nigella feel good food

I spend quite a lot of my time in Bath, not the tub, but the city, for work.  Every October the city holds the fabulous Great Bath Feast.  It’s a time to celebrate all that’s fantastic about the food and drink scene in the city and there’s much to enjoy.  Celebrity chefs get involved, restaurants showcase their finest dishes, there are tastings galore, talks, and for any foodie it’s a date in the diary.

 

This year Nigella came to town (no need to add her surname, she’s a bit like Madonna) and as many of my friends were away on half term trips I decided to get myself a ticket and fly solo.

 

It’s probably not a good thing to own up to, considering I work in food PR, but I don’t actually own one of her books.  Nigella has published nine best-selling cookery books, so I’m not quite sure how she has escaped me thus far, but I’ve seen her on TV a few times and she comes across friendly, if not slightly seductive.  I was intrigued.

 

The event – An Evening with Nigella –was held the Friday before last.  To be honest I was worn out from a busy working week and I could have easily popped on my slippers and slopped my way over to the sofa, but the ticket price included a signed copy of Nigella’s new book, Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food.  I was going.

 

nigella Feel Good Food

 

In her own words, “Part of the balance of life lies in understanding that different days require different ways of eating”.  I can absolutely relate to that, can’t you?  If you’ve read my other post on Joe Wickes’ 90DaySSSPlan, you’ll know that I too can’t stand being regimented when it comes to eating.  After a few weeks I was over the plan.

 

I half expected Feel Good Food to be a me too cookery book to accompany the already bursting stack of hardbacks currently available from the healthy lifestyle brigade such as Ella Woodward, Madeleine Shaw and the Hemsley Sisters (all of which I have and love), but I was pleasantly surprised.  Although Nigella does use coconut oil in recipes and includes vegan and dairy free ideas, it’s a nod to healthy eating and is more focused on eating what tastes and feels good without exclusions.

 

On that note, clean eating was raised in the evening’s Q&A and Nigella isn’t a fan of the term.  She believes that it makes all other food sound dirty.  I really like that thought.  Have we been giving ourselves yet another guilty pleasure to worry about?  I love almond milk, nut butters, courgetti and coconut oil as much as the next person, but to only eat that (unless you have intolerances) does limit the enjoyment of food somewhat.

 

The book breaks down into chapters including Quick and Calm, Bowlfood (this will probably be my favourite section), Dine, Breathe, Sides, Sweet and Beginnings.  There are recipes for every occasion, from Indian-Spiced Cod (Quick and Calm) and Drunken Noodles (Bowlfood) to Chicken Cosima (Dine) and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pots (Sweet), they look uncomplicated, easy to make, nourishing and delicious.  I can’t wait to get stuck into the Breathe chapter, which is a section to match our frenzied lifestyles and offers recipes that can be made in a slow-cooker or casserole dish.  I just need to find some time to do it!

 

It is a lovely book.  It would make a nice Christmas present and the six-part series is now on BBC Two, if like me, you want to set the record button to catch anything she hasn’t written in the book.  I have already baked these Buckwheat Triple Chocolate Cookies (trust me to head to chocolate first) and they didn’t disappoint, they were just gorgeous.

 

nigella feel good food

 

At the end of the evening, with eyes starting to droop, I left the party with my book underarm.  As I was leaving an orderly queue was being formed for fans to get their signed books dedicated to them, but with the line circling The Forum I bucked the trend and headed off home.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m now one of Nigella’s newest fans, joining the legions across the globe.  I had a lovely evening and with my first Nigella book safely in the kitchen; I’m very, very happy to join Nigella’s brigade.

 

cookies cropped

Chicken Pie

Chicken pie is my all-time favourite dish.  I love pies of all kinds, but chicken reigns supreme and I can never say no when it’s offered.  My mum’s chicken pie is the best, it is made with great dollops of cream and a good measure of wine, but though I like nothing more than layering up come winter, this year I have a holiday booked, so I’ve been looking for healthier options.

 

I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website and thought I’d give it a go.  It serves four and only has 320 calories and 4g saturated fat per serving.  I’m in.

 

Ingredients

 

For the filling

 

  • 450ml chicken stock
  • 100ml white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 1 tarragon sprig, plus 1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves
  • 225g carrots, cut into batons
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts, 500g/1lb 2oz total weight
  • 225g leeks, sliced
  • 2 tbsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 heaped tbsp chopped flat-leaf or curly parsley

 

For the topping

  • 70g filo pastry (I used three 39 x 30cm sheets)
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil

 

Method

 

Pour the stock and wine into a large, wide frying pan.  Add the garlic, thyme, tarragon sprig and carrots, bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.  Lay the chicken in the stock, grind over some pepper, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  Scatter the leek slices over the chicken, cover again then gently simmer for 10 more minutes, so the leeks can steam while the chicken cooks.  Remove from the heat and let the chicken sit in the stock for about 15 minutes, so it keeps moist while cooling slightly.

 

Strain the stock into a jug – you should have 500ml (if not, make up with water).  Tip the chicken and veg into a 1.5 litre pie dish and discard the herb sprigs.  Pour the stock back into the sauté pan, then slowly pour in the cornflour mix. Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Remove from the heat and stir in the crème fraîche, mustard, chopped tarragon and parsley.  Season with pepper.  Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

 

Tear or cut the chicken into chunky shreds.  Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture, then stir everything together.

 

Cut each sheet of filo into 4 squares or rectangles.  Layer them on top of the filling, brushing each sheet with some of the oil as you go.  Lightly scrunch up the filo so it doesn’t lie completely flat and tuck the edges into the sides of the dish, or lay them on the edge if the dish has a rim.  Grind over a little pepper, place the dish on a baking sheet, then bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the sauce is bubbling.  Serve.

Want to lose a few pounds?  Me too, on and off since 1985.  I am, and likely to always be, under construction.

 

I’ve tried lots of diets – Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Cabbage Soup, 5:2, Atkins – you name it I’ve given it a go.   Some have been successful and I’ve kept the weight off for a few years, others haven’t and I’ve packed it in and carried on torturing myself.

 

So I was delighted to hear about Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach.  If you are on Instagram and you’re looking for inspiration to live a healthier, fitter, leaner life you can’t really miss him.  Since appearing on Saturday Kitchen last spring, he has had a meteoric rise to icon status and I believe he’s the fastest growing fitness guru in the UK, with 478,000 followers (and counting) on Instagram, with around 10,000 signing up weekly to get a bit of the action.

 

His Instagram feed is full of fun, short videos of super quick, healthy meals and workouts that look tough, but are over before you know it, and the results, well, just take a look. It helps that he’s easy-on-the-eye and if you need further motivation that his method works, there is a limitless stream of before and after shots featuring gloriously satisfied clients with gob-smacking results.

 

The plan sounds perfect –eat more, exercise less – and you’ll lose weight fast.  So, after stalking Joe’s Instagram feed for a few weeks I dived in and signed up for the 90 Day Shift, Shape and Sustain Plan.  It costs £147 and yes I did hover over the submit button for a few minutes, but that stream of dreams realised was too damn good to ignore.

 

By the time I signed up online there were thousands in the queue ahead of me, so I was under no illusion that Joe didn’t read my form and get his calculator out to do the math of how many calories I could eat before the pounds started to drop off, someone else had a look at my poor eating habits and pictures of me in a bikini.  Yes, you have to send in two ‘before’ photographs of yourself, front-facing and side on, in your underwear or a bikini.  SP found this most amusing, I, not so much!

 

The plan is broken down into three cycles.  I don’t know what cycles two and three involve as I haven’t got off cycle one yet.  I signed up in June, e-hem, but each cycle should take four weeks to complete.

 

To be honest when I received my plan I was disappointed.  At 98 pages long it wasn’t starting out as much of a quick fix and I realised there was some serious studying ahead.  I grabbed a bar chocolate and took up a comfy position on the sofa.

 

Here’s what I learned.  The principles of the plan are thus; you eat different food groups to support your body based around whether you exercise or not.  So if I exercise I can refuel my body with protein plus carbohydrates, but if I don’t exercise I’m still eating lean protein, but with reduced carbohydrate intake.  Booze is a not allowed.

 

That all made sense to me; I’ve long been a fan of the paleo/hunter gatherer approach to eating and I know I feel better when I don’t stuff my face with carbs.  Sadly though, gone were the tempting recipes that I’d seen on Instagram and in its place was quite a short menu of meals that I feared wouldn’t keep me interested for two weeks, let alone a month.  In addition to this there was a long list of supplements and whey protein to buy, which worked out about £80.  On top of the price already paid I thought this was a bit much, so coupled with my belief that having protein supplements is really for boys and bodybuilders I discounted it as being for me.  It does say that it’s optional.

 

At this point, I have to say, the words fad diet entered by head.  Still, I carried on and put together my food shopping list and kicked off the exercise side of things, which I have to say is brilliant.  Joe says all you need to do is rev up your heart in short activity bursts of 25-30 seconds intervals, otherwise known as Hiit Training and you’re done in 20 minutes.  This is great.  You really do work up a sweat, can follow him on his YouTube video (you don’t have to have signed up for the plan to view these btw), and it’s done in 20 minutes.  There really is no excuse to get this bit done and I’m a huge fan of Hiit now.

 

The first two weeks were great.  I kept to it and could see a few pounds had knocked off.  Result.

 

But then things went wrong.  To put it bluntly I became constipated.  So I got in touch with The Body Coach team and was given a few helpful tips and told to see my doctor if the problem persisted.  The latter of which I thought was a cop out.  I think they could have suggested I send them a diary of what I was eating and check that I wasn’t eating too much of one thing and not enough of the other.  If they were telling me what to eat, surely they should take some responsibility if things weren’t going to plan.  Hey ho!

 

That problem resolved (I was eating too many eggs!) I carried on, but try as I might real life continued to throw grenades in the pathway to the new me.  A meeting in London here, someone’s birthday drinks there, ten days in Tuscany, my birthday, the list goes on but you can see where I’m heading.  You never realise how social your life is until you can’t be social!  It wasn’t long before I was bouncing back to chubbydom and I haven’t really recovered from it. 

You see the thing is there are no cheat moments/hours/days with this diet.  You have to stick to it.  Constantly.  Yes, some people say “I cheated on Saturday night and then did three sets of Hiit (not advised by Joe) on Sunday to make up for it”, but that’s a lot of training.  I’ve read others that have said I did my Hiit when I got home from the last shift, close to midnight.  That’s not real life.  Who can maintain that level of discipline?!

 

The other thing is once you leave the house you are vulnerable, open to falling off the wagon, because try and find a high protein, low carb meal in a restaurant, or supermarket even.  If you’re eating on the hoof, the choices are slim.  M&S really has come through for me on this subject at times of panic, with their protein bowls that are absolutely delicious, but again there is a choice of two in store, my love of them will dwindle, because the best thing about food is the choice.  That clearly isn’t an option on the plan.

 

And I’m not the only one struggling.  I have a few friends that have tried out the plan, as of now it hasn’t lived up to the hype unfortunately.  In discussion, yes we get the principles and love the idea, but in reality I’ve yet to see them complete one solid week of the plan without life taking over and scuppering their chances of success.  Meanwhile, I’ve not heard from The Body Coach support team.  Not once.  No-one seems to care how I’m doing.  You’re on your own with this plan, albeit £147 lighter in your purse.

 

I don’t doubt that if I stop my life, stay close to home, cancel all social and work engagements for 90 days I will look AMAZING!   But I can’t.  That’s not real life.  And that is why Slimming World and Weight Watchers work so well, they get women, they understand our busy, hectic lives and allow for it with diet plans that have a few treats included, so you don’t have to feel guilty and give up.  I wonder if Joe does!

 

At this point I will add that SP, a keener when it comes to exercise, has been ‘on’ the plan too, as I can’t cook two different meals, and he is the fittest I have ever seen him.  He really does irritate me sometimes.

 

So if you are getting married or have an event where you want to look your best for, uh, like having your photograph taken in your bikini that you’re going to share with the world, then this plan could be for you.  I’m not convinced that it’s for everyone. I just don’t think we’re all going to realistically pre-fix a slice of cake with a Hiit workout for the rest of our lives.

 

I’m going on holiday in 10 weeks and would love to look my best and I am thinking about whether I should cancel everything in the diary and give it another go.  But really, where’s the fun in that!

 

Ever onward ….

 

Gail x

 

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hummingbird cake

It was my husband’s birthday recently and when I asked him what he would like for the celebration, he chose this one. I knew he would. The Hummingbird Cake is absolutely delicious and an outright winner when I make it.

Light, moist and covered in lashings of Cream Cheese Frosting, what’s not to love. I used walnuts in this recent bake, but you can use pecans too.

It comes from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, which is one of my favourite recipe books. A true gem if you have a sweet tooth like me and you’ll find everything from special occasion cakes to traybakes that you can knock up quickly on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s one of my cherished secret possessions, held captive from my step-daughter, who it really belongs to. When she has her own place I’ll give it back to her and get my own copy. Until then…

 

Ingredients

 

For the Cake

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml sunflower oil
  • 270g peeled bananas, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g tinned pineapple, chopped into small pieces
  • 100g shelled pecan nuts (or walnuts), chopped, plus extra, chopped and whole, to decorate
  • 2 quantities of Cream Cheese Frosting

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese, cold

 

You will need:

Three 20cm cake tins, base-filled with greaseproof paper

 

Method

 

Preheat the oven to 170C (Gas mark 3).

 

Put the sugar, eggs, oil, banana and cinnamon in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until all the ingredients are well incorporated (don’t worry if the mixture looks slightly split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until everything is well mixed.

 

Stir in the chopped pineapple and pecan nuts by hand until evenly dispersed.

 

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

 

When the cakes are cold, put one on a cake stand and spread about one-quarter of the Cream Cheese Frosting over it with a palette knife. Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the frosting over it. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Finish with pecan nuts and a light sprinkling of cinnamon.

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least five minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

 

hummingbird cake

Last piece of birthday cake and it was bigger than my cuppa. Win.