Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Must Read: Off to College With Food Allergies

If you have a food-allergic child going off to college for the first time, or a food-allergic high school senior considering which colleges to apply to for admission next year, I invite you to read an article I wrote for Special Foods Group on this topic:

Off to College With Food Allergies

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Snack Series: Newman-O’s

They’re wheat-free, they’re dairy-free…

They’re Newman O’s.

And they taste almost identical to that other crème-filled chocolate sandwich cookie that those with food allergies can’t eat. Yes, they taste so much like Oreo cookies that I dare you to do a taste test and see if you can tell the difference. They even look and feel like Oreo Cookies.

Notes: these are not for those who need a gluten-free product – they do contain barley flour. They are free of the top eight allergens, but do contain soy lecithin (not soy protein). They are processed in a facility that also processes nuts.

Newman O’s come in a variety of flavors, but the one that food-allergic families will want to look for comes in the blue package and is labeled “wheat-free, dairy-free”.

I love to take a package of these along on trips to Grandma’s house, and they make a very easy snack to add to a lunchbox or take along for a day trip. Just take a handful in a baggie and you’re all set.They now also come in a smaller package (9 oz. instead of 16 oz.), with purple labeling.  

Oh, and yes, you can open the sandwich and eat the center first.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Do Color Additives Have a Place in an Allergen-Free Diet?

I recently came across an article at FoodSafety.gov entitled How Safe are Color Additives? that got me thinking about food coloring in an allergen-free diet.

Dr. Linda M. Katz, Chief Medical Officer for the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and author of the article notes that the FDA is, “committed to making sure the color additives in your food are safe.”

But are they safe for food-allergy sufferers?

Katz notes that it is possible but rare to have an allergic reaction to food coloring, but goes on to say that one in ten thousand people have a reaction to FD&C yellow No. 5.

For the record, one in ten thousand doesn’t sound so rare to me.

Looking a little deeper, I discovered that food color additives fall into two categories. There are some that are from man, animal, or mineral – in other words, natural – sources. These don’t require certification by the FDA as they are considered food. Caramel coloring is an example.

The other type of color additive is what the FDA calls “certifiable”. These are man-made, and come primarily from coal and petroleum. Ummm… I don’t think too many of us would consider this food, but the FDA certifies them as safe to be added to our food. These are the ones you see listed on food labels as FD&C followed by a color and a number.

In my house we avoid food coloring whenever possible. Sure, they might make the food look prettier, but I’d prefer to eat real food.

What’s your take on food coloring? Do you worry about them in an allergen-free diet?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Authentic Foods Chocolate Cake Mix

I have a problem. I make a cake. And it disappears. Really fast. Before I can take a picture. So you’ll have to settle for a picture of the Authentic Foods Chocolate Cake Mix I used to make this fabulous chocolate raspberry disappearing cake.

It’s important to note that I used the Authentic Foods chocolate cake mix, not the devil’s food chocolate cake mix. In addition to the mix I used:

This makes a single layer cake, which I topped with a white frosting. Next time I am going to make this with a chocolate ganache topping (and I will try harder to take a picture).

The result is gluten-free, milk-free, egg-free and soy-free, but does contain corn ingredients. Try it and let me know what you think!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lessons From the CIA – Gluten-Free Flours

It’s time for another gluten-free baking lesson, drawing on what I learned from a baking class at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) a couple of months ago. Today I am sharing what I learned about flours and replacing gluten.

I think most of us who bake gluten-free and allergen-free have figured out that our baking projects work best when we combine flours. And one flour blend doesn’t work for everything.

Some flour blends have a high protein content – these include blends with beans (garbanzo, fava, or garfava (a mix of the two beans) and soy (for those not allergic to soy). These blends are considered stronger, and work well with breads.

Other flours have a high carbohydrate content – these include rice flours, potato starch, and tapioca starch, and are considered weaker. These blends are best for sweeter treats, such as cakes, cookies, and brownies.

For things like pancakes, muffins, and pie crusts, somewhere in the middle is considered the best choice.

If you’re blending your own flour, don’t just throw one flour on top of the other as you bake (yeah, we all do it). It’s important to thoroughly mix and sift the flours together; this will ensure a better consistency in the finished product.

Are you confused about tapioca and potato flours? Tapioca starch and tapioca flour are exactly the same thing. Potato starch and potato flour are not the same. Potato flour contains the whole potato, and will sit very heavy in your baked goods, while potato starch is made without the skins. Potato starch is the one you want to use for baking.

Keep in mind that gluten provides stabilization. (Incidentally, eggs also stabilize, which is why baking without gluten and eggs can be very tricky!) This is one of the reasons why higher protein flours work better for breads.

One big advantage to gluten-free doughs is that you can store them and reuse them; they can be refrigerated or even frozen. They won’t break down like gluten-based doughs do. And, as you are working with them, you can re-mold and reshape as much as you want. If a piece of a pie crust breaks off, you can just stick it back on, and noone will be able to tell!

A good resource for baking gluten-free is Chef Coppedge’s book, Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America.
Check out prior lessons from the CIA here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Snack Series – Sunny Hemp Bars

I am a big fan of hemp.

Hemp seeds are highly nutritious and are an excellent replacement for those who can’t have wheat. I recently came across these hemp granola bars in a grocery store I visit infrequently. The first thing I did was to check the label – and yes, they passed the allergen-free test.

The Nature’s Path Sunny Hemp granola bars are made with oats, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and raisins. The bars are high in Omega-3 content. They do contain soy oil.

I should note that while Nature’s Path does have some products which are certified as gluten-free, this is not one of them. Due to the oats, Nature’s Path granola bars are not gluten-free.

The bars are very reminiscent of the traditional granola bar or trail bar – chewy, but not too crunchy. They are easy to take with you on road trips, and can make a nice breakfast bar or snack treat. Sweetened with cane juice and syrup, they are just sweet enough.

Try keeping a few in the refrigerator for a cool summer snack.

Nature’s Path also makes a chocolate (non-dairy) version of this bar, which I have yet to try. Have you tried them yet? What do you think?

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Field Trip to King Arthur Flour

My family will tell you that I am terrible at directions. I have an uncanny ability to turn in the wrong direction – almost without fail. Even worse than directions, I am really bad at geography. I know where everything is in the kitchen, but on a map – uh, not so much. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that King Arthur Flour was located just across the river from where my son attends college. In my defense, Dartmouth is in Hanover, New Hampshire, and King Arthur Flour is in Norwich, Vermont.

Once I discovered where this campus was located, I knew we had to visit. I call it a campus because it’s a school, a bakery, and a store. I expected to check it out and come out with a handful of the new gluten-free baking mixes, but the store felt more like a candy shop than a store. It’s a delightful place, with all kinds of cool baking tools, and a lot more allergen-free and gluten-free products than I expected.

Here’s a sample of what I came home with:

A couple exotic foods - Madagascar vanilla and European lemon zest.

Some baking tools that I have had a hard time finding.

 I needed a really big stainless steel bowl for mixing flours. And the little stainless prep bowls were just too cute.

Exotic allergen-free chocolate. Need I say more?

 Super-fine sugar just for baking. Have you ever seen this before? I hadn't!

A trio of gluten-free flours.

Now that I know where the store is, I’ll be sure to plan future trips around college pick-ups and drop-offs.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Safe and Sound Dinners

My friend Lisa Williams, an allergen-free chef who blogs at Lisa Cooks Allergen-Free, is hosting a Safe and Sound dinner in Chicago on August 24th.

If you’re not familiar with Lisa’s dinners, here’s the low-down:

Lisa collaborates with chefs at great restaurants in the Chicago area to design a menu that is gluten-free and free of the top eight allergens. Everything is carefully prepared to avoid contamination.

Lisa started these dinners after she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, and wanted to find a way to help others with the same problem. She says, “I believe that having food allergies doesn’t keep you from enjoying exciting and flavorful foods. The Safe & Sound Dinners provide a format so everyone can enjoy restaurant dining without worry.”

Chicago is renowned for it’s fine dining, and Lisa picks only the best. This time around, the dinner is at ZED 451 in downtown Chicago. ZED 451’s chef, Patrick Quackenbush, will create a complete dinner menu that is gluten-free and allergen-free. There will also be other signature dishes that do contain some allergens. Check out the whole menu at Lisa’s website.

I’m getting hungry just looking at the menu. But wait – it gets even better – no one goes home empty-handed. Lisa puts together a killer goodie-bag with allergen-free and gluten-free samples and info from vendors.

If you are planning to be in the Chicago on the 24th, this is something you won’t want to miss! Register at lisacooksallergenfree.com.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Are You Longing for Some Ice Cream?

This post is for anyone who remembers the days when kids stood on the corner with a quarter waiting for the ice cream truck to come around.

Popsicles and sorbet can take you just so far. Sometimes you just want a dish of ice cream. After all, it’s the middle of summer, and it’s been a hot one.

Living Harvest now offers an answer made with hemp milk. They call it a frozen dessert, but I don’t think the title does it justice. This is an ice cream – it’s rich and creamy and has none of the iciness you often find in other milk-free alternatives.

Living Harvest Tempt frozen desserts are free of the top eight allergens, and gluten-free. They come in vanilla bean, mint chip, coffee biscotti, chocolate fudge, and coconut lime. We recently tried the chocolate fudge (with my son’s birthday cake) and were surprised at how creamy this really was.

It’s definitely a winner!