Thursday, 27 September 2012

Are you ready for a ready meal?

Think of your favourite food. What if I told you that you were not going to be eating that food again, for some considerable time... years... maybe forever? How would you feel about that? That was an argument I read recently in response to one woman's innocent question, about Free From food. Well, many of you who are reading this, will know exactly how that feels!

When I was first faced with going dairy free, I had no idea how much was going to be cut out of my life (e.g. chicken gravy - milk gets into everything) but also no idea how much of what was missing was going to be gradually added back into my life. 

The most obvious one I missed was of course milk, but also cheese, cream etc.

Since then, I have found a dairy and soya free substitute for milk, margarine, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream and even cream, all of which I love (if only they weren't so much more expensive, I would love them even more). Recently, I have even discovered some gorgeous dairy free and gluten free cookies (Lucy's). 

One of the other things that I've really missed, though, is the ability to just grab a ready meal, when you're in a hurry. There are now quite a few gluten free ready meals available, so if that were my only problem, I'd be fine, but it's the dairy free element that always seems to be the sticking point. 

I knew that there were a few out there - I'd heard about them and got tantalisingly close to them, but until quite recently, they eluded my grasp. But now, I have finally got my hands on some great dairy, gluten and soya free ready meals, which I'd readily buy again.

The box

Amy's Rice Macaroni with dairy free cheese was one such. Manufactured by an American company, they have proved to be tricky customers. I missed my chance to sample them at The Allergy Show in London (earlier in the year) and passed up the chance to order them from Goodness Direct (I didn't want to buy six frozen items nor did I want to pay extra for post and packaging). The Whole Foods market and other places that stock Amy's products only seem to stock the gluten free products. That is, apart from her tinned soups (I can't eat canned foods) or her Burrito (which is made with Baked Beans and is thus unsuitable for me, for reasons which I won't explain here), so it was only when I visited Food for Thought, that I managed to finally get hold of Amy's elusive dairy free macaroni cheese.

Handily, it comes in a little cardboard tray, which you can place in the oven (I don't 'do' microwaves). I wasn't expecting the real cheesy hit that I got from this meal, but it was definitely all there! Not quite as wonderful as my mother's version (but what ready meal, ever is) it was still pretty marvellous! 

My meal

My only complaint? I'm a real piggy and I would have liked a slightly larger portion. It was an okay size for lunch, but would never replace a proper evening meal - I'd probably need to add some generous servings of veggies, which kind of defeats the idea of a 'ready' meal, really, doesn't it? If you want to know what else was in it, follow this link.

Slightly more generous as regards serving size, are Kirsty's ready meals. Fairly recently launched via Sainbury's, I've struggled to find a Sainsbury's that stocks them, and I've been to quite a few! It was Ocado (who have expanded their Free From range) who came to my rescue here. The good news is that Kirsty's have proved so popular that Sainsbury's are planning to roll out her meals to more stores, as from this coming October. Yippee!!

I've now tried two of Kirsty's range (there are five altogether) the Cottage Pie with Sweet Potato Mash and the Spanish Chicken with Brown Rice (follow the links for the ingredient lists and nutritional information).

Kirsty's Cottage Pie
Both of these tasted really great, although I think the Spanish Chicken was my favourite. That may just have been because it had a spicy kick and I happened to be suffering from a cold at the time (I really find spicy food comforting when a cold kicks in) but of course my tastes may be different to yours.

Now, it turns out that Kirsty is looking for more recipe ideas, so that she can extend her range. So, if you can think of any (my thoughts turned immediately to Paella and Lasagne)  I'm sure she'd be delighted if you left a message on her Facebook page or sent your comments via Twitter.

Bon Appetit!

Update 2015:

Kirsty's have not only expanded their adult range (click here to view), which you can obtain in Waitrose, Asda and Sainsbury's but have also added a children's range, which is now available via Asda (see here).

Friday, 21 September 2012

Baking with Baby 7 - Alien Cookies

Baby is asleep, let blogging commence! Yesterday she didn't sleep at all! By the end of the day, my head felt like it was reverberating with the effort of keeping going and I was missing my 'break'!!

Today, I think yesterday's missed sleep has taken it's toll and she has gone to sleep at just the right time for me. We'd just finished the cookies, they were cooling and suddenly there was a meltdown - she couldn't cope any longer and surrendered. Phew! 

Maybe the effort of making these cookies helped. :) 

Cookies seem to be everywhere at the moment. But when I saw the recipe for these I couldn't help myself, I had to give them a go, because the magic ingredient that they contain intrigued me. It's alternative to butter that is definitely different - it, quite literally, makes them go green!!

Not that you'd notice, from the pictures that I took (and I tried all sorts of lighting and angles). But actually, they're a lovely shade of pistachio green - inside that is. Hence I refer to them as 'Alien Cookies'. Of course they're not really called that, but it somehow seems easier to say than, 'Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies with...' Well,  can't tell you that right now, 'cos it would spoil the surprise, right?

The recipe appeared on a popular social network feed last week, I prepared to dutifully share my find, but found I couldn't - it didn't have the right buttons (I've worked out how to do it now). So, I filed it away, as looking 'useful' for a future blog post, and here we are! 

Loving my new recipe folder!
As I wrote it into my recipe folder, at the weekend (a present for Mother's Day and, until now, still unused) I rejoiced that all the ingredients looked 'safe' (for Baby and me) although of course, as I read 'wheat flour' in my head I was reading 'gluten free flour,' and as I wrote 'chocolate chips' I was thinking of the 70% chocolate chips from Hotel Chocolat, that were sitting in my cupboard. And, of course, I would have to leave out the nuts, but as they were 'optional' anyway, that wasn't going to be a problem, was it? 

Then I hit on the nutritional information at the end - 64 calories per cookie. Apparently, a 'normal' Chocolate Chip Cookie may well contain nearer 250 calories per cookie. Wow!! That means I can have four, instead of just one, doesn't it?

The recipe was shared on a journalistic post, but originated from here. I've included the link to the original blog, because I thought the instructions were a lot clearer, and included helpful illustrations. It looked easy peasy, so I got stuck in, but us being us, the process wasn't complete without a few glitches!

So it turns out that the magic ingredient, in the recipe, is one of these:
Reminds me of an alien egg! What about you?
Yes, an avocado! That's where the green colour comes from. You need half a cup, but not being American, I wasn't too sure about how you go about measuring 'half a cup' of avocado. I found that it amounted to about one whole medium-sized avocado. Useful to know - I wouldn't bother measuring it again. 

We had two avocados in our packet, which was just as well. One for this recipe and one for the next time. I'm sure there'll be a next time, 'cos the recipe says it makes 24, but we made only about 14 - I guess I depends on how generous your measures are. There are only ten left, now, and Baby demolished one of them... so I'll leave you to work out how many I ate! :)

By 'Kue.' I love the eggshell blue against the cream.
Well I chucked the avocado (you have to chuck it, when it's packed into a measuring cup) into my mixer... but the mixer wouldn't work. Arggh! Baby was all poised to help with the button and just doesn't get it when equipment fails. Just as well she loves stirring. We switched to my new mixing bowl (TKMaxx - I LOVE TKMaxx, so bargainous) and squidged up the avocado with a spatula. We didn't get the 'smooth' mixture that we were supposed to get, but it seemed to mix up well with the sugar, just the same, although admittedly, it was a bit lumpy in places.

From there, all went swimmingly, until I looked at the recipe and realised that the next ingredient was,  'Baking Soda.' Hmm! I had 'Baking Powder' and 'Bicarbonate of Soda' in my cupboard but not 'Baking Soda'. It turns out that 'Baking Soda' is American for 'Bicarbonate of Soda', but... whoops!! Too late! I'd already added 'Baking Powder' to my recipe. Never mind! Looking at the picture, it doesn't seem to have done them any harm, does it?

Do these look green to you?
The only other point to note, is that although the original recipe says 290 degrees Fahrenheit, the food journo recommended 310 (around 160 degrees C). I've no idea. The cooker in the house that we're currently renting doesn't have any numbers on the dial - we suspect someone got a bit happy with a brillo pad, somewhere in the house's past, and erased them off whilst cleaning. We've managed to work out that half way around the dial is about 180 degrees C. I had it just under. Still, as before, no harm done!

The verdict? 
Interesting! The cookies are by no means unpleasant. They've got that lovely inner gooeyiness - which is hard to find in shop-bought cookies. There's sweetness. There's about the right amount of chocolate chips - ours being 70%, are quite bitter, maybe too bitter for this recipe. And do you know? I think there's a taste of peanut butter about them - something I've not tasted in a long time. I'd like to try making the cookies again - with the nuts in this time, but then of course, I wouldn't be able to share them with Baby. 

Baby likes them just as they are. She thinks they're, 'Yummy!' and that's enough for me!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Food for Thought

'Food for Thought' is such a great name for a whole foods mini market, don't you agree?

We found them, for the first time, on Saturday in Guildford, following a bit of online research by The Hub. And what a find they were!

Tucked away in a side street, literally not much more than a few steps away from a main city centre shopping street, I can't help wishing that every town had one of these. Unfortunately, at the moment they have only two stores, one in Guildford and the other in Kingston.

Not quite as big as The Whole Foods market, that I visited, in Clapham, the other week, they nonetheless make good use of the space they've got and stock a pretty extensive range of specialist foods. In fact, it was a real Aladdin's Cave of goodies, I really had to restrain myself, from spending too much of The Hub's hard earned money!

The staff in the shop were quite friendly - one helpfully suggested that I might like to leave my cold purchases with them (whilst we shopped elsewhere) and return to pick them up later.  Bonus!! Being in town for the day, I happily accepted this offer.

However, I passed up the chance to buy more dairy free ice cream, - I've still got some in the freezer and was uncertain about getting it home. 

Co-yo's chocolate yoghurt soon found its way into my basket, though, closely followed by a larger tub of its natural version. I was delighted to restock my fridge with this dairy free yoghurt and was keen to try the chocolate flavour.

Another familiar face - Lucy's was in stock, as well. This time I bought a packet of mini cookies,  for taking out and about.

Amy's dairy, gluten and soya free macaroni cheese followed soon after - the first time I had seen this stocked any where, other than Goodness Direct or The Allergy Show. Its dairy and soya free version is not to be confused with their solely gluten free version, which seems to be much more widely available. Unfortunately, it's no good for us at all, as that version does contain dairy!

From the States and hard to find over here!

Joy of joys, their chocolate range was pretty good too - they stock my favourite chocolate bars, by Organica. Baby spotted their 'hamster chocolate' (Mini Moos by Moo Free) and, being a girl after my own heart, she made sure that also made it into my basket!!

All-in-all, it was a successful shopping trip. And now I know where they are, I'm sure that sometime or another I'll be back for more!!

This cream substitute really is quite yummy!
Just to let you know, I have been back. This time my top find was Soyatoo Rice Whip. Just like the squirty cream, I loved as a kid, this stuff is truly amazing! 

If you can't find it in your local health food store, try Amazon, or the Vegan Store

Okay, so I know, it's made with rice and there's a whole debate about rice going on right now (generally I avoid it as a daily milk substitute - just to be on the safe side) but I still eat rice, and being gluten free as well, have little choice but to consume it in baked goods too. Therefore, I think that in an occasional treat, like this hot chocolate (made with hazelnut milk) it should be alright.

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Monday, 17 September 2012

Pom Bears go Dairy Free!

OK, so this won't be news to those of you who have joined us on Facebook or Twitter, but  as far as I'm concerned, it's still worth celebrating!

Beloved of kiddies - the Original Pom Bears!

It would be hard to find a child to whom these cheeky little bears wouldn't appeal. Baby is no exception. Unfortunately they seemed to be out of bounds - until quite recently, that is!

It was the end of summer term party, at a local Baby and Toddler group, when I got my first inkling that they might be OK. I went prepared for the worst, as usual - knowing that previously they had provided treats for the children, at the end of term. 

Sighing inwardly, at the sight of Pom Bears on the table, I had to prevent Baby from helping herself (just like all the other children) when one of the organisers told me she should be fine. Unable to believe what I was hearing, I examined the packet that she gave me, and sure enough, no mention of milk! 'Funny!' I thought, 'I'm sure that they had milk in them.'

Confusion reigned on Face Book, when I shared the news, so, in the interests of clarity, I emailed the manufacturers and was pleasantly surprised by their swift and courteous response, which was as follows:

The Pom-Bear base recipe was changed in December 2011 to remove the milk content. Since then Pom-Bear Original (ready salted) no longer contains milk. However, the flavoured versions of Pom-Bear such as Cheese + Onion still contain milk which is in the seasonings used.
During the changeover period some of the packaging which still had the previous allergy warning on has been used in conjunction with packaging featuring the new declaration. I apologise for the confusion and concern this may have caused.
It is difficult to say when all the new packaging will be into the system due to stocks held in customers’ warehouses. Also Pom-Bear has a 6 months shelf life so it is feasible that some packs with the milk recipe could still be on sale till June.
If the pack you have does not declare the milk allergen then it is safe to eat for those with a milk allergy otherwise I recommend caution and avoid eating the product.


So the news is, yes! The Ready Salted flavoured Pom Bears are dairy free - just don't be tempted to eat the other flavours!! 

For those of you with other dietary restrictions to consider, the packet states that they are gluten free but that they contain soya. However, this is in the form of lecithin - which, as I understand it, is safe for most of us who can't usually tolerate soya, but do, of course, check with your medical advisor, if you're unsure.

The ingredients list (ready salted) is as follows:

Potato Powder
Sunflower Oil
Potato Starch
Modified Starch
Salt (0.6g per 100g)
Yeast Extract
Soya Lecithin

Isn't it great to know that although manufacturers can (and do) change products' ingredients for the worse, they can also change them for the better? Let's hope more take note of this more positive example and follow the lead!

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Monday, 10 September 2012

Can I interest you in a glass of broccoli?

Can I interest you in a glass of broccoli? Curly kale? Dried beans? No? Oh! That's a shame! These are some of the best sources of non-dairy calcium. Did you know that four and a half cups of broccoli are equal to the amount of calcium you'll find in a glass of milk? Now, I don't wish to alarm you, but that's quite a lot of broccoli isn't it? Now tell me how easy it is to get all your calcium from other sources, when you go dairy free!

Apparently, another source is beans. A lot of dairy free people tend to rely on soy beans for their dairy free substitutes. However, like many others who are dairy free, soy beans tend to have quite a nasty effect on me, so I don't think I'll be having those, thank you. And anyway, there's a problem with beans that I'll come to later.

I could have a glass of calcium enriched orange juice, but... I still can't cope very well with the orange stuff - following the tummy upset, that I caught the other year.

I don't know about you, but I keep coming across people, posts, sites that proclaim how easy it is to get your calcium from sources other than milk and how much better it is for you, anyway. 'Wow!' I've (nearly) thought, 'why did I ever drink milk at all? How did our mothers and grandmothers get it all so wrong?'

The thing is, I didn't think that. Partly because my Chinese mother-in-law now has to take calcium supplements on her doctor's orders, due to calcium deficiency, whilst my own mum has no problems, with her bones, whatsoever (my mother may have other health issues, but lack of calcium isn't one of them). I mention my mother-in-law's ethnicity, by the way, because the traditional Chinese diet often seems to be held up as the best example of a calcium-rich, milk free, diet. 

The other reason I don't agree that it is easy to get enough calcium from other sources is because I've been reading a range of articles, and, well... Can I just say lay my cards on the table right now, and just say that I'm downright sceptical about some of these claims? The way they're phrased, gives me an uncomfortable feeling that someone is trying to put across a particular agenda - the way they're worded they sound (to me) an awful lot like a publicity drive, rather than well-meant advice. 

I sometimes wonder if the people who write this stuff and make these kind of claims realise the impact they have on others. Look at it this way: 

I, as a busy mum, and one who is perhaps concerned about the lack of dairy in my child's diet (in terms of calcium) might be really excited seeing something like this. Not having the time to research the claims being made, or in fact have any clue that perhaps these claims might need to be investigated any further, might go my way in happy ignorance. And, what's more, might pass on those claims to someone else and be none the wiser that I was misleading someone else too. 

Now I'm not knocking those who think they've found something useful and pass it on, trying to be helpful, no I'm gunning for the people behind the original articles. 

Before you know it, everyone appears to be saying (and believing) the same thing, without knowing: 

1. Where it came from
2. Whether it is true              

I find this somewhat alarming! 

I don't know about you, but I want the truth! I want to be armed with the very best information, so that I can go out there and tackle this dairy free thing and not disappear off in what could be completely the wrong direction. It's for this reason, that I've been sticking with my very best friend - the calcium tablet (even though I have my concerns about that) whilst I try and work out exactly what the truth about calcium really is.

A short while ago, when I was researching my first post on calcium, I came across an article from a Canadian website. It was saying something that I was getting whispers of from other places - that a lot of the foods that everyone tells us are high in calcium (eg. spinach, soya) actually contain natural chemicals called 'phylates' and 'oxalates,' which can inhibit the body's ability to absorb calcium. In other words, oxalates are working against your best efforts!!        

Aaaagh! I can't tell you how much this frightened me!! So I sat on this information, (and kept taking my tablets) partly because I didn't want to frighten anyone else and partly because I was concerned that I might end up doing more harm than good! I was waiting for something else to come along and suggest a solution. And now I think I might have found one, or even some!

Food Preparation
Quite recently, I came across a website all about calcium, which was able to provide an answer about how to deal with the chemicals in food that block calcium absorption in the body. It's an old-fashioned technique that we probably all avoid these days, because juicing, wilting and steaming (steaming is usually my favourite option) is better for you. Right? 

Ah, no! Boiling is better, apparently, and chucking out the veggie water too - no using it for gravy now, y'all hear? If you want the full article, it can be found by following this link.  Mind you, you don't want to be overcooking the food, because that would take out other vital nutrients that your body needs.

Fermenting food is better, at reducing phylates, apparently, and fermenting soy (a natural source of calcium) is something that the South East Asians do very well - think miso and soy sauce.

Soaking and sprouting (beans, pulses etc.) are also ways of helping to overcome the problem.

However, I'm not sure that we should be 'chucking out the baby with the bath water' here - oxalate containing foods should not be seen as a 'problem'. One should not forget that the foods which contain oxalates also contain other nutrients (such as iron) that our bodies still need. There are other things that we can do to assist our bodies ability to absorb calcium.

Bio availabilty
It also helps to know which foods (that contain calcium) are best at allowing your body to extract the goodness that it needs. This is known as bio availability. I found a paper that detailed some of these foods and it turns out that broccoli** (one of my favourite veggies) is one of the best (hence my opening line)!

Maximize absorption
Another other string to the bow, is helping your body to absorb calcium more efficiently, by  ensuring you get sufficient Vitamin D, by eating leafy greens that contain Vitamin K* and by getting enough Vitamin A and magnesium - but not too much! Vitamin C is also apprently helpful. And guess what? All these vitamins and minerals are found in... broccoli!

Avoid calcium blockers
Finally, you need to avoid too many substances that inhibit your body from absorbing calcium -  such as caffeine, cola or chocolate (all contain oxalates) especially in meals that contain your doses of calcium (sigh). Bit of a shame that - I love my coffee, hot chocolate... and tea now you come to mention it! 

Phew! What a  lot to think about! 

Does it make you wonder how our ancestors ever coped - without modern nutritional advice! To be honest, I'm still not sure about some of it! You see researchers, including those who operate from top universities, are often sponsored by those who have a vested interest. Get my drift? 

So, I think I'll be sticking to trying to eat as balanced a diet as I can (bearing in mind certain intolerances that I have) and for now, at least, I'll be sticking to the calcium tablets (with Vitamin D) that I was recommended to take in the first place! 

Oh! And I'll keep eating broccoli!

How about you?

P.S. If you want a rough idea about the quantity of calcium you consume, Calcium Calculators like this (Canadian) one may give you some idea.

Please note: I am not an 'expert' on nutrition and am unable to vouch for the links that I have supplied. For proper medical advice, please consult a properly qualified dietitian.

*If you're taking Warfarin you will probably already be aware that it is advisable to be careful about Vitamin K.

**Unfortunately, broccoli can apparently be unhelpful for those with thyroid problems.

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

Let's do the Hokey Pokey!

It's Friday, tomorrow, right? I'm all ready to, 'Thank Crunchie,' I've been ready ever since sampling the Mini Moo chocolate with honeycomb the other week - in the interests of research (of course) for another post that I wrote. Last week, remembering a kind friend who made some honeycomb for me the other year, using a Nigella recipe, I searched online and found this one. Problem was, the process of moving house got in the way of any making or baking. Not this week though! Huzzah!

I love the name of this stuff - Hokey Pokey. It immediately reminds me of the Hokey Cokey and then conjures to mind Baby's efforts to follow the actions and makes me smile. 

Anyway, back to the recipe! 

What I found interesting about this recipe (apart from Nigella's aside about the Cornish name for honeycomb) was the comments at the bottom - quite enlightening! Although Nigella says that it's easy, the comments of her followers lead one to suggest that maybe it's not quite so easy as our lovely Nigella makes out? 

However, one follower (comment 10, I think) suggested altering the quantities to the following:

4 tbsp golden caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup 
1 tsp   bicarbonate of soda

'Aha!' thought I. 'This person sounds confident and successful, so that's what I'll do then. Bound to work '

Having washed my tin (it was still in a box, in the Living Room - I've already run out of space in the kitchen cupboards, in our new home) and lined it with parchment, I dug out my ingredients and, a bit gingerly (don't want sticky stuff ruining my pans) off I set.

What a sticky mix!
I measured, mixed and heated - Baby had already lost interest by this point, already. Once it was bubbling away nicely, however, I called her back, got her to add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk it in (being very careful to keep her from touching either the hot pan or the mixture). Then I hastily poured it into the lined tin as per a comment from another of Nigella's followers. 

'Well!' I thought, as I gazed at my results. 'That's not going to go very far is it?' I'd been envisioning great big chunks of the stuff, over which I could dribble melted chocolate. I was sure The Hub's friend, Paul, had made much more generous quantities of the stuff, when he made it for us the other year.

Making a mental note to double, triple, maybe even quadruple, the ingredients next time, I left the mixture to set.

Returning to examine the recipe, I noted that Nigella did state, that the recipe doesn't make a large quantity. '... any more and you'll be sued by your dentist,' says Nigella.

'Humph!' Thought I, 'Beg to differ! Dentists don't get rich by congratulating patients on how well their teeth are looking, do they?'

Well, I left the stuff in the fridge for long enough, I thought, but when it came out, it was not going to crack into lovely crispy pieces, oh no! I was able to mould it into fancy shapes though... which eventually flopped! 

What  a flop!
At this point I succumbed to tearing chunks off with my teeth and chewing furiously, to vent my frustration... until I remembered the comments about the dentist. 'Better not eat the whole lot, in one go,' I thought to myself. The flavour was there, but where was the crunch? 

Meanwhile, with Baby's help, I made some more - double quantities this time. I let it bubble for a bit longer, as one of Nigella's followers suggested one should. It certainly foamed very nicely when the bicarb went in and really looked the business. 

I also messaged Paul. 'Cut down the syrup,' was his advice, and, 'put it in the fridge!' Right-oh! In the fridge - too late for the syrup bit! I left the Hokey Pokey in the fridge for a couple of hours this time - went out shopping and everything!

At this point, I'd love to tell you that we were successful... but no! It was a bit more solid, yes but still chewy rather than crispy. More chewing ensued. 

The next morning, I was debating whether or not to make another load - with less syrup this time. I was thinking of my teeth, by this time - I didn't want to end up with a whole lot more to chew my way through - all I really wanted was a nice crisp dairy free Crunchie!!

One last go, and... result!!

Less syrup and more cooking - I let it go a bit darker than I had before. Not sure what did the trick but crispy, crunchy honeycomb was the result. I never got round to adding the chocolate though - it didn't really last long enough.

I'm not thanking Crunchie, though - my thanks go to Paul, for helping me out. Less syrup, more cooking was definitely the way to go!  Oh, and storing it in the fridge, to stop it going goey. 

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Sweets for my Sweet