Sexy Sandwiches

I don’t know about you, but I find the typical dry ham sandwich with soggy lettuce boring each day at work. In fact, if I had my way each workplace would be kitted out with a mini oven so that each day during my lunch break, I could go into the kitchen and cook up a feast – it would certainly make getting through a long afternoon that much easier. So, when the weekend finally creeps up on me I like to go to town with my sandwiches, and I’m talking about getting out the frying pan, throwing in some peppers and onions and giving it a good old mix up before dolloping on some old fashioned mayo and basil pesto to really get your taste buds tingling. I know that as a nation of sandwich lovers we can often get stuck in our ways when it comes to fillings, but allow me to let you in on my secret ingredients for a killer sandwich and you’ll never want to go back to your old, quick-fix ways again.

Beginning with sandwich filling number one!

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The main ingredient here is basil pesto and a nice crusty cob. Too much of it can ruin any dish, but a fine overlay of it on your meat can really get it fired up. Follow the steps below for a truly delicious combination of herbs, salad and sauces.

Ingredients

  • Meat of your choice (I used ham)
  • Dairy free cheese (I used VioLife Pizza Mozzarella)
  • Yellow pepper
  • 2 cherry tomatoes halved
  • Half red onion
  • Basil pesto (Sacla)
  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Gluten free bread (I used Newburn Bakehouse Artisan loaf)
  • Lettuce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Olive oil

 

  1. Heat up some olive oil in a frying pan and thrown in half a red onion and pepper, turning until the pepper is soft and the onion is getting crispy
  2. Spread a generous tea spoon of basil pesto onto the base of your bread
  3. Add the ham and spoon on another generous helping of pesto, before layering on a teaspoon of mayonnaise
  4. Cover the base with cheese and a sprinkling of chives before putting under the grill and allowing to melt
  5. Once the cheese is done, spoon up the onion and pepper and layer on top
  6. Chop up the cherry tomatoes and place on top of the mix
  7. Finish off with a nice handful of fresh lettuce leaves

Now to wrap, grab and get stuck in with filling number two!

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Here, the quinoa and buckwheat rice really gives the sandwich a crunchy texture. Mixed in with classic, full fat Hellmans mayonnaise and roasted red peppers, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Make sure to fold the pitta in half so that all the ingredients mingle together and don’t worry about getting your hands messy in the process, it adds to the enjoyment.

Ingredients

  • Quinoa and buckwheat rice (I purchased from Waitrose)
  • Meat of your choice (I used gammon)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Red pepper
  • Half red onion
  • Lettuce
  • Gluten free pitta breads
  • Olive oil

1. Cook the rice according to packet instructionHeat up some olive oil and throw in the onion and pepper, cooking until soft

2. Warm the pitta bread up in the microwave for 20 seconds

3. Once the rice is cooked, put it in a bowl and add a tablespoon of mayonnaise before mixing well

4. Add your meat topping and then spoon on the onion and pepper

5. Add a handful of lettuce and then fold the pitta in half before tucking in

New Gluten Free Menu at Henry Wong

It is notoriously hard to find a Cantonese restaurant that caters for a gluten free diet. The desire for chefs to coat everything in soy sauce and batter is a common occurrence and it is for this reason that I hadn’t eaten a Chinese meal in a restaurant in about nine or ten years, which is crazy considering how much I love this cuisine. You can imagine my delight when I was invited along to sample the new gluten free menu at Henry Wong in Harborne to find that I could eat a large selection of beautiful dishes.

Henry Wong specialises in both traditional and contemporary Chinese dishes and the diverse menu could satisfy even the fussiest of eaters. Thanks to the freshness of the food on offer, a large amount of the normal menu can be made gluten free and it was fantastic to be able to visit a restaurant where the staff were so knowledgeable about allergens and could prepare vibrant dishes without any fuss.

For starters, we were treated to the popular chicken and shitake mushroom yuk sung with pinenuts, as well as asparagus and soft shell crab with garlic and chilli. The dish that particularly stood out for me here was the crab, it was really succulent, coated in a delicious batter and drizzled in a garlic and chilli sauce which is always a winning combination for me. I can sometimes find that chefs overcook asparagus, but here it was cooked to perfection and complimented the crab dish perfectly.

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Next on the menu was the main course of honey pepper king prawn, sweet and sour chicken, steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onion, pak choy in garlic sauce, sizzling beef fillet in black pepper sauce, accompanied with egg fried rice.

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When I was younger and still eating normal Chinese food, I always opted for sweet and sour chicken and beef in black bean sauce, so I was chuffed to be able to tuck into these amazing dishes once more – the beef dish in particular was really tender and juicy and much more tasty than how I remember it from takeaways years ago. Another pleasant surprise was the sea bass; other than prawns I wouldn’t usually opt for seafood at a Chinese restaurant but combined with the ginger and spring onion – two of my favourite ingredients for oriental food, I was really impressed by the dish and would definitely order again.

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For dessert, a beautifully presented fruit platter came out bursting with a variety of berries and melon, as well as strawberry cheesecake and fudge cake, topping off what was a fantastic night of amazing food – the cocktails and mocktails on offer were amazing too by the way!

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Overall, I can’t praise the gluten free menu enough at Henry Wong. The staff  have obviously put a lot of effort into learning about Coeliac disease and how to cater for special diets, whilst maintaining the same standards of exceptional cooking that goes into the normal dishes.  The great thing was that they are so keyed up on how to prepare gluten free food that you don’t feel different when eating there, you are made to feel like a regular diner. I can say for certain that I will be visiting again in the next few weeks and I can’t wait to be sat around the table with my chopsticks, tucking into another beautiful selection of gluten free dishes. If you’re ever in the Birmingham area, you must take a trip down to Henry Wong, it’ll be a firm favourite with both gluten free and normal eaters.

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Scallop, chorizo and prawn salad with wilted spinach

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Scallops are very much a new addition to my diet due to the fact that year’s ago, they were expensive and actually not that easy to get your hands on if you lived slap bang in the middle of the Midlands. In fact, the first time that I taste tested the squishy little delicacies was on a holiday to Wales a few years ago and I can still remember the trouble we had trying to release, prepare and cook the live shellfish.

Thanks to their wide spread popularity, scallops can now be found at most supermarkets up and down the country, washed and sealed for the convenience of lazy people like myself who are put off by the thought of trying to manhandle a shellfish.

I made this easy peasy dish at my recent Mediterranean night and it was well loved by everyone sat around the table. So without further ado, let’s get cooking.

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Ingredients

  • Prepared pack of scallops
  • Half ring of chorizo
  • Large handful of spinach
  • Parsley
  • Baby or king prawns
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  1. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and tip in the chorizo, turning until golden and crisp. Transfer to a plate, making sure to leave plenty of juice in the pan
  2. Next, toss in the scallops and prawns and fry for 3 minutes on each side on a moderate heat
  3. Place a handful of spinach into the pan and leave to wilt
  4. Prepare a plate with lettuce and tomatoes
  5. Add the chorizo back into the pan and mix well with the shellfish
  6. Throw in some parsley and serve on the bed of salad

How to host a gluten free Mediterranean night

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I love the Mediterranean! I love the countries, I love the climate, I love the people and most of all, I love the food. So it’s only natural that every so often in my family, we throw a Mediterranean night filled with sangria, wine, olives and tapas, i.e. my idea of heaven itself.

This year I was the host and sous chef, in fact I was the only chef on the night. I’d settled the famalam in with a river of wine and lager and had put on some cultured music courtesy of the Gypsy Kings and Latino Lounge – okay, not technically Mediterranean but it added to the atmosphere.

So, with a Spanish rendition of Hotel California and Bamboleo ringing out in the background, I got busy in the kitchen creating eleven dishes of absolute scrumptiousness. Here’s what I served up on the night.

Appetisers

Tortilla chips, cucumber and carrot sticks with tzatziki and houmous

Pimento stuffed olives

Tapas dishes

Chickpeas with feta, chilli and fresh mint

Griddled chicken salad in a chilli and garlic butter with quinoa, rocket, red onion and chives

Tray bake of butternut squash with courgettes, sweet potato and peppers

Baked aubergines in a honey and lime dressing

Pan fried Scallops and king prawns with chorizo, finished off with a sprinkle of coriander and parsley

Focaccia bread served alongside a selection of cooked hams, feta and grilled halloumi cheese

Mains

Lamb tagine with toasted pine nuts

Chicken, chilli and bacon pasta in a creamy sauce

Griddled steak with rocket and a balsamic vinegar dressing

Dessert

Tiramisu

Strawberries, apples, grapes and cranberry cheese with honey

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Okay, so here’s where I go all Miranda on you and admit that my tiramisu was purchased from Sainsbury’s. But, the thing to note is that everything else was fresh, home cooked and most importantly, gluten and wheat free.

Tip: If you don’t believe that a whole host of fussy eaters can enjoy a night of eating gluten free food, then think again. Nobody would have guessed that any of these dishes were lacking in what I like to call ‘evil ingredients.’

Some of the dishes that I whipped up, such as the gorgeous lamb tagine courtesy of my favourite free from chef Pippa Kendrick and my very own creamy chicken and chilli pasta, were tried and tested. However, some were sort of created on the spot after raiding my cupboards and seeing what I had in – after all, it’s not the most cost effective ‘come round for dinner guys’ kind of night. The baked aubergines in a honey and lime dressing was inspired by my trip to Barcelona earlier in the year, and it was a recipe which I had noted down at the time as it was extremely simple to make and bloody delicious. The fruit concoction I served up at the end of the meal was also extremely refreshing and light after so many dishes.

Anywho, over the next few weeks I want to share some of these beautiful recipes with you to demonstrate how gluten free cooking doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, my cousin remarked after eating everything that ‘you would never guess that it was all gluten free,’ and thankfully, everyone went back for seconds. Pheww!

Even though somehow I managed to get all of my dishes out at the exact time that I said I wanted everything ready, the important thing to remember if you are hosting a dinner party is that in the Mediterranean, you don’t need to be in a rush. My Rhodian friends like to use the phrase ‘slowly, slowly,’ which basically means ‘your dinner will be ready when we’ve finished cooking it and not before.’

On that note, Yammas, Cin Cin and Salud! May you always be in possession of a smooth red wine.

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Golden chicken salad with a garlic and chilli butter and quinoa

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This gorgeous salad is a firm favourite in my family after I recently made it for everyone at a Mediterranean night that I hosted. It’s bursting with flavours and takes no time at all to whip up, making it a perfect quick weekday meal or side dish. I’ve made it a couple of times now and have both pan fried the chicken and oven baked it; thankfully both methods of cooking leave the meat really tender and succulent, so it’s completely up to you as to how you want to do it.

The warm garlic and chilli dressing is a beautiful addition to the dish and allows for the ingredients to literally melt in your mouth. Throwing in some quinoa also gives the salad a nice texture and a bit of a crunch to really fill you up. I finished it off with a drizzle of honey, a handful of chives and a generous helping of fresh herbs. This is one of my personal favourites and one which I think everyone will enjoy.

The picture shows the chicken when I oven baked it for 30 minutes, although the recipe below will give you details of pan frying it for a quick alternative.

Ingredients

  • Half mug of quinoa
  • 1-2 chicken fillets
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
  • ½ red onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • Handful rocket
  • Salad leaves
  • Tbsp dairy free butter
  • Oregano or mixed herbs
  • Juice of half lemon
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Pimento stuffed olives
  • Handful fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp honey

 

  1. Cook the quinoa according to pack instructions, adding in a tsp cooking salt
  2. Put some butter in a mug and microwave it for 20 seconds until melted. Mix in the garlic and chilli
  3. Heat a tsp of olive oil in a frying pan and dice the chicken before placing it in the pan. Season well with salt and pepper, pour over half of the butter mixture and cook until golden
  4. In a bowl, mix the salad leaves, rocket, olives, chives and lemon juice. Drizzle over some olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  5. Once the quinoa is cooked, allow it to cool and then throw it on with the salad
  6. Transfer the chicken to the bowl and toss well to ensure that all the ingredients have mixed. Pour over the remaining butter dressing and finish off by scattering a handful of chopped mint and drizzling over the honey

Gluten free at Haesje Claes, Amsterdam

Living with intolerances and allergies is difficult at the best of times and I don’t think ‘normal’ eaters quite appreciate the effort that goes in to planning a trip abroad. The language barrier is concerning, as you never quite know whether the waiter has understood your list of food restrictions, and of course being presented with a menu written in gobbledee gook leaves you scratching your head over what you can possibly order that won’t have you laid up in bed for the rest of the holiday.

After my successful trip to Rome a few weeks ago, I was a little anxious about how I would get on in Amsterdam, as I had heard that the city isn’t the best place for gluten free places to eat. I was staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Vondel Park, Amsterdam’s own version of Central Park in New York and of course, I got googling once again to find places to eat before I arrived in the city.

After being given a selection of choices from a fellow tweeter and googling myself, the top restaurant that popped up on Trip Advisor for gluten free was Haesje Claes. The reviews were fantastic and I learned that they did a special gluten free menu – bingo I’d found the place.

Luckily we’d phoned the restaurant earlier in the day to book a table, as all night long locals and tourists were queuing at the door waiting to be seated. It must be good I thought if people are continuously in and out.

Gluten free in Amsterdam

Specialising in traditional Dutch food, the gluten free menu I was presented with had an extensive choice of appetisers, starters, mains and puddings for me to choose from. I ordered the pumpkin soup to begin, which was served alongside a warm gluten free bap and tasted absolutely delicious and most definitely homemade. My friend who had ordered lobster soup was also presented with pumpkin, and when flagging it up to the waitress was told ‘I’m just as shocked as you are’ – now how can you complain at a reaction like that.

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As it was a typical Dutch restaurant, I wanted to order a local speciality for mains and so I decided on the Carre rack of lamb with cabbage stamppot. The lamb was cooked to perfection and was one of the most tender and beautifully tasting lamb dishes I have ever had. Served alongside a mushroom sauce, cabbage mash and a big bowl full of chips just in case we weren’t quite full enough, I polished off my plate. I have to say, although the stamppot was just your typical national dish with no airs or graces, it was full of flavour, really fresh and I will be cooking it up in my kitchen soon enough – although maybe with a red wine sauce next time for good measure.

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Although I couldn’t touch the puddings due to my milk intolerance, there was a good choice of local puds on offer for those with a sweet tooth, including pancakes, biscuits with Dutch cheeses, apple pie and fruit concoctions.

The staff were very friendly, very knowledgeable about what I could and could not have with the additional dairy intolerance and they even refunded my glass of wine when I decided I had had quite enough throughout the day and barely touched a drop.

Gluten free girl in Rome

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As any ‘free-fromer’ can imagine, after the initial excitement of booking my flight to Rome in the summer finally wore off, my next initial thought was ‘what the hell am I going to eat’ in a country famous for its wheat and dairy infested pizza, pasta and risotto dishes.

Like many others, there has to be a certain level of planning when booking a holiday and accommodation, and I’m sure I’m not alone in being generally thrilled when I discover that an apartment, such as the one I stayed at in Rome, contains a cooker and utensils, as at least I know that I can cook for myself should I not find anywhere suitable to eat.

Prior to my trip, my Mom had a google of gluten free places to eat in Rome near Vatican City where we were staying and came across a substantial number of suitable restaurants, alongside a printable card which explained to waiters in Italian about my dietary needs. Luckily for me, this card didn’t make an appearance once at the dinner table.

Upon arrival in Rome and once we had settled in, our tummies were grumbling and we all went off in search of a supermarket so that we could cook ourselves something up at the apartment. Although we could find no ‘supermarket’ bigger than what we would class as a corner shop, we stumbled across what looked like a little delicatessen selling booze, olive oil, a range of pasta and essentials such as pesto and sauces.

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Me and my cousin who also suffers from many food intolerances, were amazed when we found gluten free spaghetti, Burts crisps, which of course are handmade in Devon and Angelic gluten free ginger nut biscuits, which actually I struggle to find back home in Blighty even though they are British made. Strangely enough, the normal eaters in our group came out with not much to eat that they fancied and this is the first time ever I’ve found something to eat before they have.

On our second night, we all decided to head out to find the gluten free restaurant, La Soffita, situated in Piazza Del Risorgimento, which was about a five minute walk from us and just outside the walls of Vatican City.

The online menu we had found back home looked amazing as it specifically mentioned gluten free cooking on the homepage, but of course, I was still apprehensive about how much they knew and the language barriers. I needn’t have worried – upon telling them I couldn’t have gluten, I was presented with a list of the five Greens gluten free beers they sold, an extensive choice that I have not had made available to me in England – so far so good I thought.

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Then came the menu, which stated that the majority of dishes could be made gluten free for an additional two euros. I have to admit, the one thing I craved the most whilst in Rome was sampling a proper Roman pizza and here my wish came true. Explaining to my waiter that I couldn’t have cheese as I was dairy free, I asked whether they could do me up a pizza with just the tomato base and meat on top. Not quite the same of course but I was just delighted pizza was on offer to me. My cousin also, who can’t have tomatoes, had a list of choices on the menu of pizzas that could be made without the tomato base, and she too was thrilled to be able to eat pizza. What can I say, with a topping of spicy salami, herbs and cherry toms, my pizza was delicious, the base especially just melting in your mouth with its fine texture.

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Then came the pudding trolley, filled with beautifully presented Italian desserts. Being dairy free also, the puds were still out for me, but I did settle on some melon and my waiter obviously found it funny to put four massive pieces on my plate just in case I wasn’t full enough already. My cousin opted for the gluten free tiramisu which looked absolutely amazing and tasted it too as she told me whilst polishing it off – she couldn’t resist taking a bite before I could get in with my camera.

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Believing I’d just entered heaven and had been cured of having any food intolerances, the waiter then brought out some gluten and dairy free biscuits for us to sample, consisting of biscotti, pistachio and a nutty type biscuit. All I have to say is they were delicious and I came out of the restaurant beaming like a Cheshire cat at being able to eat normally again.

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The one thing I found so amazing about La Soffita, was that all around the restaurant, there were signs up saying that if your meal didn’t arrive with a flag in it, then by no means taste it as it’s not gluten free. Such a simple but great idea filled me with confidence that I was definitely getting the right meal, as there have been many times in England where I have had to check if it’s gluten free, send it back because it isn’t, or just been filled with dread at having to trust the clueless waiters. As I looked around the restaurant I noticed many people with these little flags on their meals out with friends and decided that this was the ‘place to go’ for coeliac’s.

Next day, after hours of sightseeing and with very sore feet, we found a typically Roman restaurant just a short walk from the Trevvi Fountain, which by the way was unfortunately under construction when we went there. Of course, being so close to such as famous tourist attraction, the prices rocketed a little, but both me and my Mom ordered the sea bass which came with a selection of vegetables. The waiters filleted it for me and it tasted lovely, so yet again I managed to eat out without too much trouble and with no confusion with the waiters.

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Our trip to Piazza de Navona was again a successful one. Walking round I saw signs up at restaurants stating that they did gluten free pasta and although the prices were high again due to their location, the place was wonderful and great for people watching. We all decided to stop for ice cream and upon settling at a little café, the waiter said that he could sort me out with some lemon sorbet drizzled with Prosecco. I have to admit, although I like sorbet it’s often my ‘I want pudding but I can’t eat anything’ choice, but let’s face it, I’d never tasted ‘proper’ sorbet before made in Italy. Presented in a long glass and mixed to a smooth, light consistency, I think that’s when I realised that the sorbet sold in England is NOT sorbet, but quite frankly, crushed fruity ice.

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Our last day in Rome and I was loathed to leave. After walking up to the top of St Peter’s Basilica and just stopping for a salad on the way back to the square, I was on the hunt for a snack. Unexpectedly I came across a small Spar and thought I was never going to find anything in there. Pleasantly surprised, I stumbled across a good selection of gluten free pasta and spaghetti, crisps, and plenty of the DS gluten free sweet range, including biscotti obviously made especially for the Italian market. Yet again the gluten free choice in Rome astounded me, now where in England would you walk into a tiny shop and find a great selection of gluten free foods?

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Evening came and of course, where were we going to spend our last night but back at La Soffita. On our last visit we’d seen some Roman women tucking into a platter of fried gluten free food as a starter which looked mouth-wateringly delicious, so we had no choice but to taste for ourselves, both ‘normal’ and ‘gluten free’ eaters, just how good this restaurant was at cooking. We were presented with fig and Parma ham flat bread, cheesy mozzarella balls, arancini balls, breaded courgettes, potato croquettes, sweet peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, and a range of beans. It was now confirmed, I had died and gone to heaven.

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For mains again, both me and my cousin opted for the pizza, hers tomato-less and mine cheese-less, and I finished off every single crumb as I knew I would never eat this well again once back home in England.

Now to finish off an amazing trip, we knew that somewhere in Rome there were ice cream parlours which sold soya and milk free ice creams and although we had all hunted around, we just couldn’t seem to find the one recommended on Google. My cousin, who speaks Italian, went round a few and happened to come across one called Lemongrass which was actually just a street away from where we were staying. They offered a few varieties of dairy free ice cream and gluten free cones, which unfortunately due to the fact that it was past half eleven at night, they had just ran out off. Stuffed to the brim from my delicious meal, I managed to polish off a pure cocoa and banana ice cream which tasted absolutely divine. Yet again, I couldn’t believe that I had just eaten something that would be so difficult to find back home.

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Taking into consideration the fact that I was dreading what I was going to eat in Rome, I still can’t believe that I managed to taste gluten free pasta, pizza and even dairy free ice cream on my travels round the city. The one thing that really impressed me and I think British restaurants catering for gluten free should introduce, is the flags on meals. They were such a simple idea but filled me with confidence to know that it hadn’t been mixed up with a normal meal that could make me very ill.

The fact that I could go into a little corner shop and find gluten free products for a snack was a bonus and something which I have never experienced in England as only supermarkets and health shops seem to cater for it. The Italians, whose national diet is obviously packed with wheat ingredients, have a huge call for gluten free and honestly, since coming back to England, I realise that we are actually quite far behind in catering for people with dietary restrictions – a fact that was confirmed to me on my first meal out since coming home when I was presented with a meal drowning in soy sauce.

It was very rare even when stopping off for a quick bite to eat that I came across a café that couldn’t cater for me in some way. One little café in a side street not far from the Colloseum had a selection of vegetables, potatoes fried in olive oil and gluten free biscuits that I could eat even though it was primarily a sandwich shop, and I believe it is things like this that England is missing out on.

Quite frankly when I planned to do a blog on gluten free eating in Rome, I thought I would be writing about how difficult it is to eat in the land of pizza and pasta, but upon my return, I now think I will struggle with the lack of care and consideration put into gluten free catering in England. I think we still have a long way to go before coeliac’s and anyone with food intolerances can eat out safely and enjoy their experience without having that nagging feeling that they may be ill afterwards.