Gluten Free Courgette Fritters and a little rant

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Before I get to my recipe today I want to have a little rant about the practice certain restaurants have of charging a small extra fee for the apparently onerous task of providing celiac diners with gluten free bread, pasta or pizza bases. I get that keeping gluten free products would have been expensive in the past however with the rise of supermarket Free From brands, particularly the likes of Tesco and Aldi these products are easily available and affordable.

I had two experiences recently which brought this practice back to my attention with one lovely lunch highlighting a disappointing brunch. I met a few friends for a mid-week lunch last month and they suggested Bibi’s Café in Dublin 8. The website wasn’t clear if they catered for a gluten free diet but as the important thing was meeting up with my friends I decided to risk it figuring that I could always have a coffee and then grab a sandwich on my way back to work. When we arrived at this lovely little spot I spotted a hopeful looking salad on the menu and also a delicious sounding toasted sandwich, I asked if there was any possibility I could get the toastie on GF bread and the waitress said of course and then clarified that I was in fact celiac and stated that she would ensure that my sandwich was fried / toasted on a clean pan. If you have never had a pan toasted sandwich please try one soon, it is the only way I make toasties and it is the best.

Not only was I able to have the lovely sandwich  there was no suggestion of an extra charge and even better when my sandwich arrived I had been given two sandwiches so that my lunch was equivalent in size to that of my companions who were also having sandwiches. When you are used to getting miniature bread and being charged extra for the pleasure this seemed like a very magnanimous gesture on the part of Bibi’s and I left lunch stuffed and happy.

Last weekend having failed to shop and needing breakfast before facing the day I went to Oscars in Smithfield for brunch, I have eaten here before and knew they would have gluten free bread however on requesting the Eggs Benedict on GF bread I was told there would be an extra charge. I honestly don’t remember ever being charged extra in Oscars before and was a little annoyed but what could I do, I was hungry and so agreed. When the my meal came out and the bread was a pretty basic role, it may have been the GF burger bun from Aldi I went from a little annoyed to just plain mad. This was cheap bread, easy to source, suitable for freezing and all the kitchen needed to do to keep it GF was pop it under a grill on some tinfoil rather than put it in a toaster.  At a time when restaurants pride themselves on serving artisan sourdough or farmhouse loaves, every type of fancy bread you can imagine why am I paying €1 to €1.50 extra for cheap GF bread.

Cop on restaurants.

On to a nice simple recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, as always when I am looking for brunch suggestions I head to Deb Perelman’s website which is an endless source of brunch inspiration. A woman I work with had given me some home grown courgette’s so I wanted to make them the feature of the dish so courgette fritters it was. While the original recipe has then served with a yogurt sauce I thought this would be perfect with bacon, a poached egg and a liberal helping of hollandaise sauce and I was right.

If you need a good hollandaise sauce try Rachel Allen’s, I have found it to be fool proof even on slightly hungover weekend mornings when I was not giving the sauce my full attention.

Courgette Fritters adapted to be gluten free

Ingredients

2 medium courgettes, washed, topped and grated on a box grater or in your food processor if you are lucky enough to have one.

I teaspoon of salt

2 green onions, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 large egg, beaten

Black pepper

½ cup of Dove’s Farm Gluten Free Palin Four

½ teaspoon of gluten free baking powder

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Olive oil for frying

 

Sprinkle the grated courgette with salt and allow it to stand for ten minutes.

After ten minutes place the courgette in some muslin or an old but clean tea towel and squeeze to remove the excess moisture. When you think you have all the water out keep squeezing, courgettes hold a lot of water.

Place the courgette in a bowl, taste to see if you need to add more salt and then stir in the green onions, egg and black pepper.

Stir together the GF flour and baking powder and then add to the courgette batter and stir until everything is combined.

Pour two tablespoons of oil in a pan or skillet set over a medium heat and turn on your oven to a low temperature, about 150, so you can keep the fritters warm as you cook in batches.

When the oil is hot place tablespoons of the batter in the pan, flatten each fritter out slightly with the back of the spoon. Don’t crowd the pan, I cooked four at a time and that worked well.

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Cook over the medium heat for three to four minutes until the underside is golden and then flip the fritters and fry on the other side for a further two to three minutes. If you feel they are browning too fast then reduce the heat. Place the cooked fritters on a baking sheet and put in the warm oven while you cook the next batch. Once all the batter has been used allow the fritters to sit in the oven for about ten minutes to make sure they are fully cooked through.

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This will give you enough time to poach some eggs, fry some bacon and make the hollandaise if you are planning on having these for brunch but they would also make a great vegetable side served with grilled chicken or lamb chops.

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Free From Food Awards

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I always appreciate the chance to dress up and sip something bubbly and last Thursday I had the opportunity of attending the Free From Food Awards in The Round Room of Dublins Mansion House. A gala black tie affair it was full of glamour, good food, wine and craic with a swing band playing us in to the small hours of the morning.

I was invited as I had been lucky enough to be asked to judge several categories for the awards and it was a delight to be invited to an event where I knew  would be able to eat everything without being worried about it being gluten free.

The awards were a show case for all that is best in gluten free food available in Ireland right now and highlighted the fact that we have the product, we just need to work on the distribution. I had not heard about half of the suppliers or their products and I am hoping that having the spotlight of the awards thrown on then the winning products will soon be easily avaialable nationwide.

If you have read any of my posts bemoaning the lack of delicate, cream filled, lighter than air gluten free cakes you can imagine my delight when I learned that the Product of the Year award went to  Rule of Crumb for their Gluten Free Salted Caramel and Chocolate Profiteroles. Now I just need to try and get my hands on these delicious sounding treats!

1938-5391Pictured at the 2016 FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland, is Emma Clarke Conway, FreeFrom Food Awards Coodinator, Claire Hunter, Rule Of Crumb and winner of Product of the Year, John Burke, Founder, FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland and Maria McHale, Editor, Slainte Magazine.

This is from the press release:

The winners of the FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland 2016 were announced at a black tie gala event in the Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin, on Thursday 9th June, with awards presented in 40 categories, including the much coveted Product of the Year going to Rule of Crumb for their Gluten Free Salted Caramel and Chocolate Profiteroles and the Innovation Gold Award going to the Foods of Athenry for their ‘Bite’ box. Product Range of the Year was awarded to BFree Foods for their efforts in development in their freefrom range. 

The Awards were presented by founder in Ireland, John Burke, an Irish businessman and coeliac, who has long been involved in the FreeFrom world, both at home and in the UK as a judge at the FreeFrom Food Awards UK and at the Irish Quality Food Awards for a number of years. Along with fellow coeliacs Emma Clarke Conway, Express PR, who has worked in the coeliac arena for over 12 years and by Maria McHale, Editor of Slainte Magazine, also a coeliac.

Over 150 members of the FreeFrom industry, including retailers, artisans, producers small or large and many of the judging panels, assembled at the Round Room to find out who had taken the coveted awards.

Irish companies made an impression, with over 74% of the awards going to home-produced brands. Winners include companies from Sweden, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

The Special Services to the Industry award, sponsored by Juvela was presented to Founder of the UK FreeFrom Food Awards, Michelle Berriedale-Johnston in recognition of her contribution to the FreeFrom world. This is a unique accolade to the person who has worked to effect change and improvement in the FreeFrom industry, recently or over a number of years.

 

The Greenhouse: Michelin Star Gluten Free Dining

Eating out while celiac can be a bit of a gamble. You are putting your trust in a lot of people, that the wait staff will understand your request for gluten free options and will accutrately bring that request to the kitchen, you then hope that the kitchen staff and the chef are honest about what you can and can’t eat and how gluten free the prep area for your meal will be kept. I would much rather be given a hard no when I ask for a gluten free option than a lazy or uniformed yes that will leave me suffering. As such every really great restaurant experience I have, those times when I know I can relax and trust that the food I am given can be enjoyed without worry, become treasured memories.

I had been given a gift voucher by the lovely people I work with for the Michelin Starred The Greenhouse on Dublins Dawson St and I had been hoarding it for almost a year waiting for a special occassion. Having decided that my birthday would do as an excuse to splash out I had a look at the menu and then emailed the restaurant to see if they could cater for a celiac diet. I prefer to email rather than call as this will give the host  time to do some research before responding. I was assured the dietary restricion would not be an issue so I made a booking for lunch.

The lunch menu is a very reasonable €38 for three courses or €29 for two. There were only two options offered for each course with desert including a cheesboard as a third option. Some people might find this limiting however I knew that this meant that the kitchen was extremely clear about what ingredients would be going in to each dish and therefore they would be better equipped to point out any potential for gluten to sneak in to the dish. As it turned out there was ony one item on the menu that could not be adapted to be gluten free and that was a custard tart.

 

While we sat and started on our first glass of wine we were presented with two tiny tasty morsels, for me there was a savoury beetroot macaroon, light as air but earthy with the deeply savoury flavour of the beetroot meringue lifted by a slightly sweet filling, it was delicious and I will have my macaroon making sister hard at work replicating this as soon as possible.

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Our waiter then brought out some delicious looking homemade bread for my companion and as I sat there resigned to my usual routine of watching someone enjoy good bread while I sip pensively at my water a second serving of bread appeared for me. Nestled in a bed made of napkins to keep warm the house made gluten free bread was toasted to perfection and had a lovely sourdough flavour. I was asked to wait one moment while an individual serving of butter was brought out for me so I didn’t have to risk sharing the butter that was already on the table. This kind of attention is very reassuring when you are worried about cross contamination.

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My starter was a courgette flower stuffed with the lightest possible chicken liver mousse, served with one perfectly cooked scallop and a spiced shellfish sauce. Dotted around the plate were daubs of a deep green puree that was clean and fresh and worked incredibly well with the richness of the mousse. The courgette flower seemed to have been poached or steamed rather than fried and so the texture was tender and light. The starter was served with a spoon as well as a fork and I used that spoon to get at everylast drop of the shellfish sauce.

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For main course I had the Guinea fowl served with Wild Garlic, Turnip, Kohlrabi and Bacon Cream as did my companion. Again this was a dish that made me want to clap my hands together in glee, beautifuly plated but not so twee and overly  decorated that it looks more like art than food. The Guinea fowl was so perfectly cooked that the knife cut through it as if it was a slab of warm butter. The garlic leaves packed a good punch and the Kohlrabbi and Turnip,  very similar vegetables were presented so differently that they complimented each other rather than being just a repition of the same flavour. There was a slim raft of layered potatoes, just enough to soak up the Bacon Cream sauce. This was a dish to savour and I found myself taking tiny bites to make the experience last as long as possible.

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Desert was the Passion Fruit Souffle served with a  jug of white chocolate and ginger sauce. rising from a ramikin in a delightfully tall tower the souffle is airy as a whipped mousse with the sharpness of the passion fruit  complemented by the rich creaminess of the chocolate sauce. I also managed to beg a few slivers of cheese from my companions cheese board and they were all delicious.

Everything about this meal was delightful, the staff are warm, accomodating and knowledgable about the food they are serving. Each course was accompanied by a detailed description and a smile that assures you that you are going to enjoy each morsel on your plate. For fine dining the restaurant is not at all stuffy, you would feel comfortable walking in for lunch in jeans and a nice top, no need to break out a dress and fancy heels. The emphasis is on creating a welcoming space for you to enjoy Chef Mikael Viljanen’s seriously good food, the kind of food that makes you chuckle with pleasure over each bite and sigh with contentment when you are done. That I was able to enjoy this meal and not worry about gluten being an issue made this a birthday lunch to remember.

http://www.thegreenhouserestaurant.ie/home.php

Gluten Free Travel: Hamburg

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Since I took the plunge and went to Sweden two years ago I have since travelled more than I had in the previous ten years.  Milan followed Sweden, then a trip to London for something other than work.  There was a fabulously sunny short break in Barcelona last November, then a once in a lifetime treat of four glorious days in Marrakech and most recently a long weekend in Hamburg for my cousins wedding.

I have discovered that I won’t necessarily starve for the want of gluten free food when I travel so I have become more confident and my old desire to travel has resurfaced with a vengeance. These have all be short breaks but I am ready for something longer and more adventurous. As someone who never liked to sit in the sun I have been converted to the soul lifting pleasure of waking to a bright sunny day, breakfasting on a warm terrace and swimming in a pool that is bathwater warm by sundown.

Each country has its own little gluten free revelation, Marrakech had a dense gluten free almond meal cake which was served instead of bread and slathered with butter and preserves it was perfect with strong black coffee. It was also the country where every desert menu had several options of panna cotta, each one more tremblingly perfectly set than the last and all gluten free.

In Hamburg it was the grocery store below the apartment where my cousin and her new husband graciously ignored the contents of five make up bags that were strewn about their home for the duration of the few days they welcomed us in to their home. This grocery store had a fruit and vegetable section that was the equivalent of a fancy farmers market back here in Ireland with a huge variety of high quality produce, there were wild mushroom, heirloom tomatoes, green and white asparagus, artichokes and nestled around a gurgling water feature a miniature forest of fresh herbs.

There was an in-house bakery with a beguiling aroma, a bewildering amount of cheese and charcuterie and best of all for me an extensive gluten free range. Most of the products were from the Schar range, and I would dearly love for them to extend the range they export to Ireland to include the Landesbrot which was soft and flavoursome with no need for toasting. There were several different varieties of bread and crackers and in the freezer section there were frozen GF croissants, pre made lasagne,  ice cream cornetto’s, fish fingers, chicken goujons and large sharing sized pizzas as well as mini versions.

Organising breakfast involved nothing more taxing then walking downstairs to the store, picking up some tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, bacon and GF bread and heading back to the kitchen. Eating out was a bit more difficult but there are places to eat, the best fun was Brazilian restaurant that was all meat roasted on skewers served with vegetable sides, rice and beans and there is usually a baked potato and sour cream lurking somewhere on a German menu. The hotel where they held the wedding reception sent over a basket of the best gluten free bread rolls I have ever tasted, I am seriously going to contact the hotel to get the name of the supplier. For brunch on our last sunny morning I packed up some GF Landesbrot and walked to a local brunch place for scrambled eggs and home fries, we checked in advance and they had no issue with me bringing my own bread since they didn’t have any in house. Sitting outside with a huge mug of coffee, enjoying the sun with my sisters and cousins I realised that this is why people travel, to see people who live abroad, to enjoy good weather and different cultures and just to relax and as long as I have some emergency GF crackers or bread in my bag to stave off any hunger pangs I am going to travel a lot more in the future.

Free From Food Awards Ireland 20016

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There are sometimes a few perks that come with writing about food and being invited to be on the panel for the inaugural Free From Food Awards Ireland this year was definitely a perk. I will never say no to an invitation to try out new gluten free products!

The Free From Food Awards Ireland were founded by John Burke, a Coeliac and businessman, who brings the Awards to Ireland having been a judge in the UK awards for a number of years. The purpose of these awards is to reward the producers of gluten free products for quality and innovation and also, importantly to provide feedback to those producers. Judges were invited to ‘Just come open minded and willing to taste! ‘ so that is how I approached my two days of judging.

Although the event ran over several days I was only available for two days and sadly missed out on judging the pizza section. However in my two days I was surprised and delighted to see how many gluten free products there are on the market now, whether in stores or online.

The range and quality of products is so much improved from the time of my initial diagnosis ten years ago and I can see that now producers are moving past just trying to make replacement products and are moving towards experimentation, working to create high quality products that taste great and also happen to be gluten free or free from allergens such as dairy, oats and soy.

There were experienced judges there to chair and talk the panel through our tasting process and this was incredibly useful, we were asked to judge around certain categories:  quality, flavour, aroma, texture, ingredients, price and Fee From declaration. Although this was blind tasting we were given confirmation of which products had free from labelling and which were working towards that end.

The value of awards such as the Free From Food awards is not just in rewarding the work that has been done by established suppliers but is also in highlighting the work of emerging producers and helping to get new products on supermarket shelves. Without the kind of attention participating in these awards brings it is often difficult for small producers to bring their products to a wider audience.

Being in a position to give feedback to suppliers through our comments is enormously empowering, it is so important for them to hear back about what works, what doesn’t, is it more important to have a full flavoured bread or do we value texture more? What are we looking for in our Free From Food apart from confidence that what we are eating isn’t harming us?

Advocacy is essential to ensure that suppliers continue to invest in research and development of Free From products, advocacy ensures that these products make it on to our supermarket shelves and in to venues such as airports, hospitals, sporting arenas etc.  It is important that people who want ready availability of high quality, safely produced, interesting and delicious Free From products work towards that end and I feel that John Burke and his team, who were all a pleasure to work with and did their utmost to make this an enjoyable experience are doing amazing work and I truly appreciate all of their efforts. I look forward to seeing the results of the judging when they are announced later this Summer.

For more information on the Free From Food Awards see their website   www.fffa.ie

Tips For Gluten Free Festive Entertaining

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‘Tis the season for Christmas Parties, lunches, dinners, mulled wine and mince pie nights and all sort of festive gatherings involving food.  If you are celiac or entertaining a guest who is celiac the idea of entertaining can be daunting there is always fear of being made ill or worse still making a friend ill because of cross contamination in the kitchen.

 
Here are a few simple tips for a happy gluten free Christmas.

 
Be wary of cross contamination. Don’t use the same serving spoons for gluten free and regular dishes. Be conscious in your kitchen to cook gluten free dishes separately and clean all your cooking tools carefully before cooking GF food. Tinfoil is your friend, cover all dishes once cooked so that errant crumbs or dustings of flour don’t fall in. Clearly identify GF containing foods for gluten free guests so they know what to avoid.

 

If you are cooking bread stuffing with your turkey try cooking it separately instead of in the bird. You can wrap the bread stuffing tinfoil and cook in the oven, check with our google overlords for instructions. Or you could use GF bread crumbs for your stuffing to make life even easier.

 

Most vegetable dishes will be naturally Gluten Free but make sure that whatever you are adding to the veggies is also gluten free.

 

Check your stock cubes, there are plenty of GF stock-cubes available for making gravy. Thicken your gravy with GF flour or GF cornflour instead of regular flour.

 

Check, double check and then check again the ingredients on any pre- packaged food you purchase from frozen roast potatoes to the glaze for your ham to cranberry sauce and all the relishes and if they contain gluten serve them separately and let your GF guest know.

 

If you are deep frying anything please do not use the same oil for GF and non GF food, this will cause contamination.

 

Check your butter for gluten containing crumbs before adding to your mashed potatoes.
If you want to make an old fashioned sherry trifle try the Gluten Free Madeira Cake from Aldi instead of trifle sponges, it tastes good and I feel, although I haven’t tried it, that it could work well.

 

Ask your GF guest for advice, let them know that you are taking their needs in to consideration and that they aren’t putting you out. Don’t freak out, there are a lot of resources out there to guide you on your gluten- free way and gluten free products are easily available online and in most grocery stores.

 
If you are organising a lunch out for family and friends check in with the restaurant to make sure they can cater for dietary requirements, particularly at this time of year when a lot of restaurants have set menu’s.

 
If you are celiac and heading to a friend’s house and you are uncertain of whether they fully understand your dietary requirements then ask if you can bring some GF crackers or other nibbles so you know you will have something to eat. Let your host know in advance so they aren’t morally offended that you would bring your ownfood to a dinner party, in all honesty they will most likely be relieved.

 

 

Relax, do your best, that is all anyone can ask of you, if what you can manage is turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and a vegetable side that are all definitely gluten free and safe to eat, served with good company and festive cheer then I think your GF guest will be happy to forgo any GF containing dishes that you have on the table.

 

 

Have a very Merry Festive Season and a tremendous New Year!

Travelling while Celiac: Barcelona

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At the start of November I travelled to Barcelona for a Joanna Newsome concert, both the musician and the city were new two me and I really enjoyed both.
Barcelona is a beautiful city and was surprisingly and delightfully sunny for the 4th of November. The architecture is amazing, there is art everywhere you look and a walk along the marina is  a glimpse in to the world of the super -rich and their frankly ridiculous yachts.

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There are small stores full fresh bread and pastries or fresh fruit and vegetables everywhere and a load of small bars serving tapas. Here in lies the problem for a celiac who doesn’t speak Spanish. A lot of the tapas were pre made, served on bread and displayed on the pub bar and so were out of the question.
I had done some research before I left and found a few celiac friendly restaurants but they were a bit of a walk away from my hotel which was close to the concert venue and therefore not the best options for dinner.

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I did manage to have two really good meals while I was there but the next time I go I think I will stay in an apartment and make my own meals from all the amazing produce that is available in the city.

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On my first afternoon there my friend and I ate in in a tiny restaurant called Rebelot on the Carrer del Baluard. This gorgeous little place is relaxed and cosy and the food was simple and lovely. There was one guy manning the bar, taking orders and serving and one other guy working away in the open kitchen, between them they managed to keep the atmosphere relaxed and extremely chilled out. People were served as their food was ready and the customers were all happy to sit with their drinks and wait. We ordered two lethal gin and tonics, free pouring liquor is apparently the way they go in Barcelona and I began discussing the menu with the guy working the floor, he went through every item with me and shouted questions back to the kitchen so the chef could confirm what I could eat. As most of the menu was fresh fish and salad I was pretty well catered for.

While we were waiting a bowl of fresh bread was brought to the table for my friend and I was presented with a small bowl of olives, the waiter gestured to the bread and then gave me a brief hug in commiseration for my not being able to eat any of it, this was the nicest reaction I have ever had telling a waiter I was celiac, he wasn’t put out, he was happy to find me something to eat and he was sorry for all the good stuff I couldn’t have. My burrata salad and grilled prawns were all the more delicious for this welcome.

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www.rebelotbcn.com
The morning after the concert we woke late and I felt the need of a good feed before a day of sight- seeing so we walked forty minutes from the hotel to find Copasetic on the Carrer de la Diputacio. This restaurant is very celiac friendly although they do have the disclaimer that the kitchen isn’t a designated gluten free zone. It is a beautiful bright space with outdoor seating and as it was a beautiful balmy day we sat outside. I ordered a free range chicken burger on what has to be the best gluten free bread roll I have ever had, it had a crisp crust and was lovely and soft inside, the burger was served with a baked potato in lieu of chips and kept me going for the whole day.

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www.copaseticbarcelona.com

 

I would definitely recommend either of these restaurants if you are looking for a gluten free meal in Barcelona but I would also recommend that you do your research before you go and mark all the GF locations on a map so you can organise your sight- seeing around your meals!