Easy Swaps for a Dairy Free Diet

Since we figured out that C is most likely cows milk protein intolerant, I’ve had to be really strict about what I eat. Although I’ve been mostly dairy free for at least ten years (anything more than small amounts of dairy gives me headaches and migraines), it’s been quite fun trying out new alternatives, and thought I’d share some of them here with some advice for anyone else looking to go dairy free for whatever reason. Do add any suggestions in the comments and I’ll update this post with them!

First up, some basics.

‘Dairy free’ is quite a loose term but basically I mean avoiding cows milk products (I’m always surprised how many places class eggs as dairy). However, goats and sheep’s milk proteins are apparently very similar to cows, and we’ve found that C reacts if I’ve eaten them too. We’ve been lucky that C seems fine if I eat small amounts of soya – apparently 50% of cows milk intolerant babies also react to soya.

It’s also worth knowing that lactose intolerance is different to cows milk protein intolerance, so lactose free products aren’t necessarily any use in this instance.

Check The Label

You’d be astounded how many things have hidden dairy in them, especially prepared foods such as sauces and ready meals. Check everything! And don’t just look for ‘milk’ – it might be listed as milk protein, whey powder, casein etc. Most products these days have allergy warnings on them, so look for that too. You might be pleasantly surprised too, my recent dairy free discoveries include Jammy Dodgers and pork pies!

Cook (And Bake) From Scratch

The easiest way make sure you’re not eating hidden dairy is to cook from scratch. It means you know exactly what’s in everything you make and won’t get caught out – I recently got caught by what I thought was a non dairy takeaway curry before remembering Indian food is often cooked with ghee, a clarified butter.

It does take a little more time but you can make meals in bulk and freeze them for a quick and easy meal when you’re in a rush. It’s not much good if you’re trying to lose weight, but I try to have a ready supply of dairy free baked goods (biscuits, cakes etc) so I don’t ever feel like I have to go without.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

When eating out, ask about the ingredients in their dishes, explain that you can’t eat dairy and request dairy free alternatives – no butter in sandwiches, burgers without the cheese, etc. Anywhere worth eating at will be more than happy to oblige, so don’t go all British and be afraid to ask! We were at Bristol Zoo last week and the kitchen had shut, I asked if there was butter in the ready made sandwiches and the lady promptly went off to the kitchen to make me a fresh sandwich of my choice, without me even having to ask!

Swap For Dairy Free Alternatives

– Swap cow’s milk for soy, rice, oat or almond milk. It’s down to personal taste but for me, soy is fine cold but tastes horrible hot, rice again is fine and quite refreshing cold but is quite thin and watery so doesn’t work well in tea/porridge etc. Oat is my current favourite, particularly for porridge or hot chocolate.
– Swap butter in sandwiches etc for olive oil based spread. It doesn’t have to be a fancy ‘free from’ brand, but check the labels and avoid anything like ‘utterly butterly’ as that definitely has butter in it.
– Swap butter in cooking/baking for the type of Stork which comes in blocks rather than the tubs (although they look the same the latter has milk in). You can also use coconut oil (get tubs from the world food aisle – far cheaper than the stuff in health food shops), or for pastry use a white fat such as Trex. Some cakes can be made with sunflower or even olive oil instead of butter.
– Swap milk chocolate for dark chocolate, but make sure it’s good quality dark chocolate – brands like Bourneville have milk added and proper dark chocolate tastes much better! Divine is my favourite, followed by Green and Blacks.
– Swap ice cream for sorbet (mango is really creamy naturally) or Swedish GlacĂ© – this is soy based and tastes delicious! If you can’t have soy then try freezing slices of banana then whipping it up in a food processor. Sounds odd but tastes fantastic, and you can flavour it by adding things like frozen strawberries / raspberries.
– Swap yoghurt for soy based yogurt, eg Alpro. I’m not a fan if the plain yoghurt but the vanilla one is divine with fresh fruit! Note that some of their yogurts are in the chiller at the supermarket, but they also have dairy free yogurt type deserts including chocolate ones in the ‘free from’ section.
– Cheese is a challenge! You can get soy based cheeses… They taste nothing like ‘proper’ cheese but can fill a void if you really want something.
– Swap custard/cream for oat or soy based alternatives.
– Swap ‘branded’ hot chocolate drinks for a ‘real’ hot chocolate made with cocoa powder, sugar and oat milk – also cheaper and tastes better too, a no brainer!

So there you go. Going dairy free isn’t as difficult as it first might seem. You still get to eat ‘nice’ stuff, although yes, I do still miss cheese. But if nothing else I know we’ve saved tons of washing since going dairy free, as C’s far less sick!

Add your suggestions in the comments and I’ll update this post as we go along!

Cooking: Empty-the-Cupboard Pasties

20140312-160050.jpgI hate throwing food away, but however much I plan our meals, I always seem to end up with something going grotty in the fridge or cupboard.

With more than usual about to go to waste this week, and lacking in treats due to a new strict dairy free diet (we suspect C might be cows milk intolerant, and dairy gives me migraines anyway), I decided to throw together some empty-the-cupboard pasties.

In a kind of Cornish/Welsh hybrid the filling ended up being half a manky swede (all the manky bits chopped off of course!), a pack of just-in-date mince beef, a leftover leek and a couple of very sprouty potatoes. This was all chopped up small and mixed up in a bowl with some mixed herbs and a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper – don’t be shy with the seasoning!

Pastry tastes better with real dairy in of course, but 14oz bread flour and 8oz of fat (a mix of Trex and block Stork), plus a bit of salt makes a perfectly satisfactory and dairy free substitute, whizzed up in the food processor and then with a little cold water added to make it stick together. This was all stuff we had in the cupboard / fridge anyway and was so quick that I can see us whipping up all manner of pastry based treats.

Making up the pasties was the most time consuming bit and took me right back to my school days, rolling out the pastry a bit at a time to save over handling it, and cutting circles out round a cereal bowl.

After a bit of trial and error I decided the best approach to filling them was to brush beaten egg around the edge first, pop a small mound of (uncooked) filling in the middle, stick one half of the pasty together, then pick up the pasty and top up the filling as much as I could through the open end. Once done it was just a case of sealing the whole thing together, cutting a few slots in the top of each and brushing over with beaten egg.

Apparently you can freeze them at this stage as a ‘ready to bake’ treat, but they also freeze well once cooked, so I opted to bake them all at once.

To strike a balance between nicely crisp pastry and cooked filling I started them off at 190c for about ten minutes, then dropped the temperature to about 150c for another 45 minutes or so. This seemed to work perfectly.

This recipe yielded about a dozen pasties, so half of them made their way into the freezer whilst the rest are there for a yummy homemade lunch. Beats the same old sandwiches and tastes beautiful warmed and topped with a bit of homemade tomato ketchup!