IN WEIGHT-watching terms, we all know now that refined sugar is the real ’enemy’, and those low-fat yogurts we have been spooning down for years are crammed with sugar to replace the fat.
But with so many celebs giving up all animal products to go vegan - from Jay-Z and Beyonce to Jared Leto – we are still a little bit confused about dairy.
Cookery writer Annie Bell, who has an MSc in human nutrition and splits her time between a flat in London and a 17th century farmhouse in Normandy, where the local markets are full of artisanal cheeses, is a big advocate for dairy.
She even calls it a ’superfood’ in her new book, The Modern Dairy.
Annie gave up dairy for several years after her mum died seven years ago - but a check-up at the doctor’s turned out to be a wake-up call.
"I had this real loss of appetite and went off dairy," she recalls. "The foods I wanted to eat were soups and chicken and vegetables and nuts - I didn’t think dairy mattered. It was this myth that I was going to feel better if I didn’t eat dairy.
"The doctor gave me a sheet of facts about calcium and how to get it. It was such an eye-opener, that there was almost no other way of getting it, so now I make a point of eating dairy every single day."
Annie, who is now a fully-fledged fan of the stuff, sorts some of the dairy facts from fiction in her new book, The Modern Dairy: Nourishing Recipes Using Milk, Yogurt, Cheese And Cream.
Here are some of her recipes to try...
ANNIE BELL’S FIG, GORGONZOLA AND BASIL CROUTES
These mini bites look as delicious as they taste and Annie says they are perfect as “a relaxed stand-in for a starter at a barbecue, or a summer supper”.
12 x 1cm-thick slices of baguette, lightly toasted
180g Gorgonzola, cut into 12 thick slices
3 figs (approx 150g), stalks trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
3tbsp runny honey
A few tiny basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1: Preheat the grill to high.
2: Spread each croute with a slice of Gorgonzola, taking it just within the rim.
3: Cut a small slice off each fig either side, and then cut downwards into four slices. Lay a slice on each croute, and arrange in a roasting pan.
4: Drizzle over a little olive oil and the honey and grill until the toast surround is nice and golden and the cheese is softened, without melting to a river.
5: Scatter over the basil, then leave to cool for about five minutes before serving.
ANNIE BELL’S PEA AND PARMESAN FRITTERS
For those nights when you want something quick and easy but also delicious, Annie Bell’s pea-packed fritters (similar to omelettes) should hit the spot.
For the fritters:
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
Sea salt, black pepper
1/2tsp caster sugar
200g fresh shelled peas
4 medium free-range eggs
1tbsp lemon juice
75g Parmesan, freshly grated
4tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra (optional), to serve
For the rocket salad (optional):
Large handful of rocket leaves
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Handful of Parmesan shavings
1: Put the two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan with three tablespoons of water, half a teaspoon of salt and the sugar. Bring this to a simmer over a high heat, add the peas and cook, tossing occasionally, for about three minutes until just tender, then drain.
2: Whisk the eggs in a large bowl with the lemon juice and some seasoning, then fold in the Parmesan, peas and parsley. You can do this a short time in advance.
3: Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat, add about a teaspoon of oil, then drop tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, spreading them out into omelettes 10cm in diameter. Cook for about one minute each side until really golden. You will need to do this in batches, draining them on a double thickness of kitchen paper as you go, and adding more oil to the pan as necessary.
4: If serving with a salad, toss the rocket leaves with enough olive oil to coat them in a bowl, then season with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Divide the fritters between four plates, pile the salad on top, scatter over a few Parmesan shavings and drizzle over a little more oil. Alternatively, just scatter the fritters with a little more parsley to serve.
ANNIE BELL’S BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES WITH SALTED BUTTER AND HONEY
Looking to up your family’s intake of wholegrains? Buckwheat pancakes could be a sneaky - and tasty - way to do pull it off. Annie Bell’s blini-style pancakes can be served sweet or savoury - just swap the honey and butter for sour cream and smoked salmon.
For the pancakes:
80g plain flour
80g buckwheat flour
2tsp baking powder
Pinch of golden caster sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 medium free-range egg, separated
300ml whole milk
2tsp groundnut or vegetable oil for grilling
Softened salted butter
1: Sift the flours and baking powder into a large bowl and then add the sugar and salt. Whisk the egg yolk and milk in another bowl until blended. Pour this mixture onto the sifted dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Leave to stand for 10 minutes. Whisk the egg white until stiff in a medium bowl using an electric whisk and fold it into the pancake mixture.
2: In the meantime, heat a cast-iron frying pan or flat griddle over a lowish heat for 10 minutes, until it reaches an even, snug warmth. Grease the hot iron with oil using a brush, then drop tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, spaced slightly apart. Cook for one to two minutes until the surface pits with bubbles, then carefully turn the pancakes using a palette knife and cook for about one minute more, until golden on the underside. You should find the first side is completely smooth, while the underside looks more like a crumpet.
3: Remove them to a plate, smear with a little salted butter and a dollop of honeycomb, and eat while you put some more on to cook, re-oiling the pan now and again between batches as it needs it. Alternatively, if you are making them in advance, keep them covered with foil on a plate for up to 30 minutes. They can also be reheated in an oven preheated to 160C fan/180C/gas mark 4. Stack them about six high, wrap in foil and heat for 20 minutes.
*The Modern Dairy: Nourishing Recipes Using Milk, Yogurt, Cheese And Cream by Annie Bell is published in paperback by Kyle Books, priced £16.99. Available now.