November 25, 2012

After Thanksgiving Soup

It's Sunday after Thanksgiving, the perfect lazy day to reflect on a weekend spent with family and friends, and ending with an easy, hearty meal to fill our stomachs for back-to-school.

By 1 pm Thanksgiving day, I'd handed the kids off to my brother for some incredible summer weather playground time, picked up the toys off the floor, and even set up the tables and chairs for a party of 16 with a 4 o'clock reservation to feast.

With a mix of relief and dread, I sat down to several huge mounds of clean laundry covering two-thirds of my living room rug, and started folding, sorting, and putting away baskets of clothes that had forced me to send the kids to school in mismatched and ill-fitting outfits for the past week.  I pulled my Honey Baked Ham out of the oven by two, and with an hour to spare, I prepped my quick and easy allergy-friendly desserts--Semi-Homemade Vegan Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding and Apple Cranberry Crisp.  Soon after, the guests started arriving and pouring wine--the party had begun!

Regardless of how much help and support I have before and during these parties, it's hard to ever completely put my guard down and relax.  This year, most of the food was allergy-friendly and safe for my kids to eat, but you are never 100 percent sure, especially when you're hosting a potluck.  One unsafe ingredient in one dish is enough to send a food allergic person to the ER, which is definitely the last place anyone wants to be on Thanksgiving night.

But I managed to sit back with a glass of wine and take a bit of time to enjoy a few small moments and conversations from the evening.  And thankfully, tummies were full and satisfied without incident.  There may even have a been a dance performance and a bit of karaoke thrown in for some good old family fun.

It would've been nice to sleep in the next day, as there were still a couple of dishes in the sink and some crumbs to wipe up, but we had other plans.  We were off for an overnight in old Sacramento--via Amtrak--destination...the Polar Express!  All of the pre-made pasta, leftovers, cold cuts, bread, fruit, and snacks, and an in-room fridge and microwave allowed me to create a safe menu of foods for Tristan during our trip.  Perfectly sunny weather, hanging out with friends, and trains everywhere contributed to a memorable weekend.  Such fun!

Whew!  Finally today, a day of rest.  We are cleaning house and I have our after Thanksgiving Soup on the stove, with a ham hock base, Honey Baked Ham The Soup Solution Green Garden Soup Mix, potatoes, carrots, celery, fennel, and yellow onions.  Containing no dairy, egg, or nuts (note: does contain wheat and soy),* Honey Baked Ham not only allowed me to contribute a hands-off crowd pleasing Thanksgiving day main dish, it is giving me a--quite possibly even better--hearty and delicious soup for our Sunday night dinner.  Paired with a few other leftovers, including our desserts, we will feast again tonight with very little effort.  What fun things do you do with your Thanksgiving day leftovers?

The soup hit the spot--so delicious, I want to eat it for days.  Thank you Honey Baked Ham!

We hope all of our GAW families had a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving, and a little break from the norm.

*Honey Baked Ham's ingredient and allergen information is not published on their website.  Please contact them at 866-492-HAMS for specific questions and up-to-date ingredient information.

November 19, 2012

Cran Mushroom Garbanzo Dressing

Thanksgiving has got to be my favorite "eating holiday".  Lots of hearty root vegetables, the variety of herbs, gravy, and fruity desserts.  There are so many different tastes going on...and I love them all!
Dressing Mix #2 in its pre-baked state.  Looks like it could benefit from
a bit of "flax egg" as a binder.

One of my favorite Turkey Day treats is stuffing, or "dressing" as our family calls it since we never once put it in the bird.  My mom used to make dressing every holiday until it fell off the menu.  I suspect it's because my Chinese mom never developed a taste for it.  Nevertheless when we were young, there would be boxes of dried breadcrumbs, stalks of celery, onion, and apples ready to be transformed.  She would make a huge batch and so we would always have a whole pan left over to my sheer delight.

For the past couple of years I have taken up the mantle of dressing maker.  For this Thanksgiving I wanted to see if it was possible to make a tasty grain-free alternative to traditional dressing.  How can dressing be made without breadcrumbs?  The answer may very well be beans.  Garbanzo beans, to be exact, which have a pretty mild flavor, so mild that I love using this kind of bean to make flourless blondie bars.

I had a newly discovered garbanzo (chickpea) stuffing recipe as a guide.  At the same time I referred to my standby bread-reliant recipe to get the right balance in flavors and texture.  My first batch came out a bit too mushy for my husband's taste and I was really turned off by the rosemary, which made the taste too bitter.  For my second go-around I used the full length of a 13"x9" rectangular pan, reduced the amount of broth from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup ,and used 4 ounces of mushrooms instead of 8 to further reduce the liquid.  I stirred the dressing twice during the cooking process and ended up cooking the pan for 45 minutes, totally uncovered.  The resulting dressing was pretty tasty but now it was a bit too crumbly and dry!

My first attempt at dressing was a bit too moist.  Reducing broth and mushroom juice should help.

I wasn't able to give this a third try before posting (Thanksgiving in three days -- yikes!).  To try to achieve the perfect moist but top-crunchy texture, I recommend not stirring during the baking process and (as I added in the recipe directions below) tossing the dressing with 1 egg or "flax egg" that will help bind all the ingredients. 

Cran Mushroom Garbanzo Dressing
Adapted from J McDonald's Chickpea Stuffing recipe that appeared on AllRecipes Asia and from Stacy Polcyn's Awesome Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Stuffing

1 Tbsp cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth
Two 15-oz cans of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1 1/4 cup peeled apple chunks (I used 1 large Fuji apple)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp salt
Ground pepper to taste
1 "flax egg": 1 Tbsp ground flaxmeal mixed with 3 Tbsp warm water
  1. Heat cooking oil in a medium pan.  Cook garlic, onions, and celery over medium heat for about 4 minutes.  
  2. Add sliced mushrooms, sage, and thyme to the pan.  Cook an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add in broth and cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Then turn off heat.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. In a separate bowl or deep dish, coarsely mash garbanzo beans.  In other words, don't worry about getting the beans completely mashed and smooth.  
  6. Drain and reserve some of the liquid from the vegetable mixture.  Combine mashed garbanzo beans with cooked vegetables/herbs.  Then stir in parsley, apple chunks, cranberries, and salt.
  7. Add flax/water mixture and stir until moistened.  Add ground pepper to taste.  Add some of the brothy/mushroomy liquid if the dressing is not holding together. 
  8. Spoon stuffing in a 13"x9" baking pan.  If it seems a little thin or loose, gently pack the dressing close together -- you may end up only using a 12"x8" space, for instance.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until stuffing begins to turn golden brown on the top.
As I mentioned, I have not tried to add the flaxmeal/water step at the time of publishing this post.  It's a bit of a leap of faith but I think it will work.  Please let me know how yours turned out!

November 12, 2012

Basil Pepita Pesto

My kids are a bit of an anomaly.  They aren't big fans of spaghetti and tomato sauce -- at least done my way -- so that takes away a really easy dinner option for us.  And since we already need to avoid all dairy products and nuts, you know that there are plenty of other quick and easy meals that are already banned from our menu!  In truth they don't mind pasta so much but they are not huge fans of marinara.  And the sauteed vegetables that I sneak into generic spaghetti sauce aren't winning any points with the kids either.

So I've been looking for ways to make a healthier, tastier pasta dish.  I decided to think outside of the tomato box and have been checking out pesto recipes.  Pesto is usually made with some sort of nut (usually pine nuts) and cheese such as parmesan.  Any given restaurant pesto sauce would be a no-go for my milk-allergic, nut-allergic boys.  Thanks to the internet, all sorts of variations can be found!  It just becomes a matter of choosing which recipes suit your tastes and food allergies.

I was drawn to a raw recipe from the blog kale and kass (with a side of sass) because it uses seeds and vitamin B12-fortified nutritional yeast flakes.  My family follows a mostly plant-based diet so a sauce that is rich in protein, iron, and B12 -- stuff that is a little harder to come by when you take meat out of your diet -- is music to my ears!  Instead of kale, I substituted fresh basil for the kale because, in my mind, pesto just isn't pesto without a fragrant herb in its midst. While the flavor ended up being pretty good, the texture that my weak food processor could produce was unacceptable.  It was impossible for my food processor to get a smooth consistency out of whole seeds.  The end result was really coarse and I kept getting seed stuck in my teeth.  Ouch.

Because I liked the flavor so much, I tried the recipe again but changed out raw pumpkin seeds and, instead, opted for roasted pepitas, the inner, edible parts of pumpkin seeds.  Much better texture and the taste was great! 

Basil Pepita Pesto
Adapted from kale and kass' Kale and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

2 cups pepitas, roasted
2 packed cup of basil leaves
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
  1. Put all ingredients except for the sale in a food processor.  Process until pepitas are smooth, pausing occasionally to stir and scrape down the sides.  Add more water if necessary.  
  2. When you have achieved the consistency you like, taste to see if you want to add salt.  I used roasted, salted pepitas so I did not add any extra salt.  Add, taste to see if you want to add more basil, nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor, lemon juice, or garlic.  When in doubt, add more garlic...
  3. The pesto will be very thick.  Spread it on toast or spoon into baked potatoes.  When using pesto with pasta, reserve some hot water from just-boiled pasta to toss with the pesto and noodles.
How did my kids like the pesto?  Eh.  They enjoyed the novelty of the taste for one meal.  After that, they weren't interested in it.  Bummer.  The search for a kid-winner pasta sauce continues for me...but at least you and your kids some safe and easy pesto yourselves!

November 5, 2012

Semi-Homemade Vegan Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Phew!  We got through Halloween unscathed and happy!  Not only does Halloween represent all things fall, it marks the start of a busy holiday season.  Once Halloween rolls around, it's nonstop action through New Year's, full of holiday parties, gatherings, and school celebrations.

Honoring family traditions is a big part of the holiday season for me, and since I am now raising food allergic children, new family recipes must be created and will be hopefully handed down.  As a child, my favorite Thanksgiving dishes included my mom's ambrosia and yams with toasted marshmallows, both of which I've been able to modify as part of a selection of allergy-safe sides for Thanksgiving.

Over the years, I've come to understand the importance of making most or all of our Thanksgiving feast safe to eat for all the kids, instead of just one or two dishes. They are amazed at such a vast offering of foods, and we can really share in a wonderful common experience--trying new foods, and enjoying one other's company.

This year, I was inspired by a Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding recipe out of Food Magazine's October 2012 issue, which was recreated in Jun Belen's blog, and posted on my friend Sabrina's Facebook page (there's something to be said for spending time on Facebook).  I had some bananas ripening and had never made bread pudding before, so I thought it might be a good recipe to experiment with.

But then I had an even more brillant revelation on the heels of my Pumpkin Spice Latte officially being added to Starbuck's fall beverage menu--Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding.  A bit fancier version of the Pumpkin Muffins with Chocolate Chips I usually make the kids around this time of year, but uses the same Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread and Muffin Mix.  Perfect with soy or other safe vanilla ice cream.

If you need to go gluten-free, try out The Family Chef Amy Fothergill's Gluten-free Vegan Pumpkin Muffin recipe, where she uses her tried and true Gluten-free Flour Blend.  Otherwise, you can use the Trader Joe's box mix.

I ended up halving the original bread pudding recipe, which was perfect because it's a really rich dessert.  Half uses one bread recipe, whereas the whole would require a double bread recipe.  And because of how sweet and deliciously rich it was on its own, I omitted the powdered sugar for dusting.

Semi-Homemade Vegan Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding (NO Dairy, Egg, or Nuts), based on Food Magazine's Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

For the Pumpkin Bread
Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread and Muffin Mix
2 egg equivalents of Ener-G Egg Replacer (1 T. Ener-G + 4 T. warm water)
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Water

For the Chocolate
1 cup safe milk (dairy-free milks include soy, flax, almond, or rice)
1-1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate (try Trader Joe's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips for a dairy-free option, or Baker's Chocolate for a soy and dairy-free option)
1/2 tablespoon instant coffee powder (I had Starbucks VIA in my cabinet)
1/2 tablespoon butter or margarine (Earth Balance or soy-free Earth Balance are dairy-free)
1-1/2 servings Ener-G Egg Replacer (that's 3/4 Tablespoon Ener-G and 3 Tablespoons warm water, whisked)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Bake pumpkin bread according to box instructions (or make Amy's GF vegan version)

2. Grease an 8 inch square baking pan with Earth Balance.

3. Cut pumpkin bread into slices, then cubes, and place evenly in one layer in the baking pan.  Place in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes to lightly toast.

4.  Stir milk, chocolate, coffee, and butter or margarine in a double broiler.  If you don't have a double broiler, you can use a metal bowl or small pot in a big pan or pot with simmering water.  Stir constantly until chocolate melts and ingredients are combined, a few minutes.

5. Whisk Ener-G, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Add warm chocolate mixture.  Press the bread down to absorb the chocolate.

6.  Bake about 25-30 minutes, until pudding puffs and is firm.

Here is my pot in a pot method of melting chocolate!

Halving the original banana bread pudding recipe was more than enough!

Ala mode was my favorite way of eating this dessert!

Inspired?  Check out our other pumpkin recipes, like Curried Pumpkin Soup, Pumpkin Pie, and Pumpkin Ice Cream!