Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fridge? Freezer? Pantry? Where Should I Store Gluten-Free Baking Supplies?

During the Bake and Switch Panel at the FABlogCon Conference in 2014, Charissa Luke (from Zest Bakery) and I were answering questions before we wrapped up. One of us mentioned something about storing a certain ingredient in the fridge… or the freezer. I can’t recall whether it was Charissa or me who brought it up, and I can’t recall the specific ingredient or where we stored it – that’s not important. What is important is that it launched us into a ten minute quick Q&A on where we store different ingredients for our food allergy baking.

Who knew that was such a confusing subject? I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this topic since that time (yeah, just a little behind).

Keep in mind that Charissa and I didn’t have exactly the same answers – but the gist of our answers were the same. Where you live (hot or cold climate, dry or humid climate) and how quickly you will use up an ingredient, will affect where you should store it.

Why not just store everything in the fridge or freezer? Because you want to bring all of your ingredients to room temperature before you start baking (unless the recipe specifies something chilled, e.g., shortening).

These suggestions refer to opened packages. When factory sealed, most ingredients can be kept in the pantry. Once opened, store all of these ingredients in airtight containers (regardless of location).

Gluten-free flours:
Some gluten-free flours (e.g., rice and millet) have a tendency to pick up moisture easily, whereas others (e.g. bean, potato) have a tendency to go bad easily. My general rule of thumb is to store all gluten-free flours in the refrigerator. (Store them in the freezer if you don’t bake on a regular basis.) This goes for both home-mixed and off-the-shelf flour blends as well.

I store all starches (arrowroot, tapioca, corn, potato) in the pantry. If you live in a very humid area or use them very infrequently, store them in the fridge.

Yeast: I always store yeast in the freezer. Yeast needs to be alive to do its job. The freezer elongates the life cycle.

Those tiny little containers or bags of powder don’t look like they will last a long time, but even for an avid baker they can last a very long time (and they do go rancid easily). When I open a package of xanthan gum I divide it into two small airtight containers. One goes in the refrigerator, the other in the freezer (for later use). The same rules apply to guar gum.

Baking powder, baking soda:
Baking powder and baking soda can lose their effectiveness. If you have a package that’s expired, toss it. Otherwise, store it in an airtight container in the pantry. (Label them so you can tell the difference.)

Sugar is the ultimate preservative. It can dry out (especially true for brown sugar), but it doesn’t go bad. This is true for all sugars except maple syrup, which should be stored in the fridge after opening. (Maple syrup can develop mold. If that happens, skim off the mold, heat the remaining syrup, and store it—in the fridge—in a clean container.) All other sugars I store in the pantry.

Seeds: I do the same thing with a package of flax seeds or chia seeds as I do with gums – I store half in the fridge and half in the freezer. Keep in mind that seeds will go bad quickly once ground (e.g., flax seeds into flaxseed meal); therefore I recommend buying whole seeds and grinding them yourself using a seed and nut grinder. Sunflower seeds and other whole seeds I usually keep in the pantry.

Remember: Buying in bulk is only a good idea if you use in bulk!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Top Five Food Allergy Friendly Finds of 2014

In 2014 we saw a lot of new gluten-free and allergen-free products hit the grocery store shelves. (Thank you to the marketing gurus who have finally decided that there is a market for these products.) I had the opportunity to review many of these products for you. But the real test of a product is whether you go back for more. My top picks for 2014 are products that I either discovered at an expo/event or initially received a complimentary sample of – and then I went back for more.

This list is based solely on my opinion and is in no particular order:

1. Udi’s Gluten-Free Steel Cut Oats – I love oatmeal for breakfast. Over the past few years I have sampled a variety of old-fashioned and quick cooking gluten free oats, but gluten-free steel cut oats have been elusive – until I received a goodie package from Udi’s late last year. And I can’t stop eating them. In fact, I am eating a bowl as I write this post.
2. ALDI Live GF cookies – I discovered these top-8 allergen-free soft-baked cookies at my local ALDI grocery store after receiving a gift certificate at the BlogHer Food Conference. They are just as good as the brand most of us have been buying for years (my son insists they are better) and they are about half the price.

3. Pascha Chocolate Chips – As a professed chocoholic, I can’t live without chocolate. Prior to this year I had only seen Pascha Chocolate in bar form – and loved it – but chocolate chips are a necessity for baking (and frankly, for easy snacking). I discovered these chocolate chips at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, bought more at a GFAF Expo, and am thrilled that I can now buy them at my local Stop and Shop. They are a bit more expensive (about $1 per bag more) than the brand most of us rely on, but the quality is worth it!

4. So Delicious Coco Whip – This is essentially the coconut version of Cool Whip, but oh so much better. There’s no fake stuff in here. Yes, you can make your own Coconut Whipped Cream using full fat coconut milk (recipes can be found in my books) but this is a great option to keep in your freezer for the unexpected (thaw when you want to use it and then refreeze it).

5. Udi’s Pizza Crust – The only item on this list that isn’t completely top-8 allergen-free (it contains eggs), it’s still worthy of my list. This super-simple crust comes partially baked and frozen. No rolling, no proofing. All you need to do is thaw, add toppings, and bake for about 10 minutes. And it’s delicious. Each package contains two crusts. One crust is about a personal pizza and a half. Make both and add a salad if you are feeding the family in a hurry.

This list does not include new off-the-shelf flour blends – a separate post is forthcoming on that topic!

Your turn: What was your favorite new product find in 2014?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What Do You Disclose to a Server About Your Food Allergies?

This question is for all with food allergies (including celiac disease) who advocate for themselves: When you are eating out, what do you tell the server about your food allergies?

In my family, we crossed the boundary of “parent advocating for child with food allergies,” to “teen/young adult advocating for themselves,” when my son went off to college. Prior to that time I was nearly always with him in a restaurant and able to actively participate in the drill.

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I know that parents (okay, mostly moms) can be hawkish. We are protective. We ask all of the needed questions to make sure that our child is fed safely (and sometimes we ask them over and over again). That’s what Moms do, right?

But, when we advocate for ourselves, do we let our guard down?

With my own food restrictions (severe gluten intolerance and soy allergy) I tend to be less thorough. When eating out I tell the server that I am allergic to gluten. If they ask (as they seem to be prone to do lately) if I have celiac disease I have evolved to simply answering, “Yes.” I have discovered that this question is really being asked to determine how diligent they should be in the kitchen. Rather than a lengthy explanation of, “No, I don’t have celiac disease but I will get very sick if I eat any gluten,” or a lecture on why they shouldn't be asking that question, I find that the simple “yes” achieves the desired result. But I almost never mention my soy allergy. There are so many dishes that contain soybean oil or soy lecithin (which I am able to eat safely), but – especially at chain restaurants – those non-protein soy ingredients seem to be in everything. So I avoid mentioning my soy allergy unless I am suspicious that a dish I am considering ordering contains soy protein.

When I stumbled upon an article by Lane Moore titled, Why You Need to Stop Lying About Food Allergies, her story resonated. I watched my son order for himself (something he now does regularly when I am nowhere near) over the holidays. As a reminder, my son is allergic to wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and soy – the same list as Ms. Moore plus soy. Also I will note that we have now crossed the boundary from “teen/young adult advocating for themselves,” to “Mom better not say a word because I do this all the time and know what I’m doing.”

I am silent as I listen to my son order his meal. And he handles it masterfully (albeit not as I would if I were ordering for him).

My son always chooses to disclose his dairy allergy. Often, that is the only allergy he mentions. If he is at a chain restaurant with a gluten-free menu he will order from the gluten-free menu and ask for the item to be prepared without cheese (or milk, or cream, or whatever dairy might be lurking in the dish). He doesn’t eat at places that have peanuts on the floor or prominently featured. My son doesn’t eat at oriental restaurants. He has discovered (as I have) that mentioning soy or eggs results in the eye-glazing look that Ms. Moore described in her article. If the server asks if he would like a gluten-free roll he politely passes because undoubtedly it will contain eggs; he orders the lettuce wrap with his burger for the same reason. My son orders nothing breaded (because even if there is a gluten-free breaded option he knows that it will be prepared with eggs).

If we are eating at a special restaurant – the type that cooks food for us – then my son will specify that he is allergic to dairy and wheat, and he may mention eggs. Again, he is trying to avoid the looks of disbelief or overwhelming the chef. Instead, he mentions his allergies as if they were simply normal, suggests alternatives, and asks if items can be substituted – all with a smile.

Your turn – how do you handle it?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year -- Recipe Recap

Happy New Year!

2014 was a great year for me with the release of my second book, The Allergy-Free Pantry. The book has been very well-received by the food allergy community and I am honored that you are reading it and making my recipes.

As I prepare for 2015, here's a recap of a few of the recipes you can find in The Allergy-Free Pantry:

Potato Salad - not just for summer picnics.

Flaxseed Mayonnaise - If you try nothing else, you must try this!

Powdered Doughnut Holes - A fave!

Spinach Pasta - Save this one for a snow day.

Strawberry Thumbprints - They freeze well, too!

All of these recipes are gluten-free and top-8 allergen-free!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies for Santa (Recipe from The Allergy-Free Pantry)

Need some cookies to leave for Santa or Santa's little helpers? This great recipe from The Allergy-Free Pantry should do the trick! And there's no need to leave traditional milk for Santa. I know for certain that Santa loves hemp milk!

Strawberry Thumbprints
Makes about 28 cookies

Make these cookies with Strawberry Jam or another favorite jam. Ask the kids to help; a child’s thumb is just the right size to make thumbprints.

194 grams (about 1½ cups) gluten-free flour blend
½ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour blend contains a gum)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (110 g) organic cane sugar
10 tablespoons shortening, softened
1 Flaxseed Egg (1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
¼ cup (61 g) Strawberry Jam

1. Combine the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

2. In a separate large bowl, cream together the sugar and shortening using a mixer on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The mixture will be light and fluffy.

3. Add the flaxseed egg and vanilla. Mix for 1 minute on medium speed.

4. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and blend on medium speed, about 2 minutes. The batter will be thick. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and chill it for an hour. Cookie dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

5. When you are ready to make cookies preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. Use your hands to shape the dough into balls, about 1¼ inches (3 cm) round.

7. Place the cookies on the baking sheet with space in between and flatten them just slightly. Use the tip of a finger, your thumb, or the back of a small spoon to create a small well in the center of each cookie.

8. Fill the center of each cookie with ¼ teaspoon of jam.

9. Bake each sheet of cookies separately in the center of the oven for 15 to 16 minutes, until the jam centers are sizzling and the edges of the cookies are golden. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

To freeze
Baked cookies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months; thaw them at room temperature. Cookie dough (prepared through step 4) can be frozen for up to 6 months; thaw the dough in the refrigerator before forming cookies, filling with jam, and baking.

Credit line: Recipe from The Allergy-Free Pantry: Make Your Own Staples, Snacks, and More Without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts, copyright © Colette Martin, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.

Merry Christmas!