Monday, 31 January 2011

A favourite

This is one of my favourite recipes - there's quite a bit of preparation involved and that can be a drag mid-week but it's really worth it.  Really.

Chicken in black bean sauce with noodles (Serves 2; 530kcal, 46g protein, 62g carbs, 10g fat, 9g fibre, 3.5 fruit & veg)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tbsp good soy sauce
  • 3-4 fat cloves of garlic
  • 1 large red or green chilli pepper
  • 25g fermented black beans
  • 15ml flavourless oil (groundnut, grapeseed etc.)
  • 10g cornflour
  • 120g mushrooms
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1 large piece of ginger (approx 10-15g)
  • 1 large green pepper
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine/Mirin
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 84g bundle of Clearspring Noodles, Organic Wheat, Brown Rice
  • 100g white cabbage
  • 1 vegetable stock cube OR 1 sachet of miso
Measure the cornflour, mirin and one tablespoon of the soy sauce into a dish and mix gently to dissolve the cornflour.  Cube the chicken breast and add to the mixture in a bowl at least 30 minutes before you intend to start cooking.   Stir and turn occasionally to make sure the chicken is well-coated.

Make up the stock/miso with about 200ml water and set aside.  Peel and finely slice the garlic and ginger.  Also finely slice the chilli pepper (leave the seeds in unless you want to keep the fire levels a bit under control in which case de-seed and make sure the white skin/flim on the inside is removed and discarded).

Finely dice the onion.

Finely slice the cabbage and cut the carrot into fine batons - the closer to matchsticks the better.

Slice the mushrooms.

De-seed and slice the peppers (I used yellow ones this time, but green is better).

Finely chop the black beans (a mezza-luna is best for this if you have one).

Prepare and cook the noodles as per the instructions and set aside.

Add oil to a large wok or other round-bottomed non-stick pan and heat.  Add the onions, chilli, garlic and ginger and soften for a few minutes before adding the chicken and marinade into the pan.

Once the chicken is sealed, add the cabbage and carrot and cook for a couple of minutes to soften a little.

Add the peppers.

Add the mushrooms and stock and cook for another minute or two.

Add the black beans and heat through before adding in the cooked noodles. Stir for a few seconds to mix thoroughly and then serve and eat immediately.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Buffalo stew - a high protein meal in a bowl

Buffalo is becoming a lot easier to come by in the UK, thanks to farms like Laverstoke Park.  I was initially introduced to buffalo by Alternative Meats, but now there are larger home delivery grocery companies like Abel and Cole that stock and deliver it to your door.

As meats go, buffalo is extremely high protein as a percentage of the total kcal payload.  Comparing average lean beef braising steak with the Laverstoke Park buffalo braising steak:-

                           Beef    Buffalo
kcals/100g         126.3    95.0
Protein                 23.0    21.7
Fat                         3.8    0.7
Carbohydrate        0.0    0.4
% protein             68.8    91.8
% fat                    31.2    6.7
% carbohydrate     0.0    1.6

As you can see, bang for buck, buffalo gives you a heck of a lot more protein for your kcals.  There are also differences in the micronutrients, primarily B12 and iron, but they seem to vary more depending on the feed of the livestock and grass-fed seems to mostly show improved levels of desirable micronutrients than grain-fed.  Lots of research out there on the Internets...

On with the recipe!  And yet again, using the Star Chef is a win in terms of minimising washing up and attentiveness in the kitchen.  Browning and cooking all in the same pot and you can leave it to do the slow cooking thing and not worry about drying out, over-cooking or sticking to the bottom of the pot.  (if only there was a better mechanism for getting the pot out of the device... that's the only annoying bit)

Buffalo stew (serves 4;  395 kcals,  57g protein, 6g fat, 18g carbs, 3g fibre, 1 portion fruit & veg):-
  • 1kg good quality cubed buffalo braising steak (beef will do fine as a substitute)
  • 30g plain flour (wholemeal)
  • 15ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp tangy jam (cherry, apricot, plum - not raspberry or strawberry)
  • 200ml red wine
  • 400ml beef stock (made from a good quality cube is fine)
  • fresh rosemary
  • fresh thyme

Peel and slice the carrots, onion and garlic.  And finely chop the herbs.

Add oil to a non-stick pan, heat gently and soften the onion and garlic.

Add the cubed meat and brown.

Add the flour and jam and stir to coat the meat.  Then add the stock, herbs and carrots and cook on a low heat for 2-4 hours.

Serve with root vegetables (celeriac, sweet potato and parsnips go particularly well), either in chunks or mashed/pureed.

BTW the mash here is celeriac vanilla puree.  Recipe to follow as it's -stunning-!


My second session with my new trainer was a total doozey again!  I feel GREAT!

Little warm up on the TRX straps and then into some real explosive training with some Bulgarian Sacks (I used the 12kg ones after getting to grips with the technique with the 8kg one).  Which I had to look up when I got home as I've not come across those before.  Some more kettlebell work and interval training with a harness (sprinting on the spot against the resistance of it and doing burpees against it) and bungee rope and a skipping rope.  Utterly thrashed and burned a gazillion kcals and I really really enjoyed myself!  Next session in 4 weeks and in the mean time there are some things I can play with in the gym by myself.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Tricky lunches

Lunches during the week have historically been difficult for me.  Having hauled myself out of the pit of "sandwich&crisps" years ago, I've been through salads, shop bought soups and home made soups.  The latter being particularly tricky due to lack of re-heating facility at work, which has now been worked around by the use of a wide-mouthed Thermos flask.  It still remains something that annoys the crap out of me that it takes up so much time and effort to make lunches.  However, I struggle on most of the time and I'm in a home made soups phase at the moment...

Winter Squash, Beans and Chorizo soup (4 portions; 305kcals, 17g protein, 40g carb, 10g fat, 12g fibre, 5.5 portions of fruit&veg):-
  • 1 large Winter Squash (approx 1kg after de-seeding and peeling)
  • 15ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tsp Fennel Seeds
  • 1 Drained Can/224g Borlotti Beans
  • 1 Vegetable Stock Cube
  • 1 Drained Can/180g Kidney Beans (in water, not sauce)
  • ½ Ring/112.5g Spanish Chorizo Ring
  • 1 Tin/400g Tinned Plum Tomatoes
Almost any Winter squash will do in this recipe; Butternut, Turks Turban, Sunshine, Table Ace, Pumpkin (all varieties) etc. but not Spaghetti Squash as that's a bit too stringy and the texture isn't creamy enough.  Peel and de-seed the squash.

Slice into thick slices, then cut into cubes.

Place the cubed squash in a large container that has a lid, add the fennel seeds and olive oil, put the lid on and shake/toss to coat all of the pieces well.

Spread the chunks over a baking tray and bake in the oven on a medium heat for 30 minutes or until soft and chewy-looking.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  Make up the vegetable stock with a little hot water and have some extra water on standby.  Add the stock to the squash chunks along with the tinned tomatoes and blend to a thick, smooth consistency with a hand blender.  You should see soft ridges in the paste.

Gradually add more hot water, continuing to blend until you have a soup consistency you would like.  I'd err on the side of thicker than thinner as you can always thin it a bit more later.

Chop the chorizo into small cubes.

Add the drained beans and chopped chorizo to the squash soup/puree.

Then gently stir together to coat the beans and chorizo chunks but not break them up.

If eating immediately, re-heat gently in a pan and serve.   Otherwise you can chill it in portions and it will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days or in the freezer for a few weeks.  Reheat carefully and do not add salt until reheating is complete otherwise the beans will become hard and unpleasant.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

More ow

I accidentally ran all the way home from work.


That is all.

Blenheim Traithlon confirmed

The confirmation came in this morning that we both have places allocated for the Blenheim Triathlon now.  Argh! :oD

Thank you Abel and Cole

We started using Abel and Cole a few months ago.  I decided it might be nice to try to use seasonal vegetables where possible and a good way to do that without all the hard thinking is to use a supplier like Abel and Cole who source produce almost exclusively from the UK.  Since then, we've had our weekly veg. box and added a weekly egg box to it and increasing amounts of meat, game, poultry and fish as the quality and flavour has been really quite impressive.  The bone-in sirloin roasting joint we had for New Year was utterly stunning!  One of the nice features is that you can let them know if there're a particular fruit or vegetables that you don't like and you'll get something else in place of it in your weekly box if it's due in any.  This week, instead of potatoes we got Jerusalem Artichokes, which is great as I've never cooked them before.  (Oh yes, we've had the Kohlrabi incident already and I know what to do with that now :o))

Occasionally, we get a freebie; we've had a loaf of bread, a box of eggs, milk and extra vegetables so far until this week's delivery which included their cook book.  Ohyes!  The Abel & Cole Cookbook is mine for freeeee!   So, thank you Abel and Cole.  Not only for giving me stuff you would normally charge real money for, for nothing, but also for extending my vegetable understanding and repertoire and showing me that normal people can buy good quality, well-sourced meat and fish that is full of the natural flavour it should have without needing to go nuts with seasoning!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Also, woo!

50 followers on Blogger (and 17 on Facebook)! *wave*

I found some time

Or rather, I made some time today.  I've not been to the gym during the week for a few weeks due to illness, injury and phenomenal busyness but today I made the time to take a break in the day (my nominal "lunch break" which oh so often doesn't happen) and went to the nice gym near work.  And I had a go with the kettlebells.  On the way in I bought a pair of gym gloves.  I'm just fed up with picking off the callouses that form and flake away almost immediately every time I go to the gym and do anything with anything heavy.  But, of course, gloves don't protect your arms even a centimetre above the wrist.  The squat and snatch with kettlebells results in the kettlebell swinging into my arm just above the wrist and -oh- -boy- are they bruised and the bruises came up in under an hour after my gym session. 

So.  I'm clearly Not Doing It Right.

And I've Googled it and to be honest I've not come up with anything helpful.  So I'm grateful that I'm back to the trainer pretty soon so hopefully he can help me get it right.

That aside, I felt a lot better this time going through some of the exercises today.   No sign of dizziness or nausea so I'm clearly better than I was on Sunday and better fuelled as well.  Hoorah!

First stab at chips

So this new gubbins, the ActiFry jobbie... it's real selling point it making chips with less fat but still crispy and nice.  Better have a go at that then.

Again, I didn't really read the instructions awfully well.  Just "cut them this big", "dry them", "drizzle on oil" and "don't add salt before cooking".  And it went like this...

Peel and cut potatoes into approx 13mm x 13mm cross section chips.

Dry them with a tea towel and put them in the Actifry; drizzle oil on top and set timer based on the weight of unpeeled potatoes.

Watch the little screw thing turn them about and over.

Serve and eat.

So they turned out well-cooked but not all that crispy.  And I think, having read back over the booklet again properly this time, that I was supposed to wash the chips thoroughly to get the surface starch off properly and then dry them like I did.  It makes a lot of sense as they were a great texture all the way through, just the outside as if they'd been sweated rather than crisped with hot air.  It could also be the potato variety and the next lot of potatoes are categorised as good for making chips so we'll have another go.  Don't get me wrong, they were nice!  Just not crispy.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


Well, it was a hard session for a few reasons I think.

We had a bit of a chat about where I'm at, what I've done and what I want out of my gym sessions and then set off into some warm ups on the TRX.  I did mention I won't usually want to use those as my gym local to work doesn't have them but this was a getting-to-know-you session so it didn't matter so much.  That wasn't so bad, and there was some nice stuff to get the core going with bodyweight exercises on the TRX straps.  Then we launched into... kettlebells!  Yay!

And, gosh, either I was really not physically up to this session (tail-end of a nasty cold, plus perhaps not well fuelled enough either) or they really are a bugger the first (few) time(s).  Each set made me feel light-headed and vomitous (no idea what my heart rate was but given the feeling I had, I'm guessing well over 180) but I pushed on through.  I think I get it a lot better now that I've had Geoff explain how to do the various swings and snatches and it's very different.  More practice required.  A few bits and bobs with some cables and we were done.

Warm up on TRX -
  • incline pull ups - 2x10
  • incline W pull ups - 2x10
  • incline push ups - 2x10
  • jackknifes - 2x10
  • cycling legs - 2x2x10
  • rotating jackknifes - 2x10
  • pikes - 2x10
Kettlebells -
  • 2 arm swings - 2x10 (16kg)
  • 1 arm swings - 2x2x10 (12kg)
  • 1 arm squat and snatch - 2x2x10 (12kg)
  • 1 arm swing and snatch - 2x2x10 (12kg)
  • Military press - 2x10 (2x8kg)
Cable machine -
  • 2 arm row - 2x10 (??kg)
  • 1 arm row - 2x2x10 (??kg)
  • Squat with row - 2x10 (??kg)
  • Incline row - 2x10 (??kg)
  • 2 arm lat pull-down - 2x10 (??kg)
  • 1 arm lat pull-down - 2x10 (??kg)

My HRM really isn't playing ball at all these days.  I've replaced the battery in the transmitter, washed the strap umpteen times, made sure it's really sopping wet each time I use it and there's no low battery warning on the watch itself so that's fine.  But it still craps out and registers stupid heart rates like 221 randomly and the heart symbol flashes erratically instead of with my heart beat.  Very tempted to throw in the towel and get a new watch.  It'd be a shame as I've got 176,6xx kcals of exercise on the totaliser on this watch and it'd've been nice to break 200,000 with it, but... it's just getting too frustrating now to keep plugging away with it at the moment.

Anyhoo... first proper session booked now with Geoff (silly moving work deadline permitting) and I'll have a few more goes with the kettlebells this week beforehand (if I get to go to the gym during the week this week).

Tiny bit nervous

I've not been to the gym for a week (mostly work related but slightly illness related).  I've not had a session with a personal trainer since October.  I have a session with my new trainer at 13:30 today and I'm nervous about it.

I have loads of confidence in my new trainer; I've seen him around in the local gym lots and read his bio and he gives off quite an aura of quiet competence.  Will let youse all know how it goes when I get back.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Review - Tefal ActiFry First Impressions

It arrived on a rainy day, so the box got a bit wet on the way home from the tube station...

Hence the grey spots on the box here.  As you can see, the packaging is a bit dated-looking (I dunno about you but I always find cartoon pictures of "mummy and child" really 1970s no matter how re-vamped the cartoon style may be) but then who cares about the packaging as that's off to the recycling!  It does seem to have been designed by a European marketing team and the words are a bit clumsy for the UK market.

The eagle-eyed reader may notice that it's a pretty big box and almost takes up the entire depth of my (admittedly quite shallow) kitchen work top.  And that's a good indication of the size of the appliance inside as the packaging inside the box is mercifully sparse; enough to protect it but not way over the top on loads of plastic bags over every single component and manual and booklet and plug and removable part.  That's quite refreshing and means I feel less bad about the packaging part of this new toy at least.

It arrived on a day when I got home late from work, ravenously hungry and with no idea about what to do for dinner, beyond the fact that I'd got a couple of Abel & Cole salmon fillets out of the freezer in the morning.  Which meant that, of course, I had to try cooking something in the new ActiFry regardless of whether it actually went with the fish or not.  Thankfully I had some sweet potatoes to hand and decided that sweet potato wedges would be a good compromise between seeing if it worked, something that could potentially get a bit crispy, and not actually making chips (partly because I didn't fancy peeling and chipping potatoes when quite so weary already).
 We generally don't peel root vegetables unless the skins are particularly tough and rough/have an unpleasantly textured skin.  So all I had to do was flick through the included recipe booklet to the chips and wedges section to get an idea of what to do, check the quick start guide on how to make the thing actually cook, wedge up the sweet potatoes, toss them in oil then flour and paprika, whack them in the bowl on top of the turning screw, drizzle a bit more oil on top, set the timer and press go.

So I did all of that, after picking off a few errant bobbles of polystyrene from the inside of the lid, pressed the "On/Off" button and then was rather taken aback by the noise of the thing!  You see, what makes it clever is -how- it cooks the food.  Not just by getting it hot.  It uses hot air circulated in the chamber and a low-angle screw to agitate and turn the food over and the way it gets the hot air to move in the right way is a fan.  In general fans are noisy and this one is no exception.  What makes it simple is that there are only two settings, On and Off.  There is a timer which you can set and once you press the "On/Off" button, the heating, fans, screw and timer start up.  All that happens at the end of the timing is some beeping.  It does not turn itself off.

However, it's rather effective and after 40 minutes we had some crispy skinned, wonderfully soft inside, nicely seasoned sweet potato wedges.  I did read the quick start guide properly -after- we'd had dinner and I did a few things wrong: you're not supposed to use salt before cooking anything like wedges/chips (probably because that draws water out of the vegetable and stops them crisping properly) and you're supposed to wash and completely dry the wedges/chips before cooking them; again for anti-sogginess, but I kinda knew that and didn't mind squishy sweet potato wedges 
as that's part of their charm usually so I was more than pleasantly surprised by the really crispy skins we ended up with.

And it's pretty simple to clean afterwards.  You can simply pop the pan out with the screw and with judicious application of a kitchen towel and a bit of shaking about it's clean enough for me after this sort of recipe.  As you can see, all that's left at the end of the cooking is a pile of crispy crumbs of seasoning and pretty much no greasiness that can't be shifted with a bit of kitchen towel.
So, initial impressions are that it's a clever toy, takes up a reasonable amount of space, is really quite noisy, but the final results are not bad at all.  Full review to follow in a few weeks after I've had much more of a chance to play with it, try more recipes (the booklet that came with it has a few surprises in it which I'm hoping to get to try) and put various bits through the dishwasher.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Last year's races

Thames Turbo Triathlon (TTT) sprint races were the ones I did last year.  I missed the first one due to the skiing incident and completed the other 3/4:-
  • Race 2 - 347/411 (top 84.5%) overall, 39/54 (top 72.2%) in my category - 01:35:02
  • Race 3 - 268/341 (top 78.5%) overall, 31/49 (top 63.3%) in my category - 01:28:32
  • Race 4 - 219/369 (top 59.0%) overall, 22/61 (top 36.0%) in my category - 01:24:37
(category by TTT rules is F30-39, not BTF F35-39)

Oddly, I was convinced that my final race was slower than the one before it but, blow me, it was a good 'un!  Need to think about what times I want to be aiming for this year.  The goals at the moment are:-
  • Improve times through the 4 TTTs
  • Improve times through the Clapham Common 10Ks

  • Get around the Sheffield Half Marathon
  • Get through the London Triathlon (Olympic distance)
  • Set a benchmark time for the Blenheim sprint triathlon (different swim distance to the TTTs)
  • (beat the Blenheim time at the Windsor sprint triathlon if places come available)
  • Either; beat last year's 5km Swimathon time, or set a time for a fast Swimathon distance
Obviously these will refine as the year unfolds.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Queasy belly calls for simple food

When I'm feeling queasy as I have done all day yesterday and today, there's not much I particularly want food-wise.  Usually all I fancy is a plain ham sandwich, just a couple of bits of ham between two bits of white bread with no butter.  Today some tuna and lettuce seemed like an idea.

I'm really hoping that between the state of my knee and stomach/throat/ears that I'm able to return to the gym on Sunday, but I'm really going to have to play it by ear.  Though the huge scab on my knee is getting a lot better, the joint is achey and sore if I walk at more than a gentle amble and/or more than 15-20s or so.  I have been taking NSAIDs, keeping off it as much as possible and not using the stairs wherever possible so I'm hoping that will have helped, but we'll just have to see.

Simple tuna salad (serves 1; 243kcals, 37.7g protein, 15.3g carbs, 3.4g fat, 1.8 fruit and veg):-
  • 10g red onion
  • 35g sweetcorn (tinned or defrosted from frozen)
  • 90g iceberg lettuce
  • 130g (1 tin) cooked, tinned tuna (drained)
  • 1 large spoonful (55g) mayonnaise (Hellman's Extra Light - yes it's heavily processed)
Remove any bits of lettuce core and chop the leaves into small pieces.

Finely chop the red onion.

Add the sweetcorn.

And the tuna.

Then the mayonnaise and some seasoning.

Mix that lot together.  It's easier to get the tuna and little ingredients covered with the seasoned mayonnaise before you add the lettuce.

Finally add the lettuce.  If you're not mixing in a large bowl, add about a third at a time in between mixing.

Stir the lettuce in with the tuna mix and serve with a sprinkle of tarragon and black pepper over the top.

Simple, quick, tasty and easy on a dodgy belly.  The red onion keeps it fresh and the small amount isn't overpowering and shouldn't leave you with much of an aftertaste.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Coming up this year...

Enough talk of injury, here's what's on the plan for this year:-
Most of this was the product of one night of booking frenzy just before Christmas.  Not sure when we get to go on holiday amongst that lot, and there's a patch with races 3 weekends in a row which is a teeeeensy bit exciting and will mean an interesting period of resting and fuelling which might be a bit difficult.

Anybody else doing any of these?   And does anybody else do crazy things like sign up for loads of races all at once?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Slightly frustrating, but...

If there was a good time to be injured, it's actually now.  With the massive work milestone/deadline this coming weekend, not being able to run or gym or cycle is actually a good thing.  I get the frustration of being injured and unable to exercise all over and done with at a time when, although a healthy break away from work to do something physically hard would be a healthy thing for mind and body, it's just something that has to be dropped and I'd be frustrated by that too.  Two birds with one stone.

Sadly, it has also meant that I've posted back my timing chip for the rescheduled Grim this Saturday.

In  other news, I have a new trainer.  First session scheduled for 23rd and I'm so excited about it.  I can't wait to get stuck in to a new routine and not have to get stressy about constant rescheduling at the last second due to being far too busy at work.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Resting up and Facebook

For once, I'm going to do the right thing and do it properly.  My knee swelled up quite a bit yesterday evening, so I iced it and downed the Ibuprofen and kept it raised.  Today, more of the same and definitely no going to the gym as I'd originally planned.  No cycling to work on Monday, no gym either and none of that on Tuesday.  Just sitting on my arse and keeping it rested so I can get back to stuff quickly rather than struggling for weeks and recovering really slowly.

I've got a lot of races to prepare for this year, so getting injury recovery wrong isn't an option!  More detail on that to follow, but in short it's a buttload of triathlons and a 10K run so far.

In other news, I decided to do the social media thing and create a Facebook page, seeing as everyone else seems to be doing it these days :o)

Saturday, 8 January 2011

I shouldn't be allowed!

Mad busy week again (and will be again next week too due to impending intergalactic deadline of the century being next weekend) so not been around online a great deal and won't be again next week and certainly not over the weekend.

Anyhoo, we went for a run today - a tentative 10K around the area and the aim was to just not stop.  The upshot was that about 1km from home, I tripped on a manhole cover and went flying.  Left knee has a hole in my running tights and a small graze, right knee is pretty impressively skinned and sporting two large lumps.   Can't wait for the bruise to come up!  Same bloody knee I bruised quite spectacularly when I hit that car last Friday.  I really shouldn't be allowed to do anything physical out in the wild ;o)  Still. Even though I tried to throw myself face-first into the concrete, we finished in 56:33, a whole minute faster than my 10K race in November 2009.  A new personal best!  *pleased*

My knee really hurts though.  Lots of tea, leftover Christmas cake and sympathy might help.