Monday, February 27, 2012

The Sweetest Gift

On Friday night the sweetest, most unexpected gift arrived on my doorstep:
Dairy free gourmet truffles and a dairy free gourmet chocolate bar!  

 Coconut vegan truffles and acai vegan truffles

I had already eaten 2 before I thought to take a picture. They are so so good!

My best friend Aimee sent this to me totally out of the blue just because she wanted to put a smile on my face.  I am one lucky girl to have her as my best friend. We have been friends for close to 20 years- since our Freshman year in high school.  Over the years she has been the one person I can call at 2am for any reason (and I have).  She is the one I can go to for ANYTHING and she doesn't laugh at me or judge me.   We don't always agree -there a lot of things we do disagree about, but we have never had a fight.  We don't hold grudges against one another for any reason (such as having to cancel plans, or not being the first to call the other that week), and I don't have to worry that I have upset or offended her. She knows me better than I know myself some days, and she gives me far more credit than I deserve. 
 She has also been the most supportive person when it comes to my dairy issue (other than my husband and parents).  She will go out of her way to make sure that I can eat at gatherings- even adapting recipes so I can enjoy them.  And now she has gone and found these amazing dairy free ( and vegan) dark chocolate truffles that I swear are heaven sent!  They are so delicious and you cannot tell there is no dairy in them- they taste just like the real thing!  (And I promise you, I won't be sharing these:-) )
Me, Aimee, and her husband at his birthday bash

So to my best friend I say thank you so much for thinking of me, and for putting another smile on my face:-)  You're the BEST!! 

If you are looking for some amazing dairy free or vegan chocolate check out this website:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Belgian Waffles

I'm not sure how this happened, but my kids are all huge fans of breakfast.  Me-not so much.  Especially when I was a kid. I guess my girls take after their Daddy in that way.  As soon as their feet hit the floor in the morning they are wanting to eat breakfast.  Their favorites include Cheerios, Life, Rice Krispies (or Kripsies as my 5 year old calls them), or Corn Pops.  They do like oatmeal, especially overnight oats.  But their favorite breakfast is Belgian waffles or pancakes with syrup.  We have tried several waffle and pancake recipes and my favorite is a very simple recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.
I have found that most waffle and pancake recipes call for some sort of dairy product- buttermilk, cream, sour cream, etc.  But, contrary to popular belief you do not need dairy to make a delicious, light waffle. These are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. 

Belgian Waffles:

1 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar ( raw cane sugar)

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 and 3/4 cup vanilla soy milk

1/2 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat your waffle maker while you are preparing the batter.

1.In a medium bowl mix together your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Make a well in the center.

2.In another bowl add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla.  Mix well.  Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir until moistened. 

My helper for the morning, in her brand new feetsie pajamas that she had to  have.

3. Pour 1 to 1 and 1/4 cups batter on the grids.  Follow your waffle makers directions for use.

We turn these into "dippers" for the two littlest ones. 

If I have time I will usually make a double batch so I have plenty to get through the week.  They reheat wonderfully in a toaster. They also freeze well.

And I just had to add this picture of my other little "Helper".  Bruin was so hopeful he would get a waffle too.  And of course he did.

Recipe adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Simply Homemade~ Beef Stew

This is one of my family's absolute favorite winter time meals and one I grew up on as a kid.  It's so easy, requires few ingredients, and the best part- it is a slow cooker meal that require no attention all day until about 30 minutes before you are ready for dinner.  It takes about 4 hours on high or 6 on low. I make this on nights we have sports, Scouts, or drama classes.  Last night I made it for my husband and daughters so they could eat while I was at my Brownie meeting.  I made a bowl for myself when I got home and it was perfect for warming me up after being out in the cold.

1lb stew beef
1 medium onion diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4-6 carrots, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
3-4 medium potatoes, chopped.  
1/4 cup flour 
Salt and pepper to taste
I didn't include a picture of the raw stew beef because raw stew beef is unappetizing.

1. Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet.  Add your diced onions and your stew  beef.  Season with salt and pepper and let cook until the meat is browned on the outside and the onions are translucent.

2. While the meat and onions are browning, prepare your carrots and celery and place them in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Don't cut the potatoes- those get added later in the cooking process.

3. Once the meat is browned, cover with water.  This will help to de-glaze the pan, and to make a a broth for the stew.  Let cook until it starts to simmer.  

4. Pour the stew beef, onions, and water into the slow cooker.  Add additional water if needed to make sure all the meat and veggies are covered.  Season with additional salt and pepper.  Let cook  for 4 hours to 6 hours.

5. About 30 minutes before you are ready to eat, add in your peeled and diced potatoes.  The smaller the pieces, the faster they will cook.  Once you can break them up with a fork, they are done.  

6.  Thicken the stew by combining flour and water to make a paste and adding that to your stew.  You can make this as thick or as thin as you like.  We prefer ours thicker than soup so I usually use about a 1/4 cup flour mixed with roughly 1/2 cup water and whisked into a smooth consistency.  Make sure there are no lumps in your paste. (You could also use cornstarch instead of flour, I have  used it for this before)
  Add it to your stew and stir well.

You will need to add more salt, especially since you do not use a premade broth.  Potatoes absorb salt, and every time I make this we have to add more salt. Just be careful not to add too much.

We serve this with crusty bread and salad.  It feeds a family of 5 easily with leftovers for the next day. I can't wait for lunch today!

What is one of your favorite winter time soups?   

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Weekend of Good Eats

Last week was Valentine's Day so to celebrate my husband and I had planned a date night- dinner and a movie. The original plan was for Tuesday, but that got canceled because he ended up having to travel for work.   We are still working on fitting our date night into our jam-packed schedule, but he did do his best to spoil me all weekend by taking me to a few of my favorite places to eat.  
We try not to eat out very often at all for several reasons.  For one thing it a lot more expensive than eating at home.  For another, it's not nearly as healthy.  When you eat out you consume a lot more calories than you would if you made the food yourself.  As a rule we try to eat out only about once every 2 weeks.  I don't mind cooking dinner every night, but a break now and then is nice.  This weekend we actually ate out 3 times- totally unheard of for us!  But oh, it was soooo nice. 
Saturday night, after an afternoon and evening out clothing and shoe shopping for the two little ones, my husband ordered sushi for us from our favorite sushi place.  He ordered my favorite: vegetable roll combo, miso soup, and edamame.  (Yes, I do eat raw fish but I love the fresh veggies in the vegetable roll.)  After the little ones were all tucked into their beds for the night, we snuggled on the sofa with some wine, our sushi, and a movie.  It may not have been the fancy night out we had planned but a quiet night in is better in my opinion.  

Sunday we went back out to see if we could hit any good sales.  In our travels we stopped by the Le Creuset store and I picked up a new cookbook I cannot wait to try:

My husband did not tell me his plans for dinner, but instead surprised me by taking us to my very favorite restaurant "Food For Thought".  It's a slightly higher end restaurant, but they still cater to families with children so they have crayons and coloring pages for the kids- which they love.  Of course I still bring an activity bag for them just in case.  I have been dying to go there for several weeks because they have the BEST Pad Thai (it's better than the Thai place).  I always get it with fried tofu, which is cooked perfectly every time.  It's spicy but not too spicy, and it's not drowning in sauce.

(Pardon the picture quality- it was dark and I was using my iPhone. ) 

After dinner, my husband had yet another surprise.  We were stopping for PIZZA.  Now, you're wondering why we went to get pizza after we had already eaten, right?  There just happens to be a ZPizza near where we were and they make totally dairy free pizza with Daiya cheese!  

My husband's idea was to  get a pizza to go and to eat it later on as a snack, since we had an early dinner.  Oh how I love that man!   I cannot remember the last time I had a pizza from a real pizza shop- it's been YEARS.  I was so excited I just about skipped up to the counter to place my order.  I ordered the Berkeley Vegan with Pepperoni.  Apparently I was the first person they had order a vegan pizza with pepperoni. I dare to be different, what can I say? It was a fully loaded pizza with green pepper, mushroom, onion, fresh tomato, pepperoni, and soy meat crumbles. (next time I'll get it without those) 

Now that is a BEAUTIFUL sight!  And it tasted even better than I had hoped. I ate half last night, and saved the rest to nibble on throughout the day today.  Don't worry, it was actually their small personal size pizza.  I ordered  a regular pepperoni for my husband so I wouldn't have to share.  

I now have one more restaurant I can add to my list of safe places to eat out.  And if you have a ZPizza near you I highly recommend you try them out.  Or, if you can get Daiya cheese near you, try it.  It really is a great option, especially on pizza.  

Have you found any new restaurants that cater to dairy allergies?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Heart Shaped Crayons~ An Allergen Safe Valentine's Day Gift

Valentine's Day is next week and my daughter's preschool class is exchanging Valentines, as most classes do.  Last year we gave each child small boxes of chocolate, the year before that I think I gave out lollipops.  This year there is a child with a severe peanut allergy in the class so I have been staying away from food items. I saw the idea to make crayons a long time ago ( well before Pinterest) but never got around to doing it.  I then saw the idea on Pinterest again, and pinned it as a reminder to myself.  The pin is  pictures, not so much the directions.  They turned out fabulous and my daughter is so excited to hand them out on Tuesday. I have not yet decided how I am going to make the cards, but as soon as I do, I will add that picture to this post.

Valentine's Day Crayons:
You will need:
2 silicon baking pans with heart shapes ( I found mine at Walmart in the Valentine's section)
2 boxes generic crayons ( don't waste Crayolas on this - this generics work just as well)
1 baking tray wrapped in aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 250F
Peel the paper off of the crayons .This was the longest and most tedious part.  Break the crayons into small pieces- small enough to fit in the baking cups.  If you can, get the kids to help.

Fill each baking cup about halfway with broken crayons. Place the baking tray on the covered cookie sheet and bake at 250F for 15-25 minutes,  or until the crayons are completely melted. (this picture is of my second batch)

Remove from the oven and let cool completely.  They will harden after about 30 minutes.

Remove from the baking cups and you're done!  It really is that easy!  1 box of 64 crayons will make 12 heart shaped crayons.

To make them into Valentine's you can tape them to handmade cards, or premade purchased Valentines.  It's your choice.  I am going to make cards for my daughter's class.

*I am also going to order number and alphabet trays from Amazon and make letter and number crayons for my 1.5 year old daughter.*


Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Challenge of Eating Out

If you are like me, you are probably sick and tired of being chained to your own kitchen for a good meal.  Anyone with food allergies or intolerances understands the challenge of trying to enjoy a meal out.  Most of us just resign ourselves to the fact that we will have to always eat at home or bring our own food. Or just be hungry.  If you even manage to find an allergen friendly restaurant that others in your group or family want to eat at, you still have to make sure the wait staff actually understands the menu and your requests. I am tired of living like.  I used to love eating out with my husband or friends, and I want to be able to do that again.

Up until recently I had found 3 restaurants in my area that I could eat at worry free. Two are higher end establishments, which means the food is always outstanding but it also means the price is a little higher than what we would like to spend on a regular basis for a family of 5.
 For the occasional date night we like to go to a place called Food for Thought. We actually go there so often the manager now knows me, and checks my food before it is brought to our table.   Because of where they are located they offer a few vegan options, even on their dessert menu.  I find it is easier to order vegan to ensure my food is "safe".   For family events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or Mother's Day we go to Al Fresco's, an outstanding Italian restaurant. We request the same waiter every time so he knows exactly what I can and cannot have.  For our takeout nights we order sushi from the Japanese sushi restaurant near our house.
Three options for the past 4 years, that's all. While I am thankful that these options even exist, it's nice to have a little variety now and then. It's also nice to able to go with a group out to eat.  Food allergies/intolerances can be alienating because most social events include or revolve around food.  And who wants to eat just a salad every time they go out?

Up until rather recently most restaurants did not list their ingredients online, nor did they list allergens in their foods. It was like to playing Russian Roulette with my stomach. NOT fun.  However, over the past few months I have noticed more and more of the chain restaurants sharing this information.  There is always a disclaimer, of course, but at least they are getting the information out there for those of us that need it.

Here is a short list of  what my husband and close friends would call "Stephanie Friendly" options:

Chick-Fil-A:. While their menu is one of the least allergen friendly, there are a few things dairy free people can enjoy- and I did the other night for the first time in several years.  Their char-grilled chicken sandwich is Dairy Free, as are their fries, fruit cup, hash browns, oatmeal, carrot and raisin salad, and coleslaw.  For their complete list go to their Allergen guide. It's a great option if you are out and need a quick meal.

Chipotle: I have eaten here several times in several different cities with no problems at all.   I tell them I have a dairy allergy (no one understands what severe intolerance means) and I ask them change their gloves. Each time the server has washed their hands after taking off their gloves before putting on new ones.  I also ask them to use a fresh guacamole since it's next to the cheese.  The only dairy on their entire menu is in the cheese and sour cream- everything else is dairy free.  They are also great for people with nut allergies- they don't use any in their food.  For a complete list click Here.

Starbucks: They have redone the nutritional information on their site and now have the allergens and ingredients listed for most of the their products.  They seem to have added some more food options, such as a couple Bistro boxes, salads, and 2 dairy free baked goods.  There is also an iPhone App you can download and keep a list of your favorites.  For more information you can go to their nutrition page. 

Applebees: GoDairyFree.Org just posted this information the other day.  I have not yet eaten there, but I now know the option exists. And there are Applebees restaurants everywhere.

U.S. - Multiple Locations - Applebee's
Go Dairy Free - Thursday, 02 February 2012© Go Dairy Free

Panera Bread: Several of their breads are dairy free, as well as their plain bagel and blueberry bagel.  You can go to their site and use their nutrition calculator.  You have to choose meal options to get the information, but they do have lists of ingredients and allergens once you build your meal.

ZPizza: They have a vegan cheese option, and their crusts do not contain dairy.  I have not yet tried their pizza, but it's definitely on my list to try soon! I am just happy there is a pizza place I can enjoy too. You can go to the Ingredient list to see what is safe to eat. (they also offer Gluten Free options)

This is a very short list so far and I intend to write more posts like this about my experiences eating out.   There are more and more places catering to dietary needs, and we need to share the information as we come across it.  If you have eaten somewhere I have not listed, please leave a comment, email me, or leave a note on my Facebook page. I would love to hear about your experiences eating out.

My disclaimer: This is simply information I have collected personally over the past few months.  If you choose to eat at one of these establishments, please look at their allergen lists yourself to be sure the information has not changed.