Thursday, October 16, 2014

Things I Learned at FABlogCon

I don’t dare try to do a recap post on the 2014 FABlogCon in Las Vegas. I can’t possibly thank everyone that needs to be thanked. I can’t possibly mention all of the tremendous souls I reconnected with and those I met for the first time. I can’t possibly mention all of the great moments. There were too many moments, each and every person who attended is special, and far too many need to be thanked. So I won’t try. Suffice it to say that there is no event quite like this one, where the entire food allergy community can come together and feel safe, loved, and understood.

Instead, I want to mention a few (of the many) “bloggy things” that I learned at the conference.

Thanks to Pam Jordan, Keeley McGuire, and Cindy Gordon, I have a much better idea of how to use Pinterest. Oh, the many things I have been doing wrong there… These lovely ladies explained that I need to think of Pinterest as a stream (like I do with twitter) rather than a static pin board. That was a bug “ah-ha” moment!

Ritesh explained that if I am going to change a tweet when I retweet it (usually necessary to add text when retweeting) that I should label it “MT” (modified tweet) rather than RT (retweet). Ritesh called this “good manners.” Apparently I have been a bad girl ☹.

I also learned that I can pin a tweet to top of my twitter page and that I can pin a post to the top of my facebook page. (Where have I been?)

And my favorite blogging tip is also thanks to Ritesh. I decided to create a video trailer for The Allergy-Free Pantry, using Animoto. Check it out:

The Allergy-Free Pantry Trailer

Monday, October 13, 2014

Announcing the Winner of the Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker

And the winner of the Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker is:

Anne, from Freckled Faced Adventures

Congratulations Anne, you are going to love this machine! Have some great #slowcookermeals!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker Review and Giveaway (and Making Black Beans)

Today I am reviewing the Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget® 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker With Spoon/Lid. I received a free slow cooker to try, and I have one to give away to a reader here, compliments of Hamilton Beach (see The Giveaway, below).

In my house the slow cooker is a 3-season tool; I like to use it from fall through spring. I pull it out on the first chilly fall day, before the heat has been turned on in the house, when it’s nice to have something warming all day in the kitchen.

I decided to give the slow cooker a test with a very simple recipe – making black beans. I use beans a lot (we’re trying to eat less meat here), and black beans lend themselves perfectly to be made in a big batch because they freeze beautifully.

But before I make the beans, let’s take a look at the slow cooker. I’ve never owned a programmable slow cooker before, and was intrigued by the concept. In the past, I would set it in the morning and come home from work to find my meal cooked, but possibly overcooked. This slow cooker’s features allow me to cook for just the right amount of time!

I was immediately struck by how solid this slow cooker is. The oval vessel is a nice heavy stoneware, that looks to be very easy to clean and dishwasher safe. It’s a very allergy-friendly vessel! The glass lid is heavy and solid, with a rubber seal that sits very nicely on top of the stoneware vessel.

The lid has a hole for the thermometer – a fantastic feature if you want to cook meat! And yes, you can program the slow cooker to turn to warm when it reaches just the right temperature.

The lid can be clamped down with clips on the sides for carrying your warmed chili to the potluck dinner. I found the clips difficult to clamp down, but I expect they will loosen up over time. There is also a slot in the handle of the lid for holding a spoon (included) to carry to the potluck dinner (how many times have you gotten there and realized you forgot a spoon?).

Ready to make some black beans? Instead of buying black beans in a can, making them yourself is a fabulous way to save money, not mention control over ingredients and avoiding cross-contamination.

Rinse 2 pounds of black beans. Remove any broken or discolored beans. Place the beans in the vessel for the slow cooker. Cover the beans liberally with water; use 14-15 cups. Luckily, this slow cooker can accommodate that! At this stage it’s not possible to use too much water, but it is possible to use too little water. The goal is to let the beans absorb as much water as possible – they will expand as they do so. Cover the vessel and let the beans soak overnight.

In the morning, skim any floaters from the top. Drain the water from the beans. Place the beans back in the slow cooker vessel and add just enough water to cover them (about 5 cups) and 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook on low for 6 hours.

I decided to program the slow cooker for 6 hours on low, and found it very easy to do so. With the program mode, the slow cooker will automatically switch to “warm” when it reaches the time limit – something I wanted to test.

At about 3 hours, skim the foam. After cooking on low for 6 hours (or whenever you come back to it after it turns to warm), check the beans to see if they are done. At this point you may choose to add up to 1 tablespoon more of salt (depending on your preference). Cook the beans for up to 2 more hours, checking them every 30 minutes, until they are done. Mine took exactly 7 hours, total.

Now, back to the slow cooker. I must tell you that I have discarded many slow cookers over the years due to running too hot on low, the outer vessel getting too hot, or just being the wrong size. Some of these were expensive/high-end slow cookers. I don’t think I’ve found another one that I like as much as the Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget® 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker .

I love the programmability, but what I like best about the machine is the size and design. The large vessel with the glass lid is well positioned so that there is no leakage and no mess inside the slow cooker where the heating elements are. The low temperature was truly low (thank you Hamilton Beach!), and I could touch the outside of the slow cooker while running without fear of burning myself. Even the cover design is such that you don’t need to use an oven mitt to open it. This is one fine machine that is replacing what I was using previously.

I could live without the clips on the side and the spoon holder in the lid, but that might be a great feature for you if you tailgate a lot. The one design change I would make is to lengthen the electrical cord. I had to rearrange the appliances on my countertop to be able to get this close enough to an outlet to plug in. (The cord is about 2 feet long, 3 feet would have been perfect.)

The Giveaway

Now, one of you can win a Hamilton Beach slow cooker. Simply leave a comment below with what you’ll make first in your slow cooker. The slow cooker will be shipped to a randomly chosen winner from Hamilton Beach. You have until midnight on Saturday October 11th to enter. The winner will be announced on Monday, October 13th. Good luck!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins Made with Burgundy Sorghum Flour

It’s been a while since I posted a new recipe. For most of the summer I have taken a vacation from baking – let’s call it post-book recovery. But I woke up one morning and felt inspired to make banana muffins with some burgundy sorghum flour that I’ve been meaning to try.

To use the burgundy sorghum, I adapted my basic flour blend from The Allergy-Free Pantry for a 256 gram (2-cup) blend that included:

102 grams brown rice flour
51 grams white sorghum flour
51 grams burgundy sorghum flour
52 grams arrowroot starch

I should note that the NuLife Market burgundy sorghum flour I used has the same amount of protein as the white (3 grams per serving), but more fiber and fewer carbs.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

256 grams basic flour blend (see above)
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ cup Sucanat
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 flaxseed egg
¼ cup sunflower oil
¾ cup hemp milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup mashed banana (2 medium)
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Combine the dry ingredients and set them aside. Combine the flaxseed egg, oil, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Add the dry ingredients and mix for another 2 minutes.

Add the mashed banana and mix for another minute or two. I like to use bananas that have been frozen in their skins, thawed, and sliced open.

Of course, I added a handful of mini-chocolate chips, and stirred them in by hand.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes.

The addition of the burgundy sorghum flour didn’t change the flavor profile, but it did provide more of a traditional wheat/whole grain look to the muffins.

I love that there are so many non-wheat flours for us to use. What’s your favorite?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pamela’s Figgies and Jammies – Product Review

When we first learned of my son’s food allergies (more than a decade ago) I went in search of baking mixes that would be safe for him. One of my favorites – to this day – is Pamela’s Brownie Mix (click here to check out one of my earliest blog posts with the add-ins adapted to be allergen-free). Pamela’s also now makes delicious off-the-shelf products such as Whenever Bars (which really do work for whenever and one of my staples for a travel snack). But the great gluten-free and allergy friendly food vendors never stop innovating, do they?

Pamela’s recently sent me a complimentary goodie bag with some of my faves and these new Figgies and Jammies cookies:

I must note upfront that these contain milk (sweet whey powder to be exact) and processed on equipment that also processes a variety of tree nuts and peanuts – therefore not for everyone.

For all my gluten-free followers, they are processed in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

There are 10 extra-large cookies in each package. Note that one cookie is one serving (90 to 100 calories depending on the flavor), but it is indeed an extra-large cookie. They look very much like the fig-filled cookies you may remember, but each Pamela’s cookie is double the size of the traditional brand.

Having developed my own fig-filled cookie (the recipe is in The Allergy-Free Pantry), I can appreciate the concept of making these double size – in fact, I wish I had thought of it as it would make the rolling much easier!

Pamela’s Figgies and Jammies come in four flavors: Mission Fig (the most traditional), Blueberry and Fig, Raspberry and Fig, and Strawberry and Fig. They are all delicious!!

I tried blueberry and fig first and was delighted! I ate one, and when I went back later for another, they were gone. Go figure!!