Monday, 30 April 2012

Cranberry and Pistachio Granola Bars

You may have noticed that I like cooking with oats, and I particularly like turning them into flapjacks or granola bars. I tend to keep a tin full of some kind of oaty bar at all times for taking out on walks or having as an afternoon snack. These are uncannily like the Starbucks granola bars but a good bit healthier. 

2 1/2 cups oats
1 cup light brown soft sugar
1 egg and 1 egg white
1/4 cup skimmed milk powder
1/4 melted olive oil spread or butter
2 tablespoons pistachios
2 tablespoons seeds (I used sunflower, pumpkin and sesame)
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons dessicated coconut

Makes 16

Beat the eggs, sugar, milk power and melted spread together in a large bowl using a whisk or hand blender. Stir in oats, nuts, seeds, coconut and cranberries. Make sure everything is evenly mixed and then pour into a well-greased 8"x8" tin. Bake for 20-25 mins at 180c or until lightly browned on top. Allow to cool and cut into 16 squares.

Arthritis diet notes
These bars are a great snack for when you need a lot of energy fast. The recipe is high in healthy fats from the nuts and seeds, whilst being low in unhealthy saturated ones. The oats boost the fibre content to help keep you going for longer. Skimmed milk powder and eggs also increase satiety by making the protein content higher than most commercial bars.

Some studies suggest that as many as 1 in 8 patients with rheumatoid arthritis are underweight. This can be due to the inflammatory effects of the disease, difficulty shopping and cooking and side effects such as nausea from medications.  If your arthritis has left you in need of gaining weight, granola bars like these are a great way of getting in some extra energy easily. You can throw a couple wrapped in foil into your bag to eat when you are out or nibble a couple before bed. If you like nuts, throw in a few more and a tablespoonful of nut butter before baking to make them even more energy dense.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Spinach and Ricotta Parcels

One of my favourite things are spanakopita - those delicious Greek parcels of pastry with spinach and oozy feta cheese. I wanted to try and make a lighter, slightly Italian version of them and this is what I came up with. These parcels make a lovely and impressive looking starter for six, despite being dead easy, or a very tasty meal for two.

250g (6oz) frozen spinach, thawed (or you can use fresh cooked and well drained)
250g (1 cup) ricotta cheese (or cottage for a 'cheesier' taste)
3 large sheets of filo pastry
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 spring onions chopped finely (optional)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Black pepper to taste
Oil spray

Makes 6 parcels

Drain the thawed spinach thoroughly in a sieve - squeeze out as much water as you can. Put in a bowl and stir in the cheese, garlic, onions and pine nuts. Season to taste with black pepper.

Take each sheet of pastry and cut in half. Fold each rectangle in half to make a rough square. Spray each of the six squares with the oil. Put two tablespoons of the mixture into the centre of each pastry square and then bring the sides up to make a rough parcel. Place the parcels onto a baking sheet and spray thoroughly with the oil again.

Bake at 180c for about 25 minutes or until the parcels are a light golden brown.

Arthritis diet notes
If you serve these parcels with a nice tomato salad, this makes a pretty perfect meal. The spinach is rich in vitamin K and folate (folic acid) whilst being a good source of the mineral magnesium and iron. People with inflammatory arthritis have often been shown to be deficient in iron (due to the way inflammation affects the body)  and folic acid so spinach is a good way of helping top up. Ricotta and cottage cheese are excellent sources of calcium and low-fat protein to help support your bones and muscles. Finally pine nuts are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E which some studies have shown may have a pain relieving effect in rheumatoid arthritis.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Cooking with Arthritis Gadgets: Eddingtons Alligator Chopper

It's gadget review time again and today it's the turn of the Eddingtons 'Alligator Chopper'. Is it as scary as it sounds? Or will it end the horrors of chopping with Arthur?

What is it supposed to do?
Eddingtons Alligator  ChopperIt's meant to be a fast and safe way to chop onions and other vegetables into small dice. You place the food to be chopped on the plate and then simply bring the 'jaws' down over it - all the chopped bits fall into the plastic holder.

Does it work?
The 'Alligator' works quite well to slice half a small, peeled onion or small pieces of soft vegetables, like courgettes. However, I struggled to get it to work on larger onions, ginger, carrots or peppers. It is easy to clean as you can just pop it in the dishwasher. The little plastic container is a little tricky to clip in and out but gets easier with practice.

Does it make cooking with arthritis easier?
I think it probably depends on how your hands and wrists are affected. For me, it's a bit tricky to push the slicer down sometimes and I find that because I have to chop and peel things before I can put them in the slice it doesn't make life much easier. On the other hand, if your wrists are ok and grip is your main issue, I think this would be really useful for chopping onions. 

Overall verdict?
B- Not for me but might help onion fans with poor grip.

If you want an Alligator of your own, you can buy one here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Power Pea Pesto

I'm reviving an old post today and this is probably one of my favourite recipes ever. This is much lighter than a traditional pesto and full of goodness – try it as a dip or on pasta. You could also add vegetable stock and blend it up to make a lovely soup. It's a please everyone dish; kids love it and even my 'traditional pesto obsessed' other half adores it
300g frozen peas
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon of pine kernels
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons of low fat cream cheese
2 good handfuls of basil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Microwave or boil the peas with the garlic until just cooked. Drain. Tip into a bowl with remaining ingredients and blend with a stick blender until you have a smooth paste. If it is a little too thick for your taste or purpose add a splash of water or stock.
Arthritis diet notes:
The basil in pesto is a great flavour if you are feeling under the weather - it is fresh and moreish. There is a little evidence out there suggesting that basil may have antiviral effects - I'm not sure there is enough to be conclusive, but basil is rich in antioxidants. This is lower fat than normal pesto but has health monosaturated fat from the pine nuts and olive oil. Don't skip out cooking the garlic with the peas - raw garlic, whilst incredibly healthy, is just too powerful - even for power pea pesto!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Creamy Chicken with Mushrooms

This is a one-pot chicken dish in a creamy mushroom sauce. After a bit of trial and error, I've found a foolproof way for making a white sauce in the same pan and with no annoying whisking or roux making. I serve this with pasta or rice for a tasty quick and substantial supper. If you have any leftovers, mix the pasta and chicken together, top with cheese and bake for 15-20 mins to make a great pasta bake.

2 skinless chicken breast fillets
350g white mushrooms (or a mixture of varieties - you can buy them ready chopped)
500ml semi-skimmed milk
2 heaped tablespoons plain white flour
1 tablespoon cream cheese
Glass of white wine (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 good quality chicken stock cube
Salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh herbs of your choice

Serves 4

Slice chicken breasts into bite sized pieces. Chop the mushrooms up roughly.

Put the oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole dish and place on a medium heat. Add the garlic and chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms, crumbled stock cube and glass of wine (if using - replace with water if not). Gently cook for about 5 minutes again, until the mushrooms are softened.

In a large mug or jug, stir the flour with a splash of cold milk. Gradually add a bit more milk and keep stirring until all the milk is added - if you do this gradually (like making powder paint!) it should make a thin solution with no lumps. Pour this mixture into the pan with the chicken. Cook gently for about 10 minutes on a low simmer until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through. Finally, stir in the cream cheese.

Season to taste and garnish with some fresh herbs - sage is good or basil, if you are eating with pasta.

Arthritis diet notes:
Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein. We need protein for growth and repair in our bodies. Athletes, children, pregnant women and people recovering from illness or injury all need a little extra to help their bodies maintain muscle. Protein in meals also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Current guidelines suggest that we need about 0.8-1g of protein per kg of body weight, although some people advocate much higher intakes. Too high intakes have been linked to kidney problems.

It's best to avoid eating more than a couple of servings of red meat a week. Red meat has more saturated fat so is less healthy for your heart and has been linked to an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Simple Vanilla Mousse

Easter is almost here and I think it is one of my favourite celebrations, helped by spring being my absolute favourite season. I think most people with arthritis are pleased to see the back of winter! The cold makes it hard to stay active or eat healthily with arthritis. Personally, I'd like to hibernate all winter and emerge well-rested into the first days of delicate spring sunlight. Mousses always seem spring like - light, fresh and fluffy they are the culinary equivalent of frolicking lambs or bounding bunnies. Use an electric whisk or kitchen mixer to make this so you don't have to beat egg whites with arthritis, unless you fancy the workout.  You can try putting the fruit at the bottom of the glass and then spooning the mousse over for a impressive looking pudding that will help you get a serving of fruit into your arthritis diet. Or, simply serve it plain.

500g/ 2 cups greek yoghurt (if you need to lose weight, use fat-free or reduced-fat and it will still taste great)
2 egg whites (or equivalent of pasteurised egg white)
6 tablespoons runny honey
1tsp vanilla extract

Serves 4
Stir together the yoghurt, honey and vanilla until well combined.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and lightly fold into the yohurt mixture.

Spoon into four glasses and chill for at least 4 hours to let it firm up.

Arthritis diet notes
As puddings go this is positively angelic! It's light, fluffy and rich in protein and calcium. Calcium is important for helping build and maintain healthy bones, you can read more about why people with arthritis need it here.

If you are serving this to children, I'd use full fat yoghurt,as they need the energy. Conversely, if you are trying to lose weight, you can easily use fat-free greek yoghurt. Do make sure to use pasteurised egg whites if you are making this for infants, older people or those on immune-suppressants.


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