Friday, May 27, 2011

Raise Your Glass

Wow. I had quite a break here. Sorry about that. Spring and I are never the best of friends, no matter how hard I try, and this year was particularly...busy. Yes. Busy is a very good word.

In the spirit of celebrating a series of massively-important jobs well done, and in recognition of the fact that I lose my water glass several times a day when I'm this busy, today's recipe is both celebratory and beneficial. Remember a few posts ago when I mentioned that I hadn't really intended to stick with just baked goods? This is NOT a baked good.

As an alternative medicine practitioner, I need to take a certain number of continuing education classes every two years. This Spring, I am taking a course on Using Food as a Healing Modality. I know, right? For an acupuncturist who practically lives in her kitchen and has started a food blog, this was like a blessing from the gods. I am enjoying the heck out of it, and will share some of the other recipes with you later. This week, however, an article hanging on the wall caught my eye and, once I'd read it a few times, I whipped out my notebook and pen and jotted down, I kid you not, a cocktail recipe devised by a leading herbalist to combat dementia. Fittingly, I forgot to write down the name of the publication. I will add that information here next week, after my next class.

I am not much of a drinker. I am too tiny; a single drink can make me sorry for days afterward. This recipe, however, is going into my repertoire. You know, for those rare moments when I can in fact kick back and have a drink. Here's to you, Spring: May the door not hit you on your way out!

Jim Duke's Creme D'Mentia Cocktail
  • 1 cup 80-proof vodka*
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 fresh lemon (leave the peel on for extra potency)
  • 4 Tbs fresh rosemary leaves
  • 6 Tbs fresh lemon balm leaves
  • 4 Tbs fresh peppermint leaves (any mint will do about as well, he says)
  • 2 Tbs fresh sage leaves
  • evaporated cane juice to taste
*You need to select your vodka carefully, because it is made from any one of many common allergens, so look for one that fits your particular allergy needs. Remember, some vodkas are made from grapes - no grain at all!

Clearly, since this is designed to be medicinal, it's best if everything you use is organic. If you want to go all the way to awesome, use organic vodka. However, since I'm aware that most of my readers are more concerned with staying gluten-free than staying organic, I can also give some advice on vodkas that are definitely gluten-free. Isn't the internet wonderful?

It's best if the water you use doesn't contain chlorine. Why? Because that will kind of mess with the medicinal properties of the beverage, even if everything else hides the nasty taste. I am fortunate enough to have a really great filter. If you're worried, use bottled water. If you really don't have access to anything but straight-up municipal tap water, it will work nearly as well, it just won't taste as good.

You will notice that I am still very much in favor of evaporated cane juice, too. Interestingly, I just found out from this same awesome class that that's because it's one of the few forms of sugar that are definitely non-GMO. No wonder it always tastes better to me! (Seriously, do a taste test between organic/non-GMO fruits or veggies vs. regular ones. The taste difference is staggering. Unfortunately, so is the price difference, except maybe at Trader Joe's.)

It is vitally important that you mix everything in a glass container. Using plastic does Bad Things. Remember that nasty drain-cleaner-esque vodka you had in college that came in a one-gallon plastic jug? That's pretty much what I'm talking about.

Using a glass container, mix together the two liquids. Squeeze and then drop in the 1/4 lemon. Add in each kind of herb. Bruising the leaves first is very helpful, but not strictly necessary; if you forget, don't worry too much. Rolling the leaves between your palms before you drop them in is a nice way to do it that will also leave your hands smelling lovely, but you can also press on them with the flat of a knife, or whack them with a meat tenderizer, or work them over a bit with a mortal and pestle. It really is a matter of personal preference. After all, you're going to drink this later.

Add in the cane juice and stir together. The amount of sweetener you use is of course up to you. If you prefer your drinks sweeter, add a fair amount. If you aren't sure, 1-2 Tbs is probably a good middle-of-the-road starting point.

Let everything steep together, covered, for 3 days in a cool, dark place. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve, pressing down on the herbs to extract as much liquid as possible. The more tattered your herbs were, the more particulate you will see in the finished product. Serve either neat or over ice. If it's too overpowering, dilute it with water or your beverage of choice. Do not forget where you left your glass.

Safe for the following allergies: dairy, gluten, wheat, corn, oats, rye, barley, egg, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy, nightshades

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My One And Only

Anyone with an allergy has probably by now given up on finding a chocolate chip cookie that actually tastes like one. Or, to be more specific, finding one that tastes good AND costs less than $1 per cookie, AND is actually real-cookie sized, not "snack" sized. What is it with the companies that make cookies? I can only assume they charge so much for allergen-free cookies because they know most people don't have the time to monkey around with recipes in their kitchen. Clearly, they reckoned without my wild-eyed obsession with the quintessential cookie. Or my magic wand.

The story runs like this: Once upon a time, I only had to avoid dairy products. That was a tough adjustment, but once I figured things out, it was pretty easy to maintain. For one thing, if I didn't feel like making cookies, Newman's Own made a tasty little cookie that didn't require a second mortgage. Then the wheat allergy hit our family. No problem, Newman's Own had a wheat-free variety! UNTIL THEY DIDN'T. Yep. One day, the line was just discontinued, probably because it was only wheat-free, not 100% gluten-free (as one of my more sensitive relatives discovered the hard way). This caused something of a collapse in our own personal universe, especially my father's, since he had recently gotten the Wheat Allergy Diagnosis and his favorite cookie in the history of ever is chocolate chip. But help for us came from a very unexpected source: Martha Stewart. Yes, she of the made-from-scratch, butter-and-cream, nothing-tastes-as-awesome-as-organic-wheat-flour, empire.

You see, back in my fluffy newlywed days, one of my sisters, a devout Martha Stewart fan, gifted me every Christmas with a subscription to Martha Stewart Living. Being new to the whole "cooking" thing (I was a whiz at ordering carryout), every issue was pored over and savored, and of course saved and catalogued, so that when I inevitably had to host formal dinners for twelve at our humble abode I could totally pull those suckers out and Win at Domesticity. So there they sat, rank on rank, on a nice bookshelf, until...the need for cookies hit. I remembered that I had an old issue buried in there with a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that had done well in the translation to dairy-free (I used it every Christmas), and was therefore worth monkeying with.

These cookies remain, via the old stand-by magic of Pixie Dust and a little tinkering, my signature baked good. They taste good warm and gooey, they taste good cooled and sitting on a plate, they dip well in your dairy-alternative milk of choice, they are just moist and fluffy enough, and they're the only chocolate chip cookie our family can devour by the double-batch without having to sell a kidney. In fact, just recently a fellow Cub Scout mom who also used to run a bakery that BAKED FOR THE WHITE HOUSE (yeah) said they were awesome, and swapped baking tips with my husband (he's my baking pinch-hitter, so he was the one who made that batch). Martha might disagree, and say that they aren't as awesome as her original recipe, but that's just sour grapes talking. Sorry Martha, but more people can eat mine, and apparently no one else can figure out how to make something as good that's also allergen-free. I own the Final Frontier of Baking.

Better Than Martha Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 1/4 cups Pixie Dust*
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup oil (I use soybean) OR 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs (or egg replacer equivalent)
  • 1/2 package (roughly 6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
* I  usually make a double batch, so if I'm mixing it on the spot the ratios are easier, but here it's roughly 1 1/4 cups white rice flour, and 1/2 cup each of garbanzo bean flour and organic tapioca starch.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (it's better than nonstick, and best of all, you can throw it away when you're done and you probably won't have to wash the cookie sheets).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda and set it aside. In a larger bowl, combine both sugars with the oil OR shortening. Shortening works best, but thanks to allergies and strange grocery store stocking practices, frequently I am unable to find a shortening that will work for everyone! [Customer Service Note: Any store in my area that regularly stocks a shortening that is pure soybean oil, or a soybean/cottonseed blend, will be my new friend for life. Asking at customer service counters has not helped me at all.] Thankfully, oil works okay. The cookies spread out a bit more, but tend to have a pleasant buttery taste, so that's nice. In fact, they have a strange resemblance to the Keebler ones with the soft centers. Other allergy-conscious cooks recommend using Earth Balance, a lovely dairy-free margarine, but it's rather expensive, in addition to the fact that one of my family members is allergic to palm oil. If you really want a pronounced buttery flavor, though, give it a try! Helpful tip: if you accidentally add both oil AND shortening, you will end up with cookies that need to bake a few minutes longer, but come out tasting a lot like a chocolate chip version of Pepperidge Farms' Bordeaux cookies. Ask me how I know. Now ask how many times since then I've done it on purpose! (They were GOOD.)

Once the sugars and oil/shortening have been thoroughly mixed, add salt, vanilla, and eggs/egg replacer. Beat until well mixed. Then add the flour mixture and stir in. For ease of mixing, I tend to add the flour about a cup at a time (remember, I work almost exclusively in double batches!), and stir that in before adding more. Last but not least, mix in the chocolate chips. If you have a nice manicure you don't want to ruin, it's best to use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment once you start adding flour. Since I never paint my nails, I use a hand mixer until the batter gets too thick, then mix it the rest of the way with my (washed!) hands. This provides an excellent excuse to "clean my hands" by licking off the excess cookie dough before I wash them. Clearly I do not have a sensory processing disorder. Also, since I rarely use real eggs, I do not have to worry about salmonella.

Space tablespoon-sized balls of dough on a cookie sheet, remembering that these will spread somewhat as they bake. If you used liquid oil, they will spread more; space them out accordingly! If you like smaller or larger cookies, that's fine - just remember to press down on larger dough balls a little, so that the centers will cook all the way through.

Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, but still soft in the center, roughly 8-10 minutes. Remember, ovens will vary, so for your first batch start checking them at 8 minutes, and leave them in longer if they need it. I like my cookies a little darker, so mine tend to take about 12 minutes. If you used liquid oil, some of that oil may leak out at first during baking, and be reabsorbed as it cooks. There may still be some residue when they're done. Do not panic - it really is supposed to do that! Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the sheet before transferring to a plate or cookie jar. If you're a real stickler for perfectly-shaped cookies, you can let them cool completely on a wire rack; warm cookies will often bend a little as they finish cooling if they're stacked together.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen fairly large cookies. If you make yours smaller, you could get quite a bit more. I always make a double batch; these rarely last more than a day or two!

Safe for the following allergies: dairy, gluten, wheat, corn, oats, barley, egg (if you use egg replacer), tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy (if you use a different oil), nightshades (if you use eggs)

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. The thing that made the original recipe so very wonderful was...the modifications. This is a magical recipe, because you can easily alter it to make PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES or MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, as well as DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES or MOCHA CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. All of these are pretty darn awesome. Read on for instructions:

  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip: Reduce the shortening/oil to 3/4 cup, and add in 1/2 cup of peanut butter with the shortening/oil and sugars.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Along with the vanilla, add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract - it's strong stuff! To provide a visual clue that these are different, I also add a small amount of green food coloring. Make sure to taste-test the batter on this one! If you need more mint flavor, add more - tastes can vary.
  • Double Chocolate Chip: Replace 1 cup of flour with unsweetened cocoa powder. Yes, that's one heck of a chocolate punch; eat carefully!
  • Mocha Chocolate Chip: Replace 1 cup of flour with unsweetened cocoa powder AND add 2 Tbs instant espresso powder - but if you're low on espresso powder, plain old instant coffee works alright too. Again, this is one heck of a caffeine buzz.
So there you have it! The Perfect Cookie, with 4 extra versions to keep things interesting. That's like 5 recipes in one entry! Try them all out, and let me know which one is your favorite!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Luscious (Updated!)

Okay, okay, I've been put on notice. I need to post my brownie recipe before someone gets hurt (and by "someone", I mean me).

It is fair to mention, right up front, that either Betty Crocker has some sort of exclusive marketing deal, or most brownie recipes in print are missing an ingredient, because this is the ONLY brownie recipe I have ever made, in all of recorded history, that turns out the way it's supposed to. I have made them with boxed mixes, and those turned out okay, but it's a pain in the petunia to read through all of them looking for the one that's dairy free, and really? Recipes are supposed to work. Now that wheat is also out for our family, forget it. No one wants to give you brownies. You have too many allergies. You LOSE! Good day, sir. Brownies are for the good people who stop at one allergy, and are grateful!

Fortunately, this sweet little trooper of a recipe survived from my early days of new-young-wife baking, and made the allergen-free switch with grace and panache. If my brownie recipe was a person, I would hug it until it passed out. You see, I LIKE brownies. I like them a LOT. They are awesome and good and remind me of a more pleasant time in my life, when I could blackmail Mom into buying me a brownie at the bake sale. These days? People, I pass by that bake sale table with REGRET. I think if I ever found a bake sale table that had something on it labeled gluten-free and vegan, I would pass out and possibly also tip them an extra $20 just for having something there for me. But we'll save my rice krispy treat recipe for another time.

The first time I made brownies, I was a newlywed and into proving that I could Bake Like A Wife and also Entertain. So, when I had my luscious friend Caroline over for dinner one day, knowing she was on a diet, I decided to bake something awesome for her. I flipped through my massive Bible O' Cooking and found (gasp!) a low-fat chewy brownie recipe that was actually already dairy-free. Score! We had a VERY good time eating those suckers, but I made the rookie mistake of eating three. It's probably important to warn you all that these particular brownies carry a MASSIVE caffeine payload. I had a heartbeat like a hummingbird for the next day or two while I waited for the caffeine buzz to wear off. That sounds like an exaggeration. It isn't. So...the next time I made them (duh!), I cut down the added chocolate so that I could eat them without having a Cardiac Incident. They still kick hard, but the ol' ticker doesn't panic like it did that first time. These brownies are my BFFs because they turned out EXACTLY THE SAME AS ALWAYS when I made them gluten-free, which has got to be some sort of Guinness World Record.

UPDATE! I fiddled with the recipe for my birthday this past weekend (because what's a birthday without brownies?), and have successfully altered it to be corn-free and egg-free! In fact, I think I actually like the new recipe better than the old one - it's slightly less chewy, so there's no resemblance to taffy, and it's a cleaner chocolate buzz rather than the giddy corn syrup hit. Try for yourself!

New and Improved 
Luscious Deadly Chewy Chocolate Brownies
  • 1 1/2 cups Pixie Dust*
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for extra flavor, make it sea salt)
  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tsp light-flavored oil (I usually use soybean)
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs (or egg replacer equivalent)
* 3/4 cup white rice flour, 3/8 cup tapioca starch, 3/8 cup garbanzo bean flour (or your very best guess on that whole "3/8" mess)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large rectangular baking pan with parchment paper, making sure there is enough sticking up on each end to use as a handle later.

Whisk together the Pixie Dust, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl - you won't be mixing everything in there, that's just to hold it until it's time to add the dry ingredients. The original recipe called for adding a few (3) tablespoons of cocoa powder as well, but it tastes fine without, and I can still talk at normal speeds for the next several days. If you want that extra oomph go ahead, just don't say you weren't warned.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the chocolate chips with the oil over low heat, stirring constantly (or as near as you can sanely manage).

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, water, and vanilla.

Add the eggs/egg replacer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Since I've altered the recipe to accommodate egg replacer, it's no longer as low-fat if you use actual eggs. Then again, it's still dairy-free, so that's another big source of fat you're keeping out.

Stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture until it is well blended and smooth.

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it to the edges. This is a pretty thick batter, and will need coaxing. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out reasonably clean. After all, this is a fudgy brownie! A little gooey chocolate on the end of the toothpick is fine, but it shouldn't come out covered in the stuff.

Set the pan on a rack to cool (the airflow underneath the cooling pan will keep the brownies from turning into little bricks). Lift the brownies out and cut while still warm - if you wait until they're room temperature, they won't cut very well.

This recipe makes about 24 brownies.

Safe for the following allergies: dairy, gluten, wheat, corn, oats, barley, egg (if you use egg replacer), tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy (if you use a different oil), nightshades (if you use eggs)

If you like your brownies more cake-like, this is going to be a disappointing recipe. These brownies are not fluffy; they turn out really more like a bar cookie. I have tried to make the cake-ish brownies, but every other recipe I've tried turns out more or less like some sort of Hot Chocolate Crumb Mess - hence my suspicion that someone is omitting an ingredient. No batter should be that dry. HOWEVER, if you take the plunge and eat one of my brownies, you will discover that they are unexpectedly, lusciously, addictive. Feel free to make them for your next bake sale!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Catch the Buzz!

This past weekend was an awesome flurry of pixie-ish behavior, as I attended Mythic Faire in Hunt Valley. Holding true to my personal vendetta against hunger in my fellow miscreants with food allergies, my husband and I baked a huge double batch of gingerbread and a huge batch of honey cookies, and during panels I sent my husband around the marketplace with the containers to offer yummy awesomeness to whoever was hungry. Except for the one guy who insisted that he was going low-carb all the way, I think everybody was happy with the deal. (Low-carb folks, your recipes are coming, I promise!)

The story behind the Addictive Honey Cookies of Doom is actually a nice one, which ties in well with the mental image of Winnie the Pooh and his honey pot that I always get when talking about honey. So... Last year, a friend of mine emailed me a list of upcoming local events, and I was thrilled to see a Honey Harvest Festival in our area. Since I was working up a class schedule for the year (we home school), I plugged that in as one of our field trips. After all, any opportunity to learn about our food and where it comes from is a good one! Combine that with the fact that my son is a pint-size foodie, and there was going to be a Honey Tasting, and we were GOLDEN. In a flurry of inspiration, I themed that entire school week around honey and bees, and my kids still talk about it. This recipe is what we did for Art class that week. If you think making food isn't "real art", try saying that to a chef! Especially try saying that once you've seen a plate full of sparkling golden honey cookies, and most particularly if you're eating one at the time, because I dare *anyone* to be surly while eating one of these.

It is probably worth warning you all now, I have never seen anyone eat JUST ONE of these cookies. The batch (it really is not a doubled recipe) is enormous, but you will actually end up defending your house against Cookie Zombies once they run out. I bring them to parties just for the fun of watching them get decimated by people who would normally avoid anything wheat-free like The Plague. It has been the opinion of many that I secretly lace these things with narcotics. I don't. REALLY. They're just that awesome.

Addictive Honey Cookies of Doom
1 1/3 cups oil - I use soybean, but you can substitute anything with a light flavor
2 cups evaporated cane juice
2 eggs OR egg replacer equivalent
1/2 cup honey - you can experiment with different kinds, but standard cheap stuff works fine
4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp REAL vanilla extract*

4 cups Pixie Dust (aka: 2 cups white rice flour, 1 cup garbanzo bean flour, 1 cup tapioca starch)
sparkly sugar for rolling - I use Sugar In the Raw

* I only use real vanilla in my cooking. The difference between real and fake vanilla flavoring is STAGGERING, and frankly not worth the couple-bucks-per-bottle price difference. Alcohol-free varieties work just fine in this recipe, if that's a concern, but I tend to stick with the bourbon-based ones, because alcohol-free will cost you about double the price of regular vanilla.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. I could write a love song about parchment paper and baking, but I won't. Just trust me.

In a medium bowl, if you haven't pre-mixed it, mix the flours together for your pixie dust.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oil, evaporated cane juice, eggs (or magic "eggs"), honey, baking soda, salt and vanilla. Mix it all together well. Make sure to scrape the extra honey out of the measuring cup with a spoon, so you've got enough in the recipe.

Once those ingredients are well mixed, add in the Pixie Dust, and stir until it is just mixed in. It will be a very sticky mixture, and the oil will leach out as it sits, so keep your mixing spoon handy.

Pour a LOT of sparkly sugar into a shallow bowl or deep plate.

Shape the cookie dough into balls about 1" thick or smaller (they spread as they cook), and then roll the dough balls in sparkly sugar. Add more sparkly sugar to the bowl as needed. As you work, if you notice a pool of oil appearing around the cookie dough in the mixing bowl, grab your mixing spoon and stir it together again to keep the dough from getting dry. It is probably worth mentioning that, if you're not used to rolling dough balls in sugar, the first time you make these it will take a REALLY LONG TIME. I promise the time involved gets much shorter the second time, and shrinks a bit more after that.

Place the cookie dough balls on the cookie sheet fairly well apart - remember, these little guys like to spread out as they bake! Bake them for 10-12 minutes, or until they're nicely golden, a little dark around the edges, and have a crackly-looking surface. Mine tend to take 15 minutes, because my oven gets huffy about three full racks at the same time.

This recipe makes AT LEAST 7 dozen cookies. If you share, they will be gone in 3 days.

Safe for the following allergies: dairy, egg, gluten, wheat, corn, oats, barley, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy (if you use a different oil), nightshades (if you use eggs - every brand of egg replacer uses potato starch!)

You all may have noticed that I specify evaporated cane juice in my recipes, instead of just saying "sugar". That is because most brands of white sugar in the United States are made with beet sugar, which leaves me feeling jittery and weird, and tends to make kids crazier when the sugar high hits. You can use it if you want, I just really don't like to use it if I can help it. No one else seems to notice a particular taste difference.

Bonus Mod: If you are a big fan of teacake-style cookies, my husband discovered an equally-tasty variant of the Addictive Honey Cookies of Doom. One day, that wonderful man made a batch of cookies for me...and FORGOT to add the egg replacer! Those little balls of honey goodness baked up just fine, but they didn't spread out like they usually do, so they ended up basically the same shape and consistency as Mexican Wedding Cookies. No lie. So if you like your cookies dense and rounded, just leave out the eggs.

Yeah, we're the Original Outlaw Recipe Modders. Fear our mad baking skillz.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Here Comes Peter Cottontail!

The season of Lent is upon us, which means that pretty soon, Easter will be hippity-hopping its merry way into our lives. If you've got any allergies in the family, this is pretty much a bona fide Nightmare Season. You're surrounded by happy cheerful advertisements for luscious things that could, in fact, kill a cherished family member, but nevertheless makes everyone long for a bite. It's like staring down a beautifully-decorated display of arsenic-flavored chocolates. And, of course, if you're looking to keep the Easter Bunny around, you can't actually be caught MAKING anything that shows up in the Easter Basket. What on earth are you supposed to do?!

Well, no worries. This ain't my first rodeo, and I'm here to help. My first Easter with kids was tough, but I have found a few go-to favorites that give old Cadbury a run for its money. The secret with getting something for a person with allergies is to emphasize quality over quantity. Could you load them up with a bulk bag of jelly beans that makes Santa's bag look like a Ziploc? Well, yes, you could. But after the initial sugar buzz wears off, those suckers aren't so appealing, and you'll be finding the remains stashed in the back of the snack cupboard at Christmas.

What I'm giving you today isn't a recipe in the strict sense, but it is a recipe for sanity on a holiday that pretty much centers around a basket full of candy. Here's what will show up in my kids' Easter baskets this year:

  • A Chocolate Bunny. (Safe for the following allergies: wheat, corn, dairy, egg) This seems like a no-brainer, but I triple-dog-dare you to find a chocolate bunny that's actually dairy-free. Go on. After an extensive panic-ridden search a few years ago, we found ONE (count 'em: 1) company that makes a dairy-free dark chocolate bunny. Last year we found that our local branch had closed, and there was a panicked search at the last minute. Don't let that happen to you! Order one NOW from... Lindt (!
  • Turkish Delight. (Safe for the following allergies: wheat, dairy, egg, soy, peanuts) This little gem tastes WAY better than any bag of gummy candies, and comes in a few different flavors. I completely understand why Edward might have considered this stuff worth turning his siblings over to the White Witch. Most varieties, unfortunately, contain nuts. All varieties that I have found are wheat-free and dairy-free, though that dusting on the outside is usually corn starch. As with most confections, the high-quality brands taste exponentially better than the cheap brands, which have a tendency to taste like Artificial Additives. Personally, I lurk at my local Home Goods store and pick up the gourmet packs at discount prices, but if you need to do things online Haci Bekir ( is a good company to try. They have uniformly stellar reviews and are an authentic Turkish company. If you have a particular allergy concern, contact them for more detailed information. Another good place to try is Sweet Gourmet (, which actually has an ingredients list posted for all its products.
  • Marzipan. (Safe for the following allergies: wheat, corn, dairy, egg, soy, peanuts) I've never been a huge fan of the taste, but my children go NUTS for high quality marzipan. The cheap stuff (again) tastes awful, but the more expensive stuff tastes pleasantly like almonds, with no unpleasant chemical aftertaste. The Easter-themed marzipan from most companies comes in rainbow-colored egg shapes, but I'm personally a sucker for the ones from Marzipan World (, which give a clear list of ingredients, and are quite obviously top-of-the-line. Yes, it's expensive stuff, but you won't have to wonder what on earth you've just eaten, either. And they are all aggressively adorable.
  • Hard Candy and/or Gummies. (Safe for the following allergies: wheat, corn, dairy, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts) This is where things get awesome. There are a ridiculous number of candies out there made with corn syrup, and that's okay, as long as you aren't allergic to corn. Yummy Earth ( does not bother with any of that nonsense. It is organic candy with nothing fake in it, and free of most allergens. They carry lollipops, candy drops, and gummies (bears or worms, take your pick), and do not contain nuts AT ALL. So if you're a poor soul who wants good candy but can't tolerate cross-contamination, treat yourself to everything they've got!

 Now, I know this probably doesn't look like a long list, but when you're looking at even a small package of each of these things, it actually overflows most Easter baskets. Better yet, since all of these things are high-quality, the kids won't spike-and-crash quite as much as they would with a basket full of an Artificial Technicolor Rainbow. And, of course, if you succumb to temptation and sample some for yourself, you won't have a nasty aftertaste and a stomachache afterward.

As with all things, companies do change their ingredients from time to time, so take what I've said here with a grain of salt. If you're badly allergic to something, get in touch with a company representative before ordering.  I hope I've given you a few ideas to make the approaching holiday less stressful, and I hope you all get a little something from the Easter Bunny yourselves. Happy Easter!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nibble, Nibble, Little Mouse!

It's a beautiful sunny morning, and I just had a nice rich luscious piece of gingerbread for breakfast. Hansel and Gretel are in no danger here; this isn't the kind of gingerbread you'll find being used as construction material. It is gooey and fabulous, and best served warm on a chilly morning. Some people don't believe in fairies; I don't believe in any baked good that is so un-tempting that it can be left to get all stale and sad, no matter how attractively decorated it might be! I believe in baked goods that are warm and spicy and waft temptingly in the air, and this one certainly fits the bill. In fact, I've had neighbors come to inquire about what on earth I'm baking, because the scent invaded their house! Yes, I offered them some.

The story behind this recipe is pretty recognizable to anyone with a child who has an allergy. For my daughter's 3rd birthday, I asked her what kind of cake she would like. She happily told me she wanted a "ginger cake"! We had been getting gingerbread cakes from Trader Joe because they were dairy-free...but Grandmom AND Granddad had just been diagnosed with a wheat allergy, and it didn't seem fair to me to make them watch everyone else eat a dessert they couldn't touch. So, glory be, I found a gluten-free bakery in the area that had just opened, and asked them to make us two gingerbread birthday cakes (their cakes were all small) that would adhere to all the allergies in the family. They made: ONE very small plain cake flavored with pears, barely decorated and lop-sided, with the consistency of a brick. For about $50. I supplemented with other store-bought cakes and apologized to my parents, but the (unintended) message from the bakery was clear: if you have more than one allergy, you will take what we feel like making for you, and like it. It's an attitude I have run across very frequently, both before that incident and since. It isn't that people are being mean on purpose, it's just that they don't seem to be able to think beyond what they already know how to do. Well...I decided to learn new things. After all, it looked like the only way I'd ever again be able to give my babies the birthday cake they wanted!

So, within a few weeks, I had tracked down an uncomplicated gingerbread recipe online, and adjusted it to fit every allergy on the family list. That was, incidentally, also the same week I figured out the golden ratio for Pixie Dust. It was a busy week!

This gingerbread, completely un-iced, earned emphatic approval from the Birthday Girl. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's the cakey version of shoo-fly pie filling. It is also, incidentally, a wickedly wonderful source of calcium and iron. To date, this is my most-requested recipe.

Gretel's Gooey Gingerbread
4 2/3 cups Pixie Dust*
2/3 cup evaporated cane juice
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups blackstrap molasses
1 cup oil - I use soybean, but light-flavored olive oil or safflower oil works just as well
2 large eggs OR egg replacer equivalent
1 1/2 cups hot water

*If you're just doing the Pixie Dust as you go, the ratio is 2 parts rice flour: 1 part garbanzo bean flour: 1 part tapioca starch. In this case, that means 2 1/3 cups rice flour, and another 2 1/3 cups half-and-half of the other two. A small difference in ratios (because what the heck is half of 1/3?) doesn't make a noticeable difference.

Grease and flour a large rectangular baking pan - or, if you're into avoiding dirty dishes (like me!), line the baking pan with parchment paper. The paper will crinkle up in the corners, but the gingerbread will come out easily, with no paper fragments at all, so no worries!

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Then add the wet ingredients either one at a time, in the order given, or all in one go. Personally, I like to add the hot water last by itself, after I've stirred in the rest a bit to keep from getting any cooked egg bits in the final product (if I'm using eggs).

A Note About Egg Replacer: Egg replacer is awesome, and I generally use it; if I'm running low and not trying to feed anyone with an egg allergy, I switch to eggs. I haven't noticed any particular difference between the brands of egg replacer available; pretty much the same ingredients, pretty much the same directions, pretty much identical finished product. The brand I usually see is Ener-G: But really, seriously, if you're at your local organic market and they have a different brand, you'll be fine.

Use a mixer to mix the ingredients until they're thoroughly combined, then increase the mixer speed and beat for ANOTHER 3 MINUTES. Yes, it's a really long time to babysit a bowl of batter. Yes, it does make a difference.

Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out reasonably non-gooey. If it looks like it's covered in pudding, it needs a few more minutes. If it has a few semi-crumbly bits on it, it's done. If you wait until it comes out clean as a whistle, it's over-cooked and will be kind of hard to chew.

Cut the gingerbread into squares and serve warm! I understand it freezes well,'s never lasted long enough in my house to test this theory.

Safe for the following allergies: dairy, egg, gluten, wheat, corn, oats, barley, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy (if you use a different oil), nightshades (if you use eggs - every brand of egg replacer uses potato starch!)

Yes, you *can* use regular molasses in the recipe. In fact, the recipe originally called for regular molasses. Regular molasses are sweeter and lighter in color, but less nutritious (the more processed, the less calcium). By happy accident, I ran out of regular molasses the second time I made this recipe, so I substituted the blackstrap molasses that I had. It took the gingerbread from over-sweet (in my opinion) and a dark brown to a luscious black-as-sin delight with a sort of coffee-ish aftertaste. Not only that, but I read the nutrition label: one TABLESPOON of blackstrap molasses provides 20% of your daily recommended calcium and iron. They don't list the daily dose of potassium it contains, but I know it's in there - that's why I kept it on hand in the first place. Therefore, weighing in at 2 CUPS per recipe, two pieces of gingerbread in the morning probably gives you all the calcium and iron you'll need for the day, and a nice chunk of potassium, too. Score! Good nutrition never tasted so good!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Faith, Trust, and...

Hi, all! Welcome to The Kitchen Pixie, where you don't need the usual ingredients to make something that tastes fabulous! As anyone with an allergy can tell you, it sucks all the fun right out of a party when you get there and find out there's nothing for you to eat. And nothing deflates a happy mood faster than hearing a flustered cook ask if you can please "just not have dessert". I hear you! I've spent 15 years before the oven, pixie and girl, learning how to make for myself (and my allergic family) the things so many other people take for granted, and which I sorely miss. Over the years, I've racked up compliments (and sometimes tears of gratitude) as my cooking has improved, to the point where people *without* allergies will devour whatever I've brought, and beg for the recipe. Time after time, someone will stop me and ask, "If you can't use all the normal stuff, what on earth do you cook with?!"

This blog is the answer to that question.

First of all, to all you allergic folks out there, welcome! We live in a time of unsurpassed inventiveness, when alternatives are plentiful, but even so, figuring it all out from the ground up isn't easy. I've learned a lot of things the hard way, and my goal in writing here is to make sure you don't have to! There are *many* allergies, and I don't have all of them, but I do love a challenge. So if you have a particular allergy you don't see addressed in my posts, please ask me! I'll play with it here in my Mad Science Lab of a kitchen until I've got at least a clue. If there's one thing I've learned from all this allergy nonsense, it's that the biggest issue isn't often food so much as the feeling of struggling alone. You're not alone, I promise. At the very least, you've got me on your shoulder.

Second, to all of you who *don't* have a food allergy, welcome! If you're here, you must really care about someone who does have a food allergy or two, or possibly you're just looking to win the award for Best Chef In the History of Ever. I promise, if you're using this blog to help you, you will at least know how to cook for me (or possibly my long-lost twin), and I will happily give you the title with a tap of my magic wand just as soon as I put the fork down.

I'll keep this first post pretty basic: FLOUR.

If you've got an allergy to any of the common grains, what on earth do you use for flour? Mixes are a fast and easy solution, but in my experience most of the pre-made ones sold taste kind of funky and gummy. If they're not gummy, they're mealy. Sometimes they're both gummy AND mealy. That kind of thing gets me in a towering temper faster than you can say Tink! Good gravy, do those folks even *taste* what it is they're selling to poor allergic folks who think there's no other option?! Well, I took that towering temper of mine and stomped into my kitchen, and I experimented with a bunch of alternative flours, until I came up with a flour blend that:
  • doesn't taste like beans
  • isn't gummy
  • isn't gritty
  • won't kill anyone I know 
Best of all, it seems to work just fine in most conventional recipes! I know, I know, a lot of people like to use mixes because they're faster and easier. Seriously? Making your own blend will take you only as much time as it takes to measure out the ingredients and stir them a few times. I don't even keep a jar of pre-made pixie dust handy, I just haul out the bags of components and chuck them in in the right ratios. But that's not much help if I'm telling you how to make it yourself, now, is it? Here's my flour blend, in recipe form:

Pixie Dust:
1 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup organic tapioca starch/flour
(makes 2 cups of amazingly versatile allergy-cheating flour)

Safe for the following allergies: gluten, wheat, corn, oat, barley, soy, nightshade

For no cross contamination with nuts, I recommend using Bob's Red Mill (; they carry all of the flours I listed, and use good manufacturing processes to keep cross contamination from occurring. Any self-respecting organic market will carry that brand or something like it. You'll notice I specify ORGANIC tapioca, and that's on purpose. The rest of it tastes okay if you get the regular kind, but for some reason conventionally-grown tapioca makes starch that tastes like you're eating a handful of change sprayed with Windex. Mmmm!

If you're looking to pinch pennies, a great place to find alternative flours is in an Asian grocery store. I'm lucky enough to have one about a 15 minute drive away; Google "asian grocery" for your area, and if you come up a lucky winner, do a little celebration dance! Rice flour is usually about half the price by weight if you get it at an Asian grocery store versus an organic market. That's also where you can find green bean starch and roasted soy flour (see below).

I have met people with allergies to each of the above ingredients, so I'll make a quick conversion for you. If you're allergic to white rice, brown rice is a pretty good substitute - a little nuttier in flavor, but acts the same in recipes. If you're allergic to garbanzo beans (chickpeas), fava bean flour also works well, as does roasted soy flour. If you're allergic to tapioca, cornstarch or potato starch or green bean starch all work well.

That's it for my first post. It's not a full recipe, but it certainly opens up a whole magical range of possibilities! Now put down that sad gummy mealy gluten-free muffin mix, dust off your old cookbooks, and go play!