Sunday, 14 December 2008

Dairy Free Rice Pudding (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

However hard I try, at some point Christmas always gets the better of me. I’ve been trundling along with my shopping this year, not feeling smug - always a trap - not feeling panic.
Fact: I wanted to make a Christmas pudding. Fact: my pudding bears a Tesco sticker.
Fact: I wanted to make my own mincemeat. Fact: I had to call Mr Tesco for that too. Although actually I think I may still have time to make some; I’ve found that you can compensate for making mincemeat late with the simple addition of a litre of brandy.

Still, all in all, it was going well, and whilst incredulous that there are now only about 10 days left before the big day, I thought I had my head above water.

Then, just ahead of Cyber Monday came Suicidal Saturday.
‘I’ll just,’ I said, ‘nip to the supermarket to get a few bits, and then I’ll pick up the tree. It won’t take long’. I hadn’t banked on the list-making machine in my head. When it heard I was going near a shop, its lights suddenly glowed green and it started to spew orders into my head.
‘Get gifts for the music teachers’,
‘Buy present for Mrs Langlois’,
Buy stocking fillers for the dog’ (haven’t told you about the dog have I?),
then a question to mix it up a little,
‘Have you got enough brandy to feed the cake?’.

As my face assumed the Christmas look; furrowed brow, stress acne, pained grimace and frenzied whispering under my breath, the voice of doom joined the cacophony in my head,
‘You do realise this is the last weekend you have to do X, Y and Z don’t you? You have to get it all done this weekend, or - sadistic pause - it will be too late”.The list machine had one parting go before I reached the checkout,
‘Make sure you have enough toilet cleaner’.
I somehow survived the supermarket intact, then headed to the garden centre to buy the tree.

Now I hadn’t committed the novice error of dragging children along with me to make tree-buying a fun and festive activity. If you have ever tried that you know what I mean; tension, squabbling, ‘I need a wee’, freezing little fingers, misery.
Don’t do it.
Being child-free, I thought I’d be fine.

Apparently the xmas calendar had deemed that this was tree-buying Saturday for all French citizens who live north of the Rhône. Getting a parking space took about 15 minutes, and then I shuffled forward with the masses. I was duly sucked in to the noisy, sparkling, stressful winter land of wonder. It was a violent assault on the senses. There were small children writhing and screaming in the clutches of their parents. The music was too loud. There were too many people. The list machine in my head froze; all conscious thought suspended.

Caught in the festive crossfire, I did well to make it outside to where they sell the trees. We are ever so green and buy a ‘proper’ tree for Christmas - natch - which we plant in the garden afterwards. In fact it’s not a Christmas tree at all, just something pine-like, a third cousin of the Nordmans, twice removed. Going outside to the ‘real’ trees did reduce my stress a bit because I was alone in the gloaming, albeit peering at horribly expensive specimens and wondering whether to sack my conscience and go buy a rootless thing that’ll be dead in a few weeks. Eco-warrior prevailed and I loaded up my trolley and headed for the checkout.

Standing in the queue confirmed my suspicion that Christmas should probably be cancelled. Careworn faces waiting to be served, toes curling in dread at what the till display would read. Tired brains totting up how much Christmas has already cost, and that’s without buying the food and drink. Worrying, worrying, will it all get done? Should I have bought that present? Will I still have a job in the new year?

I wanted to leave my trolley and run. Run into some parallel universe where Christmas consists of wooden handmade gifts, simple red and green decorations. Where there is snow, peace and quiet, no obligations, no tension, and healing cups of jasmine tea.

Of course I didn’t run. My children would be distraught without a tree to decorate, and the dog would be crushed if she didn’t get a stocking. I steeled myself, struggled back to my car and told myself it was all worth it.

Do you know what else I did? I went home and made rice pudding. A big bowl of filling, creamy stodge, topped off with a dollop of jam. I hunched over my bowl and savoured the mouthfuls.

Well your first name doesn't have to be Sigmund to work it out; in times of stress cook yourself soothing, childhood food. Maybe by doing that you’ll find yourself in a warm, safe place where grown ups are doing the worrying, someone else is washing up, and you can go to bed excited, because tomorrow is going to be a wonderful day full of presents and more lovely food.

If I keep eating the rice pudding, do you think that will happen for me sometime before December 25th? Well there’s certainly no harm in trying, is there?

Merry Christmas lovely readers!
Eat, drink - try to be merry - and here’s to 2009 with lots of allergy-friendly treats.

Love Pigx
Festive Dairy Free Rice Pudding
(Serves 1 mildly depressed pre-Christmas adult, or about 4 festive ones)
Oh but this is simple! A joy to prepare in these hectic days of extra cooking duties. Rice milk is a bit of a tricky one, I find it doesn't always work so well with its distinctive taste, but in this recipe, it is in its element.

1 cup/225g risotto rice
1 tsp ground cinammon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg / a good grating of fresh nutmeg
sugar to taste, at least 3 tbsps
1-2 litres of rice milk
Blackcurrant jam to serve
  • In a heavy-based saucepan with a lid - mine was not a non-stick one, I'd try not to use a non-stick one for fear of a flaking bottom - gently melt the dairy free spread, and when just liquid add the risotto rice. Stir to coat the rice
  • Add the sugar and spices, and if you think you're lacking a bit in dairy free spread, throw in a bit more (it's Christmas after all)
  • When the rice is gently sizzling, glug in about 200-300 ml of rice milk and stir. Cover the pan - make sure the heat is down low - and leave the rice and milk to do its thang for 5 minutes or so. The rice will gradually start to absorb the rice milk
  • Stir the mix and glug in more rice milk, you will have to do this over and over until the rice is tender. Keeping the lid on the pan helps, it sort of steams the rice and hurries the process along. In addition it means you can bustle around doing other things instead of stirring endlessly
  • So, keep putting in more rice milk, stirring, covering, bustling and repeating it all over again until the risotto rice is tender. It varies, but this will probably take about 20 minutes. Have you noticed the delicious creamy taste? Isn't that a marvel? So rare in a dairy free diet to get that good creamy coating on your tongue. Yum
  • When the rice is tender, add more sugar if required, then ladle out a serving into a bowl, and top with jam if you desire
  • Let the steam warm your face and gently spoon the pudding into your mouth
  • Inhale. Exhale. It will all be ok.

© Pig in the Kitchen

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Ratatouille (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

La Belle France. From the champagne vineyards in the North to the stylish beaches of the South. From the cool, dark Jura forests of the East, to the surfing beaches in the West. From all these points and many in between, La France is very, very belle. France does belle very well.

Shall I tell you what France doesn’t do very well? Kitchens. Now steady, let me explain. I don’t mean they don’t do food very well, after all they put the M in the Michelin Star, no what I mean is their domestic kitchens are very, very small. What’s that all about then? Even the large houses tend to have very small places in which to cook. I have scratched my head about this quite a few times. Why, when you have something of a penchant for food snobbery, why, would you construct such tiny kitchens? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

May I indulge in a little stereotyping? If all those French men really are hyper-sexed and giving it to Les dames in a passionate way, every half an hour, you’d think they would have sorted out the kitchen wouldn’t you? That way, the next time the moment arose, there wouldn’t be an issue. Les hommes would be able to slip off their sock-less loafers (oh yes, it’s true), untie their pale pink sweaters from around their necks, sweep the croissants, frogs legs and steaming bowls of hot chocolate out of the way, and give their Aubade-clad ladies a moment of amour on the kitchen table. As it is, in most French kitchens, you’d probably have to balance precariously atop a stack of Le Creuset saucepans in the sink, before you had any hope of getting a frisky frisson going in La Cuisine. And no, I haven’t tried it.

Well, where was I? Oh yes the size of their kitchens. Mi-ni-scule. Mine is no different. The day we moved to France, the removal men and I stared in horror as they stacked box after box marked ‘kitchen’ outside the shoebox-sized space from which I was supposed to feed a family of six. The kitchen has been a source of discontent to me for the last two years. No question of us being able to eat in it, we have to do laps of the house, kitchen to dining room, ferrying plates, cutlery, glasses, jugs, bowls…you get it, don’t you?

When I was away from the house during our summer of fun, I did quite a lot of thinking about the kitchen. After a while, a glimmer of an idea began. As it grew, and shone brighter, my husband rolled his eyes;
‘I can feel another ridiculous purchase coming on’ he groaned.

Oh but he knows me well. As I contemplated the problem, I suddenly thought of the solution. A trolley. The destructive power of four children has taught me that were I to buy a trolley, it would have to be a beast of a trolley. Industrial grade. I went straight to the catering websites. Bingo, there it was. A sturdy one with a kilo load in excess of, oh I don’t know, more than my four children put together. A key selling point that, because I knew damn well they would try trolley surfing as soon as my back was turned. With a click here, a phone call there, a slightly smoking credit card there, and the trolley arrived one sunny Autumn day.

I have never been good at guestimating. I’m a bit hazy on approximate lengths and widths, and when I’d sat in front of my computer looking at the dimensions of my trolley-to-be, I’d stretched my arms apart a bit and thought, ‘yep, it’s about that size by that size, cool! Just the right size’. It was absolutely bloody enormous. When I unpacked the box I thought for a minute there’d been a brief eclipse of the sun. The kids gathered around;
‘Mum, did you buy that?’
Yes I did!’ I countered defiantly, ‘isn’t it great? It’s going to change our lives. Now, I’ll just quickly assemble it and then I’ll make tea’.

Oh the oxymoron. ‘quickly’ and ‘assemble it’. Once upon a few years ago, I used to have much blonder hair. Naturally blonde. Speak slowly. I looked at the diagram for assembling the trolley, and caressed a lock of still-a-bit blonde hair. Now, the IKEA diagrams are a cinch, designed for dullards. But this diagram was not intended for Joe Public, it was a trade diagram. It appeared to require a degree in pure maths. I sat for a while with a blank, educationally sub-normal look on my face and stared at strange screws that were too short. Then I swallowed my pride and called the supplier.

‘Oh, hello, I’m calling about a trolley I’ve bought from you…’.
The kind men in suits couldn’t help me, so they put me through to fabulous Pete in the warehouse. I did my usual trick of only half listening, thinking I’d understood him, feeling very stupid, and hanging up quickly whilst gushing,
‘right, oh yesss, I see, fabulous. Well, thank-you very much Pete, that’s super!’

Another 10 minutes staring at the trolley and the diagram and the screws.
‘Hi, could I speak to Pete please…’
'Pete, hello, look I’m sorry to be so incredibly idiotic but…’
Calm, soothing Perfect Pete.

I’m going to whisper this bit, but another 10 minutes trying to do what Pete had told me.

‘Ummm, it’s me again, I promise this will be the last time I call…’
By the end of the phone call I think I had fallen in love with Patient Pete.

Indeed, I very nearly called him back to propose, when after another half hour of struggling, cursing and child labour, ‘Look, stand there and hold this heavy piece of steel. Not like that, keep it level!’, my trolley finally stood erect on her marvellous, heavy-duty, locking wheels. We stood in awe.
And by then tea was way behind schedule, but it didn’t matter because we had the trolley. Half an hour later I wheeled out my Ratatouille on the magnificent silver bird and we gazed in wonder and delight.

Friends, I can tell you that it has changed my life. The children have adopted a ‘Trolley Person’ rota and they gladly push it to and from the kitchen. It’s a bit hairy watching the 3 year old push it; she can’t see over the top and blindly careers from dining room to kitchen, mowing down anything in her way. They happily stack it with their dirty dishes, I clear it, and they wheel it back to the table all loaded up with breakfast cereal and bowls, ready for the morning. Never has catering for a family of six been so much fun.

I commend this trolley - and the Ratatouille - to you all.

Ratatouille (feeds a family of six)
Now although the Ratatouille is yummy, warming and perfect for these chilly evenings, it's quite hard to make it look sexy in a photo. That's why I have opted for this sort of Harvest Festival photo, enticing you with the fresh and wholesome ingredients in this dish, I do hope that's ok.

The quantities can be increased if you wish, and the liquid measurements are always a bit fluid (oh my, pardon the pun), you may find you need more water as it all simmers down. Or indeed more red wine.

1 large onion
6 cloves garlic (less if you prefer)
olive oil to fry
1 medium aubergine
1 large courgette
1 large green pepper
6-8 big beef tomatoes
tomato puree to taste (I used the best part of a tube)
1-2 tbsps dried herbs (and perhaps a bay leaf and some dried rosemary (as seen in pic), remove the bay leaf before serving)
1 tbsp paprika
200ml red wine
2-500ml water
salt & black pepper to taste
3-4 tbsps balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsps sugar
  • The beauty of Ratatouille is that it is a 'chuck it all in the pan and get on with helping with homework (or assembling trolleys) whilst it cooks' kind of a dish. So start off by chopping the onion and the garlic and throwing it into a large saucepan. Add the olive oil and dried herbs, put it onto a low heat, stir and cover and leave it to sweat whilst you carry on with the rest. But you might have to stir occasionally
  • Chop the courgettes, dice the aubergine, chop the peppers and add it to the sweating onion and garlic mix. Add the paprika and stir
  • Wash the beef tomatoes, then if you are fussy like me, cut out the bit where the stalk grows. Cut the tomatoes in half, and then add them to the pan. Cover, and leave everything to steam and soften for about five minutes, then stir (we'll remove the skins later)
  • Add the water, a few tbsps of tomato puree and the red wine, stir. Put the saucepan lid half on, half off, turn the heat down low and leave to simmer and reduce for 15 minutes or so. My dear French friend Sam (who may never speak to me again after this post) says that a Ratatouille 'ne peut jamais trop cuire', (can never cook for too long), he is so clever
  • Now don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the terrible tomato skins, (one day I may tell you the reason for my tomato skin phobia), what you need to do now is a bit fiddly. Using a knife and fork, fish around in your Ratatouille, and carefully peel off the softened and shrivelled skins. It sounds more fiddly than it is
  • If you think your Ratatouille is looking too sloppy or indeed not sloppy enough, remove the lid (1st case) to allow more liquid to evaporate or (2nd case) add more water
  • Add the balsamic vinegar, then season to taste with the salt and black pepper. Add the sugar to counterbalance the acidity in the tomatoes and tomato puree, et voila, your Ratatouille is ready. Whistle up some rice as an accompaniment, load it all onto your trolley, and trundle through to the dining room
© Pig in the Kitchen, 2008

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Bean and Pumpkin Casserole (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

It was when I looked around at the mayhem in the room and calculated the remaining hours of tidying up, that it happened. The last strands of my good humour finally succumbed to the tension and twisted away with an almost audible twang.

That’s it’ I announced through frazzled hair and an aching back,
‘we are no longer celebrating Halloween!’

The cry of outrage was audible across the Channel, and caused gentle ripples in the environs of Portsmouth. They were so indignant they actually lost the power of coherent speech for a second, and then the torrent of vitriol poured forth.

‘Why? That is SOO unfair! No way! Why not?’ I met their torrent with a dam of firm resolve,
‘Because…it’s FAR too much work, what with all this extra cooking, and…and… - I was struggling a bit now - AND, it’s not even a British festival! Yes, that’s it! I’m sure it’s American, and therefore, I don’t have to celebrate it’.

There was silence.

The little pedant who lives on my shoulder was tapping my neck,

‘Errr, excuse me, but I think you’ll find that the roots of this particular festival originated in Ireland, Druidic in origin I believe, and with a strong celtic overtone. Thus making it far more 'British' if you will than…’

‘Be quiet!’ I barked, and the children looked confused. Then without missing a beat, ‘Come on now, bedtime!’ I trilled in that sing-song schizophrenic way that Mothers do so well.

The fallout from my announcement continued for a good few days. When their Father arrived for the weekend they clambered all over him, fighting for ear space, all of them telling him that ‘Mummy says we can’t celebrate Halloween anymore’. Father raised an eyebrow and looked quizzically in my direction. I bared my lips in return and the subject was shelved.

As Christmas and Easter arrived and were celebrated in lavish style, all memories of the maternal Halloween fatwa appeared to have dissipated. Long lazy days of summer dulled the senses, and I seemed to be off the hook.

And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those pesky meddling educators. What do they think they are playing at with their ‘Spooky Halloween Mobile’ that my boy carried home so proudly last week? And it’s not just them, who are these people throwing Halloween parties? At least three careworn Mothers have told me in the last two weeks, ‘..and I’ve got to take them to a Halloween party this evening, three costumes! Where am I going to find the time?’
So as half term started I had my anti-Halloween arguments at the ready and was polishing up my strident, do-not-contradict-me, tone. Bizarrely, apart from some vague queries about why we weren’t going Trick or Treating, (in rural Normandy? Why don’t I march up to the neighbours, take their shotgun, place it in my mouth and offer to pull the trigger for them? Have these children not realised how much we don‘t fit in here?), there was very little of that smutty Halloween talk.

And do you know what has happened? In the face of no Halloween pressure, I suddenly have a hankering to decorate some empty glass yoghurt pots with ghosts and pumpkin faces. I am bemoaning my face paints that I left in Paris, and I’m wondering where I could buy a black sheet to make some witch costumes. The landscape is exquisitely Halloween-coloured; orange leaves, stark black tree silhouettes and a bright white sun. The crispy piles of leaves, swirling wind and frosty mornings all seem to be egging me on; ‘go on! Make something of these late Autumn days, do something for Halloween!’

I tried not to listen, but in the end I couldn’t help myself. Halloween food, I decided, wasn’t really celebrating too much, and was really no bother. Besides, I have to cook tea for them anyway, so why not give it a Halloween theme?

The final straw was Jo telling me about her homemade baked beans. As we wandered around a supermarket she pointed out the kind of beans required and I snapped them up. With half a pumpkin already waiting in the fridge…well, there was bound to be some Halloween chemistry wasn't there?

I have resolutely resisted the urge to make costumes, trick or treat and paint faces, but I did dream up this casserole which I offered to them as a pre-Halloween treat. I thought the gay Halloween title might make the children instantly fall in love with my wholesome concoction. Well, half my children liked it, one tolerated it and the fourth asked for extra water so she could wash the filthy taste from her mouth. She didn’t quite use those words, but her face told the tale.

I don’t think I have the heart to serve it to them tomorrow evening, I may just cave in entirely and make Halloween Biscuit Cakes instead. It’s the sign of a good Mother isn’t it? Being able to backtrack completely with your head held high, pretending that you never said all that stuff?

Happy Halloween to you all x

Halloween Bean & Pumpkin Casserole (Serves 4 adults with hearty appetites)
May I give you a top tip, right off the bat? Put your ginger in the freezer right away. When it comes to grating it, it will be so much easier. Can I also make a confession? This does require soaking the beans overnight. I can’t believe I’ve come up with such a labour-intensive recipe, but I blame Jo. She said it’s really simple to cook the beans, and in fact she’s right. However, if you can find these beans in a tin and can live with your conscience, then please, go ahead and use them.

200g Lingot/haricot beans
8 small potatoes
Approximately 200g pumpkin (up to you really)
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
3 celery sticks
A large pinch of dried mixed herbs (trashy, but very handy)
1 stock cube
500g passata
150-200ml red wine
1-3 litres of water
1 cm cube of fresh ginger
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • Soak the beans overnight in cold water
  • The next morning, as you stumble blearily into the kitchen, drain the beans, put them into a large saucepan with plenty of water, and bring them to the boil
  • Make your coffee, and feel the caffeine course through your veins giving meaning and hope to the day
  • Let the beans boil for approximately 40 minutes, making sure that they don’t boil dry. Check them from time to time and when they are tender, remove from the heat and drain. Set aside, for up to 6 hours (more if you put them in the fridge)
  • If you are cooking this all in one go, then heat the oven to 150° Celsius. If you want to start this in the morning, then cook it for dinner in the evening, it needs to be cooked for 45-90 minutes
  • When you’re ready, chop the onions, garlic and celery and fry them gently in olive oil, adding the pinch of dried mixed herbs as you go. Ideally use a metal casserole dish to fry them in, then you can then add the rest of the stuff and pop it straight into the oven. If you don’t have a metal one, fry the onions, garlic and celery in a frying pan
  • Wash and slice, but don't peel, the potatoes - I like slices about 50mm thick - add them to the onion, garlic and celery mix and stir. Add the beans and stir, all the while gently frying
  • Transfer everything to your casserole dish
  • Dissolve the stock cube in about ½ litre of boiling water and add it to the onion, garlic, celery and potatoes
  • Add the 500g passata, and the red wine, and about another litre of stock. You may want to add more stock, or a bit less, it depends on how you like it really
  • Grate the ginger into the mix, add the balsamic vinegar, stir again, cover the dish and place it in the oven
  • I haven’t forgotten about the pumpkin, but I do hate soggy pumpkin, so I like to add it about 20 minutes before the end. So remove the rind of the pumpkin, and cut it into cubes
  • Now off you go and potter, feed the chickens, put your feet up, or whatever it is you do with your time, and all the while your casserole will be quietly bubbling away, that’s good isn’t it?
  • After 25 mins or so, check how it’s doing, add a bit more water if you think it needs it and check how the potatoes are doing. If they still seem really hard, then don’t add the pumpkin yet, you want to add the pumpkin when the potatoes are about half cooked
  • So, when the potatoes are about half cooked, add the pumpkin, stir and cover Disappear for another 20 minutes or so, and tra la laa! Your casserole should be done, serve it up to children dressed as ghosts
  • Can be served with gluten-free bread or with rice if you desire, enjoy.

© Pig in the Kitchen, 2008

Monday, 6 October 2008

Joss Sticks

With such insouciance did I choose my clothes!

Woke in the morning, spent a few minutes in front of the mirror, yes, that will do me for the day.

That will do me for two school runs. That will do me for a music group for my youngest. That will see me through the drive that will take me to my friends, and from there we will make merry and have fun until the early hours.

Yes, my outfit will do me for all those things.

‘Biker chick!’ said one friend,.
‘Rock Chick!’ said another.
We laughed. I had not set out to create a ‘look’, I just needed an outfit that would do me for the day.

I didn’t know that it would have to do me through trauma. Through a car spinning through the air. Through the split second realisation that what I’m watching is not a film, it is real. Through an arm flapping crazily out of a car window on a bright, bright Autumn day. Through the conviction that death is in the other car. Through the blood and the broken glass on the road. Through the fire engines, the ambulance, the questioning, and the panic.

I think it will not do me through the aftermath.

That will be many weeks of outfits.

That is why I am not really here.

I have gone away to meditate. And smoke joss sticks.

Or something.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Tapenade and Tomato Canapés (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

Glenda Bannington-Blythe sighed as she heard the crunch of tyres on her gravel drive. She placed the last of her yellow roses carefully into a vase, then turned away from the window;

‘Mr Bannington-Blythe is home Rosa, please bring the tray’.

Rosa started as she heard Glenda’s voice. She’d been completely engrossed in aligning the leather bound books on the bookshelves.

"¿Qué?… ¿perdón Meesis?’,

she looked hunted, scared. Glenda slowed down her speech,

‘Mr Bannington-Blythe is home, please bring the tray’.

Rosa squinted slightly,

‘Meester is home?’

she pronounced ‘home’ as if she were attempting clear a fish bone from her throat. Glenda bit her lip and tried again,

‘Yes Rosa, Meester- MR is home’.

Rosa nodded, performed a slight curtsy and hurried from the room. Not for the first time Glenda resisted the urge to cry with laughter, it barely seemed possible that a female Manuel could exist. The agency that had sent her Rosa had enlivened her life immeasurably.

She turned to watch her husband struggle out of his car. It was a sleek machine named after a large and powerful cat. She often pondered the mismatch as she observed how he had to lever himself out of the plush leather seats. His portly frame wedged against the steering wheel and he had to use two hands to wrench himself up, trapping his foot in the door during the process. He lumbered around to the boot and removed his briefcase. She noted his pinstripe trousers a little too short, and the mound of fat straining against his Jermyn Street shirt.

Rosa bumbled back into the room with a crash; it was a minor miracle that the decanter had remained intact during her six months of service.

‘Thank-you Rosa, I’ll see to the rest’.

Rosa nodded, tripped slightly on the thick rug and then was gone. Glenda removed the lid of the ice bucket and carefully dropped two cubes into a heavy crystal tumbler. As her husband entered the room she poured him three fingers of whisky, enjoying the crack of the ice cubes as they bobbed in the amber liquid.

‘Good evening darling’ she smiled, ‘how was your day?’

Roger Bannington-Blythe grunted,

‘Bloody awful, have you looked at our share price today? ‘

Glenda was used to this rhetorical question and assumed her usual sympathetic look. As Roger droned on about stocks, shares and the sheer incompetence of all those around him, she wondered if Cook would overdo the green beans for dinner. Glenda observed that Roger's monologue made no mention of his pert young assistant, Angela, although she was fairly sure that he’d spent a sweaty and heaving ten minutes with her sometime before lunch. The urge often seemed to take him when he was hungry, she’d noted. And he did have a terrible weakness for blondes.

When he’d finished, she cleared her throat,

Judy Wainscot called me today’

she announced brightly. Roger was shaking out the pink pages of the Financial Times, his overgrown eyebrows frowning at the headlines.

‘Hmmm? What’s that?’

he shifted position slightly and broke wind.

‘I said, ‘Judy Wainscot called me today, she..’

Telephoned!' he bellowed, 'She telephoned you! Good grief woman, did they teach you nothing at Roedean? On THIS side of the Atlantic, we say ‘telephoned’’,

he tutted and harrumphed as he gulped down his whisky.

It often happened around this time of day. Glenda - for a brief instant - floated up and saw herself from above. She saw the pearls he’d given her - ‘these were Mummy’s darling, if you are only half the woman she was, I’ll be happy’ - her cashmere cardigan, the neat a-line skirt and the sensible handmade leather shoes. She noted the red lipstick that she was sure he didn’t like, too tarty. As she watched, her perfectly manicured hand reached for the knife with which she sliced lemons for her Gin and Tonic. It was always on the tray that Rosa carried into the room. Her heavy diamond ring glinted as she crossed the room to her husband’s chair. As the knife plunged in just left of his windpipe, she noted with disgust that even in extremis he broke wind.

I’m so sorry darling, well as I was saying, Judy Wainscot telephoned me this morning, and they would be delighted to come to dinner on Friday. Do you remember you talked to Jeremy about it at the clubhouse? I’ll have Cook braise a leg of lamb, and we may have marinated peaches for dessert, it’s been so warm recently, I think a light dessert will be perfectly adequate’.

Roger looked up disinterestedly,

‘What’s that? Friday? Oh gawd, Jeremy is such a bloody bore, did I really invite them?’

‘Yes dear, don’t you remember? You’d just - what was the phrase - pulverised him on the golf course and in your delight insisted that they should come round to dinner’.

Roger shook his head,

Sorry, don’t think I can make it. John Peachy-Havington has demanded we have a drink at the club on Friday, I can hardly say no to someone of his standing now can I?’

He chortled at the very idea and clumsily rearranged his scrotum, belching as he did so.

Glenda’s hand twitched on the knife as she quickly and deftly pierced the flesh of the lemon. She added ice to her glass and a long slug of gin. There was no need for tonic today. She walked to the window and touched the roses in the vase.

Oh dear, well that is a shame. Judy was telling me that Freya is down from Cambridge for the summer. She thought it would be such a hoot if Freya came and served us canapés during the apéritif. She thinks that Freya is getting a little above herself, and it won’t do her any harm to do some menial work’, Glenda gave a short, little laugh, ‘Do you know she even suggested that Freya should wear a maid’s outfit, you know one of those short little black dresses, with a frilly white apron over the top. Mind you, Freya certainly has the legs for it, she’s been picked for the kick boxing team Judy was saying, and her thighs are rock solid. Well never mind, I’ll just telephone Judy and cancel, perhaps we’ll do it after the summer. Maybe we could invite…’

She turned when Roger coughed and spluttered. He was still rearranging his scrotum she noticed.

Do you know what darling? I think I’ll get out of drinks with Peachy-Havington on Friday. It would be bad form to cancel the Wainscots. And what’s the name of their girl, Freya you say? Good Gawd, I haven’t seen her for a long while…’

his voice tailed off and his expression became dreamy,

‘…yes, I remember her, last Summer wasn’t it? When we had that Wimbledon party and everyone came dressed up. Oh yes, she wore that little white outfit…’

He met Glenda’s steely eye and there was no mistaking the sneer that curled her perfect red lips.

Good!’ she exclaimed brightly. ‘I’ll telephone Judy tomorrow. And we’ll have Cook make some of those tomato and tapenade canapés, I’m sure Freya will simply love serving you’

Glenda moved away from the window, downing her gin in one smooth movement. She set the glass down rather noisily on the tray, and then reached for the small silver bell on the table. Rosa appeared in an instant.

Serve Mr Bannington-Blythe more whisky, Rosa’ she commanded, ‘I must just check that Cook hasn’t overdone the green beans’.

With that Glenda strode quickly from the room.

Now, perhaps we’ll never know the full details of what went on at the Bannington-Blythe’s dinner party. I‘m not even sure that Freya was ever really going to come; that may just have been Glenda‘s ruse to ensure she could spend a pleasant evening with the Wainscots. However, I have it on the best authority that the canapés were delicious.

Glenda Bannington-Blythe's Tapenade and Tomato Canapés

I know, I know, this is hardly cooking is it? More of a method...but if it's good enough for the Bannington-Blythe's, isn't it good enough for you?

For the toasts:

6-8 slices of gluten free bread (or wholemeal 'regular' bread if you can tolerate it)

a pinch of dried mixed herbs

olive oil to brush

For the tapenade:

200g black olives

50g capers

lemon juice to taste

2-3 tbsps olive oil

Cherry tomatoes to garnish

olive oil

ground black pepper

  • Start with the tapenade, which will keep up to three days in the fridge
  • Place the drained olives, capers, a squeeze of lemon juice and a tbsp of olive oil into a blender
  • Switch on the blender
  • Taste and add more lemon juice if required, if it's a little too thick, add some more olive oil
  • You know, to many people that might actually constitute cooking, mightn't it? I'm really not feeling so bad about my lightweight recipe now. Like I said, good enough for the Bannington-Blythe's...
  • Pre-heat the grill on your oven
  • Using a cookie cutter (larger than the one in the picture if you wish), cut out rounds from the gluten free bread
  • Mix the olive oil and dried herbs together, then use a pastry brush to brush the bread circles with the herby olive oil
  • Place the bread rounds under the grill until lightly browned and sizzling, this will hardly take any time
  • Remove from the heat, turn them over, then lightly toast again
  • Remove from the heat, then spread the toasts with tapenade and garnish with a cut cherry tomato
  • Add a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of ground black pepper ( I do believe I forgot to do that before I photographed my babies. Wow, I am human after all)
  • Wriggle into your short, tight maid's outfit, and shimmy out to your guests. Watch out for the old fart in the corner with hair growing out of his ears and a roving eye, that's Roger, and his hand will be up your skirt sooner than you can say, 'Listen fat cat, you might be rich but you're an ugly toad and your nasal hair repulses me'

© Pig in the Kitchen 2008

Monday, 1 September 2008

Raisin Buns (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan)

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re rolling along as usual and you think you know more or less how the rest of the day is going to go? Then suddenly, whoosh! Look! There goes what you thought was going to happen, and Oh, hello! Here‘s something completely random and unexpected. And when it‘s all over you scratch your head and think,
‘Huh, I did NOT see that coming’.
Ever had a day like that? I have. It happened a few weeks ago.

I’d just driven back to France after three weeks in the UK. Six hours in the car made sitting in the sun outside my house even more delightful. The children were scampering happily in the garden when from nowhere I had a positive and confident thought.
‘What if,’ went the thought, ’you just stopped worrying and tried to enjoy life? Just enjoyed the opportunities that come your way, stopped stressing about whether it’s Right to live in France, and gave up the idea of having a stomach like an Olympic gymnast?’

Well. It’s very unlike me to have a grown-up thought like that, and I was still processing it, when along came another,
‘Fat! That’s what it needs, Fat!’

Lest you think I’ve become a little unhinged after my summer break; here’s some background for you. I’ve not yet mastered an egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free fairy-cake/bun type of a creation. Muffin-type cakes go well, big chocolatey cakes are fine, but the little bun that you want to serve for birthday parties or hand out after school, has not materialised in my kitchen. Oh they might look enticing and positively pumped in the oven, but as soon as my back is turned they slump, or just level off. In addition, they haven’t quite got the springy texture I’m after. So I’ve been mulling about how to get them to work for ages, and on that sunny evening it came to me,
‘Fat!’ I would add some extra fat into my egg-replacing concoction in the hope that it would more perfectly mimic a real egg, and ta-daaaa! maybe it would work.

With that happy thought in my head, I cooked tea for the children, crowbarred them into bed and switched on the oven with every intention of trying out my new fatty fake egg idea. Then I heard the thunder of small feet heading my way. In burst my son looking ashen, and yelled;

‘E (youngest child) has swallowed something!’

You can always tell when children are scared witless. There’s something in the timbre of the voice that sends your feet running up the stairs and sets your heart racing. I found my littlest retching and struggling to vomit. She was drooling, heaving and in a panic.

‘What have you swallowed?’’
‘Money’ she groaned.

For a minute I was stumped. My Mother’s Mental Compendium of Unexpected Medical Ailments (Volume 2) didn’t appear to have a chapter on ‘What to do if your two year old swallows some money’. I tried a bit of fingers down the throat, a bit of a drink of water, a bit of a multiple choice guessing game - ‘Look, here are some coins. Which one did you swallow, was it this one?’ - and then I ran out of ideas. So I dialled the emergency services and they told me to take her to A and E.

All of a sudden my evening was really not going to plan. I did what I often do in moments of stress; called my husband - two hours away in Paris - so that I could rant at him. And when he is not the subject of my rant, my husband is really rather good at helping.

‘Why?‘ I frothed, ‘does this happen to me? I’ve done the choking, the meningitis, the operations, but WHY is it always me with a medical dilemma involving children at night, on my own?‘Husband speaks a little-known maths / engineery patois that I find quite soothing,
‘Well, it’s really just numbers. It’s four children, ergo, it’s trouble to the power of four’.
Oddly enough that did the trick and calmed me down.

By the time we reached A & E it was late. Too late to be dragging four pyjama’d children around. I was seen by a kindly doctor, then sent along to Radiography. Give them their due, my children do rally in the face of a night-time trip to hospital; the three older ones sat outside in the corridor, and the youngest -a lot chirpier now - giggled at the great big lead apron I had to wear, and puffed her tummy out for the x-ray. Sure enough, there it was, a huge-looking coin. The doctor peered at it, then peered at me,

‘Are you sure that it was just a 5 centime coin that she swallowed?’

 Neglectful, shameful Mother who allows her small child access to harmful coins shook her head. She thought it best to not say anything else or he might start to wonder where the Father was and start checking all the other kids for bruises and cigarette burns.

When we finally rolled home and I'd put small people to bed, I was far too wired to sleep, so decided to crack on with the buns and my fake fat egg idea. Would you believe that they worked first time?

Huh, I did NOT see that coming.

Addendum: 48 hours after the coin-swallowing incident, Pig and the piglets were absorbing the sunset on a beach. Mercifully, most people had gone off to have dinner. ‘Mum’ called L, ‘E needs a wee’. I wafted down the beach in my sarong and gently lifted my poppet for a harmless wee.
For too long.
Just a wee’ I whispered urgently, ‘just do a wee, don’t do a poo’.
‘Aggghh, just gotta poo’ strained my littlest as I looked on in horror.

Waves of shame washed over me and I summoned my eldest to help. Between us we gathered plastic bags, wipes and a bright coloured spade so that I could remove the mess and hope no-one had noticed. I bent down to clear up, and then stopped.

Huh! Look M! There’s the coin!’ M bent down for a look, ‘Oh wow!’ she exclaimed, ‘shall I get the others?’

And so it was that we were all witness to the coin evacuation, and in case anyone is interested…a 2p piece, not 5 centimes.

Raisin Buns (makes 10-12 regular buns, more if you use mini cases)

I've not yet had a go at icing these cakes, I wonder if that would work? And I know the list of ingredients is daunting...I'm sorry about that, this allergy cooking malarkey isn't easy is it?
Update, Jan 2009. Have now iced the buns (see below), and also discovered that they work with HERE for the rambling explanation of the banana addition. If you do use banana, the buns have a bit of a muffin look to the top of them, if you don't like it, just cover it up with icing.

Egg-free, Dairy-free, Gluten-free version:

110g dairy-free spread (or margarine if you don't have a milk allergy)

110g raisins (or omit raisins, and add 1 large banana mashed, or 1 and half medium bananas)

½ tsp mixed spice

1 tsp baking powder

120g sugar

10g cornflour/ cornstarch

1 tbsp rice bran

¼ tsp xanthan gum (yes it is a second ¼ tsp of xanthan gum)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (grind whole linseeds in a blender)
4 tbsps rice milk

Gluten-free with egg version:

Use the first 10 ingredients listed above, then

½ tsp xanthan gum

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 tbsp rice milk or dairy milk

Egg-free, Dairy-free with wheat flour version:

Use the first four ingredients listed above, then

110g sugar

110g wheat flour

2 heaped tsps Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer

20g melted dairy-free spread

¼ tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (grind whole linseeds in a blender)

4 tbsps rice milk
  • Pre-heat the oven to 170° celsius
  • Line your bun tin with pretty cases, or sober and sensible white ones if you prefer
  • If making a 'no egg' version of these cakes, then in a bowl mix together the 2 tsps Orgran egg replacer, the 20g melted dairy free spread, the ¼tsp xanthan gum, the vanilla essence, the tbsp of ground linseeds and the 4 tbsps of rice milk. Whisk it well with a mini whisk and set it aside to work its magic
  • For all versions: cream the dairy-free spread/margarine in a large mixing bowl until it is well blended and a bit paler in colour
  • Add either the egg replacer mix or the 2 eggs, and beat well. If making with eggs, add the vanilla essence at this point
  • Add the raisins (or mashed banana if you wish) and mix
  • For gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free version: Add the four types of GF flour, the mixed spice, the baking powder, the rice bran and the ¼ tsp of xanthan gum and mix well.
  • For gluten free with eggs version: Add the four types of GF flour, the mixed spice, the baking powder, the rice bran and ½ tsp of xanthan gum and mix well
  • For egg-free, dairy-free with wheat flour: Add the wheat flour, mixed spice and baking powder and mix well
  • Ok, now who isn't confused at this point?
  • To recap, you should now all have in your bowls, dairy-free spread, sugar, egg - either real or fake, raisins, vanilla essence, GF or wheat flour, mixed spice and baking powder. Some of you will have xanthan gum, some of you won't, please try not to squabble
  • Is it time we had a drink yet?
  • Make sure everything is mixed up then add a tbsp of rice milk or dairy milk if you are not allergic to dairy products.
  • Mix again and give a gentle magic blow over the ingredients in your bowl, it really helps. Please don't give a magic blow if you are suffering from Tuberculosis, that might not be such a good idea
  • Now, let's fill up your cake cases. Always a tricky moment this, do I err on the side of not-quite-full-enough-but-I-know-it-won't-droop-over-the-top, or do I go for, dollop-it-in-you-can-never-have-too-much-cake-even-if-it-has-drooped-over-the-top. I generally go for just over half full and hope for the best (although when making these with banana, it seemed better to slightly overfill them)
  • Place your babies in the middle of the oven for approximately 15-25 minutes. It depends on which mix you're using and on your oven, just play safe and watch intently
  • They are cooked when they have risen, are a pale golden colour and an inserted cake tester or skewer comes out clean
  • Place on a cooling rack and leave until completely cold; all versions of this are better when they are cold. Don't be having a sly bite when they're still hot and then feel really disappointed because it wasn't the spongey babe of a cake you were hoping for, just be patient, they're better cold.
  • If serving these to small children, please ensure that all surfaces are clear of coins of any denomination

Now then, now then! For the occasion of my littlest's 3rd birthday, I did get around to icing these buns (see above). I used a glace icing and sprinkled with lavender sugar, get me! Oooo and they were good, the icing sets and yum, yummity yum. I'm not good with glace icing measurements, but roughly....
200g icing sugar (sieved) (maybe a bit more?)
a few tbsps of water
  • seive icing sugar into a large bowl, add the water very, very gradually and mix until you have a thick icing. You may prefer thin, runny icing in which case add more water. If it all goes too runny, sieve in more icing sugar
  • Dollop the icing onto the cold buns, and spread/coax it to the edges. Sprinkle on the lavender sugar, quick! before it sets, or add another pretty sprinkly topping of your choice. Carnivel Sprinkelz are fab, pretty, dairy and gluten free, and you can get them from Dietary Needs Direct
© Pig in the Kitchen 2008

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Pig, Her Kids, Their Bus and The UK

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing it's going to go something like this...

At some point next week the Pig bus will come to a halt in a quiet road in leafy Kent. The pressure of mounting excitement - coupled with ABBA Gold on a loop - will have built up to such a degree, there will be an audible psssssshhhhhtttt as the doors slide open. All children still awake after our long drive will charge into Fran's house, and our holiday will have officially started.

I know myself quite well, and it will be no surprise to me that by 6pm I will have downed the best part of a bottle of champagne. It is also customary for me to have cried at least once within hours of being back with my friends. You may now revise your image of me as cool, calm, collected and gorgeous.

Going back to old stamping grounds is an emotional endurance test that I usually fail. I think I probably get a U (unhappy). As much as I delight in visiting the parks, woods and pubs we loved so much, I also feel sad. As my friends form a low-level pressure campaign for me to move back into my house and have my husband come visit from Heathrow, I start to waver. When I do the old school run and watch my children play so happily with their friends, I have to bite my lip.

Going back puts your new life under the microscope and throws up that terrible question, 'Are you happy?' I'm never sure if that question has an unequivocal answer. At each lunch, after every dinner, after the barbecues and coffees, I will sit in a pensive state, mulling about life. Comparing, contrasting, worrying, hoping; 'Are we doing The Right Thing?'

I'm fairly sure I won't reach a satisfactory conclusion, and I think morale will be hovering around floor level as we cross back into France. I'm fairly sure I will have eaten my body weight in cheddar cheese, chips, vegetarian sausages, curry and anything my Mother-in-Law puts before me.
I will be convinced that my liver is in the final stages of cirrhosis, and I will resolve never to drink again.

We will arrive back home and I'll put exhausted kids to bed. Then I will stand and listen to the silence, before quietly reaching for a bottle of wine. Then I will wake up the next morning, pull myself together and carry on as before.

You see? That's the good thing about knowing yourself quite well; at least you know what's coming.

Farewell lovely readers. I had thought I would resume Pigly duties at some point over the summer.

Then I looked at my, 'List of Guests Visiting Us This Summer'.
The week when there are 6 people camping in the garden, and 10 of us in the house, is going to be especially interesting.

So I don't think I'll be back until September, but I'm sure I'll be wandering into your blogs and leaving those incisive comments you love so well.

And of course, I will still be vainly checking my email for offers that might end in something good like this...

...and failing that, just to answer recipe questions.

Big Bisous


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Gluten Free Pittas (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

I have a mental photo album. Not one that shows me car surfing, doing a naked bungee or base jumping; no, not that kind of ‘mental!’ It’s one that exists in my head for me to delve into from time to time, so that I can mull over my past.

Of course I do have to flick quickly past lots of pictures. The one of me falling onto a table of drinks in a student nightclub, tipping it up and sending all the drinks flying onto the dance floor, doesn’t get much airtime. Nor do the images from my parent’s funerals; sometimes it’s best to just keep turning the pages.

There are some though, that I like to re-visit. Some make me smile, others make me cry. Some make me feel wistful, and with some, the image is so beautiful, I just want to sit and stare.

For 8 years now I have cherished one such mental picture. The image is of somewhere in the Peak District. One summer’s day in 2000, Sandra and I crept out of a house in Worcester and scurried to the car. It was early o’clock, we’d left my then only child with her grandparents, and we were headed north. The pale and sleepy sun rubbed its eyes, shook its shoulders, turned towards us and beamed. We drove for an hour or so until we saw him. A solitary figure waiting in a lonely car park, the Peak District providing a breathtaking backdrop. It was my friend Dave.

My friend Dave is a climber. We served our time together in China and once visited a climbing wall in Beijing. Although he now lived in the Czech Republic and I was in London, we’d managed to conspire so that we both arrived at that car park early on that summer’s day.

Sandra and I giggled like novices as we unloaded bundles of brightly coloured rope from the car. We stood like 5 year olds as Dave helped us with harnesses, tied the knots, and generally did all the technical stuff. I was rather taken by the pretty karabiners; I am so shallow. The sun was warming the rock face as we trudged up the hill towards our starting point. I had a moment of hesitation - it did look rather high - but Dave was having none of it. Before you could shout, ‘On belay!’ away he went, leading the climb.

At some point in that sunny day, as I waited for Sandra to climb up and join me, I sat down on a rock ledge. The sun was beating down and I was warm and happy. I looked out over miles and miles of English countryside swathed in hazy sunshine. There was silence save for birds and the occasional bleat of a sheep. It was a moment of pure bliss.

I’ve often wondered whether a moment like that will come again. A moment when there is genuinely no worry, fear, stress or distraction. When there is calm, peace, warmth and beauty, and I simply feel light and happy. Perhaps we only get one such moment in a lifetime?

So, bearing in mind that climbing is forever linked to this beautiful day with its magic moment, I’ve always wanted to climb again. However, 4 children, no nanny and a travelling husband are not conducive to maternal jaunts to a climbing wall. Yet somehow recently, I met another like-minded Mum, found a babysitter and arranged a date.

And so it was that a few weeks ago, Monday evening saw me standing at the foot of a climbing wall feeling like a 5 year old. An instructor taught me to tie knots and adjusted my harness for me. He then made me climb up and down the wall, clinging to brightly coloured hand holds until my forearms trembled. Eventually I got the giggles and then just let go so that I could hang in space and have a rest.

I came home full of happy endorphins, popped a beer - belched - and showed my husband my pumped biceps. He really wishes I were more like a woman.

The following morning, still mentally clambering up walls and aching in all sorts of strange places, I finally cracked my pitta recipe.
These would be perfect for a packed lunch somewhere in the Peak District on a warm and sunny day.

On Belay!
Climbing Pittas (Makes 4 large pittas)
Now the pictured pittas look a tad thick don't they? You're thinking, 'the base looks a bit thick and fluffy to be a pitta' aren't you? Well don't you worry, it's all to do with the heat of the grill. And when I super-heated my grill on Monday, my pittas were fine; just the right thickness.
'What do you think of the pittas?' I asked anxiously as my children shovelled down their tea. My darling, sweet and feisty number 2 girl stopped mid-chew, 'What, did you make them? I thought they were shop ones'.
I think her place in heaven - and a plentiful supply of pocket money - is assured.
100g cornflour / corn starch
50g potato flour
100g brown rice flour
1¾ tsp dried yeast
½ tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
50g dairy free spread
180ml tepid water
  • Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl
  • Add the xanthan gum, sugar, salt and the dried yeast, mix with a mini whisk to ensure everything is evenly mixed
  • Add the dairy free spread to the bowl and using the tips of your fingers, rub it into the flour so that it resembles breadcrumbs
  • If your grill takes ages to warm up, light it now
  • Warm the water slightly then gradually add it to the bowl, mixing well with a wooden spoon. The quantity of water is a guide, you need quite a thick dough that will hold its shape. As with most gluten free dough, it will be quite sticky. The dough shouldn't fall off the spoon
  • Line a baking tray with baking parchment and have it at the ready
  • Lay another sheet of baking parchment onto your work surface and flour it with rice flour. Have more rice flour to hand
  • Dollop a quarter of the dough (less if you require mini pittas) onto the floured baking parchment. Sprinkle the surface with rice flour, and using the tips of your fingers, gently pat the the dough into a flat round shape, about ½ centimetre thick
  • Now the vaguely tricky bit. You need to transfer your pitta to the baking tray. Lift up the baking parchment with the pitta on, shake off the excess flour onto a plate, then turn the pitta onto the baking tray. If it sticks a little to the parchment, use a knife to gently scrape it off. You can then reshape the pitta if need be whilst it's on the baking tray. You could of course shape the pittas on the baking tray that will go under the grill, but I was a bit worried about an excess of flour browning or burning on the tray. Am I making any sense? Making it all too complicated? You can try both methods and let me know what you think, my friend Vicky thinks I make life too hard, perhaps she's right
  • You should definitely light your grill now
  • Once you have made your four pittas, leave them on the baking tray in a warm place for approximately ten minutes
  • Place them under your very hot grill, on the lowest shelf. Watch them like a hawk, after about 5 minutes they should start to puff up with steam. Let one side brown, remove them from under the grill, carefully turn them over (wear gloves) and then put them back under the grill until the other side is browned
  • Remove and place on a cooling rack until you need them. If you're slicing them whilst they're still hot, watch out for that steam escaping, you don't want a burn that would stop you climbing now do you?
  • Make your pitta sandwiches, pack your harness and rock boots and get thee to a rock face!
© Pig in the Kitchen
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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Cranberry Rock Cakes (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

I hate the way that death drops into your life. I imagine it’s rather like a HALO jump. It silently speeds towards you from a great height, bearing down on you as you go about your business. It gathers pace, harder and faster, then with great force opens its chute of doom over your life. Whilst you stare in disbelief at your life now in tatters, death gently drops to the ground, gathers up its chute and heads off for its next victim.

What I dislike is how unprepared we are. Unaware that the very next phone call may bring some horrible news. You are busy with life, bustling around, and then it happens. You walk briskly to the phone, and within minutes of picking up the receiver you see it. The brutal, jagged chasm that is snaking between your feet and widening with every word you hear. There isn’t a way to announce death, no words are appropriate, no emotion is seemly. Death is death, it casts a shadow and leaves a mess.

Now, given how awful death is, I bet you’re glad I’m going to say no more about it aren’t you? You can relax, I’m going to talk about the flip side of the coin; life. Now we’re a bit more prepared for life, but in many ways the news arrives in the same unexpected way. You wake in the morning, start your routine, and soon the egg timer in your head is warning you that it is no longer possible to leave the house, on time, with all PE bags, school bags, hats, swimming stuff, sun cream and water bottles in the correct place. You sigh, reach for the coffee and holler that it’s breakfast time.

And then it happens. ‘bip bip!‘ You walk briskly to pick up your mobile - wondering if it’s really necessary to comb everyone’s hair - and within minutes you see it; the text that announces that your best friend is in labour!

Suddenly the day is charged with possibilities. Before the hospital mobile phone police tracked her down, I managed to speak to her about the important stuff;
‘It’s the 14th today, is that an auspicious date for it to be born?’She pondered,
‘Well I’d rather it were the 15th, that’s a better date isn’t it?’It was 8am on the 14th.
‘Hon, think about what you’re wishing for, the next 16 hours could be very long’

The day ground on. For me: buying a birthday present, a class coffee, lunch, washing, phone calls. For her, what? I glared at my phone, ring, damn you.

She called me when I was embroiled in the hot afternoon school run. Things were not progressing, she was despondent and wanted to talk. I don’t think I was much use to her. All I could say was,
‘Get away from the road! Pick your bag up NOW! Oh hon, what have they said? Keep up! Ok, well you’re in the best place, try to stay calm. STOP hitting your sister! I’m going to have to call you later’.

By 9pm things were moving along and we had a brief and gleeful conversation, rudely interrupted by a contraction. I spent a sleepless night. I shall be useless when my girls are in labour; one of those drama queens à la Eastenders,
‘Tell me the worst Doc, is she going to pull through?’
I half hoped that the supportive text I sent at 3am might be answered, but nothing. Silence. My 9am phone call was met with voicemail. Do you think they were screening my calls?

By now - remember the sleepless night - I was getting a little irrational. Having had my share of birthing horrors, I had created multiple scenarios, none of them good. I started to feel that the phone might not bring the good news for which I was hoping. Large forceps loomed before my eyes, emergency dashes through forbidding hospital corridors, swallowed meconium, dropping heartbeats, emergency caesareans.

At the peak of bedtime horror, my mobile called me, and a tired but happy voice told me that a healthy baby boy had arrived! A date was fixed for my visit and when the day came I hopped on the Métro carrying the key essentials for visiting a newborn; savoy cabbage, a tripod, plastic cups, champagne, camera, biscuits, tiny pyjamas, homemade food and - durrr - chocolate.

I am happy to report that he is perfect. He does perfect screaming, perfect juddering sighs, perfect facial contortions and a very perfect moro reflex. I happily cuddled him whilst my dear friend ate huge amounts of food, ‘I’m so hungry’ she explained between fistfuls of bread, numerous biscuits, a cooked meal and a Pig in the Kitchen creation. She’d just done 36 hours of hard labour she certainly deserved the calories.

After lunch I insisted on setting up my tripod and was most happy to bag a lovely shot of Daddy and baby. My friend looked on approvingly, mouth still full, body exhausted, exuding pride and contentment.

This Pig in the Kitchen edible gift is for you Dorry, congratulations! And - er - good luck with the sleepless nights to come.

Newborn Cranberry Rock Cakes (makes about 22)
(I haven't done the measurements in cups...does anyone mind?)

Right until the time of going to press these were called cookies. My husband however, is adamant;
'There's a minumum ratio between thickness and radius which is not respected by those so-called cookies. The ratio clearly falls into the rock cake category. And even though we have our ups and downs I still love you'.
Hmm, his last sentence just about cancelled out the affront I felt at being called on the naming of my culinary creations. Call them what you will, they're very wholesome.

*To make these with wheat flour, replace the gluten free flours with 125g wheat flour
125g dairy free spread
125g sugar
1 tsp Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer
a tiny pinch of xanthan gum
2 tbsps rice milk
125g ground sunflower seeds (put them in your blender and grind them to a rough powder)
75g ground linseeds (put them in your blender and grind them)
50g chick pea flour
75g brown rice flour
150g dried cranberries (you can use raisins if you wish. Or chopped apricot)
1½ tsp gluten free baking powder
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
40-60ml rice milk
Approx 50g dairy free, gluten free chocolate

  • Put the 'no egg' and small pinch of xanthan gum into a small bowl. Add the 2 tbsps of rice milk. Set aside
  • Pre-heat the oven to 170° celsius, and line a baking tray with baking parchment
  • Put the dairy free spread and sugar into a large mixing bowl, beat with a wooden spoon until creamed together
  • Add the 'no egg' mixture and beat again
  • Seive in the flours (GF or wheat flour), baking powder and cinnamon, and about 20ml of the rice milk
  • Mix together. It will be quite stiff - try not to worry - but go ahead and add the sunflower seeds and linseeds
  • Add another 20ml of rice milk and mix
  • Add the cranberries and mix
  • Now add enough rice milk to get a loose mixture, but one that you can still dollop onto a baking tray into rock cake shaped shapes (I still think they're cookies). Fret ye not if you think you've added too much rice milk, all that will happen will be that your 'rock cakes' will spread and then they really WILL be cookies
  • Carefully measure out small spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, leaving room for them to spread a little
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for between 10 and 15 minutes until they are risen and golden
  • If you are using the dark choc option (it's always my option), remove the baking tray from the oven and vigorously grate the chocolate finely over the cakes. Grate with gay abandon, be lavish and marvellous
  • When the cakes have cooled slightly, place them onto a cooling tray. You may now lick the baking parchment to clean up all that messy chocolate. Please ensure that you don't burn your tongue or lips; scabby lips are a very bad look
  • These are perfect for welcoming newborns into the world, they also go down a treat at the school gate. Perfect your humble - 'oh these? Yes I rustled them up earlier, it really was no trouble' - demeanour to enrage the yummy Mums at the gate

© Pig in the Kitchen

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Sunday, 18 May 2008

Asparagus Tart (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Having four children is a lot more work than having one, two or three. Perhaps you are re-reading that line because you can’t believe I would write something so inane and self-evident. Yet it’s taken me over two years to grasp that fact. For two years I have on many occasions been heard to wail, ‘why isn’t my house as tidy as hers?’, ‘how does she manage to empty her laundry basket?‘, ‘why aren’t I as slim as her?’ For two of the above, the answer is perhaps because I have four children. For one of them it is, ‘because you eat too much crap, drink too much alcohol and don’t exercise enough’.

What was easy with two or three children becomes more complex with four. Friends do their best to help;
‘Why don’t you drop the older three off with me whilst you run that errand? It’ll be easier for you’.
Now perhaps you are the yummiest of all Mummies, and your children - whilst content to play elsewhere - willingly wave goodbye to their chums and obediently get into your car when you come to collect them. Mine don’t. In fact, they refuse to leave. The wailing and screaming rattles the windows, all shoes, bags and coats have been lost (I think they hide them), and my Yummy Mummy veneer is tarnished by my snarling. Most days it's less painful to haul everyone around with me in a reluctant, disgruntled mass.

With four children my default position tends to be; ‘No’.‘Mummy, can I have a sleepover for 10 friends?’ - ‘No’‘Mummy, can we go to Disneyworld?’ - ‘No’
‘Mummy, can we have a pet?’ - ‘No’.

So it was with rollerblading. For me, buying young children rollerblades is akin to buying an annual pass to A & E. I can hear the snapping of the bones, feel the concussing of the skulls and see the lacerating of the flesh. My answer - for an impressive two years now - has always been, ‘No’.

Yet recently, when staying with friends for the weekend, my eldest three children displayed remarkable prowess in the rollerblade department. A little plan started to form in my mind. As husband and I also possess blades dating from the misty, childfree past, I had a happy vision of us rollerblading en famille, with the 2 year old safely strapped into the baby jogger. We could be like other, smaller families, and have a fun outing together!
No sooner had I said, ‘You still haven‘t spent your birthday money‘, than the three older ones were kitted out.

The day dawned bright and sunny. We drove down to a leafy part of the Seine and spent half an hour watching them struggle to put on their protective gear, blades, socks and helmets. By the time they’d finished they looked like a cross between tiny riot police, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barring a head-on collision with a 4x4, I couldn’t see anything piercing their armour.

They say that children reduce you to tears. Never is this more true than watching your darlings come to grips with rollerblading. Time after time a flushed and excited face would yell at me, ‘Watch this mum!’. Think Starlight Express meets the Can Can. The manoeuvre would start well with a bit of a glide, then from nowhere they would morph into extras from the Moulin Rouge, high kicks coming faster and faster, arms gyrating wildly, before the inevitable collapse backwards onto the floor.

Thank the Lord for Ray Bans. I managed to hide my tears of mirth behind them, and passed off my quivering voice as one of maternal concern. Although I did nearly lose all composure when my son nigh on performed box splits whilst navigating our slalom course comprised of shoes.

Of course the human chain idea was going to end in a mess. Dad and daughters one and two formed a line and wobbled along. I don’t know what possessed daughter two at the end of the line; she appeared to attempt a daring, sliding limbo move through the legs of her sister and Dad. She felled her sister instantly, then kicked the feet away from Dad, who landed abruptly and heavily on daughter one. The subsequent winded gasping and howling even had the Gendarmes concerned. They came to help her up and I fretted that we didn’t have any ID on us; you're supposed to have it on you at all times. Although as I pointed out to my husband, in a straight race between the corpulent one and me on my blades, I’d have left him standing. Husband silently pointed to Gendarme's gun, and I realised that resistance would be futile. Must remember my passport next time.

A break for water and popcorn worked wonders for the familial morale, and we negotiated our way safely back to the car. It was so much fun we went and did it all over again the next day. I feel so happy with our new family hobby; I foresee my flabby tummy melting away, and next time we’ll have them doing jumps.

After our rollerblading adventure I was faced with the thorny issue of tea. The short asparagus season is upon us and I feel the need to buy it at every opportunity. I whizzed up an asparagus quiche for those without allergies, and this little number for baby and me. If rollerblading isn’t for you, then perhaps this tart will be.

Bean and Asparagus Rollerblading Tart
I made 6 little tartlets because they look so cute, but you could also make one large tart; use a tin that's about 28-30cm in diameter. The filling can be made up to 4 hours ahead.

For the pastry:
150g / 1¼ cups brown rice flour
100g / ¾ cup lightly pressed down cornflour / corn starch
50g / ½ cup lightly pressed down chick pea flour / besan flour
1¼ tsp xanthan gum
2½ tsps dried mixed herbs
¼tsp salt
good grinding of black pepper
200g / 1 cup of dairy free spread
60-80ml / ¼ cup (+ a bit more) rice milk

For the filling:
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil to fry
4 medium button mushrooms
6 asparagus spears (more if you wish)
1 tin / 1½ cups cooked kidney beans
2-4 tbsps white wine
sea salt and black pepper to taste

  • Finely chop the garlic and the mushrooms (you don't really want the mushrooms to 'show' in the finished tart)
  • Cut off the woody end of the asparagus spears and lovingly cut off the tips. Preserve the tips for later, you may kiss them if you wish. Cut the remaining middle section of the asparagus into fine rounds
  • In a large frying pan, gently heat the olive oil and add the garlic and mushrooms. Fry for a minute or two. Add the chopped asparagus and fry gently for another two minutes
  • Add the tin of beans and stir
  • As the beans warm up, use a wooden spatula to gently squash them so that they release their mushy centre; this helps to bind the mix together
  • When you've finished squashing, add the white wine, stir and let it all simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste. Now get cracking on the pastry
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180° celsius
  • Seive the flours into a large mixing bowl. Add the xanthan gum, dried herbs, salt and black pepper, mix with a mini whisk to make sure everything is evenly distributed
  • Now this is weird, but melt your dairy free spread slightly. It doesn't have to be completely runny, but more liquid than not is what you're aiming for
  • Make a well in the centre of the flours and pour in 60ml of rice milk. Add the melted dairy free spread and use a wooden spoon to mix it all together. You will have a very wet dough. I ended up adding the other 20ml of rice milk as well
  • Flour a work surface with rice flour and plop your dough down into the middle of it, the base of the dough will get coated in flour. Lift up the dough, flour the surface again and turn the dough over so that the other part of it gets coated in flour. Following? What you're trying to do is get the dough 'dry' enough to roll it out
  • When you think you can chance it, roll out the dough on your well-floured surface until it's about 3mm thick. The edges of the dough do crack a little when you roll it out, but I tried not to let that panic me
  • Line your tartlet tin or large tart tin with the pastry. As every pastry chef knows, cracks in the pastry can be squidged together and patched up with other bits of pastry. It's a little known artform, sometimes called 'covering up a bodge'. Originated somewhere in the Middle East I believe. Just make sure your final product looks smooth and crack free
  • Line the base of the tart with the bean mixture (don't add the asparagus tips yet), cover with tin foil and place in the oven for about 15 minutes, until sizzling well
  • Remove the tart/s from the oven, take off the tin foil and put them back in for another five minutes-ish until the pastry is lightly tanned
  • After five minutes, remove the tarts and artistically press your asparagus tips down into the bean mix. Lightly brush the tips with olive oil using a silicone brush, cover the tarts back up again (on, off, on off, make your mind up Pig) and put them back in the oven for another 5-10 mins. The point of doing this is so that the asparagus tips 'steam' between the bean mix and the tin foil, and they don't end up getting too brown. I left my tips a little crunchy; nothing worse than overcooked asparagus
  • Remove the tarts from the oven and serve them to your tired, rollerblading children
  • Good with a tomato salad and some chilled white wine. Well you definitely deserve the latter, you took four children rollerblading! You should probably have the whole bottle...although of course I'm not encouraging binge-drinking, liver damage, slurred speech or ridiculous drunken antics

© Pig in the Kitchen

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Thursday, 8 May 2008

Gluten free Sticky Toffee Pudding (egg free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan)

Now I know I’ve gone on about being an untidy slattern before, and I was getting to the point where I’d resigned myself to my scruffy state. However, I reckoned without one of my über-clean and tidy friends.

‘What you need is the right tools’ she explained patiently.
‘Invest in the tools that will help you do the job efficiently and easily’.

I had no idea there was such science behind having the perfect house.

I got very excited by the ‘investing in the right tools’ theory that might change my life, and happily embarked upon some retail therapy. The price of this particular purchase did make me blink a little, but my friend’s evangelical voice spurred me on. When the sales assistant announced the sum required, I disguised my wince as a cough and played the music in my car really loud all the way home. I find that helps. Play something edgy like Ms Dynamite and you’ll soon have forgotten all your woes.

Friends, it was a steam cleaner. Not a housewife’s steam cleaner, but a big, powerful bad boy that made me stand a notch taller and thrust my pelvis a little. I felt the urge to recline over the handle, pat my machine nonchalantly and say,
'10 bar coming out of my hose, how about yours?’

I first started on the windows. I’ll tell you straight, they hadn’t been cleaned for a year or so – what? – and the difference was astounding. It took just a few minutes, and I realised that it is actually possible to see through the kitchen window. I had thought it was some sort of French frosted glass. I have happily used my steam cleaner for various tasks; it’s a boon when it comes to removing urine from car seats. Please, don’t ask me about it.

Then last week I thought I’d discovered a satellite function of the steam cleaner; insect removal. It’s Spring, and the first bit of sunshine brings them out; ants. I can’t stand them. I once left a Camembert out on the kitchen worktop for a few days to get it to that delicious, melting, ‘did someone die in here?’ stage. I came down one morning and the ants had carried it from one end of the work surface to the other, and were swarming all over my circle of happiness. They form part of the axis of insect evil.

So I was fairly horrified when I found they had invaded a corner of my house. Then the steam cleaner caught my eye. I was going to use my WMD on them. I took up position, and from a great height gently depressed the trigger.

You know I once went to a gun club in China. A wealthy Chinese man had chosen the ‘Terminator Option’ for the day, and I watched appalled as he turned a mounted machine gun on a tethered chicken. You can imagine the result. Yet fast forward 10 years and here I was - ack! ack! ack! ack! - all visible ants dead. (In fact it was more of a Psssssssssssssshht). I had a regretful look at the collateral damage - the landlord's wooden floor was looking a lot paler- and switched off the cleaner. 10 minutes later there were more ants. A few more times I laid waste to great swathes of ants, but they kept sending in reinforcements. Fearless ants, convinced of their mission, ready to die for their cause.

My eldest girl took control of the proceedings;
‘Ok, coming in at 2 o’clock, there Mum! Steady... behind you, lock on, NOW!’

She’s very excitable and I got caught up in her frenzied shouting, nearly sustaining a third degree burn to the foot. After an hour or so I was feeling a little dispirited as they just kept on coming. We were clearly overwhelmed, and retreated to a safe distance.

M cocked her head on one side,
‘Mum, I know this sounds a bit mad, but do you think by steaming them it makes them repeat themselves?’ she looked a bit sheepish as if I might laugh.
‘I think that’s a very sensible theory dear, they must be magic repeating ants’.
In the end we went with the squirty bottle and washing up liquid ploy that we learnt about on Google.

Yet even that wasn’t a magic cure, I had to repeatedly go back to the corner and squirt. I spent the evening trying out my sticky toffee pudding recipe. In between weighing, measuring, chopping and baking, I had to keep squirting the ants. I may have won the first battle, but I was close to losing the war. In the end I had to go nuclear on them; I found their nest and boiled them alive. It was not my finest moment.

Fortunately the pudding was a direct hit first time.

Steam Cleanin', Ant Killin' Sticky Toffee Pudding
(makes 6-8 puddings depending on which version and size of ramekin)
Bear with me on the cup measurements, I'm doing my best. All emails pointing out my errors gratefully received.

You know I don't have too much to say about this pudding - barring the usual 'mmm yum, get your chops round that' - but I would urge you to chop the dates finely. Simply because they look a little too much like cockroaches don't they? What with the ant thing going on in the lounge I was not feeling kindly disposed towards any insect brethren. I chopped my dates viciously, and very finely indeed.

1. Egg free, dairy free, gluten free version:
175g /1 ¼ cups (not pressed down) stoned dates
170ml boiling water / scant ¾ cup
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g / scant ½ cup dairy free spread150g / ¾ cup white sugar
2 heaped tsps 'no egg' egg replacer
4 tbsps rice milk
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (grind whole linseeds in your blender- peasy)
1 small pinch of xanthan gum100g / ¾ cup firmly packed brown rice flour
50g / scant ½ cup potato flour
25g / scant ¼ cup corn flour (corn starch)
½ tsp xanthan gum
1½ tsp gf baking powder2 tbsp rice milk

2. Egg free, dairy free with wheat flour version:
Use the first 11 ingredients listed in 1. above
Replace the gluten free flours with
175g / 1½ cups of white wheat flour
use 1½ tsps of baking powder
Omit the ½ tsp of xanthan gum
Use another 4-8 tbsps of rice milk

3. Gluten free with eggs version:
Use the first 7 ingredients listed in 1. above.
Replace the egg replacer, 4 tbsps rice milk, ground linseeds and pinch of xanthn gum with:
2 eggs
Use the gluten free flours, baking powder and xanthan gum as explained in 1. above
Use another 2-4 tbsps rice milk

For the sauce:
165g / 1 cup dairy free spread
165g / heaped ¾ cup demerara or dark brown muscovado sugar
30g / ¼ cup dairy free dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
2-4 tbsps grand marnier (optional)

  • Grease 8, 9cm ramekins. Heat the oven to 170° Celsius
  • Finely chop the dates (can you see that cockroach resemblance?) and put them into a mixing bowl
  • Add the bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and vanilla extract
  • Pour over the boiling water, stir well to combine and set aside
  • If you are using 'no egg', put the 'no egg', 4 tbsps rice milk, ground linseeds and pinch of xanthan gum into a bowl and mix with a mini whisk to remove any lumps. Set aside
  • Place the dairy free spread and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Beat together until they are incorporated
  • Add either the 'no egg' mixture or the two real eggs and beat well
  • If using GF flour, seive in the rice flour, potato flour, cornflour, xanthan gum and baking powder. Mix until combined. You may find the mix is too stiff at this point, in which case, add 2 tbsps rice milk and try again. Don't go overboard and add too much, you've still got the sloppy date mix to add, and we can sort the consistency out in a minute
  • If using wheat flour, seive in the wheat flour and baking powder and mix to combine. See above bullet point if the mix is too stiff
  • Add the date mixture and give it a good stir. At this point add the extra rice milk to give your mix a sloppy consistency. The GF/egg mix looks relatively sloppy at this point, but I would add the extra rice milk, I think the end result is better. You may find that with the egg free, dairy free, gluten free version the mix isn't really sloppy. Don't worry too much, it should be fine once cooked.
  • I wonder how many more times I can write 'sloppy'?
  • Divide the mix between your ramekins until they are all about ¾ full. Place them on a baking or pizza tray and put them in the oven
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes, but all ovens are different, so keep a watchful eye. They are cooked when they are well risen, golden brown on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the tops are browning too much and the middle is still gooey, cover the tray with tin foil until the middles are cooked
  • With the exception of the Grand Marnier, place all the ingredients for the sauce into a large saucepan, now turn your attention back to the oven...
  • When your darling puddings are cooked, remove from the oven and leave to stand whilst you quickly rustle up the sauce. Don't worry about your guests, they're chatting happily, and judging by the amount of red they've drunk, they're not going to notice if this pudding doesn't arrive for another hour
  • Stirring continuously, heat the dairy free, sugar and chocolate over a low heat until melted. The sauce will thicken and bubble slightly. I do apologise if you're a sticky toffee pudding purist and you object to chocolate in the sauce, but in these times of milk allergies, we have to substitute that creamy, fatty taste somehow, and the result is yummylicious
  • Turn off the heat, add the grand marnier if using, and set the sauce aside
  • Now, run a knife around the edge of your puddings to dislodge them a bit, then upend them onto their serving plates
  • Lean over them and inhale their steam
  • Now drizzle/pour over the sauce and triumphantly carry the pudding through to your guests
  • I suppose if you can tolerate cream you could serve this with a thick double cream, although the pudding is rich and satisfying without any additions. I personally don't think ice cream would go too well; the pud is so sweet I think it all might make your teeth ache.
  • Pig in the Kitchen cannot be held responsible for dental fees, root canal horrors, or gingivitis

The pictured version of the pudding is egg free, dairy free, gluten free.
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