Monday, January 28, 2013

Allergy-Friendly Partying (Super Bowl time!)

Have you noticed that most social gatherings in America involve food?  This can make it rather daunting to plan or attend a party while having to take dietary restrictions into consideration.  However, there are plenty of allergy-friendly snacks that one could simply buy or easily make. 

As always, be sure to double-check ingredients, including cross-contamination risk based on your level of sensitivity and comfort.  (If you are hosting the party or making an item to bring to the party, it is very important to save labels for every ingredient used; only prepare foods using clean (not shared) utensils/cutting boards/serving dishes, and all new, unopened products—even items such as sugar could already be contaminated in the kitchen.)  Carefully read labels, remembering that allergens and gluten can “hide” in a lot of processed food, and ingredients change without notice and vary from region to region.  Not every brand or all varieties of an item listed below will be allergy-free; obviously choose safe versions based on your dietary restrictions.  Contact me if you need recipes (for safe guacamole or bean dip or hummus, for example) or product recommendations.

With that disclaimer, here are some allergy-friendly (free of the top 8 most common food allergens and even gluten) party snacks:

  • Air-popped popcorn sprinkled with salt and spices, or “natural” microwaveable popcorn (where the only ingredients are popcorn, oil, and salt).
  • Corn tortilla chips and salsa, pico de gallo, and/or guacamole.
  • Most plain potato chips.
  • Corn chips (like Fritos® with corn, oil, and salt as the only ingredients), served with a bean dip.
  • Nachos—melt Daiya™ cheddar or pepperjack “cheese” on top of white corn tortilla chips.
  • Fresh or canned fruit with coconut-milk-based yogurt for dip.
  • Deli wraps—corn tortillas, turkey, lettuce, and mustard (or just use lettuce as the wrapper).
  • Dried fruit (such as raisins, dried apricots) or fruit snacks.
  • Fresh vegetables and hummus.
  • Homemade sweet potato chips—peel and slice sweet potatoes into 1/8”-thick rounds, toss with olive oil and salt, adding other spices, if desired; place on foil-lined pan and bake at 400° for 25 minutes, flipping once, until edges are crisp.
  • Baked/microwaved snack mixes using safe margarine and safe cereals (Chex® even comes in several gluten-free varieties)—make a salty mix using savory herbs/spices and air-popped popcorn; or a sweet version with honey, raisins, marshmallows, and apple-pie-type spices.
  • Cocktail links or cut-up hot dogs, speared with toothpicks, served with safe barbecue sauce or mustard.
  • Trail mix of safe cereals, marshmallows, dried fruit, and safe chocolate chips (e.g. ones from Enjoy Life®).
  • Cupcakes—CherrybrookKitchen®’s Gluten-Free Dreams Chocolate Cake Mix (using baking instructions given on box) and their ready-to-spread vanilla frosting.
  • Sliced Daiya™ wedge "cheese" and/or pepperoni with crackers from Crunchmaster® (Multi-Grain Crackers in Sea Salt, or 7 Ancient Grains Crackers in Hint of Sea Salt, or Baked Rice Crackers in Toasted Sesame).
  • Cereal bars using safe margarine or oil, marshmallows, and crispy rice cereal.
  • My yummy bacon appetizers! (recipe below; be sure to see Allergy Info)

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Always a favorite at parties, this recipe is easily doubled—which is a good idea since these tasty appetizers will be snatched up quickly!  You will also need wooden toothpicks for this recipe, enough so that there is one toothpick per water chestnut (the recipe yields about 50).


  • 3 (5 oz.) OR 2 (8 oz.) cans water chestnuts
  • 1 pound bacon, uncooked
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)*
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Soak toothpicks in a bowl of water for 10 minutes.
  3. Drain water out of water chestnuts cans.
  4. Slice each raw bacon strip into thirds.**  Place one water chestnut in center of each bacon piece; wrap bacon around water chestnut, securing ends with a toothpick. 
  5. Place bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, spacing evenly, in an ungreased 10”x15” rimmed baking pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until bacon is starting to crisp on edges.  Remove pan from oven; drain grease or transfer bacon-wrapped water chestnuts to a clean baking pan.*** 
  6. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir together ketchup, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce.  Cook over medium heat just until boiling; mix in red pepper (if using).  Remove from heat; set aside.
  7. Pour sauce over the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, being careful not to get sauce onto exposed toothpicks (for cleaner handling and better appearance).  Return to oven; bake 30 minutes longer, until sauce is bubbly and appetizers appear candied.  Arrange neatly on serving dish.


*You can substitute the Worcestershire sauce with soy sauce, prepared mustard, or even apple cider vinegar (just a little something to give the sauce some tang), choosing allergen-free versions if necessary.
**To easily and quickly slice bacon, remove from package, maintaining the flat stack, and use kitchen shears to cut through stack in two places, dividing evenly into thirds.
***They fit fine in a 9”x13” glass pan for this step; they tend to “shrink” slightly while baking.  Alternatively, you can use your oven's broiler pan; no need to drain grease or to transfer to a clean pan.  


This recipe is free of dairy/milk, eggs, shellfish peanuts, and tree nuts (“water chestnuts” are actually a vegetable, not a nut).  To make it fish-, wheat-, gluten-, and soy-free, carefully choose a Worcestershire sauce with safe ingredients (many brands aren’t allergen-free; contact me if you need product suggestions as there are options out there), or use one of the listed substitutions (see TIPS above), or just omit entirely.  Always double-check ingredients, including cross-contamination risk based on your level of sensitivity and comfort.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eat Healthier, one bite at a time

After the food-laden holidays, January generally brings about the desire for healthier eating.  Yet most people eventually abandon their New Year’s resolutions. Research shows that only 12% achieve their set goals.  To ensure success, try establishing smaller, more attainable objectives.

Instead of completely revamping your diet, make minor changes to the foods you already prepare.  For example, find healthier substitutions for meats and high-fat dairy products since they are the primary sources of saturated fats.  With the prevalence of food allergies, there are now a variety of vegetarian and dairy-free products available in most regular grocery stores.  (For advice and help to remove dairy from your diet, visit Go Dairy Free and try the dairy-free challenge for a mere 10 days to see if you feel different, better, healthier.)

Here are some simple changes to make introducing a better diet more manageable:

  • When baking, substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.
  • Use plain regular or Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise or sour cream.  There are also dairy-free yogurts (soy-, rice-, or coconut-milk-based) that would work equally as well.  Great for chicken salad and in tacos!
  • Substitute lean ground turkey for ground beef.  This change results in no significant difference in the taste, texture, or consistency.
  • Make homemade salad dressing using olive oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs.  Not only is it money-saving, but it is also healthier; some bottled salad dressings contain added preservatives and excess fat.
  • Vegan cheese is a great alternative to regular cheese.  When substituted in recipes, there is almost no discernible flavor difference.  
  • When baking and cooking, choose an unsweetened, plain dairy-free milk alternative, such as soy, almond, or rice milk.  There is also a coconut milk beverage (lighter and thinner than full fat canned coconut milk), or use light canned coconut milk.  These “milks” can be replaced 1:1 for cow’s milk.  They can also be used to make “buttermilk,” using a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice to curdle the “milk.”
  • Mix your own fruit-flavored yogurt at home.  Buy a large container of vanilla yogurt (again, dairy-free versions work just as well); scoop out individual portions and add sugar-free fruit preserves or even fresh fruit.
  • For one meal each week, choose to eat meat-free or vegan.  (Bonus: Doing this reduces your carbon footprint more than if you were to eat/buy local 7 days a week!)  Visit Meatless Monday for more information on this movement.  Also, check out the quick, easy recipe below to get you started!

Northern Italian Soup

This healthy recipe can be easily prepared with ingredients normally kept in one’s winter pantry.  To make it truly vegetarian, be sure to use vegetable broth instead of chicken stock.  Please note that the listed herbs are dried, not fresh.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped, OR 1 T. dried, minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 or 2 fresh cloves)
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained (OR 3 cups fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice*)
  • 3 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth (about 2-15 oz. cans)
  • 2 cans (about 15 oz. each) cannelloni or Great Northern beans, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (or to taste**)
  • ½ t. salt, optional***
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) small pasta, uncooked (such as ditalini or mini shells)


  1. Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add fresh onion (if using) and garlic; sauté until veggies are soft but not yet brown.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, broth, beans, and seasonings, including dried onion (if using).
  4. Bring to boil; stir in pasta.  Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.


*To easily chop fresh tomatoes, reserving their juice, first remove stem and core.  Then add them whole to a large liquid measuring cup; use kitchen shears held straight up and down to roughly chop them. Bonus: the amount needed can be seen right on the measuring cup as you chop!
**Reduce the amount of pepper if you are sensitive to spicy foods.  Feel free to add more pepper during cooking if you like your soup spicier.
***I omit the additional salt from this recipe when I make it. As most canned tomatoes, beans, and broth already contain salt, adding more to the soup can be too much.  Adjust to your taste preference.


This recipe is free of eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  To make it dairy-, wheat-, soy-, and/or gluten-free, carefully choose a broth with safe ingredients.  To make it wheat and/or gluten-free, use a gluten-free pasta (alternatively, you can omit the pasta altogether, increase the beans to 3 cans, and scale down the amount of broth).  Beans are naturally gluten-free, but canned ones can sometimes contain other non-GF ingredients (look for cans that list only beans, water, and salt as ingredients).  Always double-check ingredients, including cross-contamination risk based on your level of sensitivity and comfort.