Put the kids on a brain diet

The kids are back at school now. Interestingly, the papers are reporting that this is the time of year most mums try to lose weight. It’s all about making a fresh start isn’t it, but what about your children? To be at their best, eating the right food is important for them too. Did you know, for example, that the brain is the hungriest organ in your body? It demands the most energy, both in terms of glucose and oxygen, and it responds mostly keenly to the amount of nutrients you are feeding it.

It’s more than just making sure that the children have enough Omega 3 – the brain requires a lot of carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals for its growth, efficiency, energy and defence. Fatty foods are out. Iron, magnesium, vitamins B and E, and antioxidants are all really important. Water, eggs, avocados and bananas are some of the helpful things I could think of, but there’s a book that lists many more…

Brainy food competition
The book is called: The Top 100 Recipes for Brainy Kids‘ by Christine Bailey, and it’s only a fiver. What’s so great about it is that it’s full of wonderful recipes with explanations on how each food helps as it goes along. I got interested in it because every recipe also comes with a quick allergy guide; and there’s also a useful introduction on what foods help the brain work well too.

I’m just about ready to give my copy away, so if you want to save a little cash, email me (before the 9th October 2009) and I’ll pick a winner. In the meantime here’s a sample recipe:

Chocolate & Cranberry Brownies

(Vegetarian, no dairy, seeds, citrus fruits or soy.)

Prunes are an active ingredient here. They replace the fat and sugar used in other recipes. Not only a great source of fibre, prunes are also a concentrated source of antioxidant vitamins A and C, B vitamins, iron and potassium.

Makes 10-12

Olive oil, for greasing
100g soft prunes
50g caster sugar
125g plain chocolate, chopped
100g dried cranberries
25g pecans chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g self raising wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
25g wheat germ
3 eggs, separated

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and grease line the base of a square 15cm/6in cake tin. Blend the prunes, sugar and 3 tbsp water in a blender.
2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and stir in the prunes, cranberries, pecans, vanilla extract, flour, baking powder, wheat germ and egg yolks.
3. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and, with a metal spoon, fold them into the chocolate mixture.
4. Spoon the mixture into the tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and firm to touch. Leave in the tin to cool. Cut into 10-12 squares and serve.

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The Chocolate Lady’s creations

We’ve got a new product on our shelves. It’s a chocolate made without any dairy ingredients and it looks (and tastes) wonderful.

The story goes that Emma Clacher became known as “the chocolate lady” when she started sharing home-made chocolates with her friends. The gift soon turned into an all hours obsession, but with one big drawback, Emma had an allergy to dairy products. When it comes to chocolate that can be a big obstacle but determined experimentation led to inspired creation and the result was a dairy-free truffle which customers couldn’t get enough of; and they were understandably popular with vegans too. That was the beginning of Emma’s Chocolate Heart company.

Now Emma’s range extends to fruit flavoured truffles and chocolates, with  rose, mint and sea salt varieties as well. But there’s not a shred of dairy produce in there. Instead Peruvian dark chocolate is mixed with natural lime, orange and peppermint oils, Himalayan salt, or freeze dried raspberries. There’s no added sugar either, just quality natural ingredients – ­ it’s easy to see why Emma’s culinary handiwork became popular.

So if you’ve got a ‘chocolate heart’ give it a try and start nibbling to your hearts content.

In the pink with healthy salt

It’s one of those situations where you begin researching a subject and discover an ocean of information you can’t begin to wade through.

I was beginning to look at salt; basically for two reasons: I’ve heard a lot of people raving about Pink Himalayan Salt and I wanted to know what made it so good. And secondly I wanted to know if salt is as bad as people make out – surely there must be some benefit in it. This partly comes from personal experience: I’ve fasted a few times in my life and I know what it’s like to go without salt for a few days, let’s just say you can’t operate as well as you should. But current health advice still says we need to reduce our salt intake.

So what is salt good for? It helps the body in so many ways that the list seems to be endless – but that doesn’t mean we need lots of it, (current health advice is a maximum of 6 grams). It helps you keep a balance of fluids in your body, it is central to the function of all your nerves and it helps your cells gather the nutrients they need. As a side note you are 0.4% salt – a 12 stone male would have just over 60 teaspoons of salt inside them!

The list could go on: it’s in our blood, our sweat and our tears, you need salt to stop you getting varicose veins, it’s vital for a good night’s sleep (by the way, if you’re drooling too much on your pillow you’re not getting enough salt) and you need salt to get rid things like phlegm from your lungs. It’s good for our metabolism, digestion and muscle tone, you can use it for acne, eczema, sore throats and bathing aching joints.

However the problem with salt seems to be two-fold: the average person is eating way too much salt and it’s also the wrong type of salt.

Pretty much everyone should know by now that excess salt gives you high blood pressure which can lead to can lead to strokes, heart disease, eye problems, or kidney failure.

The main advice has to be to avoid pre-packed and highly processed food, and that includes things like lots of tomato ketchup or stock cubes. Recent news is that even supermarket own brands of gluten free or dairy free products can contain unusually high amounts of salt. Roughly ¾ of our average salt intake comes from processed food, so get into more home cooking (and don’t worry so much about adding a pinch of salt for flavouring).

But perhaps more worrying is that common table salt has most of its beneficial minerals washed out of it. Salt, when it is originally harvested has almost all the minerals our bodies need. That’s why people are going mad about pink salt – it’s pink because you can see the iron in it, packed with over 80 elements needed by the body himalayan salt delivers minerals like potassium, calcium, iodine and zinc.

There’s an easy way to test if your salt has been processed: leave a spoon of it in a glass of water overnight. If the salt collects on the bottom it has been refined, if it’s natural it will dissolve. Apparently salt that doesn’t dissolve tends to collect in your body organs.

It’s a funny image reversal but, as with many foods where ‘white’ is not good, it seems that the dirtier the salt the better. Danival have a slightly grey coloured salt, Clearspring produce a salt that is “whitish” and himalayan salt is just as pretty in pink.

3 Layer Gluten Free Celebration Cake

Gluten Free 3 layer cake
Gluten Free 3 layer cake

Gluten Free Celebration Cake is a 3 layer sponge cake with a non-dairy cream cheese filling.  Although this recipe is gluten free it does have egg whites.  You could use NO EGG as an alternative if you want to avoid eggs completely or are vegan.

Ingredients

2oz Margarine
4oz Icing sugar
1 Tbsp Rapeseed oil or other vegetable oil
2oz Cornflour (corn starch)
2oz Rice flour
1 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp Xanthan gum
Pinch Salt
2oz Ground almonds
1 tbsp Vanilla essence
Blueberry spread
3 Egg whites or No Egg
Icing  sugar to dust
Cocoa powder to dust

For the Filling

225g Non-dairy cream cheese (cold)
3 tbsp Icing sugar
2 tsp Vanilla essence
2 tbsp Non Dairy Margarine

Method:

To make the cakes:

  • Place the margarine, oil and icing sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together with a whisk until pale.
  • In a separate bowl mix the rice flour, corn starch, baking powder, bi carb, xanthan gum, almonds and salt until well blended.
  • Add the vanilla essence, egg whites and half of the flour mixture. Whisk until well whipped and creamy.
  • When the cake mixture is ready it should start to slide up to the top of the whisk. (around 1-2 minutes)
  • Add the other half of the flour mixture and gently fold in by moving a spoon over and under the mixture rather than stirring – do not stir. You want to add air at this point rather than lose it.
  • Pour into 3 greased and floured shallow 7 inch cake tins and place into a hot oven at gas mark 6 for 15 minutes.
  • Once the cakes have cooled place all of the filling ingredients into a clean mixing bowl.

To make the filling:

  • Whisk together the  non-dairy cream cheese (cold), icing sugar, vanilla essence, margarine until well combined and stiff
  • Spread the bottom 2 cakes with the blueberry conserve.
  • Spread half of the cream filling on top of the blueberry conserve.
  • Pile up the bottom 2 cakes and place the final cake on the very top
  • Decorate with sieved icing sugar and cocoa

This cake is best made a day early and kept in the fridge.

Adapted from a recipe by Jeenas Kitchen

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Tasty biscuits with virtually no calories – not impossible

I’ve been on a diet these last few months. It’s going fairly well, I’ve lost a stone and a half. But I can say with full conviction that the worst experience in dieting is feeling hungry with a taste for something savoury but opening the cupboard to shelves of rice-cakes.

I’ve munched my way through packs of rice cakes in my time and it’s only raging hunger that means I can enjoy them. Wouldn’t anyone rather be eating anything else?

Well, I haven’t got the perfect solution but I think I’ve found something close, and it fits into my new found fascination with raw food.

Biscru are best described as savoury crackers with about only 5 calories per wafer but they are not cooked at all. They’re made out of fresh fruit or vegetables with herbs, spices, grains and seeds and dehydrated so that none of the nutrition is lost, but, most importantly, they taste amazing.

Too amazing in fact. So far I’ve tried the olive and onion and tomato and paprika, and both are good. But the real trouble is they are so more-ish and so endanger my diet in an entirely different way.

The other thing to say is that they are not made with wheat, dairy products or sugar so they’re useful to people on special diets. They’re also organic. The one claim I find difficult to understand about them is how they can contribute to a person’s five-a-day intake. It seems to me like you’d have to eat a lot to make that work, so it’s probably best not to give up on other fruit. though apparently they do provide a good balance of protein, omega oils and slow release carbs too.

Coconut-ty

I still remember the flavour of my Jamaican aunt’s rice and peas, it was amazing, delicious and, to me, unrepeatable. I loved how fluffy it was and the way it stuck together. And one of the  ingredients which makes rice and peas taste so great is coconut.

The humble coconut has a significant place in Caribbean culture because it is so useful. As well as in food it can be used for your hair, healing, metabolism, skin, digestion and stress relief. In fact, around the world the coconut tree is probably the most versatile organic raw material there is, it has so many uses. You can even buy coconut flour as a gluten free alternative to wheat flour.

But coconut oil in cooking has received a bad press for years. That’s because it is high in saturated fat which is linked with increased cholesterol. But recently this has been brought into question. Coconut oil has been found to be easier to digest than any of the listed ‘bad fats’ because of its unique molecular structure. This should mean that it does not raise cholesterol, but, truth be told, the jury is still out.

The list of benefits from coconut oil is very big and there are even diets based around the coconut. It contains an acid called lauric acid which is found in breast milk and is beneficial to your immune system. It believed to be especially beneficial if you suffer from candida. It cooks at a high temperature without breaking down and yet has a light, non-greasy taste. Finally, coconut is versatile enough to use as a dairy-free butter/spread or for making raw smoothies and desserts.

But whatever you use your coconut for, even if your meals are transformed by its exotic, creamy flavour, it’s never going to taste as good as my aunt’s rice and peas.