Monday, December 27, 2010

My favorite Christmas present this year

The Divvies Bakery Cookbook! You would think that with all of these allergy-friendly baking books I have, I wouldn't need another one. Yet the Divvies one has several recipes that I don't already have. One thing I love about the book is that it includes some simple snack and drink ideas, and also fun party activities that involve food (like make-your-own sundaes using lots of safe mix-ins). I cannot wait to make the chocolate marshmallow treats, which involve melting chocolate chips, mixing mini-mashmallows in, and then putting spoonfuls in paper baking (cupcake) liners to set - how easy is that!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best dairy-free fudge EVER!

Just when I thought I was through with updating you on the yummy holiday goodies we've been eating, I received the most wonderful surprise from my coworker's wife, Natalie. She has first-hand experience with food allergies as her second son suffered from them when he was a baby. She gave up dairy and soy for many months while she was nursing him, and became an expert in cooking and baking dairy- and soy-free during this time. For Christmas, she gave us a batch of her to-die-for dairy-free fudge. Ainsley absolutely flipped for it, and Dave, Leighton, and I had to stop ourselves from eating all of it before Ainsley could get her fill. The best thing is it appears very easy to make! Here is the recipe:

Natalie's Dairy-Free Fudge

20 oz (2 bags) Enjoy Life chocolate chips

1 can (15 oz) Cream of Coconut (she used the Coco Lopez brand, which she found at a regular grocery store - Cream of Coconut is used to make Pina Coladas so it may be on the same aisle as the alcoholic drink mixes)

dash of salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Optional add-ins: 1/2 cup of chopped nuts, dried cherries or other fruit, marshmallows, etc.

Melt the chocolate chips and cream of coconut over low heat until fully melted. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Pour in a square baking tin lined with waxed paper and refrigerate until hard (about an hour). Allow to soften at room temperature for 10 min or so before pulling the sides of the waxed paper to remove the fudge from the pan in one big block. Cut into squares and store in a cookie tin or in the fridge.

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One of the best things about this recipe is that it has introduced me to Cream of Coconut - I had never heard of it before! Natalie informed me that it can be substituted 1:1 for sweetened condensed milk. She has offered to use it to make her famous Key Lime Pie for our family after the new baby comes, and I am definitely taking her up on the offer!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The gigantic holiday baking post!

Wow, can a pregnant woman think of excuses to bake yummy goodies! I have baked sooo much in the last couple of months. Here is a run-down of what I did and where I got the recipes.

First, in early November I had a craving for lemon bars. I had always wondered whether I could make a dairy- and egg-free lemon bar that tasted like the real thing, and I found a great recipe that allowed me to do that. Unfortunately, the pic I took (below) is not very good, but trust me - in person, the bars look practically identical to the lemon bars with which you are familiar.

Here is the recipe (which I got from here and altered just slightly):

Time-Warp Lemon Squares
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

3 egg equivalents, prepared (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
juice of 2 large lemons
zest of 1 lemon

powdered sugar for sifting on top

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For crust: In a bowl, combine crust ingredients. Put parchment paper in the bottom of an 8 X 8" or 9 X 9" pan. Press crust mixture into bottom of pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

2. For filling: While crust is baking, mix together the egg substitute (follow directions of your brand) in a bowl until foamy. Add the remainder of the filling ingredients and mix together. Pour over the crust, and bake 18-20 minutes. When pan is done baking, take it out of the oven and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour to cool and set.

3. After it is set, take it out of the refrigerator and sift powdered sugar on top. Then cut into about 16 bars.

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Next was time for some Thanksgiving cookie fun. Ainsley's class was having a Thanksgiving feast at school and the cookies that would be served were not safe for her. So I made some cookies just for her, which were cuter than the ones the other kids ate! I got the idea from a Nick Jr. suggestion that showed how to make sugar-cookie turkey shapes by using your kids' hands.

For the sugar cookie dough, I used the Holiday Cut-Out Cookie recipe from Linda Coss's What's to Eat? (for link to book, see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks") - this is my favorite sugar cookie recipe because the cookies hold together really well after baking. When using this recipe, I always add a little extra flour because I have found that if I don't, the cookies flatten out a little too much for my liking during the baking process. This time I only did a half-batch of the recipe because I was pressed for time and cut-out cookies can be very time-consuming!

Here is a pic:

After making the dough and rolling it out on a floured board, I made the turkey shapes by tracing my kids' hands in the dough using a butter knife. I drew a little triangle (for a beak) near their thumbs. After baking the cookies according to the recipe's directions (except I think I baked the cookies for only about 7 minutes instead of the longer period the recipe directs) and letting them cool, I began the decorating process. I should note here that I always bake cut-out cookies on parchment paper - then I never have to worry about them sticking to the cookie sheet.

I iced the cookies using Betty Crocker cookie icing (which is vegan and nut-free and dries hard to allow you to stack the cookies). I cut open a bag, poured the entire contents of the bag in a cup, and colored it orange with a couple of drops each of yellow and orange food coloring. I used a knife to spread the icing over each cookie; after I put the icing on each (and while the icing was still sticky), Ainsley stuck an eye on the turkey using Enjoy Life mini-chocolate chips and then added a gobbler using Welch's fruit snacks (strawberry or raspberry). Then she put multi-colored sprinkles on the turkey's tail-feathers. After the icing set a bit, I painted the beaks on using a little paintbrush and the rest of the icing in the cup, which I made a dark shade of pink using a couple of drops of red food coloring. Then I drew the feet on each turkey using chocolate Betty Crocker cookie icing (I used the nozzle that comes on each icing bag).

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After Thanksgiving came Ainsley's 6th birthday party. As you may know, I try to go above and beyond when it comes to Ainsley's birthday cake because she can't eat anyone else's birthday cake all year (except for her sister's). This year she requested a Star Wars cake (she is a tomboy!) so I gladly obliged. I made a marble cake (chocolate/vanilla swirl) using the marble cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (for link to book, see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"). I doubled the recipe to make a 14-inch round cake.

I made the cake the day before her party and let it sit on my counter to cool in the pan overnight. The next morning I turned the cake onto a silver cake board I bought at a party store and started to decorate. I used Pillsbury chocolate and vanilla frosting (I like making my own frosting on occasion, but I found last year that the homemade frosting is harder to spread on a birthday cake than the Pillsbury is so I opted for store-bought frosting this year). I frosted half the cake with the chocolate and half with the vanilla (I used a ruler wrapped in Press and Seal and sprayed with oil to help me make the center dividing line). Then I used an icing bag with a shell-type nozzle to decorate the sides in the opposite color icing. Finally, I mixed the remaining chocolate and vanilla frosting together to make light brown icing for the words, which I piped on with a different (smaller, less fancy) nozzle. I added Star Wars cake toppers (Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker) that my husband found on the internet, along with star candles Ainsley picked out at the grocery store.

I got many compliments on both the look and the taste of the cake, and best of all, Ainsley loved it!

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Then it was time to move on to Christmas baking. Every year I participate in a cookie exchange with some friends, and this year I made Choco-Cherry Spritz Cookies from Linda Coss's What Else Is to Eat? (for link to cookbook, see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"). I have made these before and the only problem I encountered was that they were crumbly after baking, so this time I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange juice to the batter and that solved the crumbly problem.

Here is what they looked like - they were a big hit!

Note: You will need a cookie press to make these. I have this one. I used a design that had a hole in the middle, but covered the hole with a little bit of dough prior to baking (if I hadn't, the melted chocolate that I put on the cookies after baking would have fallen through the hole). I love making cookie-press cookies when I need a lot of them, because you can really pound out a bunch of cookies fast with a cookie press. I will say that it takes me a couple of minutes every time to re-learn how to use the press (basically, I have to practice holding it down on the cookie sheet, pulling the trigger for about 3 seconds, and then pulling up the press to make the right-sized cookie). But after I remember how to do it, the process goes really fast. Again, I bake these less than Linda's recipe calls for - I only left these in the oven for 5-6 minutes. Also, unlike with the sugar cookies, I do not use parchment paper here - these don't stick to ungreased cookie sheets.

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Then it was time for Ainsley's kindergarten Winter Party. At the beginning of the school year, I signed up to be one of the class party coordinators. Thus, for the Winter Party, I was in charge of all of the food. I brought fruit salad (which I bought pre-cut from Target) and Snowman cookies and asked another mom to bring a bag of plain Rold Gold pretzels. The kids loved the menu.

Here are the cookies we made at home:

To make them, I bought a snowman cookie cutter that I happened to spot at the grocery store and used Linda Coss's Holiday Cut-Out Cookie recipe again (adding extra flour to the dough as I did when I made the turkey cookies). Then Dave and I spread vanilla Betty Crocker cookie icing on each one. Dave and Ainsley were my assistant cookie decorators and they did an A+ job assisting me. After Dave or I would spread icing on a cookie, we'd hand it to Ainsley, who would add two Enjoy Life mini-chocolate chip eyes and a carrot-shaped nose made out of orange Betty Crocker fruit roll-ups (immediately before decorating the cookies I cut a fruit roll-up into several small triangles for the noses). Then Ainsley added three Fruit Loops to each cookie for the buttons.

After the vanilla icing set a bit, I took some chocolate Betty Crocker cookie icing and, using the nozzle that comes with it, drew a hat and a smile on each snowman. I left the cookies sitting on the counter overnight and by the morning, the icing was completely set and I was able to stack them and take them to school (note: it takes the icing at least 4 hours to become completely hard so don't plan on being able to stack the cookies right after decorating).

I actually made a double-batch of the cookie dough and, after we cut out the alotted number of snowman for baking, we made lots more cookies in various Christmas-y shapes (reindeer, stockings, Christmas trees, stars). After we decorated the snowmen, we drizzled some of the leftover icing (chocolate and vanilla) on these other cookies and then topped them with sprinkles and crushed candy canes. I put the cookies in little paper boxes I found at the Container Store and gave the boxes to each of the three kindergarten teachers at Ainsley's school because they all watch out for her with regard to her allergies. We also gave a box to the school nurse and to the counselor, who have been very instrumental in ensuring that things went well for Ainsley food-allergy-wise this year. (In addition, we gave a Target gift card to Ainsley's teacher, because she does the most with regard to ensuring Ainsley's safety and is also a wonderful teacher in general). Everyone really loved the cookie gifts and I was happy to show our appreciation for what they've been doing.

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Okay, finally, this week I've had a hankering for Monkey Bread. A long time ago, on a morning show, I saw Paula Deen make it using pre-made, refrigerated biscuit dough, and thought, that looks safe for Ainsley! So during this week's shopping trip to Kroger, I scanned the refrigerated biscuit-dough section and found that Kroger-brand buttermilk biscuits are safe. They only contain wheat and soy. So I bought a four-pack and our adventure began.

Here is a pic of the Monkey Bread right after it came out of the oven:

And here is a pic after I turned over the bundt pan onto a plate:

Paula Deen's Monkey Bread
(There are actually a few variations of this recipe on the internet, but the one below is what I used)

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
30 canned refrigerator biscuits
1 stick (or 1/2 cup) margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 cup brown sugar
Optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds (we used almonds because it's the one nut Ainsley's not allergic to, but the bread would taste just as good without nuts); raisins would also work well

Spray a bundt pan with oil (I used Baker's Joy spray that has flour in it) and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in a big bowl. Cut refrigerator biscuits in half and toss in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Melt the margarine in a saucepan and add brown sugar and bring to a boil; then add nuts. Line the bundt pan with biscuits and pour butter mixture over them.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes and then, while still hot, turn over onto plate.

This is a GREAT recipe for your kids to help with! Ainsley practiced her scissor skills by cutting the biscuits in half, and my 2-year-old helped by using her hands to mix up the cut-up biscuits with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

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Time will tell if this baby comes out weighing 12 pounds because of all of the baking I've been doing! I hope you will use some of these recipes and enjoy these goodies yourself. One last thing I want to mention - I am not a baking superstar. I am a regular mom who has had no special training (not even a cake-decorating class) and have learned by doing. The important thing to know is that YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS TOO! Just try some of these things! Your kids will love you for it and think you're the most amazing mom (or dad, or grandparent) in the world.

And last but not least, I want to wish each of you Happy Holidays and hope that your family is able to enjoy much of the great food this season has to offer despite your or your family member's food allergies!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Short update - a *good* dairy-free queso & great vegan blog!

I really need to write a full post, but when I do, it's going to be long - I've been baking away in the kitchen, making turkey-shaped sugar cookies for Thanksgiving, gingerbread people and a marble cake for Ainsley's sixth birthday, lemon bars (yes - I found a great egg-free recipe!), and (next week) sugar-cookie snowmen for Ainsley's winter party. But right now I wanted to let you know about two things my very knowledgeable vegan co-worker Annette told me about today - (1) a vegan queso (aka nacho cheese sauce) that actually tastes *good* and (2) a great blog with some to-die-for dessert recipes on it. The queso is called "Nacho Mom's" and the website is here. It has gotten great reviews, including on Amazon, where I bought two jars. I was excited to see that it will be stocked in DFW-area Whole Foods markets beginning in January.

The vegan blog is called Chef Chloe and is here. She won Cupcake Wars on Food Network with a vegan Raspberry Tiramisu cupcake. A lot of her desserts look pretty simple to make and include things like vegan whipped cream, which I have always wondered how to make.

Thanks for the tips, Annette! I cannot wait to get the vegan queso in the mail!