A new adventure for Down With Gluten

Apologies to readers of this blog – I haven’t published any posts for a while.

There is, however, a good reason for this. I moved to New Zealand in December.

In some ways, this is not as big a move as you might think, given I am married to a New Zealander and have visited this beautiful country a number of times. However I’ve moved from living in London for more years than I care to remember to a tiny town of c. 11,000 people. I feel like I’m living a completely different life.

I still like to think I’m on holiday, and no doubt will do for a while yet, which is no bad thing. I’m living in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, right next door to the Abel Tasman national park which is regularly listed as one to the top holiday destinations, due to its beautiful golden beaches, pristine native bush and beautiful turquoise seas.

I can’t go into too many raptures about my new home with my friends back in the UK, because the country is suffering such terrible weather at the moment and it makes them all far too jealous. But I’m loving the wide open spaces and the ease of getting around and fitting more into the day. I can be riding my bike in the countryside ten minutes after leaving the house, which takes some getting used to. It feels like a luxury after so much of my life living in cities.

For such a small country, New Zealand is also very aware about food and it is a fantastic place to be if you are gluten free. Most coffee shops will have at least one cake which is gluten free. Everything is clearly labelled and the waiting staff are knowledgeable about ingredients, which gives you confidence. Often there are also savoury options too – New Zealanders like a good frittata, which is essentially a large vegetable omelette stack. Often they’ll make sandwiches with gluten free bread as well.

There is also a prescription scheme here for confirmed coeliacs which subsidises the cost of some gluten free products – gluten free flour mixes and pasta. I still need to sign up for this scheme. You can order directly from the company that manages the prescription scheme and have it delivered directly to you, once you’ve spoken to your GP and been registered for the scheme.

I’ve been undecided about what I should do with the Down With Gluten blog. I’ve loved writing the blog and connecting with fellow coeliacs. I feel a lot more well informed now than when I started the blog! In some ways I’d love to continue, but with the majority of my readers in the UK, Europe and the US, you’re not going to be that interested in whether a cafe on the other side of the world serves gluten free food.

So I’m going to take a break for a while and may pop up in another guise, you never know.

I’d like to thank everyone who has read and commented on Down With Gluten over the last 18 months. I’ve really enjoyed sharing ideas and thoughts, and hints and tips with the GF community.

In the meantime, here are a few photos taken  in and around my beautiful new home. I hope you enjoy them.

 

 

 

 

Tiramsu, fruit tarts, and the many delights of Gluten Freak

The wife of a former work colleague has started an organic gluten free cake business with a coeliac friend of hers and asked me to review their produces. They are both Italian, so good food is pretty high on on the list of important things in life!

The business is called Gluten Freak. I’ll admit I’m not exactly sold on the name, but the products more than make up for it. Francesca is coeliac and the baking brains of the business – Elisa leads on business development, marketing and sales. At the moment, the products are only currently available for delivery in zones 1-3 in London, so if you’re outside those areas, I suggest you look away now because there is some pretty impressive baking going on that you will be disappointed to miss.

Elisa gave me a selection of samples from different product lines to try. I tried two flavours of cupcakes – chocolate and vanilla, which were nice and moist and balanced well with the delicate rose motif icing on the top. I tend to find cupcakes too sweet or too dry, but these were some of the best I’ve had. Next on the list were two chocolate bites and a chocolate tart. I kept the baking in the fridge at work, which was probably a mistake, and spoilt the texture of the chocolate bites a little. The tart, however, was excellent. These girls have got their pastry spot on – firm but not hard, certainly not crumbly, and with a nice buttery flavour to it.

I’ve left the stars of the show for last. Two fruit tarts – apricot and strawberry conserve – with lattice work tops were truly outstanding. I have never seen gluten free pastry before that stands up to lattice work so well. No cracks or flakes at all. There was just enough filling as well.

Apricot tart

My final comments have to be reserved for the tiramisu.

Just to get things straight, I have not eaten tiramisu in twelve years. I never used to be much of a fan in my pre-diagnosis, finding the sponge often got too soggy and the pudding collapsed into a big creamy mess. Elisa gave me an individual little pudding pot of tiramsu which was light, with well structured layers and just the right tang of alcohol. It was a piece of heaven whose time on earth was sadly too short after I’d got my spoon stuck into it. You can order the tiramisu in a minimum of eight portions – perfect for a dinner party. They cost £4.50 each, but trust me, they’re worth it.

tiramisu

 

The cupcake are form £2.60 each (min order 12 per flavour), with the most popular flavours including red velvet, carrot, apple and cinnamon and lemon meringue. Gluten Freak can also make custom orders too.

The tarts are from £1.50 each (min order 12 per flavour) and include chocolate, fresh fruit and custard, tart-au-citron, lemon meringue tarts and strawberry or apricot conserve.

Chocolate bites are £2 each (min order 12).

The girls also create special occasion cakes as well, to order.

Delivery cost starts at £5 within Zone 1,2,3 in London.

Gluten free options at COOK

 

COOK frozen meals

Recently we’ve been really busy at home and so to save time on cooking I’ve turned to a company called COOK.

Usually I don’t go for ready meals, partly for health reasons because of the preservatives that are usually added, but mainly because it’s hard to find frozen food that retains its flavour and is gluten free.

My Mum and a few other people have been talking about COOK, a gourmet frozen food company whose products you can’t buy through supermarkets but which are available through its own shops in the UK and an online ordering service. I was impressed that when I walked into my local branch when they whipped out a gluten free card, which lists all their GF products.

COOK gluten free menuThere’s quite a big selection – a lot of Indian and other Asian foods but also salmon fishcakes, chicken, shepherd’s pie, vegetarian casseroles and stews . . . the list is long and varied. We’ve been working our way through quite a few on the list and I am pretty impressed by the quality. The key, they say, is that the meals are cooked by hand. You even get the name of the person who cooked your meal on a sticker. I’m not bothered by the name of whoever cooked it, as long as they can cook well! And I have to say that, in the main, they can.

Our runaway favourite so far has been the Huntsman’s Chicken – two chicken breasts with filled with some kind of mushroom and shallot filling, wrapped in bacon and served with what they call a red wine and marsala reduction, but which I would call gravy! It is really tasty – so tasty, and with such a thick sauce, that I had to get the packet and double check it really was gluten free. Other big winners have been the salmon fishcakes, the Thai red curry and some of the vegetarian dishes. There have been a couple of disappointments, most notably the family size chicken tikka masala which was very dry and tasteless. Even the hungry boys in my house turned down seconds of that one, which is unusual. I also found the Shepherd’s Pie a little sloppy and uninspiring to look at and eat, but the taste was good.

COOK is not cheap, with main meals for two coming in at around £5 to £9 each without side dishes. To save money we make our own vegetables, potatoes or rice to go with a main meal. I also think that all the fiddly bits and pieces you buy when making something, such as a curry from scratch, do add up, so you can spend a lot more on making your own food than you think. Then there’s the waste from throwing away the bits left over from the recipe. We’ve been eating COOK about three or four times during the week and have chipped back some hours out of the week without compromising on taste.

If you’re entertaining COOK could also be useful because they make big pavolva rolls and roulades which serve 8-10. They are something to keep up your sleeve when you’re entertaining and don’t have time to make a dessert.

Indian food, simply gluten free

Anjum Anand cookbook

One food writer whose recipes I’d love to try is Anjum Anand, who focuses on healthy Indian cooking

The weather has been dull, gloomy and cold recently, and to warm up I cooked a chicken curry last night. The lovely spices woke up every part of my body, including my fingers and toes which are usually cold outposts of the empire at this time of year.

It got me thinking about Indian food and how fantastically gluten free so much of it is. My husband absolutely loves spicy food, as does my stepson, and so over the years I have eaten more and more of it, and come to enjoy it. I was certainly not brought up on it as a child, and even now my parents won’t eat anything hot. My Mum had one disastrous attempt at a curry many moons ago and that was that!

At first I tolerated my husband’s love of spice and stuck to the milder versions, but I have slowly come to enjoy the hotter varieties. I think my family were surprised last night at just how spicy the curry I’d cooked was.

I’ve decided I’m on a mission now to cook more Indian, Thai and other spicy cuisines, particularly as when I rooted through my store cupboard we seem to have multiple bottles of all sorts of spices, from cumin seeds to coriander seeds to garam marsala and turmeric. Clearly a case of someone not looking in the cupboard before going shopping! (probably me).

As most of you will know, one of the safest choices for eating out gluten free is Indian restaurants. I would estimate that 70% to 80% of Indian menus are naturally gluten free. The main question you need to ask with appetizer items and poppadoms is whether the flour they used was chickpea (or gram) flour or lentil flour, or wheat flour. Unfortunately, as wheat flour is cheaper to buy, it is often used in the UK, rendering items which should be gluten free a no go area. If wheat flour is not used, then it is the sign of a high quality restaurant. Chapati’s, samosas and naan bread aren’t gluten free, and although you can make them at home you are unlikely to find them in a restaurant. Sauces are often thickened with yoghurt rather than a starch, so they are usually ok.

I have found that these days Indian restaurants are in general much more switched on to different diets and can answer your questions with confidence. As you know the golden rule is if the waiting staff or chef seem unsure, don’t eat it!

The only item I’ve not managed to get on with so far is gluten free naan bread, and I’ve certainly never found it in a restaurant. Several of the supermarkets do a version, but I’ve always found them quite dense and doughy and hard to get through.

I don’t know about you but I would love to travel in India, and would certainly be a lot happier going there than to places like China and Japan, which I think would be a struggle. Of course, given the British love of curry, we don’t need to travel quite that far to have a fantastic Indian meal.

Please post any recommendations for fantastic Indian restaurants, or for gluten free naan bread, and share them with the gluten free community!

The Great British Bake Off goes gluten free

It might seem cruel, or pointless, to watch a programme featuring the making of wonderful creations that would poison you with one bite.

But I have to say that I love watching the Great British Bake Off, which has just kicked off for a fourth series. It’s about the creative flavours and techniques, and the journeys of the amateur bakers from week to week. We can all sympathise with the bakers for whom everything goes horribly wrong. The first episode, ‘Cake Week’, had one chap who didn’t get off the starting blocks. Poor Toby sliced thumbs, grated fingers, collapsed his angel food cake and put salt in another. To top it all his chocolate showstopper wasn’t, well, covered in chocolate.

I’ve got used to drooling over cakes, breads, and biscuits from afar, knowing that I can’t eat them, and then it all changed last week when contestant Howard baked a gluten free sponge! Howard put together a gluten free passionfruit and coconut cake using rice flour and xanthum gum and received high praise from the judges, who had been dubious about its potential success. Mary Berry said she was delighted to find a lovely light cake when she was expecting something dense. Hurrah for gluten free cake! It seems we don’t always have to get the heavy end of the sponge. The BBC have published the recipe for Howard’s cake on the food section of their website here.

Sadly I don’t expect to see many, if any, gluten free recipes in future weeks because you would be a risk-taking baker indeed if you chose to make gluten free bread over wheat bread. Still, you never know, so I have my fingers crossed. In the meantime, in celebration of the wonderful chocolate showstopper cakes that were produced in the first episode of TGBBO, I am sharing a fantastic chocolate cake recipe that I have always found to be a surefire winner.

It’s from The Australian Women’s Weekly Gluten Free Cooking pamphlet. I’m not quite sure how this pamphlet came into my possession, but it has a wonderful chocolate cake recipe for a cake that rises amazingly well and is incredibly moist. The secret seems to be ingredients you would never expect to find in a chocolate cake, notably an overripe banana, white vinegar, and raspberry jam. You can find the full recipe and instructions here, and you can buy the pamphlet from Amazon here for £3.50. The pamphlet is a bit 1970s, with recipes like bubble and squeak pie and beef rissoles, but there’s a good mix of Asian recipes and some nice Vegetarian ideas. As well, of course, as the amazing chocolate cake recipe.

Here, as they say, is one I made earlier.

chocolate cake My cooking skills are not quite up to tempering chocolate and making trees, collars or squirrels as per TGBBO. I’ll leave that up to the experts. I simply sandwiched mine together with raspberry jam and cream and sifted a little icing sugar on top. Yum!

To sue or not to sue? A gluten free dilemma

The news that Jamie’s Italian have withdrawn their gluten free pasta shortly after they were fined for serving a coeliac the wrong pasta should come as no surprise.

The official line from the company does not connect the withdrawal of the pasta with the fine. GF blogger The Hungry Boyfriend was told by a waitress that ‘it was not in keeping with the brand and the fresh pasta they served.’ You can read his article about the issue here.

However surely the move cannot be entirely coincidental? The restaurant chain was hit with a host of bad press after coeliac Kristy Richardson reported Jamie’s Italian in Portsmouth to trading standards and they were taken to court.

It opens up a really interesting debate that has only recently become important as a number of chains have introduced gluten free options. The risk of being glutened in restaurants has now increased, particularly when many of the options introduced are pizzas and pastas which look like the wheat options. You cannot tell by looking at the food if it is gluten free, and so you rely on the chefs and waiting staff to have got it right.

WIth more and more restaurants offering these options, which are fantastic for us coeliacs in so many ways, the risks increase that someone somewhere has not been trained properly or doesn’t understand the implications of serving the wrong food.

I was recently ‘glutened’ at Zizzi’s, eating a seafood risotto that I have eaten several times before and have been perfectly fine with. Unfortunately it was a work lunch, and so I had to spend most of the afternoon in pain at work rushing back and forth to the loo. Luckily I didn’t have many meetings that afternoon!

I wrote a long complaint on Zizzi’s website, but frustratingly, the website lost it when I hit send. I didn’t have the patience to write it all out again, so the complaint never went through. I feel bad about not complaining, however, because staff should know when things go wrong as that is the best way to learn and improve so it doesn’t happen to others.

Personally, I’m against suing a restaurant because I’ve no doubt that we will start to see the recently introduced and much-loved gluten free options beginning to disappear as restaurants get scared. Surely education and tolerance are the only way that we will get standards to improve as more and more staff become used to managing gluten free options safely. The other option, of seeing our choices dwindle away, is not something I’m keen on.

But then I haven’t eaten an entire plate of wheat pasta, as Kirsty Robertson did, which must have made her incredibly, appallingly ill.

Would you sue a restaurant if you were glutened?

 

 

The Amalfi Coast

Coastal view Italy‘Tis Summer holiday time, and along with a lot of other people my husband and I spent ours on the Amalfi coast in Italy, just south of Naples.

We stayed in a lovely beach called Marina Grande, which has a village feel to it and still has fisherman’s boats going out every day. In the evening you can find them mending their nets and having a good old chinwag.

I am pleased to say that every restaurant and cafe understood at once when I said ‘celiachia’. Even the beachfront mini-market around the corner from our apartment had a gluten free shelf! Here are some highlights:

  • Ice cream. Have you ever come across in an ice cream shop in the UK that has gluten free cones? I haven’t. But in Italy I found quite a few signs like this: 

Coeliac ice cream cones

Which meant that I had some wonderful times enjoying things like this:

Gluten free ice creamTwo places I particularly liked were in Sorrento: Gelateria David, which had the best cones ever, a German make called Gustolosi with solid chocolate in the bottom! Another good one was Bouganvillea on Corso Italia, which had a special list of the gluten free ice cream flavours.

In terms of restaurants, again we did very well. There is a specifically gluten free restaurant in Sorrento called La Fenice, which is registered with the Italian Coeliac Society. They were very aware and had a good selection of starters, pastas and mains. Be aware, though, that if you want pizza you need to order it in advance. I had the gnocchi (which is often not gluten free, as while it is made from potato it is usually dusted with wheat flour) followed by veal, which was excellent. The desserts were a bit of a disappointment as they were basically fruit. It made me think of the campaign for better gluten free puddings run by fellow blogger Gluten Free B, called Fruit is not a Pudding.

Some of our best delights, however, were unexpected. By which I mean you turn up expecting a limited menu and then they surprise you entirely by bringing out something special. This happened to us twice. The first time was on the island of Capri in a truly fabulous little place called Ristorante Il Tinello. It was down a winding back street away from the crowds. I mentioned coeliac disease and the waiter reappeared with a posh-looking bag of gluten free pasta, tied with a ribbon! Needless to say, I had the pasta, which was perfectly cooked, with a simple basil and tomato sauce.

gluten free tomato and basil pasta

The second place it happened was in Ravello, a stunning village a short drive up the hill away from the coast. I would highly recommend Ravello if you are visiting the area, particularly the gardens at Villa Cimbrone. We ate at a place called The Garden restaurant with a beautiful view down the coast.

View from Garden restaurant

Again, they unexpectedly offered me gluten free pasta which I had with a generous amount of clams. This restaurant is not cheap, but I guess you pay a premium for the view, not just the food. It was a very enjoyable meal.

I felt very safe eating on the Amalfi coast, and even in places where there was no special gluten free options you could be assured there would be something to eat, from tomato and mozzarella salad, to parma ham and melon, to freshly grilled fish and salad or potatoes. And then, of course, the gelato! If there were cones in the UK anywhere near as good as the ones I found in Sorrento, all our summers would improve enormously!

Vietnamese food – naturally gluten free

noodle soup

I’ve eaten in a few Vietnamese restaurants recently and have been really impressed by the large gluten free choice on the menus.

I’ve done a bit of research and it seems that a lot of traditional food from Vietnam is naturally gluten free. Even in Indian restaurants we coeliacs often miss out on starters, because the bahjis or the poppadoms aren’t made from pure gram flour. But in Vietnamese restaurants you can have one of my favourite things to start – summer rolls made out of rice paper. If you’ve not tried them before, they’re kind of like a GF friendly version of a spring roll made out of soft rice paper rolled around such delicacies as pork, chicken, prawn or tofu, with vegetables like carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts and mint. They usually come with a dipping sauce which Viet style is normally a sweet chilli sauce, also often gluten free.

The other big win on the Viet food front for us are Pho, the hearty Vietnamese noodle soups made with rice noodles. I can sometimes still feel hungry after soup for dinner, but not after a Pho. The picture at the top of this post, taken at Viet Pho in Greek Street, Soho,  will give you an idea why. A really good Pho has a tasty, rather than watery, soup base, generous meat or vegetables, and a really good garnish with chilli, mint and lime.

As well as rolls and pho, the curries are also often gluten free as soy sauce is little used in Vietnamese cooking. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a dish with wheat in it.

I have travelled in Thailand and found soy sauce and breaded meat quite common. I would love to travel in Vietnam – I feel you could be confident that you’d be able to find something to eat, even in remote areas. You can find out more here at the Coeliac Travel website about travelling gluten free in Vietnam.

Here’s a round up of the three Vietnamese restaurants I’ve eaten at recently:

Pho Cafe: A chain (London and Brighton) which always seems to be busy and where staff are confidently knowledgeable about gluten free options. I’ve eaten a few times here and the rolls, Pho and curries have all been good.

Viet Pho: a tiny cafe in Soho, the Chinatown end of Greek Street. Some reviewers find the staff unhelpful but we had no problems, and found the food to be fresh and tasty. It’s also a BYO (Bring Your Own) in terms of alcohol.

Caphe House: a popular lunch spot in Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge. It has an outside terrace across the street from the main shop, which is perfect for the summer weather we’re having at the moment. I tried the pork and prawn summer rolls with salad and rice noodles for a takeaway lunch. I found the salad a bit bland and thought the chilli sauce looked a bit suspect, so left it (I should have asked in the shop if it was gluten free). The rolls were good, though.

Some other places you could try:

The Shoreditch area of London is fast becoming known for its Vietnamese cuisine, particularly in Kingsland Road. You can find out more in this Time Out article.

I Am Pho in Manchester gets great reviews on Trip Adviser.

 

The Mill at Gordleton – restaurant review

Caramel banana and cream

The Mill at Gordleton is a boutique hotel and restaurant in a beautiful New Forest setting which boasts that most holy grail for gluten free diners – your own menus. Yes, menus plural, because not only is there a gluten free a la carte menu, I was also given a special gluten free set menu as well.

I found this very impressive, as us GFers often miss out on the cheaper set menus. We were able to peruse the menus at the bar with a drink. Some olives and dip arrived with bread, which was hastily switched to home-made gluten free bread when I pointed out the error. Yes, folks, home made gluten free bread as well. The people at this place, a few miles from Lymington, have really thought it through for gluten free diners.

The restaurant itself is a lovely light room that looks onto the garden, which has some really impressive sculptures. They call it their ‘secret garden’, and we were able to have a wander around before sitting at our table.

Flower scultpture

Here’s one of the sculptures over the river, by artist Trudi Lloyd Williams. Everywhere you look there’s something to catch your eye. Watch out for the stainless steel dragons head on the tree trunk by the river, which can easily be missed. It was a touch too cold for us, but you can enjoy a drink on their outside terrace attached to the restaurant. If only we had the weather for it!

On to the food. Well, my starter of smoked camembert was excellent, and my husband really enjoyed his tuna steak. I then moved onto bream in seafood sauce and my husband had duck (which I could also have eaten). Unfortunately, the mains were a touch overcooked and while still good, were probably our least favourite course.

The highlight of the evening were the puddings, hence the indulgent-looking photo at the top of this post. The gluten free options included a creme brulee, a passionfruit souffle (!!) and bananas and caramel. While I really wanted to try the souffle, having never been offered a GF souffle in a restaurant before, my heart went with the bananas. I’ve had a thing about caramelised bananas ever since I learnt to make them at school. The pudding was extremely sweet but out of this world, with soft banana covered in crunchy caramel with a caramel sauce hiding under all the cream. My husband had a (non gluten free) choux pasty with chocolate, and looked very pleased with himself.

Undoubtedly I would go back to The Mill at Gordleton again if I was in the area. It’s a great setting; you can eat in complete confidence; there’s a great choice of food, and the standard of cooking was high. I have to go back, anyway, to try that passionfruit soufflé!

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef – cookbook review

Cookbook Gluten-Free Girl Every Day

I love cook books. I particularly like ones that tell a story (like Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries) or books with mouthwatering photography, such as Jamie Oliver’s Italy. I even have Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopaedia of cookery, which tells you about everything you might ever want to know about cooking, from the correct use of a bain marie to cooking with tripe. I didn’t even have to check the book to know that both of those items will be in there somewhere.

Stuffed in with all my cookery books are recipes on cards and bits of paper I’ve collected over the years. Some of them date back to the free sample packs I got from UK gluten free manufacturers when I first got diagnosed a coeliac.

Sadly, however, I have found that many specifically gluten free cookbooks don’t really do it for me. Phil Vickery has produced a couple of great baking books – but most of the GF cookery books I’ve got are, well, fairly serious affairs. Long lists of do’s and don’ts, and quite boring and stodgy recipes. Where’s the sense of fun, and the story telling?

Then I came across Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. Like most of the big, popular gluten free blogs, GF Girl and the Chef is American. Its author Shaun James Ahern was diagnosed a coeliac in 2005. She blogs gluten free recipes, with a lot of titbits about her life with her husband Danny (aka The Chef) and their daughter.

When I read she had a new book coming out, Gluten-Free Girl Everyday, I somehow found myself on Amazon clicking ‘buy’ before I’d even really thought about it. I’ve got a horrible feeling I paid full list price for it, at £19.99. So, I thought. It had better be worth it.

And I have to say it is. Shauna does tell a good story, and while, for truly English tastes, she is, dare I say it, a little gushy (why use one word when you can use ten?), this is someone who writes with real passion and conviction about food. She also makes the whole thing sound fun at the same time – you want to be in their kitchen watching them cook. It tells such a good story, this is a cook book you can read in bed (which I have, sad though it may sound).

On to the recipes. The ones I have tried are mouthwatering, both on the page and on the plate – fresh, easy to make and full of flavour. She is like a magpie, taking and sharing bits and pieces from different cuisines from around the world. There are some traditional American dishes, like grits with eggs over easy (who knew grits are gluten free and you can get them in UK supermarkets?), to Mexican food (a whole chapter on rice and beans) to some fantastic grill ideas, pastas, stir fries and puddings. Tonight I’m going to make the salmon with lemon, bok choy and jalapeno relish on the BBQ and I can’t wait.

One interesting angle on baking I’d never come across before- she’s very keen on psyllium husks. The husks are full of fibre and replicate the properties of gluten really well, apparently. I haven’t yet got off my arse to track down psyllium husks, but I will because the baking recipes look fantastic.

These are recipes for people who love food, period. Who needs gluten when you can eat this well?

You can order Gluten-Free Girl Everyday on Amazon UK here.