Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The very best zucchini recipe ever...

It's about that time-- when everyone and their mother has way too much zucchini and people are either trying to invent creative uses for it or have just given up and are composting it. Even in this poor year for gardening, I have some small zucchinis developing on my plants and am hoping for a bumper crop. I can't wait, because I have the perfect solution for zucchini overload, and I've successfully altered it to a delicious allergy-free version. In fact, it may even be better than the original!

I introduce the Chocolate Zucchini Cake. It's been a favorite of mine since childhood, and now I always grow ample zucchini during summer so I can freeze it for use throughout the year. The zucchini in the recipe serves to moisten the cake-- it doesn't actually taste like zucchini. People who don't like zucchini won't even know the difference. I promise.

The original recipe (which is the first recipe, I may add, in my handwritten cookbook of personal favorites) calls for wheat flour, butter, eggs, and milk. I avoided this recipe last year because that's an awful lot of substitutions to try all at once. This year my baking skills have improved and I decided to see what happened. I thought the adventure itself made a decent blog entry: the process of altering a recipe to be allergy free could be instructional. So here goes.

Instead of wheat flour, I used a combination of half oat and half barley flour. I used palm oil (available online or sold as shortening in the health food section) for the butter, egg replacer as directed on the box for the eggs, and rice milk instead of cow's milk. While the result tasted absolutely heavenly, I ended up with a very, very moist cake that was still, somehow, crumbly. Perhaps there isn't such a thing as "too moist" as long as the cake is set-- this was a matter of debate in my family-- but the combination made it difficult to dish up and just not quite perfect.

How did I solve this? I know two ways to make it less crumbly: add more binder to hold the ingredients together, which in this case was an extra egg's worth of egg replacer, and increase the ratio of barley flour to oat flour. Barley flour leads to a tougher consistency, and oat flour to a crumbly texture. To make the cake a little less moist, I added extra flour. Since I wanted to increase the barley to oat ratio, I just added extra barley flour.

The second time I made it, the result was perfect! I served it at our Fourth of July picnic. No one suspected it was allergy free unless I told them, and zucchini haters unknowingly tried it and loved it. I recommend it to anyone. Grow extra zucchini, and when you tire of eating it steamed and run out of creative alternatives, try this. I know you'll enjoy it too!

Perfect Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1/2 c palm oil (you could try coconut oil)
1/2 c canola oil
1 3/4 c sugar
3 eggs worth of egg replacer
1 t vanilla
1/2 c rice milk
1 1/4 c oat flour
1 1/2 c barley flour
4 T unsweetened cocoa powder (I think imported Dutch cocoa is best!)
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t cloves
1/2 t salt
2 c grated zucchini (double if frozen: thaw and drain before use)
1/2 bag allergy-free chocolate chips or carob chips
1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecans OPTIONAL

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13" x 9" pan with palm oil. Cream palm oil, canola oil, and sugar. Add egg replaces, vanilla, and milk; blend. Add dry ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in zucchini. Pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cravings Busters

After eating allergy free for so long, my palate has adjusted and I rarely crave the foods I can't eat. Surprisingly, even as I've added some foods back into my diet, they taste different than I remembered them, and not as good! But recently I have been in touch with a new mother who is just starting out on an allergy-free diet. Talking with her has reminded me how difficult that transition time can be. Here are some ideas that can help curb those cravings and keep you going!

The big one, creaminess: Going dairy free eliminates most creamy foods from one's diet, and going soy-free as well eliminates nearly all the dairy substitutes. What can you eat when you want cheese, sour cream, yogurt, a glass of milk, ice cream? My staples in this category are avocados and coconut milk, and both give you healthy fats as well. There are some other options, such as Coconut Bliss ice cream, rice milk (try some flavors: Chocolate Chai is my favorite!), and coconut-based yogurt. These tend to be pricey and have a lot of unnatural ingredients. I use them in moderation and buy lots of avocados when they go on sale. Avocados were one of Siena's very first foods, too, and remain a favorite. Coconut milk in smoothies adds a great flavor. Be creative in using coconut milk. We found a tandoori spice mix and substituted coconut milk for the yogurt and it turned out amazing!

Baked goods: There are a few brands of allergy free baked goods carried by health food stores or in the natural section of grocery stores. Enjoy Life makes numerous allergy-free products such as cookies and snack bars. Ener-G makes my favorite bread, which is rice based. There are some lines of gluten-free baking mixes. Make sure your mix won't require eggs, because they're hard to substitute, but it's handy to have an easy option on hand. My preference, however, is to do the baking myself. I have reviewed some great cookbooks on my blog and, now that Siena has failed her wheat test, I have another in queue. Most wheat-free cookbooks are also gluten-free. If you want to alter a favorite recipe, you can mix half oat flour and half barley flour in place of wheat. (Yes, you need both. Just oat will be crumbly and just barley will be tough and chewy.) Ener-G makes an egg replacer as well. Allergy-free baking takes some patience and experimentation with texture, but it's worth it in the end. Anything you make will satisfy you so much more than anything you can buy!

Feeling satisfied: When I first switched to allergy free and ate mostly fruits and vegetables, I could eat all day and never get full enough. I've found some tricks to help. Don't be stingy with healthy oils such as olive oil to add some calories to your cooking. Make sure to eat some grains: rice, corn, and quinoa are good options. I eat more meat than I used to. Meat helps a lot in giving me that satisfied feeling. Lastly, baked goods often fill that void I feel in my stomach, especially something home made. But watch out: adding these baked goods back into my diet marked the point when I had to watch my weight again and I stopped losing. ;) In moderation it can be a great way to feel satisfied.

Fried food: I deep fried food myself for the very first time now that I'm eating allergy free. I'm still a novice, so I'm not going to write about it. If you're better at frying than me, just don't use an offending oil. If you go out, make sure they use an oil you can eat and, depending on your wheat sensitivity, ensure they don't fry wheat-containing food in the same oil. This hasn't been a problem for us but very well may be for others! My next project is to make Indian pakoras, using chickpea flour and canola oil. I'm excited to give it a try. ** Very important note about oils: soybean oil is often marketed as "Vegetable Oil." While the term can also refer to other plant oils, be sure it's not soybean oil!

Asian food: My husband and I enjoy eating Asian foods, but it's so hard to eat Asian without soy! We have actually managed to find two Asian restaurants that are very aware of food allergies, but it's risky because people often don't recognize all the foods soy hides in. I don't recommend trying restaurants until you are very familiar with the foods and cooking methods that can be a problem. We have enjoyed cooking Thai food using coconut milk. I got the recipe below, Thai Basil Chicken,from a friend and we have enjoyed it multiple times! We even made fresh spring rolls at home with shrimp and a sweet chili sauce. I have found one soy-free stir fry sauce, carried in the South Sound at the Olympia Food Co-op, called Toi Sauce. It uses tamarind instead. I also bought tamarind chutney at the Indian market, which can add some flavor and texture to home made Asian foods.

Comfort foods: Most comfort foods are heavy on the wheat (starch) and dairy (cream) and are hard to replicate. Macaroni and cheese is a favorite around here and I found a couple substitutes at our local gluten-free store, GF Joe's in Tumwater. Namaste's "Say Cheez" was my winner and especially good with some ground beef. Rice pasta is easy to find, and I really enjoy pasta with tomato sauce. Add your own sausage and vegetables and top with nutritional yeast to make a hearty meal. Try topping a baked potato with chili and avocados. Make an allergy-free meatloaf and serve it with mashed potatoes with rice milk (and some salt and pepper) to make them creamy.

These are the big categories of cravings I can think of for now. One very valuable thing I learned from our nutritionist is to google search "allergy free" and perhaps "substitute". Type in what you're craving followed by those terms, and most likely someone else has come up with a recipe or product that can satisfy you.

As I said at first, however, these cravings subside over time and you palate changes. Unfortunately bread and cheese still sound very good, but most junk food doesn't even sound appetizing anymore. I hope, and I really think, that this experience has ingrained more nutritious food habits in me that will endure even after the food allergies are no longer an issue. What a great gift to give Siena!

Thai Basil Chicken

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 t curry powder (or curry paste)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t chili powder
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic
2 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped (or red pepper flake)
1 T olive oil
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 T cornstarch
a handful of torn basil
2 t grated fresh ginger
3 T sugar (optional)
1 t fish sauce (optional)

Cube chicken into 1 inch pieces. Place them in a bowl and stir in curry powder, salt, pepper, and chili powder to coat evenly. Cover and chill for two hours to allow spices to penetrate meat.

In a large nonstick wok or skillet, cook onion, garlic, and jalapeno in hot oil over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove onion mixture from wok. Add chicken and stir for 4 to 6 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink, and remove from wok. Combine coconut milk and cornstarch (and optional sugar and fish sauce) and add to wok. Cook and stir until bubbly and slightly thickened. Return chicken and onion mixtures to wok. Stir in basil and ginger. Cook about 2 minutes and serve over cooked Jasmine rice.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

We all scream for... Sorbet!

I am a huge fan of ice cream. One of the first things I realized when I began the allergy-free journey was that I would be deprived of my favorite treat. I'd tried sorbet previously, but didn't really give it much credit. I preferred ice cream, year round.

As I anticipate the beginning of summer for the second time while eating allergy free, I felt inspired to try making sorbet for the first time. I have friends who own and operate a bed and breakfast who often served sorbet as the fruit course at their inn. For some reason it caught my attention last time they mentioned it. It sounded delicious, and also special and fun to make it at home. I had an ice cream maker that had been unused for ten years, so I pulled it out and gave it a try.

I googled recipes; there are so many ideas online, even if you don't have an ice cream maker. The basic formula only requires simple syrup and fruit juice or puree. Some recipes add lemon juice to "brighten" the flavors, or alcohol to prevent it from freezing too solid.

I started with a minted watermelon recipe to use some mint from our garden and some leftover watermelon. It was decadent, but it filled the ice cream maker too full and therefore didn't freeze enough, which in turn caused it to freeze too solidly in the freezer. (Next time I plan on freezing it in two batches, but in the meantime we're enjoying "shaved ice.") Second I made lemon sorbet, which I processed too long and it was actually crumbly(!). I tried the lemon recipe again, watching it more closely, and stopped it when it was perfect-- right out of the ice cream maker and after sitting in the freezer.

While I hardly gave sorbet a second thought before, I rate it quite highly today! It's a light, energetic alternative to ice cream. And all those fancy flavors we ate weeks ago in Las Vegas are now at my fingertips. I can't wait to experiment with more recipes: I already have a queue of ideas that I'll be trying as fast as we can eat them, and it will be a great way to preserve extra fruit this summer. In anticipation of some warmth and sun, let's all celebrate with some sorbet!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cilantro, Cilantro Everywhere!

Late spring and abundant rain in the Pacific Northwest! All this rain is making the garden-- and the weeds-- grow like crazy. Among the craziness are numerous volunteer cilantro plants, which are growing so fast they're already starting to bolt.

Naturally, tonight's meal featured cilantro, and it turned out even better than I expected! If you find yourself with an excess of cilantro-- or even if you just want to use a little-- give this meal a try. As usual, I didn't really measure the ingredients; use more of what you like, and it's easy to adjust the meal for a large or small crowd.

Cilantro Lime Chicken

Place chicken breasts in a shallow pan. Drizzle with olive oil and fresh lime juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add chopped cilantro. Let marinade for an hour or so, then grill until cooked through.

Avocado Salsa

Chop a couple of avocados and place them in a bowl. Add diced fresh tomato, red onion, chopped garlic or garlic powder, and minced jalapeno or red pepper flakes. Drizzle some olive oil and lime juice over the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix. Stir in fresh chopped cilantro. Serve over chicken.

Cilantro Rice

Measure out the desired amount of rice. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and a smattering of cumin and achiote/annatto powder. Drizzle olive oil into the rice and stir. Then add water and cook as directed. When done, fluff and serve with the chicken.

I hope the cilantro is the first of many crops we're overloaded with this summer! We still have some planting to do, but the garden is well on its way. Happy gardening to those of you who like to go out and get your hands dirty, your muscles worked, and your minds cleared. And happy eating to us all!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blown away: FPIES

No, unfortunately this isn't a recipe for pies. It's all about FPIES. Here's the story:

Siena has been doing so well over the past year, but after a couple of encounters with allergens, I decided it was time to get some more questions answered. We were originally told she should grow out of her allergies by a year of age. Since that hasn't happened, I wanted to check in and see what to expect in the future and how they recommend to go about challenging allergenic foods.

We were finally referred to a pediatric allergist in Seattle, and we had our appointment on Wednesday. He asked us the usual questions and proceeded to do another back scratch test on Siena, which is nice in spite of the pricks because it answers so many questions so quickly (you know, without the three-week cramping and diarrhea multiplied by the number of foods tested). Lo and behold, the allergy tests all came out negative! But Siena is still in the middle of the Las Vegas salad reaction and has definitely not grown out of her problem. HOW COULD THIS BE?

It turns out that Siena does not have, nor did she ever have, allergies. We came home with a brand new diagnosis: FPIES, or food protein-induced enterocolitis syndnrome. FPIES mimics allergies, but the actual immune reaction involved different players and is therefore a completely different disease. FPIES is more serious than allergic colitis and is characterized by profuse diarrhea and vomiting hours after ingestion. Fluid loss can lead to lethargy and shock, which must be treated in the ER. Food challenges, according to many reputable websites, should be done in the hospital in case of a serious reaction. The most common problem foods, as with allergies, are dairy and soy, but include others like grains and legumes. This explains Siena's problems with rice and lentils, which are not common allergens. The good news is that most children outgrow it by age 3, or even, according to my doctor, by 18 months. Siena is now 19 months. So we could be seeing this improve anytime.

We were sent home with instructions to challenge her problem foods at home, starting with the foods that are least likely to cause a problem. Assignment #1: once Siena is over her current salad reaction, give her 1/4 serving of wheat. If no reaction occurs, wait two days and try 1/2 serving. If no reaction occurs, wait two days and try 1 serving. If no reaction occurs, move on to Assignment #2, which is eggs. I'm a little nervous to try it, especially after reading all the ER stories, but her reactions have never been that severe in the past. Hopefully it goes smoothly, and if it doesn't we will know what is happening and what to do, and we will have more answers and information for her follow-up allergist appointment. Unfortunately there is no FPIES test besides just trying the foods. Those three-week sick periods are required if we want answers and if she is still reacting. :(

I'm pretty blown away by this whole change in plans. Two days later it's starting to sink in. While it's scary to read about serious reactions requiring emergency room visits and hospital food challenges, it's good to know kids grow out of it. I found an FPIES facebook group, and while it seems that kids usually haven't grown out of it by 18 months or even necessarily 3 years, it does happen and kids grow up to be healthy adults. I was braced for a similar duration for food allergies, so I guess the plan remains about the same.

As for this blog, I have decided it makes sense to continue. FPIES mimics allergies so closely that we operated very successful under the allergies model for a year and a half. Also, even if we had the correct FPIES diagnosis in the first place, our course of action would have been the same. So here I am. Now an FPIES mom, but still eating allergy free (or... um... FPIES free??), and still writing about it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Allergy Free in Vegas (with a toddler)

My family has been anticipating the end of my husband's contract as a great time for a little vacation. We had been deliberating for months on where to go: far enough away we felt like we were on a "real" vacation, but close enough we weren't too intimidated traveling with a toddler. When the week for our vacation was suddenly moved way up, we chose Vegas on the spur of the moment. It's a familiar place we've seen several times, we knew there were good restaurants, and we had some ideas for fun activities with Siena.

WOW is Vegas ever different with a toddler! We stayed four nights, thinking that would allow for a slower-paced trip, but what we didn't realize is that we would spend our time playing at telephone booths, and stairs and escalators, rather than exploring what Vegas has to offer. When we thought we were ready to go down the strip, Siena was either too active or too fussy to make it worthwhile, and we wanted to be back in our hotel room for her nap. It was fun, but a very different kind of fun.

Actual highlights included waving at the gondoliers in the Grand Canal in the Venetian, where we stayed. The dolphins and white tigers at the Mirage were a big hit with Siena; she enjoyed watching them, learning about them, and imitating them. And although we were there during a big wind storm, the weather cooperated enough for two trips to the pool. The Venetian has a perfect pool for toddlers-- just 1'2" deep. Siena loves the water and had the time of her life in this pool.

We managed to stay mostly allergy free for the whole trip. I say "mostly" because Siena had trouble sleeping one night, and I could hear her tummy rumbling. She was clingy, gassy, and fussy, but at least it never turned into the full-fledged diarrhea and diaper rash, thank goodness! We ran into trouble only when we tried the money-saving route and ate at the cafeterias, where the employees don't have a thorough knowledge of the ingredients in their ingredients and don't totally understand the allergy-related questions anyway.

The Venetian was a great place to stay for allergy-free cuisine. We didn't make it very far from the Venetian this trip, but if you're in Vegas, here are some places to try that can accommodate you with great food and great service as well!

The Venetian:

Enoteca by Mario Batali: An Italian restaurant that even offers gluten-free pasta! I recommend the vegetables as a great appetizer. They're served in ramekins and go a long way for the money.
Cocolini: The gelato stand that serves a surprising variety of sorbets as well. Choose from just about any fruit flavor you can think of. This was a big hit with Siena and me and we stopped here frequently.

Treasure Island:

Isla: This is the *only* Mexican restaurant I've been able to enjoy since going allergy free, and what a treat! It's mid-range on the price scale, so you can get an appetizer for a later snack without breaking the bank. It's also a tequila bar, so go ahead and indulge in a margarita as well.


Samba Brazilian Steakhouse: Featuring an all-you-can-eat variety of Brazilian-style barbecued meats served tableside, you leave this place feeling satisfied. Not only was it delicious, but fun as well. They also offer a range of entrees, and all orders are served with salad and vegetables.

Ceasars Palace:

Trevi: Located by the Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops, we ate lunch here one day. A nice atmosphere and good Italian food.

*The places that work for eating allergy free cook food to order from whole ingredients. These tend to be more expensive and less kid-friendly than most other options. To save your pocketbook and your sanity if dining with a toddler, have some options handy. Even if you plan on dining out at every meal, you want snacks on hand so you're not all starving during the search for an accepible restaurant. Bring fruits and some canned vegetables-- carrots and green beans are Siena's favorite. I baked some muffins for breakfasts, packed in a tupperware, and brought oatmeal and soup that only required hot water.

We had a nice family vacation and a good learning experience! Only on the last day did we finally feel like we had mastered doing Vegas with a toddler. There's plenty more to see, such as the birds in Flamingo and the shark exhibit at Mandalay Bay, all options for next time.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fish Tale Polenta

One of downtown Olympia's little treasures is the Fish Tale Brewery and Pub. I am a "fan" on Facebook and saw their special one day: chicken, chorizo, chickpea, and tomatoes served over polenta. I took note of that idea and made my own version, allergy free and so delicious we've made it twice in a week! Wheat-free people (over 21) can even enjoy it with my very favorite beer, Fish Tale Organic Amber.

Fish Tale Polenta

2 chicken breasts
2 links chorizo sausage
1 medium onion, diced
1 can chickpeas
3 cans diced tomatoes
salt and pepper

For the polenta:
4 cups rice milk
1 cup polents
salt and pepper

Dice the chicken, slice the sausage, and brown the meats in a large skillet with some olive oil. Add the onion and cook until transparent. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, herbs and spices to taste, and simmer together to blend flavors.

Bring the rice milk, salt and pepper to a boil. Add the polenta and stir constantly until the polenta has expanded and thickened. Turn heat off and cool slightly to allow polenta to set.

Serve the stew over the polenta in a large bowl.

As a vegetarian option, I plan on substituting the meat with some butternut squash. Haven't tried it yet, but I think it will be quite tasty as well. Thank you Fish Tale for inspiring this amazing allergy free dish!