Tried and tested: Bad Brownie Vegan Salted Caramel Brownie

I’m not one to be deterred by bad experiences and so when faced with the temptation of trying something new after my accidental nut consumption last week I decided to jump back on the proverbial horse.

Whilst browsing the stores of One New Change shopping centre, Cheapside, last Friday I happened upon a stall from Bad Brownie in the food market. I usually walk straight past these stalls, but a sign caught my eye: Vegan Salted Caramel Brownies. My interest was well and truly piqued.

The brownies were dark and cocoa-y and glittered with gold. Very decadent.

After my near death experience the day before (ok, so I’m a little over dramatic, but it could have been bad), I stopped to talk to the guy manning the stall. I asked about the ingredients in the Vegan brownie and if it contained nuts. He was extremely knowledgeable about the product, telling me that there were no nuts in the recipe but it was baked in an environment where peanut butter is used. He then went on to tell me that it’s gluten free, and uses coconut oil. He said it’s taken a while to perfect the recipe but it’s worth it, and the company are looking to expand the Vegan/gluten free range.

His knowledge of the product filled me with confidence and I purchased one for £4. I was also given a card which they stamp every time you buy a brownie and when you fill up the card you get a free brownie.

Before I left he told me that the brownie is good just as it comes, but is even better slightly warm and suggested giving it 20 seconds in the microwave.

I thought I’d take his advice, so on the way home I bought some vanilla Swedish Glace dairy free ice cream to go with my warm brownie.

20 seconds on full power didn’t do much, so I gave it another 20, which was perfect, then dolloped on a spoonful of ice cream (I tried to make it look fancy for the picture like in Masterchef, but my spooning skills left a lot to be desired).

Now, the closest I’ve ever got to a brownie in my 36 years is dressing up in a bobble hat and brown dress and promising to do my best, so this was a whole new experience for me. The top of the brownie cracked nicely when I stuck the spoon in and the centre was fudgy and rich. Mr Allergy had a taste and said the texture was good, and compared well with traditional recipe brownies. Needless to say I quickly devoured the whole thing!

I could definitely get used to eating something so deliciously naughty, but as I don’t fancy adding type 2 diabetes to my list of ailments I’d better reserve it for special occasions only.

For people wanting to feed a crowd, you can order boxes of these bad boys, and they will deliver to your office: Vegan Brownie Box Given that one single brownie is £4 the box is really good value for money.I was really pleased with this find and I would definitely recommend this product, for both the quality of the product and the staff working for Bad Brownie. Well done!!

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Warning: Contains Nuts

I had a very narrow escape yesterday. Following a training seminar near Fleet Street (where an Allergy Girl friendly lunch of ham salad with balsamic vinegar was provided), I decided to detour back to Waterloo via Le Pain Quotidien near the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Le Pain do a very nice Cocoa and Pear cake, and I thought I’d treat myself to a slice to indulge in during my commute home. On entering Le Pain, the conversation went like this:

Me: Do you have any of your vegan cocoa and pear cake?

Server: No, the only vegan cakes we have are the salted caramel and passion fruit cakes.

Me: Do they have nuts in them? I’m allergic to nuts.

Server: I don’t think so, let me just check.

She gets a typed piece of paper out of the folder, looks at it.

Server: There’s no nuts.

Me: Can I check?

I look at the typed list of ingredients in the salted caramel cake, and 2nd or 3rd on the list is cashews (not in bold type).

Me: There are cashews in it.

Server: Oh sorry, yes I didn’t see that. What about this one? (Pointing at the passion fruit and beetroot one)

At this point we both read through the list of ingredients, which seemed to be mostly coconut based. I purchased a slice of this for a whopping £5.95, and carefully carried it to the station for fear that a hurrying commuter might knock it out of my hand.

It got there in one piece.

On the train I opened the little box. The cake looked pretty and inviting and I was looking forward to trying something new.

I stuck my fork on the pointy end, and as soon as it reached my mouth my spidey senses were telling me that something was not right. I’m lucky that when I eat something I shouldn’t I get strange taste in my mouth, usually accompanied by a tingling feeling. My alarm bells were now ringing.

I quickly went onto Le Pain’s website to find their allergen information, but there wasn’t any. I then did an internet search for “Le Pain Quotidien Allergen Menu.” This came up with allergy menus from January and March 2017. I searched the menu and there were no passion fruit and beetroot cakes listed.

I then did a more general search for “Le Pain Quotidien passion fruit cake recipe.” This took me back to their website, and the menu, but no ingredients. The only passion fruit and beetroot cake I could see was a Passion fruit and Beetroot raw nut cake. Uh oh! The clue’s in the name. Interestingly the menu doesn’t say that this item contains nuts and there is no allergen information present at all. I thought by law they had to inform people if there are allergens present?

Anyway, just to be on the safe side I called them (from the Quiet Zone, I must add. I wouldn’t usually do this and I’m the first to tut and roll my eyes but at this point I was getting concerned that I might have a full blown allergic reaction on a train that was an hour away from home).

The lady I spoke to was very nice. She started reading the recipe; passion fruit, coconut cream, cashews…. Hang on!! Cashews?

You haven’t eaten any have you? Yes!

She offered a refund next time I’m in. I was less bothered about the refund than why both the server and I had missed the crucial piece of information that the recipe contains nuts. I’ll probably never know the answer, and can only assume it was missed off the recipe when it was typed up, or somehow we both missed it as it wasn’t in bold type. Had I known the name of the cake before purchasing it, I wouldn’t even have considered purchasing it, but unfortunately I didn’t see a menu and the full name of the item was never mentioned in the conversation I had with the server.

In a mild panic, I promptly swallowed three antihistamines and guzzled an entire bottle of water (the idea is to flush the allergen out). I then located the train guard and told him I was having an allergic reaction and where my epipen was kept just in case.

It turns it that apart from being extremely dozy from the antihistamines I was ok. It’s great that my body warns me that something isn’t right, and I’m able to catch it early. Had I eaten the whole thing it could have been a very different story. Le Pain Quotidien really need to sort out their allergen information. It needs to be clear and readily available, and I will be writing to them to this effect.

I think the moral of the story is check the ingredients. Then check again. Or just don’t buy the cake in the first place. It’s better for the wallet and the waistline!

Update

I saw the manager this morning. She was very apologetic and gave me a refund. She will raise the issues of training and allergen information with their food standards people.

She also pointed out that it’s called a “Nut Cake” for a reason!! Lesson learnt, I will always look at the menu in the future!

Dietary Requirements (or a lunch debacle)

Conferences and seminars are in abundance at the moment it seems. You don’t get many for the first eight months of the year, and then all of a sudden they all come along from September to December.  

I love a good conference, seminar or training session.  I like learning. Apparently when I was a child and Mum asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I didn’t want to grow up, I wanted to keep learning. I also like visiting new places, meeting new people and catching up with familiar faces. However I also dread these events for the reason that is lunch. 

When booking my place I dutifully add my long list of allergies in the small space dedicated to “Dietary Requirements.”  I then follow up with an email saying something along the lines of “Can I just double check you’ve got my requirements….if the caterers need to check anything I’m happy to have a chat….and by the way I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I do eat meat. And I’m not allergic to gluten…..” You get the picture. 

Lunchtime comes and I’m never sure if I can eat the main dishes laid out for “normal people” or if I’ve got my own special plate somewhere. I’m immediately looking like a weirdo with people thinking I’m pushing into the food queue, when in reality I’m just checking.  I’ve learned not to just get in the queue and hope for the best, as by the time I get to the front and realise I can’t eat anything, lunch break has almost ended and my tummy is still empty!

Some caterers get it right. I attended a session at the Hilton Bankside last year and there were loads of dishes to choose from, each with an allergen label next to it. This was great because I could blend in with the other delegates and not cause a scene. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum I attended an event recently where the caterers are usually very good. I always get my own plate of food which is very nice-often some kind of salad with grilled chicken or beef.  Unfortunately they got it very wrong this time. The plate was labelled with my name and the list of allergens exactly as I had stated in the booking and email follow up: dairy, egg, nuts, fish and avocado. They had provided a choice of sandwiches filled with chicken and guess what? Mayonnaise.  Now, the last time I checked, mayonnaise was made with egg. Which I’m allergic to. As it says on the label stuck on the mayonnaise sandwiches!!!!

What ensued next was total embarrassment for me and the person I was talking to, who worked for the host company.  They apologised a lot and I told them not to worry a lot. It was all very British! 

What I dislike the most about this sort of scenario (which wasn’t the first and most definitely won’t be the last) is that discussion all becomes about me and my stupid allergies and not about the topics of the event, which in my opinion is the very reason for being there. 

Next week I’m off to another seminar, so I wonder what culinary joys will await me?

If any of my readers have any tips or suggestions on how to deal with these sorts of issues I would welcome your comments!

Tried and tested: Livia’s Kitchen Raw Millionaire Bites (Salted Date Caramel)

I need to fess up. I bought these whilst wandering around a supermarket just before heading off on holiday. I say “a supermarket” because I have absolutely no recollection of which one!  It was probably Sainsbury’s, but it could also be Tesco – I shop in both regularly. I was getting those last minute bits and pieces that all allergy sufferers need like antihistamines and eye drops (it’s a glamorous life), and somehow I came home with a selection of raw Vegan treats! 

There were two or three different goodies from Livia’s Kitchen to try, and I purchased the Biccy Boms with Salted Maca Caramel and the Raw Millionaire Bites (Salted Date Caramel).  I got home, put my purchases in the snack drawer, did my holiday packing and forgot about them until I got home 10 days later.

First of all I tried the Biccy Boms with a cup of tea. I know this isn’t a review of Biccy Boms, but I thought I’d mention them. Unfortunately they weren’t for me. Like most gluten free products I found the biscuit a bit dry and crumbly. I’m not allergic to gluten and I prefer a proper biscuit, but I get that by making these gluten free they are suitable for more people. The salted maca filling didn’t really do it for me either, so I wasn’t expecting much from the Millionaire Bites when I tried them a few days later.

I’m happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the Millionaire Bites. To begin with, they’re a decent size. A single pack is quite expensive compared with cereal bars or Graze snacks, but I felt like I was getting good value for money (and there are three Bites per pack).


The biscuit base isn’t dry and the Bites held together well when I bit into them.  There is a thick gooey layer of salted date paste, which is so good I never would have guessed it was date. Topping it all is a thin layer of chocolate.

They really are delicious and I would highly recommend this product. As I still have no idea where I bought them from I had a go at making my own version, so watch this space for more on this story! 

Adventures of Allergy Girl en España: Part 2

Whilst staying with my in-laws in the Catalonian resort of Pineda de Mar for IRONMAN Barcelona (not competing, I’d like to add), we were spoilt for choice on where to fuel up.  Staying at the Aquahotel we were pretty close to the centre of Pineda, the beach front and a 25 minute walk or short train ride from Calella. 

On our first night in the area, Trip Advisor recommended Ca L’Aureli, a tapas restaurant two doors down from the hotel, so we wandered down to find it really busy. 

We carried on a little further past a few bars and shops until reaching the main precinct. Part way along I noticed a name that I recognised from my Trip Advisor research, so we thought we’d give it a go.

The entry to the restaurant is understated, and we were happily surprised to be taken through to the covered courtyard garden at the rear of the restaurant.  It’s simply beautiful. 

Can Josep, named after the owner’s father, is a family restaurant through and through. We were served by the restaurant owner, who proudly pointed out the retro black and white photographs of her parents that have been printed onto the doors to the ladies and gents bathrooms. 

The menu was available in English, and consisted mainly of grilled meats and fish. Black paella is apparently the star dish, but of course this is no good for my fish allergy.

Although the menu doesn’t state the allergens present in each dish, the owner was able to discuss my requirements in detail and I settled on trying the grilled rabbit which was served with grilled aubergines and courgettes.  I had been expecting some potatoes, but these didn’t arrive, which wasn’t a problem as there was plenty of food on my plate.  This was my first time  eating rabbit, and it was delicious, although rather fiddly to eat from the bone. 

Mr Allergy and Allergy Mum-in-Law has the pork loin, whilst Allergy Dad-in-Law went for the cod.  All of the meals were simple but beautifully executed.  The grilled meats fitted well with Mr Allergy’s IRONMAN fuelling strategy, and of course I was well catered for.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant for allergy sufferers and normals alike. 

Photo credit Laura S

You’re having a Giraffe!

It has always been a tradition for my kickboxing class to go for a cheeky Nando’s after class on a Wednesday. I’m not sure where this originated, but it’s quick and easy, and packs the protein needed after a workout.

In true tradition we met at Nando’s in Gunwharf Quays yesterday evening only to find that our group of thirteen couldn’t be seated together and there would be a wait of 45 minutes to an hour.  Why so busy, we thought, then it dawned on us that it’s half term.

We split up and trudged around every food establishment in Gunwharf looking for an available table. Just as we were about to settle for a few plastic tables in Burger King, Giraffe said they could fit us in.  They moved tables around and made space for us to sit as a group, which was no mean feat at such short notice. 

I’ve never eaten at Giraffe, but I knew that their philosophy was to serve food from around the world, so thought there must be something on the menu that’s Allergy Girl friendly. 

Not wanting to cause a fuss, I went onto their website and found their interactive allergy menu, which at a first glance looked good. It allowed me to tick the different allergens and would show the dishes that don’t contain those allergens. In theory……..

In practice it was just wrong. One of the items it said I could have was the Bao Buns, so I looked at these on the main menu. In small letters underneath the description of the dish it said “please be aware the buns are topped with peanuts.”  Now we had a problem.

By this point everyone was ordering and I still didn’t have a clue if I could eat anything on the menu, so I asked the waiter the question they all hate to be asked.  He brought the allergy menu over, took the rest of the orders and said he’d give me a few minutes to look at it.

The allergy menu was fairly standard looking.  It had a grid with the main allergens, and there was a tick in the box if it contained the allergen or “M” for might contain.  The only problem was the grid clearly didn’t fit the A4 paper it had  been printed on and half of each dish name was missing, meaning I had to guess what it was I was actually looking at. This took forever and I was getting fed up. 

I wasn’t convinced by the allergen information on the allergy menu either. For example, it told me there was no milk present in the chicken curry with naan bread, but as naan is usually made with butter or ghee I thought this was incorrect.

I eventually settled on a steak with sweet potato fries and a side salad, as you can’t go wrong with meat and veg. The steak was a little rarer than I’d normally have it, but it was delicious and I’d definitely have it cooked that way again. The salad of spinach, rocket and cucumber was nice and made a welcome change from the watery iceberg lettuce that often accompanies steak in chain restaurants.

I spoke to the waiter about the allergy menu, pointing out that the website didn’t work and that you couldn’t read the paper menu properly.  He said they were aware of the problems with the website and the paper menu was only a temporary solution while the website was being sorted. 

I personally think it’s not good enough.  It’s hard enough when you have an allergy trying to work out what you can and can’t eat. The information you’re given needs to be clear and accurate.  Allergies are not be taken lightly and one small error in allergen information could kill someone with a serious allergy.

Although the food was nice, I won’t be going back as Giraffe simply do not take their responsibilities towards customers with allergies seriously, and probably won’t until they find themselves trying to defend a compensation claim or prosecution.

Adventures of Allergy Girl en España: Part 1

I recently spent a few days in the resort of Pineda de Mar, which is located several miles outside of Barcelona.  Pineda is a small resort, and we used it as a base camp for IRONMAN Barcelona, which Mr Allergy was competing in.

On route from Barcelona to Pineda we stopped for lunch at a small beach cafe in Mataro. There were a number of eating establishments along the main drag, but most were fish restaurants, which I had to avoid unless I wanted to end up resembling a puffer fish! 

The menu had a good selection of hot and cold bocadillos (sandwiches), and was printed in Spanish and English. I have a little bit of Spanish, so can usually get by, but what I found really useful was that this menu showed the allergen symbols for each item.  Many restaurants in the UK don’t have this, so I was astounded to see it in a small Catalonian beach cafe. Brilliant!!! 

I enjoyed a lomo (pork loin) boccy, which was served in warm crusty bread, spread with tomatoey garlicy olive oily stuff that went really well with the pork.  

To top it all there was a fabulous view and warm sunshine ☀️
I just wish I could remember the name of the restaurant!