Malta and Gozo with allergies

We’re just back from a wonderful, relaxing and very sunny summer holiday and I thought I’d pass on some thoughts on Malta and Gozo as holiday destination from the point of view of a family with food allergies to cater for. Whenever we go somewhere new I do a search on the supermarket availability for safe foods and allergy-friendliness of a destination, frequently coming up with nothing useful or only snippets of information. So maybe if I write my thoughts , other people may find it helps them in future.

I haven’t been paid in any way for this review, it just to help others who travel with allergies by passing on my thoughts 🙂

Similar to most families with allergies, we went self-catering; even if we could easily go to stay in hotels or all inclusive I’m not sure it would be my chosen option. It is not an issue and I think I just like cooking too much, and the trip to the local supermarket is always an interesting holiday activity for me. On this occasion we splashed out on a private villa with a pool and much needed air-con. This proved to be a highlight and certainly helped us relax and cool off. See below for our beautiful villa and pool in traditional Gozitan style.We used a company called James Villas and I have to say that the whole process from booking to returning home worked like clockwork. If you’re looking for a Mediterranean villa holiday I’d really recommend having a look at their site.

The first notable feature that made this holiday so easy was the language. Although everyone speaks Maltese, the official language is still English and that made getting our message across so much easier. It’s so reassuring when trying to convey such important requests to know that the person you’re talking to is really getting the message. I should add that the Maltese people as a nation are incredibly laid back, friendly and welcoming. I’m not sure I even heard a car horn in anger.

As we were staying on Gozo which is a small island only 14km long by 7km wide, there wasn’t a huge selection of food shops, but we did come across a Lidl, one supermarket in a shopping centre called Arkadia which we used and various little convenience stores. The selection of brands available was excellent; they even had Waitrose own-brand products!

We found the range to include products from the UK, France, Italy and Malta. The free-from brands we came across included Alpro, Pure, Valsoia, Misura and Schar. A really impressive range for a small island you might visit on holiday. So we were very well catered for, for buying dairy-free margarine, dairy-free yogurts, ice cream and milks, free-from biscuits and croissants.

We don’t need gluten-free products ourselves, but that range was even better. Amazingly, even the small convenience stores had a few free-from products available.

We did however have a problem with bread. I didn’t find any sliced loaves that didn’t have ‘may contain sesame’ labels and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take on a small island. I only managed to buy some UK produced pittas that we survived on, along with the supplies I’d brought from home! More concerning was the fact that the peanuts were bizarrely kept within the bakery cupboards – that really wasn’t a welcome sight.

A lot of the ice cream parlours advertised vegan ice cream, but again we weren’t taking any risks whilst on an island with no big hospital, so opted for very cooling, iced ‘slushies’ instead which were available everywhere.

We ate out a couple of times. Lunch whilst visiting the Citadella in Victoria, the Capital, and one in a restaurant near our villa called Il Girna by Peppe. Both occasions were successful. The staff were very accommodating and we felt confident that they took our concerns seriously. Both adapted the menu to suit our needs, and whilst the resulting dishes were fairly plain, they were safe, so we were happy customers. If you’re after gluten-free or vegan food, the provision was excellent with dishes available in all the establishments we checked.

So, all in all, it was a really good destination for a holiday with allergies/food restrictions and I’d definitely recommend considering it as an option. We only visiting Malta once to go to the excellent aquarium, but I believe it offers more of the holiday resort type holiday. Gozo was much quieter, with stunning architecture (and really interesting house names – our favourite was ‘Reality’!). It’s fairly rocky with dramatic cliffs, stony bays and always beautiful crystal clear sea and inlets. Seafood lovers will be very happy, many very simple looking beach cafes and shacks seem to be turning out the freshest seafood. Sandy beaches are few and far between, with the red sanded Ramla Bay being the favourite. It should be noted that we had some fairly hairy drives with roads suddenly ending in front of us, or being so steep that the car couldn’t make it up in 1st gear, something I have never experienced before.

There’s also plenty of culture from pre-historic temples which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by one thousand years, to hilltop Basilicas aplenty. It seemed to me that Visit Malta has invested a lot in their tourist attractions and they were all modern and top-notch. I’d say we did everything in Gozo in one week, but then we like to be busy and you could happily stretch it out with more ‘relax time’, and that would be rather lovely in the wonderful southern Mediterranean climate.

English Muffins

English muffins were always our saviour, a safe breakfast or bun option that was mostly readily available. Sadly over time , the safe brands have all started to add milk to their ingredients and now all of the easily available ones contain milk. Sad days for us, as it is yet another product we can no longer depend on being able to buy. I also find it a bizarre time for companies to start adding milk to the ingredients when there is an increasing interest in dairy-free and vegan is the new big thing!

So it was time to either miss out or start making them myself, and I obviously went for the making them myself option. I just can’t stop baking and cooking! It’s not the same, and ideally it’s nice to have some products we can buy, but needs must.

I have to say they’re pretty easy to make, the results are shop worthy and they freeze beautifully, so maybe we can return to the days to always having English muffins on hand.

English Muffins

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 8-10 muffins

400g plain flour

1 tbsp fast-action dried yeast

1 tsp salt

1 and 1/2 tbsp caster sugar

100ml dairy-free milk

25ml sunflower oil

125-150ml water

polenta for dusting, plus a little more flour

  1. Place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl.
  2. Pour in the oil, milk and 125ml water. Mix to form a dough adding the extra 25ml water if needed.
  3. Knead until smooth, bouncy and silky. About 10 minutes by hand, 5 minutes by machine.
  4. Place into a bowl, cover and leave to rise for at least an hour. You want the mixture to have basically doubled in size.
  5. Knock back. Dust the kitchen surface with flour and polenta and roll out to a thickness of about 2 cm. Cut out circles using a cutter any size from 8 -12 cm.
  6. Rest on a floured/polenta covered board whilst you heat the pan.
  7. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan on low until it has an even heat, this will take a good 5-10 minutes.
  8. Cook the muffins until golden on each side and no longer doughy in the middle which will take up to 10 minutes on each side.
  9. Store in an airtight container or freeze once cool for extra freshness,

Salted Caramel Victoria Sponge Cake

Victoria sponge cake is surely the most appropriate traditional summertime cake. It’s the very essence of tea time, taken under the shade of an apple tree on a warm Summer afternoon, maybe along with some scones and cup of tea in fine china cups!

I’ve found it quite a journey to develop the perfect Victoria sponge recipe, for some reason it has been so much harder than a chocolate cake. Sometimes the texture is a bit too rubbery/bouncy or the flavour not quite right. However finally thanks to some gratefully received input from a reader and his mother in law, the a pretty fine egg and dairy-free Victoria sponge is here. It’s always such a delight to me when I feel I have developed a great ‘friendly’ alternative to a classic staple. I feel like I’m finally hitting my ‘brief’ from the outset of this journey, which is about enabling everyone to enjoy the same things. This cake would make an awesome birthday cake if chocolate isn’t your cup of [English] tea.

This sponge has a wonderful crumb, perfect for a layer cake and the addition of custard powder adds an additional welcome vanilla hit. Custard powder – that’s the tip I was given and wouldn’t have thought of myself.

This would’ve been perfect as a traditional jam filled sponge cake, but since my children aren’t very keen on jam I turned this into a salted caramel sponge cake with a Lotus spread drizzle and salted caramel buttercream. A version I highly recommend 🙂

Salted Caramel Victoria Sponge Cake

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, can be soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes one sandwich cake

370g self-raising flour

2 tbsps Birds custard powder

220g caster sugar

1 1/2 tsps bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

290ml dairy-free milk

2 tbsps dairy-free yogurt

100g dairy-free margarine, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 5. Grease and line 2 20cm sandwich tins
  2. Sift together the flour, custard powder, bicarb and salt
  3. Stir in the sugar
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the dairy-free milk, melted dairy-free margarine, yogurt and vanilla.
  5. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix gently until well combined.
  6. Pour into the cake tins and bake for 30 minutes, until a knife comes out clean
  7. Cool in the cake tins.

Filling, enough to fill one cake:

  • Make the buttercream by whisking together 1tbsp Trex, 1/4 cup dairy-free margarine, 1 cup sifted icing sugar [use Sugar and Crumbs salted caramel icing sugar if possible] and 1 tbsp dairy-free milk.
  • (if you can’t find flavoured icing sugar use normal but add 1 tsp caramel essence instead)
  • Make the caramel drizzle by combining 2 tbsp Lotus caramelised biscoff spread with 1 tbsp dairy-free milk
  • spread the buttercream over one of the sponges, top with the Lotus drizzle. Place the top layer on the cake and dust with a generous layer of icing sugar

Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes

I haven’t posted a cupcake recipe for an age. I don’t know why because I’m often making them, tinkering away with the flavours and designs, and they always go down a treat.

These were inspired by our current new obsession, caramel chocolate. We used to buy those delicious Choices caramel chocolates all the time as a special treat but I haven’t seen them for sale in ages. Have they been discontinued? Sad times if so as they were truly scrumptious.

Luckily the new Nomo brand from Kinnerton has come to our rescue with these utterly moreish caramel chocolate bars. I slightly miss the oozy caramel filling but the taste of these is spot on gorgeous and besides you can’t have everything!

So here we have chocolate caramel cupcakes – enjoy 😊

(I must apologise about the piping though, my last piping bag split so I had to improvise, hence all the varying and unusual looks! They still taste great though 😀 )

Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegan and vegetarian)

makes 12

175g self-raising flour

100g caster sugar

25g cocoa powder

100ml sunflower oil

150ml dairy-free milk

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp caramel essence

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade/Gas Mark 5
  2. Mix together the dairy-free milk, lemon juice, essence and oil. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Stir in the sugar.
  4. Add the bicarb to the wet ingredients and stir.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix to thoroughly combine.
  6. 2/3 rds fill the cupcake cases and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

Caramel Chocolate Buttercream 

(dairy-free, egg-free, soya-free, sesame-free, nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

Enough to spread on 12 cupcakes, double the mix to pipe luscious mounds of buttercream!

1/3 cup dairy-free margarine
2 tbsps vegetable fat such as Trex
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp caramel essence plus a splash of dairy-free milk

  1.  Whisk together the fats.
  2. Add the cocoa and whisk well.
  3. Whisk in the icing sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, adding the essence and a splash or so of milk.
  4. Pipe or spread onto the cupcakes.
  5. top with 1/2 a square of Nomo Caramel Chocolate

 

Rich Chocolate Sorbet

It’s not often that we swelter like this – well that used to be the case, who knows for the future 😦

All anyone is thinking or talking about is the heat! I do love how us Brits are totally obsessed with the weather and talk above it over any other ongoing national crisis.

Even I, with my constant baking and cooking, have had to turn off the oven to cope with the extreme heat. But that won’t stop me experimenting and tinkering with flavours 😉

After a little hiccup from the new divine Nomo chocolate (made by Kinnerton so safely free-from) the other week where they copied and pasted some of my old recipes onto their website without crediting me, I have been gifted a year’s supply of chocolate. [p.s I have not been paid in any way for this recipe, the free chocolate was due to their mistake and I’m making full use of it!] In fact we now have so much chocolate in the house that I’m having to cook with it even more than usual, and usual is really really often! I was so disappointed when I first noticed they had used my recipes without asking or crediting, but delighted that they have turned out to be the brand I hoped they were; there are now full credits on the website and they’ve suggested future collaboration which i’m really excited about 🙂

So with masses of chocolate to happily get through and a heatwave in progress, my thoughts turned to chocolate sorbet. As I’ve mentioned before we’re big sorbet fans in this household and the thought of turning some delicious chocolate into a light, fresh and refreshing pudding seemed just right.

It turns out that chocolate sorbet is totally delicious. It’s lighter than ice cream, full of chocolate flavour and quicker to set than fruity sorbets. I made the mix at lunchtime and it was acceptably frozen by the evening (see the final photo after the recipe), even better by the next day or later in the week. I don’t have an ice cream maker to churn the sorbet so my version is a little grainy, but I actually find that quite pleasant as the grainy bits are like tiny chocolate chips, giving both added flavour and texture.

Chocolate Sorbet

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

serves 6

200g caster sugar

40g cocoa powder

400ml water

70g dairy-free chocolate, finely chopped

  1. mix together the sugar and cocoa powder in a saucepan. Pour in the water gradually to avoid any lumps of cocoa
  2. Dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes to make a chocolate sugar syrup.
  3. place the finely chopped chocolate into a bowl, and slowly pour over the sugar syrup. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Cool.
  4. Pour into a Tupperware box and place in the freezer. Every couple of hours stir through with a fork to get rid of any large ice crystals. Once a sorbet texture is obtained, simply keep in the freezer ready to scoop.
  5. or, cool the chocolate mix, then pour into your ice cream machine and churn as indicated by the manufacturers instructions.

The perfect summer drink: Refreshing Strawberryade

Oh my goodness, it’s a proper heatwave! So a refreshing, cooling summery drink is the order of the day. This is a variation of homemade zingy lemonade with the addition of strawberries. I reckon this’ll be the perfect non-alcoholic drink for any summer garden party, picnic, barbecue or just cooling off in this heat.

Strawberryade (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, soya-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes one jug full

  • 200g strawberries
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 lime
  • 90g sugar
  • 800ml just boiled water
– Juice the lemons and lime. Pour into a large jug and add the sugar.

– Pour over the just boiled water and stir to dissolve the sugar.

– Blend or mash the strawberries.

– Add to the lemon mix once it has cooled sightly.

– Chill completely before drinking.

– Wait for the sun to come out, pour a glass and enjoy!