Great British Dairy-free Disappointment

Well, here we go again! I don’t know why I bother hoping that TV programmes will do dairy-free cooking properly. This time it’s The Great British Bake Off that’s been a disappointment.

Vegetable cakes.

Of course. How could we ever think of baking anything else? Sponges light as a feather? How could we be so unreasonable?

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint the powers that be, but I DO expect delicious, light cakes and pastries. And what’s more I make them regularly and without angst, agony or the need for a sacrificial goat.

I have no problem with carrot cakes, sweet potato cakes etc etc, but I do object to the implication that you can ONLY expect solid, dense cakes if you’re dairy-free. For goodness’ sake, BBC! Join the 21st century. Those of us who know what we’re doing with this type of cooking, and there are many of us, can vouch for the fact that we can produce everything from sponges to choux pastry without any problems. And that’s not cakes that you choke down out of politeness. I’m talking about glorious, light, fluffy sponges and not filled with wet, slimy icing either (once you’ve made the one-off mistake of trying to use Vitalite or Sainsbury’s spread for icing) which I’m sure I saw oozing its way out of one of the offerings in this week’s show.

On a more philosophical point, I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with a “Weirdo Food” week in something as influential as GBBO. On the up-side, I suppose I should be grateful that mainstream shows are trying to dip a token toe into so-called “allergy” cooking. However, I think I’d be much happier with items scattered across the shows, rather than the implication that all baking with replacement ingredients is the same and going to produce sub-standard results. Perhaps that’s the thing I object to most of all: the notion that a hair shirt is a necessary part of eating dairy-free; that you just have to accept that compromise is an essential part of dairy-free baking.

Well it isn’t and I don’t. I don’t live off vegetable cakes and I’m quite sure you don’t either.

Grrr!

Oh well, back to the recipes. They’re more fun and not so bad for the blood pressure. Besides, nobody ever listens to me, so I shall just put my energies into creating more delicious things to eat and make myself feel better.

Breathe…and smile!

Eating Out in ... Leominster

This proved quite a challenge! Leominster is an attractive little town with lots of old-style small shops: an ideal recipe for finding a choice of appealing alternatives for lunch you would think … wrong! To our amazement, it appeared not to have one restaurant open at lunchtime in the main town, and we walked round and round in pursuit of one. I can see how a town can become a centre for antiques shops – if they rock your boat, then Leominster is the place for you- but I have NEVER seen a town with so many hairdressers before. Evidently the locals are very beautifully coiffed, but never eat out in daylight to show off that fact! We found a  restaurant attached to a hotel… which is only open after dark. There is also one small Indian restaurant…you guessed it, only open after dark.

To cut a long story short, we ended up in the Tourist Information, asking for advice and suggestions of somewhere that might be able to feed two hungry dairy-free weirdos.  They stood and thought about it for several minutes, before sending us to Norrie’s. Now, I should probably mention that they did say, “Do you like quirky?” But we were hungry and we decided that, yeah we thought we could probably do quirky.

Well, they weren’t exaggerating. If you’ve ever fancied having lunch in the middle of a second hand bookshop which also rents out fancy hats, then Norrie’s is the place for you. The food was home-cooked and fairly basic, but perfectly edible. We had a veg curry, which wasn’t what I’d call cutting edge and most certainly wasn’t at all cheffy, but was tasty in a slightly orange kind of way. However, the whole experience was, well, fairly unusual. For a start, we were the only people in the place. (Not usually the best indicator of high quality nosh; however, it’s quite possible the good residents of Leominster were all busy having their hair trimmed and titivated.) The tables, all different sizes and styles, were in among stands of second hand books and surrounded by posters for local events and for the owner’s selection of  glamorous hats and fascinators which are available for hire.

I’ve had more exciting vegetable curries, I have to admit, but the experience was one to remember.

The foot note to this outing came on the way back to the car, when we found The Merchant’s House. This looks like a lovely café/restaurant (which is part of one of the antique shops) and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Tourist Office didn’t manage to mention it when asked. I can only assume the ladies decided that, as paid-up members of the Odd Food Society, we would only consider eating food which had been hand-knitted. Ah well, there’s always next time….

Pure on offer

Pure Sunflower and Soya are currently on offer at Tesco’s. They’re doing 2 for £2 for the next couple of weeks, so take advantage and stock up. The dates on the batch I found were end of October, so I now have a tidy stack at the back of the fridge. It goes fast enough, after all!

If you’re looking for alternatives to Pure, see our reviewspage for a range of other dairy-free spreads which are out there.

You Can't Wash Your Plate and Eat Off It!

Well, it’s been a while! Life gallops past and suddenly it should be summer. It isn’t, of course; just differently branded autumn as usual. However, we still have to eat … and wash up. Which brings me to my latest thought for sharing. This has to rank as one of the oddest places to find milk: washing up liquid. Yes, really. Not just any old washing up liquid. Expensive, save the planet, only from health food shops washing up liquid. Ecover, to be precise.

Surprised? I was staggered. WHY??? Why would a company which is all vegan this that and the other, put whey in their washing up liquid? It’s only in one variety, so you can still save the planet with the other “flavours”, but this is obviously put there to sort their customers into two groups: the true die-hard econut who reads every ingredient on everything whether it matters or not and the rest of the world who don’t really matter.

So, the one you’re avoiding is the Chamomile and Marigold one. The other two flavours are fine. Ecover lists the Chamomile and Marigold one as its only product to contain animal ingredients. Unfortunately, it does mean that you have yet another question to ask your save the planet friends before you can safely eat their food.

“Please don’t take this personally, but how did you wash up the last time you used these plates/glasses/saucepans (delete as appropriate)?”

Could be the end of a beautiful friendship!

Pure special offer!

The large Tesco I use has Pure spread on special offer at 2 boxes for £2. This makes it 25p a box cheaper than Tesco’s own at the moment. Mind you, experience says Pure will be putting their prices up yet again once the offer is over. Usually it’s a few weeks at 2 for £2, followed by a 10p a box price hike. If they follow through again, Pure will price themselves right out of the market: Tesco’s own spread (which is very much the same in terms of flavour and general usability) is £1.25 a box; Sainsbury’s own brand spread is about the same price and also good for baking cakes (not pastry: you need a hard margarine-like thing for that, not soft spread) and Vitalite is about £1.30 round here (also perfectly good to use, if high in salt). At the moment, Pure is £1.5o a box in Tesco and up to £1.60 elsewhere. Now, it’s a good product. I don’t dispute this. However, I’m not sure it’s THAT much better than its competitors, if at all. I’m now only buying it when it’s on special offer.

Which brings me back to where I started: get out there and buy it while it’s cheap!

Choices Chocolates - Yummm!

These have to be the most delicious commercial dairy-free chocolates I’ve come across. Choices make a caramel-filled chocolates which Sainsbury’s sell. I haven’t found them anywhere else in this country, though they may be available in stores in Ireland where they’re made by a company called Celtic Chocolates.

The chocolates aren’t cheap at £3.99 a packet, …but they are divine! Do you know, a whole packet can just evaporate into nothing if you don’t pay attention?? Amazing! They don’t have a soya backtaste and the company hasn’t gone for the knit your own sandals carob option which seems to be part of the compulsory flagellation mantra of many vegan “chocolate” bars. (Why? Doesn’t taste nice. If you go fair trade choc you contribute to small farmers’ income. )

They are truly the best thing out. Try them. Get someone to give you some. Drop HEAVY hints. If desperate, go out and buy yourself some. Call it market research!

The company also made an Easter egg this year, which at £4.99 for a small egg seemed too expensive for me to justify the market research option, so I can’t tell you what they were like. I did stand in Sainsbury’s with one in my hand. It even made it to the trolley twice, but I put it back each time after due consideration of the price. It just didn’t seem right spending that much on an egg that was frankly small.

For other brands of dairy-free chocolate, see our Reviews page.

Sainsbury's FreeFrom Easter Eggs

Once again, Sainsbury’s have brought out their own brand easter eggs for their FreeFrom range. These eggs are large, prettily wrapped in spring-like daffodil yellow cellophane and have no box. They’re really a grown-up egg, rather than a kids’ one and are made from dark chocolate with a good flavour and definite “mouth appeal”! At £3.99 an egg, they’re not cheap, but they are big eggs and make a good gift. The only challenge is transporting them without squashing them. It’s perilously easy to end up with an “Eeyore’s birthday” situation! What they also don’t have is anything inside/alongside the egg. As such, they lose out to Kinnerton’s and to the subject of my next post: Choices.  Having said that, the Kinnerton’s egg is £4.99, but it does have a bar of chocolate with it which usually retails for about £1 (depending on special offers).

For other brands of dairy-free chocolate, see our Reviews page.

Yoghurt That Pours - Tasty But Wasteful!

I’ve been meaning to post details of this for some time, but then today I finished a box and felt compelled to whinge about the waste. Alpro have brought out a “New, Improved” pourable version of their excellent vanilla yoghurt. The yoghurt’s lovely: thick but pourable; smooth on the tongue; very vanilla-flavoured and thoroughly delicious either on its own or poured over muesli.

HOWEVER, it’s impossible to get it all out of the box. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve shaken it. I’ve flattened it. I’ve squeezed it all the way along and wrung out a surprising amount more, but no matter how long I squeeze, flatten or shake (and swear at it), I cannot get it all out. Not possible. I’ve even tried hacking off the top with the kitchen scissors, but I can’t honestly recommend this: you end up with most of what you get out all over you (and over the scissors, the spoon, the worktop…). It stops feeling like you’re winning fairly early on in the operation!

And it annoys me. Quite a lot. Especially as it’s not cheap.

Maybe that’s the intention, of course (nasty, cynical mind at work here). Maybe, the marketing/sales people at Alpro have come up with this wonderful wheeze whereby they market this as an innovation designed to help the consumer by saving time in the morning and eliminating the spoon with yoghurt all up the handle (also irritating, I have to admit), while simultaneously ensuring that we all waste a higher percentage of the contents than we do when using the potted stuff.

Of course, it’s probably just the same stuff as the pots, slightly thinned down with a bit of either soya milk or even just water. Still tastes good, though. Given it only turns up occasionally in a huge Tesco’s I use from time to time and not in any other supermarket I’ve tried, it probably shouldn’t annoy me as much as it does. Will I buy it again? Who knows!

Kinnerton's Dairy-free Easter Eggs!!

Look what I found in Tesco a couple of days ago!! A large dairy-free easter egg from Kinnerton’s. It’s an adult look in style, with a bar of the usual Kinnerton’s dairy-free chocolate in the box too. At last a company that recognises that not all dairy-free people are under 5 years old! According to Kinnerton’s website, the eggs are available from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Asda. I’ve only found 2 eggs and both were in a huge Tesco. They’re not in either of the Morrison’s in my area. I haven’t made it to the big Sainsbury’s yet. I hope they have them, as I could do with 1 more!

For other brands of dairy-free chocolate, see our Reviews page.

What's Cooking? Lactose-free Dessert

Sitting here stuck at home unwell, I came across Channel 4’s What’s Cooking for the first time. What did I hear? The final recipe was a lactose-free dessert. My little ears pricked up and I thought I might see something interesting and new. What did I see? Yet more ****** fruit salad!!!! OK, this one was hot fruit salad served with a heap of gritty bits on top, rather than just bald in the bowl, but that’s just hiding the unbearable truth. Breakfast cereal and fruit salad?? We needed a TV chef to tell us to do that?? And the Fabulous Baker Brothers, when asked what they would do? What did they say?? A coconut with the top cut off and a straw poked in….!! Fabulous!

What are people thinking? “You can’t make crumble without butter,” said the cook. Yes, you can. We do. Regularly. And it’s delicious. Maybe the Fabulous Baker Brothers would turn their noses up at it (Yes, the “Yuk” reaction was clearly visible when they were asked what they would do.), but if they couldn’t eat butter or milk ever again, maybe they’d put their minds to how to achieve delicious things rather than shrugging off the issue with ****** fruit salad!!!

OK. Rant over. At least there are plenty of puds here for everyone to make that we can eat!