Monday, 30 September 2013

Baking with Baby 10 - It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas??

Mmm! It certainly did smell a lot like Christmas, in our house last week, but no, we haven't baked our Christmas cake... just yet. Last weekend we celebrated my parents golden wedding anniversary. 

They didn't want any fuss, but fifty years of marriage just has to be celebrated in some form or another, so we arranged a family meal. 

Then I got to thinking about cake. Well you've got to have a cake for an anniversary, don't you?? Hmm! That got me thinking!

A few years ago, when we celebrated their seventieth birthdays (their birthdays are very close, so we did it in one) I bought a dairy free celebration cake - you know, one of those that are a bit like a Christmas cake - a rich fruit cake. This one was ready marzipanned and iced with plain icing (I wasn't gluten free at that stage) all I had to do was add some ready made decorations on the top. 

The Parents seemed happy with that (they like fruit cake) - job done!! However, being gluten free presents more of a problem - you don't exactly find gluten free celebration cakes in most shops now, do you? So I knew (big gulp) it was all down to me to produce the goods, because it wouldn't occur to my sisters to sort it out and even if it did, I wasn't sure that they would be able to avoid cross-contamination!

Not having made any cakes of this sort before (I've never needed to, someone else - usually my mum - has always made them for me) I consulted my guru - t'Internet and hey presto! I found this Christmas cake recipe from Delicious Magazine. A recipe that is specifically dairy and gluten free - result!! You can find it HERE by following the link.

It is a great recipe, in that it details everything stage quite well, but there's a few little things I'd like to add:

1. It might sound a bit silly... if you do a lot of baking you probably won't be too bothered, but I didn't want lots of little left-over bits of packets of fruit and nuts - just in case I don't get 'round to using them before they go off. Tesco's packs are all the wrong size for the quantities required for this cake, so, for example, you have to buy more than one pack of pecans and then you have too many. The same with the figs and the glace cherries. I gave up looking for my ingredients there, when I realised that! In Sainsbury's, however, you can buy the ingredients in packets which are all about the right amount.

Oo! Get me! Very 'Saturday Kitchen' - with all my ingredients in little dishes :)

2. When the recipe says you need to beat the sugar and fat until the mixture becomes lighter, it means keep going for some while... and then some!! It may not have helped that I used Stork margarine (the block not the tub version - the block version is the ONLY Stork margarine that isn't made with dairy). Usually I would have used Pure sunflower margarine, which is a lot softer.

It turns out that even though I gave it a good go, I didn't beat mine quite long enough (my hand mixer got rather heavy and my arm started aching). Consequently, the mixture looked like it had split, and I discovered later that this may mean that your cake won't rise as much as it should. Personally, I think this recipe alone is grounds for buying a Kitchen Aid - to take the strain out of it, but The Hub is yet to be convinced on that score ;) Despite all that, I don't think the cake came out too badly.

Fresh from the oven

3. Add more booze! This coming from one who hasn't knowingly touched a drop since she was pregnant (still breastfeeding now). I opted for the port, rather than the rum. Having measured everything carefully and boiled my fruit, it seemed a bit dry, so I chucked in another 30ml, gave it a bit of mix, decided it needed a bit more. At this stage I realised I didn't have enough plain flour. Not wanting the fruit to get all dried out overnight, I sloshed in some more port before I went to bed... and a bit more next morning. I the end I must have used he best part of half a bottle, but to be honest it could, perhaps, have taken more?? Certainly my sister thought so, and I think I would agree.

4. Always use an oven thermometer! Thankfully I trusted mine and NOT the thermostat on our new oven (which came with the house). The thermostatic control was way out!!! This was the position of the knob on the oven, when the oven was at the correct temperature for the cake:

Believe it or not, it's 180 degrees C inside the oven.

5. If, like me, you have a small determined child living in your house... do yourself a favour and do all your baking when they're asleep. Just saying!! Let's just say that trying to bake with the LO around led to a few bottle royals and leave it at that, shall we?

'Baby' added the jam layer - which I 'tidied up' once she'd had her fun!

6. If, like me, you're new to adding a layer of marzipan to your cake, there are online tutorials that can help you out. Such as this one, by BBC Good Food. If you like, you can get Dr Oetker's or Tesco's ready rolled marzipan (I got mine half price because it had a short date). This really took the stress out for me, as I was trying to get it all done as quickly as I could. You just unroll a roll of marzipan over the cake. 

Ready rolled!

However, I thought the layer of marzipan was a bit on the thin side.

See? Went on quite nicely but quite thin!

7. You can, of course make all your own icing - indeed I have all the stuff in my cupboard, BUT, being short of time, I decided to cheat. Here's what we used: 

NOT a promotion for Dr Oetker's - promise!

Please note none of the Dr Oetker products stated that they were specifically gluten free, but there were no gluten containing ingredients, or dairy, for that matter, either :)

As for applying the icing itself,  I watched this tutorial here. However, the vital part (how to iron out the folds around the side) was strangely missing!! I found one of these was the answer (I bought mine from Hobby Craft):

Great for buffing your icing!

Finally, however, the cake was completed and looked like this: 

Not perfect, but could be worse!

Of course the test of any cake, is not how well it looks, but how well it tastes. This cake seemed to go down okay (my Dad particularly loved the dried figs), but not as well as the other layer I made (blog post to follow). Although a little dry (probably my fault 'cos I always worry about my cakes being under baked) I thought it was quite yum too, but I think I might just sub the figs for something else another time (maybe prunes) as I'm not so keen on all the little pips that you get in figs! 

Unlike the gluten free Christmas cake I bought last Christmas, this one didn't cause my gut any unpleasant reactions and now I have decided I am going to make another for Christmas - but this one will get plenty of 'feeding' to see if I can keep it nice and moist :)


By the way, just in case you're wondering, no, I was not paid a sausage for mentioning any products. I bought everything I used myself. However if Kitchen Aid are listening seeing as The Hub's not convinced I need one... ;) 

Oh, who am I kidding?? THAT would be most unlikely. Still, I can but dream :)

Other posts about baking dairy and gluten free can be found by following this link.

If you're looking for ideas to do with Christmas here are some posts from 2012:

Dairy free ways to decorate your tree

Oo! Ah! Christmas Chocolat!

Treating Father Christmas

Dilemmas of the Christmas cake variety

Baking with Baby 8 - Gingerbread

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Baked to Taste Pies and Cakes

One of my 'Holy Grails' (you know, the things you've missed since going dairy/gluten free, that are usually the preserves of a gluten and dairy-filled diet) for some time now, has been pastry. 

I've run a bit scared of making it myself, as I'm no expert in the kitchen anyway and don't want to end up with a dreaded 'soggy bottom' (one for the fans of The Great British Bake-Off there). I know I ought to give it a go. I even have a few cheats up my sleeve, such as a Mrs Crimble's packet mix, but that's not seen the light of day for a while (hope it's not gone out of date)!

Partly, it's because 'Baby' is a fussy chick. There's nothing worse than slaving over a hot stove, or oven, or whatever, to make something you think she'll like, only to  have her reject it. At times like these, if she's decided she doesn't want it, then it doesn't matter what you do, she won't touch it and you can't always just whip another option out of thin air.

The other reason I haven't touched pastry is that so many pastry recipes involve desserts and we don't really do desserts in our house. 

However, there are times when I've secretly craved something carboholic and pastry covered. SO, what to do? 

Well, I've finally found a way of having my pastry and eating it - dairy and gluten free. They're by a small company, based in Devon, called 'Baked to Taste'.

I first came across their wares at a local garden centre a few months ago - there were just a few cakey type things, nothing that screamed 'pastry' at me. Then, at Celiac's Fayre, one lunchtime, when I felt like departing from 'my usual' and it was suggested that I might like to try a pie. I could hardly believe it when I heard that they were both dairy and gluten free, as I've come across pastries that are either gluten or dairy free, but none that are both! I had to examine the packages for myself, to make sure, and yep, there it was in black and white, so I went for it! 

That day I had the chicken pie, and it was so good that I ended up buying some more 'Baked to Taste' products and taking them home, to store in my freezer - including a steak pie, an apple pie, (which I ate cold and was yum) and a vegetarian pie, made with butternut squash and cannellini beans! 

Since then I've tried the steak pie too. All were good but I think the steak pie was particularly so. Not only was the pastry 'right' (just what I'd been hankering for and nothing like the supermarket Free From pastry products), but the quality of the steak in the pie was amazing - no horrid gristly or fatty bits, but really good meat in a lovely rich gravy.

The steak pie

A few weeks later, when I made my way down to Deli Divine, I picked up a few more 'Baked to Taste' products, to try. I already knew that they did a few cakey/cookie type things, but this Lemon Drizzle cake (mentioned in another post) really is amazing! The sponge soft, the topping tangy. I really couldn't fault it. It didn't taste 'free from' in anyway whatsoever!

A lemon drizzle to die for!
Another 'Baked to Taste' find, was a packet of ready made pastry, which I've yet to try, but I've stored in my freezer, for the right moment. I'm not sure when that will be, but now that the summer's gone, I quite fancy making a treacle tart, served with some yummy warming custard.

So, you've heard a bit about the products, but how do you get your hands on them? Well, the good news, is, that if you can't make the journey to Celiac's Fayre or Deli Divine, you don't have to go without. You can buy them online from Deli Divine, or, if you have enough room in your freezer, 'Baked to Taste' sell their products online from their own website, however you have to buy in bulk (boxes of twelve). 

Be warned not all their products are dairy free - their quiches, for example, are made with 'normal' cheese and quite a few of their cakes are too. Neither (for those of us who can't have soya) are they all soya free. The sausage roll is made with soya. 

Well, I've had my say, now it's over to you, to give 'Baked to Taste' a try and see if you agree that they are, as their packaging states, 'Filled with Imagination.'

'Filled with imagination?'

Related Posts:
Celiac's Fayre Gluten Free Cafe
Deli Divine - The Deli with a Difference

Friday, 20 September 2013

Carluccio's in Cobham

I like a good bit of alliteration in my blog post titles - check my past posts and you'll know it's true. However, there's a really good reason why I've done so for this particular post - read on and you'll see what I mean!

Now, I've heard of people having a great allergy free dining out experience at Carluccio's in the past and, to be quite frank, I was utterly astounded! My experiences have been pretty mixed - the worst being the time I went to one, where, having told the waitress I was dairy and gluten free, she promptly went off and returned with bread sticks for me to nibble on, whilst I waited!!

SO, when we visited Carter's Steam Fair in Cobham a few months ago, and my sister suggested eating at Carluccio's afterwards, I was none too thrilled. However, my sister being quite... hmm... 'persuasive' is the best way of putting it, I think, we did.

All the fun of the fair!

To begin with, I was none too impressed by the waiter who tried to serve us. It wasn't long before he was obviously floundering. He tried to bluff it out but soon had to resort to asking his superior for some help. Now, SHE was brilliant. To my shame, I can't remember her name but I was really impressed with her understanding. She completely 'got it'. It transpired that her friend had a daughter with various allergies, and who had actually written a cook book. 

The superior (eek, wish I could remember her name) dismissed the first waiter, and took over our table herself. She was able to knowledgeably guide me through my choices on the menu and disappeared out to the kitchen to place our order and oversee preparations. Then, she personally delivered our dairy free and gluten free dishes, herself (pronouncing them as dairy free and gluten free, as she did so - just in case anyone was in any doubt). I was amazed!!

It's the variation in what you might experience (in terms of service) that has made me a lot warier about relying on chain restaurants these days. It all depends on the staff in that restaurant, on that day, as far as I can tell. Hence specifying a particular place in my title!

Now, the service in Cobham was spot on, but the menu (as set by Carluccio's) was a bit limiting really. 'Baby' ended up with pasta and sauce (as per usual). Some days she'll eat it, some days she won't!!

'Baby's' dairy free pasta

Meanwhile, mine was a 'dairy free, gluten free' salad. Now, I'll eat salad, but I'm not a real salad fan. There being not much choice, though, it was that or go hungry. 

Polo e Prugne (chicken and prune)  actually turned out to be a very nice salad (as salads go). It was really nicely dressed and well-balanced, so a change from the usual fish and potato that I often end up with!

Pollo e Prugne

So, 'Baby' and I both got to eat something... and didn't suffer any nasty reactions!

Dessert was non-existent, but that was no surprise. Everywhere we go it's a variation of some kind of fruit - usually a sorbet. Now, I don't know about your little one, but mine doesn't go a bundle on that and neither do I. Add into the mix that I get allergic reactions from fresh fruit such as kiwi, pineapple and melon (the basis of many a fruit salad) and you'll understand why I'm so unimpressed!

I did trawl the shop at the front to see if there was any suitable treat, but even the meringue was out of bounds, as it was dusted with some kind of chocolate powder - so near and yet so far - 'Baby' loves meringue! Mind you, the main reason for trawling the shop was to keep 'Baby' away from her cousin, who was devouring chocolate ice cream with unholy relish!!

When, oh when, I have often wondered (and this is aimed not just at Carluccio's), will restaurants provide proper desserts for the dairy and gluten free?? To borrow the catchphrase of many a frustrated coeliac on Twitter, 'Fruit is NOT a dessert'!

Another pic of the fair

If you've also pondered this question, the good news is that Leon restaurants have dessert options that are dairy and gluten free and most definitely are not fruit. Check them out! :)

Other posts about Eating Out:

Lunch at Starbucks
Celiacs Fayre Gluten Free Cafe

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

An Alternative to Cheese and Alternative Stores

Meet Violife - the latest in my quest for a decent dairy free cheese alternative. 

It's here!
I've been after this cheese for some time and have heard nothing but good things about it. Not currently available in any shops near me, I turned t'Internet for this one and found it on the Alternative Stores website. This is a Vegan site that I've been stalking on Face Book for quite a while (in the hope of laying my hands on said cheese). However, every time I've tried to order Violife, its been out of stock!! 

Noting (from a recent update) that Violife was back in stock, I hot-footed my way over to their site this week, so I could get my order in before the cheese vanished. I was in luck, it was in stock, so I decided to make the most of any shipping charges by ordering some Vegan choccie bars too. Bonus!! Even better - if you order three of any items, you get 10% off the price if those free items! Needless to say, I took advantage of that offer with the choccie bars, but not so the cheese. After all, if it turned out to be disgusting, I didn't want to be saddled with a whole load of it, did I?

I have to say Alternative Stores service was excellent! The order arrived next day during the allotted time that they said it would appear, and what's more I received several text messages during the intervening period to let me know exactly what was going on. Can't fault them for that!! 

Also, I loved that their packaging was recycled.
So, Violife - back to the 'cheese'. There was a whole raft of choices - Violife with this or that added, but wanting to do a straight comparison with the cheddars I used to know and love, I opted for the 'cheddar' version. I received a pack of 'cheese' slices resembling what I (when I was still eating dairy) used to refer to as 'plastic cheese'. 'Plastic cheese' was, I'm afraid not something I was terribly keen on - it couldn't compare to the English cheddars that I used to love. 

Ready to roll!
Unfortunately, for me, that is pretty much what it tasted like - plastic cheese. In other words it did have a cheesyish taste, but not as much as you'd get from a good cheddar. If you like the flavour of plastic cheeses, like Dairylea, then you'll probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. I tried it first in a sandwich, with a BFree roll. As that didn't appeal, I decided to do what I always end up doing with Vegan cheese - toast it. 

'Cheese' on toast - 'scuse the burnt bits!
Toasting definitely improved the flavour for me, but (if I'm perfectly honest) would not be enough to tempt me to purchase it regularly. I think I'd rather stick with dairy free soya free Cheezly, from Redwood Foods, whose flavour I prefer - especially since Cheezly is cheaper and more readily available (Holland and Barrett).

'Melted' on omelette - didn't really melt!
So, although I know of other people who do love it, Violife didn't rock my dairy free world, but Alternative Stores I'd definitely try again. As an online store, with good stock control, speedy delivery and great communication with their customers, (both on FB and by text) they rock!

Update: Have since tried another Violife and much preferred it to the one pictured (although it's still best toasted). As they have so many different varieties now, it's worth experimenting - to find one that suits you!

Update: Violife Original Cheese (not featured here) and Violife Creamy is now available in two major supermarkets - Tesco and Asda. Great news for dairy free shoppers!!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Live your life BFree - Wrap & Roll!!

'Live your life be free!' Song lyrics, right? And SO in keeping with this product review! 

I first came across BFree at The Allergy Show. Well sort of. I saw the stand, but there were heaps of people crowding around (story of my life) and the wraps seemed to contain an unsuitable filling (dairy). Unable to get the attention of anyone with whom I could discuss them in depth, and knowing I'm often NOT okay even with gluten free bread, I was unwilling to throw my cash at yet another gluten free bread product just by chance, so off I went - cash firmly remaining in hand. 

BUT the wraps stayed in the back of my mind. I noticed that  they were due to be sold in Asda, but couldn't find any near me, SO, during my recent visit to Deli Divine, I plucked up courage and pulled out some dough of my own, in order to buy some (yes, yes, yes, pun completely intended). 

Having heard good things about the wraps (via Twitter) and unsure how great my gut is with wholemeal style breads, I went for the wraps and the white bread rolls.

Looking good?

I have to say, I couldn't believe just how soft the wraps were, when I got them out of the packet. I slapped on a bit of mayo, ham and then some salad leaves and got rolling. 

Yep - they rolled just fine. I couldn't believe it. Based on previous experience with gluten free bread, I had really expected them to be rather dry and to crack quite a bit, but no!!

So far so good. Next the taste test. Yep! Passed with me just fine. 'Baby' apparently yes, then... not so, but then she is a completely fussy little whatsit about all kinds of food, so no surprises there, then!

I am completely sold on these. I would happily eat them again and again. I'm hoping to make some fajitas sometime, as long as the gut doesn't object to the spices (plain food is often better for me).

The rolls I held off trying for a day or so, but today was 'bite the bullet' time - after all I didn't want them to go off before I ate them! As most gluten free bread is better toasted, the best taste test was to try them untoasted. Whoa! Couldn't believe how much like a proper bread roll they tasted!

What also stunned me was the texture. As previously observed most gluten free bread is dry and tends to fall apart. Some loaves are also known for the vast holes that appear within them. Not so with BFree!

Despite having been defrosted and in my cupboard for about a week, the rolls still had a nice firm spring to them and didn't crumble when I cut them in half, or at all, in fact. No cavernous holes anywhere.

Looks 'normal' huh?
Unlike most gluten free breads, I would happily eat these as an untoasted bread roll, as in fact, a 'normal' sandwich. See here: 

Great for a sandwich

This would make having lunch out (and therefore life in general) much easier for me, as most gluten free bread rolls are unpalatable in this form. I would also use these as burger buns at a BBQ. They also happen to taste nice toasted. I just needed some nice home made marmalade to top them off - made do with honey instead.

Now, much as I love these buns, I think I prefer the wraps, but either way, here are two great additions to the gluten free bread market. I can see me using them a lot (feeling freer already). We're just waiting for them to become available at Ocado. I thought they were, but it seems I was wrong - it's the bread, not the wraps, so there's going to be a product request going in!

P.S. What's in them? Ah yes! If you want to know what's in the buns, the list is long but the ingredients are listed here. And the wraps? Here!

Dairy and Gluten Free on the Isle of Wight

She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it 'The Island' as if there were no other island in the world.  

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Have you been to The Island, aka The Isle of Wight? Thinking of it?? Just wondered, 'cos this weekend it's host to The Bestival.

Sailing into East Cowes on board Red Funnel

It's a funny old place - I say that with affection. My family moved there when I was five. I grew up there and have many fond memories of life on 'The Island'. However, it definitely has it's quirky little ways!!

Popular with the Victorians, for a long while, it seemed to have had its day. Now, however, it's seems to have reinvented itself as a destination for the cool, young(ish) and groovy. Well, that is apart from the winter - when the turkey and tinsel brigade arrive! BUT from June onwards, things heat up in more ways than one!

I suppose things really kick off with the Isle of Wight Music Festival. Before you know there's the Old Gaffer's Festival, Cowes Week (mind you, Cowes Week has always been popular with sailors, but these days it heaves with celebs) the Offshore Powerboat Race, the Round the Island Yacht Race, Wight Air (extreme sports festival) and this weekend... The Bestival.

'Course there are other reasons to go - not least the fact that it gets a whole lot more sunshine than most of the rest of the UK (although The Hub may beg to differ on this one - he claims it always rains, whenever he goes there).

If you are heading down that way, and need to get hold of some Free From food (Ocado don't deliver, by the way), you may like to know of a few little places that might make life a little bit easier for you.

Cowes - In the High Street of West Cowes nestles this little beauty. I found this shop, whilst visiting folks at Christmas. The shop is tiny, but the proprietor was as helpful as she could be, and offered to buy in food stuffs, especially for me, next time I visited - if I sent her a list ahead of time. Sounds good to me! Website link here.

Small but helpful!

Waitrose is also situated in Cowes, although it's the other side of the river, in East Cowes. It is, in fact, very handy if you're coming off the Red Funnel Car Ferry. It's a reasonable size and their free from section has definitely improved over time, but you won't get the widest range of goods here. You'll find those in Newport.

Newport - Newport styles itself as the Island's capital. Granted it is the main town for shopping and such, but I think 'capital' is pushing it a bit!

If you're looking for easy supermarket shopping, there's a huge Morrison's and a Sainsbury's. Based on previous experience, the Sainsbury's is way better!! There is also a Holland and Barrett in the High Street (where I get my dairy free Cheezly) and a health shop, hidden away in Upper St Jame's Street, called Ralph's. Unfortunately, over Christmas (due to public holidays of one kind or another) this shop was not open much. Public holidays, plus staff sickness meant I never got to cross the threshold, but next time...

There is also a chippy in town, called Stotesbury's (also Upper St. James' Street), who apparently do gluten free! Now, I've yet to sample their gluten free menu - another thing to add to my list for next time!

Ryde - Ryde is the second biggest town on The Island. If you have wheels, and Tesco is more your bag, it might be worth a visit to the Extra at Smallbrook, near Ryde. It has the range that you'd expect from a Tesco Extra. Quite handy, if you arrive via Fishbourne on the Wightlink ferry and are heading towards Sandown, Shanklin etc. 

Sandown - Sandown is a popular tourist destination, but there's not much in the way of Free From. There is a Morrison's in Lake, on the outskirts of Sandown, but this doesn't really have much. 

To be quite honest, I think that if you're Free From, the South and West of the Island don't really have that much to offer you, but I could be wrong, as our visits are brief and packed, whenever we go. If you know different, please let me know, and we'll add to this list.

It's at this point (wishing to add further pictures to this post) I realise that despite having taken multiple pictures of 'Baby' and Free From food over the last few years, I have hardly any of the Island, so I'll have to make do with another view of Cowes - a real reminder of home for me, as these doors have carried the Union Jack for as long as I can remember and are the first thing I see when I reach the shore.

Oh well, another task for next time - photos! Hope it doesn't rain then :)


I'm delighted to hear that Chessell Pottery can do gluten and dairy free food. Based in the West Wight, just off the main road between Newport and Freshwater/Yarmouth, it's a really lovely spot to sit and paint pottery, browse their lovely gift shop, or sit and enjoy tea etc. You might have to pre-order, though. Check out their website, here! And please note, that they are closed during the winter - opens again March 29th 2014.