Last year, we brought you a tech-centric guide to getting healthy in the New Year. If you’re anything like us, you started out strong, faltered a bit, and then (hopefully) made some progress in the end – but know you could be doing better. We used some of our own e-cookbooks and cooking apps to make healthy cooking easier, and we downloaded apps like Map My Fitness and Pocket Yoga to help keep us honest. With lots of travel on our plates, the ability to use our tablets and phones for nutrition & fitness advice proved invaluable.
So what’s on deck for the New Year, and what should we be doing to further improve our health? Let’s take a look at some upcoming trends.
Good Attitude = Good Health
Trend watchers JWTIntelligence notes that in recent years, the scientific connection between positive mental and physical health has grown too strong to ignore. All signs show that the two go hand in hand, JWT says: “Research has shown that more optimistic people are up to 50% less likely to suffer a heart attack or a stroke.” Conversely, stress has been linked to poor health. As far as healthy eating goes, they say:
“A report from the Mental Health Foundation links depression with junk food and diets lacking in the nutrients essential for optimal brain functioning. The study advocates eating nutrient-rich foods, such as green, leafy vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates and salmon, rather than processed foods.”
Advice for 2013? Consider the link between mental health & physical health, and know that your exercise routine, eating habits, stress management techniques, and attitude all go hand in hand.
A Focus on Energy
As this CNN article puts it, we are not machines! It doesn’t work when we treat ourselves like them. The key component to getting it right is to establishing great habits in the morning, which includes eating right to increase your energy level for the entire day. You already know you’re supposed to eat breakfast, but what kind of breakfast are you eating? Try a mix of whole grains and proteins with healthy fats – there’s a reason eggs and toast are a breakfast classic!
The same is true of exercise – we already know that we’re supposed to do it, but have we reconsidered our strategy? Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests we consider “New Rules of Fitness” for 2013. He recommends that we look at fitness in the same way we now look at how technology fits into our workday and call it a “fitness bit.” If we can fit in a tweet in 140 characters or less, shouldn’t we also try to fit in exercise in small chunks throughout the day? Here, he echoes the kind of advice you already know you should be taking – always take the stairs!
Home Cooking Is Better For You…It's True!
In late 2012, we took a survey of people across the UK, eager to uncover their current cooking habits. While we found that 1 in 4 parents considers heating up beans to be “cooking” (see this Daily Mail article for more), we were also encouraged to find that many people wished they knew how to cook better but felt they didn’t have the time.
We know by now that many packaged foods contain unhealthy preservatives and long lists of ingredients that look suspiciously un-food-like. Increasingly, studies are showing that the packages themselves – cans, plastic containers, and the like – also contain unhealthy chemicals (for more info, see this Psychology Today article.) When in doubt, eating and cooking fresh food is always the best way forward.
If you plan ahead and use simple recipes, cooking also shouldn’t take as much time as you think! If you’re newly resolved to cook in the new year, we can help with recipe inspiration. Check out some of our latest posts on Tumblr, see our Recipe of the Week on our Love Food cooking site, or check out 100 Best Health Foods at your nearest bookstore, online at Amazon.com (US | UK) and Barnes & Noble, or digitally at iBookstore (US | UK) or Barnes & Noble Nook.
As we end 2012, we’re all feeling quite festive around the Parragon offices! Our UK office recently took an ice skating trip, we’re all celebrating with our own holiday parties, and we’ve worked hard to get our holiday shopping done. (Check out some of our festive pictures from around town in Bath & New York on our Pinterest board here.)
Still, this is the week we’re finding ourselves in last-minute preparation for the New Year and (for those of us who celebrate) the Christmas holiday. We’ve rounded up a few of our top recipes for the holiday along with some easy papercraft ideas in case you – like us – need some inspiration right about now.
Looking for a great decoration that transcends holiday specifics? Festive paper ornaments can traverse the seasons, depending on the color schemes used. Be it Christmas, winter, summer (for our Australian readers!), or New Year’s, you can use a variety of techniques to make simple buntings, garlands, or hanging ornaments. Use a simple triangle pattern, patterned paper or cloth, and string to make your own bunting, or create a garland out of paper curls!
You will need:
- Thick Card or Poster Board
- Green Paper
- Thin White Card or Construction Paper
- Sticky Tape
- Felt Tip Pens
1) Draw a large circle on the thick card and a smaller circle inside. Cut out the large circle. Use a sharp pencil to make a hole in the small circle. Push your scissors through and cut out the inner circle, making a card ring.
2) Cut out candy canes from thin white card. Decorate them with a stripy pattern, using ribbon, crayons, sequins and felt-tip pens.
3) Snip leaf shapes from green paper and curl around a pencil before sticking to your wreath.
4) Fold the ribbon into a loop at the top to hang your wreath. Tape the ends neatly in place on the back.
Tip – To make the rings, trace around a dinner plate for the outer circle and a cereal bowl for the inner circle.
Cranberry Jelly: The Perfect Gift
Still looking for a last minute gift idea for hosts, parties, or family? Whip up our cranberry jam (US recipe | metric recipe) and download our holiday gift labels, and you’ll have an impressive and delicious treat to give or serve.
For many of us, the holiday season revolves around baking: pies, cakes, strudels, and cookies have all emerged from Parragon employee kitchens since mid-November, and we’re still going strong. A few of our best cookie recipes are true classics. We recommend iced sugar cookies for a sweet treat that anyone is sure to love. Here’s a recipe adapted from our Christmas Cookies book! (US|UK)
- 225g / 8oz / i cup butter, softened
- 140g / 5oz / 3/4 cup caster or superfine sugar
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 280g / 10oz plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 200g / 7oz / 1 3/4 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
- 1-2 tbsp warm water
- food coloring
- sugar sprinkles and other desired decorations
1) Place the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Halve the dough, shape into balls, wrap in clingfilm/plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes
2) Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper
3) Unwrap the dough and roll out between two sheets of baking paper to about 3mm thick. Cut out cookies with a star-shaped cutter and place them on the prepared baking sheets, spaced well apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
4) To decorate, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough warm water until it is the consistency of thick cream. Divide the icing among 3-4 bowls and add a few drops of your chosen food colorings to each. Leave the cookies on the racks and spread the different colored icings over them to the edges. Arrange decorations on top and leave to set.
*The cookies photographed here were made using this recipe, but to adapt for the holiday season, a snowflake design was piped onto each cookie with white icing sugar.
The packed lunch has seen a huge resurgence in popularity over the last few years, both in schools, and in the workplace. It is cheaper, often healthier and, with home-cooking also making a revival it’s a great way to get creative in the kitchen.
One of the most playful trends that has emerged is a Western take on the Japanese tradition of bento. Originating in the fifth century, bento is essentially a single serve meal in a box. The emphasis on presentation is where it differs from conventional packed lunches.
Traditionally, bento consists of meat or fish with rice and pickled vegetables. Each component is separated into individual compartments within the bento box to keep everything tasting fresh and with its own unique taste.
Bento boxes come in a huge range of forms. Originally made from bamboo, they are now largely made from plastics or metal. Some are disposable and some are made from high-end lacquerware that can fetch high prices.
There are many different variations of bento including the elaborate character and picture bentos. This is where food such as rice and seaweed is cleverly fashioned into the likeness of landmarks and characters. This fun take on the traditional bento box is a especially popular with children, and is a great way help encourage them to eat a healthy diet. This recent article from The Huffington Post showcases a fabulous array of ingenious bento creations!
In Japan, mothers - such as the ones in this video - can spend up to two hours a day, every day, creating these foodie treats. Taking up lessons in the art is popular and there is an inevitable element of competition. Some even go as far as creating the faces of celebrities such as Michael Jackson or Harrison Ford!
Don't believe us? Take a look at Michael Jackson in Bento form.
For most of us however, we simply don't have the time to sculpt such entertaining packed lunches. A great way to create a meal that still looks impressive, but requires a little less dedication is to focus on sushi.
Sushi is healthy - as long as you go easy on the soy and wasabi - nutritious and naturally vibrant. A splash of pink can be added with fish, green with avocado, red with pepper, the many possibilities make this a great way to liven up your lunch! It's also great for vegans and vegetarians if you leave out the fish, and perfect for those with wheat, dairy and gluten intolerances.
If the sound of making your own sushi sounds daunting, our Love Food book Step-by-Step: Asian includes a simple recipe that illustrates each stage of the process with a photograph, making it easy to follow and recreate. Whether it's for the kids or for yourself, why not have a bit of fun with your next lunch box?
For more bento ideas visit our Love Food Tumblr feed.
From the Queen’s Jubilee to the Olympics, there has rarely been a more exciting time to be British than 2012. It is no wonder then that this year’s British Food Fortnight, which launched this week in the UK, is set to be a big one.
For one year only, in support of an incredible summer of sporting and cultural events, organisers have renamed the event Love British Food 2012. Some forty thousand shops, pubs and restaurants across the UK are joining forces to promote the country’s rich food heritage.
British food has transformed over the last ten years and is now widely considered some of the best in the world. Dubbed by many as the “British Food Renaissance,” this has been led by celebrity chefs who champion the wide array of produce on offer. But for many Brits, food is about the occasion, and what a year for it!
The picnic hampers were out, despite the rain, for a summer of sports such as the rowing at Henley Royal Regatta and the horse racing at Royal Ascot. Andy Murray’s talents even saw him reach the Wimbledon tennis finals, the first Brit to do so since 1938. Of course, willed on by a gloriously patriotic crowd of strawberry and cream munchers!
Acclaimed chef Fergus Henderson once said that British food was about “enjoying the limitations that the seasons set.” Beans, crab and salad greens are among nature’s most charming offerings for July and August. Summer berries are also in season and local raspberries, in particular, have thrived this year due to the recent downpours.
There are few better ways to make use of a surplus of fresh fruit than to make your own jam. Smother it across a hot, buttery crumpet and wash it down with a lovely cup of tea. Simple, thrifty and full of the joys of summer – it’s the perfect celebration of British food.
Love British Food 2012: Check out our Tumblr feed next week for luscious recipes for raspberry jam and crumpets from our new Love Food book Great British Cooking.
As the searing heat wave in the US eases off and the rain in Europe calms, it is tempting to hope that summer will now return to normal. In Australia and New Zealand, people are settling into winter with a spate of severe storms. It seems the one thing we can never quite count on is the weather – unless we rely on it to be ever-changing! There really is no normal when it comes to the outdoors.
That said, we often find that one thing never changes despite the weather: our craving for good, hearty comfort food. Happiness, we think, is about the little things – a pair of perfect new shoes, the song that reminds you of the good times, and delicious treats like warm cookies or the perfect sandwich.
Who says you can’t have roast beef on a Tuesday or pumpkin pie in April? Some things are so good they deserve to be enjoyed all year round, and there are comfort foods that work in all-weather situations. Nothing says I love you more than the perfect steak sandwich!
Research carried out on behalf of the recipe sharing site Many Faces of Potatoes found that we connect the smell of baked potatoes with happiness and “memories of grandparents.” Perhaps that’s why Grandma’s Best Recipe’s (available in your favourite shop, and on sale this month on Amazon!) remains to be one of our most loved titles.
Have you ever tried putting almonds in your coleslaw; did you know that tomatoes loose their flavor when they’re stored in the fridge? With recipes straight from the kitchen of your childhood, Grandma’s Best Recipe’s guides you through traditional cooking methods and offers tips gathered from years of experience. Most of all, it showcases some recipes that we feel work in all manner of weather. What better way to celebrate sunshine, cozy up away from the rain, or warm up from the cold than with some perfect all-weather comfort recipes?
We’ll be showcasing our top comfort food recipes for all seasons throughout the next week on our Tumblr, so come rain or shine, there’ll be a recipe to make you smile! Click the image below for our first great recipe, Fish and Chips.
When you need a food cuddle, what is it that you reach for? Head on over to our Tumblr this week and see our recipe suggestions, and then tell us your thoughts!
The weather is starting to warm up in part of the world, and as it does many of us at Parragon are thinking about outdoor eating. Whether you’re camping outside or having a party in the backyard, we’re here to help provide some new outdoor cooking inspiration!
Our friends at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award charity approached us earlier this year to see if we could lend a hand in their own summer eating adventures. The result is the Outdoor Eating app, available now for the iPhone, which provides a wealth of ideas about eating outdoors. Parragon has contributed a number of delicious recipe ideas, from Baked Camembert to Banana & Dark Chocolate S’mores. Best of all, proceeds from the app go towards supporting youth clubs, volunteer organizations, and schools. Learn more about the DoE here.
One of the easiest and best ways to celebrate warm weather when it finally comes is with a delicious ice pop. It’s a snack, it’s a dessert, and in our newest book Irresistible Ice Pops, it can even be a cocktail. With Ice Pops, we wanted to make warm-weather desserts easy, with real fruit and simple, affordable ingredients. What we learned in the process was that making new and innovative fruit and chocolate combinations is a lot of fun!
You can get Irresistible Ice Pops in stores now and try out five recipes in our free sampler download, available here for the US and the UK.
Of course, no outdoor eating experience would be complete without a burger. Our new book The Burger won’t be available in stores and online until August, but we have compiled a ten-recipe sampler to tide you over and fill all your barbeque needs until then! What should you serve at a party between the burger course and the ice pops and s’mores? We recommend keeping it simple and preparing ahead so that you can enjoy your own gatherings more – fresh vegetables with dip is an easy side to prepare, as are simple potato or pasta salad dishes. When in doubt or pressed for time, slice up a watermelon!
Check back in the coming months as we offer more tips for outdoor and indoor cooking on both sides of the world. Next up, we’ll tackle our favorite all-weather comfort foods.
What does “comfort food” mean to you, and what is its role in healing? Sometimes when we’re sick or broken (per below, we literally mean “broken”!) food can act as medicine, providing vitamins and nutrients to help our bodies get well. Sometimes, it’s about mental health: food makes us feel better! Our intrepid roving reporter Sarah Purvis recently learned that sometimes, when you fail to respond to a medical emergency the first time around, you get a second chance through food…Read on for her story and a wonderful recipe!
I have, what a nurse called, a ‘tender disposition’ and this was on display just recently when, on the last of his hang gliding lessons, my husband unfortunately landed badly and broke his arm. There was no blood gushing from a deep wound, there were no bones protruding from his right limb, but for some reason my mind went into overdrive mode recreating a scene from a zombie movie, and within seconds of reaching my husband’s side I passed out. This is embarrassing for me to admit. My poor husband really could have done with some support – and I failed to deliver. I regained my composure quickly and was able to hand over my broken husband to the amazing staff in the ER to literally mend.
Fast forward a week and the patient is doing very well. He has most of the movement back in his arm already thanks to the numerous exercises he was given to do to prevent his arm seizing up. And of course, to encourage healthy bone growth and general well-being, we’ve boosted areas of our diet to include more foods that contain iron, calcium, and vitamins. For dinners, this often means steak with oven roasted potato wedges, tuna with roasted vegetable couscous, pork stir fry with black beans and pak choi and, probably the best, Fisherman’s Pie. Not only is it very easy to make, it’s also packed with a heap of nutrition. I added some chunks of salmon filet, a boiled egg and some frozen peas for a little variety. The husband with a broken arm is also optional – you don’t necessarily need one of these in order to make this dish!
Serves 6. Ingredients:
900g/2 lb white fish filets, skinned
150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, tarragon or dill
175g/6 oz small mushrooms, sliced
70g/ 2½ oz butter, plus extra for greasing and for the mashed potato
175g/6 oz cooked peeled prawns / shrimp
40g/1½ oz plain flour
125 ml/4 fl oz double cream
900g/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized chunks
salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 1.7-litre/3-pint baking dish with butter.
2. Fold the fish fillets in half and place in the dish. Season well with salt and pepper, pour over the wine and scatter over the herbs.
3. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes until the fish starts to flake. Strain off the liquid and reserve for the sauce. Increase the oven temperature to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
4. Sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan with 15g/½ oz of the butter and spoon over the fish. Scatter over the prawns.
5. Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes without browning, remove from the heat, then add the reserved cooking liquid gradually, stirring well between each addition.
6. Return to the heat and gently bring to the boil, still stirring to ensure a smooth sauce. Add the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over the fish in the dish and smooth over the surface.
7. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes. Drain well and mash with a potato masher until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the remaining butter, stirring until melted.
9. Pile or pipe the mash onto the fish and sauce and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
Cupcakes exist for many reasons. They are delicious, they are portable, they are cost-efficient and easy to make, and most importantly, they solve very important problems like “what should I give my loved one on Valentine’s Day”? Bake along with Parragon’s freelance baker / writer extraordinaire, Sarah Purvis, as she helps to rescue your Love Holiday.
Valentine’s Heart Cupcakes (From The Cupcake)
85g/3oz butter, softened, or soft margarine
85g/3oz caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
70g/2 ½ oz plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
6 sugar flowers, to decorate
35g/1 ¼ oz marzipan
red food colouring
icing sugar, for dusting
55g/2 oz unsalted butter, softened
115g/4oz icing sugar
25g/1 oz plain chocolate, melted
Make the marzipan hearts first – you need to allow a good few hours for them to dry. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any marzipan, but fondant or gum paste work just as well!
Knead the marzipan (or fondant) until pliable, then add a little red food colouring and knead until mixed. Be careful – red colouring can stain quite badly, so wash your hands frequently or wear gloves if you’re concerned about looking like the chief suspect in a murder mystery. Roll out the marzipan to a thickness of 5mm / ¼ inch on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar.
Using a small heart cutter, cut out 6 hearts. Place on a sheet of greaseproof paper dusted with icing sugar and leave to dry for 3-4 hours, or overnight.
And now for the cupcakes! Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Put 6 paper cases in a muffin tray. Place the butter, caster sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Mmmm, the smell of the vanilla as this mixes together is delicious!
Gently beat in the eggs. (“Gently” is the key here to avoid curdling - which almost happened to me!) Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and using a metal spoon, fold into the mixture: Chocolate Heaven Part 1! Spoon the mixture into the (delightful heart-themed!) paper cases. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch.
Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. But, hold your horses – avoid the temptation of peeling back even the tiniest of corners – the best bit is still to come!
Put the butter in a large bowl and beat until fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and beat together until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat together until well mixed. We like to refer to this stage as Chocolate Heaven Part 2. Spread all of the frosting you’ve not yet “just tasted” on top of each cupcake. As you will see from the final images, I decorated mine with three hearts, but now is the time for the sugar flowers if you have them. Just pop ‘em on the top with the marzipan hearts.
You have to seriously love someone to part with even just one of these light, airy, moreish, yummy scrummy cupcakes. Thank goodness the recipe makes 6! Happy Valentine’s Day.
Happy New Year, all!
Like millions of people around the world, there’s a good chance that you got a shiny new device as a holiday gift. An iPhone, iPad, or iPod, Amazon Kindle, a Nook, a Sony e-Reader, an Android - these were all popular gifts this year, with Amazon alone reporting that they sold a million Kindles per week leading up to the holidays.
In my own family, for example, my parents have become shared owners of an Amazon Kindle. It’s their first experience with ebooks, and they’ve already shown themselves to be digitally savvy consumers. I was excited when the first thing my mom did was bring her Kindle into the kitchen to look up recipes and download cookbook samplers, because I use my iPad in much the same way.
We also found out this holiday season that diabetes runs in our family, and we’ve all started thinking about making New Year’s resolutions that might help us reverse that. Let’s face it: Even if you don’t make formal New Year’s Resolutions, most of us can be healthier and make better choices about what we eat, how we exercise, and how much time we spend cooking. Maybe you want to lose some weight, maybe you would like to be stronger, or maybe you want to learn more about cooking better foods and eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Maybe your family, like mine, has had to deal with potential health problems and you want to give your body the best foods you can to fight them.
“Being healthier” can come in many, many different forms. It can also be made much easier with the help of your new (or existing) digital device. With that in mind, let’s start the New Year right by looking at a few ways you can make the most of your digital life in helping you reach your diet and fitness goals. We can all resolve to do better!
Exercise, Food, and Nutrition Apps
- Lose It! is a free app for the iPhone that helps you easily track the foods you eat every day. There are many other apps like this out there, but this is one of the simplest. Even if you aren’t counting calories, tracking your food can be a great way to find out what is missing from your diet and how you can improve.
- Map My Fitness is an app you can get on your Apple, Android, or Blackberry device that helps track running, walking, and biking routes and distances, as well as letting you enter in gym workouts. You can also enter in your information manually on the web, which makes it a really easy way to make sure you’re tracking all of your exercise.
- Seafood Watch was created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help you best choose the safest, healthiest, and most eco-friendly fish and seafood options at restaurants and grocery stores. It’s a wonderful way to start thinking carefully about where your food comes from and making the best choices not just for your body, but for the environment.
- The Photo Cookbook: Quick and Easy (for iPhone or iPad) Of course, we’re going to include a couple of Parragon’s own resources in this roundup, but Apple has also picked this app to be in their iPad ads (so we think that means they like it too) and we feel it’s one of the best apps out there for learning how to cook. A picture accompanies each step of every recipe, which makes it especially good if you’re just learning to cook, and the time-saving recipes we’ve included are designed to help busy people eat healthier, home-cooked meals.
- Use a goal-tracking system to help make sure you’re logging all of the important steps towards your goal! Joe’s Goals / Joe’s Logbook is a great free site to help you do this.
- For those who want to sync web-based goal tracking with devices, Toodledo is a great multi-platform option. The free version helps you schedule to-do list items (anything from “go for a run” to “try that great new stir-fry recipe”), and the paid upgrade option helps you track goals on a more sophisticated timeline with more functions.
- Scribd is a wonderful site for downloading free recipes and discovering new cookbooks that you might like to try. For starters, Parragon has a free PDF sampler of our “100 Best Health Foods” cookbook for download here - it’s a straightforward guide to some of the best foods for your health along with simple, easy recipes for how to cook them. Scribd is a great resource for seeing what’s new in the book and ebook world and sampling from books you might want to buy!
- Confused about where to begin, in general? Have a look at the fabulous Zen Habits blog A Compact Guide To Creating the Fitness Habit for helpful, non-overwhelming advice.
From everyone at Parragon, have a happy and healthy 2012 and we hope you meet all of your goals, whatever they may be!