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.
© Pig in the Kitchen

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Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Unbearable Weight of a Tag by Dulwich Mum

Sweet, sassy (and slightly saucy in this post), Dulwich Mum tagged me last month. And I am pretty sure someone else did as well. But in the depths of the mush (that bears a remarkable resemblance to 2 tsps of No Egg mixed up with rice milk and ground linseeds) that passes for my brain, I cannot find anything. Not one hint of who tagged me to do what, but I'm vaguely kind of sure you did. I apologise for my rubbishness.
Well, this is what Dulwich Mum asked me to do:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag people, and acknowledge who tagged you.
So whilst the oven heats up for me to trial the GF-but-with-eggs version of my next delectable deliciousness (swing by around about Thursday and you might get an eyeful), I shall comply.
Of course the temptation is to pretend that the nearest book is actually quite impressive and/or a little obscure,
'Ya, Theroux's 'Riding the Iron Rooster' is one of my personal favourites; he gives such a fascinating insight into China during the 1980's'.
Or how about,
'I am just loving Desai's 'Inheritance of Loss', it so reminds me of my time in India, she really captures the essence of that glorious part of the world'
Should I pretend it was Kundera?
'Ya, ya, he makes such a good point about us needing weight in our lives to feel anchored and essentially alive...'
But really it was none of those. The nearest one doesn't actually belong to me, and I can't divulge the contents of my husband's reading matter which he has left (again) next to the computer, because I suspect I'd be revealing classified information. And really, there are only so many Central Marketing Commercial Reports a girl can read.
So shall I get to the point? It was my old fave, Collins Robert. Now call me square, but I had such fun reading the dictionary at University. Look, when you're faced with a translation about the economic impact of frozen fishfingers on some obscure Breton port, the dictionary is a very welcome distraction.
I particularly love the asterix system in Collins Robert.
One asterix next to a word denotes,
'...that the expression, while not forming part of standard languages, is used by all educated speakers in a relaxed situation but would not be used in a formal essay or letter, or on an occasion when the speaker wishes to impress' *
Two of our starry friends means,
'...that the expression is used by some but not all educated speakers in a very relaxed situation. Such words should be handled with extreme care by the non-native speaker unless he is very fluent in the language and is very sure of his company' **
So now you're agog aren't you? You can't wait to know what on earth three of the little beggars could possibly mean,
'... 'Danger!', such words are liable to offend in any situation, and therefore are to be avoided by the non-native speaker' ***
Some of those three star words are priceless! They don't just list the word, but give examples of how they might be incorporated into a sentence. Such complicated, vicious insults! Marvellous conjugations of eye-popping profanities that had me in hysterics when I should have been doing dull translations.
And of course those are the phrases that stick. In the same way a 14 year old exchange student can't conjugate the verb, 'avoir' but is quite au fait with the reflexive verb 'se peloter', so the really bad phrases stick in my head, and threaten to tumble out of my mouth at horribly inappropriate moments. I really wish I hadn't learnt the one about your mother. One of these days when the French driving gets too much for me, I'm going to have to hurl it out of my car window complete with a bras d'honneur. I will be found weeks later in a wheelie bin, stinking in some chic, slate-rooved Parisian apartment.
So now you're expecting some hard core filthy words from page 123 of my dictionnaire aren't you? You know I could have bent the rules, and given you some corkers, but I am nothing if not full of integrity.
So hélas, with only one tame and boring asterix between them, I give you:
chouette* adj smashing* (yawn)
chrême nm chrism (yeh, me neither)
chrétien, -ienne 1 adj Christian 2 nm, f: ~(ne) Christian
8 christian-related words follow the above entry. In the interests of bringing this post to a close, I have chosen not to list them. Although you may like to note the mildly interesting - in a huh! look at that paint drying kind of a way - offshoot sentence,
être enseveli chrétiennement ~ to have a Christian burial
And with that I would like to thank the dearly beloved for gathering here, with special thanks to Dulwich Mum, and I'm going to extend this tag to anyone who wishes to receive it. May you all be truly grateful, and let not your mouth be as profaned as mine own.

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