Gluten-free fig, asparagus and stilton quiche recipe

As a card-carrying Brit, I’ve just enjoyed a fabulous long weekend, courtesy of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Like much of the country, we got caught up in the street party thing, eating and drinking far too much, but enjoying spending time with our neighbours in the sun while it lasted – our street party was on the Saturday, so we were much luckier with the weather than some.

Anyone who follows a gluten free diet knows how hard events like street parties can be from a food perspective.  You either take a lunchbox and stay in a little culinary ghetto of your own devising, or you take along a couple of dishes to share but make sure you dive in before anyone else can contaminate your hard work, and hope a couple more people might have brought something that could work so you don’t have to look stand-offish.

In the case of our street party, we were lucky enough that a certain level of catering was to be provided by Angela Hartnett, our local celebrity chef, but since the number of people responding was higher than anticipated, we were all asked to bring food with us to share so there was enough for us to eat, and those with special diets were warned that this would apply particularly to them.  Fair enough, I thought, and started thinking about what to take.

In the end, I settled for my trusty balsamic anchovy potato salad and a quiche.  I hadn’t been sure what kind of quiche to make, but since I had asparagus and some fresh figs in the house, and some stilton in the fridge that was beckoning, putting them together seemed the right thing to do.  And it really was.  Seems I’m not the only one to think so, either, since a mention of the quiche on the Coeliac UK Facebook page this morning led to a request for the recipe so here, for Hayley – and anyone else who would like it – is my recipe for fig, asparagus and stilton quiche.  I hope you enjoy it.

Fig, asparagus and stilton quiche

For the base:

  • 400g Dove’s Farm GF plain flour blend
  • 250g mature grated cheddar
  • 125g butter
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1/2tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 8″ loose bottom flan tin

 For the filling:

  • 100g mature stilton, crumbled
  • 8 asparagus spears, steamed until just tender
  • 4 fresh figs, tough stems removed, halved
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 100ml Lactofree (or normal double) cream
  • 1tsp thyme
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • A good grind of black pepper, to taste

First of all, pre-heat the oven to 180C.  Now let me say that the amount of pastry the base recipe will make is rather more than you will need, but since this is actually the recipe I use to make my cheese and chilli biscuits, I simply roll any leftover pastry into a sausage and cut 1cm slices to make biscuits afterwards.  Throw all the ingredients for the base into a Kenwood Chef/Kitchenaid stand mixer if you have one, until it’s all thoroughly mixed, then bring it together with your hands.  If you don’t have the mixer, rub the cheese and butter into the flour, then mix in the egg and a little water or milk if needed to make a fairly stiff dough.

Chill the dough for 15 minutes in the fridge, then roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm until it’s large enough to cover your flan base.  Remove the clingfilm from one side, then turn the pastry onto the flan base and remove the other sheet of clingfilm.  Press the pastry into the flan base and then trim round the edges.  Cover the inside with a crumpled sheet of baking parchment, weight with either baking beads or 250g rice, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.  At this point, remove the parchment along with the beads/rice and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

While the case is cooling, beat the eggs together with the cream, thyme, salt and pepper and leave to stand.

Once the case is cool to the touch, arrange the asparagus in it to radiate out from the centre.  Sprinkle the stilton all over, then place the fig halves evenly round the base between the asparagus stalks.  If the figs are particularly plump and look like they’ll be much taller than your pastry case, simply trim some of the skin from the outside of the fig.

When you’ve arranged all these ingredients, pour in the egg mixture, avoiding pouring over the top of the figs if you can.  Place the quiche in the oven and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes, or until tipping it no longer results in obvious fluid movement or wobbling – my fan oven plays very differently to my gas oven on this, so start checking at 5 minute intervals from 25 minutes onwards.  Et voilà!  Remove from the oven and serve hot, cold or cooling, depending on how much willpower you have.

Gluten-free Heroes Part 3: The Bell and Jorrocks, Frittenden

It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I’ve included a pub among my gluten-free heroes.  I think this is called getting your retaliation in first 😉

The Bell and Jorrocks is not just any pub, however, but a place dear to my heart that I enjoy visiting when I’m with my family in Kent.  I’ve probably been going there on and off since I was about 15, even working behind the bar once upon a time, and it’s one of two focal points in the village community, the other being the church.

Over and above all the many other good reasons I might have had for going there – good beer (when I was still drinking it), delicious cider (now I’m off the beer), great company, friendly welcome, etc – there is now another one to add to the list, in the form of the pub’s chef, Steve, who is a fellow coeliac and therefore understands completely what I can and can’t eat, and delivers something safe and extremely tasty every time.  And, what’s more, he can offer a choice of dishes, not just the one token jacket spud and cheese like some places I could mention.

The Bell and Jorrocks is proof that you can offer good, coeliac-friendly food at a sensible price, on a regular basis, without the backing of a chain like Wetherspoons.  Thanks, Sean and Rosie, landlords extraordinaires, and thanks Steve 🙂

Gluten-free Heroes Part 2: Dove’s Farm

My second gluten-free hero this week is Dove’s Farm.  It’s fair to say that, without them, my diet would be a lot less varied and baking would take a lot longer.  This is because I would have to blend flours myself in order to get the right characteristics and, frankly, I simply don’t have the time or the energy to be doing that most of the time, especially given how much I bake.  So I probably wouldn’t bother.  Yes, I know, other GF flour blends are available, but since so many of the prescribables contain either lactose or soya, they’re not going to work for me, and those that don’t contain any nasties somehow don’t result in the lovely texture I get with the Dove’s Farm flours.

They don’t just do flours, either: they have a range of breakfast cereals that appeals to my 5 year old, even thought he doesn’t have to follow a gluten-free diet, which is praise indeed, and must be a godsend for parents of coeliac children.  Their chocolate stars really do taste very good, as well as being appealingly packaged.  And don’t get me started on the biscuits… once the packet’s opened, that’s it!

I’m less keen on their pasta, which you’ll find used by restaurant chains like Zizzi, but then I’m not all that gone on corn pasta in general.

Anyway, if you’ve ever tasted one of my cakes and not been able to tell the difference between that and a cake made with wheat flour, it’s at least in part because of these guys. Thank you 🙂

Gluten-free heroes part 1: Look What We Found

I first came across the Look What We Found range by accident – I was looking for arborio rice in Sainsbury’s one day, and in its place found packets of LWWF meatballs.  Since it said gluten-free on the front, I had a closer look and lobbed one in the trolley to try at a later date.

Since then, I’ve tried many of their range, omitting only those that contain lactose (I’m lactose intolerant as well as coeliac, so daren’t risk the cream in some of the recipes) and they have all been delicious.

Beyond the flavour, though, there are other reasons why I think LWWF is so good.  Part of it is the focus on finding smaller local suppliers for their ingredients and promoting them and their produce, but the other major factor is that they’ve gone the route of ambient, long-life presentation of the meals, which means you can take them more or less anywhere.  This is a real bonus when you have to go somewhere and are unsure what provision (if any) there may be for your diet – makes day trips across the Channel a lot easier – but don’t want the faff of dragging a cool bag with you.  I’ve taken these all over the place in my handbag, along with a pouch of Tilda microwaveable basmati rice: decent, tasty, safe food, all in about 5 minutes flat.

Particular favourites are the Tees Valley Beef Chilli and the Beef and Pork Meatballs, but I’ve yet to come across a single duff one in the range.  Definitely worth keeping a couple of these in the cupboard as a backstop either to take with you, or for those evenings when cooking from scratch just feels like far too much effort.

So here’s a big thank you to the team at Look What We Found, for making it so much easier to go anywhere, gluten-free.

Coeliac awareness week is coming!

14-20 May 2012 is Coeliac Awareness Week in the UK.  Now, I know, somebody somewhere is always marking something, but since coeliac disease is something that affects me personally, as well as many other people who have yet to be diagnosed, and who could have a much better life if they were, this is one awareness campaign I feel honour bound to support.

If you’re wondering what on earth coeliac disease is, it’s an auto-immune condition that is reckoned to affect some 1% of the population, many of whom remain undiagnosed.  Left untreated, the malabsorption that is the result of coeliac disease can leave sufferers exposed to such nasties as osteoporosis, bowel cancer, etc, as well as fertility problems and, at a more basic level, some pretty unpleasant gastro-intestinal symptoms.  All because of the body’s response to eating or ingesting gluten.

The good and bad news about this, is that there is only one known treatment for coeliac disease at the moment, and that’s a gluten-free diet.  It’s good news, because it’s nice and clear.  It’s bad news because – despite how easy it can be to cater for gluten-free diets – so few places offer a decent selection of gluten-free food, or only offer it with a risk of cross-contamination that negates the good intention of offering gluten-free menu items in the first place.  And yes, cross-contamination is a real problem: I’ve been made ill in the past by a few crumbs lurking in the butter, for example, even though I’ve conscientiously followed a gluten-free diet for years.  It’s also slightly scary – and very frustrating – just how many products seem to contain gluten for no apparent reason, when a simple adjustment could make them safe for more people to eat.

While the quality of foods in the free-from aisle of the supermarket has improved a lot over the last few years, there are still manufacturers who appear to think that we ditched any sense of taste or texture on receipt of our diagnosis.  My carrot cake, for example, has beaten carrot cakes made with wheat flour in open competition, so I know from personal experience that you can make things as good as – or better than – their gluten-containing counterparts, if you try.  But you wouldn’t necessarily know this from some of the offerings out there, which are dry and crumbly and lacking in flavour.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not ungrateful, and I’m glad that these products are available, even the not very nice ones, because it is at least an option when you’re hard pressed to find anything to eat on occasion, and the poor quality can act as a catalyst for others to improve on what’s out there.  It’s a win-win of sorts.  But still.

Gluten-free food can be excellent.  At the risk of shameless self-promotion, ask anyone who has enjoyed a Suzzle cake, most of whom have bought the cakes without knowing they were gluten-free… and then come back and bought more.  It can be done, and without filling the food full of junk like soya flour, palm oil and ingredients known better by their number than their name.  So, for the next week or so, I’ll be using this blog to celebrate some companies who are making or supplying really good, gluten-free food, and making the lives of coeliacs like myself much richer and more enjoyable as a result.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about coeliac disease, please do visit the Coeliac UK web site, where you can find information, recipes and support the excellent work the charity does.

Suzzle banana cake recipe

Just the other day in the shop I had a sample plate of banana cake out. Yes, I know, many people already know what banana cake tastes like, but they’ve not necessarily tasted mine, and it’s nice to give people a little taste of something from time to time.

Suzzle banana cake

Anyway, I was going somewhere with this, I promise. On the day in question, a young couple came in with their incredibly cute baby intending – I think – just to look at the art in the shop, but ultimately leaving with a piece of the banana cake they’d sampled, and a request for me to post the recipe on the blog.

The mum had also asked me about sugar content, because the cake doesn’t taste too sweet, and she was thinking about whether or not she could give some to her baby once the first birthday milestone had been reached, since banana cake ‘felt’ like a healthy starter cake, or at least healthier than some.

This got me thinking, because even though there’s not masses of sugar in my banana cake, it might yet be possible to reduce it, so I’ll be having a play over the next few weeks to see how far I can get it down without completely killing the cake.  In the meantime, here’s my original recipe if you want to make the fully sinful version before I take out most of the sugar.

When I first made this cake I had actually set out to make a carrot cake.  I’d got the oil, golden syrup and eggs in the jug before realising I’d managed to run out of light brown soft sugar, and that all I had left was caster.  This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but when you’re baking at 4am, the option to just nip out to the corner shop and grab some more is simply not there, even where I live in central London.  I couldn’t unmix the ingredients that were already in the jug, so instead I scouted around for an alternative to carrots and came across some overripe bananas and thought they had to be worth a try.  They were certainly a better option than the savoy cabbage or the onions, although part of me is now wondering whether there might not be an option for a savoury onion cake type thingy to go with soup.  Hmmmm…..

But back to the banana cake!  You will need:

Bowl ingredients:
125g Dove’s Farm GF plain flour
125g Dove’s Farm GF self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8g bicarbonate of soda
3 large or 4 medium ripe bananas

Jug ingredients:
110g vegetable oil – I generally use rapeseed, sunflower is fine
80g golden syrup
140g caster/golden caster sugar (can substitute light/dark brown soft sugar, see recipe)
3 large free range eggs
5ml vanilla essence/seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 5/180C.  Measure the ingredients into their respective containers.  Beat the jug ingredients with a metal spoon until they’ve formed a thick, gloopy liquid.  Mash the bananas into the flour mixture with a fork.  In terms of which sugar to use, I tend to work on the basis of how ripe the bananas are and therefore how much and what kind of flavour they’re going to bring to the recipe.  If the skins of the bananas are very yellow or slightly green, use a sugar with a higher molasses content, like light or dark brown soft sugar or, at a pinch, golden caster.  If the bananas are good and ripe/overripe and speckly-skinned, use plain old caster to counter the slightly acetoney taste.

Using a silicone spatula, stir the jug ingredients into the bowl ingredients until it’s all very thoroughly mixed.  Pour the lot into a lined traybake tray (and by lined I just mean with a long strip of greaseproof paper the width of the base of the tray, not fussing with the corners) measuring around 12″x7″ (30cm x 17.5cm), and cook for 40 minutes, or until a cake tester/cocktail stick comes out clean.  Fan ovens will cook it a little quicker.

Once it’s on the cooling rack, I generally sprinkle over a little demerara sugar, which then sticks in the still-moist top crust of the cake, or you can leave it to cool and frost it if you prefer.  I tend not to frost it because it’s nice as it is, but a good lemon or coconut frosting would work, as would vanilla buttercream, or even sandwiching it with chocolate spread.  It probably goes without saying that mixing in some chocolate chips before baking produces a more than edible result, or a handful of sultanas/dates is also nice, but it’s the simpler version I serve in the shop.  If you fancy experimenting, try adding a little grated orange or lime zest, then coating cubes of the finished cake in chocolate and coconut to make banana lamingtons.  Yum!

NB: For those not using GF flours, I’d recommend using medium eggs instead of large, as gluten-free flours tend to be thirstier than wheat flour.

New years and new beginnings

Happy New Year everybody!  

Having staggered painfully out of 2011 with nasty, mean gallstones that put a serious curb on a lot of end of year activities, 2012 started with no rapid prospect of a resolution until a call last Thursday to offer me someone else’s cancelled surgery slot for yesterday. Which means I’m typing this on the Touchpad my lovely brother so kindly gave me for my 40th, while snuggled under a duvet recovering from yesterday’s op.

So while I’m obviously a bit sore and battered at the moment, the knowledge that all the pain I’ve had since July is done with is more than compensation for a couple of weeks’ recovery, not least because it brings a particular dream a lot closer.

The dream? Well, we’re going to open a shop. And it will only sell yummy gluten-free things. Assuming the recovery goes well, we’ll be soft launching around Valentine’s Day, so it’s about to get quite busy round here. On the menu? Cakes, salads, snacks, soups… and art, since that’s long been a part of the plan. Sort of art and tarts, really. 

Still a couple of experiments to go before we can include them in the shop, which I will obviously share here, for good or ill 😉

Happy 2012!