Welcome to my blog, through which I hope to be able to share my experiences of gluten free cooking, baking, experimenting and eating.
When my daughter was diagnosed (age 6) with Coeliac Disease, our world of eating changed overnight. From breads, pastry and pasta to cakes, biscuits and puddings.......... suddenly most of what we knew was 'off the menu'. I think I must have tested every available gluten free product on the market, seeking out replacements to try and keep things as normal as possible. I was disappointed to find that what was available was often dry, crumbly and flavourless.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to turn my kitchen into a laboratory, turn all I knew about cooking on its head and start creating!

Friday, 19 August 2016

My Legendary Vegetable Lasagne - gluten free (or not as you choose)


This lasagne is legendary amongst my friends. It is so good that I have literally used it as a bartering tool...... Not my suggestion I hasten to add, but so delicious is it, that people would offer me stuff in exchange for lasagne...... It is a recipe (my own) which I have been making for about 25 years.

Interestingly, since becoming gluten free, lasagne is something I make less often. Although it is one of my favourite dishes and Miss GF adores it too, commercial gluten free lasagne sheets can be a pain to use, on account of the fact that all the brands I have ever come across require pre-cooking. This adds a lot of faff to an already lengthy process. I know I should just make my own, but this would make it even more labour-intensive and alongside work, I simply haven't got the time.....


Gluten free commercial lasagne also varies considerably from one make to another, with some being way too thick for my liking. My favourites for texture, 'density' and taste are Salute (which has become increasingly difficult to source) and La Buona Vita.

I did spot last week that Barkat have started doing pre-cooked lasagne sheets....... Can't wait to get my hands on some to try..... They could seriously revolutionise lasagne-making (and eating) for me..... It could even become a weekly meal!

Either way..... if any one out there can recommend other good gluten free brands or pre-cooked versions, please leave a comment and let me know.

Back to the filling layers..... The cheese sauce is (I think) fairly standard and if you have a favourite recipe, then by all means use it. It is the vegetable sauce that makes this lasagne special! Stuffed with fresh, healthy veg and full of the flavours of the Mediterranean..... plenty of oregano, thyme and sun-soaked produce, you can make this lasagne either gluten free or not.


The vegetables work best in combination..... picked for contrasting colour, flavour and texture. Aubergine adds softness....... baby corn adds crunch....... mushrooms give an earthy backdrop...... while peppers and tomatoes bring bright sunshine sweetness and colour to the party. Throw in lots of onions and garlic for extra depth and richness and some freshly-picked garden courgettes for a subtle hint of contrasting bitterness. It really is a perfect summer season medley. And if there's a bit of veg you don't like, just leave it out or substitute for something else. Really..... anything goes!

My (no longer) secret ingredients, which take this sauce to stardom, are a splash of gluten free soy (Shoyu) sauce, a hefty dollop of honey and a sprinkle of pine nuts.

The honey works in perfect harmony against the tang of Mediterranean herbs, hitting you with a deliciously sweet, but not over-powering flavour dimension. If you can get a good thyme or floral honey, so much the better...... We were lucky to still have some incredible greek honey from our travels in Crete last year (we brought lots of it home with us).

The pine nuts (extra amazing if toasted first), give a wonderful nutty crunch and ensure little surprise bites of magic and goodness as you munch.


So there you have it...... my legendary Vegetable Lasagne is out of the bag. If you make it, please let me know what you think!

Cook Blog Share, this week with Easy Peasy Foodie. Great to see Eb hosting her first shout-out this week.

Free From Fridays with the Free From Farmhouse






Pasta Please with Thinly Spread and Tinned Tomatoes, welcoming veggie pasta recipes.


Meat Free Mondays with Tinned Tomatoes.







Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice.

Inheritance Recipes with Pebble Soup and Coffee and Vanilla - This is a recipe that simply has to be passed on to Miss GF.... Now part of her blog-based recipe book for the future!


Vegetable Lasagne (serves 6 good-sized portions (or 8 smaller ones))

Ingredients

gluten free lasagne sheets

Tomato-Vegetable Sauce
olive oil
1 small white onion - chopped
1 small red onion - chopped
4 to 5 cloves garlic - crushed
2 small peppers (red/yellow/orange) - rough chopped
6 to 7 baby corn - cut into 1 cm lengths
1 medium courgette - sliced
1 small aubergine - cut into small cubes
100 to 150g button mushrooms (cut into halves/quarters)
handful pine nuts - toasted
1 x 142g tin concentrated tomato puree
splash gluten free Shoyu (soy) sauce
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
a few sprigs fresh parsley - finely chopped
¾ teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh finely chopped)
¾ teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh finely chopped)
large handful basil leaves - chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
good grind black pepper - to taste
sea salt - to taste

Cheese Sauce
30g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cornflour
¾ litre milk
180g grated mature cheddar cheese - grated
good grind black pepper
extra grated cheddar and black pepper to sprinkle on top

Method

  1. Prepare a large (approx 30cm/12 inches by 20 cm/8 inches) glass or ceramic oven-proof dish by greasing with butter or olive oil.
  2. Make the Tomato-Vegetable Sauce : Prepare the vegetables and herbs (chopping etc) ready for cooking, and toast the pine nuts either in a hot oven or under a grill for a few minutes (keeping a close eye to ensure they don't burn).
  3. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and saute the onions over a medium heat for a few minutes until they soften.
  4. Add the garlic and stir through, continuing to fry.
  5. Next add the peppers, baby corn, courgette and aubergine and continue to cook for several minutes, stirring intermittently.
  6. Finally add the mushrooms and pine nuts and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more.
  7. Add the tomato puree and a dash of gluten free soy (Shoyu) sauce and stir through. 
  8. Allow to cook for 5 or so minutes, stirring frequently and then add the honey and stir through.
  9. Add the chopped tomatoes, herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Stir thoroughly and then leave to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to allow the flavours to mingle and the sauce to reduce slightly.
  11. When ready, turn off the heat and set aside while you prepare the lasagne and make the cheese sauce.
  12. Cheese Sauce : In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter over a low heat. 
  13. Add the cornflour and continuing to stir, allow to cook through for a couple of minutes.
  14. Remove from the heat.
  15. Add a tiny drop of milk at a time, stirring thoroughly to a smooth paste (don't worry if at first it looks a little grainy, as you add more milk it should become smooth). As the batter loosens and becomes more liquid, you will be able to slightly increase the amount of milk you add at one go.
  16. Once all the milk is added, return the pan to the heat and stirring continuously, very gradually bring the sauce to almost a simmer. It should begin to thicken well.
  17. Add the cheese and seasoning and continue to stir over a low heat until the cheese has melted and blended into a smooth sauce. Do not allow to boil.
  18. Remove from the heat while you prepare your pasta, but stir occasionally to avoid a skin forming.
  19. Prepare your lasagne sheets as per packet instructions (I did mine in batches, to avoid sticking).
  20. Place a layer of lasagne in the base of your prepared oven-proof dish and top with a layer of vegetable sauce.
  21. Next add another layer of lasagne and then a layer of cheese sauce. 
  22. Repeat this process (lasagne - sauce), finishing with a layer of cheese sauce.
  23. Top with a good sprinkle of cheese and a good grind of black pepper.
  24. You can bake immediately or later : Pre-heat your oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas 7 and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden and the lasagne is bubbling hot.
  25. Enjoy on its own, with salad or with gluten free garlic bread.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-16 unless otherwise indicated

Monday, 15 August 2016

Perfectly Gooey Chocolate-Cherry-Pecan Brownie - gluten free


I'm desperately trying to make the most of the season's remaining cherries. It seems no sooner have they arrived than they are gone again! The season is short and the race is always on to gorge as many as possible before it ends, to preserve by candying and freezing and to bake cherries into everything.... sweet or savoury.


A few weeks back (just before the cherry season started) I was busy trying to make a new brownie. Originally, I had wanted to develop a pear and walnut version, but after accidentally creating the most amazing Heavenly Chocolate, Walnut & Pear Torte, decided to switch fruits, grab some cherries from the orchard and concoct an alternative flavour combo.

Cherries work perfectly with pecans and (of course) with chocolate, so a fusion of this ingredient trio looked like the way to go.


Good move! This butter-infused brownie is earthy and crunchy with sweet, nutty pecans and shot through with bright, chunks of honey-sweet summer cherries, which also add little bursts of fruity juiciness with each bite.

Made with plenty of good-quality dark chocolate, it is the real deal. It has been baked to a gooey moistness, so that it is neither too wet nor too firm. Equally, the sweetness has been balanced using a combination of both unrefined caster and soft light brown sugars, giving caramel undertones within the rich chocolate crumb.


As is the want with a good brownie, each block has a dry crisp top which blankets a chewy, sticky foundation. It melts in the mouth and leaves you reaching for another square. The variation of textures and flavours from the pecans and cherries within, add both interest and expectation, taking it to a higher level.


I will certainly be making more of this,,,,,, The fruit and nut combination is divine, but the recipe would definitely lend itself to a whole host of variations....

And if you have any left over (unlikely) or you can manage to sacrifice a couple of slices for the greater good of chilling down in the summer heat, then try making my Cherry-Chocolate Brownie (no churn) Ice Cream. Lush!

I am sharing (as always) to spread lots of brownie love with the following linkies :

Treat Petite with Cakeyboi (and The Baking Explorer). This month 'anything goes'!

We Should Cocoa with Choclette over at Tin and Thyme. Also with an 'Anything Goes' theme this month.




Simple & in Season with Feeding Boys.


Sunday Fitness & Food with Ilka's Blog and Marathons & Motivation.



Free From Fridays with the Free From Farmhouse.


Tea Time Treats, with Lavender & Lovage (and Travel's for Taste and Jo's Kitchen). This is my second entry for August which celebrates Afternoon Tea Week.




Cook Blog Share with Sneaky Veg


Recipe of the Week with A Mummy Too


Chocolate-Cherry-Pecan Brownie

Ingredients

300g good quality dark chocolate
150g unsalted butter
100g plain GF flour blend (I used mix A from this post)
50g ground almonds
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon GF baking powder
3 large eggs (I used duck eggs)
60 ml almond/cows milk
70g golden caster sugar
70g soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
130g pitted fresh cherries (pitted weight) - rough-chopped
65g pecans - rough-chopped

Method

  1. Base-line an 8 inch/20cm square non-stick baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
  3. Melt together the chocolate and butter until smooth either in a heat-proof glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in a microwave set to medium heat at 30 second bursts, stirring well between each. Set aside.
  4. Mix together the flour, almonds, salt and baking powder, ensuring any lumps are broken down. Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, sugars and vanilla until well-blended. 
  6. Add the dry ingredients and then the chocolate mix and fold through quickly, until your batter is even in colour and texture.
  7. Finally add and fold through the chopped cherries and pecans.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and smooth the top.
  9. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until a sharp knife/skewer inserted comes out with just a few small crumbs attached.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin, before turning out and cutting.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-16 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Miss GF Makes #5 - Crazy Bright Olympic Cake & Putting Wow Cake Mix Through its Paces!


Summer has definitely arrived...... and has suddenly got ridiculously busy! What with juggling work, holiday childcare, domestic chores and a bit of blogging in between..... my time has become mega-squeezed. We are bang in the middle of the annual round of local festivals (last week we had the Whitstable Oyster Festival to enjoy and this weekend, the Regatta) and on top of that Miss GF has a birthday to celebrate next week as well.

Followers of the blog will know that Miss GF has been getting into a bit of baking of her own in recent months and to support her enthusiasm, she has been given a little series on the blog called Miss GF Makes, where she can showcase her achievements.


Although she can be a bit of a free spirit in the kitchen with a tendency to grab a load of random ingredients and mix them together as a sort of scientific baking experiment (mostly surprisingly successful), she is also happy to embrace commercial baking mixes and loves to see how far she can take them.

On our recent visit to the Allergy & Free From Show in London, she got chatting to the lovely people from Wow Cakes and told them about her enjoyment of baking and her Miss GF Makes endeavours. Her enthusiasm was obviously noted, because they asked her to test-run a cake of her choosing........






















For those of you new to Wow Cakes, they are a Lancashire-based company, specialising in gluten free cakes and cake mixes. They have 3 'Ultimate' cake mixes which were being showcased in London : a Chocolate Brownie, Carrot Cake and Sponge mix...... They all tasted fab (we know because we tried them) and I would definitely recommend giving them a go. They had a good crumb, were not over-sweet and seemed like they could all be easily adapted to use different flavourings and additions....... The mixes are also nut free.


Miss GF was given free-reign to decide what mix she wanted and what she wanted to do with it. Her choice was to receive the Ultimate Sponge Mix, which she decided would give her the flexibility to make pretty much any cake she wanted..... She was very excited when it arrived addressed to her and I have to say became quite protective of it.


Having seen Miss GF navigate her way through the straight forward instructions and whip up the sponge with minimal effort, I can confirm that these mixes really are so simple to make, that even a young child could knock up a masterpiece with them. We rest our case....... Miss GF's cake was beyond expectations and I think (being a very proud Mum), incredibly well thought-out and creative.


Inspired by the Rio Olympics which have started this weekend, Miss GF decided to make a single two-tiered cake with a sponge that was coloured in line with the Brazilian flag..... yellow, green and blue..... Funky and very very bright!

Fortunately, Miss GF has never shown any adverse behavioural reaction to the addition of bright colourings in food, so we had no worries on that front. There was however a down side...... If you use as much dye as we did, expect a rather green side-effect at the other end!


The sponge mix seemed to take on the colour without any negative impact..... but we had to be very careful when folding through, as the batter had become quite thick and gloopy as a result of the xanthan gum in the flour-blend. This is a fairly normal hurdle with xanthan-added GF bakes, but one which we find needs extra care with commercial mixes as you have less choice on the order you add your ingredients and they often instruct to whisk the wet ingredients into the dry. In my own recipes, I rarely do this as it seems to have an adverse affect on xanthan-inclusive batter and can make for an over-firm, less fluffy cake structure..... I prefer to beat or fold in by hand using a spoon.


Either way, the Wow Ultimate Sponge turned out fine. It is light, but quite close in texture, which would make it perfect for birthday cakes that you might want to cut into shapes and sculpt.

Miss GF had already added extra vanilla extract to the sponge and (being quite a lover of vanilla) decided she would also cover the whole thing in vanilla butter icing, to ensure an element of surprise when the cake was cut into, revealing the garish colours. Topped with some icing Olympic Rings, Miss GF then finished off the base and sides with some equally bright, matching M&Ms.


Her piece de resistance was the sugar-work triangles that she made to go round the top of the cake sides....... the idea being to make the cake into an Olympic stadium. Apparently, she had learnt how to do basic sugar work at school (that's clearly a bit of the curriculum I missed!), so she gave me a lesson as well..... by the incredibly simple method of melting the sugar and drizzling it onto baking paper into shapes.....


I think you'll agree..... Miss GF has created quite a special Olympic masterpiece! Creative and original for sure and certainly a serious road-test for the Wow Ultimate Sponge Mix, which proved itself to be exceptionally good!

I am sharing with the following linkies :

Love Cake with Jibber Jabber. August's theme is 'It's a Mystery'. There are a couple of mysteries in this cake..... How did I miss that Miss GF had learnt sugar-work in school? and of course there is mystery within..... When you cut through the vanilla frosting, you reveal one crazy crazy sponge!



Gluten Free Fridays with Vegetarian Mamma




Tea Time Treats, with Lavender & Lovage (and new hosts Travel's for Taste and Jo's Kitchen). August celebrates Afternoon Tea Week.


Cook Blog Share with Hijacked by Twins




#TheFoodCalendar with Charlotte's Lively Kitchen..... Celebrating the Rio Olympics


Free From Fridays with the Free From Farmhouse






Olympic Cake - made with Wow Ultimate Sponge Mix

Ingredients

1 x Wow Ultimate Sponge Mix (from the Wow Cake Company) Additionally required : 225g unsalted butter - softened; 4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for extra vanillariness)
blue food colouring
yellow food colouring

1½ x batch of vanilla butter icing (I used this recipe and increased the ingredients by half)

black, red, blue, yellow and green ready to roll icing
some bright 'Olympic' coloured M&M's (or alternative bright sweets)
approx 250g caster sugar (for the basic simple sugar work)
edible glitter

Method

  1. Heat your oven to the temperature as instructed on the cake mix and base line 2 x 7 inch/ 18 cm non-stick round baking tins.
  2. Follow the instructions to make the sponge batter. We added an extra hit of vanilla extract for a flavour boost.
  3. Before the batter is put into the cake tins, divide into 3 equal amounts and add blue and/or yellow food colouring to make each batter yellow, blue or green.
  4. Dollop large spoonfuls of each batter randomly into the cake tins, being careful not to stir or mix together. 
  5. Once the batter is all in the tins, use the back of a spoon to ease it into any gaps and evenly distribute and level in the tins, being very careful not to mix the colours together.
  6. Bake the sponge according to your packet instructions.
  7. When ready, remove from the oven and turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Make up your butter icing whilst you are waiting for the cake to cool, by beating your softened butter with icing sugar, vanilla extract and a little milk (we always use almond or coconut milk) as in this recipe.
  9. When the sponge is cold, sandwich together with a layer of butter icing and then completely cover the outsides with the remaining icing (reserving a small amount for sticking decorations to the cake later) and smooth with a palette knife or icing smoother.
  10. Make the olympic rings from the ready to roll icing (making sure they are small enough to fit the top of the cake). Miss GF used a thin acrylic rolling pin as a mould to get good circles.
  11. Whilst your circles are still soft, use a sharp knife to cut out small pieces and set together on non-stick baking paper as if they were linked. We looked at the required link pattern for Olympic rings on the internet and then painstakingly replicated the pattern. Leave to harden for a couple of hours.
  12. When the ring arrangement is firm enough to handle, carefully ease it onto the top of the cake using a palette knife (you may need to adjust it slightly when it is in place).
  13. Decorate the base and sides of the cake with M&M's/sweets, carefully sticking them with a little of the remaining butter icing if required.
  14. To make the simple sugar work : Miss GF simply placed the caster sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and gently heated, stirring frequently, until it began to dissolve. 
  15. When the sugar starts to dissolve, increase the frequency of stirring until you have clear, liquid sugar. Turn the heat right down and keep a close eye to ensure it doesn't burn at all.
  16. Place a large sheet of non-stick baking paper on a flat, heat-proof work surface and using a spoon (Miss GF just used the silicone spoon she had used to stir), drizzle the liquid toffee into triangle shapes, wiggling the flow across the centre to join the sides together with patterns.
  17. Leave to go cold and hard (this only takes a few minutes).
  18. Use the sugar triangles to decorate round the top of the cake.
  19. Sprinkle a little edible glitter to finish.
With thanks to the Wow Cake Company for sending Miss GF their Ultimate Sponge Cake mix to try. We were not paid to write the post and as always, all views expressed here are my own.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-16 unless otherwise indicated

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Home-Made Houmous - So Quick and So Easy


If you love houmous but have never made it yourself, it is time to ask the question 'why'? It is so so simple, way more delicious and definitely cheaper than the shop-bought stuff.

I confess...... until I made this, I was one of those in the 'never made it before' camp. Crazy! We eat gallons of the stuff in our house...... we are BIG houmous eaters..... Even when Miss GF was tiny and just weaned, she loved it. I remember the day I joked to Mr GF when he came home from work 'approach with care....the baby's got garlic breath!'


Inspired by so many other wonderful houmous recipes that I have seen appearing on blogs recently (there is an incredible Strawberry Hummus over at Fancy Made Simple), I decided that it was about time I tried to make my own.  I love that it is such a versatile dish and always enjoy trying it with various additions and different bases. One of my favourite varieties is caramelised onion, but you can add anything from lemon and herbs to pepper, chilli, carrot, tomato or beetroot. Just let your imagination run wild.....


Not having made it before however, I decided to start simple with something classic and traditional. Houmous  (or Hummus) originated in North Africa in the 13th Century, so it seemed appropriate to add a little paprika and cumin to spice it up. I also poured a little walnut oil into the mix in addition to the expected olive oil, to give a slight nutty backdrop. It would have taken more, but I had some lovely Cretan olive oil with a peppery kick left from last year's holiday and it seemed a shame not to use it.

Our favourite way to eat houmous is straight......with toasted pitta bread cut into strips, gluten free bread sticks or a bag of tortilla or dipping chips. We especially love these colourful 3 seed veggie dipping chips (spinach and garlic; red beetroot and onion; carrot and tomato) from RW Garcia which I found in a local farm shop. They were so good with my home-made houmous........ a perfect base to dip in, load up and munch.


I am sharing my Houmous with the following linkies :


Cook Blog Share with Hijacked by Twins



Recipe of the Week with A Mummy Too







Meat Free Mondays with Tinned Tomatoes


Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice



Sunday Fitness & Food with Ilka's Blog and Marathons & Motivation


Free From Fridays with the Free From Farmhouse


Houmous

Ingredients 

1 x 400g tin chickpeas - drained
3 tablespoons tahini
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice (depending on how lemony you like it)
3 large cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
good grind black pepper
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
cold water to reach desired consistency

Top With :
smoked paprika
fresh chopped coriander
good quality olive oil

Method

  1. Put all the ingredients into a food processor (or use a hand blender) and add a couple of tablespoons cold water.
  2. Blend until smooth. Check the consistency and if you want it a little 'looser', add a little more water.
  3. Spoon into a bowl and top with a little chopped coriander, a sprinkle of paprika and a drizzle of good olive oil.
  4. Simple! Enjoy with toasted pitta strips, tortilla chips or dipping crackers.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-16 unless otherwise indicated