18 February 2014

Is there such thing as a healthy Chocolate Brownie?

I'm not sure there is, but sometimes you need to spoil yourself. Here are two recipes for chocolate brownies that could possible considered "healthier" than some other recipes in that they have little fat in them.
150-200g Demerara sugar
120g organic wholemeal self-raising flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
100g quality dark chocolate (at least 70%)
5g baking powder
5ml vanilla extract
Method: I make this with my 3.5yo, so I do a lot of pre-preparation before hand.
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C/160°C (fan)
  2. Line the bottom of a square 20cm tin with greaseproof paper and spray all over with a tasteless oil such as rape seed oil.
  3. Over a saucepan of simmering water, melt half the chocolate in a heat proof bowl until melted.
  4. Chop the remaining chocolate into chunks, reserve the chunks for later and scrape the dust in with the rest of the melting chocolate (no, we're not wasting a crumb). Stir occasionally until all melted.
  5. Into a clean mixing bowl, combine the sugar and eggs until neither ingredient is discernible.
  6. Sift the flour into the bowl and mix.
  7. Add the baking powder and vanilla extract.
  8. Once all the chocolate is melted, add to the mix and stir in.
  9. Pour half the batter into the tin and sprinkle the chocolate chunks evenly across the mixture. Pour the remaining batter over the top.
  10. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. Test with a skewer. If it comes out clean - just - they're done.
  11. Remove tin from the oven and leave it alone for at least 10 minutes. This is important because the brownies will continue to cook for a little time and this allows them to form their signature gooeyness.
  12. Once the tin is cool enough to touch, turn the cake slab out onto a board and leave to cool completely. Cut into 16 pieces. They seem small but they're packed full of flavour.
Calories per slice: 202
Now, the observant amongst you will note that 200g of Demerara sugar might not be considered by some as "healthy". Particularly if you're diabetic. Yeah, I know, chocolate in itself isn't exactly great for diabetics, but read my first sentence about spoiling yourself. The sugar version is what I give my family as sugar is better for growing brains than artificial sweeteners. My artificial sweetener of choice is Stevia, sold as Truvia. I use the granulated version designed for adding to your tea or coffee rather than the "for baking" stuff which is half sugar/half stevia. However, I add a small amount of Demerara sugar because Truvia has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

25g Demerara sugar
60g Truvia (see notes above)
120g organic wholemeal self-raising flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
100g quality dark chocolate (at least 70%)
5g baking powder
5ml vanilla extract
Small quantity of water


Follow the method as for the sugar version above. But, you'll find the batter is quite a lot stiffer than the sugar version. So, just before pouring into the tin, add tiny amounts of water until the batter is pourable.

Cook for between 15-20 minutes. This mixture goes from sloppy to over cooked very quickly, so test frequently after the 15 minute mark. Cool as above and cut into 16 squares.

Calories per slice: 80

17 September 2013

How to buy a Computer

September has arrived and lots of people I know are looking to buy new computers, either for their kids for the new academic year, or for themselves (maybe because they want to congratulate themselves for surviving summer without committing infanticide). Here are my guidelines for buying a new computer. When considering a new purchase there are a number of things to weigh up to get the perfect machine.
  1. Think firstly about how you are going to use this computer. Are you going to be travelling around with it, or will you mostly be using it in your study at home? A desktop model is always better value for money. Things don't have to be miniaturised, so components are cheaper and easier to buy and you will always get more bang for your buck. But unless you are likely to be the sort who enjoys going to LAN parties, you won't want to lug your desktop around. If you like your computing on the move, then a laptop will be best for you.
  2. If you've decided on a laptop, think about how often you'll travel with it. The more you lug it around, the more grateful your back will be for a small, light laptop. But, the disadvantage of small is that capacity and power are lessened.
  3. What are you going to be doing with this computer? If you're mostly about emails, surfing the 'Net and writing the occasional document, then you probably don't need the top of the range, latest Alienware gaming computer. If you want it to be able to play a specific game, get the minimum specs for that game and make sure you buy something that meets at least that minimum spec.
  4. How long do you want this computer to last? The average life of a desktop these days is about 5 years, laptops 3. The better the machine you buy now, the longer it will last you.
The tech explained (as simply as I can):

The speed of a computer is made up of a number of items. The one most advertised is processor speed (in GHz). Generally, the higher the number, the faster the processor. BUT you'll also see Dual Core and Quad Core mentioned. A Dual Core processor has two cores and a Quad has four. Therefore, a lower numbered Quad will be faster than a higher numbered Dual. Intel has a range of processors out at the moment named i5 and i7. Again, a higher numbered i5 will be about the same as a low numbered i7.
But the processor doesn't act alone. How fast the hard drive spins will impact. Most hard drives (referred to as the HDD) run either at 5400 or 7400 RPM. The faster drives are generally found in desktops and the slower in laptops (unless you're talking the high end of laptops). There are new solid state drives (SSDs) which don't spin at all, therefore they have the fastest access times.
Next is the speed of the bus on the motherboard. You don't generally see the Bus Speed advertised and you really have no control over it. However, the more expensive the computer, generally the faster the bus.
Finally, the final thing that impacts the speed of a computer is the amount of Random Access Memory (RAM). The more RAM a computer has, the more it can process before having to save to the drive. Let me explain. When you start up a program on your computer, it reads the HDD and loads the program into RAM. As you work with the program, the computer saves information out of RAM back to the HDD (in what is called the swap file). The more that it can hold in RAM, the less often it has to save to the swap file, thus making your experience faster.
So, you can see that when people say "I want a fast computer", the issue is complex. It gets further complicated when you start to talk about the graphics card, which usually has its own processor, RAM and Bus to worry about. Again, generally, the faster the processor, the more amount of RAM and the faster the Bus of the graphics card, the better your experience will be. If you're getting into that much detail, then this blog probably isn't for you.
What Operating System?
"Woah, step back" I hear you cry! What's an Operating System? The OS is what allows you to run your computer. In general terms, if you buy a Mac, the OS is OSx (named, Mountain Lion, Tiger, Mandrake, or whatever name they want to give it at the moment), if you buy a PC, the OS sold with it will be a version of Windows (at the time of writing, either Windows 7 or Windows 8). To complicate things further, Macs can now run Windows and PCs can run versions of Linux, like Ubuntu. A computer boots up the OS to the desktop and you then run your programs, or applications, for there.
For the majority of the readers here, we'll be talking about Windows. Whether or not you choose to go for Windows 7 or 8 will depend on what the computer ships with. It will probably be Windows 8 but you may have the option to take a "downgrade" to Windows 7. If you are a Windows Vista or current 7 user, staying with 7 might be the best choice. But Windows 8 has some features built into it that you might find useful. Don't be afraid of it. Whatever version you go for, ask if it is the 64-bit version. This is important. Remember the discussion about RAM and how the more there was, the better? Well, a 32-bit version of Windows cannot use more than 4Gb RAM. Therefore, if you buy a computer that has the capability of holding 16Gb RAM, but it only runs a 32-bit version of Windows, your upgrade options are limited.
What size hard drive?
Again, think about what you are using this for. The new SSDs are fast, but small for the price. The older HDDs are slower, but if you're working with large photo or video files, you might find that the SSDs that ship with your computer are too small for your needs. Think of your hard drive as the filing cabinet. This is where everything is filed away when not in use. If you'd like to play a lot of games, then you might consider a more customised machine with the primary drives being solid state and a bigger traditional HDD.
So, armed with all this information, you should be able to write a list of requirements:
  • Desktop or laptop. If laptop, lightweight or not?
  • Gaming and heavy graphics use or documents, emails and surfing?
  • How long are you expecting it to last?
  • Windows or MacOS?
  • HDD or SSD?
Research - educate yourself
I'm often asked "what specific model should I buy?" Unfortunately, models change too frequently for me to say that. Chances are, by the time you shop for the model I recommend, it'll have been superseded or be out of stock.
But, don't despair. Google Is Your Friend. Go online a search "buy a computer". You'll be inundated with hits. So, look through the list of computers presented to you. Think about your budget. Look at computers at the top end of your budget. Make a note of the specifications. Based on your reading above, will they do what you need them to do? If the answer is no, then you'll need to rethink your budget. If you think they'll exceed your needs, then you might want to look at the specs for cheaper machines. A low-cost machine is not going to run that high-end game no matter how much you wish, but will be perfect for general stuff. I'm currently looking into a new machine for myself and have determined that while I'd like to have the speed an SSD will give me, I would have to spend far too much to get the space I need and a 7400RPM HDD will do the job.
Look around for packages and cash back offers. Some places offer the same machine as another, but will throw in extra RAM, or a case for a laptop. But, be careful. Make a note of the exact model number. A site will list what looks like the same computer for cheaper, but if you look at the model number, it's different, which means that something under the bonnet will be vastly different - usually a lower spec motherboard (refer to the section about Buses on Motherboards above).
Now, at this point, I find it easiest to go into my friendly nearest computer superstore. It is likely, however, that now that you've read this far, you know more about computers than the spotty youth who comes to serve you. Be nice to them as they'll be able unlock the computer and let you have a go - useful if you've not seen a computer since XP. It's a great place to do a comparison shop. Make a note of what you liked and didn't like. This will also be where you determine if you'd like a new monitor and whether you'd prefer a wireless mouse and keyboard. Don't buy anything at this point.
I suggest you go home again and get back on the Internet. Now that you've seen the boxes up front and made a note of specific models you liked, search for those specific things and see what is being offered. Most of the big box companies now offer a "find it sold locally for cheaper and we'll match (or better) that price" deal. It usually has to be an actual shop, not online, to qualify.
How's your budget holding up? Yeah, thought so. Once you've added monitor etc, you budget starts to look a little shakey, doesn't it? That's why you never buy on the first visit. Stop for a minute and think about what you need. Do you really need that five-button wireless rechargable mouse? Most of us don't know what to do with three buttons, let alone five, and a battery operated mouse will last for about 6 months between battery changes if kept properly. Do you need the 12-speaker surround system that looked really good in the shop or is the sound of an incoming mail message coming from all around you really overkill?
Now that you've determined what you need and what you can afford, it is time to actually shop. Where you buy it from is entirely up to you. You will probably get a better price online, but taking it back if something goes wrong in the warranty period might be more complex. If you deal with someone face to face, you might be able to negotiate with the sales person for those extras I mentioned above. But, if you're buying from a store, go in armed with model numbers and prices you gathered doing your research so that you know up front what to expect.
Some stores will offer a service to deliver and install your new PC for you. Most of them won't transfer data from your old machine, so make sure you're confident on how to do that.
Or, call me!

24 June 2013

The Cheap Domestic Goddess - things to do with red sauce

Since my last posting about cooking bulk red sauce, I've been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and so large amounts of pasta and cheese sauce have gone the way of the Dodo. But I still make bulk red sauce because it allows me to control the sugar levels and vegetable content. These days I make it in the slow cooker because that allows me to make it without using any oil. I get about 4.5ltrs and freeze it in 500g batches. To use I simply zap it for 7 minutes in the microwave.
But, variety is the spice of live, they say and there are so many times in one week one can eat pasta with red sauce. So here are the things I now do with my red sauce:
  1. Pasta bolognese. In a non-stic frying pan with a pump spray of olive oil, fry off an onion. Add 100g turkey breast mince and one defrosted portion of red sauce. Serve with 75g of your favourite pasta.
  2. Tortillas. In a non-stick fry pan with a pump of olive oil, fry off an onion. Add 100g of turkey mince and one defrosted ports of red sauce. Add two teaspoons of smoked paprika, one teaspoon of chilli flakes and one of dried oregano. Slice up a pepper. Warm through some wholemeal tortillas. Put two desert spoons of the meat mixture into a tortilla, plus some of the peppers. Sprinkle a small amount of low-fat cheese and roll up. Serve with a green salad and a dollop of low-fat creme fraiche. People who like it hot can splodge some Tabasco sauce to pep things up.
  3. Baked chicken. Take two chicken breasts and butterfly. Lay them in a small oil-sprayed casserole dish. In a small bowl mix up two teaspoons each of garlic granules (some might call this garlic salt), smoked paprika, ground cumin and ground cinnamon. Spoon a couple of teaspoons on the top of each breast and rub in. Turn them over and rub the remaining mix into the other side. Pour one defrosted portion of red sauce over the chicken and bake in an oven at 190°c (180°c for fan) for 30 minutes. Serve with either couscous or brown rice and some steamed green vegetables.
  4. Cauliflower pizza base. Take a medium head of cauliflower and remove the leaves and stem. Blitz in a food processor until it resembles short grain rice, then cook in a microwave on high for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool. In a large bowl, combine the cauliflower, 1 large egg and 150g low-fat cream cheese. Pepper to taste. Kneed into a dough and divide into four roll each piece into a round until it is about 1cm thick. Cook at 200°c (190°c for fan) for about 30 minutes until it is firm and golden brown. Spread the surface with some defrosted red sauce and add your favourite toppings, finishing with a small amount of low-fat mature cheddar. Cook for another 10-12 minutes.
I hoped you enjoy these dishes. You could also use this in a moussaka (my Greek friend, Kat might dispute this), but I've never tried. Please feel free to comment below and add your favourite uses for red sauce.

24 April 2013

How to sell a house

For about 2 years now, on and off, I've been helping a friend's Mother-in-law look for a house to buy. She's relocating to Reading from Cambridgeshire and given how long her working day is, she's been unable to spend large amounts of time house hunting.
I've seen a lot of houses, good and bad and here are my tips for selling your home successfully.
  1. Go through your house and throw out all the rubbish. If there's a lot, get friendly with a skip hire company. If you've only got a small amount of stuff to throw, a small skip will set you back about £85 and a good company will make sure that whatever is recyclable will be recycled. Go out into the garden and get rid of the broken toys, pots etc. Be ruthless. If it can't be repaired, or you won't repair it, there's no point in keeping it.
  2. Go through all your own personal possessions. Think carefully about each item. Do you still use it? Does it hold huge sentimental value? If it isn't used and it isn't of either monetary or sentimental value, ask yourself why you're holding onto it. Work out what you can get rid of and donate it to charity, to a friend or sell it on an auction site or offer it up on Freecycle.
  3. If you have children, go through the process outlined in No. 2 with them. Get them thinking about their own stuff. Help them part from the clothes that no longer fit them and the toys they no longer use. Talk to them about giving them away to friends or relatives, or if that's not possible, about giving them to charity and helping people who don't have as much as you. And if they don't co-operate, offer them up on Freecycle.
  4. Repeat the whole decluttering process by covering the garden sheds and your loft space and do the same actions with everything you have in there.
  5. Be ruthless. By now you should only be left with the things that you truly use and are precious to you. Having done this, you'll find that your removal bill will be significantly lower.
  6. Go an buy yourself a number of new moving boxes and some packing tape. Box up everything that you don't use on a daily basis into the boxes and label them NEATLY on both the top and the sides and don't forget to write which room the box will go back into.
  7. Again, do this same process with the kids. Restrict them to maybe 10-20 toys that they use regularly and pack up the rest. Once you've accepted an offer and the sale has progressed to the point of no return, they can have some of them back and it'll be like Christmas when you get to the new home and they rediscover all their valued items.
  8. I suggest that you also box up lots of your books, DVDs and CDs. Full bookcases make a room look smaller, so make sure that you can see to the back of bookcases in about 50% of your shelves. Put a few decorative items in some of the gaps to pull the eye to the back of the bookcase.
  9. Clear the tops of your cupboards. Everywhere. Kitchen, bathroom, dining room, bedroom wardrobes. Seriously. If its being stored on top of a cupboard, you're not using it every day. You can afford to be without it until you move into your new home. Potential buyers will look up. If you've packed everything in up to the ceiling, your rooms will feel smaller.
  10. Reduce the number of knick knacks you have out by at least half. Put away personal photos unless they're attached to the wall (because you'll have to either replace them with something else or remove the hooks and make the walls good).
  11. Box up all your bed linen and towels etc except for one set for each bed and a spare set to wash, and one towel to use per person and a spare to wash. Keep the bed linen neat by putting the sets together and put them into the pillow case. Buy a set of new, white or cream fluffy towels for your bathroom/s. only put them out for viewings and threaten your family within an inch of their lives if they use them. This will cost you maybe £25 but will freshen up your bathroom considerably.
  12. Box up most of your crockery, cutlery, glassware etc. Keep out only what you need. Firstly, your cupboards will look neater and you'll have less to wash up before viewings.
  13. Now, where to store this stuff: your removers may be prepared to store this for you for an additional charge. This is the best solution as you don't have the hassle of getting the stuff out of the house and they'll arrange secure storage. However, if this is out of your budget, ask friends and family if they are able to store it for you temporarily. Just make sure you're able to get it all back before Removal Day. If that is not possible, then either store in a garage, loft, or a little-used room. Stack the boxes neatly and make sure they are not stacked too high so that the room doesn't feel closed in. Don't disguise them - buyers will understand that you're preparing to move and it will actually make you appear keen and organised.
  14. Go through your kitchen cupboards and throw out all your out of date food.
  15. Now clean everything. Everything. All your kitchen cupboards, the cupboard under the stairs, the garage, the loft, the bathroom. Wipe down all your doors, surfaces, windows. Everything. Clean out your fridge and wipe it all down - even if you plan to take it with you. Clear cobwebs off the ceiling and take down all lampshades and dust them. Dust the extractor fans in the bathrooms and kitchen.
  16. Make your beds. Believe me, people do not want to see your unmade bed.
  17. Vacuum. Everywhere. Mop floors that need mopping.
  18. Go through the house and make a note of every little thing that needs fixing. You might like to ask a friend or neighbour to go through the house and point out all the flaws. You will probably have stopped noticing that patch of flaking paint on the ceiling in the hallway. They won't.
  19. Fix all the things on that list that you possibly can. If its a patch of wall where you patched a hole, painting over the patch shouldn't be rocket science. Tighten the screws on the light switch panels. Scrape the paint off the tiles where it was left when you repainted the bathroom. If you've got a damp patch on the ceiling, have someone investigate why it's there. You might decide not to fix it, but a potential buyer will be relieved to hear that you know what the cause of it is. If you can't afford to fix it, at least be aware of what the problem is.
  20. If you have coloured toilet seats, or wood ones that are a little scruffy, replace them with white ones (or ones that match the toilet if it is coloured). A new toilet seat goes a long way to making the entire bathroom work.
  21. That's your house sorted. But having a badly kept house next door can harm your sale. An unkempt garden is nothing, but a garden filled with rubbish that stinks will stop dead any purchase. If you can't find the owner and ask them to clean up, contact the council for help.
Now, you can invite an estate agent. Remember that in the UK, estate agents are not required to have any qualifications, nor are they registered with any authority. This doesn't mean that all agents are bad, it just means that they might not have the knowledge you expect them to. Also remember that they are competing with other agents for your business, so they are likely to tell you what they think you want to hear in order to win your business. Estate agents have a really bad rep that isn't always justified. Be nice to them. Ask your friends if they've heard of good agents in your area. Ask at least three firms to come in and quote.

The Internet has a lot to answer for. In my experience over the last two years, because most people start their search through the various house selling websites, agents have become used to people pulling all the information from the Internet instead of using printed brochures. Choose an agent who appears to be proactive and enthusiastic about your property. Here is what I think an agent should do for you as a minimum:

  • Arrange to take photos of ALL of your house and make sure that they take different angles of each of the rooms to show off each room at its best. And they should use something above a basic point and shoot camera. I'm not asking them to have a Hasselblad, but it should be better than an entry-level digital.
  • Publish a brochure which includes the full EPC (energy performance certificate) and your council tax band, includes a floor plan and uses the best photos. They are only required to publish the graph section of the EPC which grades the energy efficiency of your house, but the full certificate includes estimates energy costs and that can really help some assess whether or not they can afford your house over someone else's.
  • Put all the photos they took up on the Internet listing, put on a floor plan and include the size of your garden. They should also do a description of the features of the house.
  • Do as many of the viewings as possible. Buyers will be more comfortable to poke around if you're not there.
  • Market your house to their customer base, but only send you the ones who aren't time wasters. Depending on the market at the time, you might wish to state that only buyers in a position to move are sent around.
  • That they take all offers and prospective buyers do not negotiate with you.
  • They should "interview" you about your house. They represent you when showing people around, so in my opinion, they should learn as much as they can about the house. Whoever does the interview should write up a potted history that is available to all the agents to that they can appear knowledgable about your house
  • They do all the chasing of prospective buyers. You should not have buyers contact details at all.
When they finally tell you what they think your house is worth, treat this with a lot of scepticism. Agents have a tendency to over inflate their valuations in order to win your business. A good agent will tell you that they'll market your house at X but you should be prepared to accept Y. There is usually at least £10,000 difference between these figures. Do not tell one agent what another's valuation is. This only gives them fuel to try and win your business. Take some initiative yourself: have a look at Zoopla. This site will compare your house with others in the area that have already sold and give you an estimate of what yours is worth. It's not definitive, but is a good guide.

The onus is on you to make sure that the information included in your description and documentation is correct. Yes, there are laws about estate agents misrepresenting your house, but if they accidentally leave a window off the floor plan, no one in authority will care but the people looking at your listing (and this is a true story) will notice the master bedroom has no windows and may not even bother to view.


Inevitably, you will have to do some viewings. Most estate agents don't offer an extended hours service, or a Sunday service. But, if you want to sell quickly, choosing an agent who does offer this will be an advantage. But there may be the odd occasion where they just don't have someone available to do the viewing.

So here are my tips for doing viewings:

  • Before the viewing, run around the house with the vacuum and dust down surfaces. Tuck toys away and make sure there are no shoes or coats in the hallway. Clear out your everyday towels and put in your white, fluffy towels (hide the towels folded neatly in the top of a wardrobe, or fold them neatly and put them at the bottom of the person's bed).
  • Close all the doors to bedrooms and doors leading to the hallway. You don't want to reveal too much at once. A buyers mind becomes overloaded if they see into several rooms at once.
  • Turn on all the lights.
  • Make sure the front door is welcoming. If the weather is conducive, a couple of pots of flowers brightens up a door. This holds true regardless of whether you're doing the viewing or the agent is.
  • Some people recommend having fresh cut flowers on display. Personally, I hate this. It adds clutter to the house and if you end up having your house on the market for 12 months, that's a LOT of flowers!
  • I recommend airing the house about an hour before the viewing, but give enough time before buyers arrive to close the windows and let the house warm up again. Make sure your house is reasonably warm.
  • Ask buyers to remove their shoes. Even if you don't normally have this habit, it makes you appear fastidious about your cleaning. Also, you have no idea where they've been.
  • Invite them to take off their coats and make themselves comfortable. That's why you cleared to coat rack.
  • In UK houses, most showings start with the Living Room, progress to the Dining Room then the kitchen, utility and downstairs loos if the house has them. Go upstairs and you do the bedrooms in order of size then the bathroom. You don't have to open the loft but be prepared to answer questions about it. Finally, collect the buyers shoes for them and exit to the back garden.
  • Once you've given them time to ask questions about each space, dissolve into the woodwork as much as you can and leave them to look around the house at their leisure. Don't hover. This will make them nervous. Reassure them that they are free to look inside any cupboards and behind any doors. If the weather is reasonable, find an excuse to go out into the garden and leave them alone. A good initial viewing will take no more than 30 minutes unless your house is huge. Don't engage in casual chat with them, or give them a blow by blow account of last year's BBQ where the next door neighbour got incredibly drunk.
  • On a second viewing, they'll probably have a list of questions to ask. This is where if the estate agent has done their homework, they'll earn their fee. They should know the council tax fees and approximately how much your energy bills are (the full EPC has projected costs written on it, but remember they're not required by law to publish that on the documentation). Anything they are not able to answer, they should be prepared to note down and ask you quickly.
  • If you're not present during the second or subsequent viewings, make sure that you are contactable immediately after so that the agent can get answers quickly. If that's not possible, make sure they know exactly when you'll be contactable so they can tell the buyers when they'll be talking to you.
  • Don't be surprised or annoyed at requests for three or even four, five or six viewings. Buying a house is usually the biggest purchase of our lives and people need time to make up their minds carefully.
My final tip is Be Patient. The whole house buying/selling process in the UK takes time. Governments have tried to streamline the process but until banks stop charging Stupid Money on bridging loans, the chain system of buying will remain in place and I, for one encourage the due diligence that solicitors, surveyors etc all do.

13 March 2013

Yes, you can have pie

Today I picked up a recipe book written specifically to give you tasty, filling recipes that are low-fat and low-carb. Their chicken and ham pie is good, coming in at about 430 calories per serve but I felt it could be improved upon.
The Filo pastry is tremendous. It gives the feeling that you're having pastry without the extra calories and simple carbohydrates that puff or shortcrust pastry gives. Although it doesn't qualify as frugal cooking as breast meat is quite expensive, at the moment, it is more important for me to lose weight.
500g chicken breasts chopped into bite-sized pieces
300g wafer-thin cooked ham cut into 1cm squares
1-2 onions, chopped finely
1-2 leeks, sliced
2-4 carrots, sliced into circles
300g mushrooms roughly chopped
250ml water
5ml soy sauce
200g low-fat creme fraiche
100g low-fat natural yoghurt
2-4 garlic cloves crushed
1 chicken stock cube
2 tsp plain flour
Olive oil in a pump spray
For the pastry:
4 sheets filo pastry
12.5-15ml sunflower oil
Spray a non-stick frying pan with the olive oil and put the onions in to fry, stirring until they're translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken, keep stirring until all the pieces of chicken are cooked on the outside. Add the leeks and carrots and turn the heat up.
Add about 200mls of the water and crumble the stock cube and stir to dissolve. Add soy sauce and continue to cook on the high heat until the liquid has reduced by about two thirds. Transfer to a large casserole and sprinkle the flour and disperse the ham evenly over the mixture. Stir in the creme fraiche and yoghurt and season with lots of black pepper. Push the mixture down until it is evenly spread across the dish.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°c/Fan 180°c/Gas 6.
Stack the sheets of filo pastry on top of each other and cut into nine pieces. Using just the tip of a pastry brush, dip into the sunflower oil and brush both sides of the pasty. Scrunch each piece up until you've done all 36 pieces.
Arrange the scrunched pieces of pastry on the top of the mixture. Place the pie in the oven and cook for 30-35 minutes until the filo is golden on top.
Serve with green vegetable. The original recipe said to not add potatoes, but I think you need a few new potatoes to keep you fuller for longer - about 100-120g, roasted with just one spray of olive oil.
This should serve four at 331 calories per serving (without potatoes or green veg).
And just in case you're wondering, I've lost 10.1kg (22.3lbs) in 7.5 weeks.

7 March 2013

Arty blogs

Just to let you know that from now onwards I'm going to post art-related stuff over on my other blog Inkingly Mine and save this blog for the other stuff.

6 March 2013

More recipes to share

I'm back on the whole "losing weight" thing again. I refuse to call it a diet because a diet sounds temporary. This is a permanent change. I'm not following any particular plan but I'm going to a low-fat, low-simple-carbohydrates food regime. Previously, I used to allow myself larger quantities of carbohydrate but only if it were complex - wholemeal flour, wholemeal pasta etc. Now, I'm not limiting it, just applying portion control on everything I eat. I've mentioned some of the things I've been cooking to friends and they expressed interest in having the recipes.
These three recipes rely on cauliflower. It sounds strange, but trust me, the cauliflower is essential for moistness and to reduce the total carbohydrate significantly.
To prepare the cauliflower for these recipes, cut the stem out of the cauliflower and cut into florets. Place a quarter at a time into a food processor and blitz with the blade until about the consistency of short-grain rice. Put into an airtight container and freeze. When you need to use it, take it out of the freezer and place back in the food processor with the blade and blitz until crumbly again.
Pizza muffins
80g finely chopped onion
80g finely chopped peppers
80g wholemeal self-raising flour
10g baking powder
80g cauliflower rice as prepared above
10g chopped fresh oregano or 5g dried
5g sugar (I use Truvia to reduce the calories further)
40ml skimmed milk
40g crumbled low-fat feta
30g tomato paste
1 large egg, beaten
30g chopped black olives
2.5g garlic granules
Olive oil in a pump spray
Spray a non-stick frying pan with a little oil and fry off the onions until tender. Add the peppers. When cooked transfer to a small bowl to cool.
Heat the oven to 200°C and spray a muffin pan with oil.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, cauliflower rice, baking powder, oregano, sugar and garlic granules together.
Stir milk, feta, egg, tomato paste and olives into the onion mixture.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and combined until just mixed.
Split the mixture between the 12 muffin cups and bake until golden for about 15-18 minutes. Leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack.
60 calories for muffin. These make very shallow muffins. You can push the boat out and double the recipe for more of a meal rather than a snack. Or, use the standard quantity and use a 24-piece muffin pan for a party muffin.
Banana bread
The banana and sugar (sweetener) mask all taste of the cauliflower. But, with the addition of cauliflower the cooking time is extended and varies from oven to oven and depends heavily on the shape of the tin.
120g lightest spreadable butter (my preference is Lurpak).
65g Truvia or other stevia-based sweetener.
120g wholemeal self-raising flour.
120g cauliflower rice as prepared above.
10g baking soda.
2 eggs.
Between 2-4 bananas (depends on the size and ripeness of the bananas, better to have a little more than you think).
Put the butter and sweetener into the mixer and mix using the plastic blade. Lift the lid and scrape the sides until the butter and sweetener are creamed.
Peel the bananas and rip into chunks and add to the mix while blending.
Stop the mixer and add the flour half at a time until everything is thoroughly mixed.
Pour the batter into a non-stick 2lb loaf tin and place in a pre-heated oven at 180°c (170°c for fan) for 40 minutes. Reduce temperature to 150°c (140°c) and cook for a further 40 minutes.
124 calories per slice.
Pizza base:
All the cauliflower does in this is reduce the carbohydrate by about half and makes a wholemeal pizza base a little lighter.
250g wholemeal self-raising flour.
375g cups of cauliflower rice
80ml cup skimmed milk
65ml sunflower oil
Pump spray filled with oil
Pre-heat oven to 190° c.
Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix until mixture leaves the side of the bowl. Gather the dough into a ball and knead 10 times to make smooth. Divide the ball into two.
On a lightly-floured board roll each half into a 30cm circle.
Turn up the edges 1cm and pinch.
Spray surface with oil.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
Cover with chosen toppings and bake for a further 10-12 minutes.
Makes 2 pizzas. Half a pizza per serving is 367 calories. Load the toppings with lots of vegetables, lean meat and a very sharp cheese.

27 July 2012

Granny's Shortbread

Shhh. You're not allowed to share this recipe with anyone. Nah, not really. This is the recipe for shortbread that my granny taught to my mum and she to her children. I'm sure granny learned it from her mum and she from her mum etc. and so this is the most authentic shortbread I've ever come across. What is really good about it is that it is simple to remember:

  • 4 parts plain flour
  • 2 parts butter
  • 1 part sugar
This means you can scale the recipe up and down as you need it.Method:

Rub the butter and flour together until the butter has disappeared into the flour. Add the sugar and continue to mix and it will eventually start to clump together. Put a handful onto a clean surface and then press the mixture together until you have a circle of shortbread with no clumps falling off. Pinch around the edges, prick the surface with a fork to decorate and sprinkle a small amount of white sugar on the top. Cut the circles into quarters and place on a greased baking tray and cook in a low oven for about 35 minutes, just until they start to go golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before allowing people to tuck in.

Now, that's what mum taught me. It was all done by hand and since I had an accident falling down a flight of stairs and badly damaged my left hand, I find the manual combining of the ingredients and the pressing it into disks very hard to do. So, here's my new variation.

  • 250g soft butter - really soft
  • 125g Demerara sugar (I find it gives a nuttier taste)
  • 450g sifted plain flour
Using a food processor, blend the butter and sugar together until thoroughly mixed. Add the butter/flour mixture to the sifted flour. Combine with your hands until it all starts to clump together.Now, you'll need one of those hamburger presses. Mine is from Tupperware. Dust a tiny amount of flour in the hamburger form and a little on the underside of the press. Take a fistful of mixture (about halfway between a golfball and a tennis ball in size) and form it into a loose sphere. Place in the hamburger press and push down hard to spread the ball out into the hamburger form. Once the mixture is spread evenly over the form and you've pressed far harder than you think you need to, turn the pressed shortbread out onto a clean surface. Cut the circles carefully into quarters, prick the surface and dust with white sugar as before. Transfer to a baking sheet covered with non-stick baking paper or equivalent and bake in a low oven (160°c) for about 35 minutes. Much easier on the hands.


4 May 2012

Studio Organistion - May

I'm sorry everyone, but there will be no challenge for May. April has been a very full month and I've been unable to do any work in the studio.

Come back in June for the next installment.


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