Sunday, 25 September 2011

Catering for a Private View

My embroidery group have their first group exhibition on at the moment, so I insisted on catering for the Private View.  I made carrot muffins, vanilla cupcakes, macarons and mini quiche. As I used a mini muffin tin for everything except the macarons, each item was one or two bites. The quiche are on two separate trays.  They were flavoured with roasted peppers, Parmesan and brie, and basil pesto with pine kernels.

I realised doing this that, though I make the carrot muffins regularly I haven't put the recipe on the blog as I devised the recipe before I started keeping records this way.  I'll put the recipe and method on later.

Of course I over-catered.  We had invited sixty people but only about thirty turned up.  This is usual, but it would be shame to have the food run out.  I had gone prepared with little food-grade paper bags so I could send people home with cakes.

I had originally intended to make samosas too, but decided against that as I would have had to set up the fryer.  It would have been better to have more choice of savoury food.  Also, the macarons were very sweet, and my initial test of a coffee flavoured one would have been good.  The lime and orange macarons were appreciated, but a bigger contrast of flavour would have been useful.

Quantities: Double carrot muffin recipe, single vanilla cake  recipe, pastry made with 250g butter and 500g flour, and two quantities of macorons recipe.

This would certainly be sufficient for sixty people.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

macarons or macaroons?

Recipes for macarons keep coming to my attention.  A naturally gluten free food, though one I couldn't buy from a bakery as it would be made in a contaminated environment.  So, why bother learning to make them?  Well, I have a Private View in a few days, and I need bite sized foods that can be made ahead and be enticing.

The first step was to understand the difference between macarons and macaroons.  They both have the same ingredient - meringue and ground almonds.  As I see it, macaroons are the country cousins - simple, unfussy, and whatever size and shape comes naturally.  Macarons are the haute-couture end - total precision, aspects which don't affect taste still matter, and produced in wild colours and a myriad of flavours.

The first macarons I made were not smooth on the top.  However, the mixture that I scraped from the inside of the piping bag and dolloped on the tray did have that smooth shiny surface and the slightly bubbly looking 'foot'.  Reading a few more recipes and I have decided that I whipped the meringue slightly too stiffly, was too gentle with my folding, and should have blitzed the ground almonds to be a bit finer.  The mix needs to be sloppier than you would want a meringue if you were making a pavlova.

There is an important stage of leaving the trays of raw mixture blobs to sit and dry for a while.  I couldn't see the difference between the ones that I left for fifteen minutes and the ones I left for half an hour (the recipe said to bake one tray at a time).  Being able to leave these once piped makes this a lower stress job. They need to be left long enough that the top drys a bit - one blog said until they weren't sticky anymore.  The time this takes will vary depending on how humid the weather is.

The next uncertainty is how long they keep.  One blog said eat immediately, or freeze. Another said you need to leave the filled macarons for between one and four days (depending on filling) for the moisture balance to be right.

The little cooked macarons that I made are very munchable, though really more like mini macaroons.  We will keep trying them over the next few days to see if the texture changes. In the mean time, the fantasist in me is having a lovely time planning flavours and colours, though I probably wont go as far as the gold leaf.

Initial macaron blog - came to through a twitter feed

a master class - useful information about textures

I've been thinking  orange would be good:

and maybe coffee

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mini quiche - canapes for a Private View

I am catering for a Private View next week - I insisted on providing the food so that I could enjoy myself safely.  Pondering what to make...perhaps some macarons, which seem to turn up everywhere at the moment but I have never made or carrot cakes..but there needs to be something savory too.  I had about 150g pastry left over in the fridge from making the Venison pie last week, so I left it to come to room temperature and made some quick mini quiches.

Makes ten little savory tarts

150g pastry - made with 1/3 butter, 2/3 my gf flour mix.
One egg
1 tbs grated Parmesan
Roasted red peppers from a jar
Camembert or other cheese - ten little pieces for top of tarts

Bake for 12 minutes at 180C.  Made in a mini muffin tin, using a pastry stomper to shape pastry.

Divide pastry up into ten pieces.  Roll into balls.  Place a ball of pastry in each depression in the muffin tin and stomp the pastry into shape (the stomper is a wooden dumb-bell shaped to make this an easy one-move action).  Otherwise press out with fingers.  Don't worry about being  too neat.

Place a piece of red pepper in each pastry case.  Mix the egg with the grated Parmesan.  Add herbs, pepper or other flavouring if you want.  Cover the pepper with the egg.  Don't fill right to the top as the mixture will expand on cooking.  Top with a piece of cheese.

Bake until golden brown - about twelve minutes.  Cool on rack.  These can be frozen until needed.  As they are tiny they would be fine taken straight to a venue frozen and they will thaw in about half an hour.

This was just a test run.  I will make sufficient for sixty people this weekend and take to the gallery next Thursday.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Making lentil flour

I have been asked how to make lentil flour by MusicFoodLife

"Can you explain how to make lentil flour?  Do you need to cook it first, or do you just clean and grind it?


I don't cook the lentils first.  I am slightly ashamed to admit I never even clean it- I just tip the lentils straight from the packet into the flour mill!

There are three ways  to get the flour:

The first is to find a supplier that provides it ready ground.  The urid lentils I use are availailable from Indian retailers - often labelled Papad flour.  Southern Indians use this lentil flour in their dhosa and other fried/steamed foods.

If you can't find it pre-ground their are two ways to make the flour.

The traditional southern Indian way is to soak the lentils first and then grind them.  Soaking and the usual slow fermentation releases extra nutritional value in the lentil.  If you do this you need a good blender (or the traditional heavy flat stone and stone roller and lots of effort).  Just whizz with some of the liquid until you get a smooth paste.  You can then use this as the start of any recipe that has liquid in it, though it may be difficult to make pastry as that usually has very little water added.  I haven't tried that.

The third route is to grind it in a flour mill.  Again a blender used dry may work.  A coffee/spice grinder should work.  I have a flour mill which does an excellent job but this may be beyond most people's means.  I got one when I realised how awful the pre-packed gluten free four in the UK was, and I tried making flour out of anything I could think of.

I hope this helps - feedback from anyone who tries this would be useful.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Easy mushroom, lentil and butternut squash bake

This warming winter bake combines a spicy savoury base with a sweet starchy topping.  It is vegan, nutritious, and easy to make.

Serves 2 as a one dish meal, 4 as part of meal with extra vegetables, potatoes etc

onion - 1 chopped
sunflower oil
brown or green lentils - 1 can or half a cup dried
mushrooms 600g, sliced
red pepper - 1
hot paprika 1/2 to 1 tsp
mustard 1 tsp
butternut squash 1 medium
olive oil 1 tbsp

Cook the onion in the oil over a medium heat until translucent.  Add the dried lentils to the pan and stir to coat, then top with enough water to cover the lentils.  Cook until soft, checking that it doesn't dry out - about twenty minutes.  If using canned pre-cooked lentils add these to the pan and then continue with the recipe.

Add paprika, mustard and pepper.  If you want a deeper flavour some gf soy or Umami paste can be added.

Add the mushrooms and the red pepper, cut into chunks.
Cook for ten minutes until mushrooms are soft.  The mixture will shrink as the mushrooms cook.

If your mixture is too dry add water, if too wet then either boil to reduce or add a little cornflour, mixed first in a little water.  Stir this in, bring to the boil, and this will give a thicker gravy.

Butternut squash- cut in half and microwave in a suitable container until soft.  This will take about ten minutes.  Let it cool until you can handle it, remove the peel and seeds, and smash.  If the squash is cooked then the peel will come off easily.  If you don't want to use a microwave peel and chop the squash and steam until soft.  Mix a little  olive oil in to the mash.

Put the mushroom stew into a suitable oven proof dish - about 1 to 1.5 litre capacity.  Gently put spoonfuls of mashed butternut squash on top of the mushroom mixture.  Bake for half an hour until the top begins to brown.  You can also eat this without baking, as a stew and side of mashed squash.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Triple Ginger Cake

This cake has a warm spicy flavour from its three types of ginger - fresh, crystallised and dried.  The flavour improves when the cake is kept for a few days, so it is great as a bake ahead treat.

This recipe is based on the Ginger Butter Cake in Williams-Sonoma "Essentials of baking" p 100.

Preheat oven to 170C (fan)
Line 2 small or one large loaf tin with baking parchment

140g crystallised ginger, minced
80ml Grand Marnier
250g gf flour (40%urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal)
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
185g unsalted butter, room temperature
150g icing sugar
1 tbsp golden or agave syrup
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest 1 orange
7.5cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
125 ml milk

Soak the minced crystallised ginger in a bowl with the Grand Marnier for at least ten minutes.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Combine butter, sugar and syrup and beat by hand or mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time. Add orange zest and grated ginger.  Stir in flour mixture, milk and crystallised ginger in Grand Marnier.

Spread batter into tins.  Bake until the cake is set when you insert a knife - about 40 minutes for small tins, 55 for the larger tin. If the cake is getting too brown while it still isn't cooked lower the heat.

Cool in the pan for five minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Cover with a damp towel if you want the outside to stay soft when it cools - otherwise you get a slightly crisp edge.

Dust with icing sugar if wanted.

Venison, Ale and Mushroom pie

I based this recipe on one from  UKTV Food.  This pie has a crisp golden pastry and succulent rich filling.  Pureed beans and onion thicken the sauce.  If you don't want to puree them just add them to the rest of the ingredients at the start of the slow cooking stage.

Serves 6-8

1 pack diced venison (c340g)
1 pack mushrooms (c 200g)  I used chestnut
1 bottle beer - I used Nick Stafford's Hambleton Ales GFA Gluten and Wheat Free Ale
2 onions - chopped
2 carrots- diced
3 cloves garlic - squashed
vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 tsp dried
stock / water - I used chicken as I always have that available in the freezer.
1 small can beans -  cannellini / borlotti or gf baked beans
1 tbsp tomato paste

500 g gf flour (40%urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal)
250 butter
water to bind
egg wash for pastry top if wanted (an egg beaten with a little water, brushed on to pastry before cooking).

Trim any cartilage from the venison pieces. Dry with paper towel.  This will make it spit less when you fry it.

Cover the bottom of your pan with a thin layer of oil.  Place individual pieces of meat in this oil when hot and allow to brown.  Don't over-crowd the pan; you may need to do it in two batches.  When the meat is brown set aside in another dish.

Put the onion and whole squashed garlic cloves in the pan and cook slowly until translucent.  Add extra oil if needed. Remove from the pan.

Cook the carrots and mushrooms for two or three minutes then add the meat back to the pan.  Add the stock, ale, thyme, tomato paste and pepper, and also salt if you want to.  The liquid should cover the meat. Put the lid on and simmer gently for 1.5 hours, checking the levels of the liquid every half hour or so.  If it is getting dry add some water.

Meanwhile, put the cooked onions, garlic and the can of undrained beans in a blender and puree. This will form the thickened gravy for the pie. You can leave the onions and beans unpureed if you prefer.

When the meat and vegetables have cooked for the hour and a half, add the bean and onion puree.    Check for seasoning.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the gravy is the texture you like.  This stew is now ready to be eaten by itself, frozen for another occasion, or used as the pie filling.  Leave to cool before making the pie.

To make the pastry: cut the butter into the flour either by hand or in the food processor.  Add water a little at a time until the dough coheres in a slightly claggy ball.  Wrap in cling film and set aside for at least fifteen minutes for the flours to absorb the water.  If you make it ahead of time, keep it in the fridge but allow it to come to room temperature before rolling out or it will be too stiff to work.

Roll pastry out on a floured board to fit your pie dish or dishes.  This recipe is enough for two 1 pint /  half litre pie dishes.  If you aren't sure of the fit of your dishes, measure how much stew you have and see how that much water fits into your dish.  Place a layer of pastry in the bottom of the dish and put the cooled filling in.  Dampen the top edge of the pastry and place on the top layer of pastry.  Crimp or fork the edges together.  Brush egg wash on if you want a deeper golden and shiny pastry.  Bake for 35 minutes at 170C until pastry is golden brown.

Left over pastry can be made into jam tarts, or rolled out and frozen between greaseproof paper sheets until wanted.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

trying to buy a treat - what's wrong with sorbet and chocolate?

I stopped at the National Trust cafe in Boscastle for a coffee and treat.  The man who runs is is passionate about quality, though his expertise is coffee.  The coffee was very good - flavoursome with none of that bitter or sour tang so often encountered.

They had mini tubs of melon sorbet, and I thought that would be lovely - started hunting for the spoon hidden in the lid and noticed, in tiny writing, that it had wheat in!  Took it back to the counter for a swap, didn't want the brownie as it had xanthum gum, nor the lemon drizzle cake (available individually packaged) or the Mrs Crimble coconut thing.

Little bars of gf organic luxury chocolate - that would do.  Hadn't had any chocolate for ages and I like that with coffee.  I bought a Nero & Bianco orange chocolate bar.

I unwrapped it, took a bite, and was completely astounded.  TT tried some too.  I took it to the chef and insisted he try some.  It didn't taste of chocolate at all and the closest I can think of as a description of the texture is plasticine.  You might be able to see from the bite marks on the chocolate that is has a gooey texture.

Uncle Ben's Rice Time - some are suitable for coeliacs/gluten free

I spotted an ad for Uncle Ben's Rice Time - little duo pots of rice and sauce.  As always on the hunt for food that can safely eaten while travelling I had a look at their website. I don't currently buy any of their products, but could be tempted to try these just for sheer convenience.

 I couldn't find an easy list of what was suitable or not on their website so wrote to the company.  A few days later this helpful list arrived.  I will write back and check how many ppm of gluten they count as suitable for coeliacs, as the UK standard has too much in for me

Dear Lois 

Please find below a list of Dolmio and Uncle Ben's products that are currently suitable for a Coeliac diet

Sauce for Bolognese: Original, Original Low Fat, Organic, Extra Onion & Garlic, Extra Mushrooms, Extra Spicy, Tomato Sauce for Lasagne, Creamy Sauce for Lasagne, Roasted Onion & Garlic Lasagne Sauce
Chunky Sauces for Bolognese: Sweet Pepper, Mediterranean Vegetable, Summer Vegetables
Taste of Italy Sauces for Pasta: Tomato & Mediterranean Vegetables, Tomato & Basil, Tomato & Garlic, Tomato & Chilli
Microwaveable Pouches: Spicy Italian Chilli, Sun Ripened Tomato & Basil, Carbonara
Microwaveable Bolognese Pouches: Original, Extra Mushroom, Extra Onion & Garlic
Pasta Bakes: Carbonara, Creamy Tomato, Sun Dried Tomato & Cheese, Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable
Stir-In Sauces: Sweet Pepper, Sun Dried Tomato, Sun Dried Tomato Light, Oven Roasted Vegetables, Smoked Bacon & Tomato, Creamy Carbonara, Slow Roasted Garlic & Tomato, Cherry Tomato & Pesto, Spicy Tomato & Sweet Onion, Pepperoni
My Dolmio Sauces: Creamy Tomato Sauce, Tomato & Cheese Sauce, Tomato & Pepperoni Sauce
My Dolmio Squeeze Me Pasta Sauces: Tomato & Basil, Creamy Tomato, Tomato & Cheese

Oriental Sauces: Sweet & Sour Original, Sweet & Sour Light, Sweet & Sour Extra Pineapple, Lemon Chicken,
Indian Sauces: Korma, Tikka Masala, Medium Curry, Hot Curry, Balti
Mexican Sauces: Mild Chilli, Medium Chilli, Hot Chilli
Thai Sauces: Thai Coconut Curry,
Rice: Wholegrain, Long Grain, Long Grain boil-in-the-bag, Wholegrain boil-in-the-bag, Basmati boil-in-the-bag
Express Rice: Long Grain Express Rice, Basmati Express Rice, Pilau Express Rice, Vegetable Pilau Express Rice, Golden Vegetable Express Rice, Mushroom Express Rice, Mexican Style Express Rice, Savoury Chicken Flavoured Express Rice, Wholegrain Express Rice, Lemon & Rosemary Express Rice, Special Fried Express Rice, Tomato & Basil Express Rice, Spicy Mexican Express Rice, Long Grain Wild Express Rice, Basmati & Thai Express Rice, Thai Curry Express Rice, Wholegrain & Mediterranean Vegetable Express Rice, Tandoori Express Rice, Mixed Pepper Express Rice, Egg Fried Express Rice, Thai Sweet Chilli
Risotto: Tomato & Herb, Chicken & Mushroom, Bacon & Mushroom, Mediterranean Vegetables
Rice Time (Twin Pots with sauce and rice): Medium Curry, Tikka Masala, Sweet & Sour, Mexican Chilli

Mars Food UK Limited, exercises every care in providing this product information, changes may occur in the future.

If you need any further information or advice please contact our Consumer Careline on the telephone number below and one of our Consumer Care Advisors will be more than happy to help you. 

Kind regards. 

Paula Ricketts 
Consumer Care Team 
0800 952 1234 

Madhatters Tea Shop- Launceston, Cornwall - gluten free

I ate at a cafe in Boscastle, The Spinning Wheel, which proudly announced gluten free foods, supplied by Mad Hatter's.

I ordered a cornish pasty.  I was pleased it was available, but when it came found it inedible.  The pastry had crumbled just in getting it to the plate, the filling was nasty, and the herb flavour of the pastry dominated everything.  Still, I was impressed it was available. As an incessant baker I was disappointed, but I am sure it is better than most of the gf foods available through stores.

However, what impressed me less was that I couldn't find out what was in the pasty.  I asked about the flour, as I am assiduous about avoiding baking levels of xanthum gum.  The waitress said they couldn't tell me what was in it - they asked but were refused.  I am sure this cannot be legal - as a part time baker of foods I have to supply clients with a full list of ingredients.  As it was, the waitress spoke to someone on the phone and they said there was no xanthum gum in the pastry.  The salad was bare as they did admit that the vinegar was malt, but I couldn't find out what the coleslaw was slathered in so I left that.

Trying to meet the needs of people with food intolerances is hard work.  Trying to protect recipes ( if they produce excellent food) makes sense.  However, you do need to list ingredients in quantity order as a producer, so why should this cafe not be told what was in the food they bought and advertised on a large board as being gluten free?

I went to the cafe in Launceston to talk to the staff - I was on holiday in the area for the day.  The shop was closed as it was Saturday afternoon.  I may email them and ask why the cafe they supply will not tell customers what is in the food - when I posted this I immediately got a note from a customer saying that they are very happy to talk about what was in their food at Mad Hatter's.

I am reminded of asking about the ingredients in a Butternut squash curry at a service station.  After a wait of at least five minutes the server came back and said the only allergen listed was shellfish.  Who would have thought the dish that looked like the only hot meal suitable for vegetarians in would have shellfish!

I have been in cafes before where the staff insisted that as the food was supplied centrally they did not know what was in each dish.  In those cases I left.  I do find this casual attitude to essential information in the food industry appalling.

Supermarket strategies - follow up

follow up from the Cooperative Supermarket on placing high gluten bread flour in the Free From section:

Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding the Free From section at the Co-operative store in Pershore. May I apologise for any inconvenience caused to you by this.

I have spoken to the store manager who has advised that the product should not have been ranged in this area and it has been placed in the wrong section and has now removed this from the free from department.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention and if I can be of any further assistance then do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Commercial Support

Laura Brookes
Customer Relations Officer

Telephone: 0800 0686727
Facsimile: 0161 827 6604

It is interesting that there is nothing here about how they decide where to put products or why the  local store persistently says that they don't have a choice about where they shelve things.

I would like to do a piece of investigative journalism about shelving strategies - it is a very difficult issue.  Do you, for example, put the fresh gf bread in with the bread, so increasing the chances of wheat reducers buying it, or in the free from section as people who are very gluten intolerant hate to even walk down the bakery aisle let alone touch the produce.

Date and Banana muffin - gf and no added sugar

These light sweet muffins are easy to make and have no added sugar.  This recipe makes 24 muffins.

4 ripe bananas (approx 400g when peeled), mashed
400g dates, chopped
4 eggs
120ml sunflower oil
400g lois's gf flour (40% urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal)
8tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon if wanted

Chop dates in the food mixer with some of the flour.  Tip into mixing bowl
Chop bananas and whizz in the food mixer with eggs and oil until smooth.
Whisk flour, baking powder and cinnamon together.  The batter froths because of the high baking powder content but the muffins don't sink when cooked.  You can use less baking powder if you want a firmer muffin.

Mix all together and spoon into muffin cases.

Bake at 180C for 20 minutes.

This recipe has no added sugar.  The dates and bananas give it sufficient sweetness.