Healthiest Shepherd’s Pie

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Nutrition is a funny thing. There are many misconceptions out there of what is healthy and what isn’t, and I am often surprised by how little people know about how what they eat impacts their body.

Back in the 70s, mothers all around the world, whose traditional role was to take care of the family and nourish the children so that they would grow nice and strong, used to cook plenty of stews and traditional dishes, filled with potatoes, that provided carbohydrates and lard or oils to make sure that it was substantial enough.

Today, unfortunately, children and adults do not play on the streets any more and have a very sedentary lifestyle, which translates in a reduced calorie intake need, so most of the traditional recipes, have therefore become outdated or something that is generally too heavy for most people. Still we love those beautiful dishes and if cooked properly or adjusted to our needs, they are a great way of getting into our body the nutrients that we need to fuel it.

In this case, I have tackled the British all time favourite, Shepherd’s Pie, with a view on keeping it nice and light.

In case you wonder how do I take my decisions when it comes to making a dish less fattening or taxing on your body,  I normally try to strip all those elements that are high in sugar or fast digesting starch and I reduce the fats to a minimum. That way, the dish retains most of its flavor and protein together with slow burning carbs, and only good fats in a small amount, to ensure a well balanced meal that will sustain you until your next meal.

One very important part of nutrition is digestion, if anybody is interested, I cam develop the subject more in depth in another post, but just a little clarification, you body digests first the carbs, then the protein and lastly the fats, and it takes your stomach between 1 and 4 hours to do so. The bigger the amount of food, the higher the content of fat, and less you chew your meal, the longer it will take your stomach to do so, and the heavier you will feel. Ideally, we should split our meals in 5 smaller ones, to speed up digestion and make it as easy as possible for your body, and also to distribute your energy levels throughout the day.

Have I bore you enough already?? 😉 So on to the recipe then!!

I took a traditional lamb shepherd’s pie recipe and I swap it for lean beef. Cooking it with lamb would be fine as long as you are not trying to lose weight or maintain it because lamb’s meat has a high fat content. If you choose to cook with lamb, consume in more moderation.

The other important swap is the mashed potato, that I have changed for cauliflower mash. This means that the glycemic impact (ie. your blood sugar levels and the concentration of carbs) is a lot lower, which will make this dish much easier to digest and a hell of a lot less fattening.

Ingredients (serves 4)

350 gr. lean ground beef

150 gr. celeriac chopped in small cubes

3 small red onions

1 clove of garlic

1 tomato, peeled and deseeded

1 carrot

Salt & pepper

1 liter of beef stock

1/2 cauliflower

Nutmeg

30 gr. of grated gruyere cheese

150 ml. soy milk/milk low in fat

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

 

First of all, peel and chop finely all the vegetables, poach them in a large pan with the olive oil (onions, celeriac, carrot, garlic & tomato) with a pinch of salt, this is important so they loose their water content quicker. Poach them for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft and caramelized.

Add salt & pepper to your ground beef and incorporate it to the vegetables. Cook for a couple of minutes until it’s well mixed and add the beef stock. Reduce to medium heat and let boil for 30 to 40 minutes (until the water has evaporated).

 

In the meantime, steam your cauliflower and when it’s done, add a pinch of salt, nutmeg and the milk, and blend it in a food processor until you have a thick uniform mash.

Once your meat is cooked, pour it on an oven proof dish and layer the cauliflower mash on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Cook in the over at 160C for 35 to 45 minutes and serve with a side of salad, peas or any green of your liking.

Enjoy!

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Slim-Waist-OK Moussaka

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The Greek traditional recipe for Moussaka is not complex but as with many traditional dishes in the Mediterranean cuisine, is very high in fat and quite time consuming. A bit of history of nutrition here that explains why these dishes are generally so highly energetic, they originated in a time of our development when most of our Jobs happened in the fields or taking care of cattle. The energy needs of the peasants and housewives in the old days, were likely to be twice as high as the one of us, sedentary human beings of today.

When you need to find a way to consume 5000 calories a day, a plate of moussaka dripping in oil providing 1000 calories per portion, was actually very good news for our body!! This is the reason why we are programmed, as a race, to rejoice in hyper caloric meals such as a tub of Ben & Jerry’s or a full McDonald meal with French fries and a Sundae. Our caveman brain loves it!! The brain doesn’t know that we don’t have to go to the forest to cut logs for the next 5 hours to prepare for the winter, but to watch Netflix for 6 hours instead while laying on a sofa, and so when we eat such a high amount of nutrients it produces a kick of happy hormones, endorphins, dopamine… Not good!!

We are the only race that eat for emotional reasons and these sneaky hormones might just be the reason for it. I feel sad, I eat chocolate ice cream, I feel better! Magic? No. The problem is that we also the only race with the capacity of abstraction and suffering related to body image issues.

Moussaka and the likes of it, are absolutely delicious scrumptious recipes that we should keep enjoying, however, I prefer to adapt the recipe to make it more fit the needs of our bodies, and I have come up with a low carb, low fat alternative to the traditional one, that tastes really really well and takes significantly less time that the original one.

Ingredients (serves 4)

250 gr. Ground Beef under 5% fat content

500 gr. Canned tomatoes

½ onion

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Fresh or dried thyme/oregano/basil

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

Salt & pepper to taste

4 drops of sweeter

1 Eggplant

40 gr of grated cheese

100 gr of 0% Greek yogurt

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

To prepare this recipe I use two small over proof non sticky plates, each one serves 2 and I freeze one.

First of all, turn on the over at 150 C degrees and let it warm up. Wash the eggplant and cut it in slices, ½ a cm thick. Cover an oven tray with baking paper and spread the aubergine slices evenly. Sprinkle with salt and leave them “sweat” for 5 to 10 minutes while the over gets to the right temperature.

In the meantime, chop the onion very finely and poach it in 1 tbsp of olive oil at medium heat. Add the 2 cloves of garlic & salt and when they are all transparent and soft, add the canned tomatoes.

By now the oven should be hot, put the aubergine in the middle and let it roast for 10 minutes while you finish the tomato sauce.

Add the spices to the tomato sauce, the cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, sweetener and herbs, smashing the tomatoes to pieces with a fork. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. After 10 minutes in the oven, turn the eggplants around and let them cook for another 5 minutes.

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Take the aubergines out of oven but don’t turn it off.

Now, we are not using any white sauce or oil to cover the base of the plate but some of the tomato sauce instead so reserve one or two tablespoons. Then add the ground meat to the remaining tomato sauce and let it cook for 4 to 5 minutes, and correct the salt and pepper.

Once you have the aubergines, the meat with the tomato and the plain tomato, is time to build up the moussaka!

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Put the plain tomato on the base of the plate, then line it up with roasted aubergine. It might look a bit dry, and considerably drier than if you would have fried it in oil, but once in the oven all the juices will mix and they will be soft and melty. Set a layer of meat over the aubergine and then drop 3 or 4 hazel sized dollops of 0% fat Greek yogurt, on it, this substitutes the white sauce and it will add a creamy taste to the dish without any added fat and with lots of protein instead. Then add another layer of aubergine pressing down to make sure everything is nice and tight and if your dish is full, sprinkle with the grated cheese for the gratin.

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If you have a higher dish or a larger one, you might want to have 2 layers of meat and aubergine, in any case is the same!

One is ready, just cook in the oven for 20 minutes and serve with a green salad.

Enjoy!

The Perfect Roast Chicken (For dummies)

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It is funny how the most basic recipes are the ones that have a million variations and everyone considers theirs the best, still, it is rare to be served a perfectly roast chicken. One that is golden and crunchy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside.

Whole roast chicken is easy to undercook and be raw inside (disgusting and unsafe, since chicken meat has to be cooked, it is not like red meat) or overcooked, in which case it is dry a day in the dessert with no water.

It is flavorful on its own, but it does greatly improve if seasoned properly. It accepts many types of marinade, from indian curries to piri piri but the one that bring out the best of it without masking its flavour, is the one I am sharing today.

It’s my mother’s recipe, in the years of my life, I have never ever seen anybody eat this dish and not love it, want to have a second serving, asking for the recipe, or all of the above.

From a nutritional point of view, chicken is one of the leanest meats that exist, but chicken skin is very high in fat. For this reason, I would recommend not eating the skin if you are trying to lose weight. If you are not, enjoy it by all means, but bear in mind this is the part of the chicken that has the highest amount of toxins so enjoy with great moderation.

On the other hand it is low carb, as opposed to the traditional gravy, this recipe has a sauce made of white wine so it makes it low GI, and also gluten free.

Before going on to the recipe, bear in mind that the cooking time varies depending on the SIZE of the piece that you are trying to roast and the temperature. I find that the perfect temperature in my oven is 180 degrees but it depends on the machine since it can change from one manufacturer to another, but round around that should be to avoid the chicken from burning and still cook it appropriately.

To give an easy cooking time guide:

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Around 800-900 grams : 1 hour

From 1kg to 1.2 kg : 1 hour and 15 minutes

From 1.3kg to 1.5 kg: 1:30 to 1:40 h

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Ingredients (serves 4)

1 chicken

2 tbsp. of garlic powder or 3 cloves of garlic mashed

1 tbsp. Rosemary

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tbsp. salt

250 ml. of cooking wine (white)

Optional : you can add small baking potatoes if you are cooking for your friends (avoid if you are trying to lose weight, potatoes are pure starch which works like sugar in your blood and will sabotage your efforts by creating a high sugar blood pike and turning your energy to fat to be stored, probably in your hips, tights or wherever you want it less)

Ok so it is time to get our hands dirty! Quite literally as well. Pre heat the over at 180C degrees.

Mix in a little bowl all the dry spices, add the oil and rub your little winged friend until he is completely covered in the mixture. With the rest and if you have decided to add potatoes , you can rub the potatoes, don’t worry about making more for them, the sauce will cover them and they will have plenty of flavour.

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Set the chicken in an oven proof baking tray (with some depth so the wine doesn’t spread and/or fall later on.

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Place the chicken in the middle of the oven with the fan on so the air keeps circulating and let it cook for 30 to 40 minutes and when that side is turning nice and golden turn it around with the help of two spatulas (depending on how much time you have to cook it for, if it’s a small bird turn around after half an hour).

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20 minutes before the time is up, open the over and pour the wine on top of the chicken, let it finish and have a look at it. If you like it really brown and it is not there yet, turn on the grill and give it a 5 minute notch. Bear in mind it is very easy to overdo it with the grill and burn it, so keep an eye on it while you do it.

Serve with salad, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts…

Tip: if you want a lower fat version, pour all the sauce in a bowl, let it cool down in the fridge and remove the drops of fat at the top, then reheat and incorporate.

Best Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

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Easy start of the week… Mondays have an awful fame for taking us all back to reality and to a world of obligations. What we have to do, our jobs, homes, groceries, children, families, noises. Lazy Sundays leave way to a feeling of having to be back on track. No more ice cream watching that movie and a bit of guilt. This is why I love cooking a bit pot of soup of Mondays that will last me until Friday. Today I would like to share with you an Autumn recipe that is hearty, filling and delicious and of course it’s been made with love and little fat to keep your hearts happy and your hips tight.

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Autumn is the season of falling leaves, of yellows and oranges, or warm cozy jumpers of blankets, of Halloween, and in the midst of all this, of Pumpkins!! Starbucks brings their inglorious Pumpkin Spice Latte and I bring the glorious Butternut squash Spice Soup, as they say, each to their own.

A bit on the nutrition side of things… Butternut squash is a pumpkin that has an elongated body and a big butt, a bit like most women 😉 pumpkin are very sweet, like carrots, when cooked they are perfect to bake pies and cakes due this high content of natural occurring sugars, so in principle I wouldn’t recommend having too much pumpkin if you are trying to lose weight, however, their glycemic charge, this is the total amount of carbohydrate that they contain, is relatively low so if the portions are controlled there is no reason to avoid it. This soup is still very low in fat, low in carbs and GI and perfect starter. Additionally it contains a fair amount of curcuma, which is highly antioxidant, helps digestion and it has been linked to Alzheimer prevention and glucose absorption reduction on people with diabetes.

Personally from a taste point of view I find pumpkin soup a bit too sweet so I much prefer the curried version that has a bit of a spice kick and it is much nicer. This version is vegetarian but I have come across the exact same thing but including bacon and I will surely try it in the near future.

Ingredients (serves 4)

½ Butternut Squash

2 Onions

1 vegetable stock cube in 1 liter of water

½ tsp Paprika

1 tsp curcuma

½ tsp ground pepper

½ tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cumin

¾ tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Green Tabasco Sauce

Salt to taste

A few sesame seeds & coriander to decorate

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Peel and chop the onions and cook them for a couple of minutes in olive oil. Add the butternut squash, mix well and add the spices. Let them soak for 1 or 2 minutes and add the stock. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer until the squash is soft and melty, around 15 to 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and season with salt to taste if needed. Since this recipe has so many spices you might as well skip the salt, it does wonders for water retention to eat lower sodium.

If you are happy with the taste, blend together with a hand blender until the soup is a smooth silky consistency and there are no “boats” floating around.

These soups and anything that contains multiple spices will taste better after a few hours, but if you can’t wait it will still be delicious!

Follow me on Instagram for daily tips & recipes @noledigasanadiequeestoyaqui

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Super Food Vanilla Caramel Chia Pudding

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I recently came across Chia seeds, you can find plenty of pictures on Pinterest, Instagram and other social media claiming the miraculous properties of this tiny little seeds. I read a bit about them and they really seem to be amazing, the key benefit is the high density of their nutrients, one serving is around 1 ounce (28 grams) and within it, you have 4 gr. Of Protein, 9 gr. Of fat (this is a lot, but 5 of those are Omega 3 which you would want to incorporate to your diet anyway) and 11 gr. Of Fiber. Not to mention that apparently they have more antioxidants that Blueberries, and more calcium gram on gram that dairy, which makes them specially good for people that don’t dairy, like vegans.

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Even when protein and fats can be sourced alternatively within your meals, fiber can be an elusive one specially on low carb diets when no bread, flour or pasta is included. Fiber is essential to keep you fuller for longer, so a dessert made of chia seeds could very well top up a light dinner or lunch, and keep you satisfied until the next morning/dinner.

They are packed with vitamins and all of this for only around 100 calories per serving and the best thing is that they are very versatile. You can sprinkle them on cookies, over porridge, you can have them with drinks and make desserts with them!

They don’t need to be cooked, they absorb so much liquid that they just need to be immersed in it for 24h and let them become a dessert by themselves!

This is my first attempt at them, so I only used half a portion to make one pudding, which made them more liquid than I have seen in other recipes. I think this basically comes down to personal preference and the texture that you like.

When I first tried it I was a bit wary, but it turns out it is actually pretty good! It reminded of those tapioca balls in bubble tea, but in a lot more interesting nutritional package. I totally recommend it!

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 tablespoons Chia Seeds (8 if you want a more dense texture)

450 ml of Light Soya Milk

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon Caramel flavouring no added sugar

4 tablespoons coconut milk (reduced fat)

Sweetener of your choice to taste

How to make them…

So easy! Just mix all the liquid ingredients, if the coconut milk is not liquid, warm it up to mix it with the soya milk first, taste the flavour and add sweetener until you are satisfied.

Pour the chia seeds at the bottom of the containers where you will be making them, I have used the one from Weck because they can be closed and secured with metallic piec

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Add the liquid to the pots, close and shake each one for 30 seconds. Leave for 10 minutes and shake again. Shake again one hour afterwards and then you can leave them in the fridge overnight. They will be ready in the morning!

The seeds will fill up with water and duplicate their size several times. They have a gooey texture but not unpleasant and these soft vanilla and caramel flavour really make them delicious.

Don’t be scared to try new things!

Gluten Free Wholegrain Lemon Drizzle Cake

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Today post is a bonus post, just like the recipe that I am going to share is a bonus food. You might or might not be familiar with the concept “cheat meal” but this recipe falls under this category.

A cheat meal is one meal a week where you eat whatever you feel like. And I mean whatever, a treat of your choice, a cheeseburger with white bread and bacon and fries with mayo. A pint of Ben & jerry’s ice cream, a bit of both… doesn’t matter. The role of this meal is to “cheat” your body to avoid it from getting used to a) too low calories b) too low fat c) too controlled food intake (as in clean)

It is particularly important in the context of a body building or fitness diet, when the athlete or amateur has a strict calorie or macronutrient diet and eats clean and lean on a constant basis.

Fitness athletes and sports people that compete in body categories follow processes of “bulking” or “cutting” these are first a phase in which you over nourish your body so it creates lean muscle (with specific training for it) and then a “cutting” phase in which you reduce your calorie intake to be at a deficit and reduce your body fat percentage to the desired level (normally between 12 and 16% for women and 4 and 7% for men).

This principle also applies to people on a weight loss journey specially if they have been on a diet or on a calorie restriction for long period of time and their body could simply “adjust” and their weight loss could stop, what is called hitting a plateau.

Having one cheat meal a week will shock your metabolism giving your body the message that he will get big portions, high fat, simple carbs again, and therefore it is absolutely ok to burn some more fat, because there is more food where that came from! It will also impact your mentally, allowing you to have a social life a date, a celebratory meal and not feel like the journey doesn’t allow you to eat anything you crave. Also it can be a great way to replenish the glycogen (what fuels your muscles) on your body in low or extremely low carb diets, and you will work out with a lot of extra strength after it.

If I go out for my cheat meal, I will eat whatever I feel like in the menu, and it is fine, but if I am cooking it at home, I try to add something extra to it, in this case, I tried a new recipe for a Lemon Drizzle cake, which turned out to be delicious. It is a gluten free alternative, not because it is less fattening, because it’s not, but because I used wholegrain rice flour and almond flour, both full of fiber, which is great for your digestive system. The almonds bring a good amount of healthy fat to the mix as well, and I have observed that gluten free cakes usually have a moist and texture that makes them better than their traditional counterparts! I think it’s because of their higher fat content.

So please feel free to enjoy this cake but do it knowing that it is a treat.

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Ingredients:

200 gr. Butter (room temperature)

200 gr. Almond Flour

200 gr. Raw Moscovado Sugar (cane unrefined sugar)

100 gr. Wholegrain Rice Flour

½ tsp. Vanilla extract

1 tsp. Baking powder

3 Eggs

3 lemons

75 gr icing sugar (and 3 tbsp of water)

How to…

Heat up the over to 180C, beat up the sugar with the butter and add the vanilla extract and the eggs. Once this mixture is creamy and uniform, add the rice flour, the baking powder and the almond flour. Add the juice and the zest of one of the lemons and keep the zest and the juice of other two for the drizzle. Pour the mixture into a cake tin (18 to 13 cm diameter), mine is made of silicon so it doesn’t need to be greased but if your is metallic you will need to grease it to avoid it from sticking.

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Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. This cake takes a bit longer than others due to the consistency of the ingredients.

In the meantime, heat up the lemon juice in a saucepan with the water and the icing sugar and let it simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until it has the consistency of a light syrup.

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Once the cake is ready, let it cool down for 10 minutes and then pinch the surface with a toothpick all over the surface, pour the syrup on to the cake with the help of a spoon so it spreads out evenly. Let the cake sit for around 30 minutes to let the lemon drizzle set through the cake.

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So this cake is a reasonably healthier alternative than the classic version due to the higher fiber, higher protein and good fats (almond) and raw sugar, but it is still a cake, and it is still a treat, so enjoy in moderation as part of a healthy, well balanced diet.

Easy & Light Comfort food Beer Chicken Casserole

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As we slowly but surely approach winter, the days are getting colder and the coats thicker. Covering ourselves a bit more is a tempting occasion to overindulge and let the kilos pile up until next May, when we will peel off the layers and cry. Cry for help! A personal trainer, a fad diet, a electro stimulation machine… ANYTHING will do when the bikini is coming back.

Well this might sound revolutionary to you, but what about instead of pigging out on pumpkin spice lattes and cheese all the way to xmas only to pig out on sweets & treats all the way into new year, we practice a bit of mindful eating? This is as simple as moderating your food on a constant basis. Choose good foods as soon as possible, and have the odd treat when you really feel like it. If 80% of your diet is clean and nutritious the 20% that you let yourself enjoy a few sugary and fatty foods, will have little to none effect on your body!

Of course you want to enjoy delicious food not once or twice a week but all the time! So do I, and so does everybody else! Being nice to yourself and nice to your body means making the right choices but not torturing yourself by denying yourself pleasures and living in misery, but learning to enjoy what healthy food has to offer. I can promise you that there is very little difference in you cook things right.

Today I wanted to share with you a recipe for a casserole, which normally has a questionable reputation as healthy, since traditionally it was cooked with too much oil and came accompanied by potatoes. This recipe is low fat and low carb, with only some veggies to accompany it, and a sauce made of beer.

Don’t be afraid of cooking with alcoholic beverages, once they boil most of their alcohol has evaporated and they have little to no impact on the caloric content on a meal.

Enjoy this lovely pot of comfort food in good company this weekend.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 onion

1 clove of garlic

1 carrot

1 chicken in pieces

1 beer (33 cl)

1 lemon

Salt & pepper

How to do it…

In a non sticky cooking pot (I keep using my Le Creuset like there is no tomorrow) fry the chicken pieces in no oil at all. Chicken is very high in protein and its meat is very lean, but it does contain a fair amount of fat in the skin. you can remove part or all of the skin before cooking or leave it on. Turn the chicken around so it doesn’t burn too much, basically allowing it toast a bit for 5 to 7 minutes. Take out of the pot and reserve. Bear in mind the chicken will probably have to be done in batches.

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On the same pot, cook the onions, carrot and garlic in medium heat and let them caramelize and become brown. I like to put the salt on them at this point too so they loose the water and cook better. Once this is done, incorporate the chicken back into the pot and mix well. Let it all heat up and then squeeze the juice of one lemon in the pot to deglaze (this means melt the burnt food at the bottom of the pot to incorporate back into the sauce). Stir a couple of times, add a beer and cover with the lid. Let cook for about 15 to 20 minutes on low heat. Open the lid and let cook for another 5 to 10 to reduce the sauce and give it consistency.

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I always recommend this dish the day after it has been prepared, since the flavours will be stronger and better integrated… this is if you can wait of course!

I have served mine here with some Brussels sprouts but any green leafy veggie will do, best with anything within the cabbage family (cauliflower, broccoli…)

Enjoy!

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