A pepper

Working with peppers

Working with peppers doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t need to spend your time scraping seeds from the inside of the peppers.  Here is the best method I have found for preparing peppers 

Equipment  

A pepper
A pepper
  • A chopping board
  • A sharp knife 
  • A pepper 

What to do 

Firstly, cut off the top of the pepper
Firstly, cut off the top of the pepper

Firstly, cut off the top of the pepper, I recommend you slice about 1-2 cm below the stalk of the pepper. 

Put the top of the pepper to one side.
Put the top of the pepper to one side. 

Put the top of the pepper to one side. 

Using your fingers pull out the clump of seeds out of the centre of the pepper.
Using your fingers pull out the clump of seeds out of the centre of the pepper.

Using your fingers pull out the clump of seeds out of the centre of the pepper. 

Take the top of the pepper and push out the stem using your thumbs, this way you don’t waste any of the pepper. 

Pepper cut in half
Pepper cut in half

Slice as you wish 

Slice as you wish
Slice as you wish 

Strips, cubes, finely diced, rings 


Curry chicken wraps

Family favourite

‘Who wants lettuce wraps for dinner?’ is a question I have asked on many an occasion, there have never been any occasions I can think of when the answer from the family is ‘me please’. 

Not long ago, I was working on this recipe. I mixed up a batch of the curried chicken ready for the wraps when a not so little head popped around my elbow and asked ‘what’s that? It smells nice’. One taste test later and I have an extra person ready to eat curried chicken wraps for dinner. Before the end of the day, I had three people on board for eating them again. The next weekend when I asked the question ‘what do we want for dinner?’ I got two requests for ‘that salad we had last week’. That has been the greatest endorsement of a recipe if you ask me.

Curried chicken wraps

Big portions

This recipe is big on flavour and portions. This recipe can feed eight people comfortably; if you have small eaters, you can probably get even more portions out of it. The curried chicken has a creamy coating with a satisfying amount of crunch from the carrots and celery. The mass amount of protein in this recipe may seem a bit much at first glance. I can assure you it isn’t really. The big portion of protein is there to help you feel fuller faster. 

Let the flavours mingle

Whenever I make a batch of the curried chicken for the wraps I like to make it in advance and allow it to sit in the fridge for at least three hours; this lets the flavours hang out and mingle. The mix doesn’t need to be made in advance, but it does make a difference to the taste. If you have fussy eaters that aren’t big fans of spice you can leave out the chilli flakes and use mild curry powder.  

Curried chicken wraps

Curried chicken wraps ingredients

Ingredients

  • 800g chicken breast, cooked 
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. curry powder
  • 3/4 cup easy mayo
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 tsp. chilli flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cos lettuce
In a bowl add the honey, lime juice, curry powder, chilli powder, salt and pepper.
Add the mayo.
Whisk everything together.
Add the celery, onion, spring onions and carrots to a large bowl.
Add the cooked chicken to the bowl.
Mix well.
Add the curry sauce to the chicken and vegetables.
Mix well.

Curried chicken wraps

  • Servings: 8
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Print

Not long ago, I was working on this recipe. I mixed up a batch of the curried chicken ready for the wraps when a not so little head popped around my elbow and asked 'What's that? It smells nice'


Credit: Cath @ easycleaneats

Ingredients

  • 800g chicken breast, cooked
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. Curry powder
  • 3/4 cup easy mayo
  • 2 tbsp. Honey
  • 2 tbsp. Lime juice
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 tsp. Chilli flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cos lettuce

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl combine the chicken, onion, carrots, spring onions and celery.
  2. In another bowl whisk together the mayo, honey, lime juice, curry powder, chilli flakes, salt and pepper.
  3. Add the sauce to the bowl with the chicken and vegetables and mix well.
  4. Wash each of the cos lettuces and take off the leaves and drain them.
  5. Plate up the leaves and then add the chicken mixture into the centre each leaf.
  6. Serve.

Nutrition

Per Serving: 208 calories; 9 g fat; 12 g carbohydrates; 22 g protein.

Equipment 

  • Knife 
  • Chopping board 
  • Mixing bowl x2 
  • Fork 
  • Spoon
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Scales

Nutritional disclaimer

Nutrition information is provided as an estimate based on the ingredients used and available in my area (New Zealand). The nutritional information is here to help you understand the recipe; I use MyFitnessPal to generate my estimates. For more accurate nutritional information, please use a nutritional calculator with the ingredients in your area.


Food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities

This is an issue I have strong feelings about so I thought it was time to say something about it.

Food allergy

I sit in camp one; I have an allergy to nuts. This wonderful allergy means that I was have always been very good at reading the back on packets. Always looking to see if what I wanted to buy contained nuts or had traces of nuts. It sucks, really it does, I have to go so far as to read what my shampoo, soap and deodorant contains. Believe me that almond oil in shampoo isn’t good. I will be honest allergies can be problematic at times. I know there are far worse things to have allergies to so I won’t complain … well, I will but not too much.

Not the only one

We got a great surprise in 2015 when we discovered the little man in our family (my stepson) appears to have developed a sensitivity to nuts. As I have no input to his genetic make-up I can’t be blamed on this one. I have to admit I was intrigued that he developed sensitivity all of a sudden; he had never been interested in or liked nuts but never had any issue with them. As far as we know there are no other family members with nut allergies, so the fact he had eaten them then had a reaction was odd. I decided to find out what can trigger a reaction, so I did some reading.

The basics

I know and understand the basic science around sensitivities and allergies. The body attacks the item of food the same way it does a foreign bacteria or a virus. The bodies reaction is what is dangerous; the best case scenario is hives and generalised swelling. The worst-case scenario is an anaphylactic reaction that will land you in hospital or dead. In my experience, there is not a lot of understanding of how serious a food allergy is. A big issue I find is that people think your allergy is a lifestyle choice, like people who say they can’t eat gluten but are not diagnosed Celiac. Knowing what a food allergy means is important.

Understanding the difference

So what is the difference between food sensitivity, intolerances, and allergies? Here is a simple breakdown.

Food allergy

We can start with an allergy, this is an immune reaction to a food, this is similar to how the body fights infection it’s just that the body uses its defences to attack food. An allergic reaction could be something mild like itching or hives; on the other hand, it could be something as severe as anaphylaxis which causes swelling of the throat and tongue, trouble breathing and dizziness. The more you are exposed to an allergen the more severe a reaction can become. Most people start with the itching and hive, but you can have an anaphylactic reaction the first time to eat something.

Food intolerance

Food intolerance is when your body is missing a vital enzyme needed to process a specific food. There are symptoms associated with food intolerance. Usually, some form of gastric distress or inflammation, prolonged exposure to foods you cannot process can lead to intestinal damage, but it cannot trigger anaphylaxis.

Food sensitivities

So that leaves food sensitivities, these are a little more board, you can have an unpleasant reaction to food like reflux brought on my spicy foods, headaches or bloating. Sensitivities are not fun, but they are not life-threatening. Sensitivities can be the start of the journey to a food allergy, but most of the time they are not a big issue.

Here in New Zealand

Recently here in New Zealand, there have been some incidents of hospitalisation due to food allergies and even the tragic death of a teenager. It has been good to see that food safety is being taken seriously, but prevention is preferable to apologies.

In some cases, I think New Zealand is pretty good when it comes to food allergies. A school-based survey in 2013 that found over 8% of school kids reported they had an allergy to one or more food. I know that schools here in New Zealand are taking steps to minimise the risks to their students by banning some foods from lunchboxes because so many children have allergies and sensitivities. While this is a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough. Understanding is the key.

What are people allergic to?

While trooping around the interweb, I found a heap of people talking about their reactions to food and the reactions their children were having to things like;

  • Lactose
  • Wheat
  • Gluten
  • Rice
  • Egg
  • Sugar
  • Nuts
  • Yeast
  • Soy

These are just the most commonly mentioned foods; the full list is much longer.

Seems to be more allergies

I have to admit I was shocked at how many people are developing food allergies and intolerances. Now I know that in some cases people are self-diagnosed, so the exact numbers may never be known, but there seems to be an increase of instances. From everything I’ve read, no one knows why we are seeing this increase in food allergies and sensitivities. There are plenty of theories about potential causes but nothing that would suggest a way to reduce the number of people developing allergies or prevent us from developing them in the first place. I don’t have any answers, but I do hope that one day someone can help those of us who have allergies and sensitivities.

Prevention

So if we aren’t able to prevent people from developing sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies what can we do? I think a key difference we can make is educating people. Those of us who live with these things every day understand the consequences of eating the wrong things, so we avoid them at all costs. Not everyone understands how serious the consequences can be.

Proper education

One of the major concerns I have is the lack of understanding of those who do not suffer from food allergies. I am especially concerned with those who are responsible for serving food. I believe that there should be more information about how dangerous allergies are and how their actions can put those of us who have allergies in harm’s way. While little signs keep popping up on counters in cafes and restaurants about advising servers about allergies they don’t mean much. Last time I did disclose an allergy I was promptly told that you recommended I didn’t order any food. Hardly what you want to hear at brunch.

Standards might not be right

It is all well putting up signs that warn customers that there are allergens in food, but it doesn’t resolve the real issue – poor food service and handling practices. Don’t get me wrong I am not bashing individuals; I am bashing the system. A few years ago I completed the Basic Food Handling course that food service/manufacturing staff in New Zealand are supposed to attend. I was surprised there was very little information included about food allergies, what they are, what you should do and how to prevent cross-contact of foods.

Cross-contact

I’m talking about cross-contact, not to be confused with cross contamination. Cross-contamination when foods are mixed, like raw meat with cooked meat. For anyone who cooks knows the fundaments to prevent cross-contamination, if you mix raw with cooked someone will get sick. The Basic Food Handling course explains the reasons why cross contamination is bad and clear step on how to prevent it. Cross-contact, on the other hand, is not explained, and it is not highlighted how dangerous it can be.

What is it?

Cross-contact happens when one food comes into contact with another food and their proteins mix. When that happens, each food then contains a small amount of the other food. What people don’t always understand is that even this tiny amount of food that is transferred can cause reactions in people with food allergies. Unlike cross-contamination, cooking food does not remove allergens; the only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid any food that has come into contact with an allergen source.

Most cross contact is accidental, using the same thongs to pick up a piece of cake that was used to pick up a nut and seed slice or using the same spatula to flip a cheeseburger as you use for a hamburger. I want to think that this kind of cross contact is rare, sadly it isn’t. I can also say that from experience when you flag that something like that had occurred the response is never good.

What would I do?

With the rise of food allergies, we need to make some changes. I think that information about cross-contact should be included as part of the food safety training. It is just as important as knowing about cross-contamination and can have serious consequences. Teach people about safe food handling and preparation in a broader context. It isn’t hard to keep people safe and prevent cross contact with allergens. Some simple things can be done to avoid cross-contact and to make it safer for those with allergies to eat out.

  • Using utensils, cutting boards and pans that have been thoroughly washed with soap and water when working with allergens.
  • Have separate utensils such as thongs for each of the foods being served
  • Using separate utensils and dishes for making and serving safe foods. Some families choose a different colour like red for preparation of foods with allergens.
  • If you are making several foods, cook the allergy-safe foods first.
  • Keep the safe foods covered and away from other foods that may splatter.
  • If food has come into contact with an allergen, make it clear that the food may cause a reaction.
  • Clearly label foods and state any allergens on the menu
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before touching anything else if you have handled a food allergen. Soap and water or commercial wipes will remove a food allergen.
  • Scrub down counters and tables with soap and water after making meals.

Until the foodservice and manufacturing industries make some changes, those of us with food allergies will have to remain vigilant when it comes to buying foods and eating out. It doesn’t make life fun, but it could be worse.

Remember – The world is full of things that can kill you, but no one wants to be killed by their dinner.


Kombucha tea

Kombucha

I don’t profess to know the origins of Kombucha, there any many theories about who came up with it. To be honest, I don’t mind who invented it, I’m just interested in the benefits it offers.

So you may be asking yourself, what is Kombucha?

The basic answer is Kombucha is fermented tea, don’t worry; it is not as gross as it sounds. 

Kombucha

Here is the bro science explanation.

To make kombucha, you need sweetened black or green tea and a SCOBY. SCOBY short for symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast, is a jellyfish looking thing that you put in the tea. The bacteria and yeast munch on the sugar in the tea which causes the fermentation of the tea. It’s similar to making beer but with better health benefits. The sugar in the tea is there only to feed the SCOBY. Some commercial brands of Kombucha are high in sugar; this is usually to mask the sour taste of the finished Kombucha.

Many people claim Kombucha is a cure-all. I don’t really buy into these claims, what I do buy into is that Kombucha is full of probiotics and these are great for you.

Probiotics

We all know that antibiotics are important when you have an infection. They don’t just wipe out the bacteria that cause infections, they wipe out all of the good bacteria in your gut. We all have good bacteria in our gut, and it’s crucial for a healthy immune system. 

I have to say that Kombucha has done wonders for the immune systems in our house, even the kids slam down a glass. 

I will be honest, Kombucha is an acquired taste, but it’s a taste worth acquiring. It’s tart and fizzy, once you get past the smell which is far stronger than the taste you will be sold on it.

One major drawback of Kombucha is the cost when buying it; a litre can set you back as much as $15. If everyone in the family grabs a glass daily it quickly becomes very expensive.

Make your own

There is a much cheaper way to have kombucha, and that is by brewing your own, don’t worry it is not as complicated as you might think. The key to brewing your own is a good SCOBY and a starter. (you can get one here)

Equipment needed is minimal.

  • A saucepan or stock pot
  • A jar large enough to hold the kombucha
  • Cheesecloth or clean tea towel
  • Rubber bands

That’s it

In a large stock pot bring 2-4 litres of water to the boil.
In a large stock pot bring 2-4 litres of water to the boil.
2 litres use 4-6 tea bags or 4 litres use 8-12 tea bags
2 litres use 4-6 tea bags or 4 litres use 8-12 tea bags
When the sugar has dissolved add in your tea bags
When the sugar has dissolved add in your tea bags
When the tea bags have been added leave the tea to cool to room temperature
When the tea bags have been added leave the tea to cool to room temperature
When the tea is at room temperature pour it into a jar or container
When the tea is at room temperature pour it into a jar or container
When the tea is at room temperature pour it into a jar or container
When the tea is at room temperature pour it into a jar or container
Add the scoby to the jar with approximately 250ml of the kombucha starter.
Add the scoby to the jar with approximately 250ml of the kombucha starter.
Cover the top of the jar with a clean cloth and secure the cloth with some string or an elastic band.
Cover the top of the jar with a clean cloth and secure the cloth with some string or an elastic band.
Cover the top of the jar with a clean cloth and secure the cloth with some string or an elastic band.
Cover the top of the jar with a clean cloth and secure the cloth with some string or an elastic band.
New scabby on the kombucha brew
New scabby on the kombucha brew
Kombucha ready to bottle
Kombucha ready to bottle

So here is what to do.

How to make kombucha

The brew

In a large stock pot bring 2-4 litres of water to the boil.

When the water is at a rolling boil turn off the heat and stir in 1/2 1 cup of white sugar.

If you want sweet kombucha use 1 cup per 2 litres, for less sweet kombucha add 1/2 cup per 2 litres.

When the sugar has dissolved add in your tea bags

  • 2 litres use 4-6 tea bags
  • 4 litres use 8-12 tea bags

You can use plain black tea or a mixture of black and green tea bags.

When the tea bags have been added leave the tea to cool to room temperature (I usually leave the tea overnight to cool in the stock pot with the lid on).

The ferment

When the tea is at room temperature pour it into a jar or container, I recommend using a large glass jar with a tap on it (like the one below).

Add the scoby to the jar with approximately 250ml of the kombucha starter.

Be warned every scoby has a mind of its own, some float, some sink, some sit sideways. You will grow a new scoby every time you brew and that will have a mind of its own as well.

Cover the top of the jar with a clean cloth and secure the cloth with some string or an elastic band.

Put the jar is a warm place but away from direct sunlight.

Leave the tea for about a week how long it takes to brew will depend on how warm your house is.

A good indicator that your tea is close to ready is that you have a new scoby forming on the top of the tea. The new scoby will look like patches of jelly to start, then it will look like a film on the top of your tea, then it will look like a skinny version of your scoby. At this point you can start to taste the tea.

When you get the tang you want it is ready to bottle, put it in a sterilised bottle and store it in the fridge.

Make sure you save 250ml as a starter for your next batch and make sure you leave some liquid for the scoby to live in. The scoby will use the liquid to get bigger even when you are not brewing kombucha, check on it regularly to make sure it does not dry out.

Carbonation

If you want a fizzy kombucha you can carbonate it.

If you do want to carbonate you will need to use a plastic bottle to make it easier to check the carbonation level.

Fill the bottles as much as possible, when filled, seal the bottles and put them out of direct sunlight at room temperature. It will take a few days for carbonation to get started.

Don’t carbonate your kombucha unless you are home to check them twice a day they will explode and make your house smell funky.

When you use a plastic bottle it is easy to check for carbonation, check the bottle twice a day, when the bottle becomes hard it is carbonated.

As soon as the kombucha is carbonated put all of the bottles in the fridge.

The bigger your scoby gets the more natural carbonation you will get without having to do the additional step.


2016 goals

Happy New Year!!!!

Hopefully, you all had a great break and enjoyed time with friends and family.
I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions. I prefer to set myself goals for the year, have something to work towards and start a new year by setting my goals.

2015 the year that was

Last year, I set myself many goals; I achieved all of the important ones but never accomplished the physical goals I set thanks to injuring my Achilles in August. I spent a total of two months rocking around with a cast and then had a moon boot on. Sadly that means that all of my hard work from the year that would have seen me reach my goals was mostly undone, and I spent the remainder of the year focusing on physiotherapy and regaining my strength and flexibility.
I’m still not fully recovered from my Achilles adventure (apparently, it’s a long road to recovery), so with that long layoff still fresh in my mind, I’m setting my goals and making sure I’m kinder to my body in the process.

2016 goals

Over the next 12 months, I want to:

  • Stay injury-free for the year, continue to recover from my injury and avoid surgery.
  • Improve my back squat aim to squat 80kg
  • Attend one yoga class a week to improve flexibility
  • Reduce my resting heart rate to 60bpm
  • Reduce my body fat to 20%
  • Work out at least once a day.

To make these goals achievable, I am going to break them down and give myself some milestones through the year to keep myself on track. Any goals that I reach before the end of the year will be ticked off, and I will set a new goal for myself. I want to make myself accountable for my progress, so I’ll check in each month and share my progress.

Starting point

Here are the January starting points

  • Starting weight on back squat 20kg
  • Starting resting heart rate 74bpm
  • Starting body fat percentage 29%

My first update will be February 5th 2016