Friday 31 August 2018

Food Blog Four - Carrot cake with almost everything in it

When I bake carrot cake I’m 99% pleased with the results. It’s always moist as I use olive oil rather than butter or margarine. The taste is good as the proportion of carrots to flour is just right and an orange - zest only - adds a little extra.

I made a gluten-free and sugar-free version around a month ago. That recipe used many eggs and pecan nuts. Needless to say it was drier and crunchier, the texture was tight but it was certainly eatable.

Last week I made a carrot cake ( again gluten-free and sugar-free) with an excellent texture but a dire taste. The proportion of fresh juicy carrots was wrong - leaving the cake tasteless - there was no orange nor nuts but an overwhelming taste of butter. Not good.

I am, therefore, returning to my original all-singing, all-dancing recipe.

This will have substitutions to render it gluten-free and sugar-free:

Equivalent of 6oz muscovado sugar - I use Truvia 1/3 cup + 2 tsp
6 fl oz olive oil
3 large eggs - lightly beaten
3 medium carrots - grated
4 oz raisins ( I have used sultanas or currants)
zest from 1 large orange
6 oz buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

2 drops Madagascan vanilla essence
6 oz full fat cream cheese
Add sweetener to taste

1 Pre-heat the oven to 180deg
2 Put sweetener into a large mixing bowl, pour in the oil,  add the eggs and lightly mix.
3 Roughly chop the carrots and peel and chop the orange zest. Put both in the food processer and
when pulsed stir into the oil mix and add the raisins.
4 In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and spices and sift all into the oil mix. Stir all the ingredients until well blended.
5 Pour the mixture into a lined, oiled square tin.
6 Bake for 35 minutes until springy and a skewer or cocktail stick comes out clean.
7 Cool on a wire rack before icing

When I’ve baked it and done a taste test I will report back.But it has to be better than the tasteless buttery concotion from last week. Fingers crossed.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Food Blog Three

Believe it or not gluten-free lasagne is remarkably tasty. As it came out of the oven I couldn’t say whether it was your regular full-on pasta-layered dish or a low-carb substitute. For those who are trying to lose weight I can truly recommend lasagne a la cabbage. Aswell as being gluten-free each portion is roughly 112 calories.

The recipe which intrigued me uses ricotta and marinara sauce. I did, however, alter the ingredients slightly: in place of the marinara I made a basic bolognese sauce added to ½ lb of mincemeat. I kept some of the tomato sauce back for layering. Recipes generally use minced beef but today I tried the dish with turkey mince. It is more lean but less tasty. 

After browning the mince with a little olive oil in a frying pan I seasoned with salt and oregano to taste. After which I added tinned tomatoes and sliced home-grown ones which are ripening beautifully in pots on our patio. Having survived the heat wave I’m hoping they can escape the blight associated with damp, cold conditions. Today it’s so cold and damp I declined to go for afternoon tea with a friend. While she went to the cinema I stayed in with the heating on.

Continuing the theme of substitutions: in place of ricotta I used feta cheese ─ roughly ¾ lb ─ which I mixed with ½ cup of parmesan and 1 medium egg. You can add parsley to this before setting it to one side. 

Taking ¼ of a cabbage discard the outer leaves and remove whole inner leaves. DON’T do what my recipe says and boil the cabbage leaves to nothingness for ten minutes. You merely need to parboil the cabbage for a few minutes until slightly limp. As the leaves are a substitute for pasta sheets they need to have structure.

 For baking the lasagne I have a 2 lb glass loaf dish which I lightly oiled and for my first layer I spread the tomato sauce over the bottom. On top of that I layered the cabbage leaves and the meat mixed with bolognese sauce over that. The next layer is the cheesy egg mixture.

Then I repeated the layers until I came to the top where it’s good to sprinkle the whole with more grated parmesan. 
It takes around 15-20 minutes to prep and is truly appetising.

Cook at 350 F for 20 minutes et voila! A gluten-free dish which you can serve with salad and enjoy as if it's the real thing. I don't recommend it, I advise it.

ingredients for a family of four of five:-
whole leaves from 1/4 cabbage
3/4 lb feta cheese (or ricotta)
1/4 lb minced beef or minced turkey
bascic bolognese sauce for the mince - 400g tinned tomatoes, 3 fresh sliced tomatoes, 2 carrots finely chopped, 1 medium onion finely chopped, 2cloves garlic finely chopped and salt & pepper to taste
olive oil - 1 tabs
pinch of salt and orgeano to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 medium egg - beaten
parsley to flavour egg and cheese mixture

grated parmesan for the topping
a 2lb loaf tin or dish or pyrex dish of similar capacity

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Food Blog Two

In my quest for a healthier, leaner me I’m following a low-carb, higher-protein regime, for a few weeks at least.

Our modus operandi on the meat front has been to eat duck as a Sunday roast, turkey mince in a lasagne or pasta bake  mid-week and chicken-a la-whatever-we-want-whenever-we-want it.

Instead of relying on meat for protein I’m converting to beans and buying large tubs of Fage 5% natural yogurt. It has more fat than the 0% or 2% varieties but is low-sugar and high in protein. Parfait. I eat it for breakfast with blueberries (having bought a set of measuring cups to convert from Ozzie recipes) or as a sweet in the evenings to replace high-sugar ice cream. 

The 5% fat rating might seem too great but my understanding is that such a fat content helps you to feel full for longer and thus deflects you from the biscuit tin. Other low-fat yogurts can have a high sugar content - definitely a no-no as it does more damage to your blood sugar/insulin system. So be told! Sugar is bad. Here endeth...

My venture into the world of edamame beans frightened me, though. A tub of cooked-then-chilled beans declared frying for three minutes was all that was required. I opened the pack and believing the beans to be like peas, straight from the pod, I sampled them ‘raw’ in a salad.

At the same time Richard wanted a light cooked meal and a three-minute fry-up seemed to fit the bill. But we’ve never cooked with them before. (They become soya when older so we’ve tried their elderly relations on many occasions - if that doesn’t sound too cannabalistic.) Again I’m sure many of you knew that but I’m late to food science.

Online edamame recipes were full of 40-minute steamings with salt (exactly what we didn’t want to do) but inside our tub of beans a small instructions label stated three minutes in a frying pan was exactly the thing to do. But I was expecting stomach cramps, diarrhoea and a call to 111 as I’d eaten ‘raw’ edamame beans and hadn’t cooked them long enough. Apparently unless cooked properly they can cause terrible digestive problems. The beans HAVE to be steamed or fried as they contain something vicious which only a ‘professor of nasty toxins of the human gut’ would understand. Except they weren’t raw and all the alarmist online tales didn’t give me the facts I sought. They were pre-cooked. And I didn’t visit the loo in the wee (?!) small hours.

As an alternative to the ubiquitous baked bean tins (low-sugar and low-salt variety) we’ve always had lentils, split peas, kidney beans and butter beans. But I’m upping my game (!) on butter beans and looking out for recipes with black beans, pinto beans, navy beans and others. But edamame is what we’re trying now and in the foreseeable future. As suggested they are perfect with a green leaf salad, to which I add pomegranate seeds. They are ideal as a snack after their three minute fry-up in oil. And good with prawns. (Many other concoctions are available) 

Whilst mentioning oil it’s interesting to note that a nutritionist told me extra virgin olive oil isn’t the key but cold-pressed is the one to go for. It’s usually unblended therefore pure and better for you. And I’m a convert to olives as an aperitive. But not with salty items like anchovies.

Speaking of pomegranates, our greengrocer and farm shop - no plastic on anything, thank you very much - has them rarely but when you do find them - in larger supermarkets for instance, there’s a knack to opening them:

Slice in two, tap one half on the side of a sturdy dish then push them out from the top. You need good thumbs. But it’s so much quicker than picking out each seed with a needle.
Remember those days? The one meal that took much longer to prepare than eat.

As for next week I'll be trying ‘lasagne’ made with layers of cabbage. Mmm. 

Or mmm not.  I’ve yet to be convinced.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Food Blog One

In May, at our art trail,  I was selling cakes for charity. Half of the takings went towards The Trussell Trust foodbanks and the rest to a charity in Sierra Leone which supports girls’ secondary schooling. It costs £120 a year to educate a girl beyond eleven years of age but there is no state provision.

I sold my traditional, all-singing, all wheat and sugar carrot cake and my aunts’ signature cakes - lemon drizzle and pineapple cake.

Around that time a friend of ours wanted to go out for a gluten-free meal and our newest vegan restaurant, where three of Richard’s paintings are on display, was the answer. We had already sampled vegan foods and always felt full afterwards. Robbie’s pomegranate salads are a marvel.

Back at our art trail several women asked for gluten-free cake, a neighbour's daughter needs gluten-free foods and our gluten-free friend bought a painting from Richard but I had nothing ‘healthy’ to offer. A few days later I was looking at reduced sugar recipes. Hence my interest in the following lemon drizzle cake:

It is moist - which I like - but is made with Truvia sweetener and coconut flour. Back in May I had never heard of coconut flour let alone baked with it. Our nearest (much-expanded) Holland and Barrett and our local, long-established health food store came up with the goods.

I was dubious - without the elasticity from gluten how could the batter rise? I really didn’t know enough. Not having studied food technology, home economics or simply cooking at school for more than a term I wondered whether five eggs and baking soda would work. Would it help the texture? If I’d been on a hotline to Mary Berry she could have told me to start worrying or, alternatively, to stop my anxieties and just get whisking. 

At 212 cals a slice I thought it was heavy-ish but had to try the new bake.


Gluten-free lemon drizzle cake - ingredients

2 pound loaf tin

100g butter
75g Truvia - sweetener
100g full fat cream cheese
90g ground almonds
40g coconut flour
1 tsp baking power
3 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice
5 eggs

Once you’ve located truvia and coconut flour - you may be years ahead of me and have supplies on your shelves as I write - everything else is an easy shop. But as a newbie to gluten-free and sugar-free baking for me this was the first step. 
Prep was easy. I set the oven to 170Âșc and beat the butter, cream cheese and sweetener before adding the lemon zest.

 I was suspect when the recipe said to leave the freshly-squeezed lemon juice to one side to pour on the cake during ( during?) baking. But I progressed, added the rest of the ingredients to the batter, mixed it all very well in the food processor and poured it all into a lined loaf tin.

After 35 minutes the cake was turning golden and, as suggested, I removed it and poured some of the lemon juice on to the cake and quickly popped it back to continue baking. Yes. I was bothered. Surely the poor confection would collapse? You never open the oven door on a still-baking cake, do you? 

Five minutes later I re-anointed the cake with lemon juice and returned it to the oven. After a third drizzling with lemon juice the top had browned and I removed it from the oven for the last time. I was most surprised, and pleased, when my skewer came out clean. It appeared the experiment had been successful. The cake had baked. 

Finally I followed the last instruction carefully: 
‘...Leave the lemon drizzle cake to cool completely. When using almond or coconut flour it needs to cool thoroughly or it can be very, very crumbly.’

It was a long wait before I felt I could slice the cake and see that it wasn’t a soggy, unrisen mess. I had convinced myself it would be fit for the garden birds alone.

But no. After about 75 minutes left on the rack the cake had cooled. Tentatively I sliced it and - hey presto - it did what a lemon drizzle cake should do. It even tasted moist. 

My only reservation is the use of coconut. It’s extremely sweet and, when, rather than if, I bake using this recipe again, I’ll adjust the amount of coconut downwards. 

It was a doddle to make and bake. The texture was even and the lemon was very evident. The name ‘lemon and coconut cake’ would have been a better description, however.

But for anyone who needs gluten-free and wants to restrict their sugar intake, yet enjoy a slice, this was not a bad start. It was beyond edible and I shared it with neighbours and friends. I didn’t get chance to freeze it as it went - without any resistance - and everyone liked it. 

In our new world where plastic and sugar are ubiquitous and the enemy this is a good starter cake for the non-chefs among us.

Saturday 18 August 2018

A food blog? Moi?

I am the last person to be thinking of writing a food blog: While I was head of team at a large school I had early starts, a fifty-minute motorway drive in, ( thank you Vaughan) long days ( apart from Wednesdays and Fridays) and a staff of over twenty. I was responsible for more than 300 students, had a cross-school role, met ‘external agents’ on a fortnightly basis, attended meetings, met parents. I even taught. But never cooked. 

Needless to say, after twenty seven years full-time teaching, my husband, armed with a pension, a lump sum and retirement package, became the cook. I carried on working and paying the mortgage. ( Yes, after 27 years he was awarded a retirement package on health grounds. I know... I know...).

These days I occasionally do the Sunday lunch. I can roast a whole (small) chicken for two. I can cook duck - very swiftly - in a pan. I like to make a fish pie and occasionally manage a chilli con carne.

That’s a small repertoire. But, a few years after taking voluntary redundancy, I feel ready to write about the virtues of low glycemic index foods. Herewith a quote:

‘The glycemic index or glycaemic index is a number associated with the carbohydrates in a particular type of food that indicates the effect of these carbohydrates on a person's blood glucose level.’

Why now?

Following a back problem, serious pain and lack of mobility I have had slightly raised blood sugar. In other words I wasn’t moving about enough nor exercising regularly. I was on 13 painkillers daily at the height of the pain and truly struggled to get out of bed for a week or two. My blood sugar levels became a little raised. It’s nothing to worry about and is well under control but it has sparked my interest in low GI foods.

Nowadays you will see my shelves empty of white self-raising flour, icing sugar, plain white flour, caster sugar, granulated sugar, rich dark sugar, Demerara, pasta, white rice and even potatoes.

In order to allow my body to avoid working harder after a sugar spike I have learned to refrain from sugars or the aforementioned higher GI foods.

My latest concoctions have replaced wheat-based flour with coconut flour and almond flour. It is possible to make my favourite - carrot cake - with flour from nuts. It’s an acquired taste. But I may try a cake recipe using buckwheat flour instead. 

My interest in this turn around is simply to prevent foods breaking down to sugars too quickly once I have consumed them. My blood sugar is stable and I don’t want to upset the status quo. I have invested in ‘truvia’ and stevia sweeteners and I drink white wine with soda - occasionally - to further reduce the risk of raised sugar levels. I’m probably being over-cautious but, as Richard says, I like a project.

Another recipe I’m trying out is lasagne with layers of cabbage leaves rather than pasta sheets. Again pasta can have a high GI. I like pasta but am learning to do without. For my health - not because I’m virtuous or a great cabbage lover.

Even white rice has gone into my husband’s cupboard. I now cook with wild rice, which isn’t a rice at all, but has a slightly nutty flavour and is easy to bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat. Again it has a low GI. In place of spuds I have sweet potato ( some irony there) or squash.

And next week I will be cooking with edamame beans. My food blog proper starts then. 

A food blog? Moi? Sacre Bleu! ‘But you never cook, Nina,’ I hear you cry.

It’s a journey of discovery and one I’m enjoying. But I’m aware of the dangers of becoming a food bore. Meanwhile I’m blithe, ever so slightly excited and intrigued.

For the moment.

Thursday 16 August 2018

I don’t miss the heat, but I will

It was merely a few weeks ago, when walking back from a swim at the leisure spa, that I escaped into the shade of the tree-lined pavement, just to stay cool. It was as hot at seven-thirty in the evening as at three in the afternoon.

Tonight, feeling chilled and wearing a hoodie, I avoided the shadows and walked into the retreating patches of still-warm sunlight. Curled, brown leaves had collected in drifts at footpath edges. In the low light, under a cloudy sky, I could have been taking a walk in an autumn breeze, rather than a stroll on a mid-August evening.

At home the burnished lawn is shaking off its straw covering and tussocks of green appear like tufts of hair on a balding skull. Ferns, collapsed in the heat, have righted themselves. I’m glad I didn’t waste precious energy cutting them back. Nature has provided its own remedy.

Soon the plants I bought for ‘mum’s garden’ will go into their flower beds as the soil dampens and loses its cracked, parched form.

The replenished pond needs to be cleared of duck-weed and wild, wispy stems of rambler roses and honeysuckle need cutting too.

Potted tomato plants, so thirsty only days ago, are rejuvenated and reward us with round, ripe, red fruit. My French beans are losing their dried leaves to yield bright green growth, new flowers and another crop of pods which will fill out now the rains have come.

But would we have had it any other way? Would we have wanted grey skies, cool evenings, wet lunchtimes, dull afternoons and more weeding than watering? A heat wave can show us a new way of being. It makes us value water as a vital commodity, a precious necessity. I don’t miss the heat. But I will. 

Friday 10 August 2018

Food shopping or how to become a grown-up

I remember, rather too well, one scar-tissue event in an otherwise very happy childhood. And I wonder whether I need to go through rebirthing. Otherwise I might always have an obsession about food-shopping!

I was about nine when mum asked me to go to our local post office - for an errand - in Villiers Square. It meant a short walk between playing fields and the crossing of one road until I got to a square consisting of shops, laundry/ dry cleaners, hairdressers and The Villiers Arms. But if I were to be ‘transported’ back into my deepest memories I might find reasons for my love-hate relationship with purchasing our daily bread ( and other comestibles). And this curious relationship with fodder may relate to this particular point in time down there in Villiers Square. None of us likes queues but, in soi-disant 'friendly' corner shops in particular, I often feel I’m going to do something foolish. The League of Gentlemen hinted at something like it with their ‘local shop for local people’ comedic phrase. So I’m not the only one who feels inadequate...
And maybe my discomfort is because of some of these early, indelible experiences.

I seem to remember that I was sent to buy potatoes from our PO. But surely that’s wrong? I wouldn’t be carrying such heavy items as potatoes as a child? Nevertheless images of five big, dusty sacks of potatoes - dwarfing me - have remained in my mind’s eye.

On that day, when I was nine, I panicked. I didn’t know what kind of potatoes I wanted - there were so many varieties - and I was ignored for so long - I was short and hardly reached the counter - I almost walked out. I felt foolish and upset.
Thereafter I used to avoid doing errands... Typical-avoidance-behaviour -leading-to-a-phobic-response my A level textbooks would say.

I had a similar experience one Sunday morning while staying at my aunts’ flat. It was a treat to stay over for the weekend and be picked up by dad who’d take me home for Sunday lunch. 

Before I went home aunties gave me some pocket money. At the sweet shop next door I waited to be served ‘Bluebird toffees’. There I was in yet another queue. There I was ignored yet again and the adults served first. 

At the counter I politely asked, I was well trained, for a ‘A quarter of bluebirds, please.’ At which point the shopkeeper laughed at me and said they didn’t come in a jar. I was nine and didn’t feel like getting the joke. Eventually he relented. He clearly thought he was a great tease. And had lost his vocation. 'Should have been on the stage, don't you know'. But I was merely a little girl asking for a small bag of toffees. I could have been scarred for life!

Every time I go to our local grocery store - a good 25 minute walk up and down a hill - I do something daft. It’s healthy exercise and it’s good to see the shops and familiar faces in the village square. But I must need therapy for my repetitive clumsy behaviour at the food counter.

When there’s a queue forming behind me I can’t find my money fast enough or I drop some change on the floor. Or I forget that for items less than £30 I can ‘go contactless’ and I always put my card on the wrong part of the reader and have to be told how to use it. ( At my age!) Or I put my basket on the wrong till. 

Or - like yesterday - I loaded a few items: apples, cat food etc, in my shopping bag only to find it full of water. I walked out of the store with my bag taking a pee. I sat down in the gutter outside ( a fine sight!) and tipped the water away into a drain.

My non-single use water bottle, aren’t I being plastic-aware?  has a useless screw top. It often leaks but I usually spot it before I find myself walking around with a bag in which goldfish could happily take a swim. 

Something always happens when I go in that shop...Refined and sophisticated, cool, calm and collected I am not.

One day I will go in there like a normal adult. Make my purchases. Pay promptly and walk out with some decorum. 

Maybe, though, it isn’t me. Is it the comments of certain servers that spark early food-shopping insecurities andmaybe it's them that need to alter? Is it my memory of being teased that makes me self conscious and flustered as I get to the till? Is it just food shopping that makes me behave like someone brought up in an institution like 'Lowood', deprived and isolated from warm, human contact, in Jane Eyre? If I’m buying a dress or shoes or a magazine - or best of all stationery items - I don’t regress to the little girl who couldn’t reach the counter. 

More likely it’s simply I hate queues and I get impatient ... and I’m good at avoiding doing errands. Just as I did when I was nine. Funny how I’ve often preferred the impersonality of a supermarket to corner shops. But not always. It depends on the person serving. Friend or foe.
I don’t think I’ll go for psychoanalysis just yet. Not until I’ve stabbed someone at the cash register.
‘Would m’lud take into account the defendant's early childhood experiences before passing sentence?’ 

Quarter of bluebirds anyone?