Wagamama – a truly great experience when eating out with allergies

I’m going to continue my ‘eating out with allergies’ series as it’s an area where I’m always looking for help and recommendations, so maybe my comments and reviews may help others too. Click on the ‘Eating Out’ tab for previous recommendations 🙂

I don’t know about you but eating out causes us some serious anxiety. Often we’ll think, oh wouldn’t it be nice to not have to cook for once and eat out instead. Then I spend ages trawling through the options online with the following thoughts running through my brain; ‘is there anything safe on offer, how seriously will they take our requirements, is it going to end badly, is it worth going out if it’s for something so simple and plain it would be easier to make it at home?’

More often than not we stick to one of our usual favoured chain restaurants which can seem more reliable in catering for allergies, or we just stay at home. Whilst it can be successful, the stress of trying a new location can simply be too much, tipping the meal from enjoyable to tense and uncomfortable. Little S often goes very quiet in restaurants, it’s like she isn’t at ease and is carrying a load of worries. Do any of you find this to?

Often the easiest and most relaxed way to guarantee a good safe meal is by staying at home, but that’s not so much fun….

When people first mentioned Wagamama as a good allergy friendly destination we inwardly scoffed – how could a Japanese style restaurant which actively sells a lot of food with sesame, peanuts and other nuts be suitable for us? So we dug our heels in and didn’t try it for ages. Then one opened near us and we took the plunge with Big S (just milk allergic so Japanese food is a fairly safe option) whilst Little S was on her first school residential (which had it’s own stresses, but that’s another story!)

Wow, were we impressed! The whole service is incredibly slick, and caters for allergies in a caring but professional manner. The manager is the only one who will take allergy orders, ensuring responsibility is taken by the person in charge and they always refer to the allergen menu which is a great reassurance. Big S can have a lot of items on the menu and now she’s a teen it’s fab to have a cool, safe and really popular restaurant she can head to with friends.

Little S’s options are fewer (free-from milk, eggs, peanuts and sesame) but still she can have an actual dish from the menu which is always fresh and tasty and doesn’t require us to bring bits from home, or for copious alterations to make it suitable. For reference Little S has the grilled chicken Katsu with Amai sauce and it’s been successful every time she’s had it (and that’s loads of times).

Children’s grilled chicken Katsu with Amai sauce

The only problem we’ve come across was the disappointment when the breadcrumbed chicken Katsu started to be cooked in the same oil as a dish containing cottage cheese, making it unsuitable if you have a dairy allergy. This was pointed out by a manager and then suddenly it all made sense why Big S had been sick a couple of times after eating the regular Katsu; there was a new dairy cross-contamination. This had been Big S’s favourite dish so she was mightily disappointed to forego her choice, but she’s got used to the grilled version now.

Grilled Chicken Katsu with sticky rice

Wagamama has grabbed with relish the rising popularity of vegan food and created an entire veggie and vegan menu, giving plant-based spins on their traditional favourites. This is a big bonus for me as a vegetarian as I’m more used to very little choice when eating out.

Vegetarian Yasai Katsu

So all in all, Wagamama is now a family favourite, relied upon for a safe and tasty restaurant experience. So much so we even visited a branch in Holland when we were struggling for safe options! If you haven’t, I’d recommend you to give it a go, it’s so nice not to have to cook every day!

Children’s Menu

Luxury Dairy-free Twix Bars

The ‘free-from’ chocolate ranges are constantly improving and getting more exciting (thank you Nomo and MooFree), but there is still a real lack of the kind of interesting chocolate bars you can buy in any convenience store or supermarket. Think KitKat, Mars Bar, Milky Way or Twix; the kind of bar that people will grab at the counter in a petrol station, where is the alternative for these? Since week 2 of The Great British Bake Off 2019 BakeAlong is biscuit week, I’ve decided to update my previous Twix recipe with a more deluxe version, and wow is it good!

This week’s choices on the show were: a chocolate-coated biscuit bar, fig rolls or a biscuit-based 3D showstopper. Well I ruled out fig rolls as I knew no-one would eat them in my house, so that’s just a waste, I didn’t have time for a 3D showstopper, and I love working with chocolate, so my choice was a no brainer! The challenge spec was that despite being chocolate-coated, the biscuit had to be the star of the show, so my thoughts immediately turned to using my chocolate sable biscuits which really are probably the best biscuits I’ve ever made. (They’re also a constant request in this house, so they really must be good!)

My previous Twix recipe is perfectly nice, but it used condensed soya milk which is hard to come by, whereas this deluxe recipe uses more standard store cupboard ingredients and gives a far more luxurious finish. I use Nomo dark chocolate as I love the shiny finish you get by treating it right, and I think the slightly bitter chocolate combines well with the sweet caramel filling. To be more traditional and authentic to a regular Twix Bar you could always use the creamy version.

It may seem like a complex recipe, but each of the three distinct steps are fairly simple, so with just a bit of time you can end up with some showstopper results in both taste and appearance.

Luxury Twix Bars

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

makes 12 fingers

for the chocolate coating:

250g dairy-free dark chocolate, my preference is for Nomo/Kinnerton

35g dairy-free white chocolate, for decoration

for the caramel layer:

 

1/2 cup oat cream

1/2 cup granulated suagr

2 tbsp dairyfree margarine

1/4 cup golden syrup

pinch good quality salt, such as ‘fleur de sel’

  1. Line a baking tray with parchment and oil well.
  2. Melt together the oat cream and dairy-free margarine. Set aside.
  3. Pour the syrup and sugar into a saucepan. Heat to melt the sugar.
  4. Stir in the cream and spread mixture.
  5. Heat to 240 degrees Fahrenheit or 115 degrees Centigrade (or to between soft and hard ball stage).
  6. Pour onto the oiled parchment, sprinkle with the salt and leave to set (an hour or two should suffice)
  7. Peel off the paper and using scissors cut into rectangles

For the biscuit layer:

 

45g plain flour

7g good quality cocoa

pinch of bicarbonate of soda

35g dairyfree margarine

30g soft brown sugar

12g caster sugar

pinch good quality flaky salt, such as fleur de sel

  1. Cream together the margarine, sugars and salt.
  2. Gently mix in the flour, bicarbonate and cocoa and combine to form a soft dough.
  3. Place in the fridge to chill, you want it to be as cold as possible
  4. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment. roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3mm, cut rough rectangles which are about double the size of the eventual bars
  6. Bake for 7-8 minutes. They should have spread out nicely.
  7. Cool briefly on the sheets then cut into rectangles to fit into the moulds

The process:

  1. Start by tempering the chocolate. If you don’t know how to do this, the method is here.
  2. Pour a blob into each mould and evenly coat all the sides, a small brand new paint brush may help. Leave to set for a few minutes and then paint on another layer (or preferably two more). Place in a cool spot to firm up.
  3. Place a rectangle of caramel into each bar
  4. Top with a rectangle of cooled biscuit
  5. Coat with the remaining chocolate and place back in the fridge to set.
  6. Un-mould and decorate with melted white chocolate

Rich Chocolate Truffle Pots

Rich, decadent and very chocolatey truffle pots – think those little Gu pudding pots you can buy, but tastier, friendly and with only three ingredients! These totally fit the bill of emergency easy but utterly delicious pudding option! They set nicely after an hour or two in the fridge, but are still rather delicious if eaten whilst still oozy.

This recipe was inspired by one by Celia Brooks Brown in “Entertaining Vegetarians”

Rich Chocolate Truffle Pots

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

 

serves 4

125g dairy-free chocolate, such as Nomo

1 tbsp dairy-free margarine, such as Pure

2/3rds cup dairy-free cream, I used Oatly

  1. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and melt together over a gentle heat (or in a microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for 45 seconds).
  2. Stir until smooth and unctuous.
  3. Pour into small glasses/shot glasses/small ramekins. Top on the work surface to get rid of any little bubbles.
  4. Chill until ready to eat.

 

 

Light Fruit Cake in the style of a Genoa Cake or a French Cake aux Fruits

Sometimes I find inspiration is lacking and I find it hard to come up with new ideas – well, there are over 700 unique recipes on my site! Then along comes a whole season of inspiration in the form of the Great British Bake Off. It’s such a feel-good programme when there is so much doom and gloom in the news, that it adds a touch of good natured homely fun to each Tuesday evening. I have tried to bake along for the past few years, but my plans have often gone awry. This year, however, I’m really going to try to keep it up and provide you lovely people with a new friendly Bake Off inspired recipe each week.

For Week 1: cake week; the three bakes were fruit cake, Angel cake slices and a childhood themed showstopper. It’s still the school summer holidays so the showstopper was out of the question (not enough time!), angel cake slices have so far eluded me as genoise sponge is so egg heavy I’ve never been able to recreate an egg-free version. I do hope to get there one day (bear with me!), but for now the fruit cake was the right choice for me.

I don’t often make fruit cakes (except at Christmas) as my children can’t stand dried fruit, but I have a fondness for an occasional slice, especially if it’s the lighter styles, I’m no fan a dark heavy dense fruit cake!

This lovely light fruit loaf is inspired by French-style or Genoa cake recipes and gives a wonderful delicate but fruity cake. Delicious freshly baked, or lightly toasted the next day 🙂

Light Genoa Fruit Cake

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

makes 1 loaf cake

100g glace cherries

50g dates, stoned and roughly chopped

50g raisins

50g currants

1 tbsps brandy (or apple juice)

1 tsp cherry syrup (optional)

175g plain flour

1/2 tsp mixed spice

pinch of salt

35g dairy-free margarine

zest of 1 lemon

85g light Muscovado sugar

150ml dairy-free milk, warmed to hand hot temperature

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

  1. Grease and line a loaf tin
  2. Pour the brandy/apple juice over the dried fruit and leave to steep for at least half an hour
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 4
  4. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and mixed spice. Add the lemon zest.
  5. Rub in the dairy-free margarine, until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs
  6. Stir in the sugar, and the dried fruits
  7. Add the bicarb to the warm milk and stir until dissolved
  8. Pour the milk into the dry ingredients and mix to form a stiff dough
  9. Turn into the lined loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn the cake around and continue to bake for a further 15, or until a knife comes out clean.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.
  11. For added moisture pour over 1 tbsp extra brandy mixed with 1 tsp cherry syrup if you have any.
  12. Once cool brush with nappage (warmed equal parts apricot jam mixed with water) and decorate with extra halves place cherries

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,