Tag Archives: cheese

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.

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

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

Tofu Lasagne

Posted on

Piercing the film lid of a Linda McCartney vegetarian lasagne ready meal, placing it lovingly into the microwave, shutting the door and pressing ‘Go’ is about as close as I’ve ever come to making this dish. I can’t really believe that I’ve never done it before, shame on me ! Well today is the day that I changed that part of my life forever, by making…

VEGAN TOFU LASAGNE !

(What a strange combination of letters combine to form the word ‘lasagne,’… lasagne, lasagne, lasagne… so weird !)

You will need:
Wholewheat lasagne sheets (mine you can just put straight in the dish without pre-boiling – check your packet instructions)
200g spinach
400g pack of firm tofu, drained
60ml soy milk
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps lemon juice
2 tbsps fresh basil
1 tsp salt/pepper
A double batch of the tomato sauce I detail under the pizza recipe in this post (so about 20 cherry tomatoes worth)

Optional: a few handfuls of grated not-zzarella (I used Cheezly); a sprinkling or two of vegan imitation parmesan; a handful of pine nuts

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Blanch the spinach (place in boiling water for a few seconds, then remove and plunge immediately into cool water). Leave aside to drain.

Place the tofu, milk, garlic, lemon, basil and seasoning in a food processor and blend until fairly smooth but slightly textured. I think the idea here is to create some kind of imitation ricotta…

Stir the spinach through the mixture.

In a baking dish, layer tomato sauce, then your lasagna sheet, followed by tofu and cheese/pine nuts if you’re using. Repeat until dish is full/ingredients are gone. Finish with pasta sheets and tomato sauce, and cheese if you wish.

Bake for 45 minutes

Makes 4 servings. Adapted from The Daily Green.

Things I learnt from making this dish:

Drain your tofu like a mother. I mean really drain that badboy – take it out of the packet in the morning, squeeze it, wrap it in paper towels, stick it under something heavy in your fridge. Go for a 10 mile run. Take it out. Squeeze it again. Wrap it up. Put it back in the fridge. Repeat. Check it throughout the day and change the paper towels if need be.

Make more tomato sauce than you think you need. I ran out. It’s better to have too much – you can always put it on some pasta for lunch the next day.

Season this like you’ve never seasoned before. I enjoyed this but because of the tof-overload it was a bit bland, next time, MORE EVERYTHING. Especially tomato sauce because I reckon this is where the most flavour is in this dish.

Other than that, I totally am not missing dairy products anymore. I’m no longer starving either. And it’s sunny.

Life is AWESOME.

Amy x

Of Portobello Mushrooms, Pizza, Pine Nuts and Plastic Cheese

… and other such vegan-related endeavours that do not begin with ‘P’.

So here are some of the dairy-free meals I’ve been enjoying this week:

Baked sweet potato with sautéed spinach, kale and pine nuts – stab your potato with a fork several times. Cover it in olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 200 degrees C for an hour. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add chopped garlic, pine nuts, spinach and kale. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and sauté for about 5 mins. Add to potato.

Spinach is high in iron, which many vegetarian and vegan diets lack due to the elimination of animal products in which iron is rife, particularly red meat. Both greens along with the sweet potato are packed with too many vitamins to list, and the sweet potato itself is a particularly good, non-dairy source of calcium. So it’s good to know my bones aren’t about to disintegrate just yet. And I chucked the pine nuts in for a bit of protein and mono-unsaturated fat.

Grilled portobello mushroom “cheeseburger” – preheat grill to medium-high. Remove the gills and stem from one large portobello mushroom and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Finely chop some olives, garlic and spinach and fill mushroom cavity with mixture. Grill for 6-8 minutes, then top with dairy-free mozzarella or other vegan-friendly cheese of your choice. Bake for a further 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and has started to colour. Serve with ketchup in a wholemeal bun.

Mushrooms, as well as being a good source of B vitamins, and a variety of disease-fighting minerals, are hearty and filling and therefore good for combatting the satiety issues I’ve been experiencing since turning vegan, which thankfully seem to be waning.

… I was too excited to eat this to take a picture.

(Vegan-friendly!) pizza – make some pizza dough and allow to rise for 1 hour. Chop 10 cherry tomatoes and blend in food processor. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add tomato mixture to oil, plus chopped garlic, a tablespoon of tomato purée, fresh basil, salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Heat through and leave to stand. Put some onions on to caramelise on a low heat. When dough has risen, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out pizza dough onto a foiled/oiled baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and top with tomato sauce, spinach, olives, caramelised onions and dairy-free mozzarella. Bake for a further 10 – 15 minutes.

The not-zzarella is really tasty ! I was a bit sparing with it on the pizza and mushroom in case it was horrible, but it really wasn’t ! I really couldn’t much tell the difference. I mean, obviously it’s not mozzarella and it never will be, but it definitely didn’t feel like a compromise and I enjoyed this pizza as much as I would have enjoyed one with real dairy cheese. I was too scared to use it when I baked the potato but next time I make one I am definitely topping it with this stuff.

Sadly, its protein powers pale in comparison with the real thing, with mozzarella packing 2.2g per 10g serving, and my Cheezly proffering a paltry 0.5g of protein per 10g serving. Not good, but all the vegetables that I piled on top of this beauty seem to have done the job of helping me stay full and feel satisfied tonight.

My mum had a mini freak-out that I was going to die of malnutrition, so I blinded her and consequently you, Dear Reader, with my unnecessary stores of food-science-knowledge. I think I managed to convince her that protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals are available in a wide range of non-animal-derived foods and it is possible to obtain them all with the exception of vitamin B12, which remains elusive in the vegan world save for fortified cereals… and Marmite. And so Mama Squirrell bestowed upon me the biggest tub of Marmite I have ever laid eyes upon. And I had some on my toast this morning. So all is well, and I remain alive and kicking indefinitely.

I hope this post goes towards proving that you absolutely can follow a balanced and varied diet without consuming animal products. At least, you can for a week. We’ll have to wait and see what the next three have in store…

Until next time,

Amy x

Carbophobia II: Green Pizza

Featuring:

Wholewheat pizza dough
Goat’s cheese
Mozzarella
Broccoli
Asparagus
Artichokes
Walnut pesto
Rocket

For those who aren’t partial to a bit of pomodoro, or just fancy a pomodoro-less pizza today. Or if, like me, you have loads of green vegetables in your fridge just begging for their vitamins and minerals to be put to good use. Or if your favourite colour is green (mine is !)

You can use any pesto. It just happens that I have walnuts, and no pine nuts.

Makes 1 medium pizza – make sure you roll the dough out nice and thin, not just to ensure it cooks properly but in order to fit more tasty tasty vegetables on top ! At 640 calories for the lot this pizza is so angelic you can eat the whole thing in one go, and it’s nutritionally complete so you can have it on its own, or with a rocket salad to garnish (in case you hadn’t already reached greens-overload).

How to make Green Pizza

For the dough:

65g wholemeal flour

Pinch of salt

1 tsp yeast

Sprinkle of sugar

1 tsp olive oil

40ml warm water

For the topping:

25g soft mild goat’s cheese

1/2 mozzarella ball (about 60g)

Handful each of broccoli and asparagus, roughly chopped

¼ jar artichoke hearts in oil

For the pesto:

15g walnuts

1 small clove of garlic

2 or 3 generous pinches of fresh basil

2 tsps olive oil

2 tsps parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

To garnish:

Rocket salad

What to do:

Add yeast, oil and sugar to hand-hot water (between hot and lukewarm), stir and leave to stand

Mix flour and salt, pile up in bowl and make a well in the centre

Pour liquid into well and bring in flour from sides with a fork, then use your hands to form a dough

Knead until springy and no longer sticky (add a dusting of flour if too wet; a drop of water if too dry but don’t overcompensate !)

Place in floured bowl, cover with damp cloth and leave to rise for 1 hour

After an hour the dough should have doubled in size. Knead again and roll out onto floured surface

Transfer to foiled and oiled baking tray

Preheat oven to 190 degrees

Make the pesto. Crush walnuts and garlic finely. Blend with other pesto ingredients

Spread thinly across pizza base (it may not look like a lot but don’t worry, pesto has a very rich flavour)

Tear mozzarella and lay over pesto base

Brush broccoli and asparagus with a tiny bit of olive oil and scatter onto pizza

Dot goat’s cheese and a few artichokes around surface

Season with black pepper

Bake for 10-15 minutes

En-to-the-joy, my pretty ones.

Amy x