Gabriel’s essential recipes for a great life

Gabriel’s essential recipes for a great life

Gabriel Gaté
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Greg Elms

One of the most important recipes for a great life is eating a healthy diet and enjoying the experience of preparing good food. The food we eat plays an essential role in looking after every part of our body. It’s our fuel. Eating well makes us feel relaxed and content, and helps us get a good night’s sleep.

Dietary needs vary, depending on our origins and health condition, and they require many personal adjustments. However, we can all benefit from bearing in mind two general rules: whenever possible, choose home-cooked, fresh food over processed convenience products, and drink plenty of water rather than soft drinks.

Along with the tasty and nutritious recipes included in this chapter, the following key points will get you started on the road to becoming a happier and healthier eater, and a better cook. You can put these tips into practice by following my healthy eating ten-week action plan.

Learning to cook new dishes

I believe that home-cooked food is almost always better for us than takeaway or restaurant food. And it’s a real bonus in life if you’ve learned to cook. If you’re unable to prepare your own meals, you have less control over the food you eat, and are at a great disadvantage in terms of health.

The best way to become a confident, happy cook is to learn to cook new dishes regularly – maybe a new recipe every month. It will introduce you to new cooking methods, such as stir-frying and grilling, plus an expanding array of cookery techniques, like slicing mango cheeks or skinning a chicken thigh. And it also helps you discover a wider range of ingredients, seasonings and, most importantly, nutrients.

Learning to cook a new dish is fun, and it can be an exciting challenge. In my ten-week action plan I suggest that you learn to cook a new dish every week, from weeks two to ten. If you are a novice, start with something simple. Cook your new dish two or three times within a month of trying it for the very first time.

Try the following steps:

–Choose a recipe that appeals to you from the selection provided in this book. You could also choose one from another cookbook, or cook a dish you have seen prepared on TV, but avoid recipes that are high in fat and sugar.

–Before you shop for ingredients, read through the recipe carefully from start to finish. Make sure you understand what each step involves. Make a list of the ingredients you need to buy, and ask a family member or friend for advice if anything is unclear.

–Allow plenty of preparation and cooking time when you cook the new dish, and avoid cooking under stressful conditions, such as for a dinner party.

–If your dish doesn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, don’t give up. Be kind to yourself. You don’t expect to get a hole in one the first time you play golf!

–In order to gain confidence and practise your technique, you’ll need to cook the dish two or three times over the next few weeks. You could then adapt it to your own or your family’s taste.

Happy cooking!

Drinking more water

Water has been in the news a lot lately, and for good reason. We’ve finally realised it is the most vital ingredient on the planet. Drinking plenty of water rather than soft drinks is one of the keys to a healthy diet, as water is by far the drink best suited to our bodies. It’s thought that we need to consume about 2.5 litres of water a day. Half that amount should come from the vegetables, fruit and other plant foods we eat, and the remainder from plain, straightforward, unflavoured water.

I’ve noticed how drinking water throughout the day has made a positive difference to the way I feel. No, I don’t hold a bottle of water in my hand all day. My routine is as follows:

–One medium glass of water when I wake up.

–Two glasses of water in the morning, about two hours apart.

–One glass of water before lunch.

–Two glasses of water in the afternoon, about two hours apart.

–One glass of water before dinner.

–One glass of water before bed.

That makes eight glasses a day. Health experts insist that we don’t substitute tea or coffee for water. While these beverages are very pleasant drinks, they should be kept to a minimum as they contain toxins. In our society, we’ve made coffee a bit too fashionable for our own good!

The consumption of sweetened soft drinks should also be kept to a minimum as they provide excess calories and not much else at all that is good. Many of us are addicted to their effects. Such drinks should not be consumed as staples, but as very occasional sweet treats.

Alcohol is seen as a source of great pleasure and is often glamourised, but the reality is it can also be a source of misery. For a good, long life it’s certainly best to drink only a little alcohol or none at all. If you think you’re drinking too much, seek help from a health professional. And if you feel you’re drinking too much tea, coffee or sweetened soft drinks, gradually cut down the number of drinks you consume on a day-to-day basis. It helps to replace these drinks with water. Cutting down on alcohol, tea, coffee and soft drinks has the added benefit of helping to keep your weight down.

Changing your eating habits

Too many of us habitually eat a diet of processed food that’s high in fat, sugar and salt, and with not nearly enough vegetables and fruit. Another issue we face when making good eating choices is opting for quantity over quality. Over-consumption of poor-quality food and beverages results in difficulty keeping to a comfortable weight and the possible ensuing problems of heart disease, diabetes, cancers and so on. There is also a serious issue with over-consumption of alcohol, and failure to drink sufficient water.

One of my favourite sayings is ‘nothing is permanent’. Over the years, I’ve surprised myself by being able to change some of my eating and drinking habits. I’ve even been able to change habits that I’d thought would be permanent, such as having three or four coffees a day with two sugars and a biscuit, drinking wine with every evening meal, eating copious amounts of rich cheese and consuming lots of pastries. Whenever I identify a habit that affects my wellbeing, I first try to reduce my consumption of that particular food or drink, and I’ve had the greatest success by doing it slowly.

Take the example of having sugar in your coffee. I used to have two teaspoons of sugar in my coffee. When I decided to cut down, I started by having one and a half teaspoons instead of two. After two weeks I reduced the amount to one teaspoon, then half a teaspoon, and now I prefer my coffee without any sugar at all. I also reduced the amount of coffee I drank by first drinking smaller cups. Then I’d occasionally drink a glass of water instead of having a coffee.

Nowadays I avoid drinking more than two coffees a day, and I’ve also reduced the amount of alcohol I drink, along with the size of my dinner. In the past, I found that the quality of my sleep was poor if I ate a big dinner and drank two glasses of wine. I now eat less (but enough) and drink alcohol with dinner only occasionally, say at the weekend and on social occasions. I sleep better and feel better, and have the energy to exercise in the morning, which helps keep my weight at a satisfactory level.

We can all benefit from identifying habits that affect the quality of our lives. The following common eating patterns can easily be addressed:

–Not drinking enough water.

–Eating too few vegetables, fruit and fibre (for example, cereals, wholemeal bread).

–Eating too many foods with a high fat content (for example, fried foods, pastries, sauces, meat with too much fat left on it).

–Eating foods or drinking beverages with too much added sugar (for example, cakes, lollies, desserts, chocolate bars, soft drinks).

–Eating too much salty food.

–Eating too much hot, spicy food or food with a high acid level (for example, pickles).

–Drinking too much coffee, tea or stimulating drinks.

–Drinking too much alcohol (if you find that you can’t cut down your alcohol intake, ask for help).

–Eating too much.

–Eating too many snacks.

–Skipping meals.

Eating a balanced diet

I know from my own experience that it’s best to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at roughly the same time each day. For one thing, it keeps me regular. The eating routine I have adopted keeps me satisfied, well nourished, energised and not overfed from one meal to the next. If I must have a long break between meals, I try to plan ahead by ensuring I have a suitably nourishing snack, such as fruit, a few nuts and seeds, dried fruit or a salad sandwich. Above all, I avoid quick fixes like purchasing fatty and sugary takeaway food or drinks.

Fine-tuning a daily balanced diet is a challenge and requires flexibility, discipline and close attention to the way we feel. If I find I’ve been feeling starving for an hour before a meal, for instance, it either means I’ve not eaten enough nutritious food at the previous meal or that I’ve left too much time between meals. I’ve found that the most important thing is to fine-tune all meals in relation to one other.

For years I was eating too much at dinner time, as so many of us do. I’d wake up in the morning not feeling hungry, then have a small breakfast that failed to give me enough energy until lunch time. Cutting down the size of my evening meal by at least a quarter did the trick. Nowadays, I eat a larger portion of breakfast cereal and fruit in the morning, which keeps me going most days until lunch. Then I make sure I have a good lunch that includes salad or vegetables to make me last until dinner, with perhaps a snack of fruit in the afternoon. At dinner time I find a modest meal of protein and vegetables suits me best. Not all days are the same, of course: if I eat a larger lunch than usual, a salad or soup is usually enough for dinner. Flexibility is the key.

Eating less fat

The following tips will help you reduce your intake of fat:

–Learn to recognise foods that are rich in fat by focusing on their appearance, taste and texture.

–Use olive oil, other vegetable oils or margarine as a substitute for butter, as recommended by the National Heart Foundation.

–Use a minimum of oil or margarine when pan-frying or stir-frying.

–Choose non-stick cookware that helps you use a small amount of fat, without food becoming stuck to the pan.

–Try using extra-virgin olive oil – all oils contain the same amount of calories, but olive oil has so much flavour that you can use very little with great results (I even use it to stir-fry Asian-style dishes).

–Introduce soups, steamed vegetables and fish, and salads using raw vegetables to your diet.

–Use cream and rich cheeses in moderation, and consider using low-fat milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese and other low-fat dairy products.

–Rather than spreading butter or margarine on bread, try alternatives such as hummus, avocado, tahini, nut spreads and so on.

–Trim the visible fat from meat and remove chicken skin before cooking.

–Avoid rich dips, spreads and dishes that have a lot of sauce.

–Steer clear of cakes, pastries, deep-fried foods (chips, chicken and fish) and foods topped with melted cheese (pizza, lasagne).

Relaxing at the dinner table

Sitting comfortably and relaxed around a table with friends and family is my favourite way to experience the pleasure of eating. Enjoying good food together is a moment of intimacy to share, and the social and health benefits are many.

Feeling relaxed while we’re eating makes a great difference to the way we digest and process food, as it’s best to eat slowly and to chew food well. Avoid eating while standing up, walking, driving or even sitting on a couch. It’s also best to avoid eating in noisy or stressful situations. When noise levels are low we can appreciate the delicate and natural flavours of food – it’s no wonder people tend to choose foods that are saltier, sweeter and higher in fat in a noisy or very busy atmosphere!

Eating out and takeaways

Eating out is great fun. It’s a way of treating yourself, of discovering new foods and new dishes, a means of relaxing and a great way to catch up with friends and family. And, like takeaways, it’s convenient.

As a young chef I worked in a wonderful Parisian restaurant called L’Archestrate. The chef, Alain Senderens, was ultramodern and used to tell his young chefs that he hoped the restaurant clientele would feel satisfied, happy, not too full and, certainly, not ill after eating a full meal at his restaurant. Accordingly, the serves were smaller than at most other establishments. He used oil, butter and cream in moderation, and served just enough sauce on the plate. He concentrated on cooking creative dishes using the freshest ingredients and exciting seasonings, and on making sure the food was perfectly cooked. At the time, his was the most highly rated restaurant in Paris.

I believe that restaurateurs and owners of food outlets have a responsibility to their clients. If a restaurant specialises in rich gourmet food that’s high in fat, sugar and salt, then the serves should be smaller. On occasions I have felt unwell after eating three courses in an acclaimed restaurant, and it wasn’t because I’d drunk too much alcohol. Nowadays, I tend to order only one or two courses, or I order three and leave some of the food on the plate. I realise that some people have difficulty leaving food uneaten, but I think it’s important to get into the habit of doing so if the serve is too big or the food too rich. And if the waiter enquires as to whether or not I’ve enjoyed the food, I simply say the serve was a bit too large for my appetite.

Servings of deep-fried seafood, steak and cakes, in particular, are often a bit over the top. I’ve been served steak that I estimated to be about 400 g of meat, and chocolate cake servings that were large enough to feed three people. To cap off a meal, I tend to prefer desserts featuring seasonal fruit like cherries, mango, peaches or apricots – they’re far lighter than cakes, puddings and other doughy preparations. Takeaways are almost always too large and too rich, whether it be pizza, Chinese, Indian or fish and chips, and the vegetable content is often too small.

It’s up to each of us to decide what is a sufficient serving of food to keep us sustained and satisfied. At first, it takes some discipline to stop eating when we have food in front of us to eat. Once it’s become a habit to know when to stop, the benefits are great, for you enjoy a better life.

Shopping for food

The best food is fresh food – vegetables, fruit, fish and meat, grains such as oats, rice and wheat, nuts and seeds, and some dairy products.

Supermarkets sell a huge variety of food, and are extremely convenient for busy people and those on a tight budget. However, a large proportion of the processed foods filling the shelves have little interest for the health conscious. These processed foods are overloaded with sugar, fat, salt and additives of all kinds, and are best consumed only very occasionally.

I firmly believe that we should share our knowledge of cooking and good food with our children, and keep an eye on what our kids eat until they’re mature enough to understand what is best for them. Processed foods are prominently displayed in supermarkets in order to tempt immature taste buds, and are mass-produced for huge profits rather than for our wellbeing. Millions of dollars are spent in advertising and promoting these products as convenient, fun foods or lifestyle choices, and many people, particularly children, are seduced by what is, in reality, a very short-lived pleasure with unhealthy consequences. Learn to read the labels on foods carefully. More importantly, learn to visually recognise that these foods have little to offer and are inferior to fresh foods such as vegetables and other fresh ingredients.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that we all keep the same food in our pantries, but the following supermarket foods are good to have on hand.

For the pantry

–Breakfast cereals that are low in added sugar.

–Pulses and beans, dried or in cans (for example, lentils, chickpeas, cannellini beans).

–Canned foods such as tuna and other fish, tomatoes for making sauces, fruit in light syrup.

–Nuts and seeds for cereals and snacks.

–Oils and vinegar for cooking and dressings – to be used in moderation.

–Rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, polenta – to be consumed with vegetables, not on their own.

–Asian sauces, such as soy sauce and fish sauce – to be used in moderation.

–Spices – use hot chilli and other hot spices in moderation.

For the fridge and freezer

–All types of vegetables, herbs and greens, so you can vary them often.

–Fresh meat and fish – keep cured meats, like ham and salami, for occasional treats.

–Low-fat cheese, yoghurt, milk or soy milk – keep full-fat cheese and other dairy products high in fat for special occasions.

–Eggs, preferably free-range and organic.

–Bottled sauces, seasonings and chutneys – to be used in moderation, as their contents are often high in sugar, salt and fat, and they are often spicy or acidic.

Eating more vegetables

Many people seem to think that vegetables are only a garnish to meat dishes. Most of us would benefit greatly from eating more vegetables, and the challenge is to ensure that children understand from a young age the great value and enjoyment of eating veggies. To make the most of vegetables, it’s really important to be aware of the seasons and to serve them when they are at their seasonal best: asparagus, beans, peas and tomatoes in summer, for example; cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in winter. Kids love vegetable soups in the colder months of the year, and salads in the warmer months.

To add variety, it's very helpful to learn to cook vegetable dishes from a range of countries, as different combinations of vegetables are used, seasoned with a wide-ranging mix of spices and herbs. These recipes also teach us new cooking techniques. I believe that eating more vegetables and vegetarian food is perhaps the most important step our society can take towards achieving better health. The next steps are consuming less fat and sugar, and eating moderately.

Hosting dinner parties

Time spent with loved ones is priceless, and sharing a meal in your own home with family and friends is one of life's pleasures.

When we have visitors at home, my wife and I tend to serve a few nibbles to start, such as dips, olives and asparagus with smoked salmon. This is followed by a main course served with vegetables or salad, and we end the meal with cheese or dessert, or both if the event is really special.

We tend to serve a smallish main course, with the option for everyone to have seconds, if they wish. Rather than offering rich cakes and puddings, we go for fruity desserts, using the best seasonal fruit. Our aim is for everyone to feel good at the end of the meal. Even if the serves are modest, three or four courses are always plenty, particularly when drinking wine with the food.

We prefer to serve a small first drink and always offer both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. We avoid a long delay between the pre-dinner drink and the meal, preferably between twenty and thirty minutes, which gives everyone time to relax before sitting at the table. We also avoid long delays between the courses. There's always water on the table and we pour half glasses of wine, or less if the glasses are large. And it's a good idea to ask people first before topping up their glasses. We all want our family and friends to drive home safely and have a peaceful night's sleep.

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