Perk!er Gluten Free

Since I have a soft spot for a bright, bold and engaging packaging, it was no surprise that at this year’s Allergy show I was immediately drawn to the Perk!er Foods stand.

Sadly, on this occasion everyone else must’ve felt the same way and the Perk!er stand was crammed full of people on each of the three times I circled it attempting to speak to the owners to check on the nut situation with Perk!er’s products. It took a lot of willpower to resist my usual elbow manoeuvre honed over years of travel on Russian trains, trams and buses to push to the front. Instead, I could only look on at the exciting looking Brownie cake pops displayed with the colourful packaging.

A few weeks later whilst arranging a gluten free meet up I got chatting to Ann, the founder of Perk!er and I finally managed to ask whether their products contain nuts. This is the nut warning:

“WARNING ON NUTS: None of the PERK!ER products contain nuts as a specific ingredient, but some of the ingredients we use in the BREAD & TREATS do have a warning “may contain traces of nuts”. The porridges do not have a nut warning on them. We produce our gluten free food in a nut free kitchen”

For those with nut allergies, I must leave it up to you to decide whether these products are suitable for you. I would NOT eat anything which contained the nuts I’m allergic to. But I’m still figuring out what I think about “may contain traces of nuts” warnings such as those which appear on the Perk!er breads/sweet treats (but not porridge). However, this is my personal view and each person must make their own decisions with their health.

Ann very kindly sent me a box of Perk!er gluten free products to sample. I’ve been trying to find a breakfast ‘cereal’ which is gluten free, oat free, AND nut free and which can be eaten with yoghurt, but not milk. I would also like something which has some form of nutritional value, which rules out the crisped riced type breakfast cereals. A product which fits these criteria is actually quite difficult to find but I’m sure I’m not alone in needing something similar.

Perk!er offer both (gluten free) oat based and also oat free porridge in 3 flavours; Berry; Apple, Raisin and Cinnamon, and; Gingerbread. I’m not keen on gingerbread so I was sent samples of berry and apple, raisin and cinnamon flavours. The oat free porridge is made with organic millet and buckwheat flakes.

On the first morning, I stirred the oat free porridge into my yoghurt. I wasn’t that keen on the texture because it was a bit gritty for me. I think the Greek yogurt I eat doesn’t contain much moisture to absorb the grains and for them to expand. Other yoghurts and – I’m sure – milk or water would give a different result when mixed with the porridge. The next day I sprinkled the porridge on top and this was a winner. The texture was no longer gritty and I could properly taste the flavours in the porridge mix. The oat free porridge pack costs £3 for a 270g pack which the website says this gives 6 servings. I weighed the sample packs before I ate them so I know I was eating approximately 20g in a serving. This means a pack would last me 13 breakfasts and I feel this is good value.

I also got to try a seeded loaf. Sadly, the Royal Mail let us down and the parcel arrived a few days later than it was supposed to have been delivered so the bread was a little past its best since Perk!er do not use any preservatives in their products to prolong their life. However, I did love the shape of this bread. The taste and texture of the centre part of the seeded loaf which was still really soft was delicious.

The chocolate treats. What I really like about the Perk!er products is that the look of the very cool packaging and the quality of the products make them into genuine treats.

The Rocky Road was particularly good with its fluffy pink marshmallow chunks but I very much enjoyed all of the chocolate treats. Well, except one that is. The cake pop of the type I’d seen at the Allergy show. It was pinched by naughty Mr D before I got to try it. Which just goes to show that the Perk!er products are not just for Coeliacs/gluten intolerants.

Details
Online sales: Only the two versions of porridge (oat and oat free) in the three different flavours are currently available for online purchase from PerK!er direct by clicking here.
In person: Perk!er are selling their full range at trade shows throughout the UK. For more details, check their facebook page for details.
Also: Going to the Coeliac UK AGM on 30th June? Perk!er will have their full range available to purchase from a stand there.

Disclaimer: I was kindly sent the Perk!er products above to try but this is my honest review. In fact, I liked the oat free porridge so much that I ordered (and paid for with my own money) 3 packs of the oat free porridge after sampling it.

Sweetcheeks Ltd: Gluten Free & Vegan Cakes and Baked Goods

Owner of gluten free and vegan cake business, Sweetcheeks Ltd, Catherine Rose’s dream had always been to open up her own deli but after a trip to New York, she identified what the UK’s gluten free market was missing; healthier gluten free baked goods which, as a Coeliac herself, Cat would also like to eat.

Inspired by her discoveries in New York, Cat then set about developing and extensively testing suitable recipes for gluten free and vegan cakes (using no eggs or butter) which would taste so fabulous that her customers wouldn’t notice the difference. After 6 months of recipe development she was ready to launch Sweetcheeks in January 2010.

One rainy and miserable Saturday (aren’t they all these days?!) Cat very kindly brought around a box of her delicious cakes for me to try. What a treat! I shared them with Mr D who has no need to eat gluten free. He definitely didn’t notice the difference in the taste from their gluten containing cousins, he just enjoyed them for the fantastic cakes they are.

What we liked about the cakes was that unlike many companies which make the cakes and baked goods in their range with similar textures and consistencies, all of the Sweetcheeks cakes we tried were different to each other.

Having an allergy to almonds often proves difficult for me as many gluten free cakes contain these nuts. So I was very happy to learn that so many of the Sweetcheeks’ products do not contain almonds.

Lemon & poppy seed whoopie pie. I thought the lightness of the lemon flavour in this whoopie pie was wonderful.

Gloreo: A gluten free take on an Oreo cookie. Just looking at this photo is making me drool. Because Cat’s cakes are made with natural ingredients and without artificial substitutes, this tasted far less synthetic than the cookie which inspired it.

Mmm…doughnut! I thoroughly enjoyed this cinnamon flavoured doughnut. I served mine heated up and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And you don’t just need to take my word for how great these cakes are! Sweetcheeks were winners with both their almond biscotti and maple & pecan cupcakes at this year’s Free From Food Awards.

Cat can cater for bespoke requests such as weddings and other celebrations. She loves getting creative, working with briefs provided by customers who enjoy her style of cakes to produce something unique and wonderful for an event.

You can find Sweetcheeks at the London Allergy Show from Friday 18th to Sunday 20th May. Cat is able to offer a hand delivery service on orders to most addresses in London which I think is a truly personal touch. Alternatively, orders can be made via the Sweetcheeks website or for collection on Saturdays from the market on Marleybone High Street.

If you’re off to the Allergy Show this weekend, get in quick – those delicious doughnuts won’t hang around for long!

 

The Free From Food Awards – The Winners

On Tuesday night I was very lucky to attend the annual Free From Awards party where this year’s winners were finally announced. The Free From Food Awards are now in their fifth very successful year. The Awards shortlist included a very impressive 300 products in 17 different categories which are all free from gluten, wheat, dairy (cow’s milk) and in addition some entries are also free from other major allergens including nuts and eggs. I was delighted to have been invited to join the judging panel this year and you can read my post on being a judge for the awards here. The prizes were presented by chef Anthony Worrall Thompson who has supported the Free From Food Awards from the start.

The invitation only awards ceremony was held in the Museum of London in the Docklands. This year we only had the DLR to contend with, unlike last year when a fatality on the over ground train line to the awards party location in Kew meant I was stuck at Clapham Junction until Caroline Aherne of Sugargrain (who’d I’d never met before!) very kindly came to my rescue!

Gluten free beer! I tried the Cornish Stinger’s Nettle Beer. (Verdict? Would be great with ice and mint on a summer’s evening)

The Awards ceremony/party gave me the opportunity to meet with many people I’ve chatted to via Twitter and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with old friends and new. When I started writing this blog, I really had no idea of the friendly gluten free community I would become part of and I think it’s amazing.

A winning trio! Mairead Maher of Lavida Foods, Caroline Aherne of Sugargrain and Stevan Taylor of the Foodamentalists.

In particular I was looking forward to finally meeting, Stevan Taylor who owns Yorkshire based Foodamentalists. I was so pleased for him that his gluten, wheat and dairy free frangipane mince pies won the dairy/gluten free Christmas foods category. Sadly I won’t be able to eat these amazing mince this year due to my almond allergy. However Stevan very generously developed some gluten, wheat, dairy and nut free chocolate brownies which he gave to me on the night. In addition to winning the Christmas foods category, Stevan also won a Highly Commended and two Commended awards for his fantastic products.

I was really pleased that Fria won the gluten free bread and bread mixes category with their very tasty Grova sliced loaf and also won a Highly Commended for their Grov minibaguettes. This Swedish bread company produces fantastic gluten free and dairy free bread with interesting flavours and a lower fat / higher fibre content to many of the gluten free breads on the market. They also sell some mighty sweet treats such as the Kanelbulle I’d tried in Stockholm and the seriously delicious Kladdkaka which proved such a hit at last year’s allergy show and which won a Commended this year in the gluten free cakes FFF Awards category. I hope that by winning awards in both the Bread and Cake categories, the profile of Fria’s products will be raised and attract the interest of UK major supermarkets in stocking Fria’s fantastic quality products thus making them more widely available.

The evening gave the attendees a fantastic opportunity to network and chat with both large and small scale producers, such as the lovely Russ and Yvette who are the husband and wife team behind Incognito Cakes. Incognito Cakes won a Highly Commended for their Choc Fudge Cake in the very competitive cakes and cake mixes category. The evening provided a great example that if you have the desire and passion to do something you love (whatever the size of your operation) then you can be successful.

Russ and Yvette, Incognito Cakes

One of the interesting products that I tried as part of the judging panel were gluten free spring rolls from Butterfly Snacks. Gluten free Chinese food is extremely difficult to find due to the abundance of soya and other gluten containing sauces in most dishes and this is one world cuisine which is almost exclusively necessary to cook from scratch at home. Unfortunately this product didn’t win an award this year but I’m glad Butterfly Snacks are producing spring rolls which certainly fill a gap in the gluten free market.

A full list of the winners of the Free From Food Awards 2012 is here. Please do take a few minutes to read through the full list. I found lots of interesting sounding products which I’d like to try and had not been aware of before, as well as many of my favourites.

A few picks from the winners from me:

· Gluten-free pasta and pizza bases/mixes: Winner Farabella Acini di Pepe/Pasta Grains A new product for me which I’m keen to try as a substitute for couscous as the summer salad months approach.
· Gluten-free savoury biscuits and snacks WinnerDarling Spuds Tomato, Green Olive and Oregano crisps and Highly Commended Sour Cream with a hint of Mexican Chilli Coeliacs rejoice! Finally, a truly gluten free crisp. The packets even carry the crossed grain symbol. I’ve bought these from Ocado and the flavours are fantastic. The owners of Darling Spuds couldn’t attend the Awards ceremony as they were hosting two children from Chernobyl, which makes me love this company even more.
· Free From Ingredients Joint WinnerBob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour I really like the mix of beans in this flour mix and use it for baking cakes, including the recent Orange & Polenta cake. It’s more expensive than other gluten free flours but it gives an interesting texture and great flavour to cakes.
· Pies, Flans, pizzas, one pot meals Highly CommendedDietary Specials Bonta d’Italia Marherita Pizza This pizza was genuinely fantastic. I liked the fact you could add your own toppings to this thin crispy pizza if you wanted to. I hope DS get this stocked more widely than at Asda, where I’m not a customer.
· Raw Food WinnerInSpiral’s Raw Dehydrated Kale Chips Cheesie Purple Corn Lots of rave reviews amongst those who’ve tried these kale chips mean they are a must try. I’m interested to find out how cheesie they taste when they are vegan don’t contain any cheese.

The winners line up with Anthony Worral Thompson and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson

A huge congratulations to all of the winners in this year’s awards. Many thanks to Cresssida and Michelle for inviting me to join the judging panel and for all their hard work in making the awards the success it is.

When Life Gets Complicated…Bake Cake

When I was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago with an allergy to almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts I was not – to put it politely – very happy. Life has suddenly become a lot more complicated.

I’ve suffered a couple of allergic reactions to almonds (one far more severe than the other) and went to see an allergy specialist to be properly diagnosed. The more serious allergic reaction had happened after I’d eaten fresh almonds on one of the tiny Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily last year. Within a short time of eating them my whole body was covered in big itchy hives, I had a thick scarlet welt around my neck and shortness of breath with dizzyness. Although I was in a village, it was quite remote with limited / no emergency medical care. However, I think the situation would have been far more terrifying had I been half way up a mountain eating a nut bar or trekking somewhere remote when I suffered the allergic reaction.

I’m still coming to terms with how allergies to these nuts will impact my life (particularly when travelling and eating out) so I shall save a longer blog post on this until I’ve fully articulated my thoughts.

When Caleigh asked whether I’d be interested in taking part in a Spring recipe challenge, I was really keen to participate. This isn’t a recipe blog, mainly because I usually cook straight from recipe books. I’m starting to think that perhaps this will have to change, though, given the prevalence of ground almonds in gluten free baking recipes. The Spring recipe challenge is using oranges as the theme since they are in season at the moment. The challenge is to create a dish which uses oranges, is free from gluten and dairy as well as being free from almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts.

Thanks to the great gluten free community on Twitter, I learnt that polenta can be used in recipes as a substitution for ground almonds. Who knew? Not me! One of my favourite cakes is this Clementine Cake by Nigella. I’ve adapted the original recipe to remove the ground almonds. The cake is amazingly easy to make. Boiling the clementines for 2 hours will make your house smell absolutely heavenly, even before you pop the cake in the oven.


(A Not Very Complicated) Orange Polenta Cake (gluten free, dairy free, almond free)

Ingredients

– 4 to 5 seedless clementines (weighing approximately 375 g)

– 6 eggs

– 225 g caster sugar

– 175 g gluten free polenta

– 75 g gluten free plain flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour, I love the mix of beans in the flour but Dove’s would work too)

– 1 heaped teaspoon of gluten free baking powder

Method

1. Put the clementines in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for 2 hours. Drain and allow to cool. (If you’ve used clementines with seeds in you will need to cut them in half when cool enough to handle and remove seeds at this stage). Take the whole fruit (including skin, pith fruit etc) and blitz it in a food processor/blender to make it smoother. Before I had a blender I mashed it up a bit with a potato masher (!!) and it worked just fine.

2. Preheat oven to 190 C. Grease and line a springform tin. Either a 21 or 23cm tin will work. I used a 23 cm tin.

3. If you’ve blitzed the clementines in a food processor/blender then add all the other ingredients and mix. If you’re not using a food processor, beat the eggs by hand and add the sugar, polenta, gluten free flour and baking powder and mix well, adding in the pulped clementines last.

3. Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for one hour. Check the cake after 40 minutes. I cover in foil at this point to prevent the top of the cake from burning.

4. The cake is done when a skewer inserted to the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

The cake tastes delicious as it is but I add a syrup:

Ingredients

125 ml fresh orange juice

125 g golden caster sugar

Zest of 2 clementines

Method

1. Put the sugar and orange into a small saucepan

2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the syrup thickens and then sugar is fully dissolved

3. Allow the syrup to cool

4. Poke holes on the top of the cold cake and poor over the cooled syrup

5. Sprinkle the zest of the clementines over the cake


This full on orange fest of a cake will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight tin. It tastes even better the day after you make it, meaning it’s the perfect bake ahead cake.

A huge thank you to Caleigh for organising this Spring recipe challenge. You will find a round up of everyone’s recipes on Caleigh’s blog this afternoon. I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else has created, all of which will be safe for me to eat!

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