This is a low-photo post this week, but for a happy reason: Every time I've tried to make something for dinner with masa harina, it's been gobbled up in a snap, without leftovers.
Rather than recipes, I'd like to go into some differences about corn products that can replace wheat in (mostly) savory free-from products. That sounds simple, but it's deceptive---there are enough types of ground corn available to make my head spin. At the start, let me offer an obvious disclaimer: this post isn't for you if you have a corn allergy!
If you're a sometimes baker, you probably are already familiar with cornstarch (cornflour when in Australia and the United Kingdom). It's a white, tasteless, powdery ingredient that, when heated, thickens everything from gravy to pie fillings. In the Americas, corn flour is yellow---the powdery ingredient of the entire corn kernel (not just the hard-shell endosperm of the kernel that gives us cornstarch).
If you pride yourself on homemade pizza on special stones, you might even have some cornmeal, that coarser grind of the entire kernel. Or maybe you're a fan of polenta or grits, which is just a medium-ground version cooked into porridge.
I thought that this was plenty of corn for my new wheat-free life, but it's really just the beginning. I came across semolina corn flour at our local international food market and picked it up without knowing what I'd do with it. Semolina wheat is the type used for Italian pastas, but I'd never heard of a corn version. The word semolina actually refers to an extremely fine grind of the endosperm of a grain only. Thus, corn semolina or rice semolina are absolutely real.
Finding semolina corn flour led me to an Italian corn pasta company called Le Veneziane. I do have black bean, lentil, and other wheat-free pastas in my cupboard, but this corn pasta was the first success: It didn't get gummy, could be cooked like wheat pasta (for me, that means no timer, cooking until al dente), and did not stick together upon draining). It's amazing!
Now I'm excited to try making my own pasta with corn semolina flour. But first, I'm going to try the grain in a semolina corn cake recipe (like this one). I've tried corn cakes before, by mixing corn kernels with corn and chickpea flours, but the results were a bit too bland and a bit too gritty for my liking.
But all of these options and ideas aren't enough; Mexican corn flours take the grain a step or two further. The most common option available in typical US grocery stores is masa harina---a corn flour that is soaked in lime (calcium) to break down the hulls before grinding and drying.
When I stopped eating wheat and yeast in our already--dairy-free household, I found myself making a lot of Asian and Mexican dishes. Naturally (right?), that led me to wonder about making my own tortillas instead of buying them. I used a Craftsy class subscription to learn more, quickly, about authentic tortilla methods and varieties. It was a fantastic experience! I learned that I only needed water, masa harina, and salt to get started.
You don't need to, but I went ahead and bought a small tortilla press and a small comal, or cast-iron griddle. I picked up some masa harina (Maseca is the brand I used) and got started: mix, roll, press, brown each side on a dry griddle, wipe the griddle clean at the end. The biggest tip I learned from my classes and online recipes was that the dough is best rolled and pressed by hand to the consistency of Play-Doh. So making dinner was also a lot of fun!
Since my first attempt at tortilla making, we have
We have even shaped the uncooked dough into muffin tins and parbaked them, then filled them with taco meat and returned them to the oven to crisp and heat up some more.
My next plan is to try yet another corn flour product: arepa flour, or masarepa. This flour is an instant yellow flour, pre-cooked masa harina that is prepared similarly to tortillas but cooks quickly when stuffed or topped. This could be my sandwich bread replacement down the road...what do you think?
Sounds appealing, doesn't it? 😊
I'm actually not making snacky recipes for a Superbowl event. I don’t really do football---too much of it in my youth, for one, and no good music involved, for another. But I love to feed people, especially crowds, and Superbowl weekend is when people gather to eat non-holiday foods. I made these last month instead, for post-holiday visits and such. But you feel free to use them for football-y things all you want. I don't need to know!
I’ve been experimenting (sometimes out of desperation) with dinner and snack ideas that don’t include wheat, yeast, poultry, many legumes, and the usual host of food allergens in our house. One thing I’ve wanted to make for a long time is a vegan spinach artichoke dip. To make my gluten-free crackers more palatable, I finally dove into this goal.
I started off with this recipe from Forks Over Knives. We get a lot of soy already in our house, so a recipe that doesn’t use tofu is a winner for me.
Reviewers suggested that this was somewhat bland, more of a jumping off recipe. I took one suggestion in particular: to use pureed cannellini beans. This safe-for-us option added the creaminess (and some hidden protein for the bean averse) that I love. I didn’t even bother to use a blender, just my well-loved potato (really, applesauce and berry jam) hand masher.
I also used artichokes from a glass jar (nickel allergy!); spinach that I’d pre-frozen, partially thawed, and chopped; and a combination of water and chickpea+sweet rice flours to thicken and flavor instead of a plant milk (no one in my house agrees on a favorite).
And, of course, I went my own way with seasonings: In addition to the traditional and garlic and pepper, I threw in Green Goddess spices and hot sauce.
The result was scoop-able and tasty warm or cold, lasted for days in the fridge, and didn’t make me miss gooey cheese—too much.
Check it out:
BONUS: Free-From Veggie Dinnertime Nachos
After a late (that’s 8:30 pm, by the way) night out with the girls, I realized that I had no dinner options---they had chicken dumplings---and nothing defrosted or ready-made. But I did have corn tortillas and lots of fresh veggies, so…nachos!
Because I was making and eating these while the kids were already upstairs and asleep, I added all of my favorite cheeses. If you’re dairy free and have a favorite vegan cheese, go ahead with that. We aren’t in love with the typical vegan cheese options, but I’ve recently come across Follow Your Heart vegan cheese, which John’s of 12th Street in NYC uses. If it can stand up to an old Italian family, it’s worth a shot for mine, too! I’ll be sure to update the post if I succeed in making kid-safe nachos one day.
Until then, here’s a Superbowl-ready recipe for nachos made with your own baked tortilla chips. Perhaps as healthy as a nacho can get?
For starter ideas, I used the Paula Deen Macho Nachos recipe, which gave me ideas about warming the nachos and alternating crunchy and wet layers, and a great article (even if you aren't geeky about food) about nachos from The Guardian.
I had some personal inspiration, too: A well-loved, favorite indulgence with my mom on evenings during my middle- and high-school years was a bag of tortilla chips spread out, covered with shredded mozzarella, and nuked until the cheese became stretchy and delicious.
For my version, I planned to bake my chips as usual, on parchment at 350 degrees F. I use any type of corn tortilla rounds, quarter them, line them slightly overlapping, and lightly spray them with oil before baking. I put a tiny bit of salt on at this stage, only, too.
To top them, I used just what I had on hand, putting together ideas to cover dinner nutrition as best as I could: crumbled beets, dried bell peppers, diced onions, chopped romas, quartered artichokes, and torn up fresh spinach.
After the chips were just lightly brown (not as much as if I weren't topping them), I added a bit of cheese [pick your vegan replacement here as desired], liberally poured on Arizona Dreaming spices from Penzys, and started layering, big to small: artichokes, romas, onions, crumbly items. Then I topped it all with...more cheese. :)
Last, I returned this tray to the oven just long enough to melt the cheese but not brown it (something like 5 minutes or so). Try it and enjoy!
Free time. So fleeting, so hard to squeeze in. I'm more jack-of-all-trades than expert in any one hobby or topic. There's always much talk about work-life balance, but I have been thinking about life-life balance.
With older kids, routine work loads, and a year without enormous health or other challenges, my family and I have been having so much fun together, from swimming to skating to travel. It's been a real joy! I've found, though, that I struggled to make an effort to enjoy my own interests regularly when I found myself with time alone.
Example: Blogging weekly! I did it for a year, so this shouldn't be a challenge. But I find myself either baking, or writing, or reading, or knitting, or playing piano. What a first-world problem to have, I know. :-)
Last week, I had the chance to work on my family's 100+-year-old Italian mandolin. It's not a valuable antique, but it is a personal family treasure. While I'm devoting all of my energy to non-food joy (finishing the gluing and staining this week, I hope), here are some photos of the start and the work in progress.
I haven't abandoned the kitchen entirely...just the documentation. Some of my recent successes:
In a clockwise circle: Mel's veggie sauce (before puree), sweet potato brownies, cherry brown bread, free-from snack mix, unsliced brown bread, my favorite scones (now GF), dairy-free artichoke dip, Sicilian-style mackerel meatballs...and a centerpiece of homemade veggie nachos (with real cheese snuck in while kids were on playdates!)
I'm bound to return to writing down my kitchen efforts as soon as I am done with my obsessive focus on this gorgeous instrument! Until then, have a great week everyone.
It seems that I'm on an 8-day rotation for blog posting in 2018. I need to step up! This week, I intended to post a recipe round-up of five new favorite recipes adapted from some expert gluten-free bloggers. Unfortunately, that turned into more book than post, so I'll be doing a recipe per post, instead. And, of course, I'm starting with dessert!
A soft skillet brownie by Kelly at The Pretty Bee caught my eye this month. Grain free, and overall free of our family allergen list (not to mention DOUBLE chocolate), I had to try it. To get that lava cake--like softness, she used sweet potatoes! I miss lava cakes so much...and I happened to have a leftover baked sweet potato. Kismet.
You know I can't just leave a recipe well enough alone, though. And I wanted to use some of my King Arthur Flour gluten-free all-purpose mix in something. And I was out of maple syrup. And I don't own a small cast-iron skillet. So I can't say that I actually made Kelly's recipe, except maybe in spirit. And her recipe was inspiring---both the size and the moistness of ingredients, and the easy baking and serving instructions.
I have a habit of pulling ideas from all over the place when I get started in the kitchen. Sometimes, that ends with boiling brownies. Other times, it all comes together, at least eventually. Unbelievably, this inspired-by-but-not-quite-the-same recipe worked on the very first try! And the second try...and third.... It was good enough on the first try that we've now made it three times in one week. I'll blame that on the small size, but really it's just because it's so easy and yummy and fun to share.
So, in addition to The Pretty Bee recipe, I used a 4-ingredient recipe for ideas about baking without the leavener and how to increase the longevity by refrigerating overnight to set the brownies a bit more without losing the awesome fudginess.
And I'm linking it up to this week's FreeFromFridays, because...brownies, as soon as possible, and often.
Here's my short version of our successful sweet potato gluten-free vegan fudgy brownie:
3 ounces sweet potato (no skin), baked and cooled
3 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp psyllium
1/2 cup chocolate chips (reserve a small handful of these until the end)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used King Arthur All Purpose)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix the sweet potatoes, applesauce, sugar, and cocoa until smooth. Add the salt, psyllium, scant half-cup of chips, and GF flour. Stir until just combined.
Spoon the thick batter into a small baking dish (I used a 4" square ceramic cake dish, ungreased; lightly greased is fine, too).
Top the batter with the remaining chips.
Bake for 20 minutes.
And here's a prettier downloadable version:
On try two, I doubled the quantities, baked half as on try 1, and baked the other half in a 24-count mini-muffin pan with liners (ungreased). I baked that pan for only 14 minutes. Those turned out bite-size and delicious, too!
My biggest take-away: Always keep a baked sweet potato in your freezer in case you have a fudgy brownie craving. :-)
10-year well visit update:
Because most of my daughter's care has naturally transferred to her allergist, her well visits at the pediatrician are surprisingly simple these days. Basic vitals, run down of the year, etc.
This year, friends and family all thought she'd grown quite a lot, and we got a happy confirmation of that in the doctor's office: not just on the growth chart but actually on the curve! I don't put 100% confidence in the curves, of course---they're just guides, after all, not individualized predictions. But it's great to see my daughter moving in the right direction as she grows. If she stays on the same curve, she'll end up just about my size. But, who knows?!
Although my oldest had some unusual and somewhat fleeting allergic reactions as a toddler, it was my second daughter whose allergies really shocked our family. From day 1, she struggled with nursing, with formulas. She was losing too much weight to continue nursing and be discharged from the hospital, and she remained small enough to not be on a growth curve even after we found a formula that she mostly tolerated. In fact, she didn’t make it onto a growth chart at all until she was 8 years old.
If you’re like us, your lives have been upended and (I hope) resettled because of severe food allergies, and a surprisingly large challenge---aside from avoiding anaphylaxis!---was keeping a good nutritional balance in a growing child with such strict dietary limitations. The temptation to stick with ground beef, oatmeal, and green beans, for example, every day is strong, especially in those busy early years. And a lot of those boxed allergy-friendly products just don’t fit into a good nutritional diet, especially if you have to rely on them for every meal.
As we have all grown, and as our allergies have changed and our tastes expanded by necessity or interest, we’ve learned a lot about what nutrients bodies really need to feel tip-top, and some creative ways to get those in.
But dinnertime often remains an unending circle of what to make that is
c) safe for everyone
d) affordable on our budget and
e) nutritionally sound in at least one way.
It’s easy to see why that last one drops off when times get busy, money gets tight, kids get picky, parents get too busy to grocery shop for new ingredients when there are hot dogs and tater tots in the freezer.
Anyway. I found all of this daunting even though I write about nutrition and nutrients for a living. Here are some highlights of what we as a family have learned, pulling from research but making options that are live-with-able, too. Every family will have their own favorites, safe foods, and more, and I won't tell you the exact foods you should eat. But these ideas could help you fill your nutritional gaps as you build your family’s safe food world. I've added links to a few free resources I like below each section.
Vegetarians and vegans
Sometimes we tell people that our daughter eats "vegan + meat" to really get the no-dairy point across. It also is a good reminder that she won't get the iron, protein, and B vitamins she needs without some extra attention to her diet---and the converse, that she can rely too much on red meats instead of dairy to fill her up, especially with a nut/tree nut allergy thrown in.
Diets low on traditional Western sources of protein should focus on plant sources of protein instead, as well as pulses and beans. Luckily, this is getting easier every day as food options become more globally available. Plant and bean proteins have a huge extra benefit, too: a ton of fiber that is filling, helps digestion, and helps the body absorb nutrients from other foods. They're often low fat and low sugar, too, so their benefits pretty much extend to everyone: one family meal.
Vegetarian diet: staying healthy
Vegetarian diet: benefits and risks
Useful research from specialists
Getting iron, B vitamins, and protein
Luckily for my family, I have a wheat allergy, not celiac disease. Still, I spent awhile walking around with rice crackers and chocolate chips for snacks while my family ate English muffins or cookies. Making wheat-free versions of favorite foods has been an adventure; I had been eating whole grains with almost every meal, and I didn't anticipate how carefully I would have to watch the replacement items.
Starches, white flours, and gums not only upset my stomach at first but also didn't give me the type of energy or heart protection that my body needed. This effort, for me, is still a huge work in progress, but adding brown rice flour, oat flour, and potato starch have been my early modest improvements. Crushing freeze-dried vegetables like beets into my flours has given my meals a fiber lift, too (and the kids have no idea it's there!).
Boxed, trending, or processed pre-made foods
There are so many off-the-shelf allergy-friendly items now in regular grocery stores, and that's a blessing and a curse. It's great to have instant(ish) meal or treat options. And many of them are made with great nutritional focus, too. But others add extra salt or sugar, rely on refined grains or high-fat oils, or---more often than I expected---at least three nonreplaceable eggs. On top of all of that, the costs compared with "regular" versions can be triple or higher, so they certainly don't fit in everyone's budget.
Anyone with food restrictions has heard the solution before: cook at home, bake from scratch.
I had those both modeled for me when I was growing up, but I get it that "scratch" sounds terrifying, or just not worth the time, for many people. If that's you, then seek out the healthiest prepared items you can, at least for now. Find some favorites [shameless plug here for Bob's Red Mill products!]. For example, one thing I'll never make from scratch is cornbread, so we tried four different brands without gluten before we all agreed on one that met my healthy ingredient standards and everyone's taste. It takes forever. You toss out a lot (don't call it waste---it's an experiment!). But you'll get there...and then everything will change again.
Good luck! ;-)
Linked on Free-From Fridays' Changes and Challenges post. I've certainly learned that, versus a solvable problem, food allergies change and challenge us constantly. Bring on the experimenting!
My family and I made it through a fun but overly hectic December---multiple orchestra performances and solo recitals, amazing school projects and group music jams, and mostly positive kitchen experiences. We followed that up with a really lovely holiday break: multiple museums, plenty of time at the House of Musical Traditions "petting" instruments I could blow my budget on in a day, and lots of fun movies and games with my two double-digit--aged kids. I couldn't have asked for much more!
What I didn't do was spend any planning time on work or fun-blogging. :-) So I'm starting the new year out with a pretty traditional approach: putting my resolutions in writing:
Continue swimming, lifting, and rowing
In 2017, I joined the IronHeart Foundation Triple Crown Challenge to extend my exercise and health routine beyond completion of cardiac rehab. I met the goals of 100 days, 100 hours, and 100 miles of exercise. I loved the motivation, the flexibility, and the cost (free!).
In 2018, I plan to continue that motivation on my own time with the Achievement app. It's a program that connects to other apps and rewards you with points when you meet health goals. Eventually, you cash in the points. My biggest hurdle here will be that I'm too low tech to get started: I don't have any devices (or their apps), like FitBit, to connect yet! My cardiologist will be thrilled if I meet this goal, though, because he's been asking me for years to upgrade from my analog-like pedometer. :-)
Continue rosary walks
Even before heart surgery, I was a huge proponent of walking as one of the best cardio exercises. It's free, easier on joints than running, accessible to all ages and ranges of health, and can be done anywhere---even in place. During cardiac rehab, I walked daily; after recovery, I was thrilled with the places I could go! Hills? No problem! Bags of groceries or books? Didn't even slow me down.
My challenge? Walking, by itself, is just a tad too boring. I don't 100% enjoy walking and talking, and, ideally, I like to have a destination. To keep my walks going after rehab, I combined them with my daily rosary. Calming, productive, peaceful, quick enough to fit into any day.
In 2018, I want to continue these walks. They clear my head, and they get me out of the house on busy work-from-home days that blow by. The rosary walks are nice, but short. My goal is to extend them by adding in a podcast or two afterward. I've never managed to get into podcasts, though I'd like to and have a long list of ones to try. Popping in ear buds and walking to the library seems like a great way to keep me walking this year.
Organize a blog and media calendar
Right. This one will be a challenge, not because I can't plan but because I LOVE to plan, to the exclusion of implementing the plan.
In 2017, I learned more than I could imagine about online media: scheduling blog posts, calculating nutritional content, tweeting and replying to tweets, posting to facebook in different locations, adjusting photo sizes and uploading in different places, sharing and labeling pins, joining link-ups (who knew?!), designing my own infographics and PDFs, and so much more. I also learned something surprising: I truly enjoy this online community! The steep learning curve (especially for a devoted Luddite like me) to interact online was more worthwhile than I could have imagined. I am continually inspired and impressed by others' kindness, creativity, openness, and generosity. It's been an unexpected blessing to connect with people around the world, to learn from them and to share experiences.
In 2018, I want to get away from my haphazard approach to these interactions. Right now, I fit them in around work and family schedules. Although this blog isn't a part of my business, per se, it is an important part of my week, and devoting time to it just makes sense. In particular, I'd love---at a minimum---to coordinate scheduled, prewritten blog posts with tweets and other shares, to figure out Tailwind for pinning, to set aside dedicated time to write thoughtful yet focused posts, and to have a real editorial calendar.
I may have set my aspirations too high. This list doesn't even include my fun goals, like learning a new instrument, or at least playing the one I do know (piano) every week. Oh, and the knitting goals...don't get me started. It wouldn't be a January without outsized resolutions and optimism, though, right?
And it wouldn't be a good food blog if I didn't add some sort of recipe! This one has been tested a few times already and went up just before the Christmas holiday on Bloglovin' and Freedible. The chocolate peppermint bread is free from wheat, dairy (milk and milk products), eggs, peanut, tree nuts, seeds, soy, and preservatives. If you are celiac, this is gluten free, too (it's not necessarily 100% gluten free from my kitchen, though; we're still using rye flour in shared bowls and pans...for now).
Check out the downloadable version, also indexed here on the blog:
Linked to my first FreeFromFridays of 2018
If you've followed the blog in 2017, you might notice that this recipe and its download file are derived from my holiday strawberry bread. The new recipe incorporates some gluten-free truths I learned so far, either from others or the hard way (sadly trashing first try recipes), including use of lower cooking times, different amounts of liquid, and measurement by weight instead of by cup scoops.
The strawberry bread has the same free-from ingredients (except wheat). If you aren't wheat free, I suggest giving that recipe a try first. It's moist and yummy with any type of fruit or veggie!
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.
I made the 2017 Top-40 Food Allergy blogs!
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