Fill My Belly: Venison Sausages with Roasted Beetroot and Puy Lentils

After a crazy couple of months full of friends, family, holidays (managed to fit two in!) and a long-awaited marathon walk I’m finally finding the time and space to get things back on track with my food and exercise.  Which is not to say that I have been lax over the past couple of months – I’ve started regular yoga classes, taken on a Tabata class and kept up the cycling, walking and running, whilst eating the best I can around a busy schedule…but I’ve also skipped a few workouts and eaten a bit too much holiday food and I am starting to feel sluggish for it.

So from tomorrow I’m back on plan. And when I say tomorrow I don’t mean the mythical “tomorrow” of all dieters and New Year’s resolutions which never actually comes and dangles like the promised fruit, just out of reach and unattainable. I mean literally tomorrow, Sunday 15th June. And it’s only tomorrow instead of today because the supermarket only delivered the food this afternoon, and I haven’t finished baking the granola yet.

Nevertheless, there is no reason not to make a good go of today as well (please ignore the Indian ready meal I had for dinner!), so for lunch I whipped up a favourite and super-nutritious meal of mine using some bits I had left over/in the freezer that needed using up: venison sausages, roasted beetroot and Puy lentils.

Now, I know I’ve raved about beetroot    before    and these root vegetables really are little power-houses of nutrition; in addition to all the vitamins and minerals they also provide a huge boost of nitrates which lowers high blood pressure and can help athletes by dilating the blood vessels so more blood can get to the muscles (1).

Lentils are another food we should all eat more of – they are low in fat, high in fibre and protein, and a good source of iron and manganese, not to mention providing over a third of your daily folate requirements per serving. They are also surprisingly filling, so you can have a smaller portion and still feel satisfied. I know some people find they get a little…gassy…after eating lentils, but unless you have a genuine GI issue this is likely to be because you don’t normally consume as much fibre and then the fibre in the lentils is a bit of a shock; this won’t occur if you increase fibre gradually or already have plenty of fibre in your diet – aim for at least 18g of fibre each day (2) – a portion of lentils can provide nearly a third of that.

I used venison sausages I was fortunate to pick up at a local farmers’ market but it’s quite understandable that not everyone will have access to these, in which case I recommend finding a good quality pork sausage with the highest percentage of pork in them you can find – I look for 96-98% pork.  Not only will these be leaner than sausages containing only 42% pork (such as    Richmond Thick Pork Sausages   ), they will also be much meatier and tastier, and you really want as much flavour as possible so the sausages hold their own amongst the other punchy flavours in this recipe.

Ingredients ready for dressing the lentils
Ingredients ready for dressing the lentils

To Serve 2 you will need

4 good quality venison or pork sausages

2 or 3 whole raw beetroot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp olive oil

80g Puy or green lentils (to make 160g cooked)
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
2 shallots or 1 small onion, cut in half with skin removed
coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Roast the beetroot chunks in a hot oven (200 degrees C) for 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the chunks. They should be tender and just starting to caramelise on the edges.

2015-06-13 14.32.49
Roasted beetroot

Meanwhile cook the sausages either on the grill or (if like me you don’t have a separate oven and grill) in the oven, according to the pack instructions.

Whilst the sausages and beetroot cook, prepare the lentils by washing them. Place them in a pan and cover the lentils with cold water, then place the two bay leaves, peeled garlic clove and shallot/onion in the pan with the lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, topping up with water if needed.

Lentils with bay, garlic and shallot
Lentils with bay, garlic and shallot

Drain the lentils if needed, removing the bay leaves, shallot/onion and garlic clove, and add the black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then stir.  Add the chopped parsley and stir again.  Serve the sausages and beetroot on a bed of lentils.

Venison sausage, roasted beetroot and Puy lentils
Venison sausage, roasted beetroot and Puy lentils

This recipe also works well with baby spinach and goats cheese or feta used in place of the sausages for a vegetarian option – choose a strong, salty cheese to complement the earthiness of the beetroot and lentils.





Fill My Belly: Roasted Beetroot Soup with Goat Cheese Toasts

I love beetroot. There, I’ve said it, it’s out there.  Beetroot gets a bad rap but I’m not really sure why – it is so versatile and vibrant, and so very nutritious, I feel more people should give it a second chance. Fun fact about beetroot – did you know it is related to spinach and quinoa? So if you have all three in a dish it’s like a family reunion!

Beetroot is packed (more than 15% of your daily requirements per serving) with nutrients such as folate (for reproductive health and foetal development), manganese (for healthy skin and bones, and regulating blood sugar), potassium (for maintaining a healthy blood pressure and kidneys, and preventing cramps), plus 14% of your copper and fibre needs.  Depending which colour you have your beetroot will also be brimful of various phytonutrients including betalains and carotenoids, which act as antioxidants in the body and have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties too. All this for less than 75 calories per serving.

So, now you know how wonderful it is, how are you going to cook it?  I find beetroot’s earthy sweetness pairs well with good quality pork or venison sausages, roast beef and horseradish, puy lentils, balsamic vinegar, goats cheese, lemon, watercress, mackerel and salmon. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact my favourite beetroot dish is a simple soup, served with goat cheese toasts, based on one from Love Beetroot.

To serve 4 you will need:
500g raw beetroot (or if you can’t get raw, get the cooked beetroot without vinegar)
150g sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
750ml good vegetable stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Roast the beetroot whole (45-50 mins at 200 C) and add the sweet potato for the last 30 min of cooking.  Once cooked, peel the beetroot and cut into chunks.

Sweat the onion with a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan on a low heat with the lid on for about 10 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the sweet potato, beetroot, stock and balsamic vinegar and simmer together for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and allow to cool slightly then blend with a stick blender until smooth.

Beetroot soup all ready to be eaten
Beetroot soup all ready to be eaten

For the goat cheese toasts you will need:
4 slices bloomer or baguette bread
olive oil
125g goat cheese (I used Soignon), sliced thinly

Brush one side of each slice of bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Spread the slices of goat cheese on the un-toasted side and put under the grill for 5 minutes.  (Basically, make cheese on toast!)

Serve them together for a match made in heaven…mmmm nomnomnom!

Delicious combination of beetroot and goat cheese
Delicious combination of beetroot and melted goat cheese
Nutrition Facts
Servings 4.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 374
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 14 g 22 %
Saturated Fat 6 g 28 %
Monounsaturated Fat 6 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 14 mg 5 %
Sodium 385 mg 16 %
Potassium 598 mg 17 %
Total Carbohydrate 48 g 16 %
Dietary Fiber 7 g 26 %
Sugars 13 g
Protein 14 g 28 %
Vitamin A 113 %
Vitamin C 9 %
Calcium 7 %
Iron 8 %

Fill My Belly: Pancakes Don’t Have to Be Bad

OK, so pancakes are always a little bit bad, no matter what you do with them, but you can make them better for you by adding little extras and changing things up a bit.

Pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) has been and gone for this year, but pancakes are simple, quick and satisfying comfort food at any time of the year, and can be had sweet or savoury.  I tend to choose sweet as I have rather a sweet tooth (my downfall!) but usually that would mean loads of sugar sprinkled over the top with lemon juice, or lashings of chocolate spread, neither of which is very healthy and usually makes me sugar-crash later on.

However, there is another option!  Fruit and spices, especially combined, make a wonderful alternative for adding flavour; adding protein powder makes them more satisfying and keeps your blood sugars even. If you must add sugar, using natural sugars like honey are more beneficial than refined sugars – did you know that honey contains vitamins and minerals in small quantities, has been used for over 5000 years for its healing properties (it contains an antibacterial agent), and also contains fewer calories gram-for-gram than refined sugar?

So, what did I do with my pancakes this year?  I made the mixture with half wholemeal/half white flour, for extra fibre, and added a scoop of whey protein powder, then beat in a large egg and some soy milk (you can use any type of milk but I had soy on hand).  I then wiped a frying pan with oil and pre-heated it, before adding slices of banana to the pan for 30 seconds and sprinkling the pan with ground cinnamon.  I then poured the batter over the sliced bananas and cooked until the top of the pancake was almost solid, and flipped the pancake to cook the other side.  Once brown on both sides I served the pancake with a small drizzle of maple syrup.

Banana Protein Pancakes

This combination worked so well – the banana goes quite caramelised in the pan and cinnamon really enhances the flavour, but you could also mash the banana and add it to the pancake batter itself.  It would be fun to try with other fruits as well, though you would need to use quite firm fruits or they will turn to mush when they cook.

Nutrition Facts
Servings 8.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 149
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2 g 4 %
Saturated Fat 1 g 4 %
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 23 mg 8 %
Sodium 30 mg 1 %
Potassium 185 mg 5 %
Total Carbohydrate 18 g 6 %
Dietary Fiber 2 g 7 %
Sugars 4 g
Protein 15 g 30 %
Vitamin A 3 %
Vitamin C 2 %
Calcium 7 %
Iron 6 %

Nutrition details above relate to the following quantities of each ingredient:

1/2 cup each wholemeal and white flour
1 egg
25g protein powder
1 large banana
200ml soy milk
1 tsp cinnamon
Maple syrup not included

Fill My Belly: On The Glow Basic Oatmeal Squares — Oh She Glows

Breakfast. Most important meal of the day. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, as the saying goes.  Now, typically I’m not a morning person. I need a good couple of hours and a large coffee before I’m at my best (unless you let me sleep until 10am), so cooking or lots of preparation for breakfast is not an option for me. However, as I cycle commute I do need to have a balanced breakfast to provide both instant and slow-release energy for my ride. I’ve experimented with lots of different things over the years, from cereal to smoothies, and everything in between, but usually either the preparation is too involved or the dish doesn’t provide enough energy at the right time.

Until I discovered these baked oatmeal squares from Oh She Glows. Now, being new to this blogging malarkey I am sure there is a better way to share/present this but here is the link to the recipe and blog:

On The Glow Basic Oatmeal Squares — Oh She Glows.

These are so tasty, versatile and filling, I’ve had them almost every day for breakfast for the last month, and my latest batch has just come out of the oven now, ready for the coming week. The great thing is, you can do the preparation and cooking in the evening/weekend, and then they are ready when you need them in the morning. They last for 4/5 days in an air-tight container, although using fresh fruit will reduce their longevity, but I’ve found that you can also freeze them and just get them out the freezer the night before you want to eat them.

Fresh from the oven. It doesn't look like much here, if only you had smell-a-vision!
Fresh from the oven. It doesn’t look like much here; if only you had smell-a-vision!

I’ve been enjoying playing with the flavours – the recipe on the blog is for a basic recipe, but as Angela says in her post you can put anything you like in it. My flavour combinations so far are:

fresh blueberries and peanuts
vanilla, chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chunks
sultana, cherry and dried coconut
ground almond and cherry
lime (zest, and lime juice infused raisins) and dried coconut

I’ve also been adding 50g whey powder to the recipe (I make a shake with the whey powder and the almond or soya milk, and blend it into the liquid ingredients) for added protein, which of course does make the recipe no longer vegan-friendly, but you could use hemp or pea protein instead.

Obviously the nutritional value of these will depend on what you add to the recipe, but for the basic recipe alone there is instant energy from the maple syrup, and slow release energy from the oats.  There is omega-3 from the seeds (flaxseed is an excellent plant source of omega-3 (1)), and a whopping 7 grams of fibre per square from the seeds, banana and oats.  There is also protein and healthy fats from the nut butter and seeds, and vitamin E from the almond milk, which helps protect against oxidative stress (2), which has been implicated in conditions such as cancer (3), heart disease (2) and Alzheimers. The banana, and any other fruit or nuts you choose to use will add further vitamins and minerals to this as well, though sadly chocolate has little to offer here; vitamin C from berries and citrus, copper and manganese from coconut, and so on.

I really recommend giving these little nutritional powerhouses a go for breakfast, or they would make a great pre/post-workout snack.  I like mine with fruit on the side, and a hot coffee!

Cherry and Almond Oatmeal Squares
Cherry and Almond Oatmeal Squares

1. Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food

2. Vitamin E, Oxidative stress and inflammation

3. Oxidative stress and cancer: have we moved forward?

Fill My Belly: Squash, Leek and Mushroom Cannelloni

Cycling is hungry work, and as both myself and my husband cycle commute, a hearty meal is always appreciated when we get home. We take it in turns to cook depending on what time we finish work, and today it was my turn.

I decided on a recipe from the Healthy Food Guide magazine, February 2015 issue.  Unfortunately the recipe isn’t on-line yet so you’ll have to make do with my own pictures etc. and modifications.

Whether you’re active like me, or just want to eat healthily, it is important to eat a balanced diet (sorry, a cake in each hand doesn’t count!) with a good mixture of macro-nutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals). This meal is low in saturated fat and low in sugar, whilst being high in protein, fibre, iron and calcium.  It also has beta-carotene in the squash for healthy eyes and lungs (both essential for cycling), vitamin C (for a healthy immune system) in the squash, spinach, tomatoes and peppers, and iron and vitamin K (for healthy blood) from the spinach. When you break it down it’s easy to see why meals like this are great for supporting an active lifestyle.

Roasted Squash, Leek and Mushroom Cannelloni

Squash and mushroom cannelloniThe ingredients are as follows (note there are slight differences to the original):
Cooking oil spray 
1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
200g button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150g baby spinach
500g butternut squash, roasted
125g ricotta cheese
4 fresh lasagne sheets
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Home made tomato sauce – I made mine using 1 400g can chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, mixed herbs, 1 clove garlic and chopped jarred peppers. 

1) Heat the oven to 190/170 fan/gas 5. Spray a non-stick frying pan with oil and fry the leek for 3-4 minutes on a high heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook for 2 minutes. Leave to cool.

Step 1 - Cannelloni2) Spoon half of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 2 litre baking dish. Combine the mushroom mixture with the ricotta and roasted squash.  Cut the lasagne sheets in half widthways. Spoon an eighth of the filling along the edge of each pasta sheet and roll to enclose the filling. Place the cannelloni seam-side down into the baking dish.

Step 2 - Cannelloni Step 2 - Cannelloni

3) Cover with the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes.  Serve two cannelloni per person, with extra spinach or salad on the side.

Step 3 - Cannelloni The finished dish - cannelloni

When I first read this recipe I thought that two cannelloni would not be enough, but they were very satisfying and filling, and I didn’t go back for more.  My husband thoroughly enjoyed these too, despite the lack of meat, and helped himself to my second portion too!  I will certainly make this dish again, and the only thing I would change is to add more tomato sauce.

Like Chocolate, with Negative Calories

Mmm....chocolately goodness

Everyone loves chocolate, right?  The delicious creamy taste, melting texture and feel-good factor…..

Yes, I totally tipped out my chocolate stash to take a picture, then ate some!
Mmm….chocolately goodness

Science tells us that eating chocolate triggers the release of neurotransmitters known as endorphins, such as serotonin. These are the body’s natural pain moderators, and act on the same receptors as opiates like morphine – no wonder we feel good after a bar of chocolate, eh!

Such a shame that aside from making you feel good chocolate has no nutritional benefit and is a short-cut to weight gain if not consumed in moderation…

The thing is that for me cycling has the same effect; it’s like eating chocolate, but with negative calories! I used to cycle daily as a teenager for college and work, and I started cycling daily again two years ago for my commute to my current job, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that those two periods correspond with me being happiest overall in life.

Consider it a natural high – a pain-fighting, mood-boosting, concentration-enhancing wake up call every morning, and a stress-busting, motivating pick-me-up after work, plus a work out and an uncomplicated way to get to work each day.

I’m not just making it up though, and I refer to science again (you’ll find I do that a fair bit) but studies have proven that exercise releases endorphins too (more so than chocolate even!) and it is becoming more common now for doctors to prescribe exercise to treat a range of conditions, including depression, because of the measurable effects of exercise on mood, among other things.

So, when people ask me now why I choose to cycle instead of drive, one of the reasons I should give is that it is like chocolate, with negative calories – what’s not to like!

If you’re interested you can find out more about exercise and depression from The Harvard Medical School.