It’s been a week of downs and ups since I last posted. The downs consisted of me being glutenated in rather strange circumstances which I’m still investigating. The suspected culprit is currently the food additive maltodextrin which was in a fruit bar masquerading as a gluten-free product. I’m still doing my research on the topic and I’ll do another post when I’m a bit clearer but I’d be interested to know if anyone else has had either a confirmed or suspected adverse reaction to maltodextrin.

Anyway, on to the ups. My very first guest blog post at LiveGlutenFree went  live on Monday morning (April 30th). It was so exciting to see my recipe published on another site and to get so much positive feedback from Twitter and from visitors to the blog itself. If you haven’t discovered LiveGlutenFree yet, you should go and check them out. They have gluten-free recipes, information about gluten-free-friendly restaurants, advice for coeliacs, guest blogs (mine included!) and much more. Last month’s recipe was Millionaire’s Cheesecake with Fresh Raspberries, inspired by a packet of gluten-free caramel slices kindly brought round to our house by a visitor.

If the look of it has tantalised your tastebuds, do click on the link and have a gander at the recipe. I’m now busily thinking up what this month’s recipe is going to be!

But enough of the self-promotion 😉 … on to this week’s recipe!! Everyone’s got a wok, right? Um, no. I DID have one once. A beautiful, brand-spanking-new non-stick one that my Mum and Dad gave me for Christmas. I brought it home full of big ideas about all the sumptuous Chinese banquets I would cook. I in fact used it just the once to make a stir-fry. My flatmate (strange girl) decided to do the washing-up. I looked over her shoulder to see her SCOURING it with a BRILLO PAD. RIP beautiful new wok. I haven’t had one since. If I ever fancied Chinese food, I’d just go to the takeaway…then gluten decided that it hated me and that particular avenue of gastronomic pleasure was shut off. I’ve never been to a Chinese takeaway since to attempt to order anything gluten-free. I just think that there’s probably too much rogue soy sauce splashing about to be worth the risk but I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has tried it.

If I want anything vaguely ‘Chinese-style’, I have to cook it at home now with gluten-free tamari. My egg noodle recipe is a variation on my pasta recipe – after all, you can’t really get as much as a cigarette paper between the difference. I did, in my research, however, discover that Chinese egg noodles are chewier than Italian pasta because alkaline, or lye, water (which is sodium carbonate and NOT to be confused with sodium BIcarbonate) is added. This, however, can be toxic if you don’t know what you’re doing. Nice… So I’ve made my noodles chewier by increasing the starch-to-flour ratio and adding a smidgen more xanthan gum. Seemed to work!


Chicken chow mein with gluten-free egg noodles

Serves 3

150g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
30g cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 eggs
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seed oil
cold water
toasted sesame seed oil to drizzle on cooked noodles

250-300g chicken fillet (breast or leg), skinned, deboned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice
1 tbsp gluten-free tamari
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
1-2 medium red chillis, chopped OR 1-2 tsp Very Lazy Chilli (optional)
1 onion, peeled, quartered then quartered again (I find it easier to leave the root attached until I’ve finished slicing and then remove it at the end)
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into thin strips
150g mushrooms (field or shiitake), thinly sliced
200g beansprouts
1-2 tbsp gluten-free tamari
1-2 tbsp water

You will also need a pasta rolling machine with a spaghetti attachment (mine came from Lakeland) and a wok or large non-stick frying pan (don’t use non-non-stick because the cornflour-coated chicken WILL stick to the bottom and burn).

First of all, place the chicken in either a Ziploc bag or a plastic container with a lid, along with the Chinese 5-spice and tamari, seal and shake so that all pieces are coated. Leave to marinate.

Then, make the noodles. 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 noodle dough with the spaghetti 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 two eggs and both oils. 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 sticky and feel quite light and pliable*. 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 noodle dough 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 just once through thickness setting 3**. Make sure you carefully support its weight with your free hand. Dust each side of the sheet of dough 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 noodles onto a plate. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Put a large pan of lightly-salted water on to heat. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add a handful of the noodles****. The noodles will float to the top almost immediately and the water should very quickly return to the boil. Allow the noodles to bob about on the surface for about 30 seconds and then start scooping them out into a bowl (I use a spaghetti spoon – I think they might also be called kitchen spiders – over a wad of kitchen roll so that they drain properly). Add a drizzle of toasted sesame seed oil and toss through so that they don’t stick. Continue cooking the rest of the noodles in batches and dress with oil. Cover and set aside to cool until ready to cook the rest of the chow mein.

When you’re ready to cook the chow mein, add the cornflour to the marinated chicken and stir until all the pieces are coated. Heat the oil in either a wok or a large, non-stick frying pan (skillet). When the oil is very hot, add the garlic, ginger and chilli (if using). Stir quickly to avoid burning for about 30 seconds and then add the chicken. Brown the chicken for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Next add the onion and red pepper and continue to stir for another couple of minutes. Then add the mushrooms and continue to cook for another minute. Next, add the tamari and a couple of tablespoons of water to form a sauce and stir for another minute. Then finally add the beansprouts and noodles. Cook for another minute or so until the beansprouts have started to wilt slightly and the noodles are heated through. Serve with extra tamari for drizzling.

* 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 flood processor. Blitz into small piece 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 noodles. 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 noodles from sticking and clumping together.

**** I cook the noodles in small batches – this allows the water to quickly come back up to the boil and avoids the noodles becoming overcooked.

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. I’ve been meaning to post these fish cakes and their accompanying celeriac rémoulade on the blog for months but every time I’ve planned it, something has conspired to stop me. And it almost happened again this evening. The first time, I had the heat turned up too high when I was cooking them, and by the time I’d chipped them off the bottom of the pan, the crust was dark brown and slightly burnt in places. My husband and I did try valiantly to resurrect them in Photoshop but after our efforts, they wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1960s Technicolor cookbook…

The second time, I had cooked them perfectly and had positioned, primped and preened them on the plate. Nothing’s going to stop me now, I rashly thought as I switched the camera on. And found that the battery was flat…

The third time, I managed to be really badly organised and, by the time I’d got round to cooking them, it was really late in the evening and spending time photographing them when bellies were rumbling loudly just wasn’t going to happen…

So, fourth time lucky this evening…or so I thought. They looked beautifully golden when I took them out of the pan and put them on the plate. I had already checked that the camera battery was fully charged and I’d prepared everything earlier in the day so I wasn’t in a rush. As a bonus, the celeriac rémoulade has also undergone an evolutionary process since I first started making it: now julienned and blanched, instead of just grated and raw, it glistened appetisingly in its mustard dressing. I positioned the plate in the window to get the last of the evening light (natural light, even if it’s fading, is far, far, FAR superior to tungsten). What could go wrong? Unfortunately, it’s been raining incessantly today and the sky was grey and gloomy at 7 o’clock. A slow shutter speed has led to a string of slightly blurred pictures. I’ve managed to salvage the best of them. I do hope they do these really tasty fish cakes justice!

Gluten-free smoked mackerel, watercress and horseradish fish cakes with celeriac rémoulade

Serves 4 (makes 8 fish cakes)

For the fish cakes:
260-270g Desirée potatoes (or other floury potato), peeled and cut into 1cm dice
1½ tbsp horseradish sauce
260-270g smoked mackerel (skinned weight)
85g watercress, chopped finely
juice half a lemon
gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten*
100g gluten-free breadcrumbs
80g fine cornmeal
pepper
olive oil for shallow frying

For the rémoulade:
250g celeriac (peeled weight)**
1 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tbsp 0% fat Greek yoghurt (I used Total)
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the diced potatoes. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender to the point of a knife. Drain and allow to sit in the colander for 5 minutes covered with a clean tea towel to absorb the steam: you want them to be as dry as possible. Mash while still warm with the horseradish sauce and pepper. Set aside to cool in a large bowl.

Flake the smoked mackerel into the potatoes, removing any bones. Add the watercress (before chopping this seems like an impossibly huge mound but after I’ve savaged it with my trusty mezzaluna, it looks much more manageable) and the lemon juice. Mix with a spoon until well-combined. Form into eight equally-sized patties with your hands. I’m terrible at dividing bowls of mixture into equal portions by eye and always end up with fishcakes of all different sizes. I describe my foolproof technique here (at the *).

Toast the breadcrumbs under a hot grill until they are golden-brown and then mix with the fine cornmeal and a grinding of pepper on a plate (I don’t usually add salt because I find the smoked mackerel salty enough). Dust each fishcake with gluten-free flour, dip in egg and then coat in the crumbs***. Place the fishcakes on a plate and refrigerate until required.

To make the rémoulade, cut the celeriac into julienne strips****. Blanch in a large pan of slightly salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water to prevent further cooking. Allow to dry – I usually dab the strips with some kitchen roll. Add the mayonnaise, yoghurt, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. Gently fry the fishcakes for 4 minutes each side until golden-brown and piping hot. Serve with the rémoulade and a green salad.

* Sometimes it takes 2 eggs, when coating and breadcrumbing, and sometimes only 1. I think it probably depends upon the size of the egg and its freshness.

** This is about half of a medium celeriac. If you like, you can make double the amount to use up the whole vegetable (it’s delicious served with Parma ham or bresaola) or the rest can be made into a warming and hearty soup.

*** If you don’t want to end up with fingers like goujons, I advise using one hand for dry dipping (the flour and the breadcrumbs) and the other for wet dipping (the egg).

**** Celeriac goes brown when it comes into contact with the air unless it’s been dressed with something acidic. Have a bowl of water with half a lemon squeezed into it and keep any celeriac you’re not currently working with in it, i.e. work on a few pieces at a time and return the julienned strips to the water immediately afterwards.

This ravioli recipe is a development of the tagliatelle from my last post. I’ve been tinkering with the flour-to-starch ratio for the tagliatelle for quite some time because there is a delicate balance to be found between enough starch to give the pasta a modicum of elasticity but not too much that it becomes gummy and chewy. I’ve found that you can get away with less starch in a tagliatelle recipe than in a ravioli or tortellini one because you’re not moulding it and if the strands break in half, it really doesn’t matter. I had previously tried using this recipe for tortellini and the pasta just wasn’t playing ball. So I’ve added a bit more cornflour and perhaps a smidgen more water and it seems to work.

Obviously, gluten-free pasta is neither as giving nor as forgiving as its glutenicious cousin. In fact, it can be a temperamental little diva at times, stamping its foot, folding its arms and pursing its lips, so it needs humouring and handling with kid gloves. When forming the ravioli, there are a couple of things to watch out for. When laying the top sheet down over the filling, don’t put the whole sheet down in one go. If you do, you run the risk of it snagging and pulling on the other mounds of filling. Make sure you keep the rest of the pasta strip supported on one hand and only seal one raviolo at a time with the other hand.

You are also supposed to ensure that all the air is extracted because when the ravioli are in the boiling water, the air expands inside them and they run the risk of bursting. The trouble with gluten-free pasta is that the more you prod it and the longer it is in contact with the air and, therefore, drying out, the more likely it is to tear anyway. My advice is to not be too precious about pressing out all the air. Where the pasta is draped over the filling, rather than stretched, there seems to be enough ‘give’ to allow them to expand without bursting.

There should be a large plum-sized ball of dough left over at the end to allow for wastage but you could always make up a little more filling if you like to use it up.

Gluten-free sausage, chilli and fennel ravioli with wild mushroom sauce

Serves 2 generously (makes about 30 ravioli)

For the pasta:
160g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
20g cornflour (cornstarch)
2/3 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt (optional)
2 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
cold water

For the filling:
1 tsp olive oil
200g gluten-free sausages (I used 3 of The Black Farmer sausages), skins removed
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 medium red chillis, chopped finely or 1-2 tsp Very Lazy Chilli (I used just 1 and it was pleasantly warm but I’d probably use 2 next time to give it a bit more poke)
½ – 1 tsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for sealing the ravioli)
1 tbsp ricotta

For the sauce:
25g dried porcini
1 tbsp olive oil
20g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
200g chestnut mushrooms
15g butter, chilled and cubed

To garnish:
Parsley
Parmesan cheese, grated

You will also need a pasta rolling machine and a 5 cm biscuit (cookie) cutter

First, make the filling. Cut the sausage meat into small pieces (I use a pair of scissors) and heat the oil over a low to medium heat in a frying pan. Gently fry the sausage meat for a couple of minutes until lightly coloured. Add the garlic, chilli and crushed fennel seeds and continue frying gently until the sausage is cooked through (another couple of minutes). Take off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. When cooled, place in a food processor with the egg yolk and ricotta and whizz to a rough paste.

Now, make the pasta. 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 two 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 sticky 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.

Working with one 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. Passing the dough just once through each thickness setting, starting at 2 and ending 5, roll the piece through the machine**. Make sure you carefully support its weight with your free hand. You’re looking for a strip at least 6 or 7cm wide – the length will vary so it doesn’t really matter.

Lay the strip on the work surface and place teaspoonfuls of filling at about 5cm intervals. Using a pastry brush, brush egg white around each spoonful of filling. This will stick the pasta together. Roll another pasta strip to go over the top: starting from the left (I’m right-handed), gently drape and press this pasta strip around the first mound of filling, making sure that it is sealed all the way around. Go on to the next mound of filling and continue until you have used up the pasta strip. Minor tears can be mended by smoothing them over with a little egg white on a pastry brush. Using a biscuit (cookie) cutter, cut the ravioli to shape and gently lift away the surplus pasta. Gently lift the ravioli onto a plate (I use a palette knife to loosen them from the surface). The ravioli can be covered with clingfilm and refrigerated until needed. Scrunch the surplus pasta up again and add to it, if needed to get a plum-sized ball. Reroll and continue making ravioli until all of the filling is used up.

When you are ready to cook the ravioli, put a large pan of salted water on to boil. To make the sauce, put the porcini in a heatproof bowl and add 250ml of boiling water. Leave to soak for about 10 minutes. Drain the porcini, reserving the soaking liquor, and chop. Heat the oil and the first quantity of butter in a large, non-stick frying pan (skillet). Add the chopped onions and fry gently for several minutes until they are pale and translucent. Add the garlic and chestnut mushrooms and continue to cook gently until the mushrooms have softened and have started to release their juices back into the pan (about 4-5 minutes). Add the soaking liquor, making sure you avoid the gritty bits in the bottom of the bowl, and the chopped porcini and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes. Add the chilled butter cubes to the mushrooms and stir until the sauce becomes glossy. Check for seasoning.

Cook the ravioli in two batches. As soon as you put the ravioli in the boiling water, put the lid of the saucepan on to help the water come back up to the boil quickly and time them for 4 minutes. Scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon held over a wad of kitchen paper and put in a warmed bowl. Repeat with the second batch. Pour the mushroom sauce over the ravioli and garnish with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.

 

*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 and knead.

** The sheet will have slightly raggedy edges. This is to be expected. If there are numerous holes, scrunch the ball of dough up and reroll. If the dough disintegrates as it goes through the rollers, it is probably too dry. See *

 

 

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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.

Last time, I talked about how going gluten-free was a real emotional rollercoaster which I hadn’t been expecting. It’s also been a massive learning experience, not only about protecting myself when I attempt to eat out of the safety of my own kitchen, but also about myself as a person.

I’ve learnt that my taste in food is not quite as catholic as I originally thought. I used to love nearly everything. I could enumerate on one hand what I didn’t like…peanut butter, tripe, parsnips… I love the foods that are commonly hated… anchovies, olives, capers, Marmite, pork scratchings… I love different cuisines from all over the world and I love new flavours. In my pre-glutenfreebie days, eating in a restaurant was problematic only in that I could never decide what to have because I could have happily chomped my way through the whole menu. (Of course nowadays, I feel blessed if I have two things to choose from… )

Since going gluten-free, I’ve explored alternative carbohydrate sources, such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat groats, chickpea flour… and, guess what? I hate them all (quinoa to a lesser extent, but still). I’ve made tabbouli with both quinoa and millet, a farinata with chickpea flour and a pilaf with buckwheat. I’d had high hopes for buckwheat as I love it when mixed with other flours in crêpes and blinis but I couldn’t wait for the meal to be over. Unusual for me.

My palate for carbohydrates seems to be fixed to those that I’ve grown up with: wheat, rice, potatoes and, to a lesser extent, corn. I can only think that this is because the carbohydrate part of the meal is the neutral foil to the rest of the meal which is where all the action, flavourwise, is. These carbohydrates clearly do have their own flavour but I am accustomed to them. The flavour of these new ones are strong to my palate and I find them intrusive and cloying. It never fails to amuse me that the packaging always proclaims their flavour to be ‘nutty’. I love nuts (apart from peanuts) but I’ve come to learn that this is used in much the same way that ‘like chicken’ is probably used to describe all manner of meats, such as rabbit, frog, snake, squirrel, alligator…, i.e. the closest thing but actually nothing like it (I may be generalising wildly here – my only authority is that rabbit tastes nothing like chicken to me…!)

So, that’s my rather lengthy analysis of why I don’t seem to like these new grains. Or maybe I am just picky after all…

Gluten-free breakfast blinis with smoked salmon, poached eggs and rocket (arugula)

Ideally, you need three large frying pans or sauté pans for this so that everything can be cooked at the same time. If you only have two, I would suggest making the blinis first and keeping them warm while the eggs are poaching. I wouldn’t suggest poaching the eggs first in case they overcook. I always use Delia’s method for poaching eggs. It’s completely foolproof and results in perfect poached eggs every time. It also allows you ten minutes to get on with other stuff instead of fussing over them, worrying that they’re overcooking, but it’s imperative you use a timer.

Serves 3

For the blinis:
70g buckwheat flour
70g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
½ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp caster sugar
215ml milk
5g butter
1 egg, separated
butter or butter substitute for shallow frying

To serve:
6 slices smoked salmon
6 eggs
a few handfuls rocket (arugula)

You will also need at least 2 large frying pans or 1 large frying pan and 1 large sauté pan and a timer.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. In a microwaveable jug, microwave the milk and butter for about 30 seconds or so, until the milk is warm and the butter has melted. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Put the egg yolk in the well and cover over with a little of the flour to protect it from the warm milk. Pour the milk and melted butter mixture in the well and, using a balloon whisk, draw the dry ingredients into the wet with circular motions, until you have a thick, smooth batter. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white with an electric hand whisk until it reaches the stiff peak stage.

Pour a kettleful of boiling water into a large sauté pan. When the water has just come back up to the boil, add the eggs, one at a time. Simmer the eggs for one minute exactly. As soon as the minute is up, turn the heat off and allow the eggs to sit in the hot water for exactly ten minutes. Drain each egg on a slotted spoon over a wad of kitchen roll before putting on a warm plate.

As soon as the eggs have started their ten-minute poach, carefully fold the whisked egg white into the blini batter. In a large frying pan, melt a few knobs of butter or butter substitute over a low heat. When the butter is foaming, add a third of the batter and shape with a spoon or palette knife into a pancake that is about 10cm in diameter and 2cm in depth. Repeat with the remaining two-thirds of the batter so that you have 3 blinis. Cook each blini for 3-4 minutes on both sides, until they are golden and crisp on the outside and they feel firm when gently pressed.

Remove from the pan and top with two slices of smoked salmon each, two poached eggs and garnish with the rocket (arugula).

 

When I eliminated gluten from my diet, I wasn’t expecting the rollercoaster of emotions that came with it. I’d been struggling for so long with feeling ill on a daily basis that, when I stopped eating it and I at last felt well again, I was on cloud nine. My head felt light and clear; my nose stopped dripping; the tennis elbow in my right arm all but vanished; the excruciating inflammation and tightness in my neck and shoulder muscles melted away; and the daily evening bloat was a thing of the past. I was so happy to feel well again that I really didn’t care that I couldn’t eat soft, fragrant, freshly-baked bread or buttery, flaky pastry and croissants.

Then, at around about the two-month mark, complacency kicked in. Feeling well was no longer a novelty but what I came to expect out of daily life. Which meant that not eating soft, fragrant, freshly-baked bread and buttery, flaky pastry and croissants became deprivation. I grieved. I grieved the loss of gluten from my life. I resented people around me eating food that I couldn’t. I felt that I’d been dealt a completely unfair hand. I didn’t stray though, thankfully. The memories of accidental glutening incidents were enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Not having eaten it for months, the effects when I unknowingly ate it were even worse than when I had been eating it on a daily basis: I would have to retire to the sofa, curled up in a foetal position, with severe flu-like symptoms, dosed with Voltarol and nursing a hot-water bottle.

I gradually came out of my grieving state. I decided that, rather than feel sorry for myself, I would count my blessings instead which is a very liberating experience. There are people who have much graver health issues than mine and people who eat far more restricted diets than me. I still crave breads and pastries but I’m much more sanguine about it. Kate Moss, to explain her self-control where food was concerned, once said: “Nothing tastes as good as thin.” I’ve adopted this, with a slight change, for my philosophy: “Nothing tastes as good as well”.

I experiment tirelessly to recreate the dishes that I can no longer eat. This particular recipe I’ve been tinkering with for months, experimenting with different flour blends, flour-to-starch ratios and rolling techniques. I’m finally happy to share it. I’m still burying my croissant attempts at the bottom of the garden, ahem!

Gluten-free puff pastry sausage rolls

Makes 4 large or 12 cocktail sausage rolls

100g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour (I used Dove’s Farm gluten-free plain flour)
30g cornflour
1 tsp xanthan gum
25g cold butter, cut into small cubes
a glass of water with a couple of ice cubes and a good squeeze of lemon juice
75g cold butter, sliced into 1-2mm slices and returned to the fridge
2 gluten-free sausages (I used The Black Farmer sausages)
lightly beaten egg or milk to glaze

Sift the flour, cornflour and xanthan gum into a bowl. Rub in the cubed butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Using a knife to start and then your hands, mix in enough ice cold water to form a ball of soft dough (it should be a few tablespoonfuls).

Tip the dough out on to a floured surface and, with a well-floured rolling pin*, roll it out until it is a couple of millimetres thick and about a 23cm by 28cm rectangle. Cut the rectangle into quarters. Lay a third of the sliced butter (25g) in a single layer on top of one of the rectangles. Cover with another rectangle. Repeat with the next 25g of butter. Cover and repeat. Cover with the final rectangle of dough.

Press down with your rolling pin on all four raw edges of pastry to seal them. Roll out until it is a couple of millimetres thick again (it should be a bit bigger than last time because of the added butter). Cut into quarters and stack on top of one another. Press down with your rolling pin on all four raw edges of pastry and roll out again until a couple of millimetres thick: you’re looking for a square or fat rectangle 30-odd centimetres each way but it doesn’t need to be exact. Trim off any raggedy edges.

Remove the skins from the sausages and gently roll them in a little flour until they are about 1cm in diameter and the length of your sheet of pastry. Place this about 5cm from the left-hand edge of the pastry and brush water along the right-hand side of the sausage all the way down. Carefully bring the pastry over from the left to the right and seal it by pressing your thumb along the length. Cut away from the rest of the sheet of pastry until you have one long sausage roll. Score diagonal lines down the length and then cut in half, if making large sausage rolls, or into six, if making cocktail sausage rolls. Repeat with the second length of sausage.

Place the sausage rolls on a baking (cookie) sheet lined with greaseproof baking paper and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Ten minutes before the end of the chilling time, preheat the oven to 180°C (fan-assisted). Just before baking, brush each sausage roll with beaten egg or milk. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes** or until golden brown and crisp.

*You can roll out the pastry between two sheets of greaseproof paper or clingfilm if you like. I prefer to use a well-floured surface and rolling pin because I like to see and feel what I’m doing and it’s easier to tell if it’s getting too sticky. Also, the extra flour is incorporated into the pastry which must alter the flour/fat ratio somewhat – and it seems to work! If doing the latter, make sure you keep flouring to avoid sticking and use a palette knife to ease the pastry from the surface.

** Cocktail sausage rolls may take slightly less time to cook.

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.

In my last post, I talked about the trials and tribulations of eating out when you’re on a gluten-free diet. At the weekend, when we’re out and about, we like stopping off in coffee shops for a decaffeinated cappuccino and a snack. In my pre-glutenfreebie days, I would join my husband in having a hot panino (I think that when the word panini was imported into English from the Italian it got transmogrified somewhere over the Appenines from the plural to the singular but I can’t bring myself to do that when all I can hear is the equivalent of “a sandwiches”. Call me pedantic…)

But I digress. I used to like having a panino but that avenue of gastronomic pleasure is now closed off to me. Whenever we go out now, we either go to Starbucks where I can have a sandwich made from Genius bread or to Costa Coffee where I can have a chocolate brownie. But neither is as satisfying as a piping-hot sandwich that is oozing with melting cheese of Vesuvian proportions. Gluten-free quesadillas are much easier to create at home than panini and they are big on the melted-cheese-satisfaction-factor. My gluten-free flatbread wrap recipe is perfect for them.

Gluten-free garlic and herb quesadillas with chorizo, artichokes and mozzarella

Makes 6

1 x garlic and herb flatbread wrap recipe
180g chorizo, sliced and quartered
8 tinned artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
420g grated mozzarella *
olive oil

Make up the garlic and herb flatbread recipe up to the point where the dough is divided into six balls. Divide each ball into two, so that you’ve got 12 smaller balls, and wrap each one loosely in microwaveable clingfilm.  Place them on a microwaveable plate and warm in the microwave on ‘high’ for 10 seconds. Leave somewhere warm for 20-30 minutes, by which time each ball should have puffed up slightly.

Meanwhile, mix the chorizo, artichoke hearts and mozzarella in a bowl and put to one side. When you’re ready to cook the quesadillas, unwrap one of the balls and place it on a floured surface. Flatten it out with the heel of your hand into a thick circle. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rough circle about 20cm in diameter. Put on a plate and repeat with the remaining balls (You can flatten out the clingfilm that was wrapping each ball of dough and put that in between the rolled-out wraps to prevent them from sticking to one another).

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan with a few drops of oil over a high heat. When the pan is hot, place one piece of the rolled-out dough in it (I find draping it over the rolling pin makes it easier) and toast one side only for a couple of minutes, or until the surface is browned and slightly blistered. Remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the next piece of rolled-out dough, but this time both sides will be toasted. As soon as it has been turned over to toast the second side, sprinkle one-sixth of the chorizo, artichoke and mozzarella mixture over the wrap and place the wrap that you cooked first, raw side uppermost over the top. Press down with a fish slice or spatula. After a minute or so, carefully turn the quesadilla over to toast the final side. Remove to a board and cut into quarters with either a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough to create five more.

* Ready-grated mozzarella has often got an anti-caking agent added to it which is, sometimes, not gluten-free. I use Tesco’s own which is.

Eating out when you can’t eat your country’s staple crop is a real pain. Most dishes are accompanied by pasta or bread or swathed in pastry or breadcrumbs and soups, stews and sauces are usually thickened with flour. Eating on the run is even worse: most snacks – sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, sandwiches, cakes, panini, chocolate bars, fast food of the burger and fried chicken variety from chains whose names I dare not speak – are out of bounds. You can’t even pick up a packet of Gary Lineker’s favourite crisps anymore. Like a vicious moray eel, gluten also lurks in menus, waiting to pounce, where you least expect to find it. Something that seems innocuous and that you would never in a million years suspect contained gluten, has had flour bunged into it to make it go further and/or last longer.

You have to educate yourself and do it fast or you make painful mistakes. I got caught out early on in my glutenfreebie life with a mushroom omelette and chips in a greasy spoon. I blithely munched my way through it, enjoying every mouthful, secure in the knowledge that mushrooms, eggs and potatoes don’t contain gluten… It enjoyed me half-an-hour later when the banging headache, constricted throat and nausea kicked in. Little had I known that, not only were those cheap chips made from potato reconstituted with wheat but that they were probably also fried in the same oil as the battered fish and onion rings the rather sticky menu in the café was also advertising. My mantra is now “Assume Nothing!” and I always ensure that everything I order has none in it because I ask, which is a good job or I would have been caught out with the poached salmon salad in a pub in Cheltenham (the vinaigrette salad dressing?!) and the poached salmon and steamed potatoes in a restaurant in Cardiff (the hollandaise?!).

I’m not complaining (much). I understand that profitability in the food industry means ensuring the happiness (or full tummies) of the greatest number at the cheapest price and adulterating naturally gluten-free food with wheat is a way of doing it. And I don’t expect, as a member of a minority, to be universally catered for. Although there is an increasing number of restaurants who are willing to cater for those with dietary restrictions, I do think that the others who don’t are missing a trick. Restaurants, take note! We might only make up a small percentage of people who go out to dine but when we do, we don’t usually do it alone (we may not eat gluten but, funnily enough, we DON’T have two heads!). We therefore not only take our own custom to a restaurant that can cater for us but we also take the rest of our party, potentially increasing that percentage three-, four-, five-fold… Just a thought…

Anyway, if I want a burger now, I have to make them at home. On the upside, at least I know that what’s in them is healthy and nutritious. This is non-junk comfort food at its best.

And I don’t have to eat them out of a polystyrene carton either.

Gluten-free harissa lamb, feta and olive burgers with garlic lemon mayonnaise

Makes 4 burgers

1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
400g minced lamb
1 tbsp harissa
100g feta, cut into 5mm cubes
50g pitted black olives, roughly chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
40g gluten-free breadcrumbs
olive oil for shallow frying
150g quality gluten-free mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic, minced or ¼ tsp garlic granules
zest of half a lemon and juice of a whole lemon
salt and pepper
4 gluten-free hamburger buns or rolls (I used Sainsbury’s seeded rolls, pictured)
chopped lettuce and sliced tomatoes

Fry the onion gently in the olive oil for several minutes until softened, golden and translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue to fry for another couple of minutes until the edges are slightly tinged with brown. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, cooled onions, harissa, feta, olives, eggs and breadcrumbs. Form into four equally sized burgers and chill until ready to cook.

To make the mayonnaise, simply combine the mayonnaise, garlic, lemon zest and juice in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the burgers and fry for about 7-8 minutes on each side or until cooked through, turning just once.  Serve in a toasted gluten-free hamburger bun garnished with lettuce, tomatoes and the garlic lemon mayonnaise.

NB These can be frozen but their texture is much better when cooked from fresh.

When I got the message from Caleigh over at Gluten Free[k], inviting me to take part in the Great Gluten-Free Recipe Challenge that she was hosting, I was really excited. Firstly, it’s great to feel part of a community that not only understands this part of my life because it’s part of theirs too but that also celebrates it and says, “You know what? I’m not going to accept this restriction on my diet lying down. Gluten-free food can be just as delicious and I’m going to show you. So there!” One of the reasons that I started blogging was that I didn’t know anyone else who ate the same diet as me, who suffered the same frustration in restaurants (WHY does the hollandaise have gluten in it?) and who suffered the same rudeness and ignorance from waiting staff. This is just one of my experiences: My husband and I went out to breakfast in a (not inexpensive) restaurant in Bristol. When I asked to not have the sausage and black pudding on my meal, it arrived without bacon as well. On questioning it, I was challenged with a surly “What’s the difference between bacon and sausages?!” Not the reaction I was expecting. “Um, cereal…” I said. Extra bacon was begrudgingly slapped down on a side plate next to me five minutes later. We never went back there.

Secondly  I love a challenge. The rules were laid down. Not only did we have a deadline – to publish our recipe on Monday 12th March – but we were also given an ingredient that had to feature prominently – orange – and the recipe had not only to be gluten-free (naturally!) but also dairy-free and almond-, hazelnut- and chestnut-free. I’m a firm believer that rules, rather than being restrictive, lead to even greater creativity. In my previous incarnation as an English teacher, I would dread setting my students a free creative writing task. Inevitably, I’d end up marking 30+ rambling, incoherent and grammatically-suspect pastiches of whatever they had been reading, watching, gaming the night before… “Enough already!” I said, “We need some rules!” Some of the most creative and beautiful pieces of work I’ve read, especially by lower-ability pupils, are in the style of the haiku – Japanese 17-syllable (no more, no less) poems – that distil a single thought into its pure essence, necessitating a purge of most articles (definite and indefinite), prepositions and pronouns. A valuable teaching tool which frees the child to focus on the simple beauty of creating metaphor.

So I had my rules. What to make? I had a choice: to make something which was naturally gluten-, dairy- and nut-free or, to make something which ordinarily would be jam-packed with them all and see how I could get around it. I chose the latter path (I like making things difficult for myself): gluten-free, I’m of course used to – dairy-free is another story. It would necessitate a journey of discovery into the world of vegan chocolate and soya substitutes. These days, rather than feel resentful at the food I can no longer eat in restaurants and cafés, if I see something that I really want, I go home and create it myself. This recipe is one such. Just before we moved to our new home in Cheltenham in December, my husband, our son and I needed to vacate our house while the prospective buyer measured up for her new kitchen. We found ourselves wandering aimlessly around Cabot Circus (the new shopping mall in the centre of Bristol) and decided to warm ourselves up with a brew at Costa Coffee. Sitting behind the glass counter, brazenly flirting with me, was an orange curd and chocolate ganache tart. I knew I’d have to have it sooner or later. So here it is. My culinary haiku which celebrates the symbiotic beauty that occurs when chocolate meets orange. Whether or not you eat it in seventeen bites is entirely up to you.

Gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate and blood orange curd tarts

This is a decadent and rich tart, perfect for sharing. You could, however, make smaller individual tartlets. I didn’t have any, but I think they would look beautiful garnished with physalis.

Makes 4 largish tarts, serves 8

For the pastry:
240g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
65g Trex (or other vegan shortening), cut into cubes
½ medium egg, lightly beaten
cold water

For the orange curd:
1 blood orange
juice ½ lemon
4 eggs, lightly beaten
37g dairy-free spread (such as Pure soya spread)
150g caster sugar

For the chocolate ganache:
200g vegan and gluten-free plain chocolate, roughly chopped
250ml soya single cream (such as Alpro)
20g dairy-free spread

You will also need 4 13cm x 3cm loose-bottomed fluted tart tins*.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan-assisted; 365°F). In a food processor, blitz together the flour, xanthan gum and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg and pulse to combine until the mixture resembles damp sand. Add enough cold water to bring the mixture together to a slightly tacky dough.

Tip the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together as a ball with your hands. Slightly flatten and cut into four portions. Form each portion into a ball and flatten into a disc about 5mm thick. I tend to do this with the heel of my hand, perhaps finishing it off with the rolling pin. Carefully lift the disc into the tartlet tin and press it in firmly. Remove the surplus pastry from around the rim, either with a knife or your thumb. Mend any tears in the base with surplus pastry and then prick it with a fork. Line the cases with baking parchment* and baking beans.

Place the cases on a baking sheet and bake them blind in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, return to the oven and bake until the pastry is cooked which should take about another 15 minutes (my pastry didn’t go golden but I’m assuming that this is because there is no butter). Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the blood orange curd, wash the fruit and, using a potato peeler, pare the skin away from both the orange and the lemon in strips, making sure to leave the bitter white pith behind. Juice both the orange and the half lemon, making sure to remove any pips and pith. In a heatproof bowl, mix the juices and the rest of the ingredients, including the reserved orange and lemon peel. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not in contact with the water, and whisk continuously until the soya spread has melted and the mixture has thickened to the consistency of double (heavy) cream. This should take about 20 minutes**. Strain the orange curd through a sieve into a jug to remove the strips of peel and distribute equally amongst the four pastry cases, smoothing with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set.

To make the chocolate ganache, place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Put the soya cream and soya spread into a microwaveable jug or bowl and microwave on ‘high’ until the cream is bubbling and the soya spread has melted (this should take between a minute and a minute-and-a-half). Pour the hot cream mixture onto the chopped chocolate and stir with a spatula until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is a dark, glossy brown. Distribute equally amongst the four tarts, smoothing the surface with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set before cutting in half and serving.

* I use Heston Blumenthal’s trick which is to scrunch the parchment up several times and smooth it out before putting it in the tins.

**If the orange curd hasn’t set after 20 minutes, take the bowl of the heat, strain it through a sieve to remove the strips of peel and put it into a small saucepan over a very low heat. Mix 1 tsp of cornflour (cornstarch) with 1 tsp of water and add to the curd. Stir continuously until the curd has thickened up.

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