Thursday 20 December 2012

Fruity Chocolate Florentines

After a break from posting recipes,   I'm back with a little treat for you just in time for Christmas.   These fruity chocolate florentines are amazingly quick and easy to make and are particularly good served chilled from the fridge - or even straight out of the freezer!  

Florentines are traditionally full of sugar and cream so, in my recipe, I've reduced the sugar, cut out all the dairy products and added maple syrup, dairy-free dark chocolate and plenty of naturally sweet fruits and nuts.   As it's Christmas, I've added dried cranberries and some naturally red glace cherries but you can use any combination you like!

Ingredients          Makes about 15

55g dairy free margarine
27g light brown muscovado sugar
1 tbsp natural maple syrup
140g mixed dried fruits, cranberries, glace cherries, mixed peel
40g mixed nuts e.g. almonds, brazil nuts, pecan
25g plain white flour
100g dairy free dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3

Prepare two baking trays by greasing with a little margarine or use non-stick baking liners. 

Start by placing the margarine, sugar and maple syrup in a saucepan and melting them over a low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.   Remove the pan from the heat. 

Roughly chop the dried fruit and nuts, then add them to the pan with the flour.  Stir well.  

Drop small spoonfuls of the florentine mixture onto the baking sheets allowing plenty of space between them.  They do spread out during baking so, if you don't leave enough room, you'll have one very large florentine instead of about 15 smaller ones!  

Place in the oven and bake for about 10 - 12 minutes until they are golden brown.

Leave for about 3 minutes to harden slightly before loosening carefully with a knife or spatula. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  

If your florentines have merged together whilst baking, they can still be rescued!  As soon as you take them out of the oven, separate them carefully with a knife or scissors and ease them into a circular shape. 

Break up the chocolate into pieces and place in a small bowl.  Microwave until completely melted, stirring frequently to avoid overcooking.
(Alternatively, place the bowl over a small pan filled with a couple of inches of just boiled water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn't touch the water) 

When the chocolate is glossy and smooth, spread a thin layer over the back (i.e. flat side) of each florentine, using a knife or pastry brush.  If you like, you can make a zigzag pattern using a fork whilst the chocolate is setting.

  Have  a wonderful festive season and see you in the New Year!

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Herb Pancakes with Spinach & Tomato Filling


Now is usually the time of year when everything in my vegetable plot looks at it's best but not this year!  Sweetcorn plants are at least two months behind and unlikely to form cobs by the autumn. Even rocket which usually grows like a weed has been struggling to survive the cool, damp, cloudy days which have plagued us this year. 

As well as potatoes which have loved all the rain,  climbing french beans are thriving in the greenhouse.  But, as usual, one of the most reliable crops outside is swiss chard and it shows little sign of slowing down.

This has always been one of my favourite recipes to use up a glut of chard and spinach works just as well.  The pancakes are free from eggs and dairy and contain ground fenugreek and fresh basil but you can use any herbs you like.  Do give fenugreek a try though. It really adds something special to this dish.

For the pancakes
110g plain flour
25g semolina
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
300 ml unsweetened soya milk
1 tbsp sunflower oil (+ extra for frying)
small bunch chopped basil leaves

For the filling

250 - 300g chard or spinach 
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 pieces drained sun-dried tomatoes (optional)


First, make the pancake batter by placing the flour, semolina, baking powder, fenugreek and some salt and pepper in a bowl.

Whisk in the milk a little at a time until you have a smooth batter, then add the chopped basil and sunflower oil.

Transfer the pancake batter to a jug and leave in the fridge to rest while you make the filling.

Wash the chard or spinach, removing any thick stalks from the chard leaves. Lift the wet leaves into a large pan, add some salt and place over a medium heat. There's no need to add any extra water.

As the chard/spinach start to wilt and soften, use a pair of kitchen scissors to chop up and stir the leaves round so they cook evenly. 

Spinach only takes two or three minutes to cook whilst chard takes a little longer.

Drain through a metal sieve over the sink and press out any excess liquid using the back of a tablespoon.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion and saute in a little olive oil in a wide based pan for about 3 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a few more minutes until cooked but not brown.

Stir in the tinned tomatoes and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Chop up the sun-dried tomatoes, if using, and stir in.  Then add the cooked spinach/chard and season to taste.

When you're ready, make the pancakes.  Give the pancake mix a stir, then heat a little sunflower oil or trex in a pancake pan or shallow non-stick frying pan.

When the pan is really hot, pour in about a quarter of the pancake mixture and immediately tip the pan from side to side until the mixture thinly coats the surface.

Cook on both sides until golden brown. 

Turn out on to a warm plate and top with a generous spoonful of the spinach and tomato filling.

Roll it up and serve straightaway.
It makes a great lunch dish on it's own or serve with vegetables for dinner.

Friday 8 June 2012

Pears with Elderflower

This is such a simple dessert. It's light and refreshing and the delicate flavour of elderflower is the ideal accompaniment to poached pears.
Of course, you can always add some extras like the dairyfree macaroons I posted last month and a dollop of soya yogurt, cream or non dairy icecream!

If you haven't tried it before, elderflower cordial makes a lovely drink mixed with sparkling or still water.   


4 firm (not over ripe) pears
3 tbsp elderflower cordial
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp golden castor sugar
500ml cold water


Pour the water into a pan and add the elderflower cordial, lemon juice and sugar.  Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Slowly bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced a little.

Meanwhile, carefully peel the pears and, leaving the stalk intact, cut in half.  Scoop out the core with a teaspoon.  

Place the pear halves in the hot liquid and simmer uncovered for about ten minutes until cooked.

Transfer the pears to a serving dish together with the poaching liquid and leave to cool. 

     Chill in the fridge and serve cold.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Dairy Free Macaroons

You don't normally associate the words "low in sugar" and "free from eggs and dairy" with sugary macaroons.  However, these light, crispy biscuits contain no egg white or fat and the quantity of sugar is less than half what you would normally expect to find in a macaroon. They are also incredibly quick and easy to make and look so dainty!

If you can, look out for natural almond extract rather than almond essence which may contain artificial flavours.

The first time I made them, the biscuits stuck like glue to the greased baking tray when baked and I ended up with a pile of crumbs. Maybe it's because there is no fat in the recipe.  To make life easier,  I now line the tray with a teflon non-stick baking liner and they slip off every time!

Ingredients                                        Makes 12 biscuits

50g ground almonds
50g semolina
50g golden castor sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp natural almond extract
5 tbsp cold water
12 flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3.

Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking liner.

In a bowl, mix the ground almonds with the semolina, golden castor sugar and baking powder.

Measure the water into a small jug or cup and add the almond extract.  Pour into the dry ingredients and stir well.

Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on to the prepared baking tray, spacing them well apart.   Flatten each spoonful into a circular shape, using a fork.

Place a flaked almond in the centre of each one.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack, then store in an airtight container.

The macaroons are lovely served with poached pears or plums for a simple dessert.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Fish Goulash


This is a simple dish but definitely one of my favourites.  It's lovely at any time but ideal when you have friends or family coming round and want to rustle up something at short notice.   I usually have peppers and onions in the fridge and some fresh or tinned tomatoes at the ready.  Even though it's probably nicer made with fresh chunky cod fillets, you can use any white fish, fresh or frozen.  I used some inexpensive frozen basa fillets for the first time today which were fine.  Just make sure you thaw out the fish before using.

You can use fresh or tinned tomatoes or a combination of both.    The onions, peppers and tomatoes are cooked in a large wide based pan, then the fish is added to the pan towards the end of the cooking time.  So it's handy to make the first part in advance, then add the fish when your friends arrive.

The natural yogurt is optional but it does make it nice and creamy!

Ingredients                                                                         Serves 2 - 3

About 300g white fish fillets
2 small onions
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 clove garlic
about 300g tomatoes, skinned
(or equivalent tinned tomatoes)
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp olive oil

fresh basil leaves (optional)
1 tbsp natural soya yogurt


Skin the tomatoes by placing in a bowl and covering with boiling water. Leave for about a minute, then remove with a fork, and when cool enough to handle, peel away the skins.

Peel and slice the onions thinly and crush the garlic.   Heat the olive oil in a large wide-based pan.  I use a non-stick saute pan with a glass lid.  

Add the onions and garlic, cover with the lid, and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Slice the peppers into long strips and add to the pan.

Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften.  Add a teaspoon of paprika and stir for a few moments before adding the tomatoes and some freshly ground salt and pepper.   

Simmer uncovered over a low heat for about 20 minutes until the mixture has reduced and thickened.

Cut the fish into generous chunks and stir into the goulash.

Simmer for a further 10 to 15 minutes over a gentle heat until the fish is cooked.  Stir in a spoonful of natural yogurt and some chopped basil leaves.

Serve with rice and a green salad or vegetable.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Healthy Vegan Cupcakes

These little cupcakes are full of good things, including fresh and dried fruit and even a vegetable too!  The surprise ingredient is pumpkin, handy when they are in the shops at Halloween, but at any other time butternut squash is fine too.

Keeping sugar to a minimum, there's no sweet icing on these fruit cupcakes but I'm sure you won't miss it as they're already scrumptious and much healthier too!

Ingredients                            Makes 12 cupcakes

Zest and juice of an orange
100ml sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g light brown muscovado sugar
200g peeled pumpkin or butternut squash
100g sultanas
200g self-raising flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 level tsp cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4.    Place 12 paper cupcake cases in a muffin tray.

Finely grate the zest of an orange.

Coarsely grate the peeled pumpkin or butternut squash.

Pour the sunflower oil into a large bowl and add the grated zest and juice of an orange, the vanilla extract and the sugar.  Whisk the ingredients together and then add the grated pumpkin.

Mix in the other ingredients - the sultanas, flour, bicarbonate of soda and the cinnamon.

The mixture should be moist but not wet.  If it seems too dry, just add a little cold water.
Spoon equal quantities of the mixture into the paper cases.   Give the tin a few light taps to settle the cake mixture. 

Bake for 25 minutes until the cupcakes are golden and feel springy in the centre. 

 Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.   Eat fresh or freeze for later.