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Fab or Flop Friday – Pesto Stuffed Chicken

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It’s a little known secret in our home that while I do most of the baking, my husband makes many of the dinners in our house.  So today, I’m letting him guest post.

We had these huge chicken breasts in the fridge.  Yes, they couldn’t have come from any chicken that was grown in any way that could be termed “natural.”  But they were on sale, and that’s a plus for our family.

The problem is, they were so thick, we couldn’t just bake them, grill them, or any of our other methods.  We had just done chicken nuggets, so we needed something different.  I suggested we fillet and stuff them.  That way the flavor gets into even the thickest part of the breast.

Not even thinking about it, I suggested all the ingredients that would make for a fine allergen-friendly pesto sauce.  Stuff that chicken with it, and you’ve got a tasty meal.

So, using what we had on hand, and refusing to look at a recipe, I threw this together.  The chicken was ridiculously easy to put together, so 10 minutes of prep, about an hour of cooking time, and dinner was on the table.  Enough time in there for me and our littlest one to watch an episode of Deep Space Nine.  You may choose something different to watch, that’s not integral.

But, was it fab, or a flop?

Kinda in between, honestly.  It was really good, but I didn’t put in anything acidic, and my lovely bride picked up on that immediately.  I should have thrown in a tablespoon of lemon juice, and I’ve adjusted the recipe accordingly.  Haven’t tried it yet, but I think it should be fantastic.

Pesto Stuffed Chicken

Allergen-Friendly Stuffed Chicken Breast

There weren't a lot of leftovers for the camera!

½ cup Fresh Basil
3 Garlic Cloves – coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1.5 tsp. Salt
¼ cup Feta Cheese* (or your favorite non-dairy cheese sub)
1 tbsp. Lemon Juice
3 lbs. Chicken Breast

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place basil, garlic, oil, salt, cheese and lemon juice in food processor and puree.

Cut each breast almost in half lengthwise.  Spoon a tablespoon of puree into the pocket of each breast.  Any remaining puree can be smeared on top of the breasts.  Place breasts into 9 x 13 casserole dish, cover and cook for 40 minutes.  Uncover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Internal temperature should reach 170 degrees on a meat thermometer, and juices should run clear.

Tuesday Tips – Salvaging Leftover Produce

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I like to get my produce through a co-op. It’s fresh, less expensive and there’s always a lot of variety.  The cost is the same each time, which makes budgeting easier, too. The challenge, of course, is that I never know what I’m going to get. Right now I have fennel, beets, kiwi and pears in my fridge – all foods that I would not typically buy. I have several tools that are really helpful for making sure the food doesn’t go to waste.

Supercook.com

Have you seen this handy little tool yet? It allows you to list what ingredients you have on hand, and the site will search for recipes with those ingredients. Even better, you can easily make exclusions like no dairy or no nuts – awesome for those of us with food allergies! The only drawback is that the search engine only seems to search through a handful of recipe sites, and doesn’t look at the numerous blogs that host recipes, like Food Allergies On Ice, for example.

But hey – I just found a recipe through there for beet and fennel soup. Who knew?

Stir-Fry

When I have a bunch of random veggies on hand, it frequently ends up in a stir-fry. As it turns out, the mix of veggies in a stir-fry isn’t nearly as important as the sauce on top. Put a little effort into a decent Chinese-style sauce, and all those veggies will be just wonderful. FYI – Coconut Aminos are an awesome replacement for soy sauce for the soy-free among us.

Soups

My other solution for odds and ends of vegetables is to put it all in a soup. This is one of those frugal things our grandmothers knew how to do, but we seem to have lost the art while in pursuit of the can opener. Well, when you have multiple food allergies, Campbell’s isn’t exactly an option anymore.

The secret to soup is in making a really flavorful broth. Don’t be afraid to use some herbs and spices! And you can throw all sorts of stuff in a soup, from last night’s salad (I saw that on a TV cooking show once)  to that random quarter-cup of broccoli that no one ate for dinner the other day. If you like, put some (or all) of the cooked soup into the blender or food processor to create a thick, cream-like soup.  This also has the advantage of hiding offending vegetables from picky eaters. Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

The different kinds of juices separated into layers making these neat striped popsicles.

If I have a lot of fruit on hand, I’ll run it through the juicer and make popsicles. Apple, carrot and kale is a decent recipe that my kiddo will actually eat if I call it a popsicle! Along the same lines, you could make a smoothie. Just freeze chunks of fruits and veggies and throw them in the blender to make a nice, thick beverage.  Delicious!

So there you go. No more excuses, ok? Go make fruits and veggies taste awesome!

 

 

 

 

Also shared at: frugallysustainable.com

Best of the Web – Chicken Nuggets

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If you’ve stumbled on this blog, you’re probably much like me, surfing the web, looking for new recipes to serve my family that accommodate our food allergies. While sometimes I can find a good recipe on a website such as AllRecipes.com or Food.com where the recipes are reviewed, some of the most creative recipes out there for those with multiple food allergies are on blogs. And unless the blogger has multiple comments discussing the recipe, there’s no way to know if it’s really any good or not. (Yes, that’s a reminder to go ahead and comment on our recipes!)

So, as Jaye and I stumble on really good recipes that are suitable for those with multiple food allergies, we’ll post the recipe with our review here. If you have a good recipe you’d like us to review, please feel free to email us!

The first recipe is for easy, baked, gluten-free Chicken Nuggets. Normally, we use the Fry Daddy for nuggets, but that’s so tedious that I really wanted to find a way to oven-fry the nuggets instead. Not to mention that it must be more healthful to bake them instead of deep frying.

Pros: This recipe was super-easy, and quite tasty. The kiddo gladly ate his nuggets dipped in honey. This recipe was easy to double, and would have been easy to freeze for a future meal.

Cons: We’re allergic to black pepper, so we omitted it. However, the remaining breading was still a little too spicy. Next time we’ll cut back on the cayenne. Also, the nuggets weren’t quite so crispy as we could have hoped for. We didn’t quite use all the oil the recipe called for – that might have been the difference.

Final Verdict: We’re going to add this recipe to the regular rotation, possibly changing up the spices to add variety. Two thumbs up!

Bonus Tip: Partially freeze the chicken breasts before cutting them into chunks. 15-20 minutes in the freezer should be enough to make the breasts easier to cut up without freezing them completely solid.

Tuesday Tips – Making the Most of Your Freezer Space

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“Cook once, eat twice” is a great motto to live by. Even better is “cook once, eat thrice!” Ok, so I made that one up, but it’s still true. Ideally, I try to make 3 meals every time I cook dinner. We eat dinner the first night, leftovers for lunch a couple of days later, and then a third portion goes in the freezer for a future dinner. When you have food allergies, and have to make every scrap of food from scratch, it only makes sense to double (or triple) up whenever possible.

By now you’ve noticed that I have a lot in my freezer. All those cooked beans, marinated meat, flash-frozen gluten-free pancakes, plus leftovers can sure take up a bunch of room! Fortunately I have a gigantic freezer. Yup, be jealous. It was second-hand, aka pre-stained with food, and a bit dirty, but I’m good at overlooking that kind of thing. However, you can make the most of any size freezer by following a few simple rules of thumb.

Freeze it square, not round.

Here’s how NOT to store stuff in your freezer. See all those round containers? They’re all different shapes and sizes, and most are angled so that they’re smaller at the bottom than at the top.  Do you see how much wasted space there is? Oh, and every time you open the freezer, warm air rushes in, and the freezer has to work hard to cool it off again, so having that much airspace around your food is rather inefficient.

The most efficient way to freeze things is to keep them as square as possible. I use zippie bags a lot for this. I’ll freeze just about anything in a zippie bag, from pancakes to diced tomatoes!

Freeze it flat.

I put liquidy food in a zippie bag, lay it out flat in the freezer (I keep a clear spot on a shelf for this purpose) and let it freeze solid. Once frozen, it will hold that shape, making it easy to organize the baggies. This works for stuff like cooked beans and diced tomatoes. You can also freeze larger things like casseroles that don’t fit in baggies. Line a baking dish with plastic wrap, put your food in and freeze it solid. Because of the plastic wrap, you’ll be able to lift the food right out of the dish to wrap it up the rest of the way. When you’re ready to eat that meal, unwrap the food and put it right back in the same pan to cook it. This way, your pan isn’t stuck in the freezer, wasting space.

Label it.

The best way I know of to organize frozen food looks much like an office filing system. My big freezer came with some handy baskets, but you could use a shoebox just as well. Those frozen-flat baggies and casseroles sit nicely on edge, and it’s easy to flip through the pile to find what you need.

That’s provided you labeled the baggies, of course. You are labeling your baggies, right? Because if you don’t, whatever it is you stuck in that baggie will never see the light of day again. Trust me, I’ve got a mystery baggie in the freezer right now, and every time I see it, I think “I’ll figure that out later.” And then I shut the freezer and completely forget about it again. It’s been in there a loooong time, getting more freezer-burnt and less recognizable by the day.

Maybe I’ll look at it tomorrow. Or not…

Fab or Flop Friday – Making Vegan Yogurt, Part 2

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Part 1 is here, if you missed last week’s installment.

Yogurt isn’t hard to make. I’ve been successfully making yogurt from goat’s milk for a while. So it didn’t seem like a stretch to make non-dairy yogurt while my source of corn-free goat’s milk was on maternity leave.

It was, unequivocally, a flop.

The day after incubating my hemp milk yogurt, I tasted some. It was still very sweet like regular hemp milk, but also a smidge tart like yogurt – not at all what I was expecting, and not very tasty. Considering how the liquid had separated into watery yellow stuff and the off-taste of the liquid, it was a bit off-putting. I shoved the jars into the back of the fridge and tried to figure out what to do next.

It was a few days before I was brave enough to consider trying the yogurt again. At that point, I decided to strain the yogurt through cheesecloth. The batch with the goat’s milk yogurt starter had far more solids in it than the batch with the vegan yogurt starter, which was pretty much just liquid. I think out of 2 quarts of hemp milk, I ended up with one serving of actual yogurt – not much more than the goat’s milk yogurt I added to start with. And it was strange tasting yogurt, to be sure.

So then I had 1 serving of weird non-dairy yogurt, and a bowl full of whey-like stuff that tastes funny. I ate the yogurt. It wasn’t that great, but with enough granola mixed in, I could get over it. The whey-like stuff is a different matter. I tried it on cereal, but it was too sour. I tried it in pancake batter. That worked, but there was still more left. I thought about trying to make a smoothie, but the blender always seems to be dirty around here, and I didn’t have much fruit on hand.

I wasn’t about to commit the sin of letting it go to waste. I hate to waste anything. Even failed experiments usually find their way into being useful for something. So I made more pancakes – lots more pancakes.

Did I break down the hemp milk by overheating it to begin with, causing it to separate? Did I kill the culture with my uneven incubation temperatures (which would also explain the overly sweet taste)? Or do I need to use different non-dairy milk, since the vegan starter said it was optimized for rice milk or soy milk, and never said a word about hemp milk?

I think next time I’ll try making a smaller batch, using my usual incubation method, and using rice milk instead of hemp milk. Stay tuned for the continuing saga…

Funkalicious

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I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. A food allergy funk, if you will.

It all started on spring break. We had a lovely family day planned to go to a children’s museum, a bookstore where we had a coupon for a free children’s book, and to Nourish, our favorite food allergy-friendly restaurant. And the day was lovely, right up until we fed our oldest son a piece of absolutely delicious vegan cheesecake. Then his lip swelled up and he started having difficulty breathing. Then the day instantly became absolutely terrifying.

After a trip to the ER, a shot of epinephrine, and intravenous doses of both Benedryl and prednisone, our son was well enough that we could go home – a two-hour drive. Hubby and I did a lot of processing on that drive home. As Hubby says, it’s a major paradigm shift from “food can make you pretty sick” to “food can kill you.”

So it turns out that our boy is anaphylactic to walnuts. And, given the risk of cross-contamination, his allergist recommended that we avoid all tree nuts and peanuts. I’m now the type of mom that has to make sure the boy carries his Epi-Pen Jr. at all times and tries to figure out the best type medic-alert bracelet for a four-year-old. I no longer worry about keeping him healthy, I’m focused on keeping him alive.

So yeah, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, and I haven’t exactly been inspired to write about my misadventures in the kitchen as a result. In fact, I’ve been working on how much food can I serve without really having to cook (much). Rice cakes and sunbutter, cans of tuna fish, pasta boiled in broth, cereal, microwaved baked potatoes, dried fruit, avocados – all that kind of stuff. My menu plan has flown out the window, and I’m just trying to survive from one meal to the next.

It’s ok. I know this is a season and just part of dealing with what happened to my four-year-old. But it’s going to take a few weeks to get back on my game in the kitchen, and every small setback seems nearly insurmountable right now. Gooey gluten-free bread? Must mean I’m a failure. Floppy waffles? I just can’t do anything right, can I?

But you know what? The kids and I are still alive. The allergies lost the battle that day in the ER. We live to fight another day. And we will, somehow, win this war. Oh, the allergies may never disappear, but I look forward to the day when I no longer have to fear their terrible power over my family. The day when our food allergies will finally be, truly, on ice.

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