The DA Challenge : A gluten free week experience

As a rite of passage at Delicious Alchemy, we like everyone to complete a ‘gluten free week’ so they can experience a free from diet first hand.  In this latest blog post, our newest recruit shares her experience of going gluten free…

 

Upon joining Delicious Alchemy, I was briefed that I must complete a gluten free week. I was slightly apprehensive as I’m still learning about what foods do & don’t contain gluten – but I was mainly curious to see what options I could find.

I’m not a big breakfast person, so gluten free breakfasts weren’t too much of a worry. I was mostly nervous about what I would do for lunch – as someone who tends to rush around a lot, convenience is a very important factor in my diet.  Also, my biggest weakness is bread which I knew would be a challenge. Although there are gluten free bread alternatives out there, I wasn’t sure how they’d compare…

This is my gluten free week

My gluten free week began on a Thursday. I had a friend coming to visit over the weekend, so rather than plan each meal, I played it by ear. This approach was fine on days where I had organised my lunch and brought soup, but it wasn’t so great on days when I hadn’t and was really craving bread.

On a standard week, my lunches will generally consist of sandwiches. I either make them the night before or grab one from a local shop, so going gluten free made me realise that convenience is just not a friend to the coeliac, I wouldn’t have the luxury of just being able to grab and go. So, lunches were made up of: soup, a salad with added sandwich chicken from M&S, who had a good gluten free section and I also bought a loaf of gluten free bread so I could have sandwiches – and thank goodness it tasted pretty good! I did mix things up with the odd jacket potato, and because it’s something I’d normally eat, it didn’t feel too much like I was “missing out”.


Gluten Free Meals

Something I’ve never had to worry about is eating out on a restricted diet. I don’t have any allergies or intolerances (apart from garlic – who knew!) so I don’t normally have to restrict myself when dining out. I knew that when my friend arrived on Friday we would go out, so I researched some gluten free options at various restaurants before we set off. However, a Friday evening and no pre-booking do not go hand in hand, and unfortunately all the restaurants I had looked into were full. So we thought we would try Italian chain Strada, as it was close by and also heavily raining.

I asked if they had a gluten free menu – they didn’t, but the waiter did have on hand a nutritional guide with tick boxes next to each meal so you could see which meals had gluten in. Being shown all the things I couldn’t have was slightly disheartening, so I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I faced this every time I wanted to eat out.

 

The limiting experience I had at Strada was nicely balanced by another Italian chain – Ask (I promise I don’t always go out for my meals). I ventured over with a coeliac friend of mine. As I used to work at an Ask restaurant, I know for a fact that they have a pretty extensive gluten free menu – and they’re also on an entirely separate sheet. To start, we shared a Caprese salad – mozzarella, rocket and tomato. I then had my favourite Ask pizza: Prosciutto E Bufala – posh ham and cheese. Having never tasted a gluten free pizza base before, I was happy to find it tasted… tasty! I did notice that the toppings didn’t stick to the pizza base as well as they do on gluten pizzas, and it wasn’t quite as nice the next day, but all in all I was happy with it.

Gluten Free Ask pizza

We then had a work lunch out on my last gluten free day, and visited Marmaduke’s – a lovely little café tucked away near the Crucible in the centre of Sheffield. Sadly, they didn’t really have much to offer in the way of gluten free options, although there were some lovely looking gluten free cakes! I went for the mushroom soup. It was lovely and thick, and tasted fantastic. But… it was the only gluten free option on the menu, aside from the salads. I wouldn’t expect every single restaurant and cafe to have an extensive gluten free range, but there was nothing else I could have.

 

So my overall thoughts of the gluten free week are thus: although it must be really difficult initially to start on a restricted diet, there’s at least a little more awareness and therefore more options. 15 or even 10 years ago, not many people would have heard of Coeliac disease, let alone made gluten free bread. Although I do think all restaurants should consider having a separate gluten free menu like Ask.

Coming up with different lunch ideas that were quick, easy and gluten free was a struggle. My evening meals weren’t too difficult as I noticed I don’t tend to eat a lot of gluten products then anyway, and I enjoyed having an excuse to cook steak!

Steak

Throughout the week, I realised that you’ve really got to plan everything that you eat. For example, on the Saturday my guest really fancied a McDonalds – I didn’t even want to risk going in there on an empty stomach, so before we went out, I wolfed down some beans on gluten free toast.

If I were to do my gluten free week over again, I’d have made a food plan for the entire week with a list of things I would need to buy beforehand. However, that in itself just highlights the differences in ease between a non restricted diet and a restricted diet.

 

My gluten free recipe of the week: Breaded chicken

Breadcrumbs:

  • Chopped up parsley OR dried mixed herbs
  • GF Bread
  • Chicken stock (Knorrs cubes are not only gluten free, but they’re the best tasting, too!)
  • Bit of salt and pepper
  • You can add in butter, bits of cheese or a spoonful of pesto if you want to mix it up a bit

Once everything is in bits, add a couple of drops of oil, just to firm it up slightly. Be careful of using water – it can turn it into the texture of stuffing if you put too much in.

This is something that I would normally make with standard, gluten containing bread, so I was intrigued to find out how well gluten free bread would fare. There was hardly any difference whatsoever! If you roll the breasts in flour (gluten free of course!) then soak them in egg beforehand, the breadcrumbs will stick very well. Stick it in the oven at about 220ºc and leave it til it’s golden brown on the outside and cooked in the middle.

Breaded chicken