Category Archives: Easy suppers

Faux pho (or…the simplest cosy supper for one, like, ever)

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One of the most annoying things about being an off-grid eater is how hard it is to be lazy. Gone are the days when calling for a curry, or Pizza Man on those days that, as supper time approaches, it turns out that one really can’t be fagged. So even on the days (many) when I have zero desire to cook, I generally have to – whether I like it or not. As a result, I am always extra excited to find ways to rustle up a meal  in minutes and this happy little surprise coincided with watching the last-but-one Bake Off last week when I was home alone. I do find that having only myself to please always unleashes the spirit of experimentation.

I was going to cook my shop-spiralised courgetti (now that IS what I call lazy) by frying it as usual. I tend to do things like this (by which I mean disrespecting the courgetti with oil, instead of steaming it) because even though I’ve been forced down a much healthier road than I’d ideally travel, food-wise, I’m always looking for loop holes, and opportunities for a bit of indulgence, like a bit of deviant frying. But on this particular night I was feeling sad about the lack of noodle soup in my life, which led to a brainwave. I chopped up some tomatoes with garlic and roasted them with olive oil at 170 degrees for about 40 minutes, to make a sort of tomato confit.

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When they were cooked, I cooked the courgetti in a generous slosh of chicken stock in my wok frying pan. About four minutes later I’d made what I decided to call Faux Pho. I added the tomatoes and some grated cheddar and sat eating, with no-one to hear me slurp, what felt for all the world like a comforting bowl of noodle soup. But the best thing about it was that it took only minutes to make. Who needs pizza, man?

Hygge, hunkering…call it what you will

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I’m treating Sunday nights with kid gloves at the moment; something about the transition to Monday isn’t sitting easily. But luckily  I know what the antidote is: extreme cosiness, and the right food. Last night we had my current signature dish (by which I mean I’m cooking it two or three times a week due to not being able to remember what else to cook or eat, mainly because this is so good). I’m calling it, ‘Roasted ratatouille’, but it’s not mine at all: I nicked off Em, who got it from Rachel Roddy. I then bought Rachel Roddy’s book, Five Quarters, purely on the strength of how delicious the ratatouille is. The book is gorgeous, but I can’t find the ratatouille anywhere in it, so this is a handed-down, word-of-mouth version of the original (which has potatoes in, by the way. And I’d have ’em too if I could – but don’t in any way feel the lack of them). Anyway, props to R. Roddy for the idea. The first time I cooked it I questioned the 90 minute cooking time (are there any nutrition left in those veg? Possibly not…) and also the amount of oil. But I went with it and By Gum it’s seriously good; the veg sort of caramelise and come together with sweet intensity. Last night we had it with roast chicken. But the other day I just had a big bowl of it with grated cheese (if I could have been fagged, a zesty salad would have been a good aside). But however way you have it, it’s got hygge written all over it and it seriously took the edge off our Sunday evening. See? Food helps!

Roasted ratatouille

4 courgettes

2-3 red onions

8 large tomatoes

few cloves of garlic thickly chopped

100 ml olive oil

100ml water

Heat the oven to 190 degrees. Cut the courgettes into discs slightly thicker than a pound coin. Peel the onions, cut in half and then cut each half into four quarters. Core the tomatoes and chop into quarters with the garlic. Put into a baking tray (I prefer to use glass because I think it cooks more nicely in a way I cannot explain scientifically) and gently toss in the oil. Salt and pepper and then pour the water into one corner of the tray (rather than all over the vegetables) so it resides at the bottom. Check and gently turn every 20 minutes or so. After 90 minutes it should all have cooked down and resemble a sort of caramelised  tray bake, at which point it is ready. Hurrah!

Sprouts are for life – not just for Christmas

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There are some unexpected silver linings about living in the land of the (grain) free. And one of those linings is sprouts.

I know what you’re thinking. Sprouts are yuck; the worst thing on the Christmas lunch plate and a once-a-year horror.

But seriously people, if you think you hate sprouts I urge, nay, implore you to think again.

Sure, boiled, overcooked sprouts are foul. And, true, when you cook sprouts you have to apologise the smell away to anyone who steps over your threshold for the next 24 hours. But just open the window and don’t get hung up on that. When I discovered the roasted sprout, cooked with a bit of garlic, served with a sprinkle of parmesan and dipped in home-made mayo,  well it’s fair to say that things, in a modest way, started looking up.

I’d actually forgotten about the joy of sprouts until about a month ago. Then, suddenly, they started appearing in shops again and it was another reason to embrace autumn. If you buy a ready prepared bag you barely need to do anything to them except maybe cut them in half, depending on their size, roughly chop some garlic, put both in a bowl with a slick of oil, stir and season then transfer it a roasting tin and roast away at 180 for 30-40 minutes, depending on size. Grate on some parmesan and get dipping and they are delicious on their own or on the side.

There’s no telling some people though. Every time I get some sprouts out to cook, Tom still says, “Wow you really do love sprouts, don’t you?”

Well yes I really, really do – so, sue me!

 

 

So what’s the alternative to chips?

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If you have ever tried to give up carbs, or even just tried to eat fewer of them then I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to feel full – and how easy it is to feel deprived.

Now I am seven years into my own carb-free journey, I am much less deranged with deprivation than I was for the first year during which I would – literally – go to bed dreaming about bread, cake and crisps. But there is no denying the fact that sometimes all the green veg in the world, delicious as they may be, just don’t quite cut the mustard on the fullness front.

And, since the secret to being happy on a carb-free diet is to find ways not to feel deprived, these three dishes are total stalwarts on my weekly menu, being that holy trinity of easy, delicious – and satisfying.

They each involve quite large and unwieldy vegetables though, so these are three recipes where it really pays to have a robust and sharp knife and, in the case of the cauliflower rice, a food processor. Having said that, I have made it with a grater, and it’s fine – just a bit more work. The other thing to mention about cauliflower rice is that when I first made it, I used to microwave it, which totally does the trick. But roasting it, with a bit of oil, both brings out the flavour and dries it out too, which is a good thing when you are eating it with curry or something else a little bit saucy that needs mopping up.

The faff of both the celeriac and the squash is mainly in the preparation. You really do need a decent peeler but once you have one – I use the sharp peeler from Lakeland which is under a fiver but honestly the best peeler I have ever used – you will make short work of even the toughest and rootiest veg. And the faff-factor is so worth it for the resulting crispy gorgeousness, which is so good it can even eclipse actual chips!

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Cauliflower rice

1 medium sized cauliflower

½ fresh chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

handful chopped coriander

ground nut oil

Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower, cut it into quarters and remove most of the thick core, then cut each quarter into two or three chunks. To avoid overloading the blender, blitz it in two or three batches, for 30 seconds or so, until the cauliflower resembles fine rice. If you are grating, use the coarse side of the grater.

Toss the rice in a drizzle of oil in a baking tray and spread it out to a thin, even layer. Then roast for 12 minutes, mixing halfway through cooking. Season after cooking, and add the finely chopped chilli and coriander (or other herbs, depending on what you are making to serve with it).

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Celeriac chips with home-made aioli.

 1 celeriac

ground nut oil

salt and pepper

paprika

Preheat the oven to 190C.
 Wash and peel the celeriac, which is no mean feat! Slice off the top and bottom and cut the celeriac into thumb-thick slices and then into fat chip shapes (or thin, if you prefer).

Put in to a large bowl and toss in a little oil, and sea salt then put into the oven. After 15 minutes carefully toss the chips with two spatulas (so they don’t disintegrate) then cook for another 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Season with a dusting of paprika.

Aioli

½ small clove garlic , peeled

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 large free-range egg yolk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

285 ml extra virgin olive oil

285 ml olive oil

lemon juice , to taste

Smash up the garlic with one teaspoon of salt in a pestle and mortar, or with the flat of a large knife. Place the egg yolk and mustard in a bowl and whisk together, then start to add your oils bit by bit. Once you’ve blended in a quarter of the oil, you can start to add the rest in larger amounts. When the mixture thickens, add lemon juice. When all the oil has gone in, add the garlic then season to taste. Et voila!

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Spicy butternut squash

1 squash

oil

salt and pepper

mild chilli powder

Preheat your oven to 190C. Peel and de-seed your squash, cut into 1cm cubes as evenly as possible (easier said than done, so don’t get too hung up on accuracy).

Before putting into the roasting pan, I put them into a large bowl to toss them in oil using my hands to make sure they are evenly coated. Once in the pan, shake pretty liberal quantities of chilli powder and sea salt and again, toss to make sure they are coated. A word about chilli powders: I use Sainsbury’s mild chilli powder which is as good as its word but be warned that other types of mild chilli powders can be no such thing so it is a good idea to proceed with caution if you haven’t tried whatever brand you are using before.

Roast for 25-30 minutes before gently tossing and dislodging any cubes that are stuck, and finish cooking for another 20 or so minutes or until they are totally soft when you fork them, and deliciously chewy and caramelised.

I had a dream about carrot soup with Wensleydale

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Oh it’s this weather, isn’t it? It just creates an extreme need for comforting, cosy soup. On which note, I did actually have a dream the other night (because that’s the kind of person I am – food never far from my mind) about roasting carrots, onion and garlic before making the whole lot into soup. Then, when I woke up, I had a mini reverie about what it would be like to crumble Wensleydale in to it.

The thing about soup is that it’s minimum effort to maximum yield of both quantity and veg-per-bite. It can live in the fridge for a week or so, at which point it is quicker than a ready meal to prepare. Plus, on a rainy, windy, leaf strewn day,  it’s the very definition of comfort to have a bowl of soup for lunch.  And, if you dream up a recipe that is this easy peasy, you don’t even have to consult a cookery book.

The only problem with this particular dream was that, despite an exhaustive search (of two local shops), I couldn’t find Wensleydale. And so I made do with cheddar which was nice enough. But next time I will not rest until I have found some Wensleydale!

Roasted carrot soup

1 bag of carrots, or 2 if you want to make a mega soup

2 small onions

3 or 4 garlic cloves, skin on

Stock – home-made chicken stock if you have it, or 2 or 3 vegetable stock  pouches (which tend to be free from additives, gluten and sugar)

salt and pepper

Peel the carrots and slice in half lengthways and then cut in half. Peel and quarter the onions and put them in a baking tray with the garlic. Roast (with a little ground nut oil) at 180 for 30-40 minutes then transfer everything into a heavy based pan, add the stock and bring to the boil and cook for ten minutes or so before blitzing with a hand held blender – for a really long time, to ensure maximum silken smoothness. You can add more stock or water, depending on how you like your soup. I added a knob of butter too, but you don’t have to. Then I served, with cheddar, trying not to rue the absence of Wensleydale.

speedy midweek melange

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Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve gone right off the notion of processed meat lately. And it’s not just the cancer risks (although obviously that’s enough to make one think twice about one’s burger’n’bacon yens). I do actually incline towards vegetarianism…it’s just that I’m loathe, on this diet, to cut yet more things out if I am technically allowed to eat them. But all that aside, sometimes – particularly on a Monday night when the nights are drawing in and you want to go to pilates, read stories to your son and still have a healthy home-cooked supper before it gets to 10pm – you just want to eat some veggies. And fast.

This was whipped up last night in the blink of an eye and yet was so good I think I might make a version of it again tonight. It’s so easy that there’s barely a recipe but it’s the kind of thing that I never would have even thought about eating before starting the SCD – I mean, where’s the pasta/potatoes/bread – right? However, it gives me pleasure to report that Tom ate this too, with gusto, and not even a mention of missing carbs. I added a sprinkle of grated cheddar and a dollop of home-made mayo; we had our satisfying veggie blast, only one pan to wash up, and it was all done and dusted in time to watch a bit of telly and still be in bed by 10pm, which is my kind of Monday night. I know – rock and roll, right?

Speedy midweek melange for two

3 courgettes, finely sliced (I use the slicing bit on a grater)

1 box mushrooms sliced

1 bag spinach

2 tins tuna (optional, obv)

handful or two of black olives (Also optional. I like the tinned kind which are unsophisticated but not too salty or dominant. )

1 or 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Fry up the sliced courgettes in ground nut oil for about ten minutes before adding the mushrooms. Cook together for a bit before adding the garlic then add the tuna. When it’s all cooked together add the spinach until it’s wilted to your liking. Serve with grated cheese. See – told you it was easy!

Pretending to be normal

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Pasta with prawns, chorizo and cherry tomatoes

When people ask me what I miss most about my old, carb-tastic life, my answer – and believe me I have really given this matter some thought – is always the same: “Being normal”.

Tragic, isn’t it? It’s TRUE though. For all the Pringles, pizza and pork scratchings that I would consider chopping off a limb, or at least a digit or two, to be able eat again, the thing that I struggle most with is being the Special Needs guest who comes with a list of demands as long as Maria Carey, whether I’m popping over to a friend’s for a quiet supper or having to  interrogate the waiter for hours about whether there is sugar in the salad dressing or flour in the sauce. It really does not come naturally to me all that stuff.

Anyway, I could – and frequently do – go on and on about the frustrations of the carb and sugar free life BUT this is not a rant or a moan. ‘Tis instead a  joyful newsflash about a little bit of normality that can now be mine: pasta. Yup pasta. Made from red lentils.

I know. It sounds gross, doesn’t it? And definitely not pasta. But it is MUCH more pasta-like than, say, courgetti (which as you know I love, and hold dear). And it really, honestly, doesn’t taste of lentils. It does just the job that pasta does; namely to provide a sturdy, slightly tasteless vehicle for a delicious sauce.  Happy days! And to think I might be living my life unaware…so I will pause here, if I may, to solemnly thank the wonderful Afsaneh Knight (author, and tireless Special Needs Products Searcher extraordinaire) for this exciting piece of intel.

It’s made by ‘Tolerant’ (pic below) and they do black bean pasta too but that, in my dogged and very enthusiastic experimentation, I have found to be a bit more inclined to dwindle, with cooking, into mash – as you’d probably expect. The red lentil rotini on the other hand retains structure and body magnificently, I find. And last night, me and Tom whipped some up (normal pasta for him…at a fiver a box, I  don’t feel the need to inflict the Special Needs on him with this particular dish) with prawns* and chorizo* and cherry tomatoes all fried up in garlic and oil with some basil. Nice and normal, like.

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*With prawns I always check packaging to make sure there is no sugar (which, strangely, there often is – I mean, why would you?). And with chorizo I always watch out for dextrose, but there are brands which don’t add it…more on that in another post.

Experimental fritters

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This is a really good example of something I wouldn’t in a million years have bothered to cook before I started my new life as a grain-free person rendered unable to eat deliciously battered, frittered and fried stuff. But, as I may have mentioned before, necessity is the mother of invention. And where there’s a will to eat fritters, there’s a way to find a way to cook ’em, eat ’em and be thankful  that fritters can once again be part of your life .

I ended up making these twice recently and the first time I – being inclined slightly towards slap-dashery – massively underestimated the importance of extracting as much of the water from the courgettes as possible before assembling the fritter. If you don’t do this you end up losing a lot of the flavour from the added garlic and chilli and lemon zest, as you will end up literally squeezing the excess water from the courgette as you shape your grated, zested and seasoned mixture into a patty. So even if you, too, are a bit slap-dash, I’d say the salting and weighing down of your grated courgettes for a good couple of hours before adding the other stuff is unavoidable. It may sound a faff, but if you get started early enough it’s really the work of an instant, or maybe two, to set the ball in motion and it makes a huge difference. I served these with cucumber and mint yoghurt, and garlic and oregano roasted tomatoes which really was quite fine, as a combo.

Grain-free fritters use almond flour instead of real flour and I guess if you can do this with courgettes, then the frittering possibilities are not exactly endless, but I’m happy to say that another door has definitely opened and I will be reporting back on other experiments in frittering, believe you me.

Courgette fritters (makes 4-6) 

4 medium courgettes

zest of 1 lemon

chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

ground-nut oil for frying

1 or 2 raw eggs, beaten

150 g ground almonds  (you may need more, depending on the size of your fritters)

100 g grated parmesan

Grate the courgettes into a sieve then suspend the sieve over a bowl, lightly salt (not too much as it’s hard to wipe the salt off grated anything) and put a plate on top small enough to directly touch the courgettes. Then weight the plate with something small and heavy (I used an earthenware pot full of utensils). Over the course of two hours you will be AGOG, and strangely satisfied, to see how much water is released.

When you think the courgettes are suitably de-watered, mix the ground almonds and parmesan together and put the combination of the two on a side plate, for dipping purposes.  Then mix the chilli, zest and garlic into 1 beaten egg then season and add that to the courgettes. Use your judgement about whether it needs another egg (you want it to bind things together but not render the mixture too wet) before using your hands to shape into patties the size that you desire. Smallish is good, I think, because they do incline towards cracking and breaking. Then carefully and patiently dip either side of each patty into the almond/parmesan mix. Heat up the ground-nut  oil and fry on either side until they are golden brown. Then put into a roasting tin and, when you are ready, heat the oven to 180 and cook for 20-15 minutes.

 

aubergizza and griddled courgettes

Auberg-izza      griddled courgettes

 

Back in the day when I could eat pizza with abandon, I was blasé and took it for granted. I did eat pizza quite often (mmmm Strada) but I don’t think I realised how lucky I was and how much I would miss it when it was gone.

But whenever I am getting forlorn and sad, and wistfully rueing all the delicacies that I can no longer eat (tempting though that is) what I try to do is to stay in the present. And, now that pizza has been banned, I keep on coming up with new ways to scratch the pizza itch. Cauliflower pizza is pretty darn good, and so are roasted tomatoes with oregano. But here’s the latest experiment: aubergizza! Or maybe it’s pizzagine; I haven’t decided yet. I made these for my vegetarian sister-in-law at the weekend and I was planning to make lots of things to go with them. But we ran out of time so I just served them with these griddled courgettes, and a green salad, and it felt like a pretty substantial supper and really quite pizza-like (bearing in mind that I am coming from a starting point of complete pizza-less-ness, that is).

 

Tomato sauce

I made this a couple of hours in advance as it benefits from a bit of long slow cooking but it’s really an assembly job and then the magic just happens in the pan with zero interference.

2 small onions, diced

2 garlic cloves

2 tins tomatoes (it’s really worth splashing the cash on Napolitana ones which are twice the price but twice as nice as many other brands, I think).

Fry the onions in ground nut or rape seed oil (I know I’m coming late to the party but these oils have a higher burn point than olive oil so don’t turn into horrible transfats) until soft and translucent. When they are cooked, gently smash the garlic with the back of a large knife and put in whole for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes then cooking for at least an hour, with the lid off so it reduces a bit and becomes fairly consolidated. Put aside and move onto the aubergines. If you are making this and really feel passionately that olive oil is essential – as I do, actually – you could always add a glug of extra virgin olive oil at the very end, once cooked, just before serving.

Aubergizza

Just to say that a griddle pan is a pretty essential piece of kit for this!

4 medium aubergines (I allowed one per person in case they were so delicious people couldn’t stop eating them – but we had leftovers which is no bad thing).

Tomato sauce

cheddar cheese, grated

Slice the aubergines lengthways into pretty chunky slices (it depends on size of course but I got four slices out of each one). Ideally, you’d put them into a bowl and salt them then leave them with a heavy weight on for at least half an hour before wiping the salt and water away. But I don’t suppose it’s the end of the world if you don’t have time for this. Then put them into a bowl and use your hands to make sure they are completely covered on both sides with rape seed oil. Heat your griddle pan up so it’s really hot, then place the aubergine slices lengthways (you’ll probably have to do this in batches and the pan should be so hot that the aubergines should sizzle as they meet it). Cook one side and then the other, using a fork to make sure they are properly cooked and beautifully branded with sizzle marks. Then remove to cool and  continue cooking the rest.

Once you’ve cooked them all, put the grill on and arrange the aubergines side by side on the grill pan before covering each one with tomato sauce, then cheddar, and grilling them so the cheese melts.

As the cheese was melting, I gridded my courgettes, which I’d basted in rapeseed oil and lemon. If I’d had more time I might have done something a bit fancier with them (some kind of garlicky dressing and maybe built a salad around them), but they were pretty good on their own.

Suddenly-feels-like-summer supper

chicken kebabs with cucumber yoghurt dressinggriddled halloumi skewers

Suddenly, there’s something different in the air. The proof of the pudding is that yesterday I went out without a scarf for the first time since September which can only mean one thing: summer is a-comin’. Before you know it I’ll be liberating my feet and wearing the Lotta clogs that I bought in March in a fit of very previous over-excitement that it might not be winter forever. The other way I know it’s nearly summer is that we had the, ‘Let’s get a barbecue! Or maybe a chiminea? Or something that does both?’ conversation in anticipation of being at the lovely beginning of the chapter of wanting to sit and cook and eat outside in our (quite teeny; very urban) garden. As usual, we couldn’t decide, or commit, so instead we made kebabs and griddled ’em and ate them with the garden doors opening, listening to all our neighbours living it up al fresco. You can only really griddle food (well at least in our kitchen) when it’s warm enough to cook with both garden doors open to create maximum air circulation. Otherwise, you just get smoked out and the house reeks like a kebab-house for days which, no matter how delicious the food was, only induces regret.

Lemony chicken kebabs with basil and garlic

2 or 3 chicken beasts (depending on how many you want to make

BBQ skewers (which you are supposed to soak for half an hour before using so they don’t burn)

A griddle pan if you have one (which gives those gorgeous char-grilled strips that are probably really bad for you. You could also use a frying pan or grill but this moves it away from scratching the BBQ itch)

For the marinade

These really do taste so much better, and are so much more tender, if you marinade the chicken for as long as you have time to do.

juice and zest of 1 lemon

handful or 2 of basil or tarragon or any herb you like with chicken roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

olive oil and pepper

Put the marinade ingredients into a bowl big enough to hold the chicken as well, then cube the chicken into quite small chunks (I’m paranoid about under-cooking chicken which feels easier to do if you are searing the outside on a very hot griddle, which is why I go quite small, but it is of course up to you). Using your hands or a large spoon, make sure each cube is well coated with marinade then cover and put in the fridge until you are ready to cook, at which point, remove from the fridge then spear the chicken, piece-by-piece on to your wooden skewers. As you are doing this, heat your griddle pan up so it is very, very hot indeed. You don’t need to oil it as long as your chicken is very efficiently coated in the oily marinade. Once your chicken cubes are be-skewered and your griddle is searingly hot, put your kebabs onto the pan, turning when one side is cooked, making sure each side gets seared.

I served these with a dressing made from home-made yoghurt (although you could of course use shop-bought if you are not following the SCD) with some finely chopped cucumber and mint. plus a squeeze of lemon juice and a glug of extra virgin oil.

I have cooked these in the past with  vegetables on the skewers too, which can be delicious, but which can also result in everything cooking at different rates so at least one of the components are not that nice. I remedied this by roasting some courgettes and aubergines with whole garlic cloves in the oven (but I then almost forgot about them,  rescuing them when they were just – just! – on the right side of burnt, as you can see below).

almost burnt roast aubergine and courgette

Lemony halloumi skewers 

I also made some satisfyingly chunky cubes of halloumi, which I cut up then marinaded in the same combo of basil, lemon, garlic and olive oil (not very original on the one hand but, on the other, if it ain’t broke why fix it?), skewered, then griddled.