I blog information, news and recipes about gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, alcohol-free and vegan cooking. Right now I've been working on an exciting project where I avoid refined sugar and create recipes using a range of healthier alternatives.

Happy cooking!

ps. ask all guests if they have an allergy (because the recipes use some unusual combinations and they may not expect to find citrus and soya in the chocolate cake, for example).
pps.if you are cooking for someone with an allergy, please read my allergy page first.

Mincemeat marzipans

Mincemeat is the basis of this recipe, which is a pleasingly Christmassy take on plain marzipan (and of course doesn’t contain egg white, making this a great way to get a vegan marzipan). And then I got all excited and couldn't resist making the cute little ball shapes into mini Christmas puddings using water icing, but if you don't want a chocolate coating then you could try dusting them in cocoa powder instead.

Makes about 15

2 tbsp vegan mincemeat
75g ground almonds
100g dairy-free dark chocolate
Icing sugar
Vegan food colourings

Mix the mincemeat with the ground almonds and then leave overnight (or even better, a couple of nights) for the flavours to develop and the almonds to soften.
Roll the marzipan into small balls, about the size of a marble. Melt the chocolate and then, using a couple of forks, carefully place each ball into the chocolate and roll them around to get well coated. Let them harden on a piece of greaseproof paper.
The decorations were made by adding water to 50g of icing sugar until it formed a paste. Split the paste into two bowls and colour one red, the other green. Pipe the holly shapes on the tops of the chocolates and leave to dry.

Broccoli bake

This makes a good side dish to something more substantial, or as a starter.

Serves 3–4

300g broccoli
250ml passata

Bechamel sauce:
 200ml unsweetened soya milk
100ml water
1 small onion
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp nutmeg, grated
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
2tsp vegetable oil
2tsp cornflour

Put the oven on at 160C. Slice the onion finely, then add it and the soya milk, water, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg, salt and pepper to a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat and allow to sit for 20 minutes before straining off all the herbs and spices. Measure the remaining sauce in measuring jug and, if it’s less than 200ml, add water.
In another saucepan, put the oil and the cornflour. Stir together, then slowly add the flavoured soya milk, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil (keep stirring!) and you will see it gently thicken.
Cut the broccoli up into bits and steam or boil. Drain, and then place all the pieces in the bottom of a smallish heatproof dish. Pour the passata over, followed by the Bechamel sauce. Place in the oven for half an hour until just beginning to brown.

Bechamel white sauce

A good white sauce is great base for many other things, so here is the version I have concocted for our vegan, wheat-free, gluten-free and milk-free world. The herbs etc. might seem superfluous in a white sauce, but in the absence of cheese, it is good to get some kind of flavour going on.

200ml unsweetened soya milk
100ml water
1 small onion
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp nutmeg, grated
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
2tsp vegetable oil
2tsp cornflour

Slice the onion finely, then add it and the soya milk, water, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg, salt and pepper to a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat and allow to sit for 20 minutes before straining off all the herbs and spices. Measure the remaining sauce in measuring jug and, if it’s less than 200ml, add water.
In another saucepan, put the oil and the cornflour. Stir together, then slowly add the flavoured soya milk, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil (keep stirring!) and you will see it gently thicken. Take off the heat.
This sauce tastes great poured over cooked leeks or used in one of my recipes (eg. Broccoli bake).

Harvest cake bars

If you have your own apples and cob nuts, then this cake recipe makes a particularly satisfying way of using them and creates a perfect elevenses snack - and of course it's egg-free, dairy-free and gluten-free and vegan!

Makes about 10

1 banana
1 grated apple
75g soft dried apricots
75g rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
25g soft brown sugar
25g unsweetened desiccated coconut
1tbsp dairy-free margarine (eg Pure)
50g sunflower seeds
2tbsp cob nuts or hazelnuts

Oven at 160C. Mash the banana very well in a large bowl. Next, grate the apple and chop up the apricots and add those too. Add the rice flour, baking powder, brown sugar, desiccated coconut and margarine. Grind the cobnuts/hazelnuts and sunflower seeds in coffee grinder or food processor for a minute or so – you want most of the nuts and seeds to turn to powder, but with a few chunkier bits remaining for texture. Add to the banana mix.
Mix well together and pop the lot into a large loaf tin, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 30 minutes until cooked through. Allow to cool in the tin before cutting into slices. Will keep for up to three days in an airtight tin.

Danish cucumber salad

If you, like me, generally find cucumbers to be a bit pointless - just water with a skin - then this recipe will make you think again! It's dead simple and incredibly tasty, and of course vegan and wheat-free. Even better, it can be made the day before you need it (and in fact it's better if you do).

Serves 4

Half a cucumber
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp sugar

Slice the cucumber as thin as you possibly can - obviously you can do this with a knife, but you can also use the slicing bit of a box grater or even a mandolin if you have one. In a cup mix the boiling water and sugar together and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon juice, stir again and then pour over the cucumber slices. This can be eaten straightaway, but marinading it overnight is also a great idea.

Perfect rice

There's nothing worse than soggy rice, but getting it your rice spot on is easier than you might think! All you need is twice the amount of water as you have rice, a saucepan with a lid, and away you go!

Serves 4 (generously)

2 mugs of rice
6 mugs boiling water

Measure the rice into your pan and then wash by filling the pan with water, swooshing it all about and then straining the water out. Add the mugfuls of boiling water and a lid. Put the pan on a high heat, but monitor it - when the water begins bubbling, turn the heat right down to, say, level 2. Leave it cooking for about 12-15 minutes (depending on the type of rice) - you know it's done when all the liquid has been absorbed. See, I told you it was easy!

Gingerbread men

Who knows why the concept of a small man-shaped biscuit is so appealing? But it is! Here's my gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and vegan gingerbread man. What could be nicer? And kids love them...

Makes about 20

75g buckwheat flour
50g cornflour
50g non-dairy margarine (eg Pure)
25g caster sugar
50g Demerara sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbsp water

Oven at 150C. Mix all the ingredients (except the water) together in a food processor or by chopping at it finely with a knife until you get what looks like crumbs. Add the water and knead together by hand to form a dough. You may need a tiny bit more water or a little more cornflour to get the right consistency, which should be soft but not sticky.
Roll out to 3mm (use cornflour to stop the dough sticking) and then cut into your men or whatever other shape you fancy. If you’re using currants to decorate, push them in now (though at the risk of them burning - you can also glue them on with icing after the biscuits have cooked). Place on an oiled baking tray and bake for 20–25 minutes until golden. Let them cool a little before attempting removal from the tray and, once, cool, ice with a thick icing sugar and water mix.

The wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free vegan barbecue

Summer is here! I thought it would be great to offer a selection of yummy barbecue options so there is something for everyone at your meatless, wheatless outdoor meal. The focus of my spread is my garlic mushrooms, but added to that is the mandarin and thyme rice salad, the American bean salad, some asparagus and sweetcorn, and some spicy sweet potato wedges (recipe to come). Finish off with the hot toffee banana parcels and I guarantee a lot of happy guests as far as the food is concerned (though I can't do anything about poor weather...sorry!)  

The best garlic mushrooms

Ah, the garlic mushroom... is there anything nicer? These ones here are incredibly moreish and because they are so large, they also make the perfect focus of a meal or barbecue, in the place of meat. You can cook them either on the barbecue or on a grill – just remember to make enough (two should be enough, but my friends gobbled three each, no probs).

Serves 4

8 large flat mushrooms
8 cloves of garlic
8 tbsp olive oil
Large handful of parsley
Sea salt

Finely chop the garlic and parsley and mix with the oil in a small bowl. Peel the mushrooms and trim the stalks. Grill or barbecue under cooked through and oozing juice. Add a good spoonful of the garlic/parsley mix and a liberal sprinkling of salt – the parsley counteracts much of the strength of the garlic (so your breath will stay relatively sweet!) and makes them look lovely, too.


Mandarin and thyme rice salad

You know what it's like when you want a satisfying, yet summery salad but you don't want to spend ages roasting vegetables or whatever? Well try this – it's dead easy to make and the unusual mix of flavours are lovely on a summer’s day – perfect for a barbecue or picnic.

Serves 4 as a side

Small mugful of rice
1 300g tin of mandarin oranges in juice, drained.
1 handful fresh thyme
1 handful hazelnuts
1tbsp olive oil
2tbsp orange juice (you can use the juice from the tin)

Put the mugful of rice in a saucepan and then use the same mug to measure two mugfuls of boiling water. Place a lid of the pan and put on a medium heat until all the water has been absorbed (this will take about  10–15 minutes, depending on the type of rice and gives a perfect result).
While the rice cools, chop the nuts and thyme (remove any woody stalky bits). Add the mandarin oranges, nuts, thyme, oil and juice to the cooled rice and stir with a fork, chopping up the oranges as you do so. Delicious – and even better the next day, which is a bonus if you want to do it in advance.

Hot toffee vegan banana parcels

We had a fantastic barbecue the other day in the glorious summery weather and to finish off I baked these banana parcels on the embers, mainly because as with many barbecues it was a bit of a last-minute effort and I had a bunch of over-ripe bananas attracting flies in the kitchen. I'm pleased to say the result was delicious and the mix of flavours is superb. You can also do them in the oven, so don't worry if a barbecue is not in the offing!

Serves 4

4 ripe bananas
4 tsp soft brown sugar
4 tsp dairy-free margarine (eg Pure)
120ml orange juice

First get yourself four square pieces of foil, about 30cm x 30cm. On each piece place a banana (cut into four or five pieces), a teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of dairy-free margarine. Bring the front and back of the foil up to meet in the middle and then fold the foil to secure. Fold the sides too – but before you seal everything up, add roughly two tablespoons of orange juice to each parcel.
Bake for about 10 minutes on the barbecue, or for about 15 minutes in a 200C oven on a baking tray. Take care when opening the parcels as the steam is very hot.

American bean salad

My mother always made this at home and it’s an incredibly tasty and satisfying salad, especially when served outdoors! The marinading overnight does make a difference (it reduces the sharpness of the vinegar and onion, and makes the beans absorb the flavour of the dressing), so try to do it if you can!

Serves 4 as a side

100g fine green beans
1 tin of mixed beans
1 red onion
½ red pepper
25g sugar
50ml cider vinegar
50ml sunflower oil
1 clove of garlic
Pinch of salt and pepper

Top and tail the beans and chop the lengths into thirds, then cook until tender. Meanwhile, rinse the tinned beans and place in a large bowl. Add the green beans, followed by diced pepper and onion.
Make the dressing by mixing a finely chopped garlic clove with the sugar, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a cup. Pour over the beans and stir. Leave overnight in the fridge before serving.

Strawberry ice cream

There’s something unbeatable about home-made strawberry ice cream – the combination of the intense strawberry flavour and fantastic colour make it irresistible, and you’d never guess that this one is completely dairy free! It’ll take you the best part of a day before your ice cream is ready, so start early if you want it for a particular meal.

Serves 6

400g strawberries (ideally freshly picked, juicy summer ones)
175ml tofu firm silken style
juice of half a lemon
5tbsp icing sugar
2tbsp sunflower oil
pinch of salt

Blend the tofu, oil, salt and lemon juice together using either a food processor, blender or hand blender until creamy. Then add the icing sugar and strawberries and blend until smooth. You may want to vary the amount of sugar, but if unsure err on the side of more because the sugar increases the intensity of the strawberry flavour (especially important in ice cream because it is more difficult to taste something that’s very cold). If you’ve got an ice cream maker, then the next step is a cinch – pop the mixture in and let the machine do the rest.
If you don’t, keep the mixture in its bowl and place in the freezer. After about three hours, take it out and blend again. Put it back in the freezer and repeat this action after about two hours.  An hour later, do it again – it should be more or less ready to eat at this point, but if you don’t need it straight away then pop it in a plastic tub with a lid. About 15 minutes before use, take it out of the freezer so it can melt a little. For maximum creaminess, blend just before serving.

Risotto with pea shoots and mint

Seriously, no-one could be miserable with this colourful risotto on their plate. Pea shoots add a seasonal touch and make the dish a bit special – you can often buy them bagged in the supermarket salad area, but failing that they are available from garden centres at this time of year (use baby mange tout plants and cut the tops off) or you could try and grow your own for the purpose.

Serves 4

2 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
300g risotto rice
1litre vegetable stock (see my separate recipe)
3tbsp olive oil
200g frozen peas
100g frozen baby broad beans
20 small leaves mint
30–40 pea shoots
salt and pepper to taste

Dice the onions and finely chop the garlic. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan add the olive oil and heat on a medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic and risotto rice. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add the stock. Cook for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will see the liquid becoming absorbed into the rice and a creaminess starting to develop. When most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the peas and broad beans and stir some more.
Slice the mint leaves into very thin strips and add to the risotto, then add the salt and pepper to taste. Once the rice is cooked (test it when the surrounding liquid has the consistency of double cream – you might need a little extra water), add the pea shoots (save some to use as a garnish). Serve a couple of minutes later, when the shoots are lightly steamed.

Warm asparagus salad

Make the most of asparagus season! This is a lovely starter for a spring day and looks smart without actually requiring much effort. If only everything was so easy...

Serves 4

8 baby new potatoes
8 chestnut mushrooms
16 thin asparagus spears
2tsp lemon juice
olive oil

Clean the vegetables, and then boil the potatoes in a pan. While they are cooking, slice and fry the mushrooms. The asparagus should have the woody bottoms removed and be cut in half. The spears should be boiled or steamed until just cooked (I have a steamer that fits on top of a saucepan, but you could use the microwave or an electric steamer).
When all the vegetables are cooked, cut the potatoes in half and arrange four halves on each person’s plate. Add some mushrooms and asparagus. Make a dressing by combining the lemon juice with 4tbsp of olive oil stirred together, and drizzle over each portion. Serve warm.

Chocolate truffle mousse: The Vegan Gluten-free Wedding Menu

This mousse has a rich, truffly texture and my husband describes it as tasting ‘shop bought, but in a good way’, which from him is praise indeed. The almond extract gives in a sophisticated amaretto flavour, but without the alcohol.

Serves 4

½ tin pear halves
½ tin chestnut puree (unsweetened)
3tbsp soya milk
1tbsp icing sugar
1/2tsp natural almond extract
175g dairy-free dark chocolate plus extra for grating/making hearts

Place the pears, chestnut puree, soya milk, icing sugar and almond essence in the food processor and blend until completely mixed and smooth. Next, gently heat the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed pan until it has almost melted. Take off the heat and stir with a spoon until the melting is complete. Add to the food processor and blend again. Pour into some form of attractive glass, grate some of the extra chocolate on the top and then refrigerate. I made the little hearts by melting a little more chocolate and spooning into a heart shape on a piece of baking parchment, then allowing to harden.

Caramelised tomato and rosemary tart - The Vegan Gluten-free Wedding Menu

This summery tart makes the most of juicy in-season tomatoes, while the fragrant rosemary offsets the sweetness of the onion nicely. It’s delicious with new potatoes and a green salad - the ideal main course for a free-from wedding breakfast!

Serves 4

For the pastry
50g cornflour
75g gram flour
75g non-dairy margarine (eg Pure)
½tbsp sugar
1tbsp water

For the filling
4 onions
3 large tomatoes
7 finger-long sprigs of rosemary
Olive oil

Oven 180C. Place the cornflour, gram flour, margarine and sugar in a food processor and blend until it forms crumbs. Add the water and knead everything together until it becomes a dough. Roll out to around 2mm thick and use to line a 20cm-diameter tart tin.
Remove the leaves from three of the rosemary sprigs and dice the onions into reasonably large pieces. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, fry the onions and rosemary leaves in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until the onions become pale brown and soft. Spoon into the pastry case.
Slice the tomatoes into thick slices (about 1cm thick) and arrange over the onions. Add the remaining rosemary in a decorative way, then drizzle olive oil over it all. Place in the oven for around 35 minutes until the top has become browned and the pastry is cooked.

Watercress soup with wasabi foam: The Vegan Gluten-free Wedding Menu

Soup this good shouldn’t be this easy, but it is! And of course it's also brilliant for a vegan, egg-free, dairy-free or gluten-free wedding. The wasabi foam adds an impressive final touch.

Serves 4

For the soup
100g watercress
1litre vegetable stock (see my separate recipe)
salt to taste

For the wasabi foam
2tbsp olive oil
2tbsp cornflour
150ml soya milk
2tsp wasabi powder

Wash the watercress and remove the leaves. Heat roughly half the stock in a pan with the watercress – after about 10 minutes and when it is simmering, remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Take a stick blender (or pour into a liquidiser/food processor) and blend the mixture until all the watercress has been chopped into fine pieces and you have a deliciously dark liquid. Pour back into the pan with the remaining stock and heat until nearly boiling. Season to taste with salt.
For the wasabi foam, place the oil and cornflour in a heavy bottomed pan and stir together while heating gently. Gradually whisk in the soya milk. Keep whisking until the mixture begins to boil, and then add the wasabi powder. You should end up with a spicy, foamy, creamy mixture, which should then be drizzled into the centre of each bowl of soup to serve.

Rhubarb fool

I have tested this dessert on about 10 mainstream eaters who all thought it delicious and who were amazed that it was dairy-free (not to mention much lower fat than the cream version!). A lovely way to use new rhubarb.

Serves 4

400g rhubarb
75g sugar
2tbsp water
500ml ready-made soya custard (eg. Alpro)
175g tofu firm silken style (eg. Blue Dragon)
1tbsp orange juice
1tsp sunflower oil

Trim the ends off the rhubarb and wipe the stems clean with some kitchen towel before slicing into 1cm slices (you may have to de-string it a bit too). Add to a saucepan with the sugar and water – leave on a medium heat for about 15 minutes until soft and delicious. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
In a food processor (or you could use a blender/hand blender) process the tofu, orange juice and oil until you get a smooth and creamy mixture. When the rhubarb has cooled, stir in the tofu mix and the ready-made custard. Will keep for up to three days in the fridge (though you may need to stir again before serving because the rhubarb juice can separate out a little).

Four desirable Easter eggs

Easter is one of those times when not being able to have milk chocolate really sucks, especially if you’re a child.
Anyhow, apart from being egg-shaped, an Easter egg is just chocolate with great (or in many cases, not so great) packaging. So… here are four ideas so you can create your own masterpiece.
I actually made my own eggs by melting dairy-free dark chocolate* and shaping it in moulds I made (see later), but you can buy dairy-free dark chocolate eggs – they often have rather adult-focused packaging – and tart them up using these tips if you prefer. Also, the sugar eggs used in my pics aren’t strictly vegan because they’re coated in beeswax, but it is sometimes possible to find ones that are coated in a plant-based wax.

To make the eggs
Find some egg-shaped objects – I used one of those large cardboard eggs, and two small metal eggs that you often find with sweets in. Press foil or cling film into the shapes and then brush with sunflower oil using a pastry brush (use a new brush if you’ve actually brushed pastry with yours).  I found that 150g of dairy-free dark chocolate was enough.
To melt the chocolate, break up the pieces in a saucepan, place on a medium heat and once half has melted, take it off the heat and let the rest sit in the melted chocolate until the melting is complete. Pour the chocolate halfway up the moulds, and then after about 5 minutes, swirl it around the sides. Keep swirling round the sides every few minutes until the chocolate has become really thick and difficult to move about. Turn the egg shapes upside down and allow to cool completely. Trim the edges with a knife before decorating.

Dinosaur egg
Attach sugar eggs to a half chocolate egg with paste made from icing sugar and water. The egg is sitting in the lid from a pot of jam, with the dinosaurs behind and in front. This would also work well for other children’s favourites: Peppa Pig, Bob the Builder etc. etc.

Rabbit egg
The power of cellophane to make an impact is used here. Once again, sugar eggs have been attached to the chocolate egg with a paste made from icing sugar and water. I used a clear plastic lid as the base, with the egg and the Easter rabbit arranged on top. Everything has been wrapped in cellophane and a bow added on top.

Chick egg
Using a little extra melted chocolate, stick the two halves of the chocolate egg together and then break a small hole in the top. Make the ‘yolk’ from icing sugar, water and yellow food colouring, then dribble down the sides of the egg. Add a chick and present in an attractive egg cup.

Glamour egg
Fill the two halves of the egg with sweets (though make sure the ingredients are OK for the person getting the egg) and wrap the whole lot in cellophane. Top with some attractive ribbon and some flowers. Finally, find a gorgeous egg cup to present it in.

*see my separate page about choosing chocolate.

Minestrone soup

This hearty and flavoursome soup is a meal in itself and a great way to use some of the spring cabbage that is available now. Real minestrone has pasta in it – I’ve substituted that for risotto rice, but you could also use short grain pudding rice.

Serves 4

2tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 leek
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
3 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 handful basil leaves
1 tin borlotti beans (or other bean of your choice)
2 tins (or one giant tin) chopped tomatoes
1litre vegetable stock (see my separate recipe)
2tbsp risotto rice/short grain pudding rice
1 spring green or small spring cabbage
4 savoy cabbage leaves

First, wash, peel and chop the onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic. I usually dice the onion and then do the carrot, leek in celery in 1cm discs, but use your own judgement on this one. The garlic should be chopped finely. Add all of this to a large saucepan or casserole with the olive oil. Put a lid on and allow to steam gently on a medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Next  add the chopped leaves from the rosemary and basil, the beans, tomatoes, rice and stock. Put the lid back on and leave to cook for about 20 minutes.
During this time, wash the cabbages and remove the outer leaves. Roughly chop all the spring greens/spring cabbage except for the big stalky bits. Chop the savoy cabbage the same way, again avoiding the biggest bits of stalk. Place the leaves back on the soup and pop the lid back on so they can steam nicely. After five minutes, stir the cabbage into the soup and cook for a further five minutes before serving. Season with salt to taste.

Coconut rice pudding with warm mango

This sophisticated take on rice pudding makes an excellent all-round dessert and looks great too (though admittedly slightly like a fried egg in this picture..!). The slightly acidic mango really complements the silky coconut rice. I know the proportion of rice to coconut milk looks bonkers, but trust me it is right!

Serves 4

50g short grain pudding rice
25g sugar
1 can coconut milk
1 ripe (but not squidgy) mango
1 tsp non-dairy margarine (eg Pure)
1 tsp brown sugar

Place the rice, 25g of sugar and coconut milk in a lidded ovenproof dish and stir together. Place in an over at 120C for 90 minutes. After this time, give it another stir, then take the lid off and cook for a further half an hour.
A few minutes before serving time, cut the mango into smallish cubes, about 1cm large. Fry gently in the margarine and brown sugar until warmed and glossy.
Remove the rice pudding from the oven and spoon into bowls, topped with the mango.

Easter biscuits

Though I do say so myself, these Easter biscuits are nicer than many I have eaten made in the conventional way. Light and crisp with a lovely lemony tang, they are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea in spring.

Makes about 20

50g cornflour
75g gram (chickpea) flour
75g sugar
75g dairy-free margarine (eg Pure)
zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
¼tsp baking powder (make sure it doesn't contain wheat flour)
¼tsp cinnamon
1tbsp water
25g currants
Sunflower oil

Oven at 160C. Mix the cornflour, gram flour, sugar, margarine, lemon zest, baking powder and cinnamon in a food processor until you get a mixture with a consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the water and knead to a dough. You may need a little more water/cornflour to get the right consistency, which should be soft without being sticky. Add the currants and knead into the dough. Leave for half an hour to let the lemon flavour develop before rolling out to a 2mm-thick sheet. 
When it comes to choosing cutters, because of the currants, a not-too-detailed shape is best. The rabbits worked OK, but the ducks and lambs I tried were a bit of a disaster (their legs fell off).  Use the sunflower oil to grease the baking tray and then bake for 20 mins until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the tray as soon as you take the biscuits out of the oven (or they will weld themselves to it – pop the tray back in the oven for a few moments if this starts to happen) and cool on a wire rack. Best eaten fresh, but will keep in an airtight tin.

Wide Circle chocolate traybake

I figured that if this whole gluten-free and vegan thing is to work it needs to have a figurehead chocolate cake. After experimentation, this is the result (and it has been tested on a group of people who can eat normal chocolate cake who all thought it was delicious and didn’t really notice anything unusual about it). It keeps well for up to three days in an airtight container.
One word of note though: gram flour is made from a small chickpea so the unbaked mixture does have a weird pea flavour to it (which disappears during cooking) but it does mean the bowl scrapings aren’t as yummy as you might expect… On the upside, I think it does mean the cake counts as one of your five a day. Bonus.

For the cake
 250ml soya milk (sweetened or unsweetened)
1 tsp lemon juice or cider vinegar (vital)
125g sugar
75ml sunflower oil
125g gram (chickpea) flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder (make sure it doesn't contain wheat flour)
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing
150g dairy-free dark chocolate*
100g dairy-free margarine (eg Pure)
100g icing sugar
4tbsp soya milk (sweetened or unsweetened)

Put the oven on at 160C. Measure out the soya milk in a measuring jug. Add the lemon juice/vinegar and let it stand for a minute or so. Next add the sugar and oil and whisk together with a fork.
Sift the gram flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl (don’t skip the sifting – I’m not a big one for doing it normally but I have found that gram flour tends to clump together unless you sift it first). Pour in the liquid and stir together swiftly.
Pour the whole lot into a 20cm x 20cm brownie tin and bake for 20–25 minutes until fully cooked. Allow to cool in the tin.
To make the icing, place all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate and butter have melted. Stir everything together and pour over the cake. Decorate if you like with sugar strands or grated dairy-free chocolate. I find it’s nicest to eat it at this point, with the slightly warm cake doused in runny icing.
* Read my separate blog post about chocolate before choosing this recipe

Curried pea and leek tart

This tart is a hybrid of two of lovely dishes: first, a delightful pea, leek and ham tart that my husband makes; and second, a tongue and curried leek dish that my mother makes. Obviously, neither of those are suitable for Wide Circle Cooking, but the curry does lend a certain something to the tart and stops it merely being mushed green stuff in pastry. I know the addition of the sugar seems bonkers, but it works and it seems to stop the pastry being so crumbly when it’s cooked. For a really colourful meal, serve with mashed potato (use oil and salt instead of butter) and roasted carrots tossed in maple syrup, olive oil and cumin seeds.

Serves 2–3

For the pastry
75g gram (chickpea) flour
75g buckwheat flour
20g soft brown sugar
100g dairy-free margarine (eg Pure)
pinch of salt

For the filling
150g frozen peas
2 medium leeks
1 onion
1 tsp curry powder (check it's wheat\gluten free)
1 tbsp soya milk
1 tsp cornflour
Olive oil

Switch the oven to 180C. The pastry is dead easy: simply put everything in a food processor and keep it on until it forms a clump. Take it out and roll to about 2mm thick before cutting to size for your tin (I used a 20cm diameter tart tin) ­– you’ll need to liberally sprinkle the buckwheat flour over all the surfaces. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
While your pastry is cooking, prepare the leeks by stripping off the outer leaves and removing the tough tops. Slice into rounds about 0.5cm thick. Boil the peas for 10 minutes. If you can, steam the leeks in a steamer above them –if not steam them in a microwave or electric steamer. Put the cooked leeks to one side.
Measure six tablespoons of the pea water into a small bowl. Add the cornflour and soya milk and stir until well mixed. Pour into a pan and leave on the heat for a few minutes until the mixture thickens and becomes the consistency of soft butter.
Finely dice the onion. In another saucepan, put about one tablespoon of olive oil, the curry powder and the onion. Fry gently until the onion is soft, then add the drained peas and the cornflour mix. Use a potato masher to mash and mix everything together.
Spread this mixture into the bottom of the cooked pastry case and top it with the cooked leeks, arranging them to cover the whole of the tart. Finally, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and cook in the oven for 20 mins.

Salted caramel popcorn

Popcorn is great because it is totally Wide Circle Cooking. Of course, you could just sprinkle salt or sugar on it, but I was thinking of how nice it would be to have something a bit like Butterkist toffee popcorn (which is, of course, full of dairy ingredients and therefore not suitable). And then I thought about the whole salted caramel thing being so popular at the moment, so I had the idea to combine the two. I defy you not to enjoy this – especially in front of your favourite film!

Serves 2

1tbsp sunflower oil
4tbsp (heaped) popcorn kernels
75g sugar
1tsp salt (ideally sea salt)

Place the oil and kernels in a pan with a lid (vital to prevent popcorn getting everywhere) on a medium heat. After about five minutes you’ll hear the corn starting to pop and when the pops die down to about one every three seconds, remove the pan from the heat.
Next, add the sugar to a really big pan and put it on a medium heat. Now, I don’t know why this happens, but it is vital that the pan is completely dry and that you don’t add water – on numerous occasions I’ve thought that adding water might help speed things up a little, but it doesn’t – it just makes the sugar go all weird. Instead, wait without stirring and you’ll see the sugar gradually become liquid. Once all the sugar has melted, remove from the heat, pour in all your popcorn at once and stir vigorously to coat all the popcorn. Then add the salt and stir again. Finally, stir for a minute or so more to let the caramel solidify on separate bits of popcorn (or you’ll just end up with one enormous lump).

Chocolate fondue

Chocolate fondue is one of those things that is always popular and this is a lovely, rich version. Serve with chopped fruit eg. strawberries, bananas, cherries, raspberries, pineapple and mango (and you could even have wafers and marshmallows for those that can eat them).

Serves 4

100g dairy-free dark chocolate*
100g dairy-free margarine (eg. Pure)
100g icing sugar
4tbsp soya milk (sweetened or unsweetened)

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, place all the ingredients and heat on a low heat until melted. Stir to mix everything together and then serve immediately in individual teacups with a selection of fruit.
* Read my separate page about chocolate before choosing this recipe

The potato rosti fry-up

You can thank the Swedes for potatoes done rosti-style, and it’s a neat way to make them look more interesting. A rosti is sort of a hash brown and makes a great idea for brunch, especially if served with fried mushrooms and tomatoes (and even baked beans – though check they don’t contain wheat etc – Heinz are OK). To stay truly Swedish-style requires a lot of parboiling and other faffing, so I’ve opted for a cheat’s version that is much simpler.

Serves 4–6

5 medium potatoes (about 2kg)
1 carrot
2 onions
2 tbsp olive oil

Finely grate the potatoes and carrot using a food processor, or by hand. Finely chop the onion. Now put everything in a large bowl and pour boiling water over until everything is covered. Leave for five minutes.
Strain off as much water as you can by pouring through a sieve and using a wooden spoon to squeeze out as much water as possible. Put the potato shred back in the bowl and add the oil. Stir to coat everything in oil.
Now get a large frying pan and get it to a good, medium-hot heat. Pour a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in, then drop tablespoon-sized dollops of the potato mix onto the pan, as many as there is space for. You’ll need to flatten them down with the back of your spoon. After a few minutes, flip the rosti over to brown the other side. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt before serving.

Carrot and chestnut soup

I am a massive chestnut fan and love this soup for its velvety richness. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to have the leek or the celery, but because we’re using vegetable stock and not, say, chicken stock, I think it’s good to have as many flavours going on as possible.

Serves 4

1kg carrots
1 stick of celery
1 leek
1 400g tin of chestnut puree (unsweetened)
750ml vegetable stock (see my separate recipe for this)
Parsley and olive oil to garnish

Clean and prepare the vegetables, then chop roughly and add to a large saucepan with 500ml of the stock. Boil for around 20 minutes until the veg is completely soft. Allow to cool a bit and then blend using a stick blender or liquidiser until smooth (do it carefully so as not to spray hot soup everywhere!). Add the chestnut puree and continue blending, gradually adding more liquid as you go. You should end up with a smooth soup without any clagginess. If you want a more liquid soup, add more stock or water. Finally, season to taste with salt. I like to serve this with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.

Squash and spinach curry

Curries are great because there are lots of veggie versions available and of course they are served with rice. This curry is inspired by one I once had in a pub – it’s full of flavour but not too spicy. Real Indian curries tend to use loads and loads of spices (some quite unusual ones too), so I’ve tried to make it as simple as possible. If you don’t already have cumin, cloves or cardamoms and don’t fancy buying them, just add one more teaspoon of curry powder. Serve with basmati rice, poppadums, lime pickle and mango chutney.

Serves 4–6

500g butternut squash
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
fresh ginger about the size of a thumb
4 tsp curry powder (check it's wheat\gluten free)
2 tsp cumin seeds
20 black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
4 green cardamoms
500ml passata
2 tins of chickpeas (drained)
150g fresh spinach
Olive oil

Put the oven on at 185C. Peel the squash if you don’t like the skin (I tend to leave it on). then chop it up into roughly 1cm cubes. Place in a roasting tin with a tablespoon of olive oil, using a spoon to coat all the cubes evenly. Cook for 45 minutes.
While the squash is in the oven, start on the rest of the curry. Remove the husks from the cardamom pods and discard. Place the seeds in a pestle and mortar with the cumin, peppercorns and cloves. Grind until you get a fine powder.
Peel the ginger using a knife or vegetable peeler. Then finely dice the onion, garlic and ginger. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan and then add the onion. When soft, add the ginger, garlic and spices. Fry for a few minutes to let the flavours develop.
Now add the passata and the chickpeas. Finally, fill the empty chickpea cans with water and add that too. Simmer for half an hour, then add the squash cubes and let the mix simmer for a further 15 minutes. After this time, a lot of the liquid should have disappeared.
Roughly tear the spinach leaves in half and place them all on top of the curry, but don’t stir. After a few minutes, the leaves will have wilted. Stir them in, and simmer for a further 15 minutes until you have a thick and delicious curry.

Baked peaches with frozen pistachio butter

 This is a recipe from my mother, ingenious because of its simplicity. However, because you obviously can’t have cream or ice-cream with this, I came up with the frozen pistachio cream idea after reading about nut butters. You could also use almonds, of course, but I like the way the green of the pistachios contrasts with the orange peaches.

Serves 4

For the frozen pistachio butter
100g shelled unsalted pistachios
3 tbsp non-dairy margarine (eg Pure)
2 tbsp icing sugar

For the baked peaches
2 tins peach halves in syrup

Earlier in the day you intend to eat on, grind the pistachios in a coffee grinder (if you don’t have a coffee grinder you could substitute the pistachios for 100g ground almonds). You will probably have to grind in several batches. Place the lovely green nut dust in a bowl with the margarine and icing sugar. Mix with a spoon, then place in the freezer.
An hour before you want dessert, put the oven on at 180C. Put all the peach halves, flat side uppermost, in a baking dish and pour the syrup over. Dust with cinnamon, then bake for 1 hour until brown and the syrup has turned into a gooey caramel. Serve with a dollop of the frozen pistachio butter.

Orange sorbet

I got the idea for this sorbet from a fantastic 1970s cookbook. The way of serving is brilliant and the recipe could easily be adapted to use with lemons, limes or pineapple by varying the amount of sugar added. I’ve allowed one half orange per person, but you could easily double up the quantities. This sorbet is best eaten on the day it is made, otherwise it has a tendency to go rock hard and desserts that need ice picks are rarely popular...

Serves 4

2 large oranges (choose the most aesthetically pleasing ones you can find)
4 tbsp icing sugar

Cut the oranges in half across the middle and carefully scoop out the flesh using a grapefruit knife. Use the tip of the knife to extract as much as possible from the sides without damaging the skin. Place all the flesh and juice with the icing sugar in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a plastic tub and place in the freezer.
Check to see if the orange skins can stand by themselves as they are to be used to serve the sorbet. If not, slice a bit off the bottom to flatten it out. Place them in the freezer.
After about 3 hours, remove the orange mix and put back in the food processor. Blend again (this gets rid of a lot of ice crystals). Spoon the blended mix into the frozen orange skins and freeze again.
About ten minutes before eating, remove the oranges from the freezer and allow to defrost a little before serving.

Chocolate fairy cakes with chocolate buttercream

These cute little cakes are a real winner with kids. They have a great spongy consistency and are virtually indistinguishable from fairy cakes made in the standard egg/flour/butter way. The buttercream makes them irresistible (if you want a stiffer buttercream icing, just add more icing sugar).

For the chocolate fairy cakes
250ml soya milk (sweetened or unsweetened)
1 tsp lemon juice or cider vinegar
100g caster sugar
75ml sunflower oil
100g cornflour
50g gram (chickpea) flour
25g cocoa powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder (make sure it doesn't contain wheat flour)

For the buttercream
4 tbsp non-dairy margarine (eg. Pure)
1tbsp soya milk
25g cocoa powder
75g icing sugar

Switch oven on at 160C. Place the cake cases in the tray. Measure out the soya milk and add the lemon juice or vinegar (a vital step as it curdles the soya milk). Stir well and leave for a couple of minutes. Sift the flours, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a large bowl (this is necessary to remove the clumps of gram flour – I’m not one for unnecessary sifting). Add the sugar and oil, and then finally whisk in the soya milk in a steady stream until everything is well mixed.
Bake for 20 minutes and then cool on a wire rack.
To make the buttercream, beat all the ingredients together and then spoon or pipe onto your cakes. Top with a glacé cherry. The cakes will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Carrot and apple salad

A recipe from my mother’s stable and probably my favourite salad of all time (I do have a sweet tooth though). The genius part of this salad is the sweetened lemon juice, which gives a mouth-filling juiciness to the whole dish. I can eat a mountain of this, it’s fantastic – and my son even begs for me to make it, which I can say without understatement is unusual for a vegetable-based dish.

Serves 4 (or perhaps one of me)

2 large carrots
4 small apples
1 lemon
2 tbsp boiling water
2tbsp sugar

Finely grate the carrots and apples and place in a serving bowl. In a small cup, place the sugar and boiling water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then add the squeezed juice of the lemon. Mix together, then pour over the grated carrot and apple and stir until all is well combined.

The perfect dips for sharing

Nibbles are always essential when you’re having a party so I scratched about for ideas that everyone will enjoy and came up with these. They look great and take literally minutes to make so it should be a cinch to do several and get massive host points. Serve with my crispy wedges (see recipe), ready salted tortilla chips or ready salted potato crisps and batons of carrot and celery.

This quick recipe gives a lovely fresh result and the lemon stops it going brown.

1 large soft avocado
1 large tomato
½ small onion
1 clove of garlic
squeeze of lemon

Place the avocado, tomato and onion in a food processor and blend until smooth. Using a garlic press, crush the garlic into the mix as well as the lemon. Stir well and serve.

This is a refreshing, rather than spicy, salsa. If you like yours hot, add fresh chopped chilli to taste.

2 large tomatoes
1 red onion
2 cloves of garlic
½ lime
5 stalks of coriander

Place the tomato, onion, garlic, coriander and chilli (if you’re using it) in a food processor and whiz until finely chopped. Squeeze the juice and stir in. You’re done!

Pea and mint
This fresh-tasting dip is particularly nice with carrots.

100g peas
1 clove of garlic
½ supermarket bunch of mint (or equivalent size of mint from your garden)
2 tbsp soya milk (sweetened or unsweetened)
2 tbsp olive oil

Boil the peas until tender. Drain and pour into a bowl with the soya milk, olive oil and garlic. Using a hand blender, stir until it has formed a lumpy puree. Take the leaves off the mint and chop them finely. Stir into the puree.

OK, I admit it, I cheated on this one and bought it from a supermarket. Honestly, I’ve tried loads of times to make homemade hummus and it’s never as nice as the shop stuff (though do check the label to make sure it will be suitable for your guest). However, I’ll keep going and when I’m successful you know where I’ll post the details!

Creamy garlic dip
This is an absolutely delicious dip, though perhaps a little antisocial for those not also partaking. Don’t let that put you off though…

1 small tin of butterbeans
5 cloves of garlic
6 tbsp olive oil (no, really)
½ tsp salt
½ lemon

Drain the beans. Using a hand blender, blend the beans with the oil. Press the garlic into the mix with a garlic press. Then stir in the salt and lemon and serve.

Crispy dipping wedges

These crispy wedges are the perfect accompaniment to my dips as they're thinner and crunchier than a normal potato wedge.
Serves 4

Four large baking potatoes
Olive oil
Sea salt

Switch the oven to 180C. Wash the potatoes and pat dry. Slice into thin wedges and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle with oil, then use a spoon to move them about until they’re completely coated. Place in the oven for 35–40 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Mushroom risotto

Risotto is brilliant because it just involves rice, yet makes a lovely main meal. However, because you can’t use cheese or meat, you need to get some good strong flavours and stir it a lot to make it as creamy as possible (something to do with the starch in the grains). I serve this with a salad made from two large finely grated carrots mixed with 1tbsp cider vinegar. The sharp sweetness of the salad perfectly offsets the earthy flavours of the risotto.

Serves 4

1 leek
3 tbsp olive oil
200g chestnut mushrooms
15g dried porcini mushrooms
350g risotto rice
1 litre vegetable stock
5 tbsp chopped parsley
salt to taste

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, blitz the leek in a food processor or chop very finely. In a large heavy bottomed pan, pour in the olive oil. Add the leek and cook gently until soft. Add the rice and stir to get it coated in oil. Turn the heat up to a medium setting and after a minute, add all the stock.
This is the time I get on with other things in the kitchen – washing up etc., returning to the pan every few minutes to give it a good stir.  It should start bubbling gently and you’ll see the liquid being absorbed.
When about half the liquid has gone, finely chop the chestnut mushrooms either by hand or in a food processor and then fry gently in a small pan until soft. Add them, and their seeped liquid, into the risotto. Add the soaked porcini mushroom and liquid. Keep stirring, more frequently now, until virtually all the liquid has gone and what you’re left with is rice and a sauce the consistency of cream. If the rice still feels a little uncooked, add some water and keep stirring until you get to the creamy stage again. Add a little pepper and salt to taste and then sit back and enjoy.

Vegetable stock

This stock is dead easy to make and forms the basis of many of the savoury dishes. You can cheat and use a vegan stock cube, but if you have the time then it’s well worth making it from scratch.

Makes 1 litre

2 leeks
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
1 onion
1litre water

Wash the veg and peel the onion. Cut everything into quarters and place in a large pan with a lid. Add the water. Simmer gently for three hours and then strain using a sieve.

Banana pancakes

I always think that one of the easiest ways to impress people is to make an effort at breakfast time. The cinnamon lends a comforting spice to the cooking aroma, though if you’re not a cinnamon fan, just leave it out.

Serves 4

250ml soya milk (sweetened or unsweetened)
1tsp lemon juice or cider vinegar (vital to help the baking powder work)
1 medium banana
1tbsp sunflower oil
100g buckwheat flour
1tsp baking powder (make sure it doesn't contain wheat flour)
½ tsp cinnamon
Vegetable oil (eg. sunflower)

Measure the soya milk in a measuring jug and add the lemon juice and stir.
In a bowl, mash the banana with a fork and stir in the oil. Pour in the soya milk mix, then add the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir together well until good and mixed. It should be the consistency of greek yogurt/fromage frais.
Get a frying pan nice and hot (I don’t use the highest heat setting though, probably medium hot) and grease with a bit of oil on a piece of kitchen roll (don’t be tempted to use butter and undo all your good works!).
Using a metal tablespoon, add a dollop of batter to the pan. You can use the back of the spoon to make it rounder if it’s got a bit of a weird shape. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you might be able to get two or three (or more) of these dollops on. Wait until you see bubbles popping at the surface – about one minute – then flip over. They probably only need another 15 seconds or so.
Serve lovely and warm with maple syrup or golden syrup and fresh fruit. Yum!

Cheat's chilli

What with tacos being made of just corn and oil it totally made sense to get some Mexican food in my blog. My cheat’s chilli looks very similar to real chilli, but takes minutes to make (because I am essentially rather lazy) and is, of course, totally meat-free. Pictured here served with the salsa and guacamole dips (see recipes for these dips in the Nibbles section).

Serves 4

1 onion
1 red pepper
1 small green chilli
1 tin refried beans (eg Discovery)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin kidney beans
Olive oil

Finely dice the onion, red pepper and chilli. In a saucepan, add a little olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft. Add the red pepper and continue to fry until that is also soft. Then add the refried beans, the tomatoes and the kidney beans. Stir together and heat until piping hot.
Serve with corn taco shells, guacamole and salsa. You could also put bowls of sour cream and grated cheese on the table for those who can have them.