Thursday, 25 August 2011

Plum and Apple Crumble

Plums are in season here, and the windfall apples are ripe enough to cook with.  A quick and easy desert with the two fruits and a crisp topping.

These quantities make a moderate desert for four or enough for two very hungry people


100g flour (40% urid, 40% tapioca, 20%cornmeal)
50g butter
25g ground almonds (optional)
30g brown sugar

Rub butter into flour
Stir in almonds and sugar.  Add water a little at a time until the mixture begins to clump.

Place prepared fruit into a suitable dish.  Add sugar to taste.  Stir in a little cornflour if you have juicy fruit and you want a thicker syrup than the one I have in the photo.

Arrange the topping on the fruit and bake in a medium oven (about 170C fan) for 35 minutes.  If the topping gets brown before the time is up lower the heat and keep cooking to ensure that the crumble is cooked.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Is bad food a good thing? Keeping safe with the rise of gf options.

Yesterday I ate at ASK Pizza, trying one of their gf pastas.  We were the only people in the restaurant - we went in purely for research as we were passing, and four o'clock in the afternoon is clearly a quiet time.

I recognised the pasta when it came.  I had ordered a sauce that was normally served with a long pasta - spahgetti or linguini, I forget which.  I got a stiff twirly short pasta.  It held it's shape through the meal, but had that distincive stodgyiness I expect from all but a few gf pastas.

Later the same day I noticed Adriana Robinovich, who ran a gf baking class I went to a few years ago, posting that her daughter had been given the wrong pasta - she didn't say where.  Her post was a short guide to how to respond and what sort of emergency supplies you should always carry with you.

I had intended to write to ASK pizza to suggest they used a delicious tagliatelli and other shapes made by La Veneziana.  It just struck me - would I be happy eating a pasta that was delicious and tender in a bustling restaurant?  That would surely increase the chances of being fed the wrong pasta without knowing until it was too late. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

ASK pizza - gluten-free pasta available

I noticed on a Facebook page a conversation about ASK Pizza offering gluten free pasta.  There was an interesting second post saying that they asked for gf food and were only allowed to have the pasta- not a salad or other naturally gf option.

Nonetheless, passing an ASK restaurant this afternoon I went in to try their pasta.  I have a few days where being ill wouldn't be very inconvenient, so had a four o'clock, no one else in the place, meal.

TT had an excellent pizza.  I had pasta with a tomato sauce with what I think was parsley rather than basil, can that be right? and some halved mini tomatoes and mozzarella.  They had said the pasta was made with rice, and was organic.  I spoke to the chef to say that even minor contact with hands that had touched dough would cause me problems, and she said she would wash her hands after preparing the pizza.  With no one else in the place this was an easy conversation to have, and the likelihood of cross contamination must have been lower than at peak times.

The pasta was that twirly variety - I forget the name.  I don't buy it myself much as I find the texture a bit hard and obtrusive.  The tomato sauce was OK, but I felt a bit as if I was eating mass-produced kids food.  The extras, which might have added some textural interest, were only enough to lift about a quarter of the pasta at the most.  I took a lactase pill with the pasta to help cope with the mozzarella.

I am impressed that they have taken the trouble to stock and offer gf pasta.  It is just a shame that they couldn't have sources something which lift the meal from 'at least I can eat something' to ' how lovely to have a great meal'.  I shall write to them and suggest they try the tagliatelle by La Veniziane, which is excellent and would go well with the sauces they have - it would also be very likely to be better than the pasta people serve themselves at home as it isn't readily available in ordinary shops. It is available from Lavida Food.

Two hours after eating - no ill effects.  Of course I won't be sure until tomorrow, but it looks as if, in these conditions ASK pizza is a safe place to eat.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Gluten-free menu or annotated menu

I started thinking about this after eating at Brasserie Blanc.  They say they have a gluten free menu when really what they have is a very helpful annotated menu so that you can tell what has gluten in it.  They say this is the first step, and it is a very useful first step. However, it doesn't feel as if anyone looked at the menu that was left and said, now how would I make an enticing meal from this....if just felt like being left out all over again.

We need to encourage annotated menus as a first step.  I ask, and if I am lucky I get a scribbled on menu back from the chef, sometimes it is hard to figure out what the squiggles mean - gf/ could be gf if left something out / can't be gf.  Having this available as a standard prepared menu is helpful and suggests the restaurant has thought about the issue ahead of time.

A true gluten free menu would be one where anyone could eat a meal and then think, My! that was all gluten free! (apart, of course, from those of us who won't eat a morsel without being sure).

Supermarket strategies - only losers

I routinely find that my local supermarket shelves high gluten bread flour next to the gluten free flour in the free-from section.

This is a foolish strategy.  Those of us who need to avoid any traces of gluten are not going to buy a paper bag of flour that has been sitting next to another paper bag of flour full of gluten - these flour bags always seem to be slightly leaky.  It also seems very unlikely that someone setting out to make a traditional loaf of wheat bread would think to look in this section for their hard wheat flour.

Whenever I spot things like this I speak to the staff.  They always say they cannot do anything about it as the shelving details are set by Head Office.  I have now written to this supermarket about this - it will be interesting to see how they reply.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Brasserie Blanc - gluten free aspirations

I posted a blog about my first visit to a Brasserie Blanc.  I also wrote to the company to let them know that  I was a little disappointed in their menu and had been slightly ill after eating there.  I got an excellent reply from them so thought I would post it in full. If anyone has suggestions of good products they could include in the menu that would enhance it and be practical for a busy kitchen I suggest you let them know.

Dear Ms Parker

Many thanks for your email, I hope you are now fully recovered and before I attempt to answer your questions may I first apologise, I am always disappointed to hear that we have fallen short. The gluten free menu in its present state is in its first outing, we used to simply have a selected number of complete dishes on the menu for coeliacs. It was a number of our guests who suggested the idea that we should list the whole menu with what would have to be removed to be gluten free. I have to admit I thought this was an excellent idea and implemented it straight away. The one item that has always needed a replacement is bread, we have tried various solutions; to cook to order takes far too long, the pre-baked breads we have tried lead to an enormous amount of wastage and I await a sample of biscuit that a regular guest of ours is bringing in, all the ones I have found leave a lot to be desired.
I have to admit that I read you blog and circulated it to all the Brasseries as I was surprised at quite how sensitive some people can be, I also discussed this with Clive the executive chef and Raymond to see if we could find a solution. Sadly it is very hard for us in such small environments to guarantee zero cross contamination, even by following the guide lines on we found on the Coeliacs web site. If you could give us advance warning, this would help immensely and we could not only discuss a menu but ensure it is prepared with utmost care. I know that this is not ideal, but it would be a lot safer.
Again please accept my apologies
John Lederer
Managing Director
Brasserie Blanc

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Brasserie Blanc- gluten free menu- no cake, no biscuit, no bread, no croutons, no chips - and a touch of gluten

Had lunch at the Brasserie Blanc in Oxford.  I've been wanting to try one of these restaurants for a while, but there isn't one close by.  I had heard they had a gluten free menu, and I was also very impressed with the way Raymond Blanc talked about the need to keep people with food intolerances safe. I had seen him on a TV programme where he was giving people an opportunity to run a restaurant, and he was very angry when the contestants were dismissive of people specifying no gluten.

We arrived about three minutes after the place opened so were first in.  I asked about gluten free food and the waiter immediately handed me the gf menu.  It also listed the dairy free options, so if you needed to be gluten and dairy free you just needed to pick something that showed on both lists.

I had an excellent array of salads as a starter, while TT enjoyed an delicious glass of wine.  He then had a steak to see if they could do one as good as  those he had in France or the USA.  He doesn't normally bother with steak in this country.  I had some beef strogonoff - I have never had it before and thought it would be  good way of finding out what it was supposed to taste like.  It was available as a half portion, so I thought it would be ok to order even though I wasn't hungry.

The staff were attentive and friendly.  I said they needed to be extra careful with my food and not even touch my plate if they had touched bread.  It was a little surprising, therefore, that when TT's vegetables arrived the waiter warned me that the cauliflower had bread crumbs on so, depending on how sensitive I was...she just thought I should know.  So full marks for warning me, minus a mark for forgetting what I had already said.

TT thought his steak was as good as the best he has had in the UK but not as good as the US or France. He thought the carrots were too firm - which meant they were perfect for me apart from the butter.  My strogonoff was uninspiring, but if that is how it is supposed to be that is just a matter of my taste.  I think there were finely sliced cornichons which added a good bit of crunch, and I could taste paprika- it had a mild but long and complex flavour.  I thought the salt overpowered the rest of the flavours, but I don't cook with salt so it would be hard for a normal restaurant to avoid that as an opinion.

TT thought his bread was very good.  After we had finished the waiter wiped away the breadcrumbs from his side of the table, and then came and wiped away the (non-existent) crumbs from my side of the table using the same cloth.  Immediately my whole area of table cloth was contaminated.  As the fabric cloth was covered by a paper table cloth I just folded it over and explained what had just happened - I just wasn't expecting this behaviour and hadn't the wit to stop it - I had presumed she was just going to fiddle with my cutlery or some other sign of attentiveness.

I didn't ask what kind of vinegars were used in the salad dressings.  In any place without a gf menu, and one where it specified the chips weren't gluten free- this shows they know about cross contamination in the oil, I would have checked.  I don't know what caused trouble, but I soon got a bit of stomach ache so I took a glutenzyme just to help.

After leaving the restaurant we went to the Ashmolean Museum, where I learnt rather more than I wanted to about the toilets while TT had a coffee.  I took paracetamol to help with the gut ache, and did manage to enjoy the rest of my day, but had a very large belly and shiny patches under my eyes by the evening.  I didn't get enough gluten to give me the four day fever and brain fog, so I don't think that there were any gluten bearing ingredients in any of the dishes, but this was more than the mild discomfort I get when I only have a cup of tea in a friend's house while they eat cake.

I was disappointed in this.  Somehow I had got some contamination.

The other thing which disappointed me is that they make things available for people with gluten intolerances by stating which things you cannot eat.  All over the menu it said, no bread, no biscuit, no croutons, no chips....A good phase one approach, but I was surprised they they didn't have a single treat food that was safe.

For example, you could have icecream, but without the can't be very difficult to have some individually wrapped gf biscuits, which have a long shelf life, available for people if they want them.  My own shortbread biscuits, which I supply to the local art centre, have a best before period of four months, and are perfectly reasonable for a long time after.  It wouldn't take much to feel that one wasn't just having to avoid things, but were catered for with some aplomb.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Apple Crumble

The Bramley Apple tree is beginning to drop apples that are just ripe enough to use in cooking -they are only half the size the fully mature ones will be but it seems a shame to waste them.  I peeled, cored and sliced them, cooked them until soft with some pear juice, cinnamon, mixed spice and brown sugar.  I put a crumble topping on them and baked until golden - a bit of an autumn desert on a hot day when the pool is at 26C!

Crumble Ingredients
100g flour
50g butter
50g sugar
30ml water (adjust to suit your flour/weather)

Rub the butter into the flour by hand or whizz in a food processor
Stir in sugar.
If the mixture forms small clumps when you press it lightly you may not need to add water.  Otherwise add a little water and mix so that the dough tends to clump.  I find this gives a crunchier topping than if you sprinkle a dusty mixture on top of the fruit.

You can mix in spice or flaked almonds to vary this mixture.  If you make too much just keep in a bag in the freezer and use when you need it, or make cookies.  This amount gave a topping in a  dish 7cm by 22cm - four modest portions or two for hungry people.