Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Polenta with Rich Tomato Sauce (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Everyone knows the cliché; Births, Deaths, Weddings and Moving, these are all events that are guaranteed to push you to the limits of your sanity.
  1. They all require huge amounts of organisation. Well, perhaps not death, although you do have to organise the aftermath. I think if you organise the before bit, I’m pretty sure that’s called murder.
  2. They all entail pain – slimming for your wedding day is agony, trust me – and,
  3. They all have the potential to cause your emotions to run amok.

Having had a taste of all four, I think I’d rank death as the worst, (tough one to call though; death / marriage, marriage / death….no it’s definitely death) but Moving is right up there on the podium of stress.

Moving is miserable. When I was little, moving was not about family excitement and jumping up the property ladder. It was about childish dreams of happy families spinning wildly off their axes. Moving brought division and bitterness, and the realisation that the world will not be happy just because you desperately wish it to be so.
Moving is scary. When I know I have to move, my first reaction is panic. The little cocoon I’ve built around me feels threatened, and I’m never sure I’ve got the emotional capacity to re-build it somewhere else.

Moving is exhausting. Even the thought of it tires me. The final fumbling climax in the last house - utilities cancelled, post re-directed, keys handed over – the stifled sobbing as you drive off down the road and the dazed disorientation you feel as you arrive at the next place. The awful thought that you’ve got to set up the framework of your life in this different place, and perhaps it won’t quite fit.

Moving means: Ghost Boxes. These are the boxes that travel with you when you move, but they are the ones that never get unpacked. Like the Ghost Ships, they are condemned to fester in an area where they can easily be overlooked. As long as they are far enough away from the hub of the house, you need not worry about them too much, but their presence looms up at you in your dreams. Another thing you haven't done. You may not know what is in them, and you’re pretty sure that it won’t be useful or necessary; it’s just that you can’t bring yourself to throw the boxes out. They are condemned to travel with you forever until perhaps - by some beautiful quirk of life - the moving company loses them and you can again sleep easy at night.

So - call me simplistic -but moving equals stress, misery and fear. All thoughts of moving are always firmly taped in a ghost box somewhere towards the back of my mind.
Therefore I was completely unprepared when my lovely friend Jane bounced up to me the first day back after half term.
‘We’re moving!’ she announced excitedly.
The familiar fear, the slight shift of the ground beneath my feet, the dragging feeling of tiredness;

‘Wow, where are you going?’
‘Hong Kong’.

Hong. Bloody. Kong. Not back to London, or up the road to Lille. Hong. Bloody. Kong.

Jane bounced up to me in a similar way just over a year ago, as I stood in a daze in the playground. It was our first day in a new school.
Hello! Are you new?’ she smiled. Jane helped me settle in, and we clocked up the kilometres as we ran around the Versailles grand canal, training for the Paris Half Marathon. She’s a bubbly, chatty friend who made my first year here a lot more bearable. And now she’s off, moving to Hong Bloody Kong.

There are a few weeks left before she goes, but I booked her early for lunch. I’m aware that packing takes on a life of its own. It will pull you down into its vortex until you only have time to scratch your stress eczema, spin on the spot and fret. You definitely don't have time for relaxing lunches with friends.

Jane and Kathie came last week. We lunched like proper expat ladies, and we discussed her impending move. We talked and we smiled, and I was painfully aware that it was probably the last time. Before long the festive outings will impinge, her shipment date will loom large, and all too soon we’ll be crying at the school gate as we say goodbye.

I wish you every success in Hong Kong, dear Jane. Brace yourself for the coffee mornings, and the slow process of making the friends who will keep you sane. Be excited about the new sights, the buzz and bustle and the nipping over to China for dirt-cheap designer goods. Think of the serviced apartment that will soon be yours, your sauna and your pool; and make sure you find a yoga class quick!

Moving Polenta with Rich Tomato Sauce (serves 3 lunching ladies and there's a small portion left over)

I got a bit flustered over what I should feed to Kathie and Jane, and ended up serving a three-course meal. Just rustled it up, you know how one does. We had Pumpkin Soup to start and then this Polenta. We are lucky and allergy-free, so we sprinkled it with grated Parmesan. We finished off our moving lunch with fresh fruit and chocolate fondue from one of these bad boys. Parting is such sweet sorrow…
For the polenta cakes: (the polenta needs to be made at least 8 hours before you want to form them into cakes, although I'd be cautious and go for 12)
(Here's a handy conversion tool if you need one)
180g of polenta
Approx 860ml
(Check the packet for polenta - water ratio, they may differ slightly to mine)
2 GF non-dairy stock cubes
A small whisk for frantic whisking
olive oil for grilling or frying
green salad for pretty garnish
For the tomato sauce:
The sauce can be made up to 24 hours ahead and kept in the fridge. This makes a big batch, but you could freeze it and use at another time (or half the quantity)
8 big beef tomatoes
2 large onions
3-4 cloves of garlic
olive oil to fry
60ml red wine
150ml passatta
About 15 fresh basil leaves
Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Line a 19cm by 27cm (or thereabouts) rectangular baking tin with baking parchment
  • Measure out the polenta, and put the cold water into a large saucepan
  • Bring the water to the boil and add the stock cubes, stir until dissolved
  • With the water still boiling, pour the polenta into the pan and using your whisk; whisk very frantically to disperse any lumps
  • When the polenta is popping and blowing bubbles, reduce the heat to very low. Keep whisking. The polenta should become thick and eventually will start to come away from the sides of the pan. This could take up to 5 minutes. Add a dab more water if you think it's looking scarily thick, you should be able to stir it quite easily
  • Scrape / pour the polenta into the lined baking tin. Use the back of a wooden spoon to level the surface
  • Drop the tbsp of dairy free spread onto the top of the polenta and use the wooden spoon to smear it over the top, this also helps level out the surface. Leave the polenta to cool, then place in the fridge
  • When the polenta is completely cold, it will be firm. Turn the polenta out onto a chopping board and use a 7cm biscuit/cookie cutter to stamp out rounds. If it's an informal meal, you can use the remaining odd shaped cuttings as well, they taste fine, they just look odd
  • Set the polenta cakes aside and make the tomato sauce as follows:
  • Wash the tomatoes, remove the stalks and place them in a large mixing bowl. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes until they are submerged. Leave them for at least 20 minutes; their skins should start to crack and shrivel a bit. Yours probably would if treated the same way
  • When the water has cooled slightly, carefully drain it off without scalding yourself. Using a sharp knife, peel off the skins and discard them. You will be left with some sheepish looking tomatoes that feel a bit exposed. Roughly chop them (I always cut out the hearts, but keep them in if you like them), then set them aside
  • Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic, place into a large saucepan. Add a good glug of olive oil and cook them over a low heat. Stir occasionally so that they don't stick, until they are sizzling and transluscent
  • With the onions and garlic still sizzling, pour the chopped tomatoes into the saucepan and stir
  • Add the red wine and passatta and stir again
  • Now leave to simmer very gently for about 30 minutes, do make sure you stir occasionally so that it doesn't stick to the pan. If it starts to go a bit dry, slosh in some more red wine, it never goes amiss
  • When the sauce has reduced (it should be quite thick but still with some juice), roughly chop the basil leaves, add them to the pan and stir. Season with salt and black pepper to taste
  • Now, you're ready to assemble the meal. Keep the tomato sauce warm in a saucepan or warm up the sauce you made earlier
  • You can either grill or fry the polenta cakes. I prefer to fry, but don't let me sway you.
  • To fry: put about 1cm of olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the polenta cakes, reduce the heat and let them sizzle for about 4 minutes on each side. You can increase the heat when they are warmed through, but mine never seem to go very brown. Remove from the frying pan and put onto a plate lined with kitchen paper
  • To grill: heat the grill to medium and brush each cake with olive oil. Grill them gently until they are warmed through, then increase the heat and grill on each side until they are sizzling. NB: If you're in a rush, you could warm the polenta in the microwave (gasp of horror) so that you're sure they're warm, then do the grilling or frying to crisp them off a bit
  • When the sauce has warmed up, put the polenta cakes onto your serving plate and spoon some sauce over the top of the cakes. Add some green salad and carry to your expectant guests. Pause briefly at the door and assume a shy, 'oh it's nothing' smile as they cry out in admiration and awe at your fabulous cooking skills.
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Christmas Cake (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

Every year I think that if I start planning and preparing for Christmas early enough, when the day finally arrives everything will be perfect. On Christmas Eve my husband and I will sit in a tranquil state in our perfectly tidy drawing room, sipping mulled wine and talking quietly about sophisticated topics.  I will go to bed well before 3am and I shall arise refreshed and flawless on Christmas morn.

My children will sleep until 11am and after calmly opening their presents (from their hand-embroidered stocking), they will dress themselves and then file quietly down the stairs, looking for all the world like little catwalk models. I will not see them again until 1pm for they will be engrossed in their hand-carved wooden toys. We will share a delightful lunch, which will be cleared away in time for our bracing walk through the perfect white snow.

After a few parlour games and a little time spent admiring the various diamond accessories my husband has bought me, the children will go to bed at 6pm. My husband will surprise me with a delightful yet simple repast, and we will drink champagne and smile amicably at each other.

It is little wonder that the festive season fails to live up to my wild imaginings. My chaotic preparations hurtle wildly out of control towards December 25th resulting in a spectacular pile up at around 1am. It is at this point I realise I still have a good 2 hours of vegetable preparation and present wrapping to go. When over-excited children wake me in the very small hours, Christmas cheer is far from my mind.

The day doesn’t really get much better. I always make the mistake of opening champagne while cooking and I insist on playing Christmas CDs too loud.  This means that everyone has to shout to be heard and the noise in the house becomes unbearable. At some point in the last few years I developed the tradition of everyone donning glad rags for the big meal. This means the kitchen becomes a highly dangerous zone as I totter around in heels, staggering slightly and wielding pans of boiling water and sizzling potatoes.

By the time the meal arrives on the table it is nearly 3pm and the night is already drawing in. When we have finished helping the children pull their crackers, changed the nappy we hadn’t realised was full, found the corkscrew, and mopped up the lemonade that an overexcited child has spilt, the food is nearly cold and it’s way too late for a walk in the woods. Dinner lasts about ten minutes as ungrateful children push their food around their plates, and my temples start to throb. The day invariably ends with my husband and I slumped exhausted on the sofa, our feet lost in a sea of brightly coloured wrapping paper. As I eye the piles of Christmas cards I haven’t got around to opening, I swear to myself that next year I’ll be more organised.

This year I again had grand preparation plans. I thought I would start a little light Christmas shopping in August. I planned to calmly and sensibly move it up a gear in September, culminating in that golden moment – around mid-October – when I would have all presents assembled in the house. I was going to start a staggered gift-wrapping programme; a couple one day, maybe five the next. By the end of November – tops – it should all have been done. My cooking preparations were supposed to have dovetailed neatly into the gift gathering; a cake baked in early September, mincemeat made in October, Christmas pudding mix ready to be stirred from November the 1st.

Of course it’s all gone to pot. We are nearly in December and the present pile is woefully small. I’m ramping up my Internet purchasing but I have a familiar sense of doom; I’m sure the wheels will be falling off the Christmas Bus at around about 1am on December 25th.

And this year I’ve played a blinder. We could argue that I was incredibly ahead of the game by baking a gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free Christmas cake in July. We could take solace from the fact that the cake was nurtured and fed with spiced brandy for three months, until its raisins and cranberries were juicy and plum. We could feel happy that I came up with a substitute for marzipan. We could rejoice that after the photo shoot, when I finally got to sample the cake; it tasted great. I’ve had to restrain my eldest daughter on a number of occasions; she loved it.

But dear reader, the Christmas cake has all gone. It has all been eaten. I now have about 35 days to make ANOTHER Christmas cake. I’m afraid there’ll be no gentle feeding of this cake it will be on an extended binge drink for the next few weeks. The Christmas pudding is a nagging worry at the back of my head, and although the mincemeat is made, the pies are not.

I’m sure it will all get done, and I’m sure the children will not notice the chaos. I think they will struggle not to notice the enormous dark sacks under my eyes, but I suppose that’s all part of surviving the festive season. Next year I'm thinking; Sun, tag-along au pair, beach resort, swim-up bar and cocktails before breakfast. Who says Christmas should be all about the children?

Christmas Cake (makes a 16cm cake)

Forgive me for only having made the 'fully allergic' version. As mentioned, I still have to make our Christmas cake, so may make it with wheat flour...but imagine it all goes wrong?! I only have 35 days left! I will update the recipe when I can!

Spiced Brandy for feeding the cake: (this can be made days/weeks ahead)
500ml Brandy
3-4 star anise
2-3 mace blades
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1-2 tsps of sugar

For the cake:
40g ginger in syrup or I guess you could use about 20g of fresh ginger, very finely chopped
90ml of spiced brandy (see above)
85g dried cranberries
85g dried chopped dates
250g raisins
250g sultanas
1.5tsp mixed spice
0.5tsp Pure Bourbon Vanilla Powder (if you have some. If you don't you should get some it's yummy)
0.5tsp vanilla extract
200g dairy free spread
200g regular sugar (or dark muscovado if feeling lavish)
zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange
90ml port

Either: 200g plain flour + 1 tsp gluten free baking powder


75g gram flour

125g rice flour
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp gluten free baking powder

Either 3 eggs OR:

4 heaped tsps Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer mixed with 8 tbsps rice milk
2 tbsps linseeds (either whole or ground)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum

For the 'marzipan', icing and holly decoration:
1.2kg sugarpaste icing (this company will ship it to you, I've used them before) You may end up with some icing left over, but better to have surplus than to be scrabbling to cover your cake, no?
1 pot Christmas Red 'Sugarflair' sugarpaste colouring, or pre-coloured red sugarpaste icing (that would be easiest wouldn't it?!)
1 pot Holly Green 'Sugarflair' sugarpaste colouring, or pre-coloured green sugarpaste icing
1 pot Egg Yellow 'Sugarflair' sugarpaste colouring
1 pot Dark Brown 'Sugarflair' sugarpaste colouring
About 4tbsps of apricot jam
icing sugar to dust
NB: you will only need tiny dabs of the sugarpaste colouring, so you'll have tons left over for birthday cakes...or Christmas cakes for years to come

  • To make the spiced brandy, put 500ml of brandy into a saucepan. Add the star anise, the mace blades, the cinnamon sticks. Split the vanilla pod, scrape the seeds into the brandy and then add the split pod. Heat it slowly and let it bubble for about a minute. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. When completely cold pour it into a bottle / preserving jar and push all the spices in as well. You may have to cut the star anise in half to get it through the neck of a bottle, but not to worry. You now have brandy to make the cake, feed the cake and to swig at stressful moments of the Yuletide Season. You can remove the spices after about a month, or leave them in for a very spicy drink
  • You can prepare this part up to 48 hours ahead if you wish (indeed, it is advisable to do this if you've left your cake really late like me). Put the dried cranberries, chopped dates, raisins and sultanas into a saucepan. Pour 90ml of your spiced brandy into the saucepan, cover the saucepan with a lid and gently heat. (Note: if your spiced Brandy has not had time to infuse - at least a week - put the brandy spices into a piece of muslin, tie the top with string, and add to the dried fruit mix. Simmer as above, then remove th spices and put them into your spiced brandy bottle). Stir occasionally, and when it has bubbled for about a minute, remove from heat, keep covered and allow to cool
  • Grease and line a round, 16cm cake tin with baking parchment. Heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius / Gas 4
  • Add the chopped ginger, the 2tbsps of linseeds and the orange and lemon zest to the dried fruit mix
  • Mix up the egg replacer with the rice milk and set aside
  • Weigh out the gluten-free flours, add the xanthan gum, baking powder, mixed spice and vanilla powder
  • Put the dairy free spread and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Beat it together until thoroughly mixed and slightly paler in colour
  • Add about a quarter of the eggs or the 'no egg' mix to the bowl, and seive in about a quarter of the flour mix. Gently mix together until combined. Repeat the process until all the eggs or 'no egg' and flour has been incorporated
  • Add the vanilla essence and port and stir until everything is mixed together
  • Add the dried fruit and brandy mix to the mixing bowl and stir throughly
  • Scrape into the cake tin, leave a slight dip in the centre, the cake should rise to even itself out. Cover the tin with tinfoil and place in the oven
  • Now all ovens are different, the following is a guide: Bake the cake - covered - for about 45 minutes at 160 degrees C. Lower the oven temperature to 150 degrees celsius then bake for a further 45 minutes. Uncover the cake and bake for a further 20 minutes. An inserted skewer or knife should come out clean when the cake is done. The cake should be risen and golden brown
  • Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Then wrap it up. I wrapped mine in kitchen towel, followed by greaseproof paper, then put it all into a plastic bag and then into an airtight tin. Yes, fairly paranoid.
  • Leave for a few days/ a week, then get it out for its first feed. Using a skewer, gently poke holes in the top of the cake, you can poke down almost to the base. Take take 2-3 tbsps of your lovely spiced brandy and suck it up into a syringe (non hypodermic). Gently drip your brandy into the holes you have made. If you listen very carefully you will hear your cake sigh with happiness.
  • Wrap your cake safely back up and feed it again in a week's time. Or twice a week. Or more if you're in a hurry
  • For the icing: When you are ready to ice your babe of a Christmas cake, shoo everyone out of the kitchen and let some lovely classical music waft over you
  • For the 'marzipan' I used food colouring to colour 500g of the white sugarpaste icing. Squidge it in your hands until it's warm and malleable, then dust your worksurface with icing sugar and place the icing on it. Roll out the icing sugar; don't be neat, you just need it stretched out at this stage. Use the tip of a knife to dab a little yellow food colouring into the centre of the icing. Fold the icing over the food colouring and then start to roll out the icing with a rolling pin. The colour will gradually start to spread through the icing. Add some brown colouring to the icing and repeat the rolling out. Remember to keep the worksurface well dusted with icing sugar or it will start to stick. Keep going until you have mixed the colours into the icing and it resembles a marzipan colour. It does require a fair amount of elbow grease
  • Pause a minute and melt half the apricot jam in a saucepan (or microwave) until it's just liquid, don't let it get too hot
  • Now that your icing is marzipan coloured, roll it out to a thickness of about 2-3 mm
  • Put the cake onto its serving platter and brush the top and sides with the molten jam, it just needs to be a glaze
  • Carefully place the 'marzipan' layer over the cake and smooth the surface with the palms of your hands so that the icing moulds to the cake. Gently smooth around the sides. You'll end up with a 'skirt' of extra icing sticking out. Carefully cut off the surplus. Do it in stages so that you don't cut off too much. Smooth and mould and squidge and cajole the icing into the sides of the cake until it looks smooth. Use the flat edge of a knife to push the icing right under the cake, you don't want any air getting to the cake
  • When the cake is happily wrapped in its icing layer, leave it uncovered for at least 12 hours to dry out
  • Now for the final push. Take the remaining apricot jam and melt it gently until it is liquid. Leave to cool a bit
  • Take 600g of the white sugarpaste, dust your worksurface with icing sugar and roll out the icing. It may take a few goes to warm up the icing. Roll it out to a thickness of about 2-3mm
  • Using a pastry brush, brush the 'marzipan' all over with apricot jam
  • Place the white icing layer over the cake, and repeat your smoothing, cajoling, cutting off excess, squidging procedure. Use the flat edge of a knife to push the white icing right under the cake. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect around the base, that is what your thick Christmassy ribbon is for; it will hide all imperfections
  • Have a rest, you deserve it
  • You can either decorate the cake with pre-made, take-the-easy-option-it's-nearly-Christmas-and-I-have-tons-to-do decorations, or you can make life extra hard for yourself and make the decorations yourself. I chose the latter, after all I only have four children and a permanent Everest of washing. Clever.
  • If you want to make the holly decoration, you will need a holly shape cutter. First you have to colour the icing. Use about 100g of white icing for the holly and 50g of icing for the berries
  • Colour the 100g of white icing using the Holly Green colouring. Follow the procedure described above for colouring the 'marzipan'. When you have it to the shade you want, roll it out to about 4mm thick and stamp out holly shapes. My lovely second daughter did the holly decoration for this cake. She coloured the icing, stamped out the shapes, everything. She worked like a trooper and I sat back and had a coffee. Child slavery; it's the way forward. Set the holly shapes aside
  • Colour the 50g of white icing with the Christmas red colouring. Roll and dab colouring and roll and squidge, as per the 'marzipan' technique outlined above. When it's the right colour, break off little bits and roll them into small balls. Flatten the balls until they look berry-esque.
  • Stick the holly decoration and berries onto the cake using apricot jam. Tie a Christmas ribbon around the cake and breathe a huge sigh of relief. It is done. Now, have you got enough sellotape in the house for all that wrapping you still need to do?
  • Merry Christmas!
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Orange Muffins (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

I’ve always loved trains. I love the soporiphic sway that draws you out of the station, and leads you through unfamiliar, remote landscapes. I love the mounting excitement as you arrive at a strange platform, the anticipation of an adventure about to begin.

When I was 21 I queued up to buy an Interrail ticket. It was to be a whistle stop tour around Europe before starting a work placement in France. A friend and I took the sleeper out of Barcelona and headed north to meet another friend in Nice. There was no itinerary, there was no plan; just an urge to head for strange and foreign lands.

I remember sweating in the 40 degree heat of Budapest, desperately trying to stay focused on thrilling architecture, but so relieved when we could duck into Burger King where they had veggie burgers and air conditioning.

I remember at the start of one long journey, bagging a compartment all to ourselves. We didn’t want to share it so came up with a plan. We removed our stinking shoes and grime-encrusted socks, and shut the window up tight. As hapless backpackers hove into view and eyed our compartment, we broke into seemingly spontaneous laughter. They looked at our stinking, hot compartment filled with crazed, close-knit friends and moved swiftly on.

I remember the sun setting on the flat Hungarian fields. I sat by the train’s open door and watched the world trundle past; I felt so happy, so free. When I returned to the carriage Ian informed me that he could see a nun’s knickers. She was fast asleep, legs akimbo, knickers for all to see. Chickens clucked around her feet; I don’t think they belonged to her, they seemed to be with the unsmiling men in their suit trousers and string vests.

I remember being woken in the night by a train guard, snarling at us in a strange tongue. The panic we felt as we understood that our section of the train was about to stop and only the front section would be carrying on. The mad scramble to get the backpacks, the dash down the corridor and Emma’s big mistake as she went out the wrong door and landed on the track. We hauled her back in by the top of her rucksack and collapsed in a heap in yet another train compartment.

When the guard came and woke us again, we were not in the mood. We grunted and turned over, and awoke much later to a very silent train. A silent train that was not moving. A glance out of the window confirmed that we were in a siding, but where? It was hours before we were due to arrive at our destination. Again the scramble, the heavy backpacks, stumbling along in the siding dwarfed by freight trains, trying to find a platform. We staggered up to the first man we saw, as he appeared out of the early morning mist,
Where ARE we?’
Krakow’ he replied.

We laughed in our hotel room at our fear, the thought of being lost in a siding somewhere in the Eastern bloc. We laughed as we changed up our money and briefly became Zloty millionaires, and we rejoiced in the cheapness of the beer. Yet later, as we walked silently around Auschwitz, there were no more reasons to smile. The piles of shoes, the human hair, the glasses hastily removed; it’s an experience that never leaves you.

A couple of months ago this jumble of memories filled my head as my train pulled slowly out of the Gare de Lyon. I was on my way to Lausanne; no children, no husband, just me, off to visit some friends.

I spent the only hot weekend of the summer discovering a small corner of Switzerland. We went to see the cows coming down from the mountains for winter. Impossibly large bells and their daft, floral hats weighed them down. We watched men perform the gentle art of flag throwing, accompanied by the haunting melodies of Swiss horns. We sampled, light, fresh Swiss wine; so lovely yet so unavailable to the rest of the world. The viticulteurs we spoke to don't export; they have tiny production runs and serve the domestic market. Surely there should be an EU subsidy to remedy this crying shame? We brunched on Sunday by Lac Léman and all too soon I was boarding my train back to Paris.

Before I left, Fran made me some muffins. Deliciously light little babes of muffins. Fresh and zingy, they were gone in a flash. I’ve managed to make them gluten free and they are the perfect snack for a long, thoughtful train journey. Be it to Lausanne, Poland or just for the 7.25 out of Charing Cross.
Orange Train Muffins (makes about 12)
Fran took her recipe from a book called, 'The Best of Annabel Langheim'. The author writes that they were a speciality of her mother. They are indeed very special; I love the blitzing of whole oranges, so simple, so clever.
Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free version:
2 medium oranges
1ooml orange juice
1 tsp Orgran 'no egg' + 2tbsps orange juice
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds + 1 tbsp orange juice (You can make ground linseeds by blending whole linseeds. Dead easy)
150g sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
For egg-free, dairy-free version:
Use the first 8 ingredients listed above.
Omit the xanthan gum and use 215g plain flour (I used 130g wholewheat and 85g white flour)
Still use the linseeds.
For the gluten-free version: (note, I've not yet tried this version)
Use the gluten-free flours and xanthan gum shown above
use 1 egg instead of the the egg replacers.
Still use the linseeds.
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius / Gas 4
  • Line a muffin pan with muffin cases
  • For the egg-free version; mix the egg replacer with the orange juice and set aside
  • Mix the tbsp of ground linseeds with the tbsp of orange juice. Set aside
  • Melt the dairy free spread in the microwave or by gently melting in a small saucepan. Set aside
  • Roughly chop the oranges and remove any pips. Put the chopped orange into a blender and add the 120ml of orange juice. Blend until the mixture is smooth. You might end up with little morsels of orange peel, but it works fine in the muffin, don't fret
  • To the blender add the following: the egg replacer mix / real egg, the ground linseed mix, the melted dairy-free spread. Blend again until it's all mixed together
  • In a large mixing bowl put the flour (GF or wheat), baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and xanthan gum (if using GF flour). Use a mini whisk to make sure everything is combined
  • Add the contents of the blender to the contents of the mixing bowl and stir gently with a wooden spoon until it's all mixed together. Don't beat it, just be gentle
  • Add a good dollopy tablespoon to each muffin case, aim for about half full
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, but keep your eye on them. They may take longer, they may go more quickly. Cheeky muffins - they keep you on your toes
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Friday, 2 November 2007

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Croutons (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Joining a new family, whether by marriage or co-habitation, is a bit like travelling to a new and unfamiliar land. A land where the people look the same, they generally speak the same language, yet there is something very different. You may notice the difference when it comes to the size of their house or the price of their holidays. You may notice the difference when it comes to the newspaper they read, or whether the toilet roll is replaced with the paper hanging forward, or lying flat against the wall. That last one could be a deal breaker couldn’t it?

Yet perhaps the differences are most noticeable when it comes to how you celebrate the festivals that crop up throughout the year. Did you always open all your Christmas presents before breakfast? Or was the agony prolonged until the formal Aunts and Uncles arrived after the festive turkey? Did you only ever paint eggs you had blown yourself? Were you familiar with the concept of the Easter Egg Hunt?

I pondered family differences last weekend as three generations assembled in a corner of England. By nightfall the family was all present and correct. Our side rolled up fresh from Birmingham airport, our children proudly wheeling their wheely bags into Nanny and Grandad’s house. My little elves brought laughter, good cheer, and an awful lot of mess.

My husband’s brother took a circuitous route from London via Birmingham, was met by his lovely girlfriend, and they completed the rest of the trip by car. As the freshly-carved pumpkins nestled in the rockery, and the children’s eyes shone with excitement, we commenced a long-standing ritual – a bit early this year - the celebration of Guy Fawkes, and my Father-in-law’s birthday.

The first time I attended this celebration, I stood in awe as the well-oiled machinery rolled into action. Under the careful eye of my Mother-in-law, my Father-in-law taped old bedspreads to the dining room floor. Years of experience had taught them that by dawn, food, mud and grease would be well ground into the carpet. The table started to groan under the weight of grated cheese, ketchup, jars of pickles, bread rolls, knives and forks, glasses and bowls of nuts and crisps. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the jacket potatoes were filling the oven and pan after pan of fried onions were adding their fragrance to the house. The sausages were lined up on plates and industrial amounts of baked beans were at the ready. The mince pies nestled in a tin, the thick cream impatiently awaiting its moment.

It turns out that it was ever thus. From earliest memory my husband has huddled around a fire eating jacket potatoes, hot dogs and beans whilst his Dad has launched fireworks from a pipe in the garden. The neighbours would come, the neighbours’ children would come and other friends and colleagues would drop by. Some brought food, others brought fireworks. As the eating and drinking began and the show commenced, there would be much ribbing if someone had offered sub-standard explosives. As the years have rolled on, the gathering has diminished, but the tradition remains strong.

This year there were 10 of us - two of us interlopers - Deborah and myself. We caused some consternation by adding to the menu. I had devised a soup, and Deborah – who hails from a land north of Luton – gave us ‘black peas’. When I heard that the recipe simply is: Black Peas, I was all for adding garlic, stock and spice, but my Mother-in-law urged caution. How right she was. Although they were a tad overcooked (by about an hour we think), the addition of vinegar to the black pea mix produced an amazing alchemy. All the water around the peas thickened instantly and with a sprinkling of salt these bad boys were delicious.

My soup was also hailed a success, as were the frankly terrifying fireworks I’d bought earlier in the day. How it is possible to unleash weapons of such potential destruction from your garden is beyond me. Every year I mutter, ‘how long until these are banned?’. This year my mutterings were drowned out by the wailing of my two year old; she is clearly too young for public displays of gunpowder. The evening came to a peaceful end with us sipping red wine and shivering uncontrollably as the fire died down.

I am fully on board with this family’s bonfire night tradition; I particularly enjoyed the slightly drunken staged photo we managed before the children went to bed. We balanced our cameras on the bird bath then raced excitedly down the garden to the whoops and cries of those already assembled. This last little ritual almost seemed the most important part of the evening; we have so few photos of everyone together. I plan to continue the celebration of Guy and my Father-in-law for many years to come, and I may have to add this soup to the evening's menu. It's best served in a cup and eaten with a teaspoon. It doubles up as a great hand-warmer.

Guy Fawkes' Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Croutons

If you are very organised, the pumpkin roasting part of this recipe can be done up to 24 hours before.
I like my soups really thick, a broth if you will. If you don't like it so thick, simply add a little more stock, but be careful, you don't want those croutons to sink now do you?

1 culinary pumpkin
3-5 cloves of garlic
salt and black pepper
olive oil for basting
2 large carrots
4 small leeks or 2 large ones
1 small potato
a handful of fresh coriander
a pinch of hot ground chillis (I cheated and used English Provender's 'very lazy red chillis')
a litre of boiling water
2 gluten free stock cubes

6-8 slices of gluten free bread for the croutons (I used this)
oil to fry
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius
  • Cut the pumpkin into wedges and scoop out all the seeds and messy inner bits
  • Peel the garlic
  • Put the wedges and garlic onto a baking tray and pour over a good glug of olive oil. Use your hands to make sure each wedge is coated with oil. Grind over the salt and black pepper
  • Place in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, then turn them and cook for another 10 minutes until they are tender. Leave them to cool
  • Peel and chop the carrots into large chunks, prepare the leeks and also chop into large chunks. Peel the potato and chop into chunks
  • Put the carrots, leeks and potato into a large saucepan and add some olive oil to prevent sticking. Heat them very gently for about 10 minutes, making sure they don't stick
  • Add the chopped fresh coriander and the red chillis and stir
  • Mix the stock cubes with the boiling water and add to the pan. Bring the pan to the boil and leave to simmer uncovered until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat
  • When the pumpkin wedges are cold, peel off the skin so that you are left with the soft inner part. Wipe any salt and pepper that gets left on the skins onto the flesh, you don't want to waste any flavouring, make sure you keep the garlic too
  • Using a ladle, remove about three ladlefuls of stock from the saucepan, keep it safe in a jug. I do this because I'm always paranoid about ending up with a runny soup; you can always add more stock, but you can't take it away. You can have that motto for free.
  • Put half the flesh into a blender, then add a few ladles of vegetables and stock from the pan
  • Blitz the mix, and transfer it to a bowl or a clean saucepan. Keep repeating this until all the stock/veg and pumpkin/garlic is blended
  • Now have a look at your soup and decide whether it's thick/runny enough. Add more stock if required
  • Now to the croutons. These are fiendishly easy and reminded me of the fried bread my Dad used to make when I was little. Cut the crusts off the gluten free bread and slice the bread into cubes
  • Pour enough oil into a frying pan to completely cover the base, then add an extra glug or two. You want about a centimetre of oil in the pan
  • Heat the oil until it is hot but not yet smoking. Put some sheets of kitchen paper onto a plate
  • Add the croutons to the oil and watch them sizzle. You'll have to turn them when the one side is brown, it's a bit of a painstaking procedure, but worth it. Brown the other side, then remove the croutons and put them onto the plate with kitchen paper. Ta-daaa! Isnt' that clever, you made your own croutons! I was very proud of myself.
  • When ready to serve your soup, warm it up, put it in cups and add a generous handful of croutons. Carry the cups outside to your guests, and remember, never go back to a firework that has failed to ignite.
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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