Monday, July 27, 2009

Sticky Ginger, Date and Walnut Cake

Sticky date pudding from Citrus and Candy
Sticky date pudding from Citrus and Candy

My 10 mile run yesterday was wet and windswept, yet for some bizarre reason it was the best run I've had in a long time. I felt really strong and managed to speed up for the whole of the last mile despite the howling gale into which I was running. I met some friends 'mid-run' and rather than stopping for a long chat I invited them for tea and cakes later. It was a great opportunity to try out my 'runners version' of the sticky date putting I had so been wanting to bake. I found this recipe in a lovely blog called Citrus and Candy and immediatly thought about adding a few extras to make it a really good treat for recovery after a big workout. The original recipe is soaked with a butterscotch sauce but we found this too sweet and decided the cake was much nicer with a good dollop of creme fraiche instead.

So why is this cake a good recovery treat?

Well, there's plenty of carbohydrate to replenish the glycogen levels in those tired muscles; dates are one of the few dried fruits with a high G.I., which means that the carbohydrate in them is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, there's protein from the eggs to help repair any muscle trauma, the added ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory and the walnuts are a great superfood, containing heaps of omega-3 and anti-oxidants. And it takes only a few minutes to make and tastes gorgeous!

Here's my version without the butterscotch sauce. If you were making this for a dessert, you may want to make some sauce to go with it:


  • 140g pitted dates, chopped coarsely
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 190 ml boiling water
  • handful of walnuts, chopped coarsely
  • 2 lumps of preserved, stem ginger, chopped quite finely
  • 90g softened unsalted butter
  • 110g soft light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • 130g self raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp preserved ginger syrup
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 20 cm square cake tin
  2. Put the dates into a bowl with the bicarbonate of soda and pour over the boiling water and leave for 20 minutes
  3. Beat together the sugar, vanilla extract and butter until pale and fluffy
  4. Add the eggs and beat well
  5. Fold in the date mixture (inc.water), the walnuts and the ginger and then fold in the flour
  6. Pour into a cake tin (the mixture is meant to be quite runny, don't worry)
  7. Bake for 30 minutes until the cake is risen and golden brown
  8. Cool in the tin for five minutes and then turn it out onto a wire rack
  9. Warm the ginger syrup, prick the cake all over with a skewer and pour over the syrup so that it soaks in and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

American Blueberry Pancakes

I've been busy this afternoon making little lemon tarts and and a rather tempting-to-the-eye apricot tarte tatin...delicious. Well, they probably are, but they're for a friend so I mustn't touch unfortunately!

We've had a really fun weekend of activity. I went along to the Bristol Half Marathon Training weekend, held by Run Bristol and the team at Full Potential, sold a few copies of Go Faster Food, and then did a 9 1/2 mile run in the the sun (I think that was the last time it peeked out from those heavy rainclouds we've got here in Bristol at the moment). I felt really good and even sprinted at the end! Nick at Full Potential recommends that you should incorporate a few race pace sessions of 10 minutes or so into your weekly long run, so that your body learns to know what to expect. That makes sense to me and it gave the run a nice focus point.

On Sunday, Mark took hold of my book and cooked up some of my American Blueberry Pancakes which he served up as a late breakfast with maple syrup and some crispy bacon...yes, the kids are away!! He misread the abbreviation 2 tsp as 2 tablespoons - of baking powder (!)- but I managed to thwart his attempts at sabotaging my recipe and the end result was completely delicious. We were nicely stoked up for our cycle along the Bristol to Bath railway path for lunch with our lovely friends there. Door to door is only about 20 miles but the rain was torrential from start to finish and what is normally a gorgeous cycle ride was pretty unpleasant really!

The American Blueberry Pancakes are in the breakfast section of Go Faster Food - Page 60 - (maybe I'll make them recipe of the month at some point?). They are actually fantastic for post exercise recovery; a great fun and tasty way to get some high G.I. carbohydrate and protein into your system after a serious workout, with the added kick of the blueberries, now classed as a superfood and bursting with nutrients. It is really important to feed your tired muscles with some fast-acting carbohydrate to replenish your glycogen stores after exercise, and you need some protein to help repair any muscle trauma. What's great about these pancakes is that you can make the mixture before you leave the house, dream about them when the going gets tough on your run and then cook them on your return, even while you're doing your stretches. Hey presto, you'll be sitting down and pouring maple syrup over your first one within the 15 minute magic window of recovery!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Marathon des Sables

I've just found a really interesting blog out there in the running blogoshere - Rich Merry's account of the Marathon des Sables and the training involved - take a look at his blog.

Click here for an inspirational video on the Marathon des Sables

So what does the average person take for a six day, 151 mile endurance race in the desert when he has to carry all his own stuff and needs at least 200 calories a day? The last person I spoke to was an Italian guy, Alberto, from Victoria Park Harriers, who was planning on taking a parma ham and lump of parmesan cheese in his backpack, plus some dried pasta and rice - good for protein, salt and carbs, but not sure about carrying all that weight...

Rich doesn't talk too much about nutrition in his blog, so I asked him to give me an account of what he took with him. It sounds like he got it pretty well organised, especially as it was his first time. This is what he said:

"Food-wise on the Mds was a mixed bag (not literally). My menu was divided up into days depending on the expected calorie expenditure and that we needed to have at least 2000kcal everyday. The weight was also an issue and my total food for the trip weighed in at 5kg.

I took mainly boil in bag meals (expedition foods), which covered breakfast (800kcal), food for when I stopped (about same - Spag Bol, Tikka, chilli etc) and then a dessert in the evening before sleep. Having said that by the end of the week we were swapping meals as we got a bit fed up with them and most started to taste the same.

Snack-wise I took honey roasted cashew nuts, beef jerky, skittles and these again were shared out as the week progressed. I also took pouches of coffee and hot chocolate, which made a big difference and lifted the day when it got tough.

Dehydration wasn’t a problem for me, however I started to struggle drinking water and nuun drinks halfway through the long stage (91km non stop), as I found I couldn’t keep it down. This wasn’t an initial problem as it was 11pm when I started but, by the end of the stage I was really dry and ended up having an expedition foods muesli with extra water added to the milk powder just to get fluids in, and had to use this method as well as try to sip what I could. I never expected to be sick (literally) of water, after all the training I had done.

The only thing I would change about my time out there would be to have changed my variety of snacks and food. What seemed a nice snack back home soon became boring and not enjoyable eating day-in day-out. Also a small bottle cordial would have been nice, just to add flavour to water, but it is all a matter of weight that stopped me initially."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Feature in Running Free Magazine

Click here for my feature in Running Free Magazine – it’s on pages 22 and 23.

Running Free Magazine is a really informative and well-written magazine and although it is FREE, it is not absolutely stuffed with annoying ads! It is available in most running shops, on-line or you can subscribe and have it sent to your door.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chicken tagine, artichokes and green olives with basmati and wild rice

This is a bit of a 'cheatie' tagine, but it is incredibly quick and easy, very very tasty and packed with goodness. All you need to do is pop the chicken in the oven, surround it with some nice vegatables and spices, maybe something tasty that might be lurking in the fridge like a few green olives and hey presto, an hour later you have a delicious and healthy meal for four. We ate it last night with Basmati and wild rice, a good low G.I. option for sustained energy...and it seems that the whole family needs that extra little

boost of energy at the moment what with the end of term rush with the kids, the launch of Go Faster Food and our new training schedule for the Bristol Half Marathon and the Monster Challenge in September. We like to eat this sort of dish with a green salad tossed with a nice dijon mustard dressing.

Cheat’s Chicken, Artichoke and Green Olive Tagine with Basmati and Wild Rice

Ingredients – serves 4

1 whole free range chicken

1 large onion, finely sliced

1 tin artichokes

1 tin chickpeas

a handful of green olives

2 sticks celery, sliced into 5 cm lengths

1 green pepper, chopped into chunks

1 green chilil, deseeded and slcied finely

2 tsp cumin seeds and 2 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and roughly ground with a pestle and mortar

1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika

1 cinnamon stick

Plenty of fresh flat-leaved parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil (c. 3 tablespoons)

Chicken stock (enough to just cover the vegetables) plus a tbsp plain flour to thicken sauce

Glass of white wine (optional)

Basmati and Wild Rice

  1. Heat the oven to 200 C.
  2. Take the chicken and turn it upside down. With a sharp knife, cut through the bone and lay out the chicken "spatchcock style", breast side up, on a large roasting pan. (If this worries you, take a look at the nice man in this YouTube video who demonstrates very clearly how to do it)/span>
  3. Scatter the onions, chickpeas and other vegetables around the pan.
  4. Put a tablespoon of plain flour into a jug and make a paste with a little of the stock, then gradually pour the rest of the stock into the jug.
  5. Pour the stock (and wine, if using) over the vegetables around the chicken but not over the chicken. Add the cinnamon stick.
  6. Drizzle the chicken with plenty of olive oil and then scatter the whole dish, including the chicken with the spice mix and season generously.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour, until the chicken is crispy on top and cooked through.