Cucumber and Rice Noodle Salad

I don’t know about you, but when we’re all at home (and obviously thanks to Covid-19 that is ALL the time right now) I struggle with lunch ideas the most. The other meals and snacks I find I can think up ideas, be creative and non-repetitive, but for some reason lunches often stump me. I guess it’s just one meal too many each day.

However, as I now have plenty of time to get creative with the contents of my fridge and pantry I’m trying to have at least part of each lunch as an exciting, fresh, healthy new idea.

This rice noodle salad is loosely inspired by an Ottolenghi dish; it’s fresh, tasty, easy to make with mainly store cupboard ingredients. Perfect for these days when popping to the shops is a dim and distant memory.

Cucumber Rice Noodle Salad

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

serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

100g rice noodles

1 tbsp olive oil

30ml vinegar

15g caster sugar

1/2 shallot, finely chopped

thumb size piece of ginger, julienned

3 mint leaves, finely shredded

1/4 red chilli, finely chopped

small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

1 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

1/4 cucumber, sliced in half, seeds removed and cut into half moons

  1. Place the noodles in a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave to sit for about 15 minutes
  2. In another bowl combine the sugar, vinegar and shallot. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Add the julienned ginger and finely sliced shallot to the vinegar mix and leave to infuse
  4. Drain the noodles once soft and mix with the olive oil so they don’t clump
  5. Add the chilli, cucumber and noodles to the vinegar mix, stir well and leave for 10 minutes for the flavours to mix
  6. Add the herbs and poppy seeds if using, toss and serve

Savoury Scones

I don’t know about you but rather than stockpiling I’m just trying to have enough food in the house at all times to cover all meals and snacks everyday (wow, there is a lot of cooking and eating going on!) as well as having some essential free-from ingredients available should we go into a two week isolation. There are a few products such as dairy-free milks and margarine that we would really struggle without, so I’m making sure I’ve got a few on standby.

It really is amazing the difference it makes with all family members eating all meals in the house everyday. I normally make most things from scratch, but I’m still finding it hard to keep coming up with interesting and exciting free-flowing meals, snacks and puddings!

Snacks are always difficult when living with a restricted diet, there are so many everyday items that are out of bounds and you can’t just live on crisps! These tangy scones are deliciously savoury and are perked up with marmite, nutritional yeast, and herbs. Pow! Flavour punch. Need a savoury bite fill empty tummies or to accompany that steaming bowl of soup? These fit the bill nicely.

Savoury scones

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan) NB Contains gluten.

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makes 10

200g plain flour (1 3/4 cups)

1 1/2 tsps baking powder, levelled off

40g dairy-free spread

1 tbsp marmite mixed with 1 tbsp boiling water

1 tsp oregano

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

120 ml oat milk

glaze: 1 tsp marmite mixed with 1 tsp boiling water and 1 tbsp oat milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 6. Oil and flour a baking sheet.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the oregano and the nutritional yeast.
  3. Rub in the margarine with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Pour in the dairy-free milk and watery marmite mix. Bring together to form a soft dough.
  5. Turn out and very lightly knead. A light touch is essential for light and fluffy scones.
  6. Press out the dough to 2 inches high and cut out circles with a cookie cutter.
  7. Place on the baking sheet and brush with the glaze.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes until the scones have risen and golden.
  9. Cool on a wire rack.

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Chocolate and Vanilla Yo-Yo Cookies

What crazy and unpresidented  times we are living through! I don’t think that even a few weeks we could have imagined lock down, and certainly not lock down for 1/4 of the world’s population. We didn’t know what social distancing meant, loo roll and pasta shortages were something we couldn’t imagine and coronavirus was nowhere near home. At times it seems like we’re living through a badly written disaster movie, if only a super hero would come and save us all. Although on this occasion the super heroes will be the medical staff who are looking after the sick and putting their own health in danger.

A few days ago I was reading the news all the time and feeling pretty anxious, upset and overwhelmed about the whole situation. It all looked so bleak. Now, I’ve decided to step away from the news, just dip in occasionally and instead focus on cooking. I’ve certainly got enough time to develop those recipes that have been on the back burner! I also have lots of ideas for using simple store cupboard ingredients to make delicious tasty meals, so keep tuned for some exciting cooking and baking ideas.

But first, I think we need some sweet luxury, something pretty, tempting, and delicious to add a ray of sunshine into the otherwise bleak outlook.

These Chocolate and Vanilla Yo-yo cookies are not only as pretty as a picture, but sweet and crumbly with a super rich chocolate filling. The sort of cookie to give a metaphorical hug (just what we need right now) whilst having a hot drink. Do be careful with Bird’s custard powder, some is safe and some contains milk. If you can’t find the safe one just sub for cornflour.

Stay safe everyone x

Chocolate and Vanilla Yo-Yo Cookies

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

makes about 20 sandwich biscuits

150g dairy-free margarine

65g icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp vanilla essence

pinch of salt

55g custard powder or cornflour

175g plain flour

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 4
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment
  3. Beat together the margarine, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.
  4. Sift in the flours and salt to form a very soft, but not sticky dough.
  5. Make large marble sized balls and place on the baking sheet (try to make an even number). Flatten with the back of a fork.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes until only a hint of colour on the edges
  7. Cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before moving to a wire rack.
  8. Once completely cool, sandwich together with the chocolate cream.
  9. Dust with icing sugar if desired

Chocolate Cream

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

60g dairy-free margarine

200g icing sugar

1 tsp dairy-free milk (if needed)

25g melted dairy-free chocolate

    1. Whisk the margarine  with the icing sugar until it is all incorporated, adding the milk if the mixture is too stiff. Stir in the melted chocolate.

Mini Double Chocolate Muffins

These are my recreation of those mini muffins people buy in tubs from the supermarket! They’ve always looks so useful and appealing, but are sadly not suitable for us.

Both girls tried to eat school lunches for ages, but we came to realise that whilst the schools really tried, the lack of choice and the fact it often wasn’t to their taste, meant they both hardly ate any lunch. I think the difficulty is that the schools have to cater for everyone and so there ended up being one generic ‘free-from’ meal which hardly compared to the exciting options everyone else was tucking into!

So we have moved to packed lunches which means they both definitely eat something, but it is hard to find interesting, different things to include (especially as they generally like different things!). There’s so few shop bought options, and luckily since I love to bake, I try and make a variety of different tasty sweet treats to add. These muffins totally fit that bill; not only are they lunch box sized, but you can also freeze them and add them frozen to defrost for lunch time – a total godsend on busy work/school days!

Mini Double Chocolate Muffins

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

makes about 36-48 depending on the size of your mini-muffin tin

2 cups plain flour

2/3 rds cup caster sugar

1 tbsps baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsps cocoa powder

1/2 cup melted dairy free margarine

2/3 rds cup dairy free milk

1 cup dairy free yogurt

1/3 cup dairy free chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in most of the chopped chocolate/chocolate chips
  3. Combine the wet ingredients; melted margarine, milk and yogurt. Pour the wet into the dry and gently mix until it is just combined with no lumps of raw flour remaining.
  4. 1/2 to 2/3rds fill each muffin case (depending if you want a muffin top or just a domed mini muffin) and then top each with a couple of choc chip/lumps of choc to give an appealing finish
  5. Bake for 12 minutes until they are puffed up and a knife comes out clean.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. One cool eat, keep in a tin or freeze.

Mocha Biscotti

This year I’m intending on making lots of my Christmas presents, well that’s the plan! I’ll have to see if life, work and the new puppy let that happen…

To me it seems like this is the right time to take a little step away from consumerism and reconnect with the the homemade. I also think it makes the festive season seem particularly special; that extra effort in making gifts for people adds an extra touch of love and I hope makes both the giver and receiver equally happy.

Along with the jams, chutneys and chocolate truffles (I’ve got a cracking new recipe coming up next), these biscotti make a wonderful gift. They keep well and are just perfect with coffee or something stronger 😉 over the festive season.

Biscotti may seem tricky to make but in reality they just need a little extra time to be double baked, first as a large log and then sliced. The resulting crispy slices keep well and are robust enough to make fantastic gifts.

I’ve given these biscotti a mocha flavour which i think works particularly well when it’s cold and dark; there’s something so cosy about the combination of coffee and chocolate. Don’t worry about it being an ‘adult’ taste, it works wonderfully with decaf and it’s more a tinge of coffee rather than a full whack in the chops!

Mocha Biscotti

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

makes about 24 biscotti

250g or 2 cups plain flour

2 tsps baking powder

pinch of salt

200g or 1 cup caster sugar

50g dairy-free chocolate, chopped

120ml sunflower oil

120ml dairy-free milk (made up of 1tbsp instant coffee powder and 1 tbsp hot water topped up to 120ml with dairy-free milk)

30g dairy-free chocolate, melted (to drizzle on top)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4
  2. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar and chocolate chips.
  4. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, dairy-free milk mix. Bring together to a wet and sticky dough.
  5. Form into one or two log shapes on the lined baking sheet. (they spread out quite  a lot so make them smaller than you think unless you want long biscotti!) Brush with the dairy-free milk.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes until cooked through and starting to turn golden around the edges.
  7. Cool briefly, then cut into even slices. Return to the baking sheet and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, turn the slices over and cook for 5-10 minutes more. You want a uniform slightly golden tinge, but no particularly dark areas.
  8. Cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool, drizzle or dip into the melted chocolate
  9. These keep well, in an airtight container for a week or so.

 

Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych, London

It’s rare that my girls get to go out for a real fancy treat, one that is food based but also worth getting dressed up for! We’ve previously had a wonderful Afternoon tea at The Langham and have often talked about some of the delicacies we came across. So, to have a repeat experience but in a new venue I did masses of research. There really aren’t that many choices, a fair few offer you a vegan tea option but once you’ve taken out all the nuts and seeds there are less options available, and whilst my girls may be dairy or dairy and egg free, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to eat the vegan menu.

In my research I came across a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldywch. This sounded both exciting and a possibility as they specifically stated that they could cater for any dietary requirement, if given notice. I contacted the hotel and was given a very welcoming contact, who checked with the chefs and confirmed we could be catered for. It sounded so exciting and we couldn’t wait for our tea featuring “fizzy lifting drinks, snowberry jam, chocolate milkshake mixed by waterfall”.

I have to say I’ve really struggled with whether to post this review as I don’t like to be negative, but honesty is the best way and we found the whole experience so deeply disappointing.

The hotel is lovely, with a modern feel and some elegant features like a checkerboard mirrored lift to get to the bathrooms – notably the bathrooms (always a giveaway) were nothing special, you didn’t feel like you were anywhere luxurious.

The service was okay, we were made to feel welcome but it was painfully slow, so slow in fact that we spent a lot of time looking over our shoulders for something to arrive. I know we are tricky as we all have different requirements but I’d given them 2 months notice and they were the ones who said they were happy to cater for us. Honestly, don’t say you can deliver if you can’t!

So onto the food… which was at best only ok, there was nothing that made you go wow.

For the standard vegetarian savouries (that I had and I’m mentioning first as these didn’t need to be tweaked to be made safe and should be the knock out dishes they wheel out daily) there was a relatively tasty cheesy tart, the driest brioche you have ever eaten filled with something unidentifiable and purple, a very earthy beetroot wrap and a rather nice coronation cauliflower in matcha bread. There were cheesy scones which were good, but I’ve had better. So one nice savoury.

For the girls they got avocado in bread – honestly I couldn’t believe the lack of imagination. There was also a very plain chicken sandwich and a rather challenging beetroot wrap. Big S got some nice hummus topped with a carrot puree but it came with a spoon rather than something to dip in. Who eats hummus with a spoon? Then there’s the scones. Oh my goodness they were bad, like hard biscuits you could hardly swallow, you really couldn’t imagine a worse scone (and vegan scones are so easy to make!)

The sweet course looked prettier, it had it’s own stand and came with some candy floss which did make everyone smile but the flavours and execution were nothing special.

The standard options were some tasty little lemon sponges, chocolate financiers and fairly good scones with jam, there was an Eton mess which would be nice if you liked cream (I don’t) and a very milky chocolate mousse and super minty chocolate drink. The there was a red velvet cake pop which was just unpleasant – sorry but when you’re charging £45 per head I think you need to do better than unpleasant.

The girls sweet course was far worse, I just don’t know how they made dairy and egg-free food so horrible. I know I’m probably far more experience in cooking free-from but I’m not saying I can cater or people and then charging them 5* prices for horrible food. On the plus side the little chocolate sponges were quite nice. But then the chocolate mousse was the most bitter chocolate I have ever tasted, the same awful scones appeared, the chocolate drink was again far too dark and worst of all both girls reacted to traces of milk and needed antihistamine. All that and they charged adult price for little S when she should have  been charged the child price.

Sorry One Aldwych but we came away so disappointed and underwhelmed; this special occasion was anything but special, cost a fortune and has put us off trying somewhere else new. Maybe we should have made a fuss on the day, but eating out with allergies is challenging and we try to make the experiences as pleasant as possible, and making a fuss in front of the girls just makes the whole thing worse.

So all in all I wouldn’t recommend afternoon tea at One Aldywch, even the standard version was anything but magical and only had a vague hint of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; save your money or save up and go somewhere like The Langham where you will have an experience to remember.