Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Chantra Thai Red Curry Kit

We were sent a Thai curry kit from Chantra Thai to test and review. It was on offer through another blog from the company, and being lovers of oriental food, we thought why not. We emailed off, and the Red Curry Kit arrived.

The kit comes with all you need, minus the meat and veg, to make an authentic Thai curry. The all important paste, coconut milk powder - which was a new one on us, dried herbs and chillis and a small sachet of fish sauce. We made a chicken curry, even though the Chantra Thai website recommends Red Curry for beef, pork or prawns, so all we needed to buy was the chicken and the green beans.

The whole idea of the coconut milk powder seemed a bit odd to me, but it did work well, and cooked through nicely. The pack said you could vary the amount of paste used in accordance with how spicy you wanted the curry. We generally like spicy food (although I have had a yellow curry in Thailand which was so hot I couldn't eat it), and we wanted to try exactly what the curry kit had to offer, so we used it all. With the addition of the chillis, herbs and fish sauce, it smelt divine! We served the curry with some plain rice.

We thought the curry was lovely. Very tasty. It had a different depth of flavour which you don't always get with the standard Thai curry pastes you can buy in the supermarket. Perhaps it was the addition of the herbs and a different mix of spices which gave it the more authentic taste. The idea behind the kits we think is very good. Especially for the occasional cook. Having the right amount of all the ingredients certainly is an excellent idea if you aren't into cooking oriental food often so you don't have to seek out and buy a bottle of fish sauce which you might only need for a Thai curry, for example. Also the coconut milk powder is a good idea for similar reasons. We've recently been making a few recipes which call for a small amount of coconut milk, and opening a tin just for that, seems such a waste if you're not in a position to use it the next day.

The kits are priced at £3.29 on the Chantra Thai shop website, but the delivery charges seem rather high to make it worth buying one or two packets. A bit of poking around their website, and it seems their products can be ordered from a number of sources, including Amazon, but in varying package sizes. They do have a stockists locator via their main homepage, and their products seem to be available in quite a few local places. So I think we will be keeping an eye out for them as we shop, rather than ordering online.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Quinoa Salad

Here's a recipe which was inspired by reading Gluten Free Girl, and by discovering the lunch options at Marks and Spencer. We were in Stockport the other weekend and needed a quick fix for lunch. I had read on another blog that M&S had now started doing gluten free sandwiches, so we went in in search. After asking the manager if they had any, we found out that this branch doesn't currently stock them, but there were other alternatives. So I picked up a pot of their Super Whole Foods Shaker Salad. This was full of quinoa, lentils, beans and other bits and bobs which made you feel healthy just by looking at it. It also came with a seperate lemon and herb dressing. So it was on this that I based my quinoa salad.

200g (Approx) Quinoa
Vegetable stock cube (gluten-free)
1 butternut squash
Handful of frozen peas
2 chopped tomatoes
the juice of half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil

1. Rinse the quinoa, and boil in enough vegetable stock until the germ seperates (in accordance with the pack instructions). Drain if needed and reserve some of the stock for the dressing.
2. Chop the butternut squash into small dice and roast in the oven until tender, but not falling apart.
3. Heat through the frozen peas in a little boiling water.
4. Combine the quinoa with the squash, tomatoes and peas, and tear up and add a generous amount of basil.
5. To make the dressing, mix the lemon juice with a little of the reserved stock and enough olive oil to give the balance you like. I like my dressings quite tangy, but taste as you go, you can always add more of each ingredient. Combine the dressing with the salad.

I kept the dressing seperate from the salad itself as it lasted me all week for lunches. This salad is a great way for gluten-free eaters to get a bit of whole grain, and I believe that quinoa is one of those superfoods that we should be eating more of. Or something like that! It is also high in protein so is good for vegetarians and vegans too. Actually, without a conscious effort it turned out that most of my meals last week were actually vegetarian, and that can only be a good thing in my mind. I'll be making this salad again this week, as it definitely adds a bit of variety and freshness to lunchtimes.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Chorizo and Squash Risotto

Chorizo and Squash Risotto
OK now it's my turn.  This is just a very simple idea that I thought you might like to try and I don't know about you but I find making risotto very therapeutic.  Now although I can eat anything, apart from toast in the morning I am basically gluten-free as I eat the same food as Fran (most of the time).  The Chorizo I used was gluten-free as was the chicken stock (Knoor). 

What you will need (for about 4 people):

Olive Oil
40g Butter
250g Arborio Rice
100g Chorizo (chopped)
1 Butternut Squash (diced)
1 Onion
2 Cloves Garlic
1 glass white wine
1 ltr Chicken Stock
Handful of Frozen Peas

First get a your chicken stock to a simmer and add the butternut squash. 
In a frying pan, heat the oil and butter and cook the chopped Chorizo for a few minutes till the oils are released. 

Remove the Chorizo with a slotted spoon and put aside.  The fry the onion and garlic in the residue oil for 5 minutes till soft.  Add the rice and coat with the oil.
Add the wine and bubble till the alcohol has evaporated then add a ladle of stock (leaving the squash cooking for a little while).
As with all risottos, keep adding stock as the rice begins to dry out.

After about 10 minutes drain the stock into another pan and put the squash to one side, bring the stock to a simmer again and continue adding to the rice.

When the rice has been cooking for about 20 minutes add the squash.  At the 25 minute mark add the Chorizo, then the peas for the final couple of minutes.  The rice should take about 30 minutes and use all the stock.

Simply serve with some Parmesan shavings and enjoy.

Monday, 7 February 2011


After having a bit of a lull in inspiration for breakfasts, I turned to Gluten Free Girl again. Most shop bought breakfast cereals have gluten in, in some form. Yes corn flakes, rice crispies, and obviously anything wheat based contains gluten. I've gone through a few boxes of Whole Earth Cornflakes in the past, which are actually a God-send, This is the only shop-bought cereal I've found which is safe, although recently I've come to fancy a change to something more adventurous.
One thing I do miss is muesli, or even granola. Not that I've ever made granola or bought it. Just had it a couple of times in hotel buffet breakfasts! I love the crunch and the nuts and seeds, and that overall toasted flavour. Alas that is to be no more. Basic oats have gluten in so standard muesli, granola and even simple porridge is a no go.

Gluten Free Girl has recently published a recipe for muffins which look great, and would be a great breakfast food, although I am a bit scared about the amount of raw ingredients in the recipe. I need to find a local health food shop where I can get all the grains and flours she speaks about, plus I'm only just starting the gluten free baking thing, so I think it will be a while before I progress to this. Although, after reading her wonderful website for hours on end, I found a recipe for Granola which by all accounts (given the amount of reader comments) is amazing. Plus there weren't that many scary ingredients either. Most things are available in Morrisons! Well, apart from gluten free oats. Had to travel to Tesco for those!

Just as an aside, if you need gluten free and haven't heard of Gluten Free Girl, aka Shauna James Ahern get reading her website, book and recipe book. Even if you can eat gluten, read her anyway! Her writing is so inspirational. Not just about living gluten free, but about the joys of food and about life too. If you're feeling down, just log on to her site, you'll feel so much better!

Anyway, Granola. A quick google, and the difference between granola and muesli is what seems to be the baking process. I suppose that is obvious given the texture and the ingredients, but honestly, I'd never given the matter any thought. I assumed Granola was a posh way of talking about muesli. Anyway, I digress.

Before Baking
I won't re-produce Shauna's recipe, as you can find it here (along with a lovely piece about friendship, and obviously food). But basically it is a lovely mixture of oats, nuts, fruit, seeds, ginger and cinnamon with a bit of maple syrup throughout. It is baked in the oven and stirred several times until it is golden and crisp.

This will certainly be the breakfast of choice in this house for the next few days, until the batch runs out. Then we'll have to stock up those oats again.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Real Carbonara

Again, another frugal food recipe. Last week we were looking for things to cook for tea which were quick, filling and still cheap. And also I have recently been reading Antonio Carluccio's website (we are eagerly awaiting his new series, due in April, since it was produced by a friend and we've had a sneaky peak of some behind the scenes pictures). I came across his recipe for carbonara which is very simple, and most importantly authentic.
I've made carbonara before, or what I thought was carbonara, but the real thing doesn't have any cream, or mushrooms - like those supermarket versions have.
I forgot to print the recipe out, but thankfully we had a similar recipe in the Rick Stein Mediterranean Escapes book, so I decided to use that. The recipes do differ slightly, Carluccio uses wine, while Stein's doesn't. The use of garlic differs, and Stein also adds parsley. I have no idea which is more authentic, but both are clear on one thing. There is no cream. Don't even think about adding it.

The Stein recipe was for 4, but had 3 eggs, and I'm not about to start dividing up eggs somehow, so we kind of reduced it all by a third, and felt like pigs as we ate. We didn't opt for the suggested pancetta, but used some smoked streaky bacon which we had in the fridge.

The final dish was lovely. Very very tasty. In my opinion, it had the right use of garlic - fried with the bacon, and all it needed was a grinding of black pepper. Cream could make it feel more luxurious, but there really was no need at all.

For information, here is the recipe, taken directly from the book.

400g dried spaghetti
175g piece smoked pancetta, rind removed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
50g finely grated pecorino sardo marutro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring 4.5 lites of water to the boil in a large saucepan with 8 teaspoons salt. Add the spaghetti and cook for 9 minutes or until al dente.
2. Meanwhile, cut the pancetta into lardons, about 6 mm wide. Heat a large, deep frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the oil and the pancetta and allow it to fry until lightly golden. Add the garlic and parsley and cook for a few seconds, then remove from the heat and set to one side.
3. Drain the spaghetti well, tip into the frying pan with the pancetta, garlic and parsley, add the beaten eggs and half the grated pecorino cheese and toss together well. Season to taste with a little salt and black pepper. The heat from the spaghetti will be sufficient to partly cook the egg but still leave it moist and creamy. Take to the table and serve in warmed pasta bowls, sprinkled with the rest of the cheese.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Chinese Food

Happy Chinese New Year (Kung Hei Fat Choi apparently), and Spring Festival - if you celebrate it.

For those people who follow us on facebook you may be aware that a while ago we tried to make some homemade Chinese dumplings. The reasons for this were three-fold. One, it seems most Chinese dumplings and most dim sum options are made from wheat flour, two, I'd found a recipe for the dough which contained no gluten, and three, we have been given some gluten free* wheat starch to try, just to see if it is gluten or wheat that I have a reaction to. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the dumplings were a disaster. More like a pile of gloop. But we will not give in. Watch this space. And, by the way, I definitely have a reaction to wheat, no doubt there. Still seem to have a reaction to gluten though, but less-so.

So, homemade Chinese food for the Chinese New Year. In the past we have tried the Ken Hom Chicken with Chilli Peppers and Basil which was lovely, so we wanted to try something different. I have been reading Hollow Legs for a while now, with special interest in the homemade Chinese recipes, especially the various dim sum, looking for ways to adapt them. We have looked at this recipe for General Tso's Chicken before but never tried it, until now! We thought on this occasion, we'd leave the dumplings alone and go for a safer option.

After slight confusion over mixing the marinade ingredients, the recipe worked well and we loved the sour taste of the vinegar in the sauce. We didn't use skin-on chicken thighs, and had to use just the one type of soy sauce - the gluten free kind, but the dish was delicious. The level of chilli spiciness was just right, and as a sauce lover the amount of sauce for me was great. The dish, however, did test our chopstick skills as the chicken did threaten to ping across the table at various points! Yes, its been a while since the chopsticks were out. More practice I say.
We served it with egg fried rice and stir fried mixed veg. Lovely.

 * I believe that the Codex standard for gluten free food was previously set at lower than 200ppm, meaning foods with containing gluten at this level or lower would be considered safe for people with Ceoliac disease, but since last year this has changed to 20ppm. (Hence why many foods now show the disclaimer that they may contain traces) The wheat starch I used was 50ppm and therefore, technically, it was gluten free, well at least up until last year.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Coffee Cake

This is my first proper attempt at a gluten free cake, and in fact at gluten free baking. Actually it is cheating a bit since I used Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour. I have been reading Gluten-free Girl and the Seriously Good! Gluten Free Baking book by Phil Vickery and realise that the real science and skill is in the blending of the various flours for each particular dish, whether it be for a cake, biscuits, muffins etc. Thankfully Doves Farm have done the hard work for me on this occasion. I do want to try some of Shauna's recipes from her book as well as some of the Phil Vickery ones, but I'll use up my pre-blends first.

Coffee Cake:
6oz sugar
6oz butter
3 large eggs, beaten
6oz Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour
15ml strong coffee

Mixed chopped nuts
Icing Sugar
Strong coffee

1. Cream together the butter and sugar - ideally until pale.
2. Mix in the beaten eggs, a little at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour if it curdles.
3. Sieve in the flour and stir through gently.
4. Add enough of the coffee to get the flavour balance. I found this to be around 15ml.
5. Divide into 2 cake tins (I used silicone cake tins - just as I'm too lazy to grease the metal tins) and bake for 20-25 mins at 180C or until evenly cooked. Test with a metal skewer - if it comes out clean, the cake is ready, if not cook for a further 5 mins.

Combine enough butter, icing sugar and coffee, tasting as you go to make the amount of icing you need. Spread between the cake layers and over the top and decorate with the chopped nuts.
The icing measurements are intentionally vague, it depends how sweet your tooth is so to speak, and how thick you want your icing. I was actually far more stingy than I have been previously, as eating mainly icing is a bit much!

The cake turned out surprisingly light and moist. I was expecting it to be rather dry as some gluten free baked goods can be. We didn't keep the cake for long enough really to see how stale and dry it got, as it was just so lovely! After about 3 days, it clearly was still edible!