A simple solution

SWEET POTATO, CARROT AND CASHEW SOUP, featured in My Petite Kitchen Cookbook by Eleanor Ozich, published by Murdoch Books.
SWEET POTATO, CARROT AND CASHEW SOUP, featured in My Petite Kitchen Cookbook by Eleanor Ozich, published by Murdoch Books.

Back in 2012, Eleanor Ozich was a full-time mum, who indulged her passion for food by posting her recipes and pictures for friends on Facebook.

Now, just two years on, she’s a published author with her very own cook book and a second on the way, and she’s just opened a cafe called Mondays in her native New Zealand.

LAMB LEG STEAKS WITH MINT AND APPLE CIDER SAUCE, featured in My Petite Kitchen Cookbook by Eleanor Ozich.

LAMB LEG STEAKS WITH MINT AND APPLE CIDER SAUCE, featured in My Petite Kitchen Cookbook by Eleanor Ozich.

But, most importantly, her daughter no longer suffers from eczema, which was so severe and sore it used to keep her awake crying at night.

Ozich was simply a distraught mother searching for a cure for her child, but in the process, she’s transformed the lives of her whole family and sparked a new, exciting career path.

“Our daughter Izabella started to develop eczema when she was about two years old, although it was not until she was about three that it began to worsen significantly,” explains 25-year-old Ozich, who also has a two-year-old son, Obi. “After countless visits to doctors and specialists, nobody could shine a light on her condition, nor explain the impact it had on her behaviour. We were prescribed artificial creams, and medication, which would only ever temporarily fix the problem.”

In “absolute despair”, they eventually took Bella to a naturopath, who diagnosed what she called ‘ Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ (GAPS).

“It’s an imbalance of bad gut bacteria, causing toxins, which was resulting in the eczema and her extreme mood fluctuations. At the time, this revelation made complete sense to us, and we were completely willing to heal her gut through removing wheat, grains, sugar and anything processed from our diets,” recalls Ozich.

She was so committed that she started charting her attempts to cook without using those ingredients in a blog, which she named Petite Kitchen (www.petite-kitchen.com). “At the time, we were living in a tiny apartment with a cute little kitchen,” she notes, explaining the name.

It wasn’t always easy. “ With Izabella being so young at the time, it was really hard for her to understand why we were eating a different style of diet. It did take a lot of hard work and determination, there were times where we felt as though we were hitting a brick wall.

“Looking back, I am so incredibly glad that we worked through it, as the positive changes we have noticed not only in her skin and behaviour, but also in our own wellbeing, are just incredible.”

Her new book, My Petite Kitchen Cookbook, features 100 mouth-watering recipes, all illustrated with Ozich’s own beautiful photographs.

Izabella, now 6, is “a very happy, content and balanced little girl”, she says.

“She is able to concentrate far better, loves learning and her skin has almost completely cleared up. She also has a huge passion for food, and has a great understanding of how the food she eats not only tastes delicious but is nourishing her in many wonderful ways.”

The diet also transformed Ozich’s, and her menswear designer husband Valentin’s, health too. “We noticed a huge shift, not only in our emotional wellbeing, but also the physical changes were wonderful. We felt clear-headed, full of energy, and generally like we had a new lease of life.”

She thinks part of the reason some of us struggle with healthy eating these days is information overload. “There’s so much conflicting information out there. How do we really know what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, when we are constantly being bombarded with information telling us what we should or should not eat?

“I believe it’s all about keeping it simple,” she adds. “Use basic, everyday ingredients that your grandmother would have used. Eggs, good quality meat and seafood, plenty of good fats such as butter, nuts, coconut or avocado, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Eating a whole-foods diet doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. M aking even the smallest change, such as drinking one less coffee a day or deciding to have eggs instead of cereal for breakfast, can make the world of difference in the long-term.”

Here are three recipes from My Petite Kitchen Cookbook to try yourself.

SWEET POTATO, CARROT AND CASHEW SOUP (serves 4)

3 large orange sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

3 large carrots, roughly chopped

1.5-2L vegetable or chicken stock

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 handfuls of toasted cashew nuts

Sour cream, creme fraiche or plain yoghurt, to serve

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the sweet potato and carrot in a stockpot or large saucepan and cover with the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender the liquid has reduced slightly.

Leave to cool for five minutes, then transfer to a blender, one ladleful at a time. Add the garlic and most of the cashews, reserving some nuts to garnish the soup. Blend until smooth, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Gently reheat the soup and ladle into bowls. Top with a dollop of sour cream, creme fraiche or yoghurt and the reserved cashews.

Serve with an extra sprinkling of black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

LAMB LEG STEAKS WITH MINT AND APPLE CIDER SAUCE (serves 2)

2 large organic lamb leg steaks, each weighing about 300g and about 2cm thick, at room temperature

2-3tbsp olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

60ml apple cider vinegar

2tbsp honey, or maple or agave syrup

1 large handful of mint leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sprinkle the steaks with a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then rub on both sides with the olive oil. Set aside.

To make the sauce, put the vinegar and honey in a small saucepan over low heat and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from the heat, then add the mint and a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir well, then cover with a lid - this helps the flavours to really mix together.

Heat a chargrill pan or frying pan over high heat. Cook the lamb for three minutes on each side for medium-rare. Leave to rest for five minutes. Carve the lamb and serve drizzled with the sauce.

BAKED BALSAMIC STRAWBERRIES WITH PINE NUTS AND CASHEW CREAM (serves 4)

40g pine nuts

450g strawberries, hulled

80ml good quality balsamic vinegar

3tbsp honey, or maple or agave syrup

For the cashew cream:

235g raw cashew nuts, soaked in water overnight

2tbsp honey, or agave or maple syrup

Juice of half a lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/Gas 4).

To make the cashew cream, drain the soaked cashews then rinse well. Place in a food processor with the honey, lemon juice and 125ml water. Blend until smooth, thick and creamy, adding a little more water if needed to achieve the perfect consistency. (The cashew cream will keep in the fridge for a day or two, but is best made on the day of serving.)

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat for two to three minutes, until fragrant, tossing regularly so they don’t burn. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

In another bowl, toss the strawberries with the vinegar and honey. Transfer the strawberry mixture to a baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the strawberries with a wooden spoon, then bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the strawberries are soft and juicy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for five minutes or so.

Divide the strawberries among bowls. Sprinkle with the the pine nuts, spoon dollops of the cashew cream on top and serve.