Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Cooking with Arthritis Gadgets: Le Creuset Utensil Review

The Arthritis Foundation has launched an 'Ease of Use' Commendation for products and I've   been reading some great reviews on The Seated View. I've also been discussing spatulas on twitter (yes, really). Interestingly, on the Arthritis Foundation's website, I saw that Le Creuset utensils had been given the seal of approval. Well to a Le Creuset junkie like me that was an open invitation to go get some more utensils. I think I buy them more for the pretty colours than anything else, but here is my take on the spatula and basting brush.

What are they supposed to do?
The silicone heads are heat-proof and won't damage pans. The spatula is for use frying, folding, mixing and scarping out bowls. The basting brush allows you to paint marinades onto meats or brush oil over things. Wooden handles have elliptical handles to help prevent them twisting in your hand and grip rings.

Do they work?
The spatula is fantastic for scraping out bowls, sadly removing any need to lick them out! It works well in cooking and doesn't leave behind any plastic-ey odour, unlike some I have used. The brush is ok. The bristles are a little to thick and firm for getting a very smooth coat on things but it works nicely for basting.

Do they make it easier to cook with arthritis?
Well they are both very light and easy to work with. The handles feel nice and are easy to grip. They are not dishwasher safe because of the wooden handles which is fine for the spatula but actually a bit of a hassle for the brush. I find it a bit fiddly to get clean. They are a joy to look at - mine are pale blue so they certainly cheer the kitchen up  - but I think there are probably other light and easy to use silicone utensils out there that are probably cheaper and easier to clean.

Overall verdict?
B   Beautiful and functional, shame they are tricky to clean.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Summer Healthy Eating and Arthritis

One of the most popular posts on this blog, is about eating well over the festive season so I thought I would do something similar with tips on eating healthily in the summer. Generally, it is quite easy to eat well when the sun is shining. Fresh fruit, salads, light dishes are all abundant and  appealing in the heat. But picnics and BBQs can also be a minefield of burnt sausages, chips, beer and past-it potato salad. Know what to avoid and what to enjoy with these tips and recipes:

1. Get creative with the BBQ - getting the grill out doesn't have to mean sausages and burgers. Try marinading lean meats and fish with these flavoursome, arthritis-friendly sauces and experiment with grilling slices of vegetables. Peppers, courgettes, carrots and aubergines all taste fantastic brushed with a little olive oil and grilled. Or for a no-chop option, try grilling asparagus.

2. Do-good dips - swap the ketchup, sour cream and mayo for these these dips full of arthritis-busting ingredients or make this fresh salsa. Pack some up to take on a picnic and serve with flatbreads and slice raw veg.

3.Watch for wilting - if you are on immune-suppressants you need to be extra careful to avoid food that has been left out in the sun. Bugs multiply rapidly in the heat and it can be all to easy to get food poisoning. Put your dips and salads in the fridge straight after using, don't hoover up any leftovers from plates sat in the heat and be careful at parties. Always make sure any meat that has been BBQ-ed is hot and cooked in the centre before serving. Use your nose and eyes - if it smells funky and looks wilted then don't eat it!

4. Keep hydrated in the heat - try water infused with slices of cucumber and mint or lime wedges for a refreshing alternative to sugary drinks. If you are drinking alcohol, remember to have glass of water for every drink to avoid dehydration.

5. Sweet treats - summer is made for ice-cream but why not experiment with these lighter sorbets and frozen yoghurts too. Grill peaches, bananas and pineapple of the BBQ for a delicious easy dessert.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Fantastic Frozen Yogurt

Time to dust down the frozen yoghurt recipe - the sun has finally come to the UK! I keep looking out the window and thinking I'm hallucinating. I know that there is no scientific proof that warm weather makes the joints feel better, but it certainly helps mine - if only because a bit of sunshine makes me happy. Or, perhaps it is because the sun is the only excuse I need to make this fantastic frozen yoghurt.

2 cups (500g) fat-free greek style yoghurt
2/3 cup (150ml) milk (any kind)
1/2 cup icing sugar, agave syrup or other sweetener of your choice
2 drops vanilla extract (optional)

Makes 4 servings

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Churn in ice cream maker until it reaches 'Mr Whippy' consistency. Eat greedily.

You can flavour this pretty much anyway you like or change the type of yoghurt used. Try the following:
Mango - swap the sugar and milk for 350g of pureed fresh mango and 100ml apple juice. Add a twist of lime and fresh ginger to serve.
Double chocolate chip - add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Once churned stir in 40grams of darkest chocolate chips.
Maple and pecan - swap the sugar for 100mls of pure maple syrup. Once churned stir in chopped pecans, dates and cinnamon.
Peanut butter swirl - my favourite! Use 100g honey for the sweetener. Once churned stir in 3 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter.
Coconut and banana- swap milk for coconut milk and top with sliced bananas and grated coconut

Arthritis diet notes:
Homemade frozen yoghurt is a great source of calcium for strengthening your bones. It makes a nice change from ordinary yoghurt and works out much cheaper than buying a tub of ice cream.  I'm afraid I don't really buy the whole 'agave' is a miracle sweetener thing. Yes, it may be low-ish GI but it is high fructose which has been linked to gout (and a load of other conditions). Please just choose whichever sweetener you feel most comfortable with - it's swings and roundabouts which is best for you.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Toffee Apple Muffins

We've got some willing volunteers coming around to do some heavy lifting in the garden this weekend and I thought I ought to give them a treat in return,so I've just been baking these muffins. They are like a toffee-apple in cake form and very, very yummy.  The mixture itself is quick and simple to put together but you do need to grate an apple. I leave the skin on and do it in a food processor to make it easier. If you don't have one then try using a box grater, either resting one forearm on top or pushing it up between the work surface and wall so you can use both hands to grate.

90g self-raising flour (I use half wholemeal)
30g porridge oats (or use all flour)
1 medium apple, grated with skin on
1 egg
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon milk or water
50g dark brown soft sugar
Molasses or treacle to decorate (optional)

Makes 8 muffins

Mix the egg, sugar, oil and milk together in a bowl until well combined. Gently stir in the apple, oats and flour. Spoon mixture into 8 muffin cases. Dip a knife in a little treacle and make a squiggle on the top of each muffin.

 Bake at 180c for 15-20 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Leave to cool on a rack for 20 minutes before eating (this helps them pop out of their cases more easily).

Arthritis diet notes:
Not only is peeling apples a chore, keeping the skin on means you get an extra boost of inflammation fighting antioxidants, although I'm afraid the amount in these muffins isn't going to make much of a difference! However, if you are watching your weight to help look after your joints, you might like to know that a coffee shop muffin can pack in up to 400 calories and as much as 8g of saturated fat. In comparison, these contain only about 140 calories and 1g of saturated fat each.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Arthur Investigates...Omega 6

Image from Bannerberg and Serhan, 2010
If omega 3s are the heroes in arthritis, then omega 6 is the misunderstood villain of the piece. Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are commonly found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, grains, poultry, eggs and meat. Omega 6 is considered one of the essential fatty acids as the body can't produce them and needs them to function properly. Our brain, skin, bones and metabolism all need some omega 6 to do their jobs.

However, not all omega 6 fatty acids are healthy. In fact too much of them can be bad for you. Western diets usually contain more omega 6 than omega 3, about 15x more,  whereas it is suggested that humans evolved eating a diet of equal amounts. Partly, this is because we eat a lot of processed foods that contain a particular kind of omega 6, called arachidonic acid. This is in foods cooked with vegetable oils (so that's chips and biscuits) and meat. This high ratio of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3s has been shown to increase the amount of inflammation in the body and is implicated in many chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and, of course, arthritis.

What does this mean for those of us with arthritis? Well, when the body gets arachidonic acid (say from those tasty chips) it is partly turned into inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These are the same chemicals that are thought to cause some the pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis. They are also present in osteoarthritis and may be involved in the destruction of the joint cartilage and bone. Totally removing omega 6 or arachidonic acid from your diet won't make your arthritis go away but increasing the amount of omega 3 you eat (oily fish) and cutting back on fried and processed foods may help reduce inflammation and will certainly improve your overall health.

Try these diet tips to make sure you get the balance right:

  • Swap corn, sunflower and groundnut (peanut) oil for olive oil
  • Have 2 or 3 portions of oily fish a week (salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines all count) or take an omega-3 supplement (see this post for more info)
  • Switch crisps and chips for air-popped popcorn, crackers and crispbreads
  • Avoid processed foods, especially anything high fat 
  • Have lean cuts of meat and trim off visible fat before cooking
  • Eat nuts and seeds for healthy omega 6s
  • Try these omega 3 rich recipes

Monday, 14 May 2012

Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms can be vile. Too often I have been served squelchy, greasy, sorry excuses for a stuffed mushroom. Yet, done right they are delicious. These are the delicious kind! 

4 large portobello mushrooms (or other large, flat kind)
6 tablespoons cottage cheese 
4 tablespoons brown bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated cheese (any will do)
1 tsp mustard (any type)
1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Olive oil spray

Serves 2 as a light meal

Wipe the mushrooms clean and place on a foil lined baking sheet. In a bowl, mix together the cottage cheese, mustard, garlic (if using) and season well with black pepper. Take this mixture and spoon around the stems of the mushrooms until they are well filled. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the stuffed mushrooms and spritz with olive oil spray. Top with the grated cheese.

Bake for 20-30 mins at 180C/375F until the mushrooms are tender and the filling golden and gooey.

- Add herbs to the cottage cheese mixture
- Top with breadcrumb, chopped walnut and oat mixture and omit the grated cheese

Arthritis diet notes
A quick no-chop dish, these mushrooms make a filling, high protein vegetarian main course or accompaniment thanks to the cottage cheese. Try the variation with walnuts for an extra satisfying supper. If you are on a weight-loss diet, use fat-free cottage cheese and low fat grated cheese - the mushrooms will still taste great but you will be reducing the calorie count by about 50kcal a mushroom and the saturated fat by about 3g.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Posh Pesto and Parma Chicken

I realised as I happily tweeted about all the veggie recipes on this site for Meat Free Monday that it was possible that this blog was in danger of appearing entirely vegetarian. Now, I would have no problem with that as I don't really like meat (thanks to a slightly odd approach to home economics at my tiny country primary school), but I do cook it frequently for my husband and friends. So, here is one of the dishes I often make when out to impress. It's simple to make but looks and tastes like something rather posh!

4 skinless chicken breast fillets
4 large slices of parma ham
4 tablespoons of pesto (I just use it from a jar)

Serves 4

Take each chicken breast and cut a horizontal slit, two-thirds of the way through to make a pocket. Fill this pocket with a tablespoonful of pesto (use a fresh spoon in the jar if it comes in contact with the raw chicken please!). Then wrap the parma ham over the pocket to seal it up and tuck the ends under the chicken breast.

Brush or spray with a little olive oil and place bake for 25mins at 180c.

- Fill the chicken with light cream cheese mixed with herbs or a little spinach
- Wrap the chicken in a rasher of streaky bacon
- Sprinkle a little parmesan over the chicken before baking

Arthritis diet notes
Meat and arthritis don't always get along, but with a few tweaks meat can be a healthy part of your diet. Longitudinal studies have suggested that the more portions of red meat a person eats, the higher their risk of rheumatoid arthritis. There have also been several studies suggesting that vegetarian or vegan diets can help treat arthritis, however when reviewed these studies were shown to not be very robust and most experts agree that there is little evidence that going meat-free would have any effect on arthritis.

And, meat is an important source of protein, needed to build and maintain muscle. People with all types of arthritis need to get enough to protect against losing muscle mass. If you are interested in your exact requirement, its about 0.8g for each kg you weigh, but this can come from both plant and animal sources. For your overall health, it's best to stick to only 2 or 3 portions of red meat a week and not eat too many cured meats such as ham. Instead, choose lean cuts of white meat and fish, dairy, beans, tofu, Quorn, nuts and seeds to meet your protein needs.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Spicy Chickpea Burgers

This is adapted from a recipe I saw in the May BBC Good Food magazine. The first time I made the recipe I made it without any alterations and whilst we liked the texture, it was a little on the bland and 'worthy' side. So I had a fiddle in the kitchen and this is what I came up with. These are a bit like falafel - full of middle eastern flavours. Do use a food processor if your hands are sore, you could mash the beans by hand but it would be a real workout! Try serving them with tzatiki, salad and pitta pockets.Or, top with a little grated cheese and eat in burger buns with sweet potato wedges.

2x 400g tins of chickpeas (about 400g total drained weight)
198g tin sweetcorn
1 clove garlic
1 egg
2tsp paprika (I used smoked which makes them taste bbq-ish)
1tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp turmeric
1tsp ground coriander
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon flour (any kind you like, I used rice flour)

Makes 8 burgers or enough for 4 people

Put the drained chickpeas, half the sweetcorn and garlic into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is sticky and just blended (you want a little texture left). Spoon into a large bowl and add the remaining sweetcorn, flour, spices, seeds and egg. Mix until everything is combined. Scoop out handfuls and shape into fat burger-sized patties.

Line a tray with foil and brush lightly with oil. Put burgers onto the foil and medium grill for 6 minutes a side, turning once or until golden on top and piping hot in the centre. 

Arthritis diet notes
Beans are a bit of an unsung food hero. They are a fantastic source of fibre, protein, iron and zinc and count towards your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Chickpeas also contain chemicals known as phytoestrogens which may be able to help prevent against osteoporosis in women by mimicking the bodies own natural oestrogen. Whilst oestrogen deficiency can make osteoarthritis worse in women, the evidence on whether consuming more phytoestrogens can help is still fairly patchy. One study found that men but not women experienced and improvement in osteoarthritis symptoms with phytoestrogens. Others have found mild protective effects in experiments but not when patients are given supplements in the 'real world'. So the jury is still out, but beans are a great healthy food anyway so tuck in anyway!


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