Category Archives: Supper

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!

 

 

How to make a ‘ta-da’ meal (that is undercover special needs)

Beetroot-starter Chorizo-stew

When I first started my unfeasibly-restrictive-diet I not only stopped eating out in restaurants and accepting invitations, but I assumed that it was curtains for my days as a hostess. I really love nothing more than cooking a huge meal for my friends and family – but how could I inflict my diet upon them?

As luck would have it, that turned out to be just the panic talking and, if anything, I have become even more of a dedicated and enthusiastic cook for other people since starting this diet. I just love the uniting effect that delicious food can have on people, and conversation. And what I have found is that although my diet is restrictive, I can make huge feasts and serve them to people who have absolutely no idea that I’m cooking around restrictions.

However, there is nothing worse than turning up for supper to a hostess who is red-faced, furious and stressed out; unable to properly talk or even offer you a drink, dammit, because she is either trying out a new recipe that’s going wrong, or because the timing of the meal is so precise and complicated that there is room in her brain for nothing else. Not even a little martini.

So please note: by ‘ta-da’ I do NOT mean complex or complicated, with a capucino froth wrapped in a sugar basket.

What I mean is a meal that is delicious, a bit decadent, makes people feel looked after and – crucially – doesn’t taste compromised. But also which can be made with minimal fuss and bother, ideally in advance, so you can get on with the important business of martini-making and putting the world to rights with your friends.

I have fed this chorizo stew to many many people over the years and I honestly don’t think anyone has noticed that it’s grain-free, sugar-free and, now I come to think of it, dairy-free too.

A quick note on ingredients: When I’m buying the chorizo, I scrutinise the label to make sure it hasn’t got dextrose or sugar in (lots do). Ideally, it should just have pork, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Also, I can’t emphasise enough how worth it it is to splash a bit of cash on the jars of posh beans (which are only £3.50 but that seems a lot compared to 50p for a tin). I like Navaricco, which you can find in the big branches of M&S and some delis but be warned: once you have tried them there is no going back. When I go to a shop that sells them I automatically buy as many as I can carry, because running out is just WOEFUL when you are grain-free, because these beans are so good at taking your mind off the fact that you are.

Beets with rocket pesto

Serves 6

Beets – I allow about 2 small beets per person for a starter

Red wine vinegar for cooking

2 bags rocket leaves

200 g walnuts roughly chopped

150 g parmesan (grated or chopped into small chunks)

1 large clove of garlic, chopped

extra virgin oil

salt and pepper

Boil the beets in water with a splash of red wine vinegar until they are tender (which depends on the size). Drain and cool and then peel and chop them into quarters.

Put the rocket, walnuts, parmesan with a good pinch of salt and grind of pepper and blitz it in your food processor, adding olive oil until it’s the consistency of pesto. Dress your beets with as much pesto as people like and hey PESTO! (sorry).

Chorizo, red pepper and posh bean stew

Serves 6 

2 medium onions, chopped

2 chorizo sausages (uncooked)

5 red/yellow/orange peppers

2 tins tomatoes

1 jar posh haricot beans (though any white bean will do).

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

salt and pepper

This stew is so easy to cook it’s almost embarrassing.

Fry the onions until they are soft. While you are doing that, chop the peppers into thinnish slices then cut them in half. Then cut the chorizo into thick slices. I then cut the slices in half because it’s easier to eat – but I’ll leave that to your discretion. Also, drain and rinse the beans.

When the onion is cooked, add the chorizo and let it cook for a bit before adding the peppers, stirring every so often. After about five minutes add the beans and, a few minutes later, the tomatoes, garlic and smoked paprika. Definitely taste before you salt as chorizo is often quite salty. Then cook slowly on a low heat for about an hour before eating. I served it with purple sprouting broccoli and I didn’t even spare a thought for the patatas bravas that might have gone with it if I could eat potatoes.

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.

autumnal meatballs

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Poor neglected blog. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking and eating, obv – just that a natural break happened (which included six blissful weeks out of The Routine while school holidays occurred) during which time, among other things, I did a week’s course at Leith’s cookery school which was amazing (and which I blogged about here).

And suddenly here we are on the threshold of autumn; still just about warm enough to justify sockless feet and holding out hope for another warm spell before it’s well and truly over. So what to cook? Parmesan meatballs and courgetti, I thought.

Meatballs ARE a bit of a faff compared to Bolognese, it’s true. But if you are in the mood for not minding a bit of faff, the pay off is worth it, at least I think so.

And my new discovery about tomato sauce – am I late coming to this partay? – is to blitz it, post-cooking, with a stick blender, so it’s silky smooth without the rustic onion and chunky tomato factor which one is sometimes, but not always, in the mood for.

Instead of flour, I add almond flour along with parmesan to give the meatballs a bit of body and a bit of stick. And I served these with courgetti instead of spaghetti but you could please both crowds very easily by whipping up some of the real stuff too.

Oh yes and mucho parmesan on top, obviously. In my case so mucho that you can’t quite see the meatballs that lurk beneath, which is why I’ve done a before and after pic.

Serve with a green salad to remind yourself that summer ain’t over quite yet.

Tomato sauce

2 or 3 onions

3 or 4 cans of Napolitana tomatoes (it’s so worth splashing the cash on tinned tomatoes, can I just say?)

2 or 3 cloves of garlic

ground nut oil (which I am currently favouring for cooking due to the higher smoke point although once the sauce is cooked, before serving, I recommend a splash of extra virgin olive oil)

Chop the onions roughly (bearing in mind they will later be blitzed) and fry gently until they soften at which point add the tomatoes. Season, and add the garlic using a presser and cook for about 40 minutes at which point you can blitz straight away or leave to cool, depending on when you want to eat it.

Meatballs

1 medium onion, finely chopped

500g Lean ground beef (I tend to go for the most expensive I can afford, ideally organic)

1 egg, whisked

85g grated parmesan

100g ground almonds

1-2 teaspoons oregano

1 clove garlic crushed

lemon zest

groundnut oil

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, using a knife to break up the beef and your hands to mix it all before form into balls which is the messy* and time consuming part. Size is optional, depending on what you favour but I do prefer smallish ie bite sized, much as I try to avoid that phrase which makes me cringe a bit for some reason.

Heat some groundnut oil and brown the meatballs all over in a pan. Hopefully the egg/almond flour combo will mean they are fairly robust. Once they are browned all over, add the tomato sauce and gently cook for about 45 minutes. Then serve, atop a lovely courgetti mound.

*I just read in ‘Jamie’ magazine that if you dip your hands into cold water between meatballs your hands get less gunky but I have not yet tried this so will report back once I have.

Courgetti

Got a spiraliser? If not then you can try grating them, which does actually work although it creates shorter strands. If you do have a spiraliser, then spiralise about two courgettes per person and either blanche in water or, if like me you favour the oil and garlic option then pan fry them in a wok until they are fairly soft, at which point season, and serve, not even noticing that they are not spaghetti.

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.