Braai-baked mussels

This experiment came about after a conversation over several beers – who says alcohol has no benefits?!

Having seen Rick Stein effectively bonfire a pile of mussels on TV a few years ago, we thought we have a go at but using the braai as we don’t have a beach to cook on.

Rather than just make a foil parcel and steam them (en papillote) we wanted to get that smoky, baked flavour you get from grilling seafood right over the fire but the mussels would fall straight through the bars onto the charcoal, and that just wouldn’t do. I considered a DIY project involving a bit of metalwork but then the easier option presented itself – a cheap BBQ wok sold at the supermarket. Comes with a foldable handle so we’ll be able to put the lid. Now, just to wait for the pesky molluscs to be back in season – simples 🙂

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This week’s menu – 30 May 2014

The start of “Clean June”:

  • Greek meatballs w/ roast aubergine and salad
  • BBQ wings w/ sweet potato wedges and slaw
  • Discovery Chicken w/ cauliflower rice and roast butternut
  • Smoked kippers and poached egg salad
  • Turkey cranberry meatballs w/ cauliflower mash and broccoli
  • Sausage, butternut & sweet potato bake
  • Prawn stir-fry

Panna Cotta – Paleo version

I put off trying this recipe for a while; in part due to holidays but also because I’d had WAY too many “treats” lately and hadn’t earned dessert yet 🙂  Normally I just compare a couple of versions of what I want to make, and pick what works for me but this time I thought I’d do a few variations to suit the various versions of “Paleo” and dietary restrictions.

Discovery Chicken

After a bit of a stressy dinner the night before, I thought I’d better give myself a break and deploy one of my prepped dinners from the freezer. The original recipe this is based on calls it west African, but I can’t see why as the ingredients are more east African but then it’s a bit of a jumble anyway!

I prefer to call this Discovery Chicken as it includes tomatoes and chillies introduced to Africa by the Portuguese  explorers from their colonies in the New World. Why not just call it Portuguese chicken? That’s Nandos!


1kg Chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (about 10-12 pieces)

1 x onion, diced

Thumb-sized piece of root ginger, grated

6 cloves garlic, grated

1 tablespoon ground Coriander seeds

1 tsp Cayenne pepper (reduce or omit if you don’t like spicy)

400g can chopped tomatoes

85g Sunflower seed or Almond butter  (about half a small jar)

Half tsp vanilla extract


Heat a tablespoon of Coconut oil in a casserole pot, or large skillet with a lid. Generously season the chicken with S+P then brown, in batches. Set aside.

In the same pan, sauté the onion and ginger for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften. Add the garlic, coriander, cayenne (if using) and stir well to combine. Add the tomatoes plus half a can of water and bring to  a boil.

Return the chicken to the pot along with any resting juices and bring back to a boil before turning down to a simmer for 25-30mins.

When the time is up, carefully remove the chicken pieces. They will be quite tender. To the sauce add the nut or seed butter and vanilla, and give it a good stir. At this point you can break up the chicken and put it in the sauce to serve. I prefer to leave the pieces whole, as it’s easier to portion for freezing, then break it up in the sauce when reheating.

Eating out – Cavegirl style

Looking back over my posts, I realised that I said I’d talk about the restaurants we go to when we chose to eat away from home, rather than me just cooking homemade copies of the commercial stuff. This has fallen by the wayside for a couple of reasons:

1. There hasn’t been anywhere new I wanted to try out

2. I forgot

We’re lucky in Berkshire to have quite a wide variety of restaurants on offer, and they are gradually becoming more “Real Food” focussed. Independent coffee shops, organic juices – we’re almost catching up with London!

While many main-stream restaurants have caught on to the gluten-free bandwagon sadly many are still relying on corn, rice and a LOT of sugar. I’m fortunate not to have life threatening allergies, so I can eat a little of these substances and not feel too bad. In larger quantities I suffer the next day. This my current pick of Paleo-friendly dinner venues:

Jamie’s Italian – I so wanted to hate it, but it was actually very good.

Carluccio’s is my favourite for a special dinner. Not all that expensive, but the antipasti plates are too gorgeous to resist so it always ends up being a big dinner. Real Italian food that goes beyond pizza and pasta.

Loch Fyne has always been a go-to spot. While they don’t have a gluten-free menu, many of their main courses are served as- is and you choose sides seperately, so you can enjoy broccoli, salad or samphire with your meal. Also, you can’t go wrong with a plate of oysters or a lobster platter and a glass of something chilled and fizzy 😉   [unless you have a seafood allergy, then you’re buggered]

Mission Burrito – no GF menu but offers the option of having all the usual taco and burrito toppings on a crunchy salad. Made to order so just ask for no beans, and no cheese if you’re hard-core. This place gives Chipotle in the US a run for it’s money!

Las Iguanas is a new favourite. I had assumed this was another tex-mex, nachos and deep fried breaded food place. I was sooo wrong. Not being of Latin American decent I have no idea how authentic it is, but their Brasillian inspired food is unusual and delicious. It’s not often I go to a restaurant in the UK and don’t know what things on the menu are.  The GF menu is pretty big (although a lot of it does include rice, corn and beans) but the real winner here is their taco sharing plate which comes with gem lettuce cups instead of tortillas. Yum! They also do sweet potato fries, cassava fries and plantain chips, but they’re not marked as GF which suggests they’ve been coated in something to help crisp them up 🙁

There are, of course, other places where you can ask for substitutions to which they may or may not acquiesce – but we’re British and don’t like to have to ask.

Crispy shredded chicken Asian veg salad

The only reason I called this “Asian” salad is because I was replicating the most amazing salad I had at Asian Box in Macy’s SFO. Who’d have thought you could get fresh, tasty, gluten-free food in a department store basement food hall?!

You start your “box” with a base of rice, noodles or salad – I go with the brown rice or salad depending on jet-lag levels – then add protein* of your choice followed by steamed or wok-fired veggies. If that’s not enough there’s a whole pick ‘n mix of toppings like crispy shallots, fresh herbs, pickled veggies and chillies. As it’s all built in front of you, you can easily opt out of bits your don’t want.

STOP! We’re not quite finished yet! there’s still the 6 house made sauces to choose from! I normally have this as a treat so I’ll happily have a little sriracha sauce, even though it’s not sugar-free or soy-free, but they also have “Asian Street Dust” which is a mix of dry spices. Amaaazing!  Perfect mix of fresh, crunchy, spicy and comforting. Even if your body clock doesn’t feel ready for dinner time, it looks light enough to not be off-putting and just the thing for blowing away the long-haul flight cobwebs. Plus, it’s not in a restaurant so no expectation for you to interact with people or tip 🙂

So, back to dreary Berkshire, UK. Here’s what I threw together:

Asain Box Salad


Crispy chicken:

  • 2 tablespoons Coconut oil
  • 1 x whole Poached chicken breast (about 2 cups)
  • 1tsp Chinese 5 Spice
  • 1tsp Fish Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Coconut aminos


  • 1 x Yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 handfuls Beansprouts (about 150g)
  • Half a Cucumber, peeled into ribbons
  • Hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved


  • 25g Cashew nuts
  • 4 x Shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 x Red chilli, finely chopped (as mild or spicy as preferred)
  • 2 x Spring onions, thin sliced
  • Half a Lime, in wedges
  • Sriracha sauce, shop bought or homemade


Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a wok or skillet. Tear the chicken into bite sized strips and fry in the oil until starting to brown and starting to get crispy strands. Add the 5 Spice, fish sauce and coconut aminos and stir well. You should get a slightly caramelised effect. Turn off heat, and set pan aside.

Assemble all the salad ingredients on a serving plate.

Now we work fairly quickly. Heat a small frying pan and dry roast the cashews until golden, then pour onto a chopping board to rough chop. Now heat the other 1 tablespoon coconut oil in the same pan and add the shallots. The natural sugars will start to caramelise and they’ll crisp up – keep them moving so they don’t burn. When you’ve achieved desired crispiness, remove from the pan and transfer to a piece of kitchen towel. They shouldn’t be massively greasy, but draining them prevents sogginess.

Serve up a portion of the chicken onto the salad, top with chilli and spring onions followed by a squeeze or two of sriracha and a spritz of lime. Sprinkle over the sweet and crispy shallots and the roasted cashews.

Asain Box Salad

*I couldn’t find any allergy info on their website, so I can’t be sure what’s in the marinades but I didn’t have any adverse reaction.

June – 30 Days to get clean for Summer

I know, most normal people do resolutions in January. This has never worked for me. January is a terrible time to give up comfort food and booze, or to try and start exercising more. Too cold, wet and dark out. Much rather stay under a slanket on the sofa eating leftover Christmas treats.

Much as I’ve felt an improvement in my health having “gone Paleo”, I have let bad habits (too much dairy in the form of cheese and milky coffee; too much alcohol) creep back in and I’m worried I’m undoing all the good work as my ailments are stating to return:

  • Sluggish and no energy in the mornings
  • Poor sleep
  • Blotchy skin
  • Extreme hayfever symptoms
  • Generally feeling a bit meh

It’s a vicious circle as the less energy I have, the less I want to go to the gym and more I want to down lattes and vino. Summer has (apparently) begun and I’d like to feel like I can enjoy it this year so I need to get back on track. This is no 900kcal/day diet or juice detox, just me actually sticking to the plans I made a year ago, so the recovery plan for the 30 days of June goes thus.


  • Dairy intake reduced to 250ml (that’s about 1 latte and 2 cups of tea)
  • Alcohol reduced to maximum 14 units per week (in line with health guidelines not to exceed 2-3 units per day)
  • Get out for a walk or cycle every day, including gym days
  • Up my game at the gym – not just Body Balance and Zumba classes


  • No coffee shop visits, and replace hourly tea and coffee with water
  • Stick to sharing a bottle of wine with 1 meal a week, and only have beer at the weekend
  • Walk or run 30mins every morning, before having mid morning coffee. Cycle to the gym instead of driving
  • Integrate twice weekly weights programme

It’s not about the numbers

Often when people find out that I’m “Paleo” their immediate response is “oh, that’s like Atkins”. No. No it isn’t. While it is a naturally lower carbohydrate diet, as you don’t eat added sugar and avoid processed starches, it is not a high protein diet. It is also not about how many calories you eat, or how many grams of fat, carb or protein. It’s about eating real food.

Trying to reduce the Paleo lifestyle to a one-liner of “low carb” and purely basing you food choice on whether or not it’s labelled as “low carb” is dangerous. Let me use this example to show why. The US takeaway chain Chick-Fil-A offers a “healthy” low-carb option in their menu. You can have a Chick-fil-A® Chargrilled Chicken Club Sandwich (minus the bun) with Honey Roasted BBQ sauce, all with only 6g Carbohydrates. Wow! Only 6g carbs – that’s, like, really healthy right?

Now, here’s the ingredient list:

Grilled chicken (water, apple cider vinegar, soybean oil, yeast extract, salt, modified corn starch, palm oil, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, corn maltodextrin, sea salt, flavor, sugar, chicken stock, cane molasses, chicken fat, spice, natural flavor [including smoke], chicken meat, dextrose, lemon peel, citric acid, red bell pepper, orange juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, natural flavor, paprika, vinegar, xanthan gum, ascorbic acid, and spices), tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, Colby-Jack cheese (Colby cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes and annatto], Monterey jack cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes]), bacon (cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite).

Sauce: Soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, water, distilled vinegar, honey, mustard (distilled vinegar, water, mustard seed, salt, turmeric, paprika, spice, garlic), tomato paste, egg yolk, sugar, salt, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate added as preservatives, annatto color, spices, natural smoke flavor, xanthan gum, lemon juice concentrate, dehydrated garlic and onion, caramel color, olive oil, propylene glycol alginate, calcium disodium EDTA added to protect flavour.

Diet Coke only has zero calories; no fat, no sugar, no protein. It’s made with caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium saccharin, potassium benzoate (to protect taste), natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine, potassium citrate, Aspartame, dimethylpolysiloxane. Phenylketonurics: Aspartame contains phenylalanine). Hardly the elixir of life.

We see this again in, what I like to call, the White-Wine-Spritzer reward. In all of the different industries I’ve worked I have met the same women. Members of [insert weight-loss subscription based group here] will NOT eat at all on a Friday because they are “saving up points” so they can have 3 spritzers in the bar that night. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intention when their carefully calculated plan was created but, hey, it’s still only 500 kcals!

Moral of the story? Look beyond the numbers on the packet and look at what is actually in the food you are eating. Don’t leave it to the manufacturers of foods and drinks to decide what you consume. Their #1 priority is not your wellbeing, it’s the contents of your wallet. Most of all do the research, choose what’s right for you and take responsibility for your health.

The Butter Chicken Experiment

After seeing a Paleo recipe for this Indian Restaurant favourite on My Heart Beets I wanted to see how it compared to a non-Paleo version. I have a couple of different recipes I’ve used in the past, all following a similar method:

  1. Marinade chicken pieces in yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger and spices
  2. Roast the chicken (chicken tikka style)
  3. Make a sauce with tomatoes, garlic and ginger, more spices and an enthusiastic quantity of cream and butter whisked in.

I’m going to pick the best one of those recipes and do a side by side comparison – for scientific reasons, of course 😉

This week’s menu – 23 May 2014

Weather is all over the place this week so got a bit of a hodge-podge of dinners planned:

  • Crispy shredded chicken on Asian veg salad with crispy shallots, chilli, chopped nuts, sriracha sauce and lime
  • Thai coconut fish cakes with som tam salad
  • Fish and sweet potato curry
  • Merguez with roast aubergine and middle-eastern carrot salad
  • Kipper faux-kedgeree
  • Greek koftas with Greek’ish salad
  • Ribs ‘n Wings, slaw and wedges