Sunday, 17 August 2014

Tarka Dal

I love Indian food, it is one of my favourite cuisines. The mix of aromatic spices and plentiful use of rice and lentils is my kind of food. Plus a lot of it is naturally gluten free which is always a bonus. Although I love Indian food, I very rarely attempt to recreate it myself at home. The assorted mix of spices requiring just the right balance and correct cooking order to create the wonderfully delicate dishes is not something I have mastered.

I recently saw an episode of Indian Food Made Easy where Anjum made a delicious looking Traka Dal. I love the thick comforting texture of Dal, but am sometimes put off when it arrives swimming in a pool of oil. Anjums version however, looked so fresh and quite straightforward to make, that she inspired me to recreate it myself.

So last weekend when it was thundering and lightning outside I cocooned myself in my kitchen with a pan, some lentils and an aromatic mix of spices. There are a few processes involved but I was pleasantly surprised that the actual cooking of the Dal was surprisingly easy. You start by toasting the spices in oil which helps them release their aromatics and gives everything a more well rounded and balanced spice flavour. My kitchen smelt heavenly, wafts of warm and comforting cumin, coriander, cinnamon and fresh ginger permeated the air.

Another good tip that I actually stole from Rick Stein after watching his India cookery tour, is to use red onions rather than white, as they are naturally sweeter, and to blitz them in a food processor rather than chopping them. This gives small evenly sized pieces that cook well and release their flavour without being too harsh or chunky. It worked a treat and I’m definitely going to be doing this again in future.

In less than two hours I was tucking into a bowl of warm and comforting Tarka Dal. Even as I lifted the spoon to my mouth a fragrant waft of spices filled my senses making my mouth water. The first taste is of a mellow spice with a rich thick texture and soft bite from the lentils. Then the ginger creeps in, the aromatic spices build and finally a gentle prickle of heat comes in from the chili, warming the back of the throat. It was delicious! I was rather proud of myself for achieving something that (to me) tasted quite authentic and had real layers of flavour rather than being generically spiced.

As the remaining Dal cooled down, it continued to thicken. When cool, I was able to use some of the leftovers as a delicious spicy dip and spread, almost like an Indian inspired houmous. If anything it tasted even better the next day when all the spices had mellowed together and developed. I loved how aromatic and fragrant it was rather than just being chili heat or a one note ‘spicy’ flavour. I’d really recommend this recipe, even if you’ve never cooked a curry before. It wasn’t complicated to do and the results more than make up for the little effort involved. Do give it a go!

Tarka Dal
(Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy by Anjum Anand)
500g Chana Dal or split yellow peas
900ml water
2 small or 1 large red onion
2 cm piece fresh ginger
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
2 green chilies, whole
3 cloves of garlic
3 fairly large tomatoes or 6-7 cherry tomatoes
100ml extra water
Salt and pepper

Rinse the Dal or peas under running water. Place into a large saucepan with 900ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with the lid. Leave to cook for 35 minutes. They should still be firm yet tender at this point. Remove from the heat but do not drain.
Meanwhile, prepare the spice base.
Peel the onions and ginger and chop into chunks. Place into a small food blender and blitz until finely chopped, not pureed though.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. With the heat on fairly low, add the cumin, coriander, garam masala, cinnamon and turmeric and allow the spices to sizzle and release their aromatic spice for 1 minute. Do not let them burn.
Tip in the onion and ginger and stir together well. Prick the green chilies so you pierce the skin, but do not actually cut into them. Add to the pan and allow everything to cook for 4-5 minutes until the onion has softened and browned.
Blitz the garlic and tomatoes into a puree using the food blender. Add this to the pan along with 100ml of water and stir well. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until starting to thicken.
Add the cooked lentils and any remaining cooking liquid to the spices. Stir well to incorporate and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Then fish out and discard the chilies.
Now either remove a quarter of the lentil mix and briefly pulse to break down some of the lentils or else give it a few short pulses with a hand blender. You only want to crush and break down a few of the lentils to help thicken the sauce, you want most of them to remain whole.
Add the crushed lentils mix back into the pan and leave to simmer for a further 10 minutes. It should now be a thick and soft and spoonable consistency.
Spoon into bowls and serve with a garnish of coriander (I don’t have any) and flatbreads for scooping and dipping. Also tastes good with a few peas stirred in if you like.
Makes a delicious meal or meal accompaniment.
Serves 4-8 depending on serving occasion

Note: The Dal will continue to thicken as it stands. If you leave it until cold, you can almost use it as a chunky houmous style spread. If wanting to reheat, just add a touch more water and heat through thoroughly. Freezes well.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Roasted Veg & Feta Salad with Gluten Free Cous Cous

I was recently browsing the gluten free section in my local supermarket and was surprised to see free from cous cous on the shelf. Gluten free cous cous, how could that be? Cous cous is traditionally made from wheat semolina, but on further inspection this gluten free variant turned out to be made from coarsely ground maize. Eager to try it out I bought a box and headed home to experiment.

You cook the cous cous in the same way as the traditional kind, Simply pour over some hot liquid, cover and steam to steep for a few minutes. The grains absorb the water, puff up and become light, moist and fluffy. I was very impressed that this maize cous cous worked the same way. To flavour mine I added some spices and then used vegetable stock combined with some garlic and tomato to add extra flavour. I love the red orange hue this gave the cous cous.

To accompany my cous cous I added a mix of roasted and raw vegetables. I always think a mix of both adds great texture to salads. You have the soft sweetness from the roasted veg and then the fresh crisp and crunch from the raw.

My roasted veg were a colourful mix of peppers and red onion. I love the sweetness and fruitiness that develops from peppers as they are roasted. They are crisp and quite watery when raw but a short bake in the oven and they become soft and intensely flavoured. Very pretty too.

The raw element was a mix of green salad vegetables and thin strips of carrot. I always think the mix of greens together looks so fresh and inviting. When mixed all together and some cubes of feta stirred through, it made for a very fresh and colourful cous cous salad.

How did it taste? I was impressed. The cous cous didn’t go mushy, but kept its individual granular shape and texture. It was soft and light, slightly earthy maybe, but very similar to my memories of real cous cous. The mix of roasted and raw veg added great texture and flavour, while the cheese added a nice creamy, salty note. I think it would have been nice to stir through a big handful of fresh herbs too, but I didn’t have any to hand. It kept me going for lunches for 4 days. Perfect for the warmer summer days.

Roasted Veg & Feta Salad with Gluten Free Cous Cous
1 x each red, yellow & green pepper
1 red onion
2 tsp vegetable oil
150g gluten free ‘cous cous’ (made from maize – seen in Tesco & Asda)
300ml hot vegetable stock
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp sun dried tomato puree
1 clove garlic
1 carrot
2 inch chunk of cucumber
Handful sugarsnap peas
2 spring onions
2 fresh springs rosemary
Zest of ½ lemon
100g feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Cut your peppers into 1-2cm squared pieces. Slice the red onion in half and then each half into slices, but leave it assembled as a half, don’t separate out the slices. Place all the veg onto the baking tray, leaving the onion assembled as a whole half, and drizzle over a little oil. (Leaving the sliced onion assembled will prevent it burning on the oven)
Bake for 15 minutes, then give the veg a bit of a stir before baking for a further 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place the cous cous into a large bowl. Stir through the smoked paprika, cumin and cinnamon. Heat your stock until steaming. Finely grate the garlic into a pulp and stir into the stock along with the tomato puree.
Pour the hot stock over the spiced cous cous, give a quick stir and then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to steam for 5-7 minutes so the stock can be absorbed.
Peel your carrot and then use the peeler to cut very thin strips of carrot. Cut the strips into long thin batons using a sharp knife. (You want tiny strips of carrot like you something see in mixed salad bags).
Cut the cucumber into strips and then chop into small pieces. Slice the sugar snap peas and spring onions on a slight diagonal to get long thin pieces.
Return to the cous cous and use a fork to fluff up the grains so they are light and separate from each other.
Stir through the roasted and raw veg. Use your hands to pull the sliced red onion into its individual half moon slices.
Finely chop the fresh rosemary and scatter over the top along with the finely grated zest of the lemon. Give everything a good stir.
Cut the feta into small cubes and stir though gently.
Taste and season accordingly.

Serves 4 as a main meal or great as a side dish

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Lunch at 2 Oxford Place, Gluten Free Café Restaurant, Leeds

Yesterday I ventured to Leeds with a friend for lunch in a new café restaurant that I have been longing to try for several weeks. 2 Oxford Place (slightly confusing as it’s in Leeds not Oxford) is a 100% gluten free establishment that was recently opened by Victoria, who is herself a coeliac. She wanted to create a place where fellow coeliacs and gluten avoiders could to go and feel assured that everything was gluten free and safe from any cross contamination risk.

They do everything from mid morning coffee, brunch, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. The best bit? It’s all 100% gluten free. They also have a separate Vegetarian/Vegan menu and a Dairy Free menu. Impressive stuff.

When we arrived we were shown to a table in the small but cozy downstairs dining area. Although fairly compact, the room had an air of luxury about it. The textured wall paper was streaked with swirls of cream and gold, there were impressive portraits on noble looking men on the walls and the complimentary water on each table was presented in elegant glass decanters. As first impressions go we were impressed. 

Shortly after we were seated a family arrived with a young girl. When presented with the menus the mother handed one to the little girl and said “you can have anything you like” The look of sheer delight on her face was heart warming. I have to say, I felt the same way, knowing you can have ANY of the dishes on offer is a rare treat for a coeliac. Usually the hardest thing when eating out is choosing what to eat that is safe on the menu, here the hardest thing was choosing that to eat because you wanted (and could) eat it all!

There are a wide range of choices on the menu and no jacket potatoes in sight! There was everything from banana pancakes with maple syrup, sandwiches on gluten free bread, homemade quiche, fish cakes, risottos, spaghetti carbonara, salads and meat or cheese sharing platters with crackers and chutneys. They also have some daily specials and a slightly larger menu choice for dinner.

After much deliberation we went for homemade quiche and fishcake and both opted for chips too. It’s been over a year since I’ve had chips as usually they are a no-go area due to the fryers being used for wheat based products too – not an issue here!

When our food was served, the quiche was a warm giant slice on homemade gluten free pastry. It was soft and creamy and packed with flavour. The pastry base was good, a little crumbly, but nicely crisp not grainy or sandy. The fishcake was fat and encased in a beautifully golden and crisp crumb crust. It was full of salmon and creamy mash and came with a lovely herby chunky homemade tartar sauce. We both agreed the chips were nice, but a couple were still a bit undercooked in the middle, which was a shame but nothing too serious.

Next up were puddings and what a choice! None of your usual what I consider to be gluten free cop-out desserts: ice cream, fruit salad and chocolate brownies. Instead we could choose from cranberry cupcakes, chocolate pie, rice pudding, pavlova, rainbow cake, cheesecake or shortbread. My friend went for the rainbow cake which was a 6 layered multi-coloured cake in all colours of the rainbow, sandwiched and topped with cream cheese frosting. It was nicely moist, although a little dense and I thought it was quite a mean sized slice. I know its 6 layers, but they were thinner layers than your standard sponge and compared to my dessert it looked a little meager.

I opted for the cheesecake of the day which turned out to be chocolate & lime. A lime unbaked fridge cheesecake on a thick dark chocolate biscuit base. I’m not normally a fan of the biscuit bases on desserts, but this was lovely. It had a good strong cocoa flavour and a great texture, not too sweet or buttery. The cheesecake was incredibly thick and rich but in the best way possible. The lime flavour was very subtle, and again it wasn’t overly sweet which I enjoyed. It was served drizzled with a chocolate syrup and fresh fruit which was a lovely addition to cut through the sweetness. Top marks for presentation.

To finish, we ordered tea, which was presented in beautiful china cups and teapot. It was loose leaf tea so we got our own tea strainer too. This was a lovely touch and I think loose leaf tea always tastes so much better than a powdery tea bag.

Overall we had a very delicious and enjoyable meal. The ambiance was cozy and inviting and although they got very busy towards the end of lunch we didn’t feel rushed. It was such a treat to go out and eat ‘normal’ food that I wouldn’t normally have the option of choosing when eating out. They don’t make a big song and dance about it being gluten free, it’s good food, done well, that just happens to also be gluten free. If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend it and I’m longing to go back and try their afternoon tea!

Our 2 course lunch for two, with tea came to just over £25. The place was buzzing with people by the time we left and I really hope this continues.

Note: I visited by my own choice. I did not inform the café we were coming (we didn’t even book), they did not know I was a blogger or that I intended to write a review of my experience. All the views expressed here are my own. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Blackcurrant & Ginger Yoghurt Cheesecake

Ok so this is not technically a cheesecake in the traditional sense, as it contains no cheese – yep this is a cheese-free cheesecake. It does however still look like a cheesecake, taste like a cheesecake and contain lovely thick Greek yoghurt – which is still milk/dairy and as this forms the base of cheese, then I’m still calling this dessert cheesecake.

On my recent visit home to my parents I also managed to arrange to see some of my old friends. I was invited to dinner with one friend and her family and they have the most amazing garden complete with a vast array of homegrown fruits and vegetables. They put Tom and Barbara from The Good Life to shame. Homegrown tomatoes, cabbages, leeks, green beans, spring onions, beetroot, lettuce, cherries, apricots, apples, pears, quinces, gooseberries, blackcurrants and figs!! Figs! I didn’t know you could even grow figs in this country. I was in love with their garden and could have quite happily lived in there, snuggled under a bush, feasting on the delights. Sadly the figs weren’t ripe at the time of my visit but I did leave with an array of tomatoes and a huge bagful of freshly picked blackcurrants. I am so jealous and can’t wait to have my own garden so I can (attempt to) grow my own fruit and veg too.

I wanted to put the blackcurrants to good use and decided to use them to top a cheesecake. I adore cheesecake but don’t make it that often as unless you are having people round I find a whole cheesecake can be a bit rich for one person! As the warm weather has finally arrived I was also worried that cheesecake might be a bit too heavy for a summer dessert. I then remember the cheeseless yoghurt cheesecake I invented a few years back and decided to do the same again here. Using yoghurt rather than cream cheese makes for a lighter, softer and more summery cheesecake.

I wanted the blackcurrants to really stand out, so cooked them slightly and then used them as a topping for the cheesecake, rather than stirring them in. Fresh blackcurrants are amazing. They have such a distinctive sharp zingy flavour, that really is the essence of concentrated Ribena. It’s quite a sophisticated grown up fruit flavour, almost like a mature Port. It’s very unique and I loved how plump and juicy these currants were. I find pairing ginger with fresh zingy fruits always works well and so used some fiery stem ginger biscuits as my cheesecake base.

The finished cheesecake tasted amazing. The blackcurrants were the star of the show, becoming even more sweet and intensified in flavour after their bake in the oven. They retained their lovely juiciness and zing which then complimented the smooth and creamy yoghurt cheesecake, with its lightness and freshness. This was then finished with a little peppery ginger kick from the stem ginger biscuit base.

Oh it was so good, I ate far too much of it on the first day, but I just couldn’t stop myself going back for ‘just another small slice’ and then to ‘just neaten up the edges’. I drizzled each slice with some of the reserved blackcurrant juice which added extra glossy fruity goodness.

I’m convinced yoghurt cheesecakes are the way to go. They are lighter and fresher, meaning you can eat more of them without feeling guilty or bloated! A well known brand of full fat cream cheese has around 235 kcal and 22g fat per 100g whereas full fat Greek yogurt has only around 100 kcal and 5g fat per 100g. That’s less than half! Imagine what you could get it down to if you used low fat or 0% fat Greek yoghurt too. Now you really can have your (cheese)cake and eat it too!

Blackcurrant & Ginger Yoghurt Cheesecake
Blackcurrant Topping
150g fresh or frozen blackcurrants
80g caster sugar
100ml water
¼ tsp arrowroot or cornflour

Ginger Biscuit Base
150g gluten free stem ginger biscuits
50g butter

Yoghurt Cheesecake
500g full fat Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp cornflour
50g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Start by making the blackcurrant topping. Place the blackcurrants, sugar and water into a pan. Bring to a simmer and allow to bubble gently until the blackcurrants have released some of their juice and liquid has turned purple. Dissolve the arrowroot in a little water and add to the pan. Stir until combined and then remove from the heat. This will help thicken the liquid slightly. You can use cornflour, but this will turn it slightly cloudy.
Drain the syrup into one bowl and place the blackcurrants into another. Set aside to cool.

Make the biscuit base. Heat the oven to 180C. Line the base of a round 6 inch deep springform tin with baking paper.
Crush the ginger biscuits until they resemble fine crumbs. You can either do this in a food processor at place them into a bag and attack it with a rolling pin.
Melt the butter and stir in the biscuit crumbs. Mix until well combined and then tip into the base of the tin. Press the crumbs down well to form an even layer. (A good tip is to cover it with clingfilm and then press down with a potato masher, then remove the clingfilm)
Place the base into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside.

For the yoghurt cheesecake, take 1 tbsp of the yoghurt and mix it with the cornflour until you have a smooth paste. Mix this into the remaining yoghurt and stir well.
Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla and whisk together until you have a smooth, thick mix.
Pour the yoghurt mix over the ginger biscuit base and smooth the top.
Carefully spoon most of the blackcurrants (without their syrup) over the top of the cheesecake, making sure to scatter them into an even layer. They should stay on top.
Place the tin on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes.
It should be slightly risen, lightly golden brown and puffed around the edges. Give it a gentle shake and if it wobbles in the centre slightly then it’s cooked. If the whole top wobbles then leave it for a further 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool at room temperature for 1½ hours before covering the top with clingfilm and placing in the fridge to chill and set for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
It may relax, sink back down and crack slightly on cooling, this is fine.
When ready to serve, run a sharp knife around the inside of the tin before carefully releasing from the tin.
Transfer to a plate and serve drizzled with some of the reserved blackcurrant syrup.
Makes 1 x 6 inch yoghurt cheesecake.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Seabrook Lattice Crisps: A Review

I was recently sent 2 large sharing bags of Seabrook’s new lattice crisps varieties to try. I don’t eat crisps very often but when I do I often choose Seabrook crisps as unlike other brands, all their crisps are gluten free and vegetarian. A lot of crisp companies use wheat based flavours for their crisps making them unsuitable for people with coeliac disease, so to have a whole range of safe crisp flavours to choose from is great.

When the bags arrived I was delighted by the shape and design of the crisps. Rather than being thin and flat, these were thickly cut and lattice shaped for extra fun and crunch. I was also pleased to see they were all hand cooked and made in Yorkshire. Although I’m southern born and bred, I now live in Yorkshire and have become rather proud and protective of it, so was pleased to see they were local. Extra bonus points.

The two bags I was sent to review were Sweet Chilli and Cheese & Onion.

Sweet Chilli
Quite thick crisps, not thin and ‘crisp’ like most crisps, these had more crunch and bite. I liked the hashed lattice shape. They reminded me a little of potato waffles we sometimes had when I was a child. Unfortunately my samples were delivered via post meaning quite a lot of them had been broken, so I got mostly pieces rather than whole crisps.

On opening the bag I stuck my nose in and was surprised to find they had hardly any aroma other than fresh potato. If I’d have been blindfolded I’d have guessed these were ready salted flavour. That being said, I suppose it could be due to the fact the bag claims they use no artificial flavours, so they are indeed natural and neutral smelling. This should therefore be a plus point rather than a minus.

After tipping them out I was struck by the red/orange coating on them and the little flecks of green. I eagerly tasted one and at first was taken aback. My first flavour was of nacho cheese…cheese…on a chilli crisp? As I chewed and swallowed a warming glow built up until I was left with quite a sweet chilli kick in the back of my throat. I looked at the ingredients and was intrigued to see that along with some garlic and cayenne (ah there’s the spice!) there was also red pepper powder, apricot powder (how unusual), paprika, anise and fennel. The flecks of green turned out to be parsley. I got the heat and the sweet, but there was still something a little odd about them. I ate a handful more and still the underlying flavour was of cheap nacho cheese. I have no idea where it came from though. I got a second opinion and ‘cheesy’ also came up again. Maybe the mix of spices, garlic and apricot powder created some sort of flavour combination that confused by taste buds but there was definitely more than just chilli going on. Or perhaps they didn’t clean the line before starting the next flavour and some of the cheese flavour was left over from a previous crisp batch, who knows? I’d be interested to try another bag and see if I get the same result.

That being said I loved the thickness of the crisps. This gave them a great crunch and texture. I was also impressed that they were not too greasy, as my fingers weren’t coated in oil after eating them. The warming heat from the chilli also lingered for several minutes after eating them. These would be great with dips.

Cheese & Onion
Next up was the actual cheese flavour. I’m not a big fan of cheese and onion crisps so my expectations of these were slightly lower but I’m pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised. On opening the bag I was pleased to see that a lot more of these crisps had survived the post and were in fact still whole. Again I stuck my nose in and apart from a very faint cheese aroma, the crisps smelt neutral and of fresh potato.

When tipped out there was a mix of pale and lightly golden crisps with a lovely thick crisp and crunchy texture. I took a bite and the flavour of cheddar cheese instantly flooded my mouth. It was a really nice strong cheese flavour, that actually tasted of a smooth and creamy Cheddar cheese, rather than just a generic cheap cheese flavour. It was surprisingly creamy, without too much tang. I was converted!

The onion flavour came through as a second note and again I was pleasantly surprised that it seemed sweeter and more mellow than some cheese and onion flavours I’ve tried. To me they tasted more like chives. I looked at the ingredients and my instinct about the onion was correct. The onion came from shallots which are sweeter and mellower versions of onions, so I was sort of right that they weren’t as harsh as regular onions. I could imagine eating these tucked into a cheese and salad sandwich, which I used to sometimes do with my packet of crisps at school for a bit of added crunch. It made me feel such a rebel.

Overall it was a mixed review for me, although definitely more on the good side. I loved that they were:
  • Gluten free and Coeliac UK certified
  • Yorkshire based
  • Vegetarian
  • All natural ingredients
  • Great crunch and thickness
  • The fun lattice shape
  • The Cheese & Onion actually tasted like real Cheddar cheese

 The things that weren’t quite right for me:
  • The strange nacho cheese flavour in the Sweet Chilli crisps
  • They are only available in large 120g bags. I’d love to see some single serve bags.

 Would I buy again? Yes, but I’d want to try some of their other flavours. I’m not usually a cheesy crisp fan and so to have both flavours tasting cheesy was a bit of a shame. Their Sea Salt & Red Wine Vinegar flavour and the Salt & Black Pepper both sound great.

Note: Although I was sent the crisps for free I was under no obligation to write a good review and all thoughts and comments are my own.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Tea & Cake at Fancy, Bedford

This weekend I am back in Bedford visiting my family. We had planned to go fruit picking at a Pick Your Own farm, but the wet weather put a kibosh on that idea. By the afternoon it had brightened up and my Mum and I decided to venture out for a walk around Bedford Park.

This is a quiet, very green park with a good circular walk with lots of open space and lush green trees. There are free tennis courts at the front and plenty of open space for playing football, rounders or having a picnic if you wish. We spent an hour enjoy the stroll and chatting before heading to a nearby café for a slice of cake and cup of tea at Fancy.

Fancy is situated on Roff Avenue and is quite understated from the outside but walk inside and you discover a lovely gem of a place. The counter is lined with cake stands each displaying some delicious and slightly different types of cakes. The reason I love this café so much is that they also offer cakes for a variety of diets, gluten free, egg free etc. All the cakes are handmade on site which is another lovely touch.

When we ventured inside we were greeted with a wonderful display of tempting cakes. I was delighted to discover they had three gluten free cakes on offer that day. Very impressive for such a small café. I had a choice between Lemon & Polenta, Coconut & Lime or Fig, Almond & Dark Choc Chunk.

My Mum and I decided to share a slice as they were serving very generous portions and we settled on the Fig, Almond & Dark Choc Chunk cake. What a great choice this turned out to be! It was a very moist light cake that I suspect was made with ground almonds, it had pieces of dried fig and dark chocolate chunks stirred in. It was finished with a scattering of flaked almonds on top.

The little nuggets of dried fig added a little pop and crunch from the seeds while the dark chocolate chunks meant you had a sudden burst of intense rich chocolate every few bites. The almonds kept it light and deliciously soft and moist. It was the best gluten free cake I’ve ever had out of home. It looks quite dark round the edges, but this wasn’t burnt, instead it tasted slightly chewy and caramelised which only added to the flavour. We both loved it and I’m longing to try and bake something similar myself. It was fantastic to have such a tasty and unusual cake when out and about, a real treat.

Fancy’s tea selection is also very impressive. While my Mum chose a pot of traditional tea I selected Lemongrass. This had a lovely fresh citrus aroma and a mellow well-rounded lemon flavour. Not as sharp as fresh lemon, definitely more aromatic and like lemongrass. Again we both loved how the tea was serving in individual teapots with assorted floral china teacups and saucers. Just like a dainty cup of afternoon tea should be.

The café seating is an assortment of mismatched wooden tables and chairs which gave it a charming homely feel. They had a small lunch menu printed on brown paper bags attached to clipboards which was another nice touch. The owner did make it clear to me when we visited that they can’t completely guarantee the cakes are free from certain allergens as they do also bake ‘normal’ wheat cakes on site. I’m very sensitive but have never had any problems in the twice I have eaten their gluten free cakes, so I think they are quite clued up about keeping things separate and cross contamination. All in all it made for a lovely afternoon and I highly recommend you stop by Fancy for a cup of tea and delicious slice of cake if you are ever in the area.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Rother Valley Country Park

Sorry for the long delay in posting. I haven't fallen off the edge of the earth! The weekend after my last blog post was Fathers Day so I went home to visit my dear ol dad and spend some time with the family. The weekend after this I had planned to go to Bradford to explore the Curry Festival that was on, but on the Friday I became unwell and have spent the last week ill in bed with gastroenteritis. Not fun.

I'm still not back to full cooking/baking exuberance - jacket potatoes and rice currently feature a lot in my diet - so instead I thought I would share with you a few photos of a walk I enjoyed a few weeks ago around Rother Valley Country Park.

The park is located in Sheffield, in Rother Valley (bet you'd never have guessed) and comprises of 750 acres of parkland including a large lake with a variety of walks around the perimeter with a few meandering paths further afield. You can also go cycling along the paths or canoeing, sailing or even jet-skiing on the lake itself.

It's a little hard to find and we nearly missed the entrance as you need to follow the road signs rather than use the sites postcode, as apparently, according to their official website, this takes you to a random industrial estate, no where near the entrance to the park. So no Satnav allowed!

When A and I arrived it was an unusually bright and sunny day and being out amongst the greenery, trees and sparkling lake it made for a lovely morning stroll.

I loved the sunny bright yellow field of buttercups.

We ended up back at the start and found a little cafe for a drink. They were serving food too, but it was mostly sausages rolls and sandwiches, so not really gluten friendly, so we settled on a drink and ice cream instead. I don't normally drink fizzy drinks, but I became ridiculously excited about spotting a can of Rio in the chiller cabinet. It's a drink I remember being allowed as a treat in my childhood. I haven't seen it for years and didn't know you could even get it any more. I had to have it!

Rio is a tropical (Orange, Guava, Apricot, Mango & Passion Fruit) exotic fruit juice drink made with lightly sparkling spring water. It's slightly sweet, fruity, a little exotic in flavour thanks to the slightly unusual fruits and it makes for one very refreshing drink. Ah it tasted just as I remember. The perfect end to a lovely walk.

If you are in the area, I'd recommend a visit. You do have to pay for parking, but its £3.50 for the whole day. Next time I think we'll take a book and a picnic and make a day of it.

Next weekend it's the Allergy and Free From Show in London. It's on from 4th - 6th July and is the foodie event I most look forward to each year. For a coeliac, there is something so amazing at being able to walk into a room, a room full of food stands, people giving cookery demos and tasters, and knowing you can eat ALL of it. I get very over excited each year and can't wait to attend this one.

I love discovering new companies and products not available in supermarkets. Freshly cooked pizzas, cheesecakes, brownies, breads and desserts. Go hungry and indulge in the delights! Most things are gluten free and some are also dairy, nut or soy free too. It not only caters to people with food allergies, there is also a health section for people with skin sensitivity or hay fever etc. Click here for some free tickets! Anyone else going?