Christmas is coming…

christmas-is-comingFeeling Christmassy yet?

I am—at last—it’s the end of term, and I caught myself singing carols in the car. It’s coming soon!

Sainsbury’s kindly sent us some Christmas goodies to taste-test, and I thought I’d share our findings:

  • mince pies

    Coeliac daughter tried the Sainsbury’s gluten free mince pies, and some gluten free mince pies from Udi’s; I tried both these but also—because I am not gluten free—Mr Kipling’s and Tesco Finest.

    And guess what: I preferred the gluten free versions.

    Daughter preferred the Udi’s gluten free mince pies, while I preferred the Sainsbury’s version:

    • I like my mince pies deep-filled; she prefers more pastry
    • I found the Sainsbury’s pastry to be ‘just right’: the Udi’s pastry was too soft for my taste, and the gluten-full pastry too hard. But she likes pastry to be softer.

    It just shows there’s a mince pie for everybody!

  • dairy free chocolate

    I am quite a chocolate fan (dark chocolate, salted chocolate, chocolate with butterscotch, ginger, honeycomb…). I’ve even been known to raid the fridge for milk chocolate when needs must.

    We were pleasantly surprised by the dairy-free chocolate. None of us need to be dairy-free, so we approached it with some caution, having had some deeply unpleasant dairy-free versions in the past. But we didn’t need to worry; Sainsbury’s dairy-free chocolate is—while obviously not true chocolate—a very reasonable facsimile of a milk chocolate. And they’re offering not only dairy-free chocolate bars for Christmas, but traditional chocolate coins – and a chocolate advent calendar.

    No comparison-tasting here: we know what chocolate tastes like!

  • and the gingerbread man

    I’ve missed the gluten free gingerbread man; and he’s back! There used to be gluten free gingerbread men sold with free from chocolate buttons, and with icing pens, and they were great party material… all my children have outgrown cake-decoration as a party activity, but I do recommend it. Just take these gingerbread men, add icing and sweeties to decorate, and wait for the mess.

    These gingerbread men are quite crunchy—like gingernuts—so tiny children might just eat the decorations – but I liked them. And it would be nice to see a gingerbread woman too; there’s more space on a skirt for decorations!

Roll on Christmas – are you ready yet?

Christmas is Coming: Mince pies

I know it’s only the first week of October, but I’ve already eaten enough mince pies to have lucky months until April next year…

We were recently sent a box of the new Genius gluten free mince pies to sample, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Surprised because occasionally some of the gluten free mince pies I’ve tasted in the past have been disappointing – hard pastry, a strong aftertaste, odd smell or unpleasant ‘feel’, or not enough mincemeat to the amount of pastry. The same is true of many ‘normal’ mince pies too, to be fair!

And because I’ve not been able to track down any of the new pastry from Genius yet, I wasn’t expecting much.

But these are very nice indeed. In fact, I accidentally ate two today – I love a mince pie.

The mincemeat is excellent, and generously dolloped into the pastry shells. It is moist, with a good consistency, and clearly contains a variety of sultanas, currants and raisins. And there’s a good taste of Bramley and spice. No mixed peel or chopped nuts, which do detract from a mince pie, in my view! And the mincemeat is vegetarian; another important factor. Not vegan: the pies do contain egg and milk.

If I was going to quibble, I’d say that the pastry was a little pale, but that was not a problem: it is soft and tasty, with no grittiness or aftertaste. (If you’ve eaten a lot of gluten free products, you’ll know exactly what I mean here!) If the new pastry is anything like this, I’m going to redouble my efforts to find somewhere that will sell it to me.

These mince pies are definitely worth trying. They’ll be available in Tesco from October 17th, apparently – I do hope this will include my own local Tesco, because I still need to eat myself happy for April-December 2012…

Gluten Free Christmas Dinner at Sainsburys

Bizarre as it sounds, given that this is still early October, I helped Sainsbury’s cook a Christmas dinner last night.

Well, in theory. In practice I spent too much time chatting to the other guests to do much cooking, so the fact that we had a delicious meal is no credit to me.

Among many others, I chatted to Dena from Beautiful, Active, Nourished, a nutrition and health business based in South Manchester, where she runs clinics and also has a gluten free bakery/patisserie; and Kate, from Postcards from a Gluten Free Life. Kate recommended Bake A Boo in West Hampstead for afternoon tea; if I ever take my coeliac daughter to London (after a must-do trip to Sainsbury’s in Pimlico, which apparently has the biggest gluten free range in the country), that’s where we should go.

I also met Kirsty from Worthenshaws, whose new Freedom desserts won approval in the Dragons Den – they’re now available across the country. Like many others, her son has a nut allergy and dairy intolerance; unlike almost all others, she decided to set up a business to create foods he could eat and enjoy.

I talked search engine optimisation with Darren from PHD, and social media with Hayley from Dare. And it was good to meet the Sainsbury’s team, some of whom I met in February.

I wish I’d had more time to talk to the other gluten free bloggers – such an interesting mix of people. Do go and check out, for instance,and

Apart from all the talking, we produced between us (though the Sainsbury’s Try Team did the bulk of the work) an excellent meal, suitable for many and various allergies and intolerances, as well as lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism. I definitely want the Sainsbury’s recipe for almond nut roast, as it was wonderfully moist – and gluten free. (Though I forgot, again, to collect the recipe for gluten free profiteroles, despite working on that station. I wonder how they turned out? I had to catch the last train north…)

It’s clear from the guest list that Sainsbury’s work closely with other organisations such as Coeliac UK, and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, though they also have an internal team dedicated to the development and production of free from foods.

Sainsbury’s re-emphasized that they want to be seen as the #1 provider of free from foods, and that they welcome feedback from customers. That’s you and me. And do you know what? I believe them.

So if you’d like them to change something in their free from range, or if you think there’s something missing from the range altogether, let them know!

Most interesting snippet from the evening: they’re working on an app for your smartphone, so that you can assess the suitability of food instore by swiping the barcode. How cool is that?

A gluten free Christmas: Day 24


Wishing you a happy – and gluten-free – Christmas!

Here’s a summary of all the posts in this Christmas series:

Day 1: gluten free Advent calendars
Day 2: gluten free Christmas pudding
Day 3: gluten free Christmas cake
Day 4: gluten free Christmas presents
Day 5: gluten free school Christmas dinner
Day 6: gluten free Christmas communion
Day 7: gluten free Christmas shopping
Day 8: gluten free mince pies
Day 9: gluten free social media
Day 10: gluten free at the office Christmas party
Day 11: gluten free Christmas kisses
Day 12: halfway there – are you ready yet?
Day 13: gluten free panettone and stollen
Day 14: gluten free Christmas hampers
Day 15: gluten free chocolate truffles
Day 16: gluten free Buche de Noel, or Yule Log
Day 17: gluten free Christmas turkey trimmings
Day 18: gluten free recipe books
Day 19: gluten free custard, brandy butter and cream
Day 20: gluten free breakfast
Day 21: gluten free gingerbread and salt dough decorations
Day 22: gluten free vegetarian Christmas dinner
Day 23: surprise gluten free visitors
Day 24: Today!

A gluten free Christmas: Day 23

You’ve just been told that you’ve an unexpected visitor; and they have to have a gluten free diet. And the shops are all closed for Christmas What do you do?

balloonsFirst of all, don’t panic. Probably, they’ll come equipped with the basics: at least some bread. And if not, it’s still manageable – and they’ll probably be so glad that you’re able to feed them, that they’ll be grateful for anything you can provide.

Second: look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Assuming it is a main meal that you need to create, I’d start by looking at what carbohydrates you have that are gluten free. Do you have any potatoes, rice, polenta or quinoa? If you do, then, that will be the basis of your meal.

Then, protein. Do you have any: eggs, cheese, plain meat or fish (not breaded or battered), or dried/tinned pulses? That will then be the next element.

And vegetables – could you make a salad? Cook some side vegetables?

Often something really simple and straightforward is the best option. How about roasted vegetables served with rice and a salad? Or a souffle with chips or roasted potatoes? A risotto, a chili or a stew? Read all the labels of everything you put in. Check with your visitor before starting if possible – but don’t embarrass them by discussing the ins and outs in great detail, or by making a big fuss about it. Ask their advice; they’ll know. And if they say that they can’t eat something, please don’t put any pressure on them. “A little bit” will make a difference; “just a taste” will do them harm.

If they’ve come to share your Christmas dinner, and you’re serving a traditional turkey meal, they could eat the turkey and vegetables, probably including the roast potatoes, but not any sausages or stuffing, and not any of your planned Christmas pudding and mince pies either. Have you got any suitable icecream in the freezer, which you could offer with a butterscotch or fruit sauce – or with preserved stem ginger, chopped and served in its syrup? Could you simply cook up some dried fruits in orange juice and sugar in the roasting oven?

Just keep it simple and check everything. Your visitor will know that you’ve put in the effort to keep them safe and healthy over Christmas – and they’ll apppreciate it.