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Fab or Flop Friday – Vegan Yogurt, Part 1

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My friend has a nanny goat that she feeds a corn-free grain mix, and It’s been wonderful to have a source for non-bovine dairy products! However, the goat is having a baby, so no more goat milk for us for a little while. Since I’ve been really enjoying making yogurt lately, I started looking for a way to make non-dairy yogurt. I found a company that had a vegan yogurt starter, so naturally, I jumped on it.

We use hemp milk on our cereal and to make non-dairy ice cream, so it seemed only natural to try using that for our yogurt, despite the fact that the vegan yogurt starter said it was designed for rice milk or soy milk. I’d found online reviews where people were trying it with almond milk, so why not try hemp milk? To give the vegan yogurt starter a fair chance, I decided to do side-by-side batches of yogurt with both the vegan starter and the last of my goat’s milk yogurt.

I accidentally over-heated the hemp milk. It probably got to 140 degrees or so. I must have gotten interrupted while the milk was heating. Not that that sort of thing ever happens around here with a one-year-old and a four-year-old underfoot. Oh, well. I normally heat the goat milk to 180 and let it cool from there, so I figured it was no big deal. It looked fine, it smelled fine, so I boldly carried on.

Once the hemp milk cooled to 110, I split the milk into two bowls, adding my homemade goat’s yogurt to one and the powdered vegan yogurt starter to the other. I stirred them up, poured the mixtures into pint-size jelly jars, keeping each batch carefully separated, and put them in the oven to incubate. Now, I’ve never tried incubating yogurt in the oven before. Usually, I put the jars of yogurt with a heating pad into a little insulated bag that I have. But, alas, my batch this time was too large for my regular method, so I stuck them in the oven. It was substantially more challenging than I thought it would be to keep the yogurt at a consistent temperature. They got too hot, too cold, and the oven just pretty much wasn’t my friend that day. Oops.

I let it incubate for a long time – 6 hours or so, just like I normally would. The liquid inside the jars had separated and looked a bit less than yogurt. I kept checking on them, hoping something miraculous would happen. I eventually conceded that nothing amazing was going to happen, and put the “yogurt” in the fridge overnight.

Watch for Part 2 next week to find out if this was Fab or a Flop!

Tuesday Tips – Making a Plan

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My family has recently moved.  A pack-all-your-things-and-move-across-the-country type of move.  There are several things that happen when you move: You lose all your good hunting grounds for allergen-free foods, your kitchen gadgets end up in boxes marked “office supplies – storage room”, and your routine is lost.  It’s like discovering food allergies all over again!

One thing I have neglected on working on is The Meal Plan.

I have a love-hate relationship with plans in general, but I grudgingly admit that The Meal Plan has helped simplify dinner for me.  When I don’t work on The Meal Plan, my days are filled with unpacking, trying to start up a business, juggling appointments of all kinds, playing with my toddler, getting the bigger kids to and from school and suddenly … the witching hour hits where everyone is hungry and cranky and I’m looking at my kitchen in amazement because there is nothing ready to eat.

The Meal Plan.   The Forgetful Professor

There are many great things about having one. You know in advance what ingredients you need.  You can buy in bulk to cook (or freeze) ahead which can save you money.  You can start your dinner in the crockpot in the morning and let it simmer all day and be ready when you are.  You can post it prominently so complainers can get it over with, and all others can eagerly anticipate the glorious mouthwatering food that you can create.

But seriously.  The Meal Plan helps me because I am more like an absent-minded professor working on the big ideas of life, and having The Meal Plan charted out and in place is like having someone follow me around reminding me to pick up my socks.

Now I have many grand ideas about how to meal plan.  Right now I’m working for a 2 week rotation.  I’d love to expand it a little further, and possibly rotate seasonal meals through as well (potato salad in the summer time, for instance.)

I would love to hear what works for other people though.  Especially in attempting to tame food allergy cooking.  What works for bulk and batch cooking?  Do you have a month’s worth of meals you can work with?  Have you tried once-a-month cooking?  Do tell!

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep looking for my crockpot.  Maybe it’s in that box labeled “shed – tools”…

Homemade Pancake Mix

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pancakesI love pancakes. I really do. Pancakes are one of the easiest gluten-free bread products to make. You can make them free of any and all allergens, hide fruits and veggies in them, and add in supplements like protein powder or extra calcium. What’s not to love about that?

But Wait, There’s More!

Pancakes are a big time-saver for me because once a week or so I make a big batch of pancakes, then save the leftovers in the fridge for quick breakfasts later. When I’m really on my game, I even remember to flash freeze some for the future. It takes the same amount of time to mix up and clean up after a single or a triple batch of pancakes; the only difference is the actual cooking time, so I might as well cook big batches to save time in the long run.

Can It Get Any Better?

YES! Of course, using a pancake mix speeds the process up even more. But rather than purchasing a pricy ready-made Gluten-Free Pancake mix, I make my own. I’ve adapted the pancake recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook to create an allergen-free pancake mix. (The recipe is on p. 126 in my copy. Yes, I do have that fact memorized. Why do you ask?)

Homemade Everything-Free Pancake Mix

12 Cups Gluten-Free, Corn-Free Flour Mix (right now my mix is 3 Cups Tapioca Starch, 3 Cups Buckwheat Flour, 3 Cups Bean Flour, and 3 Cups Amaranth Flour.)

¾ Cup Sugar

½ Cup Baking Powder (make your own if you’re avoiding corn or other grains)

1 Tablespoon Salt

¾ Cup Flax Seed Meal (optional, but helpful if you’re omitting the egg)

¼ Cup Guar Gum (optional)

Mix together thoroughly. Or in my case, put it in a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake it up, baby!

To make a single batch of pancakes, mix together:

1 Cup of Homemade Pancake Mix

2 Tablespoons Oil (we prefer Olive Oil)

1 egg (optional)

1 Cup Liquid (this could be Water, Juice, Non-Dairy Milk, etc.)

Adjust the consistency for your preferred pancake thickness and fry on a medium-hot griddle.

I usually sprinkle in some hemp-based protein powder as well as some calcium powder. If you want to add supplements, just be sure to adjust the liquid in the recipe accordingly. If you want to sneak some fruits and veggies in there, just finely grate or puree your addition, mix in ¼ cup of fruit or vegetable per cup of flour, and adjust the liquid in the recipe as needed. Play spy music in the background while mixing and make sure none of the little people are watching for the full effect!

Tuesday Tips – Marinating Meat

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I bought a bunch of chicken breasts on sale at the store this week. And by a bunch, I really mean 4 family-size packs. It was a good sale and I had a coupon, so I loaded up.

But of course, that means I need to freeze the chicken. I could have just rinsed the chicken to remove the traces of corn left from the packaging, (maybe) trimmed them (there were still some chunks of bone and cartilage on the meat), popped them into freezer bags, and gone along my merry way. That would have been frugal, efficient, and helpful.

Grilled Chicken on SaladHowever, that’s not what I did. I decided to make up a couple of marinades to add to the baggies. This extra step means that the breasts soak in the marinade as they freeze, and again as they thaw, which develops a nice flavor in the meat. You could do this with any other meat as well, such as beef, pork, lamb, etc. To prepare the meal, I just pull out the meat a day or two before we want to eat it, and after it thaws, I can just hand the marinated chicken to hubby to grill while I make a salad. Voila! Marinated, grilled chicken over salad for dinner: a restaurant-quality, allergen-free meal my whole family will enjoy. Serve gluten-free bread with non-dairy margarine on the side to top it off. Now that’s frugal, efficient, helpful, and tasty!

For an extra time-saving bonus, make a double batch of each marinade and store 2 baggies of meat in each flavor. Just watch the timing of when you actually serve the meat so that you don’t get bored with repetitive flavors. Labeling the baggies helps. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Here’s a recipe for Chicken Speidies, a specialty from our hometown to get you in the mood!

Friday’s Flip or Flop: Tortillas

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Cravings.

You know, that deep down feeling that you “just gotta have” chocolate?  Or Chinese food?  Or a really good taco?  Yeah, you know that feeling – the one that makes you reach for the phone and order take-out, because you can’t go one more minute without that yummy food.

Eating allergen-free brings the concept of cravings to a whole new level.  You can’t order in food any more.  Going to the store for something ready-made is problematic, because most foods processed through a factory contain all sorts of allergens. Usually at least one of mine.

Friday’s Flip or Flop features our attempts at satisfying our cravings.  You’ll notice there are more flops than flips.  I like to think of it as “failing forward to success.”

Flour Tex-Mex tortillas

Image via Wikipedia

Today’s flip is the all-purpose gluten-free tortilla!  Soft Tacos, burritos, tortilla chips, quesadillas, fajitas, you name it! Mexican food revolves around this circular piece of flatbread!

I was living in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho, and desperately needed gluten-free tortillas.  So I opened not 1 or 2, but 3 cookbooks, and started to synthesize a recipe for tortillas.  Having never made tortillas of any kind before, I also searched the internet for advice and tips on how to cook a tortilla.

On my first attempt, I discovered that gluten-free tortillas are much stickier than their wheat-y counterparts, and ended up with globby blobs that didn’t do much.  On my second attempt, I discovered that my gluten-free recipe was missing a key ingredient – a fat of some kind.  Oh my goodness! The difference adding in some fat (palm oil, in this case) made!  I’ll not bore you with all the details, because it took a full 6 months of flopping before I was able to flip a proper gluten-free tortilla.  There is a definite learning curve to making a great gluten-free tortilla and learning the little tricks takes time.

Gluten-Free Tortillas

2 Cups Gluten-free flour (my current mix is 1 part sweet rice flour, 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part tapioca flour)
1/3 Cup Palm oil
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar (sugar carmelizes and contributes to browning)
3/4 Cup Warm water

tortilla press 001

Mix dry ingredients together.
Cut in palm oil.
Stir in warm water until you have a stiff dough.
Separate dough into 6 or 8 balls.
Press or roll between lightly floured parchment paper (makes clean up sooo much easier!)
Cook on very hot griddle until just toasted, about 20 seconds per side.

Tips:

  • After flipping the tortilla once, use your spatula to press on the tortilla.  This encourages the tortilla to cook quickly, and helps the bubbles form the pliability you need.
  • Do not cook too long because these gluten-free tortillas dry out quickly, and your burritos will be sad.
  • Other fats or oils can be used – you might need to adjust the amount depending on how saturated a fat you’re using, and whether or not it is liquid at room temperature.

Mac & Cheese vs. Multiple Food Allergies

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Annie's macaroni and cheeseWhen most people say, “I made macaroni and cheese”, it usually means they cracked open a blue box that may or may not say “Kraft” on it. Or, if they’re trying a little harder, a box of Annie’s. Maybe, just maybe, they’re making it from scratch. It turns out that the recipe isn’t as hard as Kraft would like us to believe after all. Either way, it’s a mom’s easy way out for making a kid-friendly meal.

But once you enter the world of cooking for multiple food allergies, it’s a whole different scene. And while Amy’s Kitchen can help some of us, it doesn’t work for everyone. Not to mention that it’s a bit pricey for something so basic. On the whole, I’ve found that trying to create allergen-free versions of favorite processed foods is very, very challenging, and I don’t bother. But there are days that I just want the kid to be able to eat to be able to eat the same thing as the rest of the kids at preschool. And then there are days when *I* really just want to eat comfort foods.

Here’s what “I made mac and cheese” means at our house.  It’s dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, egg-free, corn-free, soy-free, nut-free and yeast-free.

Rice pasta (we prefer Tinkyada Brand), boiled in salted water, mixed with a batch of vegan, soy-free, Better-than-Cheese Sauce. I mix steamed broccoli or peas into my portion, since the kid won’t touch “peels,” as he calls all plant matter at the moment.

Yup, it’s just that simple. And if it just so happens that you have the sauce on hand already (it freezes nicely in ice cube trays), it’s just as fast as the stuff in the box. But it’s allergen-free, and it has got to be better for you than the unpronounceable chemicals found in so many processed foods.

Is it exactly mac and cheese? Well, if I’m being perfectly honest today, no, it’s not. Better-than-Cheese sauce doesn’t exactly mimic all of the flavor and texture of real dairy cheese. What did you expect from something made out of carrots? But it looks like mac and cheese, tastes yummy, and, most importantly, the kid will eat it without a fight.

There’s something indescribably wonderful about being able to enjoy a classic comfort food like macaroni and cheese, and being able to share that moment with your food-allergic kids.

Baking Powder – The Mystery Explained!

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Double-Acting Baking PowderBaking powder is one of those basic ingredients that shouldn’t be complicated, right? Ah, but do you want single-acting or double-acting baking powder? Aluminum-free or not? Oh, and by the way, except for Featherweight baking powder, it’s all got cornstarch in it – rather a problem for those of us with a corn allergy. (Featherweight is made with potato starch, so if you have both corn and nightshade intolerances, avoid that product too.)

So what IS this apparently mysterious substance anyway? It’s a chemical leavener that has been around for about 150 years or so. Basically, it’s an acid substance mixed with an alkaline substance (base) in powdered form with an inert starch to absorb moisture and keep the mixture free-flowing. Remember that classic science fair project, the volcano? Baking soda is the base/alkaline substance, vinegar is the acid; put the two together and you have a volcano of carbon dioxide bubbles erupting out of your mixture. Yeah, that’s more or less what baking powder is supposed to do for your baking.

Single-Acting vs. Double-Acting

If you’ve read any recipes from our grandmothers’ era, the recipes sometimes call for single- or double-acting baking powder. That refers to when the acid-base reaction occurs during the baking process. All baking powders begin to react when exposed to moisture – even just the humidity in the air. (That’s part of why the cornstarch is added – to absorb the moisture and prevent a premature reaction.) So in single-acting baking powder, the whole reaction happens as soon as you mix the wet and dry ingredients together. That’s why you need to get your muffins in the oven as quickly as possible after mixing them up. As soon as you get the powder wet, it starts to release carbon dioxide bubbles to raise your batter. If you wait too long, the reaction will be complete, all those carbon dioxide bubbles will have escaped the batter, and you’ll have a muffin that can masquerade as a hockey puck.

Double-acting baking powder contains a second acid. This acid does not react when wet, it reacts when exposed to heat. So the first reaction occurs as the baking powder gets wet, and the second occurs as the food actually bakes in the oven. This allows you a bit more time to get your muffins in the oven, and is a little insurance against making dense little hockey pucks. Even if some of your bubbles escape before the oven, you’ve got a second chance to make more bubbles with the second acid as the batter heats in the oven. Most commercial baking powders in the US are double acting, and most recipes are written accordingly.

Aluminum-Free Baking Powder

Ok, so how does aluminum figure into all this? Well, it turns out that most of the commonly used acids in commercial baking powder contain aluminum. And since there is some connection between aluminum and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, many people wish to avoid ingesting too much aluminum. Not to mention that it can impart an unpleasant flavor to your food.

What’s a baker to do? Make your own, of course. Turns out it’s really quite simple to make a single-acting, corn-free, aluminum-free baking powder.

The standard recipe is:

1 part baking soda (this is your base)

2 parts cream of tartar (this by-product of winemaking is your acid)

1 part inert starch (such as arrowroot starch or tapioca starch)

You may omit the starch if you’re not trying to store the powder for future use. Or you may double it, as you wish, just adjust your recipe accordingly. So if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking powder, use ¼ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon cream of tartar and whatever amount of starch suits your fancy. I can’t find a way to make homemade double-acting baking powder, so keep in mind that you’ll need to get that batter in the oven pretty quick if you’re using homemade baking powder.

Science! It’s what’s for dinner. Or, perhaps, dessert!

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