Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Special Offer Veggies - Aubergine

I do most of my shopping in Lidl these days. Mostly, I made the choice for economic reasons, however I do like that they are not purely an "own-brand" store but also have some brands that I am quite attached to. I did try out their mayonnaise and ketchup, but I prefer Hellmans and Heinz and it's handy that they are available to me. And it's location is handy for me too, now I can drive.

I also really love the cut price fruit and vegetables they have weekly. They are not alone in this, I know, but I do like to stock up on onions and celery when they are on offer at some ridiculous price (okay, yes - I hear the economics lecture about price to the farmer and cost of production and loss leaders and all that...  And while I can agree in principal with it, it's the economics of my own household that concern me most immediately).

There is usually an item of fruit (strawberries or even a net of lemons), some basics (celery, onion, carrots, peppers etc.) and something exotic. Recently, the more exotic item was aubergine. 

Aren't these handsome devils?!
I have no real beef with aubergine, except that I have a belief that it is somehow "slimy" and also a huge faff to prepare, as you have to sprinkle salt and draw out moisture etc. etc. before attempting to cook it or you end up with a pile of purplish sludge.
On the other hand, they are rather a good-looking vegetable, and I do also remember my brother cooking me a rather tasty aubergine and tomato pasta dish once, and reading after that all the salt sprinkling might not be necessary. And the darn thing is only FORTY NINE cents, and it's a week to payday. 

So I slung it in my basket and off I went.

I am happy to report, that the result was delicious. Better than that, even (I suppose if it had been a disaster, I wouldn't be writing this piece!). And you know what, even if you buy the aubergines full price, it's still an incredibly economical meal.

I went looking for a recipe that I had seen in one of Himself's cookery books, but I couldn't find the book in question. However, I remembered the name - pasta alla Norma - as it amused me. So off to Google with me, and sure enough, plenty of recipes returned.

I chose this  pasta alla Norma recipe from the website www.epicurious.com as it seemed straightforward, had some tasty tips and also did not require weighting and salting. I liked the tip to remove the fluffy seedy centres as well. Some additions were recommended - chilli and oregano, and I also added my own. In the recipe below, I've left them all out apart from the oregano, they were all superfluous and took away from the meal, in my opinion. Feel free to experiment yourself; although I have to say, I think we do sometimes over-complicate Italian recipes, that are often very simplistic and all about the basic ingredient and it's nice to allow that to shine sometimes, too.

Here's my version of the recipe.

Sarah's Pasta alla Norma  Serves 4

  • 2 large, firm aubergines
  • Oil, for frying
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch of fresh basil, separated into finely chopped stems and leaves
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes (I love the Lidl ones again, great consistency)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Love the Le Creuset pot
  1. To prepare the aubergine, cut them in quarters lengthwise. If they have seedy, fluffy centres, cut these out and discard and then cut the pieces in half so you are left with finger sized pieces
  2. Heat about ½ a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick pan (I used the Le Creuset casserole dish since I was recently given one, but in the absence of that, a non-stick pan is preferable, as the aubergine will absorb a certain amount of the oil) and fry off half the aubergine at a time, making sure that each piece gets well tossed and coated in the oil (adding more oil, if required) and dried oregano (this gives a great flavour) and keeping them turned until golden on each side; then remove to a dish and repeat the process with the other half
  3. When all the aubergine has been cooked in the oil and oregano, return all to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add a little drop more oil if required, and then add the chopped garlic and basil stems and cook gently, being careful not to burn the garlic
  4. Add the vinegar and tins of chopped tomatoes and season to taste (I sometimes add a small pinch, maybe a teaspoon, of caster sugar if it is too sharp). Rip up half the basil leaves, and add to the sauce, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes
  5. Serve with the rest of the fresh basil sprinkled on top, pasta and plenty of grated Parmesan cheese
This is fast food at it's best - really easy to cook, super quick to prepare and make, economical and totally delicious. And this is coming from some one who isn't even all that keen on aubergine!

Sarah xx

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Get Wise About Portion Size

Portionwise Campaign
If you've been following our Facebook page (DinnerLadies Page), you will have seen me posting a few things over the past few days about a campaign I've been very peripherally involved in called "Get Wise About Portion Size". 
As I say, I've only been very peripherally involved - my daughters' school (Presentation Primary, Terenure) is one of the local schools taking part, and as a member of the Parent's Association, I've helped put up some posters and stack chairs... minor stuff!

However, I have to say how massively impressed I am with this campaign and what it hopes to achieve - and indeed, is achieving.

So, what is it? In a nutshell, it is one local mum's crusade to deal with the childhood obesity crisis that we hear about. As Professor Donal O'Shea said at the talk on Monday night, the only way he believes we can tackle this crisis, is through grassroots, community-led initiatives and this is very much a fantastic community effort and the very definition of a grassroots movement.
Rather than preach about what you should and should not eat, it is a take on Michelle Obama's portion size campaign. Called "Get Wise About Portion Size", it is basically an aide memoire to help us all know what is the correct portion size for us, individually. The beauty of the campaign is that it uses your hands - your fist size, to be precise. So therefore, the correct portion size for you is based on your own fist size; and, accordingly, so the correct size portion for each member of your household is their own fist size.

It's a basic 1-2-3 formula, dividing a plate into three - a line across the middle to half the plate, then divide one of the semi-circles in two again (so 1 half and 2 quarters)...

  1. Your carbohydrate portion is the size of one of your fists
  2. Your protein portion is also the size of one of your fists
  3. Your fruit and veg portion is then the size of both fists together
As a sub-point, your protein should be no larger than the size of the palm of your hand and also no thicker than the palm also.

A major part of the campaign has been getting the buy in from the local schools and all the local children have designed their own plates, so here are some examples:

The local businesses around Terenure have been displaying the plates, and the children have been having so much fun, walking through the village looking for their own plates.

Other activities this week have included a talk on healthy eating, with speakers from the Irish Heart Foundation and Professor Donal O'Shea from RTÉ's "Operation Transformation" fame (the questions and answers session at the end was really interesting) and a Community Walk around the local park on Friday (meeting at 3.15pm tomorrow at the tennis club in Bushy Park in Dublin, if anyone is interested!).

I first heard about this campaign last November, when it was introduced to us by the pioneering Mum (Fiona Phelan, take a bow). I started then to reduce the portion sizes for both the children and ourselves, but this week, during the week-long campaign, I have been making more effort. It was so cute on Monday to hear the 7yr old check the portion size of her rice with her fist on Monday evening, and getting her 5yr old sister to check hers too, before announcing, "thanks Mum, that's just the right amount of carbohydrate for us!".  Hopefully though, this will be a good foundation for them and while they might rebel during their teens, I hope that once they strike out on their own, they will remember back to these days and manage to avoid the over- and under-eating issues that can plague young women in the modern day.

Another thing I like about this campaign is that it also encompasses the "naughty" food. So, if you are rushed for time and you are resorting to potato waffles, fish fingers and beans; then the same portion size rules apply. Keep the size tidy, then you needn't feel so bad about a rushed meal. Likewise, an extra large scatter of sweetcorn or pineapple or some rocket (my own favourite) on top of your pizza and a couple of slices less, and you're still doing okay-ish. 

Last night, the girls had burgers, potatoes and beans for dinner. I make the burgers myself - literally, just a ball of mince rolled in my hands and flattened. No egg, no breadcrumbs, and (for the children) definitely no green stuff or garlic or anything tasty like that! (Although plenty of herbs, garlic and a little spring onion in my own.)
I was expecting the burgers to be smaller than what I usually use - I have to admit though, that I was somewhat surprised. I called the girls in and measured the raw patties against the palms of their hands (they were highly amused by this, and very congratulatory of me, in that supremely smug childish way). When serving, I used the burger size as a guide to the amount of potato - again, I kept having to take some off! And with the beans, I divided the medium size tin (I think about 200 or 225g) between them. As I was spooning it out, it looked about right - the size of the carb and protein portion combined, however on the plate it looked a lot as it spread out. I guess it also looks a lot beside the small amount of meat and potato! As they were eating, the 7yr old kept querying if there was more burger, more potato, more everything. However, they finished their plates and ran off to play and didn't ask for anymore, fully satisfied. I'm very pleased. I'll be keeping this up, and hopefully the scales will have some good news for me, too.

Dinner for two small girls, aged 5 & 7
 There are high hopes that this campaign will roll out nationwide, so if you are interested in the campaign and are looking for more information (perhaps to run a similar event in your own community?) please contact the campaign: portionwise@gmail.com; or follow on Twitter: @portionwise123 or Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/portionwise

The beauty of this campaign is it's utter simplicity - there is no weighing of portions of pasta or measuring out. It's just 1-2-3.So, it's time to step up to the plate (see what I did there?!) and get involved with your community and to reduce your portion size. We can't wait for the Community Walk tomorrow afternoon.

And here's one last image for you, about the growth in portion sizes over the past 20 years - there are plenty of these available, but I think this speaks volumes: 

Sarah xx