A Cup of Tea Makes Everything Better

English people truly believe this.  In England having a cup of tea can cheer you up, calm you down, relax you after a long day, make you feel physically better, the list goes on.

I love a proper English cup of tea but over the years & since leaving the UK, I’ve moved more towards herbal and green teas (oh and coffee of course).  When we lived in Shanghai, we discovered the wonderful black and green loose leaf teas that the Chinese drink by the gallon.  Tea is most certainly restorative and important health wise in China and I really like that.

I’m an especially big fan of green tea, it has a myriad of health benefits such as its antioxidant properties that can have a wonderful immune system boosting effect on the body.  There are some elements of green tea that can also help improve brain function (we could all do with being smarter right?) and research has been carried out to demonstrate how green tea can also aid weight loss.

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These days I buy green tea bags which I find easier to brew but really the loose leaf tea is the best.

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I’m signing off with a photo that always reminds me of how refreshing a cup of tea can be. I bought this pretty ginger jar covered in butterflies in one of Shanghai’s awesome street markets.  It was a sweltering hot day when I bought it – about 40 degrees celsius plus almost 100% humidity.  I remember the lady stall holder was coping with the heat by sipping from a thermos bottle filled to the brim with refreshing green tea.   Hope the tea made her day better :).

 

 

A Good Egg

I love this old-fashioned expression.  It’s used to describe someone who’s a solid and decent person.

In nutrition terms, eggs are certainly solid and decent ingredients.  It’s amazing that something so ordinary is chock-a-block full of nutritional benefits such as these:

  • Eggs are high quality protein.  Proteins are the main building blocks of the human body and a single large egg contains about 6 grams.  Eggs contain all the essential amino acids in the right ratios, so our bodies can make full use of the protein in them.  Eating adequate protein can help with weight loss, increase muscle mass, lower blood pressure and optimize bone health.  So cool.
  • A single large boiled egg also contains:

Vitamin A: 6% of the RDA.

Folate: 5% of the RDA.

Vitamin B5: 7% of the RDA.

Vitamin B12: 9% of the RDA.

Vitamin B2: 15% of the RDA.

Phosphorus: 9% of the RDA.

Selenium: 22% of the RDA.

  • Eggs also contain decent amounts of Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium and Zinc.

So the case for eating eggs could not be more clear.

The men at IK HQ cook an excellent vegetarian breakfast like the one in this pic, with lovely scrambled eggs, immune system boosting mushrooms and vitamin packed tomatoes.  What better way to start one’s Saturday?  Enjoy the weekend!

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Mussels from Brussels

This title usually refers to the 80s Belgian martial arts movie star, Jean Claude Van-Damme (who could forget his roles in stellar films such as “Streetfighter” or “Kickboxer” 😂).

However with today’s blog post I’m talking about those mussels we like to eat from Brussels!  I really like to cook with mussels because a) they are super good for you and delicious and b) they are excellent value for money.  I’ve mentioned before that fresh fish and seafood is really expensive here in New York so finding more cost-effective options is always great.

The Belgians traditionally serve mussels (or moules) in a garlicky, winey broth along with hunks of fresh baguette and crispy fries (frites).  We prepare our mussels with garlic, fresh tarragon and parsley as well as cider and it works really well. Let me tell you that the minute this platter hits the table the streetfighting over the mussels starts!

Mussels are very nutrient dense.  They contain high levels of B12 vitamins and some other B & C vitamins too.  They also provide important minerals such as iron, manganese, potassium and zinc. Manganese helps regulate your blood sugar levels and controls blood clotting.  Vitamin B12 helps with mood regulation and also helps your body use iron intake effectively.

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This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that I found about 6 years ago and still use today.

Steamed Mussels with Cider, Tarragon and Parsley

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 clove of garlic

½ a big bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley

½ a big bunch of fresh tarragon

4 rashers of good quality smoked streaky bacon

Olive oil

3lbs fresh mussels , scrubbed & debearded

3/4 cup hard cider (in England this is just called “cider: but here in the US it’s called hard cider to distinguish it from the booze-free sparkling apple juice)

3 tablespoons fat-free plain yogurt

 

Method

  1. Peel and finely slice the garlic, roughly chop the herbs, and finely slice the bacon.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on a high heat, add the bacon and cook for a couple of minutes, or until golden and crispy, stirring regularly. Scoop out and reserve the bacon, leaving the flavored fat behind in the pan.
  3. Check the mussels – if any of them are open just give them a little tap and they should close; if they don’t they’re no good to eat so chuck those ones away.
  4. Tip the mussels into the hot pan with the garlic, cider and a good lug of olive oil. Cover with a lid and leave to steam for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mussels have opened and are soft, juicy and delicious, shaking the pan occasionally.
  5. When all of the mussels have opened, they’re ready – transfer them to the platter, leaving the juices behind in the pan. If any of the mussels remain closed, throw them away, they’re no good.
  6. Stir the yogurt into the pan, bring to the boil and leave to bubble away for a couple of minutes. Add most of the herbs and a little of the bacon, then season to taste.
  7. Give the pan a jiggle then pour the sauce over the mussels. Scatter over the remaining herbs and bacon.

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 新年快乐! Happy New Year!

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Saturday January 28 2017 marks the Chinese Lunar New Year and this year it’s the auspicious year of the Rooster.  Those born in the year of the Rooster are thought to be forward thinking and brimming with self-confidence.

I absolutely loved Chinese New Year when we lived in Shanghai.  It was so great to observe ordinary folk down tools for a week or so and really enjoy the festivities, food and fireworks with their loved ones and friends.  The Chinese don’t have many public holidays so they really make the most of the Lunar New Year.

Traditional CNY foods include dumplings, noodles, sticky rice cakes, fish and spring rolls. In honor of this and because we love noodles and have them every week, I made a vegetarian noodle soup that hits the spot every time.

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I used buckwheat noodles and tofu in this soup.  The extra firm tofu you can buy in blocks in the supermarket is perfect for this and we eat it for protein and calcium intake.  It’s low in calories and saturated fat too.

I pan-fried the tofu with garlic, scallions and big handfuls of sliced mushrooms, broccoli, and chopped kale.  Then I added some ready cooked buckwheat noodles and heated them through.  I then plated up the stir fry and added a couple of boiling hot ladelfuls of vegetable stock.  Splash of soy sauce and some sesame seeds to finish.

 

 

Baker’s Dozen

Happy Friday everybody!  Boy am I glad it’s nearly the weekend, it’s been a very busy week here at IK.

In my efforts to reduce food waste in our kitchen, I’m baking my own bread.  We don’t eat much bread as my kids don’t really like it much (they prefer other carbs like pasta or rice).  My better half only likes freshly baked bread straight out of the oven or from the bakery (he’s European after all :)) so shop bought bread just goes to waste here.

I’ve been trying to use whole, real ingredients that will taste good and do the trick and so I made these dinner rolls last night with good quality unbleached and enriched self rising flour, whole milk, olive oil and some sea salt.  I also added some dried parsley, thyme and oregano for extra flavor.  10 were wolfed down last night and the remaining 2 from this baker’s dozen will be enjoyed in a school packed lunch today.

You could of course amp up the nutrition by using whole wheat flour and baking powder if you prefer.

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Herbed Dinner Rolls

Makes 12 rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached and enriched self rising flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of dried herbs

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºf. Lightly oil a a muffin tin and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and dry herbs.
  3. In another bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs, oil & milk.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together just until combined.
  5. Bake at 350f for about 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.

The Raw End of the Deal: Top 5 Delicious Raw Vegetables

Here at Izzie’s Kitchen we have a never-ending debate as to the preferred way to serve and eat vegetables.

Now I like to prepare and eat them in their most natural state because a) you get all the nutritional benefits of the raw produce and b) it saves on cooking time!  However the other members of the IK team prefer their veggies cooked although a salad dressed with a delicious zesty dressing never fails to hit the spot.

So apart from the usual suspects of salad ingredients, what other vegetables can be eaten in their natural beneficial state and still taste good?  Here are 5 good ones:

Brussel Sprouts:  These chaps are so delicious shredded into a coleslaw mix and so much more appealing than their boiled counterparts.

Zucchini:  You can shave these into ribbons to go on pizzas or as part of a salad.

Collard Greens:  Since moving to the US, I’ve discovered these absolutely amazing greens that are usually braised gently and which have the same earthy flavor as kale.  Like raw kale, you can toss thinly sliced collard greens into a mixed salad and dress with a strong tasting dressing.

Asparagus: You can shave the stems into a lighter tasting salad.  Yummy and pretty too.

Corn:  When fresh corn is at its peak and in season, the raw kernels taste much better than the cooked ones.

 

 

The Running Man

 

My 9 year old son has joined a track club and every Saturday morning he now trains and then competes in short and middle distance racing.  He absolutely loves it and what’s even better is that the indoor track he runs on is housed in an incredible ex National Guard Armory building in Brooklyn.  I love the fact that the YMCA here in New York (that I have come to love for its fantastic promotion of health and fitness programs for all ages) has been able to use this historic building for sporting activities.

Here is my son Charlie running in the yellow shirt.

To fuel his running, a breakfast of champions is called for and here is one I made earlier :). Bacon is massive treat in our house (only cooked on high days and holidays)  but here I relented and added it to fluffy American style pancakes made with whole grain flour, topped with berries and a drizzle of honey (Jamie Oliver has a good recipe) and my better half’s gold standard scrambled eggs.

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So what are the nutritional benefits of this plate of yumminess for an athlete?  You have a double hit of protein from the eggs and bacon (I drained all the cooking fat from the meat) which is great for growing and repairing muscles, lots of carbs from the pancakes which provide energy plus some great vitamins and minerals from the mixed berries.

For more information on YMCA programs go to ymca.org

Star Bars

My new year’s resolution is to be less wasteful so  I’m making easy snacks that involve little cooking but use up kitchen cupboard ingredients efficiently.  My NYC kitchen is rather small so I’m always trying to optimize space and reorganize my cupboards.

One of these snacks is oat bars.  My kids usually take an oat bar to school and quite frankly a) the boxes they come in are not space efficient (!) and b) the good quality bars are very expensive.  So I’ve made my own at a fraction of the cost, with whole real ingredients that are nutritious and taste great too.  I keep them in the freezer and then pop one into the kids’ lunchboxes in the morning so they thaw by lunchtime.

Each bar provides a good amount of gluten-free oats as well as protein from the peanut butter which helps build and repair muscle.  The honey is also a great ingredient providing some natural sweetness with the added benefit of flavonoids; antioxidants which help with disease prevention.  Dark chocolate makes everything taste better plus I had a pack in the cupboard to use up!

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Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oat Bars

I’m not the world’s best baker, my creations always turn out wonky as you can see but they taste pretty good!  Enjoy the weekend :).

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oat Bars

Makes 8 Bars

Ingredients

2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup runny honey

2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

4 oz melted high % good quality dark chocolate

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 325 f and grease a 9 inch square baking dish.
  2. Spread the oats evenly across the sheet.
  3. Toast the oats in a preheated oven until browned, about 10 mins and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Mix the honey, peanut butter, salt & vanilla extract in a small pan over a medium high heat.  Stir and cook until smooth.  Add this mixture to the oats and combine.
  5. Spread the oats and pb mixture back into the baking dish and bake for 15 mins until beginning to dry.
  6. Cool in the fridge and then coat the top with the melted chocolate.  Cool again completely until the chocolate is set.

The Lighter Side of Life

I’ve had a rather frustrating day involving some rather tedious form filling amongst other things.  I needed cheering up a little so my better half whipped up his foolproof French Salade Niçoise which is always a winner.   We’re eating light this month to counterbalance the festive holiday eating so a substantial but light and nutritious salad like this one is perfect.

Salade Niçoise has a lettuce base and is topped with green beans, potatoes, boiled eggs, olives, capers, tuna, anchovies and olives. Plenty of protein plus Omega 3 fatty acids from the tuna and anchovies which are oily fish.

It tasted as good as it looks!

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Fishy Feast

There is something very special about the Feast of the Seven Fishes that I’ve observed here in the US, an Italian American celebration on Christmas Eve where different dishes of fish and shellfish are served.

This long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve comes from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from eating meat during certain holy days of the year and eating fish instead.  Now I’m not a Catholic but I wholeheartedly agree with this!  Yummy.

I’m a bit late to the celebration this year, but I decided to honor it anyway by making a mixed fish pie with smoked mackerel, tilapia (a lovely light white fish) and shrimp.  I also added cornichons, capers and eggs to pack in the flavors.  My kids love fish and shellfish so it’s an easy choice when I want something to give them something hearty and nutritious.

Mackerel is an oily fish, absolutely crammed full of brain boosting, heart healthy nutrients.  It provides protein, vitamins, minerals as well as little saturated fat.  It’s an important source of Omega 3 heart healthy fatty acids which our bodies need to function properly but cannot produce on their own.

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that I’ve adjusted slightly to incorporate mackerel instead of the original smoked haddock the recipe calls for.  Hope you enjoy making and eating it!

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Smoked Mackerel, Tilapia and Shrimp Fish Pie
Ingredients
Serves 8
  • 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 14 oz frozen peas
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Zest & juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 lb of tilapia fillets
  • 1/2 lb of peeled shrimp
  • 3 smoked mackerel fillets
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 heaped tsp English mustard
  • 1/2 cup mature cheddar grated
  • 1/3 cup cornichons chopped
  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 3 hard boiled eggs chopped
  • Salt and pepper to season
Method
  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot of boiling water or in a steamer and cook until soft.
  2. Pour boiling water over the peas to defrost them then blend in a food processor.
  3. Mash the potatoes then mix in peas, butter and lemon zest. Season to taste.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 390°f.
  5. To make the fish pie, poach the tilapia and shrimp in the milk with the bay leaf. When the fish is cooked, remove the fish and flake into large chunks. Add the smoked mackerel. Reserve the milk.
  6. Fry the onion and carrot in a splash of olive oil until soft and fragrant. Add the garlic and fry for another 30 seconds.
  7. Add the flour and stir then add the milk the fish was poached to create a creamy sauce.
  8. Add the English mustard and fish and stir well then add the cheese, capers, cornichons, lemon juice and stir.
  9. Season to taste and transfer fish to a baking dish.
  10. Top the fish filling with the mashed potato and create indents with a spoon which will become nice and crispy in the oven.  Scatter the eggs over the dish.  Add some more grated cheese to cover.
  11. Place the pie in the oven and allow to bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and crispy.
  12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes then serve.