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Category Archives: Special Dietary Requirements

Food Got You Down?

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For the last while I felt down, not up, un-perky, demotivated, grumpy, tired, sore, and just overall icky. I thought grumpy thoughts, spouted tired greetings and did unmotivated work. I stopped posting on this blog. I sat around eating couscous with jam and chocolates and pasta and I wondered why I was feeling so lacklustre.

But had I taken my own advice, I wouldn’t have been such a party pooper. I’ve written about how important I think it is to use food to contribute to your emotions in a physical “yay, I’m eating something pretty!” kind of way, but I’m sure most of you know that that’s not the only way that food can affect our emotions.

If you don’t eat a (somewhat) balanced diet, with all of the good colours represented, you’re just not going to get enough of everything. And I think it stands to reason that if your body isn’t getting everything it needs you’re not going to feel crash hot. I can’t tell you how much better I felt after a couple of huge bowls of greens with some yummy nuts and (French) cheese and beans. So I strongly suspect that there was a nutrient or three lacking in what I’d been eating for a little while.

Before we get too carried away though, delicious delicious sweets have their place, don’t get me wrong. It is my firm opinion that sometimes that instant comfort you can get from warm chocolate self-saucing pudding or anything wrapped in pastry is entirely necessary and appropriate. Because life is not all unicorns and bestest friends. The big point, to my mind, is to make sure that your entire emotional life isn’t held up by pastry legs. Your emotions are very valuable, and good pastry isn’t hard enough to make for decent support. They just make a good cushion every now and then.

France Is Not The Place To Give Up Dairy

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One of the few restricted diets with which I am not well acquainted is dairy-free. So when my room mate informed me that she might have to go dairy-free for a while (apparently she finds it much easier to recover from things like colds if she doesn’t eat dairy) I thought it would be an awesome idea to give it a go as well. All I can say is Epic Fail.

I think the longest time I managed to spend without slipping up was 16 hours. I was asleep for eight of those.

And I have decided to blame it on France. At first you think it would be way easier here because all the milk they have is that terrible UHT milk (I don’t mind it too much, but really, it’s not the same). But then you remember cream.

'Italian' ice cream in France

The French certainly know their way around some cream. But you think, that’s not too hard, it’s getting towards winter, well autumn, so I don’t really need ice-cream anyway.

And then, you remember butter. Buttery pastries are surely the heart of this land. The warm, melt-in-your-mouth heart. They hide it with a cold exterior, but when you get to that chocolatey centre all of the love in France’s heart gives your mouth a hug.

But you think, really, it’s not very healthy for me or my bank balance to buy a pain au chocolat, also known as a chocolatine, every day.

And THEN, you remember cheese. If butter is the heart of France, then cheese is the rest of its internal organs. And it was to cheese that I finally succumbed. Cheese graces the top of the ‘pizzas’ you can buy in any bakery, it’s in and on the croque monsieurs, it can be squished into a baguette for a cheap student lunch, it’s on all of the ‘sandwiches’, in all of the quiches, whole rows of ridiculously cheap and incredibly delicious cheese grace the aisles of the supermarkets, giant wheels of it call you from the markets.

And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can always remember the chocolates. Had the cheese not gotten me, I’m sure the chocolates waiting in the fridge would have.

Maybe I’ll try again sometime soon, and maybe I’ll last more than a day that time.

I’d like to take this time before I go, to point out that I am not in the least put out or upset about my utter failure. And I think that’s an important factor here. You may have noticed that I was taking this whole story quite light-heartedly. That’s because it’s funny. The look on my face half-way through my ‘pizza’ when I realised it was covered in delicious delicious cheese (and that cheese was made of milk that came from a cow) was probably very very funny. And I feel, for me, that it’s important to be able to see the fun in things when they don’t work out quite right. It was a little experiment, and it really doesn’t matter one way or the other whether I succeeded or not. It can be really tempting to get worked up about things that, in the long run, don’t matter at all. Joie de vivrepeople, joie de vivre.

Vegetarian Gluten-Free Stuffed Mushrooms

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I’ve mentioned these mushrooms before, because they’re one of my favourite things to cook, to serve, and to eat. Before I give you the recipe, I’ll tell you why.

They’re fantastic to cook, because they’re simple, and they have a huge margin for error. You can put most anything in them (even bacon if you’re not aiming for vegetarian afterall). You can make them in advance and just heat them back up. You don’t have to weigh anything or measure anything. You don’t need a blender or any other appliances – just a bowl, a spoon, a knife, maybe a pan, a tray and some sort of oven or grill. And you can make it as fiddly or not as you feel (sometimes I feel like doing fiddly things; it relaxes my mind).

The beginning

They’re fantastic to serve, because they look very fancy, they taste amazing and they’re versatile. They’re great party food because they can just be eaten with your fingers if you make them small. They’re great romantic food because they’re juicy and luxurious, and you can make them a little bit bigger than bite-sized. They’re great for people with restricted diets because you can put whatever you want in there. And as I said before, you can preprepare them and just reheat them.

The Middle

They’re fantastic to eat, because they’re super yummy! And healthy if you want, or not, also if you want.

The End

So how do you make these miraculous mushrooms?

Ingredients

– other than the mushrooms and ricotta (or replacement), everything is optional –

Mushrooms, (whatever size you want and as many as you need)
Ricotta cheese (possible replacements – light ricotta, mashed potato, pureed sunflower seeds or nuts)
Almond meal, or other nut meal
Garlic, finely minced
Oil for cooking off things like garlic in (I suggest sunflower, but whatever you’ve got is fine)
Tomato, in small chunks
Parmesan
Oregano, chopped
Thyme
Anything else you want, in little chunks

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Remove the stems from the mushrooms (set them aside) and arrange them cap-down on an oven tray. Cook off anything that you think could use cooking off (e.g. garlic, bacon, potatoes, onion, etc). Chop up the mushroom stems into little chunks. Mix your ricotta with everything else except the actual mushroom caps, and then spoon it into the mushrooms. Put them in the oven. Check them every 10min or so, and they’re done when the mushrooms are tender.

Plate them up and enjoy!

Special Dietary Requirements: Vegetarians

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Chances are that you have a friend who is a vegetarian (or vegan, or pescatarian, or pollotarian, or ovo-lacto-vegetarian). It’s hard to come across firm statistics, but I’ve seen figures of between 2% and 5% of Australians who describe themselves as vegetarians. If you’re anything like me, you like to have people at your house, and you like to serve them something special. If you’re very like me, you even secretly hope they like your food so much that they talk about it when you’re not there. Now it turns out that vegetarians and the like are often the easiest guests to impress, if only because they are so often served a bowl of limp lettuce while everyone else has a steak on the BBQ.
Trying to make a meal that is special and complete and meat-free can be hard sometimes though. So I often find that the best place for me to get inspiration is to consider what kinds of things people in general need from their food, and then look at how to fill those requirements without resorting to meat.

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council present recommendations for the required intake of various nutrients and minerals and such for the general population. I’ve chosen just a few to represent here:

Protein – The average woman requires 0.75g per kilogram of body weight, and the average man 0.84g. So, for me, I should be eating about 55g of protein a day.

Fatty Acids – Two types of fatty acids that the Council gives recommendations for are: linoleic (men 13g/day, women 8g/day), and alpha-linoleic (men 1.3g/day, women 0.8g/day).

Dietary Fibre – Although there is no hard and fast definition of dietary fibre, the Council has defined it as “that fraction of the edible parts of plants or their extracts, or synthetic analogues, that are resistant to the digestion and absorption in the small intestine, usually with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine”. Using that definition, the requirements laid out are 25g per day for women and 30g per day for men.

Calcium – 1000mg per day for men and pre-menopausal women.

Iron – 18mg per day is recommended for pre-menopausal women and 8mg per day for men and post-menopausal women.

So how does this help me, you ask. Well you have to ask yourself (or google) the following questions:

Which foods are rich in protein? You’ve got loads of options here. Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Black Beans and the like all have around 7.5g of protein per half cup. And there’s about 26g in a cup of rolled oats.

Which foods are rich in fatty acids? Sunflower seeds are a great source of linoleic acid, and 50g yields about 10g. Walnuts are great for alpha-linoleic acid.

Which foods are rich in dietary fibre? Avocado has the highest fibre content of any fruit, and other great sources are wheat bran which is around 45% fibre and leafy vegetables work well with around 5%.

Which foods are rich in calcium? Almonds will give you lots of yummy calcium, as will blackstrap molasses, figs, and broccoli.

Which foods are rich in iron? 40g of cashews will get you 2.4mg of iron, a half cup of our chickpeas from before contain 1.8mg and a half cup of spinach contains 2.2mg of iron.

So have you gotten any ideas yet?

If I had a better kitchen, rather than the kitchen I’m sharing here in my student accommodation, I’d be down there right now cooking up a feast with a leafy green salad complete with walnuts, sunflower seed ‘cheese’, chickpeas and lightly steamed broccoli (plus some roast beetroot because I really just quite like beetroot), then for dessert a fig crumble using some blackstrap molasses and rolled oats for crumble topping.

Of course, there’s no need to include everything in one meal, but even just one or two ingredients can be the basis around which you can build something super yummy.

Gluten-Free Meatballs Recipe

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To make tasty meatballs with a nice consistency, you would usually add breadcrumbs. However, a little while ago I had a few friends over, and since two different people with special dietary requirements were present (a teenage boy and a coeliac), I had to experiment a little. I have to confess – now that I’ve made these, I don’t like making meatballs with breadcrumbs any more. These really are better.

Gluten-Free Meatballs

Tasty meatballs sizzling away

Ingredients:

Approx. 750g mince (half pork and half veal is best in my opinion, but you can use other types)

2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

Approx. 1 cup almond meal

1 egg

1/2 tbsp dried oregano or 1 1/2 tbsp fresh, both chopped very fine (It’s very important to keep these chopped up fine if serving to a teenage boy, otherwise you don’t need to worry too much)

1/2 tbsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh, both chopped very fine (It’s very important to keep these chopped up fine if serving to a teenage boy, otherwise you don’t need to worry too much)

1/3 of a small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped italian parsley to sprinkle on top at the end

The wreckage

Method:

First thing’s first, don’t panic and try to weigh ingredients to within a gram or anything with this recipe. You have a very wide margin for error here. Just relax, it’s sure to turn out fine.

In a large bowl mix the mince, herbs, chilli, garlic and egg thoroughly. You really have to use your hands for this. You need to get everything mixed through really well and hands is just the best way to do it. Plus, squishing the gooey gloppy mince through your fingers is one of the most interesting feelings you’ll ever come across. I bet it’s even good for your skin, it feels like something that would be.

Yummo, raw meatball mix...

Next, you need to add the almond meal about a third at a time. The amount you’ll need in the end will depend on how much moisture there is in your meat and the size of your egg and so you just need to add it until you find the mix to be as dry, or even a tiny bit drier than your mince was in the first place. As I said before, don’t worry about getting it just right. Just use as much as you feel like and it’ll be fine.

Now, roll your mixture into meatball sized balls. They will shrink a tiny bit as you cook them too.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan, or spray it with cooking spray, and plop your meatballs in. I tend to squish them so they’re more like mini rissoles, but that’s just me being a bit silly. Also, you’ll probably end up having to do them in a couple of batches, but that’s no problem at all.

Spray and Cook

You’ll need to turn them three or four times if you leave them round, or twice if you squish them, and keep an eye on them until they’re cooked through.

To serve them up, I like them just piled on a plate with the chopped parsley sprinkled over the top, but if you have a teenage boy coming you may want to leave the parsley off. You could also cover them with a nice tomato sauce, but I really just like them plain.

—–

And there you have it. These make a very nice party finger-food because they can be served with toothpicks, and I always love toothpicks, and because they can be made early and reheated in the oven, and because people like them. Remember too that you can change up the amounts of herbs and chilli to suit your own tastes.

I’m quite proud of these simple tasty meatballs, and if you make them, I’ll be proud of you too.

Special Dietary Requirements: Gluten-free

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Since so many of our foods are wheat-based here in Australia and the West, it can be difficult to cook for someone who doesn’t eat gluten. And the most difficult of all your gluten-free guests will be a person with an extreme case of coeliac disease.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chestnut Cake
The gluten-free cake that’s currently calling me from the fridge

Many people avoid gluten because they have decided to test and see if they are gluten intolerant on their own, or because they feel like it will help them to lose weight. I’m certainly not criticising these reasons since I think that, usually, the only person entitled to judge someone’s choices is that person themself (exceptions: a court of law, parents if the person in question is under 14 or there abouts, me). Also, the growing number of people who eat in ways traditionally associated with medical conditions in turn make products suitable for those people who do have something like coeliac disease, which is certainly a good thing.

The big difference between cooking for someone who has chosen to eat gluten-free and someone who has coeliac disease is that a tiny bit of contamination with gluten, say a crumb fell off a loaf of bread onto the plate you put your food on, is not going to make them sick the way it could for someone who does have the disease in a severe form. And that is the biggest challenge when you’re cooking gluten-free. It’s easy enough to find gluten-fee recipes, and there are some really nice ones, but making your kitchen spotless before you start cooking and keeping all of your ingredients quarantined can be a real drag.

Gluten-Free Meatballs

Almond Meal is often a great replacement for bread crumbs

All of that said, cooking something tasty for someone who’s usually quite restricted can be amazingly rewarding. For me, there are two main reasons that I love cooking gluten-free food:

1) It forces you to be creative. I love making up a new recipe, or adapting an old one, and some of the tastiest ones I’ve managed to make have been when I couldn’t use my usual staples that include wheat or barley or oats or rye (like these meatballs).

2) It makes people happy. Imagine how much you would miss yummy pastry and pasta and crusty loaves of bread if you couldn’t eat them any more. Now imagine how it would feel to have someone give you a lovely tart or pie or bowl of cabonara that they’d managed to make that you could eat. OR, imagine going to a party and for once you could have a great time, not worrying about what you can and can’t eat, because you know your host has made everything safe for you.

So here’s the deal on cooking gluten-free. Be cautious, but don’t be scared. There are loads of people out there who’ve put a lot of time and effort into making gluten-free recipes that are easy and tasty – just for you! Plus, it’ll make your gluten avoiding friends very very grateful.

Special Dietary Requirements: The Teenage Boy

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Lots of people these days have a diet which is restricted in some way. Some have a medical condition, like your lactose intolerants and your coeliacs. Some have ethical or health concerns, like your vegetarians and vegans. And some are just sullen, like your common or garden variety teenage boy. But regardless of the reason, cooking for someone with special food requirements can be fantastic fun, not the frustrating slog some people seem to experience.

My focus today is one of the most interesting and restrictive diets: that of the teenage boy. It can also be one of the most rewarding. With the right preparation, you could receive the coveted praise of, “It’s aw-right” or you could even dare to dream of a “not bad”!

All most boys will eat if left to their own devices.

In all seriousness, I love cooking for my ‘little’ brother. It’s a study in contrasts. He’ll eat almost all meats, but not chicken. Pastry but not pasta. Cabbage but not brussel sprouts. Broccoli but not spinach. Keane’s curry powder but not masaman curry paste. I could go on and on. And it’s one of the most rewarding things to find something that’s interesting and new (heck, maybe even healthy) and still acceptable.

I used to be annoyed that I couldn’t cook everything I liked, like stir-fry or stuffed mushrooms. But I’ve realised that when you’ve got a growing boy who’s fast becoming a man of few words, a little considerate cooking is a really great way to show a bit of affection. You also don’t have to worry about embarrassed silences like when you actually talk about things. Even just one little section of a meal that you can say was cooked with them in mind is a nice thought that goes a long way.

Giants need their food too

As for the actual food a teenage boy is prepared to ingest, the main thing I’ve learnt is that eight times out of ten it’s the texture or appearance that puts them off, not actually the flavour. So here are my main tips for cooking for this difficult group:

 Use ground or very finely chopped herbs and spices, and always mix them in well, don’t just sprinkle on top.

 Vegetables should be cooked until soft, and preferably put into a sauce or mash.

 Everything is more acceptable wrapped in puff pastry.

 Don’t actually mention the name of any one ingredient unless it is one of the following: beef, lamb, puff pastry, ice cream, beer, bacon or salt.

Follow these tips and you’ll have little noticeable different in your teenager, but they’ll be happier on the inside.

(PS I can say these things now because I am twenty and no longer a teenager)