Thursday, June 28, 2012

Learning to Bake Allergen-Free Roundup

It's been a little more than a week since Learning to Bake Allergen-Free was officially released, and the feedback has been very positive. Here's what some reviewers had to say:

Lisa at Allergy-Free Vintage Cookery
said, "Beautifully photographed, this book is chock full of clear, useful information. It may just become your new baking bible!"

Jenny at Multiple Food Allergy Help said, "This is EXACTLY the type of book I WISH I had when my boys were first diagnosed!" Her son called the Chocolate Cranberry Rice Cookies "wicked yummy!" I love that description!

Carla at Gluten-Free Recipe Box
said, "They should have named it Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Allergen-Free Baking, But Were Afraid to Ask.” And, she's hosting a giveaway with many ways to enter to win. You have until July 21st to enter.

Another giveaway is being hosted by Living Harvest Foods with my post at their blog this week. You only have a day left to enter this one!

Be sure to check out the giveaways!

Have you seen the book yet? What do you think?

Monday, June 25, 2012

It’s Bing Cherry Day!

“Bing Cherry Day” is what my husband calls the day that special order cherries arrive at our doorstop. To say that my husband loves cherries is a bit of an understatement. He adores and reveres cherries, especially Bing cherries.

Bing Cherries are in season mid-late June, and therefore perfect to celebrate graduations, Father’s Day, or the arrival of summer. Usually the cherries get eaten very quickly. But this year I wanted to try making cherry tartlets, an idea I got from Jenny of Multiple Food Allergy Help, who made my Strawberry Tartlet recipe with cherries instead of strawberries (because her son is allergic to strawberries). What a fabulous idea!

The recipe can be found in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free. The substitution is easy – just use an equal amount of cherries (pitted and halved) in place of strawberries.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Earth Balance Coconut Spread – Another Option for Shortening

One of the most difficult tasks in “baking without” is replacing butter. As a fat, butter has the unique quality of staying solid, allowing you to cut it into doughs for cookies and crusts. One of my favorite replacements for butter is Earth Balance natural shortening, and I use it in many of my recipes.

When I was at the Gluten-Free Expo a couple of months ago, the Earth Balance team was doing tastings of their new coconut spread. My immediate reaction was, “Oh my, this is good!” It is something that you can easily spread on a slice of toast and – dare I say – it tastes even better than butter!

My second thought was, I wonder if this will work as a shortening for baking?

It took a while for the product to make it to my local store (unfortunately I don’t live near a Whole Foods, where it seems all the exciting new products land first). But it’s here now, and I had to try it.

Earth Balance Coconut Spread
is organic, and it contains coconut, palm fruit, and canola oils, as well as salt, natural flavor, sunflower lecithin, and lactic acid. (Thank you Earth Balance for using a non-soy lecithin.)

The ultimate test was to make one of my tried and true recipes from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts using the Earth Balance Coconut Spread instead of the Earth Balance Natural Shortening. I made chocolate chip cookies. And… wow!!

I am happy to report that this product will work when a recipe calls for shortening (or butter), and it just might become my new favorite. (Good thing I bought two containers.)

The cookies didn’t do the unruly spread (common if you don’t use a true shortening), they browned nicely, and they tasted (can I use the word?) buttery. 


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thank You!

Today, June 19th, is the day my book, Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts is being released. I know some of you already have the book (online booksellers started shipping last week), and some of you are even baking with it already, but today is the official release day.

In many ways, this does feel like the arrival of a baby, including many months of gestation after the content was complete (in my case it’s been about 8 months since I delivered the manuscript to my publisher).

I’d like to celebrate today by thanking some very people important people who took the time to review the book prior to its release, and whose reviews appear inside the book:

Chef Ming Tsai
, owner of Blue Ginger and an advocate for families with food allergies.

Jules Shepard
, gluten-free advocate and creator of one of my favorite gluten-free flour blends.

Chef Richard Coppedge, professor at the Culinary Institute of America, one of my favorite places to spend time.

Lori Sandler, owner of Divvies Bakery and creator of some of my favorite chocolate chips.

Alisa Fleming
, founder of Go Dairy Free and an inspiration for all who need to eat dairy-free.

All of these supporters have authored their own cookbooks, and I am honored to be in their presence.

Lynda Mitchell, President of Kids with Food Allergies Foundation and Wendy Book, President of the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders, lead two of my favorite non-profit organizations that work to help families with food allergies.

Dr. Atul Shah is The Amazing Allergist, and has authored inspirational books for families with allergies.

Thank you all for your support!

Last, I must thank Dr. Stephen Wangen who wrote an inspiring foreword for my book. Dr. Wangen is known as The Gluten-Free Doctor, and wrote the book Healthier Without Wheat: A New Understanding of Wheat Allergies, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance. The primary reason I asked Dr. Wangen to write the foreword is because of his very practical approach to diagnosing and treating food-related illnesses. His work is inspiring and I am privileged to have his words grace the pages of my book.

I feel like a very lucky girl!

Please check out the work of these totally awesome doctors, authors, bakers, and leaders in the food allergy community.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Big (Green) Weekend

Last weekend was a big weekend – an important weekend. My son Patrick graduated from Dartmouth College. He is the younger of my two, and accordingly the last to graduate.

The Dartmouth campus is beautiful (one you really should plan to visit some time) and it was a beautiful, sunny, warm, weekend. I would have liked to post a picture of myself with my son, but the truth is I really messed up. By the time graduation concluded on Sunday around 1 pm, I had the worst sunburn I have had since I was a teenager living on Cape Cod.

The ceremony is held outdoors, rain or shine. I was prepared for a chilly day. I was prepared for a rainy day – the commencement website warned us to bring rain gear and umbrellas. I even thought to wear sensible shoes because the seating was on the lawn. I was ready for everything except a perfect sunny day. I did have a visor, but no sunscreen. (Why didn’t the commencement website warn us about that?) I should have known better.

But enough about me; it was Patrick’s weekend, and a spectacular one at that. On Friday, we learned that he had been named salutatorian (one of four who had 3.99 GPAs). He was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa (an academic fraternity), and received Summa Cum Laude honors. He graduated with a major in math and minors in linguistics and physics.

Yes, I am bragging about him, because I’m his Mom (and hence entitled to) and because I am spectacularly proud of him.

I could go on about all of the activities he was involved – President of the Men’s Water polo team, a student government officer, an officer of Mentors Against Violence, etc. I am so happy that he made very good use of his time on campus.

Now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with food allergies. The answer is – absolutely nothing. And that is precisely the point of this post.

I could talk about the great food we ate during the weekend, and the fabulous restaurants in the area that accommodated my son’s food restrictions, but the weekend wasn’t about that. It was about celebrating accomplishments, and recognizing achievements.

Lately, members of the food allergy community have been talking about how to define their food-allergic children as more than just “the kid with food allergies.” Whether your child is the athlete, the dancer, the artist, the bookworm, or the math whiz, there are many unique qualities that define him or her. Be sure to celebrate them.

Congratulations Pat!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Namaste Foods Pasta Meals – A Great Find!

 When I was at the Gluten-Free Expo in Chicago earlier this spring, one of my favorite new finds was the Namaste Foods pasta meals, and I was lucky enough to receive a sample to review.

I’ve been a big fan of Namaste Foods baking mixes and their Perfect Flour Blend because they are super allergy friendly – made in a dedicated facility that is gluten-free and free of wheat, dairy, nuts, soy, corn and potato. The products are always fabulous and consistent.

The Namaste Foods pasta is rice-based, but the mixes are so much more than just pasta. Each package includes the seasoning – all you need to add is oil. There are no adaptations required to be able to make this top-8 allergen-free.

A featured ingredient is shelled hemp seed. If you have visited here in the past, you know that hemp is a favorite of mine, and it lends a great flavor here that is combined with other seasonings and natural flavors. There are three mixes– Pasta Pisavera (featured here), Taco Pasta, and Say Cheez (which contains no actual milk or cheese).

I am in love with these mixes. While I can easily find gluten-free and allergen-free pastas to make at home, what makes these meals so special is that you can create a meal in just a few minutes. It’s also perfect for those occasions when you need to bring your own meal to an event for your food-allergic family member, or to take with you to grandma’s house to prepare there. It takes just one pot to prepare. Super-simple!

Add some chicken, ground beef, beans, or fresh veggies, and you can really spruce it up. I added garbanzo beans to the Pasta Pisavera pictured above.

And they taste great! No one will know it’s gluten-free pasta, and everyone will think you slaved over the stove to make a delicious sauce. This is one I will keep stocked. Have you tried them yet? What do you think?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jelly Beans, Not Just for Easter

Of course, jelly beans are indeed perfect for stuffing into plastic egg shells for the Easter Egg hunt, but who said we have to wait until Easter to enjoy them?

Just after Easter this year the folks at Gimbal’s sent me a sample of their new sour jelly beans to try, and let me say – wow! These are not like the jelly beans I remember from my childhood – they explode with flavor. And with sour flavors of apple, blueberry, grape, lime, pomegranate, and more, it’s like a fruit flavor explosion in your mouth.

What’s not them? No gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, or gelatin.

What’s in them? Sugar, corn syrup (they are almost purely sugar), apple juice concentrate, and food colorings and flavors, among other things. They are clearly not for those who need to avoid corn, sugar, or food colorings. For everyone else, these are a great way to spruce up your desserts, and suitable for many with food allergies.

Here are a couple of ideas of how to use jelly beans in the “off season”:
  • Top an ice cream sundae with a few jelly beans instead of a cherry.
  • Decorate cupcakes with jelly beans.
  • Send them to school or camp as a snack.
  • Use a few to decorate your 4th of July watermelon salad.
What other ideas do you have for jelly beans?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blueberry Jam

Why is that we rarely hear about blueberry jam? Does the grape have such a stronghold on those jam jars that the blueberry gets pushed aside? I almost always have blueberries in the fridge for topping my breakfast oatmeal, and that means that I sometimes have blueberries about to turn bad. Yet, it never occurs to me to make blueberry jam, as it does when the strawberries are getting overly ripe. So I decided to try it.

The best part about making your own jam – especially if you are a food-allergy family – is that you can control the ingredients. My basic jam recipe is super-simple. In Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts
I include strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry versions. Here’s the blueberry version:

Blueberry Jam
Combine ½ cup of sugar for each cup of blueberries in a stainless steel pot. Heat on medium-high, stirring frequently, until the jam starts to thicken. This will take 10-15 minutes. Add up to 1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice for each cup of blueberries. Let it cool and then transfer to a storage container. Or, transfer to prepared jam jars and boil for ten minutes.

I just started “canning” my own jams, and will talk more about that at a later date.

For now, I’d like to know why it’s called “canning” when there are no cans involved. Does anyone know?