fruit salad served to me where every piece of fruit was cut to the same size and shape. It still tasted the same I’m sure, but i didn’t have the same desire to eat it. I like big chunks of some things, small slices of others. So if in a green salad you have leaves and slices of capsicum or other crunchy veggies, perhaps slice a few really fresh mushrooms for a change in colour and  in texture, or add a sprinkling of nuts, some olives, big chunks of cucumber, something softer like a few pieces of roast vegetable.

My mother would never let any plate leave her kitchen and go to the table unless it looked beautiful. Any splashes of sauce would be wiped up, and nothing looked casually plonked on the plate. This was just for our family dinners, and when we were kids. But this practice of making sure your food looks presentable (no matter what you are making and no matter who for) is a great habit to get in to, so that you get more pleasure out of every meal. I promise you, the food will taste better, if your first thought that it looked good.

As a very quick example of all the above; last night I was home alone while my husband was away overnight on business. I couldn’t be bothered ‘cooking’ up a meal (although often I still do!) so I made a very simple, quick but extremely healthy and delicious dinner. A salad that was topped with a whole can of tinned Wild Red Salmon, and a dollop of the pesto I made last week. Drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper…delicious! I took a quick snap, above, so you can see what dinner looked like at Elisa’s Table last night.

Great trick for storing herbs

Fresh herbs are one of my favorite ways to really enhance any meal or salad. I do grow them but not in the quantity that I use! As such, I am always buying huge bunches of basil, coriander (cilantro) and mint amongst others at my local market. If not stored properly, these are only good for use within 2 or 3 days.

To lengthen the life of your herbs by up to 2 weeks (!!!) here is a very simple trick that keeps them fresh and happy in your fridge.

In a plastic tupperware (or thai take-away container as the case may be) lay your herbs. Cover with a damp papertowl and seal and store in the fridge. If after a while your papertowl gets a bit dry or otherwise looks worse-for-wear, simply replace it once a week. This method also helps stack them nicely to save space. I just got back from holiday and a good week later my coriander (cilantro) is still happy and healthy and enlivening my salads!

Hope this helps!