Making snacking healthy

You know the feeling – you’re trying hard to eat well, limit your portions, exercise… it’s all great during the day, but come evening time things change. The irresistible urge to open the cupboard with snacks, crisps, just one slice of cake, a bar of chocolate… it all adds up to putting on those extra pounds that are so difficult the get rid off in the long term.

So here is a little recipe for a snack that should help to battle those cravings and in fact it is pretty healthy too – kale crisps.

Kale Chips

When we were in New York in July we bought a small box of curried kale crisps at Whole Foods for approximately $8.00 which I thought was pretty expensive but I wanted to try them. I thought they were pretty good and I wondered how to make them. It seemed impossible at the time that kale would crisp up like that.

Then I came across a lovely Instagram feed of a company that makes organic liqueurs which inspired me to giving it a go. And guess what – the crisps turned out pretty good. In fact I think I’m slightly addicted on them now.

The process is very simple:

1. Wash your curly kale, remove the stems and tear leaves into large pieces.

2. Rub one table spoon of olive oil into the leaves and season them.

3. Spread the leaves into one layer on a baking sheet.

4. Bake at 150°C for approximately 10 minutes.

My seasoning was a mixture of crushed cashew nuts, Tabasco, Indian curry powder and turmeric.

Delicious and healthy. And free since the curly kale seems to be growing in abundance in the garden this year.

How to make lacto-fermented vegetables

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You’ve probably heard of sauerkraut, kim chi or sour dill pickles. All these are lacto-fermented foods. Lacto-fermented vegetables are a light, refreshing accompaniment to everyday meals and they help to keep our digestive system in a good working order as they contain live bacteria that are good for our health. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But our body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. And lacto-fermented vegetables are full of ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ bacteria.

Lacto-fermentation is a simple traditional process that was used for preserving vegetables for the winter. The process itself might not sound appetising but the health benefits of eating probiotic food with live Lactobacillus bacteria are huge. Sadly in the advent of modern food production this ancient method seems to have been forgotten but the good news is that it is growing in popularity again as more and more people discover the health benefits.

So what exactly is lacto-fermentation? First of all, to dispel the most common myth about lacto-fermentation, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dairy. Instead, the ‘lacto’ refers to lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. The “lacto” portion of the term also refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus bacteria have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid.  This strain is named so as it was first studied in milk ferments. The fermentation process releases a large amount of vitamin C, B and K and it also increases the bioavailability of nutrients rendering the fermented vegetables even more nutritious than the raw ones.

Most cultures around the world have some sort of fermented food that is a staple in their diet. Various studies have shown that 80% of our immune system is in our gut. The immune system deals with ageing, infection, disease, and general health. Consuming probiotic and enzyme rich foods helps us to build the immune system and aid digestion.

To find out more details about lacto-fermetation click here or here.

There are three types of lacto-fermenting: quick (3-4 hours), short term (3-4 days) and longer term (1 week or longer).  I tried the middle method and it worked perfectly.

All you need is: a large glass jar, vegetables of your choice and salt (approximately one tablespoon). I chose Shetland cabbage, Chinese  cabbage, carrots, beetroots, onions and a red pepper. After chopping and grating the vegetables and adding salt I used a big pot to ‘scrunch’ the vegetables up until liquid starts appearing. I also added some chilli flakes for an extra kick. Then pack the vegetables tightly into the jar and cover with a small saucer and weigh down with a stone. I also covered the jar with tin foil. Leave at room temperature for 4-5 days, then place into a smaller container and refrigerate.

 

 

Refreshing nettle cordial 

As you know I’m a huge fan of nettles for their unbeatable health properties so I’ve decided to try making another interesting cordial.

I can’t imagine how it will taste but I’m looking forward to trying it in a week or so.

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A large mixing bowl full of freshly picked nettle tops, use young nettle leaves only

1kg granulated sugar

4 unwaxed lemons, zested and juiced

1l water

1. Bring water to the boil, add the sugar and the zest of all the lemons and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Take the syrup of the heat and leave it to cool down slightly.

2. Add the nettles and the lemon juice and cover with a tea towel.

3. Leave for one week in a cool place but make sure you stir the mixture daily.

4. Strain the liquid through a sieve and store in sterilised bottles in a dark cool place.

 

Rhubarb cordial

May is the start of the rhubarb season which also means the summer must be on its way.

In Shetland rhubarb seems to grow in every garden and you’ll also often find it around old abandoned crofthouses. Probably because it grows far better than anything else in these windswept islands, as Mary Prior writes in her wonderful Rhubarbaria, it formed an important part in the Shetland diet.

In the past I tried to grow rhubarb but unfortunately with not much success. Until the time when my neighbour dug out a piece of her rhubarb and gave it to me. Since then we’ve been enjoying this super versatile crop in abundance. And to get wonderfully crisp, vividly pink stalks we force the plants in the early spring by placing and old garden incinerator on them.

Rhubarb Collage

Yesterday, for a treat after a day spent by building a raised bed and tidying up the garden, we lifted the bucket and voilà, there it was – the first beautiful crop of the season. Inspired by a photo from Donna Smith’s lovely Instagram feed I decided to make a batch of rhubarb cordial.

Here’s the recipe:

1.5 kg chopped rhubarb

600g caster sugar

4 unwaxed lemons

1 vanilla pod

1. Place the rhubarb, halved vanilla pod and lemon zest in a pan with 100ml water over a low heat. To zest the lemon I use a potato peeler which makes the job really easy. And it fills your kitchen with a wonderful uplifting smell too! Cook slowly until the juices start coming out of the rhubarb, then turn the heat up a little. Continue cooking until completely soft and mushy.

2. Put a sieve in a large mixing bowl and line it with a piece of clean muslin or a tea towel. Ladle in the rhubarb and leave it to drain for several hours or overnight.

3. Measure the juice: for every litre add approximately 600g caster sugar. Pour into a pan on a medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat before it boils. Add lemon juice, pour into sterilised bottles and seal.

4. Serve 1 part cordial with 4 parts sparkling water and don’t forget to add slices of lemon for an extra zing. Or even better – for a special summer treat add it to your Prosecco!

Cheers!

Rhubarb Collage 2

And if you have lots of rhubarb here are some more recipes to try: Rhubarb schnapps, Rhubarb, ginger & orange jam or the slightly more unusual pickled rhubarb recipe by my favourite chef and cookbook author Diana Henry.

Reestit Mutton Tattie Soup

A very belated Happy New Year to you all! 2014 was a really busy year with some brilliant moments but also a lot of hard work. Some of the highlights were: 60 North magazine being published in print; setting up this blog; an amazing trip to Iceland where I met a lot of interesting people and instantly I fell in love with the harsh but but immensely inspiring and spectacular place; a first-time visit to Berlin where we met with my uncle and aunt that I hadn’t seen for over ten years; Shetland Wool Week which attracted 300 keen knitters and wool enthusiasts to Shetland… and the biggest thing of all – our house renovation which is still ongoing. Phew.

So here’s to a year filled with experiences, good books, projects, travel, unforgettable moments spent with friends and family and lots of fun things! A year when we all find more time for ourselves and spend it meaningfully, it being just sitting down for a while reading a chapter to two, making something, going for a walk, or just stopping for a bit and think about the world. And let’s grow food, flowers and trees. That’s the best fun!

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Shetland winter can be pretty harsh so it’s important to find a way to keep positive and motived however it has been hard this past fortnight. It has been a time of relentless rain, hail, snow, lightning and gale-force winds. To be frank it’s been bleak so all those new year’s resolutions of getting back to some sort of fitness regime and healthier eating seem to have disappeared only to be replaced by cravings for substantial portions of hearty and comforting food. But I’m optimistic, with Up Helly Aa round the corner, the brighter days must surely be getting closer.

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Before Christmas I bought a piece of Reestit Mutton from our favourite butchers Scalloway Meat Company but somehow it didn’t get used. So when searching the fridge for some inspiration and ingredients at the beginning of the week, when the weather was particularly bad, I decided to make a deliciously warming and nourishing Reestit Mutton tattie soup.

Reestit Mutton is a traditional Shetland way of preserving mutton which is first salted in brine and then hung to dry traditionally in the rafters (reest) of the house above a peat fire. The smoke from the peat fire helps to season the meat.

Reestit Mutton Tattie soup is an acquired taste and personally I wasn’t really keen on it initially. However it does grow on you. In fact after ten years in years in Shetland, several Up Helly Aa and the occasional wedding I can say there’s nothing better to warm you up than tattie soup and bannocks – combination is simply perfect. Traditionally it is a thick hearty soup but personally I like the version that is served in Peerie Shop Cafe which is a relatively clear broth with large chunks of vegetables.

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Reestit Mutton Tattie Soup

Serves 8 – 10

250g Reestit Mutton

cold water to cover

4 large potatoes, peeled and cut in 1.5 cm chunks

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1 cm thick slices

1 small turnip, peeled and cut in chunks

2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 bay leaves, 5 peppercorns and 5 allspice berries (optional)

Place mutton and spices in a large pot. Add enough cold water to come about 2cm above the mutton. Bring to boil and continue to boil until soft. To speed this process up I use a pressure cooker. With this method it takes approximately 25 minutes, otherwise boil for 1 and a half hours.

Remove mutton and set aside. Water will be very salty, so pour off some and add more cold water. Stir in the potatoes, carrots, turnip and onions. Return to boil, and simmer until tender.

OPTION 1 (the ‘stick to your ribs’ version: Mash the vegetables with a potato masher or large fork. Remove the meat from the bone, tear into shreds and add it to the soup. If too thick, add a little water or vegetable broth.

OPTION 2 (my favourite clear broth option): Leave the vegetables in chunks and add the shredded meat. Serve with bread or bannocks with butter.

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Bannocks

500g of plain flour

1 tps (large) baking soda

1 tsp of cream of tartar

1 tsp of salt

Buttermilk for mixing

Mix the dry ingredients together. Make into a soft dough with the buttermilk, just as soft as can be easily handled. Turn on to a floured board and roll out gently until 1.5 cm thick. Cut in squares or rounds and bake on a moderately hot griddle or in fairly hot oven for 10-15 mins.

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Enjoy!

A quick carrot & celeriac salad

Life has been hectic recently – so apologies for the lack of posts – I’ll get better I promise.

Here’s a quick recipe for a delicious seasonal carrot and celeriac salad which makes a nice crunchy side dish and it is very healthy too.

At the weekend I was busy working at the Shetland Food Fair where Promote Shetland ran cookery demonstrations but I made sure I had some time to go around the stalls and do some shopping as there was a great selection of lovely local produce on offer. I bought yummy pork sausages from Gateside Croft, goat meat from Sandwick Pork company, Shetland honey from Scoop Wholefoods and a celeriac and carrots from Transition Turriefeild as our root produce didn’t come to much this year.

The goat meat is in the slow cooker as we speak and I quickly threw together this lovely salad (I might just eat the lot now) as I fancied something crunchy and sharp to serve with the dinner. In fact the salad is so tasty I thought I have to share the recipe with you immediately. So here it is:

Peel and great three large carrots and one small celeriac. Use juice of one lemon, a table spoon of olive oil, a table spoon of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of honey (Shetland of course in my case), pepper and a tiny pinch of salt to season the salad. And if you like capers throw a small handful in too. And take a big spoon to sample… Enjoy!

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Healthy Snack Recipe – Homemade Energy Bars

Do you sometimes feel like something sweet yet you want your snack to be healthy and nutritious? I like shop-bought granola bars but they tend to be loaded with sugar so I decided to try to make my own. This recipe is very simple and the two main ingredients are bananas and rolled oats.

Bananas are an amazing fruit. They are a brilliant source of energy and they are good for digestion, are probiotic and are a good source of fibre, Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese and Vitamin B6. Eaten raw they are a delicious and satisfying snack. But they are also brilliant for baking as they take place of sugar, eggs and fat.

The great thing about these bars is they have no added sugar and you can whip them up in just a few minutes. They are a perfect mid-morning snack or they are also fantastic for picnics or days out walking.

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Homemade Energy Bars

Makes one 25 x 25cm tray

2 large, ripe bananas

2 cups rolled oats

1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates

1/4 cup raisins

Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

You can also add chopped wallnuts or hazelnuts, chopped dried apricots, dried berries or seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower or linseed.

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Heat the oven to 180°C and line a 25 x 25cm square baking tray with baking paper.

Peel the bananas and mash them thoroughly in a medium mixing bowl; the bananas should be essentially liquid.  Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the dates, raisins, spices and any other ingredients you’re using.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan and press it well. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Place the baking tray on a rack to cool. When the tray is mostly cool, cut into bars. I use pizza cutter which makes the job easier.

Enjoy!