Sunday, 23 November 2014

Gluten Free Fruity Christmas Pudding with Amaretto for Stir Up Sunday

Today is Stir Up Sunday – the official day to stir together a delicious mix of dried fruits and spices to make your Christmas pudding. Every year the Sunday before the last Sunday in November, the last Sunday before the start of advent, is the official day to make your xmas pud. It is a tradition that has been going on for decades, possibly centuries, and one I hope continues for many more to come. I love the thought that today people all over the country are today making a pudding for their friends and relatives to eat and enjoy on Christmas day. It’s the kind of unity and homely food based tradition that I love. I expect many people buy their Christmas puddings from supermarkets these days, but for me its more than the enjoyment of eating the pud, it’s the time, care and love that went into making it, knowing its something special to be shared by the whole family that forms part of my enjoyment of it. Especially as they are eaten but once a year.

In years gone by all the family would gather together around the bowl and take it in turns to give the ingredients a stir, while making a wish. In some households, people put coins in the pudding mix and allow children to find them, and it was believed that finding a coin brings wealth, health, happiness for the coming year. The coin traditionally used was a silver sixpence. This isn’t something we tend to do now, but I like the idea. I can image the health and safety police did away with it for fear of people choking on their coins!

Christmas pudding is not too dissimilar to Christmas cake. Your soak your fruits in alcohol before using them, like a Christmas cake, but then combine this glossy boozy fruity mixture with a mix of spices, breadcrumbs and traditionally suet. I love how the often dried and wizened fruits become so plump and glossy after their boozy soaking session and the aroma of boozy soaked fruit with fresh citrus and spices is intoxicating.

I always made my own breadcrumbs from crumbling up some gluten free bread and use frozen grated butter in place of the suet (which is usually coated in wheat flour). This fruity, spicy mixture is placed into a pudding basin and part boiled, part steamed for several hours to create a densely fruited, rich, spicy and incredibly moist fruit pudding. It has all the flavours of Christmas cake only in a squishier, softer and more intense form. The pudding mix doesn’t look all that appetising before it’s steamed, but just look at the fabulously dark and succulent sticky pudding it transforms into after its steaming session. You get the added bonus of it filling the house with a fabulous rich and spicy Christmas scent as it happily simmers away.

Like Christmas Cake, the pudding is kept for several weeks to allow the flavour to mature and develop. Then on Christmas day the pudding is heated, doused in Brandy and set alight! The lights are quickly turned down and people ‘ohhh’ and ‘awww’ as wispy blue flames dance around the pudding creating a spectacular end to the Christmas meal. There can’t be many foods that people look forward to intentionally setting on fire! The only other one I can think of is Baked Alaska and that’s more of a gentle torching rather than dousing it in a flammable liquid and setting it alight! However, the actual flames last mere seconds, so no harm comes to the pudding itself, its too moist to get scorched or burnt.

The pudding requires 5 hours of boiling/steaming, but don’t let that put you off. As long as you check the water level a couple of times during cooking, it can be left to its own devises. It’s quite relaxing pottering around the house and listening to it gently simmering, filling the kitchen with the warm spicy note of Christmas. I always like to line the base of the pan I steam it in with paper. This protects the pudding from the direct base heat of the pan and stops it making too much noise from the pudding basin hitting the base of the pan as it simmers. It’s a great way to make use of some of the tedious junk mail and unwanted catalogues that always get pushed through the letterbox at this time of year.

I actually steamed mine yesterday, so right now it’s wrapped up tight and awaiting its final steam on Christmas day. You still have time to make your own and you can add whatever fruits and spices you like to it. You can also replace the alcohol with orange juice or non alcoholic wine if you wish. Go stir up a pudding – its stir up Sunday!

Oh and if you want to make a Christmas cake too, click to see the recipes I use most – traditional or gingerspiced.

Gluten Free Fruity Christmas Pudding with Amaretto
Ingredients
200g raisins
120g sultanas
50g chopped dates
60g glace cherries (check they are GF)
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
100ml Amaretto (or Brandy)
20g chopped pecans (optional)
50g grated frozen butter
30g gluten free fresh breadcrumbs (crumbled from some GF bread)
45g rice flour
5g tapioca starch
90g dark soft brown sugar*
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground star anise (or clove)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten

* I was out of dark brown sugar so used 70g light soft brown sugar & 20g black treacle


Method
The day before (or up to 3 days before), add the raisins, sultanas and chopped dates into a bowl. Chop the cherries in half and add to bowl. Grate the orange and lemon zest over the top and pour in the Amaretto. Give everything a good stir, cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside for 24 hours (or up to 3 days) to allow the fruits to plump up and absorb the alcohol.
The next day, place all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl. Add the soaked fruits, scraping in any leftover juices. Fold everything together with a spatula until everything is evenly combined, it may look a little dry at first but keep mixing.
Place a small disc of parchment paper in the base of a 1½ pint pudding basin. Fill the basin with the pudding mix, pressing down lightly. Place another disc of parchment on top and cover the top of the basin with a sheet of foil that you have folded a pleat into the middle of, to allow the pudding to rise during steaming.
Tie a long strip of string around the top rim of the pudding and then secure it over the top of the basin from one side to the other to form a string handle. (This will help you retrieve the pudding from the pan later without burning yourself).
Lay sheets of newspaper (or junk mail) in the base of a large saucepan. (This protects the base of the pudding from the direct heat from the stove and stops it rattling around inside your pan.) Place the pudding on the papers before filling the pan with boiling water from the kettle, until it reaches halfway up the side of the pudding basin.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to the merest of simmers, cover with the lid and leave to simmer gently for 5 hours. It should be barely bubbling. Leave the pan half off the heat of the flame if your hob doesn’t go low enough.
Every 2 hours lift the lid of the pan to check the water level. Add more boiling water if it’s looking low.
Once the 5 hours is up, lift the pudding out of the pan with the help of the string handle. Place on a cooling rack and leave until cool. Leave it in the basin and with the parchment disc still on top. Once cooled, remove the foil top and wrap the whole pudding, still in the basin, tightly in clingfilm and store in a cool dark place until required, the longer the better.
On Christmas Day, steam the pudding again for 2 hours to heat through thoroughly. When hot, run a knife around the edge of the pudding and turn out onto a serving plate that has a rim. Carefully warm a ladleful of Brandy, then set light to it with a match or lighter and quickly pour it over the pudding to flambé. Serve with Brandy butter, Brandy cream or custard once the flames have extinguished. 
Makes 1 pudding, to serve 6 – 10 people

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Lemon Roasted Sprout & Beetroot Brown Rice Salad with Tahini Dressing

It’s official, its cold dark, wet and wintery outside and Christmas is on the way. I’ve tried to avoid it for a few weeks, rolling my eyes in despair when advent calendars appeared in mid October, but on my last food shop I couldn’t resist picking up a stalk of brussel sprouts. I know they are the food of the devil for some people, but I love them. If you are not a fan then try turning them into bubble and squeak (mashed potato and cooked cabbage formed into patties and fired) or my personal favourite, cooked, cooled and eaten with houmous – delicious!

Anyway…I was feeling a little under the weather and wanted to make a fresh healthy salad to perk myself up. I’ve recently discovered that roasting brussel sprouts drizzled in lemon juice before putting them in the oven transforms them into the most delicious sticky, tangy, smoky, earthy sprouts you can imagine. The lemon keeps its zing, but looses its sourness becoming sweet and sticky.

To add an extra colour and wellbeing vitamins I also included some roasted beetroot and then shredded raw carrot. My brother gave me a very snazzy peeler on my last birthday, that instead of peeling off strips from veg, the blade has a row of sharp jagged teeth that shred your chosen veg into long thin strips. Very cool!

To mix with my melody of colourful veg I included brown rice and chickpeas and then finished everything off with a fresh tasting tahini yoghurt dressing which added a little nuttiness and creaminess.

The finished salad was delicious. Packed with a great assortment of textures, colours, flavours and of course cold fighting vitamins. I love combining a mix of roasted and raw veg together, it really changes their flavours and textures. The long thin shreds of carrot were almost like shreds of spaghetti that I could twirl round my fork and the zing of sweet lemon was lovely.

I know some people may not be happy with the idea of salad when feeling under the weather but I’ve eaten this for the past 3 days and I swear I’m the only healthy one left in the office! Plus, who says you can’t have your healthy salad and a bit of cake. Best of both worlds.

Lemon Roasted Sprout & Beetroot Brown Rice Salad with Tahini Dressing
Ingredients
300g brussel sprouts
300g cooked beetroot (not vinegared)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp oil
Freshly ground black pepper
80g brown rice
2 large carrots
A few fresh mint leaves
200g canned chickpeas, drained
1 heaped tsp tahini
2 tbsp thick natural yoghurt
2-3 tsp milk, as needed

Method
Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Remove any dirty or damaged outer leaves from the brussel sprouts and cut them in half, through the stalk, so they remain intact. Arrange them cut side up on the baking tray. Slice the beetroot into wedges and place on the baking tray also.
Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into a small bowl and stir in the oil. Mix together and then drizzle the whole lot over the top of the sprouts and beetroot.
Grind over a little freshly grated pepper and place in the oven to roast for 15 minutes.
Then, rotate the tray and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the sprouts are lightly golden and tinged around the edges.
Meanwhile, cook the brown rice according to pack instructions, then drain under cold water and place into a large bowl.
Slice or peel the carrot into very fine long shreds. (I had a special peeler to do this, but you could grate it or use a food processor with a similar attachment)
Thinly slice the mint and add to the rice along with the carrot and chickpeas. When slightly cooled, add the sprouts, beetroot and a little extra lemon juice. Mix together well.
In a small bowl, mix the tahini into the natural yoghurt, thinning it down with a few teaspoons of milk until you have a mixture that will drizzle nicely off the end of a spoon.
Serve mounds of the salad and drizzle over some of the tahini dressing.
Eat and enjoy.

Keep the dressing and salad separately in the fridge and dress just before eating each time. Eat within 3 days

Friday, 31 October 2014

Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can’t believe its Halloween today! This month has just flown by. I don’t usually celebrate Halloween, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some autumnal pumpkin based baking.

Around this time of year cans of amazing pumpkin puree appear in the shops for a few fleeting weeks before disappearing again for the rest of the year (grrr). I spotted some a few weeks ago and grabbed a couple of cans while I could. I love the flavour of the canned puree, it is pure earthy, sweet intensely flavoured pumpkin goodness. And just look at the wonderful natural orange colour. Nothing like the dull watery, anemic pumpkins they sell for pumpkin carving. They really don’t taste good, so don’t bother trying to cook with them – believe me I’ve tried many times in the past, they are grown for carving out scary faces only! If you want to make your own puree, you’d have much more successful using a butternut squash.

I thought about making pumpkin cake, but I’ve done this before and wanted to try something different. Instead I decided to make pumpkin cookies. I found a simple recipe online, but tweaked it to suit my tastes, making it gluten free, adding chocolate chips and a few spices. It's also dairy free if you used a dairy free dark chocolate!

The recipe stated to use vegetable oil, but I didn’t have any so used some melted coconut oil instead. This was the first time I’ve baked with coconut oil and I love the subtle flavour it gave. Not obviously coconut, but definitely a slight exotic hint of something, it really worked well with the sweet earthy pumpkin.

The cookies baked to be thick soft cakey cookies. A sort of cake-cookie hybrid. They were firm enough to handle once cooled, and had a slight fudgy stickiness to them, reminiscent of a cookie, but the softness and light texture of cake. It made for a lovely texture. I loved their golden orange colour too.

The flavour was amazing. The pumpkin has a very unique earthy sweetness, that worked brilliantly with the freshly grated nutmeg I included. They really complimented each other and gave a wonderful autumnal flavour. The chocolate chips added little bits of rich bitter cocoa flavour, and they stayed nicely soft after baking too.

I ate most of them as cookies, but couldn’t resist sandwiching two together with a bit of cream cheese for a very indulgent, massive cookie sandwich. Biting into two thick soft cakey cookies and then hitting the tanginess of the smooth cream cheese was delicious.

My sister decided to have some traditional pumpkin fun by carving a pumpkin. She sent me some photos of her masterpiece and I think you’ll agree she did a wonderful job, really spooky! How do you prefer your pumpkins…carved or baked?

Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients
200g canned pumpkin puree
200g caster sugar
100ml vegetable oil (I used melted coconut oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
150g white rice flour
25g tapioca starch
25g cornflour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100g dark chocolate chips

Method
Preheat oven to 180C and line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, sugar, vegetable oil (or coconut oil), vanilla and egg.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Add the flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and fold together with a spatula until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. The batter will be very soft, so don’t worry.
Using an old fashioned ice cream scoop, or large tablespoon, take scoopfuls of dough and arrange on the baking trays, leaving a 2 inch gap between each one.
Gently press the tops down so they form thick discs of cookie batter.
Bake for approximately 12-14 minutes or until ever so slightly tinged brown around the edges and slightly puffed. They should still be soft to touch.
Allow the cookies to cool for 10-15 minutes on the baking tray to firm up, before using a pallet knife to transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Best eaten within 2 days. Can be frozen.

Makes 18 large cookies

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Whirlwind 22 Hours in Paris Sans Gluten

A couple of weeks ago I spent an amazing 22 hours in Paris. Over the past year I have heard news that gluten free has worked its way to Paris. Not just your bog-standard chocolate brownie and long life loaf of bread either. I’m taking about a completely dedicated gluten free patisserie, gluten free bakery and an entirely gluten free restaurant! This meant gluten free cakes, pastries and desserts – what more of an incentive did I need to book my ticket to Paris!

I went with my friend E who is also coeliac. This was perfect as it meant two highly excited gluten free girls in search of as many gluten free goodies as we could lay our hands on. Due to time constraints we were only able to stay in Paris for one night, which meant getting a 6am train from Sheffield to London and then catching the Eurostar from London to Paris. We arrived at 2:30pm one day and left at 12:30pm the following day. 22 hours to see and eat as much as possible – we were up for the challenge!

Not wanting to miss a second of our time, we strode off the Eurostar in Paris and headed straight to our first destination, a gluten free patisserie called Helmut Newcake. It took us a while to find as it’s a tiny place and we only had vague directions. Plus as didn’t want to waste time going to the hotel first we were on the hunt laden down with handbags, cameras, coats and suitcases too. We got a few odd looks, but we took not notice. Move out the way we were girls on a mission.

All I can say is that it was worth the hunt. We were greeted by a display case filled with the most AMAZING looking delicate tarts, choux buns and cakes, and all gluten free!! We were greeted by a very handsome French man who enquired if we wanted something savoury to start, some soup or salad maybe? “Non merci. Nous sommes ici pour les pâtisseries” He nodded and led us to a table with a smile. We spent about 5 minutes just gazing at the range of patisserie. We couldn’t decide what to have and ended up getting 3 to share in order to get a good range of pastry types and bakes. A passion fruit tart, a slice of Opera cake and a Paris-Brest.

The passion fruit tart was almost a thick shortbread case with a layer of hazelnut frangipan and a passion fruit curd on top. The shortbread was very crumbly and I felt it was a little too thick a crust but the hazelnut flavour was lovely and I loved the passion fruit curd on top, really zingy.

The Paris-Brest is a French classic. It’s a ring of piped mini choux buns filled with a smooth nutty crème patisserie. It was divine! The crème filling was so good! The choux pastry was a little firm – but it had been kept chilled due to the filling, so this was expected. Ah, so so good.

Finally there was the Opera cake, which was thin layers of moist almond sponge sandwiched with alternating chocolate and coffee ganache and topped with a layer of crisp chocolate. WOW! This was so rich and indulgent. You could really taste the quality. I’m glad we shared it, it was so rich but so good. Nice dark bitter flavours. I expect too dark for some people but I loved it.

Sugar high and pastry filled we headed to our hotel for a rest before heading out to dinner. E wanted a nap but I decided to head out and explore the area. I spotted a green square on the map called Square Montholon, wrote down directions and set off. I got a bit lost (naturally) but found it quite easily. It was a park with a few trees and a nice statue in the middle. I then took the scenic route back to the hotel. There are so many interconnecting streets and walkways – they all look the same!

After a quick shower and change we were ready for dinner at Noglu, which is an entirely gluten free restaurant.The restaurant was hidden along a very busy main road down an alleyway that was more of an arcade, all lined with restaurants and cafes with a glass roof, which gave it an almost exciting seceret location. It was a tiny place, with kitchen downstairs and around 5 tables upstairs – thankfully we had booked weeks ago.

The menu is small with only 3 starters, 4 mains and 3 desserts to choose from, but all meant to be fresh, seasonal good quality food. While we looked at the menu we had complimentary gougers to start (cheesy choux buns) in place of the usual bread or breadsticks you often get in restaurants. These were nice. A crisp outside with a mild but flavoursome cheesy flavour.

We decided to go with just mains and desserts. I had a mixed salad selection whicb included smoked purple potato salad, beetroot marinated veg, mixed leaves, herb oil and some very fancy peeled purple and yellow carrots. It was delicious and beautifully presented. Very smoky and woodsy but not overpowering. E had lasagna which had chunks of potato instead of pasta – clever but she was a bit underwhelmed.

For dessert E chose a strawberry & plum crumble and I had a Sable with cream & fruit. I asked if they had any gateaux as I’d heard they also ran a bakery, but it turned out their bakery is only open during the day and they said they only had the dessert options on the menu. I was a bit disappointed but throught the sable sounded nice. However it was terrible. Dry and biscuity with a mountain of kiwi on top (the only fruit apart from half a raspberry) I’m actually allergic to kiwi so this wasn’t a good choice. We both had a taste but it was so dry – like eating wood shavings – that we left it and shared the crumble which was much better.

The crumble was very sweet but the fruit was chunky and full of flavour. It was a massive portion so perfect for sharing. It wasn’t really a crumble as it had an almondy pastry/cakey top layer. Nice though. Noglu was quite expensive and due to a couple of disappointing dishes we weren’t sure it was worth the money. Maybe we were just unlucky.

The following morning we headed out for breakfast at a gluten free boulangerie called Chambelland Boulangerie. It was quite a trek from our hotel and again located down a winding back alleyway, but what a wonderful place. It didn’t open until 9am which for us is quite late for breakfast but by 9:40am we were seated outside the bakery on an unusually warm sunny morning enjoying some treats. It was a lovely little café with a few tables.

The breads and pastries are all beautifully presented and laid out in rows, with the menu displayed on a large blackboard behind. They has huge paving stone sized slabs of bread which they cut chunks off, then a range of tarts and cookies. Everything looked stunning and very artisan.

We went for the breakfast special which included bread, jam, hot drink and complimentary fresh juice of the day. There was a choice of plain or seeded bread, which came in long thick batons, almost like giant thick breadsticks. You couldn’t have made a sandwich or filled them in any way, but they were great for slathering in jam. We selected one of each so we could share. These came accompanied by strawberry and apricot jam. The bread had quite a soft sticky bubbly inside texture, almost like a crumpet, but the crust was very thick and crispy. It had a fantastic chew to the crust, not something you usually see in gluten free, but so delicious. The jams were good too, sweet, but you could really taste the fruit. We had tea (mint for me) and E had coffee along with the complimentary fresh juice of the day which today was a mix of orange, mango and peach. It had a great flavour and they served it in mason jam jars which was fun.

After the bread it was pastry/dessert time again. I know it was still only breakfast time but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try some of the stunning selection. We couldn’t have taken them with us on the train very easily. The other French patrons sitting nearby were all happily tucking into sugared pastries and brownies so we didn’t feel out of place. We shared a lemon tart and a chocolate ganache tart. Both fantastic quality and again packed with flavour

The lemon tart was piled high with a mound of torched meringue. The pastry was thin and crisp with a lovely thick tangy lemon filling. The meringue had the merest hint of crisp outer curst and then pillowy light meringue underneath. It just dissolved on the tongue. The chocolate ganache tart again had a good crisp crust and then almost a set chocolate custard filling with a layer of glossy ganache on top. It had a good intense chocolate flavour. The French really know their chocolate.

We left feeling a little sick and sugar high but oh so worth it. We bought a slab of focaccia bread, a peach muffin and a chestnut muffin to share for lunch on the train.
The focaccia was nice but a bit disappointing. It was incredibly oily and the middle bit of my half was doughy and raw. I couldn’t stomach any more sugar at that point but when we arrived in London we split the muffins. The peach one was quite crumbly but nice enough. The peach slices were almost semi dried as they were very firm and sugary rather than soft and juicy as expected. The muffin itself was studded with fresh mint which was a nice surprisingly flavour and quite strong. The chestnut muffin was a very soft close textured sponge made with chestnut flour. It was sweet and earthy but I loved the flavour.

I ate so much sugar and desserts in 22 hours that I returned with a real craving for vegetables, I felt I needed to re-vitaminise. We arrived back in Sheffield quite late. It had been a long day and a crazy 36 hours involving 14 hours travelling and only 22 hours actually in Paris but it was so much fun.

I would highly recommend both Chambelland Boulangerie and Helmut Newcake. Both so good and you wouldn’t know everything was gluten free. The UK is certainly lagging behind in their artisan patisserie, especially gluten free!

My only purchase from Paris was a whole half a slab of bread from Chambelland Boulangerie. I spotted them slicing some that was stuffed with fruits and nuts and really wanted to try it. I got a half slab as I hoped I would like it and knew I couldn’t exactly go back and buy more. I had some for tea when I got back home and it was fantastic. A slightly sour tasting bread absolutely packed with whole hazelnuts, juicy raisins and large chunks of dried fig. The crust was so thick and chewy I could hardly slice it with the bread knife. It was amazing!


Was an amazing sugar overloaded, gluten free pastry filled, long whirlwind of a trip to Paris. I was actually in Paris less than 24 hours but think I managed to consume 10 different pastries/desserts in that time! I’d love to go back and see some more of the traditional Paris sites, (I didn’t even manage to spot the Eiffel tower) and eat more patisserie! J'adore pâtisseries françaises!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

River Cottage Light & Easy Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered to win a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new Wheat & Dairy Free cookbook, River Cottage Light & Easy.

I have used a random number generator to pick the winner from the entries and can reveal that... comment number 2 is the winner! Congratulations Kate!
Kate said for her own take on Oat-otto (savoury oat porridge/risotto) she would "pop in cubes honey-roasted butternut squash, fresh from the garden and some roasted pumpkin seeds all herbed up with a little fresh chopped oregano or basil."

Sounds delicious Kate. I hope you enjoy the book.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Mushroom Oat-otto: Savoury Porridge from River Cottage Light & Easy: and a Giveaway!

I was recently sent a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new book: River Cottage Light & Easy. From the title it sounds like a regular, traditional style cookbook from a much loved chef – yes? However, there is a twist to this cookbook. Every recipe is both wheat and dairy free!

Now, from any other chef I would probably have rolled my eyes and mumbled something about jumping on the ‘special diet band-wagon’, but not from Hugh, instead I was intrigued and excited. Hugh has done a great deal to raise food awareness in recent years, both with battery farmed chickens and sustainable fish. He also did a recent series where he went veggie for a few months in order to highlight the gloriousness and versatility of vegetables. I have always loved his recipes and tv programmes which focus on local, seasonal, fresh produce and so was excited to see what his new book would bring to the table.

While every recipe in the book is wheat and dairy free, they are not always guaranteed to be gluten free, as quite a few of them do use rye flour, or ingredients containing gluten such as Worchester sauce. That said I should think 85-90% are also gluten free which is fantastic. The approach to the book is recipes that are ‘Light’ and ‘Easy.’ This by no means this is a low fat or weight loss book. Instead the term ‘light’ is used to represent food that is fresh and light on the digestion. You know if you eat a lunch of soup and salad compared to a heavy stodgy pie and mash, you feel more light, alert and full of energy. This is the premises behind this book, food that is delicious, fresh and energy boosting. Again, why wheat and dairy free? In the intro in the front of the book, Hugh reveals why he has chosen to go down this route. A few years ago he was diagnosed with high cholesterol and rather than go on statins, he decided to control his cholesterol through diet, by reducing the amount of dairy he ate. He still wanted to enjoy the wide range of foods and recipes he loved and so began experimenting with alternative non-dairy ingredients and found a whole new set of ingredients and flavours opened up to him, almond milk and rapeseed oil etc. At the same time he began looking more into ancient grains and alternative cereals to wheat which opened up ingredients such as buckwheat, quinoa and rye. He says he never excluded wheat and dairy from his diet and does not encourage people to do that either, merely to open your eyes and your tastes buds to the range of different alternatives out there, and discover some new delicious, nutritious recipes along the way. This is something I agree with wholeheartedly and was so excited to try out a few recipes!

The book is filled with recipes for all occasions, from breakfast, main meals including meats, fish, veggie and not forgetting desserts. Each recipe is beautifully laid out and is accompanied by a tempting looking photo. The recipe that caught my eye was for a savoury porridge with baked onions. Hugh described this as a lighter version of risotto and as porridge is one of my favourite comfort foods I was intrigued to try it myself. White rice is high on the glycemic index and quite low in fibre meaning you will have a quick rise in energy followed by a crash in energy soon afterwards. Oats on the other hand are high in fibre and low on the glycemic index meaning they will keep you feeling fuller for longer with more sustained energy. Oats have also been shown to help lower cholesterol so it’s a win-win.

As the weather last weekend was rather wet and dismal, I decided a big bowl of comforting savoury porridge was just what was called for. I didn’t have any large onions for roasting, but I did have plenty of mushrooms and so decided to use those instead.

I love the woodsy earthy flavour mushrooms bring, and they worked so well with the porridge/risotto. Both risotto rice and oats contain starch that are released during cooking, while help thicken up the surrounding liquid to create a thick, creamy and comforting dish. The other bonus with oats is that unlike rice, they are ready in just a few minutes meaning the whole recipe only took me about 15 minutes from start to finish. Perfect!

I fried the mushrooms off first, before adding the oats and giving them a gentle toast in the pan before adding veg stock. This created a fabulous dark earthy flavour and colour to the porridge. It looked so autumnal and comforting. I added garlic and thyme which always enhance the flavour of mushrooms.

I know lots of people serve risotto with a grating of parmesan, but of course that was off the menu here. Instead grate over a few toasted nuts (I chose almonds) for a nice visual appearance and subtle nutty undertone which went so brilliantly with the woodsy mushrooms. I also added a dried sage leaf at the end, which also enhanced the savoury comforting flavour of the oats and mushrooms.

This was such a delight of a meal. Warming, comforting, creamy, thick oaty risotto with a slight bite to the oats and intense woodsy mushrooms with their strong savoury umami flavour. It was fabulous. I enjoyed it so much I would have no qualms serving this up to friends and the fact it was ready in a mere 15 minutes means its perfect mid week meal food. Hugh calls it a savoury porridge, which it is, but I think Oat-otto sounds more fun.

Fresh, light, easy, comforting, nutritious and delicious. What more could you want from meal!? I enjoyed it so much I’m not sure I’ll ever make risotto with rice again. I can’t wait to try out some of the other recipes.

Giveaway!
Now if you weren’t excited enough to try the recipe below, then I am thrilled to be able to give you the chance to win a copy of the book for yourself! To enter just leave a comment below and tell me how you would flavour your own Oat-otto – keeping to the wheat and dairy free theme.
Only 1 entry per person. The giveaway will close at midnight Friday 17th October with the winner picked at random. Entrants must be a UK resident and must leave me a way to contact you, within your comment, should you win. Best of luck.

I’ve given you my version of Hugh’s recipe below. For his Baked Onion version, you’ll have to buy the book (or win a copy)!

Mushroom Oat-otto: Savoury Porridge
(Recipe adapted from River Cottage Light & Easy by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)
Ingredients
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
250g chestnut or white capped mushrooms
1 red onion
3 springs fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
350ml vegetable stock
80g porridge oats (I used gluten free oats)
10 skin on hazelnuts or almonds
Salt & pepper
Thyme or dried sage to serve (optional)

Method
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Slice the mushrooms and red onion and add to the pan. Strip the thyme leaves off their stalk and sprinkle over the mushrooms along with the garlic. Cook until the mushrooms and softened and are a light golden brown colour around the edges.
Heat your stock in a jug and have close to hand.
Add the oats to the pan and stir to mix them through the mushrooms, allowing them to absorb any of the juices.
Add a third of the stock and allow to simmer, stirring often until the stock is absorbed. Pour over half the remaining stock and again cook until the liquid is absorbed. Add the rest of the stock and allow to simmer until the oats are softened and have broken down to create a thick creamy textured porridge/risotto. Season generously with freshly milled pepper and a pinch of salt to taste. (Add a little extra water if you want a thinner texture).
Set aside 2 of the nuts before chopping the rest and stirring into the oat-otto.
Spoon into warm bowls and grate the 2 reserved nuts over the top using a very fine grater, this gives a parmesan cheese appearance and provides a lovely nutty aroma and taste.
Garnish with some extra sprigs of thyme or sage leaves.
Eat and enjoy
Serves 2