Project Food Blog

New Beginnings

Kath's recent posts about Nu Beginnings and changing old habits has got me thinking about a family that I work with. Forgive the food pun, and I'm not making light of their situation at all... but they had got themselves into a bit of a pickle. (A euphemism in my line of work for a ruddy big hole.) Long term unemployment, lack of qualifications, debt, 3 children under 5 (1 a new born baby) and a little bit of misuse if you get my drift. It was with a heavy heart that I began the latest family meeting. However, Dad (who usually excuses himself from these meetings) arrived, declaring that he had discovered a passion that he had never felt before... inspired by the desire to change things for his wife and kids, he has begun........ COOKING.... with a goal to training as a chef. I could have hugged him, the way he spoke about gaining the qualifications he needs, his desire to widen his kids' food choices.... Bless him... He's staying away from his old friends/ associates, and instead is digging his garden to plant vegetables. Sometimes I have to admit I can be a bit cynical about what people say, the expected patter to professionals, but the way he spoke about the fire in his belly, I know he has found the recipe for change...Good luck to them, and it is true..the longest journey starts with a single step...and in his case a spade and a cook book.

Happy St George's Day!

And in London at least, it's a beautiful evening. We've got friends coming over for dinner, and seeing as curry is fast becoming our national dish, I thought it seemed only appropriate to celebrate with a few rubies (that's Ruby Murray - curry for all of you non-Brit followers). We're having prawn and chick pea bhuna; lamb, aubergine and spinach madras and a chicken korma, served with my fave chilled red, Brown Brothers Tarrango.

But if you are feeling like something a little bit more English this evening, may we suggest unearthing that bag of charcoal and firing up the great British BBQ?

How about corn on the cobs in foil, pork steaks brushed with sage butter, bangers served with a honey and mustard dipping sauce, new potato and chive salad, and a green salad? We always get our bangers from Bob Dove, it's the finest meat in south London, and the barbie selection is always spot on.

Served with plenty of Pimms and lemonade, and followed by a game of British Bulldogs. Bottoms up!

A taste of Nu Beginnings

So, I'm back from Nu Beginnings, the UK's only boutique boot camp. And it was a fantastic week. Yes, I've emerged lighter, and 10 cm smaller – but more importantly, having spent a week with a fantastic chef and nutritionist, I've learnt some great new GL recipes, and approaches to healthy eating, that I'll certainly be putting to good use (at least most of the time).

One of the things that has really benefited me this week is cutting out wheat, I have noticed a real difference in terms of digestion and bloating. But at Nu Beginnings, they also follow a low GL (Glycemic Load) diet, and so replace foods with a high Glycemic index (such as white pasta and arborio rice) with those that are lower (such as spelt pasta and pearl barley).

The purpose of this is to avoid refined, high sugar foods that cause a spike in your blood sugar – fast-releasing foods are bad, slower ones far better.

Anyway, enough of the science – anyone wanting to read further, check out any of Patrick Holford's excellent books. And I can't recommend Nu Beginnings highly enough for anyone wanting a healthy, holistic holiday with great food.

Chef Gary was kind enough to share some of his recipes, including this risotto made with pearl barley which was a huge hit with the group. It couldn't be easier, and I'm making it again for Sunday lunch for veggie guests tomorrow. Because, lovely as it was to have our own chef last week, I couldn't wait to get home and start cooking again.

Barley Asparagus Risotto
Serves 8

2 red onions, 4 stalks celery, 2 clove garlic, finely chopped
240g pearl barley
1 1/2-2 pints stock, made with Marigold Organic Bouillon Reduced Salt
Large bunch asparagus, chopped
Dash white wine vinegar
Handful Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1. Simmer the onions, celery and garlic in a small amount of the stock until softened
2. Add the barley and stir for 2 mins
3. Add stock so that it just covers the barley and cook for 20 mins, stirring occasionally and adding more hot stock when needed
4. Stir in the chopped asparagus, apart from the tips, and cook for 10 mins
5. Add the vinegar, cheese and thyme, then stir in the tips, and cook for a further 5 minutes.
6. Serve with extra spears of steamed asparagus on top and plenty of black pepper.

Note: Nu Beginnings cook without alcohol or salt, but feel free to add either or both if desired!

The World is Your Oyster

QUESTION: What birthday could be more special than being given a gift of a beautiful Lulu Guinness Clutch and spending it with a group of good friends, eating, drinking, laughing and chatting?

ANSWER: Being taken out for lunch the next day with said bag to The Crazy Bear in Beaconsfield.
Actually, if the truth be told, I couldn't choose between the two

To keep things simple and easy, and as there were long journeys made by some, for the evening of my birthday, I chose to do two Tom Yam Soups (1 prawn, 1 vegetarian) plus a selection of Thai appetizers and a plate of whole meal chapatis which people could then help themselves to as they arrived.  

The following day, we set off in terrible weather down the motorway to Beaconsfield, to eat lunch in the most lavish surroundings. My friend Heather described the decor as 'maximalist'.  Seven of us were seated in a Swarovski encrusted cream leather buttoned booth, where we treated to exquisitely presented food from The English Restaurant Menu.  Between us we had the Goat's Curd and Beetroot salad; Smoked Salmon with Ginger, Vanilla and Lime pickled Cucumber; and Poached Veal Fillet with soft boiled Quail's Eggs. For mains we ate Roast Sea Bass with Salsify, Roast Breast of Corn Fed chicken with Truffle sauce, beautifully presented locally produced Lamb Chops with Dauphinoise Potato, and for the vegetarians in the group, Winter Spinach, Chestnut and Squash Risotto.

To sum up, the past 24 hours of eating, drinking and being with truly great friends have been very special,  and I hope all of you reading this get the opportunities to spend time with people you love. If you don't, make sure you make time. In the words of my handbag, the World is your Oyster... Enjoy it.