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Chocolate cake, version 2: gluten-free, diabetic-friendly low-GI

July 30, 2013

It’s been a long time since I posted, I know! I’ve had my hands full with a very energetic little man who can’t wait to explore all there is to explore in the world! Still, I thought I could spare a few minutes to add my most recent kitchen tinkering to the site.

A close friend is awaiting a new addition to the family due in October. Unfortunately she’s been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which means she has to avoid all carbs, including fruit and lentils! I know that would drive me mad (in the first few months after delivery, my diet was severely restricted from thanks to a combination of my son’s colic and ‘folk wisdom’ from family, and I got sooooo bored of food!) so I thought I’d attempt to rustle up a treat for her.

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So, the rules: no sugar, no flour, no nuts (allergy), no butter (lactose).

The upside: no insulin spike, no sugar rush – which is good for all of us!

I decided to tweak my vegan chocolate cake recipe, using coconut flour. The package and internet wisdom both said only 10-20% of a recipe’s flour could be substituted, but I took a gamble anyway. Knowing there was no gluten in the flour, I had to add protein to give it some structural integrity and keep it from becoming a big ball of mush so I de-veganized it and added eggs. Also, coconut flour is so fibre-rich that it requires double the moisture of normal recipes. As for sugar, I wasn’t sure which was better between stevia & xylitol (both are plant-extracts, and initial research indicates they don’t cause insulin spikes) so I used both. I’m sure you can just use one or the other.

I was surprised at how well it turned out! The flavour is great – sweet, chocolatey, and as a bonus has a hint of coconut too. It’s not exactly the same – it has a slightly grainy texture and doesn’t rise as much as the original – but it’s moist and tasty and worth the trouble. I’m definitely going to use this again, even if it’s just to bake myself a healthier treat!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups coconut flour
  • 1/4 c cocoa
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  •  3/4 cup sweetener (I used half stevia, half xylitol, both brands had 1:1 sugar replacement ratio)
  • 4 Tbsp oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups cold water

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F. Mix well or sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda in one bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the oil with the sweetener. Whisk in the eggs (a hand whisk will do) then stir in the vanilla and water. Slowly add in the dry ingredients while stirring. If the consistency of the batter looks too dry, add more oil and water until it’s gloopy and a bit runny.

Pour into a small cake pan (10 x 16 cm) and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until a skewer in the center comes out clean. Let it cool before serving.

For added fun, layer it in a sundae with whipped cream (you can use a lactose-free version) and fruit (if you’re allowed by the doctor).

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The Ultimate Green Smoothie

October 2, 2012

When I fell ill last winter, I decided I needed dietary overhaul, especially when I found out I was pregnant! Now, pregnancy does a number on your body, requiring extra care. Your immune system is suppressed, leaving you more vulnerable to illness; your vitamin & mineral requirement increases – particularly iron and calcium; and all sorts of unpleasant side effects appear, including the tendency to get somewhat blocked up. Since this smoothie became my default breakfast:

  • I’ve managed to avoid even the minor cold despite mingling with crowds at the Olympics (and all the portable loos) and a sniffly, coughing husband.
  • My iron levels are higher than my doctor’s – and I’m vegetarian!
  • Except for a few lazy weeks when I missed my smoothies, I’ve avoided that last unpleasant side effect to my doctor’s surprise.

Before the appearance puts you off, let me assure you that the main taste on your tongue is that of berries & cinnamon. The slightly scary green colour is due to the most innocuous ingredient whose flavour I can’t even pinpoint or describe – spirulina.

Ingredients per person:

  • 5-10 almonds, preferably ground
  • small handful of blueberries (around 7-10)
  • small handful of strawberries with stems removed (around 5)
  • one heaping Tbsp of ground flaxseed (or ground chia seeds for variety)
  • one Tbsp spirulina powder
  • large handful of washed spinach – around 1/4 of a bag (or some flat-leaf kale for a change)
  • one tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups coconut water or plain water
  • Optional: 1 Tbsp protein powder (hemp or pea) – only if you’ll be eating it immediately. If the smoothie sits, the protein powder will make it solidify and seize up.

Combine these ingredients in a blender until smooth. Simple! (Without the protein powder, this can be made the night before for a quick, easy breakfast-on-the-go.)

 

A few health notes:

– Flaxseed has a spectacularly high ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, and this ratio is increasingly being found to be important for heart health, decreasing cancer risk, lowering inflammation and helping with numerous inflammation- and autoimmune-related problems such as diabetes. It also has loads of soluble and insoluble fibre in addition to antioxidants. It is one of the best vegetarian sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, although like all vegan sources, the form is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which must then be converted within your body to LA (linoleic acid). Non-vegan sources of Omega-3’s, like eggs, are already in the form of LA so more may be absorbed by your body.

– Spirulina is a microalgae packed full of nutrients. It is a complete protein featuring every essential amino acid (that is, the building blocks of proteins that your body can’t make itself), which is fantastic news for vegetarians and vegans since very few veg foods have all the amino acids you need. It also has a good does of Omega-3 fatty acids, lots of Vitamin A, and a great range of other vitamins and minerals. Spirulina is being promoted as a potential solution to malnutrition in developing countries. Additionally,  spirulina may damage caused by toxins affecting the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles.

Note: while pregnant, high doses of fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E & K, are not recommended as they can accumulate in the kidneys.  However the form of Vitamin A in spirulina, as with all vegan sources, is not absorbed as-is and your body only converts and absorbs what is needed – the excess just leaves your body so it’s perfectly safe!

– Cinnamon has been shown to help control blood sugar in people with Type II diabetes.

– Coconut water is the new ‘in’ thing. Apparently it’s ‘isotonic’ – that is, a good balance of electrolytes & water. It does have natural sugars inside so beware of drinking too much, but it’s perfect pre- or post-exercise hydration because of its salt, sugar & water balance.

– Do I really need to say anything about the benefits of berries & spinach? Iron, calcium, vitamins & antioxidants galore.

National Cafe – Friday Night Social with Tonkotsu

October 2, 2012

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Restaurants are always looking to entice new people, especially to overlooked venues. At the National Cafe’s Peyton & Byrne, within the National Gallery, TV foodie Oliver Peyton (a judge on the Great British Menu) has just started a new initiative, inviting a guest chef each week to cater at the Friday Night Socials. The inaugural event was:

“Bloomberg food critic Richard Vines, will team up with Emma Reynolds from Soho-based Japanese restaurant Tonkotsu for an evening of Japanese street food and katsu curry.”

Assured there would be vegetarian options, we went to check it out. The ‘social’ part of the night was shared tables, which proved slightly awkward as one lone diner was added to our group of four, leaving the nearest person obliged to make conversation as the others were too far away to comfortably join in. It’s a nice idea, but led to split conversations.

Overall the food was ok, and great value for money when you include the included cocktail and sake shot, but it was nothing to write home about.

It started with a complimentary cocktail, with a customised non-alcoholic one for me. I wasn’t thrilled with my overly sweet lemony concoction, but the normal cocktail, with a hint of chilli, seemed to go down well enough with the others.

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The vegetarian starters were edamame (just the normal stuff) and Japanese pickle Urumaki sushi. As I was the only vegetarian at the table, they just gave the sushi plate straight to me, but I wonder if they’d give one to each vegetarian diner. The best thing about the sushi was the strong, fresh wasabi. I didn’t even taste the pickle in the roll, and it could easily have been a carrot & cucumber roll. The non-veg rolls seemed similarly average, but the fried octopus balls got some enthusiasm.

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The main was a tofu katsu curry. The tofu was really well done – a big soft block coated with a wonderfully crispy breaded skin that didn’t feel oily or limp. The curry sauce was nice once we asked for some chilli sauce to add some pizzazz.

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The highlight was the mochi ice cream, with a selection of chocolate, lemon and coconut balls wrapped in dough. Unfortunately we couldn’t try them all, just one each, but they were lovely little parcels of cool sweet goodness.

Actually, the real highlight was chatting to Mr Peyton himself. I suspect he’d drunk a modest amount of red wine by the time he got to our table. He was quite open about the show, other chefs, cuisines and restaurants. His most candid statement – in answer to the Russian girl at our table asking if he’d tried Russian restaurants in London, he replied, “Why would I want to do that?” He also let us taste his favourite olive oil and even the glass of wine he was carrying around with him (Domagne Vilet from southern Rhone).

Mr Peyton seemed quite excited about next week’s event featuring wild & foraged ingredients and wild game, though he kind of has to be positive, doesn’t he? I’d call ahead and check for veg/vegan options but it does sound interesting.

Japanese-inspired ‘superfood’ salad

September 27, 2012

I don’t generally like the term ‘superfood’ because of the flighty nature of food ‘trends’, but by any measure, this salad has some undeniably healthy ingredients that are bound to make your body (and hopefully taste buds) happy. I’ve summarised some of the main health benefits below. Plus it only takes about ten minutes to make!Image

Ingredients per serving:

  •  dried seaweed salad, available in any health food store or online – I used Clearspring Japanese Sea Vegetable Salad
  • handful of chopped fresh mushrooms, either one portabello or more shitaake, oyster, chestnut or wild mushrooms
  • around 5 asparagus spears, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 fresh (or pickled if desired) beetroot, cut into thin strips
  • handful of pumpkin seeds
  • splash of soy sauce (around 1 Tbsp)
  • splash of toasted sesame oil (around 1-2 tsp)
  • dash of rice wine vinegar (around 1-2 tsp)
  • squeeze of lemon juice (or alternatively, omit this but use more vinegar)
  • around 2 cups mixed leafy greens
  • olive oil for cooking

Instructions:

Soak the dried seaweed in warm water, as per the instructions on the packet. Heat the oil and sautee the mushrooms. When they’ve softened, add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes.

Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and lemon juice, adjusting quantities as desired to balance the flavours and the salt/sour ratio. However, have a light touch on the soy sauce since the seaweed will add some salt.

Toss the greens with the dressing and beetroot. Add the mushroom/asparagus mixture and top with pumpkin seeds. Dig in.

For a heartier meal, you could add protein – marinated tofu, chopped boiled eggs, maybe fish if you eat it, but it’s a lovely lunch as-is.

Quick note on the health benefits:

– Seaweed is rich in iodine (salt in the UK isn’t iodized, leading to high prevalence of iodine deficiency here!), B-12 (important for vegans), calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A & Vitamin C and fibre. It’s also packed with essential amino acids.

– Pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium and as seeds go, have a better ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids than most – better than olive oil! They’re also heavy on zinc, which can help prevent osteoporosis. There’s tryptophan too, which may be able to brighten your mood by boosting seratonin levels! Web MD even says the seeds can be used to treat (skip this if you have a queasy stomach, not very appetising…) bladder problems and intestinal worms. Bonus.

– Beetroot can help lower blood pressure, fight heart disease, increase blood flow to the brain (which could help fight dementia), increase stamina and help with post-exercise recovery thanks to its nitrate content. It also has folic acid and several vitamins and minerals.

– Mushrooms have an incredibly high nutrient density. They have lots of B-vitamins, folic acid (very important for women!), selenium (often overlooked and undereaten), potassium, phosphorous, manganese and zinc as well as some iron & calcium.

– Asparagus is high-fibre, with Vitamins A & C and a smattering of minerals from folic acid to calcium.

– Soy sauce may have a bit of salt in it, but recent studies have shown that unless you have high blood pressure, the body is remarkably efficient at taking what it needs and getting rid of the rest. (Besides, the health warnings are more for fast food & pre-prepared foods with tons of  hidden salt.) As for the benefits, soy sauce has niacin (B-3), which promotes heart health by increasing ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL) and lowering triglycerides. While the concentration of niacin is small (1 Tbsp has 3.6% RDV), every little helps, eh? Plus, like pumpkin seeds, there’s tryptophan for that mood boost.

– Greens are always good for you! Fibre, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron among others.

Wild garlic & mushroom quinoa (gluten-free & vegan)

March 26, 2012

Wild garlic & mushroom quinoa

Spring has sprung, which means one especially exciting thing: new goodies at the farmer’s market!

This week’s highlights were wild garlic and the return of the good mushroom stand. This guy has the most lovely oyster mushrooms, some cloud mushrooms, chestnuts and portabellos. Of course he has more variety in the fall, but there’s still enough to make me happy now. He also stir-fries some oysters up fresh and serves them with pesto for a pre-lunch treat. Yum.

Surprisingly enough, I’d never cooked with wild garlic leaves before, but they’re very simple – quicker & easier than garlic cloves. They have a distinct garlicky taste, but more delicate and almost sweet than the bulbs.

So get yourself out to your local farmer’s market and get cookin’!

Ingredients:

(Serves 1 – a perfect quick lunch)

1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked

1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh oyster mushrooms, chopped (large)

1/4 cup wild garlic, roughly chopped into about 2″ strips

water, olive oil, salt & pepper

Boil 1 1/2 cups water, add to the quinoa and let cook for approximately 10-15 minutes until soft.

Heat the olive oil and add the mushrooms, stir-frying for a couple of minutes until soft and shiny. Add the wild garlic and cook for another few minutes until they’ve wilted. Season with salt & pepper. Spoon the quinoa onto the plate, add the mushroom stir-fry and enjoy.

What I love about this recipe is that it doesn’t take much time, or many ingredients, to make a lovely meal if you have fresh ingredients. Also, the quinoa is a great alternative ‘carb’ since it has more protein than rice, wheat or couscous. (Optional extra for more protein: add a poached egg on top for non-vegans)

Tortilla Soup – Vegan & Gluten-free

February 4, 2012

Tortilla Soup

My friend M and I often have clashing schedules, so I was really excited to finally meet her fiancee, S. We were going to go around the corner to Taqueria, but “why pay for this food when you can make it at home for free?” Just kidding (little comedy reference there). It was more the cold that bothered me – despite growing up in ice-cold Chicago, I still try to stay toasty warm inside as much as I can when the weather drops.

S is an absolute delight, and despite being French was more than happy to eat cheeseless, fairly spicy food (though I kept the heat on the low-ish side in case!) So here’s my winter warmer Tortilla Soup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, seeded & diced
  • 1 red sweet pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes, or 500 g tomato passata + 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • optional: 3 dried ancho chillies (I left this out but it gives a nice smoky flavour and more heat)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup frozen or canned corn
  • 1 corn tortilla
  • small handful chopped coriander/cilantro leaves
Directions:

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, frying until golden brown. Add the garlic, jalapenos, red pepper and celery and cook, stirring, for ~5 minutes. Add the water/stock, tomatoes (in whatever form) and spices (including ancho chillies if desired) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and heat for another 15 min. Use an immersion blender (or pour into a blender/food processor) to blend until smooth. Add the corn and coriander/cilantro leaves and cook another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile spread 1 tsp of oil evenly over a skillet and heat. Place the tortilla onto the skillet, heat, and flip. heat until crispy. Cut in half then into thin strips.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with tortilla strips and coriander/cilantro.

Black Bean & Mushroom Fajitas – Vegan & Gluten-free

February 4, 2012

Black Bean & Mushroom Fajitas

The black beans in this recipe are an absolute staple of our diet. Though they started in these fajitas, they’re also great as part of a salad on a bed of lettuce or spinach, or even replacing the hubby’s nostalgic Heinz beans in a meal of beans & chips/fries – and eggs, if non-vegan. (Sidenote – with a bit of gadgetry, you can make crispy chips/fries with just a tablespoon of olive oil and some quality potatoes!)

The one difficulty in the UK is finding tinned chipotle peppers – I bring them over from the US in bulk! You can find them if you try. Taqueria in Notting Hill does a chipotle sauce but you’d need half the bottle to get the kick we like. A block south of the St John’s Wood tube station is a grocers that imports lots of foods – including chipotle peppers. Or, you can order them online!

With all the trimmings this is a great meal to make for friends, but I’ll add some simplifications for a normal weeknight dinner. The recipe below serves 4 with loads extra for tomorrow’s lunch!

Part 1: Black beans

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 diced chipotle peppers, and a scoop of adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • ~350 g tomato passata (or 2 medium tins chopped tomatoes, or 6-8 medium fresh tomatoes)
  • 3 tins of black beans – Waitrose has Epicure brand
  • salt to taste (~2-3 tsp)
  • small handful of chopped coriander/cilantro

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions, heating until they turn translucent. Add the garlic and stir, heating until both onions and garlic are golden brown and slightly caramelised. Add the chipotle peppers, a scoop of sauce, the ground spices and the tomato passata and heat for 5-10 minutes (or if using tinned or fresh tomatoes, cover and heat until the tomatoes are broken down into a slurry, stirring and adding water as needed to ensure they don’t burn). Add the black beans* and heat about 10-15 min until there is only a little excess water (it will thicken upon standing so don’t worry if there’s some!) Stir in the salt and sprinkle the coriander/cilantro on top.

If you have a garden, one way to get more oomph out of your coriander/cilantro is to plant some coriander seeds (the normal kind you get in spice jars is fine), let the coriander grow & flower then pick the fresh green seeds. Freeze them IMMEDIATELY (they spoil very quickly) and sprinkle some into your meals just at the end. It’s a flavour explosion.

(*Optional: add a handful of tinned or frozen corn with the beans – the great part is that black beans & corn have complimentary essential amino acids!)

Part 2: Fajita Vegetables

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • olive oil
  • 4 portabello mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 sweet peppers – red and/or orange, sliced
  • juice of another half a lime
  • salt to taste

Directions:

If you have time to marinade the mushrooms, put the mushrooms in a zip top bag with a small glug of olive oil, the garlic and the lime juice. Zip the top and shake well. Leave them for at least half an hour, shaking a few times. Turn the oven on to medium heat. Lay the the mushrooms, upside down, on an oven tray and heat around 5 min. Meanwhile heat some oil in a skillet on the range – I use either a cast-iron griddle or a 2″ deep skillet. Add the onions and turn up the heat to get some nice colour on them. Add the peppers, pressing down occasionally to make the skin blister and pop.

Remove the mushrooms from the oven and slice them. Mix with the onions and peppers on the skillet and sprinkle with lime and salt.

Part 3: Guacamole

For a weeknight meal, cut an avocado in half, score into cubes, scoop out and serve alongside fresh lime and coriander/cilantro. If you make it as guacamole, it doubles as a pre-dinner dip.

Ingredients: (for a nice big bowl for dip and fajita filling)

  • 3 ripe avocados, scored & scooped out of the shell
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • small handful of cilantro/coriander, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & minced finely, and/or  1/2 tsp chili powder (cayenne pepper)
  • juice of 1 lime (or more)
  • salt to taste
  • optional: 1/4 cup diced tomato

Directions:

Crush the avocado with a fork. Mix in the remainder of ingredients, but staying on the conservative side of chili, lime and salt. Tweak by adding more salt, lime & spice to taste.

Part 4: Pico de Gallo (fresh tomato salsa)

This is another optional one. For a weeknight, just dice up a fresh tomato. For guests, this doubles as a dip.

Ingredients:

  • 5 fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1 small sweet pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced (optional: this is a breath hazard and can be omitted!)
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded & minced finely and/or 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • juice of 1/2 lime (more if needed)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • small handful of chopped coriander/cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup canned corn, optional

Directions:

Mix all ingredients. If desired, take 1/2 of the mixture and blitz in a food processor (I prefer it fresh, pico de gallo style). Tweak salt, chili & lime as needed.

Part 5: Assembly

Ingredients:

  • 1 package corn tortillas (gluten-free as needed)
  • bowl of lime wedges, diced fresh jalapenos and coriander for guests to add as desired (I’m a bit of a lime fiend!)

Heat the tortillas in the oven or on a skillet, making sure to remove them before they get crispy. Place the tortilla in the center of a plate. Add a scoop each of black beans, fajita vegetables, guacamole and salsa. Be careful not to over-fill, but if you do, well, it’s part of the fun. 😉  Fold the bottom of the tortilla upwards, fold the sides inwards and eat from the top!

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