One of the hardest things about feeding an intolerant child is that you cannot just pick up a snack when you are out and about. You always have to have enough safe snacks on you to get you through the day, especially if you might be out over a meal time. It is no bad thing. It stops him eating junk and stops me wasting money on over-priced sandwiches in shops. However, sometimes the day runs away with you and his appetite gets the better of him and suddenly it is lunchtime and all the packed snacks are gone. What to do?
This happened to me this week and as I was walking past Pret A Manger, I thought I would run in and get him some fruit at least. I know it is mostly a sandwich shop and unlikely to present us with many suitable options but I have always been impressed by the quality of the fresh fruit and like the fact they sell ‘singles’. I didn’t really want to have to go to a supermarket and buy a bunch of bananas. I didn’t need a whole bunch. Just one. Zac ran straight to them. It just goes to show how well he copes with his own condition because he didn’t look at any of the cakes or biscuits, all of the treats carefully placed and positioned to tempt the hungry shopper. I was so proud of him.
He chose a banana and a nectarine and a bottle of water. We took them to the till and it was me who spotted a potentially safe treat. Dark chocolate covered rice cakes. I read the ingredients list and it appeared safe. But sometimes that is not enough, so I asked the person serving. I think she may have been the manager or at least a more senior team member because she was extremely happy to answer the question and seemed unusually well informed. Perhaps they just have great staff training and customer service.
I have tried to make my own gluten free bread – and the results were far from good. I can see why it is difficult. It is kind of like a meat free sausage. What makes it good is the thing you can’t use. So the results are never going to be great. However, you would think a company that calls itself Genius would have cracked the case by now. It would appear that they are finding it as much of a puzzle as me. – judging by the last few loaves I have bought. Full of holes and mostly unusable. Very frustrating – especially as it costs almost £3 a loaf.
I know they have had this problem before. Genius bread disappeared from the shelves of our local supermarkets for quite a while and I saw a message on their Facebook page about it. Apparently it was to do with the improvements they are trying to make to the bread. I have to say that I had noticed that the texture of the loaves is much better – and the taste too. It is definitely softer and more like bread. But something is not quite right, because I am still getting several slices that have huge great big holes in them. Perhaps they are working on a bagel recipe – if only!
Clearly there is something going wrong in the baking process and air bubbles are blasting holes through the centre. I know baking is a science, but if you claim to be ‘Genius’ you should be working harder at finding the solution. I really feel they need to improve their quality control too, because sending out, what I can only imagine is batch loads of unusable bread is totally unacceptable.
So the summer holidays are over and I have some time to myself again. Well, I have less small people in the house looking to be entertained, but even when they are not here, everything I do is for them. Last week, was the first full week back at school and after spending the first half of the week, just tidying and getting things straight again, I decided to give myself one day to revisit some recipes.
For some reason, I went into a bit of a cooking frenzy and ended up making chocolate chip cookies, a banana cake, a cottage pie and some bolognese sauce. I guess I was just in the mood. I was also aware of the fact I had very few ‘after school’ treats for the children – so rather than go to the supermarket, I decided to be virtuous and thrifty and make them myself. Zac is no lover of the shop bought free from cakes and biscuits, so I owed it to him, myself and this blog, to get out the baking gear and get stuck in.
I am happy to report that it was all very successful. The cookies were the most popular with the children, the banana loaf was most appreciated by the grown ups (my husband, mother in law, sister and myself). The dinners were good too. Although not devoured with the usual gusto. Cottage Pie is my husbands favourite meal and one I don’t cook so much anymore – because of Zac. So I thought he would be thrilled. But he had been for a few beers after work, so was feeling a bit ‘full’.
I hardly ever make Cottage Pie anymore. It is because of the mash. Zac doesn’t like it and won’t eat it. He used to like it, before we worked out his intolerances. So he hasn’t had it for a very long time. I have offered him the odd bit of roast potato mashed up with a fork – just as quick test, but he seems very wary of potato altogether. I don’t blame him. I think they ‘need’ butter. But that is not Zac’s issue with them. He doesn’t remember what butter tastes like. He just will not try anything new and is particularly wary of anything that looks fluffy or lumpy.
So not an easy task. But I love a challenge and am determined to expand his repertoire. He is still not four yet and I know his hunger as a growing boy and natural interest in me and my cooking adventures might eventually tempt him but I am growing impatient. All the books, Annabel Karmel, etc always go on about enticing fussy kids with individual sized mini portions. So I decided to have a go. I had planned to cook a ‘normal’ cottage pie for the rest of us, so it was no big deal to pull aside some freshly boiled potatoes for Zac and see if I could make a palatable dairy free mash.
I know a lot of people add milk to mash. I never have. Milk makes me heave too, so I always used to use a lot of butter and often add some extra virgin olive oil. For Zac’s version, I used some Pure Dairy Free Sunflower spread instead of butter. I know that Pure also make an Olive flavoured spread, so that might be worth a go, as I imagine it has more flavour.
My banana loaf recipe, posted a while back, seemed to go down very well. Not just with family, but with blog followers, so when faced again with several bananas that were past their best, I decided to have another crack at it.
I used the same basic recipe as last time, borrowed from in The River Cottage Family Cookbook. As I discovered last time, it still works with a straight swap of gluten free flour and dairy free margarine. This time I also added half a teaspoon of xanthan gum, as I have discovered this is an essential ingredient in gluten free baking.
The final magic new addition to the recipe was half a packet of Moo Free chocolate drops. Definitely not an essential and probably not to everyone’s taste, but I had half a pack left over from making the chocolate chip cookies. I could have eaten them, I did think about it, but I was more curious to see if they would work in this recipe so threw them in straight away to remove the temptation. They did work. It was awesome. Added a real yummy warm melted chocolate flavour and aroma to the cake. Everyone who tried it said you could never tell it was gluten free and dairy free – the only person who wouldn’t try it, of course, was Zac, but he did enjoy picking out the sultanas!
Here is my recipe and method. Easy enough to follow. I took it from the Pippa Kendrick book – The Intolerant Gourmet. It is an excellent ‘free from’ cookbook and this is a lovely recipe for a basic biscuit. Pippa says you can add a variety of ingredients e.g. raisins, peanut butter etc. My children love ‘chocolate’ so I added a pack of Moo Free chocolate drops. Very delicious and you would never know they were dairy free.
I have made these cookies three times now and have found my greatest success came when I added some one heaped teaspoon of xanthan gum. It made them much less powdery and they held their form more like a ‘normal’ biscuit.
I also added a big ‘squirt’ of golden syrup, in the hope it might help with the texture, but I have to admit it was also for flavour. It obviously makes them much more sweet and indulgent.