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!

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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.

Cheat’s chicken and chorizo paella 

Ok, so this isn’t technically paella. For one, it isn’t cooked in a paella pan. It also doesn’t have any fish in it as that would make my face swell up and I’d stop breathing. So it’s more like paella rice and things. But all the same, it uses Spanish ingredients and flavours and goes brilliantly with a nice glass of Rioja (or two).

Serves 2

Ingredients 

1 skinless chicken breast, diced

1 red (bell) pepper, chopped

1 large white onion, diced

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 chorizo ring, sliced

Approx 250g paella rice

Pinch saffron

1/2 pint Chicken stock

1 small tin chopped tomatoes or one large fresh tomato, chopped

2 teaspoons sweet/smoked paprika or pimienton 

1 teaspoon hot paprika or pimienton (optional)

2 bay leaves 

Handful Frozen peas

Method

  1. Heat oven to approx 200c (190c if fan assisted).
  2. In a wok or sauté pan, fry the chorizo on a medium-high heat until the fat starts to come out. You shouldn’t need to add any additional fat or oil but if you do, use a drizzle of olive oil.
  3. Next add your chicken and brown. 
  4. Add the pepper, onions and garlic and cook until softened. 
  5. While the veg is softening, add the bay leaves to the pan.  Make up your chicken stock and add the saffron strands into the stock. The saffron will release its flavour into the stock. 
  6. Now add the paella rice, and the paprika/pimienton and stir together, making sure the paprika coats all of the rice.
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes and the chicken stock and stir together. 
  8. Add the frozen peas. I’ve suggested a handful but you can add as many as you like. If you don’t like peas you could substitute these with chickpeas. 
  9. Reduce the heat and cook for approx 5 mins, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking. Once the liquid has begun to reduce, tip your paella into an ovenproof dish with a lid. 
  10. Cook for approx 20 mins in the oven with the lid on, until the rice is soft and the edges of your paella are going a little bit crispy. You may want to stir it halfway through to make sure all the rice is fully cooked.
  11. Remove the bay leaves (and don’t be tempted to lick them, I did this once and it wasn’t good!)
  12. Enjoy! 

This recipe is very versatile and you can change the quantities of the ingredients quite easily.  I sometimes like to mix up different chorizos in my paella to give different flavours. Our local Sainsbury’s sells sweet (dolce) and hot (picante) chorizo so I’ll often add a bit of each. My recipe only uses one chicken breast but you can add two if you want more protein. If I fancy a spicy paella (which isn’t the traditional flavour) I add more hot pimienton. You could also add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving. 

Dairy, egg and nut free Cinnamon doughnut cupcakes

I like cinnamon. I like doughnuts. I like cupcakes. Therefore I like cinnamon doughnut cupcakes!  

I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way early. These are not doughnuts. They just remind me of the hot cinnamon doughnuts I used to get at Bognor Regis beach when I was younger.   As no frosting is required they’re quick to make and are super yummy whilst still warm from the oven, just like the doughnuts from my childhood. 

The recipe uses my Basic dairy and egg free sponge recipe. 

Ingredients 

As per Basic dairy and egg free sponge

2-3 tablespoons ground cinnamon 

Approx half a cup of light brown granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons Olive oil

Method

1. Make as per Basic dairy and egg free sponge recipe.  At step 3 add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon with your flour.

2. While the cakes are baking, mix together the light brown sugar and 1-2 tablespoons cinnamon in a small dish or bowl (must be larger than the circumference of your cakes). These amounts are approximate and you can add more or less cinnamon depending on how you like the taste.  If I end up mixing too much cinnamon sugar, I keep the leftovers in a Tupperware container ready for next time.  Pour the olive oil into a small dish or bowl. 

3. Once baked and still warm, brush the olive oil onto the top of each cake with a pastry brush, then dip into the cinnamon sugar mixture. 

4. Leave to cool or eat straightaway!! 

I’d love to know how you get on and what you think of these little gems (that are my 87 year old Nan’s favourites).  Happy baking!! 

Garlic bread for one

I recently found myself on a business trip to Manchester. I’d never visited the city before, and while there was a myriad of eateries to choose from I found myself sticking with chain restaurants. With a chain restaurant you know exactly what you’re getting, which is the safe option. It can also be pretty boring, always having the same old dishes.

After sheepishly asking for a table for one at Zizzi on King Street, the staff gave me a warm welcome and showed me to a quiet table, tucked away, which was nice as I didn’t feel too inconspicuous. The waitress came to take my drink order and I uttered the words that usually fill restaurant workers with fear; “Please could I see your allergy menu?”

Rather than fear, the waitress proudly produced the menu with a flourish! And after a brief glance I could see why.  With my bizarre mix of allergies there are usually only one or two items on the menu that I can have.  I was amazed by the choice on offer and decided to try some of the new offerings on the menu.  

For my starter I ordered the dairy free garlic bread.  I expected a couple of bits of ciabatta to nibble on whilst waiting for my main, but what appeared could only be described as a plank full of garlicky yumminess! My initial reaction was “how on earth am I going to eat that by myself?”  The pizza dough bread was crisp, fluffy and delicious, drizzled with olive oil and topped with whole cloves of roasted garlic. Just writing this is making my mouth water! 

Next up was the main, and again I was spoiled for choice; Pasta, grilled meats, even dairy free pizza (made with coconut oil dairy free cheese). I decided to stick to my usual – the spiedini pollo (without the white wine and lemon sauce, which isn’t Allergy Girl friendly). I love the spiedini pollo, and never feel like I’m simply making do with this dish.
By the time I worked my way through the huge skewer of grilled chicken, veg and herby potatoes, my tummy was bursting. However I wouldn’t let such a thing stop me from trying dessert. You see, dessert is a thing of mystery to me. It is rare that a restaurant offers an Allergy Girl friendly dessert. It’s even rarer if that dessert isn’t fruit salad or lemon sorbet. Of course, Zizzi does offer lemon sorbet, it wouldn’t be an Italian restaurant without it. They also had a strawberry sorbet, which was a nice alternative. 

But my eye (and tummy) was drawn to the coconut and chocolate swirl gelato. The waiter convinced me that as the gelato/sorbet menu is mix and match that I shouldn’t limit myself to just one flavour, so I had two scoops of coconut and chocolate and one scoop of lemon.  The lemon sorbet was sharp and refreshing, however I did find myself wishing I’d stuck to three scoops of the coconut and chocolate, which had  just the right balance of flavour.  

I’m already looking forward to the next time I can visit Zizzi and try more things from the allergy menu. Until then, dear reader, I leave you with this image.  Garlic bread for one, done! 

Dairy, egg and nut free lemon and poppyseed drizzle cake

This recipe uses my Basic dairy and egg free sponge.

I usually make these little lemon cakes in Mini loaf cases from Sainsbury’s.  You can also make it in a standard loaf tin.  If I’m baking a large loaf I prefer to use a silicone loaf mould as it’s easy to get the cake out. 

Method

1. Make as per my Basic dairy and egg free sponge.

2. At step 3, add poppyseeds to the bowl,  and mix with the flour.

3. At step 4, add lemon essence.

4. While the cake is baking, mix some granulated sugar and lemon juice in a bowl.

5. When the cake is baked, remove from the oven. While still in the loaf tin/mould, drizzle the lemon juice and sugar mix all over the top of your cake. If making mini loaves, drizzle the mixture over, ensuring it completely covers to top of each cake.  As the mixture cools it will crystallise into a yummy citrusy topping. 

If you fancy, you could swap the lemon essence and juice for orange. It works equally as well. 

Happy baking!!! 

Ice scream 

While we’re experiencing such beautiful sunny weather in the UK, I thought ice cream might be a topical subject to write about.

For probably the first 30 years of my life ice cream didn’t feature much in my diet. Now it’s a major food group!! 

Growing up in the UK the only dairy free ice cream available was Swedish Glace. It was only available from Holland and Barrett and came in vanilla or vanilla. Over the years the range developed to include chocolate and raspberry flavours and started being stocked in very limited quantities in Supermarkets. 

Around 2010 my local Sainsbury’s started stocking Swedish Glace non-dairy vanilla and strawberry cones, choc ices on sticks and Neapolitan ice cream, which came in a great big tub.  My previously vanilla world was amazed by these new and wonderful treats. I stocked up and munched my way through countless packages of the creamy delights. 

Then, as quickly as this new phase of my life began, it abruptly ended.  I wrote to Mr Sainsbury:

I am allergic to dairy products and am limited to buying Swedish Glacé dairy free ice cream. My local store usually stocks this in Vanilla and Neapolitan flavours. However, in the last couple of months I’ve been lucky if I can get vanilla, let alone the more interesting Neapolitan flavour. Dairy eaters have no end of choice and I often have none, as there is simply nothing in stock and I am finding this increasingly disappointing. You used to stock other flavours such as chocolate and raspberry and for a while you stocked some lovely cornetto style ice creams and choc ices. Why did you stop selling these, and what are your plans with regards to this line of goods? I would really like to have more choice when I shop, and actually be able to buy these products rather than seeing empty shelves where they ought to be.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Mr Sainsbury replied:

Thank you for your email. I am sorry you are unhappy with the range of dairy free ice cream available at our  store. I understand you would like us to increase this range in the future.

 We try to sell the widest possible range of products to give our customers maximum choice. However, due to space limitations we cannot stock every item in every store. For each store, our buyers regularly review what we are stocking and how well it is selling, to make sure that we are meeting our local customers’ needs.

Occasionally, this means that we withdraw products from some branches if they are not popular. If enough customers want to see a certain product in their local store, we will do everything we can to provide it.

With that in mind, I have passed a request on to our buyers so they can consider the possibility of stocking Swedish Glacé chocolate and raspberry dairy free ice cream and some lovely cornetto style ice creams and choc ices at our  store for you.

 We appreciate you taking the time to contact us and look forward to seeing you in store again soon.

Dear reader, you may have noticed (I certainly did) a hint of sarcasm in Mr Sainsbury’s reply.  He’d clearly copied and pasted my email into his. But I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. So next time I found myself in the freezer aisle, imagine my disappointment that there was no Swedish Glacé chocolate and raspberry dairy free ice cream and the lovely cornetto style ice creams and choc ices were nowhere to be seen. To add insult to injury there wasn’t even a tub of vanilla!! 

Fast forward a year or two and the non-dairy choices are significantly better. Mr Sainsbury is now stocking Swedish Glace choc ices (although they’ve changed the recipe and they’re not as good as they used to be). They’ve also started stocking a range of iced desserts by The Coconut Collaborative


These are refreshing, low in sugar and high in coconut, which makes them extremely trendy. The packaging is quirky, eye catching and convenient to eat from whilst sitting in front of Game of Thrones.  The only drawback is that you have to leave it to thaw for about 5 minutes before you can eat it, which is difficult for someone who’s spent 30 years plus waiting to eat the Frozen Yogurt made from the milk of the coconut! 

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Mr Tesco brought out his own Free From range a year or so ago. The range currently consists of Strawberry and vanilla cones and Chocolate ice cream sticks. They’ve recently introduced Toffee and vanilla cones but these have nuts in them, so be careful if you have a nut allergy like me. 

Alpro have also recently brought out a dairy free range. Their Coconut ice cream is to die for. I’ve not tried their vanilla, so I can’t compare it with Swedish Glace.  They also do a Chocolate Hazelnut ice cream, which isn’t Allergy Girl friendly. 

I was really excited a few months ago to see an advert for dairy free Ben and Jerry’s, however it was short lived as they’re going to be making theirs with almond milk. 

Finally, if you happen to be looking for a dairy free ice cream in Spain or the Canary Islands (and possibly the Balearics), head to a Mercadona supermarket, where you can pick up a box of very tasty choc ices on sticks or a tub of mango and raspberry ice cream. Yum! 

That’s all from me.  If you have your own tips on where to buy dairy free ice cream, I’d love to hear them. Alternatively you could try making your own……