Whats on the Menu

I was overwhelmed when I was first diagnosed with food allergies. All my life I had enjoyed all food had to offer. I loved going to restaurants. So much so that any vacation included plans on where to eat. Las Vegas was always a favorite. So many celebrity chefs have restaurants there, and it was such a treat to choose. Likewise when we traveled to Disney World they had their international food fare. It is with great fondness that I still remember the escargot in a garlic butter sauce – so fabulous. Now it seems like another world ago. So what is on the menu?

At first, I floundered. For every success there was a failure. It was expensive and frustrating to create a good gluten-free flour. You can’t just substitute one ingredient, there needs to be a combination of various flours in order to get a decent result. I’m not sure how I discovered gfJules, but she makes a wonderful one-to-one substitute flour. From that point on, I began looking for substitutes.

Of course, egg is the biggest issue. You practically need a degree in food chemistry to figure out egg substitutions. It all has to do with how the egg is used in the recipe. Eggs and egg whites are so versatile that I have at least 6 different substitutes. Plus the experts say to limit your eggs to only two in a recipe. If you need more than two eggs, then you need to make multiple ingredient substitutions. I make a delicious lemon cake. My recipe has two egg substitutes. I use a two egg portion of an egg replacer, such as Neat Egg or Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer, and then use applesauce for the third egg. It works great and is one of the most requested recipes that I make.

Butter is not a problem, and I’ve even found butter flavored oil. Cheese is interesting. There are many choices for soft cheese. I believe many of the best ones are made from cashews. Cheese shred products are just okay. They are supposed to easily melt, but that has not been my experience. Most companies’ hard cheeses are still a work in progress. The exception is parmesan; there are several good ones that act and cook like the original.

I don’t know anyone else that has a pea allergy, but it’s pretty simple to watch for. The biggest thing to watch for on the ingredient label is pea protein. Most of the meat substitutes use pea protein. If my recipe calls for peas and it’s a color thing – think fried rice – then I can substitute green onions or edamame.

My process for reverse engineering a meal is simple. I pick something that I want to eat. Last night it was meatballs. I found a recipe that looked wonderful, so now I needed to make my substitutions. I print off the recipe so I can write comments on it, plus I note each ingredient that I substitute.

For the meatballs, the recipe called for ground beef, chopped onions, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Now for the modifications. For breadcrumbs I used Kikkoman gluten-free panko. I needed one egg, so it was Bob’s Red Mill egg substitute. Four ounces of Follow Your Heart parmesan cheese. Milk, of course I use my own Cheri’s HazelCream. Formed into balls, they bake in the oven.

Meanwhile I fixed gluten-free spaghetti according to package instructions. Pasta sauce was the final piece of the puzzle. When I served it to my husband, he said it took him back to his childhood, that it was a genuine comfort food dish.

And that’s my goal. An allergy friendly meal that the entire family will enjoy.

Copyright 2020-2024 RCP Foods, LLC All rights Reserved

The Blessed and Cursed

Who am I speaking of? Restaurant servers.

In the last month, I have been at two chain restaurants. As I looked at the menu, I sadly realized that there was no menu item that I could order and eat safely. There are several things you need to be concerned about when  

eating out. The first is how the food is prepared. One of the first questions I ask a server is “What do the cooks use on the grill?” If it’s some type of oil that’s a good thing. But if it’s butter then it’s a no go.

It was breakfast. The best I can usually hope for in a chain restaurant is a side of some kind of meat and some kind of potatoes. Perhaps some fruit. But if the grill is butter based, then even that is in question. My server informed me that the cooks use butter. I was hoping for some type of sausage. I have to be careful, because many sausages contain wheat. But the server checked the ingredients and asked the cook to use a clean grill. 

I couldn’t have the potatoes, but I was able to get some fruit. Not the kind of breakfast I would serve at home, and certainly not a grand feast, but at least I could eat something while everyone else was eating. 

The next meal was lunch, on a different day at a different location. Again, nothing on the menu for me. I told the server my dilemma and she said she would make me a custom salad with just lettuce, tomato, and olives. She looked at the labels on the salad dressings and found one that was vinegar based with some flavorings. She also verified that the french fries had no coatings. Just potatoes. Yes! So a rather bland lunch of salad and fries. But again, I was able to participate in the meal. 

Both servers got big tips!

For those of you who serve, I know it can be a thankless job. I’m sure there are people that treat you poorly. Just know that when you make an effort to provide an eating option for those with allergies it will be appreciated immensely. 

So that’s why I’m asking you to know how the food is prepared. Are there coatings or sauces that may cause a reaction? Is there a way to make an ingredient substitution? You are the liaison between a hungry suffering guest and a cranky chef. But I know you are up for the challenge. 

Copyright 2020-2024 RCP Foods, LLC All rights Reserved

Food Fails

It all started with bread. 

After the initial shock of being diagnosed with multiple food allergies, one of the first baking projects I tried was bread. The first surprise was learning that I couldn’t just substitute one kind of non-wheat flour for regular flour. 

I spent much money buying rice flour, oat flour, and several different flours just to try to make some bread. I put everything in my bread maker and pressed the start button. The machine fired up and I was excited to taste my new bread.

The result was devastating. I opened the bread maker and was greeted with a bowl full of crumbs. Further research gave me the knowledge that most bread machines punch down the bread, and in order for the punch down to work your bread needs gluten. There are newer bread machines created for gluten free breads, but I don’t have one of those.

My frustration level was extremely high, I needed to find good substitutes for the foods that I could no longer use.

My first discovery was gfJules gluten free flour. It is a one-to-one flour replacement. My first bread using this flour was a success. The key to making it work is that you weigh the flour rather than just scoop it into a measuring cup. Scooping compresses the flour and you end up using too much.

I still have a pantry full of various flours that I almost never use. I just hate to get rid of them. Hopefully I will eventually use them up.

With that first victory under my belt, I began building a foundation of food, one recipe at a time. Taking one recipe at a time, I began reinventing my favorite recipes. There were successes and failures. My first Thanksgiving cooking with allergies had both. The gluten free dressing mix (you know, the bread cubes) was awful. When I opened up the package the smell almost knocked me out with that rancid smell. I ended up using it, but it tasted as bad as it smelled. 

For subsequent turkey stuffing, I now make my own cornbread, dry it a little, and then cube it. It’s wonderful, but I’ve lost the convenience of being able to open a box and go. I need to begin at least a day – or two – ahead of time.

The second fail of that festive meal was dessert. I wanted to make a pumpkin pie. I made my own gluten free pie crust, and then followed the instructions on the side of the pumpkin pie can. To this day I’m not sure which of my substitute ingredients caused the fail.

If you closed your eyes and took a bite, it tasted like pumpkin pie. But when you looked at the pie, it didn’t resemble pumpkin. It looked like goose poop. Trust me when I say that no one wants to eat goose poop pie.

Gravy was a failure for a long time. It was something that I really missed. Every time I tried to make gravy; it was a complete fail. Then one day my husband looked at the ingredient label on the almond milk I was using and explained that I was adding water to my gravy, not milk.

That realization began my journey creating my own non-dairy milk substitute, Cheri’s HazelCream. I approached a friend who is a fourth-generation hazelnut farmer and a chef and begged for help. She suggested trying Hazelnuts as a base.  I am fortunate to be married to an engineer and over time, together we were he was able to figure out the formula for a great tasting hazelnut milk. The important part is that it is great for cooking. Today, I am able to make everything from soups to ice cream. 

So what’s left? Deviled eggs are one of my next challenges. I can make a substitute for the filling, it’s delicious. The problem is the egg white part that the yellow filling sits in.

Eggs are hard to substitute because you need to be a food chemist. The way the egg interacts in the recipe determines what you use as a substitute. If the recipe calls for more than two eggs, then you should either find a different recipe or use multiple egg substitute. I make a killer lemon cake that uses two different egg substitutes. I use a product called “Neat Egg”, combined with applesauce. But while those work well for liquid eggs, a firm egg white is out of the question, so far. 

I’ve tried finger potatoes – but they taste like potatoes. The next experiment was with button mushrooms. Still not good. My next attempt will be with firm tofu. I’m hoping to be able to shape it into something that looks like an egg.

One of these days, I will come up with something wonderful. So keep trying new ideas and one day you will make something wonderful too. 

Copyright 2020-2024 RCP Foods, LLC All rights Reserved

Come Share Our Table

I love to entertain, to feed my friends. I love the discussions that happen during mealtime,

to hear people’s stories. In my past life – prior to my allergy diagnosis – I created meals without any consideration for allergies or dietary considerations. I didn’t know anyone that had an allergy, at least that had admitted it to me, and it wasn’t even part of my thought process. My biggest concern at that time was that I enjoyed food that is spicy, some might say down right ‘hot’, and I didn’t want the food to be so hot that it wasn’t enjoyable.

Now I do my research before meal planning. There are more than allergy considerations. A person may be on a restrictive diet, whether doctor ordered or self-imposed. They may have restrictions due to religious disciplines or cultural norms. Somechoose a plant-based diet, others prefer to be vegan. They may have a food sensitivity, which is different from an allergy. Some people just don’t like certain foods. My husband had an unfortunate tuna experience as a child, and now he won’t eat fish. If there are no restrictions except for my own, then I don’t talk about the fact that the meal they are eating is gluten, dairy, egg, and pea free.

What I don’t appreciate is when someone doesn’t tell me there is a problem until they arrive. Or worse, until we are ready to eat. The last time that happened is when someone told me that they wanted to avoid refined sugar. I had made a desert to share with everyone. Fortunately, I had some fresh fruit in the fridge. It was a small and simple gesture, but my guest was very appreciative. I was just lucky that I had something so that they could enjoy desert with everyone.

Considering my past behavior, I’m not sure why I’m surprised when the tables are turned and I’m not asked about my food issues. What bothers me the most is when we’re asked to dinner, they know about my allergies, and then completely ignore what that means. It puts me on the defensive. I am forced to ask about every single food item. I ask to look at food labels, sometimes being reduced to going through the trash can. I ask what ingredients were used in a recipe.

People may know about my allergies, but what does that mean? Was mayonnaise used? What about cheese? Soy sauce contains wheat, so if soy sauce is an ingredient in the product – such as teriyaki – then I need to know that. Plus people just forget. The corn on the cob was grilled in foil, with butter. Oops. The steak has been dusted with a seasoning combination – did you look at the ingredient list? I remember the first time that someone told me that they needed to be gluten-free. They

were coming to dinner and I didn’t know what that meant. I really struggled with the menu. Looking back, I was lucky that it was just gluten. I took the safe route and prepared fresh meat and vegetables. I found a gluten-free desert mix (I kept the box to prove that) and even found some gluten-free beer.

Having experienced that, I hesitate having people cook for me. It’s just too much of a

burden for most. Please don’t think that I think that I’m better than everyone else. I just take the

opportunity to ask and then make the adjustments necessary. Of course, I’m happiest when I’m able to use my creative process to design a delicious meal. And I’m gratified when the meal is enjoyed, without thinking about the substitutions that were necessary.

And I get to enjoy their stories.

Copyright 2020-2024 RCP Foods, LLC All rights Reserved

Dumpling Madness

The phone rang Saturday evening, much later than I usually receive calls. “It’s Joe. Is it too late to be calling?”

I met Joe in Toastmasters. Over the years I’ve watched his kids grow and mature – his daughter now driving – who would believe it? Joe discovered he was allergic to gluten a few years ago. A

handful of pretzels and he is down for a couple of days. Like me, he found the new way of eating a difficult slope to climb. We met for coffee when the need to be gluten-free became evident. “Why is this so hard?” Joe asked. “Is there a quick-start guide?”

My own journey had also been a slow one, it took some time before I became comfortable and confident in my choices. We discussed how to set up his home for allergy-free success, such as how to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. This conversation did give me the impetuous to create food

allergy quick-start guides. It also supports my philosophy that food needs to be shared. There is a real need to create allergy-free meals that the entire family can enjoy. I knew that Joe and his wife suffered with Covid-19, but everyone made it to the other side and seemed to be healthy now. Even so, the tone of Joe’s voice had me concerned. Why would he be calling me on a Saturday night? I hoped that he knew he could count on us if there was a serious problem.

Was there a serious problem? Yes. Joe was having serious trouble creating dumpling dough.

There was a crisis. It started earlier that day when Joe, his son, and a visiting friend were trying to decide what to do with their day. The women were elsewhere, so what to do? “Let’s cook” suggested Joe’s friend. “But what?” “Dumplings!” was eager exclamation from Joe’s son. Prior to Joe’s gluten-free

diagnosis, there was a local dumpling cart that was on their ‘must eat’ list. Now that was no longer an option. But then they thought “So what could be so hard about making dumplings?” Off to the grocery store they went. Back at the house, Joe’s friend began making the dumpling filling. The smell of the meat and vegetables was intoxicating. Now they just needed to make the dough. They started with a gluten-free flour and mixed it up. But it just didn’t seem right. The dumpling dough needed to be sticky. Several attempts resulted in failures. What to do?

Then Joe thought of me. I’ve been successfully converting recipes for several years, carefully replacing the gluten, dairy, eggs, and peas. We only spoke for a few minutes on the phone. The result? A thinly rolled dough that was ready for stuffing, steaming, and frying. Seventy plus delicious

dumplings. At 11:30 that night they were sharing tea and dumplings. Looking back at the experience, Joe remarked how much fun it was to share the cooking experience. Despite the initial failures, the

kitchen mess, and the time spent producing the dumplings, it was an evening well spent. His son is eager to do it again, and now they share a great memory. As a plus, they got to eat their efforts. The dumplings were eagerly consumed in less than two days.

Cooking has always been a wonderful way to socialize. It is as important, if not more, than the meal itself. It is a way of connecting, of sharing stories, of laughing, of giving the best of yourself. Involve your children, your spouse, your friends and soon you too will be leading your own

food adventure.

Copyright 2020-2024 RCP Foods, LLC All rights Reserved


{{ brizy_dc_image_alt uid='wp-bd501d21fb7aa830a7fe4c553f606564.jpg' }}

If you are what you eat, then I used to be a cheeseball.

I loved cheese so much I would put it on anything. Not just the usual sandwich or salad, but on sweet things as well – such as pie and cookies. Yes, even cookies. All my life I was afflicted with auto-immune disease.

It began when I was 22. I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. It didn’t affect my daily life, except for the fact that I had a difficult time warding off viruses. I always got the flu. Generally speaking, if I was around someone that was sick, I would always take it home with me.

Much, much later in life, I was diagnosed with lichen sclerosis. This disease is especially nasty. There was no doctor that would help me. Both a dermatologist and a gynecologist verified the findings. And both gave me the very same response: “Sorry, I can’t help you”.

I suffered for a couple of years without any improvement. The gynecologist gave me some topical ointment, but it only gave a small amount of relief.

It was while staying at a relative’s home that I reached the final straw. Unable to sleep because I couldn’t find a comfortable position where I could rest, I moved into the living room where I sat and cried. There had to be a better way.

I made an appointment with a naturopath who had been helpful in the past. I’m not sure why I didn’t see him sooner. While he admitted there was nothing he could find regarding lichen, he did have a suggestion. His wife had struggled with a skin issue. Her condition improved when she was tested for food allergies and took up a new eating regimen. I was all in. He took some blood and sent it off to be tested.

At 62 years old I received my food allergy results. At first glance they were great. All the categories showed no allergy at all. Except for four. They were off the chart. I am allergic to wheat (gluten), dairy, eggs, and peas.I cut these foods out of my life immediately. There was no easing into the program. The problem was, that I had no idea what that meant. I ate only fresh foods. I know that probably sounds like a good thing, but I missed the foods that I used to eat. I began reading about food substitutions. My first attempt was bread. I really missed bread. I wanted a sandwich. I wanted a slice of toast in the morning. So I would simply make my own. After all, I owned a bread maker.

I knew that I couldn’t substitute just one type of flour. I needed a blend of many different types. I went to the natural food store and bought bags and bags of various kinds of gluten free flours. Using my regular recipe – substituting my flour mixture – I threw everything into the bread machine.

It smelled good. That made the result even more devastating. Instead of a loaf of bread, I had a lump of dough and lots of crumbles. It wasn’t until I did further research that I found out that you can’t use a standard bread maker if you are baking gluten-free bread. It is the gluten in bread that you are working when you do the punch down. There are bread machines that have a gluten-free setting, but mine was not one of them.

In the years following there were more and more options for people with food allergies. There are several good brands of gluten-free breads to choose from. Not so many that are also egg-free.

In the beginning, if I had been given the gift of one food that I could put back in my diet, I would have picked cheese. But now, after many years of learning about food substitutions, I would choose egg. Eggs are in everything. You must know how the egg is used chemically in the recipe in order to make a proper replacement.

I may not be a cheeseball any longer, but I am still a Cheese Head. Go Green Bay.