Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
For this week’s post, I have made a slight departure from my usual offerings. I have just returned from a few days down in the south of England celebrating Mothering Sunday with my family.
The county of Sussex is where I grew up and I remember the bluebell woods especially well. Carpets of fragrant blue flowers lined these particular woods in Slindon, most usually from mid to late April onwards. With the early onset of spring this year, I had a feeling that there might be some out in flower and I wasn’t disappointed. There were quite a few of the delicate, sweet-selling blue blooms alongside many other wild flowers.
It was a glorious day in these woods. The sun was warm and the sky was blue. The flowers seemed to almost glow in the bright light, and with the combination of good weather and the untimely blooming of these wild flowers, it was hard to remember exactly what month it actually was.
Not only were there flowers to enjoy in the woods, but the hedgerows and trees around and about were full of life too. Several species of butterfly were darting around from flower to flower (too quick for me to capture), and the bees buzzing and busy collecting pollen. It’s going to be a bumper year for hedgerow fruits if these blossom-laden Blackthorn trees are anything to go by.
My final image this week is of a Sussex pastoral scene and a tree that encompasses this time of year so well, the Salix Discolor, or Pussy Willow, with its fuzzy pollen-laden stamens so tempting to the bees and flying insects.
I hope you have enjoyed the visit to Sussex this week. I will be back with you next week with something equally seasonal. Until then, have a good week and enjoy Spring 🙂
It’s time for a rhubarb recipe this week on my blog. Spring is well under way now and rhubarb is plentiful. In the garden at the moment, my own early rhubarb plant is coming along nicely and looks very healthy. Not quite ready for picking just yet, but I don’t think it will be long.
This week’s post is a dense-textured, delicious rhubarb cake that can also be served warm as a pudding. You do need a fair bit of rhubarb to make the cake – 600g. Cut the rhubarb stalks to the same thickness for even cooking during the first part of the recipe, and take care not to over-cook in order to retain some texture in the finished bake.
The orange adds a subtle flavour to the cake, but leave it out if you prefer. Bake the rhubarb with a little water instead of the juice. For a spicy twist, replace the orange rind in the cake mix with ground ginger and/or mixed spice.
600g fresh rhubarb stalks
1 medium orange
3 tbsp. caster sugar
For the streusel mix:
85g gluten-free self raising flour
75g jumbo oats
50g dairy-free margarine, softened
For the cake:
200g dairy-free margarine, softened
200g caster sugar
Finely grated rind 1 orange
200g plain dairy-free yogurt (I used plain soya yogurt)
100g ground almonds
100g gluten-free self raising flour
To decorate (optional):
100g icing sugar
Fresh orange zest
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6. Trim the rhubarb and cut into even thickness pieces, 3-4cm long. Place in a roasting tray. Pare the rind from the orange using a vegetable peeler, and extract the juice. Stir both into the rhubarb and sprinkle over the sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes until just tender, then leave to cool in the tin.
Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin. For the streusel, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and rub in the margarine. Set aside.
For the cake mix, put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk everything together until well blended.
Drain the rhubarb well, reserving the cooking juices, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Put half the cake mix in the tin, spread smoothly, sprinkle over half the streusel mix and top with half the rhubarb.
Spoon over the remaining cake mix and spread smoothly. Sprinkle over half the remaining streusel mix and arrange the remaining rhubarb on top.
Finally, sprinkle the rhubarb with the remaining streusel, stand the cake tin on a baking tray and bake for about 1 ¾ hours, covering with foil after an hour or so to prevent over-browning. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin to serve cold as a cake, or stand for about 30 minutes to firm up before removing from the tin to serve warm as a pudding with dairy-free custard and the reserved juices spooned over if liked.
To decorate and serve as a cake, carefully remove from the tin and place on a wire rack. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in about 4 tsp of the reserved cooking juices to make a soft, dripping icing. Drizzle over the top of the cake using a teaspoon and scatter with orange zest. Leave for about 30 minutes to firm up before slicing to serve.
I keep the cake in the fridge and bring to room temperature for a few minutes before serving. You can also heat up a slice in the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off. The cake freezes well without the icing. Have a good week 🙂
Every year at this time my local river bank becomes swathed in lush greenery and develops a distinctive oniony aroma. A walk on a sunny afternoon can make you feel very hungry indeed.
On a bright afternoon at the end of last week, I went on a foraging expedition and picked a small bag of the fresh, lush wild garlic leaves, also known as Ramsons (Allium ursinum). As with any wild food, only ever pick if in abundance. Take leaves from several plants rather than stripping leaves from just one or two. Pick the vibrant green, broad leaves (shaped rather like those of the tulip) when young and before the delicate white star-shaped flowers bloom to enjoy them at their sweetest.
For safetys sake, take extra care to make that sure you are only picking the leaves of wild garlic. Wash very well before using. I usually put the leaves in a colander and dunk several times in a bowl of cold water before shaking dry.
As with most soft herbs, wild garlic is best used within 24 hours of picking, but once rinsed and shaken dry, I find it well for a few days sealed in a plastic bag in the fridge.
My recipe this week combines the wild garlic leaves with baby kale leaves (or kalettes) and leek in a stir fry. It is delicious served as a vegetable dish in its own right, but is also makes a delicious stirred to a mushroom risotto.
For the stir fry:
1 medium leek
30g wild garlic, washed
175g baby kale (or kalettes)
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the risotto:
1l vegetable stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and chopped
400g Arborio rice
200ml dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g wild garlic, washed and finely shredded
Trim the leek. Split lengthways and rinse well to remove any trapped earth. Shake well to remove excess water, then shred finely.
Shred the wild garlic leaves. Strip the leaves of baby kale from the central stalks. Mix all the vegetables together.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the greens and stir fry for 2 minutes. Season well, reduce the heat to low, and cover and cook gently for 4-5 minutes until tender. Serve immediately as a vegetable accompaniment, or put to one side whilst preparing the risotto.
For the risotto, pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a very gentle simmer. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until everything is well mixed.
Pour in half the wine and cook gently, stirring, until absorbed. Add the remaining wine along with a ladleful of stock. Cook gently until absorbed.
Continue adding the stock in this way, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is thick, creamy and tender. This will take about 25 minutes and should not be hurried. Keep the heat moderate throughout the cooking.
Season the risotto to taste, stir in all but a few shreds of wild garlic, and cook for a further minute until the garlic has wilted. To serve, reheat the spring greens and gently mix into the risotto, then serve sprinkled with the remaining wild garlic.
When I was planning what to put on my blog this week, it was snowing, and inevitably my thoughts turned to comfort food. This week’s recipe has a double dose of carbs, guaranteed to satisfy even the most hearty of appetites. It is a fragrant, fruity pilau rice cooked in a pan with thinly sliced potatoes. I ask you, what’s not to like?
The basmati rice is flavoured with the warming spices straight from the souks of Persia: cumin, coriander and cardamom. I always lightly toast cumin and coriander seeds before grinding them in a pestle and mortar; this helps release their inmost aromatic essences. Split the cardamom pods and either leave whole in the rice or pick out the tiny black seed from the green casing and crush into the mixture for a more intense flavour. If you are leaving them whole, remember to warn your fellow diners in case they come across one of the pods when the dish is served. Forewarned is forearmed!
Staying with the Persian theme, I added some dried barberries to the rice. These reddish-orange small dry berries are tart and tanniny – they remind me of rose-hip – and are a classic ingredient in Persian cooking. If you can’t find them, chop some dried cranberries or dried sour cherries to use instead. When combined with sweet, juicy sultanas, you get the perfect balance of sweet and sour to flavour your pilau.
There is a bit of preparation to do before you start cooking, but the dish reheats very well if you want to make it up in advance, and will also freeze too. The pilau cake makes a substantial main meal served with fresh veg or a crisp salad, or serve in smaller wedges as an accompaniment.
Serves: 4 to 6
200g basmati rice
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp each coriander seeds and cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
6 green cardamom pods, split (or seeds removed and finely crushed)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
10g dried barberries
350g firm-fleshed salad potatoes such as Charlotte, scrubbed
3 tbsp. cold-pressed rapeseed oil (or olive or sunflower oil)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Fresh coriander to serve
Put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 2 hours, then drain and rinse well. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the salt and spices and then add the rice. Bring back to the boil and cook uncovered for 2 minutes until the rice is very slightly tender and opaque.
Drain and rinse the rice in cold running water to remove the excess starch. Shake off the excess water and return to the saucepan. Stir in the dried fruit.
Meanwhile, very thinly and evenly slice the potatoes. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a 22cm diameter frying pan and gently fry the potatoes for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring, to coat them in the oil. Remove from the heat and arrange the potatoes in a neat layer over the bottom of the frying pan. Sprinkle with the garlic.
Pack the rice mixture on top. Make indents in the rice using the end of a wooden spoon and drizzle over the remaining oil.
Cover with a layer of foil and then place a lid on top of the pan. Cook over a very low heat, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and foil, check that the rice and potatoes are tender, then raise the heat and cook uncovered for 4-5 minutes to brown the potatoes. Turn off the heat, cover loosely, and stand for 10 minutes.
To serve, place a large serving plate over the frying pan and carefully flip the pan over to turn the contents on to the plate. Leave the pan in place for a couple of minutes before removing to allow the potato and rice to settle. Serve immediately, potato-side up, sprinkled with fresh coriander.
To freeze, turn the cooked rice cake on to a freezer-proof plate or board, allow to cool, wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge.
To reheat, transfer to a baking tray lined with baking parchment, cover with foil and reheat in a preheated oven at 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4, for about 30 minutes until piping hot. Serve as above.
I’ve been trying to make a decent gluten-free loaf for some time. Whilst I still haven’t mastered the light and airy consistency of the ready-made loaves I sometimes buy, I am very pleased with the chewy texture and flavour of this loaf recipe. I combined starchy tapioca and rice flours with jumbo oats and a little xanthan gum which all go together to create a dense loaf with a springy bite that tastes good untoasted. The texture (not the flavour) reminds me of the dense German pumpernickel-style breads.
I made 2 variations of the same recipe, one with small seeds added – flax, black sesame and chia – and the other I kept plain and added a few more oats to the mixture to increase the fibre content. The method and ingredients are the same for both loaves.
Because there is no gluten to develop, bread-making the gluten-free way is a doddle. No kneading, just a quick mix and then you can get on with your life for a couple of hours or so, until the yeast has done the rest of the work for you. Here’s the recipe 🙂
Makes: 1 small loaf
125g tapioca flour
125g white rice flour
50g jumbo oats (for plain white loaf, use 65g)
75g mixed small seeds, optional
½ tsp salt
12g light brown sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp easy blend dried yeast
1 tbsp. sunflower oil
275ml tepid water
5ml unsweetened soya milk + ½ tsp maple syrup, to glaze
15g crushed sunflower and pumpkin seeds or extra oats, to sprinkle
Lightly grease a 500g loaf tin. Mix the flours, oats, seeds (if using), salt and sugar in a bowl. Add the yeast and stir in completely.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir in the oil and water to make a thick batter.
Transfer the mixture to the greased loaf tin, smooth the top and place in a large, clean food bag. Secure the bag closed making sure there is enough room for the bag to expand. Leave to rise in a coolish room temperature, out of draughts, for about 2 ½ hours until slightly risen and a few bubbles appear on the top.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6. Brush the top of the loaf lightly with the soya and maple glaze and sprinkle with seeds or oats. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden and crusty – the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the base. Remove from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
The loaf will keep lightly wrapped or in a tin, at room temperature for about a week, or you can slice it and freeze it for longer storage. I have toasted the bread; it becomes denser and for some reason doesn’t brown all over, but it still tastes good. Have a good week 🙂
Today is officially the meteorological end of winter, which means that tomorrow is the first day of spring; hoorah to that! It has been a very warm and sunny end to a month that has been one of the mildest Februarys on record across the whole of the UK. It has been a pleasure to be out-of-doors, so many birds are singing and there are many insects buzzing all round the garden.
Looking back over previous blog entries, I can see that every image I am posting this week is 2 to 4 weeks earlier than in previous posts. The snowdrops have been glorious this year, and have grown in thick white and green carpets both in the garden and in nearby hedgrows. For the first time I can recall I was able to detect their sweet and spicy fragrance as the sun shone on the blooms. I took this image a few days ago just as the fine weather started in earnest. The snowdrops in the sunny parts of the garden have gone over now, but there are a few clusters still lighting up the shady corners of the borders and under the thickest hedges.
It has been a good year for crocus too. The bulbs I planted last year in an old wooden barrel have put on a very colourful display. They have recently been joined by Tête-à-tête, which are also growing all round the garden, giving a sunny glow and a sweet aroma to many of the flower beds.
Last weekend I spotted the first tiny blue dot in one of the paths which was a sign that my favorite of all spring flowers, the Chionodoxa, were on their way. Sure enough, over the course of the next few days, small electric-blue clumps of star-shaped flowers have sprung up all over the place.
It’s not only the flowers that are excelling themselves this year, the rhubarb patch is very much alive and kicking. I love the bright red stems of the new shoots and curled leaves. The stems look tempting enough to eat already, but I will resist and be patient.
I have posted plenty of Hellebore pictures in the past, and I end my post this week with another one. This beauty was new to the garden last year and has only 3 flowers, but the blooms are delightful. I hope it thrives in its new location, and look forward to seeing more blooms in the future. Until next time, happy Spring 🙂
A comforting winter-warmer recipe for you this week, although the weather is unseasonably mild here at the moment, it seems less appropriate to write that now.
I used to really enjoy eating potato dauphinoise, but the heavy dairy content of the dish just doesn’t agree with me any more. After a few try-outs, this is my deliciously spicy and pleasantly creamy alternative. The recipe is light enough to enjoy at any time of the year. You can use any combination of root vegetables, and it works well with other spice combinations like a Thai curry paste or Chinese curry powder. I simply replaced the cream content with coconut milk.
I chose turnip (swede), sweet potatoes and potatoes for my bake, and opted for a medium curry powder. As with any layered root vegetable dish, make sure you slice up the roots as thinly as possible and arrange them in the dish neatly so that everything cooks evenly. Once the vegetable preparation is out of the way, the rest of the assembly is very simple.
So without further delay, on with the recipe. By the way, it tastes just as good (if not better) reheated the next day, and freezes well too. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
Serves: 4 to 6
75g dairy-free margarine, softened
1kg mixed roots such as turnip (swede), sweet potato, potato, parsnip, carrot, etc.
1 ½ tsp salt
400ml can coconut milk
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3-4 tsp medium curry powder (depending on your taste)
1 tsp black onion seeds
Fresh coriander and chopped chilli to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C fan oven, gas 3. Use half of the margarine to thickly smear round the inside of an approx. 1.8l baking dish.
Peel all the root vegetables and slice very thinly. Either mix all the vegetables together and arrange neatly in the dish, or arrange in individual layers, sprinkling with salt as you go.
Mix the coconut milk, garlic and curry powder together and pour over the vegetables.
Dot the top with the remaining margarine, place the dish on a baking tray and cover with foil. Bake for 2 hours. Remove the foil and continue to cook for a further 30 minutes until golden and all the vegetables are meltingly tender.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle over the black onion seeds. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving sprinkled with coriander and fresh chilli. To freeze, omit the coriander and chilli sprinkle. Allow the dauphinoise to cool completely, and then either freeze whole (if the dish is freezer-proof) or divide into portions. Wrap well, label and freeze for up to 6 months. To reheat, defrost in the fridge overnight, then cook, covered in foil, at 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4 for 25-35 minutes depending on portion size, until piping hot.
I thought it was time to deliver a little treat. This week, I’ve broken into the chocolate to make something deliciously decadent. Still feeling inspired by my culinary adventure with Sicilian red oranges in last week’s post, I used some to flavour this rich Italian confection which is traditionally served at the end of a meal with coffee and liqueurs, or in my case, Marsala wine.
I was watching a travel programme about Sicily over the festive holidays. It really does seem like a food and drink paradise, and I hope to pay a visit some day. In the meantime, I tracked down some of the island’s Modica chocolate which is so very different from any other chocolate I have eaten or cooked with. It is naturally vegan as it is made with just cocoa, sugar and vanilla. The texture is grainy and slightly crunchy, with a flavour that is rich and intense. Modica chocolate is very like the chocolate the Aztecs would have been familiar with; it was introduced to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish, and I’m delighted to have finally made its acquaintance.
You can add any flavourings you fancy to the basic salami recipe. I opted for all things Italian and went with pistachios, marzipan and the red orange. Candied peel is often added but I’m not a huge fan. Because I had the fresh red oranges to hand, I made my own non-candied peel which is much softer and much more zesty than the preserved variety. However, feel free to use the more traditional candied peel if you like it.
I put some red orange juice in the salami mixture as well. If you fancy something with more oomph, you can use 2 tbsp. liqueur instead. I used a dairy-free margarine which has a lower fat content than a solid fat. The combination of the margarine and the added liquid gives a more fudgy texture to the salami. If you prefer a firmer set then leave out the liquid altogether and use something like coconut oil (or unsalted butter if you eat it) which will give a much firmer set.
Makes 16 slices
2 medium oranges, red or other variety
100g 50% cocoa Modica or similar free-from plain chocolate
75g dairy-free margarine
150g free-from ginger biscuits, lightly crushed (or use your favourite variety)
50g natural pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
75g natural marzipan, finely chopped
15g each ground almonds and icing sugar
First prepare the orange rind. Using a vegetable peeler, pare off the orange rind thinly. You need about 40g rind to achieve a rich orange flavour.
Slice the pared rind into thin strips. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and cook the strips for 4-5 minutes until soft. Drain and cool under cold running water, then drain well and pat dry, before chopping finely. Extract 2 tbsp. juice from one of the oranges – and enjoy the rest of the juice at your leisure 🙂
Break up the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Add the dairy-free margarine and place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, and leave until melted. Remove from the water and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Put the biscuits, pistachios, marzipan, chopped orange rind and juice in a bowl and mix together, then stir in the melted chocolate. Leave in a cool place for about 30 minutes to firm up but not set completely.
Line the work top with a large double layer of cling film and pile the chocolate mixture in the centre to form a rough rectangular shape about 24cm long.
Fold over the cling film and twist the ends closed to make a fat sausage-like shape with slightly tapering ends. Chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight until firm.
To decorate, place a large sheet of baking parchment on the work top and sift the ground almonds and icing sugar down the centre to cover an area the same length as the salami.
Carefully unwrap the salami and roll evenly in the sweet almond mixture to coat it lightly. Slice and serve. Store any remaining chocolate salami in the fridge – the sugary almond coating will start to dissolve in the fridge but this doesn’t affect the flavour or texture of the salami. Buon appetite!
This is a great time of the year for oranges. Last weekend, I bought a bag of Seville oranges and made some marmalade, something I haven’t done for many years. It took me much longer than I remembered, but the effort was worthwhile as I have 12 large jars to see me through the year. The other citrus fruit that caught my eye this week comes from Sicily. Beautiful, blushing red oranges (or “Blood oranges” as I remember them being called). They look as lovely on the outside as they do on the inside.
It may not seem the right time of year to be serving up a salad, but my recipe this week is a good choice for eating now, it oozes health and vitality, is robust in flavour with a crunchy texture, and makes a great accompaniment to pulse, rice or grain dishes or can be served on its own as a simple light lunch with bread and a dollop of hummus. The flavours and colours of this salad are the perfect tonic to pick you up if, like me, you are suffering from the winter blues.
The salad is dressed with a simple combination of olive oil and freshly squeezed orange juice flavoured with the warming, earthy spices toasted cumin seeds and dried chilli. I also fried some sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds for 4-5 minutes in a little olive oil with some sea salt, to add bite and nuttiness as a sprinkle on top. I hope you enjoy the recipe, and if you can’t find red oranges, any orange or even pink grapefruit would work.
Serves: 2 to 4 (lunch or accompaniment)
250g carrots (for extra colour I used a heritage variety which were purple, orange and yellow)
3 red oranges
Red orange juice (you should have sufficient leftover from peeling the 3 oranges)
Approx. 25ml extra virgin olive oil
1 – 2 tsp caster sugar or maple syrup (or honey if you eat it), optional
Pinch of sea salt
½ tsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
100g pitted black olives
Fried, salted sunflower and pumpkin seeds to sprinkle
Peel and grate the carrots. Place in a bowl and put to one side. Slice the top and bottom off each orange, then using a small sharp knife, slice off the skin, taking away as much of the white pith as you can – see images below. Slice each orange into thin rounds and remove any pips.
Drain the orange slices, reserving the juice – any pieces of orange skin that have orange flesh attached can also be squeezed to obtain precious drops of juice.
Measure the juice and mix with the same amount of olive oil, then stir in the salt, spices and sugar, if using. Toss the dressing into the grated carrots.
Carefully fold in the orange slices (you may prefer to cut the orange into smaller pieces) along with the olives. Cover and chill until ready to serve, but allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for the flavours to develop.
I’ve been enjoying freshly squeezed red orange juice for breakfast this week as well. Such a pretty colour, and a super-zingy start to the day.
I have another Sicilian inspired recipe lined up for next week, so until then, I hope you have a good few days 🙂
Happy February everyone! Any thoughts I had of an early spring have gone out the window these past couple of weeks as temperatures in the UK have plummeted. So far, there has been little snow to speak of, but there have been many a frost-laden night and day. The saving grace amongst all the chilliness is a beautiful blue-sky and bright sunshine we have been blessed with most days.
So, on with my quick round-up of what’s going on in the garden right now. The snowdrops and crocus have been in flower for a couple of weeks and seem to be coping well with the sunny days and freezing nights.
The first Hellebore of the year has now been joined by a couple of other blooms, but other varieties are still firmly in bud.
Most of the winter pansies have been chewed. Each flower head lasts about 24 hours once it opens before some wee beasty makes a meal of it. I managed to capture this pansy’s delicate, pretty petals before it becomes part of another insect supper.
It’s been a good season for the winter heathers. This pink heather is full of blooms. There aren’t so many pink flowers around at this time of year, so this one is a welcome burst of colour. Sadly the early flower heads of the pink rhododendron I photographed at Hogmanay have inevitably perished in the frost.
Perhaps my next garden post will be more spring-like – who knows? So until then, wrap up warm and keep cosy. Have a good few days 🙂