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When my friend Hayley from the Science, Sightseeing and Sustenance blog told me she was going gluten free while living in her coeliac-friend's flat, I had to get her to write a guest post for me! Hayley's blog is always full of tasty treats with tips on making the recipe gluten free. A must read for any foodie - especially one conscious of where their food comes from!
My gluten free experience
I’m currently on a research fellowship, staying for 3 months in Southampton as part of my PhD, which is full time based in Cape Town, South Africa. I’m probably about 6 months away from handing in (fingers crossed!) and hopefully then will have time for the other love of my life besides science -food! Though I’m busy with work, the challenge of new foodie adventures is never far away. I recently spent a few weeks staying at my friend Liz’s flat. She has coeliac disease so I wanted to try and be a good house guest and avoid contaminating her kitchen. I was very lucky that a mistake - picking a product with gluten, or accidental contamination wasn’t going to make me sick, but I spent a lot of time looking at my cooking ingredients as much as possible to try and understand just how pervasive gluten is in a lot of our foods.
I was very surprised by some of the odd things gluten appears in – mostly processed products. I don't tend to eat much processed food anyway, because I love to cook, but now that I'm cooking for one and stressed with work, the temptation to just pick up a ready made meal is much higher. This meant I had to be a little more prepared than I had been in the few weeks previous. So I bought meats, made sauces etc and portioned them out for easy one-person dinners after a busy day.
One thing I tried to do was avoid buying gluten-free versions of products that would normally contain gluten. Mainly because they are quite expensive and realistically, if I were to actually suffer from coeliac disease, I wouldn’t be able to afford these products, and probably wouldn’t be able to buy them as readily at home in Cape Town. This meant a few of my staples – bread, crackers and pasta, were out.
Breakfast was hard. I usually have toast, or when particularly busy, a couple of rusks (hard baked South African biscuits, honestly they are amazing…you could probably make a gluten free version – I wish I’d done this!). I made some delicious blueberry, banana and honey drop scones with gluten free flour (see recipe at end of post) but to be honest, I very much prefer savoury food for breakfast. I had a few days of bacon with avocado, topped up with a portion of fruit, but was left feeling unsatisfied…I do like my carbs and was missing bread terribly. I happened across a special offer on corn meal (also known as polenta) in Asda, which was emblazoned with a gluten free label and a recipe for cornbread – this was a revelation. Sure, cornbread is more cake like than bread-like but it did the job and a chunk of it with my avocado/bacon/scrambled egg breakfast was perfect. I also used it to compliment slow cooked chilli con carne. Polenta became one of my firm favourites over the next few weeks – delicious served with baked cod (again, see recipe!), as a replacement for breadcrumbs on fishcakes, and even perfect as a porridge – either sweetened with honey and fruit, or savoury with cheese.
I actually managed ok on the whole. Cooking from raw ingredients made things a lot easier. But eating out is a different story, I was heartened to notice gluten free items and food markets and listed in menus, but wondered how much you could trust a kitchen to get things right.
On Liz’s return, I got to experience a taste of gluten free fast food. We had a girly cocktails and pizza evening, with three pizzas from Dominos. The pizzas were pretty good, the base was crispy, definitely different from any pizza base I’d had before, but not bad. The toppings were also nice, though more cheese would have been good (whenever isn’t more cheese good?!). I’d also grabbed a selection of nibbles for us and managed to easily find a selection of cheese, gluten free crackers and chutneys and some gluten free corn chips and dips.
All in all, it was a very interesting experience seeing just some of the challenges associated with gluten free living. But I’m thoroughly relieved not to have to worry about it in my everyday life. It has definitely renewed my commitment to try and give gluten-free recommendations on my blog recipes and I think I definitely know a little more now about where secret gluten might be hiding in my ingredients.
Blueberry and banana drop scones
Makes a good sized breakfast, plus some for freezing, depending how hungry you are and how big you make them!
1 cup gluten free plain flour
½ cup oats (be careful you don’t have a problem with these/any issues with contamination).
½ cup milk
1 tsp gluten-free baking power
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp blueberries
Half a banana (plus extra for topping)
Honey, yoghurt, cinnamon and nutmeg, nuts and seeds to top as you prefer.
Mix flour, oats and baking powder together, then add egg, butter, milk. Roughly mash the blueberries and banana together and mix through. You can add some honey/sugar at this point if you prefer quite sweet dropscones.
Heat a frying pan on medium heat. Add a large knob of butter. Once the butter is melted, add large spoonfuls of mixture to the pan. Once bubbles start to rise and pop, flip the dropscones over and cook until golden on both sides (approx. 2 mins a side, depending on size).
Top with some honey, yoghurt, spices, nuts and seeds as you prefer – I like all the above!
Baked cod with cheese polenta
For one (with some leftover polenta for lunch!)
1 skinless, boneless cod fillet – I got delicious, sustainable (MSc certified) cod – as an oceanographer I can’t recommend this highly enough!
1 tsp butter
5-10 olives – can be pitted/whole. I actually used garlic stuffed ones, halved.
1 small onion, sliced thinly.
Juice of a lemon.
1 cup polenta
3 cups water
2 tbsp grated cheese
½ cup of peas
Drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Make a foil parcel and lay your cod fillet in it. Top with butter, olives, onion and lemon juice (a dash of white wine is also nice if you have it!), season well with pepper. Bake the cod at 180 degrees for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile make the polenta. Bring the water to the boil, reduce the temperature so its simmering, add the polenta slowly, stirring well and turn the heat to very low for 5 minutes until soft. Mix the cheese through and season well (a dash or cream or knob of butter makes this even more indulgent).
Cook the peas and serve around the polenta, topped with the cod and contents of the foil parcel. A drizzle of balsamic reduction finishes this off nicely.
Great with a glass of marsanne, viognier or chardonnay.
For more delicious recipes from Hayley check out Science, Sightseeing and Sustenance by clicking here.