Tag Archives: Chocolate

Inside the Free From Food Awards 2016

I’m writing tonight’s post in the peace and quiet of the hotel room in North London that has been my home for the last 2 days. It feels a little surreal to be away from my sound proof bubble at home, where I desperately try to ignore the perpetual chaos of family life that swirls around me and I can’t quite get used to being able to write completely uninterrupted by demands for food or drink or the need to referee between any 2 of the other 3 members of my household. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been counting down to these days away for months and have had to work incredibly hard to not spill the beans about my involvement with this year’s Free From Food Awards, #FFFA16. I feel incredibly honoured to be included on the judging panel and have enjoyed every moment of this experience.

fffaFor those of you who are not in the know, the #FFFA are the brainchild of Michelle Berriedale-Johnson and were launched in 2008 to celebrate excellence and encourage innovation within the free from food industry. Each year a group of judges from across the allergy and free from community are invited to taste a variety of new free from products and rate them on quality, usefulness, innovation and nutritional value. The foods are all tasted “blind” in the first instance, with names and packaging removed so that the products really are assessed on their own individual merits. Then follows an active discussion as each individual judge is asked to help reach a group consensus on the category winner and which other products deserve to be shortlisted, commended or given a highly commended award. Given the judges have a variety of backgrounds from free from food professionals to health professionals and from allergy sufferers to allergy bloggers as well as the occasional “normal” person to compare each item to their non-allergy counterpart, you really do get a rounded point of view about what makes the highest quality free from product. Believe me when I say that any manufacturer who wins a category is producing something that has impressed across the board.

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This is what judging confectionery looked like!

I was keen to judge the Breakfast and Tea-time categories as I felt these were areas where it would be amazing to find some new foods to tempt G and was delighted to be included not just on those panels, but on those for Confectionery and Meaty & fishy ready meals too. The ready meals was a real added bonus for me as, whilst I cook from scratch 95% of the time, the option to have some good gluten- and dairy-free meals stowed in my freezer for those occasions when a quick meal is needed for G was incredibly attractive. The number of entries was overwhelming to a #FFFA16 newbie and I was extremely grateful to Ruth at What Allergy who had advised me to skip breakfast that first morning to ensure I had space for all the foods I’d be trying. With 36 breakfast products, 22 confectionery items, 32 meaty & fishy ready meals and 26 tea-time treats to taste over around 12 hours, no wonder I left London feeling extremely well fed.

Even better I found some great new-to-us foods that I thought G might like to try and these are my top picks from each category:

  • IMG_0089Breakfast: Nutribix – a great alternative to the well-known breakfast brand, Weetabix. These were MEWS-free, taste delicious and would definitely provide a hearty, healthy and filling breakfast. I particularly liked that they were so reminiscent of their wheat-filled counterpart, a cereal that G had loved when she was tiny in the days before we knew she needed to be gluten-free.
  • IMG_0093Confectionery: Eskal Chocolate Wafer Rolls – I have to be honest and say there was a whole host of amazing chocolates for this category, which left me in some of a chocolate-induced haze by the time we got to the end of the judging session. However, these wafer rolls were the stand-out product for me as they were light whilst still being indulgent, deliciously tasty and would make a great accompaniment to a bowl of ice-cream for that extra-special twist. The only downside is that they currently contain soya, especially as they are amazingly gluten-, dairy- and egg-free.
  • Meaty & Fishy Ready Meals: I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was with the vast range of free from ready meals that we got to taste and, to my delight, this category produced 2 top picks for me. The first is one that G will love and that would have ticked so many boxes for M pre going elemental. Tesco is adding a gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free scampi to their own brand Free from range, which I’m sure will prove to be a huge success with many allergy families.IMG_0094[1] I’m so excited for it to hit our shelves in the next couple of months and can’t wait for G to try it. My other choice is something I know G won’t want to try, but it ticked so many boxes for me as it was tasty, free from and could be prepared in the microwave in less than 5 minutes, truly the quintessential ready meal. Better Than Rice Chicken Massaman Curry introduced konnyaku rice to me, which has a completely different texture to normal rice and I’m looking forward to trying it out with M. He might not be able to eat the rest of the dish, but with such a limited diet, this new rice will bring an interesting twist to mealtimes.
  • Teatime: By the time my fellow judges and I reached this final category in my judging timetable, I was definitely suffering from a little food fatigue. As M calculated for me when I got home, I had tried over 100 different free from offerings in my 2 days away and had enjoyed a good many of them. doughThe teatime category was again filled with a delicious array of biscuits and cakes, but there was one product that for me stood head and shoulders above the rest: the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts. These were impressively gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free and also vegan, but most definitely not flavour-free and were the biggest hit of my #FFFA16 experience. I know that doughnuts are one of those indulgences that so many allergy sufferers really miss and these will more than ably fill a definite gap in the market. Not only did I get to savour them, but even better, the #FFFA16 team offered me the remaining 6 doughnuts to take home for G and my girl has been delighted to receive this treat.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and the rest of the team at the #FFFA16 for their welcome and commitment to encouraging development in the free from community. I loved every moment of my time as a judge and have met some great individuals who work in different aspects of the allergy world and were a lot of fun to work/eat/disagree with over the 2 days. The shortlist of contenders for the final awards will be published on February 10th and the winners announced at the awards ceremony in April. I can’t wait to see who won in each category and share some more of these innovative products with you.

Some of the amazing free from cakes

 

National Chocolate Week – Part 2

Despite arriving late to the delight that is National Chocolate Week, we have been lucky enough to receive another fantastically M-friendly chocolate product to try and then review.  As I mentioned in my last post, Moo-free chocolate bars are a staple in the fridge at 7yearstodiagnosis HQ and this latest find might soon become another permanent fixture in our store cupboards.

chocshotI had never even heard of Sweet Freedom foods until I came across a stray comment on Twitter last month that pointed me in the direction of their allergy-friendly product, Choc Shot.  This chocolate syrup is made in the UK from “Sweet Freedom® (natural fruit extracts; apples, grapes & carob), water, cocoa, rapeseed oil, natural chocolate flavour” and promises to deliver great taste for a low calorie and GI content.  The website includes a wealth of recipe suggestions for using Choc Shot and I couldn’t wait to see whether it could do all that it promised.  M tried it first, opting to have it spread sparingly on a piece of toast, a rare treat in our household.  He liked the flavour, but didn’t love it, finding it quite rich and not overly sweet.  I could quickly tell that it didn’t quite hit the mark here as he hasn’t asked for a second helping at all.

Mark:  A tentative 7/10

20141007_182950However, I was keen to see whether we would fare any better if I used the Choc Shot to cook with and here is where this product really comes into its own.  I decided to whip up a batch of my Canadian-style pancakes for pudding and chose to deploy the Choc Shot in 2 ways to see which worked best to satisfy my hungry hoards.  The first lot was pancakes made with a generous helping of frozen forest fruits  – think cherries, blackcurrants, grapes and blackberries, all the things G wouldn’t usually touch with a barge-pole – mixed into the batter and drizzled with Choc Shot to serve; the second round saw me incorporating both the fruit selection and the Choc Shot into the mixture to produce delicious-looking Chocolate and fruit pancakes.  I dished them up and waited nervously for the reports of my discerning children.  Two rapidly emptied bowls soon appeared on the table, accompanied by requests for more pancakes, even from G, who barely blinked when I told her what fruits were included in her dessert.  I was delighted with this result, not least because the Choc Shot added a delightful chocolate flavour to the pancakes without making them overly sweet.

Mark: A resounding 10/10

20141017_122336The final test was to try the Choc Shot as suggested on the bottle itself – to make Hot Chocolate.  I heated mugs of rice milk in the microwave, added a generous squirt of the Choc Shot and topped it off with some boiling water.  The end result was fantastic – rich enough to feel indulgent, but not too sweet.  It was quick to make and was, by far and away, the best M-friendly hot chocolate I’ve been able to make since diagnosis.

Mark:  10/10

I was impressed with Choc Shot and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for an allergy-friendly alternative for chocolate to use in cooking.  It is readily available from most supermarket chains and is reasonably priced at around £3.50 a bottle.

 

*Disclaimer – We were sent bottles of Choc Shot and Sweet Freedom for the purpose of an independent review and the views expressed are entirely my own and those of G and M.

National Chocolate Week – Part 1

I’ve rather belatedly discovered that this week is National Chocolate Week and what better way to enjoy this amazing celebration, than to review 2 fantastic AND M-friendly chocolate products in my blog?

20140916_170227Tonight’s offering are the wonderful creations from Moo-free.  I discovered this chocolate 2 or 3 Christmases ago, when I spotted it on the shelves of one of my local health food shops. The chocolate is vegan and soya free and is made using sunflower lecithin, instead of soya lecithin, which my hyper-sensitive boy reacts to, even in the tiniest of trace amounts.

The chocolate is rich and delicious and has become a staple of our fridge at home.  They have developed their range over the last couple of years, which now includes the likes of Cheeky Orange, Minty Moo, Bunnycomb, Chocolate Drops and Cranberry and Hazelnuts bars to name but a few.  Their seasonal offerings are equally impressive with Chocolate Santas, Chocolate Advent Calendars and a brand new Chocolate Selection box as well as Easter Eggs on offer at appropriate times in the year.

Moo-free were kind enough to send us the individual bars included in their Christmas Selection box and, needless to say, G and M were more than willing to taste-test each bar and give their marks out of 10:

G M
Cheeky Orange A lovely crunch and just the right amount of flavour

 

Mark:   10/10

Nice, but the orange flavour reminds me of medicine

 

Mark:   9/10

Minty Moo Delicious, the right amount of crunch & an awesome flavour

 

Mark:   10/10

Not quite 10/10 as it tastes a little like toothpaste & I don’t like seeing the mint pieces

Mark:   9/10

Bunnycomb Perfect crunch!  I love it

 

Mark:   10/10

I loved it, great flavour and the perfect crunch

 

Mark:   10/10

Chocolate Santa Nice, but I liked the flavoured ones more 

Mark:   9.5/10

The flavour’s good and the shape is fantastic 

Mark:   10/10

Overall family rating:  10/10

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Both children enjoyed them all and are more than happy to nibble on whichever one is available.  If they’re able to choose, then M would always go for the Bunnycomb as his favourite flavour, whilst G’s top pick is the Minty Moo.  They are readily available in most of the big supermarket chains now, are reasonably priced and the choice is brilliant especially as it is all safe for M.  I’m thrilled by the offer of a selection box this Christmas, the first time either of my children will have been able to enjoy this festive treat.  You can buy these from some supermarkets or can find them on-line at Freefromforkids or other on-line stockists.

 

 *Disclaimer – We were sent this selection of Moo-free chocolate bars for the purpose of an independent review and the views expressed are entirely my own and those of G and M.

Chocolate Brownies

After my mammoth bake-off in preparation for our fund-raising cake sale at school just before half-term, I decided to take a break from the kitchen and hang up my oven gloves for a few days.  With the new term looming and having enjoyed a peaceful weekend with G and M, Sunday afternoon found me itching to try a new bake to create an easy treat for the children to enjoy.  My last few sweet treat recipes have been full of sugar, so I wanted to find something delicious, but also a lot healthier than my current favourites.  Browsing on-line,  I stumbled across this recipe for Gluten-free Brownies and decided to use it as a basis for my very own chocolate brownie masterpiece.  I followed the basics, made some necessary tweaks for a M-friendly treat, added a dash of this and a dollop of that, threw the mixture into the oven and kept my fingers crossed for the outcome.

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The end result was surprisingly successful and both children have declared it a winner in their eyes.  The brownies were moist, delicious and definitely not overly sweet.  In making this recipe my own, I chose to add dried cranberries and some glace cherries as they were hiding at the back of the cupboard, but you really could add almost any fruit of your choice. This makes them a great way of getting more fruit into your child’s diet, which is a particularly difficult feat when it comes to G.  If you prefer your brownies a little sweeter, then I’m sure that adding a spoonful or two of honey would help.  Whatever your preferences, I’m pleased with my first M-friendly chocolate brownies especially as they mark my first experimentation with creating a recipe of my own.

The Great Easter Egg Hunt

Easter is always a tricky time for those suffering from food allergies, but there are some great options out there if you know where to look.  The selection for those who are dairy-free has improved and increased over the past 5 years and several of the leading supermarket chains now stock some of these alongside their “normal” counterparts.  My findings and recommendations for future Easters (as it’s probably a little late for this year now!) include:

Choices Dairy Free Easter Egg With White Chocolate ButtonsChoices Dairy-Free White Chocolate Easter Egg

 

 

 

KinnertonKinnerton Dairy Free Easter Egg     

 

  • Dairy, wheat, gluten and egg-free
  • Price: £4.99
  • Available from:  Sainsburys; Freefromforkids.co.uk; Tesco; Morrisons

 

 

 

 

SainsburysSainsburys Freefrom Easter Egg

  • Dairy, wheat, gluten and egg-free
  • Price: £2.99
  • Available from:  Sainsburys

 

 

chococoChococo Dark Chocolate Eggs

  • Dairy, wheat, gluten and egg-free
  • Price: £9.50+
  • Available from:  John Lewis; Chococo
  • Also available as Ginger, Honeycombe

NB – these are not guaranteed dairy-free as they are produced in a factory that also handles dairy chocolate, but a good alternative if you’re able to manage the risk

 

As always when it comes to M, our challenge for Easter is a little trickier.  Not only do we have to seek out a dairy- and soya-free option, but, due to his hypersensitivity, we also have to avoid any chocolate alternative that contains soya lecithin.  This isn’t an easy find, but I have discovered these few that are suitable, fun and delicious too:

 

moo freeMoo Free Organic Dairy Free Easter Egg

  • Dairy, wheat, gluten, soya and egg-free
  • Price: £3.49 – £7.09
  • Available from:  Sainsburys; Freefromforkids.co.uk; Alternativestores.com; Goodnessdirect.co.uk
  • Also available in Bunnycomb or sold in sets with a soft toy

 

 

maoamMaoam Pinballs Eggsplosions

  • Dairy, wheat, gluten, soya and egg-free
  • Price: £2.49
  • Available from: Freefromforkids.co.uk

 

 

hariboHaribo

  • Dairy, wheat, gluten, soya and egg-free
  • Price: £4.00
  • Available from: Waitrose

 

 

In years past, we have also opted not to buy Easter Eggs of any description, instead choosing small gifts such as books, crafts and even gardening equipment one year.  Whatever your choice, I hope you find your “perfect” egg and enjoy a marvellous Easter!

 

Rainforest Flapjacks

Now, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the past 3 weeks have involved little more than baking and eating an array of M-friendly treats.  This week was no exception.  Having attempted the series of lemon recipes as well as the best chocolate cake ever and feeling somewhat delighted with the results, we decided that our next baking efforts were going to be the rather exotically named “Rainforest Flapjacks”.

This recipe came home from school and looked easy enough to adapt for M’s dietary needs.  I will confess right now to having felt a little frustrated by M’s school’s reluctance to cook with him.  The two occasions they have chosen to cook with his class have both conveniently coincided with times when he was away from school.  Do I blame them for not wanting to cope with his complex dietary needs?  Not entirely, but I have had to deal with the fall-out, disappointment and tears at home.

My solution this time round was to suggest to M that he asked for the recipe so that we could attempt it at home.  In due course, the printed sheet made its way into M’s drawer and finally came home in a decent enough state that I could still read the list of ingredients.  Everything was easily substituted for M-friendly alternatives and, in the case of the oats, G-friendly millet flakes.  I had the full complement of ingredients in either the fridge or the cupboard and so we were ready to start.

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As ever, I took my chances and doubled the quantities to make sure I had enough flapjacks to last the week and so we began.  The process was easy, the children loved measuring out the ingredients and the odd bit of a chocolate might have strayed into an open mouth along the way.  We used a bar of the wonderful Moo-free Cranberry and Hazelnuts chocolate which is both soya- and dairy-free, though plain dark chocolate would work just as well.

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The end result was a delight.  Both children devoured the first few pieces without hesitation and the double quantity only just lasted the week.  G even asked if I could make it without the nuts so that she could take a slice for her packed lunches at school from September.

In case you’re wondering what makes them “Rainforest” flapjacks (as Mike asked), my answer is simple.  They contain bananas, chocolate, are perfect for our 2 little monkeys and the name linked in perfectly with M’s topic for school!

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This post is an entry into the Foodies100/Schwartz Flavour of Together challenge – you can add your own exotic Flavour story via this link

The Best Chocolate cake in the World

We’ve enjoyed a peaceful weekend away in South Wales.  The weather hasn’t been the idyllic temperatures and sunshine of July, but we had a great time anyway.  The odd rain shower or clap of thunder didn’t stop us celebrating my Uncle’s birthday in style.  We had a BBQ and buffet feast, including my now infamous Lamb and mint burgers and G and M insisted that I made a birthday cake to mark the occasion.

Courtesy of fanpop.com

Courtesy of fanpop.com

Last week’s Lemon drizzle cake was a big success, but I was still not satisfied with the granular nature of the sponge that comes from baking with rice flour.  Since then I have been searching for a recipe to make the perfect rice flour cake and discovered this one that assured me that the granular texture would be a thing of the past.  Having uncovered such a promising recipe, I just needed a reason to bake it and what could have been better timed than a family birthday?

For the first time I ventured into the mystical world of cooking with xanthum gum – a substance much mentioned in gluten-free cooking, but something I had yet to actually use.

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We mixed together the xanthum gum, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and once again watched the chemical reaction between that and the white wine vinegar that the recipe required.  M was enchanted by listening to the ingredients fizz and watching the bubbles of carbon dioxide rise to the top of the mixing bowl – “just like the volcano we made with Daddy”.

I had erred on the side of caution given my previously chronicled inability to bake cakes thatrise and made up one and a half times the quantity of cake mix.  I needn’t have worried.  Perhaps xanthum gum is the answer to my baking issues, I just don’t know, but I had more than enough cake mix to make a double layer cake and a dozen cupcakes too, all of which had a lovely depth to them.

I decided to use the classic flavour combination of chocolate and raspberries and layered the cake with raspberry jam, vanilla butter icing and dried raspberries.  I finished it with a garden-themed decorating scheme and was proud of, at very least, how the cake looked.

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That evening, I nervously cut into the cake and served it to the assorted, gathered family members.  The cake was beautifully moist, the chocolate sweet but not over-powering and, best of all, there was not one single sign of that granular texture I’ve come to loathe when baking with rice flour.  G gave it a resounding 10 out of 10, M stated that it was the “best cake ever, cooked by the best Mummy ever” and even the harshest of critics complimented me on how delicious the cake was. So the conclusion I’ve reached is that this is a cake recipe to treasure and I’ve now just got to work out how to adapt it for as many different versions and occasions as possible.

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