Thursday, February 28, 2013

Don’t Follow the Recipe: Raspberry Cookie Swirls

There are no bigger compliments than when someone tells me that my book gave them an idea of something new they could create in their own kitchen or that they adapted one of my recipes to make it work for them. That is exactly what I want you to do!

The simple fact is that food-allergy families have to adapt. Recipes often don’t work exactly as written. But we don’t have to sacrifice great food for safety. My goal is to arm you with the information you need so that you can adapt.

Accordingly, my message to you today is: Don’t follow the recipe! Break the rules! Be adventurous!

To get you started, I created a new treat using two of the recipes in Learning to Bake Allergen-Freeby combining them in a new way.

I used the Sugar Cookie and the Raspberry Jam recipes to make Raspberry Cookie Swirls!

Step 1: Make the jam. You know when it’s done because you can pull the spoon through and it doesn’t fill in immediately:

Let the jam cool completely.

Step 2: Prepare the sugar cookie recipe. Instead of rolling the cookie dough into logs, flatten the dough with a rolling pin. Chill it for 10 minutes, then spread the raspberry jam on top and roll it into a log:

Wrap the log and chill for at least an hour.

Step 3: Slice the cookies and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 14-15 minutes. The raspberry filling should be sizzling but not bubbling over. Let the cookies cool and enjoy!

Monday, February 25, 2013

An Evening Out

I have said it before and I will say it again – there are two types of restaurants: those that have a set menu and eliminate foods based on your allergies, and those that cook for you. The first set includes most chain restaurants that source their food from a distributor. With these restaurants they have little choice but to eliminate items prepared with ingredients you are allergic to – because they weren’t prepared in their kitchen. The second type of restaurant uses real food (often locally sourced), cooks everything in their kitchen, and has the ability to control the ingredients the same way you would in your own kitchen using whole foods.

Unfortunately, there are far more chain restaurants and more popping up every day. These restaurants tend to be convenient, available, and affordable, and the good news is that many of them are highly rated on Allergy Eats.

When you have an opportunity to eat at a restaurant that cooks for you, there is nothing that can compare. My husband and I recently ate at The Artist’s Palate in Poughkeepsie, NY. We’ve eaten there before – always very successfully – but this time I was blown away.

When my husband called to make the reservation the receptionist asked if we had any food allergies. Yes, they asked us, before we had a chance to bring it up. My husband let them know his wife was allergic to gluten and soy. Things were off to a very good start.

When we were seated I let the server know about my allergies, but she already knew. Even better yet, she had spoken with the chef and already knew exactly which dishes could be prepared for me. In this case it was nearly all of the entrees (except the pasta), and many of the appetizers. A couple appetizers were ruled out due to gluten in the cheese. Yes, the chef had actually researched the cheese processing to determine what was safe.

The server brought my husband and I an amuse-bouche (that tiny free appetizer that is served “compliments of the chef” at fancy restaurants), and he had adapted mine to be safe. Right about that time I was falling in love with the chef and the server brings the bread with a tomato pesto – my roll is gluten-free:

This restaurant procures their gluten-free rolls from the nearby Soul Dog Cafe, and they are yummy! (They are gluten-free and dairy-free but do contain eggs.)

For an appetizer we decided to share a Caesar salad. I know what you’re thinking – that can’t possibly be safe! I almost never order Caesar salad because of the risk of contamination from croutons. But check this out – ours came with polenta croutons:

Note that there is also parmesan cheese on this salad. The croutons are the smaller squares that you see in front. I later discovered that the polenta croutons are always served on their salad. Note to self: figure out how to make polenta croutons at home!

And for dinner, I had swordfish with garbanzo beans and spinach in a Meyer lemon dressing:

Are you drooling yet?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Speaking and Signing Schedule

Where, oh where, do I plan to be? After a relatively quiet winter with just a handful of local events (and waaaay too much snow), I’ve got some important events coming up.

Here’s my schedule (so far) for April through June:

On Monday April 15th I will be meeting with the Food Allergy and Asthma Support Group of New Jersey. I’ll be doing an allergen-free baking demo. Demos are my favorite!

On April 20th and 21st I’ll be signing books at the Gluten-Free and Allergen-Free Expo in Chicago. I attended my first GF/AF Expo last year and it was awesome – and big!! I am looking forward to this event and finding some great new products!

On June 7th and 8th I’ll be at BlogHer Food in Austin. Having been to both BlogHer Food and BlogHer, the food conference is my favorite. I’ll be speaking on Friday along with Melissa Skorpil on How to Fake Great Photos. I love the name for our session. Are we all faking it? Or is it just me? Hmmm…

At the end of June I’ll be at the APFED conference in Philadelphia. This is the conference for families dealing with eosinophilic disorders (EGID, EoE). On Friday June 28th I’ll be speaking on Cooking Solutions for Restricted Diets. I’ll be signing books on Friday and Saturday.

If you plan to be at any of these events I’d love to meet you!

Monday, February 18, 2013

AllergyEats Announces the Top-Rated Restaurant Chains for Food Allergies

The AllergyEats app has been available for just a few years, and many with food allergies and restrictions – including my family – have benefitted from it. It’s been especially helpful when we are on the road and need to find a “safe” place to eat. But the real value of an application like this might just be the larger insights it can bring. For example, AllergyEats just announced the top-rated restaurant chains, based on all the ratings it has gathered.

Here’s how the chains stack up in the AllergyEats database, with my personal thoughts:

Large (over 200 locations):

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
(4.47 rating)
My view: I’m not sure I would have thought to pick Red Robin, and yet it’s one of my favorite go-to restaurants and we have never had an issue there. I wholly agree with this rating.

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (4.45 rating)
My view: While just avoiding gluten and soy, I can eat at P.F. Chang’s very successfully. However, when we have attempted to eat there with my son’s multiple food allergies he was only able to eat white rice and steamed veggies.

Chipotle Mexican Grill (4.38 rating)
My view: Love this place! They have food-allergy preparation techniques down to a science.

Outback Steakhouse (4.34 rating)
My view: It works.

Longhorn Steakhouse (4.30 rating)
My view: I have never eaten there.

Medium (50-200 locations)

Bonefish Grill (4.50 rating)
My view: There’s one down the road. While I like the wine list, my husband will tell you that I always complain that I don’t feel good after eating there. Hmmm…

Ninety Nine Restaurant
(4.22 rating)
My view: Never eaten there

Zpizza (4.22 rating)
My view: Never eaten there

Uno Chicago Grill
(4.22 rating)
My view: It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten there. We may have to try again.

Bertucci’s Brick Oven Restaurant
(4.13 rating)
My view: Never eaten there

Small (under 50 locations):

Burton’s Grill (4.88 rating)
My view: Never eaten there. Note the near-perfect rating. I have to be on the lookout for this chain.

Maggiano’s Little Italy
(4.76 rating)
My view: I have only eaten once at a Maggiano’s and my gluten-free pasta was great!

Not Your Average Joe’s
(4.73 rating)
My view: Never eaten there

Legal Sea Foods
(4.65 rating)
My view: Love! I go out of my way to eat at Legal Sea Foods. I'll eat there multiple days in a row if I'm in Boston.

Papa Razzi
(4.64 rating)
My view: Never eaten there.

The reason I haven't eaten at some of these chains is simply because there isn't one near where I live or where I have traveled.

Keep in mind that this assessment only considered chains. Some of my all-time favorite restaurants – restaurants that do more than accommodate or restrict ingredients – are local restaurants with just one site. These include restaurants that change their menus frequently, use local ingredients, and have the ability to cook something special for you. These are not included in this assessment.

Note that even the fifth-ranked small chain has a higher overall rating that the highest-ranked small chain. Is smaller better?

What’s your take on this list? Are your favorites included?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Feeding Eden – A Book Review

I first met Susan Weissman, author of Feeding Eden, about a year ago at a food allergy press event shortly after her book had been published. When we met again last summer at a food allergy walk we exchanged books. I had read it less than a week later but I’ve been procrastinating on writing this review; I feared that I wouldn’t be able to properly capture the essence of Susan’s story. I decided that Valentine’s Day is the ideal day to post this review, because the book is – first and foremost – a love story.

The book’s title and subtitle, Feeding Eden: The Trials and Triumphs of a Food Allergy Family, may not quite do the story justice. It’s less about “feeding” than it is about “nurturing,” and a more apt sub-title might be “A Mother’s Story.” The book is unique in that it is a memoir from the mother’s perspective.

As authors and writers, we all have our unique style. Unlike my prescriptive how-to approach, Susan captures raw emotion, writing about her own vulnerabilities and what it feels like to be a parent raising a child with food allergies. I am in awe of what she has accomplished with this book – it is a spectacular piece of art.

I have met Eden. He is a bright-eyed boy with a big smile who shook my hand when we were introduced. Other than his smallish size (something I wouldn’t question given his mother’s petite frame), he is a perfectly normal, well-adjusted, well-behaved child. If it weren’t for his frequent visits back to the table where we were signing books to ask his mother to review the ingredients of a sample he picked up before he ate it, I would never know that he suffered from life-threatening food allergies. And therein lies one of the biggest challenges food-allergy parents face: Food allergies are a disability you can’t see. This is just one of the many things that Susan and I passionately agree on.

While the book does contain some discussion of food, and food trials, and food handling, and food allergy diagnosis, it’s not really about the food or the food allergies. It’s about what it feels like to be a parent with a child whose illness can’t be pinpointed. It’s about spending more time in doctor’s office and waiting rooms than your own home. It’s about exploring the best way to help your child – and the questioning and self-doubt that comes along with every decision we make. It’s about selecting treatments and finding that not everything – or every doctor – works for you. It’s about being paralyzed by the fear of doing the wrong thing while at the same time being propelled by the need to take action.

Throughout the book Susan shares the challenges that she and her husband faced while making choices for Eden – some that worked and others that didn’t. She shares the challenges of dealing with other (possibly related) medical and developmental issues at the same time. But she portrays her choices as personal. She never claims to have the answer. She never judges.

As I read the book I could hear myself in the story. While the details of our stories vary dramatically, the essence of our stories is the same.

This is a highly recommended read for all parents. Kudos to Susan Weissman for sharing her story in such a powerful way. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Change in Plans (and Truffles for Valentine’s Day)

Last Friday many of us needed to change our plans, hampered by the weather. I had plans to visit with Lori Sandler and a group of fabulous Moms to talk about the day-to-day challenges of food-allergy parents, and to just have fun. We were going to make chocolate truffles (using Lori’s fabulous chocolate chips from Divvies Bakery). If you’ve been lurking here for a while you know that I think everything is better when chocolate is added.

But we were snowed in, and I decided to make truffles anyway. Chocolate even makes a blizzard better.

There’s still time to make truffles for Valentine’s Day! This is a great activity to do with the kids – just be prepared to get your hands dirty and wear something washable. The recipe and steps to make these basic chocolate truffles is here, and you can find many variations on this site or create your own.

Here are the truffles I made for you:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Make Your Own Pasta – Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan

Kitchen gadgets are toys for adults and yes, fun to play with. I have wanted to make my own gluten-free pasta for some time now, but without the right tools it was difficult. Enter the new toy I received for Christmas – a Kitchen Aid Pasta attachment.

My Kitchen Aid stand mixer is the workhorse in my kitchen, getting near-daily use, so it’s hard to believe that I have never used an attachment – I have never even removed the little knob where the attachments go – until now:

The pasta attachment comes with presses for many different shapes and sizes of pasta. I started with rigatoni.

I had to create my own recipe for pasta dough because every gluten-free recipe I could find still used eggs. That wasn’t a problem, but I did make a mistake for the first round of pasta – I made pasta dough that was similar in consistency to bread dough and (as I soon discovered) it was too wet:

Yes, that would have been perfect for bread, but too wet for pasta. I formed it into balls, and started feeding it into my machine, and nothing was coming out – for a very long time. I took the attachment off and reattached it multiple times, certain that this was a user error. One problem with too-wet dough is that it doesn’t slice well and the pieces stick together. But the bigger problem is that the dough doesn’t funnel properly through the feeder – it goes up into the attachment instead of down. On this first batch I wasted about half of my dough, which I discovered as I was cleaning the machine. (And yes – it made the attachment much harder to clean.)

About a half dozen Google searches and YouTube videos later, I knew I needed to use less liquid in my pasta dough and I was ready for round two. This time I made spirals.

The right consistency for the dough is very crumbly:

When forming small balls, I had to really mold them together:

And it worked! When I used a low speed I got straighter spirals:

A faster speed yielded curlier spirals:

Fun, right? I found that the noodles cook best when the pasta sits for an hour or more before cooking – this allows them to dry a bit and hold their shape better.

I’ll be experimenting with more pasta dough, but here’s a basic recipe for you to start with:

Millet/Rice Pasta

¼ cup arrowroot starch (32 grams)
¾ cup brown rice flour (90 grams)
½ cup millet flour (60 grams)
½ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp light olive oil
½ cup flax seed gel
4 tbsp warm water

Combine the dry ingredients and set them aside. In the stand mixer, combine all of the wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients slowly until a crumbly mixture forms. Form acorn-sized balls and feed them through the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment.

Keep in mind that fresh pasta cooks very quickly – in as little as two minutes!

What kind of pasta dough should I make next?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Make Your Own Potato Chips

I was raised to believe that pots and pans, toasters, or other kitchen gadgets – things that might be considered necessary for “women’s work,” were not appropriate presents. But here’s the catch – I like kitchen tools. I love nice pots and pans. After all, isn’t it nicer to make dinner with the right tools and pans that are easy to clean? I asked for a new refrigerator for Christmas at least four years in a row (and I finally got one). I love it because it looks nice and it helps keep me organized.

I’ve also discovered that the best way to get exactly what I want is to ask for exactly what I want. My Christmas list usually contains links to the exact item I want (and this is necessary because without specifics my husband has a tendency to overdo it – like buying three pans instead of the one I need).

This year I had my eye on a couple of gadgets for Christmas (and yes! I did receive them as gifts). The first was a very simple mandolin slicer. I don’t have a food processor – I chop things the old fashioned way – but I wanted to be able to make uniform thin slices so I could do things like make potato chips. And that brings us to the focus of today’s post.

The beauty of making your own potato chips includes being able to control ingredients, and not worrying about what else is made in the factory. While it’s not too hard to find chips that are just potatoes, oil, and salt, most potato chip factories also make “flavored” chips (such as sour cream and onion) – and that’s where food allergy families can get into trouble.

To make these potato chips I used just one potato, and I chose to keep the skin on. I sliced the potato with the mandolin slicer and made uniform slices:

I placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then l
sprayed them lightly with olive oil. Any oil you prefer will work. Next, I sprinkled them very lightly with sea salt. You can choose to go heavier on the salt or with no salt at all – it’s all good. (I used about ½ tsp for the one potato.)

I placed the baking sheet in an oven pre-heated to 375 degrees, and baked them until they were nicely browned, about 12 minutes. And I enjoyed a handful with my sandwich:

Next, I’ll be making sweet potato chips!

What's your favorite use for a mandolin slicer?