Monday, August 27, 2012

Greek Style Yogurt is Taking Top Shelf

At the recent BlogHer Expo, there were many food samples. It seems everyone (who makes yogurt) wanted to share his or her incarnation of Greek Style yogurt. Of course, the samples were made with dairy milk.

Traditional Greek style yogurt (i.e. yogurt made with dairy milk) is made by straining, which removes some of the lactose (the milk sugar) and whey. The result is a very creamy, thick yogurt – closer to the consistency of sour cream than standard yogurt.

My son and I stumbled upon the So Delicious Greek Style coconut yogurt at our local health food store, and decided to try the raspberry flavor.

We both gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up! There’s no need to mix this yogurt, it’s creamy from the get-go.

But it gets better. In a side-by-side comparison of So Delicious Greek Style yogurt with So Delicious “regular” coconut yogurt, the Greek Style yogurt had:
  • Less calories (130 vs. 150)
  • Less fat (4.5 grams vs. 6 grams)
  • Less sugar (11 vs. 20 grams)
  • More fiber (8 grams vs. 2 grams)
  • More protein (2 grams vs. 1 gram)
  • Both are a good source of calcium (30% vs. 25%)
  • Both are made with 6 active and live cultures
  • At our store, they were the exact same price
Have you tried coconut Greek Style yogurt? What’s your verdict?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What You Need to Know If You Decide to Use Active Dry Yeast

I like to use quick rising yeast (also known as instant yeast or rapid rise yeast) in my allergen-free and gluten-free recipes bread recipes. This choice is both practical and functional; using instant yeast means that my baking projects will take less time, and since I’m not using gluten there is no second rise and no need to use the slower acting yeast.

But like Heidi Bayer, who blogs at Brooklyn Allergy Mom, you might feel more comfortable with active dry yeast. This is the most commonly used yeast in traditional recipes, and the one that most of us learned to bake with.

When I met Heidi a couple weeks back she shared that the first time she made my English Muffins recipe from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts, she had some difficulty. She had chosen to use active dry yeast, and didn’t give it enough time to rise. (She has since made them successfully at least a dozen times, and was raving about them!) Of course, we both laughed about the fact that she picked one of the most difficult recipes from my book to try first, but it’s one of my favorites too!

My first suggestion is always to use instant yeast when baking gluten-free, but you might be like Heidi and prefer active dry yeast. When you use instant yeast, you can mix it right in with your dry ingredients. When using active dry yeast, you must activate it first. Here’s a video that shows you how:

If you want more, there are crash courses in the book on how to adapt a recipe to use active dry yeast, and how to activate yeast.

Do you bake with yeast? What’s your favorite yeast?

Monday, August 20, 2012

I’ll be Signing Books Soon!

Yes, I’ve been working on a book-signing plan, and over the next few months I am planning to be at a number of food allergy events in the Northeast.

Here’s where I’ll be:

Philadelphia: Sunday, September 09, 2012
Kids with Food Allergies Strides for Safe Kids
500 W Germantown Pike
Plymouth Meeting Mall, 
Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania

Albany: Saturday, September 15, 2012

FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
The Crossings of Colonie, 580 Albany Shaker Road,
 Loudonville, NY

Boston area: Sunday, September 23, 2012

FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
Hopkinton State Park 
Main Beach, 268 Cedar Street,
 Hopkinton, MA

Conn: Sunday, October 7, 2012

FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
Milford Green,
 Broad Street, 
Milford, CT

Westchester, NY: Saturday, October 13, 2012

FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
Glen Island Park,
 Pelham Road,
 New Rochelle, NY

Long Island: Sunday, October 14, 2012

FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
Eisenhower Park,
 Hempstead Turnpike (Parking area 6 and 6A),
 East Meadow, NY

NJ: Sunday, October 21, 2012

FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
Wild Duck Pond,
 1133 E. Ridgewood Ave,
 Ridgewood, NJ

These are all fund-raising events, and anyone can attend. A portion of the proceeds from books sold will be donated to the hosting organizations.

If you already have Learning to Bake Allergen-Free bring it along and I’ll sign it for you! If not, stop by and check it out, or just come say hi. I’m also happy to answer any allergen-free or gluten-free baking questions that you have.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Better Batter Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix – A Product Review

A couple of months ago I received a box of gluten-free mixes from Better Batter to try. I had the good fortune of meeting the Better Batter team at the gluten-free EXPO in Chicago, and I heard a lot of great things about their mixes. There were attendees clamoring to purchase the mixes at that event. These products have very loyal fans.

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to try them, and since we were going to be away on my son’s birthday, that seemed to be the perfect to make the chocolate cake and take it along with us to my mother’s house.

In Learning to Bake Allergen-Free I include an entire chapter on adapting gluten-free baking mixes with allergen-free substitutions to make some delicious baked goods. In this case, I decided to stay as true to the mix as possible, to give it a good road test.

The only added ingredient I needed to substitute for was the eggs – instead of three eggs, I used ¾ cup of applesauce. The other added ingredients were oil and water – easy!

This was the result:

The first thing I noticed was how flat the resulting cake was. Certainly with the eggs it would have fluffed up more, but I wondered – was this meant for a single layer cake? No, the directions clearly expect you to use two rounds or one 9 by 13-inch pan.

I would compare this to Gluten-Free Pantry’s chocolate cake, or King Arthur Flour’s Gluten-Free chocolate cake (two of my favorites), so I took a closer look at the labels. The Gluten-Free Pantry mix – intended for a single layer cake – weighs 425 grams. The King Arthur Flour mix – intended for a double layer cake – weighs 624 grams. The Better Batter mix is 517 grams – right smack in the middle of the other two.

Next time, I would make this mix differently – I would most likely choose a medium-sized baking pan (8 by 10-inch), instead of the 9 by 13-inch pan. This would result in a cake that is about the thickness I would expect. The other change I would make is to add chocolate hemp milk instead of the water. I think this would give the mix a nice flavor.

Have you tried Better Batter mixes? What do you think?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ooops, I Took a Bite

It’s the scenario we all want to avoid – accidentally eating a small amount of a food we are allergic to. In my case it happened while we were on vacation – and it happened to me rather than my food-allergic son.

It was brunch at a lovely cafe in Pasadena called Le Grande Orange. As I’ve mentioned, breakfast and brunch can be the most difficult meals when wheat, dairy, and eggs are not options, so naturally I was worried about what my son could eat.

It’s important at this point to note that the problem I encountered was entirely of my own doing, and not a reflection on the restaurant (which I rated very highly on Allergy Eats).

The menu had some great tortilla options – listed as corn tortillas. We grilled the server – are you sure they are really all corn flour? No wheat in them? What other ingredients? Butter? Eggs? They passed the tests, and we determined that the tortillas were safe for both my son and me. He ordered them. I, at the last minute, impulsively ordered the quiche, which I saw pass by our table and looked fabulous. I can eat eggs and dairy, and it had been months since I had quiche… maybe longer.

My plate arrived and smelled fabulous. I put the fork into the quiche and brought it to my lips, and then I realized – I can’t eat this, it has a wheat crust. To say I took a bite is not quite accurate; I ate less than a crumb. And I felt ridiculous. I called the server over, asked her to wrap the quiche for my other son to take home, and ordered the chicken tortillas (the same meal my food-allergic son had).

I thought I dodged the bullet, but a couple of hours later (while we were at the Dodgers game) I was very glad we were seated close to a restroom. I won’t describe the symptoms further, but it was clearly a reaction to the gluten. I was happy that my symptoms weren’t worse.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ten Things I Learned at BlogHer12 (and a Couple I Didn’t)

You might expect this post to be a rundown of specific blogging techniques or tools that can help bloggers be more successful – after all, that’s what the BlogHer conference is supposed to be about. But as you will see, I didn’t learn much about that. For me, the value of this conference was the human connections. I learned more by walking around and experiencing the vibe (and yes – there is a very high energy vibe at BlogHer) than I did sitting in the conference rooms.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Jenny Sprague (who blogs at Multiple Food Allergy Help) has a smile that can light up The Grand Ballroom. It’s no wonder her son is so adorable!

2. Joanne Tombrakos (who I met two years ago at BlogHer and who blogs at One Woman’s Eye) is masterful at asking for (and getting) what she wants.

3. My sister, Andree Santini (who I dragged to her first BlogHer conference and who blogs at Inspiration for Creativity) actually owns a little black dress and a white pencil skirt. Who knew that my sister had become a fashionista? (For the record, I don’t own either of these garments.)

4. Mimi Holtz (who I met at BlogHer last year and who blogs at Mimi Avocado) taught me that the Reed avocado season is about to start. Reed avocados have a tougher skin than Hass, and are larger and rounder. Here's a picture of one I took when I visited Mimi's farm last month. Maybe I'll get one of these in the box of avocados I just ordered from California Avocados Direct:

5. I should always bring food with me. With allergies to wheat and soy, if there is a gluten-free food line I can generally eat 95% of what is served. I’ve been spoiled; The Nourished Conference didn’t serve a thing that wasn’t gluten-free, and the BlogHer Food and BlogHer conferences last year had to-die-for gluten-free food lines. I expected that I would be eating like a queen here – not so. Food ingredients were labeled, but nearly all said “contains gluten.” Note to self: ALWAYS bring safe food.

6. Speaking of food… Udi’s Gluten-Free bread makes fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches – and thank goodness they were in the EXPO area serving up samples. I did (once again) put in my plug for them to make an also-egg-free bread so that more of us (including my son) can enjoy their bread. (In the meantime, you’ll just have to make my terrific allergen-free sandwich bread recipe from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free.)

7. So Delicious makes non-dairy ice cream treats on a stick! I visited the So Delicious booth as often as the Udi’s booth to snag samples and chat with Gail. I still think the cookie dough coconut milk ice cream is the best, but when the So Delicious team wandered through the Grand Ballroom after lunch (where all I could eat was lettuce) with samples, I wanted to hug them all!

8. It’s a really bad idea to put featured sponsors on the 42nd floor when all the action is on the second and third floor. I only made it upstairs for about ten minutes (but it took me at least 15 minutes to get an elevator back downstairs). (Just keeping it real here.)

9. Nearly everyone knows someone with food allergies or food restrictions. At the beginning of the conference, BlogHer does their version of “speed dating” where we stand in two lines and spend two minutes meeting new people and exchanging cards. I heard many versions of “My friend’s daughter has food allergies,” or “I suspect that I’m allergic to gluten.” Yup, no surprise there.

10. And, speaking of those cards, there’s not much point in collecting a pile of them if you can’t remember who anyone is!

And a couple of things I didn’t learn:

1. I didn’t learn how to connect better with brands. The sessions on that topic were overflowing and I was turned away (multiple times).

2. Despite attending (and snagging a seat at) a session called Podcasting 101, which was billed as everything you need to know about how to create a podcast, I didn’t learn a thing about how to create a podcast.

Overall, I was disappointed in the programming – not enough variety in the topics, not enough seats in the sessions to accommodate the 5000 attendees, way too much self-promotion and not enough practical how-to advice. The keynote speakers, on the other hand, were fabulous! We heard from Martha Stewart on Friday and Katie Couric on Saturday. All I can say is, wow!

Next year, BlogHer will be in Chicago at the end of July. Will I go? The jury is out. what about you? Will you go next year?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Food Allergy Dining Adventures in Southern California

I was in Southern California recently. We hadn’t yet been to visit my oldest son since he moved there for work earlier this year, so a week in the LA area seemed to be the right thing to do for a family vacation this year. Of course, I worried about the food – but not too much, as I did some research ahead of time, and I expected California to be very gluten-free and vegan friendly.

On our first night we went to The Cheesecake Factory in Pasadena (where my son lives). This is the Cheesecake Factory that Sheldon and his friends frequent on the TV series The Big Bang Theory. I can report that the inside of the restaurant doesn’t look a bit like the setting on the TV show, and we didn’t have Penny for our waitress.

I asked if they had a gluten-free menu. The person seating us said, “No, but I expect we will soon with gluten-free becoming so popular.” Hmmm… gluten-free as a fad, interesting. Nevertheless, they were able to accommodate my gluten-free diet and my son’s food-allergy diet without any difficulty. We skipped the cheesecake.

Day two was Disneyland! I had made advance reservations at the Blue Bayou (which happens to be part of the scenery for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction). I had heard that Disneyworld was the master at handling food allergies, but wasn’t sure about Disneyland. The restaurant had advance warning of our dietary restrictions, and it came up on the computer when we checked in.

Shortly after being seated, the chef came out to meet with us, and took my order for a gluten-free meal and my son’s order for an allergen-free meal. When my son tried to adapt his own dish with the usual “Can you do the vegetables steamed, no butter?” the chef responded by suggesting he make a version special for him. (Yes!) We ate well that night, but here’s the catch – while both my son and I were thrilled with our meals, my husband and older son thought there meals were just okay. That was a first.

Later in the week we took a road trip to wine and avocado country, and met my friend and fellow blogger, Mimi Holtz, for breakfast at Annie’s CafĂ© in Lake Elsinore, a stone’s throw from Temecula (where the wineries are). Breakfast with food allergies is hard – especially when you are allergic to eggs, wheat, and milk. We had been making our own breakfast at my son’s apartment, so this was our only restaurant breakfast. I had called ahead, and learned that Annie’s had gluten-free pancakes. Good for me, but not for Patrick. I asked if he could order ribs or steak for breakfast and Annie responded, “This is Annie’s. You can have anything on the menu anytime you want.” Good, we should be set.

When ordering, I asked for the gluten-free pancakes. Our server said, “We don’t have gluten-free pancakes.” I decided not to panic and asked her to check (now wondering whether anything I was told when I called was correct). “Yes! we do have gluten-free pancakes,” our server announced. Can I have any flavor gluten-free pancakes? Yes! I ordered chocolate chip gluten-free pancakes and Kevin ordered the chocolate chip pancakes with gluten. His looked like this:

And mine looked like this:

I daresay, mine were better.

Patrick ordered a burger, no bun, and fries, and he was quite happy with his meal.

But while we there, we were treated to some entertainment. Annie herself likes to greet new visitors by making them wear silly hats. My husband earned the chicken hat because he wouldn’t tell Annie his real name. Kevin had a pirate hat. They both wore green because we were visiting Mimi's avocado farm later that day. Pat's hat was some kind of animal:

I got to wear the hippie hat. It’s a good look, don’t you think?

We were told that we had to keep our hats on throughout the meal, or we would be forced to dance. Because we kept our hats on, the staff danced for us! While the staff at Annie’s likes to joke around, they take their food very seriously!

Who else has vacationed in Southern California with food allergies? What are your restaurant picks?