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Healthy lunch box ideas

Lunch boxes take me back to my school days and the AMAZING lunches my mum used to pack for us whenever we had after school activities, and couldn’t eat lunch at home. When I moved out, first to study, then to live and work abroad, I adopted the all too common approach of regularly skipping breakfasts, grabbing something quick and ready-made for lunch, and ending the day with a very late, and very large dinner. But the traditional saying “breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper” is proving rather accurate, as the mounting research† in favour of intermittent fasting shows.

Frontloading your calory intake to the first half of the day reduces risk factors for heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. People who don’t eat large meals in the latter half of the day also tend to sleep better, suffer less digestive issues and show less signs of ageing. This, and all the research I have been reading about children performing better at school, being better behaved and less prone to falling ill when they have a healthy breakfast and nutritious lunch, has convinced me to start making an effort to pack my family some decent lunches. Here are some ideas, which I put together for the team at Compass Fostering to help inspire parents to pack a punch on the lunch box front.

 

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Lunch boxes 1

Lunch box 1

Fruit water (cucumber and mint)
Tangerine
Lightly salted popcorn
Rainbow wrap
Boiled egg

Ingredients for the rainbow wrap

wholemeal wrap or flatbread
1 – 2 tablespoons hummus or red pepper hummus
small handful baby leaf spinach
1 small carrot, coarsely grated
1/4 red pepper, cut into long strips (the long Romano variety works well here)

Method
1. Spread the hummus evenly onto the wrap, leaving a border along the top end.
2. Place the spinach leaves down in a single layer, pile grated carrot into the centre and lay pepper sticks across.
3. Fold the bottom half over the fillings, ensuring you have a tight roll, then roll upward towards the top end. Cut in half or slice into thirds.

Lunch box 3

Lunch box 2

Fruit water (lemon and lime)
Pineapple wedges, raspberries
Wholemeal pesto pasta salad with salmon and peas
Natural Greek yoghurt with pumpkin seeds and raw honey

Ingredients for the pasta

medium bunch basil
small bunch dill, thickest part of stems discarded
medium bunch parsley, thickest part of stems discarded
1 small garlic clove, peeled
salt and pepper
about 80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
cooked salmon (left-overs work well here)
cooked wholemeal pasta (save some of the cooking liquid)
handful of frozen peas

Method

  1. Put the herbs, garlic, pinch of salt and black pepper in a food processor and blitz until roughly chopped.
  2. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until you reach your desired consistency (the green “pesto” sauce should be loose enough to fold into cooked pasta).
    Combine the pesto with cooked pasta, cooked salmon or deboned trout, and defrosted frozen peas.
  3. Add a little more olive oil and pasta cooking liquid if it needs it.

Lunch box 4

Lunch box 3

Fruit water (raspberries and blueberries)
Cucumber and carrot sticks with guacamole
Trail mix (sunflower seeds, coconut chips, chopped dates)
Mini frittata with broccoli and feta

Ingredients for the frittata
2 eggs
1 tablespoon water
small pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
small knob of butter
handful of steamed broccoli florets (left-overs are great for this) 25g crumbled feta

Method

  1. Whisk the eggs with the water, salt and pepper. Stir in the sliced spring onions.
  2. Heat the butter in a small ovenproof skillet or pan over a medium heat until sizzling, then pour the egg mix into the pan, and scatter over the broccoli and feta cheese.
  3. Cover the pan, turn the heat down and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the egg has just set.
  4. Pop the pan under a hot grill for half a minute if you’d like, to add some colour. Cool, turn out and slice to serve.

This post was written in collaboration with Compass Fostering. All opinions, words and images are my own.

Intermittent Fasting: the surprising update
Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications



Gluten free strawberry and elderflower tart

I have been so busy getting into the rhythm with my new teaching job (which I love, btw), that I have not shared a new recipe since August last year!!! And here I am posting a strawberry and elderflower recipe with both strawberry and elderflower season just about done for this year. Boo! But it is so delicious, that I thought it would be worthwhile adding anyway. Hope you will have a chance to make it!

Strawberry tart

Gluten free strawberry and elderflower tart

Serves 8

Ingredients

185g flour (you can use gluten-free)

75g soft brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla paste or seeds from 1 pod

120g unsalted butter, chilled and diced 

1 medium egg, lightly whisked

40ml double (heavy whipping) cream, chilled

1.2 kg delicious sweet strawberries, hulled and halved

elderflower syrup for drizzling

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190˚C and line an lipped baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and mix. Rub or cut the cubed butter into the flour for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the pastry resembles wet sand (you could use a food processor for this). Set aside.
  3. Whisk the vanilla, egg and cream until blended, then drizzle over the flour mixture and mix until it just comes together. Do not over-mix!!!!
  4. Spoon the pastry onto the baking sheet in dollops and spread out evenly with a spatula or the back of a large metal spoon. You might need an extra pair of hands to hold the paper in place.
  5. Scatter over the halved strawberries, pressing them into the pastry slightly, and bake for 20 – 30 min, or until the pastry has risen and is golden and crunchy around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve with whipped cream and a drizzle of elderflower syrup.

 



Fig and almond cake

Ah, a beautiful, juicy fig… and sunshine. And saltwater hugs. It was so good to be back in South Africa, spending time with family and friends. The kids loved every moment (especially the fact that they could wear shorts most of the time) and I enjoyed the slightly more relaxed pace. On our way from Hermanus to Plettenberg Bay, we stopped at a fig farm and bought a whole box of figs for £3.50! We were all salivating in the car the rest of the journey. We enjoyed them in so many different ways: gobbled up whole, sliced into salads, in smoothies, smashed on buttered toast. And then there was the cake, of course. The first piece eaten very quickly with a dollop of mascarpone. The second piece nibbled a little more slowly, savouring its crumbly texture and delicious flavour.

Figs 2

Figs 3

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, room temperature
65g (1/2 cup loosely packed) light muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs
160g (roughly 1 cup) whole raw almonds
80g (scant ½ cup) spelt flour or gluten-free flour blend
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
zest from 3 large organic lemons
12 figs, stalk removed and quartered

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a medium sized ovenproof dish (or cake tin).
  2. Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for another minute or two.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Process the almonds in a food processor until they resemble a coarse meal. Add this, as well as the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in the lemon zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the greased dish, flatten the top with a spatula and press the fig quarters into the batter.
  6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden and crunchy-looking, and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Do not overbake, as it will dry out.

Figs 1



Rhubarb galette with gingerbread spices

This rhubarb galette with gingerbread spices is delicious, straight from the oven, served with vanilla ice cream or slightly sweetened whipped cream. It is easy to make and you can replace the rhubarb with any fruit in season, but remember to take into account how quickly the fruit cooks when deciding on how large to slice or chop it. Slice apples or ripe pears very thinly, pile berries on top, or try chopped pineapple – they all work fantastically well.

Rhubarb galette

Ingredients for the pastry

225g wholemeal spelt flour (I used buckwheat, which works too, but makes the pastry slightly more fragile)
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (usually made by grinding the whole dried vanilla pod) or the seeds from one pod
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
40 – 60ml (2 1/2 – 4) tablespoons ice cold water

Ingredients for the fruit topping

5 cups chopped or sliced rhubarb (or other fruit of your choice)
1 cup light muscovado sugar or coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
a few tablespoons ground almonds

Method

  1. In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, vanilla and butter until it resembles wet sand. You can also do this by hand, by rubbing the butter into the dough with your finger tips.
  2. Now add the cold water little by little until the dough just comes together into a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead briefly until smooth. It shouldn’t be sticky or crumbly – of too sticky, add more flour, if too dry, add a few more drops of ice water. Shape it into a flat disc.
  4. Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking parchment – you are aiming for a thin sheet about 3mm thick, either round or square’ish, and refrigerate on a baking sheet until firm (about half an hour).
  5. Remove the firm dough from the fridge and place on a large baking sheet (still on the parchment paper). Allow to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.
  6. Mix together the fruit and spices and as soon as the pastry has reached room temperature. Scatter the ground almonds in a circle in the centre (this will prevent the juices that escape during cooking from making the pastry soggy), and spoon the fruit on top.
  7. Fold over the edges, pinching the pastry here and there to keep it in place, and bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crunchy, and the fruit tender. Allow to cool sightly before serving.


Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt

Another delicious topping for chocolate bark is a combination of toasted macadamia nuts, dried bananas and flaked sea salt. Drizzle everything with melted milk chocolate and ta-dah!

Choc bark blog 1

Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt

Makes enough for 2 – 4 little bags

Ingredients

150g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)

large pinch of sea salt flakes

30g (1/4 cup) macadamia nuts, toasted for 5 minutes at 180˚C pre-heated

30g dried bananas, finely chopped

5g popped quinoa, optional

20g milk chocolate

Method

  1. Melt 2/3 of the dark chocolate in a double boiler until just melted, stirring continuously. As soon as it has melted, stir in the rest of the chocolate until all has melted.  You could also melt the chocolate in a microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring after each, until just melted. Do not let the chocolate get warm.
  2. Pour the melted chocolate onto a large piece of greaseproof paper and quickly spread out to about 1/4” thickness with a spatula.
  3. Quickly scatter  over all the toppings  evenly.
  4. While the bark is cooling, melt the milk chocolate in the same way as the dark chocolate.  Either drizzle this over the bark with a spoon or use a small sandwich bag (or piping bag) to pipe the melted chocolate onto the bark. Set aside to cool completely.
  5. Peel away the paper and snap into pieces.


Rhubarb and apple crumble

It’s rhubarb season! The word “forced” used to lead me to believe that this kind of rhubarb is somehow inferior, but I have since come to love this delicious late winter treat. Lifting sections of the rhubarb roots and bringing them under the cover of a greenhouse or other warmer place, shutting out all light, creates stems that grow pale. This means the light-starved plants desperately reach out in search of light and thereby produce smooth, bright crimson stems (rather than green ones created post photosynthesis). The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire produces some of the world’s finest. Forced rhubarb is less bitter than the traditional, non-forced stalks and needs less sugar to balance the tartness. Pretty in pink and less astringent – perfect!

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Rhubarb and apple crumble

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients for the fruit filling

500g rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1/2 cm pieces

2 apples, cored and thinly sliced

zest of 1 orange

juice of 2 oranges

40g dark muscovado sugar

1 cinnamon stick, broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Ingredients for the topping

85g cold unsalted butter (preferably organic) or ice cold coconut oil, cut into little cubes

50g mixed nuts, roughly chopped (I used a combination of almonds, pecans and walnuts)

30g demerara sugar

70g muesli base (mine is a mix of oat, rye and quinoa flakes, but you can use any combination)

70g wholemeal rye flour (or use wholemeal spelt or you favourite gluten-free mix)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (370°F).
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl, then transfer to a medium ovenproof dish and cover with a lid or foil. Bake for 45 minutes (or until the fruit is tender when tested with a sharp knife), stirring carefully half-way through the cooking time.
  3. In the meantime, place all the topping ingredients apart from the butter in a bowl and mix well. Now add the butter (or coconut oil) and quickly rub into the dry ingredients until it comes together and you are able to form large clumps. Spread the clumps out on a baking sheet and place in the oven with the fruit. The crumble topping should be ready after about 30 minutes, but use a spatula to turn the pieces over gently half way.
  4. To serve, divide the fruit amongst 4 – 6 bowls, spoon over the delicious juices, scatter the crumble over the fruit and serve with vanilla-sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream of your choice.

Note: If you use coconut oil and gluten-free flour, your crumble will be a much finer texture, but still crunchy and delicious.

crumble 1

crumble 2

 



Bergamot and cucumber salad

I only recently discovered my love for Earl Grey tea. Not the regular kind, mind you. It was the combination of Redbush tea from my homeland with the intoxicating aroma from the Bergamot oil that swayed me. The Bergamot orange (sometimes mistakenly referred to as a lemon) was created more than 300 years ago in Southern Italy when a sour orange was crossed with a citron/lemon/lime/Palestine sweet lime. No one is quite sure. The oil is extracted from the rind and used in Earl Grey teas, as well as fragrances, aromatherapy and to flavour dishes. Here I’ve put them to good use in a refreshing salad dressing with cucumber and blueberries. But the options really are endless…

Bergamot lemons (1)

Bergamot lemon cucumber salad

If you cannot find Bergamot oranges (in season from December to February) try a combination of lemon, grapefruit and orange or tangerine, although the distinctive floral, slightly bitter flavour is difficult to replicate.

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients for the salad

2 English cucumbers, peeled if not organic

1 punnet blueberries (about 125g), washed and halved if you prefer

a large handful of pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Ingredients for the dressing

zest of 2 Bergamot oranges

juice of 1 Bergamot orange

80ml thick Greek yoghurt (or coconut yoghurt)

45ml (3 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

large pinch of unrefined rock or sea salt

1 – 2 teaspoons raw honey (or maple syrup), or to taste

small bunch of dill, leaves only, finely chopped

Method

  1. Thinly slice the cucumber on the diagonal and gently toss with a pinch of unrefined salt. Place the cucumber slices in a colander over a bowl or in the sink and allow to drain for at least half an hour.
  2. Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar, screw on the lid and give it a good shake until the honey is dissolved.
  3. Add the rest of the salad ingredients, toss with the dressing and serve immediately.

Bergamot lemon dressing

Cuke salad

 



Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream

I love brunches so much, that I centre most of my social engagements around them (click here and here for some easy recipe ideas). Not too early, with an array of delectable foods to choose from, most often vegetable-heavy, and no rush to leave, it is by far my favourite kind of meal. I especially like being creative and pushing boundaries when it comes to menu ideas, so I really enjoyed collaborating with M&S on their Super Brunch campaign using their new Chef range cookware.  The products are well-designed, solid and beautiful to look at, and being part of a brunch initiative has me smiling from ear to ear. These pears would make a great addition to any brunch spread, but would also be a spectacular dessert, perhaps with a few candied macadamia nuts scattered over the top.

A lot has been written about curcumin, an active compound in turmeric believed to have many health benefits since they are powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents. But interestingly enough, turmeric is not that easy for our bodies to assimilate, as most of it is metabolised by the liver before being absorbed. Studies have now shown that eaten with even just a tiny amount of black pepper, absorption of the curcumin is a lot higher, because the chemical compound “piperine” in the pepper inhibits this metabolisation. Bioavailability of curcumin is also higher when eaten with a fat, as it can then be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.

ms-pears ms-pears-plate

 

Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream

Serves 6

Ingredients for the pears

6 – 7 ripe but firm pears

5cm (2”) piece of fresh turmeric, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced

thumb-sized piece of ginger, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced

a few gratings of coarse freshly ground black pepper

500 – 600ml dry white wine

40ml (2 1/2 tablespoons) maple syrup

 

Ingredients for the macadamia nut cream

140g (1 cup) macadamia nuts, soaked in filtered water for 2 – 4 hours

80ml (1/3 cup) reduced poaching liquid

unrefined salt

 

Method

  1. Peel the pears, taking care to leave the stalk in tact. Place the pears, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and white wine into a medium, deep saucepan like this one I was recently sent by M&S, and set over medium heat.
  2. Cut a circle out of greaseproof parchment paper just large enough to fit into the saucepan and lay over the pears in the wine (this is called a cartouche and prevents the liquid from evaporating too quickly whilst the fruit is poaching).
  3. As soon as you see tiny bubbles form under your cartouche, turn the heat down very low and allow the pears to poach for 15 minutes. Test with a sharp paring knife – the pears should be tender, but not too soft.
  4. Remove the pears carefully with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Turn the heat up high and boil the wine with the flavourings until it has reduced by about two thirds to three quarters. You will need about 160ml (2/3 cup) of reduced liquid.
  6. Now add the maple syrup, whisk and set aside to cool slightly.
  7. To make the macadamia nut cream, rinse the soaked nuts and place in a blender with roughly half (about 80ml) of the reduced poaching liquid and a small pinch of salt. Blend until the cream is very smooth – if you do not own a high speed blender, you might have to keep going a bit longer.
  8. Serve the pears with the cream and remaining poaching liquid.

ms-syrup

*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.



Apricot, red currant & butternut cake

I absolutely love cooked apricots, whether in a cake, jam, compote, tart or savoury dish. I find that they offer the perfect balance of flavour, and the vibrant colour is always a treat. This cake has a firm texture and is not very crumbly, so makes for an ideal dessert to take along on a picnic. Use frozen red currants if you can’t find fresh.

apricot cake (2)

Apricot, red currant and butternut squash cake

Makes one 20cm cake

 

Ingredients

3 medium eggs

150ml (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) macadamia nut or extra virgin olive oil

140g (1 cup) palm sugar or dark muscovado sugar

1 vanilla pod, cut into smaller pieces (or just the seeds if you are not using a high-speed blender)

130g (1 cup) wholemeal spelt or buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of sea salt

165g (1 1/2 cups) grated peeled butternut squash

150g red currants, stripped from the stalks

8 small apricots, halved and stone removed

Toasted macadamias, optional

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F, and grease a 20cm spring form.
  2. In a blender, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla pod pieces (or vanilla seeds, if not using a strong blender).
  3. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the centre and add the egg mix. Stir until just combined.
  4. Stir in the butternut and half the red currants, then scrape into prepared tin.
  5. Place the apricot halves, cut sides down, onto the cake batter and scatter the rest of the currants on top. Use the back of a large spoon to gently press the fruit into the batter.
  6. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs.  It may need a little longer, depending on your oven.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  8. Serve with whipped cream and toasted macadamia nuts.

 

 

 



Strawberry and tomatillo salsa

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes but are, in fact, related to the cape gooseberry (or physalis). They are a staple in Mexican cooking, and with their tart, refreshing taste, make a great addition to all kinds of dishes, especially salsa verde. Once you’ve removed the husk, rinse them well as they are sticky, then chop or blend and add to guacamole, or cook it down with red onion and chilli for the most delectable sauce. I received mine with my weekly Riverford Organic box, but you could also try online grocers specialising in Mexican ingredients.

Strawberry and tomatillo

Strawberry and tomatillo salsa

Delicious with a Mexican-inspired barbecue or grilled fish, this salsa is a lovely alternative to your regular tomato version. Make sure your strawberries are super sweet – the salsa needs it. Tomatillos are a good source of niacin, potassium, and manganese, and are very rich in vitamin C and vitamin K. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.

Serves 4 – 6

 

Ingredients

juice of 1 lime

large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon raw honey

1/2 red onion, finely diced

200g tomatillos, finely chopped

400g strawberries, hulled and quartered

small bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped

1 – 2 red or green chillies, chopped (deseeded if preferred), optional

 

Method

  1. Whisk together the lime juice, salt and raw honey. Then add the onion and set aside.
  2. Prepare the rest of your ingredients, then toss with the dressed onions and serve.