Gluten and Dairy Free Lemon Cupcakes

I hope you have all had a good winter break and I wish you all a good New Year. I thought I would start this year with a recipe that I promised you a while ago. My standard gluten and dairy free cupcakes.

This recipe is adapted from an ordinary ‘even mix’, one my Mother used to call a 4,4,4 & 2 mix (she measured in oz not grams in those days). This mix was used for all sorts of sponges and puddings and I still use it today for standard gluten free cakes and puddings as it works well (most of the time, there are a few exceptions). Here I’ve doubled it up to make a more substantial mix which actually works better when converted to gluten and dairy free ingredients.

Although here I’ve used lemon for the flavouring, just vanilla or orange works just as well. Chocolate works a little differently in gluten free cakes though, it usually makes them better, but if you want a chocolate cake it needs a little something different than this straightforward mix to make it work.


Makes 20 – 24 small cupcakes.


225g Dairy Free margarine  (I use Pure )
225g Caster Sugar
4 Eggs
Grated zest from an unwaxed lemon
225g Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain Flour
2 tsp GF Baking Powder, slightly rounded
1 tsp Xanthan Gum
1 tbsp of the lemon juice or a few drops of Sicilian Lemon Extract (check ingredients)

You will also need:

2 x 12 hole Cupcake pans (If you only have one, that’s fine. I bake mine in batches)
Small paper cupcake cases



Baking Ing


Pre-heat your oven to 200° C / 400 F / Gas 6

Soften the DF margarine together with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. With a DF margarine it is really difficult not to have this mixture curdle, but don’t worry it all comes together once you add the flour and I don’t think it really affects the outcome.

Add in the grated lemon zest, and the lemon juice or extract if using, and mix to combine.

Next, sift together the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum straight into the bowl and give the whole lot a good beat.

The mixture should be fully mixed with no lumps. It should also be quite soft. If you find that it is holding together a little too much i.e. the whole mixture is moving almost as one around the bowl, add a tablespoon or two of DF milk just to loosen it up a little. The xanthan gum is vital for holding your GF ingredients together and holding in the air so that the cakes rise, but sometimes it can be, let’s say, a little over enthusiastic about it!

The mixture should look like this, holding up but still soft like a standard soft dropping consistency.


Divide the mixture evenly between the cases. The mixture should be enough for between 20 and 24 small cupcakes with the mixture filled three quarters to the top of the cases.

Mixing bowl

Pop them into the pre-heated oven, they should take about 15 minutes. They are cooked when well risen and slightly golden and a tooth pick inserted into the centre comes out clean.


You can of course ice these with an icing made from icing sugar and lemon juice, or pipe a swirl of DF buttercream flavoured with some more of the lemon juice; which I do if I am going to serve these to guests. But to be honest, most of the time we are pretty boring and just eat them the way they are. They are just sweet enough to satisfy and without the icing or butter cream it doesn’t interfere with my daily sugar intake, which means I can eat more of them!

If you want to make large cupcakes, the muffin sized ones, the mixture should make about 12 but you will need to bake them for a little longer, perhaps 20-25 minutes.

These will keep for several days in an airtight container.



Roast Chicken Stock

Someone once said ‘Patience is the secret to good food’. I agree, good food takes time, but to make a good stock takes no time at all.

Chicken Stock 2

I used to buy fresh chicken stock from my local supermarket. It’s good and allergy friendly, but expensive.  I think that the last time I bought some it was the equivalent of about £6.50 per litre, if my maths serves me right that’s £3.71 per pint.

I understand, in a way, why it costs what it does. It takes time to make a good stock and the containers they put it in probably amounts to a fair percentage of the over all cost. But, it is so easy to make your own, especially in my beloved slow cooker that, as they say, it’s a no brainer. All you need is a little planning and a chicken carcass or two.

We have chicken on a regular basis so whenever we do I save the carcass.  I put it in a plastic bag and pop it into the freezer until I have a second one (or other chicken bones) to go with it. You don’t need two, you can use just one but I find that two (or one with some extras) makes a good amount of tasty stock.

Pre-heat your slow cooker on high and put the chicken carcass, bones etc. in, along with a large carrot or two, cut into chunks and an onion quartered. Leave the skin on the onion if you like a darker stock. The rest is up to you. I like to add a bayleaf, pepper corns and some mixed herbs but I don’t like celery so never put it in. Some would say that you need celery, for a stock is not a proper stock without all three veg but I don’t think you’ll ever notice the difference if you choose to leave it out and of course it is more allergy friendly without. I don’t put in any salt either as I like to adjust the seasoning later when I use the stock.

Pour on enough boiling water to cover everything. Put the lid on and leave the slow cooker to do its thing for a good 6-8 hours.

Chicken Stock

That’s it. Walk away. When done, allow to cool and strain off the liquid. I pot mine up as it is but you can take off any fat that sits on the surface if you want to. You can also boil it down to concentrate it a little if you prefer. This batch was in the fridge and turned to jelly before I potted it up which is why it looks very cloudy.

Chicken Stock 3

Use fresh within a few days or put into the freezer for up to a month.

Over all it takes about fifteen minutes to put on and perhaps half an hour to strain and pot up. I have no idea of the total cost but probably no more than £1. From my large slow cooker with two leftover carcasses I make almost 2 litres of stock, that’s a saving of approximately £12. As I said, a no brainer.



Cooking · Just life

February already?

It’s funny how January just slips away from you isn’t it? Perhaps really, every month is the same which is why we always find ourselves saying ‘where did the last year go’, or I know I do. Maybe though, with the early months in the year when the days are dark and dreary and the nights still far too long, we are glad for it to be gone.

The last week, or perhaps two really, has just got away from me. Some days I feel like a conductor. I’d like to say an orchestral conductor, far more glamorous, but I fear it is probably more like a bus conductor. Finding this, sorting that, cooking and washing; conducting the background to the lives of the people around me as they come and go through their day and mine.

Still, I have had time to take a few photo’s along the way.

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

The blueberries are last years’ crop from the freezer. The recipe is an adaptation of the one I used to make with wheat flour.

Blueberry Muffins 2

Funny how your tastes change when you change your diet. Several years ago these would have been my absolute favourite muffin. It’s why I planted a blueberry bush in the garden, just for making muffins with. But, since I have changed my diet, they somehow just don’t cut it for me so much any more. Luckily, I’m the only one that feels that way so they do get eaten.

Bread 2Bread 1

Gluten, Dairy, Corn and Yeast free bread

I make a loaf of this bread most weeks.  It is a recipe from Celeste’s Best cookbook with several modifications of my own. Great bread which actually isn’t bread at all, technically. I find the original bread rises far too much, if you can believe that, and is a little too moist for my taste so over the last year or so I have gently modified the recipe to suit. It is brilliant and do recommend it if you need an allergen free ‘bread’.


Not really spring, but some of my plants thing it might be.  Our weather has been consistently miserable but mild and the plants are confused. The daffodils in my neighbours garden came up and bloomed in January.

Pizza Cheese DF

I finally got to try some Violife pizza cheese. My local supermarket stocks the ordinary sandwich cheese and the cream cheese (which is great in a sauce) but the pizza cheese has proved more elusive. I managed to track some down on line at I must say that their delivery was fantastic. I ordered one afternoon and it arrived the next morning in plenty of time for some melty cheese on toast for lunch and my first proper pizza in years for dinner. More on that another time.

As you can see, my week contained a fair amount of baking, which is nothing new. I have been writing up the new pattern, which has taken most of my spare time. I have something new on the needles which I will show you next time but now, I am off to cook some lunch.


Slow Cooker Steak and Mushroom Pie – Gluten and Dairy Free

I love my slow cookers.  I have two, as I find it handy to have the choice between small and a large depending on what I am making.  I realise this is pure indulgence and only worth the investment if you use them a great deal, as I do. I end up using them twice a week or more in the colder months.

I can only eat unprocessed food so I cook everything from scratch and find my slow cookers invaluable. With only about 15 minutes of preparation I can end up with any number of different dishes; a stew, casserole, soup or stock, slow roasted joint or even a rice pudding. Ok, so there is a lot of time in between, but you can’t really count that as no intervention on my part is required. I can even go out for the day and leave everything to cook. Sometimes I come home to the most wonderful smells and it takes me a few seconds to remember what it is, as I forget all about it once I go out the door.

I often use mine for pie fillings.  Made the day before and put into the fridge overnight, all I have to do the next day is whip up some pastry and assemble.  If I make enough, I will have it as a casserole on the first day and then make it into pies the next and either freeze or eat them depending.

So, here is my recipe for a really good steak and mushroom pie filling – allergy friendly of course.


For the Pie Filling:

600g Diced Beef
2 Brown Onions, sliced thickly
2-3 Cloves Garlic, crushed
250g Chestnut mushrooms, cut into chunks
500ml Beef Stock. Fresh or cube.
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Gluten free in the UK but check.
1 Bayleaf
50g Rice Flour
Glass of red wine (optional)

For the pastry:

270g Doves Farm White Bread Flour (a mix of rice, potato starch, tapioca starch and xanthan gum)
30g Sweet White Sourghum Flour
75g Hard Margarine
75g Lard
1 large Egg or 2 Small ones
Few Tbsp water



I like to fry my onions first as I find it makes them softer and sweeter but you really don’t have to.  If you have the time, you can brown the meat first as well, but this is supposed to be a quick any easy recipe and usually I just throw it in.

So, onions and beef, fried or not..

Into the slow cooker, put the onions, beef and garlic.  Sprinkle on the rice flour and give it all a good stir. Add the stock, wine (if using) and Worcestershire sauce and give it all another good stir before popping the bayleaf on top and put the lid on. Turn on the slow cooker and cook for about 4 hours on high or about 8 hours on low.

About half way through add the mushrooms, give it another stir and leave it alone. I add the mushrooms later because I do like mine to have some bite left in them but if you are going to be out or want them really cooked down, put them in at the beginning with all the other ingredients.

You can now go out, sit and knit or drink the rest of the wine!

When the time is up the meat should be very tender and everything should be thick and bubbling away nicely.  Have a little taste and add some salt and pepper if you think it needs it.  Turn the slow cooker off and lift out the crock pot. I like to do this as it helps to cool everything down faster. When cool, either empty the contents into a container or bowl and put into the fridge until the next day or make into pies straight away.


For the pastry, I like to use the mix above. The quantity given is enough for a large deep filled pie or four individual pies. I find that it rolls without breaking so is easy to handle but is crumbly when cooked – not hard as so many gluten-free ones are. It also holds together when you dish out the pies, either individual or slices. I do sometimes use my flaky pastry recipe but this is one that I developed because it is quick to make if I am in a hurry.  I dish this pastry up to all, allergy or not and so far I haven’t had any complaints.  I find adding the sorghum flour stops the pastry becoming hard and also gives it a better flavour.

Make the pastry in the usual way by either rubbing the fat into the flour or pop into a mixer or processor until the mix resembles large crumbs (or small peas!). Add the egg and stir or mix until it all starts to come together, you may need to add some water to achieve this.  You are looking for a well held together pastry, not too dry.

Roll out using some rice or other flour to stop it sticking to the work surface.  If the mixture breaks when you try to roll it out, give it a bit of an knead to help it together and roll it out again. Use the pastry to line the pie dish(es) and fill with the cold filling. Put a lid on top and glaze with some beaten egg.

Bake your pie or pies at 180 deg C for about 40 minutes or until piping hot and golden brown.

Steak Pie single cooked

You can freeze these, either as just the filling or made up pies.  Defrost before use. If re-heating pies put them into an oven at 180 deg C until piping hot.


Cooking · FO's · Knitting · Patterns

Autumn – Delicious Autumn

My very soul is wedded to it and if I were a bird I would fly around the earth seeking successive autumns.

George Elliot.

Autumn Blueberry

Is autumn not a beautiful season?  My favourite time of the year – until spring!

Recently though we have slipped from the bright, crisp, colourful days of autumn where the light has such a beautiful hue, to those dark, damp, dreary days that are so common on this island.

It has been so dreary here the last few days that it is near impossible to take a decent photo.  Our cottage can be quite dark at this time of year when the light outside is so bad, much too dark for decent photographs anyway and outside it is raining so even with the best intentions it’s just not going well.

Time then for warm soups, and knitting!

sweet potato soup

Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup

Serves 4 – 6

Gluten and Dairy Free

1 Brown Onion – diced
2 Sweet Potatoes approx. 400g – diced
1 Large White Potato – diced
1 Litre Vegetable Stock, your favourite, I use Kallo.
1  400 ml Tinned Coconut Milk –  not carton. Keep back a few tablespoons for garnish.
Salt and Pepper
Coconut oil for frying

Melt a walnut sized piece of coconut oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onion. Fry gently until soft but not coloured then add the sweet and white potatoes and leave to sweat for a couple of minutes.
Add the stock and tinned coconut milk and bring slowly to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are soft then take off the heat and allow to cool down before pureeing with a stick blender or blender.
Return to the heat and season, adding salt and pepper to taste.
When serving, swirl a little of the coconut milk on top.


On the knitting front, I have just finished Portage by Melissa Schaschwary.

Portage 2A little different from my usual knitting so far as the yarn is concerned.  On a recent holiday in Wales I somehow came across the Colinette factory, funny that!

Portage 3

The yarn knitted up beautifully and has a good hand, not too soft but not at all itchy either.


As I said, I am afraid that it’s near impossible to get a decent shot at the moment and these photos don’t do the cardigan justice at all.

The pattern is a top down seamless knit, raglan style.  The shawl type collar is added afterward by picking up stitches around the front and working back and forth in garter stitch. The pockets are integral to the collar and are sewn back to the sides at the end. You can’t see it here as my pictures are so bad but my pockets hang down quite a bit at the front of the garment.  Not a pattern error, I just think that I should have picked up less stitches around the fronts as my yarn has given a little with the weight. I may put it right if it annoys me that much but at the moment nobody seems to notice except me.

I do have another F.O. but that really needs some decent photography before showing you and being sent off to the recipient. No sign of doing that over the next couple of days though.

May your days be colourful and bright!

Cooking · Gardening · Own designs · Spinning

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.

Pablo Neruda

Miniature Daffodil

It’s been too long.  I’ve been trying to get a post together for weeks but I just haven’t got here until now.  I started the month off sort of unwell – again.  I have a very tiny lump on my temple, had it for ages, and it was so small that the only time I knew it was there was if I ran a finger across my temple and I could just feel it under the skin. Some time last month it decided to flare up, as apparently they do, and it became very large and angry. To cut a long and rather gruesome story short, after a few weeks of trying to deal with it myself (don’t say anything!) I woke up one Sunday morning to find the whole of one side of my face rather larger than the other. It’s quite interesting being able to see two different people in the mirror at the same time; but perhaps not quite as much fun as you would think! It was another 24 hours before I could see a doctor, (our local drop in centre is to be avoided unless you are in immediate danger of death as far as I’m concerned) who put me straight onto a heavy course of penicillin/antibiotics.  We discussed what it may do to my weak digestive system, but in all honesty I had no other choice but to take the course. As my Dr. kindly pointed out, it was either that or be admitted to hospital where they would do the same anyway. I still may have to have the lump removed but at the moment it is all healing nicely and apart from a small mark, has all but disappeared once again. The drugs did make me very ill, as we knew they would, and have upset my system to such an extent that I am now back to where I was six months or more ago as regards to digestive health. I know from tests that I have already lost two types of beneficial bacteria that I should have in my system, ones that aren’t so easy to replace, now I don’t know if I’ve lost any more following this course of treatment. The good thing is that I’m starting from a much stronger point. I heal much better than I did, and at least now I know what I need to do to give everything the best chance of recovery. I’m hoping that, as with a lot of things, experience will make things much easier second time round. It’s frustrating, but it is what it is.

So, that is why I haven’t been around for a bit. Enough of the doom and gloom, since I have recovered some of my energy back I haven’t been sitting around.

Spring has started to, well, spring around here.  The blueberry is starting to make moves toward flowering.  Last year was a poor year, as far as this plant was concerned, so I fed it well all through the summer and am hoping that it shows its’ appreciation this year by giving us a bumper crop, weather permitting.

Blueberry 1
Blueberry buds

I’ve been spinning a little too.

Norwegian Tops
Norwegian Tops

A few years ago now I purchased two of these beautiful Norwegian tops from Wonderwool Wales. A natural humbug mixture. I’ve started with the white and plan to keep the colours separate, hoping to use them in something together, perhaps a pair of socks with different coloured heels, leg and toes.

Norwegian Tops
Norwegian Tops

I love handspun socks and have recently worn out a pair I made about 5 years ago, they lasted well so maybe it’s an ideal time to get back into a bit of spinning and replace them at the same time.

While I was taking the drugs it was all I could do to make it to work and although I wanted to knit, I just couldn’t settle to anything. I started things, ripped and started something else, then ripped again, but over the last week I’ve got back into a couple of projects that I had already on the go but suddenly had no enthusiasm for.

One is a cardigan for myself, started when the weather was very miserable and I felt in need of something big and warm to wrap up in.

Textured cardigan
Textured cardigan

Back a month or two ago I started a top down raglan, adding a simple textured pattern to the sleeves.  Basically making it up as I went along, I’ve ended up really pleased with how it is turning out.  I wanted it oversize so I could put it on over a couple of layers and snuggle up into it.  I’ve also knitted it much longer than I normally like my cardigans and have a plan to add big patch pockets to it when I’m done. I wanted to knit it in blue but just couldn’t find a colour that I really liked so I dug out this natural grey from the stash and decided to try it out in this. If I like it enough to knit two, I’ll look for something else next time.

Front and sleeve view

It only has the one, almost finished, sleeve so far. It’s been sitting like this for weeks so I’m hoping if I tell you about it, it will give me the needed push to get it done.  While I finish the second sleeve I’ll try to decide whether to put a collar or a simple ribbing around the neck. I think a collar would look best at balancing the chunkiness of it all but, well, I’m not always keen on them as they do add to the bulk around the top. Time to decide yet anyway.

Weather permitting, I’ve been planting seeds. I’ve got some tomato and pepper seeds in and have sewed the first of the carrot seeds up at the allotment along with the onion sets. These little seedlings I’m especially proud of though.

marigold seedlings
marigold seedlings

They may not look much but I collected these seeds from plants I grew myself………………  wait for it……….. Five years ago!  I picked off the seed heads and put them into an envelope at the end of the season, threw them into an old shoe box in the cupboard where I keep my seed packets and just really never got around to sewing them.  This year I went through to box turfing out all the old out of date seed packets to see what I needed to buy this year and came across the collection of envelopes with seeds I have collected myself. On a whim I decided I had nothing to lose and, well here they are. Who says seeds don’t keep well for more that a year or two. I don’t know what the final germination rate of these will be of course, they’ve only just started to pop up, but if I get half I’ll be more than happy.

I have also spent some time cooking, as usual, and have a great recipe that I adapted for a gluten and dairy free Manchester Tart. A Manchester tart is a pastry case spread with jam and covered with a custard filling topped with toasted coconut.

Manchester Tart
Manchester Tart

This one also has a little something extra inside!

Recipe to come.


Cooking · FO's · Own designs

Scone or scon(e)

If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loud! … Why compound ignorance with inaudibility.

E.B. White

However you pronounce the word, scone means different things to different people depending where you live.  There are scones that are served with jam and clotted cream; drop scones that are more like pancakes; potato scones that you can have with your breakfast; scones made from oats and scones that you have with gravy. Some are fried and some are baked, some are sweet and some are savoury, some are large and cut into triangles and some individual and round, (fluted for sweet, plain for savoury) – the list is endless.

In our house, no particular pronunciation is correct.  If someone pronounces it one way, you can be sure that somebody else will pronounce it another – just because. The other week I decided to try to make some allergy friendly scones, also – just because.  I’m not a huge fan of scones, the baked with jam variety anyway, never was, but gluten and dairy free ones are particularly difficult to master so ever up for a challenge I decided to give it a go. I found this book,

Serously Good Gluten-Free Cooking by Phil Vickery
seriously Good Gluten-Free Cooking by Phil Vickery

which used to be my Mothers.  I haven’t really cooked anything from it to be honest as most of the recipes are for savoury dishes and I long ago (mostly) mastered gluten and dairy free mains. In it Phil Vickery has a recipe for scones (the English jam and cream variety) using polenta which I thought worth a try. As a comparison, I also found a recipe online for scones which had very good reviews and decided to give that one a go as well.

Firstly I made these,


You will find the recipe, from the head chef at the Whitehall Hotel here. The hotel is pleased to cater for special diets, a great idea, and if the scones are anything to go by, well I think you would be in for a treat.

Then I made the ones from the book.


They look quite different but are both very scone like in taste and texture.  I made everyone try one of each and then asked for their opinion. The verdict was that they were both equally good  –  the Whitehall ones being sweeter were nice on their own if you just wanted some with just butter or DF spread, the Phil Vickery ones looked more like traditional English scones and, being less sweet, lent themselves to being smothered with jam. They were all gone within 36 hours anyway, none lasting any longer that the other so I guess that’s a hit for either recipe. Sweet or less sweet, the decisions is yours, as is the pronunciation!

There has been knitting, if you were wondering.  After posting about my dilemma with the blanket mistake, my old friend Alison, aka MidlandSpinner on Ravelry, always a mine of information, contacted me about fixing it without ripping back all that work. After a short discussion she advised that perhaps the best way to approach the problem was to snip the yarn at the mistake, unpick and re-do just that section.  I admit that I dithered quite a bit before taking the plunge, but, take the plunge I did and after a good deal of swearing (and perhaps wine) I managed to get it all sewn up again and looking not too bad.  Thank you Alison, as always you have the best advice and support just when I need it.  I still can’t show you the finished article yet, but what I can show you is the blanket I designed after that one.

New baby blanket.
New baby blanket.

When I chose the pattern for the baby blanket, I had trouble finding one that was a) pretty enough if the baby was a girl,  but  b) not too pretty if the baby was a boy,  c) was quite quick to knit up but looked as if it wasn’t! and finally  d) looked pretty good from both back and front.

So after the hair-raising first blanket, I gave some thought to what I would knit that fulfilled all of the above and came up with this one.  Knitted in 4 ply or fingering, it’s light enough that it doesn’t look too heavy on a newborn but if you went up to a DK or light worsted weight yarn it would make a good cot blanket for a bigger baby. This version is just the right size for a basket or small crib or when around and about in a pram or car seat. I made this one in white as I intend for it to be given away with the first, but I think would look great in a semi solid or brighter yarn as the raised pattern catches the light wonderfully. It is so simple to knit, as soon as I get a few hours I plan to write the pattern up as a give away, so stay tuned!

Things have been just mad around here the last few weeks, which is why I haven’t been by, but with the tax out of the way and some ‘must do’s’ under my belt, I hope to be back next week with some more knitting and news of the blanket pattern.


Cooking · Just life

A beginning ends what an end begins

– James Richardson

Happy New Year!

I know it’s a bit late and I do feel a little guilty that I haven’t popped in and said it before but I’ve been a bit slow getting started after the holidays. I have an excuse.

I came down with an awful cold on Christmas eve, which has refused to leave completely (as is normal for me now) and I am still struggling with the tail end of it. But, I did manage to ‘do’ Christmas. We had a good feast, completely food friendly for all concerned. It really wasn’t that difficult although I did end up spending a huge amount of time in the kitchen, especially considering I felt so bad, but it was well worth the effort.

Mini Christmas Cakes
Mini Christmas Cakes

I even managed to bake two dozen of these little gems.  Mini Christmas cakes, complete with marzipan and icing (and a little alcohol for good measure). I used a gluten & dairy free Christmas cake recipe but simply spooned the mixture into little fairy cake cases instead of one large cake tin and baked them for about 20 minutes. They came out great, not dry at all, which I was a little worried about, and made just the right size cakes to have with a drink when guests arrived. They were a little sweet for my taste, which was actually more to do with the dried fruit than the icing strangely enough but as they were only small, I did manage to force down a few!

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Even secret ones? I always do, although I prefer to call mine ‘goals’ or ‘changes’ rather than resolutions for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I find it difficult to be completely resolute about anything, always preferring to take the more laid back, perhaps humorous line! More of a ‘this schedule is subject to change’ rather than ‘this is the way it’s going to be’ sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I take all my ‘changes’ very earnestly, but life is just too unpredictable, I find, to be unwavering. Anyway, I have a few changes this year which I’ll probably mention as time goes on. This resolution or changes idea did cause a bit of an argument on New Year’s Eve though. Must have been because I was feeling ill as I never usually take such a strong line, but I did get a little stroppy with my Brother who feels it totally unnecessary to make any changes to his life, ever. hmm.

My knitting projects are going well (part of my New Year thing is to find much more knitting time) although I don’t really have anything that I can show you today.  I am working on a blanket for a friend who is expecting a baby in February. I can’t show you though as I want it to be a bit of a surprise and she might see it if she passes by here, which she does sometimes. I noticed a small mistake in it last night, about 40 rows below where I am now. Do I rip out and start again? Or, do I just ‘not notice’? I haven’t decided yet. Although I hate to leave mistakes in things, I equally dislike ripping back what is probably 4 or 5 nights worth of knitting. I’ll have another look tonight and see if I can live with it. Other things are also coming along. The Ranger cardigan is almost to the point of joining the body and sleeves, just a few short rows to put in on the back, then I should be on the home straight. I also have a boy’s sweater on the needles, one that I should have finished before the Christmas break but is only now coming together and a lacy cardigan which I sneaked and started quickly before I could object that I had too many things on the go! The cardigan is from stash yarn, something else I have promised myself I will use some of this year. I should have some pictures of both of those by next week but for now neither things look very exciting.

Well, I suppose I should get back to doing our Tax Returns. I always leave them to the last-minute so it serves me right really. This coming year will be different though – I have resolutions changes!

Cooking · Knitting

Know your limitations

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
W.C. Fields

This, is how I feel about my gift knitting at the moment. With only two weeks to go, I know that everything on my knitting list is just not going to get done.  You can only knit so fast and the amount done in any day is finite.

The Ranger cardigan was always a shot in the dark. I knew in my heart of hearts that it was never a serious contender for finishing before the holidays, but I try and please. Actually, this is never going to be finished much before Easter if the truth be told. Its’ just too big and heavy for my little hands to knit on for any great length of time in one go.

Marks cardigan


The sleeves are done (thank goodness) but the body, so far, is only at the five inch mark, another nine to go I think before body and sleeves are united.  I love seamless knits, but at this point in the proceedings, as the back and fronts are knitted all in one, it’s just so damn big! Luckily I’ve been asked for a quick hat in the meantime and I’m sure I can pull that off instead.

I also must confess a guilty pleasure that I have been knitting on, a little at a time, when I’m too tired to knit anything else. Sprig, by Alana Dakos, fell into my knitting basket a couple of weeks ago.  I have had some yarn for a couple of years that, although beautiful, I couldn’t match to a project. It wasn’t a great deal, only eight balls, bought in a moment of weakness; one of those yarns that you must have but have no idea what for.  I have been trying to match it to a pattern that  a)  showed the tweed yarn off in all its’ glory, and b) didn’t take too much yarn. When I saw Sprig I just knew that it was perfect and as I had waited for so long to find this yarn a home, couldn’t resist casting on.  In my defence, I have only, as I say, been knitting on it when I was too tired to concentrate on other knitting. Most of it is stocking stitch in the round and completely mindless.  It is knitted from the top down with short rows to produce an interesting lower yoke shape, from which the stitches are picked up later and the leaf pattern yoke is knitted and joined at right angles to.  Is it just me or does that sound confusing. Anyway, it is easier to knit than it sounds, far easier that writing the pattern for, I’m sure.  It’s a great pattern and one that I am enjoying immensely, all be it a little guiltily.



I am putting on the yoke before knitting the sleeves as I am getting short of yarn. I plan to split what I have left and knit the sleeves to whatever length my yarn will allow.

So, with knitting plans crashing and burning, on Monday I decided I would have to put in place some sort of contingency plan and I dashed out to find some fillers to replace the hand knits that will be missing from gifts. It won’t be the same, but I think I may just be able to carry it off.  It all started off so well too, having finished the girls’ cardigans in plenty of time. I think that I always underestimate what needs to be done because I can never factor in the unexpected, and believe me, around here there is always the unexpected. Our household consists of three males to one female, when would that not make life interesting!

Another thing that is taking up a great deal of my time lately is the menu for the holidays. Of course, everything must be allergy friendly and completely unprocessed (I’ve had some very nasty reactions to one or two foods recently, that although the ingredients appeared totally natural, the food itself was pre-made. One was a pasta sauce, bought because I was so short on time. I have vowed that I will never touch anything like that again). No short-cuts.  Last year I was still quite unwell so the family cut me a lot of slack when it came to food preparations and I did buy in some ready prepared things for those that could eat them; those that couldn’t just went without.  It was fine. But I have no real excuse this year, and honestly I don’t want any. What I have in mind is a table laid with all the usual suspects, that looks and tastes, well, normal, but which everyone can eat whatever their limitations without any worry of repercussions afterwards. I don’t want the ‘normal’ eaters feeling that they are being sold short or the one’s with allergies/intolerances to have to ask if something is OK to eat. Over the festive period we will have at least three people with various food limitations at any meal.  A tall order, but one that I now feel (almost) able to pull off. It is just taking a lot of organization.  The thing I’m really stuck on at the moment is a stuffing. For us, even a gluten free stuffing just won’t cut the mustard as they always contain some sort of gluten free bread which is off our list.  I’m getting there with some that substitute rice, but again, I need to please the gluten eaters and I really don’t want to have to have two separate ones.  Next I will be trialling some paleo stuffing’s, there’s a great list here on Mark’s Daily Apple. I think I will start with the Paleo Thanksgiving Stuffing as I like the idea of the pork and peppers and it looks the most likely to please all.




Gluten and Dairy Free Flaky Pastry

I’ve been up to quite a lot lately, things have been a little hectic and I just don’t know where the time has gone, which is why it’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve been by.  I have several knitting projects on the needles, mostly gift knitting, but also something for myself which I could not resist.  I will post about all that later. However, I did promise a recipe for gluten and dairy free flaky pastry which I think probably deserves a post of its own, and I know that I have been a bit lacking since I showed pictures for it last time, so this post is about cooking not knitting. Feel free to skip it if allergy friendly cooking is not your thing.

I searched everywhere for a recipe for a gluten and dairy free pastry that behaved and tasted like its gluten equivalent.  For over ten years I have been making gluten and dairy free pastry, with varying results. I would get either a pastry dough that behaved well but cooked like concrete around the edges, or one that was a nightmare to roll but was passable once cooked.  For my son, I quite often resorted to pastry mixes such as Mrs Crimble’s that we get here.  It is quite good as they go and the results were consistently edible, but at a glance you could tell which pastry was the gluten free version and which the ‘normal’ and to be honest I was always glad that I didn’t have to eat it. Once I did have to eat it however the hunt became far more serious.  It’s not that I didn’t care what my boy was eating, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that he could not remember what wheat pastry tasted like made him much more accepting of the poor equivalents I dished up for him.  Me, however, I more than remember how a pastry should be. I craved a good pastry, and I actually stopped cooking things that required a crust for months because I just could not stomach something that was too different.  It’s like seeing a strawberry, even smelling that strawberry then taking a great big bite only to find out that it’s a gooseberry, and it’s hard.

What compounded the problem was the pastry I make also needs to be dairy free.  I’ve seen some mouthwatering pastries on the net., all gluten free, but with butter.  The butter give them the flaky, buttery goodness which turns the non wheat pastry into something good.  Without butter you have little option but to use a lesser (in my opinion) substitute such as a dairy free margarine. All this means that you are not only trying to replicate a wheat dough with a non wheat dough but also the properties of butter with an oily equivalent. Not an easy thing to do, which is why we end up with such a poor substitute.

I have two fats in my recipe, a dairy free margarine and lard.

Firstly -LARD!.  Now I know that a lot of people don’t like to use lard, but really it’s not the bad boy it’s made out to be. Do some homework and you will see that it is just the boy that was left in the yard when the window broke and all the other kids ran away. I would rather use lard, and do, in my cooking any day than the plastic equivalent that they promote today.  That said, if you really can’t get it or won’t use it you could try substituting with coconut oil.  It is solid at room temperature and a natural, stable fat. I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure if it will give you the same results.  I do keep it in my kitchen and use it a lot but I find it expensive and prefer to use lard when I’m making things that require any quantity of fat.  I may give it a go sometime and let you know.  Feel free to experiment.

Secondly – dairy free margarine.  Not all margarines were created equal.  Make sure you use a non hydrogenated brand such as Pure. I use the sunflower one. Check out the makers website.  If you find it near impossible to find the ingredient list as I have with some, (naming no names) then there is a reason for that and keep well away. Also quite a lot of them have things in that you either can’t pronounce or are just numbers. Be wary.

The only other things you will need is some rice flour, ordinary is fine, a mixture of white and brown seems to work well, some potato starch (the starch not the flour), eggs and a little salt and xanthan gum. That’s it. I think with this pastry it’s the way that you make it that makes the difference so I’ve put together a little picture tutorial for you. This quantity should give you enough for a double crusted pie.

If you flick through the instructions, it all seems very time consuming and involved.  Believe me, it is far quicker and easier than it looks.  I can whip up some in half an hour or so, on and off, while doing other things and once made, it will keep until the next day (probably slightly longer) in the fridge.

Firstly, in a bowl measure out

  • 150 g Rice flour
  • 50 g Potato Starch
  • 1 scant tsp xanthan gum
  • Large pinch of good quality salt

give it all a good mix then add

  • 50 g Dairy Free margarine
  • 50 g Lard

In a bowl beat together

  • Two large free range eggs


Now you take a knife, not your hands, and cut the fat into the flour. Keep going until the fat pieces are the size of peas. Pictures 1 & 2

Pastry 1
Pastry 1

Add the eggs, a little at a time, stirring the flour and fat mixture until it comes together.  You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water just to finish off.  The mixture will look crumbly but will basically stick together apart from perhaps some more resistant bits in the bottom of the bowl.  Finish off by bringing it all together with your hands gently. Then on a well floured surface and floured rolling pin, gently roll out into a rough rectangle. The pastry will be quite crumbly but don’t worry it gets much better as you go along. Pat with your hands to smooth it all down and shape a little. Picture 3.

Fold the top third down and the bottom third up in much the way that you would a puff pastry.  At this stage it is still very crumbly and will crack and break. Use your hands to bring it back into shape. Picture 4

Turn 90 degrees, either left or right, and again flour everything and roll out again into a rectangle.  Roll gently and make sure you have plenty of rice flour on the surface or the lumps of fat will stick.  You will notice that this time the pastry stays together a little better.  Bring into shape by patting it together and fold as you did before.

At this stage I like to put mine into a plastic bag and pop into the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes or so just to chill down.  I go off and do something else but leave the floured surface and rolling pin alone as you will need them again.

After a rest and a chill, bring the pastry out of the fridge.  Line it up so that the sides are towards you and repeat the rolling and folding twice more.  Each time you roll and fold, you will notice that the pastry is getting better and better behaved. It gets smoother and more elastic as you go and starts to look like, well, pastry. Pictures 5 & 6

Repeat the chilling and rolling once more.  It is at this point that I usually make the filling and get it ready while I am waiting.

Now your pastry is ready.  It should be smooth, elastic and very well behaved but be gentle when you roll it out. Just remember to be a little gentle with it and flour your surface well.

Pastry 2
Pastry 2

In pictures 1,2 & 3 above you can see how smooth and pliable it is.  If you want to use up the scraps and roll out again, pile them up as in picture 4.  This will preserve the layers, and as you can see by 5 & 6, even rolled out a second and third time it still doesn’t crack.

I made mini pasties with this just to show that it does bend without cracking in the slightest.

Rolled out ready to cook
Rolled out ready to cook

Once you have made your pie or whatever you are using it for, glaze with some beaten egg or milk and a dusting of sugar and bake in the oven at 200 deg C (approx. 400 deg. F or Gas mark 6) until slightly risen and golden brown.

Layers of pastry
Layers of pastry

You can see the layers in the pastry. I didn’t call this rough puff even though that is how it is made because it just doesn’t have quite the lift but is definitely flaky.

Flaky Layers
Flaky Layers

I’ve had hours of fun in the kitchen with this, now that after a long absence, pastry is back on our menu.

Mini Sausage Rolls
Mini Sausage Rolls
Apple Pie
Apple Pie

Also with this pastry, it tastes and feels so much like it’s gluten equivalent that I no longer have to make two pies, one regular wheat and one gluten and dairy free.  I make one for everyone. It saves so much time in the kitchen.

Just don’t tell my youngest as I haven’t told him that he is eating free from pastry!

I hope you enjoy it.

Knitting will resume shortly.