Gluten free chicken burger at the Beaver

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When I’m sat in a pub sipping cider or wine, the one thing that always catches my eye as a waiter comes out with food is a good burger. When I see a burger topped high with a portion of chips and onion rings on the side, I can’t deny, I really wish I didn’t have to follow a gluten free diet. Of course, they are easy enough to make yourself at home, but to me, when I think back to when I could eat normally, the sight of a fresh, homemade burger coming at you was pure bliss.

On a recent trip to North Devon at Easter, me and my family stayed in a little village named Appledore. Prior to going, I had turned to Twitter to investigate what restaurants were out there offering gluten free, and the Beaver Inn tweeted back to tell me that they could cater for my needs – and as it was on my door step, it would be rude not to try it out.

The little pub over-looks the estuary and would be lovely on a sunny day sitting out in the beer garden round the back. The staff were all really friendly and accommodating towards my needs. Upon arriving, the waitress took a note of things off the menu which I would like to eat and went off to ask the chef which dishes he could incorporate into gluten free.

Of course, some things were entirely off limits, but I was really pleased when she came back telling me that I could have the pork belly for starter with crispy pancetta, and a chicken burger, seasoned with paprika on a gluten free cob with chips and salad for mains. In a normal pub which doesn’t specialise in catering for people with allergies and intolerances, this is something quite special.

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The portion size was huge and I had that same feeling I used to get when I was a kid when a huge burger came towards me, I suddenly felt like I could eat a horse. I couldn’t have the pork belly with apple sauce, but it was really enjoyable to be able to eat a starter along with everyone else, whilst the burger was truly delicious – the cob it was in tasted really fresh and unlike any of the supermarket brought brands I have ever tasted, in fact I’m not sure but to me it tasted like it had been freshly baked that day which was a bonus.

Overall, I would really recommend this pub to anyone staying in the local area. I didn’t feel like a nuisance when telling the staff about what I couldn’t eat, and they couldn’t have been more accommodating towards my needs.

Overall, the food was very reasonably priced, was proper tasty pub grub and the staff were really friendly – Ten out of ten to the Beaver Inn in Appledore.

Bar Estilo – Paella Picking and Sangria Sipping

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When I was working in Santander in Spain, there was this lovely little beachside restaurant that was famed across the city for its fish dishes. The seafood paella there was immense with flavours and tasted so fresh I think the mussels, prawns and squid had literally just been fished from the sea. It was exactly what paella should be, simple and delicious!

Finding gluten free paella in a restaurant is a tricky task in my opinion. For some reason, although paella rice is naturally gluten free, chefs seem to love throwing in some nasty ingredients to make it impossible for ‘us’ to eat. Although I’ve made my own paella at home, let’s face it, bringing in a pile of fresh seafood is costly and takes some sourcing if you want it really fresh. Luckily for me, I discovered a fantastic Spanish restaurant in Birmingham which serves up a good choice of gluten free dishes – Bar Estilo.

Perfect for a sunny day, or those days where it’s wet and miserable outside and you want to transport yourself to Sunny Spain, Bar Estilo makes you feel like you’re on holiday. Serving a range of tapas dishes, light and large meals, and let’s not forget the all important sangria, the restaurant has got it covered for gluten free and vegetarians.

With eyes bigger than my tummy, I ordered the chicken paella and a bowl full of chunky chips as a side dish, which I have to admit filled me up for about eight hours afterwards – the only problem being I just couldn’t force myself to stop eating as it was so delish!

Granted – had it been gluten free, I would have without a doubt ordered the seafood paella, but my chicken paella, served with red peppers, butternut squash, peas and chickpeas, was really lovely and I would recommend to anyone who visits.

I admit I’m not sure you will ever get a proper, traditional paella compared to what is served in España, but this is the closest I have ever come to tasting one in England. I can definitely see myself spending a few sunny days eating tapas and sipping sangría at Bar Estilo come the summer months. Salud!

Click here to view Bar Estilo’s food menu – http://www.barestilo.co.uk/menus/birmingham/bar-estilo-birmingham-food-menu.pdf

Greek Mezze

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It is no secret that I absolutely adore Greece. I love the country, the people, the culture and most of all, the food. Having spent countless summers on the beautiful island of Rhodes making friends for life and mixing with the locals, I can’t deny that if I had to change nationalities, I would choose to be Greek.

The thing that I really admire about the Greeks is their passion for cooking as a way of bringing people together. If you ever visit the country, you will never be far from a family gathered around a table sharing a mezze, a variety of national or local dishes similar to Spanish tapas. Believe me, if you ever have the pleasure of joining a family for a mezze you will be overwhelmed by the variety of flavours and colours presented to you. Never be afraid to try out the local dishes, I was pleasantly surprised by what I have tasted on my travels that I would never have dreamed of eating before back in England – squid and mussels being some of them.

This week, my brother and his girlfriend had us all round for a Greek afternoon and I was told I needn’t worry about bringing my own food, as it would all be gluten, wheat and cow’s milk free. We had a beautiful selection of dishes to choose from, including chicken skewers, lamb and mint mini burgers, Greek salad with feta cheese, olives, bell stuffed peppers, rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, gluten free pitta bread with a red pepper hummus dip and homemade tzatziki, as well as beef stifado which had been slow cooked.

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My brother Nick cooking up a Greek feast

One of my favourite Greek dishes is Moussaka and I have to admit that it is the one thing I really miss being able to have when I am over in Greece, as unfortunately it does contain flour and milk which is off limits to me. However, with a few alterations, this national dish can be made at home with minimal effort, and quite frankly it is delicious even if I may say so myself.

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Here is a recipe I found in Greece in a cookbook and although there are many recipes out there which have been incorporated into fancier looking and more difficult dishes to make, when it comes to proper Greek cooking, simplicity is key.

Moussaka

Serves 4

  • 2 kilos of large aubergines
  • 1 kilo of mince
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 5 ripe tomatoes skinned and finely chopped
  • ½ cup of dry white whine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • Grated kefalotiri sheep/goats cheese (parmesan or dairy free cheese can be used instead)
  • 2-3 portions of white sauce or if dairy free, I use Free & Easy dairy free cheese sauce and follow the pack instructions

1)    Peel, wash and cut the aubergines into large thin slices and leave them to drain in salt.

2)    Brown the mince in the oil with the onion.

3)    Pour in the wine, tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and oregano

4)    Allow to boil until the moisture has been absorbed.

5)    Fry the aubergines and spread them in a large roasting tin and sprinkle with grated cheese.

6)    After the first layer, spread the mince on top and then add another layer of aubergines, then sprinkle again with the grated cheese.

7)    Pour on the white or dairy free sauce so that the surface of the moussaka is covered with a thick layer of sauce and finish with the cheese.

8)    Cook in the oven for around 30 – 40 minutes until cooked through and crisp.

Variations – Thin sliced potatoes can be incorporated into the dish and fried before adding to the layers for a more filling and thicker moussaka, or alternatively, the aubergines can be swapped with courgettes.

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A shot of Souma and you’ll be smashing the plates….Yammas!!

 

My Gluten Free Christmas

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Christmas time can be a bit of a hassle for anyone avoiding gluten, wheat or dairy. It is the one time of year when invitations to parties and pub meals are non-stop and the risk of being glutened or accidently eating something with an evil ingredient can be like playing Russian roulette – you just can’t help feeling anxious upon being presented with a meal.

This year was my first works Christmas outing in my new job and I was presented on my first day in the new role with the festive menu for our meal out. Upon reading the menu, I realised I couldn’t eat a thing due to the fact that roast dinners in a pub obviously contain a generous helping of wheat and dairy and I admit I felt awful when my colleague offered to sort something out for me to eat.

I was very lucky as I got a phone call off the chef at the Navigation Inn, located in Bromsgrove, telling me how he had done a lot of gluten free catering in the past and then going on to give me a long list of what he could do to incorporate my roast dinner into a gluten and dairy free three course meal. I honestly have never had such fantastic service, with ham hock for starter, a large turkey dinner complete with gluten free stuffing and gravy, vegetables and roast potatoes for main, and then a homemade Christmas pudding drizzled in brandy sauce for pud, I couldn’t speak highly enough of the place and I would recommend both the pub and the chef to anyone looking for somewhere safe to eat in the local area. Here is a link to their website – http://www.steakandciderpubs.co.uk/

Christmas dinner was lovely for me as we can easily adapt the roast into a free from meal, by keeping things like stuffing and gravy apart from each other and making my own sauce for the prawn cocktail using Tiger Tiger gluten free tomato and mayo sauces. I used Tesco’s gluten free cocktail sausages for my pigs in blankets, and I actually thought they tasted fresher after wrapping my own bacon around them. I used Antony Worrall Thompson’s gluten free beef gravy to be quick and easy, and although the jars can no longer be found on the shelves at Sainsbury’s, it is available to buy online from mysupermarket and Ocado. I used some of the Sainsbury’s gluten free cranberry and orange stuffing balls, as well as the pork, thyme and chestnut stuffing which I really enjoyed.

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Boxing day in my family is Christmas Day re-visited, another 2 course meal before heading over to my cousins house for a large buffet selection. My cousin suffers from food intolerances herself and so I had no worries, knowing she would cook me something I could eat. A selection of cranberry stuffed chicken, meatloaf, roasted peppers and potatoes were piled up on my plate, with poached pears in red wine with edible glitter presented to me for pudding, which looked great and are simple to cook if anyone is looking for inspiration for cooking for guests. Floater coffees were made using St Helen’s Farm goats cream and Plamil mint chocolate flakes and I really enjoyed having creamy coffees back in my life.

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Father Christmas delivered what I asked for this year – Phil Vickery’s Seriously Good Gluten Free Cooking and the Guilt Free Gourmet cookery books. I am really looking forward to cooking up the delicious looking recipes featured knowing they will be okay for me.

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I was given some of the Moo Free chocolate pralines and button drops for a present, it is no secret that I love the Hammy Hamster choccies the most and so I can’t wait to dive into the box. Of course, luckily wine and snowballs are gluten free and so there was no need to go to any special effort in order to get a little bit tipsy and merry!

To everyone reading, have a very happy and healthy new year!!

Genius Gluten Free Crumpets

When I was a kid, one of the things we used to have as a treat for breakfast on a Sunday was crumpets smothered in melted butter. Whenever I smelt them toasting downstairs I immediately wanted one, and so giving up this traditionally British delicacy when I became a ‘free fromer’ was pretty tough.

I first sampled the Genius gluten free crumpets when I was at the BBC Good Food Show in November. I admit, I had seen them on the shelves at supermarkets already even though they were fairly new, but it wasn’t until I was handed a piece to try at the company’s stand that I decided to take a pack home.

Sold in a pack of 4, initially the crumpets look the same as normal wheat based ones. I did find them to be slightly chewier than what I remember of the regular sort and I would recommend grilling them until they are slightly browner just to soften them up a little bit more ( I did this the second time around and found them a bit better)

One strange but crucial thing that I noticed was that even though I put a great deal of butter on to them, it did not melt all the way through the crumpets. When I used to be able to eat regular crumpets, the butter would melt all the way to the bottom so that I would be able to mop it up at the end. I do actually believe that maybe if the crumpets could be made a little thinner in the middle, they may have a bit more moisture and taste.

I topped one crumpet with honey which was really tasty and actually gave it more flavour as it added a little sweetness to the mix. Overall, I can’t complain as Genius has given me back something which I have really missed since following an allergy free diet. I bought the crumpets for just £1 at the food show which was a really good offer, however, even though I would love to buy them again and hopefully see people’s comments taken into consideration in order to improve them, at the moment I feel as though the retail price of £2.19 is overpriced for what is on offer.

BBC Good Food Show Winter

This week I went along to the NEC for my first ever BBC Good Food Show visit. I had wanted to go for a few years, so when I found out that my favourite free range sausage company Pig and Co were going to be exhibiting there, I purchased tickets just so I could go and buy some more of their delicious food.

I first came across Pig and Co during the summer when I visited the Ludlow Food Festival. To be honest I was quite fed up as I had gone round hoping to find at least one thing that I could eat but to no avail. I was about to call it a day when I came across a sausage stand and was greeted by a friendly chap offering tasters. I told him I had multiple allergies and was surprised when he informed me that Pig and Co sausages were gluten free and did not contain milk, with the exception of the ones containing cheese.  I took home the Hawaiian Hoggies which contain pineapple, and the Mango Masala flavoured sausages which consist of garam masala and mango chutney. This time around I purchased the Hey Pesto, containing feta, pine nuts, basil and sundried tomatoes, more of the Hawaiian Hoggies and the Blackden Puddies for a friend who had requested the black pudding and mustard flavoured sausages.

Pig and Co have been my free from find of the year, not only because of the 24 different varieties on offer, but also because I trust that they are free range and not the sort of rubbish you often find in supermarkets. I think in  modern times it is hard to know exactly where your food was made and exactly what is in it, but with Pig and Co I know that I am paying that little bit extra for good quality and tasty sausages. The fact that the company has won awards for their produce is a testament to how good they really are and I would highly recommend to anyone who appreciates proper sausages.

Another free from food brand to be exhibiting was Panjaban Curry. I first came across this company at the Allergy and Free From Show and liked their curry sauces so much that this time around I brought myself one of the gift pack boxes for £20 which contained an authentic curry base, Bombay potato, butter chicken and the limited edition turkey curry base which I shall most definitely be using with all of the leftover Christmas turkey this year.

Curry is one cuisine that I often struggle with as I find that the supermarket free from versions are often very high in sugar which I really struggle to digest, but luckily for me all of the Panjaban sauces are wheat, gluten and dairy free as well as containing no added sugar. The only criticism I have of them though is that they included a chapati in my gift box which contained wheat, which given the fact that they specialise in selling gluten and wheat free sauces I was disappointed to find.

After cooking with several of their sauces at home however, I have found them to be great for a Saturday night quick meal to satisfy my curry cravings when everyone is ordering an Indian takeaway. Below are some pictures of how I have used the curry sauces at home.

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A completely new find for me was Yum Yum Tree Fudge. The show guide had listed them in the free from category and so I hunted them down, I’m glad I did. As many with a milk allergy know, dairy free fudge is not easily available nor is it simple to make at home as one tiny misjudgement can result in a liquefied mess, believe me I know. So you can only imagine how happy I was to walk away with two packs each of the original and chocolate fudge which I was told were also gluten free. The nice guy at the stall even threw in a bag for free and who was I to argue.

A variety of cheeses were being sold at the show and I made it my mission to hunt down some really nice goats cheese. I came across a company called Capricorn who gave me a sample of their soft, creamy cheese that reminded me of brie. At just £1.50 I took home a small batch which came from a goat named Flo, she is even pictured gazing happily in to the camera on the packaging. I was surprised to learn that Waitrose, Tesco and Asda stock Capricorn cheeses and at such a low price, I will definitely be purchasing more in the future.

My favourite stall of the day goes to a Slovakian company named Kozi Vrsok, meaning Goat Hill in English. They offered a variety of goat, cow and sheep cheeses that had been matured for up to 6 months and I have to say that the sample I tasted was absolutely delicious. I ended up purchasing some of the ripe goats cheese which had been maturing for three months and as someone who used to love the stronger cheeses such as stilton, it was a real treat to be eating a more flavoursome cheese once again. I am already planning on using some of it to stuff in chicken fillets as I find that more mature cheeses make a great accompaniment to white meat.

Overall, I did quite well finding free from foods at such a mainstream food show, but of course I could not even contemplate tasting 98% of the food on offer.  I enjoyed my day and came back with some great purchases, but I think the show still has a long way to go before it becomes a place safe for free fromers to venture to. For now, I do recommend we stick to the Allergy and Free From Show to avoid playing Russian Roulette with our food.

 

Hard Rock Café Dublin

This weekend I finally took my first trip to Dublin. After years of trying to get the money together to go for a few days but never succeeding, me and my friend decided to go for just the day. With the flight only taking 40 minutes from Birmingham and the tickets costing less than travelling by train to London, there really was nothing to lose.

The first trip we took was to the Guinness factory, and although I couldn’t drink the Guinness, I did get to pour a pint and visit the roof top bar overlooking the whole of Dublin and so the view was worth the price of the 16 euro ticket alone.

The main worry for anyone suffering from Coeliac disease or allergies however, is always finding somewhere to eat when visiting a new place. I decided that my best bet for finding a ‘free from’ safe place was probably on the city’s famous Temple Bar as this is one of the places most tourists flock to for a pint and pub grub.

Luckily for me I came across a TGI Friday’s which I know do a gluten free menu and Hard Rock Café, both located on Fleet Street. I asked upon arriving if Hard Rock Café did a gluten free menu and they presented me with a few options for main meals, appetisers and side dishes.

Like a lot of establishments, steak is always a safe option for anyone with allergies and the menu had included a choice of two varieties of steak dishes and one fish dish with allergen information. I opted for the New York strip steak, as did my friend and I have to say I was very impressed when it arrived.

The portions were very big, as you’d expect from an American chain restaurant, but the quality of the steak was very good – flavoursome and tender, but most of all cooked perfectly to my preference of medium rare. I was even more happy to be given a big stack of chips as I haven’t been able to eat proper thin cut chips at a restaurant in years due to them always being cooked in flour.

Overall, I had a fantastic meal and would recommend Hard Rock Café to anyone with food allergies as they were accommodating to my needs. Although there is not a great deal in terms of gluten free meals, the size and quality of the food is well worth it if you appreciate a good steak.