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.

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.

Brunch Bars – the cereal bars of your dreams

Cereal bars seem to be big news. I don’t buy them (it’s rare to find a nut and dairy-free cereal bar) and don’t often venture down the ‘bar’ aisle of the supermarket. I happened to wander down it the other day and was utterly overwhelmed by the amount and variety of bars on offer. They really must be a ‘thing’ for lots of people.

I certainly get the point – a mid-morning snack with a healthy vibe (whether that is true or not is another matter!) must be a good idea. It stuck me that maybe we needed a friendly cereal bar in our lives, one to act as breakfast on the hoof or as an interesting addition to these daily triple packed lunches I seem to be making.

This recipe took a while to evolve, but the wait was worth it, these bars are seriously good. I’ve been eating them all week, and I’m not a cereal bar eater! They combine granola (homemade in this case) for flavour and texture with rice crispies for crunch. This is enrobed in a delicious mix of sugar, syrup and biscoff spread. Nut or seed butter would work wonderfully and give a ‘nutty’ undertone if you can tolerate it. Don’t worry if you don’t have safe granola just sub for oats (ideally toasted) and a handful of dried/freeze-dried fruit of choice. There must be some shop bought dairy-free and nut-free granola available, but I’ve not come across it. Do let me know of any recommendations.

I definitely recommend the chocolate drizzle – not only does it look nice but it also gives a touch of luxury. Besides, chocolate is always a good addition!

Brunch Cereal Bars

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

makes 6 large bars

100g granola

25g rice krispies

60g caster sugar

90g golden or maple syrup, or use honey

50g Biscoff spread (or nut/seed/wow butter of choice)

20g dark dairy-free chocolate

  1. Melt together the sugar, syrup and biscoff spread until you have a thick smooth mixture
  2. Stir in the granola and rice krispies and stir until everything is coated in the rich caramel sauce
  3. Press into a baking tin lined with parchment. I used a 2lb loaf tin which is perfect for the amount quoted about. If you want to make more, double the quantities and use a standard square baking tin.
  4. Place in the fridge or a cool place to set.
  5. Melt the chocolate and drizzle over, leave to set.
  6. Cut into 6 bars.

Confetti Traybake

Easy, tasty and pretty what more could you want from a cake recipe? I needed to make a quick after-school snack and thought something pretty was what was needed with the May sunshine shining through the windows, and surely no-one can resist a colourful sprinkle strewn traybake when they return home from a long and busy day at school.

I think the combination of vanilla sponge, baked with sprinkles stirred in for a colourful ‘funfetti’ effect, vanilla buttercream and a topping of more sprinkles is as pretty as a picture. The added bonus is that this recipe can be whipped up in about 40 minutes, which includes cooking and cooling time, you can’t get much quicker than that for a wow-worthy cake.

Confetti Traybake

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

200g self-raising flour

100g caster sugar

pinch of salt

100ml sunflower oil

150ml dairy-free milk

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp sprinkles

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 5
  2. Line a square baking tray with parchment
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Stir in the sugar.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the dairy-free milk, lemon, vanilla and oil.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix, until well combined. Stir through the sprinkles.
  6. Pour the mix into the lined tin, level off and bake for 20-22 minutes, until lightly golden and a knife comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

for the buttercream:

3 tbsp dairy-free margarine
1 tbsp vegetable fat
around 2 cups icing sugar
a splash of dairy-free milk

  1. Whisk together the fats
  2. Whisk in the icing sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, adding a splash of dairy-free milk. You may not need all the sugar, just keep checking the taste and texture
  3. Spread the buttercream over the cooled traybake and scatter liberally with sprinkles

St Clement’s Marmalade (orange and lemon flavour)

Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement’s.You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s. When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey.When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch. When will that be? Say the bells of Stepney. I do not know,Says the great bell of Bow. Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

Oranges and lemons have such a fresh, vibrant flavour that they’re prefer for injecting some colourful sunshine into these dark January days.

What’s your opinion on marmalade? It definitely divides people, that is unless you are Paddington and then you think everyone must love it!

I’ve never been a fan, finding it too bitter and grown up, but as it’s January and everyone makes marmalade in January, I thought I’d give it a go. It turns out, that after much taste testing, I do actually quite like it. What’s that theory with children and new tastes? It’s something like 17 tries before a new taste is accepted. Well, maybe my experience with marmalade is this theory in action, or maybe I just make awesome marmalade! 😉

This version used half normal oranges and half lemons (hence the St Clement’s theme and nursery rhyme at the top of the post), so I used jam sugar for added pectin. If you use the more traditional Seville oranges then no pectin is needed.

I loosely based my recipe on Nigel Slater’s one as he strikes me as someone who would be great at preserving and the results are pretty delicious. Go on, give it a try, you might like it too (and it’ll probably come in handy in some recipes coming up soon 🙂 ). It’s also pretty easy to make and if you don’t like it everyone loves a jar of something homemade as a present.

St. Clement’s Marmalade

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

makes 4 small jars

4 oranges

4 lemons

up to 2 litres water

750g jam sugar

  1. Wash the fruit, then pare off the peel, Trim off any excess white pith and finely chop. This takes a while!
  2. Squeeze the fruit. Pour the juice into a saucepan and top up to make 2 litres of liquid. Add the chopped peel. Wrap the discarded pith and flesh into a muslin (or a clean j-cloth), tie tightly and submerge into the liquid.
  3. Cover and set aside for at least a day in a cool place. I left mine for 2 days.
  4. Bring to a rolling boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40-60 minutes until the peel is soft and translucent.
  5. Remove the cloth filled with the fruit, add the sugar and once again bring to a boil. Simmer for 40-60 minutes until the marmalade has darkened and thickened. If any scum comes to the top, skim off. It’s useful to keep a sauce in the freezer for the skin test. Drop a dollop of the marmalade onto the cold saucer, if it quickly forms a skin the marmalade is ready.
  6. Pour into sterilised jars and immediately put on the lids.

 

Biscoff Caramel Crispy Bites

Wow, this summer has been such a proper heatwave it’s be a struggle to do much baking. You’ll have noticed a distinct lack of new recipes in recent weeks; somehow even turning the oven on is the last thing I want to do when the temperature is in the 30s. Don’t worry though, there are plenty (and I mean plenty!) of recipes in the pipeline 🙂

As an allergy family always looking for something new and interesting, I still make goodies in a heatwave, preferably without turning the oven on. Step forward the magic no-bake recipe, an absolute winner in a midsummer heatwave, and perfect for getting the children involved.

These Biscoff caramel crispy bites were inspired by a current craze for Lotus Biscoff spread at Little S’s school and a need to avoid chocolate due to the unfortunate habit it has of melting in the heat! Sadly, chocolates and heatwaves just don’t mix.

These mini bites are sweet, crunchy, crispy and terribly moorish. You could make them bigger but they’re seriously sweet treats and so I think small is good. Be prepared to dive in for another though 😉

Not only do they not melt, they travel well making them perfect for picnics and keep for up to a week in the fridge. Pretty ideal if you have a summer holiday jam packed full of activities and not a moment to bake!

 

Biscoff Caramel Crispy Bites

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

makes about 30 mini bites

200g golden syrup

100g caster sugar

100g Biscoff spread

2 tsp caramel essence

100g rice Krispies

  1. Line a baking tray with non-stick parchment
  2. In a saucepan, mix together the syrup, sugar, Biscoff and essence. Gently heat until the sugar has dissolved and you have a smooth thick mixture.
  3. Stir in the rice krispies and mix well
  4. Pour into the lined tray and level off. Leave to set in the fridge for at least half an hour.
  5. Cut into cubes