Food scares – time to think about every ingredient in every bite Reply

In the wake of the recent revelations about horse meat finding its way into the food chain, it is not surprising to see that the supermarkets are releasing sales figures that show that our shopping behaviour has changed already. For those who live with food intolerance and allergy, scrutinising every ingredient in every product is a way of life but now it seems many others are starting to think like us and thinking hard about how to protect our families from ‘rogue’ ingredients that can damage health.

I have mentioned many times in this blog, my concern at the fact that so many of our children have allergies and intolerances, yet older generations did not. There are multiple theories surrounding this, we are too clean, some of us are too dirty, we didn’t eat nuts during pregnancy, we did eat nuts, our environment has changed and we eat the wrong foods. Obviously most of these articles were probably given front page prominence in the Daily Mail – just to terrify us mothers even more and remind us all that just living can kill you! But when you calm down and try and read some sensible articles the more confusing it gets. Just last week I read that eating too much fruit can aggravate eczema and too much soya can give you cancer. So what is a healthy food and solution for some people is ‘poison’ to others and life just continues to get more complicated.

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My first attempt at an egg free, gluten free, dairy free sponge cake – not bad 3

This morning, as I drove the children to school, they asked if I could make them a cake this afternoon. As it was a miserable day and I had to stay in for my Sainsbury’s delivery, I decided I would do it. More…

Malaysian style chicken curry – just in case you need warming up 6

If like us, you are ‘rained in’ this half term holiday, you could be as bored as me. It is torrential here this afternoon and when that happens my thoughts always turn to cooking. I am not much of a ‘crafty’ Mum, so end up hitting the recipe books to try and find something to engage the children with before I ever consider getting the paint pots out. As we are at my Mum’s, I have got access to her lovely cookbooks and have found my favourite dinner recipe, which just so happens to be dairy free and gluten free.

It is a Malyasian style chicken, according to the heading in the handwritten notebook. This is one of the recipes she was taught at a cookery class many years ago and has long been a favourite of ours. I can’t credit it to any particular chef or cookbook, because it was taught at her class and to be honest we have tweaked it a bit over the years, so as far as I am concerned this is my Mum’s Malaysian Chicken.

Obviously, it is not as involving for a five year old as baking rock cakes, but there are still jobs for the children should they want to get involved. Some of the vegetables are peppers and mushrooms and they need to be chopped – so if your child wants to get involved why not let them tear them up with their hands. Quite easy, not much strength required and a lot of fun. So long as you don’t mind if the strips of pepper and chunks of mushroom are not particularly even in size.

We also need garlic, so the kids can have a go at peeling it and with some help can use a garlic crusher. We also use carrots and parsnips, so you could, if you are feeling brave, cut them in to batons and then place them into a plastic beaker or small glass. Your child could take some kids safety scissors and point them down into the glass and have a go at snipping the carrots and parsnips into chunks. You don’t have to do this, but it is just another way to get the children involved and give them a job. I first saw this demonstrated on I Can Cook on Cbeebies and it is a great idea.

They could even use the same method to help you chop the chicken into chunks, but you may prefer to do this as it is a more messy job and it is better if the chicken is in relatively even sized chunks as it will cook better. The other jobs you could give the children are pouring the coconut milk in, adding the stock and seasoning with salt and pepper.

As with all recipes you can alter the ingredients to your particular taste. You can make this a very mild dish if it is for the whole family or spice it up for adults who like a bit of heat. Either way, it is just a very simple, very quick dish that tastes deliciously creamy and warming – but is safe for anyone with dairy or gluten intolerance. Perfect for a day like today!!!!

So here is the recipe – enjoy. Sorry there is no picture. We actually made it last night, but we were so hungry that I forgot to take one. Will post one next time, I promise.

Mum’s Malaysian Chicken

1 tablespoon of oil (groundnut, sunflower, vegetable etc) whichever you prefer and can tolerate!

2 large onions – finely chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic – finely chopped or crushed

1 heaped teaspoon of ginger – or one chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 red peppers – cut into strips (I chose red for colour contrast and sweetness, yellow or orange are fine too)

4 carrots – peeled and cut into small chunks

1 large parsnip – peeled and cut into small chunks (you could use sweet potato if you prefer)

8 chestnut mushrooms – quartered

6 chicken breasts – skinned and cut into evenly sized, quite large chunks

Half a pint of chicken stock (I use the Antony Worral Thompson gluten free stock cubes)

http://www.awtonline.co.uk/Antony_Worrall_Thompsons_Organic_Yeast_Free_Gluten_Free_Chicken_Stock_Cubes.php

1 tin of coconut milk – any brand is fine, avoid low fat versions, as they are too watery

6 teaspoons of crunchy peanut butter – obviously nut allergy sufferers should leave this out, the recipe still works well without it. I tried it once, when I started making it and realised I didn’t actually have any peanut butter!

1 small tin of butter beans (chick peas work equally well)

1 heaped teaspoon of dried coriander

1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric

2 heaped teaspoons of cumin

1 heaped teaspoon of chilli powder

Salt and ground black pepper to season

Handful of fresh chopped coriander to garnish – but only if you like it, my Mum hates it so we leave it off for her but I love it as a final flourish

Method

Heat the oil in the pan and fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic, carrots and parsnips and keep moving around the pan until they start to soften. Add coriander, turmeric, and chilli powder. Turn the heat down and cook gently for a few minutes before adding the mushrooms and peppers. Stir fry all together for a few minutes. Then remove all to a dish and set aside.

Next fry the chicken chunks in the pan you cooked the veg in, no need to clean it as it helps flavour the chicken. You might need a splash more oil if it is a bit dry. Season the chicken and keep moving it around the pan until it is coloured. Next add the ginger and cumin and keep it all moving around for another five minutes. You could add a splash of soy sauce at this point just to add a bit of extra flavour to the meat.

Once the meat is starting to really change colour add the chicken stock. Cook for a few more minutes and then add the vegetables etc back to the pan and let it all simmer for about five minutes. Next add the coconut milk followed by the peanut butter. Stir it all through, cover and simmer for about twenty minutes – or until the chicken looks cooked, the vegetables are soft and the sauce is quite thick. When it looks almost ready, add the drained butter beans or chick peas and cook for a further five minutes. Keep tasting as you go along to be sure you are happy with the flavour and if you are looking for more intensity add a few more sprinkles of the spices until it tastes right. Around five minutes after the beans/peas are added it should be ready.

Serve with rice. Or you could try it with buckwheat or rice noodles – makes it a bit more like a Malaysian Laksa – which is just as lovely in my opinion. And remember the final flourish of fresh chopped coriander is optional too.

Ice cream cones – I know it is raining, but I still want them! 4

As the weather is so poor at home, we decided to head to the seaside for the rest of half term. My parents live in Christchurch, Dorset and seem to get better weather than us. We don’t have to bring too much of Zac’s special food with us, as there is a large Sainsbury’s close by and a Waitrose. Both usually stock a good range of free from foods and Mum is great at catering for Zac. But she had run out of his special dairy free, wheat free, gluten free ice cream cones and so had I.

The last time I managed to find any was at the Allergy Show last month. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the Barkat stall and even more happy to find that they were selling them. Annoyingly, I didn’t have much cash on me so could only buy one box. And the nice weather last month caused us to run out – very quickly.

I have been to our local Sainsbury’s several times since and had no luck. So the first thing we did when we arrived in Christchurch was to run out and see if we could find them. Sadly, they had none on the shelves, and there wasn’t even a ‘space’ for them, so it doesn’t look like they have been selling them lately.

I expected not to find the ice cream cones on the supermarket shelves in winter, but I had expected them to have made a comeback by now. The dairy free ice cream is in the freezers all year round so it doesn’t make much sense. Also, I have only ever seen one brand – Barkat and I have only ever found them in Sainsbury’s.

I don’t understand why they are not in more supermarkets or why they are not on the shelves yet. I know the weather is poor but kids love ice cream all year round. If I had found them I would have bought several boxes and I am sure others would too. They are expensive and so the supermarkets are really missing a trick here.

It is easy enough to find the well known Askey’s ice cream cones and wafers all year round, so why not the free from versions? Also, I have looked carefully at the Askey’s cones and they have a worryingly long list of not very natural ingredients, and in my opinion don’t even taste that good. The Barkat cones that we love are in the style of a Belgian waffle cone and taste really good. It is not often that a ‘free from’ product is a better flavour or texture than a ‘normal’ one but these are great.

So today, I decided to have a look and see where else I can find them. Here are the sites. Please take a look and try them. Perhaps if enough of us try them and buy them we can help them convince more supermarkets to stock them. Definitely a product for all the family and not just the food intolerants among us.

http://www.glutenfree-foods.co.uk/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=barkat&tag=mh0a9-21&index=grocery&hvadid=461131476&ref=pd_sl_4z6y45hau2_e

http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/detail/301426_Barkat_Ice_Cream_Cones__12__60g.html

http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/groceries/index.jsp

Foods on prescription – anything for dairy intolerants? 3

I know I am a bit late to this debate, but I have been doing a lot of investigating since the ‘furore’ blew up the other week about the cost of foods for Coeliac sufferers.

Like many others, I was so angry, but for more than just the usual reasons. I do not think it is right that these foods should cost the NHS so much – but I believe the problem is with the manufacturers and we cannot blame the sufferers.

I imagine the reason that Coeliac sufferers are granted an allowance is because it is widely acknowledged how ridiculously expensive it is to buy the gluten free products. The impact on the ‘purse’ is staggering. So we should be grateful that this provision is made.

The ‘free bread’ is not widely or recklessly dished out. There is a lot of confusion over intolerance, allergy and autoimmune diseases such as Coeliac. Only the Coeliacs are entitled to an allowance. With certain food intolerances you can be ‘cured’ with desensitisation and that is not the case with Coeliac, so the sufferers face a life of having to buy these foods and it makes sense that they get some help.

Many people have just a mild sensitivity to gluten and wheat and some have a much more severe intolerance, but these people are not entitled to anything. I suppose because there are so many of them and they have a chance of managing their conditions themselves and it is not so detrimental to their general health if they have the odd slip up.

I also imagine that this might be the reason it was so difficult for me to get anyone to test Zac. Less interested doctors probably don’t want to uncover yet another sufferer and put more strain on the NHS purse.

It sounds terrible, but in a way, I was disappointed when his Coeliac blood test came back negative. Not just because it meant we did not get our ‘free foods’ but mostly because it left our questions unanswered. Why was he so ill from eating these foods? What happens next? Should I push for a gut biopsy? Nobody else felt the need to find the answers to these questions, so we were just advised to keep him off his trigger foods as he has an obvious bad reaction and just hope grows out of it. So instead, we regularly meet dietitians to review his case.

At the most recent meeting, the penny dropped and brought up some new questions. Zac’s first intolerance was to dairy, the others came along after. At the very first meeting with a dietitian we discussed his milk and dairy replacements, were given advice but that was all. Every time since, the first thing anyone ever asks is ‘what is his dairy replacement?’ How much does he have each day and they always check his height and weight. The gluten intolerance appears to be of little interest and the whole discussion is about his calcium levels.

The most recent meeting was poignant because this dietitian actually explained why she and the others were more interested in how we cope with his dairy intolerance. It is because it is absolutely crucial that a child as young as Zac is getting the right levels of calcium in his diet, not to mention protein and the all important vitamin D. So why is there no help for the children with dairy intolerance/allergy?

Zac is almost at allergy level – we have been told, based on his reactions. No tests have ever been carried out. He has never shown signs of anaphylaxis but he will be running to the toilet within minutes of eating a crisp that has ‘cows milk protein’ listed as one of the ingredients. His tummy blows up like a balloon and his tummy ache lasts hours.

When he was still in nappies, he would explode out of his nappies and it could take a whole packet of wipes to clean him. It looked like someone had vomited in his nappy and it could be blasted as high as his shoulders and down to his ankles. In fact, he was three before he could be toilet trained because his tummy and brain had no time to ‘talk’. So his sensitivity is extreme and we have been advised to keep him away from all dairy for several years yet with no ‘challenges’ unless advised.

We are always told he could grow out of it. However, at the recent Allergy Show, I got tested and showed up as diary intolerant. It did not surprise me. I stopped drinking milk as a very young child and am almost phobic about it. Just watching someone drink it makes me feel queasy and now I know why. It is not my imagination, it is my memory! It really did make me feel sick. As I dislike dairy so much, I have avoided it for years, so didn’t think about it. But now I know I am still intolerant after almost 35 years of dodging it, I think it is very unlikely that Zac will grow out of it. He is much worse than me and if it hasn’t worked for me, it is unlikely it will work for him.

So what help will we get? Dairy intolerant babies, quite rightly get their dairy free formula on prescription, until they are twelve months, but to my knowledge, there is no provision for dairy intolerant children. Zac was just over twelve months old when he became so ill. I had to fight and fight just to see a dietitian and was given minimal advice. When I met the first paediatrician he congratulated me on keeping Zac so healthy as he has seen so many dairy intolerant children suffering from malnutrition as ‘their mothers are doing it all wrong’. Surely, these people need as much help as the Coeliac people.

An infant needs to consume a huge amount of ‘dairy replacement’ to ensure that they are getting adequate levels of vitamins and calcium. I received little advice on how to achieve this. I worked it out for myself. I have been lucky that Zac actually likes the Alpro Soya Junior milk and loves the yoghurts. It is not unusual for him to eat three a day, which costs a fortune. At the most recent visit the dietitian advised me that the reason he is so well is probably because the yoghurts and milk are so full of everything he needs, it is almost like he is back on formula.

At the moment, there is a great deal of concern and press coverage about vitamin D deficiency, which is widely blamed on our poor climate and poor diet.  Vitamin D is mostly ‘supplied’ via sunlight and dairy products, so for a dairy intolerant infant, surely it is crucial that the parents are given all of the information they need and ideally some help to buy the products! A chronic lack of vitamin D can lead to many serious conditions, e.g. rickets and osteoporosis, and it seems amazing that no-one has yet waved the flag for all the dairy intolerants out there, as a group in dire need of some help.

If anyone needs a bit of extra help buying foods for their ‘intolerant’children, surely it is people like us? The people with Coeliac understand the damage that could be caused to their bodies, if they consume aggravating foods. But not enough people understand the damage done to the body of an infant who does not get adequate calcium and vitamin D. So I am afraid to say, I think the government needs to dig a bit deeper and think about the provision for the dairy intolerant children out there. I realise that there is as much chance of this happening, as there is of Zac ‘growing out’ of his condition, but I would love to get some awareness. Anyone want to help me? 

Fairy Cakes failure – thank goodness for packet mixes 2

They say pride comes before a fall and I have discovered that is definitely true, in the world of ‘free from’ baking. After the success of the flapjacks earlier in the week, I decided the time had come to try and create some dairy free, gluten free fairy cakes for the school jubilee party.

Even though I am not very good at making cakes, my confidence was up as a result of my recent triumphs. The rock cakes, brownies and flapjacks were all so easy and I have to admit I did enjoy making them. The kids loved them and they had already vanished, so I decided to branch out and try something more complicated and suitable for a jubilee tea party. Fatal error. The first in a series of mistakes.

My biggest mistake was deciding to try and do two things at once. I had decided to make some fairy cakes and a Victoria sponge. Perhaps I got the recipes mixed up or missed something out because I didn’t have enough batter to fill the two cake tins for the sponge. And when I started on the mix for the fairy cakes, I measured out my sugar and then the flour and then combined the two! I wasn’t concentrating. I was supposed to add the butter first and cream them together. So I had to dump the sugary flour mix and start again.

That was when I realised I didn’t have enough caster sugar for another attempt. So I decided to improvise by topping up with a bit of ‘ordinary sugar’ and some light brown sugar. I was also low on Pure ‘sunflower’ spread and used some coconut oil instead. I am not really sure what happened but when I added the eggs and eventually the flour and milk it all started to look rather curdled and nasty.

I suppose you just cannot substitute the butter and the flour and the sugar and expect a good result. Too many changes at once. I am not sure what went wrong but the mix was very thin and watery and starting to separate a bit.

So I decided to pour it all into one of the sandwich tins as it looked like it would not hold inside the flimsy fairy cake cases. I thought I could then stick the two cooked sponges together and they could be my Victoria sandwich.

I decided I could make the fairy cakes later on, once I had run to the supermarket for more ingredients. I hoped that the cakes would not look too bad when they came out of the oven and I would be able to pretty them up with a bit of icing, some sprinkles and chocolate drops. I had even decided to swap out the jam for some dairy free chocolate spread. This would be my take on the Victoria sponge – mine would be filled with chocolate and topped with chocolate and forever after known as the Elizabeth sponge.

The plan was a good one at least. But the reality was not so good. The cakes looked good and smelled good. They came out of the sandwich tins very easily. I decided to make ‘mini’ sponges, by using cookie cutters to get the perfect little discs. Impressed by my spontaneous creativity, I pushed down with the cookie cutter on the first sponge, I could feel the sponge bounce back – but not in a good way! As I pressed down into the other sponge I didn’t even manage to cut through. Oh dear.

I had created a sponge but the sort of sponge you could clean your car with. You know it will absorb water, you could also squeeze it out and it would probably bounce back to its original shape. The inside was rather yellow too. So I have decided to blame the eggs. I was supposed to use medium sized, but had used ‘extra large’. That was all I had left in my fridge! Anyway, I took a bite of one of the sponges and it had a nice flavour but it was chewy and after a few seconds I realised it was actually pretty inedible!!! So I spat it out and threw it all away. Annoying, a waste of time and money but I was now left with a bigger problem. I still needed to make something for Zac to take to the jubilee party.

I decided to have one last stock take of my cupboards and see if I had enough ingredients left to knock up a handful of rock cakes at least, and that is when I discovered my saviour. Hiding behind a packet of not yet tried bread flour, was a Hale & Hearty branded, dairy free, gluten free chocolate chip cookie packet mix. http://www.halenhearty.co.uk/our_range/products/chocolate_chip_cookie_mix/

 I was saved. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl add my last scrape of Pure spread and add an egg. It all created a lovely cookie dough in no time at all and a few minutes later I had ten perfect little cookies baking in the oven. 15 minutes later the warm little cookies were cooling down and one was missing! Well I thought I should make sure they were ok and they were perfect.

So what did I learn today? Many things really. Definitely don’t try and run before you can walk. I am a novice baker and the world of ‘free from’ baking is actually a bit more complicated than normal baking, so I should have known better. I should also remember to always check the cupboards and fridge before I start, to make sure I have enough ingredients to make the thing, and have plenty in reserve for when I make mistakes and need to start again!

And the most important lesson of all is that it is ok to use packet mixes and sometimes taking a few short cuts isn’t so bad. If it weren’t for the clever people at Hale & Hearty, Zac would have had nothing to take to the jubilee party today. And that is the point, when you have an intolerant child you will do anything for them to be able to feel ‘normal’ at kids parties – even if that means spending all day making a mess and not much else in the kitchen!

So what if all the other kids are eating fabulous artisan standard cupcakes made from scratch by an extremely talented Mummy. My little boy thinks my cakes and cookies are the best in the world and he doesn’t know how they were made or where they came from, all he knows is that I gave them to him and they were made ‘specially’ for him.