Tag Archives: healthy eating

Even more awesome muesli: strawberry and pistachio style!

Just a quick post today to show you guys that I do mix up my daily muesli fix sometimes, depending on what I have in the cupboard, and today it was such a winner. I sauteed the strawberries to make a bit of a (sugarless) coulis but kept the bananas raw to change up the textures a bit, and added roughly chopped pistachios on top instead of my customary flaked almonds. It’s kind of a healthier, everyday version of my ricotta pancakes recipe – basically, I discovered how great strawberries and pistachios taste together and wanted to experiment more. (Also, I have all of these pistachios now). Image

And, although it isn’t immediately obvious from the photo (if you can tell, I am seriously, seriously impressed and confused), I’ve started mixing my oats with half apple juice and half water, instead of all apple juice. It started out as a necessary improvisation when I ran out of apple juice, but I think it’s an improvement – it cuts down on the sugar content a little bit and means you get to taste the oats a bit more, and them oats is dee-licious.

I have exciting new recipes to share (think dukkah-encrusted… oh my god) but now it’s time to put that breakfast energy to good use and go for a quick run before uni! Happy muesli-ing, everyone!

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Almond ricotta pancakes with strawberries and pistachio crumble

It’s pancake day! It’s pancake day! It’s p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p pancake day!

Just me? Okay then.

Such are the joys of being on holidays that, despite it being a Tuesday, I could spend a lazy hour making and savouring these delicious pancakes. I was inspired by a post on Esme and the Laneway featuring banana bread covered in lashings of yoghurt and raspberries and topped with crumbled pistachios. It just looked so pretty (the colours!), and I knew it would taste delicious, too. So I thought, since it’s Shrove Tuesday today, I’d do a pancake version instead. And I think I’ve hit upon a new weekend breakfast standard. These things are way too good to just have once a year…

Almond ricotta pancakes with strawberries and pistachio crumble

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Makes 2 serves

For the pancakes:

  • 1/2 cup white self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 1/2 tbsp natvia (or 2 tbsp sugar)
  • 2 tbsp light ricotta
  • Cooking spray

For the topping:

  • 200g strawberries
  • 30g pistachios
  • 80g low-fat vanilla yoghurt
  • 20g honey

Mix the two types of flour together in a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and quickly stir until well combined. Lightly spray a pan and add 2-3 pancake-size dollops of batter at a time (depending on your mad pancake skills, and/or how big your pan is), turning when the batter starts to bubble. Hull and slice the strawberries and roughly chop the pistachios. When your pancakes are done, stack and assemble: dollop yoghurt on top, drizzle with honey, add your strawberries and top with pistachios.

So. Good. And these babies come in at only 483 calories per serve. And none of this ‘one pancake is a serve’ business – these are decent stacks! They use ricotta instead of butter (it tastes better, I swear – lighter and fluffier, which is ideal for pancakes!), almond milk instead of milk (again – pancakes that taste slightly nutty is a win in my book) and natvia instead of sugar (I didn’t notice the difference). I also substituted half the flour with wholemeal for longer-lasting energy. If I’d made these the ‘normal’ way, they’d be 737 calories per serve. Big difference! That’s the best thing about learning to make healthy substitutions – you can still eat the food you want, you just find ways to make it lighter and better for you. Having said that, I still wanted pistachios on top of these, and I wasn’t about to substitute them for no thing, no how! It’s all about striking a balance. Here’s a list of easy swaps you can make for day-to-day things:

  • Almond milk instead of milk (about half the calories, higher in protein – lower in calcium though, so make sure you’re getting your calcium elsewhere!)
  • Low-fat vanilla yoghurt in place of cream/ice cream with desserts (surprisingly awesome!)
  • Multigrain bread instead of white (Lawson’s seed and grain bread is the bomb)
  • Cottage cheese instead of cream cheese (I used to eat carrot sticks and Philly on a regular basis but cottage is much lower in calories!)
  • Cooking spray instead of oil (it’s the same thing but you use less and get better coverage)
  • Rice crackers instead of potato chips (rice crackers can still be a pretty high-calorie snack as they’re so moreish – check the nutrition label)
  • Brown rice instead of white (takes longer to cook but keeps you fuller longer, so you don’t need as much as you would white rice)
  • Light wholemeal pita bread instead of pizza bases
  • White corn tortillas in place of wheat ones
  • Homemade sweet potato chips instead of frozen chips/wedges (just chop, season and roast – easy as)
  • Multigrain/wholemeal anything instead of white (wholemeal will usually give you longer-lasting energy)

And some cheeky halves I enjoy:

  • Use half beans and half mince instead of all mince when making anything Mexican (lower in calories and cheaper!)
  • Substitute wholemeal flour for half the white flour when baking (see above!)
  • Half wholemeal pasta and half white (wholemeal can take a bit longer to cook – check the packet to be sure)

Substitutions I’ve tried or heard good things about, but have yet to cook myself:

  • Chocolate mousse made with avocado and cocoa instead of eggs (delicious, creamy, vegan, and doesn’t taste like avocados, I swear!)
  • Banana icecream, made out of nothing but bananas (also vegan!)
  • Nutritional yeast instead of cheese (again… vegan)
  • Quinoa instead of rice (higher in protein!)

Do you know of any good healthy substitutions? Or amazing pancake-spiration for Shrove Tuesday?

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Veguary day 6: Veggie soft tacos

I’ve already spoken about my obsession with soft tacos. I never understood how great they were until I left home and started cooking for myself. There’s no need for a side dish or any planning whatsoever – just chuck things into a tortilla and devour. My non-Veguary standard easy dinner is composed of: 2 soft tacos, 100g prawns (both of which can be kept in the freezer), enchilada sauce, spinach, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, capsicum, garlic and chilli (all of which I always have on hand in the fridge). The vegetarian version takes a little more forethought, but not much! It’s inspired (read: stolen) from Mad Mex, one of those Mexican ‘nouveau takeaway’ chains where you pick your burrito style, pick a protein, add one of a variety of salsas, and they make it for you on the spot. Kind of like a Mexican Subway, but… well, nicer, and somewhat less processed.

Roast veggie soft tacos!

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  • 2 white corn tortillas
  • 1 portabella mushroom
  • 1/4 eggplant
  • 1/2 zucchini
  • 1/2 red capsicum
  • Handful baby spinach
  • 1/2 lebanese cucumber
  • 5 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 125g can 4 bean mix (use black beans if you can find them!)
  • Old El Paso enchilada sauce
  • 1/4 brown onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 20g light tasty cheese
  • Olive oil and pepper

Pop the mushroom, capsicum, eggplant and zucchini in a baking dish, add a splash of olive oil, pepper and any herbs you have on hand, and roast on 180C for 30-50 minutes, depending on how hungry you are. When you’re 5 minutes away from hunger implosion, brown the onion and garlic in a small saucepan, then add beans and enough sauce to cover. In a dry (not oiled) frying pan, toast the tortillas for 30 seconds on each side. Layer each tortilla up with the roasted veggies and bean mix, with a few slices of avocado and a sprinkling of cheese on each one. Pop the tacos back into the oven to melt the cheese while you cut the cherry tomatoes in half, chop the cucumber into slices, and take the spinach out of its bag and put it onto a plate (salad: done!). Add the now-melty-and-delicious tacos to your plate. Arriba!

Total calories: 367.

PS: this is a very easy dish to make twice the amount of for the next evening. Just make double the roast veg and use the whole tin of beans (plus two cloves of garlic and half an onion instead of a quarter) and keep the roast veggies and bean mix in containers in the fridge, ready to reheat – you can toast the tortillas and assemble it all in no time the next day!

I really do implore anyone committed to the ideal of being healthy while maintaining absolute laziness to keep a selection of roast-able veggies in the crisper, ready to go. There’s nothing worse than getting home from a massive day and knowing that, before you can even EAT, you have to think of something to cook, go to the shops, and then cook the damn thing. Any meal involving roast veg generally tastes like it’s taken a bunch of effort, despite being very much a ‘set and forget’ kind of situation.

Also, I discovered the wonders of white corn tortillas at my local Coles while comparing labels. I was tossing up between the ‘light’ and ‘multigrain’ options when I noticed these little fellas on the bottom shelf. They’re super low in calories (90 calories for two – even the 96% fat free tortillas are 130 calories for one) as they’re made from corn instead of wheat. You do have to toast them lightly in a pan before you use them or they’ll taste a bit gluey. But at 45 calories apiece, you can afford to go all out with your fillings, which is a much more satisfying way to eat anyway!

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Takeaway the healthy(ish) way.

I work nights at a cinema, which means that I often have to throw dinner together quickly so that I can eat and get out the door by 5pm (or pack dinner to take with me if it’s a longer shift). This is why I try to keep a few dinner staples ready to go in the fridge – roast veggies that I can chuck into a sandwich, for example, or leftover prawns in enchilada sauce (love that stuff) that I can wrap in a tortilla with some salad. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. The other day I was caught out with no particularly appetising combinations of food in the house (carrot sticks and pesto for dinner, anyone?) so I had to dash out in my dinner break and buy food. Unfortunately, Chat For Tea (my usual semi-healthy takeaway of choice) was closed for the holidays so it was woodfired pizza all the way! Oh, what a shame. I doubt it’s news to anyone that takeaway pizza is not particularly nutritious, and I do tend to avoid it (especially the overly processed pizzas from Dominos and Pizza Hut) as much as possible. Thankfully, woodfired pizzas tend to have thinner crusts (reducing the amount of refined carbs), use less oil, and have somewhat healthier toppings. They’re still not great, but sometimes a girl just has to have some pizza, okay? Shh. Don’t judge.

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This is how I made my impromptu pizza dinner slightly less calorific. Remember the Rule of Quarters? All you have to do is slap some salad (or veggies) down onto half of your plate. It’s not perfect (that pizza is mostly carbohydrate, with a leetle bit of protein – the goat’s cheese and, as far as I can see, one pine nut – plus a smidgeon of veg) but it’s much better than just eating a pizza on its own. This way, I was full after eating 1/3 of the pizza, so it lasted me three meals all up. Healthy and thrifty.

This works well with all manner of takeaway foods. Chinese/Indian? Do up a quick salad or some steamed/roasted veggies to fill half your plate, make your own brown rice or quinoa (way cheaper than buying it takeaway) to fill another quarter, and then korma it up on the remaining quarter. I’ve even done it at restaurants: once, I was super keen to try some chicken and beetroot arancini balls from the tapas part of the menu, so I ordered a full-size garden salad (no dressing) and then popped the arancini balls on top. The concept is the same: fill up on salad, appreciate every bite of the not-so-healthy food.

Happy takeawaying!

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Sandwich love, and the easiest baked ricotta.

You guys, I’m in love. With a sandwich. We met at Bourke St Bakery in Surry Hills while I was on holiday, and although it was merely a holiday fling (never to meet again!), I was determined to recreate a Frankensteinian version of it that I can have right here in Ballarat. And, I must say, the experiment was a total success! Maniacal laugh!

The sandwich in question was a roasted veggie number on delicious, silky-soft grain bread but the star of the show was the baked ricotta in it. I’ve never been much of a cheese-in-sandwiches sort of person (blame the heavy-handed sprinkling of powdery yellow cheese in school canteen cheese and salad sangas… ugh) but this was a revelation. I immediately got my Google on and found a few recipes for baked ricotta. It turns out baked ricotta is pretty much just that – step 1, put ricotta in oven, step 2, bake – but most recipes enhance the flavour with a few herbs and such. This is my recipe, which is a bit of a combination of the Donna Hay and Taste.com.au versions, lightened up a bit.

Lulu’s baked ricotta

  • 500g light ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp chilli (I keep a jar of Coles’ chilli in the fridge – if you wanted to use fresh chillies, this would equate to about half a standard red one)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine the parmesan, thyme, chilli, salt and pepper in a bowl/jug/what-have-you. Lightly beat the egg with a fork in a bowl until the yolk and white are combined. Add the ricotta and half the parmesan mix, and stir until combined. Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray and pour in the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan mix on top and bake for an hour or until golden.

Easy as. While that was baking, I chucked a few veggies into the oven to go with it – two portabella mushrooms, a red capsicum cut into four, two zucchinis cut lengthways into thin strips, half a sweet potato cut into thin slices, and a sliced-up eggplant. That might sound like a lot of vegetables – and it was! – but it takes hardly any effort to roast vegetables and if you do a bulk lot of them one night, you’ll have loads of them left over to put in sandwiches or with meals throughout the week. I just spray a bit of oil on top and sprinkle with pepper and a herb-salt mix, then leave them for 40 minutes or so and they’re good to go!

When the ricotta and veggies were done, I arranged them in a stack (this is optional, by the way, but if you like to feel all self-important and accomplished and a bit wanky I highly recommend arranging your food), added some spinach and topped it off with pesto.* Voila: baked ricotta veggie stack with spinach and sweet potato chips!

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It was really good, you guys. I’ve done a similar thing before with haloumi and that is also a winner, so if you like your cheese a bit sharper, give that one a go. And if you don’t like pesto, it works well with pizza sauce, too.

*Pesto note: when buying pesto, make sure you read the label. I almost bought Coles brand pesto, until I noticed that it had twice the calories of the Leggo’s version. Leggo’s it is!

“But Lou,” I hear you say, “what’s all this got to do with being in love with a sandwich?” Well! The joy of making obscene amounts of roast vegetables, as I mentioned before, is that you can eat the leftovers for days to come. So, here was today’s lunch:

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That’s right, it’s the sandwich. Baked ricotta, eggplant, zucchini, semi-dried tomatoes and pesto. I also added mushrooms, capsicum and sweet potato (because they were already roasted and ready to go), spinach (because spinach is great, you guys) and a little bit of mustard. And it was almost as goodSo I’m happy – my Frankenstein’s monster of a sandwich was successful, and I have enough baked ricotta and veggies to last me for quite some time now. Awesome.

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How to succeed in eating healthily on holiday without really trying

There’s nothing like a holiday to mix up your routine. Usually, this is an awesome thing (routine generally involves work, study and not spending all day shopping, seeing theatre and going to interesting little bars), but it can also mess with your carefully laid-out food and exercise plans. When I go on holiday, my main focus is always, always food (you can blame my foodie family for that!). I love getting the opportunity to try new places, especially now that I live in a town with a fairly small selection of cafes and restaurants, none of which are particularly adventurous. So when the opportunity arose for a five-day jaunt in Sydney, staying with friends in Surry Hills (land of delicious bakeries and award-winning ice cream), I was champing at the bit. I’ve just returned from said jaunt, and I had some of the best food of my life there (including that award-winning ice cream… oh my goodness) but thanks to a bit of forward planning, managed to come home weighing exactly the same as before I left. So, here are a few things to consider when you’re in holiday mode to make sure you don’t undo all of your hard work!

  • Pack food for the train/plane/bus. On my way home, I knew that I had five hours of travel ahead of me and that my flight wouldn’t be serving food. Instead of wasting money and calories on some overpriced, overbuttered airport panini, I bought an extra sandwich from Bourke St Bakery that morning to eat on the plane. It was amazing. On that note:
  • If it’s worth the calories, go for it. Sure, I could have made a less calorific plane-lunch at home, but this sandwich was like heaven on bread, so for me it was worth it. Same thing goes for desserts. Don’t eat average cake. There’s no point. Food is meant to be nourishing and fuelling, yes, but it’s also there to be enjoyed! If the cake is amazing, go for your life. If it’s not, nobody’s forcing you to finish it, and you’re only doing yourself a disservice by doing so. Chips taste pretty much the same wherever you go, so get a side salad instead, or opt out of the “Let’s just get a bowl for the table, yeah?” conversation. Every holiday meal is an opportunity for great food experiences, so don’t waste them on so-so food. This is basically, pared down, my entire food philosophy. Here’s a handy-dandy chart that I made (using my amazing photoshop skills) to illustrate my point. If you only eat within the green zone, you’ll generally be pretty happy and healthy. Average cake is not within the zone of awesomeness. Neither is McDonald’s. Cooking with fresh, good-quality ingredients and cutting down refined carbs (like white rice and pasta) will help you to get your meals into the zone of awesomeness. And you can indulge yourself… but only if the food is really, really delicious.

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  • Research, research, research! I’d looked up the the area I was staying in on Urbanspoon and found the top-rated food places. It meant that pretty much every place I went, I got to eat food that was completely and utterly worth the calories. And then some. Oh man, that sandwich.
  • Have dessert somewhere different. Few dinner places do dessert as well as dedicated cake shops or ice-creameries, so if you order dessert with your meal, you may just be taking in calories that aren’t really worth it. Besides, the extra walk to the awesome macaron place will do you good.
  • Give yourself some wiggle room. I wear a Fitbit (step tracker), and I noticed that on one particularly shopping-heavy day, I walked almost 23,000 steps. That’s over four times the national average. No wonder I was hungry! It means that I burned about 700 more calories than I would on a normal day, so I had a lot more to play with. If you’re spending a lot of time walking around (and running for buses as I did… okay, I may not be the most public-transport-savvy person), you can afford to be a bit more lenient with your choices.
  • Healthier choices can also be mega-delicious. I had a pumpkin, goat’s cheese, spinach and hazelnut salad for lunch one day and it was really, really good. I also had some outrageously tasty mushrooms. Don’t think that you’re missing out by ordering the healthy option. Having said that, there’s no need to order salad if you don’t want it. It’s all about the balance between calories and deliciousness (see my highly scientific chart above).
  • You’re allowed to go to the supermarket. I knew that on some days I wouldn’t have time to sit down and eat breakfast somewhere nice, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to eat a dodgy croissant just because it’s the only thing I can find nearby. So on the first day of my trip, I grabbed some supplies to make my muesli at home, and I’m so glad I did. It got me off to a good start and meant that I wasn’t starving (and tempted to overeat) at lunchtime.

It’s so nice to go away, but I’m also glad to be back home and getting back into my routine. I haven’t done any running or yoga for a week (apart from one very short session in my hosts’ lounge room) so it’ll be interesting to see how I go with hot yoga tomorrow morning… yikes. Enjoy your holidays, if you’re going on any – and eat delicious food while you’re there!

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