Monday, 17 September 2018

Food blog eight - for Richard’s ‘official’ birthday bash

The finishing touches have been, or are being, deployed:
We have two iced cakes, Royal Icing with adornments, from my aunt. She has made the decorations herself, out of icing sugar, and one shows all the vegetables Richard grows. Hand-styled and hand-painted. Very detailed and stylish. What a clever aunty!

The second cake is decorated with an icing sugar paint palette, brushes and water pot. Yes he’s also an artist and it’s a skilful demonstration of cake decor.
Another aunty has decorated her pineapple cakes with pecan and cherries. Yummy.

My two carrot cakes (one gluten-free and sugar-free) and the moist ( g-f and s-f) chocolate cake from my last post - will be defrosting on Thursday night - ready for icing on Friday - then back into the fridge.
The sugary cake will likely have a buttercream frosting, decorated with miniature icing-sugar carrots. The healthier options will have a cream cheese frosting, flavoured with Madagascan vanilla essence and sweetener.

The drier chocolate cake is now crumbled and steeped in Amaretto - in two glass trifle dishes. It certainly isn’t dry now!

As we’ll have a four-year old with us over the weekend I’ve made a sweeter trifle for her and a boozy one for those who like that sort of thing. Neat Amaretto packs a punch so in both cases I diluted it with half-half water. That’s while, after a few taste tests, I could still stand. 

In trifle number one I cut the chocolate cake into small pieces and spread no-added-sugar raspberry jam over the rough cubes, a la Nigella. I steeped them in the Amaretto concoction for about four hours, it really was a dry cake, and made a compote. 

Into a small saucepan I put sliced, dried apricot, sliced dates, grated orange zest and sultanas. I barely covered the fruits with water and the pan was a little shy of half full. On medium heat I brought the pan to a slow boil and simmered the fruit for fifteen minutes. After the quarter hour the sultanas and apricots had ballooned and were truly succulent.  The sticky compote took a short while to cool down. I drained the excess Amaretto liquor from the steeped trifle base and made a sweet layer of compote over the jammy cake base. Then it was time for the custard.

The custard is made from
300ml whole milk
300ml double cream
6 egg
3 tbsp caster sugar or 1 tbsp truvia
1 tbsp cornflour-non-gluten 
vanilla essence (to taste)

1 Put the milk, vanilla and cream into a thick-bottomed pan on a gentle heat. Stir while bringing it to just below a simmer without allow ing it to boil. In another bowl (or food processor) combine the egg yolks, sugar/ sweetener and cornflour. The egg mixture will need to be in a large bowl for the next stage. 
3. Pour the milk on to the yolk and sugar/sweetener mixture, stirring all the time. 
4. With the heat on medium-low pour the custard mixture back into the pan. Stirring slowly and continuously, cook until it coats the back of a wooden spoon – the longer you cook it, the thicker it will be. If it doesn't appear to be thickening after 10 minutes, you may have the heat slightly too low, but don't turn it up dramatically or you'll spoil it.
5.Allow the custard to cool before pouring it over the trifle base. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until you are ready to decorate the trifle with whipped cream and toasted almonds or berries. The custard will set overnight.

In the boozy version of the trifle I omitted the raspberry jam and used less compote which has a sweetening effect. I also made a chocolate custard rather than a vanilla flavoured one. It seemed more appropriate for a decadent, whoozy-boozy Amaretto confection.

How to make chocolate custard
450ml (3/4pt) whole milk
3tbsp cocoa powder
4tbsp caster sugar or 11/3 tbsp truvia
1tbsp gluten-free cornflour
2 large free range egg yolks

1.Put aside 2 tbsp of the milk. Pour the rest into a medium-sized non-stick pan and heat it.
2.Sift the cocoa, sugar/sweetener and cornflour into a bowl. 
3.Add the yolks and the 2 tbsp milk. Stir to make a thick paste.
4.Stir hot milk into the egg mixture in the bowl, stirring all the time, then pour the mixture back into the pan and stir gently over a low heat until the custard thickens. 
5.Don’t let the mixture boil unless you want scrambled egg!

The chocolate custard shouldn’t need flavouring but a teaspoon of Amaretto - added once it’s cooled - might add an alcoholic richness. As with trifle one pour the custard over the boozy base and cover with cling film. Cool in the fridge - allowing the custard to set as before.

Decorating whipped cream topping is best done just before serving as colours bleed. Pomegranate adds a bright red gleam to the peaked cream but grated chocolate seems more in keeping with the boozy Amaretto-heavy trifle.

I wonder which one the four year old will choose this weekend?

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Food blog seven - moist, rich chocolate cake

Last week I tried a chocolate cake recipe using buckwheat flour and butter. As I hadn’t ever made chocolate cake before it was something of an experiment. Today I found another recipe, using olive oil, an ingredient I always find works splendidly in a moist carrot cake. The resulting chocolate cake was excellent. I substituted the flour and sugar with gluten-free and sweetener. I believe the lighter flour and olive oil in hot water made for a lightly textured, well-risen rich chocolate cake.

Ingredients for Moist Chocolate Cake
If baked using buckwheat flour and sweetener this is gluten-free and sugar-free.
1 cup flour - 7/8 cup if using buckwheat. Dove’s gluten-free SR flour is cup for cup and light.
1 cup sugar, powdered - 1/3 cup if using truvia
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp coffee powder (to bring out flavour)
1/2 cup oil-I use cold-pressed virgin olive oil
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold milk or buttermilk (Greek yogurt diluted by a third)
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1 egg (whisk for 1 minute)

It really is worth using olive oil in water, for moisture, and coffee to enhance the chocolate flavour.

1 Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees C - 160C fan. Grease and line an 8-inch baking tin.

2 In a bowl sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coffee powder.
3 In a second bowl whisk together 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup hot water till well blended. Let it cool. 
4 When cool add the milk or buttermilk ( or Greek yogurt watered down) and vanilla essence. Mix in the food processor. 

5 Add the whisked egg.
Pour the wet ingredients gradually into the dry ingredients and beat them together. I finish the whole off in the food processor. 
6 Pour it in a greased tin.
Bake it for 35-40 minutes at 180 degrees C or 160C fan till an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

You can double the ingredients and sandwich both halves together with a chocolate frosting. See last week’s blog for details. This is my second chocolate cake and I much prefer it. When I bake a carrot cake I used cold-pressed (non-blended) olive oil and the result is always moist. 

In the image the lighter, drier chocolate cake was made with butter and buckwheat flour. The darker moist cake was made with olive oil in hot water added to Dove’s gluten-free flour.

The moist cake wins hands down.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Food blog six - lemon drizzle and chocolate cakes

In food blog one I showed how a gluten-free lemon drizzle cake made with sweetener and coconut flour could be moist and tasty. It passed the taste and texture tests and was even enjoyed by my gluten-intolerant friend. It was a hit!

In fact the only issue I had was that the coconut flour I used was over-sweet. Yesterday, in order to rectify this, I tried the same recipe with buckwheat flour rather than the aforementioned ground coconut. And, yes, the texture was good, the lemony taste just as evident, if not more-so, and overall the lack of coconut was a great improvement.

Today I converted another recipe. This one was for sugar-free chocolate cake. Sugar-free, check, but it wasn’t gluten-free. In place of the suggested self-raising flour and wholewheat flour I substituted buckwheat and rendered the whole gluten-free.

My understanding is that Truvia or stevia are better sweeteners than some other brands, but I am still learning. In order to use Truvia I had to look up conversion tables, none of which told me how much sweetener to use in place of the amount in the printed recipe. However I remembered the sweetener in this recipe is manufactured, ounce for ounce, to be the equivalent of sugar. And 1/3 tsp Truvia is the equivalent of 1 tsp sugar. 
So that was my conversion! Not exactly a Damascene moment but in my own small way a step forward along the road to healthier baking.

Sadly the buttermilk I had in my fridge was past its use-by date so I had to improvise with watered-down Greek yogurt. (I use 5% fat Fage yogurt.)

I can’t remember ever baking a chocolate cake, with or without sugar, with or without gluten. It isn’t an especial favourite of mine but as I’m catering for a party - ie for others - I felt it was worth a try.

The ingredients
3 1/3 cups flour ( I use buckwheat - see above)and you only need 7/8 of the buckwheat. What is 7/8 of 3 1/3 cups?
[clue: 31/3 is 10/3 - convert to decimals and 7/8 is 0.875 in decimals] yep - it can be done!
2.8 cups buckwheat flour is the equivalent! 
1 1/3 cups cocoa powder ( either Green & Blacks or Co-op Fairtrade or Chocolat Patissier by Menier)
1 cup Truvia - sweetener
1 tabs gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup softened - but not melted - butter
3 cups buttermilk or 1 2/3 cups Fage Greek yogurt watered down with 1 1/3 cups of water
1 tsp Madagascan vanilla essence
5 large eggs

The printed recipe said to simply combine all ingredients however I split the mix as my food processor is only big enough to deal with half the batter at any one time.
My slightly amended method is as follows:

1 Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F, 160C or 140C fan. Grease and line 2 x 9 inch cake tins or 2 x 8 inch tins plus a tin for 6 muffin cases. ( I like to make small cakes at the same time as a large cake. This is for a taste-test before I freeze the cake or cover it with frosting. )

2 Place half the dry ingredients in the food processor and mix them for 20 seconds. 

3 Add roughly half of the wet ingredients and again process the whole for 20 seconds. 
If you find the cake mix is too stiff to drop from a loaded wooden spoon - when tapped - add a little more water to further dilute the Greek yogurt. If you are using buttermilk this problem is unlikely to arise. 

4 Place the batter in one of the tins and repeat  stages 2 & 3 with the rest of the ingredients and fill the second tin.

5 If you are using 8 inch tins you should have enough cake mix left over for six muffins. If not put the filled tins in the oven for 55 minutes.

6 If you have made six muffins they can go in the oven 20-25 minutes before the main cake is due to come out.

After 50 minutes my cakes were ready. As my mixture was rather dry the top of one of the cakes cracked but once both had cooled on wire racks I simply sliced the cracked top off. This was an excuse to taste the cake crumbs before consigning it to the freezer. Amazingly, despite my fears that the mixture was too stiff, the texture was good, the chocolate taste  strong, without being bitter, and both cakes had risen well. In hindsight I should have added a little more water to the wet ingredients in the food processor. It would have made a less firm cake mix but, despite its stiffness, the cake was a resounding success.  

The six muffins were good to eat on their own but I will pipe a chocolate frosting over them for the party.

A cream cheese frosting is a good replacement for a butter icing. It is sugar-free and blends well. To cover and sandwich the two cakes together use the following ingredients:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature ( softened not melted)
8 oz cream cheese - softened
A little over 1 cup Truvia sweetener
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tabs Madagascan vanilla essence 

1 Beat the cream cheese and butter in the food processor. Add sweetener, cocoa powder and vanilla essence.

2 Mix the whole for 20 seconds. If it’s too tart or bitter add more sweetener - to taste.

The above will fill and coat a cake. There should be enough frosting left over to use in an icing bag for the muffins too. If you need to make more: cream cheese sweetened with Truvia - to taste - and a drop of vanilla essence makes a quick alternative. It’s ample for piping on half a dozen muffins.

I was pleasantly surprised by both the moisture of the gluten-free/sugar-free lemon drizzle cake and the chocolatey taste of the amended recipe I used today. Buckwheat flour is much less sickly sweet than coconut flour - in my opinion - and it doesn’t hide the lemon or chocolate flavours. Another hit for healthy eating! 

Now to put my feet up with a cup of ordinary t-bag tea with semi-skimmed milk. I will forego the cranberry and raspberry tea today. I’ve been quite health-conscious enough. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Food blog five - aaargh!

This week I truly thought I had perfected the art of baking the best gluten-free, sugar-free carrot cake. Not only was the texture open ( I made it with buckwheat - which isn’t wheat but a seed) and followed my fail-safe recipe for the all-singing, all-dancing carrot cake with everything in it. Except I used sweetener in place of sugar. And the g-free, s-free one tasted like cake! I made an all-singing etc cake that same afternoon too.

In order to uncontaminate the gluten- and sugar-free version I took especial care over wiping all food prep surfaces and used separate utensils so not a trace of wheat flour nor sugar from the all-singing batter got into the mix. (All to save those suffering from coeliac or diabetes). I simply used a calculator which converted the amount of sweetener needed in place of 6 oz muscovado sugar and replaced the  SR wheat flour with the aforementioned buckwheat flour. The full recipe can be found on my previous post, food blog four.

After over seventy minutes’ baking time (35 mins each cake) two rather good-looking specimens sat cooling on their wire racks. Both were springy to the touch and were well cooked through. That same evening I carefully labelled each cake so I’d know, in three weeks’ time, which is gluten-free and which is not, and placed them in the free tray in the freezer.

Feeling pleased with the end result I planned my next cake ( gluten-free lemon drizzle perhaps) for when we are back from Devon. And then I had the horrors! Cripes! I’d used the wrong baking powder in the gluten-free cake. Yes it’s only a teaspoon in the whole of a cake but nevertheless it’s a wheat-based powder. Dammit!

I even have gluten-free baking powder sitting on the shelf next to my nutmeg, cinnamon, Madgascan vanilla essence, bicarbonate of soda and so on. What a fool! I used the wrong baking powder. I will have to come clean and declare ‘trace gluten’ in my supposedly gluten-free cake. And I really will have to bake another one - perhaps the lemon drizzle - with the gluten-free baking powder.


Two weeks ago, in happier times, a minor success was my banana and sultana cake. I did check that dried fruit doesn’t lead to sugar spikes - so a diabetic could enjoy a slice. I’d hate to cause anyone harm by overlooking a (nother) demon ingredient. I still have a lot to learn, I feel. But my version of the g-free, s-free carrot cake was so much better, both in texture and taste, than the results of other recipes I’ve used that I will allow myself half a pat on the back.

Next week: lemon drizzle or banana cake...

Friday, 31 August 2018

Food Blog Four - Carrot cake with almost everything in it

When I bake carrot cake I’m 99% pleased with the results. It’s always moist as I use olive oil rather than butter or margarine. The taste is good as the proportion of carrots to flour is just right and an orange - zest only - adds a little extra.

I made a gluten-free and sugar-free version around a month ago. That recipe used many eggs and pecan nuts. Needless to say it was drier and crunchier, the texture was tight but it was certainly eatable.

Last week I made a carrot cake ( again gluten-free and sugar-free) with an excellent texture but a dire taste. The proportion of fresh juicy carrots was wrong - leaving the cake tasteless - there was no orange nor nuts but an overwhelming taste of butter. Not good.

I am, therefore, returning to my original all-singing, all-dancing recipe.

This will have substitutions to render it gluten-free and sugar-free:

Equivalent of 6oz muscovado sugar - I use Truvia 1/3 cup + 2 tsp
6 fl oz olive oil
3 large eggs - lightly beaten
3 medium carrots - grated
4 oz raisins ( I have used sultanas or currants)
zest from 1 large orange
6 oz buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

2 drops Madagascan vanilla essence
6 oz full fat cream cheese
Add sweetener to taste

1 Pre-heat the oven to 180deg
2 Put sweetener into a large mixing bowl, pour in the oil,  add the eggs and lightly mix.
3 Roughly chop the carrots and peel and chop the orange zest. Put both in the food processer and
when pulsed stir into the oil mix and add the raisins.
4 In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and spices and sift all into the oil mix. Stir all the ingredients until well blended.
5 Pour the mixture into a lined, oiled square tin.
6 Bake for 35 minutes until springy and a skewer or cocktail stick comes out clean.
7 Cool on a wire rack before icing

When I’ve baked it and done a taste test I will report back.But it has to be better than the tasteless buttery concotion from last week. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Food Blog Three

Believe it or not gluten-free lasagne is remarkably tasty. As it came out of the oven I couldn’t say whether it was your regular full-on pasta-layered dish or a low-carb substitute. For those who are trying to lose weight I can truly recommend lasagne a la cabbage. Aswell as being gluten-free each portion is roughly 112 calories.

The recipe which intrigued me uses ricotta and marinara sauce. I did, however, alter the ingredients slightly: in place of the marinara I made a basic bolognese sauce added to ½ lb of mincemeat. I kept some of the tomato sauce back for layering. Recipes generally use minced beef but today I tried the dish with turkey mince. It is more lean but less tasty. 

After browning the mince with a little olive oil in a frying pan I seasoned with salt and oregano to taste. After which I added tinned tomatoes and sliced home-grown ones which are ripening beautifully in pots on our patio. Having survived the heat wave I’m hoping they can escape the blight associated with damp, cold conditions. Today it’s so cold and damp I declined to go for afternoon tea with a friend. While she went to the cinema I stayed in with the heating on.

Continuing the theme of substitutions: in place of ricotta I used feta cheese ─ roughly ¾ lb ─ which I mixed with ½ cup of parmesan and 1 medium egg. You can add parsley to this before setting it to one side. 

Taking ¼ of a cabbage discard the outer leaves and remove whole inner leaves. DON’T do what my recipe says and boil the cabbage leaves to nothingness for ten minutes. You merely need to parboil the cabbage for a few minutes until slightly limp. As the leaves are a substitute for pasta sheets they need to have structure.

 For baking the lasagne I have a 2 lb glass loaf dish which I lightly oiled and for my first layer I spread the tomato sauce over the bottom. On top of that I layered the cabbage leaves and the meat mixed with bolognese sauce over that. The next layer is the cheesy egg mixture.

Then I repeated the layers until I came to the top where it’s good to sprinkle the whole with more grated parmesan. 
It takes around 15-20 minutes to prep and is truly appetising.

Cook at 350 F for 20 minutes et voila! A gluten-free dish which you can serve with salad and enjoy as if it's the real thing. I don't recommend it, I advise it.

ingredients for a family of four of five:-
whole leaves from 1/4 cabbage
3/4 lb feta cheese (or ricotta)
1/4 lb minced beef or minced turkey
bascic bolognese sauce for the mince - 400g tinned tomatoes, 3 fresh sliced tomatoes, 2 carrots finely chopped, 1 medium onion finely chopped, 2cloves garlic finely chopped and salt & pepper to taste
olive oil - 1 tabs
pinch of salt and orgeano to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 medium egg - beaten
parsley to flavour egg and cheese mixture

grated parmesan for the topping
a 2lb loaf tin or dish or pyrex dish of similar capacity

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Food Blog Two

In my quest for a healthier, leaner me I’m following a low-carb, higher-protein regime, for a few weeks at least.

Our modus operandi on the meat front has been to eat duck as a Sunday roast, turkey mince in a lasagne or pasta bake  mid-week and chicken-a la-whatever-we-want-whenever-we-want it.

Instead of relying on meat for protein I’m converting to beans and buying large tubs of Fage 5% natural yogurt. It has more fat than the 0% or 2% varieties but is low-sugar and high in protein. Parfait. I eat it for breakfast with blueberries (having bought a set of measuring cups to convert from Ozzie recipes) or as a sweet in the evenings to replace high-sugar ice cream. 

The 5% fat rating might seem too great but my understanding is that such a fat content helps you to feel full for longer and thus deflects you from the biscuit tin. Other low-fat yogurts can have a high sugar content - definitely a no-no as it does more damage to your blood sugar/insulin system. So be told! Sugar is bad. Here endeth...

My venture into the world of edamame beans frightened me, though. A tub of cooked-then-chilled beans declared frying for three minutes was all that was required. I opened the pack and believing the beans to be like peas, straight from the pod, I sampled them ‘raw’ in a salad.

At the same time Richard wanted a light cooked meal and a three-minute fry-up seemed to fit the bill. But we’ve never cooked with them before. (They become soya when older so we’ve tried their elderly relations on many occasions - if that doesn’t sound too cannabalistic.) Again I’m sure many of you knew that but I’m late to food science.

Online edamame recipes were full of 40-minute steamings with salt (exactly what we didn’t want to do) but inside our tub of beans a small instructions label stated three minutes in a frying pan was exactly the thing to do. But I was expecting stomach cramps, diarrhoea and a call to 111 as I’d eaten ‘raw’ edamame beans and hadn’t cooked them long enough. Apparently unless cooked properly they can cause terrible digestive problems. The beans HAVE to be steamed or fried as they contain something vicious which only a ‘professor of nasty toxins of the human gut’ would understand. Except they weren’t raw and all the alarmist online tales didn’t give me the facts I sought. They were pre-cooked. And I didn’t visit the loo in the wee (?!) small hours.

As an alternative to the ubiquitous baked bean tins (low-sugar and low-salt variety) we’ve always had lentils, split peas, kidney beans and butter beans. But I’m upping my game (!) on butter beans and looking out for recipes with black beans, pinto beans, navy beans and others. But edamame is what we’re trying now and in the foreseeable future. As suggested they are perfect with a green leaf salad, to which I add pomegranate seeds. They are ideal as a snack after their three minute fry-up in oil. And good with prawns. (Many other concoctions are available) 

Whilst mentioning oil it’s interesting to note that a nutritionist told me extra virgin olive oil isn’t the key but cold-pressed is the one to go for. It’s usually unblended therefore pure and better for you. And I’m a convert to olives as an aperitive. But not with salty items like anchovies.

Speaking of pomegranates, our greengrocer and farm shop - no plastic on anything, thank you very much - has them rarely but when you do find them - in larger supermarkets for instance, there’s a knack to opening them:

Slice in two, tap one half on the side of a sturdy dish then push them out from the top. You need good thumbs. But it’s so much quicker than picking out each seed with a needle.
Remember those days? The one meal that took much longer to prepare than eat.

As for next week I'll be trying ‘lasagne’ made with layers of cabbage. Mmm. 

Or mmm not.  I’ve yet to be convinced.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Food Blog One

In May, at our art trail,  I was selling cakes for charity. Half of the takings went towards The Trussell Trust foodbanks and the rest to a charity in Sierra Leone which supports girls’ secondary schooling. It costs £120 a year to educate a girl beyond eleven years of age but there is no state provision.

I sold my traditional, all-singing, all wheat and sugar carrot cake and my aunts’ signature cakes - lemon drizzle and pineapple cake.

Around that time a friend of ours wanted to go out for a gluten-free meal and our newest vegan restaurant, where three of Richard’s paintings are on display, was the answer. We had already sampled vegan foods and always felt full afterwards. Robbie’s pomegranate salads are a marvel.

Back at our art trail several women asked for gluten-free cake, a neighbour's daughter needs gluten-free foods and our gluten-free friend bought a painting from Richard but I had nothing ‘healthy’ to offer. A few days later I was looking at reduced sugar recipes. Hence my interest in the following lemon drizzle cake:

It is moist - which I like - but is made with Truvia sweetener and coconut flour. Back in May I had never heard of coconut flour let alone baked with it. Our nearest (much-expanded) Holland and Barrett and our local, long-established health food store came up with the goods.

I was dubious - without the elasticity from gluten how could the batter rise? I really didn’t know enough. Not having studied food technology, home economics or simply cooking at school for more than a term I wondered whether five eggs and baking soda would work. Would it help the texture? If I’d been on a hotline to Mary Berry she could have told me to start worrying or, alternatively, to stop my anxieties and just get whisking. 

At 212 cals a slice I thought it was heavy-ish but had to try the new bake.


Gluten-free lemon drizzle cake - ingredients

2 pound loaf tin

100g butter
75g Truvia - sweetener
100g full fat cream cheese
90g ground almonds
40g coconut flour
1 tsp baking power
3 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice
5 eggs

Once you’ve located truvia and coconut flour - you may be years ahead of me and have supplies on your shelves as I write - everything else is an easy shop. But as a newbie to gluten-free and sugar-free baking for me this was the first step. 
Prep was easy. I set the oven to 170Âșc and beat the butter, cream cheese and sweetener before adding the lemon zest.

 I was suspect when the recipe said to leave the freshly-squeezed lemon juice to one side to pour on the cake during ( during?) baking. But I progressed, added the rest of the ingredients to the batter, mixed it all very well in the food processor and poured it all into a lined loaf tin.

After 35 minutes the cake was turning golden and, as suggested, I removed it and poured some of the lemon juice on to the cake and quickly popped it back to continue baking. Yes. I was bothered. Surely the poor confection would collapse? You never open the oven door on a still-baking cake, do you? 

Five minutes later I re-anointed the cake with lemon juice and returned it to the oven. After a third drizzling with lemon juice the top had browned and I removed it from the oven for the last time. I was most surprised, and pleased, when my skewer came out clean. It appeared the experiment had been successful. The cake had baked. 

Finally I followed the last instruction carefully: 
‘...Leave the lemon drizzle cake to cool completely. When using almond or coconut flour it needs to cool thoroughly or it can be very, very crumbly.’

It was a long wait before I felt I could slice the cake and see that it wasn’t a soggy, unrisen mess. I had convinced myself it would be fit for the garden birds alone.

But no. After about 75 minutes left on the rack the cake had cooled. Tentatively I sliced it and - hey presto - it did what a lemon drizzle cake should do. It even tasted moist. 

My only reservation is the use of coconut. It’s extremely sweet and, when, rather than if, I bake using this recipe again, I’ll adjust the amount of coconut downwards. 

It was a doddle to make and bake. The texture was even and the lemon was very evident. The name ‘lemon and coconut cake’ would have been a better description, however.

But for anyone who needs gluten-free and wants to restrict their sugar intake, yet enjoy a slice, this was not a bad start. It was beyond edible and I shared it with neighbours and friends. I didn’t get chance to freeze it as it went - without any resistance - and everyone liked it. 

In our new world where plastic and sugar are ubiquitous and the enemy this is a good starter cake for the non-chefs among us.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

A food blog? Moi?

I am the last person to be thinking of writing a food blog: While I was head of team at a large school I had early starts, a fifty-minute motorway drive in, ( thank you Vaughan) long days ( apart from Wednesdays and Fridays) and a staff of over twenty. I was responsible for more than 300 students, had a cross-school role, met ‘external agents’ on a fortnightly basis, attended meetings, met parents. I even taught. But never cooked. 

Needless to say, after twenty seven years full-time teaching, my husband, armed with a pension, a lump sum and retirement package, became the cook. I carried on working and paying the mortgage. ( Yes, after 27 years he was awarded a retirement package on health grounds. I know... I know...).

These days I occasionally do the Sunday lunch. I can roast a whole (small) chicken for two. I can cook duck - very swiftly - in a pan. I like to make a fish pie and occasionally manage a chilli con carne.

That’s a small repertoire. But, a few years after taking voluntary redundancy, I feel ready to write about the virtues of low glycemic index foods. Herewith a quote:

‘The glycemic index or glycaemic index is a number associated with the carbohydrates in a particular type of food that indicates the effect of these carbohydrates on a person's blood glucose level.’

Why now?

Following a back problem, serious pain and lack of mobility I have had slightly raised blood sugar. In other words I wasn’t moving about enough nor exercising regularly. I was on 13 painkillers daily at the height of the pain and truly struggled to get out of bed for a week or two. My blood sugar levels became a little raised. It’s nothing to worry about and is well under control but it has sparked my interest in low GI foods.

Nowadays you will see my shelves empty of white self-raising flour, icing sugar, plain white flour, caster sugar, granulated sugar, rich dark sugar, Demerara, pasta, white rice and even potatoes.

In order to allow my body to avoid working harder after a sugar spike I have learned to refrain from sugars or the aforementioned higher GI foods.

My latest concoctions have replaced wheat-based flour with coconut flour and almond flour. It is possible to make my favourite - carrot cake - with flour from nuts. It’s an acquired taste. But I may try a cake recipe using buckwheat flour instead. 

My interest in this turn around is simply to prevent foods breaking down to sugars too quickly once I have consumed them. My blood sugar is stable and I don’t want to upset the status quo. I have invested in ‘truvia’ and stevia sweeteners and I drink white wine with soda - occasionally - to further reduce the risk of raised sugar levels. I’m probably being over-cautious but, as Richard says, I like a project.

Another recipe I’m trying out is lasagne with layers of cabbage leaves rather than pasta sheets. Again pasta can have a high GI. I like pasta but am learning to do without. For my health - not because I’m virtuous or a great cabbage lover.

Even white rice has gone into my husband’s cupboard. I now cook with wild rice, which isn’t a rice at all, but has a slightly nutty flavour and is easy to bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat. Again it has a low GI. In place of spuds I have sweet potato ( some irony there) or squash.

And next week I will be cooking with edamame beans. My food blog proper starts then. 

A food blog? Moi? Sacre Bleu! ‘But you never cook, Nina,’ I hear you cry.

It’s a journey of discovery and one I’m enjoying. But I’m aware of the dangers of becoming a food bore. Meanwhile I’m blithe, ever so slightly excited and intrigued.

For the moment.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I don’t miss the heat, but I will

It was merely a few weeks ago, when walking back from a swim at the leisure spa, that I escaped into the shade of the tree-lined pavement, just to stay cool. It was as hot at seven-thirty in the evening as at three in the afternoon.

Tonight, feeling chilled and wearing a hoodie, I avoided the shadows and walked into the retreating patches of still-warm sunlight. Curled, brown leaves had collected in drifts at footpath edges. In the low light, under a cloudy sky, I could have been taking a walk in an autumn breeze, rather than a stroll on a mid-August evening.

At home the burnished lawn is shaking off its straw covering and tussocks of green appear like tufts of hair on a balding skull. Ferns, collapsed in the heat, have righted themselves. I’m glad I didn’t waste precious energy cutting them back. Nature has provided its own remedy.

Soon the plants I bought for ‘mum’s garden’ will go into their flower beds as the soil dampens and loses its cracked, parched form.

The replenished pond needs to be cleared of duck-weed and wild, wispy stems of rambler roses and honeysuckle need cutting too.

Potted tomato plants, so thirsty only days ago, are rejuvenated and reward us with round, ripe, red fruit. My French beans are losing their dried leaves to yield bright green growth, new flowers and another crop of pods which will fill out now the rains have come.

But would we have had it any other way? Would we have wanted grey skies, cool evenings, wet lunchtimes, dull afternoons and more weeding than watering? A heat wave can show us a new way of being. It makes us value water as a vital commodity, a precious necessity. I don’t miss the heat. But I will.