Monthly Archives: December 2015

Easy peasy Boxing Day hollandaise


One of the nicest things about this time of year is that everything stops. Suddenly, there is time to do things like squander a whole morning looking through old photos in your pyjamas, or embark on a spontaneous decluttering toy-culling frenzy to make room for the new. And, of course, there is time to cook!

The other day we went on a blustery Boxing Day walk at what felt like the crack of dawn but was really 10am and, after a couple of hours out and about, felt therefore perfectly justified in heading home for a late morning sherry (Tom, not me – I can’t drink fortified things, more is the pity) and a very leisurely and decadent breakfast of eggs royale (without the muffin, obv).

This was the first time I’ve felt brave enough to depart from my known breakfast repertoire in order to try the extremely easy-peasy (but nerve-wracking just by virtue of being new) version of hollandaise sauce that I learned during my week at Leiths. I have made hollandaise before, but it’s one of those fearful sauces that has the potential to split. And a split sauce means not only a waste of both butter and time but, more than that, the colossal disappointment of having to be hollandaise-less.

This version, though, is  more like making mayonnaise, which I do all the time and therefore feel fearless about.  I’m sure there are some people out there who thing that if you are not fiddling around with a bain-marie, constant whisking and extreme red-faced tension, then it’s not proper. But, frankly, if they do it at Leiths, then it’s proper enough for me. More importantly though it’s completely darned delicious! Plus I can’t tell you how do-able it felt (don’t be spooked by the reduction, which is the work of moments). In fact my main fear about this is that it’s *so* easy to make, we are going to start making it at the drop of a hat, willy nilly, and then buttery ruin will ensue as none of our trousers will fit any more. Oh dear.  


Makes 250-300ml

For the reduction

50ml white wine vinegar

50 ml water

6 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 mace blade

For the sauce

150 g unsalted butter

3 egg yolks

Few drops lemon juice, to taste

salt and white ground pepper

Since this was a spontaneous affair, I had to forgo the mace for the reduction, as we didn’t have any. And although I’m sure mace adds to the flavour, I didn’t rue the lack of it.

Make the reduction by putting ingredients into a small pan and bringing it to a simmer until the liquid has reduced by at least two thirds. Keep an eye out as this happens quite quickly. Leave to cool.

Then place your egg yolk, 2 tsp of reduction and pinch of salt into your blender. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Once it is starting to separate and is bubbling, pour a little into the blender with the motor running. Add a little more and the emulsion should be created. Continue to add the butter, very slowly, in a thin stream until all but the milk solids are added. Avoid adding the solids as they can thin the sauce. Taste and season with more reduction, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, poach a couple of eggs (or get a willing assistant to, as timing is of the essence with this dish) and place lovingly onto some smoked salmon, although ham works too.

Eat immediately!

Excellent breakfasting solution


Blimey, times have really changed in the seven years or so since I have started following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Back then, even being coeliac was considered a bit niche, so when I described the regime I was following to people they’d often just look at me, agog, at all the things I avoid eating (rightly so, quite frankly).

These days, though, ‘free from’ goodies are positively mainstream and I only have to say the words ‘restricted diet’ to a waiter for them to send the chef over to talk through exactly what I can and can’t eat and . So really it’s never been a better time to be in the special needs food camp in terms of tolerance and understanding from the wider world. But I still don’t know anyone else at all following the SCD, which is partly why I wrote this piece for the Telegraph last week about it:

So if you are reading this and also following the SCD I would really love to hear from you about your experiences on the diet. If you are a new subscriber: welcome! And I would  love to hear from you too. Are you following the SCD? Or are you cutting down on certain foods for another reason? Or maybe you are doing something else altogether, but I’d love to know more about your experiences with cooking and eating, so please do get in touch.

I also thought this would be a good moment to tell you about a really important part of the SCD, and that is homemade yoghurt, which I wrote about recently on my guest blog at woman&home

When most of the significant carbohydrates were taken away from my life, I faced many challenges, but by far the biggest was breakfast! Seriously, have you ever tried eating breakfast without carbs?

For ages, my rather unsustainable solution was just to avoid breakfast altogether. Then, at the weekends when I had more time, I remembered the joy of omelettes; the best protein fix ever. And, perhaps most joyously of all, I learned how to make gorgeously puffy pancakes using almond flour, served with warm cinnamon honey instead of maple syrup.

And because – honestly – I couldn’t be fagged, I just ignored the fact that a big part of the SCD is homemade yoghurt. If you make this correctly (according to the SCD recipe) over 24 hours, the yoghurt has a concentration of 3 billion cfu/ml. So just 250 ml of yoghurt contains more than 700 billion beneficial bacteria. To put that into context, that’s about 50 times more than that a typical 15 billion capsule. So eating this yoghurt every day really helps to correct the balance of bacteria types in the gut by eliminating the food supply of the undesirable bacteria and repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria. Obviously, I am following this diet to cure colitis – but I think everybody could do with a blast of beneficial bacteria, couldn’t they? It’s also cheaper than buying probiotics, and curiously satisfying to grow your own breakfast.

And actually, if you have a yoghurt maker, the basic process is very simple. I started off using a yoghurt maker from Lakeland but the problem with that is that there is no temperature control. As this is a precision process, and a really important part of my diet, I wanted to be sure I was getting it right. So I ended up getting this TANIKA one from Japan  because it has a digital temperature control. It’s not cheap, but since I eat yoghurt every day, I broke the overall price into price-per-bowl and decided I could justify it.

Then once I’d mastered the yoghurt, I started toasting my own granola (without any grains, obviously). So breakfast is now a bowl of yoghurt, my amazing nutty granola, raisins and blue/other berries/banana/apple with a squirt of honey. Which is not too shabby at all considering I used to have nothing at all for breakfast. I’ve gone from breakfast rags to breakfast riches, in fact.

DIY grain-free granola

 You need a couple of handfuls each of the following:

Almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans

Sesame, sunflower pumpkin and poppy seeds.

Roughly chop the nuts then put them plus the seeds into a large frying pan and dry fry on a medium heat, tossing every so often, until they are deliciously toasted, which takes 5-10 minutes. Once cooled, add some raisins. This will keep in a sealed box for up to two weeks – if it lasts that long, that is.

Beneficial bacteria blast yoghurt

You need:

Enough milk to fill your yoghurt maker. I use full fat organic milk, but you can use semi-skimmed too.

Some commercial yoghurt to use as a ‘starter’. I use Woodland yogurt as per the SCD yoghurt instructions, which recommend only starter cultures with lactobacillus bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, and S. thermophilus.

First, heat the milk to boiling point then simmer for two minutes to kill the existing bacteria, stirring all the time to avoid burning. Sterilise your yoghurt maker container, sieve and spoon by pouring boiled water on it. After two minutes, cover the pan to prevent airborne bacteria and dust contamination and cool the milk to below 110F (body temperature). You can speed this up by standing the pan in cold water in the sink.

When it’s cooled, mix ¼ cup of your starter yoghurt with half a cup of cooled milk and mix into a smooth paste. Then add the rest of the milk, put the lid on and switch your yoghurt maker on. The Yoghurt maker needs to be 100 to 110F and you need to leave it for 24 hours so the starter culture multiplies and consumes the milk to produce your good bacteria packed yoghurt. After 24 hours, put it in the fridge where the bacteria will remain active for two weeks.

And if that has piqued your curiosity, you can read more about SCD yoghurt here 




How to make a ‘ta-da’ meal (that is undercover special needs)

Beetroot-starter Chorizo-stew

When I first started my unfeasibly-restrictive-diet I not only stopped eating out in restaurants and accepting invitations, but I assumed that it was curtains for my days as a hostess. I really love nothing more than cooking a huge meal for my friends and family – but how could I inflict my diet upon them?

As luck would have it, that turned out to be just the panic talking and, if anything, I have become even more of a dedicated and enthusiastic cook for other people since starting this diet. I just love the uniting effect that delicious food can have on people, and conversation. And what I have found is that although my diet is restrictive, I can make huge feasts and serve them to people who have absolutely no idea that I’m cooking around restrictions.

However, there is nothing worse than turning up for supper to a hostess who is red-faced, furious and stressed out; unable to properly talk or even offer you a drink, dammit, because she is either trying out a new recipe that’s going wrong, or because the timing of the meal is so precise and complicated that there is room in her brain for nothing else. Not even a little martini.

So please note: by ‘ta-da’ I do NOT mean complex or complicated, with a capucino froth wrapped in a sugar basket.

What I mean is a meal that is delicious, a bit decadent, makes people feel looked after and – crucially – doesn’t taste compromised. But also which can be made with minimal fuss and bother, ideally in advance, so you can get on with the important business of martini-making and putting the world to rights with your friends.

I have fed this chorizo stew to many many people over the years and I honestly don’t think anyone has noticed that it’s grain-free, sugar-free and, now I come to think of it, dairy-free too.

A quick note on ingredients: When I’m buying the chorizo, I scrutinise the label to make sure it hasn’t got dextrose or sugar in (lots do). Ideally, it should just have pork, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Also, I can’t emphasise enough how worth it it is to splash a bit of cash on the jars of posh beans (which are only £3.50 but that seems a lot compared to 50p for a tin). I like Navaricco, which you can find in the big branches of M&S and some delis but be warned: once you have tried them there is no going back. When I go to a shop that sells them I automatically buy as many as I can carry, because running out is just WOEFUL when you are grain-free, because these beans are so good at taking your mind off the fact that you are.

Beets with rocket pesto

Serves 6

Beets – I allow about 2 small beets per person for a starter

Red wine vinegar for cooking

2 bags rocket leaves

200 g walnuts roughly chopped

150 g parmesan (grated or chopped into small chunks)

1 large clove of garlic, chopped

extra virgin oil

salt and pepper

Boil the beets in water with a splash of red wine vinegar until they are tender (which depends on the size). Drain and cool and then peel and chop them into quarters.

Put the rocket, walnuts, parmesan with a good pinch of salt and grind of pepper and blitz it in your food processor, adding olive oil until it’s the consistency of pesto. Dress your beets with as much pesto as people like and hey PESTO! (sorry).

Chorizo, red pepper and posh bean stew

Serves 6 

2 medium onions, chopped

2 chorizo sausages (uncooked)

5 red/yellow/orange peppers

2 tins tomatoes

1 jar posh haricot beans (though any white bean will do).

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

salt and pepper

This stew is so easy to cook it’s almost embarrassing.

Fry the onions until they are soft. While you are doing that, chop the peppers into thinnish slices then cut them in half. Then cut the chorizo into thick slices. I then cut the slices in half because it’s easier to eat – but I’ll leave that to your discretion. Also, drain and rinse the beans.

When the onion is cooked, add the chorizo and let it cook for a bit before adding the peppers, stirring every so often. After about five minutes add the beans and, a few minutes later, the tomatoes, garlic and smoked paprika. Definitely taste before you salt as chorizo is often quite salty. Then cook slowly on a low heat for about an hour before eating. I served it with purple sprouting broccoli and I didn’t even spare a thought for the patatas bravas that might have gone with it if I could eat potatoes.