Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Pea Pod & Mint Soup. Plus a visit from the Fairy Hobmother!

The humble pea is one of my favourite vegetables. There is just something irresistible about its vibrant green colour and sweet flavour. I love how each tiny pea is encased in its own outer jacket, each one a mini vegetable in its own right. A bag of frozen peas is one of my staple freezer ingredients. There is nothing wrong with frozen peas, if fact in most cases they are actually tastier and more nutritious this way than fresh, as peas very quickly loose all sweetness and nutritional quality from the minute they are picked. Frozen peas are usually picked and frozen within 4 hours, meaning you get them almost as fresh as can be. Packets of so called ‘fresh peas’ in supermarkets have probably been sitting around for at least 4-5 days, meaning those once sweet peas will be hard cardboard bullets by the time you eat them.

However, if you can get your hands on some fresh peas, home grown, picked and eaten within a few hours, they are sublime! I am fortunate enough to know someone who has a farm growing veg and last weekend she was selling bags of freshly picked peas – still in their pods – at a farmers market. I snapped a bag up instantly and sat their happily devouring the peas like sweeties. Gently popping open the pods and scooping up the delicate row of peas inside. So sweet and tender.

After munching all the peas I was left with quite a pile of empty pea pods. I hate throwing anything away and so tried eating one – not really a good idea – very tough and stringy and it didn’t beak down no matter how long I chewed. Despite its unappetising texture, it contained a wonderful pea flavour and so I decided to try and turn them into soup.

Lightly cooked with simply an onion, a potato and some pea loving mint my soupy broth mixture was ready in a matter of minutes. After blitzing I sieved the soup which removed all the tough fibres from the pea pods and resulted in a rich velvety soup with a thick creamy texture.

The taste was amazing. Pure essence of pea and so fresh and summery. The mint wasn’t overpowering and gave just a slight lingering aftertaste which complemented the pea. I loved its beautiful pea green colour and pure pea aroma.

Amazing to thick I got such a pea packed soup for practically nothing as the main ingredients are water and empty pods which I’d normally discard. So remember, after munching those fresh peas – don’t throw the pods away, make pea pod soup!

Pea Pod & Mint Soup
500g empty pea pods – eat the peas first!
1¾ pints hot water
1 large onion
1 large or 2 small potatoes
15 leaves of fresh mint
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Peel and roughly chop the onion. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, stir and then place the lid on to allow the onion to sweat and soften gently.
Meanwhile, dice the potato (no need to peel) and roughly chop the garlic.
Once the onion has started to soften, add the potato and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
Boil the kettle and measure out the water. Add the mint leaves and pea pods (no need to chop) to the pan and stir briefly.
Pour over the water, add some freshly ground salt and pepper and bring the mixture to the boil. Then reduce to a simmer, place the lid on with just a small gap to allow some steam to escape and allow to bubble for 15-20 minutes.
Check that the potatoes are cooked by sticking the tip of a sharp knife into them. If they are then remove the pan from the heat, if not then allow to cook for 3-4 minutes longer.
Once ready, blitz the soup in a liquidiser until restively smooth. Best to do this in batches. Strain the soup through a fine sieve into a large clean bowl or pan. Use the back of a spoon to help work the soup through the sieve, leaving behind all the stringy pith from the pea pods.
You should end up with a bright green and velvety smooth soup.
Taste and add more seasoning if required.
Serves 3-4

After leaving a comment on Cherrapeno’s blog stating my dream kitchen gadget (an automatic ice cream maker – the kind you don’t need to pre-freeze) I was lucky enough to be visited by the Fairy Hobmother, in the form of Ian from Appliances Online

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to give me the ice cream maker (unsurprisingly considering they cost £200+) but I was gifted a £25 Amazon gift card to put towards my ice cream fund – yay!

To be in with a chance of a visit from the Fairy Hobmother yourself, simply leave a comment on this post, stating your dream kitchen gadget, before June 5th and who knows he may be visiting you too!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Daring Bakers May 2011: Chocolate Marquise with Coconut, Rum & Lime

The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of Cook Craft Grown and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

I was incredibly excited when this month’s challenge was announced. It involved making a frozen chocolate dessert known as a marquise, accompanied by a meringue, served with a syrup and decorated with nuts. The method is quite complex, using a host of tricky and technically challenging techniques, something which always excites me – I love a challenge and the chance to learn some new kitchen skills!

Another aspect of the challenge that had me jumping up and down for joy was the fact is was naturally gluten free! Hurrah!

The recipe provided was for a peppery tequila chocolate dessert, but we were free to adapt the flavours to our own choosing. I decided to head down a more tropical route and ended up with Chocolate, Coconut, Rum & Lime!

All four flavours work together when combined in pairs, so I could see no reason why they wouldn’t all work together as a group. It turned out better than I’d hoped, the results were AMAZING! I know that sounds a bit big headed, but it was one of the best taste sensations I’ve had in a very long time. I’m longing to try and convert it into a cake combination.

Coconut was the first flavour to hit me when I took my first bite. As the frozen dessert melted in the mouth the coconut flavour mellowed out and the rich chocolate came swooping in, closely followed by a delicious combination of rum and citrusy lime. Wow. No one component overpowered the others with each one coming in layers, waiting patiently until the previous flavour had had its time in the spotlight. The rum was not too apparent, giving the dessert a ‘grown up’ sensation rather than being obviously alcoholic.

I think part of the success of the dessert was due to its incredibly smooth, soft creamy texture thanks to the large amounts of cream and egg yolks involved. It was like frozen custard in texture, even when straight out the freezer - just divine!

I also think the fact it was frozen helped keep all the flavours from jumping in at once. The chocolate and rum didn’t develop until the dessert had had time to melt a bit in the mouth, preserved in their frozen state. It softened quite quickly into an almost mousse like consistency.

The dessert was meant to be set in a large square pan and then cut into squares. I decided to also make some in a baton shaped flexible silicone ice cube mould, which I think made for a stylish presentation. I served the marquise on a blob of toasted meringue after drizzling the plate with some date syrup I found in a health food shop which lent another sweet tropical flavour. I then served it with some crush pistachios which added a little crunch and a lovely green colour which seemed fitting to tie in with the lime.

I’m not much of a meringue fan and don’t think it added much to the dish, so I probably wouldn’t make this component part again. Overall (as you can tell) my family and I adored this dessert. Yes it’s a little time consuming, but not overly difficult. The results are spectacular meaning it would be ideal for a special occasion or for when you are wanting to impress guests with your effortless domestic goddess persona.

Click to see the blogroll for other Daring Bakers take on chocolate marquise.

Chocolate Marquise with Coconut, Rum & Lime
Chocolate Base(this is half of the base of the chocolate marquise, not a component to be used on its own)
170g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
180ml double cream
30ml rum
30ml golden syrup
½ tsp coconut extract
15g cocoa powder
zest of 1 lime
15g unsalted butter, softened

Roughly chop the chocolate and place into a small mixing bowl.
In a double-boiler, warm the cream until it is hot to the touch, but is not boiling. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.
Allow it to sit for one minute before stirring gently to melt and combine.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Set aside until cooled to room temperature while you make the other part of the marquise base. Do not refrigerate, as the base needs to be soft when added to the marquise mixture (below).

Chocolate Marquise
6 large egg yolks at room temperature
2 large eggs
75g caster sugar
40ml water
Chocolate base, barely warm (recipe above)
250ml double cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and whole eggs. Whip on high speed until very thick and pale, about 10 - 15 minutes. (I don’t have one so used an ordinary bowl and a hand mixer!)
When the eggs are getting close to finishing, make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the syrup to a boil and then cook to softball stage (235F/115C).
With the mixer running on low speed, drizzle the sugar syrup into the fluffy eggs, trying to hit that magic spot between the mixing bowl and the whisk, not the whisk itself or the sides of the bowl.
When all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer back to high and whip until the bowl is cool to the touch. This will take at least 10 minutes.
In a separate mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Set aside.
When the egg mixture has cooled, add the previously prepared chocolate base to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Try to get it as consistent as possible without losing all of the air you've whipped into the eggs.
Fold a third of the reserved whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, and then fold in the remaining cream.
Pour into the prepared pan or individual serving moulds and cover with clingfilm, pressing it down directly onto the mixture.
Freeze until very firm, at least 4 hours (preferably 6 – 8 hours).

Torched Meringue
(If you aren't planning on serving all of the marquise at once, you can make just half or even a third of the recipe)
6 large egg whites
200g caster sugar
Splash of apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Combine the egg whites, sugar and vinegar in a heatproof bowl. Whisk together lightly until all the ingredients have combined, but don’t try and make the egg foam up.
Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Use a spatula to stir the mixture continuously, dipping a finger in ever so often to feel for grains of sugar in the egg whites. As the liquid heats up, the sugar will slowly dissolve and the egg whites will thicken. This step is complete when you don't feel any more sugar crystals in the liquid and it is uniformly warm, nearly hot.
Remove the mixing bowl from the saucepan and pour into a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (I don’t have one so used an ordinary bowl and a hand mixer). Whisk until you reach soft peaks. In the last 10 seconds of mixing, add the vanilla to the meringue and mix thoroughly. Set aside until ready to use. Can be done 1-2hours in advance.

To Serve
Chopped pistachio nuts
Cocoa powder for dusting
Date syrup for drizzling

Drizzle your serving plates with some of the date syrup. Arrange a blob of meringue onto the plate and toast lightly with a blowtorch to form a lightly golden top crust (optional).
Remove the marquise from the freezer, (do this 15 minutes before serving if cutting up a big one, or not at all if you’ve made individual servings). While it's still hard, remove it from the pan by pulling on the parchment 'handles' or by flipping it over onto another piece of parchment.
Cut it into cubes and dust them in cocoa powder. These will start to melt almost immediately, so don't do this step until all of your other plating components (meringue, syrup, nuts) are ready.
Arrange the dessert on the plate and scatter over the chopped nuts.
Serve immediately.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fudgy Cocoa Brownies

I seem to go through stages where I crave certain foods. They play on my mind, niggling away, demanding to be eaten and tormenting me with all the choices. A few weeks back it was cheesecake – my birthday peanut butter cheesecake being the delicious results. These past few weeks I’ve been hankering after brownies.

“Ok, make a batch of brownies then” you might think, but I have yet to find my ‘perfect’ brownie recipe and have you ever tried searching the internet for a simple chocolate brownie recipe? The results must roll into the hundreds – if not thousands of different recipes, each one claiming to be ‘the best’ ‘the ultimate’ the ‘walk over hot coals good brownie’ leaving me bleary eyed and undecided about which one to try.

After a while adaptations of the same recipe kept popping up. A brownie recipe made by Alice Medrich called Cocoa Brownies which is made entirely with cocoa powder and no melted chocolate. What? A brownie recipe without any chocolate, how can that be good? Yet everywhere I saw it, it got rave reviews. So in the end I decided to test it for myself and this became my brownie recipe to end my brownie cravings.

The recipe is incredibly quick and easy to put together and uses only a saucepan and a spatula, meaning the clean up was quick too. The batter was dark, rich and glossy and smelt intensely chocolaty thanks to the large amount of cocoa powder called for. You’d never have guessed it didn’t have melted chocolate in there.

I used my new brownie pan to bake it in. A clever tin with a removable base with handles and even a centre divider that you insert before baking to allow the brownies to be baked in equal serving sizes. I think it also helped the outside pieces cook evenly, although my two middle pieces were definitely more under baked and gooey than the rest (not that I’m complaining!)

The finished brownies had the characteristic wafer thin sugary top crust with soft and gooey chocolate brownie underneath. They had a slight chew to them and a deep rich cocoa flavour, that certainly wasn’t missing the chocolate. I really liked how the bitter cocoa helped keep the brownies from being overly sweet.

They were very light in texture but defiantly headed more into the fudgy category rather than the cakey category. I baked them for 20 minutes but I may try just 3-4 minutes longer next time as the centre ones were a little too fudgy for me.

Incredibly moreish; they definitely satisfied my brownie craving. Alice Medrich refers to these as ‘The Best Cocoa Brownies’ and they may in fact be ‘the best’ cocoa brownies, but to me they are not The best brownies, close but not quite. I fully aware that everyone’s brownie preferences are vastly different and these are still delicious brownies so I’d encourage you to have a go and see for yourself.

Fudgy Cocoa Brownies
(Adapted from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich)
140g unsalted butter
280g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
80g Gluten free (or plain) flour (I used Doves brand)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line the base and up two sides of a 9inch square baking pan with baking paper (or base only if using a brownie tin).
Dice the butter into cubes and add to a saucepan along with the sugar, cocoa powder, salt and vanilla. Heat gently, stirring every so often, until the butter is melted and combined with the cocoa powder and sugar. Beat briefly with a spatula to fully incorporate the ingredients – it will look grainy at this point - and remove from the heat. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl until broken down before beating into the chocolate mixture, a little at a time. The batter should become smooth and glossy.
Scatter over the flour and beat in using a spatula. Start in the middle and work your way out towards the edge to prevent it clumping.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until a thin crust has formed and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with a few sticky crumbs attached, but no actual liquid batter.
Allow the brownies to cool in the tin before removing with the help of the baking paper or handles of the brownie tin.
Once cool, refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting. This helps get a clean cut.
Cut into 12 brownies (or smaller for brownie bites).
Eat and enjoy!

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Cake Slice May 2011: Orange Almond Caramel Upside-Down Cake

This months Cake Slice cake intrigued me, orange, honey, caramel and almond is not a combination I have come across before I was a little unsure how it would taste. On reading the recipe, the caramel upside-down part reminded me of a sticky bun recipe. Toasted nuts and caramel are spread into the base of the cake tin before a cake batter is poured on top, baked and then turned out to reveal the nutty gooey caramel layer on top. It sounded delicious so I was more than happy to give it a go.

I decided to half the recipe and bake it in a smaller tin. Due to this I decided to use the zest and juice of a tangerine in place of the orange as this seemed more fitting to its size, plus I was all out of oranges. The only other alternation I made was to replace the vanilla extract with almond extract in order to tie the almond flavour into the cake as well as the nutty caramel topping. The cake was quick and easy to put together and I had high hopes for it.

Sadly, for me, the cake did not live up to expectations. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with it, it was a perfectly nice cake, but that’s as far as it goes – nice but not great.

It was very moist and the nutty caramel topping was sticky and I loved the texture of biting into a sliver of almond, but somehow eaten as a whole it just didn’t work for me. The flavours seemed confused with no one flavour standing out, only mingling into a slightly bland one-note taste.

I tried another slice the following day and found that the tangerine flavour had developed, which to me improved the cake, but I still wasn’t crazy about it. Despite my less than glowing review of this cake, by all means try it out for yourself as I know some of my fellow bakers absolutely loved it.

Click to see the Cake Slice blogroll for other members thoughts on this cake.

Orange Almond Caramel Upside-Down Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)
Ingredients – Topping
50g sliced almonds
75g unsalted butter
120g light brown sugar
55ml honey

For the Cake
180g plain flour (I used 100g brown rice flour, 40g buckwheat, 40g tapioca flour)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
80ml sour cream
2 eggs
55ml orange juice (I used tangerine)
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used almond)
100g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
1 tbsp grated orange zest (I used tangerine)
(I added 1 tsp xanthan gum)

Method - Topping
Heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 9 inch round non stick cake pan and line the base with parchment paper. Dust with flour.
Spread the nuts on a baking tray and toast until golden, 8 to 10 minutes (mine only took 4 minutes!!) Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the brown sugar, turn the heat to low, and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Drizzle over the honey and scatter over the toasted nuts.

Method - Cake
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Combine the sour cream, eggs, orange juice and vanilla in a glass measuring cup and beat lightly.
Combine the butter and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Stir in the orange zest.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, pour the egg mixture into the bowl in a slow stream, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture, a third at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Then mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.
Pour the batter over the almonds, gently spreading it into an even layer.
Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let stand for 5 minutes.
Holding the pan and a plate together firmly with oven mitts, invert the hot cake onto the plate. Peel away the parchment paper. If necessary, replace any almonds stuck to the base of the pan. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Note: I halved the recipe above and baked it in a 6inch tin for 35minutes.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Coconut & Almond Macaroons

Today is the start of Coeliac Awareness Week 2011. The aim is to help people better understand the symptoms of coeliac disease, how to deal with it on a day-to-day basis and generally improve the understanding. Coeliacs have to exclude all wheat, gluten, rye, barley and its derivatives from their diets as the protein contained within these grains can’t be dealt with by the body, damaging the gut and leading to other health problems.

I have been diagnosed as coeliac for less than a year but already I feel able and confidant enough to lead a perfectly normal life. I have discovered it’s not so much about cutting foods out, but more about substitutions. People shouldn’t feel deprived that they have to exclude cakes and treats from their diet, simply experiment and try out some different flours, you may get some odd results along the way but the resulting treats can be very rewarding, not to mention tasty. I am also starting to feel more confidant about going out for meals. I’ve learnt not to panic at the prospect of an evening out with friends. I have found that most places are more than happy to discuss dietary requirements and are very willing to swop rice or potatoes for the bread or pasta dish listed on the menu. If anyone is interested in more info I strongly recommend visiting the Coeliac UK website which is a hub of useful support and information.

Anyway, back to cookies! These macaroons are the good old fashioned, thick and chewy type of macaroons. They were around long before the delicate French Macaron came into fashion and for me, much tastier.

They are meringue based with lots of coconut and some ground almonds thrown in for texture and flavour. They are delicately crisp on the outside with a soft, slightly chewy interior. The gentle outside toasting enhances their nutty flavour, with the natural sweetness from the coconut coming through as you chew.

They are thick, substantial, sweet and delicious. Quick and easy to put together, not a grain of flour in sight and as an added bonus they’re also dairy free!

In support of Coeliac Awareness Week I challenge you all to look at what you’ve eaten today and see if you can adapt it to being gluten free, or go one better and try to eat gluten free for the day tomorrow. Missing gluten should never mean missing out!

Coconut & Almond Macaroons
2 eggs whites
1 tsp lemon juice
100g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
200g desiccated coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract

Line a large baking tray with a silicone mat or greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 170C.
Whisk the egg whites until just starting to foam. Add the lemon juice and whisk until soft peaks form.
Keep whisking, adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Whisk until glossy, thick and shiny.
Scatter over the almonds and coconut and fold in using a spatula.
Use a tablespoon to measure out moulds of the coconut mixture. Place onto the lined baking tray, with 2inches in-between each one.
Press the tops lightly, until they become level in height, but still remain very thick.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden brown (10 minutes to start, then rotate the tray and bake for 5-10 minutes more).
Cool on the tray for 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Makes 11-12 large macaroons

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A Tour of the Lake District

I had a truly wonderful time in the Lake District. We stayed in a little town called Bowness-on-Windermere which was a great centre spot for exploring the area. The weather was glorious, it was sunny all week and not a spot of rain until the evening before we left. I hear they have thunderstorms now, so we were very lucky.

We were out walking every day, exploring a new town around Windermere, hiking in the fells, clambering up to waterfalls, hunting out local food shops and taking in the spectacular views!

I was also very impressed with the availability of vegetarian restaurants in the area. There isn’t even one vegetarian restaurant in the town I live in and yet I managed to eat in three different vegetarian restaurants in one week whilst in the Lakes. Not only that but in all three I should think that over half the menu was also gluten free, meaning I was in my element and quite giddy with all the menu choices.

Below is a little summary of some of my holiday highlights and places I would recommend visiting if you are ever in the area.

A ride on the ferry from Bowness-on-Windermere to the other side of Windermere Lake. It’s only 50p for a foot passenger and you get some wonderful views of the lake – bargain!

After stepping off the ferry you can take a short hike up some steep stone steps to an old Water Station with some interesting history and yet more views of the lake.

I was amazed to discover that almost any patch of ground near water or in woodland was sprouting an abundance of wild garlic! I’ve never seen so much. We picked a bit and had it with some salad at dinner. It was quite strong but sweeter and milkier tasting than raw bulb garlic. I’d have loved to have picked some more and made it into soup.

Do you have a powerful car? Are you are confidant driver? If so then this next trip is for you! A drive through Hard Knott Pass leading into Wrynose Pass. It’s a long, steep, twisty, narrow, often cliff edged path through the valley. It takes you right up into the mountains and gives some amazing views but some of the roads and so steep and narrow it will have you clutching at the dashboard, especially if you meet a car coming the other way and have to reverse down a cliff!

Half way through Wrynose Pass you can pull over and walk up onto the hilltop to explore the ruins of Hard Knott Fort. It’s very open and exposed so go prepared to tackle the wind.

A walk to Stanley Ghyll Force Waterfall, situated between Eskdale and Boot is a definite must. It may in fact be the most enjoyable and scenic walk I did whilst in the Lakes. You have to walk through some woodland, following rocky streams, before climbing up narrow stone steps and crossing over wooden bridges to reach the waterfall. The walk is so peaceful and tranquil and the surrounding vegetation is so lush that it is almost tropical!

A hike up Loughrigg Fell near Grasmere is very rewarding and perfect for anyone not keen on attempting one of the bigger mountains like Scarfell or Coniston. It’s still a challenge, being very steep and quite rocky in parts but we got up and down in one afternoon and, as always, the views were spectacular! On one side we had Windermere and the other views of Grasmere.

It was very windy at the top, so much so my hair was flying all over the place and I could barely see where I was walking, but gosh, the wind and the views really made me feel alive!

No walk would be complete without a rewarding ice cream at the end. There was a company we discovered called The Windermere Ice Cream Co who made over 30 different flavours of ice cream and as luck would have it, they had a scoop shop in the village we were staying in, so we were able to indulge quite often. The ice cream was divine – if not a little pricy. My tip would be to go for a single scoop tub over a cone – they give you more ice cream! My absolute favourite one I tried was the cinnamon and plum ice cream – heavenly, but we also sampled tiramisu, rum & raisin, damson, cherry and coconut.

Lancrigg Vegetarian Restaurant in Easedale is a hidden gem. Set in a huge manor house its completely vegetarian with many of the dishes being adaptable to gluten free. Its hidden just on the outskirts of Grasmere, in a stunning location and is well worth a visit. We went for lunch and were really impressed at the variety and care that had obviously been put into planning their dishes.
I had the daily special which was oven baked cashew nut and lemon falafel served on a fresh tomato sauce with fresh cranberry chutney accompanied by a side salad, a warm ratatouille and paprika potato wedges. It was huge plateful and all so tasty. Using cashew nuts in falafel was a real eye opener for me. It gave them such a rich creamy flavour, I’ve never cooked with cashews like this before but I’m longing to try it out myself.

Desserts were equally impressive. I had a chocolate espresso mousse with coconut sorbet. The mousse was so rich and intensely chocolaty, while still being soft and light. It was the perfect contrast to the cool silky coconut sorbet.

Another diner had the simply named pavlova, and was presented with a mountain of delicate meringue topped with freshly whipped cream and a mix of lightly stewed and fresh summer berries. It was a fabulous meal and everyone left absolutely stuffed!

In Grasmere we discovered a shop dedicated to tote bags printed with amusing things, with their brand being ‘…. Are Good’ ranging from things like chocolate to piano teachers. I ended up buying two, one for myself and one for a friend. I couldn’t resist the Cakes Are Good bag.

More? Artisan Bakery in Kendal is well worth a visit if you love bread. They have a fabulous array of breads, pies and brownies. I’d looked them up for a visit as I’d heard they made gluten free award winning brownies – what they refer to as ‘muddies.’ Let me say they deserve their award. YUM! One of the best bought brownies I’ve ever eaten, even before I went GF. It had a thin sugary top crust and was packed with chocolate flavour. The texture was almost that of flourless chocolate cake – so good!

The Staff of Life Bakery, also in Kendal, is another good bread shop. It’s a tiny shop hidden down a side street but the smell was just incredible and you could see the breads being handmade in the back. Sadly nothing GF but other family members raved about the bread.

In Kendal yet again, The 1657 Chocolate House is the place to go if you fancy a hot chocolate and cake. They have 18 different flavoured hot chocolates on the menu as well as about 6-7 different chocolate cakes. We stopped by mid morning and sampled the mint hot chocolate, almond and the cinnamon spice. All delicious.

Low Sizergh Barn is situated on a running farm and their shop has a fantastic display of local meats, cheeses, pickles, jams, fruit and other assorted goodies. I picked up a bottle of rosemary extract which I’m longing to try out in a lemon cake. They also have a tea room which if you visit between 3:30pm and 5pm you get to watch the cows being milked below from a huge picture window. Not something I’ve ever experienced before!

Finally I would highly recommend Zeffirellis in Ambleside. It’s an Italian restaurant attached to a cinema, although can go just to one or the other. Being attached to a cinema may make you think that the restaurant would be a little substandard, but rest assured this is not the case. The restaurant was very sleek and stylish, with dim lighting and an arty glass water feature thing in the middle of the room. It had been recommended to us, but imagine how delighted I was to discover that it was also completely vegetarian. Not only that but all of their pizzas and most of their pasta dishes were able to be made gluten free. I had a delicious gluten free pizza and it was so nice to have such a wide choice from the menu.

As you can see the Lake District has such a lot to offer and I feel there was still more we didn’t get chance to explore. Guess I’ll just have to go back again next year!
Update: Blogger was playing up yesterday and for some reason it's deleated all the comments from this post - humpf!?