Friday, 3 February 2017

Freefrom Food Awards 2017

How fabulously quickly it comes around to January. The annual Freefrom Food Awards judging and our trip to London is the perfect antidote to winter blues.

This is my 4th year judging the breakfast and confectionery categories at the FFFA HQ. It is a wonderful privilege and the perfect opportunity to meet fellow bloggers, specialist professionals, food writers and inside personnel from the freefrom community. I am always humbled to be asked to join the judging team and take my role very seriously.

As a consumer I spend my life reading labels, assessing nutrition, price and suitability. As a foodie I am always looking for new and interesting products that will nourish my body or treat my tastebuds. Lastly, as a mum I am constantly on the look out for ways to keep my son included in everyday food decisions whether at home, with family, friends or at school*.

The Freefrom Food Awards is a great way to learn more about existing or new products in the freefrom market. The products entered are competing against the best competitors in their market. They are also able to gain a commended or highly commended award. The recognition of the FFFA is an instantly recognisable badge of approval from freefrom judges.

You can find out more about the awards from their page, www.freefromfoodawards.co.uk

FFFA2017 - Breakfast

The breakfast category this year was right on trend. There were granolas aplenty, porridge, overnight oats and bircher muesli. To add to the range there were also power juices, nut butters and spreads, a new almond milk and some interesting breads and cakes. Any of the entries would have made a satisfying breakfast no matter what your preference in the morning.

 

My personal favourites were broad ranging. For the perfect indulgent freefrom breakfast I would start with a Pumpkin Power Cold Pressure Juice from Coldpress. This sunshine coloured juice will have you beaming with its sweet and tasty combination of flavours.


This could easily be rivalled in colour by a bowl of The Raw Fix Beetroot Power Porridge. Who would have thought that beetroot worked so well at breakfast. The purple punch gives way to a milder flavour and pleasing porridge texture.

If you long for bread at breakfast then you must seek out Fria Gluten Free Oat Squares. These are a whole new level on from gluten free loaves. The texture is deep and substantial but the crumb structure is light and even. The flavour is great with no hint of raising agent or funny aftertaste.

To cover your Oat Square you could slather it in Pure Olive spread. A tasty freefrom version of popular olive spread but without any traces of dairy or buttermilk. The spread could also be enjoyed in baking and savoury cooking. Fantastic to have the choice of a olive spread in the freefrom range.

If spread is not enough then there is a new nut butter in town! My tastebuds were tickled by the strength of flavour in Manilife Deep Roasted Peanut Butter. It was questioned by the judging panel why this product should receive attention as it is naturally freefrom dairy or gluten. However, if a product can state it is free from certain allergens then I am pleased to know about it. In this case the flavour of this product made it stand out to me. I could make peanut butter at home. I could roast the peanuts first and add the right amount of salt but sometimes you just want someone to do it for you, and do it well!

To finish my mammoth breakfast (I may actually be a Hobbit!) I would have to savour an Adonis Blondie. The Adonis Blondie is a sweet treat that would satisfy any morning cravings for indulgence. If others around me were devouring unsafe treats then I would be more than happy with this Blondie. A cake of moist texture and fabulous taste which is also low sugar and low carbohydrate. The Blondie is also very pretty decorated with macadamia nuts and chia seeds and comes individually wrapped. I would love to see these in mainstream cafes and coffee shops, please Adonis.

I can't function very well without at least one morning coffee. The Plenish Almond Milk could help me justify my caffeine addiction. It is made with 7% almond. This is a small but significant statement. The milk does actually taste of almond. It also has the benefit of being unsweetened but still tastes wonderful. I can see many uses for this almond milk not least of all as it is longlife but does not taste like longlife and could be enjoyed on its own.











FFFA2017 - Confectionery

The confectionery category is made up of all types of sweet treats. There were jellies, marshmallows, chocolates and many various bars and shapes. Creating a confectionery product that is freefrom allergens allows consumers to lead a more normal life**.



The judging table displayed both seasonal and everyday products. The seasonal items are getting better every year. This year I was very impressed with D&D Chocolates individually wrapped mint chocolate holly leaves. These pretty shapes were not only great quality but would also be an easy way to have chocolate tree decorations at Christmas. I would be delighted to take them to a dinner party as an after dinner mint or enjoy by myself. D&D Chocolate is guaranteed nut free which is fantastic and is a rare statement made on chocolate products.


I will be having a happy Easter too as Asda have commissioned an Extra Special Luxury Easter Egg. This dairy free egg comes with chocolate truffles instead of the usual coins. The chocolate is darker than most supermarket freefrom chocolate but not too strong either. I can see myself sneaking off to by this egg for myself just in case I don't receive one. The Easter range is not online as yet but watch this space!

I must highlight my favourites from the great range of sweets on offer for judging. Hot chocolate can now be completed with Freedom Confectionery Mini Marshmallows. You would not believe that these pretty little mallows are vegan, soy free and nut free. They look cute and taste perfect. I would happily use these in my hot chocolate, in baking rocky road or on top of cupcakes. In fact I may create a new bake just to use them.

Equally impressive were the Biona Mini Fruit Bears. A sweet that looks and tastes better than non freefrom competitors. There is always a space in my affection for mini fruit bears. These bears are colourful and fruity with a lovely flavour and no aftertaste. I'm sure my 5 year old and his friends will enjoy these without realising that they are vegan, dairy free, gluten free, nut free and have no artificial colours or flavours. I loved them!


On the table that day you could not get prettier than the Superfood truffles from the Functional Food Company. Don't be fooled by the utilitarian name of this company. Their snacks are packed full of gut friendly superfood ingredients and look cuter than a button. I am really pleased to read more on the origins of this company and find out how it came about. Even without any background info I found these snacks intriguing and innovative. They pack a punch in flavour and there is a flavour for everyone. The texture is unlike any other treat, it is not chocolate but it is not a sweet. It is best described as a sweet version of a canape. Full of impressive colours, shapes and flavours these snacks would make a great talking point at a party or equally a colourful way to supplement your diet.




A treat that I have never seen before was a Goupie Date and Walnut Triangle. Who could resist the appeal of a bar (shaped like a triangle) with a goey centre, that includes dates and walnuts and is coated in chocolate? It did not fail to impress. I would love to be given a box of these triangles and would certainly buy them as a treat for myself. It is a joy to find new products that I have never seen before and since reading the website I would love to try their other flavours.


Last and certainly not least are the truffles. There were two clear favourites for me in the chocolate category. It is a pleasure to judge and comment on more than one fantastic truffle. Different in shape, flavour and ingredients and equally appealing were;

Booja Booja Almond Salted Caramel truffles. Small squares of cocoa powder coated truffles with a crisp outer shell and a soft centre. The salted caramel is a mixture of the two classic flavours combined which slowly develop as you devour them. These divine truffles have the perfect blend of luxury and palatability. Booja Booja is top of my must have freefrom chocolate list.

If you prefer a truffle which is more dense and also includes superfood ingredients then the Sweet Virtues Baobab and Vanilla are perfect. The truffles are coated in cacao powder, have a crisp outer shell and a flavour packed centre. The layers of flavour reveal themselves as the centre softens in your mouth. My favourite flavour entered in this years award was the Baobab and Vanilla. This smoother more delicate flavour was also complimented by the hints of almond, lucuma and maca. A thoroughly enjoyable truffle and a worthy competitor.



Extra Info About Me

*Due to multiple diagnosis of IBS and lactose intolerance, a recognition that I display symptoms of coeliac disease (but have negative blood tests), hay fever, migraine and skin sensitivity I avoid lactose, dairy and gluten. My son, who is now 5 years old, has been lactose intolerant since birth and dairy free since he was almost 2 years old. Sadly, despite our symptoms we are both medically undiagnosed and subsequently fall into no mans land. We are fortunate we do not have anaphylactic allergic reactions. We do have definite, disruptive and painful symptoms from small amounts of our trigger allergens.

**As an adult I indulge in sweet treats and feel envious if I can not join in with others around me. Why should people with allergies not indulge when they want to? Everyone else can. More importantly for me as a mum I want my son to be able to feel included in every day life. This means seeking alternatives to the mass of cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets that he sees advertised, comes across at school and is bombarded with at parties. I can and do educate him to eat wisely and healthy but I also help him to live a similar life to his friends.


Watch the website www.freefromfoodawards.co.uk for the shortlisted products out 8th February 2017

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Mulu Raw Chocolate


It has been a while since I have found the time to blog. It is fitting that the reason I sit back behind the keys is due to sensational chocolate from one of my favourite brands.




Mulu has long been a favourite of mine. Their raw chocolate is full of flavour with no hidden nasty ingredients. It is a satisfying and soulful experience and a treat I enjoy as often as I can. So when I learned that Mulu were expanding their range I was keen to check it out. In addition to the original silk, dark and dark with cocoa nibs bars the following new flavours and truffles have been delighting me.



Mulu Dark Ecuadorian Truffles
A box of 6 generously sized, beautifully presented truffles.
The tantalising ingredients are clean and wonderfully beneficial to your health. There is no guilt required in enjoying these treats. Raw cacao, coconut oil, Madagascan vanilla and agave nectar are skillfully combined to produce soft, rich truffles which give a delightful succession of flavours and textures.  The outside shell of the truffles are dusted with cacao powder and the inside is soft and deep in flavour. There is no bitterness and you can taste the quality of the cacao.
These truffles are sumptuous and a must as a gift or a treat for yourself.



Hazelnut
This sweet smelling, mild and nutty flavour is easy going and tasty. There are small delicious pieces of hazelnut found throughout the smooth and silky chocolate bar.

Banana
An unusual and subtle taste at first gives way to a true and authentic banana flavour. None of the sickly fakeness of other banana flavoured products as this chocolate bar has a lovely balance between creamy chocolate and grown up fruity flavour.

Chai
The fragrance of this bar is unmistakably chai. The cinnamon tones mix well with Mulu chocolate producing a full flavoured hit. If you aren't a lover of chai then this may not be for you, however, it is a very tasty and accomplished bar.

Coconut Milk
A soft, creamy, smooth and sweet chocolate experience. A great bar for introducing the uninitiated to raw chocolate or for enjoying the sweeter side of raw chocolate.

85%
As anticipated this bar gives a slight snap denoting the harder texture. There is a stronger kick to the flavour and the lovely distinctive Mulu raw chocolate aroma. The bar does give you a slight bitterness but there is much to love about its strength and characterful flavour.


Mulu chocolates contain no gluten, dairy, egg or soya. All ingredients are certified organic and vegan. Mulu has a nut free factory. You can find out more about their allergy policy, their ethos and buy Mulu on their website:

www.muluchocolate.co.uk 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The reason why the Free From Food Awards are so great!


After the glitter of Christmas is over I have another exciting event to look forward to.....









It has been my privilege this year to be a judge for the Free From Food Awards for the third year in a row. I am very proud to be a judge in such a prestigious event.



What are the Free From Food Awards?

A fantastic organisation which seeks out food and drink relevant to the freefrom industry, awards them on their merits and encourages them to improve on any shortfalls.
The products that are entered into the awards come from producers of all sizes and backgrounds. From the towering supermarkets to the tiny entrepreneurs, from strong ethical backgrounds to having fun with food, every entry is interesting.

Each entry applies on paper, sends in product samples and is checked for relevance to the freefrom market place. The products then undergo scrutiny from a panel of judges in a tasting session (judging info here). The products are judged on their appearance, smell, taste, texture and usefulness within the market. Also considered are the ingredients list, price, availability, labelling and suitability for a number of freefrom customers. Each judge gives each product a score out of ten and leaves comments on their findings.

The start of the confectionery judging


Who is involved?

The Free From Food Awards are directed by the very capable and extremely well qualified Michelle Berriedale Johnson. Assisted by the efficient and knowledgeable Cressida Langdon, Catherine and Katherine, Sue Cane and Alex Gazzola and a great panel of judges the process is a precision event.
The judges are experts from the food industry and medical profession, fellow bloggers, allergy/intolerance/auto immune condition sufferers and (benchmark) non sufferers who often have great skills from elsewhere in the food industry.

Even more confectionery samples to taste


Why is it great?

The awards inject motivation for innovation and demand excellence from a rapidly changing freefrom marketplace.
There are 16 categories in total with extra awards for retailer of the year, innovation award, startups and small producers and the overall winner.
Only the best products with genuine relevance to the freefrom market are championed by the judging process.
The shortlisted products, runners up and winners are published for all to see, giving everyone the chance to find excellent products they can eat.
All the judges are volunteers and a donation from the product entry costs is given to charity each year. Find out more here.



The confectionery category was hotly contested

What I loved this year

I have a sweet tooth and a passion for chocolate which was not going to cease when I had to give up lactose, dairy and gluten. On my quest to find suitable products I have not been disappointed. It was a natural choice for me to offer to judge the breakfast and confectionery categories.
My favourite products this year include:

Sprouted Porridge Oats by Rude Health
Spiced Pecan Tonic Granola by Rollagranola
Nutribix by Life Health Foods
Coconut Blueberry Yoghurt by The Coconut Collaborative

Solkiki Tahitian Nougat White Chocolate Bar
Eat Allergy Safe Dark Chocolate Truffles
Eskal Gluten Free Wafer Rolls
Cocoa Libre Three Mini Slab Bars
D&D Dairyfree Chocolate Drops
Booja Booja Hazelnut Chocolate Truffles


You can find details of all the product I judged and many more on the Free From Food Awards website.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Gingerbread



This fabulously easy recipe can be used for festive cookie cutters, gingerbread houses or any occasion.

I hope you enjoy making and eating this fun freefrom treat.

Merry Christmas

Emma x

P.s. did you know an upside down gingerbread man makes a great reindeer ;)

125g dairyfree spread  (I use Pure Sunflower)
75g dark sugar
25g caster sugar
3 tbsps honey or golden syrup
325g self raising flour ( I use Doves Farm)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp powdered ginger or mixed spice if ypu prefer the flavour

Melt the spread, sugars and honey/syrup in a small pan, without boiling, until melted
Sieve all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl
Add the melted mixture to the dry mixture and stir to combine
Gather together with floured hands and roll out on a floured surface
Cut out and transfer to a baking tray quickly
The dough won't reroll many times so plan your cutting carefully
Bake at 170C for 8-10 minutes
The longer it bakes the more crunchy it becomes when cool
Decorate with white icing and sprinkles if desired

                          🎀🎄🎁🎄🎂🎄🎀




Thursday, 19 November 2015

Freefrom Eating Out Awards 2015

The Freefrom Eating Out Awards, created by the Foods Matter team (find out more about them here), bring you all that is excellent and innovative in the catering industry for people with specific dietary requirements.

The winners of the 2015 awards, Oscar & Bentleys of Canterbury


This year I was delighted to be able to join in with judging the Freefrom Eating Out Awards and even more delighted to see there were entries from the South West. 

The standard of food available for people with food allergy, food intolerance, coeliac disease and other conditions is improving all the time. However, it is still a postcode lottery and depends very much on the businesses operating in your local area. 

The Freefrom Eating Out Awards look for all kinds of food businesses that excel in providing both safe and tasty options. The recognition and publicity that they give encourages and rewards people for promoting great food for everyone. I hope there is a business in your area listed that can provide you with great service. If you already know of a great business who is not included why not let them know about the awards.

The categories judged were:

Overall Winner
Three Runners Up
Other Categories:

  • Cafes, Coffee Shops and Tea Rooms
  • Fish and Chip Shops
  • Pub Restaurants
  • Restaurants
  • Corporate Hospitality and Venues
  • B&B's and Guest Houses
  • Schools, Colleges and Universities
  • Food Manufactured for Food Service


You can find all the winners, runners up and commendations right here

Personally I had a great experience at RockFish in Dartmouth, Devon. The knowledge of the food they serve is impeccable. If you want an excellent fish supper then RockFish provide a gourmet meal. There were a few areas that need improvement and I would highly recommend talking to any restaurant before you eat to check their knowledge for your needs.

RockFish, Dartmouth


My Judging Experience

After checking the Rock Fish website and looking at the downloadable menu with allergen key, I decided a phone call to ask further questions was essential. Although the menu was confidently labelled with the allergens present in each dish if you used this information alone a customer with allergies would be left with very few or no meal options. Contrary to the written application there are no freefrom options labelled on the menu.
The waiter on the phone was very confident, knowledgeable and helpful. He was able to answer all of my questions and checked with the chef where appropriate. He knew the ingredients for the batter on the children's menu did not contain milk and added that he would honour the children's meal deal with a sorbet instead of the usual ice cream.
The waiter was able to give suggestions for adult meal options and knew that a gluten free customer may not be able to have food cooked in the same oil as gluten containing food. Rock Fish offer a gluten free batter but sadly it is still cooked in the same fryer as gluten containing foods. The chips do not contain gluten or dairy and are cooked in a separate chip fryer.
The waiter suggested making a booking ahead of the day of our visit so they were well informed.

The meal

On arrival we were seated at our table as per our booking. No mention was made to our dietary requirements by the staff. We were left with the menu which stated “a gluten free batter is available but not suitable for coeliacs due to being fried with other gluten containing foods”. The waiter who served us had a thorough product knowledge of the dishes served including the daily specials. I told him of our dietary needs, lactose free for my son and gluten, lactose and dairy free for me. He suggested childrens options. The fish fingers could be made lactose and dairy free by having battered fish fingers. He knew that the breaded fish fingers were rolled in milk before breadcrumbs. We also ordered chips and plain peas for my son.
I guessed that from the menu the crab or scallops would make a possible starter if adapted slightly. Our waiter was able to recommend the dressed crab with watercress instead of the scallops. Although the scallops could be cooked in oil the chef found that they weren’t as good as they could be when cooked that way. The dressed crab was ordered to share between myself and my son.
 For a main course our waiter suggested grilled fish with chips and salad or plain peas. I opted for skate after discussing the texture and flavour of the fish. I was also able to check the salad dressing and vinegar on the table which did not have ingredients listed. The waiter knew which allergens they contained and offered me balsamic vinegar and tomato ketchup for my son.
My husband, who can eat what he likes, ordered a prawn cocktail to be followed by the battered hake, chips and mushy peas which all contained milk and gluten.
The starters were brought over by a younger female waitress. Our crab came plain with a side bowl containing mayonnaise. She knew the mayonnaise was gluten free but had to check for dairy. It unfortunately contained milk so was removed from our table with an apology.
The main courses were brought by another waiter who appeared to be more knowledgeable and experienced. There were no problems with the main courses and we all enjoyed every last bite. I was confident that the food I was eating had been considered and served correctly to the order we discussed.
The desserts menu was very dairy heavy with ice cream or cream in every dish except for the sorbet. There were three flavours on offer all of which were suited to grown up tastes. We ordered a pear and elderflower sorbet after checking that there was no dairy, lactose or gluten present. Despite my concerns my son enjoyed the sorbet so much I had to ask nicely for a spoonful!

Summary

Overall we had a very pleasing experience at Rock Fish. The food was undoubtedly of a high standard and staff were confident, knowledgeable and friendly. They were able to recommend relevant dishes and understood our concerns over cross contamination and product traceability. Any difficult questions were checked with the chef or ingredients list. The staff were willing and happy to check and double check foods and we were treated like any other customer. It was lovely to feel happy and confident about a meal provided by a restaurant.
The only negative aspects to our meal were the changes to our waiting staff and the subsequent mayonnaise mix up. I wonder if this could have been avoided if we had kept the same experienced waiter from start to finish. The online menu was very off putting as there were no indications that meals could be tailored for people with dietary requirements. I feel the menu, especially for children, would benefit from a good dairy free ice cream or a more popular flavour of sorbet.
9/10

Monday, 10 August 2015

More Essy and Bella chocolates



It is always a good sign when you have enjoyed a brand so much that you want to order more. I am delighted to have tried even more flavours from the Essy and Bella range. An extensive range of flavours are available which is fantastic for anyone who knows how restrictive freefrom diets can be. They are #dairyfree #lactosefree #glutenfree #vegan and delicious (see previous post for even more flavours)


Black Forest

An incredibly accomplished combination of flavours combined into one of the prettiest bars I have seen. A very inviting and enticing chocolate bar. There is an intense cherry flavour from the freeze dried cherries and the morello cherry flavouring. This is no cheap chocolate box cherry but a sophisticated flavour well balanced by the dark chocolate base.

Raspberry White Chocolate

A sweet raspberry fragrance emanating from a white bar delicately sprinkled with powdered raspberry. The intense raspberry hit turns to a creamy white chocolate before melting away.

Chocolate Orange

A long standing favourite in the chocolatier's shop, chocolate orange comes in many guises and is common even in the freefrom world. However, this chocolate orange has depth, is deep and rich in true orange oil flavour and is extremely moreish.


If you would like to find out how fabulous these chocolates are you can order at:

www.essyandbella.co.uk 


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Debbie and Andrews Sausages

Recently I have had the pleasure of tasting samples of a new product from Debbie and Andrew's, Caramelised Red Onion Pork Sausages.



My samples came in the post accompanied with a lovely little recipe book for meal ideas featuring sausages and some cute little wellies for growing herbs in.

I had spent several emails quizzing the very helpful Jessica at Debbie and Andrew's about the freefrom status of their products. I wanted to know that their products were truly safe for myself and my little boy. I was pleasantly surprised at how thorough and dedicated Jessica was in answering all my questions and queries. I am more than happy that Debbie and Andrew's take every opportunity to ensure their freefrom products are safe and free of cross contamination (see more information at the bottom of this post).

The sausages themselves were very well presented. It was clear from the front of the box that they are dairy free, gluten free and wheat free. The information on the back is also easy to understand and not over complicated or stuffed with obscure ingredients. My only slight concern was an advert for cheese pinwheels on the side of the packet, a detail that may irritate some people craving foods they cannot have. However, the pinwheels could be made with a freefrom cheese.



The sausages cooked easily and evenly in the same way I usually cook them, baked in the oven. They had a nice crispy skin and were juicy and meaty with an even texture throughout. They had a mild onion flavour that was delicate and accepted by my 4 year old. It is a bonus to have more interesting flavours that he will eat to help him progress onto stronger tastes. As they were mild I think they could be easily overpowered by strong flavours elsewhere in a dish or by strong sauces.

I look forward to these new flavour sausages being widely available at the supermarket.

Please read on for the information I was given regarding allergen control.

Me: "Can I ask do you batch test your sausages for gluten parts per million? Do you also test for other allergens such as dairy? What measures do you put in place to ensure these sausages are not cross contaminated by your other products?"

Debbie and Andrews: "The FSA agreed pass mark for labelling a product ''gluten free'' is results below 20ppm. The result of ''<5mg/kg'' is the lowest reading the lab can give us and indicates a pass, this is what we are certified as.
The gluten free products are produced first thing in the morning so all lines have been fully cleaned down. This has been validated. Furthermore we gluten swab all equipment and production lines prior to starting the production run (after the full wash down) to ensure the line is free from gluten. "

"As part of our HACCP, legal and Due Diligence procedures we have carried out a comprehensive Risk Assessment for Allergen Cross Contamination. This considers the different allergens we use on site and reviews the control of validation and testing requirements.
We routinely produce products not containing dairy ingredients before we make any products containing dairy products. Should we need to adjust our production schedule we always carry out a full clean down of all equipment, machinery and production areas. These would then be swabbed to positively release the line as being fully clean and free from allergens, including dairy. We carry out a full clean down each day using a dedicated trained team of cleaners. This process is validated by an external chemical supply company to ensure the cleaning is sufficient to prevent allergenic cross contamination. This process is subsequently validated internally to ensure no possible risk of cross contamination. Furthermore we carry out routine testing of finished products to verify the system."

Find out more here: