Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

The I Diet

The I Diet

So this is a diet book that claims to have “100 Healthy Italian Recipes to Help You Lose Weight & Love Food”. Now I already loved food at the time that I bought this book, and I’ve never actually used it to try and lose weight, so I can’t really comment on either of those claims. However I can confirm that there are plenty of healthy Italian recipes inside.

While I haven’t used this book to diet, I have used it on a fairly regular basis in the 4+ years that I have owned it. One dish in particular – the Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs has become my go-to store cupboard meal. This rather strange combination of ham, parmesan, chili, peas, eggs and pasta (chili and cheese!) is an absolute delight that I cook at least once a month. These days I can’t get the little shell pasta shapes so have to use coquillettes instead but that works fine.

The I Diet - Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

The I Diet – Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

Now admittedly that dish takes a bit of time to cook and the portion is a tad on the small side, even for a diet book, but the end result is well worth it. A delicious sticky, salty and spicy mix that will never look elegant or sophisticated but always goes down a treat.

So back to the book. There’s a breakfast section, lunch, soups and salads, starters, pastas and risottos, meats, fish and desserts with a couple of “naughty” recipes such as tiramisu and carbonara tucked away at the back.

The recipes are well written and easy to follow and so far I’ve not had a single failure cooking from this book. About 70% of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photograph. While some dishes take a bit longer or are more involved, most have a fairly limited list of ingredients and can easily be prepared on a work night with no fuss.

As with most cookbooks I own, I’ve used the breakfast and dessert sections the least. However from the desserts I have given the chocolate and chestnut cake a go from (moist and not too sweet at all, this kept well for quite a few days).   On the breakfast front I’ve found that the baked eggs with ham works well as a light lunch or brunch option on weekends when I have a bit more time.

The I Diet - Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomaro & Garlic Sauce

The I Diet – Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomato & Garlic Sauce

While it was the lovely salads that drew me to this book (the Courgette Ribbons with Cannellini Beans with Lemon Dressing and the tuna Three Bean & Tuna Salad with Fresh Mint in particular), the recipes I seem to use the most are the chicken ones. The Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary is a little fiddly to make (I have a lot of trouble getting my rolls to stay rolled, but that could just be me) but produces a tasty and juicy result that looks quite fancy.

The I Diet - Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

The I Diet – Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

Another star recipe for me is the extremely quick and easy Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce. For a sauce that contains only 4 Ingredients this really packs a punch. It’s terrifically fresh and sharp. While chicken (or turkey) is obviously the healthiest option, the sauce also works really well with a nice bit of pork if you’re a bit less diet conscious.

The I Diet - Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

The I Diet – Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

Finally the Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella is particularly delightful and not something I would consider to be “diet” at all containing, as it does, not one but two cheeses!

The I Diet - Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

The I Diet – Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

If you want to use this to diet, rather than to dip into, there are plans consuming either 1500 or 2000 calories a day for those who want to use this book that way. In true Italian style each contains a daily calorie allowance for alcohol. There’s also some useful information on various ingredients such as the fat and calorie comparisons for various Italian cheeses (and of course various alcoholic option) which are worth bearing in mind when creating your own lighter options or just generally watching your weight.

 

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A few easy and tasty lunch options

My work office has a canteen which produces some very nice food, however to eat there every day quickly gets expensive.  Instead, by and large, I prefer to cook my own lunches and take them in (or use up leftovers from my evening meals J).

I usually try to cook options that have plenty of flavour so that they work well either hot or cold.  I also try to go for dishes that, provided I’ve kept them in the fridge, will still be okay towards the end of the week.  I don’t really diet, but do like to try and eat plenty of vegetables and keep things generally healthy at lunch so I can indulge in the evenings if I wish.

Finally I tend to stick to meals which are quick and easy to prepare with not too much washing up.  If I’m going to spend hours creating a dish I want to enjoy it hot and fresh at home on a plate rather than from tupperware in front of my screen at work!

Here are a few of the dishes I’ve cooked over the last month or so.

One of my favourite autumn/winter vegetables is pumpkin.  It’s extremely versatile and has a brilliant ability to take on strong flavours without being overpowered so I end up using it in a lot of different dishes.  A flavour that it pairs particularly well with is chilli and so I recently made some Chilli and Honey Roast Pumpkin and Red Onion Couscous.

Chili and Honey Roast Pumpkin and Red Onion Couscous

Chili and Honey Roast Pumpkin and Red Onion Couscous

This is a really simple dish to cook.  You just need to roast some pumpkin cubes and red onion wedges coated in dried chilli flakes and honey and then combine with some couscous, lemon juice and mint (and some raisins if you like them – I love them in couscous)

Another simple lunch flavoured with chilli’s is the very healthy and light Roasted Tomato Pasta.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

Roasted Tomato Pasta

This involves roasting some lovely cherry tomatoes in a little oil, garlic, paprika and chilli and then combining roast tomatoes with pasta. The juices from the roasted tomatoes make up the bulk of the sauce so it’s really healthy and if you’re being strict with your calorie intake then the amount of pasta can be reduced accordingly.  This is one of my favourite no fuss lunches and a great way to use up tomatoes that are a bit past their best.

A little more time and a tiny bit more effort goes into my Mustard Lentil Salad, but it’s still a really easy dish to whip up.

Mustard Lentil Salad

Mustard Lentil Salad

Boil the lentils, drain and set aside.  Then sauté carrots, onions and leeks before finally adding some hazelnut saucisson (or just hazelnuts if you’re vegetarian/vegan) and mixing with the lentils, some mustard and some good flavoured oil.  My personal favourite oil for this is pumpkin seed oil.  I love the deep green colour and I adore the flavour even more! I was introduced to it but some friends and now use it on nearly every salad I make.

Finally it’s back to pasta again for Fennel, Lemon and Mascarpone Pasta.

Fennel, lemon and marscapone pasta

Fennel, lemon and marscapone pasta

Another simple option, with this you just gently sauté the fennel with some thyme and garlic until it’s wonderfully soft and them combine it with the pasta and the mascarpone.  When I created  this I needed to use up some mascarpone, but crème fraiche or plain yoghurt would work just as well.

Some lighter options for January

Like most people, I pigged out over the Christmas holidays – lots of rich foods, plenty of booze and far too few vegetables.  I don’t really go in for detoxes or diets, but since getting back to France I’ve been making a conscious effort to eat a little bit healthier to make up for all the excesses.

When I can, I like to take my own lunch to work.  It’s usually healthier and cheaper and it is a great way to use up leftover portions from evening meals.

Unfortunately as the only microwave is located far away from my desk many floors below me, and I am very lazy, most of my lunches are cold.  However sometimes in the winter months you really need something hot and tasty to keep you going.  On such occasions I like to break out the thermos flask and bring soup.

If I’m having soup for lunch I prefer it to be quite thick.  I drink a lot of tea when I’m working so a change of texture is needed – a thin broth just will not do!

The one I went for last week was a Fragrant Cauliflower Soup.  This is a Moroccan/eastern inspired soup thickened with ground almonds which really help to give it some body as well as adding some great flavour.   They do add a bit to the calorie count, but not that much – this soup is still very healthy.

Fragrant Cauliflower Soup - Ready to Serve

Fragrant Cauliflower – Ready to Serve

Fragrant Cauliflower Soup

Fragrant Cauliflower Soup

I really enjoy having a good kick of chilli in dishes like this, and cauliflower if a vegetable that can really take some heat so I have added plenty.  However there are enough other flavours and spices in this dish that it also tastes fine with a bit less harrissa if you’re not such a chilli fan.

Sticking with the spice theme, but on a bit of a milder front, for some of this week’s lunches I prepared a Smoked Mackerel and Pea Kedgeree.  When I have the time I love a traditional kedgeree make with freshly poached smoked haddock, however sometimes I just don’t want the hassle or the smell that comes with poaching smoked fish at home!  On such occasions smoked mackerel fillets are a wonderfully convenient alternative.

Smoked Mackerel and Pea Kedgeree

Smoked Mackerel and Pea Kedgeree

While oily fish like mackerel are quite high in fat, it’s largely good fish oils rather than saturated fats so they count as a healthy option despite this.  In addition, the flavour is so strong that a little goes a long way so you don’t really need that much to create a tasty meal so the end result is still pretty low in calories.

The final healthy option that I cooked recently was Baked Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad which also has a seeming unhealthy main ingredient.  As with the mackerel in the kedgeree, with the goats cheese as little goes a long way.  Plus, the beetroot and leaves are really healthy and make up for the naughty bit of cheese!

Baked Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad - Ready to Roast

The beetroot ready to roast

Baked Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad

Baked Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad

I love the colour of beetroot.  That wonderful pinky purple always makes me smile.  While I will eat them, I’m not that big a fan of boiled or pickled beetroot.  However for me roasting beetroot does something magical to it.  It seems to enhance both the sweetness and the earthiness.

So there you go, some delicious healthy options to soothe the conscience make up for the Christmas indulgences.

Cosy dinners with friends

In my head I often picture myself hosting elegant dinner parties.  Multiple courses of elegantly plated food, soft jazz music, napkins, candles – the lot.  However while I have managed to achieve this for a few special occasions, it’s certainly not the norm and can sometimes be far too stressful to enjoy.

In reality it is always much easier and more enjoyable to go for simple food which doesn’t require too much cooking on the day.  This means that I can actually enjoy spending time with my guests rather than playing hostess.

In the autumn and winter one of my “dinner with friends” staples is pumpkin, roasted garlic and goats cheese lasagne.   It’s a dish which I can prepare in advance (you can even chop and roast the pumpkin a couple of days ahead of time) and then leave in the fridge ready to pop in the oven once people arrive!

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

I love using pumpkin or squash and this is a dish in which they get to shine and be the star of the show.  While this is a vegetarian dish, it has a lot of oomph and I’ve never had any complaints, not even from hardened carnivores.

Squash, Roasted Garlic and Goats Cheese Lasagne

Squash, Roasted Garlic and Goats Cheese Lasagne

I recently made this when I had some friends around for a nice cosy relaxed evening.  I also made a dessert – Anjou Pear Cake – which I think may become my new favourite (at least while pears are still in season).  I enjoyed it so much I’ve already made it again (for just myself this time 🙂 )

Anjou Pear Cake

Anjou Pear Cake

With about half its volume being pears this cake is actually fairly healthy for a dessert (the recipe I based it on claims it only about 200 calories per slice!).  In addition to being really tasty it was also ridiculously quick and easy to make.  Another great dish for relaxed entertaining.

Inside the cake

Inside the cake

With the pears ensuring it stayed moist it kept really well and, as it’s not too sweet, I ate the left overs for breakfast later in the week.