Monday, 24 September 2007

Clafoutis (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

There’s something very wrong with allowing someone to take away your child with the sole intention of cutting her open. It does rather go against the maternal grain. Yet this was my predicament a couple of weeks ago. It was only to be a minor operation, but when ‘minor operation’ involves ‘general anaesthetic’, to my mind, we’re getting into the realms of confusing oxymorons.

I’m sure powerfully-built, hearty types that went to boarding school and had super fun playing lacrosse and hockey would take it all in their stride. But I was only ever a day girl at a convent, and so was pitifully weak and teary. I did as I was told though. I scrubbed my lovely girl with Betadine solution the night before, and then hoicked her out of bed the next day to do it all over again. Slightly OCD I thought, but I was only following orders. We left in the chilly September dawn, and taxied our way to the hospital.

Once installed in our room, I presented the patient with some consolation prizes; lego to build and a terrible Barbie DVD. Barbie and Tchaikovsky is a very wrong combination, but I knew it would make her day and I was duly rewarded with a sharp intake of breath, twinkly eyes and a great big grin.

Before we’d had time to think, the man with the trolley arrived. They won’t allow you near the operating theatre in France so I escorted her to the lift and then snivelled my way back to the ward. As I read a book – each line 5 times – I tried not to remember those statistics where children die under anaesthetic. Tried not to picture their serious yet compassionate faces as they told me the worst. I was just planning what I’d wear to the funeral when the man with the trolley came back.

The nervous excitement she’d worn on her face just an hour before, had been replaced with a flushed look of pain. She was a tiny, vulnerable newborn all over again. I wrapped her up, stroked her hair and cuddled her until she slept. The rest of the day was a blur of her crying in pain, dozing off, demanding to go home, listlessly watching me build her lego, and dissing the hospital because they didn’t even have a DVD player to play the awful Barbie.

They finally let us home and we ensconced her with great ceremony in a duvet nest on the sofa. She was to rest for the next 5 days. Her siblings presented cards and beadwork that they’d made in her honour, and the mood improved immeasurably. With the help of Calpol and Codeine she got through the night, and the following day I carried her back to her nest with unimpeded view of the television and colouring books to hand.

It was here that I made my error. As it hurt her to call for me, I presented her with my fantastic megaphone, and benignly said she was allowed to use it. I even suggested that she use the siren function to save her voice altogether. Now we are not talking some brightly coloured ELC megaphone; we’re talking an armed forces grade, ‘come out with your hands where I can see them’ model, with shoulder strap for use in mobile applications. It is one of the best things I’ve ever asked for on a Christmas list.

Suffice to say, my daughter was overjoyed. For the next five days I’d be beavering away in the kitchen and then almost collapse with fright as, MUMMY! COME HERE! reverberated about the house. Or I’d be on the phone;
Oh thanks for calling, no she’s doing fine…’woooooo woooooo, weeeeeeeee, wwwwaaaaawwwww neeeeeee nawwwwww’ and the siren would effectively end my conversation.

As the pain receded, so her delight with the new toy increased. Cut to full bathtime / bedtime horror with my other three children, and from her pit in front of the telly I’d hear,

So all in all, a rather taxing week, but there were some perks. Dear friend Chantal waded unto the breach and did lots of school runs, which left me plenty of time to tend to my decibel-enhanced invalid and also, to pootle in the kitchen.
I came up with this Clafoutis on day 3 of the recuperation period.
Postoperative Clafoutis (serves 4 adults)
This worked well with wheat and gluten free flour and both were a hit. It's always such a boon when the children ask for seconds. It is lighter than a clafoutis made with eggs and wheat flour, more cake-like. I've yet to make it with real eggs and gluten free flour, there's room for improvement. We ate it with soya cream, but it would also be good with vanilla ice cream.
For a gluten free version:
dairy free spread for greasing
175ml rice milk
2 heaped tsp of 'no egg' powder
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds
5 tbsps rice milk
1 tbsp sunflower oil
5 tbsps sugar
5 tbsps rice flour
0.75g bicarbonate of soda
40 fresh / jar cherries (mine came from a jar in their own juice, do check they are gluten free)
granulated sugar to sprinkle gaily and with abandon
If using wheat flour:
Replace the xanthan gum, rice flour and bicarbonate of soda with 7 tbsps wholemeal wheat flour. The rest of the ingredients remain the same.
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, Gas 4. Grease 4 square dishes (11cm x 11cm) for individual desserts, or a dish that is ovenproof and holds about 2-3 litres
  • Put the 2 tsps of no egg powder, the linseeds, the oil, and the 5 tbsps of rice milk into a bowl and mix well. Add the vanilla essence
  • Put the 175ml of rice milk into a large mixing bowl and add the no egg / linseed mix. Whisk with an electric whisk until it foams up, or whisk until your arm cramps with a manual whisk
  • Add the sugar, a tbsp at a time, and whisk in between each addition
  • Mix the xanthan gum, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, rice and buckwheat flours (or wheat flour if using) together. (Add to the bowl tbsp by tbsp, whisking well with each addition
  • Divide the mixture between the four dishes and plop about 10 cherries into each one, or scatter them around a big dish. The batter will rise up and engulf them until just their glistening maroon pates are showing. (did you like that burst of eloquence?)
  • Place the bowls into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes...but do check obsessively, I would hate them to burn
  • Remove from the oven and scatter the sugar over the top. I prefer them served after 10 minutes or so, even if they do sink back down a little, but you must do as you see fit
  • Serve to a sofa-bound invalid
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Coffee Cake (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Perhaps we pass on addiction with our genes, or perhaps we learn it when we’re young, but whatever the reason, I’m addicted to coffee. My Mum used to drink a lot of coffee, I’d watch her sip it and visibly relax. She took it strong, with a bit of milk and no sugar. She’d drink half a cup, get distracted, and then come back to the coffee later and down it quickly, like a shot. I remember trying some of the cold stuff once, and asking her why she liked it. ‘Oh I don’t know, I don’t want to waste it, and it still tastes good when it’s cold’. Methinks there spoke a true coffee addict.

Like my Mum, I have not really gained control of the day, or my humour, until I’ve had my hit of coffee. I spent lots of sleep-deprived, small baby years glugging Lattes, but now I take it strong, short and black. With a good hit of sugar. It’s a delicious morning ritual that makes the school run go with a swing.

I’ve owned various flash coffee machines with frother function or Cappuccino making device, but they’ve always malfunctioned at some point and I’ve marched them back to the shop in disgust. I need a high output, durable machine that can cope with being bashed around the kitchen as I scream at small children to eat their breakfast.

So nowadays my skinning up tool of choice is a Bialetti. A marvellous, robust, simple device; pretty much nothing can go wrong. I like the ritual of unscrewing it, tapping the coffee container on the edge of the bin, scraping out the grounds, rinsing, spooning in the fragrant dark elixir, screwing it all back up and lighting the gas. When it’s making a bubbling noise and the fumes are wisping from the spout, lean right in and inhale.

On Sunday I was in a thoughtful mood. I thought of coffee, cake and my Mum. I thought of her as I ran a race. It was not a long race, just 6.5km, but as part of the registration fee went towards breast cancer research and support, I ran it in some small way to fight the disease that killed her.

I ran with 10, 921 other women, and a few odd men in drag. I’d had to forego my morning coffee (you don’t want to get caught short when you’re running), but the adrenaline buzz as we fidgeted at the start line was almost as good. I ran past a woman running the race ‘Pour Thérèse’, past one who was running it for ‘Derek’ and past countless other women who were running it to raise money for cancer-fighting charities. For a short time, we were sisters fighting a disease that threatens us all.

I should add that this sisterly love expired within minutes of crossing the line. As our heart rates headed south, we were handed a garland. We giggled at each other, and smiled supportively as we took a rose that was also a freebie. Next they gave us a bag with an energy bar and some goodies, but by now the bottleneck was growing and the women were getting weary. As we neared the free bananas and water the façade was crumbling and when we got to within grabbing distance, it was almost girl on girl action as the heat, irritation and the need to hydrate got the better of us.

Once clear of the crowds, I met up with my lovely friends, we quaffed some self-congratulatory champagne and then headed to a café. I had an espresso chaser, and then a bit more champagne. All in all a pretty good way to spend a morning. When I got home I iced this cake.

The cake is for my Mum.
She put coffee cake in my lunchbox and taught me never to go out in my slippers.
She told me not to buy shop-bought cakes and to ‘pull that tummy in!’.
She told me she wouldn’t die before I grew up.
She got that last bit wrong.

As Mr Bialetti might say, ‘Arriverderci, Mamma’
Coffee Cake for Mum
This is not a fluffy cake for the girls, but a good, filling, woman of a cake. The icing separates slightly, and the coffee essence gets absorbed into the sponge...ahhhh, bliss.
To make this cake using wheat flour, replace the Orgran flour with wheat flour. If the mix seems a little thick at the end, add a touch more rice milk.
110g sugar
110g golden syrup
1 tsp Orgran no egg egg replacer (mixed up with coffee solution, see below)
2 tbsps ground linseeds (mixed with coffee solution, see below)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
85g banana (mashed)
coffee solution 100ml water mixed with 6 tsps instant coffee
100ml warmed rice milk
For the icing:
300g icing sugar
200g dairy free spread
20-30ml hot water mixed with 4 heaped tsps instant coffee
about 2 squares of gluten free dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
  • Mix the tsp of 'no egg' with the ground linseeds and 50ml of the coffee solution. Set aside
  • Heat oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • Grease two 20cm round sandwich cake tins, and line the base with baking parchment
  • Melt the dairy free spread, sugar and golden syrup in a large saucepan
  • Add the 'no egg' and linseed mix to the saucepan and stir
  • Add the mashed banana. Stir
  • Sieve in the flour and baking powder and mix well
  • Add the rest of the coffee solution
  • Add the bicarbonate of soda to the warmed rice milk, add it to the pan and mix until everything is well combined
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins and place in the oven
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, but check after about 15 minutes
  • When they have risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean, take them out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin
  • You could probably brew some coffee at this point
  • When the cakes are cold, turn them out onto a cooling rack. If you wrap them up well, they'll keep for at least a day until you get around to icing them
For the icing:
  • Mix the water and coffee together, set aside to cool
  • Put the dairy free spread into a large mixing bowl
  • Sieve in the icing sugar and mix until it is a smooth paste
  • Add the coffee teaspoon by teaspoon, check the taste, you might not want it as strong as I like it
  • Place one half of your cake top down onto your serving plate. Spread half the icing over the cake and sandwich the other half on top
  • Use the rest of the icing to cover the top of the cake
  • Grate the chocolate over the top to give it a bit of a 'moka' feel
  • Buon appetito!
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Sunday, 9 September 2007

Spiced Apple Sorbet with Calvados (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

I have been known to make less than complimentary remarks about the French. However, when it comes to flaunting Anglophone notions of Health and Safety, I will stand up and applaud them. Where else but in France would I be able to waltz into a riding stables and ask to rent a couple of steeds for an hour or two?

A few weeks ago, without having to provide evidence of equestrian skill, leave a phone number or even look vaguely horsey, I was able to set up a Sunday morning hack for me and a friend. I suppose the logic being, that if I were stupid enough to take a horse out when it’s been twenty years since I rode, well….

When we arrived bright and early at the stables, our horses were all tacked up and ready to go. I chose the brown one - ‘Rosa’ - the white one didn’t look as pretty. Oh how my shallow selection would come back to haunt me.

We clopped off but had to stop further down the drive as my saddle had slipped. I dismounted, sorted it, and prepared to re-mount. Rosa eyed me interestedly. As my foot found its position in the stirrup I heaved myself up. Rosa quickly turned in a tight circle, and I bounced back down. I tried again. Rosa turned on a sixpence again. It’s important that a horse knows who’s in charge so I scolded Rosa and she bowed her head.

On my third attempt I launched upwards, and as my centre of gravity shifted to the point of no return, so did the clever Rosa. I did a sort of slow motion lunge across the saddle, slipped neatly over it and landed head first on the ground with a thud. Bearing in mind we had not yet left the stables, it was all very humiliating. I ended up having to tie her up before I could get back on.

Now slightly giggly, Fran and I clopped down the drive again. We were flying solo in the Norman countryside with just a map and two feisty horses to show us the way. Our map led us alongside rolling fields, over country lanes and on into another forest. Recalcitrant Rosa was not keen to enter the second forest. She dragged her heels and attempted to turn back. I dug deep into my repertoire of equestrian savoir faire, ‘Ya! Giddy up!’ and forced her on.

We broke into a trot, but then pulled up as a tree had fallen across the path. It had landed on another tree and was making a barrier that was about a metre and a half off the floor. We dithered for a minute, then Fran turned her horse left, off the path, scrambled up into the trees, skirted the barrier and rejoined the path. I kicked my steed on to do the same.

Rosa was not liking this off piste action. As she scrambled down the bank to rejoin the path, I bent my head low to avoid some overhanging branches, taking my eye off the hoof for a nanno second. Quick-witted Rosa saw her chance. As she rejoined the path, instead of following Fran left, she turned smartly right – back towards the fallen tree – and broke into a fast trot. She reached the tree in a flash, ducked her head, scraped under and carried on.

Reflex is a wonderful thing. I saw Rosa’s withers disappearing beneath the tree, I saw the tree coming up to meet my solar plexus, felt my thighs being compressed between the saddle and the tree, and I did the only reasonable thing; I let go of Rosa and embraced the tree. As Rosa headed for home, I was left dangling from the branch, legs flailing and backside throbbing.

Whereas Fran had contained her giggles with my first mishap, she was helpless with my second. She couldn’t speak for cackling. Humiliation, however, was the last thing on my mind; I was losing sight of Rosa. Fran was clearly of no use to me and I was forced to limp after my mount.
Rosa was not finished with me yet. She appeared to be ambling, but kept glancing back over her withers to see where I was. When she saw me break into a run, she began to trot. When I stopped running, she stopped trotting. With Fran’s howls echoing behind me, I had to resort to creeping up on Rosa in a sort of tiptoeing run, like Tom to his Jerry, until I could get close enough to grab her. As I struggled to re-mount her, she eyed me balefully, ‘Bloody English Novice’ she was thinking.

The rest of the ride passed off without mishap. This was because we allowed Rosa to lead us back to the stables; she flatly refused to go anywhere else.

That evening I served up my spiced apple sorbet. We showered it with fine Normandy Calvados and giggled helplessly as we re-lived our morning. In terms of value for money, it was the best 20 euros I’ve spent in a long time. This one is for you Rosa; for cunning, for determination and for giving me an unforgettable ride.

Rosa's Spiced Apple Sorbet
This is so easy to make, and with the apple season coming up, what a fine way to get rid of your surplus. The sorbet is quite sweet, but when teamed with the fiery Calvados, it has balance and poise. A bit like me in the saddle.
250g sugar
600ml water
0.25tsp xanthan gum (not strictly necessary, but gives it a bit more of a 'wow! where did you buy this?' feel)
5 medium eating apples
3 tbsps calvados
about 3tbsps water
2-4 mace blades (depending on taste)
2 star anise
3 cinammon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1-2 tbsps lemon juice
0.5 tsp mixed spice
0.5 tsp ground nutmeg (or a good grating of whole nutmeg)
Calvados to serve
  • Put the sugar and xanthan gum into a large saucepan and add the water. Bring to the boil, giving it the odd stir to dissolve the sugar and xanthan gum. Set aside and leave to cool
  • Peel, core and slice the apples and place in a medium saucepan. Add the 3tbsps of Calvados, the lemon juice and water and set over a gentle heat, uncovered. Add a splash more water as it cooks if you think it's going dry or sticking
  • As the apples warm up, stir, and add the mace blades, star anise and cinammon sticks. Slice the vanilla pod down its length and add to the saucepan
  • Leave the apples and spices to simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring every now and then. Remove from the heat
  • Lift the vanilla pod out and scrape out all the seeds onto a plate, put the seeds back in the apple mix
  • Remove the mace blades, star anise and cinammon sticks. Add the mixed spice and ground nutmeg
  • Use a hand blender to whizz it all up to a pulp, or if you want a more textured sorbet, you could use a potato masher (I must try that next time)
  • Pour the cooled sugar, water and xanthan gum mixture into the apple mix and stir
  • Pour into an ice cream container and freeze for at least 24 hours
  • About 45-60 mins before you wish to serve this, remove the tub from the freezer. Let it defrost for about 15-20 mins and then use a hand blender to make it smooth. Return it to the freezer for about 30 mins and then it should be ready to serve
  • Place it in some pretty ice cream glasses and slosh over the Calvados
  • Raise your sloshed sorbet to Rosa, and to failed equestrians everywhere
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Saturday, 1 September 2007

Dairy Free Vanilla Ice Cream & Chocolate Sauce (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

A quick (non-predatory) peer at the genitalia of a newborn naked girl next to a newborn naked boy, should tell you all you need to know. Boys and Girls are very different. So I have no idea why it took me so long to realise that my gorgeous little boy is very different to my gorgeous little girls.

As a weeny baby, he was very similar to the girls, except he ate more. By the time he could toddle, he was a bruiser. Beautifully chubby and stocky, he would throw stuff and push. When he was only one, he wanted his elder sister out of the way, so he picked her up and threw her on the floor. We all gasped in amazement, my husband nodded ruefully, ‘Ah yes, testosterone’.

Testosterone meant that when he was bored, he didn’t sigh, get out some colouring pencils and amuse himself. It meant he would pick all the fridge magnets off the fridge and chuck them on the floor. Then kick them for good measure.

Testosterone demands that I wrestle with him on the sofa, the rougher the better, and again and again. Testosterone means he likes to run, and run, and kick balls, and play catch. And when he’s finished doing that, he will consume more pasta than I could eat in one sitting.

My little boy is often mistaken for a cherub. He has curly hair and enormous blue eyes. He is an enigma to me; he can have moments of alarming aggression, then sob and sob if his feelings are hurt. He will sit and talk animatedly with me, wide-eyed with wonder at something he has discovered or seen. Then later he’ll grunt at me because he’s absorbed in the telly and I’m in the way.

He starts school in two days time. He is excited. He wants to be dropped off with his sisters, he wants to wear his new uniform and go out to play in his clumping new school shoes. I hope it goes well for him, I think it will. Yet how will my free-wheeling boy deal with sitting on the carpet? How will he deal with being told what to do? This is the end of his unstructured days, a few days of pre-school, big pasta lunches and pottering with his toys in his room.

A few months ago we went to meet his Dad for lunch at La Défense. As we emerged from the station it was drizzling and my boy put on his orange raincoat. He ran back and forth in front of the pram, his hair tightening into corkscrew curls, his coat glistening, and his chatter and smiles entertaining me. The men and women of La Défense were coming out for their lunch. A purposeful, serious mass of dark, dark suits. L was still running, a bright splash of colour, happy, carefree, excited. I looked around at the over-worked movers and shakers, the strain and fatigue showing on their faces. I looked carefully at the men. Is this the future for my son? Will this free, free spirit eventually knuckle down and work a 60 hour week? Spend hazy days in distant airports, not really knowing the day or the time, but grinding away on his laptop?

I can’t know which path he will choose, and I can’t know how the world will mark him. I’ve cuddled him more this summer, played a lot more ball than I normally would. I’ve watched his face concentrating fiercely on his latest Lego creation, and I’ve felt really, really sad. I don’t like it when my children start school; it’s the end of a stage, a little loss of their freedom.

Still, I shall send him forth with his homemade, hand embroidered PE bag (Spiderman ‘boy’ colours, so he won’t be bullied), cheerily wave him off and briskly reassure him if he wobbles. I shall meet him at the gate in the afternoon, hand out the snack, and take the exhausted tantrums on the chin. I’m sure within no time we’ll both be loving it.

My hungry man views the culinary creations for my blog with suspicion. True, there was one, golden day when he raced excitedly into the kitchen, ‘Mum! Mum! Can I have some of that lovely smell?!’, but in general he doesn’t do the cake. Or too many homemade biscuits. Or vegetables done in ‘funny’ ways. He does, however, do ice cream.

So this one is for you L. Keep your hands to yourself, don’t talk when others are talking, no running in the corridors, no picking your nose, and the best of luck in Reception.

Mummy's Best Vanilla Ice Cream

We had a few false starts with the vanilla ice cream, but when I finally got it right, L yelled 'Mummy! Mummy! I want you to call this 'Mummy's Best Ice Cream'!' I've added the 'vanilla' so I can be found on a Google search ;-). I'm glad I got it right so I can tell you about the Vanilla I don't normally do 'fancy' products, I prefer ones I can grab in a supermarket, but this vanilla is seriously delicious. It tastes ooodles better than anything I've ever tasted, I'm definitely hooked. They'll deliver to your door, and when you've done it once, you'll have to go back for more. The lovely Sakina even called her supplier in Madagascar for me, to check that all their products are gluten-free. Now that is service!

For the Vanilla Ice Cream:
100g block of coconut cream (the kind you 'melt' by mixing with hot water. Or you could try it with a can of coconut cream, use 100g-ish, it shouldn't make any difference to the end result, but I've yet to try it)150 ml boiling water
150ml rice milk & 2tbsps extra
3 vanilla pods
2 tsps vanilla essence
1 tbsp gluten-free custard powder
0.25 tsp xanthan gum
5-6 tbsps sugar depending on taste
  • Put the block of coconut cream into a bowl and pour over the boiling water (check the packet instructions, the quantity of water may vary according to the make of coconut cream)
  • Put the rice milk into a saucepan. Cut the vanilla pods in half, add them to the rice milk and gently heat
  • When the rice milk is steaming, remove the softened vanilla pods. Slice them lengthwise on a plate and scrape out the seeds. Put the pods and seeds back into the rice milk
  • Take the rice milk off the heat just before it boils. Set aside
  • In a jug, mix the gluten-free custard powder with 3 tbsps of the sugar, the xanthan gum and 2tbsps rice milk. Mix to make a stiff paste
  • Pour the hot rice milk into the custard paste and mix, whisk if necessary to get rid of any lumps
  • Pour it all back into the saucepan and heat very gently stirring / whisking all the while
  • When it has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, remove from the heat
  • Add the coconut cream to the custard and stir to combine
  • Add the vanilla essence and the rest of the sugar
  • Press cling film down onto the surface of the warm custard - to prevent a skin forming - and leave to chill completely
  • When cold, place in an ice cream maker (still haven't bought one? Tsk, read this, it may convince you) and set it a-churning. For how long will depend on your ice cream maker, but about 45 minutes?
  • Put it into an ice cream container and chill for at least 24 hours
  • Caution! You will need to remove this about 20 minutes before serving
For the chocolate sauce:
60g gluten-free dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
2 tbsp water
1tsp golden syrup
  • Put the chocolate and water in a cup and place in the microwave
  • On medium power heat for about 20 seconds, remove, stir, heat again, keep doing this until the chocolate is melted. Mix well
  • Add the golden syrup, mmmm, yummy
  • Pour on top of your ice cream
  • Clean out the cup by means of your index finger
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007