Friday, 15 December 2017

Tips on How to Get Through an Allergy-Friendly Christmas

I received a contribution towards the cost of this post.  
Thank you for your support!

Christmas is coming soon, and I love it. I love the way everyone gets together, the cosy nights in, and being in your PJs on the sofa by 7pm. The way everywhere looks like a Winter Wonderland. And I love the food. Obviously.

But what if you're trying to get through a holiday season with food allergies or intolerances? Or a special diet?

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

There are mince pies, trifle, turkey dinners,  chocolates, pigs in blankets... but if you're navigating a free-from Christmas, there's a lot more to think about.

Here are my top tips for getting through Christmas with allergies or if you're following a special diet.

Gluten Free
You might think it's easy - just cut out wheat and buy gluten-free bread and then you're done. But gluten can lurk in lots of unusual places, especially at Christmas time. Quite often, wheat is used as a thickener for gravies, dressings or sauces - you might find it in the flavoured coating on crisps or chips, too. It might also be in your sausages, unless you make sure you buy gluten-free ones. Keep an eye on seasoning blends, too, and obviously be on the lookout for baked or fried items with a breaded coating. One of the Christmas items that not everyone immediately thinks of is alcohol. Regular beer usually contains gluten as it's made from barley, a gluten-containing grain, but you can easily get gluten-free beers and lagers nowadays. Coeliac UK says that, generally, spirits made from gluten-containing grains, such as vodka, whiskey and gin, are safe to drink because the distilling process removes any trace of gluten. The fantastic news is that the gluten-free movement has grown so much that companies have launched gluten-free versions of classic Christmas foods, like crackers, gingerbread, cakes, mince pies and fruit cake, like the ones in these gluten-free Christmas hampers

Dairy Free
It's fairly easy to get through Christmas and avoid dairy, but you need to be on the lookout. Opt for dairy-free milk like hemp, soy, coconut or oat milk - I've found that my favourite dairy-free milk is hemp, which doesn't have a strong flavour of its own so it doesn't make your coffee taste funny. If you're at a party, the usual whipped cream desserts are out, like trifles and puddings - and the toffee or fudge that gets passed around in front of the Christmas film will probably contain milk or cream, too. And the shortbread will be packed full of butter. Be on the lookout for creamy liqueurs, like Baileys or Amarula, which might contain cream.  If you're visiting and eating at friends or family, it might be worth taking along a dessert that you can eat, that you can share with others. Just have a word with the host beforehand, and offer to contribute. They'll be grateful that you're being proactive about it, rather than expecting them to do the research and make a recipe that fits into your eating plan. It's worth mentioning that eggs aren't considered 'dairy', but they come in a category of their own. Chocolate is another item that's worth thinking about, as it will often contain milk. You can buy dairy-free chocolate though, and the vegan jute bag hamper at Virginia Hayward contains a dairy and gluten free caramelised hazelnut nibs bar. 

My Mum just decided to follow a vegan diet, and she's discovering lots of animal products hidden in foods she didn't expect. Honey is a no-no for vegans, and can be used in all sorts of desserts and seasonal treats or poured over things like pancakes. Sub this with maple syrup instead, which has a similar consistency, but slightly different flavour. Caramel is another one that is made with milk or cream, unless it's a home-made special dairy-free version. Look out too, for vegan wines - some animal products can be used to make wines, but there are definitely vegan ones out there. Other than that, you'll be checking the labels of crackers, cookies, biscuits and cakes for butter, eggs and milk. Roast potatoes are a common culprit at this time of year, as some people like to cook them in duck or goose fat. If you're eating with family or friends, just make sure they know about your preferences and offer to bring something with you that you can eat. Oh, and make sure your Boxing Day curry doesn't come with swirls or butter and cream, too. Check out the Virginia Hayward vegan hampers available this Christmas. 

Peanuts and Tree Nuts, I've only just recently learned, are in different categories. And it's possible to be allergic or intolerant to either of them, or both. Nuts can be hidden in sweets (remember those purple ones in the tub of Quality Street?), fudge and liberally sprinkled on desserts and trifle or into granola or other cereals. Look out for it too, in stuffings that sit alongside your turkey or in baked goods. The great thing is that because nut and peanut allergies can be so serious, it's clearly marked on the label when nuts are an ingredient. Read the labels religiously to make sure a product is nut-free, or you might want to make your own Christmas treats to be totally sure. For added crunch in cereals or baked foods, you can add a sprinkle of seeds if they're tolerated - and you can also buy (or make) sunflower seed butter, which often works as a good alternative to nut butters for spreading or baking. 

My uncle is diabetic, and I'm always mindful when I bring him treats when we visit, especially at Christmas time, because sugar and carbs are pretty much everywhere I look at this time of year. As well as making sure you have enough of your medical supplies with you, even if you're travelling, keep an eye on your diet, too. We all have this tendency to want to binge over Christmas and New Year, but for your health it's really worth doing what you can to help yourself, even at Christmas. Limit your servings of starchy foods like breads and those crispy roast potatoes, and as you're shopping for Christmas, lookout for lower sugar alternatives. You can buy lower sugar jams, cakes and pastries, but remember not to over do it. Virginia Hayward do a couple of hampers tailored to diabetics, which I think is a great idea, because you might want to give a loved one a tasty treat, but the last thing you want to do is derail their health. 

For an egg-free Christmas you'll not only need to skip the fried eggs at breakfast, but you'll need to be on the lookout for custards, trifles, cakes and biscuits. That traditional drink, egg-nog, does contains egg yolks, but you can find lots of egg-free versions online, if you don't want to miss out. Mayonnaise is another one that many people don't immediately think of, as well as salad dressings - some have added egg yolks for a richer, thicker texture. Yorkshire puddings are made using eggs, flour and milk - and eggs are often used to bind stuffings or burger and meatball mixtures, too. When you're shopping, look for egg-free substitutes. Free-from aisles in the supermarkets are getting bigger, and, as demand increases, they're becoming better stocked. I've seen a number of egg-free products now in our local shop, including custards, cakes and biscuits. 

Are you heading into a Christmas with food intolerances or allergies? What are your tips? Share them in the comments below, so that it might help others... 

Like your Christmas facts? Me too! Check out this infographic from Virginia Hayward... 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Grain Free, Vegan Strawberry, Jelly and Coconut Trifle

A Christmassy trifle using Naturelly Tropical Jelly, an instant jelly you just squeeze out of a pouch - vegan, gluten free and dairy free. This is one you won't want to miss. 

This post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you decide to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, that helps me keep the blog running. I received the jelly, plus a contribution towards the ingredients for this recipe. Thank you Naturelly Jelly for your support! 

So. Here's something Christmassy.

Grain Free Trifle - Healthy

And I just. Couldn't. Stop. Taking. Pictures. 

Grain Free Trifle - Healthy

This trifle is gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free and, if you top it with something other than pistachios, it's nut-free, too. It came about after seeing an ad for a Christmas supermarket here in the UK, pushing all these processed, sugary treats for Christmas pudding and dessert. I mean, trifles and Christmas go together. And I thought: Why can't there be a healthier, more nutritious version of trifle for people that don't want to fall totally off the bandwagon at Christmas time? 

And so I decided to make one. 

Grain Free Trifle - Healthy

You might remember my recipes using Naturelly Jelly - a vegan, dairy free and gluten free jelly - and I thought this would make the perfect wobbly layer to my healthy trifle. The jelly comes in a variety of flavours - I used the tropical one for this one - but if you wanted to use a different one, then go for it. 

Grain Free Trifle - Healthy

There's a raw layer of dates, cacao and coconut, that replaces the stodgy sponge layer in a conventional trifle. Then there are layers of strawberries, coconut cream, jelly and then pistachios. The whole thing took me about 10 minutes to whip up and put together, so you could have it done nice and quickly, too. Like, you could totally put this together while everyone's watching the Queen's Speech after lunch on Christmas Day. 

Grain Free Trifle - Healthy

The only thing I would say, is that, although it's made up in a small glass, there are quite a few layers, so I'd recommend this as a sharing dessert - snuggle up and watch Indiana Jones or one of the other films on over Christmas each armed with a spoon. It'll serve two hungry people, or three if you're after something lighter. 

Grain Free Trifle - Healthy

I really hope you love it. 

Grain Free, Vegan Strawberry, Jelly and Coconut Trifle
Serves 2-3
5 big, juicy Medjool dates
1 tsp raw cacao powder
1 tsp coconut oil
1 heaped tsp desiccated coconut
pinch of sea salt
1 pack Tropical Naturelly Jelly
250ml coconut cream, room temperature
half teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large strawberries
6-7 pistachios, shelled and chopped
desciccated coconut, to serve

First, blitz together the dates, cacao powder, coconut oil, desiccated coconut and the pinch of sea salt until it forms a rough, chunky paste. Press this into the base of a 15cm (or approx) wide glass bowl or dessert glass.

Next, slice the strawberries and arrange the slices around the glass, on the inside, making sure they all stick up the same way. They should stick to the glass, as you push them gently into the date base.

Open the carton of coconut cream and squeeze out any excess water. Pour the coconut cream into a bowl and trickle in the vanilla extract. Whip with a fork, until fluffy. Take half of the coconut cream and gently spread it around the date base of the trifle, spooning it inbetween the strawberry slices, so it can be seen from the outside.

For the next layer, squeeze out the pouch of Tropical Naturelly Jelly, again making sure you get it between the strawberry slices at the edges, so that the layers can be seen on the outside of the glass. Top with the remaining coconut cream. This will be easier if you use small teaspoons of the coconut cream instead of one big spoonful as by spreading it around you'll disturb the jelly layer underneath. Gently swirl the top of the coconut cream to make it snow-like and build up the topping.

To finish, sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and some more of the desiccated coconut, for a Christmassy look. You can store this trifle, covered, in the fridge overnight, but for the best flavour and texture, eat at room temperature. 

What are your favourite Christmas desserts? What would you like to see on a healthy trifle? Let me know in the comments below...

Monday, 11 December 2017

Chicken Platter with Serrano Ham, Olives and Lemon and Parsley Dip

A recipe inspired by the flavours and ingredients of Ibiza, that can be cooked on a barbecue or in the oven. Spanish flavours at their best!

I received a contribution towards the cost of creating this post. 
Thanks to Thomas Cook for your support!

I've never been to Ibiza, but I've always wanted to go. I've always heard friends returning from there, saying that although it's famous for its nightlife, it's a really beautiful and tranquil place to visit, too. And with temperatures around 7-8 degrees higher than they are here in the UK, I'd LOVE to go. The beaches, the sunshine, the mountains and the food. Definitely for the food. 

Thomas Cook asked me to have a think about a destination listed on the Where Is Hot To Go part of their website and come up with a recipe inspired by that place. Well, obviously I picked Ibiza. A little research and I was given stories from friends about the seafood - so fresh and succulent, straight from the sea - as well as barbecued meats, desserts and cocktails they'd enjoyed on their travels. I dug a little deeper, ordering the gorgeous book Eivissa by Anne Sijmonsbergen and learned about stuffed mussels, octopus, gambas (prawns) and albondigas (meatballs). I became interested in a dip called picada, which means 'chopped up'. It struck me as similar to a pesto - except you can mix up the ingredients a lot more - adding different cheeses, herbs and nuts to change the flavour combinations. 

I had the picada. Now what to go with it? I thought about seafood. But for some reason, I imagined the zesty lemon dip on a plate alongside some beautiful crisp-skinned chicken and some local Spanish ingredients - olives, rocket leaves and Serrano ham. So there it was. Beautiful. I hope you love it. 

Chicken Platter with Serrano Ham, Olives and Lemon and Parsley Dip
This is a simple, summery platter, based on tasty Spanish ingredients such as Serrano ham, chorizo and olives, combined with crispy-skinned chicken and a zesty parsley and lemon dip. 

Serves 2
2 chicken legs, skin-on
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of sea salt
30g bunch of fresh parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon pine nuts
juice and zest of 1 lemon
quarter teaspoon smoked, sweet paprika
Serrano ham, olives, chorizo slices and rocket leaves, to serve

Arrange the chicken legs on a shallow roasting tray or dish and rub with the olive oil. Scatter over the sea salt. Place on the hot grill of a barbecue until fully cooked, around 30 minutes. Alternatively, roast in an oven preheated to gas mark 6/200ºC/400ºF for 25-30 minutes. Check the chicken is fully cooked through by cutting into the thickest part of the leg, and making sure the juices run clear. 

To make the dip, place the parsley, garlic clove, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, the zest and juice of the lemon and the smoked paprika into a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. I like it quite chunky, but aim for the texture you prefer. Taste and adjust for seasoning if you think it needs it.  

Serve the cooked chicken on a platter with Serrano ham, olives, chorizo and rocket leaves and the dip on the side. 

Don't forget to go visit the Where Is Hot To Go page at Thomas Cook for your holiday inspiration! 

Have you been to Ibiza? What did you enjoy there? Let me know in the comments below!