Thursday, 27 March 2008

Courgette Soup (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

When I was little, my parents would sometimes give Dinner Parties. These were not relaxed, informal dinners amongst friends; these were ‘grand affairs’. My Mum would consult a hefty tome from her complete collection of ‘Supercook’ books – they had white vinyl covers and gold embossed lettering. She would make her selection and set to work. Sometimes I would leaf through the books and stare at the photographs of all the delicious food she might conjure up. These Dinner Parties always meant that the house had to be tidied and the dining room prepared. I remember a heavy glass decanter would be produced, and on really special occasions, they would use…the Heated Hostess Trolley.

Finished in faux mahogany, to the untrained eye it could be mistaken for a piece of tacky furniture. Yet when you slid the lids aside, there underneath was a range of serving dishes, each with their own silver lid. They were sunk into a metal base. When you plugged the sideboard in, the metal base would heat up thus keeping all the food warm. How fantastic is that? I imagine that after the starter had been served (prawn cocktail I reckon), and the meat placed on dinner plates, my Mother would quietly say,
‘now, if you would like to help yourselves to vegetables from the hostess trolley…’
and the guests would politely shuffle along. Or better still, did she wheel it around the table and each guest would load up their plates, carefully replacing each silver lid so that it didn’t make too much of a clanking sound? Perhaps she would strike poses as they helped themselves, a bit like Anthea Redfern on The Generation Game? Would my Dad be tempted to do a Bruce Forsyth impression,
‘doesn't she look lovely, give us a twirl!’?
Oh what I wouldn’t give for one of those trolleys, I could have hours of Dinner Party fun.

Anyway, as the party preparations reached fever pitch, I would finish watching Doctor Who and be packed off to bed. My bedroom gave me a great view of the guests arriving up the dark lane. As the lion’s head door knocker summoned my parents, I would creep onto the landing and watch the grown up rituals begin. Effusive cries and greetings, mwah’s and handshakes, the wine gifts accepted with thanks, alien cologne wafting up the stairs.

I was – I’m fairly sure – a precocious little brat. Do you think it was because I was once a flower princess at the village fête? Maybe the success went to my head, but for whatever reason, I always felt the guests would welcome a little break from adult tedium. I would time my entrance for about halfway through the first G&T. The conversation would die and my Mother’s face would freeze, her teeth bared in an attempt at a smile. I knew that I had about 5 minutes before she deemed that the mark had been well and truly over-stepped. I’d produce my corny excuse; ‘I heard a noise’, bask a little in the grown-up attention, then scuttle back upstairs. I’d then resume position on the landing so that I could eavesdrop. If someone appeared unexpectedly in the hall, I’d have to dart back into my room, heart thumping, hysterical giggles just below the surface.

I’d wake in the morning to a silent house. Going downstairs was like wandering into an alien world. Not the usual tidy, uneventful kitchen, but a scene from a play, or perhaps the aftermath of a crime. Glasses everywhere. Some tipped over; their contents pooled on the table or swilling happily around in the bottom. Carelessly stacked plates - not even scraped off - waiting to confront my Mum when she came down to start the bleary clearing up. I half expected to see bodies sprawled under the table, or cobwebbed skeletons propped up in chairs. Judging by the amount of empty bottles, I suspect that some of those guests would have done better to bed down under the table rather than lurch happily to their cars, and veer home down country lanes. I don’t think Drink-driving laws had really caught on in the ‘70’s.

The best part of the Dinner Party carnage was the pudding leftovers. Somehow they had made it back into the fridge, and were waiting for me to surreptitiously scoop my fill. My favourite was that culinary classic of my parent’s generation; the ginger biscuit pudding. This über-kitsch dessert consisted of ginger biscuits from a packet, soaked in sherry, sandwiched together with cream, and then smeared all over with cream. How that constitutes a pudding worthy of guests, I don’t know, (born-again Delia might) but the mix of alcohol, sugar and fat was delicious. You see - the seeds of my downfall were sown early in my life.

These Dinner Party memories were swirling around my head recently, triggered by some courgettes I bought. For at least one of her dinners, Mum served a ‘Courgettes Fried in Butter’ dish. To my young mind they looked foul – like green slugs I remember thinking – but I suddenly fancied trying them again. Using Mum’s dish as a starting point I concocted this courgette soup. It’s really simple, and you’ll feel all smug and healthy when you eat it. Do you know how it would best be served? From one of those beautiful heated hostess trolleys! Must have a look on Ebay…

Courgette Soup ( very good with Archimedes' GF bread rolls)
I think I have fallen in love with this soup. I love it because it's green, which instantly makes me feel as though it has life-giving powers. I love it all the more because my allergic girlie gobbles it up and asks for more. It's a good one for small babies, although it is not advisable to give spinach to children under the age of four months due to nitrates (here's a good explanation). If you are in any doubt, just leave the spinach out, it still tastes good. You might also want to reduce the stock cubes if feeding this to a baby.

4 medium courgettes
2 cloves of garlic
1 small potato
1-2 tbsps dairy free spread
black pepper
1-2 gluten free vegetable stock cubes
500-750ml water (perhaps a little more)
a handful of spinach/rocket/other green leaf
  • Wash the courgettes and slice into rounds
  • Peel and roughly chop the garlic
  • Peel the potato and cut into slices
  • Over a low heat, melt the dairy free spread in a frying pan
  • Add the courgettes, garlic and potato and stir until everything is coated in spread. Leave to cook until the courgettes are slightly tender; about 5-10 minutes. Stir often so that the potato doesn't stick and the dairy free spread doesn't burn
  • Grind a little black pepper over the frying pan, doesn't that look lovely?
  • When the courgettes have softened (you don't want them brown), remove the frying pan from the heat
  • Transfer the contents of the frying pan to a large, deep saucepan. Put the pan back on a medium heat
  • Add 500ml of water; it should just cover the top of the vegetables. Add more if required
  • Bring the pan to the boil and sprinkle in the stock cubes (now I know I'm vegetarian, but I reckon that chicken stock would be pretty good with this too)
  • Stir the pan, cover, and let it bubble gently until the potato is tender; about 15 minutes?
  • Add the handful of spinach and let it wilt for a minute or two. Turn off the heat
  • Use a hand held blender to blitz the soup until it is smooth. If you find it too thick you could add more water at this point
  • Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste; I like to add more black pepper
  • Transfer your soup to your serving receptacle of choice; if you have a heated hostess trolley I'm going to be really jealous!
© Pig in the Kitchen

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Monday, 17 March 2008

Hot Cross Buns (gluten free, egg free, dairy free)

I’m going to come right out and say it; Easter annoys me. There are a few reasons for this. I know I've gone on about Easter before,; but I just cannot get my head round the sequence of events. Which day did Jesus do what? Was it bad Mary, good Mary or some other Mary at the foot of the Cross? And when are we allowed to eat our eggs?

I also get annoyed with Easter’s caprices. Why can’t there be a fixed date for Easter? All this drifting around the calendar plays havoc with my holiday planning (not to mention my blog cooking) and smacks of spoilt princess,
‘Look at me! I’m not fixed like Christmas, no I’m Easter, I shall do as I please and you will just have to fit in. And I now magnanimously declare Lent to be over; you may go ahead and eat chocolate/drink beer/bathe in champagne/etc'. Yes, Easter puts me in a bad mood.

Then there’s the whole Easter food thing. I’d never heard of a meringue nest until I met my Mother-in-Law; has my family been doing it wrong all these years? If Hot Cross Buns are for Good Friday (apparently), how come Sainsbury’s are selling them just as soon as they’ve cleared the shelves of Valentine’s stuff? The significance of the gold bunnies escapes me, and egg blowing? I have five words for you: Four kids, egg allergy, mess. It’s just not going to happen under my roof.

Then there’s the chocolate. I’ll let you into a little secret; people don’t mistake me for Kate Moss. My legs would give one of the taller Seven Dwarves a run for their money, and in a dim light you might mistake me for a Comice pear. The bulges from Christmas have barely diminished before, Behold! Here’s the Easter Bunny dressed in Green and Black. You know if she wore Cadbury one season I might not be that fussed, but Green and Black? I’ve got her clothes off quicker than you can say ‘chocolate orgasm’.

So, Easter arrives, and bang go the vestiges of my self control. In addition, the children are suddenly besieged with chocolate offerings. When the big day arrives there are four children rejoicing in the chocolate from heaven. Of course that’s very sweet, I like watching them happy, and I bought most of the chocolate anyway. Yet when the rejoicing has abated, the problems kick in.

As any good Mother would, on Easter Day (that's when you're supposed to eat them, right?) I allow them chocolate before breakfast, possibly some at lunch and a bit at tea. Then I – and the children – realise that we still have enough chocolate left to melt down and create our very own Niagara. They will be eating chocolate for weeks to come. They will be asking every single day, at least three times a day, for their Easter chocolate. What have I done?

They know they can wear me down. They approach me when I am thoroughly distracted; on the phone or sending a text. Or when I am immersed deep in a blissful bath. They come in their hordes and ask for chocolate.
‘I can get it Mummy, I know where you’ve hidden it’ says the eldest helpfully. Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I don’t, and then all the door-slamming, whining, tantruming powers of four children going chocolate cold turkey are unleashed upon me. It is a terrifying position to be in.

However, I have resolved that this year, it’s going to be different. They will receive their chocolate as usual, and then I am going to indulge in a little free fall parenting; I am going to let them decide for themselves how best to dispose of their chocolate. I shall give a brief lecture on the perils of over-indulgence, and will kindly but firmly insist they are responsbile for cleaning up their own chocolate-induced vomit. I shall ask them to stash their chocolate in a mouse-proof receptacle, and to please not eat in bed. Lastly I shall insist that if they are going to gorge themselves ten minutes before I serve a healthy tea; they must not tell me. I am going with the ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ approach.

I reckon their Easter stash is going to last three days, tops. It will all be over and done with in a sickly flash and I won’t have protracted chocolate negotiations that last well into July. I’m feeling quietly smug about this plan. I’m also feeling rather smug about my Hot Cross Buns. I give you my full permission to eat them whenever the hell you want and Easter be damned. Hmmm, I do hope I’m not storing up godly wrath for judgement day with that last remark. Maybe I could bribe my way past St Pete with a plateful of steaming buns?

Happy Easter!

Hot Cross Buns (Makes 6/7 buns)
If you are scrabbling around for decent allergy chocolate; help is at hand. The chocolate eggs in the picture are Whizzers' Speckled Eggs (no dairy, no wheat, no gluten) and should be available from all good healthfood shops. Failing that, they are available from Goodness Direct, or the super Dietary Needs Direct, who have also got lots of other fab, Eastery, chocolatey type products available. Get shopping!

For the buns:
150g cornflour / cornstarch
100g brown rice flour
1.5tsp dried yeast
0.5 tsp xanthan gum
2.5tbsp sugar
0.5 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
0.25tsp ground cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon (perhaps a bit less according to taste)
zest of 1 orange (ditto)
50g dairy free spread
225ml tepid water
100g raisins

For the Cross (optional)
4tbsps brown rice flour
1.5tsps cornflour
a pinch of xanthan gum
1.5tbsps sugar
enough water to make an iceable paste (approx 60ml?)

For the glaze (again, optional)
3-4 tbsps golden syrup
  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking tray with baking parchment
  • In a large mixing bowl place the flours, yeast, xanthan gum, spices, sugar, salt and grated zest of the orange and lemon. Mix around with a mini whisk
  • Now to adding the water. Start by adding 180ml or so, mix it in a bit, then gradually add the rest. The mix should have the consistency of a cake mix. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix until the water is incorporated. Then beat like mad until the dairy free spread has blended in, and any lumps in the flour have gone. Any stubborn lumps can be squidged between your (clean) fingers
  • Add the raisins, and stir them in. Scrape any mix down from the sides of the bowl, then place the bowl in a warm place and leave for approximately 10 minutes. The mix will not really grow, it sort of bulks up a bit
  • Whilst the dough is proving, make the paste for the cross (if using). Put the flours, sugar and xanthan gum into a small bowl, and gradually add water - whilst whisking - until you have a smooth paste you can pipe onto your rolls
  • There goes the timer, so carefully place large spoonfuls of the dough mix onto the baking tray. Try and give your rolls as much height as possible by sort of folding the dough back onto itself as it drops off the spoon. Yes, that's very clear isn't it? Well I thought it was fairly clear, but do ask for clarification if you have no idea what I mean
  • When you have your rolls lined up on your baking tray, dollop your cross paste into an icing bag and pipe a cross onto the buns, don't press down on the buns, we want to keep them enhanced; think Jordan rather than Victoria
  • Leave the buns to prove in a warm place for another five minutes, then place them into the oven
  • Check them anxiously after about 10 minutes, then leave them for another 5 minutes or so until the tops are golden brown, and they sound hollow when tapped on the base
  • Remove the baking tray from the oven
  • If you're going down the glazed route (be warned, it does make the buns very sticky, but is most delicious if you gobble up a bun when it's still warm and the syrup dribbles over your lips leaving them sticky and shiny), briefly warm the golden syrup and brush it over the surface of your buns
  • Transfer the buns to a cooling rack and leave to cool
  • They are good warm with dairy free spread and jam, they are also good toasted. My lovely son proudly told me today - as I handed him an allergy friendly hot cross bun - that he made hot cross buns with egg and milk at school. 'But I might like yours more Mum' he added. He then boomed 'Delicious!' when he'd finished. The way to a small boy's heart is definitely through his tummy

© Pig in the Kitchen

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Monday, 10 March 2008

Apple and Cranberry Muffins (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

When my second daughter realised we were going to our house in Normandy for half term, she staged a minor rebellion,

‘I don’t WANT to go to our house in Normandy. All my friends are going somewhere good; like skiing or to Italy, I want to go somewhere different, it’s so boring at our other house’.

I looked at her thoughtfully. A pair of my Mother’s ghostly, strappy, work shoes hovered around my feet. I stared at them, and considered trying them on for size,

‘Now just you listen here young lady, have you any idea how spoilt you sound? You are very, very lucky to have another house to go to, it is a privilege. We are going, and you will come whether you like it or not. Now stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry for’.

Those shoes just don’t feel comfortable though. My 21st century, vaguely fluffy, stay-at-home boots suit me better;

‘Why don’t you want to go? I thought you enjoyed it there?’

‘Well, I do…’ she conceded reluctantly, ‘it’s just that we never really do much, we just stay around the house’.
She had a point. I do tend to potter around the house, the children disappear into the garden and we meet up for meals. Apparently the novelty is wearing off. I made a decision,
‘You’re right, we’re not just going to stay at home; we’re going to do stuff’.
I got quite excited at the thought of spending days away from the house and not trying to keep up with the washing and the usual chores.

And so the week began, bathed in beautiful sunshine. We headed for the sea. The beach in globally-warmed February is a fantastic place to be. The children paddled, Daddy lost the ball in the sea (we’ll gloss over that bit), and we ate ice-cream and lollies sitting on the sand.
Day 1 – Mummy is off to a great start, keep up the good work.

Monday: first real day of the holidays. Daddy away until Thursday, but I was not fazed. Dear Kathie arrived with her son, and the children spent hours on the trampoline. As the momentum slowed we frogmarched them to the woods where they climbed trees and helped us collect firewood. The tiny, bleating lambs in the fields were achingly cute, and my youngest declared she wanted to have two ‘sheepy babies’.
Day 2; Another good day for Mummy, continuing good work.

Waking to a downpour during half-term is never a good start. I was still playing the Kathie sleepover card though, so the children played with her son until lunchtime when we took them to a pizzeria. As we waved Kathie off, I felt a wave of tiredness and decided to sit down. Unheard of. I painted my eldest daughter’s nails, and even managed a little light sewing. The world did not stop turning because I sat down during the day; it was a revelation.
Day 3 – Mummy is making steady progress, relaxing into her role. We think she will do very well here.

On Wednesday, I played my trump card. Not only a trip to a different beach, but also meeting up with some of their school friends, and a trip to an Aquarium. My complacency was diminished somewhat by the flash of a speed camera and a well-concealed Gendarme-ess staring at me through speeding binoculars. If anything comes of these mishaps, I will sink the costs into the half term ENTS budget and we’ll say no more about it. Anyway, the children were all very happy with more beach action; they don’t seem to mind the scarlet, pre-frostbite feet. They liked the smaller-than-expected-aquarium and enjoyed another lunch out.
Day 4 – Mummy is making excellent progress, but she does need to be careful with her attitude. We hope that she will learn from the speeding incidents and take care not to allow careless errors to creep into her work.

Another day. Another 24 hours to fill. Waking with a cricked neck was not good, neither was more rain. We did manage a trip to a garden centre to look at furry animals, weird fish and brightly coloured birds. However, the quick-in, quick-out supermarket visit stretched maternal patience to twanging point; I think I did well not to have a liquid lunch that day. The afternoon was spent recuperating. The children briefly attempted sewing, and then we dug out the UNO cards.Day 5 – We do hope Mummy has not peaked too soon. She still has 3 more days to go and the sign of a good parent is the ability to pace themselves. She would do well to bear that in mind.

Parental reinforcements arrived late on Day 5, so Day 6 was always going to go a little better. My other half stayed at home to work and the rest of us set off to see the sheepy babies again. I did worry for a minute that the sheepy babies had already met their maker, but fortunately they were all still there. More tree climbing in the woods, back for lunch, then some more UNO. My son really is a consummate cheat, and he’s only five. My neck had seized up again after tea and I had to retire to the sofa. One daughter massaged my feet, another my face, and my son brushed my hair. Bliss.
Day 6 – We feel that Mummy has weathered adversity very well indeed, and her determination to continue providing quality care to her children, does her credit.

Saturday meant that normal weekend business resumed; I went for a run, we had lunch at our favourite pizzeria and my eldest went horse-riding. I decided to clean the inside of the car because apparently a herd of pigs had been living in there for the past week. Astounding what turns up in a long-neglected car, I think the tuning fork was my best find.
Day 7 – There is very little left for us to say; Mummy is doing stellar work and her multi-tasking skills are improving daily.

Day 8 is always about packing up and going home. It happened to be Mother’s Day so I was rewarded with breakfast in bed. I took the opportunity to ask my dear offspring what had been the favourite part of their action-packed, fun-filled week. There was a thoughtful pause.
Going to bed’ ventured one.
‘Watching telly’ from another.
One rallied with ‘going to the beach’, and the fourth one is really too small to answer.
Day 8 – Mummy really shouldn’t take any notice of her children. She has provided an entertaining week, and she would do well to realise – sooner rather than later – that Motherhood is a thankless task. She should also take comfort from the three batches of Apple and Cranberry muffins she managed to bake during a very busy week.

Apple and Cranberry Half Term Muffins (Makes 12 large muffins)
The inspiration for these came - not from the creative joy of half term - but after reading an email from a lovely reader who I know is struggling to find allergy-friendly finger foods for her one year old daughter. I know these are a tad sugary, but I thought they might help when trying to think of vaguely healthy snacks for weeny ones. The addition of chickpea flour adds a little extra protein which can be hard to get into your child's diet when they can't eat dairy or egg.
Egg free, dairy free, gluten free:
125g brown rice flour
30g chickpea / gram / besan flour
70g cornflour / cornstarch
2 tsp gluten free baking powder
0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
120-130g sugar (depending on taste)
1 heaped tsp of Orgran 'no egg' egg replacer+ 2 tbsp rice milk
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds + 1 tbsp rice milk (to grind linseeds; put whole linseeds in a blender and blitz until they are a powder)
90ml vegetable oil
70ml rice milk
70 ml coconut milk
100g dried cranberries
200g peeled and cored apple (weighed after peeling and coring) approx 1.5 large apples
For egg free, dairy free with wheat flour:
Replace the gluten free flours with 225g of plain white flour
Reduce the sugar to 120g
Omit the xanthan gum
For gluten free with egg:
Omit the 'no egg' egg replacer, linseeds and the 3 tbsps of rice milk. Use one egg instead
  • Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees celsius. Place your muffin cases into your muffin tray
  • If making the egg-free version, put the tsp of egg replacer into a small bowl. Add the tbsp of ground linseeds and the three tbsps of rice milk. Mix together with a mini whisk until there are no lumps, and set aside
  • Into a large mixing bowl place the gluten free flours or the wheat flour (if using). Add the xanthan gum (if making the gluten free version), baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground cinnamon and sugar. Mix with a mini whisk until everything is combined
  • Into a large jug put the oil, rice milk and coconut milk. If you are using a real egg, add it to the jug, and whisk lightly
  • Peel and core the apple and weigh out 200g. Finely chop the apple; maximum chunk size 0.5cm (and who says cooking is an imprecise science?)
  • Make a well in the centre of the flour bowl and add the oil, rice and coconut milk, real egg (if using)/ or egg replacer and linseed mix. Use a fork and mix briefly, about 5 goes around the bowl
  • Before it is all combined, add the chopped apple and the dried cranberries, mix again. It does look as though there's loads of apple at this point, but the end result is worth it
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin cases, and place into the oven
  • Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, but keep an eye on them; it is a moment of pure chagrin if you allow your muffins to burn. Such a schoolgirl error
  • When they are firm and golden brown on top, insert a skewer into them. Aha! You see! They look cooked, but are still a bit gloopy inside (if yours are cooked at this point, disregard me as a wittering idiot, but otherwise, read on)
  • Reduce the oven heat to approx 150 degrees celsius
  • Your muffins should now be firm enough to be gently removed from the muffin tray (keep them in their cases though), and placed onto a pizza tray or baking tray
  • Return them to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, and then that cheeky, gloopy interior should firm up and your muffins will be cooked. Check this by inserting your skewer or knife. If during the interior-firming process the tops are getting too brown, cover them up with some tin foil
  • Remove the muffins and allow them to cool. Don't be too quick to taste them, that hot apple can cause nasty scalding to the roof of the mouth. Serves me right for being a Pig
  • Enjoy them whilst still a little warm. Enjoy them more when half term is over and at last you have time to breathe again
© Pig in the Kitchen
The pictured muffins are egg, dairy and gluten free.

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