Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Quest for a GEDS free Brownie Part 2 - Simply Organic

       It's Thursday again and here I am sharing with you my search for a delicious gluten free, egg free, dairy free and soy free Brownie.  This week, I tried another brownie mix I picked from my shopping expedition at Stop&Shop. 
       At first, I was a bit hesitant to try this. It's $4.39 a box, not on sale and the mix still needs 2 large eggs.  After a few minutes of back and forth holding and returning to the shelf, I finally gave in and put it in the cart. The "please mom" look from 2 small boys sealed the deal.

Cocoa Brownie Mix
      The day came to try this brownie mix.  Again I followed the directions to the dot.  With my big mixing bowl and trusted wooden spoon, I slowly added the prepared egg replacement and melted butter.  Since no electric mixer required, I carefully folded the ingredients making sure not to overmix. As the batter come together, it became really thick and gooey. Spreading the batter evenly to fit the greased pan was a big challenge.  After a few minutes of patting down, the super thick goo went to the oven.
        Waiting for the brownies to bake seems like eternity.  I've been looking at the glass oven door every 4 minutes or so to make sure that I don't burn it.  Finally, the sweet sound of the alarm went off.  Top looks good and the sides aren't burnt.  Just by it's looks, I thought, I was able to come up with the best GEDS free brownie. (Fingers crossed)
        When the pan of brownies finally came to room temperature, it was time to start phase two which is cutting.  My plastic knife went through the brownies wonderfully.  Yes, I always use a plastic knife to cut bars because nothing sticks to it and the cuts are clean.  Wow! These really looks like real brownies!!! The top has a shiny, crackled finish and the middle has a soft moist cakelike structure.  It also holds it's shape well. Not bad eh?
       Here's the final test - Taste.  What can I say? Looks are deceiving! The brownies didn't have the chocolate flavor I was hoping for.  Actually, there's not much flavor at all. It was so bland.  Not a hint of cocoa or vanilla.  It even needs some sugar. Plus, these brownies have a grainy feel that sticks to the tongue. Unappealing.
       My kids did ate them but they kept on asking me to make the "Blakie brownie" next time.  They said that even if the "Blackie" is very gooey and sticky, it tastes so good.  Way better than this batch.  Who am I to argue right?
        So the verdict is, these Cocoa Brownies from Simply Organic have the good looks of a real brownie but the taste is just not there. I even went online check the reviews for this product and yes, we all agree that this mix is not a keeper. Some of the reviewers even used the 2 eggs the recipe called for. Oh well... the GEDS free Brownie Quest continues.... See you next week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Easy Beef and Veggie Stew

     Fall is here.  As the leaves change colors and the temperature slowly cools down, a hearty stew seems to be the most comforting meal after a long day of work.   

     This dish is one of our family's favorites. Since we are now on a GEDS free diet, I have made some revisions but it's still delicious and so easy to prepare.   

3 tbs canola oil
2 lbs beef chunks (about 2 in squares)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 large yellow onion sliced (half moon)
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped tomatoes (you can also used canned)
1 cup chopped parsnip
1 cup chopped carrots
2 pcs dried bay leaf
1 Quart chicken broth (I used organic, gluten free)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
2 cups potatoes cubed
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp salt (Start with one tsp and slowly adjust according to your taste. The chicken broth has added salt)
2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1. Preheat a dutch oven or a heavy stew pan.
2. Sautee the garlic and onions in canola oil.
3. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are mushy.
4. Slowly add the beef chunks and brown the meat. It will not get a nice caramelization which is fine.
5. Pour in the chicken broth and mix well. Make sure to scrape the brown bits on the pan. Bring to a boil.
6. Once boiling, add the carrots, celery, parsnip, bay leaf and rosemary. Cover and simmer for 35 mins.
7. After 35 mins, check if the meat is almost tender.  Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper.
8. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are done.  About 15-25 mins.
9. Serve hot over rice or gluten free pasta.
10. Enjoy.
          Are you having a get together or a party soon? You can easily double the recipe and feed a big crowd. Transfer it to your crock pot to stay warm.  Your friends will love this allergy friendly recipe. 
          Happy Wednesday!
- Roz

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where to find Affordable Gluten Free Flour

      One of the challenges of going gluten free is finding flour substitutes especially for baking. Even before we went gluten free, I bake mostly from scratch.  For me, that method is way affordable and I exactly know what's in it.

       Since baking food allergy friendly can be a hit or miss, I realized that it is way more practical to create my own mix.  Though I still try boxed baking mixes for product reviews, I always have my flour collection accessible.  
      If you think I spent a month's supply of grocery shopping to build my collection, you're absolutely wrong.  Today, I'm sharing with you where to find most gluten free flours at tremendously low prices. No shipping costs as well.  

 1. The Asian Stores
          As some of you may have already known, I am of Filipino descent and is a frequent Asian store shopper. Can you just imagine how my face cringed after reading the ingredient list of most GF flour mixes?  Even before I was introduced to the word gluten, I have known most of the flours mentioned below as my grandmother use them all the time.  The weird thing though is that I have known them more by their brand name as that is what my grandma used to call them.  
        Most of these gluten free flour costs around $2.00 a bag which is almost half the price of those bought from supermarkets and organic food stores.  Some brands even go on sale!

        There are even some ready made flour mixes for rice cakes, buns and steamed muffins or bread.  Here's a list of what you'll see there:

     - Rice flour
     - Glutenous Rice Flour (also known as Sweet Rice Flour)
     - Corn Flour
     - Potato Flour
     - Potato Starch (yes, it's different from the flour)
     - Cornstarch
     - Tapioca Starch
     - Mung Bean Flour
     - Chestnut Flour
     - Soybean Flour (Though our household can't use it. Soy free remember?)
     - Sesame Flour (Also out for us because of Child#2's allergy)
     - Purple Yam flour (Ube) 

2. Indian Food Stores
          Often called "Cash and Carry", these stores not only carry assorted spices and beans in bulk, they also sell protein rich flours.  As a culture, India has the most number of vegetarians and vegans. This means that grains and beans are their primary source of nutrients. My finds here includes:

       - Sorghum flour
       - Millet flour
       - Amaranth flour
       - Chickpea flour
       - Lentil flour
       - Bean flour mix
       - Coconut flour
       - Almond flour  

      So if you're looking for some wheat flour substitute, I suggest check out your local Ethnic stores first.  Don't worry, most of the labels have English translations.  Also, feel free to ask for help from other shoppers.  More often than not, they are more than happy to give you the English translation or which brands are better.  

        That's it! My secret is out of the bag. Enjoy shopping.

- Roz

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Quest for GEDS Free Brownies Part 1

       It's that time of the year.  Halloween, school bake sales and even birthday parties are fast approaching.  You know what that means right?  Cupcakes, cookies, brownies and candies will be the talk of the town.  So what's a Frugalista Gluten, Egg, Dairy and Soy Free mom got to do?  So far, there are two options I am considering. 1. Say NO to every event and hide my kids inside the house. 2. Challenge myself and make the above mentioned treats only now GEDS free.
      Though the first option seems to be the easier thing to do, I think my children will appreciate it if I choose the later. Okay ladies, I am not running for any "Mother of the Year" award here. I simply want my children's transition to their new diet as easy as possible.  How hard will it be to make a  GEDS free Brownie anyway? I may not be a trained pastry chef but with more than 10 years of baking from scratch almost every week plus some catering in between, I'd say, I should be confident in my skills right? 
      For starters, I decided to try some ready made brownie mix. Hmmm.. I'm seeing some eyebrows raised here. Why would a self professed baker use something out of the box? Well, it is because right now, my food budget prohibits me from buying all the different types of flour most recipe books require me to have. Since specialty items are crazy expensive, I invested on the most basic such as egg replacement powder,  xantham gum and magarine (dairy and soy free).
      While shopping at Wegman's last weekend, I came across this Double Chocolate Brownie Mix.  At $3.49 a box that makes an 8x8 inch batch, I think, it will not hurt to try it.  After all, it's half the price of the All Purpose Baking flour that still requires extra pricey additions.
         I made these brownies last Monday. There were extra steps such as melting the included chocolate chips and beating the eggs with a mixer. Nothing complicated. The instructions were clear and so easy to follow. Instead of the required 2 eggs and butter, I used the egg replacement (prepared according to the package instructions) and the nondairy, soy free magarine. The batter looked good and had the consistency of a regular brownie batter.
         After about 15 mins, my kitchen smelled great.  I was so excited how these will turn out. Oven timer sounded off at the minimum baking time and when I checked, the sides seem to be done but the middle isn't firm enough.  I kept on checking until the maximum baking time.  Since the toothpick test isn't the best indication of doneness according to the package, I decided to take it out right after the timer went off the second time.  The center looks set and perfect but the sides are in the borderline of getting burned. 
        Now the verdict.  The brownies looked darker that the regular brownies and they are not burnt.  It didn't have the cakelike texture and can't hold it's shaped when cut.  It's very gooey and chewy just like a japanese mochi or rice cake.  A little greasy or oily too.  The taste however, is phenominal.  Not too sweet and full of chocolate goodness.  It passed the kids' taste test with flying colors.  In our home, flavor is much more important than looks.
        Technically, this treat didn't look anything like a brownie, so my children started calling it the "Blackie".  It was devoured within an hour and they actually asked me to make it again which is a good sign. For now, I would say this Wegman's brownie mix will have a place in my pantry.  It will take a few more alterations aesthetic wise but as for the taste, it is a keeper.

      Wow! I just realized that making a GEDS free brownie is not as easy as a regular one.  Even for a boxed mix, it can be complicated.  So here I am in a quest to find an affordable and delicious brownie so that my children will not feel deprived and actually enjoy as a treat. 
      Today, I have decided to make a batch of brownies weekly and post it every Thursday.  I definitely need your help in this quest  - your IDEAS that is.  If you have a go-to brand of brownie mix or a favorite recipe you'd like to share, please let me know at Just make sure that it is Gluten, Egg, Dairy and Soy free.  I'm sure there's a group out there waiting for to make that coveted dessert. 
       Hope to hear from you soon.
- Roz

Monday, September 17, 2012

Garlic Tuna with Wilted Baby Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

      Our family loves Tuna.  Whether from the can, cooked, or even sashimi (okay, the last one is just for me), it is one of our go to protein at home. So when the news about each child's food allergies came out, we were so  thankful that FISH was not in the list. 
       This easy to prepare dish is one of our favorites and goes perfectly with steamed white or brown rice.  Surprisingly, our household has been enjoying this GEDS (gluten, egg, dairy, soy) free recipe way before the diagnosis came out.   

4 Fresh Tuna Steaks (about 1 1/2 lbs total weight)
2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
6 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. fresh garlic sliced thinly
1/4 cup roasted bell peppers *
2 bags of baby spinach
1/8 tsp. chili flakes (add more if you like it a little spicy)
2 lemons

*Roasted Red Bell Peppers
        I often have a homemade version ready and I provided the recipe at the end of this post.  Just in case you don't have the time to make your own, feel free to substitute a store bought one.  I prefer the one that is packed in oil. 

1. At medium low heat, saute sliced 1tbs sliced garlic in 4 tbs of olive oil until golden brown. Make sure you don't burn it. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Increase heat to medium and keep the pan hot.
2. Combine 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp garlic powder.
3. Pat dry tuna and rub both sides with the salt, pepper and garlic powder mix.
4. Pan fry tuna. Wait at least 2 minutes before flipping.  Cook according to your desired doneness and transfer to a platter.  We always have ours well done.
5. Add the remaining oil to the pan.
6. Saute sliced garlic and chili flakes until garlic turns golden brown.
7. Add the roasted bell peppers and spinach.
8. Season with remaining salt and black pepper.
9. Cook until the spinach are slightly wilted.
10. Turn off heat and drizzle with juice from 1 lemon. Mix.
11. Transfer veggies to a serving platter.  Top with seared tuna and sauteed garlic. 
12. Serve with rice and lemon slices.

 * Make sure the pan and oil is hot (medium to medium high) before putting the fish. This will help prevent the fish from sticking to the pan.

* When it comes to doneness, some likes the tuna just browned on both sides while the inside is still pink or red.  For my family (since we have young children), the fish is cooked through. Depending on the thickness, it's about 3-5 minutes on each side. Use your fingers to check for the desired firmness. It is always better to go a little undercooked.

* Homemade Roasted Peppers
    - Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
    - Wash and dry the bell peppers.
    - Place bell peppers on a foil lined cookie sheet. 
    - Bake in the oven for about 14-20 minutes  Turn the peppers every 4 mins to make sure all the sides get roasted and to avoid burning one side. 
    - Transfer to a glass bowl and cover with a plate for 5 minutes. The trapped steam will help loosen the skin,
    - While still warm, remove the skin and the seeds.
    - Add some extra virgin olive oil.  Mix well.  You can add some spices or seasonings at this point.
    - Once cooled, transfer to storage containers.  Refrigerate for 3 days or freeze.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Return of the Pancakes

      It has been a week since my first attempt to cook GEDS (gluten, egg, dairy, soy) free.  Looking back, I can't help but smile and laugh about my early Saturday morning Pancake meltdown. Thank God my Facebook friends were blessed with so much patience. Last time, I've checked, no one has removed me from their friend list yet. So without further intro, here's the story.
      Saturday is always about having pancakes for breakfast.  Just like any mom who would like to keep the transition as smooth as possible, I stayed up all night looking for a pancake recipe that is GEDS free.  When I finally found "the one" that looked very basic and easy to follow, I bookmarked it and got ready for an early trip to the store.  At 7:30 am, my kitchen was husling. 
      After carefully following the instructions, I was so surprised that my first 2 batches of supposedly pancakes turned out to something else. It was so gummy, sticky and inedible. Most would just throw the whole thing right away. The Frugalista in me however kicked in. Come on, that's a big batch of expensive ingredients --- all purpose gluten free flour, almond milk, xantham gum!  I may not be a professional chef but I totally know my way around the kitchen.
      Trying not to give up, I turned on my laptop and started browsing maybe 3or 4 blogs including the one where I found the recipe, looking for remedies.  After making the batter somewhat edible, I started working on the texture without any success. At 10:00 am, my family is no longer happy so I decided to prepare my homemade sausage and rice instead.
      While the new dish was cooking, I once again read the post trying to figure out what went wrong.  Finally, I raised my hands in defeat! After scrolling through the list of comments, the writer said that "a particular type of  FLOUR was used in the recipe and when tried other types of flour, the result is a gummy mess".  My goodness!  That was the first rule when going Gluten Free. There is no exact substitute for wheat flour. The success relies on the combination of the different types of flour and its reaction to the other ingredients in the recipe.
      Finally, after some trial and error, I was able to have an affordable and  decent GEDS free pancake. Okay, it's not from scratch but this pancake and waffle mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen is a real lifesaver.  All my four children love it.  
      At $4.49 for an 18 oz box, (I got mine from the local Wegman's) I say, this is worth every penny.  It is so easy to prepare and is error-proof.  I just added almond milk and canola oil (even tried it with olive oil) in the specified amount printed on the box and the batter is good to go.  Though the uncooked batter may feel a little grainy, it will not be noticeable once cooked.  The manufacturers even specified that there will be no bubbles to indicate when the pancake is ready to be flipped.  Once the sides of the pancakes look firm and set, it's time to flip.         
Click to view larger product image.
        Aside from having the right texture and good taste, I found out that I can make these pancakes ahead of time and will stay fresh quite well.   It can be refrigerated and later microwaved without problems.  My children brought it to school yesterday and it stayed moist and fluffy until lunch time. 
        Isn't it great to find something that will make our lives easier?  This brand is now part of our pantry staples.  How about you? Do you have a Go-To Pancake helper?  Love to hear from you.
 - Roz

Friday, September 14, 2012

Our First Week without Gluten, Egg, Soy, Dairy, Nuts and Peanuts Menu

       It's Friday and we made it!  First week of school and yes seven days of living allergy friendly.  Guess what?  It was not as bad as I thought it would be. The kids ate without any complains on what's on the table.  They even enjoyed their food as if nothing has changed.
       I know most of you are curious. Our household is now wheat, soy, dairy and egg free. So, what then did we eat? Actually, we did quite well. Here is a peek of our menu this week:

* Sauteed Corned Beef with Oven Baked Breakfast Potatoes
* Pork Vigan Style Longanisa (Sausage) with Rice
* Bacon and Rice
* Pancakes

* Pork, String Beans and Peppers in Coconut Stew
* Mung Beans with Spinach Stew
* Rice Noodles with Beef Ragu
* Chicken and Tomatoes Stew
* Chicken Wrapped in Pandan Leaves and Bagoong Rice

Lunch Box /Snacks
* Marinated Chicken Nuggets
* Popcorn
* Rice Cereal Treats
* Corn Tortilla Chips with Salsa
* Snickerdoodle Cookies
* Tuna and Rice
* Fruit  Cups

      Just like any child with food allergies, my school age kids brought their own snacks and lunch.  They either picked something from the breakfast or dinner menu and 1 or 2 from the snacks.  Plus something from the fresh fruit basket --- apples, bananas, kiwi, peach, watermelon. Seems like a lot of food? Well, I am not joking when I said that my family are good eaters.  Don't worry, I will be posting the recipes as we go. 
     It has been a crazy week.  I have never thought and studied food as much as I did during my catering days in Jersey City.  At the end of the day, all the effort was worth it.  For now, I will have my break from cooking --- leftovers for dinner. 
                                          Chicken Wrapped in Pandan with Bagoong Rice
                                                 (inspired by a recipe of FitChefTrina)

- Roz

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Journey to a Food Allergy friendly home

      It has been six days since I was adviced by my children's gastrointerologist to completely eliminate wheat, soy, eggs and dairy from their diet.  Boy! What a week it has been.  I haven't felt so much emotion from denial to anger to helplessness in such a short amount of time. To think about it, I am not even the one with food allergies. 
      As a mom, I know you mothers out there will agree that when something will affect our child, it will definitely be a big issue.  In my case for instance, all my 4 kids who are under the age of 10 were tested positive for multiple food allegies. Thank God, their reactions are not life-threatening and they all have a chance to outgrew their conditions. (Fingers crossed)
     So far, the children took the news graciously.  Maybe it is because they were too young to realize the extent of their restrictions or they have so much faith that Mom will always give them something good to eat.  I don't have a clue. What I do know is that the transition towards an allergy friendly home will not be easy.  A big lifestyle change for the self confessed Frugalista mom. From coupon and sale matching, it will now be right food hunting. From waiting for discounts to finding alternatives.
     After countless hours of researching online and asking around about food allergies, I realized that I am not alone.  There is quite a number of people out there who have the same food issues. With the encouragement of friends and for the sake of my sanity, I decided to start blogging about our family's adventure - the good, the bad and maybe the ugly as well. No drama just embracing the challenges of this new lifestyle.
     Whether you have food allergies, know someone with food allergies, trying an allergy friendly diet or simply interested on the topic, please feel free to post a comment or question.  I am not an expert but I love to share our experiences, recipes, product finds and more.  Hopefully, we could all learn a thing or two in the process - making this journey a little bit easier and full of excitement. So who is with me?
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