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….

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!

Tried and tested: Hemsley + Hemsley bean and bacon hash

I recently treated Mr Allergy and I to some new cooking books by Hemsley + Hemsley. 


The recipes always look so nice, and they’re good for you, so that ticks several boxes.  As with all recipe books I buy there are probably only about 30% of the recipes that I’m not allergic to, and others I can tweak. This particular brunch recipe didn’t need tweaking, so I thought I’d give it a go.


The best thing about this recipe is that there are no fussy or difficult to find ingredients. I either already had them at home or picked them up at Tesco.  It doesn’t take a huge amount of prep and is pretty quick to cook.

The ingredients suggest an onion or a leek, but I decided to use both to give it extra bulk and add one more of my 5 a day! Had a bit of an accident whilst chopping the onion but I can’t blame the Hemsley sisters for my own stupidity.  I can safely say I won’t be doing that again!


I used a small tin of chopped tomatoes, but next time I make this I probably won’t use them.  They tasted good, but they made the hash slightly soggy. I would prefer it a bit more bubble and squeak-like.

I was quite happy with the overall result though, and Mr Allergy was grateful for a filling, healthy meal after just having completed a middle distance triathlon. I’d say it’s a winner!

Tropical Island cupcakes 

Aloha!! I made these fun little cupcakes a couple of years ago for a summer fundraiser at my church.  They use my Basic dairy and egg free sponge recipe.  They would be great for a Hawaiian themed party or a fun thing to make with kids during the summer holidays. 

To give the cakes that tropical flavour I used a bit of lime juice into the mix and used coconut milk instead of soya milk.

Decorating was the really fun part. I used Betty Crocker’s vanilla icing and added a little bit of blue food colouring. I swirled the blue colour into the icing, making sure not to completely mix it so there were still white bits that looked like little waves.

I used crushed ginger biscuits to make the sand and added little jelly bears and cocktail umbrellas, and my little tropical island was complete!


To make a sunbathing bear I used Fizzy strawberry belts, cut them just larger than the bear, then laid the bear on top. 

Since making these I’ve discovered that edible sand can also be made using a combination of granulated light brown sugar and crushed rich tea biscuits, which is great if you don’t like ginger biscuits.

As always, let me know how you get on with making these, I’d love to hear from you. 

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!! 

Panfried chorizo on sourdough toast

Lunchtime.  Lunches can be terribly boring for someone with allergies.  The choices are generally very limited. Soggy salad? Dry sandwich? Not for Allergy Girl!  This is a great weekend treat (and a firm favourite of Mr Allergy).

I first tried this one sunny June day.  Having just completed the Portsmouth Sprint Triathlon in my best ever time (still a snail’s pace, but I tell myself it’s because I only have little legs), I fancied something substantial to eat.  Somehow we stumbled across chorizo on toast, and it was a revelation.

Mr Allergy and I love chorizo. It’s a major food group in the Allergy household. It goes with everything and improves everything it touches (apart from white clothing, this should be avoided at all cost). 

Here is my take on the fabulous post-Triathlon dish that changed my world. I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients

(Serves 2) 

Approx 1/3 chorizo ring, thinly sliced lengthwise (note some chorizo uses milk in the recipe so check the ingredients if you need it to be dairy free)

1-2 chargrilled red peppers (piquillo or similar from a jar), thinly sliced

Olive oil

1-2 handfuls rocket

Sourdough loaf 

Method 

  1. Heat a frying pan and fry the chorizo until browned. You shouldn’t need to use oil as the chorizo usually kicks out lots of oil. If you do need oil, olive oil is my oil of choice,
  2. While the chorizo is cooking, slice and toast your sourdough. I do this in the toaster on a low-medium setting.
  3. One the toast is ready, assemble your masterpiece. I like to put the chorizo on first, next add the peppers and top with the rocket.
  4. Drizzle the chorizo oil from the pan over the top of the rocket and serve.
  5. Add olive oil or your favourite condiment. It works well with chilli and garlic oil, or garlic mayonnaise for those that can eat mayonnaise. 
  6. Enjoy!! 

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!!! 

Allergy Girl’s chocolate and coconut seedy granola

This nut and dairy free granola recipe is also low in sugar and grain free, although you can pimp it to add whatever you fancy!

Ingredients 
1 x 500ml bag of Holland and Barrett Oh My Omega Megamix (or other mixed seeds) 

Coconut flakes (as many as you like, depending on taste)

Maple Syrup (you could also use agave or honey)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

2-3 tablespoons cocoa or cacao powder, depending on taste)

Method

  1. Heat oven to 160 (fan oven)
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a roasting tray/baking tray
  3. Add a good squeeze of the maple syrup and stir. Make sure all the ingredients are coated. Add more as desired. 
  4. Add the coconut oil (it is easier if this goes in warm) and mix together.
  5. Bake in the oven for approximately 20 mins, stirring mixture halfway.
  6. Remove mixture from oven and stir again.
  7. Cool and store in an air proof container. 


If you want to add grains to your granola with you could try things like oats or rye. To make it even more tropical you could add some dried pineapple and papaya. 

Serve with your favourite fresh fruit and a dollop of Alpro Coconut Yogurt for a delicious breakfast! 


Basic dairy and egg free sponge cake

This recipe came from Allergy Mum. She’s had it for years (and I have absolutely no idea where it came from). Allergy Mum used to make Allergy Boy and me the most amazing cakes for our birthdays.
This has to be the easiest cake recipe ever. It uses mostly normal ingredients that you’d find in any store cupboard. The texture is quite open and it does have the tendency to crack, but no one will ever know if you slather on enough frosting!!
Basic dairy and egg free sponge cake (makes approx. 12 cupcakes or one large cake)

4oz caster sugar
4oz dairy free margarine (Pure works very well in these as well)

1 tablespoon golden syrup

8oz self raising flour

1/4 pint soya milk

Method

1. Preheat oven to 160c

2. In a mixing bowl add the sugar, margarine and golden syrup and cream together (I prefer to do this by hand, but it can be done in a mixer)

3. Add the flour and gently mix until you get a bread crumb like texture.

4. Slowly add the soya milk and mix until light and fluffy.

5. Bake for approx. 20 mins for cupcakes (or just slightly longer if making one large cake)

Adding flavours

Vanilla or other essences – add essence at the same time as the soya milk

Chocolate – add 1oz cocoa powder and reduce flour by 1oz. Add at the same time as the flour. You can also use chocolate flavoured soya milk, which adds some more flavour, or Cadbury’s drinking chocolate (which is dairy free) in a small amount of boiled water, which is added at the same time as the soya milk.
I make the basic sponge all the time and it’s great because the golden syrup binds the ingredients and acts as a raising agent so you don’t need to add egg replacer.
Icing

I often cheat and use Betty Crocker icing as it’s dairy free and tastes really good. If I’m making vegan buttercream I just replace butter with dairy free margarine and mix it with icing sugar and sometimes a little drop of soya milk.
I’d really love to know how you get on with this recipe, so please feel free to leave comments!