Why bother with a packet mix for dinner tonight?

The Food industry makes a fortune selling us those little sachets of packet mix to flavour everything from cottage pie to fajitas. I have never liked to them due to the common inclusion of MSG which disagrees with me and of course their main ingredients of sugar (dextrose) and salt (sodium). They are also more expensive than mixing your own.

Back in the 70s and 80s When I lived in the inner city it was easy to go to the local shops and buy my own spices and experiment with all the then uncommon vegetables on sale, later on larger supermarkets began to stock a much wider range of spices for our increasingly spicy diets.
No little expensive jars for us but big packets to divide up and share with my friends as spices do go stale after a while and stored in honey or pickle jars in a dark cupboard. Don’t think I have ever thrown any out though.

With a few basic spices a wide range of meals can be created.
A medical student showed me basic curry mix learned from his Consultant and Mr Said’s curry became a household favourite (chilli, turmeric, coriander, cumin and salt that’s all- with cheap canned tomatoes to make the sauce.

Latterly as a teacher the students wanted fajitas and this is the recipe I will share today:

1/2 lime (or use bottled juice not the sweetened squash though)
1/2 green or red chilli or 1 teaspoon (5g) dried chilli powder
1 clove garlic
1x15ml spoon fresh coriander or parsley (Optional)
1x10ml spoon vegetable oil 1 medium chicken breast (or turkey or Quorn strips)
1 small onion
1/2 green or red pepper

For those of you addicted to the packet mixes try mixing up your own with half a teaspoon powdered coriander, cumin, chilli or paprika to taste, plus a little salt if you must.

1. Prepare the marinade in a bowl:
squeeze the lime;
peel and crush the garlic;
de-seed and slice the chilli;
chop the coriander;
stir everything together in the bowl with the oil.

2. On a red chopping board, remove any skin from the chicken and cut into strips.
3. Heat pan- Add the marinated chicken to the wok or frying pan and stir-fry for about 4 minutes.
4. Check that the chicken is cooked through should not be any pink
5. Add the onion and green pepper and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes

Wrap in tortilla and serve with guacamole or salsa!

Easy so enjoy



‘Best Before’ and ‘Use by’ Confusion

What Chris did next

When I was teaching the students were always confused about ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. As we know best before means things are till edible and safe  just not at their ‘best’ There are probably numerous things in my pantry  like this including Marmite dated best before September 2011 but I can’t say I have noticed any difference in it and with that amount of salt it will probably last forever.

However why on earth do the supermarkets put ‘Best before’  on bags of potatoes and apples? They last for months if stored properly and no potatoes do not need to be  in the fridge gah!  More than once I have had to stop a child throwing them in the bin  even though they all looked perfect.

I would tell them that ‘Use by’ is an instruction applying only to high protein foods and although I would not…

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The Art of Remembrance

Lest we forget. I am pleased that the Australians are also honouring my grandad’s cousin Charles James Brett by projecting his name on their memorial at Canberra.


Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, wants the poppy installation around the Tower of London to remain. Currently, as I write on the 6th November, it has had over 4 million visitors. My images were  taken a week or so back, and the whole work will not be finished until, symbolically the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month – the time the armistice was declared to end the First World War.

Moat of blood Moat of blood

Three of my relations died in France, and one of my partners. Grandad, I was told, suffered the after effects from a gas attack until his death in the 1960’s. OH and I have bought one of the ceramic poppies in memory primarily of her Australian antecedent. Emigrating from Laughton in Sussex to Australia in pre-war years he returned with an Australian gun battery in 1916 to be…

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Baking with less sugar

With the current fashion for home baking thanks to The Great British Bake Off and other media influences I have been trying to extend my repertoire of sweet treats that will not add to the diabesity and heart disease explosion.

I was always taught to follow cake baking recipes to the letter in order to get the texture right however experiments with sugar substitutes when I was teaching just did not taste right hence my efforts to cut the sugar in many of the recipes we used. Fruit or plain scones without the sugar, muffins with 20% less all seemed to work well and taste fine.

At home I went further and started to look at some of our old favourites. Tea bread with 20% less sugar than the recipes and ditto lemon layer pudding or cheesecake. I also served up custard powder custard with no sugar at all in it over a crumble with no comments.

Fruit crumble is one of our all time favourites so this is the one I focussed on , Did I need to add sugar to the fruit –no not if it was canned in juice or had been frozen. How about apples? Well the secret is not if you add some home picked blackberries or fresh plums.

I experimented with the toppings for a while and although this does not have the solid texture of a traditional crumble it works for us!
Mix 400g blackberries – picked from the golf course last Autumn  during my foraging expeditions and frozen . Add  200g sliced apples – Bramley’s or dessert it make no difference. Place in oven proof dish
Make the topping by rubbing in 30g butter to 50g spelt flour and 50g plain white. Stir in 20g brown sugar and 10 g porridge oats.
Sprinkle over the fruit. Finish with 10g mixed seeds.
Bake at 180 for 25 minutes. Serves 6 and gives about 168 calories a portion

Blackberry and apple

Blackberry and apple

Celebrity Chefs and Healthy Eating


Hairy Dieters jerk chicken with home made low fat coleslaw and brown rice

In the UK we love our food porn, people spend a fortune on recipe books they probably rarely use and love TV programmes like The Great British Bake Off. Problem is most of these programmes and recipes are not very good for our waistlines, heart health or sugar and salt addictions. If eating out I am forever asking for the chef to not add any extra salt for instance (often with limited results)
During my 25 years as a food teacher I became very disenchanted with many of our TV chefs . Back in the 80s we watched and learned to broaden our horizons from the likes of Sarah Brown –in Vegetarian Kitchen. Inspirational chefs like Ken Hom and Madhur Jaffrey enabled me to get some skills in ethnic food preparation and I can even remember Gary Rhodes giving helpful hints on scone cutting. In the past we enjoyed the Galloping Gourmet and the antics of Keith Floyd. Moving on to the 1990s there was an explosion of what were now called ‘celebrity chefs ‘ and I soon became bored and switched off. I certainly rarely bought a cook book either. As the internet became more important, we would google for something we were interested in rather than buy a book which would sit on the shelf for decoration waiting for a rare read. I have been gifted cook books which I have hardly opened too. Cookery programmes have long passed into the realms of entertainment and competition . Twitter means they are a kind of spectator sport. Everyone has an opinion they can share.
Luckily we are starting to see a shift in focus and some of these now very well-known and affluent chefs are starting to think about the Nation’s Health, This started with Jamie Oliver and his school meals campaign followed by this efforts to get the locals cooking in Rotherham. He bit off a bit more than he could chew trying it in the USA too but all power to him for trying. More recently we have seen James Martin be the first chef in 21 failed attempts by other well-known faces to actually improve the Hospital food offering in Scarborough and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. The Hairy Bikers got a meals on wheels service going again In various places; then owned up to their own Obesity. They took on a 3 month challenge to do something about it by changing their own diets and taking up exercise. Now they have started the Hairy Bikers Diet Club in an effort to help more people change their lifestyle and still eat the sort of food many of us have come to enjoy. Yes they charge a monthly fee if you want to use their App and get more support than the recipe books but then Weight Watchers and Slimming world charge too. BUT This is where I think they have a good point – their meals are made with ingredients from scratch. There are no low fat (high sugar) special ‘diet ‘foods as far as I can see. Yes dear readers I actually bought the book and find that the curries and spicy recipes they suggest work very well indeed. Many of the other recipes are similar to those I have already adapted for our own new lifestyle but I have certainly picked up a few more ideas from them too. My only concern is adding sugar to things that don’t need it IMHO – including savoury meals. Not good in a house where we have turned back type 2 diabetes.

Hairy Dieters recipe for Marinating jerk chicken no added oil


I am hoping that we are going to see more of this in the near future, after all I don’t think it is rocket science to adapt recipes to make them healthier. So come on chefs- who will be next to help fight diabesity?

Yes its official – all that sugar added to processed food causes obesity.

I did not know whether to cheer or sigh at this week’s news in the UK that obesity experts are now launching a campaign to put pressure on the government and industry to cut the sugar content of food and drinks by up to 30%. ( see @Actiononsugar on twitter ) I could hardly believe it when on BBC breakfast this morning Louise Minchin expressed her amazement that 300g Heinz tomato soup contains 4 teaspoons of sugar. (My food of choice incidentally when feeling poorly as was childhood comfort food) Clearly she was never in a Food class taught by me or my colleagues over the last 30 years. I am amazed that more people do not seem to realise how much sugar they are eating
Indeed healthy eating has been on the curriculum for many years and I recall stacking up the sugar cubes with the bottles of cola and sauces as well as breakfast cereals- the ones aimed at children being the worst offenders. 36% sugar in one chocolate flavour cereal when the class collected the packets. Then there were the pies and canned foods students might not have realised were sugary. We even tried to dissolve a tooth in cola once!
Later on in the age of nutritional software we challenged classes to produce snack bars that were less sugary and fatty than many of the premium commercial ones. Yes we succeed too with fruit and nut flapjack, scones and the like. We went on company websites like Starbucks and saw for ourselves the calories from sugar (and fat) in those coffees so many people love tocarry around and from the mega double chocolate chip muffins. Sadly not everyone stopped buying them though and not just as a rare treat but regularly.
For my entire teaching career Professors like Philip James have been advising us to change our habits and develop more awareness. It must be so frustrating for them. Apparently Industry believes we all read and understand food labels and balance our diets by eating less ! so sugar does not need to be targeted…


Plums and greek yogurt

Plums and greek yogurt

Dr Aseem Malhotra cardiologist and science director of the new group has highlighted the link between sugar consumption and diabetes (type 2) whether we are overweight or not. As a partner of someone who has turned back the tide on type 2 I can assure you that reducing sugar content in his daily diet as well as alcohol (sugary) has played a large part in this. #Diabesity can be reversed
Everywhere I go children are snacking on sugary products popping into the bakery for doughnuts and cakes on the way to school, some of those fruit flavoured packed lunch strips and ‘Childrens yogurts’ make me want to weep for their future health.
Our most recent builders never stopped to eat but they got through a half a kilo of sugar in their tea and coffee in 4 days….
Maybe this time industry will take some responsibility and allow us to control our sugar intake better.

Walking for Fun and challenge

As I said before Back in August 2012 when first joined My Fitness Pal I could hardly walk a mile round the block without building up a sweat. After years of walking round a classroom all day I had lost it completely. I would limit my trips to the Village and always drive a mile to the Supermarket. I had a couple of online friends who were dog walkers and I could quickly see how they earned calories from their daily exercise with their pets. This changed my whole mindset- walking became a challenge though I could never match the distances one of my friends walks.
In the last few months she introduced me to The Leslie Sansone challenges and yes I have been upping my distance covered to 60 miles plus for 3 months now. This month however she told about about another one The Move Your @ss Challenge or MYAC on which you can walk, run, jog, cycle or do whatever you like long as you make those miles. There is a totally committed and wonderful guy called Dave who with his helpers reads your total every night and updates a spread sheet so you can see if you are on target.

I was determined that on Boxing day I would do a long walk for me (over 4 miles) and got my OH to drop me at Tidemills as dawn broke on his way to Coastwatch duty. Nature was kind to me. The storms and wind had gone and I was treated to a wonderful sunrise over Seaford Head as I walked back along the Vanguard Way and up over the cliff across the golf course.

The sound of gentle waves and Redshanks from the pools

The sound of gentle waves and Redshanks from the pools

I was a bit dubious about this challenge as I thought with all these long distance runners and cyclists I would soon fall over. To my amazement I have been on track nearly the whole month despite my knee injury and today I went out in the rain and hail to make sure I finished my 65 miles I pledged at the end of November. With a few more December days I might even log a personal best of 70 miles – need some waterproof boots though.
So from being difficult, walking has become a challenge and fun. Never thought I would hear myself say that. Thank you Jean.