Sunday, 30 December 2012

Marks and Spencer Truly Chocolate Belgian chocolate trufle torte- gluten free and delicious

Wow!  These little flourless puddings are amazing.  Heated for 40 seconds in the microwave you get a smooth intense chocolate pudding.  One between two people looks stingy but is enough.

Food photography is difficult at the best of times, but I simply couldn't take a shot of this that looked anything but weird.

These puddings were in the chilled section at Marks and Spencer, and actually have an orange 'gluten free' logo on the front as well as the helpful allergen box at the back.  Excellent as an indulgent treat or a desert for  dinner party.

You can eat them cold too.

Contain cows milk, eggs and soya.  Not suitable for those allergic to nuts due to manufacturing process.

Nando's gluten free -speedy, tasty and very helpful

I've walked past my local Nando's many times, looked in the window at the people eating, checked the menu in the window- and because it gave no mention of being able to meet the needs of people who are gluten intolerant walked on by.  They mention nuts, so it was clear they understood that some people have food difficulties, and even mentioned that vegetarians could be assured that their food would not touch the chicken...but no mention of gluten.  Today, having discovered the place we planned to try wasn't open for lunch on Sunday, in we went.

It didn't start so well as when I asked the greeter about gf options she said she wasn't sure and I would have to ask at the desk where they took orders.  I looked at the menu, went to have a chat, and was immediately offered the giant everything you need to know about the food book, plus the offer of help to work out what I needed to know.  I had a look, had a chat, chose my meal and went to order it.  When I put in the order the person who had helped me with the book asked if I had checked one of the items, and when I said I hadn't (having been told all those side orders were ok), he got the book and checked just to be sure. It was fine.

So, all the chicken and bastes are ok, the salads and hot side orders are fine, just the wraps, breads etc, the obvious things, are off limits.  The book is extra useful because it not only says if the food is ok for vegetarians and coeliacs, it also lists every ingredient, so if you have a problem with some less obvious food, like celery or vinegar you can check each item.

The food came very fast - it is obviously mostly made in advance and reheated as needed.  However, it was tasty and I managed to have a very well balanced meal - often quite difficult in restaurants, who seem to think all you want to eat is protein and fat.  It is a shame they don't have outlets on motorway service stations, they would be ideal for a quick meal while travelling.

So, the food was good, quick and safe, the staff were very helpful, and there was a range of things I could have eaten.  Their chips are gluten free too, so if you are having cravings this would be a reliable place to go.  Not the best in the world but perfectly adequate.  You could also eat well here as a vegetarian - I had a spicy bean dish, which, with ratatouille, salad, sweetcorn and potato would make an excellent full meal.

Deserts all looked wheat and dairy based but I didn't try them nor did I ask if they had anything else.  I couldn't quite finish my main meal of chicken, spicy beans and ratatouille.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Pizza Hut square gluten free pizza

Pizza Hut worked with the UK Coeliac Society to produce a gf pizza.  I finally tried one today, having had a family party cancelled due to illness- what better to do on a day of filthy weather than potter off to an office supplies store and grab the opportunity to try this pizza in the cafe next door.

We don't tend to use Pizza Hut as their normal pizzas have been dull in the past. However, there at the door minutes before they opened meant that the place would be clean and the atmosphere not too thick with flour.

I ordered something called a Veggie Hot.  I decided to try the standard pizza rather than telling them to leave off the cheese.  I took some Lactase but didn't take any glutenzyme, so I could see if I got contaminated.  I asked for (sorry folks) an extra topping of Pineapple - partly because other reviews I had seen said the pizzas were dry.

The pizza looked fine. The base held together.  It could be eaten by hand or with a knife and fork.  The base itself was rather sweet and had a flavour-deadening effect on the topping.  By scraping all the topping onto half the pizza I had a bit of flavour, but it was astonishing that they could take tomato paste, cheese, green pepper (capsicum), chillies, onion, fresh tomatoes and pineapple and combine them in such a flavourless way.  The extra pineapple topping was not enough to add much succulence, and it cost £1.10 extra.

I was offered a salad bowl - you can just fill up at their salad bar while you wait for your pizza.  I said I didn't think it was a good idea given that avoiding cross contamination might be difficult, to which the waitress smiled, shrugged, and said it probably wasn't a good idea.  I didn't push this, but I was surprised she didn't offer to get a simple fresh salad from the kitchen.  Maybe they put out all the vegetables at the start of the day - but that seems unlikely as some of the pizzas come with rocket.

So, full marks for making an effort.  Having the pizzas arrive a different shape is very sensible - the better quality gf food is them more essential it is that it is very clearly identifiable.   It also reminds that staff at every stage that they are dealing with gf food.

As we were leaving a group of eight young people arrived and I noticed two of them ordered a gf pizza.  I am sure that being able to get a gf pizza makes the social side of life much easier.  It is just a pity that the flavour is so lacking.  This pizza felt as if whoever invented it had never eaten it but had focused solely on the construction and contamination sides of the issue.  I still feel fine an hour later so I think this pizza was safe.

Twenty hours later, still fine.  Pizza Hut managed to feed me safely if a bit boringly.

Friday, 28 December 2012

writing restaurant reviews

I offered to write some restaurant reviews for Coeliac in the City.  That was months ago.  I still haven't written the reviews.  Why not?

It turns out to be quite a complicated business.  I chose a restaurant, ate the food, and started writing the review as I sat eating.  However, early on in the meal I was told that one of the side dishes had been prepared incorrectly to be gluten free and it was whisked away and replaced- but not before I had taken a mouthful.  It was just that they had used the frying vat that they also fried the breaded calamari in.  I enjoyed the excellent food and the lively but unfussy ambiance, but by the time I was walking home I was definitely feeling a bit unwell.  I wrote to the restaurant chain to ask what they and any customer could do to reduce the chance of errors ---and then waited about a week for the full response.  The wait removed the impetus to write, the reply wasn't as useful as I would have liked, and the review remains incomplete.

So, try another restaurant.  I don't normally eat out as it is so hazardous, but I hadn't anything important to do so tried an Italian restaurant that advertised gf pizza, pasta, deserts etc.  They seemed very keen and there was quite a lot of choice.  They would even offer cheese made with non-cow milk or soya for those with dairy problems.  I tried the pizza, my partner had the normal pizza, both of us a bit unimpressed.  It hadn't really occurred to me that I might want to say that the food was mediocre when the restaurant staff present themselves as caring mightily about food.

How do I write a review in my home town that is less than complementary, but still helpful?  I didn't get ill at all, so that is pretty impressive.

Next issue.  With dozens of restaurants within walking distance of my home, how do I decide which ones to write about and which to miss?  Do I eat in them all or just interview them to find out their approach?

It simply hadn't occurred to me that this would be a complex issue.  More fool me.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Spiced bread and butter pudding - dairy and gluten free

I bought a loaf of Marks and Spencer's 'Made without wheat' Fruit bread.  I wondered how well it would work in a bread and butter pudding, so I took four slices of this bread, added egg and rice milk, raisins, sugar and spice and baked in a medium oven for twenty minutes. I skipped the butter to make this dairy free. In this case I used too little milk, so the pudding was a touch drier than it should have been.  Apart from that it was soft and delicious inside  with a crisp sugary topping.  For anyone missing bread and butter pudding this would be a good choice.  It didn't go to crumb or claggy, and absorbed the liquid very well.

4 slices fruit bread
2 eggs
enough milk to cover the bread when lightly compressed - try 250ml -I used rice milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp oil

Mix the egg, milk, oil, spice and sugar together
Place four slices of bread in an oven proof dish.  You can make it fancy, neat or just cut roughly and pile in.  Sprinkle the raisins between the bits of bread.
Pour over flavoured milk mixture.
Sprinkle with a bit more sugar to give a crisp topping.

Bake for 20-25 minutes in a medium oven, about 170C.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Apricot and almond cookies

I used this apricot and nut recipe as a base for these golden cookies.  They are crisp, light and fluffy with a complex sweet flavour and small nuggets of chewy apricot.  I have iced some with a mixture of icing sugar and Amaretto liqueur.  Makes about 28 six cm cookies.

You can make the dough and keep it in the fridge for a while, or in the freezer and slice and bake as needed.

Fan oven 175C (after mixing and chilling)
Four baking sheets lined with parchment paper, or do two at a time.

50g almonds, slivered and toasted
25g pine kernels (or more almonds), toasted.
200g ready to eat dried apricots (partially rehydrated), chopped
100g butter, soft
100g sugar
200g self raising flour (40& urid, 40%tapioca, 20% cornmeal)

Toast the nuts and pine kernels lightly in the oven or a dry pan.  Don't put them in at the same time as the pine kernels will burn before the almonds change colour.
Mix butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Stir in egg
Stir in flour
Stir in fruit and nuts

Roll into a log on clingfilm, wrap and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.  You can just dollop the dough onto the baking sheets which will give a less regularly shaped cookie.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until browning. Take care not to let them burn - the fruit at the edges has a tendency to go black before the rest is golden.

Cool on a rack.

If you want to ice them take two tablespoons of icing sugar and three or four teaspoons of amaretto, mix together until you have a sloppy icing.  Drizzle over cooled cookies and leave to set.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Ginger chocolate swiss roll

My mother-in-law is coming for Christmas lunch.   She doesn't like Christmas pudding and she doesn't like pastry (I was feeling tempted by a spicy apple pie).  She does like ginger chocolates, so much so that they are her standard Christmas and birthday gifts from her grandchildren, and a mother's day gift from me.  She allows herself one a day, and these gifts last her most of the year.

So, desert.....seemed like a ginger Swiss roll coated in chocolate so that it looked like a chocolate log would be traditional, festive and a good flavour combination.  Only thing is I don't think I have made a Swiss roll since I gave up gluten.  I made a light gingery sponge using  this recipe from Woman and Home, unusually for me I didn't even look at any other recipes.

The recipe is very simple.  The cake is mostly air, so it probably isn't worth trying to make if you don't have a stand mixer, or else accept that it will be a little less fluffy.

Cake ingredients
3 eggs
125g sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
125g flour

Filling ingredients
80g Butter
100g white chocolate
150g icing sugar
25g crystallised ginger
3tbsp ginger syrup from stem ginger jar (if you haven't got any just cook some fresh or crystallised ginger in a little water with sugar)

Icing ingredients
85g Butter
85g dark chocolate
150g icing sugar

Crystallised ginger shreds for the top if wanted

Mix the eggs and sugar until they are light and fluffy.  This only takes about a minute in a stand mixer, but the recipe says do it for ten minutes until the mixture holds its shape when you lift the beater.  I kept  stopping and testing and.....and it did get a bit stiffer but not like a plain meringue mix.  Put the machine on full pelt somewhere safe and go do something else if you can bear to.

Mix the flour and spices together.  I whisk the mix rather than sieve as it is less effort and seems to work well.  Gently fold the flour and spice mixture into the egg and sugar mixture.  Try not to deflate too much so don't beat the mixture.  When reasonably well mixed spoon carefully into the prepared cake tin, smooth into the corners - it is quite stiff and sticky so it won't fill the tin by itself.

Bake at 180C for about fifteen minutes until just beginning to brown and just firm to the touch.  Lay out a piece of baking parchment bigger then the cake, sprinkle with sugar, and turn the sponge cake out onto this.  Remove the lining paper. It is a bit awkward, but any cracking can be hidden by the icing.  Roll the cake up immediately using the baking paper to help tuck the cake in place smoothly.  Don't include the paper in the roll. Place the roll seam side down on a baking rack and leave it to cool completely.

When cold, unroll gently, spread on filling and re-roll.  Spread chocolate icing over the whole surface and decorate in whatever jolly fashion you choose.

Melt butter, add chocolate and stir to melt over low heat, chop the crystallised ginger into thin slices and add with other ingredients.  Spread on cake while the icing is still warm.  Re-roll cake, wrap paper around cake as you roll and leave to set.

Melt butter, add chocolate and stir to melt over low heat. Sieve icing sugar and stir into chocolate butter mixture.  Spread over Swiss roll.  Leave to set. Decorate if you want.

The photos were taken a bit too soon so the icing was still a bit liquid even though cold.


I found this cake a bit too sweet for my taste.  If I made it again I would add extra ginger to the cake mix and some plain cocoa to the final icing.  My taste tester thought it didn't need cocoa when tested before icing, but agreed it would be better when trying the finished cake.  This would be good served with ginger ice cream.

The original recipe had a creme fraiche filling and this would be both more tart and lighter than the butter cream icing.  If you can manage the dairy this would probably work better.

The sponge cake worked well, with some cracks in the top but it held together.


After it had time to set properly the flavour had also matured so that the ginger in the cake and icing became more obvious- a very good cake that got compliments from the ginger-nut it was intended for.  It sliced cleanly and thin slices held together well.

Marks and Spencer Pork, Sage and Onion garnish selection - gluten free

I noticed this box of stuffing balls, bacon rolls and cocktail sausages in the freezer section in M and S.  Missing out on the stuffing and just being given plain turkey and vegetables (often without gravy) is a standard complaint at this time of year - too many work Christmas lunches just leave us feeling annoyed and left out.  One person wrote that their piece of turkey had the hole in the middle where the stuffing had been removed, despite the catering team having been given ample notice.  This would mean that the turkey wasn't safe to eat.

I cooked these according to the instructions but think that left them overcooked.  When 35 of the specified 45 minutes are finished check to see if they are done.  I would also recommend placing baking paper on the baking pan as I found they stuck to the tin.

The stuffing balls were tasty, good consistency, and not cloying or overpoweringly flavoured.  They are made with rice flour, chickpea flour and cornflour. The sausages had a good balance of flavours and were neither bouncy or bready. The bacon was crisp and well flavoured.

This little pack of 'garnishes' makes giving people a full plate of goodies to go with their turkey very easy.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

quinoa and mushroom loaf (nut roast/turkey substitute)

So, you have someone visit who won't eat the turkey and can't eat dairy or nuts...and they need all their food to be gluten free.  You still want to give them a delicious protein portion to go with their roast potatoes and is a possible solution.

I wrote up a recipe for quinoa, butternut squash and cashew loaf.  Using some of the batch of quinoa I had cooked for this and the cranberries I made a second nut-free version with mushrooms and egg. This is a mild savoury loaf with the mushrooms and quinoa held together by the batter produced from the flour and egg.  The quinoa texture is still discernable.  Test the flavour when you have made the mixture by frying a small amount.  Add more seasonings if you want a punchier flavour.

The quinoa, mushrooms and egg as well as the lentils in the flour combine to make this a high protein dish.

It is always a good idea to have an alternative to turkey as people may be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or just not like turkey.  I had a look at a few recipes on the internet, including the useful evaluative series at the Guardian. I wanted to use roasted butternut and cashew, so also looked at the River Cottage nut roast.  I also fancied including cranberries, and found this pretty-looking recipe from Jamie Oliver.  I wanted this dish to be a complete protein source - it seems to me that too often the vegetarian option in restaurants hasn't thought through either the flavour balance or the nutrient balance.

I cooked a whole 300g bag of qunioa, rinsing thoroughly first, to make both recipes.
I cooked 300g of fresh cranberries for a couple of minutes with the juice of a satsuma, 1tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp chilli jam.  This was used in both recipes.

325 cooked quinoa (all that was left)
250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 eggs
1 tbsp soy sauce (check gf- I use Sanchi Tamari)
pinch mixed herbs
1 red onion, chopped
50g flour ( 40%urid, 40%tapioca, 20%cornmeal)

Cook onions over gentle heat until soft.  Lift out of oil and use the same oil to cook the mushrooms until softened.  You may need to do this in batches.  Add more oil if needed. Cook the garlic in with the last batch of mushrooms.

Mix all the ingredients together.  The flour and egg will give a cakey mix to hold the quinoa and mushrooms together.

Dollop mixture into the prepared mini-loaf tins with cranberries at the base or cook in a large loaf tin lined with baking parchment.

Cook at 180C for 25 minutes.

This is very good cold.  It holds together well so would make a good lunch box or picnic food.

Marmalade loaf cake

Brought back a jar of marmalade from the storage unit made in 1999.  I prefer the crisp flavour of new marmalade but Rod likes this rick dark caramelly flavour.  I used half a jar to make him a cake using a recipe from the Telegraph as the base. This cake has a chewy toffee crust and gently orange middle.  Add more zest if you want a zingier cake.  I used satsumas as they were the only oranges I had.

I used half ordinary sugar and half a solid block of dark brown sugar which I had to dissolve slowly in the egg, so I didn't follow the creaming method fully.  I did cream the loose sugar, so for the first time in ages I got my food mixer out (thanks Lindsay).  The rest of the dissolved sugar and egg mix went into the mix after the butter and sugar was light and fluffy.

I added flaxseed as Rod's new pills mean he needs to increase his fibre intake.  It has the added benefit that I don't get tempted by these cakes as my delicate guts can't cope with flaxseed.

Loaf tin; 22cm by 12cm - traditional 1lb loaf tin, buttered and lined

Oven set to 175C fan

75g butter, room temperature.  If you are hasty and zap in the microwave be careful as the middle can become liquid before you realise
175 sugar (soft brown or other)
2 eggs
125g dark marmalade
zest of two satsumas and juice of one
175g self raising flour (40% urid, 40% tapioca and 20% cornmeal, with 1tsp of baking powder to 100g flour)
25g flaxseed (optional)

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
add in the egg, juice and zest, beat, then add the marmalade
Stir in flour and flaxseed until evenly mixed

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 35- 45 minutes.  If it looks wobbly when you first open the door at 35 minutes leave it in.  It should leave a knife clean when you test it.

Leave in tin for ten minutes.  Peel off paper and cool on a rack.

Turkey alternatives- vegan quinoa, butternut squash and cashew nut roast

It is always a good idea to have an alternative to turkey as people may be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or just not like turkey.  I had a look at a few recipes on the internet, including the useful evaluative series at the Guardian. I wanted to use roasted butternut and cashew, so also looked at the River Cottage nut roast.  I also fancied including cranberries, and found this pretty-looking recipe from Jamie Oliver.  I wanted this dish to be a complete protein source - it seems to me that too often the vegetarian option in restaurants hasn't thought through either the flavour balance or the nutrient balance.

I made two versions, I'll post the second, including mushrooms, later.
I cooked a whole 300g bag of qunioa, rinsing thoroughly first, to make both recipes.
I cooked 300g of fresh cranberries for a couple of minutes with the juice of a satsuma, 1tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp chilli jam.  This was used in both recipes.

600g cooked quinoa
250 roasted butternut squash (peel, chop, rub with oil, roast in hot oven half hour)
250g cashew nuts, chopped (quick blast in blender, be careful not to powder)
1 red onion, chopped, cooked until soft in 1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder (make sure gf)
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4tsp pepper

cranberry 'topping'

Mix all the ingredients and check seasoning. As you stir the mixture the butternut squash pieces will break up  If any are too large just cut them. You want a mixture with some contrast but no large lumps.

You can eat this as it is to test or fry a small blob to give a crisp outer to test what it will be like when baked. You may well want more salt as I eat very little (just enough to stop my tendency to low blood pressure). You may also want to reduce or remove the cumin if you don't like its distinctive earthy taste. Try some sage as an alternative.

Place a layer of the cranberries in the bottom of your dish and pack the quinoa mixture on top.  I used individual baking cases - the sort often used for lemon drizzle, as some of these are being given away.  I made eleven individual nut roasts from this mixture, filling the containers to just below the surface. Drizzle a little oil on top to help it go crisp and brown when baked.

before baking
Bake in the oven with other things you are cooking for about 20 minutes.  These can be frozen; just get out of the freezer a couple of hours before you want to cook them if they are the individual size. These tiny individual portions are easy to tuck in next to other items.  Leave them to rest ten minutes before serving.

This nut roast has a light flavour and slightly crumbly texture.  It would go well with the other traditional items on a Christmas dinner.  Just remember to have some gf vegan gravy to go wit it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Spiced plum cobbler

This cobbler has a light cake topping and a rich syrupy spiced plum base.

600g plums, chopped
4tbsp sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
rind and juice of small orange

100g self raising flour (40%urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal and 1tsp baking powder to 100g flour)
50g cold butter
50g sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
rice or other milk to produce soft dropping batter

Cook the plum mixture until the plums are beginning to soften.  Place in either one medium pie dish or two smaller ones (I like to make two so I can freeze one).

Cut the cold butter into small pieces, toss in the flour, then rub together, either with your fingers or a quick whizz in a food processor.  Stir in the sugar and spice, then the egg and milk.

Carefully spoon the cake mixture on top of the fruit.  Cook in a medium oven (175C fan) for 25-30 minutes until the top begins to brown and the cake is cooked all the way through.

This easy pudding can be made with any variety of fruit.

Christmas dinner stress-buster; Tesco ready-made gf turkey gravy

When I catered for large parties with the full turkey, eight vegetables, two types of potatoes etc. I used to buy two turkeys.  I would cook one the previous week and use the bones to make stock so that the gravy would be a minimum effort activity once the main turkey was cooked- I'd just add the stock to the gooey brown mess at the bottom of the roasting dish, give it a quick stir on the stove, and that would be it.

 With a big kitchen and  large chest freezer this sort of catering was easy.  Now I live in a flat I am looking for space as well as effort saving techniques.  While I was shopping today I noticed an array of ready-made gravy, thickened with cornflour.  I decided to test this tonight with a roast chicken and vegetables.
cold gravy
Th gravy can be heated in the microwave or on the hob.  It ha a pleasant thickness without being cloying. The flavour is a little odd for me, as it has star anise as well as pepper.  I'm never sure about my views on star anise, but every time I buy this spice I end up not using it.  However this hint of star anise is just that, a hint, and I doubt people would be troubled by it as part of the meal.  Just remember to be able to tell them that is what the flavour is if they ask.

This gravy can also be frozen. The one I bought today (Dec 12) had a use by date of Dec 27.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

gf Christmas pudding test; M&S, Tesco, Jenkins & Hustwit and Village Bakery...and the winner is Tesco!

Four Christmas puddings to try at once.  They are very different, surprisingly so.  I microwaved them all, after being a little peeved that the instructions on the Jenkins & Hustwit (J&H) one said to 'microwave according to instruction manual'.  Who has their instruction manual to hand?  I just cooked it for the same time as the Village Bakery (VB) pudding which was almost the same size.

The Village Bakery pudding offered a choice when cooking - to add either a teaspoon of brandy or fruit juice before cooking.  I thought that was a nice touch.  This was 200g. £3.99

The M&S pudding was an individual 100g portion, though I find that it does for two. £2.00

The J&H pudding is 210g. £4.79

The Tesco pudding was a family size 454g. £3.99

All the puddings released easily from their tubs after heating.

Flavour and texture:
V&B: this had a waxy damp look when it came out of the tub.  When I cut it large pieces of fruit were visible, and it cut a bit messily - fine for a pudding.  I thought the initial flavour was citrusy but Rod thought it tasted of chicken - a bit odd for a vegan pudding. After the first burst of flavour I was disconcerted by the odd grainy texture.  We wouldn't buy this again.  I regard Village Bakery as a company that makes good products, and visually this was inviting with the pieces of peel and nuts showing, but the flavour and mouth feel were not good.

J&H:  This pudding had a dry look when taken out of its tub.  It cut very neatly.  I didn't like the odd aromatic flavour.  The texture was good, light and not cloying, with all the fruit part of the pudding rather than distinct pieces.  An acceptable pudding.

M&S: This pudding is damper than the previous two, with a good rounded dark spicy caramel flavour. It had distinct pieces of fruit and nut but they were not intrusive.  It was not cloying or gritty, though I did have something hard in mine- perhaps a bit of shell?  A pleasant pudding I would be happy to take to an event - being a single portion makes this useful as a 'handbag food'.

Tesco:  This pudding looked shiny and damp when turned out of its pot.  It had a slightly bouncy gluey feel to the knife compared to the M&S pudding, but it has a moist and pleasant mouth feel.  It isn't claggy or gritty.  It has a good, well rounded fruity, citrus, spicy flavour.

We found it hard to choose between the Tesco and M&S pudding.  I think it would depend on how many people I wanted to feed more than anything else.  I marginally prefer the Tesco pudding but if I wanted one for myself only I would certainly buy the M&S pudding. Checking the prices I see Tesco Free From also do a double pack of 100g pudding for £2.50.

Neither of us liked the other two - I think they will find their way to the bin rather than the fridge after this test.

So, the winner is Tesco for this household.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Peppery Quinoa fritatta / omelette

I'm always on the look out for foods that can be taken to an event when it isn't safe to eat the food provided. This 'kale and quinoa crustless quiche' looked worth using as an inspiration as it is a very high protein portable food.  Whilst it takes several stages as the quinoa needs precooking, it is a very simple thing to make.  The original recipe called for lots of cheese, which I can't eat, so this is more like a traditional fritatta in that it relies on the egg to hold the whole thing together.

The original recipe called for cooled quinoa to be stirred in the eggs, vegetables and sauce.  Pour into a pie dish.   Cook at 270C for forty minutes.  Eat hot if liked, but like a fritatta this is ideal picnic food eaten cold the next day.

Cook the quinoa in about double the volume water until is softening and you can see it separating into two sections.  Remember you need to rinse well or the quinoa will taste acrid from the coating. Leave the lid on while it cools.   If you need more water while cooking just add some, if you have too much tip it away.  Quinoa is much easier to cook well than rice.

I planned to make a version of this, but got lazy and after cooking the quinoa just made a stove top version for myself for lunch.

2 tbsp cooked quinoa
2 eggs
1 tsp stir-in pasta sauce, I used Sacla tomato and olive
1 tbsp roasted peppers ( I keep a jar of these on the go in the fridge most of the time - great for topping pizza etc)

Cook in a small frying pan like a normal omelette.  This is good hot, being fluffy and lighter than a normal omelette.  It also works well as a cold food and would be very useful as a picnic food or to take to work in your lunch box.  It is high in protein, very tasty and easy to handle.


I ate the rest of the quinoa with lentil and carrot stew for one meal, and with fruit and cinnamon as a late desert.  It is a very versatile food, and, being a complete protein, is very good to serve to vegetarians/vegans.

Mozzarella quickbread panini

I made an ultra-quick and easy bread with a bag of grated mozzarella, some flour and yogurt the other day.  I used some of this to make a toasted sandwich for my resident dairy-eater, who frequently orders panini when eating out.  The bread had been in the freezer, so a quick zap to defrost  before cutting.

I don't have a toaster and the grill in this new flat sets the smoke alarm off every time I use it, so this was made using the crepe pan/griddle we use every morning for pancakes, and the microwave to melt the cheese.

I cut the bread through the middle, toasted each side on the griddle, and spread the melted cheese and chorizo (20secs in the microwave) on the bread and toasted a little longer.

This makes a toasted sandwich that I'm told is better than some ordinary wheat panini bought in cafes.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Easy cheesy gluten free quick bread

If you can tolerate dairy this is a super-easy delicious foccacio-style bread made with self raising flour, grated mozzarella cheese and yogurt.  The middle is soft, the outside crisp, and my resident dairy eater kept going yum yum as he ate this with the spiced lentil and carrot soup we had for supper.

200g grated mozzarella cheese
300g gf self raising flour (40% urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal, with 1tsp baking powder to 100g flour)
yogurt /water to mix

Mix the cheese and flour together and then add yogurt until you get a soft dough.  Pat into shape on a baking tray and bake for 20minutes in an 175C oven.

Eat hot or cold.  Freeze left overs if you don't expect to eat it within a couple of days.

High fibre prune and flaxseed gluten free cookies

I know some people with coeliac disease have a need for more fibre.  These cookies are made with prunes and flaxseed, both helpful in preventing constipation.  They taste great, and are an easy way to add these ingredients into your diet without noticing them.

Makes about 20 cookies - about 8cm across.

These have a warm subtle flavour - my usual taster is very good at describing foods and analysing distinct flavours.  With these he just kept saying they taste really good!  They have a warm, subtle flavour with bursts of tart juiciness from the cranberries.  Add more spice or cocoa to adjust the flavour if you want.

Oven at 175C fan

1 small tub prunes - these are 120g breakfast pots, prunes in fruit juice
2 eggs
40g oil
100g muscadovo sugar (lighter sugar will give a paler cookie)
50g flax seed, milled
10g cocoa
100g self raising flour (I use 40% urid, 40% tapioca, 20%cornmeal, with 1tsp baking powder to 100g flour)
2 tsp mixed spice
100g dried cranberries or other dried fruit

Blitz the prunes in a blender or chop.  Mix with the eggs and oil then add the sugar, spice, cocoa and flour.  Finally stir in the cranberries.  Place dollops on a baking sheet, preferably lined with baking parchment or reusable silicone.  Cook for 12 minutes at 175C. Cool on a baking rack.

Gluten free mince pies: M&S, FreeFrom and Hale & Hearty

It is nearly Christmas and the stores are full of red and green-wrapped seasonal food..much of which is unsuitable for people who cannot tolerate wheat and gluten.  However, there is an increasing range of gluten free food readily available so I decided to run some comparisons.  Today I tested three mince pies, two bought from a speciality store - the kind that sells both rice cakes and vast arrays of vitamins, and the other from Marks and Spencers.  I have been increasingly impressed with the efforts MandS are making to minimise allergens where they really are not needed in a recipe. In doing so they are making many prepared foods available to people like me, so that we don't always have to cook from basic ingredients.

For readers outside the UK, a mince pie is pastry filled with a rich spicy mixture of dried fruits, traditionally eaten at Christmas.

We tested the three mince pies both hot and cold, and considered flavour, texture and ease of handling. All three, I am pleased to say, would be acceptable both hot and cold.  However, they did differ quite a bit, on these three characteristics and also in their packaging.

Prices for a box of four:
M and S £2.49
Hale and Hearty £3.85
OK Foods £2.25

cold pies cut in half

hot pies cut in half

These three mince pies looked quite different, which made it easy to remember which was which in the testing.  The MandS one is an open tart with a small spice-dusted marzipan star on top.  The HandH one is also open, but has a pastry star dusted with icing sugar.  The OK one is a closed tart with a full pastry lid.

The flavours and handling characteristics of these tarts differed when they were hot and cold.

M&S mince pie
MandS: these tarts looked pretty though the filling looked a bit stingy.  They had a soft almost pliable pastry which made them easy to handle, and a rich spicy filling.  The flavour of the nutmeg was quite strong, and it might almost be too much for people who don't like spice - I found my own homemade mince one year, made to my taste with lots of spice, was not enjoyed by my sister.  Given the strong flavour of the filling the tarts did not need any more filling to be balanced.  The marzipan star was firm and gave an interesting contrast to the light pastry and the gooey filling.  These were good hot and cold, but the tart citrusy flavour didn't come out in the cold tart.

These tarts are presented in a cardboard box without an interior cellophane wrap.  They had a shelf life of about a week from when I bought them.  They can be frozen and used within a month.

Other allergens: nuts, cow's milk and eggs.

Hale & Hearty mince pie
Hale andHearty
These mince pies are not only gluten and wheat free but also contain no soya, milk or sulphites and are suitable for vegetarians.  While they say gluten free they also say tested to below 20ppm, which suggests they are possibly made in a facility which also handles wheat and so might not be suitable for super sensitives.  I haven't had any reaction yet and ate these half an hour ago, so judging by my delicate system they are ok.  Update from company Just to assure you that our mince pies are made in a dedicated gluten free facility and are milk free too!
20ppm means we comply Food Standards.
These tarts come in two separate cellophane wraps inside the cardboard box, so would be excellent for slipping into your bag to take to a party.  They have a shelf life of five months from when I purchased them.

These tarts were the prettiest, I think, with the pastry shell filled to the very top with the mincemeat and a white dusting of icing sugar.  They held together very well both when hot and cold. If you were having a party and didn't want crumbs all over the place these would be the ones to go for. The filling was mellow and well balanced- it didn't have the punch of the MandS one but I think anyone who liked mincemeat would find this acceptable,  My tasting partner, who isn't gf, said these were what he would expect from a mince pie.

OK foods mince pie
The OKfoods mince pies are also dairy free.  These lidded mince pies were firm and succulent, but crumbled especially when hot.  It was difficult getting the pie out of the foil, and the lid came off. They would be good as a hot pudding with custard or cream.  The fruity mixture was treacley with no pronounced spikes of flavour. They were the cheapest as well, though not much cheaper than the MandS tarts.

Other allergens are nuts and sulpher dioxide and may contain traces of egg and peanut. They had a shelf life of three months from when I bought them.

In general I was very impressed with these tarts.  They are vastly superior to anything available in the stores a few years ago.  I would be happy to be served any of them.  My personal favorite was the Hale and Hearty as it was the perfect mince pie in texture and flavour, and was so easy to handle.  For a bit more drama the MandS one was a close second, but I think more people would find it over-spiced and might be startled by the flavour.  As a fresh food it also takes more organising to have available for an impromptu party.


and after I got posted this I got sent  a link by Living Streets charity to a mincepie calculator ( how many have you burnt off by walking)  ...and if you enter soon you get a chance to win a Kindle..easier to read when walking than paperbacks as you can make the text big.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Georgia's Choice gluten and wheat free chicken bites

I discovered both fish fingers and chicken nuggets in Tesco a little while ago - sometimes I can't find any of this type of product but they seem now to be keeping a supply next to the vegetarian freezer section.   These chicken nuggets contain chicken breast (66%) batter, crumb, sunflower oil, and the batter is water, maize flour, maize starch, potato starch, salt, raising agents and xanthan gum.  The crumb is rice flour, gram flour, maize starch, salt and dextrose.

I don't know what normal chicken nuggets are like, but these look the same as the ones I have seen in restaurants.  They hold together well, are easy to cook ( 20 minutes bake), easy to serve, and easy to eat.  They will have been made with non-free range chicken of course, so I wouldn't regard them as a normal part of my diet, but it is useful to have a few items like this in the freezer for unexpected kids or having run out of all the fresh stuff.

They are made in the company's dedicated gluten free factory in Wiltshire.

Tesco FreeFrom fruit loaf - gluten, wheat and milk-free

I tried Tesco's own FreeFrom Fruit Loaf, a sweet lightly-fruited bread.  It can be kept for up a to month before use, and can be frozen.  The package contains what looks like a half loaf (one crust) with seven slices.

I enjoyed the slice I ate.  The recipe includes psylliam husk powder, xanthan gum and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose, so if you need to avoid these completely this bread will not be suitable.  I eat such items sparingly, but an occasional treat like a slice of this fruit loaf is okay.

allergy advice: contains eggs, cannot guarantee nut free

Excellent gf-friendly Christmas lunch at Holloways

My friends from the City & Guilds course I did a few years ago met for our December jolly at Holloways, an amazing store and cafe in the rolling hills in the Worcestershire, in a village called Suckley.  I had phoned the day before to check that they could feed me, and was impressed with the calm and informative way in which they said that they did have lots of food that was suitable for me.

Whilst it may seem strange, I had a surprisingly delicious curry while my friends ate turkey or nut roast dinner...not because that was the only thing that I could eat safely but because it was what I fancied.  I have actually got to the stage where I find it difficult to chose what to eat in restaurants because there was such a long period where all I was offered was bare salad- or even told there was nothing I could eat.  I didn't have a starter, but the other person who needed gf free food had a thick vegetable soup and gf rolls - they looked like DS ciabatta, which is almost the only packaged bread I buy for myself occasionally.

I had a desert as well, again a choice.  How difficult,  I chose meringue with mulled fruits minus the cream.  I also ordered coffee.  I wondered if they would fall down at this final hurdle- many restaurants seem unable to translate an order for a gf meal into a a coffee without a biscuit at the end of the meal.  The coffee came - with a mini meringue.  The waiter apologised that it was meringue overload; normally they would have given me a gf brownie, but as it had butter in and I had said no dairy (though it is not so big a problem for me) they had carried this through to the end.  I was very impressed.

I also found it quite surprising that I had no cross contamination symptoms, even from sitting with my friends eating flaky breads, stuffing and cakes.  I often find I feel ill just being near people eating glutened foods, so this is very impressive.

The general atmosphere was very pleasant, the staff attentive, inventive and willing to please.  It is a pity it isn't nearer - I'd make it a regular venue for lunch and coffee breaks.  They even had a blueberry gf cake - I spotted this as I paid my bill.  I gave the staff a 60% tip and sincere thanks.  It is a long time since I enjoyed a meal in a restaurant as much.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Nut roast - a handy food for gf vegetarians - guests or visits

I was strolling around Worcester (UK) this evening as it is their Victorian Christmas Fair - the centre of town is thronged with stalls, stallholders wearing Victorian- style clothing.  There were lots of food stalls selling burgers and sausages in buns (and yes, the burgers had cereal in, I checked), pizza, dutch pancakes, french crepes, Balinese spring rolls, Spanish churros....I could have had hot chestnuts but preferred to just watch others eating and kept myself safe.

Then I came across Nevins Speciality Foods selling gluten free nut roasts. They are a new business and their website is not up and running yet (Dec 2012) but will be  I bought a Cranberry and Chestnut nut roast.  The individually packed in paper baking cases and plastic wrap, and look inviting.  They have breadcrumbs in, made with Doves Farm flour and no xanthum gum.   There are other flavours, but those had dairy in so I didn't try them.

These individual nut roasts (though they would serve two unless you had been tramping miles or had nothing else with them) can be frozen.

This one had a firm though not hard texture, a moist middle, and a sweet and savoury flavour that would make it very versatile.  The chestnut flavour did not dominate.

An excellent addition to the convenience foods available to the gluten avoider.

As these are currently being sold at venue direct from maker to consumer the labels do not list all the ingredients.  For example, this nut roast does have dairy in the breadcrumb, but it isn't listed.  Be a little cautious and quiz the seller if you are very sensitive.


a few minutes after eating this I got an allergic reaction.  Very odd, as I don't normally have allergic reactions to any foods.  I am allergic to Erythromycin and zinc oxide...but those aren't going to be in a nut roast.  Will phone and get more details.  

After the phone call- no idea what caused the problem.  I should eat the remainder of the nut roast today to check that I get the same reaction, but don't feel inclined to to this.  Spoke to the maker, can't figure out what caused it as nothing in the food that would worry me.  Maybe there was an airborne allergen in the market area that produced a reaction after I got back - I do react powerfully to insect bites, stinging nettles etc so just possible some strange product floating off the Christmas wreath, strings of dried oranges, scented candles etc.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

M&S gluten free beefburger in bun

Shopping today I noticed that M&S have taken the trouble to use a gluten free crumb in their standard beefburger.   On the rare occasions I eat burgers I usually buy organic mince and make my own burgers, but I thought it was worth trying these.  I also bought some of their gf brown buns.

The burger looked good.  I cut the beef burger itself in half as it was so thick, and layered this with salad and ketchup and mustard.  The bun has the usual gf problem that it is powdery and tends to disintegrate.  If I could tolerate cheese I would have melted cheese and spread it on both halves of the bun - this is a good way of making gf breads hold together.

Much of the bun ended up in the bin, but nonetheless I am impressed with the efforts made by M&S.  At least with this kind of food being available people can join in normal activities.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Spiced pear and chicken salad

Pears are in season here in the UK at the moment.  Ginger goes well with pear and also with chicken, so I made a simple warm salad with these ingredients as the base.

For two people

I small chicken breast, cut into strips
1 firm pear, peeled, cored and cut into similar sized pieces
1 piece of fresh root ginger, about 1cm cubed, cut into small strips
1 red chilli, de-seeded if you want to moderate the heat, chopped
1 tsp soy sauce - I use Sanchi Tamari gf soy sauce
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tsp oil
little water - I used an espresso cup
Salad leaves

Heat the oil in a large pan/skillet.  Place the chicken strips carefully into the hot oil and start to brown them.  Add the pear strips and the rest of the ingredients except the water.  When chicken is cooked add the water to form a sauce, cook for a minute.

Cool slightly and then toss salad leaves in the sauce, placing chicken and pear on top.

Serve immediately.

Gluten free cranberry and hazlenut biscotti

These hazlenut biscotti have a warm, complex flavour with a lighter texture than my usual biscotti.  They have a hint of cinnamon but if you want a spicier flavour just add more spice, perhaps with mixed spice or ginger as well as the cinnamon.  If you like an iced biscotti, making a glace icing with icing sugar and ginger wine would work well.

150g hazlenuts, toasted, skins scruffled off and lightly chopped
150g pine kernals, lightly toasted
150g dried cranberries
250g sugar
150g ground almonds
150g flour (40% urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla.

Set oven to 175C.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder and spice together.  Stir in the egg and vanilla.  It should make a stiffish dough.  Mix in chopped nuts, pine kernal and cranberries.  This can be hard work; I tend to just smush it all together with my hands.  If you are using a food mixer it should be easy but add the nuts with the machine on a very low setting or they will tend to fly out around the room.

Make four logs of the dough on two parchment lined baking sheets. Cook at 175C for about fifteen minutes.  The outside will be getting crisp but the middle will be gooey. Let the logs cool for a few minutes then cut into slices and rebake for another ten minutes or so. You can leave the biscotti between the two stages of cooking if that is more convenient- this will also make the biscotti more easy to handle.

Cool on a baking rack.  Store in airtight container.  These keep very well - I have kept them for a couple of months without any reduction in the quality.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Lemon, ginger and cranberry gluten free cookies

I woke up with a sore throat this morning.  Best cure I know for feeling a bit glum is to bake something scrumptious.  I have a stash of dried cranberries that need using, so had a quick look to see if I could find some crunchy cookies using these.  The first few recipes were oats with cranberries and didn't look that interesting.  Then I found these lemon ginger and cranberry cookies.  Lemon and ginger sounds like a cold why not a cookie based on these.

The lemon flavour is the strongest when these cookies are freshly made.  I expect the ginger flavour will develop later - at the moment the ginger is just a lingering hint in the mouth after the cookie has been eaten. The cookie is crisp on the outside, slightly crumbly in the middle, and the juicy cranberries give a lovely contrast.  The whole house smells delicious - a bit of aromatherapy as well as the occupational therapy.

For people without a flour grinder, I recently asked the company I buy my urid lentils from whether their urid lentil flour still came with an advisory that it was milled in a factory that also handles wheat.  This no longer appears on the packaging so this should mean that they are safe for even those with extreme sensitivity.

The original recipe uses the creaming method.  I rarely plan ahead so don't have room temperature butter.  I rubbed in the butter to the flour by hand, but if you have a food processor just whizz until mixed into the dry ingredients.

200g flour (40% urid, 40% tapioca, 20% cornmeal)
2tsp baking powder (this is the mix I use as my standard self raising flour)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
80g sugar (add a bit more if you like extra sweet cookies)
80g butter
30g fresh ginger, grated
1 lemon, rind grated and juiced
2 eggs
100g dried cranberries

Set oven to 175C fan.  Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or use ungreased.

Mix all dry ingredients except the dried cranberries.  Mix in butter - rub in if cold, beat in if soft, or whizz in food processor.
Add in the eggs, beat, add in lemon juice and grated ginger.  Stir in dried cranberries.

Place on baking sheet in dollops.  I used two desert spoons for this, which gives  20 cookies about 7cm/3inches across.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the edges are browning.  If you like very crisp cookies you can bake for longer at a lower temperature.

These are really good cookies, and will be part of my standard repertoire from now on.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Aloo Gobi using Bhaji Man kit

When we spent six weeks travelling in our campervan around Italy, France and Spain we started yearning for curry.  There were plenty of interesting foods available, but the more exotic ones are based on the areas colonised by these countries and didn't include curry.  I could carry jars of curry paste - I like Patak's, but don't want to carry heavy and breakable jars if I don't have to.

I bought some curry kits when I bought my last batch of urid lentils for my flour.  They come as sachets of spices in a packet, and include all the recipe instructions and a shoppping list.  Normally I would look at these and think, what an expensive way to buy a few spices, and what a lot of air - big boxes, little sachets.  However, for travelling these might be perfect. The Bhaji Man packs come with a reasuring big label on the front saying gluten free.  One might assume that spices don't have any gluten in but it is good to know that the packaging and processing of these spices hasn't contaminated them.

I made the aloo gobi - potato and cauliflower curry.  The pack contained three sachets, which have to be added at different stages.  One spices in one sachet needed crushing, so I rolled the sealed bag with a tin can - there is usually something solid available that would work.

The curry took longer to make that the recipe said, but I usually find potatoes take a long time on the stove.  I served it with basmati rice, with a pinch of garam masala in the cooking water.

The curry was delicious.  It didn't taste like the aloo gobi we eat in restaurants, but it would certainly beat those curry cravings.  Not having to measure spices, not having to carry individual jars of everything I might need, make these little kits an excellent option.  I suspect I would repackage the sachets and the instructions into a smaller bag to save space/