Monday, 22 December 2014

Cucumber ‘Bread & Butter’ Pickle for Christmas

I can’t believe it’s Christmas day in 3 days time. Where has December gone? Every year I like to make something homemade to give away to family and friends along with their standard Christmas gifts. I think it adds a nice touch to get a handmade present, plus I enjoy the excuse to spend some time in the kitchen.

This year I decided to try making a pickle. I considered baking some cookies but my family always get so much to eat over Christmas that I wanted something they could enjoy later on without the fear of it spoiling. Pickles, jams and chutneys are the way to go.

My Dad has fond memories of his father making cucumber pickle aka Bread & Butter Pickle when he was growing up. I remember seeing jars of it in the cupboard, these odd looking jars of sliced cucumber with little flecks of red chilli and balls of mustard floating in it. My granddad is sadly no longer with us, so I thought it would be a nice idea to try and recreate a cucumber pickle for the festive season.

Pam Corbin of River Cottage fame came to the rescue with the perfect looking pickle. It looked and sounded just as I remember my grandfathers to be. I’ve never made a pickle before and was surprised to learn the ingredients require only the merest of cooking time, the majority of the time is spent brining the cucumbers before their soak in the pickling liquid. This also ensures the cucumber pickle retains a bit of crispness and bite, rather than being a mushy mess more in line with a chutney.

The pickling liquid a bit of raw onion and red chili to add a little extra kick. It’s not meant to be spicy, but lend a gentle background tongue tickle. Sugar is added for a touch of sweetness and to help balance out the sharp tang of vinegar. Ground turmeric also transform the pickle from a rather anemic looking green to a bright and exotic looking golden yellow (be carefully when handling it, turmeric stains are impossible to get out). I think it also makes it look wonderfully festive. The mustard seeds add little pops of flavour when eaten and I think there is something quite hypnotic watching they bob around in the pickle.

Cucumber pickle aka bread & butter pickle may sound an odd name as the pickle does not contain these ingredients. It gets its name from the fact it is a pickle traditionally eaten with your bread and butter. They got their name "bread & butter pickle" during the great depression when fresh cucumbers were grown by many households and so often eaten for lunch with bread and butter. Due to the lack of refrigeration, rather than let any surplus cucumbers go to waste, they were pickled to make them last all the rest of the year. Very frugal and a great way of ensuring nothing went to waste. I’m sure it would taste delicious with some leftover turkey, stuffing or cheese too!

To see Pam Corbin make the bread & butter pickle, click here for her video on River Cottage Food Tube.

Cucumber ‘Bread & Butter’ Pickle
(Recipe by Pam Corbin from River Cottage aka Pam The Jam)
1.5kg cucumber (5 large)
1 large onion
5tbsp salt
500ml cider vinegar (must be 5% proof or more*)
200g granulated sugar
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp celery seeds
3 tbsp white mustard seeds
1-2 finely chopped red chilli, seeds removed

Peel the cucumbers, cut off the ends, quarter lengthways and slice into 3-4mm thick slices.  Peel and chop the onion into fairly small pieces (no larger than the pieces of cucumber).  Mix the cucumber and onion pieces together in a non metallic bowl.
Sprinkle over the salt, gently toss through the cucumber and onion and leave for 2 hours.
Rinse the cucumber and onion well in icy water. Taste check the cucumber and rinse again if it is too salty (they will be naturally quite salty at this stage though). Leave them to drain in a large sieve or colander and pat dry with some kitchen paper.
Wash the jars well and place the lids and jars into the oven on baking tray. Heat the oven to 150C and leave the jars to heat and sterilize while you finish the chutney.
Place the vinegar into a saucepan that will be large enough to eventually take all the ingredients. Add the sugar, turmeric, celery seeds, white mustard seeds and chopped chilli.
Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, stir to combine and bring to the boil.
Add the drained, rinsed cucumber and onion, stir and bring back to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes only! It needs this long to destroy any bacteria which could cause the pickle to deteriorate, but any longer and the pickle will be less crisp.
Remove the pan from the heat and the jars from the oven. Carefully distribute the cucumber pickle into the jars, filling almost to the very rim. Make sure all the cucumber is covered with some of the pickling liquid.
Using rubber gloves, quickly screw the lids tightly onto the jars while they are still hot. Leave them to cool on the side. You should hear the lids make a sudden ‘pop’ sound as they cool. This means the heat has created a vacuum and the jars are effectively sealed and airtight, meaning the pickle will keep safely until opened.
Label the jars and store in a cool place until required. Once opened, store in the fridge and eat within 4 weeks.
The pickle can be eaten immediately or kept for up at a year.
Makes 7 x 450g (1lb) jars

Note: The vinegar must be at least 5% proof in order to sufficiently pickle and preserve the cucumbers. The vinegars will state their proof % on the bottles.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Trio of Hazelnut, Blackberry & Coconut Profiteroles

A few weeks ago it was my Dad’s birthday and to celebrate we got together as a family with my sister, brother and I cooking my Dad (and Mum) a surprise three course meal, with each of us taking charge of a course.

My brother made his family cooking début with a delicious pea & mint soup which he garnished with fried pancetta and homemade parmesan crisps (no pancetta for me). This was his first time cooking for any of us and I’m not just being kind when I say it was the best pea soup I’ve ever had. So fresh and vibrant. Well done J!

My sister was in charge of the main course which was a delicious Moroccan inspired stew with dried apricots and squash accompanied by a dome of two different sorts of rice. I was too busy eating to remember to take a photo – sorry C it was just too tasty!

I was put in charge of dessert and decided to do a gluten free trio of mini profiteroles, each with their own differently flavoured filling. I spent far too long worrying over what flavours to make, my family all has their own individual tastes and I wanted something to please everyone. Eventually I settled on roasted hazelnut, blackberry and coconut. These flavours all worked well on their own and when eaten together. I also liked how they all were a different colour, giving a hint as to their flavour.

For the hazelnut filling I roasted some whole hazelnuts and then skinned and ground them. This produced such a fabulous intense hazelnut flavour and aroma that I would strongly urge you to do this yourself, rather than buy pre-ground hazelnuts. It’s the food equivalent of freshly ground coffee over instant, both work, but one is far superior. The hazelnut one was by far my favourite of the trio. The creamy nutty filling went so well with the dark chocolate glaze on top, a sort of grown up Nutella flavour.

The blackberry filling was made with pureed and sieved blackberry coulis that we had made in the summer from foraging the hedgerows, and frozen. Blackberries have such a strong dark purple colour and deep fruity flavour that it made for a fresh and fruity tasting cream. This too worked well with the rich dark chocolate topping. I also added some Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) to the filling, which gave it a lovely subtle fruity kick, although unfortunately it did make the filling a little runny.

The coconut filling was made with a very nifty ingredient called coconut milk powder. You can find this in some large supermarkets and Asian stores. It’s essentially dried coconut cream that you are meant to rehydrate and use in curries, but I’ve found stirring the powder directly into cream or adding it to baked goods gives a great intense coconut flavour without the need to add any extra liquid. The coconut filling tasted extra rich and creamy with a lingering coconutty taste. This was a lovely contrast against the other flavours and the dark chocolate glaze.

As I had some blackberry coulis left over I used it to swipe the serving plates with an arty brushstroke – I keep seeing them do this on Masterchef, and it did look pretty.
The little profiterole bites were a lovely end to the celebratory meal. My Dad loved how we had all worked together to produce the meal, especially as my brother got involved, a family first! It was so nice to sit down together as a family and all enjoy the same food. Happy Birthday Dad.

Trio of Hazelnut, Blackberry & Coconut Profiteroles
Choux Pastry
50g rice flour
20g cornflour
10g tapioca starch
¼ tsp xanthan gum
120ml water
50g butter
3 eggs

Cream Filling Base
250g ricotta
150ml double cream

Roasted Hazelnut Filling
1/3 of cream filling above
50g whole skin on hazelnuts
1 heaped tsp icing sugar
2 tsp milk to thin, if needed

Blackberry Filling
1/3 of cream filling above
2 tbsp blackberry coulis
1 heaped tsp icing sugar
½ tbsp Crème de Cassis

Coconut Filling
1/3 of cream filling above
2 tbsp coconut milk/cream powder
3 tsp heaped icing sugar

Chocolate Ganache
100g dark chocolate
100ml milk
1 tbsp golden syrup

Combine the 3 flours and xanthan gum together in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
Place the water and butter into a medium sized pan and heat until the butter is melted. Bring the mixture to a simmer then remove from the heat and quickly add your flour mix in one go. Immediately start to beat the flour into the butter mixture, you need to work quickly and stir vigorously. Continue to beat it until the mix comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick dough. Keep beating until all lumps of flour are mixed in.
Then tip the dough out onto a plate and smooth out into an even layer. This helps cool it down quickly. (At this stage the dough is known as a ‘Panade’ a paste mixture of a soft dough).
Leave it to cool slightly for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C and line a tray with silicone paper.
Once the mix has cooled slightly, return it to the pan. Whisk the eggs together in a jug and pour this into the choux dough, a little at a time, beating well between each addition. The mix will go sloppy, greasy and slimy looking at each addition of egg – this is normal. Keep beating until it absorbs the egg and then add a little bit more. Continue this until you have a batter that reluctantly drops from the spatula when lifted. If it’s too thick and sticky to fall off without shaking, then you need to add a little more egg. You also don’t want it too sloppy and runny as you need to pipe it, so if you have particularly large eggs, you may not need all of it.
It’s a hard arm workout, but keep beating until you have a smooth sticky batter.
Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large plain tube nozzle.
Pipe rounds of batter onto the baking tray, leaving an inch between each one. You want them to be about the width of a 2 pence piece (1.5cm).
Dip your finger in water and dab the tops of the piped choux to flatten out any peaks formed from the piping bag.
Sprinkle a few drops of water all over the baking tray, as this will create steam in the oven which will help them rise.
Bake in the oven at 220C for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven to 150C and bake for a further 15 minutes until they are puffed, golden brown and lightly crisp to the touch.
Remove the choux buns from the oven, remove them from the baking tray and make a little hole in the base of each one to let the steam out. Cool them upside down so the steam can escape up out of the hole (or else they go soggy)

Make the cream by beating the ricotta until smooth. Lightly beat the double cream in a clean bowl until just at soft peak stage. Stir this through the ricotta and divide into 3 bowls for the 3 fillings.

For the hazelnut filling, roast the hazelnuts at 200C for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and the skin are starting to flake away from the nuts. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 3 minutes before putting into a few sheets of kitchen roll and rubbing together so the skins flake off.
Place the hazelnuts into a small blender and blitz to cream a fine powder.
Stir half the hazelnut powder into the cream along with the sugar. Taste and add more hazelnuts if you want a stronger flavour. Thin down the cream mixture with a little milk if required.

For the blackberry filling, stir the sugar, fruit coulis and Crème de Cassis into the cream and mix together well. Chill in the fridge until required. You can use pureed blueberries or raspberries too if you prefer, or even some fruit compote.

For the coconut filling, stir the coconut milk/cream powder into the cream along with the sugar. Taste and add more sugar if needed. The sugar will help bring out the coconut flavour.

For the chocolate glaze, heat the chocolate, milk and golden syrup together in a small pan until the chocolate has melted. Heat gently until the mixture starts to simmer and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until it thickens into a sauce, stir often to prevent it from burning on the base. Remove it from the heat and set aside to cool and thicken slightly.

To serve, either pipe or spoon the cream fillings into the choux buns. Then dip or spoon some of the chocolate glaze over the top of each profiterole.
Swipe your serving plates with some fruit coulis using a pastry brush. Arrange one of each profiterole flavour on the plate and serve.
Best eaten on day of baking. Assemble just before eating as they will go soft if left to stand for too long.
Eat and enjoy. Makes around 30 bite size profiteroles

Sunday, 7 December 2014

2 Amazing Gluten Free Carrot Cakes when Out & About

My favourite cake of all time has to be carrot cake. I adore the different textures and flavours you get in each bite. The spices, the moist carrot, the bite from the carrot and/or nuts and raisins and the creamy cream cheese topping. You can’t beat it.

In my 4 years of being coeliac I’ve never yet found or been offered a gluten free carrot cake. Normally its lemon drizzle cake or chocolate brownie and although these are both fine, they get a bit boring after a while. So image my delight when this week I have sampled 2 gluten free carrot cakes in a mere 3 days – ah bliss!

Carrot Cake 1
I’ve had a few days off this past week and spent them visiting family and catching up with old friends. My mum wanted to take me out for coffee and cake and suggested a little tea shop she had heard good things about called Martha’s Vintage Tearoom in Shefford. I looked at their website and facebook but couldn’t see any mention of gluten free. I decided to give them a call and was pleased when they said they would make sure to have something for me when I called in the next day.

It’s a cute little place hidden just off the main high street in Shefford. We were shown to our table which was set with napkins and pretty mismatched vintage china which is so in fashion these days. The tables and chairs were set amongst a range of gifty things and done up in a festive Christmas theme which was nice.

We were given tea menus and I asked about gluten free cakes, expecting a shop bought brownie, so imagine my delight when I was offered a choice of home made gluten free chocolate cake or carrot cake. I looked at my mum in excitement, carrot cake….carrot cake!!!

Of course I had the carrot cake and when it arrived it looked so delicious and ‘normal’ that I got them to check it was really gluten free. It was a generous slice and you could still see little flecks of carrot throughout and it was nicely spiced. The cream cheese frosting was sweet and creamy and scattered with chopped walnuts. It was delicious, a perfect unexpected treat.

My mum went for a slice of coffee & walnut which is one of her favourites. They only had 3 cakes on offer that day so the fact we both got to enjoy our favourite cake was amazing.

They tea selection was also good and I went for an apple & pear tea which was lovely and fruity. The ideal drink on a cold frosty morning. The shop is a bit hidden away, but if you are in the area I’d recommend seeking them out.

Carrot Cake 2
On Friday I found myself in London with 60 minutes to spare before catching a train. I decided to wander off to Wholefoods and indulge in some full on food browsing. One of the first things to greet you as you walk in the door is the fresh bread selection and the counters of delicate cakes and pastries. I can’t help but look and drool over them all. I was pleased to discover that Wholefoods have expanded their gluten free offering and had a small selection of cakes, breads and puddings at one end. Unfortunately, all very very pricy! They had some ‘normal’ 6-7inch cakes for sale at around £6 each. At the end of the row I spotted they also had about 4 gluten free cakes, which looked very tempting. I considered maybe treating myself to one until I read the price tag £19.95. WHAT! Ekk, no way was a cake worth that. I know gluten free is more expensive to produce, but surly not that much!

Moving swiftly away I spotted a range of mini individual cakes, these too were a little pricy at £4 each for one of those tiny individual 2-bite muffin trays. Hmm, still a bit steep. I then spotted a range of muffins scattered haphazardly onto a shelf in no order at all. These were gluten free and dairy free and much more sensibly priced at £2 each. I went over to inspect and had a fun time playing lucky dip with the muffin flavours. I was delighted to come across one called Carrot & Apple…mine!

It looked moist, dark and sticky and screamed – “eat me I’m delicious” so naturally into the basket it went. I then had to dash for the train and couldn’t wait to get home to try the muffin, so ate it on the train.

Wow, this muffin was epic. I’m not sure I’ve ever described a food as epic before, but that is the word that crossed my mind as I ate it.

It had a moist, sticky, nobly top that had risen and spilled over the top of the paper liner, just like a proper muffin should. Breaking off a piece I could see it was packed with shreds of carrot, chunks of date and spices.

It felt a little dense and slightly dry when breaking off a piece, but the minute I put it into my mouth and started to chew the flakes of carrot and apple released their moisture and it became wonderfully moist and soft. I loved how it wasn’t very sweet, you could really taste the sweetness from the carrot, apple and dates itself and the muffin was based on brown rice flour rather than white, which also added to the wholesomeness of it – in the best way.

I got a few funny looks from the man in the business suit across from me, for taking multiple pictures of a muffin, but I didn’t care. This was an epic muffin. It was made by a company I haven’t heard of before called CraYve’s. From their website they appear to be a small London based company, but I’m going to keep my eye out for them in future. I can’t wait to try some of their other cakes.

Who knew carrot cakes could be like buses, none for 4 years and then 2 come along at once. Both different, but both amazing. What’s your favourite cake? Do you know anywhere else to get gluten free carrot cake that I could try? Now I’ve had a taste, I’m hungry for more!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Unbelievable Raw Chocolate Avocado Torte

Look at this rich, chocolaty, intense gooey chocolate torte. Doesn’t it look tempting. I bet you are wondering how much butter, cream and melted chocolate it contains, well the answer is none. This torte is gluten free, dairy free, egg free, vegan, paleo friendly and raw! Sounds unbelievable? Yes it is unbelievable…unbelievably good!

The torte is made from pureed avocado, mixed with raw cocao, agave syrup and a little coconut oil. This is sat on a delicious nutty base of almonds and dates, topped with fresh raspberries and coconut shavings.

I have been reading a lot about new paleo diet friendly and raw food cafes and restaurants opening recently. A couple of weeks ago when I needed to create a vegan dessert for a friend, and decided to take it one step further and see if I could create a raw vegan dessert and as I was going to eat it too, this also meant it had to be gluten free too. The challenge was on.

After a hunt on the internet (there are some amazing raw food desserts on blogs out there) I settled on a chocolate mousse made with avocado and raw cocao. I wanted it to have a different texture and chose to set it on a base I’d seen used for a cheesecake of pureed dates and almonds.

The avocados need to be nice and ripe so they are soft and creamy to puree with the cocao to create a luscious creamy dreamy rich chocolate mousse. You need to add some maple syrup or agave to sweeten it and I also added some coconut oil to ensure it had a firmer set. I was a little dubious how it would turn out. Seeing the vibrant green of the pureed avocado was a little strange to think it would soon be a dessert, but once blended with the rich bitter cocoa it soon started to look much more inviting. I had to keep tasting to adjust the sweetness until I was happy with it.

I decided to make individual portions inside ring moulds for easy preparation. Once assembled I was really happy with how they turned out. I loved the nutty, sticky, sweet base. It was a lovely contrast to the rich and creamy bitter chocolate topping.

On the day I made it I could still detect a little raw avocado taste underneath the chocolate flavour, I was a little worried the dessert hadn’t quite worked, but I didn’t want to waste the dessert so decided to just go with it and hope for the best. The next day when my friend came for dinner, I found that after a night in the fridge the flavours had mellowed and mingled together and the only flavour with pure rich intense chocolate. Hurrah! My friend loved it and couldn’t believe it was made with avocado.

Being made with all natural and raw ingredients this dessert is actually surprisingly healthy. Avocados are quite high in calories and fat, but it’s the right kind of good monounsaturated fat and packed with over 20 vitamins and minerals, much better than cream which is full of saturated fat and not a lot else. The almonds, dates and raw cocao also bring their own health benefits, so this is one dessert you can indulge in without feeling guilty.

If you need a show stopper of a dessert that caters for many allergies or just fancy trying something a bit different then this dessert is for you! I can’t wait to make it again, maybe flavouring the chocolate topping with mint, orange, coffee or almond liquor.

Sorry for the quality of the finished dessert, it was dark when we ate it.

Unbelievable Raw Chocolate Avocado Torte
For the crust
120g skin on almonds
100g pitted dates
Pinch of salt
20g coconut oil
2 tsp water

For the chocolate topping
2 large avocados, 300g flesh
40g raw cocao powder
60g agave syrup or maple syrup
15g coconut oil

150g fresh raspberries
Fresh slices of coconut

Wrap the base of 4 x 10cm/4inch round ring moulds with clingfilm and place onto a tray. Line the inside of each with a strip of greaseproof paper.
To make the crust, put the almonds and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Process until the nuts are ground down into a coarse texture, but not turning into a paste. Add the dates and process again until the dates and almonds are well combined. Add the coconut oil and water and pulse to create a thick sticky texture.
Divide the base mixture between the 4 ring moulds and press down well into an even layer. Chill in the fridge while you make the topping.

To make the chocolate topping, skin and stone the avocados and put the flesh in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. You may need to scrape down the sides every so often.
Sift the cocao powder over the top and add the agave syrup and coconut oil. Process to create a velvety thick puree. Taste and add more agave syrup to taste (don’t worry if you can still detect avocado at this stage, it mellows after a chill in the fridge overnight).
Once you have the sweetness and texture you are happy with, spoon the mixture over the top of the nutty bases and chill in the fridge overnight.

When ready to serve, peel the clingfilm from the base of the tarts and place onto a serving plate. Remove the outer ring and carefully peel away the greaseproof paper. Use a small pallet knife to smooth out the sides and top into an even layer.
Arrange fresh raspberries and thin shavings of fresh coconut over the top.
Eat and enjoy.
Makes 4 tortes

Eat within 3 days of making, best made the day before

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Gluten Free Fruity Christmas Pudding with Amaretto for Stir Up Sunday

Today is Stir Up Sunday – the official day to stir together a delicious mix of dried fruits and spices to make your Christmas pudding. Every year the Sunday before the last Sunday in November, the last Sunday before the start of advent, is the official day to make your xmas pud. It is a tradition that has been going on for decades, possibly centuries, and one I hope continues for many more to come. I love the thought that today people all over the country are today making a pudding for their friends and relatives to eat and enjoy on Christmas day. It’s the kind of unity and homely food based tradition that I love. I expect many people buy their Christmas puddings from supermarkets these days, but for me its more than the enjoyment of eating the pud, it’s the time, care and love that went into making it, knowing its something special to be shared by the whole family that forms part of my enjoyment of it. Especially as they are eaten but once a year.

In years gone by all the family would gather together around the bowl and take it in turns to give the ingredients a stir, while making a wish. In some households, people put coins in the pudding mix and allow children to find them, and it was believed that finding a coin brings wealth, health, happiness for the coming year. The coin traditionally used was a silver sixpence. This isn’t something we tend to do now, but I like the idea. I can image the health and safety police did away with it for fear of people choking on their coins!

Christmas pudding is not too dissimilar to Christmas cake. Your soak your fruits in alcohol before using them, like a Christmas cake, but then combine this glossy boozy fruity mixture with a mix of spices, breadcrumbs and traditionally suet. I love how the often dried and wizened fruits become so plump and glossy after their boozy soaking session and the aroma of boozy soaked fruit with fresh citrus and spices is intoxicating.

I always made my own breadcrumbs from crumbling up some gluten free bread and use frozen grated butter in place of the suet (which is usually coated in wheat flour). This fruity, spicy mixture is placed into a pudding basin and part boiled, part steamed for several hours to create a densely fruited, rich, spicy and incredibly moist fruit pudding. It has all the flavours of Christmas cake only in a squishier, softer and more intense form. The pudding mix doesn’t look all that appetising before it’s steamed, but just look at the fabulously dark and succulent sticky pudding it transforms into after its steaming session. You get the added bonus of it filling the house with a fabulous rich and spicy Christmas scent as it happily simmers away.

Like Christmas Cake, the pudding is kept for several weeks to allow the flavour to mature and develop. Then on Christmas day the pudding is heated, doused in Brandy and set alight! The lights are quickly turned down and people ‘ohhh’ and ‘awww’ as wispy blue flames dance around the pudding creating a spectacular end to the Christmas meal. There can’t be many foods that people look forward to intentionally setting on fire! The only other one I can think of is Baked Alaska and that’s more of a gentle torching rather than dousing it in a flammable liquid and setting it alight! However, the actual flames last mere seconds, so no harm comes to the pudding itself, its too moist to get scorched or burnt.

The pudding requires 5 hours of boiling/steaming, but don’t let that put you off. As long as you check the water level a couple of times during cooking, it can be left to its own devises. It’s quite relaxing pottering around the house and listening to it gently simmering, filling the kitchen with the warm spicy note of Christmas. I always like to line the base of the pan I steam it in with paper. This protects the pudding from the direct base heat of the pan and stops it making too much noise from the pudding basin hitting the base of the pan as it simmers. It’s a great way to make use of some of the tedious junk mail and unwanted catalogues that always get pushed through the letterbox at this time of year.

I actually steamed mine yesterday, so right now it’s wrapped up tight and awaiting its final steam on Christmas day. You still have time to make your own and you can add whatever fruits and spices you like to it. You can also replace the alcohol with orange juice or non alcoholic wine if you wish. Go stir up a pudding – its stir up Sunday!

Oh and if you want to make a Christmas cake too, click to see the recipes I use most – traditional or gingerspiced.

Gluten Free Fruity Christmas Pudding with Amaretto
200g raisins
120g sultanas
50g chopped dates
60g glace cherries (check they are GF)
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
100ml Amaretto (or Brandy)
20g chopped pecans (optional)
50g grated frozen butter
30g gluten free fresh breadcrumbs (crumbled from some GF bread)
45g rice flour
5g tapioca starch
90g dark soft brown sugar*
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground star anise (or clove)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten

* I was out of dark brown sugar so used 70g light soft brown sugar & 20g black treacle

The day before (or up to 3 days before), add the raisins, sultanas and chopped dates into a bowl. Chop the cherries in half and add to bowl. Grate the orange and lemon zest over the top and pour in the Amaretto. Give everything a good stir, cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside for 24 hours (or up to 3 days) to allow the fruits to plump up and absorb the alcohol.
The next day, place all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl. Add the soaked fruits, scraping in any leftover juices. Fold everything together with a spatula until everything is evenly combined, it may look a little dry at first but keep mixing.
Place a small disc of parchment paper in the base of a 1½ pint pudding basin. Fill the basin with the pudding mix, pressing down lightly. Place another disc of parchment on top and cover the top of the basin with a sheet of foil that you have folded a pleat into the middle of, to allow the pudding to rise during steaming.
Tie a long strip of string around the top rim of the pudding and then secure it over the top of the basin from one side to the other to form a string handle. (This will help you retrieve the pudding from the pan later without burning yourself).
Lay sheets of newspaper (or junk mail) in the base of a large saucepan. (This protects the base of the pudding from the direct heat from the stove and stops it rattling around inside your pan.) Place the pudding on the papers before filling the pan with boiling water from the kettle, until it reaches halfway up the side of the pudding basin.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to the merest of simmers, cover with the lid and leave to simmer gently for 5 hours. It should be barely bubbling. Leave the pan half off the heat of the flame if your hob doesn’t go low enough.
Every 2 hours lift the lid of the pan to check the water level. Add more boiling water if it’s looking low.
Once the 5 hours is up, lift the pudding out of the pan with the help of the string handle. Place on a cooling rack and leave until cool. Leave it in the basin and with the parchment disc still on top. Once cooled, remove the foil top and wrap the whole pudding, still in the basin, tightly in clingfilm and store in a cool dark place until required, the longer the better.
On Christmas Day, steam the pudding again for 2 hours to heat through thoroughly. When hot, run a knife around the edge of the pudding and turn out onto a serving plate that has a rim. Carefully warm a ladleful of Brandy, then set light to it with a match or lighter and quickly pour it over the pudding to flambé. Serve with Brandy butter, Brandy cream or custard once the flames have extinguished. 
Makes 1 pudding, to serve 6 – 10 people

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Lemon Roasted Sprout & Beetroot Brown Rice Salad with Tahini Dressing

It’s official, its cold dark, wet and wintery outside and Christmas is on the way. I’ve tried to avoid it for a few weeks, rolling my eyes in despair when advent calendars appeared in mid October, but on my last food shop I couldn’t resist picking up a stalk of brussel sprouts. I know they are the food of the devil for some people, but I love them. If you are not a fan then try turning them into bubble and squeak (mashed potato and cooked cabbage formed into patties and fired) or my personal favourite, cooked, cooled and eaten with houmous – delicious!

Anyway…I was feeling a little under the weather and wanted to make a fresh healthy salad to perk myself up. I’ve recently discovered that roasting brussel sprouts drizzled in lemon juice before putting them in the oven transforms them into the most delicious sticky, tangy, smoky, earthy sprouts you can imagine. The lemon keeps its zing, but looses its sourness becoming sweet and sticky.

To add an extra colour and wellbeing vitamins I also included some roasted beetroot and then shredded raw carrot. My brother gave me a very snazzy peeler on my last birthday, that instead of peeling off strips from veg, the blade has a row of sharp jagged teeth that shred your chosen veg into long thin strips. Very cool!

To mix with my melody of colourful veg I included brown rice and chickpeas and then finished everything off with a fresh tasting tahini yoghurt dressing which added a little nuttiness and creaminess.

The finished salad was delicious. Packed with a great assortment of textures, colours, flavours and of course cold fighting vitamins. I love combining a mix of roasted and raw veg together, it really changes their flavours and textures. The long thin shreds of carrot were almost like shreds of spaghetti that I could twirl round my fork and the zing of sweet lemon was lovely.

I know some people may not be happy with the idea of salad when feeling under the weather but I’ve eaten this for the past 3 days and I swear I’m the only healthy one left in the office! Plus, who says you can’t have your healthy salad and a bit of cake. Best of both worlds.

Lemon Roasted Sprout & Beetroot Brown Rice Salad with Tahini Dressing
300g brussel sprouts
300g cooked beetroot (not vinegared)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp oil
Freshly ground black pepper
80g brown rice
2 large carrots
A few fresh mint leaves
200g canned chickpeas, drained
1 heaped tsp tahini
2 tbsp thick natural yoghurt
2-3 tsp milk, as needed

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Remove any dirty or damaged outer leaves from the brussel sprouts and cut them in half, through the stalk, so they remain intact. Arrange them cut side up on the baking tray. Slice the beetroot into wedges and place on the baking tray also.
Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into a small bowl and stir in the oil. Mix together and then drizzle the whole lot over the top of the sprouts and beetroot.
Grind over a little freshly grated pepper and place in the oven to roast for 15 minutes.
Then, rotate the tray and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the sprouts are lightly golden and tinged around the edges.
Meanwhile, cook the brown rice according to pack instructions, then drain under cold water and place into a large bowl.
Slice or peel the carrot into very fine long shreds. (I had a special peeler to do this, but you could grate it or use a food processor with a similar attachment)
Thinly slice the mint and add to the rice along with the carrot and chickpeas. When slightly cooled, add the sprouts, beetroot and a little extra lemon juice. Mix together well.
In a small bowl, mix the tahini into the natural yoghurt, thinning it down with a few teaspoons of milk until you have a mixture that will drizzle nicely off the end of a spoon.
Serve mounds of the salad and drizzle over some of the tahini dressing.
Eat and enjoy.

Keep the dressing and salad separately in the fridge and dress just before eating each time. Eat within 3 days

Friday, 31 October 2014

Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can’t believe its Halloween today! This month has just flown by. I don’t usually celebrate Halloween, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some autumnal pumpkin based baking.

Around this time of year cans of amazing pumpkin puree appear in the shops for a few fleeting weeks before disappearing again for the rest of the year (grrr). I spotted some a few weeks ago and grabbed a couple of cans while I could. I love the flavour of the canned puree, it is pure earthy, sweet intensely flavoured pumpkin goodness. And just look at the wonderful natural orange colour. Nothing like the dull watery, anemic pumpkins they sell for pumpkin carving. They really don’t taste good, so don’t bother trying to cook with them – believe me I’ve tried many times in the past, they are grown for carving out scary faces only! If you want to make your own puree, you’d have much more successful using a butternut squash.

I thought about making pumpkin cake, but I’ve done this before and wanted to try something different. Instead I decided to make pumpkin cookies. I found a simple recipe online, but tweaked it to suit my tastes, making it gluten free, adding chocolate chips and a few spices. It's also dairy free if you used a dairy free dark chocolate!

The recipe stated to use vegetable oil, but I didn’t have any so used some melted coconut oil instead. This was the first time I’ve baked with coconut oil and I love the subtle flavour it gave. Not obviously coconut, but definitely a slight exotic hint of something, it really worked well with the sweet earthy pumpkin.

The cookies baked to be thick soft cakey cookies. A sort of cake-cookie hybrid. They were firm enough to handle once cooled, and had a slight fudgy stickiness to them, reminiscent of a cookie, but the softness and light texture of cake. It made for a lovely texture. I loved their golden orange colour too.

The flavour was amazing. The pumpkin has a very unique earthy sweetness, that worked brilliantly with the freshly grated nutmeg I included. They really complimented each other and gave a wonderful autumnal flavour. The chocolate chips added little bits of rich bitter cocoa flavour, and they stayed nicely soft after baking too.

I ate most of them as cookies, but couldn’t resist sandwiching two together with a bit of cream cheese for a very indulgent, massive cookie sandwich. Biting into two thick soft cakey cookies and then hitting the tanginess of the smooth cream cheese was delicious.

My sister decided to have some traditional pumpkin fun by carving a pumpkin. She sent me some photos of her masterpiece and I think you’ll agree she did a wonderful job, really spooky! How do you prefer your pumpkins…carved or baked?

Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
200g canned pumpkin puree
200g caster sugar
100ml vegetable oil (I used melted coconut oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
150g white rice flour
25g tapioca starch
25g cornflour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100g dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C and line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, sugar, vegetable oil (or coconut oil), vanilla and egg.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Add the flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and fold together with a spatula until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. The batter will be very soft, so don’t worry.
Using an old fashioned ice cream scoop, or large tablespoon, take scoopfuls of dough and arrange on the baking trays, leaving a 2 inch gap between each one.
Gently press the tops down so they form thick discs of cookie batter.
Bake for approximately 12-14 minutes or until ever so slightly tinged brown around the edges and slightly puffed. They should still be soft to touch.
Allow the cookies to cool for 10-15 minutes on the baking tray to firm up, before using a pallet knife to transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Best eaten within 2 days. Can be frozen.

Makes 18 large cookies