Tag Archives: home cooking

Rediscovering Mozzarisella

Three years ago, as this post reveals, I discovered Mozzarisella at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show, which was received with mixed success by my discerning youngest foodie. M enjoyed the flavour when it was added as a topping to his pizza, but he was less certain by its slimy texture and whilst that first block bought was eaten, we didn’t bother buying it again. However, as we head into the third year of M’s heavily restricted diet, he’s become more keen to explore any food that can be considered safe for him to enjoy and has been asking for a retry of this rice-based cheese.

I honestly can’t remember if the range of cheeses was as extensive then as it is now, but I was impressed to discover 6 varieties of Mozzarisella and whilst they can’t all be considered safe for M, there was enough choice for me to pick 3 I thought might make a difference to mealtimes – the original mozzarella-style, the cheddar-style slices and cheese slices with basil. I didn’t tell him I’d ordered the cheeses until the day they arrived in the post and it seemed a sign of success when the parcel reached us on his birthday. He was so excited to unpack the box, treating it very much as an additional and unexpected birthday present, and struggled to decide which type to try first. At the end of the day, it really didn’t matter as all 3 of those choices were a big hit and the sliminess appeared to no longer be an issue.

M’s mealtimes have really been revolutionised, from being able to have “cheese sandwiches” (rice-cakes and mozzarisella cheese slices) in his school lunchbox to cheesy pasta for dinner and we have made a huge stride forwards to him feeling that his meals are a lot more like those of his friends. I’ve just placed another order for more cheese at the great Veggiestuff website and have decided to put their cream cheese alternative to the test too. It might seem like only a small thing to many, but rediscovering Mozzarisella at this point in time has proved a much-needed boost to his flagging spirits, now I just need to revisit and reinvent pizza for him too!

I scream…

6a00d83455691269e201bb08564b7f970d

Ice cream: that perennial favourite of children everywhere. What image does ice cream conjure up for you? Summer sun and beach holidays? Bowls of jelly and ice cream at birthday parties? The necessary accompaniment to just about every dessert you can think of, from apple crumble to treacle tart and, if you’re British, the 99 – vanilla soft-whip ice cream in a cone and topped with a chocolate flake. Mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking of it.

For M, ice cream has been the one pudding he has missed most in the 2 years since he went elemental and it has taken a painfully long time to find and adapt a recipe to make the perfect M-friendly alternative to this popular frozen treat. I have long had an ice-cream maker as part of my essential bits of kitchen equipment as once M had gone MEWS-free, I quickly realised that the simplest way to find a dairy- and soya-free ice cream was to make my own. img_13421M and I are also big fans of sorbet and we have enjoyed some deliciously indulgent home-made lemon, orange or raspberry sorbet over the years. I even attempted a wine sorbet, thanks to the recipe book that came with my machine, but it was a disappointing disaster that really couldn’t be saved.

Over the last couple of years, I have tried an apple sorbet for him, but M was less than impressed and I struggled to get the consistency right as the sorbet failed to “set”. Since the summer, I have been determined to find a way to successfully make a safe vanilla ice cream and finally found a simple, vegan recipe with just a handful of ingredients that I knew I could easily replace. The discovery of a palatable rice cream last year was the key to my success and I shut myself into the kitchen in the lead up to Christmas in order to perfect my recipe in time for the festive period.

I struck gold in that very first attempt and I was delighted with just how close to the “real” thing this version came. M and G were absolutely thrilled with that first bowl of vanilla ice cream and it’s been a good alternative for Mike too, who is unable to eat a bowlful of dairy ice cream without suffering the consequences. I love being able to whip up this easy dessert in less than an hour and know that it will continue to be a favourite for a long time to come!16830691_10154166034751123_1184328170820370385_n

*Interesting piece of trivia – the song “I scream, You scream, We all scream for ice cream” was a popular song first recorded in 1927 as a novelty song, before becoming a jazz standard and part of popular culture!

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.

img_13711       img_13691

Top Chips!

You know you’re getting old when your Christmas presents start bordering on the practical, rather than the fantastical, and you know you’re a parent when those practical presents can be used to the benefit of your children rather than just for pampering yourself. I’ve been on the receiving end of the former for a fair few years now – welly boots and coffee machines spring to mind – but this year I received not one, but two of the latter, indicating that I really am well and truly heading towards a rather significant birthday celebration frighteningly soon.

Interestingly, whilst one was an item I’d requested myself, the second was actually a gift that M picked out for me, evidently in the hope that it would help me make some more interesting variations of his foods for him. Back in the summer, we attended the Allergy and Freefrom Show held over 3 days at the amazing venue that is Olympia Kensington for the first time in a couple of years. Whilst there we discovered the wonderful and tasty treat that is Emily’s Fruit Crisps, a great new snack which M almost instantly fell in love with and devoured so quickly that the dozen packs we bought at the show soon disappeared. img_13601I hadn’t got round to restocking the larder as M’s interest in the crisps appeared to wane and I didn’t want to fill my cupboards with yet another safe snack that would end up forming part of Mike’s packed lunch for months because M no longer wanted them.

However, the novelty of fruit crisps obviously hadn’t worn off as much as I thought it had and this was reflected in his choice of present. In the months leading up to the festive season, M spent hours, like most children his age, pouring over a variety of catalogues and gadget magazines searching for the perfect present that would tick all his boxes for what he could possibly want for Christmas and seeking a little added inspiration along the way for what he could buy for the rest of the family. With a little technical help from Mike which came, much to M’s disgust and dismay, in the days following Christmas day itself because somehow ordering my present had got swept up in the chaos of too many hospital appointments and health challenges to contend with, my present finally arrived at our address and M rushed off to check it out before handing it over, in all its unwrapped glory.

img_13551This week saw the first outing of this piece of kit as I finally got round to trying out my brand new kitchen gadget, the Mastrad Topchips Kit complete with a “slicer” to cut the fine slices needed to make the perfect crisps. We tried out both apple and pear with varying levels of success. The slicer was scarily sharp and I refused to let my somewhat clumsy child anywhere near it, rather preferring to take the chance of slicing my own finger and not his. The process is remarkably simple: peel the fruit, slice it, place single slices on to the rubber sheet and microwave for anywhere up to about 5 minutes, depending on the type of fruit or vegetable you decide to use. I did start with stacking both trays in the microwave as it suggested, but found it taking a long time to do…well to do anything, so instead started again using just 1 tray and allowing a little more time img_13591than suggested in the instructions booklet. The apple crisps worked well, though it would have been good to know that they aren’t immediately crispy when the cooking time is finished, but actually need a couple of minutes to stand and crisp up. Both children declared them as delicious and the plateful quickly cleared in front of my eyes. The pear was less successful as the one I used was evidently far too juicy to crisp up properly and we declared it an unmitigated disaster, although M conceded that it “…wasn’t bad for your first attempt Mummy..!” The trays are delightfully easy to clean and store, which is always an added bonus in my somewhat crowded kitchen.

Would I recommend the Topchips kit to others? Yes, I think I would, with the proviso to not be surprised if it takes a little practice to work out the fruit and vegetables that work best and the ideal cooking time in your individual microwave. Our first foray into making fruit crisps for M was a definite hit and I’ve no doubt that we’ll be using the equipment again, and soon.

Marks out of 10: 7.5 – a great result, but the instructions could be improved

Thermos-inspired lunches

There are 2 things that are promising to totally transform the look of M’s packed lunches for school in 2017. The first is the reintroduction of parsnips to his diet as I’m finally able to cook a crisp-like addition for his lunchbox, which makes them seem a lot more like those of his friends after a long time of feeling so very different. 9270635_r_z002a_uc1440961The second was thanks to a somewhat last-minute Christmas present from good ol’ Father Christmas, which M is absolutely thrilled with and can’t wait to try out now that the new term has started – an individual thermos flask complete with a folding metal spoon tucked neatly into its top.

He’s been considering the matter at great length and has already come up with a long list of meals that he is keen to try out over the coming months. From pasta dishes including lasagne, to risotto and stir-fry, the options are endless, but today’s maiden meal was new-found favourite, parsnip and apple soup. This simple meal is beautifully easy to make, which is something I’m extremely grateful for now that I’m back to work full-time and every second saved cooking is a second gainfully employed somewhere else. Even better, the range of herbs and spices that I can safely add to M’s meals means that I can img_12781create enough subtle flavour differences to his soups to provide some much-needed variety and keep him engaged in the novelty of his first hot school lunches in a long time.

For the launch of our experimental hot meals at school, I made a spicy apple and parsnip soup and included a few of the Rude Health mini rice crackers that have become an integral part of many of M’s lunch and snack times. Whilst nothing can really compare to the unquestionable delight of dipping some crusty French bread into a bowl of rich, creamy soup, the portion of homemade, and safe, parsnip and apple soup accompanied by a handful of rice crackers was everything that M was longing for it to be and that meant it was a resounding success. Over the coming weeks I’m looking forward to experimenting a little more with texture and flavour and will be looking at replacing the apple with pear as well as changing the herbs added to each bowlful. Most of all, I’m hoping that M continues to be excited about the prospect of enjoying a mix of hot and cold meals during the next few months of the school year.

A Bento Box Journey

packed lunch

Packed lunches can easily become boring

Have you ever seen a picture of something on-line and be so impressed that you just wish you’d known about it sooner? 18 months ago, a friend and fellow FABED Mum started posting on FB photos of the most incredible Bento boxes that she had been putting together on a daily basis for her daughter’s school packed lunches. Contending with a limited diet as well as other sensory issues, this Mum wanted to create an appealing meal that would encourage her child to eat whilst at school and ensure that she didn’t feel like she was missing out because of her restrictions. On a regular basis, I see updated photos of her most recent creations and I love how she tailors the themes of the boxes to match events at school or in the outside world. I can’t imagine anything better for a child than opening this lunch box at school to discover what food has been included and the theme that has been picked for that day, and I’m sure she must be the envy of many of her friends. To be frank, I’m quite envious as I would love to have these bento boxes for my own lunches too!

 Are you wondering exactly what I mean? Well, take a look at these amazing boxes that have come from N’s kitchen over the last year:

 But why take the time to make your child a bento box meal like these? Without a doubt, a creative lunch may take a little bit of forward planning, but I’m certain that the benefits gained far outweigh the extra time and effort needed each day. Children with food allergies often have an unavoidable sense that they are missing out because they can’t enjoy the same crisps or chocolate or even sandwich fillings as their friends, but when their safe meal can suddenly become as appealing, if not more so, than that of their peers, that disappointment can start to disappear. 12662534_10153359363278176_2469231552454213776_nA child with sensory issues or a reluctance to taste new foods and textures may be tempted to take a bite when faced with a Minion banana or a star-shaped piece of cheese. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your hard work will reap immediate rewards, but as with most things, a continued effort may make all the difference in the long run.

 I just wish M and G were back at the stage of just starting school as I can well imagine how delighted they would have been to eat lunches as inventive as these, but I think we’ve probably passed that window of opportunity, although I am tempted to ask M if he’d like them during his final year of Junior school. As you can see from the pictures I’ve shared above, what helps make the boxes so special is the various pieces of paraphernalia that can be bought online from Bento box company, Eats Amazing. There is an astounding amount of bits and pieces available, from mini cutters to letters and accessories, all there to help turn the run of the mill into a work of art. I suggest that you give yourself plenty of time to discover all that the website has to offer and choose items from themes that will not only appeal, 10629611_10153108516363176_8999877504252818384_nbut can be used on more than one occasion. At first glance, this isn’t a cheap hobby, but by picking a few strategic pieces and taking inspiration from everything that’s available, I am sure that this would be a sound investment for anyone wanting to make their child’s lunchbox something really special. I suspect it would have even tempted my pickiest of eaters when she was a few years younger.

 I am so grateful to N and her family for sharing their bento box journey and showing how a little creativity can make a big difference to a child surviving food allergies and issues in the school environment.

10301171_10153437415023176_5234933325303056252_n 13654215_10153732108633176_2068173904709473946_n

In the blink of an eye

Despite the numerous hospital visits over the last few weeks – think local hospital…GOSH…local eye hospital…Moorfields…local hospital….local eye hospital….local hospital – this December has been everything I’ve longed for it to be and so much more. For the first December night in a long time, it’s fast approaching midnight Friday and my evening of work is only just beginning. In the last couple of hours, I’ve knocked up a batch of img_12811M-friendly apple and pear cupcakes, a batch of G-friendly vanilla cupcakes and I’m currently struggling with the chocolate brownie sponges that are refusing to be moved from the cake tins. There’s 2 lots of icing to sort out, decorations to be finalised and they all need to be applied to the cakes themselves, but I’m delighted to find myself spending this winter evening like this.

Not only have we broken the December 3rd curse of an admission to hospital, but we’ve also beaten the steady stream of bad luck that has engulfed G’s birthdays for the last couple of years and are getting to spend the day itself at home with our most favourite young lady. Well, I say at home, but of course, the path of G’s birthday never did run quite that smooth, but it’s as close to being at home for the evening as we could wish. It’ll be a day of “work as usual” for us all and our evening plans are dominated by M’s school’s carol service, but we’re all together and that’s something that hasn’t been possible since 2013. All that being said, it does appear that we have created a new December tradition when it comes to G’s birthday and it’s a good thing img_12861that my sense of humour is very much in tact. It was with a wry smile that G and I summoned a black cab to take us to GOSH on Sunday from the train station, not for a visit to a hospital-bound younger brother, but  this time for the final YPF meeting of the year. I’m not sure that Christmas would be Christmas for me without the opportunity to wander the length of Oxford Street on the hunt for last-minute gifts and small stocking stuffers!

img_12881It feels even more special this year as my baby girl, my precious first-born, hits the start of her teen years and all the emotions that those have to bring. In the proverbial blink of an eye, my December 2003 baby is turning 13 and in front of me stands a beautiful young lady, with a little more attitude and grumpiness than I would have chosen, but with a kind heart, generous spirit and the most loyal friendship on offer that you could ask for. She is growing up fast and we are quickly losing sight of the easy-going, chatty toddler that she was as an opinionated, independence-seeking, moody teenager appears in her place. She can slam doors with the best of them and her stomping feet can make it feel as if the kitchen ceiling is about to come down at any moment – and indeed it pretty much has done. These days she brooks no nonsense from her little brother and yet she will defend him to the hilt when it comes to it and is there to comfort and hug even when he doesn’t want it. She’s looking to make sense of a world that often doesn’t and is trying to understand how to interpret the nuances when it would be so much easier if everything was clearer defined in black and white. She can be the much-needed splash of colour in a reality that is all too often dark and depressing and yet will quietly fade into the background when everything gets too intense and too much. She is an incredible blessing to all our lives and we are all so grateful to be celebrating a life that is so much better for the 13 years she’s been an integral part of it.

Happy 13th darling G, we love you so very, very much xxx

The 450th day

449 days…

449 challenging days of trialling one food after another until 17 foods have been tasted and rejected by M’s body.

449 emotional days of soaring highs and crashing lows as hope is dashed time and time again.

449 testing days of comforting and reassuring and convincing an increasingly despondent 10-year-old that we will keep trying, keep persevering until we find that elusive new safe food.

449 long days since M last successfully trialled a food and believe me when I say that we have all felt the impact of every single one of those days.

And then came day 450. 450_banner_closeup

A glorious, cheerful day. A day when food challenge number 18 was accepted and finally, after 449 days of waiting, the sun peeked out from behind the dark clouds and we had success.

This success has been hard-fought for on all levels and we all needed it, not least M. After nearly 15 months on a diet consisting of rice, chicken, cucumber, apple and pear day in, day out, he finally gets to add parsnips to his list and there’s no-one more delighted than him. It’s not been a 100% pass, but it is one that he desperately needs right now and we’ve taken the decision that the boost to his morale is worth so much more than total perfection. We’re only a couple of weeks in and the variation it has already brought to meal-times is, quite simply, a game-changer. From mashed parsnips to parsnip crisps and roasted parsnips to parsnip and apple soup, the options are endless and so are the smiles in our house. And, just like that, those 449 days are over and forgotten, and instead we’ve started on day 1 of our next set of adventures.

gloss-parsnips-hero-d1c55cbe-efc5-45e1-93df-ac2a9e984d6d-0-472x310

Christmas Countdown

The beginning of December has finally arrived. With it comes freezing temperatures, roaring log fires, Christmas trees, pantomimes, carol-singing and, in our household, some frantic last-minute plans for impending teenagehood and a quick anniversary celebration if we can only find the time to squeeze it in. And yes, we perhaps didn’t plan things too well – can you guess that I’ve heard those comments just the odd once or twice before?

These days most children seem to expect a chocolate advent calendar as a necessary part of the Christmas countdown, but what do you do when your child has allergies and can’t enjoy something that’s the same as all their friends? M has asked if we can bake enough of his safe gingerbread cookies for him and G to enjoy 1 everyday between now and the big day itself. It is, without doubt, one of those things that always features highly on any allergy parents’ to-do list at this time of year as it takes some time to find the perfect, safe alternative, but there are some really great options out there and I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you:

And not forgetting one for those much-deserving Mummies out there (it contains gin in case you couldn’t work it out)!

screen-shot-2015-09-21-at-16-54-31

 

Cafe Nouveau, Frome

cafeThere’s nothing better than finding a hidden treasure and this small cafe is an absolute gem. We were visiting friends who moved to Frome at the start of the summer and on recommendation from another friend, decided to try out Cafe Nouveau in Tytherington for our Saturday lunch. Long gone are the days of just dropping into a cafe or restaurant and hoping for a safe meal to feed both children, so about a week before our visit I wrote a quick email to the owner, Susan Green initially asking if it would be possible for us to bring a packed lunch for M to enjoy whilst the rest of us ordered from their menu. Much to my delight, Susan replied offering to prepare a cooked lunch for him based on his 5 safe foods and then impressed me further with some extra questions about which herbs and seasonings could be added to his meal to give a bit more flavour. This was already a meal that was sounding like a success and I couldn’t wait for our visit to see exactly how well it delivered.

img_12441I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t realise at first that the entire menu is gluten- and dairy-free, but as soon as we had established that fact, G was in her absolute element. I cannot adequately put into words her reaction when she realised that she could choose anything she fancied and soon settled on a prawn mayonnaise ciabatta with a small side salad and accompanied by her perennial favourite, a soya milk hot chocolate. When we placed our order for her drink, Susan reassured us that because G needed to be dairy-free, she would use dark chocolate powder to ensure the drink was completely safe for her. They had a fantastic range of alternative milks and milk-based drinks on the menu, including almond, coconut and soya milk as well as some cows’ milk for those customers who don’t want to try something different. We were told that the cows’ milk is kept separately and different containers used depending on the milk used. img_12451M was keen for G to try the “Vanilla Soya Frothy”, which I assume is a vanilla milkshake, but G was determined to indulge and stuck resolutely to what she knows she likes.

Mike and I both decided to take a look at their specials board, which is updated I believe on a daily basis and contained some delicious sounding dishes. I checked to make sure that their soup of the day didn’t contain potatoes and chose the chicken soup with a gluten-free roll on the side. Mike opted for their daily special of a spinach-filled chimichanga, which img_12461Susan mentioned was a fairly small portion and so added the Mezze plate, which included houmous, olives and some delicious seeded crackers. The plates, when they arrived, looked wonderful and the food was absolutely delicious. My soup had that real home-made feel to it, was packed with chicken and tantalisingly fragrant in its flavours. I was impressed with the gluten-free bread, which we were later told is baked off-site in a img_12431bakery that has an exclusively gluten-free area to make sure there is no cross-contamination risk. G’s sandwich soon disappeared and her hot chocolate didn’t last long either! As for M, he was thrilled to receive a healthy-sized portion of plain rice, topped with 2 roasted chicken thighs and some apple and ginger purée. He was a little disappointed that they didn’t stock any rice milk for him to drink, but was happy with the cartons of cloudy apple juice that were on offer instead. We were all delighted by our fantastic meals, little realising that the best was yet to come.

Anticipating that there wouldn’t be much on offer for M as a dessert, I had brought some safe snacks with us for him whilst the rest of us enjoyed a pudding. For the first time ever in her life, G had the chance to experience something that is commonplace for all her friends. She and I went to the counter, where an impressive array of cakes, cookies and other sweet treats were on display and she could eat every single one of them. That is a treat that is absolutely priceless and I loved seeing her struggle to pick just one item to enjoy after her lunch. There was chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, reduced sugar apple cake, flapjacks and some amazing-looking bite-size vanilla and nut ball treats. G finally settled on a toffee popcorn cookie, whilst I savoured a slice of the Victoria sponge.  Neither stayed around long enough for me to snap a photo, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine how wonderful they looked. We were so impressed with the selection that M helped me choose a few to take with us for afternoon tea at our friends’ house and was particularly keen that the man of the house had the chance to taste the allergy-friendly chocolate and orange torte.

Cafe Nouveau really was a most remarkable find and one that the whole family would happily recommend to anyone eating out with food allergies. It is part of a very small development on the edge of 30 acres of parkland that also includes 4-star Bed and Breakfast, The Lighthouse. Susan and her team open the cafe from 7am to provide breakfast for The Lighthouse’s guests as well as other customers, something that I absolutely love as it would save the need to pack boxes of cereal and cartons of safe milk on our travels.

Our marks: 9.5/10