Monday, July 20, 2015

Allergy-Free Pasta Salad Recipe Round-Up

By Kelley Lindberg


Last week, we looked at potato salad recipes that are free from the Top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish). This week, I stalked the web for the best-looking pasta salads I could find. To make my list, recipes have to eliminate the most common allergens, but definitely keep the flavor! As always, I look for recipes that taste great, look wonderful, and won’t have a single person at your barbecue or potluck party even noticing milk and egg aren’t part of your creation!

Note: If you must avoid wheat or gluten, you’ll want to use gluten-free pasta for these recipes, of course.

Let’s get started.

First, I have to share a Ranch Dressing tip or two. Ranch dressing mix is a tasty addition to pasta salads, but finding a milk-free version is tricky. My local Smith’s grocery store (which is part of the Kroger brand of grocery stores) carries an envelope of mix called “Kroger Party Dip – Ranch,” which is milk-free. I have used it to make ranch dip by mixing it with Tofutti “BetterThan Sour Cream” soy-based non-dairy sour cream—a huge hit at parties. I also mixed it with Vegenaise (egg-free mayonnaise substitute) to make a sauce for a pasta salad the other day. My son declared it was “the best pasta salad you’ve ever made, Mom!” So if you live near a Kroger store (such as Smith’s, King Soopers, or Fred Meyer), check to see if they carry the “Kroger Party Dip-Ranch” mix. (Don’t confuse it with the Kroger Salad Magic Ranch Dressing mix, which contains milk. Sheesh. Don’t these people know they’re just making our lives complicated with all these different versions?)

If you can’t find the Kroger mix in your local store, you’re still in luck. I found a recipe online to make your own Homemade Ranch Seasoning & Dressing Mix, and it’s super easy! (I’m serious. Throw some spices in a blender or spice grinder. Voila! You’re done!) We have Megan, over at her “These Things I Love” blog, to thank for this recipe.

Now, on to some great-looking pasta salad recipes that will perk up that potluck table like nobody’s business:

Italian Pasta Salad: In its simplest form, a good pasta salad consists of 3 things: cooked pasta, some veggies, and a dressing. This recipe from About.com gives you the step-by-steps. It uses a cup of your favorite safe bottled Italian salad dressing, or you can substitute a favorite safe vinaigrette (like balsamic! Yum!).

Easy Vegan Artichoke Pasta Salad: This recipe from About.com is even easier, because you use the oil from a jar of marinated artichoke hearts instead of the salad dressing! Plus I think artichoke hearts always add a little extra class to anything they’re in, don’t you?

Vegan Pasta Salad with Pickles,Vinegar, and Olive Oil: Love that hint of pickle/vinegar flavor? Then you’ll love cooling off with this pasta salad from PopSugar.com that uses a dressing of vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard (and some diced dill pickles for a little extra kick).

Southwestern Pasta Salad
Photo credit: CookinBug at AllRecipes.com
Southwestern Pasta Salad: I’m a fan of all things Southwestern flavored, so this recipe from Allrecipes.com is right up my alley. Its dressing consists of vegetable oil, fresh lime juice, and spices, and it will definitely spice up your picnic! You could also turn this into a main dish by adding some diced grilled chicken or taco chicken (shredded chicken cooked with taco seasoning).

Greek Goddess Pasta Salad: This recipe from AllRecipes.com calls for a bottle of pre-made Greek vinaigrette, and it includes sun-dried tomatoes, avocados, Kalamata olives, a jar of roasted peppers, and other tasty tidbits.  If you can’t find a safe Greek vinaigrette dressing, try this recipe to whip up your own: Absolutely Fabulous Greek/House Dressing

Kelley’s Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad: Okay, since my son loved this one so much, I figured I’d better post it.
Kelley's Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Ingredients:
  • 1 box of pasta, any shape (I used 2 different shapes, to mix things up)
  • 2 c. total veggies, such as halved cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes (drained), or lightly steamed veggies such as broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, snowpeas, cauliflower, red and yellow peppers, or edamame
  • 6 strips bacon
  • Ranch dip/dressing mix (1 envelope’s worth, or about 3 T)
  • 1 c. safe mayo, such as Vegenaise (there is a soy-free version, if that’s one of your allergens)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 c. rice or soy milk (or other safe milk)

Directions:
Cook pasta according to directions. If using veggies that you prefer to be lightly steamed, go ahead and steam them. Dice bacon into small pieces and fry. When the bacon is almost done, add the steamed veggies to the bacon so that the veggies take on that bacon flavor, and continue to cook until bacon is crispy enough for your taste. In a small bowl, mix the Ranch dressing mix, safe mayo or Vegenaise, garlic powder, and rice milk. When the pasta is done, drain it and run some cold water over it to stop it from continuing to cook. Then put the pasta in a large serving bowl with the veggies and bacon. Gently stir in the ranch dressing. Serve and enjoy!

My son, who is now an always-on-the-go 16-year-old with a hollow leg, is primarily a carnivore. He thinks vegetables are a conspiracy by mothers world-wide to punish their children for trumped-up grievances. Oh well. There are only a handful of veggies he will willingly eat: artichoke leaves (not the hearts), fried okra (he had to learn to like fried okra or he wasn’t allowed to continue living under my roof), and edamame. I don’t know why edamame made the list, because he refuses to touch any other legume, but I don’t question small victories. So when I made this salad, the only veggie I added was shelled, steamed edamame. That and the bacon made a great combination, and he was happy. So were the other party-goers, so I call that a win.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Allergy-Free Potato Salad Recipe Round-Up

By Kelley Lindberg


It’s summertime, which means picnics and barbecues are in full swing. While the focus is usually on whatever’s on the grill, everyone knows the perfect side dish can make it all that much better! But the problem, of course, is that many of those picnic go-to recipes are loaded with dairy and egg ingredients. If your allergies include those, the ever-popular pasta and potato salads become landmines on the table.
This German Potato Salad is free from the Top 8 allergens,
and it's vegan, too! Recipe and photo credit: EarthyFeast.com.

That’s why I took to the web to find some allergy-friendly pasta salads and potato salads that will be welcome additions to the picnic table. (And no one will notice they’re free from milk, egg, and nuts!) This week I’ll spotlight some potato salad recipes. Come back next week for some tasty pasta salads that will brighten your potluck gathering!

German Potato Salad: Great news! German potato salad is ALREADY free from the Top 8 allergens. Throw together some potatoes, bacon, and onions, then dress it with some vinegar, sugar, mustard, and salt, and garnish with a little fresh parsley or chives. Ta-da! Here is a traditional recipe for the Food Network's German Potato Salad, but if you want a vegan version without the bacon, try this super-delicious German Potato Salad recipe from Grace over at her EarthyFeast.com blog.

Roasted Potato Salad with Mustardy Old Bay Dressing + Chive Blossoms: This recipe from the “With Food + Love” website suggests roasting the potatoes (yum!), but boiling them would work just fine for a more traditional potato salad texture.
Roasted sweet potatoes and avocado take
potato salad to a whole new level. Recipe
and photo credit: EatingBirdFood.com.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad: Holy cow, this recipe from Brittany and her EatingBirdFood.com blog looks amazing. This will take that old potato salad idea and knock it clear out of the park. Roasted sweet potatoes, spinach, avocado, red onion and dried cranberries are all dressed simply with a little apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. What’s not to love?
Potato Salad with Avocado and Dill: Over at “Forks Over Knives,” I found this creamy potato salad recipe that gets its “creaminess” from mashed avocado. Even traditional potato salad lovers will love this combination. What a great idea!
Classic Potato Salad with Dijon and Vegetarian Bacon Bits: Of course, the easiest way to make an allergy-friendly traditional creamy potato salad is as simple as swapping out the regular mayo for an egg-free mayo, like Vegenaise. While the original Vegenaise flavor contains soy, they also make a soy-free version! This recipe from About.com adds balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing for an extra kick that should add just enough flavor interest to disguise the fact that you used Vegenaise instead of regular mayo!
Light and Fresh Potato Salad: If a traditional potato salad seems a little blah to you, check out this version from MyRecipes.com, which adds a rainbow of garden veggies and a light vinaigrette dressing instead of mayonnaise. 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My Vacation in Sicily, or “Almonds Gone Wild”

By Kelley Lindberg


Ah, Sicily. Land of mythology, history, Godfather t-shirts, pasta, lemons, pistachios, and almonds.

Lots and lots of almonds.
Almond and pistachio cookies greeted us
in our hotel room in Sicily.

If you’re not allergic to almonds, pistachios, or lemons, you’ll love Sicily. If you’re allergic to almonds, pistachios, or lemons, you might want to plan on doing a lot of your own cooking if you go there.

Almonds, lemons, and pistachios are some of Sicily’s biggest crops, but stranglehold trade restrictions from Sicily’s parent country, Italy, make it difficult (if not impossible) for Sicilian farmers to sell them off-island. When you have a lot of something and you can’t sell it, you use it in everything.

My mother and I enjoy a day visiting
Greek Temples in Italy.
In May, my mother and I traveled to Sicily for a badly needed vacation. Truly, it’s a breathtaking place. We were on the eastern coast of the island, in the town of Taormina. From our beach-side hotel, we took day-trips to see the ancient and storied town of Syracuse, the Straits of Messina (where Odysseus and his crew met with scary monsters), the active volcano Mt Etna (which graciously did not erupt until hours after we’d left its hillsides), an ancient Roman villa with magnificently preserved mosaic floors, ancient Greek temples, and other Sicilian marvels. Throughout history, the island, which is strategically located off the “toe” of Italy, has been over-run by a steady parade of better-armed empires, like Greece, the Byzantines, the Romans, the Spanish, the Arabs, the French, and of course both sides of WWII. All that history and all those conquering cultures have combined in Sicily to produce a land and a people who seem to accept that “stuff happens” and you just have to roll with it.

That extends to their cooking. With a plethora of almonds on the island, they’ve learned how to incorporate them into almost every meal. I had almond cookies, almond gelato, almonds sprinkled on my pasta, and fish breaded with crushed almonds. When almonds were missing, pistachios took up the slack.

Because of the constant presence of those tree nuts, I was often glad my son wasn’t with me on this trip. Sure, it would have been possible to talk to chefs and waiters and request special handling to make sure he was being served almond-free foods, but the constant vigilance would have made this vacation more stressful than most we’ve taken. Since my mother and I are not allergic to tree nuts, we were able to enjoy the food without worrying. (Although I must admit, I felt a pang of guilt every time another dish arrived in front of me with almonds sprinkled liberally over it.) (And I guess I should also admit that those almond cookies were DIVINE. Don’t hate me.)
I'm telling ya, lemon granita is a highly civilized way
to end a breakfast. I could get used to this!

On the other hand, if my son HAD been with me, he would have loved the lemons. There were jars of lemon marmalade, lemon syrup, limoncello (a lemon-flavored liqueur—okay, that would not have been for him, but definitely for me!), a lemon-cream pasta sauce that was out of this world, and scoop after scoop after heavenly scoop of lemon granita (Italian ice). Lemon granita was even served in the breakfast buffet every morning at our hotel, which my mother and I agreed was a very civilized way to face the day.

All of which just goes to show… when life hands you almonds, make lemon ice!
An iconic Sicilian view: the active volcano Mt. Etna
(notice the plume of smoke coming out of its vents),
seen from a path through a lemon orchard.




Monday, March 30, 2015

Make This an Allergy-Free Easter

By Kelley Lindberg


Don’t look now, but another food-oriented holiday is coming up this weekend. Yep, it’s time for the Easter Bunny to make his once-yearly hop down the Bunny Trail with baskets full of goodies.

For kids with egg allergies, one of the first Easter hurdles is the tradition of dyeing Easter eggs. If you’re wondering what to do, you have lots of options:
  • Some people I know let their kids wear kitchen gloves to handle the eggs during the dyeing process. For others, that’s just not worth the risk, so they opt for some of the methods listed below.
  • Buy wooden, plastic, ceramic or paper-mache eggs from the craft store, then decorate them using paint, stickers, markers, and glitter.
  • Use your favorite safe cookie recipe and some Easter-themed cookie cutters to bake cookies, then decorate them. Wouldn’t you rather eat a cookie than a hard-boiled egg anyway?
  • Make Jell-O Jiggler eggs using Easter-shaped molds from the craft store, or make them in a pan and use Easter-shaped cookie cutters to cut out shapes. (See the Jell-O box for the recipe.)
  • Make safe chocolate shapes by melting safe chocolate chips and pouring the melted chocolate into Easter-shaped plastic molds (available at craft stores). This website uses non-safe chocolate wafers, but you should be able to substitute safe chocolate chips like Enjoy Life Foods’ chocolate chips instead with similar results. 
  • Make hard-candy stained glass Easter eggs with some metal cookie cutters in Easter egg shapes and a bag of safe hard candy. Here is a website with instructions for making hard-candy stained-glass ornaments.
  • Try making Easter window clings—just draw your own Easter egg design instead of the rainbow, and you can display a fun Easter egg in your window. 
  • Print Easter coloring pages. Low on time, energy, and creativity? No problem. Print some Easter Egg coloring pages from the internet, and let your kids color them while you tackle Easter dinner. Just search for Easter Egg Coloring Pages, and you’ll find more than enough to keep any kid busy for a while.

The next hurdle is finding safe Easter candy. Your best bet for nut-free chocolate bunnies is always Hershey’s, and Target always carries several nut-free Hershey’s candies. The safe bunnies are all 6-inch style (Snapsy, Speedy Bunny, Princess Bunny, and Hollow Bunny), and they all contain milk and soy lecithin, but they are peanut-free and tree-nut free. I also found a package of 6 Hershey’s solid chocolate bunnies that are nut-free and contain only milk and soy lecithin (but avoid the package of 6 “cookies and cream” bunnies – they have additional allergens). Some flavors of Hershey’s kisses are also nut-free, as well as Hershey’s mini foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. But double-check labels – many Hershey’s products have nut warnings, so don’t assume they’re safe until you check. And remember, all Hershey’s chocolate includes milk and soy. Those Cadbury mini eggs are also nut-free, although they contain milk, soy, and corn. But only the mini eggs are nut-free – the larger sizes tend to have nut warnings. Target also has cones of Hershey’s chocolate drops coated in white candy, sold in a cellophane cone (contains milk, corn, and soy lecithin).

Looking for a 6-inch bunny for the basket, but don’t want chocolate? Try a Strawberry or Blue Raspberry gummy bunny, which I found at Target! (Contains soy and gelatin).

Many of our “tried and true” candy manufacturers are jumping on the jelly-bean band wagon, which means more safe jelly beans for our kids. Look for jelly beans from Jolly Rancher (contains soy lecithin), Jelly Belly (contains soy lecithin), Starburst, Life Savers, and Swedish Fish Eggs (I found these at Target). Target also had green “Easter grass candy” from Twizzlers (contains wheat).

And finally, remember that you don’t have to fill those plastic eggs with candy. Kids love to find small novelties like tattoos, money, dice, jacks, army parachute men, Hot Wheels cars, Polly Pockets, bracelets and rings, whistles, bubbles, and other toys in their eggs.

My son’s favorite Easter tradition was when I would type up clues and hide them inside eggs. Each clue led to another egg with another clue, until finally he was led to his basket filled with toys or games. Less candy, more fun!

Easter is a time of traditions, but that does NOT mean you have to stick with the old, dangerous ones. In fact, it’s a wonderful experience to invent brand new traditions for your family that are safe, fun, and meaningful to you. So enjoy your holiday with the people you love best, and say “Hi” to the Easter Bunny for me.