Tag Archive | beginner basics

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

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If you ask me, there is something comical about rhubarb. I don’t know why. I think it’s got something to do with this.

My Uncle has a new allotment and has given much care to his rhubarb plants. I haven’t seen them but apparently, they are luscious, thriving and have stems as thick as your arm. He’s thinking of showing them. I was given some of this rhubarb when I visited my Nan a week or so ago and as far as I’m concerned, there is only one thing to do with rhubarb…

…Crumble!*

*I know crumble is technically more of an autumn dish, but never mind.

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Recipe Notes

  • There are recipes out there for all sorts of fancy and wonderful things you can do with rhubarb, crumble and both. But seeing as the focus of this blog is on simple, tasty, home cooking, it would be remiss of me not to start with the real basics. I grew up eating a lot of crumble but it does contain our old friends, wheat and dairy. Luckily, these are so easy to substitute in a crumble recipe you barely notice the difference.
  • Sometimes, I like to substitute some of the flour for a handful of porridge oats and/or chopped nuts to give it an interesting texture. It depends what mood I’m in.
  • If you prefer your fruit crunchy you can skip the pre-cooking step and just bake it from raw. I don’t as I like my fruit more cooked but I still take care not to simmer it for too long.

Ingredients

  • 8oz of cooking apples
  • 8oz fresh rhubarb
  • 6oz plain flour (or gf substitute flour of choice)
  • 3oz butter, chilled (or vegan/lactofree substitute)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • An orange
  • 3oz caster sugar (I like golden caster sugar but white works fine)

Method

  1. Wash the apples and rhubarb. Cut both into small-ish chunks.Crumble5
  2. Finely grate the orange rind and squeeze the juice.
  3. Place the fruit in a pan with, the cinnamon, orange rind and a tablespoon of orange juice.
  4. Place a lid on the pan with a little gap to let the air out and simmer for roughly 5mins, or until the fruit begins to soften, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking to the bottom.Crumble4
  5. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. “Rub it in” to the flour using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make sure the butter is as cold as possible for this to work best. (Alternatively, stick it all in the food processor and let that do the work for you!)
  6. Add the sugar.
  7. Place the fruit mixture in the bottom of a large oven-proof dish. (1.5 pint should do)
  8. Spread the crumble mixture on top and dot with little chunks of butter.Crumble3
  9. Bake at 210°C for 20mins and reduce to 180°C for 45mins.
  10. Eat before you can take a decent photo of it for your food blog.

 

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    Observe my truly excellent photography skills. I particularly like the shadow of the camera I have managed to capture in the corner…

Simple Vegetable “Risotto” with Pesto

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vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/lactose free

We are recovering from a nasty bug here at the moment. My husband has been sick all week and I have felt stranger than a blue hippopotamus with wings.

Despite being nominally hungry the very thought of cooking makes me want to leap out of the kitchen window. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re feeling sick. Should you eat properly to keep your strength up or should you follow your first instinct and hide under a blanket with a bag of crisps until it all goes away?

My go-to choice for times like these is a simple vegetable risotto. This can be made as safe and bland or as exotic and exciting as you need. It doesn’t use too many ingredients and is quick to prepare. This isn’t the proper way to make an authentic Italian risotto, especially since I always insist on ruining the suble flavours by adding large amounts pesto at the end – this recipe is probably more accurately described as “risotto rice with mixed veg”  – but it is tasty, nutritious and very easy to make.

Recipe Tips.

  • This recipe can be made with whatever vegetables you have lurking in the fridge, which is especially handy if you’ve been feeling too ill to get to the shops. I have used pepper, courgette and kale here because that’s what I had to hand but pretty much anything goes. If you are planning on using root vegetables however they may need to be pre-cooked as they do take longer to cook through.
  • I like to add a protein element to my vegetable risottos. Here I’ve used some Quorn chunks, vegetarian hot dogs and mixed seeds but you could try nuts, tofu or any other vegetarian meat substitute. Or, of course, there’s meat if you’re not vegetarian. Chicken is probably best. If you are using meat this will require a longer cooking time so it’s be best to add that before the veg instead of after.
  • At the end, I like to add extras for flavour such as pesto and/or cheese but you don’t have to.

Ingredients

(To serve 2 people)

  • 200g Arborio risotto rice
  • Approx 700ml boiling water
  • A vegetable stock cube (gluten free)
  • A pinch of mixed Italian herbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • A splash of white wine – optional – (about half a glass should do it)
  • Mixed vegetables. I generally use: a red pepper, half a courgette, a handful or kale or spinach, half a carrot.
  • A jar of tomato pesto (gluten/dairy free brand)
  • A handful of grated cheese (vegan or Lactofree if necessary)

Method

  • Peel and/or chop the vegetables into small cubes.
  • Fry the vegetables in a little oil for a couple of minutes until they start to soften.
  • Add any protein, if desired, and fry with the vegetables. (If using meat, a longer cooking time may be required – you may need to add it before the veg.

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  • Meanwhile, make up 700ml of vegetable stock by adding boiling water to a stock cube. Add the herbs and seasoning to the stock.
  • Add the uncooked rice to the pan and fry with the vegetables for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add a splash of wine if desired and stir until the wine disappears.
  • Add a splash of the stock to the pan, stir and reduce the heat. Allow to simmer (you should see gentle little bubbles, not big violent ones).

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  • When the stock has disappeared, add a little more. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked through – taste it to check – and all the stock has been absorbed. (The amount of time this takes and how much stock you need will vary depending on how absorbent and quick-cooking your ingredients are. As a rough guide this should take around 15 minutes)
  • Add the kale or spinach and cook for a few minutes until softened.
  • Add any extras such as pesto, cream or grated cheese. Continue to cook until these are melted/absorbed/dissolved.

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  • Enjoy and feel better.

 

All-purpose vegetarian bolognaise base

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vegetarian/gluten free/lactose free/can be made vegan

This is a really easy way to start lots of different recipes. It is basically a vegetarian bolognaise-plus, packed with flavour and good-for-you feelings. You can practically taste the vitamins. Use it as it is for spaghetti bolognaise or combine it with other stuff for dishes such as lasagne or chilli con carne.

I am not vegetarian myself but I much prefer to use this recipe rather than standard mince and many people I have served this to never even guess that it’s vegetarian. When I was growing up my Mum used to produce batches of this and freeze it for a handy quick-start to dinner on busy days. I normally just make slightly more than I need each time and freeze a portion or two.

Recipe Tips

  • The vegetables that you add to this can actually be really varied, it’s great for using up all of that old veg that accumulates in the back of the fridge. I like to swap out the celery for mushrooms when my mushroom-hating husband isn’t eating it and add some aubergine too. Just experiment and see what you prefer. If you cannot eat onion/garlic it is possible to omit the ingredients containing it from this recipe with no adverse effects – you might just want to add a bit more of the other flavoursome ingredients)
  • The Quorn mince that I use is not vegan as it contains egg however many supermarkets do their own brand of vegetarian mince that is vegan – I know Sainsburys do, you might just need to shop around. Or, if you’d rather omit the mince altogether it’s just as nice with extra veg added instead. Mushroom is good substitute I think.
  • At the time of writing, standard Marmite contains barley but not wheat, which is fine for me but not for the totally gluten-free. For bizarre reasons which I can’t quite fathom, their vegetarian version however does contain wheat. Again, supermarket own brands often have different ingredients so it might be worth double checking. If you really can’t find any that’s gluten free and/or vegan don’t worry – it’s totally optional. Try some vegan yeast flakes instead or just add another stock cube.
  • The cooking times on this can also vary depending on how much time you have. This recipe can be cooked pretty quickly (as given in the instructions) or left to gently simmer for longer. I prefer this option as I like my veg thoroughly cooked and I think it gives a better favour. I either use the slow cooker for this or fry everything up in a wok with a lid instead of a frying pan, pop the lid on, turn the temperature to the lowest setting and leave it for about half an hour or more, checking occasionally and stirring to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Makes 5-6 portions

Basic Ingredients

  • A packet of Quorn mince
  • 1 large sweet pepper (I prefer red but whatever colour’s your preference)
  • A couple of sticks of celery
  • 1 medium courgette
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of concentrated tomato puree
  • A tablespoon of Marmite or Vegemite
  • Salt and pepper
  • Italian herb mix

Optional Ingredients for added flavour

  • 1 small onion
  • A couple of cloves of garlic
  • A vegetable stock cube (most contain garlic)
  • Worcester Sauce (most brands contain garlic)
  • A splash of red wine
  • A pinch of paprika

 

Method

  1. Chop the vegetables into small cubes. Fry on a medium heat with a drizzle of veg oil until they start to brown and soften (usually about 5-10mins)

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    Colourful veg tastes better…

  2. Add the mince still frozen, straight from the packet. Stir in and cook for another couple of minutes.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, marmite, Worcester sauce, the stock cube, herbs and seasonings. Stir in.
  4. Turn the heat down and simmer gently for another 10-15 minutes.

Introduction – Putting the “fun” into food intolerance…

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“Cooking without ingredients has never been so easy! Make your own alternatives for the free from lifestyle with no fuss, no calories and no hefty price tag! Buy pure, natural goodness without the natural ingredients! Who said food intolerance wasn’t fun?”

When I first investigated the world of “free from” cooking several years ago in an effort to mitigate the symptoms of chronic illness, little did I anticipate the rabbit hole I was blithely stepping into. I thought that making a few simple changes to my diet would be a piece of cake. (Or no cake at all, as it turned out)

I’ve always been a decent, if fairly homely, cook and I knew a little about wheat-free baking thanks to a housemate of mine so at first, I tried to go it alone. I would be a rebel! A lone wolf! A maverick kitchen crusader, bravely making things up as I went along! That worked for about as long as it takes for a slice of gluten free toast to burn so I did what anyone in my situation these days would do: I sought guidance from the collective knowledge pool.

Anyone consulting the internet for the first time on cooking without a specific ingredient would be forgiven for thinking that food intolerance is somehow an aspirational lifestyle choice. Recipes for free-from cooking are presented in much the same way that all of the other “healthy eating” recipes are; with lots of peppy alliteration, exotic sounding ingredients and beautiful macro photography in an effort to make it all seem ever so appealing.

Most of the websites and blogs I read online seemed either to be one of two distinct breeds. Some were blandly utilitarian; recipe databases or newspaper magazine articles, offering no real insight further than the basic recipe and some buzzy adjectives. The supposedly more personal websites seemed solely to be written by perky super-women who, in my state of frustration and hunger, I found it impossible to relate to. Their advice was generally very good but I was always left feeling wistful and slightly inadequate. Mostly because the recipes I attempted didn’t turn out anything like the beautiful creations in the (suspiciously professional) pictures. The recipe books I consulted were exactly the same. Universally, all of the books and websites chirped about how it was all so easy and simple. They never mentioned the particular kind of despair that comes from having yet another loaf of lovingly prepared organic spelt sourdough sink inexplicably to a flat, inedible brick in the nanosecond you take your eye off it, leaving you without lunch the next day because you cannot eat any of the food in the work cafeteria and the only shop that sells bread you can eat is miles away and it’s just closed for the day.

The essential problem is, most of us are not Superman/woman. Most of us are Clark Kent: tired, busy and on modest incomes. We have families to consider and work to be done. Those of us who need to avoid certain foods for medical reasons may also be feeling ill into the bargain. On a wet Monday morning in February most of us will not be rising at dawn to whip up a 20 ingredient power smoothie before our morning salute to the sun. Most of us would prefer to spend our Sundays relaxing on the sofa rather than batch cooking “energy balls” to take to work that week. What if we don’t enjoy cooking? What if we really just hate quinoa?

I aim to redress the balance. I cannot do anything about those last two questions but as I traverse the treacherous landscape of free from cooking I can log my successes, my failures and all the little tricks experience will teach me along the way. I can talk about what I cook and how I cook it with candour and detail. I can include all of my tips for making life that little bit easier. I can even add a little humour to the mix. I can promise poor quality photography or no photography at all. I can produce dishes that might not look all that great but will probably taste quite nice. I suspect I will annoy everyone by mostly using outdated Imperial measurements. I too will no doubt use more than my fair share of alliteration. I hope that in sharing my experience some stranger somewhere might learn from my mistakes, or simply be comforted by the fact that they are not alone. Oh, and I promise never, ever to be perky.

Note: In writing these recipes I will assume some prior knowledge on the part of the reader of kitchen basics but very little of free-from cooking. I will therefore go into a lot of detail on most recipes.