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Top 10 low carb cooking tools and gadgets

19 Jan

We all know (or at least I do), that low carb eating can be a faff.  Being prepared is almost a mantra for this way of eating –  and when you have done a lot of cooking or preparation starting the week then you do feel very smug and ability to stay on track is much better – but sometimes? Life gets in the way!

I am – by my own admission – a gadget fiend for all types, especially electronic, always on the look out for the next thing that’s going to make my life easier, do something faster or generally just look cool.  And cooking is no different, especially when it comes to low carb cooking – anything that makes it easier/faster/better is great because it helps you stay on the low carb path.  So here are products at the front of my mind or cupboard – what are yours?

1) Courgette Splicer – I have mentioned this in previous posts, but it is brilliant – you must must must buy one if you haven’t because it creates a great way to eat courgettes, creates substitutes for pasta or noodles, and even impresses dinner guests who have only ever seen courgette cooked a couple of ways.   Definitely a winner.

2)  Flask – Yes, it does make you feel like you are back in a past family picnic – however, it is a brilliant tool for the low carb office lunch.  As past posts show I am rather partial to soup from the local sandwich eaterie (completely admit convenience and laziness make this an ever appealing option).  BUT, if you can make your own soups (totally easy, will post more soon on this) and can spare a mere two mins in the morning to heat up… with the addition of a flask (which doesn’t have to be the best or most expensive version!), you can have hot soup for lunch without the need to queue for the microwave at lunch and be the envy of the office.

3) Food Grill – As a result of some vouchers my very clever other half won as a result of doing well at work, we recently purchased a ‘health grill’ – (and after much debate, one with cleanable trays, which has proved valuable!).  Think I’m coming very late to the party with this, but I’m loving it.  Not so much for the fat reducing aspect as on low carb that’s not so much a problem, but because it provides a really quick and easy way to cook the low carb staple of meat well – especially sausages which I always seem to have a problem with!

4)  Food Processor – OK, I love love love my food processor.  Ours is possibly one of the cheapest on the market, but I use it constantly (and its been going for a long while!).  Especially good for our old friend the cauliflower. Cauliflower mash? Never going to taste as good as when its been blended by the food processor.  Cauliflower pizza? Complete nightmare to grate cauliflower by hand, but with the grating attachment, you can get everything sorted easily – and even better quickly – important when you are replicating fast food!

5)  Steamer Bags – Not really a tool or gadget as such, but these are so brilliant and the biggest bargain ever. I brought ten at Poundland for (as the name suggests!) a pound, in a slightly scary pre Christmas experience in Poundland Camden Town.  Just pop them in the microwave with some chopped veg for a couple of mins and you’re ready to go.  I have even since found that you can wash them out after use! All the benefits of low cost and convenience, with the added benefit of no cauliflower smell in your living space – buy them. If only for the last reason (and to reduce moaning of your OH). Those versions are clearly a bargain, but think you can also get upper class zipped versions at outlets such as Lakeland should you prefer to spend more!

6) Silicon Cake Tray – I was anti this at first.  I mean, what does a rubberised cake tray have to offer in a world of lovely looking kitchen equipment? How wrong I was.  Whatever you are making, after cooking, you can simply tip the recipe out of the tray – and crucially without the need for greasing them and adding more time to your recipe – ready to cool and eat. There are lots of good cake recipes for the typical sweet need for this equipment, but it also great for low carb breakfast muffins, using it for portions of low carb Quiche… the list goes on!  Have added some versions of these on my online shop – but you can get some great value (but not as sturdy!) versions, again from Poundland.  I use one of each type!

7) Hand Blender – As have said previously soups are a great asset for low carb eating. Again, we have the cheapest version, and it works just fine! Am aware that you can definitely use your food processor/blender to help with this very easily.  However, the hand bender is a brilliant asset for helping with the final stages of soup.  Just plug it in, blend, then a quick wash of the blade means there’s not even much washing up to contend with. It is not always the easiest to transfer soup to different receptacles for blending, so bringing the blender to the soup is a brilliant time – and stress! – saver.)

8 ) Shake mixer – I have no time in the mornings – or maybe what is more true is that I prioritise sleeping in my morning routine and with the time spent getting ready for your day ahead, you are left with precious little time for prepping a low carb day! Before this diet I thought protein shakes were the domain of muscley weight lifters, but I digress and feel the need to tell you more soon, but if you are in the market for taking a protein shake to work in lieu of your otherwise regular coffee, its brilliant. With the mixer ball inside to shake the drink all the way to work in your bag, simply add a scoop of protein shake, some ice cubes and some soy milk and breakfast is served – at your desk!

9)  Netbook – OK, stay with me on this one! The internet (as hopefully this blog proves) can provide a lucrative, much needed, source for low carb recipes. In fact, recent research shows that consumers in the UK are now turning more towards the internet as a source of recipe inspiration than cookery books. Yes, of course you can print these out, or commit them to memory, but I love taking my little (or littler than a laptop) netbook into the kitchen to sit away from the prep as a reassurance am following the recipes to plan.  With Nigella et al now providing videocasts of recipes and ipads, smart phones and ever more amazing technology more accessible, I think this type of cooking is only going to become more popular.

10) Cheese Grater – Yes.  Cheese is a massive staple of the low carb lifestyle and many low carb recipes demand a lot of it.  I have got – more than one! – ‘normal’ cheese graters to do the deed, but they can be troublesome… and messy.  Which is why having one which contains all the cheese in a box attached is great.. especially when you plan to use a certain amount – less is more!

Low Carb London – Zizzis and St John’s Tavern

15 Aug

We have just waved off some friends who have been staying with us and while it was lovely to have them, we are now sitting in our flat enjoying the relative peace!  I do feel like we often take London living for granted, we get out and about a fair bit, but it’s really when you have friends come to visit who are amazed, impressed and desperate to pack in as much of London as possible in a weekend, that you remember we are really lucky to live here and have such amazing things and places on our doorstep.

Living in London also means that we are lucky enough to have a myriad of amazing restaurant option if we choose to eat out (or in!) and there is something for all tastes and budgets, and that’s something I think we definitely don’t take for granted!  So therefore, Low Carb living when you have these options is a bit easier when you have all this to choose from, but I love hearing about noteworthy LC menu options from friends who have been and experienced good ones.  As an (ex) pizza fiend myself, it was while bemoaning the fact that I missed it and how I felt I had to give up the temptation of Italian restaurants as I didn’t trust myself not to order, that I was recommended the Insalta Boccincini from Ziziis (we went to the branch in Victoria, but they are of course nationwide) by a friend.

So, it was to Zizzis that we headed for a quick meal with friends this weekend and I completely amazed myself that by having this choice of meal that it completely eliminated the desire for the pizzas, even with everyone around me having them!  I shared a starter of anti-pasta with my friend (think lovely fresh buffalo mozzarella, parma ham and sun-dried tomatoes), followed by this salad, which features lovely melty Scamorza cheese wrapped in ham (that’s your pizza substitute sorted) on a bed of crisp salad as below – was lovely.  Even better, they currently have an offer on their website for two courses for £10 in August…bargain!  Don’t have an image unfortunately, but this from their menu below:

INSALATA BOCCINCINI (£5.55 / £9.25)

Smoked ham wrapped in Scamorza cheese adds a twist to a classic Italian salad of roasted peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, mixed leaves and croutons

Meanwhile, another notable Low Carb option from this weekend I wanted to tell you about was actually found in a pub (St John’s Tavern in Archway  – lots of locally sourced options on their extensive food menu and well worth a visit!).  When one of our group suggested getting pork scratchings as a snack, I was initially half hesitant and half enthusiastic.  While they are often regarded as a low carb staple and I can appreciate their low carb qualities for a snack (unlike many who have a pretty fierce reaction one way or the other!), I find it best to keep thinking from what is in them too much – and especially from considering just how long they may have been sitting on the shelf before you purchased the bag!!

Anyway, what came back from the bar was not as expected a small bag of questionable quality, but a plateful of freshly made pork rinds, which were invariably more appetising!  These pork scratchings were completely different, crunchy, flavoursome and at £3 for a plate pretty good value too.  Clearly being made from scratch (!) on the premises makes all the difference. As you can see from the below we all dived in very quickly, but just in time managed to get a quick photo while there were some left to show you before they were all polished off…

Pork Scratchings - Gastro Pub style!

Low carb breakfast? A cracking Frittata Primavera

2 Aug

As I’ve said before on this blog, and many other low carb followers have confirmed, preparation is key on this diet.

One area it’s often quite hard to prepare for is breakfast – I’m not a breakfast early in the morning kind of girl (often leaving me in a dangerous hunger space mid-morning at the office!) and have honed the time between waking up and leaving for work to the bare minimum to maximise all important sleeping time…

You can of course enjoy things like bacon and eggs or scrambled eggs on this diet, but if you’ve got to be in the office early, this isn’t really an option during the week.  So, to alleviate these problems, plus the problem of what to cook when you haven’t got many ingredients – this Fritatta Primavera dish is brilliant.  Make it on a Sunday when you’ve got some time, cut into eights and wrap up in foil. Store in the fridge and grab on your way to work and it makes a perfect low carb breakfast, or in addition to a salad the perfect low carb lunch box.   And even better it works both hot and cold, uses up any leftover ingredients you have hanging around – and provides a vitamin boost from the included vegetables.

Only trouble with making this ahead of time for the week is that it is so good at bringing together all the healthy green things in a delicious way that my (vegetable dodging) boyfriend discovered it in the fridge on a late night snack mission – leaving me considerably less to be prepared with!

Frittata Primavera

You will need…

Metal frying pan (this is going to go under grill at end, so ensure it’s a sturdy one!)

6 Eggs

Half an onion, chopped

Half a courgette, diced

Handful of chopped spinach

3 Tablespoons frozen Peas

I slice bacon, chopped

3 tablespoons cream cheese

Tablespoon of pesto sauce

Method:

Beat the eggs together in a bowl and set aside

Heat a blob of butter in a pan, add the onions and turn heat down low until cooked through.

Add bacon and cook on same low heat with onions until done

Add in frozen peas (these will defrost as you cook), courgettes and spinach and cook (stirring continuously) for another 3/4 mins,

Add in the eggs, pushing in sides of mixture and ensuring remaining mixture fills in the gaps (but careful not to do this too much or you’ll end up with scrambled egg and vegetables as a dish instead)

When mixture looks like it is setting at side (not on top) take off heat (n.b it is tempting to leave this longer for the top to be done, but err on the side of caution as next step will cook the Frittata through, and a burnt underside is not nice!)

Add dollops of the cream cheese all over the pan

Place under grill until nearly set

Add small dollops of pesto sauce all over and return to grill for another 2 mins approx until cooked

Wait (if you can resist the temptation!) to cool and cut into eights, if not serve warm with salad.

Enjoy!

Serve and enjoy!

The simple life…

26 Jul

I have just got back from seeing an old school friend this weekend, and despite not having seen her for years.. upon seeing eachother again we immediately reverted to type (i.e. sat down giggled inanely about any-and-everything, confused our menfolk, drank bucketloads of white wine) and it was brilliant.

However, as you may have guessed from the wine bucket reference, my low carb living kind of went out of the window.  I’ve never understood people who claim that their need to stick to this way of eating is such that they feel comfortable in ordering their friends around in terms of what food to provide for them.  If your life consists of dinner soiree after dinner soiree then fair enough, but faced with a choice of embararassing my friends by bringing my own food along or forcing them to serve food they would never have planned to versus shutting up and going with the flow and enjoying the time together, I know which one I will always choose.

It was only a couple of days but have really felt bad about falling off the wagon today, and have therefore pushed myself back into a pensive phase-1-esque diet for today – really aware that once you slip up like this its really easy to think ‘to hell with it’ and run to the high street and buy yourself three baguettes and a portion of chips (or nearly!) but was determined not to let that happen!

So therefore, a simple supper was in mind for this evening.  As I said on my last post I had a brilliant ‘guest cheese’ I was keen to try out (this time Taleggio cheese, which I had heard great things about from both Nigel Slater and my lovely Italian colleague).  I had been inspired to use it ever since seeing Nigel’s recipe, Green Beans, Ham and Cheese recently – its simplicity is brilliant, so adapted it for my own ends with a craving for some much-needed steamed veg:

A simple supper...

You will need:

Taleggio cheese

Broccoli – cut into florets

2 Tomatoes cut into eighths

Courgettes, cut into batons

Half an onion

Slice of bacon, chopped.

Method:

Steam/cook Courgettes & Broccoli as preferred

Heat a blob of olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions, turning down to a low heat until softened.

Add the bacon until cooked through – so onion absorbs flavour of bacon

Add steamed vegetables to pan, along with the tomatoes

place the strips of cheese on top and turn carefully until all coated and cheese has melted into a sauce.

Enjoy!

Ever so slightly decadent with the cheese element – but felt virtuous enough with the vegetable consumption (and thus vitamin injection) to feel positive and upbeat about the week ahead, confident that it was a slip rather than a setback  – not bad for a Monday!

Top 10 Low Carb Supermarket Essentials

20 Jul

When making trips to the supermarket on a low carb way of eating it is vital to be prepared.  The more low carb options you have at your disposal, the less likely you are to fall off the wagon!  Here are my top 10 essential items which are always on my shopping list:

1.  Babybel Cheese – These are such an essential for me, and for eating low carb.  Easy and portable, perfect for a quick breakfast item you can chuck in your bag for work or a quick fix afternoon snack to see you through to dinner!

2. Soy Milk – Lower carb than traditional milk, I was surprised when I tried this under duress for the diet and found I really liked it. Another perfect on the go breakfast as a protein shake too – Alpro do a great light version with even fewer carbs.

3. Eggs – Can be used in such a wide variety of ways with low carb cooking, from scrambled eggs for breakfast, egg wraps for lunch or frittata for dinner – and relatively cheap too! Make sure they are free range though.

4. Decaf Coffee or Herbal Tea – Decaf coffee is definitely a good purchase for this way of eating, particularly if you are cutting out caffeine at the start.  Meanwhile there are so many lovely herbal teas you can buy now, it feels like an indulgent treat (and takes your mind off snacking!).  I like Detox Tea from Birt&Tang and Dragonfly Vanilla Rooibos.

5. Cream – It does take your head a while to get around that cream is ok on this way of eating.  But once you do, you find its a great asset for cooking (crustless Quiche in particuar – will post on this soon), or to lower your carb count even more by adding it to coffee.

6. ‘Guest cheese’ – No not some weird cheese brand!  But as your supermarket shop now effectively banishes you from what you previously considered the ‘treat’ aisles, a substitute may be in order. I have discovered the cheese counter and now buy a (small amount of!) a new and exciting cheese when I go.  How about eating your way around Britain’s Cheese board with a new piece each week?

7. Lettuce – Salads definitely feature a lot on my low carb menu, and with the inclusion of cheese/cream et its frankly quite nice to balance this with some crisp, fresh light meals!  Again I try to ensure  I vary the type I am buying to ensure boredom doesn’t set in.

8. Peanut Butter – Important that this is a no added sugar variety (Whole Earth do a particularly nice version and are my brand of choice) – invaluable to me as I will eat a teaspoon to offset a sugar craving and have in the fridge for emergencies

9. Ham / Bacon – invaluable for inclusion in salads, or wider cooking. Bacon is great with eggs for brekkie and ham and cream cheese roll ups an ideal low carb snack!

10. 80% (or above) Chocolate – If it’s just got to be chocolate, make sure its dark with a high cocoa content – store in fridge and make sure a square in emergencies goes a long way!

What are your essential low carb shopping items?

Quick low carb cooking – easy as 123!

14 Jul

Cooking for the time pressed - easy as 123!

I live in London, and a problem that many (non car owning Londoners such as myself) find when it comes to cooking is that 1) you are often time pressed as London life is so hectic and 2) you are not always in close proximity to a large supermarket.  You are therefore often dependent on the ‘local’ or ‘metro’ versions of big supermarket chains specially designed for people like me where ostensibly it is claimed they provide a selection of easy access products for you to ‘top up’ your main shop with – but what it actually means is that there are limited options which have somehow incurred a massive price mark up – the ‘top up’ tax if you will…

Anyway, I digress (and breathe!). Our nearest large supermarket is in Camden which we visit religiously each Sunday, the mundaneness of the task often offset by the entertainment value of the larger than life characters wandering the aisles, still dazed and confused and sleep deprived from not having returned from their night out before!  But inevitably I will often need a few things locally as the week goes on as I make my way from the tube to home on the way back from work, and this is where the local versions of supermarkets come in handy.

So, the point of all this is that on the nights where I drop by our Sainsburys Local in need of a Low Carb menu idea (and while this way of eating has certainly upped my desire about and knowledge around cooking, sometimes I just need food… fast) it’s not always the easiest to buy quick LC options.  BUT – step in the ‘whats cooking’ range!  It’s basically designed along the principle of basic food groups, vegetables, meat/fish, sauce and carbohydrates and has a selection of products within each sector.  Low carb lovers can simply drop the carbohydrate option and have a range of quick and easy menus.

This from the Sainsburys launch press release about the range:

There are no rules – every component is specially developed to taste great with whatever you chose to match it with. It really is as easy as 1,2,3,4…

Choose between:

  1. Meat/fish – chicken with coriander & chilli; chicken with parsley; beef with parsley; pork with parsley; prawns – we only use British chicken, beef and pork
  2. Vegetables – classic green vegetable medley; oriental stir fry vegetable mix; Indian vegetable mix; Mediterranean vegetable mix – all of our vegetables are fresh
  3. Sauce – tomato & basil; cheese & bacon; tikka masala; tandoori sizzler; sweet chilli; red pepper & chilli; coconut & chilli, black bean; creamy mushroom; Mexican fajita – all of our fresh sauces are based on authentic recipes and flavours
  4. Carbs – penne pasta; rice; baby potatoes; noodles; tortilla wraps

So as you can see, cooking with these menu options is indeed as easy as 123 (not 1234 you’ll note – a sign about the corruptive carbs?!).  But actually should I be doing something like this I would certainly throw in a carb option for my oft carb deprived OH, poor lamb.

I certainly recommend if you are UK-based checking this range out – definitely gets you out of a tight spot and away from the temptation of the pizza/pasta aisle if you need to be cooking a fast LC evening meal.  Good work Sainsburys!

Low Carb Lunchbox – its the ham and cheese ‘roll’

5 Jul

Rock and Roll with ham egg and cheese...

Lunch can be a tad tricky when you are on a low carb diet – and by tricky I mean… boring!  Yes salads have become a mainstay of my lunch hour and I have become the salad expert of Clerkenwell – I can actually tell colleagues the salad options of practically any close by sandwich shop they care to mention AND when their menu changes – which is starting to alarm me somewhat.  Anyway, having the chicken salad from Pret for the hundredth time in a row (and today – no joke – witnessing a FIGHT in there for the last one, not involving me fortunately) I decided things must change!

As much as you can jazz up salads, I do miss the feel of a sandwich – having something to hold the fillings together which you are allowed on a low carb diet.  But with bread effectively off the menu, I have just tried these egg ‘rolls’ and I must say they have impressed me with the ease and speed in which they are prepared (always a major concern for me in encouraging me to bring lunch to work) plus they look amazing with the feel of a wrap or sandwich.  The cheese inside also offsets to ‘egginess’ making these a must have for any low carb lunchbox and can be used with many more fillings – let me know of any good ones you try out!

You will need:

1 Egg per ‘roll’

Cream Cheese

1 Slice Ham (chopped)

Lettuce (chopped)

Method:

Heat a tiny amount of olive oil in a small NON STICK frying pan

Beat the egg and add content to pan, letting it coat the bottom in a circle like a pancake – very important not to play with it too much here, or you’ll simply end up with scrambled egg which is not the objective!

Turn the heat down to cook through and when slightly browned underneath, turn over to cook other side until golden.

Let you circle of egg cool completely

Spread on the cream cheese, making sure its spread right to the edges as this is what will stick your ‘roll’

Sprinkle chopped ham and chopped lettuce (and any other additions you care to add)

Roll into a tube and press down at edges (cheese should seal)

Chop in half and wrap in cling film – ready to take to work for lunch!

*SO important, I have a selection of lovely pans I use, but my small non stick frying pan (brought from Poundstretcher for just £2.99) wins every time when it comes to eggs – makes life, and washing up, so much easier!

A cheesy Cornish wedding

24 Jun

A very good friend of mine got married this week – she is from Cornwall and the wedding, weather and all round love and joie de vivre surrounding the occasion was amazing.

General consensus around weddings from a dietary perspective seems to be they are good places for low carb eaters – that’s particularly true if, like my generous friends, you have a menu ahead of time for the wedding breakfast to choose and plan from.  But what of the iconic moment when you’re in-between the day and night do and the wedding cake cutting (and distribution!) is beckoning?

As a considerate couple (and the lucky recipients of an extra wedding cake as a wedding gift) there were no problems with that at this wedding.  While her actual cakey-cake was fantasic – with handcrafted sugar shells and starfish to fit in with the beach theme and everything – behold – the cake of cheese!

The cake of cheese

How brilliant is that!  And even more brilliant… all the tiers were Cornish cheeses. Expertly crafted by The Cornish Deli, the cake was the subject of much photography throughout the event (and much devouring after cutting it) and for all cake lovers, sweet or savoury, it was a must taste.  As I felt it my duty to sample it extensively for you dear readers, I can report that the Cornish Yarg cheese and Cornish Brie come particularly highly recommended!

If you’re not lucky enough to attend a Cornish wedding with cheese options and have some holiday time to take this year – get down to the Cornish Deli in St Ives and sample their big selection…. I’m a convert.

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