Thursday, September 30, 2010

Halloween with Food Allergies

I'm not sure how, but October is upon us yet again. Somehow the sultry summer days have slipped quietly away. In their place are crisp clear days, chilly nights, and increasing anticipation of THE most thrilling fall holiday: Halloween.

For anyone under the age of twelve it doesn't get much better than a day that centers around dressing up and unlimited candy. And staying up past bedtime. And candy. And did I mention candy?

Unless you have food allergies. Then moms and dads everywhere start the great debate: What to do about trick-or-treat? Rest easy, there are many ways to make this work for your family, with the focus on what works for *your* family.

First, there is the obvious out: stay home. This is my approach. We found out my daughter had allergies when she was tiny, she had never been trick or treating so I knew she would not miss it. Really, little people under the age of two don't like to trick or treat anyway. It's dark, there are strangers everywhere who insist on talking to you, and tons of scary monsters walking around demanding candy! Egads man! It's a night of terror, laced with sugar to take the edge off. Your little person won't miss it.

Don't get me wrong, we don't skip Halloween entirely. Seeing all those cute costumes? It's fun. So, we pass out candy. Yep. Dress up in our costumes, fill the candy bucket with safe options, and sit on the porch to pass candy out to the neighborhood. My kids love it as much as my husband! They take turns handing candy to cute costumed kids, or hide behind my husband when the scary costumes show up. When there is a break in the crowd they munch on the treats in the bucket. It's a magical evening of candy, costumes and conversation. It works for us.

I know families that go trick or treating together, then do a huge candy sort at home. Safe candy is kept, unsafe candy set aside for dad to eat/take to the office. Most families let their kids trade the unsafe candy for safe treats. You can do this on a piece by piece basis, trade the whole bag for an approved bag, or set the candy out for the "switch witch", who visits allergic kiddos all over the world to switch their unsafe candy for a safer option. That's right, just place the bag of loot outside your a)bedroom door or b)front door before going to bed, and in the morning you will find a safe treat that the switch witch has left. (Candy? Toys? Hmmm..)

You can visit friends and neighbors in advance and 'plant' safe candy at the houses that you plan on visiting. Your princess can feel like she was part of the big event, your neighbors will feel good about helping her feel included and keeping her safe, and you won't have to worry about how to handle the unsafe treats. Win-win-win. Until they get big enough to catch on anyway!

Some families opt to skip the whole trick-or-treat dilemma by holding a festive holiday party with games, treats, and crafts that are fun for everyone who attends. The goal is to host a Halloween party that is so fun, no one will regret having skipped the door-to-door bore.

If you decide to trick-or-treat the key to making it less stressful is to be prepared. Eat dinner before the big event so the kids are not grumpy and ready to fill up on candy as they go. Bring a safe treat with you to eat while collecting the goodies. Set expectations so that your goblins know how to behave, and what will happen to the collection when they get home.

Also, if your child says "Trick or treat!" in their adorable costume and holds the goodie bag open wide, most people drop candy right in. No touching necessary. Or, gloves can be part of an excellent costume so there is no touching of unsafe candy.

Do you have a solution that I didn't mention? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Belatedly: Tasting Party Summary

I am long overdue in sharing the results of this year's tasting party with everyone! My apologies, somehow September has left me breathless with the barrage of activity, errands, and unexpected events. Whew!

Without further ado, let me get started.

First, I need to thank the lovely ladies in my support group who graciously volunteered to set up for the tasting when they found out that open house for preschool was on the same night. Thanks to them, I did not have to skip either event.

Now, on to the sponsors.

Somersault Snack Company: These crunchy bite sized nuggets are full of flavor! Nut free and protein packed, there are 4 flavors to try. I put a few aside for my husband to sample, and he actually called me as soon as he tried them because he was too excited to wait until I got home to tell me how good they were. Then he placed an order so our house would be stocked.

Good Belly Probiotic Juice Drink A non-yogurt based probiotic beverage that tastes delicious! My kids love it, so I asked Good Belly if I could share. Know what? My tasters loved it too. It was the surprise of the evening for most attendees. A dairy free probiotic drink that tastes like juice? Every one of them had that skeptic look on their face that told me they had not heard of it before, and were not sure it would appeal. And everyone made the same face of surprised delight to discover it was tasty, and safe! Try it out.

Barney Butter Honestly, I did not try this as my house is nut free. But I knew that a few of our moms had complained that it was hard to find tree nuts that are free of cross contamination with peanuts. Ta-Da! Barney Butter is an almond butter spread that is peanut free. I saw several moms packing this to take home and try, and one reported back that it is the first almond butter she has loved! (How considerate of everyone to wait until they got home to try the nut based product. Gotta love people who "get" allergies.)

Nana's Cookie Company Nana's was kind enough to send samples of their gluten free lemon and chocolate cookies. The lemon cookie was a bit dry for my taste, and I did not have the opportunity to try the chocolate. I did get an email the next day from an attendee asking if she could purchase the leftovers from me. (No deal. I shared some more with her, as well as those who could not make it and a neighboring food allergy support group. Share the love.)

Amanda's Own Confections Can I get an Oooh Yeah! Dairy free, nut free, gluten free, egg free chocolate that is not only yummy but local? I'm in! Originating out of a suburb of Cleveland, I am excited to support not only a tasty allergy friendly product, but from a neighbor! Who doesn't need more safe chocolate in their life? Living somewhere between milk and dark chocolate with an intense and deep chocolate taste that is not overwhelmingly sweet this one will come home with me more often. Consensus? None left. Doesn't that speak for itself?

Courtney's Confections I'll be honest, I am totally biased on this one. The owner is a member of our allergy support group, and I have mentioned her before. This time she shared a peanut safe yellow cake, and an egg/dairy/nut safe chocolate cake. Oh. My. Tasty, and you truly can't tell anything was missing.

Sweet Alexis I'm not sure how I missed the chance to try these, as I was really looking forward to them. Dairy, egg and nut free cookies? Perfection. That is what I need more of in my life. I suppose that the fact that we ran out before I got to them is a good thing, but I'm still pouting. C'mon. It was my party. You'd pout too, if it happened to you.

The Pure Pantry I heard more than one surprised voice say "These are gluten free? What's in them? Ohhh. You used butter. That has to be why they are so good." It's a cookie mix that you can prepare to meet your allergen needs. My volunteer made them with EnerG egg replacer and real butter, and they were good. I think they would be every bit as good with Earth Balance in place of the butter. You could serve these with no apologies.

Goldbaum's These gluten free ice cream cones came recommended from a fellow allergy mom. I was really surprised when I discovered they also have gluten free pasta and rice crackers. (Be careful, the rice crackers have a nut warning on them!) The cones? Paired perfectly with a little coconut milk ice cream. The pasta? Not mushy like gluten free pastas can be.

Home Free Treats This is the only sponsor from last year that was invited back. Why? Because they were so incredibly well received last year. This year did not disappoint. The cookies were incredible. Even more exciting? She has just released a gluten free oatmeal cookie that tastes like the real thing! Moist, chewy, decadently delicious that makes you think "This is too good to be legal. What's in there?" I saw most tasters pick up the box to check it again. And quite a few that were not gluten free yet still proclaimed they would buy it! Don't miss these. Really.

Gilbert's Goodies Gluten, dairy, nut, soy, and corn free cookies. Our bite sized cookies arrived slightly shaken, which is good because the calories fell right out. (It does work that way, right?) They do have egg, so they are not a match for our house. I was surprised when I tasted the snickerdoodle flavor that the cookie was not a chewier, more moist cookie. Don't get me wrong, it was not bad, I just expected more from tasting a forbidden fruit I guess. The other tasters did not share such reservations, and seemed to accept these cookies as a tasty snack possibility.

Questions? Bring them on, I'll try to answer them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Everyday Bread

Since adding wheat back into our diet, I make a lot of bread. Probably much more than I should. You can hear my bread machine whirring away 3-4 times a week. Someday the smell of fresh baked bread will lose it's magical powers... it's been a year at our house and I still struggle to resist tearing into loaves of hot crusty bread. Remember the cartoons where Bugs Bunny is lured by the visible scent that is tickling his nose and beckoning to him? I feel a lot like that.

Thank goodness for my bread machine, which makes this so simple that any busy parent can fit bread making into their life. Here is my most often used recipe, which goes together in seconds.

Everyday Bread

1 c hemp milk (or milk of choice)
1/4 c water
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/3 c all purpose flour
1/3 c spelt flour
1/3 c barley flour
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
3 tsp flax meal (optional, but extends shelf life by helping bread retain its moisture)
1 tsp yeast (active dry yeast and bread machine yeast work equally well.)

Add everything to bread pan in order listed. Select basic white cycle on machine and turn it loose! (Note: the flour combination here works well on the basic white cycle. If you chose to use more whole grains and less white flour, the results aren't so great.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Taco Pasta Salad

With a heat advisory everyday this week, who wants to cook? I'm happy to toss together a salad and call it a meal, but my children are still suspicious of salads. They love pasta though. The solution? Pasta salad. Win-win.

With flavors inspired by taco salad, this easy pasta salad is quick to throw together and customize to the taste buds that live at your house.

Taco Pasta Salad

1 8 oz box quinoa spiral pasta (or your favorite pasta)
1 c kidney beans (black or pinto would also be good), optional
1 c sweet corn
1/4 sweet red pepper, diced
2 tbsp onion, diced
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 hass avocado, diced
juice of 1/2 lime
sea salt to taste
cumin to taste
olive oil

Cook quinoa pasta in salted water according to package directions. While that's boiling, chop your veggies. Feel free to add a few more, whatever you like in your taco salad. I kept mine simple. When your pasta is done, drain. Place in large bowl and drizzle generously with olive oil. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over the pasta. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and cumin to taste. Add veggies, beans, and cilantro. Stir until well mingled. Optional: line bowl or plate with romaine leaf, scoop pasta salad into the center and serve. (My theory is that if lettuce is on their plate often enough, eventually the suspicion will pass and acceptance will set in. My 7 year old opted to tear up her romaine and stir it it! Small victories.)

Loaded with cool summer flavor, this salad can be gluten free, nut free, dairy free, top-8 free, and still delicious.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Preparing for absence

I know that many parents cooking for allergic families have recipe substitutions mastered. They pull out their favorite cookbook, flip to a favorite recipe, and automatically substitute with the safe ingredients in their house. It's second nature now.

Or, if you are like me, you have seven hundred and eighty two bookmarks on your computer, of which seven hundred and eighty are for recipes that you either use or want to use. In addition to the thirty seven cookbooks you have, each with three recipes that you love.

Think for just a minute about the possibility that you might not come home on time one day. Your plane is stranded and you'll be out of town an extra day or two. You are in a car accident and rushed to the hospital, where you will stay for a few days. Whatever the emergency, imagine that you can not come home. And can not call the person who has stepped up to care for your allergic family.

Can that person find the recipes you use? Do they know how to prepare things safely?

If you have not already started scribbling in cookbooks, do it now. Any time you get out a cookbook, make sure to scratch out ingredients you do not use, pencil in the actual ingredient and amounts you do use. Write differences in preparation or cooking. Make notes in the margin about who loves or hates the recipe. Highlight the index so it's easy to find recipes you use.

The recipes you have on your computer? Print them out, or write them down, and put them in a three ring binder. In a sheet protector. Make notes on those too!

In the front of your three ring binder, put a sample menu of food that your family would typically eat over the course of a few days.

Simple steps that you can take now to make unexpected emergencies easier on your family, and the person who steps up to care for them.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Allergy Friendly Tartar Sauce

Last week my husband created the most amazing fish nuggets this allergy friendly household has ever had. The crunch as you bit into them could be heard across the table, and the inside was tender and moist flaky yumminess!

Typically, batter fried foods at our house leave a thick slurry of rebellious batter particles at the bottom of the pan used for frying. The resulting menu item emerges from its hot oil bath with a scraggly coating of batter, patchy bald spots, and a slight crunch. Not anymore my friend, not anymore.

This fish nugget had body! It had a luscious thick coating that was golden and bubbly in a way that you would expect to find at pub known for it's fish and chips. The oil? Clean. No fallout. One bite made me think: Oh. My. If only I could give the kids some tartar sauce to dip in for the full experience. (Maybe, if I ask nicely, I can get the hubster to share his masterful recipe.)

The problem? No mayo. I have yet to find a store bought mayo that we can have, and have yet to create a home made version worth repeating. Until now. A simple search turned up this gem of a recipe, simple and delicious. Absolutely worth trying. In fact, I think I see chicken salad in our future. It is that good.

A simple tweak: add a pinch of paprika, as a nod to my husband who prefers Miracle Whip over real mayonnaise. Then to turn it to tartar sauce... a healthy dash of pickle relish. Really. Just a heaping spoonful of relish added to this mayo yields simple yet tasty tartar sauce.

I know, I know. It's not really a recipe. Just an excuse to share this wonderful mayonnaise recipe. Hope you like it as much as we did. My allergic daughter loved it, even dips her carrots in it now.

With care, this recipe can be dairy free, egg free, soy free, gluten free, nut free, sugar free, and still fabulous! (PS- We used coconut milk at our house. But you knew that.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Peanut and Tree Nut Free Bakery

One of the things busy food allergy families often lament is how hard it is to find safe desserts for their allergic family. Desserts are especially prone to cross contamination with nuts, and of course almost always have dairy or eggs present.

Enter Melanie, owner of Courtney's Confections. Melanie has a daughter with a life threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. She understands the frustration of searching for safe birthday cakes. She also understands what needs to be done to make a safe birthday cake.

This combination drove Melanie to open her own bakery in Columbus, Ohio, catering to those with allergies. She offers not only peanut/tree nut free cakes and cookies, but can provide egg and dairy free treats as well! And they are GOOD. Really, really good.

Next time you want to bring a scrumptious, and safe, cake to an event... call Melanie. You'll be happy you did.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Non-Recipe for Non-Pesto

Summer is soooo here. My favorite thing about summer is that the sun wakes up before I do, and we have a lovely cup of coffee on the porch swing while the day is still peaceful and cool. Nothing beats a few minutes of solitude before the world, and the kids, wake up. Just me and the sun.

Last week was the first of the truly sunny, hazy, heat filled days. I was still using nature's air conditioning. You know, open the windows all night to catch the cool air, close up tight before the heat of the day sneaks in. Even at that we were sitting at a toasty 87 in the house by dinner time.

Who wants to cook in that? Not me. We had a lot of low fuss meals last week. It was my first time making pesto pasta, sans pine nuts. Just cook the pasta, the sauce requires no cooking. Light, fresh, good hot or cold, and no oven required. That is a very good thing.

Of course, the only things I measured were the basil and the garlic, as they came in neat little packages. The rest are estimates. Thus, it is more of an idea than an actual recipe.

Pasta Pesto Sauce

1 herb container of fresh basil (the little plastic box in the store, about 1 oz)
2-4 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic (It was a small clove)
2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 cup fresh baby spinach

Put basil, garlic, nutritional yeast and spinach into your food processor. Drizzle olive oil over top. Process until finely chopped but not quite long enough to make a paste. Add more olive oil if you need it. Add to warm or cold pasta and toss to coat. Light, fresh, and super easy. Perfect for summer.

This recipe is naturally free of: dairy, egg, nuts, and soy. With care it can be free of gluten, wheat, and the top 8. If you avoid garlic, substitute in your favorite spice to lend a bit of extra flavor.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Annual Allergy Friendly Tasting Party

It is that time of year again, for me anyway. Time to start scouring the internet for new and unfamiliar foods that allergic consumers would appreciate. We food allergy families often find our comfort zone in safe and familiar foods, and settle in to a routine.

And who can blame us? With the research that needs to be done to determine if a product is safe, followed by the expense of buying unfamiliar foods. All to get it home to the ultimate test, your allergic kiddo. And allergic kiddos? Tastebuds like Vegas, baby. It's a crapshoot. (Hmmm. Come to think of it, even my non-allergic kiddos are a gamble.)

When you win, you win BIG. Product loyalty comes easily to us when a product is safe and enjoyed by the family. Having more options for dinner in the house? Major win.

But when you lose? Let's be honest, allergy friendly products aren't cheap. It's no fun to bring home a parade of foods that your child refuses to eat. Wouldn't it be great to try it before you buy it?

Enter: Me. Once a year I round up samples of the hottest allergy friendly foods on the market and offer them in a safe and expense free at a meeting of parents with food allergic kiddos. So parents can taste it and decide if they think it's worth serving to the little ones. And sometimes we even send samples home! And coupons! It. Is. Wonderful.

Says me.

So, if you can think of an allergy friendly item that you would share, please tell me. Friendly for any allergy, we have all of them represented. Thanks for helping me out!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Winter

I am so in love with the longer, sunnier days that have come with the arrival of spring. Waking up to beautiful sunrises. Enjoying a stolen moment of afternoon sunshine with a few pages of a good book while the children take a (rare) nap. Oh! And increasing likelihood of naps, due to the abundance of opportunity for playing in the open spaces and fresh air! Yes!

Good bye winter blues, goodbye cold nose and cold toes. Goodbye crazy heating bill. And goodbye to soul warming winter soups. You I will miss.

So, on this rainy, blustery spring day, one last hurrah for a fabulous winter meal. White bean turkey chili and honey corn muffins. Mmmm. One more perfect evening together before we tuck you away for another cool day. Because, really, no one wants chili during the dog days of summer.

Many thanks to my inspirations for this meal. White Bean Turkey Chili is a happy marriage of the recipe found here and here. The Honey Corn Muffins are an allergy friendly take on this delicious post.

White Bean Turkey Chili

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chpd
1 lb ground turkey
1 stalk celery (with leaves), chpd
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp Cumin (for intense smokey flavor, I dial it back to 1/2 Tbsp for the kids tastes)
1/2 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp cilantro
2 cans canelli beans- one drained (or any white beans, I often use navy and canelli together)
2-4 c vegetable broth

Heat oil in large pot, add onion and saute until brown. Add onion and garlic and cook one minute more. Add ground turkey and spices and brown the turkey. Add beans and broth enough to cover, bring to a simmer. Simmer 30-45 minutes. (I use my spoon to mash some of the beans about 30 minutes in, to help thicken the chili, then simmer an additional 15 minutes.)

Serve hot, with your choice of side. We like them with:

Honey Corn Muffins

1 c flour
1 c cornmeal
1/3 c sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp safflower oil
2 Tbsp margarine, melted and cooled
1 c buttermilk (use your favorite milk substitute + 1 tsp white vinegar, I use coconut milk)
2 flax eggs (2 Tbsp fax meal+5 Tbsp warm water, combined and allowed to stand 10 min.)
2 Tbsp honey
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels

Preheat oven to 375. In a small bowl combine flax meal and warm water and set aside. In a medium bowl add milk substitute and vinegar and allow to sit while you melt 2 Tbsp of butter in another small bowl. (You like doing dishes, right?) Put your wet ingredients on pause.
Now, in a large bowl combine your dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.
Go back to those lonely wet ingredients and introduce them. Add the now cooled butter to the bowl of buttermilk. Add the oil, flax eggs, and honey. Whisk to combine.
Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir well. Fold in corn kernels. Spoon into greased muffin cups and bake 18-20 minutes.

With care, this meal is dairy free, egg free, tomato free, nut free, treenut free, chicken free, and soy free. With a bit of creativity it could be adapted to be gluten free. Let me know if you try it, I'd love to hear your results. I think I would use garfava bean flour, sorghum and tapioca starch in equal parts, and add 3/4 tsp of xanthan gum. I think.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Powdered (Not)Milk

Awhile ago, I wrote about how to replace milk in any recipe. Silly me, I only listed liquid milk replacements.

I don't often use powdered milk, even in my dairy consuming days it was rare. It occurred to me a few days ago that sometimes powdered milk is a necessary part of a recipe, and not once did I shine my beam of product enlightenment upon those options. Sorry for the oversight.

So. Here is a quick and dirty list of options for replacing powdered milk in recipes.

  • DariFree This is the one that I use in my kitchen. It is made from a potato base, and is free of all the allergens we avoid! No one in my house will drink it straight, but it blends well into recipes with fabulous results.
  • Better Than Milk This is a powdered soymilk that is available online and in many grocery stores. (I found it at Giant Eagle.) I have not tried it, and I know there are many varieties of powdered soymilk online. Google is a girl's best friend.
  • Better Than Milk No, that's not a mistake, I did actually list it twice. Guess what? It's available as powdered rice milk also. Again, I haven't tried it, and there are plenty of choices out there.
  • EcoMil Almond If you can have nuts, powdered almond milk is out there. Feel free to give it a try.
  • Powdered Coconut Milk Don't get all excited now, I haven't found one that is dairy free. Plenty are on the market, but they all use casein as a stabilizer for now. Bummer, because you know how I adore coconut milk.

If I've missed an option, let me know. I'm always looking to expand my knowledge of allergy friendly products.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yellow Birthday Cake

Why is it that every allergy free birthday cake recipe I find that uses "normal" ingredients also has chocolate? We don't do chocolate here. So birthday cake recipes start to get a bit creative.

I personally do not mind creative so much. The end result is tasty. And healthy. But.

When people who have very big hearts and good intentions ask for a recipe they can use to make a treat that will be safe for my allergic kiddo...yep. I've got nothin'. Why? Because I have tremendous guilt asking some sweetheart of a mom to go spend mega bucks on specialty items that she is only going to use one time.

The other big drawback to using unique ingredients? Unique flavor. We love it, but we're used to eating this way. For the average person who has an unrestricted diet? Passable flavor, but still just off the mark.

No more. I have combined and tweaked several recipes to come up with a birthday cake that is The One. It uses only one ingredient that the average pantry would not have. Just one. The flavor is of mom-made goodness. The crumb is moist, bursting with flavor. It holds together like a cake should, none of the crumbly softness that cakes without eggs can have. Nor did it rise beautifully only to deflate upon cooling. This cake stood proudly, refusing to fall in the middle.

Can you tell how excited I am? To have a cake that I can serve to children and adults alike without ever offering a disclaimer about being allergy friendly. I love it.

Try it. Tell me what you think.

(This cake is dairy free, egg free, nut free, soy free, apology free, and vegan.)

Yellow Birthday Cake

2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c sugar
1/2 c So Delicious coconut milk, or milk of your choice
1/2 c safflower oil
2 tsp vinegar
2 tsp bourbon vanilla
1/2 c water

Preheat oven to 350. (You might want to give it a head start, this will whip together before the oven is ready!) Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk to combine. In a medium bowl whisk together the wet ingredients. Add wet to dry mix on medium speed to combine. Pour into a greased 9" pan and bake 40-45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and frost as desired.

*Note: If you increase the sugar by 1-2 tbsp, and decrease the water by almost 1/4 c the batter will be quite thick and the end result will be a moist cake with a delightfully crispy crunchy top. This is a bonus because you won't need frosting, just a quick dusting of powdered sugar for decoration and it's done. Yum.

Need allergy free frosting to go with this? I used this recipe and it was incredible! Of course, I replaced the butter with Earth Balance soy free margarine, used Spectrum palm shortening, and used SoDelicious coconut milk coffee creamer in place of the heavy cream. It was light and fluffy, like the whipped icings you would get from a bakery. Mmmm.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lunchbox Tidbit

These little things occur to me while I am going through my day, and I always plan to compile them into an incredibly comprehensive list of sage wisdom. Ha! The truer wisdom would be me admitting that I tend to be scattered, and making (and keeping track of) notes to create such a superpost is not likely.

So here is a tidbit of wisdom, brought to you by the experience of my young student.

When purchasing a lunchbox for your allergic child, do not let the character on the front be the key decision maker. Look closely at the overall design. While my daughter loves her princess lunchbox with the functional design of a brown bag, she found it is not easy to use. You know the kind, with a velcro type faster along the top of the bag, and a bag design that really does look like, well, a brown paper lunch bag. My daughter found that it is not easy to get foods in and out of her lunch box. She can not eat over the lunch box, meaning if she drops a bite (or half her sandwich) on the table she needs to throw it away. Also, we do not use many plastic baggies, and we found that once we put in a drink bottle, a sandwich container, and a napkin...we run out of room for the other yummy parts of a healthy lunch.

Before buying, consider how much room packing a healthy lunch will take. Also, consider whether you will be sending a place mat, or if you like your child to eat over their open lunchbox to avoid accidental contamination. The ease of choosing what food they want to eat first and taking out just that food is also important. Lunchtime goes fast, these kiddos don't want to waste any time trying to struggle with their lunchbox.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Green Tea Muffins

I really thought I had already posted this recipe, but when I went to pull it up this morning surprise! It is not here. Luckily, I have it written down in my handy recipe notebook. And I have to share this with you because it is so darn versatile. The original recipe is marvelous just as it is. Everyone in the family loves them. Everyone. My favorite part? It is effortless to throw together. One bowl. Stir. Done! Love it.

I rarely follow a recipe exactly. I am always tweaking, trying to improve the nutritional content, the flavor, the texture....something. So, here is the version I use as my base recipe, obviously touched up from the original. Feel free to adapt it. I haven't had it come out badly yet.

Green Tea Muffins

1 1/4 c flour (white and wheat both work, I use a mixture of both)
1/4 c Bob's Red Mill GF Garbanzo and Fava flour (to up the protein content)
1/2 c brown sugar (sometimes I use only 1/3)
1/2 c white sugar (again, sometimes only 1/3)
3/4 tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp hemp protein powder (or protein powder of choice- optional)
3/4 c strongly brewed green tea (3 bags in 3/4 c water- I use decaf)
1/4 c safflower oil

Preheat oven to 400. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add tea (hot or cooled.) and oil and mix until combined well. Spoon into muffin cups and bake 25 minutes. Fill muffin cups just about 1/2 full in order to make all 12. They rise nicely.

If you use the full amount of sugar these muffins get a crunchy, crispy top that is mmmm. I have been known to use different flavors of tea, though green tea is my favorite in this recipe. I have stirred in pomegranate arils (WOW!), cranberries, apricots, currants, you name it. Haven't ruined them yet. So, feel free to play with this and make it your recipe. You'll enjoy every bite.

*Edited to note: I have just discovered my favorite modification so far. I used lemon tea in place of green tea, and stirred in blueberries. Top with a little crumb topping or a sprinkle of raw sugar and bake. Oh. My.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Breakfast Cookies

I saw a recent Twitter post linking to a recipe for 'breakfast cookies' and off I went to check it out. Admittedly they do sound very tasty. And I love that there is an original and an allergy make over version. However, there's a lotta sugar there. I'm all for sugar, don't get me wrong. But. First thing in the morning? Naw. Gotta get the healthy stuff in first. They'd make a good snack though.

Breakfast cookies seem like such a great idea. Portable, pre-portioned, and easy on crazy mornings because you can make them ahead of time. So, I did some surfing. (I know, I know, you're shocked.) Know what? There are a ton of recipes out there for breakfast cookies, and they all have enough sugar to equal a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.

Wait! Wait! Not all of them. I found one that sounded very respectable. Very tasty. Very healthy. Don't tell the kids that last part. I tweaked it a bit to suit our allergies, and wow! Yummy. Even the non-restricted kiddos that hang at our house loved them.

So here is my slightly tweaked version:

Breakfast Cookies

1/2 c whole wheat flour (for GF use sorghum here*)
1/2 c all purpose flour (for GF use 1/4 tapioca starch and 1/4 buckwheat or millet*)
1/4 c bean flour (It ups the protein content, I used Bob's Red Mill GF Garbanzo and Fava)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter (I use Earth Balance soy free), you could use coconut or palm oil
1/4 c safflower oil
1/4 c brown sugar
3 tbsp cane sugar
1 tbsp flax meal + 2 1/2 tbsp warm water, set aside and allowed to gel
1/4 c mashed sweet potato (no sugar added)
1 tsp bourbon vanilla
1/2 c oats (if you are GF and can not tolerate oats, use quinoa flakes*)
1/2 c bran cereal flakes (GF use flake cereal of choice- I like Mesa Sunrise)*
1/3 c dried cranberries (I used part cranberry, part currants)
-- If making GF version, do not forget to add 1/2 tsp xanthan*--

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease cookie sheet. In medium mixing bowl mix dry ingredients.
In a large mixing bowl beat butter, oil and sugars with an electric mixer an medium high until thoroughly combined, about a minute. Add flax/water mixture, vanilla, and mashed sweet potato and blend about 30 seconds more. Add oats, flakes, and fruit, and blend just until incorporated. Dough will be less cohesive than regular cookie dough. Using 3-4 tbsp of batter, form into a ball and place on cookie sheet. Repeat until you have 12 balls, evenly spaced. Use your fingers to lightly press the cookies out flat, about 1/4" thick. Bake 12 minutes, cookies should be slightly soft in the center. Let cookies cool briefly on the cookie sheet, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Try to save some for breakfast tomorrow!

*I did not make the GF version for this batch, so I can not promise the same stellar results. I did give you the substitutes that I would use. If you beat me to making a GF version, please let me know which flours you used and how they turned out!

So, while these were incredible warm, here is the next day report. After being stored in an airtight container overnight...meh. They remind me a bit of a nutrigrain type bar. Tasty, but kinda dry. The kids all ate one. Then declared themselves done. All claimed to like them00, there were no protests. But kids eating just one cookie? Clearly this recipe is not the winner of any taste tests.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mushroom Stroganoff

My husband has always been a huge fan of stroganoff. When we took red meat out of our diet several years ago, stroganoff was one of the dishes that stopped appearing at our house. Until last night.

Husband, meet mushroom stroganoff. Mushroom stroganoff, meet husband. This could be the beginning of a very long friendship.

This recipe is half mine, half inspired by recipe surfing elsewhere. (It has become a favorite pastime of mine.) You certainly can use any mushrooms you have on hand for this recipe, but I think that the baby bellas are key for enhancing the beefy flavor. If you have red wine or sherry close by, replacing part of the vegetable broth with wine would seriously up the depth of flavor for this recipe, adding a bit more of the underlying tang that stroganoff usually has.

Try serving this over wild rice instead of plain pasta for a flavor loaded taste bud treat. You could also serve it over biscuits, your favorite pasta, or baked potatoes!

Mushroom Stroganoff

1/2 c chpd onion
10 oz sliced mushrooms ( I used half shitake, half baby bella)
1/4 c Earth Balance soy free margarine
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c flour (I prefer brown rice flour if using GF flours, it is less gritty)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 c So Delicious coconut milk (or milk of choice- remember to use unsweetened)
1 1/2 c vegetable broth (can use up to 1/2 c red wine)
1 Tbsp coconut aminos (optional- can also use soy sauce or worcestershire sauce)

Melt butter over medium heat in large skillet. Add onion and saute 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms, saute 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1-2 minutes more. Add seasonings and flour and stir to incorporate flour and brown it slightly, mixture should become very thick. Slowly add milk while stirring to evenly incorporate. Slowly stir in vegetable broth until mixture is smooth. Bring to a simmer and simmer to desired thickness. (You can add more milk or broth if you would like this to be thinner. As usual, the above amounts are estimates based on what I think I stirred in.) Remove from heat, stir in coconut aminos, and serve.

With care this recipe can be dairy free, soy free, gluten free, nut free, vegan, top 8 free and absolutely delicious!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bread Pudding

I have been making bread two or three times a week for a few months now, and it is still SO hard to resist the temptation of freshly baked bread. The whole house smells of warm, fresh from the oven bread, and it takes every ounce of willpower this mama has not to slice off a thick hunk of warm yeasty goodness, slather it in butter, and gobble up half the loaf. Really. It calls to me.

However, being a mama with limited time on her hands, I resist. Because I know I won't have time to bake another loaf before I have to pack lunch for the allergic kiddo, and sandwiches are so darn easy. And. Well. Normal. It's nice to send something that can make her feel like a normal kid at lunchtime.

That being said, my kids do not care for bread that has aged beyond a day or so. Toasting it can buy an extra day. Sometimes we fly through a loaf in a matter of hours, occasionally it manages to make it to day three. The day of doom for bread around here, because no one will eat it. (Unless I broil it as garlic toast. Yum.) Prior to the holidays I had been freezing these little bits, saving them up for stuffing. Holidays are gone. Bread is not. What to do?

Make bread pudding of course! What better winter indulgence to use up those slightly stale loaves of love? Warm from the oven with a scoop of allergy free ice cream, or home made caramel sauce or even just a spoonful of your favorite jelly....heavenly.

Vanilla Bread pudding

1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flax meal + 2 Tbsp warm water, allowed to sit 5 minutes)
1/2 c organic cane sugar
1/2 c organic brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/2 c canned coconut milk
1 1/2 c So Delicious coconut milk, or milk of choice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 c cubed stale bread of choice

Preheat oven to 350. Mix flax egg in large mixing bowl and allow to sit. Beat with mixer just until texture changes, about 45 seconds. Add sugars and blend well. Add vanilla and canned coconut milk. Mix well. Add remaining milk and nutmeg and blend. Add cubed bread and stir to coat. Grease 8x8 pan, add bread mixture and allow to stand 10 minutes. Bake 30-40 minutes until golden, and knife inserted in middle comes out clean. Drizzle with warm maple syrup, top with ice cream, or sauce of your choice, and serve.

Depending on the bread you use, this may need a splash more milk. If mixture seems to dry after combining with bread, drizzle in more milk until uniformly moist. Any milk can be used in this recipe, but I chose coconut for it's rich, thick texture. It adds that creamy indulgent flavor and texture that bread pudding needs. Feel free to use your milk of choice, I would suggest a rich milk, or combination of milks, like hemp milk, soy creamer, even a bit of soy or rice yogurt if using thin milks like rice milk. It adds body and flavor to round out the flavor nicely.

With care this recipe can be dairy free, egg free, nut free, gluten free, soy free, top 8 free, and delicious!