I'm always interested in finding new cookbooks and when one comes along that also has an interesting background story then I'm instantly hooked.
I particularly like to gather a stack of such books for January and February each year. This is never a problem as given the hectic schedules of November and December in my business, reading takes a back seat. I still buy books during this time and of course Christmas gifts always yield a few good tomes as well. By the short and sometimes dreary days of January my stash is rich and with fire lit and a steaming mug of tea for company I'll settle down to explore my booty. It's a simple but hugely indulgent pleasure. In the days before children this would often happen on a wet weekend afternoon but these days with the joys of family life, such delights have to wait until the rest of the house are safely tucked up in bed and so this little hobby can often take me into the small hours of the morning.
One of the books in this year's January haul was "The Secret Ingredient", a marvellous read by an English woman called Sally Bee.
While the recipes are great it was Ms Bee's personal story that was the main hook. Looking at her picture her story is both surprising and inspiring. In 2004 Sally Bee was just 36 when she suffered three massive heart attacks that almost killed her. She was a mother and a wife and had all the appearances of a fit and healthy woman. Nature certainly blessed her with good looks and she enjoyed keeping fit and eating healthily and was also a non smoker. This healthy appearance however was almost her undoing as when she presented to a hospital with severe chest pains having suffered the first heart attack, she was such an unlikely candidate for coronary problems that it was overlooked! Two more subsequent heart attacks and the medics took notice. She writes very candidly about her experience in the hospital, how close she came to giving up on life and the emotions that surfaced. At one point her husband was called to say goodbye as doctors held out little hope of survival let alone full recovery.
They discovered that she had a very rare disease that literally caused the artery to the heart to disintegrate. Miraculously having been given just hours to live, she did survive and now writes about health to help others. I've often banged on about healthy eating, natural ingredients and avoidance of processed foods but Sally Bee's testimony seals the fact that proper food and good living are the secret ingredients to a good life.
One of the things I loved about the book is that it doesn't compromise on taste and, as she cooks for a family, she understands the pressures and the need for convenience and simplicity. There isn't a difficult recipe or unavailable ingredient anywhere and her writing is very joyful and positive. Throughout the book she also gives tips on family life. With a commitment to the belief that appropriate diet and good nourishment are crucial contributors to lifelong sustainability of health and fitness you could easily start by incorporating a Sally Bee recipe into your repertoire once or twice a week.
I suppose what I am most impressed with is that while low fat and low salt are hallmarks of her thinking, she does not eliminate any food group. Her theory makes sense to me. I have a very good friend who has done a great deal of research into diet and food. He often cites the fact that while there is indeed a low rate of heart disease among people who eat a Mediterranean diet which is based largely on fruit and vegetables, there is also an extremely low rate of heart disease among Eskimo people who never see a vegetable or fruit as very little grows in the snow! His point is that it is not the food but the nutrients in the food that are crucial and the body needs certain nutrients to function properly. All natural foods carry various nutrients that the body needs.
Let's face it food and healthy eating are not rocket science and you can't turn around these days without something about diet being thrust into the spotlight. What we actually need are simple ways to translate all the knowledge that we have and the knowledge available to us into a family meal that is affordable, easy to make and a hit with the crowd around the table. While it's always nice to go all out every now and again for a full fancy chef, cooking experience our usual day to day kitchen exploits should be simple and enjoyable for both the cook and the diners. I spend most of my time in that area of simple, tasty, nutritious food. I tend to use fresh ingredients and flavour my food with herbs and spices; in effect just like my mother before me and her mother did also. It is a very simple philosophy that has served me well. Looking at the list of recipes in The Secret Ingredient meat features with several recipes for beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish all included.
Good food and diet are easy ways to address poor health and start you and your family on the road to wellness and long life. Sadly too many people equate good food and diet with boring, tasteless meals and twenty two things to do with lentils and brown rice! It needn't be so at all. We have an abundance of excelleny foods locally and a wealth of recipe and cooking information at our fingertips. The only thing holding us back from long and healthy lives is our apathy to finding the truth. If you have a healthy but tasty recipe I'd love to hear from you and I promise to share it with as many as possible. Have a happy and healthy week.
Beef Casserole with Cranberries and Port
2 tablesp. flour
2 teasp. ground mace
Salt and pepper
3 kg. diced chuck beef, well trimmed
3 tablesp. oil
3 large onions, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
4-5 sticks of celery chopped
1 tablesp. whole grain mustard
Glass of red wine
Glass of port
600ml beef stock
2-3 bay leaves
2 tablesp. fresh oregano or thyme, chopped
300g (approx) cranberries
A day ahead if possible, mix the spice mixture and rub over the beef, leave in the fridge overnight.
Mix the flour, mace and seasoning together. Toss the diced beef in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the beef, in batches. Then transfer to a large flameproof casserole dish. Add the onions, garlic and celery to the pan and saut for 3-4 minutes, then add mustard and wine. Bring to the boil and reduce for a few minutes. Pour the lot over meat in the casserole. Add the port, stock, herbs and half the cranberries.
Cover and cook gently for approx 2 hours until the meat is tender, or cook in the oven 180C, 375F, Gas Mark 4, for about the same time. 15 minutes before the end of cooking time add in the remaining cranberries. Check the seasoning before serving and garnish with sprigs of watercress and orange. Lovely with creamy mashed potatoes and crusty bread toasted and drizzled with olive oil and chopped herbs.
To garnish, sprigs of watercress and strips of orange peel