Monday 28 November 2011

A free bag of apples! A gluten-free dessert

One side of the stunning Barley Wood
walled vegetable gardens 
in Somerset.

Two weeks ago Dean, Nina and I went to visit my sister-in-law, Trudi, who lives in beautiful Somerset. The drive from London, through the countryside is a real joy.

Saturday lunch, we went to visit Barley Wood Walled Gardens, a breathtaking restored Victorian kitchen garden where there’s The Ethicurean, the recently awarded Best Ethical Restaurant/Cafe in England. The chefs get their produce just steps away from their kitchen. The food is simple British, very tasty, seasonal and mileage free! I had the best toffee-apple cake ever – toffee-apple cake with cinnamon cream, apples and apple juice. It was a mixture of apple toffee and sticky toffee pudding but nowhere near as sweet as the latter. I tried to squeeze the recipe out of the waiters but they kept it secret.

Next time you go to Somerset, I recommend you visit their gorgeous Victorian gardens… and make sure you taste their apple cake!

On our way back to my sister-in-law’s, we saw a box full of apples by a front gate of a gorgeous house. Next to it, some empty bags and a message saying to help ourselvers. I loved it and I felt “obliged” to take some back home! That was my chance to try and make that apple cake. Unfortunately, try as I may, I didn’t get even near the delicious Ethicurean dessert… Never mind, I won’t give up. When I succeed in cracking the code, I will post it here. In the meantime, enjoy this delicious apple crumble instead.

Seasonal apples by the side of the road being given away
So, I felt obliged.
Mix rice flour, rapadura, ground almonds and
chilled butter to make the crumble
When mixed, leave it in the fridge until apples
are cooked
Add lemon juice, cinnamon powder and apple juice
to the chopped apples and bake for 20 mins
My apple crumble! It can be simply eaten like this,
or you can have it with a dollop of natural yoghurt, cream
or ice-cream. 
Apple & ground almond crumble

Serves 4

A lovely gluten-free dessert, nutritious, balanced and full of flavour.

4 big organic apples or 6 small ones, peeled, cored and diced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
50 ml apple juice
1 tsp cinnamon or as you like it

For the Filling
50g organic blanched almonds or ground almond
50g organic rice flour
70g chilled organic butter
60g organic rapadura (raw cane sugar)
50g organic hazelnuts or any other nut of your choice (pistachios are quite nice), chopped

Combine almonds, rice flour, butter and rapadura and mix them until they form a crumbly sand – you can use a food processor if you like. Chill until ready to use.

Preheat the oven at 170°C. Place the apples in an oven-proof dish, squeeze the lemon, add the apple juice and cinnamon powder, and mix. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the apples are golden.

When apples are done, sprinkle the crumble over them and bake again for 20 min. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, cream or ice-cream.

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Apple (Malus domestica): it’s a rich source of antioxidants and nutrients. It  contains both types of fibre - soluble and insoluble -, which are very important to maintain a healthy gut function. Pectin found in the skin of apples is the most common beneficial fibre that helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Studies have shown that the pectin found in apples can inhibit the growth of liver and colon cancer. Apples contain potassium and quercetin, a nature’s anti-histamine. Apple has also antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s an incredible fruit: it’s highly digestible and capable of satisfying both hunger and thirst.

Julie Bruton-Seal’s recipe for an upset stomach or for when you are recovering from illness, especially after a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea:
Grate 2 apples, then finely grate about a teaspoonful of fresh root ginger. Mix together in a bowl and eat straight way.

The old saying is never out of fashion: “An apple a day…”.

Almonds (Prunus dulcis): like any other nuts, when eaten raw, almonds are much easier to digest when they are soaked overnight. They are a great source of complete protein and good fats. They contain insoluble fibre, which is beneficial for regular bowel movements. Almonds are rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Besides tasting great, almond milk can be taken for constipation and inflammation of the gut (e.g. colitis, IBS and Crohn’s disease).

Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana): they contain a substance called beta-sitisterol, a plant sterol that, according to a study published by the medical journal The Lancet, showed significant improvement in patients with urinary difficulties. Hazelnuts contain potassium, magnesium and vitamin E.

Rapadura (dehydrated cane sugar or raw sugar) has been used for thousands of years in India. It is a very popular choice of sweetener in the northeast of Brazil. It is rich in silica and minerals such as calcium, Iron and potassium. In her book Nourishing Traditions, the American journalist, chef and nutrition researcher Sally Fallon gives a useful tip: “The best way to eat sweets is to have some fat to accompany them (ice cream with fruit, butter/eggs in cakes and pies) as they slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients that nourish those glands involved in the blood sugar regulation mechanism.”
Caution: do not overdo the use of rapadura sugar. Although it’s a natural sweetener it can also upset your blood sugar balance if consumed a lot.

Nina playing inside the walled gardens
Till next week!

Monday 21 November 2011

Romanesco Broccoli or Roman Cauliflower?


I was never too keen on cauliflower. It’s not that I disliked it, I just wasn’t crazy about it. Over the years, I’ve tried different ways of using it in my meals and came to appreciate its potential. The Romanesco cauliflower is my favourite variety. I just love the way it looks - it reminds me of sea coral. It has a flavour that sits between broccoli and cauliflower, maybe that is why this vegetable is also known as broccoflower. You can also find cauliflower in different colours (purple, orange, greenish/yellowish).

Recipe-wise, there is always, of course, cauliflower cheese, the cauliflower soup, cauliflower mash and the baked kibbeh, but the one I have been really enjoying lately is the roasted cauliflower salad. Even if you aren’t a cauliflower fan, this one could make you become a new admirer.

The ingredients
Cut the romanesco into florets and rinse
roast them,
until they caramelize at the edges
Then mix the florets with the rest of the ingredients,
season and enjoy it.

Roasted warm Romanesco cauliflower and chickpea salad
Serves 4 as a small starter or as a side dish

This salad is a great combination of protein and dietary fiber.

1 Romanesco cauliflower
250g chickpeas
2 lemons
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp black olives, stoned
2 lemons
1 clove of garlic - crushed
1 small onion, chopped finely
3 tbsp roasted pinenuts (optional)
15 leaves of fresh mint, chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the cauliflower into florets, rinse them but don’t let them dry. In a small bowl, mix the juice of one lemon with the squeezed garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. In a roasting tray, place the cauliflower and pour the juice all over the vegetable, and mix well. Cut the other lemon in quarters and scatter them in the roasting tray. Roast for 25 min or until the florets look caramelised at the edges. Turn them once.

In the meantime, sautée the onion until it becomes translucid, add the chickpeas and cook for 1 minute. Add the olives, mix and turn off the heat.

When the cauliflower is done, place it in a bowl, squeeze the juice from the lemon over it, add the chickpeas, the chopped mint, and mix gently. Scatter some pinenuts. Enjoy!

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea): it belongs to the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, turnip, kale and Brussel sprouts). It has components called indoles that protect against breast and colon cancer; and sulphur, which has antiviral and antibiotic characteristics. It stimulates the liver. Cauliflower is a great source of vitamin B6, vitamim C, folate and potassium.

Chickpeas or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum): it is the most nutritious of all the legumes. It is very good for your pancreas, stomach and heart. It is high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. Contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins - especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes.

Till next week!

Sunday 13 November 2011

An Autumn tonic salad

The root vegetables

The cocoon phase (read as the cold season) has unfortunately started. As we move indoors for months, the root vegetables start to come out. It’s incredible how much our body and the seasonality of foods are intrinsically connected. I bought some of my favourite winter root vegetables at the farmers market this week to make a salad I ate once at Bocca di Lupo, which has celeriac and radish. Since that day, whenever celeriac and radish come together in my house, I make this salad for us.

Celeriac is a large knobbly root vegetable. It comes from the celery family and has a very similar taste, but it is slightly nuttier and sweeter. Celeriac is not the most beautiful vegetable but is full of nutritional value. I have also bought kohlrabi, a root that tastes a bit like broccoli stalk. In Germany, people often eat it raw, like an apple.

It’s a simple salad that will bring some earthy taste to our palate to celebrate the transition from Autumn to Winter.

Black radish, turnip, swede, jerusalem artichoke...

The roots I brought home (celeriac, pink beetroot, kohl
rabi, black and red radishes
The dressing
The complement
The salad!

Root vegetable Autumn salad 
(inspired by Jacob Kennedy’s recipe)     Serves 4 as a starter

Due to its bitter nature, this salad works as a great starter, as it stimulates the juices of our digestive system.

6-7 radishes and 1 black radish
1 small sized celeriac or ¼ of the big root
1 kohlrabi
1 small pink beetroot
Pecorino cheese or any hard sheep’s cheese (about 100g)
Pomegranate seeds (as much as you like)
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

1 tablespoon white truffle oil
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Juice of a lemon

Make a dressing with the oils, vinegar, lemon, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Do the following just before you serve, as radishes dry out, and celeriac blackens with time: wash both radishes and kohlrabi (don’t peel them), and shave thinly. Peel the celeriac and shave some pecorino cheese. Toss them with the pomegranate seeds and parsley, and dress lightly. Serve on individual plates, or in a bowl to share from.

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Celeriac (Apium graveolens rapaceum): it is a great source of vitamin K. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5, and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. Celeriac also contains a fair amount of vitamin C and it’s at its best when eaten raw. This vegetable root has been recommended to help promote milk flow in breastfeeding mothers; to alleviate the symptoms of period pain; and as a natural diuretic, also helping to break down and flush out kidney stones. Due to its high sodium content, it is advised not to add too much salt when cooking it.

Radish (Raphanus sativus): it’s part of the mustard family. Radishes used to be predominantly black and not red. It contains high levels of vitamin C. It’s also high in fibre and water, which is very beneficial for people with constipation. Black radish stimulates the bile production, liver detoxification and the cleaning of the gallbladder, maintaining a healthy digestive tract. It contains antibacterial properties that help balancing the digestive flora. It treats coughs and fortifies lungs; and also helps to balance fatty or oily food in the body.

Kohlrabi (Brassica olearosa or Cavoli rapa): it comes from the wild cabbage family and is also known as cabbage-turnip. It contains high levels of vitamin C (which helps to maintain a healthy immune system) and high levels of potassium ( needed for a proper muscle and nerve functions). It helps the storage of carbohydrates, used as fuel by the muscles. It also contains good levels of vitamin B6, folic acid, and the minerals calcium, copper, selenium, phosphorus and magnesium. It has antiviral and antifungal properties, which helps the treatment of candida. It is high in fibre and low in calories. It has a low GI and it is a good alternative for people who suffer from diabetes and hypoglycaemia, as it helps to stabilize the sugar levels in the blood. Both leaves and vegetable are rich in vitamin A. Kohlrabi improves blood circulation. Some studies show that the substance called isothiocyanate, found in kohlrabi  can help convert oestrogen in the body and protects against hormones associated with prostate and breast cancers.  

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris): previously mentioned here

Till next week!


Monday 7 November 2011

Trick or cheat?

Some varieties of Pumpkin

In Brazil, where I grew up, Halloween wasn’t a popular event, but this American tradition is becoming a growing trend. Not everyone is happy with this. Lots of people in Brazil see Halloween as a threat to our own cultural tradition. To go against the imported trend, a group of people decided to create, in October 31st 2005, The Day of Saci Perere.

Saci Perere is a Brazilian folk character - a one legged mulato boy who smokes a pipe, and likes to play pranks on people (cooks especially) and to scare the animals. Despite his mischief, he wasn’t an evil person and whoever got to entrap him and grab his hat would have their wishes granted. One of his qualities was his knowledge of sacred herbs. He knew the secrets of medicinal plants, and therefore he was the guardian of the forests. Anyone who used the plants without his consent would be the target of his tricks.

Halloween is also growing in popularity in London. Although it has its roots in Celtic folklore, it was  never embraced by England as it was by the US. Nina is now seven years old and waits in expectation for 31st of October.  There is no way we can ignore the little “witches” and “wizards” gluing their little fingers to our doorbells. So, I have also bought into the whole thing. With a pumpkin hat (yes, that’s inflatable pumpkin head), I followed my little witch through the streets of our neighbourhood this year.

After coming back from the streets with her bucket filled with chocolates and sweets (which have already being negotiated with regards of how much she should really have), she had a shower, put her pyjamas on, and then I told her again the stories of Saci Perere. That was my personal tribute to the little one legged pest who used to scare the hell out of me, when I was a child.  Back to my Brazilian roots. 

October is time for Halloween and for pumpkins and there is a great selection this time of the year. The variety of pumpkin I like best is Crown Prince and I can't resist it when I see its arrival in the farmer's market.

Crown Prince pumpkin - my favourite

It's simply beautiful

Add sage, garlic, fresh red chilli, olive oil and season

Serve it with quinoa, feta cheese, rocket leaves and
lots of olive oil! Yum!

Quinoa salad with roasted chilli pumpkin

This is a great vegetarian alternative dish full of nutrients.


1 Crown Prince pumpkin, cut in wedges
7 tbsp olive oil
1-2 fresh chillies, sliced
Fresh sage leaves, bruised
250g quinoa
2 cups of chicken stock
2 spring onions, thinly sliced, plus extra to garnish (optional)
1 bulb of garlic,
1 tsp lemon juice
160g  feta cheese, broken into chunks
Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 200º C/400º F/,gas mark 6. Cut the pumpkin in wedges, drizzle with half the oil, chillies, sage leaves, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 50 minutes or until tender.

Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the quinoa and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve and leave to dry. Put it in a large mixing bowl.

Add the spring onion, lemon juice, feta, salt and pepper, toss together gently, taking care not to mush up the feta. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve warmish, or at room temperature, with some of the roasted pumpkins, chilli, sage and garlic.

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Pumpkin (Curcubita pepo): is a great source of carotene, vitamin C, vitamins B1, B5, B3, B6, folic acid, potassium, and dietary fibre.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa): is a great source of protein – especially lysine, which is needed for tissue growth and repair. It is high in unsaturated fats – omega 3 – and low in carbohydrates. It contains high levels of magnesium (nature’s natural relaxant), calcium (essential for the function of the brain and nervous system, besides strengthening the skeleton), iron (production of red blood cells), copper and manganese (preserve the myelin sheath), and phosphorus (plays an essential role in how the body stores and uses energy). It is an excellent ingredient for people who suffer from migraines, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Saci roasting a pumpkin - Brazilian culture going
against the imported trend of Halloween

Till next week!
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