Category Archives: Gluten Free

Product Review: Karma Cola

Okay, so although I’m not a habitual drinker of sweet drinks, I think all you guys know I like the occasional cola with a veggie burger or pizza. I don’t drink Coke or Pepsi because they are…well…Coke and Pepsi. I don’t need to patronise you by explaining the dangers of the GMO high fructose corn syrup and aspartame that sweetens most sweet tasting drinks on the market, but in case you need reminding why its so dangerous, or if this is news to you entirely, just have a quick read of my article from last summer on Alternative Natural Sodas.

I know a cola addiction is a real problem for a lot of people. Even for some people who know enough to know better. You already know they’re not great for your body and health.  The colas on the market aren’t organic, so they’re not great for the planet. And they’re not fair trade, so they’re not great for the people producing the raw ingredients.  Until now.  The folks over at Karma Cola have made the first fair trade (real) cola in the UK and they were nice enough to send me over a selection of their fair trade, organic sodas to try out.

I want to say at this point, that 99% of the time you should JUST DRINK WATER.  Yes I am reviewing a soft drink today, but that does not change my view that sodas are meant to be a treat.  And I think the people at Karma Cola get that, which is why each of their drinks is quite special – in taste and packaging – and they feel special to drink.

So here’s what I thought of what they sent me:

Karma Cola

My 5 minute review in the video below pretty much sums up my views on this drink. But to recap, this cola has a satisfying mouth feel because its made with real cane sugar and it has the right amount of carbonation. There are distinct spicy and botanical notes that come from the nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, lime and orange oils used in it (and presumably the cola nuts themselves…though I have no idea what a cola nut tastes like). There is also a clear citrusy-ness to it that reminds you of when you order a Coke while holidaying in Europe and it comes with a slice of lemon in it.  But this is nicer because the flavour comes from the Sicilian lemons they use. In short, I like it. I think its the best tasting natural cola on the market.

Lemony Lemonade 

Okay, first off, isn’t the bottle adorable?

9ff086d961350842fb93ca6ef94170ba

Who can resist the charms of a nonchalant lemon?

But lets talk about the taste. I hate to be London-centric, but if you are a Londoner, maybe you’re familiar with a chain of restaurants here called Franco Manca. They just do sourdough pizzas. That’s it. Pizzas, organic wine, fantastic coffees and a homemade sparkling lemonade they bottle themselves. I order it every time I go there. And that is what Lemony Lemonade tastes like to me. Its those big old lumpy Sicilian lemons that do it. They have a heady, floral quality to them. But there was something else there…a slight but pleasant bitterness. What was it…what was it….ah…yes, a hint of Fresca. Lemony Lemonade has a trick up its sleeve…grapefruit! So, Karma Cola had another win with me.  But could they get top marks for 3 out of 3 flavours?

Gingerella

This is where Karma Cola could lose me. I’m kind of funny about ginger beers, ginger ales, etc.  I just don’t like the aftertaste.  Up until now, its been the bottle I’ve left in the fridge and I’ve not tasted it.  So here it goes, as I write this.  (I take a sip.)  Okay, my first thought is that I think it would be better over ice with some pineapple juice, Brugal and a small paper umbrella stuck in the glass…served poolside. But…as far as ginger drinks go its pretty good.  If you like fiery Jamaican ginger beers, its a bit like one of those, but not as cloyingly sweet.  It does have lemon in it, but if I were designing the perfect ginger ale or ginger beer to suit my own tastes, it would have more lemon in it.  As it is, its like a lightly carbonated honey and ginger tea.  Definitely natural tasting and less carbonated than the other two flavours I tried.

So, this was fun.  Thanks to Karma Cola for the drinks.  And thanks to you for reading what I’ve had to say about them.  And if you’re after any of these fair trade organic sodas, I believe they’re available at Waitrose in the UK.

 

 

Pescatarian Paleo

Okay, like soooooo many others, I’ve jumped on the Paleo bandwagon this January.

But here in the UK the Paleo diet is not quite so much a ‘thing’ yet. In fact, if I had a nickel for every blank look I’ve received when I’ve said I’m doing Paleo, well, I’d have a few nickels at least. (But hey, I live in the UK, so what good are nickels to me?)

So, what IS the Paleo diet? Well, its based on the premise that our guts haven’t really evolved much in the last 15,000 years so we’re really better off eating what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, including fish, grass-fed pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables & fruit, fungi, roots and nuts. Things you can’t eat are grains, legumes, dairy, (white) potatoes, refined salts and sugars and processed oils. (Processed oils? Yeah, I know, all oils are processed. I use common sense here: pasture-fed butter, organic raw coconut oil and olive oil are the only cooking fats I keep in the house. If I ate red meat, lard would be on that list as well.) This way of eating isn’t just about weight loss. Done properly, its helped a lot of people with autoimmune issues (Crohn’s, Coeliac, etc) and leaky gut, as well as people with inflammation issues caused by food intolerances they may not even have been aware of before.

The thing is, I’m pescatarian. I don’t eat red meat or poultry, but I do eat fish, so I can’t strictly be called a vegetarian or an omnivore. So I contacted Dr Loren Cordain, an expert on the Paleo diet about whether I could adapt this diet as a pescatarian. I received a fairly prompt, blunt and unhelpful response setting out that in no uncertain terms would they advocate not eating meat. It threw me a little bit, but only for about 2 minutes until I thought about it logically. Whats not to love about this way of eating and why did I need commercial validation to do it anyway? My diet is now filled with brightly coloured vegetables and greenery, fresh organic fish, organic free-range eggs and healthy fats & nuts – lots of unprocessed foods. All I have eliminated from my diet is a vast amount of sugar – by this I mean sugar in the form of bread, pasta and grains, not just refined sugar. So, I say boooo to Dr Cordain and I’m just enjoying doing Paleo the way that works for me.

So, have I lost any weight with the diet? Well, its only been 3 weeks and as I don’t have a functional set of scales, I honestly couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that my stomach is much flatter, I feel overall much more toned and my energy levels are much higher than they were.

Have I cheated? Well, yes. I have. Several times. And I’m okay with that. There have been a couple of mornings when I have really missed my oatmeal, cooked with coconut cream and sweetened with apple and raisins – so I made it. I didn’t feel the worse for having it. I’ve also continued to have a bit of organic milk in my tea and the odd bit of sheep or goat milk cheese. For me its not a competition about being ‘right’ – its a process of finding out what works best for my lifestyle and what makes me feel the healthiest. I lived a low-fat lifestyle for years, but now my diet is full of plenty of healthy fats – yes, including some saturated fats – and as a result, I’m staying full throughout the day and my usual mid-afternoon hypoglycaemic episodes appear to have disappeared.

What do I eat? You know, its much MUCH easier than I thought it would be. For lunch I might pack a tupperware box filled with organic baby spinach, a small baked sweet potato with a tad of feta crumbled on top, a grated carrot salad with raisins, a small bag of nuts as a snack and a couple of pieces of fruit. Or a half an avocado on a bed of quinoa with some greens on the side or cooked kale with a lemon wedge to squeeze over it all. Because I work in an office, I tend to save eating fishy things for dinner at home or restaurants – at the moment I’m really into Alaskan wild salmon, though also am trying to eat more local sustainable fish and also sardines. I’ve also found a fantastic recipe for cauliflower pizza that I have adapted by putting sheep feta in the crust and grating some St Helen’s hard goat cheese (a version of cheddar) on top.

Because I have a sweet tooth, I also sometimes make an um…healthy(ish) sundae for dessert. To do this, I whiz up 1.5 frozen bananas in the food processor with a tablespoon of maple syrup. If it needs more liquid to get creamy, add a tablespoon of coconut water or coconut milk. That makes the ice ‘cream’, which is like the texture of soft serve. To make the chocolate sauce, you’ll need to open a can of full fat coconut milk which has been in the fridge for at least 24 hours (I always keep a few in the fridge now – the coconut cream rises to the top of the can and hardens and delicious coconut water remains at the bottom of the can, so you can use both) and scoop a heaped tablespoon of the coconut cream into a small saucepan. On a low-med heat, melt the coconut cream and whisk in a couple of teaspoons of a dark cacao powder along with enough maple syrup or coconut sugar to sweeten. It will make a thick, fudgey hot chocolate sauce to pour over your ice ‘cream’. Delicious!

There are some wonderful bloggers out there who inspire me with a regular dose of Paleo friendly recipes for meals, packed lunches, cakes, cookies & muffins. Here are my favourites! (And please don’t knock the Mommy Bloggers – these women channel their energies into creating delicious food for their amazing websites and have a better grasp on social media than most FTSE500 companies!)

Against All Grain

Primal Palate

Coconut Mama

Elana’s Pantry

Nom Nom Paleo

The Paleo Mama

The Paleo Mom

Paleo Newbie

In general, I guess while there is a lot I’m enjoying about this way of eating, I’m a little cautious about cutting significant food groups from the diet and probably lean a bit more toward the Weston A Price dietary guidelines than strict Paleo, but we’ll see how it goes. By my next post I may have eased off the Paleo thing a bit. Its not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not convinced that its necessary to eliminate properly prepared grains from the diet but rest assured there are some tasty recipes in the wings and more adventures of dining in London to come.

Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

You know, I can take or leave most sweeties. Cakes & cookies. Pies & palmiers. Trifles & tortes. Biscuits & brownies. I like them, but could easily live without them. I do have a sweet tooth but it its usually reserved for my one special love: ice cream.

Which has always been a real shame for me, because most ice creams and frozen yogurts on the market are pumped full of either refined sugar (a toxin) or worse, aspartame (a neurotoxin). I also find that frozen dairy (UPDATE 2018: I’m vegan now) never sits that well in my tummy and as I’ve been experimenting with raw vegan recipes lately, I’ve noticed a trend amongst the food blogging community for throwing frozen fruit into the blender and serving it as soft serve ice cream. I’ve totally followed the crowd on this one. But why not? Its so much tastier and healthier…and MUCH easier to make than the process of churning homemade ice cream I remember from my childhood, which involved pre-freezing the metal canister, making a custard, then waiting AGES for the ice cream to finish churning around.

This recipe is vegan, free of refined sugars and naturally fat free. It is also “raw” if you use the cacao powder option and leave out the maple syrup, but I’m not too bothered about that.

I’ll admit…its not a great photo, but quite frankly, I was far less interested in food styling my dessert than I was in eating it!

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 over-ripe medium organic bananas
  • 1.5 to 3 Tbs dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably organic) or cacao powder…whichever is fine
  • 2 Tbs organic maple syrup

Step One

Peel 3 medium sized over-ripe bananas and freeze them overnight.

Step Two

Once the bananas are frozen hard, take them out of the freezer and give them a rough chop, toss them into your high speed blender or food processor* along with the maple syrup and cocoa powder. If you want a milk chocolate appearance – like old fashioned soft serve – use 1.5 Tbs of cocoa powder. If you want a rich uber-dark chocolate appearance like an Italian gelato, use 3 Tbs of cocoa powder.

Step Three

Whiz everything around in a high speed blender* for about 2-3 minutes. It will be loud and crashy-bashy sounding, but at the end, you’ll end up with smooth, rich ice cream which you can either eat right away or put into a tupperware and freeze for a hard ice cream later on.

If you want to make it look like a soft serve ice cream for children, just pop it in a piping bag with a wide star tip piping nozzle and immediately pipe into the cone or dish.

Its so easy. Its so sweet. And its so healthy. Just give it a go…

blending the ice cream



 

 

 

 

 

*This post contains affiliate links to Nutri Ninja, the brand of blender and food processor I’ve been using for a few years now, so if you shop using my link you won’t pay anymore, you’ll get free next day delivery and you’ll be helping to support my blog.

Pastitsio

Dear readers… I wrote this post nearly two weeks ago, but my laptop died somewhere along the way.  I hope you enjoy the memories of the London snow & the recipe for pastitsio (regular, vegetarian & gluten-free versions)….

peckham rye common

London has been blanketed in a rare covering of snow these last few days and from what I can see, its only us owners of large dogs who dare to don our arctic gear and bravely head out into the 2 inches of snow. It gives me a chance to show off my new down coat from UniQlo – a Christmas present from my mother.  Despite the fact that I am constantly cold in the general London state of damp, I feel oddly warm when out in the snow; so after this morning’s excursion through Peckham Rye Park, Gwenny (the dog) and I elected to spend some time in the front garden brushing clear the walkway of snow, just enjoying the quiet as the snow continued to fall.

Cold weather requires some serious carbs and in anticipation of today’s serious snowfall, I spent yesterday morning dragging Mr Harris through Waitrose to get the ingredients for a pastitsio – something I had never made before.  Having spent the last 25 years as a pescatarian, I also had no idea how it was meant to taste either.   I normally turn to Vefa’s Kitchen whenever I decide to try a new Greek recipe, but on this occasion I decided to try Rick Stein’s version.

Here’s Rick making his recipe:

First of all, let me say that to anyone who describes this pastitsio as a ‘Greek lasagne’ – you are doing pastitsio a severe injustice.  Its actually nothing like a Greek lasagne, except that both involve ragu and pasta in a sort of layering system.  Ok, so I can see why you would describe it as a Greek lasagne, but I can’t tell you how much infinitely better pastitsio is.  Sorry to any Italian readers, but its true.

I went to great pains to make two versions – mine was made with gluten-free corn penne and Quorn mince.  Mr Harris’ version was made with tortiglioni and mince from some of Prince Charles’ horribly expensive aberdeen angus cows.  I knew that all the extra work & additional expense in making two versions was totally worth it when my husband tried a mouthful of each and announced “yeah…actually, you can’t really tell the difference”.  I suspect the reason for that is because of the incredibly pungent and yet extremely counterintuitive combination of Greek flavours:   oregano, cinnamon & tomato.  It gives that…what’s the Greek for ‘je ne sais quois’?  (According to my Babylon translator that’s Δεν ξέρω τι.)  Ok, so it gives that Δεν ξέρω τι to a lot of Greek dishes.  It feels wrong, but as soon as the oregano liberates its fragrant oil and the cinnamon sticks start to soften and unfurl and release their flavours slowly into the sauce, the smell is distinct and the flavour does not disappoint.  It tastes exactly as its meant to and all the oregano in the world alone cannot achieve it without the accompanying cinnamon.

A few pointers along the way.  I will say that when making the white sauce, this is not the time for skimmed milk.  I used a combination of whole milk and  2% milk.  It needs to be rich, creamy, calorific and very nutmeggy.  Also, tomato paste.  It comes in metal tubes and they last for ages when kept in the fridge.  Why buy a jar which will be half used and covered in a field of fuzzy mould next week?  Unless you actually cook with it everyday, just stock up on tubes of proper Italian or Greek tomato paste and keep them in the fridge after they’ve been opened.  I have included my notes on how to make vegetarian & gluten free adaptations of the recipe at the bottom.

Pastitsio

pastitsio

Ingredients

For the meat sauce

4 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 kg lean minced beef

200 ml red wine

500 ml passata

4 tbsp tomato paste

2 x 10 cm cinnamon sticks

¼ tsp ground cloves

2 tbsp dried oregano, Greek if possible

2 tbsp fresh chopped oregano

3 fresh bay leaves

For the pasta

500 g tubularpasta, such as rigatoni, tubetti or tortiglioni

2 eggs, lightly beaten

50 g Greek kefalotiri cheese or parmesan, finely grated

2 tbsp butter, melted, for greasing

10 g fresh white breadcrumbs

For the white sauce

115 g butter

115 g plain flour

1.2 litres whole milk, plus a little extra

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Method

1. For the meat sauce: heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan. Add the onion & garlic and fry until just beginning to brown. Add the minced beef and fry over a high heat for 3-4 minutes, breaking up any lumps with the wooden spoon.   (If you’re making the vegetarian version, don’t add the Quorn here – just cook the sauce down on its own and add the Quorn at the very end)
2. Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, ground cloves, dried and fresh oregano, bay leaves, 100ml water, 1½ teaspoons salt and some black pepper. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring now and then, until the sauce has thickened but is still nicely moist. Discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.
3. For the pasta: bring 4.5 litres water to the boil in a large saucepan with 8 teaspoons salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, taking care not to overcook as the pasta will cook a little further in the oven. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl and leave to cool slightly.
4. For the white sauce: melt the butter in a medium-sized non-stick saucepan. Add the flour and cook, stirring, over a medium heat for 1 minute. Gradually beat in the milk, then bring to the boil, stirring. Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper to taste.
5. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Stir 250ml (about one-fifth) of the white sauce into the warm pasta with the beaten eggs and half the grated cheese. Keep the remaining sauce warm over a low heat, stirring now and then and adding more milk if it begins to get a little thick.
6. Use the melted butter to grease a large, shallow ovenproof dish that measures about 23cm x 33cm x 7cm. Spread one-third of the pasta over the base of the dish and cover with half the meat sauce. Add another third of the pasta, then the rest of the meat sauce, then a final layer of pasta.
7. Spoon over the remaining white sauce. Mix the last of the grated cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Bake for 40 minutes, or until bubbling hot and golden brown.  This recipe makes 10-12 portions.

Vegetarian version:  If you’re making a vegetarian version, exchange the meat for two boxes of Quorn mince, but don’t let it stew in the tomato sauce as you would with the meat.  Just add it to the tomato sauce at the very end, just before you start the layering process.  Be sure to use a vegetarian parmesan if you’re not using the Greek cheese.

Gluten-free version:  I made my version gluten-free by using gluten-free flour in the white sauce, gluten free Dove’s Farm corn penne and gluten free breadcrumbs.  I keep an inexpensive stockpile of gluten-free breadcrumbs by whizzing leftover slices of Sainsbury’s disgusting Free From gluten free white bread in the food processor, letting it dry out on a baking tray, and storing it in a large tupperware container, for future use.

pastitsio 2

Red Velvet Cake

Hummingbird Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake

Hummingbird Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake

In the last week I have made the jump from being 32 to 33.  I’m not certain, but I think that may have taken me from being in my early thirties to my mid thirties.  If I am still exempt from mid thirties, my boyfriend, who today turns 34, certainly isn’t.  But we don’t mind.  Its a week full of birthdays and that means one thing – a visit to the Hummingbird Bakery and an opportunity to eat Red Velvet Cake.  Twice.

Each year on my birthday we go to The Dorchester for a champagne afternoon tea.  Its a delightful tradition.  We always seem to have the same wonderful waiter (Edward, I think, is his name) who at some point brings me out a rich chocolate cake with birthday candles while the pianist plays Happy Birthday to me.  The Lapsang Souchong and cucumber sandwiches are all wonderful, as is the glass of Laurent Perrier at the start of the tea, but the terrible truth of the matter is that I might be just as happy if they plopped down an 8-inch Red Velvet Cake in front of me and handed me a bib & a spork.  I know – I’m a cretin!

Despite my tendencies of spending every spare moment in my kitchen, trying every idea that pops into my head, I have never baked a red velvet cake.  One reason is that I have a distinct fear that if I did, I would very possibly eat the whole cake in one sitting.  The second reason, is that, why bother when Hummingbird Bakery does such a smash up job of making them?  There are many bakeries in London trying to be all American and cupcakey, but none of them do a particularly good red velvet cupcake other than Hummingbird.  And they don’t stop at cupcakes – they make the real deal – the whole cake.  When I turned 30 I ordered one of their 10″ red velvet cakes to take to the birthday dinner party my friend was throwing for me at her home in Highgate.  I’m not certain what my English friends thought of this American atrocity, seemingly composed of sugar, fat and e-numbers, but when I ended up having 2/3 of the cake to take home with me at the end of the evening, I wasn’t disappointed at all in their lack of interest, and I spent the next 2 days eating nothing but slices of cake with cups of coffee.  I’m sure that weekend will have to answer for any future osteoporosis I might develop.

Those who avoid eating wheat & gluten (but also have a deep pocket book I might add) will be pleased to know that Hummingbird do their red velvet cake and cupcakes, as well as their vanilla and chocolate cakes, in a gluten free version.  Expensive at £46 for an 8″ cake, but worth it, so you too can develop a taste for this cult status cake.

*Image obtained from http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/475341/Red-velvet-cupcakes