Thursday, 27 December 2012

Dilemmas of the Christmas Cake variety

I'm coming to the conclusion that our taste buds have memories.

Most of the year I can happily do without fruit cake. Chocolate usually springs to mind. Yule logs are chocolaty and rather festive, aren't they? One might think they're the perfect combo, for this time of the year. I had noticed, earlier in the month that Pig in the Kitchen had come up with a tempting looking recipe, for one of these. However, come Christmas, it seems desirable, in fact necessary, to partake of the slightly more traditional fruit-full festive favourite. 

Growing up, I remember that I didn't enjoy the cake at all - although I loved the covering - marzipan and icing. However, with age, it grew on me, to the point where I couldn't imagine Christmas without it. 

You might wonder why I'm blogging about this after the Big Day, but you see the thing is, over the years, my mother only seemed to get 'round to decorating her cake, after the event - usually Boxing Day. I seem to have inherited this trait, which seems slightly lacking of me, BUT, it turns out that this is actually more traditional than you might think! The origins of the Christmas cake apparently came from the tradition of baking a cake to celebrate Epiphany and the arrival of the Three Kings on Twelfth Night - a tradition that ended with Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan ideals.

The Hub is not a fan of Christmas cake. Baby does not like fruit cake. So it was that a month or so ago, I was puzzling over what to do about a Christmas cake this year. I did consider making a gluten and dairy free version, but fairly quickly abandoned the idea - after all, much as I love this cake, I couldn't imagine eating a whole one, all my myself!!!

However, I rather wanted to continue the Christmas cake decorating tradition - I have fond memories of decorating the cake, with my mum, and wanted to recreate that with Baby. I did consider buying a ready-iced slice, or what can only be described as a 'chunk,' of Christmas cake (such forms of Christmas cake are readily available in the supermarkets) but really I wanted a small round version -  a miniature of the 'real thing.' I wanted something that could be marzipanned, iced and so on.

I finally found the answer in a cake by a firm called 'The Village Bakery,' which I found in my nearest health food shop. It's organic as well as both dairy and gluten free and being only 450g in weight, the perfect size, so I thought, for me... and maybe Baby as well, if she fancied it.

And here it is:

The ingredients (just in case you're wondering) were as follows:

Sultanas, Raisins, Ground Almonds, Eggs, Sunflower Oil, Brown Rice Syrup, Dates, Apricots, Concentrated Apple Juice, Manioc Flour, Molasses, Cinnamon, Mixed Spice, Raising Agent, Baking Powder

All I needed (on Boxing Day, of course) to do was coat it with some jam, (I think you're supposed to use apricot, but I only had strawberry to hand) roll out some marzipan and slap it on.

The marzipan I used was by Dr Oetker. It contained Sugar, Almonds, Glucose Syrup, Invert Sugar and Water.

The final layer, the icing, was mixed from scratch. It contained the usual: icing sugar, egg white, water and a dash of lemon. 

Icing on, Baby (with a little direction from me) added the decorations.

It may look a little over decorated to you, but believe me, this cake is getting off lightly - you should see the other cake, which Baby decorated unleashed!! That one had a large Easter chick on it - foolishly left in the box of cake decorations, by my mother!!

Once the cake was decorated, Baby couldn't wait to eat it and neither could I, but we had to let the icing set... we didn't leave it for that long though - just an hour or so.

Baby had some. I had a bit more and it was alright, although not as rich as I remembered the Christmas cake of my childhood - maybe I should have fed it with some booze. I'd give that a try next year, but for some reason this cake has made my gut sore - not it's fault - I seem to have developed as sensitivity to a spice or two (following a recentish porridge enriching experiment, I'm thinking the cinnamon). 

So, for me, it's back to the drawing board *sigh*! Next year I may have to begin a new tradition - of baking yule logs. At least I know where to find the perfect recipe!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Treating Father Christmas

Tonight is the night that Father Christmas comes to visit good little girls and boys, isn't it? Baby's stocking has been hung by the grandparents' fireplace, in expectation of the great man's visit and, so far, she is sleeping peacefully. Now, everybody knows what Father Christmas likes to eat don't they? Earlier in the month I harboured ideas of treating Father Christmas to some good old home made mince pies - gluten and dairy free of course!

Not having made pastry for years, and not having even tried to make pastry gluten and dairy free, I decided to play it safe and try out a gluten free pastry mix. It wasn't a huge success - the mixture seemed to require far more fat and liquid than the instructions stated. But, apparently, too much liquid (as I discovered, when I read some recipe a few weeks later) can make gluten free pastry hard.

The ones we made looked good, but...

And guess what? Freshly cooked, the mince (and jam) pies were quite edible, but once they were cold the pastry did become hard - in fact very hard and completely inedible! 

Following this disastrous episode, I really, really meant to give Pig in the Kitchen's mince pie recipe (with pastry made with sweet potatoes) a try, following a tip-off from Hannah, on our Face Book page, or even Pippa Kendrick's, but... time ran out on me!

Previous to my problems with gluten, I was able to eat supermarket own brand mince pies. I think they were Waitrose and Morrison's mini ones. I noticed Tesco's own were dairy free this year, however, now that I am gluten free, these are no longer an option. 

Dairy free, but sadly not gluten free
Instead, the Free From aisle is now the first place I look for mine. Last year's mince pies of choice were Sainsbury's own Free From mince pies. This year, I gave some others a try. Both, funnily enough, we're picked by The Hub. The first choice came from Morrison's. Made by OK Foods, they were cheaper than the next choice, which was Hale & Hearty.

Available from Morrison's, I bought these from a health food store.
I like them both, but in different ways. The OK Foods mince pies were quite sugary, but I have quite a sweet tooth, so that's not a problem for me. There was a good helping of mince meat inside, which balanced the sweetness of the pastry casing, quite nicely.

They also appealed to me, because they were made without maize, which I have been unsure about - sometimes I think that some products made with maize have troubled my gut slightly. These are made with ground almonds, so a no go, for anyone with a nut allergy I'm afraid. The packet also warns that the pies contain sulphur dioxide and may contain traces of egg and peanut.

The Hale and Hearty mince pies were a bit more expensive - they cost The Hub £3.99. They weren't easy to get hold of - they were meant to be available at the Co-op, but none of the branches I visited had any. However, I was fortunate that The Hub, working in the city, was able to get some from Planet Organic.

One of the things I liked about these was that some thought had gone into packaging - they were packaged in two packs of two, inside the box. This is a good idea if you are the only gluten free person in the house - it saves you eating the whole box in one go - although that's never troubled me too much!

Hale and Hearty's mince pies. I like the star-topped look!
Another nice thing about them was that the pastry tasted almost home made and looked more home made too. However, a few of them (The Hub bought three boxes - he thought I might get through a few over Christmas and I think he's probably right) looked just slightly over cooked. This didn't seem to spoil the flavour, though.

Allergy advice, for these pies, states that they are made with egg (so sorry to those of you who can't eat egg). Also, although they are not made with milk or nuts, they are made in a factory that handles these ingredients.

So, what did Father (or actually Mother) Christmas wash all these mince pies down with? Nothing more exciting than a cup of weak black tea I'm afraid - although mulled wine would have gone down very nicely, I'm still breast feeding!!

What about you? What does/did Father Christmas get left as a treat, in your house?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Walking, skating, eating (???) in a Winter Wonderland

It's become a bit of a Christmas tradition, for The Hub and his friends, to meet up at some ice rink in London over the Christmas period for a bit of 'shuffling' around the ice. The Hub and I don't get to see them that often and are more than happy to do a bit of ice skating, so we join them. For the last two years it's been at Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. 

The Entrance
Now, although it can get rather busy, there, at certain times of the day, I quite like Winter Wonderland. There are quite a lot of ice rinks and 'Christmas Market' stalls set up in little log cabins, around the UK at Christmas time, but I think that this is the best, (maybe the cheesiest) and most certainly the biggest, that I've been to.

A lovely bit of Christmas 'cheese'!
I'm a real sucker for this kind of thing - festive shopping, broken up by a few fairground rides; fuelled by mulled wine and lots of seasonal goodies. I have to be honest, if I didn't have any food intolerances to consider, I'd be as happy as a pig in a trough!

As it is, I usually just wander among the stalls experiencing huge normality envy - you know the feeling - you watch other people buying and consuming goodies with complete abandon, oblivious to the fact that for YOU (as much as you might want to join in) it's not an option. Sometimes, I have actually felt the urge to say to people, 'Do you know how lucky you are?'

Have to say, I'd LOVE to be able to buy a dairy and gluten free Crepe at a Christmas Market.
The previous year I'd suffered normality envy really bad. It was the first time, (since Baby was born) that I'd been in that kind of setting, and consequently, the misery was intense. That particular day was only redeemed by a quick stop at Costa on the way home, where, in the racks of pre-packaged food, next to the till, I'd discovered their gluten and dairy free Christmas cake slice. And actually, it was quite good!

So it was that Friday night (I'd left it a bit late) I found myself surveying my cupboard and wondering what alternative treats I could take along with me, so that I wouldn't feel so deprived.

Unfortunately, I can't find my small flask at the moment, so taking some Winter Cordial  as a non-alcoholic alternative to mulled wine or Kara dairy free Hot Chocolate, which  would be ideal if the weather turned out to be cold, was not an option. The thermal food flask was ear marked for Baby's lunch (left-over Shepherd's Pie, from the night before that would be re-heated during breakfast) so taking my own dairy free and gluten free frankfurters (by Unearthed and yes, I did consider it) was also out of the question.

So, instead, I packed some Kelkin jaffa cakes, bread sticks, Pom Bears and Popcorn and off we set! I felt semi-prepared for feelings of deprivation but decided that actually  I was more excited to be out and about and seeing our friends again.

Going earlier in the day, was definitely an advantage - Winter Wonderland was less crowded, for one thing, but also I could see more clearly what was on offer at the stalls. And then I came across this:

A stall selling grilled salmon - my favourite fish! I checked it out and the fish was just rubbed in salt before being grilled over an open fire. It came with a salad and a roll, but they seemed quite happy to serve me the salmon with just the salad and no dressing. It cost me £8, mind you (no wonder they were happy!!!!) but I ended up with this:

The grilled salmon was quite salty, but delicious!

Poor deprived creature that I am, I was quite happy with that! 

Which I accompanied with these:

A stall entirely for fries!

This stall was dedicated completely to fries. I had intended to check out whether they were actually made with potato (fries can mean anything) or coated with anything, first, but The Hub disappeared and got them without me. So who knows what was in/on them. Baby and I both ate them and seemed fine, but I'd advise you to be more cautious, than us.*

A couple of other food stalls, I'd like to have checked out, were a corn on the cob stall (I'm quite happy to eat mine without butter), a chestnut stall (do they add anything to them, before they're roasted?) and a Haribo stall (are Haribo gluten free?)!

Anyone for Haribo?
And these were just for starters - there were all kinds of roasts and soup on offer, that I didn't get a chance to investigate (although my gluten-free friend Naomi seemed happy with a roast turkey leg). 

So I went, gloomily preparing myself for the worst, and came back almost skipping for joy, and with very little normality envy at all... although I would like some mulled wine!

Oh yes! and the skating was good too - but perhaps not the best idea for parent-child bonding! However, roll on next year!! I definitely want to go back for more. And if you'd like to go, this year, it's open until January 6th, 2013. However, attractions, such as ice skating,  must be booked in advance!

Couldn't resist including this pic!
*Please note: The choices I made on the day, may not be suitable for you, depending on the allergy or intolerance or medical condition that you are dealing with. Not being diagnosed coeliac, or anaphylactic, gives me a little more 'rope to play with' than others. 

That said, I did check to make sure that the people working in the salmon stall were following hygiene procedures (wiping down surfaces) and weren't slopping stuff (like salad dressing) everywhere - I watched them at work and serving others for a while, first.

Other seasonal posts:

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dairy free ways to decorate your tree.

Last weekend we bought and decorated our Christmas Tree. A common enough occurrence in many households, at this time of the year, but it was momentous in that it was the first real tree we've had since Baby was born, and the first that she's helped to choose and decorate! It was also momentous in that we bought it early - the first weekend of Advent. Usually it goes up a few weeks later, in our household. Also, The Hub (for the first time since I've known him) was the one to suggest buying it - usually he's not so fussed about whether we have one at all!

So, it was, that late, on an outrageously cold Saturday afternoon, we chose and decorated our tree. And here it is!

Once Baby had gone to bed, I redecorated bits of it (couldn't help myself) and added just a few finishing touches - namely chocolate! 

The thing is, for me, a Christmas tree is not complete without a few hanging chocolate decorations. My memories of Christmas (as a child) were that Dad may not have spent out on a new tree each year, but he did the right thing when it came to chocolate. 

I looked around on the Internet for a bit, but research didn't yield the dairy free options for which I was searching, although I did like the look of some fillable baubles, sold by Love Lactose Free Life

Then I had an idea! 

The idea came from some time back, when I visited a friend. She wasn't dairy free, just trying to make her money go further and she was employed, together with her children, in making her own chocolate tree decorations! The idea came back to me and it seemed perfect!

The Hub questioned the wisdom of loading the tree with chocolate - pointing out that Baby had the self-control of any normal little one and wouldn't be able to leave it alone. 

Equipped and ready to go!
However,  I couldn't imagine a Christmas tree without chocolate on it! Plus, I had a bit of a bee in my bonnet - I had already bought the chocolate (Sainsbury's Free From Chocolate Coins and Mint Crisps). The coins pictured here are silver and gold, as I bought them a few weeks ago,but at the moment they seem to have changed to  a lovely festive red and green. 

It didn't take me long to gather the rest of my equipment: metallic thread (ours was by Korbond and I think I bought it at the supermarket), stickers, sellotape and scissors. I was ready and determined to give it a go!

One I made earlier
The method is simple! You just take some foil covered dairy free chocolate coins, and stick a Christmassy sticker on the flat side.  I had some stickers left over from last year. These stickers came from the Early Learning Centre, but I also used some from a packet I bought at Accessorize. 

On the other side, where the foil is gathered, you stick a loop of metallic thread (or a slender ribbon, if you prefer) with some sellotape (the stickier the better) and hey presto, there you have it! 

The only thing I would add, is that you need to make sure that you stick the sellotape near the top, or else the coin will hang at a bit of a strange angle! 

I would love to have had Baby help me with this job, as she loves stickers, but even I thought that was a step too far for her self-control! 

The easy option
If that sounds a bit faffy to you, you could always buy some little gift bags instead, fill them with some chocolate coins and hang them from your tree (as you can see, in this picture). The bags I used came from Tesco and come in packs of three, but Hobbycraft also sell these kinds of bags, in their Wedding Favours section.

I had originally considered actually making my own tree chocolate, by melting some dairy free chocolate and filling some chocolate moulds, that I bought from The Works - only 99p and 3 for 2, at the time! 

The only reason I didn't was because I wasn't sure how good they would look once had foil wrapped them. Well I ask you - how do you get a small square of foil to wrap to neatly around a snowman or a Rudolph? However, it would be a possibility with these bags, because I think the bags could hide my unsightly wrapping quite easily!

Candy Canes seem to be dairy free!
After the chocolate was hung, I added some candy canes. I'm sure they are an American thing, but you see them everywhere, in the shops now. Just for the effect, I bought a few from a Christmas shop in Basingstoke. 

These are strawberry flavoured, as I thought Baby would prefer that to peppermint. I've checked out the ingredients and they seem to be dairy, soy, wheat etc. free. Baby hasn't suffered from the one she's attacked so far - yes her self-control is virtually non-existent!

Still surviving!
The chocolate hasn't survived too well either! A few have gone missing - I thought they were out of reach, but obviously not!! The rest have been moved to higher branches!!

So far, the gingerbread decorations, that we made have survived - well... the two that made it as far as the tree anyway! However, I know that Baby has her eye on them...

My next plan is to try making some dried orange and lemon slices or maybe a pomander, using an orange stuck with cloves, but I think I'll save those for another day.

Meanwhile, how's your dairy free Christmas preparations going? I hope you have a good 'un!

Would you believe it? Having just written this post, I've unearthed some dairy free decorations after all! £2.99 for a pack of six, they are available online, from The Vegan Store. This online shop also sells a lot of other great dairy free and egg free products!

Update Nov. 2014
It seems that D and D Chocolates now sell chocolate Christmas tree decorations (see here). These are made with sunflower lecithin rather than soya and are also gluten and nut free, so a great choice for those with allergies! 

Related Post:

Baking with Baby 8 - Gingerbread... Bears?

Monday, 3 December 2012

More 'Cheese Please!' More dairy free alternatives to cheese

A few months ago, when I joined Twitter, my initial plan was to get the news out about the Dairy Free Baby and Me Blog - there's no point in writing a blog unless there are people reading it! I was keen to get out there, to pass on what I'd learned, so that others who struggled with Cow's Milk Protein Intolerance (or similar issues) would have some kind of starting point - which is what I would have liked, when I began this 'journey'. What I didn't expect, however, was that I'd find companions, friends even, to share the 'journey.' 

One such, is 'Sugarpuffish' - a beauty blogger who has grown up with eczema and various food allergies. Having grown up with these, she has a wealth of experience behind her. She is, moreover, able to do something that I cannot - which is tolerate soya. So, following my own post about dairy free cheese, she has very kindly agreed to write contribute this post about dairy free 'cheese' made with soya.

Thank you, Sugarpuffish, over to you!

I was diagnosed with allergies during my childhood. In those days there were no Free From aisles at the supermarket, soya milk was prescribed by my GP and I simply went without cheese.  I have watched the Free From market developed and the most exciting part for me has been the invention of dairy free cheeses. Unlike Dairy Free Baby and Me, I can tolerate soya so I am going to tell you about my favourite dairy free "cheeses". Before I get started people will moan at me that dairy free cheese is not very nice and tastes nothing like the real thing. I do not disagree there are some grim alternatives but for me the real thing is a distant memory and I think that what makes them easier for me to digest. Plus manufacturers are always improving techniques. I always say forget about what you are trying to replace and you can then embrace the alternatives.

My favourite hard/block cheese replacement is Sheese and I buy it at an independent health food store. There are eleven styles to choose from – Blue, Cheshire, Cheddar with Chives, Edam, Gouda, Medium Cheddar, Mild Cheddar, Red Cheddar, Mozzarella, Smoked Cheddar and Strong Cheddar. I personally like the Medium Cheddar style. I enjoy the stronger flavours as the milder varieties taste a little bland. I use hard cheeses for pizzas, sauces and topping off dishes like spaghetti bolognaise or nachos. Sheese also have spreadable varieties which I enjoy.

Tofutti is the brand I have known the longest and its from the USA.  The choice of products available in the US is larger than here and makes me rather jealous.  Tofutti is available to buy at Holland & Barrett or Goodness Direct and they usually stock spreadable cheese, slices and grated mozzarella style. Let’s start with the spreadable varieties. This is the one I most enjoy on crackers and I love the Garlic & Herb.  My Holland & Barrett also stocks Original and Herbs & Chives but I see Goodness Direct also offer French Onion, Country Vegetable, Chopped Olive and Sour.  I think it’s the flavouring that makes this dairy free cheese more enjoyable than others on the market. I have been told the Original version is excellent for Vegan cheesecake recipes.

Tofutti slices are similar to dairy counterparts. It tastes and looks fake so for that reason I think its best suited to sandwiches and burger buns. I am not going to lie it does have a distinct flavour and I have learnt to love it over the years. It is a convenient alternative to grating or chopping. It will melt but it does smell unpleasant and will affect the flavour so I do not recommend using it in this way. 

Other brands to look out for are Cheezly and Vegusto.  I buy Cheezly when I cannot get hold of Sheese. I think that Sheese is slightly superior in taste and texture but they are fairly similar. One problem I do have with Cheezly is it goes mouldy quickly. As for Vegusto, I tried this at the Allergy & Free From Show and found the texture grainy and not to my liking. Others do rave about their cheeses and it has won awards.  It retails online or at independent stores so not the easiest for me to get hold of. This is a plant based cheese alternative which is gluten, dairy and soy free.

I hope you have enjoyed reading. Thank you to Dairy Free Baby and Me for the opportunity to guest post on her blog.

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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cheese, please! What are the dairy free alternatives?

If ever I'm asked about what I miss most, being dairy free, my thoughts invariably turn to cheese. I don't think I'm quite as anal about it as Wallace and Grommit, but I used to love cheese... cheese on toast, or crackers; in sandwiches, jacket potatoes or macaroni cheese; on top of lasagne, shepherds pie or fish pie; or simply... just by itself. Sigh!

'Cheese' topped Shepherd's Pie
This post is born out of a conversation I had on Twitter. Today, someone asked me about dairy free cheese. I tend to think I know nothing about this subject, as I can only eat one dairy free cheese, but I have a few ideas and have been ably helped along the way, by Sugarpuffish and by recent conversations on our page on Face Book. So here's what little I DO know: 

The thing is, I love cheese so much, that I've been of the opinion that I don't want to try a dairy free alternative, in case it's awful and I end up disappointed.

Not that I've had all that much choice - most dairy free cheeses are made with soya, and I get really bad reactions to soya milk. For those dairy free peeps, who can have soya, you can get a whole lot more choice - most supermarkets sell some form of soya based 'cheese' as do health food shops.

You lucky people can have cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, even those individually wrapped 'cheese' slices!

I'm reliably informed, by Sugarpuffish that 'Sheese' by Bute Island is pretty nice, and also 'Tofutti.'

If you're dairy free and unable to tolerate soya, but can handle cashews, then Vegusto, may be the 'cheese' of choice for you. It's meant to be pretty good, but... unfortunately, for me, cashews are no good for me either!

There is one, well two, dairy free cheeses that even I can have, though. By Redwood Foods, a vegan firm, and they're called "Cheezly". Redwood Foods make a range of meat and cheese alternatives and hidden among the product range is the two cheeses that I can have. Watch out, if you want to buy them though - Redwood Foods have other 'cheeses' called 'Cheezly' that are made from soya, so read the labels carefully!

The first, their cheddar cheese, is, I have to admit, a bit more expensive than your standard cheddar, but it does have a long shelf (or rather, fridge) life and it can be grated and frozen. So, bargain hunters,(like myself) can buy it in, whenever Holland and Barrett have their offers going and store it up, for ages in the fridge/freezer.

The second tastes pretty much like the first and is similar in appearance, but is made for melting. It's not cheese as such, but laid on gluten free toast, and heated under the grill, it comes near enough for me! It's also pretty good on an omelette, or pizza! Although, my top tip for pizza, is not to put the cheese on top, until the last ten minutes or so, if you don't want to burn your cheese topping.

Whichever version you use, you may be pleased to hear that like cheese made with dairy Cheezly cheeses do cContain calcium - though not quite as much. if you're trying to keep track of just how much calcium you are getting in your diet, you may be interested to know that there is 200mg of calcium per 100g.

Originally, I found this cheese it in my 'nearest' health food store. However, I've now found that Holland and Barrett stock it too - great news, as now that we have moved, my 'nearest' health food shop is not that near at all!

Free & Easy Cheese Sauce

Contains soya!
Another form of 'cheese' substitute is this 'cheese' sauce, I found in Sainsbury's. I bought a tin ages ago but was too afraid to try it - consequently it ended up being chucked, as it went out of date! I bought another tin, but it turns out it's no good for me either! 

Apparently, it contains soya, but you'd never know by reading the ingredients list, unless it's the 'hydrolysed vegetable protein'!

I have heard, via the grapevine, that this is quite nice, but obviously I'm unable to verify that!

Nutritional Yeast

There's quite a lot in this pot!
Those of us who are dairy free and soya free can still have another 'cheese' substitute, known as 'Nutritional Yeast'. In the UK, we can get it in the form of Engevita Yeast Flakes. They're made by Marigold, who also make the bouillon that we use as gravy, in Shepherd's Pie. 

The yeast flakes are not available in most supermarkets, although you can get them from Ocado. They are also sold via many health food stores and online they can be bought from Amazon and Goodness Direct, among other places. 

I've only tried the yeast flakes sprinkled over food so far. They smell like old socks, but haven't packed a flavourful punch yet, so maybe I'm doing something wrong. Apparently, according to their website, you can make them into 'cheese' sauces - something with which I've yet to experiment.

You see Baby has never had real cheese and all attempts to introduce her to dairy free cheese have been met with frowns, wrinkled facial expressions and loud verbal utterances rejecting the stuff. So experimenting with cheese flavours is something I mainly keep to myself, and, inevitably, if it's just for me, it's not going to be in great quantities, therefore I haven't made anything like a lasagna or a macaroni cheese. And, to be quite honest, there's not a lot of point making macaroni cheese just for myself, when Amy's Kitchen make such a great one! Theirs is made with Daiya cheese - an American product. So far Daiya tell me that they're not available in the UK, but they are interested!! So here's hoping!!

Not to be confused with the version sold in Tesco - gluten free, not dairy free!
However, I am gearing myself up for a little experimentation. I'll have to get back to you soon, and let you know how it goes!

By the way, if you are an experimental type, you might like to have a go at making this home made coconut milk cheese. Yes really! 

If you do, then make sure you read the comments, at the end of this lady's blog - they explain a few details a bit more, and help make sense of some of the ingredients, for us Brits! And please, let me know how you got on!

More posts about dairy free substitutes can be found by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Baking with Baby 8 - Gingerbread... Bears?

'Tis the season to be... making your Christmas cake apparently! Hmm! Well, I still can't decide whether to bother yet. I used to love a good piece of Christmas cake, but I really can't see the point of making one just for me - I'd be eating it 'til next Christmas, most likely, as The Hub and Baby quite simply won't partake of it with me.

However that doesn't mean I'm eschewing the old Christmas spirit, oh no! My thoughts have been preoccupied with a slightly less exacting task - that of making gingerbread biscuits.

Gingerbread men seem to be everywhere at the moment, which is quite possibly why I just couldn't get them out of my head. It was an itch that needed to be scratched. Also, I thought it would be a great opportunity to do some more baking with Baby - she could put all her play dough rolling and cutting skills into real action at last.

'Make sure you don't over cook them,' my sister warned when she discovered what was afoot! Funny she should mention that!

Funny also how, although they seem to epitomise Christmas décor  I've never ever actually seen a single real gingerbread man on anyone's Christmas tree. I couldn't help wondering why this is. 'Is it 'cos nobody has the self control to leave them suspended there for a few weeks?' I pondered, 'or would they go stale, or maybe one doesn't eat them, so nobody wants to waste them?' The only answer, it seemed to me, was to try them out, for myself.

The first task was that of selecting a recipe. Google soon threw up choices aplenty, but I ended up settling for one from Netmums that came up straight away - simply because it was well... simple!! It also looked like the kind of recipe that would lend itself to a little bit of substitution in the dairy and gluten free department, and so it did!

I used Pure sunflower margarine and Dove's Farm gluten free plain flour and without any trouble the whole thing came together. I don't tend to use xanthum gum, and so I was worried it would all fall apart. However, the egg seemed to do the trick of holding it all together, and look, we made loads!

Yes, this lot were slightly over done!
Another adaptation was that we didn't use as much ginger as in the original recipe - Baby isn't that keen on spicy foods, so I only used one teaspoon, rather than two.

Having made this recipe a few times now, I would say that you might need to knead in a little extra flour for rolling out, if it gets a bit sticky. This has happened a few times, but  I thought this was maybe because I tend to buy large eggs.

The other thing is, (like my sister said) you definitely need to watch the oven temperature, and time, carefully - especially, if, like us, you have a fan oven. I tend to set the timer for about 8 minutes and watch it like a hawk (albeit a distracted hawk, with Baby tearing around the place) for the last few minutes.

I have to say, we haven't ended up with many gingerbread men at the end of it all - partly because Baby prefers bears (which was perfect for her birthday) and circles and all sorts of other shapes and partly because we keep eating them all! Well, they do go down rather well with a cup of tea!

Perfect with a cuppa!
By the way, if you do intend to use them as Christmas decorations, DO over cook them and make sure you make the hole for hanging your gingerbread before it cools and hardens - in other words, as soon as it comes out of the oven. I used a chopstick to make the hole in ours. Oh, and whether you eat them, or use them as decorations for your tree, don't forget to decorate them first - just a little bit of glacé icing and a few silver balls can work wonders... although Baby prefers to 'bling' hers:

Now, having found this rather cute little tin in Tiger (if you've never been in one, find your nearest shop online - they're a fabulous cheapy shop filled with lots of fun stuff - you can also get the ribbon from there, although I bought ours in Waitrose) I've been thinking I could always pack some in a tin and give them to someone as a present - just so long as I can keep from eating them!  :)

One last thing: 
If you want to have a go at  decorating gingerbread men, without actually having to make them, you can get kits from Tesco that are dairy free, egg free and soya free, but if (like me) you need to avoid wheat, or gluten, they're no good at all.

Organix also make dairy free gingerbread men biscuits for little ones (again not gluten free).  They are egg free and soya free, but they're not suitable for little ones under the age of one. These can be bought as multipacks from the baby aisle in most supermarkets. 

Baby found them too spicy. The Hub, who also tried them, said they seemed mild to begin with, but then the ginger kicked in. However, my four year old niece really loves them, so it's each to their own!

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Which milk, when, where?

Once upon a time, there was only soya milk - which is no good for me - I'm intolerant to soya milk. It causes me considerable stomach pain. Then there was rice milk I don't drink rice milk, because I'm still breastfeeding and so was advised not to, by the dietitian*.  

Fortunately for me, there are now so many dairy free milk substitutes out there, that I'm not constricted to just soya or rice milk. In fact there's so many out there now, that (if you're not allergic to nuts) it's difficult to know how/where to start. This post is about the ones we prefer and why.

I say 'ones,' as I don't have just one milk substitute. I used to think that was the way to go - I would find my replacement for milk and just stick with it. At that stage I was using Oatly - which is what we were recommended, by the paediatrician. I liked it (although you had to give it a really good shake before using it) but, made of oats, it wasn't low enough in gluten, when I developed my more recent problems, so I had to drop it and look for something else. But, eventually I came to the conclusion that the differing qualities, of each kind of milk, lent themselves to different things. So here (taking you through my daily routine) is how I prefer to go about it, now:

Coffee is my way to start the day. No one should get between me and my morning cup of coffee - it's probably the only one I'll have all day (after all, I don't want Baby to stay awake all night) and for that reason it's precious to me. I'm so used to having my coffee black now (an Americano starts my day) that no milk is required. However, if I'm so inclined, it has to be hazelnut!

Breakfast - Porridge
Most days, I start the day with gluten free porridge, in which I quite like coconut milk. I like almond milk even more, but really, I prefer hazelnut milk, in my porridge, the most. It's creamier and as it is sweet enough (for me) as it is, I don't feel the need to add sugar. Bonus!!

Brunch - Pancakes
Well, I don't have pancakes everyday, in fact, hardly ever, but sometimes the need arises. Coconut and almond both work for me in pancakes. I can't decide which I prefer.

Time for a Cuppa 
These days, no milk is required in my tea - I actually prefer it black. In my opinion, flavoured milks do nothing for tea and there's no getting away from the nutty tastes in my favourite milks, which tend to go better with coffee.

Baking - Bread
I used to use Almond milk, but I've now discovered the unsweetened version and decided that in bread, it's the best. Sweetened milks make the bread sweet, which I hate. If I couldn't have the unsweetened almond, I'd use coconut milk, instead.

Lunch - Scrambled Egg
No milk is required whatsoever - I normally just make it with sunflower dairy free spread! However, I have also used a splash of almond milk and that works too.

A Dessert - Custard
Coconut milk carries the blandest flavour, so works best for me in custard. I quite liked the sweetened almond version, but my sister (who didn't even like the coconut much - she has the luxury of being able to have dairy) really drew the line at that one. I only make custard when we have people round - we don't usually do pudding - so I haven't yet tried hazelnut, although I'm tempted!

A Night Time Drink - Hot Chocolate
Baby's choice
I've tried a few of the ready mixed hot chocolates - Kara's coconut and Blue Diamond's almond, but I find them too syrupy sweet for my tooth. 

Baby likes a little of the Blue Diamond version but I prefer making my own - preferably with Hazelnut milk, Green and Black's Cocoa powder and half a teaspoon of sugar. Topped with a splurt of Soyatoo spray 'cream,' and/or a couple of marshmallows, it's... Delish!!

Baby's Milk
I've been trying to get Baby in to hot chocolate, (despite the horrendous sugar content) as she seems to have fallen out of love with her usual soya milk and I'm trying to get some more calcium in. 

Up to now, she has been happy with Alpro Plus 1 soya milk - it's specially formulated to meet the requirements of a young child, from the age of one (with the correct amount of calories and the same added vitamins that you'd find in a toddler's follow-on milk).

Baby's 'Giraffe' milk
The problem is that, to be quite honest, I can be a bit of a worrier and, left to myself, I wouldn't have given her any soya at all, once I became aware of the potential concerns associated with this legume. 

The concerns arise from the worry that the phyto-oestrogens in soya might not be suitable to young children - boys in particular. This is because oestrogen, is of course related to female sexuality, and the worry is that it might affect boys' future fertility.

Such concerns have led the BDA** (British Dietetic Association) to recommend that soya milk should not be used for children under the age of six months. Above that age, they say that soya can be included  as part of a balanced diet, but should not be over relied on.

Of course many Vegans have been using soya milk for years and do not seem too worried by this, but the seed of doubt planted in my mind, by this advice, caused me some worry. It's why I let  Baby continue to breastfeed - so she didn't rely too much on soya milk. 

However, I have come to the decision that as Baby can't have cow's milk and this milk is the one our dietitian recommended - due to the correct calorie content and added vitamins, and as I'm expecting this stage of Baby's life to be temporary, then we just have to go along with it. Now that she is older though, and is not lacking in calories and is seemingly okay with almond milk, I'm happy to let her have some of that on occasion, instead. Hence in her hot chocolate!

And Finally - Out and about
Small is beautiful too!
When out and about, or away for the weekend, you don't want to be carting around a whole litre of dairy free milk, which is why I love these smaller cartons by Kara (more recently re-branded as 'Koko'). They are the perfect size for making a portion of porridge and also come with a straw. You can buy them singly, or in packs of three.

I've heard of people sending their primary age kids into school, with these to drink - instead of the usual cow's milk (which the schools supply). I can see us letting Baby have these, in years to come, when she goes to school (should they be required) as long as she likes them , of course!

In Conclusion
Funny how what seemed like a negative (not being able to have cow's milk) has turned into something quite positive. I don't think that I would ever have experimented with all these different milks, if Baby had been fine with cow's milk. Now, I wonder if, when I am free to go back to dairy, I might actually be happier with my dairy free milks, after all, or whether I'll find myself continuing to experiment with dairy free milks. After all, porridge with hazelnut milk is sooo delicious!

How about you? What milks do you prefer, and when?

Update: Kara (or 'Koko,' as they're now called) have recently brought out their mini cartons in strawberry and chocolate flavour. These are now available through Holland and Barrett, Ocado and some health food shops.

*In recent years, there has been concern over the levels of arsenic in rice. Babies being less able to cope with toxins in their body are therefore supposed to be steered clear of rice milk. If you're breastfeeding, the worry is that the arsenic could pass through one's system and into the baby. Personally, I don't like rice milk anyway. The little I have tasted didn't appeal to me, although I know it does to others.

However, if rice milk is all you can have, due to other allergies/intolerances, then that it what you have to use. I was interested to read an article about the concerns over arsenic in rice, the other day, which I think could prove helpful for anyone battling with these concerns.

*Arsenic in your Rice? A clinical Nutrition Report (US)
*Arsenic in Rice Drinks (FSA - UK)

**Food Fact Sheet - Suitable Milks for Children with Cow's Milk Allergy by the BDA.

Update 2: I'm very sorry, but the above link does not appear to be working. Meanwhile, this one (also by the BDA) does seem to work: Soya and Health

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There are alternatives - milk substitutes
Happy with Hazelnut?

Anyone for Almond Milk?
Have you tried Hemp?