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Hallouminize! Low Carb Cheese Love

21 Jul

What started as a chaste taste in a local Greek restaurant quickly became an obsession.  Worryingly, after a while I became the single white female… of Halloumi cheese!  After the first time I tried this cheese, I loved and purchased it so much that after a point there was just always some in my fridge and I worried when I came close to running out.  And like many of the worlds relationships, familiarity bred contempt and we simply lost touch.

But on reflection of the good times and what I might be missing, am back in love again.  Halloumi, a traditional Cypriot cheese, is a really great cheese, especially for low carb – especially handy if you are including a ‘guest cheese’ in your weekly fridge line up – try it! This from its Wikipedia entry:

Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprusand was initially made during the Medieval Byzantine period, subsequently gaining popularity throughout the rest of the Middle East region. Industrial halloumi contains more cow’s milk than goat and sheep milk. This reduces the cost but changes the taste and the grilling properties.  The cheese is white, with a distinctive layered texture, similar to mozzarella, and has a salty flavour. It is stored in its natural juices with salt-water, and can keep for up to a year if frozen below −18 °C (0 °F) and defrosted to +4 °C (39 °F) for sale at supermarkets. It is often garnished with mint to add to the taste. Traditionally, the mint leaves were used as a preservative, the use serendipitously discovered when the fresh Halloumi was kept wrapped for freshness and flavour from the mint leaves. Hence, if you look closely, many packaged Halloumi will have bits of mint leaf on the surface of the cheese.

As  I have said before, I do love savoury foods and am not averse to the pretty salty flavour of this cheese from the sat water in which it is stored.  But its an amazingly versatile cheese choice in my opinion because: 1) It doesn’t melt when cooking like most cheeses, 2) you don’t get the cheese overload you might anticipate if you’re not normally a lover of cheese on its own as a snack and 3) eating it in its ‘raw’ and ‘cooked’ state provide very different eating experiences – and as a result provide an element of variety often much missed in low carb eating.  Some doubters will tell you that a major downside is the way it feels ‘squeaky’ on your teeth (don’t panic! you need to taste it just to see what that means!) – but take it from me, the girl whose friends laugh at her because of her aversion to the squeak sound of cotton wool rubbing together (urrgghh) – this is not a problem.

You will buy a pack, such as this (mine purchased at my local supermarket, but know it’s widely available (NOTE you can usually buy both ‘normal’ and ‘light versions’.  A search on mysupermarket revealed that in a comparison between the two versions I find at my local Sainsburys, the light version (1g per 100g) beats the normal version (2.4g per 100g) for carbs. But as have said before, I don’t believe in obsessively counting and with a negligible difference, you might as well choose the normal version!

So here are two ways of incorporating this into your low carb lifestyle, both are hardly recipes because they require so little prep.  Let me know if you become as much of a fan as I am! A great low carb addition to your fridge…

1) The ‘raw’ way:

  • Open pack (seems a bit banal to state this as is clearly obvious, but Halloumi is usually vacuum packed with salted water  to keep the cheese fresh. Top tip, is to open pack while in a bowl or even better a tupperware tub, because otherwise you may well have a leaking packet emergency).  In my experience, if you are not planning to eat the pack in one go (though tempting, a tad too much in one sitting if it’s just you!) the liquid is beneficial when storing in fridge, so slicing in tupperware box enables everything to be kept in best way for next use.
  • Slice into small cubes, to be served as canapes alongside other low carb snacks, or as a quick low carb snack fix when hunger strikes!

2) Cooked version:

Cooking this cheese provides a totally different taste.  While it doesn’t melt, the cheese is softer and the salty taste is much reduced.  I have fried off some slices in a small amount of butter here especially due to the visual cooked presentation but it can also be grilled more healthily and suspect its only the capabilities of my oven which don’t enable the same effects when I do this – let me know what you find!

Tomatoes and Halloumi totally compliment eachother and provide a fast snack or indeed a satisfying meal perhaps when accompanied by a salad or some low carb bread? But as ever there are a plethora of ways to enjoy this alongside other low carb dishes.

  • Open pack (with advice as above)
  • Slice cheese in approx 1cm slices (NOTE best not too small a width, as you want to keep them firm enough for cooking).
  • Heat amount of butter in pan and distribute so all pan covered, keep heat fairly high.
  • Add slices and cook for approx 30 seconds on each side. Keep turning until a ‘browned’ effect is visible.
  • Add cherry/plum tomatoes sliced in half and cook with cheese for a further minute (keep turning so as not to get the cheese burnt) or until browned nicely on both sides.

Enjoy!

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….

A longing for low carb Gnocchi or pasta? Try Gnudi!

8 Aug

Just before I started this way of eating I had a real ‘foodie’ friend come to visit. Quite frankly any of the usual dishes in my repertoire were not going to cut it, so I decided to up the anti and make my own pasta for dinner.  It took ages.  All the faffing around making the dough and getting it to the right consistency and rolling it to the right amount, never mind the fillings which I decided were the easy bit.

As I proudly served up my labour of love and watched my friend and OH chew.. and chew..  and chew.. I realised I had been so obsessed about making the pasta what I has actually served them was a boiled piece of dough with a TINY pocket of filling… good job I had made a good dessert!  Bad as that was it motivated me to 1) Kick-start the low carb as I had no desire to even look at pasta for a good long while and 2) gave me proof that fillings were definitely the important bit, and that I wouldn’t miss the pasta part anyway in my low-carb dieting.

And by and large I haven’t.   Having the courgette gadget to create courgetti spaghetti has certainly made it possible to have pasta-esque meals  using the sauces which were the main bit I missed, but after a long time eating this way, my thoughts have now and again turned to pasta (though not making it!) and how easy it is if you are entertaining or want an easy night of cooking, but short of picking off the outside of a Raviloi I was bemused as to how I could do this low-carb style.

So it was coincidental then, that it was while having one of these easy nights and having a night off in front of the TV that the answer came through, rather incongruously given the expertise hinted at in the title, Masterchef.  Myself and OH, like much of Britain, like to sit in front of this programme where contestants compete to cook restaurant standard dishes to please a couple of shouty men from the food profession.  There is not often much cause for low carb celebration (though was amazed to see a contestant once rewarded for their up-to-the-minute skills in cooking cauliflower mash –  which low carb fans have been enjoying for ages).  But in this episode, one recipe made me sit up straight and start thinking about dinner… Gnudi.

Gnudi is kind of a cross between Ravioli and Gnocchi.  Ravioli because it is essentially a way of cooking it without the pasta shell (naked, or nude hence the name) and Gnocchi because of the manner in which it is cooked like dumplings and boiled until they rise to the top.  I believe there are lots of ways of cooking this and I have deviated from the recipe I saw to ensure it is low carb – notably removing the flour from the recipe when making it and using ground almonds to roll the dumplings in before cooking (though as such a small amount of flour would be used for this, I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you were to keep that in).

What is great about these is even one is really filling, so might be a good option to have alongside a salad or a meal, OR you can really go to town in serving them in a dish as something that both carb and no-carb eaters can enjoy.  It would also make a great serving dish alongside a nice crisp salad.  Now that we are growing salad leaves on our balcony, I may just have to invite that friend back round and try again!

Step one.. mix all ingredients...

Low Carb Gnudi

3 Eggs

250 g Ricotta Cheese

120g Grated Parmesan Cheese

Frozen Chopped Spinach (approx 5 bundles, thawed)

Ground Almonds (approx two tablespoons) – or flour

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Step two... bring to the boil

Method:

Separate eggs and add the yolks to a bowl, mixing in the Ricotta Cheese and Parmesan.

Thaw the spinach and (importantly!) squeeze out any excess water.

Combine the spinach with the rest of the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle ground almonds over a small plate.

Scoop out small amounts and roll into a ball, then roll in the ground almonds or flour until coated.

Add to a pan of boiling water and boil for about 5 mins – Gnudi will have floated to the top of the water.

Remove with slotted spoon and serve straight away with sauce, or add to oven proof dish coat with a sauce and bake in oven for a further 5-10 mins and serve.

Step three - Low Carb Gnudi pasta/dumplings ready for the sauce or style of your choosing!

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?

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