Sunday, 31 January 2010

gluten free macaroni cheese

This recipe is a homage to the macaroni cheese created recently by Helen Graves for Fiona Beckett's bloggers Mac & Cheese competition here and is, to my mind, the most genius adaptation of a recipe familiar to most of us.  You can find Helen's recipe and the story behind it here.

I love macaroni, the slightly denser hollow pasta tubes with it's satisfying bite but am yet to find a gluten free version in the UK.  In fact, on the day I went to buy pasta for this, I could only find corn & rice fusilli which is certainly not a combination I would choose naturally.  But since it was the only pasta on the shelf, it is now the pasta which is enveloped in the most cheesy sauce awaiting baking for tonight's supper (and probably tomorrow night's too).

The genius behind Helen's mac & cheese is that she cooked her pasta in a ham stock, this was the bit that really grabbed me.  So yesterday morning I found myself in a queue ten deep at our local butcher crossing my fingers that no-one else in front of me had read Helen's blog and was also queueing for one of the 3 remaining ham hocks on the platter in the window.  I watched a couple of young women in front of me buy the best part of half a pig cut to their requirements: joints, chops, boned belly, mince all packed into big clear plastic sacks and pay the most ludicrously low price for the lot ... all freerange and locally farmed, and all such amazing value.  It was also great to watch that their order didn't phase the butchers or annoy anyone else in the queue, in fact it didn't actually seem to slow up the queue very much at all, two butchers diverted to process their order and the other 3 carried on serving the rest of us.  I spotted a pack of oxtail which I couldn't leave without buying, along with some lamb steaks for the teen who made marinated shish kebabs, tabbouleh with quinoa, hummous and pitta for supper for us all last night (it was lovely!).

The ham hocked simmered during the afternoon as we cleaned up around the on-going building works.  I left it to cool in the stock over night and  today converted it into the most unctuous pasta & cheese bake.  The pasta was cooked in the stock for 2/3 of the packet cooking time before draining into a second pan.  As I was leaving the pasta al dente (gluten free pasta gets soggy so quickly), it seemed sensible to try to squeeze even more of that flavoursome stock into the dish.  So veering away from Helen's recipe I made the cheese sauce with half soya milk and half stock (using the pasta cooking stock).  I was trying to capture as much of the flavour of the stock as possible whilst at the same time reducing the dairy content - quite difficult when the recipe calls for 500g cheese!  I used a mixture of cheeses, very  much what we had in the fridge at the time, which was Sussex High Weald's Ashdown Forrester, Bookham's Sussex Charmer, the tail end of a Wensleydale and also a hunk of artisan Red Leicester.  This has made a very rich quite complex flavour though lacking a little bite which 100g of really good cheddar would have added.  Next time I will use the same combination but with the cheddar, 100g of each.

So here we are, I know it taste's great (chef's perks!) even though it hasn't yet been baked in the oven.  There is enough pasta and cheese to feed a small army ... or our family for today, and possibly tomorrow!

Ham hock stock:
  • 1 ham hock 
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 peppercorns
  1. Cover all of these with water in a large pan, bring to a boil.  
  2. Once boiling turn heat down to a simmer, cover with a lid and leave to cook for 2-3 hours.  
  3. When meat is tender and flakey, turn heat off and leave the hock to cool in the stock.
  4. Once cold, drain the stock and pick the meat off the ham hock.  Chop the meat finely and chill until needed.
  • 1 x 500g gluten free pasta (macaroni if you can get it)
  • ham stock
  1. Bring the stock to a rolling boil (don't salt).  
  2. Add the pasta and cook for just over half the time stated on the pack.  
  3. Drain the pasta into a sieve placed over a second pan.
Cheese sauce
  • 50g butter
  • 30g rice flour
  • 350g soya milk
  • 350g ham stock
  • 500g grated cheese
  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, make the bechamel by melting the butter, then adding the flour.  
  2. Stir or whisk the two together over a gently heat and keep stirring for 3-4 minutes allowing the flour to cook through.  The flour will come together into a thick mass which will then break down again as you continue to cook.
  3. Take the pan off the heat, pour in the soya milk whilst whisking constantly and keep whisking whilst the sauce thickens.  Add the hot stock and simmer the sauce gently for a few minutes.  
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses, stir gently until fully melted.  
  5. Sprinkle over the ham reserved from the hock.  Taste and season with nutmeg, pepper and / or mustard to taste.

Assemble the mac by adding the pasta to the cheese sauce and mixing together.  Pour into a large baking dish.  Bake at 200°C until hot throughout and browned on the tip.  Before baking, if you want to, you can top this as per Helen's suggestion with more cheese mixed with breadcrumbs.  However by this stage I was beginning to worry that we might all die of heart attacks whilst eating this (!) so I omitted this crunchy cheesy topping and opted instead to serve with a crunchy chicory & little gem lettuce salad with a mustardy vinaigrette.

Friday, 29 January 2010

gluten free peanut butter shortbread bars

I have been making more than my fair share of exceedingly sweet things this month, as I have completed my first Daring Baker's challenge.  I usually actively try to avoid baking really sugary treats, as I find sugar so addictive that I have to exercise extreme will-power not to eat everything at once.  However the rest of the family are rather partial to sugary snacks, so I have made the odd recipe to keep them all happy!

peanut butter shortbread bars We are having a big, big clear out of our small, small kitchen at present in preparation for a bit of a re-jig to make the workspace a bit more practical.  So every evening has seen me with my head stuck right to the back of the cupboards, packing boxes and investigating sell-by dates.
And oh, the shame! One unidentifiable tin was dated 1-10-2003 which means that it has moved house with us at least once and possibly up to 3 occasions.  The label was gone and whilst I was quite happy to open and investigate, I was out-voted and the tin was binned.  We had the weirdest selection of wafer biscuits and digestifs from central European countries, pasta from East Germany (thank you to the many language student visitors) as well as a random selection of cup-a-soups (some of which are now out of production, does this make them collectors items?) which pre-dated my going gluten free.  It is going to take a while for us to get the kitchen re-organised, so I can only apologise for the fact that I will continue to be a bit light on new recipes for the next couple of weeks.  Once we are there though, we will christen the space with a roast Rib of Beef from Paganum which is taunting me with it's deep red and creamy white beauty whilst patiently waiting for us to demolish it.

In the depths of one cupboard languished a huge tub of wholesome peanut butter, dark brown and chunky, with neither salt nor sugar added.  It was well within date but the tail end has been neglected in favour of a jar of glowing yellow American Skippy peanut butter recently acquired from Costco.  Whilst the flavour of this wholesome version was still great, the contents were drying and lumpy yet too good to chuck, so I looked for a way of using this up.  Another find was a box of homemade biscuits - the last of the shortbread that we made at Christmas as gifts but ungiven due to the snowy weather.  And when a tin of condensed milk rolled out of the cupboard onto my toe (ouch!), a plan was formed.

There are two ways of making this, both are quick and easy but they depend on the ingredients that you have to hand.   If you don't have a bunch of biscuits to hand - and to be honest, if you have to buy gluten-free biscuits you probably don't then want to crush them up and use them for something other than dunking in a good cup of tea - you can bake the base fresh, which is quick and easy too.  Of course, and as usual, you can substitute the gluten free flour ingredients for wheat flour if you want.  You can omit the peanut butter filling and replace it with a jar or tin of ready made dulce de leche for an even quicker recipe.  Both the biscuit base and the baked shortbread base can be used for a myriad of other toppings and bar-style cookies so they are both really handy recipes to have in your repertoire.
I made this last night with the crushed biscuit base, the 3 stages took no more than 20 minutes in total with chilling time on top.  If you freeze your biscuits before you use them, the chilling time will be reduced.


Crushed biscuit base:
  • 100g melted butter
  • 300g crushed gluten free biscuits (digestives, shortbread, any plain biscuits)
  • 25g cocoa powder (if you want a chocolatey base)

    peanut butter shortbread
  • line an 8"x8" square tin with non-stick baking paper.
  • crush the biscuits.  I chucked the biscuits in to a pyrex mixing bowl, grabbed a flat-ended rolling pin and pounded them with the blunt end as if I were using a big pestle & mortar.
  • pour over the melted butter and cocoa if required and stir through until fully mixed
  • press the mixture into the tin firmly and then chill in the fridge until cold and set.
Baked shortbread base (this is a basic traditional shortbread recipe)
  • 150g rice flour
  • 30g cornstarch or maize meal (subtitute potato starch or millet flour if necessary)
  • 120g salted butter at room temperature
  • 60g sugar

  • beat the sugar and butter together
  • add the flour and mix until you have big breadcrumbs
  • press the breadcrumbs into the tin to form an even base layer
  • prick the surface lightly (not all the way through) with a fork every 3cm
  • bake at 160°C for 20 minutes and allow to cool in the tin before adding the next layer
Whilst the base is cooling, make the middle layer ...
  • 85g peanut butter
  • 75g condensed milk
  • 20g custard powder (substitute with 20g tapioca starch, 5g sugar & 1tsp vanilla extract if you can't find or tolerate it)
  • a sprinkling of sea salt
  • beat the condensed milk and peanut butter together until creamy
  • add the custard powder and beat again, the mix will become firmer due to the starch
  • spread the mixture over the chilled base layer and return to the fridge for about 30 minutes
Whilst the middle layer is cooling ...
  • 75g plain chocolate broken in to pieces (I used a 70% Belgian bar available from all supermarkets)
  • 65g milk chocolate (in this case - Galaxy)
  • 25g butter
  • Melt the chocolate ingredients together, keeping the mixture as cool as possible.
  • Allow the chocolates to cool as much as they can whilst remaining runny
  • Spread the chocolate over the cooled peanut butter layer
  • Chill again and allow around an hour before serving.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

daring bakers - nanaimo bars - january 2010

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

This is my first attempt at a Daring Baker challenge.  The Daring Bakers (and Daring Chefs) are a worldwide collective of foodbloggers who participate each month in a challenge, each making to the same recipe and then posting their experiences and photos of their results.  I have followed the Daring Bakers for quite a while and often wished I was taking part, so now I have taken the plunge. On starting Daring Baker, I had been expecting to have to convert each recipe to gluten-free but amazingly, my first challenge is a gluten free recipe - this makes for a very easy life.  Lauren who converted this recipe and hosted this challenge is a cool gluten free blogger from Canada, if you haven't come across her site and her recipes you are missing out, so do have a look at her blog here.

Nanaimo bars originate from a town called Nanaimo in Canada.  These were chosen to remind us and celebrate next month's Winter Olympics which are being staged in Canada.  I am really looking forward to the Winter olympics and am loving the BBC trail for them too. I will definitely make this recipe again to welcome the games into our house (a lame excuse, I know!).

It may seem complicated or unnecessary to make these biscuits from scratch for the biscuit base, but it isn't.  We don't have graham crackers in stores in the UK so it is often suggested to substitute with digestive biscuits, but don't, as there is little similarity.  Instead grab your rolling pin and knock up a batch of these, you won't regret it!
By the way, I have deviated from the traditional path a little to create a less sweet and, to my mind, more interesting filling.  Hopefully I haven't insulted the folk of Nanaimo in doing this.  If it is any consolation, the nut (any nut will do) filling tastes great!

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
gluten free graham crackers
  • 138g glutinous rice flour
  • 100g Tapioca Starch/Flour
  • 65g buckwheat flour or potato starch (the original recipe called for Sorghum flour but it is v.difficult to find a completely gluten free source in the UK, so I have substituted this).
  • 200g dark muscavado sugar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3/4 tsp or 4g salt
  • 100g butter or very chilled dairy free margarine
  • 80g honey
  • 75ml whole milk
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) pure vanilla extract
  1. Chop the butter into a very fine dice then freeze for 30 minutes.  If using dairy free margarine, freeze 100g then chop or grate once frozen.
  2. Sieve flours and bicarbonate of soda together.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla.
  4. Combine the flours, brown sugar and salt in a mixer
  5. Blend using the paddle beater to combine, then add the chilled butter
  6. Blend again until the mix is the consistency of a coarse meal (no chunks of butter should be visible).
  7. Add the liquid blend to the flour mixture and mix again until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
  8. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Cut in half, bag each piece and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
  9. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll 1 piece of the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary.
  10. Cut into 2 inch squares, prick with a fork over each biscuit, set on a baking tray.
  11. If the dough is sticky, chill the trays for half an hour before baking (I baked these on the snowiest weekend in early January so didn't need to do this).  Gather the scraps together and set aside. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
  12. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 180°C
  13. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
  14. Bake for 15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. This might take a little longer, but not much, The biscuits will come out soft but crispen on cooling.  If they don't get fully crisp pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
When cooled completely, place 160g biscuits in a food processor and pulse to make crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

nanaimo bars, uncutFor Nanaimo Bars
base layer
  • 115g butter
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 35g cocoa
  • 1 egg or 8g ground flax with 30g water
  • 160g gluten free graham cracker crumbs (as above)
  • 130g coconut (omitted as I am intolerant of coconut, additional graham crumbs to replace)
  • 55g almonds, finely chopped
  1. Line an 8" square baking tin
  2. Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa together in a double boiler or microwave
  3. Add the egg or flax and stir well until thickened
  4. Stir in the crumb, coconut and nuts then pour into the prepared tin.
  5. Press in to create a firm even base, chill until the middle layer is ready.
middle layer
  • 70g butter
  • 80g peanut butter
  • 20g custard powder
  • 30g double cream
  • 200g icing sugar
  1. soften butter and peanut butter in a microwave until soft.
  2. sieve the icing sugar and custard powder together then add to the butters
  3. pour over the cream
  4. beat with a hand beater until well combined and smooth
  5. spread over the biscuit base and chill
top layer
  • 55g milk chocolate
  • 60g (70%) dark chocolate
  • 25g butter
  1. melt chocolates and butter together over a low heat or in microwave
  2. allow to cool (but still liquid)
  3. pour over the middle layer and chill until set
nanaimo bar
Additional Information by Lauren: 

These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.
The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (mine lasted about that long). If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

garlic confit

Garlic, this is a staple in most kitchens, a delicious and easily identifiable ingredient that enhances so many dishes that we enjoy.
At home, we have started making a simple garlic confit which makes using this essential ingredient that bit quicker and easier.  Of course there are some recipes where the fresh pungent flavour of the whole cloves is still best, but we have found that many, in fact, most of our meals benefit from the lighter touch of a clove or two of confit garlic and a drizzle of its' aromatic oil.
Thomas Keller advocates the use of garlic confit in many of his dishes and gives a method for this, along with other confit concepts in his book Bouchon.
In our kitchen a jar of confit garlic sits to the right of the gas hob alongside some freerange eggs, a pot of sea salt, a lemon, a couple of lighters (to light our broken hobs), a pepper grinder, some honey and - at present - a jar of fennel-infusing vodka (which really should be stored in a dark cupboard instead). With just a little bit of work every few weeks, it is possibly the most useful ingredient in our kitchen especially as it speeds up the process of making a quick evening meal dramatically.  But there are just 3 cloves left at the bottom of our jar, so it is time to make some more.
garlic clovesIt can be a bit fiddly to make as each clove of garlic should be peeled completely before use, but I have found a slightly easier method of making which at the same time saves your finger nails from the inevitable spikes of garlic skin which wedge just under the nail and hurt like hell as you peel.  So get yourself three or four heads of garlic, separate out the heads of garlic into individual cloves and remove the outer layers of paper by rubbing.  At this point try your cloves in the jar you are planning to use, to ensure they fit, then wash and sterilise the jar.
Place all the cloves into a large saucepan and cover with boiling water.  Simmer for a couple of minutes until you see the odd pieces of skin floating to the surface.  Drain the cloves and put them into a bowl.  Now the outer skins should separate really easily, so with wet fingers (to stop the skin sticking to you) take the rest of the skins off and pile the cloves onto a piece of paper towel to dry.  Soon you will find yourself with a heap of naked white cloves ready to be preserved in oil.
Pop the garlic back into the large saucepan and cover with oil, I use a cold pressed olive or rapeseed oil. If you are a keen user of infused oil, you can add more oil to the pan, perhaps an inch above the level of the cloves.  This will give you extra oil to bottle later on.
Heat the garlic and oil until the oil begins to boil, now turn the heat down to a very low simmer.  Leave the garlic simmering gently in the oil for around 40 minutes.  The cloves should be soft and tender but still pale and creamy. 
If you are a fan of caramelised garlic, you can cook the garlic at a slightly higher heat, to create a more caramelised clove. It is very much personal taste as to which you prefer. 
We use a spoonful of oil and a clove of preserved garlic in virtually every savoury dish we make.  I love the simplicity of use as well as the rounded and more subtle flavour of the preserved garlic, just mash a clove onto the pan using the back of a spoon or spatula and you are done.  As it is already cooked, we don't need to worry about preparing and cooking the garlic before adding to a dish and that harsh flavour you can get if the garlic isn't cooked through is no longer an issue.  Personally, I don't find caramelised garlic as useful in the kitchen though I love it in it's own right.  I certainly couldn't use a whole jar of caramelised garlic withough having to get seriously creative.  Occassionally I will roast a head of garlic wrapped in foil in the oven, then keep this in the fridge squeezing the cloves as I need them into sauces, mayonnaise or just onto a cracker for a snack.
garlic confit in jar

Friday, 15 January 2010

home-made marshmallow recipe

 I can take not credit whatsoever for this recipe.  I was reading David Lebovitz's facebook feed and there it was, a link to the most beautifully indulgent winter-warming concept.  The original post is here written by Rebecca & Val at 'Foodie with Family' which is a lovely blog and well worth a look.

The post is for hot chocolate blocks with marshmallows, a beautiful idea and the subject of some debate in our house.  The b contain condensed milk and plenty of chocolate yet you use them by plunging them into hot milk.  Far enough, but since they contain milk, why can't you just put them in hot water?  We debated whether my husband would notice us using up the last of his milk in a mug of hot chocolate.  The teen hates milk (except in hot chocolate) and I don't use it so it is only my husband who would miss the last of the milk in the fridge.  But the snow was falling, the temperatures were sub zero outside and frozen snow & ice was sending cars clumsily ice-skating across roads and pavements.  The shops had already been stripped of milk (both fresh and powered) and the length of our conversation proved how guilty we felt about the thought of using the last of 'his' milk on a treat.  We spent far longer than is healthy talking about hot chocolate before deciding not to go ahead.  Instead we said that would look at the recipe in future to see if we could make the blocks milky enough to dunk straight into hot water with a dash of cream.
So, maybe it wasn't the moment to create the hot choc but I was raring to have a go with the marshmallows.  I have been collecting marshmallow recipes for a while now, daring myself to have a go, but not quite brave enough!  This recipe finally has the weight of the gelatin required, so comforted by the knowledge that weight rather than 'sheets' will give a consistent result, I was ready to go.
The original recipe suggests using an 8"x8" tin - don't, it is too small, and the marshmallow will overflow so use a 9" square or equivalent volume.  I had to throw a little bit away as I didn't have any more room to pile any more on top in my 8" tin and so my marshmallows were nearly 2 inches high!  Sugar syrup is very hot, so pour carefully and remember that the utensils will be hot and sticky too unless you grease them follow the instructions about greasing.  The mix is incredibly sticky so greasing the utensils as well is essential to make the whole process manageable.

Having made them, I don't think that I quite 'get' marshmallows.  I am now faced with 86 pieces of white fluffy sticky air-filled sugariness, possibly the most pointless foodstuff I have ever made.  I would like to confirm though, that they are not difficult to make, just sticky, messy and completely superfluous to normal human existence. 
Have fun!

  • 21 grams gelatine
  • 125ml cold water
  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 225g glucose syrup
  • 65ml water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 15ml vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)
  • icing sugar
  1.  Line 9 x 9-inch with cling film and lightly oil it using your fingers or non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle the gelatin over 125ml cold water.
  3. Leave to soak for about 10 minutes whilst following the next stages.
  4. Combine sugar, glucose syrup and 65ml water in a saucepan.
  5. Bring the mixture to the boil quickly, as soon as it is boiling, allow to boil hard for 1 minute.
  6. Pour the boiling syrup over the soaked gelatin, attach the whisk and turn the mixer on low.
  7. Gradually speed up the mixer until it is running at full speed.
  8. Add the salt and beat for between 10 and 12 minutes, or until fluffy and mostly cooled to almost room temperature.
  9. After it reaches that stage, add in the extract and beat to incorporate.
  10. Grease your hands and a rubber or silicone scraper with neutral oil and transfer marshmallow into the prepared pan.
  11. Use your greased hands or the spatula to press the marshmallow into the pan evenly.
  12. Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set.
  13. Sprinkle a cutting surface very generously with icing sugar.
  14. Remove marshmallow from pan and lay on top of the sugar.
  15. Dust the top generously with sugar as well.
  16. Use a large, sharp knife to cut into squares.
  17. Separate pieces and toss to coat all surfaces with the sugar.
  18. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

leek tart recipe, gluten free

The wintery weather across the UK has caused panic-buying in the supermarkets.  In our local shops, the shelves were first stripped bare of milk, bread, eggs, bacon and sausages before shoppers moved on to toilet rolls, cheese and fresh meats.  I didn't look but am guessing that there must have been a gap in the tomato ketchup and brown sauce stocks too because it looks as though everyone has become fried breakfast addicts in the south east!  In our household, panic-buying consisted of stocking up on vegetables and oranges, so far, we haven't gone hungry!  As I am writing this, I can hear the dulcet tones of rear-wheel drive car wheels spinning on the freshly fallen snow and failing to get a grip on the slippery tarmac hill outside our house.  I have no desire to leave the house right now, and I am guessing that the drivers outside are wishing they had made the same decision.

A sudden craving for a satifying smooth savoury custard lead me to making a quick leek tart last night.  I hesitate to call this a quiche, as there seems to be so much negativity towards that particular nomenclature.  I love quiche, the teen loves quiche, and as a kid this was one of her favourite meals.  To be fair, by 'this' I mean that "quiche-lorraine out of a box" (preferably from Marks and Spencers) was her favourite!  And as you might expect, my home-made version was looked upon as something of a low-brow affair comparatively.  I have no idea whether this was thoroughly justified or just another attempt by the under 8 year olds to besmirch my cooking!  Looking back ten years, I recognise that there has been a complete about-turn in the style and quality of my cooking as I have become more and more obsessed by this strangest of art forms.  I have cooked since I was a kid but only in these past few years have I gained a real understanding of flavours and structure.  I suppose I have only now started to think about food and ingredients, as opposed to eating! So, in reality, the nipper was probably right to reject my quiche of ten years ago!

I found lots of variations on the theme of this recipe on the internet.  Most of these contain cheese which, for me, makes the creamy filling too rich and masks the gentle flavour of the leeks, but then, I am a purist!  If you are not a fan of nutmeg, this is equally delicious with a touch of thyme.  Add a couple of sprigs to the pan whilst you cook the leeks and pick out the stems before you mix the leeks and the custard.  If you want to make this more of a gourmet delight, you can also infuse the cream with a bay leaf (warm the cream with the bay leaf to just below boiling point, then allow to cool before removing the bay leaf & using the cream in the recipe as instructed).  Alternatively you could also soak a few saffron stems in a little water and add that to the custard instead.
I was a bit impatient to get this into the oven so didn't leave the pastry to rest for thirty minutes before rolling.  I thought I had got away with it until I went to move the smoothly rolled sheet over the pastry case, at which point it fell apart completely!  So, whilst I waited for the pastry to rest properly, I prepped the leeks -  which is, of course, what I should have planned to do in the first place.  This recipe is very easy to make and delicious to eat, so my impatience was quite justified.  I had promised myself a chiled glass of manzanilla with the tart (and not before) so that was the real reason for rushing the pastry. 

Whilst sitting down to eat this together, the teen declared her new passion for a vegan diet (forget the eggs and cream in the tart, th enext bit is even better).  On tasting this, she followed this statement up without so much as a pause for breath, by suggesting that this tart would be even more delicious with nuggets of crispy smoked bacon or salmon fillet included.  Fickle?  A teenager's prerogative!
This recipe is just as good served as a summer lunch as a winter supper or snack.  Do enjoy it!

  • 1/3 recipe gluten free shortcrust pastry
  • 600g leeks (or onions)
  • 2 tbsp butter, olive oil or rapeseeed oil
  • 250g double cream
  • 5 freerange eggs (medium to large)
  • nutmeg, salt & pepper
  1. preheat oven to 180°C 
  2. roll out pastry and line a 10" tart plate or loose bottomed tin (or individual tins)
  3. lay baking paper over the base of each tart, cover with baking beans or pulses
  4. bake blind for 20 minutes until the pastry base is cooked through and crisp, but not coloured
  5. whilst the tart case is baking, wash and finely slice the leeks
  6. fry gently with a sprinkling of salt until softened into a thick mass
  7. in a large bowl, whisk the eggs and cream together, season with salt and pepper and a good grating of nutmeg
  8. remove the cooked tart shells from the oven, carefully tip the hot beans off the tart into a heat proof bowl and leave to cool, remove the baking paper too.
  9. once the leeks are cooked, stir them into the cream mix, stirring until the leeks are evenly mixed through the custard
  10. carefully pour the custard into the tart shell and replace in the oven
  11. bake at 180°C for 25 minutes, turning half way through to ensure an even bake
  12. remove from the oven checking the custard is cooked through (just firm to the touch) and allow to rest for five minutes before serving

Friday, 8 January 2010

Orange and apricot cake

I am not used to long breaks or holidays, especially not ones that involve extended stays at home.  But the Christmas break just passed saw me at home for the best part of two weeks.  It was less than twenty-four hours before I started getting cabin fever desperately trying to find things to occupy me.  I was further hampered by the need to rest my back after minor surgery so the few days running up to Christmas saw me mostly on the sofa surrounded by cook books with my laptop and a notebook for researching recipes.  I found lots and lots though I don't suppose that is any surprise, food-enthusiastics have grasped new technologies with both hands and share recipes and experiences around the world.  I did get very distracted trying to find out how to make vietnamese spring roll pancakes (I've not sussed that out yet) which then lead on to glutinous rice dumplings and then ... well, you know how it is.  Suddenly you have encircled the globe three times and completely forgotten what you started out looking for.
orange apricot cake, gluten free and sugar free
I have been thinking about the ultimate orange cake for some time.  I want to capture the zingy essential flavour of orange zest in a gluten free cake, with a light texture without any icing.  Of course, it also needs to be low fat and preferably sugar free too.  I am still working on this holy-grail of cakes but I thought I would share this recipe with you as it has definitely grown on me over the past couple of weeks.
The recipe is originally found here, on the Big Hospitality website and was created by Christine Bailey who was the joint winner of the Gluten-free Chef of the Year.  This is a variation of the theme of "take a whole orange, puree it and fold puree into polenta-based recipe".  I like this recipe because Christine has addressed a couple of points that I always see as negatives with this style of recipe.  By zesting the orange and then peeling it, discarding the white pith, you omit those bitter notes which can overpower the zesty flavour.  Then by adding a gluten-free flour blend to the polenta she has also lightening the consistency of the cake which is great.
This is a sugar-free recipe and that is worth bearing in mind before you take your first bite, even with the added honey, this cake is not sweet.  You can address that with the type of apricots you buy.  I used run-of-the-mill sulphured supermarket ones which added texture but no real sweetness to the recipe.  If you can choose unsulphured, organic apricots, those dark brown, unattractive fruits that tend to get ignored for their bright orange, less flavoursome counterparts  (squeeze the pack and make sure they are really squidgy if you can) then you will get a far richer sweeter flavour that will compliment this recipe perfectly.
I have copied the recipe just as Christine has written it though I made mine with dairy free margarine. My mixture curdled completely in the food processor but this makes no difference to the finished cake though, so don't be concerned if it happens to you too.  Instead of making one cake I split the mix into 2 x 5" round tins and 3 greased and flour dusted dariole molds.  The little ones took 15 minutes to bake and the 5" ones took 21 minutes.  I glazed one of the 5" cakes with a fresh orange juice and icing sugar (5 tsp icing sugar to 1 tbsp orange juice, I think) to serve for tea and have eaten the other, unglazed cakes for breakfast and they have been lovely!
I hope you enjoy them too.

  • Zest of two oranges
  • 2 oranges peeled, cut into half
  • 200g dried ready to eat apricots
  • 125g unsalted butter (dairy free margarine*)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3tbsp honey or agave nectar
  • 100g GF flour (75g rice flour + 25g millet flour*)
  • 150g quick cook polenta (fine corn meal*)
  • 2tsp gluten-free baking powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4
  2. Grease and line a spring form 18-20cm cake tin
  3. Place the orange zest and oranges in a food processor and process to form a thick puree. Add the apricots, butter, eggs and honey and process again until smooth.
  4. Place the flour, polenta and baking powder in a bowl. 
  5. Add the puree and beat well. 
  6. Place in the cake tin and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until a skewer placed in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. 
* these are my annotations but otherwise the recipe and method are exactly as Christine's original recipe.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

beetroot soup recipe (borscht)

I am not sure that I can get away with calling this Borscht as there are so many variations of recipe, by geography, nationality or personal choice.  This is really just beetroot soup, a lovely one that is easy to make. 
beetroot soup
The most difficult aspect appears to be getting hold of decent quality raw beetroot.  If you don't have a farmers market locally, please pass by the hugely expensive bunches at the supermarket and head instead for your local greengrocer.  In my local area, you have to get up early to get fresh beetroot.  This isn't due to its' sell-out popularity, sadly, but because they all sell beetroot pre-boiled but for this recipe, that isn't really what we want.  I try to pop in before 9 and can generally lay my hands on a few fresh purple nuggets, otherwise it is just a case of asking nicely and then collecting the following day.
I am a big beetroot fan and do tend to eat a lot in stir fries, vivid pink sushi rolls and beetroot hummous.  It strikes me that beetroot should be the favourite vegetable of almost every girl from 2 - 12 as they dart in and out of their 'pink' phase, yet my daughter spent years hating beetroot, so much so that we took to hiding it in tomato pasta sauces and stews as well as in chocolate cake.  I  have only just discovered that I like lightly vinegared beetroot, which I have avoided due to memories of sharp squidgy chunks as part of a 1970's Sunday tea at my aunty's house. I was obviously just too young then!  It feels as though we used to visit aunty for tea almost every week, though I am sure that is not the case, as they had pretty busy lives.  Tea was a proper high tea.  Lettuce, tomatoes, salad cream (decanted), sliced bread (yippee!), slices of ham, pickled onions and a really good cup of tea.  I really miss Aunty's tea, it was strong but not bitter, dark yet not full of tannins and I loved the way the spoon clinked the china tea cup as I stirred in the sugar.  Delicious!  It is funny how memories stick in your mind.  At one stage the road collapsed outside their house, leaving a stonking great hole and no vehicle access.  In my head, this huge and slightly ominous hole was there for years ... though I am sure that the council must have filled it in quite quickly. 
snowy bike
Anyway, this recipe starts with my favourite cooking smell: the gently stewing of finely chopped onions, garlic, carrot and celery until soft and scented.   It is an easy soup to make, so jump in, have a go and enjoy the pink!

  • 750g raw beetroot - peel and chop
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1L chicken stock + additional water if required
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • salt & pepper 
  • soured cream, horseradish & dill to serve
Gently fry the finely chopped onion, garlic, celery & garlic in the rapeseed oil over a very low heat until soft and aromatic.
Add the heap of peeled and chopped beetroot
Cover with stock and add extra water if required until you have 4cm above the level of the beetroot.
Add a bay leaf if you have one and leave to simmer with a lid semi-covering until the beetroot is soft, around 45 minutes.
Puree the soup then allow to simmer for another 10-15 minutes to thicken and concentrate the flavours.   Season with fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper before serving.
This is delicious served with a horseradish cream and fresh dill.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

french onion soup recipe

On days like today, soup is one of the few things that can really warm you and get right to the heart of the cold.  We are lucky to all be sitting indoors, warm and dry whilst watching the "oh my goodness, there is snow in the south" drama unfolds on television.
french onion soup, kate the bake, gluten free
My mum is from Lancashire, my father from London.  We were brought up in London but spent many of our holidays under the age of 11 in Lancashire at my grandpa's house, the house my mum grew up in.  Not being a Coronation Street viewer as a kid, this type of house, street and town were completely alien to me: row after row of 2-up, 2-downs with a lean-to kitchen, outside loo and coal store.  The dark-roofed terraces clung tightly to the steep hills running down to the mills in the town at the bottom of the valley.  I was far more familiar with a landscape of wide suburban street with tidy front gardens, pampas grass and polished cars in the drives of red-brick semis and bungalows, or ostentatious faux-georgian detached houses with white marble fountains & statuettes on their ludicrously tiny attempts at "sweeping drives".
There was never enough snow in the outer London suburbs when I was a kid.  Mum used to commiserate with us (whilst thanking God that she didn't have to stay home from work with us too often!) and tell us stories of heavy snow, woollen stockings and long walks to school.  We didn't have much truck with the long walks bit as we walked a mile and a half to school albeit in waterproof coats and poly-bag lined shoes.  The snow though, we envied.  As head of science at a girl's school across the Pennines, she would drive her Morris 1000 over the hills, behind the snow plough and says that she doesn't recollect a day when she didn't make it in to school eventually. 
For most of this winter's cold spell, she has managed fine, living alone in Derbyshire.  We managed to persuade her to come to us for Christmas after her own Christmas plans fell through.  Unsuprisingly, we had to rescue her from Tonbridge station as they didn't even bother to run trains south on the day of her arrival.  Right now, she is at home looking out onto about 15 inches of snow.  She has gritted her paths, shovelled snow away from her garage doors and her neighbours have cleared tyre tracks down to the main road.  They have gone to work at the county offices some ten miles across the moors, scarcely batting an eye-lid at the snow. 
Down here on the south coast, we have had to close the bakery because the industrial estate hasn't seen a gritting truck for, well, I am not sure how long.  Getting in this morning was difficult and as the snow continued to fall the tyre-tracks on the road disappeared into the soft white velvet layer.  After watching a 4-wheel drive and a quad bike almost come to blows outside, we decided it was sensible to beat a hasty retreat.  As the snow continues to fall this afternoon, I think of Mum and her sensible matter-of-fact attitude to the weather and think that we could use a whole lot of people like her down here, preferably running our councils!

To the matter in hand - soup!  There was always a pan of soup on the go when I was a kid, but I could never get a recipe from mum, that wasn't the way she worked so that is how soups have developed with me.  What is in the fridge?  what needs to be used up?  OK, celery & stilton soup, bacon and green pea - see how it works?  I don't really get the idea of a recipe for a soup as I don't think that there are any hard and fast rules to soup-making, unlike baking, where technique and volumes matter enormously. I made this on yet another cold day and let it sit on the hob on a super low temperature (lower than a simmer) until it was wanted.  By the time we got to it the flavours were rich and concentrated which balanced perfectly with the others cheesy croutons, yet still worked for my un-adorned bowl.

ingredients, use this volume of ingredients per person, making a minimum of 2 servings:
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 knob butter or 1 dsp olive / rapeseed oil
  • 1/2 clove garlic (roasted or confit if possible)
  • 1 tsp rice flour
  • 1/2 pint beef stock (cubes are ok, home made even better, if you have it)
  • 1/2 glass white wine
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1 dsp (10ml) cognac
  • small sprig of thyme
  • salt & pepper
  • caramelise the onions by adding them to a hot frying pan with the butter or oil melted.
  • stir rapidly so that the onions take on a dark rich brown colour but don't let them stick or burn
  • after 5 minutes, turn the heat down and add the garlic
  • allow the onions to cook through until they are a soft, sweet, stringy mass (this should take about 20-30 minutes)
  • sprinkle over the rice flour and stir into the onions trying to pick up as much of the caramelised goo (technical term, sorry!) from the pan
  • add the stock and wine, and bring to the boil

  • add the herbs and turn the heat down to it's lowest setting, without a lid, for 45 minutes or so
to serve
  • gluten free bread for croutons
  • olive oil or butter
  • cheese
croutons method*
  • whilst the soup is cooking for that last 45 minutes, preheat oven to 180° & cut one thick slice of gluten free bread per serving
  • brush each side of the bread with oil or spread with butter
  • cube into 3/4" chunks
  • place chunks onto a lined or greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, give them a quick shake if you remember about half way through.
  • once they are golden brown and crispy take the tray from the oven and leave to cool (don't forget that gluten free bread browns more quickly and suddenly than wheat bread)
  • pre heat the grill just before the soup is ready, and find some heat proof bowls to serve the soup in
  • when the soup is ready, bring it back up to the boil, add the cognac
  • put a serving in each bowl, sprinkle some croutons over then follow with a good thick grating of cheese
  • pop under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbly (keep a close eye)
  • remove and serve immediately
*when i can't be bothered with the grill method, we make the croutons in a non-stick (important) frying pan by dry frying and then just chuck some cheese over and allow this to melt on the croutons and the pan before tipping the whole lot over the soup.  it tastes the same but without the aggravation ... and sometimes that is all that counts!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

gluten free pasta recipe

I have been craving pasta and not just any pasta, but slippery gratifying ribbons of tagliatelle, a pasta style that I am yet to find as a commercial gluten free variety.  There has been a fair amount of pasta slurping going on around me at home recently.  I usually ignore the temptation and prep myself some more Vietnamese spring rolls or a quick stir fry.  But there is something about freezing temperatures which make it difficult to enjoy overdosing on raw veg.  This is definitely the time of year for something a little more substantial, so besides cooking up another batch of Nomato sauce & soup I am drawn towards a bowl of pasta.
bowl of gluten free tagliatelle with garlic oil & sussex charmer cheese
I was pondering on the merits of different types of pasta and the differing attitudes to fresh egg as opposed to dried pasta.  It dawned on me that cooking pasta al dente must vary according to the type of pasta you start with.  I am a bit British in my pasta tastes and tend to like my pasta cooked through.  The one exception to this is Spaghetti Vongole where I expect my spaghetti to have a little bit of bite.   So, if you are making and cooking pasta from scratch, how do you achieve that bite? as fresh pasta in my experience is chewy rather than brittle?  And if you can't get that al dente bite with fresh pasta, is the 'al dente' concept traditionally Italian? It is all a bit meaningless I know, but that is a small and possibly scary insight into the workings of my mind!
gluten free tagliatelle with garlic oil & sussex charmer cheese
Making pasta is not hard work as long as you are well equipped but it is, like all recipes that require special equipment, a leap of faith to invest in the first instance.  You can use this recipe for making spaghetti or tagliatelle, as well as hand shaping traditional Italian pasta.  One of my favourites is orechiette (little ears) which are easy to make from tiny chunks of dough - you can even make these without a roller, which might be worth a go before taking the plunge.
I bought my pasta machine yonks ago, from Ikea.  It sat for ages in its' box quite literally gathering dust (and grease) on a top shelf above the hob for ages.  I used to gaze on the box proudly "look, I've got a pasta machine" but it was rarely used.  Since I started a gluten free diet, this has all changed.  A new place in the cupboard with the mixer and my food processor means it is easy to reach for and my diet has vastly improved with the addition of egg noodles, wonton wrappers & potsticker dumplings - all products of my beloved pasta roller. It is difficult to know whether a pasta machine is a good investment for you, but have a think about this.  Try to make this recipe, by hand, rolling out the dough.  If you like the taste, are not put off by the effort and find yourself thinking about making it again (having forgotten your aching arms and tired hands) then buy a pasta machine!  By the way, the ikea machine has fixed tagliatelle and noodle rollers on the same machine, so it was a versatile investment.  I haven't seen one in Ikea since but I know that they crop up on ebay intermitattantly selling for around a fiver under the brand / model name Ampia 150, worth the investment I think!

I wanted to retain the yellow hue of traditional egg pasta, so besides the eggs I have included some yellow cornmeal in the dough.  If you can't eat corn, then substitute this with millet (for the yellow look) and potato starch for the corn starch (I can't eat potato starch so don't usually include it).  Egg pasta doesn't need to be rolled as thinly as noodles and wrappers which will be a bonus if you are doing this by hand, on the pasta roller I rolled from settings 1 - 5 before passing each sheet through the tagliatelle cutter.

  • 150g rice flour
  • 50g fine corn meal (masa - yellow corn)
  • 100g tapioca starch
  • 100g corn starch
  • 100g glutinous rice flour
  • 10g kuzu starch
  • 1.5 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp psyllium husks
  • 4 eggs
  • 120-180ml (approximately) water

  • sieve all the flour ingredients together
  • put all the dry ingredients into a mixer or food processor bowl
  • add the eggs with the mixer running
  • gradually drizzle the water in till the mix ressembles chunky breadcrumbs (you may not need all the water in the recipe)
  • tip the dough out onto a work surface dusted with tapioca starch
  • knead together to make a smooth dry dough and form the dough into even cube
  • wrap in a plastic bag and leave to rest for 20 minutes
  • cut a slice off the dough
  • roll two or three times (turning dough each time by 90 degrees) with a rolling pin till it is thin enough to pass through the machine without cracking
  • process the sheet through a pasta machine reducing the thickness each time to create a thin silky sheet, 5 passes worked well for me  (or keep rolling manually, turning and dusting with tapioca starch frequently)
  • if you have a cutter-attachment for your roller, use it now or slice the sheets into noodles or shapes of your choice (if you have the correct attachment you can pass the sheet through your machine to create the pasta shape of your choice)
  • set each finished batch to one side under a damp cloth until all the dough is processed
Rolling tips:
Keep the rest of the dough in a plastic bag whilst not rolling it.
If the outer skin of the dough is dry when you start, wet your hands slightly and squeeze the dough until it is just moist (not sticky) and pliable again.

You can dry the finished pasta fully if you like, simply by leaving it in the open air, turning each pile of noodles to ensure they are open to the air, then store in an air tight box.  Alternatively you can drape noodles or spaghetti over a drying rack (I have used a clean clothes airer).   If you don't want to dry them you can put them straight into an airtight box and freeze until you need them.  When I have room in the freezer, I also freeze the 'dried' ones in case I haven't managed to dry them completely.

Whilst I was taking the photos I was snacking on the left over cooked pasta with remnants from my fridge.   I discovered that this pasta tastes great with tuna, cooked green beans, toasted hazelnuts and garlic oil  topped off with a grating of Sussex Charmer cheese (more on this later).
Hope you enjoy this!

Friday, 1 January 2010

welcome to 2010

In the spirit of the New Year, I have decided that it is time to open up to the world a little.
hastings pier on New Year 2010
It was with this thought in mind that I found myself standing in the snow at my front door with a drill at 9.30am on New Year's Day.  Now we have a shiny new working doorbell which is great, in so many ways!
Our lovely postman will be happy that he doesn't have to hammer on the door and yell, not knowing whether we are in or out.  The teen's boyfriend will not be shut out in the rain for twenty minutes because no-one can hear him knocking and friends who pop round on the off-chance, will finally find the door opened and a welcoming cup of coffee instead of sore knuckles and the echoing silence of their un-answered thumps (sorry!).
Following the same theory, I will start to mention to friends and family that I write a blog.  It has been just 4 months and 46 posts since I started writing this so this is a real baby in the world of food-blogs.  I doubted my abilities to post regularly so I have not, so far, spread word of my blog beyond my closest colleagues and family members.  Those with whom I live could not have failed to notice my new obsession but, in case it was just that, a fad that I would tire of in 5 minutes, I have kept the blog under wraps.
Blogging takes real commitment and a dedication that can be hard to sustain when work and life in the wider world gets busier and more demanding of time & energy.  I know that I am going to experience lapses and gaps, and that when life intrudes, my passion for food and writing will have to take a back seat.  But I know that I will come back, because a lapse doesn't mean failure, it just means that life got in the way, and that happens to all of us.
gluten-free sausage roll with flakey pastry by kate the bake
When I found myself yesterday taking photo after photo of a gluten free sausage roll because we finally had an hour of sunshine, I realised that blogging completes a circle for me.  The circle starts with the constant thoughts and dreams of foods & ingredients, continues past the pile of cookbooks by my bed, the 24 tabs currently open on my browser with different recipes and cooking techniques, and embraces the fact that, for me, food is not just fuel but a means of expression and creativity.  By photographing and writing about the foods that I make, I am able to document my progress, and also retain a record of techniques and ideas that I have.  And that takes me back to the beginning, completing the circle.  I wish I had started blogging years ago.  This blog gives me an outlet for all my thoughts and recipes, a reason to try out new recipes & techniques and a place I can share my ideas with anyone who might appreciate the recipes and find them useful in their lives too.  It also removes a whole heap of pressure for my family and makes our family life a lot easier.  This is not just because there is food always on the table, but because they no longer have to listen to me endlessly hypothesising about grinding buckwheat groats to make my own soba noodles, or whether grains of ground kudzu have smooth or sticky edges, and feign interest.
Truly, you, as a reader, are keeping my family sane and I am extremely grateful to you!  I would love to hear your thoughts about the blog and especially any gluten-free recipes that would be particularly useful for you.  I am happy to give anything a go, so let me know what you miss the most and would love to eat again, in a gluten free version.  I am not promising that I will be able to turn my hand to everything, but I will happily try!
So, with that said, I want to get back to the mission in hand.  I have ingredients in the kitchen and 2 recipes to try before supper.  Thank you for reading, I hope that 2010 lives up to your hopes and dreams.
Happy New Year!