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!
Well, I admit, not quite “icing” on top of my Christmas cake this year, but a delicious layer of marzipan instead. If you’re not a fan of almond paste, then a layer of ready-to-roll white icing will do the trick just as well.
This is the sugar and spice fruit cake I made back in November – recipe here. It’s turned out ok and smells divine. I can’t wait to tuck in.
If you want to marzipan or ice the top of a cake, it’s quite straightforward. For an 18cm round cake like this one, you’ll need 250g marzipan or ready-to-roll icing for a reasonably thick layer. Knead it gently to soften a little (this will make it easier to roll), then dust the work top lightly with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan or icing to form a rough 19cm circle. Use the base of the tin that you cooked your cake in as a template to cut yourself a neat round.
Unwrap your cake, turn it upside down to give a smooth surface and brush with some smooth apricot jam – I like to add a splash of rum to the jam for an extra kick. Carefully transfer the marzipan or icing circle to the top of the cake and smooth it in place.
Now your cake is ready to decorate and tie with ribbon for a finishing touch. I have used glacé cherries with fresh bay leaves and rosemary sprigs for a very simple yet festive decoration, but I’m sure you will have your own ideas.
This is my last post before Christmas. Thank you all for stopping by over the past 12 months and for your lovely comments. I hope you have a good time over the holidays and I send you my best wishes for a happy and healthy festive time. I look forward to posting again in the new year.
If you’re planning a meat-free Christmas menu for yourself or guests this year then my recipe this week maybe one to consider. Time to post my favourite nut loaf recipe. It is very easy to assemble, can be made in advance, and freezes well. What’s more, you can use any combination of nuts and seeds you fancy – it’s the perfect recipe to use up any nuts or seeds that you have already opened. And above all else, it’s very tasty 🙂
I prefer to use roasted peanuts and cashews if I have them, but pecans and almonds are favourites too. The mixture is bound together with lentils, flax seed “egg” and nut butter – choose whichever cooked pulses or nut butter you fancy to suit your taste. If you fancy some extra crunch, toast a handful of your favourite seeds and add to the mixture when you bind everything together.
When grinding or chopping the nuts, I like to keep some bigger pieces amongst the finer grinds so that the loaf has some texture but you may prefer something smoother.
On with the recipe, and then on with the festive countdown.
Serves: 4 to 6
2 tbsp. olive oil + extra to drizzle
1 stick celery, trimmed and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
115g grated carrot
115g cooked green lentils (cooked and mashed cannellini, butter or haricot beans work well too)
200g roasted peanuts and cashews (or your favourite nut and seed combination)
40g gluten-free sage and onion stuffing mix
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp salt
125g whole nut peanut or other nut butter, softened
1 tbsp. flax seeds
Chopped parsley to garnish
Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the celery, onion and garlic, mix well, cover, and cook gently for 10 minutes until softened. Cool for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6. Line a 1kg loaf tin with a paper liner or baking parchment. Put the remaining ingredients, except the flax seeds and parsley, in a bowl and stir in the softened mixture.
Now make the flax egg. Grind the flax seeds until powdery – I use a coffee grinder. Put in a small bowl and mix in 3 tbsp. water. Leave for about 5 minutes to thicken then stir into the nutty vegetable mixture to bind everything together.
Spoon the loaf mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 25-30 minutes until lightly crusty on top.
To serve, carefully remove the loaf from the tin. Discard the lining paper and transfer to a warmed serving plate or serving board. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately, sliced thickly and accompanied with roasted vegetables and vegetable gravy or a fresh tomato sauce.
I hope you have a good few days and I look forward to seeing you again just before Christmas!
It’s the time of year when you might be thinking about making something edible for giving as a Christmas present so my post this week may be an idea for you. Last week I found large fresh mangoes for sale in the supermarket at a very reasonable price and decided to make mango chutney. This is a favourite preserve in our house; we get through lots of it, but I hardly ever get round to making it.
Choose slightly under-ripe mangoes for chutney so that you end up with some texture in your preserve. Very ripe mango will go very soft and will also increase the sweetness of the final chutney.
You can go one of two ways when you make mango chutney: the spicy route, whilst or the smooth, sweet and jam-like. If you prefer the latter, you don’t need to add the spice bag or the chillis and onion seeds from the recipe below, but I do recommend keeping the ginger, bay and garlic as well as salt and pepper . Blend or mash the mango finely before you start, and for a more vibrant colour, add some paprika.
For a spicy version, I prefer to keep the chutney as clear as possible so I avoid ground spices as these can give a murky result. Instead I opt for making a spice bag. It’s a bit of a faff but worth it to achieve a more “professional” appearance. Toast the cumin, coriander and black mustard seeds first in a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes. Cool and then grind them with the cardamom pods. Pile on to a small square of clean muslin and add the ground pepper. Tie up with a strip of muslin or clean cook’s string and you’re ready to go.
If you can bear to part with your preserve, it does make a lovely and impressive gift for any curry or Indian food lover. Make it now and it will be just about ready to eat at Christmas, but perfect for keeping into the new year. I haven’t decided what to do with my 3 jars yet – keep or gift? Probably the former 🙂
Makes: approx. 525g
½ tsp each cumin, coriander and black mustard seeds
4 cardamom pods
½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
2-3 large slightly under-ripe mangoes – see below
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
20g piece root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
150ml cider vinegar
225g granulated sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp black onion seeds
½ tsp salt
First make up the spice bag as described above and put to one side. Next prepare the mango. Slice down either side of the large smooth, flat central stone. Peel off the skin and chop the flesh, then slice off the remaining flesh from around the edge of the stone. You will need 600g prepared fruit for this recipe.
Put the mango flesh in a large saucepan and add the spice bag, garlic, ginger, bay leaves and chilli. Pour over the vinegar, bring to the boil, cover and gently simmer for about 10 minutes until softened.
Stir in the sugar until dissolved, then add the lemon juice. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes until thick and jam-like, stirring occasionally as it may start to stick on the bottom of the saucepan. Turn off the heat, stir in the onion seeds and salt, cover and stand for 10 minutes, then discard the bay leaves and spice bag.
Stir the mixture before spooning into hot, sterilised jars and sealing immediately. Leave to cool, then label and store in a cool, dry cupboard for at least a month to mature before serving.
That’s all for this month. I wish you a good few days. I’ll see you again in December on the run up to Christmas 🙂
In my kitchen, November marks the month that I bake a fruit cake for Christmas. I love the fragrant spicy and citrus aromas wafting from the oven as the cake bakes. Utterly delicious.
Making a rich fruit cake about 6 weeks before Christmas allows the spices chance to settle down, mellow and improve before serving up over the festive season.
When it comes to fruit, I usually go with a mixture of dried vine fruits, chopped apricots and glacé cherries. Orange and lemon rind and juice add some zest and zing. I always use dark brown sugar and treacle for richness and colour. I usually vary the spices, one year I did mostly ginger and mixed spice for a classic “gingerbread” flavour, but this time around I’ve used cinnamon and allspice together with a classic mixed spice blend. I had white rum to use up this year, but most often I use the dark version.
Fruit cakes do take a long time to cook, so you need to make sure the outside edges of the cake don’t over-cook. Double-line the sides of the tin inside with baking parchment and then wrap the outside of the tin with a double layer of brown paper and secure with string. I also put a circle of brown paper in the bottom of the tin before adding a couple of circles of baking parchment on top.
It is worth checking the oven temperature manually before you start baking any cake but especially before one that needs long, slow cooking – I always pop an oven thermometer in the oven before preheating to check the temperature is correct. My cooking time of 3 hours will produce a very moist and dense cake, but if you prefer something drier and more crumbly, extend the cooking time by 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
On with the recipe. If you’ve never made a Christmas cake before I understand that the list of ingredients will be completely daunting, but this is a very straightforward recipe, so I hope I can tempt you to have a go.
900g mixed dried and glacé fruit such as raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped dried apricots, and cherries
Finely grated rind and juice 1 small lemon
Finely grated rind and juice 1 small orange
100ml white or dark rum + 2 – 4 tbsp. extra for feeding
225g coconut oil
150g dark brown sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
40g chia seeds
175g gluten-free plain flour blend
100g ground almonds
1 ½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tbsp. ground mixed spice
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp natural almond extract
1 tbsp. natural vanilla extract
Prepare a deep, 18cm round cake tin by double lining with baking parchment and brown paper – see above. Place on a baking tray.
Put the fruit in a large saucepan with the citrus rind and juice, rum, coconut oil, sugar and treacle. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted, then bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. Leave to cool for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 150°C, 130°C fan oven, gas 2. Put the chia seeds in a bowl and add 125ml cold water. Stir and leave for 5 minutes to form a thick, gel-like mixture.
Transfer the fruit mixture to a large bowl and mix in the chia “egg”. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to make sure that there are no pockets of flour. Transfer to the tin, smooth the top and bake for 3 hours – see notes above for longer cooking.
Remove from the oven and skewer the top deeply all over. Spoon over 2 tbsp. rum, then leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
When the cake is completely cold, remove from the tin and discard all the wrappings. Wrap well in fresh baking parchment or greaseproof paper and then either wrap tightly in foil or store in an air-tight container.
Keep the cake in a cool, dark, dry place for best results. If you want to give the cake a bit more of a kick you can feed it with more rum every 2 weeks. I find one more dose is fine for me. Avoid adding rum in the final few days before serving as it will not have time to mellow out and may spoil the overall flavour of the cake.
To feed, simply unwrap the cake and spoon over another tablespoon of rum. Let it soak in completely before wrapping up again and ontinue storing until you are ready to ice the cake for Christmas. I’ll follow up this post next month with the unveiling of the finished cake.
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.