Pass the cheese board, fat is our friend! When faced with the demon white stuff, sugar, we should embrace our inner Mean Girls and simply say ‘you can’t sit with us’! With a tagline like ‘Low Carb. High Fat. Extraordinary Health’, media hysteria and the usual bandwagon hopping on to the latest fad diet could lead you to believe that this is the key message to take from Domini Kemp and Patricia Daly’s new cookbook, The Ketogenic Kitchen. Look closer and you will discover that this book, both in its motivation and content, is far from another flippant ode to a trendy diet dogma. No ‘eat for abs’ or ‘cheat meal’ here, the ketogenic diet, we learn, is not a quick-fix or crash diet but a long term lifestyle designed to facilitate optimum health. Armed with curiosity and partiality to a challenge in the kitchen, I set out eagerly on my keto crusade.
I have long admired Domini’s work, as an author of multiple cookbooks and one half of the Kemp sisters at the helm of the Itsa empire (think Alchemy, Joe’s and Hatch and Sons) but Patricia, a nutritional therapist, was a new face for me. What is immediately apparent upon getting stuck in to this bright and glossy offering is there are few people who can speak as authoritatively on the subject of tailoring a diet to fuel optimum health as Domini and Patricia, smiling on the cover, looking the picture of health themselves.
The words and wisdom within come from two inspiring women who have both fought the battle against cancer and admirably have set their sights on educating others on the food philosophy which aided their respective recoveries alongside treatment. Readers are treated to a collection of inventive recipes to avoid carbohydrates as well as an amazing insight into the benefits this approach has been proven to yield in the face of illness. Domini and Patricia themselves are the best advertisement of this way of eating and the tone of the book manages to be light-hearted in the face of a very serious issue, a gentle companion to navigate the storm with readers faced with a life-changing diagnosis.
Upon first glance, I loved how the book is divided in to two sections – ‘The Low Carb Way’ and The Ketogenic Way’, meaning it can be a valuable tool for increasing awareness of the dangers associated with sugar consumption as well as a meaningful guide to methods of reduction. The inclusion of low carb as well as keto friendly recipes means this book is universally accessible, outlining ways to curb our collective addiction as well as appealing to those seeking to use food as a healing balm against chronic illness. The sign of a great cookbook for me is the compulsion to excitedly dog-ear pages of must-try recipes and I was drawn in completely by inviting imagery and snappy instructions lists. I quickly earmarked more than a handful of tempting sounding dishes to test.
Ingredients-wise, I have come to expect a hefty shopping bill and hours trawling health shops when attempting to cook from health-focused books. Happily, apart from the usual suspects like cacao butter and every by-product of the coconut, the only rare specialist ingredient was chaga powder, a mushroom extract listed only once. Many health books almost require you to take out shares in a Iraqi Medjool date farm to be cost effective, but this isn’t a problem here as the focus is on reduction of sugar in all its guises. Apart from a small handful of recipes requiring Yacon Syrup or Erythritol (I use Natvia), expensive sweeteners are out. Many of the recipes are quite meat heavy (lamb is championed particularly) but cheaper cuts are advocated in many instances. The majority of the recipes in both sections are put together with ingredients most of us either have or can easily acquire.
Another huge plus is how varied the recipes are, from elegant dinner party scallop recipes to stylish beef carpaccio, there are plenty of dishes which would please those who a) are lovers of fine food and b) would be inclined to bawk at the explicit suggestion of eating, let alone enjoying, a low carbohydrate meal. Some dishes have additions like duck fat – this is where Domini comes into her own, as you know she will refuse to scrimp on flavour. On the other hand, so many of the recipes could easily become every day staples for the generally health-conscious, as processed foods are not on the menu. A handy list of ‘yes’ foods, ‘limit’ foods and ‘no’ foods makes the philosophy easy to grasp. While bread is out, beautiful and inventive recipes for alternatives such as kale crackers which can double as ‘toast’ and breakfast buns more than compensate for this. With so much to choose from, I had a hard time narrowing down which recipes I would dive into first, but decided to go with two savoury recipes and two ‘sweet’ sugar free recipes.
As a fan of cauliflower pizza I was excited to see a vegetable tart base recipe, which could have so many filling possibilities. I noted that the recipe for Cauliflower, Almond and Goats’ Cheese Tart sounded very quick, with no mention of draining the cauliflower ‘breadcrumbs’ before forming a dough. The pastry was pain-free, patting it into the tin with my hands was simple as it held together well. Instructions were to bake for 15 minutes before adding the quick and easy filling of creme fraiche, eggs, goats’ cheese and courgette and returning to the oven for 35 minutes.
The end result was a beautiful green-speckled tart with just enough wobble in the centre. Despite having doused the tin in coconut oil, some of the pastry clung to the sides but this may have been my fault for using a fluted tart tin. The tart sliced perfectly and flavour-wise it was moreish rich, cheesy decadence. I found that the ‘pastry’ did not get as crisp as I would have liked. Maybe from the lack of draining, but I will try baking the case for longer next time before filling to avoid this. As the tart is gorgeous hot or cold, it is great for lunching al desko. I also whipped up a Green Bean, Mint and Pomegranate Salad to go alongside and this simple but vibrant and crunchy salad will be a lunchbox staple for me for summer.
Keen to make a dessert which I could accurately describe as sugar-free, I killed two birds with one stone and made Patricia’s keto-fied White Chocolate Cheesecake using the recipe for Homemade White Chocolate. Many homemade chocolate recipes call for things like maple syrup to sweeten, but these are merely refined sugar free rather than void of sugar, and therefore unsuitable for a very low carb or ketogenic diet. This recipe employs Erythritol, a granulated sugar alcohol which is not digested and has no effect on blood sugar levels. As I don’t have a Vitamix (if anyone is wondering what I want for my birthday/Christmas…) I used the alternative option of melting creamed coconut rather than making my own coconut butter. Mixed with melted cacao butter and erythritol, the result was a fabulously creamy chocolate with a luxurious mouth-feel and excessive spoon-licking potential.
I love the ceremony of baking so was delighted that the method for making the cheesecake included the relaxing elements of separating eggs, whisking to stiff peaks and folding, as these steps are often replaced by the easy ‘add everything to a food processor and blend’ for healthy dessert recipes – quick but not therapeutic. This turned out beautifully and I piled on some raspberries for colour and contrast as berries appear on the ‘limit’ list. I loved the texture of this dreamy little number which I could easily pass off as a ‘normal’ cheesecake to unsuspecting tasters as a dinner party dessert.
I was intrigued to learn that tinned wild salmon with bones is an excellent and cheap dairy-free source of calcium when I decided to make Salmon Patties with Creamy Red Pepper Sauce. This could not have been simpler, blending the tinned salmon with herbs before adding coconut flour and shaping. To quote Susan Jane White, coconut flour is ‘a bit of a diva’ and in my experience varies wildly in the absorbency stakes from brand to brand and batch to batch, so I ended up adding slightly more than recommended to get mix to patty consistency. A quick flash in a coconut-oiled pan and these were crisp on the outside, flakey within and intensely salmon flavoured. The sweetness of the creamy cashew based roasted red pepper sauce, also dairy-free, was the perfect foil, and made enough to toss over some Courgetti, making a fabulous side dish.
Finally, when cutting back on carbs it can be difficult to break up with the comfort of a bowl of oats. Contemplating portable low carb breakfast options I decided to test Keto Granola Bars, which are hassle-free and easy to whip up and store in the freezer for hectic mornings. With macadamia nuts, a dash of 90% chocolate and hazelnut butter, these couldn’t be anything but satisfying. Although there is slight natural sweetness from the hazelnut butter, chocolate and dessicated coconut, these are not granola bars as we know them, in flavour or texture. Sticky sugary traditional granola bars should hang their heads in shame next to these sumptuous slices, which kept me sustained for hours on end thanks to their fat content.
All in all, there was nothing I made from this book that I will not make again, in addition to the many earmarked recipes I have added to my must-try list from it. For me, a cookbook should be made of more than just a collection of projects and instructions, it should be a source of inspiration for your own dishes and a catalyst for experiments and the Ketogenic Kitchen delivers this in bucket-loads. Domini and Patricia have given so much of themselves, generous with both their collective knowledge as a chef and a nutritional therapist and their very personal stories as survivors. Their unique, pioneering contribution to a field of vital importance is a must-read for anyone and everyone, packed with delicious recipes to boot.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!