Friday, February 25, 2011

Homemade Chicken Broth (beef, corn, gluten, peanut & soy free)

First - it's easier than one might think! I typically clean out the last of my root veggies that are in the "eat me or toss me" stage of life. Whatever is in the veggie drawer goes in the pot. I prefer stove top simmering but this can be done just as easily in a slow cooker.

chicken or turkey carcass, skin, fat (I like to keep a glass container for "discard" and one for "eat". Into the discard goes all the skin*, fat*, bones and whatever else I find that I don't want on my plate. Of course the chicken meat goes into the eat one.)
veggies such as:
  • onion
  • celery
  • carrot
  • shallots
  • scallions
  • parsnip
  • garlic
seasonings such as:
  • salt
  • pepper
  • bay leaf
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • nutmeg (only a pinch)
  • paprika
I load my largest pan with all of the above with the items that don't fit whole (such as carrots) roughly chopped. *I buy organic veggies and while I do wash them well, I DON'T peel or skin them b/c most of what goes in the pot will be trash at the end*
Bring it to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and allow it to simmer for as long as you can. 24 hours is good. I sometimes turn mine off and leave it on the stove for overnight (8 hours or less) than bring it back to a rapid boil for a few minutes and back to a simmer for a second day.
I get about 8 cups of good broth from my 5qt stock pot. You can thin it out if you'd like but I like it rich so I fill the pot with water only once and let it go until 1/2 of the water simmers out. I taste it every few hours and adjust spices as needed.

When the broth has reached desired taste I send it through a large colander into a measure cup and/or bowls. This pulls all the veggies, fat, skin and bones. Most of what went into the pot will be pretty much disintegrated and mushy. This time around my carrots were still in good shape and had good flavor so I pulled them from the mush to stick in my soup. They'll disintegrate completely in it which is fine because it's split pea. Most of what goes into that is cooked into nothing. The second time I use a much finer colander to catch the sludge of spices and disintegrated "stuff". If the broth seems very fatty you can let it sit out. The fat will separate and thicken on the top and is easily skimmed off with a slotted spoon or small scoop.

Today I'm using the broth I made yesterday for split pea soup. But it can be frozen in ice cube trays or muffin tins then transferred to a zip top back for later use. If it's pre-frozen in a tray it's easier to thaw out the amount needed rather than have to use the entire batch.

*We buy range free organic chickens. They have very little fat on them. Conventional chickens might be fatty in which case I would NOT include the fat/skin unless you have the time to allow the broth to cool completely so you can skim the excess fat off the top.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(our) Allergen Free Meatballs (beef, corn, gluten, peanut & soy free)

A staple in our home is meatballs. I always have (home made) meatballs in the freezer. I usually do about 1/2 clean ground pork and 1/2 grass fed ground beef. Now that I'm allergic to beef I've been investigating meat alternatives and figuring out how to stock up on this heavily relied upon freezer staple.

I chose:
Pork because I was familiar with it as an ingredient.
Lamb for a little flavor and fat.
Ground chicken for extra meat but relatively neutral flavor.

I purchased clean (no antibiotics, no hormones, pastured piggies) ground pork and clean ground lamb at the market. I purchased whole organic chicken (boneless skinless) breasts and stuck them in the freezer. This morning I sent them through the "shred" attachment on my food processor. I don't have a meat grinder but because they were mostly frozen they went through cleanly and shredded quite nicely. I think that boneless skinless thighs would be fine as well but more difficult to shred because of the smaller size.

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb "shredded" chicken breast

2 eggs (I have heard that you can supplement ground flax seed & water for egg)
1/2 cup or so quick cooking oats {one can use traditional (NOT Irish!) oats but they should be ground or chopped prior to adding them to the meat.}

Onion Granules
Garlic Powder
Italian Season Mix from Cost Plus World Market

2-3 oz Plain Feta, crumbled
2-4 oz Parmesan, shredded

Drop all meat into large bowl (in my case I used a stand mixer with flat attachment but a large bowl and clean hands would work too). Mix until the meats are thoroughly combined. Dump in season & cheeses. Mix again until all is thoroughly combined. I then added one egg and mixed thoroughly to see how it would feel. I decided that for my preference I wanted a 2nd egg and some oats. Mix until everything is combined well and the meat clings to the mixer paddle.

Scoop onto cookie sheets. I use a hand held medium scoop and fill up the sheets. Then I use my hands to form them into a better ball shape.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit about 18-20 mins. (Baking them this long is baking them all the way through. If you want to finish baking them in a sauce prior to serving cut baking time in 1/2.) When you peek at them they should be paler than when they went in but browning and you should be able to hear a sizzle. Don't over bake. They are very low fat and will be tough, chewy and unpleasant. (Well I think they would be, thankfully I didn't have to experience this.)

I ate them hot off the pan to make sure they were delicious before baking my second batch. Ordinarily we eat them with pasta and tomato sauce but they are good for sandwiches and pizza topping also.

After the meatballs have been cooled completely, I always set aside several for the evening meal. Then I put the rest of them into a zip top freezer bag and drop them in our deep freezer. Typically I make meatballs about once every 6 weeks or so. When we use the last few I wait a few days or a week and start the process over again. This recipe yields approximately 48-50 medium (2 inch diameter) meatballs. It's very easy to double this recipe if one feeds more than 2 people at a time. I find that this is a good number to have on hand for the two of us for quick meals.

I think it's evident there is no beef. That being said they are delicious. I can't wait to get them soaking in marinara and onto my (rice) pasta tonight. I've eaten 3 fresh off the pan and I can taste a little lamb but it's very subtle. Neither pork or chicken stand out and I think once the balls are in a sauce or dish the lamb flavor will be concealed except that I know it's there.

Pictures are in order of preparation starting with the method I used to shred my chicken and working the way through the recipe to show the difference between "scooped" meat balls and "shaped" meat balls (there really isn't much difference but I'm particular). The in the oven shot is about 1/2 way through baking. The cookie sheet shot is just out of the oven and the final picture is of my first batch of meat balls cooling and waiting on the final 30 to arrive from the oven.

Buckwheat noodles

I've done very little cooking of late. There's a certain amount of shock that arrives with a food allergy diagnoses that is about as opposite as the one we already deal with. I've cleaned out my fridge & pantry twice and still find items I can't really eat (ginger keeps sneaking up on me in crazy places). On Tuesday night I tackled buckwheat noodles. While the name seems scary they are actually a gluten free product *while gluten free = wheat free, wheat free does NOT = gluten free*. I have attempted them before because I was hoping to find something wheat free to incorporate into our diet but was never happy with them and thus, discontinued using them. Being told I'm allergic to wheat was enough to get me to try buckwheat noodles again.

I cooked them by instinct this time rather than just package instructions. Since I was planning a loose white sauce I added olive oil & salt to the water as I would if I were using wheat noodles. I cooked them right at 5 mins then did a quick cold water rinse.

While the noodles boiled I used a little 1/2 and 1/2, cottage cheese & Parmesan cheese to make a loose or watery white sauce. Buckwheat seems to absorb a lot of liquid so when we loaded our bowls with fresh spinach, then the noodles then the sauce, the sauce thickened in the bowl and left us with cheesy deliciousness.

Today the plan is to make meatballs. I purchased ground pork, ground lamb & chicken breasts. I'm going to send the chicken through my food processor to get them about the consistency of ground chicken (we can't buy ground turkey or chicken it's all corny corny corny).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Have you always been allergic?

The most common question that is asked usually right behind "What are your symptoms?" or the alternate "What made you want to get tested?" which is basically the same question.

And so, I don't really recall having any problems digesting any of my allergens (wheat, beef, caraway, ginger, mustard, scallop) before I was 18 or so. When I was very young I had eczema, a classic sign of food allergy but I think that it's only been associated with food allergies in the last 10-15 years. My eczema cleared up, I think on it's own as I aged. It usually appeared behind my ears.

When I was 18 I went to college where I lived on cafeteria food and things I occasionally cooked in a shared kitchen. I don't really remember what all I ate but I do remember they had build your own pizza options and lots of cereal all the time. Since that's what I remember the most clearly, that's probably what I mostly ate.

At 19 I moved to TX and into my own apartment. My budget was very tight and since it was just me, I typically ate a lot of salads, very little meat and sometimes cereal. On the weekends I'd often cook up one big dish of something and eat it during the week but my diet consisted of very little bread or baked goods. I'd occasionally buy a cheap loaf of white bread b/c I find this to be the BEST for grilled cheese sandwiches.

I can distinctly remember going with a friend to his family home where his mother ground her own wheat and baked a lot. I can also remember having terrible stomach cramps, bloating and gas while there. I associated it to the (fresh ground) whole wheat which I rarely ate b/c as stated before I bought very little bread and only the cheap white stuff rarely.

One time I went with co-workers to the Olive Garden where I ate the endless soup, salad & bread sticks and gorged myself senseless (back then it was $4 at lunch). I was in such pain and agony that I had to go home early from work, something I never did because, at the time I didn't have paid time off. It was horrible the pain was unbearable. I attributed it to the ice burg lettuce that was exclusively used at that time.

I got married at a few weeks shy of 24. David's income was far greater than mine and his appetite and food consumption much more varied and much larger quantities than mine. I'd gotten in the habit of grocery shopping less than every 2 weeks. With David I was finding that I needed to buy 3-4 times what I was used to purchasing. He loved that I could cook and bake. He loved that he could say "I feel like fresh bread" and he'd come home and it'd be there warm waiting with a home cooked meal. He delighted in the fact that out of all the women he had known he'd married the one that could cook anything and bake everything. And so I did. I cooked and baked a lot. And started gaining weight. Which I attributed to:
A) being happy
B) meals being intimate and social rather than quick and necessary
C) the wider variety and bigger consumption.
All of the above was probably true but I think, now, there was more going on.

About 18 months ago David was diagnosed as allergic to corn & soy so we eliminated everything from our house with either of those ingredients. We switched to 100% organic whole wheat pastas, cereals, flours, crackers, pretzels and so on. I packed on the weight. Which I attributed to stress and anxiety. I struggled with depression and exhaustion. Again I dismissed these indications as stress or how hot it is here in Houston all the time. My gut became unpredictable. I'd have about 5 seconds between "I have to go" and getting to the bathroom. The pain and bloating was uncomfortable and the gas was embarrassing. As the indications stacked up I ignored what I have suspected for some time - I was allergic to wheat. I didn't want the inconvenience or complications. If one is just allergic to wheat there are many, many gluten free options that are fantastic. Baking mixes, snacks, cereals and so on but for us they aren't an option because all of it contains corn or soy. David is so sensitive to corn that I don't bring anything in the house that has any amount of corn in it. Cross contamination is a big concern when there are trace amounts of corn so I rarely bring anything that even contains ingredients derived from corn into our home. Eliminating wheat just seemed overwhelming.

Here's the deal though. Looking at things I loved like yeast donuts makes my cheeks flush and my gut twinge now. I remember the pain and discomfort I was experiencing and I don't even want it. It took David over a year to get to this point and I'm so thankful I am already here. It makes it so much easier to simply stick to wheat free, beef free, mustard free and so on eating.

So go get tested. It's not that complicated. It's worth the hassle and after four days my energy is returning and my belly is settling. I'm not nearly at the energy level when I was in my 20's and working full time w/extra hours and taking classes at night and swimming every morning but I had the energy (and desire) to clean out my truck and sweep the garage. Lately it's been all I can do to keep up w/the house and laundry. Weekends were for sitting on my tush re-cooping from the house cleaning and the long weeks of cooking and laundry and my part time care giving job.

Friday, February 18, 2011

3 days allergen free

I had made an appointment with a General Practitioner to have a physical done including blood work and a UA to see if anything turned up to help explain any of my symptoms. After diagnosed as allergic to wheat I assumed the bulk of my problems were driven by my diet being laden with wheat but decided to keep the appointment as it'd been about 5 years since I'd had a physical. As I was reading about wheat allergy, naturally I stumbled into all things gluten and then Celiac disease. Several medical conditions such as : Diabetes, Non Hodgkins Lymphoma and a host of other things are linked to Celiac Disease. Both run in my family so I started to wonder if I should under go further testing. Some indications of Celiac are similar to a wheat allergy (Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, NOT an allergy and it is genetically linked - you have to carry the gene to have the disease.) but can show up in vitamin deficiency, hypo/hyper blood sugar, and hypo/hyper thyroid. All of my blood work came back with in range, with exception of things that indicated I was having an allergic reaction, and so I've put the idea of Celiac Disease (for me anyway) on the back burner. Another indication: I forgot my allergy pill last night which I take for seasonal allergies. Today, despite fasting, I've felt nauseated off and on. An allergy pill would not combat symptoms of Celiac Disease but I think I'm having some relief from my food allergies when I take my seasonal allergy pill.

Another reason to prefer a wheat allergy to a corn allergy: I can take many OTC and prescription drugs with little concern of wheat.... David on the other hand can not take any OTC meds and thus far we have had to had the few drugs he's needed specifically compounded with out corn... looks like standard prescription meds are basically out of the question as well. Boo for Government subsidized corn making it super cheap and thus grossly over used.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

White Chicken Chili (beef, corn, gluten, peanut & soy free)

I cooked tonight. I took last night and the night before off because we had a mountain of foods I can no longer eat and David needed to work his way through them because, quite frankly, our food is expensive. Even before it was pricey I H.A.T.E.D. to throw away food. Such a waste. If one plans accordingly it's not necessary to throw away food. That being said I made an allergen free White Chicken Chili tonight. It was delicious. I can do this - totally and I feel even better. I've been told to look forward to weeks 3 and 4 of being allergen free. That I'll feel fantastic and have crazy amounts of energy. Yes!

White Chicken Chili (or soup if you add lots of broth) (free of corn, wheat, soy, peanuts, beef.............)
2 Cans of white beans (I used Kroger brand organic pinto and organic Eden's Cannellini beans)
16-32 oz or so of chicken broth (Kitchen Basics for me)
Salsa to taste (I had home made that I needed to use before too long)
Garlic, 2 cloves - chopped
Olive oil (Bertolli) & butter (organic HEB label)
CHEESE (organic HEB label)
2-4 chicken breasts (I had organic)
1/2 bell pepper
salt & pepper to taste

Chop the chicken and brown it in the oil/butter. Add the bell pepper and garlic once the chicken starts to brown up. Let it all cook a few minutes. Dump in the salsa - up to 8oz would work if you like that much spice - and beans. Simmer for a few minutes. Add chicken broth to desired thickness. Grate cheese. I put about a 1/2 cup in the soup and reserve some for the top. Let it all simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Add additional seasonings if desired. I typically add cumin, cayenne pepper, adobe chili and onion & garlic powders because we like a little punch.

To serve:
For us we either use potato chips or wheat crackers. I can't have wheat crackers any more.

David (corn allergy) : ate his with cheese on top and his pretzel rods as a dipping bread stick
Becca (wheat allergy) : ate hers with Rice Chex and cheese. I put the chex on bottom and ladled the soup on top. Then topped with cheese.

NOTE: David can't have rice chex

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

24 hrs Wheat Free

So I've been wheat free for 24 hrs and I'm already feeling better. I ate a banana this morning on my Rice Chex for second breakfast (first breakfast was at 5am, steel cut oats with brown sugar & raisins so I needed a 2nd at about 9:30). The banana was a mistake. It wasn't on my test panel so I wasn't tested for an allergy to banana but it tore me up. No more bananas for me. I've also decided to avoid eggs as I was tested only for egg whites (negative), not yolks and I believe I have had a reaction to eggs. It could be that I typically eat eggs with toast but to be safe I'm avoiding them and after a month or so I'll see if it was the eggs or just the toast.

I already feel better. For those on the fence get tested. It took me less than an hour of my time and $35 out of pocket.

24 hours wheat free and while not 100% right, my gut is far less painful. My bottom is not itchy. I'm tired but not nearly as fatigued. I read today that many of my seasonal allergy symptoms (confirmed for me with skin prick in 2002) could also be wheat allergy symptoms so I'm hoping to see a decrease in those things as well.

I wish I could remember some of the websites I visited but here are the wheat allergy symptoms I remember:
  • Swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat
  • Hives, itchy rash or swelling of the skin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cramps, nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis
I have all of the above minus the anaphylaxis but attributed the first five to seasonal allergies. Which may be correct but might not be. Or maybe those symptoms won't be as ridiculous.

I'm relieved that I know what's bothering me. I had suspicions about certain foods but now that it's "official" I feel confidant in eliminating them and calling them for what they are: allergies. Rather than just feeling sick every time I ate today I was fine (minus the banana but I knew what it was right away b/c I tested negative for rice and milk, the only two things I ate with the banana). Yesterday I experience nausea all day. Same with all the days prior.

Not everyone has the same symptoms to the same allergies. Get tested. I should have done it 18 months ago when I had my original suspicions. All of my reasons for waiting seem like silly excuses now.

PS Don't expect your regular physician to recommend food allergy testing. It's an under-diagnosed problem that even allergy clinics are hesitant to recommend. I see an asthma/allergy specialist every 6 months for my asthma & seasonal allergies and when I requested a food allergy test she grilled me on what would make me think I would need one. I didn't mention wheat (ever hopeful) but talked about how I sometimes felt after eating eggs, avocados & iceberg lettuce (tested negative for egg whites, avocados & lettuce go figure). Even if I didn't have anything specific to talk about I would have pushed for a test due to general malaise. When David requested his allergy test the Doctor all but laughed at him. Especially when he got to the symptom of heartburn. Yet, he ran the basic panel (10 foods I think) and said "Wow, that's interesting" when he saw the huge reaction to corn. You have to be your own advocate and take control of your own health care.

Wifey's allergies

In June of 2009 we discovered David had a severe allergy to corn and allergies to peanut and soy as well. I've been contemplating getting myself tested since then thinking I might have an allergy to wheat but hoping it was only in my head. After a year and a half or so of food managing we have David's allergies in control but I've been feeling crummier and crummier.

Symptoms (because let's be honest this is the stuff everyone wants to know):
Nausea - a lot of it: after eating, before/after eliminating waste (BM's, Poop - whatever you call it)
Abdominal cramping - usually after eating
Gas - sometimes it just sits in my gut, sometimes it passes and sometimes it has no smell and sometimes it's clear the room something died horrible
Inability to loose/difficulty maintaining weight - My weight has fluctuated a lot in the last 18 months and I've struggled especially in the last 6-9 months to reach my goal weight. Prior to marriage (6 years) I've had very little difficulty maintaining weight and if it started to creep up I'd count calories for a week or two to readjust my concept of healthy portions. Despite counting calories (weighing & measuring everything I eat/drink) my weight has not changed - I'm at the high end of healthy for my height - I'm hoping once I eliminate the wheat I'll get back down to lower-mid healthy weight
Itchy bottom - a sure sign of food allergies if unrelated to hemorrhoids or yeast infection but I dismissed it as having to use cheap, scratchy toilet paper b/c it was the only corn free stuff. Hey, I was in denial loosing wheat is going to be tough on my love of baking.
Fatigue - my lack of energy has been obnoxious
Foggy brain - Not sure how else to describe this but my mind feels a little sluggish and bogged down. I attributed this to being out of school since May and not really challenging myself mentally but now I believe it's related to the wheat allergy in particular.
Bloating - I have been carrying water weight that makes me uncomfortable all the time

Since the discovery of David's allergy to corn & soy we have gone to 100% wheat for a lot of things such as pastas, cereals, flours, breads and so on. This is probably why over the last 18 months and especially the last 6 or 9 I've been miserable. I asked David if he thought something was wrong with me. He said "Yeah, but I'm not as observant or in tune as you are." I was hoping he'd be able to pin point symptoms for me as I'd done for him. I think over the next few months as I start to feel better I'll be able to pin point additional symptoms or indications that I handily dismissed.

I'm not really even upset about the beef. I'll miss steaks but I can do with out, we don't eat them that often anyway. It's the wheat that's going to be a pain.

I'm REALLY looking forward to feeling well again. I can't wait to experience a day or two without gut pain or nausea. And to stop retaining water and all of the other indications to fade away.

I'm thankful that I'm uniquely equipped to handle this food allergy because I've learned over the last 18 months while helping David manage his allergies.