WP_20151123_22_44_42_Pro

Autumn comfort food – mushroom and chestnut risotto

It’s autumn and we’re starting to feel the bite here in Yorkshire. November has well and truly kicked in after a mild September and October, so it’s time for some proper stick-to-your-ribs home comfort food.

I love risotto. I know a lot of coeliacs, vegetarians and vegans say they hate it, because it’s always the default gluten-free or meat-free option in restaurants and they never get to eat anything else, but if a risotto is made well and has good flavour then I love the stuff. OK, it’s kind of a pain to cook because you can’t leave it for a second, but that’s why it’s rewarding. You know you’ve been cooking when you’ve made one.

This risotto is full of autumn flavours of mushrooms and chestnuts and has truffle and garlic for that little bit of indulgence – I’ve kept it plant-based, so it’s suitable for vegetarians and contains no animal products that I’m aware of (I’m hesitant to say vegan, because calling something vegan inevitably gets you into a debate about whether one of your ingredients is vegan or not and I’ve used truffles here, which I’m aware are controversial).

Mushroom and Chestnut Risotto

Ingredients:

WP_20151123_20_22_13_Pro

1 large banana shallot (or two smaller ones)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup roughly chopped shiitake mushrooms (or you could use a wild mushroom mix if you prefer)

2 cups finely chopped chestnut or portabella mushrooms

1 cup chestnuts, roughly chopped

1 cup risotto rice (I used carnaroli)

2 pints vegetable stock

1/3 cup dry sherry

salt and pepper to taste

To stir through at the end:

2 tsp Salsa Truffina mushroom and truffle sauce (or you could use porcini mushroom paste if you can’t find this or don’t like truffle)

2 tbsp vegan cream cheese  (I like Violife or Tofutti cream cheese style spread – Violife is available in most larger Tesco stores)

chopped parsley and garlic flavoured oil to garnish

 

Method:

Heat half the oil in the pan and fry the the chopped shiitake mushrooms and chestnuts for 2 minutes.

Add crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper and finely chopped chestnut mushrooms. Stir fry until soft. Set aside.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped shallots until translucent. Add the rice and ensure the rice is coated in the oil, stirring for around 1-2 mins.

Add the sherry and stir well, ensuring the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s now ready to begin adding the stock, one ladleful at a time. Keep stirring the rice so the starch begins to break down and add more stock once the rice has absorbed the liquid, but before the rice gets to the stage of starting to stick. This will take about 25-30 mins.

Add the mushroom and chestnut mixture and stir through well. Taste the risotto and add seasoning if required.

WP_20151123_22_30_12_Pro

Stir through the Salsa Truffina and vegan cream cheese (tip: get the cream cheese out of the fridge around 15 mins before you need it so it blends into the risotto more easily)

Serve with a drizzle of garlic-flavoured oil (I used Yorkshire Drizzle‘s garlic extra virgin rapeseed oil) and a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley.

Easy, naturally gluten free and packed with flavour!

 

 

 

The gluten-free prescriptions row: so where are my doughnuts?

I’ve been a little busy the last few months with other projects, so haven’t been posting here so much. However, with the recent spate of sensationalist articles courtesy of our dear, well-informed friends over at the Daily Mail, I feel compelled to respond.

First we had the article that claimed that gluten free foods on prescription are costing the NHS £116m a year. The correct figure is actually £28m according to Coeliac UK, who wrote this letter to refute the Mail’s claims and demand a correction (which they did). Turns out the GP quoted in the article was mis-quoted as well.

That wasn’t enough to make the Mail shut up about coeliacs bankrupting the NHS. Far from withdrawing with good grace, they trotted out Dr Max Pemberton (who is not, by the way, an expert on coeliac disease) who wrote  another diatribe today. I don’t know where Pemberton is getting his information from here about all these NHS-funded gluten free cake sprees, but what I want to know is where the hell are my doughnuts? I never saw those on any prescription lists. Is doctors’ pay so bad these days that Pembers is stashing bulk supplies of gluten-free contraband to sell on the black market to coeliacs desperate for a sugar fix?

The usual “food intolerances are bunkum” stuff appears, citing the obligatory anecdote about a “friend” who claims an intolerance to something but then will go right ahead and eat something they like containing the supposed offending ingredient, in this case chocolate biscuits when claiming a lactose intolerance.

OK Max, I kind of agree with you on that one – it annoying. But your chocolate biscuit-munching friend wouldn’t be able to get anything on prescription, so why the hell does your anecdote about her stupidity appear here?

Just to make it crystal bloody clear to Mail readers and anyone else suffering from chronic ignoramusitis, you can’t get prescriptions for gluten free food if you have not been medically diagnosed with coeliac disease. People with gluten intolerances (leaving out the debate about whether intolerances are real, imagined or otherwise) DO NOT GET THEM. I repeat, DO NOT GET THEM. You cannot go to a kinesiologist or have skin/hair/toenail clipping analysis and then demand gluten free food from the NHS.

If you’re coeliac, it’s a postcode lottery as to what you get or whether you get anything at all. Some of it is just so damned awful that those of us with the money to choose won’t bother with it and we’ll go and buy the brands we do like. But given the increased cost and lower availability of gluten free foods, it’s vital to be able to get some staples if you are on a low income or live in a remote area, as Alex Gazzola’s response to the Mail farce points out. And it isn’t our fault that the companies supplying this stuff charge the NHS an arm and a leg. Maybe all the NHS Procurement departments need to join up and negotiate some better deals.

Not to let the Mail off the hook, but there is misinformation coming from Coeliacsville as well. Some coeliacs talk about gluten-free bread and substitute products being “medicine” – well they sure as hell aren’t, but unfortunately giving them on prescription gives this impression. Most of these subsitute products, even if they are fortified, are still full of added sugar and additives to make the shelf life longer. They are often higher in calories than their wheat counterparts. Really, we would be better off getting those nutrients from naturally gluten-free foods and having gluten-free subs as more of an occasional treat. I’m just as partial to the odd gluten-free Genius croissant as anyone, but it sure doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re not something you should be eating every morning for breakfast.

I saw one coeliac Mail commenter claim that coeliacs don’t absorb nutrients properly and that’s why we need the prescription stuff. While that’s true of undiagnosed coeliacs, most will regain this after a period of time on a GF diet, unless you’re one of the unlucky refractory coeliacs. GF substitute products are not magic foods that can overcome malabsorption – if you are not absorbing nutrients, you won’t absorb them no matter which way you take them in and you will need further treatment.

It’s a bugbear of mine that there isn’t sufficient support and nutrition education for coeliacs post-diagnosis, which leads to some of the above misconceptions. It’s a shame that a diagnosis of CD isn’t seen as an opportunity to help people lead healthier lives, educating about proper nutrition, even gluten-free cooking classes, rather than just shoving a prescription for some nasty white “bread” at us and waving us off, thankful that’s another patient off the gastroenterology list.

Welsh sheep

Gluten Dodging in the Brecon Beacons

I’ve just returned from a week away in the Brecon Beacons in Wales – and all I can say is thank goodness for all the exercise we did, because otherwise I think I’d be the size of a small house. The Welsh love their food, and rest assured, even if you have coeliac, they won’t want you to miss out!

As it turned out, the pub opposite our cottage was a fantastic find for gluten dodgers. The Star Inn at Talybont-on-Usk served not only gluten free fish n’ chips, which I sampled and can definitely vouch for, but they will also do gluten free onion rings with your steak, as well as GF chips! I was sorely tempted, I must admit, to ask for a bowl of them on the side, but there is such a thing as too much batter, I am told. I needed to leave room for the gluten free Sticky Toffee Pudding, anyway (oh yes, really). Don’t be put off by what looks like a small portion, I promise you, you’ll be bursting the seams, because it’s rich, sweet, sticky, and everything you’d expect from a proper British pud!

The Star wasn’t the only fantastic foodie find. The Bear Hotel at Crickhowell served up a fine feast after a hard afternoon’s mountain biking around the area. They do a gluten free menu, which has a decent selection of starters and mains, and a cheeseboard that they will do with GF oatcakes. Top marks however for being able to adapt most of the specials dishes for a GF diner too – just to be super-awkward, I decided I fancied the tuna dish on the board, and when I tentatively asked, they happily went and asked the chef, who obliged willingly. The tuna was cooked to absolute perfection, with yummy saute potatoes and fennel and a tomato salsa. Although not GF, Mr Dodger’s slow cooked rib of beef and sweet potato fries looked amazing and went down a storm – he even ate the side salad.

I have one criticism though, it was light on the puddings. Vanilla panna cotta isn’t my favourite dessert, but it’s one that often appears on gluten free menus for obvious reasons, however if like me you’re not a vanilla fan, there wasn’t much else, so we ended up skipping dessert and polishing off the rest of my birthday chocolates.

However, after a week of all these foodie indulgences, I’m feeling the need for a few more vegetables and fruits in my life, so I’m going to be dusting off the juicer. If you’ve got a favourite juice recipe, why not post it and I’ll try it out – winning recipes featured on the next post!

Humpit Leeds – thumbs up for the hummus, but not for charging extra for gluten free

I’ve been wanting to try the Humpit in the Corn Exchange for ages, having heard the rave reviews from work colleagues and on Facebook.

On Thursday, I finally got to give it a go, as I had to be in the city centre for a meeting, so I was able to stop in to get lunch on my way back to work.

I’d checked beforehand via the Humpit’s Facebook page that they could cater for gluten free, and was impressed when told that everything was GF except the pita bread, but they could provide an alternative. However, when I got there, I was informed that I’d have to pay 25p extra for gluten free bread, which turned out to be one of the Warburtons’ Newburn Bakehouse wraps.

I know it’s only 25p, but I’m afraid there’s a principle at stake here.

I think I’d have objected less if I’d known upfront that there was an extra charge, but I didn’t see it on the board, and it wasn’t mentioned when I initially enquired about gluten free via Facebook, so to be told about it at the till when I’d already placed my order and was about to pay was not good customer service.

I don’t want to unfairly single out the Humpit, as I know they are not the only ones who put on a gluten free surcharge, but  I’m sick of paying the “coeliac premium”. I know that gluten free foods are more expensive – I live this every day, but I don’t have a choice! I know there are some people who eat gluten free out of choice, or because they think it will help them lose weight or something, but really, those people are few and far between, and frankly have more money than sense. Who the heck would want to pay three times the price for a loaf of bread if you didn’t have to! Most customers asking for gluten free foods are the real deal, and we don’t earn extra wages to cover the extra cost of our food.

If you’re going to put a surcharge on for gluten free foods, then I want to know about it upfront, and then I have a choice about whether I eat at your establishment or not. To be fair to the Humpit staff, when I challenged the extra charge, they did take it off and offered an apology, but I’d like to see them either being upfront about the prices, or removing the surcharge altogether.

I’m sympathetic to small businesses, as I run one myself (albeit just me sat at a computer) but I don’t charge extra for proofreading or editing services to someone with dyslexia, for example. I know it will take me more time, and therefore eat into my profit margin a bit, but it’s not that person’s fault they have that condition, so I accept that there will be some jobs that are more profitable than others. You don’t get to demand from me that you pay less because you are not dyslexic, either.

Either you cater for coeliacs or you don’t, and if you do cater for us (which I wholeheartedly encourage, by the way!) then you work the extra cost into your whole pricing structure. Or you find ways not to have to use those more expensive gluten free products – the Humpit special, which I had, could easily have been done with some extra salad rather than the gluten free wrap. The Warburtons wraps are something I don’t buy myself unless they are on offer, either, because I do think they are overpriced, so I’m sure a cheaper product could be found. Plain gluten free pittas are available, freeze well, and are around £1 cheaper per pack in the supermarkets.

Pricing problems aside, the food from the Humpit is fantastic – the hummus has a ton of flavour, a real garlicky hit, and was lovely served with the warm chickpeas and spices and drizzle of oil. It’s hard to find vegan and vegetarian food that’s also gluten free, so I’ll give them full marks for also making their falafels gluten free, as that’s a dish that’s often off-limits to coeliacs.

I’d definitely recommend the Humpit for tasty and reasonably priced vegan food that will fill you up til tea time, but I’m disappointed that it didn’t turn out to be as coeliac-friendly as it first seemed.

Gluten Free Bakers Series part 1 – Bakes Just 4 U

Coeliac disease has not in the slightest bit curbed my love of cake – both baking it myself and sampling the culinary delights of others.

Gluten free baking can be a bit hit and miss though. I applaud the efforts of a lot of establishments that are trying to offer something for coeliacs, but there are a lot of well-intentioned mistakes. I was in a bakery the other day where they offered me a yummy looking chocolate and almond torte, but then proceeded to use the same cake slice to get it out as they’d just used to handle a gluten-containing cake. Epic fail.

With a gluten free only bakery though, no such worry. I’ve selected three to sample and to review on the blog over the next couple of months, so wherever you are in the UK, you should never be far from a decent gluten free cake!

I heard about Bakes Just 4 U on the Coeliacs in the UK Facebook group. A member posted a picture of a gluten free French fancy, and I just HAD to have one. I used to have a bit of a weakness for Mr Kipling fondant fancies, back in the days BC (Before Coeliac). Yes, I know they are mostly sugar with a bit of flavouring and colouring for good measure, but they really are good. So I was curious to see what these were like.

I chose the strawberry ones, and here they are in all their glory.

BJ4U Fondant 1

Of course, this neat little pile in the box didn’t last long…..and it wasn’t long before I cut into the mini battenberg slabs as well. Another childhood favourite that coeliac disease has robbed me of, so when I saw battenburg on the list, that was straight in my shopping cart. I also chose these items as I wouldn’t usually bake them myself, due to the fiddly processes involved, which are time consuming, and difficult when you only have a small kitchen.

fondant and battenburg cut

The French fancies were nice for a novelty. I liked that they didn’t quite look perfect, because it gave them a hand-made quality that you would never get with Mr Kipling! The sponge was fantastic – moist, with a good kick of vanilla, but the icing was not particularly pleasant. I don’t know if it was the flavouring in the fondant, but there was an almost alcoholic aftertaste to it. The buttercream filling was nice, but I could have done with a little more of it to balance the sponge and the icing. I am aware from watching Bake Off however just how difficult these little beauties are, so overall, I think these were a good job, considering they are gluten free.

The battenburg, however is a triumph of gluten free culinary art. Fantastic sponge texture and taste, marzipan not too thick, and enough jam filling for it to be satisfyingly moist. This I would definitely buy (and happily eat) again. It would be fantastic for a gluten free afternoon tea. Even my non-coeliac partner agreed this was a fine slab of cake, and that he would not have known that it was gluten free if he hadn’t been told.

Battenburg

The cakes were good value, at £6 for 6 of the mini slabs and £4.50 for a pack of 6 fondant fancies. You do have to pay for postage on top, unless you are lucky enough to live in Nottingham and be able to get them from there, but if you are willing to pay the premium to get some cake landing on your doorstep, it’s a pretty welcome surprise to find it there when you come home from work.

I would definitely order again from this bakery, and there is plenty more to try!

After the fray

I published an article on Monday on the Guardian Comment is Free, on my personal take on the new allergy laws. As a coeliac, it’s something I welcome, as I said in the article. But boy, was there some backlash. One chef even emailed me personally with a link to his blog where he had trashed me and my piece (yep, I know – creepy) and then proceeded to make derogatory comments on Twitter. I do regret that my article didn’t provide enough clarity that my mention of Michel Roux Jr. (as opposed to Albert, who did sign the Telegraph letter) was due to a BBC Food and Drink feature that I’d written about on this blog last year. I saw the Telegraph letter as a continuation of the same dismissive attitude towards those with allergies and illnesses, which is why I made the link.

However, with hindsight, I can see that neither I nor the editors made that clear enough (particularly with the inclusion of a massive photo of Michel Roux Jr!) and I left myself open to accusations of being sloppy or not checking facts. Even when I’d done my “below the line” response and the Guardian had amended the article to mention Albert, rather than Michel, some people just couldn’t let it go. I’m not going to expose the person in question – it’s not my style to trash individuals on a public forum, I’ll leave that to those who don’t have any journalistic ethics. But it has taught me something about resilience, and it has certainly taught me to try and look at what I write with a more dispassionate eye.

Sometimes, as a writer you can get so caught up in things, particularly when you’re passionate about your subject and it affects you personally, that you forget to look at your work with a reader’s eye. As an editor, I’m used to doing this, but it’s harder to do it with your own work.

Now I’ve been on the sharp end, I’m more inclined to be sympathetic with other journalists. We’re human (something I wonder if those people who leave the nastier, more personal comments and tweets actually remember) and we do make mistakes, we don’t always get it right. That’s why having a world below the line is a good thing – it keeps us accountable.

I do engage below the line, because I think it’s part of the deal nowadays, a journalist can’t pretend to know everything and be the last word. I think I’ve got a bit more sympathy with the industry now as well, mainly from reading some of the more reasonable comments and accounts from chefs, servers and restauranteurs and hearing their side.

Yes, I think that some of the celebrity chefs who signed that letter are still being rather precious over it, but I can’t deny that for the ordinary restaurant owner, the new regs might be a bit scary. Nobody wants to get sued, and the vast majority of decent professionals would not want to make someone ill. Although I do think there are still some deniers out there who would happily sneak flour in the food of someone who asks for gluten free, just to prove a point, and that’s why this debate needs to be had. It’s not a bad thing that it’s all coming out in the open – better that than ongoing seething resentment on the part of chefs and diners alike.