Easy Peasy Shepherd’s Pie

Now that we’re in the throes of January blues I need more than just my weekly roast to see me through! I’m currently working my way through a list of childhood homemade favourites to cook for my boyfriend (I’m a typical girlfriend who loves to spoil him with food!) and a couple of weeks ago it was the turn of Shepherd’s Pie.

There’s lots of different variations to this recipe and although it’s traditionally made with lamb mince, I grew up with it being made with beef mince, which is what I used here. It’s probably similar to many that you’ve seen before, but it’s one my Nan has passed on to me so clearly it’s a popular variation! I’ve also used this as a chance to try the new Knorr stock pots, which boast that they add a rich and intense flavour to any dish. As most of these are gluten free, and their stock cubes are the only ones I use for the same reason, I was excited to see how they worked in this dish!

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Ingredients

1 tbsp oil, for the pan (I avidly use Lucy Bee Coconut Oil for all cooking!)

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

3tbsp tomato purée

1 can (400g) chopped tomatoes

500g beef mince

290ml beef stock (I used Knorr Beef Stock Pots)

1tsp dried Rosemary and Thyme

Season with salt & pepper as desired

850g potatoes, peeled and chopped

100g butter

75ml milk

25g grated cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and carrots and cook until they soften and brown.

2. Add the mince and cook until brown.

3. Add the tomato purée, chopped tomatoes, rosemary & thyme and stir in well. Add the stock a little at a time, stirring in well before adding the rest.

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4. Cover and simmer for around 30 minutes until the liquid has thickened. Add seasoning as desired.

5. Whilst the meat is simmering, make up the mashed potato topping. Boil the potatoes in a pan until they are soft and breaking up. Drain, return to the pan and mash until smooth.

6. Add the milk and butter a little at a time and mash/mix thoroughly into the mixture. To get a smooth mix, I first mash them into the potato and then give it a good stir, repeating until all the milk and butter has been added.

7. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC. Once cooked, turn the meat mixture out into a large dish and spread evenly. Top with the mashed potato, smoothing the mixture evenly and into all of the corners.

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8. Using a fork, drag it in long lines across the potato to create the classic pattern. I like to sprinkle the grated cheese on the top for extra flavour, it’s delicious melted on to the mash!

9. Cook for around 30 minutes, until the potato is golden.

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Knorr Pots

 

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The little pots are just like jelly! To use, you turn them into a jug and make up with 500ml of boiling water, just like you would with a stock cube. Stir continuosly until the jelly dissolves and you have your stock. Personally, I don’t think they’re any more amazing than the stock cubes, but some people might find them easier to use or have a better flavour, particularly if you are only really using stock in your recipe for the liquid (unlike this, where I also had chopped tomatoes). They’re available in the shops now, at around £2.50 for 8 pots.

 

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New GF offerings from Pizza Express

Thanks to his handy little Tastecard, my boyfriend and I decided to treat ourselves to a meal at Pizza Express on Monday night. As you all know back in 2012 Pizza Express launched their gluten free base, along with some other dishes and desserts, and Coeliacs everywhere rejoiced! Having worked with Coeliac UK, they’d carefully considered the cross contamination risks alongside how to provide a quality menu for Coeliacs and personal I think they did really well! Did you know, that to prevent contamination from all that flour flying around the kitchen, they made their standard flour gluten free?

I’m always excited for pizza but was even more excited on Monday when I saw that Pizza Express have a new menu, and the gluten free options have expanded! Naturally, I had to try one for each course….

Starter

Previously there has been a Mozzarella salad or Risotto to start, neither of which I really go for. Let’s face it, salad is boring and risotto is too filling before such a carb heavy main. Now however,  those options are accompanied by the new Melanzanine, ‘A mini al forno dish of layered aubergine, passata, mozzarella, garlic, basil and Gran Moravia cheese’.

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This comes served in a cute little baking pot, although the size does make it a little difficult to cut through the insanely thick, stringy cheese layer. Also, they weren’t lying when they say it contains garlic….In fact it overpowered all of the other ingredients! This is a really nice light starter overall.

Main

In the last few years I’ve become far more adventurous with my pizza toppings, but I have a particular love of Pepperoni and Goat’s cheese so 90% of the time I stick to pizzas based around these. Not this time. Instead, my boyfriend managed to convince me to try something new…..The Carbonara pizza! Seeing as I love Carbonara pasta this wasn’t a bad shout, but I had my concerns that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Plus I’ve never really understood egg on a pizza.

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I was pleasantly surprised that zeta lay,  this worked really well! It tastes exactly like a Carbonara,  topped with a creamy sauce, herbs, streaky pan cotta,  loads of cheese and of course, the egg in the middle.  Whilst I’m still on convinced that egg works on pizza, I added the taste of this option and highly recommend it!

The base as always,  was lovely and crispy whilst retaining the doughy texture. Definitely the best base on offer in mainstream restaurants!

My only complaint is that when they launched the gluten free base,  they were all served with specially colour coded pizza cutters,  but in the last few months these have disappeared. It really bugs me because despite the base being lovely, sometimes it can be a bugger to cut, and a standard knife and fork don’t cut it! I’d love to know the reasoning behind this.

Be warned, this option is filling (well, after that starter anyway)!

Dessert

I have a love hate relationship with Pizza Express and their desserts.  It’s great the have the options but they always make me feel…sad. Sorbet and Gelato are lovely,  but if I’m paying to eat out frankly I’d like something a bit more exciting. The gluten free brownie they offer is also nice, but it’s tiny, only comes with a drink (until they serve soya milk, this is out of the window for me) and, well, it’s a brownie.

These options are still there, but now the brownie comes with or without the drink ( and considering it’s about £5, a lot bloody bigger I hope too), and the Gelato has had a makeover. Now you can enjoy a delicious Banoffee or Tiramisu flavoured scoop instead. 

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I chose the Tiramisu flavour, partly on the recommendation from our waitress and party because I’m not keen on Banoffee. Dear God, this is delicious. Seriously, seriously tasty! With the first spoonful I got a heavy dose of the rim flavouring (not a bad thing) and on second the coffee really came through. My view of boring Gelato has been changed and although I was desperately full by now, I finished every last bit.

So worth the food baby!

Overall, I’m really impressed that Pizza Express have ramped up their menu even more and have included much tastier treats for their gluten free customers. They’re really leading the way for mainstream restaurants tapping into the market and making me on happy Coeliac in the process.

To view the full gluten free menu, visit their website: http://www.pizzaexpress.com/our-food/our-restaurant-menu/glutenfree/

Quinoa Risotto

I love making up a quick risotto on rubbish Autumn evenings and adding any veg I can get my hands on. It’s warming and comforting and takes very little brain power to make- perfect after a long commute in the remains of Hurricane Gonzalez! My only issue last night was the lack of rice in my kitchen cupboard, so instead I grabbed my tub of quinoa and thought ‘what the hell’?

I had quinoa risotto last year after seeing a recipe in a foodie magazine, but last night I couldn’t find the magazine nor remember the recipe. So instead I decided, in my signature dinner fashion, to grab what I could find in the cupboards and fridge and throw it in all a pan in the hope of coming up with something remotely risotto-like. Luckily for me, it worked.

I found that using quinoa left me feeling less bloated and ‘heavy’, despite eating the same sized portion I would with normal risotto. It was quick, easy and gloriously tasty, and now I just cannot wait to experiment with different flavours and vegetable combinations.

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Quinoa Risotto

1/2 tin chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup quinoa

3/4 cup boiling water

1/2 red pepper, chopped

1/2 pepper, chopped

Vegetable stock cube (I use Knorr cubes as these are gluten free)

Handful of pine nuts

Mixed herbs & spices- I used dried mixed herbs, black pepper, crushed chillies and crushed garlic

Rocket to serve

Parmesan to serve

 

1. Add the chopped tomatoes to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the quinoa and water and stir well.

2. Crumble the stock cube into the mixture and stir well. Add your chosen spices and herbs and stir well again. Add the chopped vegetables and continue to simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced.

3. Just before you’re ready to serve, stir in the pine nuts and some cheese (if you wish).

4. Serve with rocket and your preferred cheese.

It’s that simple….Enjoy!

Honest Burgers- New GF Special

I love Honest Burgers, the fantastic London collective of burger joints serving delicious gluten free burgers ( see my previous review here). Their simple menu, simple restaurants,  fantastic service and excellent food make them a firm favourite amongst all Londoner’s,  but they have a special place in the hearts of Coeliacs. The fact they are listening to their customers and have executed a gluten free menu so well are rewarded with their firm following of gluten free fans, from London and afar. I’m no different, excited by having a burger in *an actual bun* with delicious rosemary salted fries and onion rings- yes, you read that right. Gluten free ONION RINGS!
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So when I received an email whilst sunning myself in Ibiza, asking me to attend the launch of their new special burger, it gave me something to look forward to on my return to dreary England. I jumped at the chance and added my name to the guest list.

As with many London gluten free launches, it turned into a little Tweet Up! I was joined by the lovely Florence,  Kim, Kelly, Carly, Sian, David and Alison.  It’s always lovely to see them and impromptu meet ups are even better!
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As soon as I was seated I was kindly offered a beer- this being the gluten free Estrella Daura. Now I have to admit that my taste for beer has diminished since diagnosis, to the point that even if a GF beer is available, I’ll probably choose cider. That being said,  I did enjoy my bottle of Daura and recommend it to any Coeliacs who miss beer! Daura are collaborating with Honest Burgers to ensure Coeliacs can enjoy two of their favourite things together…. beer and a burger!
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We were then presented with a bowl of onion rings and chicken wings to try  I’m in love with their onion rings (previously these were made from red onion, which I actually preferred. The ‘normal’ versions are damn good too though!), it’s so nice to be able to have them and they’re perfectly crispy….to be honest I didn’t want to share! I don’t eat meat on the bone so I wasn’t overly impressed with the wings ( I did try one but barely touched it before I got to the bone…ewww) but I can say they are tender and spicy!

A little while later we were given some information on the special burger and the ingredients and placed our order,  excited to try the combination of flavours. As part of their collaboration with Estrella Daura, a Spanish brand, Honest have created a burger full of Spanish ingredients; beef, crispy lomo ham, GF romesco sauce, tetilla cheese & grilled red peppers. Romesco sauce, as Honest Burgers creator extraordinaire Tom explained, is normally made using breadcrumbs and therefore is unsuitable for Coeliacs, however they’ve spent time crafting a gluten free recipe so that we can all enjoy it too!
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The burger itself was cooked as perfectly as always. Mine was a little more pink than I had asked for but I fully enjoyed it still. One suggestion made by Kim that I completely agree with is that the lettuce shouldn’t be on the bottom because it causes the burger to slip out of the bun. A few of us also struggled to notice the lomo ham, but after having a chat with Tom we agreed it was most likely down to the positioning that perhaps caused it’s lovely taste to be lost. The romesco sauce is gorgeous but definitely makes for messy eating! I think I had most of it dripping down my wrist, so be prepared! All part of the experience though….

The buns they use are by Antoinette Savill, a product that was previously sold in Waitrose stores. I think the buns are great as they don’t crumble to pieces in your hand as you’re eating! The chips, as always taste fantastic, the mix of the salt and rosemary working really well together.

This special burger will be available until 17th October at King’s Cross. If you’re in the vicinity, I highly recommend you pop in and sample one for yourself….don’t forget the beer!

A big thank you to Tom and the team for a fantastic evening and for the offer to sample the burgers.

Quinoa stuffed peppers

Being a wannabe vegetarian (honestly, I’m quite fussy with meat and aside from increasing it in my diet lately due to my fitness training, I usually go for vegetarian options over meat), I’ve always loved stuffed peppers. Whenever my Mum and I have made them at home in the past, Cous Cous or rice have always formed the base of the stuffing, so for a protein-rich and Coeliac friendly option I’ve started to make them with quinoa instead. I actually think I prefer them this way.

 

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Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wa) is an ancient grain that’s naturally gluten free. In recent years, its popularity has increased and it’s the perfect gluten free substite for pasta and Cous Cous. It’s much more nutrient-rich unlike the glutinous counterparts too. Many people struggle to warm to quinoa, but this was never the case for me. Aside from a few cooking issues when I first got hold of some, I’ve never questioned the taste or texture. I far prefer it to the Cous Cous in my pre-Coeliac days and I find it much lighter than rice. It’s a great accompaniment to a hot dish, brilliant in summery salads and even makes a great porridge alternative. I’ve even converted my Mum!

For the stuffed peppers, I used a couple of tablespoons of quinoa mixed with basil pesto, pine nuts, red onion, spinach and cherry tomatoes. Topped with a little cheddar cheese, it’s a great dish to make for just yourself or for a dinner party. We’d run out of salad so I lazily ate these on their own, however they’d be fantastic served on a bed of rocket or spinach.

 

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

(I made just one for myself, I’d suggest doubling the recipe for two people, or just sharing this along with other dishes)

 

1 red pepper, halved from top to bottom

1/4 small red onion, finely chopped

5 cherry tomatoes, halved then halved again

6 spinach leaves, chopped finely

Handful of pine nuts

2 tbsp Sacla Fiery Chilli Pesto

2-3 tbsp cooked quinoa

Small block of cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

 

  1. Heat the oven to 180°C. Place the pepper halves on a baking tray and place to one side.
  2. In a bowl, place the quinoa, red onion, tomatoes and spinach. Mix together well.
  3. Add the pine nuts and pesto and mix well again.
  4. Spoon the mixture into each pepper half, making sure you push it into the corners.
  5. Top with the cheese slices and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the pepper has softened.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

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Sweetcorn Fritters

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Sweetcorn fritters are a childhood favourite of mine…or Sweetcorn Critters as they were called in my kids cookbook. I can clearly remember having friends over and all we would do is make chocolate cornflake cakes (yum), then cook fritters for lunch whilst they chilled. Any time my friends came round they would ask if we could have them for lunch! Years later and about to turn 25, these are still a firm favourite and a comfort food for me. These days, I like to add herbs and spices to them for a bit of flavour, but I still like to keep things simple. After all, you don’t change a good forumla!

These are perfect for kids, great for a savoury breakfast or brunch and also good for a quick lunch at work. Serve on their own topped with grated cheese, with a little yoghurt and parsley (my adult favourite), as an accompaniment to bacon and eggs or with salad…there’s plenty of ways to enjoy them!

Even variations are simple to do! Why not add spring onion or ham? Replace the sweetcorn with courgette or pepper? The variations are fun to play with and don’t make the recipe any more complicated, so you can tailor them to any tastes.

A simple recipe that makes everyone happy!

Sweetcorn Fritters

2 eggs
2tbsp self-raising flour (I use Dove’s Farm)
2tbsp milk (I use St Helen’s Farm Goat’s milk, semi-skimmed)
225g/ 1 can sweetcorn, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry Lite

  1. In a bowl, crack the egg and add the flour and milk. Beat until well combined.
  2. Add the sweetcorn mix well. Add the seasoning and repeat.
  3. Heat a couple of sprays of Fry Lite in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add 2 tablespoons of the fritter mixture to make mini fritters.
  4. Cook for around 3 minutes on a medium heat until brown underneath, then carefully flip and repeat on the other side.
  5. Repeat with the remaining mixture
  6. Serve on a plate with the toppings/accompaniments and enjoy.

 

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Variations I often use:

  • Add a handful of chopped parsley to the mixture at the same time as the seasoning. Then serve topped with yoghurt (Total Greek yoghurt works really well or I’m currently trying Alpro Soya yoghurt) and a couple of parsley leaves.
  • Add some chopped ham to the mixture at the same time as the sweetcorn.
  • Add some finely chopped spring onion to the mixture at the same time as the sweetcorn.
  • Omit the sweetcorn and use courgette instead- grate it then add to the mixture.
  • I often had 1/4 tsp of chilli flakes at the same time as the seasoning
  • For a tomato base, add 1tbsp tomato puree into the mixture and combine well

Serving suggestion for Brunch (or a brunch style dinner)

Make the sweetcorn fritters as per the recipe above, using the first variation with parsley. I like to make these whilst the tomato mixture is simmering, so I can serve them at the same time.

1 rasher bacon
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
1tsp coconut oil (I use LucyBee)
1/2 small red onion, chopped into large chunks
1/4 red pepper, chopped into large chunks
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
Salt, pepper and chopped parsley to taste
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 egg, poached

  1. In a pan, heat the oil and add the garlic. Cook until softened, watching it doesn’t burn, then add the bacon.
  2. Once the bacon has cooked, add the rest of the vegetables and sautee for a few minutes until softened.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes , chilli flakes and seasoning and stir well. Simmer for around 15 minutes until it has reduced down.
  4. Poach the egg in water.
  5. One the sauce has reduced, transfer it to a serving dish and place the egg on top.
  6. Garnish with some parsley leaves and serve with the fritters

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If you have a mini skillet, make the mixture as above but in the skillet rather than a pan. The you can crack the egg on top of the mixture (make sure it’s cooking at a high temperature) and poach the egg that way. Then, you can just serve that straight to the table rather than transferring between dishes.

This mixture was perfect for me for dinner. If making for two I’d suggest doubling it.

GF Tweet Up- Vozar’s Brixton

Now this is a very late post (we visited in February) and I apologise, but I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to share this fantastic restaurant with you, even if it is a bit belated…

Many of you may have seen on Twitter that there’s a group of bloggers who like to meet up occasionally and enjoy a damn good gluten free meal, me included. This year the arrangements fell to me and following some voting from the group, we chose to go to Vozar’s restaurant in Brixton Market, London.

 

Vozar’s is the brainchild of Martin, the executive chef. This is taken from their own website:

‘At Vozars, we started as a pop-up to showcase CELIA Organic lager, a rare product that has been made to taste better thanks to being gluten-free.

In ode to this we serve mouthwatering food that crosses global cuisines but has one thing in common – it is better thanks to being gluten free.  From fresh baked quiches and home-made sandwiches to duck confit and venison burger served in a brioche bun Vozars takes pride in exceeding expectations.

We have one of the best spots in the London food scene, in the heart of the buzzing Brixton Village and are proud to be the first café and restaurant in London that is fully wheat and gluten free.’

 

Martin was a fantastic help, emailing me the menus and coming up with a special offer for our party. When the menu changed and the gluten free scotch eggs were no longer an offering, he kindly agreed to add them to our special menu so that we could still enjoy them- just an example of their fantastic service!

All booked up, 13 of us headed off to Brixton Market on a chilly Saturday night. Brixton Market is undercover with lots of tiny shops and restaurants dotted around inside. We were greeted with a nice cold bottle of Celia Lager– another creation of Martin’s and settled down to chat outside for a bit as we waited for people to arrive We were even greeted individually by Martin himself which was lovely. When we were all ready, we headed inside the tiny restaurant and squeezed around the table- one thing to note is that this restaurant is tiny, so if you head there you’re likely to get a table outside in the undercover market instead.

 

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Once seated, the menu was explained to us by Martin and his lovely waitress (sorry- I’ve completely forgotten your name!), which was helpful as some of the group had multiple intolerances. There were no issues tweaking the menu slightly and everyone was reassured that they could have a tasty safe meal. The menu had so many options that it was incredibly difficult to choose, but it just goes to show that once someone puts their mind to it, fantastic gluten free dishes can be created!

Armed with our (sometimes second) bottles of Celia, we chose our starters and mains and discussed all things gluten free, from diagnosis stories to supermarket horrors, on to product recommendations.  It’s so lovely for our group to get together and to talk about Coeliac things with people who completely understand, people who can share their experiences and offer the advice that you can struggle to get elsewhere. Some of us have met before at previous Tweet Ups and food shows whilst some others never have met in person but have been Twitter friends for a long time. If you were to tell a friend or family member that you’re heading into London to meet a bunch of complete strangers, well most would think you’re mad. But for us, it’s exciting and completely not scary at all. It’s refreshing, fun and most of all tasty!

Our starters arrived and we were all pretty amazed! The scotch eggs were huge and looked delicious, whilst the chicken strips that I had gone for were exactly as I remembered from pre-Coeliac days, in fact they were better. We all ended up sharing and tasting each others dishes which was nice too.

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I honestly could have gone for pretty much all of the starters, as they came out and we ate they all looked and smelt so fantastic! We had our mains still to come though and we were not disappointed! After the advice from the staff that the burgers were ‘special and amazing’ I decided to go for this. It’s so rare for me to actually get a burger with a bun that I was so excited!! It didn’t disappoint….

 

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Everyone was satisfied with their choices too, in fact I don’t think there was a disappointed face to be found! A sample copy of the menu can be found here, although this does change so to avoid disappointment get in touch with the restaurant first!

 

Some of us had room left for dessert, myself one of them. Their Wag Free dessert options are kept in the fridge in the restaurant window so I had been lusting over them since I arrived. They had a selection of individual sponge cakes, pastries and even homemade gluten free Twix and Wagon Wheels! I chose the white chocolate and coconut cake which was to die for. I struggled to finish it after such a  filling meal so I had the remainder wrapped up for me to take home. I also took a Twix home but completely forgot to photograph it. I can assure you that it would be worth the trip to Brixton alone!

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The food throughout the evening was fantastic, such good quality and it’s refreshing to have a whole menu completely gluten free. Not once did we worry about cross contamination, or have to double check that actually, the amazing looking bun is gluten free and they haven’t got ours mixed up with someone elses dish (the bun is from Wag Free if anyone is wondering- they’re now partnered with Vozar’s). We ate, drank, laughed and had a thoroughly enjoyable night. I can’t thank Martin and his team enough for their assistance and attention to detail that made our night wonderful.

If you’re in London make sure you add Vozar’s to your list because you won’t be disappointed! in fact, they often have Pop-Up evenings where they focus on a specific cuisine.  I’ve not managed to get to one yet myself but I’ve heard brilliant things!

 

A big thanks to these lovely people for their company during the Tweet Up!

Ann & Steve of Perk!erTwitter

Carly – Gluten Free B–  Twitter

Flo – Twitter

Alison – Barmy Cakes – Twitter

David – Twitter

Kelly- GF Cake LoverTwitter

Kim – Naturally Gluten Free – Twitter

Sian – Gluten Free Mrs DTwitter

Charlotte – Charlotte’s Cupcake CornerTwitter

Laura – Little Missed GlutenTwitter

Petra – Gluten Free Zones –  Twitter