Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cranberry Bars (Top 8 Free)

When visiting a friend of mine, she offered me some cranberry bars that were amazing!  I don't even really like cranberries.  I asked her for the recipe, but of course I had to modify it a bit to meet my family's food allergy needs.

Ingredients:
1/2 c milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
1 1/2 c sugar
2 egg replacements (I used 1 cup unsweetened applesauce)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c gluten free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 c frozen cranberries

Preheat oven to 350º.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add egg replacer and vanilla; mix thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix the dry ingredients into the batter.  Add cranberries.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Pour and spread mixture onto baking sheet.  Bake 25-35 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Cool.  Frost when cooled (optional).


Frosting
4 1/2 oz pkg cream cheese (You could use Daiya)
6 Tbsp milk-free butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 c powdered sugar

Mix together until smooth

I decided not to top with frosting because the bars themselves are pretty sweet.  In the future I may drizzle some frosting on top rather than coat the entire pan. 

I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer to mix the batter.  (If you don't have one of these, get one.  It will change your life!)  I stirred in the cranberries by hand.  The mixture is somewhat difficult to spread onto the baking sheet.  I suggest removing your rings and getting your hands dirty.  A medium sized baking sheet is best.  Try to push it all the way to the corners and make sure it is even.  These are really easy to make.  The hardest part is spreading it in the pan.  Good luck and enjoy!  

 

Church Windows (Top 8 Free)

My husband's grandmother used to make what she called Church Windows for Christmas each year.  She would melt together a bag of chocolate chips and a stick of butter, then add multi-colored mini marshmallows and some chopped peanuts.  Then she would roll it into a log in waxed paper and chill.  Once it was chilled, she would remove the wax paper and slice the log into disks.  They looked like a church window with stained glass. 

After the first time I had those, I stole her recipe but removed the peanuts (I've never been a fan of nuts).  I have made those for years.  This year, I took the same recipe and adapted it to be safe for my kiddos.


1 bag of safe chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life)
1/2 c milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
1 bag of mini marshmallows (free of artificial colors)
1 c chopped gluten free pretzels (I used Ener-G Wylde Gluten Free Pretzels)

Melt the chocolate chips and butter over low heat.  Mix in marshmallows and pretzels.  Spread onto waxed paper and roll into a log.  Place in refrigerator.  Once chilled, remove waxed paper and slice into disks. 

They don't have the same effect of "stained glass" since the marshmallows are white, but they are yummy just the same!  Super easy to make and the kids gobbled them up!
 

Chocolate Covered Pretzels (Top 8 Free)

Making chocolate covered pretzels is easy, but it can be time consuming.  Dipping each pretzel individually takes some time.  I make them every year at Christmas time with pretzels and almond bark (I make a batch with just the almond bark to have white pretzels and a batch with almond bark and chocolate chips melted together to make chocolate pretzels).  But, of course, my food allergy kids can't enjoy those.


This year I decided it would be just as easy to make some allergy friendly chocolate covered pretzels for my kiddos.  I used Ener-G Wylde Gluten Free Pretzels and dipped them in a mixture of melted Enjoy Life chocolate chips (1 bag) and about 1/2 cup of  milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free).


I usually sprinkle my chocolate covered pretzels with red, green, and white sprinkles to make them festive, but of course I couldn't do that with these since we are avoiding artificial colors.  I usually keep some Sprinkelz on hand (naturally colored sprinkles), but we were out when I made these.  So the pretzels are just plain.  The kids love them just as they are.

 

Sugar Cookies (Top 8 Free)

This year I was feeling lazy and didn't want to make roll out sugar cookies.  But I found this recipe for easy-to-make gluten free drop sugar cookies from Gluten Free on a Shoestring. After a few modifications to make them safe for my kiddos, they turned out amazing! 


Check out the original recipe and instructions here. 

Here is the ingredient list I used:

1 3/4 c gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
5 Tbsp milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
5 Tbsp shortening (I used Spectrum)
1 egg replacement (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
2 tsp vanilla
Extra granulated sugar for coating

(For instructions, click here.) 

This is pretty much a direct translation from the original recipe.  Once I had it all mixed together, it was pretty crumbly, almost like a powder.  So I added 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce which made it a nice consistency. 

I always start a recipe that calls for eggs by making the egg replacement first.  When using the Ener-G brand egg replacer, be sure to use warm water and whisk together the powder and water.  Then let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow it to "gel."  By making this first, it is usually ready to be added by the time I get to the portion of the recipe that calls for eggs.

Gluten free dough can often be sticky and hard to work with when rolling with your hands.  The trick is to keep your hands wet.  I keep a bowl of water next to my work space to I can moisten them as needed. 

These cookies turned out soft and delicious.  We will have to set a few aside to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve.  Each year we leave out a few allergy friendly cookies and a glass of rice milk for Santa to either eat or take back to his elves.  I love that the kids share their special food with the big guy! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodbye, Jake. You've been a good dog!

Today was a hard day.  Today we said goodbye to our dear yellow lab, Jake.  If you are a pet owner, you understand what I am going through.  People who don't have pets of their own often say, "It's just a dog."  Well, he wasn't "just a dog."  He was our dog and a member of our family. 

In his last days

We got Jake when he was just 5 weeks old in the spring of 2003.  As any puppy does, he chewed on EVERYTHING, and he drove us crazy with all that he destroyed.  We took him to weekly obedience classes and trained him well.  Once he was trained, he never jumped on anyone, never bit anyone, and he could follow all the commands we taught him.  He was even housebroken quite easily! (Something we've struggled with more with our kids!) 

Just a pup

We treated Jake like our child for the first few years.  He was, after all, our first baby!  We spoiled him rotten with Christmas gifts and dog-friendly birthday cakes.  We often took him for rides and went to the dog park regularly.  He was my jogging partner, and we went on countless walks. 

Jake wasn't too sure about adding members to our family.  He did okay with the addition of Bubs, but each additional child caused him a bit of anxiety.  He refused to eat for at least a week after each child was born.  He even licked himself raw (and left a scar) on his hind leg when Cutie was born.  But once he accepted them, he loved each of them loyally.  He was the most tolerant dog you could ask for.  These kids climbed on him, tugged on his ears, and patted him a little too hard.  If he didn't like it, he would simply walk away.  And the kids knew that was his sign that he didn't want to play.  They respected each other.

Jake and Bubs meeting for the first time

Jake loved all the kids, but he and Bubs had a special connection over the years.  The past couple of years Bubs had even taken over the duty of feeding Jake every morning and night.  Jake looked to him as a caregiver.  They definitely had a special bond.
  
Bubs and Jake loved playing together

As the years went by and we had more kids (and more chaos), I found myself spoiling Jake less and getting frustrated with him more.  He was always getting in my way, and I'd frequently find myself tripping over him.  Of course, as any good dog, he was always at my heels.  Also, not only did I have to clean up after the kids, but I also had to sweep more often when he would shed.  When he was outside, he would bark at every little noise, adding to my auditory overstimulation.  We would have to clean off his muddy paws on rainy days so he wouldn't track mud through house.   

As I was looking through pictures last night, I found fewer and fewer of Jake as the years went on.  In fact, I remember getting frustrated when he would get in the way of pictures I was trying to take of the kids.  So there were gradually fewer and fewer pictures of him.  Something I now regret. 

But then there were the times he made me feel safe.  I knew his bark at a squirrel was different than his bark at someone coming up the driveway.  If I heard a strange sound, I would look to him to see if he was reacting.  His response gave me security.  He would hang out in whichever room we were in, just to be near us.  As he got older, his energy level declined, so he mostly would find a spot to lie down and keep us company.  Tonight we feel a void having no dog lying at our feet or by our couch. 

Bubs and GirlyGirl with Jake

About a year ago we started noticing small lumps in a few places on Jake, but the vet told us they were just fatty tumors that dogs sometimes get.  They don't really do much for them, especially if they aren't causing any pain or discomfort.  Well, Jake didn't seem to even notice these lumps were there, and they didn't slow him down.  So we carried on. 

About a month ago, the lump in the middle of his back grew quite rapidly to about the size of a basketball.  We joked that he looked like a camel.  The lump went from small, soft, and squishy, to large, hard, and tender to the touch.  The vet wasn't sure what this lump was and offered to perform exploratory surgery.  But he would be 11 in two months, and his body may not even handle the surgery.  Plus he would have to go through a recovery process.  Not much fun for an old dog.  Not to mention to the other various lumps and skin growths that have popped up over the past few months.  We thought about waiting until after the holidays to make a decision, but this past weekend, he started showing signs of being ready to go.  It was a quick decline, and I worry that if we had waited much longer, he would have suffered even more. 

With a heavy heart, we decided to have him put to sleep.  I had to convince myself over and over again that this was the right decision for him and for our family.  Making the decision to take a life, especially the life of a loved one, is not an easy task.  Then to watch it happen is even more difficult.  It truly was peaceful for him, but it is still quite painful for me.  But I wanted him to die knowing we were there with him through the whole thing.  We will miss him dearly!


There are so many great stories to share, and tonight we took some time as a family to remember all the good, funny, and crazy things Jake did.  He truly was the perfect family dog.  He was well trained, gentle and loving, and didn't get into any trouble (once we were through that puppy stage, that is).  We were even able to leave out Santa's cookies on the fireplace hearth each Christmas Eve without him disturbing them.  The kids asked if we can get another dog sometime.  He is simply irreplaceable, and I'm not sure another dog will live up to his legacy. 

The kids handled the news quite well.  We have been talking about Jake being sick (not the kind of sick we get) and about him getting ready to go to heaven soon.  They've seen his lump grow and watched him struggle.  And kids just deal with these things differently.  I'm sure their grief will manifest itself somehow over the next several days and weeks..  I printed a collage of pictures of Jake for each kid to have so they could look at it whenever they feel sad or miss him.  Looking at pictures of him now as I type this makes me sad, but I know the pain will ease and we will enjoy his memory for years to come.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Allergy Friendly Thanksgiving

Any time food is involved in an activity, it takes planning and preparation for a food allergy family.  And Thanksgiving may take the cake for requiring the most planning and prep work. 

We gather with the hubs' extended family every year for Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception.  More often than not we drive about 2 hours to meet with family for holidays.  So I don't plan on bringing food warm.  I made all of my food items ahead of time and simply warmed them up in a microwave when we got arrived.  It worked out just fine.

Let the food prep begin!

In years past I have made things fairly easy on myself at Thanksgiving and just brought a turkey sandwich with lunch meat, a safe roll, and some fresh fruits and veggies.  But this year I wanted to make it special.  Thanks to help and inspiration from my food allergy blogger friends, I came up with quite a feast. 


We got a turkey from our local Natural Grocers.  It was a free range organic turkey with nothing added.  It is surprising how hard it is to find a turkey without anything added to it.  We didn't do anything special for cooking the it.  We just stuck it in one of those turkey bags and cooked it according to the instructions.  The hubs carved it up and made some gravy with the turkey juices by mixing in some gluten-free flour and cooking it over medium heat.

Other sides I made included Namaste spice bread (muffins), milk-free mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, apple pie, and chocolate cream pie

While other family members set up the food line with their potluck items, I designated a table to be the "allergy table" where the serving utensils and food items wouldn't get cross-contaminated.  It worked out quite well, and the kids loved their feast!  It took a bit more work than throwing together turkey sandwiches, but it was well worth the effort!  Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

Chocolate Cream Pie (Top 8 Free)

I'm not much of a pie fan, but I do like chocolate pudding pie.  You know, the kind you mix with Cool Whip and pour over a graham cracker crust.  Of course, my food allergic kiddos can't enjoy this treat. 

After searching some other food allergy blogs, I came up with this Chocolate Cream Pie.  The crust was inspired by my friend over at Amazing and Atopic.  She suggested using Enjoy Life sugar cookies as a crust.  How easy and delicious!  I simply used the cookies like I would graham crackers to make the crust.

Enjoy Life sugar cookie crust

Crust
2 cups Enjoy Life Sugar Cookies, crushed
3 Tbsp milk-free butter, melted (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)

Preheat oven to 350º.  Mix together crushed cookies and melted butter.  Press into pie plate.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before adding pie filling.

Pie Filling
I came across this post from Milk Allergy Mom for chocolate mousse and decided it would be good as a pie for Thanksgiving.  It's really simple!


Using the cream from 4 cans of coconut milk (get exact details here), whip in stand mixer while gradually adding cocoa and sweetener of your choice.  I used powdered sugar to really make it sweet, but there are obviously more healthy options, such as honey, agave, or other natural sweeteners.  Once I reached a desired flavor, I poured the chocolate mixture over my crust and sprinkled on some Enjoy Life chocolate chips.

I served this to my kiddos at Thanksgiving, but it didn't go over as well as I had hoped.  They don't care too much for coconut milk, and the cocoa didn't cover the flavor enough.  They did LOVE the crust though, so that's a keeper!  I'll try another recipe for the filling of my next chocolate cream pie.

Green Bean Casserole (Top 8 Free)

I have had trouble making good casseroles for my kids because of Bubs' milk allergy.  I have always done without a cream of whatever soup.  Sometimes I just omit the soup from a casserole recipe.  Occasionally I would use tomato soup instead (weird, I know, but they like it).  The kids haven't seemed to have minded my make-shift casseroles, but I think that's because they don't know any different.
 
Green Bean Casserole

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to try the traditional Green Bean Casserole.  I asked around on Twitter for suggestions, and someone suggested using the recipe below for a Cream of Mushroom soup.  It was sooooo simple, and it turned out great!

Here's how I made our green bean casserole:

Ingredients:
Fresh green beans
Bacon (I used 6 strips)
Onions (chopped) (I used about 1/4 cup)
Cream of mushroom soup*
Black pepper (to taste)
Rice Chex

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º.  Cut off ends of green beans and cut in half.  Rinse and set aside.  Cook bacon (I used the microwave) and cut into small pieces.  Mix together green beans, soup, bacon, onions, and black pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Crush Rice Chex and sprinkle on top.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes. 

*Here is the recipe (click for full instructions) for cream of mushroom soup from Must Follow Recipes with a few minor ingredient changes.

3 T milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
1/4 c mushrooms, finely chopped
1 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 c rice milk
3 Tbsp gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of pepper

I added the milk cold to the butter, mushroom, onion mixture before adding flour, salt, and pepper. 

I was distracted and accidentally let it cook too long, so it got pretty thick.  I added a bit more rice milk to thin it out.  I didn't use the entire amount of soup in this casserole, but I think I could have used more green beans and used the entire amount.
Cream of mushroom soup

This casserole turned out really good.  Even though I didn't have those French fried onions to top this casserole, the Chex added a nice crunch.  And the soup was just right.  I will have to use this recipe again for other casseroles, and even make cream of whatever else I want.  I hope you can enjoy this as well!


Apple Pie (Top 8 Free)

Apple pie.  An American tradition.  This one is not too hard to convert to Top 8 free.  The filling is already mostly safe (just had to convert flour to gluten-free flour), so I just had to tweak the crust a bit. 

I have had trouble making the crust so it is easy to transfer.  Last year the crust I made for a pumpkin pie came apart as I tried to roll it over my rolling pin to transfer.  So I cut it into pieces and placed it in my pie dish, then patted it together like play-doh.  This year I changed the recipe a bit to make it more moist.  It definitely tastes better, but it is still difficult to transfer.  I resorted to using a cake lifter which made a world of a difference.  It is important to get some gluten-free to stick to the cake lifter to make the transfer as easy as possible. 

Crust
2 c gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
2/3 c shortening (I used Spectrum)
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp cold water

Using a pastry blender, cut shortening into flour.  Mix in applesauce, salt, and vanilla.  Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough reaches desired consistency.  Split dough in half and roll into 2 balls.  Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate while making filling.

Sliced apples with cinnamon mixture

Pic Filling
6 c apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Lemon juice
2 Tbsp gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top of crust

As you are peeling and cutting apples, use small amounts of lemon juice to coat apples to avoid browning.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Coat apples with this mixture.

I used a cake lifter to transfer the crust so it wouldn't fall apart


Pour apples over crust

Preheat oven to 375º.  On a (gluten-free) floured surface, roll out one ball of pie dough into a circle big enough to fit your pie plate.  Tranfser crust to pie dish and remove excess dough from edges.  Pour apple mixture on top of crust.  Roll out remaining dough and carefully place on top of apple mixture.  Cut a few slits in top crust for ventilation.  Another option would be to cut out seasonal shapes from dough to place on top of pie rather than a full circle.  Check out some cute ideas on Keeley McGuire's Blog such as stars or leaves.  Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over top of crust.  Cover edges with foil or a pie shield and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove foil/shield and bake an additional 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Sprinkle top of crust with cinnamon sugar

 
Delicious apple pie

 

Stuffing (Gluten and Top 8 Free)

My kids LOVE stuffing, but I had to find a way to make it free of gluten, milk, and soy.  So I looked up traditional recipes and created my own version.  Here ya go...


Ingredients:
Gluten-free bread (I used EnerG)
Spray oil (I used my kitchen spritzer with canola oil)
Italian seasoning
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Parsley
Celery (chopped)
Onion (chopped)
Milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
Chicken broth

Instructions:
Preheat over to 350º.  Cube bread.  I made a triple batch and used 3 loaves.  Spread evenly over a baking sheet.  Spritz with oil.  Sprinkle with seasonings to taste.  You could really use any seasonings you like.  Bake until lightly toasted (just a few minutes).  While bread is baking, sauté celery and onions with a small amount of butter over medium heat (I used about a tablespoon of butter).  Mix together bread and celery/onions.  Add chicken broth (I used 1 cup per loaf of bread) and mix. Bake for 25 minutes.

I made this ahead of time, so I will warm it up in the microwave once we reach our destination.  But you could stick it back in the oven to warm if desired.

Celery and onions sautéing over medium heat


Mix it all together, and voila!