A little blog about food with recipes, reviews, commentary, and honesty.

I also offer event catering and private chef services; check out Earls Barton Eats! for more details.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Gluten Free Food Made Easy: Cakes, Biscuits, Batters, and Breadcrumbs

Gluten Free Food Made Easy - The Guide

Cakes and Biscuits

This is probably the easiest section in the whole guide. The breadth of variety, the pricing, and the taste and texture of ready-made GF cakes and biscuits is amazing, utterly amazing. There are a dozen different brands available, as well as the major supermarkets all doing their own lines, and you could probably get almost any cake or biscuit you can think of. This is something the GF industry is doing right, so very right. 

For basic or common cakes and biscuits the supermarket-own brands really come into their own with large ranges and competitive pricing; Sainsburys and Tesco in particular are really impressive. You can get digestives (incredibly useful for cheesecakes and banoffee pies), custard creams, rich tea, bourbons, bakewell tarts, victoria sponges, chocolate cakes, jammy dodgers, hobnobs, wafers, ETC! Glutafin also do a great range of basics. I cannot stress enough how easy it is to get hold of your favourite types and how great they taste. 

Personally for taste and texture my favourite brand is Mrs Crimbles, which is stocked by all the major supermarkets as well as enjoying a huge following in farm shops and independent delis. I buy Mrs Crimbles Chocolate Macaroons over mainstream ones because they're so very yummy; they're juicy and soft and *mmm*. 

For cookies I really like Doves Farm's range and I've seen them stocked in both independent and chain coffee shops, or try Byron Bay as they're gloriously fudgy. 

For luscious cakes try Honeyrose BakeryThe Village Bakery, or Livwell's. There is a gap in the market for ready-made celebration cakes in supermarkets; I look every year for one for my sister but I'm never successful in mainstream supermarkets. Online there are a number of really good choices such as The Brilliant Bakers or The Healthy Cake Company but be warned that they can be expensive; I always make my own as it's much cheaper. 

If you want a bit more of a treat try Lazy Day's millionaire's shortbread, which tastes exactly like the mainstream, Waitrose's almond frangipani tartsSunstart's rocky road, Orgran's amaretti biscuits, or Kelkin's jaffa cakes (which also make an amazing base for GF trifles!). 

It is also incredibly easy to make your own GF cakes and biscuits; you can use any recipe you want as the flours are really easy to substitute. I'd always go for a ready-blended GF plain or self-raising flour as they best match the texture of mainstream. If a recipe calls for baking powder to be used, remember to check the labels to guarantee a GF brand. 

You can also make flourless cakes; there are more and more recipes online as they're becoming really popular. These usually involve ground almonds, polenta, ground hazelnuts, or an above average amount of oil or butter. 

A note about cake or biscuit decorating: be really careful with edible decorative bits and bobs you can buy as they can unexpectedly contain gluten or wheat, so always check the labels! 


Yes, you can have fish and chips, pancakes, and Yorkshire puddings! Batters are all about flour substitution and it's really easy to try. 

For a really basic batter (like this) substitute the same amount of GF plain flour and a small amount of GF baking powder instead of mainstream flours and treat everything else the same. If you want something a little bit adventurous try a beer batter (like this), this is especially good for fish but be careful because not all beers or ales are GF (I'll take you through these in a later blog post!). For tempura batters substitute the mainstream flours for just cornflour because it's light and will create a lovely crispy batter (like this). 

Yorkshire puddings are one of my favourite things and again they're really easy to do GF; again substitute the mainstream plain flour for GF and voila! Glutafin do a recipe which combines GF plain flour with a little cornflour to make them a bit lighter. Pancakes too can use a GF plain flour substitution, but there are GF batter mixes on the market like Orgran's apple and cinnamon mix. You can also get ready-made pancakes like these from Tesco or Genius

A lot of Indian dishes, such as onion bhajis, use GF gram (or chickpea) flour to make their batters, but some use plain flours instead so check the recipe you're using in case you need to substitute. Gram flour is great to use for these kind of batters though because it adds a lovely taste and golden colour. 


If you can crack GF breadcrumbs then you open the door to all sorts of recipes; scotch eggs, chicken nuggets, fish fingers, chicken kiev, escalopes, fish goujons, stuffings, crusts for meat, ETC! 

To make your own is brilliantly simple; take some basic white GF bread (it can be the cheapest you can find) and whizz up in a food processor until fine. And that's it. You can toast them in the oven if you want a golden colour, but otherwise use them as normal. You can add all kinds of flavourings like black pepper, grated parmesan, or lemon rind. As an alternative you can use polenta as a crumb; again use it in the same way and when fried or oven-baked it becomes incredibly crispy. 

You can buy GF crumbs ready-made but they're limited in supermarkets and are mostly available online at quite a price; try Doves Farm or Orgran if you like but it's much more cost effective to make them yourself. 

Quite a new introduction to the ready-made GF product family is stuffing by Mrs Crimbles! It's great to have with roast chicken or you can make it into balls, and it's just as good as mainstream. Of course if you've got time you can make your own stuffings using your own GF breadcrumbs, but be careful of using sausagemeat as it's not GF; try GF sausages instead and just squish out the meat from the skin. 

Next time it's sauces, sausages, burgers, meatballs, and soups! 

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy: Stocks, Pasta, Pizza, and Pastry

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy - The Guide


Stocks are sneaky things that contain unexpected gluten or wheat. Of course you could make all your stocks from scratch to ensure all the ingredients are gluten-free; boil up a chicken carcass, simmer some fish bones, or broil up some vegetables, but who has the time to do that everyday? 

Stocks cubes are a quintessential time-saver but some aren't GF friendly. Popular brands such as OXO and most supermarket-own stock cubes contain both wheat and gluten because of the thickening agents or preservatives. But good GF friendly brands include Knorr (the gel pots in particular have a great flavour and use xantham gum as a thickener), Heinz, and Kallo, which are also organic. So any recipe which calls for a stock just use a GF stock cube instead, like my smoked haddock risotto recipe

Ready-to-use liquid stocks are increasing in popularity because of their flavour and consistency. But like the cubes some are GF and some aren't so always check the labels. Brands such as OXO again contain gluten as well as supermarket-own brands such as Tesco, however Knorr is once again a GF star as well as Owen Potts


Like the bread, GF pasta has come a looong way over the past few years. Pasta is one of the easiest ingredients to substitute to GF because the timings are the same, there's a great variety of shapes and types available in mainstream supermarkets, and the texture's not that far off. So any pasta recipe is your oyster! 

Dried GF pastas are by far the most common, as with mainstream, and there are loads of brands to choose from. Dried GF pastas can be made from maize, corn, rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, or vegetables; they all have a slightly different flavour so test some out and see which you prefer. The ones that taste most like mainstream pastas are the ones made from maize, corn, and rice like the range from Doves FarmOrgran specialise in multigrain pasta, premium pasta flavoured with chilli or garlic, and also have a brilliant children's range! Most of the major supermarkets also do their own dried GF pastas within their free-from ranges in a wide variety of shapes. Lasagne and canneloni can once more be on the menu as GF dried pasta sheets are also become widely available; try Juvela or Orgran. 

Fresh GF pasta is more difficult to source from major supermarkets, but Waitrose do lovely fresh penne. Again you can treat the fresh GF exactly the same as mainstream, but just be careful not to overcook as it's liable to turn mushy! 

There are only a few different homemade GF pasta recipes on the internet, but some of them are vastly overcomplicated; I found one that used 3 different types of flour, 3 different starches, and xantham gum, ridiculous! You can use GF flours as alternatives to the traditional '00' flour but you have to remember to add the all important xantham gum; pasta needs the elasticity otherwise it'll be like chewing straw. So try more robust GF flours such as GF plain, buckwheat, or brown rice; but don't use lighter types like cornflour, potato, or white rice. For every 300g of GF flour, use 1 tbsp of xantham gum. 


Unfortunately Dominos haven't yet had a foray into the world of GF pizza, but GF pizza bases are now widely available in major supermarkets and online so create your own and you can customise the toppings how you like! 

Genius do excellent frozen bases with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce already added; it's the most convenient way to create your own. Glutafin do lovely deeper pan bases and DS bases have a crispy crunch and are available through ASDA. Most of the major supermarkets do their own brands now and I recommend Tesco for both price and texture. The best bit about the ready-made bases are the convenience, they take the same time to cook in the oven as regular fresh pizzas, and the texture, which is very similar to mainstream pizzas except they're a bit crispier (which I prefer!). 

If you want something that involves a bit more cooking and so you can dictate the thickness and size of your pizzas, there are now GF pizza base mixes available. These are mostly online or through your pharmacist, but you can find a limited range in larger supermarkets if you look really hard. Orgran are the cheapest and most readily available; there are other brands such as Glebe Farm or Bobs Red Mill but these are really expensive for what they are and only available through specialist online retailers.  

Making GF pizza dough from scratch is again all about substitution and the wonderful xantham gum. You can use GF plain flour like in this recipe from the Gluten Free Student Cookbook, or there are recipes online which use polenta instead of flour but these produce a much harder, brittle base. Just like making your own GF pasta, xantham gum adds the essential texture and elasticity of gluten so don't forget to add it! 


Readers of my earlier blog posts will already know that I hate making pastry, it's my least favourite kitchen job. I buy ready-made pastries whenever available so that I don't have to go through the torment of making my own. 

One of the most recent innovations in GF food is the introduction of fresh GF pastries in some major supermarkets. For cooks like me these are an absolute godsend; you use them in exactly the same way as fresh mainstream pastry blocks, the flavour and texture is spot-on, and you can use them as a substitute in any mainstream pastry recipe. DS sell a ready-made block through Tesco but you can also obtain more specialist brands through the internet such as Goodness Direct. They are more expensive than mainstream ready-made blocks but you do pay for the convenience. 

As with pizza dough you can also get GF pastry mixes that come as a blend of dry ingredients and you simply add water. These are cheaper than the ready-made blocks and don't take a lot of effort or skill so I'd recommend them if you can't find a ready-made block. Orgran do a multi-purpose pastry mix that, depending on the way you prepare it, can create puff, shortcrust, or shortbread; it's a bit of a wonder but can be costly (even more than the ready-made blocks from most retailers). Mrs Crimbles also do a mix for shortcrust which is now available from Sainsburys and is slightly cheaper. 

Of course the cheapest option is making your own but this is the most effort and time. As with pizza the easiest option is to substitute mainstream flour for GF ones, as I do in my lemon tart recipe. If you don't add xantham gum you'll end up with a short, crumbly pastry like mine, which I actually prefer but it's entirely up to you. Adding xantham gum with the GF flour will make the pastry softer and easier to roll out. Doves Farm have a recipe really similar to mine and Glutafin provide a really helpful method video with theirs. 

Next time it's cakes, biscuits, breadcrumbs, and batters! 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy - Bread, Flour, and Thickeners

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy - The Guide 


Ahh, bread; the lifeblood of civilisation. And the scourge of gluten-free diets everywhere. Fresh, crusty, bouncy, soft bread is what the majority coeliacs miss most of all. Now as I said in the introduction GF bread has come so very far but there's still some good and some bad. 

Some ready-made GF breads have to be baked in the oven before eating, this is particularly common with baguettes and crusty rolls. Generally I've found these to be pretty good; I tried a GF baguette from the Sainsbury's Freefrom range that tasted just as good as one from the bakery. Being baked they generally taste fresher and have a nicer texture than some ready-baked breads. 

Now the real hit and miss area is ready-baked loaves. I've tried some shockers in my time, but there are some brands which are getting it spot-on: GeniusGlutafin, and even Warburtons have awesome ranges available from most large supermarkets. 

The best thing about GF bread these days is the variety; you can buy almost any type of mainstream bread you could think of as a GF free alternative. Highlights includes pitta, naan, ciabatta, fruit loaves, and multigrain. So be adventurous and try everything you can! 

Now as for making your own...well I'm not the greatest bread-baker. I can't even really do mainstream bread, I just haven't the patience or the time. But I have been recommended this recipe from Doves Farm (you will hear much of them later on, they're my favourite GF alternatives company). So try it, experiment, and don't worry if it doesn't work out because you know you can go to any large supermarket and buy a loaf instead! 


As with GF bread, flours have come a long way recently; you can now buy a GF version of virtually any flour. The self-raising flours especially are surprisingly good, working in pretty much exactly the same way as mainstream. 

Ready-blended GF flours are a bit of a revelation; they're readily available in large supermarkets, you use them in exactly the same way as mainstream flours, and although they do cost more than mainstream flours they won't break the bank. I thoroughly recommend Doves Farm for GF flours; they're the most common in supermarkets and they're incredibly well done. 

The one major issue with GF flours is elasticity; this is what the gluten gives to mainstream flours. You'll find a lot of specialist blended GF flours have overcome this problem, but if you find that you use a flour which makes your bread too crumbly or your pastry way too short then Xantham gum is your friend. Xantham gum is produced by fermenting sugar and is naturally GF and it comes as a fine white powder. It can be used to mimic the elasticity and thickening properties of gluten, and I'll talk about it quite a lot because it's so very useful. It does cost around £3 for a pot but you only need a little in most recipes so it'll last you quite a while. 

Be careful of adding baking powder to plain GF flour as a raising agent; not all baking powders are GF. Those that are made from cornstarch are, but those made from wheat starch sadly aren't; always check the label! 

Flours made from wheat, barley, or rye are only the tip of the iceberg. You can get a range of flours which are naturally GF: rice, soy, chestnut, buckwheat, corn, potato, and chickpea (or 'gram'). Some GF recipes call for these flours to be used instead of a ready blended variety but I'd be cautious of recipes that request blending 2 or more of these flours together. Quite often only one is necessary or there is a ready-blended GF flour that can be used instead; ready-blended are almost always easier to use and cheaper. 


Thickeners are one of the reasons that a lot of processed foods are a gluteny minefield and a great deal of recipes call for them. So there are some really simple alternatives... 

The most common in savoury recipes is a roux; this is a mixture of plain flour and melted butter. The solution? Use GF plain flour instead of mainstream; one amazingly simple substitution which creates exactly the same thickening effect and the same taste. You can use the same amount and treat it in exactly the same way. 

Another common thickener is cornflour; well with this one you're perfectly safe. Cornflour is naturally GF so if a recipes calls for it, just carry on as normal! You can either mix it with melted butter, like a roux, or slake it in water or milk and pour in (you'll find instructions re. amounts on the boxes). 

Arrowroot is perfect for sweet recipes that need thickening, like fruit compote or sauces. It also keeps liquids clear, as opposed to cornflour which clouds them, so you can also use it for clear soups or clarified savoury sauces. Use it similarly to cornflour and slake it in water or milk before adding. 

And then there's our previous friend xantham gum; it's more expensive than the previous alternatives and won't give you any better results so I would recommend not using this for thickening savoury food, but particular sweet GF recipes do benefit from it. 

There is also guar gum or kuzu starch but these are only available from specialist retailers or online and are frighteningly expensive for what they are so I recommend sticking with the previous four. 

Next up in our gluten-free odyssey; stocks, pizza, pasta, pastry, and noodles...

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy - Intro

Being diagnosed as a coeliac is one of the most difficult things I could imagine happening. It's not just an allergy, it's a serious autoimmune condition, one that can have a serious impact on your life. It can negatively affect your health, your career, your relationships, your leisure activities, and of course your diet. 

However, it can be effectively controlled and it needn't ruin your life. And it especially needn't ruin your diet. 

Creating gluten-free food is easier than a lot of people make it out to be; I get really angry at websites I've encountered that promote needlessly complicated and expensive recipes. Yes it takes knowledge, consideration, planning, and care. 

But all you really need to know is what ingredients you need to avoid and what you can substitute them with. You can take any recipe, any recipe, and change it into a gluten-free one just by swapping ingredients and sometimes a few techniques. For example, take my gluten-free scotch egg recipe; it's a basic, mainstream scotch egg recipes just with two substitutions. And it tastes just as good. 

Always remember to check labels! UK food labelling now has a requirement to declare whether the product contains gluten or wheat; this is always displayed clearly on the front or back. But if you're not sure just read through the ingredients list, anything containing wheat, barley, or rye is a no-no. 

Over the past decade gluten-free food has come on a long way; I remember when the ranges in supermarkets were limited, eating out was impossible, and the bread was like cotton wool. But now supermarkets have wised up and stocked up, even my local family-run Italian offers gluten-free pasta, and believe me the bread has improved beyond recognition. 

Unfortunately a lot of processed foods are still beyond a coeliac's reach; give it a few more years and I can honestly seeing that changing for the positive. Home-cooking will be your focus, and this takes a little more time, effort, and expense but, I promise, not a lot. And if home-cooking isn't your thing, I'm available for catering gigs...*ahem*. 

So below I have composed what I hope to be a pretty comprehensive guide over the next few blog posts to simplify gluten-free cooking. It will be updated whenever I discover something new, so keep checking! 

Remember: know what to avoid and know what to substitute it with

For more information on coeliac disease and gluten-free diets visit the Coeliac UK website; they're an excellent organisation and will answer any questions you have. 

So let's start with bread, flour, and thickeners... 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tapas Fiesta!

It's tapas time! 

I love cooking and eating tapas; it's truly one of my favourites. I've been privileged enough  to be able to sample authentic tapas in Madrid, in a bar filled with locals and formica tables. It was awesome. 

I know it's a bit faddy and trendy but I adore 'small plates' cuisine; like tapas, anti-pasti, mezze, etc. The variety of the food really appeals to my taste buds, as does the friendliness of everyone tucking in to different dishes in the middle of the table. 

On Saturday we're having some of our favourite people over for a tapas fiesta; with tapas, drinks, and laughs. 

I've spent quite a lot of time planning the menu because I wanted to make it a bit more than basic but not too expensive to create, and with some yummy vegetable accompaniments for my BFF (who loves a bean). 

And here's the finished article (in my dodgy Espanol...)

Results and photos on Friday/Saturday! 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Food Memory - The Grocers

When I was almost 13 I started working (illegally) on Saturdays in a greengrocers in the town where I grew up. My elder sister already worked there and the owner was an old friend of my dad's so I was kind of a shoe-in. 

I loved that shop. I loved the smell of the fruit, the chill of the huge industrial fridge out the back, the regulars who came in every week, and the building itself was old and deliciously crooked and creaky. 

Working there taught me a huge amount about ingredients. It was the first time I was acquainted with chicory, fennel, radicchio, dragon fruit, kumquats, and lychees. I used to take older or damaged stock that we couldn't sell home and experiment; there was many a fish dish where I tried to get the balance of fennel right. And I discovered I never could like chicory. 

Even now, years since I left and the shop closed down, I remember the layout of the shop exactly. There was a large chilled shelving unit in a L-shape curled round the back of the shop: vegetables on the left with fruit and salads on the right. The exotic fruits and salads were always on the very right hand side, on the top shelf; the potatoes were always on the very left hand side, on the bottom shelf in deep square trays to keep the dirt from falling onto the floor. In the middle there were great weigh scales, old-fashioned and always a little bit inaccurate, hanging from the ceiling with curved shiny metal trays. There were herbs in sealed plastic trays hanging up above the salads, every herb you could think of, and it was my job every morning when they came out of the fridge to check for herbs that had gone brown or slimy; admittedly we used to take out the brown and slimy bits and put them back on sale, which is now probably illegal and endangering public health. 

Next to the window at the front of the shop were the two tills, one in front of the other. Mine was the front one, next to the door, and above the till was a shelf with 3 large glass jars. In these jars were chocolate covered raisins, peanuts, and yoghurt covered raisins for sale; when the shop was slow and no one was looking I often used to sneak a yoghurt covered raisin. I remember using a plastic scoop to decant them from the jars and trying to weigh them out on my till in little brown paper bags for customers; it used to take me ages to get an exact weight. 

I remember the smell of the English strawberries in the summer most of all; they were the biggest sellers and were set out on trestle tables in front of the shop. The punnets were always big and deep and filled to spilling with the glossy red berries. Whenever a customer bought a punnet we had to wrap them in brown paper bags and inevitably a few berries would always fall out when I was trying to twist the bags round to seal them. 

And it was while working in the shop that I experienced my first teenage crush; it was all-consuming and distracting. One day while cleaning the windows of the shop I saw him working in the hairdressers opposite, sweeping hair out of the front door. He was about 16/17, over 6 feet, and had very regular short brown hair, and despite the fact he didn't even look in my general direction I fancied him in love with me. From then on I always volunteered to clean the windows hoping for a glimpse of him and the opportunity to stretch my body out seductively next to the glass. I remember one day when he actually walked into the shop without warning and when I saw him I couldn't breathe and in my head was OMG HE'S HERE, then OMG HE CAN'T SEE ME. I ran out and hid in the fridge out back to maintain a sense of mystery about me. 

Then one day he was gone from the hairdressers. I pined for weeks, cleaning the windows and hoping that it was a temporary absence and he'd just been on a long holiday or was working in the Peace Corp. I had almost resigned myself to the loss when I decided to go to the new Italian deli round the corner from the shop on my lunch break one day. I decided to have a slice of their lasagne for lunch and was just ordering when He walked into the shop from the back. I stood, numb, staring. He started serving the woman behind me and I continued gawping, open mouthed, and thinking OMG HE'S BACK. The guy behind the counter had to prompt me to pay. As soon as I had I scuttled out of the shop as fast as my stumpy legs could carry me. 

Of course I went back to the deli every single Saturday on my lunch and had lasagne every single time just to spend a brief amount of time in his presence. Their lasagne was amazing; the tomato sauce was packed with garlic, the beef mince was juicy, and the bechamel sauce on top was thick and wobbly when cold. They served it cold from a vast pan under the glass counter and cut a slice to the size you wanted and put it in a polystyrene tray covered in cling film. I used to take it back to the shop and sometimes heat it up in the little staff room microwave, but more often than not eat it cold, straight from the tray. I remember the taste of it even now; actually I remember more about the lasagne than I do about my crush. 

It all had to come to an end eventually. A few months later the owner of the grocers retired and sold up, we were all made redundant. 

And the bubble finally burst for my crush when I saw him in the dairy aisle of the local Somerfield one day, him holding hands with another boy. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Food Memory - Chocolate

I have a love/hate relationship with chocolate. 

I'm not obsessed by it, I don't fantasise about it, and I'm altogether *Meh* about it. 

In fact eating too much of it makes me quite ill; I have an intolerance to caffeine. 

Sometimes, however, I do crave it. I crave something sweet and melty and smooth. 

If I crave it when I have little money; Dairy Milk. If I crave it when I have some money; I make chocolate cheesecake. If I crave it when I have lots of money; Hotel Chocolat 40% Milk. My chocolate habits are pretty formulaic and predictable. 

There is something chocolately lurking in my past though: this photo... 

Yes, I am the one on the left with the face-full of chocolate and armed with a chunk of cake to act as a dipper. Mother knew how to do healthy snacks. 

My favourite part of this photo though is my sister's facial expression; it's one of "Tsk, can't take her anywhere". She still looks at me like that now. 

Nowadays I prefer my sporadic chocolately treats in my mouth rather than around it. Mostly. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Family Foodings and Gluten-Free Scotch Eggs

The weatherman lies. 

My afternoon of clear blue skies, bright sunshine, and 18c temperatures did not materialise. But in true family fashion we still had our little garden party out on the patio, shivering. 

The tomato, spinach, and cheddar quiche was consumed in around 10 minutes, the beef remained pink and succulent, and the lemon tart did me proud. I was a happy bunny. 

And despite my nephew staging a moody, teenage sit-in at one point, we didn't kill each other. Good times. 

And I made these bad boys: 

It's a gluten-free scotch egg! My wheat intolerant sister was incredibly thrilled; she hadn't had a scotch egg in 12 years. It was actually the first time I'd ever made them and they ended up almost perfect. 

So here's how I did it... 

To make 4 big eggs (half is a pretty good serving for 1 person): 

4 large eggs
White gluten-free bread 
Pork mince 
Half a teaspoon of oregano
Half a teaspoon of sage 
Salt and Pepper 
About half a litre of vegetable oil (enough to cover the eggs in the saucepan)

First soft boil the eggs for around 4 minutes. Leave them in the saucepan and run the cold tap over them for a few minutes (this keeps the yolks from discolouring) and then leave them in cold water for about 30 minutes to cool completely. 

To make the breadcrumbs simply whizz up some white gluten-free bread in a food processor; 4-5 slices will be plenty. 

Mix the pork mince, oregano, sage, seasoning, and a little beaten egg - it's messy but better to do this with your fingers to break down the mince. Then leave in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up. For gluten-free scotch eggs you can't use ordinary sausage meat as it usually contains wheat, but for ordinary scotch eggs and as a time saver feel free to use it! 

When the eggs are cool peel the shells and give the soft boiled egg a little rinse to make sure none of the shell is left behind. 

Now to wrap the eggs in meat; it's easiest to do this using cling film. Get a small handful of meat and roll it into a ball using your fingers, then flatten it out onto a large square of cling film so that the meat is around 1cm thick. Pop the egg into the middle of the meat and pull up the sides of the cling film so that the meat folds around the egg. Use the clingfilm to then mould the meat around the egg, making sure there are no gaps. 

Now set up your scotch egg assembly line; 2 beaten eggs in a bowl and your breadcrumbs on a plate. First roll the meaty egg into the beaten egg (remember to remove the clingfilm!) making sure it's well coated, then roll around in the breadcrumbs on the plate. Make sure the egg is completely coated in breadcrumbs and they all stick. 

Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan to 170c (use a thermometer). Using a large metal spoon, lower the scotch eggs carefully into the hot oil one at a time. Use the spoon the turn the eggs over until they're golden brown and crispy (3-4 minutes). Alternatively use a deep fat fryer if you have one! 

Then place the scotch eggs onto a baking tray and pop into a 180c/160c fan oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before eating. 

It sounds a lot of faff, but think of the joy on your coeliac-loved one's face when you present them with a scotch egg... 

Friday, 22 June 2012

A Confession and a Lemon Tart

First, a confession. 

I find making pastry a real ball-ache. 

Whenever I see a chef or food writer telling me how easy it all is I want to scream because for me it's completely hit or miss. I use established, brilliant recipes that Mother passed onto me, and she is a pastry supremo. In her hands it always ends up crumbly, crispy, perfection. In mine, invariably a disaster.

I find pastry so frustrating that I buy ready-made almost constantly; the only exception is when I have to make gluten free. 

The worst bit is always blind baking. I don't know why but it's always too thin, too thick, too holey, too brittle, too soft, ARGH. My fists clench just thinking about it. 

But today I had no choice than to make some gluten free pastry, all by myself, ready for my garden party tomorrow because of my sister's allergies. 

So to the lemon tart...

The recipe I use for shortcrust is a basic half flour, half fat; to make enough to line a flan tin I use 8oz of flour, 2oz of butter, and 2oz of margarine. For the gluten free mix I always use Doves Farm Gluten Free Self-Raising flour; yes, yes I know it should be made with plain, but I find self-raising always works better. Either rub the fat into the flour or use a food processor, then add a little water to make into a lovely soft doughy lump. Then chill in the fridge for an hour or two. 

It'll look something like (or better than) this: 

Now a warning; this mix will be *short*, very *short*. So short you won't be able to roll it out and line a tin with it in a normal manner. I find it best to roll it out between two bits of clingfilm (one top, one bottom) to roughly the size you need, then tip it onto the tin. Then you have to use your fingers to mould it into the tin and up the sides, like playdough. Appetising. 

Just make sure you get it roughly the same thickness all the way round and when the filling's in no one will notice you haven't rolled it! And always keep a bit of pastry aside for hole patching... 

Take a square of baking paper and scrunch it up a couple of times, this will make it soft enough to use to put into the pastry case without damaging it. Then pour in some ceramic baking beans, if you have them. I would recommend these as in my copious poor pastry experience they do make a difference; I've tried using odd bits of rice or pulses instead and it's just not as good because of the weight and shape. Bake the case blind in the oven at 180c/160c fan for about 20 minutes (remove the paper and beans for the last 5 minutes to crisp up the bottom). 

When it's done leave it to cool while you make the filling. 

For the filling I use a Mary Berry recipe as it's light and sharp, just how I like it. Put 9 whole eggs, 300ml of double cream, 350g of caster sugar, and the zest and juice of 6 lemons into a bowl and whisk to combine until smooth. Then pour into the base, but please be careful when transferring to the oven in case it spills! 

Cook in the oven at 180c/160c fan for about 40-45 minutes; until the filling has a bit of a healthy jiggle but is set. When done leave to cool before removing from the tin. 

And it should end up looking something like this: 

Alright, so it's not going to win any beauty contests but it's completely tasty. 

Food Porn - Honey Roasted Gammon

There is gammon. And then there is honey roasted gammon; it is the upper-echelon of ham.  

The glaze sticky and sweet, the meat soft and juicy...*drool*. 

My recipe for honey roasted gammon is so bloody easy; you get a gammon and you add honey and you roast it. 

OK so there are a couple more steps... 

For a 750g gammon joint, which feeds 3-4 hungry people: 

Heat the oven to 200c/180c fan. If the gammon has come in vacuum-packed plastic remove the packaging and wash it under the tap; this gets rid of the plasticky ham odour.

 Pat the joint dry and trim all the fat. Place on a roasting tray and loosely cover with foil; roast in the oven for 35 minutes for every 500g, then add 30 minutes. So for the 750g joint the cooking time is about 1 hour and 30 minutes. 

Roast for an hour initially, then remove from the oven and remove the foil. Drizzle over a generous amount of runny honey and spread over the surface using a brush. 

Return to the oven for 10 minutes, then remove and baste the joint with the honey (which will be blackened and caramelised by now). Repeat the basting after another 10 minutes, then cook for 10 minutes further. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool; this makes the glaze go sticky! 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Food Porn - Smoked Haddock Blanco Risotto

Tonight's dinner offering is Smoked Haddock Blanco Risotto; which T says he loves, and he is a man who doesn't like rice... 

Now I don't do conventional recipes for savoury meals as I don't do exact quantities. I taste as I go along and the resulting meals are different every time. I think recipes should be fluid, seasonal, and expressive; so here's the ingredient and method list instead: 

To serve 2: 

Half a white onion 
2 cloves of garlic, crushed 
Arborio rice 
Chicken stock (Alternatively use gluten-free chicken stock) 
A generous splash of white wine
Smoked haddock fillets, skinless and boneless
A couple of dollops of creme fraiche 
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

First soften the onion in olive oil and a knob of butter on a medium heat, but make sure it doesn't colour. Add the garlic and soften for a couple of minutes. 

Turn the heat up and fry the rice for a couple of minutes until it goes slightly translucent. Then add the wine and let it sizzle off the alcohol. 

Add the chicken stock a ladle-full at a time, and allow the rice to soak up the stock before you add the next bit of stock. Do this until the rice is al-dente; make sure it doesn't go too soft and sloppy! 

While the rice is cooking bake the haddock fillets in the oven; when cooked they will leave a bit of lovely haddocky juice behind, add this to the rice for extra flavour! Flake the fillets and add to the rice when it's almost done. 

When the rice is done add a couple of dollops of creme fraiche for added creamyness and a handful of grated Parmesan, plus seasoning to taste. 

Finish off by serving in shallow bowls and with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan! 

Family Foodings

So on Saturday I'm hosting a family meal/get together/garden party to celebrate mine and T's house-versary! That's a year of living together, paying a mortgage, and with no spousal abuse. 

For normal families this would be a simple, relaxed, "I'll just chuck it in the slow cooker dear!" sort of affair. But not mine. Unfortunately my family have many dietary requirements that means any affair takes planning, a bucket-load of ingredients, and a will of steel. 

First there's one of my sisters, who as lovely as she is, has a digestive system which rebels against wheat and rich food in quite a dramatic manner (allergies combined with IBS for good measure). I've been cooking and baking specialist wheat-free food stuffs for her for about 10 years now so I'm used to thinking in a coeliac-friendly way. For example; no ready-made breadcrumbs (buy a gluten-free loaf, let it go stale, whizz it in the food processor), no ready-made pastry or cakes (gluten-free flours have come a long way and some are just as good as normal types), and always make sauces from scratch (thickeners are a gluteny minefield; try xantham gum or arrowroot). Sometimes though I forget and have been known to make celebration cakes that she just has to look at and sniff dejectedly. 

Secondly there's my dad. He has, among other medical conditions, diabetes and renal failure. It's probably self-explanatory as to how diabetes affects the diet, but renal diets aren't well known; I had no idea about them until my dad's specialist discussed it. Basically it's about cutting down, or out completely, on the substances that make it difficult for the kidneys to do their job; you need to make their lives as easy as possible when they're not firing on all cylinders. The biggest issue is salt, and coming a close second is potassium (which means low-sodium salt equivalents are a no-no too as they're packed with potassium). So you have to be imaginative with seasoning to combat the blandness; using chilli, herbs, lemon, and vegetables all have to be boiled or par-boiled and the water discarded in order to drain them of potassium (so mashed potatoes good, jacket potatoes bad). Time-saving ideas like stock cubes are unfortunately off the menu, as are salty or sweet flavourings such as soy sauce or ketchup. And with all the sugar and bananas, banoffee pie is completely out of the question. 

Then there's my nephew and brother-in-law, who are both just a bit fussy. I have to make sure there's always the option of beef and potatoes on the menu just for them. My mum doesn't eat garlic or red meat, and whenever she smells garlic in the near vicinity emits a high-pitched squeal of derision. 

And lastly, me. I have an intolerance to nuts. Obviously I am excellent at avoiding them, except when T kisses me after eating peanut M&Ms, but 'careful' is the buzzword when Dad, Sis, and I all go out to dinner. There was an unfortunate incident in a restaurant in Hay-on-Wye one time when I accidently, on the assurance of the waitress that it was nut-free, ate a chunk of roulade with walnuts in and promptly threw up on the plate. We got our meal for free that day. 

Luckily my eldest sister and T will eat whatever I bloody well put in front of them. 

So here's the menu: