Food and nutrition blog
Abingdon Food Festival Bake-it competition
Katy (11L) won the Bake-it competition at the Abingdon Food Festival and tells all about her winning cake:
The theme for the Abingdon Food Festival's Bake-it competition was your favorite book. I chose Alice in Wonderland. The brief said that we needed to consider ways of making our cakes healthier, for example by cutting out wheat flour, using natural fats and sugars and including fruit and nuts in our cakes. I decided to make a cake that our whole family could eat by making it gluten and dairy-free. This was easier said than done since gluten free cakes are notorious for tasting a bit like chalk! I had a lot of fun trialing different recipes to create a flour blend that you couldn't tell was gluten free.
This was the final recipe:
100g ground almonds
70g rice flour
25g potato starch
5g tapioca flour
2 tsp baking powder
To create an unusual, Alice-in-Wonderland flavor combination I made a chocolate and lemon checkerboard sponge with lemon buttercream and homemade lemon curd. I decorated it with fondant icing, mini gluten and dairy free jam tarts and fondant mushrooms.
It was really great to see everyone else's cakes on the day, including ones based on The Hobbit, Harry Potter and The BFG. For anyone who's thinking about entering next year - it's well worth it as the prize included a £50 Amazon voucher!
Travel light, travel hungry
‘Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life’, said the food and travel writer Anthony Bourdain. What is your most vivid ‘food memory’? This is the question Year 8 were asked as part of their research into global cuisine. The flavours and aromas of food can transport us back to the place we first experienced it. It might be a fond memory, or it could be an experience we would not like to repeat. Below are a variety of responses to our question, from both students and staff.
Peony – France: 'I remember once eating snails in a very smart restaurant in Paris. I only wanted them for the garlic sauce, but my parents told me that I wasn’t allowed to eat only half the dish I then proceeded to eat snail after snail. It felt like eating slugs. I ate about three then stuffed the rest in my napkin.'
Rachel – Spain: 'I ate tortilla (Spanish omelette) for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four days running!'
Emily – Florida: 'We went to Clearwater beach in Florida. On the menu was buffalo and alligator so we tried them and they were amazing. However, I was unable to finish my meal because of my jetlag and I fell right asleep on the table.'
Gabriela – Brazil: 'I loved the simple yet delicious dish, Feijoada. This meal is a bean stew on rice and contains a Brazilian ingredient called Farinheira, which is a kind of pork sausage. When I lived in Brazil I went to nursery school and ate it every single day. It was so good, no one would ever complain, but I did ask my parents why we ate the same food every single day!'
Pippa – Australia: 'When I went to Australia I was able to try crocodile, buffalo and kangaroo. The crocodile had a strange texture, almost like fish, but tasted really nice.'
Iona – Greece: 'Most of the things I remember we ate in Greece were meat-based, like Kreatopita, a meat pie with phyllo pastry, and Gyros, which are meat wraps with salad and tzatziki.'
Dr Pitkethly – Egypt: 'I used to take school trips to the Sinai desert with Wind Sand and Stars. We flew into Cairo and were picked up in jeeps which drove into central Cairo to pick up live chickens. Each of the 13 students had a live chicken in a sack and we travelled with these into the Sinai desert where we exchanged our motorised vehicles for camels. We trekked for four days down to St Catherine's monastery at the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula and then after one night in the monastery another five nights up to the eastern side opposite Saudi Arabia. We slept out under the stars without tents but in sleeping bags - you had to tie in your head so nothing else joined you in your sleeping bag at night! Each day, one or two of the chickens disappeared but the taste of fresh chicken cooked on scrub wood gathered in the desert was memorable.'
Mrs Stubley – Vietnam: 'I was working in London 20 odd years ago and I was lucky enough to be invited to a Vietnamese wedding reception. It was a great opportunity to talk about Vietnam with other guests and bring some of my historical knowledge up to date. I also decided to try all the dishes on offer and find out about the ingredients and cooking methods – they were delicious and Vietnamese food remains one of my favourite cuisines.'
Mrs Collett – Thailand and Italy: 'I have two really distinct memories linked to travel and food. The first is eating freshly caught BBQ fish in a beach restaurant in Phuket, Thailand. It was just four months after the tsunami which had devastated this community, but they had rebuilt and continued to welcome visitors – it felt an honour to be there. The second is simply Tuscan sausage pasta in Florence – the tastiest food I’ve ever had!'
Miss Doherty – Mongolia: How much would you pay for an apple?
'I spent four months in Mongolia, many years ago, where the staple diet is beef, goat, potatoes and cabbage. Initially, the Mongolian equivalent of a deep fried Cornish pasty was quite a treat and bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar a delicious breakfast; however, I quickly grew tired of this limited cuisine. There was some variety, but the staple ingredients were the same: meat, cabbage and flour. About a month into my stay, and craving something fresh, I was thrilled to see a Chinese pop-up market in town. My Mongolian friends warned me against buying anything from them saying they 'used chemicals' to grow their food, but I was craving something (superficially) healthy and my eye was drawn to a shiny green apple. To cut a long haggling story short, I had to have it. I am ashamed to admit how much I paid for my overly waxed and, were I in England, disappointing Granny Smith, but it was definitely worth it at the time! Adapting to a completely different diet made me realise that food and culture are so entwined – what you eat is as much about the nutritional needs of your body as it is about your identity.'
Mr Odell – Greece: 'It was the summer of 2010. Sat beneath the Grecian stars on a balmy night at a wonderful local Taverna, I decided to be brave and try the local delicacy, a dish affectionately named Kokoretsi; goat intestines wrapped about offal, brain, heart, lungs and/or kidneys. Mmmmm. Needless to say – it was horrible. I hid most of it under my spoon, like Mr Bean.'
Mr Hunt – Greece: 'Living on souvlaki while travelling in Greece in my gap year. Just the best street food: 300 Drachma (no idea what that would be in euros now) for a delicious little pork kebab; chunks of succulent and flavour-packed tomatoes; crisp lettuce; punchy tzatziki; a few skin-on chips; all wrapped in a warm, puffy pitta which is nothing like the vile cardboard we get in the supermarket. And recently the joy of re-living it from the Greek food stall in the Gloucester Green market in Oxford. 25 years just vanished in an instant.'
Mrs Washer – Ghana: 'I was in Ghana on a Disaster Relief Exercise with a small group of men from the three Armed Services. We were offered food at the Headquarters of the Ghanaian Army, including curried lambs testicles. I was the only one to try them – funnily enough. They were not particularly appetising and very chewy!!'
Mrs Alpers – Singapore: 'I grew up in New Zealand, which you might know is very far from anywhere else. People think it’s right next to Australia, but it’s still a three hour flight. When I was twelve my family went on holiday to Singapore and Malaysia for two weeks. My father tried to convince us to eat from the hawker (street food) stalls, but I am totally ashamed to say that all my brother, sister and I wanted to eat was McDonalds because you couldn’t get it in New Zealand! I have been to Singapore a number of times since and I am pleased to say I would eat the hawker food every time. Singapore is a real melting pot of cultures and cuisines and there is always something new to try.'
Revd Elizabeth: 'One of the great joys about travelling abroad is the opportunity to delve into foreign supermarkets and food shops. It's a myth that all supermarkets are the same the world over and they always provide a fascinating insight into subtle, or not so subtle, cultural differences. I get withdrawal symptoms if I am away from a kitchen for more than about two days so I always make a beeline for local food shops wherever I am, to make impromptu picnics, or to find ingredients to bring home. With the latter, you have to be a bit careful to make sure you are actually allowed to bring stuff back into the UK. Airline restrictions on liquids in luggage has scuppered my transportation of five-litre cans of extra virgin olive oil, or vast jars of local honey from around the Mediterranean in my hand-luggage, for example, but there are other things that I've found travel well and don't break the bank either.
Here is a list of some of my happy discoveries in the past:
1) Spices – mahlepi and mastic from Greece (used in baking), saffron from Andalucia, juniper berries from Umbria, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom from Karnataka
2) Chocolate from anywhere – every country has its own unique chocolate as well as characteristic packaging. German and Dutch chocolate are top of my list, so far.
3) Biscuits – everyday-type packets, the equivalent of ordinary UK biscuits such as digestives. Foreign equivalents are always interestingly slightly different and the packaging is good for expanding your vocabulary, once you start looking at the ingredients list. I personally like those bags of small Italian biscuits 'per la prima colazione' for dipping in coffee, as well as packets of crisp, French, 'Petit Beurre' biscuits or 'galettes' which, no matter how simple they seem, always taste like heaven. My latest discovery was Russian biscuits made with condensed milk. (The Russians, like Winnie the Pooh, are keen on condensed milk and serve it to accompany oat or buckwheat 'kasha' for breakfast – delicious!) I particularly loved the fact that said condensed milk biscuits are moulded to resemble the tins!
4) Dried herbs – 'herbes de Provence' that actually come from Provence and taste like it; Cretan dittany for herb tea
5) Tea in general – German tea is particularly good. Look out for 'Weihnachtstee', if you are travelling in winter, or 'Kräutertee' – the Germans are keen on herb tea and there's a huge variety available.'
Travel light, travel hungry!
British Nutrition Foundation Healthy Eating Week 11-16 June
We are very lucky at St Helen’s to have such a range of nutritious choices at lunch, and students studying food and nutrition also prepare healthy food in practical lessons. However, it is good to be reminded that setting up healthy habits for life is crucial in adolescence. The four main challenges for Healthy Eating Week are:
Have at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day
Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
Be physically active
Eat breakfast every day
7J had some brilliant ideas for getting more physical activity into your school day. Ideas included joining a sports club at school, walk quickly up the stairs to Latin, play ‘partner tag’ in the quad, jump up the science stairs, play hide and seek around school, walk or cycle to school, bounce on your trampoline at home (if you have one).
7L, 7M and 7K made their own layered salads in a jar, representing the correct proportions of a balanced diet.
Year 9 prepared chicken taquitos which are a colourful and healthy Mexican street food dish. Students said they were delicious and would definitely make them again. We have shared the recipe for you to try at home.
Chicken Taquitos - serves 4
1 tablespoon oil for frying
1 small onion, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon chilli powder
2 skinless chicken breasts
4 corn tortillas (or any tortilla)
1 small avocado, cut into fine dice
1 tablespoon red onion (finely chopped)
6 cherry tomatoes (finely chopped)
Chopped pickled jalapenos (optional)
To make the salsa, dice the avocado, squeeze over half the juice of the lime, finely chop the red onion, tomatoes, jalapenos and coriander and mix all the ingredients with a pinch of salt
To make the taquitos, finely slice the onion and peppers then heat a splash of oil in a pan. Fry on a medium/high heat until softened and slightly golden. Stir in the cumin and chilli powder and cook for a minute. Slice the chicken into thin strips and add to the pan. Cook until slightly golden brown and cooked through (about 5 minutes)
Lay out the tortillas and divide the chicken mix down the middle. Top with grated cheese and roll up into fat cigar shapes
Wipe the pan out with a paper towel and heat a little more oil. Add the tortillas and fry on both sides until crisp and golden. To serve, put a pile of lettuce on a plate. Sit a taquito on top then dollop with salsa, drizzle with soured cream and serve with the lime wedges. Scatter some coriander over to finish
Breaking the fast
One of five main messages of the British Nutrition Foundation’s Healthy Eating Week this year is to encourage teenagers to eat a nutritious breakfast every day. This advice is hardly new, and we all know that a good breakfast sets us up for the day and curbs the craving for less healthy snacks at break time, but there are still students who skip breakfast.
A healthy breakfast should provide around 20% of daily energy requirements and some of the nutrients the body needs for good health, such as starchy carbohydrate, fibre, B vitamins, iron and calcium. Some studies suggest that having a healthy breakfast can help to improve cognitive function and academic performance.
What is a healthy breakfast?
Depending on your preferences, a healthy breakfast could include wholegrain toast or cereals such as porridge, no added sugar muesli or Weetabix with or without fresh fruit, or perhaps you prefer scrambled or poached eggs on toast. A homemade smoothie can be a quick option for those who need to eat breakfast on the go and can be higher in fibre and lower in free sugars than fruit juice. It is a good idea to check the sugar content of many breakfast cereals as some can be as high as a cookie! As a general rule, look for cereals with 10g or less sugar per 100g (3g or less per 30g serving). It’s also important to hydrate at breakfast time; milk or water are excellent choices.
Year 7 Breakfast Café
Year 7 planned and prepared their own choice of breakfast recipes this week. French toast with fresh berries, omelettes and savoury brunch muffins were on the menu and students enjoyed setting the tables and sitting down for breakfast (even if 7K had to eat their breakfast after lunch!).
A new breakfast recipe to try:
Overnight Oats – serves 2 (recipe from BBC Food)
70g porridge oats
2 tbsp golden linseeds
2 ripe bananas
140g frozen raspberries
175g natural bio yogurt
Tip the oats and seeds into a bowl, and pour over 200ml boiling water and stir well. Add the bananas and three-quarters of the raspberries (chill the remainder), mash together, then cover and chill overnight.
The next day, layer the raspberry oats in two tumblers or bowls with the yogurt, top with the reserved raspberries and serve.
Create and Cook competition final
On Thursday 10 May, Alice and Abi (Year 9) were placed first in the Oxfordshire final of the Create and Cook competition held at Oxford Brookes University cookery school. Their menu was paella with local crayfish, asparagus and Cotswolds chorizo and a dessert of courgette and chocolate Brownie with raspberry sorbet. Alice writes about her experience of the day:
We arrived at Oxford Brookes and walked through the restaurant to our kitchen. It was all stainless steel and very professional and set up for four pairs. We put our aprons on and got our ingredients all ready and were introduced to the judges. Then, pair by pair, we went to be quizzed by the judges about our local ingredients. They were a bit apprehensive about how local paella could be, but otherwise seemed satisfied and wished us luck!
We started cooking at 11 exactly and it was crazy right from the start. Abi started on the sorbet and I did the brownies, putting them to one side so we could serve them warm. We worked on the paella together and it was a manic blur of chorizo, stirring and sizzling. The judges were wandering around, giving us intrigued looks and asking cryptic questions which we tried to answer correctly, whilst trying not to burn the rice or trip over the photographer who had a habit of coming up behind us to photograph whatever we were doing. After a very manic last five minutes of plating up as neatly as possible, an hour and a half was up and we could relax… Sort of.
We were welcomed into the restaurant area by a lovely plate of sandwiches which we nervously ate, at the same time straining to hear what the judges were saying just out of earshot. After lunch, it was back to the kitchen to tidy up and then we were called outside to hear the results. We listened nervously as the judges critiqued the other pairs (quite harshly at times) and grew more and more nervous until they came to us. It was the head judge who delivered our feedback, telling us that we'd quashed his paella fears and that it was delicious, and asked for our brownie recipe on behalf of his daughter. Then, after a very suspenseful silence we were announced the winners! A great day was topped off by our goody bags, which included a cookbook, Oxfordshire honey and sauces.
Thank you very much to Mrs Woodley for helping us with the ingredients and equipment and Mrs Alpers for driving us there and for all her help and guidance throughout.
Our daily bread
Bread has been having a hard time of late and is sometimes blamed for being highly calorific and the cause of stomach upsets and bloating. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, is often cited as the cause of digestive problems, and more and more people are identifying themselves as gluten intolerant. Unfortunately, much of this advice is not backed up by evidence and some people are avoiding bread for no good reason.
What is good about bread?
It has been a staple food for thousands of years and if made with wholegrains adds a good amount of fibre to our diet. There are well researched links between wholegrains and heart health, and bread (minus lashings of butter and mayo) is a versatile low fat, low sugar, high fibre food, which should form part of a balanced diet. By cutting out bread, you could miss out on valuable B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and a wide range of minerals such as iron.
Why might some people be unable to eat bread?
Around 1% of the population has coeliac disease, where the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. Some people have a wheat allergy and would need to avoid bread made with wheat, but they can usually eat bread made with other grains.
Year 8 and 9 bread baking
This spring has seen Year 8 and 9 experimenting with bread and learning about the science behind yeast and fermentation. Year 8 students prepared a range of ‘breads from around the world’. These included focaccia and pizza from Italy, Swedish cinnamon buns and traditional pretzels.
Year 9 were treated to some delicious fresh sourdough bread in an enlightening talk given by Judith from Wild Baker. Sourdough is a bread made using the yeast naturally occurring on the flour which undergoes a long fermentation process, resulting in a deliciously tangy bread which is easier to digest than some of the modern supermarket breads we buy today. It was fascinating to see (and sniff!) some of her wild yeast starters from Egypt, San Francisco and Oxfordshire. The students were given a dried sourdough starter to take home and instructions for ‘feeding’ the yeast and bringing it back to life!
Create and Cook - the work continues...
20 March 2018
Entries close in late March and students have been trialing their two course spring/summer themed menu in their Food and Nutrition lessons. The themes of food provenance, sustainability and seasonality are running through the course this term and students have been exploring their local farm shops, finding delicious ingredients such as smoked garlic, local cheeses, free range eggs, asparagus and Oxfordshire honey as a starting point for their recipe ideas.
Starting with the ingredient rather than the recipe is what all good chefs do and this idea is beginning to filter through to the students as they create their menus. Berry fruits have been a popular choice for dessert ideas, whilst locally reared beef and chicken have been on the menu too.
Create and Cook competition
Cooking with local and seasonal food is the theme of ‘Create and Cook’, a competition held in Hampshire, Sussex, the Isle of Wight, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The competition consists of creating a two-course menu using at least three local ingredients. It challenges students to learn more about the food closer to home. Cooking with local food means there is less travel to transport the food which is better for the environment.
We had to think about what local ingredients we wanted to use and decided to base our two recipes on summer grown fruit and vegetables. The main course was 'Dukkah crusted chicken', using locally-reared free-range chicken, courgettes and red pepper. The dessert we chose was blueberry, lime and ginger cheesecake, which will use locally grown blueberries. We made the ginger biscuits ourselves and chose flour from a local mill (Wessex Mill). We are having a class 'cook off' next week, and two students will be chosen to enter the Oxfordshire competition.
In theory lessons we learnt about how good chefs choose the best ingredients as a starting point, then they base their dishes on these ingredients, rather than choosing the recipe first. We also learnt about food provenance, sustainability and seasonality.
It was quite difficult to find locally grown fruits and vegetables in winter, but some students found honey, local cheese, free range eggs and smoked garlic which they used in their recipes.
We have included our dessert recipe as well as Holly and Sophie's chicken recipe for you to try at home.
Blueberry, lime and ginger cheesecakes (Georgie and Anna Y9)
10 ginger biscuits (such as ginger nuts i.e. not the thin ones) crushed
25g unsalted butter, melted
150g full-fat cream cheese
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lime plus extra to decorate
150ml double cream
8 tbsp blueberry jam plus extra to serve (optional)
- Put the biscuit crumbs into a small bowl and pour over the melted butter. Fork together until the crumbs have absorbed all the butter. Divide the mixture into four portions and spoon each of these into a martini glass or tumbler. Pat down gently to compress the crumbs and make a firm base for the cheesecakes. Transfer to the fridge.
- Put the cream cheese, lime zest and double cream into a large mixing bowl and mix gently until the cream and cream cheese are just combined. Add the blueberry jam and gently stir it through the mixture so it is ripple through with swirls but not fully blended.
- Remove the glasses from the fridge and divide the cheesecake mixture between them. Chill for a minimum of one hour, or overnight, before serving.
- Decorate with lime zest and a dollop of extra jam to serve if desired.
Jamie Oliver’s Golden Chicken (Sophie and Holly Y9)
Locally grown foods: spinach, peas and free range chicken.
1 organic chicken stock cube
½ a bunch of fresh sage
100ml single cream
30g Parmesan cheese
4 x 120g skinless higher-welfare chicken breasts
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 rashers of higher-welfare smoked streaky bacon
200g baby leeks
200g baby spinach
200g frozen peas
- Scrub the potatoes clean, finely slice in the processor or by hand, then tip into the medium pan and cover with boiling water and the lid.
- Peel the onions, finely slice in the processor or by hand, then tip into the roasting tray with 2 tablespoons of oil, crumble in the stock cube and season with sea salt and black pepper.
- Tear in the sage leaves and stir regularly, adding a splash of water if they start to catch.
- On a large sheet of greaseproof paper, toss the chicken with salt, pepper and the rosemary leaves, then fold the paper over and bash and flatten the chicken to 1.5cm thick with a rolling pin.
- Put into the frying pan with 1 tablespoon of oil, turning after 3 or 4 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
- Drain the potatoes well in a colander, then tip into the onion pan, stir together and arrange in a flat layer. Pour over the cream, then finely grate over the Parmesan and pop under the grill on the top shelf.
- Halve the leeks lengthways, rinse under the tap, then finely slice. Put into the empty lidded pan on a high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil, stirring often.
- Finely slice the bacon and add to the chicken pan, tossing regularly.
- Stir the spinach and peas into the leeks and once the spinach has wilted and the peas are tender, pile on a board or platter with the chicken and bacon on top. Serve with the gratin.
Swap that chocolate bar for these power-packed treats!
The challenge for the Year 9 cooking club was to find a sweet, but nutritious snack as an alternative to the ‘empty calories’ found in chocolate or cookies. It is true that dried fruit contains sugar, but because it is bound together with fibre it takes longer for your body to digest, releasing the sugars more slowly than ‘free’ or added sugars. Fibre also has the advantage of making you feel full and some dried fruits, such as apricots are a good source of iron. 46% of teenage girls in the UK consume less than the lower recommended nutrient intake of iron, so it is important that if you don’t eat red meat, you consider other sources of iron, such as fortified cereals, wholegrain bread and nuts such as cashews.
Sienna chose to make Raw Mango and Coconut Bites, a recipe by Madeleine Shaw, which were high in fibre, but low in added sugar. These are very easy to make if you have a food processor and they looked and tasted great, but as they are still rather sweet we thought that one or two would be enough! If you dislike coconut, you can replace it with ground almonds, but remember that any snack containing nuts is more suitable out of school, as St Helen's is nut free.
200g dried mango
Grated zest of 1 lime
180g desiccated coconut
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1tsp freshly grated ginger
A pinch of salt
2Tbsp sesame seeds, plus extra for rolling
- Soak the mango in a bowl of water for half an hour, then drain.
- Place the mango and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until fully combined.
- Mold the mixture into 5cm balls and roll each one in sesame seeds until fully covered. Refrigerate until firm.
Shivani baked these Oat, Coconut and Apricot Bars, adapted from a Deliciously Ella recipe, which were a fruitier and less sweet version of a flapjack. In Ella’s recipes she replaces sugar with alternatives such as honey, agave syrup or rice syrup. It is worthwhile noting that these still count as ‘free’ or ‘added’ sugars, but this recipe relies more on the natural sweetness of dried apricots, which are high in fibre and a good source of vitamin A, iron and potassium. Coconut oil has received a lot of marketing hype recently, but it actually contains more saturated fat than butter, so it should be eaten in moderation.
Shivani said she enjoyed the flavour of these oat bars, but they were a little dry so you might need to add another tablespoon of coconut oil or honey if the mixture is too crumbly.
250g soft dried apricots, plus a handful extra for chunks
210g porridge oats
45g desiccated coconut
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons rice syrup or honey
Pinch of salt
- Preheat your oven to 170 o C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
- Put 3/4 of the dried apricots in a food processor along with the coconut oil, oats, rice syrup or honey, desiccated coconut and salt – blend until completely combined. Once combined, add the last 1/4 of dried apricots and give another very quick whizz to make nice chunks.
- Transfer the mixture to the baking tray and press down very well, making sure it is all evenly spread – I use half the baking sheet to make thicker bars.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden. Once baked, remove from the oven and cool down for 15-20 minutes before cutting into bars.