Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea - Allergen-Free Chocolate Chewy Candy

Tootsie Rolls are naturally gluten-free, but like many other off-the-shelf chocolate candy, they contain milk and soy. Continuing my make-it-yourself spree, I decided to try making my own version of chocolate chewy candy.

Allergen-Free Chocolate Chewy Candy (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

½ cup honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Earth Balance Natural Shortening, melted

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup powdered sugar 

1 cup powdered rice milk

Combine the cocoa, powdered sugar, and half of the powdered rice milk. Mix together well and set it aside. This will be a very powdery mix.

In a large mixing bowl, blend together the honey, shortening and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and blend on low until completely combined.

Coat a smooth prep surface with a small amount of the remaining rice milk. Move the dough from the bowl to the prep surface.

Work the remaining powdered milk into the candy ball with your hands, a little bit at a time. When you can no longer manipulate the ball with your hands (or you use up the remaining powdered rice milk) you are done kneading. Place the dough ball on a sheet of wax paper and flatten it with your hands until it is a disk.

Use a sharp non-stick knife to cut the dough into tootsie-roll-sized pieces.

Cut squares of wax paper and wrap the candies individually. This recipe makes about 24 pieces.

I was really thrilled with the result. This is a dead ringer for “the real thing.” Bring this as a hostess gift, fill a stocking, or give it to your favorite gluten-free and allergen-free guest!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Label Confusion

I recently came across a candy product that had the ingredients labeled this way:

Ingredients: milkfat, soy lecithin, milk (among a long list of other ingredients)
Allergy information: May contain tree nuts

Is this labeled correctly according FDA rules?
Yes, it is.
Is this confusing? Yes, it is.

This product actually contains milk and soy (although the soy may just be fats and not proteins). The product is not intended to include nuts of any kind, but is either processed on equipment that also processes nuts (likely, given that this was a candy product) or in a facility that processes nuts.

The labeling laws require that the top eight food allergens be listed using the common name (in this case milk and soy) either in the ingredients list, or called out below the ingredients list. In this case the manufacturer used the common terms in the ingredient list, thereby complying with the law. The allergen statement below the ingredients list is voluntary, and in this case was used to alert the consumer of the potential for contamination with tree nuts.

If you were in a hurry and checked only the voluntary “allergen information” statement, you may unintentionally purchase (and/or eat) a product that contains your food allergen.

This is why you must always read the entire ingredients label. And this is why we need more clarity in food allergen labeling laws.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Get Free Shipping on a Signed Book

Happy Black Friday! And I hope you all had a wonderful (and uneventful) Thanksgiving with fabulous allergen-free food!

If (like me) you are opting to stay home on Black Friday and doing some shopping online, I have a special deal for you on Learning to Bake Allergen-Free.

I am offering the book for a discounted price of $18, and I’ll pick up the shipping cost. I will sign and ship the book to whomever you choose in the Continental US, for no additional cost. This offer ends Dec 12th (to ensure arrival by Christmas). If you are interested in purchasing a book, please click here to e-mail me. Payment is via paypal only.

Don’t you just love giving personalized books as gifts? This is your chance to get a signed copy as a gift for your favorite family with food allergies, or even to pick one up for yourself!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Buckwheat Turkey Stuffing – Gluten-Free

One of the pleasures of my childhood Thanksgivings was the meat stuffing. While everyone else was making bread stuffing (often from a box), my mother always made meat stuffing from a recipe handed down for generations from my French Canadian ancestors. When it was time for seconds, the stuffing was what I went for first.

Over the years the all-meat stuffing was transformed to become a meat and bread stuffing. In prior years I have replaced the bread with rice and other grains. This year, I have transformed the recipe once again to take advantage of one of my favorite grains – buckwheat.

Buckwheat Turkey Stuffing

2 cups buckwheat, cooked
2 pounds ground turkey (ground beef or ground pork may be substituted)
2 tablespoons Goya Adobo seasoning
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, diced

Prepare the buckwheat according to package directions. While this is cooking, brown the turkey in a large skillet. Mix in the seasoning.

In a separate pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions are lightly browned.

Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Let it cool before stuffing the turkey.

Have a great holiday!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea – Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

I am continuing my quest to find simple ways to make foods I use a lot, with gluten-free and allergen-free ingredients. Since I’m always obsessed with baking, I use a lot of vanilla extract – I even picked vanilla extract as one of four ingredients that can be added to almost any baked goods. I decided to try to make my own.

The ingredients are simple – vanilla beans and vodka (or another alcoholic beverage, such as bourbon). You will need a glass container to make it in – I chose one with a wide mouth so I could easily add or take away vanilla beans as needed.

My research told me that I should use about 2-3 beans per cup of vodka. I used 1 ½ cups of vodka, so 4 beans sounded right.

Finding vanilla beans may be the hardest part of this experiment. I ordered mine from amazon at a really terrific price.(I don’t recommend paying $10 for two beans at the grocery store – you can find it cheaper, and you want to, because what’s the fun of making it yourself if it costs more?)

The best part about having vanilla beans in the house is the smell. Vanilla smells sooooo good, and so will your fingers after you score the beans – the next step in this process. I also cut off the tips so they would fit in my jar. I’ll use those in another project.

My research also told me that it takes about 4-6 weeks for the vanilla extract to be ready to use. My goal is to have it ready for gifts for Christmas. Between now and then I’ll take pictures so I can show you how it came out. Meanwhile, here’s how it looks now:

Don’t worry, I’ll save some for myself too so I can keep creating new recipes!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pamela’s Gluten-Free Artisan Flour Blend

It can’t be just me. When I find a new market – especially one that has lots of whole foods that are gluten-free and allergen-free, I get excited. I’m like a kid on a treasure hunt, and I can spend more than an appropriate amount of time scouring the shelves (and reading labels) while my husband rolls his eyes and wanders off in search of a cup of tea.

A couple weeks ago, while at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Western Massachusetts sharing samples and signing books, I spied a new product that I just had to try – Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend. This was the kind of store I could get lost in, but I was busy busy busy talking to customers and sharing tips. So while I was working, my husband bought me a couple packages, proof that a) he was paying attention, and b) that he really does appreciate what I bake!

This new flour blend is unlike any other in many respects. First, the ingredients: brown rice flour, tapioca starch, white rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, arrowroot starch, sweet rice flour, and guar gum.

Unlike the typical “white” gluten-free blend, this blend adds sorghum flour and arrowroot starch (two of my favorites when baking). Its nutrition profile is very similar to other gluten-free “white” flours (mostly carbs) with the addition of a bit of fiber.

One very important difference between this and other off-the-shelf flour blends is the use of guar gum rather than xanthan gum. Both products provide a similar effect in gluten-free baked goods (they help hold things together), but this is the first blend I’ve found that uses guar gum. There are some who claim that xanthan gum can cause gastro-intestinal distress, and there are others who claim guar gum does so. If – for whatever reason – you need to avoid xanthan gum, this may be a great choice for you.

However, the single most important difference between this flour and most other off-the-shelf gluten-free flour blends is the weight of the flour. In Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, I discuss in detail the difference the weight of your flour can make. The super-short version is: Most wheat flours weigh less than gluten-free flours, and adjustment is required if you want your baked goods to fluff properly.

Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend weighs in at 120 grams per cup. Most wheat flours weigh between 120 and 124 grams per cup. This means that you can actually use this flour blend 1-1 (cup for cup) to replace wheat. I use the word "actually" here, because while many gluten-free flour blends claim to be able to do this, I find that most require some adjustment. If you have a favorite recipe you are trying to make gluten-free, no adjustment is required on the weight of the flour when you use this blend.

If you use this blend with any of my recipes here or in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free (which are designed at 128-132 grams per cup), the adjustment is simple: add 1 tablespoon per cup of flour.

Of course, the most important test is how well it performs and how good it tastes. The best way to test is with tried and true recipes. First I made Banana Muffins, using the Banana Bread recipe in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, and I added chocolate chips (because I’m that kind of girl).

These were absolutely delicious! The flour even browned nicely, and they were perfect for the next few days.

Next I tried a staple: Basic Sandwich Bread from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free.

Because the blend held together so well, I was able to slice this bread very thin, and it tasted absolutely great!

This is a flour blend that I will definitely keep stocked in my pantry and will add to my “recommended” flours list.

Please note:
While the product is not intended to contain dairy, eggs, nuts, or soy, the warning label notes that this product is processed on equipment that also processes tree nuts, soy, eggs, and milk. Please choose this one only if it’s appropriate for your family.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea – Figgy Pear Jam

I’ve been on a make-it-yourself kick this year. I’ve been making candy and salad dressings, and sunflower butter, and lately – jam, lots and lots of jam. What to do with all these great foods? Why give them as gifts, of course… but first I had to make some more jam. Why? Because I found some figs.

I can only find figs in my local grocery store or a couple of months in the year – and even then, they seem to disappear quickly. I decided to pair the figs with pears, and came up with a luscious gluten-free and allergen-free jam that would make a great hostess gift or teacher gift. Or serve it instead of (or in addition to) cranberry sauce.

Figgy Pear Jam

2 cups figs, chopped (about 6-8 figs)
2 cups pears, peeled and diced (about 2 pears)
1 2/3 cups of sugar
½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the chopped figs and pears with the sugar and vanilla in a medium-large non-reactive (stainless steel works wonderfully), and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The sugar will start to liquefy.

Boil on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes until the pears start to get mushy. Use a potato masher to break up chunks of pears and figs. You can make this very smooth or keep it chunky – whatever you prefer.

Add the lemon juice and boil for another 5 to 10 minutes until the jam is thickened.

If you want to preserve the jam (as I did), you should have the jams jars boiling while you make the jam. Boil the filled jam jars for 10 minutes. Otherwise, store the jam in the refrigerator or freeze in an airtight container.

Homemade Figgy-Pear Jam makes a perfect hostess gift, allergy-friendly, gluten-free, vegan

This recipe makes about 2 ½ cups of jam – enough for a gift and to keep some for you! Yum!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food Allergy Sites that Contribute to Safer Eating

I don’t always like surprises. For example, I hate it when I discover that one of my favorite foods has changed and now contains an ingredient we can’t eat (a post on that topic coming soon). But there are also good surprises – unexpected recognition belongs on that list!

Last week (in the midst of the storm) I learned that this site had been chosen as one of 25 food allergy sites “that really contribute to safer eating.” No weeks of voting, no feeling like I was running for homecoming queen, simply hand-picked by the experts at KwikMed.

Looking at the “winners,” I once again find myself in great company. Nearly all of my favorite food allergy blogs are on this list. Congratulations to all of the winners!