Thursday, 28 February 2008

Chocolate Cake, gluten free, egg free, vegan, dairy free

Two days ago, my blog and I celebrated our first year together. Anniversaries are always a time for reflection; a long, thoughtful look at the past, and a slightly apprehensive peek towards the future.

When I think back to our early days together; I blush. We were at it, but all the time. Well into the early hours, then up before breakfast to do it again before the kids woke up. Like any newly smitten person, I could only think, and talk of, one thing. When I wasn’t with my new love, I was thinking about when we could next get to grips with each other. And when we were together, I found it so hard to drag myself away. I loved all the attention from those around me; all those kind comments, those people who’ve been supportive right from the start, those that were so encouraging; they made me feel proud, as though I’d landed a great catch.

It was quite tricky keeping my obsession from my husband. There really wasn’t room for three in our marriage, so it was quite good that he travels so often. I had to be really sneaky, and became quite adept at guiltily leaping up as soon as I heard his key in the door. Sometimes I was sure my flushed face would give it away, but if he did notice, he didn’t say anything.

Then gradually, the relationship began to change. From an all-consuming obsession it relaxed into familiarity. That’s always a troubling time isn’t it? As the flames of passion die down, you do wonder what you’ll find in the embers, and whether the fire is worth stoking.

It wasn’t long before I felt the strain of my new partnership. There were many times when it no longer bought me joy. It was a worrying burden, a relationship that was sapping my energy and stopping me from spending time doing other things. It’s never good when something takes you away from your friends or your family is it? It’s not healthy when your face looks present in a conversation, but your mind is miles away. I was spending far too much time working out which ratio of gluten free flours was going to work best in a recipe, when I should have been folding washing, filing post, oh and renewing the car insurance might have been a good plan.

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve considered taking a break. I’ve invested so much time, energy, money, precious hours when I could have been sleeping, yet still, there’s always more I could be doing; it never seems to be enough. Sometimes I wish my dear friend Sandra hadn’t set me up with my blog; I lay the blame fairly and squarely at her feet.

But just when I’m about to suggest we split up, someone will make a really nice comment. I’ll be out in cyberspace somewhere and I’ll catch someone gazing at my baby with frank admiration. I’ve seen people surf past, do a double click and come back. People confess to lusting over him, can’t take their eyes off him, he makes them feel hungry. I’m not too sure how to take that last comment. All the attention makes me look at my man in a different light. I stand up a little straighter, casually put my arm around his shoulders and think, ‘yeh, he’s mine, all mine; we're pretty good together’.
And - as with any long-term union - although some of the sparkle has faded, the routine is perhaps a little too familiar, I wish he looked a bit better, wished he took a better photo, expressed himself a bit better… I wouldn’t really want to be without him. Imagine having to start over again! It’s a jungle out there; I just don’t think I’m up to it.

So I guess I’ll stick with what I know - for better or for worse - keep plodding on and grow gently and comfortably old with him. Who knows, maybe one day there’ll be some recognition for all the hard graft I’ve put in? Or maybe one day there’ll be an acrimonious split and I’ll take him to the cleaners? (note to self: must make sure I divorce in England, it's makes good financial sense) Nooo, just kidding.

Happy Anniversary dear Blog, I love you really.

Birthday/Anniversary/CFCS Cake
This is a bit of a cheat; a cake version of Organised Birthday Cupcakes. But that’s what you do after a while isn’t it? Start cutting a few corners, stay in with a take-out instead of tarting up and going to a club? I did tweak the flours a little and add the super chocolate beans; I guess that’s the equivalent of buying some naughty undies to spice up something familiar. But when you’ve been together this long, it can’t always be bells and whistles you know; sometimes my blog is just the last chore of the day!

*To make this with wheat flour, use 175g of wholewheat flour and omit the xanthan gum.
*To make Gluten Free but with eggs, use 1 egg and omit the Orgran egg replacer, ground linseeds and 3 tbsps rice milk.
For the cake:
130g dairy free spread
120g sugar
110g golden syrup
50g cornflour / corn starch
100g brown rice flour
25g gram/besan/chick pea flour
60g cocoa powder
0.5tsp xanthan gum1tsp gluten free baking powder0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml rice milk
1 heaped tsp of Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer3 tbsps rice milk
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds (put whole linseeds into a blender and blend to a powder)

To sandwich together, and for the icing:
About 5 tbsps of blackcurrant jam (or other jam if you prefer)
175g gluten free, dairy free dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
70g dairy free spread
2-3 tbsps icing sugar (optional)
1 pack of Whizzers Chocolate Beans
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • Grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment(or two heart shaped tins if you like)
  • Put the egg replacer, ground linseeds and the 3 tbsps of rice milk into a small bowl. Whisk together until all the lumps have gone, then set aside
  • Put the dairy free spread, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan. Heat over a gentle heat - stirring occasionally -until melted. Remove from the heat
  • Weigh out the flours, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, (or wheat flour, omitting xanthan gum), baking powder. Put them all into a large mixing bowl, and stir with a mini whisk to make sure they are all combined
  • Heat the rice milk slightly and add the half teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, stir
  • Add the egg replacer and linseed mix to the saucepan and stir
  • Seive the flour mix into the large saucepan and stir until combined. You'll probably need to beat or whisk to remove all lumps, it's not a problem
  • Add the rice milk and bicarbonate of soda and stir again until everything is combined
  • Divide the mix evenly between the two tins and place into the middle of the oven
  • Bake until the cakes are risen and springy when gently pressed; it should take between 15 and 25 minutes depending on your oven (mine is fairly temperamental). Remove from the oven
  • Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for about 20 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto a cooling rack. Leave until they are completely cold
  • When ready to ice them, place them onto your serving plate and sandwich them together with a thick layer of blackcurrant jam. My eldest daughter told me to stress this point, she is adamant that the layer must be very thick because it tastes, 'soooooo much better'. You've been told.
  • TOP TIP: Once the cake is in position on the serving plate, place pieces of baking parchment all around the base of your cake. Try and slide some bits under it as well. This is so that when you ice the cake and the icing inevitably slithers down the sides, it will run onto the baking parchment and not onto your pretty plate/board. Allow the icing to set, then cunningly ease the baking parchment out, and you'll only have a little bit of tidying up to do around the base of your cake. Sorted.
For the icing:
  • Melt the chocolate in a 'bain marie'. Put a small amount of water into a small saucepan and heat it. Set a large, heatproof bowl on top of the saucepan, the base of the bowl should not touch the water
  • Break the chocolate into small pieces and put into the bowl. Stir occasionally until it has melted. Remove it from the heat when it has just melted, don't let it get hot
  • With the bowl off the heat, add the dairy free spread (and sugar if you wish) and beat until the spread has melted and the mix is looking glossy. Do refrain from sinking your face into it, you may burn yourself
  • I find the next part a bit stressful, but you need to use the icing when it is thick enough to stay on the cake, but not so thick that it won't spread. Chocolate is a little unpredicatable, the icing could be ready to use in 5 minutes, it may be 12. Start trying it on the cake, and ice it all over
  • Whilst the icing is still wet, add your chocolate beans to make it all look beautiful
  • Sit back and admire your creation
  • Launch the rest of the beans to the sky and catch them in your mouth as they fall. (note: this is a choking hazard, so do ensure someone trained in the Heimlich manoeuvre is within strangulated crying distance, and if in doubt, check with your healthcare provider before throwing the beans into the air.)

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007
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Sunday, 17 February 2008

Gluten Free Bread (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

I won my weighing scales in a bet.

When we bought our house in France, we discovered that the lanes were perfect for running. One weekend my husband came back from his run.
‘I saw a dead swan in a pond. It’s head is completely submerged, all you can see is its body’. I looked at him in consternation,
Maybe we should report it? It could be Bird Flu’.
He nodded. We poured another glass of wine and did nothing.

The following weekend I went for a run and had a look for the dead swan. When I ran back onto our drive I was panting and laughing.
‘It’s not a dead swan!’ I giggled, ‘it’s a plastic swan!’

My husband is a mathematical man; he deals in caution, probability and the science of hedging his bets. Yet that day he was uncharacteristically vehement;
‘Absolutely not, no way. A plastic swan around here? With all these hard-bitten, gritty farmers? No. You’re wrong. You. Are. Wrong’.

There was silence. The breeze sent a tumbleweed past my feet, and close by came the haunting sound of the Ocarina;

ooeee ooeee ooo, ooo ooo ooo,
ooeee ooeee ooo, ooo ooo ooo

We faced each other, legs braced, arms cocked; he was Clint to my Van Cleef. I tipped back my Stetson with a finger and my hand hovered around my holster,
‘How much,’ I hissed, ‘do you wanna bet?’His eyes narrowed and the harsh sun glinted off his spurs. He chewed the end off his cheroot and spat in the dirt. He spoke slowly, menacingly;
'50 says the swan is real’I brushed some dust off the sleeve of my black jacket, and eyed his serape with disdain,
‘50. Quid - not Euros - and if you lose, you leave town for good’

I spat in the dust. It landed a centimetre from his pointed snakeskin boot. His eyes travelled slowly from the boot up to my face.
‘I think you might regret that’

ooeee ooeee ooo, ooo ooo ooo

We retreated to different ends of the house and shortly I heard the door slam and saw him set off for his run. Much later – nonchalantly - I grabbed one of my girls,
‘Come on L, let’s go and get some bread’.
My tyres squealed as I threw the car around the lanes, until at last we arrived at the pond.
‘Do you think it’s real?’ I asked my bemused daughter,
‘Dunno’ she said. We gathered stones to hurl at the headless swan. She was 5 and I am a rubbish shot; it took us ages. Eventually, however, there was the unmistakeable ‘dink’ of a stone bouncing off plastic.

When I found him he was lying on the garden bench. His Stetson hiding his face. His long legs crossed, the spurs on his boots burnished orange by the dying day. I approached him warily, fearing an ambush.
‘The swan’ I growled, ‘is plastic. I think you have something that belongs to me’.
Slowly he sat up, his eyes dark in the shadow of his hat. His face was inscrutable as he peeled off the notes.
How long have you known?’ I asked. He lit a cheroot and his eyes narrowed as the wisps of smoke curled around his greying temples,
‘Since my run. I went and threw stones at it. Do I really have to leave town?’
I fixed him with a steely glare and smoothed my moustache menacingly,
‘Not this time, no, I’ll take your horse instead’.
I vaulted neatly into the saddle and he ate my dust as I galloped off into the sunset.

Ooeee, ooeee ooo, ooo ooo ooo

A few weeks later, Mr Ebay delivered my lovely 50 quid scales. I’ve been using them a lot these past few weeks, trying to perfect this graceful loaf. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve tried it, but not to worry, it’s done now. And using my scales is no chore at all; especially as the victory was so sweet.

Some people are good. Some are just bad, and ugly.

Ooee ooee ooo, ooo ooo ooo
Swan Lake Gluten Free Loaf

So after the joy of the Archimedes' rolls, I thought the loaf would be a formality. Yet it has proved quite tricky. When I used a regular loaf tin, the mix would rise way too high and collapse over the sides during cooking, and it only produced a small loaf, not really good enough for sandwiches. So I hit upon using a Charlotte mould to support it as it grows; it does the trick and produces sandwich-sized slices. As with most gluten free bread, it is best on the day of baking, but it does toast well the next morning.
My Charlotte mould measures 14cm across the base, and 18cm across the top, if you use a smaller one, you would have to reduce the ingredients to suit.

300g cornflour / corn starch
200g brown rice flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
0.75tsp salt
1.5 tbsp sugar
2 tsp gluten free yeast
70g dairy free spread
500ml tepid water
  • Put the flours, xanthan gum, salt, sugar and yeast into a large mixing bowl and use a small whisk to mix it all together
  • Add the dairy free spread
  • Add the tepid water and use a wooden spoon to gently combine the water and flour. When combined, start to beat the mixture. Round and round, scraping through the middle, give it a real good going over until all the lumps are gone and the dairy free spread has blended in. It may take anything from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Scrape any mixture down from the sides of the bowl, and place the bowl in a warm place for 20 minutes
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, line the base of your Charlotte mould with baking parchment and grease the sides
  • After 20 minutes, very gently scrape the bread mix into the Charlotte mould, and smooth off the surface with the back of a wooden spoon. Cover with greased cling film and leave in a warm place, until the mix has risen to the top of the mould and is rising in a slight dome over the top. This could take 45 minutes to an hour
  • When the mix is as described above, remove the cling film and put the mould into the oven
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes uncovered, until the surface of the bread is golden brown. The bread should be firm to the touch
  • Remove it from the oven and carefully tip it out of the mould into your oven-gloved hand. Then place it onto a pizza tray. Cover the surface of the bread with silver foil, and twist it at each end to prevent it blowing off in the oven; it will look like a giant silver sweet from above
  • Return the loaf to the oven and cook for another 15-20 minutes, the sides will brown slightly, as will the base
  • The loaf is cooked when it sounds very hollow when you tap the base
  • Place the loaf on a cooling rack to cool
  • Enjoy a sandwich...I like mine topless, like the one below

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007
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Monday, 11 February 2008

Magic Chocolate Pudding (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Valentine peered carefully at himself in the mirror, examining his skin and the full pout of his red lips. He stepped back to look at his full reflection and carefully tucked a long, dark curl behind his ear. Then he spread his arms out wide as though acknowledging tumultuous applause. He grinned at his public; winking at some, doing a shimmy to others, and pointing in mock startled recognition at others.

A slight cough to his left made him jump, and he turned to see Ash standing by the door,
‘Ah, Ash, Good Morning. I was just, er, umm, did you get my coffee?’
Ash handed over the cup, his eyes lingering appreciatively on the Love legend before him.
‘Can I just say Valentine, you look amazing!’
His eyes took in the snug-fitting black leather trousers and the tight lilac silk shirt, whose long, ruffled sleeves half-covered Valentine’s hands.

‘Really?’ Valentine looked perturbed, ‘you don’t think I look like that designing chap?
Llewellyn-Bowen? Noooo, much sexier’‘And nothing like that potty mouth with the wispy hair? The one on the radio?’‘What, Brand? Nope. You are the gorgeous-est of them all’.

Valentine relaxed and smiled, ‘Ash, you may be as camp as a row of tents, but at least you can recognise a Love God when you see one. Now, scripts? Running Order?’Ash handed a sheaf of papers to Valentine, who turned and gave the mirror one last, seductive look,
'Come on, time for me to work my annual magic’.
Valentine walked to the other side of the room and briskly pushed open the door marked, ‘Gallery – Quiet Please’.

Inside the dimly lit room there was a wall of monitors. Some were blank, others showed presenters fiddling with ear-pieces, or cameramen standing around sipping coffee. A semi-circular desk arched away from the monitors, laden with impressive buttons, sliders, lit switches, sunken computer screens and piles of papers. Valentine nodded curtly to the sound and vision guys to his left. He really disliked the techie types; they always wore shapeless clothes, terrible shoes, were in desperate need of a hair stylist and conducted conversations with each other using ridiculously technical words and phrases. Then his eye fell upon his studio PA and he grinned broadly,

Good Morning sweet Ali’, he muttered, leaning in seductively,
‘I’m glad you wore one of my favourite colours today’, he let his eyes rove up her legs, which were clad in red, sheer tights. Her black micro skirt was barely there.
‘Oh Valentine’ purred Ali, ‘ I always like to think of you when I’m dressing’, she winked, then snapped into business mode. ‘We’re on air in 3’.

Valentine slid into the Director’s chair next to Ali, he’d had it re-upholstered in red boa feathers, a bit tickly, but very him he thought. He leant forward and flicked a few switches on the desk, leaning in to a microphone, ‘We’re coming to you first Camera 1. Les, I want some nice tight shots, none of that sloppy crap you gave me last year, and for goodness’ sake keep the sound boom out of shot’

Righto Val’ came back the crackly reply. Valentine scowled at the insolent use of ‘Val’. What a shame they were all freelance, he would have enjoyed firing Les.
‘15 seconds, standby’ came Ali’s professional voice. She checked her stopwatch, then looked up to the large gliding hand of the gallery clock, ‘ Coming to you Camera 1 in 5, 4,3,2,1…on you’

The gallery held its breath; it was always a tense moment. The live monitor showed that Camera 1 was inside a large greetings card shop. The camera panned slowly around the shop, then zoomed steadily towards a group of giggling teenage girls. The presenter walked into vision, a short squat man with dark brown quiffed hair,
So the most important day of the year for lovers everywhere! Welcome to Valentine’s Roadshow of Love! We’ll be catching up with the man who made it all possible at the end of the show, but meanwhile…here’s a group of teenage girls, let’s go and chat to them!’
he grinned wolfishly at the camera and turned to address the group.

Valentine relaxed a little, he was always happier when the show was on air. He checked his running order, then looked hard at the scene in the shop. Duncan was still doing a Q & A with the girls, trying too hard as usual, thinking he was sexier than he was. Valentine wondered how long the teenagers would believe in the myths of love, equality, eternally fabulous sex, equal share of the household chores and men making them breakfast… He shook his head pityingly, it seemed incredible that they believed it at all!

He glanced up to the preview monitor, and smirked when he saw that the female presenter up next was in a lingerie shop. Not a classy shop, but the kind that sells the trampy stuff; the kind that the presenter would never consent to wear. Not that she really should anymore - mused Valentine - parts of her had clearly strayed a little too far South...

‘Counting out Duncan – 10, 9,8,7 – coming to you Jenny in – 4,3,2,1 on you!’ Ali shifted position slightly in her chair, her body rigid with the stress of keeping the programme flawless. She hoped Valentine was still watching her legs and not the stressed flush that was creeping up her neck.

The next piece had Jenny prattling on about the female right to choose comfortable underwear, and whether men would ever grasp this concept. She marched up to a man holding a flimsy creation that he clearly had every intention of buying. Valentine watched aghast as Jenny started to harangue the man.
‘Get her off!’ he sputtered, ‘this is a day about looking sexy and desirable, it has nothing to do with what women want!’Ali frantically started counting, Jenny looked disgusted, and the camera cut away as she educated the man about the scratchiness of lace, the impracticalites of crotchless knickers, and wouldn't his wife really much prefer comfortable silk?

‘Coming to you camera 4, and on you NOW!’ Ali shuddered, that had been a close one. As Camera 4 opened on a wide shot, the gallery became still. Valentine leaned forward. The monitor showed a kitchen where a woman was cooking. She moved gracefully and with skill. There was no presenter for this piece, it was just sound on film, but the rhythmic clink of kitchen utensils complimented the action beautifully. The woman reached up to the oven and slowly removed a baking tray. Valentine gasped,
What is that?’
Ash stepped forward from the back of the gallery,
‘The researcher says it’s called Chocolate pudding or something’.
Valentine sighed deeply,
‘It looks amazing. Who is she?’
‘We’re not really sure. Some struggling, wannabe cookery book writer, pretty much unheard of, but the researcher says her stuff is really good’.

Valentine sat back in his chair watching as the still youthful woman spooned out the unctuous, velvety chocolate creation. He salivated a little. For a minute he considered pulling some strings with his mates in publishing, give her a leg up; this was, after all, the day of love. Then another idea came to him;
‘Get her off', he said, ‘no-one has heard of her, no-one is interested in her, but they ARE interested in me. I want that pudding. Pay her off if you have to, but she needs to disappear and that beautiful pudding needs to bear my name. Make sure I’ve got some to hold for my spot at the end of the show. Hey, could we rustle up some scantily clad women to eat the pudding out of my navel?’

Ash nodded and quickly left the gallery. There was silence save for Ali’s clear voice,
‘Counting you out camera 4 in - 3,2,1’
And that, Dear Readers, is how the unscrupulous Valentine stole my recipe and claimed it as his own. He’s a hard-hearted, wily lothario, but at least he was right about the pudding, it is delicious. I do hope you enjoy it on Valentine’s Day…or on any other day for that matter.

Valentine's Chocolate Pudding of Love (fills 8 Ramekins of Love)
This is a version of a pudding that my Mum used to make when I was little. You pour the sauce over the sponge mix and then as it cooks the sponge rises up and the sauce sinks down; magic. It is also the perfect pudding for those ramekins that you snapped up on a whim one day, knowing that they would come in handy sometime...

For the sponge:
If using wheat flour: omit the cornflour, rice flour & xanthan gum and replace with 135g plain flour
300g dairy free spread
150g sugar
100-200ml rice milk
90g cornflour / corn starch
45g rice flour
3tbsp cocoa powder
0.5tsp xanthan gum
0.75 tsp gluten free baking powder
0.75 tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.75 tsp ground ginger

For the sauce:
250ml hot water
60-80g sugar (depending on taste)
2 tbsp golden syrup
30g cocoa powder

  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius, grease 8 ramekins and place them on a baking tray
  • Prepare the sauce first. Boil the kettle. Put the sugar, golden syrup and cocoa powder into a large jug, then pour in the hot water and whisk until all lumps are eradicated
  • Put the dairy free spread, sugar and half the rice milk into a large saucepan and heat gently until melted
  • Add the flours, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, and ground ginger to the saucepan and stir. Use a mini whisk and whisk like a dervish until all the lumps are gone.  If the mix seems thick, add more rice milk.  You are aiming for quite a liquid mix, but not too runny.  It's not as thick as cake mix
  • Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir again
  • Divide the mixture equally between the ramekins; they should be half to three quarters full
  • Then use a ladle to lovingly pour in some sauce. I'm sure the sauce used to stay on the surface of my Mum's pudding, but my sauce sank without a trace. Not to worry. Divide the sauce equally between the ramekins
  • Carefully put the ramekin-laden baking tray into the oven
  • Let them cook for about 20-25 minutes. The sponge will rise triumphantly from the depths of the ramekin and the sauce will lovingly cheer it on from below. My sponge cracked open at the top, it was all very thrilling, but did sink down a bit when removed from the oven. They are cooked when they have risen triumphantly, and are springy to the touch. Some of the sauce may even be bubbling up from the bottom
  • Leave the puddings to cool for 5-10 minutes, then serve them with a topping of your choice...I'm thinking Vanilla Ice Cream, what do you reckon?!

© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Chocolate and Orange Truffles (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

As I struggled to turn the key in the lock my heart was beating frantically. From inside the house I could hear the jarring cries of my distraught children, wailing and shouting for me. A movement at the kitchen window caught my eye. One of them was howling and banging on the glass and the dark, menacing shadow of a man was grabbing at them, trying to pull them back. Alarmed, I tried harder to work the lock, cursing my fumbling, shaking hands. Then as the screams grew louder, I looked up and gesticulating wildly shouted;
‘Bye Poppet! See you on Sunday evening! You be good for Daddy now!’

With one final effort I succeeded in locking the garden gate, grasped my wheelie bag and strode away from home. The huge rush of euphoria nearly lifted me off the ground; I had to resist the urge to sing out loud and high kick my way to the station.

There is something so deliciously decadent about a girls’ weekend away. The chance to emerge from the cocoon of Motherhood and flutter your way to a hotel in England, not really sure of your child-less identity, but very sure that you’re in need of gossip, pampering, food and wine.

When all the time markers of your Mummy day are suddenly removed, it feels like a thrilling freefall into a world long forgotten. It’s 5 o’clock; time to think about tea. Actually, it’s 5pm, I’m about to catch a train, and grown-ups don’t eat for at least another two hours. 7 o’clock; I must get the bath running. Not tonight girlfriend, it’s 7pm, uncork that wine, snuggle into your Eurostar nest and shake out that English paper. Oh happy, happy day.

By 10pm, Emma, Kate and I were safely assembled in the hotel bar for our annual girlie weekend. We are as different as our drinks; Champagne for me, G&T for Em, and Cranberry & Vodka for Kate. Yet we have known each other for an alarming amount of years, and we share a basic human need to eat, sleep and drink. And catch up on gossip and spend far too much money in the hotel spa.

Between us we have 7 children. Through a complicated system of babysitters for the changeover period, garrulous lists, prepared meals and protracted negotiations, we had managed to leave our offspring in the loving care of their fathers.

One father wiped up vomit, took his children away for the night, ensured that homework was done and hair was washed. One father took his son to his very first tennis lesson and simultaneously entertained his 18-month old toddler. Yet another father drove he and his child north to stay with his in-laws. One of those fathers woke us ladies in our shared room at 0630 on Saturday morning. In his hungover state he called one of us to complain that the baby had been up since 5.15 and would not go back to sleep. The baby was not in distress, she was playing happily in the background.

I will leave you to imagine which father we had for dinner that night.

Husbands notwithstanding, our weekend slowed to a snail-esque pace. We meandered through breakfast, sweated profusely in the steam room, dozed gently during massages and watched the rowers on the Thames exert themselves. By late afternoon on Saturday, I realised that we had demanded nothing of each other. I’d come close to overstepping the mark when I asked Emmy to hold my paper, but apart from that we had existed companionably in our zones of self-contentment. No-one asked me to wipe their bum, no-one threw their food at me, and no-one wiped their nose on my top. Exquisite.

I can’t remember when I last read so many column inches. Friday, Saturday and Sunday papers, all devoured from cover to cover. And in between, we were just us. We questioned, listened, quizzed, aired opinions, compared make-up, asked advice, giggled at the cheeky underwear one of us produced, tried on each other’s clothes, and shoes, shared lipstick, and marvelled at a make-up removal product. It’s official: some girls just never stop being girls.

And in honour of my girls I made some truffles. I lovingly packaged them into boxes and wrapped them in narcissistic ribbon. If the sensual ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhs’ were a judgement; I suspect the chocs were a hit.

We left each other on Sunday refreshed, but a little downcast. Before next year’s weekend we will try to lasso our three families together, let our children run riot and our husbands drink beer. However life may get in the way, and we may have to wait another year until we are all in the same place.

Although actually, that’s a small price to pay for a guaranteed, child-free, self-indulgent, egocentric, blissful two days away from the harsh realities of life. I mean really, what have I got to whinge about? Only 362 days to go…

Chocolate Orange Truffles for the Girls (makes about 30 truffles)
If you decide to make these truffles for a girlie weekend, may I make a suggestion? Although they’re extremely delicious, you will need to save at least one for Monday morning. After a weekend away pleasing yourself; that Monday morning school run is brutal.

You of course do not need to buy boxes and have ribbon printed, but if you did want to, I got mine from Swift-Hart Boxes, and received great service.

Regarding storability of these chocs...I was a bit perturbed that they'd lost their sheen by the time I presented them to the girls. I'm pretty sure it's got something to do with tempering and chocolate, I must investigate further. To be on the safe side, try and serve these as close to the making as possible. The delicious taste remains unaffected.

For the filling: (can be made up to 36 hours before and kept, covered, in the fridge)
1- 2 oranges
50-100ml extra orange juice (from a carton is fine)
180g gluten free, dairy free dark chocolate (at least 70% dark cocoa solids)
130g dairy free spread
3 tbsps Cointreau (optional)
3-5 tsps sugar

To coat the truffles:
3-4tbsps of cocoa powder
175-200g gluten free dairy free dark chocolate (at least 70% dark cocoa solids) (if you don't mind a bit of waste, err on the side of 200g)
Pretty truffle cases to serve
  • Cut 1 of the oranges into pieces and remove any pips. Place in a blender, add about 50ml of orange juice and blitz to a smooth pulp. You will need 3 heaped tbsps of orange pulp for the recipe. My blender is a bit picky and won't properly blend just 1 orange. I ended up adding another but then having quite a bit of orange pulp left over, you may find this happens to you too. I don't really know what to say...
  • Using a bain marie melt the 180g of dark chocolate. For the bain marie: Fill a small saucepan with a little water and place on a medium heat. Take a large, heatproof bowl that will sit comfortably on top of the saucepan without touching the water. Put the chocolate into the bowl and stir occasionally until it has melted. Do not allow it to get too hot
  • When the chocolate has just melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Add the dairy free spread and beat until smooth
  • Add 3 heaped tbsps of the orange pulp and mix. Add the Cointreau if using, and mix
  • Taste it and see if you want it sweeter. If so, add the sugar. You might need to return the bowl to the heat in order to melt the sugar
  • Now, take a small whisk and start whisking the mixture. I'm never sure if you really need to whisk it, but I always do and the truffles always turn out fluffy. I'm thinking, don't whisk at your peril
  • Whisk and whisk and whisk (take a short break but don't let the mixture see you) whisk and whisk, and after a while the mix will suddenly start to thicken. When it does that you can stop, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to cool. It can stay there up to 36 hours, but you'll need to remove it from the fridge about an hour before you want to mould your truffles
  • About an hour before you want to start making your truffles, remove the inner mix from the fridge
  • Line a baking tray with baking parchment, and seive the cocoa powder onto a large plate
  • Using a teaspoon remove a truffle-sized amount from your bowl. Dust your hands with cocoa powder, then roll the truffle mix into a ball. Place onto the baking tray
  • Repeat until all the mix is used up, then chill the truffles for at least 2 hours, and up to 12
  • When you're ready to coat your truffles, melt the chocolate using the bain marie method described above. Then drop the truffle ball into the melted chocolate, and using a metal spoon and your fingers, cover the ball with chocolate. Use the spoon to remove the ball, trying to let any excess drip off into the bowl. Put the coated truffle onto the baking tray (you may need to use two baking trays). If there are holes in your coating, use the spoon to blob on a bit more chocolate
  • Repeat until all the truffles are coated. Chill them in the fridge
  • When the chocolate is hard, use a small knife to trim off the flat base of the truffles, and place them into pretty cases
  • Now, hurry, or you're going to miss your train to the UK...have a lovely time!
© Pig in the Kitchen Feb 2008

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