Sunday 29 June 2014

Rother Valley Country Park

Sorry for the long delay in posting. I haven't fallen off the edge of the earth! The weekend after my last blog post was Fathers Day so I went home to visit my dear ol dad and spend some time with the family. The weekend after this I had planned to go to Bradford to explore the Curry Festival that was on, but on the Friday I became unwell and have spent the last week ill in bed with gastroenteritis. Not fun.

I'm still not back to full cooking/baking exuberance - jacket potatoes and rice currently feature a lot in my diet - so instead I thought I would share with you a few photos of a walk I enjoyed a few weeks ago around Rother Valley Country Park.

The park is located in Sheffield, in Rother Valley (bet you'd never have guessed) and comprises of 750 acres of parkland including a large lake with a variety of walks around the perimeter with a few meandering paths further afield. You can also go cycling along the paths or canoeing, sailing or even jet-skiing on the lake itself.

It's a little hard to find and we nearly missed the entrance as you need to follow the road signs rather than use the sites postcode, as apparently, according to their official website, this takes you to a random industrial estate, no where near the entrance to the park. So no Satnav allowed!

When A and I arrived it was an unusually bright and sunny day and being out amongst the greenery, trees and sparkling lake it made for a lovely morning stroll.

I loved the sunny bright yellow field of buttercups.

We ended up back at the start and found a little cafe for a drink. They were serving food too, but it was mostly sausages rolls and sandwiches, so not really gluten friendly, so we settled on a drink and ice cream instead. I don't normally drink fizzy drinks, but I became ridiculously excited about spotting a can of Rio in the chiller cabinet. It's a drink I remember being allowed as a treat in my childhood. I haven't seen it for years and didn't know you could even get it any more. I had to have it!

Rio is a tropical (Orange, Guava, Apricot, Mango & Passion Fruit) exotic fruit juice drink made with lightly sparkling spring water. It's slightly sweet, fruity, a little exotic in flavour thanks to the slightly unusual fruits and it makes for one very refreshing drink. Ah it tasted just as I remember. The perfect end to a lovely walk.

If you are in the area, I'd recommend a visit. You do have to pay for parking, but its £3.50 for the whole day. Next time I think we'll take a book and a picnic and make a day of it.

Next weekend it's the Allergy and Free From Show in London. It's on from 4th - 6th July and is the foodie event I most look forward to each year. For a coeliac, there is something so amazing at being able to walk into a room, a room full of food stands, people giving cookery demos and tasters, and knowing you can eat ALL of it. I get very over excited each year and can't wait to attend this one.

I love discovering new companies and products not available in supermarkets. Freshly cooked pizzas, cheesecakes, brownies, breads and desserts. Go hungry and indulge in the delights! Most things are gluten free and some are also dairy, nut or soy free too. It not only caters to people with food allergies, there is also a health section for people with skin sensitivity or hay fever etc. Click here for some free tickets! Anyone else going?

Sunday 8 June 2014

Coconut, Mango & Lime Chia Pudding and Running Race for Life

Chia seeds are quite new to me. I’ve seen them used a lot on American blogs, and have just started to hear whispers of chia seeds being used in specialist breads in the UK, but as yet they are relatively unknown and unused.

Chia seeds are quite unique in that they have the ability to swell up, and thicken liquids into gels and gums without any heating. The seeds look like pale grey sesame seeds, but are crisp and crunchy in such a way that they give a little ‘pop’ when you bite into them. They can be eaten in their raw state sprinkled on top of salads or cereal, as you would other seeds, or, their unique thickening abilities can be harnessed are used to create different tastes and textures in recipes.

They are also a bit of a ‘superfood.’ Chia is an ancient seed that has more Omega 3 ALA (19.3g/100g) and dietary fibre (37.5g/100g) than any other natural food. It is also a great source of protein (20.4g/100g) and other antioxidants. I was persuaded to try it as I have been trying to eat more protein recently as I’ve been training for taking part in the Race for Life event, that I ran this morning!

I was inspired to try creating a chia seed pudding after seeing a recipe on the fantastic blog Not Quite Nigella. I was intrigued at how these tiny crunchy seeds could create a thick almost porridge-like pudding. I had a very ripe mango in the fridge and decided to puree some to stir into my chia pudding to flavour it. To enhance the tropical feel I used coconut milk instead of regular milk and added a little lime zest. The coconut milk was the kind you can not buy in cartons from the supermarkets for pouring on your breakfast cereal, not the thick kind in tins used in curries.

I was amazed that even as I was stirring the ingredient together in a bowl I could feel the texture starting to thicken, you don’t even need to crush the seeds. I set the pudding in the fridge for a few hours before taking another peak. It had completely thickened up and was sturdy enough to support the weight of a small spoon when placed upright into the bowl!

I feared I may have made it too thick, but it turned out to still be soft and spoonable. The seeds had swollen in such a way that they now resembled a cross between quinoa and tapioca. They had a gummy, almost gelatinous outer layer with a crisp seed encased in the middle. It really was a most unique texture. Soft and granular with the crunchy popping seeds. The closest thing I can relate it to it tapioca pudding. If you love tapioca you’d love chia pudding, if that frog spawn texture is not your thing, then you probably won’t be a fan.

The flavours of the coconut, mango and lime worked really well together, giving it a tropical edge. It wasn’t too sweet and could easily be eaten for breakfast rather than a dessert if desired – something I know some people already do. It’s a shame it’s grey coloured, as I found that slightly detracted from its overall appearance.

I loved the novel experience of eating the chia pudding, but I did find the texture a little odd, personally I’m not a big fan of tapioca and this was a little too similar. I do love the pop and crispness of the seeds themselves though, so will try baking them into a cake or some biscuits to see how they turn out. They are worth eating for their nutrition value alone and I’m sure some clever people will be able to create some amazing foodie creations with chia given their unique thickening abilities. I can see chia becoming more and more popular.

Have you tried chia pudding or chia seeds? If so, what’s your favourite way to eat it?

Coconut, Mango & Lime Chia Pudding
(Inspiration taken from Not Quite Nigella blog)
½ large mango
30g chia seeds
1 tbsp agave or honey
Grated zest 1 lime
110ml coconut milk (the kind sold in cartons for adding to your breakfast, not the thick kind used in curries)

Remove the flesh from the mango and put into a small food processor. Blitz until a rough puree is formed, a few chunks are fine.
Pour the mango puree into a bowl and stir in the chia seeds, agave syrup and half the grated lime zest.
Stir in the coconut milk, mixing for 30 seconds until the mix starts to thicken slightly and a few bubbles appear.
Cover the top of the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge to set. Anything from 3 hours to overnight is fine.
Once thick and set, divide the pudding between serving bowls or glasses, top with a little extra diced mango and a sprinkle of lime zest.
Eat and enjoy
Makes 1 – 2 generous portions

As mentioned briefly above, today I also took part in the 5k Race for Life event in aid of Cancer Research UK. Myself and 10 other women who are all part of the Wonderful Women group I belong to, decided to get together and run the course to raise money. I’ve spent the last 3 months trying to get fitter on the treadmill at the gym and until this morning had only managed to get to 4K without having to stop for a rest.
We all met at Meadowhall (a big shopping centre in Sheffield where the race began) this morning at 9:30am where we, along with thousands of other women all dressed in pink, set off for the run.

I am delighted to say I did it! I ran the course and finished in 31 minutes, 4 seconds. A personal best. It was a lovely sunny day and the atmosphere was fantastic with people cheering us one. It’s not only made me fitter, but we’ve raised lots of money for a great charity and all got a medal at the end to show for it.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Roasted Pepper & Pesto Quiche

Last weekend was dismally wet, grey and overcast, the ideal weather for staying inside and baking. I had a mix of red, orange and green peppers in the fridge that I’d bought on a whim without a plan of what to use them for. Peppers can be a bit dull and almost bitter when raw, especially the green ones, so I decided to roast them, which transforms their bitter crispness into wonderful soft, sweetness that tastes of the Mediterranean.

To keep up the Mediterranean theme I combined the peppers with the rest of an open jar of pesto, which together made the filling for a delicious quiche. The weather may have been dull and cold outside but I was determined to bring a little sunshine into the kitchen for lunch.

I made the pastry using a little buckwheat flour. Buckwheat sounds like it should contain gluten, but it’s actually a grain related to the rhubarb family and is naturally gluten free. It has a nutty earthy flavour that some people dislike, but I personally love it. It has good binding capabilities, helping to keep the pastry crisp and easy to work with without becoming too crumbly, which can be a problem with gluten free pasty. A good trick is to roll out the pastry between two layers of clingfilm and then use it to help you flip and line the tin without it breaking apart.

The combination of intense basil pesto and sweet silky roasted peppers tasted wonderful and I loved its bright and colourful appearance. The pesto layer partly disappeared into the eggy filling during baking, so it didn’t leave too much of an obvious layer, but the garlicky herby flavour was definitely still apparent.

It made a delicious light lunch and brought hope of sunny days (hopefully) to come. It was also great the next few days to take to work. I can never decide if I prefer quiche hot or cold, both ways are good.

Roasted Pepper & Pesto Quiche
Shortcrust Pastry
200g gluten free plain flour blend (I used 120g white rice flour, 60g buckwheat flour, 20g tapioca starch)
90g butter
1 egg
½ tsp xanthan gum
1-2 tbsp water

2 peppers (I used a mix of red, orange and green)
3 eggs
250ml milk
½ tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp pesto
8 cherry tomatoes

Roast Peppers
Heat the oven to 200C. Slice the peppers into chunks and place onto a baking tray and roast for 15 minutes. Give them a toss and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until soft and starting to caramelise around the edges.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, make the pastry.

Pastry Case
Have a 8 inch fluted tart tin to hand.
Mix the flours and xanthan gum together in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, add your butter, (it should be soft, if not blast it in the microwave for a few seconds) along with half the flour mixture, the egg and 1 tablespoon of the water. Beat with a spoon or spatula to form a paste. (Yes I know this goes against all traditional pastry making!)
Add the rest of the flour and bring the mixture together to form a dough, switching to your hands at the end. Add a little more water if it seems dry. Knead the dough gently for 1 minute to ensure everything is well combined.
Roll out the pastry between two large sheets of clingfilm to the size and shape of your tart tin, plus an extra 1-2 inches for the sides.
Peel off the top sheet of clingfilm, and use the base sheet to help you flip the pastry into the tin and press it down gently. Trim off the excess and patch up any cracks with the off-cuts of pastry.
Prick the pastry lightly with a fork and place on a baking tray.
Blind bake the pastry for 15 minutes at 200C until just starting to brown.
Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce your oven to 180C.

In a jug, whisk together the eggs, milk and a little salt and pepper. Dissolve the garlic powder in 1 tsp milk and add to the mix.
Spread the base of the baked tart tin with the pesto. Arrange the roasted peppers on top and scatter in some quartered cherry tomatoes.
Place the tart into the oven and then pour the egg mixture over the top, using the jug to help you.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the middle is set when gently shaken and is lightly golden on top.
Allow to cool slightly before serving. Also tastes delicious cold.

Makes 1 x 8 inch quiche