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.

A rice-free, gluten-free flour on the horizon!

Rice – saviour of the gluten-free eater, or dangerous source of toxic arsenic? There’s been a lot chat about this subject over recent months, which investigations both by the UK and by the FDA in the US. 
Arsenic poisoning is serious stuff – it’s a heavy metal that is naturally found in the soil – high levels of arsenic leads to eg. stomach pain, convulsions and diaorrhea. There are also links to heart disease, cancer, stroke and other nasties.
Because arsenic can be dissolved in water, it can be absorbed by plants as they grow. Many grains, fruits and vegetables contain tiny traces of arsenic, but it has been discovered that rice naturally absorbs in it higher concentrations than other grains (and often in its most toxic form), regardless of whether it is organically grown or not. Because the body finds it very difficult to get rid of arsenic, levels can accumulate in the body over time – and the more of it you ingest, the worse the problem. Children are especially sensitive to it too.
The FDA has done quite a lot of research, with an interesting table on how much arsenic has been found in different rice products (bear in mind some of the sample sizes are very small). However, it’s worth also remembering that for centuries, millions of people have relied on a daily diet of rice – so this is very much about minimising risk rather than needing to eliminate it all together.
If you’re worried, try to find alternatives where you can. But while a substitute for rice milk or hot rice cereal can be fairly straightforward, it’s tricky when it comes to gluten-free flours because so many of them use rice flour as a key ingredient.
Thankfully, there’s a new product on the horizon. Vicki Montague, the ‘FreeFrom Fairy’, was worried about the amount of rice her daughter was eating, in particular because it was frequently the case that she’d be having it three times a day, so has decided to do something about it.
“My daughter was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2010 after being diagnosed with cow’s milk protein and egg allergies before that. It was in 2014 that I started to read about arsenic being contained in milk. I had known for a while that under five’s were not recommended to have rice milk but until that point I stayed firmly under the duvet when it came to reading about why this was.  In the back of my mind I knew that my daughter was eating a lot of rice.  As soon as she went gluten-free, rice popped up in everything from her breakfast cereal in the morning, to her bread for lunch, to her pasta at tea time,” says Vicki.
“When I finally read about the occurrence of inorganic arsenic in rice I decided it was time to address my daughter’s diet. Making everything from scratch wasn’t the answer because the only gluten-free flour blends on the market either contain rice flour or a combination of bean flours (that don’t agree with any of our tummies). So, with my background in science and my love of experiments I set about creating my own flour blend that would provide my daughter with vital nutrition while at the same time being free from rice.  It was important for me to create something that I could use in everything I made; I hate faffing around with hundreds of different flours (even though it is what I have done for years to create one successful blend!) and wanted to make our life as simple as possible! It also had to provide protein, fibre and calcium since these things are often lacking, but important in a gluten-free diet.
“I read about the different properties of each of the different gluten-free flours; I read about the nutritional content of them, I read about how to replicate gluten in gluten-free flours; I tried to get as many wholegrains in there as possible…in fact I confess to becoming rather an obsessed flour geek!”
Vicki has now created a wholegrain, multipurpose gluten-free flour blend that is also great for those with sensitive tummies and IBS because it contains no high FODMAP flours and no gums. The actual make-up is still under wraps at the moment, but all will soon be revealed. The flour has been repeatedly tested and Vicki is now in the process of bringing it to market, so watch this space!
NEXT WEEK – find out what happens when I use Vicki's flour to make muffins!

The art of food judging

This is the palette not of an artist, but of a food judge (they're a mixture of sauces and salad creams).

I was honoured to be asked to help judge the FreeFromFood Awards 2016 and was not as easy as you might think. Tasting a long list of store cupboard essentials takes a a lot of careful consideration and is a huge responsibility.

Finding my own favourites was easy (not that I knew what they were at the time as everything is kept anonymous) – Bute Island Foods' Creamy Scheese in Spring Onion & Cracked Black Pepper, Origin Earth's GF crackers with caraway, Natural World Almond & Coconut spread, Sweetpea Pantry's Grainy Brainy Pancakes and Miso Tasty's Classic Shiro Miso soup were all contenders, from my point of view, and I'd happily give them a home in my cupboard. But after we'd noted our own preferences came the (sometimes heated) discussion. Who was it actually aimed at? Did it fulfill a need in the 'free-from' community? Was it properly labelled? Did others actually agree that it was nice? Hearing other people's points of view was fascinating - what might eg. impress a judge from the food industry because of its clever packaging, might not impress a judge more on the consumer side because it had so many additives. 

In fact, many of the products that didn't make it onto the overall shortlist received high scores from one judge or other, so it's definitely worth checking all the product entries as well as the shortlist if you're after ideas - and well done to all those on the shortlist, as they've definitely earned their stripes. Now all you need to know is the winner... and that'll have to wait until April!

See for more details and the shortlist!

Pancakes - gluten-free, dairy-free or egg-free!

Yes, it's that time of the year again and one of my personal favourites - Pancake Day! I had my perfect job when I was 15, working in a pancake van at festivals, and I was allowed to eat as many as I liked (which definitely made up for the low wages).

The beauty of pancakes - and here I mean a thin, crepe-style pancake rather than an American thick one - is how adaptable they are. Your batter should be the consistency of single cream and you need a smear of oil/butter to get that pretty

Want your pancakes EGG FREE?
So easy - just mix wheat flour and milk together until you have batter of the right thickness. This might come as a surprise because it's always felt that eggs are needed as a binding agent. While this is true in some recipes (see my gluten-free pancakes, below), it's not true when you have wheat flour because the gluten in it acts like a brilliant binder with no extra help needed.

Want your pancakes DAIRY FREE?
This is even easier! The milk in pancake recipes could just as easily be replaced with a non-acidic alternative, eg. soya milk, rice milk, almond milk etc - even water! 

Want your pancakes GLUTEN FREE?
As mentioned in my bit about eggs, it's the gluten in pancakes that allows you to get them super-thin. However, there is a way to replicate this effect without needing to use additives like xanthan gum. Here's my recipe, from my book Gloriously Gluten Free. They take a little longer to fry than regular pancakes, so make them in the biggest frying pan you have.

Gluten-free thin pancakes (crepes) -  picture above and below

Makes about 8

35g brown rice flour
250ml milk or milk alternative
250ml water
55g potato flour (potato starch)
pinch of salt
2 beaten eggs
sunflower oil/butter for frying

Gently heat the brown rice flour and milk in a pan, whisking constantly, until you have a thick mixture. Remove from the heat. Slowly whisk in the water, followed by the potato flour and salt. Whisk in the eggs. Pour the batter into a jug.
Lightly grease your frying pan before use (I use a scrumpled-up piece of paper kitchen towel dipped in butter or oil). Pour on a dollop of batter and swirl the pan so your batter forms a thin layer across the base of the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes until golden underneath, then flip over and do the other side.
Place finished pancakes on a plate under a clean tea towel while you fry the others. Serve warm.