Saturday, 26 July 2014

Recipe makeover: Pumpkin Pie

The all-American pumpkin pie is a thanksgiving tradition. And while it's not really a 'thing' here in Aus, I was curious to see what a sweet pie made from a vegetable could taste like… Not that it's anything new- teaming vegetables with dessert- just think how delicious carrot cake is! I mean, it has the potential to be healthy AND delicious! But most classic pumpkin pie recipes are overloaded with cream, butter and sugar, defeating the goodness of the pumpkin. So here is my (healthy AND delicious) version of pumpkin pie :)

Notes: This recipe makes enough pumpkin filling for 1 large pie and 4 individual pies. You can cook the pumpkin in any way you like (boil, steam, roast) but roasting is the method I use here because it brings out the sweetness of the pumpkin a lot better. Despite mashing the pumpkin, the filling will still contain some small lumps of pumpkin- to get it completely smooth you will have to mash then strain the pumpkin before mixing with the other ingredients.

Pumpkin Pie

1 C wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp castor sugar
4.5 Tbsp margarine, softened
4.5 Tbsp oil (e.g. macadamia, olive or canola)
6.5 Tbsp ice cold water

~800g pumpkin (butternut or kent)- enough to make 2 C mashed pumpkin
185mL can Carnation Light and Creamy Evaporated Milk
2 eggs
½ C brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves

Optional: Decorate with pecans before baking

      1. Roast pumpkin in large chunks with the skin on at 200°C for ~45mins or until a knife cuts through easily. Set aside to cool.
2. Make pastry: Rub dry pastry ingredients and margarine until crumbly. Add oil, and then water a bit at a time, mixing lightly by hand until pastry stays together when rolled into a ball.
3. Roll out 2/3 of the pastry between 2 pieces of wax/baking paper until large enough to hang over the edges of a 20-22cm (8-9inch) pie or flan dish- this will become the base for the large pie. The pastry should be no thicker than 0.5cm.

     4. Place pastry gently over pie dish that has its base lined with baking paper and the sides sprayed lightly with oil and press to hold. Let the pastry come up above the side of the pie and neaten edge with a knife. Prick the base of the pie with a fork.
5. Repeat with remaining pastry, rolling out over one smaller pie dish or 4 individual tart dishes (I used egg rings, sprayed with a little oil, for mine).

6. Bake pies at 220
°C for 5-10mins or until just cooked and lightly brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
7. Meanwhile, remove skin from roasted pumpkin and mash until smooth. Whisk in remaining filling ingredients and pour into pastry cases.
8. Bake large pie at 180°C for ~40mins and individual tarts for 15-20mins, until filling is set. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
9. Serve at room temperature with reduced fat and sugar vanilla yoghurt or ice cream and store remainder in fridge.

Makes 1 large pie and 4 individual tarts.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Organic food: to buy or not to buy?

It’s the quandary facing many health-conscious people in our modern world: to buy organic, or not to buy organic. Is it healthier for us? Better for the environment? More flavoursome? Working as a Dietitian, I often get asked by clients whether they should be eating organic food. But the answer isn’t really a simple yes or no…

What does ‘organic’ mean?

‘Organic’ commonly refers to produce (such as fruit, vegetables and grains) that has been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers. Organic meat usually means the animals are free range and not fed any growth-affecting drugs. But organic doesn’t necessarily equate to completely chemical free crops, as they may be grown on land that was previously used for non-organic farming or might have been cross-contaminated from nearby non-organic crops that are being sprayed. Organic meat and produce is often more expensive because the farming generally operates on a smaller scale, is more labour intensive and produces smaller yields.

What’s so good about organic food?

The real benefit of organic farming is environmental. Without the use of harsh pesticides and fertilisers, the soil is at less risk of being damaged or nutritionally depleted than in conventional methods, making the land go further and it more ecologically sustainable.

But the main reason people buy organic? There’s a perception that organic food is healthier. And while organic produce does contain lower levels of pesticide residues (which I might add are also monitored in non-organic foods to ensure consumer health and safety), scientific opinion is divided on whether this impacts nutrient levels in the food. Up until recently, most studies have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to show that organic food has higher levels of nutrients (see here and here) but one new meta-analysis has found higher levels of some antioxidants in organic food (see here). Is this it then? Conclusive evidence that organic food is more nutritious? Not quite. There are many things that impact a foods nutritional quality, other than the use of pesticides: length of time from paddock to plate, storage of the produce during its travel, exposure to light and heat, etc, etc.

How can we ensure the food we buy IS actually organic?

Due to the increasing demand, we are not only seeing local organic fruit and veg, but also imported organic produce and even packaged foods labelled as using organic ingredients.

But the standards that govern organic practices are voluntary and the word ‘organic’ is not regulated in Australia (theoretically meaning anyone can whack it on a label). Domestically marketed organic products are commonly certified by seven organisations classified by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). So make sure you are buying certified organic!

In summary?

Pros of buying organic:
  • Lower pesticide residues & chemical use
  • More environmentally friendly and sustainable
  • Humane treatment of animals in meat farming

 Cons of buying organic:
  • More expensive
  • No significant difference in most nutrient levels (perhaps with the exception of some antioxidants)
  • No strict regulation of organic labelling so you may be thinking you’re buying organic but you actually aren’t

The verdict

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice. If you can afford to buy organic produce, then certainly, go ahead. There are obvious environmental benefits. But stick with fresh local produce and avoid commercial packaged foods that claim to be organic- the processing really defeats the purpose in my book. However, I would not be telling my clients that they all must buy organic because it is not financially viable for everyone to do so and I’d rather they were regularly consuming adequate amounts of fruit, veg, grains and meat, than small amounts of organic food.

My takeaway tip

If it’s your health you’re worried about, try instead to buy fresh, local produce to reduce the distance your food is travelling (and support local farmers) and ensure it is of high nutritional quality. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Spicy tomato & bean baked eggs

 This is a popular dish based on eggs baked into a rich tomato sauce. Here I cooked fresh tomatoes down with red capsicum, red kidney beans and a whole heap of Mexican chilli powder, cracked an egg in the centre, topped with cheese and baked in the oven. It's a deliciously warming winter brunch or easy and light dinner.

I made the recipe serve 2 by using a small tin of red kidney beans but if you want to feed the family use a 400g can of red kidney beans and 2x400g cans of diced tomatoes instead of fresh (no-added salt versions of course!). Serve with a piece of toast and dip away…

Spicy tomato & bean baked eggs
*Mexican chilli powder is a spice mix of
paprika, chilli, cumin, oregano, pepper
& garlic. I used Masterfoods Mexican
Chilli Powder Medium.

1/4 large brown onion, diced
1/2 large red capsicum, roughly chopped
3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
125g can no-added-salt red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp minced garlic
Minced or fresh chilli, optional, amount to your liking (I used 1/2 tsp minced)
1/2 Tbsp Mexican chilli powder*
2 eggs
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
Parsley, chopped, to garnish
2 slices wholegrain bread

  1. Saute onion in a small saucepan over low-medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add garlic, chilli and Mexican chilli powder.
  2. Add capsicum and cook until just tender. Add tomatoes and red kidney beans and simmer for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Divide mixture among 2 individual oven-proof dishes (such as 2-cup capacity ramekins). Make a well in the centres and crack an egg into each. Top with parmesan.
  4. Bake at 200°C for around 10 minutes or until eggs are just set. 
  5. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with wholegrain toast.

Serves 2.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Your guide to eating out (with all of the enjoyment and none of the guilt!)

Eating out can easily become your undoing when trying to lose weight or just eat healthily. Why? Because you get surrounded by delicious sights and smells and you tell yourself you MUST have all three courses AND finish each plate because, well, it would be a waste not to get your money's worth. But a few changed perceptions and a few different menu choices and eating out doesn't have to result in food comas, diet guilt or dwindling funds.

Problem 1: It all tastes so delicious so I can't help but keep eating.

Solution: Practice the art of mindful eating. Eat slowly and savour each bite of food. Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls and take time to talk to your table guests. You'll find you'll  be satisfied with a smaller portion. Can't decide what to order? Order a few dishes amongst the table and share them- that way you'll get a taste of everything.

Problem 2: I cannot go to a restaurant without ordering dessert: it's my favourite part!

Solution: There's no need to go without dessert, especially if this is the part of the meal you most look forward to. But why not skip the main and go for an entree and dessert instead? Or share a main with a friend then both enjoy dessert? Another option? Choose a lighter, fruit-based dessert and hold the extra cream.

Problem 3: The meal was so expensive, I can't bear to see food go to waste.

Solution: There's no need for the food to go to waste, most restaurants will happily bag up your leftovers in a doggy bag for you to take home and enjoy the next day. You can also check with the waiter or waitress the size of the meal before you order it so you'll have an idea of whether it will be big enough to share (which also means a shared cost).

Problem 4: I'm often so hungry when I get there, I fill up on the complimentary bread and then regret it.

Solution: Avoid arriving to a restaurant so hungry you could eat a horse- this is when we tend to overeat. The aim is the eat when you are slightly hungry and stop when you are just feeling satisfied. Have a small snack such as a few nuts or a glass of milk before you go out so you can say no to the bread altogether and save room for the main event!

Problem 5: I enjoy the meal while I'm out but it tends to come back to bite me later on that night. 

Solution: Rich, fatty or surgery meals, carbonated drinks like soft drink and alcohol can result in reflux or heartburn. Order meals with creamy or oily sauces on the side, avoid the super sickly desserts or share them to halve their potency, and drink mostly water. And your Mum's old advice of wearing stretchy pants when eating out? Take it. Tight belts, stockings and pants that cut in around the stomach can also contribute to reflux.

Problem 6: I don't know how to control myself when faced with a buffet.

Solution: An 'all you can eat' buffet loses its appeal when you eat so much you feel physically ill. Have one plate, and one plate only (you wouldn't fill up your plate 3 or 4 times at home, so why would you when you're out?). Have a good long look at everything on offer before putting anything on your plate- that way you avoid the regret when you pile your plate with lasagne but then see the amazing looking souvlaki. Start with the salads or veggies. Fill half your plate with these and then just add a taste of each of the most delicious looking dishes.

Problem 7: I just don't know what the healthiest thing is to order.

Solution: As a general rule: avoid anything deep fried, with lots of cheese or processed meats such as bacon, ham or salami, creamy sauces or curries, fatty cuts of meat like pork belly, chicken wings or sausages. Instead, opt for: lean meats or seafood that have been grilled, baked, steamed, braised or stir-fried, tomato-based sauces, plenty of veggies and baked potatoes or grainy bread. Don't be afraid to ask the waiter or waitress to hold the chips, put the dressing on the side or have an extra side of vegetables.