Living Gluten Free

Cookery books – review of FreeFrom All’Italiana

cookery books - freefrom all'italiana

It turns out that I am, rather surprisingly (to me at least), rather fond of cookery books. I once knew someone who had several floor-to-ceiling bookcases crammed full of cookery books, so I’ve never really seen myself as anywhere in that league.

But my stack of cookery books is now getting a little out of control, and I really ought to do some weeding. I am reluctant to let any go—even the ones that aren’t spattered and creased from frequent use. And I’m always pleased to meet a new one!

I was sent another one a few weeks ago, written by Anna Del Conte with Michelle Berriedale-Johnson. If you’ve spent any time browsing the cookery book section in a bookstore, whether online or in real life, you’ll have come across Anna Del Conte, often called the best writer on Italian food around. And Michelle, of course, organises the FreeFrom Food Awards and the Free From Eating Out Awards (and I talked about one of her own books a few months ago). So FreeFrom all’Italiana (PRIMI)* comes with a strong heritage.

Free from Italian food—what’s not to like?

It’s a small book—only 30 recipes—but they are well-selected, and it reminded me of some of the wonderful recipes I used to cook and seem to have forgotten about. Why haven’t I cooked pasta with broccoli and anchovies for…well, it must be at least twenty years? It’s delicious, and it’s disappeared completely from my standard repertoire of recipes…

And there are some that I’m looking forward to trying—chickpeas with rocket, chilli and garlic, for instance. Classic and simple: fab. I do like a meal that is easy and quick to produce..

And, talking of speed and simplicity, the recipe uses Sacla’ sauces in several of the dishes. I’m sure you’ll have seen these on the shelves in your supermarket, and I use them often to save time. And now they have the Anna Del Conte stamp of approval; I hope the supermarkets are braced for empty shelves.

* This post contains affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission if you buy the book after clicking the link. It does not change the price you pay.

Free From Food Awards Shortlist: Old Favourites and New Discoveries

girl excited by gluten free food shortlist

I’ve just seen the shortlist for all the categories in the FreeFrom Food Awards for 2017—and very interesting reading it is, too. Do go and have a look

Coincidentally, Coeliac Daughter was home for 24 hours, so we spent a while browsing through the list to see what caught her eye.

Some of the products she recognised as ones that she already enjoyed, such as the BFree Stone Baked Pitta Bread, the BFree Sweet Potato Wraps and the Tesco Free From Garlic Baguette (all from the category of foods that are free from all of the top 14 allergens, and all available in supermarkets across the country).

We were both pleased to see the Borough 22 Raspberry Glazed Doughnuts on the shortlist for the Start Ups and Small Producers; I’ve ordered from them a couple of times for her, and been delighted by the doughnuts. We feel at a bit of a disadvantage when looking at this category; living rurally, as we do, it’s often hard to get hold of some of the fascinating new products to try.

When it came to the shortlist for the Breakfast category, we just had to go and look up Goodness Grains Chocolate Croissant, because Coeliac Daughter got so excited about it. Sadly (for us), they’re based in Ireland, so we won’t be able to try them—but their plain croissant looks amazingly good (no images of the chocolate croissant on their site, which seems a shame).

I’d bought a loaf of the Tesco Free From Ancient Grain Cob for lunch today, since she was going to be at home. We hadn’t tried it before… It slices astonishingly well, and we both enjoyed it, so it’s not surprising that it made the shortlist for Breads.

In the Foods To Go category, we had to go and look up the Tesco Free From Chicken and Bacon Roll, because we have never seen it in our local shops. Similarly, we had to look up the Tesco Free From Chicken and Bacon Pasta. Coeliac Daughter had spotted this advertised in Crossed Grain (which also arrived today), so we were off to the Tesco site again to look for this and for some of the other new products advertised. We were disappointed to find that not everything advertised was listed on the site yet. Let’s hope they come soon to a store near us…

There are a lot more categories on the shortlist; this is just what caught our eye today. Do let me know what you fancy trying from the list!

Personally, I’m looking forward to finding out who has won the Innovation Award (always interesting) and the newest category, the FreeFrom Superhero Award for the person who has done most to develop, expand and popularise freefrom over the last 10 years.

Staying gluten free: making mistakes

making a mistakeOne of the risks of living gluten free is that—over time—you might get complacent. This, of course, means that you are likely to make a mistake.

There are at least five situations where mistakes can happen:

  • not checking the ingredients. You buy the same product that you’ve bought many times before… but this time, it has a “new, improved” recipe. Lo and behold: the new recipe involves the addition of something that contains gluten.
  • not asking the waitstaff or chef. You order something that you’ve eaten many times before at this restaurant; but now the recipe has changed. Or the restaurant is now ordering supplies from a different company. Or the company that supplies the ingredients have changed their production methods. Any of these reasons may mean that the meal you’ve eaten safely before is now no longer safe.
  • getting slapdash about food storage. You’re in a rush, and forget to label something correctly. Or to close up a packet tightly. Or you accidentally store a gluten free product in with our gluten products. Or there’s a spill, and it doesn’t get cleaned up…
  • cutting corners in food preparation. You’re tired, and accidentally use the same utensil for gluten free and for not-gluten-free food, or prepare food in the wrong order, without cleaning between, so that the gluten free food is handled on the same surface as the gluten-full food. Or use a not-gluten-free ingredient by mistake.
  • not paying attention in serving food. The same serving spoon is used for both types of food. Or there’s a spill of the not gluten-free food onto the plate (or cutlery) of the gluten free diner (or, worse, into their food). Or a knife is used to double-dip into the butter.

Yes, it’s happened to us too. You think you have the hang of it all, take your eye off the ball—because, after all, life is complicated, with a lot going on—and mistakes happen.

What do you do?

One important thing we’ve learnt as parents of a coeliac child is not to blame your partner if they’re the ones who’ve made the mistake, putting your child at risk. (At least, not if it’s a one-off! Obviously if they’re not learning from the mistakes, then it is a more serious problem.) But if it was a genuine mistake, try not to cast blame around; it could easily be you making the mistake another time. Just make sure that you’re all learning from the mistake so that it doesn’t happen again.

We do run a mixed house; there are 5 of us, and living entirely gluten free would be expensive. But we take precautions. For instance, we no longer keep standard soy sauce in the house, just tamari. We never have baking powder that contains gluten, just the gluten free version. And we only have gluten free worcestershire sauce. This kind of tiny action reduces at least some of the risk, especially now that the children are older, and we have 5 chefs!

Gluten free food: prescription or voucher?

vote for prescriptionThere’s an interesting article (and poll) in the BMJ this week, discussing whether gluten free food should be available on prescription.

The Yes camp argues that prescriptions improve outcomes for people with coeliac disease—and thereby reduce cost to the NHS in the long run.

The No camp argues for the replacement of prescription food with a national voucher scheme or personalised health budget.

So in practice, both agree that gluten free food for people with coeliac disease should continue to be part-funded by the state, in order to keep costs to the NHS down; they’re just disagreeing with the best way of doing it.

What do you think?

Do go and read the article for more detail but here’s what we know:

  • A gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease, and that lifelong adherence to the diet improves quality of life and reduces the risk of long term complications, which in turn would keep costs to the NHS down in the future.
  • Although gluten free foods are now available in supermarkets, they are often not found (or not reliably found) in local convenience or budget store (potentially disadvantaging poorer people or those with limited mobility).
  • Buying gluten free food in the supermarket is more expensive than the ‘normal’ equivalent—3 or 4 times more expensive.

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has quality standards for coeliac disease that highlights the role of prescriptions to ensure that a gluten free diet is affordable and accessible for all patients.

And yet the policy of restricting (or removing) prescriptions of gluten free food is being implemented all over the country.

The case for NO in the BMJ article talks about the cost and complexity of receiving the prescribed gluten free goods—and discusses the fact that the NHS ends up paying even more for a loaf of gluten free bread than we do in the supermarket.

No doubt this is true… but the fact that a system is expensive and complex doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do. It may just mean that the system needs an overhaul.

And the prices of the gluten free food in the supermarkets are kept lower than they might otherwise be because of the increasingly large people who opt to live gluten free out of choice, but are not diagnosed with coeliac disease.

It is a difficult topic in these straitened times. But I think that we, the British public, should continue to part-fund gluten free food for those diagnosed with coeliac disease. (Coeliac Daughter is no longer in receipt of free prescriptions, so I’m not biased!)

And maybe it is time to look seriously at a new way of managing the process.

When in France…

schär ciabattaAs always, we spent some time in France this summer (Beaune and the Jura, since you ask), and spent some time in supermarkets.

We usually do find some gluten free treasure, and this year we found Schär speculoos biscuits and wraps.

Speculoos biscuits are cinnamon spiced Belgian biscuits, and were very, very good—those of you who can eat gluten may be aware that Ben & Jerry’s make a speculoos biscuit icecream.

And the wrap was outstandingly successful at wrapping… soft and flexible, just as a wrap should be.

But can we find them here in the UK? No.

I called Schär to ask where I could buy them, and they confirmed that they are not available here in the UK. It doesn’t sound as though they have plans to introduce them either.

I don’t know about you, but I feel we have enough gluten free versions of everyday biscuits and chocolate muffins, popular as those are. I’d like to see more exciting and unusual products on the shelf, and Schär have plenty of those. The supermarkets here have really upped their game in the last few months, and I’d like to see more Schär products on our shelves. Bring on speculoos biscuits, puff pastry, high quality wraps and croissants!

There are many other Schär products available in other countries that we can’t get yet: how about fusilli with arrabiata sauce, ricotta and chard ravioli, or ladyfingers (for making tiramisu with)?

Schär are definitely working on bringing more things into the UK; we were sent a range of goodies to try recently, including a wide variety of breads and some frozen foods.

Their frozen range is increasingly interesting. We’ve always enjoyed the Bonta d’Italia pizzas and the white rolls (the ones that look petalled), but they’ve added chicken kievs, cannelloni and caserecce. My expert taster recommends the cannelloni and caserecce ready meals… apparently they don’t look appealing at first, but when you cook them they look much nicer and are fantastic for a quick meal.

Of the breads, our favourites were the paninis and the baguettes. The paninis were good, and were perfect for packed lunches; they are surprisingly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The baguettes, too, were very well received – and the salti crackers were very, very addictive. It is more than possible that I ate the whole packet of those… (oops).

The range of foods available now amazes me when I think back to when we first started out on the gluten free journey 20 years ago. What must it have been like 20 years before that?