Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Spicy sweet potato and chickpea stew

Today I’m sharing a comforting and good-for-you spicy stew, as the girls at work and me have started a healthy living club in the office.

With January in full swing and having all over-indulged over Christmas, we decided that only way to become healthier and resist temptation was to do it together – seeing as we spend most of our time at work!

There’s almost always chocolate, sweets, cakes or biscuits going around the office and when it’s there we can’t walk past it. If we’re having a busy or stressful day then we all agree that we’ve earned a treat. And on those days when we’re tired or not feeling our best, it becomes a case of NEED not want. Sound familiar?

Now I’m not for a second saying that we’ll be cutting out all guilty pleasures – as I said in my last blog, I just can’t live like that. But I’m definitely convinced that smaller portions, lots of fresh and healthy foods, more veggie alternatives, regular snacking on healthy foods such as nuts and dried fruits, and regular exercise are the key to a healthy lifestyle.

I’m no expert, but I’ve had my fair share of difficult relationships with food and I now know that what we eat massively affects not only our weight, but our mind, concentration, sleep patterns and mood.

So we’ll see how the new healthy living goes! There are no rules at the moment – it’s more a case of making our own lunches instead of buying chips in the canteen, having healthy snakes on our desks, and supporting each other at the gym.

We all have different goals – whether it be tone up or lose weight – but our common aim is to generally feel more energised and better about ourselves.

At this time of year I crave comforting, warming food and this vegetable stew is perfect for satisfying hunger while helping you stay on the right track to healthier living.

Top Tip: Cayenne pepper contains thermogenic properties which raise metabolism and can help you lose weight.

Olive oil for frying
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, crushed
500ml water
1 sweet potato cut into 2cm chunks
5 large vine tomatoes (could use a tin of chopped tomatoes instead)
3 bay leaves
1 red chilli, finely chopped, seeds removed
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or ½ tsp chilli power instead)
1 courgette, diced into 2cm chunks
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Optional: Quinoa or brown rice to serve (I use Pedon bulgar and quinoa – just cook like you would rice.)

Heat the oil in a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a couple of minutes. As the onions start to brown, add the garlic and cook until the onions are soft.
Add 50ml of the water and stir in the sweet potato. Then crush the tomatoes into the pan and add the bay leaves. Cook for five minutes.
Stir in the spices and add another 300ml of the water. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the courgette, chickpeas and the rest of the water and simmer for around 10 minutes until the sweet potato and courgette is tender.

Note: If you make this the night before, it also makes a tasty lunch and because it contains protein from the chickpeas and substance in the sweet potatoes, you really don’t need anything with it.  

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Good intentions

Okay, let’s get the excuses for my hiatus out of the way first. It’s the two ‘W’ words: wedding and work! Since returning from a holiday in Tenerife in August I literally didn’t stop until Christmas due to a busy schedule at work, a house move which fell through and a wedding to plan – all of which left me too shattered to come home and think about a blog. But that’s a rubbish excuse and my New Year’s resolution is to make more effort and stop blaming what is really just laziness on being too busy!!

So staying on the New Year’s theme, January is generally a month of good intentions when we vow to lay off the booze, hit the gym and eat healthier. Of course this never fully materialises (last night I went out drinking cocktails and tonight I will be stuffing my face with Christmas chocolate on the basis that if I eat it all now then it’s gone and I can’t eat anymore – come on, we all do that?!)

But, my saving grace is that most of the time I do eat healthy and I’ll certainly keep that up. If you’re looking for a serious January detox the HonestlyHealthly book is your bible. My mother-in-law-to-be lent it to me a couple of months ago and I’ve had a bash at a couple of the recipes – the one I’m sharing with you here is a nutty granola which is fabulous with yoghurt for breakfast and it’s super healthy.

While the book has some great ideas (in particular the good-for-you cakes and chocolates which provide a guilt-free fix when you’re craving something sweet), it would be extremely difficult to keep up the lifestyle element for any length of time.

I do recommend this granola though – make a big batch and store in an airtight container and it’ll last for weeks.

I'm now going to go and make a salad for tea and pack my gym bag for tomorrow!

Nutty granola

50g dried dates
100g jumbo rolled oats
2 tbsp honey
85g mixed raw cashew and pecan nuts
15g raw pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp olive oil
It’s not in the recipe but I also add 50g of dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Simmer the dates in 1cm of water until soft then blend until smooth with a hand blender.
Put in a large bowl, stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until golden. 
Reduce the oven temperature to 110 degrees and cook for a further 30 minutes until the mixture is dry and crisp.
Leave to cool completely, then enjoy!