Monthly Archives: September 2015

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.

Hangover cakes 

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Although I am about 89.5% there on the journey of complete acceptance of my carb-free life, there are some times when it feels like only carbs will do. Pregnancy and breastfeeding was probably the worst and most extended time of needing pizza, cake and Pringles really, really badly. But being hungover and feeling like only a serious carb injection will improve matters…well that’s another really good time for feeling really cross about it all.

However, I am happy to inform that if you need cake these ones really hit the mark. Although look away if you are also nut-free as they are a total festival of nutty happiness. And also, just to be clear, despite being carb-free, they are neither slimline, virtuous, nor particularly healthy either. But nor should they be: they are CAKES for goodness sake!

Anyway, don’t get too hung up on the hangover thing. They were named this by Lady Maria (who has recently been made to live a gluten-free life) the morning after she stayed here and woke up in a fug of Prosecco fumes when we whipped up a batch of ’em for her to take on her merry way with a view to trying to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted by lining her stomach in preparation for her day ahead. Point being, you can eat them pretty much any time and still feel actively happy that the universe made you carb or gluten free and thus led you to discover them. They are particularly good with a strong cup of black coffee. They are also really robust, so can withstand a day wrapped in foil at the bottom of your bag if you want to take emergency snacks with you (which is, like, always obviously).

 But if you ARE making these because you are hungover, the other really great thing is that the quantities – I have found out over the years – are a totally moveable feast. Many is the time that I have adjusted amounts of one thing and another quite significantly due either to running out of one thing, or just general slapdashery, and they pretty much always turn out really pretty damn fine.

The other thing to mention is that I have made these cakes for people who avoid gluten-free food like the plague thinking it will be inferior – and I have watched with satisfaction as they go back for a second and then a third.

And one day I will tell you the story of the time that I tried to create a gluten free brand, and mass-produce these little beauties to sell at a well known café. But that is a really long story and, so, for another time (I know – you’re on tenterhooks, right?).

One other thing to mention: I favour the silicone cake moulds, and mine are small heart-shaped, but you do need to grease them. If you are using something bigger you might need to cook them for longer – I’ve made them in cup cake cases and regular metal tins and they work well but those buns do need a bit longer in the oven.

Hangover cakes

2 cups almond flour

2-3 eggs (depending on size)

½ cup Honey

50 g butter, melted

1 cup Peanut butter/hazelnut butter/cashew or almond butter (or a blend)

3/4 cup Raisins

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla essence.

One of the glories of this recipe is that there isn’t really a ‘method’. You just put the almond flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl and make a hole in the middle to crack the eggs into. Add the vanilla essence to the eggs and whisk together within the hole before stirring the almonds in so everything is amalgamated. Then add the nut butter and melted butter and stir again so it’s all mixed in before adding in the honey and raisins. The consistency should be slightly runny, so if it is too stiff, whisk up another egg and integrate it and remember that as you spoon it into your mould, they will rise a bit (so don’t fill it too full). Cook at 170 for 18-15 minutes, depending on the size of your moulds, and try to let them cool for a few minutes before scoffing the lot.

 

 

 

 

 

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.