Gluten-free zucchini brownies

Let me begin by addressing the elephant in the room. It’s been a long time between blog posts. There, I said it. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. It’s just that I have a bun in the oven and it’s not of the gluten-free variety. It’s a bubba that’s due to pop out in early July! That’s right, I’m having a baby! Call it baby brain or put it down to general laziness, I just haven’t been in the head space to blog. But fear not, you can rest assured that Food Crush is alive and kicking. It’s just not kicking as much as this baby who has taken up the pastime of kicking its mumma in the ribs all hours of the day and night. A sign of things to come? I hope not!

With motherhood encroaching at the rate of knots, I’ve well and truly entered the nesting phase. Aside from napping, nappy stacking and becoming an expert on prams, I’ve been baking my little heart out. So predictable, I know. My oven gives birth to a new creation every day in the shape of sour cream cookies, Nigella’s pineapple upside down cake, healthy muesli bars, blueberry muffins, carrot cake and zucchini brownies. I just can’t help myself. This morning, my sugar-laden husband kindly asked that I refrain from putting any sweet treats in today’s lunchbox. I guess he has a point – there’s only so many cakes, biscuits and slices that two people can consume before having to resort to lycra.

beetroot brownies

Gluten-free zucchini brownies ready for the oven.

Speaking of sweet treats, let me tell you about my gluten-free zucchini brownies. When I first heard about zucchini brownies (courgette for my UK readers who I can hear “tut tutting” all the way from Oz), I was reminded of the delectable beetroot brownies that I whipped up last year. Judged on name alone, I can understand why you wouldn’t go near beetroot or zucchini brownies with a 10-foot pole. Let’s face it, they sound revolting. But truth is, the addition of such a water-dense vegetable creates an incredibly moist texture. Just be sure to drain as much water out of them as possible before adding them to the mix or you may end up with soggy brownies.

Gluten-free zucchini brownies

Gluten-free zucchini brownies fresh out of the oven.

If Mr Crush had it his way, the brownies would be devoid of icing, but they looked naked without a glossy top coat so I went forth and smothered them with a shiny frosting. I challenge you to detect the flavour of zucchini as you sink your teeth into these goodies. Just good luck stopping at one – they are truly addictive. I’m yet to decide whether I prefer these bad boys or the Nigella flourless chocolate brownies with hot chocolate sauce that I baked a couple of weeks ago.

Gluten-free zucchini brownies

The inclusion of zucchini creates a lovely, moist texture in these gluten-free brownies.

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How to chop an onion

With only six sleeps ’til Santa slides down our chimneys, I’m guessing you have bigger things on your mind than learning how to chop an onion. But here’s the thing – dicing onions is an unavoidable part of being a Christmas culinary goddess (just think of all that gravy and stuffing). And since I don’t want to see you crying like a baby on Christmas Day, I thought it was only fair that I share my top tips on how to chop an onion without crying (much).

Step three: peel the skin off each onion half.

Say goodbye to onion tears with this easy step-by-step guide.

If there was a fly living on my kitchen wall (which I hope there isn’t), it would be forgiven for thinking that I have a bad case of the blues. You see, I often cry when I cook. It’s not that I’m miserable as a result of the long and dark British winter that I am currently enduring (although, I could be forgiven). And they’re not tears of joy either. They’re onion tears, i.e. tears caused by chopping onions. I’ve tried all sorts of things to get around this – wearing swimming goggles, putting the onions in the freezer before chopping them, chopping under running water, closing my eyes whilst chopping (don’t try this at home). But nothing seems to work and I am continuously left weeping at the kitchen bench with black mascara running down my panda eyes.

On my visit to River Cottage earlier this year, I learnt a trick that put a lid on my onion tears. I learnt how to chop an onion like a pro. This technique won’t stop the waterworks altogether, but it will take the edge off and make you feel like a chef in the kitchen. But if you’re really smart, you might want to ask Santa for an onion chopper from Williams Sonoma which does all the work for you. They even ship to Oz!

How to chop an onion:

Step one: cut off the tip, leaving the root (the hairy bit) intact if you don’t want to cry like a baby.

Step one: remove the tip

Step one: remove the tip

Step two: cut the onion in half through the hairy root.

Step two: cut the onion in half through the root.

Step two: cut the onion in half through the root.

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This Week’s Crush | Beetroot hummus and other yummies

December has arrived which means two things for those of us residing in the UK – it’s now officially freezing and we can start saying, “Merry Christmas” (unless of course you ask my Mum who will tell you that Christmas doesn’t start until after her birthday on 11 December). Don’t worry Mum, the Christmas tree isn’t up just yet. Although, the town Christmas tree was officially lit on Friday night. All the townsfolk huddled together in the main square rubbing their hands together in the freezing cold while singing Christmas carols to a brass band. We then let out a collective gasp as the lights on the gigantic (real) tree were switched on. I’m not why I got a lump in my throat … maybe it was seeing Santa waving at me from the procession making its way up the high street.

The Wirksworth Christmas tree.

The Wirksworth Christmas tree.

And just to prove that it really is freezing, here’s a photo that I took on my walk through the fields the other day of some leaves covered in winter frost. Makes me cold just looking at it!

Winter frost

Hello winter.

All this cold weather and festive spirit has me dreaming of roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and mince pies. But alas, we can’t eat like gluttons all month, so it’s been business as usual in the Food Crush household. Unless you count the gluten-free Christmas cake that we’ve been gobbling up on a daily basis (all in the interests of quality control, of course).

Beetroot and walnut hummus

Beetroot is at its best during spring and summer, so don’t ask what inspired me to buy a bunch of beetroot during my trip to the grocer. Maybe it was its rosy hues and verdant green leaves that led me astray. Similarly to carrots, beetroot is one of those veggies that works a treat in both sweet and savoury concoctions. I will admit to being tempted to whip it into a gluten-free version of Nigel Slater’s beetroot chocolate cake, but given we had four cakes in the house last week, I thought a savoury dish was more in order. With this in mind, my bunch of beetroot gave birth to a blushing bowl of hummus that I adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Every Day. This dip is a refreshing departure from traditional hummus thanks to its shock of pink which you can beautifully offset by adorning the bowl with a sprig or two of basil. Here’s the recipe.

My beetroot and hummus dip makes me blush with pride.

Beetroot and hummus dip makes me blush with pride.

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Return of the gluten-free Christmas cake

Have you ever seen the film High Fidelity? The one where John Cusack reminisces about his top five break-ups of all time? I curled up on the couch the other night with a block of sea salt chocolate and watched it for the second time. All the protagonist’s talk of top fives got me thinking about the concept of, you guessed it,  top fives. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get out the violin and bore you senseless with tales of my top five break-ups. But what I would like to share are my top five cakes of all time. You know how sometimes you eat a slice of cake that tastes so good you could eat it and only it for the rest of your life? That’s the kind of cake that deserves pride of place in a top five cake list. So, here’s my top five cakes of all time – the cakes that stood out over all others, the ones that I’ll never forget, the ones that I dream about, the ones that had me dying for more.

1. Coffee and walnut cake

Gluten-free coffee cake

Not bad for my first attempt!

2. Summer berries cake

Gluten-free summer berries cake

You’ll love the moistness of this cake.

3. Marmalade cake

Gluten-free marmalade cake

The perfect accompaniment to your morning or afternoon coffee.

4. Gluten-free ginger cake

Wheat-free ginger cake

Goes down a treat with a cup of tea.

5. Carrot cake

Gluten-free carrot cake

The grated carrots create a lovely moist texture.

As you can see, there is no mention of Christmas cake on this list. This may seem like a glaring omission given the title of this post is ‘Gluten-free Christmas cake’. Indeed, if I was to extend this list to include my top 10 cakes of all time, fruit cake would still be nowhere to be seen. It’s not that I hate fruit cake, but I just don’t love it like some people do (Dad and Paul, I’m looking at you), and if you gave me the choice between a cheese plate and a slice of fruit cake, I would choose the cheese plate every time. This is pretty big coming from a cake fiend, but there’s something about fruit cake that just doesn’t do it for me. Until now, that is.

Making your cake a month before Christmas gives the flavour plenty of time to develop.

Making your cake a month before Christmas gives the flavour plenty of time to develop.

This year’s cake is my second attempt at baking a gluten-free Christmas cake. You may remember last year’s attempt which resulted in a gorgeous-looking albeit crumbly cake. To avoid another disappointment, I got quite experimental with this year’s recipe in the hope of perfecting the finished product. Using the Christmas cake guru, Marguerite Paton’s recipe as a guide, I played around with the ingredients until I felt they were just right. My main adaptations were adding extra cinnamon, throwing in some vanilla essence, changing around most of the measurements, omitting the mixed peel (Paul hates it) and using gluten-free flour in place of regular plain flour (you can use store-bought gluten-free flour if you don’t fancy making your own mix from scratch).

You would never know this cake is gluten-free.

You would never know this cake is gluten-free.

The result? Well, if this cake was on an episode of The Great British Bake Off, I think the judges would say, “Great bake”. It’s the perfect cake – lovely texture (not crumbly), gorgeous flavour and good looks to boot. I dare say it’s so good that it may earn itself pride of place on my next top five cake list. Paul said it’s lighter in colour than a traditional Christmas cakes and I put that down to the addition of light brown sugar. If you’d prefer a darker coloured cake, just use dark brown sugar instead of a mix of dark and light. And in the words of the Christmas cake guru Marguerite Paton, you can make this cake a month or two before Christmas, but it is still delicious if made three weeks beforehand.

Making your cake a month before Christmas gives the flavour plenty of time to develop.

The best part is pricking the baked cake with a skewer and pouring capfuls of brandy into it.

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This Week’s Crush | Slut’s spaghetti & other yummies

Slut’s spaghetti

There’s not many dishes that Mr Crush turns his nose up at, but pasta is one dish that doesn’t tug at his heartstrings. Another is my achingly good, slow-cooked beef casserole, but let’s not go there. The point is we don’t cook much pasta in the Food Crush household. The problem with this scenario is that I like pasta (gluten-free, of course) and I wouldn’t mind the occasional bowl of comforting carbs swimming in a luxurious sauce. So, to help turn around Mr C’s pasta aversion, I’ve been trying my hand at a handful of pasta dishes of late. None of them have converted him into a pasta fiend mind you, but this Slut’s spaghetti by the gorgeous Nigella Lawson certainly had him asking for seconds. A good sign if ever there was one. Also known as ‘whore’s  pasta’, what I love about this dish is it mainly contains pantry ingredients – perfect for nights when your fridge is running on empty. Nigella claims that even anchovy haters (like me) will like this dish and I have to say that she is 100% correct.

Nigella's devilishly good slut's spaghetti.

Nigella’s devilishly good slut’s spaghetti.

Cherry tomatoes

I’ve eaten a few tomatoes in my time, and sadly, most of them were forgettable. But occasionally in life you sink your teeth into a plump, sweet and juicy tomato that tastes so good you could cry. This is what happened to me when I ate these cherry tomatoes that my friend, Jo, bought for me from a grocer in Derby. They tasted so good, I found it hard to believe that they weren’t laced with MSG, sugar and maybe a touch of tomato enhancer. I vow to never eat a tasteless tomato again. Woolies and Coles, I’m looking at you.

The best cherry tomatoes I've ever eaten.

The best cherry tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.

Hungarian goulash

I’m not sure what inspired us to make Hungarian goulash. It’s not the kind of dish that usually enters our cooking radar, but alas, this big pot of Eastern European comfort food made its way onto our menu this week. It’s like a casserole of sorts, but with a big dash of sour cream and a couple of capsicums (peppers) in the place of ingredients like leek, carrots and celery. Paul and I both liked it (even though he did admit it was a bit too “casseroley” for his tastes), but we agreed it needed a touch more paprika as it didn’t pack as much punch as we would have liked. One of my favourite food bloggers, John from He Needs Food, recommends serving goulash with Croatian or Hungarian bread dumplings like the ones his mum makes. I will endeavour to find a gluten-free dumpling version for next time this dish graces our dinner table.

If you want to take this dish to the next level, you could serve it with gluten-free dumplings.

If you want to take this dish to the next level, you could serve it with gluten-free dumplings.

Tomato and avocado salsa

Gorgeous green Queensland avocados are one of the things I miss about Australia. In particular, I miss mashing them up into the best guacamole on the planet. Here in the UK, ripe and fleshy avocado seem to elude me as much as balmy weather. Not that I’m complaining as the Brits have their fair share of exotic fare like gooseberries and sloe berries that we can’t get our hands on Down Under. Anyway, you can imagine my delight at finding a good avocado this week. Not a showstopper by any means, but good enough to dice up and transform into a nice salsa with some vine-ripened tomatoes, coriander, olive oil and generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Heaven on earth, I tell you.

A simple and tasty tomato and avocado salsa.

A simple and tasty tomato and avocado salsa.

Jamie Oliver’s perfect roast chicken

The ultimate antidote to cold weather is a roast dinner, preferably one involving chicken. So with the thermometer lurking scarily towards zero on Sunday afternoon, we decided to cook Jamie Oliver’s perfect roast chicken. We bought a free-range chicken from our amazing local butcher, A Pig’s Tale. This is about as close to the source as you can get as the butcher is based on the farm where the produce is farmed. The only downside of this shopping experience is getting eye contact with a cow whilst exiting the butcher with a big bag of beef thrown over your shoulder. But alas, the beauty of this recipe lies in the lemon which you prick with a fork and stuff inside the cavity of the chook. We poured extra lemon juice all over the chicken for extra zing. My only criticism of Jamie’s recipe was his suggestion of roasting the chicken on top of the veggies. We found this resulted in unevenly cooked veggies – some were charred while others, like the carrots, needed a tad more cooking. Next time we’ll roast the veggies in a separate tray.

Jamie Oliver's perfect roast chicken.

Jamie Oliver’s perfect roast chicken.

St Clement’s cake

The problem with Cakes: River Cottage Handbook No.8 is it’s too damn delicious, so deciding on a cake to bake can be challenging. I’ve baked a few of its cakes now and I’m yet to bake a bad one. I’m not sure what drew me to the St Clement’s cake on page 151. Maybe it was the fact that I had all the ingredients in the house. You’re unlikely to find an easier cake to bake than this one. It reminded me of a lemon drizzle cake, but with orange instead of lemon and a good dose of desiccated coconut thrown in for texture. What’s more, this cake is gluten-free and only uses one type of flour – rice flour. So it’s a piece of cake for anyone who can’t get their hands on a good gluten-free flour or who isn’t inclined to make up their own blend.

St Clement's cake is kind of like a lemon drizzle cake, but with orange instead of lemon.

St Clement’s cake is kind of like a lemon drizzle cake, but with orange instead of lemon.

When a cake mix tastes as good as this, you simply must lick the bowl.

When a cake mix tastes as good as this, you simply must lick the bowl.

Gluten-free Christmas cake

And last but by no means least, is this year’s gluten-free Christmas cake. This is my third year in a row of baking a Christmas cake, so the tradition has well and truly been set in stone. Last year’s cake tasted good, but let us down in the texture department (too crumbly). I’m hoping this year’s version is a winner. We are planning to cut it this weekend, so stay tuned for the verdict. If it’s any good, I might just share my special recipe with you in time for Christmas.

Decorating my gluten-free Christmas cake with brazil nuts, glacé cherries and apricots.

Decorating my gluten-free Christmas cake with brazil nuts, glacé cherries and dried apricots.

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