Browns Brasserie

I’d always imagined that brasserie style restaurants would be no-go’s in the UK. This probably stems from a disastrous meal in a Brasserie Blanc when the girls were tiny and the allegedly safe meal came with a pile of buttered green beans sitting on top! That was an experience that scarred us!

Anyway, Browns Brasserie had been recommended by a fellow allergy mum and as we were having a day out in Oxford it seemed like the perfect opportunity to be brave and give somewhere new a go. Well, we were pleasantly surprised and will definitely return for another visit sometime.

 

The waiter was exceptionally good – as soon as we mentioned allergies he brought out the allergen menu and didn’t seem at all phased. He also confirmed that anything grilled would be cooked in a separate pan to ensure there was no cross contamination – this came from him, not from us asking. It was really impressive service.

The allergen info is on the glass onion app so it’s easy to peruse at home, and also simple to categorise via allergen. We’d spent a long time checking it out at home (as is often our way!) and discovered that while the menu was more limited for Little S, she could still have a variety of dishes (she avoids milk, eggs, peanuts and sesame seeds). Out of the adult mains she could have had a steak, a couple of fish dishes or a vegan curry or salad. On the children’s menu there was grilled chicken breast or tomato pasta. She opted for the grilled chicken, plus chips and peas. Big S (allergic to milk only) had the burger with no cheese. 

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the food was tasty and well presented and it felt a little bit more special than one of the usual allergy-safe destinations. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a nice meal out. 

 

The only downside was that there weren’t so many choice for me (the vegetarian) but that’s a small price to pay for a safe allergy-friendly, family-friendly meal out. A big allergy-applause to browns Brasserie from us. 😊

 

Sensational Scones

You’ve got to love scones; light, fluffy, just sweet enough and the perfect carrier for a delicious topping. No proper afternoon tea is right without a batch of warm scones, and this recipe always goes down a storm. You can even freeze them, defrost, pop into the oven for a couple of minutes and then you can have an elegant afternoon tea in a flash.

When we had our stressful tea at Pan Pacific we met Cherish Finden and she said that scones were the most difficult thing to recreate free-from. Now these aren’t gluten-free (but I know others who make them gluten-free), but I can assure you that these are just as good as a traditional scone. Go on, give them a go and let me know what you think?


The most crucial part of scone making is a light touch – you must add air whilst rubbing in the margarine and definitely no kneading! Just very lightly bring together the dough and you’ll have some sensational scones. Just add some jam and dairy-free whipped cream and you can have a sensational tea at home.


Sensational Scones

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

  • makes 10-12
    • 450g plain flour
    • 3 tsps baking powder
    • pinch of salt
    • 75g dairy-free margarine
    • 70g soft brown sugar
    • 300ml dairy-free milk
    • 1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
    • 2 tbsp Demerara or granulated sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 6
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the salt. Stir in the sugar.
  3. With your fingertips, gently rub in the dairy-free margarine until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  4. Make a well in the centre and pour in the dairy-free milk and vanilla essence (if using).
  5. Bring together to a very soft, sticky dough. Turn onto a floured surface and very gently bring together to a soft, smooth dough.
  6. Pat out with your fingers until 3 cm thick.– Cut out with a well-floured 6cm cookie cutter (or whatever size you choose)
  7. Place on an oiled and floured baking sheet. Brush the tops with dairy-free milk and sprinkle with Demerara or granulated sugar.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden on top.– Cool on a wire rack.

Tropical Granola Bars

 There’s something so handy about a cereal or granola bar, the can fit into so many situations – breakfast on the run, a quick pre-lunch snack, a picnic staple, or a post-workout refuel. As people are heading back into offices, these could be the perfect accompaniment to a sandwich in a packed lunch.

 When I used to go into an office regularly I always felt super pleased if I had a homemade packed lunch addition, rather than an additive filled less superior shop bought bar; hopefully these will make you just as pleased too 😊

This recipe is loosely based upon Yotam Ottolenghi’s Granola Bar recipe form the original ‘The Cookbook’, so you know they have good pedigree, and they have to taste delicious.

 

Tropical Granola Bars

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan, can be gluten-free if use gluten-free oats)

 Makes 8 large bars

 

22g dried cranberries or sultanas

22g dried mango, chopped

22g dried pineapple, chopped

120g oats

22g sunflower seeds

15g desiccated coconut

50g dairy-free margarine

50g golden syrup or honey

50g demerara sugar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cinnamon

 

  1. Place the dried fruits into a bowl, cover with hot water and leave to soften for ten minutes. Then drain.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Centigrade
  3. Line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment
  4. In a bowl, mix together the oats, sunflower seeds, drained dried fruit and coconut and set aside.
  5. In a large saucepan melt together the margarine, syrup and sugar until the sugar has totally dissolved.
  6. Fold in the oat and fruit mixture, adding the salt and cinnamon. Make sure the mixture is well combined.
  7. Tip the mixture into the lined loaf tin, press down and level off.
  8. Bake for 22 minutes until starting to turn golden around the edges.
  9. Remove from the tin and cool completely before cutting into bars.
  10. These bars keep well for up to a week if placed in an airtight container.

The Very Best Chocolate Cupcakes

These are not just any cupcakes, these are the very best chocolate cupcakes. A deep chocolate flavoured light and fluffy sponge, topped with a rich and intense chocolate buttercream, even Marks & Spencer’s would market these as the best! If you’re stuck a home today due to the massive storm, you might want to make these (you’ll likely have all the ingredients in) and cheer everyone up.

I’ve got out of the habit of making cupcakes; I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I don’t so often cook for whole classes of children anymore. I used to bake a sweet treat for the girls classes every Friday when they were in junior school, now it’s more like once a term and cookies often trump cupcakes because they’re so much easier to transport. But there is nothing like a good cupcake, and these double chocolate delights are a class above. 

This recipe serves 6 or so, just the right amount for a houseful on a Friday night after school, but you could easily multiply the recipe if you have more to feed – after all, no-one would want to miss one of these!

The Very Best Chocolate Cupcakes

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

 

Makes 6-8 cupcakes

150ml dairy-free milk

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

60g dairy-free margarine, melted

140g self-raising flour

3 tbsp cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

100g caster sugar

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.
  2. In a jug combine the milk, lemon juice, vanilla (if using) and bicarb. Set aside.
  3. Melt the dairy-free margarine, set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa and salt. Stir in the sugar
  5. Pour the melted margarine into the milk mixture and give it a good stir. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together to form a smooth batter. 
  6. 2/3rds fill each cupcake liner and bake for 18-20 minutes until risen and a knife comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the tray and cool on a wire rack.

 For the chocolate buttercream:

enough to generously cover the 6-8 cupcakes in the recipe above

75g dairy-free margarine

250g icing sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

½ tbsp dairy-free milk

 

  1. Whisk the margarine until it is light and fluffy
  2. Add the icing sugar, cocoa powder and dairy-free milk and whisk until you have a light buttercream.
  3. Pipe or spread a generous amount onto the top of each cooled cupcake

Iced Buns

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2014 photo!

Here we have another updated recipe. I rarely make Iced Buns but this has been another recipe that has gathered a lot of great comments and likes over the years, so it needed revisiting, updating and embellishing with some shiny new photos! (Although I have kept one of the previous photos just for my own nostalgia – haven’t cameras improved over the past years!)

Iced buns, viewed in the window of any English bakery, are a must for a collection of comfort food. For some reason they make me think of roaring fires and cosy knitwear – odd I know! Apparently some iced buns found in supermarkets are dairy-free, but I’ve never found any that are also nut-free – if you know of any safe brands please let me know?

Anyway, these iced buns are the perfect tea time treat, and this recipe will give you authentic but friendly buns to please your friends and family. They certainly go down a treat in this house 🙂

Iced Buns 

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

makes 6

  • 150ml dairy-free milk
  • 50g dairy-free margarine
  • 260g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3g or 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 50g caster sugar

for the icing:

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 1 to 2 tbsp water

– Melt the margarine into the milk (don’t make it more than tepid though)
– Place the flour, salt, yeast and caster sugar in a bowl and pour in the warmed milk and margarine mixture.
– Bring to a dough and knead until smooth and bounces back when you press a finger onto the surface.
– Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to double in size in a warm place.
– Divide into 6 even sized pieces and form into balls, then roll out to sausage shapes, trying to make them nice and even.
– Place about 1cm apart on a lined baking sheet, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes
– Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade/180 degrees fan, or gas mark 4
– Bake for 15 minutes until golden, risen and they sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

– Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and water to form a very thick, smooth icing. Start by adding 1 tbsp of water and gradually add more as required.
– Once the buns are cool top with the thick water icing.

Caramelised Roasted Banana and Chocolate Loaf

A good banana loaf recipe is a winning addition to any baking repertoire, and this update of a 2013 recipe, it’s one you definitely need in your life. I have others, but this loaf is a cut above the rest with the additions of Lotus Caramelised spread (you could use peanut butter), roasted bananas and large chunks of rich, dark chocolate. By all means use nuts or dried fruit instead of the chocolate, or even just leave them out, it will still work nicely, but make sure you roast the bananas for that extra special banana flavour. That’s the key to this one.

This is a beautiful loaf just plain, but if you want a bit of pizazz then i’d recommend either a water icing drizzle, or the extra special biscoff drizzle.

Caramelised Roasted Banana and Chocolate Loaf (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

IMG_4054

makes 1 2lb loaf

  • 100ml or 1/2 cup oat milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 125g or 1 cup plain flour
  • 85g or 3/4 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp flourless oil, I use sunflower
  • 2 medium roasted bananas, mashed
  • 75g or 1/3 cup Lotus caramelised spread
  • 50 g or 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (optional)
  • glaze: icing sugar and water, or 1 tbsp biscoff spread, 3 tbsp icing sugar and 1 tbsp water whisked til smooth

– Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4

– Halve the bananas lengthways and roast for 20-30 minutes. Mash and cool.

– Line or grease a 2 lb loaf tin

– Add the lemon juice to the oat milk and set aside.

– Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar.

– Add the bananas, caramelised spread and oil to the oat milk mix. Stir well

– Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix until all the ingredients are well combined. Add the chopped chocolate (if using) and gently stir to make sure they’re evenly distributed.

– Fill the loaf tin with the mix.

– Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and a knife comes out clean.

– Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

– Drizzle with a simple water icing.

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IMG_4053
IMG_4056

Bounty flapjacks

Well , doesn’t it truly feel like we’ve been in January for about 3 months so far? What is it about the post Christmas/New Year period where everything seems to slow down and weeks drag on forever?

It also means that we’re well back into the routine of packed lunches and working lunches, so I needed some tasty additions to pop in along with the usual sandwiches. Flapjacks are a brilliant packed lunch option – they’re slow release energy oats but also bundles of sugar to keep the spirits and energy levels up. People seem to presume that flapjacks are healthy because they’re made of oats, all I can say is that they surely have never made their own as they’d know how much sugar/syrup they contain!

We particularly like coconut flapjacks, and this recipe is a riff on that, Bounty flapjacks featuring a coconutty flapjack base and then a dark chocolate and coconut topping. These little bites of paradise will certainly help you get through the never ending January days!

Bounty Flapjacks

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

  • 200g dairy free margarine
  • 200g demerara sugar
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 400g oats (preferably not giant oats)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 85g dark dairy-free chocolate
  •  
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Centigrade
  2. Line a 30×20 cm (approx.) baking tray with parchment
  3. Melt together the dairy free margarine, sugar, syrup and salt
  4. When the sugar has dissolved mix in the oats and coconut (keeping aside 1 tbsp of coconut for the topping)
  5. Spread into the lined baking tray
  6. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden
  7. Cool well before cutting into bars/squares.
  8. Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the bars, sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top

Tea at The Orchid Lounge, Pan Pacific, London

I so wanted to write an absolutely glowing review as we’ve been looking forward to this exciting and special occasion for ages, so I’ll start with the good and then if you want to hear the negatives (there were some), you can read on…

We booked afternoon tea at The Orchid Lounge at Pan Pacific in London as the ultimate treat for big S’s 18th Birthday. Years ago we had a very successful afternoon tea at The Langham when Cherish Finden was head pastry chef there, so when we’d heard she’d joined the newly opened Pan Pacific as executive chef, it seemed like a wonderful choice for this very special occasion. I contacted Cherish on social media and the hotel directly, and was reassured that our dietary requirements (which I admit are tricky and numerous) could be catered for and the hotel would make sure it would be a very special occasion. We were so excited, we talked for weeks about what it would be like and checked and rechecked the menu! 

The Good was very good: the dessert plate of patisserie was spectacular with interesting, thought-provoking flavours, contrasting textures and it really was picture perfect to look at.

Our table had two versions, the usual one and the 14 allergen-free one, and there were few differences. The Free-from selection was delicious, incredibly impressive and certainly worth seeking out if you’re hankering after particularly fine patisserie. As it was late November, the tea had a Christmas theme and was an entire story of walking through the forest, Father Christmas and the reindeer flying over the trees, then waking up and opening the Christmas presents. It was really special. The ‘forest tower’ was filed with Yuzu mousse that was light and perfumed. The Christmas tree shortbread seemed to have a passionfruit caramel centre which was totally delightful. The Christmas bauble contained an orange mousse and gel, and the gift was the richest chocolate of many contrasting layers. All spectacular, and exceptional that such fine patisserie could be made ’14 free’. I know that Cherish and the kitchen spent months developing that aspect.

14 allergen free patisserie plate
The traditional patisserie plate

Indeed, all the food was fabulous – maybe the sandwiches weren’t necessarily to our taste (I’m not sure anyone want a fat slice of tofu in a sandwich!) but they were interesting and presented beautifully, and they were trying to tick the boxes for us and our requirements.

Vegan sandwich selection

Those of us who had the Kopi Tiam version (dim sum and Singaporean take on afternoon tea) found the offerings beautiful, delicate and very interesting. The curry puffs were a real highlight, and the dim sum a real flavour sensation and a step outside the comfort zone for the younger members of the family. Just what you want from an afternoon tea experience.

Dim Sum
Mushroom Bao

I’m impressed how the kitchen catered for our various dietary requirements and I feel they are extremely skilled and should receive massive praise for the beautiful food they create.

Before I say anymore, I have to say the hotel has been fantastic. They’ve been very communicative, extremely apologetic and are making changes to address all our issues. So please do consider Pan Pacific if you’d like a truly spectacular afternoon tea.

But here are the problems we had. Our issues mainly arose from the service and I have to say that sadly the special occasion was ruined, in fact it ruined the whole weekend. I could go on at length about the two hour wait for any food to arrive, the whole tea taking four hours (yes, 4 hours!), the offers of free drinks being swiftly denied by other staff, the constant need to ask for a tea cup or glass of water which took multiple requests and ages to come. Or the fact that Big S ended the meal with a small contact allergic reaction to some cross contamination (yes, we know and accept this is a risk of eating anywhere), or that the one member of our group who ate the prawn dim sum since came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning. But all those failures could have been forgiven, what really ruined the experience was the incompetent way the staff dealt with allergies, and the four occasions where we avoided an allergic reaction due to us (and mainly Little S) noticing something was not right about the plate in front of her. The kitchen knew about the food but not all the service staff did, meaning each time something arrived there was an air of (dangerous) confusion.

Firstly, we were all served an amuse bouche of a Calamansi jelly with a mango pearl served in a cleaned-out egg shell so it looked like an egg. Eye catching and interesting but also somewhat un-nerving as the start of a meal for a family with an egg allergy amongst them. We pointed out that it wasn’t right to serve an empty egg shell to someone who is seriously allergic to egg to which the waiter responded that it was fine because it had been thoroughly washed out (I don’t think this is safe!). We asked if Little S could have similar in a different container, but after a lengthy enquiry this apparently was not possible. So little S had to sit there with an eggshell in front of her – we all started to feel rather uncomfortable. What were they thinking? How can using an empty eggshell and serving it to an egg allergic child be acceptable? (For those who ate the amuse bouche it was delicious, but for Little S it was the start of feeling that they didn’t want her there, that she was a bother, which made us feel fairly sad.)

Amuse bouche

Next up came the sandwiches. The waiter proudly talked us through the fillings announcing that Little S had a cheddar cheese one. Eek! When told that wasn’t ok as she’s allergic to milk, he said, it’s ok just start eating the others and I’ll go and check. The head waitress came for a look and said it was turkey, finally it was confirmed to be tofu. A relief, but we were feeling increasingly ill at ease. Maybe we should have just left, but this was the special event, we had nothing else planned and surely it could go well from here, but no. Big S was given the wrong in between course biscuit and this was only noticed by Little S at the very last second.

Between course freefrom biscuit

Next the wrong scones were given to Little S, again a mistake noticed only by ourselves. As I say, I know we’re difficult to cater for but we’d only gone for this hugely expensive experience because it was confirmed that we could be looked after, and maybe we should have just left, but it’s hard when there are no other easy options and you’ve gone to such lengths to make this happen. 

14 free scones
Traditional scones

As I say, the meal ended on a high of wonderful 14-free patisserie, but we would have maybe enjoyed it more if we’d felt less anxious and it had been two hours earlier. To not be able to have your first bite of sandwich for two hours after arrival is excessive. And to be fair, once all the issues were pointed out the head waitress got involved and did all she could to turn the situation around. It was just sad that the occasion had been ruined, that special 18th birthday celebration which was meant to prove that yes you can have the same luxury experiences even with a food allergy just didn’t go to plan. Will we go for afternoon tea again soon? I’m not sure we will as it was just a stressful occasion and not the relaxed special occasion we’d hoped for….

Tomato and Olive Focaccia

Are you getting to that post Christmas stage when you’re running out of bread and all the fresh stuff? We were in desperate need of bread for lunch today and this recipe is just perfect. It’s quick to make so can be rustled up in a morning and you can use either plain or bread flour depending on what you have in the larder.

Since our lovely (if eventful!) meal at La Pala d’Oro in Malaga (see my post on Malaga with allergies), Little S has taken to olive focaccia; and as she’s recovering from a nasty bout of Covid (gosh, it really is an unpleasant virus) and an upsetting isolation over Christmas 😢, I wanted to make her something she’d really love. It’s not surprising that she finds olive focaccia delicious, as the salty olives give a wonderful pop of savoury flavour in the soft oily bread, it’s a match made in heaven. However, Big S is also no fan of olives, in fact nothing will persuade her they’re nice. So here we have a tomato focaccia half studded with olives and half without – then everyone is happy! This loaf is perfect served with a bowl of soup on a wintery lunchtime but also makes a superior snack at anytime, especially when dipped in a good quality oil and balsamic – yummy!

If you can find Belazu tomato and balsamic paste you will notice the difference – like all their products I’ve tried, they really do make exceptional pastes, sauces etc that add depth and interest to any dish.

 Tomato and Olive Focaccia

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

makes 1 loaf

  • 250g plain or bread flour
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste, I used Belazu tomato and balsamic paste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 150-160ml cold water
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp oil and sea salt for the top
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • A handful of olives
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast and salt.
  2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil, tomato paste and water.
  3. Bring together to form a slightly sticky dough, then knead well to make it smooth and silky. If you have a mixer with dough hooks, it would work perfectly.
  4. Drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the oil and knead well again until the oil is incorporated into the dough.
  5. Place in a bowl and cover. Leave to double in size. This will take an hour or two.
  6. Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment.
  7. Knock back the dough and press into the lined baking tray, making sure it reaches the corners. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  8. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/210 fan/Gas mark 7
  9. Drizzle the tomato and oil mix over the dough and then dimple the top of the focaccia with your fingertip and press in the olives and scatter on some sea salt and the oregano.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden. Brush with a little more oil to give a lovely sheen and cool on a wire rack.
  11. Best eaten fresh, but will keep for a couple of days if well wrapped in parchment. Also freezes brilliantly.

Lebkuchen

I’ve made it – 12 recipes of advent for Christmas 2021 completed just in time! At one point I didn’t think I’d get there, but somehow I have ended with plenty of recipes on hold until next Christmas! Wishing all my readers a very Happy, safe and healthy Christmas. Thank you for all the comments, views and interaction, and making it all seem worthwhile 🙂

I’ve wanted to recreate these traditional German gingerbread cookies for a while, as to me they seem extremely festive and quite exotic. I haven’t eaten many in my life so I’m hoping this is an authentic recreation to add to the festive repertoire. We found them to be how one would imagine an old-fashioned gingerbread cookie to be, which is no bad thing. Lebkuchen often have a heavy dosing of cloves but I didn’t have any in the cupboard, so I’ve opted for a touch of mixed spice for an extra Christmas vibe.

 You can ice with either the water/lemon icing that hardens to a crisp crust or with melted chocolate, or maybe both to please all tastes?

 

Lebkuchen

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

 Makes about 12

125g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

50g soft brown sugar

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp mixed spice

2 tsp cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp flavourless oil

1 tbsp golden syrup (or honey)

70ml dairy-free milk

For the glaze:

50g icing sugar

1 tbsp water or lemon juice

And/or:

50g dark dairy-free chocolate, melted

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade fan/180 degrees centigrade non-fan. Line a cookie sheet with non-stick parchment.
  2. Mix together the first eight dry ingredients. Add the oil, syrup and milk and milk to form a soft dough.
  3. Roll out to 1cm thick and use festive cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Place spaced apart on the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.
  5. When cool, mix together the glaze and/or melt the chocolate and coat the cookies.