Chinese sweet chilli turkey with king prawns

One of the things I have without a doubt missed most being gluten, wheat and milk free….is Chinese takeaway. Being surrounded by people on a Saturday night scoffing their way messily through sweet and sour chicken, crispy shredded beef and chow mein is one of the hardest things to resist.

In my opinion Chinese food is one of the cuisines in the Free From range that really needs addressing. There is a big market for an easy Gluten free Chinese takeaway meal but in my experience, restaurants and take away houses aren’t really catering for our needs and it is extremely hard to find something to eat when a main meal can consist of wheat laden noodles and flour battered chicken.

I have to admit, I invented this dish as a bit of a spur of the moment thing. I had a selection of food in my fridge and really felt like having a sweet and sour based dish. Thankfully, Sweet Mandarins Sauces came to my rescue with their gorgeous sweet chilli condiment which I use on a wide variety of dishes. If you haven’t tried their sauces already, you really are missing out. Here is a link to their website – http://www.sweetmandarin.com/

Serves 1 – 2

Ingredients

  • 1 – 2 turkey breasts
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 red onion
  • Tamari soya sauce (I used Meridian’s Free From sauce which can be found in supermarkets and Holland and Barrat)
  • Sweet Mandarin’s sweet chilli or sweet and sour sauce (can be found at Tesco and Sainsbury’s)
  • 1 – 2 peppers of any colour
  • Chinese five spices
  • Paprika
  • Basmati rice
  • King prawns

1)    Chop the sweet potato, pepper and red onion and place in the oven for 30 minutes to go soft and crispy.

2)    Heat some olive oil in a pan and brown the turkey – sprinkle on around half to one tsp of Chinese five spice and half a tsp of paprika to taste and turn down the heat.

3)    Boil the basmati rice according to pack instructions.

4)    Pour in some of the Sweet Mandarin’s sauce according to personal taste (I used around 25ml)

5)    Drizzle in some of the Tamari soya sauce.

6)    Pour in the king prawns and fry until golden.

7)    Season with a little salt and pepper.

8)    Toss the sweet potato, pepper and onion in with the turkey sauce mixture and blend together.

9)    Drain the rice and serve with the turkey mix.

An honest account of living with undiagnosed food problems

I’m going to be completely honest, because quite frankly I have far overstretched my wits end here when it comes to eating.

Yet again I am sat at home on a Saturday night ill, and before you wonder if it is self- inflicted due to too much alcohol, I wish it was because then I could control it. No, I am ill yet again due to food.

At the age of 11 and 12, I had two operations. They were relatively minor operations and I should have been back to full health within a matter of weeks, but unfortunately the first one did not quite go to plan and I had to be operated on a second time. I am now nearly 23 and have suffered with my health since, the most ongoing problem being the awful reaction I get to a range of food.

The first time I had a bad reaction was when I was still recovering from my second operation. I had been out for a cream tea at a café where I ate a sandwich and a scone with jam and cream to which I got home and had the most excruciating stomach pains, I lay on my bed crying and barely able to breathe for all the pain – I have experienced this same reaction many times since.

Upon telling the doctor of my reaction to wheat, his advice was to cut wheat out of my diet without so much as doing a simple set of blood tests. I have now obviously discovered since that that is the worst advice a doctor should give as gluten should never be removed from a diet until a person has been tested for coeliac disease. Having been wheat and gluten free for years now, I could never even comprehend putting gluten back into my diet without being extremely ill.

Doctors have been my worst enemy with my ongoing food problems, I have been told there is no such thing as food intolerances and that it is just in the mind, I have also been accused of having eating disorders, with doctors often asking me ‘do you make yourself sick after eating,’ I can tell you I have never done that. I absolutely love food and hate the fact that so much food is off limits to me, quite frankly maybe if I did have bulimia, doctors might help me and I could find a way to cure myself.

Over the years, my reactions to food have got worse and worse. I have developed a massive intolerance to cow’s milk, even the smallest drop gives me awful stomach pains and I find that too much dairy makes me feel sick. A small shot of Guinness which I now can’t touch, once gave me stomach pains, sickness and breathlessness within a couple of minutes. Sugar is also my biggest enemy, even natural sugars from fruit gives me awful pains and bloatedness and I have to limit my fruit intake to just two pieces a day.

Tonight I am unwell even though I gave waiters strict orders in the pub on what I could eat. I had mackerel with green salad and lamb with roasted vegetables, completely dry with no sauces or ‘evil food’ on the plate. I also had a glass of wine, but obviously something didn’t digest very well and I came home and was ill – what was wrong with the food or wine I had I have no idea.

My nights out always seem to get ruined with me going home ill, instead of looking forward to going out to eat or drink, I now dread it because I wonder what I am going to have. It is taking over my life and I just can’t take it anymore, I really need some help and a proper diagnosis by someone who actually listens and takes me seriously. I just need some help finding out how to live with such a restricting diet and the best way to live with whatever it is that I have.

In the last week, I have finally made a bit of a breakthrough after seeing a specialist who specialises in coeliac disease. He is referring me to a dietician and I am to go back in a couple of months for tests to try and find out what is wrong with me. It sounds weird, but the best Christmas present I could get this year would be a diagnosis so that I can begin getting better. To think it has taken me 10 years to convince a doctor to send me to a specialist, which I am now paying for as I was so desperate to get sorted, is beyond a joke. I know there are many people in exactly the same position as myself and it is reassuring to know that I am not the only one going through this. I can only hope that in the future, doctors will be less dismissive of people complaining of food problems and will try and help instead of turning us away.

Souvlaki sticks with a twist

If I had to pick three foods to live off in the event of rationing, I would without a doubt grab a jar of honey, sweet potatoes and chorizo. These three things are my favourite foods of all time and taste amazing when all put together. When I was working in Spain, I consumed so much chorizo I was in danger of turning into one, and compared to England, the homeland of the spicy sausage offered a huge variety of chorizo at all different price ranges and varieties. The chorizo found in Spain was so tasty that I often found myself cooking up a bowl to eat for my dinner all on its own – it was on a whole other level taste wise compared to what can be found at British supermarkets I am sad to say.

Still my love of chorizo has never left me and I use it a lot in different types of dishes ranging from pizza toppings, pasta and salads, to an accompaniment to chicken or roasted vegetables. Here I am putting a spicy twist on the traditional Greek dish of souvlaki, most commonly made using chicken or pork meat and partnered with peppers and onions.

On my recent trip to Rhodes, I brought back a huge amount of herbs, including some fresh from the mountains of Siana, a tiny village famous for its olive oil and honey which are out of this world (so amazing that I am saving the last drops of olive oil I have left for if the Queen ever comes round for tea) I have coated the chicken in the souvlaki mixture which consists of oregano, parsley, cayenne pepper and onion, as well as sprinkling over some paprika to give the chicken a bit of spice.

Souvlaki is great because it can be served as a healthy lunchtime snack, or can be partnered with roasted vegetables, rice, pitta breads or potatoes for a more filling dinner. Of course in the summertime, it is perfect BBQ food and quick and easy to prepare for guests. All that is needed is a bit of Zorba the Greek, cocktail in hand and memories of holidays on the beach.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 courgette
  • Half of a chorizo sausage
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes
  • Mozzarella (I used the dairy free MozzaRisella)

 Herbs for the marinade

  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Paprika

 1)     Begin by chopping up the chicken, pepper, onion, courgette and chorizo into bite sized chunks.

2)     Sprinkle the mixture generously with the herb mixes and season with salt and pepper.

3)     Pierce all of the ingredients with the skewers to ensure they are firmly in place and grill until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are going nice and crispy.

4)     Heat up the oven and put the tomatoes and any leftover souvlakia ingredients on a baking tray and sprinkle with the herb mix and drizzle over a good amount of olive oil. Roast for around 15 to 20 minutes.

5)     Chop up round slices of mozzarella and place on the roasting tray in the last few minutes of cooking to give them time to soften and melt nicely.

6)     Once the meat is cooked they are ready to serve.

Potatoes fried in olive oil are a lovely accompaniment to the dish and serve as a healthier alternative.

Spicy Chicken Fajitas

Food 2 351

I love Mexican food, it is one of the easiest yet all round delicious cuisines available and makes a perfect dinner on a cold night. One of the things I loved most used to be enchiladas and fajitas, not only are they a really quick dinner to make, but they are also brilliant for serving to friends and family when you don’t have the time or expertise to cook a complicated meal.

Over the years, with the exception of chilli con carne, I have not made fajitas purely due to the fact that wheat, gluten and dairy free wraps have been so hard to find. It wasn’t until I went along to the Allergy and Free From Show in Liverpool that I came across a company called BFree who make wraps, bread and bagels all without the nasty ingredients my body can’t cope with. I was delighted and of course took home a pack of their multi-grain bagels, as well as their wraps which at only 99 calories helps keep lunch or dinner really healthy. I would highly recommend the BFree range – to me their wraps taste exactly how I remember the wheat kind to taste like, but also their bagels are really flavoursome and do not fall apart as soon as you cut into them, (I find that a lot of Free From bread can fall apart very easily.)

To make the fajitas, I followed the Jamie Oliver recipe but changed a few things to make it free-from. The recipe incorporates all of the traditional ingredients which often accompany the Old El Paso ready-made kits that are found in supermarkets, only the freshly cooked sauces taste much fresher than the stuff that starts off as a powder in the kits for obvious reasons.

IMG_1701

 

 

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Sprinkle of ground cumin
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 free-from tortillas (could use BFree or Warburtons)
  • Natural yoghurt (I used goats but Alpro would work just as well)
  • Cheese to sprinkle on at the end
  • Guacomole (optional)

For the salsa sauce

  • 1 red chilli or enough for your liking
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • Coriander
  • Pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil

1)      Turn your frying pan to a high heat and chop your pepper into thin slices. Cut up your red onion into small chunks.

2)      Slice your chicken into thin slices about the same size as the peppers.

3)      Put the pepper, onion and chicken into a bowl and mix in the paprika and cumin. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and season with salt and pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil. Leave to marinate whilst you are preparing the other ingredients.

4)      Finely chop your chilli and roughly chop the tomatoes into small chunks, do the same with the coriander if using. Pour all together into a bowl and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and season well.

5)      Mix in 1-2 tablespoons of the yoghurt to the salsa mix to create a creamier tasting sauce.

6)      Transfer the chicken, pepper and onion into the frying pan and fry until the chicken turns a golden brown.

7)      Warm the tortillas up in the microwave.

8)      Lay out the tortillas on a plate and divide the chicken mixture along with the salsa dip in the middle and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Fold all of the ingredients in by wrapping up the tortillas and serve.

 

Leek and Potato Soup

Bonfire night is one of my favourite times of the year. Ever since I was little, me and my family would always come together on the 5th November to celebrate the occasion. The night would begin with a trip to an organised community display just down the road from where I live, where everyone would throw their old stuff onto the bonfire before Guy Fawkes was placed at the top and set alight. This marked the beginning of the fireworks and as the bonfire was placed so close to a residential home, it became an annual event for the fire alarm to be ringing out for the duration of the colourful display.

Another tradition in my family though has always been to host our own firework display in our back garden. I have to admit that health and safety goes out the window a little bit at our Bonfire Night, but it is always much more entertaining when you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen or the fireworks fizzle out before take-off.  Bonfire Night in my house however, would not be official without my Mom’s leek and potato soup. For as long as I can remember, this soup has been dished out whilst we stand out in the rain watching the night sky, keeping us warm as the meat cooks on the BBQ. For me leek and potato soup is like the traditional turkey on Christmas day, it just wouldn’t be Bonfire Night without it.

Serves 4-6

  • 2 medium leeks chopped
  • 1 small onion
  • 25g (1oz) dairy free butter
  • 350g (12oz) potatoes thinly sliced
  • 568ml (1 pint) gluten free chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 150ml of double cream – optional (I used Alpro soya single cream to add at the end for a creamier taste but can be made without cream.)

1)     Heat the butter in a saucepan and fry the leeks and onion gently for about 7-8 minutes until soft but be careful not to brown.

2)     Add the potatoes and stock to the pan and season well.

3)     Bring to the boil, lower the heat and cover and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

4)     Remove the soup from the pan and pour into a food processor and blend until smooth.

5)     If adding cream pour into the soup just before serving.

Bonfire Night would not be complete without a dairy free hot chocolate made using Plamil chocolate flakes and Eskal gluten free marshmallows
Bonfire Night would not be complete without a dairy free hot chocolate made using Plamil chocolate flakes and Eskal gluten free marshmallows

Sea bass in a tomato sauce with chickpeas and vegetables

IMG_1784

I was inspired to re-create this sea bass dish after I had a similar meal at Browns Bar and Brasserie the other week – only me being the greedy piggy that I am decided to throw in a whole lot more and make a massive dinner (eyes bigger than my belly again.)

Up until a year ago I was never a huge fan of fish, and it wasn’t until I went to work in Cantabria in the north of Spain that this changed. I was told upon arriving that after tasting the local fish dishes, I would favour fish over meat. I was proved right and found that the fish was by far more flavoursome and better quality than I had ever tried back home. Once I came back to England I made a special effort to ensure I ate fish at least once a week and it is now tradition in my house to have ‘Fish Wednesday’s.’

Sea bass is by far my favourite dish and I ate a whole load of it on my visit to Rhodes this summer – the best was found at a roof-top restaurant in Lindos named Caesar’s which is highly recommended if anyone ever visits the island. Here is a link to the website – www.caesarslindos.com

In this dish I have combined my favourite things, honey roasted sweet potatoes with parsnips and chickpeas in a tomato based sauce.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 parsnips
  • 1-2 sea bass fillets depending on how big the portion
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 1 small jar of passata sauce
  • Broccoli (optional)
  • Honey to drizzle
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Basil
  • Paprika

1)     Begin by chopping up the sweet potatoes and parsnips and drizzling them with honey and olive oil. Place on a baking tray and roast in the oven at 190 for 35 minutes until they have gone gold and crispy.

2)     Warm the chickpeas in a saucepan, then add the passata sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add some basil to the sauce if desired. Wait for it to boil then leave to simmer on a low heat whilst the vegetables are cooking.

3)     Boil the broccoli for 5-6 minutes, then drain and add to the passata sauce and mix in.

4)     Heat a frying pan with olive oil. Season the fish with parsley, dill and paprika if you prefer a bit of spice in the dish. Squeeze on the juice of half a lemon and pan fry on each side for around 3 – 4 minutes, ensuring the fish is crisp and brown.

5)     Once the vegetables are cooked, toss into the passata and chickpea mixture and use as a bedding for the sea bass to sit on.

Caesar's restaurant, Lindos, Rhodes
Caesar’s restaurant, Lindos, Rhodes

Lamb meatballs and pea pilaf with honey roasted vegetables

A few years ago before I discovered how delicious free-from cooking could be, the idea of having to cook for ‘normal’ eaters whilst still having to cook for myself would have gotten me in a huge panic and there is a possibility I would have treated my diners to a takeaway meal to satisfy their hunger. I didn’t believe to begin with that cooking gluten, wheat and dairy free could compare in taste with normal ingredients and be enjoyed by people who had no food problems at all – how wrong was I.

After many trials and errors in the kitchen over the past couple of years, I have now built up the confidence to take a recipe and re-create it into a ‘tummy happy’ recipe and luckily my friends and family have taken on the job as trial guinea pigs without me even having to ask.

This week, I treated my family to an Asian inspired recipe that is not only easy to make, but delicious too. Although the basic recipe only contained peas, I decided to throw in some roasted courgettes and peppers drizzled with honey to give the dish extra flavour and colour. I have written the recipe to serve 3-4 people, but it can easily be adjusted to make a meal for one or is ideal for cooking in batch and then freezing. If possible, allow the rice to cook in another frying pan whist the meatballs are browning as it will take longer to soften if cooking enough for 4 people.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 500g minced lamb
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 300g basmati rice
  • 200g frozen peas
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • Lamb or vegetable stock to cover the rice
  • One red and one yellow pepper
  • 2 courgettes
  • Honey to drizzle

For the yoghurt dip

  • 150ml pot of yoghurt (either Greek or soya/goat yoghurt depending on allergies)
  • 1/2 cucumber grated or finely sliced
  • Mint (either fresh leaves or from a jar)

1) Begin by mixing the lamb with 2 cloves of crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon of cumin powder, then season and shape into around 16-18 meatballs (smaller meatballs are more ideal for browning) Leave in the fridge for an hour to set or otherwise heat a large frying pan and fry the meatballs until they turn golden and are thoroughly cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2) Heat the oven to about 190 and chop up the courgettes and peppers, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with honey, then place on a greased proof tray and cook in the oven for 30 minutes until golden and crispy.

3) Tip all of the rice into the frying pan, sprinkle on a teaspoon of cumin powder and the remaining clove of crushed garlic and let it fry for 30 seconds, making sure they are coated well in oil. Pour in enough stock to cover and allow the rice to absorb all of the liquid

4) Towards the end, stir in the peas and return the meatballs to the pan to heat up. To make the yoghurt dip, mix the cucumber, yoghurt, and half of the mint together and season with pepper and half of the lemon juice.

5) To finish the dish, squeeze in the juice of the remaining lemon half, season to taste and mix the rice and meatballs in with the honey roasted peppers and courgettes. Serve with a generous amount of the cucumber yoghurt.

The combination of lamb meatballs and cucumber yoghurt is also delicious with free-from pitta breads available in supermarkets.

The Allergy and Free From Show North 2013

This weekend saw the return of the Allergy and Free From Show in Liverpool, or what I have dubbed a Free-Fromers Heaven!

I had never been to an allergy or free from show before and was really excited when I arrived at Liverpool to the sight of the many food stands – in fact I was like a kid on Christmas day!

Over 21,000 visitors came along to event in 2013, which proves just how important and needed a show like this is for people with food allergies and intolerances. It was fantastic to be able to go along to somewhere without having to worry about what I was going to eat or need to interrogate a person on what exactly is in their food before deciding whether or not to take a risk.

From chocolates and pudding, to bread and bagels, the show had everything my heart desired and I didn’t hold back in my purchases. One of my favourite stands on the day probably had to be Venice Bakery, as the pizza I sampled there was the ‘melt in your mouth’ sort and quite frankly, tasted better than normal pizzas from what I can remember of them! I ended up taking away 2 large pizza bases and two batches of my favourite but hard to find good quality, dairy free mozzarella cheese. I was also very happy to take away 4 boxes of the Pudology puddings as I have sorely missed such classics as banoffee pie and simple choccie puds and not to forget, Clive’s Pie’s as they are a real treat for us food sufferers.

I went along to two of the presentations at the Learning Theatre which was really interesting as I found that so many other people are experiencing the same problems as I am, so much so that I didn’t have the need to put my hand up as others answered my questions for me. I did however get a very interesting answer to whether goats milk should be used to substitute cow’s milk – for me personally, I cannot tolerate even the smallest amount of cow’s milk without doubling over in pain and was told by a health professional that goats milk should be fine for me, which is what I now mostly use in drinks and cooking. But now I am left wondering if my persistent daily stomach pains could be due to the goats milk I am consuming after the gastroenterologist said it was not advisable to drink.

It was also worrying that she confirmed like many others that neither gluten nor wheat should be taken out of the diet until coeliac’s disease has been ruled out – countless doctors told me to ‘just cut wheat out’ when I complained of my constant problems over the years without even doing so much as a blood test on me. Needless to say this left me very angry at my doctors and feeling like I will never get a proper diagnosis.

Problems aside however, I came away with a huge amount of tummy happy foods to keep me going from a few favourite suppliers and a few new ones as well. I shall review my buys on here as I gobble my way through them.

After leaving the show, I wanted to make sure that my Mom (and back up bag carrier) had a ‘normal meal’ before we made the long train journey back to Birmingham and so we headed into Brown’s Bar and Brasserie. It was my first visit there and after eating like a Queen at the show, I wasn’t particularly hungry…well until I began asking questions about the ingredients in a dish and my friendly waiter pointed out that they had a gluten and wheat free menu. Somehow the sight of such a fantastic free from menu gave me a sudden appetite and I ordered a main meal of Sea Bass with a tomato and chickpea sauce with sweet potatoes, which I can testify was one of the tastiest gluten free dishes I have tasted in the UK. I would highly recommend Brown’s for both its gluten free and normal menu.

The day overall was fantastic and I look forward to London’s Allergy and Free From Show in June of next year.

DSC03301