The Bran Tub, Petersfield

Health Shops, worth taking a detour for:

The Bran Tub, Petersfield, Hampshire, UK

This lovely, cavernous health food shop has been a regular pilgrimage for us – a true well stocked treasure trove which is always buzzing with customers. I’ve found some real hard to find gems here, from soya condensed milk to real dairy-free choc ices. Definitely well worth a visit!

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Tabasco sauces and marinades review

I’ve started being sent products to review which is a welcome little bonus to writing a blog! I haven’t been paid to write this article and only received the free products I mention. All the opinions are my own, based on tasting the products.

Most products offered just aren’t suitable – I’m talking to you Mr PR person who asked me to feature a poster of how to best cook eggs! I don’t think he’d even looked at my blog, in fact I know he hadn’t. I just happened to appear on some list of foodie bloggers. How lazy. And this happens a lot. It’s very much one-way product featuring from the companies’ marketing departments on the whole, and while I may accept their product, I often don’t write about it.

Anyway, I was delighted with this offering – 4 spicy marinades/sauces from the Tabasco brand – or should I say D was especially happy as he loves spicy sauces and is always looking to grow the collection. All four are free from any ingredients that would cause us difficulty and we took great delight in having a taste testing session.

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Starting at the mild end of the scale:

Sweet chipotle and cola – this was a sauce to appeal to the whole family. Predominantly sweet with smokey undertones, I would say this is reminiscent of barbecue sauce. Pretty similar really. The heat factor isย mild and I would happily use it as a sauce as well as a marinade – in fact a dollop on beans on toast was a rather nice addition.

Next up: chipotle and smokey bourbon – again this is a mild sauce but definitely one for the grown ups. The bourbon flavour is quite pronounced and the smokeyness is a little more intense. I see this one as working more as a marinade forย a barbecue.

Moving onto the medium spicy peppery Deep South creole – the heat has been cranked up a notch, but it’s a pleasant and fresh chilli flavour that shines through. Fresh, fruity and spicy is how we rated this one and it worked equally well as a sauce or a marinade. It was too hot for my children though!

Finally at the hot end I’d the scale was fruity and fiery habenero – wow this was hot! Or should I say hot, hot, hot! Far too hot for me I’m afraid. I found it fruity but with the bitter twang you can get from very spicy foods. I can see it appealing to real heat fans, but still probably best as a marinade. But maybe Tabasco should have one that’s up there in the heat scale, as that is their roots. It’s going to last a while.

Are they worth buying? Well, I’d say yes, they have really tried to evolve the spicy flavours and I can see a lot of uses. I’m not sure I’d buy all 4 but it would be well worth having one in the fridge to enliven a plain dish.Perhaps one of the two more mild ones would be enough and one of the hotter ones.

 

 

Paris and Disneyland with allergies

Well we’re back from a lovely but very busy weekend in Paris. It was a bit of a mission for just 4 days – basically 2 days travelling (driving and ferry), 1 day in Disneyland Paris and 1 day in Paris. We had a lovely time, with no allergy-related incidents, but it did highlight some of the difficulties of travelling with food allergies.

On the ferry there was no option for food for the girls other than crisps or apples. The info on board kindly mentioned that they were happy to give the ingredients for all dishes sold on board, but they couldn’t guarantee than any dish didn’t include other ingredients than those listed. Covering their backs basically. Since a cross-channel ferry isn’t really the best place to take risks – this means all food is out of bounds, even usually safe basics like baked beans and toast.

I had obviously packed plenty of food for the trip and the rest of the weekend, including a cinnamon swirl cake, homemade cookies, dairy-free spread, soya-cheese, dairy-free chocolate spread… If you are catering for allergies and travelling you just have to be prepared. For the rest of the journey, again any stops in service stations etc can only really provide crisps (all packs need to be thoroughly checked as lots contain milk) and sweets. Healthy huh!!

We didn’t get time to visit a large supermarket this time, but they do, on the whole, have a great range of soya products – milks, a fantastic range of yogurts and even soya-steaks. However, you must be cautious of some other products – pasta and hummus often contain egg, there is no chance of dairy/egg free biscuits and even tomato ketchup brands often contain milk. However, fresh baguettes are fine – no egg, milk, nuts or sesame – yippee! There are certainly worse things to live off for a few days, than fine French baguettes ๐Ÿ™‚

We were self-catering (almost a necessity for us) and managed to get by with taking lots of food, unexciting meals and small grocery stores and bakeries. I’m not sure how we’d manage in a hotel with no cooking facilities!

We again ate a picnic at Disneyland Paris, but having done prior research I was mightily impressed by the allergen-free food available. As I say, we didn’t eat any so I can’t comment on price or quality – but the information suggests there are 3 starters, 4 main courses and 3 puddings which are guaranteed free of the top 25 allergens. Most impressive – well done Disney!

On our day in Paris we ate yet another picnic which was certainly the sensible and cheaper option. We could have eaten out, but for the (non-veggie) girls this would have been ham/steak served with chips and no veg (you never seem to get vegetables served in France, despite seeing the most beautiful ones in markets). Food was fine for big S as she loves chips, but little S won’t eat them and also isn’t very keen on big quantities of meat – so she would have basically only eaten some of the baguette which is served with any meal. Not exactly value for money!

There are wonderful and extremely tempting snacks for sale in France (crepes, patisserie, viennoiserie, gorgeous ice cream, waffles, pizzas, sandwiches), but none are dairy and egg-free. Again our only options are crisps, chips, sweets if we are on the go – absolutely nothing healthy or even vaguely nutritious.

So what am I saying? Well, certainly not ‘don’t go’ – travel is such an enriching thing and especially so for those who may feel fearful of new things. Besides, Paris is so stunning and cool – how could you not want to go? I guess my biggest bit of advice is to be prepared, research in advance, make sure you can get your point across (we’re lucky because D is half French and most French people would be surprised that English is his most natural language, so no situation is a problem) and take lots of suitable and nutritious snacks to keep you going. Most of all, enjoy!

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Pizza Express (actually a reasonable option for the dairy and egg-free)

It may seem strange that I’m writing a review of a very well-known pizza chain – doesn’t pizza rely on cheese? However, we’ve eaten at a LOT of Pizza Express branches as a family and the girls have always been able to eat a safe and tasty meal, one that is almost completely on the kids menu (very unusual for us, we normally end up having to eat ‘off menu’ and always lose out financially for it).

At Pizza Express the waiting staff have always seemed friendly and well trained. They have unfailingly listened to our requirements and made no fuss…. And we’ve never had any food mistakes in any of the branches we’ve visited.

On the bambino menu the girls can start with dough balls and side salad (dairy, egg and nut free). This is followed by a pizza (minus the cheese)…. A cheese-less pizza might sound a bit substandard, but since the bases are unfailingly delicious and the tomato sauce good too, it is still a surprisingly satisfying main course. It’s all rather dough-based, but hey, it is a pizza restaurant!

But most exciting of all, there’s a new addition on the menu, a dairy, egg and nut-free raspberry sorbet. My girls hardly ever get to eat a pudding in a restaurant so this new development is hugely exciting, and the sorbet tastes gorgeous too! Although must admit we only actually ate it on third attempt as it had sold out the first two times we went, but that’s another story.

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Welcome Home Chocolate Biscuit Cake

She’s home! Big S came home from her activity camp today and the family is again as it should be. We are so so so pleased she’s back where she belongs. She had a great time, did so much it’s hardly believable, but she’s very happy to be back home. To welcome her home (along with the family party!) I made a dairy-free chocolate fridge cake, certain to please a hungry and tired little girl!

Chocolate Biscuit Fridge Cakeย (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, peanut-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes about 12 large slices

  • 200g dairy-free digestives, Waitrose own brand is good (or other plain biscuits)
  • 150g dairy-free spread, I used Pure
  • 3 tbsps golden syrup
  • 170g dairy-free dark chocolate, I used Kinnerton
  • 50g raisins
  • optional: 50g any other dried fruit you may like

– Place the biscuits in a bag and crush with a rolling pin, being sure to keep some big-ish lumps

– In a microwave/over a bain marie, melt together the chocolate, dairy-free spread and syrup.

– Stir the biscuit crumbs and raisins into the chocolate mixture until well combined.

– Pour into a lined loaf tin and level off the top.

– Place in the fridge to set (at least a couple of hours)

– Dust the top with icing sugar and cut into thick slices.

Nice one Tesco!

I really didn’t think I’d start my blog with a review. It is, after all the cooking that I like the most. But…. there I was in Tesco’s this morning after dropping off the children at school (along with a bunch of other mums!) and I came across a whole new area of chilled free fromย foods. Maybe it isn’t a new section but I’d never noticed it before and could have literally jumped for joy. There are various flavours of soya puddings and a variety of different dairy-free milks. I nearly went crazy with excitement and bought the whole range, but held back to just two varieties. Smooth mango soya yoghurt (there is an aversion to ‘bits’ in this household from the younger members) and creme caramel. They haven’t been tried yet as the kids are still at school, but I promise to report back….