Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dinner review: Honey mustard pork chops

Today's review is of the honey mustard pork chops from the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook (see sidebar for link to cookbook). Last week I bought 4 boneless chops on sale for $3 so I decided to try this recipe for the first time. I paired it with my easy asparagus and some fresh tomatoes.
Ease of preparation: 3 out of 5 stars. The pork chops were pretty simple, and yet surprisingly elegant - all the recipe required was that I sear the pork chops in a skillet for a couple of minutes on each side and dip them in a mixture of mustard and honey and then in a mixture of bread crumbs (homemade - it took some time to tear the bread into tiny pieces), wheat bran, and some seasonings (note that I halved the recipe since the recipe calls for 8 chops and I only had 4). Then I put them in a baking dish and baked them for 20 minutes (I actually found that I needed to bake them another 10 minutes or so to eliminate all the pink). The only things I would change in the recipe are (a) to salt the chops after coating them in the honey mustard mixture and (b) to skip the step that calls for you to drizzle melted butter on the chops right before baking. I love butter as much as anyone but I didn't think the butter added anything to the recipe and succeeded only in making the breadcrumb coating soggy. Also, as far as substitutions, I did not have wheat bran so I used wheat germ, and I did not have the grainy mustard the recipe called for so I used Dijon mustard instead - both seemed to work fine.

Price: 4 out of 5 stars. The entire meal cost around $5. I got the pork chops for $3 and the asparagus for $1. The tomatoes I got for free from my mother-in-law, but if I had bought them they would have cost about $1 too.

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars. The pork chops were really good. I'm not really a pork person but I enjoyed them. Ainsley seemed to really like them. She also loves asparagus and tomatoes (I know - I am so lucky to have a kid who loves most vegetables), so she pretty much cleaned her plate.

Dessert was a So Delicious Neopolitan ice cream sandwich - I gave Ainsley most of it but cut a small part off for Leighton. I think that was a bad idea ...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy birthday to me ...

Today is my 33rd birthday. After much chiding from me about how he never bakes anything, Dave agreed to try to bake me a birthday cake. Of course, Ainsley assisted him - she knows her way around the kitchen amazingly well for a 4-year-old and I trusted that she'd be able to help him find the right ingredients in our shelves and prepare the cake correctly.

Much to my delight, after I woke up from sleeping in this morning (my first present from Dave!), I found a chocolate cake baking in the oven for me. I had chosen the recipe myself because I knew it was the easiest birthday-type cake he could make - it was the Upside Down Fudge Cake from the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook. It requires very few ingredients and makes it own fudgey icing on the bottom of the cake pan, so that it looks like an iced cake when you turn it over onto a cake plate.

Here is my beautiful cake after Dave turned it over onto the plate and I smoothed the icing with a knife and Ainsley and I added some sprinkles and a candle (no, it was not my 1st birthday; the only birthday candle we had in the house was the one I had saved from Leighton's party!):
And here is my beautiful family, with whom I felt so lucky to be celebrating this birthday:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dairy-free cheesy broccoli rice

Tonight we ate some of the leftover chicken drumsticks from Tuesday. I was craving a broccoli/rice sort of thing to go with it, so I decided to experiment, and it came out really wonderfully. What was interesting to me is that the mix of ingredients resulted in a dish that looked and tasted remarkably cheesy. I hope you like it as much as we did!
Easy non-dairy broccoli & rice au gratin (aka cheesy broccoli rice)

1 1/2 C instant rice (I used brown rice)
1 C frozen or fresh broccoli florets
1/8 C plain soymilk
1/4 C flour
1/4 C dairy-free margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1 dairy-free chicken bouillon cube (I like Knorr's)
1/4 tsp tumeric

Mix rice, 1 1/2 C water, and broccoli in a microwave-safe casserole dish, and microwave on high for 8 minutes (microwave another minute or two if the broccoli and/or rice isn't fully cooked in 8 minutes).

In the meantime, combine in a saucepan or skillet the soymilk, bouillon cube, margarine, flour, tumeric, and 1 C water. Heat on medium-high heat until all ingredients are combined and the sauce is smooth.

After the rice and broccoli are soft, and while they are still in the casserole dish, cut broccoli into bite-sized pieces with a fork or knife. Then pour the rice and broccoli into the saute pan/skillet and mix with the sauce until fully combined. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reviews of recent meals

I'm not sure what's gotten into me, but I've been cooking a lot lately. Since the original purpose of this blog was to provide meal ideas for families dealing with the same allergies as we are, I thought I'd show you what we've been eating in our house. I also wanted to let you know, in a "review" format, how difficult the meal was to prepare, how economical it was, and whether it actually tasted good.

To start off, last night we had my own invention, Turkey/Veggie Meatballs, with baked sweet potatoes on the side.

Ease of preparation: 4 out of 5 stars. The whole meal took about 30 minutes to prepare. A tip on the baked sweet potatoes - they can take forever to bake in the oven. If you need a shorter cooking time, microwave them (wrapped in a paper towel) for about ten minutes and then bake for 15 - they will taste oven-baked in half the time (you could also cook them just in the microwave, but they don't taste as good). With regard to the meatballs, if you are pressed for time, you can opt to add only veggies that don't require slicing and dicing, like matchstick carrots. If you have more time, you can add other things like diced onions, green peppers, and/or zucchini (last night I used carrots, onions, and zucchini).

Price: 4 out of 5 stars. The meal cost around $5; it helped that I bought the ground turkey on sale.

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars. The meatballs are one of my family's favorites. Ainsley especially loves them. The sweet potatoes tasted awesome with a generous amount of Earth Balance and brown sugar mixed in.

Tonight's meal was Slow Cook Chicken Drumsticks from the Kid-Pleasing cookbook (see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"), along with the book's recipe for "Aunt Jean's Rice" and Brown Sugar Carrots.
Ease of preparation: 3 out of 5 stars. The easiest was the drumsticks - all the recipe requires is that you brown them in a skillet with some oil and then put them in the slow-cooker with some bottled, store-bought BBQ sauce for 4-6 hours. The carrots were pretty easy too - I steamed them on the stove and then mixed the margarine and brown sugar in. The hardest was the rice. I had to dice an onion (gasp!) and make beef broth with a couple of bouillon cubes (if I had actually had beef broth from a can, I could have skipped this step). After mixing up all of the ingredients (including 1 cup of uncooked rice - I used brown rice), the recipe said to bake the mixture in the oven for 20 minutes. Well, after 45 minutes in the oven, the rice finally soaked up all of the liquid but was still pretty hard. I decided to pop the dish into the microwave for 10 minutes, and that did the trick - the rice was finally soft. So, FYI, as the cookbook suggests, the rice is indeed quite tasty, but you might be in for more cooking time than the recipe says.

Price: 4 out of 5 stars. The entire meal probably cost around $7. I got the drumsticks on sale for $2 and the carrots (a bag of peeled baby carrots) for $1.

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars. Everything tasted really wonderful. Leighton ate a ton of carrots and Ainsley didn't complain when I told her to finish her plate. Dave was especially impressed with how good everything tasted. Note that the drumsticks are messy - I found that I needed to wrap the end of the drumsticks with aluminum foil when I was serving them to the family so they could eat them easier.

In one year ...

I will be preparing for Ainsley to start kindergarten at our neighborhood public school two streets over. I get anxious even thinking about it. Nervous for all the reasons that any mom would be - Will she do okay in kindergarten with all those other kids? Will we be happy with her teacher and the school? - and worried about doing everything I need to ensure the school accommodates Ainsley's allergies and keeps her safe. I will officially begin that process in the Spring when I notify the principal, school counselor, and school nurse that a seriously food-allergic child will be starting in the Fall and that we need to begin formulating a 504 plan for her.

I am so lucky that my sister-in-law is an elementary-school counselor in the district Ainsley will be attending; she has already been an invaluable source of information and advice and her assistance will be even more important in the next year. I am also thankful to have connected with the mom of a peanut-allergic child at our elementary school who is a real trailblazer in terms of making the school food-allergy friendly.

Additionally, I am very relieved that Ainsley is now able to take some responsibility for keeping herself safe. I know that when I send her to school I can count on her never sharing food with her classmates or eating anything I haven't sent for her. It's not easy having a Type-A kid like her but for purposes of her food allergy her tight-woundedness and attention to detail comes in really handy.

I am sad that this year is Ainsley's last in her wonderful preschool, which has bent over backwards to take care of its food-allergic kids. It has been such a nurturing, sheltered environment and I am so grateful that I stumbled upon it. I wish every food-allergic child had access to such a careful, safe place.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Disneyworld & food allergies - need advice!

Okay, any food-allergy moms out there who've been to Disneyworld - please give me your tips! We're going in November and it's almost time for us to book our dinner reservations. Any Disney restaurants you recommend or don't recommend for a food-allergic kid? Am I crazy for thinking I might allow Ainsley to actually eat the restaurant food there (if the chef specially prepares it according to her needs, of course)? What do I need to know to get through this and hopefully even have a good time?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The almond/coconut experiment - Day 1

Yesterday I went grocery shopping and picked up some coconut milk ice cream (Purely Decadent vanilla flavored) and almond milk (Almond Breeze chocolate flavored). Although Ainsley was nervous about the impending at-home food challenge, when I explained that I would be putting it on her skin first and would only feed it to her if her skin showed no reaction, she felt more comfortable with it.

After we got home I smeared some of the coconut ice cream and almond milk on Ainsley's arms (where her elbows bend in - I picked that place because her skin gets a little cracked there and the food can seep under the skin slightly, which usually produces a bigger reaction). After 20 minutes, the coconut arm looked exactly the same as when I had smeared the ice cream on, and it did not itch at all. The almond arm, however, looked slightly irritated (it was a little bit red and bumpy where I had smeared the almond milk) and Ainsley said it itched. So I decided not to do anything more with the almond milk until I called the allergist to see what he thought (I honestly don't care to give her almonds anyway - there is so much cross-contamination between different tree nuts that I'm afraid to).

Since the coconut seemed like a go, I gave her the tiniest taste of the ice cream. No problem whatsoever. An hour later, I gave her a bigger spoonful. This time, after a few minutes, she said that nothing itched but her tongue hurt a little "like someone was poking it." I had no idea what to make of it. As I have explained before, Ainsley has turned into somewhat of a hypochondriac so I wasn't sure whether to take this complaint seriously. She went to the bathroom mirror to look at her tongue and then came out and explained that her tongue "was red in the middle." I inspected the tongue and said it looked normal to me. I then stuck out my tongue and she noted that it looked "just like" hers, so apparently that made her feel better, although she decided she didn't want to have any more of the ice cream that night.

I think I'm going to give her a couple of spoonfuls of it tonight. If she has no symptoms, I will proclaim victory over coconut.

I have to say, on the subject of the ice cream, that I had never had any made with coconut milk before. It was soooo tasty! I ate quite a lot of it during our experiment. It's pretty expensive, though - $5.99 a pint (good thing I had a $1-off coupon). Not something we'll buy every week, but still, it would be nice to be able to get it as a special treat.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ainsley's allergy numbers - good news!

I finally heard from Ainsley's allergist today about the results from her annual blood test. First, he said her # to almonds is 0 and her # to coconut is really low so he feels comfortable with me introducing those foods in tiny amounts to see if she has a reaction to them. He didn't even think I needed to come into his office to do it. I think I'm going to buy some almond milk and coconut milk and rub them on her skin and, if that doesn't produce a reaction, let her have the tiniest taste of them to see if she tolerates them. I am nervous but excited!

Other good news: her egg and milk numbers went down by a lot! Here's the breakdown of her numbers to these over the last three years:

Egg: 2007 - 34; 2008 - 22; 2009 - 14!

Milk: 2007 - 14; 2008 - 12; 2009 - 6.6!

In other words, her egg and milk numbers are going in the right direction. This gives me hope that she might actually outgrow both on her own in the next several years.

Other numbers ... her peanut number went down only slightly (from a 7 in 2008 to a 6 in 2009, but that's still good) and her numbers to all of the tree nuts except almonds were still very high (they are all around 50 - yikes). She also still has a "slightly elevated" number to sesame seeds.

All in all, good news. I am especially encouraged by the egg and milk numbers. How great would it be if she were only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Get your coupons!

On my quest to save more money in the grocery budget, I discovered that I could get coupons for most of our favorite food-allergy products on the products' websites. Some of the sites require signing up to be on the product's email list to get the coupon. I got multiple coupons by signing up myself and Dave separately and by asking my other family members to do the same and give us the coupons. Below are websites where you can get coupons for Silk soy milk, Rice Dream rice milk, So Delicious/Turtle Mountain soy ice cream and other treats, Enjoy Life products, and Smart Balance margarine (Smart Balance LIGHT was dairy-free last time I checked). Happy coupon clipping!






Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chefs walking in our shoes

Did anyone out there catch the Top Chef Masters episode on Bravo that aired last night? The show is a competition for master chefs where (as in the original Top Chef) they are given various challenges and scored on the results. Last night's challenge was to prepare food for a dinner party for the actress Zooey Deschanel, who is vegan and who also avoids soy and gluten. You should have seen the chefs' faces when they found out about her dietary restrictions! They clearly had little to no experience cooking for food-restricted individuals. Still, the results were pretty good, all things considered. The winner made quinoa pasta with roasted tomatoes and basil - it looked divine. The loser was the guy who made the dessert. I knew he got off on the wrong foot when he decided to use store-bought rice ice cream. Not that rice ice cream isn't good, but come on, what vegan ice cream is better than coconut milk ice cream (which is why I'm so excited that Ainsley might have outgrown her coconut allergy)? His inexperience in this arena certainly showed. On the other hand, that challenge was right up my alley! For once I felt more qualified for a Top Chef food challenge than the chefs themselves.

What I found most amusing about the episode was how the judges seemed shocked that the chefs made vegan dishes that actually tasted good. Now, all of us who have a lot of experience cooking vegan recipes (especially vegan desserts) know how good vegan cooking can be. It was fun to see the judges realize that as well.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reducing your food allergy family grocery budget

One of the biggest downsides to dealing with food allergies is that families are very limited in the types and brands of foods that they can buy. We become very loyal to our "safe" brands and thus cannot bargain-shop like most other families.

I remember laughing to myself last week when I heard another mom say she limits herself to $50 in groceries a week. Ha! My weekly grocery budget is over twice that amount, mostly because I can't save money by feeding Ainsley peanut butter & jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches and having her drink cow's milk that's on sale for $1.99/gallon. Instead, she eats sunbutter sandwiches (sunbutter is normally $4.99 a jar) and drinks soy milk, which is $2.99 per half gallon. Other things, like her soy ice cream, is about $4 a pint, and the dairy-free margarine we use (Earth Balance) is $3.99 for a small tub. The only brand of bread my grocery store sells that's safe for Ainsley is Nature's Own, which is $3.59 for a small loaf. We also buy things like Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and Better Than Sour Cream, which are much more expensive than the real thing.

As we all know, these extra costs add up quickly. To try and limit our expenses, I have decided to reduce my grocery budget as much as I can without sacrificing out staples or eliminating shopping at my favorite store, Whole Foods. I successfully did this last week by going to Whole Foods and planned our family meals around the meat that the store had on sale. I bought four large chicken legs for $3 and that, coupled with a $2 bunch of asparagus I bought at my regular grocery store, was a great meal one night this week - for $5! I also bought $4 of chuck roast there and plan to make a slow-cooker meal out of that and some potatoes and carrots.

In the future, I am going to look online at the weekly circulars for Whole Foods and my local grocery store (Kroger) every week and plan all our meals around the sale items. I just went on both stores' websites and found not only that the circulars are readily available either on the stores' websites (here's Kroger's and here's WF's), but also that the sites provide coupons and other neat features to help families like us save money. Whole Foods has a webpage on saving money at its stores and a newletter called "The Whole Deal" that includes coupons and has meal ideas for cheap, healthy dinners. Kroger had links to several different coupon websites that allow you to download coupons electonically onto your Kroger frequent shopper card. Additionally, Kroger also offers a no-fee credit card that allows you to build up points you can redeem for free groceries - this is enticing to me because it awards double points any time you use it at a Kroger store and it also gives you $25 in free groceries the first time you use it. I also noticed when looking at this week's Kroger circular that the store is offering $25 in free groceries if you transfer a prescription to its pharmacy - so right off the bat you can get yourself $50 in free groceries!

As only other moms can appreciate, I am very excited about these features and interested to see how much money I can save. If anyone else has money-saving tips on grocery shopping, please share!

Easy asparagus

The other night I ventured out of my food comfort zone and baked some chicken. I know ... sad when baked chicken is an adventure. As often as I cook with chicken, I have never cooked chicken that had bones in it - I always stick to boneless chicken breast and tenderloin. But Whole Foods had a big sale on chicken legs this week, so I bought some and made the Orange-Glazed Chicken from What Else Is to Eat? (see cookbook sidebar). The chicken was incredibly easy and quite yummy.

As a side, I made baked asparagus in the way that my mother-in-law usually makes it - I bought a bunch of it, spread the spears on a cookie sheet, sprayed them with olive oil and threw a little kosher salt (course sea salt would also work) on them, and baked them in the oven at 375 degrees for ~20 minutes. Mmmm ... they were good. Ainsley kept eating them right off of the cookie sheet. Both the baked chicken and the asparagus were such a hit that I will be making them quite often in the future.