Calories v Nutrition

If you’re on a diet, you may be counting calories.  Maybe it’s something you’ve done for a while, or maybe you’ve just started.  I want you to realise that it is not only about the number of calories you put into your body, but the quality and nutritional value of food which is just as important.

Calories are units of energy required to raise a kilo of water by 1 degree Celsius.  1000 calories = 1kcal = the energy it takes to raise 1kg water by 1 degree C.

Calories do not take into account the nutritional qualities of foods, only the amount of energy they produce, so while your body uses calories to function, if the food you are eating is nutritionally poor, then your body will struggle to stay healthy and repair itself.

For example, 100 calories of kale gives all sorts of nutrients, whereas 100 calories of pasta or cake gives practically nothing.  If you’re counting calories and your diet is nutritionally poor, you can be skinny and malnourished.

The average daily calorie intake for women is 2000 and for men 2500.  This varies depending on how active a person is.  Someone who does a lot of physical exercise or a heavy manual job will need more calories than someone who spends a lot of time watching television.  However our bodies all need calories to keep our bodies functioning – breathing, heart beating, digestion etc. not just moving around.

It’s useful to know how many calories on average you’re consuming per day or per week if you’re trying to lose weight.  You can be very accurate in the amount you eat, but if you’re not into strict calorie counting, allow approx. 500 calories per main course.  for example:  500 calories = for breakfast, 2 thick slices of bread with butter and jam.  Lunch baked potato with tuna mayo.  Dinner Shepherd’s pie.  That is before accompaniments – approx. 100 calories each!  Then snacks for example:  chocolate bar 260cals/50g, can of cola 135cals. piece of cake 300 cals.  A 120ml glass of wine—white is 77 cals, red is 80.  A pint of lager is 165 cals. 

One way to discover if you’re eating too much is to make a list of all the things you eat in a day, and add all the calories up and balance it against the average daily intake for a man or woman, add a bit on if you’re really active and anything over and above will be stored as fat.  All food eaten, if there is too much of it is stored as fat by the body, depending on whether it is a carb, protein or fat will determine how quickly it is converted and stored.

The main thing to ensure if you’re following a calorie controlled diet is the quality of food that you’re eating because if you are restricting the amount of nutrients through your food choices, your body will struggle to repair and stay healthy.  How many colds or aches and pains do you get in a year?

The way to ensure you give your body the nutrients it needs is by eating fresh food – make sure you have as much colour in your diet as possible (that’s red apples, green broccoli, orange carrots etc), a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Avoid processed foods and drinks, especially beige or brown foods. Take a look at my last blog, all about carbs, proteins and fats to find out more.

Next time BMI & BMR explained.

Ox Cheek Bourguignonne

I was wandering around the supermarket the other day and came across ox cheeks in the reduced section.  They were priced for next to nothing, so I thought I would give them a try & see what I could do with them.

Having done a bit of research before I started, I discovered that ox cheek is classed as offal, although it is the muscle which works the mouth and face of the cow.  It was unavailable for a long time due to BSE legislation, but has now been allowed back into the food chain.

It’s cheap, because a lot of people are either put off or don’t know what to do with it, but given a long slow cook, this cut of meat results in a delicious, meltingly tender texture with huge amounts of flavour.

I’ve cooked this with red wine, bacon and mushrooms, based around a beef bourguignonne recipe.  Delicious!

Delicious, meltingly tender & full of flavour.

Click on the links to access the RECIPE  and view the VIDEO


What are Carbs, Proteins and Fats, How do They Work Within My Body


The body needs about 55% of dietary intake to be carbohydrates (carbs). Complex carbohydrates are the single most important food for long term health.

Carbohydrates are mainly found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. The only kind of food which doesn’t have carbohydrate content is meat.


There are 2 types of carbs – simple carbs, eg. sugars, and complex carbs, eg. starches.

Complex carbs do not raise blood sugar as quickly as simple carbs.

Simple sugars provide energy, but not nutrition (vitamins, minerals and fibre)

When eaten, both simple and complex carbs are converted by the body to glucose which is used for energy.

Complex carbs include pasta, rice, grains, starchy vegetables, bread, nuts, legumes and seeds. They also contain fibre, which helps normalise our digestive function and slows the absorption of sugar and fats into the body, which keeps our bodies balanced. Try to eat wholegrains as it takes the body longer to digest them, uses more energy and burns more calories.





Simple sugar carbs include refined sugar, honey, syrup, candy, soft drinks and any other sweet food.

When we eat carbs, our bodies turn carbs into glucose which circulates in the bloodstream ready to be used by cells for energy.

The body releases insulin into the bloodstream which stimulates the body to turn excess glucose into fat, stored in the liver, muscles and fat cells. This is used between meals when the body needs more energy. Insulin again stimulates the body to release glucose from fat cells into the blood stream.

Phytonutrients are colourful healing compounds made by plants to protect themselves, but which also protect us against aging, obesity, brain damage and more.  So, try to eat as colourful a diet as possible.

Any type of food – carbs, protein or fats, if consumed in too high a quantity, will make you fat as all of the food groups once broken down by the body, any excess is stored as fat.



The body needs about 15% protein to function adequately.

There are two types of protein : Animal protein – meat


vegetable protein—beans, nuts and legumes.

Protein helps to build and repair bones and muscles, skin, internal organs, blood, connective tissue, hair and nails. It also contains various antibodies, enzymes and hormones that are used by the body to carry out a multitude of bio-logical processes.

In order for the body to use protein, it needs to be broken down into amino acids by digestive enzymes. There are 9 amino acids essential for human health, animal products contain all 9 of these and most vegetables are incomplete, having just some of those 9. Quinoa and soya beans are the only plant foods to contain all essential amino acids. For an easy measure, one protein portion should be roughly the size of your palm or 0.75g of protein for every Kilo you weigh.

So on average, men should eat about 55g and women 45g protein, or 2 palm sized portions of protein per day, but with our modern diet, people eat far more than that.

Try to eat a little protein at every meal. You will feel fuller for longer, negating the need to snack in between meals—good if you’re trying to lose weight.

If you don’t eat enough protein, you will feel sluggish, foggy, anxious, unfocused, tired and depressed.

Excess protein is not stored in the body as protein, but as fat.

Eating large amounts of animal protein means also eating large amounts of cholesterol – leading to fat and cholesterol issues.

Excess protein puts strain on kidneys as it is hard for them to deal with the by-products of protein metabolism and increases the body’s need for water to help eliminate excess toxins.


About 30% of our daily food intake should be as fats in order to maintain the body, it’s a myth that fat is bad for you—both saturated and unsaturated fats are needed by the body.

Fats are a vital part of the human diet – when fats are metabolised by the body they form prostaglandins which among other things have a huge impact on the initiation of disease and the body’s ability to manage it. Depending on the type of fats consumed, the prostaglandins can either enhance pain and inflammation or prevent and reduce it.

Eating more omega 3, polyunsaturated fats will produce prostaglandins that reduce inflammation and minimise pain. Whereas animal fats produce more prostaglandins that instigate pain and inflammation. Increasing inflammation worsens and can trigger conditions and complications.

Omega 3 fats come from wild things, so are hard to find in today’ society. As well as controlling our gene function, regulating our immune system and improving our metabolism these fats are vital components of the cell membrane that covers every one of the cells in our bodies. Without omega 3 fats, proper messages can’t be communicated from one cell to another. The most important omega 3 fats are EPA and DHA. Our brains are made up of about 60% DHA. If we don’t have enough, our brains don’t work. If you’re buying omega 3 supplements, make sure the EPA and DHA percentages are high.

Over the last 150 years our diet has seen a huge change in fat intakes. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats has changed from 1:1 to 10:1 or more. Leading to all of the diseases of aging and ‘brain disorders’. In order to reverse this process we need to eat more omega 3 fats and bring the ratio back to 1:1.

Unsaturated or plant based oils tend to be unstable when heated, causing them to become toxic at high temperatures. Use cold pressed or extra virgin oils and use them as salad dressings, not as oils for cooking with. Scottish cold pressed rapeseed oil is our equivalent extra virgin olive oil, tastes delicious and is higher in omega 3 fats than olive oil.

Cholesterol is vital for communication of nervous system; it makes up all cell membranes and sex hormones, it is the glue between molecules. So, a bit of bacon or a nice piece of roast beef with a good marbling of fat is good for us in moderation—just not every-day.

The good thing about saturated fats is that they are heat stable, meaning that their chemical structure is not readily altered when used for cooking, so use a little butter or coconut oil if you need to fry or sautee anything.

Natural forms of saturated and unsaturated fats help absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, slows down the release of sugar and optimises digestion.

Bad Fats = trans fats, which are mainly artificial fats created from unsaturated fats by heating to chemically alter them from liquids to solids. This gives them a longer shelf life, creating long lasting cheap food, but our body can’t process them easily and they have been linked to cancer, heart disease, autoimmunity and infertility. So, try to avoid ‘spreads’, butter replacements and margarines. Most margarine, butter replacements, vegetable oils, shortenings and other fat replacements will contain trans fats, a staple ingredient of manufactured pies, cakes, biscuits and general packaged food.

I’ve had a few industrial chemists come on some of my cookery courses in the past, they have all said that they would not eat margarine – you don’t want to know how it’s made!!

Use small amounts of butter and cold pressed oils such as virgin rapeseed oil, virgin olive oil, and virgin coconut oil.

Next time: Calories versus Nutrition

What is Healthy Eating & Why Should We Do It?

Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods that give you the nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals. There are a lot of different food philosophies out there and hundreds of different diets, at the end of the day, we need to eat to survive and if you don’t put the right things into your body, eventually your body will cease to function properly.


Why we need to eat healthily

If we eat healthily it provides the necessary nutrients that your body needs to create new cells, clean toxins, and to just function every day!  If we can do that we will all feel happier because the body will have the correct balance of nutrients to boost our mood and combat depression.  We will have better brain function giving us better cognitive abilities, making it easier to perform any tasks, remember things, solve problems and pay attention generally.  A good diet keeps us strong, not just physically but also mentally.


Food is fuel, so we need to eat enough food to give us the energy for our bodies to function every day.  Not only to move our muscles but to keep our hearts beating, digestion working, lungs breathing and our brains co-ordinating.  Certain foods are also good at reducing inflammation, so if you’ve got aches and pains or swollen joints, diet could be a good place to start to alleviate them.  The risk of osteoperosis is also reduced with a healthy diet as preventative nutrients are more readily available.


Your body regenerates while you sleep, so a healthy diet not only helps you fall asleep, but the right amount of sleep also keeps you happy, your brain sharp, immune system strong and gives you more youthful skin.  Good sleep also helps to lower the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.


A good diet can reduce the risk of cancer – eating a lot of processed food, red meat & salt can lead to increased risk of cancer because some of the ingredients added to these foods increase the risk of cancers, whereas, increasing fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet helps prevent cancers through the increase of nutrients with anti-cancer properties and fibre to keep everything moving along.


Diet plays huge part in stress and immune regulation as certain foods help to produce serotonin and dopamine – the feel good hormones, whilst inhibiting cortisol and adrenalin – hormones which induce stress.   If you find you’re prone to colds and illness, it’s your bodies way of saying there’s it’s lacking or has an imbalance somewhere.


How to decide if you have a healthy diet – a good way to start is to keep a diary of all the things you have eaten over a week.  You could also lay your shopping out before putting it away and take a picture of it.  Take a good look at what you have actually bought and separate all the manufactured things to one side – that’s all the packets, bottles & tins and see how that looks.  You are looking for a high proportion of fresh ingredients and a low proportion of processed food.


When it comes to the quantities of carbohydrate, protein & fat in the diet, approximately ¾ of what you eat should be carbohydrates with ¼ divided into meat, dairy and a small amount of fat.

Coming up next …. What are Carbs, Protiens & Fats and How Do They Work Within My Body

Sweet Cicely

Many, many years ago, before Courses For Cooks was a twinkle in my eye, I watched a cookery demonstration from a lady who grew herbs for a living.  One of the herbs she used was Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) as a sugar substitute.  I have kept my eye out for it in garden centres ever since but it wasn’t until last year that I actually managed find a plant!P1030288

Hubble, Bubble ....

Hubble, Bubble ….

Mmmm, delicious!

Mmmm, delicious!

Sweet cicley is also known as sweet chervil, sweet fern, British Myrrh or the Roman plant.  It is part of the umbelliferae family, so looks a bit like cow parsley, with fern like leaves and small, white flowers clustered together on a tall stalk.  The leaves have a sweetish, aniseed flavour and almost a slight saccharine taste, just chop the leaves up like parsley and mix them into compotes and cakes, the seeds can be used too.

I used the fresh herb – approx 1 tablespoonful per 250ml, or dried herb would be 1 teaspoon per 250ml.  It’s a subtle sweetness, so experiment!

Red Fruit Compote

Serves about 8

400g Blackcurrants

400g Raspberries

400g Strawberries

4 tbsp chopped sweet cicely

1 tbsp honey or to taste

  1. Put the blackcurrants in a pan over a medium heat with the sweet cicely and cook gently until the juices are released.
  2. Add the raspberries & strawberries, stir gently and cook until the juices run but the fruit is still in chunks.
  3. Add honey to taste and serve.
  4. Delicious with ice cream, a dollop of creme fraiche or as a topping on muesli or porridge.


Green Pea & Mint Salad

The humble pea is probably one of my favourite vegetables.  I grow both sugar snap and pea pods in my garden and they are just ripening now.  Frozen peas are just as good as fresh, but watch out when cooking them, just bring them to the boil and pour.  Any longer and they will start to lose flavour and colour.

When I made this recipe I added a bit of red onion to it.  My family decided it was a great salad, but it didn’t need the onion, so I have left it out of the recipe!pea-salad2


Serves 4

2 mugfuls of fresh or frozen peas

150g mangetout or sugar snap peas – sliced

8 mint leaves – finely shredded

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustardpea-salad1

1 tsp honey

black pepper


  1. Heat a small pot with 2 cm water in the bottom over a high heat.  Add the peas and put the sliced mangetout over the top.  Cover with a lid and  once the water boils up, remove the pan from the heat, drain the peas and refresh under cold water.  Allow to drain.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients together to make a dressing.
  3. Pour the peas into a bowl, stir through the dressing and serve.


Monkfish Antipasto Skewers

I have used monkfish for these skewers because it doesn’t flake into pieces and fall off the skewers.  The antipasto keeps the fish moist and because there are different types, gives a wider variety of flavour.  I cooked mine under the grill, but they could also be barbecued.Monkfish-skewers


Serves 4

400g monkfish tails – cut into 12 pieces

120g pack of antipasto – mine contained Parma ham, Salami & coppa emiliana.

1 medium aubergine – cut into 6 slices

1 red onion thinly sliced

2 tbsp tapenade

2 tbsp green pesto

10 cherry tomatoes – halved

  1. Turn the grill on to high, drizzle the aubergine slices with a little oil and grill on both sides until soft and golden brown.  Leave aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Soak 4 bamboo kebab skewers in cold water.
  3. Gently fry the onion in a little oil until softened and beginning to colour
  4. Wrap the antipasto around the chunks of monkfish.
  5. Cut the two largest aubergine slices in half, length ways – you will now have 8 strips of aubergine.  Spread 4 strips with a thin layer of pesto and 4 with tapenade.  Divide the cooked onion between all of the slices, then roll up the aubergine slices.
  6. Skewer a piece of monkfish, followed by 1/2 a tomato, followed by an aubergine roll and another tomato.  The finished skewers will each have 3 pieces of fish, 2 aubergine rolls and 5 tomato halves.
  7. Grill on a high heat for 5 – 7 min, turn over and grill for a further 5 – 7 min.
  8. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Baked Potato Wedges

Ever need a bit of inspiration with potatoes??

Sometimes in my house they are one of the few things left in the fridge!  Baking takes too long in the oven, boiled are a bit boring, mash is for winter.  Fried potatoes are one of my favourite ways to have new potatoes, and I don’t have a deep fat fryer, so I don’t make chips.  Here’s a recipe for baked potato wedges – cheap, quick to cook and delicious with savoury, herby flavours.Baked Potato Wedges

Serves 4

4 large floury potatoes – Desiree or Rooster are good

1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder

1 tbsp cooking oil

Baked Potato Wedges

Soft potato with cripy edges – yum!

1/2 tsp each chopped thyme & rosemary.

  1. Cut each potato into 8 wedges & place in a roasting tin.  Turn the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6.
  2. Sprinkle over the vegetable powder, herbs and drizzle with oil.  Give everything a good mix together with your hands to make sure the wedges are evenly covered.
  3. Put the potatoes into the oven and roast for 30 min or until cooked and crispy round the edges, turning half way through.
  4. Serve hot.



Gooseberry & Orange Upside Down Cake

I have a bush of red eating gooseberries in my garden.  It has been absolutely laden with fruit this year and although the berries are quite small they taste delicious.  Because the fruit is sweet already, I have used less sugar in this sponge and cooked the gooseberries lightly to ensure they are soft once the topping on the cake is cooked. If you’re using green cooking gooseberries, double up the sugar.

Sweet red gooseberries growing in my garden

Sweet red gooseberries growing in my garden

1 tbsp honey

300g red gooseberries

zest of 1 small orange

60g softened butter

30g soft dark brown sugar

60g self raising flour

2 large eggs

Delicious with creme fraiche!

  1. Set the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4 and use a 20cm oven proof frying pan.
  2. Gently melt the honey in the frying pan, add the gooseberries and heat gently, until their juices start to run, tossing now and again to coat them in honey.  Add 1/2 of the orange zest and toss to mix through.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and the remaining orange zest.
  4. Spread over the gooseberries and bake in the oven for about 20 min.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 min before turning out and serving with creme fraiche.

Vegetable Couscous & Rice

There is a real trend just now for vegetable spaghetti, rice and couscous.  Go along the supermarket prepared veg isle and you will see products like these.  They are cheap and easy to make, here is my favourite recipe for cauliflower rice.

This is absolutely delicious – a great low carbohydrate alternative to ordinary rice and it takes a fraction of the time to cook.

Another alternative is to blitz the cauliflower completely in the food processor and you have a couscous alternative.  Perfect for people with gluten intolerances.  Try mixing vegetables for a more colourful dish – broccoli, carrots, beetroot and butternut squash work well.  Vegetables to avoid are mushrooms, and courgettes – they tend to go too juicy.

Vegetable ribbons and spaghetti are also delicious – make ribbons with a potato peeler, carrots and courgettes work best for this.  All you have to do is keep peeling on one side of the vegetable, then steam, stir fry or simply pour boiling water over the ribbons in a collander.  They are also delicious raw in salads.

For spaghetti, again they can be steamed, stir fried or blanched with boiling water as above, but try them marinated in lime or lemon juice for an hour to soften the fibers.  Sweet potato is great done this way and if you don’t have a spiraliser, use a food processor and coarsely grate on the long side of the vegetable – not as attractive as spirals, but just as good.

Cauliflower Rice

Ingredients for vegetable rice

Ingredients for vegetable rice

Serves 4

400g coarsely grated cauliflower

1 handful of raisins

1 handful of toasted flaked almonds

1 small red onion, finely sliced

1 small clove garlic – chopped

1 small red chilli – mild or hot to taste, optional

1/2 tsp ground cumin seed

Vegetable rice served with soy, maple glazed chicken

Vegetable rice served with soy, maple glazed chicken

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

juice of 1/2 lemon

4 tbsp coriander leaves

salt and pepper to taste.


  1. In a large frying pan, stir fry the onion over medium heat until softened, add the garlic, chilli, cauliflower, raisins, almonds and spices.
  2. Stir fry with a splash of water to heat through.  When hot, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and coriander leaves.  Season to taste before serving.