Sunday, 31 August 2014

What to do with that floppy carrot (plus other nifty ideas to reduce your food waste)

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how big a problem food waste is in the developed world. But at the household level, what can we do to reduce the amount of food we throw away each week? I'm sure we've all had to throw food away at some stage because it's past its use-by-date or gone limp in the crisper, started sprouting or just gone stale! And we tend to throw perfectly edible food away too, just because we don't know what to do with it. Well, I’ve done a bit of research and come up with some tips, tricks and everyday ideas to make your food go further!

I bet your grandmother didn't waste it!
Tips & tricks:
  1. Plan your meals for the week and make a shopping list (that you’ll actually stick to).
  2. Go ‘shopping’ in your own fridge and pantry first! You’ll be surprised at what’s been hiding away… and keep an eye on use-by-dates so you can use things before they go off.
  3. Love your leftovers- it could mean there’s one less night you have to cook (perfect for when you’re busy) or that lunches are sorted for the following day- who wouldn’t love that?
  4. If you need to buy one ingredient for a particular recipe and you know you won’t need all of it, plan to cook something else that week that could also use it.
  5. Only buy fresh as you need it, but when it comes to fruit and veg, frozen and tinned is often just as good and will last a lot longer!
  6. Buying in bulk is cheaper… but only if you’ll actually get through it all. Be realistic about the quantities you’ll use, or shop with a friend or two and divide your bulk purchases.
  7. Store your food correctly so you don’t shorten it’s lifespan, follow pack directions if it says to refrigerate after opening, store opened dry ingredients in an air-tight container, vegetables in the crisper and potatoes, onions and other root veg in a dark cool place (like a cupboard)
  8. Don’t feel you need to stick exactly to a recipe, adapt it to what you have at home- cooking should be about experimentation!
  9. Don’t cook for six if you’re only serving three- unless you’re an avid leftovers fan you will invariably end up throwing some away. Bring out those maths skills and divide the ingredient quantities accordingly, OR freeze your leftovers (but make you label and date the containers).
  10. Don’t pile your plate up just because that’s how much you usually serve yourself, listen to body and only serve up the amount you think you’ll actually need to feel satisfied.
  11. And of course, compost any scraps that can’t be saved. 

Freezing fresh herbs to make them last longer.
Everyday ideas:
  1. Don’t throw out old limp vegetables, scraps like peels or tops and tails that you’d usually cut and discard- use them to make a vegetable stock or puree into a soup.
  2. Overripe bananas and other fruits are great in smoothies, cakes and muffins.
  3. The stems of broccoli and cauliflower can also be used! Slice finely and add to a stir-fry.
  4. Just like potato skin, sweet potato and pumpkin skins are also edible! But if you’re mashing these veg (or don’t usually like the texture of the skin), don’t throw out the peels, spray with a little oil, sprinkle with a little spice or garlic and bake in the oven until crispy and they become healthy chips (with a great dose of fibre and antioxidants to boot)!
  5. If you can’t get through a whole bunch of fresh herbs, chop finely and put in an ice cube tray with a small amount of oil or water and freeze until needed (and don't forget the stems too)! You can also freeze fresh lemon and lime juice or zest.
  6. Freeze bread to prevent it going stale, or turn fresh-gone-stale bread into toast, breadcrumbs or crispy croutons.
  7. Have an ‘all-in’ meal at the end of the week to use up any veg, leftover roast meats, cheese or herbs. Omelettes, frittatas, fritters, soups and homemade pizzas work well for this.
  8. Keep the seeds from your pumpkin, clean them, dry them and roast in the oven- they’re great as a snack to munch on.
  9. Collect seeds from pumpkins, passionfruit, pawpaw, avocados, mangoes, lychee, nuts, hot chillies or capsicum for planting in the backyard. Sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, ginger, and garlic cloves will shoot quite quickly after planting. You can also take the white root end of a leek, spring onion or fennel, place in a glass jar with a little water in a sunny spot and it will continue to sprout just like that!
Growing your own spring onion from old roots.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Recipe makeover: chocolate soufflés

I love my desserts. And chocolate is the best kind. But I'd never made a soufflé before. My knowledge of them didn't extend far past them being French, puffy and hard to make (and to be honest, I got most of that from one of my favourite childhood shows, Madeleine). But they're actually not as difficult as I thought they'd be! As usual, I scoured my cookbooks and the internet for recipes and took the best elements of each to make my version. It's a lot healthier than standard versions that can use a lot of actual chocolate, butter and sugar. But no need to panic because there's plenty of cocoa in there to give you a real chocolatey hit (without the extra kilojoules or calories)! So without further adieu…

Individual chocolate soufflés

2 large egg whites
3 Tbsp pure cocoa powder
5 Tbsp castor sugar, plus extra for dusting ramekins
1 Tbsp plain flour
1/2 Tbsp cornflour
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or essence)
6 Tbsp skim milk

  1. Brush 4 ramekins lightly with reduced fat table spread or oil then dust lightly with castor sugar (you'll only need about 1 tsp sugar per ramekin and spread it by rolling the ramekin around in your hand so the sugar coats all surfaces). I used 1-cup capacity ramekins, but for the classic puffing-up-over-the-top look, try 3/4-cup capacity ramekins.
  2. Whisk cocoa powder, plain flour, 4 Tbsp of the castor sugar and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 1 minute or until sugar is dissolved. In a small bowl or cup, make a paste with the cornflour and a couple of teaspoons of water and slowly add to the saucepan, stirring constantly until thickened (another few minutes).
  3. Remove cocoa mixture from heat and pour into a large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes or until you are ready to cook the soufflés (this part can be done up to a day in advance).
  4. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle over remaining 1 Tbsp castor sugar and beat until thick and glossy. Set aside.
  5. With the same electric beaters, beat the chilled cocoa mixture for 1 minute or until smooth (as it may go quite firm in the fridge and needs to be loosened up again).
  6. Gently fold egg whites into cocoa mixture, a quarter at a time, until no streaks of white remain (while still keeping as much air as possible in the mixture).
  7. Divide mixture among ramekins, smooth tops and run a knife around the edges of the ramekin to loosen the sugar from the sides ensuring an even rise.
  8. Bake for ~12 minutes at 180°C or until puffed and just hard on top (the centres should still be quite light and gooey).
Serves 4.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

5 nutrient interactions you should know about!

We are told to eat a balanced diet because every food contains a different combination of nutrients. But did you know that some of these nutrients interact with each other in our bodies and can increase or decrease the absorption of other nutrients? I've put together a list of the 5 nutrient interactions you should know about, including whether (or not) this should change the way you eat!

Iron & Vitamin C

Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron by up to 50% by helping convert the iron consumed into a form more easily absorbed by the body.
  • Eat iron-rich foods (such as meat or iron-fortified cereals) with vitamin C-rich foods (such as red capsicum and citrus fruits).
Tip: Add some red capsicum to your beef stir-fry or a sliced orange or kiwifruit with your cereal at breakfast.

Calcium & Vitamin D

Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption by stimulating it’s transport throughout the body.
  • The best source of vitamin D is sunlight- so make sure if you’re eating enough dairy you’re also getting some time outdoors.
  • Also, if your doctor or dietitian has recommended a calcium supplement, choose one that contains both calcium and vitamin D.

Iron & Phenolic Compounds

Phenolic compounds in tea can bind to iron, inhibiting its absorption in the body.
  • Avoid drinking tea with meals as it can reduce the amount of iron you’ll absorb from it.
Tip: Try having your tea mid-morning rather than with breakfast

Fibre & Many Minerals

Phytic acids (such as oxalic acid) in high fibre foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrain breads and cereals can bind minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc & magnesium, inhibiting their absorption.
  • Yeast in leavened bread can counteract this (by breaking down some of these bonds allowing the minerals to be absorbed).
  • Diets excessive in fibre are not recommended- but most Aussies are having trouble even meeting the recommendations.
Tip: Stick to 5 serves of veg, 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of whole grains.

Different Mineral Supplements

Many minerals compete for absorption in the body: magnesium, calcium, iron, copper and zinc. This can especially be a problem if you are taking any supplements of these nutrients because supplements often contain many times the recommended intake of that nutrient from food. For example, if you are taking a calcium supplement, it could be inhibiting iron absorption from the food you eat.
  • Most people, if they are eating a balanced and varied diet, are getting all the nutrients they need and don’t need supplements. 
Tip: Avoid supplements unless actually necessary. Unsure? Ask your doctor or dietitian if you need one.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Homemade Dumplings

I have this list of things I want to cook. Not simple, everyday recipes, but those which would give me joy to master (yes, I am aware this quite possibly sounds very lame to those of you who aren't as addicted to cooking as I am!). And so came about: dumpling day. My boyfriend and I bought the ingredients, watched youtube clips of how to form the dumpling 'pleats' (the folding pattern you use to seal the dumplings) and he panicked while, instead of following a recipe, I just made it all up as I went along! Then we sat and marvelled at the fact we had just made our very own dumplings (while shoving them in our gobs). This recipe is the result. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

If you don't need 45 dumplings, simply halve the recipe. You can also choose to just make the vegetable or chicken dumplings (to make the chicken dumplings without the vegetable mix, just add 1/4 C of mixed shredded cabbage and carrot, with some of the garlic, ginger and soy sauce.

Homemade dumplings

45 gow gee wrappers (found in the fridge section of the supermarket)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Vegetable Filling
1/8 cabbage (or ¼ Chinese wombok), finely shredded
½ large carrot, finely grated
2 spring onions, finely diced
150g tinned bamboo shoots, finely diced (found in the Asian section of the supermarket)
½ tsp minced garlic
½ tsp minced ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp reduced salt soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry (or Chinese rice wine)
Optional: replace half of the vegetables with silken tofu for more protein

Chicken Filling
150g lean chicken mince
1 Tbsp chives, chopped
¼ C ‘vegetable filling’ mix

Dipping sauce
¼ C reduced salt soy sauce
2 Tbsp dry sherry (or Chinese rice wine)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp castor sugar
1 tsp minced ginger
¼ tsp Chinese five spice
½-1 tsp minced chilli, or fresh chilli sliced
1 tsp sesame seeds

      1. Cook vegetable filling in a large frypan over low-medium heat until veg is softened and liquid evaporated. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Mix ¼ C of the ‘vegetable filling’ into the chicken mince and chives, in a separate bowl.
3. Divide beaten egg among both fillings (about 2/3 of the egg in with the vegetable mix and 1/3 in with the chicken mix) and stir to combine.

 4. Place 1 gow gee wrapper on the bench in front of you. Have the bowls of filling sitting close by, along with a small bowl or cup of water. Place 2 tsp of chicken or vegetable filling in the centre of the wrapper and, with your finger, trace a circle of water along the border of the wrapper (you only want enough water to stick the edges of the wrapper together, if it is too wet it will not stick).

5. Fold wrapper in half to form a semi-circle, pressing the opposite edges of the wrapper together. 

      6. Carefully fold over the edges of the wrapper to form pleats. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling mixtures.

7. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Line each level of a bamboo steamer basket with baking paper, place ~6 dumplings on each level (try not to let them touch as they will stick together when cooking), assemble steamer basket with lid on top and place over the boiling water. The steamer basket should sit neatly on top of the saucepan so that no steam is escaping and make sure the saucepan isn’t too full with water as you want to avoid the boiling water touching the base of the steamer basket.
8. Steam for ~15mins, then repeat steaming process until all dumplings are cooked.

9. Meanwhile, make dipping sauce: toast sesame seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 3-5mins or until slightly thickened and sugar is dissolved. Cool before serving.

      Serves 7-8 (~6 dumplings per serve)

      Note: Leftover dumplings can be refrigerated and reheated at a later stage by steaming in the microwave in a covered bowl or container, with a small amount of water. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Coping with snack cravings: How to trick your tastebuds into satisfying that craving without blowing the energy budget

We've all felt the tug of a craving from that irresistible snack. "Just one", you tell yourself; "I've had a rough day- I need a pick-me-up", your emotions beckon, or; "but I've eaten so healthily all day!". We try to rationalise our cravings, but the truth is, there just really is no good reason to devour an entire block of chocolate or crunch through a whole bag of chips. But that doesn't make it any less difficult to stop ourselves when those thoughts sneak into our heads!

When it comes to weight loss, or following any kind of healthy eating habits, really, the difficult part is convincing your brain that it DOESN'T need another can of soft drink or handful of sticky, coated beer nuts. Because brains are powerful things. And willpower actually requires both will and power (who'd have thought?).

As a Dietitian, I always talk about eating in moderation. I would never tell anyone they must give up all of their treat foods, because a) that is not very realistic and b) who wants to live life without ever having a piece of birthday cake? Certainly not me. And, I mean, who is really going to be satisfied with a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit when it's chocolate they're craving? It's more about enjoying your favourite foods in smaller amounts and less often (hence the premise of 'treat'). But sometimes it isn't as easy as that. A lot of my clients tell me they'd rather cut it out altogether as they can't stop at one. So, for those of you who struggle with moderation, here are my top tips for coping with snack cravings, plus some snack alternatives to satisfy what you're really craving (salty? creamy? chocolatey?) without the guilt!

Jessie couldn't decide whether she felt like
salty, sweet, or both!
My top tips for coping with snack cravings:
  • Set mini goals for yourself, such as cutting back on having soft drink twice per day to once per day, then once every two days, etc.
  • Store ‘treat’ foods in an opaque container at the back of the pantry (out of sight, out of mind).
  • Make a decision to only buy your craved food once a month so it becomes a sometimes food. Or, if it works better for you, avoid buying it altogether and only eat it when out for a special occasion.
  • Have a drink, chew some gum, go for a walk, or make a phone call before committing to satisfying your craving. It will often go away if your mind is occupied with something else.
  • Practice mindful eating- eat slowly and savour your food and you’ll find you are satisfied with less.
  • Never sit down with a whole packet of biscuits or block of chocolate. Portion out a serve, and then put the packet away.
  •  If you’re a late night snacker, make it a habit that you don’t eat after 8pm, for example, and signal the end of food by brushing your teeth.

When you're resorting to the cooking chocolate,
you know times are desperate!

      Craving something sweet?
      Try: 1 slice wholegrain raisin toast (e.g. Burgen fruit & muesli bread) with a thin spread of table spread or small fruit based muffin made with wholemeal flour and added seeds

Craving something salty?
Try: 1 piece rye mountain bread or ½ cup thinly sliced potato, sweet potato, parsnip, carrot or beetroot, sprayed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with garlic and oregano, cut into squares and baked in the oven or 2 wholegrain crackers (such as Vita-Weats) topped with 1 slice of reduced fat cheddar cheese and ½ tomato, sliced

Craving something crunchy?
Try: 2 cups air-popped popcorn plain or sprinkled with Mexican chilli powder or 1 handful of bite-sized wholegrain crackers (such as Tucker’s Multifibre Snacks Quinoa) plain or dipped into a tomato salsa

Craving something chocolatey?
Try: 1 small glass of skim milk with 2 tsp drinking chocolate (such as Milo or Vitarium sugar-free) or 2 chocolate date balls made by processing dates, cocoa powder, LSA or almond meal, coconut and chopped nuts and coating in more cocoa powder

Craving something nutty?
Try: ½ sliced apple spread with 1 Tbsp natural (no added salt or sugar) peanut (or other nut) butter or 1 small handful trail mix made of raw unsalted mixed nuts, dried fruit and seeds

Craving something creamy?
Try: 100g reduced fat ricotta (sweetened with vanilla, cinnamon and a little icing sugar) with ½ punnet of strawberries or 200g tub reduced fat natural or Greek yoghurt (e.g. Yoplait Forme Greek)

Craving something refreshing?
Try: 1 glass of ice cold still or sparkling water with a slice of lemon and few leaves of mint or ¾ cup frozen grapes 

Craving something warm & comforting?
Try: 1 sachet plain quick oats with ½ a grated apple and ½ tsp cinnamon or 1 cup vegetable soup (e.g. Heinz classic creamy pumpkin)