Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Roast Vegetables, Spinach & Bean Bake

When trying to follow a pesky diet, satisfying comfort food can be hard to come by. This roast vegetable & bean  bake certainly ticks the tasty, cheesy, saucy boxes that you wouldn’t believe it was actually really low in fat. The vegetables are all zero points( according to weight watchers), as is the tomato sauce.

 The main source of the calorie content is the beans, which are a great complex carb substitute, and high in protein (keeping you fuller for longer). If you use a little low fat mozzarella also, it won’t tip the calorie content of the dish over the edge, but it will really add to the whole feel good factor of the dish. Make a green side salad to go with and this would be a healthy and satisfying dinner.

I’ve really had to scold myself for over-eating at the moment, so a handy tip I’ve learned to combat portion control is to cook the bake in individual portion dishes instead of one big casserole dish. This will (you would hope) prevent you for going back for seconds. 

The remaining little dishes can be used for lunch or dinner the following day, or if suitably covered, frozen for up to 2 months.

Serves 4


  • Yellow pepper, sliced
  • Red pepper, sliced
  • Courgette, sliced
  • Aubergine, cubed
  • 6 Mushrooms, sliced into thirds
  • 3 red onions, 2 quartered & 1 diced
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp of dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 1 tin cannellini beans
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tbsp of spinach leaves
  • 1 ball of reduced fat mozerella, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • Low cal spray
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. On a baking tray lined with parchment, add the peppers, courgette, aubergine, mushrooms, 2 quartered onions and 2 garlic cloves (in their skin).
  3. Spray with low cal spray, sprinkle with oregano, chilli flakes, salt and pepper.
  4. Roast for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, add the diced onion to a pan and sauté. Add the tin of tomatoes, sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
  6. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes to reduce a little.
  7. Take the garlic from the oven and squeeze from the skin, chop and add to the sauce, along with the beans and spinach.
  8. Place the roast vegetables into the sauce and stir to combine.
  9. Place the mixture in either a casserole dish or individual portion oven dishes.
  10. Top with the sliced cheese and place in the oven for 15 minutes.
  11. Serve with a green salad. (mix tomatoes, cucumber and green leaves with lemon juice)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Slow Baked Thai Chicken Stew

Having bought the ingredients for a Thai red curry, I decided I wanted to try something a little different from your ordinary Thai red curry. Not the there is anything wrong with traditional Thai red curry, on the contrary, its delicious, but just for a change I thought I'd see how it would fare in a slow cooked stew. The paste is homemade so you are able to control the quantity of oil used in the paste, and there are no additives or preservatives that might be found in shop bought jars. The stew is also made with a low fat coconut milk, thus reducing the calories further.

You could spend an age pounding the curry out with a pestle and mortar, but I've found my mini processor just as effective in making the paste and its ready in minutes. The paste can be frozen for up to 3 months, or kept in a air tight sterilized jar for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

I always harp on about slow cooking meat, especially meat on the bone. It makes the meat really flavorsome and succulent. This is another recipe where slow cooking is used to yield a meltingly good stew.


Thai Red Curry Paste
  • 4-5 red chillis, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 thumb size piece of ginger
  • 1 thumb size piece of galangal
  • 2 sticks of lemongrass
  • zest of a lime, and juice of half the lime
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp of coriander seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • Sunflower oil
  • 3 tbsp of red curry paste
  • 4-5 chicken thighs, skin and bones on.
  • 1 400g can of coconut milk
  • 4 tbps of chopped coriander
  • 6-7 mushrooms, sliced
  • 6-7 baby corns
  • 6-7 mini courgettes, sliced lengthways
  • Rice to serve

  1. To make the curry paste, add the chillis, shallots, garlic. lemongrass, galangal, and ginger to a mini processor and blitz until smooth.
  2. Toast the pepper and seeds in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes (careful they don't burn)
  3. Crush the seeds in a pestle and mortar or coffee grinder.
  4. Add the crushed seeds to the blitzed chilli mixture along with the lime zest and juice
  5. Slowly add the oil, pour until you are happy with the consistency (5 tbsp perhaps)
  6. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees.
  7. Heat oil in a casserole dish on a medium heat.
  8. Brown the chicken thighs for a few minutes and then remove to a plate.
  9. Add the curry paste to the casserole dish and cook out the aromatics for a couple of minutes.
  10. Add the tin of coconut milk and bring to the boil.
  11. Return the chicken to the curry sauce and cover with a lid
  12. Bake in the oven for 1.5 hours.
  13. Remove the lid and add the vegetables and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. (uncovered)
  14. Serve with basmati rice and scatter generously with coriander.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Low Fat Fish & Chips

Out with the pancakes and in the with  40 days starvation…..Just kidding! Goodness imagine that, I’d have heart failure at the thought of 40 days starvation.

 I see abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday as more an Irish tradition these days rather than a religious need. I see Ash Wednesday as a great opportunity for us to set aside at least one day where we eat fish, which is healthier and leaner than meat. There is so much fish on the market these days which wasn’t around when we were little, Ash Wednesday can be used as a day to go out, be adventurous and buy some fish or seafood you haven’t  tried before.

For those of you who are not as adventurous as myself when it comes to trying new types of fish (sustainable fish I might add), then here is one of my favourite fish recipe, and I’m sure it’s the nations favourite, the good ole fish and chips. This is not a recipe for a battered cod or trice fried chips, this is the healthier baked version, complete with a healthier tartar sauce and healthier mushy peas. It goes to show that just because you may be dieting or wish to eat healthier, doesn’t mean you must close the door on your favourite food, it just means you need to adapt recipes to make them healthier. Instantly making dinner a guilt free affair.

Fish – please use a sustainable, responsibly sourced fish.
Chips – rooster potatoes are great for chipping and baking
Mushy peas – out with sugary canned mushy peas, in with pureed garden peas with olive oil and mint
Tartar sauce – lighter than light mayo and tangy capers and gherkins are the way forward here

If you like what you hear….lets get cooking!!


  • 2 fillets coley/ haddock or similar
  • 2 rooster potatoes, chipped, leaving skin on
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 2 mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp of lighter than light mayo
  • 2 gherkins, chopped
  • 2 tsp of capers
  • Juice ½ lemon

  1. The chips take the longest so we'll start with them. Put the chipped potatoes in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil, and boil for 5 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
  3. Drain the chips, and allow the moisture to steam off the chips for 5 minutes
  4. Place the chips back in the pan and add 1 tbsp of oil and shake about to coat all the chips.
  5. Place the chips on parchment paper on a baking tray in one even layer
  6. Bake in oven for 18-20 minutes, turning once.
  7. Meanwhile, make the tartar sauce, mix the mayo, gherkins, capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  8. Cook the fish skin side up on baking paper on a tray in the oven with the chips for the final 15 minutes of cooking.
  9. Boil the frozen peas in boiling water for 7 minutes and drain.
  10. Whizz the peas, mint, remaining oil and salt and pepper to make the ‘mushy peas’
  11. With everything made its simply a case of assembly. I don’t go in for amazing presentations (you make have guessed), but maybe placing the fish on top of the pea puree, and get the tartar sauce in a small dish to place on the place and finally scatter with the crispy baked chips.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Flippin' Great Pancakes

Shrove Tuesday is coming around fast. For as long as I can remember, we always had pancakes on Tuesday before Lent started the following day. When we were very small, Shrove Tuesday was the only day of the year that my mom would make pancakes, so we always regarded it as a special day and looked forward to it for weeks. I never really thought much on ‘why pancakes? Why not cakes or buns?’ until today, I just took it as a given.

Following a couple minutes of googling I found that the reason we choose pancakes on the day preceding lent, is because in people in olden times took Lent very seriously and were very strict for the 40 day fasting season. So making pancakes was their way of using up rich food ingredients such as sugar, eggs and milk, as they would refrain from eating food that would give pleasure for the coming 40 days. (This was a time before confectionary existed) Nowadays, the Lent fasting has almost completely vanished, but the Pancake Day has exploded into such a big day, we had forgotten the reason behind it. Food companies are of course cashing in on this, with pre-made pancakes or instant pancake mix packed on the front shelves of supermarkets in the few weeks coming up to the day.

When myself, my brother, and my sister were little, there wasn’t the choice of the imaginative pancake toppings that we have today. We always had two pancakes each, with either strawberry jam, or lemon and sugar. These are still my favourite toppings for pancakes to this day.

 We used to watch American TV shows and think that Americans ate pancakes everyday for breakfast, with maple syrup. We used to beg out mom to make us pancakes for breakfast, like they do in America. Sometimes (after much pestering) my mom used to get up early and make us pancakes for breakfast as a treat. To this day, the smell of pancakes cooking on the pan always reminds me of delight we felt as we ran down the stairs with the waft of pancakes in the air.

As the years were on, we started to be more adventurous with toppings, choosing bananas and Nutella chocolate spread,and strawberries perhaps. And now, these days pancakes are used in savoury dishes, desserts on menus, little pancakes are made for nibbles and appetisers and so on. 

We are learning the versatility of pancakes. And pancakes are so easy to make. In fact I say this to myself every time I cook them, made in minutes, why don’t I do this more often!! And then I remember why, this pesky diet!!! I’m going to share with you my Weight Watchers pancake recipe, which are very healthy, non fattening, and super tasty.  I will of course share a more indulgent recipe also. As I’m due to open a B&B in the coming months, I’ll be testing recipes for the best pancake batter and accompaniments to go on my breakfast menu. At the moment I’m thinking blueberries and maple syrup. It’s so classic and simple, but really delicious.

The Low Fat Pancake Batter

·         125g sifted plain flour
·         1 medium egg
·         300ml semi skimmed milk
·         Low fat cooking spray

Add the flour to a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the egg. Stir to combine. Then slowly add the milk, whisking to get a smooth consistency. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. Heat pan to medium, spray with oil and pour a ladle full of batter onto the pan. Swirl the pan to get an even thin layer and allow to cook until air bubbles form (this tells us its ready for flipping (or turning for the less brave, i.e. me!!). Cook for a further minute or so and then transfer to a plate and keep warm in a low oven until you have cooked your ‘stack’.

The low fat toppings are fresh fruit and honey, low cal jam, or a sprinkle of sugar and squeeze of lemon.

The Classic Pancake Batter

·         150g of plain flour
·         1 tsp of baking powder
·         2 tbsp of caster sugar
·         3 large eggs
·         250ml full fat milk, with juice of half a lemon
·         Knob of kerrygold butter for cooking (any butter will do, Kerrygold is a favourite)
·         Cooker cutter/pastry cutter (optional)

Sift the baking powder and the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the eggs and sugar. Stir to combine. Then slowly add the milk, whisking to get a smooth consistency. We are looking for a thicker batter than the low fat pancakes above. Allow to stand for 30 minutes at the least. At this stage if you prefer to pour from a jug rather than ladle, then pour the mixture into the jug now. Heat pan to medium, spray with oil, place the cutting rings on the pan and pour in the batter until the ring, so it come up 1 cm on the sides. Allow to cook until air bubbles form, this tells us it’s ready for turning. Turn the pancake over (you can remove the rings at this stage cook for a further minute or so, add some butter finally for a real luxurious flavour. and then transfer to a plate and keep warm in a low oven until you have cooked your ‘stack’.

(Use a love heart shaped ring if cooking breakfast in bed for a loved one on Valentine’s Day, or perfect to bring to your mom on a Sunday morning on Mother’s Day)

The luxury toppings are perhaps smoked salmon and crème faiche and dill, or maple baked streaky bacon and maple syrup, or even just blueberries and maple syrup.
Some people treat pancakes as omelettes, making cheese, ham and tomato crepes, and that’s perfectly fine too.

For a really sweet treat, try Nutella chocolate spread and chopped bananas and strawberries. (when we were backpacking on Phi Phi Island in Thailand, a Thai lady set up her vendor cart outside out bungalows, and being the pigs that we were, we had her Nutella pancakes every morning for breakfast, with bananas)

However you like to eat your pancakes, skinny or full-on, I hope you enjoy this coming Shrove Tuesday and come up with some interesting toppings/accompaniments for them. If you have any usual pancake ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How to Woo a Guy (or girl) in 5 Courses

The evolution of this post is two-fold.
 I thought I’d
a)      do something a bit more fun on the blog
And b) cook a romantic dinner for my husband.

This is my romantic, stress free advance prep menu that’s guaranteed to set the mood and tickle your guys taste buds and impress the hell out of him. You want ideally to achieve the whole ‘slaving over the stove for you all day cause I love you’ look, when in actual fact it was totally easy peasy!!! He’ll be putty in your hands for a good few days at least. 

Who does sexier better than the French? I’m not talking fancy fussy French cuisine, I mean oozy sexy Parisian Bistro food!! This menu is ideally intended to bring us back to a Paris Cafe that serves beautifully cooked food, with a sexy gusto! 

To achieve this stress free cooking, with time to spare to beautify yourself and have a cooks treat glass of vino, is all in the prep!!
1. Plan your menu at least a day or two in advance.
2. Write out all the ingredients you need to buy and check that you have all the store cupboard ingredients in stock.
3. Next step is to buy all the ingredients.
4. Write out your recipes step by step and put them on your fridge.
5.  Start with the parts of the meal that can be made ahead, this will get rid of any stress you may have, knowing you are already to having things ready.

The Menu

Why not start off the proceedings with a glass of champers with a strawberry puree. You can’t get sexier than that! Just Whizz up a few hulled strawberries and pour into a champagne glass, then top with champers, cava or prosecco.

Chilli Crab & Avocado Crostini
The menu is about providing visually impressive, sexy dishes that taste superb and are light on the stomach. The last thing you want on a romantic dinner date is to be stuffed and in pain after eating too much heavy rich food. You’d both wind up on the couch with the top button of your trousers open telling each other how full ye are. Not a sexy look!!!
It is for this reason that I’ve chosen a particularly light starter, of chilli crab and Avocado Crostini. The crab is so light and zingy and refreshing, it’s a perfect choice for a romantic dinner. It’d simply to prepare with no cooking involved, allowing you to get on with the main course. For the recipe please click

Pan Fried Duck Breast with Red Wine Reduction
The main course I’ve chosen is duck breasts, they’ve always be seen as a sexy dish (don’t ask why). Lots of girls don’t go for red meat so this is a compromise really and also duck is expensive to buy so it’s something that wouldn’t be cooked at home too often. I do owe this recipe to Whelan’s Butchers.( The red wine reduction is the perfect accompaniment to the duck breasts. For the recipe please click

Finally the piece de resistance, love heart mille-feuille. Mille-feuille is a French cream bun made consisting of mainly cream and pastry. I have a quick cheat version that is a doddle to prepare and once assembled, looks amazingly impressive. It’s so pretty its near criminal to bite into it. For the recipe click

Boozy chocolate truffles
As a finish to the evening, why not whip up some decadent boozy chocolate truffles to have with a shot of espresso. These truffles can be prepared a good few days in advance and kept in the fridge in a well sealed jar. They are simple to prepare and go down really well. For the recipe click

Top tips for this meal to succeed with minimum stress on the day: ·      
·         Have the truffles made a day or so in advance      
·         Defrost the pastry       
·         Use the baking potato method for the potatoes, just scrap out the filling when cooked and mash with milk and butter. (That way you don’t have to worry about over boiling potatoes in water, when sometimes forgotten about turned to watery mush)
·         Toast the bread for the crostini in the oven    
·         Make the pastry layers as soon as pastry is defrosted. (It’s easier than you think)     
·         Mix the crab meat with a little chilli, lime, and mayo and chill.      
·         Mash the avocado with the coriander, lime and spring onion and also chill· Now the starter is  just a quick assembly job.      
·         Keep the potatoes in a bowl with cling film, in a bain maire until required.(will keep perfectly for an hour or so)
·         Have the duck breasts prepared (skin scored and ready to rock the pan!!), and the sauce ingredients chopped and covered in cling film until needed.
·         Finally…
·         Relax, have a great evening and sit back and accept all the compliments!!!



Mille-feuille is a French cream bun made consisting of mainly cream and pastry. I have a quick cheat version that is a doddle to prepare and once assembled, looks amazingly impressive. It’s so pretty its near criminal to bite into it.

Serves 4


·          2 sheets of readymade puff pastry
·          400ml of cream
·          200g of mixed berries (fresh not frozen)I’m using raspberries and blueberries
·          4 tbsp of strawberry jam
·          20g icing sugar, for dusting


1.       Preheat oven to 200 degrees
2.       Half the sheets vertically
3.       Place the sheets of puff pastry on two oven trays
4.       Prick the pastry with a fork
5.       Bake in the oven for 20 minutes
6.       Place on a cooling rack
7.       Whip the cream
8.       To prepare, place on square of pastry on the serving plate.
9.       Dollop some cream on the pastry, creating a hollow in the centre.
10.   Place a few berries in the hollow area, and top with another pastry layer, spread more cream on the layer and top with more berries.
11.   Spread a layer of jam on another sheet of pastry, and place that piece of pastry, jam-side down on the cream and berries.
12.   Top that tier of pastry with a final smear of cream and berries and dust with icing sugar.

Chilli Crab and Avocado Crostini

This is a great starter to prepare for a dinner party when time is not on your side, or you just simply wish to have a light refreshing starter for your dinner party. It’s also dare I say, posh lunch; perhaps for those Saturday Lunches with ‘the girls’, by bulking it up on a bed of salad leaves.
Whatever the reason for making this little fancy piece crab on toast, you will not be disappointed! This really is a sexy piece of food, ready in minutes!

Serves 4


·         200g fresh crab meat
·         1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
·         1 tbsp of freshly chopped coriander
·         2 spring onions, diced
·      1 tbsp of light mayo
·         1 ripe avocado, roughly mashed with juice of half a lime
·         1 lime
·         French baguette (preferably a day old)
·         1 salt and pepper


1.       Preheat the oven
2.       Cut the baguette into slices on the diagonal
3.       Place the bread on a baking tray and bake for 4-5 minutes (keep careful eye on them)
4.       In a mixing bowl, combine the crab, chilli, spring onion and lime juice and mayo.
5.       When the bread is ready, spread each toast with the mashed avocado and top with the crab mixture.
6.       Done and yum!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Low Fat Beetroot Soup

I’ve only embraced the beetroot in the past year or so, and now I simply cannot get enough of it. It’s a shame really as it was everywhere when I was in Russia, with Borscht (Russian soup with Beets) featuring on every single menu we encountered. I’ve decided to do my own twist on Borscht, without the fat.

This is a really vibrant pink soup. It’s just so so pretty that it looks like a soup that Elle woods in Legally Blonde would be proud of. My pink soup packs a punch though with some red chilli adding a fiery punch. The great thing about this soup is that it’s completely fat free and the only remote bit of fat with it is if you were to add crème fraiche, yogurt or a soft cheese to the centre for serving. I’ve compromised a little and added a teaspoon of low fat natural yogurt, to give the fiery soup a great refreshing tangy flavour. Also right at the end, might I suggest a squeeze of lemon juice to give the soup an instant burst of freshness.

This is a real time saver soup, using a food processor to do all the chopping and using pre-cooked beetroot. If you make a large batch freeze in individual containers once completely cooled.

Serves 6


Basic Soup Base

·         1 cooking onion
·         1 clove of garlic
·         1 leek
·         1 carrot
·         700 mls of vegetable stock
·         Salt & pepper

·         4 precooked beetroots, finely chopped
·         ½ red chilli, deseeded and chopped
·         6 tsp of low fat yogurt (one tsp per bowl)
·         6 sprigs of flat leaf parsley.
·         Low fat cooking spray


1.       Roughly chop the onion, garlic, leek, carrot, and chilli.Then add to a food processor and pulse a few times.
2.       Spray a saucepan on medium heat with low fat cooking spray.
3.       Sauté the pulsed vegetables for 5 minutes until soft.
4.       Add the beetroot and vegetable stock. Bring to boil and then down to a simmer for 10 minutes.
5.       Season well and blitz with a hand held blender. If it’s too thick add more boiling water and stir through.
6.       To serve place in soup bowls and pour over some yogurt and garnish with flat leaf parsley.

Soup Tip
When making soup, I nearly always use the same soup base.

Basic Soup Base

·         1 cooking onion
·         1 clove of garlic
·         1 leek
·         1 carrot
·         700 mls of vegetable stock
·         Salt & pepper

Different ingredients can be added to make all types of soups using this soup base. Whizz the ingredients , sauté in a pan and then add you preferred vegetable (e.g. carrots, parsnips, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes – to name a few soups) and finally add stock and boil, simmer and whizz. I’m always trying new soups, but usually stick to this base recipe.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Low Fat Carrot & Cumin Falafel

I'm finally in my new kitchen (even though its on it's last legs), so I've been busy cooking up some dishes to make up for the time I lost moving [ and trying to get the stove to work]. It's my last day before I go back to work and start the commute so I thought I'd set some time aside and make a lunch today, that will do nicely for lunch tomorrow also to take to work.

For those of you that know me, I'm a big fan of the high protein, low carb approach to my food, especially mid week. It's because of this that I had decide to make carrot and cumin falafels which are made with predominately chickpeas. Chickpeas are a great source of protein and are very filling and low fat.
Falafels are basically deep fried pattys made from chickpeas and usually used as a filling in a pitta bread or as part of a salad originally from the Middle East.

My falafels are not deep fried [heaven's forbid no!!), they are instead baked in the oven for 20 minutes or so. My falafels will be used in a salad, but please yourself. Falafels are absolutely divine in a pitta with crispy lettuce, tomato slices and cumcber with a tahini dressing.

Makes 20 mini falafels

  • 400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 red chili, deseeded
  • 1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, quartered
  • 2 tbsp of cumin powder
  • salt and pepper
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 spring onions, chopped


  1. In a food processor, add all the ingredients
  2. Whizz until smooth
  3. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees
  4. Place the whizzed mixture in the fridge to firm, while the oven is preheating.
  5. Get a baking tray and line with baking parchment
  6. Using a teaspoon, make 20 little balls from the falafel mixture and place on the baking sheet.
  7. Bake in the oven, from 15 minutes and then turn and cook for a further 10 minutes.
  8. Serve as part of a mezze or as the main attraction for a salad.

I'm serving mine falafels with 1 tbsp of cous cous, 1 tbsp of hummus, rocket leaves, and stuffed peppers. Falafels are not complete without some low fat natural yogurt and lemon juice.

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