Saturday, 31 March 2012

Taste Test: Gluten Free Cinnamon Sugar Shortbread with Truvia

I was recently sent a new sugar replacement to try, called Truvia by Silver Spoon. I’ve seen it popping up here and there on blogs and in articles recently, but not tried it myself so I was intrigued. Normally I would not even consider using a sweetener in my foods. My previous experiences of them have been a horrible chemical taste and to be honest I’d much sooner use natural sugar in my baking.

So why did I agree to try Truvia? Well it claims to be made using a naturally sweet tasting extract from the Stevia leaf, so much more ‘natural’ than other chemical based sweeteners. It is sweeter tasting than regular sugar, meaning you only have to use 1/3 of a teaspoon of Truvia to every 1 teaspoon of regular sugar. I decided to give the sweetener a trial by using it to bake a batch of shortbread. I wanted something quite plain and simple, to see if I could detect the sweeteners presence.

On opening the pot, my first impression was that it looks just like regular sugar. I gave the pot a sniff and it smelt faintly sweet and quite vanillary. It reminded me of vanilla ice cream, quite appealing really.

I dipped my finger in the pot and picked up just a few grains and tasted them in their natural state. It was strange. It felt like they melted on my tongue and initially felt cold, followed by an intense sweetness. It was rather surprising, but not an unpleasant experience. Sadly the aftertaste was a bit strange and seemed to linger on my tongue much longer than normal sugar and was slightly tacky.

I decided to hold off my judgement until I’d baked with it as and so made my shortbread, using only a third of the quantity of Truvia as I would to normal sugar, and then sprinkled a little Truvia and cinnamon on top. On eating the shortbread, the initial taste was quite bland and savoury tasting. I found I had to chew a few times before the taste of sweetness came through and then it tasted like a good normal shortbread. However, the aftertaste was a bit chemically (although there are no nasty chemicals in it) which wasn’t so good. However, I think this may because the Truvia sprinkled on top of the dough wasn’t baked into the shortbread and so had a much stronger taste. When I scraped the topping off and just ate the shortbread base the aftertaste was much more subtle.

I have come to the conclusion that the sweetener would be fine when baked and incorporated completely into a dish that also contained lots of other stronger flavours, to help mask the weird aftertaste, but is not really ideal to use as a sprinkle as then its too raw and doesn’t quite work.

Would I buy the sweetener on a regular basis? Sadly not, I like the taste of natural sugar and believe if you want to cut down on your sugar intake then either reduce the amount in the recipe, eat less of it, or use agave nectar. However, that’s not to say I can’t see Truvia being useful to people who need to avoid sugary products for health reasons – such as diabetes. To be able to have a sweet flavour without any of the rise in blood glucose levels would be a great benefit, and to give it some credit, it is based on plant extracts rather than purely chemicals, unlike some other sweeteners on the market.

I’m not going to share the gluten free shortbread recipe with you, as although it had a lovely crumbly buttery texture, it was actually too short and crumbly. I couldn’t pick a piece up without it breaking and it is now destined to be a crumb topping for yoghurt or some stewed fruit. I plan to do a bit of tweaking to make it sturdier and when I’ve got a better recipe, I’ll be sure to share it!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Berry & Almond Muffin ‘Bread’ Pudding

I made this a few weeks ago in order to use up some of the berry muffins I made a while ago. I was the only person around to eat the muffins at the time and so couldn’t get through more than 3-4 before they started to go a bit past their best. Normally I freeze any cakes or cookies I don’t think I’ll eat in time, and then get them out later as and when needed. However, when I went to put the muffins in the freezer, it seems I have been putting more in than I have been taking out as they wouldn’t fit! I don’t want you to think I have a freezer full of cakes and cookies, there were plenty of other things in there too – bags of berries, cartons of homemade soup, meals etc. Either way, it was time to come up with a plan B.

Recently I had been day dreaming about trying to create a gluten free bread and butter pudding and hit upon the idea to make a denser bread pudding and to use the muffins in place of bread. The more I thought about it the more the ideal appealed and I set about doing a little research into bread pudding recipes.

Bread pudding turns out to be a bit of a minefield when it comes to specific recipes. I found some that called for cubes or bread to be baked in a custard, others crumbled them into crumbs and created a mush which was baked into something much sturdier. Some were custard based, others used water, milk or even tea as a socking liquid. The baking times also varied enormously. Some called for a hot oven and a short time, other a much cooler oven and a long bake. Anything from 25mins to 2.5hours! Some were dense and served in squares, others lighter and served with a spoon. This also includes side stepping all the bread and butter puddings which are completely different.

A few bleary eyed hours later I formulated my own recipe, picking and choosing the best aspects of various different recipes I liked. I decided to use milk as my soaking liquid and to crumble the muffins into fine crumbs as I wanted to end up with a denser, sliceable pudding. I added a little jam for extra fruity sweetness and some sultanas to add a dried fruit chew. Mixed spice and almond extract for flavour and just a tiny amount of flour to bind it all together.

I decided on a long slow bake for my pudding, as the mixture was very wet and I wanted to ensure I ended up with something that was not only cooked, but that could be served and held in slices. It was a little trial and error going along, but my finished pudding was delightful.

The outer edges of the pudding had gone wonderfully thick and chewy, while the middle was softer, more tender and studded with moist juicy fruits and crumbs. I adored the almond flavour, it really shone through and went so well with the fruits and spices.

I love how it looks quite plain from the outside and yet is so colourful and inviting once sliced into. Delicious and the perfect way to use up some leftover muffins or cakes you might have lingering around. Success!

Berry & Almond Muffin ‘Bread’ Pudding
600g leftover fruit muffins, around 7
250ml milk
50g gluten free self raising flour
1tbsp raspberry jam
2 eggs
100g sultanas
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp almond extract
1tbsp sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line an 8inch square baking tin with greaseproof paper, letting it drape up two opposite sides of the tin, which will help you remove the pudding once baked.
Tear the muffins into small chunks and add to a bowl along with the spices, almond extract and sultanas. Pour over the milk and mix together briefly. Then set aside for 10minutes.
Beat the eggs and jam together before stirring into the muffin mix. It should become very soft and mushy at this stage and look quite unappetising, but this is fine. Finally scatter the flour over the top and mix together.
Pour the mixture into the tin and smooth the surface. Scatter over the caster sugar and cover the tin with a foil.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour, before removing the foil and leaving to bake for a further 40 minutes.
It should be a dark golden brown colour on top and feel firm to the touch.
Allow to cool in the tin for 15minutes, before running a knife around the edge and removing from the tin with the help of the greaseproof paper.
Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into 12-16 pieces.
Store at room in an airtight container and eat within 3 days.
Can also be heated and served with custard.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Cake Slice March 2012: Individual Warm Chocolate Puddings

The book describes these as ‘cakes’ but seeing as they are hot and wonderfully gooey inside I think ‘puddings’ is a much more appropriate title for them. These puddings are going to become my ultimate go-to chocolate pudding recipe. I’m not usually an overly chocolate pudding person, but these chocolate puddings have changed my mind, they are simply stunning.

I’m sure we have all enjoyed the delights of flourless chocolate cakes. The rich chocolate flavour, all moist and fudgy. Well now imagine that wonderful flourless cake, served warm straight from the oven, when the middle in still soft and gooey and the chocolate flavour is intense and powerful. Well, this is what you get with these puddings. Pure warm chocolate melty pleasure!

As they bake, they create an almost brownie like outer crust. Slightly chewy and crisp, with a soft and fudgy spongy layer just underneath the surface. When broken into, this reveals a soft, moussey, molten chocolate centre. No flour, no cocoa powder, no ground almonds, just pure chocolate!

The aroma as they bake is intoxicating. Warming chocolate really seems to enhance its indulgence and this time you are actually permitted to dive straight in with a spoon.

They took mere minutes to put together, used only a handful of ingredients and were naturally gluten free which thrilled me no end. The book states to make and bake these straight away, but I actually did a little experiment and found that they were perfectly happy to be chilled in the fridge for a few hours before baking, or even baked from frozen. I think the most important thing is to ensure they are eaten within minutes of baking, but I am sure this wouldn’t ever be a problem!

Next time you need a quick chocolate dessert to impress, I urge you to give these a go! Due to their soft gooeyness, they didn’t turn out perfectly, but I think this added to their soft molten middle anticipation. However, if you wanted to be dainty you could eat them straight out the moulds. Click here to see The Cake Slice blogroll

Individual Warm Chocolate Puddings
(Recipe from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle)
255g dark chocolate, around 60%
110g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
4 eggs
Pinch salt
¼ tsp cream of tartar

If you intend to make, bake and eat these puddings straight away, then preheat the oven to 180C. If not going to eat straight away, then no need to do this yet.
Grease 6 dariole/little pudding moulds or deep ramekins with oil and then dust with caster sugar to coat.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and cut the butter into cubes. Place into a heatproof bowl, over a pan of gently simmering water and allow to melt, stirring only occasionally. Once smooth, remove from the heat and beat in half the sugar (50g), along with the 4 yolks from the eggs. Save the whites for later.
Place the 4 egg whites and the pinch of salt into a clean glass bowl and whisk with an electric mixer until foaming. Scatter over the cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks form. With the mixer still going, gradually scatter over the remaining half of the sugar (50g), a tablespoon at a time. The egg whites should become stiff and glossy.
Using a large spoon or spatula, take a third of the egg white mixture and fold it into the chocolate to slacken it. Use big folding strokes, turning the bowl as you go.
Add the remaining egg white mixture in two batches, folding them in gently each time. Once fully incorporated stop.
Divide the chocolate mix evenly between the 6 moulds or ramekins.
You can now chose to bake them now, chill them in the fridge for later, or freeze them.

To bake now: place the puddings into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
After chilling in the fridge: place the puddings in the oven, direct from the fridge and bake for 17 minutes.
From frozen: bake direct from frozen for 20 minutes.

After baking, allow the puddings to rest for 1 minute before running a sharp knife around the rim of the moulds and inverting out onto a plate. (I found mine collapsed when I did this, so you may want to eat them straight out the mould if you are trying to be dainty)
They will be all soft and gooey in the middle. Serve with cream if desired.
Makes 6

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes with Almond Cream Cheese Glaze

On my last morning in LA I decided I wanted to enjoy some gluten free pancakes. The English pancake is usually thin and flat, very similar to a French crepe, but I absolutely adore American pancakes, which are thick, fluffy and often made with buttermilk and served with all sorts of syrups and added nuts or chocolate chips etc.

After a little online research I found a café that had rave reviews for its gluten free pancakes. They had some specials, including a delicious sounding pumpkin pancake. To get there involved a 40minute bus journey, but I set off to the bus stop and waited…and waited….and waited. An hour later, with a rumbling tummy I admitted defeat and mooched back to the flat instead. I’ve no idea why the bus failed to turn up and yes, I was waiting at the right stop! I might have been tempted to find an alternative route, but as I had a plane to catch in a few hours time I didn’t want to risk getting lost.

So I never got my American pancakes – waaaaa :(

Once back home I was determined to enjoy some American style pumpkin pancakes and decided now was the time to open the can of pumpkin puree I’d picked up. Just look at its gorgeous vibrant orange colour! Why oh why can’t we buy pumpkin puree in the UK, or at least a decent pumpkin to make our own. I’ve found the best thing to do here is to mash a sweet potato, but it’s not quite the same…anyway, rant over.

After sampling the delights of Babycakes NYC creations I went online and discovered they had shared a recipe for pancakes on their blog. It was both vegan and gluten free, made using rice milk and applesauce as the wet ingredients. I simply substituted the pumpkin puree for the applesauce and used regular milk as that’s all I had on hand. I also added my own mix of spices and some little chucks of dark chocolate, which I think always work well together.

They turned out perfectly. I’ve never had such light, moist and fluffy pancakes before. The pumpkin gave them a wonderful orange hue and a natural earthy sweetness. The spices just added a background note of warmth, while the little chips of dark chocolate were wonderful to come across, in every other bite.

I’m not a big fan of maple syrup, so to make them extra special I concocted a little cream cheese glaze which I spiked with some almond extract. Drizzled on top of the hot pancakes it melted into a great butter-like consistency. They were fabulous and more than made up for me missing out on them while in LA. Haha!

I got three large pancakes out of the mix below, but you could easily double or triple it depending on requirements. I bet they would work brilliantly with other purees too, banana, apple, orange, pineapple…!

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes with Almond Cream Cheese Glaze
(Recipe adapted from Babycakes NYC blog)
100g Doves Farm plain flour mix (mix of rice, maize, tapioca, corn & buckwheat)
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
80g pumpkin puree (or mashed sweet potato)
120-150ml milk (any kind you like)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mixed spice
10g dark chocolate, chopped (dairy free if you like)
1 tsp agave nectar or honey
Sunflower oil for frying

Almond Cream Cheese Glaze
25g cream cheese (dairy free if you like)
40g icing sugar
1 drop almond extract

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the icing sugar and mix to incorporate. Beat in the almond extract and set aside. Heat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to melt until just soft and gooey. Stir and set aside.
To make the pancakes, place all the dry ingredients into a bowl and gently mix together. Add the agave nectar and pumpkin puree and mix so that it starts to form a thick batter. Add a little milk and beat until smooth. Add more milk until you achieve a thick spoonable batter, the consistency of a thin cake batter.
Finally stir in the chocolate chips.
Heat the oven to low and place a plate with a sheet of kitchen paper on it in the oven to keep warm.
Lightly grease the base of a frying pan and heat until warm but not too hot.
Spoon around two tablespoons of the pumpkin batter into the pan and gently spread it into a thick even round if necessary. Leave it alone for 45-60 seconds to cook and brown undisturbed. Then quickly flip the pancake over to cook the other side, with the help of a fish slice or palette knife.
Once cooked, transfer to the kitchen roll lined plate in the oven to keep warm and continue to cook the remaining pancakes.
Serve stacked on the warm plate, topped with a dollop of the cream cheese glaze. Eat and enjoy!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Tastes & Tales of LA – BabyCakes NYC

BabyCakes NYC is an all natural, allergy aware bakery based in New York. In recent months I have read many rave reviews of them on blogs and always longed to sample some of their baked treats myself. So imagine my delight when I discovered that they have also opened two outlets in Los Angeles – just in time for my visit – hurrah!

BabyCakes NYC – Location 1: North Larchmont Blvd, Hollywood
We caught the bus to Larchmont Blvd which was only a short ride away from where I was staying. It was a lovely location, lots of lovely nice shops and cafes lining the street both sides, smaller roads and pretty houses with flowers trailing over the walls. We found BabyCakes, which was a tiny cute little shop with a few chairs and tables dotted outside.

They had a range of cupcakes, loaf cake slices, cookies and doughnuts on offer. There were no labels saying which items were GF and so I asked an assistant and was delighted to be told everything was Vegan, GF, Kosher and made with agave nectar rather than cane sugar. I couldn’t believe it – everything gluten free! I was so happy that I actually did a little happy jumpy bouncy thing right there in the shop, which made the assistant laugh. They used to do some things that weren’t gluten free, but have recently decided to make everything gluten free so there is no risk of contamination – yippee!

I didn't fancy the cupcakes, which I am sure were delicious, but looked a little craggy to me, plus I can make those easily myself. I wanted something new and exciting! I went for a doughnut instead - wow a doughnut! I've not had one of those in 2 years - I was so excited. I also chose a thin mint cookie and J went for a vanilla cupcake and a chocolate chip cookie sandwich (two choc chip cookies stuck together with a bit of vanilla frosting). We collected our purchases and scuttled off outside to eat them in the sunshine.

Thin Mint Cookie $1.50
A soft flat chocolate cookie, covered in a tick layer of mint chocolate. It’s an American cookie I have often heard mentioned on blogs so I was delighted to get the chance to try one. It had a very strong aroma of peppermint. It was of a generous size with a nice smooth and glossy chocolate glaze, coating the top and sides of the cookie. The cookie part was very soft, with a slight crunch to the outer edges, but quite brownie like in texture. It was ever so slightly grainy, probably made with some rice flour, although this was only detectable because I was looking for it. It had a very strong chocolate mint flavour, almost a little too strong, but just on the right side of good. The coating of minty chocolate glaze was so thick in the centre it was almost as thick as the cookie itself! Very tasty, but a little too strong on the mintiness for me.

Coffee Crunch Doughnut $3.95
Wow doughnuts!! DOUGHNUTS!! They all had the same plain base and then were topped with different flavours. There was a choice of sugar dusted, cinnamon sugar, chocolate glaze, blueberry glaze, caramel or coffee crunch. I went for the coffee crunch which seemed the most exciting and a bit different.
These were baked doughnuts, rather than fried, giving them a very light and soft cake like textured doughnut. Not doughy or chewy like a normal doughnut, but closer textured and softer than a regular cake too. It tasted AMAZING! The base had a faint flavour of lemon which was very pleasant, even against the coffee. Doused in coffee glaze which was sweet and not too bitter, it had then been drizzled with melted chocolate and topped with tiny chocolate chips. Absolutely gorgeous flavour and texture. I was surprised how well the lemony cake went so well with the chocolate and coffee, it really seemed to enhance the flavours. Just wonderful. Divine even.

I suspect the cakey part was made with oil and agave syrup, sweet, soft and tender and very moorish! It wasn't in the least bit dry, crumbly, heavy or grainy. I've been racking my mind of the kind of flour they could have used and have decided it may have a bit of gram flour in there as it was so soft and tender. I remember making a cake with this flour one before and it being this soft, although mine had a bit of beany taste to it so they've done well to disguise it if so. The BEST bought GF treat I've ever eaten!! I only ate half at the time and had another bite of it the following morning, after my more sensible breakfast of course, but I couldn't resist another taste. Is this wrong...don't answer that! Hey, I was on holiday!! So so good!

Choc Chip Sandwich Cookie $2.95
J gave me a little corner of her cookie to taste. Two bendy but soft vanilla cookies, with a few chocolate chips scattered throughout, sandwiched together with a smooth vanilla icing. Very good cookie texture, not at all grainy and I was impressed they had managed to get it to be bendy and chewy, rather and crisp and brittle. The vanilla frosting middle was sweet and smooth. Very good cookie, but personally I would have preferred it without the frosting, but J loved it.

Cupcakes $4.50
I didn't try any of these, but J said her vanilla cupcake was nice.

BabyCakes NYC - Location 2: East 6th Street, Downtown LA
I planned on exploring Little Tokyo in downtown LA. After getting off at East 1st street I went strolling along taking in the sites. I intended to stay on 1st street the whole time, but me and my fabulous sense of direction got me lost and before I knew it I realised I was on 4th street – opps! After walking for ages in the wrong direction I remembered that on 6th street was meant to be the second store of BabyCakes NYC, so of course I couldn't resist the chance to sample more of their baked goodies, so I hunted it out. Maybe my feet got me lost on purpose? I got there just as the doors opened and walked into the smell of freshly baked treats. Being early meant I got the pick of the bunch. I nearly went for another doughnut, they had coconut topped ones this time, but in the end went for a pumpkin chocolate chip loaf cake slice. Pumpkin is something I always associate with America, as we have nothing pumpkin in the UK, especially in the baked goods category. I'm always drooling over pumpkin cakes on blogs and it looked so moist and freshly baked I couldn't resist it.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf Slice $3.95
When it was handed to me it still felt ever so slightly warm - this really was freshly baked! I couldn't resist tearing off a corner right there in the shop. This cake was more like a wedge than a slice. It’s about the width of 2 regular slices and I happily scoffed the lot (and wished there was more!)

It was absolutely studded with tiny dark chocolate chips, almost more chocolate chips than cake. They had stayed soft and made each bite wonderfully creamy, sweet and slightly bitter all at once. The cake was a lovely deep golden colour and smelt wonderful. It was incredibly moist and soft and yet still had a slightly firmer chewy outer top edge but with a soft and springy centre. The cake tasted divine! There was a faint lingering of spices and then a sweet natural sweetness from the pumpkin. It didn't taste sugar sweet, but naturally sweet. I've never had a pumpkin cake before it’s gorgeous and went so well with the chocolate chips. I have no idea how they get their baked goods so light and moist without any dense, heaviness, dryness or graininess from the flour, especially as there are no eggs or butter used! I'd love to know their secret. I've going to have to do some research. I don't think its ground almonds either, as there is no grain texture at all! FABULOUS!

If you’re gluten free, vegan or none of these things, BabyCakes NYC is well worth a visit!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Tastes & Tales of LA – Hugo’s Restaurant

Wow this place is amazing! Easily the best restaurant I have ever been to. It looks smart but nothing that special from the outside, but looks can be deceiving as this place was a vegetarian, coeliacs paradise! The variety, quality, freshness, versatility, choice, flavour of food was just outstanding!

Everything is made fresh to order on site and is an eclectic mix of American cuisine with some southern and Mexican influences. I should think around 80% of the menu is vegetarian and nearly all the dishes can be adapted to be gluten free or vegan too if required. I know some people think that vegetarian/vegan cuisine lacks interest and flavour, but there is nothing missing from these meals. Just take a look at the menu and you’ll see what I mean! I’ve never come across a restaurant serving food like this anywhere. I could have eaten here for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout my stay in LA and still not tried everything I’d have liked on the menu.

J and I went for lunch here on my first day. After several minutes agonising over what to choose form the menu I decided on Green Tamales & Eggs for $11.75 described as ‘spinach corn tamales on a pool of tomatillo salsa topped with two eggs any style, avocado-tomato-cilantro salsa, toasted tortilla strips, sour cream and cilantro.’
I’ve heard and seen tamales mentioned on American cookery programmes and appearing on a few blogs, but I doubt most people from the UK would have even heard of them. So I’d never tasted one and always been intrigued by them. Seeing them on the menu seemed the ideal opportunity to try them.

The tamales were soft, yet firm and tender with a texture similar to couscous that had been pressed together or a moist cornbread. It tasted divine and had the odd larger kernel of sweetcorn in it. It was green due to pureed spinach, which also gave it a lovely flavour. The salsa was not too hot but there was a bit of heat there, it was citrusy and so fresh, with a slight sharpness and a mix of different herbs and spices which created a wonderfully vibrant salsa. I’ve never had anything like it. It came with two eggs, but I requested it to only one with one. For some reason this caused some confusion in the kitchen as they couldn't understand why someone wouldn't want both! It also came with a side order of fresh fruit salad which was nice. I just kept repeating 'oh my this is divine!' It was so so good! I’m going to have to try and recreate them somehow.

J had an egg scramble with bacon, mushroom and sausage which also looked good. It was a lovely cosy atmosphere with little booths and squishy chairs. The meal for both of us, with 3 drinks, was only $30 which was great.

I enjoyed the meal so much that during the week I went back there for lunch on my own while J was at a class. I took a book along with me and sat in one of the little booths and felt quite comfortable eating alone. The atmosphere is very relaxed.
I decided to have one of their February specials which sounded delicious. Grilled Polenta & Portobello Ragout for $7.75. They didn't mind at all that I only wanted a small dish rather than a couple of courses.

The grilled polenta was arranged in thick triangles around the edge of the dish, giving it some height and made me think of slices of toasty. Along the centre of the dish was a mound of sautéed diced portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, broccolini in a sun dried tomato, cashew-cream marsala sauce, which was then sprinkled with fresh basil.
Sounds good doesn’t it? The polenta was just firm enough to be cut into triangles, yet still soft and tender when it came to cut it. The mushroom and artichoke hearts had been left nice and chunky, while the broccolini were still crisp and crunchy giving the whole dish a wonderful mix of textures and flavours. The tomato cashew marsala sauce was creamy and delicately spiced. Delicious and yet so simple.

Hugo's have three locations around California, so if you are ever in the area I recommend you go there. This was one of the highlights of my trip and it makes me so sad that there is no where like this in the UK, not even in London I don’t think and yet here it seemed quite normal to have such a fabulous restaurant. I wish I’d had time to try their roasted pineapple & coconut pancakes too.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Tastes & Tales of LA – The Flights

I’m back from my holiday to LA to stay with my friend J. I had a wonderful time and loved exploring the area and discovering some fantastic restaurants and foodie places. It was sunny and warm everyday and the streets were lined with palm trees – bliss. I return to find cold winds and even snow yesterday – brrrr. I thought I’d do a little write up of some of my experiences. First up, the flights!

As I had previously mentioned, when booking my flight with British Airways, I was told I could not request a coeliac and vegetarian friendly meal. I had to chose one or the other. I opted for coeliac as this was a medical condition and the person I spoke to on the phone said the air stewardess should be able to help with some extra food on the flight itself.

London Heathrow to LA
First up was lunch. As predicted my main meal was chicken and rice which was accompanied by a fruit salad, some mixed salad leaves and a GF bread roll. I explained to the stewardess that I was also vegetarian and so couldn’t eat the main part of the meal and had been told to ask if she had anything else I could supplement it with. She suggested the vegan option, which was pasta. I explained that I couldn’t eat this either at the pasta was wheat based. She went to talk to someone and came back saying she didn’t know what she could offer me. I asked if it was possible to have some cheese, so that I could turn my bread roll into a sandwich. She came back with a lovely selection of little bits of cheeses, including brie, camembert, cheddar and red Leicester along with an additional plate of salad, which I was delighted about and made for a very tasty meal. I think this must have been pinched from first class. She did also try to give me some normal bread to eat with it, which I again had to explain I couldn’t eat. It was nice to be given a pot of fresh fruit for my dessert, although I was a little envious of the yoghurt and carrot cake my fellow diners were given.

About 8 hours later they brought round the second meal consisting of boxes of sandwiches. I never even saw my box, as the stewardess came to see me and said she had opened my GF box and found out the sandwiches were fish. She apologised and said would I like to try the vegan sandwiches if they had any leftover. I yet again had to explain I wouldn’t be able to eat these as they would have been made on wheat/gluten bread. She apologised again and left. That was it. I was not provided or offered anything else in place of this meal and so went hungry, while everyone around me tucked into sandwiches and cake. This means that after my 12 hours on the plane I had been given one meal of GF bread roll, some cheese and salad. I was also not impressed with the obvious lack of simple knowledge as to what a gluten free diet involves, as I was offered wheat/gluten accompaniments three times during the flight. Some basic allergy awareness training is needed!

Flight back from LA to London Heathrow
Coming back I had a night flight. We were served dinner at around 10pm. As before, my main dish was chicken with…some unknown grey gloop at one end and a laughable half a single floret of broccoli. Now I have a degree in nutrition and a portion of fruit and veg is meant to be around 80g. I really don’t think this half a tiny piece of broccoli qualifies, it’s mainly stalk and I’m not really sure why they bothered to put it on the dish. The accompanying grey gloopy stuff still mystifies me. It was the consistency of custard, with a gloopy texture of poorly made instant mashed potato and yet bizarrely enough had a few grains of white rice floating around in it – at least I hope they were rice! I even tasted a tiny bit to try and determine what it was, and apart from tasting like salt, I still have no idea what it was supposed to be. 10pm is a little late for me to eat dinner and so I didn’t even attempt to try and ask for anything else and instead concentrated on the rest of the meal accompaniments. I was actually really impressed with these. I had a little GF bread roll, a bag of dried fruit and oh joy… a little slice of Madeira cake! The bread looked a little solid, but was actually really good. It was quite sweet, but had a lovely soft stretchy texture, almost like a milk roll. The ingredients list was stuck to the back which I was pleased about as without these I may have even believed it wasn’t gluten free. Apparently it was made in Brooklyn NY. The cake bar was also made by the same people and apart from being a little gooey, had a lovely vanilla flavour. It was so nice to be given some cake too.

After a restless night trying to sleep, we were provided with a breakfast box a few hours before landing. After missing out on my main meal the night before, I was quite hungry and eager to see what would be provided. My fellow passengers were given their ‘breakfast boxes’ which contained a big fruit muffin, a little cookie, a box of raisins, a yoghurt drink, a polo mint and then the complimentary fruit juice and coffee. What would I get...?

I was given my own special box and opened it to find…some grapefruit segments. Yep, that’s it. They get cake, cookies, dried fruit, yoghurt, mints and I get…grapefruit segments. I sat there feeling cheated. Grapefruit, just grapefruit...really!?! Now don’t get me wrong, I like grapefruit and it was nice to be given some fresh fruit but does someone somewhere really believe that a few grapefruit segments constitutes a filling breakfast and one that is a fair and suitable substitute to the regular breakfast box???

Oh wait, yes I was also given a tiny pot of reconstituted orange juice, but as everyone including myself then got given fresh juice along with coffee too I get the distinct impression this was put here in a desperate attempt to fill up the big empty space in the rest of the box, rather than being something to enhance my meal. Why couldn’t I of had some yoghurt, GF bread, dried fruit, rice cakes, jam, another little cake… anything extra than just grapefruit! I didn’t even get the mint! Needless to say I was not impressed and went hungry again. Grrrr.

I can kind of forgive British Airways the problems with my main meals and first flight sandwiches for not being vegetarian, as they had no prior knowledge that I required this due to the annoying fact you can’t specify other dietary needs if you are coeliac. However, the breakfast I was provided with compared to my fellow passengers was inexcusable and quite frankly I’m going to write and complain. I also feel the staff should be made more aware of basic allergies, so as not to keep offering coeliac customers pasta and normal bread as substitutes for their meals.

I found this cartoon that someone has made about the variety of gluten free meals on flights and it made me laugh so much I cried. Seems I’m not the only one less than impressed. Thankfully the rest of my meals while in LA were wonderful. I’ll post more about them soon.