Friday, 31 August 2007

More Cake

As a variation on a theme I tried replacing the stem ginger in my chocolate cake recipe below with dried Williams pears (from Waitrose). The pears work best if they are soaked overnight before you add them to the cake mixture. I soaked them in tea but you could try juice or a sweet wine for that extra touch of decadence.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007


I may not be able to eat bread or cheese but that doesn't mean I want to miss out on exotic food. I want to eat curry or sushi or a Brazilian stew just like anyone else. So, after seeing chef Atul Kochhar on TV a few times, I decided to try his London restaurant Benares today. Hiding among blank office fronts on Berkeley Square, Benares doesn't exactly announce itself. In fact, once I got to the square, I couldn't see it and had to ring the restaurant to check its precise address. Then 20 minutes later my lunch date rang me to ask exactly the same thing. Despite standing a couple of doors down from Benares, she couldn't see it. Once inside, however, you can't fail to see just how opulent and sedate it is. The dark wood panelling, the carvings and creamy white linen is a lush cocoon from the road works and general London mayhem outside. Even our wonky table, which could have caused seasickness, did little to ruin the atmosphere.
And the food was great. I told them about my obvious impediments - no poppadoms for me - and the waiters rigorously checked and rechecked the ingredients with the kitchen. They rejigged dishes for me so that I could enjoy ginger infused meat balls with lavender honey and then pan-fried sea bream with a coconut milk and spice dip. I had to bypass the complimentary plate of petits fours but a cafetiere of great coffee more than softened the blow.
The food was ordered off a £25 prix fixe lunch menu, which meant that I didn't have to remortgage my mother to go there, but the a la carte menu will require a trust fund or a bank robbery. The lobster curry with tomato rice weighed in at a hefty £38 as a main course. The others sat around the £25 mark, with desserts around £10. It's a lot more than other high-end restaurants, such as my favourite Le Club Gascon, but then old Atul does have a Michelin star. And a fantastic restaurant to boot.
Benares, 12a Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, London, W1J 6BS, UK, Tel: 020 7629 8886

Monday, 27 August 2007

Chocolate and Ginger Cake

Having moaned about the lack of good chocolate cake on offer, I thought I would make one myself. Here's the chocolate and ginger cake I made to take to a friend's for dinner. It turned out to be much better than I anticipated. Even my husband, the one with the severe soya aversion, ate it and loved it. He said it tasted nothing like the usual gluten and dairy-free cakes you can buy which have the consistency of 'plaster of Paris'. High praise indeed, especially from a doctor.

Serves 8
140g of dairy-free margarine
140g of golden caster sugar (though any kind of caster sugar will do)
80g of ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon of baking powder
100g of gluten-free baking flour
2 tablespoons of dairy-free cocoa powder
4 globes of preserved ginger, chopped
100g of dark chocolate, grated (I used Green & Black's)
pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 180C/350F.
Cream the sugar and margarine until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, flour, salt and almonds and mix briefly. Then add the baking powder, salt, chocolate and cocoa powder. When mixed, add the chopped ginger.
Pour into a greased and lined 7inch tin and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. And that's it. Easy.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Squid Heaven

I was never convinced that squid, like revenge, was a dish best served cold. Why have squid salad, often with the texture of a deck shoe, when you can have supple chargrilled squid or tender squid slow cooked in a basil and tomato sauce? One bite of a squid salad and those milk white rings quickly quickly morph into rubber bands before your eyes. So I couldn't have been happier when the Oyster Bar, tucked away in the bowels of New York's Grand Central Station, served up a plate of the most exquisite squid salad I'd ever had.
As a good portion of the menu is cooked in butter or coated in flour, the squid salad seemed the only reasonable option. While my husband gussied himself up for a messy encounter with a whole lobster, I felt I was making do with my squid salad. It's hardly the kind of food that makes you travel across continents. I pictured those coiyts, grisly and liable to pass through me intact. What turned up was as far from that nightmare as you can get. Lightly marinated in a purple basil dressing, the squid salad brought a tear to my eye. If I hadn't considered the squid salad worthy of a transatlantic trip, well, I was wrong. I would cross the Sahara basted in chip fat, wrapped in aluminum foil and strapped on to a camel next to Mariah Carey to get my hands on another plate of that salad.
If you live in New York then run to the Oyster Bar. If you don't, then start saving.
Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY 10017 212-490-6650

Friday, 24 August 2007

Wedding Cake

When you have food intolerances or allergies, you get used to eating food that anyone else would consider odd or simply unpalatable. The list is unfortunately very long. My husband will leave the room if I wheel out any kind of soya milk. He hates the smell. And when I say hate, I really do mean hate. As a man who is not afraid of anything on a menu, including raw meat, his soya aversion runs deep. I, on the other hand, am in heaven because I can have a milky coffee like the old pre-intolerance days. And I can have ice cream.
So when it came to finding a cake for our wedding I was loathe to inflict a dairy and gluten-free cake on my guests. Knowing how much my husband (and for that matter 99% of our guests) love a proper chocolate liable to give you heart failure at 50 paces, I knew that I would be eating my 'special' cakes alone. To compensate for the low enjoyment factor built into many allergen-free products, I went for visual impact: ribbons, flowers and pink glass cake stand. And the little white cakes even passed the husband test.
The cakes came from the beautifully named Phoebe Rose Cakes.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Chocolate Cake

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, dessert is often the one course you have to do without at restaurants. While everyone else tucks into a panoply of chocolate-based treats generously drizzled with cream, you are left with either sorbet or a fruit salad. However good the sorbet is, it's still just frozen water and fruit pulp. The raspberry sorbet I ate this month at MOMA's restaurant in New York was sublime but I couldn't help noticing the slices of chocolate fondant cake oozing seductively at the next table. I might have felt virtuous as the neighbouring diners added a bit more lard to their already considerable proportions but I also felt envious. This dairy and gluten-free lark might be my insurance against obesity but I still want chocolate cake from time to time.
Sometimes it seems that I might have my cake and eat it. Running my eye down a menu I catch sight of the flourless chocolate cake, teasing me from the dessert section. For a brief moment I hope for a slice of something evil from the sweet trolley but no, it's a false hope. The cake is free from flour but it has enough butter in it to kill a small horse. The only place I have seen flourless nirvana and been able to eat it is Orphyse Chaussette in Brussels. If you have to sell your mother's kidney to get there, then do it. She's got two and you need cake. And this cake is no ordinary slice of Mr Kipling's. It's a moelleux which roughly translates as molten orgasm. The chef cooks it to order and it arrives at the table still gently swollen from the oven's heat. It's at once light and spongy and moist and dense. How he manages to whip that out of ground almonds, eggs and chocolate, I don't know. The rest of the menu is equally easy on the intolerant's alimentary canal. Drawn from his Southern French roots, the food mainly uses olive oil instead of butter. And he can drop the butter on request with no accompanying drop in the taste as a started of purple artichoke hearts in a basil emulsion will attest. This is a man who drives across the French border to Paris to get the best meat. He sources his ingredients from a select list of farmers who in turn handpick their produce. All this and no dairy or gluten. Eat at Orphyse Chaussette and for once you will not feel like a food leper.

Orphyse Chaussette,
5 rue Charles Hanssensstraat, Brussels + 32 2 502 75 81

Cafe in MOMA, New York

Sunday, 19 August 2007

French leave

If your perfect French holiday starts with a big steaming bowl of cafe au lait and an arm's length of baguette slathered in butter each morning, then a gluten and dairy intolerance will more than take the edge off perfection. Lunch, dinner and every passing whim to devour your own body weight in patisserie, chocolate and the odd mouldering cheese will be severely hampered too. Paris is no longer the carefree food heaven of my twenties but a minefield of butter-laced reductions and floury confections. Gone are the nonchalant orders for a grand creme and a pain au raisin. They have been replaced by a battery of questions about the small print of each and every thing I order. Mostly the French just give their famous shrug and feign ignorance but just occasionally, the odd restaurant will care enough to check with the chef. Perhaps it's a sign of the slow but sure creep of American litigiousness ("I'm going to sue your ass for giving me food with wheat in it!"), but I'd like to think that maybe, somewhere, the French do care. After all they care passionately about their food but their passion gives them more than a few culinary blind spots. Vegetarians get the same treatment as Americans - we know they exist but we don't want them over here ruining things for the rest of us. For the French, anyone who doesn't want to regularly consume a blood sausage is clearly missing a few IQ points. Philosophy, principles and morality - like, for example, eating animals - are all good fodder for a lively discussion over dinner as long as they don't knock the odd saucisse or bloody onglet off the menu.
Imagine then the effect of refusing to eat bread and cheese in France. I'm usually met with a degree of snottiness ("Another bloody English speaker with a silly fad") and confusion ("How can you not want to eat everything on our menu?"). On a recent trip to Paris the rare exception was the excellent Rose Bakery, where I managed to have brunch without the usual accompanying three-day gluten bloat. You'd think scrambled eggs and smoked salmon would be easy to prepare without dairy or gluten but you'd be wrong, as I discovered this weekend when I had brunch in a restaurant round the corner from my flat in London. So full marks to Rose Bakery.
And at the other end of the culinary scale, Michel Rostang's Bistro d’à Côté Flaubert was also very accommodating. Even with their twiddly menu, they managed to give me a proper three course meal. I missed out on a few amuse bouches and a shot glass of green tomato ice cream along the way but it was worth it for the foie gras mousse. Skewered on fronds of fresh rosemary, each ball of mousse was firmly anchored in a plate of aspic. As someone who often can't eat the more interesting and innovative things on a menu, it was a real luxury to unplug my rosemary infused mousse lollies from a sea of jelly. Beats plain grilled chicken and plain potatoes (no butter, please) any day.

Rose Bakery, 46 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris, tel: 00 33 1 42 82 12 80

Bistro d’à Côté Flaubert, 10, rue Gustave Flaubert, 75017 Paris 00 33 1 47 63 40