February 8, 2016

Troubleshooting for gluten free sourdough starters

Many of the breads in my book, River Cottage Gluten Free, use a sourdough starter to make the grain more digestible and bring that wonderful sourdough flavour that so many of us miss when we follow a gluten free diet. Embarking on your first gluten free sourdough starter can be both daunting and exciting. What should it look, smell and taste like? How do you know if you've got the right place for it to live as it changes from unpromising flour and water to a bubbling, living thing that will bring your loaves to life and infuse your pancakes with the umami tang you crave? If you are asking any or all of these questions, read on and I will attempt to help you breathe life into that unpromising mixture.

Rice flour
I generally use brown rice for my sourdough starter because it is mild, vigorous and cheap to maintain. You can make a sourdough starter from nearly any wholegrain available to you, but more of that below. You need to use brown rice flour, or at the very least a rice flour with some brown rice in it such as Doves Farm rice flour (a 50/50 mix of brown and white). This is because the yeasts and bacteria that will come to life and flourish when you give them heat and water, live in the brown part (germ) of the grain. Brown rice flour is available from Shipton Mill - who also have a great range of other gluten free flours. Their flours are not certified gluten free, but they are tested to 5 parts per million, which is better than Bobs Red Mill, who only test to 20 parts per million.

Always use filtered or bottled water for starting and maintaining your starter because chlorine is the enemy of yeast and bacteria. If you don't have access to either, leave some water out for 24 hours uncovered to allow the chlorine to evaporate and then use this to feed your starter.

Ratio for a gluten free sourdough starter
I find that you need to use more water to encourage the yeasts to grow. The ratio is 3 parts flour to 4 parts water. For example 150g of flour will need 200g of water. The consistency of the starter if fed like this should look like lightly whipped double cream. If it is very thick and pasty to start with, give it a little more water and return to the correct proportions when things are bubbling and have loosened up.

When you add your flour and water, give the mixture a good whisk. Aerating the mixture helps things to stay fresh and vigorous.

A small bunch of grapes can bring much needed yeast and some sugars to your starter - yeast loves a little bit of sugar, but too much can kill it. When you get your starter going, dunk some unwashed grapes - preferably organic - into the mixture and leave them there for at least 24 hours, up to 72 hours. Take them out when the grapes start to split a little and give them a gentle squeeze to release a little juice. Continue to feed the starter as per instructions during the whole time that you have the grapes in there as the starter still needs flour and water to keep it alive.

Alternatively, if you make your starter in the winter, a pear might be more appropriate. Grate a whole pear, put into a soup bowl and pour over just enough chlorine free water to cover. Cover the bowl and leave for 12 -24 hours. Strain and use the water when you feed your starter

Water kefir
I make a probiotic drink called water kefir (also called tibicos) that is a natural source of yeasts and probiotics. You can obtain the water kefir grains (also called crystals) from a friend who has some, or buy them online. When my starter has been resting in the fridge I will sometimes give it a feed using water kefir as the liquid part and find that this gives it a real lift and makes it very vigorous and yeasty. This will not work with milk kefir, so make sure you buy the correct grains and use the drink that you brew from them to feed your starter, not the grains themselves.

Yogurt & milk kefir
If you would like your starter to be really sour or to have a more complex flavour, then you can give it a spoonful of live yogurt or milk kefir. This won't make your starter more bubbly, or give you any more lift with your breads though.

Other flours
Teff and quinoa flour can be great to give a starter a kick start - both are yeasty and more sour than rice flour. Try feeding the starter with teff or quinoa flour (or either grain put through a clean coffee grinder or high speed food processor) for a couple of days to get things going and then return to rice once the starter is strong. If you like the flavour, you could switch to a mixture of rice & another flour for all feeds.

Where to keep your starter when it is growing?
The ideal temperatures for starters are between 21-24ºC, if your house, or environment is warmer then your starter will work faster and may require feeding more often as a result (see below). If however, your house is colder than this, you may find that you struggle to get your starter going and end up with a very sour, but not bubbly mixture. This is because yeasts like warmth, whereas the lactic bacteria can thrive at slightly lower temperatures.

Too warm?
If your starter bubbles up nicely on days 1 & 2, but seems lifeless afterwards the chances are it burnt itself out because it was nice and warm, but didn't have enough food to keep chomping. If this is the case, just feed your starter twice, or even three times daily and then keep it in the fridge once it is well established. You might also want to give it bigger feeds after day 1: 90g flour/120g water, or even 150g flour/200g water on days 3 & 4. If you feed it more often, you will need to drain off some of the mixture to avoid ending up with a ton of starter. Take off the same amount you are about to feed it for the second, or even third feed. For example, if you are feeding it 90/120g, just whisk it up and pour off 210g before you feed. You can use this discarded starter mix in pancakes, or to soak your porridge overnight.

Too cold?
If nothing seems to be happening at all and you are giving good flour and water that has no chlorine in it, warm things up a bit. Only a bit mind! If you make things too warm then you will also kill the yeast. Think about a nice summer day in England rather than mid day in the Algarve. Try putting the bowl into some luke warm water and topping up occasionally, or putting the oven on the lowest setting with the door open - this only works if your oven goes to about 30ºC, any higher and you will kill the delicate wild yeasts. Avoid putting the bowl at the back of the Aga, onto a floor with underfloor heating, or over a radiator - these are too warm. An airing cupboard is often good if you have one.

How do you know when its ready?
Your starter is ready when it starts to bubble up within an hour or two of feeding (this may take a little longer if it has been dormant in the fridge). It should rise up in the bowl, take on a bubbly mousse like texture and even bubble and pop as though it is alive! You may find that your new starter is not as vigorous as a well established one and in this case, to avoid disappointment you can add a little fresh or dried yeast to your loaf after you have fermented it as a sponge. Between 4-8g of fresh yeast or 1-3g of dried yeast will give you a lift, without taking over. Then you can add some of the kick starters listed above to try and strengthen the yeast population in your starter.

Can I use it straight away on day 5?
Yes! After you have fed it and it has risen up and looks bubbly and alive, you can go straight on to the sponge stage of your first loaf. If you don't want to bake with it that day, put it into a container and keep it in the fridge. If you use a kilner jar for this, take the rubber seal out first.

After it has been in the fridge?
Remember to warm up your starter after it has been in the fridge. A bowl of luke warm water is ideal for this. Feed the starter, whisk well, put the bowl into luke warm water and cover with cling film for a couple of hours. If your starter isn't coming to life, you may need to give it 24 hours to wake up. Feed it again in 8-12 hours and then again another 8-12 hours later before using.

If you can't find the answer to your starter query here, please email me using the contact form and I'll try to help and can then update the post with new information. Happy baking!

x x x

January 20, 2016

Carob Fudge - a wickedly nutritious winter treat

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A few months ago after a period of intense work, long days and not a little stress had ended, I noticed that I felt permanently on edge. It was a kind of excitable, nervy, thrilled feeling - the kind you get on Christmas eve. Sleepy tea seemed to help and I always felt better after a run - elated and spent enough to sigh from the bottom of my lungs and flop down in a chair for a few minutes.

So I checked in with myself - what on earth was going on? I had no worries of any sort; book done, roof over head, lovely husband and son, work that I adored, friends a plenty. I went to bed early, ate well, exercised regularly and contemplated the fat pigeons in the garden tree just as often as ever. Yet some internal itch had me dancing the tarantella and shallow breathing.

Eventually of course, I worked it out - caffeine! I don't drink tea or coffee any more, preferring a smooth cup of rooibos, or soothing chamomile tea. But what I have been eating daily - almost as a religious habit, is dark, dark chocolate of the 90% variety. I checked out the caffeine content and it's not even that high - much like a cup of tea, or very small cup of weak coffee. However, the theobromine in cocoa can affect the body just like caffeine, in much smaller amounts. The two combined can set some people's pulses racing as effectively as a shot of espresso. I cut it out and hey presto! My serenity returned.

Chocolate is an old friend of mine, I love her bitterness and melting smoothness. Without her I started to crave dark flavours and longed for something cool to sink my teeth into and melt with the heat of my tongue. I went searching in the health food shop for something to appease my longing and amongst the sickly sweet halva and fruit leathers I chanced upon a carob bar - an old friend from my youth, when it was sanctioned by my hippy mother as an alternative to the tooth rotting sweets of the 1970s. Commercial carob bars are unfortunately full of ingredients like soya flour, agave syrup and damaged vegetable fats. So I grabbed a pot of raw carob flour and started to experiment with my own fudgy freezer treats. I find that a tray of these can last a week, just popping a couple out when I feel the need for a little something - the high fat content and lack of sweetness makes them satisfying without leading to a Cookie Monster style episode in front of the freezer.

Carob is not chocolate. It has some similar flavour notes - dark, nutty, slightly bitter - but it has a totally different identity with caramel, dried figs, coffee, molasses and salt coming through to make something altogether less bitter and more fruity. It is almost completely caffeine and theobromine free and packed with lots of minerals, particularly calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. It also contains anti-inflammatory gallic acid and is reputed to lower cholesterol. Carob is naturally sweet and if you have a penchant for bitterness like me, you can reduce or even eliminate the honey from the recipe below. Luckily for me, I love the flavour of carob and am fully aware that it is not chocolate and never will be. When I eat some carob, my brain is not looking into the cupboard and hoping to find chocolate there - it's happy to find some carob! Some people dislike it intensely and make the same face as our cat whenever we tempt her to eat a chilli king prawn - know yourself and only eat carob if it brings you joy.

Carob Fudge

This fudge is not cooked, has no refined sugar in it and will require only the most modest of kitchen skills - you can make it with your toddler if they are a carobophile. You can flavour your carob fudge with a few drops of mint essential oil, ground cardamom seeds, finely grated orange zest or chopped roasted hazelnuts. I also like to swap a teaspoon of the honey for one of blackstrap molasses to add treacly depth to the flavour.

60g coconut oil or soft unsalted butter
40g raw carob powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 tsp raw honey or date syrup
tiny pinch of fine sea salt

A silicone ice-cube tray or 15cm square tupperware container
  • Put carob powder, vanilla, honey or date syrup and salt into a mixing bowl.
  • Put the coconut oil or butter into another bowl over some gently simmering water (bain marie) and allow it to partially melt. Don't melt more than half way, or your carob fudge will separate.
  • Pour the partially melted fat into the carob mixture and stir until you have a smooth mixture with no oily or buttery lumps. If you can't get the mixture to become smooth, return the bowl to the bain marie and allow to melt a tiny bit more before mixing again.
  • Spoon into the ice-cube tray and set in the freezer for about an hour. Allow your carob fudge to come up to room temperature for a few minutes before you bite it, or you might take a front tooth out. I like mine pretty chilled - you'll soon work out how you like yours. If you use a tupperware container, mark into squares with a sharp knife after the fudge has been in the freezer about 20 minutes.
  • Store in the freezer.

January 7, 2016

A pink pickle pick me up

Although Christmas has been and gone, New Year celebrated with kisses in Bridport's town square, my body is still waiting for winter to arrive. I brace myself for every trip to the compost bin and yet I have skipped there bare legged on all but a few days so far. The garden is churned muddy as a summer festival and my eyes long for a clear blue sky in which to soar.

So the usual wintry food feels out of place and I find that I want to eat pickles, salads and stir fries instead of comforting stodge. It's all possible and quite revelatory to cook up such light colourful dishes from winter veg. Shaved carrots and beets, matchsticks of parsnip and celeriac, deep purple cabbage shreds and rose pink chicory leaves. The garlicky, ginger hot flavours feel like piquant medicine against bugs that have lingered on without a proper frost to see them off.

I've been making instant pickles too, from finely chopped or shaved veg doused in lemon juice and left overnight with some
garlic squashed in its skin. Sour, salty, savoury and sweet from the roots, these pickles add punch to the simplest rice bowl supper, or bubble and squeak breakfast.

I give you my current favourite, turnip and beet pickle. It makes a virtue of the watery crunch of raw turnip and takes on a heart warming fuchsia tone from the beets - use more or less beet according to the shade of pink you crave most on your plate. Then spoon into anything you can think of, from roast beef sandwiches to quinoa salads, or even alongside a wintry shepherds pie. I guarantee it will perk you up no end.

Instant pink pickle

Choose smaller turnips and beets for this as they will be juicier and sweeter than larger woody specimens. Adjust the seasoning according to the sharpness of your lemon and use proper chefs pinches - a hefty pinch.

6 small turnips
2-3 small beetroots
3-4 cloves of garlic
3-4 large pinches of salt
4-6 pinches sugar - or spoonful of honey
1 1/2 -2 lemons

Peel turnips and beetroots - I use latex gloves to avoid bright pink hands. Slice thinly and then pile up a few slices at a time and slice these into matchsticks. This takes time, but it's worth it to have lovely thin strips and grating produces too much juice and bruises the flesh of the roots. Crush the garlic under the heel of your hand and peel off the loose skin.

Place the strips into a bowl and add garlic, salt, sugar (or honey) and the juice of one lemon. Turn it all over to cover and taste a little bit - it should taste very sharp, but with the edge taken off a little by the sugar. The garlicky flavour will develop overnight. Add more lemon juice only if there doesn't seem like much liquid, or the taste isn't sharp enough. you can add more later if needed. Stir a couple of times during that period to intensify the pink colour.

Put the pickle into a clean jar, non reactive lidded box or covered bowl and let it sit for 6-24 hours before tucking in. It will keep in the fridge for at least 3 days.

November 19, 2015

River Cottage Gluten Free

For many months I've been dying to tell you all about the gluten free cook book that I have written for River Cottage, published by Bloomsbury.

I wanted to take you aside and talk about how exciting it was to have the support of a team. How sensitively they did their very best to smooth away the wrinkles and snip off any excesses until my recipes were as simple and easy to follow as possible. That process felt like an education.

When everything was written up and fully checked out by recipe testers and food enthusiasts, gluten free or not (thank you all!), we started to photograph everything. We ate our way through each shoot with glee, licking our fingers before cracking on with yet another gorgeous photo. At the end of every day I gave a huge sigh of pride, the kind that you feel when your children do something just wonderful. That team made my babies look just about as good as they possibly could have. I wanted to tell you then too. But we agreed to wait, because there is nothing worse than being told you have a treat in store and having to wait months and months for it to arrive!

The book is full of everyday recipes, stuff I hope you'll make again and again. It is a celebration of gluten free food, not a list of what you can't eat. There are also some complex projects like puff pastry, to save for a rainy day when you feel like doing something a little more impressive. From sourdough to brioche, you'll find breads to keep even the most determined of gluten eaters happy. My starting point was to look at the qualities inherent in gluten free flours and grains, asking myself - what would taste great with this? I learnt that Teff tastes great with chocolate and makes a cracking sourdough, buckwheat likes squash, chestnut gives a delicious bready flavour and sorghum a mild wheaty chew. Every time I pulled out my bags of flour I felt the thrill of those endless possibilities ahead of me, what combination to try today? I hope that bakers of all persuasions will embrace these incredible flours for the depth and nutritional value that they can bring to a dish - not just us gluten freebies.

It's worth stating here that I don't believe there is anything wrong with gluten - if you can eat it then I am happy for you. But if you do need to eat gluten free, or are one of those lovely people who care to cook delicious food for friends and family who need to eat gluten free - this one's for you, enjoy!

The book will be published on January 14th 2016. You can pre-order copies from Amazon and Bloomsbury.

x x x

May 22, 2015

Wild Garlic Pesto

If you're lucky enough to live near some woodland, a walk along any shady path at the moment will be flanked by a carpet of dark green leaves and a sprinkling of starry white flowers. You certainly won't be able to miss the unmistakeable scent of wild garlic, like the freshest, fruitiest garlic you can imagine. The leaves bring life to salads and sandwiches and are best torn rather than cut, as they oxidise and turn black in the same way that basil does. Heating tends to turn wild garlic bitter, so add them to your plate at the table, or stir through food off the heat. You can also eat the flowers, which look gorgeous scattered over almost anything.
My favourite way to enjoy wild garlic is to make it into a rustic pesto, substituting the leaves for the traditional clove of garlic. Because the leaves have less punch, I find this pesto lets the basil really shine. If you would like to make wild garlic the king of the dish, just use all wild garlic leaves instead.

Wild Garlic Pesto
10-12 wild garlic leaves, thoroughly washed and torn into pieces
85g basil leaves
40g raw pine nuts
40g Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
large pinch sea salt and grind of pepper
100ml olive oil
  • Put everything except the oil into a pestle and mortar and grind into a rough paste. Then add half of the oil and grind again until you have a smoothish paste. Add the rest of the oil if you think it needs it and a little more if necessary - you are looking for a soft paste, on the runny side. You can do this in a food processor, but the paste will be much smoother.
  • Scrape into a jar, cover the top with more olive oil and keep for up to a week in the fridge (if you can resist it that long)

December 10, 2014

Christmas Morning Muffins - grain free

You've probably noticed that I haven't posted much around here for a pretty long time. Things are busy in a very good way that unfortunately prevents me from devoting time to blogging. I can't tell you about it quite yet - but I promise you will be the first to know when I get the green light.

Although busy, cooking, writing, teaching, treating and tweeting - rather than flog myself half dead with work, I have made a conscious decision to make time for myself. At first it feels like skiving, if I sit with a novel and freshly brewed pot of rooibos. I catch myself thinking that I must do this and that, racking up the tasks and chores like a shepherd's tally. The weight of unfinishedness can be paralysing when I allow it to lay heavily, sleepily over my shoulders.

Instead, I have taken up Italian. Every monday morning I cram a little work into the space between breakfast and my lesson and then sprint on my beloved road bike to screech in by the seat of my pants and pretend I am in Tuscany for 90 minutes. Mi piace studiare l'italiano.

After a year of injuries and frustration, I'm back to running again. My body sighs with relief as endorphins flood through my bloodstream to reach the parts that nothing else can reach. I like to run in the dark, under the streetlights, when the world is settling down to watch Strictly and tuck into supper. I'm running hills at last and my knees don't mind - unless I get carried away, pelting down the other side of a steep climb with my arms outstretched, a cry of joy streaming out behind like a cloud of icing sugar. 

And so comes Christmas, my most cherished time of year. Although I long for the heat of summer, my soul is warmed by the cocoon of yuletide. Cinnamon scented, twinkling days spread out before me like a picnic blanket. I have my boys and my family to keep me toasty and we can do what we will, when we want, as long as we choose. Bliss.

I like to make muffins on Christmas morning - I weigh everything out the night before and just blitz everything together when we get up. A few rounds of cards and a pot of tea later, the kitchen is filled with the scent of Christmas and our tummies are full of spicy muffin. These are grain free and lowish in sugar, to help avoid any unpleasant crashes later on.

Christmas Morning Muffins makes 7
These are dense, sticky muffins for date lovers. On cooling, they start to resemble crinkly snickerdoodle biscuits, with a craggly, mischievous, smiling face. If you want to make them look a little more festive, you could dust with icing sugar before you serve them - after all, it is Christmas! 

You can measure the syrups in dessertspoonfuls - 1 heaped = about 50g, so 2 level dessertspoons will probably get you to the right ball park and a heaped dessertspoon of greek yogurt is about right too.

90g dried, pitted dates, chopped
90g flaked almonds
80g salted butter - or coconut oil + a pinch of sea salt
60g date syrup or maple syrup or molasses + dessertspoon sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
good pinch of allspice
90g ground almonds
zest and juice of a clementine or half an orange
60g greek yogurt 
large handful of currants

  • Set the oven to 160C and put 7 muffin cases in a muffin tray. (6 without currants)
  • Blitz dates and flaked almonds to fine crumbs in a blender.
  • Add butter and blitz to combine.
  • Add date syrup, 1 egg, bicarb and spices, blitz till smooth, add the second egg and blitz again.
  • Add ground almonds, yogurt, zest and juice, blitz until smooth. It should be a soft dropping cake mix consistency - if it isn't, add a bit more juice or yogurt.
  • Stir in currants.
  • Spoon into muffin cases almost to the top as they don't rise that much. 
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until brown, risen and firmish. Cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Eat warm or cool - we like them cool, spreading each mouthful with Greek yogurt sweetened with a spoonful of honey.

May 31, 2014

Pear & Almond Turnovers

The other day I woke up to find that there were no eggs for my breakfast, no sardines for my toast and nothing left-overish to heat up. With a rainy morning of admin ahead of me, the need for comfort was strong. A cup of almond rooibos in hand, I contemplated the barely stocked larder and my eye fell on a couple of ripe british conference pears, bought the week before as bullets and now at the peak of their loveliness. There at the back of the fridge was a piece of pastry left over from a teaching day. My heart lifted at once!

The rest as they say, is history. Some tender shortcrust pastry folded over a simple filling and offered up to the oven as I pottered happily, my tummy occasionally growling with anticipation.

Barely half an hour later I drew a pair of golden turnovers from the oven and the kitchen was filled with the soothing scent of warm pear and almond. The baking tray was glossy with a slick of butter that had oozed from the centre of the turnover, crisping the base of the pastry on the way.

I broke off a corner and popped it in my mouth, still almost too hot, and breathed out a steamy, pear sweet sigh. I cracked my novel and thanked the universe for a rainy morning and no eggs.

If you have been on any of my courses I will have no doubt taught you my shortcrust pastry recipe. I made mine for this one with sorghum and a little buckwheat and added a tsp of potato starch to the recipe, just to give it a little extra crispness. If you don't have my shortcrust recipe, use your own - it should work just fine.

I just added a couple of pinches of rapadura sugar to my turnover, but the recipe I give here is more treaty and pudding-ish. I'll let you be the judge of how much sugar you want to add, or none at all if your pears are sweet. The turnovers would also be delicious made with any seasonal berries, or rhubarb, depending on what you can find in season.

Pear and Almond Turnovers      makes about 4

1 quantity                  gluten free shortcrust pastry

3                                  medium sized pears
100g                           salted butter
75g                              light muscovado or rapadura sugar
50g                             ground almonds
2 tsp                           vanilla extract

Make your pastry and while it chills, make up your filling.

Peel and chop the pears into small dice. Cut the cold butter into roughly the same size dice.

Add ground almonds, sugar and vanilla extract to the butter and turn gently to coat the butter lumps completely, separating the lumps as you go. Mix in the pear and use immediately.

Roll out half the pastry between two sheets of baking parchment to a thickness of 5-6mm. 

Lift off the top sheet and cut the pastry into two circles using a side plate (about 15cm diameter) and sharp knife. Smaller pasties are easier to control, so you might like to choose a smaller plate and make more pasties.

Peel off the excess pastry, leaving the circle on the sheet. Make a little half moon shape of filling on one side of the circle, leaving a 1.5cm border around the edge. Don’t be tempted to put too much filling in, or your turnover won’t close!

Damp the outside edge of the circle with fingers dipped into water. Put your hand under the paper, bring the empty side of the pastry up over the filling and press it down gently – using the paper to help you guide the pastry and stop it cracking. Push the filling back into the turnover if it starts to escape. Crimp the edges of the turnover with a fork, to ensure it stays closed.

Make a couple of slashes in the top of your turnover and egg or milk wash if you like – to give the pastry some colour and a sheen. An egg wash can also help keep a slightly crumbly turnover together!

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180ºC, or until the pastry is crisp underneath and golden brown around the edges. Cool on a rack or eat as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Be careful about moving them while they are still hot, as the pastry will firm up as it cools.

December 23, 2013

Happy Meat - Delivered Straight to Your Door!

I'm always looking for great suppliers to recommend, so when I came across Green Pasture Farms, I was excited to try their free range (grass fed) meat.

Buying a regular meat box allows you to plan ahead, avoid queues, support a sustainable business and buy quality you will struggle to find on the high street. All the animals are pastured, ensuring that your meat is not flabby with barn induced fat. It will also contain more omega 3 than un-pastured meat, simply from grazing on grass and pecking in the dirt. As it is increasingly hard to find genuinely pastured pork these days - this is reason enough to buy from them.

In my box I received some delicious gluten free sausages. I have struggled to find free range or organic gluten free sausages, even in my beloved Waitrose! One solution is to ask your local butcher to put some pastured pork through their equipment, but you'll have to buy a large quantity and work out all the seasoning yourself. These pastured sausages are very meaty and flavoursome - although worth checking exactly what is in them before you buy, just in case you are sensitive to any of the seasonings.

Because Green Pasture Farms offer nose-to-tail eating, all those delicious hard working cuts and organ meats are available. For anyone eating a 'real food' diet, including offal, bones & meat on the bone is an important way to massively increase the nutrient content of your diet. Look for, 'Odd Cuts' on the website to find marrow bones, tongue, scrag end and other delights you simply won't find in the supermarket.

For those of you who are interested in rendering your own beef dripping (tallow), you can buy pastured beef suet - for a really clean fat that will keep for ages. Rare and delicious pastured lard  and beef dripping are also available.

Finally, for anyone who doesn't have the luxury of a local supplier of raw milk, Green Pasture supply this. It is quite expensive, but if you buy in bulk and freeze it, you can get a discount that makes it worth adding to your order.

One of the cuts in my box of delicious meat was some fat lamb shanks. Any meat on the bone (except beef rib) benefits from long, gentle cooking, encouraging all the connective tissues to relax and dissolve, minerals and gelatine to come out of the bone and the meat to become as tender as you like. With a savoury, flavoursome cut you can break out some fragrant herbs and spices. Although lamb is often paired with powerful rosemary and deeply savoury anchovies, I love it with saffron, for an unmistakably Middle Eastern twist.

You don't need much saffron to infuse the whole dish with flavour. In fact, a heavy hand will turn your fragrant supper into something that tastes quite medicinal! Sweet onions, coriander seed and cinnamon balance those medicinal notes perfectly.

Saffron Lamb Shanks (serves 4)

2-3 fat lamb shanks (approx 900g)
1 large red onion
1 heaped tsp ground coriander seed    
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch saffron threads
1 tablespoon tomato puree
4 large carrots cut into batons

sea salt and black pepper
lamb, beef or duck fat to cook
flat leaf parsley or fresh coriander leaf and pomegranate seeds to serve

Choose a pan that will comfortably fit all your shanks in it. Brown the shanks in a heaped tsp of fat and then take them out and set aside.

Finely chop onion and sauté gently in the browning fat until starting to smell sweet and take on a little colour.

Add saffron, cinnamon and coriander, stir for 30 seconds.

Add tomato puree and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes. The tomato should start to smell sweet and concentrated. Don't let it burn!

Add shanks and enough water to come about an inch up the pan. Season with salt and lots of black pepper. Cover with a lid and bring up to a simmer.

Simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours until completely tender. Turn the shanks a couple of times to evenly absorb the saffron colour. Keep the water topped up, but don't add too much or you will dilute the flavour.

Add the carrots about 30 minutes before the end of your cooking time.

Once the meat is tender, remove shanks, season (if needed) and reduce the liquid until it has a thin gravy consistency. Take meat off the bone and return to the sauce to heat through.

Serve with rice cooked in lamb or chicken stock and scented with a couple of cardamon pods. A dark green parsley and spinach salad and scattering of pomegranate seeds makes a delicious winter meal.

December 10, 2013

Teaching & Event Calendar

I will try to keep this page as up to date as possible. Please contact me if you can't find the information you need or you would like to book me for a demonstration or workshop.


Ashburton Cookery School - Gluten Free Chef Module
26th May 2016
8th Dec 2016

Ashburton Cookery School - Patisserie three day
6th-8th June 2016
5-7th Dec 2016

Gluten Free Cookery at River Cottage in Devon
13th May 2015
18th June 2015
8th July 2015
10th Sept 2015
14th Oct 2015
4th Dec 2015
14th Jan 2016
5th Feb 2016
17th March 2016
14th April 2016

Advanced Gluten Free Cookery at River Cottage in Devon
14th May 2015
9th July 2015
11th Sept 2015
15th Oct 2015
15th Jan 2016
18th March 2016
15th April 2016

Seasonal Nutrition at River Cottage in Devon
23rd Jan 2016
4th Feb 2016
23rd May 2016
21st Oct 2016

South Downs School of Homeopathy
10th April 2016

Reboot Dorset
Various dates - please see website for details

Gluten Free Days in Bridport
Dates TBC please contact me if you are interested. I also run bespoke days from home for 2-3 people where you can dictate your own  course.


Bridport Food Festival

November 4, 2013

Gluten & Dairy Free Carrot & Ginger Parkin

Yesterday was Autumnal right down to its muddy boots. Between sudden heavy downpours, the sky sang like mid-summer, painting the fields a spectrum of toffee colours, from barley sugar to muscovado.

The wind blew and blew, like an Oscar Wilde children's story. Picking up the lid of the post box and letting it drop again, flattening my baby hedge and casting great gusts of yellow leaves to dance through the telegraph wires and off into the fields beyond.

We watched it all from our warm kitchen, enjoying the effects of all that insulation and attention to detail in the airtightness of our home. Inside, everything is muted, softened to a dull swish and thud. Opening the back door to empty compost, bought the full force of the noise outside to our startled ears.

So we settled down to poker and pottering, a few cups of rooibos and some gentle baking.

Just before evening drew in, we headed out for a run and returned damp and jubilant, cobwebs cleared and hungry for soup. For dessert, a dark, gingery slice of parkin, tucked up in a blanket of custard.

Ginger feels so right when the nights draw in, comfortingly warm and yet piquant with heat that reminds you this is spice. Parkin is a dark ginger cake with a moist, toothsome texture from the combination of treacle and oats.  I wanted to make something oat free, so I've used grated carrots to give a succulent, open texture and blackstrap molasses for dark, sticky, nourishing sweetness. It would be great with some poached pears and a dollop of Greek Yogurt too.

Carrot & Ginger Parkin - serves 6

If you want to make this with butter, simply substitute 80g butter for the lard/duckfat, for coconut oil, substitute 70g.

70g blackstrap molasses
50g dark muscovado sugar - or palm sugar
40g duck fat - or goose fat
30g lard
2 large organic eggs
zest of 1 orange
100g ground almonds (almond flour in the US)
30g tapioca
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder) or 1/2 tsp bicarb & 1 tsp vinegar
150g finely grated organic carrot

Line an 8inch / 20cm sandwich tin with a circle of baking parchment and set the oven to 160ºC

In a food processor, or with an electric whisk, beat together fats, sugar & molasses until creamy. Add bicarb now if you are using instead of baking powder - but not the vinegar!

Add eggs, ground almond, tapioca and spices. Blitz for a while, until thoroughly creamy and lighter in colour.

Add baking powder and blend well to incorporate, scraping down the sides. Add vinegar now if using this instead of baking powder.

Add carrots and pulse just enough to combine.

Scrape into the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool in the tin and serve warm or room temperature. Eat within a couple of days.

October 31, 2013

A Gently Spooky Breakfast

I'm not much for Halloween, but I did start the day with a gently spooky spider's web on my toast. Black sourdough bread, slathered with tahini and a drizzle of blackstrap molasses. Mmmm!

October 14, 2013

Prosciutto and Egg Muffins

Most of the food I cook at home these days is simple and wholesome. After hunting down the best seasonable produce and stowing it lovingly in the larder, I want to bring it to the table with the minimum of fuss.

Of course I bake and invent, with any number of bubbling jars a testament to my love of fermentation. But it's mostly humble stuff.

Occasionally I get the urge to do something fancy, a few profiteroles, a show off cake, or plate of quail egg canapés perhaps? These dishes require a hefty chunk of kitchen graft; sauces, ganache, tricky timings and much beating and folding. At the end of a day spent this way I feel sated by my efforts and slightly tipsy on the joyous reception they recieve.

If I want to appear to have made the effort, without actually making it, there are always parma ham and egg muffins to turn to. A high protein, portable snack - made in minutes and yet strangely fancy, due to their frilly collar of crisp, oven toasted ham and dainty size.

These can make a delicious weekend breakfast, quick supper, pic-nic contribution or fridge standby for unexpected hunger. Bear in mind that they are high in protein, fat, salt and not much else - so accompany with some delicious vegetables in any form you like for mealtime balance.

Prosciutto and Egg Muffins - with feta and oven roast tomatoes

This recipe makes six - enough for breakfast for two with extra veg.

You can vary the ingredients that you add depending on your taste, or what you have in the fridge. Wilted spinach, caramelised onions, spring onions, cheddar cheese grated over the top, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts in oil... The picture above shows spinach with grated cheddar.

6 slices of prosciutto (parma ham, serrano ham, speck)
4 large free range eggs
a large slice of feta
25-30 cherry tomatoes
1 slice red onion
milk (dairy or non dairy)
pepper and sea salt

Put the cherry tomatoes onto a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and roast for about 45 mins to an hour at 160ºC until collapsed and starting to colour on the skin. Set aside.

Line six holes of a muffin tray with a little collar of non stick baking parchment. If you're not fussy about the way these muffins look, then you can dispense with this bit.

Set the oven to 180ºC.

Lay a slice of prosciutto into each of the lined muffin tray holes (or straight into the tin). Be gentle and try not to break the slice as you lay it in. Leave the long ends draped over the edge. The slice won't completely fill the hole - hence the benefit of lining the tin. But the egg will just bake around the ham if it spills round the edges.

Finely chop onion.

Gently place a few tomatoes onto each piece of prosciutto, crumble in the feta and sprinkle in onion.

In a jug, beat the eggs well with a fork, adding a glug of milk to loosen the mixture. Season with lots of black pepper and a very small pinch of salt (lots of salt in feta and prosciutto).

Pour egg mix evenly into the holes and drop in the remaining tomatoes. Grind over a little more black pepper and bake for 10 minutes, until risen and starting to turn a little golden.

Leave in the tray for a few minutes and then run a knife around the edge to loosen before taking out of the tins. Eat hot or cold.

October 7, 2013

Arroz Dulce con Manteca (dairy and gluten free rice pudding)

Nick and I grabbed ourselves a little break in Andalucia last week. We stayed in Gaucín - a pueblo blanco perched improbably on the side of a deep valley - forty five minutes drive up winding mountain roads in a rather reluctant Ford Fiesta. From the roof terrace of our casita, you could have sailed a paper aeroplane all the way to the Rif mountains in Morocco. Before bed, we inhaled the herb scented air and let our gaze sweep out across the night sky to enjoy the expanse of space in the valley. A vast pool of treacle dark air, studded with stars, inviting our eyes to swim across. Africa twinkled back, thrillingly close.

As we were staying in a fairly rural town, nobody spoke English. This suits us fine, as Nick can get by and I'm learning. However, in the south people are too relaxed to bother finishing a word properly - so some interpretation of any sentence is always needed. 'Buenas dias!' becomes 'Buen dia' and so on, leading to some confusion if the understanding of a word relies on hearing the ultimate syllable. No matter, we crashed through any number of social interactions, misconjugating and laughing with the locals in a very satisfying way.

On our journey to the casita, we had stopped at a large El Campo for provisions, but neglected to buy anything to fry our breakfast eggs in. We had olive oil for our delicious tomates negros, but no lard or duck fat. I despatched Nick to the local shop to see what he could find and he returned looking delighted with himself. In his hand was a tub of locally produced Manteca (lard), I popped the lid off and inside was creamy, acorn fed, piggy goodness.

Nick told me that the shop keeper had questioned his desire to buy the manteca several times before accepting his cash. He couldn't believe that somebody English and below the age of sixty would prefer to cook in old fashioned pig fat over the more modern vegetable fats now coating the palates of Spain. Across Spain people have absorbed the message that the pig fat they have prized and eaten for generations is now forbidden, a cause of heart disease and weight gain. Shops are filled with bottles of heat expelled vegetable oil and tubs of margarine. In a country where butter is still a novelty - it's a real shame to see them giving away their culinary heritage so easily.

Thankfully, there were still plates of delicious jamon de bellota to be eaten in the bars - slick and soft with warm fat, sweet and salty in equal measure.

In the carniceria we found morcilla (blood sausage) made entirely without grain. I questioned the butcher about the ingredients a couple of times, in case he had neglected to mention the breadcrumbs, flour or suspicious looking powders that are often added into spanish sausage. It was simply, inherently gluten free - the way they make it up here in the mountains; blood, onion, garlic, salt and cinnamon. Each morning, we sliced off a little more and fried it up to eat with our eggs, peppers and tomatoes. It was unbelievably delicious - tender, savoury, delicately spiced and richly sustaining.

One evening I found I had a hankering for something like pudding. Dessert in spain relies on dairy or wheat - both off the menu for me. So I bought some paella rice and fashioned a rice pudding for myself using almond milk, a little sugar and a vanilla rooibos teabag. It was ok, but lacking something. Definitely not the creamy pudding I was after. A little head scratching and a rootle in the fridge produced the manteca - creamy for sure, but maybe a little too porky for a rice pudding? I scooped some in anyway, in a moment of culinary recklessness and it was completely delicious! I dare you to try it for yourself.

Arroz Dulce con Manteca

Per person quantities

1 handful of pudding rice
about 250ml rice or almond milk
heaped tsp good quality lard or duck fat
a vanilla rooibos teabag - or some vanilla extract
small pinch sea salt

Pop everything in a heavy bottomed pan and bring to the boil.

Take out the teabag and give it a squeeze. Cover the pan and turn the heat as low as it will go.

Cook the rice, stirring occasionally until it is completely tender and has become risotto consistency. Add more milk if needed, or turn up the heat a little to drive off moisture.

Serve in small bowls sprinkled with a little ground cinnamon.

September 16, 2013

Advanced Gluten Free Baking

Anyone who has been on one of my courses will know how excitable I can be when it comes to baking! River Cottage have been hosting my baking course for a couple of years now and it is always fully booked out with folks keen to improve their knowledge.

I have watched a host of trepidatious bakers hold their creations out with shining eyes after a pile of unassuming flour becomes a buttery cookie or a slice of sourdough bread. Their questions and enthusiasm to learn a whole new way of baking always make my heart swell fit to burst with the joy of it all.

After many requests, we have developed an Advanced Gluten Free Day for those of you who already bake gluten free and wish to tackle something a little more complex - or folks who have been on one of my courses.

Whilst remaining as true as possible to my mantra of fermentation and whole grains, the advanced day will cover the mysteries of flaky Puff Pastry, airy Choux Pastry, Yeasted Pastry, using starchy veg in baking and how to make a Pitta puff.

We will discuss in greater depth the myriad flour possibilities available to the gluten free baker and inspire you with greater confidence to experiment meaningfully in your own kitchen.

If you're interested in my Gluten Free Day - read a wonderful review from Caleigh here. Tickets available for the January 2014 course here.

For my November 2013 Advanced Gluten Free Day, tickets are available here - or call 01297 630300 to speak to the lovely River Cottage staff.

I can't wait to see you there! x x x

August 21, 2013

Raspberry Kleicha for Lubna

I haven't written much here at all lately. Life seems to have picked me up on it's back and carried me running this year. I have been writing, but none of it here.

One of my many projects is a book on gluten free Middle Eastern cookery. Anyone who has been following long enough will remember khoreshts, cardamom cakes, saffron infused desserts, stuffed quinces and rose scented ice-creams scattered among the other dishes I have shared over the years. Middle eastern flavours particularly tickle my palate, subtle and complex, fragrant and warming.

So it was with delight that I heard my bother-in-law had fallen head first in love with an Iraqi woman called Lubna. A photo of her on his Facebook page said all I wanted to know, a million watt smile and crinkles round the eyes that showed she laughed a lot. I couldn't wait to talk food with her.

When we did finally meet her, that smile was like a five bar radiator. I could have curled up in front of it and purred. Nick's brother looked like a new man. Lucky Simon, we thought happily.

Unluckily, this story is a tragedy, not a comedy. Not long after we met her, Lubna found that she was dying of cancer. They didn't know how long. Simon and Lubna started their comet trail, doing things that should not be put off. Carpe Diem.

Simon proposed and Lubna accepted. Although the wedding was a small family gathering (small by Iraqi standards), the feast table groaned. Bowls of grapes, cut pineapple and fat dates, jostled with cake stands strewn with shiny sweets. Two large cakes sat patiently waiting for the end of the ceremony, whilst the children's eyes shone like silver paper. Nestled amongst it all were pastries; syrupy, spiral zoolbia, baklava and kleicha - the national pastry of Iraq - filled with dates, figs, pistachios and rosewater.

I urged Nick to taste everything he could and describe it to me in detail.
"Mmm! Nice!" he enthused.
Not quite the detailed description I was hoping for...

Lubna changed from her wedding dress into a cape sleeved, chiffon confection that made her look like an exotic butterfly. Her cheeks must have ached that night from grinning. Finley declared it the best wedding ever as he patted his tummy, still full of slow cooked lamb and fragrant rice.

A few short weeks later we were back at the same table, tears coursing down our cheeks. The day was bitterly cold and we no longer had Lubna's smile to warm us.

This weekend was six months since the wedding. My heart aches for what should have been and never will be.

I give you a recipe for kleicha filled with fresh raspberries. Not traditional, but then Lubna wasn't a traditional sort of girl. You can use any seasonal fruit you have for these, or fill them with dates and rosewater. You will need to start making the pastry 4 - 24 hours before you want to bake them and they are best still warm from the oven.

This is my submission for this month's Go Ahead Honey It's Gluten Free, hosted by Nooshin of For The Love of Food.  The theme is, Something Fruity.

Raspberry Kleicha 

Gluten Free Yeasted Pastry Makes about 12

Mix together the following and set aside for 3-6 hours or up to 24 hours in the fridge.

60g sorghum flour
60g rice flour
40g buckwheat flour
10g fresh yeast or 4g dried
140g warm bottled or filtered water

Then beat in:

60g soft, salted butter
60g ground almonds
40g tapioca starch
20g fine maize flour (the yellow kind)
20g light muscovado sugar
10g ground flax seed
4g fine sea salt

Set the mixture in the fridge to chill for 30 mins to an hour and then make your kleicha below.

about 35 fresh raspberries
light muscovado sugar

Make these as sweet or tart as you like. I just added a pinch of sugar to my kleicha, but you could add up to a teaspoonful for something more authentically sweet.

Making the Kleicha

For satsuma sized kleicha, pinch off about a dessertspoon of the pastry, roll gently into a ball and roll briefly in some tapioca starch or cornflour.

Place the ball in your palm and start to flatten it with the fingers of your other hand until it is the size of your palm. Work quickly, or the pastry will become oily.

Place three raspberries onto the pastry, add some sugar and a few drops of rosewater and gently bring up the sides around the filling. Use your fingers to pinch and stroke the pastry until it comes around the top and pinch gently closed. Roll gently into a ball shape and place seam side down on a baking tray. Pierce a little hole in the top with a sharp knife.

Continue until all the mixture is used up.

To make mini kleicha, just use a teaspoonful of pastry and fill with one raspberry, a drop of rosewater and a pinch of sugar. Pierce with a skewer. You will make between 24-30 this way.

Leave the kleicha to rise for an hour and then bake for 18-20 minutes at 190ºC until they are golden brown and crisp. Watch that they don’t burn, as the sugar in the pastry will caramelise easily. If in doubt, turn your oven down 10ºC.

Cool on a rack and eat within 24 hours, or freeze and crisp up again for a few minutes in a hot oven after defrosting.