I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about this recipe I made up for croutons. I'm about as excited as when I made these crunchy gluten-free and egg-free baked coconut chicken nuggets!
For Christmas, a bunch of my friends got together for a potluck. The host @KenScheer gave me the challenge of making a stuffing that was gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and egg-free (basically vegan minus gluten and soy) because he and several of the guests had food allergies.
I was one of the guests with the dairy and egg allergies. I am also gluten-little and soy-little meaning last year I cut down my gluten and soy consumption by 80%. I eat gluten-free and soy-free as much as possible because I just feel better when I eat less of it.
I also love challenges, and my creative juices got going with this one. The big challenge with the stuffing was to make croutons. My bar is high so I wanted to make croutons that have the taste and texture almost identical to regular croutons. Making things even more complicated, most gluten-free breads are made with egg and can contain soy. Finding gluten-free, soy-free AND vegan breads is near impossible. Luckily for me, the key word is near not completely (impossible.)
I was able to taste test some of the gluten-free, soy-free, vegan breads made by Food For Life, and although the breads are tasty, they all had the texture of dense bricks - not working for me. Bread has to have some level of fluffy or soft to it. With croutons though, you get some texture leeway because croutons are recognized to be crunchy and heavier than say eating a slice of wheat toast.
I looked at making my own bread from scratch, but nixed that idea because mostly, I didn't have the patience to make a loaf of bread from scratch. I'm not a chef or baker. I'm an eater and my style of cooking is more assembly than from scratch.
So, I looked at pre-made bread mixes and found this Chebe brand Focaccia mix that was free of almost everything: gluten, soy, corn, rice, potato, yeast, tree nuts, iodine, sugar, dairy, peanut and GMOs. That focaccia sounded like allergen heaven! The mix called for egg but said you could use an egg-replacement. I made the focaccia using the Ener-G egg replacement.
As you can see, my focaccia looks pretty good on the outside although on the white side. I added some garlic, rosemary and sage on top. On the inside, however, it was a rubbery mess. My bread did not look as near fluffy as it did on the box. I was sad :( The outer crispy edge was tasty, so had this focaccia been made with egg, I have no doubt the bread would have been delicious.
When I got to Ken's house, I told him of my bread experiment disaster and so he figured that we were not going to have stuffing for Christmas dinner. I still had not given up so I asked him if I could go through his pantry and fridge and see if maybe he had any bread like foods I could work with. Ken remembered that he had these Brown Rice Food For Life English Muffins in his fridge. I took a bite and instantly got excited. Actually, I said "OMG! This just might work!"
Why? Because the English muffin had a lighter fluffy texture to them compared to the breads that Food For Life makes. More excitedly, the English muffin tasted and had the texture like a regular bread.
I made the croutons and then had a couple of the guests who didn't have food allergies try the croutons. They had no idea that the croutons had no gluten, egg, soy, or dairy. The croutons turned out crunchy just like regular croutons, and I love using the soy-free Earth Balance because it doesn't leave an after taste like the soy versions do.
We're talking major win my friends and now I share this crouton magic with you! You can use these croutons in any stuffing recipe of your choice. These croutons are amazing for salads, stuffing, and French Onion soup. Oh the delicious allergen-friendly foods we shall eat!
Note: All photos taken with an iPhone 4
From the list of restaurants participating in Arizona Restaurant Week 2010 from September 18-26, here is a list of the places in the Phoenix metro area that have a Gluten-free specific menu - on the regular menu.
The restaurants participating in AZRW have set courses for the special week, and only three of them (Landmark, The Melting Pot, and True Food Kitchen) are offering a gluten-free options on their respective special AZRW menu.
I thought it would be helpful to just point who has gluten-free options (at all) if you or someone in your party wanted to enjoy gluten-free dishes. This list is also a nice reference for those coming into town for a visit or vacation and are looking for some good gluten-free places. This info will be helpful when restaurant week is over. Here's the list:
Before I was diagnosed with the cow milk allergy, it never dawned on me that yogurts can be made with milks other than from a cow. I mean, if you live in the U.S. and can eat whatever dairy you want, why would it even occur to you other than health reasons or a friend/family member told you about it, to think of non-cow milk yogurts?
What I'm getting at is how much the cow dominates our eating culture. Don't get me wrong, I love the cow, and miss its milk dearly, but for many of us, milk does not do our body good, so we need choices.
When it comes to yogurt, one of the things I love about Whole Foods is that they offer a plethora of non-cow milk yogurt choices. In this picture, here is the wall of yogurt at my local Whole Foods. Pretty amazing!
So, just to shed some light, here are some other milks that are used to make yogurt:
Basically, you can take any type of milk and turn it into a yogurt. Here's a simple recipe to make nut milk based yogurts at home. Arrowroot is a new non-cow milk yogurt I've seen through the brand Nogurt.
I will point out though that the taste and experience of non-cow milk yogurts is a whole other story. I've tried all of the above yogurts except nut and Arrowroot. Of the yogurts I've tried, the coconut milk based yogurts made by So Delicious brand are by far the best. In fact, the So Delicious yogurt is so important to me that I've listed it as one of, "10 Things in Steph's Healthy Kitchen."
I avoid soy as much as possible because it affects my metabolism. Rice milk yogurts tend to be on the watery side and not as flavorful. Goat and Sheep taste too barnyardy for me.
Your palate may be different, so I recommend you try any of the yogurts listed above. I highly encourage experimenting. If anything, trying out a new yogurt would be an interesting conversation topic.
So, what is your favorite non-cow milk yogurt?
Here's a common conversation I have about my @noshtopia tweet stream:
Reader: I'm confused.
Me: What are you confused about?
Me: Well, you don't have to be vegan to eat vegan foods.
(Reader gives me silence and look of perplextion.)
Me: I eat a lot of vegan foods particularly baked goods because I have cow milk and chicken egg allergies. I could say dairy-free and egg-free, but the word vegan uses less letters for Twitter, it's easier to write, and lots of people do searches for the term vegan. I care about this kind of stuff because I'm a blogger who needs web traffic. Plus, believe it or not, I've been to restaurants where waiters thought butter was dairy-free - not kidding. If I ask for a vegan dish, it is more clear, that there is to be no animal ingredient in it at all.
I also eat lots of vegan foods because the vegetable dishes are way more tasty and interesting as I cannot stand plain old steamed spinach or broccoli. I used to dislike Brussels sprouts but here's a way to make shaved sprouts tasty and interesting. The recipe calls for pecorino but you could easily take it out. Plus, there are many vegan options that I just like better than a dairy or egg version. For example, I'm not a fan of mayonnaise, so I use Brianna's Poppyseed dressing in place of mayo in things like this chicken, mandarin orange, walnut salad or simple tuna salad.
I also mix vegan foods with meats. I call it "carnegan" - a carnivorous chowing vegan eater. I do mean it respectfully. It's my way of bridging the two worlds together. I have to eat this way because again I have allergies to dairy and eggs, but I think it's also an interesting way to introduce vegan foods to those who predominately eat animal products.
Here are some of my carnegan dish examples, in the picture at the top of the post is a vegan pizza with pineapple, olives, Daiya vegan cheese, and Italian sausage. I've made Tofu Scramble with chicken apple sausage, and here's a Baked Macaroni with turkey sauce and rice-milk based cheddar cheese. I want to show people options on ways to cut down on animal based foods without making huge leaps outside of their eating comfort zone.
It's also important to me to show people who have food allergies, especially to foods that are dominant in our culture like dairy and eggs, that you are not doomed to a life of bland, restrictive eating. We too have a plethora of choices and can eat in ways that are fun and flavorful.
There is living vegan which is a lifestyle built around personal values involving the use of no animal based products whether it be food, clothing, shoes, furniture, or anything utilizing an animal product.
Vegan can also be used as a dietary description of eating where one eats nothing from an animal whether it be the meat, milk, or eggs. I know people who say they are vegan but really they are just vegan eaters and not living the vegan lifestyle because while they are eating their vegan burgers, they are wearing leather shoes, carrying a leather purse, and wearing a leather jacket.
There is also a growing trend of people who are eating more vegan foods in their overall diet simply for health reasons. I have a few friends who went vegan to lower their cholesterol instead of taking purple pills. NY Times Food writer Mark Bittman has this strategy he calls "Vegan before dinnertime" where he eats vegan foods all day, but after 6pm he can eat whatever he wants.
He adopted this food approach as a way to help him heal from high cholesterol, borderline high blood sugar, sleep apnea, and gaining 35 pounds. As a food writer, it was not realistic or desirable to go 100% vegan. Mark cut down on the animal products for his health and enjoys all kinds of new foods.
So, you see, there are many other reasons to eat vegan foods other than values about animals. For me, I have cut down the amount of meat I eat simply because it helps me feel lighter with less meat, and eating more grains, fruits, and veggies keeps me more regular (in a fiber kind of way.)
I tried going 100% vegan once but my body can't sustain without some animal proteins as I also have allergies to some common beans, some nuts, and soy/tofu affects my metabolism. Plus, I like meat. I do my best to eat meats I know were humanely treated. I also buy kosher meats quite a bit. I will have days where I eat no meat at all just to help give my digestive system a break because eating meat all the time especially heavy meats like beef can be taxing on the body.
Reader: Oh, okay, I get it now. That makes sense.
Me: But I totally get your point because I get asked that question all the time. My tweets can look contradictory, but I kinda like that it gets people to notice because then it's an opportunity to share what I'm doing at Noshtopia with eating wellness. I like to experiment with all kinds of foods and ways of eating, and I enjoy opening people up to seeing food in new ways!
Chocolate with rice krispies is one of my favorite chocolates, and believe it or not, it's hard to find a dark chocolate version. I also love Quinoa because it's tasty and is a protein-packed grain. So, when I saw this Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Midnight Crunch with krispy Quinoa, I was throwing confetti. Okay, not literally, but in my head a parade was commencing.
And this krispy Quinoa dark chocolate might as well be the perfect Noshtopia snack because not only did I have to refrain myself from inhaling the whole thing in one sitting because it was so delicious, the bar is:
On top of all that goodness, the cacao and Quinoa is from Bolivia, and the bars are made in Switzerland which in my book is major awesomeness because I have always had really good Swiss chocolate experiences.
The next Alter Eco flavors I want to try are Dark Mint and Dark Velvet. Have you tried the Alter Eco chocolates...thoughts?
Since I can't do mayo because of the egg allergy, here is how I make tuna salad. This version really tastes almost the same as using mayo and relish, so I don't even feel I'm missing out on anything. In fact, I think this version tastes better.
Just mix everything up in a bowl, and chill for 20 minutes before eating. To add a hint of flavor, I only use about 2 dashes of garlic powder not salt because the tuna is salted already. Too much of the garlic powder changes everything.
I say 2-3 tbsp because it depends on how "wet" I want my tuna salad. I tend to like the salad on the dry side because it's also less calories. Compared to like a Kraft regular Mayo, Brianna's has 80 calories/tbsp and 7g of fat. Kraft mayo has 90 calories/tbsp and 10g of fat.
To me, Brianna's Poppyseed dressing is a gift from heaven because it has a thickness similar to mayo, and it's on the sweet side. It's not trying to be a mayo substitute, it's just another option, and I love it!
(Picture of Buffalo Chili with a dollop of Honey flavored Greek yogurt. I like the combo of sweet with savory.)
I remember reading that book Eat Right For Your Blood Type, and (taken with a grain of salt because there is still no solid scientific evidence this eating for your blood type theory is concrete) it said B types like myself should avoid chicken meat because it has some agglutinating lectin that attacks our bloodstream. Along with the chicken egg allergy, it appears that my body just thinks fowl is foul.
Bring on the parade of atypical meats
What blew my mind though was that the Blood type diet said some of the best meats to eat are venison, mutton, buffalo, goat, and Bugs Bunny (rabbit to be exact but when I think of cooked rabbit I get scary visions of Fatal Attraction.)
Um, so, none of these meats are mainstream at all. How many times have you been to a restaurant or BBQ and seen goat, buffalo, or mutton on the menu? Indeed, there are parts of the US and the world where these meats are main stays, but I'm talking about living in your basic US suburban town shopping at Safeway or Trader Joe's.
Buffalo...tastes like beef
To my surprise, I was shopping at Whole Foods in Napa the other day, and in the To-Go soup section they had Buffalo Chili which was made with chunks of buffalo meat. Intrigued, I got a pint of the buffalo chili, and it was delicious. In fact, if I hadn't known it was buffalo meat, I would have thought there was beef in there.
The Whole Foods buffalo chili contained your typical chili ingredients, but one ingredient that stood out was tamarind because I've never seen tamarind used in a typical American dish. This fact could just be my limited exposure.
I wondered if Whole Foods used the tamarind simply for a twist on their recipe or to help make the buffalo meat more appealing taste wise to a beef palate. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear more about it.
When I first found out I had food allergies to cow milk, chicken eggs and a slew of other things, I kept it a secret particularly to my parents, wonderful people who cook the most delicious Filipino dishes many of which contain eggs and dairy like Leche Flan, Babinka, and my mom's lumpia. She throws egg in there.
I kept my allergies a
secret from my parents mainly because anything health related they take to
heart immediately which means my mom will no longer make or let me eat all
those foods she makes which can make me feel bloated, gassy, and sometimes
Food and culture
But see, I don't care, and I didn't want my mom to start being food police. I suck it up because one, I don't get to eat my parent's cooking that often and two, these foods are a part of my culture, they are delicious and comforting, and I feel like giving up my Filipino foods would be like giving up a part of who I am.
I'd rather be puffy and gassy then start feeling like I have to give up parts of me even for my health's sake. That is until a doctor tells me I have to stop or I'll die, need major surgery or lifelong stays in the hospital.
I'm not saying my outlook
is right or wrong. I'm not advocating that you defy your food allergies and
doctors, and continue to eat those things that make you feel un-well. I'm just
saying I get it, and saying that there is nothing weak or wrong with you if
you're like me.
We're human and living in society where food like cow meat & milk based products, wheat, and corn are pervasive, and tied to foods that we all love to enjoy. Twice a month, I'll eat some ice cream or cheese like at the Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese Shop in the SF Ferry Building. (picture above) I do find that if I eat organic or raw cheeses, and in small doses, my physical reactions are minimal.
Again, you should always follow what your doctors say, and if you break that, be aware there are consequences. But like I said, I do feel you. It's tough feeling like you are missing out.
I finally fess up
So, earlier this year, I told the folks about my food allergies. They were supportive and a little shocked because neither one of them have food allergies. Dad wondered where the allergies came from, and I have to say, I wonder the same thing all the time.
And like I predicted, mom started food policing, but it’s really not that bad. One of my rituals with Dad is to go to Costco, shop, and then get a slice of pizza in their cafe. We still do that because like I said, I’d rather have that time with my dad than sit there and eat nothing. Now, I just peel off the cheese.
For some reason, my initial reaction to the pictures of real cows on these Whole Foods 365 brand milk cartons was "WTF." I'm kinda freaked out. I've never seen real cows on a milk container before.
Now, pictures of real cows on a milk carton should not be freaking out worthy so I had to contemplate why I had the reaction I did. I mean it's just a cow face. It's not like a picture of cow udder being milked. And, the cows look cute in a petting zoo kind of way. The marketing guru in me is coming out.
While contemplating my real-cow-picture reaction, I took this picture of other milk cartons. See, this is how I'm used to seeing cows on milk cartons: cute cartoon cows. Awww, so cuddly!...and not real looking.
I eat vegan dishes and drink rice, coconut, and nut milks because of a dairy & milk allergy not because of values around animals. I still enjoy a good hamburger and beef spaghetti sauce. I also wear leather shoes and jackets. Suddenly though, with these real cow pictures, I'm feeling my animal values being challenged. Is there a part of me that does have issue with the concept of drinking milk from a living animal?
Then it hits me. Ignorance is bliss. I don't really want to know where the milk comes from. I just want to pour milk out of a container and eat my cereal. Part of me doesn't want to see the realness. As well, if you see the realness then you have to really think about whether it bothers you or not. Again, I'm happy to just think about milk in my cream of wheat.
I'm now hit with some realization that there's a part of me, albeit naive and ridiculous in a Tooth Fairy way, that prefers to believe that milk comes from cute cartoon cows instead of real ones because it's comforting somehow and less harsh reality.
Having worked in marketing in my previous life, I also understand that my cartoon cow view is also not un-ordinary. Product packaging can be very much a roll of the dice because so much of it is based on human reaction and perception which is not always driven by reality nor logic.
Honestly, and not saying it's right or wrong, in a market research panel, I would be the participant whose feedback is, "On milk carton, nix the real cows. Prefers cute cartoon cows."