Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Gluten free brownies at Richmond Artisan Market

The trouble with many shop bought gluten free cakes is that they are tasteless and dry, almost like crumbled dry biscuits. Imagine my delight to discover wheat and gluten free brownies at Richmond Artisan Market(Duck Ponds Market) on Sunday which are moist, flavoursome and well, incredibly chocolaty! Jill Anderson, who makes them, is wheat and gluten free herself and so she adapted this special recipe. The brownies can be frozen, so I bought four for £5 – but I’m sure they will be eaten before they reach the freezer! Jill says you can also serve them warm – a few seconds in the microwave.
You can find Jill and her brownies at Richmond FarmersMarket every Saturday and at Duck Ponds Market (where I found her) every Sunday. She also supplies these delicious brownies to several local cafes in Richmond such as TideTables, Hollyhocks and The Tea Box.
I did suggest she should enter them for next year’s FreeFrom Awards.

At the Esher Odeon to see the new James Bond Skyfall movie, I fancied a tub of popcorn so I asked whether it contained gluten (I am gluten free) or dairy (my husband is dairy free) and they read out the ingredients – great news – no wheat gluten or dairy! So we indulged in popcorn, while enjoying the movie! Delicious! 

Friday, 13 April 2012

Free From Awards 2012

Free From Awards 2012It was an honour to be invited as one of the judges for this year's Free From Awards, organised by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson from Food Matters Michelle is to be congratulated for putting 'free from' on the map. I am gluten free and wheat intolerant, while my husband Ray is dairy free so we are eternally grateful to Michelle and Food Matters for all the work they do in raising awareness for the 'free from' sector. On Tuesday 17 April all will be revealed and we'll find out the winners of the Free From Awards.As a journalist who writes about foodservice and catering, it was enlightening to see how free from foods have evolved in this sector. In the judging, we sampled a wide range of foods and it was rewarding to see that several manufacturers had introduced children's products - Red House Foods - Gluten Free Chicken Bites and Sauces of Choice - Sauces for Kids Tikka Sauce. These would work well in school catering where children may find it challenging to find free from alternatives. My husband can't eat mozzarella, even if it's made from buffalo's milk, so wonderful to taste Tofutti Grated Mozzarella Soya Cheese Alternative. He will be pleased.The highlight for me was tasting 20 or so different gluten and dairy free cakes. This is because normally I have to watch non gluten free people eat cakes in a tea or coffee shop because there are no gluten free varieties available. Imagine my joy at seeing an entire table of cakes, most of which I could eat (there were only a couple that were dairy free only). This category has developed beyond all recognition. Usually either a cake is gluten free or dairy free. To find both is very difficult that's why I end up making cakes. One of my favourite (gluten and dairy free) at the judging session was The Cake Crusader's Gluten, Wheat and Dairy Free Carrot Cake. If you're not careful, gluten free cakes can end up tasting like sawdust, usually sickly sweet and quite frankly inedible. Not so this one - it was moist, chewy and delicious and even had icing I could eat. The Cake Crusader's Rich Fruit Cake was also unbelievably moist and flavoursome. I'd also like to mention the superb vegan cupcakes from Ms Cupcake and Maple and Pecan Cupcakes from Sweetcheeks - I came across them at last year's Allergy and Free From Show and ended up buying a box of cupcakes for tea!Michelle and Cressida from Food Matters make the judging process effortless and fun and I do enjoy the debates that ensue among the judges about various products.I'm so used to attending functions where I can't eat anything (as canapés etc are not gluten free) it is a real treat to be among the judges of foods I can actually eat!Over 300 products were entered in the 17 categories of the Awards. When you look back 10 years or so, you'd be hard pressed to find that many - so it is good news indeed that manufacturers are embracing the free from market.I'm looking forward to Tuesday 17 April when we'll find out the winners of this year's

Friday, 27 January 2012

Eating out with an allergy at The Ship Hotel Weybridge

I attended a friend’s special birthday party last Saturday at The Ship Hotel http://www/ Usually these affairs can be hit and miss; we always have to doublecheck that the food is gluten free for me and dairy free for Ray (plus ensuring it doesn’t contain the other foods Ray can’t eat such as tomatoes).I have to thank my friend for her part in briefing the staff so fully, but I have to say the staff excelled themselves in ensuring that we were able to eat everything.And what a sumptuous menu it was – caviar to start with (yummy) followed by pea soup with smoked salmon, which they had specially prepared for us. Soup is normally off the menu for Ray and I as there is usually wheat flour in it, milk or cream, but not on this occasion. It was delicious.The next course was Citrus and Chilli Marinated Red Mullet and spiced squash puree off the official menu. The meat dish was Roast Rib of Beef with potatoes and vegetables. Normally I don’t have any gravy as there’s wheat flour, but on this occasion we were served gluten free and dairy free gravy – marvellous.When we attend social functions we never expect dessert because invariably it has wheat or dairy in it. But imagine our delight when one of the staff discussed the options with us and served us slices of pineapple with a lemon sorbet (pictured). What a treat that was! The evening was memorable not only for the superb meal, but the sparkling conversation, dancing and entertainment from the band Barbara Snow and Richard Sutton.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Eating Out with a Food Allergy at El Pirata

To celebrate our friend Evie’s birthday last night, we headed for El Pirata in London’s Mayfair a Spanish tapas restaurant bar.
A big group of us gathered tto wish her many happy returns. As someone with a gluten free or dairy free allergy, it’s always problematic when you dine out with a crowd at an unknown restaurant. Will there be something I can eat is the big question and you don’t want to make a fuss!
El Pirata did not disappoint; they couldn’t have been more helpful. There was a set party menu, but one of the waiters and I went through it and worked out that I (the gluten free one) could eat Jamon Serrano (cured serrana ham), Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos Ensaladilla (Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Russian Salad) as started and for the main course Tortilla (Spanish omelette with potatoes and onions) and Patatas Bravas (Deep Fried potatoes in chilli and garlic sauce). I could have ordered additional dishes from the main menu, but I’m glad I didn’t as the food was filling and I enjoyed large portions of tortilla.
Ray, with his dairy free allergy, had Jamon Serrano (cured serrana ham) to start with followed by Grilled steak and rocket, without cheese accompanied by Patatas bravas. Food was about £18 a head.
A fun filled evening was had by all!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Torrox Spain Eating Out With a Food Allergy

Torrox Spain Eating Out With a Food Allergy

We were in Torrox, Spain and needed to know the keywords for "wheat" and "dairy" so we could communicate our intolerances when eating out. We knew the following words - "leche" is milk, "mantequille" is butter and "queso" is cheese and "sin" is "without", but we had to ask people for the following - wheat is "trigo" while "gluten" is the same word in Spanish." Armed with these words, we could point at items on the menu and say "sin trigo" or "sin leche" as needed.
One woman told us there was no Spanish word meaning "dairy". The nearest equivalent was "lactosa" meaning "lactose".
Torrox is a stunning white traditional Spanish village, built by the Moors, 40 minutes' drive from Malaga. We haven't been here for eight years, so have already noticed several changes, mainly the closure of many small shops in favour of a supermarket in the high street. Sound familiar?
We are here staying in our friends' beautiful house with sensational views of typical Spanish terrain peppered with white buildings, giant cacti, green trees and steep roads.
One morning we heard the clomping of horses' hooves so we looked down from the terrace and to our astonishment saw a horse and rider emerge, managing to manoeuvre up the steep, curving narrow roads. Incredible.
Our charges are four cats - Michael the ginger cat who smiles a a lot; Minnie, a tortoiseshell with a curly tail, Heidi another tortoiseshell (you'd think they were sisters only they dislike each other!). The fourth cat Thomas is black and beautiful. We're reliably informed he has no claws, but dare not check this. He always arrives late for food and you can almost hear a fanfare as he runs in. It's obvious none of the others like him, so he waits his turn to feed. Occasionally he follows us home late at night for a snack. We feed them fish from the freezer, defrosted in the microwave - mind you in these blistering temperatures of 30 degrees and more, I expect it would thaw very quickly. When feeding the cats, you have to be careful not to leave any food on the floor, as tiny ants are on it in seconds.
It was trial and error finding a cat food they liked - the one that won is Brekkies from Eroski supermarket at the shopping mall at Velez Malaga, 15 minutes drive from Torrox. Michael the ginger cat likes to eat the cardboard box in the kitchen. At first I thought he must be hungry but even after feeding him he returned to gnawing the box. Must be a form of recreation.
Our first quest was to buy soya milk, so we thought if we drove to Nerja there was more chance of finding it as it is an enclave for Brits in Spain.
On the road to Nerja we found Lidyl, not much good for "free from" foods, but we did buy our favourite apple juice, herbal tea bags and chocolate covered rice cakes (which we never see in the UK).
Lunch was in our favourite cafe, amazingly still there after eight years, Anahi, Puerta del Mar 6, 29780 Nerja, tel: 95 252 1457 with fabulous views of the beach and ocean if you dine outside and it has a bilingual menu. There's a mouthwatering selection of salads so I opted for number 20 on the menu, Ensalada Especial (6 euros) - special salad, an enormous plateful of lettuce, eggs, grated carrot, peppers and tomatoes which melted in the mouth (compared to UK tomatoes). Always ask about salad dressings as this comes with a cocktail sauce which I declined, choosing olive oil instead.
When Ray asked whether the tuna sandwich contained "leche", "mantequille" or "queso", she reassured him it didn't have these ingredients. He ordered it with no tomato (as sadly he is intolerant to them), 2.80 euros, with chips and salad on the side, 1 euro. Excellent helpful service. You can tell Nerja is a magnet for Brits as there is even a shop called "WH Smiffs" selling books and cards.
At the supermarket Supersol on the outskirts of Nerja, we easily found Alpro soya milk (1.40 euros). There doesn't seem to be "free from" section in Spanish supermarkets. The nearest thing to it is the health food section where we could only find different varieties of rice cakes. We did chance upon some savoury crackers Crispie de Arroz which were labelled "sin gluten". These are thin crunchy crackers, ideal for cheese.
Despite being intolerant to dairy, Ray can eat goats' cheese but disappointingly we could only find one variety Queso De Cabr - cabr meaning goat. Perhaps goats' cheese isn't as popular in Spain as it is in France.
I'd brought Doves Farm gluten free cornflakes with me but we managed to rustle up ham and eggs and bacon and eggs for breakfast on a couple of mornings.
That evening, we walked into the centre of Torrox via very steep and winding narrow streets. You can see why there are hand rails for some of the streets. Mind you it keeps you fit - no need for the gym here.
We are so unfit that we stopped off for a drink at Cafeteria Central where the proprietor was not pleased to see us, in fact they were downright unfriendly, thinking we thought it was a restaurant. Our command of the Spanish language is not too good! After the misunderstanding they served us a water and Coke for 2 euros - a bargain price when you think we were sitting in a bar outside in the middle of town.
Our friends had recommended El Figon restaurant. It did look impressive, but after one woman handed us the menu to look at, her colleague announced, "We're full". It was comical as only two tables were occupied.
We walked into the picturesque town square of Torrox with its selection of eateries, and after deliberation, we chose Café Bar Paco, Plaza de la Constitution, 605-874-643, a tapas bar. Sitting in the town square is a treat as this is where the locals parade up and down every evening in their best clothes, only the ritual has changed somewhat. It now includes riding round the square by car waving to your friends. All sorts of cars here including 4x4s, a strange choice given the narrowness of the streets, but ideal I would imagine in the mountainous terrain. There's also the occasional serious biker in black leather and crash helmet, even in hot temperatures of 30 degrees plus.
After explaining our allergies to our waiter, he told us that many dishes such as aubergine and sardines were fried in batter and the batter had wheat flour and milk in it, so we selected the following: anchovies with oil and garlic (6 euros), pork fillet with chips (5 euros), mixed salad (4 euros) and Spanish omelette (4 euros).
After a trip to Torre del Mar, we arrived back late and decided to find somewhere to eat in Torrox. On our way down all the winding streets (our calf muscles are slowly firming up) we found Meson la Terrazza, Calle Baja 80, Torrox, 691894805/651068403 run by an English couple, Rick and Helen Bolt (open everyday except Wednesdays; kitchen closed 4.30pm to 7.30pm), situated on the side of a steep valley. Although it was 10pm and a Saturday night, we were welcomed inside (without a reservation!). As they are English, there was no problem describing our intolerances and we were informed any sauces on the menu were made with cream. Ray ordered a gammon steak with pineapple, chips and peas (he can't eat courgettes) while I opted for the salmon steak (without sauce) and salad. We sat on the terrace watching the headlamps of cars driving up the blackened hill in the distance and the flicker of a far away TV set. Even though it was so late, it was still hot and sticky.
And so we returned to Nerja the next evening when the heat had died down a little to browse in the shops and walk on the beach. We found a sweetshop run by an English woman. This was where Ray made his big discovery that contrary to his belief that all chocolate bars are covered in milk chocolate and therefore out of bounds, by chance he read the label on a Frys chocolate cream bar and was astonished to see there was no dairy product in it. Nirvana! Ray will now be consuming them in great quantities. This has sparked an enthusiasm for reading the ingredients of chocolate bars.
We returned to Anahi café where we managed to get a table outside with the fabulous view of the beach and ocean. Even at 8pm it was sweltering and clammy - will it ever get colder we wondered? We showed the waitress our magic words and then asked for pork steak, eggs and French fries (7.20 euros) which she confirmed had no dairy ingredients. I chose the grilled sole and salad (11 euros) which was enormous - far bigger than served in England.
You don't have to catsit to come to Torrox. Amazingly the village boasts two hotels - La Casa and Alandalus hotel

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

N-Ice the world's first frozen food restaurant

Something a little different this week. I was invited to N-Ice, the world’s first frozen food gourmet restaurant at Westminster Kingsway College and what a treat it was. We were greeted with an ice sculpture with tiny white forks embedded in the ice. As you enter the ‘pop up’ restaurant, it’s reminiscent of Christmas with fairy lights and snow flake symbols hanging from the ceiling. The entire menu was created using mainly frozen ingredients including herbs and spices. Three celebrity chefs – Atul Kochhar, Simon Rimmer and Galton Blackiston devised signature dishes while the rest of the menu has been created by chef lecturers from Westminster Kingsway College, while the college’s students waited at tables.
The aim of N-Ice is to change the perception of frozen food, says Brian Young, director general of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF), which opened N-Ice, “and get the general public to think about frozen food in a different way.” The ‘pop up’ restaurant, only open for a week, is totally sold out throughout the week with 600 covers booked. Questionnaires were handed out at the restaurant asking for opinions about frozen food and the dining experience at N-Ice.
The BFFF will collate the findings in liaison with Sheffield Hallam University and launch the survey results in a few weeks’ time. Frozen food has been supplied by 20 members of the BFFF including Brakes, 3663, Movenpick and Pidy.
The service at the restaurant is impeccable and prompt. To start with, I chose Atul Kochhar’s crisp fried spicy John Dory with grokha (cucumber and chilli jam) chutney. The fish was flaky and tender and the chutney gave a zingy flavour. For the main course, I enjoyed Atul Kochhar’s fragrant Kashmiri Lamb Curry. The chunks of lamb were tender in a thick curry sauce, but not too hot and spicy that you needed to grab a glass of water.
I couldn’t tell that the dishes had been created from frozen ingredients. They looked good, tasted fresh and flavoursome – so perhaps that’s the point! The perfect conclusion to the meal was petit pois ice cream from Gaston Blackiston with a strong pea and mint flavour, which melted in the mouth. Very refreshing after a curry.
The food was well presented in white bone china, offsetting the colours of the food. For example, the mango soufflé was served in an espresso cup.
The students demonstrated knowledge about the menu when I asked about certain ingredients as well as a friendly, fast and courteous service – better than at some restaurants I’ve visited!
The survey wanted to find out whether I would avoid eating at a pub or restaurant serving frozen food and after my experience at N-Ice, the answer would be no!
What a pity N-Ice is only open for a week. Perhaps there is scope for a permanent restaurant using mainly frozen food ingredients.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Cotswolds Eating Out With a Food Allergy

As usual, when travelling, we always take a supply of food in case we can’t find anything suitable – bottles of soya milk, as you’d be surprised how many cafes don’t serve it; Eat Natural bars; bananas and apples. I also packed some Genius gluten free bread as the owner of Holly House in Bourton on the Water where we were staying, said they didn’t have any.
Motorway services are always a hit and miss affair, so imagine our surprise when we chanced upon The Kings Hotel in Stokenchurch, off junction 5, on the M40 Here, we sat on the terrace in the sunshine where we enjoyed chips with garlic mayonnaise and vegetable spring rolls with chilli sauce, with cups of tea, using our own soya milk. We were impressed by the quick service and the ambience of the venue.
Once we’d picked up our friends Shane and Evie, we stopped off at Chipping Norton for lunch. Bravely, we walked into The Fox, Market Place, Chipping Norton OX7 5DD 01608 642658 and was greeted by the landlord. I explained I was gluten free and my husband was dairy free, so he made some suggestions from the menu – mine was a jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise (£5) while Ray opted for Gammon steak, pineapple, chips and peas with no egg (£7.50). He checked with them that no butter was used in cooking or on the vegetables. Feeling tired and footsore after exploring Chipping Norton, we felt like tea and cake, but usually go without cake as it’s generally made with wheat and dairy. We were delightfully surprised to find wheat and dairy free cakes at the independent Jaffe & Neale book shop on the main square What’s more, they even serve soya milk. My choice was chocolate torte caprese (delicious and chocolatey) while Ray savoured a generous slice of Nigella Clementine cake, both £2.95 each.
For dinner, we chose the scenic Old Manse hotel in Bourton on the Water The restaurant was completely full, so we took our chances with the bar menu. When we ordered our food at the bar, we explained our allergies and the member of staff kept checking with the kitchen and was willing to help, despite people waiting to order drinks.
To start with Ray chose the hand-made shredded duck and hoisin spring rolls (£4.59) while I had grilled field mushrooms with goat’s cheese and rocket (£3.39). For Ray, the main course was slow cooking New Zealand lamb shank (£10.99). Instead of mashed potatoes which had butter in them, he was offered chips instead. They checked that the gravy didn’t have dairy and the petit pois didn’t have butter on the top. My main course was sweet potato apricot chickpea and red pepper kebabs (£7.59) which tasted more like vegetarian sausages. Curiously, the tea tasted metallic, so they made us a fresh pot – we wonder is it something to do with the water? Shane’s Mocha was also dubious.
We stayed at Holly House, Station Road, Bourton on the Water This is under new management and we were given a friendly welcome. I had contacted them before to inform them about our allergies and it was a delightful surprise to discover they had kindly purchased soya milk and gluten free bread. Breakfast was easy as we could pick the elements from the Full English Breakfast that we wanted. For Ray it was an egg well done, a rasher of bacon and baked beans. I had two rashers, a fried egg and grilled tomato with toasted gluten free bread. A real treat!
The next morning we explored Kelmscott Manor, William Morris’ country retreat. Apparently when he saw the farmhouse in an estate agent’s, he immediately fell in love with it, describing it as “a heaven on earth”. I wouldn’t disagree with that; it is an idyllic residence beautifully presented with well informed volunteer guides, who will fill you in on every detail. There’s even Morris’ top coat on display and examples of Morris’ famous designs on fabrics. Pictures of his wife, Jane, are on display including the famous “The Blue Silk Dress” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
For lunch, Ray discovered that the mouth-watering pasties and quiches on display contained butter (and wheat so no good for me either) so they suggested bread, ham and pickle for him. I chose a salad bowl. With two cups of tea (using our own soya milk), this came to £7.20. We wondered what the tea would taste like, but it was fine.
For our last meal in The Cotswolds, we were looking forward to a traditional English meal, but wandering round Bourton-on-the-Water this was difficult. Evie is vegetarian, so we were looking for good veggie choices, as well as dishes which Ray and I could eat. This seemed enormously difficult as most of the menus were elaborate with sauces covering the meat and poultry. From our experience, sauces usually contain wheat, gluten and dairy.
We were getting rather desperate so at one point, we went into the Chinese restaurant. It seemed ironic to be eating Chinese in the British Cotswolds, so we persevered and Shane alerted us to the Croft restaurant, part of the Chester House hotel As it was Saturday night, they were totally full, but offered us a table outside which we took with alacrity, zipping up our fleeces and jackets so we would remain warm. Evie suggested we ordered quickly so we didn’t freeze, as the temperature was falling. The service was impeccable and friendly, our waitress even offering to find a table inside if one became available. I asked whether the home-made tomato and basil soup (£4.50) had wheat in it. She checked and it didn’t – I have to say it was delicious and helped to keep me warm. My main course was Free Range Kelmscott Gammon Steak with fried egg, pineapple and chips (£8.75). The waitress had checked with the chef that there was no dairy in the dishes Ray ordered – to start with Goats Cheese and Sweet Cured Bacon served en croute with red onion marmalade, mixed leaves and balsamic reduction (£4.95) followed by Cotswolds 28 day aged sirloin steak served with chunky chips and salad (£13.50). He was assured that the vegetables would be served with no butter on them. We were too full for dessert and anyway it was getting colder by this time. This was one of the best meals we enjoyed in The Cotswolds and we would return here.
On the Sunday, we stopped off at Oxford on the way back and mooched around the crowded streets, admiring the buildings and looking inside the colleges where possible, although most of them were closed.
Again, eating lunch was problematic finding the magic combination of veggie choices and plain type dishes. We thought Ask would be possible, so I asked them whether they put dairy in the pizza dough and unfortunately they do – although they do serve gluten free pasta, which is good to know. Shane and Evie told us about this cool pizzeria chain Fire and Stone and we discovered one in Oxford. I couldn’t eat the pizzas because of the wheat in the pizza base and unfortunately, pizzerias in Britain don’t offer gluten free pizzas as yet (unlike pasta – thank you Carluccios and Ask for serving gluten free pasta!) but I adore salads and Fire and Stone offer a wide selection. Before we sat down, we asked the crucial question “Does your pizza dough contain dairy?” and to our relief, it didn’t! The menu is arranged under different countries, so you can choose a pizza according to the country, whether it’s Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia or The Americas or create your own. For example, under “Australia”, the pizzas are named after cities, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and so on.
After all that, Ray decided to order something completely different – Charcuterie board (£11.25) with parma ham, Napoli salami, garlic and fennel, smoked ham, hummus, kalamata olives, comichens (like gherkins) taramasalata and grilled pitta bread. I opted for the classic Nicoise salad, one of my favourites (£9.25).
So it was back to sunny Surrey after a restful weekend in The Cotswolds. Where to next I wonder?