Quick and easy lunch idea

For a quick and easy, tasty lunch, try grilling a block of Violife Mediterranean Style Block (a dairy free Vegan halloumi substitute).

Cut the block in half, season with salt and pepper and serve in a toasted pitta with hummus, falafel and a handful of mixed salad leaves. Yummers!

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Brioche with you!

What is the fascination with Brioche?

I recently spent a long weekend in Hamburg and was looking forward to eating a proper Hamburger (not a person from the City, the food). But every single burger restaurant served their burger in Brioche, which I’m allergic to.

Everywhere you go there is Brioche. In breakfast rolls, bruschetta, pulled pork buns and now it has even made its way into the Wetherspoons Beer and Burger deal. Boo, hiss!

The top of the Brioche bun is always photogenically shiny like Kim Kardashian’s perfectly highlighted cheekbones. Don’t get me wrong, it looks nice, and is definitely Instagram worthy. But when you get inside it’s yellow. To me, bread comes in two colours: white and brown. Since when has bread been yellow? Does it taste nice? Mr Allergy says not particularly – it’s too sweet. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t appeal to me.

Maybe the reason for the current Brioche overload is that enriched dough sounds more luxurious and expensive than a floured bap. But what’s wrong with a good old fashioned sesame seed bun? Or if you’re pushing the boat out, a rustic ciabatta. You’re going to get dusty hands from the ciabatta or the floured bap, but surely that’s part of the joy of munching your way through a massive burger.

I guess that until this current phase is over and done with, I’m not going to get a good burger unless it’s cooked at home. And who knows what might follow the Brioche craze? Whatever it is, I’m sure it will look beautiful on social media, regardless of the taste!

Greek inspired chickpea and chicken salad

As February is drawing to an end and spring is in the horizon Mr Allergy and I thought we’d switch to lighter lunches this week.

Lunch is one of my more difficult meals, and many of the options are just really boring. We often have leftovers from the night before, but for one reason or another this week doesn’t work out that way.

I love browsing Pinterest and recently I’ve seen a number of Greek inspired chickpea salads, and this piqued my interest. Chickpeas are a great source of protein and dietary fibre, and they add extra oomf to a lettucy salad.

I couldn’t find one recipe that suited my taste, so decided to use a mish-mash of ideas to create my own.

I began by marinading some chicken breasts, using the juice of one lemon, 2 cloves of garlic, a glug of extra virgin olive oil and approx one teaspoon dried oregano, plus salt and pepper to season. I blended it all together in a pestle and mortar and marinaded the chicken for about an hour before roasting it in a medium oven for about 35 mins, until it was nice and juicy.

While the chicken was roasting I whizzed up some more of the marinade, this time to make a dressing. I chopped a red and yellow pepper, red onion and flat leaf parsley, drained and rinsed 2 tins of cooked chickpeas and put it all together in a bowl. I was very proud of my Instagram worthy display of colour, but decided next time I’ll add green pepper or cucumber to add extra rainbow!

I then cooked some quinoa. I don’t often have much luck with quinoa, it usually comes out sticky and wet and not very pleasant. I always follow the instructions on the packet, but it just never works. So I googled “what is the best way to cook quinoa?” I found this: Perfect quinoa and it works!!! I now had perfect fluffy quinoa!

I added the quinoa and dressing to the bowl and gave it a good old stir. The aroma of garlic and lemon juice was wafting up nicely, and I really wanted to try some, but I held off, deciding to wait for the surprise at lunchtime. The mixture by now looked like this:

My chicken was now ready, so I sliced it into bit sized chunks and allowed it to cool before adding it to my lunch box, along with some dairy free Feta alternative from Sainsbury’s. My lunch was now virtually ready to go. All I would need in the morning before going to work was a handful of salad leaves! I think there will be enough mixture and chicken to do us both two or three lunches each, and it’s great having it prepped and ready in the fridge.

The finished dish was the perfect post gym class lunch today, and Mr Allergy sent me a text saying his was awesome, so I guess I’ll be making this again!

Starter as you mean to go on?

The humble starter. I think Great British Chefs description is good, “A well-chosen starter recipe can set the tone for an entire meal.” So why is the starter often such a disappointment?

I had my Christmas lunch today at work. There was a set menu which was supposed to cater for all tastes and diets, but of course, me being me, it didn’t cater for my weird variety of allergies.

I should get it out there and say that the main was good:

Turkey ✅

Roast potatoes ✅

Sprouts ✅

Carrots ✅

Pigs in blankets ✅

Gravy ✅

The waitress wasn’t sure if I could eat the stuffing, so I went without.

The dessert was the usual fruit salad, but after a big lunch I didn’t mind.

It was the starter that really got my goat, and to be honest the normal people’s one didn’t look great either.

The normals got a big cold tomato filled with guacamole and cream cheese with a little salad garnish and a bread roll.

I got a big cold tomato (I don’t like tomatoes) stuffed with cubes of melon and cold chopped asparagus with a salad garnish and no bread roll. You’ll see from my picture that this was just sad looking, and it tastes no better. It was just weird. I mean, who looks at my allergy list (dairy, egg, nuts, fish, avocado(maybe)) and thinks, “I know just the perfect combination of food. Cold tomato, asparagus and melon!” Why do we not see this classic combination used in Masterchef?! There was a funny little drizzle of something on the plate which I must concede was quite nice. I ate everything (except the tomato), but that was only because I’d paid for it, not because I liked it.

I got into a discussion with my neighbour at the table next to me, as we couldn’t fathom why this odd starter had been chosen in the first place. On a cold wintery day we were expecting something with a little substance. A nice chunky vegetable or lentil soup for instance.

This got me thinking about starters in general and why starters for special diets are always so terrible. Yes, I’m fairly limited in what I can eat, but I would have been happy with melon and cured ham. It’s easy. It’s quick. And it tastes so good.

Generally restaurants (in particular the chain restaurants) have an ok selection of one or two things I can eat. Chicken wings are always a winner, but I’m also partial to bread and olive oil, olives, hummus or a nice meaty terrine. Event caterers really struggle and I normally end up with a plate of melon or some other fruit or something random thing like today’s designer dish. There are so many good recipes out there and these are professional caterers so why is it so difficult?

I love reading food magazines and pinning recipes on Pinterest, and my favourite starter recipe is Good Food’s Ham hock and mustard terrine which is delicious served with a dollop of Mary Berry’s Christmas Chutney and some lovely fresh bread. In fact, this is what Mr Allergy and I are making for Christmas this year. On second thoughts I could be tempted to test out the tomato/melon/asparagus combo on my unsuspecting family and see what they make of it….

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!

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! 

The Wine Cellar Bar & Bistro, Chelmsford 

I had a fantastic lunch today at The Wine Cellar in Chelmsford town centre.  

Hidden off the main road, down a little alley near the church, you wouldn’t immediately know it’s there. A slightly tricky climb down the narrow staircase brings you into a gorgeous quaint, cozy cellar.
I ordered a pulled pork panini from the extensive pick and mix sandwich menu, which is brilliant for people with allergies.  The panini was delicious and filled with BBQ sauce, caramelised onions and soft, meaty pulled pork. Mmm. 

I also ordered a portion of onion rings “for the table.” The chef made some special onion rings with lemonade batter as I’m allergic to the usual batter he uses (which has egg in the recipe). 

The waitress was attentive and completely understood my allergies.  If I’m ever back in Chelmsford I would definitely eat here again.  Highly recommended!!