Monday, 18 July 2016

What's (not) been cooking recently

I am a fountain of idioms and adages - I haven't the 'foggiest' why but I scatter them throughout my daily speech. At breakfast, I 'waste not, want not' by scoffing my daughter's leftovers, driven mad in the middle of the day, I 'start crawling up the walls' and by bedtime I'm ready to 'turn into a pumpkin'. 

And recently, I've been living one of my favourites 'every cloud has a silver lining'...

An annoying crop of health niggles meant I had to turn down a whole series of work and personal opportunities over the last few months that would either be too physically demanding or impossible to organise childcare for. I was feeling a bit down in the dumps about it when some wonderful non-cooking related projects landed on my lap.

One of the most recent ones I have been involved with is the launch of new site for people with psoriatic arthritis called PsAandMe. It's a project sponsored by Novartis that aims to help people with PsA share their own experiences of the condition and get us all talking about the swings and roundabouts of having a chronic illness. As a contributing editor to the site, I've written my usual healthy recipe but also shared my thoughts of parenting and psoriatic arthritis, or how not to let PsA be the monster under the bed.

Do check it out if you suffer from PsA. There is some great content on the site including tips on flying with PsA (so not fun), the old work/life balance conundrum, dealing with anxiety and relationships.

And if you have made it to the end of this post and survived the cartload of idioms, congratulations and just be grateful you don't have to live with me ;)

Friday, 27 May 2016

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Xylitol and Sunflower Oat Bars

We're cooking with arthritis and a few unusual ingredients today! The first of these is xylitol, a natural sweetener derived from birch trees (you can read more about it's origins and safety on the NHSChoices site here). Xylitol has some impressive health benefits that have been widely researched and are well evidence based: it has been shown to help prevent ear infections, has a lower glycemic index than sugar and may help protect against tooth decay. Now you might quite reasonably wonder what the state of you teeth has to do with your joints, but it turns out that there is a wealth of research linking tooth decay (or periodontal disease) and rheumatoid arthritis. It seems that people with periodontal disease may be more likely to develop severe arthritis and that some of the conditions associated with inflammatory arthritis, such as having less saliva due to Sjorgren's, may worsen existing tooth decay too.

You can find xylitol with the sugar in most supermarkets and online. It works well in sweet treats - especially ice creams or mousses as it has a cooling effect. If you are baking with it though you may want to add a little of another type of sugar as it doesn't caramelise like normal sugar so your baked goods can look a little pale and sad looking.

The second unusual ingredient is sunflower protein powder - it has a a mild nutty flavour and works well in baking, unlike a lot of protein blends. I've added it to these bars to help boost the protein and fibre content. Feel free to leave it out if you don't like the idea of it, you could either substitute it with another vegan protein powder (whey won't work as well) or simply replace it with oats.

200g oats
50g sunflower protein
50g oat flour (grind oats in your food processor or replace with wholemeal flour)
2 small bananas
100g butter/low fat spread or coconut oil
50g honey
100g xylitol
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (optional)

Makes 12

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter (or other fat), honey and xylitol - keep the heat low and don't let it bubble too much. Take this mixture off the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes whilst you get on with the dry mix.

Mix the oats, sunflower protein, flour and seeds (if using) together in a large bowl. 

Add the two bananas to the warm melted butter and xylitol mix. Use a stick blender to puree the mixture until smooth. Add this liquid mix to the dry mix and give everything a good stir until. The mixture will get quite thick and gummy - don't worry! Plonk the whole lot into the greased tin and bake for 20-25 minutes at 180C/375F or until the oat bars have risen slightly and are golden at the edges.

Allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes before cutting into squares.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Crispy Quinoa and Bean Burgers

This recipe for arthritis friendly bean and quinoa burgers is adapted from 'How to Cook' by Anna Jones which is an amazing vegetarian cookbook. Her recipe uses all quinoa and chickpeas, neither of which I massively enjoy, so I've switched things up to use a brown rice and quinoa mix and a tin of mixed beans. Do taste your harissa paste before adding it - they vary so much in terms of heat and strength, so you may need a little more or little less.

If you find shaping patties difficult due to your arthritis then you might want to try simply spooning this into a baking tin and pressing it down before spraying or brushing the top with cooking oil. Simply cut the cooked mixture into pieces once cool.

Peas and beans are a great source of fibre and protein. They also contain plenty of folate which research suggests that people with all types of arthritis may struggle to consume enough of. Moreover, a recent review of studies found that not only can eating pulses help you lose weight but it can also help you keep it off in the long term - great news if your joints would benefit from a lighter you!


250g cooked brown rice and quinoa (I used a seeds of change pouch but you could use leftovers)
200g frozen peas, thawed (I zap mine in the microwave or you can leave at room temp for a few hours)
1 drained can of mixed beans (approx 230g drained weight)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/2 preserved lemon (optional but really good)
1tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon harissa paste
2 tsp nigella seeds

Serves 4

Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix until everything is well combined. Remove half of the mixture and put it into a smaller bowl and blend until it forms a rough place with a hand blender (you could also use a food processor). 

Tip this paste back into the large bowl and stir everything together. Take tablespoons of the mixture and shape them into patties with your hands then place them on a greased baking sheet. I make about 8 or 9 small patties with the mix.

Pop the shaped patties into the fridge to firm up for half and hour. Once they are a bit firmer, spray them with cooking oil and then bake them at 180C/375F for 30 minutes or until golden.

Serve them with flatbreads, salad and yoghurt or houmous.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Hot Cross Loaf

Here is an easy recipe for a quick Easter hot cross loaf. At it's heart this is a soda bread recipe so there is no kneading or proving, which is great for arthritic hands. It's best eaten warm or within a day or two of making - something we have never had any trouble with. I'd say it is a good fibre-packed, healthy alternative to hot cross buns, but for me inhaling as many hot cross buns as is possible during the Easter period is a tradition in itself. Happy Easter!


225g wholemeal flour (or you could use 1/2 white and half wholemeal)
25g rolled oats
1 medium egg
150ml milk
1.5 tsp baking powder
75g sultanas
1 tablespoon honey or golden syrup
1 tablespoon mixed peel (or you could use lemon or orange zest)
2tsp mixed spice

Mix the flour, oats, baking powder, spice and dried fruit together in a large bowl. In a separate jug, beat together the egg, milk an honey.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and give everything a good stir until you get a rough dough. Add a little more flour if the dough seems to wet to hold a loaf shape or a little more milk if it feels to dry to come together.

Flour your hands and roughly shape the dough into a round loaf shape. Pop in on a baking tray and score a cross on it with a sharp knife. Bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and lightly golden. Allow it to cool on a rack.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Cloud Bread

Other than the chocolate variety, my two year old will not normally touch eggs. This is perhaps unsurprising as I couldn't stand even the sight of them until I decided to learn to cook them myself in my teens and discovered that actually frittatas, tortillas and eggy bread were all pretty delicious. However, as she also isn't fond of meat, I've been on a bit of a mission to encourage her to eat them recently - and I think I have finally cracked it (yes, pun intended) with this gluten free cloud bread. We've eaten these fluffy clouds with fillings for lunch and as a tea time snack with maple syrup. If you follow a low-carbohydrate (such as the AS/London/no starch diet) or a gluten-free diet then they also make a great alternative to a bread roll.

The recipe is quick and easy to make as long as you make sure you whisk the whites until they are really stiff and fold the yolk mixture in carefully. I wouldn't personally attempt this without a stand mixer but there may well be braver and stronger whisk-ers out there than me!


2 large eggs

30g (2tbsp) light cream cheese
1/4 tsp ground psyllium husk or 2tsp ground flaxseed (optional but helps the texture and adds fibre)
A little sunflower or rapeseed oil for greasing a baking tray

Makes 6 clouds
Preheat the oven to 150C and grease a large baking tray with a little oil.
Carefully separate the eggs. In a small bowl, beat the yolks together with the cream cheese, psyllium husks or flaxseed (if using) until smooth.

In a clean, large bowl whisk the eggs whites until they form stiff peaks. You should be able to turn the bowl upside down without them budging if they are whisked enough.
Fold one spoonful of the whisked egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it, then gently tip this yolk mixture into the large bowl of whisked eggs whites. Fold everything together by delicately scooping around the outside and then cutting through the middle with a large spoon. Be very careful not to overmix - it's better to be left with a few little specks of visible egg whites than a floppy mix!

Dollop large spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, then place in the oven and cook for around 20 minutes or until the clouds are a gentle gold colour.
If you eat the cloud bread immediately it will be very light and puffy but it is also nice the next day split and warmed through.

Arthritis diet notes:
Eggs are packed full of protein, B vitamins, iron and selenium, all nutrients that several studies have shown people with arthritis sometimes struggle to get enough of. Many years ago it was recommended that we restricted our intake of eggs but the advice has changed -  nowadays you can eat as many as you like provided you don't have familial hypercholesterolaemia.


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