Friday, 15 August 2014

Chicken gyros

I got this recipe from Cooking Classy. It was really, really good, and very garlicky. Extra yum!
You can of course use bought flat bread, but I decided to try making my own. I also decided to try using cup measurements instead of converting the ingredients to grams. I used an IKEA coffee cup to measure out.
Chicken gyros

Flat bread
A cube of fresh yeast
2/3 cup of warm water
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of milk
1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 cups bread flour

Put everything into a bowl and mix them together with the hook attachment, if you have one. If you don’t, use your hands and knead the whole lot. You should keep going for about 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. If the dough is sticky and not forming a ball, add a little more flour.
Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow it to rest in a warm place until double in size, which should take about an hour and a half.
When the dough has proved, knock it back and divide it into 6-8 portions. Work the balls into circles on a floured surface and cook in a hot dry frying pan (so, no oil). I found that the bread shrank a lot on the pan, so I kept an eye on them, and kept them pressed down with a fish slice. When the underside is cooked – this should take about 3 minutes – flip them over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes.
Flat bread cooking
These are best served immediately, with the chicken, a salad and some tzatziki.

Garlicky chicken
For 2-3 people:
2 chicken breasts, sliced finely
a few crushed cloves of garlic
the juice of a lemon
a dribble of olive oil
3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)

Mix all of these together and leave them to marinade in the fridge for as long as you can. I used a large grill-proof dish, so that the chicken could lie in a single layer. When you’re ready to cook, take them out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature for a bit before grilling the whole lot for a few minutes. Stir the whole lot and grill them again until they are fully cooked.
Grilled chicken pieces to go into the gyros

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1 crushed clove garlic, or more if you like it garlicky
salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki traditionally contains dill, but I’ve so far never managed to grow this, and I don’t ever use a whole packet or plant before it dies, so I only buy these when I know I’m going to use it all, so I don’t always use dill.

Put the grated cucumber in a sieve over a sink and let it drain – give it a squash with the back of a large spoon to encourage the water to drain out. If I’m rushed, I’ve been known to pat at it with paper towels. When you’re ready to make it, combine all the ingredients and enjoy!

My food rules!

As I’ve said before, I am not a nutritionist. I have no training in this topic. I am simply interested in food and how what we eat can impact on our lives. Since I’ve started eating less sugar, I’ve also started thinking a little more about what me and my very small family eat. With this in mind, these are some simple guidelines I use when setting our menus.
  1.  Eat full fat foods!
    I reckon that low-fat or diet foods register in your subconscious as you depriving yourself of something and so somewhere in there, your brain is going “feeeeeed meeeeeee” and you will not feel satisfied. Fat fills you up – or it makes you feel full – so eat that full fat yogurt! Add a bit of avocado to your salad! You will feel fuller for longer.
  2. Eat full fat foods; part 2.
    When manufactures remove the fat, they replace it with sugar (amongst other things). Sugar is fat free, but rich in nutrient-free calories.
  3. Find ways to cut calories when you are cooking.
    For example, if your recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of oil, use one tablespoon and see how it goes.
  4. Try new things.
    Quinoa? Meh. Wheat germ? Yes! Almond paste? MMMmmmm. Lentils? Yum! I used to think that only tree huggers ate these foods. Now I eat them regularly, and I’m not a hippy. Soon-to-be-tried foods include pomegranate molasses and kale. Although I’m not looking forward to this last one.
  5. Processed food.
    I don’t eat processed food (well, not at home anyway; I (naively) trust that cafes and restaurants prepare or cook the food they serve their paying customers). My main reason is for not eating processed food is that manufacturers tend to use a lot of salt and sugar, as well as additives. And I am a bit of a control freak. I like knowing what goes into my food. If I cook it myself, I have a much better idea of what I’m eating. I’m lucky in that I love cooking, so it’s not a chore to cook after coming home from a hard day in the office. I do the tried-n-tested quick stuff during the week and I leave the experimenting to the weekends. That saying, we get take outs the odd time, and sometimes we go to McD’s, although after every McD, we resolve never to go again.
  6. Cutting out sugar.
    You can read about what I’ve been up to
    here and here. My main reason for cutting out sugar however is that I don’t want to develop diabetes or heart disease in the future. And unfortunately, the over-consumption of sugar is liked to these.
  7. Bread.
    I’m not a big bread fan, never was and I doubt I ever will be, particularly of the bought stuff. I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich for lunch. When I do eat it – usually at home – I eat brown bread (or as brown as I can get in Belgium; my success with making brown bread here is limited, and I have to go very much out of my way to get to Jack O’Shea’s butchers for theirs). I eat other types of bread happily and fairly regularly though, but I make them from scratch:
    pizza, flammkuchen, or these chicken gyros I made this weekend.
  8. Which leads me on to other carbohydrates.I don’t like pasta. There. I’ve said it. If it’s cooked for me and put in front of me, I’ll eat it, but I don’t cook it at home, and I’d rarely order it if I were eating out (lasagne is the exception). I eat rice, potatoes, couscous, quinoa (although I haven’t replaced the box I used up a few months ago, so I maybe I don’t eat this as regularly as I’m alluding I do), oats and Weetabix. And Wasa crackers.
  9. Fruit n veg!
    Yay! I try to eat two portions of fruit a day, usually at breakfast time, and then veg for the rest of the day, usually in a soup or salad at lunchtime and veggies with dinner. I try to vary the types of vegetables we eat, and try new ways of cooking them, but I don’t get hung up on counting what we eat daily. And I don’t drink fruit juice.
  10. Meat and dairy.I’m going to quote Domini Kemp, from the Irish Times this weekend: “I love cheese. Along with bacon, it’s the big reason I’m not vegan.” 

Weight* a minute! Is that the end of the food rules? Yes, kinda. Have I noticed a difference in myself? Well, my skin is fine, and my hair is healthy, my nails grow like weeds. I been sick once this year; I think I took 3-4 sick days in each of the last two years (2012-13), and I feel good. So that’s all good, right?
Butt*, you’re all reading this far to see if I’ve lost any weight, right? Well, after nearly five weeks off sugar, the short answer is no. The longer answer is still no. I am eating more nuts than I used to, which are quite high in fats – good fats, but still fats nonetheless – so therein probably lies the answer.

* omg! D’y see what I did there??? I’m so funny! Lolz.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cutting out the white stuff – two weeks in: calorie-free baking

I wrote a post about three weeks ago about cutting out processed sugar from my diet. So far, it’s been going pretty well. I am still eating fruit and dried fruit and drinking the odd glass of wine or beer. I’ve just stopped eating cakes, biscuits, sweets, and I’m starting to read labels and cut out some of the hidden added sugars in foods like ketchup and mayonnaise. I deviated slightly one weekend – I had the opportunity to try a pancake with salted caramel apple purée (like, who is going to miss something like that?), and I definitely was a little bit jittery afterwards. I’m noticing too that savoury food is a lot sweeter.
I had my first sugar craving about two weeks in and it lasted 24 hours. Like a lot of grown ups, we have a goodie cupboard and nothing in it appealed to me. Instead, I satisfied my craving with some things that did appeal to me: almond purée, dried dates (medjool dates are like Scooby Snacks to me now) and a yummy mix of sunflower seeds, raisins and pine nuts from Colruyt.
Side effects hit around that time. I’d had an active weekend, and then spent six hours cleaning and ironing. I was wiped for about a day. I was exhausted! Thankfully I’m over that now.
As I said, I’m eating dried fruit, which you’re not really meant to on a sugar-free diet. I’m going to cut this down this week (down from four pieces every day to maybe one) and see how I get on. I’m really surprised at how few cravings I’m having and my utter lack of enthusiasm for biscuits, cake or sweets.
Saying this, I’ve been looking at baking. Many of the sugar-free recipes I’ve found are paleo and/or gluten free. I was very taken with these chocolate truffles from Peachy Palate and these cinnamon rolls. Both recipes use ingredients I knew I wouldn’t find in my local Carrefour. So, list in hand, I went to my local bio-planet (which is owned by Colruyt).
I found everything I was looking for. The staff were very friendly and helpful when I couldn’t find a couple of the ingredients. I added a jar of my beloved almond purée and a couple of other things (honey and almond milk). When I’d got everything – almond flour, coconut flour, coconut oil, coconut sugar and cacao powder - I did a quick mental tot-up. And the lot came to nearly €60! Now, I don’t know about you, but this is a significant chunk of my weekly food budget! And this is before I bought the pecan nuts, raisins or the avocados. To be perfectly clear, I wasn’t going to use the whole lot of what I was buying, so for example, the coconut flour was one of the most expensive items at about €10 for 500g, and I’d only need about 30g of it, so I’d have a lot left over to use in something in the future. But I was still looking at very expensive pastries. So, I put all the baking ingredients back on the shelves and stocked up on nuts and cheeses when I did the family grocery shop an hour later. I haven’t had cravings for sweet stuff so far, and cheese can satisfy any post-dinner stomach holes.

And that, my friends, is calorie-free baking.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Restaurant review – Brasserie Le Couvent, Waterloo

Hubs and I racked up to this brasserie during the week. It is always busy – a good sign – and the couple of times I’ve eaten there have not disappointed.
The menu is ample, covering a wide range of salads, fish, meats and pastas. There is something for everyone. It is mainly Belgian cuisine with a nod to Italy. Starters are around €13-14 and mains range from €14-25.
The restaurant itself is cosy; modern and slick are not the first words I would use to describe it. It is however a very nice Belgian brasserie and the kind of place in which I could happily spend a few hours. The service is very good. When we went there was one guy managing the floor of about seven or eight tables. The one drawback was that the tables are quite close together and we could overhear our neighbours.
So, onto the food. Both of us ordered the shrimp croquettes (€13.50). I didn’t get a photo of these as we were starving, so we dived in. I can say that they were delicious, served with a small side salad, and deliciously crunchy and melty and really, really hot.
We both ordered the bacon burger (€16) too and … well, I’d had it before but I wanted to double check but … <<deep breath>> this could be the best burger I’ve had in Belgium. The meat (beef I think) is well cooked and tasty and not greasy, there is enough cheese without overpowering the meat and the bacon is a proper English style thick slice. They include a slightly spicy ketchup/mayonnaise sauce on the burger, and it really is a perfect balance of wet to dry ingredients. I eat my burgers with my hands, and this one stayed intact until the last bite, which is a big plus. The chips are not homemade, but they are well cooked, again not greasy and nice and crunchy.
The bacon burger and chips from the Brasserie du Couvent
We had a Waterloo blonde (triple) beer to wash down all of this. It’s 7.5% and comes in its own ceramic ‘glass’. It is a very tasty, well rounded, soft flavoured beer, but it is quite strong.
To finish, I had the selection of desserts with the café gourmand. It included a chocolate mousse, an éclair and a crème brulee. Yum. We paid €77 in total for the two of us, which was very good value for the quality of the food we got. I will definitely go back.

Rue du Couvent, 7
1410 Waterloo
Tél / Fax: 02/351.38.34
open 7 days, lunchtime and evenings.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Cutting out the white stuff

I have been reading a lot – A LOT – about the evils of sugar over the past few months. And as a result, I’ve tried a couple of times to reduce the amount that I eat. I’ve always crashed and burned after a day or two. Until this time. I don’t know what I’m doing different, but I’m on day 4 and so far, so good.
Now, what I’m doing is probably the ‘lite’ version of sugar quitting. What I’ve been eating is:

Homemade ‘muesli’ (homemade by me, with oats and wheatgerm, dried fruit, nuts and ground cinnamon and ginger. How it differs to traditional muesli is that I don't coat it in maple syrup or apple juice and cook it). I soak this overnight in almond milk (I don’t know if this is sweetened, and I’ve thrown away the carton). I eat it with fruit and Greek yogurt.

A couple of Wasa crackers with ham, hummus, carrot sticks, homemade soup, salad…

Another Wasa cracker or two with a mashed banana and some almond puree, or a couple of dried figs.

I had homemade chicken tagine one night, dinner at the in-laws another night of goats cheese starter, boiled rice with a type of waterzooi, and then a night out in the local Japanese last night (gyosa and sushi if you’re curious!). I also had a glass of white wine two of these nights. Last night and tonight we are having a bbq (have you seen the weather!?!?!?) with some of these salads.

How this differs to a ‘real’ no sugar diet is that first, I’m eating fruit and dried fruit at that, and second, I’ve had alcohol. Yes, these are probably keeping my sugar levels up, but, I think that these natural sugars (as found in fruit, not alcohol) are not as bad as the processed white sugar that is found in cakes or biscuits, sweets, chocolate, etc. And I don’t drink fruit juice, and I haven’t drunk it for years. It’s just empty calories for me. Ditto breakfast cereals.
I’ve not had any cravings or any of the side effects associated with sugar-withdrawal (headaches, shaking and the like), but as I said, I am probably keeping my sugars up through the fruit and the couple of glasses of wine. But I *think* I’m eating less processed sugar than I usually do. I usually eat what I’ve outlined above, but lunch, dinner and the snacks are supplemented with chocolate and jellies.
I haven’t graduated onto reading packaging yet (apparently this equates to Halloween levels of scariness), but when I do, I hope to do it a bit seriously and not crazily. The difference? For example, milk contains sugar, so some no-sugar eaters don’t drink it, but I reckon that naturally occurring sugars are fine, right? I’m talking about cutting out the sugar that is added to processed food (not that I really buy it in the first place) and cutting out sweet foods. 
This is what I’ve been reading:
Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health (there is also a 5-question quiz to see if you’re addicted)

And a couple of blogs and websites:
This last one – I quit sugar – recommends cutting out fruit for the first six weeks, and absolutely no dried fruit. But she does allow alcohol.

I made this dessert last night and ate a portion, and OMG, did I know all about it! My stomach made the most incredible grumblings for the rest of the evening. The only thing I can link it to was the sugar (even though I used 25g of sugar instead of 50g, so over three portions, that’s not a huge amount of sugar, but it was the most processed sugar I’ve eaten since Sunday).

I’ll be making the dessert again tonight (Hubs had a version of it on hols recently and I’m trying to recreate it).