Why is it that when you know you can’t eat lots of grains and flour, you really, really want CAKE?!  Especially, in my case, sticky, gooey gingerbread.

I have a couple of go-to books that are great for intolerants.  Cake Angels by Julia Thomas and The Intolerant Gourmet by Pippa Kendrick, who I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

I’ve adapted Julia’s Gingerbread  recipe here and its the one I shall be using for one layer of Wil and Angie’s wedding cake in March #watchthisspace.

Grease and line a 21cm square cake tin.  Heat your oven to 170C.

You will need black treacle and golden syrup here.  Top tip for how to measure it out at the bottom of this page.

175g molasses (black treacle)

75g runny honey

75g ginger syrup from the ginger jar

175g Flora or similar

100g dark  muscovado sugar

350g gluten free plain flour (brown or white)

0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

3 preserved ginger chopped into small pieces

2 tsp ground flax seed (just grind in a pestle and mortar or coffee grinder) mixed with a little cold water

150ml soya or almond milk

Heat the runny ingredients and the margarine in a large saucepan, in a gentle sort of fashion.  Allow it to cool. Add the ground flax seed and its water (this is a raising agent). Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and mixed spice plus the chopped ginger and beat with a balloon whisk until it’s all combined and looks glossy.

Pour into the lined tin and bake in the middle of the oven. Check after one hour by inserting a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, put a square of tin foil on the top and bake for another 15 minutes or so at a slightly lower heat.

Cool the cake in the tin for an hour before removing to a wire cooling tray.

This cake tastes best if you can bear to leave it for a week in an airtight tin.  It’s lovely with a little runny icing drizzled on top.  Equally, it is delicious with Cheshire cheese!  You can also make more than one, cook in round cake tins and then sandwich together with whipped coconut cream.

Whipped coconut cream

Put a tin of high quality coconut cream (the liquid kind) in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, open it and pour away the liquid, reserving the remaining solid element.  Put this in your food mixer bowl then whisk with the balloon whisk until it is really thick (like double cream).  Add a little chopped preserved ginger, a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of maple syrup.  Whip again.  Then cut your cake in half and slather it on then add the top half!  If you feel really fancy you can even pipe it!

Believe me the combination of rich ginger cake, light coconut, maple syrup and vanilla is #fanbloodytastic


Weigh then grease a shallow dish then coat liberally with cornflour. Pour your syrup and treacle into the dish. Weigh it.  Slide out into the saucepan and you should have a clean dish and no sticky residue! I learned that at school!

Intolerant? Moi??

IMG_2468OK. So I am clearly entering Erikkson’s eighth psychosocial stage.  That of wisdom and despair.  I’m happy with the wisdom bit. And I’m not a despairing sort of person as those who know me will attest.  However I have found over the past 3 years that parts of me – including my digestive system – is more sensitive. Along with my first ever bout of gout, combining alcohol with my drug regime (!) and a dodgy hip.  And so a few adjustments have been made.  The good outcome is dropping two dress sizes.  Less good is being unable to drink beer, eat too much liver, mackerel, smoked salmon, sardines, spinach and cavolo nero, having to moderate the wine intake and be careful about eating too many grains.  Has it driven me to despair though?  No it hasn’t.  It’s another opportunity to adapt and find new things and new ways.  Does it mean I never eat any of those things? No!

So here’s my first ‘sensitive’ recipe.  Gluten-free vegan mince-pies.

Soak 100g raisins and a tablespoon of chia seeds n some hot tea for half an hour.  Drain then add 2tbsp maple syrup, 1tbsp of molasses and the grated rind of a small orange.  Grate two eating apples into the raisins and then 2 tbs pine-nuts and two of pumpkin seeds.  Add about 25g marzipan paste (egg free) chopped into tiny pieces. Add about 1 tbsp of any spirit such as brandy, whisky or port.  Combine all the ingredients.   Best do this a few hours before you are making the pastry – or put in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for no more than a week.

I used 240g of Dove’s Farm gluten-free flour for the pastry, half a teaspoon of salt, a sprinkle of baking powder, a little grating of lemon rind and 120g Flora.  Just make it like normal pastry by rubbing the fat into the flour, pull it together with some cold water and leave to rest for half an hour.  You will find that gluten-free flour makes a very ‘soft’ dough and – inevitably – it’s not very stretchy.  But it is perfectly workable with a little care.

Prepare  your tins by greasing liberally first, then  throw in some coarse semolina and swirl around the base and the sides.  This makes the finished article lovely and crisp on the bottom and prevents stickage!  Roll out the dough, use a cutter that’s big enough (don’t know about you, but incy-pincy mince-pies look so mean, so I use a muffin tin – call me greedy if you like).  Fill the bases with your fruit mixture, then add the pastry tops, using a little liquid to seal the edges.

#Three Top Tips.

  • Grease the tins and then throw a little coarse semolina into each depression and swirl it around to coat the bottom and the sides
  • Use a round-bladed knife just to ease the edges away from the pan after you’ve added the tops, then they won’t seal as if stuck by super-glue when you try to take them out!
  • Mix a tablespoon or so of soya milk with a tiny amount of custard powder if you don’t like egg-wash.  Use egg-wash or the yellow milk to glaze the tops.

Bake toward the top of  a pre-heated oven at 200C for 15-20 minutes.  Check just before 15 minutes.  I swear you will burn the roof of your mouth because you won’t be able to wait for them to get cool!


Gravlax – you still have time!

My late pa-in-law Dennis was always in charge of the Gravlax at Christmas. And it was always gorgeous.  So I make no bones about it – this is the recipe he gave me. I have just added one twist to it.

Take one large fillet of wild salmon. Please don’t use the farmed stuff – it’s pale pink and it hasn’t worked hard enough and it is all flabby like a wet tissue.  A wild salmon is bright pink, firm and dense in texture.  Many, many books and people will tell you to ask for the ‘thick cut’ – ie furthest away from the tail where it tapers off (where it is not so thick).  If you buy the whole fillet it is often cheaper and you will have plenty to cure and sufficient at the tail end to mix with pasta, creme fraiche, dill and anchovy for a quick supper, leaving the nice thick rump and head end for your gravlax.

The gravlax takes only minutes to prepare.  First wash your hands and work surface thoroughly, and pour boiling water into the container you are going to use, to sterilise it.  Finely chop a large bunch of dill leaves (the equivalent of four of those little packs from Waitrose).  Put the dill in a large bowl with six tablespoons of rock or seasalt, two tablespoons of light muscovado sugar, two teaspoons of black pepper and mix together.  Now take your fillet and first cut off the thinner bit at the end, where it starts to taper.  Cut the remaining fillet in half across the fish so that you have two thick fillets of equal (ish) size.

Use any container that can accomodate the fish and where it will fit snugly inside.  Dry the container after sterilising it. Put one third of the dill mixture on the bottom.  Place one thick fillet skin side down on top of the dill. Now add another layer of dill on top of the fish and finish with the second fillet and the remainder of the dill mixture.  Press down hard.  My addition to the Dennis recipe is to add 75ml of vodka before putting on the lid or covering in clingfilm then adding a heavy weight on top to press it all down.  Put in the fridge of 24 hours then remove from the fridge and carefully remove the contents of the container onto a plate, upside down.  Now use a fish slice or a pallet knife and return to the container, this time with the fillet that was at the top, now at the bottom.  Scrape any dill mixture that might have escaped back onto the fish, and any vodka juices.  Now leave in the fridge for another two days without touching it.

On Christmas Day, take it out of the fridge about an hour before you are going to use it, scrape away the dill cure, take one fillet and carve it thinly across the grain (not down) and eat for breakfast with scrambled eggs and rye bread.  Oh and the first glass of fizz.   At least, that’s what we do. Works every time.

This will keep for about a week in the fridge so long as you return it to the fridge in the original container and the cure as soon as you have carved it, and cover it tightly.  Doesn’t last that long in our house though.  You will get about 15-20 servings from this.

RIP Dennis and thank you.

#12Days Fast puddings Day 1

Pudding doesn't have to take forever to prepare.
Pudding doesn’t have to take forever to prepare.

OK. I know. I promised sauces and gravies today, but quite frankly that’s a pretty boring way to finish the #12Days blog series.

Today is a quiet day……….. the grandchildren are at home and building their own family Christmas traditions. The grown up children are visiting, but at the moment are out visiting the nephews. My mother is still in bed, and having lived on her own for the last 37 years she is making the most of breakfast in bed, the crossword, three cups of tea and her radio on full blast.  David is wrapping his presents and  as for me  …… well I am a bit footloose to be honest.  Katie and Will always do the food on Christmas Eve (Canadian Tortiere and slaw – follow link) so that’s catered for.  Tomorrow we are having pheasant either in a pot or roasted – not quite decided yet – and Boxing Day we are having the guinea fowl.

So today I thought…… what about fast puddings?  We are not really big pudding eaters – certainly not Christmas Pudding – and after all the scrumptiousness of the main course, a big pudding is not high on our list.   So if you are of a similar frame of mind, or – like me – fancy a pudding way past the meal, and probably about 9pm after too much wine and contemplating another, then this is the page for you.

Icecream and Pedro Ximinez

Take some good quality vanilla icecream from your freezer. Put a scoop in a dish and pour over about 30ml dark, treacly Pedro Ximinez sherry.  Divine.

Icecream and Malteser sauce

Take some good quality vanilla icecream from your freezer. Bash a bag of Maltesers or chocolate Santa’s gently with a rolling pin. Scatter over the icecream (after all, MacDonalds do it already and call it a ‘flurry’).

Toasted croissant with raspberry sauce and cream

Take one stale croissant. Split it in half and toast it lightly.  Whizz some raspberries or blackcurrantes n the blender with a little icing sugar, warm them slightly, add some Kirsch or Creme de Cassis, and pour over the hot croissant. Serve with cream or icecream.

Floating Islands with dragons blood

These are Monty’s favourites and so easy to do.  Whisk 3 egg whites with 60g caster sugar till firm.  Put 300ml milk and water (50/50) in a wide shallow pan and bring to a gentle simmer.  Then spoon dessert spoons of meringue on top and poach them 5 minutes each side. Drain on kitchen paper.  Pour 500ml ready made custard (I love the Madagascar custard from Waitrose) into a saucepan and heat it up. Then whizz a good handful of raspberries to a puree with some icing sugar.  Pour hot custard into a dish, put a ‘floating island’ meringue on top then drizzle with ‘dragons blood’ or caramel sauce from a well known supermarket.

Cheat’s Banoffee

Use one digestive biscuit per serving. Buy ready made condensed milk caramel from the supermarket (or you can make your own by boiling a tin of condensed milk – tin pieced once – for about 2.5 hours then store in the fridge). Whip some cream. Chop some bananas.  Now construct.  Biscuit first. Then a dollop of caramel. Then chopped banana. Then cream.  And maybe the grated foot off a chocolate Santa.

Pancakes and fresh fruit

Two heaped tablespoons of flour, half a teaspoon baking powder, a little salt, one egg, 150ml mixed water and milk (50/50).  Mix madly with a hand whisk.  Dollop spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle or frying pan. Wait till the bubbles start to rise then turn and cook on the other side.  Serve with chopped strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – in fact any berries – and cream or icecream

My favourite cheat

I am not a fan of hot Christmas pudding. But cold? With a slab of cold butter? And a good slug of Advocaat on top?  Now that’s what I call a sofa treat!

Wishing you all the very best for the festive season. Signing off now until the new year – I hope it is a peaceful, healthy and happy one for all of you.

#12Days Salmon en croutes ideas Day 9(a)

Photo From Lavender and LovageGill asked for some ideas for a zhoozed up Salmon en croute for their Christmas lunch. The best celebratory s-e-c I’ve ever eaten was in in the Irkutsk School of Medicine at the end of an academic visit there in February 2002 in temperatures rarely rising above -35C. And that is very cold, I can assure you! It is a traditional dish offered to guests – salmon  with chopped onion and chopped egg, capers, sometimes cooked rice,  and herbs, all wrapped in golden pastry decorated with pastry fish scales, gills, fins, the lot.

A tip for a crispy bottom is first to put a heavy baking tray in the oven then heat the oven to 190C.  More tips….. Make sure you have all your ingredients ready.  Roll out the ready made puff pastry on non-stick baking parchment the same dimensions as the tray. Then you can simply slide it all onto the hot baking tray. The reason for pre heating the tray is to prevent the scourge of any en-croute dish – a soggy bottom.

Now. Ideas for zhoosing up the dish….

You could make a duxelles of shallot and mushrooms – frying finely chopped shallot, garlic and mushrooms in oil and butter and seasoning with salt (after cooking and ridding the mushrooms of most of their water) and pepper, a little shake of chilli flakes and chopped fresh dill. Then you can either sandwich the cold duxelles between two salmon fillets and enclose in pastry, or spread it along the top.

Or you could make a deeply flavoured rough pesto with chopped pine nuts, loads of fresh basil, grated parmesan and lemon zest all mixed with some olive oil to wet it slightly and finely chopped kale.

Or you could sweat down a big bag of spinach in a pan with a knob of butter and NO water. Let it get cold. Squeeze out more water then mix the spinach with fresh parsley and fresh thyme, spread on the salmon and stuff with halves of hard boiled egg sprinkled with the merest hint of paprika.

Or you could cook some rice, season it with salt afterwards, then run some pomegranate syrup through it add a handful of golden sultanas, chopped walnuts and salty capers.  Pile it along the length of the salmon before you wrap it in pastry.


So what’s to go with it?  Well you could just have a green salad but that would be a bit boring.

How about parmentier potatoes? Chops potatoes into 2.5cm squares – as many as you want. Throw them into a plastic carrier bag and add chopped garlic, black pepper and chopped rosemary. Don’t add salt at this stage.  Add about 30ml olive oil.  Tie a knot in the bag and you can prepare them and leave overnight if you wish.  Preheat a heavy baking tray containing another 30ml olive oil and 25g butter. Get it really hot then throw in the potatoes and turn them till they are all coated. Put into the oven (190C) and roast for about 35 minutes, turning a couple of times.

Serve with something green – crispy kale, or savoy finished with almonds, or with slivers of raw courgette doused in a lemony dressing. Or watercress.  And always with a garlicky aioli.

There you are Gill…. some ideas to play around with as you lounge on the sofa!

Laughton stuffing

Our daughter-in-law Katie has brought so many good things with her from Canada – not only her infectious laugh and her craft and needlework skills, but also some treasures from her grandma’s recipe book. This is one of them and is now a staple Christmas dish in the Rees household.

Canadian Thanksgiving

I have to admit, this is one of the best stuffing recipes I have tasted.  Katie cooks it with the Thanksgiving roast chicken.  Along with sweet potatoes, sprouts, carrots, a potato grain, piping hot gravy. And a large pot of succulent stuffing.

If you are cooking this at the same time as turkey or chicken  – do a stock with celery, onion and giblets.
6 cups dry bread crumbs – usually we leave the bread out overnight and just break it into small chunks – use a mix of white, wheat and rye if poss.
melt: 6 tbsp butter
saute: 3 tbsp finely grated onion
Add: to bread chunks with:
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp chopped parsley
3/4 tsp pepper or paprika (sweet) (generous)
3/4 lb sausage meat
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery – with leaves if poss
smoked streaky bacon
use stock to moisten mixture if necessary
Squidge everything together but don’t  collapse bread entirely.  Should be moist but still fall apart a bit as it drops from your hands.
Put into casserole dish with bacon on top.    Cook covered first until it is nearly done and then remove lid so the bacon can crisp.  Take out of the oven 10 minutes before serving, or cook earlier in the day and then put back in oven to heat right through.

After the feast……..

P1020654 P1020655 P1020656No reckoning to be had. Not a reckon in sight. Christmas was the best we’ve had in ages in spite of one or two hiccups.  The aged and infirm relatives rescue service was still going strong alongside normal life right up to Christmas eve. Or is that what our ‘normal life’ has become? Clearly there is a stage of life thing going on here, sandwiched neatly between parents, aunts and uncles in need of more support and grandchildren filling our lives with laughter and reminding us that yes, we can still do fun.

So the run up to Christmas was full-on (sorry, work was fitted in somewhere, also) but at the same time strangely calm. I found myself clambering around in ditches and hedges the morning before everyone arrived, madly spray painting branches and ivy and stuffing them into  large vessels adding green and bronze baubles that were skidding round the bottom of the decorations box.  Said box had been retrieved from the loft in full view of 2 year old grandson ‘wotyoudouptherenamma’? ‘Getting something out of the loft darling’.  ‘Monty elp’. ‘ No darling, dont come up the ladder……………..’  Just like his uncle who copied his father all those years ago, poking his head through the upper bathroom window, smiling ‘hello mummy, me up a big top ladder’. Aged 3. Heart attack avoided, grandson only reached rung three by the time Namma descended from the loft.

Made mince pies with mincemeat heavy with apple, walnuts and brandy. My favourite mix.  But there is something in me that, when life could be simple, I always choose at the last minute to make it complicated.  David had already left the house to collect my mother and the mountain of extraneous and inconsequential baggage that accompanies her with every visit, when I decided we needed more mince pies.  Believe me when I say that I rarely make pastry. Life is just too short and all butter puff and sweet shortcrust or filo are all there in the supermarket just waiting to be used.  My first mistake was taking puff pastry out of the freezer instead of sweet shortcrust.  The second was deciding to make not just ordinary sized ones but also dinky little bite sized ones with meringue on top. Just showing off I suppose. Now the latter was not a bad decision (dinky mice pies, not showing off) but next time I would probably make the dinky ones as one would a jam tart and pop a tiny meringue on top afterwards.  I put the meringue on top of the mincemeat and to be honest. It didn’t work.  Too much heat and steam going on I think.  Mother came in and the first thing she said was what’s that horrible smell…….  by the way I bought you some Mr Kipling mince pies darling.

Christmas lunch was a fine affair but a good hour and a half late.  Said grandson has a penchant for pressing buttons on electronic items – TV, DVD, Wi, oven.  Yes bless him he had set the automatic timer so although the goose went into the oven fine (well, after Katie bravely cleaved off the ends of its plump legs in a classic ‘the goose wont fit in the oven’ sketch, at which point everyone in the house piled into the kitchen and offered an opinion.  And the only answer was drastic amputation).  However, once it finally went into the oven, the oven then turned itself off without telling me, half an hour later.  And went unnoticed for another hour.

After much twiddling and fiddling, and finding the oven instructions tucked in the back of a filing cabinet somewhere, David reinstated the settings and we were off.  Again.  In the race to get the bird cooked this century I whacked up the oven to full blast but then had another glass of fizz.  Then the smoke alarm went off.  Goosey, in getting hot, had stretched her already shortened legs out and they hung over the edge of the roasting pan dripping molten fat onto the bottom of the oven. Flashpoint!  Dense blue smoke filled the kitchen, the hall, the sitting room.  William and I attended to the bird with damp cloths knotted over our mouths, then escaped to the drive followed by billowing smoke where we collapsed helpless with laughter, alcohol and smoke inhalation against the garage door.  Venturing back in the kitchen we turned the oven off again and had to clean it.  Oven back on we had a third attempt to cook the blessed bird which, of course, needed constant attention because geese naturally give off a lot of gorgeous fat.  For those roast potatoes and parsnips.

Suffice it to say that eventually it all turned out ok. In fact my mother didn’t even notice anything had happened. But then she’d had three glasses of sweet sherry and was engaging everyone in the Daily Mail crossword from the previous day. ‘Five letters, christmas bird, and guardian of the farmyard, begins with G’.  ‘Goose, mother!’

A little tale about stuffing – I ought to confess now that I had never cooked a goose until this Christmas.  I was going to do Laughton stuffing but then consulted Nigella, who had consulted Simon Hodgkinson who had consulted an Irish chef.  And recommended stuffing the bird with mashed potato and apple.  Mashed potato and apple? I went for further consultation to Darina Allen and she said the same.  Mashed potato and apple.  Oh ye of little faith! Believe me it was divine.  I made it the day before so it was stone cold before I stuffed the bird Christmas morning.

So the roast bird and its sumptuous velvety stuffing was consumed with along with all you would expect, roast potatoes and parsnips, red cabbage (made the day before), dark green cabbage, carrots with caraway and lemon, superb gravy a very tart apple sauce.

Pudding was a take on Nigel Slater’s lemon parfait, or raspberry vodka jellies.  A complete success.

Boxing Day was a simple affair with no disasters.  Never can go wrong with my ham in Coca Cola with cinammon, orange and molasses.

Oh just give me those post Christmas pre 2013 Blue hoo hooo’s

photbackup march14 935

So much to write and now some time to do it.  Fab.

There are tales to tell about the Christmas goose.

The fantastic biography of Bruce Springsteen – still attempting to persuade him to come to my birthday gig.

A grandson who eschewed Boxing Day lunch and demanded  yogurt.

Recipes for fabulous fresh indian curry spice mixes that are so easy to do.

Drooling over Tim Kinnaird’s nutty choco brittle and the proposed subsequent Wymondham support group

Beautiful freshly made mincemeat recipes  – too late for Christmas but good for next year

How about a take on Nigella’s ham cooked in Coca Cola?

Or tonight’s clean, fresh aubergine and mushroom curry, with roasted spiced squash, quinoia and shallots with ginger and garlic? And home made onion bhaji’s?

Or how about the neatest, easiest pudding courtesy of Nigel Slater, with a twist of course?

And maybe a naughty nibble or too.  Reese’s cups Mark II

All coming up soon whilst we bask in the delight which is The Ship at Dunwich.