I blog information, news and recipes about gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, alcohol-free and vegan cooking. Right now I've been working on an exciting project where I avoid refined sugar and create recipes using a range of healthier alternatives.

Happy cooking!

ps. ask all guests if they have an allergy (because the recipes use some unusual combinations and they may not expect to find citrus and soya in the chocolate cake, for example).
pps.if you are cooking for someone with an allergy, please read my allergy page first.

Dairy free, egg free and gluten free jam tarts

This recipe uses a lovely sweet almond pastry that is super simple to make and tastes great. You might also like to use it as a base for some other occasions where a vegan or dairy-free, egg-free or gluten-free pastry base is needed (and hey, given that it's Christmas, maybe some home made mince pies!)

Makes 12

12tbsp raspberry jam (or other jam of your choice)

50g dairy-free sunflower margarine
25g sugar
75g ground almonds
25g rice flour
50g cornflour
pinch salt
vegetable oil for oiling the tin

Oven at 160C. Mix all the ingredients together (except for the jam) and knead to form a pastry. Don't worry if it seems a bit sticky. Divide the pastry into 12 equal sized portions.
Oil a fairy cake/tart tin.  Using your thumb, press a portion of pastry into each hole in the tin. Add one tablespoonful of jam to each tart and then bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is slightly browned. Allow to cool before extracting each tart using a palette knife.

Tomato and basil soup

It's tomato season, hurrah! If like me you are faced with a sudden glut from the greenhouse, try making this delicious vegan and dairy-free tomato and basil soup. I had some last night and I can assure you that you will be amazed at how good something so simple can taste.

Serves 4 

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
500g tomatoes
500ml water
1 sprig parsley
handful of basil
1 tsp salt

Dice the onion and slice the garlic thinly; fry gently in the olive oil until soft, but not brown. Wash the tomatoes and slice in half/quarters if they are big. Add them to the pan with all the other ingredients. Simmer for half an hour until the tomatoes are completely cooked, then rub everything through a sieve. If necessary, use a hand-held blender to get a completely smooth mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Easy gluten-free cakes for tea

Yum... these Blueberry and Cranberry Muffins are the latest offering from Warburton's new Gluten Free & Wheat Free range (which does contain egg and dairy, so watch out for that). Both these muffins and the Lemon & Poppyseed variant are scrummy and would fool even the most ardent wheat-eater. I enjoyed them over a cup of tea with a wheat-free friend who was pleasantly surprised.
Look out for them in Tesco and Waitrose (among others) along with other members of the range including a spiced fruit loaf. However, like many free-from products you do have to pay more than for a comparable standard product (around twice as much in the case of the fruit loaf). Still, with so little on the market it does at least give you an good option if you need a quick tea-time treat!

Strawberry shortcake

Ah, summer is (sort of) here at last... and so I thought it was worth celebrating the fact with this gluten-free strawberry shortcake recipe. It's dead simple and you can even make the biscuit bit in advance (though you do need to eat up quickly once you've added the fruit as the shortcake will go soggy). Watch out if you're using home-made jams because sometimes people add butter to remove the scum during manufacture.

Serves 6

For the shortcake
50g dairy-free margarine
25g caster sugar
50g Doves Farm gluten-free white self-raising flour blend (or similar)
40g ground almonds
Extra gluten-free flour for rolling out
Vegetable oil for greasing

For the topping
4 tbsp strawberry jam
1 tsp lemon juice
600g fresh strawberries

Oven at 160°C. Cream together the margarine and sugar before adding the flour and ground almonds. Knead together to form a dough (add a drop of water if it’s too dry) and then roll out thinly, about 2–3mm. Use cutters or a knife to create six side-plate-sized rounds or squares before transferring to a lightly oiled baking tray. Bake for 20–25 minutes until lightly browned and transfer to a tin when cool if they are not needed straight away.
To prepare the topping, first wash the strawberries and pat them dry. Remove the leaves and cut into slices. Measure out three tablespoonfuls of strawberry jam into a pan – try not to get pieces of fruit with it as you only need it as ‘glue’ for the fresh strawberries. Heat it with some lemon juice over a low heat. Allow the jam to bubble for three or four minutes to condense the mixture a little before spreading it onto each shortcake with a knife. Immediately add the slices of strawberry and brush over the remaining jam. Serve.

The easier way to find specialist foods

If you're having trouble tracking down gram flour or are worried about which brand of baked beans to buy, then check out Foodsyoucan.

I can totally recommend this brilliant website. Not only can you use a bespoke food search to find the foods you can eat from among the enormous choice in our supermarkets, it will even tell you where to buy them - whether online or in the actual real world! This means if you need something without sesame or soya, or without MSG or sugar - or all of them, just click on the relevant tick boxes and away you go. There's even a price comparison facility. The site also caters for religious diets, vegans - in fact, you name it, it's probably there.

Even better, there's a dining out/holiday bit, and a page dedicated to mums and tots, and of course recipes too. Genius.

Love on a plate

If you or someone you know has trouble living with someone because they don't share their food allergy/conviction, then check out some of the dating websites that have sprung up - catering (no pun intended!) specifically to people who have special dietary requirements. According to a piece in The Times yesterday, whether you're e.g. a vegan or just can't have peanuts, it's now easier than ever to find someone to cook for and with. Check out or for more details!

Vegan and gluten-free corgi gingerbreads for the Diamond Jubilee

Here's a fun way to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee – the biscuit colour is perfect, and currants make ideal eyes and noses. Sadly, I couldn’t use Royal icing (ho ho) because of the egg white, but plain white water icing is all you need anyway. Use my corgi template to make your own!

Makes about 10

75g gram (chickpea) flour
50g cornflour
50g non-dairy margarine (eg Pure)
50g Demerara sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbsp water

To decorate
Icing sugar

Oven at 150C. Mix all the ingredients (except the water) together in a food processor or by chopping at it finely with a knife until you get what looks like crumbs. Add the water and knead together by hand to form a dough. You may need a tiny bit more water or a little more cornflour to get the right consistency, which should be soft but not sticky or dry.
Print this page and cut out the corgi template. Roll the dougn out to 3mm (use cornflour to stop the dough sticking) and then place the paper corgi on the dough and cut round with a sharp knife. Place on an oiled baking tray and bake for 20–25 minutes until golden. Let them cool a little before attempting removal from the tray.
To decorate, make a very thick paste from icing sugar and water and pipe the detail using a fine nozzle (if you don’t have a proper icing bag, use a plastic food bag with a tiny hole in the corner). Also use this paste icing to ice the border of the large white areas as it stops the runnier icing going out of its boundary. Dip the currants in the icing and stick in place. For the large areas of white, make icing about the consistency of golden syrup and pour a bit on with a teaspoon before using the back of the spoon to spread it into place. Woof! 

It's a sticky situation with maple syrup this year

If you're a vegan who opts for maple syrup over honey to sweeten pancakes, home-made muesli and more, then the spring weather in the north of America may make this a sticky year for you! Apparently, a spell of hot dry weather in March has led to many trees 'drying up' - and if they didn't, they have produced a foul-tasting syrup instead. With production down by nearly 50 per cent, you'd think prices would rocket. In fact, this is the good news part of the story. Prices are only up 5 per cent at the moment. For the whole story, click here.

If you decide to switch to agave nectar instead, then it turns out that this seemingly innocent topping is in the middle of a wasps' nest of controversy about whether it is actually 'good' for you or not...

Maybe the lesson to take from all of this is to use sweeteners sparingly (but I think we all knew that anyway!)

Allergy and Free-from Show starts this Friday!

Just a quick reminder that it's the Allergy and Free-from Show in London this weekend, great if either you or a loved one has problems eating certain foods. I'll be there on the Friday and in case you'd forgotten, you can get free tickets by clicking here.

Go gluten-free for a week to help Coeliacs

Today marks the first day of Coeliac Awareness Week, which aims to bring understanding of this disease to a wider audience. With eating out the main headache for sufferers (many menus are completely unsuitable), the Gluten-free Challenge is all about addressing this problem. Among the many ideas are:
  • Challenge a friend to go gluten-free and get sponsored for their efforts
  • Ask friends or family to follow a completely gluten-free diet for a week
  • Get your office to go gluten-free at lunch
You could use some of the recipes from this blog (such as my chocolate traybake above) as a starting point - it's surprisingly easy to go gluten-free once you get your head round it and just improving understanding will go a long way to help sufferers.

Thousands lack recipe ideas for vegetarians and those with allergies

According to a story in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, more than one in 10 people would avoid asking loved ones to dinner parties, Christmas lunch and even weddings if they have different dietary needs. The research was done by Warburtons and studied 2,067 adults. Chris Hook (their 'free-from' business unit director)  said: "It's shocking that so many people consider not inviting friends and family with dietary requirements to social events."

Apparently two-thirds said guidance from their guests on how best to cater for their needs might give them enough confidence to prepare special meals for them - and that's where Wide Circle Cooking comes in!

Is glycerine suitable for vegans?

I was rootling through my store cupboard yesterday and I came across glycerine (also known as glycerol) - it's used to keep food moist and is particularly common in Royal icing because it stops it going hard. So there I was, wondering, a) what exactly is it, and b) is it suitable for vegans?
Well, the answer is .... maybe. Basically, glycerine is a slightly sweet liquid which is found naturally in blood and fat, but can also be derived from plant oils. It's technically an alcohol too, in that it has three hydroxyl groups (that's an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom) at one end of its chemical structure. The problem is that most of the time it's impossible to know if the glycerine in your food is suitable because manufacturers don't tend to say where it has derived from. Of course, you could get in contact with the manufacturer and ask them, but failing that it's probably safer to avoid it completely.

Avoiding egg

The shelves are bulging with chocolate in one key shape - eggs. Yes, it's Easter again and while avoiding unsuitable chocolate eggs might be easy enough (willpower aside), it is amazing how difficult it is to avoid eggs in processed foods generally.
If you can't have egg (or are shopping for someone who can't) then you'll need to avoid foods with any of the following as well:
albumin, globulin, lecithin (soya lecithin is OK – as long as your guest can eat soya!), lysozyme, ovalbumin and ovovitellin. 

If that wasnt' bad enough, many wines (especially red) and even beers are clarified using egg so look for a vegan wine instead (click here for a handy link to a vegan wine site).
Happy Easter!

Gluten-free maple syrup crispy cakes

This recipe is so easy that it makes a great one for the children to help with, under supervision, and one they will certainly want to eat when it’s done. The cakes will keep for several days in an airtight tin.

Makes 12

60ml maple syrup
50g dairy-free margarine
100g puffed rice

Oven at 160C. Place paper cases in a cupcake tray. Next, take a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat the margarine and maple syrup over a low heat. Once the margarine is melted, continue to heat for another 5 minutes to allow it to bubble and blend with the maple syrup. Remove from the heat and stir in the puffed rice until fully coated.
Evenly distribute the cakes in the paper cases with a spoon (it’s fine to fill the cases high because the rice will reduce in size during cooking), then bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and then enjoy!

Easter treats

Yes... it's that time of year again - Easter, when the huge volumes of milk chocolate and piles of cakes make it especially difficult for those who want things dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, wheat-free or vegan! Cheer up your kids with these cute Easter biscuits (recipe here) - in the pic above I've iced one with normal water, food colouring and icing sugar mix.

For those who want to create a unique dairy-free dark chocolate egg for someone they love, here are some ideas (and the original post is here).

Free tickets to the Allergy & Free From Show!

For those who don't know about it, the Allergy & Free From Show is a great event, held twice a year - once in London and then in Liverpool. It's the show to go to if you or a family member/friend suffer from allergies, eczema and other skin conditions, migraines, coeliac disease, hay fever, asthma, food intolerances or chemical sensitivites.

As well as shopping opportunities, Sainsbury's is doing a special cooking zone, there are parent workshops and loads of other opportunities to learn more and find help.
First up is the London show, which is from May 18-20, 2012, at Olympia.  The Liverpool event will be held on 27-28 October at the BT Convention Centre.
Even better, readers of this blog can get free tickets either to London or Liverpool! Just click on this link.

Have a great time and if you're going to the London one I may see you there (I'll be going on the Friday - let me know if you want to meet up and say hello!)

Cherry and almond cupcakes

My vegan, dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free chocolate cupcakes are your favourite post, so I thought I’d do some more along the same theme! These totally moreish cakes take about five minutes to make so can easily be whipped up before your guests arrive (or indeed at any other time!) and are particularly delicious fresh from the oven when the top is slightly gooey and crispy. If you use tinned cherries, they don’t keep for more than a day (they’ll go soggy), so use glace cherries instead if you want to make them in advance.

Makes 12

150ml soya milk/rice milk

1tsp lemon juice

80g sugar

50ml sunflower oil

100g Doves Farm gluten free self-raising flour

50g ground almonds

1tsp baking powder (check it’s a wheat-free version, though most are)

2 drops of natural almond essence

1 tin stoned dark cherries or a tub of naturally-coloured glace cherries

Oven at 160C. Before you start, halve 12-16 of the cherries and place the cupcake cases in a cupcake tray. In a bowl, place all the remaining ingredients and mix with a fork – it’ll be pretty sloppy, but that’s OK. Add the cherry halves and mix again. Distribute the mixture and cherries into the 12 cupcake cases and then place in the oven. The cakes should be cooked and lightly browned after 30 minutes. Here I've topped them with 'butter' icing made from some Pure margarine, icing sugar and a little of the juice from the tinned cherries, but to be honest they don't really need it (I only did it for aesthetic reasons as they look so much nicer in the photo!).

Hazelnuts and coconuts are my latest discoveries!

Alpro's new Hazelnut Drink is pretty ace and well worth a try for anyone who's ever enjoyed a hazelnut yogurt. It's great on its own, but where it really scores is made up as a latte - it makes a fantastic non-sweet version of a conventional hazelnut latte, which can be too syrupy for my liking.
Also worth a try is Kara's Dairy Free Milk (made from coconut milk) - I think it's tastes more similar to cow's milk when eaten with cereal than either soya milk or rice milk, and reckon it would work well in cooking. I found both of these in Waitrose, but I think Tesco also sells the Kara coconut, plus it has Alpro's Almond Milk (off to try that soon!).

Interesting nutritional facts about hazelnuts (from
Hazelnuts contain oleic acid and linoleic acid (good for preventing heart disease) and are rich in folic acid too (good for expectant mothers). They are also high in fibre, vitamin E and several B vitamins. If that wasn't enough, they also contain manganese, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium!

Climate Week - encourages a vegan diet!

If you don't already know about Climate Week then here are a few details about this great idea!
Climate Week is Britain’s biggest climate change campaign, inspiring a new wave of action to create a sustainable future.
Culminating in a week of activities, it showcases practical solutions from every sector of society - including eating vegetarian or vegan food a couple of times a week (plant-based foods are more environmentally friendly than animal-based ones) and opting for seasonal foods with low food miles. I'm well up for this idea and while of course all the meals on this blog are vegan I must admit it's a bit more difficult to choose seasonal foods at this time of year! However, my minestrone uses the lovely spring cabbage that is around at the moment, so that's a definite winner.
If you like these ideas, it's a great idea to check out the Vegan Society and the Vegetarian Society for more recipes. Happy cooking!

Baking with Allergies course

Bridge 67 Cookery School, Leicestershire will be running a Baking with Allergies course on Saturday 20th June, giving baking inspiration and fresh ideas to those with food intolerances.
Check out the link for more details!