Sunday, 28 October 2007

Halloween Biscuit Cakes (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

The whole Halloween thing leaves me a bit perplexed. I like to know the roots of traditions and festivals, and it was only when the children started asking questions a couple of years ago, that I realised I didn’t have a clue. A quick internet search talked of ghosts and ghouls coming back from the dead looking for living bodies to inhabit. I wasn’t sure I wanted to mention this to my tender 5, 3 and 2 year olds, so I think I just glossed over it all and bigged up pumpkins, things vaguely spooky, and Trick or Treat.

I'm hoping I won't have to Trick or Treat with my children for at least another 5 years - dragging four children around the streets at bedtime is not a tempting thought - but it was a lot of of fun when I was little. One memorable year I joined a band of children for our annual Trick or Treat fest. For some reason all parental control was relaxed and we were allowed to roam the dark streets with no adult chaperone, just a few thrilling older boys taking charge. I’m not sure my Mum had vetted those thrilling older boys, (T.O.B’s) they wore Harringtons and boots and were rather fanciable.

I joined the band with pride, for I had a pumpkin suspended from a cane, complete with lit candle inside; health and safety be damned. So off we set, a motley assortment of witches, ghosts and thrilling older boys, did I mention those?

Around the houses we went, our ‘Trick or Treat’ chorus growing louder and louder with each suburban doorbell. The pockets of the thrilling older boys were filling with our loot, it was all going very well.

At one house, Martin (T.O.B.) seized my pumpkin on a cane and danced up to the door waving it as we yelled, ‘Trick or Treat! Money or Sweet!’ Rather unfortunately, my pumpkin-with-candle design was a bit flawed, and he succeeded in setting one of the ghosts on fire. When the bemused homeowner finally opened her door she was confronted with a screaming ghost, crying witches and T.O.B’S desperately trying to extinguish the flames.

Alas, we promptly lost the ghost and her sister; they were ushered into the goodly folk’s home so that parents could be called. The poor ghost was sobbing desperately; for a minute there I suppose she thought she was going to be joining the dead souls that were swirling around our heads eyeing up our bodies for inhabitation. Fear not dear reader, the ghost was not injured, just very shocked.

We decided we’d probably had enough Trick or Treating for one year, and we headed back to someone’s garage to count out the cash. I somehow ended up in the garage with a couple of the T.O.B’S as they started a pile of money for each trick or treater present.

‘A pound for him, pound for her, pound for you…’ etc.

Then one of the handsome Harrington-clad boys flashed me a smile. As he started his second round of dealing out the cash, he put a pound on our three piles and skipped everyone else. On the next round everyone had a pound, but on the following round he again missed out everyone else and only put the money on our piles.

I was horrified. No matter that he wore a Harrington and daring, lace-up boots! He was nothing but a common swindler! My convent training came to the fore and I roundly condemned what he was doing. The T.O.B smirked, re-adjusted the piles and no more was said.

A clear blow for truth and righteousness.

All chances of ever getting to first base with a T.O.B. - scuppered.

With the benefit of hindsight I can shrug and think that he was probably on crack cocaine before he was 20, and really not as attractive as I found him at the time. Or I could have ignored the swindling, been a few pounds richer and might have had a squeeze with an older boy in a Harrington and lace up boots.

Oh the tortured life of a young girl trick or you know where your daughter is tonight?!

Halloween Biscuit Cakes (makes about 25 ghoulish biscuits)

It's a slightly odd title I know, but it really is the only way to describe these little ghouls. When you sandwich the tender biscuits together with the orangey chocolatey inner...well. It is a symphony of yearning sweetness, a rich hit of dark and mysterious chocolate and a naughty orange tang. So like one of those Thrilling Older Boys.

Please note: these biscuits are labour intensive, but really worth the effort; your darling children will think you're fabulous. You could easily make the biscuits one day, store them in an airtight container, and then your children could help you sandwich them together the next day.

gluten-free version, egg free, dairy free version:

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

175g sugar (caster would be best, but I've made with granulated and it's not a problem)

175g golden syrup

1 heaped tsp of Orgran no egg egg replacer mixed with 2 tbsp of orange juice

zest of one orange

a pinch of clove powder

a big pinch of ground ginger

0.25tsp ground nutmeg

1.5tsp ground cinnammon

0.5tsp mixed spice

wheat flour, no egg, no dairy version:

Use 350g of wheat flour and omit the xanthan gum

gluten free with egg version:

use the GF flour and xanthan gum and substitute the 'no egg' with a real egg. As a real egg usually yields more liquid than the 'no egg', you may have to add more GF flour (I would go with rice flour) to give you a workable consistency. This recipe is very forgiving, if you have to add quite a bit more flour, it shouldn't affect the final outcome.

For the filling:

125g dairy free spread

a medium orange - use the one whose zest you stole for the biscuit mix

4tbsps icing sugar

  • You will need your oven at 180 degrees Celsius / Gas 4, but it takes a while to carve out your halloween shapes, so you won't need to light it until after you've started cutting out the shapes

  • Mix the heaped tsp of no egg powder with 2 tbsps of orange juice (if using a real egg, ignore this bit your turn with the orange zest will come in a bit), add the zest of the orange and set aside

  • Put the rice flour into a large mixing bowl and seive in the gram flour. If using wheat flour, place the flour into the mixing bowl

  • Add the xanthan gum (for GF version), bicarbonate of soda and spices and stir well to combine

  • Rub the dairy free spread into the flour using the tips of your fingers, until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs

  • Stir in the sugar

  • Mix the golden syrup with the no egg and orange zest mix and add to the mixing bowl. If using a real egg, beat the egg and the golden syrup together, add the orange zest, and put it all into the mixing bowl

  • Using a wooden spoon, mix it all together, then use your hands to squidge everything together to form a dough. If you are using GF flour, you may find that the dough really sticks to your hands. Moisten your hands with a little rice milk and carry on squidging, it will sort itself out when it comes to rolling out

  • If need be, you could now wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour or so, or you could crack on, only a few days until halloween

  • Flour your work surface with rice flour and roll out the dough until about 2-3mm thick. Use a bamboo skewer or a very sharp craft knife to carve out a pumpkin shape, or a ghost shape with scary eyes, or a witch's hat with a crescent moon, or whatever you like. You might need to 'dot' out your design with the skewer end and then do a 'dot to dot' with the knife to cut out the dough(Make sure your design has some holes in it so that the chocolate mix will show through). When you've carved your shape, lift it up gently and place it onto an uncut piece of dough, cut around the shape so that you have a matching shape

  • Put your shapes onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment

  • You could now light your oven, by the time you've finished cutting out shapes, it'll be warmed up

  • Carry on cutting out the ghoulish shapes until all the dough is used up

  • Bake in the oven for about 10 mins, but watch it, they cook really quickly and you don't want them too brown

  • Leave them to cool on the tray, then transfer to a wire rack and let them get completely cold. If you wanted to take a break now I would fully understand. Pop the biscuits into an airtight container, pour yourself a glass of wine and when you're ready....

  • For the filling: Cut the orange into small pieces and remove any pips. Blend the orange in a blender until smooth, you may have to add a splash of orange juice to achieve a smooth mix. Set aside.

  • Melt the dark chocolate in a bain marie. When it has melted, remove from the heat and add the dairy free spread. Mix until the spread has melted and it's looking smooth and glossy

  • Add 7 tbsps of the blended orange and mix

  • Add the 4 tbsps icing sugar. If it's not sweet enough for you, add some more

  • Put some cold water into your sink - it should reach about halfway up the bowl of your chocolate mix.

  • Put the chocolate mix bowl into the sink of cold water and start stirring. In fact, I reckon you could wander off for about ten minutes whilst it cools and then start the stirring. You are waiting for the chocolate mix to cool so that it thickens

  • When the mix has thickened enough for you to spread it, but so that it doesn't ooze out of your biscuits, you are ready to start

  • Have your scary biscuit pairs to the ready and spread the one without holes with some chocolate mix. Put the biscuit with the pumpkin face / ghost face / whatever/ on the top and press gently. The chocolate mix should spread to the edges and the biscuit should come to life as per the picture.

  • Continue until you have stuck your pairs together

  • Any left over inner mix can be made into truffles....that recipe is coming soooooon!

  • If it all gets too much, see the picture below for another idea

  • Enjoy halloween, and don't answer the door to trick or treaters, they're such a pain in the arse, aren't they?

Pssst, may I add another picture?

When it's nearly midnight, and you're really fed up of crafting halloween shapes, but still have tons of dough left....rummage in the cupboard, find a round cutter and stamp out lots of little circles. Sandwich them together with chocolate filling to make cute little 'burgers'. Great for the school run and very impressive served after your fabulous champagne lunch on Monday. Oh, doesn't everyone have a champagne lunch on a Monday?

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sloe Gin

The temperature dropped in France last week. The hopeful party that left my house a week ago wore short sleeves. In the seven days that followed, things turned a little chilly. By Thursday Paris was snarled up, no trains, no hope, the gauntlet to Sarkozy thrown down. Winter and discontent had come early.

The day of the 2007 Rugby World Cup dawned with a nervous knot in her stomach. We followed the ritual of a week before, we put on the war paint, we wore the shirts - we wore plenty of layers - and we toasted the boys with champagne.

It was when we got to Châtelet that we realised things were different, a bit frosty. Whereas last week the England supporters had made the Metro walkways ring with a victory song, this week we were tense. A bit distracted, a bit nervous. The South Africans didn’t make eye contact, the stakes were far too high for banter.

As we poured out of the train at the Stade, we were caught in a crush. The riot police forced us back onto the pavement, and herded us down into a subway; hundreds of anxious fans watching their step.

We took our seats in the stadium and the sea of red and white around us bought comfort. Our anthem rang out loud, we were buoyed up by our hope. And so it began. We pushed them back, we turned them over and groaned when they got first blood. We fought back, and by half time - although they were ahead - it was still within our reach.

It passed in a blur. The try that belonged to us had us screaming. They showed it over and over seemingly for our pleasure. Then - as through the righteous roar we realised - the pack fell silent; our eyes glued on the ref. ‘It’s taking too long, he’s not going to award it’ a man muttered grimly. The downward sweeping motion of the ref’s arms, the shake of the head, and the fear that started to grow.

There comes a moment in a match, when the time remaining and the score line no longer bring hope. I remember the moment I was sure it was lost. The chill from the stone step we were perched on spread upwards, and the war cries fell silent. When it was over we sat numbly. As the England team took the walk of defeat, I cried. They were broken, it really was all over. Not even the jaunty swagger of the stray England fan who broke ranks and briefly held aloft the Cup, could lift the mood in the stand.

We trudged back to the train; no triumphant singing this time. Although a lone voice did lead those that wanted to sing,

‘Hoist up the Sloop John B,

see how the mainsail sets…'

And the pièce de résistance? We took the train as far as we could, and then no taxi wanted to know. The striking French had cancelled the last train home and there was nothing for it but to walk. We walked in silence - we had no more words – we were lost in our thoughts. I thought of Jason Robinson limping off the pitch, his rugby career surely over. Of the ref who turned his back on some blatant obstruction; of Cueto's try that could have changed the course of the game. Of Mike Catt, of Jonny, Dallaglio, of chances lost, of just how much defeat stings.

Our 6 mile constitutional ended sometime around the Witching Hour +3. We made a cup of tea, slumped on the sofa and stared at each other. I poured some sloe gin, and I thought of you dear blog readers. I thought of how you should make your sloe gin, or it will not be ready for Christmas.

Sloe Gin lore says you should pick your sloes after the first frost; it kills all the maggots. The first frost of Paris sparkled on the car rooftops as we trudged home last night. In another life we might have scrawled triumphant messages in Jack’s handiwork, we might have whooped as we staggered along the silent, frozen streets.

If you wish, make your Sloe Gin. Seize your chance, get out there and fight. Give it your best shot, and if it all goes horribly wrong, at least we’ll always have Sydney.

Hopes and Dreams Sloe Gin

Pour your heart into making this drink. Come Christmas, when your gin is ruby red, your spirits have lifted and you can smile again; it'll taste really good. The ratio for making sloe gin is - in old money - 1lb of sloes, 8oz of sugar and slosh a bottle of gin on top. Or two, you can never have too much heartwarming Sloe Gin. In new money use:

450g sloes

225g caster sugar (although I've made it before with granulated sugar)

1 litre of gin

  • Spend a chilly afternoon picking sloes, if the first frost has not been, put them in the freezer
  • When ready to make the gin - and really, do it soon, you want it red by Christmas - wash the sloes, remove any maggots and make sure there are no bits of leaves
  • A great big preserving jar is a good way to make it, put all the berries in the base, pour over the sugar and fill it up with gin
  • Stir it well, the sugar will gradually dissolve over the coming weeks, but don't miss your opportunity to lovingly stir it every few days
  • Keep it on a sunny window sill if you wish. As the pale and sad wintry sun shines through the red gin, it will soothe your broken dreams
  • Some recipes say you should discard the sloes after 6 months (if there's any gin left after Christmas), but I like to keep them in
  • At Christmas, raise your glass, shore up your hopes and think ahead to New Zealand, 2011
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Monday, 15 October 2007

Crispy Fried Aubergine with Tomato Sacue (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Perhaps it only happens once in a lifetime. A few months ago I clicked to open an email, and when I saw its contents, I gaped. For a second I was frozen, my brain not really comprehending. I peered around the room for Hedwig, surely SHE had delivered this?

'We have 6 tickets for the semi final of the Rugby World Cup, do you want to come?' I whirled around and sputtered out the news to my husband. His look of shocked disbelief mirrored my own.

The story of how, one champagne-enhanced afternoon, England reached the semi final of the World Cup, belongs to another post. The story of how I worked out that I had THE ticket for THE semi final, is by-the-by. The story of how Mac, Frannie, Hubby and Pig left their 6 children in the tender care of Bouchra and hastened to the match, belongs to the here and now.

Who would not have been apprehensive? Who - whilst posturing and chanting - would not have felt slightly sick inside? Who - having bought the shirt, the wig and the bright red lipstick - would not be almost beside themselves with excitement? Who would not think it was their duty to give their husband a number 2 then paint his head with the flag of St George?

Oh the moment of almost heart-stopping beauty as the packed Stade de France revealed her splendour; and the stress of wanting it so, so badly.

If England got through by the screams of their fans, you have me to thank. Surrounded by the French as I was, it did not stop me screaming until my voice cracked. Did you hear the desperate, 'Jooonnnnneeeeeee' as he struck the pose we associate with success? Did you hear the strains of 'Sweet Chariot' before the French drowned us out with 'Allez Les Bleus'? They did that time and time again, it was rather frustrating.

You know what? It doesn't matter. Which side was screeching with joy as the boys did their victory parade? Whose colours will be running on to the turf next Saturday night? Which team might bring back the Cup twice in a row?

The French were gutted. Two lovely boys had dressed up as the God who is Chabal. They wore wigs, beards and caveman garb. They were right in front of me when their leader was brought down; his tears were the tears of a nation. I did try, I tried to bridge the gulf of loser and victor. When I'd finished screaming and hugging Frannie I climbed down to the boys, and pronounced my pearls of wisdom,
'Chabal really is the most beautiful man in the world isn't he?'
I think that will have helped.

They say that Rugby is a gentleman's game. They say we are magnanimous in victory, humble in defeat. It's true. Our commiserating smiles held no malice as they bounced off the Gallic shrug. Our Jerusalem was kind, not crowing.

Heading back to the station, we saw the CRS in a line. Tight pants, high boots, what on earth were they waiting for? I think it was for me. The stony faces broke into shy smiles when I suggested they wear my wig for a photo. They shook their heads and told me to ask the boss. He said no, but still smiled for my pic. Meanwhile Mac had donned the wig, and with the grinning, glazed look of a man whose head will hurt on the morrow, had his arms wrapped around one of the rank and file CRS.

We moved on to catch our train, and that's when we came clean. That's when our 'gracious in victory' façade came tumbling down. It was mainly England fans jammed onto the ramp waiting for our ride, and some young chaps led us in the Anthem of Success.

Set to the tune of 'She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes', it ran thus;

'When Chabal started crying, I was there,
When Chabal started crying, I was there,
When Chabal started crying,
Chabal started crying,
When Chabal started crying I was there'.

Lest it was lost on the home crowd, the hundreds of fans translated it;
'J’étais là quand Chabal a pleuré...'

The train reverberated all the way back to Châtelet-Les Halles.

The next morning the Paris sun burned bright and early. I woke up still in my England shirt, my face still painted, my head still full of images, and my body still full of that one beer too many.

On Sunday evening, Mac and my husband headed Stade-wards for the second Semi Final. I soothed away my hangover with champagne and Fran and I settled down to watch the game. I cooked us these 'Rondelles' and we stared in horror at the might of the Boks.

What lies in store for our boys? For just the price of a Prada dress or two -yes, I'm trying to rationalise - we shall find out. No seer am I, but perhaps I may not have the heart to post a recipe 7 days from now.

Or perhaps I'll be singing, 'Swing looowwww, Sweeeet Chariot, coming forth to carry me home...'

Aubergine Rugby Rondelles à la Tomate (feeds 2)

These have the taste of success about them...they will bring you luck. Do you like the title? Every self-respecting cookery blog should have a little pretentious french n'est-ce pas?

1 large aubergine

For the sauce:
1 large tin of plum tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 medium onions
4-5 cloves of garlic
2 tsps oregano
1 bouquet garni / 1-2 bay leaves
1 tbsp gluten free Dijon mustard
1/2 - 1 gluten free stock cube
100ml water
150ml red wine
1-2 tsps sugar
Black pepper to taste

For the crumb:
200g quinoa
200g sunflower seeds
150g pumpkin seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Olive oil for frying

  • Start by making the sauce. Roughly chop the onions and garlic and fry them gently in a large saucepan for a few minutes. Add the oregano and chopped tomatoes and cook gently for 5 minutes
  • Add the red wine, water, bouquet garni and half the stock cube. Stir and simmer it all for about 10 minutes
  • Add the mustard and tomato puree (more or less depending on taste), and stir. Remove the bouquet garni/bay leaves
  • Using a hand held blender, blend until the sauce is smooth. If it tastes slightly acidic, you could add the sugar to soften the taste. Add the rest of the stock cube if it's not tasty enough for you. If the sauce seems too liquid, you can simmer it for another 15 minutes to reduce, stir it so that it doesn't stick
  • Put the quinoa, sunflower and pumpkin seeds into a blender and whizz until it's like breadcrumbs. You might find that you've got some of this seed mix left over when you've finished. It will keep in an airtight container for next time, and my theory is, 'better to have too much than be cursing the pig for getting her quantities wrong'
  • Cut the aubergine into slices that are about 1 cm thick
  • Put the tomato sauce back on to heat and put the aubergine slices into the sauce and cover. Let them simmer for 5 minutes. I know that sounds weird, but you want your aubergines to be a little soft before you fry them, and they come out coated in sauce which helps with the next part.
  • Whilst the aubergine is simmering, cover a plate with half of the seed mix. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes, salt and black pepper, and mix the seasoning in a bit
  • Take the saucepan off the heat and transfer the aubergine slices to the plate. The crumb will stick to the underside of the slices. Scatter the rest of the crumb over the top of the slices, and use your fingers to squidge it all over until the slices are covered
  • Now take a non stick frying pan and pour enough olive oil to generously cover the base (about half a centimetre). When the oil is hot (but nowhere near smoking), put the slices into the pan. They should sizzle immediately, you want them in, browned, and out in a jiffy, so make sure the oil is hot enough when you start
  • Sizzle them on one side (2-3 minutes?) then turn them over to do the other side. The crumb will go brown and solid. Some of it will disperse into the pan, but there's no need to worry about that
  • Carefully remove the slices (don't dislodge the crumb) and place onto a plate covered with kitchen towel, this will absorb any excess grease (although on Sunday I needed all the hangover-easing grease I could get)
  • Serve with a generous helping of the tomato sauce, either on the side or over the top
  • You can serve these as a starter with a green salad, or do as Fran and I did. Boil some small potatoes in their skins, when tender drain them. Put them back into the saucepan, add a good dollop of dairy free spread and salt and black pepper, and just let them sizzle as you fry the aubergines, turning occasionally. Yummy
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007
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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Chocolate Cupcakes & Organised Birthdays (vegan, egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

People assume that if you have four children, you must be very organised. Very with it, always on the ball. I am not one of those people. However, on rare occasions I pull it out of the bag and it all comes together.

My eldest daughter’s recent birthday was one such occasion. For her party, we organised a civilised sleepover for four of her friends and her six year old sister. At some point in the planning I had an organisational brainwave. I persuaded my husband he should take our two other little ones away for the weekend, leaving me to focus on the Birthday Queen and entourage.

On the day of the party we waved them off, and with guests due at 4pm, I shooed my girls off to get dolled up. With 10 minutes to go, my second daughter came down,
‘Will you do my hair Mum?’
As I scooped her lovely blonde hair into a pony tail, I saw an enormous lump bulging out from under her ear. I blinked a little; I’d never seen anything like it.

At moments like this, my inner voice wakes up, sticks its fingers in its ears and sings, . LA LA LAAA. LA LA LAAA. LA LA LA LAAAAAAAA. It’s quite good really because it gives me a few minutes to think. It gave me a few minutes to think that here I was with a child that might need to see a doctor, no husband, no car and no babysitter for the 6 children – four of them other people’s - that I was about to have in my care. How very clever. How very ORGANISED.

Saved by the bell, the children were arriving. We ushered them in and the Mums stopped to chat. Putting on the bright, shiny voice that adults use when they’re pretending everything is ok and they don’t want to alarm their children, I said,
‘Jane, have a look at L’s neck’.
Oh!’ said Jane in a gleaming, perfectly polished voice. ‘That’s rather big’.
Above L’s head she was gesticulating and mouthing and only just stopped short of running her finger across her throat.
‘Ha HA!’ I shrilled, ‘Yes it IS isn’t it? Run along darling and play with the others’.
Jane and I gazed at each other in horror, ‘Cancel’ said Jane, ‘send them all to my house, she needs to see a doctor’. St Peter, please make a note her saintliness, she deserves a large reward in Heaven.

I can be a stubborn arse sometimes, and I wanted my big girl to have her first sleepover, and I wanted it to go well. I stood my ground, said I’d monitor it, and reluctantly the other parents left. The girls ran off and rampaged around. Soon Britney’s voice was belting out and there were some hot moves being choreographed in the bedroom. My ailing daughter wafted down occasionally and amidst the din and post-tea mayhem, she drooped her way up to my bed.

All the while the other girls were very happy. My eldest was beaming, fingernails were being painted, and they barely seemed to notice the on-call doctor arriving. He diagnosed tonsillitis, dosed her up and went on his way. Meanwhile the sleepover was going like a dream, all five girls in PJ’s watching ‘Happy Feet’, I even had time to do a little blogging. Like a perfect, organised mother, I had everyone in bed and quiet by 10pm.

At around 10.30pm, my poorly girl got up complaining of a stiff neck. She couldn’t look up and couldn’t look down.

Now Meningitis has knocked at my door before. He’s a rather nasty foe, and I really didn’t feel like letting him in for the sleepover. When the on-call doctor heard the symptoms, he offered to take me to the hospital himself, but wonderful Jane and her husband came instead. Whilst Nigel babysat, Jane and I drove in silent worry to the hospital.

In spite of a vomiting, lethargic daughter with a stiff neck, I was treated to some supremely gallic disdain, ‘Didn’t you know a symptom of tonsillitis is a stiff neck?’ I begged to differ having suffered repeatedly as a child, but they were hustling me out the door faster than they could say, ‘Tous les rosbifs sont nuls et on va vous massacrer dans la Coupe du Monde’.
I got home consumed with the expat fear of being in a foreign country and not believing what the foreign doctor is telling me. I stayed up roaming medical websites. An hour later I’d turned up one site that - in a sub paragraph - mentioned a stiff neck as a symptom of severe tonsillitis.

I finally crawled into bed at 2am, cursing the French, tonsillitis, meningitis and my idiotitis that thought I should host a sleepover on my own.

At 0545 I was woken by the rhythmic thud, thud, thud, of a well-rested sleepover guest playing basketball in the lounge. In the lounge with the hard, noisy 'let's wake everyone up' wooden floor.
I figured I deserved the leftover cupcakes that I ate for breakfast that morning.
Organised Birthday Chocolate Cupcakes (makes about 14 cakes)
Reader, I have a confession. You may think I am an accomplished, glamorous chefess who churns out delicious recipes on a whim. (don't you?) Let me tell you I have lost count of the batches of gluten-free cupcakes I have tried to perfect. I think this was about batch 17, I'm really not exaggerating. It was such a Carmina Burana moment when they finally came good and the children polished off the lot!
To make these with wheat flour, use 175g of wholewheat flour and omit the xanthan gum.
In another life I have made this mix with wheat flour and eggs; use one egg instead of the 'No egg' and linseeds. I have not yet made it gluten free and with eggs, but I suspect if you replace the 'no egg' and linseed mix with an egg, it should work.  
110g sugar
110g golden syrup
0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
60g cocoa powder
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (put linseeds into a blender and blend, brown or golden, doesn't matter)
3 tbsps rice milk
140ml rice milk (slightly warmed)
For the icing:
100g gluten free, dairy free dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
65-70g dairy free spread
2-3 tbsp icing sugar
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • Put your cupcake cases into the cupcake cake tin (what are those tins called?)
  • Put the tsp of Orgran egg replacer and the tbsp of ground linseeds into a small bowl. Add the 3 tbsps of rice milk, mix and set aside
  • Put the dairy free spread, sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan and on a very low heat, stir until they have just melted together. Remove from heat and add the egg replacer and linseed mixture
  • Seive the flours, bicarb, baking powder, xanthan gum and cocoa powder into the saucepan and mix until smooth. It will be quite stiff. If you are using wheat flour, seive in the flour, but omit the xanthan gum
  • Add the warmed rice milk to the pan and mix until everything is smooth
  • Put dollops into each cake case. Go for about half full, you don't want them to rise too high
  • Place in the oven for 10-20 minutes. They will rise and be springy when they're done, check by inserting a very thin skewer or knife
  • Set aside to cool slightly
Now to the icing. This was a punt, I thought I'd give it a whirl and was amazed at the results! Because you ice right up to the edge of the case, when the icing has set, you peel back the case and it's like one of those Mr Kipling Chocolate Cupcakes with a great thick layer of icing showing the indentation of the cupcake case! It was all very exciting.
  • Put a small amount of water into a small saucepan, and heat it up. Set a large pyrex bowl on the top. Break the dark chocolate into pieces and put into the bowl. Stir as the chocolate melts
  • When it has just melted, remove from the heat. Add the dairy free spread and beat
  • Add the icing sugar and mix in. You might want to put it back on the heat to melt the dairy free spread and make it all smooth and glossy
  • Allow to cool a little, but not much. It should fall slowly off the wooden spoon
  • Dollop some icing into the middle of each cupcake and spread it to the edges using a knife, don't worry if you end up with a really thick layer of icing, your kids will love you forever
  • If you want to do 'swirly' icing like in the picture, you'll have to catch the icing just right; not too runny, not too stiff.  It needs to be at the point where it will hold its shape.  Put the icing into a piping bag and using a thin(ish) nozzle, ice around and around and up, like in the picture. This video shows the technique for swirly icing
  • Allow the icing to set; it goes quite firm, but not really hard, a lovely soft, fatty mixture
  • You could decorate with decorations they can eat, or grate over some dark chocolate, or just leave them plain as I did
  • Hand to your children and feel rather gleeful and proud
  • And if these are for a sleepover, do make sure you get a grown up to help you

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Aubergine, Mushroom & Artichoke Bake (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

When it comes to having children, I’ve run a pretty lonely race. During their late twenties, my close friends were carving out careers, buying flats and going out on the lash.

Meanwhile, as they were out partying, I was discovering that if you’ll just put in the nine months of pregnancy, the NHS will let you get high for free. It’s a great big acid-esque roller coaster, but alas for every high there is a low. The hangover comes in the shape of sleep deprivation for at least the next two years and a small crying baby whose needs you may not feel capable of meeting.

When I had my first child, my lovely friends rejoiced. They sent cards and gifts and smiled the smile of those who can sleep until midday, read the papers when they want, go out for dinner on a whim and not have to touch anyone else’s poo.

When baby number two came along, all the lovely friends beamed all over again. They came bearing gifts, eyed the state of my house with alarm and marvelled at just how often a baby needs to breastfeed. Then they tripped out the door to have wall to wall sex, glug champagne in some trendy wine bar all the while wearing tops that exposed their taut, toned stomachs. Well, that's what they did in my imagination anyway.

With baby number three so close to number two, my friends were surreptitiously counting the age gap on their fingers, and their smiles had sagged into horrified O’s of alarm. I received worried phone calls and tender emails, are you coping? Are you ok? Can I help with anything?Their calls, emails and concern helped me through those hazy days of having three tiny children.

They thought they were safe for a while, then along came number four. I well remember the disbelief in my brother’s voice as I interrupted his bank holiday with the news that I was pregnant. Again. There was a pause, ‘When are you going to stop?’

So – now that I’ve stopped and I get more sleep – I was very happy to learn that two of my lovely friends are pregnant. Alas, one is half a world away and I’ll have to see her baby over the internet, but the other is very close to home. It’s still very early days, so I’m not allowed to get over excited, but I was looking forward to seeing her for dinner last week and giggling over her future.

I gathered all the ingredients into the house for our dinner, and even permitted myself to buy a little gift for the baby; it’s so easy to be thrilled about someone else going through labour and sleepless nights. I resisted buying wine and chose a lovely healthful juice for us both.

The afternoon was the usual blur of scurrying around whilst my toddler slept, mulling over our menu, chopping ingredients, getting the snack for the school run, then picking up the hungry children. After the three-hour, brutal home straight that culminates in all children in bed and a quiet house, I popped our feast into the oven and turned my thoughts to my soon-to-be-arriving, up-the-duff mate.

You know, one should always check one’s mobile on the day of a dinner. As I did some last minute tidying I picked up my phone.

5 messages.

The first was from my friend,

‘Still on for tonight?’ – smile, text back, ‘yes!’.

The second from my husband, ‘will be late home tonight’ - well that's hardly front page news.

Messages 3 and 4 were in fact missed calls, and message number 5 read something like this;

‘I’m really sorry, just so tired, can’t face dinner tonight, need to go home and sleep’.

Well, if you’re going to use pregnancy as an excuse to duck out of dinner, I’m probably a good person to text. How many times in early pregnancy have I sat through meals, nausea playing around my lips, fatigue threatening to push me off my chair?

With a deep sigh and a long lonely evening with just me and the washing stretching ahead (really, don’t feel bad), I replied,

Not to worry, no problem. It’s the progesterone making you sleepy; it won’t last long. Talk soon x ‘

Then I sat down to my feast all by myself. I even drank healthful juice instead of wine. It’s official, I am indeed a paragon. And thank the contraceptive Gods that I’m not up the stick!

Family Way Aubergine, Mushroom & Artichoke Bake (serves 2)

I'm sure it's really trashy to use tinned artichoke hearts, but I really love them! Also - culinary half wit - I don't know how to cook fresh artichokes. Oh the shame, why do I pretend I can cook? Do feel free to enlighten me.

6 cloves of garlic
5 great big mushrooms
1 medium aubergine
2 tins artichoke hearts
3 tbsp olive oil
salt, black pepper, chilli flakes, dried mixed herbs or a fresh herb of your choice
1 tbsp gluten free yeast extract
500g passatta

For the topping:
150g quinoa
100g sunflower seeds
100g pumpkin seeds
Salt, pepper, herbs and dried chilli flakes

  • Heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius
  • Dice the aubergine
  • Cut the mushrooms into thick slices, then each slice in half
  • Finely chop the garlic
  • Place all of the above into a large ovenproof dish
  • Open the tins of artichokes and drain away the juice (i'm wincing as I write that, but my shame is not as great as my fetish) . Add to the dish and mix everything together with your hands
  • Put the 3 tbsps of olive oil into a bowl. Grate in lots of black pepper, go easy on the salt (heart disease, raised blood pressure, but tastes so good), add a big dose of chilli flakes (if you wish) and a good scoop of dried / fresh herbs. Stir with a spoon, then pour the seasoned olive oil over the vegetables
  • Mix it all together with your hands until the veg is coated in oil. You may need an extra glug of oil if it seems a bit dry
  • Put the tbsp of yeast extract into a large bowl. Pour in about 3 tbsps of passatta and mix to a paste. Add the rest of the passatta and mix it all around. Pour the passatta over the vegetables and mix until everything is covered
  • Cover the dish with foil and place it in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes
  • Caress your swollen uterus, then move onto the next part.
  • Put the quinoa, seeds and seasoning into a blender and blitz until you have a crumb-like texture, this will be your topping. That was easy wasn't it?
  • When the veg has had 20 minutes, take out the dish, and stir everything. The mushrooms and aubergine should have added their juice to the passatta and all will be looking good
  • Replace the foil, reduce the oven to 180 degrees C and put the dish back in for about another 25-30 mins. You might want to check it after 20, you want the aubergines to be soft but not mushy
  • When the veg is cooked, remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil.
  • Turn on the oven grill
  • Scatter the quinoa and seed topping over the surface. If you wanted, you could scatter some whole sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds over the top, why didn't I think of that when I cooked it?!
  • It should only take a minute or two to brown the surface under the grill, do be vigilant and don't get distracted by checking your mobile or something
  • You could serve this with lentil rice, or just a green salad. Both are yummy
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

Food & Drink Blogs - Blog Top Sites

Monday, 1 October 2007

Bodacious Waif may Make You Smile

LOOK! Missing you Already gave me an award! As she told us all about her award on her fab know you really should pay her a visit, I recently got to gawp at the fabulously toned buttocks of one of the French rugby team, I read pithy post-match comment after France's debut in the world cup, and I've just been swirling in a nostalgic vortex inspired by the Two Ronnies. Like I said, you should head over there.

I was saying something else wasn't I? Oh yes, as she told us all about her award, she happily said she had no idea what bodacious meant but she was thrilled all the same. Well, I have googled bodacious.
Long, slightly offended pause.

I'm not sure I should really be accepting this award as I am one of those lucky types with the honed and chiselled features of a size 0 coke-sniffing catwalk waif. Yet that would seem churlish wouldn't it? Suffice to say, I shall extend my slender hand that connects up to my lollipop head, and embrace this bodacious award. Many, many thanks.
And regardez! Not un but deux awards! I blush. Sweet Akelamalu has passed on another, which required no googling, just a coy smile. I love going to her blog, there's so much going on, and she is a computer whizz (or am I just very dim...), all those images flying around and the music seducing's a bit like getting into a warm, relaxing bath. I always feel very inspired when I go there; by what I see and what I read.

Thanks v. much Akelamalu....