Friday, October 17, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Maple Syrup Almonds

I've just found a really useful website for Bristol runners - take a look at it and plan your next run! . I've put a link to this blog in my links list for future reference.

Autumn is approaching fast and butternut squash and pumpkins are everywhere. Not only are they cheap to buy, but they are DELICIOUS and REALLY NUTRITIOUS, especially roasted in the oven with a little oil, salt, pepper and cumin. I made a really satifying roasted butternut squash risotto this week. It is low cost, dead healthy and easy to make. Give it a go....

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Maple Syrup Almonds
This is a wonderful midweek training dish for the autumn. Butternut squash is one of those vegetables that has an amazing array of nutrients – it is an excellent source of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory beta carotene (vitamin A), it contains good amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fibre, plus folic acid, omega 3 gatty acids, vitamin B1, copper, niacin….the list is endless. Add the almonds, parmesan and the risotto rice to this and you have a very tasty and nutritious low G.I. meal. I make the most of standing over the risotto by doing my stretches while I am stirring.

N.B. You can render this meal into a higher G.I. recovery meal by replacing the butternut squash with pumpkin.

Ingredients - serves 4
1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into 2cm cubes
1 onion, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Knob of butter and 2 tbsp olive oil
350g risotto rice – vialone nano or arborio, for instance
1.5 litres hot vegetable or chicken stock
Glass of dry white wine
1 tsp saffron strands
75g freshly grated parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small handful of flaked almonds
1 tbsp maple syrup diluted with a few drops of water


  1. Put the squash on a baking sheet and toss it with 1 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle a tsp of salt and some freshly ground pepper over the top.

  2. Roast in the oven at 200°C for about 25 minutes until the squash is tender and golden. Stir it once or twice while it is roasting and start making the risotto while it is cooking.
    Heat up the stock in a saucepan so that it is ready to ladle onto the rice.

  3. Melt the butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan and gently sauté the onion until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic and gently sauté for a couple of minutes, without allowing it to brown.
  4. Add the rice and the saffron and stir until the grains become translucent and glossy.
    Add the wine and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add a ladle of hot stock and stir constantly until it is absorbed. Add the hot stock, a ladle at a time. You need to make sure that each ladleful is absorbed by the rice before you add the next one. This should take about 18-20 minutes. You may need more or less stock according to the type of rice and the rate of absorption.
  5. Meanwhile mix the almonds with the maple syrup and water and pop them in the oven for about 5 minutes until golden.
  6. The rice is cooked when it looks nice and creamy and slightly al dente. Taste it to see if you need more salt (it depends how salty your stock is as to how much you need), turn off the heat, stir in the parmesan and the butternut squash and a generous knob of butter. Let the mixture stand for a couple of minutes.
    Serve with the almonds and some fresh parmesan shavings.
  7. I think this goes really well with a crisp green salad (frisee or gem) with crispy bacon/pancetta pieces and tossed in a light balsmamic dressing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Run to the Rhythm

Its not often you get an interesting article in the daily papers about running. The Independent, however, had a good article on running to music today; a subject about which my husband, Mark, and I have totally different viewpoints. Well, you are either in the music camp or not. I definitely am. He definitely is not.

Music is one of the most important aspects to my training. After food, that is! I am sure that I run faster with music, especially if it is a long-distance run. According to Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist at Brunel University, most runners find the exercise more pleasurable than usual if they run with music. They also run further and for longer. He looks at it as a "legal drug" as it apparently blocks fatigue-related messages to the brain and reduces those negative feelings that I am sure all runners get from time to time! Even Haile Gebrselassie runs to dance music - Scatman? - click for the utube video.I know Paula Radcliffe trains to music as I have seen her playlist. I listen to a variety of music, from naf disco music to Bach, but I have to say that the best music to run with for me is Bach's Goldberg Variations, a recording by Stefano Greco, which is awesome.If you can find music which transports you into another world you can quite often forget the pain of the long run.

Mark is a purist and reckons that it takes the focus away from the running and that you should listen to your body. That is all very well, but sometimes if I listened to my body I would stop and walk!

Run to the beat.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Flora London Marathon 2009 or go for Boston? Not on a fig, nasturtium and goats cheese salad

I am starting to get itchy feet again and I do think it is time to start thinking about my next marathon. I have given myself a few weeks off to give the old legs a well-earned rest and I am also incredibly busy getting my book ready for the December deadline, so haven't had much spare time to do any long runs.

Today I received my Good For Age acceptance form for the London Marathon in April 2009, so I have to decide between running London in April, running Boston (also in April) or running Stockholm in May 2009. I want to run with my husband and a group of friends in Stockholm, but in my heart of hearts I want to do Boston and I feel I ought to do it because I have qualified for it. I think it is really the creme de la creme of the top 5 world marathons - London, New York, Berlin, Boston and Chicago. Boston is the only marathon you have to be fast enough to qualify for. I have done London, New York and Berlin and now I have qualified for Boston maybe it would be churlish not to run it. Then I would just have Chicago to go....

I made a really special salad yesterday for lunch. Not great for endurance, but delicious, healthy and full of flavour, vitamins and protein all the same. Figs are all over the place at the moment - they are even selling them 2 for the price of 1 in Waitrose - and I am such a useless gardener my garden is overrun with nasturtiums. I think they are fantastic in a salad. They look pretty and they have a lovely strong, peppery flavour. Combined with a light cheese souffle, the sweetness of the figs and the honey dressing, this little salad works beautifully and looks gorgeous:

Salad of figs, parma ham, rocket and nasturtium flowers with a honey balsamic dressing

Serves 4

Four large handfuls of rocket leaves
4 ripe figs
6-8 nasturtium leaves
4 slices of parma ham
2 tbsp olive oil
1 dessertspoon white balsamic vinegar
1 dessertspoon honey
salt and pepper

Arrange everything on 4 plates and pour over the dressing. Eat immediately.

Twice baked goats cheese souffle - Serves 4

225ml milk
1 bayleaf
knob of butter (25g)
tbsp self-raising flour (25g)
100g soft goats cheese
2 eggs separated
lots of freshly ground black pepper
  1. Do points 1 to 8 in advance and then point 9 just before you want to eat. Heat the milk in a pan with the bayleaf, a little grated nutmeg and plenty of black pepper and bring it slowly to a simmer. Strain and leave to cool slightly.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and make a roux with the flour. Cook it very gently until it becomes a glossy paste and then gradually add the milk, stirring all the time. Cook gently for a couple of minutes until the sauce is thick and smooth.
  3. Beat together the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks.
  4. Beat the egg yolks into the sauce mixture and then fold in the goats cheese. Taste for seasoning.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the mixture very gently to keep in the air and then divide the airy mixture into 4 - 8 really well buttered ramekins (depending on their size).
  6. Pop them into the oven on a baking tray and then pour about a cm of water into the bottom of the tray.
  7. Cook for about 15 minutes at 180 C.
  8. Take them out of the oven and leave to cool.
  9. When you are ready to cook the souffles, take them out of the ramekins, place them onto a greased baking sheet, sprinkle them with extra cheese if you want, and bake them in the oven at 180C for about 20 minutes, until they are puffy and crispy on the top. Serve them immediately with the above salad.