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!
I’ve been back in the kitchen this week, making something deliciously sweet and impressive for the Easter holidays. I’ve come up with a dessert that is very easy to make, inspired by the flavours of Italy, and is everything you want to round off a celebratory Easter meal (but with no chocolate in sight – gasp, shock, horror!).
You can add your own choice of chopped dried or candied fruit and nuts – it’s a great recipe to use up the bits and pieces you have leftover (and you could even add chunks of chocolate if you really want to!). Flavoured with marzipan, mincemeat and Marsala wine, it’s a dessert that would also be right at home on the Christmas table as well.
Here’s what to do:
115g golden marzipan (use plain if you prefer but the golden variety adds a little colour to the semifreddo), chopped
600ml dairy-free single “cream” (I use oat cream, but soya cream or canned coconut milk would also work)
150g vegan mincemeat
100g glacé cherries, chopped
25g pistachio nuts, chopped
3 tbsp. Marsala wine (or use sweet sherry or cherry brandy)
Extra cherries and pistachios to decorate
Line a 1kg loaf tin with a double layer of cling film. Put the marzipan in a saucepan and pour over the dairy-free “cream”. Heat gently, stirring, until melted together.
Remove from the heat, mix well then stir in the remaining ingredients and leave to cool completely.
Transfer to a freezer container at least 1.1l capacity, cover and freeze for 2 to 2½ hours until starting to turn slushy. Mix well then freeze for a further hour or so until icy and stiffened. Mix well to distribute all the pieces and pack into the loaf tin. Freeze for at least 2 hours to firm up enough to slice. For prolonged freezing, fold over the cling film and wrap in foil. Keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To serve, gently ease the semifreddo from the tin using the cling film. Place on a serving plate and discard the cling film. Scatter with more cherries and pistachios. Slice, serve and enjoy! Happy Easter everyone 🙂
A very happy new year to you all. I wish you good health and every success in the year ahead. I hope that you have had a good Christmas holiday, and now we wait to see what 2019 brings to us all.
My Christmas holiday has been very peaceful and relaxed. The weather has been mild considering the time of year and has given me the opportunity to get out in the garden and tackle a few jobs like pruning the old apple tree.
The holidays started on a very chilly note with a heavy frost on Christmas Eve which made everything look very festive and sparkly in the sunshine and crisp, fresh air.
Out in the garden today, things were looking a little different from a week ago. No frost, just mild, breezy air and patches of blue in a heavily clouded sky. 2018 has certainly given us some unusual weather and I think this is having an impact on the garden now. Several plants are much more advanced than usual: the snowdrops are almost out in flower; the buds on the early spring flowering rhododendron are breaking open, and one Hellebore is already in full bloom. The usual oddities are around too: a solitary stalk of fresh flowers on a very sad-looking, bedraggled lavender bush, and a few new red-fringed orange carnation buds are about to open for a second flowering.
I’ll sign off this post with an image of some “lucky” white winter-flowering heather to bring us all good fortune over the next 12 months 🙂
I love a good mince pie, and this recipe is one of easiest and tastiest you can make. No rolling pin or tart tins required, just a square cake tin and a pair of (clean) hands.
You can use homemade or readymade mincemeat for the filling and any combination of dried fruit or nuts you have – it’s a good way to use up leftover bits and pieces. Grated apple also works well added to the mincemeat. Add a splash of your favourite tipple and you have something very festive indeed!
The crumbles keep well for up to a week when stored in an airtight container – they will become softer and more cake-like a time goes by, but the flavour intensifies – and they also freeze well. Enjoy them warm, straight out of the tin, as a hot pudding, or let them cool and serve as a delicious bake. Here’s what to do:
115g solid white vegetable fat (such as Trex or coconut oil), softened
115g dairy-free margarine or spread
115g soft light brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp good quality almond extract, optional (or use 1 tsp ground cinnamon or mixed spice to flavour)
100g ground almonds
250g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Doves Farm)
10g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
500g vegan mincemeat
100g dried cranberries
100g chopped dried apricots
2 tbsp. cherry brandy or your favourite tipple
50g golden marzipan (optional)
1 tsp icing sugar, to dust
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a deep 21cm square cake tin. In a mixing bowl, beat together the fat. margarine, sugar and salt until well blended. Stir in the ground almonds and extract or spice, if using.
Sift the flour and baking powder on top and mix everything together to form a soft, crumbly mixture. Press 350g of the mix into the base of the tin – I find using a floured back of spoon is a good way to achieve a smooth, thick base. Prick all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden and firm.
Mix the mincemeat, cranberries, apricots and brandy together and spread over the base. Sprinkle the remaining crumble on top, gently packing it down but making sure you retain the crumbly texture.
Bake for about 40 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then slice into 16 squares. Leave in the tin to cool completely before removing and arranging the pieces on a board or tray.
To decorate, roll out the marzipan thinly and cut out as many stars or festive shapes as you are able, re-rolling the marzipan as necessary. Arrange the stars on the squares and dust lightly with icing sugar.
This is my last post for 2018. I’d like to thank all of you who have stopped by my blog and read my posts. It is a pleasure to write my posts and receive such lovely feedback.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas as the song says, we had our first snowfall last night and I woke to the garden transformed into Narnia. On this wintry note, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and new year when it comes. I will be back up and running in a few weeks.
I’ve had a hectic few days since my last post. I have got a bit behind with my festive preparations, but I’m pleased to report that back on track again now. I’ve been in the kitchen this weekend and here is the first of my 2 festive posts.
I am a huge fan of homemade sweeties, especially fudge, but I have found it difficult to find a recipe that works well as a dairy-free version. I have made the super-easy chocolate-based fudge recipes from time to time, but they do have a different texture to the fudge I remember from childhood.
For this week’s recipe, I have turned to an old recipe book and adapted a traditional recipe which produces the flaky, melt-in-the-mouth texture I really like, and it makes a lovely edible gift too, perfect for the time of year – if you can bare to give it away!
I used peanut butter as the main flavouring, but any nut butter (or tahini) will work just as well. To get the right consistency, you do need to use a butter replacement with a high fat content; I used coconut oil but a solid white vegetable fat like “Trex” would work if you don’t want the extra flavour from using coconut.
As with most traditional sweet making, a sugar thermometer is a vital piece of kit, but if you don’t have one, I’ve included a quick tip which will help determine whether the fudge is ready or not.
Makes: 25 to 36 pieces
450g granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp salt (use less or none if you don’t want the salty flavour)
50g coconut oil or white vegetable fat
150g no added salt or sugar peanut or other nut butter
150ml unsweetened dairy-free milk (I use unsweetened soya milk)
2 tbsp. golden syrup
2 tsp caramel flavour (or vanilla extract to taste if you prefer a different flavour)
Line an ungreased 18cm square cake tin with baking parchment or waxed paper. Put all the ingredients except the flavouring in a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the coconut oil melts.
Bring to the boil and continue boiling for about 5 minutes until a temperature of 116°C is reached on a sugar thermometer. Alternatively, drop a little of the mixture into a cup of cold water. If it forms a soft ball when rolled between your finger and thumb, the cooking is complete. It is important to keep stirring the boiling mixture to prevent it sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.
Turn off the heat, add the flavouring and stir well. Keep stirring the mixture occasionally as it cools. After about 20 minutes or so, the mixture will begin to thicken and lose its shine, this is the time to mix thoroughly until the texture becomes grainy and stiffer – this is how the perfect texture is achieved.
Transfer to the prepared tin, smooth off the top and leave to cool for about 30 minutes until almost set. Score the top with a sharp knife into 25 or 36 squares, then leave to cool completely for 2 to 3 hours.
Cut through the pieces completely and remove from the tin. Store between sheets of baking parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Have a good few days and good luck with all your festive preparations. I have my second festive post to put up before Christmas, so I will be with you again in a few days time 🙂
Just a few days to go before the festive feasts begin, and what could be more appropriate for my last post before Christmas, than a delicious alternative Christmas pudding. I do enjoy a traditional, steamed fruit pudding, but this year I fancied a change, and have developed an alternative recipe. This pudding is fruity, but a little wee bit lighter in texture, and with the emphasis on toffee flavour rather than spice; I guarantee, it is utterly divine 🙂
The recipe makes 2 x 250ml puddings, which I think serve between 2 and 4 people, depending on how large an appetite you have. If you prefer, put the mixture in a 500ml basin and cook it for about an hour longer. I usually steam puddings in a slow cooker, this way I can forget about them and don’t end up with a steamy kitchen. If you prefer, put the puddings on a trivet, in a saucepan or in a steamer compartment, cover tightly with a lid, and then cook in the steam for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. You can use any combination of fruit (or nuts) you have to make up the weight in the ingredients list, it’s a great pudding to use up any odds and ends you have.
Makes 2 x 250ml puddings
75g dried dates
50g dairy-free margarine
50g light Muscovado sugar
50g silken tofu
65g self-raising gluten-free flour
½ teasp bicarbonate of soda
125g mixed dried fruit
For the sauce:
85g light Muscovado sugar
30g dairy-free margarine
110ml canned coconut milk
½ teasp good quality vanilla extract
Grease and flour 2 x 250ml pudding basins. Put the dates in a small saucepan with 75ml water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes until very soft. Beat well with a wooden spoon until smooth, then leave to cool completely.
When you are ready to mix up the puddings, put the slow cooker on High and leave to preheat for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put the margarine, sugar and tofu in a bowl. Add the cold date mixture and whisk everything together until smooth and creamy.
Sieve the flour and bicarbonate of soda on top. Add the fruit and gently mix all the ingredients together. Divide between the 2 basins and smooth the tops.
Cover the puddings with a layer of baking parchment, and then foil, and tie securely with string. Put the basins in the slow cooker, side by side, pour in sufficient hot water to come halfway up the sides of the basins, cover and leave to cook for 2 hours. A skewer inserted into the centre of each pudding will come out clean when the puddings are ready.
For the sauce, put the sugar, margarine and half the coconut milk in a small saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until melted together, then raise the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until richly golden and caramelised. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining coconut milk and vanilla extract.
When the puddings are ready, remove them from the slow cooker and leave them to stand for 5 minutes. Remove the wrappings and turn out on to warm serving plates. Pour over sauce and serve immediately.
That just leaves me to pass on my very best wishes to you for a happy, healthy and enjoyable Christmas holiday. Happy festive feasting!
No eggs, no added fat nor added sugar, gluten-free and dairy-free, these loaf cakes will probably sound either a bit boring, or too good to be true, depending on your point of view. Actually, they are extremely tasty and a wee bit too eatable for my liking!
This recipe is a great way to use up all those odds and ends of dried fruit you often have leftover. You can add nuts and seeds to the mix too if you like. Just after Christmas, I made up a bag of dried and candied fruit that was getting towards its use-by date, and put it in a tub the freezer, where it stayed until this week, when a craving for fruit cake came upon me. Combined with a recently opened bag of dried cranberries I had in the fridge, the frozen mix of chopped dried apricots, red and green glacé cherries and golden sultanas made up a colourful addition to my cake mix.
The recipe below will fill 8 mini loaf tins or 1 large (1kg) loaf tin. The cakes taste better if left until the day after baking – the flavour and texture improves on keeping. You will be rewarded if you can leave it alone for a few hours! They also freeze well. I find that the lower content of fat in this recipe means that after 3 or 4 days, the cakes begin to lose their freshness; it is well worth freezing any that you’re not going to eat within a couple of days of baking, in order to enjoy them at their best.
Makes: 8 minis or 1 x 1kg loaf
250g stoned dried dates, chopped
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
150g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan oven, gas mark 3). Grease 8 x mini loaf tins or 1 x 1kg loaf tin, or line with paper loaf tin liners, if preferred. Put the chopped dates in a saucepan and pour over 350ml water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to cool completely. Blitz with a hand blender or in the food processor to make a smooth purée. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, arrowroot and chai masala or spice into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds and dried fruit. Add the date purée and then mix until well blended.
Divide equally between the prepared tins and smooth over the tops. Place on a baking tray and bake for about 35 minutes for the individual cakes or about 1 hour for a larger loaf cake – a skewer inserted into the centre will come out clean when the cake mixture is cooked. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely. For best results, wrap the cakes well or store in an airtight container until the next day before serving.
For several weeks, every now and again, I have been trying to make eggless meringues. The meringues I prefer are the large, pillow-like ones made with brown sugar and lots of chopped nuts and a drizzle of dark chocolate, and not the plain white, dainty variety. Sadly, I haven’t been successful so far. However, my experimentation has led me to find other uses for vegan “egg white”, hence, I come to this week’s post.
Next time you open a can of cooked white beans or chickpeas in water, keep the canning liquid, for this is vegan “egg white”. Amazing as it sounds, the liquid whips up into a thick foam and can be used (with care) as a substitute for fresh egg whites. You may find it referred to as aqua fava for after all, that is what it is: bean water!
The drained liquid content of a 400g can is approx. 140ml which equates to 3 medium egg whites. It freezes well so you don’t need to use all of it in one recipe – an ice cube tray is perfect for individual egg-sized amounts, but don’t forget to label it otherwise your G&T may taste a little strange! As with fresh egg white, place in a clean, grease-free bowl and whisk in the same way. I add a pinch of cream of tartar to assist the volume when whisking up.
Once I have cracked a decent meringue recipe and got my sugar and nut quantities correct, I look forward to sharing it with you. Until then, here is my recipe for Italian amaretti cookies. These are the soft variety, and are truly delicious (and very moreish). They make a lovely gift too.
A few sheets of gluten-free edible paper (optional)
45ml chickpea or white bean canning water
Pinch of cream of tartar
225g ground almonds
100g glacé cherries, chopped
125g + 2 tsp icing sugar
2 tsp natural almond extract
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Using a 4cm diameter round cookie cutter, trace and cut out 18 rounds of edible paper if using, and place on the trays, spaced a little apart.
Put the canning water in a clean, grease-free bowl and whisk until softly foaming. Add the cream of tartar and continue whisking until the beaters leave an impression in the foam – this takes about 3-4 minutes of whisking.
Put the almonds and cherries in a bowl. Sift 125g icing sugar on top. Mix well and then add the almond extract and whisked foam. Carefully mix together to make a softish dough.
Divide into 18 portions and form each into a ball. Place one on top of each paper circle and press down gently to flatten slightly – if you’re not using the paper, just space them out directly on the lined trays.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The biscuits will store for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Serve lightly dusted with icing sugar.
For gifting, wrap each amaretti cookie in a small, clean square of tissue paper, and twist the ends on each side to seal the wrapping. Arrange in a shallow box and tie with ribbon to present. Perfect for serving with coffee.
On the shortest day of the year, here’s a little something baked to brighten up the barely light hours. I picked rather too much rosemary the other day, and spent a few days pondering on how best to use it up. It doesn’t freeze very well and I’m not a fan of the dried stuff. After admiring the stems as a herbal arrangement in my kitchen for a while, I decided to do some flavour experimentation, and these muffins are the result.
I wasn’t really intending them to be so festive looking, but the sprigs reminded me of tiny pine trees and then my mind started going into creative mode. I hope you enjoy them. The flavour is really rich and perfect for the time of year. You only need to use the leaves for this recipe – the stems are too tough – and try to chop the leaves as small as possible for the best flavour and better eating.
150ml sunflower oil
150g dark brown sugar
150g silken tofu
45g cocoa powder
2 level tsp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
1 level tbsp ground arrowroot (I often add this to help bind gluten-free cake mixtures together)
100g ground almonds
Finely grated rind 1 unwaxed orange
2 level tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
Pinch of salt
125g icing sugar + extra to dust
Approx. 40ml freshly squeezed orange juice
10 tsp Chia or poppy seeds
10 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line a muffin tin with 10 paper cases. Put the oil, sugar and tofu in a bowl and whisk together with an electric mixer until well blended and thick.
Sieve 25g cocoa, baking powder and the arrowroot on top. Add the almonds, polenta, orange rind, chopped rosemary and salt. Mix all the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.
Divide the mixture equally between the cases. Smooth the tops and bake for about 35 minutes until just firm to the touch – the cakes may look slightly sunk in the middle. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To decorate, sieve the icing sugar and remaining cocoa powder into a small bowl and mix together with sufficient orange juice to make and smooth, spreadable icing. Spoon sufficient icing on top of each muffin and spread to cover the top completely.
Sprinkle the top of each muffin with 1 tsp seeds. Leave for a few minutes to set before adding the finishing touches.
Just before serving, carefully put the muffins into small flower pots. Push a sprig of rosemary into the top of each and if liked, dust the rosemary lightly with a little icing sugar for a frosted look.
The muffins freeze well once iced and seeded, and will also keep for 4-5 days in an airtight tin once decorated. Simply decorate with fresh rosemary and icing sugar just before serving.
I’m spoilt for choice at this time of year as to what sweet treats and edible goodies to make, but Florentines have to be up there in my Top 10 of all time favourites. These thin, crisp, Italian, chocolate-spread morsels are jammed packed with fruit and nuts, and they are just as delicious served with a spoonful of your favourite ice cream or sorbet, as they are with a cup of coffee.
I have chosen to use a combination of candied green fruits, seeds and nuts, but you can use any dried or candied fruit, and any unsalted, roasted nuts and seeds – in fact these biscuits are one of the best ways to use up any bits and pieces of dried fruit, nuts and seeds you have leftover. They will also work with all fruit or all nuts and seeds, so you can make up your own combinations to suit your personal preference.
Traditionally, Florentine biscuits are spread with melted dark chocolate on the back, but they are good left as they are. Cover the backs with 90% extra dark chocolate for a less sweet finish, and, if you can bring yourself to give them away, they make a lovely gift.
75g coconut oil or vegan margarine
75g golden syrup
50g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
1 tsp good quality natural almond or vanilla extract (such as Dr Oetker)
200g milk free, vegan white “chocolate”
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the oil or margarine with the syrup in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients except the white “chocolate”.
Drop 20 heaped teaspoonfuls, spaced well apart on to the prepared trays, and flatten each mound slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes until flattened and lightly golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the trays, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To cover the biscuits with chocolate, put just over half the amount of chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Line a large board with baking parchment.
Working on one biscuit at a time, carefully dip and roll the edge of the biscuit all the way round in chocolate and place on the lined board. Leave to set.
Once all the biscuits are dipped and set, melt the remaining chocolate as above. Turn the biscuits over and spread a little chocolate thinly over the backs. Leave to set. Note: If you can leave them alone, these biscuits will store well in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
In my humble opinion, there is no fruit nor vegetable that looks more festive than the cranberry. The fresh berries have just started arriving on the greengrocer’s shelves these past few days. The season for fresh cranberries in the UK is quite short, so I’m stocking up my freezer for a year round supply.
The cranberry plant is low growing and creeping in habit, and likes damp, acidic soil; it is a member of the heather family. A few years ago, I grew my own plant in a deep pot. Once it was established, it made a lovely trailing plant in a hanging basket for a while, until I forgot to water it (!) and sadly, it met a very sorry, shrivelled, end. I hope to try again this spring if I can track down a suitable mature plant.
The waxy-looking, scarlet berries are rich in Vitamin C and a staple of the Thanksgiving and Christmas menu. I’ve just made a batch of jam to serve with the Christmas roast; very easy to make and much nicer than anything you can buy in a jar. Add finely grated orange rind for a zesty flavour, and/or a few spoonfuls of Port at the end of cooking for a richer taste. I put the jam into small jars which then makes it ideal for gifting.
Makes: 5 x 200ml jars
500g fresh cranberries – the recipe will also work fine using frozen berries
600g granulated sugar
Put the berries and water into a preserving pan or large saucepan. Put a lid over the pan and begin heating – the berries will start “popping” and may jump a bit as they warm up.
Bring the contents of the saucepan to simmering point and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the berries are soft and pulpy.
Stir in the sugar over a low heat until dissolved, then boil rapidly for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and the liquid has reduced. Cranberries have lots of pectin so this mixture will set readily without having to test that a setting point has been achieved.
Spoon whilst hot into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately. Once cool, label and cover the jar lids if preferred. Store in a dry, cool, dark cupboard; as with most preserves, cranberry jam will keep for several months.