Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Perfect Juice for a Liver Cleanse

Well, it's been a while...mmmm....awkward silence.  Sorry about that.  Life has been busy, I've actually been on some interesting adventures, but just didn't get around to blogging about it!  I'll remedy that in the next few weeks but for now, I thought I'd share a recipe.

This week heralds the beginning of a liver cleanse for me. I've noticed some classic 'over-burdened liver' signs in recent months - tiredness, joint pain, unusual sensitivity to chemicals (perfumes, alcohol etc) and nausea at various times throughout the month (and no, I'm not pregnant!) - so am giving my poor liver some attention. 

The liver does a huge amount of work, not only in filtering blood, but also in converting thyroid hormones to their active form, producing bile, storing Vitamin D...the list goes on! So, I reckon my liver needs some help and this week I am beginning by cutting out sugar, coffee, dairy, alcohol and all grains. I won't feel deprived tho (well, I might, but I'll have to get over it!) I'll be feasting on fresh veggies, veg juices, seasonal berries, eggs & oily fish.

Either with breakfast or lunch I'm having a vegetable juice, which I then blend with avocado to add some fibre and fats, helping to balance out all the sugar from the veg.  You might not think of veg as being a big source of sugar, but when you juice things like carrots and apples, most of the fibre is removed and you can end up with a recipe for a blood sugar spike.  I'm also using organic veg as much as possible, the less chemicals the better, especially when I'm working on reducing the chemical load on my liver!

Yesterday I juiced the following:
1 medium sized raw organic beetroot
2 sticks organic celery
3 medium sized organic carrots
2 organic apples (I used golden delicious, but would prefer something a bit sharper if I could get it)
A fairly large piece of organic ginger - I used about 5cm, which is quite fiery, but I'm used to it.  If you want to ease into it, maybe just try 1 or 2 cm.  If you can't get organic, remove the skin.
3cm organic cucumber - I would have used more, but it was all I had left in the fridge!

Then I put the juice in my blender, with half an avocado and a dessert spoon of barley grass powder.  Blitzed till smooth, it looked bright pink and creamy.  Yum Yum 

A few things worth noting:
Beetroot is the most wonderful vegetable for liver & blood support.  Eaten whole it contains pectin (among other things) which is particularly helpful in 'scrubbing' the liver, so I would suggest eating whole beetroot too, roasted or grated into a salad.  Raw juice protects the betaine, a substance that supports the liver in eliminating toxins.  Beetroot is also rich in antioxidants, folate, iron, choline and betacyanin, all wonderful for the liver, blood and other organs in the body.

I could talk for hours about Barley grass (but I'll spare you!)  It's an incredibly powerful grass (not the grain) rich in antioxidants & phytonutrients that protect all cells from free radical damage, but particularly the liver.  I absolutely adore it, it's rich in chlorophyll and is powerfully alkalising - much needed in a western diet which is predominantly acid forming.  Apart from Vitamin D, barley grass contains every vitamin, most minerals (especially calcium) and all the amino acids we need.  Get some and keep it in your cupboard, add a teaspoon to any kind of smoothie.  It tastes quite pleasant, a little bit earthy, but the sweetness from the carrots & apples helps to balance that out.  If you've ever tasted spirulina and thought you might die, barley grass is much easier to swallow.

I use a masticating juicer, which works slowly and with very little heat.  This protects many of the nutrients - vitamins and enzymes particularly - so is a better option than a centrifugal juicer.

When making this juice, or any that you add a powder like barley grass to, add the powder into the blender before the juice.  I find it helps to prevent the powder flying around everywhere once you hit the blend button.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Lamb Salad

A few weeks ago, we ordered a lamb from an organic farmer friend of ours and while we were scoffing cocktails in Athens, a very kind friend took delivery of it for us, weighed all the pieces, labelled them and put them in our fridge. Hanna, you rock ;-)

On March 16th, we had leg of lamb for dinner.  Oh my.  Tender, juicy yumminess doesn't even begin to describe how good it was.  I followed a very simple Jamie Oliver recipe and in jig time, we were sitting down to aromatic heaven.  I also made his mint sauce, which was a disaster, so best avoided if anyone is curious.  Waaaay too much red wine vinegar.  Thankfully I'm not a mint sauce fan, so only Mountain Man was disappointed and had to mop up the vinegary goo from his plate before continuing.  But I digress.

On St. Patrick's Day we were both on a fast day, as part of the 5:2 Programme.  (Hardly the stereotypical way to spend the day, but I do love to break the mould.)  I was half starved by 3pm, so figured the only way I'd make it to breakfast today was if dinner was utterly delicious.  I searched the worldwideweb for some lamb salad recipes, came up with nothing satisfactory so decided to mash a few of them together and hope for the best.

I sliced up some of the cooked lamb, marinaded it in lemon juice, a tiny amount of olive oil and some Za'atar, which I bought in San Francisco and had no idea how to use.  Za'atar is actually thyme, but this was a mix of thyme, sesame seeds, summac and sea salt.

Once this was marinading I rinsed 1/4 cup of quinoa and simmered in 3/4 cup of water until cooked (when the little tails break free of the seed body, they're ready).  This was then drained and spread out on a plate to cool.

The odd bits of veg lounging in my fridge were sliced up and pan friend with some garlic.  I managed to dig out half a courgette, 1/3 of a leek and a red onion.

I poked the seeds out of 1/4 of a pomegranate and mixed them with half a head of romaine lettuce, the few mint leaves that were left after a cocktail night on Friday and a handful of toasted pine nuts.  Then, the lamb was quickly pan fried, the veg was added for one more quick spin in the pan and the whole lot was mixed in a large salad bowl including a light dressing made with lemon juice, pomegranate molasses (first use! woop woop!) salt, pepper and olive oil.

A small pile of sparkling, colourful goodness landed on our plates and was gobbled down before we had time to blink.  I tried very hard to savour every mouthful, but it was very difficult.  I was half starved after all.  We loved it so much I'm making it again tonight, but this time adding even more ingredients like sultanas, chia seeds and red pepper.  Can't wait!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Guilt Free Ice-Cream

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!  If you've sworn off something for lent, maybe today is the day you allow yourself a treat.  This is a great option, delicious but really not particularly guilt inducing ;-)

 Over Christmas, Mountain Man and I visited a friend and I had the rare opportunity to sit and chat while someone else cooked.  We were fed homemade bhajis to keep us (or me, really) calm, while the most amazing vegan Indian spread was prepared.  I was in heaven.

I did help with one thing, which was to make some ice-cream.  Possibly the easiest thing on the planet to make, basically this is a mix of cashew nuts, dates for sweetness, water and cacao nibs or dark chocolate to make the mix deliciously chocolatey.  Our host directed me, as I hadn't made it before and within about 10 minutes, it was ready to go into the freezer.  

Cashew nuts are a fantastic alternative when you don't want to use cream or milk.  Simply blitzed in a blender with water they make a gorgeous creamy sauce, brilliant for lasagne or in this case, ice-cream!  Nutrient wise, they're high in protein and energy rich, so a small amount is quite filling.  They're also good sources of Magnesium, Manganese and Iron as well as Vitamin K.

Recently, I decided to make two versions, one as a plain vanilla and the other as chocolate chip.  They start the same way and chocolate chips are added at the end.  You could add cocoa powder for a really chocolatey version, which, as I type, sounds really good! 

So, to make the ice-cream:

  • Put a cup of raw cashew nuts into your blender.
  • Add 5 soft pitted dates, 1/2 a cup of filtered water and 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
  • Turn on the blender and blitz everything.  Stop occasionally to scrape everything down the sides of the blender and repeat until the mix is really smooth.  It can take a while, as the nuts can be a bit grainy so keep at it.
  • Once it's super smooth, pour the mix into a container for freezing.  
  • If you want to make it chocolate chip, add a handful of dark chocolate to the blender and blitz for 30 seconds so the chocolate is still in small chunks.
  • For super chocolatey gorgeousness, add 2 tbsp of cocoa powder and a handful of dark chocolate and blitz well.  
  • If you have an ice-cream maker you can use that.  I don't, so I took the container out of the freezer every hour and gave it a stir.  This stops it from turning icy.


Serve on it's own, with some melted dark chocolate poured over or, as I did recently, a shot of Baileys  (Obviously, this will not be vegan, but it is yum!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smoky Soothing Soup

Soup has to be one of the best foods on the planet.  It's warm, comforting and a fantastic way to use up food in your fridge or cupboard that might be on its last legs.  Today, I have a whole pile of carrots in my fridge.  They're not quite soft and squishy, but they're heading that direction.  Thing is I'm not a massive fan of carrot soup.  Usually, I find it a bit insipid, a bit watery and boring.  Teaming carrots up with ginger or coriander helps, but it's still not top of my list of favourite soups.

So, just before lunch I considered all the ingredients I had to hand and figured what I was really looking for was depth of flavour with a comforting, rich smokiness.  Smoked paprika is my 'go-to' spice for that particularly deep flavour.  So much tastier than bog-standard paprika.  I've also been caramelising onions for lots of different recipes lately and thought, yup...caramelised onions, smoked paprika and carrots might just do the job.  I had also defrosted a litre of home made chicken stock yesterday, which would provide lovely rich flavour.

From a nutritional perspective this soup kicks some serious butt.  Carrots are rich in beta-carotene (hence the colour) and are fantastic for protecting your blood vessels from damage.  Beta carotene also improves eye health, particularly protecting the macula densa from free radical damage and reducing the risk of macular degeneration.  Home made chicken stock is full of lovely nutrients, particularly those residing in the bones of the chicken like silica, calcium and boron, important for bone health.  The fats in the stock will also help to absorb the beta-carotene.  I added half a bulb of garlic, which is rich in Allicin, wonderful as a flu & cold fighter and also remarkably good for probiotic bacteria in your gut.

Making the soup was easy peasy.  I began by slicing 2 medium brown onions and cooking them over a low heat with a little butter to caramelise.  It took about 30 mins in total, which might seem like ages, but they cook away happily without much interference, apart from the odd stir, so it's easy to work on other things while they're getting sweet and chewy.  Once they were beginning to colour and starting to stick to the saucepan, I added 2 tsp of smoked paprika and gave everything a stir.


If, like me, it drives you completely spare that those tall spice jars are too narrow for a standard teaspoon, then I highly recommend you invest in a set of measuring spoons.  I have a lovely 'Nigella Lawson' set that I bought years ago and they are some of my most used implements.  The 1/2 teaspoon fits those annoying jars beautifully and means I don't end up shaking half the jar into whatever I'm making.  Anyway, that's an aside...


Once the onions and paprika were mixed, I added the stock and some water, about 1.5l in total, about 750g carrots chopped into chunks, roughly the same size (unpeeled if organic) and half a bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and finely chopped.  Then I brought everything to the boil and reduced the heat,  simmering until the carrots were soft, about 15 minutes.  The final job was to blend til smooth.  I used an immersion blender, which saved me from transferring everything into a jug blender.  If you are using a jug blender, give the soup time to cool a little.  Boiling hot soup and glass don't always make the best of friends, so play it safe.

Season with salt and pepper to suit your own taste and serve!  If you have some bacon fry it up, chop into pieces and sprinkle on top, or as I did, crunchy onion bits (a favourite here in Sweden)  I don't bother making these myself, in fact, it was Mountain Man who picked them up originally, but these organic ones from COOP aren't bad, no nasty weird ingredients and pretty tasty.  Try it out and let me know how you get on...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sometimes luxury is the only answer.

A few weeks ago, I was wandering down one of the prettier streets in Lund and a window display caught my eye.  I can't even remember what shop it was, but written in the window were the words;

Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it's not luxury ~ Coco Chanel

It got me thinking about the good things in life and what makes them so good.  Why does luxury soothe us so?  Does it have to be expensive?  Can everyone experience it, even if our pockets are empty?  I think so...I think Coco Chanel was right, it has to be comfortable, otherwise it's just posing.  I think luxury, for most of us, is also something that we don't experience on a daily basis.  It can be as simple as having some time to yourself, or sitting quietly with a good book and a cup of tea, or treating yourself to lunch when the weather is so horrific you just want to go to bed and cry. Maybe too, luxury is really 'felt' when what precedes it has felt far from luxurious.

Early last week, Mountain Man and I decided to go for a drive along the south coast of Sweden, east of Ystad (yes, home of Wallander) to the famous Ales Stenar.  We picked a pretty awful day for it, but we really wanted to get out into nature, so we persisted.  The densest fog I have ever seen descended on us as we drove, getting thicker and more depressing the closer we got to Kåseberga, where the famous 'Ales Stenar' are.  For some reason, fog lights aren't popular here, so driving safely felt like a Herculean task.  Eventually we made it to the stones, a megalithic monument, in the shape of a ship where a Viking king is reported to have been buried.  Not as magical or mysterious as I had hoped...

Finding our way through a sleepy, foggy village and icy, snow-laden fields, we spent a few minutes there, but felt so cold and glum that the only solution was a hot bowl of soup somewhere local before heading home.

In Ireland, even in the middle of nowhere in Winter on a miserable day, you will always find a
pub/grocery/post-office that will serve a hot toasted sandwich or bowl of soup to a weary traveller.  If you're really lucky there will be a roaring fire to thaw you out before hitting the road again.  In Sweden, there is no such tradition as far as I can tell.  The little village of Kåseberga felt like a ghost town, not a single shop was open.  There were cafes and art galleries, all closed until Easter when the 'season' begins.  We wandered around the frozen harbour, hunting unsuccessfully for something warm to eat and finally gave up and headed home.

On the road to Lund, we passed a sign for 'The Lodge', somewhere we had passed on a previous afternoon spent mountain biking.  Surely, this place would be open?  We took a chance and headed off the main road for a few km, following a farm track into a beautiful wooded area and parked.  A row of Audi estates in the car park gave us hope of some much needed luxury.  As we approached we saw this sign and nearly cried with relief.

A roaring fire greeted us as as one of the staff confirmed that we could still order food.  We sank into a comfy squishy sofa and began to thaw out...

We ordered soup and a salad, the soup sounded really odd, but I didn't care.  It would be hot and turned out to be amazing...a rich smoky tomato soup with juicy chargrilled chicken sitting in the middle of it.  WOW.  I don't think I've ever tasted soup like it.  I thought I had ordered half a portion of soup and half a portion of caesar salad, but somehow a 'räkor' or shrimp salad arrived.  I don't know how it could be called a half portion as it was huge and as a Swedish tradition, I figured it was probably about time I tried it.  I'm so glad I did, yet another resounding WOW.  Super fresh, gorgeous dressing, amazing sweet rye bread.  Yum yum.  Such a happy hungry cailín.

So, I think for me last week, this was luxury.  It wasn't particularly expensive, but the service was perfect, the food was fresh, locally sourced and delicious.  The sofas were comfy.  The toilets were clean with those lovely towelling squares to dry your hands on (pure luxury!)  We finally peeled ourselves out of the sofa and reluctantly headed back to the car, refreshed and happy.

How do you define luxury?  

Sunday, February 2, 2014

How to face a grey day...tea of course!

In Ireland, there's very little that a cup of tea can't fix.  In fact, if tea can't resolve it, then it really must be serious...  I don't drink black tea and never have, my tea drinking habits (or lack of) have always been a matter for suspicion among most Irish Mammies.

I might not drink 'normal' tea, but I do drink herbal teas and even some I make myself.  Today feels like a homemade tea morning; we haven't seen the sun in weeks, the snow has turned to slush, everything is wet
and grey and it's February!   I know, I know, technically it's Winter, but according to my internal calendar, the 1st of February is Spring.  In the Celtic tradition, February 1st is Imbolc, the feast day that celebrates the beginning of Spring, the lengthening days and the early signs of life after Winter.  The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the growing power of the sun.  I trust that the sun is up there above the clouds, but today, I need some help from tea...and candles.

So, here is the easiest and most delicious lemon & ginger tea, perfect first thing in the morning as it stimulates your metabolism, fires up your liver and gives your digestive fire or 'agni' in ayurvedic terms, a kick in the bum.  Just squeezing the juice from lemons feels like an act of defiance on such a grey day and  as I lick the juice from my fingers, reminds me of sunnier climes.

What you'll need

  • A big teapot, with an internal strainer or a tea strainer to pour the tea through.
  • 1 tbsp of freshly grated ginger - if you have a microplane, it works a dream.  If you don't have any kind of grater, slice the ginger with a knife, but use more as it won't be as juicy.
  • 1 or 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 tbsp local, organic (if possible) honey

Put the ginger, lemon juice and honey into the teapot.
Boil the kettle and fill the teapot (you can adjust the amount of ginger and lemon to suit your teapot, but this amount gave me 4 cups).
Stir to dissolve the honey.
Let the tea infuse for 10 minutes or so.
Light a few candles and an open fire if you're lucky enough to have one...and pour a cup of yummy tea.  It'll make you smile, I promise.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Organ meats anyone?

I remember, as a kid, being given kidneys as part of a warm salad for dinner.  The whole notion of a warm salad was rather brave & in our part of Co. Waterford was definitely 'nouvelle cuisine', but kidneys?  Oh man, I hated them.  Even now, I'm not sure what animal they came from, but I guess it was chicken...they were really tiny.  The smell and texture made me retch and put me off all organ meats forever, or so I thought.

Thankfully, my mother had the wisdom to try other methods of getting organ meats into us.  Every now and then she would make a big batch of chicken liver pâté, freeze most of it and on special occasions present us with a ramekin of smooth creamy heaven.  Even though I knew it was called 'liver' pâté, I didn't quite make the connection with organ meats.  Even my brother loved it and still does, despite being the fussiest eater in the family.  I always thought it must be very expensive to make, as we only had it very rarely, but now I know better.  It's really inexpensive and so easy and quick to make.  If you don't mind handling organ meats and are confident that you can get them from a reputable source, then it's well worth trying.

Obviously if you're vegetarian then this recipe isn't for you.  However, if you're a meat eater as I am, using as much of the animal as possible makes me feel better about eating it in the first place, even if they look pretty unappetising in their raw state.  I'm lucky to have found a fantastic butcher in Malmö  'Vilt Specialisten' who specialises in wild game and organic pasture reared meat, which is naturally higher in all kinds of nutrients including the much talked about Omega-3.

If you're not sure about organ meats, let me try to convince you.  Organ meats like liver, kidneys and heart are rich in many nutrients, particularly fat soluble ones like Vitamin A & D, minerals selenium, zinc and iron, B vitamins and Vitamin K2.  B12 is particularly rich in liver, as that's where it's stored (unlike other B vitamins) and is hard to get if you don't eat much meat or animal products.  Deficiencies in B12 can lead to issues with cell division and blood volume, mood disorders, depression and anxiety.  Also found in organ meats is a nutrient called Co-enzyme Q10, which is essential for energy production and is often lacking when we are fatigued or suffering from conditions like chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue or long term stress.  All of these nutrients are essential for very active people and are often lacking in our diets, even if we feel we are eating healthily.  This pâté recipe includes grass fed butter (organic if you can get it) which really helps us to absorb the fat soluble nutrients in the liver.

Convinced?  Well, I reckon that's quite enough theory, here's the recipe

Chicken Liver Pâté

125g organic grass fed butter (easy to get in Ireland, not so easy here in Sweden!)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Small handful of thyme leaves (rosemary or tarragon work well too, I find sage a bit strong)
500g fresh, free-range organic chicken livers
Unrefined sea salt (like Maldon)
Freshly ground black pepper
40ml orange juice (ideally freshly squeezed)
60ml brandy (or just more orange juice)

Optional - 200g of butter and extra herb sprigs to seal the pâté.

What to do:

  1. In a large frying pan or wide saucepan, add 2tbsp of the butter over a low heat.  Add the onion and garlic and 1/2 tsp of salt.  Let this cook slowly and gently until soft and translucent, but not brown.
  2. Add the brandy, thyme and orange juice, simmer for 2 minutes to cook off the alcohol and reduce slightly.
  3. Add the chicken livers.  Cook them gently, turning regularly until they are opaque on the outside but still burgundy on the inside.  Take off the heat.  
  4. Transfer the liver & onion mix to a food processor (a blender may also work, but the blade is smaller so you will probably need to do it in several batches).  Add another 1/2 tsp of salt, a good pinch of pepper and blitz for 1 minute until almost smooth.  Cut up the remaining butter and add piece by piece with the processor running.  Taste and add more seasoning if you think it needs it.  Now, to get it really smooth, process for another 2 minutes.
  5. Transfer the mix to a large ceramic terrine dish, or as I did, several ramekins which makes it easier to freeze some and eat the rest.  If you wish, you can seal the pâté with the additional butter, by melting it first with a few rosemary or thyme leaves then gently spooning over the pâté.  Once this butter sets, it acts as a seal and helps to prevent oxidation of the precious fats inside.
  6. Put it in the fridge and leave to set for a few hours, ideally overnight.  Freeze most of it (covered with clingfilm or a lid to protect from freezer burn) and tuck into whatever you keep in the fridge.  It's lovely spread on veg sticks or on sourdough toast for breakfast or lunch. 
What do you think, will you try it?  I'd love to see photos if you do, share them on my facebook page!