Ah, another Friday and I have yet to finish the blog post I started on Monday night. 2018, that’s going to be my year of planning ahead, I hope! I’m aiming in 2018, and really now too, for the mantra “get it done, not perfect” ---with encouragement from the Mamapreneurrevolution
Instead of that nutrition post (still in the draft folder), which really just isn’t done, I’m going for a get-it-done post today.
Last night, I needed to use up a lot of random foods for dinner, and I had to make it in just a few minutes if possible, without a lot of prep time. As my kids get older, my husband and I find ourselves all over town with them in different directions---a somewhat new occurrence for us. I needed a dinner to lay out ahead of time that I could toss together when we all got home, hungry and ready to eat right away.
And, instead of planning that dinner, I spent the morning looking at carrot cake recipes.
Let me explain: I don’t actually like carrot cake. Or at least I don’t think I do.
I have a dear friend in Florida who adores it, though, and a neighbor friend who makes the most amazing cake I’ve ever seen…and it’s carrot. I trust these two an awful lot. And I found pre-shredded carrots at Trader Joe’s. And I found a gluten-free carrot cake bread-loaf recipe at ElaVegan, and I’m pretty desperate right now for a good slice of quick bread for autumn mid-mornings.
Naturally, I started searching for more examples of carrot loaf cakes, because the one I found looked amazing but wasn’t quite what I was going for. Then I started brainstorming about what I might do with the recipe. And I realized that I’ve almost never explained how or why I remake recipes---trying to balance the art and science of cooking and baking without any professional kitchen experience whatsoever (like most of you, I hope!). Thus, this post was born.
Most of my "recipes" these days are made up on the go as we tease out the true allergies in the house. So, today, you get a walk-through of how I start to build a recipe-creating/converting grid AND a recipe-free method for the quickest allergy-safe dinners ever. Maybe I’ll get to that nutrition post by 2018….
Converting and Creating Allergy-Safe Recipes
If you’re like me, you have a ton of recipes from your past that you adore and can’t make as is anymore because of food restrictions. That’s a natural place to start converting ingredients to safe ones, of course.
Also, though, I tend to find recipes on favorite food blogs/sites or even on allergy-friendly sites that just don’t quite fit our needs. Maybe they’re dairy-free but not egg-free, or they’re wheat-free but not dairy-free. You get the idea.
When that happens, I grab the recipe that inspired me, search for a few more examples that might replace other allergens, and line them all up in a table with the same/similar ingredients on the same rows. Like so:
Then I aim for my own version, which uses the ingredients I know are safe and work for us, and which usually relies on ingredients I already have on hand.
For example, if it’s a fruit or veggie product, I might use juice instead of milk. If the original has nuts, I might replace them with dried fruit or just leave them out. If peanut butter is key, this recipe might not be for me! But it can still work in some cases with another thick spread or oil, if I’m lucky. If the recipe has 1-2 eggs, I’ll use one of my favorite egg mixes (applesauce, starch, and water), might increase the oil or fruit/veggie content a bit, and might add some extra leavener (baking soda) if it’s a baked good that should dome.
If my final version is quite similar to one of the originals, then it’s ALWAYS called an adapted recipe if/when it goes on my blog or in a book. If the final differs pretty substantially (a qualitative statement, I know), it’s simply inspired by, or maybe acknowledged in another way.
A lot of my recipes come out of my family archives, but I get more and more inspiration from friends and families lately, too!
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned during my baking grid experiments so far:
1) If the recipe calls for coconut oil, or is a no-bake recipe, you really can’t replace the coconut oil with a liquid oil. Semi-solid oils are crucial for holding together batters after they cool. You can try to lower the amount of coconut oil, though, for heart healthy purposes.
2) Recipes with 3 or more eggs are really tough to convert to egg-free versions. Sometimes it’s worth cutting the original in half and making smaller batches at a time instead.
3) Recipes without the fatty mouth feel of dairy and eggs really need some extra kick sometimes, even if you get that texture from oils or fruit sauces/butters. We have “accidentally” used double the amount of cinnamon, vanilla, and many other herbs with a lot of success.
4) Too much baking powder gives you bitter cookies. Baking soda and powder are both important. Don’t use just one if the recipe calls for both! If I’m replacing eggs in a recipe that calls for just one, I try to use the other option for a better balance. Don’t forget the extra lemon juice or vinegar if you add soda to a recipe, though, because the acid isn’t built into that leavener.
Since I “wasted” much of my morning browsing around carrot cake ideas, I really had to stretch to pull off our Recipe-Free Dinner. You know what’s funny, though? Everyone thought it was delicious (even the kid who won’t eat food that touches each other, usually).
This dinner was made in one pan and was served in individual bowls right from the pan. I measured just about nothing and went for the Rachael Ray eyeball-it method. Minimal cleanup necessary.
Hectic Day Dinner
Pick a sautéing oil (we love olive oil, always on hand)
Pick a veggie (we used pre-frozen sliced peppers, defrosted, but fresh will work well here of course)
Pick a protein (we used 1 pound of stir fry beef, defrosted, but beans or fish or another meat will do)
Pick a sauce or liquid vehicle (we used a leftover half-empty jar artichoke red pepper dip because I needed to get rid of it. To thicken it all up, I added a dusting of cornstarch, too)
Pick some seasonings (we used a huge scoop of minced garlic, unmeasured, and a ton of shakes of a Bavarian spice mix from Penzy’s)
Pick a healthy (low GI) carb (we used thin sliced farm red potatoes from our WGG delivery that morning)
Pick a leafy green (we used romaine on the side but a collard/kale green shredded into the bowl would be ideal if it’s on hand)
Warm some olive oil in a medium covered pan on the stovetop.
Add the veggies on medium high.
Add the meat, cut into small dices, and saute briefly; then cover and turn the heat to medium to steam.
Add the sauce or liquid, cornstarch, and garlic. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil, then return to medium and add the seasonings.
Wash and thin slice the potatoes, then cut slices in half and add into the pan (or stir in broken up rice noodles, instant rice, couscous, or other carbs if you choose).
Cover the pan and allow the steam and liquid to cook the potato slices. When they’re soft, dinner is ready.
Ladle some of the meal into each bowl and add the greens on the side or shredded into the mix.
*You can make this an even faster dinner by using leftover cooked meat, drained beans or tofu, and vermicelli-style Asian rice noodles or tiny Italian pasta (pastine).
So, what would you use in your version?!
In honor of the Wonder Woman movie release this weekend, here's a post on a wonder pulse: the chickpea.
Have you ever heard of a low-nickel diet? It's yet another dietary restriction in our house, this time for me because of my severe metal allergies that lead to infections when I blister after metal contact. Knowledge and research about low-nickel diets are not as clearcut as for some other food eliminations or replacements. And, I feel, it's harder to see the benefit of reducing food contact with metals, too. Still, I give it a decent effort; I've changed a lot of food choices, from canned tomatoes for sauce to boxed, from canned black olives to glass mixed olives or giardiniera. I try to balance my fiber intake so that I rely less on supposedly high-nickel foods like figs. As food avoidance goes, it's not too bad.
I only bring up low-nickel eating because it's been a surprise factor in a new food allergy favorite: aquafaba. We have a lovely group of supportive friends across the country. When the wonders of aquafaba---the liquid that suspends canned chick peas---appeared in media last fall, many people sent the articles to me for use in baking for my egg-free daughters. I got excited; then I got realistic.
So, I love chickpeas. My mother would laugh at that---I hated them when I was younger. I worked my way backward from hummus to falafel to the actual bean (scientifically, a pulse). I like them raw, with lemon juice in salads, roasted with smoked paprika. I use the chickpea flour to coat our chicken, thicken my sauces, and make homemade sesame-free hummus (still working on that one).
Also, I hate food waste, so the idea of using the liquid with the chickpeas sounded great as a healthier egg replacer than root starches. But this is where I drew my nickel-diet line; using the liquid that coated a can (probably for awhile) just seems like a bad idea for me, especially after being diagnosed with an immune/allergic esophageal condition last year.
The garbanzo truly is a wonder pulse, though: full of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and more. Mashable, toastable, spreadable, easy to pop a few into your hands for a snack---portable, even. Also firmer than a lot of similar bean alternatives, which is nicer for picky kids. You can probably guess that I make an exception to my no-canned-food diet for---copiously rinsed---canned chickpeas. It's just too convenient, and they're just too healthful and tasty to avoid.
It's hard for anyone to balance eating carefully with enjoying the food, and that's especially true for people with any kind of modified diet (#customeaters!). Allergies and immune conditions have long existed, but we're more connected now than ever before. You might be surprised who, even in your small circle, might be avoiding or replacing foods for health reasons.
Today, instead of a dairy-free/egg-free/nut-free recipe, I'd like to connect you with some great resources on using pulses in general, and chickpeas in particular, with whatever diet you follow.
We can't use aquafaba, but we can maximize our creativity with the legume itself---one of the oldest cultivated foods on the planet. Try a few of these ideas for your summer cookouts, or start with some hidden flour to get the nutrition in for picky eaters.
And don't forget to share your ideas, recipes, and successes with me on Instagram or Twitter!
This week, I took some time off to recuperate after a few big work projects and a busy spring for both of my girls. I thought I might fill the time with some books, maybe update my mp3 playlists. Instead, I ended up in the kitchen again---but just for fun.
I like to think of myself one way: very organized, with a meal plan for the week that doesn't get boring for anyone because I circulate recipes well and freeze ahead. In reality, I seem to thrive on experimenting with different recipes every day and can't seem to repeat more than a few family favorites before trying something completely new. I have a very patient family.
For vacation kitchen time, I decided that my family really needed a good cookie cake and that I had to finally use up the zucchini in my freezer before I could buy more at the Sunday market. I found some lovely recipes, but each had 1 egg to replace. To me, these are easy recipes to convert, much more so than ones with multiple eggs. The biggest question is what starch to use in place of the egg.
Eggs are so valuable in baked goods because they offer not just airiness but also cohesion: they bind the other ingredients together to avoid a crumbly result. Different powdered starches offer the same thickening glue. Three common examples are cornstarch, arrowroot powder, and tapioca flour. Popular boxed egg replacers sometimes contain potato starch. In general, 1 Tbsp of a starch thickens 1 cup of a liquid.
Until recently, I've relied only on cornstarch---a grain, not root, starch. Although it is best with high heats and longer cooking, it's fairly all purpose. If you have a corn allergy, though, the other two options are essential to have on hand. All three starches can be exchanged mostly on a 1-to-1 basis in baking, but they do have best-case uses. For example, arrowroot and tapioca are clearer and more gel-like than cornstarch, and tapioca thickens well at lower temperatures; they both freeze better than products with cornstarch, too. Breads with too much tapioca starch can become chewy, though, especially after the first day.
Cinnamon zucchini bread and chocolate cookie cake recipes are easily veganized, with only 1 full egg each.
I do want to try each recipe again before they're posted, but I can share some cheater's notes now for replacing that single egg in your own recipes:
1) For breads or products that rise, add 1/2 tsp baking soda (not powder!)
2) For denser products (like that cookie cake), usually leave the baking soda or powder quantities the same.
3) 1 Tbsp each of applesauce, water, and the starch combined and added to your batter can replace the uses and texture of 1 egg.
4) To replace egg whites only, try the starch and water without the applesauce.
What types of egg replacers do you use to make new or favorite recipes egg free?
I’ve been thinking a lot about oil lately. Cooking oils, baking oils, popcorn-spraying oils; it’s become a bit of an obsession for me in 2017.
Before heart surgery, I gave this part of my diet only a bit of thought. It wasn’t bad, wasn’t perfect. I aimed then, and still aim today, for everything in moderation. Even that chocolate, cream-filled donut.
My surgery was to replace a valve—faulty since day 1, not to clean out fat-clogged arteries from diet or genes. But, high cholesterol runs in my family and I’m feeling especially motivated to not have my chest cracked open again if diet changes can prevent it.
So, oils. If you’re dairy free, you probably already use plant sterols and liquid oils instead of butter, lard, or solid margarines. Pat yourself on the back for heart health there, too.
But there’s not just one oil replacement for butter. In fact, choosing oils to use in dairy-free, heart-healthy cooking leads you down a deep, deep rabbit hole. Let’s get a little sciencey and explore some oil options that offer function, taste, and food allergy/heart health.
First, heart health. All oils have some good, some less good types of fats. Our body needs good fats to protect nerves, strengthen eyes and bones, maintain clotting ability and brain power, and store energy. This lovely infographic sums up oil choices and explains why unsaturated oils, tablespoon for tablespoon, are artery savers.
Second, food allergy and overall food safety. Obviously, avoid any oils made from your allergens. Also consider how heavily the oil is processed. Some users may have strong preferences about seed oil extraction methods, for example. Watch carefully for actual ingredients in generically named vegetable oils, too. These products might have a good combination of unsaturated options, but they also could mix in saturated fats at unknown proportions.
Third, function: solid state, smoke point, and taste are big deciding factors here. Reserve semi-solid products, like tropical oils, for when they are most useful, like in a no-bake that would fall apart with a softer, liquid oil. As a general rule, liquid oils with high smoke points, like sesame or soybean oils, handle temperatures for stir fry and high-heat cooking better. Oils with strong tastes, like nutty avocado oil, might only be appropriate in some dishes.
And the biggest decider, at least in our house until this year: taste. We have, as a family, spent lunch times in olive oil tasting stores, and we all have our favorites. No sense using an oil for health if its taste makes you cringe. Lucky for us, all olive oils have the same fat content, regardless of taste.
Our all-around standards are olive oil for sauteing, for salads and popcorn, and for anything else savory; flavorless canola oil for most baking; coconut oil sparingly for no-bakes; partially hydrogenated solid plant sterols for solid creamed treats like frosting; and a surprise new winner to try, corn oil, which can be healthier than I ever imagined.
But we’re breaking out. Recently I tried expeller-free avocado oil on our baked tortilla and air-popped popcorn. It’s a start.
What are your favorites and why? Do you measure your fats or choose for taste alone?
Did you know that one of our most common pantry items today came about because of an allergy in the 1800s? (There goes the "nobody had allergies in my day" argument.)
Baking powder, an improvement on the baking soda of the day, was developed by British chemist Alfred Bird in 1843 so that his wife, who was allergic to eggs and yeast, could bake.
Have you heard of yeast allergies? An immune reaction to yeast is a real thing, although it's also true that people can be sensitive to live yeast for other reasons and still able to eat leavened baked goods.
Baking powder has a long, storied history of development across continents, and baking soda has been around in our foods since ancient times. But what are baking soda and baking powder, anyway, and why are they so useful? Do they have downsides? How do they work, and when should we use them?
I think that, with the movements toward whole foods and locally grown foods (both good ideas in their own rights), we sometimes overlook the importance of older food science discoveries, especially if they don't sound fresh or healthy. Like so many advances in health, and even in today's medicines, the root source of baking soda and powder comes straight from plants and the environment, though, usually as a result of a problem that needed solved. (Sounds less chemical-y and scary already, huh?)
In the cases of baking soda and powder, it just took a couple of curious scientists to take a single ingredient---sodium bicarbonate---and standardize it for posterity.
Both baking soda and baking powder are called chemical leaveners, not because they are originally from labs but because they add bubbles and air to baked goods by mixing acids with bases (a chemical reaction) to release carbon dioxide. This gives quite the same result as live yeast, which releases carbon dioxide when it "eats" sugar.
Baking soda (pure sodium bicarbonate) derives from natron (only 17% sodium bicarb), used by Egyptians and other civilizations to cook, clean, and deodorize. Identified by Nicolas LeBlanc during the start of the chemical industry era in the 1790s, baking soda was mixed with sour milk throughout the 1830s to bake breads and was standardized in 1846 by Arm and Hammer. By the 1970s, Arm and Hammer's baking soda was marketed as the eco-friendly cleaner to help kick off the first Earth Day celebration.
When baking powder came about in 1843, it was quickly sent overseas by the British War Department to help feed troops. Baking powder carried a crucial advantage over baking soda in one way: it contained an acid in the powder already, so it could be used in recipes without acidic ingredients like vinegar. In this way, baking powder guaranteed an even rise, too. In addition to sodium bicarbonate, baking powder has always contained a powdered acid like cream of tartar and a moisture absorber like cornstarch (to prevent a reaction until mixed into a recipe). After more than a century of experimentation, today's shelf-stable, double-acting baking powder adds carbon dioxide in the bowl and in the oven, often with calcium phosphate as the acid.
In our food allergy recipes, baking soda and powder are essential safe ingredients, not just for my daughter's egg-free benefit but also because I developed a reaction to live yeast (which I learned the hard way, during weekly bread-baking excursions). Now, even our sliced bread and pizza dough recipes rely on these "invented" pantry leaveners. I gave up making my Gram's thick-crust Hot-Roll-Mix pizza dough recipe when my youngest with a robust dairy allergy was born, and I never stopped missing it. I also never imagined that I'd be able to replace it without yeast.
I've always been a fan of quick breads, the kind made without yeast or rise times or kneading, and usually involving a sweet fruit or savory squash. My mom used to make batches of these breads by the dozens, and it was the go-to snack and holiday or just-because gift in my house growing up. But it stretched my mind to use anything but yeast for "real" bread (not counting thick, dense, and lovely Irish soda bread, here, because it's so distinct).
But biscuits and cobblers don't use yeast, and they are light and fluffy. And I missed making my own pizza and focaccia dough at home terribly. If baking powder could work for a baker in the 1800s, certainly I had to at least try.
I'm still experimenting with just the right quantities to get a non-biscuity, Southern-Italian--style pizza crust: thick like Chicago style but airy and not heavy. It's coming along...and my family is eating a lot of middling pizzas! So far, I've tried different types of baking powder, too, to see if the tastes differ.
Meanwhile, I've learned a thing or two more about leaveners.
What about downsides? Well, sometimes leaveners are a bad idea. I got an awesome set of cookie stamps for my birthday and was finally able to try them out. I almost never have the patience to roll out cookie dough, collect the excess, roll again, repeat. But I tried a rollout Christmas cookie recipe without peppermints for Valentine's day. The cookies tasted great, held together, all good. Except that, as they baked, they rose and the imprint (Eat Me) erased, sometimes completely. Not an epic fail, but not worth all of that effort, either. I headed online for some research answers and found a duh-moment answer immediately: no baking powder. Naturally, ingredients to help a cookie rise aren't what I need here. So I'm heading back to the recipe grid drawing board with this one, too.
By Easter, maybe I'll have a cookie recipe and some pizza perfection, thanks to (or despite) my pantry leaveners.
Do you or your food-allergic kids have ingredients that you always avoided but that turned out to be safe after all---either because the allergy was "outgrown" or for another reason?
My oldest is allergic to pine nuts, which we suspected at age 2 and confirmed (accidentally!) at age 10. It's my youngest who is allergic to nearly the full gamut. We spent 8 years avoiding, among other things, all tree nuts, as did a few of her friends with food allergies. But, at her last skin-test check-up, the allergist tested tree nuts individually instead of as a group, and she had no allergic reaction to almonds or walnuts. Then, one of her friends who also had an almond allergy was declared safe for the same nuts, too!
I don't always love health coincidences, so I started wondering more about these individual almond allergy tests. It turns out that other food allergy families have gone through similar almond challenges...and that almonds aren't actually a tree nut after all. They're drupes.
I promise it's not a made-up word, it's a real fruit. Since I'm a word and plant-based medicinal chemistry geek, I do love the funny ways science distinguishes types of food. It's not really the same as regular ways, like how we eat the food or even what it looks like. In science terms, the almond is part of the plum family, just like apricots, peaches, and even cherries. Yes, almonds are hard and grow on trees; however, the almond is really the seed of a fleshy fruit---a drupe. Unlike peaches and those other examples, we eat the oily seed instead of the juicy fruit.
So what is a tree nut then? Cashews, pecans, acorns, and the like are true tree nuts. These foods have no flesh; they are hard-shell fruits, commonly called tree nuts. Their seeds are inside the shell, but that shell never opens to release them. Still yummy, but scientifically different from an almond for sure.
For my daughter, it turned out that walnuts don't cause her anaphylaxis, but they still aren't a safe food...that wasn't a fun challenge. Almonds, though---it's been so nice to add a bit of crunchy protein into our house again, for all of us. We don't even have a threshold; they're just safe. That's not the case for everyone who's cleared of a food allergy, and our doctors have suggested that it's wise to keep a somewhat steady exposure to almonds...just in case.
Almonds are so good for you in small quantities, too. They are high-fiber foods, and raw almonds have no sodium or cholesterol. Almonds are filled with calcium and iron that our bodies need. Even the fat (there's a good amount of that) is mostly the healthier monounsaturated kind.
But eating almonds regularly is not necessarily an easy thing to remember every week. They get a little boring all by themselves. There's also a healthy level of anxiety when we haven't had them on hand for awhile and it feels like we're trying a new food all over again. So I'm trying to get creative about putting almonds in things, from snack mixes to salads. So far, I have sugared them (so much for healthy?) successfully and am working on a couple of biscotti variations, coming soon I hope!
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