Monday, June 30, 2008

Citrus Roasted Chicken

Now that we’ve talked about all the amazing things about olive oil, I’m going to give you a recipe that doesn’t use any! Ironic, no? Okay, you will use a bit if you are using a regular oven rather than a slow cooker.

Today, I’m going to give you a recipe for really, really tender, juicy roasted chicken that will be full of flavor without requiring a trip to a gourmet shop and hours and hours of prep time. Here’s what you’ll need:

· 1 whole chicken – I usually go for the biggest available because I like the leftovers.
· 1 onion – Sweet onion, if you can get it. If not, white or yellow will do just fine.
· 1 large navel orange (you can choose another citrus and we'll talk about that in a moment)
· Several stems of fresh sage and rosemary if you can get them. This is optional so don’t make yourself nuts trying to find it. Some grocery stores have fresh herbs and some don’t.
· ¼ - ½ cup apple cider vinegar (if you don’t have any, regular cider vinegar or rice vinegar will do but I think the flavor of the apple cider vinegar is worth having)
· ¼ cup olive oil (if you are cooking in a regular oven)
· 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced (if you like it more garlicky, go for four or five cloves and stay with two or three for a milder flavor)
· 1 – 1 ½ tsp celery seed
· Salt and pepper to taste

If you’re using a regular oven, pre-heat to 350 degrees. I have a slow cooker with a programmable meat thermometer built in. It’s very handy and allows me to start dinner and go away to do other things. If that is an option for you, I strongly recommend it. However, it is not necessary. We’ll carry on as if we’re all cooking in a standard oven.

Use a baking dish or roasting pan deep enough to really hold your chicken and as much as three cups of liquid without being in danger of spilling over. You’ll have to handle the pan a bit and you don’t want to risk injuries. You can use the roasting bags to eliminate the need for basting and to make clean up easier. Of course, this does increase plastic waste, so you’ll want to bear that in mind. I admit, I do use them for roasting the turkey at Thanksgiving, but the rest of the time, I go ahead and baste.
Remove the neck and any organs from the cavity of the chicken. If you are so inclined, the neck and the rack (the bones) of the chicken can be used later for making soup stock. My husband likes me to save the liver because he does love chicken liver fried in butter. That one liver is enough for him to enjoy the flavor without eating all the fat and calories usually involved in eating organ meat. It works out fine because, goodness knows, he never gets any competition from me or our son when it comes time to eat it.

Er, anyway…

Rinsing the chicken is optional, in my opinion. Mostly, I find it makes more mess in the kitchen than anything else and results in a large-scale disinfecting project once I get the bird in the oven. Unless the bird seems really messy, I’d just go ahead and prepare it for cooking. Once it’s in the pan, fold the wings back so the tips will stay under the bird.

Peel, wash and quarter the onion and the orange. Juice the orange into a measuring cup and set the juice aside. DON’T throw out the orange quarters. Rinse the sage and rosemary stems. You need 3 or 4 of each.

Add the reserved orange juice to the apple cider vinegar, garlic, celery seed and half the olive oil (if you’re using the oven – omit the oil if you are using a slow cooker). Separate the skin from the breast of the chicken. To do this, start at the cavity. Make a small slit in the skin if you need to, then push your hand in between the skin and the flesh. It should separate all the way along the breast on each side of the breastbone. You also need to make a couple TINY slits in the skin of the drumsticks and thighs so you can separate the skin from the flesh as well as you can. This won’t work as well but it will be enough.

Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the onion (you may not get it all in there but you need at least half), at least two orange quarters and the sage and rosemary.

Rub the remaining olive oil (again, only if you are using a regular oven) all over the skin of the chicken.

Pour some of the juice mixture under the skin in all the places where you separated it from the flesh. Use it all.

Lightly shake salt and pepper over all and put your chicken in the oven.

This should cook until the internal temperature at the breast is 185 – 187 degrees. It will carry over cook to 190 after it is removed from the oven. If you are not using a roasting bag, you should baste with the pan juices about every 20 minutes. Depending on the size of the chicken, this could take about an hour and a half.

As always, you can change out ingredients. Lemon is a wonderful substitute for the orange. If onion is not in your game plan, try some celery, carrots and extra rosemary. Lime is a great citrus for this, but skip the sage and rosemary and go for cilantro and some mild peppers. I haven't tried grapefruit, but it might be very nice in this if you add some crushed mint leaves to the juice and vinegar mixture and put a few sprigs of mint in the cavity with the rosemary. I think I'd skip the sage on that one. If anyone tries that combination, let us know how it turned out!

This is terrific as leftovers. Sandwiches and chicken salads are great made from this. You can also use it as a pizza topping or in the alternative egg rolls we talked about before.

The biggest time investment here is the cooking. Preparation is simple. If you can get a good slow cooker, preferably with some sort of meat thermometer, this can be put together before you head out for the day and you’ll be greeted with a GREAT smelling meal when you get home.

I think that about covers it. So, until next time, let’s go eat that!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why Use Olive Oil?

While you stuffed on the alternative egg rolls, did you stop to wonder why I told you to use extra virgin olive oil instead of peanut or canola or plain ol’ vegetable oil? Did you go ahead and use one of those oils anyway? No need to hide. I won't be sending the Oil Police to your home to confiscate your oils and levy fines for your unauthorized oil activities. In terms of cooking the egg rolls, the only difference is the taste. But I think that’s a big consideration and there are other important considerations when choosing a cooking oil.

So, why did I use olive oil?

There’s been a lot of buzz about olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, lately. Many are touting the health benefits of the Mediteranean Diet which is rich in olive oil. Others are singing the praises of the miraculous polyphenols which are found in higher quantities in extra virgin olive oil. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants and thought to help guard against degenerative diseases, heart problems, and general aging. Since olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, it is considered a healthy fat that can help reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood (for that info, have a look here I even read one article from the BBC that talked about research that suggests there might be an anti-inflammatory property to olive oil (I’m not making this up, I swear.

These are all good reasons to use it, don’t you think? But let’s get back to that first important reason I mentioned. Taste.

Extra virgin olive oil has a distinct flavor. Granted, it isn’t always the flavor you want in your food so there are times when it is definitely not the appropriate choice for cooking. I once sampled some gourmet potato chips that had been fried in olive oil. I was excited about these because I like olive oil, I like potato chips and I like the idea of anything that will make potato chips at least sound healthy. The reality was not so exciting. These chips (and no, I don’t remember the brand) were rather heavy and tasted more strongly of oil than I really cared for. I’ve since fried up my own version at home in olive oil with better success but we’ll talk about that more in a moment. Also, that distinctive olive flavor may not really be a good choice for something as delicate, say, as an omelet. To some degree, you’ll have to experiment and find out what tastes good to you and what doesn’t. However, you should always remember that olive oil is still a fat and use it accordingly.

As I said with regard to using whole grains, when cooking for special dietary needs we have to make the most of the foods we can have. We need to go after the most flavor and nutrition possible. In other words, we can’t just settle for ‘okay’ food. Limited food choices shouldn’t mean limited flavor and benefits. So, choose every ingredient carefully, even your cooking oil.

Oh yeah. And if you’re allergic to olives, please disregard this entire thing. *waves cheerfully*

And I haven’t forgotten about those potato chips fried in olive oil. Here’s what I did:

First, I washed and sliced (nice and thin) a medium potato. I like to leave the peel on rather than lose that texture and the nutrients by peeling. If you don’t care for the peel, take it right off. No big deal. Then, I lightly salted the slices with celery salt. You can use plain salt or any other flavored salt you like. I heated a larger skillet (at least 12”) and coated the bottom heavily with olive oil. It wasn’t deep enough to measure but it wasn’t a light layer, either. When the oil was hot, I carefully laid the slices of potato in a single layer in the pan. Don’t leave these to do something else because they will burn and you’ll have an awful mess to clean up. Not to mention, you won’t have any potato chips to snack on and that would just be tragic. Once they were browned on one side, I flipped them (a fork will do for this) and browned the other side. This goes really quickly which is good because they smell great. Remove the chips from the pan to a plate lined with paper towel. Let them cool only enough to keep from burning your tongue to a cinder. These are best warm. If you don’t eat them all, you can save them and reheat as leftovers. This, however, is a completely foreign idea to me and I don’t believe you’ll ever have leftovers. You can certainly do this same thing with yams, by the way.

I have also done this after cooking meat in the skillet. Instead of deglazing the pan (getting all those good bits of flavor stuck to the bottom by using some sort of cooking liquid), I toss in my sliced potato. It might need a bit more oil added. The potatoes will take on some of those wonderful flavors left behind after you cooked your meat and you haven’t dirtied up another pan. Two plusses, as far as I can see!

Enjoy and until next time, let’s go eat that!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Alternative Egg Rolls

Welcome back! Since I didn’t give you a recipe at all last time and instead, made you go grocery shopping, I’ll make it up to you today. I’ll give you one of my favorite recipes along with some suggestions for mixing it up a bit.

Do you like egg rolls? I really do. However, unless the chef is willing to share his secrets with me, I really shouldn’t eat them at a restaurant. Instead, I’ve figured out a quick and simple way of making up an alternative that is full of great flavor. Here’s what you’ll need:

· Skillet – 12” or larger
· One cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast
· One cup cooked brown rice (cook according to package directions)
· One cup shredded cabbage – red or green or a combination (which is pretty)
· 3 or 4 T rice vinegar (I like garlic infused)
· One package of egg roll wrappers
· Extra virgin olive oil (enough to fill your skillet about ½ - ¾ “ deep
· Optional ingredients: cooked seafood or firm fish of your choice, shredded carrot (about ¼ cup), minced celery, 2 or 3 green onions sliced fine

Dice the chicken breast (or seafood or fish of your choice) into ½ “ pieces. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine chicken, brown rice, cabbage (and carrot, celery and onion, if you choose) and toss all with rice vinegar.

NOTE: You can stop right here. Dinner’s ready if you’d like a chicken salad with a twist. This is a REALLY BIG meal for one or a great main dish for two with some nice fresh fruit on the side. Or, you can carry on and have the mocked-up egg rolls. Want to go on? Okay, let’s!

Heat the skillet with the olive oil while you prepare the egg rolls. I suggest heating on medium since olive oil will smoke if too hot. Smells weird, tastes a little off and your rolls will get too brown too quickly. All around, not a good thing.

Lay an egg roll wrapper flat and place roughly 2 T of the chicken and cabbage mixture in the center. Arrange it in sort of a rectangle. Fold the wrapper like a burrito. That is, fold the ends in and then roll it up. You can lightly seal it with a bit of water but don’t expect it to hold together really well. This will take some careful handling. Go ahead and prepare several of these rolls. You can use all of your chicken mixture or you can make half into rolls and put the other half away for a nice chicken salad lunch tomorrow.

CAREFULLY place the rolls, seam down, in the skillet. Be sure to leave plenty or room between the rolls. You might have to do them a few at a time. Flip the rolls when the wrapper has cooked to a golden color. Watch carefully because this doesn’t take long! Remove the rolls from the oil to a rack or plate covered with paper towel to absorb extra oil.

This will make 8 – 12 rolls, depending on how much you fill the wrappers. You can make only as many as you want right now and save the rest of the mixture for tomorrow, either to make more rolls or to eat as salad.

Personally, I like this mixture so much as a salad, I rarely get as far as making the rolls. But when I do, I’m always glad I was patient enough to do it. They are very satisfyingly crunchy as well as VERY filling! You won’t fool anyone into thinking you’ve hidden Chef Morimoto in your kitchen, but these rolls are simple and tasty and can be thrown together very easily some evening after work since the meat and rice can be cooked ahead. Most often, I pick up one of those rotisserie chickens from my local grocery store deli. As always, be sure to know what ingredients are in the deli’s seasoning mixture, just to be on the safe side. When in doubt, cook it yourself. In a pinch, you can use the canned chicken breast.

You’ll notice I had you use brown rice for this. As we talked about last time, using the whole grain option adds another layer of flavor and even texture to your dishes. Brown rice is as readily available as white and takes no more effort to cook. It’s a simple adjustment and you’ll be very glad you tried it.

Hope you enjoy this and until next time, let’s go eat that!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Getting In the Grains

I don’t think I need to tell you why it is important to eat whole grains, do I? We’ve been hearing about the benefits for a long time. Extra fiber and a natural source to boot, higher nutrient value, potential to lower harmful blood cholesterol – there’s quite a list. But for people with food allergies, sensitivities and special dietary needs, there is another important reason.

If your dietary choices are already limited, you need to make the most of food that you do eat. It’s that simple. Now, if there are grains that are problematic for you, that’s different and you should go ahead and avoid them. But the grains that are okay in your diet should be eaten in their whole forms whenever possible and not just for their healthful benefits. Whole grains add flavor and texture to otherwise basic foods. More flavor and texture makes a somewhat limited list of food choices much more enjoyable. Last time, I passed along a recipe for chicken coated with wheat germ. While wheat germ is not whole grain, it is an important bit of the grain so that is one way of adding the texture and flavor of grains to your meals. A few other very simple changes can be made in your next trip to the grocery store.

Can you eat oats? Can you find an extra fifteen minutes in your morning routine to cook blade cut oatmeal instead of heavily processed, instant oatmeal? How about wheat? This one is even easier to add in because of the number of whole grain foods available. Try whole wheat tortillas and whole wheat frozen waffles. There are loads of options for whole grain and multi-grain bread, too. Simple change, right? But these foods have an entirely different layer of flavor as well as the added nutrition. You didn’t even have to do any extra cooking aside from a few more minutes for your oatmeal. But wait! There’s more!

Choose brown rice over white rice. Again, there isn’t really significant extra preparation but you’ll get more flavor and texture bang for your food buck. Once in awhile, instead of rice, try substituting wheatberries as a dinnertime side dish. Season them with your favorite herbs and a bit of butter or margarine. Cook wheatberries and serve with milk or a dairy substitute in place of oatmeal if, like me, oats are not on your list. Add barley to a vegetable soup instead of noodles or rice. You can bake with whole grain flour, too. I don’t recommend whole grain for a light and fluffy cake but it will make a very satisfying cookie. You’ll have to experiment a bit to find which recipes are best for using whole grain flours. We’ll talk about that more in the future.

Getting the idea? Over time, you’ll hear so much from me about getting the most out of your food that you might begin to think me a bit touched in the head. But let’s be honest. We are working with a limited diet (and no, I still don’t like to see it in a negative light but that doesn’t keep it from being true). We can’t afford to lose flavor, texture and nutrition by using food that has been processed beyond what is really necessary. Personally, I believe the same goes for how we cook the food. In the end, I think food is best eaten as near to its natural state as is safe and practical to eat. No, you will never see a recipe for any sort of steak tartare in this blog. I’m afraid I don’t care from my meat to be even remotely rare. But you get my point. Steamed vegetables, not boiled and raw is even better. Whole grains whenever possible. Seasonal and locally grown for best freshness.

We’ll touch on this more as we go. For now, make your grocery list and pad it with some new whole grain options you haven’t already tried and, until next time, let’s go eat that!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Oven-Baked Wheat Germ Chicken

Hi there! I hope you enjoyed your cobbler. I’ve always found it to be a real crowd pleaser. Well, I hope you’re ready for something else to try. How about some baked chicken?

*listens to the crickets chirp*

Alright, yes. It’s a recipe for baked chicken. I know. But hear me, er, read me out before you give up and go take a nap.

On top of my many other allergies, yeast – both baker’s and brewer’s – is on my list of things to avoid. This means I need an alternative to bread crumbs. Depending on what sort of dish I’m fixing, I have a few choices. I can use crushed cereal flakes (wheat for me but if corn is okay for you, good ol’ corn flakes are handy), crushed crackers or wheat germ.

For this recipe, we’ll be using wheat germ. Obviously, if wheat doesn’t work for you, try corn flakes or even low-/no- sodium potato chips (I wouldn’t recommend regular chips as they would be much too salty). Let’s have a look at what you’ll need.

· 9” x 12” baking pan (non-stick is nice but not required)
· 1 – 1 ½ lbs. fresh, boneless, skinless chicken tenders or breasts cut into roughly 1 – 1 ½ ” wide strips
· ¾ - 1 cup wheat germ
· 1 tsp each – celery seed, onion powder, garlic powder (or garlic salt), crushed dried parsley or 2 tsp minced fresh parsley
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil if you are not using a non-stick pan

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.

If your baking pan is not non-stick, coat it lightly with the olive oil. Use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly and absorb any extra.
Combine wheat germ and seasonings in a wide, shallow dish or a large plastic bag (preferably one with a zip seal to reduce mess).
Rinse chicken tenders and shake off extra water but do not dry.
Place damp tenders, a few at a time, in the wheat germ mixture. Turn or shake to coat completely.
Place coated chicken in one layer in your pan. It’s okay if the pieces touch.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 -45 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken is 185 – 187 degrees. It will “carry-over” cook to 190.

You can certainly change up the seasonings you use to get different flavors and accommodate different needs. You can also choose a ready-made seasoning blend for chicken but be sure to read the ingredients label to assure you aren’t going end up eating something you’d rather not.

You’ll want to make plenty of this chicken as it makes great leftovers. Reheat for another meal, use in a sandwich or dice and serve cold on a bed of salad greens.

This is a simple recipe that even the kids can help make. Shaking a bag full of chicken is really pretty fun. I think you’ll enjoy the nutty flavor of the wheat germ, too.

Until next time, let’s go eat that!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dairy-Free, No Sugar Added, Choose-a-Fruit Cobbler

Hey there, Brave Foodies! Welcome back to “Hey, I Can Eat That.” Tell me, how was the soup?

I spent so much time talking about experimentation last time, I never got around to leaving you a recipe! To make it up to you, I’m not going to yap at you at all today (well, I probably will but I promise I’ll keep it to a minimum). Instead, I’ll jump right in with a recipe for “Dairy-Free, No Sugar Added , Choose-a-Fruit Cobbler.” The preparation time on this varies quite a lot based on what fruit you choose. This is a fairly large cobbler but you can use a single layer cake mix and a 8"x8" or 9"x9" square pan to make a smaller dessert.

Here’s what you’ll need:

*9” x 12” baking pan (non-stick is nice if you have it but not required)
*Sugar-free White or Yellow Cake Mix for a two layer cake – make sure you read the ingredients label since some mixes do include dairy (if you can’t find this or don’t need to avoid sugar, we’ll discuss an alternative as we go. Of course, you can use a regular cake mix if sugar isn't a problem for you.)
*Margarine (I like the soft tub variety. If you can have dairy, you may certainly use butter if you prefer.)
*A few teaspoons artificial sweetener (or sugar if you prefer and it fits in your diet)
*Cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice (these are optional)
*Flour (1 or 2 tablespoons)
*Fruit - apples, berries, pears, peaches, any combination you like – enough to cover the bottom of your baking pan 1” deep

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees

First of all, choose a fruit. I like apple, peach and cherry, personally. Heck, you don’t even need to have just one. Apples pair very nicely with cherries or blueberries so you could use both. What other fruit combinations do you like? More importantly, what’s in season? We’ll be using a standard 9” x 12” baking dish, so you’ll want enough of whichever fruit you choose to cover the pan about 1” deep. Wash, peel, slice and prepare your fruit as appropriate. Most berries can be used as is. You’ll want to slice strawberries, though. Peeling is optional but I generally do peel my apples, peaches or pears. Not everyone cares for the texture of the peel in their cobbler. Do as you like seeing as you’re the one who gets to eat!

Lightly oil your baking dish with vegetable oil (if you’re soy sensitive, use canola or sunflower). Keep it very light by putting the oil on a paper towel and wiping the pan with the towel. If you’re using a non-stick pan, you can skip this step.

Arrange your fruit in the pan as evenly as possible. I like to have the fruit about an inch deep in the pan. If you put in less fruit, you’ll end up with more cobbler crust than fruit and it will be dry. Too much and the fruit won’t be done and soft before the crust gets too brown. If your fruit seems a bit dry (as in, it wasn’t particularly juicy in preparation), you can add two or three tablespoons of apple juice. Now is the time for some creative sniffing. I like to add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to my cobbler. You can also drizzle a bit of lemon juice to preserve color and add a bit of tartness. Sniff and see what smells good to you. If your fruit is on the tart side, you can even sprinkle a bit of artificial sweetener evenly over the pan. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of flour evenly over the fruit. Dot the surface of the pan of fruit with small pieces of margarine. By small, I mean roughly 1/2”. Don’t get carried away with this. We’ll be using more on top of the crust so a little at this point will go a long way. The margarine can be pretty widely spaced. You’re going for moisture and richness, not oily fruit.

Spread the dry cake mix evenly over the fruit. Do this gently so as to avoid smushing your fruit all around. You really want to keep this as even in the pan as possible. Dot the top of the cake mix with margarine. This time, you will want to be more generous. The margarine will melt and mix with the cake mix to make the cobbler top so you want enough to moisten all the cake mix. You may sprinkle the top with a bit of cinnamon and/or nutmeg, if you desire.

Put the pan into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. After twenty minutes, you’ll need to watch so you remove it before the crust gets too brown. Golden is what you’re looking for. You’ll need to use a fork or toothpick to test the fruit. It doesn’t need to be super soft but you’d rather not have it very crunchy. When the fruit is soft and the crust is golden, remove and cool the pan on a wire rack. This can be served warm with a scoop of no-sugar-added or dairy free ice cream or eaten plain. It’s nice cooled or even refrigerated. Since it can be made in advance and reheated (15 -20 seconds in the microwave per serving or put the whole pan back in a 325 degree oven for 5 minutes or so) or served cool, this can be made in advance. Handy!

Let’s mention some alternative ingredients. If you aren’t avoiding sugar, you can use pie filling in place of the fruit. This is very convenient and speeds up preparation quite a bit. If you are able to find no-sugar-added pie filling, you’re in great shape. You can also try canned fruit packed in its own juice. Just be aware that canned fruits and pie fillings will result in a softer fruit in your cobbler. This isn’t a bad thing but you should still know that when you choose your fruit. If you are having trouble finding a sugar free cake mix, you can use a baking mix such as Bisquick. Use the dry ingredients of the coffee cake recipe or biscuit recipe. If you use the biscuit recipe, add artificial sweetener to taste. Yes, you’ll have to taste the mix to get your proportions right. In my experience, artificial sweetener used in a 1:1 sweetener/sugar ratio is pretty darned sweet. If that suits your taste, perfect. Adjust the amount so it is appealing to you.

Now that you’ve feasted on wild, new pizza and alternative beef and vegetable soup, you’ve earned a bit of dessert.

So, until next time, let’s go eat that!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Being Food Brave

Welcome back to “Hey, I Can Eat That.” I hope you had fun making pizzas. I’m sure you came up with some great new combinations. ‘Fess up, now. How many of you stayed with the tried and true pizza toppings? You know, peppers, cheese (or cheese substitute), sausage. That sort of thing. How many of you bravely reached for some new flavors? Anyone try apples and onions? How about pears with ham instead of pineapple? Leave us some comments and tell us what you tried and how you liked it!

Since we talked about substitutions last time, I thought we might take some time today to talk about being ‘Food Brave’.

So, what do I mean by that? Well, as I said last time, one of my two big rules for cooking with substitutions is to be willing to try new and different combinations. In fact, to really foster the right frame of mind about this, we probably ought to change our vocabulary. Instead of saying we are substituting ingredients, let’s say we are trying alternative flavors. Sounds a lot more palatable, doesn’t it? Right. So, that’s what I mean about being Food Brave. Food Brave cooks are actively looking for new flavor combinations. But not just any old combinations. We’re taking on the challenge of creating new tastes that will also meet some important dietary considerations.

Let me insert a side note here. As you’ve probably already noticed, I’m very big on having a positive attitude toward living with food allergies, sensitivities and special dietary needs. I don’t like to consider them as restrictions. Goodness knows, there are times when I would dearly love to pour myself a tall, cold glass of milk. But I can’t sit around whining about what I shouldn’t have. Neither can you. Nor do you need to be an object of pity. Raise your hand if you’ve spent entire meals with friends having to outline specifics of what you can and should not eat. Not a great deal of fun, is it? Instead, I’d much rather spend my time talking about all the great recipes I do cook and enjoy. I’m not really trying to be extra perky and sparkly about it. I’m just trying to keep things in a more positive perspective. I hope you’ll do the same.

Okay. So here we are, ready to be very brave in the kitchen, right? Right. Where do we start? The easiest way to begin is to start with recipes we already know and enjoy. How about soup? Pick your favorite. For the sake of discussion, I’ll talk about beef and vegetable. I have quite a few vegetable allergies. I need to stay away from tomatoes so I would choose a beef stock or I’d make a vegetable stock of my own (probably celery and onion). Carrots, corn and green beans are also things for me to avoid so I need to find things to take their place. Broccoli adds some great texture and color. Potatoes add some starch in place of the corn and cauliflower adds some good crunch, too. Additionally, I’ll load up on big flavor producers like celery, onion and minced garlic (you might want to go easy on the onion if you’re serving this to someone who tends to have GERD as too much onion can exacerbate the problem). Adding some whole grain pasta or brown rice gives it a nice nutty flavor. By now, I’ve added in so many other flavors and textures, I won’t really miss the things I didn’t add.

You’ll notice that my ingredients were pretty straightforward and that’s fine. But you can certainly go further. There are many varieties of beans you can add, for example. How about dicing up some zucchini or butternut squash? How would it be if we added some asparagus tops right near the finish (careful not to overcook those since they get mushy)? Hearts of palm? Diced jicama? Rutebegas? Or maybe turnips?

Not everything is going to taste good, unfortunately. Once in awhile, you will bravely go where probably no cook should ever have gone. Sometimes, experiments go awry. If this happens to you, don’t let it stop you from experimenting. Just see yourself as being in company with the likes of Thomas Edison who proudly claimed to have found some 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. Right?

How do you choose which ingredients to use in an experiment such as our alternative beef and vegetable soup? Well, obviously, you’ll need to work with ingredients that are in keeping with the dietary needs of those eating. Make sure you’ve talked to your doctor or nutritionist about which foods are on your list and which are not and FOLLOW THEIR INSTRUCTIONS. I don’t want to hear about conversations like, “I know I shouldn’t eat turnips and now I’ll need to be on a steroid pack for the next month to control these hives, Doctor, but it isn’t my fault. Sandy said I had to be Food Brave so I put the turnips in the soup anyway.”

Also worth considering when you cook with alternative ingredients are your other senses. Food should look appetizing, smell wonderful and feel good in your mouth. Selecting a variety of colors in your ingredients will almost always result in a variety of smells and textures as well. Something to think about.

This also applies to selecting herbs and spices to supplement your recipes. Herbs and spices are generally what have me hanging over the stovetop, face as close to the pot as safety allows, clutching a handful of celery seed, minced garlic, crushed rosemary leaves or whatever else has come to hand. Smelling any of these ingredients separately can help you decide if it even appeals to you. But smelling them in combination can really give you a good idea of how the flavors will marry. Take the time to sniff!

So, after all that, who else is getting hungry for beef and vegetable soup? I’ll just be off to get the pot on the stove.

Until next time, let’s go eat that!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Substitution Basics

Welcome, welcome! Here we are again at ‘Hey, I Can Eat That’ and I’ve got some good stuff for you. Let’s talk about substitutions.

Depending on how long you’ve been living with your dietary needs, you may already know LOTS about substituting ingredients. If so, you might find some of this old hat. If you are still pretty new to this, I hope you’ll find it helpful.

My first rule of creating a meal that is in keeping with a person’s diet is this: Be willing to experiment. I tend to do a lot of cooking with my nose, sniffing different combinations of ingredients before tossing things in the pot. I’ve even been known to hang over a pan with a handful of some new ingredient trying to smell both the ingredient and the contents of the pan, simultaneously. Looks silly, but it can be very effective. Don’t be afraid to make something that tastes absolutely dreadful. Granted, food isn’t cheap and special ingredients can be costly and less convenient. Still, try to look at it as an investment. Finding new ways to use different foods will expand your culinary repertoire and this is a good thing, no?

My second rule is: Don’t expect the taste to be 100% the same. It won’t be. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s the honest truth. A substitution is just that. Something else in place of what you might normally do. So, it will taste like something else. Just remember that this needn’t be a bad thing. The point of this is to find combinations and substitutions that will allow you to eat food you can love and have it not be entirely one-sided and unrequited.

Okay. So let’s get down to it.

Some substitutions are obvious, yeah? If you are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, you use some dairy alternative. But have you thought about using different substitutes for different situations? Personally, I’m very fond of a good cup of cocoa but once I was off dairy, I thought I was pretty well out of luck. I did try using soy milk but, to me, it just tasted like hot green beans with chocolate sauce. Not my thing, really. Also, I’m not overly fond of rice milk. Now, many are less picky than I and have no problems. However, let me suggest checking out the different varieties of nut milks. If you are okay with almonds or hazelnuts, milk made from these nuts are a wonderful alternative for cocoa. Yes, there will be the undeniable taste of the nut but that is a pleasing combination with chocolate. More pleasing, anyway, than the rather bean-y taste of soy. This is where the experimentation comes in. Try different dairy-free ‘milks’ in your recipies and see if you don’t find some really wonderful combinations. Remember also that these milks are often available in low-fat, unsweetened and flavored (vanilla and chocolate) options. I can tell you from experience, vanilla soy or nut milk makes a very sweet biscuit that might not be to everyone’s taste.

If citrus is an issue for you, you can still get the tangy flavor in recipes by trying different types of vinegar. I like apple cider vinegar for roasted chicken (which I promise I’ll tell you all about someday soon) but I prefer garlic-infused rice vinegar for a chicken salad made with cabbage and brown rice. Again, that will be a dish we’ll discuss in detail before long. If you want to balance out the acidic vinegar so it is more like citrus juice, try various combinations and quantities of brown sugar, honey, white sugar and even maple syrup. You’d be surprised at the wonderful flavor profiles you can create.

If wheat is your downfall, turn to other grains. Corn meal, potato flour, rice flour, corn starch and so on are all readily available and ready to be tried in your favorite dishes. Remember that the texture of your foods might be a bit different . For example, gravy made with corn starch does have a different mouth-feel than gravy made with wheat flour. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it is something to remember.

Don’t overlook tofu as a way to get texture and a bit of binding into foods. We’ll do some cooking with tofu over time. Some of you are, even now, wrinkling your noses and thinking, “Gross. Is she seriously going to tell me to eat that squidgy tofu stuff?” Yes, I am. But once we’ve worked it over, it won’t be squidgy. It’ll be great eating. I promise.

There are dozens and dozens of other substitutions we’ll be making in recipes but these were some prime examples. Mostly, I wanted to get my two rules across. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t expect it to taste exactly the same. Just be open to trying all sorts of combinations, even when they sound wacky and see if you don’t end up eating something that tastes even better than the original!

I wouldn’t want to leave you without some food to try. The ultimate substitution food has to be pizza. While you don’t really need a formal recipe for this, below are some instructions and suggestions for making pizzas that everyone can have.

Substitution Pizza:

Pizza is a great meal when you are cooking for people with different dietary needs. Nearly anything can go on a pizza crust if you are willing to branch out from the traditional pizza idea. Best of all, individual pizzas are easy to make so no one has to spend half the meal picking off ingredients they don’t want or shouldn’t have. Let the kids help and it’s a great family evening!

Many recipes suggest you partially bake your dough before topping it. I recommend this myself as it gives a bit of foundation to your work and you won’t have to overcook your toppings trying to get the crust done properly. If you have a problem with yeast (as I do), but you are okay with soy, you can use the pizza dough in a can, available in the dairy and egg section of your grocery. Find it among all the biscuits in a can. Just remember to ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENTS LIST! Personally, I love the convenience and speed of using these pre-made doughs. However, you can do quite well mixing up something on your own. Here’s a link to the recipe at ( You can make a crust with prepared baking mix (such as Bisquick) as well. If you do and you are avoiding dairy, consider which milk substitute you will be using. This is one of those times when you will want to avoid vanilla flavoring and you might be happier without the strong nut flavor. But you never know and if you’re feeling very brave, pizza crust with a hint of hazelnut might really turn you on. If you need to avoid both dairy and soy, try making a savory soda bread dough. It’s a pretty standard, simple recipe that you can find in nearly every cookbook and on every cooking site. We’ll be talking about soda bread more in the future.

One more word about the crust. If you are trying to cut back your carbohydrates to help manage weight or diabetes or just because it seems prudent, consider using flour tortillas as crusts. Simple and ready to use, the tortillas get nicely crisp in the oven or you can heat them up in the microwave for a soft crust that can even roll into a pizza burrito. Best of all, the meal can be ready in minutes which is handy when you have a family to feed and a schedule to stick to.

We’re all accustomed to putting different toppings on pizza. If you are steering clear of tomato but are okay with dairy, a white sauce is a good alternative. Add some Romano or Parmesan and a healthy dose of garlic to a standard white sauce. White sauce can be made with dairy substitutes so you might even consider that though melting the cheese substitute into it might prove more difficult. If white sauce doesn’t float your boat, try something simpler. How about olive oil and minced garlic? Lightly drizzle the oil on the crust and spread a bit minced garlic around. I like to top that with lighter things. Roasted chicken, onion and fresh baby spinach are my favorites. However, you can try peppers, olives, fish and even some roasted fruits if you’d like. Pears and apples are nice in combination with other savory ingredients like fish, poultry and onions.

Obviously, if you have issues with dairy, you’ll be looking for cheese substitutes. There are many good ones on the market, readily available in mainstream grocery stores. Do beware and read all labels carefully because some so-called veggie based cheese alternatives still contain dairy. They won’t melt they way cheese does but they can still be tasty and do the job of sticking all the other ingredients to the crust.

Enjoy, and until next time, let's go eat that!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Greetings and welcome to ‘Hey, I Can Eat That’! However you found your way here, I do hope you enjoy your stay and plan to visit often.

Before I get in to the fun part of this blog, I need to say a few important things, upfront. First, I am NOT a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist, either. Never at any time will any of my posts substitute for the advice or instructions of your doctor or a certified nutritionist. And really, that’s not the sort of thing this blog is about. What this blog IS about is keeping dietary restrictions from turning into a huge, massive, ill-tempered, culinary boa constrictor that will strangle all the pleasure and life out of eating. While much of my attention will be for food allergies, when I have good information and suggestions for other types of dietary restrictions, I’ll certainly cover those, too.

The next, obvious questions you should be asking are, “How do you plan to accomplish this,” and “What makes you so smart, woman,” and “Why do you care, anyway?”

“How” is really quite simple. We’ll talk about shopping for food, alternatives to different foods, experimenting with new food combinations and just generally cooking the heck out of food we can actually eat without sacrificing all the things we love about eating.

“What” is easy, too. I have a list of food allergies longer than my arm. I promise I’m not exaggerating. They are really oddball sounding, too. For example, I’m allergic to lemons but limes are just fine. Chicken is okey dokey but turkey is EVIL. And tell me, are any of you allergic to coffee? I could go on but I think you get the point. The allergies were identified via allergy testing (the skin prick variety) about five years ago after I had a sudden, significant hive reaction to something. We never did identify the exact trigger of the reaction but found so many environmental allergies (which were already known to me) and food allergies (that I’d never known about) that we figured it was just one of those unlucky combinations of events. At any rate, my diet changed radically after that. Frankly, I didn’t do a very good job of it for quite awhile. Fear was a huge motivator. I really feared another reaction and even though my doctor had given me the go-ahead to experiment and add some foods back into my diet, I was very reluctant. Still, I couldn’t go on like that forever. It wasn’t any fun for my family, either. Add to that a husband with Type II Diabetes and the rather capricious appetite of a seven-year-old boy who is a natural-born Vegan and you get and idea of what cooking dinner is like in my house. Over time, I learned to cope and you get to be benefactors of my trials and errors.

Why? Well, having done a poor job of coping with my dietary restrictions, I’d like to spare others from making the same mistakes I did. Food should be more than just something to keep your stomach from growling embarrassingly during meetings. It should be enjoyable in every sense. Cooking for and with your family should be a pleasure (or at least, not onerous) and you shouldn’t have to prepare multiple meals every evening just so everyone gets some dinner. In other words, I just don’t think being diagnosed with food alleries or sensitivities needs put you at odds with eating. It might be a bit of a challenge at times but if we can learn to look at it as a creative challenge rather than a painful drudge, how much better it is for all concerned.

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to pass on things I find helpful and interesting along with plenty of recipes for you to try. Naturally, I’m eager to hear your ideas because, after all, what better way to learn than from the voice of experience?

Are you on board with this? Excellent. We’ll jump right in with our next post and talk about some basic substitutions for some food allergens, both common and more unusual.

Until next time, let’s go eat that!