About me

After being diagnosed with a long list of food intolerances seven years ago, I was forced into getting more creative in the kitchen.

For me, the best recipes are those which are easy to prepare and deliver heaps of flavour, perfect for sharing with friends and family without having to single anyone out because of a specialised diet.

My love for cooking and adapting recipes for my own dietary requirements has given me the incentive to share tips with others who also live with restricted diets.

I hope you find a bit of cooking inspiration from my blog. Please feel free to comment and post any questions...

Monday, 18 March 2013

North East meets North Africa

The unsightly snows of March have encouraged this cook to prolong the winter hibernation. With it still not being warm enough to start the salads I chose to cook two very warming, filling and (it may be bad manners to say) delicious dishes on a recent chilly Sunday.

Saturday morning cookery shows inspired me to cook a Moroccan chicken tagine (In a slow cooker) we are in the north after all, which has now swiftly become a staple favourite in the recipe book. I adapted a recipe to suit my dietary requirements and although I used chicken thighs, you can of course use a Quorn chicken substitute. 

I began by blitzing a mixture of chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp ginger, a cardamom pod and a diced white onion in a food processor, then set this aside for later. I then browned a roughly chopped white onion in the deep, heavy based pan with a little olive oil, mixing in a blend of paprika, cumin, ginger and chilli. Once the onions had a little colour, I sealed the chicken thighs, before pouring in the puréed mixture and allowing to bubble a little while, before mixing in a generous spoonful of honey, followed by 3/4 pint of chicken stock. 

Meanwhile I roasted diced butter nut squash in the oven at 200 degrees C with honey, thyme, black pepper and paprika until golden brown. 

Turning my attention back to the chicken, I brought the whole pot to the boil, before turning down to a simmer and covering to allow the flavours to infuse. After about twenty minutes, I adjusted the flavours, adding seasoning, spice and a little more honey to taste. At this point I added chopped, sweet dried dates and the butter nut squash, before covering for a final ten minutes until the chicken was fully cooked and soft. I served it with al dente green beans and honey roast parsnips and it went down a treat!

In a writing seminar, I chose to describe the dish to improve my sensory writing, with a little artistic licence:

I stand, leaning over the bubbling, aromatic pot, heavy with the smells of North African spices; cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, ginger and paprika. The swirling steam is rich in flavour as well as scent and the colour provides you with an instant feeling of warmth. The thickening burnt orange sauce is nicely complimented by the deep red varnish of the tagine lid. Plump chicken thighs bob up and down, bathing in the liquid which is dotted with brassy, shining dates, slowly releasing their sweet flavour into the dish. Little, golden chunks of roast butternut squash adorned with honey, sweet garlic and a grind of black pepper are toppled into the tagine as it teeters on the edge of precision and readiness, the hungry diner looking on with excitement and anticipation.

Several hours later, it was time for something sweet. As a sceptical baker (gluten, dairy intolerances make it a tricky feat) I knew that a layered fruit crumble would be a safe bet when using wheat free plain flour, dairy free spread and sweetener.

Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a large dish, place frozen mixed berries (easy to buy from the supermarket), sweet dried cherries and golden sultanas and a sprinkle of sweetener and cinnamon, with a drizzle of honey. In another bowl, mix 3 cups of flour, 1 ½ cups sweetener and 1 ½ cups soft, cubed butter. Crumble the mixture between your fingers, rubbing in the butter until you have an even texture. Don’t rub the butter in too far though; it should still have a good crumbly texture. I then loosely mixed crushed hazelnuts and a tbsp of cinnamon through the crumble topping, before tumbling on to the top of the crumble, evenly covering the fruit.

Cook in the oven for roughly 45 minutes or until the top of the crumble is golden brown. Serve the crumble with dairy free custard or ice cream, get cosy on the sofa with a blanket and enjoy!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

My first Sunday Lunch

Is it wrong or just plain sad that since living in Newcastle, I have never before, independently cooked a Sunday lunch. In retrospect, probably a bit of both, but for those of you living with food intolerances and dietary requirements I am sure you can understand where I'm coming from.

Generally, whilst everyone else looks forward to the pork crackling, Yorkshire puddings, gravy and crispy roast potatoes of a Sunday, we know that all that awaits us will be a plate of plain, cooked vegetables. But this need not be the case!

After recently making the decision to reintroduce poultry into my diet (on the rare occasion and for health reasons) I was treated to a taste of the incredibly rich, sweet sauce which accompanies the 'Confit crispy duck' at work.

A bold and flavoursome chicken stock sets the base. Fresh chicken bouillon is available in all good supermarkets and is a good choice for a special occasion. Just be careful to check the ingredients, as some can contain wheat. I have seen wheat free alternatives in the major supermarkets and health food shops for those of you who do eat meat. But for the vegetarians and vegans, some vegetable bouillon stock powder would do the job, perhaps with a tsp of Marmite blended in.

In a separate pan, whilst the gravy is gently simmering, helped along with the occasional stir of a wooden spoon, you can prepare the second sauce, to be added to the gravy.

In a shallow pan, reduce a good few glugs of red wine with a generous squeeze of honey. Add a cinnamon stick, a few star anise and some orange peel to the pan and allow to bubble down until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Make sure you keep an eye on the pan, so that it doesn't over reduce and end up ruining your pan. You need not stir the sauce either as the flavours will all meet in the middle eventually. Once both sauces are ready, slowly pour the sweet wine sauce into the gravy, whilst stirring slowly and season to taste.

As a vegetable advocate, I see no reason to simply steam a load of greens and be done with it. For my Sunday lunch, honey glazed carrots, sugar snaps and green beans in garlic and creamy mashed sweet potato and swede accompanied poached chicken breasts. Similarly you could cook Quorn chicken style fillets or sausages for the non meat eaters.

Lightly boil slender carrot sticks, before melting down some honey and tossing the carrots through the sweet syrup. Add a handful of chopped fresh parsley and a grind of black pepper before serving.

Steam your greens and then transfer them to a hot, lightly oiled griddle pan, add a couple of tsps of lazy garlic or freshly crushed, seasoning and allow to char slightly for extra taste.

The sweet potato/swede mash is a nice alternative to regular spud mash as it's got a lot more flavour and a lot less starch, which can be irritating for the digestive system. I like to cube a large sweet potato and swede (to serve 3-4 people) and allow to boil with a little seasoning or veg stock in the water until soft to the bite. Drain the water and get heavy handed with the masher to get rid of lumps. Stir in a drizzle of honey, splash of soya milk OR nob of dairy free butter and a generous grind of black pepper. Stir the added extras evenly throughout the mash and heat through once more before serving.

After a lazy morning in bed, followed by a drive through the country on a chilly, yet bright Sunday, I was at the height of relaxation and ready to get in the kitchen to prepare our real Sunday roast. And after what seemed like very little effort, perhaps helped along by a Crabbie's ginger beer with wedges of sharp lemon and lime, I was ready to sit down to our healthy, tasty feast and a childhood favourite film.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Smells Like Christmas

For me the flavours and smells of Christmas are essential to get me in the mood for the festive season. Cinnamon, cloves, and sweet citrus scents are just some of the aromas which have passed through my kitchen the last fortnight.

Every year, I try to make or bake at least some of my gifts for the family. Not only is this a great way of saving money and avoiding the madness of the city shoppers, but people really appreciate the extra effort.
My glistening chili jam, or rather Nigella’s, has become a staple part of my Christmas, and always plays a part in a hamper for the parents.

You will need: 150g red peppers, 150g red chilies de-seeded 600ml cider vinegar, 1kg jam sugar and roughly 5 empty, sterilised jam jars.

Start by: chopping the peppers and chilies into chunks, then place them in a food processor and blitz into small, red shards. Dissolve the jam sugar in the cider vinegar in a large pan on a low heat. Do not stir the sugar.

Then: When the sugar is dissolved, add the chili and pepper mix to the pan and bring to the boil. Allow the mixture to boil vigorously for ten minutes, before turning down to a low heat and leaving to simmer for 40 minutes. It’s important not to stir the jam as the flecks of red will evenly distribute themselves in the pan.

Tips:    -    Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow the jam to cool and set further.
-          You may find a thin layer of red froth settles on top of the jam, which I skim off with a wide spoon as it can ruin the look and texture of the jam.
-          Sterilise your jam jars by putting them through the dishwasher and decorate the lids for that added touch.
-          The jam can be used to accompany a variety of foods included cooked meats, cheese boards and prawn and avocado salads.
-          Put the filled jars of jam in the fridge for a few days before giving out to friends so that it has time to set a little more.

                               My recycled jars are still in need of a little decoration at this point.

This time of year, there are certain ingredients which I favour specifically for their Christmas connotations. Several years ago I partook in the cliché that is chestnuts roasting on an open fire. What the song doesn't mention is that they are ticking time bombs, ready and waiting to explode at any moment! From now on, I score a cross in my chestnuts and place them on a baking tray in a ‘closed’ oven at 200 ‘C for 10-15 minutes.

More recently, I was introduced to the magic of mulled wine. I have never been a fan of red wine, but heated through with some mulling syrup and I will be straight to the front of the queue, poised with a mug. This has become a core component of my house mate’s diet and the alcoholic fumes, emanating from the cauldron like pan, fill the house nightly with festive giggles and hiccups.

The last Christmas before I left for university, I took control of the kitchen and made it my mission to deliver a Christmas dinner where the vegetables were the stars of the show. After watching Delia, Jamie, Nigella and Gordon do it their way, I devised a schedule for the big day and spent the morning chopping, marinating, boiling and roasting all the usual vegetables you expect to see alongside your turkey or nut roast. My sprouts were oven cooked in a honey mustard sauce, the carrots were roasted with orange and thyme and the peas had a minty finish. But my favourite side dish and one which I now regularly make in the winter months is my braised red cabbage with apples and balsamic.

Everyone seems to have their own way of making this dish and even my version has gone through adaptations.

To make a hefty batch that will feed at least four people, you will need:

1 red cabbages chopped, 3 braeburn apples peeled and diced, 1red onion diced, a good handful of sultanas, 5 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp mixed spice.

Start by: Softening the red onion and cabbage in a large, heavy bottomed pan in the hot oil on a high heat. Stir continuously for several minutes before adding the chopped apple and stirring a while longer.

Then: Reduce the heat, add the balsamic vinegar, mixed spice, sultanas and sugar and mix well. Cover the pan with a lid and allow to simmer on a low heat for roughly an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s worth tasting the dish a couple of times whilst it cooks, in case you want to add a little more vinegar, sugar or spice to suit your tastes.

Once the cabbage is soft, the dish is ready to serve and makes a great accompaniment to a typical roast dinner. Although, I have been known to happily eat it on its own. The delicious balance of sweet and savoury with a slight tang makes it a filling and comforting dish which is sure to convert any cabbage haters.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Winter comforts

For a northern girl, wintry weekends are best spent out in the country, trudging through puddles and crunching through crispy red leaves. For me, this is best followed by a couple of hours, lazing in the warmth with delicious food and good company.

Despite the ever nearing deadlines of the autumn semester, it’s important to take the time and stop to remember what’s important in life and enjoy the little things.

For me, cookery is one of the best forms of relaxation and this is especially true during the festive season.

For many students, Christmas can be difficult financially. The last installment of the student loan has run dry, but you still want to return home with gifts for those closest to you.

Last year I decided to make a Christmas hamper for my parents. It was filled with treats including home baked olive and sun dried tomato bread, glistening chili and red pepper jam perfect for cooked meats and cheese and an assortment of chocolate dipped, dried fruits.

Delighted with their gift, the home made Christmas hamper will be making a comeback this December in collaboration with my sister and a few bottles of strawberry and blackberry wine from Tatton Park.

The villages and national trust attractions throughout the north are committed to promoting locally sourced and produced food and beverages. After hearing about a small, artisan bakery in Northumberland, renowned for its generous afternoon teas and excellent customer service, we decided to take a drive up to “The Running Fox.”

Located in the quaint village of Felton, near Morpeth, overlooking a river of cackling ducks, the bakery is a popular destination for country walkers and local residents. With less than ten tables, it is essential to make a booking, but you can also purchase any of the delicious breads, cakes and pies displayed throughout the bakery to take away.

Having arrived early, we were keen to explore the nearby countryside. Armed with wellies, woollens, yet a lack of directions, we trundled down a muddy track, past the icy river waters and hiked up through a field of sheep. As we skated down a long, steep snicket past an old farmhouse, decorated with holly wreaths, the scales of a piano lesson could be heard emanating from indoors.

Thankfully, we soon found our way back to the cobbled, stone bridge leading to the bakery. Inside, a cosy corner table had been reserved for us, surrounded by fairy lights and Christmas decorations, the walls lined with miniature watercolours of Northumberland’s wildlife.

The menu boasts a large variety of delicious hot and cold meals, freshly prepared soups, hot specials and a spectacular selection of ingredients.

Vegetarians and Pescetarians need not worry, as a wide choice of sandwich and pie fillings are available, and as I found, the staff are more than happy to suggest alternatives for anyone living with dietary requirements.

Luckily, my lunch date had the freedom to enjoy all the components of the famous afternoon tea. A choice of pie, sandwich, scone and cake, all with an endless supply of tea or coffee at a very reasonable price meant that we could sit and enjoy the traditional scenery and French music for the rest of the afternoon.

After deciding on a slice of cottage pie, a brie, bacon and cranberry sandwich, fruit scone with all the trimmings and a slice of cranberry and orange cake, we were approached with a two tier cake stand, brimming with enough treats to feed a small family. ‘Generous’ portions would be an understatement in terms, but don’t worry, you can always take home what you don’t manage in one sitting.

After being out in the cold, I was looking forward to a creamy, filling bowl of soya porridge, decorated with fresh berries, a swirl of honey and a dusting of cinnamon.
When we finally managed to drag ourselves away from this little Eden, my attention was caught by the proffering of wheat free, chocolate cake and fluffy Victoria sponge. It goes without saying that a portion found its way home with me, to be shared with housemates.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Spooky but Sweet

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and the temperatures have dropped. On the eve of our belated Halloween party, I can look back on a week of warming dishes and nights spent swaddled in blankets...hiding from trick or treaters.

Not because I disapprove of the mini ghouls and ghosts, but because the cupboards of a dieter who severely limits sugars and fats are likely to receive tricks. Rice cake anyone?

After carving pumpkins last weekend, sweet root vegetables has been a running theme in my cooking lately, providing natural sugars and a filling accompaniment to many foods.

I began the week with roasted butternut squash, tumbled across a bed of wilted spinach and topped with a zingy, marinated fillet of poached salmon. A first time combination, but so good, I had it two nights running.

-For two portions start by mixing the marinade for your salmon fillets. In a shallow bowl mix 5 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp crushed ginger and 2 tbsp white wine vinegar. Place both fillets in the bowl and turn them over in the marinade several times before covering with clingfilm and placing in the fridge.
-Chop the butternut squash into cubes (don't bother removing the skin, the job already requires a bit of elbow grease and the skin will soften beautifully as it roasts in the oven.) Place the squash on a baking tray, drizzle with  a little olive oil and honey, give it a generous grind of black pepper, a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle over a handful of chopped, fresh rosemary. Place the tray in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes or until golden and soft. 

-Ten minutes before the squash is ready, take your salmon from the fridge, place each fillet on a large square of tin foil, fold up the edges and pour over the remaining marinade equally. Close the foil parcels leaving space above the salmon so it can steam in the oven. Place above the squash and allow to cook for ten minutes. 

-Whilst the oven finishes off the work on the fish and squash, you can quickly wilt your spinach. An easy method for this is to place a large amount of fresh spinach leaves in a steamer and leave for several minutes. Keep an eye on the steamer though as you don't want your spinach to overcook and lose it's flavour.

- Once everything is ready you can assemble your colourful dish. Make sure not to waste any of the delicious tangy marinade, as it makes a lovely, light dressing for your roast butternut squash.

This dish has quickly become a firm favourite as it doesn't involve that much work and within an hour, you can sit down with your lucky dinner guest and a glass of pinot.

A few days and pumpkin lattes later, a bag of sweet potatoes made their way home with me and featured in two different dishes, one fit for a gluten, dairy free meat eater and one for yours truly (too many dietary requirements to list.)

In exchange for a bottle of white...after all it is holiday (and essay) season, I whipped up a spicy chorizo and roast sweet potato risotto, laden with sweet paprika and mild chilli powder for extra heat. Lovingly cooked al dente, with the addition of vegetable stock and the occasional slosh of white wine, it was smiles all round, both tiddly and satisfied.

For myself, I added the cubed and roasted sweet potato with paprika to a simple, but tasty ratatouille and happily settled down with the pumpkin lanterns to enjoy our dinner. 

Tomorrow night is likely to be a lot less sophisticated and filled with an abundance of scarier sights than my week of special suppers! Thankfully there are still some sweet potatoes I could whip into a comforting Autumn soup on Sunday to sooth a delicate head. Dairy free of course, this Catwoman doesn't take kindly to cream.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Great British Birthday Cake Bake Off!

Like most of the country, Tuesday nights in our house means an hour of oo-ing, aah-ing and sometimes a little drooling in front of the TV.

The Great British Bake Off is well under way, filled with innuendo and euphemisms over sticky fingers and plump buns, it's both educational and a good giggle.

After the landlord recently splashed out on a new all singing, all dancing television, bells and whistles inc. We were able to witness Chelsea buns and walnut whips in 3D!!

The immediate post gbbo temptation to bake has resulted in numerous loaves of bread and scones, but today, my mission was to bake a Nigella Lawson inspired Venetian carrot cake.

Despite a passion for cooking, I am somewhat of a nervous baker. Perhaps it's the fact that once you have mixed all your ingredients together, it's a case of saying a little prayer and hoping that the oven will take care of your dish and make the magic happen. Throughout my baking past, the magic has occasionally been lacking.

Mary Berry would have been mortified by my treacle tarts.

But after reading Nigella's "How to be a domestic Goddess", my faith was restored and a friend's birthday created the opportunity to fish out the scales and have a go at a wheat and dairy free carrot cake that my sister bakes for me every time I visit.

For my big sister's version of the Venetian carrot cake:

  •  Grate 3 large carrots and soak up the excess water by pressing down on the carrots with kitchen towel. 
  • In a pan, mix 2 large handfuls of sultanas with a glug of dark rum and a good splash of fresh orange juice, then set aside.
  • Whisk 120ml olive oil with 150g caster sugar. Once light and fluffy, whisk in 250g ground almonds, the zest of a lemon, the sultanas, grated  carrot, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
  • A mixture of sunflower and pumpkin seeds are an optional addition to the mix, they add another texture and provide a good source of nutrients to the cake.
  • Pour the mixture in to a pre-prepared cake tin and place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 30-40 mins. Once the top has browned slightly,you can turn off the oven and allow the cake to rest until cool. 
The cake will not rise by much, so don't worry if it still looks a little short, you can always whisk together a dairy free butter cream topping with a dash of rum and lather this on top with a spatchelor to add height.

My cake is currently resting, preparing to be doused in icing and sprinkled with citrus strands and glitter. Fingers crossed for rave reviews, I think the silver fox Mr. Paul Hollywood would be tempted to take a bite!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Nigella's back!

Luscious, velvety, rich, luxurious, decadent and over exuberant television cookery has returned!!
Rife with adjectives, but with a much slimmer waistline, Nigella is back with her latest collection of Italian recipes, entitled "Nigelissima".

Not her smoothest book and television show title, but nevertheless I can forgive as I secretly wish I was related to this woman! For now though,  I shall settle for looking towards her for cooking inspiration as I wouldn't mind being the next, more dietary challenged version.

During the rush to get ready for uni, I caught up with the first episode and could quite happily have dived into the chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake, were it not for the wheat and dairy laden ingredients. Oh yes and the hazelnuts!! Like many people I seem to go through the occasional period of nut sensitivity. Quite possibly due to a recent obsession with crunchy nut cornflakes, but I shall not be deterred!

I was pleased to find a jar of dairy free chocolate spread in a health and nutrition store recently, the holy grail for any chocoholic, especially those tired of the oily carob and dairy free chocolate bars more commonly found in supermarkets.

This would be a perfect substitute for the nutella used in Nigella's recipe. Dairy free soft cheese is also now widely available and along with icing sugar you have the ingredients for your cheesecake topping! The typical cheesecake base is made from crushed digestive biscuits, mixed with melted butter and pressed into a cake tin before chilling in the fridge.

Once again health food stores and supermarket free from sections can provide substitutes to help you achieve your nigella-esque cheese-less cake.

The woman has always been somewhat of a fairy cooking godmother for me. Her preference for researching other cook's recipes and adapting them for her own tastes is something which I am more than familiar with. She has a tendency to lean towards the low effort, but big results style of cooking, which regularly guesstimates on quantities and which again highly reflects my own behaviour in the kitchen.

Tonight for instance, I took a Nigella recipe for 'Norwegian mountain bread' and tweaked a few of the ingredients. My basic dough mixture was a blend of wheat free flour,porridge oats, mixed toasted seeds, yeast, soya milk and water.

After combining the wet and dry ingredients separately, the two are then brought together and mixed vigorously to a porridge like texture. I decided to stick to the cooking temperatures and times as baking is definitely more of a science than cooking. It is also then easier to blame the recipe if things don't work out...sorry Nigella.

Whether the majority of recipes will be to my taste or not "Nigelissima" is already on my Christmas list and will feel right at home in amongst my collection of Nigella cookbooks.

The next topic of trial and discussion...Great British Bake Off and Masterchef! A dreary start to Autumn has been improved by the comeback of cookery shows!