Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gluten Free Profiteroles with Peanut Butter Cream & Chocolate Ganache

Today marks 4 years since my coeliac diagnosis. It’s funny how the knowledge and awareness of coeliac disease and gluten free diets has grown so much in just the 4 years I have been actively conscious of it. This has had both a positive and negative effect. The positive is that more people are aware of it and there are becoming a lot more options for food when eating out and choices in the shops. On the negative, people now consider it a fad, which means some people think you are being picky when you say you need a gluten free diet, I’ve seen many a waiter eye roll or else people start a gluten free diet who are simply jumping on band wagon and loudly proclaim they too are eating gluten free but then tuck into the office birthday cake or enjoy a few beers down the pub. This gives a confusing message to people who don’t really understand and lessens the actual severity of ensuring foods are gluten free. On the whole it’s a positive progression though.

What better way to celebrate 4 years gluten free than with some delicious profiteroles inspired by my gluten free pastry course fromLeiths. I tweaked the recipe a bit from the one they gave us on the course, as the flour mix they used was a bought brand and I wanted to make my own. Also the recipe we used on the course were for super cheesy Gougères and I wanted a cheesless profiterole.

I have tried making gluten free choux pastry once before and it was a bit of a disaster, but fresh from my training I was willing to give them another go. I am so pleased I did as they turned out brilliantly (even if I do say so myself)!

To save on some arm muscles, I used a food mixer for part of the mixing method, but I think it may have been simpler to do it by hand – not to mention less washing up. I was worried my choux would either be doughy in the middle, or else not puff up, but they puffed and hollowed just as they should. They were very light and airy little puffs.

I am not a fan of plain cream, to me it’s just tasteless and a little greasy tasting, but flavour that cream with some creamy peanut butter and you are on to a winner. Top it off with some warm chocolate ganache and a sprinkling of peanut brittle and I quite happily devoured 5 in one sitting – don’t judge me, it was my first gluten free profiterole in 4 years!

The mix of light choux pastry, airy but creamy peanut butter filling and warm bitter chocolate ganache was divine. Peanut butter and dark chocolate are a match made in heaven and to have it all wrapped up within little treat of a dessert was delicious. I used a mix of ricotta and double cream for the filling, which resulted in a wonderful thick, almost moussy peanut butter cream. I can see many more profiteroles on the horizon!

Profiteroles with Peanut Butter Cream & Chocolate Ganache
Choux Pastry
50g rice flour
20g cornflour
10g tapioca starch
¼ tsp xanthan gum
120ml water
50g butter
3 eggs

Peanut Butter Cream
150g ricotta cheese
150g double cream
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter

Chocolate Ganache
100g dark chocolate
80g double cream
1 tbsp golden syrup

Peanut brittle

Combine the 3 flours and xanthan gum together in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
Place the water and butter into a medium sized pan and heat until the butter is melted. Bring the mixture to a simmer then remove from the heat and quickly add your flour mix in one go. Immediately start to beat the flour into the butter mixture, you need to work quickly and stir vigorously. Continue to beat it until the mix comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick dough. Keep beating until all lumps of flour are mixed in.
Then tip the dough out onto a plate and smooth out into an even layer. This helps cool it down quickly. (At this stage the dough is known as a ‘Panade’ a paste mixture of a soft dough).
Leave it to cool slightly for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C and line a tray with silicone paper.
Once the mix has cooled slightly, return it to the pan. Whisk the eggs together in a jug and pour this into the choux dough, a little at a time, beating well between each addition. The mix will go sloppy, greasy and slimy looking at each addition of egg – this is normal. Keep beating until it absorbs the egg and then add a little bit more. Continue this until you have a batter that reluctantly drops from the spatula when lifted. If it’s too thick and sticky to fall off without shaking, then you need to add a little more egg. You also don’t want it too sloppy and runny as you need to pipe it, so if you have particularly large eggs, you may not need all of it.
It’s a hard arm workout, but keep beating until you have a smooth sticky batter.
Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large plain tube nozzle.
Pipe rounds of batter onto the baking tray, leaving an inch between each one. You want them to be about the size of a large walnut.
Dip your finger in water and dab the tops of the piped choux to flatten out any peaks formed from the piping bag.
Sprinkle a few drops of water all over the baking tray, as this will create steam in the oven which will help them rise.
Bake in the oven at 220C for 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven to 150C and bake for a further 8-12 minutes until they are puffed, golden brown and lightly crisp to the touch.
Remove the choux buns from the oven, remove them from the baking tray and make a little hole in the base of each one to let the steam out. Cool them upside down so the steam can escape up out of the hole (or else they go soggy)

Make the cream by beating the peanut butter into the ricotta until smooth and well combined. Lightly whip the cream until its just beginning to thicken, then stir this through the ricotta mixture to make a mousse-like texture.

For the chocolate ganache, heat the chocolate, cream and golden syrup together in a small pan. Stir gradually until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Do not let it boil. Remove it from the heat and set aside to cool and thicken slightly.

To serve, either pipe or spoon the peanut butter cream into the choux buns (I like to pipe it in using the hole created in the bottom so they stay hole.) Then dip the top of each profiterole into the warm chocolate sauce and arrange on a plate. Roughly chop up some peanut brittle and sprinkle a little over the top of the profiteroles.
Best eaten on day of baking. Assemble just before eating as they will go soft if left to stand for too long.
Eat and enjoy.

Makes 16-18 profiteroles

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Leiths School of Food & Wine: Gluten Free Pastry

After my Gluten Free Bread course, next day was Gluten Free Pastry. Gluten free pastry is a tricky one to master. It’s got to be sturdy enough to roll out and shape, and yet also be short and nicely crumbly once cooked. If you add too many gums or starches to replace the gluten it holds together and rolls our well, but then becomes tough and dense like cardboard when baked – not so tasty. Equally if you don’t get the right mix of gums and starches it becomes far too fragile and you end up with a pile of crumbs rather than a crisp pastry base.

On the plus side however, as there is no gluten to overwork, if your pastry falls apart when trying to line the tin then simply scoop it back together and re-roll it without too many issues. One of the best tips I know about how to easily roll out pastry is to roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm. This not only stops it sticking to the work surface and requires no extra flour, but also means you can use the base layer to help you lift and flip the pastry into the tin. (We were shown this on the course but I have been doing it myself for years).

On the course we learnt not only standard pastry, but also a few different types of pastry! Flaky Shortcrust which we turned into an amazing roast vegetable quiche for lunch

Pâte Sucrée with which we made delicious cherry Bakewell tarts

Hot Water Crust Pastry for sturdier meat pies and sausage rolls and even….Choux Pastry which we made into very cheesy Gougères!

The Choux and Hot Water Crust pastry were completely new to me so I was very excited. I have previously attempted a gluten free choux pastry and well… it was sort of a disaster so I was eager to see how it’s done. I’ve made my own gluten free Shortcrust and Pâte Sucrée before, but the techniques we were shown were new to me and produced fantastic results.

For the shortcrust pastry we were shown a very nifty technique for achieving ultra smooth pastry with the butter and flour evenly distributed in layers. It’s known as 'fraisering’. You start by rubbing the butter into the flour as normal and then squishing it into a rough log shape. Don’t kneed or over-handle it. You should still have a few lumps of butter mixed in. You then take your log of pastry and, using a pallet knife, cut off a slice about 5mm thick, almost to the base of the log. Then tilt your pallet knife to 45 degrees and drag it towards you, smearing out the pastry onto the work surface. Then carefully run your pallet knife back over it three times, each time collecting a little more of the pastry while you draw it towards yourself. (Almost like when making chocolate curls along the back of a block of chocolate). This smoothes the flour and butter into layers. Then place your smooth pastry piece to one side, cut another 5mm slice and repeat. At the end gather your pastry together (don’t kneed it), place it in some cling film and chill for 30 minutes before rolling it out between two large sheets of clingfilm and lining your tin. Such a simple technique but it really does produce the most smooth and evenly worked pastry. Plus you handle it very little so it stays nicely cool and the butter doesn’t melt.
Here the technique is beautifully hand modeled her by my friend Kizzy, who I met on the first day bread course and was back for the second day too!

The Pâte Sucrée (French sweet pastry) also had a very different technique. This was made almost like making fresh pasta. You start by pouring your dry ingredients on the work surface and making a well in the middle. Into this you add small cubes of butter and sugar, and squish them into a paste using the very tips of your fingers. You then add some egg yolks and again work them into the butter/sugar mix using your fingers until you end up with rather a soft and sloppy mixture. You then switch to a pallet knife and draw the flour into the butter mixture using a cutting and sweeping motion with the blade of the pallet knife. Once it begins to form a dough, keep chopping it with the blade and folding it back together with the knife almost like chopping fresh herbs. It will be too soft to handle with your hands.
Scoop the dough into a mound, wrap in clingfilm and chill before rolling out between two layers of clingfilm again. So clever! It produced the most amazing pastry. Really light, buttery and perfectly short. It held together beautifully but crumbled deliciously in the mouth.

Just look at the lovely little cherry Bakewell tarts we made with it. I took one of mine home and fed it to my parents. They can both be quite critical of gluten free food, but said they would never have known these were gluten free – hurrah!

We were running a bit short on time so in the afternoon we quickly made cheese gougères which are savoury cheesy choux buns. You eat them as they are, no extra filling required, the astonishing amount of cheese incorporated into the batter adding the flavour. When eaten warm the cheese is wonderfully melty. Kizzy and I decided to also added a pinch of paprika and chilli powder to ours for a bit of background heat. It also explains why ours came out a little orange!

They were delicious and certainly very cheesy, although sadly not as perfectly formed as we’d have liked as we ran out of time and had to take them out the oven before they were fully cooked. The top tip for this one is to let the batter cool before beating in the eggs to form the paste. (I think this is where I went wrong when I attempted them previously) It’s hard work beating in the eggs, you have to do it gradually and the mix is very thick and stiff, so you need a friend to help you or else some strong arm muscles!

Overall I had a fantastic day, the food was delicious, the company amazing and the techniques I learnt are invaluable. I can’t wait to try some out myself at home. At the start of the courses I was most looking forward to the bread day, but I think after doing both, the pastry has the edge on knowledge, skills and overall deliciousness value for me. I would really really recommend this pastry course to anyone struggling with gluten free pastry.

Note: As with the bread course, I attended this gluten free pastry course of my own accord. I was not invited by Leiths to attend, I received no discount on the fees and they never knew I write a food blog. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Leiths School of Food & Wine: Gluten Free Bread

Last week I spent two very exciting days attending a gluten free baking course at Leiths School of Food &Wine! I’ve was diagnosed coeliac nearly 4 years ago, and although I’ve never allowed it to stop me from baking, I’ve never had any kind of training or professional advice about the best ways of creating gluten free dishes and foods and so decided it was high time I did.

I wanted to learn some special techniques for some of the more complicated/advanced aspects of gluten free baking, rather than just a general beginners gluten free cookery course, which would probably have covered things like cakes and biscuits, which I feel I have mastered pretty well on my own. Instead I selected two individual day courses to combine for a more in depth knowledge of some of the most problematic foods to create when baking gluten free. Day 1 was Gluten Free Bread and Day 2 was Gluten Free Pastry.

The bread course was great fun. We were a fairly small group of only 7 students, meaning we all got to work around the one big table, chat and get to know each other. Being a gluten free course everyone there was either coeliac or had a wheat intolerance. It was so nice to be in a group of people and feel ‘normal’ while we all chatted about our favourite recipes and restaurants and the little bug-bears we have about gluten free. We were 6 girls and 1 male, who along with the female cast of teacher and 2 female assistants was a little outnumbered. David was lovely though and reminded me a bit of Howard from the previous series of Great British Bake Off.

What I enjoyed the most was how hands on it was. Our teacher over both days was a lovely lady called Adriana, a past Leiths student, who started specializing in gluten free after her daughter was diagnosed coeliac. Adriana would show us a recipe, describing the techniques to use and the reasons behind why certain ingredients were used. We were then let loose to create the same recipe ourselves.

First up was gluten free focaccia. When baking gluten free bread you need a sough that it is a lot wetter and softer than regular bread dough. It’s more like a thick paste and you can’t knead it as you would for wheat bread. This is because the wheat flour (and gluten) is replaced with a range of starches and gums that absorb a lot more water, and it needs to be wet enough to allow these starches to become hydrated and rise without being too heavy and dense.

The focaccia recipe also used some ground almonds as one of the ingredients that I thought at first was a little odd, but Adriana explained that this was to help improve the breads protein content. This wasn’t done for health reasons, but for structure. Gluten is the protein found in wheat and so if this is removed, they the structure that makes up the texture of the bread will also change. Adding gums can help replicate the elasticity of gluten, but adding another protein source can also help the structure and texture of some breads – top tip! Makes sense once you think about it.

We shaped our focaccia breads by smoothing out the dough with very wet hands, left it to prove, dimpled the top with our fingers to create the characteristic hollows in the top, drizzled with olive oil and decorated with sea salt and fresh rosemary sprigs. A short bake later and we were all bring fantastically crisp and golden focaccias out of the oven. The aroma from the fresh rosemary was mouthwatering.

As always happens it was interesting to see how the same recipe could produce slightly different results for each of us. I was very proud when I was deemed Star Baker for my focaccia!

We hungrily tore off pieces to taste and I was very impressed. The crust was crisp with a great salty flavour and the inside was soft and springy, with well defined air holes that are characteristic of focaccia. The rosemary had given it a wonderful fragrance too. After a quick taste we set them to one side to cool and began work on our pizza bases which would be our lunch.

I worked next to a lovely girl called Kizzy and as the day wore on we discovered we had a lot in common including a love of food and baking. It was such a treat to find a kindred spirit and we helped each other out throughout the day. The recipe for the Focaccia is below and the course also included Pizza, Seeded Crackers, Chai Multi Seed Loaf, Teff Bread, Corn Tortillas and…Brioche!!!

Some of the recipes I felt were more successful than others but the hints and tips and knowledge I picked up throughout the day was wonderful. Adriana and all the staff were so friendly and open with their knowledge and encouraged questions that it was a great day. We got to take all our breads (that we hadn’t previously devoured) home with us.

I was most excited by the brioche. It was meant to be orange and cranberry, but they ran out of ingredients and so instead I improvised with a chocolate chip, sour cherry and freshly ground cardamom version. My brioche loaves were still hot from the oven when I had to run for my train home and so I ended up perfuming the train with the heady scent of cardamom (I got a little over excited and added far too much to my brioche) but it smelt and tasted lovely. The texture was not quite like regular brioche but for a soft buttery yeasty sweet bread it was divine!

Note: I’d highly recommend the course and wanted to point out that I attended the course of my own accord. I was not invited by Leiths to attend, I received no discount on the fees and they never knew I write a food blog.

Next up pastry!

Gluten Free Focaccia (also egg and dairy free)
110g gluten free plain flour (we used Doves Farm plain)
220g cornflour (corn starch)
55g ground almonds
2 tsp salt
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp caster sugar
14g quick active dry yeast
350g/ml tepid water
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Fresh rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 220C. Place a large baking tray into the oven to heat up. Lay a sheet of silicone paper onto your work bench.
Combine the flours, ground almonds, salt, xanthan gum, sugar and yeast into a bowl. Mix well to ensure all combines.
Weigh out the water and add the olive oil. It should be warm but not hot.
Pour most (not all) of the water over the dry ingredients and beat with a wooden spoon until everything is combined. It should be thick but wet to the touch. A few lumps are fine. Beat for 1 minute. You want a wet dough without it being runny, it must still hold a little shape without oozing. Add a little more water if needed.
Turn the dough onto the silicone paper and form into a mound. Dip the whole palm of your hand into a bowl of water and you’re your hand to gently shape and smooth the dough into an oval shape, around 1 inch thick. Keep dipping your hand into the water to smooth it out, it should look very wet and smooth on top when done. Don’t worry its looking too wet.
Once formed, set aside to prove for 20 minutes.
Once slightly puffed, dip your fingers into water and dock the dough to form dimples in the surface, only make the hollows about halfway into the dough, don’t press to the base. Be gentle as the dough will be soft and airy.
Brake off sprigs of rosemary and place some inside each of the hollows. Sprinkle over a generous amount of coarse sea salt and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.
Remove the hot baking tray from the oven and slide the focaccia onto it, still on its silicone paper. Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.
Remove from the oven and tap the base of the bread, it should sound hollow. If not, bake for a further 5 minutes and test again.

Transfer to a cooling rack to cool. Eat or freeze on day of baking.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Banana & Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake

Since last weekend I have had 3 bananas sitting on my counter which were specially bought with the sole intention of making banana cake. During the week they were becoming a little overripe, even for banana cake, so I put them in the fridge to slow down the ripening process.

Last week was very stressful. I’ve been having a few health issues which combined with a hectic time at work and trying to buy my first house has led to a few weeks of very poor sleep. Come Friday evening I felt exhausted and grumpy. Then to top it all I had an awful nights sleep (or rather complete lack of it) so was feeling thoroughly fed up and tearful by the time Saturday morning arrived. Which was why at 6:30am in the morning I was snuggled in my dressing gown mashing bananas for banana cake. Ah solitude and tranquillity.

There is something soothing about licking banana batter off a spatula early in the morning when you’re tired and irritable. I decided to bake my banana cake as a loaf cake, as I was craving something simple and homely.

I was going to go with a plain banana batter, but I suddenly remembered the chocolate and banana marble cakes I used to bake years ago. I hadn’t baked one for years and as I was feeling nostalgic I decided to split my batter in half, add cocoa powder to one part and create a banana marble loaf cake. On the spur of the moment I also decided to add cardamom to the batter rather than my usual cinnamon or mixed spice. This added a lovely aromatic undertone against the sweet banana and went brilliantly with the chocolate too. I love the feather effect created by swirling the two batters together.

The cake isn’t overly sweet, the main sweetness coming from the ripe bananas, and even then it’s still definitely less sweet than normal cakes. I actually preferred this as it meant I could eat a slice for breakfast without feeling guilty and meant when I had another slice later on, I could spread it with some nut butter or Nutella without it being too sweet. I used some homemade sesame & honey almond nut butter which was really good with the banana.

The cake sliced and kept well. I love how each new slice reveals a different chocolate and banana marble pattern. It was soft, moist and packed with banana flavour. I loved being able to cut off a slice and then snuggle into the sofa and nibble at it with my fingers. No need for fancy forks here. It was almost like two cakes in one, as you had the lighter softer banana sections interspersed with the richer, slightly bitter chocolate parts. Mmm delicious.

Next time you’ve had a bad day, why not treat yourself to the deliciously simple baking bliss that is banana & chocolate marble loaf cake.

Banana & Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake
280g ripe banana (peeled weight, around 3)
80g light soft brown sugar
200g plain flour (160g rice flour, 25g cornflour (or potato starch), 15g tapioca starch)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cardamom
2 eggs
120ml vegetable oil
20g cocoa powder (for only half the mix)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease a loaf tin and line with one long strip of greaseproof paper, so it lies over the base and up the two sides in one long strip. My tin was approx 22cmx11cm and 6.5cm deep (top edge measurments).
Mash the banana with a fork until very soft but a few lumps remain. Place into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, expect the cocoa powder.
Beat together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Divide the batter in half, pouring half into a separate bowl. Add the cocoa powder to one half and beat again to incorporate. The batter will become thicker, this is fine.
Add alternating tablespoon blobs of the chocolate and banana batter into the lined loaf tin. Then repeat with another layer, alternating the chocolate blobs so it sits on top of a banana blob. I ended up with three layers of alternating batter blobs.
Run a skewer through the batter in alternating vertical lines to create a swirled feather effect.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until well risen and lightly springy to the touch. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for at least an hour before removing from the tin and leaving to cool completely.
Serve in generous slices. Delicious on its own or spread with a little nut butter or Nutella for extra indulgence.

Makes 1 loaf

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Happy Cow Burgers

Last weekend my sister came for a visit. We went out for lunch but in the evening we decided to stay in, cook dinner and watch a film. I’d recently seen a repeat of Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals where he made Happy Cow Burgers. They looked really tasty and quick to make, just what we needed after a tiring day out and about. Why Happy Cow Burgers? Well I can only assume it’s because these are veggie burgers, meaning the cows are happy!

Rather than relying on mushrooms or nuts these are very simple bean and broad bean (nice touch) burgers that are made in minutes by blitzing them in a food processor. They are also nicely spiced with a mix of cumin, coriander and cayenne for a bit of a kick. Jamie served his with coleslaw and in a bun, but my sister doesn’t like coleslaw and I’m not a fan of soft burgers in buns so instead we went with sweet potato wedges, peas and a bit of sliced tomato, you can’t have a burger without tomato.

The rather giant sweet potato wedges were delicious, their soft sweetness working well with the earthy beans and spices. The burgers were nicely flavoured, but we were both a little disappointed with the texture of them. As the mix is just beans and spices, the inside texture was very soft and a little mushy. The thin outside crust was nice but the burgers were quite thick and we felt they could do with another texture. We definitely wouldn’t have wanted them in soft burger buns too, that would have made for a really soft and pappy mouthful.

My sister and I agreed they would be better with some grated raw carrot added for a bit of crunch and texture, or maybe some spring onion or even – dare I say it, sweetcorn kernels added at the end. Just something to add an extra dimension. We also thought they would be better made smaller, falafel size, so each person had 3 mini burgers. This way you would get more of the outside crunch and they would be great for also using in wraps etc. I will try them again as the flavour was good.

Using a tin of black beans has given them rather a dark colour, but if you used cannellini or butterbeans then they wouldn’t be so dark. We both loved the addition of broad beans, they were a nice touch. While we ate we enjoyed the suitably foodie film Julie & Julia. I love Meryl Streep – bon appetit!

Happy Cow Burgers
(Recipe adapted from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals)
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 x 400g tin of mixed beans (I used black beans)
200g frozen broad beans (I used canned)
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp paprika
Zest of 1 lemon
1 heaped tbsp gluten free flour, plus extra for dusting (I used buckwheat)
Sunflower oil for frying

Sweet Potato Wedges
3 large sweet potatoes
3 tsp sunflower oil
1½ tsp mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

To serve
Salad, ketchup, coleslaw (and in our case peas!)

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Start with the sweet potatoes wedges. Wash the potatoes and cut off any bad bits. Leave the skin on and slice them lengthways into long wedges.
Place onto a baking tray lined with foil, drizzle over the oil and scatter with the herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, then turn over and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until soft and lightly golden.

Meanwhile, make the burgers. Put the coriander stalks into the processor, keeping the leaves back. Drain the beans and add to the mixer along with the broad beans, a pinch of salt and pepper, the cayenne, cumin, ground coriander, paprika and lemon zest. Whiz together until a rough paste is formed, you don’t want it smooth, its nice to still have texture. Add the flour and mix again briefly.
Tip the mixture on to a floured work surface and divide into 4 pieces. Have some extra flour on a plate. Form each quarter into a patty about 2.5cm thick and dust well with flour on each side.
10 minutes before the wedges are ready, heat some oil in a large frying pan, add the burgers and allow to fry over a fairly low heat for 4 minutes on each side, flipping them over once golden brown.
Transfer to a plate that has been lined with a sheet of kitchen roll. Turn off the oven and place the burgers and four serving plates into the cooling oven to keep warm.
Prepare your accompaniments, be is salad, coleslaw, cheese, sliced tomatoes, veg, pickles etc.
Divide the wedges between the four plates, adding a burger to each. Serve with the accompaniments of your choice.
Serves 4

Note: while these were tasty, my sister and I agreed they would be better with some grated raw carrot added for a bit of crunch and texture. We also thought they would be batter made smaller, falafel size, so each person had 3 mini burgers. This way you would get more of the outside crunch and would be great used in wraps etc. As they were, we found them to be a bit too soft and smooth inside and defiantly wouldn’t have wanted them in a bread roll. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Tarka Dal

I love Indian food, it is one of my favourite cuisines. The mix of aromatic spices and plentiful use of rice and lentils is my kind of food. Plus a lot of it is naturally gluten free which is always a bonus. Although I love Indian food, I very rarely attempt to recreate it myself at home. The assorted mix of spices requiring just the right balance and correct cooking order to create the wonderfully delicate dishes is not something I have mastered.

I recently saw an episode of Indian Food Made Easy where Anjum made a delicious looking Traka Dal. I love the thick comforting texture of Dal, but am sometimes put off when it arrives swimming in a pool of oil. Anjums version however, looked so fresh and quite straightforward to make, that she inspired me to recreate it myself.

So last weekend when it was thundering and lightning outside I cocooned myself in my kitchen with a pan, some lentils and an aromatic mix of spices. There are a few processes involved but I was pleasantly surprised that the actual cooking of the Dal was surprisingly easy. You start by toasting the spices in oil which helps them release their aromatics and gives everything a more well rounded and balanced spice flavour. My kitchen smelt heavenly, wafts of warm and comforting cumin, coriander, cinnamon and fresh ginger permeated the air.

Another good tip that I actually stole from Rick Stein after watching his India cookery tour, is to use red onions rather than white, as they are naturally sweeter, and to blitz them in a food processor rather than chopping them. This gives small evenly sized pieces that cook well and release their flavour without being too harsh or chunky. It worked a treat and I’m definitely going to be doing this again in future.

In less than two hours I was tucking into a bowl of warm and comforting Tarka Dal. Even as I lifted the spoon to my mouth a fragrant waft of spices filled my senses making my mouth water. The first taste is of a mellow spice with a rich thick texture and soft bite from the lentils. Then the ginger creeps in, the aromatic spices build and finally a gentle prickle of heat comes in from the chili, warming the back of the throat. It was delicious! I was rather proud of myself for achieving something that (to me) tasted quite authentic and had real layers of flavour rather than being generically spiced.

As the remaining Dal cooled down, it continued to thicken. When cool, I was able to use some of the leftovers as a delicious spicy dip and spread, almost like an Indian inspired houmous. If anything it tasted even better the next day when all the spices had mellowed together and developed. I loved how aromatic and fragrant it was rather than just being chili heat or a one note ‘spicy’ flavour. I’d really recommend this recipe, even if you’ve never cooked a curry before. It wasn’t complicated to do and the results more than make up for the little effort involved. Do give it a go!

Tarka Dal
(Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy by Anjum Anand)
500g Chana Dal or split yellow peas
900ml water
2 small or 1 large red onion
2 cm piece fresh ginger
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
2 green chilies, whole
3 cloves of garlic
3 fairly large tomatoes or 6-7 cherry tomatoes
100ml extra water
Salt and pepper

Rinse the Dal or peas under running water. Place into a large saucepan with 900ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with the lid. Leave to cook for 35 minutes. They should still be firm yet tender at this point. Remove from the heat but do not drain.
Meanwhile, prepare the spice base.
Peel the onions and ginger and chop into chunks. Place into a small food blender and blitz until finely chopped, not pureed though.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. With the heat on fairly low, add the cumin, coriander, garam masala, cinnamon and turmeric and allow the spices to sizzle and release their aromatic spice for 1 minute. Do not let them burn.
Tip in the onion and ginger and stir together well. Prick the green chilies so you pierce the skin, but do not actually cut into them. Add to the pan and allow everything to cook for 4-5 minutes until the onion has softened and browned.
Blitz the garlic and tomatoes into a puree using the food blender. Add this to the pan along with 100ml of water and stir well. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until starting to thicken.
Add the cooked lentils and any remaining cooking liquid to the spices. Stir well to incorporate and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Then fish out and discard the chilies.
Now either remove a quarter of the lentil mix and briefly pulse to break down some of the lentils or else give it a few short pulses with a hand blender. You only want to crush and break down a few of the lentils to help thicken the sauce, you want most of them to remain whole.
Add the crushed lentils mix back into the pan and leave to simmer for a further 10 minutes. It should now be a thick and soft and spoonable consistency.
Spoon into bowls and serve with a garnish of coriander (I don’t have any) and flatbreads for scooping and dipping. Also tastes good with a few peas stirred in if you like.
Makes a delicious meal or meal accompaniment.
Serves 4-8 depending on serving occasion

Note: The Dal will continue to thicken as it stands. If you leave it until cold, you can almost use it as a chunky houmous style spread. If wanting to reheat, just add a touch more water and heat through thoroughly. Freezes well.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Roasted Veg & Feta Salad with Gluten Free Cous Cous

I was recently browsing the gluten free section in my local supermarket and was surprised to see free from cous cous on the shelf. Gluten free cous cous, how could that be? Cous cous is traditionally made from wheat semolina, but on further inspection this gluten free variant turned out to be made from coarsely ground maize. Eager to try it out I bought a box and headed home to experiment.

You cook the cous cous in the same way as the traditional kind, Simply pour over some hot liquid, cover and steam to steep for a few minutes. The grains absorb the water, puff up and become light, moist and fluffy. I was very impressed that this maize cous cous worked the same way. To flavour mine I added some spices and then used vegetable stock combined with some garlic and tomato to add extra flavour. I love the red orange hue this gave the cous cous.

To accompany my cous cous I added a mix of roasted and raw vegetables. I always think a mix of both adds great texture to salads. You have the soft sweetness from the roasted veg and then the fresh crisp and crunch from the raw.

My roasted veg were a colourful mix of peppers and red onion. I love the sweetness and fruitiness that develops from peppers as they are roasted. They are crisp and quite watery when raw but a short bake in the oven and they become soft and intensely flavoured. Very pretty too.

The raw element was a mix of green salad vegetables and thin strips of carrot. I always think the mix of greens together looks so fresh and inviting. When mixed all together and some cubes of feta stirred through, it made for a very fresh and colourful cous cous salad.

How did it taste? I was impressed. The cous cous didn’t go mushy, but kept its individual granular shape and texture. It was soft and light, slightly earthy maybe, but very similar to my memories of real cous cous. The mix of roasted and raw veg added great texture and flavour, while the cheese added a nice creamy, salty note. I think it would have been nice to stir through a big handful of fresh herbs too, but I didn’t have any to hand. It kept me going for lunches for 4 days. Perfect for the warmer summer days.

Roasted Veg & Feta Salad with Gluten Free Cous Cous
1 x each red, yellow & green pepper
1 red onion
2 tsp vegetable oil
150g gluten free ‘cous cous’ (made from maize – seen in Tesco & Asda)
300ml hot vegetable stock
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp sun dried tomato puree
1 clove garlic
1 carrot
2 inch chunk of cucumber
Handful sugarsnap peas
2 spring onions
2 fresh springs rosemary
Zest of ½ lemon
100g feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Cut your peppers into 1-2cm squared pieces. Slice the red onion in half and then each half into slices, but leave it assembled as a half, don’t separate out the slices. Place all the veg onto the baking tray, leaving the onion assembled as a whole half, and drizzle over a little oil. (Leaving the sliced onion assembled will prevent it burning on the oven)
Bake for 15 minutes, then give the veg a bit of a stir before baking for a further 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place the cous cous into a large bowl. Stir through the smoked paprika, cumin and cinnamon. Heat your stock until steaming. Finely grate the garlic into a pulp and stir into the stock along with the tomato puree.
Pour the hot stock over the spiced cous cous, give a quick stir and then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to steam for 5-7 minutes so the stock can be absorbed.
Peel your carrot and then use the peeler to cut very thin strips of carrot. Cut the strips into long thin batons using a sharp knife. (You want tiny strips of carrot like you something see in mixed salad bags).
Cut the cucumber into strips and then chop into small pieces. Slice the sugar snap peas and spring onions on a slight diagonal to get long thin pieces.
Return to the cous cous and use a fork to fluff up the grains so they are light and separate from each other.
Stir through the roasted and raw veg. Use your hands to pull the sliced red onion into its individual half moon slices.
Finely chop the fresh rosemary and scatter over the top along with the finely grated zest of the lemon. Give everything a good stir.
Cut the feta into small cubes and stir though gently.
Taste and season accordingly.

Serves 4 as a main meal or great as a side dish