Winter Vegetables

Well, just take a look out the window. Chances are it is raining, or the sun may be glaring, but you know that it’s freezing outside, that misleading swine. This was the view from our living room window at about 3pm this afternoon. Miserable, isn’t it ?

A couple of friends and I have taken up yoga in an attempt to beat our winter blues (and premature back pain). I realise that it is only October, but for someone who hates this lack of sun and heat as much as I, it may as well already be winter; I’m seriously considering hibernation. As we spilled onto the pavement outside Brighton’s Buddhist centre last Friday evening after a class, limber and supple and refreshed into the chilly night air, we encountered a farmer’s market about to close for the evening. With gleeful excitement we perused the colourful array of tasty and healthy fruit and veg and outstayed our welcome long enough to warrant free figs. We ate yellow baby tomatoes out of a paper bag as we walked home in our leggings, each with our own respective plans to make soup for dinner that evening. It seemed like the perfect way to round off the day.

My choice: chunky vegetable and lentil – just saute an onion, add 500ml vegetable stock, cube a potato and some butternut squash, add a few handfuls of lentils and simmer for 20 or so minutes. Throw in a can of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, and some chopped leafy greens (I used spinach and kale). Season as you wish.

Freeze what you can’t physically fit into your tiny, cold-shrunk stomach in mismatched plastic tubs. Above is this very soup in its frozen form, a soup-cicle, if you will. It is necessary, as I find myself making a lot of soup recently, what with having developed somewhat of an obsession with fresh vegetables and farmers’ markets.

And another good way of using up a mismatch of leftover veg…

… like I need an excuse to make pizza.

I’ve been experimenting with different doughs. This here pizza is on the gluten-free base I have made previously. It’s nutty and chewy, kind of like a wholegrain, savoury cookie, topped with a plethora of Mediterranean delight.

I went to the Turkish/Greek market near where I live, one of those ones with all the fresh olives and sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes and baklava on display, and you can spoon them, dripping in oil and herbs, into little tupperware dishes and pay per lb; with freshly baked bread, pitta and fruits and vegetables and nuts and yoghurt and all the goat and sheep’s cheese you could possibly want at any one time. Going there is like a trip to the zoo for me. Markets are beautiful.

I bought some halva and some Greek yoghurt, the figs and the feta. A true Mediterranean feast. Though I have never visited Greece, I feel like this was a subconscious effort on my part to ignore how cold and grey and dreary England is becoming. I like to think that the figs on this pizza add a little sunshine to my wintery squash vibe.

Feta and butternut squash pizza with fig and caramelised onion

Roast some butternut squash with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary for about 25 – 30 minutes on medium-high heat.

While the squash is roasting, caramelise your onions.

When you take it out, mash it up a bit. I didn’t think the figs would go very well with tomato pizza sauce, so I left it out. You can either go commando or make some kind of cheese or white sauce with which to top your pizza (I find a mixture of cream cheese and lemon juice works well on tomato-less pizzas), or just drizzle some olive oil over the top, then spread the mashed butternut squash mixture across your pizza base of choice (Wholemeal, gluten-free, or see below !).

Slice your figs, crumble your feta (any goat’s cheese would work well) and arrange your onions over the top, with an extra sprinkling of rosemary and pepper for good measure (use judgement – too much rosemary can end up tasting soapy, I’ve heard…). I chose to omit the final dash of salt I usually put over my pizzas before baking – mozzarella needs it, feta does not.

Providing your pizza base has been pre-cooked, you should only need to cook your assembled pizza for about 10-15 minutes.

The colours on this remind me of a seventies caravan.

Pizza Fiorentina

So, from Greece back to the homeland of the pizza, tonight I made fiorentina. That’s tomato, mozzarella, spinach, black olives and artichokes all topped off with a poached egg, black pepper and parmesan cheese. It’s perfect.

This is my favourite food to eat of all time.

On my journey to create the perfect pizza base I have had to relinquish some of my health-fascism in the form of using WHITE FLOUR. Well, as I read on a forum wherein the pros and cons of wholemeal flour were being discussed, some things where just not meant to be wholemeal. Pizza dough is one of them. Sure, I will happily make and eat a wholemeal pizza crust, but you can’t compare it to those soft, chewy and smooth white bases that the Italians and a number of UK-Italian restaurants do so well.

So I’m trying this recipe tonight, with the semolina and strong white. It turned out really good, if not a little crispy. At the moment I’m yearning for that stretchy, doughy puffiness that I can never seem to achieve with homemade pizza, especially not in the gluten-free or wholemeal versions. It is so elusive.

I’ll let you know when I get there.

Amy x

French Onion Soup

I found some cheddar in my freezer.

I had a big fat juicy onion that needed some lovin’.

I grabbed some vegetable stock. Gotta have stock. Never know when the mood for soup’s gonna hit ya.

Being a person who never knows when the mood for anything is going to hit her, I keep my kitchen fully stocked with an array of ingredients, no matter how often or how little they are used. One of these ingredients is fortified wine. Which just so happens to make a fantastic French Onion Soup.

All I needed to do was shuffle up to the shop and get a crusty, wholemeal roll to toast and adorn my fragrant and flavoursome French friend.

French Onion Soup for One

Preheat your grill to high.

Peel and chop one large yellow onion into rings.

Heat a dab of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan. On a low heat, cook onions, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for 25 minutes, until they are sweet and caramelised.

Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar.

Stir 1-2 tablespoons of cornflour into the onion mixture to thicken it slightly.

Stir 2-3 tablespoons of sherry or white wine into about 200ml of vegetable stock (which works just as well as the beef stock that is traditionally called for in this recipe). Add to onion mixture.

Let simmer for a few minutes while you toast a slice of wholemeal bread.

Pour the soup into an oven-proof bowl. Top with toast. You can cut into croutons if you wish.

Cover with a generous layer of cheese and grill for a few minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling. Gruyere or emmenthal is usually used to top this soup, but what sane person has gruyere or emmenthal just lying around ? Cheddar is the common man’s cheese, and cheddar is what I had, so cheddar is what I used.

Gobble up. It’s so comforting.

Winter is coming.

Jamaican Carrot Juice

This is the best carrot juice you’ve ever tasted. Just sayin’…

Mix 2-3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk with the juice of 8-10 medium carrots. Stir through a pinch of nutmeg. Serve over ice with a slice of lemon. Add a little rum if it’s cold and dark outside, if October and your 22nd birthday is looming and you feel miserable and alone, bored or worthless. If you can’t dance, and you can’t sing, or if you are feeling fat, or ugly.

I didn’t have any rum, so it’s a good thing I’m not feeling any of these things…

 

Carrot Flax-bread

Well, this is certainly not what I had in mind in terms of making an impressive return to the blog scene, but since it happens to have been the first time camera and kitchen have met since, well, Pizzaphilia, I suppose it will have to do.

Let me preface this by saying that I made a quite frankly disappointing batch of flapjacks this week, friends.

Disappointing flapjack…

They contained shredded coconut, ginger and dark chocolate. Which should be yummy in itself, and I don’t think it was this flavour combination that ruined these would-be treats. No, I blame the absence of taste and feelings of OMG-give-me-more before you even swallow your first bite that flapjacks usually nail, on the total lack of butter and sugar (I’m still afraid of these things, you know) in these babies. Flapjacks should be golden and sticky. This one looks, well, anaemic, soggy, sad, and it was nowhere near sweet enough.

I’ve been doing a TON of exercise to get this summer weight OFF me, Christ, I want to SCOOP OUT the contents of my disgusting sagging pot-belly but sadly, that’s not possible, so it’s off to kickboxing/gym/circuit training for me until I have sufficiently reduced in size. Oh, and tomorrow I start swing dancing classes, which, along with melting some of this disgusting fat, should provide some hilarity as I am the least co-ordinated person ever; having kickboxing in the dance studio in which one wall is entirely mirror has well and truly confirmed this for me… sigh.

I recently returned from spending five days with the love of my life in Naples – the land of fat, carbs and alcohol. I ate the most delicious food on the planet and I left no stone unturned when it came to sampling the delights of Italian cuisine; let me tell you, the mozzarella is to DIE for; the gelato, the coffee and the red wine, utter perfection. I ate pizza upon pasta upon gnocchi upon ice-cream, upon more pizza and more ice-cream, drizzled with olive oil and washed down with countless espressi, cappuccini and bicchieri di vino rosso. Half-board at the hotel meant we were treated to a buffet breakfast every day of cornetti, little biscuits and pastries, even cake, for goodness’ sake, as well as the best scrambled eggs I think I have ever tasted. And with marinaras and margheritas for €3 a pop, well, we could afford to eat a pizza a day, and we did. I totally forgot what it was to even be aware of what I had eaten in a day, let alone count calories or worry about things like double-carbs or fat content.

But the sheer gluttony didn’t end there. When we got back it was our three-year anniversary as a couple, and the day saw us polish off burger and fries and iced coffee that for some reason had ice-cream in it at Brighton’s infamous American diner; a large chocolate milkshake tided us over to red wine, calamari, bread, and yet another pizza in the evening at our favourite Italian restaurant. Needless to say, this summer has left me feeling somewhat… squishy.

I have had enough junk to make up for all the sugar and fat and carbs that I have not allowed myself to eat over the course of the last few years, and should probably see me through the next lot of neuroses to come as a result of gaining I don’t know how much weight from the careless, foolish but oh-so-much-sinful-FUN of Summer 2012. (Well, my BMI said I could have done with gaining a few lbs but of course, that does nothing to comfort me. Oh well, roll on next week’s kickboxing session). The good news is, despite feeling incredibly anxious at the concept of actually having gained real proper mass, I feel wholly more relaxed around junk. It’s not going to kill me. And actually, I feel much happier and can exercise a lot harder when I eat. I know now where I’d rather be.

Anyway, here’s a healthy thing that I made tonight that shouldn’t be marred by the absence of butter and sugar (seriously, what was I thinking? Flapjacks should be made with these things or not at all). It all started with a carrot glut and a recipe for Jamaican Carrot Juice (more on that later). I call it, Carrot Flax-bread.

You see, when you make carrot juice (I freakin’ LOVE carrot juice), you end up with a lot of pulp. It takes like, ten carrots to get one tall glass of juice. Then you take the lid off your juicer and you’ve got the semi-dried out remains of ten carrots, and dumping it all in the bin just makes me feel like a huge wasteful cow.

So here’s what you do:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Take the contents of your juicer after you’ve made your delicious carrot juice.
Scoop them into a bowl.
Add a few tablespoons of flaxseed, a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of ground ginger. Mix with a spoon.
Roll it together to form a ball with your hands. If it doesn’t stick, add more flax and keep stirring.
Flatten out mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment.
Bake for 30 minutes or until crispy and sort of solid.

Eat as a snack, for breakfast, with soup, salad, with jam, peanut butter, hummus. Whatever. Gluten-free, protein-rich flat bread for you, courtesy of leftover carrots.

I think it would be equally nice as a savoury with a bit of minced garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper and lemon juice, maybe drizzle a bit of olive oil on top before you bake it to make it extra crispy. You could use it as a cheeky no-rise, lowest-of-the-low-carb gluten-free pizza base. Wow. Who knew carrot-pulp could be so versatile ?

Well, now you do.

Hope everybody had a wonderful summer.

See you at circuit training.

Amy x

Pizzaphilia

Hi.

Just stopping by to tell you about the pizza I made for dinner this evening.

I left all my exciting new flours in Brighton so this base is standard wholemeal flour, you can use the gluten-free one if you like.

From bottom to top:

Pizza base, pre-baked.
One avocado, whizzed up with garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Spinach, blanched.
Parmesan cheese.
Steamed butternut squash.
Sundried tomatoes.
Egg, poached or fried.
Rocket.

Warm toppings through in oven for about 10 minutes once the base is cooked.

Is there anything more satisfying, nutritious, diverse, delicious and quite frankly perfect than home-made pizza ?

You couldn’t find a more straightforward path to my heart.

Summer is here and the Squirrell family are having a barbecue tomorrow.

See you then x

Breakfast Party for One

I spend a lot of time on my own when I’m in Brighton.

Now that university is on hold for another summer, I find myself short on cash and long on time, which means taking up my old job back in Kent as a clinical assistant/receptionist in an independent optician.

Which means revisiting the 9-5 lifestyle.

Which means moving back in with my parents.

Which means sharing a room with my sister. Sharing meal times. Sharing the TV, stories of each others’ days. Sharing a house with people (ie. my parents) who are more morally qualified to get their own way than I am when it comes to running said house. You see, at uni, my housemates and I assume an equal level of responsibility and entitlement when it comes to household matters, because we all arrived at the same time, we all pay the same rent, and are all the same age with similar lifestyles, commitments and incomes. At home, my parents pay the mortgage, the bills; I was born of them and regardless of the fact that I am 21 and am perfectly capable of looking after my own finance, health and cleanliness, when I live under their roof, I must do as I am told. That’s fine, I get it. They built this family, they should be the ones in charge. They love my brother, my sister and I and they look after us admirably. Family life just all gets a bit much every now and then.

Which is when I escape to my Brighton hideaway.

Gareth has Wednesdays off, so if I’m not working, we travel down to Brighton and spend Tuesday night together. He goes home Wednesday evening in time for work at 7am on Thursday, and I stay for another day or two teaching cello lessons, and having the silent alone time that I come to crave so desperately after living in what feels like such a crowded house. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. I love spending time with them; it’s lively and fun, there are four other lifestyles to learn about – the mechanics, the fireman, the nursery nurse, the student. The teenager, the young woman, the married couple. I thrive, but I get stressed with the compromise this vibrancy entails. I can’t live my life in the way I have become used to living it.

My kitchen in Brighton has it all. I have white flours, brown flours, rye flour, gluten-free flours. I have flaxseed, chia seed, pumpkin seeds, pecans, macadamias, walnuts. I have rice, pasta, lentils, quinoa, oats. I have prunes and raisins and dried sour cherries. I have edamame beans in the freezer. I have dark chocolate hidden away in the door of the fridge, should I feel the need. I have two round pizza trays. I have kitchen foil, cling film, greaseproof paper. I have cardamom pods, vanilla extract, caraway seed, dark brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda. I have agave nectar and maple syrup. I never run out of peanut butter or garlic. This is a list of all the culinary things I feel I need to conduct my activities, the absence of which I find it hard to overcome when trying to cook in my family home. I am a kitchen prima donna, I know. But I can’t help it. Cooking is my hobby, and I am very particular.

I rent this house despite not having much time to enjoy it this summer. My money goes into my bank account and straight back out again. The opticians gives me numbers in exchange for my time, presence and good manners. The letting agent, the phone and the energy companies take away my numbers. Different combinations of numbers and the absence or presence of a minus sign dictates how many pairs of silver, high-waisted leggings or second-hand American Apparel wrap dresses I can buy at any given time. Numbers go up at the pump. The dial goes up in my car’s petrol gauge. The dial goes down in my car’s petrol gauge. I impart what knowledge I have gained from my 13 years of playing the cello to a charming autistic 12-year old in exchange for paper that represents some other numbers, but that doesn’t really represent anything because the bank made too many I.O.Us and that’s why spinach has gone up from £1 a bag to £1.75, and why I now buy kale, which still costs £1 in my local supermarket. Who cares, it’s just numbers on a screen, false promises on paper, needles on a gauge, and one day we’re all gonna die.

What matters is that I made gluten-free pancakes for breakfast (adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef).

First, make sure you are fresh out of bed. You must retain cockatoo bed hair, and the pancakes will taste better if all you are wearing is your bed t-shirt and knickers. After all, everyone’s gone home for the summer. Get a cafetiere on the go, this is true me-time. You can see your friends later.

Eat the pancakes in bed.

Maybe stick on some crap TV…

… around this point was where I started to feel full.

… fuller still…

… but I finished them all anyway.

That’s the thing about bouncing back and forth between abodes; you never get a decent food shop in. The best thing about a giant, extravagant breakfast is knowing there’s no food in for lunch.

Banana Maple Pecan Pancakes (gluten-free, dairy-free)

You need:

70g sweet brown rice flour

30g tapioca flour

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

1 teaspoon baking powder

A pinch of salt

A dash of cinnamon

100ml of buttermilk (or milk/soy milk with a few drops of lemon juice, left to stand)

A drop of vanilla extract

A tablespoon of mild olive oil/vegetable oil

Method:

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients. Combine.

Heat frying pan with oil. Make pancakes.

Top with delicious morsels; I used maple syrup, banana and chopped pecans.

Eat pancakes.

This would probably serve 2. It served me just fine. Pig.

I spend a lot of time on my own when I’m in Brighton. But don’t worry, I like it.

Amy x

Gluten, Schmluten

So I’ve done the vegetarian thing for more than 10 years now…

…and some readers of this blog and weary friends of mine will remember my brief encounter with veganism a few months ago…

…but guess what food group I am ill-advisedly cutting out of my diet today !

…GLUTEN !

I have no need to go gluten-free for health reasons. I recently stumbled across a website called Gluten-free Girl and the Chef – the whole deal is just fantastic and adorable, you should check it out. Shauna Ahern has coeliac disease, which means she can’t eat gluten or she gets sick. Like, really sick. Read this post. I felt for her. I also fell completely in love with the website and all the exciting recipes I found there – she writes so passionately about all of them, and I’m happy that she has not allowed her condition to affect her life negatively. I wanted to give it a try for myself (gluten-free cooking that is, not coeliac disease).

I’m not cutting gluten out entirely (I have too many delicious bagels in my freezer that were reduced to clear in the supermarket), I just want to experiment with different cooking methods and ingredients, the challenge being, I’m not allowed to use regular flour ! I’m enjoying the learning experience. I’d never thought of trying gluten-free before but know this: gluten-free does not equal carb-free. You can still eat potatoes, rice and oats, provided you make sure they have been certified uncontaminated.

So what to do when you want a cosy pasta dinner ? Eat lentils or quinoa; they’re much higher in protein and contain more magical disease fighting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than pasta. And they’ll fill you up more, often for less calories, depending what you choose. You can mix whatever it was you were going to put in the pasta with your new protein-y friends without much difference in satisfaction, in my opinion.

So I’ve been trying to opt for pulses, beans and seeds in favour of pasta and bread dishes wherever possible recently. However, I wanted to make a gluten-free version of a meal very close to my heart; a dish I love so much it could be used to bribe me into doing literally anything; a meal that contains more than its fair share of gluten; one could say it was based entirely on gluten…

Get the pun now ?

Yep, that’s my first gluten-free pizza base right there, complete with obligatory side-salad.

I’d flicked through a fair number of internet recipes that called for many different types of gluten-free flours, some of which I already had. It’s all very interesting – I had no idea you could make flour from so many different things: coconut, chickpea, quinoa, rice, corn, potato. What I loved about Gluten-free Girl’s recipe was that you can substitute flours and starches for pretty much whatever you have, as long as you work within the correct ratios.

I used equal parts (about 50-60g each) of cornflour, sweet brown rice flour, tapioca flour and maize starch.

Whisk up about 2 teaspoons of milled flaxseed with a tablespoon of boiling water until you have a thick paste. Then the rest is pretty much like a regular pizza base recipe – set up your yeast and olive oil, chuck some salt in the flour and make a well. Add the flax paste (this acts as a binding agent to help the gluten-free flours along a bit), then the yeast and oil mixture and stir and knead until you have a dough. In a way in which I find it hard to describe, the dough will not be stretchy and you will not be able to throw it in the air and use your fists to shape it – do not be alarmed. Use a rolling pin, or your hands, directly onto your foiled and oiled pizza tray. I was nervous that the dough would crumble under my fingers but trust me, brush that baby with olive oil and pre-bake for about 8 minutes and all your troubles will melt away. Just be gentle.

Today my pizza toppings consist of: meatless balls, kale and red onion, as well as tomato, garlic and mozzarella (well, it just wouldn’t be pizza without these). I dare you to feed this to your friends without telling them it’s gluten free, and see if they notice. It’s just that chewy and delicious.

I almost used dairy-free cheese on this, along with the meat-free meatballs. But I thought that was going too far. Meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free pizza, you say ? Don’t make me sick/laugh/die. My loved-ones will despair of me, I know. I just have to be different.

(I eat most of my food in bed…)

So hey there, everyone, I’m still blogging. And eating. And running. Getting by.

I plan to detail my excursion into the realms of gluten-free a little further. I’m not done yet, no sir.

Until the next time !

Amy x

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