Living Gluten Free

Astonished by Tesco Finest

tesco-finest-gluten-free
Two days ago, I was in Tesco, doing a spot of reshelving. Well: moving the NOT gluten free Warburton wraps away from the gluten free section, leaving the new seeded gluten free wraps in place (have you tried these yet? Our coeliac likes the white ones and is now enjoying the seeded ones too).

I’m sure I’m not the only one who mutters about people leaving inappropriate foods on the gluten free shelves. Shoppers probably see empty shelves, and decide to jettison things they’ve changed their minds about there. I hope it’s not deliberate! I know that some people see deliberate rearrangement of supermarket goods as an art form, but I think it is highly risky – it’s too easy for consumers to be confused – as you’ll see.

Anyway, I was in Tesco again yesterday—oh the exciting life I lead—and was just about to set off on another reshelving adventure when I looked more closely at the packaging. Have you spotted the new feature?

  • Tesco Finest Stem Ginger and Belgian Dark Chocolate Cookies
  • Tesco Finest Belgian White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
  • Tesco Finest Quadruple Nut Cookies

And they are all both wheat free and gluten free!

I’ve not seen these on the shelves before. It’s about time that gluten free foods were included in the Finest range. Yay for Tesco!

I guess my only quibble is the potential for confusion, since the packaging is so similar to the ‘normal’ kind. But we all read the labels carefully anyway, don’t we?

Now I can’t wait for coeliac daughter to come home from her own, rather more exciting, adventures, so we can taste them.

Gluten Free Cake Mixes: Hill Cottage Bakery

gluten-wheat-free-mixes

Did you know that the National Trust has over 3.7 million members?

Some of those are lucky enough to be able to visit Tyntesfield, and after exploring the property, stop at the cafe and eat wheat- and gluten-free cake made by Hill Cottage Bakery.

Tyntesfield is too far for us (we’re more Little Moreton Hall way) but Amanda Armstrong, who bakes the Hill Cottage cakes, kindly sent us some of her new venture, cake mixes, for us to try.

Her cakes have been on offer for some years at Tyntesfield, and have been extremely popular. If they are anything like the mixes, I can understand why.

We’ve made up both, and they are just fabulous, with a genuinely home-made quality taste. The ingredients list includes only those things that might be in your own cupboard (assuming you bake with xantham gum)—certainly in mine—and the mixes are extremely easy to make up. Just add eggs and oil (and carrot, for the carrot cake) and bake. Amanda has even included a piece of greaseproof paper in each mix pack!

Amanda sent us two samples:

  • White chocolate brownie mix.

    We all love brownies here, and this one came up gorgeously fudgy, just how we like it. My husband gallantly said ‘but your homemade ones are a bit better, obviously’ – but I really don’t think he meant it. The brownies didn’t last long enough to be served with ice-cream, but I can see that this would work well.

  • Carrot cake mix.

    This is both dairy and gluten free. I think carrot cake is my favourite of all cakes, and this mix came up light, soft and moist, tasting really fresh and carroty. Most carrot cake has a cream cheese topping, but this doesn’t need it at all. Just lovely.

Amanda has four different mixes, all of which are gluten and wheat free, and three of them are also dairy free. All contain 100% natural ingredients, which are also organic where possible, and no artificial preservatives, colourings or flavourings.

She says:

“The recipe for the carrot cake took a short time to produce as it is a variation of my existing carrot cake at Tyntesfield which I know is very popular and therefore I did not want to alter too much. However the brownie mixes were much harder to produce as a mix and have taken many months. I had to find a way of creating a rich, fudgy brownie but without butter. And I wanted to use the very best dark chocolate from Belgium in the mix rather than just cocoa as is used by cheaper brownie mix brands. Using real chocolate that has been finely grated into the mix brings a richness and depth to the end result that using cocoa alone could never reproduce.”

I’d say she was successful. They are not cheap, but since the ingredients are all natural, and the results so good, I’d be happy to buy the mixes. You can buy them online at: www.hillcottagebakery.co.uk.

Do I recommend these? Yes I do!

I’d also suggest to the National Trust that they make the mixes available across the country, so that all their visitors can buy them from the National Trust shops. Or that their staff make up the mixes to sell in the cafes…

A Tale of 3 Universities

student
It’s that time: trawling around universities so that coeliac daughter can choose which she’d like to apply to. This is important: she needs to know which feel right, and they all offer slightly different courses. But naturally, the gluten free thing matters too.

Here is a quick summary of her experiences at 3 of the universities she’s visited over the last year (I’m not going to name them!).

  1. Just in time—not

    She stayed at University 1, and we’d gone through the usual rigmarole of advance notification and being assured that it would be fine, and then introducing herself to the staff, so that they knew she was the coeliac that evening.

    On being presented with a bowl of soup, she asked if it was GF, and was assured it was. However—after she’d started eating it—another member of staff came rushing over and replaced it with a bowlful of a different soup, saying ‘Are you the special needs? Phew, just in time’.

    Of course, it wasn’t, and coeliac daughter was unwell. (Special needs?)

  2. Peas and chips

    She stayed at University 2, and again, we’d done the advance notification thing, and were told she should introduce herself to chef. So much, so typical. But when she asked to be introduced to chef, he came out to meet her, and when she explained, chef said ‘oh, is that all?’ and went back into the kitchen.

    She ate peas and chips that night, because that is all that was safe to eat.

  3. Coeliacs on staff

    And she ate at University 3 (no overnight at this university – though she’s going back, this time to stay, so we’ll see…). They also had a separate tour for parents, so I asked the question. Everything was labelled; and when I asked about catering for gluten free diets, the woman leading the tour said “we have coeliacs among the staff and the student body, so we’re experienced at dealing with these things”.

She liked all three universities for the courses they’re offering, and for the ‘feel’ of the place, and will probably apply to all of them.

But which of the three do you think I feel most comfortable about? We’ll be investigating self-catered accommodation, wherever she decides to apply.

Cakes and Ale: gluten free

You may remember I was invited to help judge the Free From Foods Awards again this year…The winners were announced at the awards ceremony last week, and I went down to London for the evening.

Entries were up by 40% since last year, and it’s not surprising.

Apparently there is a 15% growth year on year of the free from market, and it is expected to be worth 6bn dollars by 2017. That’s a lot of us eating—and drinking—gluten free…

gluten-free-beer

The two key points I took away from the evening this year were:

  1. The array of free from beers that are now available

    I’m not a big beer drinker, but I was surprised by the range now available. If you’re interested in gluten free beer, then you should definitely check out the beers people were enjoying on the night:

  2. The number of new entrants to the market

    There are always newcomers to the free from market, particularly in the cakes/biscuits area, but it is sometimes difficult for such companies to find their place, and grow from supplying farmers’ markets locally to supplying nationally.

    However, this year, almost every manufacturer I spoke to during the evening had been in business for a very short time. Months only, in some cases. And the very fact that they were there meant that we’d shortlisted them – and some of them were winners in their categories. An astonishing success in these early days.

    Congratulations to everyone shortlisted, big or small company, winners or not—and lots of luck to the newcomers in those first crucial years of business. It isn’t easy…

  3. gluten-free-winners

     

    Free From Pick

    Here’s my pick from this year’s event: either products I taste-tested and particularly enjoyed, or ones that sound really interesting. Sadly, I didn’t get to taste very much on the evening of the awards—I had to leave to catch the last train north.

    Obviously it’s an entirely subjective list!

    • Dell’Ugo Chickpea Fusilli. I’ll also be trying the Cornito Sea Waves pasta (and the Rizopia Fantasia sounds like fun for children)
    • Bessant & Drury Dairy Free Frozen Dessert. The lemon flavour was the overall winner, so that’s got to be worth a try.
    • The Indian Coeliac Paratha. I really liked this when we tried it on the judging day.
    • Hotch Potch Eggs Savoury Scotch Eggs We used to be able to get gluten free scotch eggs at our local farmers’ market… but not any more. These sound like a great replacement
    • Glamourpuds Hot Chocolate Fudge Pudding Pot and Christine’s Puddings Frangipane Tart. I know several people in my house who’d enjoy these!
    • Freedom Deli Panini. I tried the tuna melt panini at the awards evening (the only thing I did have time to try!) and thought it worked really well.
    • Afia’s Spicy Beef Samosa. This sounds interesting. Son recently made samosas at school, but obviously not gluten-free versions, so it would be nice for coeliac daughter to be able to try a samosa.
    • Dee’s Quinoa Pots with Thai Spiced Vegetables and little lentils. Again, we haven’t tried this, but it sounds good.
    • Tesco Free From Three Cheese Pasta Bake. I know my coeliac enjoys this one, though sadly our local Tesco has stopped stocking all their gluten free chilled readymeals.
    • Pig & Co Lucanian Roman Sausage. I don’t do meat myself, but everyone else in my house does, so I’m sure these would go down a treat.
    • Conscious Foods Finger Millet Dippers and The FreeFrom Bakehouse Jalapeño Pepper & Sweetcorn Muffins. These just sound intriguing!
    • Waitrose LOVE Life GF Millionaire Blondies. I was on the cake panel, and enjoyed these enough to have seconds. When you’ve eaten way too many cakes in an afternoon, something has to be good to merit a second go! I also liked: Cakes Divine Carrot Cupcakes (I love a carrot cake)

    More details of the shortlist and winners are available on the awards website. I hope you find something that you really enjoy from these lists!

Gluten Free Challenge for Heinz

heinz-gf-spaghettiWe love Heinz here.

16 years ago, when we were first navigating the gluten free diet, it was a huge relief to find that Heinz clearly labelled their products as gluten free (if they were).

This meant that I could say to people feeding my daughter: give her a jacket potato and Heinz baked beans. A reasonable meal, and more importantly, a gluten free meal that could be rustled up by anyone, even those people without experience of the gluten free diet.

And I regularly recommended this as an easy ‘first-night’ meal for those children diagnosed as gluten free, when their parents were worried about where to start.

These days, of course, there are many, many more options, and more manufacturers carry the magic words on their labelling. But the amount of brand loyalty that those two words generated has stuck, and we still love Heinz.

So we were delighted to find out that Heinz are now manufacturing gluten free pasta, and pasta sauces.

To be honest, I’m less excited about the pasta sauces—though I can see they are a natural brand extension—because most tomato-based pasta sauces that I’ve come across are naturally gluten free. (Do watch out for flour used for thickening, and any added items such as sausages, of course).

But the pasta is intriguing.

In ‘the olden days’ I used to create a home-made version of Heinz tinned spaghetti, to go to nursery with our coeliac, so that she was eating something that at least looked a bit like the food the other children were eating. Obviously getting the taste and texture exactly the same would have been tricky!

So when Heinz offered to send us some samples, naturally I leapt at the chance. We received a pack of spaghetti and two cartons of tomato and herb sauce – and were pleased by our taste-test results. We eat a lot of pasta meals…

Our coeliac commented that the spaghetti strands are slightly thicker in diameter than she’s used to—not that that’s a problem, as pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. And she enjoyed the sauces. I’d say it was a success.

In a sense, it’s a surprise that Heinz have waited so long to join the gluten free market, but since Bi-Aglut is one of their brands, I guess it was only a matter of time until they made the move.

And the pasta (spaghetti, penne and macaroni) are available in supermarkets now – at least, in Tesco, Morrisons and Asda. I’ve even seen it in our little local Tesco, and the packaging makes it look attractive. Plus, of course, it has that name behind it. It should do well.

So here’s the challenge, Heinz: tinned gluten free spaghetti! My daughter has outgrown it now, but I’m sure there’ll be parents of small children who’d just love to see it on the shelves…