June 25, 2013

Weekend Getaways: Food 101 for the Family with Food Allergies

For some, summer means travel.  I relish the lazy days close to home myself, but if we had the option to travel all summer long, I might very well consider it.  Unfortunately, for a food allergy family, traveling is a challenge with an enormous amount of planning involved.

With a severely food allergic child, I feel less and less comfortable eating out, especially when we're far from home.  I think I've got the Epinephrine to ER thing down pat when we're at home, but being on vacation with an allergic reaction is a different story all together.

So I try very hard to limit our restaurant eating and do as much preparing and cooking as I can.  We will be away this weekend for a rare mini getaway with the family, and although we will be within an hour from home, I still have a lot of planning to do.  Some tips to make the getaway more like a vacation and hopefully, less stressful:

1. If you can, book a hotel with a refrigerator at the very least, and for longer trips, some form of a kitchen or microwave is essential.  If there's no microwave in the room, there may be one available for use, like in the lobby.

2. Seek out the markets near your hotel before you go, and plan on making a few trips with a list of easy, allergy-friendly, low maintenance food options in hand.  Some forethought saves you time in the long run.

3. If there is a stove available, bring your own pots/pans and cooking utensils.  This cuts out the mystery and puts some of your cross-contamination worries at ease.

4.  Bring paper goods and disposable eating utensils.  No one likes to wash dishes on vacation, but this is especially important if all you have is a fridge.  An added bonus: kids can eat by the pool and not skip a beat!

5.  Bring drinks or water bottles and lots (and lots) of non-perishable snacks to pack for day trips, have by the pool, or satisfy a craving.  Some of our favorites are safe granola or breakfast bars, crackers, popcorn, fruit or fruit and gel cups (like Dole Fruit and Gel Cups), fruit leathers, seeds, and dried seaweed.

If you're a seasoned food allergy mama you likely already follow these guidelines religiously.  For those of you who might be starting out, know that you CAN have fun while on vacation.  And yes, we were the ones with the 8 grocery bags filled with food upon check-in, but we were also the ones who spent a fabulous 87 degree day by the pool.

Wishing you safe and happy travels this summer!

June 19, 2013

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies - free of the top 8 allergens

If you have followed Get Allergy Wise for awhile, you know that most of my recipes are adaptations of preexisting recipes.  I definitely need other recipes as road maps and realize how lucky I am to be able to search the web to find much of what I am looking for.  Recently acquired some parsnips but never cooked with them?  Search for recipes on the internet!  Only have carrots, onions, salsa, and a bag of rice in your cupboards?  Get meal ideas on the internet!  Seriously, we are spoiled with convenient, expansive information these days.

Despite the internet's bottomless pit of great recipes, I am still a fiddler by nature.  I can't help but play around with recipes -- sometimes a little and sometimes a lot -- to fit the needs of my milk-allergic, nut-allergic kids or to lower the sugar content, or to fulfill our family's lifestyle choice of eating more plants and less meat.

So it says a lot (and is pretty rare) when I do *not* find a thing to change about a recipe.  One such recipe is vegan author Dreena Burton's recipe for homestyle chocolate chip cookies.  The recipe is a favorite cookie recipe of mine.  When I first discovered it online two years ago, I think I made batches of it for three months straight, I was that addicted.  I love that the cookie uses oil rather than vegan margarine or shortening and also uses a good amount of maple syrup as the main sweetener.  Even Dreena's estimated bake time (11 minutes) was exactly right for my oven.  Okay, the one thing I did change was that I omit the molasses but that is because I never have any on hand.  Besides that, I couldn't find anything to change about this recipe!

I love Dreena's chocolate chip cookies but the tinkerer in me was curious.  I wondered if I might be able to do something about the wheat-based flour that the original recipe calls for.  Could I replace the flour with something that would be safe for those who are allergic to wheat or gluten-intolerant? 

I've tried the popular gluten-free flour blend of brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch.  But I seized the opportunity to go off the beaten GF trail and combine some flour alternatives that have accumulated in my pantry, flours that I must have bought after seeing recipes that I wanted to try but sadly haven't gotten to yet.  I opted for a more protein-rich mix of garbanzo flour (boy, I have a lot of that around!), potato starch, and quinoa flour.

The cookies turned out delicious!  Texture-wise and tastewise, they were very similar to the original recipe.  These cookies were able to attain a more golden brown color than when I make the original homestyle cookies.  (Perhaps the molasses that I always omit usually helps with browning?)  I think the quinoa flour adds a slight nutty flavor but this works fine with the chocolate.  And I don't know why, but big chocolate chunks elevates these cookies to another level.

Bakery-style Chocolate Chip Cookies - free of the top 8 allergens
Adapted from Dreena Burton's homestyle chocolate chip cookie recipe featured on her Vive La Vegan! blog and cookbook of the same name

Dry ingredients:
1 cup garbanzo flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup turbinado "raw" sugar

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup oil
2/3 cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1 cup Enjoy Life mega chocolate chunks or 1 cup of safe chocolate, coarsely chopped
Extra sea salt (flakes are great) for sprinkling, optional
  1. Preheat 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease or line 2 cookie sheets with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.  Make sure any clumps of flour or starch are broken up to ensure even mixing.
  3. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract into the well and mix the wet ingredients together.
  4. Gradually combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring through the dough so that there are no pockets of dry ingredients left.  The dough will be a little thin, not as sticky and thick as a typical gluten-full cookie mix.  Then stir in chocolate chunks. 
  5. Spoon out 1 to 1.5-inch balls of cookie dough on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with additional sea salt flakes if you so desire.  Leave 2 inches of space between each cookie -- these cookies do spread quite a bit!
  6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes or until cookies begin to turn golden.  Promptly remove from oven and let cool.
I find these vegan chocolate chip cookies -- Dreena's original or this gluten-free alternative -- very easy to prepare.  We are planning to do some cookie sales this summer to raise funds for the FARE Walk for Food Allergy.   Adding chocolate chunks versus chips is a fun touch to look more professional.

June 10, 2013

Pasta with Garlic and Lemon

To echo the sentiments of my blogging "spouse" Sarah, I'm so sorry for being so quiet lately! 

My kids are in the home stretch of their school year and, as the last day of school draw closer, things have been getting busier and busier.  I am enjoying their futsal games, swim and soccer classes and helping out more with field trips, fundraisers, classroom, and schoolwide activities.  At the same time, I have needed to balance their school and extracurriculars with my other needs: exercise (my sanity keeper!), cooking, and household chores.  In addition, it didn't help blogging matters that the couple of times I did find myself with time enough to be creative in the kitchen, my dessert attempts were complete failures!  These wasted precious time, energy, and not-so-cheap ingredients while also zapping my kitchen confidence and enthusiasm.

The pitiful results of my attempt at making a vegan chocolate cream roll.
The blog has been patiently waiting its turn as it got temporarily pushed by the wayside by more immediate and urgent to-dos.  I hope, with summer vacation just days away, the blog can makes its ascent back towards the top of my long priority list!  (Here's hoping a lazy summer can help shorten that list, too.)

Having lost my baking mojo, I needed to find a recipe to get me back in the cooking mood.  I decided to go for a simple pasta dish (yeah, not a baked dessert --  I'm still licking my wounds from my recent cake failures).  I found a recipe on Pink Parsley Blog and knew it would be a perfect dish to try.

This dish is so easy, I've made it multiple times for my kids and they have loved it every time.  I added to the dish by incorporating some nutrient-rich leafy greens.  If kale isn't your thing, I have used spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and chopped red bell pepper with yummy results.  And definitely add in Trader Joe's vegan mozzarella shreds as it makes for a delicious faux Parmesan cheese.  The ultra thin, short shreds have the right texture and taste that adds a punch to pasta dishes.   If you do not have a Trader Joe's near you, rumor has it that Galaxy Foods is the supplier for Trader Joe's vegan mozzarella shreds.

A quick word about kitchen tools: I bought a Microplane grater last year on the advice of one of my son's preschool teachers.  It makes grating lemon zest so easy.  I tried this with fresh ginger with less-than-ideal results (I stick with a normal, little handled grater for that).  I'm not sure how it does with hard cheeses because we are a milk-free house due to food allergies.  Having said that, I still love mine even though I only use it for citrus zest!

Pasta with Garlic and Lemon
Adapted from Pink Parsley's recipe for pasta with garlic, olive oil, and lemon
1 lb dry pasta (regular, whole wheat, gluten-free -- any pasta will do!)
Olive oil
Leaves of 1 to 2 bunches of kale, washed and torn into small pieces
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 cloves of garlic, minced
Dried or freshly chopped basil, oregano, or parsley (optional)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cup of Trader Joe's vegan mozzarella cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Boil pasta to al dente according to package directions.  Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.  Then drain and rinse completely to halt cooking process.
  2. Heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat.  (I use the same pot that I used for cooking the noodles.)  Add kale leaves to the pot and some salt.  Cook the kale, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Remove kale from heat and to a separate plate when the leaves have begun to wilt from cooking.
  3. Heat up more olive oil (start with 1/4 cup) in the pot.  Add red pepper flakes and minced garlic to the oil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to avoid browning or burning the garlic.  
  4. When garlic starts to turn golden, toss in pasta noodles.  Mix in basil, oregano, and/or parsley to taste.  Toss pasta.
  5. Add cooked kale, lemon juice, and zest and toss pasta to mix.  
  6. If the pasta looks a little dry, feel free to add small amounts of the reserved cooking liquid, more olive oil, or more lemon juice.  
  7. When the pasta is well-coated with sauce, remove from heat.  Add in the vegan cheese.  
  8. Taste test the pasta and add in more salt, pepper, lemon, or vegan cheese as needed.

Here's to some easy meals this summer.  After a long school year, we all deserve a little break!