Tag Archives: freefrom cooking

Third year a charm

When the email inviting me to once again participate as a judge of this year’s Free From Food Awards dropped into my inbox a couple of months ago, I started the necessary planning to ensure I could get to London and be away from home for a couple of days. Mike was booked to work from home for my 2 days of judging, I arranged for a bed at the FFFA headquarters and my annual leave was booked from work. It seemed as if everything had been meticulously planned and since the start of the year, I’ve been counting down excitedly to the days themselves. Needless to say, and just in case you hadn’t picked up from the tone of my above writing, things didn’t quite go as expected and life once again proved that even the best laid plans can go awry.

First of all, my arrangements to go the night before my first day of judging had to be tweaked when Mike was due to be working over 2 hours away and wouldn’t be home before 7pm that evening. The thought of the 2 hour train journey late at night and then travelling on to the FFFA house with the likelihood that I wouldn’t arrive much before 10.30pm that night meant that instead I had a quick rethink and booked myself on to the 6am train the following morning. With the tickets booked, it looked like everything was back on track and it was full steam ahead once again.

And then ‘flu struck; and with 50% of the household taking to their beds, I suddenly had to rethink it all. I was reluctant to give up my third year of judging completely and so reached an agreement with my husband in his sick-bed that I would head off on the 6am train as planned, but instead of having some time to myself and staying in London, I would instead return at the end of the day and pick up my nursing duties where they had been left off over 12 hours before. It would mean a long day for me with not much chance to rest and recover, but I knew that the day itself would rejuvenate me as I spent it with the fantastic bunch of fellow judges that have become friends over the last couple of years.

My choice of category this was “store cupboard”, something I hadn’t previously judged and one that I had found quite intriguing in previous years. This category encapsulates a vast selection of products that could be found in your kitchen cupboard (flours and packet mixes), fridges (mayonnaises and sauces) or freezers (cook from frozen goodies). With 49 items to taste, evaluate and score, this is a long day, which contained a lot of laughter thanks to the people I was with. I’ve made no secret that the last 12 months at work have been challenging ones and it proved to be a real reminder of exactly what is important in life and provided a focus on just how lucky I am to have such opportunities away from the 9-5 drudgery of the day-to-day.

There were a lot of products for us to try and some were definitely better than others. I think it fair to also state that some were better received than others, with the occasional one leaving us all scratching our heads as to why exactly they’d been entered into the awards. With a choice of 49 different items to taste during the day, I wanted to bring you the highlights as I saw them and although not all were safe for M, they would all be an ideal addition for G. In no particular order, I loved these:

Orman’s Vegan Easy Egg – a fantastic egg replacement product that produced an omelette that not only tasted just like the real thing, but had a similar texture as well. I hadn’t come across this before, but I absolutely loved it.

Probios Mayorice – a rice-based mayonnaise that was a good alternative for regular egg mayonnaise and, even better, was pretty much M-friendly (allowing for the fact that we have no idea whether he can tolerate mustard or not!).

Thai Green Curry sauce – I can’t remember who this was made by (Co-op maybe?), but it was a delicious and aromatic version of this popular Thai dish. Marketed as gluten-free, but sadly not also dairy-free as the manufacturers had decided to use double cream to thicken the sauce. Despite that fact, I enjoyed the mouthful I had.

Spice Sanctuary’s GF Asafoetida – This is one I’d never heard of, but is a fantastic gently aromatic spice blend that can be used to replace onion and garlic in your cooking. Not an inexpensive option, but you only need a little to flavour your dishes.

I once again had a fab day finding new products and taking some great options away with me to experiment with at home. Judging finishes this week and the results will be announced at the Awards ceremony in a couple of months’ time.

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The missing element

With only the occasional exception of the odd batch of chicken liver pâté, M has been consuming more than his fair share of dry rice cakes on a daily basis over the last 14 months. What started as a necessity because of his limited diet and the lack of finding a delicious and safe spread to use, continued because, however I looked at it, I couldn’t see a way to create that missing spreadable element. The recent discovery of a great rice cream which could be spread a little like butter has meant that things seem to finally be on the up as it not only provides a tasty addition to an otherwise inarguably bland food, but also adds some much-needed extra calories each day. Arsenic-levels-in-rice-crackers-and-Rice-Krispies_strict_xxlEven better, that upward trend continued this past weekend when, as Mike prepared some toast with lemon curd for my breakfast, my mind was drawn back a few summers to when I realised that I could make dairy- and soya-free lemon curd for the children to enjoy and I wondered whether I could take that original recipe a step further and produce one that would achieve M-friendly status.

To my delight, this looked to be one of the easiest recipe adaptations I’ve had to tackle in the last 15 months as there were only 3 ingredients to be replaced and all could be done in the simplest of fashions. My coconut milk became rice cream, the cornflour mix replaced by rice flour and the safe margarine could be substituted by coconut oil. Refusing to tell either M or G what I was planning, I sent them out on an errand to buy some more lemon juice from our corner shop and achieved a much-needed break from the near constant bickering we’d been subjected to so far that day. It was a beautifully sunny spring afternoon and I knew they’d benefit, not just from the feeling they were doing something useful for Mummy, but also from some sun, fresh air and a stretch of their legs. M was somewhat confused by my request as he was insistent I had more than enough lemon juice in the fridge already, but he was readily swayed by my demand for more and the promise of a special treat if it all worked out.

The process of making the lemon curd was actually a lot easier and quicker than I remembered. I have vague memories of making “proper” lemon and raspberry curd when G was in Reception as an end of year gift for her class teachers and remember standing at the hob, stirring the hot mixture until my arm both arms felt tired. I’m not sure why this recipe and method don’t take so long, but I’m definitely grateful for anything that takes less than 30 minutes to whip up these days. To my surprise, despite their initial interest, G and M soon became distracted by other activities and so I was able to finish the preparation and get the 2 jars into the fridge without them noticing. The distraction of a dairy- and soya-free chocolate fondue for pudding – my desperate attempt to use up as much of the leftover Easter chocolate as possible as sadly it’s not been a success for M – proved invaluable and Mike and I were able to hold off the big reveal until it became Sunday teatime. IMG_0277[1]The flavour is very sharp and not overly sweet and M has loved every mouthful, demanding it on a near daily basis for either lunch or a bedtime snack. G says she enjoys it too, though I’m certain she won’t be asking for it on anything like as regular a basis as her brother. Most importantly, it provides a break from the dry mouthfuls of rice cakes that M has become accustomed to and that, in my world, is absolutely priceless.

Perfect pancakes

During our recent GOSH appointment, the conversation naturally turned to the food I’m cooking for M these days and how we could continue to vary the options available to him with such limited ingredients. The subject had turned to our plans to introduce white fish and whether there were any M-friendly free-from fishfingers on the market, which there aren’t. I was just saying that I had perfected a rice-flour tempura batter, which would be ideal for making fish bites, when M, without looking up from the handheld computer device he was engrossed by, piped up to inform them that “…Mummy cooks me chicken nuggets and deep-fried rice-balls and flatbreads and pancakes…” before carrying on with his game. The conversation paused briefly as the dietician took note and then carried on from there, but it made me realise that I had never shared my rice-flour pancake recipe and I vowed to change that as soon as I could.

20141007_173343Pancakes are one of those recipes that I attempted very early on in our free-from journey and are still a family favourite 4 years on. I make the big, fluffy ones most associated with North America and use the batter as a basis for other savoury treats such as corn or courgette fritters. The basic recipe contains very few ingredients and proved easy to convert to the updated M-friendly version that you can find here. I flavour them with a variety of green herbs and they form a tasty accompaniment to any meal, enjoyed by the whole family, not just M and I even cooked them recently when he had a friend round for tea, where they proved to be a hit.

One of the best things about these pancakes, other than how quickly you can whip up a batch, is just how versatile they can be. With a few careful choices about flavours, they can be either savoury or sweet and both have proved popular with M. They will also form the perfect platform for our mini-challenges on spices and flavourings over the coming weeks, which I know M can’t wait to try.