by Chef Michelle Austin
An obvious goal for family meals is not only to feed the belly but to enjoy ourselves and the company. However, good food, like good times, is a frame of mind – especially when you’re dealing with food allergies.
It’s all in how you look at it. Treat discovering allergen-free ingredients as an adventure. Let them introduce you and your family to new culinary worlds. You’ll build new traditions and a sense of togetherness we all crave.
Make a list of the items everyone can eat, then research different dishes that contain them. Many other countries use these same ingredients – like tofu, soy cheese or rice yogurt — in their everyday cooking. The Internet has erased all borders, providing a world of culinary information. Sites like www.cooks.com www.foodnetwork.com are great resources; or visit your local bookstore or library to thumb through classics like the Moosewood Cookbook, a famous vegetarian read by Mollie Katzen. Co-creator of Harvard’s new Food Literary Project, Katzen is regarded as a culinary game changer in our country, incorporating vegetarian meals into our week-to-week lives.
If stepping out of the box is a challenge you are not ready for, then go to your own library of family recipes and give them a creative spin. Easy alternatives like tofu for egg or dairy make little impact when combined with a variety of flavors. Substituting firm tofu for cream cheese is my Chef’s secret.
With the menu planning out of the way, it’s time to create a safe and efficient physical space. We all know better than to cut raw veggies on the same surface as raw chicken and the importance of frequent handwashing while cooking. Same principles apply when cooking for people with food allergies.
Keep preparations surfaces separate and clean. I divide my basic rules of sanitation into Self, Surface and Storage:
- Wash hands before and throughout your preparation, particularly when you go from raw meat, dairy or eggs to fruits and vegetables.
- Use utensils instead of hands, such as tongs, knives and spoons.
- Wash and wipe down all surfaces between preparation of items. A good general rule is to use separate areas or cutting boards for raw foods, meat and produce.
- Scrape and rinse soiled items right away. Use a full cycle in the dishwasher or wash and rinse with hot water. Avoid using metal-style scrubbing pads, as they damage the finish on pots and pans, opening up cracks where bacteria can breed.
- When storing unused pantry items (dry goods), make note of the expiration dates and leave them in their original packaging.
- Keep all “safe” foods in one section of the pantry or fridge. Mark them with colored dots to make them easy to find.
- Cook items to the proper temperature. (Check your cookbook or the Internet; reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F.).
- Cool dishes to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing. Chill small batches rapidly with an ice bath.
- In fridge or freezer, use airtight containers or wrap food tightly and mark date prepared.
- Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator rather than leaving it out at room temperature.
- In pantry, fridge and freezer, rotate foods with oldest in the front and newest in the back. Kids tend to be bad at opening whatever they get their hands on first.
Bottom line here is work smart! You know what they say… A happy and adventurous chef in the kitchen makes happy foodies at the table!
Brownie Bites (egg- and dairy-free)
8 oz silken tofu
1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons applesauce
½ cup water
1/2 cup brown rice syrup (or 1½ cup sugar)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice or cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp baking powder
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch-square baking pan. In blender, puree tofu.
In a separate saucepan, mix 4 tablespoons flour with applesauce. Slowly add water until smooth. (This may not take the full ½ cup; use what is necessary.) Stir in pureed tofu until blended. Cook on low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl and let cool completely.
When tofu mixture is cool, add brown rice syrup, salt, allspice and vanilla and mix until well blended.
In small bowl, mix cocoa, chips and oil; stir into tofu mixture. Stir in 1 1/2 cups flour and baking powder until blended. Bake 25 minutes. Let cool; cut in miniature squares.
Chef Michelle Austin is founder of On Thyme Consulting, and co-owner of Just to Please You Productions. All menu concepts and recipes and recipes have been prepared exclusively for Allergy & Asthma Today.
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