Open Menu for a Friend

I have a friend who just found out she has food sensitivities to wheat, casein, soy, egg white and yolk, and baker’s yeast. Ugh. Those foods show up in a lot of places! But when she e-mailed me I thought “A fun challenge! Come up with a week menu for her.” (Because I’m weird and find fun in odd things. Yes, I do need to get out more, yadda yadda.)

So here are some ideas for my friend, taking into account her new restrictions. I’ve included one snack option per day as well, because she’s a breastfeeding mama who needs her regular calorie intake, and as such, these are not necessarily low-calorie options! As a breastfeeding mom myself, I usually have more like two snacks per day, but she can always recycle ideas a second time, or finish up leftovers from a previous meal. There are a few specialty items listed which she may or may not be able to get at local stores, so she can always, for example, double up on breakfast suggestions for the week, if she can’t find buckwheat near her.

Day 1:
Breakfast gluten-free rolled oats, made into regular ole oatmeal. Optional soaking the night before.
Topping options: coconut or almond milk, honey, chopped nuts, grated coconut, 1 tablespoon coconut oil (quality fats with high-carb meals help stabilize blood sugar). 
Lunch canned salmon, raisins, and shredded carrots over a lettuce salad, drizzled with olive oil
Snack sliced apple with peanut butter
Dinner Marinated crockpot chicken, green beans, corn

Day 2:
Breakfast grain-free granola (made with coconut oil, not butter) with almond or coconut milk
Lunch southwest quinoa salad
Snack peanut butter “spoon candy” – mix approx. equal parts peanut butter, and coconut oil together in a very small dish, honey to sweeten, and add raisins or shredded coconut for texture. Eat with spoon.
Dinner easy white fish fillets (using coconut oil instead of butter), rice with coconut oil and a sprinkling of salt, steamed broccoli with olive oil salt and pepper

Day 3:
Breakfast fruit smoothie (made with coconut milk)
Lunch cooked and chopped chicken (or canned chicken – but most canned has soy) over a lettuce-based salad, with diced avocado and tomato and sunflower seeds, drizzled with olive oil and lime (or lemon) juice
Snack diced apple in bowl with walnuts and maple syrup (or honey) drizzled over all
Dinner taco skillet dinner! (Fry up a pound of ground beef, add a sliced onion and a few chopped green peppers saute until tender, then add some frozen corn and a can of tomato paste. Season all with taco seasoning.)

Day 4:
Breakfast grain-free Muesli (I mix equal parts nuts, shredded coconut, seeds – sunflower or sesame, raisins) with almond or coconut milk
Lunch creamy chicken soup (subbing coconut oil for butter and using homemade broth or a brand that doesn’t use soy, etc.) 
sliced banana in bowl, dotted with peanut butter, and honey drizzled over all
Dinner roasted chicken with baked potatoes and green peas

Day 5:
Breakfast sausage served over a baked potato
Lunch nut butter smoothie: blend 1 banana (preferably chopped and frozen) with 1 cup coconut milk and 1/4 cup peanut butter, honey to taste and some vanilla
Snack almonds and raisins (or prunes if you can get them) – one of my favorite and simplest snacks
Dinner bun-less hamburgers spread with ketchup (watch those ingredients! Try your own ketchup: mix together 1 cup tomato paste, 2 T honey, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t allspice, a pinch of ground cloves. Mix and thin with more vinegar to proper consistency), oven-fried fries drizzled with olive oil and salt, green leafy salad

Day 6:
Breakfast sliced banana heavily sprinkled with muesli
Lunch chicken chili 
Snack ants on a log! (celery sticks with peanut butter, dotted with raisins)
Dinner beef with tomato and zucchini, with rice served on the side

Day 7:
Breakfast buckwheat porridge (buy whole buckwheat and prepare as for oatmeal but cook longer, as here, though I haven’t tried this precise recipe). See topping suggestions for oatmeal, Day 1.
Lunch Italian black bean salad 
Snack carrot sticks dipped in guacamole (mash avocado with 1-2 minced garlic cloves, salt/pepper, 1-2 T olive oil, 1-2 T lime juice – diced tomato or cilantro optional)
Dinner chicken legs roasted in the oven with sticky chicken seasoning, with diced potato and cubed carrot roasted in the same pan


Tomato Labneh Salad

When life gives you soured yogurt. . . make labneh!

When our power was out for a day due to Hurricane Irene, I opted to put more perishable food items in a cooler with ice packs, but left my raw milk yogurt in the fridge (realizing it would come to room temperature). This is because yogurt has a “keeping” quality that allows it to be at room temp for limited time (a day or two) without spoilage, even if the yogurt is made from pasteurized milk. Mine was made from raw milk, though, and while it certainly didn’t *spoil*, it did sour, much like regular raw milk sours at room temperature (or “clabbers”) due to the enzymes and lactobacilli, I believe. Perfectly and safely edible, just puckery. No amount of honey mixed in would help matters.

So I made labneh with it, or “yogurt cheese.” Basically you drain out the whey via this method, and you have left a cream cheese type of consistency that can be spread on fruit or veggies or crackers.  Whey is sour-tasting, and I figured that whey in a soured product would be even more sour, so I drained it out to make the yogurt less potent. It was still a sour product, but much more edible, especially as a topping instead of by the bowl-full.

A few days ago for lunch I threw together this salad with ingredients I had on hand, and it was delicious! The flavors meshed well together. I think a drizzle of toasted sesame oil would also work really well, or sunflower seeds would be a nice addition for “crunch.”

Tomato Labneh Salad

1 large tomato
sea salt
labneh (yogurt cheese)
a handful of raisins
olive oil
raw honey

Directions: Roughly chop tomato and place in bowl. Lightly salt tomato pieces; then add chunks  of labneh. Throw on a handful of raisins, then drizzle with olive oil and raw honey. Eat.

And just some shameless progeny-promotion –  my lunchmate:

Grain-free Clafoutis

Oh yum. Last year I discovered clafoutis via my friend Jessica. In typical Jessica-fashion, her recipe to me ran something along the lines of “a dash of this, a handful of this,” so I tried to translate that as best I could into general measurements (I rarely measure when I cook, but I almost always measure when I bake!) for a recipe, which became a hit with our family last year.

Then I went off grains in January and my recipe sat collecting proverbial dust while I pined away for clafoutis. Thankfully I realized a few weeks ago that DUH I could try making a grain-free version, so I bought some frozen blueberries (my favorite fruit for clafoutis) that then sat in my freezer until today. We’re bracing for Irene here in Hartford, and I’m looking at all the food in my fridge and freezer and trying to frantically use up as much as I can. Not only do the blueberries need using, but I also had 7 dozen eggs as of yesterday (more like 3 dozen now – some eaten, some baked into breads and frozen) and 2 gallons of kefir that I’ve been trying to eat or bake into things. Voila! Perfect time for clafoutis! Here is the recipe I created, which we all enjoyed. I plan to make another one tomorrow, as the first is almost gone, and the second one I’ll refrigerate and we can always pull it out to eat if the power goes.

Grain-free Clafoutis

1/2 stick butter (to melt in pan)
3/4 cup almond flour
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups kefir (or milk or cream or yogurt or probably even coconut milk)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of vanilla
1 1/2 cups (approximately) of frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a 10″ cast iron skillet in the oven while it heats.

Meanwhile  place almond flour in bowl and break up clumps (almond flour tends to clump). Whisk in eggs to flour, followed by kefir. Then add honey, salt, and vanilla and incorporate. Remove cast iron skillet from oven and melt 1/2 stick butter in skillet, swirling around to coat bottom. Add frozen blueberries and spread to a single layer. Pour batter over berries and bake for approximately 1 hour, until set in middle.

Herbed Nuts (with a little kick)

My friend Anna posted this recipe to Facebook a while back and I saved it in the hopes I’d eventually try making it. Today I finally got around to it, as I was trying to find an idea to round out a birthday gift. They were delicious. Adrian thought they were fantastic. The original recipe called for pecans and walnuts, but I substituted almonds for pecans (since I had the former and not the latter) and they went well.

Herbed Nuts

Yield: 4 cups

4 cups nuts (I used 2 cups almonds, 2 cups walnuts)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered sage
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients and spread on a large ungreased cookie sheet with sides. Bake for ~20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Cool and store in airtight container.

Salmon Egg Salad

We’ve been eating more fish around here lately, and one of my favorite fish options is canned salmon. I can get canned wild salmon at my local store for $2/can (14.75 oz.), which is a great price! One of my favorite uses for canned salmon is salmon patties, but there are plenty of other good options! One option is to make a salmon egg salad, in a similar vein to a chicken salad, a tuna salad, or egg salad. Salmon Egg Salad is yummy to serve over a bed of lettuce, between slices of bread for a sandwich (if you are able), or rolled up in a crepe. Like any salad of this kind, exact measurements are not necessary, and I didn’t do any measuring when I did this one. Follow along with my very basic directions, and tweak to your own taste and available ingredients:

I started with a 14.75 oz. can of wild Alaskan salmon. The kind I buy has skin and bones included. All is supposed to be edible, but I admit to removing the skin. The bones crush up easily and are quite edible.

Next I pulled out my salad spinner from the fridge and fished around in leftover salad for miscellaneous chopped vegetables.

I found some chopped celery and carrots, and added that to my salmon.

I hardboiled a pot of eggs to use, making extras for snacking.

I ended up using 5 of the eggs in the salad. Here they are chopped up:

Then I added a sprinkling of salt and pepper and some raisins. I love the way raisins go with salmon.

And finally, I added just enough kefir to coat everything. Yogurt also works well. Neither has an untoward flavor in this combination, in my opinion, as there are plenty of other strong flavors to overcome the non-mayo effect :-).A dab of mustard would also work well, but I didn’t bother this time around.


Yogurt (tutorial)

Every two weeks I drive 40 minutes south to pick up a couple of gallons of fresh raw cow’s milk. It lasts around a week fresh, but that’s fine because the boys around here aren’t huge straight-milk drinkers, and I can only eat cultured dairy right now (which has a longer shelf life). So very little of the milk I get is for straight drinking. Instead I turn it into yogurt and kefir! It’s a great way to preserve the milk to last longer (so I don’t have to make that long drive every week!), and it’s a healthful way to get our dairy intake. We love straight yogurt (and I like straight kefir too!), and kefir and yogurt smoothies are a huge hit here and a staple breakfast or lunch during the summer.

Here is how I make yogurt with raw milk, but even if you use pasteurized, you can follow along, and I’ll explain the one difference you will want to make in the directions:

First start with delicious creamy milk:

You can’t really see the creamline very well in this picture, but if you squint and strain really hard, you’ll see it around the level of the word “Raw” on the label. Yep, summer pasture milk is deliciously rich and creamy :-).

And a yogurt starter. Essential part of yogurt making:

This is reserved yogurt from my previous batch. You can buy any old plain yogurt from the store for your starter, but just make sure it is PLAIN yogurt (not flavored, sweetened, etc.) and most importantly, that it states it has “live active cultures.” Once you make a batch of your own, you can reserve some of it to use as your starter next time. General recommendation is to occasionally replenish your starter by starting over with a store culture, to keep those bacteria strong and vigorous. I do this periodically. I’d like to say it’s because it’s intentional and I have a set schedule of how frequently I do this, but honestly, it’s whenever I eat up all the yogurt without remembering to save a starter ;-). So every 2 months, maybe?

When making yogurt, the basic idea is:
(1) Heat milk to about 105 degrees or 110 degrees so that the good bacteria (the starter) will grow happily.
(2) Add starter to heated milk.
(3) Keep at this temp for a set period of time (4 – 24 hours), while bacteria proliferate – this is called “incubation.”

Now, this is the basic outline for making yogurt with raw milk. And you’ll find different suggestions for ideal incubation temperature, but I find 105 degrees to be great. With raw milk you do NOT want to heat higher than about 110 degrees or you risk destroying enzymes and good bacteria, and therefore might as well have used pasteurized milk anyway (yes, I’ve accidentally done it once!). Now, if you don’t want to go the raw milk route, I respect that choice, and by all means get pasteurized! But if you already paid the premium price for raw milk, keep it raw!

If you use pasteurized milk you’ll need an extra step in here. When you heat the milk, you first need to heat it to 185 degrees to kill bacteria (Yes, even pasteurized milk has bacteria! Pasteurization slows bacterial growth and discourages pathogens, but only UHT-pasteurization actually kills the bacteria fully. But UHT-pasteurized milk – aka “ultra-pasteurized” milk also doesn’t support growth of *any* bacteria, so it can not be used successfully for making yogurt. Don’t bother trying.) This allows the yogurt starter to culture on a “clean slate,” rather than compete with other organisms. Because raw milk contains beneficial enzymes and good bacteria to help balance the bad, this step is not needed for raw milk yogurt (strange but true).

After heating the pasteurized milk to 185 degrees, you then have to cool it to somewhere betwee 90 and 120 degrees, which is the range at which lactobacilli proliferate. If you add the starter culture to the milk before it cools, you’ll kill the culture and the milk won’t turn into yogurt. These are live organisms we’re dealing with here; be nice to them! 120 degrees is too high for raw milk yogurt, as enzymes and some bacteria start to die at that temp, so keep that in mind. That is why 105-110 degrees is recommended above. Cooling the milk takes a while, but when you figure that you got your pasteurized milk from the local store instead of driving to the ends of the earth to obtain licensed raw milk, just consider that you got the better end of the deal, time-wise ;-).

Anywho, off the pasteurized yogurt tangent. . . back to our regularly scheduled programming. So that’s the basic outline, and now some pictures to show you more precisely what I do:

Making Yogurt

You want to carefully heat the milk to about 105 degrees (or 180 degrees for pasteurized, see above) so it heats evenly and doesn’t scald, burn, etc. The best option, in my opinion, is a double boiler. Here is my set-up:

A few inches of water in the lower pan, with the other pan set above (water not touching upper pan, as per usual double-boiler practices). Candy thermometer inserted to measure temp, and a metal spoon to stir periodically, so the milk heats evenly. I don’t add the spoon and thermometer until the water in the boiler comes to a boil with the lid on. At that point I remove the lid and add the thermometer and spoon. The first time or two you make yogurt it will take more time and effort. You won’t know how long your particular amount of milk in your particular pot will take to come to a boil (and how long it will take to cool, if you use pasteurized milk). Yogurt was a process the first couple times I made it. Now I know much better what happens when, and it is very much a brainless thing to make, while I’m puttering around the kitchen doing dishes. Give it three times or so, and you won’t feel stressed.

I tried this brilliant method of heating the yogurt in jars, and I love it in theory. Hated it in practice. I must have the Curse of the Broken Yogurt Jars or something. I would estimate that 2 out of 3 times I made yogurt that way, one of my jars would break. I carefully padded them, spaced them apart, etc., etc. I have no idea what my issue was. But it’s a great method for those who don’t have the Curse of the Broken Yogurt Jars. But I gave up and went with the double boiler method, once I broke my fourth or fifth jar. And it really works well this way.

Once the milk is heated to 105 I pull it off the burner (don’t forget extra step of heating and cooling if the milk is pasteurized). Then I ladle it into my jars. I make a gallon of yogurt at a time, and do it in two half-gallon jars. I used to do quart jars, which I think most people would prefer, but I was trying to use fridge space more efficiently, and I have loved switching to this jar size. Some people say to sterilize the jars, others (including me) just wash them out really well with hot water and soap and let air dry. But for the sake of any lawyers you might hire, I DEFINITELY told you to sterilize! Do what I say, NOT what I do! (I would definitely sterilize for something like pressure canning, but that’s a whole other ballgame, folks.)

Then I add my starter. Ideally you want the starter at room temperature before adding to the milk. This helps keep the milk warm, rather than cooling it with a fridge-temp starter. Honestly I’ve used cold starter and it survived, but since leaving it out to warm, I’ve gotten more consistent smooth consistency from the yogurt. I’m not sure if that’s related, but it might be. I use 4 tablespoons of starter per 1/2 gallon of milk. More starter is not necessarily a good thing. You want to give your bacteria space to proliferate, so don’t dump in a ton of starter and think you’re helping matters.

Then you want to stir the yogurt gently to distribute the starter. Don’t go too vigorously. I’ve read several places that you could harm the bacteria. I have no idea if this is true. But go gentle anyway, because why not? I use a butter knife which is DEFINITELY STERILIZED (*cough* (That was a sterilized cough into a face mask.)) to stir the starter into the milk.

Now is the fun part. You get to decide first of all, how long you want to incubate. Basically, you can do anywhere between 4 and 24 hours. The longer you culture, the firmer the yogurt will be, which is a good thing, as homemade yogurt – especially raw yogurt tends to be runnier than storebought yogurt. The longer you culture, the tarter the yogurt will be too. (Incubation temperature also has an influence on these variables.) I culture the full 24 hours because I can’t have lactose right now, and the lactobacilli in the yogurt (fancy name for “yogurt bacteria”) eat up all the lactose if they are cultured the full 24 hours. It’s really not that much more effort to do a long incubation, but it’s up to you. I think even when/if I can have lactose, I will probably still choose the 24 hour culture, because it’s just a matter of 2 switches of hot water, and the yogurt is much firmer this way.

Everyone has a different method of keeping yogurt at the right temperature for incubating. Frankly, use what appeals to you and make sure to test temps the first time or two, to make sure the yogurt is still above 90 degrees (but not over 110 degrees for raw milk – or over 120 for pasteurized) by the end. You can use the pilot light on an oven, a dehydrator, and a few more obscure options, but my favorite is a cooler with a vessel of hot water. It works great and is low tech.

I line the cooler with a towel for padding, extra insulation, and so we don’t have plastic melting from direct contact with the hot water vessel in the center. I place boiling water in a stainless steel canister in the middle, and the yogurt jars on either side. This same set-up works with two quart sized jars on either side of the stainless steel vessel (4 quart jars total). After placing everything in and making sure items are spaced and not bumping, then I fold the towel over the jars, to insulate all that heat, and then close the lid. You don’t want the folded-over towel dipping into the hot water, or you end up with a soggy towel mess.

If you’re only culturing for 4-8 hours, you’re probably good to go and don’t need to switch out the water. But for a 24 hour culture I try to switch out the hot water for fresh boiling water every 6-8 hours, to keep things warm enough. Keep the lid open as little as possible while switching out water, to preserve heat! The first time you do this, test the temp at the end of the incubation period, to make sure it stayed warm enough; after that, you can assume it’s fine for future cultures. At the end of the culturing time, transfer your jars of yogurt to the fridge, chill, and enjoy! I like flavoring yogurt with a little vanilla and raw honey.

And that’s how you make yogurt!

Dessert for Dinner

Cookies and Ice Cream. Sunday supper :-). Sounds terribly imbalanced, but really not all that bad, nutritionally. The ice cream was 3 cups of kefir mixed with 1/2 cup honey and a bit of vanilla, with chopped up strawberries. Sounds more like health food to me! And I’ve already posted the cookie recipe. Hardly bad for you ;-). If I’d had farm fresh eggs on hand, I would have added a few yolks to the ice cream for added nutrition and texture, but alas, I was out and only had store eggs, which I don’t trust raw.

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