Archives for category: vegetarian

gluten-free mince pies with a citrus shortcrust and low-fat mincemeat 2

It’s official: the Christmas season has started. Slade’s rendition of “Merry Christmas, Everyone” has at last been played on local radio and my son has cracked open his advent calendar.

So, also time for another round of challenges set by the ever-ingenious Caleigh over at Glutenfree[k]. This challenge has as its inspiration “Christmas Past”, for example, a traditional recipe that’s been passed down through the family.

As a family, we’re not very keen on the traditional Christmas fare of pies, puddings and cakes, stuffed with dried fruits, nuts and suet and smothered in marzipan. I find them far too rich, sickly and cloying and a little almond flavouring goes a long way with me.

My mum has been making this low-fat mincemeat for the last twenty-five years. I think she copied it down off the telly or from the Radio Times. It’s much lighter, fresher and fruitier than traditional mincemeat and much less sweet but is still packed full of the flavours of Christmas. People who profess not to like mincemeat love this.

This recipe makes a good three or four jars of mincemeat and you’ll only want about two-thirds of one jar for the mince pies here. But I guarantee, once you’ve eaten the first batch, you’ll be knocking up the second. And then the third…

gluten-free mince pies with a citrus shortcrust and low-fat mincemeat

Gluten-free low-fat mincemeat

Makes about 1.6kg

225g soft dark sugar
200ml apple juice
900g cooking apples, peeled and cored
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
225g raisins
225g sultanas (golden raisins)
55g slivered almonds
Zest and juice of half a lemon
Zest and juice of half an orange

You will also need sterilised jam jars and greaseproof paper discs.

In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the apple juice over a medium heat. While the sugar is dissolving, chop the apples into small pieces. When the sugar has dissolved, add the apple and all the other ingredients. Bring up to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes until the apple has turned to a mush and the raisins and sultanas (golden raisins) have become swollen and plump.

Bottle in sterilised jars whilst still hot. Put greaseproof paper discs on top of the mincemeat before screwing on the lids.

Because this contains no preservatives, it won’t keep indefinitely. Keep it somewhere cool and use it up over the Christmas season.

Gluten-free mince pies with a citrus shortcrust and low-fat mincemeat

Makes 12 mince pies

250g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar
140g chilled butter, cubed
Zest 1 lemon
Zest 1 orange
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp water
12 tbsp mincemeat (about 270g)
Icing (confectioner’s) sugar for dusting.

You will also need a 7.5cm, a 6cm and a star-shaped biscuit (cookie) cutter and a 12-hole shallow bun tin.

Place the flour, icing (confectioner’s) sugar, butter and lemon and orange zests in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add half the egg (reserving the other half for glazing the pies) and the tablespoon of cold water and pulse until the mixture comes together as a soft dough. Add a little extra water if the dough appears dry but avoid adding too much as it makes the pastry tough. Tip the dough out of the food processor, form into a ball,wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted so adjust accordingly). Dust a sheet of greaseproof paper and your rolling pin with cornflour (cornstarch) and roll out two-thirds of your pastry to about 2-3mm thick (wrap the remaining third in clingfilm to avoid it drying out). Cut out 12 discs with the 7.5cm cutter and use these to line the bun tin, re-rolling scraps as necessary. It’s a good idea to put each disc into the bun tin as you cut it, as the longer it is in contact with the air, the drier it becomes and, therefore, more likely to crack when it is moulded into the tin.

Spoon a tablespoonful of mincemeat into each pastry case then roll out the rest of the pastry. Cut 6 discs with the 6cm cutter and cut star shapes out of the centre of each. Place the 6 lids and 6 stars on top of the pies and press the lids down gently. Brush each pastry top with a little beaten egg and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and take out each pie carefully from the tin with a palette knife. Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar before serving.

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I’ve already talked about how the smells of food and cooking are very evocative to me of particular people, places and things. What has come as a shock to me this morning, is that they are also very evocative of more nebulous concepts and ideas that are probably the accumulation of many different, and hitherto forgotten, experiences.

This recipe calls for oven-baked potatoes and there are two ways of doing them: the long, but less labour-intensive and arguably much more expensive, way of chucking them straight in the oven and leaving them for about an hour or the much quicker way of nuking them for a few minutes in the microwave to get the lion’s share of the cooking done, before chucking them in the oven for about 20 minutes to crisp the skin.

I must admit that I usually fall back on the latter method because either I’m incredibly disorganised and don’t get the oven heated up in time or I decide, far too late, that a jacket potato is what I want. Today, though, I decided to do it the more traditional way: I wanted to go to the supermarket and it was far easier to chuck them in the oven, put the timer on and forget about them.

And forget about them I did…that is, until I was struggling in through the front door, and out of the driving rain, with four groaning carrier bags (I’d only gone out for a chicken and a newspaper!) All I can say is that I was engulfed in the most warming bear-hug of an aroma that I have ever experienced. I suddenly felt all festive and as though the house should be full of family and their chatter and laughter, ready to sit down around the table to eat, drink and be merry. When I realised that it is, in fact, still three months until Christmas, I felt quite disappointed and impatient! The holiday spirit does seem to be kicking in earlier and earlier with me and the only thing I can put it down to is that, for the last two years, I’ve been a mum and I seem to be recapturing and reliving my childhood with my son.

All of this from the smell of a baking potato. Who’d have thunk it?!

Gluten-free Welsh rarebit loaded potato skins

There’s nothing like toasted cheese to warm you up on a chilly Autumn day. My recipe makes for quite a creamy centre – if you prefer yours a bit more solid, cut down on the quantity of ale – I’d say, probably to 190-200ml.

Makes 6

3 medium baking potatoes, washed and dried
220ml gluten-free ale (I used Green’s Golden Ale)
30g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
30g butter
150g mature Cheddar, grated + a little extra for sprinkling
2 tsp English mustard powder*, made up with 2 tsp water
1 tbsp gluten-free Worcestershire sauce (I used Life Free From, which is also fish-free and, therefore, vegetarian)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (mine is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Prick the potatoes all over with the tip of a sharp knife and place directly on the oven shelf. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the skins are brown and crispy and the flesh within appears to have shrunken away slightly. Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

While the potatoes are cooling, make the Welsh rarebit sauce: place the gluten-free ale into a small saucepan and bring up to a gentle boil**. Meanwhile, place the flour and butter into another small saucepan and place over a gentle heat. Stir with a whisk until the butter has melted and the flour has become incorporated to make a roux: you’re looking for the consistency and colour of lemon curd. Allow to bubble away for about 30 seconds or so, still stirring. Now pour the hot ale into the roux, whisking all the time, to create a thick, golden-brown sauce. Add the grated cheddar and whisk to combine. Finally add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir to incorporate and take off the heat.

Carefully, using a tea towel to protect your hand if necessary, slice each potato in half horizontally. Using a spoon, scoop out the soft insides and put in a bowl. Place the potato skins, cut side up, in a cake tin or on a baking tray. Roughly mash the scooped-out potato and stir into the Welsh rarebit sauce. Pile the potato and cheese mixture into the potato skins and sprinkle with grated Cheddar. Return to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden-brown and the cheese is bubbling.

* Make sure you use English mustard powder and NOT ready-made English mustard. The former is just mustard powder, whereas the latter is produced using wheat flour.

** The hot liquid going into the hot roux should ensure a lump-free sauce.

One thing I really love about the Great Gluten-Free Recipe Challenges, set so fiendishly by Caleigh over at GlutenFree[k], is that they really ARE challenging. The additional restrictions and essential ingredient, vegan as well as gluten-free and beetroot this time, make me think very hard and put me out of my comfort zone. This challenge has been no exception.

I’ve come round to beetroot only in the last few years when I’ve had it grated raw in salads. I’ve had a devil of a job tracking it down though. The only type I’ve been able to find in the supermarket is cooked beetroot, swathed in plastic and drenched in vinegar: yuk.

I’ve started using a High Street greengrocer to buy my veggies, rather than going to the supermarket: it’s cheaper and the produce is generally of much better quality. I’ve talked before of my pet peeve about tomatoes. The tomatoes that you can buy at this shop are beautifully red and flavoursome and you get almost twice as much for your money. I decided to pay them a visit and, sure enough, there were bundles of raw beetroot in all their purple glory.

Caught in the act: a sneaky photo taken by my husband through the kitchen window this morning!

This is my first foray into the world of silken tofu but it won’t be my last. I know that I can rely too much on milk, cream and eggs and this seems a perfect alternative when I want to make desserts and quiches. The filling is beautifully creamy and the beetroot not only adds an earthy, but not intrusive, undertone, but a gorgeous purple colour.

Gluten-free and vegan chocolate, beetroot and orange mousse cake

Serves 8-12

200g gluten-free, vegan biscuits (I used Sainsbury’s Free From Rich Tea biscuits)
50g dairy-free spread
200g peeled raw beetroot, cut into 1cm dice
350g silken tofu
3 tbsp caster sugar
zest 1 large orange
60ml dairy-free single cream (I used Alpro soya single cream)
4 level tbsp cocoa powder
170g gluten-free, vegan plain chocolate (I used Kinnerton), broken into squares

You will also need a 20cm diameter, loose-bottomed non-stick cake tin

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

Crush the biscuits to a coarse meal, either in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and give them a good bashing with a rolling pin. Put the dairy-free spread in a small saucepan and melt over a low flame. When the spread is completely liquid, add the crushed biscuits and stir until completely combined. Tip the mixture into the cake tin and press firmly into the base with your fingers. Put in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 160°C.

While the biscuit base is baking, place the diced beetroot in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain and blend to a smooth purée.

In a large bowl, place the silken tofu, the caster sugar, the orange zest and the dairy-free single cream. Whisk for several minutes until smooth. Sift the cocoa powder over the mixture and stir in manually with the beaters (to avoid spraying cocoa powder all over the kitchen!) before whisking again until well-combined.

Place the chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water), and stir until melted. Stir the melted chocolate and beetroot purée into the silken tofu mixture. Pour the mixture onto the biscuit base, cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. When cool, put in the refrigerator and chill for several hours before serving.

Serve chilled with dairy-free single cream.

It’s true to say, due to family illness and the lots of travel that that is involving at the moment, that I’ve somewhat lost my blogging mojo. Hence the distinct lack of recipes over the last month. My toddler has also chosen this moment to become, yes, you’ve guessed it, a TODDLER! I thought I had been blessed with an incredibly easy baby… he’s generally very even-tempered, smiley, doesn’t seem to mind being taken on car journeys and being lugged round the shops. He also, much to the envy of some of my friends, will nap for three to four hours in the afternoon and then go a full twelve hours at night. That’s not to say he’s a placid baby though: he’s full of energy and into absolutely everything. A complete joy.

Most of the time.

He is, however, turning into a bit of a fusspot at the dinner table. The range of foods he is prepared to eat seems to narrow on a daily basis; but luckily, the majority of them are relatively healthy…bananas, strawberries, satsumas, tomatoes, fromage frais, yoghurt, hummus, brown bread, cereal, milk, corned beef, salami, frankfurters and chorizo (?!?!?!)… as well as biscuits, chocolate and ice cream, which he can always find room for, funnily enough!

Anyway, enough about my son – this is a cooking blog, not a ‘mummy’ blog, after all…! The upshot of all of this is that, currently, creating, cooking and blogging has slipped down my list of priorities: I’m eating a lot of grilled meat and salad at the moment: easy to buy, easy to cook and easy to eat and…not really worthy of a blog post! I’ve still managed to contribute my monthly guest blog recipe at LiveGlutenFree, though, which I have also been somewhat neglectful in advertising:

Gluten-free orange-double-choc-chip refrigerator cookies

Gluten-free lime-frosted carrot cake muffins

Then I received an email, the day before yesterday, from Caleigh over at the lifestyle blog Domestic Sluttery asking for gluten-free contributions of a chocolate pudding nature for the blog’s newly-launched pudding club. So I switched on the oven, dusted off the mixing bowls and cracked open a packet of the brown stuff.

Once again, please forgive the main photos – not being prepared has meant that the camera battery wasn’t charged yet again. Enter dodgy, ever-so-slightly fuzzy, smartphone photography…

Gluten-free souffléed mocha pots

Salt is one of those ingredients which really brings out the flavour of chocolate. Coffee is another. I used decaffeinated espresso but feel free to substitute whatever you’ve got. I should imagine that 1-1.5 teaspoons of instant in two tablespoons of boiling water would be about right, but that’s just an educated guess. The cooking time is flexible, depending upon how squidgy or how souffléed you want them. At ten minutes, mine were slightly underdone and could have done with another couple of minutes. I would suggest 12-15 minutes. Don’t overfill the ramekins because as they rise, they have the tendency to overflow. If aesthetics are important to you, it is imperative to eat them immediately. My photo was taken about 5 minutes after it had come out of the oven and it was already starting to sink. A spoonful (or three) of single cream helps to cut through the richness (let’s face it, this isn’t diet food!)

Serves 4

butter, for greasing
4 medium eggs, separated
140g caster sugar
30g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
1tsp gluten-free baking powder
100g gluten-free dark chocolate (I used 74% cocoa solids), broken up into small pieces
2 tablespoons strong espresso
350ml milk

You will also need 4 200ml-capacity ramekins

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly) and place a baking (cookie) sheet on the top shelf. Liberally butter the insides of the ramekins.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar for several minutes until pale yellow, thick and creamy. Add the flour and baking powder and stir until well-combined.

Put the chocolate pieces and espresso in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water) until melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Heat the milk up in a small saucepan until just below boiling point. Take off the heat.

Add the coffee and chocolate mixture to the egg yolks, sugar and flour and stir until well-combined. Add the heated milk and stir until smooth. Return to the saucepan and put back on a low heat. Whisk until thickened (a couple of minutes). Take off the heat, return to the mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Whisk the egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl until at the stiff peak stage. Using a metal spoon, stir one-third of the egg white into the chocolate mixture to loosen it. Fold in the remaining two-thirds in two lots, until no streaks of egg white can still be seen. Pour carefully into the ramekins, making sure not to spill any on the rim, otherwise they will not rise.

Place on the heated baking sheet in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes according to how squidgy you want them (resist the temptation to peek by opening the door – if you haven’t got an oven light, do what I do and use a torch). Eat immediately with single cream slathered all over.

I have a great fondness for tomatoes in all their guises, whether they be sundried or sunblushed, puréed or passata’d, or just as nature intended. For me, they are a perfect foil for a salty slab of Cheddar in a doorstep sandwich, the savoury mixer in my favourite cocktail, and a rich and warming base for casseroles, pasta and curry sauces.

I buy the cheapest tinned tomatoes – they tend to be more watery than the more expensive brands but if you cook them down for a bit longer, I really don’t think it makes much of a difference – and they’ll still be of a better quality than any fresh you could buy at the same price anyway. Fresh tomatoes, however, are something that I don’t mind paying extra for and I make sure I treat them well. There’s no point in paying a premium for decent tomatoes and then putting them straight in the fridge, which kills the enzymes in them and annihilates the flavour. I always keep my tomatoes in the fruit bowl where they belong. I usually buy tomatoes that are still on the vine and have recently started buying organic ones. They are beautifully red and when I open the packet, I’m engulfed by a smell that takes me back to my grandfather’s greenhouse where he used to grow his own.

No cheap tomato will ever do that for you. No matter how hard you sniff.

I’m a sucker for anything miniature – kittens, Cadbury’s mini eggs (haven’t had them for years – don’t even know if they’re gluten-free or not), those toy cooking sets you can buy in Ikea, my son’s first shoes, skirts (back in the day!) – and fruit and vegetables are no exception. You can buy all manner of baby tomatoes these days. They’re delicious for snacking and they do obviate the need for a napkin to mop up the rogue juice and pips that you inevitably find splattered on your chin and down your front when you sink your teeth into a full-sized one. They’re also beautiful when roasted. Coating them with balsamic vinegar in this recipe intensifies their flavour even more and gives them a rich and meaty texture.

PS – sorry the photos aren’t up to snuff – I had to use my smartphone!

Gluten-free garlic and herb spaghetti with balsamic roasted baby plum tomatoes and basil

Serves 3

650g baby plum tomatoes
10 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
260g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
15g cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (I used thyme and basil)
1/2 tsp garlic granules
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
3 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
cold water
couple of handfuls torn basil leaves
Parmesan, grated

You will also need a pasta rolling machine with a spaghetti attachment

Preheat the oven to 150C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Cut the baby plum tomatoes in half and toss them in a bowl with the unpeeled garlic cloves, balsamic vinegar and a good glug of olive oil. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a single layer on a non-sticking baking sheet and tuck the unpeeled garlic cloves in amongst them. Sprinkle with sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

To make the spaghetti, first of all, cut a strip of greaseproof baking paper about 30cm long and wide enough to fit underneath the rolling machine. You will need this when cutting the pasta with the spaghetti attachment. Put the flour, cornflour, xanthan gum, dried herbs, garlic granules and salt into the bowl of the food processor. Blitz for a couple of seconds to mix the flours and break up any lumps. Add the three eggs and the oil. Blitz again to combine and gradually add a little cold water through the funnel until you have a soft dough.

Tip the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead into a ball. It should be soft and ever so slightly tacky to the touch*. Now either wrap the ball in clingfilm or return it to the bowl of the food processor and put the lid back on to keep the pasta from drying out.

Place a large plate dusted with flour next to the rolling machine. Working with a tomato-sized piece at a time, roll the dough out on an unfloured surface with a rolling pin until it is a few millimetres thick. Try to get either the width or the length approximately the same width as the pasta rolling machine. Pass the dough through just once through thickness settings 2 to 4**. Make sure you carefully support its weight with your free hand. Dust each side of the sheet of dough liberally with flour*** and make sure that the greaseproof paper is in place underneath before putting it through the spaghetti attachment. Slide the greaseproof paper out from under the machine and tip the spaghetti onto a plate. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Cover with clingfilm until ready to use.

At the end of the tomatoes’ roasting time, remove them from the oven and keep warm. Bring a large pan of salted water up to a rolling boil and cook the spaghetti in two or three batches. As soon as the pasta is in the pan, put the lid on and remove the pasta as soon as the water has returned to the boil. Drain and add to the tomatoes. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, chuck in the torn basil leaves and toss gently to combine. Serve with grated Parmesan and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

*If the dough is sticking, flour the work surface and knead the ball of dough. Then break the ball up and return it to the food processor. Blitz into small pieces to distribute the flour more evenly, tip back onto the surface and knead into a ball. Likewise, if the dough is too hard and dry, break the ball up and return it to the food processor. Blitz into small pieces and add a little more water. Once it has come together again, tip back out onto the work surface.

** The sheet will have slightly raggedy edges and may have a few holes. This is to be expected and it won’t be noticeable when cut into spaghetti. If the dough disintegrates when it goes through the rollers, it is probably too dry. See *

*** This is a vital part of the process in order to stop the spaghetti clumping together. The flour should wash off when it is being cooked.

When is a gluten-free pizza not a gluten-free pizza? When it comes from Domino’s, it seems. (This is in the US. As far as I’m aware, Domino’s UK don’t offer one but I am prepared to stand corrected). The furore over their purveying a gluten-free pizza which is prepared and cooked cheek-by-jowl with their other glutenicious offerings and which, therefore, is as gluten-free as the Pillsbury Doughboy, has lit up the Twittersphere like Piccadilly Circus. On steroids.

I would like to think that Domino’s somewhat misguided effort springs from an awakening, if poorly researched, desire to cater for a hitherto untapped market, i.e. coeliacs and the gluten-sensitive. Sadly, however, I believe that it’s another example of a multi-million dollar company cynically catering for a repeatedly tapped market, i.e. the hard-of-thinking bandwagon-jumpers who believe (this week at least) that gluten-free is the ‘hot new diet’. So they’ll blithely stuff their faces with pepperoni and mozzarella, dripping with grease, safe in the ‘knowledge’ that they’re shedding pounds. And it won’t matter one iota that this ‘gluten-free’ pizza is anything but. The tills will be ringing and it won’t actually make these idiots ill. It’s us who’ll suffer, the coeliacs and the gluten-sensitive, but, in the world of big business, we are, I’m afraid, just ‘collateral damage’… Anyway, mini-rant over…

There are any number of reputable restaurants in the UK now offering gluten-free pizzas but, if you’re not in the mood for eating out, why not try one of my ‘Easter Riviera’ pizzas at home? Easter Riviera pies are traditional in the south of France and consist of spinach, artichokes and hard-boiled eggs. When I came across the recipe in Good Food magazine, I immediately knew that it would make a good pizza and that Easter was too long to wait to try it. And I was right.

Gluten-free ‘Easter Riviera’ pizza

This recipe uses the base of a loose-bottomed cake tin (one with a rim) to aid the rolling out process but it really isn’t necessary if you don’t have one. (One of) the problems with gluten-free dough is that it is very difficult to shape and you often end up with raggedy edges when you’re rolling out. I just fancied having a pizza that was purty and circular for a change, rather than ‘rustic’! It does, however, also help when sizing it to fit in the frying pan. The dough has rather a long rising time for, what seems like, relatively little reward. I dare say that the rising time can be speeded up in a warm place like the airing cupboard if time is of the essence. I made these well ahead of time, so I was more than happy for them to just sit there and do their own thing. I do advise leaving them to rise though. They don’t look like they’ve done a lot but if you press them lightly with your finger, you’ll feel that they have puffed up and the finished article does have a lovely light and crispy texture. I’ve also included the ingredients for my easy-peasy tomato sauce but, of course, feel free to sub your own! Don’t overcook the egg – you want the yolk to still be liquid so that when you burst it, it covers the pizza in all its creamy yumminess.

Makes 3 23cm pizzas

250g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
25g cornflour (cornstarch)
25 potato flour/starch*
1 scant tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 heaped tsp caster sugar
1 scant tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 scant tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
100ml milk
100g Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten

300g frozen spinach, defrosted (6 briquettes)**
1-2 tbsp olive spread or butter
1 plump clove garlic, crushed
125ml tomato passata
1 heaped tbsp sundried tomato paste
1 tsp dried basil
¼ tsp garlic granules
150g grated mozzarella***
6 tinned artichoke hearts, quartered
3 eggs
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

You will also need the base of a 23cm diameter loose-bottomed cake tin, a large frying pan (skillet), at least 23cm in diameter, and 3 baking (cookie) sheets

Sift the flours, yeast, caster sugar, baking powder and xanthan gum into a large bowl. Add the salt and stir with a balloon whisk to break up any lumps. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the beaten egg. In a small microwaveable bowl, lightly beat the milk and yoghurt together and warm in the microwave for about 40 seconds on ‘high’. Add the oil, beat and again and add to the flour and egg. Make your hand into the shape of a claw and gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid by making circular movements with your hand. As the mixture comes together as a sticky dough, start to knead. If it is a bit dry, add a little water, i.e. a tablespoon. As soon as the dough has come together, tip it out onto the work surface and knead for a couple of minutes. Divide the dough into three balls (they should weigh approximately 180g each).

Lightly brush the three baking sheets and the cake tin base (rim uppermost) with olive oil. Place one of the balls of dough in the middle of the base and flatten slightly with your hand. Dust the top of the dough with flour and then, using a rolling pin, roll it out so that it fills the base. You might need to coax the dough the last few millimetres to the edge with your fingers. (If you’re not using a cake tin base, just roll out the dough into a rough round, 2-3mm thick). Now either slide or carefully flip the base onto one of the oiled baking sheets****.  Repeat with the other two balls of dough. Cover the trays of dough with a tea towel and allow to rise for 3 hours at room temperature.

Meanwhile, get the topping ready. Squeeze as much of the water out of the defrosted spinach as you can and chop it finely. Heat up the olive spread or butter in a small frying pan (skillet). When it has melted, add the spinach and the crushed garlic and cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the spinach mixture to cool.

In a bowl, mix together the tomato passata, sundried tomato paste, dried basil and garlic granules. Set aside.

At the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 190°C (my oven is fan-assisted). Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat. When hot, slide or reverse flip (as above) one of the bases into the hot oil. Spoon a third of the tomato mixture onto the top of the base and spread to within about a centimetre of the edge. Cook for several minutes until the base is golden brown and slightly blistered. Slide the base back onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the other two bases.

Scatter a third of the mozzarella over the tomato sauce on each pizza. Then, scatter a third of the garlicky spinach, leaving the centre clear. Arrange a third of the quartered artichoke hearts around the edge each pizza and finally break an egg into the centre.

Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the egg white is just losing its translucency and is still slightly wobbly.

 

* I find the whole potato flour/potato starch thing confusing. I’ve read lots of American recipes that state that potato starch and potato flour are not the same thing. I’m wondering if, in the UK at least, they are. For the purposes of clarity, I use the Community Foods brand which is readily available at Tesco which says ‘Potato Flour (Potato Starch)‘ on the front of the packet and ‘Potato Starch’ on the back.

** I’m not sure what this equates to in fresh spinach – I tend to use frozen because I never need a whole bag and end up with a slimy green mess in the bottom of my fridge.

*** Pre-grated mozzarella tends to be coated with an anti-caking agent which may, or may not, be gluten-free. I use Tesco’s own brand which uses potato starch.

****I found a delicate flipping technique worked, where I inverted the base over my spread hand and allowed the dough to slide off onto it before flipping it back onto the baking sheet.

For Proust in his work À la Récherche du Temps Perdu, it was the taste of the crumb of a madeleine cake that brought memories involuntarily flooding back to him. For me, it is the aroma of melting butter as it hits a pan of hot pasta. This smell never fails to transport me back to the apartment on the via Guelfa in Florence that I was lucky enough to live in during the third year of my degree. The apartment consisted of two floors ninety-seven steps up an old building on the edge of Florence’s seemier side, a stone’s throw from the red light district of the via Nazionale. The bedroom I shared with my friend Simone was on the top floor and opened out on to a roof terrace that had a more or less 360° view over the roof tops of Florence. It was stunning. An Italian visitor, on seeing it, exclaimed to us, “Ma, si può abbracciare il Duomo!” (You can throw your arms around the Cathedral!”) and in the evenings, when the church bells were tolling all around and the dusk was settling, it was truly magical. I was a lucky, lucky girl.

Simone and I would go out a lot in the evenings – there were always people giving out free entrance tickets for the clubs. When we stumbled in, in the early hours, we would be ravenous. A pan of pasta would go on immediately and would then be simply dressed with butter, dried basil and Parmesan. This is how I ate it for my lunch today. My body may have been in my kitchen here in England but, with my eyes closed, my mind and not a small portion of my heart were in Florence.

Gluten-free tagliatelle

Makes 500g fresh, uncooked pasta (Serves 2-3)

260g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
15g cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tsp xanthan gum
½ tsp salt (optional)
3 eggs
1½ tbsp olive oil
cold water

You will also need a pasta rolling machine with a tagliatelle attachment and a very large saucepan

First of all, cut a strip of greaseproof baking paper about 30cm long and wide enough to fit underneath the rolling machine. You will need this when cutting the pasta using the tagliatelle attachment.

Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of the food processor. Blitz for a couple of seconds to mix the flours and break up any lumps. Add the three eggs and the oil. Blitz again to combine and gradually add a little cold water through the funnel until you have a soft dough.

Tip the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead into a ball. It should be soft and ever so slightly tacky to the touch*. Now either wrap the ball in clingfilm or return it to the bowl of the food processor and put the lid back on to keep the pasta from drying out.

Place a large plate dusted with flour next to the rolling machine. Working with a small, plum-sized piece at a time, roll the dough out on an unfloured surface with a rolling pin until it is a few millimetres thick. Try to get either the width or the length approximately the same width as the pasta rolling machine. Passing the dough just once through each thickness setting, starting at 2 and ending at 6 or 7, roll the piece through the machine**. Make sure you carefully support its weight with your free hand. Dust each side of the pasta sheet with flour*** and make sure that the greaseproof paper is in place before putting the pasta through the tagliatelle attachment. Slide the greaseproof paper out from under the machine and tip the tagliatelle onto a plate. Repeat until all the pasta is used up****.

Put a large saucepan of salted water on to heat. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta and put the lid on straightaway. As soon as the water has come back up to the boil, drain the pasta and serve with your favourite sauce.

 

*If the dough is sticking, flour the work surface and knead the ball of dough. Then break the ball up and return it to the food processor. Blitz into small pieces to distribute the flour more evenly, tip back onto the surface and knead into a ball.  Likewise, if the dough is too hard and dry, break the ball up and return it to the food processor. Blitz into small pieces and add a little more water. Once it has come together again, tip back out onto the work surface.

** The sheet will have slightly raggedy edges and may have a few holes. This is to be expected and it won’t be noticeable when cut into tagliatelle. If the dough disintegrates as it goes through the rollers, it is probably too dry. See *

***This is really important because it will stop the pasta sticking and clumping together.

***The plate of pasta can now be covered with clingfilm and refrigerated until needed.

I’ve been on a very steep learning curve this week. I love hot cross buns and it’s that time of year again. I really fancied making my own this year but they are, of course, based on a yeasted bread dough. My bread-making travails are well-documented. Apart from my focaccia flop with which I have already regaled you, I’ve also tried making the bread recipe on the back of the Dove’s Farm gluten-free brown bread flour bag. It came out of the oven a claggy brick which then disintegrated into a cloying mush in the mouth. Truly unpleasant and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without some serious tinkering first. My bread-making pedigree then did not promise great things…

My first attempt at these hot cross buns was OK-ish. I made them with a mixture of rice flour and ground tapioca. I wasn’t sure about them even before they went in the oven though: the dough had seemed quite firm when it went in and I know that gluten-free bread dough should be more of a sticky batter. When they came out of the oven, I was right to be suspicious. The taste was definitely there but the texture was still quite dense. So I started musing about how to give them more spring. I looked on the ingredients label of my shop-bought gluten-free loaf: the ingredient listed first, I assume because it’s in the greatest quantity, is tapioca starch and it also contains other starches. I then researched the topic quite widely on the internet and, after all this, came to the conclusion that I really needed to up the starch to flour ratio…! I ditched the rice flour and ground tapioca in favour of a flour blend with added cornflour and potato flour. I added more egg and decided to beat this together with the sugar like in a muffin recipe to get as much lift in as possible. The resulting buns are much more successful – they’re moist, soft and have air in them. Do they taste like glutenicious hot cross buns? Absolutely. Do they have the texture of glutenicious hot cross buns? Um, no. I’m not a miracle worker. They’re a halfway house between a bread and a muffin – they’re too muffiny to be a bread but too bready to be a muffin. So that’s why I’ve called them bunmuffins.

Gluten-free hot cross bunmuffins

Makes 9

210g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
60g cornflour (cornstarch)
60g custard powder
60g potato flour
25g milk powder
7g fast-action yeast
1 tbsp xanthan gum
1½  tsp gluten-free baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
½ tsp salt
75g sultanas
25g candied peel
185ml whole milk
60g butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil
2 eggs
60g caster sugar
125ml tepid water
1 tsp cider vinegar

For the top:
2 ½ tbsp gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp golden syrup

You will also need a 9-hole muffin tin, muffin paper cases, a baking sheet, a large polythene bag, a piping bag with a 5mm nozzle or a plastic food bag and a roasting tin.

First, prepare the muffin cases by putting them in the muffin tin and brushing them with olive oil.

In a large mixing bowl and using a balloon whisk, whisk the plain flour, cornflour (cornstarch), custard powder, potato flour, milk powder, yeast, xanthan gum, baking powder, mixed spice, salt, sultanas and candied peel until everything is well-mixed and all lumps have disappeared.

In another bowl, using an electric hand whisk, whisk the eggs and the sugar for 2-3 minutes until they are pale yellow and have tripled in size.

Place the butter and milk into a microwaveable bowl and put in the microwave on ‘high’ for about 20 seconds. Remove from the oven and let sit until the butter has melted into the milk. Mix in the olive oil. In a separate glass, mix the water and the cider vinegar.

Pour the egg mixture and the milk and butter mixture into the flour and, using a wooden spoon, give it a couple of stirs. Then add the water and cider vinegar and continue stirring until everything is well-combined. The mixture should be a sticky batter.

Distribute this batter evenly among the muffin cases, put the muffin tin on the baking sheet inside the large polythene bag (make sure the plastic isn’t touching the top of the batter) and put somewhere warm to rise for an hour (I put mine in the airing cupboard).

Ten minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 170°C (fan-assisted). Mix the 2 ½ tablespoons of plain flour with 1 tablespoon of water and mix until it has the consistency of double (heavy) cream. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag or plastic bag. If using the plastic bag, squeeze the mixture into one of the corners, and just before piping, snip the end off. Pipe a cross over the top of each bunmuffin and place in the oven. Place a roasting tin of water at the bottom of the oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until the bunmuffins are risen and golden.

Take the bunmuffins out of the muffin tin and place on a cooling rack. Microwave the golden syrup on ‘high’ for about 10-15 seconds or until hot and runny. Brush the top of each bunmuffin with hot golden syrup until glistening.

Best eaten whilst still warm but they’re also lovely toasted and slathered with butter.

Gool Peran Lowen! Or, Happy St Piran’s Day (for yesterday)! Everyone is familiar with St George, St David, St Andrew and St Patrick but not so many have heard of whom I consider to be the British Isles’ fifth patron saint – St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall. I’ve been fascinated by my family history since a small girl and feel a stronger tie to my ancestry on my maternal grandmother’s side than to that on the others, probably because she was the grandparent that I knew for the longest. My grandmother was Cornish, born in St Austell (Snozzle) in 1908, where her father was a china clay miner before he went off to fight in the First World War. With the help of censuses, parish records and other family historians far more adept than me, I’ve managed to trace my Cornish ancestry back to the 16th Century, which is as far back as most of the un-landed un-gentry can go. My great-grandmother was born in Mevagissey, to the south of St Austell, which was once the centre of Cornwall’s pilchard fishing industry. Hevva cake, also known as heavy cake, is a traditional cake which is said to have been made by the fishermen’s wives for their husbands returning from the catch. ‘Hevva’ was apparently the cry of the men as they pulled in the nets, jumping with pilchards, and was presumably also a cue for the wives to pull their finger out and get the cake in the oven! My mum making hevva cake is an enduring memory from my childhood and I remember there always being some in the cake tin. I haven’t eaten any for years and thought that there was no better way to celebrate St Piran’s this year than with a gluten-free Cornish taste of my childhood.

Gluten-free Cornish hevva cake

These cakes are very much like flat fruit scones. There are a number of variations for this recipe – some add lemon zest and others, nutmeg. I add allspice (not remotely traditional) but it’s what my mother always puts in and the taste takes me back to my childhood. If you don’t like the taste of allspice (or think it’s anathema to add it!), do leave it out. The criss-cross across the top is, however, non-negotiable: it represents the pilchard fishing nets and would be blasphemous to omit. These are great with a cup of tea or coffee, either adorned with a dollop of cream (Cornish, obviously!) or as nature intended. I tend to eat them plain, however, as I think they are rich enough.

Makes 9 servings

180g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp ground allspice (optional)
90g salted butter, cut into small cubes
50g caster sugar
50g sultanas
60ml milk
2 tsp Demerara sugar

You will also need a non-stick baking (cookie) sheet

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan-assisted). In a large bowl, sift together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and allspice. Rub in the butter, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar and the sultanas until evenly distributed. Pour in the milk and mix to a stiff dough, first using a knife in the bowl and then kneading with your hands on a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a rough square or oval about 2cm in depth. Using a knife, lightly score a criss-cross pattern across the surface and sprinkle with the Demerara sugar.

Place on a non-stick baking (cookie) sheet and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and cut into 9 squares whilst still warm.

I’m a big fan of risotto. A naturally gluten-free meal that you can almost perpetually re-invent (within certain parameters, as outlined below!). When I’m trying to think of something vegetarian to cook, which we try to do at least twice a week, I generally fall back on a risotto. Wild mushroom is a particular favourite: a comforting, earthy and almost meaty dish, served with lashings of grated Parmesan and that oh-so-British addition of a green side salad (oh, heresy!). It’s an apparently simple dish which seems to have signed the death warrant of many a Masterchef hopeful, either because it’s been served with something that has no right to co-exist on the same plate (like a fillet of chicken – oh double heresy!), or the contestant has over-stepped the boundaries of what is considered ‘cutting edge’ by adding strawberries and making it into a pudding (and thrice heresy!). We watch as Greg and John put down their forks and meet the gaze of the hapless cook with pained expressions… Over-cooking is what seems to do for most of them though. Which I can’t understand really because I’m not the most patient of cooks, when standing and stirring is involved, and I’m usually looking for some way or another to speed up the process or delegate it to another electrical appliance. I have done a fair amount of internet research to see whether stirring is strictly necessary and the answer seems to be ‘yes’ (at least as far as Italian chef Gino Locatelli and his mother are concerned, and that’s good enough for me). I know that cooking risotto in the oven is possible but something inside me seems to baulk at that. Polenta, yes, risotto, no. So I stand and stir. But as soon as I can get my tooth through it, it’s off the stove and into the bowls.

This take on risotto is inspired by a recipe for risotto con gli asparagi recorded by Claudia Roden in her book, The Food of Italy. I love asparagus risotto but asparagus isn’t in season right now so I thought I’d do my bit for the environment and try something else. Like Tenderstem broccoli…which I have subsequently found out is also not to in season right now (ahem!). Tenderstem broccoli is a beautifully delicate and elegant vegetable which is, apparently, bred by crossing broccoli with Chinese kale. It has, as its name suggests, tender stems which can be eaten in their entirety and I always think of it in the same terms as asparagus. You would think that with the broccoli stems being cooked for so long that they would take on that rather metallic flavour that overcooked broccoli usually has (when it’s all mushy and khaki-coloured) but it absolutely doesn’t.

Naturally gluten-free Tenderstem broccoli risotto

 Serves 2

300g Tenderstem broccoli
750ml vegetable stock (or boiling water made up with 2 tsp Swiss Marigold Bouillon powder)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
150g Arborio risotto rice
250ml white wine (optional, but in that case, you will need a full litre of stock)
35g Grana Padano or Parmesan, grated plus extra for serving

You will also need a large frying pan (skillet) or sauté pan

Wash the Tenderstem broccoli. Cut off the florets (about 4-5cm from the tips) and set them aside. Chop the remaining stalks into 2cm lengths. Bring the vegetable stock up to the boil and add the stalks. Boil until they are very tender (about 8 minutes). Meanwhile place the florets in a steamer over boiling water and steam until only just tender. This should only take about 3 minutes and the florets should be bright green. Refresh them in cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook and set aside. When the stalks are done, blend them with a hand blender along with the stock in the saucepan.* Return to the heat and bring back up to a bare simmer.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a low to medium flame and add the chopped onions. Fry for several minutes until softened, pale and translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue to fry gently for another couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to thoroughly coat the grains with oil. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring all the while. When the wine has been absorbed by the rice, add the stock containing the creamed broccoli stalks a ladleful at a time, stirring until it has all been absorbed before adding the next. After adding the final ladleful, stir in the grated cheese and gently fold in the steamed broccoli florets. Stir gently until the stock has been absorbed and you are left with creamy and al dente rice. Serve immediately, sprinkled with more Grana Padano or Parmesan.

*Blending hot liquids in a goblet blender can be quite dangerous. If you’re going to do this, I would suggest that you wait until the stock and stems have cooled before blending.

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