Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cycling to work

I am fortunate enough to live a flat, five miles from my office. I am also fortunate to live and work in Surrey; safe, cyclist friendly roads which can be a pain in the car during rush hour but are a dream on the bike.

I first took up cycling to work not for fitness but out of frustration at the cost and time using public transport or driving to get to work took. Soon the benefits could be seen: not only did I get to stay in bed marginally longer when cycling as it was actually the most time efficient way to get to work but between petrol, train fares, bus fares and gym memberships I was saving £120+ a month. Additionally, I am doing my bit to help reduce my carbon footprint and personal CO2 emissions, something which we should all be thinking about.

On top of all this I was gaining at least 250 calories a day, and benefitting from a (fractionally) faster metabolism which never goes amiss!

Then I looked up the quantified benefits; it is a long established fact that exercise which is part of a daily routine is by far the most effective. Regular cyclists on average live longer and have fitness and health levels of someone up to ten years younger.

The Parliamentary Health Select Committee found in May 2004 that cycling to work or school is so effective that: “If the Government were to achieve its target of trebling cycling in the period 2000-2010 … that might achieve more in the fight against obesity than any individual measure we recommend within this report.” In line with this thinking there has been a massive push from the government to invest in cycling infrastructure as well as many companies operating schemes to help employees buy a bike and running 'bike to work' weeks. Last year there were statistics published quantifying the difference in weight between those who cycled to work and those who did not. Again one of the reasons for this is routine; not having to find the time to exercise ensures it happens and becomes second nature.

In short, I cannot recommend cycling to school or work enough. For more information about getting started as a cyclist, visit this excellent NHS page

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Review: Waitrose 'Love Life' Blackcurrant and Raspberry frozen yoghurt

I will be honest, I was drawn to this when trying to resist the ice cream in Waitrose by the large characters which read 'only 75 calories per 1/5 tub'.

Second admission; I thought this would be flavourless yet I still bought it thinking 'don't knock it until you try it'.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Not only is this frozen yoghurt flavoursome, it's creamy taste made me forget I was eating a low fat pudding. The sharp taste of the raspberries really came through but was blunted slightly by the yoghurt base.

Additionally, being yoghurt and therefore protein-based it was very filling yet light.

In summary, I cannot recommend this enough to those watching their weight in need of a sweet treat or frankly just anyone looking for a new flavour of ice cream!

Fish, chips and mushy peas

This evening I needed a lazy, simple and healthy meal; it has been a busy period at work and my diet has not therefore been as disciplined as sometimes.

So, when my craving for comfort food came on this evening, instead of heading for the chippy, I got inventive with my staples and ended up with baked salmon caked in ginger paste (instead of batter) accompanied by a rather mean portion of my homemade chips and skinny mushy peas.

For the fish

1 salmon fillet
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp butter
Ground pepper
Pinch garlic salt

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.

Spread ginger paste over the top of the salmon, add butter on top and season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Cover the Salmon in tin foil and bake for 20 mins.

For the mushy peas

50g frozen peas
10ml Skimmed milk (or almond milk for a creamier texture)
1/2 tsp butter

Slightly over cook the peas then strain them. Add milk, butter and milk then mash or blend with a hand blender.

For the chips, use the chunky chips recipe.
Calories per meal: 650

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Winter Warmer #4 - Lamb, apricot and prune tagine

Mainly due to time constraints, I have been slightly slack in updating the #Winterwarmer series but this recipe more than makes up for it.

I had a craving for some Lamb last week when in Waitrose; I have a real weakness for middle-eastern food and any form of Lamb stew usually falls into this category.  This recipe draws inspiration from the 'BBC Good Food' website, with some improvising on the spice side and putting the dish in the oven for an hour which made the Lamb just melt in the mouth.

Ingredients (serves three):
350g diced lamb shoulder
1/2 Onion
6 dried apricots, cut in half
6 dried prunes, cut in half
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp garlic puree
1 heaped tsp ginger paste
1.5 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp tumeric
Black Pepper to taste
300ml vegetable stock.
2 tbsp sunflower oil

Heat 1 tbsp sunflower oil and gently brown off the lamb then remove from pan and place in a separate dish.

Add second tbsp sunflower oil and fry onions with all seasoning then add prunes and apricots followed by vegetable stock and tomato puree.  Add the Lamb back into the pan.

Transfer mixture to a tagine dish (or failing that a casserole dish) and cook at 175oC for 45mins-1 hour.

Serve with 90g Cous-Cous per person.

Calories per serving: 526 (includes tagine and cous-cous)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

#Challenge2013 - January

Like most people, January for me has been less indulgent than the month before.  My biggest curse has been not only an attack of the winter lurgy but a torn ligament preventing me from running, neither of which are conducive to shedding the inevitable few pounds I gained over christmas.  I have however joined the gym and am working that stepper like nobody's business!

In terms of #challenge2013, January was inevitably the easiest month as, quite obviously it was the first month of the year eating out.  I managed to eat at a variety of restaurants; some large chain, some less so, additionally, in a somewhat mental month at work, I ended up having takeaway one evening (from my desk - boo) but as ever I managed to find the lowest calorie takeaway which Surbiton has to offer; Figo Chicken - a Nandos-style grilled chicken place where pitta and salad are also easy to come by!

Here are my January highlights:

New Years Brunch at 'The Breakfast Club'
Ok, so this was psychologically the last day of Christmas and not the first day of a detox so I trekked into Soho to enjoy brunch with some chums at 'The Breakfast Club'.

Firstly a hint; don't arrive here hungry as you will have to queue (we were inside over an hour and some people queued all this time).  This was my first visit, and frankly, within about thirty seconds, I could see why people were willing to queue.  A quirky restaurant with a delightfully varied menu and friendly staff, it really did tick all the boxes.

I opted for a 'Huevos Rancheros' which consisted of fried eggs, tortilla, refried beans, chorizo, salsa, sour cream, cheddar and guacamole - hardly healthy, I will be honest.  The entire breakfast was cooked to perfection and was a welcome change from a regular full english which is usually the hangover-cure supreme!

Cheap and cheerful mid-week Pizza.
One thing is true in contemporary dining, you can never go wrong with a good voucher code and Pizza Express really does provide one of the best value, simple and now with the addition of their 'legerra' Pizzas, there is a fantastic selection of low calorie treats too.

I opted for the 'Pollo Ad Astra' which is a ring of pizza with salad in the middle, like all in the legerra range with chicken, onion and low fat mozzarella to top it.  This was a light but satisfying weekday treat, and at 40% off with our voucher it really was the perfect accompaniment to a girly catch-up with one of my favourite people (whose blog can be found here).

A birthday at Inamo
Scallop Gunkan
Inamo is an Asian Fusion restaurant on Wardour Street (yep, Soho again) which is quite frankly, out of this world.  Well the starters, mains and cocktails are.  I was underwhealmed (to say the least) at the dessert and the wine (which at over £7 a glass even in central London I would expect to be very drinkable but for a dry wine was remarkably sweet).

I had sushi-inspired starters in the form of scallop gunkan, which consist of scallops marinated in a wasabi-miso sauce wrapped in nori with sushi rice and some chicken and lemongrass dumplings.  For my main I opted for the less healthy berkshire pork shoulder which was served with a confit of apple and a spicy chocolate sauce.  The pork here was perfectly tender and the sauce was divine; not too sweet but with a slight tang from the spice.  The pudding of macaroon with white chocolate mouse I certainly would not bother with again; I would instead try an additional small dish!

But the real gimmick and one of the coolest things about Inamo (apart from the cocktails, which I cannot recommend enough) was the interactive tables.  You ordered from the table, called the waiter, could view the kitchen, change the pattern or 'ambience' and play games. Yep, battleships and pairs.  Personally I am not a fan of the games as for me, going out for dinner is an opportunity to speak to people and catch up, but I can see if you did not know the people you were out with, a game of battleships would be a good icebreaker.

All in all I would totally recommend Inamo - a great experience and great food.

A tapas-full thank you
In my spare time (contrary to popular belief I do have some) I volunteer with Kingston Young Carers.  Young Carers are an organisation who really know how to look after their volunteers and twice a year take us out for a meal to say 'thank you'.  So, the last week in January we went to La Tasca in Kingston.  Even though I am not vegetarian I was disappointed that even the vegetable dishes were cooked in the same oil as meat, causing problems for the vegetarians with our group.

I have only eaten in the La Tasca chain once or twice, but as with most chain italian restaurants, I always find the food just 'fine', never outstanding but always perfectly edible.  Locally, if I am to go for tapas then Pincho in Twickenham will continue to win out in terms of menu selection, atmosphere and location.

And now, back to the kitchen!