Monday, January 27, 2014

Sweet Debbie’s Organic Treats – Book Review

I received a complimentary copy of Sweet Debbie's Organic Treats: Allergy-Free and Vegan Recipes from the Famous Los Angeles Bakery in October and it has taken me way too long to get around to writing this book review. But I really need to tell you about it because it is a beautiful and unique book.

I never paid much attention to the design of a book prior to writing my own – I either liked it or I didn’t but I couldn’t have told you why. This book is beautifully designed. From the photos to the layout to the choice of fonts, the book is very approachable and fun. The colors are predominantly pink and blue; I imagine these to be the colors of Sweet Debbie’s bakery in Los Angeles.

I have never been to Sweet Debbie’s bakery, but I need to make a point of visiting when I visit Southern California. Her recipes are all gluten-free, vegan (egg-free and dairy-free), and nut-free. But that’s not all she avoids – Debbie’s recipes do not use sugar.

My recipes do use sugar – it’s the only traditional baking ingredient I can still use. I know many of you need the calories and the sugar. But I also know there are folks out there who need gluten-free + allergen-free + sugar-free recipes, and Debbie Adler took on that challenge.

Instead of sugar, the recipes use stevia powder, erythritol, and coconut nectar (often in combination). (I think Debbie likes coconut nectar as much as I like hemp!)

The recipes include muffins, cookies, cupcakes, and bars, all of which look entirely decadent. Instead of ingredients lists and instructions, Debbie’s recipes are written with “Must Have” and “Must Do” lists. Instead of tips, Debbie’s recipes have “Sweet Truths.” Debbie even includes a handful of raw (she calls them unbaked) recipes.

Now, about those sweeteners. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, sweet but less sweet than sugar, and it has close to zero calories. Stevia is an herb and contains no calories; a tiny amount of stevia powder is very sweet, but it’s also oddly bitter. Coconut nectar is a syrupy sweetener; it is often compared to agave nectar. My impression (after using it in the recipe below) is that coconut nectar is considerably less sweet than agave or honey; it many ways it is more like brown rice syrup or corn syrup – both in terms of sweetness and in terms of its stickiness.

I am going to be experimenting more with these sweeteners, but my first test was with one of Debbie’s recipes that she and her publisher agreed to share:

Chocolate Chia Power Bars
By Debbie Adler

Makes about 25 bars

Must Have
Sheet of parchment paper slightly larger
than 15 x 10 inches
4 cups gluten-free oats
11/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips (also called
flaked coconut)
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup cacao powder
3 tablespoons chia seeds
11/2 teaspoons guar gum
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut nectar
1/4 teaspoon stevia powder
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries,

Must Do
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper, with a
little extra over the sides.
2. Mix together the oats, flour, coconut chips, sunflower seeds, cacao powder, chia
seeds, guar gum and salt in a large bowl.
3. Microwave the coconut oil and coconut nectar in a 2-cup measuring cup for 60 seconds.
Add the stevia and stir to combine. Pour into the oats mixture and mix well. Fold in
the cranberries.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into the corners and on top with
a wet baking spatula to cover the pan evenly.
5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the kitchen smells like chocolate and toasted
oats. Rotate the pan from front to back halfway through baking.
6. Transfer the pan from the oven to a wire rack and let sit for about 15 minutes before
putting in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
7. Transfer the parchment paper to a cutting board and cut into 25 bars.
Wrap each bar individually in parchment paper or bakery tissue paper, place in a
sealable plastic bag and keep frozen until ready to pack or eat.

Reprinted from SWEET DEBBIE’S ORGANIC TREATS by Debbie Adler. Published by Harlequin. Copyright Debbie Adler 2013

A few of my own notes:

Being the chocoholic that I am, I added ¼ cup cacao nibs to the bars.
This batch makes a LOT of bars, but could easily be halved and made in a smaller pan, e.g., a 9-inch square pan.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Food-Allergy Related Observances in 2014

Spread the word! Here’s a rundown of some important awareness dates coming up in 2014:

Feeding Tube Awareness Week – February 9-15

Did you know there was a feeding tube awareness aweek? I didn't either. In the past few years I have met dozens of families with children on feeding tubes; some rely solely on the feeding tubes while others supplement. Certainly, feeding tubes are not used only by those with food allergies or EE, but they are becoming more prevalent in our community. this effort is led by the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation.

Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month – May

Yes, allergic disease does warrant an entire month dedicated to awareness. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (which now includes Kids with Food Allergies) leads awareness efforts throughout the month.

Celiac Awareness Month
– May

It’s fitting that this effort driven by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness occurs at the same time as food allergy awareness.

Food Allergy Awareness Week – May 11-17

Food Allergy Awareness and Education (FARE) heads up this awareness effort.

National Eosinophil Awareness Week
– May 18-24

What is an eosinophil, you ask? APFED is the leader is educating people about the spectrum of eosinphilic gastrointestinal diseases (EGID) – including the eosinophilic esophagitis that my son suffers from – and other eosinophilic diseases.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Vanilla Chex Cereal Review and What the Heck is BHT?

It has been a very long time since I tried Chex cereal. Longer than I can remember, but I do have fond memories of Chex party mixes from days long ago. Even though the original Chex cereals are still on the grocery store shelves today, there are some new varieties, including the Vanilla Chex that I received some free samples of for this review.

I must point out that most of the Chex cereals have always been gluten-free – based on rice and corn – but the packages now sport a huge “Gluten Free” banner. The Vanilla Chex contains no dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, or other top allergens, but when I asked about how they were processed the response was that they made no claims about any of the other food allergens. The ingredients label does not contain an advisory warning.

On the plus side, this is a relatively low sugar cereal (compared to others you might find in the cereal aisle) with only 8 grams of sugar per serving.

One of the most surprising things about this product is that – despite being Vanilla Chex – the ingredients do not include vanilla. Instead, there is an ingredient listed as “natural flavor,” which I assume is a manufactured vanilla taste. This rice-based cereal appears to contain some plain Rice Chex as well as Rice Chex that have been coated with the flavoring. There is a distinct taste difference between the two. When I poured my hemp milk over it, the flavoring blended in. It did occur to me that I could have used vanilla hemp milk with Rice Chex to achieve the same (or an even better) taste.

My biggest concern with the cereal is a pesky ingredient called BHT. According to the label this is “added to preserve freshness.” (Yes, they really label it with those words.) So, I wondered, besides being a preservative, what the heck is BHT, really?

What I discovered

BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is an FDA-approved food additive derived from petroleum. It is used primarily to preserve fats, and it is also an antioxidant. It is sometimes used to treat herpes and AIDS. BHT may contribute to carcinogenicity and some people may have difficulty metabolizing it.

By the time I finished my cereal I wished that I had researched this ingredient before trying it. Is this is a product you would buy?

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips

If the marketing team at Enjoy Life had asked me what product they should create next, I would have said, “A regular sized chocolate chip, and use the darkest chocolate you can.” Mind you, they didn’t ask me, but they must have read my mind:

As a baker and a chocoholic, I use a lot of chocolate chips. As many of you know, allergen-free chocolate chips are hard to find. Whereas chocolate itself is safe for most with food allergies, most chocolate chips are produced in facilities with nuts, and dairy, and many chocolates contain these ingredients. While soy lecithin is not a problem for some with food allergies, soy-allergic individuals are increasingly being advised to avoid soy lecithin – another common ingredient in chocolate (even dairy-free and nut-free chocolate).

And so, when Enjoy Life Foods asked me if I wanted to try their new dark chocolate regular size chocolate chips I did the happy dance. (They sent me a sample of the product to review.)

To say that I LOVE the Enjoy Life Foods mini chips and chocolate chunks might be an understatement. My family will tell you that I have been caught sneaking handfuls of chocolate chips for a snack. Yes, chocolate is my drug of choice.

The Enjoy Life chocolate chunks are perfect to make the Double Chocolate Muffins in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free,and the mini chocolate chips melt into cake batter to create little pockets of chocolate goodness, but sometimes a girl needs a regular sized chocolate chip for chocolate chip cookies:

But, Enjoy Life didn’t just give us a chocolate chip with a different shape; they made it with more chocolate. Yippee!!

There are no rules for labeling chocolate, making it hard to tell the difference between one labeled semi-sweet, or bittersweet, or dark. The best way to tell is to look at the amount of sugar and fat on the nutrition label. The more fat, the more chocolate. The mini-sized Enjoy Life chocolate chips have 5 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar (which, by my standards, is very high in cacao). But wait – the new chocolate chips are 6 grams of fat and 5 grams of sugar – even more chocolate for us to love!

I predict that this will be Enjoy Life’s best-selling product, ever.