Monday, January 31, 2011

Free for All Cooking – A Cookbook Review

Earlier this month I mentioned that I had received some great cookbooks for Christmas, and I have slowly been reading (and cooking) my way through them. In Jules Dowler Shepard’s Free for All Cooking, I expected to find some great gluten-free recipes, and I was really pleased to find that Jules had not only focused on gluten avoidance, but allergen avoidance as well. While many of the recipes use soy, eggs, and milk products, Jules goes out of her way to make suggestions on what to use instead.

Yeah! Way to go Jules!

One of the first recipes I tried from this cookbook was the Crescent Rolls. It wasn’t something I had tried to do on my own, and I was yearning for the days when I could pick up one of those Pillsbury cylinders, pop it open on the countertop, and roll our some buttery crescent rolls. If you are too, I think you will be really pleased with this recipe which Jules and the folks at Da Capo publishing agreed to let me share with you:

Crescent Rolls from Free for All Cooking

Reprinted with permission from Jules E. Dowler Shepard and Da Capo Publishing. Copyright 2010 by Jules E. Dowler Shepard.

As you can see from the short ingredient list, this recipe is divinely simple . . . like a crescent roll should be. They’re great complements to many, many meals. Serve warm!

1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon granulated cane sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) rapid rise yeast
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey or light agave nectar
1 egg or egg substitute of choice
Melted butter or nondairy alternative to brush onto rolls before baking

• In a large bowl, mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes. If it does not bubble at this point, throw it out and repeat the proofing step with fresh yeast.

• Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside. Stir to combine the honey and egg in a separate bowl, then add the dry ingredients together with the yeast mixture and beat on the low speed of an electric mixer for 2–3 minutes, or until well-blended. The dough will be very wet.

• Turn the dough onto a well-floured pastry mat or clean counter and cut into 6 balls. Pat each ball into an elongated triangle shape, cutting the edges to form an even isosceles triangle and gathering the trimmings to make one more roll.

• Brush melted butter onto the dough at this point, then, from the wide end of the dough triangle, begin gently rolling the dough into a log, until the narrow tip of the triangle wraps around the roll on top.

• Place each roll onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and pull the ends of each roll in toward the center to form a crescent shape.

• Cover with a damp towel or sheet of wax paper sprayed with cooking oil and place for 30 minutes in a warming drawer or oven preheated to 200°F, then turned off.

• Preheat the oven to 375°F (static) or 350°F (convection).

• Brush the tops of the risen rolls with melted butter. Bake for 10 minutes, or until light golden brown. Do not overbake.

In my allergen-free version of this I used Ener-G egg replacer for the egg. I used Fleischmann’s unsalted margarine (contains soy lecithin) instead of butter. Another option would have been to use olive oil. And here was the result:

You can see the extra dusting powder on the finished rolls (went a little overboard), but they were fluffy and delicious! And they disappeared very quickly.

Jules suggests that these make 6-7 rolls. If you make only six or seven you will have large rolls. You can definitely get 10 rolls from this recipe.

Next time I make these I think I will use them to make pigs in a blanket for the super bowl!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Easy Corn Bread Mix

I was really excited to come across this Cornbread and Muffin Mix from Pamela’s Products and couldn’t wait to try it. I am a fan of Pamela’s gluten-free baking mixes, but haven’t been able to use the Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix due to milk ingredients, and this seemed like a good alternative for dinner rolls or muffins.

So last week when I was brewing up a batch of broccoli and cauliflower soup for an annual soup swap coming up this weekend (which of course we had to sample for dinner), I thought of the cornbread. Don’t you think cornbread goes well with veggie soups?

As usual, I needed to make some adjustments to the added ingredients to make it allergen-free – the recipe on the package calls for eggs, butter, sugar, and water.

I used:

1 package Pamela’s Products Cornbread and Muffin Mix
1/3 cup agave nectar (instead of sugar)
½ cup melted coconut oil (instead of butter)
½ cup applesauce (to replace the two eggs)
1 cup water

I baked it for 23 minutes and voila!

I’ve just started to try using coconut oil in my recipes. Even though it’s oil, it’s really a solid and behaves more like shortening. If you need to avoid coconut due to an allergy (or just prefer not to use it) then Earth Balance shortening would also work.

The mix contains rice, corn, tapioca, and potato flours.

Corn bread anyone?

Monday, January 24, 2011

What are Hydrolyzed Proteins, and Do You Need to Avoid Them?

If you’ve been reading food labels, you surely have come across products that have hydrolyzed proteins. These include:
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Hydrolyzed whey protein
What are they, anyway?

Hydrolyzed proteins are created by breaking food down into amino acids. Usually this is accomplished by boiling the food in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. As yucky as this sounds, these foods (if you can call them that) are considered safe by the FDA.

Why are these added to our food? Because it makes them taste better. (Well, that’s the theory anyway.)

The key question is: Are they safe for food allergies?

What’s left after the hydrolyzing process is the protein, but it’s usually the protein that causes food allergies. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) could be made from wheat, soy, corn, or other vegetables. The good news is that the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act really helps us out here – at least for the top eight food allergies. If the HVP is made from wheat or soy, then it must be clearly called out on the label. If you have a corn allergy, then you need to do further research on a product that contains HVP, before you can declare it safe.

If a product contains hydrolyzed whey protein, then “milk” must be clearly called out on the label (either with a “contains milk” statement, or by placing the word “milk” in parentheses after the ingredient), and those with milk allergies need to avoid it.

Hydrolyzed wheat protein and hydrolyzed soy protein don’t require a “contains” statement, but need to be avoided by those with wheat and soy allergies, respectively.

You may have heard that HVP is a way to disguise MSG (monosodium glutamate) in processed foods. They aren’t the same thing, but HVP and MSG are both flavor enhancers, and HVP does contain high levels of glutamate (hence the connection). If glutamate causes problems for you, then you should avoid all HVP.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Namaste Foods Chocolate Cake Mix

It’s been a while since I reviewed a packaged baking mix, having chosen over the holidays to focus on my own recipes, but I know that many food allergy moms just don’t have time to bake from scratch – and many of those gluten-free mixes can easily be made allergen-free.

This time it was the Chocolate Cake mix from Namaste Foods. I love the baking flour and the muffin mix from the same brand, so this one was an obvious choice to try.

Making this allergen-free was a simple adaptation. I followed the package directions to add oil and water, and substituted ¾ cup of flax seed goop for the three eggs. (If you haven’t tried making flax seed goop, it’s time you did – this is really easy once you get the hang of it.) I also added ½ cup of chopped cranberries (I still had some leftover from the holidays). I used a standard vanilla frosting, and for a bit of a surprise I sprinkled a few Enjoy Life chocolate chips in between the layers. These tiny chips are perfect for doing that!

On the plus side, the mix is made in a dedicate facility, free of the most common allergens AND corn (but it does contain xantham gum). I also think it’s great that this mix makes two layers – so you only need one package.

The cake was very spongy and dense. I think I might lighten it up next time by using only ½ cup of flax seed goop. All in all, a great treat!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Food Allergies: Weakness or Strength?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people view food allergies as a weakness. Fair warning: this is a (bit of a sarcastic) rant.

Too often food allergies are viewed as a weakness:
my son gives me strength
Some think that having food allergies means that we’re not as strong as the non-food-allergic. They think that we are sickly, and more prone to diseases. They think we have weak immune systems, and that if we walk into a room where someone has sneezed we will instantly get sick. They feel sorry for us. Or worse yet, they don’t believe us when we say that food makes us sick.

Try this for an alternate scenario:

We are strong human beings. Our immune systems aren’t weak; they are stronger than most – so strong that they overreact when we eat certain proteins. Perhaps this is nature’s way of telling us that we as a species have eaten too much wheat, or that cow’s milk is meant for calves. Perhaps we are an evolved species – we’ve just evolved faster than our non-food-allergic relatives. And we were put here to find new and healthier ways to eat.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting that anyone set aside their 504 plans or stop working with their doctors. Less-evolved members of our species need us to conform to their rules. But they’ll come around… someday.

Image by horizontal.integration via Flickr

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Compelling Argument for Restaurants to Accommodate Food Allergies

060521peanutsImage by Dan4th via FlickrThere’s money in food allergies. Oh, I’m not talking about doctors and medications, or even the allergy safety kits and epi-pen holders that my friend Elizabeth Goldenberg sells at her awesome Onespot Allergy website. I’m talking about restaurants – specifically, restaurants that accommodate food allergies.

Consider this press release by Allergy Eats. Paul Antico, founder of Allergy Eats says that the veto-vote, the vote by the member of a group or family going out to eat, will have more and more weight. If one family member can’t find anything to eat at the restaurant around the corner, or that restaurant is not willing to accommodate the food-allergic, then the family will choose to go elsewhere. Those restaurants that work with customers, and make sure they are eating foods that are safe, will get a larger share of the eating-out dollars.

In my experience this is absolutely true. In my hometown we’ve got the drill down. We have our favorite restaurants – the ones where we know that there are meals my son can eat (or even order for take-out) and exactly how to order them so that no butter accidentally gets put on the steak, or that no onion rings are put on the plate with the ribs. And we go back to those restaurants again and again.

We also know which restaurants to avoid.

We know where the food is made from fresh ingredients (and therefore much more likely to be able to be adapted) and where the food comes packaged.

When Applebee’s decided not to cater to the food-allergic earlier this year, they risked alienating 25% of their market. Given that Applebee’s is a family-oriented restaurant, and given that one in four children has food allergies, it follows that one in four families will not be able to eat there.

Restaurant owners have a choice: Accommodate food allergies, or lose market share. What do you think?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Allergen-Free Skincare – Gluten-Free Savonnerie

Before Christmas I wrote a blog post titled Why Am I Itchy? where I told the story of the rashes I had been having, and how I discovered (almost by accident) that the haircare products I had been using contained wheat.

After carefully scanning all labels, I discovered that almost all of the shampoos and conditioners in my bathroom, and many of the moisturizers, had wheat ingredients (or questionable ingredients at best). So it was time to start over, and I engaged on a quest to find great bath and haircare products.

I asked for help on Facebook and Twitter, and got a bunch of great suggestions to try. One of the most helpful responses was from Karen, founder of the site Avoiding Milk Protein and the Avoiding Milk blog. She pointed me to a terrific list of gluten-free (and in some cases allergen-free) non-food items (haircare, skincare, toothpaste, etc.)

I honestly had never thought about whether there were food allergens in my toothpaste, did you?

The first brand I tried was Gluten-Free Savonnerie. I have been using it for a little over a week. The products have no gluten, casein, soy, corn, fragrances, or colorants. In fact, the ingredient list is very short and readable, a very good sign.

The good news is… (drumroll)… my rashes have almost completely cleared, and I am no longer feeling constantly itchy. Yeah!

But I’m sure you want to know how the products work, and my response is that I am really pleased with them. My hair is clean and shinier than it's been with the fancy shampoos. I can get a comb through after conditioning (but not with just the shampoo). I would describe the shampoo and conditioner as very similar to what you would think of in a baby shampoo – light and mild. I’m used to thick conditioning products and find this one to be very runny – I presume that’s because they didn’t add any of the proteins that I might be allergic to, and that’s just fine with me! There is no scent that could cause an allergic reaction, also just fine with me!

The real surprise in the products I tried was the moisturizer. This goes on very light and absorbs quickly, but it really does the job. My hands were very dry (from all the baking and washing dishes over the holidays) and this took care of it in a jiffy! I even use this on my face, and it’s really terrific!

I also want to note (because customer service is sooooo important) that I had a small problem with my order which was fixed pronto!

I’ll keep you posted on more allergen-free skincare products as I try them over the next few months. If you have a suggestion for one to try, let me know!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Baking Soda versus Baking Powder – A Science Lesson

Do you ever find yourself wondering what baking soda and baking powder really are? Are they related? And do you really need both of them in your pantry?

Just about every baking recipe calls for one of these two ingredients. Some recipes even call for both, but that’s often not necessary.

Baking soda and baking powder are indeed related. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. It’s a leavening agent. When it is mixed with an acid and liquid it releases carbon dioxide, and helps your baked goods get lighter and fluffier. Have you ever noticed that your baking projects bubble up when you mix in the baking soda? That’s the chemical reaction I am describing here.

Not every recipe contains an acid, and that’s where baking powder comes in. Baking powder also includes the acidifying agent. When mixed with a liquid, you get the same bubbling reaction. Single acting baking powders are suitable for quick-bake goods, while double acting baking powder has two phases of the chemical ‘lifting’ action.

If you’re creating your own recipes which should you choose?
If in doubt, use baking powder. If a recipe calls for baking soda and you don’t have any, you can substitute baking powder, but you will need to double or triple the quantity. Use double acting baking powder if you need to get that second lift (while your tasty treat is in the oven).

Baking soda is actually the simpler of the two products, and I really like to use it when baking it. The trick is that you need to have an acidic agent in your ingredients. Vinegar, lemon juice, and chocolate/cocoa are all acidic. You only need a small amount of acid to get the reaction you want.

Another thing to keep in mind:

Many allergen-free cooks use Ener-G egg replacer instead of eggs. Eggs and Ener-g egg replacer are also leavening agents. This egg replacer contains calcium carbonate (which is what sodium bicarbonate is made from) and citric acid (in addition to flours). If you’re using Ener-G egg replacer, you may only need a small amount of baking soda for additional leavening.

When baking, you should always mix the dry ingredients (including the baking soda or baking powder) together well, before adding them to the wet ingredients, and get your baking project into the oven quickly!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Look What Santa Brought for this Allergen-Free Baker

I just love gadgets and books and new food products for bakers. I describe myself as a baker rather than a cook or chef because I have so much fun creating baked goods – and transforming from traditional baking methods to allergen-free baking methods. While I can walk in and out of a cookware store rather quickly, get me near a store that focuses on baking products (like the King Arthur Flour Store in Norwich, VT) and I can spend hours browsing and dreaming up new recipes to try.

So it’s probably not a surprise that I asked Santa for some new baking books and tools, and he really came through! I had asked for The Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, and Jules’ new Free for All Cooking. I got both of those, as well as a Julia Child’s baking book (I’ll need to transform the recipes, but there’s some great stuff on technique in this book that I am looking forward to reading.

I also received Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food. Yes, I will write for food, especially gluten-free and allergen-free food. Enough said.

And look at the cool tools Santa brought me from the King Arthur store! I was lusting after that little brownie spatula. I know… not everyone needs a spatula just for brownies, but if you make as many brownies as I do, then you need one too. And that little pastry roller is just too cute!

Now, onto 2011…

I’m not making resolutions, but I am prioritizing the projects I want to work on. For this site I am planning to work on more recipes, tackle more technique and how-to bake allergen-free questions, and incorporate some video posts! And I hope to have a few surprises along the way! If there are any topics, products, or techniques you'd like me to cover, please let me know.

Happy New Year!