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Low carb trip to the health food shop…

24 Jan

For a treat (how much of a geek am I) I went to the health food shop this weekend.  It actually does feel like a treat though, because Earth Natural Foods in Kentish Town is like a palace to foods you read about in low carb recipes, but are impossible to find in everyday supermarkets – the only challenge is getting some great recipes to use them all up (and prove my investment worthwhile!).  All the staff and customers in there are all serene and zen and even going in there has a harmonising effect.  People in Kentish Town proudly bear their woven recyclable bags around the area with pride, like a badge of health and clean living.  Despite the fact I would actually quite love to buy and own one, I never get round to it, because in doing so you have to admit to the lovely and earnest till staff (and worse the queue) that you HAVEN’T BROUGHT YOUR OWN RECYCLABLE BAGS. I asked for a carrier bag the first time I went in there and never have since – draw your own conclusions!

Anyway, despite only going in for some herbal tea, I came out with these (and actually forgot the tea in my haste):

Low carb health food shop haul...

The sweetener I am investigating because I have come to the conclusion I can no longer do Splenda! I’m not normally a sweet toothed person, but have experimented with it in baking and have come to  dread the aftertaste.  So in the absence of being able to buy Stevia, this is the one I have selected from what was available.  The Soya Flour and Flaxseed I have been hearing about since I started on this diet and I want to see what all the fuss is about – right, am off to find some recipes to use them!  Any ideas most welcome….

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 – EAT

12 Jan

Cauliflower Cheese Soup from eat - low carb loveliness in your lunchbreak

As much as I aspire to be the girl who always brings in her carefully made lunch to work – and I have made more effort since new year as my last post shows – sometimes, like today, it is just too rainy/cold/boring to undertake it.  Today I had to buy in lunch, but I suspect this was subconsciously because I knew Cauliflower Cheese Soup was on the menu at Eat.

As we know on this way of eating – the cauliflower is your friend!  And this is brilliant, I like cauliflower, I love cauliflower cheese and I am a massive fan of Eat’s idea to provide it in soup form!  Described as ‘the ultimate comfort food’ by Eat’s menu, this delicious soup ticks all the boxes for taste and being filling and, of course, for being low carb (approx 5 carbs per 100g I think, but as the name suggests I don’t really do the whole counting thing).  My purchase instigated a bit of soup related chat in the office and it appears I’m in the minority by favouring cheese in a soup – however, if you are doing low carb and therefore eliminating the bread – it’s a massive bonus to have the extra fillingness provided by the cheese.  This is backed up by the fact that I ate at approx 12.30pm and it is now 19:10 and I still don’t feel hungry – result!

Being essentially a sandwich shop, Eat is not amazing for low carb eating, but there are some good options (especially with the soups).  Check out the latest menu and other nutritional information here.  If you have any low carb lunch break recommendations I would love to hear them!

Carb v Low Carb – a Salmon Supper

10 Aug

I, like many others I’m sure, have got a repertoire of fail-safe dishes which I have honed over the years to become my staple dishes for dinner which would suit my every mood. When I moved in with my OH, we had a period of confusion where these dishes battled for supremacy, but ultimately settled down into a pattern so that we now have a joint set of favourites – but sharing the cooking on alternate days, which has seemed to work!

Was talking with my lovely OH tonight about the low carb way of eating in general and while lots of our favourite dinners pre this WOE were carb heavy (due in no small part my desire to have them that way!) both he and myself have been surprised how my adaptation of low carb and him not wanting (or needing) to have not really impacted our routine – in fact had I not been spurred on to for diet purposes I think I would have enjoyed the way I eat them now just as much. And furthermore, it doesn’t even require an extra length of time to do two versions.

So thought it might be interesting/useful to post some dinners as they are round our place to demonstrate. Tonight’s is not a particularly innovative version (hard day at the office!), but stay tuned for more for ideas on the same theme..

Firstly, news from the courgette camp is that we have our first big courgette from the tiny north London balcony outside our flat:

Our newest courgette addition to the family - fork to show scale (yes I was pretty excited and yes, no expense spared on LCNNC!)

We’ve actually grown a fair few, but due to either my excitement about harvesting, the OH’s determination to grow them as big as we’d get in the supermarket or local birds spying their dinner (well, think that’s the case – otherwise we have some pretty big insects demanding food on the balcony there), this is the first that’s made it though. Despite the excitement, it was always going to get eaten for dinner!

So dinner (in the yellow v blue corner for demonstration purposes below), as I said fairly simple, but swapping the potatoes for cauli-mash, makes the meal as, if not more, filling for low carb eaters – perfect on a rainy Tuesday:

Low hassle dinner a deux chez LCNNC

Completely hassle free dinner for two, with two different diet options.

You will need:

2 salmon fillets

Spoon of pesto sauce (mine from a jar, but you could of course make your own!)

Spoon of Creme Fraiche

1 Courgette

New Potatoes

Cauliflower 1/4 or half a head for this recipe, but I find you may as well use it all and save some mash for the next evening)

Method – for both

Salomon fillets: Remove from packaging and sit on two squares of tin foil.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil and lemon juice and spread over pesto sauce on top of each. Fold foil over into parcels, pop on an oven tray and cook for 15/20 mins on 200 deg c.

Mix the small amount of Creme Fraiche with tiny amount of pesto for a sauce to drizzle on top of the fish.

Courgetti Spaghetti – Create courgette strands using method here, then add to a frying pan with 3 tablespoons water and squeeze lemon juice, cook until water absorbed, for approx 5 mins – sprinkle of tarragon with this is also delicious.

Method – for carb v low-carb options

1) New potatoes – add to pan of boiling water for about 15 mins (if you do this same time as the fish, should hopefully coincide), add sauce or dressing, or as i’m requested to – let the recipient handle that bit!

2) Cauli-mash, using the recipe here, or even simpler – chop cauliflower florets and add to microwave steam bag.  Cook on high for approx 5-6 mins.  When soft empty into food processor and blend with tiny amount butter/cream/cheese as desired and salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy a harmonious carb/low carb dinner for two!

Anyone else have any tips for sharing this WOE with family and friends?  Would love to hear about your experiences.

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!

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.

Basta of pasta? Try Courgetti Spaghetti!

14 Jun

The slicer starting to spaghetti those courgetti pieces...

I mentioned pasta a couple of posts ago and how it is one of the things I am not missing massively – but when you have a really nice (and carbohydrate free!) sauce that you love making, its sometimes a real shame not to have something to go alongside it and ‘bulk it up’ as pasta would stand in to do.

A couple of months ago I made an amazing discovery – it’s called the Joyce Chen Slicer and you can see a nifty little film about what it does here.  You basically need a courgette or two slice in half, the you place the half onto a spike in the middle white bit, with the handle pushing it down and turning it into the blade which make the brilliant strands (either Spaghetti or Fettuccine -esque) into the clear plastic tub at the bottom.

It’s so quick and easy to use and really is a godsend for those moments when the dinner dish may be pasta and you want to join in with everyone else, when you’re really missing the ‘theatre’ of eating Spaghetti, or simply when you’ve got a hankering for the flavours of your favourite pasta sauce and need something extra to go with it.

As the video suggests – the possibilities are indeed endless about other veg you could use and am having a lot of fun finding out what works (and doesn’t!).  There’s also loads of uses for it with salads etc, but have been so busy trying out pasta recipes with it – not quite got round to doing that yet.  The courgette sliced this way is also great plain alongside dishes such as fish…

Will post again soon about some of the dishes that I love using this, but until then just wanted to spread the word!  Not on commission (honest!) but know that for those of you who have got to a certain level with low carb (the level of boredom where its make or break time!), using something like this could make all the difference.  I could only find it on eBay to buy (seller in the UK) – but if you have seen them elsewhere here, would love to know as have been so vocal in my praise have got a line up of friends and family who have demanded to receive one as birthday gifts!

The slicer makes a dish of lovely spaghetti-esque strands ready for sauce!

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