Monday, March 30, 2009

Orange and Cardamom Pilaf

Basmati rice is one of the best types of rice to eat if you need to load up for an endurance run. We ate this orange and cardamom pilaf on Friday night and then the left-overs for lunch on Saturday, followed by 15 miles in the afternoon (one of my least favourite routes, up the portway, over that god-forsaken M5 motorway bridge and then back along the towpath). 

Basmati rice, brown or white, is a low G.I carbohydrate, which means that it is slowly digested, releasing energy to your liver and muscles gradually. Note that short grain rice, for instance pudding rice, is high G.I.which is rapidly absorbed by the body, providing a quick blood sugar rush and so is not so great for endurance. The extra goodies like orange zest, spices, chicken stock, almonds, fresh herbs and currants add vital vitamins and minerals.

This pilaf is in my up and coming book (to be released on July 2nd by Vermilion) accompanied by deliciously crispy duck legs. It tastes exotic but is dead easy to make. When you finally lift the lid off this pilaf, the beautiful aroma just blows you away. It only takes about 30 minutes to make. Use good quality rice - I like Tilda and Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Basmati Rice

Orange and Cardamom Pilaf
Serves 4
Olive oil and a knob of butter
1 tsp allspice
1 onion, peeled and sliced finely
1 bay leaf
12 cardamom pods, crushed lightly with a pestle and mortar
freshly ground black pepper
1 cinnamon stick
400g basmati rice, rinsed a couple of times and then drained
3–4 tbsp currants
juice and zest of 1 orange
600ml chicken stock
handful of flaked almonds, toasted
handful of finely chopped fresh mint or coriander

  1. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and a knob of butter in a saucepan (make sure you use one with a tight-fitting lid) and gently sauté the onion until it is translucent. Add the allspice, cardamom pods, black pepper, bay leaf and cinnamon stick and stir for a minute or two to release the aromas.
  2. Add the rice and stir it around so that it becomes glossy. Stir in the currants and orange zest and then add the stock, the orange juice and some salt (the amount will depend how salty your stock is).
  3. Quickly bring the stock to the boil, turn down to a very low heat, place a circle of greaseproof paper over the liquid and cover with the tight-fitting lid.
  4. Cook on the lowest heat for 7 minutes and then turn off the heat and leave, still covered, for a further 7 minutes. Remove the lid,  enjoy the aroma and test for seasoning.
  5. Arrange the pilaf onto a large hot serving dish or four individual plates. 
  6. Scatter over the almonds and the coriander or mint. Delicious served with duck or spicy lamb or chicken kebabs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hill training

I'm well into my 5th week of training for Stockholm and I'm proud to say that I've clocked up about 170 miles - it's very motivational to add it up like this; it makes you feel so much better. 

After a good breakfast of porridge with honey and wholemeal toast and marmalade (both homemade and very scumptious), I managed to get out to do my hill training in Ashton Court (8 x 40 secs uphill, no this is not a pic of Ashton Court, but it is a good pic of a hill!) without MBJ, my husband and chief motivator, as he has disappeared off to the Alps with some mates....and yes, I am insane with jealousy as I haven;t been able to fit any skiing in this year at all. 

Hill repeats really are hell, especially the first two when you feel that you'll never be able to do all 10, or 8 or however many you are planning. But when you get past the half-way count and you've only got 2 or 3 repeats to go, you start to feel a great sense of achievement and can suddenly see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Well, that's me done on hill training for another couple of weeks - fantastic!

I've come across a very informative website - take a look at these for some inspiration:

If you're considering any of these runs, these sites are good and include information on the history, qualification and charity places, travel and accommodation. Take a look.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slow-roasted tomatoes

A pot of fabulous buffalo mozzarella has been sitting in my fridge for a while now and I suddenly had the urge to make a classic italian tricolore salad of mozzarella, fresh basil and tasty tomatoes. The tomatoes were so disappointing, however, that I binned that idea, chopped them in half and slow-roasted them in the oven instead. This is a great idea for sprucing up flavourless tomatoes and produces a deliciously deep flavour, especially if you help this along by sprinkling them with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper.

You could eat these tomatoes with a lovely balsamic dressing and mop up the juices with chunks of crusty bread, you could leave them to cool and keep them for tomorrow's lunch/lunch box...there are lots of tasty options, but I decided to use these tomatoes as the base for a pasta sauce - a much more sensible idea for fuelling the body than a salad, especially as I did a pretty hard 12 mile run yesterday and have 5 miles to do today.

 I used fusilli bucati, a great fun pasta with a hole running through the centre and I reckon this goes very well with a good rich tomato sauce. Spaghetti is good as well, or conchiglioni shells .The pasta and the tomatoes have a low glycaemic index and so will release energy to your muscles slowly and gradually, the tomatoes are a rich source of several nutrients, including a vitamin C, vitamin A, and B vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium). They are also a good source of fibre and the antioxidant lycopene (good for fighting disease). This pasta is so quick and easy to make and is a perfect midweek staple for your training diet. Scatter with mozzarella, feta, basil leaves and crispy bacon...  

Pasta with roasted tomato sauce
Serves 4-5

500g pasta 
8 decent sized vine tomatoes
1/2 bottle of sugocasa (just to add a bit of bulk, you can use more fresh tomatoes instead if you have them)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
glug of olive oil
1tsp demerara sugar
Plenty of salt and black pepper
1 flaked dried chilli (optional)
1 tbsp small capers (optional)
big bunch of basil, chopped, saving a few leaves for decoration
feta cheese, cubed or slices of buffalo mozzarela
5 rashers streaky bacon or prosciutto


  1. Cut the tomatoes in half and place on a baking sheet. 
  2. Sprinkle over balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper and place in the oven at about 170.
  3. Add the garlic about 5 minutes before you remove from the oven - after about 30-40 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a saucepan, scraping off all the caramelised bits as well, add the sugocasa and chilli if you are using it and cook very gently, covered, for another 20 minutes or so, stirring every now and then.
  5. Add more balsamic, olive oil, seasoning, maybe some lea & perrins etc to taste. Add the chopped basil at the last minute.
  6. Grill the bacon until really crispy
  7. Cook the pasta shells in salted water according to pack instructions - warning, you need a really big pan if you are cooking 500g! When you drain the pasta, leave some of the cooking liquid to stop it getting sticky, and add some olive oil.
  8. Serve with pasta in large individual pasta dishes. Place a slice of bacon on top with some basil leaves and pieces of feta/mozzarella sprinkled over. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Caramelised sweet potato and chickpea couscous

What is a healthy training diet? Regular and varied meals which are high in carbohydrate, relatively low in fat and well-balanced with protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. There you have it; it’s not rocket-science. It is best to listen to you body – if you are training hard and you feel hungry, you probably need to eat something; training for something like a marathon burns a vast amount of calories! Average weekly mileages vary according to your training schedule, but training for a triathlon or a marathon can easily burn between 3000 and 5000 extra calories a week, even more for some. 

I try to base my diet on about  60-70% carbohydrate – that’s cereal, potatoes, pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables -15% meat, fish and alternatives, about 10-15% milk and dairy foods and just a small percentage of foods containing fat and sugar


I made this sweet potato and chickpea couscous a few days ago. It's a nice high carbohydrate dish with a low glycaemic index that makes a fantastic alternative to pasta or rice. It's also quite light on the stomach so you can get a nice portion of carbs down you without feeling absolutely stuffed! We had this with a piece of grilled sea bream and it made for an absolutely delicious meal which only took a few minutes to prepare.

Sweet potato and chickpea couscous

250g couscous

a few sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes

1 red pepper, halved and deseeded

1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

small bunch of flat-leaved parsley

squeeze of half a lemon

a few good glugs of extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp ras-el-hanout


  1. Put the sweet potato and the red pepper on an oven tray, drizzle with olive oil and a few grinds of salt and black pepper and roast in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, until the sweet potato becomes soft and a little caramelised.
  2. Prepare the couscous - put the couscous in a bowl with a pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil. Pour over 300ml boiling water (check pack for exact amount). Stir and leave for 5 minutes (or time stated on the pack).
  3. Chop the parsley roughly and slice the red pepper.
  4. When the couscous is ready, fluff it up with a fork and then add the herbs, the chickpeas, the sweet potato, red pepper, ras-el-hanout, lemon juice and olive oil. Taste and add salt and pepper accordingly.
  5. Serve warm or cold with grilled fish or chicken, keep it in the fridge to snack on or  take as part of your packed lunch.  


Monday, March 2, 2009

37 miles

It always sounds better when you add up your weekly mileage rather than count individual runs. My training for Stockholm is going to plan and I clocked up 37 miles this week, doing an average of 8.1 minute miles on my steady long run yesterday...not fast enough yet but I'll have to fartlek that figure up, so to speak. 

37 miles...that's about 3700 calories too. We replenished a few of those lost calories after our long run yesterday with a delicious lamb tagine, accompanied by potatoes and parsnips mashed with coursegrain mustard and parsley and a crisp frisee salad. Potatoes and parsnips are great veggies to eat after a long run as they have a good level of high G.I. carbohydrate to work on replenishing your glycogen levels...and they are very easy to cook (I didn't even bother peeling the potatoes).

Pud was some homemade walnut and white chocolate chip brownies with a fresh fruit salad of strawberries, blueberries and very expensive blackberries (very non-eco, I know, I expect they came from Peru or somewhere).

If you discount the few glasses of Shiraz we washed this down with, this was probably an almost perfect post workout feast.