Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why "The Allergy Safe Kitchen"?

I love to see my kids invested in, and excited by their cooking! 
This is critical life-training for all food allergic children!

I've been meaning to write this particular post for a while now, but today I read an article that prompted me to sit down and devote some time to explaining why "The Allergy Safe Kitchen". The article was brought to my attention through Robyn O'Brien's "Allergy Kids foundation" FB page. In it, a 19 year old girl describes her life with a peanut allergy and how it has contributed to panic attacks, anxiety, and a battle with an eating disorder.  She equates food with possible death, and feeling empty/hungry with being safe.  She claims her parents didn't make her fresh food because it was too much trouble.  Which means that they also didn't teach her to cook safe food for herself.   She is being sent out into the world without the skills to keep herself safe and healthy. She is afraid of food. Is your heart breaking yet? Mine is. 

One of the reasons I started this blog, was to empower parents of food allergic children to cook - and to teach their children to cook.  Those with food allergies need the kitchen to be a safe place, a place of control, a place of empowerment - not a place of fear and confusion. 

My children walk out the door, and nearly every single place on earth offers a potentially deadly danger from substances that most consider highly nutritious foods.  Peanuts, eggs, dairy...we are told these are all fundamental parts of a balanced diet, thus, most families eat them.  That means every playground, every store, every public place and lots of private residences are places where my children could encounter an allergen.  The chance for accidental contact is high and often times overwhelming.  A good friend of mine is afraid to take her daughter to the grocery store anymore, because she has had such severe reactions from riding in the "kiddie carts" that are often available in supermarkets.  There is an underlying and constant, serious stress that lies in the hearts and minds of our food allergic children and loved ones.  Every social event is cause for them to go on high alert.  And that is why it is not enough for us to have just one safe counter space, one safe spatula, or one area of a pantry that contains safe food.  That is why we have chosen an "Allergy Safe" kitchen for our family.  A kitchen that doesn't contain foods they are highly allergic to;  a safe pantry, a safe fridge, a safe counter, and safe utensils.

"The Allergy Safe Kitchen" allows my children the chance to let go of that underlying stress that will accompany them everywhere they go in their lives.  It gives them a space to exhale, to feel safe, to feel confident in their health.  To borrow a phrase from Dr. Phil - it gives them a "soft place to fall." Our kitchen is a place of learning, of becoming "friends" with food, of feeling welcome, of time with family.  Our whole kitchen is a safe place for EVERY member of our family. An added bonus to having an allergy safe kitchen is that  my non-food allergic children are learning compassion when we explain that we don't have certain foods in the home in order to protect our loved ones.  Eliminating potentially unsafe foods from the home can be rewarding on many levels!

Parents - learn how to cook safe food for your food allergic children, and then teach them how to do it. Turn your kitchen into an allergy safe kitchen that is a safe and welcoming place for EVERY member of your family. If the grocery store is safe for your food allergic children, take them with you and teach them to read labels and become discerning consumers. Kids, teens, young adults, take charge of your health, learn to cook, become informed, and speak up for yourselves at social events and with your friends.

A final note to allergy parents: your children will have plenty of opportunities to navigate the scary world of possible cross contamination - don't let those opportunities be in your home.  Let your home and your kitchen be the places where they can exhale and feel the stress melt away.  A place for peace can be a highly impactful gift to your children.

 As always, from The Allergy Safe Kitchen, I wish you "Good Cooking, and Safe Eating"!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Color me Converted to Chia!

When I first was learning how to bake without eggs, I learned the water+oil+baking powder substitute, and after the Ener-G company went nut free, I embraced their boxed egg substitute.  Because both worked fairly well, I never really experimented with any "new-fangled" substitutions...like flax or chia...boy was I a ninny!  Let me tell you, dear readers, I am impressed with my chia experiment!

I made delicious "Double Chocolate Cake Cookies" last week...

And then I made them again this week with chia gel instead of my standard water/oil/baking powder mixture.  The cookies were fluffier and more moist than my original batch! 

Fluffy, soft, cake-like...dairy-free, egg-free...chocolate nirvana!
Chia seeds are high in omega-3s, protein, and fiber. They can absorb up to 9x their size in liquid!  Once they are converted to a gel, they are tasteless and act as a binder in baked goods!

I found A LOT of different recommendations for the proper chia to water ratio for use as an egg replacer; these were the most common:

2 tbsp whole chia seeds to 1/4 cup water (equivalent to 1 large egg)
2 tbsp ground chia seeds to 1/4 cup water
1:9 ratio (standard chia gel recipe)
(Mix each of these combinations in a glass jar or cup and let stand for 15-20 minutes) 

For my cookies, I needed the equivalent of 2 eggs, so I started by adding 4 tbsp of whole chia seeds to 1/2 cup of water.  After letting it sit for 15 minutes, the gel was so thick, I didn't trust that it would add the needed fluidity to the batter, so I added 3 tbsp more water.  After about 10 more minutes, the consistency seemed right...it seemed, "eggy"! 

I was really pleased with the outcome! The cookies are dark chocolate, so I couldn't really see any "whole" dark seeds in the finished product.  I'm going to try the ground chia seed in my pancake recipe this weekend.  I'm hoping the yield will be fluffier pancakes than we've had since going egg-free! 

So...in the interest of full disclosure...I've been eating the chocolate cookies while writing this post! (Now that's dedication for you...)

As always, from "The Allergy Safe Kitchen", I wish you "Good Cooking, and Safe Eating"!
Monday, April 9, 2012

Chicken and Dumpling Soup

Chicken and dumplings...I'm salivating already, pardon me while I wipe the drool off of my keyboard.  I've always shied away from making dumplings because I thought they sounded complicated, or like something a grandma would make, but not a busy mom like myself.  To be honest, most of the recipes for dumplings that I've come across online and in my cookbooks, use either eggs or milk or both.  I found this recipe on an old magazine clipping in my pile of "desk junk", and I gave it a whirl, with a couple alterations! Warm, hearty, comforting, and surprisingly simple, this recipe will prove to be a "go to" dish on a chilly day! 

*This recipe is egg-free, nut-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, shellfish-free, fish-free, soy-free.  As always, read your labels and the recipe carefully to determine if it is safe for you and your allergic loved ones!

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs,
   cut into large pieces
Skim the foam as the soup cooks.
2 onions, chopped4 celery ribs (including leaves), chopped
8 carrots, peeled and chopped in 1 inch chunks
4 quarts chicken stock
Kosher Salt
fresh parsley for garnish, chopped

3 cups flour
Kosher salt
4 tbsp. canola oil
2 1/4 cup water

- Place chicken pieces, carrots, celery, and onion in a large Dutch oven (or large soup pot)
- Add chicken stock, salt pepper and bring to a boil over high heat.  (Skim off any foam that rises to the top during the cooking process.)
- Reduce the heat to low and cover with snug fitting lid. Simmer for about 50 minutes or until chicken is tender.

You can see my "cuts" are not
uniform, but you'll be surprised
at how fluffy and light this
dough feels as you work with it!

- While the soup is cooking, make the dumplings. Place flour, salt and oil in a large bowl and slowly add the water, stirring, to make a dough. 
- Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly - DO NOT overwork the dough!
- Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thick, and using a rolling pizza cutter, cut the dough into roughly 1 x 3 inch slices.
- After the soup has cooked for about 50 minutes, carefully slide the dough strips into the pot (still simmering), trying not to crowd them in one big clump. COVER TIGHTLY (you need the steam created for fluffy dumplings), keep heat on low and cook for about 10 minutes. 
- Sprinkle with parsley and serve!

This soup was a big hit in our house, and frankly, it was so easy to make the dumplings, I don't know why I would ever add boxed noodles to my soup again!  So there you have it, dear readers, dumplings aren't just for grandmas!

 As always, from The Allergy Safe Kitchen, I wish you "Good Cooking, and Safe Eating"!
Monday, April 2, 2012

Tasty Lunch - Tuna Lettuce Cups

I made one of my favorite tasty lunches today!   Tuna lettuce cups!  This is a great, versatile, kid-friendly cold lunch.  I find it is an easy way to incorporate veggies into a "kid-meal" and every time I make it, it's a little bit different, depending on what is in the fridge!  Here's what I used today:

approx. 20 oz of canned tuna in water (drained)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
fresh chopped parsley
fresh chopped dill
1 stalk, plus leaves chopped celery
1 shredded carrot
chopped bell pepper (any color)
crumbled bacon
halved cherry tomatoes
Endive spears for serving
      *Please check the labels when you purchase prepared products, like tuna and Veganaise, to make  
        sure it is a safe choice for your food allergic loved one!

Mix tuna, lemon, celery, carrot, chopped parsley and dill, and peppers.  Add as much Veganaise as you like (less for a drier mix, more for a creamier mix).  Spoon tuna salad into endive spears and place two tomato halves on each spear.  Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and serve! 

These lettuce cups have a fresh, light, spring feel, but they are surprisingly filling!  I usually add some red onion or scallions, but we didn't have any in the fridge!  Sometimes I use different herbs or none at all - which is the beauty of this dish - add what you like/have on hand, and leave out what you don't!  For an extra garnish, you can shred some cheese (dairy or soy) over the top as well! 

As always, from "The Allergy Safe Kitchen", I wish you "Good Cooking, and Safe Eating"!