Creamy pesto pasta – without the cream

I was thinking about where the recipes we cook come from the other day. Some are passed down through families for generations. Others we learn from friends, discover in recipe books and magazines, on TV shows or these days through the numerous websites and blogs now available to us. Others just develop from an idea. This recipe is one of the latter. I make no claims to it being a traditional pasta dish (in fact, I recall an Italian cook/chef noting at a demonstration that cream and pesto together in pasta was very wrong). However, it is a regular household favourite and wrong or not, I love it. I’ve even had an ex ask me for the recipe after we’d broken up!

The original idea came from watching an episode of Ready Steady Cook one day when I was home sick from work several years ago. One of the cooks made veal with a cream and pesto sauce and observed that the sauce was also good with pasta. I decided to give it a go and over time it developed into the dish below. The meat component depends on what I have in the fridge (or can be omitted altogether). This time I had some chorizo (I use this in it quite a lot), other times I’ve made this with leftover cooked chicken, or some pancetta or bacon. I’ve also used the same method to make a chicken and roast pumpkin pasta, but without the pesto.

I originally made this dish with cream. However, that isn’t the best for a regular weeknight dinner. I was amazed the first time I tried this with evaporated skim milk and corn flour in place of cream. The result is just as creamy and delicious. Another success in my quest to find ‘healthier’ replacements.  I haven’t made this with cream since. If you do want to make it with cream, just replace the evaporated skim milk and corn flour with about 200ml of cream. I have even made it without any milk/cream component at all, and just used some of the pasta water to create the sauce. But whichever method I use, I’m always happy with the results.Creamy pesto pasta - without the cream

Click here for the recipe

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Lemon, Berry & Poppyseed muffins

I know breakfast is important, but I struggle to eat first thing in the morning. It takes me a bit of time to wake up enough to want to eat. So I usually eat my breakfast at work. A few years ago, this meant picking up a muffin from the bakery on my way to work. Not really the best start to the day. These days I’m a lot more organised (and making an effort to be healthier), and will take in fruit, cereal or home-made (and healthier) muffins for my breakfast.

A few years ago, I discovered the TV show Cook Yourself Thin. Two series of this show were filmed in the UK, with a different format each season. The general concept remained the same between the two series. Each episode focused on a person with weight issues and looked at their three (I think it was three) “downfall dishes”. Healthier, lower calorie dishes similar to the original were created as an alternative that could be cooked at home. I loved this show and I think it influenced what I try to do now, that is finding healthier alternatives to my favourites rather than cutting them out completely.  More recently the Hairy Bikers have done this with their book and TV series The Hairy Dieters, and I’ll cook something from their book soon (I of course bought the book as soon as I heard about it). I’m sure there are others out there as well that I haven’t discovered yet. If you know of any books or TV shows of a similar theme, please let me know.

But back to Cook Yourself Thin. These Lemon, Berry and Poppyseed muffins were the first recipe I tried from the series and I’ve made them several times since. They have quite a few replacement ingredients in them. The rice flour and almond meal make them gluten free (if you use gluten free baking powder). Courgette is used in place of butter or oil for moisture (you can’t taste it, I promise) and buttermilk is used in place of milk. I actually had some whey in the fridge from the cheese course I attended and I tried that instead of butter milk. The result was great (I think it actually made them lighter than usual) so I will be using that again next time I have some in the house. I like to wrap them individually once cooled and then freeze most of them. That way, I always have some in the freezer in case I need to grab something on my way to work. Once I get to work, I warm it in the microwave (removing the foil cases first if I’ve used them) and that is a quick breakfast or snack sorted.

Click here for the recipe

Cheese making class

This weekend, I attended a cheese making class in the Swan Valley with my Dad, run by The Cheese Maker, which was a Father’s day present for Dad. In the class we got to make our own Camembert to take home as well as learning how to make cream cheese, quark and mascarpone (which seem surprisingly easy). Aside from the starters, rennet and calcium chloride that you have to add in small amounts (depending on the cheese), all of the cheese are made with shop bought milks and creams, so they are possible to replicate at home. I really enjoyed the day, and I think my Dad did too.

Warming the milk and cream with calcium chloride

Dad and I were in different groups (each group of 4 did a batch), I made a white camembert while Dad made a blue one (the only difference is the mould spores you use). The photos are from my group.

We had a lovely lunch (cheese board – I liked the cheese so much I bought them to take home) which was included in the class cost. We also got to taste a cheese from a previous class and it was surprisingly good, so hopefully our’s will turn out just as well.

Click here for more

Cake decorating class – Weeks 2 & 3

It’s taken me a while to post about my second class for two reasons:

  1. I was exhausted that night so I unfortunately wasn’t my most attentive and don’t know how much of what was taught I actually retained (writing it down straight away might have helped with that, but I decided to sleep instead).
  2. Does anyone want to hear about the whole hour of the class that we spent colouring fondant? Think of a room full of adults mixing play-doh together. Not making anything, just mixing it and you are just about there.

So I’ve combined Weeks 2 and 3 in this update because I had much more fun in Week 3!

Partly completed fondant teddy Click here for more…

Take a break from the takeaway – Lamb burgers

As I’ve said before, even though I enjoy cooking, sometimes I struggle with the motivation to cook every night. A few months back, I was giving in to the temptation to have the night off cooking and buy something on the way home a few times too often. Then I started feeling run down and put on some weight. For the first time ever, I recorded a slightly high cholesterol level. No surprise, the change in what I was eating impacted on my health. It was a reminder to me of the importance of cooking and eating good food at home and the need to keep takeaway as an occasional treat rather than a regular option. For added motivation, I watched Super Size Me and read Fast Food Nation. I certainly lost my appetite for certain foods after that!

It’s not about denial or going cold turkey and not eating my favourite foods. Rather, for me at least, it’s about balance, making better choices and using some replacement ingredients when cooking. When I get the urge for fries/chips now (potatoes are one of my real weaknesses), I’ll microwave a potato instead and have it with a tiny bit of light sour cream.  When I make my creamy pesto pasta, I use light evaporated skim milk (with a bit of cornflour to thicken it) instead of full fat cream. I still get the flavours and satisfied feeling of the original dishes, but (to my knowledge at least), the changes make it lighter and better for me. And I still let myself have a treat now and then. Just not everyday.

These lamb ‘burgers’ are one of my favourite week-night dinners and an alternative to many people’s favourite fast food, the burger. Couscous is used in place of breadcrumbs and/or eggs in the burger, instead of a bun you wrap it up in a flatbread, and instead of cheese and mayo there is a tzatziki style dressing made with low fat yoghurt. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything when I eat these.

Take a break from the takeaway burgers

click here for the recipe