Introduction

Introduction

By
Jane Kennedy
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740668088
Photographer
Mark Roper

I love food. Always have. Unfortunately I love it about one kilo per month more than I should. Perhaps I should put it another way: the food I love seems to have more calories than I need and over a month and a year and a lifetime … it adds up! Yep, I get fat.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion that there was only one way to get that calorie equation in sync with my desire to wear Bettina Liano jeans: strip the food I eat of all flavour, pretend a handful of carrots constitutes a meal and accept being peckish for the foreseeable future.

But that’s just not fair. And it’s not fun. And food should be fun and it should be delicious. This book came from that notion. It’s based on the belief that there HAS to be a middle ground, and has emerged from dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts to create really tasty food that didn’t add a dress size. Food with flavour and without the boombah!

The battle started early for me. I was pretty pudgy as a kid. I ate too much and was disinterested in sport. In fact, I was the classic girl, feigning every disease to get out of sports day. Then, to my delight, I got glandular fever. This effectively shut my gob for months. It was simply too painful to eat my normal buttered crumpets with salami and cheese (a usual after-school snack). So by the time I returned to school, I’d lost a stack of weight. I also found that now (as the laws of physics were working for me), I wanted to play sport. Even though I was pretty average, I took to the netball court and loved it.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard. The crumpets came back and so did the kilos … just like long-lost friends. And so, over the next ten years my weight yo-yo’d.

Then I moved out of home. This is an important time in a girl’s life, a time when she discovers the freedom to order takeaway food every night of the week. I have great memories of watching John Hughes videos with my girlfriends and ordering something called ‘Los trios dips with corn chips’ from a local Mexican restaurant ... repeatedly. I’d get heavier and exercise would just seem like, well, exercise until I’d eventually realise that I was porking up. I could take a number of approaches. I generally settled on the most logical option: the latest fad diet.

My Diet Hall of Fame includes quite a few corkers:

The Israeli Army Diet, which consists of eating four items over eight days: two days of apples, two days of cheese, two days of chicken, two days of salad. I lasted two days.

The Scarsdale Diet: Start each day with grapefruit to get your ‘fat-eating’ enzymes working, eat a tin of tuna for lunch and unlimited lean meat for dinner. The benefit of this is that it allegedly produces ketosis in the body. The same ketosis that causes alcoholics and diabetics to rapidly lose weight as an unwanted side-effect of their disease. Spooky bells! Get me a pizza. Lasted one day.

Diet replacement drinks: Those cans of powder used as a meal replacement? Yep, I tried them. A shake for breakfast, shake for lunch. Hello, I’m hungry! (Does eighteen hours count as a day?)

The Beverly Hills Diet: This fad shouted ‘Instant results’ – lose weight the same way Hollywood starlets do. Unfortunately, they forgot to list the most important ingredient for weight loss in Hollywood: cocaine. No joy there.

Calorie-controlled home-delivered meals: Yep, a week’s worth of food delivered to your door, in calorie-controlled packs. The food arrived on Monday. I’d eaten the lot by Wednesday. Oooops.

Starvation and fags: My most successful, if temporary, weight loss back then was when I was acting in a comedy series set in the ’70s and faced wearing a wardrobe of vintage clothes. Tiny vintage clothes. I couldn’t get one leg in some of those jeans. But I was desperate to wear them so I turned to the number-one diet go-to for chicks: I stopped eating and smoked a thousand cigarettes. That, combined with a hundred cups of black coffee a day, sure dropped those boombah pounds.*

Again I found myself on the diet merry-go-round, resigned to the fact that I had to eat bowls of lettuce with no dressing, steamed fish and something called quinoa. God, it was boring.

Years went by and I was always resorting to some extreme measure. Oh, and what joy! My career at the time involved appearing on camera. Well the bloke who designed the TV camera forgot about inventing a switch to stop adding seven kilos every time you appeared on screen. Thanks for that!

When I started having children, I gave myself permission to eat for two. It’s the time when you don’t notice you’ve put on weight because it’s the baby … right? Yippee! Bring on the milkshakes, the bowls of creamy risotto and macaroni cheese. Crumpets … welcome back. Unless my first baby had a birth weight of a small teenager, the twenty kilos I added was mostly my doing.

I wasn’t trying to qualify as a story on A Current Affair but I ended up having five children in five years (a set of twins will do that). So for half a decade, my body shape resembled a piano accordion, inflating and deflating after every delivery. And that’s where I ended up, back at square one: overweight, staring down a year of chicken consommé dinners, and with no ‘wow-the-weight-just-fell-off-me-when-I-breastfed’ miracle awaiting.

I finally grew a brain and motivated myself to see a personal trainer (thank you, Donna). Without a spring in my step. Exercise was hard! And here’s the bad news: my trainer always says that exercise alone will not make you lose weight. You have to watch what goes in your gob. Groan. Well, here is my big whinge: Why is diet food so boring? It’s impossible to stick to a meal plan that reads: ‘Dinner – one small piece of steak, unlimited steamed vegies.’ Even buying the ingredients makes me slightly depressed. No fun for you tonight, honey! I slowly realised that if I was going to lose weight, somehow I had to fight flavour with flavour.

*Small point: somewhere along the way I turned into a superbitch. Sure, I looked okay in the clothes but I was starving. I was horrid and cranky – no one wanted to be near me – and as soon as we wrapped the final show I jumped in my car, made a beeline for the nearest drive thru and ate forty-seven Big Macs. Suffice to say, I put the weight back on.

Flavour

For the most part, this has become the ‘boombah’ bit in food: the fatty, creamy, crispy, sugary combination that sends a signal to our brains that we’re eating something delicious. Boombah has taken over. Especially in restaurants and food outlets. Chefs aren’t stupid. If they double the cream they double the compliments! Well done. But the world of non-boombah flavours has taken a backseat. So here are the ingredients that I turn to for that flavour hit.

Chillies: Food flavoured with chilli transports your tastebuds. It needn’t blow your head off; one small chilli is usually enough to elevate the plainest of dishes.

Limes: Lime juice is not the same as lemon juice. Lime juice is instantly exotic and ‘summery’. Its fresh, sour flavour can be dish-transforming.

Garlic: There’s a reason garlic is a staple of so many cuisines. It lifts everything it touches. It takes boring food and makes it brilliant.

Fresh herbs: Not just parsley, please: think tarragon, dill, chervil, thyme, oregano, lemongrass, basil, coriander, rosemary. Taste them! Use them. Novelty alone will make the dish more interesting. They’re all so different. Herbs change the way food tastes. They’re the perfect boombah replacement.

Ginger: As with garlic, ginger is warm, fragrant and a staple of Asian, Middle Eastern and African cuisines. Always have some in your bowl on the kitchen bench.

Kaffir lime leaves: Why has it taken me so long to get onto these? Put simply, kaffir lime leaves make Asian food taste great. Add these to your green curries and you’ll think you’ve moved to Bangkok.

Spices: Another non-boombah winner. It’s no mystery to me why Indian, Thai, Turkish and Moroccan food tastes so bloody good. Spices are the jewels that set these cuisines apart from the boring ‘meat and three veg’ world. Hello, what do you think the Spice Trade was all about? Those guys knew what they had. People killed for this stuff, yet you can get it at the 7-Eleven! Ground cumin and coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg, cardamom pods, mustard seeds, saffron and turmeric. Fenugreek is crazy – all I know is that if it’s not in an Indian curry it doesn’t taste the same. Take pride in your spice rack and refresh the spices every now and then. Five-year-old cumin will add no flavour.

Peppercorns and sea salt: Not pepper and salt. Real peppercorns and real sea salt. Freshly cracked pepper is one of the world’s great cheats and sea salt is the world’s greatest cheat. Use them.

Sesame seeds and nuts: Texture is just so important in food, and a few peanuts or cashews or a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds will give your food the ‘crunch’ you crave.

Goodbye boring diet-food world

I’m a cookbook junkie. I read cookbooks instead of novels. But most of the ‘tantalising’ recipes in these books involve boombah, boombah and boombah. And that don’t work for me. So, driven by the desire to eat the food I saw in the photos and armed with my ‘invincible’ cache of flavours, I decided to leave the boring diet-food world forever.

I set up my own laboratory, if you like, testing and tasting and seeing how much of the boombah I could take out while keeping the flavour. A non-boombah beef vindaloo? If you get rid of half the oil and stop serving it with a bucket of rice, then yeah! A Thai green curry? You bet! Remove the truckload of coconut milk and use a small amount for flavour – mmm, that’s not bad.

There’s another secret to enjoying appetising foods this way: portion size. We all eat too much (I know I did). Serving sizes of food have reached ridiculous proportions and you have to do something about it. Buy a set of kitchen scales. I’m not kidding. You gotta start weighing your food or you’ll chumba wumba up. Meat, fish and chicken portions in the following recipes are between 120 and 140 grams. You’ve probably been used to eating 200 or 250 grams (or more!) of meat in one sitting. Many restaurants now boast about the size of their steaks (‘Would you like that 500 g side of beef cooked medium– rare, sir?’). Well, I’m saying that’s too much. We’ve all gone mad. Once you add lots of flavour and crunch from lettuce or vegetables and chilli or herbs, you’ll cope with eating smaller meals.

This way of cooking and eating works for me (I know it works for guys too). I feel much healthier and happier and I’ve got a lot more energy (no need for that afternoon nanna nap). These recipes have to be better for you than chowing down on a creepy bowl of 2 minute noodles and an entire pack of Tim Tams (yes, it’s time to let go). Be disciplined, even if you’ve struggled before. And if you really can’t live without your nightly routine of creamy pasta with garlic bread or butter chicken with naan, then bung this book back on the shelf. But stop whingeing about your huge arse.

The following contains advice you may not want to hear (I’m still not sure I do)

‘But I need my comfort food.’

Mmmmm burger ... Oh, it makes everything better. Yeah right. To give yourself whatever ‘comfort’ you think you need, you scoff a load of creamy, fatty, crunchy whatever. And you DO feel better for a little while ... until you feel WORSE. Which is why I simply call comfort food DISCOMFORT food. You know what it is. Stop eating it.

‘I don’t have time to exercise/I’m just sooo busy.’

You know that’s crap. How come you’ve got the time for that haircut/colour/manicure/massage/brow wax/pilates/ lunchwiththegirls? Make time to move your body. Who cares what your nails look like? Set your alarm clock early, get up before everyone else and go for a walk two to three times a week.

‘I’m big-boned.’

Rubbish. Your frame of bones might be larger, but how does that affect the not-so-solid bits around them? Those love handles have nothing to do with bones.

‘It’s hereditary.’

Then break the chain! Your family just ate too much. Be the black sheep.

‘People should just accept me for who I am.’

We do. But do you? This is a big one. Your sensitive, walk-on-eggshells, defensive response is because you know damn well you’d love yourself more if you just committed to losing some of those unwanted kilos.

‘I would eat healthily, but I can’t cook.’

What are you, a baby? Of course you can. Get a frying pan, turn on the heat, sprinkle some sea salt and pepper on a steak, rub on some olive oil, put the steak in the pan. Look, you cooked.

‘It’s too hard when I have to cook for the rest of the family.’

Boo hoo. Ask your family to share the same meals. You’ll be surprised at how supportive people can be, especially when the food tastes great. Really.

It’s very hard to lose weight.

Accepted.

But now is the time to start feeling and looking the best you possibly can.

I will make it a little easier for you ...

Buddy up

Grab a friend, partner, sister, mum or dad. Share meals, talk over recipes, weight and body changes, keep a food diary. Have a whinge to each other! Inspire each other.

In vino veritas

I do drink wine – I’m not completely mad. I have a glass while I’m cooking the kids’ dinner (mental image, please: five kids under eight) and then I try to have only one more at ‘grown-ups’ dinner. But I pay for that indulgence ... wine is really fattening, as is most alcohol. Have a few alcohol-free days each week. I’ve always been too much of a baby to stop completely so my compromise is adding a couple of ice cubes to my six o’clock vino, just to make sure I don’t overdo it.

I know, water’s boring. So try these:

• Add half a fresh lime and its juice to an ice-filled tall glass of mineral or soda water.

• Throw a bunch of fresh mint leaves into a pot of boiling water and make the same peppermint tea you pay eight bucks for at your local bistro.

• Slice some fresh ginger into a mug of boiling water. It smells DIVINE.

It’s been drummed into us for years and it’s the truth. You must drink water. Not just one pissy glass. About two litres a day. Just do it, okay?

Get organised. The key to successful weight loss with this style of eating is to be organised. Disorganisation is the open door through which every second excuse (or french fry) slips. ‘Oh no, the stores are closed. Oh well, better order takeaway.’ Don’t do it. There. Is. No. Good. Takeaway. Food.*

Chuck out your home-delivery menus. NOW.

What to have in your pantry and fridge

This pantry section will probably look a little different from those in other cookbooks. Aside from a few oils and vinegars, mustards and cans of tomatoes, there’s really not much in my own pantry. That’s because all those cookies, sugary cereals, white rice, pasta, chips, noodle boxes and lollies are no good for us folk prone to ‘boombahing–up’. Chuck ’em in the bin. As Dr Phil says, ‘Remove temptation’.

‘But what about all the stuff I have to have for the kids in the cupboard? I can’t throw that out.’ Okay, I don’t expect your kids to stop eating sandwiches and cereals and spaghetti, cos mine still do. Here’s my solution: the pantry is divided into ‘my side’ and ‘their side’. (Why would you want to eat a brightly coloured cupcake anyway? What are you, six years old?).

All you need should be in your fridge or your herb garden. (Yes, you will have one.)

Changing the way you eat shouldn’t cost a fortune, and gathering the ingredients doesn’t take time or effort. I’m not suggesting you suddenly join a food co-op or attend farmers’ markets religiously. Nearly every one of the following ingredients can be found at a convenience store. Here’s what I always have on hand, to avoid the temptation to veer into boombah territory:

extra-virgin olive oil

sesame oil

light soy sauce

wasabi

Worcestershire sauce

balsamic vinegar

horseradish cream

Dijon mustard

seeded mustard

hot English mustard

canned tomatoes

whole egg mayonnaise

marinated goat’s cheese

Greek yoghurt

parmesan cheese

free-range eggs

bacon

ham

tomatoes

continental cucumbers

rocket

red and white onions

zucchini

asparagus

snow peas

capsicums

spring onions

lemons

limes

chillies

garlic

ginger

fresh herbs

kaffir lime leaves (they freeze really well, just pop them in a plastic bag)

pepper

sea salt

spices

a few steaks (which you can freeze)

some skinless chicken fillets (also to freeze)

How does your herb garden grow?

Herbs will help you de-boombah your life. It’s so easy to have fresh herbs on hand, either potted or planted, and they’ll be the basis of nearly every meal you prepare. Rosemary grows like crazy (and besides lamb, it goes brilliantly with fish), you can’t kill mint (or is that just me?), and more seasonal herbs like basil and coriander are pretty straightforward.

I built my herb wall from pots and plants bought at a hardware superstore. It’s a very impressive look when you just grab a handful of herbs from your own garden and throw them into your dish. And if you can’t grow your own, most grocery stores now stock packets of parsley, coriander and basil.

Kitchen notes

When I refer to olive oil, I mean extra-virgin olive oil. I buy big tins of imported olive oil, usually on special, and just keep refilling a large glass bottle with a cork pourer I got from a discount shop. This way you can keep everything handy – don’t put the oil, pepper, salt or lemons away. They must stay out.

Salt is always sea salt (Maldon or Murray River pink salt).

Pepper is always freshly ground pepper, unless stated otherwise.

Mayonnaise is always good quality egg-based mayonnaise, like Best’s. Greek yoghurt is always the thick natural yoghurt found in supermarkets.

You will need a microplane grater, a good non-stick frying pan, a heavier based ovenproof frying pan that can be transferred from stove to oven, at least one really sharp knife and some good white platters. You might want to get a couple of square white dinner plates – somehow, food looks more impressive (and filling) on a square plate. If you don’t believe me, try it!

So let’s say goodbye to boombah. Go for it! And enjoy!

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