Sunday, 28 July 2013

Green Beans Cooked in Tomatoes

At this time of year, the variety of locally grown fruit and vegetables increases massively as plants begin to mature and give up their precious cargo for our dinner plates.

We have an area at the end of our garden which we use as a vegetable plot. It is only a small area, but nonetheless big enough to grow a good selection of our favourite veg, from squashes and onions to sweet corn and tomatoes. One thing we plant every year without fail are French climbing green beans.

Because they are trained to grow up bean poles, they are really space-efficient and in a good year when the weather is kind, we get an abundance of these tender, green, skinny sticks. Some we eat gently steamed or boiled al dente as an accompaniment to meals and some we blanch and fast-freeze to save for the winter months. But our favourite bean dish is French green beans cooked in tomatoes, - a dish which comes from my childhood, cooked by my mother and her mother before her and which has its roots in Italy from where my grandmother originated.

It is a simple rustic dish, packed with flavours which remind me of summer.

Before we went gluten free, we ate it with crusty French bread. These days we have it with toast, or freshly baked cheese bread and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It is wonderful with garlic bread and can be eaten cold as a salad or antipasti.

It is absolutely delicious, very healthy and freezes perfectly if you have any leftovers to save for a quick meal or to eat later as a side dish.

Green Beans Cooked in Tomatoes


500g French green beans - washed, trimmed and cut in half
1 large onion - finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
400g tin chopped tomatoes
25g butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to season
Parmesan cheese - freshly grated


  1. Heat the butter and oil in a deep frying pan or sauté pan and gently fry the onions and garlic until soft and golden.
  2. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, stirring well to combine.
  3. Add the beans and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir well and leave simmering gently, with the lid on the pan for about 45 minutes, until the beans are soft. Check occasionally and give a gentle stir.
  5. Serve hot or warm with a bread of your choice, sprinkled liberally with Parmesan cheese. Or eat cold as an antipasti.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Mascarpone, Cherry & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

I am still making trips to the orchards. One of my favourite local ones is Terry's Cherries (yes he really is called Terry.... much to the amusement of my 7 year old). I love his orchard because it is truly traditional. Beautiful standard sized trees out in the countryside, laden with succulent cherries, harvested using long cherry picking ladders and sold out of a hut using traditional weighing scales.

To get there you have to follow signs from a back lane and drive down grassy tracks through the apple and pear orchards until you see Terry's shack propping up a sign which requests that you 'Sound Horn for Service'. It is just so perfectly cool in this crazy modern world to find a remnant of 50's England tucked away and hidden, determinedly unchanged and still 'making it'.

But it would appear I am not the only one who knows about Terry's Cherries............. Turns out a reporter from the Telegraph did a feature on him last year!

Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious, the cherries (of which he grows several varieties) are big and beautiful................ fresh, juicy, sweet, and a delight to eat.

Cherry season couldn't be allowed to pass without an experimental session with the ice cream maker. I cannot believe how much ice cream we are getting through since we got it. It's a good job me and my husband do the 5 2 Fast programme or we'd be really over-weight by now!

This time I thought I 'd try a recipe that incorporated Mascarpone, as I adore its rich creaminess and think it adds a certain decadence wherever it is used.

Having managed to find a handful of ice cream recipes on my shelves which used Mascarpone in the mix (some with raw egg and some without), none of them sounded quite right for what I wanted to achieve. So I decided to go it alone and try developing a no egg base which seems to bear no relation to any of the recipes that I looked at.

A few days ago I made some candied cherries using a recipe (slightly amended) that I found in The Perfect Scoop (David Lebovitz (2007)), and decided to swirl these into the ice cream base along with some dark chocolate chips and shavings. Cherry and dark chocolate are always a good marriage and in this ice cream they blend beautifully with the creaminess of the Mascarpone.

Eat it on its own or snazz it up into a wonderful sundae with some left over meringue and cherry sauce..................... When I heard my daughter shout 'Mum.................. this ice cream is to die for.......' I knew I had surpassed my expectations and achieved a decent result.

Candied Cherries (to swirl in) - (slightly adapted from The Perfect Scoop - David Lebovitz (2007))


500g cherries - washed & pitted (either whole or halved)
200 ml cold water
220g caster sugar (I used golden)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon almond extract


  1. Put all the ingredients (except the almond) into a large saucepan and heat until boiling.
  2. Turn down the heat to a gentle boil and leave to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Continue to gently boil until the liquid has reduced to a light syrup. You will want to check and stir more frequently towards the end of the process to make sure that the cherries do not become too sticky.
  4. Once happy with the consistency, turn off the heat and stir in the almond extract.
  5. Leave the cherries to cool either in the pan, or pour into sterilised jars for storage in the fridge.

Mascarpone, Cherry & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream (makes approx. 1 litre)


250g Mascarpone
220 ml double cream
300 ml milk
120g caster sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 portion of candied cherries as recipe above
85g good quality dark chocolate chips and shavings/flakes


  1. Put the Mascarpone, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla into a blender and mix until well-combined and smooth.
  2. Chill in the fridge for an hour or two before pouring into an ice cream maker. Churn according to the manufacturers instructions.
  3. When the ice cream is almost done, add the chocolate into the ice cream maker and continue to churn to complete the freezing process. The chocolate should now be evenly distributed in the ice cream.
  4. Once the process is complete, remove the paddle from the ice cream maker and add a few spoons of candied cherries. Gently fold into the ice cream, being careful not to over-mix, so that the ice cream still has a swirled appearance of cherry against pale cream.
  5. Spoon into a freezer container to store and place in the freezer to harden fully.
  6. Once frozen, eat as it is or decorate and serve as a sundae.
(If you don't have an ice cream maker, place the mixture at stage 2 into a shallow container and freeze until mushy. Then turn into a chilled bowl and beat until the ice crystals are broken down. Return to the freezer and freeze again until mushy. Repeat the whisking and freeze a final time)

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Monday, 22 July 2013

Cherry Frangipane Tart - Gluten Free

The cherries are here! A bit delayed maybe, but because of the late spring, the trees have really come good, - abundant with fat, ripe, juicy, delicious red balls of yumminess.

I always wait for the cherry season with great anticipation. The opportunity to gorge on a pile of freshly picked cherries bought straight from the orchard fills me with excitement. They are one of my favourite fruits and where I live, there are orchards down every lane, so when the season arrives, you are spoilt for choice.

This weekend, we even went to our local cherry festival at Brogdale, which houses the UK's national fruit collection. Apparently they grow more than 320 varieties of cherry and dedicate a weekend every year to celebrating their existence, diversity and abundance.

There are cherry tastings, cherry pie eating competitions, chocolate cherries, cherry preserves, cherry ice creams, cherry ciders and even an opportunity to try and break the world record for spitting a cherry pip the farthest!

Whilst I would happily sit and wade through bags of unadulterated cherries, it is always good to find more creative ways to eat them. So I have been busy planning a whole array of dishes to make.

This year I also bought a cherry pitter. - A nifty little gadget which shoots the stone out of the cherry, whilst leaving the fruit round and more or less intact. Not only is it simple to use, but also great fun. My daughter happily de-stoned a couple of pounds of them in about 20 minutes!

I did consider getting one with a splatter guard as I had heard the kitchen would look like a massacre had taken place once the job was done.............. I decided not to bother however and took my chances by shooting the stones into a deep plastic jug, making sure the mechanism was pointed well down before pulling the trigger and there was no mess whatsoever. Relief! The thought of an appointment with CSI did not appeal.

This weekend, I used those freshly bought cherries to make a cherry frangipane tart. The combination of cherry and almond is always delicious and held in a crisp, sweet pastry, the frangipane-cherry filling makes a delightful dessert which can be eaten on its own warm or cold or served with cream, custard or ice cream. It looks really pretty too, especially when sprinkled with icing sugar...............

Cherry Frangipane Tart


1 batch of sweet rice and almond shortcrust pastry made from the recipe in this post
110g unsalted butter - room temperature
110g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
110g ground almonds
45g gluten free flour mix (I used blend A from this post)
500g fresh cherries - washed and pitted
icing sugar for sprinkling


  1. Make a batch of sweet rice and almond shortcrust pastry as from this recipe and line either 1 large non-stick tart tin or smaller individual non-stick tart tins as you prefer.
  2. Blind bake the tart bases as per instructions from the same recipe. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oven to 190⁰ C / 375⁰ F /Gas 5         
  4. Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extract until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well blended.
  6. Separately mix together the ground almonds and flour and then gradually add to the wet mixture, beating in with a wooden or silicone spoon / spatula until thoroughly mixed.
  7. Spoon the frangipane mixture into the cooked tart bases and spread evenly.
  8. Put the cherries evenly onto the frangipane filling. Don't worry if some are on top of others.
  9. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes (dependent on the size of the pie) until the frangipane is set and golden in colour.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins.
  11. Once cool, dust with icing sugar and eat as it is or serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Pistachio & Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

I recently bought myself a new cook book - "Small Plates & Sweet Treats" by Aran Goyoaga, who blogs at cannelle et vanille. It is a truly beautiful book - well written, with delightful and unusual recipes and lovely photography which begs you to open the larder and cook.

I always prefer recipe books which contain lots of photos, firstly because it makes them so much more pleasurable to browse and secondly, because you get a sense of what your finished dish is supposed to turn out like.

This week, I decided to try making Aran's Pistachio & Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies. I didn't have any vanilla beans in the cupboard however and couldn't face a trip to the shops, so I substituted with vanilla bean paste which I always keep in the fridge and which contains vanilla seeds, so seemed a good alternative.

Other than that and adding a teeny bit more icing sugar, I have stayed true to the ingredients outlined in the book, although Aran also coats hers in icing sugar after cooking which I didn't want to do.  I cooked mine for an extra 5 minutes as the ones I took out after 10 were too soft, but I guess this depends on your oven, so I would keep a close eye.

Providing you can eat nuts and oats, these cookies are delicious, - melt in the mouth, very light and crisp, with a delightful nutty-oaty texture and a very slightly salty hit. They seem to keep really well in an air-tight container too (if you can make them last that long) and have been good for more than the three days suggested by Aran.

Mostly we have been eating them on their own, but I have discovered that they are a truly perfect accompaniment to the strawberry ice cream that I made last week and posted here. The fruity, slightly tart creaminess of the ice cream is beautifully offset by the crisp, nutty, slightly salty bite of the biscuits. Together, they are an absolutely delicious combination and sprinkled with nuts and fruit, make a perfectly tempting, prepare ahead of time dessert for a meal with friends.

Pistachio & Vanilla Shortbread Cookies (taken from Aran Goyoaga - Small Plates & Sweet Treats (2012))

Ingredients (makes 35-50 cookies depending on size)

140g brown rice flour
80g potato starch (flour)
70g GF oat flour (make as in this post)
30g tapioca flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
80g unsalted natural pistachio nuts
225g unsalted butter - room temperature
100g icing sugar (original recipe used 90g)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (original recipe used 1 vanilla bean)

Method (slightly amended from the original recipe)                                                  

  1. Weigh and mix the flours and salt into a medium sized bowl. 
  2. Measure approximately a tablespoon of the flour mix into a food processor with the pistachio nuts and blend until the pistachios are ground to a fine powder.
  3. Mix the ground pistachios into the flour mix.
  4. In a large bowl and using an electric  
    beater, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together, until pale and fluffy. 
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-mix and mix until the dough comes together and is well blended. At this stage, the mix will have the texture of a sticky dough.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of non-stick baking paper and shape it into a log shape, approximately 13 inches long and 2 inches in diameter (depending on how big you want the biscuits to be and factoring-in spread during cooking). 
  7. Wrap the baking paper around the log and gently roll to make as round as possible.
  8. Refrigerate the dough log for at least an hour.
  9. Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C / 350⁰ F / Gas 4.
  10. Take the dough from the fridge and unwrap. Cut into disks about ¼ inch thick and place them 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with baking paper.
  11. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly golden, but be careful not to over-bake.
  12. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheets, before transfer to wire racks.
  13. Store in an air-tight container.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Very Very Strawberry Ice Cream (with Roasted Strawberries)

The temperatures are finally rising over here in the UK and because Spring was so late, the strawberry season is still in full flow. A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I had been busy roasting them while they are local, cheap and fresh and how the process of roasting them seems to intensify the strawberry flavour.

I've had a hankering for some strawberry ice cream recently, so I decided to use some of those delicious roasted strawberries to make a tub. If they taste that good freshly roasted, how amazing will they taste when churned with cream and frozen?

When I tried to find a recipe however, I was out of luck. Having been through every cook book on my shelf (including those devoted entirely to ice cream) looking for a really creamy strawberry ice cream recipe, I was disappointed to find none that fit the bill. So I decided to put on my creative hat and to try and put one together myself. I've packed it full of strawberry, so there is no ambiguity of flavour and so that it tastes really natural.

The result is amazing............. Very very very strawberry............. very very creamy............. very very pink and very delicious. It tastes like the essence of British summer. Quintessential strawberries and cream! Perfect to celebrate Andy Murray's amazing and long-awaited Wimbledon win.................

I don't think I have ever tasted an ice cream so intensely strawberry. It is not over sweet and if anything, is slightly tart so that the over-riding flavour is not sugar, but is fresh and very fruity.

It goes perfectly on waffles (as my daughter discovered this morning for a decadent weekend breakfast treat). It is delicious in a cone and totally wonderful just on its own. The texture is perfect for scooping, it doesn't seem to melt too quickly in the heat and the colour is really pretty and invitingly pink............. What else could you want from a strawberry ice cream? This is one that I will definitely be making again.

Very Very Strawberry Ice Cream (with Roasted Strawberries)                                     

Ingredients (makes approx. 750 ml)

250 ml double cream
100 ml milk
90g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175-200 ml roasted strawberries (with juice-syrup) made from 400g fresh strawberries


  1. Prepare (wash, hull and cut in half) 400g strawberries, and roast as instructions from this post. Set aside.                          
  2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until pale. Set aside.
  3. Warm the milk and cream in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan until it is steaming and slightly frothing, but not quite boiling. Remove from the heat.
  4. Whilst continuously whisking the egg-sugar mixture, slowly pour about half of the cream-milk mix into the bowl, and continue to whisk until well combined, light and airy.
  5. Pour the mix back into the pan onto the remaining cream-milk and stirring continuously, heat to 80 C / 176 F.
  6. Remove immediately from the heat and pour through a strainer into a large, clean bowl.
  7. Add the roasted strawberries (you may wish to mash a few lightly with a fork to break them up before putting into the mix), and stir well until the mixture is blended.
  8. Cool and chill the batter before churning in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's instructions.
  9. Once the ice cream has reached the required consistency, spoon immediately into a chilled freezer container and place in the freezer to harden for a few hours.
(If you don't have an ice cream maker, place the mixture at stage 8 into a shallow container and freeze until mushy. Then turn into a chilled bowl and beat until the ice crystals are broken down. Return to the freezer and freeze again until mushy. Repeat the whisking before freezing for a final time.)

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Double Chocolate Cake for School Sports Day

My daughter's school has a fantastic Parent-Friends Association (PFA) which works really hard putting on events to raise funds for the school. The money goes towards the extras like play equipment, which are outside the school budget, but that really make a difference to children's development and enjoyment of school.

Every year on school sports day, the PFA invites parents to donate cakes for their cake stall and there is always an amazing array of gorgeous home-baked cakes and biscuits on offer.

Parents are invited to join their children for a picnic lunch, which means extra trade as they buy the freshly baked treats to go with their sandwiches and sausage rolls. By the end of the day, the cakes have been devoured and the school gets a bit more cash towards their latest goal.

Unfortunately, the average cake, by its very nature contains gluten, so there is always very little on offer for the kids that can't eat it. And in a school of 600 plus children, that's likely to be quite a few children who feel 'left out' yet again..................... So I always make the effort to make a big cake that looks just as delicious amongst all the others and can be cut into lots of slices and clearly labelled 'gluten free'. I make sure it has been cut before I leave home and is already on its own cake base to avoid cross-contamination and hope that it will put a smile on the faces of the gluten-free kids to see that they can eat cake after all!

Because of the allergy risks and strict rules around not having nuts in school, I always use a recipe that avoids peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts and the like......... I would be mortified if I managed to avoid gluten, but gave some poor child an anaphylactic shock from the nuts! Maybe next year I will try and avoid dairy too...........

This year I made a double chocolate cake. A rich, dark, deep chocolate sponge which uses chestnut flour in the mix, layered and topped with white chocolate butter icing (frosting). The sponge is moist, but not too sweet and is decadently complimented by the white-chocolaty sweet richness of the butter icing.

You can't go wrong with a chocolate cake, but the problem is that it often looks so tempting, all the gluten-eaters want a piece too.

I have to admit that I made the cake in a bit of a rush, so it does look particularly 'home-made', but I like to think that (especially for a cake stall), the imperfections in decoration add to the charm.

Chocolate Sponge (makes one 8 inch sandwich cake)


120g unsalted butter - room temperature
175g light brown sugar
55g dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon glycerin
175g gluten free flour (I used Blend A from this post)
55g chestnut flour
1¼ teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon GF baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch fine sea salt
55g cocoa powder
200 ml milk


  1. Base-line two 8 inch non-stick cake tins with baking paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C / 350⁰ F / Gas 4.   
  3. Cream the butter and sugars together in a large bowl until light, fluffy and pale in colour.
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully combined and then add and beat in the vanilla extract and glycerin.
  5. In a separate bowl, weigh, sift and mix together the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cocoa powder.
  6. Fold the flour mix into the butter-egg mix alternately with the milk, about a third at a time, until you have a smooth, combined batter.
  7. Divide the mixture equally between the two cake tins and smooth the tops evenly.
  8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the tops are firm, but spring back to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  9. Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for 5 to 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

White Chocolate Butter Icing (Frosting)


120g white chocolate, broken into small pieces
75g unsalted butter - cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk / almond milk / rice milk
500g icing sugar - sifted


  1. Carefully melt the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof glass bowl by either placing over a gently simmering saucepan of water (water not touching the bowl), whilst stirring frequently, or in the microwave using a medium setting for 30 second bursts, stirring thoroughly in between each until fully melted and combined. Be very careful not to overheat on either method or the chocolate will 'seize'.
  2. Add the milk and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly.
  3. Gradually add the icing sugar about 50g at a time, beating between each addition with a wooden or silicone spoon or with a mixer until completely blended and smooth. If the icing becomes too thick, add a splash more milk. If the icing is too soft, add a little more icing sugar.
  4. Once the sponge is completely cold, place one layer top down on a serving plate and spread about half of the butter icing across the flat side.
  5. Place the second cake flat-side down on top of the first, and spread the remaining butter icing on the top.
  6. Decorate the cake as you wish - I used large chocolate buttons, grated chocolate and sparkly sprinkles.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated