Category Archives: Entertaining

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Crème Caramel

Creme caramel 2

When I was young, I loved Crème Caramel. I adored the taste and texture of the slightly burnt caramel against the soft, vanilla custard. Sometimes when we went to visit my granny, we’d go out for lunch. She had a favourite restaurant that we invariably went to – and they often had this on the desserts trolley. (They also had steak for 75p extra – which my father always let us have when he was able to join us.) Happy times!

When I found out that I was allergic/intolerant to dairy products, this was just one of many, many recipes I couldn’t eat. I stored it away in my mind. I hadn’t thought to try making a dairy-free version until recently, when I saw Bonne Maman Crème Caramels in a shop, and thought I’d give it a go. It was surprisingly easy – and brought lovely memories of lunch with my granny flooding back…

gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, nut-free, seed-free, citrus-free

Serves 4     Preparation time 10 minutes     Cooking time 1 hour 10 minutes


dairy-free margarine, for greasing
150g/5½oz/⅔ cup fruit sugar or caster sugar
350ml/21fl oz/scant 2½ cups dairy-free milk
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas 2 and grease four 250ml/9fl oz/1-cup ramekins with dairy-free margarine.

    2. Put 125g/4½oz/heaped ½ cup of the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and add 3 tablespoons of water. Shake the pan gently to incorporate the water into the sugar. Heat over a medium-high heat for 6–8 minutes, without stirring, until the sugar has turned a deep golden brown and caramelised. Make sure you don’t leave the sugar for too long as it will turn dark brown and burn. Pour the caramel mixture equally into the ramekins.

    3. Meanwhile, pour the dairy-free milk into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and pour the dairy-free milk through a sieve into a bowl.

    4. Using an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and egg yolk, the vanilla extract and the remaining sugar in a large mixing bowl, until pale and thick. Add the strained milk and beat thoroughly.

    5. Divide the mixture into the ramekins and put them in a large baking dish or roasting tin. Pour enough boiling water in to the dish to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30–35 minutes until firm to the touch and starting to turn golden.

    6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Cover with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Serve cold.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Birthday Dragon Cake

ioc dragon cake

I’ve never made a show-off decorated cake before… Or, indeed, anything with show-stopper decorating before. But, with Zoë’ in my world now, many things are changing… Up until now, I’ve done fairly simple cakes for her birthday parties. But her best friend, Ivy, had had a Peppa Pig cake for her 3rd birthday and then had a Princess Castle one for her 4th birthday. Zoë’s birthday is 5 weeks after Ivy’s and, as her 4th birthday approached, I realised I was going to have to step up to the mark.

I decided to try something from Juliet Stallwood’s book, Icing on the CakeBilled as the ultimate step-by-step guide to decorating baked treats, the book tells you that “like your very own fairy godmother, Juliet Stallwood will transform you from humble home baker to icing queen with a wave of her piping nozzle!” Great – sounds like just what I needed!

Zoë and I chose the Dragon Cake. I made it in a slightly different order to the recipe below, just because I only had the evenings to make it in, plus I was making a gluten-free and dairy-free version, and I find that dairy-free frosting works better if it’s chilled in the fridge. I started off by making 2 gluten-free and dairy-free sponges – that was Thursday night, after work. Then, on Friday night , I made a dairy-free frosting and then left it in the fridge to chill and firm up. Then I rolled out some modelling paste and coloured them. I used natural colours, which is why it ended up pink and yellow – (plus Zoë loves pink). I made all the parts for the dragon and left them to harden overnight. I remember texting a friend a picture of the bits at about 11pm at night and then heading off to bed, slightly nervous…

Dragon bits

The following morning, I sandwiched and covered the cakes with the frosting, and then covered the whole thing with a layer of the modelling paste. Modelling paste feels a little weird at first, but once you get used to how stiff it is to work with, it gets easy. Then I attached all the dragon and flame bits and I started to smile for the first time in the whole process… It had seemed like it was going to be difficult and it took quite some time. But, in fact, it was fairly easy. And it felt FANTASTIC when I’d finished it.

ioc kids

Zoë was suitably impressed. So were all her friends. Yay! Now I’ve just got to go one better next year…!

gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, seed-free, citrus-free

Makes 1 cake


  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • 150g/5½oz coloured modelling paste (I used a natural red dye and added just a few drops to the paste, and kneaded it in, to make pink)
  • 60g/2¼oz coloured modelling paste (I used a natural yellow dye and added a few drops then kneaded)
  • 2 x 20cm/8in round sponge cakes (I made gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate ones)
  • 1 recipe quantity frosting (I made a dairy-free chocolate one)
  • 100g/3½oz seedless raspberry jam
  • 800g/1lb 12oz white sugar paste
  • 200g/7oz red-coloured sugar paste (I used a natural red dye and added lots of drops then kneaded)
  • edible glue or cooled, boiled water (I used boiled water)
  • 5g/¹⁄8oz black-coloured sugar paste (I used a raisin, instead)

You will need:

  • small rolling pin
  • 5mm/¼in marzipan spacers (optional)
  • sharp knife
  • dragon and flame templates (see this link)
  • tray lined with baking parchment
  • 20cm/8in round cake drum
  • small paintbrush
  • ruler
  1. Dust the work surface with a little icing sugar, then knead the first colour of modelling paste until it is soft and pliable. Roll out the kneaded modelling paste until it is 5mm/¼in thick, using marzipan spacers if you like, and cut out the dragon’s head, ears, body and legs, using the templates. Indent the toes and mouth with the sharp knife, then smooth the edges of all the parts with your fingers. Repeat with the second colour of modelling paste to make the tummy and wings, indenting the line details on both parts with the sharp knife and smoothing the edges with your fingers. Without assembling the dragon, transfer the parts to the prepared tray and leave to dry overnight, uncovered, in a cool, dry place. Roll the trimmings into balls and store in an airtight container so the modelling paste does not dry out.
  2. When the dragon parts have dried and, using the cake drum as a firm base, layer the sponge cakes, then fill with frosting and jam to make one tall 20cm/8in cake. Cover the cake with the remaining frosting. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours. When the frosting has set, dust the work surface with a little icing sugar, then knead the white sugar paste until it is soft and pliable. To cover the cake with the kneaded sugar paste, roll out the kneaded sugar paste until it is 5mm/¼in thick, using marzipan spacers if you like. Carefully lift the rolled sugar paste and gently place it over the top and side of the cake, taking care not to stretch or pull it. Use your hands to smooth it over the top and side of the cake, making sure to smooth out any air bubbles. Trim off any excess sugar paste at the base of the cake with the sharp knife. Roll the trimmings into a ball and store in an airtight container so the sugar paste does not dry out and crack.
  3. Dust the work surface with icing sugar, then knead half of the red sugar paste until it is soft and pliable. Roll out the kneaded sugar paste quite thinly and cut out about 10 flames, using the template. Brush the back of each flame with edible glue or water, then press them vertically onto the side of the cake. Repeat with the remaining red sugar paste until the side of the cake is covered in flames.
  4. Brush the back of the dragon’s body and head with a little edible glue or water, then attach them to the top of the cake. Attach the ears, tummy, legs and wings, securing each part with edible glue. To make the nose, roll a tiny ball of the first colour of modelling paste, then flatten it slightly and indent with the end of the paintbrush. To make the eye, roll out a very small ball of the remaining white sugar paste. For the pupil, roll out a tiny ball of black sugar paste and attach it to the eye (although I used a raisin), then attach an even tinier ball of white sugar paste to the top of the pupil, flattening it slightly as you do so. Attach the nose and eye to the head with edible glue or water. To make the tail, roll the remaining first colour of modelling paste into a long, tapered sausage about 15cm/6in long. Flatten the wider end of the sausage to form the base of the tail, then attach the base to the top of the cake with edible glue or water, making sure it lines up squarely with the body. Mould a tiny ball of the second colour of modelling paste into a triangle and attach it to the tail tip with edible glue or water. Curl the end of the tail slightly to form an s-shape over the top and side of the cake, securing it in place with edible glue or water. Roll the remaining second colour of modelling paste into tiny balls, then attach them to the body and head of the dragon with edible glue or water, flattening them slightly as you do so. Leave the cake overnight to allow the sugar and modelling pastes to dry.
  5. Tips: You will need to make the dragon parts at least a day before they are needed. And you can change the expression of the dragon by altering the position of the pupil.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Cake)

Rice cake

Rice dishes are very common in Italy, especially in the northern areas, because rice was so plentiful (rice has been grown in Italy since the 15th century). Traditionally Torta di Riso was served as a celebration cake – for weddings, baptisms, Christmas and Easter. A particular favourite in Tuscany, apparently, it’s a flourless cake that uses risotto rice instead of flour, and can also be eaten as a dessert.

It’s lovely to make a cake without the usual flour-combination-method. Not for those on a low-carb diet(!), this cake is mouthful after mouthful of sweet, substantial comfort. The risotto rice is simmered in flavoured milk (I’ve used dairy-free, of course) until soft and creamy, then mixed with lots of beaten eggs and the remaining ingredients, before being baked in the oven. The vanilla and cinnamon imbue the cake with sweet tones, and the lemon zest gives a citrusy kick. Make sure you don’t overcook the rice in the first stage (take it off the hob while it still has some bite) and use really good quality eggs, preferably organic.

gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, seed-free

Serves 4     Preparation time 15 minutes plus cooling time     Cooking time 1 hour 35 minutes


  • 50g/1¾oz dairy-free margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 150g/5½oz/⅔ cup fruit sugar or caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 1.25l/44 fl oz/5 cups dairy-free milk
  • 250g/9oz/heaped 1 cup arborio or risotto rice
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 large eggs, plus 5 large egg yolks
  • 25g/1oz/scant ¼ cup ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • icing sugar, to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4 and lightly grease a deep, springform 20cm/8in cake tin with dairy-free margarine and line the base with baking parchment.
  2. Put the margarine, sugar, vanilla pod and milk in a large, heavy-based saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over a medium heat. Add the rice and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is creamy and soft, but still has a slight bite. Remove from the heat and scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add, then add the cinnamon and lemon zest and stir in thoroughly. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and leave to cool completely.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and egg yolks until pale and thick. Fold the ground almonds, gluten-free baking powder and xanthan gum into the mixture. Make sure the mixture is well mixed but take care not to overmix it.
  4. Remove the vanilla pod from the rice mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the rice and stir gently until combined. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the surface with the back of a spoon.
  5. Bake for about 60 minutes until firm to the touch and cooked through. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Once cooled, sprinkle icing sugar over and serve.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Asian-Style Poached Chicken & Pak Choi – in a Slow Cooker

Bev's Slow Cooker chicken

Recently I worked with Beverly le Blanc on her brilliant new book, I Love My Slow Cooker, which was published last month. She very kindly gave me one of the slow cookers she’d bought to do all the testing and didn’t need any longer (many thanks, Bev!!) so I’ve been having a lovely time trying out lots of the recipes from her book. My mother didn’t have a slow cooker, and I’d never tried one before, so it was all new to me. But oh wow, are slow cookers great!

The back of I Love My Slow Cooker says “Discover how your slow cooker can transform your life in the kitchen from a frantic, stressful time into a wonderfully calm one”. Sounds like a big claim, doesn’t it? Well I wrote that so now I need to back up my words! Trust me, though, it’s true! I work full-time and my husband stays at home (doing cartoons for The Guardian), so he collects Zoё from school and makes her evening meal for her. For me, one of the fantastic things about the slow cooker is that I can quickly put a recipe together in the cooker before I leave the house in the morning, and by dinner time it can be ready and waiting for Peter to dish up for her. It’s easy to make stews and casseroles that are healthy and full of delicious flavours, that warm Zoё up in this cold weather and give her a lovely comforting meal. The slow cooker can then keep the meal warm until I get home from work and Peter and I tuck in. Great. Truly great. But then you’ve probably heard that sort of story from lots of people…

What you probably haven’t heard is how slow cookers are wonderful for making a whole variety of dishes. Yes, of course, soups, stews and sauces. They’re great, too, for cheap cuts of meat (which you can cook for numerous hours until meltingly tender) and dried beans (which you can leave to bubble away without worrying about them going mushy). But they’re also brilliant for cooking fish. Whether you’re cooking a fish stew fairly quickly, or cooking something like squid on a low heat over several hours, you’ll find that the fish cooks perfectly and doesn’t overcook. And what’s more, the slow, gentle, steam cooking can create superb puddings, too. No need to mess about doing a bain-marie method – you can just put it in a slow cooker.

I have some firm favourites already from this book. And one of them is this Asian-Style Poached Chicken & Pak Choi. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly so that it’s completely gluten-free and dairy-free. But basically, you put a whole chicken in the slow cooker, add the Asian-style ingredients, and 4 hours later it’s bubbling away, ready to be served. I serve it with coconut rice because Zoё loves that (I do equal parts coconut milk and water and a few coriander leaves in at the end) and often add more veggies to the pot. It’s a lovely family meal but it also gets lots of oohs and aahs when people come round.

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

Serves 4–6     Preparation time 10 minutes     Cooking time 4 hours


  • a few coriander sprigs, with crushed stalks, plus extra leaves to serve
  • 2 onions, 1 halved and 1 sliced
  • 1 oven-ready chicken, about 1.5kg/3lb 5oz, any fat in the cavity removed
  • 600ml/21fl oz/scant 2½ cups gluten-free and dairy-free chicken stock, boiling, plus extra if needed
  • 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup tamari soy sauce, plus extra to taste
  • 4 tbsp rice wine
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2.5cm/1in piece of galangal or ginger, sliced
  • 1 dried red Thai chilli, deseeded if you like
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 pak choi, quartered
  • ground Szechuan pepper or freshly ground black pepper
  • cooked long-grain rice, to serve
  1. Put an upturned heatproof saucer in the slow cooker. (Check that the chicken will be able to sit on top of the saucer with the cooker lid in place.) Preheat the covered cooker on HIGH.
  2. Put the coriander and halved onion in the chicken’s cavity and season with pepper. Secure the opening with wooden cocktail sticks. Put the chicken in the cooker, breast-side down, then pour over the stock, tamari  and rice wine. Add extra stock to fill the container, if necessary, leaving a 2.5cm/1in gap at the top of the pot. The chicken will not be completely covered with liquid. Push the sliced onion, garlic, galangal and chilli into the liquid.
  3. Cover the cooker with the lid. Cook on HIGH for 3¾ hours until the juices from the chicken run clear when the thickest part of the meat is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife or skewer. Remove the chicken from the cooker, wrap in foil and leave to rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put the spring onions and pak choi in the cooker, re-cover and cook for a further 20 minutes until the pak choi is tender. Remove the pak choi from the cooker, and wrap in the foil with the chicken.
  4. Pour the cooking liquid into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then boil vigorously for at least 3 minutes until reduced. Add a little more tamari and pepper, if you like. Remove the skin from the chicken and carve. Strain the cooking liquid, discarding the solids. Sprinkle the chicken with coriander and serve with the cooking liquid, pak choi and rice.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Chargrilled Pepper & Tomato Pizza

I made pizza for Zoë’s 4th birthday party this year. We had 16 little ones running around our home and garden and Zoë had a great time. (The mess at the end, though, was jaw-droppingly terrible!) Most kids love pizza – and it’s one of Zoë’s absolute favourites. Of course it’s delicious but it also makes a great finger food meal for them when they’re learning to eat, so they usually start eating pizza from an early age and know that they love it.

We didn’t do a formal sit-down tea, so the pizza worked well (along with hummus, carrot and cucumber sticks and ice cream) as they could run around, dipping into the food whenever they wanted. I also made a Pink Dragon Cake – but I’ll tell you about that another time…

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

Serves 2     Preparation time 25 minutes, plus 1 hour rising     Cooking time 15 minutes


  • 6 tbsp passata
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 80g/2¾oz/scant 1 cup drained, bottled or tinned chargrilled peppers oil, cut into slices
  • 50g/1¾oz Parma ham, thinly sliced
  • 8–10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 30–60g/1–2¼oz/⅓–⅔ cup soya cheese, shaved

Pizza Dough:

  • 85g/3oz/scant ½ cup brown rice flour, plus extra for rolling the dough
  • 85g/3oz/¾ cup gram flour
  • 30g/1¼oz/¼ cup maize flour
  • scant ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried active yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  1. To make the pizza dough, sift the flours, xanthan gum and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and, using a metal whisk, mix thoroughly. Add the oil and mix in. Pour in 100ml/3½fl oz/scant ½ cup warm water and, using either a wooden spoon or your hands, mix to form a soft dough. Alternatively, sift the flours, xanthan gum and salt into a food processor. Add the yeast and blend to mix together. Add the oil and blend well. Add 100ml/3½fl oz/scant ½ cup warm water, a little at a time, and continue blending to form a soft dough. Process for 3–4 minutes to aerate the dough. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with cling film and leave to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7 and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Turn the dough out again onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little, then shape it into a ball. Flatten the dough slightly, roll it out into a large circle about 5mm/¼in thick and neaten the edge, using a sharp knife, if you like. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet.
  3. Put the passata and tomato purée in a bowl and mix well, then spread it over the pizza base and sprinkle with the peppers, ham and tomatoes. Bake for 12 minutes until the base is starting to turn brown and the tomato sauce is bubbling. Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top, then return to the oven for 3–4 minutes until the cheese has started to melt. Serve immediately.