Thursday, 15 July 2010

Say "Cheez!"

I've recently been foraging about for some kind of satisfactory cheese substitute. All the current versions on the market seem to have vegetable oil in, which probably lends it that nice smooth consistency, but is useless to someone who has to avoid eating it!

I came across this genius book: The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, by Jo Stepaniak and I'm working my way through the awesome and hugely creative recipes. They basically use a really eclectic mix of ingredients including garlic and onion powders, cashew nuts and something I'd never heard of before called "nutritional yeast" to replicate the highly unique flavours in cheese. (Nutritional Yeast is nothing like brewers yeast, it has the tang of yeast extract in Marmite.) In the rather messy but fun mixing process, you also add boiled up Agar flakes to gel it all together and get it to set (as you'll see in the picture, it really looks quite pleasing). Admittedly, it's really almost impossible to imitate that particular rubbery texture because that would involve adding casein. I'm not sure where I can get my hands on some, but if I could I would put it in (although I rather enjoy my mostly vegan diet).

Anyway, so I've tried this cheese now, which in the book is listed as Colby Cheez, and it works for me. You can cut it, grill it, melt it, even. I like to eat it in a sandwich with cucumber and just pretend it's actually cheesy. It's close, but no cheese biscuit.

Give it a try!

You'll need:

1 1/2 cups of water
5 tbsps of agar flakes (or 1.5 tablespoons of agar powder)
0.5 cup of roasted red peppers
0.5 cup of chopped raw cashews
0.25 cup of nutritional yeast flakes
3 tbsps lemon juice
2 tbsps tahini
2 tsps onion powder
1 tsp salt
0.25 tsp of garlic powder
0.25 tsp dry mustard

Phew - little bit like a chemistry experiment, eh? It's verrry easy from hereon in...

So, you'll also need a 3 cup plastic storage container to set the cheese in.

1. In a small saucepan, mix the water and agar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and stir constantly until the agar is dissolved - this will take up to ten minutes.
2. Pour into your food processor and add everything else!
3. Process it for maybe five minutes, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides of the mixer. Ensure it's really smooth.
4. Pour into the container and leave it to cool in the fridge, uncovered.
5. Once cooled, cover and leave overnight.
6. Eat! You can melt it, slice it, serve it with crackers and grapes!

Leftovers allegedly last up to five days. Yeah, like they have a chance....

Monday, 14 June 2010

Jab Night Comfort Food 1: Crème Brûlée

Every Monday night I get a fairly sharp reminder that my life isn’t quite free of everything to do with MS: it arrives in the form of an intramuscular injection of Avonex. Whatever else is happening in my life, I might be on holiday, stressed at work or just kicking back at home, it focusses me like nothing else can. Like anything we face, the injection brings up some really varied emotions for me. The first is the injection itself: even after two years, it still takes guts to do it, so much so, that I can’t wait until the end of the day to inject, as the doctors suggest. The fact that I know I’ve got to do it, is usually on my mind just after midday. So, I pop my Nurofen, then an hour or so later I do the injection early evening, (it now takes less than five minutes as opposed to the full forty minutes at the beginning). Then I get what I call the “window of opportunity”, which is an hour off before the side effects hit. This encompasses real relief at having injected successfully, pride in having achieved it, and gratitude that the NHS has prescribed me a really good DMD. So, all good then. When I was first dating my boyfriend, this was when I’d call him and either have a chat, or leave the perkiest voicemail ever. After an hour, the first signs of the side-effects will come on - usually some heaviness in the legs, and a general feeling of my body sliding downwards. Maybe a sneeze or two, sluggishness, and if I’m unlucky, nausea. This will last 24 hours, might involve some delirious sleep (in which I apparently kick, sorry boyf).

I'm aware of the increasing debate over the efficacy of interferons, and I struggled even with Avonex after diagnosis until I changed to Dr Jelinek's diet. For all the hassle it involves, I experience great health now, six days a week, and will always be grateful for my neurologist giving me the pick of DMDs, and I will continue to do jab night. Because I am also aware that what I go through for 24 hours, once a week, is just a drop in the ocean compared to how I once was.

So, quite a preamble. But something I like to do on jab night, to keep myself busy through the onset of side-effects is BAKE. Seeing as I'm heading towards a state of discomfort, it's usually comfort food, so this first recipe is something I thought I'd never be able to eat again, but thanks to Vegan Visitor is totally doable!

You'll need:

1 pack of Silken Tofu

1/2 Cup of Fruit Sugar (Agave Nectar works really well)

1/3 Cup of Soya Milk

2 Tablespoons of Vanilla Essence

2 Tablespoons of Ground Arrowroot Powder

1 Pinch of Salt

Sugar to brûlée the tops

1. Preheat the oven to 160C (325F) and boil a kettle of water

2. Drain the tofu.

3. Prepare 6 ramekins in a shallow large pan, and cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover it.

4. Combine the tofu, Agave Nectar, soya milk and vanilla and blend it in a food processor until smooth.

5. Add the ground arrowroot powder to the smooth mix for about four pulses so it's all nicely mixed in.

6. Distribute the mix equally into the ramekins

7. Pour boiling water from the kettle into the bottom of the shallow pan creating a "Bain Marie" so that it comes 2/3rds of the way up to the edges of the ramekins

8. Cover the ramekins with baking parchment and carefully transfer it to the oven (wobbly and hot, never a good combination)

9. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until set. The centre might still be jiggly, but it'll set more as it cools.

10. Remover the ramekins from the water pan, cool for a bit and then refrigerate for an hour.

11. To brûlée the sugar, you can either grill it, or wield the fun blowtorch. You'll be passing the tip of the flame over the sugar until it turns amber and caramelizes. Once it cools a bit it'll be deliciously crackly and you can tap to break the surface. Highly satisfying!


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fat-Free Crisps!

Yep, they do exist, huzzah! And you don’t have to install a monolothic dehydrator to make’em. (You do need a microwave though.) It’s not as quick as ripping opening the aforementioned Roast Chicken Walkers, but seeing as that's not really an option anyway, spending a little time on these is worth it. Especially if, like me, you’d been missing the whole crisp experience for eighteen months: shoving three or four in one go is completely satisfying.

This recipe is taken from Susan V’s awesome Fat-Free Vegan Blog

You’ll need:

  • 1 microwave
  • 1 medium potato - maris piper work best
  • parchment paper
  • salt (I prefer to use Lo-Salt)

1. Using a mandolin or - if you have one - a food processor, slice one medium potato as thinly as possible, taking care that all slices are the same thickness.

2. Cut a circle of parchment paper to the size of your microwave glass turntable. Place the parchment circle directly onto the turntable and then distribute the potato slices on the paper in a rodial fashion, without overlapping.

3. Salt lightly.

4. Microwave at full power for about 4-6 minutes. Peek in as the crisps are cooking after 3 minutes, and turn off the microwave when spots of brown begin to appear on the sliced potatoes.

5. Leave the sliced potatoes in the microwave, door shut, for 1 minute. This dries them out a bit more.

6. Microwave again at full power until the slices are golden brown. Depending on how brown the spots were before the 1 minute standing, this won’t take long - probably only about 30 secs. Until you know what your microwave can do, it's best to keep looking, otherwise you'll end up with charred discs.

7. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool. Ta-dah! Your potato slices have become crisps! The crisps will be crackling on the parchment paper. Repeat until all potato slices are cooked.

You can reuse the baking parchment each time, and the crisps will take less time to cook. If you want to make a big batch of crisps, you can alternate between two parchments.

"Bacon-Tea" Scallops

One of the hardest foods to relinquish has undoubtedly been bacon; streaky sarnies with ketchup, Frazzles crisps, mini streaks wrapped around those neat little Christmas cocktails sausages, and my favourite, my mum’s fabulous roasted red cabbage and bacon (ngh...). Bacon is a dangerous temptress indeed, seducing the most hardened of vegetarians back into the pig eating fray because there’s no real substitute. Sadly, anything vegetarian resembling the vast array of pork products usually has vegetable oil in it, so Linda McCartney products might as well have once been rolling around the mud with Babe.

Well, there is hope.... Bringing me nicely on to Lapsang Souchong tea which, with its bonfire smokiness, can flavour up foods and is the closest I reckon we can get to bacon (hence it’s known as “bacon tea” in my house).

Use the tea to marinate the scallops and then grill the scallops on either side. You can serve this with any kinda rice and some green veggies or salad. This is a totally fat-free recipe.

Prep Time: 40 min. marinate time

6 min. grilling time

Serving Size: 4

You'll need:

12 Sea Scallops

12 oz. extra strong brewed Lapsang Souchong Tea

(4 tsp. Lapsang Souchong to 12 oz. boiling water)

1/2 cup chopped spring onions

1 clove garlic crushed

1/2 tsp chopped ginger

2 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. tahini (100% Sesame like Cypressa)

3 tsp. sugar

salt & Pepper to taste

1. Brew up the Lapsang tea, and make it extra strong.

2. Finely chop the spring onions, and add along with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, tahini, sugar, salt and pepper and the tea to a small saucepan

3. Bring the mixture to the boil, and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. This steeps the ingredients and incorporates all the yummy flavours.

4. Pour mixture into a tuppaware and allow to cool to room temperature.

5. When cooled, add scallops, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate. Turn scallops after twenty minutes.

6. When marinated, remove scallops. Pat dry and grill for 3-4 min. per side until done.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Really Rather Good For You Carrot Cake

I thought I'd start by introducing you to my carrot cake; I'll be adding more recipes as I go on. This is adapted from a James Martin carrot cake recipe. I reduced the oil content massively from the original recipe and substituted it for soya milk, but it is actually the "fattiest" of anything I bake, but I've been eating it for about a year now with no nasties so I reckon it's good to go. The cake is moist and really light and has a lovely crunchiness from the pecan nuts along with the occasional zesty hit of lemon. It's always very popular. If I bake one, chances are it'll be wolfed by the end of the day. Other people may also get to eat some too....

You'll need:
  • 175g/6oz light muscavado sugar
  • 3 large egg-whites
  • 60ml/ cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil
  • 60ml soya milk
  • 200g/7oz wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g/7oz carrots, peeled, coarsely grated
  • 80g/3oz pecan nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 110g/4oz raisins (Sun-Maid are best!)
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/370F/Gas 5. I use a large square silicon tin, so there’s no oiling needed, (and the cake will come out easily).

2. Whisk the egg whites first so they form peaks. Then add the sugar, soya milk and olive oil and mix for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is smooth.

3. Sift the the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl, tipping in the grains left in the sieve. Stir in gently.

4. Fold the grated carrot, pecan nuts, lemon zest and raisins into the mixture.

5. Spoon the mixture into the cake mould - if you tip it, the consistency will move really slowly, like a B-movie slime monster.

6. Smooth the surface with a spatula.

7. Bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 35-40 minutes (fan ovens need a bit less). It will have risen satisfyingly and feel firm and springy to the touch when lightly pressed in the centre; if not, cook for a little longer before testing again.

8. When ready, cool the cake down until you can peel the silicon mould away from the cake and let it finish cooling.

9. Then ice! And EAT!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Dream of Cheese

In May 2006, I was diagnosed with RRMS and suddenly I was forced to take a long hard look at everything in my life and face the fact that I had been neglecting what was really important. I was lucky to find a brilliant Neurologist who understood that all I craved was a "normal" life, in which everything I'd previously taken for granted, like waking up assuming I could get out of bed, or being able to plan a holiday, could be achievable again. After a brief and rather unhappy dalliance with Betaferon, I started using Avonex, and am still injecting it once a week. Sadly, being on medication, however good it was, didn't prevent the following two years post-diagnosis from being pretty horrendous - you name it, I experienced it: blindness, deafness, dizziness, shooting pains, depression, struggling with ascending tube escalators; then dealing with the obliterating IV Steroid treatment which either rocketed me sky high, or made me want to jump off the nearest high thing. (Not to mention turning my face into a moon and giving me the the kind of ravenous munchies that made my futon seem delicious).

My mum told me about Dr Jelinek's diet months before I started it, but there was a culinary life I couldn't bear to give up. I would tell anyone recommending the diet to me that my life was hard enough without having to give up the comfort food I adored. I used to love picking the delicious chicken skin off a Sunday roast, troughing a crispy skinned sausage in one go. Relishing the greasy fingers from eating lamb chops with rosemary, the roasted bud of garlic squeezed over the top. I cooked a mean Delia Smith crispy roast duck with fatty crunchy roasted potatoes (and still do for loved ones when they get sick of fish). And cheese. Oh, lovely, dearest cheese.... Lashings of dolcelatte on crispy baguette, wolfing a circle of Dairylea triangles in one sitting, and edam. EEE-DAM!!! The clean slightly rubbery but delectable sensation of sinking my teeth down, down into Edam and admiring the teeth print I left behind, like footprints in fresh snow.... I still dream of it.

It was all worth giving up.

I finally decided to give Dr Jelinek's Taking Control of MS a go because I was at my wits' end. It seemed like I was facing an endless cycle of remission and relapse every month or so, and I was so beaten that I just found myself waiting for the next bit of me to go wrong. It was like being followed around by a dark scary hooded figure and wondering when he was going to strike next. So, I decided I would try anything - anything! - to escape from my vicious cycle. It was a rocky start, but almost two years down the line, just like Dr Jelinek, I am now completely symptom free. I will do the science bit at some point, but just to get you reading, I've linked his page here just so he can explain his thinking. He's utterly inspirational.

I now live a normal life.

I can now plan for the future.

I am well!

I've re-learnt learnt how to cook, using some vegan techniques, egg white and mainly using extra virgin olive oil very sparingly, I have almost completely eradicated saturated fat from my diet. I'm a fish-eating vegan (which make-a no sense), but that's what my diet essentially entails: the only other animal produce I eat is egg-white (and I can now watch a field of spring lambs with impunity). It's certainly not straightforward - sometimes I get a little bored of having to have "the conversation" with waiters in restaurants or when I'd just love to buy a packet of Walkers Roast Chicken and munch'em down in one sitting. But the benefits have been extraordinary. I feel so well and my saturated-fat eating friends and family happily tuck away the fat-free food I cook. So I thought, with the wealth of fat-free recipes out there, I would share some of my own recipes to make the transition easier for someone who wants to change their lifestyle as I have. There are excellent fat-free vegan websites out there, which I'll link to, but because if, like me, you think you'll miss eating meat, there are quite a few fish substitutes out there that can help with that. My saturated-fat eating boyfriend is happy to eat my diet, so it is possible to make the transition. I would be very honoured if, by reading this blog, just one person gave the diet and lifestyle idea a go and transformed their life as mine has.

Given the choice between dreaming of living a normal life, and only dreaming of eating cheese, I know which one I'd choose....