Sunday 31 August 2014

Banana & Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake

Since last weekend I have had 3 bananas sitting on my counter which were specially bought with the sole intention of making banana cake. During the week they were becoming a little overripe, even for banana cake, so I put them in the fridge to slow down the ripening process.

Last week was very stressful. I’ve been having a few health issues which combined with a hectic time at work and trying to buy my first house has led to a few weeks of very poor sleep. Come Friday evening I felt exhausted and grumpy. Then to top it all I had an awful nights sleep (or rather complete lack of it) so was feeling thoroughly fed up and tearful by the time Saturday morning arrived. Which was why at 6:30am in the morning I was snuggled in my dressing gown mashing bananas for banana cake. Ah solitude and tranquillity.

There is something soothing about licking banana batter off a spatula early in the morning when you’re tired and irritable. I decided to bake my banana cake as a loaf cake, as I was craving something simple and homely.

I was going to go with a plain banana batter, but I suddenly remembered the chocolate and banana marble cakes I used to bake years ago. I hadn’t baked one for years and as I was feeling nostalgic I decided to split my batter in half, add cocoa powder to one part and create a banana marble loaf cake. On the spur of the moment I also decided to add cardamom to the batter rather than my usual cinnamon or mixed spice. This added a lovely aromatic undertone against the sweet banana and went brilliantly with the chocolate too. I love the feather effect created by swirling the two batters together.

The cake isn’t overly sweet, the main sweetness coming from the ripe bananas, and even then it’s still definitely less sweet than normal cakes. I actually preferred this as it meant I could eat a slice for breakfast without feeling guilty and meant when I had another slice later on, I could spread it with some nut butter or Nutella without it being too sweet. I used some homemade sesame & honey almond nut butter which was really good with the banana.

The cake sliced and kept well. I love how each new slice reveals a different chocolate and banana marble pattern. It was soft, moist and packed with banana flavour. I loved being able to cut off a slice and then snuggle into the sofa and nibble at it with my fingers. No need for fancy forks here. It was almost like two cakes in one, as you had the lighter softer banana sections interspersed with the richer, slightly bitter chocolate parts. Mmm delicious.

Next time you’ve had a bad day, why not treat yourself to the deliciously simple baking bliss that is banana & chocolate marble loaf cake.

Banana & Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake
280g ripe banana (peeled weight, around 3)
80g light soft brown sugar
200g plain flour (160g rice flour, 25g cornflour (or potato starch), 15g tapioca starch)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cardamom
2 eggs
120ml vegetable oil
20g cocoa powder (for only half the mix)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease a loaf tin and line with one long strip of greaseproof paper, so it lies over the base and up the two sides in one long strip. My tin was approx 22cmx11cm and 6.5cm deep (top edge measurments).
Mash the banana with a fork until very soft but a few lumps remain. Place into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, expect the cocoa powder.
Beat together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Divide the batter in half, pouring half into a separate bowl. Add the cocoa powder to one half and beat again to incorporate. The batter will become thicker, this is fine.
Add alternating tablespoon blobs of the chocolate and banana batter into the lined loaf tin. Then repeat with another layer, alternating the chocolate blobs so it sits on top of a banana blob. I ended up with three layers of alternating batter blobs.
Run a skewer through the batter in alternating vertical lines to create a swirled feather effect.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until well risen and lightly springy to the touch. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for at least an hour before removing from the tin and leaving to cool completely.
Serve in generous slices. Delicious on its own or spread with a little nut butter or Nutella for extra indulgence.

Makes 1 loaf

Sunday 24 August 2014

Happy Cow Burgers

Last weekend my sister came for a visit. We went out for lunch but in the evening we decided to stay in, cook dinner and watch a film. I’d recently seen a repeat of Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals where he made Happy Cow Burgers. They looked really tasty and quick to make, just what we needed after a tiring day out and about. Why Happy Cow Burgers? Well I can only assume it’s because these are veggie burgers, meaning the cows are happy!

Rather than relying on mushrooms or nuts these are very simple bean and broad bean (nice touch) burgers that are made in minutes by blitzing them in a food processor. They are also nicely spiced with a mix of cumin, coriander and cayenne for a bit of a kick. Jamie served his with coleslaw and in a bun, but my sister doesn’t like coleslaw and I’m not a fan of soft burgers in buns so instead we went with sweet potato wedges, peas and a bit of sliced tomato, you can’t have a burger without tomato.

The rather giant sweet potato wedges were delicious, their soft sweetness working well with the earthy beans and spices. The burgers were nicely flavoured, but we were both a little disappointed with the texture of them. As the mix is just beans and spices, the inside texture was very soft and a little mushy. The thin outside crust was nice but the burgers were quite thick and we felt they could do with another texture. We definitely wouldn’t have wanted them in soft burger buns too, that would have made for a really soft and pappy mouthful.

My sister and I agreed they would be better with some grated raw carrot added for a bit of crunch and texture, or maybe some spring onion or even – dare I say it, sweetcorn kernels added at the end. Just something to add an extra dimension. We also thought they would be better made smaller, falafel size, so each person had 3 mini burgers. This way you would get more of the outside crunch and they would be great for also using in wraps etc. I will try them again as the flavour was good.

Using a tin of black beans has given them rather a dark colour, but if you used cannellini or butterbeans then they wouldn’t be so dark. We both loved the addition of broad beans, they were a nice touch. While we ate we enjoyed the suitably foodie film Julie & Julia. I love Meryl Streep – bon appetit!

Happy Cow Burgers
(Recipe adapted from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals)
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 x 400g tin of mixed beans (I used black beans)
200g frozen broad beans (I used canned)
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp paprika
Zest of 1 lemon
1 heaped tbsp gluten free flour, plus extra for dusting (I used buckwheat)
Sunflower oil for frying

Sweet Potato Wedges
3 large sweet potatoes
3 tsp sunflower oil
1½ tsp mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

To serve
Salad, ketchup, coleslaw (and in our case peas!)

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Start with the sweet potatoes wedges. Wash the potatoes and cut off any bad bits. Leave the skin on and slice them lengthways into long wedges.
Place onto a baking tray lined with foil, drizzle over the oil and scatter with the herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, then turn over and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until soft and lightly golden.

Meanwhile, make the burgers. Put the coriander stalks into the processor, keeping the leaves back. Drain the beans and add to the mixer along with the broad beans, a pinch of salt and pepper, the cayenne, cumin, ground coriander, paprika and lemon zest. Whiz together until a rough paste is formed, you don’t want it smooth, its nice to still have texture. Add the flour and mix again briefly.
Tip the mixture on to a floured work surface and divide into 4 pieces. Have some extra flour on a plate. Form each quarter into a patty about 2.5cm thick and dust well with flour on each side.
10 minutes before the wedges are ready, heat some oil in a large frying pan, add the burgers and allow to fry over a fairly low heat for 4 minutes on each side, flipping them over once golden brown.
Transfer to a plate that has been lined with a sheet of kitchen roll. Turn off the oven and place the burgers and four serving plates into the cooling oven to keep warm.
Prepare your accompaniments, be is salad, coleslaw, cheese, sliced tomatoes, veg, pickles etc.
Divide the wedges between the four plates, adding a burger to each. Serve with the accompaniments of your choice.
Serves 4

Note: while these were tasty, my sister and I agreed they would be better with some grated raw carrot added for a bit of crunch and texture. We also thought they would be batter made smaller, falafel size, so each person had 3 mini burgers. This way you would get more of the outside crunch and would be great used in wraps etc. As they were, we found them to be a bit too soft and smooth inside and defiantly wouldn’t have wanted them in a bread roll. 

Sunday 17 August 2014

Tarka Dal

I love Indian food, it is one of my favourite cuisines. The mix of aromatic spices and plentiful use of rice and lentils is my kind of food. Plus a lot of it is naturally gluten free which is always a bonus. Although I love Indian food, I very rarely attempt to recreate it myself at home. The assorted mix of spices requiring just the right balance and correct cooking order to create the wonderfully delicate dishes is not something I have mastered.

I recently saw an episode of Indian Food Made Easy where Anjum made a delicious looking Traka Dal. I love the thick comforting texture of Dal, but am sometimes put off when it arrives swimming in a pool of oil. Anjums version however, looked so fresh and quite straightforward to make, that she inspired me to recreate it myself.

So last weekend when it was thundering and lightning outside I cocooned myself in my kitchen with a pan, some lentils and an aromatic mix of spices. There are a few processes involved but I was pleasantly surprised that the actual cooking of the Dal was surprisingly easy. You start by toasting the spices in oil which helps them release their aromatics and gives everything a more well rounded and balanced spice flavour. My kitchen smelt heavenly, wafts of warm and comforting cumin, coriander, cinnamon and fresh ginger permeated the air.

Another good tip that I actually stole from Rick Stein after watching his India cookery tour, is to use red onions rather than white, as they are naturally sweeter, and to blitz them in a food processor rather than chopping them. This gives small evenly sized pieces that cook well and release their flavour without being too harsh or chunky. It worked a treat and I’m definitely going to be doing this again in future.

In less than two hours I was tucking into a bowl of warm and comforting Tarka Dal. Even as I lifted the spoon to my mouth a fragrant waft of spices filled my senses making my mouth water. The first taste is of a mellow spice with a rich thick texture and soft bite from the lentils. Then the ginger creeps in, the aromatic spices build and finally a gentle prickle of heat comes in from the chili, warming the back of the throat. It was delicious! I was rather proud of myself for achieving something that (to me) tasted quite authentic and had real layers of flavour rather than being generically spiced.

As the remaining Dal cooled down, it continued to thicken. When cool, I was able to use some of the leftovers as a delicious spicy dip and spread, almost like an Indian inspired houmous. If anything it tasted even better the next day when all the spices had mellowed together and developed. I loved how aromatic and fragrant it was rather than just being chili heat or a one note ‘spicy’ flavour. I’d really recommend this recipe, even if you’ve never cooked a curry before. It wasn’t complicated to do and the results more than make up for the little effort involved. Do give it a go!

Tarka Dal
(Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy by Anjum Anand)
500g Chana Dal or split yellow peas
900ml water
2 small or 1 large red onion
2 cm piece fresh ginger
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
2 green chilies, whole
3 cloves of garlic
3 fairly large tomatoes or 6-7 cherry tomatoes
100ml extra water
Salt and pepper

Rinse the Dal or peas under running water. Place into a large saucepan with 900ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with the lid. Leave to cook for 35 minutes. They should still be firm yet tender at this point. Remove from the heat but do not drain.
Meanwhile, prepare the spice base.
Peel the onions and ginger and chop into chunks. Place into a small food blender and blitz until finely chopped, not pureed though.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. With the heat on fairly low, add the cumin, coriander, garam masala, cinnamon and turmeric and allow the spices to sizzle and release their aromatic spice for 1 minute. Do not let them burn.
Tip in the onion and ginger and stir together well. Prick the green chilies so you pierce the skin, but do not actually cut into them. Add to the pan and allow everything to cook for 4-5 minutes until the onion has softened and browned.
Blitz the garlic and tomatoes into a puree using the food blender. Add this to the pan along with 100ml of water and stir well. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until starting to thicken.
Add the cooked lentils and any remaining cooking liquid to the spices. Stir well to incorporate and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Then fish out and discard the chilies.
Now either remove a quarter of the lentil mix and briefly pulse to break down some of the lentils or else give it a few short pulses with a hand blender. You only want to crush and break down a few of the lentils to help thicken the sauce, you want most of them to remain whole.
Add the crushed lentils mix back into the pan and leave to simmer for a further 10 minutes. It should now be a thick and soft and spoonable consistency.
Spoon into bowls and serve with a garnish of coriander (I don’t have any) and flatbreads for scooping and dipping. Also tastes good with a few peas stirred in if you like.
Makes a delicious meal or meal accompaniment.
Serves 4-8 depending on serving occasion

Note: The Dal will continue to thicken as it stands. If you leave it until cold, you can almost use it as a chunky houmous style spread. If wanting to reheat, just add a touch more water and heat through thoroughly. Freezes well.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Roasted Veg & Feta Salad with Gluten Free Cous Cous

I was recently browsing the gluten free section in my local supermarket and was surprised to see free from cous cous on the shelf. Gluten free cous cous, how could that be? Cous cous is traditionally made from wheat semolina, but on further inspection this gluten free variant turned out to be made from coarsely ground maize. Eager to try it out I bought a box and headed home to experiment.

You cook the cous cous in the same way as the traditional kind, Simply pour over some hot liquid, cover and steam to steep for a few minutes. The grains absorb the water, puff up and become light, moist and fluffy. I was very impressed that this maize cous cous worked the same way. To flavour mine I added some spices and then used vegetable stock combined with some garlic and tomato to add extra flavour. I love the red orange hue this gave the cous cous.

To accompany my cous cous I added a mix of roasted and raw vegetables. I always think a mix of both adds great texture to salads. You have the soft sweetness from the roasted veg and then the fresh crisp and crunch from the raw.

My roasted veg were a colourful mix of peppers and red onion. I love the sweetness and fruitiness that develops from peppers as they are roasted. They are crisp and quite watery when raw but a short bake in the oven and they become soft and intensely flavoured. Very pretty too.

The raw element was a mix of green salad vegetables and thin strips of carrot. I always think the mix of greens together looks so fresh and inviting. When mixed all together and some cubes of feta stirred through, it made for a very fresh and colourful cous cous salad.

How did it taste? I was impressed. The cous cous didn’t go mushy, but kept its individual granular shape and texture. It was soft and light, slightly earthy maybe, but very similar to my memories of real cous cous. The mix of roasted and raw veg added great texture and flavour, while the cheese added a nice creamy, salty note. I think it would have been nice to stir through a big handful of fresh herbs too, but I didn’t have any to hand. It kept me going for lunches for 4 days. Perfect for the warmer summer days.

Roasted Veg & Feta Salad with Gluten Free Cous Cous
1 x each red, yellow & green pepper
1 red onion
2 tsp vegetable oil
150g gluten free ‘cous cous’ (made from maize – seen in Tesco & Asda)
300ml hot vegetable stock
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp sun dried tomato puree
1 clove garlic
1 carrot
2 inch chunk of cucumber
Handful sugarsnap peas
2 spring onions
2 fresh springs rosemary
Zest of ½ lemon
100g feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Cut your peppers into 1-2cm squared pieces. Slice the red onion in half and then each half into slices, but leave it assembled as a half, don’t separate out the slices. Place all the veg onto the baking tray, leaving the onion assembled as a whole half, and drizzle over a little oil. (Leaving the sliced onion assembled will prevent it burning on the oven)
Bake for 15 minutes, then give the veg a bit of a stir before baking for a further 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place the cous cous into a large bowl. Stir through the smoked paprika, cumin and cinnamon. Heat your stock until steaming. Finely grate the garlic into a pulp and stir into the stock along with the tomato puree.
Pour the hot stock over the spiced cous cous, give a quick stir and then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to steam for 5-7 minutes so the stock can be absorbed.
Peel your carrot and then use the peeler to cut very thin strips of carrot. Cut the strips into long thin batons using a sharp knife. (You want tiny strips of carrot like you something see in mixed salad bags).
Cut the cucumber into strips and then chop into small pieces. Slice the sugar snap peas and spring onions on a slight diagonal to get long thin pieces.
Return to the cous cous and use a fork to fluff up the grains so they are light and separate from each other.
Stir through the roasted and raw veg. Use your hands to pull the sliced red onion into its individual half moon slices.
Finely chop the fresh rosemary and scatter over the top along with the finely grated zest of the lemon. Give everything a good stir.
Cut the feta into small cubes and stir though gently.
Taste and season accordingly.

Serves 4 as a main meal or great as a side dish

Sunday 3 August 2014

Lunch at 2 Oxford Place, Gluten Free Café Restaurant, Leeds

Yesterday I ventured to Leeds with a friend for lunch in a new café restaurant that I have been longing to try for several weeks. 2 Oxford Place (slightly confusing as it’s in Leeds not Oxford) is a 100% gluten free establishment that was recently opened by Victoria, who is herself a coeliac. She wanted to create a place where fellow coeliacs and gluten avoiders could to go and feel assured that everything was gluten free and safe from any cross contamination risk.

They do everything from mid morning coffee, brunch, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. The best bit? It’s all 100% gluten free. They also have a separate Vegetarian/Vegan menu and a Dairy Free menu. Impressive stuff.

When we arrived we were shown to a table in the small but cozy downstairs dining area. Although fairly compact, the room had an air of luxury about it. The textured wall paper was streaked with swirls of cream and gold, there were impressive portraits on noble looking men on the walls and the complimentary water on each table was presented in elegant glass decanters. As first impressions go we were impressed. 

Shortly after we were seated a family arrived with a young girl. When presented with the menus the mother handed one to the little girl and said “you can have anything you like” The look of sheer delight on her face was heart warming. I have to say, I felt the same way, knowing you can have ANY of the dishes on offer is a rare treat for a coeliac. Usually the hardest thing when eating out is choosing what to eat that is safe on the menu, here the hardest thing was choosing that to eat because you wanted (and could) eat it all!

There are a wide range of choices on the menu and no jacket potatoes in sight! There was everything from banana pancakes with maple syrup, sandwiches on gluten free bread, homemade quiche, fish cakes, risottos, spaghetti carbonara, salads and meat or cheese sharing platters with crackers and chutneys. They also have some daily specials and a slightly larger menu choice for dinner.

After much deliberation we went for homemade quiche and fishcake and both opted for chips too. It’s been over a year since I’ve had chips as usually they are a no-go area due to the fryers being used for wheat based products too – not an issue here!

When our food was served, the quiche was a warm giant slice on homemade gluten free pastry. It was soft and creamy and packed with flavour. The pastry base was good, a little crumbly, but nicely crisp not grainy or sandy. The fishcake was fat and encased in a beautifully golden and crisp crumb crust. It was full of salmon and creamy mash and came with a lovely herby chunky homemade tartar sauce. We both agreed the chips were nice, but a couple were still a bit undercooked in the middle, which was a shame but nothing too serious.

Next up were puddings and what a choice! None of your usual what I consider to be gluten free cop-out desserts: ice cream, fruit salad and chocolate brownies. Instead we could choose from cranberry cupcakes, chocolate pie, rice pudding, pavlova, rainbow cake, cheesecake or shortbread. My friend went for the rainbow cake which was a 6 layered multi-coloured cake in all colours of the rainbow, sandwiched and topped with cream cheese frosting. It was nicely moist, although a little dense and I thought it was quite a mean sized slice. I know its 6 layers, but they were thinner layers than your standard sponge and compared to my dessert it looked a little meager.

I opted for the cheesecake of the day which turned out to be chocolate & lime. A lime unbaked fridge cheesecake on a thick dark chocolate biscuit base. I’m not normally a fan of the biscuit bases on desserts, but this was lovely. It had a good strong cocoa flavour and a great texture, not too sweet or buttery. The cheesecake was incredibly thick and rich but in the best way possible. The lime flavour was very subtle, and again it wasn’t overly sweet which I enjoyed. It was served drizzled with a chocolate syrup and fresh fruit which was a lovely addition to cut through the sweetness. Top marks for presentation.

To finish, we ordered tea, which was presented in beautiful china cups and teapot. It was loose leaf tea so we got our own tea strainer too. This was a lovely touch and I think loose leaf tea always tastes so much better than a powdery tea bag.

Overall we had a very delicious and enjoyable meal. The ambiance was cozy and inviting and although they got very busy towards the end of lunch we didn’t feel rushed. It was such a treat to go out and eat ‘normal’ food that I wouldn’t normally have the option of choosing when eating out. They don’t make a big song and dance about it being gluten free, it’s good food, done well, that just happens to also be gluten free. If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend it and I’m longing to go back and try their afternoon tea!

Our 2 course lunch for two, with tea came to just over £25. The place was buzzing with people by the time we left and I really hope this continues.

Note: I visited by my own choice. I did not inform the café we were coming (we didn’t even book), they did not know I was a blogger or that I intended to write a review of my experience. All the views expressed here are my own.