This spring, I tried to get out of my safe-recipe rut (you know, when you just keep making the same old stuff that is good, and allergy-friendly, but you could do it blindfolded by now?) by seeking out new recipes to convert. I could browse food magazines for hours, and I hit upon a zucchini bread recipe and a cookie cake recipe that each had very little egg in the originals. At the time, I gave a quick mention on the blog and promised a recipe. Finally delivering (this is about my normal timeline for such things these days)!
I've been changing a lot of my diet to wheat-free/yeast-free products this month. Oddly, that gave me the push I needed to really wrap up my collection of quick breads (with all-purpose wheat flours). Knowing that I have to tackle more kitchen experiments with alternative flours was the kick in the pants to get me to write down my traditional (for us: still egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and seed-free) versions.
This zucchini bread is light and moist on its own, but a spread of homemade jam wouldn't hurt a bit!
I was inspired to make and actually finish this recipe by my allergy shot nurses. I rely on them a lot to keep me healthy, and I tend to show my love and appreciation for others through food. They were a great help in settling on a strawberry bread recipe, and I got particularly good feedback about this mild zucchini bread, too.
Click on the image below to open or pin the zucchini bread recipe!
Just a few days after my standard jam making (with Sure-Jell pectin), I gave Pomona's Pectin a try with the leftover berries. The difference was really remarkable. Check it out:
Instead of following the Sure-Jell directions for a single-berry jam, I decided to combine our picked, washed, and frozen blueberries and cherries this summer. My Sure-Jell adapted recipe set up nicely and made at least 5 pints of spreadable jam. I'd heard so many good things about Pomona's, though, that I had to give it a go.
The Pomona's pectin box touts lower (and different kinds of) sugar, a variety of batch sizes, instructions to adapt to different fruits, and more. It comes with a packet of pectin just like Sure-Jell, but it also has a packet of calcium powder. I followed the directions for freezer jam for each type. They differed all around---in method, setting, taste, texture, storage, and maybe even cost.
Taste and texture
Have you ever made jam? What pectin do you like, and will you ever experiment with another method?
You know something that is naturally gluten free? Not to mention free from milk products, eggs, nuts, tree nuts, seeds, soy, corn, fish, and all of those other persnickity food allergens? JAM. Specifically, fresh berry freezer jam. Doesn't even need a vehicle, just a spoon (or a surreptitious finger).
It turns out, a lot of people have never made jam before. They picture boiling canning jars, bacteria worries, hours in the kitchen. But it doesn't have to be so! I started making jams a number of years ago, exactly the way that my mom always did for me when I was young. I didn't know at the time that she followed the Sure-Jell freezer recipe every single year after her outing for strawberry picking.
I'm not one to leave well enough alone, though, so I started exploring other berries, and other jam methods, after only a year or two of my own strawberry jams. Recently, I've tried the cooked method. No one here liked it as much. That fresh-from-the-fields taste of a freezer jam done well just can't be beat.
Strawberry season has come and gone here (as has our jam supply from that). This year, we added blueberry picking into the summer, and I measured and froze washed berries in the hopes of making a midsummer berry jam. Today was that day! Or at least the first of the days. I ended up with enough blueberries, and a stash of pitted cherries, to make another round of jam after this one sets. Again, not content to stick with what works, I'm going to give Pomona's Universal Pectin a try on the next batch. Its instructions seem just as easy and more flexible than other options, and expert canners rave about it.
I'm posting my "recipe" for this thick and yummy cherry blueberry jam because I had to wing it on the berry and sugar quantities. If you've ever used Sure-Jell, Certo, or other jam-making pectins, you'll know that winging it is highly discouraged. But I set myself to some math calculations, crossed my fingers and toes, and got lucky.
Here it is inline (aiming for a pretty printable added in later), with some notes inside and at the bottom for this version specifically and for jam making in general. I'm not an expert at canning anything, but that just shows how easy this freezer spread really is. Enjoy! :)
2 cups mashed (between 3 and 4 cups whole) blueberries (I use a potato masher and a large Pyrex measuring cup)
1 cup chopped pitted sweet cherries (I use the same measuring cup, and I use kitchen shears instead of a knife and block)
2 tsp lemon juice (I use a bottled version, and it isn't required for these berries but does help the pectin activate; I use it more often when I'm using thawed fruit I picked at least a month earlier)
5-1/2 cups sugar (don't be alarmed; it comes out to about 2 tsp per serving, which is how much some people use in their tea or coffee anyway)
1 box Sure-Jell original pectin (not the low-sugar version; currently, original is a yellow box and low-sugar is a pink box)
3/4 cup water (this mixes with the pectin, and I like to have it ready ahead of time)
Items to have on hand
a 4-cup liquid measuring cup (note that my liquid cup measures equal to a solid cup; test yours or scoop your prepared fruit with a solid cup instead)
a 1-cup liquid measuring cup
a small saucepan
a very large mixing bowl---the largest you own
a large spatula for the berries
a small spatula for the pectin
washed and dried containers (I don't have consistent pint jars here; I have some of them in addition to some 3-cup jars, some 1-cup BPA-free plastic freezer containers, and an odd assortment of other glass containers that I use as small gifts after they're filled)
Follow the Sure-Jell directions (and estimated final quantity/container preparation) exactly, but use the different ingredient quantities listed above.
I like to start with preparing the berries (add them into the large bowl). Then, I set the pectin into the saucepan and measure the water (setting it aside). At this point, I also set my timer for 1 minute so that it's ready to go when I turn it on. Now, I'm ready to add the sugar.
About 7 minutes into the 10-minute sugar set, I start the water and pectin to high heat.
As the mixture starts to boil, do not stop stirring! Turn on your timer at the rolling boil stage and don't let it linger long past that 1-minute mark.
I have rarely stirred the pectin and berry mixtures for 3 full minutes, but it won't hurt to do so.
Fill the containers as directed.
Cool all of the filled containers loosely covered on the counter overnight. Then, stack your jars into the freezer for using and gifting all year long, whenever you are missing summer flavors.
Blueberries (and cherries) are sometimes made without any pectin at all, because their natural pectin content can thicken them pretty well. That means my Sure-Jell version is already nice and thick even though it's just been a few hours. So, I'm off now to take my smallest jar, still slightly warm, and scoop it over my (finally) successful wheat-free dairy-free egg-free nut-free chocolate brownies waiting for me. Don't worry, that recipe is coming very soon, too!
Check out the round 2 update, made with Pomona's, and my comparison with it against the first (Sure-Jell) go.
I've been away from posting and media for a couple of weeks. After all of this time getting comfortable with allergy-friendly recipes, we are adding more restrictions: no yeast, poultry (maybe all types, maybe just chicken), or wheat (notice, not gluten).
When a medical condition is diagnosed, patients usually need some time to absorb the news and adapt---to regroup. It's a normal adjustment period, when expectations are reset and new habits are started, but normal doesn't mean it isn't scary!
In these early weeks, writing out recipes is the last thing on my mind. Instead, I'm just trying to keep a nutritional balance while I explore different products, ingredients, flavor combinations. Brown rice and lean sausage, a salmon and celery salad, a sweet pineapple sheet cake, and some oat and almond flour pancakes have been fairly successful meal and treat attempts so far. (Plus I threw in another loaf of zucchini raisin bread, with a nearly perfected wheat flour recipe---coming soon!---for the kids.)
Despite all of my family's allergies, I consider us very fortunate. We haven't had to cope with severe physical or mental impairments, or bigger health crises like cancers. Removing or replacing a food (even an entire group or subgroup) isn't without its challenges, for sure, but it's bounce-back-able. That's even truer because of the enormous online support system.
This latest hibernation and reset was a bit different than our first foray into food allergy living: Unlike my daughter, who has anaphylactic reactions to many top allergens, I can be around mine, and around wheat in particular. Rather than have the entire family adjust to the allergy, I can adapt my meal safely from theirs.
That means I'm not eliminating all of my wheat-based treats, snacks, and breads. But I am going to have to get creative to make some of my own safe options. I also don't want to eliminate all gluten just because of a wheat allergy---why remove healthful ingredients and limit my diet even more?
As I add this journey to our well-tread dairy/egg/nut-free path, I'll be sure to include the resources and tips I start to rely on in my coming blog posts. And I'll grow my family cookbook even more, in a direction that I never expected.
If you have any great resources for cooking and baking without wheat---but with other gluten or non-gluten sources like oats, barley, and bean flours, I'd love to hear your ideas!
If you’ve read any of these blog posts or come to my place for food, you’ll know that I rarely follow recipes even for baking and that I often try out random combinations on visitors and on my family. Sometimes this fails miserably, mostly it’s at least tolerable, and sometimes the results are just wonderful and worth keeping.
Now that I’m look for ways to replace poultry in my dinners without adding on more of the same red meat and pork options, I’ll finally start writing down and posting some recipes for regular meals, not just treats and snacks. Like my earliest baking posts, I’m short on photos and, frankly, short on directions so far, too. But it’s a start!
This week, I stuck with beef, but a variant: lean ground veal. I used pasta as a vehicle, to stay in my comfort zone, and made a quick ragu that was hearty but also light enough for early summer.
If you’d like to give it a try, here’s a quick how-to:
1-2 pounds ground veal
4 raw carrots, peeled, sliced, and diced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled, sliced, and diced
extra-virgin olive oil (for sauteing)
fresh garlic to taste (I used 1 clove)
fresh thyme to taste (I used 3 sprigs)
red pepper flakes to taste
1 pound boxed dried pasta (I used macaroni to capture the ragu), cooked al dente and drained/ready to use.
1/2 can tomato paste, diluted with water until able to stir easily
*optional: salt or seasoned salt to taste (or replace with pecorino cheese at the end if you aren't a dairy-free household)
In a medium saucepan, saute the onions and carrots on medium heat in the olive oil until softened but not brown.
Add the garlic and saute only briefly. Then move all ingredients to the side of the pan.
Add the veal to the pan and stir to break up large pieces. Slowly incorporate the onion, garlic, and carrots into the veal.
Sprinkle the mixture with the thyme and stir to incorporate.
Add the tomato paste (I used just enough to lightly coat the veal, not enough to make a heavy ragu.) and red pepper flakes. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir until warmed.
Add the cooked pasta to the veal mixture and coat the pasta with the ragu. Serve with extra red pepper flakes and some fresh basil.
I’d like to add more fish and veggie/bean options down the road, but I think baby steps are called for right now. Next week, I’m trying loose sweet Italian sausage (lower fat for heart health than in casings, especially if you drain the cooked meat) in cannelloni shells. My thinking is that I can make enough to have leftovers for me on the days that my family eats chicken. If I have to eat pasta more days a week, I’m sure that I can suffer through it! ?
Today, I am 9 days into my new food restrictions and just about 1 year past my upper GI to widen my esophagus. I was warned at the time that it wasn't a permanent fix, and it does seem like I've probably put my own health (in this respect, at least) on the back burner for a bit too long. Summer might be turning into "upper GI procedure" season for me!
In addition to foods I already knew were problems (bananas, melons, yeast), we added chicken for sure and a long list of possibles, including squashes, peas, and wheat. Which got me thinking about wheat allergy---not gluten intolerance (commonly seen as celiac disease but also including some skin manifestations).
Wheat is one of the top 8 IgE-related food allergens in kids; many outgrow the allergy by adulthood. Its gluten proteins are the trigger of IgA (not E) and other immune cell reactions in gluten intolerance conditions. And wheat is one of the common causes of eosinophilia (build-up of yet another type of immune cell) in the esophagus of EoE.
It's easy to confuse the different types of food reactions and just call them all allergies. And the treatment for all of the different conditions is the same: avoidance. The physiology differs, though, and I think the psychology does, too:
Tell me that any of those options wouldn't mess with your head!
As I learn more about my food triggers of EoE, though, I'm feeling more comfortable with the idea of managing it and living with it. I'm still worrying about things:
But I'm also appreciating an odd contrast with my daughter's anaphylactic allergies: her risks are clearly defined (and potentially lethal), whereas mine are less clear-cut (and sometimes emergent) but not nearly at the same scariness level. Jo's treatment: always avoid all forms of her allergenic foods. In EoE, I'm just starting on the trial elimination of foods, based on symptom timing and skin test results. I'm glad that it's me who has a condition that needs invasive procedures to assess and improve, too, and not my child.
Figuring out this funny food allergy-but-different-immune response condition really takes a trial-and-error approach. My particular plan with the allergist is to eliminate only the definite causes, take another look at the esophagus, and hope that the inflammation and cellular responses improved enough to stop there. If not, we'll re-assess (as I bounce between my allergy and GI specialists) until I get to a manageable place. This tactic is opposite a more-common approach to early EoE treatment: total elimination of top culprits (similar to anaphylactic culprits) and careful individual re-introduction to detect symptoms. But our baby steps are a measured approach that fits my already restricted meal planning for my daughter as well as my aneurysm risks with repeat GI endoscopies.
I was reminded pretty quickly this week that my allergy-friendly recipes are heavily snack based, because it's those baked goods that rely so much on butters, oils, and eggs. We just stopped including nuts and cheese in meals and called it a day.
Now I'm thinking deliberately about daily nutrition, not just fun foods. It's something new for me and makes me grouchy, because I'd really still rather just have Gram's lasagna. All of the time. Last night was a success, though: pork tenderloin marinated with salt-free spices, steamed green beans with olive oil drizzles, and couscous with fresh mint leaves and a Greek spice mix. Tonight, leftovers!
But I do hope that, once my brain gets over this extra food hurdle (with a lot of help from supportive, clear-thinking friends!), our dinners will have the same result as our vegan-like baking: healthful, mindful foods to share all around. I'm sure that we'll have nights when my family eats chicken or breads and grains without me, but I am still going to aim for big, inclusive family meals as often as I can.
And I'll probably dream of lasagna. Chicken cacciatore. The yeast-iest pizza ever.
Good thing I like quick breads.
Hi, I'm Nicole.
ABOUT THE BLOG
An apothecary is a person or a place. Either one implies healing and relates to pharmacy in its truest sense, as a source of treatment and advice.
This blog is my way of uniting my pharmacy training with my efforts to provide a healthy and safe lifestyle for my family. In true apothecary form, I research and prescribe alternative ingredients that work just right in each specific recipe, and I would like to share the results with anyone who needs help making their own family’s kitchen allergy safe and heart healthy.
Nicole Van Hoey's books on Goodreads
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy