Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Enjoy Life Foods- Each Time Gets Better!

Can I just say how wonderful it is to be receiving more goodies from Enjoy Life Foods? It's like we had Christmas early, twice, this year - I ran to the door as the Fedex man was walking up our front walkway and my son was pushing my daughter out of the way to see what was inside the box. You would think we were sent gold coins the way we all acted. Perhaps a funny Youtube video coming up?

This time, our taste-testing goodies consisted of Crunchy Vanilla Honey Graham Cookies, Crunchy Sugar Crisp Cookies, Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies and last but not least, Crunchy Double Chocolate Cookies. Again, the line-up of all of the boxes and the vote of which product we should start with. We decided to start like we did last time- we each just took a cookie. The Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies are awesome! They are very, very similar to Chips Ahoy but better. I kept telling my son that this is what the other cookie tastes like but better AND, they are better for you than the other cookies. The Crunchy Double Chocolate Cookies were...sinful! When you were little, did your mom ever buy you those Dutch chocolate cookies with a little bit of sugar on them? This is the allergy-friendly version of that cookie except, again, better! 

Our first recipe that we tried with the cookies was to make Rice Cream Sandwiches...yum! The hardest part of this was waiting for the Rice Dream to melt just enough to scoop it onto the cookies. I have to say- I could really get used to this taste-testing and recipe-trying! These were our Rice Dream Sandwiches:

2 Crunchy Enjoy Life Foods Cookies of your choice
1-2 Scoops of Rice Dream Frozen Dessert of your choice
Optional- Sprinkles, Perky's Nutty Rice Cereal, Enjoy Life Foods Mini Chocolate Chips

Place one cookie on a plate. Scoop your choice of frozen dessert onto the cookie. Place a second cookie on top and gently push together. To add sprinkled or other desired options, simply hold the sandwich over a bowl and sprinkle with the topping. Eat and enjoy!

My next recipe was using the Crunchy Sugar Crisp Cookies. This was inspired from "What do I use my leftover cranberry sauce for?". Behold, the Cranberry Muffin with Sugar Crisp Crumbs was born!

1 Box Gluten Free Pantry Muffin & Scone Mix
Ener-G Powdered Egg Replacer
Butter or butter alternative
Milk of your choice
Baking Spray
1/2 Can cranberry sauce, slightly broken up
4 Enjoy Life Crunchy Sugar Crisp Cookies

Preheat oven as suggested on the box of Muffin & Scone Mix. Spray a mini muffin pan with baking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, prepare the box mix of Gluten Free Pantry Muffin & Scone Mix as directed we substituted the egg with Ener-g Powdered Egg Replacer and used Almond Milk but other milks work well with this mix). Add the vanilla and stir until blended, making sure there are no dry lumps in the mix.

Using a spoon, fill only half of the muffin cup, then take a small amount of the broken up cranberry sauce and add a few "lumps" in the middle of the cup, not mixing it. Top with another scoop of the muffin mix. Add a small bit of cranberry on the top.

Using a mini chopper or food processor, grind the cookies until no large chunks are in it. Sprinkle the cookie crumbs on top of the muffins.

Make about 10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes approximtaely 9 mini muffins.

The last wonderful item I made was using the Crunchy Vanilla Honey Graham Cookies. I decided to make a pie crust with the cookies...holy cow! It's like the cookies were made just for that! The Vanilla Honey Graham cookies have a slight taste of carmelized sugar or some other flavor that gives it more of a "desserty" taste than the other cookies. Using the recipe for Lemon Pie Filling from the Ener-G Powdered Egg Replacer box, I made Gluten Free Lemon Pie with a Vanilla Honey Graham Crust. I have to say, the pie is tasty but it is not a frim pie that holds together. You are fine making individual servings but it is messy if you plan on making an entire pie and serving it by scoop.

This was for an individual 7x5 pie
For the cookie crumb crust-

8 Enjoy Life Crunchy Vanilla Honey Graham Cookies
3 Tsp. confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp butter or butter alternative
Baking Spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an individual casserole dish with baking spray. Set aside.

Using a mini chopper or food processor, grind the cookies until there are no large pieces. In a medium bowl, mix the cookie crumbs with all of the other ingredients. If the crumbs are too dry, add a tiny bit more of butter. Scoop the mixture into the small casserole dish and, using the spoon, push it down and up the sides gently, forming the pie crust.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the crumbs seem firm.  Set the dish aside to cool and start on the lemon filling.

Lemon Filling (From the box of Ener-G Egg Replacer):
1/4 cup Ener-G Egg Replacer
1 cup sugar
1/4 teas. salt
1.50 cups hot water
1/3 cup lemon juice

Using a double boiler, combine the Egg Replacer, sugar and salt. Stir with a rubber spatula until thoroughly blended. Add water, lemon juice and lemon rind. Continue stirring until smooth and thick (this will take a bit of time). When dropped from the spatula, the pie filling should mound. Remove from the heat. Stir for 5 minutes to cool. Pour into the prepared pie shell. Let cool thoroughly. Refridgerate at least 2 hours before serving.

I am happy to say that every sample my family has been sent has been great. Enjoy Life Foods makes allergy-friendly items that have a good texture (not too dry) and they don't have any after-taste like some other products do. I would recommend these products to anyone who needs to use allergy-friendly product, as they are also produced in a dedicated facility and their items are free of wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

When Holidays Attack

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday but mostly, I hope everyone stays well.

While we are busy preparing and flitting around the kitchen on holidays, we sometimes forget to be careful of seemingly innocent items that can become cross-contamination traps. It's hard enough cleaning, searching out recipes, shopping and doing everything on time to produce a wonderful meal for everyone let alone be cautious for the ones that we love. There are just a few items in your kitchen that I wanted to remind you about. They are our friends during preparation but they can instantly become our allergy enemy.

1) Chip Clips                     

Chip clips are great- they keep our chips bags closed up tight, they prevent little unwanted critters from trying to sneak into our foods. But have you ever inspected your chip clips? Many of us will use them on one thing, then remove them and transfer them to something else without washing them. What's the harm? It's on the outer packaging, right? Well, next time you use one on a bag of cereal, check your chip clip. Many times when we open and close a bag of something, dust particles are blown out while we are removing the air to get a better grip. This could be a disaster if you have allergenic foods (such as cereals with nuts). Please inspect, wash and reuse with care. Save the environment and save a possible reaction.

2) Blender/ Food Processor Attachments

There, lurking on the bottom of your attachment piece on your beloved food processor are specks of food particles! Do you see them? They are tricky and try to disguise themselves. Who knew that during the use of these machines and switching back and forth to make separate courses that they would try to invade your other foods? Those cute little buttons are harbouring traces of egg or dairy items...you can beat them at their own game. Simply wipe the attachments with a warm, soapy sponge to eliminate their strategy. If you are really busy, Lysol wipes are very convenient as well. ( The food particles HATE Lysol wipes, I heard them talking about it!)

3) Pots and Pans with Exposed Handle Attachments

Look very, very carefully (I'm hunting food crumbs). Do you see how the handles are attached on the inner side of the pots and pans? Those small, silver dots can be traps for cooked-on food items. Even dishwashers don't always scrub off the egg particles left on those circular bad boys. But now that you have a heads-up, you are ahead of the game for next time. Make sure the pots and pans with these types of handles are soaked in warm, soapy water and thoroughly scrubbed with a sink brush or a sponge that is double-sided with a semi-rough underside. Place into the bottom rack of your dishwasher to get the full effects of cleaning and voila- you should be good to go!

4) Microwave Ovens

Microwave ovens are a girl's best friend sometimes. They are wonderful for heating up and helping out. Especially during a busy day on Holidays, this little light-up box can offer you the extra hand that you seem to need while you are cooking 15 different things at once. However, stop and think for a moment - when was the last time you cleaned your microwave? Do you have a husband, kids or a family member that refuses to cover their plates whenever they use it? Food splatters + food particles = falling food debris! The microwave oven animal likes to spread itself all over- on the top, on the walls, on the glass plate and even underneath the plate at times. It almost seems like it saves up it's bits and then spreads them out in the middle of the night when nobody is looking. If you are a person who covers with care each time you use it, you should be safe. If not, double-check your mini oven and make sure falling food is not a future disaster.

5) Stove Top & Ovens

Picture this- you are cooking a wonderful omelet for your husband, baking muffins for the kids and cutting up veggies for the platter later on. During all of the frenzy, you are flipping your omelet and part of it falls onto the stove top. Mental note- 'I'll wipe it up later". Flash forward to dinner that night when you are just too tired to even consider who will be doing the dishes that night. Dinner is ready and you are serving right from the bowl onto the plate at the stove. You are tired and plop! A large portion of dinner drops onto the stove top. Do you a) pick it up and put it onto a plate? b) throw it away or c) leave it there for someone else to clean? The correct answer depends on who is doing the serving for the family (no offense Dads!). But beware- that minor slip and reserve could cause a bad case of hives to your egg-allergic individual who's starving and just wants to eat.

This brings us to the oven. A warm and toasty place. It's the place that cookies are made, dinners are formed and a good source of extra heat on cold, winter days. You are grateful you have two or more shelves in your oven, especially when cooking several different dishes and sides. But have you ever noticed that foods can splatter or spill uncontrollably? If you are brave enough to share the oven with multiple food items, be aware and place your allergy-friendly entrees on the upper rack. You may even want to place some aluminum foil underneath for a little extra protection. That way, when the foods beneath act up and misbehave, your foods up top will be safe, cozy and ready to be eaten without the cross-contamination cooties.

6) Water Bottles & Sippy

We all like to pitch in and save the planet by using refillable water bottles and sippy cups. If you have more than one child, you may also need to also save a child. When our children are young, we often purchase twin packs of sippy cups or buy the cute ones that are on sale. This could mean having multiples of the same colors. If you have more than one child and there is a threat of allergies through shared cups, try keeping different colors for different kids (girlie colors for the girls, boy colors for the boys). I know this will not prevent the future "I want the color she has" argument but it will help let your children know which cup is theirs to use. And, with a family who has food allergies and needs to teach their children at an early age not to share, this is a great way to start them off.

Water bottles have the same prevention methods. Yes, there are tons of models to choose from- big ones, little ones, metal, colored, designs, bottles that can steer your car for you. But in the end, choose water bottles that can be distinguished. Perhaps Dad can use the larger, manly models while your son or daughter can choose their own style in a specific color range. Another option that we have tried when you have multiple bottles of the same color is to put something on one of them to differentiate them (ex: my daughter will put a cloth hair scrunchy around the top of hers). It's very easy to grab the wrong water bottle when you are thirsty but it's also very easy to choose one and use it safely.

Don't let those Holiday attack, be armed and fight back! The kitchen (for most of us) is the heart of our family. Use it wisely, lovingly and it will bring your family nourishment and memories for many years.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rustic Gluten Free Pigs in a Blanket

My son always wants the hot hors d'oeuvres that are passed around at Holidays. I made him this version of pigs in a blanket. They are a little bit crunchier than the original version but they are mighty tasty and quick and easy.


1/2 Package of Gluten Free Bisquick
2 Hot dogs of your choice
1 Teaspoon garlic powder
Shredded cheese of your choice (optional)
1/2 Cup of water or enough to get a thicker batter consistency

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix the GF bisquick, the garlic powder and the water. Mix well, leaving the batter on the thicker side.

Cut the hot dogs into bite sized pieces. Using a large spoon, scoop a spoonful of the batter and wedge the hot dog piece into the middle. Place it on a baking sheet and gently cover the rest of the hot dog piece with the batter. The batter is very sticky and will require patience  :)  If you are adding cheese, simply put a small amount on the top of each hot dog biscuit mound

Cook for 8- 12 minutes, or until the dough is slightly browned. Let cool slightly before eating.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Enjoy Life Foods Chocolate Granola and Mega Chunks Taste-Testing

I would first like to say that I am honored to have received this opportunity from Enjoy Life Foods. We have used many of their items in the past years and I recommend them to anyone who has a restricted diet due to food allergies. Their products are gluten free, are free of many of the main food allergens and they strive to come up with many new tasty items to make our food allergic lives a little easier.

I received a package of the Double Chocolate Crunch Granola and a bag of the Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks and I when I opened the box, I probably just looked like a kid in a candy store. I put them down and just stared at them. I know this sounds silly but I didn't know what to do with them. I wanted to relish them and figure out how to use them instead of just the plain and ordinary cookie. When my son came home, he immediately wanted to eat the entire bag of both just plain. So, we sat down and made up a plan (my son is very big on plans).

We decided to first take a small amount of each and do a simple taste-test. The granola is yummy by itself. The texture is good, the chunks are not too big not too small and there was no funky aftertaste that you sometimes get from certain foods. I had to stop my son from scooping a huge amount out of the bag which, for him being a picky eater, is a huge deal.

The mega chunks were like little, miniature candy bars. It took me awhile to think of what else they reminded me of but finally it came to me- the deep, dark, delicious chocolate taste is similar to Snowcaps. I normally buy the Enjoy Life chocolate chips but the mega chunks are just addictive. I stored them away for cooking but every night, I secretly snuck some.

I was able to make three pretty easy, pretty awesome allergy-friendly recipes with these but my fourth was a flop (boo! What a terrible waste of the yummy goodness!!) What I have learned over the past ten years of trying out new recipes for my son is to try and keep recipes simple. Try not to over think them or you will drive yourself crazy and the recipe will not be made again. My first recipe was:

Chocolate Granola Apple Crisp
2-3 Small apples of your choice, peeled and cut into small pieces
1/2 Package of Josef's Gluten-Free Cinnamon Graham Crackers
2/4 Cup of Enjoy Life Double Chocolate Crunch Granola
1/2 Cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 Teaspoons of cinnamon
Drizzle of honey
3 Tablespoons butter or butter alternative

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a small, individual serving casserole dish (like a Pyrex dish) with baking spray. Set aside. Spoon the apples into the dish and set aside.

Using a food processor, grind the Gluten-Free Cinnamon Graham Crackers and the Double Chocolate Crunch Granola until they are a slightly chunky mixture. In a medium bowl, combine the ground up items with the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Spoon this onto the apples and mix slightly, coating the apples but leaving the bulk of the mixture on top. Sprinkle with a drizzle of honey and the melted butter.

Bake until bubbly. Serve warm alone or with a side of allergy-friendly ice cream, such as Rice Dream.

The next recipe I made was:

Chocolate Granola Smores Apples:
2 Small apples of your choice, washed and dried
1- 1 1/2 Cups Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks
1 Cup mini marshmellows
1 Tablespoon of butter, butter substitute or oil
1 Cup (+ -) Enjoy Life Double Chocolate Crunch Granola for dipping
2 Popsicle sticks or candy sticks

Insert one stick into each apple at the center. Place the apples on a piece of waxed paper on top of a cutting board. Set aside.

Place the Double Chocolate Crunch Granola  in a shallow bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, melt the mega chunks with a dash of cinnamon using a plastic spatula, stirring constantly as not to burn the chocolate. Once it has melted, take an apple and cover it with the melted chocolate right in the saucepan, using the spatula to "paint" the chocolate on. Then place the apple into the shallow bowl of granola and turn until the apple is coated with the granola. This is tricky- the granola will not stick very well. If you keep rolling it and reapplying, the chocolate will start to cool and it will stick better. Place the apple onto the piece of waxed paper.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the mini marshmellows. Again, using a plastic spatula, stir the marshmellows constantly so they do not burn. When they have melted, use the spatula and drizzle lines of marshmellow onto the coated apples.

Let them cool for 2 hours or overnight.

Recipe #3 was something from using leftovers from recipe #2. I had some leftover melted chocolate and leftover chocolate granola. And, as a food allergy mom, the budget can be challenging and you learn to use everything. I made the leftovers into:

Chocolate Granola Bark
(Literally) leftover melted Enjoy Life melted chocolate
Leftover Enjoy Life Double Chocolate Crunch Granola
Waxed Paper

Using a shallow casserole dish, cake pan, or whatever baking item will suit your needs for that particular portion of leftover chocolate, line it with enough waxed paper so there is more paper hanging over the edges. Press the paper down into the bottom.

Then, disaster struck! I had one last recipe that I wanted to try and I failed! I tried to make chocolate mini pies (like a chocolate empanada). My downfall was the usage of the pie dough. Had I put them into single serve dishes, I believe it would have worked. The worst part of it- I wasted the rest of my precious stash of Mega Chunks! Gone, never to be eaten again. I cannot even post the horrific picture of what they looked like, it would give you nightmares. The upside? The parts that I managed to save will probably taste really good mixed into or over some Rice Dream. Always remember- save your crumbs and your ugly creations because they make a surprisingly delicious topping for ice creams, yogurts, oatmeal or wherever else you can use them.

I hope this was helpful and I hope you have fun trying out these easy and allergy-friendly creations.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Journey of Food Allergies

After 10 years of going through the food allergy process with my son, I have had an epiphany- it is an ongoing journey. It's not a curse and it's not a horrific thing that happened to our family, it's simply a journey. I say this because of how much I have learned in ten years and how much I continue to learn the more I research and the more newer and better, allergy-friendly products are produced. What's funny is that I would have never seen myself as this person when I was in High School, trying to figure out what to do with my life. I once poo-pooed a chiropractor and his wife for things that they said and believed but now, I am finding that their thoughts and ideas were not too far off of how I feel about a lot of things now. It strikes me as odd but I am also proud of myself for evolving and I don't think there are many people that can say they are proud of themselves. And I think what makes me feel the proudest is that, after realizing that I am an "evolved" person, I want to continue to evolve as much as I can for the sake of helping others to learn.

What I have found are there are stages that you go through once someone has been diagnosed with food allergies. Stage 1- there is despair and meltdowns. This is caused by your brain short-circuiting when you start to read labels, read articles, speak to Doctors, get advice and try to revamp your menu plans all on the same budget that you had previously. This is a task that everyone has to do, believes wholeheartedly that they can be a "super person" and get it all done in a 24 hour period. This is not possible for anyone. The despair is caused by the realization that there are certain foods that will either never be eaten again or not for a very, very, VERY long time. This is hard to do when something that tastes sooooo good is replaced with something that is just so-so (not always, but a lot). The despair is speaking with Doctors that misinform you and do not give you the starting information that you really should have to avoid a meltdown. You know, all of the information that tells you what you CAN eat and where you can go for help and support, not words of wisdom such as "Don't ever let him even touch a peanut". Doctors mean well and they don't do this on purpose because they have too many patients to stop and hug or sooth but more information could help in the beginning.

Which brings us to the meltdowns. This is when you have started to reads the labels on your first shopping trip to your usual supermarket. You begin to realize that other than fruits and vegetables, there is not much that you can just pluck off of the aisles and bring home to prepare. You are baffled that so many ingredients that once fed you are now going to poison you. You cannot believe that so many other people around you are filling up their grocery carts with all of this stuff that you cannot have, eating as they go and wiping their peanut-ridden fingers on the same shopping cart that you could touch next time. And then you realize that the only way you can do this safely is to prepare all or most of your foods...you know, prepare. Not unbox, not take out of the freezer and put it into a pan, PREPARE. Like, go to the store, buy all of the necessary ingredients and make it from scratch while trying to do the 500 other things that you already need to do. This does not mix well, especially with hormonal females.

Stage 2- You turn into a research expert. You begin taping Dr. Oz shows on "How to Cure Your Food Allergies" and taking notes. You begin surfing the web, going to the bookstore and trying to find other parents in the area that can offer you something, anything to make this situation easier. You call and make appointments with top-rated allergy specialists only to find out that the waiting period is a minimum of 6 months and it is not covered by your insurance. Your mind is racing at night as you try to sleep but all you can think about is How can I make a great quiche with no eggs? Your brain turns into a super-powered machine that uses your eyes to catch whatever information it can that will let you breath easier and feel calmer. This also drives your friends and family crazy because now, you cannot just go and meet them somewhere for a bite. That's impossible. You don't know the ingredients and now, those unknown ingredients could make you very sick or kill you. Plain and simple.

This will subside after a few weeks or months. Your brain will calm down a little, happy to have some information and a few decent recipes that make you feel like you are eating what you used to eat. Until you are at a function, any function and you go onto Stage 3 - Neurotic allergic person. This sounds horrible but it is NOT! This is necessary, especially when you have an allergic child. Every mom can be neurotic but if you mess with a food allergic mom, take a step back and prepare for Hell to open it's doors and your face to be melted of f. Neurotic food allergy people are called neurotic because people who do not have or understand food allergies view them as overbearing, blowing things out of proportion and being irrational. This is true of an average person who makes a big deal out of not eating carrots because they may have been sliced with the same knife that someone cut an egg with but for a person with food allergies, this small, innocent act could turn the function into the horror event of the year. Food allergic people do not like to make scenes, even if it does seem like they do sometimes. Their goal is to be as involved as possible, be social and be merry but to be very aware so as not to have to jab themselves with an Epipen and send children shrieking from the event because of the huge needle they saw going into them. This is why people and moms who have to deal with food allergies are so vigilant about what they do. It's not only to save themselves but to save other people from the event of an allergic reaction. It effects everyone involved. So next time you see a mom with their young child who is allergic to something an she is running across the room, screaming "Don't eat that!!!!!", don't make a face in horror- stay with her and calm her down. That will be appreciated.

Stage 4- Stage 4 is better! This is when you have found stores that you can purchase items from and you can eat them. You have even found coupons to offset the price of what you have to pay to stay alive and nourished. You have become aware and open. Your resources are better now and you actually have a system of what to keep in the house, how you handle eating out and you even know that social gatherings are easier because you know what to ask ahead of time. You are also not as afraid anymore. The fear of eating, touching, drinking, cross-contaminating is still there but it's not with you every single waking moment. Yes, you carry Benadryl and an Epipen everywhere but this is just part of your daily ensemble now and it's molded into you, not so noticeable as it was a few months ago. Being aware and open does have some drawbacks- because you are open, you have learned to listen to every one's advice and take what you need or not use it at all. But because of this, you still get a few people every once in awhile that try to explain to you why you really don't have a foods allergy. This is something that you will train yourself to go through- you listen, you smile, you nod and you politely excuse yourself from the conversation as fast as you can. Then, you avoid that person at the next function. You have evolved- you know that trying to explain to these people how a food could make you die is not worth your time and breath while you could be over there, actually eating something yummy!

You also know that surrounding yourself with positive, also open-minded people does help out as well. This is the stage you will be in for awhile. Stage 5- surround yourself with positive, knowledgeable people to help you continue your journey safely. This means you have weeded through all of the non-listening, number-crunching Doctors and specialists and you have found people that actually sit down, speak to you and understand that you need a little extra time to discuss your specific needs. You have found great organizations in your area to speak with, vent with, offer advice or hang out with that will not make you feel out of place or different but just a group of friends that don't try to offer you anymore bad advice..or, a cookie with nuts. You receive magazines and belong to so many, awesome websites and blogs so that you can drink your coffee and just take in more information to continue to evolve. Do you still get angry? Of course, everyone does and always will. Do you still rant and rave over people arguing over why they can't sit on a plane without peanuts? Yes but now you are stronger, more knowledgeable and you know that one person does not take up anymore of your great, positive space. You know that you are your own person and that whatever you decide to do, whatever you decide to say is completely up to you and nobody else. In the realm of what is important, does it matter if your actions or what you said was not accepted by everyone? No, because you will never be accepted by everyone all of the time, ever. You are on your journey and you know to continue, there is no time to stop, only time to continue.