About me

After being diagnosed with a long list of food intolerances seven years ago, I was forced into getting more creative in the kitchen.

For me, the best recipes are those which are easy to prepare and deliver heaps of flavour, perfect for sharing with friends and family without having to single anyone out because of a specialised diet.

My love for cooking and adapting recipes for my own dietary requirements has given me the incentive to share tips with others who also live with restricted diets.

I hope you find a bit of cooking inspiration from my blog. Please feel free to comment and post any questions...

Friday, 7 December 2012

Smells Like Christmas

For me the flavours and smells of Christmas are essential to get me in the mood for the festive season. Cinnamon, cloves, and sweet citrus scents are just some of the aromas which have passed through my kitchen the last fortnight.

Every year, I try to make or bake at least some of my gifts for the family. Not only is this a great way of saving money and avoiding the madness of the city shoppers, but people really appreciate the extra effort.
My glistening chili jam, or rather Nigella’s, has become a staple part of my Christmas, and always plays a part in a hamper for the parents.

You will need: 150g red peppers, 150g red chilies de-seeded 600ml cider vinegar, 1kg jam sugar and roughly 5 empty, sterilised jam jars.

Start by: chopping the peppers and chilies into chunks, then place them in a food processor and blitz into small, red shards. Dissolve the jam sugar in the cider vinegar in a large pan on a low heat. Do not stir the sugar.

Then: When the sugar is dissolved, add the chili and pepper mix to the pan and bring to the boil. Allow the mixture to boil vigorously for ten minutes, before turning down to a low heat and leaving to simmer for 40 minutes. It’s important not to stir the jam as the flecks of red will evenly distribute themselves in the pan.

Tips:    -    Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow the jam to cool and set further.
-          You may find a thin layer of red froth settles on top of the jam, which I skim off with a wide spoon as it can ruin the look and texture of the jam.
-          Sterilise your jam jars by putting them through the dishwasher and decorate the lids for that added touch.
-          The jam can be used to accompany a variety of foods included cooked meats, cheese boards and prawn and avocado salads.
-          Put the filled jars of jam in the fridge for a few days before giving out to friends so that it has time to set a little more.

                               My recycled jars are still in need of a little decoration at this point.

This time of year, there are certain ingredients which I favour specifically for their Christmas connotations. Several years ago I partook in the cliché that is chestnuts roasting on an open fire. What the song doesn't mention is that they are ticking time bombs, ready and waiting to explode at any moment! From now on, I score a cross in my chestnuts and place them on a baking tray in a ‘closed’ oven at 200 ‘C for 10-15 minutes.

More recently, I was introduced to the magic of mulled wine. I have never been a fan of red wine, but heated through with some mulling syrup and I will be straight to the front of the queue, poised with a mug. This has become a core component of my house mate’s diet and the alcoholic fumes, emanating from the cauldron like pan, fill the house nightly with festive giggles and hiccups.

The last Christmas before I left for university, I took control of the kitchen and made it my mission to deliver a Christmas dinner where the vegetables were the stars of the show. After watching Delia, Jamie, Nigella and Gordon do it their way, I devised a schedule for the big day and spent the morning chopping, marinating, boiling and roasting all the usual vegetables you expect to see alongside your turkey or nut roast. My sprouts were oven cooked in a honey mustard sauce, the carrots were roasted with orange and thyme and the peas had a minty finish. But my favourite side dish and one which I now regularly make in the winter months is my braised red cabbage with apples and balsamic.

Everyone seems to have their own way of making this dish and even my version has gone through adaptations.

To make a hefty batch that will feed at least four people, you will need:

1 red cabbages chopped, 3 braeburn apples peeled and diced, 1red onion diced, a good handful of sultanas, 5 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp mixed spice.

Start by: Softening the red onion and cabbage in a large, heavy bottomed pan in the hot oil on a high heat. Stir continuously for several minutes before adding the chopped apple and stirring a while longer.

Then: Reduce the heat, add the balsamic vinegar, mixed spice, sultanas and sugar and mix well. Cover the pan with a lid and allow to simmer on a low heat for roughly an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s worth tasting the dish a couple of times whilst it cooks, in case you want to add a little more vinegar, sugar or spice to suit your tastes.

Once the cabbage is soft, the dish is ready to serve and makes a great accompaniment to a typical roast dinner. Although, I have been known to happily eat it on its own. The delicious balance of sweet and savoury with a slight tang makes it a filling and comforting dish which is sure to convert any cabbage haters.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Winter comforts

For a northern girl, wintry weekends are best spent out in the country, trudging through puddles and crunching through crispy red leaves. For me, this is best followed by a couple of hours, lazing in the warmth with delicious food and good company.

Despite the ever nearing deadlines of the autumn semester, it’s important to take the time and stop to remember what’s important in life and enjoy the little things.

For me, cookery is one of the best forms of relaxation and this is especially true during the festive season.

For many students, Christmas can be difficult financially. The last installment of the student loan has run dry, but you still want to return home with gifts for those closest to you.

Last year I decided to make a Christmas hamper for my parents. It was filled with treats including home baked olive and sun dried tomato bread, glistening chili and red pepper jam perfect for cooked meats and cheese and an assortment of chocolate dipped, dried fruits.

Delighted with their gift, the home made Christmas hamper will be making a comeback this December in collaboration with my sister and a few bottles of strawberry and blackberry wine from Tatton Park.

The villages and national trust attractions throughout the north are committed to promoting locally sourced and produced food and beverages. After hearing about a small, artisan bakery in Northumberland, renowned for its generous afternoon teas and excellent customer service, we decided to take a drive up to “The Running Fox.”

Located in the quaint village of Felton, near Morpeth, overlooking a river of cackling ducks, the bakery is a popular destination for country walkers and local residents. With less than ten tables, it is essential to make a booking, but you can also purchase any of the delicious breads, cakes and pies displayed throughout the bakery to take away.

Having arrived early, we were keen to explore the nearby countryside. Armed with wellies, woollens, yet a lack of directions, we trundled down a muddy track, past the icy river waters and hiked up through a field of sheep. As we skated down a long, steep snicket past an old farmhouse, decorated with holly wreaths, the scales of a piano lesson could be heard emanating from indoors.

Thankfully, we soon found our way back to the cobbled, stone bridge leading to the bakery. Inside, a cosy corner table had been reserved for us, surrounded by fairy lights and Christmas decorations, the walls lined with miniature watercolours of Northumberland’s wildlife.

The menu boasts a large variety of delicious hot and cold meals, freshly prepared soups, hot specials and a spectacular selection of ingredients.

Vegetarians and Pescetarians need not worry, as a wide choice of sandwich and pie fillings are available, and as I found, the staff are more than happy to suggest alternatives for anyone living with dietary requirements.

Luckily, my lunch date had the freedom to enjoy all the components of the famous afternoon tea. A choice of pie, sandwich, scone and cake, all with an endless supply of tea or coffee at a very reasonable price meant that we could sit and enjoy the traditional scenery and French music for the rest of the afternoon.

After deciding on a slice of cottage pie, a brie, bacon and cranberry sandwich, fruit scone with all the trimmings and a slice of cranberry and orange cake, we were approached with a two tier cake stand, brimming with enough treats to feed a small family. ‘Generous’ portions would be an understatement in terms, but don’t worry, you can always take home what you don’t manage in one sitting.

After being out in the cold, I was looking forward to a creamy, filling bowl of soya porridge, decorated with fresh berries, a swirl of honey and a dusting of cinnamon.
When we finally managed to drag ourselves away from this little Eden, my attention was caught by the proffering of wheat free, chocolate cake and fluffy Victoria sponge. It goes without saying that a portion found its way home with me, to be shared with housemates.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Spooky but Sweet

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and the temperatures have dropped. On the eve of our belated Halloween party, I can look back on a week of warming dishes and nights spent swaddled in blankets...hiding from trick or treaters.

Not because I disapprove of the mini ghouls and ghosts, but because the cupboards of a dieter who severely limits sugars and fats are likely to receive tricks. Rice cake anyone?

After carving pumpkins last weekend, sweet root vegetables has been a running theme in my cooking lately, providing natural sugars and a filling accompaniment to many foods.

I began the week with roasted butternut squash, tumbled across a bed of wilted spinach and topped with a zingy, marinated fillet of poached salmon. A first time combination, but so good, I had it two nights running.

-For two portions start by mixing the marinade for your salmon fillets. In a shallow bowl mix 5 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp crushed ginger and 2 tbsp white wine vinegar. Place both fillets in the bowl and turn them over in the marinade several times before covering with clingfilm and placing in the fridge.
-Chop the butternut squash into cubes (don't bother removing the skin, the job already requires a bit of elbow grease and the skin will soften beautifully as it roasts in the oven.) Place the squash on a baking tray, drizzle with  a little olive oil and honey, give it a generous grind of black pepper, a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle over a handful of chopped, fresh rosemary. Place the tray in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes or until golden and soft. 

-Ten minutes before the squash is ready, take your salmon from the fridge, place each fillet on a large square of tin foil, fold up the edges and pour over the remaining marinade equally. Close the foil parcels leaving space above the salmon so it can steam in the oven. Place above the squash and allow to cook for ten minutes. 

-Whilst the oven finishes off the work on the fish and squash, you can quickly wilt your spinach. An easy method for this is to place a large amount of fresh spinach leaves in a steamer and leave for several minutes. Keep an eye on the steamer though as you don't want your spinach to overcook and lose it's flavour.

- Once everything is ready you can assemble your colourful dish. Make sure not to waste any of the delicious tangy marinade, as it makes a lovely, light dressing for your roast butternut squash.

This dish has quickly become a firm favourite as it doesn't involve that much work and within an hour, you can sit down with your lucky dinner guest and a glass of pinot.

A few days and pumpkin lattes later, a bag of sweet potatoes made their way home with me and featured in two different dishes, one fit for a gluten, dairy free meat eater and one for yours truly (too many dietary requirements to list.)

In exchange for a bottle of white...after all it is holiday (and essay) season, I whipped up a spicy chorizo and roast sweet potato risotto, laden with sweet paprika and mild chilli powder for extra heat. Lovingly cooked al dente, with the addition of vegetable stock and the occasional slosh of white wine, it was smiles all round, both tiddly and satisfied.

For myself, I added the cubed and roasted sweet potato with paprika to a simple, but tasty ratatouille and happily settled down with the pumpkin lanterns to enjoy our dinner. 

Tomorrow night is likely to be a lot less sophisticated and filled with an abundance of scarier sights than my week of special suppers! Thankfully there are still some sweet potatoes I could whip into a comforting Autumn soup on Sunday to sooth a delicate head. Dairy free of course, this Catwoman doesn't take kindly to cream.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Great British Birthday Cake Bake Off!

Like most of the country, Tuesday nights in our house means an hour of oo-ing, aah-ing and sometimes a little drooling in front of the TV.

The Great British Bake Off is well under way, filled with innuendo and euphemisms over sticky fingers and plump buns, it's both educational and a good giggle.

After the landlord recently splashed out on a new all singing, all dancing television, bells and whistles inc. We were able to witness Chelsea buns and walnut whips in 3D!!

The immediate post gbbo temptation to bake has resulted in numerous loaves of bread and scones, but today, my mission was to bake a Nigella Lawson inspired Venetian carrot cake.

Despite a passion for cooking, I am somewhat of a nervous baker. Perhaps it's the fact that once you have mixed all your ingredients together, it's a case of saying a little prayer and hoping that the oven will take care of your dish and make the magic happen. Throughout my baking past, the magic has occasionally been lacking.

Mary Berry would have been mortified by my treacle tarts.

But after reading Nigella's "How to be a domestic Goddess", my faith was restored and a friend's birthday created the opportunity to fish out the scales and have a go at a wheat and dairy free carrot cake that my sister bakes for me every time I visit.

For my big sister's version of the Venetian carrot cake:

  •  Grate 3 large carrots and soak up the excess water by pressing down on the carrots with kitchen towel. 
  • In a pan, mix 2 large handfuls of sultanas with a glug of dark rum and a good splash of fresh orange juice, then set aside.
  • Whisk 120ml olive oil with 150g caster sugar. Once light and fluffy, whisk in 250g ground almonds, the zest of a lemon, the sultanas, grated  carrot, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
  • A mixture of sunflower and pumpkin seeds are an optional addition to the mix, they add another texture and provide a good source of nutrients to the cake.
  • Pour the mixture in to a pre-prepared cake tin and place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 30-40 mins. Once the top has browned slightly,you can turn off the oven and allow the cake to rest until cool. 
The cake will not rise by much, so don't worry if it still looks a little short, you can always whisk together a dairy free butter cream topping with a dash of rum and lather this on top with a spatchelor to add height.

My cake is currently resting, preparing to be doused in icing and sprinkled with citrus strands and glitter. Fingers crossed for rave reviews, I think the silver fox Mr. Paul Hollywood would be tempted to take a bite!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Nigella's back!

Luscious, velvety, rich, luxurious, decadent and over exuberant television cookery has returned!!
Rife with adjectives, but with a much slimmer waistline, Nigella is back with her latest collection of Italian recipes, entitled "Nigelissima".

Not her smoothest book and television show title, but nevertheless I can forgive as I secretly wish I was related to this woman! For now though,  I shall settle for looking towards her for cooking inspiration as I wouldn't mind being the next, more dietary challenged version.

During the rush to get ready for uni, I caught up with the first episode and could quite happily have dived into the chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake, were it not for the wheat and dairy laden ingredients. Oh yes and the hazelnuts!! Like many people I seem to go through the occasional period of nut sensitivity. Quite possibly due to a recent obsession with crunchy nut cornflakes, but I shall not be deterred!

I was pleased to find a jar of dairy free chocolate spread in a health and nutrition store recently, the holy grail for any chocoholic, especially those tired of the oily carob and dairy free chocolate bars more commonly found in supermarkets.

This would be a perfect substitute for the nutella used in Nigella's recipe. Dairy free soft cheese is also now widely available and along with icing sugar you have the ingredients for your cheesecake topping! The typical cheesecake base is made from crushed digestive biscuits, mixed with melted butter and pressed into a cake tin before chilling in the fridge.

Once again health food stores and supermarket free from sections can provide substitutes to help you achieve your nigella-esque cheese-less cake.

The woman has always been somewhat of a fairy cooking godmother for me. Her preference for researching other cook's recipes and adapting them for her own tastes is something which I am more than familiar with. She has a tendency to lean towards the low effort, but big results style of cooking, which regularly guesstimates on quantities and which again highly reflects my own behaviour in the kitchen.

Tonight for instance, I took a Nigella recipe for 'Norwegian mountain bread' and tweaked a few of the ingredients. My basic dough mixture was a blend of wheat free flour,porridge oats, mixed toasted seeds, yeast, soya milk and water.

After combining the wet and dry ingredients separately, the two are then brought together and mixed vigorously to a porridge like texture. I decided to stick to the cooking temperatures and times as baking is definitely more of a science than cooking. It is also then easier to blame the recipe if things don't work out...sorry Nigella.

Whether the majority of recipes will be to my taste or not "Nigelissima" is already on my Christmas list and will feel right at home in amongst my collection of Nigella cookbooks.

The next topic of trial and discussion...Great British Bake Off and Masterchef! A dreary start to Autumn has been improved by the comeback of cookery shows!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A little bit of what you fancy

A few years ago, I read a book called “French women don’t get fat.”  I was curious to learn the real secrets of des Mademoiselles and how they stay lean, happy and fashionable well into retirement.

Contrary to English cynicism, the French woman’s ‘joie de vivre’ is not down to a minimalistic diet, in which a binge would consist of 2 glasses of champagne and 3 caviar blinis.

It’s not even thanks to a secret diet pill not yet made legal in the UK.

The basis of the French woman’s diet is simply to never deny yourselves of the foods you love, but to enjoy them in moderation.

Author Mireille Guiliano writes about how French women consciously think about their meals and exercise regimes, whilst incorporating those tempting sweet treats and higher fat favourites.

For many people, dieting is considered a period of ‘deprivation’. But inevitably, this will end in a late night biscuit tin binge, followed by a guilt ridden trip to the gym or even worse, after having reached your goal weight it’s not long before you’ve slipped back into old habits and have undone all the hard work.

Like every girl, I have the occasional weakness for chocolate, but due to food intolerances, this can make things tricky.

Like most people living with a dairy intolerance, a good dark chocolate above 70% cocoa solids can still be enjoyed in small doses.

 Although it’s not low in fat, a good quality dark chocolate contains antioxidants and has proven health benefits such as fending off the menopause for women and can improve cardiovascular health.

When I’m craving a bit of the dark stuff, there are several sweet and savoury recipes which I add a few squares of dark chocolate to.

Dairy free rice pudding
There’s something about making your own rice pudding which makes the dish so much tastier and gratifying.
Pudding rice is cheap and widely accessible to purchase and still cooks brilliantly when made with soya or rice milk.

 I often mix in cinnamon, honey and sultanas, but you can achieve a whole different flavour by melting in a few squares of Green and Black’s dark chocolate with raspberries or ginger.

The pudding is really filling and so much better for you than a full fat, ready made version which contains unnecessary sugars. I have never seen a pre-made dairy free version either, so get mixing!

Crème de marrons avec chocolat
I only recently heard of this sweet French favourite ‘chestnut spread’ and after discovering a jar of chestnut paste at the back of my cupboard, I decided to make a healthier, dairy free version to satisfy my cravings for a certain chocolate hazelnut spread.

Place 200g of cooked chestnuts or chestnut paste in a pan and pour in soya cream until the chestnuts are almost covered. Add 2 tbsp brown sugar and a vanilla pod, sliced lengthways.

Simmer the mixture in a pan for ten minutes before melting in a few squares of dark chocolate.
Hand blend until the mixture is a smooth paste and leave to cool.

The spread is delicious on crackers or wheat free toast, topped with sliced bananas. For an added kick, you can add 1 ½ tbsp of cognac or your favourite liquor to the pan as it simmers. For me, sweet liquor such as amaretto or Tia Maria works well.

If savoury treats are more your thing, I like to grate a few squares of dark chocolate with chilli into my vegetarian chilli ‘sans’ carne or even nibble a little with some homemade sweet potato and carrot crisps which contain a lot less fat and calories when baked in the oven rather than being fried in oil.

Whatever your most tempting food treat is, take a note from the French and remember that a little of what you fancy IS good for you and when enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet combined with exercise, there is no harm in it.

Here, the proof really is in the pudding.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Philosophy and Ethnics

Its National Vegetarian week and I began on Monday by attempting to convert another non-believer to the benefits of a meat free diet.

My friend had just completed a three hour philosophy exam and so was a little broken down and unable to protest against a 100% vegan and gluten free meal at El Piano.

Nestled in the cobbled streets of York, there is a 19th century, orange shackle of a building. Misshapen windows, filled with a warm glow omit lively salsa music and beckon you in with a mixture of sweet and spicy aromas.

For anyone avoiding meat, dairy, or gluten, El Piano is heaven sent. However, you don’t have to be living with dietary restrictions to enjoy any of the delicious and lovingly prepared plates, or should that be “boats” of Spanish, Lebanese, Greek or Indian cuisine. When opting for the tapas style sharing menu, your dishes arrive in thinly woven wicker boats.

With the student friendly prices and the refreshing ability to eat just about everything on the menu, we took full advantage and ordered the majority of the sharing dishes, followed by dessert and coffee.

Our table for two resembled a wedding buffet and it wasn’t long before we’d taken over the back section of the restaurant. Where there is food and music, students will set up camp.

Depleted from studies, my friend and I delved in, spooning and spreading the mouth-watering hummus and baba ganoush on tortilla chips and mini flatbreads. We moved on to the delectable falafel balls, rolled with chickpeas, garlic and parsley, then eyed up the Thai inspired vegetable and coconut milk curry and clay red re-fried beans.

…There was more and I do remember it all, but if I carry on describing I may end up finishing this post back on Grape Lane, this time with a table for one plus laptop.

If you’re not within a suitable distance of York, check out their menu online for a little inspiration. If your diet is getting a bit repetitive or if you are cooking for someone with restrictions and want to be a little more adventurous, there are some fantastic options all of which can be quickly prepared.

Here are a couple of recipes for my own versions of some of the dishes we enjoyed.

Baba Ganoush

1.      Slice a large aubergine in half and roast on a baking tray for 45 minutes in a 200 degree Celsius oven.

2.      In a food processor or blender, pour in a 400g can of drained chickpeas, the juice of a large lemon, 3 tbsp of tahini paste, 5 tbsp of olive oil and three cloves of garlic, peeled.

3.      Chop a little fresh parsley and add this to the blender, with a dash of salt.

4.      Once the aubergine is cooked until soft and has cooled a little, scoop the insides into the blender and blitz until you have a smooth paste, adding more oil if it’s too thick and lemon juice to taste.

Tahini paste is made from sesame seeds so you may need to be aware of this if serving someone with a sensitivity to seeds. The paste is now available in most supermarkets but you may have to go to a specialised health food shop.

Coconut Dahl

This authentic Indian dish is thickened with coconut milk to give a creamier depth of flavour and is perfect served with jasmine rice or fluffy couscous.

1.      In a large pan, soften a chopped white onion in a little oil, before adding 1tbsp curry powder, 1tbsp cumin and 2 whole cloves and stirring for another minute. Be careful not to burn the spices.

2.      Reduce the heat to a simmer and add three cups of vegetable stock and a cup of soft yellow lentils.

3.      Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4.      Stir in ¾ cup of coconut milk and heat through, seasoning to taste.

These ethnic dishes are just a sample of the countless, inspiring flavours fitting perfectly with the glorious sunshine which has blanketed Britain all week.

All of which still go well with a good jug of fruity Pimms and lemonade. British pride still intact.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Chicken(less) soup for the soul

It’s beginning to look a little more like spring outside. The freak snow storms of April have passed and I’ve got fingers crossed for warmer, sunnier weather this month. Despite leaving the house still armed with a brolly and gloves, bikini season still has potential and so people everywhere will be starting their prospective summer diets.

I have a hatred for fad diets which leave you feeling miserable, famished and which almost always end in a guilty late night binge.

Even the word “diet” has gained negative connotations and now practically translates as “starvation”. After advising friends for years on how to simply improve their diet and exercise routines to help lose a couple of pounds or simply feel better, I find myself repeating the same golden rules.

1.      You shouldn’t think of your new regime as a diet, simply healthy eating and feeding your body properly so that it burns off what you eat efficiently.

2.      Everything in moderation really is the key. You shouldn’t deny yourself the foods you love, just opt for the lower fat versions and don’t eat them everyday. If you constantly have to distract yourself from eating treat foods, its inevitably going to end in over eating, followed by self-deprecation and a tummy ache. That hardly fits in to your attempts to feel better about yourself and your body.

3.      Improving your knowledge and understanding of food and cooking will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle in the long run.

Every so often a healthy detox can help to kick start weight loss or simply replenish your body and cleanse your digestive system. In my opinion ‘detox’ does not involve surviving on a sugary, liquid for weeks or only eating certain colour foods on different days of the week.
But after a glutinous weekend with friends, filled with stodge and sugar, a 3 day soup detox is an ideal remedy and encourages me to eat well the rest of the week.

My favourite, never fail recipe is one which I have adapted over time and can change slightly in taste and ingredients depending on my mood or ailment.

For years chicken soup has been described as a super cure when you’re feeling sluggish. But for a pescetarian with limitations on ingredients, this works a treat and tastes great!

Kickstart soup

1 white onion, diced.  2 large carrots thinly sliced.    2 sticks of celery thinly sliced.           
2 dessert apples skinned and cubed.   1 garlic clove, crushed.           1 tbsp crushed ginger.                                      
1 tin chopped tomatoes.          1 ½ pints vegetable stock        oregano           smoked paprika 
black pepper    1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1.      Heat the oil in a large pan and lightly fry the onion. Add the crushed ginger and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes.

2.      Add the freshly chopped fruit and vegetables. Reduce the heat a little and sweat the ingredients off for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid catching the base of the pan.

3.      Pour in the vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes, ensuring all the vegetables are covered and can easily be stirred in the liquid. There may look like a lot, but the soup will reduce and thicken. Add as much or as little oregano, paprika and black pepper as you like and bring the soup to the boil.

4.      Reduce to a simmer and leave to cook for about twenty minutes or until the vegetables are soft enough to cut with a fork. You can taste and alter the seasoning if necessary whilst the soup simmers.

5.      Remove from the heat once the vegetables are soft and leave to cool a little.

6.      Using a blender or hand held, electric whisk, blend the soup, changing the seasoning or adding more vegetable stock to loosen the soup if it’s too thick.

This version is less than 100 calories per mug (my preferred way of eating soup!) So I choose to regularly delve in to the pan of aromatic, amber goodness throughout the day.

This soup works as a detox on so many levels. Its low in calories, contains hardly any fat at all, re-heats well and keeps you feeling satisfied when eaten at regular intervals.

The celery, pepper, garlic and ginger are all fantastic for cleansing your digestive system and help to boost your metabolism and weight loss.

I experiment every time I make this soup, but the ingredients and method given always provide the base.
Occasionally I add chilli flakes for an extra kick, which are also beneficial for speeding up the metabolism.

If I’m not detoxing and just want to make a batch for a few hearty lunches, I add my favourite canned beans and lentils five minutes before the soup is ready. Black eye beans and red lentils are delicious with the paprika, and a topping of pumpkin, sunflower seeds and toasted pine nuts works wonderfully.

Healthy eating never has to be boring. Feeling hungry and deprived in order to be happier with how your body looks or feels is simply defeating the object.

Feel free to use this recipe, adding or taking away any ingredients you wish, just make sure that if you’re using it for a detox, you make 1 or 2 large batches to keep you going for a few days and don’t completely cut out all other foods, just make healthy decisions which your body will thank you for!

Monday, 30 April 2012

The self-inflicted rabbit diet

It’s a known fact that when you live with intolerances, your body naturally craves those forbidden foods more so than someone who enjoys a diet free from restrictions.

Despite knowing how unpleasant the effects of eating the foods you are intolerant to can be, there are times when only the real thing will do.

As pleasing as it is to see the “free from” sections in supermarkets expanding, the alternatives are several times the price and a lot less appetizing. Most wheat free breads can cost £3 for a small loaf and have all the taste and texture of a crumbly, old cracker. Don’t even attempt to toast this “wannabe” bread, unless you enjoy fishing out disintegrated cardboard from the toaster, whilst performing the tea towel dance beneath the smoke alarm.

It may have been several weeks since the feasts of Easter Sunday, but the pressures of university deadlines and oncoming exams mean that for many students, the temptation of sweet treats and chocolate fixes still hangs in the air.

Not to play the sympathy card, but for a girl who is denied chocolate for medical reasons, Easter can be a very traumatic time of year, and the chocolate alternatives are often more depressing than those for bread.
Picture the decadent Dairy Milk advert of the 90’s – A plush, purple velvet chair, where a woman sits, enraptured by her bar of dairy milk to the point of euphoria.

For the chocolate intolerant, breaking open a bar of this forbidden food is a VERY different experience! One which often ends with a bottle of pepto bismol and the refusal of all visitors. Safe to say, I’ve learnt my lesson, for now at least.

I now enter the month of May full of cold, thanks to the persistent rain storms, and with the intention to treat my body like a temple for the next few weeks…bar alcohol. Celebrations will be needed after the final exam and my bottle of birthday champagne is calling.

After a bit of research into the raw food “rabbit” diet, I have learnt a few things:

1.      Anyone following this diet full time must be very skinny, squeaky clean on the inside and most likely, the proud owners of some of the biggest compost heaps in Britain.

2.      I may be turning into an eco-warrior, as I will be adding a food dehydrator and a younger, single version of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to my Christmas wish list.

3.      Celeriac is an incredibly ugly, yet versatile and tasty vegetable. Take pity on them and make a salad.

It could be the overload of flu medicine, but I have made it my mission to work through my new raw food recipe book. So far, my favourite recipe, which I could and have eaten two large bowls of a day, is ‘Asian Coleslaw’. My mum used to joke that I have the same diet as the guinea pig; I wish I could deny this.

But honestly, if like me, you are regretting having over indulged at Easter or just in general would like to give your body a bit of a detox, the raw food diet is worth looking in to.

The Asian coleslaw is a great salad accompaniment for Thai style dishes, smoked fish and goes really well with my recent make shift sushi. The ginger and garlic are brilliant for settling stomachs and the tangy mixture of flavours make white cabbage a lot more appealing than you’d think.

Asian Coleslaw
Thinly slice or grate 1 small white cabbage, 4 medium carrots and a bunch of fresh, spring onions. Toss all the vegetable together in a large bowl.

To make the salad dressing, whisk together: 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp clear honey, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1tbsp finely chopped ginger, 2tbsp white wine vinegar or rice vinegar, 2tbsp sesame oil and 2tbsp olive oil.

Pour over the vegetables and mix well, before leaving to marinade in the fridge for twenty minutes, before serving with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped coriander.

I find that it’s so much easier and more affordable to buy jars of readily, fine chopped ginger and garlic, as these last for weeks and you don’t have the smell of garlic lingering for days afterwards.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Sushi for 'Absolute' Beginners

I never agreed to attempt making sushi under the pretence that it would be easy...but neither did I think that just a few simple nori rolls, filled with rice, an assortment of fish, julienne vegetables and some wasabi or sweet chilli would be THAT challenging!

I have a new found respect for sushi chefs who speedily, chop, roll and slice sashimi as though it were as simple as blinking. Culinary art is served up daily at countless Asian supermarkets and restaurants all over this city, with little thought into the ancient skills honed in order to produce a perfect California roll.

In retrospect, half past nine on a weeknight, after a long day of studying was probably not the best time to begin this feat, especially due to the amount of serious preparation needed to produce just two servings of sushi.

Note to self: When tired and hungry, do not reach for the salmon and wasabi!

Apologies for the uncharacteristically, negative attitude towards cooking, do not let my first time experience of D.I.Y. sushi put you off the prospects of making your own. It’s a fantastic opportunity to experiment with different flavours and learn new cookery skills, as well as being able to serve up wheat, gluten, dairy and meat free alternatives to your friends.

But I strongly suggest forward planning and getting a few tips from an expert before you begin.

The supermarket "HiYoU" nearby The Gate in Newcastle City Centre is a euphoria for anyone who enjoys cooking Asian food or wants to try some new and exciting flavours. You can watch the sushi being freshly prepared in front of you whilst you sit with a cup of Iced Green Tea or Aloe Vera Juice.

Admittedly it was a struggle not to spent hundreds of pounds in HiYoU. The towering aisles and cool sections are overflowing with delicious, interesting ingredients and colourful animated packets.

 But after about 40 minutes of pondering just how much I would need to purchase for my first sushi trial, I put the Japanese tea set down and headed for the till. I scaled down my basket's contents to sushi rice, vinegar, wasabi, sesame seeds, nori sheets, rolling mats, and a few sweet extras.

I also got some instructions on how to make the perfect sushi rice and a new loyalty card...something tells me I will soon be a regular customer.

Several hours later, I had thinly sliced an array of cucumber, celery and carrot. My tuna in sweet chilli sauce, salmon sashimi and smoked mackerel were ready to roll and the wasabi mayo was good for dipping.

 I was told that "sushi rice" and "sushi vinegar" were a must and that after following the instructions for measurements on the packet, you must leave the thoroughly rinsed rice to cook for an hour in salted water until all the water is absorbed. Once cool a few dashes of sushi vinegar and a good mix with a fork will make the rice stickier and easier to press down onto a nori seaweed sheet.

Finally later at stupid o'clock, my dinner date had arrived and we were both eager for sushi. I had looked up a few tips on the internet on how best to roll the sheets, but in all honesty, it wasn't much help. You just have to be brave and develop your own skills along the way.

 After several messy attempts, I had learnt a few things. Firstly that if you don't want your sushi to resemble that which wears an "oops!" sticker in the last minute section of the supermarket, you need a very sharp knife to slice the rolls with.

Secondly in order to save your ingredients from falling out all over the kitchen work tops, do not get over zealous with the amount you lay on the nori sheet before rolling. One sheet needs only a small amount of rice, fish and sauce before you realise that your sushi roll is going to look like a green sandwich wrap. Something which my sous-chef did not consider to be a negative.

To conclude, preparation, a little research and a good knife sharpener will get you through, and regardless of looks, our enormous platefuls of obscurely shaped sushi were delicious.

I may have been wearing an assortment of soy sauce, wasabi and sweet chilli and yes, there may have been sushi rice in my hair, but by 11pm we were content, fed and sporting two Asian food babies.

The kitchen was not looking quite so cheery.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fellow fish lovers

When I first gave up meat several years ago, this included fish and seafood which overall made me vegan. It was incredibly difficult to live without fish in my diet, due to the restrictions which I already have because of intolerances...That and the fact that I was craving tuna, salmon and mackerel no end.
Cooking fish is often unstable ground for a lot of people, as good timing and an understanding of the different cooking methods are needed.
But if like me you are a pescetarian or a vegan/vegetarian who is considering re-introducing fish into your diet, there are several easy points which you can apply when cooking many different types of fish.
Three points to consider when preparing a fish dish are:

1.      What form and type you are using. It could be a fillet of salmon or cod, which can often taste “fishier”, a meaty tuna steak or a whole, prepared seabass. If you are feeling a little bit more imaginative, then a bowl of mussels, or calamari rings may appeal to you.
If you are buying fresh fish, then always cook on the same day for the best results. However, frozen fish fillets are still good quality and often more affordable. If you are using mussels, you must let them soak in cold water for a while before cooking, any shells that open up at this point must be discarded and you should scrape off any barnacles or ‘beards’ before cooking.

2.      The next stage to think about is flavour. There are endless possibilities when adding to the flavour of your fish with sauces, marinades, rubs and flavoured crumb toppings. My favourites include tuna steaks, lightly brushed in olive oil and then coated in spicy toasted, mixed seeds and cracked black pepper.
Ready made pots and sachets of different spice mixes from different cultures are a popular and effective method of adding heaps of colour and flavour to fish when you don’t have the time to pound away for several hours with a pestle and mortar. At the moment, the words “Cajun seabass” make me salivate. A fiery burnt orange rub, speckled with gold is rubbed all over the de-boned seabass and left to infuse before cooking. It really does make your kitchen smell amazing!
But sometimes, simplicity really does work best when cooking a more delicately flavoured fish. When cooking cod, I think a few lemon slices; lots of black pepper, a little oil and some chopped dill or parsley compliments it perfectly.

3.      Finally your method of cooking. Many people think that steaming or poaching fish are the only reliable methods, but this is far from true. If you want to keep an eye on your fish to get the timing perfect and deliver a quick and tasty meal, pan frying is the best option. Tuna steaks are best cooked on a griddle pan as you can treat them the same as a beef steak and cook to order. Always brush the fish with oil, rather than heating the oil directly in the griddle pan. This will ensure even cooking and less chance of the oil spitting back.
The French introduced me to cooking fish “en papillote” which, when done right is absolutely delicious. The cod recipe above with lemon works best with this method, as you can place the fillet on a square of foil or baking paper with oiled sides, top it with your chosen flavour combination, or even sit on a bed of chopped fennel or finely sliced vegetables, before wrapping up like a parcel, leaving some space between the fish and the top of the package and placing in a hot oven. You need to do your homework with this one though and know how long it will take the fish to cook in the oven as you don’t want to be too eager and open your fish parcel to be disappointed by an under or over cooked fillet.

After a recent conversation with a vegetarian friend who has only just started eating fish again since cutting out all meat when she was young, I realised that for some, even knowing how to prepare a simple salad incorporating fish isn’t easy when you the flavours are unknown.
My favourite fish salad is one I enjoy several times a week, as it’s so quick to prepare, tastes great and is full of important protein and iron.
I love smoked mackerel, and after making a fresh summer salad, with all my favourite vegetables, I chop the fillet and place in the salad bowl, along with four crab sticks, cubed. For the dressing, I take a tumbler and place 5 or 6 tbsp balsamic vinegar, a tbsp extra virgin olive oil, a tsp of clear honey, a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a generous grind of black pepper. Whisk the dressing with a fork, pour over the entire fish salad and mix well. Leave the salad dressing to infuse into the dish for a few minutes before serving.
Glass of chilled Italian pinot grigio optional...but very tasty!

(photo courtesy of fishingclub.com)