Quick Savoury Straws

Now it’s December we can officially get all Christmassy, which is really exciting as I have an ever expanding list of Christmas themed ideas which I need to get on with. Some of these have been on the back burner for some time, because if they don’t get posted before Christmas then they have to be kept til the following year. This is very frustrating when they’re fantastic recipes that need sharing! As you may have guessed, I have some knock-out sweet recipes lined up for the next few weeks, but here’s an easy savoury snack for the party season.

With so much festive time spent at home or visiting friends and family, the savoury snack has a crucial place for filling gaps between meals or to nibble on with drinks. In my view there’s nothing quite like something with a crispy crunch when you feel like a savoury snack. Having to avoid certain food stuffs really restricts the choices of savoury snacks available – of course no Christmas nuts in this house, no cheese based treats, indeed no Twiglets either – sad times!

Ok there is a choice of certain flavours and brands of crisps which we rely upon (we’re all big crisp fans in this household) and some popcorn brands are a good option but after that the choices get a little dull or difficult. So, the brief is a savoury snack which is easy to make, savoury and tempting too. Something that’s a little reminiscent of a cheese straw – light, crispy and oh so tangy? Welcome then  savoury stars which are irresistible savoury nibbles that are made in a flash. You may say, ‘oh I don’t like marmite so I’ll hate these’. Fair enough, but in my experience even marmite haters tend to enjoy these savoury crispy batons – it’s just a way of giving them a salty tang. I don’t tend to use ‘dairy-free’ cheese often, but on this occasion it does lift the taste to a new level. Make them any length/width you like – the photos show some that are long and elegant, some short and kind of chubby; all equally delicious.

 

Quick Savoury Straws

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 20+

1/2 pack ready made puff pastry

1 tbsp marmite

a few drops of water

a sprinkle of dairy-free grated cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degreesC/gas mark 7
  2. Roll out the pastry, trying to make a nice even rectangle
  3. Thin the marmite with a few drops of water and spread over the pastry. Sprinkle with the dairy-free cheese. A couple of tbsp should be plenty.
  4. Fold the pastry in half and roll it out a little more.
  5. Cut 1cm thick strips and then twist a few times. Place on a lined baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and puffed up.
  7. They will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.

Chocolate Caramel Bars

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Next up in my series of homemade chocolate bars are a friendly version of my very, very favourite creamy dreamy Caramel. I’ve always loved the combination of sweet sticky runny caramel and smooth chocolate, it’s a match made in heaven. As a child I would always opt for a Cadburys Caramel if given a choice of chocolate, which gives you some insight into my fondness for chocolate and caramel! And I quite liked the bunny in the advert.

Free-from chocolate is ever improving in variety as well as taste, but I’ve never found anything like a caramel bar. Maybe there are some vegan versions but vegan chocolates are rarely suitable for dairy and nut allergies, so we’re left with only the more serious-looking slabs of free-from chocolate to (not) get excited about.

I know one of the things that my girls would most like to experience is a wider choice of chocolates, hence these experiments to make homemade versions. And they always prove popular. And of course, it’s a fun challenge to take on.

The inspiration for this recipe came from making a caramel sauce to serve with brownies. I made it earlier in the day and let it cool. That’s when I noticed that it had thickened nicely on cooling, to a very similar consistency to the filling of a famous brand’s Caramel bar. Bingo, lightbulb moment! Within minutes I was making the chocolate cases for the caramel, and they were ready for an after lunch treat. Honestly, homemade chocolates sound like a total faff, but they can be easy and the results are always thoroughly rewarding. The bars are top notch chocolate bars, with oozy sweet sticky caramel. My dream chocolate made friendly at last.

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Caramel Chocolate Bars

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, can be gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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1/2 cup dairy-free milk

1/2 cup dairy-free margarine

1 cup sugar

2 tbsps syrup (golden or maple)

2 tbsps cornflour

a pinch of flaky salt (optional)

150g dark dairy-free chocolate

  1. First make the caramel filling. Pour the dairy-free milk into a sauce pan. Add the cornflour and gently dissolve over a low heat.
  2. Add the other ingredients (except the chocolate). Add salt if using.
  3. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened enough to easily coat the back of a spoon. Cool and set aside.IMG_3184

To make the bars:

  1. Start by tempering the chocolate. In a microwave or over a Bain Marie, only just melt the chocolate, then stir until all the pieces are melted. You need to bring it down to 31 degrees either by stirring in the bowl until the temp has reduced, adding a little unmelted chocolate or by pouring out onto a cold work top ( I have a marble board which is perfect for the job) and move it around with a palette knife until it has cooled and has turned beautifully shiny.
  2. Pour a blob into each mould and evenly coat all the sides, a small brand new paint brush may help. Leave to set for a few minutes and then paint on another layer (or preferably two more). Place in a cool spot to firm up.IMG_3191
  3. Spoon the cooled caramel into the coated moulds (there will be plenty leftover to use as a warm caramel sauce). Cover with a layer of chocolate, making sure all the gaps are sealed or the caramel will ooze out.IMG_3192
  4. Leave to set and then unmould and consume!IMG_3197

Homemade Mediterranean Veggie Sausages

It’s definitely comfort food time of year; it seems dark most of the time and a bit of warming traditional food is the perfect way to keep the spirits up. Vegetarian sausages can be a great way to have a traditional meal but with a veggie twist – there are a few good varieties but some of the ones you buy can be either unpleasant tasting and trying to be like fake meat (as a veggie, I HATE fake meat) or bland spongy things which are best avoided. Time to create a homemade version!

The Food for Friends (a veggie restaurant based in Brighton) cookbook has a couple of interesting veggie sausage recipes which are definitely worth trying, they are good, but maybe not quite to my taste. So, these are my version;  flavoured with the Mediterranean in mind, using the delicious combo of rocket, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar  – and my, they are lovely! Be warned, the mixture is quite crumbly so it’s definitely worth chilling them in the fridge for a good while before frying. But the resulting mixture is so punchy with umami flavours that we find we can forgive a bit of crumble!

Homemade Mediterranean Veggie Sausages 

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, vegetarian, and vegan)

For 2 sausages, perfect for one person – multiple the amounts for more people

  • 1 slice of wholemeal bread, made into breadcrumbs
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1-2 tbp of the oil the sun-dried tomatoes came in
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large handful rocket or spinach
  • small bunch of basil
  • seasoning
  1. Best to use a food processor, blend the bread to make fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the tomatoes, balsamic, rocket, basil and garlic and blend to combine. It should look like the texture of green sand
  3. Taste and adjust the seasoning
  4. Tip out onto a sheet of cling film, shape into a large sausage shape and roll tightly. Chill well.
  5. Unwrap and cut into two. Fry in sunflower oil until golden on all sides

Chocolate Twists – The Ultimate Easy Breakfast Pastry

As a family we struggle to find exciting breakfasts, and generally revert to good old toast or cereal. However, sometimes it’s nice to have an exciting, fancy breakfast; one that feels a little more luxurious than the usual. Sadly, it seems to me that most exciting breakfasts involve some combination of dairy, eggs or nuts, which is certainly not ideal in our household, and makes most exciting options out of bounds.

I always feel particularly bad when we go to France and the girls can’t tuck into a crisp flaky croissant or Pain au Chocolat like (it seems) everyone else. I have made my own rather successful Pain au Chocolat which are dairy-free but they do take a good few hours to laminate the layers, and I’m sure not many people have the time to make homemade viennoiserie too often. Personally, I think it’s a great way to spend a day, but then I’m a bit of a baking fanatic 😉

This recipe is essentially a quick an easy version of a chocolate filled breakfast pastry and is based on those chocolate twists you see in coffee shops or bakery counters. I think a twist is a very appealing pastry, with the filling peeping out of the turns between the layers of golden pastry. Served warm with a little dusting of icing sugar these chocolate twists are the perfect, easy breakfast pastry. They also freeze brilliantly, so I bake a batch to freeze then in the morning i place it frozen into the microwave for 20 seconds to thaw, then into the oven for 5 minutes to warm. Ta Da, the perfect fresh warm pastry for breakfast heaven!

Chocolate Twists

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, vegetarian and vegan)

300ml dairy-free milk, I used Oatly

3 tbsp dairy-free margarine, such as Pure

450-500g plain flour

2 tsp dried yeast

50g or 1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp chocolate extract [optional] or vanilla essence

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp cornflour

For the filling:

1/3 cup caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

3 tbsp dairy-free spread

50g dairy-free chocolate, finely chopped [optional]

  1. Melt the margarine and milk together – you want it to be warm and melted but not hot
  2.  In a bowl mix together the flour, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, cornflour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the warm milk.
  3. Bring together to a soft dough and knead until its smooth and bounces back when prodded. Cover and let double in size
  4. Mix together the filling ingredients (except the chopped chocolate) to form a soft paste. Set aside.
  5. Knock back the risen dough and roll out to a large long rectangle
  6. Smear on the chocolate paste. Sprinkle over the chocolate pieces, then fold in half
  7. Cut into even slices and twist each one to form a lovely swirly pastry
  8. Place on lined and greased baking pans and cover and leave to rise again for another half an hour
  9. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4/375 degrees F
  10. Bake for 17-20 minutes until risen, golden and cooked through
  11. Dust with icing sugar before serving

The Boulevard Restaurant, East Wittering

 

Perhaps wrongly, we don’t often frequent independent cafes or restaurants, and instead opt for the reliability of chain restaurants with their meticulous allergen folders and by-the-book trained staff with strict procedures when handling customers like us. It is quite simply easier. It is a shame as you do want to support small independent and family run businesses over large corporates. So we are really happy when we do come across somewhere independent that can suit our needs without trouble.

We came across The Boulevard Restaurant in East Wittering, West Sussex by chance. We had originally pinpointed a positively reviewed and recommended nearby pub (for allergies) but received such a terrible response from the management when we enquired about allergens – real rudeness in fact that we left pretty rapidly. Having made the unusual move of leaving the house for a day out without a full packed lunch ‘just in case’, we had to find an alternative place to eat. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far before we stumbled across this little gem of a family restaurant.

The Boulevard is family run and has I believe served since 1979. It’s a relatively ‘simple’ cafe restaurant with the kind of menu you would expect but with daily specials, very generous portions and crucially the staff have been without fail so helpful, efficient and friendly. There’s a full range of safe (or adaptable) favourites on the children’s menu, and the main menu has plenty of veggie and vegan choices – so we’re one happy family! So much so, we’ve now visited three times even though we live quite a way away.

Another highlight for us is they sell a full range of New Forest Ices, and as I’ve mentioned before their sorbet is dairy-free, egg-free and totally nut-free too. When we visited they had three flavours of sorbet. A choice of pudding for the girls when eating out is a rare luxury for us, and again outside of a chain, the girls would be offered a piece of fruit usually.

Then to the girls’ delight, the bill comes with a little tub of jelly beans rather than the ubiquitous chocolates. Happy bunnies all round!

So, if you’re near the Witterings (the beach at West Wittering is vast at low tide and well worth a trek) I’d really recommend a stop off at The Boulevard Restaurant – we might even see you there!

Gingerbread Welsh Cakes

I’m very fond of Welsh Cakes, I think they’re under-appreciated and overlooked in the world of teatime treats, unless you’re in Wales that is! They’re basically a little griddle cake or drop scone, usually subtly spiced and filled with dried fruit. Here is a rather tasty Autumnal version from me, bringing the warming spices of gingerbread to Welsh cakes.

The inspiration came from D who just went on a crazy mission to the rugged Snowdonia coastline in Wales to take part in a madcap 10km swim up a cold river estuary. It certainly is one of the last ways I would want to spend my weekend, but he loves swimming, particularly in beautiful surroundings, and couldn’t pass up this challenging opportunity. It was a massive achievement which involved over ten hours of driving, little sleep and 2 hours 40 minutes of swimming all in a 24 hour period.

So as a little ‘well done’, with a nod to the Autumnal weather and Wales, I created these little gingerbread Welsh Cakes. The perfect sweet pick me up after a challenging day.

Again, like my last two sweet ’emergency ready’ recipes, Welsh cakes are ideal to make at the last minute. They’re made in a flash and work perfectly in any teatime setting. Serve warm, spread with dairy-free margarine for some truly happy guests.

Gingerbread Welsh Cakes

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 8-12

1 cup of plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

1/4 cup soft brown sugar

3/4 tsp ground ginger

1 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp black treacle

1 tbsp dairy-free milk

caster sugar, to sprinkle

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spice into a bowl.
  2. Rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
  3. Add the dairy-free milk, syrup and treacle and mix to form a slightly sticky dough.
  4. Roll out on a floured board and cut out shaped with a cookie cutter – circles are the traditional shape but any would be fine.
  5. Heat a dry non-stick frying pan (or any frying pan wiped with a smear of spread)
  6. When hot add the cakes and dry fry/griddle for 2-3 minutes on either side until golden.
  7. Sprinkle with caster sugar and serve.
  8. To reheat warm in an oven or microwave