Mathew Bose



The eatwell plate…

If you are feeling overwhelmed with nutritional claims and ‘advice’ from literally every angle then start with this…

This is the ‘eatwell plate’ and it is one of the key elements of the Department of Health and The Food Standards Agency issued recommendations for a healthy diet.

It is designed as a visual representation of the different food groups we need to ensure we get a wide range of nutrients and therefore remain healthy. With a few caveats (like infants and those under medical supervision) it covers all people, all ethnic groups, healthy or over weight and vegetarians.

The plate is designed to show proportions of each food group rather than specific foods and therefore puts the emphasis on the diet as a whole rather than labelling foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is the balance of these food groups that makes a diet healthy or unhealthy.

There are two equally large sections which means these groups should each take up approx 33% of our diets. The YELLOW – bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods and the 33% GREEN – fruit and vegetables. Of the remaining third a recommended approx 15% is taken up by BLUE – milk and dairy foods and another approx 12% by PINK – meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein. The smallest final section of approx 7% is PURPLE – food and drinks high in fat and/or sugar.

Used along with 8 suggested tips for balanced eating (below) it is meant to give us an overall approach to our eating rather than on an individual meal basis.

  1. base your meals on starchy foods
  2. eat lots of fruit and vegetables
  3. eat more fish
  4. cut down on saturated fat and sugar
  5. eat less salt
  6. get active and be a healthy weight
  7. drink plenty of water
  8. don’t skip breakfast

Download the full accompanying guide to the use of the eatwell plate here:

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_129974.pdf

The guide fleshes out the visuals with more details and suggestions. It discusses the various daily allowances, breaks down these groups into specific examples of the foods recommended and gives a little advice on supplements.

Okay, it’s perhaps a tad sweeping and basic but then add some follow up research (which I highly advise) and you will soon be able to decide what’s best for you. These are guidelines and many other sites will criticise them but it’s a fairly good place to start if you’re feeling bombarded and confused!

Mathew Bose



Seasonal food…the slim pickings of February…

I’m watching a friend stoically work their way through this pictured apricot. I have to stop them and photograph it. They think I’m bonkers. I think they’re bonkers. It’s an impasse. Of course, I think they’re more bonkers than me because they are eating a fruit that is no more in season than a crop top and clam diggers. Sure it smells like an apricot (albeit faintly) and it has more than a passing resemblance to one (except paler) but it is an apricot in name only.

It’s madness and just plain silly to be buying this type of fruit at this time of the year in the UK. We don’t harvest them here till July and August although the season is sometimes reported as May to September but that’s pushing it love! The former are the UK ones from Kent, the latter the European ones. Any in the shops outside of these times are being ‘green picked’ and flown in from the short winter seasons in Chile or South Africa. Forced fruit and carbon-air-miles to eat an acidic and beige tasting fruit?!? An unnatural crunchy texture that no amount of room temperature ripening attempts can salvage?!? Come on people…

NO, NO, NO. Stop it…

…please?!?

Okay, yes, February is a tough month for fruit that is seasonal and local, I see that, but then it’s also a short month and there are other ways to get your vitamins and minerals – many splendid vegetables in season and local grown like leeks, cabbages, carrots, kale, turnips, swedes, beetroot, celeriac and cauliflower and also a good few nutrient packed herbs like parsley, dill, thyme, sage, sorrel, chervil, and rosemary.

What about buying frozen? Berries in particular freeze well and are always handy to keep for all year round use, especially if you are planning to use them in smoothies, cooking or to add them, compote style, to your breakfast.

You may well baulk at the suggestion I’m about to make but stay with me! Why not turn to tinned fruit during our seasonal fruit dearth? If you are like me and grew up in a time when tinned fruit was mushy and syrupy and just tasted like pear drops regardless of what it said on the outside of the tin, then you, like me, are in need of a revisit. There are some wonderful examples of tinned fruit that come free of sugar based syrups and actually taste like the fruit should. I know! A revelation! This especially applies to tropical fruit that simply isn’t ever going to be local to us.

May I also offer for your consideration, with it’s exemplary taste, texture and it’s different yet equal healthiness…the British apple. The actual indigenous (being ludicrously relabelled as ‘heritage’) varieties rather than these made-y up-y ‘club’ ones, I hasten to add. In season and ready to thrill you with sensory gorgeousness and fill you with nutritional loveliness. AND if that isn’t enough then what about the British pear? Ditto on the taste and health front! And please don’t be all mimsy about their shape or any outer texture that isn’t the usual shiny orb you are used to. That shininess is wax and the fruit bred to fit into the supermarket’s packaging…it’s amazing isn’t it how nature knows to grow fruit to fit exactly into the supermarket’s little plastic trays…

Get in quick because they are about to lose their lustre and you will need to temporally turn to Europe for fruit, if the increased vegetable option offers you no comfort. Rhubarb (forced) is available too although it’s easily arguable that the sugar needed to sweeten this far out strips any nutritional benefit, so I’d not eat it for the health…!

So we turn to Europe (only very occasionally further afield) and February offers pomegranates from Spain that are a healthier choice than the afore mentioned apricots as they are in season and bursting with goodness. Pomegranates are ridiculously good for you. Same for the Spanish crop of oranges and grapefruits arriving in our stores now…

But what’s this I’ve noticed?!? The Spanish stuff is available as organic (most important when dealing with fruit that is highly susceptible to disease and therefore tends to be treated with pesticides the most – organic producers can only use two different ones, if desperate, compared to the multitude used by the regular producers) but the UK stuff isnt!?!? Take this bag of kale…

It’s seasonal and highly nutritious (a borderline superfood) and grown here…but not organic?!? The organic version is available, yes, but imported from Spain…! Does this mean this particular supermarket is just taking what it can get or making those decisions financially? Some might argue that kale needs less organic attention? Give it a good wash and Bob’s your uncle…? But I look around the fruit and vegetable aisles and see the same depressing story repeated everywhere…hmmm…

I agree it can be difficult (and some might say boring in this world of blanket availability) to stick to the local seasonal offerings but it is this very assumption that everything should be available to us every day of the year that is breeding substandard and tasteless produce and causing ecological and political distress throughout the world. It’s just something to think about and do what we can when we can…

Lawks, I’ve got the bit between my teeth about this seasonal, local eating malarkey so this is just the beginning…

…sorry!

x happy eating! M

To your health! M

Mathew Bose



Chicken soup – the Jewish penicillin…

Apparently I am one sixteenth Jewish or something like that but I’ve always discounted it as too distant to influence me. However, when faced with a household of sickness I began to wonder. I could see nothing but a sea of feverish and sweaty ill people, all thirsty and demanding. None would eat. Not eat?!?! Oi vey and by Shiva…I could feel the Jewish and Bengali DNA in me stirring! A cold is a virus and therefore will run it’s course, but I could help ease the symptoms, surely?!?! I’d have to try, of course (the DNA was churning by now), and certainly feel a bowl of nutrient drenched soup must be better for the ailing than a chemical packed Lemsip. With ‘feed a cold and starve a fever’ ringing in my ears I set about the ‘Jewish penicillin’ cure all…

I’m immediately faced with a problem. Where does one (even in Hampstead) get a boiling chicken or a bag of chicken wings on a Saturday night?!? Well, the short answer is I don’t but (especially in Hampstead) I can access a whole plethora of organic chickens! (Which is good in one particular way, as I shall explain below.) Chicken wings are usual and useful in this dish as they impart such a strong chicken flavour as well as all the goodness leeched from the bones and joints. Boiling chickens are mature chickens that need a good long cooking time and therefore are ideal for soup. The meat is usually rendered pretty grim after a boiling session – it is never advisable to boil a chicken – lightly poach at the very most (si yau kai – yum!).

Anyhoo…chicken is an excellent source of complete protein and minerals, and lower in fat than most other meats, but, and this is vital, many cheap packages of chicken are either injected with water and proteins and/or from feeding factories where they are kept in unnatural circumstances with little air or light and fed endlessly and then slaughtered, at best, haphazardly. They are denied any natural behavioural process and often have their beaks and claws clipped. They are bred to have a fuller breast and this puts their legs and vital organs under pressure, killing many of them from the shear strain. Please consider organic free range. Just free range does not guarantee they have been outside as they are still kept in huge flocks and cannot all make it to the outside areas provided…they just have to have the ‘chance’ to go outside to qualify for ‘free range’. Free range does not guarantee the birds have not been fed any growth treatments, either. Be warned. Organic, however, stipulates the chickens are fed on natural food stuffs and allowed to roam freely and establish their social activities (chickens are very social birds). These chickens (organic free range) are really the only type you should buy. Chickens get a rough deal at pretty much every level and we must try to stop the farming and processing of chickens in these revolting conditions. Yes, I know, it’s much more expensive but imagine it more as a treat or a flavouring. It’s better for your body, your conscious and for the chicken.

So, accepting all this I have bought two organic free range pampered chickens and shall adapt accordingly. Additionally, as this is a dish that is designed to impart health and taste I can’t really use an economy badly nourished bird can I?!?

I hack the chickens up and leave the breasts as whole pieces as I am planning to retrieve them after a short poaching period! I’m thrifty, so be sure I’m not going to sacrifice the entire chicken to this soup when the dark meat and the bones are the real star. The ‘white’ meat will be rendered inedible by the long simmering process and completely wasted, so this way I get a whole other dinner from these birds. (I’ve already planned the Asian style dishes I’m going to make from the breast meat…it is the least interesting, after all, and always needs a good boost from some tricksy flavours). Then for the vegetables…! It’s winter so root vegetables are abundant and at their peak. We are thinking goodness and nutrition here…

Parsnips are an excellent source of fibre (maintains healthy bowels), folate (helps regenerate the body, make blood cells, fights against birth defects), vitamin K (builds strong bones, helps cells grow and live, helps blood clot), and potassium (regulates blood pressure and keeps the muscles and nerves functioning properly).

Celeriac (celery root but also called celery knob in some places…gracious!) is the most ignored root vegetable of them all surely? It is staggeringly low in calories as it has a low starch content, it has phosphorus (vital to cell function and it regulates calcium for strong bones and teeth) and potassium (water balance, blood pressure management, nerve function), vitamin K and C (healthy cells, growth and repair of tissue, boosts the immune system and much, much more) and a nice hit of iron (transports oxygen, helps make red blood cells, fights fatigue of body and mind).

Carrots are a fab source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties that help prevent ageing damage to your cells, fights cardiovascular issues and the vitamin A that the liver creates from it keeps skin, hair and nails healthy, flushes out the liver and helps your retinas stay in tip top condition.

Ideally you want the turnip greens as well as these are packed with lots of lovely antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E and K, manganese (helps metabolise fats and proteins to create energy, is used in the forming of healthy bones, tissues, nerves and cartilage, maintains a healthy reproductive system) and beta-carotene) and phyochemicals – nonnutritive plant compounds that aren’t used for sustaining life but rather for other aspects like protecting the plant, fighting diseases and also colour and scent. They are believed to have disease fighting properties for humans. The turnip base, like all it’s cruciferous family, has a heap of vitamin C and fibre and is a good source of calcium, copper (used to make red and white blood cells, vital for infant growth and brain development, assists the immune system and helps defend against infection, used for strong bones and blood vessels, protects nerve tissue and as an antioxidant it mops up and deactivates free radicals) and potassium.

I’m using red onions here purely because I haven’t got any brown ones. I also peel these ones as they are looking a little past their prime but if you’ve got good solid clean onions then I wouldn’t bother peeling them. OR if you have some leeks use them instead, or a combination? Onions are also high in phytochemicals/phytonutrients. The one often mentioned is quercetin which sweeps through the body removing harmful free radicals whilst simultaneously supporting the cardiovascular system, the immune system, promoting bone health and assisting with congestion and fighting mild allergies! Red onions (especially the outer layers) are packed with this and many other wonder compounds too. Leeks are chock full of vitamins, minerals and specifically folate and, like garlic and other alliums, antioxidants (notably allicin) – which does lots of wondrous things like help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. If that wasn’t enough, it also acts as a general anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal.

Celery is a nutritional powerhouse. Long a dieters favourite and as they like to say, ‘it burns more calories chewing it than it contains!’…er…not with that cream cheese piled on it, love. Well, that’s as maybe but it actually is very good for you. For goodness sake, literally, don’t buy the pre-trimmed ones. (What’s with all this pre-prepared nonsense? Come on, you’re so wealthy and time pressed that you can’t chop the ends of a piece of celery or a green bean?) The leaves of the celery contain vitamin A and the stems are packed with vitamin B’s and C, plus essential amino acids and minerals. Along with the good bowel friendly fibre celery is also a cooling, anti-inflammatory diuretic with a talent for reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and fighting various forms of cancer. The natural sodium it contains is healthy and necessary for your body. And as if this wasn’t enough, many of these compounds hold up well to cooking so, if like me you literally gag at the thought of raw celery, all is by no means lost.

I chucked a fair few sprigs of parsley in too. Parsley (even dried) has a good hit of vitamins A, C and K, it has folate and helps the immune system combat inflammation and control homocysteine (an amino acid created as a byproduct of eating meat and elevated levels of it put you at risk of heart disease). Some traditional recipes call for dill too. I can’t quite imagine this being good…but I bow to the superior and tried and tested knowledge of my elders…well, I would if I had any dill but I haven’t so…

Bring this to the boil and skim off any scummy stuff that forms on the top. I then simmered this for about forty-five minutes before I raced over and extracted the chicken breasts (having just remembered…was too busy tweeting). I stripped the meat off the bones and chucked the carcass bits back into the pot. I couldn’t resist pulling off some of the leg meat too as I know that’s going to be so delicious in the Asian dishes! The trick, I’m reliably told, is to agitate the contents of the pot the least amount to ensure a clear broth at the end. Well, that’s ruined that huh? But I’m simply not willing to sacrifice that organic, hand petted, house remortgaging poached meat to the alter of the clear broth gods. It’s just too wasteful! Of course, if the meat in the pot was just carcass and wings this would never have happened…guilt, guilt, guilt…

I then let this huge pot of divine smelling loveliness just simmer away (with the lid on, of course) for a couple of hours. There is no point going on for longer as there comes a point when the chicken and vegetables have released all they can. If you doubt this has happened try a bit of the chicken and you’ll find yourself with a gob full of powdery mealiness which I imagine gnawing on a chunk of papier-mâché might taste like…

Drain the golden liquid from the decimated meat and vegetables. Double strain if you’ve got the differing meshed sieves and actually no life…

By this time the sick ward was clamouring for blood, let alone soup, so I dispensed with any further wrangle. As I was planning to serve some straight away I did, however, run it through the fat separator…

Otherwise just let it cool and pack it up for freezing. The schmaltz that the cooling process creates can be removed (Claudia Roden would not approve!) from the frozen packages before defrosting and heating. Then the addition of matzo balls (Passover Seder) or noodles (Rosh Hashanah or for ill people…)

Ultimately I decided to celebrate my evening’s accomplishment by chucking a Lemsip at the ill people and pouring myself a glass of prosecco…or two…and staring lovingly at the huge bowl of golden nectar I’ve created!

I, one-sixteenth-Jewish, rule!!

Mathew Bose



Root vegetable bake based on the Woolton Pie…

Exactly as with the Woolton Pie, the initial decision as to whether you are going with a potato topping or a pie crust also determines the contents of the pie. Potatoes are the main focus of the decision making process as they will feature somewhere either mashed on the top or sliced in the filling. I like the idea of this being an actual pie (albeit a single crust so not really a proper pie) so I’m going with the pastry. The next decision is the vegetable content. The original mentions using the vegetables that are seasonal (if available) at the time, which we must do also. I’m making this in January so I’m going with potato, red onions (I was going to use leeks and wonder if I should?!? Argh, too late now – I didn’t buy any…but they are in season and very nutritious), swede, celeriac and carrot. Parsnip could be included (maybe instead of the celeriac?) but I’ve gone off them so I’m rejecting them. Parsnips, however, are an excellent source of fibre (maintains healthy bowels), folate (helps regenerate the body, make blood cells, fights against birth defects), vitamin K (builds strong bones, helps cells grow and live, helps blood clot), and potassium (regulates blood pressure and keeps the muscles and nerves functioning properly)…I still eschew them…

If you are going with the mash topping then bung the potatoes on to boil. I’m envisioning this as some kind of white sauce enveloped loveliness so I make the sauce first. The rationale being that after the semi-laborious job of slicing all the root vegetables, the layering of the dish will be simplified by adding sauce as I go. I’m aiming for a thick sauce this time so the option of pouring it on afterwards is less likely to achieve the desired coating as the sauce will be too thick to seep into every crevice. However, the proper version I should be making where the moisture is added to the dish by a broth, would work that way fabulously. If you fancy the brothier version (it is equally delish) then you’re actually making your life easier and less calorific…

I’m feeling a bit cavalier today so it’s out with the butter and on with the roux…

…then I come over all ‘béchamel sauce’ and add some nutmeg and pepper…

While that is simmering away to itself and the flour cooking off…I get slicing. The original recipe was diced and pre-cooked but I’m after something a little more showy. I imagine it as a beautiful, statuesque tower of root vegetables bound together with a suave, velvety sauce and positioned perfectly by the side of whatever it is accompanying…whatever!!

Then in a deep oven dish I layer the vegetables in a compact manner. Get them good a gussied up together.

The onions won’t hold their shape – they just won’t. They’re awkward beggars and like to twist and break apart once cooked through, so it’s a risk adding them at all and so I’m only putting a single layer into the middle.

As I mentioned earlier…layer and pour…if you’re using a thick sauce or it’ll just be an embarrassment later (voice of experience).

Then let the whole thing sit for a few minutes and give it the occasional jiggle, just to make sure everything is settled. Then cook it with a foil cover for about an hour (or more…dunno…) in a moderate heat. I like it to have a long, slow process as I believe (based on no fact whatsoever) that the flavours surrender into each other and make for a better result. The broth version cooks quicker and you can’t leave it for too long as the potato, especially, will disintegrate and then you’ll have a full scale onion and potato mutiny on your hands…and it won’t be pretty…

This is the point when I froze it. I shall report anon to how the quivering towers of accompaniment actually turn out…

This recipe is oh so adaptable. Leeks/onions (spring) in the mash or in the filling, seasonal combos galore, creamier sauce or drier stacked filling and so on…let your spirit and cooking soul guide you and create your very own version which you must instantly name and claim as yours

The humble potato, the staple of millions of tables, has a fair bit to offer on the nutrition front so rethink your opinion and, more importantly, your cooking methods. First don’t believe everything you read about GI indexes and all that, because in truth, the results vary hugely depending on considerations like type, origin, the method of cooking, even the temperature they’re eaten at, all play a part in how it breaks down in your body. Complex carbs keep you fuller longer and release slower so you have sustained energy. Potatoes have vitamins (notably C – just under the skin), minerals, fibre and a handful of those handy phytochemicals (see below) we need. Celeriac (celery root but also called celery knob in some places?!?) is the most ignored root vegetable of them all surely? It is staggeringly low in calories as it has a low starch content, it has phosphorus (vital to cell function and regulates calcium for strong bones and teeth) and potassium (water balance, blood pressure management, nerve function), vitamin K and C (healthy cells, growth and repair of tissue, boosts the immune system and much more) and a nice hit of iron (transports oxygen, helps make red blood cells, fights fatigue of body and mind). Carrots are a fab source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties that help prevent ageing damage to your cells, fights cardiovascular issues and the vitamin A that the liver creates from it keeps skin, hair and nails healthy, flushes out the liver and helps your retinas stay in tip top condition. Phew! The swede originated in Central Europe some say, while others go with Sweden obviously, and was originally just used to feed cattle. It has good food benefits for humans too! High in potassium and vitamins A, C , E and K and a great source of fibre.

Root vegetables rock!

Onions are high in phytochemicals/phytonutrients (non-nutritive plant compounds that aren’t used for sustaining life but rather for other aspects like protecting the plant, fighting diseases and also colour and scent. They are believed to have disease fighting properties for humans). The one often mentioned is quercetin which sweeps through the body removing harmful free radicals whilst simultaneously supporting the cardiovascular system, the immune system, promoting bone health and assisting with congestion and fighting mild allergies! Red onions (especially the outer layers) are packed with this and many other wonder compounds too. However, had I gone with leeks then they are chock full of vitamins, minerals and specifically folate and, like garlic and other alliums, antioxidants (notably allicin) – which does lots of wondrous things like help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. If that wasn’t enough, it also acts as a general anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal…leeks are awesome! If you don’t like them then either learn to like them (don’t be so nesh!) or just chuck one under your pillow to have a vision of your future loved one. Hmmm…the wives tale says ‘husband’ but I can’t believe leeks are so sexist and wouldn’t also conjure up the vision of a future wife, partner, or whatever takes your fancy…after all it’s your vision…

Mathew Bose



Woolton Pie…

Writing about old family dishes led me to reading about Woolton Pie. This second world wartime invention was presented as a nutritious and filling dish in an effort to keep a nation on it’s feet. Apparently invented by the chef at the Savoy hotel in London and named after the Minster of Food, Lord Woolton. Lord Woolton had the unenviable job of trying to keep the food resources rationed out in a war depleted country. He was apparently relentlessly chipper about the various hardships facing the households of the time and although this dish was largely dismissed by the public it remains as testimony to the popularity of the man it was named after.

The recipe was published in The Times in April 1941:

You know me well enough to know that I can’t resist having a go at this and then attempting an updated version for my so-called ‘modern’ tastes. Actually I can never resist a pie…! I also think it’s interesting to note the recipe calls for a wholemeal pasty crust.

The initial decision as to whether you are going with a potato topping or a pie crust also determines the contents of the pie. Potatoes are the main focus of the decision making process as they will feature somewhere either mashed on the top or added to the filling. I like the idea of this being an actual pie (albeit a single crust so not really a proper pie) so I’m going with the pastry…

Well, I’m falling at the first hurdle as I don’t have any spring onions, and I can’t be faffed to go to the local shop, so I’ll fling a few bits of onion in and hope for the best. My instinct is that it’s not going to make that much difference as I’m not exactly holding out for the taste revelation of the century.

If you are going with the mash topping then bung the potatoes on to boil. Then chop up all the vegetables in vaguely equal size bits. The skins left on the potatoes definitely (whether for the top or the filling – there’s a fair bit of nutritional value just under the skin – don’t lose it!) and cauliflower can be left bigger if you like but don’t get too OCD, but it will mean they’ll all cook evenly – really it’s more about the aesthetics and mouth feel (can’t believe I just wrote that…!) It’s wartime so it’s the least of the problems facing the cook!  Anyhoo…

The addition of oatmeal is to serve as a thickener. I whizzed a handful of oats in the whizzer machine and made it as fine as possible. The end result will leave a soft grainy texture to the dish so factor that into the decision about oatmeal size…or just fling the oats in! The vegetable extract mentioned has puzzled me. The dividing thought seems to be that it was like a bouillon (I didn’t have a liquid one so I used dried) or was actually Marmite (or some such). So I made a pan of each to sample the difference. It is suffice to say the flavour difference is subtle – to even give it that much credit!

With dried bouillon powder on the left and Marmite on the right:

Cook all this for about 10 minutes (it’ll get finished off, as-it-were(!), when it bakes) and it will thicken up as it simmers. Transfer the whole thing to the pie dish. Below is a picture of what I mean by the soft grainy texture to the filling created by the oatmeal. It makes no difference to the taste (apart from the blandness) but it’s not the smooth texture we are all used to. I don’t mind it at all and can’t help but think that it is a healthier alternative to flour and butter as a roux or just tipping in cornflour. Oats have soluble fibre (beta-glucans) which are thought to reduce cholesterol (although no one really knows exactly why…who needs to know? After all we put a man on the moon what more could we want…) and they keep you fuller longer as they are a slow release of energy. They have lots of lovely antioxidants and minerals too so…get involved!

Sprinkle some parsley over it. I keep a bunch of parsley in the freezer and just snap bits off when I need them. The size of the bunches now are silly and they invariably go off before you’ve managed to get through ‘one hundred ways with herbs’, so the freezing option is a good one. Herbs are a brilliant source of nutritional bliss and a quick and easy way to add a dose of goodness to anything you are making. Keep a selection of the darlings frozen in a state of readiness in the freezer to unleash at a moments notice. Parsley is a fierce opponent to free radicals and it’s volatile oils a great friend in the battle against cancer (especially lung, colon and prostate), it has a good dollop of vitamin C (and iron which work in synergy together for maximum absorption) and vitamin A (beta-carotene) – these strengthen your immune system, connective tissue, skin, hair, bones and teeth…and assist with wound healing and fighting infection! Phew! – It also has a good slug of vitamin K which assures that the blood clots and the bones are strong. Folate is present in parsley and this B vitamin is essential in the regeneration of the body. Parsley also has anti-bacterial qualities and aids digestion. Crikey…

I didn’t make the pastry. No way. Life’s too short. I rolled out some I had in the freezer and flung it on (no it wasn’t wholemeal…forgive me father for I have sinned…) and I didn’t brush it with milk or egg as I’m pretty sure the wartime cook wouldn’t have done that either.

I peered into the depths of it when it was cooked and, although it didn’t smell bad, it’s pallid gloopiness didn’t really grab me in a way I might have hoped. I’m sure this is part prejudice at the idea and part because The Mother sneered so openly and completely at the idea, and wouldn’t even entertain going along with the experiment, as she was clearly traumatised by the real thing many a moon ago. Growing up poor during and after the war was no picnic and the rosy tint of retro cooking doesn’t cut the mustard, apparently!

…but, in truth, it wasn’t half bad! (the pie not growing up in the war…) Truly! I’ll admit a tad plainer than modern tastes perhaps but nonetheless quite palatable. What shone through was the simple tastes of the root vegetables. I then had it with a layer of mature cheddar between the crust and the vegetables, which was a hit. I think there is mileage in this dish and it could be a great accompaniment to a roast dinner for example. Hmmm…I shall experiment no doubt! I shall unleash it on unsuspecting guests (not The Mother as she is now on high alert) and see what they say…watch this space!

This recipe is oh so adaptable. Onions in the mash or in the filling, seasonal combos galore, creamier sauce or drier stacked filling and so on…let your spirit and cooking soul guide you and create your very own version which you must instantly name and claim as yours…and tell me how it goes!

The humble potato, the staple of millions of tables has a fair bit to offer though so rethink your opinion and, more importantly, your cooking methods. First don’t believe everything you read about GI indexes and all that because, in truth, the results vary hugely depending on considerations like type, origin, the method of cooking, even the temperature they’re eaten at, all play a part in how it breaks down in your body. Complex carbs keep you fuller longer and release slower so you have sustained energy. Potatoes have vitamins (notably C – just under the skin), minerals, fiber and a handful of those handy phytochemicals (plant compounds that are thought to help fight diseases) we need. Carrots are a fab source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties that help prevent ageing damage to your cells, fights cardiovascular issues and the vitamin A that the liver creates from it keeps skin, hair and nails healthy, flushes toxins from the liver and helps your retinas stay in tip top condition. Phew! The swede originated in Central Europe some say while others go with Sweden obviously but was originally just used to feed cattle. It has good food benefits for humans too! High in potassium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Great for fibre too. Cauliflower is also a good source of vitamin C and also the mineral manganese (essential for strong bones and helps the metabolic progression of the body in many ways and assists with the maintaining of connective tissue, absorption of calcium, thyroid operation, regulates blood sugar and sex hormones (well, hello, cauliflower…). It is also a powerful antioxidant protecting the body from cancer causing free radicals). Cauli has lots of B vitamins and is anti-inflammatory (the cause of many chronic diseases in our bodies), and is therefore beneficial for the cardiovascular and digestive systems too.

Root vegetables generally rock!

 

Mathew Bose



Vitamin D…

It seems only pertinent at this time of the year when the sun is hibernating and the whites of our eyes are greying, to mention one of the hardest vitamins to uptake…the ‘sunshine vitamin’.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble. This is something I’m sure many people read and think ‘ah okay’ but just in case you don’t actually know what that means…it means that the vitamin is absorbed into the body along with fats through the intestine walls and also stored in fat in the body and is eliminated much more slowly than water-soluble vitamins (and therefore you can have too much of a good thing) but, crucially, this means you need to consume some fat to absorb the vitamins…think on.

The main benefit of Vitamin D is it works in conjunction with calcium and phosphorus to build strong bones and teeth. Recent research has shown that vitamin D is, however, no ordinary vitamin (because it’s not technically a vitamin but that’s another story…) and has a far reaching, vital role to play. Vitamin D is thought to be the access code, as-it-were, to the DNA options each and every cell has, and without vitamin D the cells cannot operate at optimum levels. Receptors that use vitamin D as their trigger are in every type of cell in your body from your vital organs to your bones. It is thought that the cells respond to a vitamin D trigger and open up their ability to fight infection, inflammation and a host of common chronic diseases like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, flu, eczema, dementia and heart disease. The MS Society’s recent research suggests a link between lack of vitamin D in early childhood, or even before birth, and an increased risk of developing MS later in life. Other developed diseases in children like rickets (weak muscles, soft bones) are linked directly to the lack of absorption of bone building minerals due to the absence of vitamin D. The elderly (especially those housebound or in care homes), or those for whom their beliefs require their skin to be completely covered, may also be susceptible. And, for ladies, bear in mind that as your oestrogen production declines you may need to consider a touch more vitamin D to give your body a helping hand with it’s calcium absorption.

Although your cells do have other ways to access their DNA, vitamin D is the most natural and efficient. So how can we make sure we get the RDA? Following are the EU recommended daily amounts for different ages:

0 – 12 months : 25µg/day (1000IU)

1 – 10 years : 50µg/day (2000IU)

11 – 17 years : 100µg/day (4000UI)

17+ : 100µg/day (4000UI)

µg means micrograms (one millionth of a gram, so how much of a vitamin is in the tablet). IU means international units (used for fat-soluble vitamins and states their potency).

The recommended amount varies so much from country to country, which makes sense for some places, but think about the fact that Canada has a RDA of only around 600IU. On the other hand an American organisation the Vitamin D Council http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/ says that a healthy human body utilises around 3000 – 5000IU of vitamin D each day, which is vastly higher than any recommended dose. Pregnant and lactating mothers needing a whopping 6000IU, they say. One of the UK’s leading nutrition experts, Patrick Holford http://www.patrickholford.com/ concurs that the RDA falls woefully short. The amounts need by children and adults coping with MS, cancer, heart disease or obesity may be double this. It’s worth noting that you can end up with dangerously high levels of calcium in your system from over intaking vitamin D supplements. Always check with a doctor before taking very high doses of, well, anything really!

Very few foods contain vitamin D. A few products are fortified with it like milk, cereals, margarine and spreads, but it occurs mostly in oily fish like wild salmon, herring, tuna and mackerel (including the tinned variety). Eggs, cod liver oil and mushrooms are also a source (shiitake – especially those dried in the sun – and white button mushrooms). Incidentally to reduce the loss of the vitamin in these foods cook them with no oil. Bake or grill instead of frying.

However, it is unlikely that you can get enough vitamin D through diet alone, and the best known method of getting your requirement of the vitamin is well documented – sunshine. A scant few minutes in the sun a day provides you with all the vitamin D you need. Ultra violet sun rays react with the oils and fats on, in and under the skin and produce the vitamin (specifically cholecalciferol – D3), which is then absorbed into the body. The general rule regarding sunlight is that approx 15 minutes a day on bare skin, depending on your skin colour and how much of your skin is actually exposed to the sunlight, is ideal. Some reports say three times a week is adequate and, as long as you get this requirement through the spring and summer, will last you through the sunless times! Other reports disagree…hmmm…

A couple of things to bear in mind. The vitamin D produced doesn’t immediately absorb so showering immediately after sun exposure will likely wash any health benefits away. Sunscreen inhibits the production of the vitamin so the vitamin producing sun exposure has to be direct. This goes for exposure through glass, as glass blocks the UVB which is the part of the solar spectrum that triggers the vitamin production (but glass does allow UVA through which has potentially harmful effects…just can’t win can you?!?) Obviously, be aware that over exposure or burning your skin is very dangerous! But you knew that right…?!?

As there doesn’t seem to be a definitive ruling on all this sun exposure malarkey, and the naysayers are unsure that the exposure rate is safe enough to ensure you meet your vitamin D needs without increasing your risk of skin cancer (cheerful lot aren’t they?), it seems the best way forward, for those of us who seem to endure endless grey skies and rain, is through our diets with additional assistance from supplements. Looking around it seems like 25µg (1000IU) is suggested in the winter and 15µg (600IU) at other times.

Full spectrum lighting (the definite way forward regardless), SAD lamps, light boxes etc are sometimes heralded as the answer but check that the light is emitting UVB or there’ll be no triggering of the production of vitamin D how ever long you sit under it, although you might feel jollier, of course…