Friday, February 29, 2008

Risotto rice, spelt and barley

A quick post today because there is so much on. Just to say that I did a 10 mile lactate threshold run yesterday, with 7 miles at 1/2 marathon pace - I managed a consistent 7 miles at 7.8 minute miles which was good for me.

I made a great discovery last night. I cooked a mushroom risotto with Riso Gallo 3 Grains It is absolutely delicious and a mixture of risotto rice, spelt and barley - Really low G.I. and easy to digest, so great before a big run...and very tasty.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Violetti Aubergines

My local veg. shop, Charlie Hicks ( sells the very best aubergines. They are called Violetti aubergines and they are shaped like a globe, rather than the normal long oval ones you get in the supermarket.

We had a virtually carb-free meal last night, not good for the running, but I just did not fancy any and I only had 6 miles to do the next day. Seeing as I do the cooking at home, my choice rules! Maybe my body was crying out for some protein! Anyway, we had these delicious aubergines, then grilled haloumi with parsley and sweet chilli, followed by an organic lettuce with pancetta, walnuts and wholemeal croutons (good that they were wholemeal, bad that they were fried in the pancetta fat...but yummy), in a nice dressing of virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.

Aubergines contain Vitamin C and Potassium, as well as flavonoids (cancer fighting anti-oxidants). I sliced them into thick rounds and dry-fried them on the griddle. These violetti aubergines could have been eaten undressed, they were so delicious, but I drizzled a little olive oil on them and we had them with a yoghurt sauce. The yoghurt was mixed with cumin and coriander, a little sugar, salt and pepper and chopped fresh mint. I think I would salt the aubergines first if I was doing this with normal aubergines, but if you make the griddle really piping hot, you can still cook them without oil.

My 6 miler today was fine, although my legs did notice the hills after the pounding they got on Monday. Managed to do 6 x 100m sprints, but then it got too hilly.....

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

15 miles, 12 miles marathon pace...only another 11 to make 26!

I nipped off for my 15 miles yesterday over lunch. It was a beautiful day - sunny and cold. Mark was at home so he came with me and paced me really well, as I had to do 12 miles at marathon pace - I would like to do just over 8 minute miles for London. It was fine, I felt strong and kept my pace well. Mark conked out at about 12 miles, left me to it and caught a taxi home! But I suppose he shouldn't really be running such long runs when he is not in training. The horrible thought at the end though was that I really don't think I could have kept it up for another 11 miles...let's hope another 5 weeks' training will do the trick!

Had a really nice bowl of unrefined porridge with walnuts and honey, a grapefruit, a few satsumas and some hot cross bun for breakfast, plus some leftover couscous just before leaving, so I suppose I was pretty well fuelled up! I am sticking to my theory that you need to eat some fast-acting carbohydrate immediately after endurance sessions, so I forced down a honey sandwich and some fruit even before my shower.

Smoked haddock (undyed) with mashed potato, spinach and a chive/creme fraiche sauce for supper....absolutely delicious!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Couscous with chicken tagine, green olives and preserved lemons

The problem with blogging is that sometimes you simply do not have the time to write a new post everyday... and, of course, sometimes there is nothing interesting to say! I have not written my blog for a week because I have been manic trying to fit work around the kids (half term) and the running.

The most exciting thing for me is that I have been writing a magazine article - for the Running Magazine "Running Fitness", which should be published in the pre-London edition in March. Writing this and having photos taken etc has taken all week.

My running has been fine. I have run 30 miles this week, but I have delayed my long run until today, as we had friends over for a meal yesterday and I was not in the mood for a "dawn run". We did have a delicious meal, however, which was appreciated by both adults and children (age 8 upwards) alike, so I am hoping that my run will go well today (15 mile, 12 miles at marathon pace). Pudding was a seville orange tart (basically a lemon tart but with seville oranges) and mini chocolate mousses just to completely finish us all off!

Couscous with Chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemons
This is a very warming and comforting dish. The couscous is low to medium G.I., the tagine is low fat and is packed with vitamins. Marinate the chicken the day before and it takes no time to prepare - you don't even have to brown the meat very thoroughly. You can get smoked paprika from most supermarkets now. It is usually in the delicatessen section.

Serves 4
You will need:

8 skinless free-range chicken thighs, each cut into about three


  • 3 tbs. good olive oil
  • ¼ tsp each cayenne pepper and back pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp.each ground cumin, ground coriander, sweet paprika, ground ginger
  • 1tsp salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tbs. water

Flour for coating the chicken
2 large onions, sliced finely
Big bunch of chopped flat-leafed parsley and big bunch or chopped coriander(keep some aside to sprinkle on top for decoration)
A cinnamon stick
Chicken stock
About 20 nice green olives
2 preserved lemons (plus a little of the juice from the jar)
¼ tsp smoked paprika

For the couscous:
250g couscous (wholemeal if you can get it)
1 tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil


  1. If you have time, combine the chicken with the marinade and leave in the fridge overnight or for as long as you can. Bring the chicken back to room temperature.
  2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a tagine or heavy-bottomed casserole dish, add the onions and cook gently for about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and set them aside.
  3. Lightly coat the chicken with flour (just put some flour into a plastic bag with the chicken and shake it about a little). Increase the heat, add some more oil and then brown the chicken quickly.
  4. Pop the onions back into the pot and add the reserved marinade, the cinnamon stick, the chopped herbs and enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. Cover and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
  5. Slice the preserved lemons and discard the pips. Add the lemons, the olives and the smoked paprika to the simmering chicken and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Test according to taste for seasoning – it may need more salt and pepper, perhaps an extra kick with a sprinkle of cayenne, cumin or coriander, or some lemon juice. I often add some of the brine from the preserved lemons.
  7. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs you set aside and serve with plain couscous.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Orange Marmalade Cake

I had no problem with my 5 mile recovery run today; things are going well and my legs feel good for having had a rest last week. I must have gone at the right speed on my long 18 miler and I must have eaten the right combo of food. I have to say that I really tried to eat something within the first 15 minutes of finishing the run, as this helps recovery enormously. I stopped at the local shop, bought a choc-ice and a lucozade - simple sugars to replenish the muscles quickly and then ate a large slice of the marmalade cake I had made when I got home.

This is a new recipe that I tried on impulse a couple of days ago - Sultana Bran is a favourite breakfast of mine at the moment and the recipe was on the pack. I changed it a little and the outcome was quite delicious, with lovely lumps of caramelised orange from the marmalade:

For the cake:
175g butter (softened)
175g demerara sugar
175g wholemeal self-raising flour
100g crushed sultana bran
75g sultanas
75g chopped walnuts or pecans (optional to make it more healthy)
3 tablespoons coarse cut marmalade (I used Frank Cooper's Oxford Vintage, but a sweeter marmalade will give a sweeter result)
2 tbs golden syrup
grated rind of one lemon and one orange
juice of one orange
3 eggs
For the icing:
400g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
lemon or orange zest
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line an 8 inch (20cm) round cake tin. Line well as the cake tends to burn around the sides.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg, and then fold in the flour, zest, juice, sultana bran, sultanas, marmalade and golden syrup. You need the consistency to be quite loose so add some more juice if it is a bit too solid
  4. Spoon into the tin and level out the surface. Place in the oven for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours. The cake should be springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.
  5. Combine the cheese, icing sugar and a little orange or lemon juice until smooth and then spread evenly over the top of the cake. Decorate with grated orange zest or some walnuts.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Liverpool, city of culture

I am in Liverpool this weekend visiting my mother-in-law and decided to go for my 18 mile run yesterday, as the kids wanted to cycle to the Anthony Gormley statues. These statues are really worth the trip, 100 identical statues erected randomly along an enormous expanse of beach. My run took me along the banks of the Mersey, through the very impressive newly developed docks in Liverpool, past the Liver buildings and then finishing up on the coastline above Liverpool. The run was flat, the weather was perfect; sunny, chilly, the wind behind me all the way, and I have to admit that my legs could have kept on running ( I am normally desperate to finish my long runs).

My run was fuelled by a bowl of porridge, a banana and some toast with home made jam. I have a problem with gels and sports drinks, partly because they are usually filled with so many false ingredients, and partly because they make me feel sick. I tried out some new gels yesterday - high 5 - - which I took with plain water, and these seemed to not only work pretty well, but taste quite nice also. I think I might use these for London.

The night before my mother-in-law made a delicious chicken and broccoli lasagne - I don't think she realised this, but she had made a perfect low G.I. meal to prepare me for a big run the next day. Much lighter on the stomach than a regular lasagne, the chicken provided a good, low fat source of protein, the broccoli is just full of great vitamins, folic acid, iron etc and the lasagne is a good low G.I. carb. You also get to eat a good quantity of carbohydrate with lasagne as it is in those big flat sheets. I'll pop the recipe in my next posting.

Bad Week

This week has been a bad one. After such a good run last Sunday and a 5 mile recovery run on Tuesday, I was due to run 12 miles on Wednesday. I only managed 6-7 as I was just exhausted. My legs felt like lead and I had to turn back early. And my ipod has broken.

I decided to listen to my body and I take the next couple of days off. I got some decent sleep, took it easy and I have to say that I really enjoyed not running for a couple of days!

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Boost your system" Spaghetti

I was a little apprehensive about Sunday's run - 17 miles with my faster running buddies and an early start, which I always find hard on a Sunday (!). We had no exciting plans for Saturday night , so the preparation was good. I only drank a couple of glasses of red wine (really nice!) and ate one of my ideal pre- long-run meals, a sort of bastardised version of spaghetti carbonara. The kids call it carbonara, but it is much less rich and provides a good balance of nutrients. It is a great dish for the night before a big run for several reasons: spaghetti has a G.I. of 40, so the carbohydrate breaks down slowly during digestion, releasing the glucose more gradually into the bloodstream and therefore sustaining energy levels for longer; the spinach provides iron and folic acid; the garlic is high in vitamins A, B and C, iron, calcium and selenium and as well as lowering cholesterol, it is said to reduce cramps and muscular spasms; the eggs provide a good source of protein. If you wanted to be really healthy, I suppose you could leave out the creme fraiche and the bacon, but if you ask me, such things in life are not worth sacrificing. I topped up the system the following morning with a plain bowl of porridge with crunchy demerara sugar sprinkled on top, a cup of tea and a pint of water.

The run was good. Despite the hills, I honestly felt good until about mile 15, when I started clock-watching, slowing down and dreaming of home. The weather was superb - one of those beautiful sunny, chilly mornings - and I managed to keep up a steady 8 minute mile pace. There was no way, however, that I could have run another 9 miles at this stage and just the thought of it fills me with dread....

"Boost your system" spaghetti

500g spaghetti
large pack of spinach
pack of mushrooms, sliced
small red chilli or a red pepper, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, cushed
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped, or a pack of lardons/pancetta cubes
small pot of creme fraiche
grated parmesan
4 eggs
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to instructions in plenty of salted water
  2. Meanwhile, gently fry the bacon, mushrooms and red chilli in some olive oil until cooked
  3. When the spaghetti is ready, drain it and then return it to the saucepan (with a ladleful of the cooking water)
  4. Add the bacon, mushrooms and chilli and stir in the raw spinach and garlic.
  5. On the lowest possible heat, add the creme fraiche, the parmesan, the seasoning and then at the very last minute, crack in the eggs.
  6. Serve in big pasta bowls with extra shavings of parmesan and black pepper and a green salad with a lovely dijon mustard dressing on the side

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

10 miles speed training on Carrot Cake

I was not hungry when I opened the cupboard at breakfast time this morning, so I ended up having a piece of toast and marmite - not really a good runner's breakfast, especially as the toast was white. I had planned to do my 10 miles, with 5 miles fast, over an extended lunchtime, so I had the most enormous piece of carrot cake at 11.30 when the hunger started to kick in.

I know everyone has their own special carrot cake recipe, but here is my one. It is really moist, not too sweet, keeps for ages, it is very filling and packed with goodness. In fact, it kept me going until about 4 in the afternoon. This sort of cake is pretty wholesome and full of slow-burning carbs - yes it has sugar and butter in it, but it also has carrots, dried fruits, nuts, wholemeal flour and oranges. Try to use some good locally grown organic carrots - the better the carrots are, the better the cake will be. Sorry, but the photos of this one didn't work out very well and now the cake has been scoffed! I'll have to make another so I can take a decent photo.

Go Faster Carrot Cake
Grease an 8 inch square tin, or 9 inch round tin (springform, or lined with greaseproof paper)
Pre-heat the oven to 170 C (fan), 180 C (conventional)

250g unsalted butter
375g sugar - half caster/half demerara
250g self-raising wholemeal flour, sifted
4 eggs
zest of 2 oranges
450g carrots, grated
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
150g mix of raisins and dried cranberries
juice of 1 orange
1 tsp bicoarbonate of soda
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt

225g full-fat soft cheese
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
80-100g icing sugar (depends on how sweet you like it)
squeeze of lemon or lime juice

  1. Cream the butter and sugar and zest togetheruntil light and fluffy
  2. Add the eggs, beating well as you add each one
  3. Fold in the grated carrots and nuts
  4. Add the orange juice
  5. Fold in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spice and salt
  6. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 1 1/4 hours. Baking time depends on the juicyness of the carrots, but you will know the cake is done as the cake comes away from the side of the cake tin and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean
  7. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool
  8. Cream the cheese and butter together. Add the icing sugar and juice and beat until smooth. Spread the icing generously over the cake.
  9. Decorate with whole or chopped walnuts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Couscous with slow-cooked lamb shanks and butter beans

We had this on Sunday instead of the normal traditional roast, as my youngest son was in a tennis tournament and I knew we needed to just walk into the house and be able to eat more or less immediately. The house always smells delicious when lamb shanks are on the menu!

The marinade is easy to prepare and you can do it in advance (I did mine on Saturday) and to be quite honest, you really don't need to measure anything is not an exact science. Here is a suggestion to serve 4:

For the Lamb
4 lamb shanks
2 tins chopped tomatoes
piece of fresh ginger, grated
zest and juice of an orange
zest and juice of a lemon
glass or two of white or red wine
big sprig of rosemary
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1tsp cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1tsp each ground cumin, crushed coriander seeds, crushed peppercorns
2tbsp olive oil
1/2tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tins butter beans
fresh coriander, mint or parsley to serve

For the couscous
250g couscous
1tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp fresh mint and coriander, finely chopped

For the yoghurt sauce -

Mix together and leave in fridge for at least 30 minutes:
200g natural yoghurt
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp chilli powder
black pepper
finely chopped fresh mint

  1. Turn the oven to 220 C
  2. Mix all the ingredients together except the butter beans and the coriander
  3. Lay out four pieces of tin foil large enough to wrap up each lamb shank
  4. Place 1/4 of the mixture and a lamb shank into each foil square and wrap up into a loose parcel
  5. Place the parcels into a casserole dish and cook in the hot oven for 20-30 minutes (until you can smell the cooking)
  6. Turn down oven to 140-150 C and leave for 3 1/2 - 4 hours
  7. Take the casserole dish out of the oven and carefully remove each foil. The lamb shanks will be falling off the bone and there will be lots of delicious sauce
  8. Check for seasoning, add the butter beans. You may want to add some more garlic, spices or a pinch of smoked paprika at this stage, or thicken the sauce with a little flour (or thin it with some more wine)
  9. Cook for a further 20 minutes while you prepare the couscous
  10. Place the couscous in a bowl with the salt and olive oil. Pour over 300mls boiling water or stock and leave for five minutes (check pack for exact quantities) and stir
  11. Fluff up the couscous gently with a fork, adding the herbs and seasoning as you do so
  12. Sprinkle the lamb with fresh herbs and serve with the couscous and yoghurt sauce. The yoghurt sauce and a green salad is a good accompaniment

Basmati and Wild Rice

16 miles on Sunday went quite well, despite a very late night on Saturday, although it was very, very windy - good when it is behind you, but not such fun when you are running straight into it!

We went to a dinner party on Saturday night and I surprised myself with the strength of my will-power on the wine front - just 2 or 3 glasses and I turned down the dessert wine. Luckily the meal was delicious and included basmati and wild rice, which is a great combination for the night before a run. Wild rice is much more nutritious than even brown rice; it is even higher in protein, zinc, folic acid, and vitamin E.

I am not sure what I got right this week, but I certainly felt full of beans after the run and managed to cook some great lamb shanks (not that they took much effort - see the next post) and a carrot cake. I think it is a combination of getting used to the long runs, a great diet and generally feeling good at the moment.