Monthly Archives: August 2012

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Aubergine & Tomato Stacks

Full of the flavours of the Mediterranean, this recipe transports you to sun-drenched Italy! As someone who has been intolerant to gluten and dairy for many, many years, I’ve generally stayed away from Italian food, thinking that it’s mainly based around pasta, pizza and a lot of cheese. But when we went to Tuscany recently, I discovered that real Italian food is a wonderfully, all-embracing cuisine. Of course there’s pasta and pizza and of course there are many different cheese showcased throughout the menus. But there’s also a delicious range of recipes that create little bites of heaven with vegetables, meat, fish and fruit, as well. In Tuscany I gained enormous respect for the way Italians work with local produce and hope that this (dairy-free) Italian-style recipe does the cuisine justice.

gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, seed-free, citrus-free

Serves 4     Preparation time 10 minutes     Cooking time 35 minutes


Dairy-Free Pesto:

  • 60g/2¼oz basil leaves
  • 30g/1oz/scant ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 50g/1¾oz dairy-free cheese
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large aubergines, sliced widthways and ends removed
  • 3–4 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 large tomatoes, sliced and ends removed
  • 200g/7oz dairy-free soya cheese, cut into small square-shaped slices
  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • a few basil leaves, to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and put the aubergine slices onto a baking tray. Drizzle over the oil and bake for 20 minutes until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, make the pesto. Heat a large heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and dry-fry until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Wash the basil and pat dry in a clean kitchen towel. Put the pine nuts, basil, garlic and dairy-free cheese into a food processor and blitz. With the motor running, pour the oil until a thick, dense sauce forms.
  3. When the aubergines have cooked, put a slice of tomato on top of each aubergine slice. Then put a small dollop of the pesto sauce on top and cover with a slice of dairy-free cheese.
  4. Return to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes until the dairy-free cheese is starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven.
  5. To make the stacks, put one pile of aubergine/tomato/pesto/dairy-free cheese on top of another, on a serving plate, using the smaller piles to put on top of the larger ones. Press the stacks down slightly to anchor them. This will make about 12 stacks.
  6. Cut the avocado into quarters and remove the skins and stone. Slice each quarter into thirds and half each slice. Top the stacks with a couple of pieces of avocado each and sprinkle the basil over. Serve hot or cold.

Water, Spas, Evian – and Home Hydrotherapy

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley.

We’re just back from staying with friends in Thollon in France. Set up high in the mountains that rise steeply from Lake Geneva, we looked out onto a vista of water every day, and watery things seemed to become the focus of our days as the week went by. We took the kids to the beach where they splashed about in the warm, calm lake (and we trailed after them). We went to visit a castle built on the lake, Château de Chillon. Surrounded by water, the castle was built mainly for strategic reasons as it gave the House of Savoy control over the passageways to the Alps and between Northern and Southern Europe. The site has been occupied since the Bronze Age but this beautiful castle apparently dates back to either the 11th or the 12th century.

Chillon came to fame when Byron, in 1816, wrote his famous poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, having visited the castle (and inscribed his name on a wall in the room where prisoners were held). The castle is stunning – an ancient building that creates a dramatic silhouette against the water and the mountains in the background. It’s easy to see why it’s Switzerland’s most visited historic monument!

We also made a trip to the town of Evian-les-Bains. This town is gorgeous. Like many spa towns, it has hosted royals and celebrities over the last two centuries. Back in 1807 a scientist analyzed the Evian springs and discovered amazing curative qualities. The waters began to be used for medicinal purposes and then, in 1823, the first Evian mineral water company was formed. One new ownership later, and the mineral water began to be sold in 1859. To this day, the water is still sourced from the main spring, the Cachat spring, as well as other nearby springs. We went to the Cachat spring fountain, where you can collect water – so Zoe’s Hello Kitty bottle got the treatment….

My friend, Liz and I managed to duck out of picnic-making, suncream-smearing and ferrying around duties one day and we escaped to the ValVital Spa in Thonon-les-Bains. It’s a serious hydrotherapy treatment centre, where they treat people with many ailments, including arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, digestive problems, diabetes, as well as all things related to stress. The minerals within the waters also help detoxing, and Liz and I whiled away the hours standing under various jets of the local mineral water that pummel and massage you, then heating and cooling ourselves in the sauna/steam room and then plunge pool, and even lying in water, listening to music in the Musical Grotto. Bliss!

I’ve returned with a sense of how calming, liberating and nurturing water can be. In the chaos of hectic family life, I generally take a quick shower in the morning before I head off to work and don’t have time to lie in the bath, reflecting, recharging and re-energizing any longer. I have a new plan, now, to try and include more water time in my life, though. And one of the things I’m planning to do is to have regular hydrotherapy baths. You can do these yourself, at home, and they’re super cheap, yet effective. If you lie in a hot bath (not too hot, but hotter than warm) for 15 minutes, then blast under a cold shower for a couple of minutes, this can have an overall relaxing and energizing effect. And it can also boost circulation, tone your skin and help detoxify.

The other thing you can do very simply is to create a Seaweed Soak. If you buy a seaweed mixture, add it to a warm bath, and soak in it for 15–20 minutes, it will detoxify, whilst adding vitamins and minerals into your body through your skin. You can add seaweed masks into the mix, either for your face or your whole body. Alternatively you could use Dead Sea salts, instead. Either way, relax, listen to calming music, sip on a cup of herbal tea and enjoy. And make sure you ban the rest of the family from your oasis!

Great Taste Awards 2012

Another year, another trip to Wincanton a couple of months ago to join the judges for the Great Taste Awards judging… I really enjoyed going to the tastings the previous two years so I set off with high hopes. But this year it wasn’t nearly so much fun. In truth, during the day we tried a lot of entries that really didn’t taste great. It seems to me that this year, as the Awards have become recognised as the standard of authority both within the food industry and with consumers, more and more mass-produced products are being entered. But it’s very clear in the blind-tastings which foods are what the Great Taste Awards are all about – great quality, made with care, fine ingredients and excellent methods – and which ones are not!

We also noticed that a lot of the products seemed to have lovely descriptions, such as ‘finest quality natural ingredients’, ‘family recipe passed down through generations’ or even ‘secret bespoke’ recipe – but when we tasted the products, they didn’t live up to the marketing descriptions. And there were some lovely-sounding ingredients within some of the products, such as Madagascan vanilla or smokey charred peppers. But often these ingredients didn’t seem to be anything but a marketing ploy.

The thing that really annoyed me, though, was that we tasted various “gluten-free” products that are obviously marketing ploys as well. There was a soup that had no clear reason to be marketed as a gluten-free soup, with indistinct flavours and really nothing to commend it. (It would be lovely to get delicious gluten-free soups that are full of flavour, from the chiller cabinet, though.) And then we tasted some gluten-free chocolates that had seriously misleading descriptions – and really weren’t good. Some mass-produced chocolates do contain traces of gluten to help bind them but I’m feeling annoyed at how gluten-free people are being targeted so cynically. It would be great to get delicious gluten-free chocolate, but then the good stuff normally is. What would be better, though, is if we could get more dairy-free and gluten-free chocolates (like some of the delicious ones out there, including the awesome Booja Booja ones).

As a community of people (whether coeliac, intolerant, allergic or avoiding certain things out of a lifestyle choice) we need to make it clear to those in the food trade that we are a) not dumb b) want to buy delicious food c) also want to buy food that will help us nutritionally. I’m certainly not going to buy products that feel like they are arrogant marketing ploys.

Free-from products are judged along with all the other entries, so it’s pot luck how many turn up on the day I’m judging – and this year there were hardly any on my day. But suddenly, within the tastings, there was one very nice gluten-free product. One that is a lovely idea, tasted really good and would be a great ingredient to have in your storecupboard to use as you cook. It was the Linwood’s blend of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. What I loved about it was that the blend was very clever – pumpkin seeds can often taste too strong, but the overall taste of this blend was really good. And this is the sort of thing that you could use to add some excellent nutrients into your daily meals, such as into smoothies, soups, stir-frys, casseroles and stews, as well as in your baking. This was a wonderful product – and it definitely deserved the star it was given. Congratulations, Linwoods!