Tag Archives: free from

A fine Fish supper

With an unbeatable combination of good health all round, a new approach to food challenges and an accommodating restaurant, this year we had one of the best Mother’s Day lunches that we’ve enjoyed in a long time. Last year’s celebration fell flat, when my Mum was relegated to her sick-bed and left Mike, the children and me to savour yet another fantastic family meal at what has become one of our all-time favourites for allergy-friendly meals, Wagamama. However, a recent visit to our local Wagamama for M’s birthday tea meant we didn’t fancy a return visit quite so soon, after all it is possible to have too much of a good thing and as much as I fancied treating Mum to a late lunch at the amazing Cafe Nouveau, it was just too far to trek this weekend. Fortunately, the opportune coincidence of trialling prawns and our Sunday lunch plans meant we could visit an old haunt that received recent recognition as a gold award-winning venue at the 2016 FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn up on the day assuming that we’d be able to safely feed both children, so a preliminary phone call to not only book a table, but also run through all of our allergy requirements for the meal was an absolute necessity. We have been incredibly lucky in the past as we don’t always call ahead and have still found ourselves able to eat out as a family, but a special meal such as this one required a little forward planning. Our restaurant of choice was the marvellous Fishers Restaurant in Bristol and we had our fingers crossed that the inclusion of prawns for the day would make it possible for us all to enjoy a lunch at this great seafood restaurant. The staff were fantastic when Mike called and reassured him that not only could a safe prawn starter be prepared for M, but, as they were including chicken as a main course for Mothering Sunday, prepping chicken, rice and cucumber would be an absolute breeze too.

We had high hopes for our first 3-course meal in a long time, but the generous portion sizes left us all feeling full and satisfied before the dessert menu could even be properly considered. Fishers were able to adapt most of their menu options to be both gluten- and dairy-free to suit G and she was thrilled to be able to order calamari with a sweet chilli sauce, something that is an unexpected favourite with my oft-time picky oldest. She was also delighted by the gluten-free bread basket that she was able to enjoy whilst waiting for her starter to arrive and there was barely a crumb left by the time the calamari appeared. Mum settled on mussels, Mike picked smoked salmon and M and I enjoyed a similar starter of tempura tiger prawns, though mine came with a soy dipping sauce. I would love to be able to share with you the plate of prawns that M was presented with, but my joy at being able to watch my foodie savour every single mouthful meant that I forgot to pull out my phone until that plate was cleared.

G and M’s choices for their main course were a little more mainstream, with M being greeted with a fantastic-looking plate of plain rice, grilled chicken and cucumber batons, whilst G’s huge plate of gluten-free haddock and chips was enough to feed a small army. I was pleased to learn that they have a dedicated fryer to cook all of their gluten-free offerings and seemed to be very much attuned to the risks of cross-contamination for their freefrom guests. We had already confirmed that M could eat the lemon sorbet for pudding and were keen to see what was on offer for G. Sadly, this is when disappointment really hit as despite their brilliance in providing lots of gluten- and dairy-free alternatives for the savoury courses, dessert was a real let-down. The only choice readily available for G was sorbet, which she absolutely hates and when pushed, all the kitchen could offer was the apple crumble – without the crumble. We had heard that in the past, they had been able to go off-menu and cook a gluten- and dairy-free banana fritter, but we were told that they were no longer able to prepare that as an alternative. It was perhaps lucky that G and M were both full to the brim from the rest of the meal and didn’t really want to stick around any longer for pudding and so the rest of us willingly abandoned the sweet finale to our meal and instead travelled back to my Mum’s for a refreshing cup of tea.

Fishers was a great choice for lunch and we were impressed at their willingness to accommodate some tricky dietary requirements. However, the lack of an imaginative dessert menu for those with allergies was extremely disappointing and an area that could definitely do with some improvement to make it a truly excellent Freefrom restaurant.

Back to the Judging table

Today Mike and I have enjoyed what feels like a rare day off together. We’re away from work, away from home and away from the constant complexities of parenting 2 children with an interesting selection of food allergies between them. Instead, we have been privileged to spend the day in London as part of the judging panel for the Free From Food Awards 2017 (#FFFA17). You may remember that last year saw my debut in this exciting role and, thanks to the generosity of my Mum in providing some invaluable childcare and the need for a “normal” person in the selected groups of tasters, Mike was able to join me in the experience. It was last year’s involvement that kicked of an exciting year of opportunities for us all: from discovering our very own set of superheroes including the wonderful Ryan of Borough 22 to attending the Awards ceremony with a broken leg; not forgetting the introduction of GalaxyGazer and Marvin to their own readership and my involvement with the Free From Eating Out Awards 2016 – gosh, what a busy year it has been!

Our day started off a little later img_13641than normal with the “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” category. I enjoyed some of the new products that I discovered when judging this round last year, though was disappointed to find it difficult to find some of my favourites once the Awards were over. I was looking forward to seeing what new products I would uncover this year, especially seeking out anything suitable for G. Much as I enjoy cooking and usually prepare all our meals from scratch, I love finding those quick alternatives that will make busy evenings just the tiny bit easier. There were some great foods on offer, including a delicious gluten-free quiche from Asda, some highly contentious coronation chicken sausages and a great selection of microwave-able meals. To my delight, I came across 3 dishes that I thought were absolutely amazing and would be more than happy to buy for G. The first were the most delicious Sweet Quebec sausages from Slightly Different Foods. All foods are initially judged blind so that our opinions are not unduly influenced by any preconceived ideas img_13671about any of the suppliers or manufacturers of these products. I was thrilled to discover after the tasting who had made these sausages as we had stumbled across this company at last year’s Allergy and FreeFrom Show and our lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with owners, Sonia and Steve, evidently encouraged them to submit an entry to this year’s Awards. The sausages contain that classic Canadian combination of bacon and maple syrup and are bursting with flavour. I have no doubt that G will absolutely love them and the simplicity of the ingredients makes them a great choice for many with food allergies.

Next was a fantastic Chicken Tikka Masala with rice, which was unexpectedly manufactured by Pure, better known for their range of dairy-free alternatives to normal margarine. I had absolutely no idea that they made other free-from foods and this curry was beautifully fresh with a great selection of vegetables and even some quinoa included in its list of ingredients. Finally was my run-away favourite, a beef casserole with dumplings from Tesco, which is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The meat was tender, the gravy rich and the dumplings a surprise bonus on an already superb ready meal. I’m not convinced that G would choose either of these 2 options for an evening meal, but I would be more than happy to serve her both.

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School Dinners

One of the roles that I’m most proud to have taken on in the past few years is that of Allergy Ambassador for the wonderful restaurant review website, Can I Eat There?, not least because we are a family who enjoys to eat out and embraces the challenge of finding somewhere safe for both M and G. We have to accept that there a some places that we just can’t visit as a family because of their allergies and whilst that causes the occasional moments of heartbreak, we’ve learned to avoid them as best we can. In similar fashion, we have had to adjust our thinking when it comes to the matter of school lunches for both children. G’s food allergies have been a part of our lives for long enough that we’ve always had to make special provision for her lunches at school and, whilst her first school was prepared to buy gluten- and dairy-free alternatives to cook for her on a daily basis, it became increasingly difficult once we made the decision to move away article-1052305-0283dca100000578-744_468x306from the independent sector to a school with external caterers. We did manage for a couple of years once M had started at school by making sure that G and her teachers knew to pick the safe option from the choices given, but once M went MEWS-free in 2011, school dinners became a thing of the past and packed lunches were the way forward.

I was recently talking to a good friend when the subject of school lunches came up in the conversation. If I’m honest, I can’t quite remember what led us to that topic, but I was really interested to hear about the steps her daughter’s school was taking to make more than adequate provision for those with dietary needs. The school in question, Ashcombe Primary in Weston-Super-Mare, runs their own kitchen and work hard not just to maintain their healthy school status, but also to use local produce and to minimise waste. They are also keen to be inclusive in their approach to cooked school lunches and ask parents to talk to their kitchen manager if there are specific dietary requirements or allergies, menuso that they can work together to provide a healthy and nutritious alternative menu customised for that child. I’m sure that they cannot be the only school to make such efforts, but they are certainly the first I’ve heard about from someone in the know and I was impressed by what she told me they offer.

However, when I saw this sample menu that she e-mailed across to me, I was even more impressed. This school kitchen has really taken on board the requirements of the 2014 changes to EU legislation concerning allergens and their monthly written menu reflects them. Every single item on the menu indicates which of the top 14 allergens are included in the dishes and as each day offers 4 alternatives, that is no mean feat and shows a level of dedication to getting this right that is admirable. The steps this school has already taken in making this effort would reassure me, as an allergy Mum, that the kitchen manager knows her stuff when it comes to catering for children with allergies and that is something that is, without a doubt, absolutely priceless. Of course, I don’t know how successful they are in preparing freefrom alternatives when needed and would be fascinated to discover if their encouraging start actually delivers in reality.

Do you know of a school that offers a similar service or have firsthand experience of one? I’d love to hear from you and be able to share and celebrate these individuals who are working hard to be inclusive and not exclusive when it comes to lunch-times at school.

Best food trial EVER – and just in time for Easter!

I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but Easter is always one of those celebrations that creeps up and takes me by surprise. I suspect that the general busy-ness of the 6 weeks beforehand plays a big part in my seeming inability to effectively organise for it. Every year I say I’ll be sorted and every year I fail miserably. When you consider the steady pace of events through our household this year: from Shrove Tuesday’s pancakes to Valentines Day, my birthday swiftly followed by M’s 10th and Mothers Day thrown into the mix for good measure, there’s no wonder that having finally paused for a much-needed breath, I’ve once again almost let Easter pass us by,

In previous years both M and G have been able to enjoy dairy- and soya-free Easter eggs, 20150402_183827although last year was very different as by the time the day arrived, M was only eating rice, chicken and cucumber and our options were limited to plastic eggs and an accompaniment of non-edible treats. Thanks to some strategic conversations with M’s dietician and some canny planning on my part, Easter 2016 is promising to be a much more exciting time for him as we’ve timed to perfection his next food challenge: cocoa and dairy-free chocolate!

M is now counting down to when he can start this food trial and I’ve been frantically exploring the free from market as, believe it or not, there have been some exciting new ventures in the dairy- and soya-free chocolate world that we’ve yet to discover. Here I’ve decided to share some of the great options available for those of you looking for a fantastic dairy-free Easter chocolate treat and hope that you’re able to find the perfect one for you.

Please note: Due to M’s previously identified hypersensitivity, we are avoiding soya lecithin as well as dairy and soya, but not all of these products use an alternative, so I’ve listed any “may contains” listed by the manufacturer.

Plamil Foods – This is a brand that I’ve seen, but knew very little about. easter-eggs-xlThey are the oldest vegan company in the UK and as well as not using milk, their factory is also gluten- and nut-free. Impressively they were the first company in the world to make dairy-free milk chocolate in 1983 and the first organic chocolate in the UK. Their Easter products include a variety of Easter Bunny bars and bags of half chocolate eggs as well as the more traditional hollow eggs.


Moo Free Chocolate
– We’ve been big fans of Moo-free chocolate for a long-time, not least because they were one of the first dairy-free brands that I discovered that used sunflower lecithin, making them really safe for M. As well as their ever available chocolate bars, they are selling hollow Easter eggs in 3 flavours: moo-free-3-eggs-diagonal-web-mediumOriginal, Bunnycomb and Orange.

  • Dairy-, gluten-, lactose-, casein- and wheat-free. Also vegetarian and vegan
  • Uses sunflower lecithin
  • *May contain traces of hazelnuts
  • Available from a number of stockists including Sainsburys, Waitrose and Holland & Barrett. For a full list, click here
  • Prices from £4.00 to £4.99
  • G’s mark out of 10: 10/10

 

D&D Chocolates – This is a new brand to the whole family and I was lucky enough to have a taste at the recent #FFFA16 judging days I attended. As their website shows, they have a whole range of really lovely Easter products from the delightfully named Chuckling bunnies, mini eggs and various felt bags and baskets crammed full of chocolate. choccbunniesHR-bigThey also sell carob products and have a similarly impressive range of those themed for Easter too.

  • Dairy-, nut- and gluten-free. Also vegan
  • Uses sunflower lecithin
  • *May contain traces of soya
  • Available on-line as well as Independent health stores
  • Prices from £2.50 to £29.99
  • G’s mark out of 10: 8.5/10


Cocoa Libre
– These are a relative newcomer to the freefrom market, but impressively have been shortlisted at both the #FFFA15 and #FFFA16. When I first saw their products, I got very excited as they are made with Rice Milk, which is clearly labelled on their packaging, but sadly they also include soya lecithin at the moment.This means that they’re not currently suitable for M, though I’ve no doubt that G would love this box of 10 Easter chicks.UfubKWw9Rb4AWzEU3q0Ot-jlK0Y

  • Dairy-, gluten-, wheat- and nuts-free. Also vegan
  • Uses soya lecithin
  • Available on-line as well as a number of small independent stores around the country
  • Prices from £1.95 to £4.95
  • G’s marks out of 10: Unfortunately G didn’t manage to try this one before I published this blog, but the chocolate I tasted at the #FFFA16 earned a 9/10 from me

 

Booja Booja – If you eat dairy-free chocolate and want to be indulged, you need look no further! Booja Booja makes the most decadent and delicious chocolate, which is perhaps far more suitable for the adult taste than for children, though needless to say,
G and M both loved their champagne truffles a few years ago! They have a beautiful selection of Easter eggs in this years collection and I’d be hard pushed to know which to choose.

  • organic as well as dairy-, gluten- and soya-free
  • *May contain nutsboojabooja2
  • Available from stores including Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and Sainsburys. Other stockists can be found on-line here
  • Prices from £9.95
  • G’s marks out of 10: We didn’t try their Easter eggs, but their truffles deserve a richly indulgent 10/10

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

 

A Birthday Treat – Lemon Meringue cupcakes

This time last year, M was admitted into GOSH for scopes and he and I spent Mike’s birthday away from the birthday boy himself, leaving him to celebrate at home with the rest of the family.  There was a point this year when I thought history was about to repeat itself as we’re once again waiting for an admission date for M, who needs further testing to try to sort out the games his body is currently playing.  However, Mike’s birthday came, and went, with no sign of a phone-call from GOSH and I finally had a chance to make a long-awaited attempt at the Lemon Meringue cake I’d been dreaming of making last year. lemonmeringue

Lemon Meringue pie is Mike’s favourite dessert and there was a time, many eons ago, when I’d actually make him one from scratch for his birthday treat.  With the arrival of G and M, the general busyness of work and juggling the school-run alongside business meetings and the general day-to-day running of the household, I don’t think I’ve turned my hand to such a dish for at least a decade.  Add into the mix, the newer challenges of egg-free meringues and MEWS-free pastry and it’s not been the easiest pudding to make.  I attempted a cheesecake version for Fathers’ Day this year, but that didn’t quite go as planned, so I put my thinking cap on to see if I could figure out an alternative format for this popular dessert.

I settled on lemon drizzle cupcakes topped with vanilla butter-cream icing and small meringues.  I’ve made Lemon drizzle cake before, but found that the rice flour made the sponge taste very granular and I was keen to see if I could improve the texture.  I found a lovely recipe for vegan lemon drizzle cake and read around the options for replacing the flour to make the cake both gluten- and potato-flour-free. 20141015_194117 My final recipe included gram flour – an ingredient that’s been lurking in my cupboard for a while, but which I had yet to brave using – rice flour and tapioca flour and the end result was infinitely better than the last time, though some further tweaking to create the perfect lemon drizzle cupcake is needed.

I whipped up a small batch of my vanilla butter-cream icing and used it to secure the mini egg-free meringues to the top of each cupcake.  I was delighted with how these cakes looked and M spent most of the day, and evening, before Mike got home from work, begging to try one to “just check it’s okay for Daddy!”  I am assured by the family that the cupcakes were a huge success and so that’s another recipe added to my ever-increasing repertoire.