So, in North Dakota (and, I think, Minnesota), a casserole is called “hot dish.” It’s a simple descriptive name, but it can be said so evocatively — and hot dish is exactly what this raw end of winter needs, if you ask me. Last week was, if I can be blunt, a bit of a bitch, and warm comfort food was definitely called for, for sanity’s sake. And all comfort food in my world must include potatoes. This hot dish features a casserole staple — ground beef — mixed with green beans and seasoned tomato sauce, topped with mashed potatoes. It’ll chase the winter chill right out of you.
This is a recipe from my childhood, but apparently it pre-dates my parents’ marriage, too. When I called my mother to ask about a weird direction in the recipe, she admitted she’d been making the recipe since she was in high school and no longer has a written recipe. It’s cheap, quick, and easy, on top of being comfort food, and I needed to alter only a few things to make it allergy-friendly.
Hamburger Green Bean Hot Dish
- 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/4-1/3 cup non-dairy milk (I use almond — any of them should work)
- 1 Tablespoon Earth Balance margarine (or other safe-for-you option)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 lb. ground beef
- 2-1/2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon dill
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 1/2 lb frozen green beans
- one bunch of scallions, chopped, green parts only
- salt and pepper, to taste
Boil potatoes in salted water until tender.
Brown onion and beef in a skillet over medium heat. You don’t need to add oil — let the grease from the beef come out, then add the onions, and they will cook in the beef fat. Cook until onions are fully translucent. Drain off grease.
Add salt and pepper. Add oregano, dill, and garlic, and stir well.
Add tomato sauce, green beans, and scallions. Bring mixture to a boil. If you do this over medium, it gives you time to mash the potatoes.
Mash potatoes adding the margarine and milk — you may not need it all, so only add about 1/4 cup to start with, and see if you need the rest. The mashed potatoes should be a little stiff, as they will absorb some of the tomato sauce while cooking, and more when served.
Taste the beef mixture and the potatoes. Add more salt and pepper if you need it.
Pour beef mixture into a greased casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes. By family tradition, I piled the mashed potatoes in a pretty ring around the edge of the dish, but I’m sure this is not necessary.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, uncovered.
Eat hot. Also reheats well.
Hello, again, Friday. Weekend ahead!
So, did you hear about the new nutrition labels the F.D.A. put out for public comment last week? The New York Times covered it. Have you looked at the new labels? Do they change anything significant, so far as you’re concerned? I think they are slightly more legible, and I like that they are changing the serving size to be more reasonable. But other than those two positive comments, I don’t think the new labels will change anything for those of us who read labels closely.
On a much more fun note, I was thinking about crepes recently — something I’d never made before I was gluten-free or egg-free, but now, suddenly, kind of want. The Canary Files has a recipe that looks quite do-able.
So, I (Denise) recently made bacon. Because most commercial bacons have crappy dextrose, sodium erythorbate, or ascorbates, all of which are corn, and which means no bacon for me from the store. I used this recipe from Saveur.com and it was yummy!! However, if I did it again, I’d probably leave out the fennel and caraway, and I’d only cure it for five days instead of seven, as it got a bit salty. But I can have bacon again!!
One of the things that has been a vague niggling worry is cleaning products for the dishes, hand and machine. Both contain coconut and both likely contain corn, although I haven’t bothered to check. Other than trying not to hand wash too many dishes over a short period of time (I get hives all over my lower arms and hands) and trying to remember not to be an idiot and to wear rubber gloves, I’ve been ignoring the issue. Again, do not follow my example. My younger sister pinned this post on making your own dishwasher detergent on Pinterest, and other than subbing out the Dr. Bonner’s (coconut issue), I think I could make it work. Now to figure out a hand dish soap, so that my arms and hands aren’t all rash-y after a big canning weekend.
Close your eyes, tap your heels and keep saying, “there’s no season like spring.” Has to work right?
New for Surviving the Food Allergy Apocalypse — come find us on Facebook! We’ll be sharing things throughout the week, so come join us.
“You are what you eat.”
Right. So what are you when you can’t eat half the foods that you used to love? Or any of the family recipes you grew up with? Or your favorite dish of your best friends, or the perfect brownie recipe you spent two years perfecting?
What are you? Lost and frustrated. And others — your friends and family — are lost with you.
Our food culture today is a bizarre landscape that includes mega-star cooks, entire networks dedicated watching people cook food you will never make, “food deserts,” corporate organics, farmers’ markets, some shady corporate political maneuvering, and an entire populace generally both obsessed with and confused by food.
This article has nothing to do with food allergies; it’s about making small changes to your diet to eliminate “non-real” food additives. I think this is the kind of article that expresses our collective cultural confusion about food. A diagnosis of food allergy or intolerance means you start reading all labels and learning things you maybe wish you did not need to know about how our food is produced. While I’m all in favor of people figuring out what makes them healthy or well, the seemingly random declaration of some foods as “real” and morally superior or “good” and others “fake” and “bad” doesn’t seem to serve a greater purpose, but it does start to explain the comments that those of us who “insist” upon bringing our own food to social events hear so often –
- “Oh, you’re so good to eat that way!”
- “You’re so healthy!”
- “That must be how you stay so skinny!” or “You must be losing so much weight on that diet.”
- “I’m so bad for eating this cookie!”
As we talked about last week, it’s a different health-based reason than most people think, but allergies often seem to get lumped with diet choices and food fads, undermining their seriousness and the toll they can take on your life. A food allergy diet is not a choice. It’s not a moral statement. It’s food that doesn’t kill you.
I read a maybe more pertinent essay last year that really got into food and what it means to us, individually and as a culture. This open letter to Paula Deen from culinary historian Michael W. Twitty is really worth reading, as I’ve been thinking about it since last summer. Part of what Twitty was saying is that the conversation around food has been somewhat divorced from both its history and meaning. At its base, food is energy. We consume so that we continue; it is fuel for our bodies. But food is a much larger social construct. Food is identity, it is connection, it is love. What we eat defines us, not in the childhood mantra of “you are what you eat,” but in our connections to the world.
Culinary traditions bind families and communities together, even through migrations as Twitty describes in the large mid-20th century movement of African-American communities from the rural south to the urban north. Think about your family’s traditions. Was there a special food for birthdays, or celebrations? A Sunday meal? A holiday treat? I think I could tell the story of my life through foods, from Cookie Monster birthday cakes, that one cookie recipe my grandmother made, through my mother’s stir-fry phase, through the successes and failures in the harvest gold kitchen of my first apartment, and through that absolutely magical brownie recipe.
This is one of the very reasons that adult-onset food allergies are so difficult. When the foods that define your family and traditions are now forbidden to you — when going to a family gathering means enduring the many queries about why you are no longer participating in the sharing of history-laden sustenance, or why you brought your own food, or explaining again that, no, you cannot “just have a bite” of that — you have to work around to finding that identity again. All of the old comforts are gone, and seeking the new, while potentially exciting, is rarely comforting.
When my forbidden foods list extended just to dairy, I found that food traditions other than Midwestern American — or anything North American — were easier and therefore worth exploring. Dairy is rarely used in traditional (even “Americanized traditional”) Asian cuisines. Chinese was safe, sushi was awesome, and even Indian was navigable. Vegan cookbooks taught me to bake without dairy and without eggs, as well as how to focus on vegetables and really use the depths of my spice cabinet.
As the list of forbidden foods has expanded, the ease of eating out has decreased. I didn’t realize for the first year or so how much I had let fear of getting sick circumscribe my life. Giving up control of my plate meant the potential for getting sick — not likely anaphylaxis (or not so far), but every time I get sick I have to re-face and re-conquer the fear of eating out after I’ve gotten back to being well. I was turning down social opportunities, packing my own food, afraid of the consequences. And I was missing out, not necessarily on opportunities to get sick, but on opportunities to socialize, make and build connections, and to learn how to be a good advocate for myself in restaurants. Not that the latter always works, but it is a skill that you need to learn and practice.
The other skill is learning to balance — my need to find and take advantage of safe social situations, my ability to create food-free or not food-centered social opportunities, and my own health. The trials of learning this balance are now part of who I am, as are my food allergies, and this outlet Denise and I created online. One of the reasons we started this blog was that we both needed a positive outlet for the frustration of needing to recreate the entirety of our foodscapes. The blog — well, our editorial calendar, which changes, but gives us structure — helps keep us focused on working out recipes for foods we want to eat again. Sharing them out via the internet, and the feedback we get from our readers encourages us to keep working on new things rather than getting stuck in our own ruts.
Beyond the food, the many conversations we have about our own frustrations and triumphs and failures has lead to this series of essays as we’re starting to feel more like the food allergy online world is a community that we want to participate in beyond our recipes. We’re glad you’re here, and thanks for reading.
Gluten-free Vegan Italian Herb Crackers
- 1/4 cup of Denise’s All Purpose Gluten Free Flour Mix (I used the Gluten Free Girl’s post on gluten-free holiday baking and modified it a bit – to make 500 grams of the mix, you’ll have a bit extra to use for other recipes, whisk together thoroughly 50 grams of oat flour, 50 grams of teff flour, 75 grams of sorghum flour, 25 grams of potato flour, 125 grams of sweet or glutinous rice flour, 75 grams of potato starch, 50 grams of arrowroot, and 50 grams of tapioca starch) or use a safe for you commercial gluten free all purpose flour.
- 1/4 cup of brown rice flour
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground chia seed
- 1 teaspoon of Italian Seasoning mix or (or a bit of oregano, basil, marjoram, sage, rosemary, and thyme to add up to 1 teaspoon)
- 2 teaspoons of olive oil or a safe oil for you
- 4 Tablespoons of water.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Put all dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.
Then add the oil and water and mix with a silicone spatula until the dough holds together in a ball.
Flatten the ball to a frisbee-like shape, and then place it on a sheet of parchment paper.
Place another sheet of parchment paper over the dough and roll out the dough between the two sheets to about an eighth of an inch.
Peel off top layer of parchment, and use a knife to cut lines in the dough (don’t cut through parchment). The picture shows that I used a ravioli cutter to get the squiggly lines, but at the end it started getting clogged and stopped doing the squiggly lines because it all gummed up in the wheel, which was a pain to clean. Which is why I suggest a knife.
Transfer the parchment with the dough on it to a sheet pan.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. Leave the crackers on the pan to cool. Once completely cool, transfer to an airtight container to store, or just eat them all. That’s a viable option too. Enjoy!
Adios, February — don’t let the door hit you as you leave.
Pasta — if you’re gluten-free, you’re thrown into a mess of new, way less cheap options to make the quick and easy meal we all love for a weeknight. So this discussion of different GF pastas on the market may be useful to you. I learned that you can’t dismiss a brand because you disliked one shape — unlike gluten-filled pastas, the different pasta shapes work way differently in different formulations of GF flours. I really like corn pasta in a macaroni or spiral shape, but as a spaghetti, it’s kind of awful. The rice flour pastas I’ve tried are exactly the opposite — kind of blech as macaroni or small shapes, but pretty good as spaghetti or other noodles. What pastas have you tried and liked? Or really disliked?
And because February not only has that stupid extra “r,” but because it’s been ridiculous outside, too, here’s the funniest video about yogurt you will ever watch.
I (Denise) miss gardening a bit. And the jerks at my complex won’t allow us to grow veggies on our balconies. So maybe I can use sprouting sprouts as a substitute, and I won’t have to wait until winter’s over. (Oh God, will it never end??) Check out this blog post on how to do it. They’re supposed to have more vitamin-y goodness too. (I really keep meaning to try this — presumably, I could then grown only a smaller amount of sprouts and eat them before they go mushy. Sprouts are really good in the Sweet Chili dipping sauce. — MK)
If you can still eat out with modifications, check out this post on getting Allergy Business Cards with your allergy information on it to hand to your server. Since we just ordered a bunch of business cards to hand out for the blog, I thought this would be great for some of you. You can have them done pretty inexpensively at various sites on the web, or get some printable business cards at Staples.
We’ve added a request on the sidebar here (okay, probably up there) — there is a change.org petition asking for mandatory labeling of corn and corn-derived ingredients as a potential allergen. Now, corn isn’t the most common allergen, but corn and corn-derived ingredients may be one of the most pervasive ingredients in our food system, under about a billion different names, making it incredibly difficult for those with corn allergies, like Denise, to shop. So please consider signing. We’ll leave the little widget box there for a few weeks. (And thanks to Mary Kate for writing this description for me since I got home from hanging out with friends just a little too late for a weeknight. I’d really appreciate any signatures as a show of support, although I’m not sure there’s enough of a ground swell at this time for the FDA to make changes in spite of Monsanto’s influence – Denise)
Have a weekend, everyone.
We’ve touched on this topic in a peripheral way in our posts on Relationships and Food Free Entertainment, but we wanted to give this topic its own post because of the prevalence of food with socializing in our society, and the complications that can cause if you have food allergies.
When you develop a food allergy in adulthood, and then have to re-learn how to eat and how to cook, you suddenly realize how much of your social life revolves around food. Looking back at the last six months or so, and at the events I have coming up, most had/or have something to do with food:
- Family wedding
- Meeting my mother’s new friends at a restaurant
- Work holiday party at a Chinese restaurant
- Family holiday celebration
- Going out to eat for birthday dinners
- Gatherings at friends’ homes, where people all bring food
Even if the event itself doesn’t revolve around food, I have to figure out how to get safely fed while attending the event:
- My college reunion
For me, corn is nearly impossible to deal with. If I go out to eat, I am probably going to be exposed and have a reaction. Unless I can cook for myself with safe stuff, I am going to have a reaction. This can be minor, and it can be more serious, so the people around me have to know how to use an epi-pen. The last convention I attended with a friend, we ate out some meals (I was lucky and had minor reactions, yes, I know, dumb), I brought safe food and snacks with me, and we may or may not have smuggled in a hot plate into our hotel room and warmed up some foods. This was also before I really got good with my pressure canner, and didn’t have anything canned other than pickles that I could bring. Next time will be different and I won’t take so many stupid chances. I’ll still go out with my friends, but I’ll eat at the hotel.
My college reunion is in June. I’ve been in contact with the college to determine whether they have fridges and microwaves or not, and since I’m driving, I’ll bring in food I pressure canned with me that I can warm up in the microwaves. I’ve paid for all the meals so that I have a seat and can sit with my friends, but I won’t be able to eat anything at those meals.
As I stated before in our Relationships post, for most events, I will bring my own food, or eat before or after, but that can pose some interesting questions and reactions from others. Some reactions are sympathetic, and some, not so much. I’ve witnessed reactions that clearly communicate that people don’t believe I have a problem and must be making it up, and reactions which are intended to be sympathetic but are possibly passive aggressive. Here are some things not to say or do to a person with food allergies:
- “If I had to do that, I’d kill myself.” – I’ve heard this on multiple occasions and have always wanted to respond with, “Oh, should I nip off and slit my wrists now then?” but it’s not yet been said in a situation that I could get away with it.
- “Oh, I’m sure it only has a little, it won’t bother you.” This is where I want to stab them myself with the epi-pen.
- “You really can’t eat anything here? Not even a salad?” No, I freaking can’t. If I’ve determined there’s no safe food there, there is no safe food there. Don’t harass me to eat something just because you think it looks weird that I’m not eating anything. Let me drink my glass of water or wine in peace.
- “Isn’t there a pill you can take?” – No, there isn’t. I wish there were. Whoever develops one will make a billion dollars, but until that time, I’ll just not eat the food and continue to be healthy, thanks.
- “I would just eat x[food] anyway.” – Besides the whole potential for death thing, let’s talk about some of my reactions and see how you feel about spending multiple hours near a toilet, with the contents of your stomach exiting both ways.
- “If I had that many food allergies, I would only eat one thing.” – I don’t even know how to respond to that. Boredom? Malnutrition? Eating one thing is better than learning new ways to cook?
- Playing the “can you eat x[food] game?” – Seriously, I don’t want to play that game. First, it’s depressing, and second, last time I checked I wasn’t a circus freak and I just want to hang out and have a normal conversation.
- “Oh, how come you get to have x [whatever safe food I'm having]? What are you, special?” said as I pull out my own safe food to eat. Really? When you get to eat everything at a store whenever you feel like it? Really? Again, I want to stab them with my epi-pen.
- People who take offense because I won’t take just one little bite of this special thing they made – Apparently they would prefer to show off how great the thing they made is, instead of keeping me healthy and letting me decline gracefully. Thanks.
- People who tell me to eat local/organic/non-gmo, and I’ll be cured – While all of those things are good things, if I’m allergic to it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s local, organic or non-gmo. I’ll just have a reaction to a more expensive version of my allergen.
- People who insist they are going to have safe food for me at an event and then don’t – While annoying, I’ve learned my lesson on this one. First, they are not going to have the knowledge that you do, and will likely make a mistake even if they do have the food. Second, don’t depend on others, just bring your own safe food. Less chance of a problem that way, and no questioning whether you should have eaten something or not while your stomach churns.
It’s just food, people. It shouldn’t be a capital offense if I’m not eating what you’re eating at a social event. I’m lucky that I’m not airborne sensitive, so I don’t have to ask people to change what they are eating or serving, so I wouldn’t expect to get as much aggravation as I end up getting. And I’m lucky that my husband, and a lot of my close friends and family members are supportive. That being said, I’m also lucky that I have the kind of personality that if you try to “peer pressure” me or “guilt me” or tell me I can’t do something because it’s not done or because you’re worried about how it will “look,” I’m likely to tell you to shove it and where to go, and do whatever I’m going to do anyway. Sometimes, I’ll have to be more diplomatic with the message than others, but keeping myself safe is more important that whether it is socially awkward for other people or not. And if those people can’t get it, they aren’t worth the time and aggravation anyway.
I’m going to start out by saying that I’m not nearly as restricted as Denise. While soy and gluten are in a lot of prepared foods, they aren’t nearly as pervasive as corn, and I so far don’t react to soy lecithin. I can, if I’m careful, eat out sometimes.
When I’m in charge of making plans, or when I am with a smaller group and can ask for some level of accommodation by suggesting places I know I can eat. But the thing is, with friends and family, we often find other work-arounds, and have learned to make plans that do not revolve around food.
And to me, that is a big key to life with food allergies — learn to make plans that do not revolve around food. The food-orientation of socializing is inculcated early — read this post on Gluten Dude for what parents of kids with food allergies deal with daily. (Full disclosure — I did read the original essay. I did not read most of the comments. Not enough sanity points in my day.) Those attitudes — why should I have to change my behavior when you have the problem? — are pervasive and problematic. If parents are teaching their children that their own desire for something is more important than someone else’s health, even if just by modeling that behavior, then despite food allergies being more prevalent among the younger generation, things won’t get much better as far as attitudes go.
Even if my allergies are most likely to just make me sick rather than kill me, I take my own health more seriously than I take anyone else’s feelings. For the most part, I’ve not experienced the peer pressure stuff Denise has — people generally have not encouraged me to eat something I said no to anyway. But the questions can be kind of intrusive and can derail or take over the social experience. So maybe some general advice for anyone who doesn’t have food allergies but knows someone who does — or may meet someone who does:
- When I say “no” to the pizza at a meeting, don’t point out that there is salad, or crackers, or cookies, or anything. Just accept the no. There is nothing I can eat. I am okay with it, and I will be more okay if you stop pointing out that I’m the only person not eating.
- When you tell me the ingredients in your dish at the potluck or party, and I smile and say thanks and then skip it anyway, please don’t take it personally or as an indictment. I don’t want to ask about your kitchen practices, about the potential for cross-contamination, or try to explain the list of what I can’t eat.
- When I bring my own lunch to an event, where lunch is provided, I’d really love it if you just don’t ask me about it. I know people aren’t being rude, really, but let’s just talk about something other than food. Maybe let’s not talk about “how healthy” my lunch looks or how that must be the reason I stay so skinny. Discussing my health and digestion with strangers isn’t high on my list of fun topics.
- When I decline an offer of food with an explanation — “No, thanks, I can’t. I have food allergies.” — and then change the subject — “So how long have you been involved in [this project or conference]?” Please take the hint and let’s move on.
I don’t feel obliged to explain. When I want to, I do, when I don’t want to, I don’t. And overall, I’m not angry at people who ask questions; I just don’t always want to play ambassador for the “alternative eaters,” especially not when I’m in my professional role.Unless you’re at a gourmet restaurant, you generally don’t need to talk about the food you’re eating, do you?
There are people I trust enough to cook for me, but I’m always aware that I am the only one who has to live through any mistakes I eat. If I really have concerns, I’ll skip it. Whatever “it” is.
I think our cultural obsession with food, as well as our very odd relationship with it, as a culture, both play into these questions and these interactions — but, hey, that’s a whole other post. Until next week, I’ll just say that events that don’t revolve around food, even if food is there, are much appreciated by all of us with allergies.
What about you — what’s the worst thing you’ve heard or been asked? What’s been the best response you’ve ever gotten? Have any of your social groups changed how they get together to focus less on food?
This is another one of those posts that is a recipe, but more an idea than a straight-up, dictatorial recipe. When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes make “potato boats” for special occasions. It’s not that twice-baked potatoes are hard, but the baking things twice part does take time — and there’s the cooling off in between so that you can handle the potato. In college, a friend told me her family used to make meals of these potatoes. A meal made up of potatoes is right up my alley, and I was thinking all sorts of possibilities come out of this.
So this is a tuna casserole-style potato boat meal, but there have to be an infinite number of other options. How big is your imagination? How about a leftover chili twice-baked, topped with some vegan cheese? Or a jambalaya potato, stew potato, curried spinach potato? What do you have leftover in your fridge? (Bonus suggestion: While I tried really hard to do a twice-baked sweet potato, structurally, it was not possible. But leftover chili over a sweet potato is an incredible lunch combo.)
For this recipe, though, I’m going with a reimagined classic, tuna casserole. In this version, the mashed potato takes the place of noodles, and I’ve made a mushroom duxelle sauce to use in place of the can of cream of mushroom soup, relying on a herbes de provence blend of herbs to elevate this to a more adult palate of flavor while not destroying the comfort food base. These can be prepared the day before and just baked the final time before serving.
Tuna Casserole Twice-Baked Meal Potatoes
Makes 4 potatoes
- 4 large baking potatoes
- 1 1/4 cup cooked chopped broccoli
- 5 Tablespoons Earth Balance or other fat
- 1/2 cup onion, diced
- 8 oz white button mushrooms (one small package), cleaned and chopped
- 1 Tablespoon herbes de provence blend of herbs
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon non-dairy milk
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 6 oz of safe for you tuna (watch out for soy, particularly, if that’s an allergen)
Bake potatoes at 350°F for 90 minutes.
If you need to, cook and chop the broccoli.
In a large skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of your fat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms, and cook until they’ve shrunk and released their moisture. Then add the herbs, dry mustard, and stir thoroughly. Add the additional 2 tablespoons of fat, melt it, and then add the non-dairy milk and cook for a few minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.
When the potatoes are baked and then cool enough to handle, cut a slim slice off the top, length-wise, and scoop the cooked potato out into a bowl, being careful not to destroy the skin. Do this for all the potatoes. Add the mushroom mixture and mash the potatoes thoroughly, adding more non-dairy milk if needed. Mix in the broccoli and the tuna.
Spoon the mixture back into your prepared potato skin shells, making a pretty mound on top of each.
At this point, you can either cover these and refrigerate them, or you can proceed straight to the second baking.
If you are baking potatoes that you’ve just prepared, they are at room temperature or warmer, so bake them at 350°F for 25 minutes uncovered.
If you have refrigerated the potatoes overnight, cover them with foil and bake for 25 minutes at 350°F. Then uncover and bake 25 minutes longer.
Enjoy with a little side salad — or just on their own.
It’s Friday, and there’s more annoying snow in New Hampshire. To distract yourself from that if you’re in the north east, or just if you need distraction, go check out what we found this week.
Here’s another article on our micro-biomes, this time about how the geographic variation of human gut microbes might be tied to obesity. Apparently those people further from the equator have a higher proportion of a certain gut bacteria, increasing the likelihood of obesity. Yay for me (Denise) born and raised in New England.
Even though Mary Kate found this and forwarded the link to me in an email, I’m stealing it to post because she’s always swiping stuff I pinned to share with you guys. Because you know, karma. So anyway, as an advance head’s up, there will be a Gluten & Allergy Free Expo in Springfield, Massachusetts on October 25-26, 2014. Save the date.
Dear Denise — I hate your photo. And our snow. But the NH State Hospital is kind of cool. Your really cranky-at-winter blogging partner, Mary Kate (MK, totally understand, and in agreement -D)
With that out of the way, I found this article pretty interesting — the difference between the grocery shelves at Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. Basically, WF has a business model that caters to a set of customers who prize health and the illusion of it, and are willing to pay a premium for that. In serving that population, they have a list of banned ingredients — some banned for (IMO) valid questions about their safety for human consumption and others banned based on bad press or perception. We’ll talk more about this in our Living with Food Allergies series, but are there certain ingredients you are not allergic to that you avoid anyway? I have some.
And after making you think about thinking, I offer, in repentance, Hasselback Sweet Potatoes. A few minor substitutions should make these safe for most allergy needs (unless you’re allergic to sweet potatoes. If so, I’m sorry.)
Hope you all have a great weekend! We’re expecting better weather than we had this week. Which, seriously, shouldn’t be hard.
So I used to use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread before the whole corn thing went down. But it’s got ingredients derived from corn. Supposedly the proteins are processed out of it, but I’ve heard that song and dance before and reacted, so my Earth Balance got stricken from the list things that were okay to eat. Also, most shortenings are also now out the window for me as they they have corn, flax, or palm, which is cross reactive with coconut (allergic), and for which I’ve had little sneaky reactions. Quite a while back I tried to make some vegan margarine using cocoa butter. It was a great idea, but the reality of the product left something to be desired, as it just didn’t taste like margarine. For a while I ignored the issue and just dumped olive oil on stuff, and made wine-herb-olive oil sauces for dipping things like lobster, but I missed margarine/butter.
About a month or so ago, I started thinking about baking again, or more accurately, chocolate chip cookies, and the fact that I didn’t really have a safe margarine or shortening to make them with. I started wondering about lard, since you can make pie crust from it, and started doing some Google-fu. Turns out most commercial lards have citric acid (corn) or other additives that are problematic. Sigh. So I started wondering if you could DIY it somehow, like saving your bacon fat. I found this article on rendering your own lard. I began considering whether I could use the lard to make margarine. Then in the process of making the Roasted Beef Stock and discussing the use of the beef tallow skimmed from the stock to use to caramelize the onions with Mary Kate for her French Onion Soup, we considered whether beef tallow might have a closer to dairy taste and feel. So I went searching for recipes to render beef tallow and found this article.
So then it was a matter of trying to get my hands on some pork leaf lard to render down into lard and some suet to render down into beef tallow. I found a local source, the Miles Smith Farm, where they are able to get pastured pork from another supplier and they have grass fed beef. Once I rendered down my order in separate crock pots, I had a quart and half a pint of lard and a quart, a pint, and a half pint jar of beef tallow.
I used the original recipe I had tried as a starting point for my attempts. I know what you’re thinking…Denise, you’re going to hell for using a vegan recipe to make margarine out of animal fats. And you’re probably right. If I had a viable vegetable alternative, I’d take it, even though I’m not vegan. But I’m not vegan, and I don’t have a viable vegetable alternative. I used the recipe as a guide, for amounts, but I switched out almost every ingredient. I don’t like soy or hemp milk and I’m allergic to almonds. I didn’t want to use canola oil because of cross contamination with corn and sunflower oil is out because I’m allergic to sunflower. Also, I didn’t want to use the soy lecithin because if you’ve read how that’s made, you won’t want to eat it, and sunflower lecithin is out because I’m allergic to it. The cocoa butter doesn’t taste right, and I can’t use xanthan gum (corn/wheat) and I didn’t want to use guar gum. So I googled substitutions for emulsifiers and came up with the suggestion of psyllium husk as a substitute for soy lecithin. This is what I came up with for a recipe to test:
- 2 ounces of fat (either all lard, all beef tallow or 1 ounce of each)
- ⅓ cup of homemade cashew milk
- ¼ tsp of fresh lemon juice
- ¼ tsp of apple cider vinegar (I used Bragg’s)
- ½ cup of olive oil
- ½ tsp of sea salt
- ¾ tsp of psyllium husk powder
- one half of ⅛ tsp of turmeric (for color, you could skip it if you want, but I was hoping to fool my brain a bit)
Melt lard and beef tallow together in a double boiler. Put all the other ingredients except the olive oil in a blender or food processor.
Once the lard and beef tallow are melted, add the olive oil and remove the double boiler from the heat. Add the lard, tallow and olive oil mixture to the blender or food processor and blend until completely mixed. You will need to scrape down the sides at least once.
Once it’s completely mixed, pour into a silicone ice cube tray or other silicone mold, and place in the freezer until it sets.
The first version I did used all lard as the 2 ounces of fat. Lard is less solid at room temperature than the beef tallow. When I took a cube out of the freezer and put it on the plate (room temperature plate) to take a photo, it immediately began to melt at the contact point of the plate.
The second version I did used all beef tallow as the 2 ounces of fat. Beef Tallow is more solid at room temperature than the lard, and it less readily melts in your mouth. It sort of coats your mouth with a waxy feel.
Lastly, just for the heck of it, I decided to mix them both together, and used one ounce of lard and one ounce of beef tallow in the third version. This one ended up being the winner. The beef tallow gave it a little bit more structure and a little bit more creamy dairy flavor, and the leaf lard balanced out the waxiness of the tallow and made the product more melt-able.
Once all versions were completed and had set in the freezer, my husband (who is not dairy free) and I tested them on hot white rice, so that we could see the melting quality and evaluate the taste without too much interference from the food.
So now I have something that’s pretty close to margarine that I can use on rice, baked potatoes and veggies. I won’t use it a lot because it’s lard and beef tallow, although I’m guessing that real fats are probably healthier than hydrogenated crap. My next set of experiments will be using plain lard in chocolate chip cookies and trying the “margarine” in a small batch as well.
Anyway, I thought I’d post this both as an illustration of what some of us have to do to get safe food, and for those of you who might have my particular combination of food allergies that makes commercial butter, shortening, and margarine impossible.
Anyone else want to share their weirdest food allergy experiments?
So one of my pet peeves about the corn thing is no more going out for Vietnamese food, which is one of my favorite things ever. I actually made and pressure canned my own safe Hoisin sauce, and fermented my own Sriracha sauce so that I could still eat them. But you have to have stuff to eat the Hoisin and Sriracha on, and it’s winter, and we need pho. And we need an easy, quick-ish pho that it doesn’t kill you to make on a weeknight. You could do it the more traditional way, but again, we need dinner fast on a weeknight. This is why it’s good to have some of the Roasted Beef Stock around, either pressure canned, or in your freezer.
Quick-ish Beef Pho
Serves two really hungry people.
For the broth:
- 2 shallots (peeled, cut in half and broiled until browned)
- 6 cups of Roasted Beef Stock or a commercial variety if you can get some that’s safe for your allergies
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 ounce (or a nice thick piece between an inch and two inches long) of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into a few pieces
- 2 star anise (whole)
- 5 cloves (whole)
- 1 Tablespoon of fish sauce (optional) – make sure it’s safe for you
- 1 Tablespoon of sugar
For the fixings:
- one half of a 16 oz package of rice noodles
- a half pound of extra lean shaved steak
- mung bean sprouts
- a lime, sliced into wedges
- fresh basil leaves or fresh chopped cilantro, or both
- one half of a small red onion sliced very thinly
- a Thai chili or two, sliced thinly
Turn your oven to its broil setting or preheat your oven to 500°F. Move your oven rack to the highest setting, and place your peeled and halved shallots on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Check them every three to five minutes until they are browned as shown below.
While the shallots are broiling, place the Roasted Beef Stock in a stockpot, along with the cinnamon stick, sliced ginger, star anise, cloves, fish sauce, and sugar. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. When the shallots having finished broiling, slice them into pieces and add them to the stock.
In another stockpot, bring enough water to cover your rice noodles to a boil. Add the rice noodles to the water and boil for 3-5 minutes or so until they are cooked to your liking, and then strain them. At this point, I parcel them out in the bowls I intend to serve them in, as the noodles may stick together too much if you let them sit in one container (they will un-stick when you add the broth). Wash your mung bean sprouts and then put your preferred amount of sprouts in each soup bowl. Slice your red onion finely, and then add some to each soup bowl.
Bring your pho broth back to a boil. At this point I scoop out the cinnamon, ginger, star anise, and cloves. There are two ways to approach your beef depending on your comfort level. First, you can add the raw shaved steak to the bowls and allow the heat of the pho broth being poured over it to cook it. Second, you can put the beef in the pho stock and let it cook for just a bit before ladling it into the bowls. I tend to go for the first approach, but it’s up to you. Pick an approach and add your beef and pho broth to the bowls. Place a couple of basil leaves, a lime wedge, some of the chopped cilantro, and the sliced thai chilis on top of the soup.
Garnish with safe Hoisin, Sriracha, or chili garlic sauce to your taste, if you have safe versions. Enjoy!