Thursday, September 29, 2011

Superfast Chili

Whoa partner -- Chili, fast?  You’re kidding, you say.   Why, no… I’m not!
I work from home, one of those telecommuters.  I don’t have a quick lunch spot a block away that I can just hop over and buy an allergen-free meal for little guy.  Most of my lunch hour is spent just hugging him, rolling around on the living room carpet, and getting an overview of what happened so far that day.  I know I am more than lucky to have all this.  Blessed.
At the same time, all this rolling around during lunchtime means I don’t have a lot of time during lunch to actually cook lunch.  This recipe, though, is superfast.  It also tastes like it took you a whole afternoon.   

Basic Superfast Turkey-Bean Chili

Olive oil for sautéing (~1 tablespoon)
1 cup chopped onions *
1 pound ground turkey  
1 can Red Kidney, Pinto or Black Beans
1 teaspoon smoked Paprika
      (if it’s not smoked, what’s the point?  Smoked paprika makes all the difference ~ rich, delicious)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried basil, parsley, and/or cilantro
In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and sautee onions until translucent, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add ground turkey and brown.  While browning, add the spices.  Once browned, add the can of beans with the juices.  (If worried about salt here, rinse the beans and add about 1/3 cup water – but I find the can’s juices add to the overall flavor)
That’s it!  Put in bowls and eat.  
In the pictures here, I’ve also added a couple cups of rice pasta elbows to fill out the meal.  Stir in and you’ve got a great lunch or dinner!
* I love love love frozen chopped onions that I buy for $1 a bag at the supermarket.  A great timesaver.  The onions don’t brown as nicely as they release a lot of water, but if that’s not a concern in a recipe, it’s a great deal.  On the other hand, we joined a CSA share this year and the onions from the farm are worth their weight in gold: crisp, rich, caramelized flavor.   Each has their place ~ it’s up to you!
Transformer Food
This is just a starting point, though.  You can adjust spices, add stuff, and make it change identities constantly.  It’s like the James Bond of chili. 
For example:
-          If you use garbanzo beans, add a little cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and some raisins … you’ve got Moroccan!
-          Add a little cardamom and curry powder, and you’ve got an Indian dish.  
-          Take out the beans, amp up the basil, add gluten / allergy free pasta sauce and you’ve got a lazy lasagna!
-          Sautee cubes of eggplant with the onions, add the Moroccan spices above plus a little oregano, keep the beans and serve with warmed flatbread (like corn tortillas), you’ve got a middle eastern dish!  (I’ll soon post my hummus recipe to add as a condiment)

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Here we have a full contact, participation sport for your enjoyment: making pancakes!

Sweet Pea helping.  He loves to stir!
Delicious, fun, bite-sized if you want it, and super easy. Q loves these things. Absolutely adores them.

And there are so many ways to make them!

Many times I've just straight-up translated my mom's pancake recipe, which of course came from the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook - a time capsule of mid-century food I enjoy as much as watching an episode of Mad Men! That's easy: just use GF flour, Rice Milk, and everything else is pretty much the same:


BH & G 1950's "Griddle Cakes" - adapted version... this is how I remember it, at least!

1 cup of flour*
1 tablespoon of sugar - I like brown here, but have used splenda or white sugar in a pinch
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup of milk**
1 egg
1 tablespoon of oil***
1 teaspoon of vanilla if you like

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients together, whisk them so the eggs are scrambled. Mix wet and dry together in the same bowl. Use a hot oiled skillet to make silver dollars for the kids and large ones for the adults. Flip when you see a bubble toward the center pop and leave a slightly open hole without coming back together. That's when you know it's golden brown on the bottom! My grandmother taught my mom to never flip pancakes more than once, since it makes them sad. I flip them several times, G*d rest my Grandmother's sweet heart.

Have a plate ready with a paper towel on it to keep stacking them, and assume you will have trolling family members eating the pancakes before they hit the table. Serve with maple syrup.

* assume it's Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free all-purpose flour unless I mention something else
** do your thing here. I use Rice Dream ricemilk because, (can you believe it?) many other rice milks have soy in them? sheesh!
*** I use olive oil but canola works too

Those are delicious. But... since my gluten free mama days, I fell in love with Corn Masa Flour. And one day, when I went to make pancakes and found myself down to 1/2 cup of GF Bob's Red Mill all-purpose, I had to punt. It's the same basic recipe with a few twists, but... the results were amazing!

Another option is to add Enjoy Life chocolate chips (these are dairy, nut and soy free! or... wait until Passover comes along as most kosher for Passover chocolate has removed soy too... a reason to stock up, that's for sure!)

Horchata Pancakes
note: Horchata is a hot, delicious drink made of milk, cinnamon and vanilla that comes in various forms from all over Spain and Latin America. I love the flavor of vanilla and cinnamon together... hence:

1/2 cup of regular gluten free flour
1/2 cup of corn masa flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder -- plus a smidge more since the masa flour is a little dense
1 cup of milk (I like to use the vanilla flavored rice milk in this recipe)
1 egg
1 tablespoon of oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients together, whisk them so the eggs are scrambled. Mix wet and dry together in the same bowl. Use a hot oiled skillet to make silver dollars for the kids and large ones for the adults. Flip when you see a bubble toward the center pop and leave a slightly open hole without coming back together. That's when you know it's golden brown on the bottom!

These have a sweet, nutty flavor from the corn and crispier edges in general. The cinnamon and vanilla will make your house smell like heaven. You barely need maple syrup, but if you're like my son you will need some for dipping.
More Please!
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Beginning the Journey!

Who am I? I'm a mom. Yes, I am many other things ~ but at the core of it, that's who I am.

 I'm a mom to a happy, funny, silly, sweet little boy. A kid who loves any kind of transportation: planes, trains, automobiles. Who bounces to reggae, wiggles to salsa, and hops to Old McDonald. Who loves to run in circles, literally, around anyone he loves. Who kisses boo-boos and says "bleshu" when even he sneezes. In other words, an amazing and loving child. And as of this writing, he's 21 months old ~ healthy and happy and joyful.

 But when he was 3 months, in the bleary eyed moments between naps, we discovered his "cradle cap" was not what it seemed. A rash was growing across his face, and then down his back. Spots were forming in several places on his face that would grow, then ebb. Stippled dots and large spots grew around his tiny body; a dollar-coin sized spot on his leg grew and created bubbles, which opened into clear liquid-filled pits. He cried. He rubbed his eyes. He suffered. And we were desperate first time parents looking for an answer.

And it came in one word: Allergies.

Our pediatrician advised removing dairy from his diet. He was solely breastfed, so that meant removing dairy from my diet. We were encouraged when his rash started to fade, but after a week, it was only partially gone.

So a couple weeks later, we removed soy from my (and by extension, his) diet. Soybeans, soy milk, and the most frustrating of all: soy lecithin, which hides in nearly any processed or packaged foods, especially wheat items that need long term shelf-stabilization. Gone were bread, crackers, even tuna ~ which hides in the "broth" of tuna in water, margarine, even chocolate!

Immersed in conflicting feelings of panic for his safely and my own guilty sense of deprivation of the foods I loved, I began to get a fast education about hidden food allergens, cross-contamination, alternate ingredient names, and oil blends. I found that no restaurant or pre-packaged food seemed to be able to provide a way to guarantee an allergen-free product. It was overwhelming, frustrating, time consuming, and scary.

Hard for me, who now had to remove what seemed like everything I liked to eat from my diet. No more cheese, milk for my coffee, most salad dressings, mayonnaise (nearly all of it is made from soybean oil), no going out to eat because there was no way to avoid cross-contamination ~ and believe me, we gambled and lost once, on a local organic restaurant whose chef swore they would provide an allergy-free meal, and he suffered for days afterward.

How could we protect him from all of this, not just now but for his whole life? It was daunting.

Yet, as challenging as it was, removing soy from his diet resulted in a dramatic improvement: his facial spots nearly receded and his leg almost immediately healed. With the new diet, a topical hydrocortizone and a very mild steroid foam, nearly everything changed. He was calmer, happier. And we were thankful.

But a couple months along, we still saw stippled dots across his back very often. He had terrible reflux, keeping all of us up night after night. He scratched his head night and day, and the crooks of his arms and knees were constantly breaking out in rashes. Our pediatrician suggested we consider any other allergens that he might be exposed to. While we'd been using fragrance free detergent and color-safe bleach, we stopped using any fabric softener whatsoever. No one with perfume or who smoked got anywhere near him. All good, but still ... something was going on.

The next stage of diet adjustment was the most dramatic. Our Pediatrician suggested we go gluten free. For good measure, we also decided to go nut free. (This based on a reaction he had when I ate peanut butter with a spoon one night after I had a particularly bad ice cream craving.)

And within days, his skin was like porcelain. Pure, smooth, baby skin. Joy!!

But at this point, I should step back and explain something. Or rather, confess.

I am not only a mom. I'm a travel addict and foodaholic. There is an insatiable desire in me to experience the world and its cultures through food. This has driven me to travel as often as possible, in our country and beyond. When I'm in a new place, I search out the local stuff. The best masala dosa and idlis for breakfast in Chennai. Wonderful pad kee maw in Bangkok, where I lived for a year. Wings in Buffalo, where I grew up. Bangers, beans and tomatoes in Limerick. Coffee with the richest cream in Honduras. Medialunas in Buenos Aires. And my friends will let you know I've gone days looking for a good Vietnamese Banh Xeo.

Maybe I was thinking I'd share my love of the world with our son through food, too. Maybe it was hard for me to imaging not doing so. And maybe I reacted, at first, to the situation as if I was being dragged into a prison made of tasteless beans and boring carrot sticks, forever in fear that the next meal would hurt his health as much as it would be tasteless to me. Obviously his health trumps all, but there was a dark moment back there, I've got to admit.

There was never a moment when I considered not breastfeeding. But it was a tough to accept that for a long, long time I would be missing things ~ and even worse to imagine that once the breastfeeding was over, we still couldn't just walk into a restaurant with our son and order "whatever's good." We would always have to worry, ask questions, and be fiercely protective of our son. Fear is counter to the way we want to raise him.

I realized an important thing, though. I had done precisely what I was trying to avoid instilling in our son: I'd reacted with fear. Instead, why not see this as a huge adventure?

So, we began a hunt for anything we could eat. So what if we couldn't have convenience foods? Couldn't we cook for ourselves from local, wonderful produce and scratch from food sources we knew to be safe? Isn't there a cuisine or two that doesn't rely entirely on dairy, soy, gluten or nuts?

Suddenly, it became fun! It was a treasure hunt! I discovered making corn tortillas by hand. Found delicious chorizo sausages handmade and reasonably priced in a local Spanish grocery. Made lots of rice dishes with chicken and ginger. Ate many salads with sunflower seeds as my croutons and my own homemade dressing. My husband even surprised me with a flourless chocolate birthday cake with butterscotch icing (a recipe that he researched for days to ensure was perfect... and it was!)

When our son began to eat semi-solids, we made his baby food by steaming squash, apples, pears, peas, sweet potatoes, and sought out a soy-free rice cereal because most of the commercial brands include soy lecithin. Healthy, happy, delicious food ended up in front of him and he thrived. I got into a groove of healthy allergen free food, and amazingly lost all the baby weight by the time I finished breastfeeding at 16 months. It was easy to forget sometimes how sick he really had been.

Then, when he became a toddler, he was really ready for more solid finger foods. We used the same basic strategy for finding foods he could eat as I had for myself: read the package, try to make most of the stuff ourselves from scratch. But we did get into a rut. Hot dogs, rice pasta, turkey slices, puffs, apple bits, oatmeal. Day in, day out. Sigh.

Thankfully, our son has an amazing Nanny. Her name is Jessica, and she is an inspiration to us. I could go on for months about how much of a positive impact she has had on our son, and how lucky we are just to know her as a person… she’s a strong, forthright, straight-shooter with the heart of a lioness, and the happiest, loudest, most genuine laugh. She’s smart, loving, and sharp as a tack.

And she is tireless in trying to find ways to feed him things other kids do, with a twist. One day, I came in to find him gobbling up chicken breast that she’d added basil and olive oil. Another day it was gluten free bread turkey sandwiches with lots of ketchup. Yet another, he was learning to tap cinnamon into applesauce. Next, he was stirring “eggies” in a bowl so that she could make them into his breakfast. I was embarrassed to realize that in my constant process of weeding out dangerous foods, I forgot my sense of play when it came to what he could eat!

Suddenly the hunt was on again… together, we found soy free chocolate chips, and suddenly there were chocolate chip pancakes made with rice flour, eggs, gluten free baking powder. We made turkey roll ups with corn tortillas. Chicken noodle soup.  French toast, sandwiches, chocolate rice milk… the list continues to grow.

So, this blog is intended to chronicle that journey. As I discover new dishes to cook that follow my son’s diet, I’ll provide the recipes, pictures, and even name brand names.

This is a foodie journal for one adorable audience: our sweet son. But come on in and join the party!

Here’s a list of the foods we avoid:
  • Soy
  • Dairy (i.e. milk including casein)
  • Gluten
  • Nuts (peanut and tree nuts)
  • Stawberries
  • Raspberries
Here’s a list of the foods we embrace:
  • Everything else!