Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Perfect For A Get-Together - Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free (Vegan) Chocolate Bundt Cake

This past year I purchased my first Bundt pan. I've always eyed some of the well-designed pans out there, but resolved not to get one since the pans I found myself drawn to were on the expensive side and I figured if I wanted to make a cake, it didn't have to be domed with a big hole down the middle. Aside from financial considerations, my practical side also reasoned that my already-cluttered kitchen didn't need to be stressed further by the addition of an oddly-shaped, heavy pan. Then one day as I was wandering around Crate & Barrel, I found myself in the baking area where an attractive, flower-shaped Bundt pan lured me over to where it stood on the shelf. Glancing quickly at the price, I was surprised to see it on sale for over 50% off of what I'd seen these pans go for. The next thing I knew, I had snatched one up and was walking out of the store happily toting my new baking toy. So much for my cluttered kitchen (!).

Bundt pans are nice because they make cakes that are already pre-decorated with the design that is molded into the pan. With my new pretty pan in hand, I needed to get busy making some Bundt cake. Finding allergy-friendly recipes that I felt like making was actually quite difficult. However, I was able to track down this rich chocolately version by none other than Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the prolific vegan baker.

RECIPE for Rich Chocolate Bundt Cake by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Recipe Notes:
  • I've made this recipe with whole wheat pastry flour, however, I think I will try it next time with all-purpose flour. While it was still good, I found myself slightly distracted by the whole wheat texture. I think the recipe using the whole wheat pastry flour may actually work well in muffin form.
  • Be sure to replace the almond extract called for in the recipe with extra vanilla extract.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ratatouille Recipe (& Film) Earns Top Marks

In honor of Ratatouille, the movie, winning the Oscar for best animated film yesterday, I thought posting a recipe for ratatouille, the dish, would be fitting. Anyone who has seen the movie will recall at the end when a beautifully plated morsel of ratatouille is served to a harsh food critic. As the plate is presented before this critic, it seems as though you can almost smell the wonderful aromas emanating from the screen. Watching this scene was great except for one thing, I didn't have a clue what ratatouille was so I didn't know what I was supposed to be smelling. So, as I'm sure many people ended up doing after watching the movie, I immediately set out to discover what ratatouille was. Here's what I found:

Ratatouille is a classic French Provençal vegetable stew which can be served either as an appetizer, a side dish or a meal on its own. According to Wikipedia, "Ratatouille comes from "touiller," which means to toss food. ... It was originally a poor farmer's dish, prepared in the summer with fresh summer vegetables. The original Ratatouille Niçoise used only courgettes (zucchini), tomatoes, green and red peppers (bell peppers), onion, and garlic. The dish known today as ratatouille adds aubergine (eggplant) to that mixture."

Most importantly, however, given that I'm writing about this on this blog, is that ratatouille, in its basic form, is dairy-free, egg-free, and nut-free. If you like eggplant, you will probably like ratatouille. Below is a well-reviewed ratatouille recipe from Epicurious that is intended to be a meal on its own. In this version, the vegetables are roasted in stages and then tossed with cooked penne pasta. I made this recently and thought it was quite good despite the fact that I wasn't using peak summer vegetables or fresh herbs. I imagine this would be even better if I did use the freshest of ingredients. I've also included a link to a basic recipe for ratatouille by Everyday Food. I haven't tried this one yet, but it looks simple and promising. Please let me know how it is if you decide to make it.

RECIPE: Ratatouille with Penne* from Epicurious

*Recipe Note: To make this dairy-free, simply omit the grated cheese accompaniment.

RECIPE: Ratatouille from Everyday Food

Friday, February 22, 2008

Giada's One Pot Chicken Stew

I'm a recent Giada De Laurentiis fan. You may be able to tell given that this is my third Giada (yes, we're on a first name basis now) recipe post in a short amount of time. I've never really paid much attention to her before because she specializes in Italian cooking and when I think of Italian food I think of cheese. However, in my continuous search for flavorful, allergy-friendly meals to cook, I've actually found that she does have some no cheese, non-dairy recipes (or cheese-optional recipes) and they have all been consistently good.

Here's another one of those recipes I've tried. It's great because it's hearty, nutritious, and you can cook it all in one pot. Perfect for a cold day or when you just want some warm, comforting food.

RECIPE by Giada De Laurentiis

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Trio Of 5-Star Simple Pot Roast Recipes

I had never made a pot roast until after I found out my daughter had food allergies. I've just never been too keen on wrestling with large unwieldy slabs of meat in a pot. However, in my search for dairy free, nut free, and egg free entrees, I kept running across pot roast recipes that were perfectly allergen free exactly the way they were written, no substitutions required whatsoever. Given that these are precisely the kinds of recipes I pounce on and the fact that just reading through the recipes made me hungry, I figured I had to give pot roast a try.

Well, after making three different kinds of pot roasts and enjoying all three, pot roast has officially made it onto the meal rotation. Here are the three pot roast recipes I've tried. All of them are 5-star-reviewed (as of this post), all delicious, and all easy to make. Each has a distinct flavor, so depending on your mood you can choose the one you feel like eating.

RECIPE: Pot Roast With Vegetables by Tyler Florence
Classic beef stew flavors that can't go wrong. Includes tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Use a 14oz can of crushed tomatoes as the recipe does not specify size.

RECIPE: Red Wine Pot Roast With Honey and Thyme by Dave Lieberman
I love the flavor of the red wine combined with the slight sweetness of the honey.

RECIPE: Stracoto With Porcini Mushrooms by Giada De Laurentiis
A nice deep, rich flavor. The aroma of porcini mushrooms and red wine as this cooks is amazing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Dairy-Free, No Cheese Pizza That Holds Its Own Against Traditional Pizza Pies

Given that cheese is a defining characteristic of pizza, anything that calls itself a pizza but doesn't have any cheese on it really has to excel on another defining characteristic of pizza - the toppings - in order to justify its place among the pizza ranks.

In the frozen pizza aisle at the grocery store I found one such cheese-less pizza that compares quite well against its cheese-laden counterparts. Amy's Roasted Vegetable No Cheese Pizza is a tasty pizza that I would seriously consider swapping a slice of traditional pizza for. The roasted vegetable topping has a subtley sweet roasted flavor that creates a nice aroma and is pleasing to the taste buds. I usually pick one of these up for my daughter whenever we want to have a pizza night and inevitably, I will want a slice of her pizza along with my other cheesy slices.

A side note on dairy-free pizzas: You may think that soy cheese pizzas are dairy-free, but I've found that soy cheese pizzas are typically not safe for those suffering from dairy allergies. Soy cheese pizzas often contain the milk protein casein which may not be safe for many people with dairy allergies. So you're better off just getting a no-cheese version like this one. No cheese, no worries.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Very Best Dairy-Free/Egg-Free/Nut-Free Chocolate Cupcake Recipe I've Found So Far

As the title suggests, this is my favorite dairy, egg, and nut-free chocolate cupcake recipe. I've tried many other recipes and this one is superior in terms of taste and cake texture. I use it all the time for birthday parties or whenever the mood for chocolate cake arises. It's from the popular cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World written by well-known vegan cooks Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Everytime I've made this people can't distinguish it from "normal" cupcakes. And you know what makes this even better? It's super simple to make.

Following is the recipe along with a recipe for vanilla frosting which is also by the same authors:

RECIPE for Basic (Vegan) Chocolate Cupcakes

RECIPE for Vegan Fluffy "Buttercream" Frosting

Recipe Note:

For the cupcakes, be sure to add another 1/2 tsp of vanilla where the recipe calls for almond extract.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dairy-Free/Egg-Free/Nut-Free Baking - Simple Substitutions Only Please!

Yummy desserts can be hard to come by when you have a dairy, egg, and nut allergy. When I found out my daughter was allergic to these foods, I (and my serious sweet tooth) was quite dismayed at what this meant in regard to sweet treats for the household. I began a frantic recipe search for allergy-safe cookies, cakes, muffins, ... anything that would hit that sweet spot yet be safe for my daughter to occasionally enjoy as well.

As I mentioned in my very first post, I'm not a big fan of certain allergy-friendly substitutions, especially those that result in an end product that barely resembles the "real" version of the dessert or those where I end up feeling like a scientist in a chem lab mixing up concoctions to mimic common baking ingredients. Having made many traditional desserts before, I simply did not enjoy shifting to a process of shopping for uncommon ingredients (what is xanthan gum anyway?) and then making significant alterations and substitutions to favorite recipes only to end up with something that was less than satisfying. But that's just me. If other people have the ambition and patience to experiment with and combine various non-traditional ingredients into a dessert that ends up being truly delicious, believe me, I would be one of the first people in line to get it.

Having said all this, I do recognize that without dairy products or eggs, baking can be a daunting exercise and that some substitutions using non-traditional ingredients are required. So what kinds of ingredients work for me? I like ingredients that are fairly straightforward in terms of what they're substituting for. For example, I use dairy-free margarine (Earth Balance) or canola oil instead of butter and soy milk instead of cow's milk. I try to stay away from recipes where real eggs are critical (think custard) and instead lean towards recipes where eggs are used primarily for their leavening properties, in which case baking soda and baking powder together with vinegar seem to do the trick. For chocolate, it's often difficult to find any that is not manufactured on the same equipment as nuts. You could use carob, but for that real chocolatey taste, I've found two sources that are safe - Enjoy Life's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and Scharffen Berger's 9.7oz Home Baking Bars (see nutritional info here).

But can you bake anything good with only simplistic substitutions? Surprisingly, yes. I have to say that I am very grateful for all those creative vegan bakers out there. With the exception of those that include nuts, vegan recipes are a great resource when it comes to dairy, egg, and nut-free baking. Many of these recipes don't involve obscure ingredients either. I've tried several and, despite my doubts, they surprisingly passed my tastiness threshold. I will be posting these recipes on this blog and hopefully more as I continue to discover them.

So after much initial disappointment about not being able to bake goodies for my daughter to eat, I'm quite relieved and thrilled that I can once again incorporate some sweet treats into our lives that not only my daughter can enjoy, but my sweet tooth as well.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chinese Spareribs 101 (or rather 1,2,3,4,5)

Thank goodness meat is not off limits to those on dairy, nut, and egg-free diets. Here is one meat dish we're glad is still accessible to us. It's a very basic and classic recipe for Chinese style spareribs that is both easy to make and delicious.

1•2•3•4•5 Chinese Spareribs

Serves: 4-6 as part of a multicourse meal

2 lbs pork spareribs (cut crosswise into roughly 1 inch pieces and trimmed of excess fat)
1 Tbsp rice wine
2 Tbsp vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp soy sauce
5 Tbsp water

In a 3-4 quart saucepan, add ribs and enough water to more than cover the ribs. Bring water to a boil. Remove sludge that rises to the top as water is boiling. Remove pan from heat and drain ribs. (I sometimes skip this "cleaning" step if I don't have time or if the riblets are very small, but I think it makes for a neater presentation later.)

In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Add ribs back into pan and cover with the sauce mixture. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 45-60 minutes*, stirring occasionally. If sauce begins to dry up before ribs are tender, add a little water. Ribs are done when meat is tender and sauce clings to ribs.

* Note - Depending on the thickness and size of your ribs, simmering time can fluctuate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Hot Bowl of Udon in Minutes

Living with food allergies means that you are preparing almost every meal from scratch. Conveniences like outsourcing pre-prepared foods from grocery stores or getting take-out from restaurants are rare. The continuous daily thought process behind meal planning can be quite tiring. So when you come across an allergy-safe packaged food item that also happens to be tasty, reasonably healthy, and quick to prepare, it's quite thrilling.

Annie Chun's Udon Noodle Soup bowl has become for us a great option for a quick, easy meal. It's microwaveable and literally takes about 3 minutes to prepare from start to finish (the packaging says 2 minutes, but you still need to do some minor preparations before putting it in the microwave for 2 minutes). My food allergic daughter really enjoys this noodle soup as does the rest of the family. To supplement the meal, we often add chunks of tofu and/or pre-cooked vegetables into the soup.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Have Milk, Need (Healthy) Cereal

With the widespread availability of non-dairy milks these days, cereal is a basic food product that those with dairy allergies can now keep in their diets. However, if you are also allergic to nuts, the selection of healthier cereals to chose from suddenly dwindles. (By healthier cereals, I mean those that do not contain a high sugar content, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors/flavors, or partially hydrogenated oils. There are actually quite a few allergen-free cereals that contain these ingredients, but keeping the goal of a nutritious diet in mind, I will not be looking at those.)

In the healthy cereal realm, there are quite a few cereals that contain nuts and sometimes dairy ingredients such as yogurt. What used to be a simple task of picking out a box of cereal sometimes becomes a drawn out exercise of going down the entire cereal aisle reading and re-reading labels. What makes it a bit more cumbersome is that a certain variety of one brand's cereal may contain unsafe ingredients, while a similarly named cereal in another brand does not. This is especially true with granola-based cereals. However, if you're patient, you will find that there are actually several healthier, allergy-friendly cereal options out there. Here are a few that our family commonly eats:

Kid-Friendly Cereals

  • Cheerios - A classic. I think everybody knows what these are.
  • Joe's O's by Trader Joes- Trader Joe's version of Cheerios.
  • Clifford Crunch by Cascadian Farm - An organic whole grain cereal that is fortified with calcium, iron, and a bunch of vitamins. Also contains a decent amount of fiber (5g) and has a relatively low sugar content compared to other kid cereals.
  • Gorilla Munch by EnviroKidz - An organic cereal made from corn meal. I think it's supposed to be a much healthier version of Cap'n Crunch.
  • Shredded Spoonfuls by Barbara's Bakery - A multigrain, lightly sweet cereal that looks like Chex.

Other (even healthier) Cereals

  • Flax Plus by Nature's Path - An organic multibran cereal that boasts 7g fiber and 500mg omega-3. If you are sensitive to seeds as well as nuts, you may want to avoid this as this contains flaxseed.
  • Kashi GO LEAN by Kashi - 13g protein and 10g fiber. Also note here that the seven whole grains that Kashi puts into most of their products contains sesame, so if you are sensitive to seeds, avoid this one too. If you are ok with sesame, many of Kashi's other cereals are dairy, nut and egg-free as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Go-To Beef Stew Recipe

Here is a very hearty, very satisfying beef stew recipe that is also fairly nutritious. You can alter the ingredient list a bit according to your taste. I like to reduce or omit the potatoes in favor of more carrots. I've also omitted the pearl onions if I didn't have them available.

RECIPE from Cooking Light

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lentil Soup Can Actually Be Good
(and it's good for you too)

I would never have considered myself a lentil person before. Somehow I had formed an impression that they were tasteless, mealy fare. While watching the Food Network one day, I saw Giada De Laurentiis whip up this lentil soup. It looked simple, fresh, and surprisingly good so I thought I'd give it a try. I followed the recipe, excluding only the parmesan cheese. My entire family, kids and all, loved it. It's now become a staple in our family. Serve it with some nice crusty fresh bread and you have a nice light meal.

Nutritional Notes:
Lentils pack quite a nutritional punch. They are rich in dietary fiber, protein and iron. And they contain more folic acid than any other unfortified food - a one cup serving contains 90% of the recommended daily allowance!

RECIPE by Giada De Laurentiis

Allergy-Friendly Tweaks & Other Recipe Notes:

  • Dairy-Free Tweak: Omit parmesan cheese
  • Vegetarian/Vegan Tweak: Replace chicken broth with vegetable broth
  • For a slightly thicker consistency, puree roughly 1/4 of the soup prior to adding the elbow pasta
  • Try this soup using French green lentils (pictured above) if you can find them since they don't break apart as easily, otherwise brown lentils work out fine