Saturday, 29 August 2015

Baked Greek Feta with Barbecued Red Pepper, Tomatoes & Mountain Oregano (and Greek Gluten Free Progress)

We have been lucky enough to manage a lengthy summer holiday in Crete this year..... a full two-and-a-half weeks. I have always loved visiting Greece and its Islands and have been back many times over the years. As a family, we have also come to love the place..... the light, smells, flavours, laid-back atmosphere, warmth, food, people......

Our particular favourite destination in recent years has been Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands. Being larger, it has a wonderfully varied feel about it...... The thyme and oregano infused White Mountains.... deep spectacular hikeable gorges..... beautiful beaches which are gently lapped by the crystal clear stunningly blue waters of the Libyan and Cretan Seas...... rural villages built of stone and wood with their pretty pastel doors and pristine churches...... The locals are friendly and welcoming and the food they eat is perfect in its rustic simplicity, yet amazingly flavourful and vibrant on the tastebuds.

The incredibly smooth, locally pressed olive oil and mountain-thyme fed honey shot through with delicate, but distinctive floral hints are second to none. We always come back with as much as we can carry...... making the best use of the suitcase space left after we have eaten all our gluten free travelling supplies. This year we also discovered that that the Greeks have caught on to the idea of mixing their local fire-water - Raki, with fruits and other delights. I'm usually not a fan of Raki at all.... I generally loathe the stuff........ But mix it with honey, or coffee, or vanilla or strawberry and it becomes a different drink altogether..... exceptionally moreish and very very drinkable!

With the on-going Greek Euro crisis, we were a little worried about whether our beautiful Crete would be suffering this year, but there was no outward sign of things being different or impacted in any way. That's not to say that when the subject was locally broached, there was no recognition...... Sure, the furrowed brows appeared and a wave of concern was evident in the faces staring back at us..... But talk for more than a few seconds and all anxiety seemed to be cast aside with a positive determination that Greece is a resilient nation and whatever the outcomes of the EU questions, it will remain as beautiful, welcoming and alive as ever.

We stayed in two separate villas this year, both on the North coast. One in a slightly larger coastal village called Panormo and one (which we had stayed at before) set in the foothills of the White Mountains near Chania, in a village called Plaka. Each of our base destinations was different from the other.... Panormo being a reasonably unspoilt, local, chilled village, set around a safe harbour and beaches and within easy driving distance of the must see destinations of Knossos, Prevelli and Samaria Gorge.

Our second villa was picked and returned to for its stunning vista overlooking Souda Bay (below), perfect private pool and spacious accommodation. Twenty to thirty minutes drive from Chania, Crete's second largest (and one of my very favourite) towns, it was perfectly placed for the best shopping on the island as well as our starting point for trips to some of the more central rural villages, Lake Kournas, Hora Sfakion and walking the Imbros Gorge.

With temperatures in the mid-30's, we aimed for a careful balance between restful laziness by the pool and at the beach, combined with enough days out seeing exciting places to feel we had had a good adventure.

On the gluten free food front, I was frankly astounded at how different our experience was this year compared with 2013. Last time we went felt like an endless struggle trying to get our needs understood at restaurants, with lots of confused stares and shaking of heads when presented with our gluten free restaurant cards which explained our Coeliac predicament.

2015 felt like a new Greek world! One mention of óchi glouténi̱ (no gluten) pretty much everywhere we went, resulted in reassuring nods and smiles and immediate reference to menus to point out what was safe for our consumption.

A lot of Greek food is naturally gluten free, but asking how food was prepared and whether chips were fried independently of other foods was (at last) a welcome question, which actually seemed to be understood within a health context, rather than a strange and inappropriate challenge to our hosts.

Armed with our Greek translations for wheat, barley and rye, we met a positive and surprisingly enthusiastic willingness to check ingredients lists on sauce bottles and ice cream packaging and a general acceptance which surpassed many of the restaurants we have been to in the UK.  One of our favourite restaurants in Plaka, particularly perfect for its views over the bay below, moved in the space of 4 days from guiding us through their basic menu to making both gluten free pasta and flour available to their small family kitchen! I felt like we were truly trailblazing understanding and change for those GF folk who follow us.

Another surprise was how many restaurants in more touristy areas (such as Chania harbour) were openly advertising 'gluten free pasta' or 'gluten free options' and how many Greek supermarkets and independent health food stores stocked GF pasta, crackers, cereals and biscuits. We even managed to source a loaf of fresh-made GF bread from the freezer in a family bakery in Chania's main municipal market. How excited were we?! Sadly, it wasn't the bread pictured below (which looked divine but deadly to us gluten-avoiders) and eating it showed there was some way to go on the taste and texture front (say no more...), but toasted it was actually quite nice!

Next time we visit, I will feel more confident in sourcing some of the basics on arrival, but I was nonetheless glad this holiday, to have my suitcase stock of gluten free dried foods to help sustain our needs on those 'eat at home' days. You can find my travel tips and tricks here.

I made some particularly delicious toffee-choc chip oat cookies using a Delicious Alchemy Oat Cookie mix as a base (forgot to photograph.... sorry!).

I also managed to knock out a couple of GF pizzas topped with local salami and cheese, using two Helen's Brilliant Bread mixes (one white and one brown), that came with us from the UK. Doesn't that look tasty?

On the more local food front, we were totally bowled over by the simplicity and deliciousness of a dish known simply as 'Baked Feta'. Served to us in numerous ways, from being just topped with slices of tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of thyme...... to being baked in a rich tomato and oregano sauce with added vegetables, it was utterly drool-worthy accompanied by (for those who could eat it) local bread with olive oil, or in my case, oven-roasted crispy potatoes.

This recipe is my take on that wonderful Cretan foodie memory...... Feta baked with barbecued red pepper, tomatoes and mountain oregano. I used barbecued red pepper as we happened to have one left over after a family barbie when we got home and I didn't want it to go to waste. Don't panic if you don't have a barbie'd pepper hanging around your kitchen, you can easily substitute with a pepper that has been roasted in the oven before adding to the dish.

Baked Feta is for me a meal in itself, but works equally well as a starter, or as a side dish served with white fish or chicken. Either way, it is one dish that is truly so simple to make...... and I can promise you that once tried, you will be smitten!

I am sharing this amazing Greek dish with the following :

Cook Blog Share with this month's host Sneaky Veg.

Credit Crunch Munch with Food Glorious Food on behalf of Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All. This is an amazingly tasty, healthy meal which costs next to nothing to make!

Recipe of the Week with Emily at A Mummy Too.

Free From Fridays with Emma at the Free From Farmhouse

No Waste Food Challenge with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

Simple & in Season with Ren Behan. Tomatoes are at their best right now and those beautiful little cherry ones came straight out of our garden.

Meat Free Mondays with Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.

Baked Feta with Barbecued Pepper, Tomato & Oregano (serves 2 to 3 as a side dish or starter)


1 block Feta cheese (200g)
approx 300g canned chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
1 red Ramiro (pointy) or sweet pepper - barbecued or roasted 
8 or 9 fresh cherry tomatoes or 2 medium-sized tomatoes 
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
good sprinkle of dried oregano


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas 7.
  2. If you don't have a handy barbecued pepper, deseed and slice lengthways a pointy/sweet pepper into 4 strips. Lightly brush with olive oil and place in the oven to roast at 220 C/425 F/Gas 7 for 20 to 30 minutes until soft and beginning to blacken slightly at the edges.
  3. Mix together the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree and pour into the base of an oven-proof dish.
  4. Place the Feta block (whole) on top.
  5. Lay the sweet pepper across the top of the Feta and slice the fresh tomatoes in half (or slices for larger tomatoes) and arrange around the Feta.
  6. Top with a good fresh grind of black pepper and a generous sprinkling of oregano.
  7. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the Feta is very soft.
  8. Remove from the oven and serve with crusty bread as a starter or as a side dish with oven roasted potato, white fish, or chicken.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated

Monday, 24 August 2015

Zesty Lemon Meringue Roulade (gluten free) by Adriana Rabinovich & an opportunity to have her teach you!

If you live anywhere near Essex, or are willing to travel a bit to learn gluten free baking from one of the experts, then this one is for you! I have been asked to share details of 2 one-day courses (consecutive days if you want to attend both), with Adriana Rabinovich, being held at the Braxted Park Cookery School in September and am being offered 10% discount for my readers, if you want to attend (just quote the code below when booking).

I have to say that I am really pleased to be able to bring you this offer. When we first discovered my daughter was Coeliac, I knew this would completely change everything I knew about baking. When I looked for a start point, I inevitably sought out a book to guide me and Adriana Rabinovich came to the rescue in the guise of her book 'The Gluten Free Cook Book for Kids' (2009). It is still the most used and thumbed gluten free cook book on my shelf!

Like many of us in GF blogging world, Adriana's motivation towards the art of gluten free cooking started with the diagnosis of her own daughter with Coeliac Disease in 2004. Her accessibility and devotion to the subject has inspired me on many occasion and has also come to the rescue when I have been struggling to get my head around a recipe dilemma and have needed a reference point. She has taught me a lot through her writing and I have wanted an opportunity to attend her courses for a long time.

The Braxted Park courses are running on 23rd September (gluten free bread) and 24th September (gluten free pastry) - see the information below for more detail. I am hoping to book on myself, so maybe I will see you there!

For those of you who have never come across or tried any of Adriana's recipes, I have made for you a little tester to whet your appetite......

This Zesty Lemon Meringue Roulade is brilliant in its simplicity! I kid you not....... I got up on Saturday morning thinking 'I need to make Roulade' and in less than an hour it was baked, filled, rolled, decorated and in the fridge! But don't think simple deflects from spectacular. One of the great things about this recipe, is that you can prepare everything a day in advance and just leave it to chill in the fridge overnight, making it perfect for serving as a show-stopping dinner party dessert.

I followed Adriana's recipe to the letter, except for the decoration and adding extra curd to the filling (I like my roulade to be extra zesty and fruity and the cream filling was more than able to take an extra couple of spoonfuls of curd without any effect on consistency). I have already made a second roulade substituting lemon curd for passionfruit curd which was just divine!

I did tamper slightly with the decoration as the roulade seemed quite plain-looking. To add a bit of colour and different texture, I mixed the final sprinkling of icing sugar with a little freeze-dried raspberry powder (which I buy from Healthy Supplies) and some edible glitter and sparkly sprinkles. I also topped with a few flakes and chunks of chopped white chocolate and some edible flowers. Pretty huh?!

The resulting Roulade is utterly delicious. The overall texture is moussey meringue, encased in a slightly crisp outer coat. Each soft pillowy meringue swirl is decadently inter-layered with fruity, tangy whipped cream. Each heavenly mouthful melts forgivingly on your tastebuds, coating them in luxury and leaving you wanting to dip straight in for the next spoonful. It is light as a feather, yet each slice leaves you feeling satisfyingly pampered.....

We served some of ours with some fresh strawberries and raspberries too, which was a delightful combination.

I would thoroughly recommend you try this one.... It is lush!

I am sharing this Meringue Roulade with the following :

Simply Eggcellent with the lovely Dom over at Belleau Kitchen - this month anything goes, so this is my second entry!

No Waste Food Challenge with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary, on account of my using up a spare half jar of lemon curd that I found lurking in the fridge.

Free From Fridays this month with both the Free From Farmhouse and Hungry Little Veggie.

Recipe of the Week with A Mummy Too.

Lemon Meringue Roulade

Ingredients for meringue:

3 egg whites, room temperature
150g caster sugar
½ tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour
Caster sugar for sprinkling

Ingredients for filling:

280ml double cream
3 tbs lemon curd
Icing sugar (I mixed mine with a little freeze dried raspberry powder and some edible sparkly sprinkles for colour and decoration)

Serves 6


  1. Preheat oven 190℃. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment (not greaseproof paper as this will stick).
  2. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl, until stiff. Gradually add the sugar until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Fold in the vinegar and cornflour.  
  3. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tray and spread out evenly. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just golden and firm.  
  4. Remove from the oven and immediately flip the meringue over on to a clean sheet of baking parchment which has been sprinkled with caster sugar. The top will now face downwards. Leave to cool for a few minutes.  
  5. Gently peel off the lining paper. Don’t worry if there are a few holes - it will still look great when rolled up.
  6. To prepare the filling, whip the cream until it just forms soft peaks. Add the lemon curd and stir through.  
  7. Carefully spread the filling on to the meringue. Use the parchment paper to help you roll the meringue. Leave the roulade rolled up in the parchment paper and twist the ends like a Christmas cracker.
  8. Place on a baking sheet and then in the fridge until ready to serve.
  9. To serve, undo the parchment wrapping and place on a serving platter. Dust with icing sugar.

If you and your friends enjoyed this Lemon Meringue Roulade, then why not book a place on Adriana Rabinovich’s upcoming gluten-free cookery courses hosted at The Cookery School at Braxted Park? In these workshops, Adriana will be demonstrating how to make delicious breads and pastries:

An entire day devoted to the mystery of making your own gluten free bread.  Adriana Rabinovich, an expert in gluten free baking, has designed this course to help you achieve fantastic results when making gluten free bread. This comprehensive hands on workshop will include demonstrations on making an everyday gluten free loaf with lots of tips and techniques to inspire you to make your own distinctive loaves at home.  You will also make pizza, delicious flat breads, Mexican wraps and crispy breadsticks and a luxurious gluten free brioche.  This course is suitable for all levels.
This new cookery course is a full day devoted to the art of gluten free pastry making.  Adriana Rabinovich, an expert in gluten free baking will unravel all those pastry myths and demons one by one.  By the end of the day you will not only be making perfect gluten free shortcrust pastry every time, you will have expanded your gluten free pastry repertoire to include: choux pastry, pate sucree, chocolate pastry and hot water pastry.  This course is suitable for all levels.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Holiday Birthday Chocolate Cake Update - the result? Yay.... it worked!

We just got back from two and a half weeks in Crete! We had a fantastic holiday and much needed family time. I didn't want to come home, but sadly holidays have to end and I started a new job straight away, so a return to the UK was inevitable. I have every intention of testing out a few of my favourite Greek dishes now I am back and hope to be able to share with you the amazing progress the Greeks have made in their embracing of gluten free eating in the two years since my last visit. but first....... I cannot wait to give you a cake update......

Remember that fudgy hybrid of a brownie and chocolate sponge that I posted just before I went away? The special gluten free cake mix that I developed to take away on holiday to celebrate my daughter's 10th birthday? Well....... I can confidently report that it works as well abroad as it does at home. Phew!

And while on the subject..... Thank you so much to Vicki at The Free From Fairy for allowing me to guest post whilst she was taking a break herself and for promoting the recipe to this amazing cake whilst I was off galavanting!

Tested in a totally unfamiliar kitchen with random, improvised equipment and the addition of a few local Greek ingredients (mainly for filling and decoration), it was perfect...... and the birthday girl was very, very happy..... If she told me once, she told me 20 times.... 'This is the best birthday cake I have ever had Mum'!

Her birthday was the day after we arrived at our second holiday villa, so no sooner had I unpacked, than I was in the kitchen in the sweltering heat, rummaging through cupboards and drawers looking for suitable bowls, measuring equipment, spoons, forks and scrapers.

We had already been told by a couple of ex-pats we met the week before that nobody bothers to bake because it is too hot in the kitchen, but not one to be put off by the trivialities of weather, I cobbled together a salad bowl (for batter mixing) couple of mugs (for melting and warming ingredients in the microwave) and a small serving bowl and dessert spoon for beating together some butter frosting. I seriously lucked out with some kitchen scales I discovered lurking at the back of a cupboard which took the guess-work out of estimating butter weight. I also found a flexible spatula, but was relieved that my recipe didn't require any whisking because as predicted, the villa was whiskless.

I had aimed for a really straight forward batter-mixing process and was very pleased that everything went to plan. In addition to the cake mix's basic dry ingredients, the caster sugar had been weighed out before leaving the UK and brought to Greece in a zip-lock bag. Whilst I rate my chances pretty high in guessing the weight of butter for a cake, I have no clue whatsoever about measuring sugar without scales and thought it was probably too crucial to risk getting wrong.

I threw a couple of bars of dark chocolate in the case for reliability (I reckon us UK chocolate eaters have far higher quality expectations for our chocolate consumption) and also because the birthday girl had made an advance request for chocolate icing. The candles made the journey from the UK too, mainly because I really couldn't be bothered to waste valuable holiday time hunting any down.

One of the dilemmas before leaving home was what I would actually bake the cake in. Not wanting to add any extra weight with metal cake tins and not being able to find anything disposable that would be either structured enough to hold the mixture in shape or non-stick enough to turn out the baked sponge without completely destroying it, I brought two silicone baking moulds instead. Another space-saving wheeze came in packing one square and one round mould, so that the round one would fit snuggly inside the square!

Rather than cut off the square corners of the base sponge to match the layers, we decided to utilise the uniqueness of their shape for decoration purposes. The ubiquitous giant Toblerone that we bought at the airport on the way out (every holiday should have one) was genius..... The triangular pieces fitted each squared corner perfectly........ How amazing is that? The cake decoration gods were definitely smiling on me that day!

The birthday girl's specific request (but only after arriving at our holiday destination) was to fill the cake with vanilla frosting (with extra chocolate chips of course) and a light spreading of strawberry jam. The jam was easy to find..... icing sugar and vanilla less so. The Greek alphabet is pretty unfathomable to us non-Greek-speaking travellers, but tenacity pays off and we eventually managed to find both. The icing sugar seemed extra fine compared to the UK and the vanilla we found came as portioned powder stored in cute little vials. I subsequently found some vanilla paste, but too late for the cake, which had long since been eaten!

With a spreading of basic chocolate icing on the top, I then handed all decorating duties to the birthday girl..... She was entirely responsible for everything that followed...... Doesn't it look fab?

As a special treat, I'd brought from the UK some Hotel Chocolat chocolate Gemstones and we sourced some gluten free sprinkles in a local Greek supermarket (with ingredients listed in English).

And so...... My little gluten free girl has turned 10. I cannot believe how fast time has flown and as she heads for her final year in primary school, I continue to watch her become more grown up and independent with each and every day.......

I am sharing my cake update with the following (full recipe for the mix can be found here) :

We Should Cocoa with Choclette at Tin and Thyme - This month anything goes!

Love Cake with Jibber Jabber who's August theme is Pack Me A Picnic. Picnic? Definitely this cake slices for easy travel..... But this mix goes further as a packable mix to make when away too!

Simply Eggcellent with Dom over at Belleau Kitchen who is also accepting any recipes this month with no specific theme. This cake was made with carefully sourced local Greek eggs!

Shop Local with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary...... Bit of a twist here...... I am entering in celebration of my local successful Greek ingredient hunt.

Free From Fridays with the Free From Farmhouse and Hungry Little Veggie.

Tea Time Treats with Karen over at Lavender & Lovage (and The Hedge Combers). August's theme is a very apt Summer Holiday Baking!

Recipe of the Week with A Mummy Too.

Brilliant Blog Posts with Honest Mum.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated