Thursday, January 31, 2013

SoL Sunflower Beverage – A New Non-Dairy Milk Option

Just before the holidays the folks at Sunrich Naturals asked me if I’d like to try their sunflower beverage, and sent me a sample. It’s taken me a while, but I finally had an opportunity to try it.

The idea of milk made from sunflower seeds is intriguing. While the ingredients surprised me (water and evaporated cane juice are the first two ingredients, followed by sunflower kernels), the nutritional profile is impressive – with about the same calories, sugar, and fat per serving as each of coconut milk beverage and hemp milk, it has the same amount of calcium as hemp milk (30% daily allowance), the same amount of vitamin D (25% daily allowance), and considerably more vitamin E (50%). All of the ingredients used are natural or organic and non-GMO – also impressive.

The first thing that is noticeable about sunflower milk is the color – it has a milky-brownish hue – similar to the color of oat milk. You can see the color in my off-white pitcher below:

For me, the ultimate test for non-dairy milk is the taste – if it’s not drinkable then it’s highly unlikely it will taste good in your muffins or bread. So, rather than baking with it, I decided to try if on my cereal first.

While I expected a slightly nutty taste, I was surprised to find the taste very mild. This may be a good alternative for those who use rice milk because it’s the only non-dairy milk their kids will drink. And the bright sunflower on the package is a decidedly cheerful image to start the day.

Like most non-dairy milks, this sunflower milk comes in a carton with aseptic packaging, which allows it to remain shelf-stable for a long time. It should be refrigerated after opening. In addition to the original flavor that I tried, SoL milk comes in unsweetened and vanilla varieties.

Have you tried sunflower milk? What do you think?

Be sure to check out my SoL Sister interview at the SoL blog.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Using Up the Leftovers

I am guilty, guilty, guilty. Guilty of over-buying. My freezer is crammed and my cupboards are over-loaded. When I’m working on recipes I like to have options – so I buy lots of flours and lots of different ingredients. For example, right now I have avocado honey, blueberry honey, cranberry honey, and clover honey in my pantry. Is it possible that I really need them all? Probably not…

Am I the only one who has this problem?

I had a good excuse when I was working on my book – and I even let ingredients spill over from my kitchen into the dining room. But it’s time to get my act together. While I didn’t actually make resolutions for the New Year, I am determined to use what we already have and to get my kitchen organized.

Today’s project is Chocolate Cranberry Rice Cookies from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free. I recently showed you how to make dried cranberries, I have a box of Erewhon gluten-free crisped rice cereal that needs to be used, and the only other ingredients to add are Earth Balance natural shortening and chocolate chips:

So yummy!

Note to self: buy more chocolate chips.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rudi’s New, Fluffier, Gluten-Free Bread – Product Review

Do you miss fluffy bread? You remember, don’t you? Bread that you can push down like a sponge and it pops back? When Rudi’s sent me some coupons to try their new “fluffier” bread, I was intrigued. Could it be possible that they have created gluten-free bread that is indeed fluffy? Let’s find out.

First and foremost I most note that this bread contains egg – egg whites to be exact – and therefore off-limits for those with egg allergies. Beyond that, the ingredients are top-8 allergen-free.

This bread can be found in the frozen section – no surprise there. Upon inspection (after thawing), I can see that the slices are a bit larger than the typical allergen-free/gluten-free frozen bread, and they are indeed fluffier – at least a bit.

I did notice that some slices broke as I separated them, but perhaps that’s the price we pay for fluffiness.

I still felt the need to toast the bread before making my sandwich. Did I need to, or was that just habit? I think light toasting was a good choice as my sliced chicken and avocado sandwich was quite yummy!

The bread is moist and the whole grain version I chose tastes great. I am very happy with this bread and will definitely choose it again. Now, if only someone would make a really great off-the-shelf egg-free bread…

Monday, January 21, 2013

Buckwheat Maple Crackers

Today I am sharing one of my favorite new recipes that I developed over the holidays. One of the things I love about this cracker is that doesn’t require cheese (or a cheese substitute) to be considered complete. It truly stands on its own.

Buckwheat Maple Crackers – Gluten-free, Vegan

Makes about 3 dozen crackers

1 cup gluten-free flour blend (use 128-130 grams of your favorite blend)
½ cup buckwheat flour
¼ tsp xanthan gum
¼ cup maple sugar
½ tsp salt
8 tablespoons Earth Balance natural shortening
¼ cup maple syrup
up to 4 tbsp cold water

Making crackers is as simple as (and very similar to) making cookies. To make the dough, combine the flours, xanthan gum, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the shortening into tablespoon-sized pieces and lay them on top of the dough. Use a pastry cutter to cut the shortening into the dough.

When the mixture is crumbly, add the maple syrup and one tablespoon of water. Cut this into the dough. Add water (as needed, one tablespoon at a time), until the dough sticks together (but isn’t too sticky).

I like to divide the dough into two sections – one to make now, and one to save for a later date. Form each section into a disk, wrap it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour. (The second portion of cracker dough will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.)

When you’re ready to bake the crackers, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Use two pieces of parchment to roll the disk of dough flat and then peel back the top layer of parchment. (If pieces of dough fall off or get stuck, simply stick them back.)

Use a sharp knife to score the crackers:

Bake them at 375 degrees for 10-18 minutes (depending on thickness). Yes, there is a wide time-range for these crackers. The thinner you roll the dough, the faster the crackers will bake and the crunchier they will be. When the edges start to turn a deep brown, they are done.

Let them cool and then break the cookies apart:

I think you're going to love these!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to Make Your Own Dried Cranberries

I go a little cranberry crazy around the holidays. Since late October through early January is the only time cranberries are available in the grocery store, and given that I love to bake with cranberries, I have a habit of buying them every time I see them at the market. The result? Leftover cranberries.

In prior years I have simply frozen them so I can make cranberry bread later in the spring and summer. But I’ve got a craving for Cranberry Chocolate Rice Cookies and I’ve been on a make-it-myself kick lately (and I just happen to have some Erewhon Gluten-Free Rice Cereal sitting in the cupboard). Rather than running out to the store to buy dried cranberries, the natural solution was – you guessed it – to make my own.

All you need are some cranberries and a little bit of sugar. I don’t have a food dehydrator, so I used the long method.

Boil some water and pour them over 2 cups of cranberries.

Let it sit for 10-20 minutes until the cranberries have popped or are very plump. Strain the cranberries. Use a potato masher if needed, to force any un-popped berries to open up. Keep in mind that cranberry juice is messy, and does stain – so be careful as you do this. I put my bowl in the middle of the sink so that the splatter stayed contained.

Return the cranberries to the bowl. Mix 2 tablespoons of sugar (I used whole cane sugar) with the cranberries. If you like your cranberries sweeter, you can choose to add more sugar.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and then turn it off. Spread the cranberries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place it in the warm oven.

Leave them overnight. If you want to save energy, time it so that the cranberries are ready to go into the oven right after you’ve used it to make dinner. If necessary (i.e., the cranberries aren’t quite dry enough) heat up the oven again (take the cranberries out while you do this) and repeat the drying process for a few more hours.

When finished you will have dried, slightly sweetened, cranberries. Two cups of cranberries makes about one cup of dried cranberries. Now I'm off to make those cookies!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Auvi-Q is Coming Soon

So you thought epinephrine auto-injectors were all the same? That will soon change with Sanofi’s introduction of the Auvi-Q auto-injector. Sanofi invited me and a handful of food allergy bloggers to their North American Headquarters in Bridgewater, NJ, to give us a preview.

I met Keeley McGuire (Allergy Friendly Fun Lunchboxes), Selena Bluntzer (Amazing and Atopic), Joanne LaSpina (Food Allergy Assistant), and Henry Ehrlich (Asthma Allergies Children) for the first time in person, and I got to hang out my friends Jenny Sprague (Multiple Food Allergy Help), Caroline Moassessi (Grateful Foodie), and Susan Weissman (Feeding Eden). We had a great time!

From left to right: Joanne, Keeley, Caroline, Susan, Colette, Selena, Jenny, and Henry.

Before I tell you about the product, I must mention Mama’s CafĂ© Baci, who served us lunch. One of the best things about attending food allergy events is that I know I will be able to eat well, safely. The top-8 allergen-free lunch they served us was delicious. Now, about the product…

Sanofi expects to change the game with epinephrine auto-injectors. Gone are the awkward needles that have to be carried in special pouches – or at least Sanofi hopes so.

I had seen the press from the announcement late last year – with pictures – but what I saw in person surprised me. The Auvi-Q auto-injector is surprisingly small, and surprisingly tactile. It fits in your hand like the early flip phones (circa 2000) did. Sanofi’s product directors describe it as the size of a credit card and the width of a deck of cards, but I’m not sure that quite gets the point across, so here’s a picture of it in my hand:

And next to my iPhone 5:

Note that I am showing you the trainer – which has a black label (and is both clearly labeled and tells you that it contains no medication – more on that later). The auto-injectors with medication will be blue or red (depending on the dose), and hard to miss.

I’m a sucker for look and feel, and this just feels good. Sanofi spent a lot of time on user design, and it was worth it – the rounded edges feel good in your hand, and it will slip very easily into a purse (even a very tiny one), pocket, backpack – just like a small cell phone would.

Did I mention that it talks? As soon as you pull it out of it’s sleek case, the box starts talking. The calm female voice tells you to remove the red plastic cover and then walks you through the steps to administer the drug – it even counts to five for you. I think the talking feature will be a benefit for anyone who hasn’t used an epinephrine auto-injector before. The fact that you don’t see a needle (although they assured us there was one inside) is another big benefit. If the voice feature fails, there are printed instructions, and there’s no need to wait for the voice if you already know what to do.

You do need to pull fairly hard to remove the red cover that hides the needle, and you need to press it very firmly against your leg (it compresses about ¼ inch when you do so properly), but I don’t think this is any more difficult than plunging a needle into a thigh. Nevertheless, I think parents will want to make sure they practice with the children who will be carrying them.

My assessment is that this is a very cool gadget. In fact, so cool that some may want to play with it too much. It’s a good thing that Sanofi is planning to include a trainer with every prescription.

Should you get one? It’s the same medication as other epinephrine auto-injectors; the difference is in the delivery method of the drug. I think most will make the decision based on price and how much they are willing to pay for the “cool” device. Sanofi did not disclose their pricing.

The Auvi-Q auto-injectors are expected to be available by the end of March.

What do you think? Are you planning to make the switch?

Disclosure: Sanofi paid for my travel expenses to this event. I was not obligated to review the product.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Learning to Bake Allergen-Free Review Round-Up

It’s been just six months since Learning to Bake Allergen-Free hit the bookstore shelves and the reviews are coming in. Every time I see another review I am both surprised that anyone took the time to write the review and I am humbled by what they have to say. I didn’t write the book because I expected accolades. I didn’t travel this journey seeking praise, and I honestly didn’t think much about whether anyone would like it. I am a problem solver, and my primary objective in writing the book was to help other families solve the same problems I had (in a lot less time). I wrote the book because I had valuable information to share.

I am always amazed when someone says, “I love your book,” so you may be wondering why I would write a post such as this one – one that some members of my family would deem a "self call." I am not writing this post to garner more praise (although, if you do love it there’s no such thing as too few great reviews on amazon), but because I thought it would be fun to share some of the buzz. It’s an extra special bonus that many of these reviews are from my favorite magazines and my favorite bloggers! Here’s a sampling of what people are saying:
“This might be the most comprehensive allergen-free baking guide we’ve seen.” VegNews Magazine
“… you will learn a mountain from Martin’s lessons and recipes whether you’re a novice or an experienced baker. She gives brilliant guidance on egg replacers, explains mysteries such as why more baking powder is used when there are no wheat or eggs, and even helps you figure out when your gluten-free baking is done. This book is a must-have.” Allergic Living Magazine
“This invaluable book offers over 70 safe recipes (including variations that are easy on the sugar and fat, too) that the whole family will enjoy… Forget the learning curve and dive right in. Here’s someone guiding you the whole and wholesome way.” Living Without Magazine
As a side note, while I didn’t bill the book as low-sugar, I am so happy that the experts are taking note that most of my recipes are on the healthy side. Don’t get me wrong, they are baked goods, and I do use sugar (often less processed sugar) – but usually far less sugar than most recipes. One of my biggest pet peeves is a product where sugar (any form of sugar) is the first ingredient. That’s really not necessary – I want to taste the goodness of the whole grains!
“Gorgeous and instructive photos, dozens of recipes, technique ‘crash courses,’ and candid product reviews make this clear, cheerful book my new safe-food baking favorite.” Delicious Living
Delicious Living also named Learning to Bake Allergen-Free one of the top 7 gluten-free books of 2012! You can see their full review and the other winners here.

And some selected comments from amazon reviews:
“A MUST-have cookbook for those with food allergies!”
“It's about time someone wrote a book like this. This is much more than a baking book, but a comprehensive reference for understanding what the various food ingredients are, why they are in our foods, and how to make wise substitutions when dealing with any of the 8 most common food allergies.”
“The recipes are amazing! Even my husband approves of this baking! I've baked allergen free before but my attempts never came out as perfect as they do now. I only wish I'd discovered this book earlier.”
“Great for novice bakers.”
“Helps you understand not just what to mix, but WHY.”
“Best Book Ever!”
Wow, that last one really made my year! I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Whole Fruit Sorbets are Delicious!

When we go out to eat, it’s not uncommon that the only thing on the dessert menu that my son and I can eat (if anything at all) is sorbet. And so, we usually pass at even peeking at the dessert menu. Nevertheless, we both appreciate a really good sorbet – and the key to goodness is fruit!

When J&J Snack Foods asked if wanted to try some samples of their Whole Fruit sorbet I jumped at the chance. The samples arrived just before the holiday – just in time for my son to give them a good taste testing.

The fruit flavors are yummy – mango, black cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and the traditional lemon. It’s not often that I find a black cherry sorbet, so we started there. I topped mine off with some chocolate sauce and Pat had his plain.

The verdict? Yum! These sorbets burst with fruit flavor.

These are all gluten-free, top-8 allergen-free, and vegan. In fact, they contain little more than water, corn syrup, sugar, fruit, pectin, and natural flavors.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Making Chocolate Chip Cookies – A Cable TV Segment

Late last year I had the opportunity to be the guest on a Comcast TV Show called “Let’s Talk Writing,” hosted by Vin Dacquino. While Vin usually does a sit-down segment with local authors, for my session he asked me to do a demo. I thought it would be fun to start the year by sharing it with you:

Note that this is a 28-minute video – much longer than my usual 2-3 minute how-to videos. If you want to skip to the actual cookie-making demo, fast forward to about minute 9:45. The cookie recipe I used is from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free.

While I’ve been interviewed for print and radio in the past, this was the first time I did a TV show, and I will say that it was a lot of fun. I’ll also admit that I had no idea which of the three cameras was on me at what time. The director and the camera crew did a fabulous job of keeping it running smoothly!