Snickerdoodles From My Sister

I have amazing family.  Immediate, extended and the one I married into are all full of supportive wonderful people.  I have needed a lot of ears for listening, a shoulder or two to cry on, and some patient hands in the kitchen to help me in the last 7 months.   I know I am not an easy house guest to have over anymore.  I always try to bring as much food as I can with me, but family members have still gone out of their way to make food I can eat.  It is a very difficult task, especially because our list of safe foods keeps getting smaller, and I appreciate it more than they will ever know.   Sometimes I see food as a struggle and a chore, often when I am out of food ideas or just tired of making almost every single thing I eat.  Having someone else take that out of my hands, even just for one meal or snack is a such a treat.  The recipe I am sharing today is from one of those occasions.

Around Christmastime I had been busy making butter filled cookies and candies for the cookie trays I give away.  I hadn’t really taken the time to make myself any safe treats and by the time our family Christmas eve party came, I was really wishing I had made myself something.  My older sister, who makes amazing snickerdoodles, showed up with a box of snickerdoodles she had made that were dairy and soy free.   She had replaced the butter in her recipe with Earth Balance Coconut spread.  It was such a great present.  I know she went to a lot of work to find the coconut spread and make the cookies (she has two kids to look after as well).  The cookies were sweet, soft and didn’t taste like coconut at all to me.  Just yummy snickerdoodleness.  I dove into those cookies headfirst.  I think I had four or five cookies that night and continued to eat most of the batch over the next two days.  I think my sister noticed I was eating them like a starving madwoman or she is just extra awesome because she keeps making them for me almost every time I see her.

My sister gave me her recipe for snickerdoodles and I’ve tried it a few times, trying to replicate her cookies which are always so soft, they way I love them.   I think the trick to them is to underbake them.  When I cooked them until they looked totally set they were good but too crispy after a day or two for my liking.  The cinnamon-sugar rolling mixture in the recipe includes two types of cinnamon.  She has found that her favorite, the Vietnamese cinnamon, is a bit too strong if you use two teaspoons so she uses another cinnamon blend from Penzeys to balance it out.  If you don’t have these spices, just make sure to use two teaspoons of good cinnamon, not an old jar that has been in your pantry too long.  Lastly, if you can’t get your hands on the Earth Balance coconut spread, look for their Dairy and Soy Free spread.  I’ve used that and had good results.   I’ve not tried using just Spectrum shortening for the fat but that might be a workable option if you can’t find Earth Balance.

My Sister’s Snickerdoodles

Ingredients

1 cup of butter alternative like Earth Balance Coconut Spread

1 1/2 cups white sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Rolling Mixture:
2 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon Penzeys cinnamon blend

1 teaspoon Penzeys Vietnamese cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1.5 cups of sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each and then add the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter/egg/sugar mixture and mix. In a small bowl, mix the 2 tablespoons of white sugar and the 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Form dough into small balls (mine are each about 1 tablespoon of dough) and roll them one or two at a time in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Place dough balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 5-9 minutes, depending on your oven and how soft you like them.  I cook mine for 5 1/2 minutes.   They will crisp up as they cool and go great with a cup of coffee!

Oatmeal and Bananas

Giving Colin his first solid foods was an emotional day for sure.   Days leading up to this had been filled with planning, worry, excitement and then when the time came, a bit of something else.  Something maybe bittersweet, maybe also relief?  It was a really big moment watching my little guy take his first steps into the unknown world of solid foods, starting his nutritional independence.  The focus on food in our house is intense.  Everything that is brought in, everything I eat is scrutinized, journaled and monitored for its reactions.  Shifting this focus, bringing Colin directly into the process was a strange feeling. I felt happy, sad, excited and a bit of worry all over again.

On a Saturday morning we let our daughter Hannah give Colin his first spoonful of oatmeal cereal.   That in itself was a wonderful moment, watching a very excited big sister get to do the honors.  Not a whole lot stayed in Colin’s mouth but he seemed to like the experience and was all smiles.  We didn’t feed him too much, giving him just a few tastes really to experience a new texture and also to be cautious in case of a reaction.  Colin seemed fine for the most part.  He did have a big spitup that day which is unusual for him and he was kind of rashy but we weren’t sure if these were coincidences due to other variables that day.

The next two times we tried oatmeal over the next three days were a different story.  Colin starting crying immediately and gagging on the food. It was very thin but all of it came back out and he would turn his head and cry.  We stopped immediately both times, fearing we would create negative feeding associations.  All along I had been so worried about WHAT Colin would eat I never even thought he might not WANT to eat.   I happened to talk with a liaison from the early childhood center in our school district, the day after our second failure, and she wondered if he had an overactive gag reflex.  She recommended trying a different food and possibly meeting with an occupational therapist if the gagging persisted.  I read some things that said it is possible for babies to naturally avoid foods that might make them sick and some babies with reflux can associate food with pain.  Could any of these be the case?   I started to think starting solids was going to be an even bigger challenge than I had anticipated.

We decided to stop oatmeal and try bananas since they are another low allergy risk, have much more taste and maybe an easier texture to handle.  I chose to skip the spoon and try a mesh feeding bag, letting Colin just teethe on the bananas to get a little taste and texture in his mouth. To our delight it was a huge hit.  Colin went nutso over the bananas.  The next day when I brought the little mesh teether over he reached for it and opened his mouth.  He had half the thing shoved in his mouth trying to eat more.  And boy did he sleep well that night.  Coincidence? Maybe, but I wasn’t complaining.  After the second day of bananas I noticed Colin was getting eczema on his face and belly again.  I waited another day or two before giving him some more.  More eczema.  According to my baby books, I should probably stop bananas and try them again later.  It is hard since they were such a success but we will put bananas on the back burner for now and try something else in a few days.

Soy/Dairy Free Frosting

If you’ve been thinking about one of the cake recipes I wrote about last week but wondered what to do for frosting- have no fear!  As long as you can get a butter replacer like Earth’s Balance Soy/Dairy Free spread, Earth’s Balance Organic Coconut Spread, or Spectrum Organic Shortening, you can make frosting.  If you can’t get your hands on exactly what I use in my recipe below, try making it out of one of the other products.  The end texture and taste will vary depending on what you use but you will still get a fair substitute for real frosting.

I’ve come up with a pretty good replacement for buttercream-like frosting using some Earth Balance Soy/Dairy Free Spread and some Spectrum Shortening. Using all Earth’s Balance spread was a bit salty for my taste and it wasn’t very pretty.  Using all Spectrum shortening worked, but the flavor was much improved when I added in some Earth’s Balance spread.  Using both I created a frosting with a texture similar to buttercream and really not unlike many shortening based frostings I’ve tasted on grocery store cakes.  I’ve put this on just about everything that could use frosting: chiffon cupcakes, Back to Nature Vanilla Wafers, a spoon. 🙂

*Also see my post about using 100% cane sugar powdered sugar.

Dairy-Soy Free Frosting

Ingredients

2 tablespoons Earth’s Balance Dairy & Soy Free Spread

6 tablespoons Spectrum Organic Shortening

1 1/4 teaspoon real vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups powdered sugar  (use brands with 100% cane sugar for best results)

about 2 tablespoons water

Directions

In a half cup measuring cup place 2 tablespoons of Earth’s Balance Dairy & Soy Free Spread.  Fill the rest of the measuring cup up with Spectrum Organic Shortening (6 tablespoons).  Place the spread and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts.  Mix using a medium speed until combined.  Add in 1 cup of powdered sugar and mix on medium high for 1 minute.  Add in 1 tablespoon of water.  Mix again for 1 minute.  Add the second cup of powdered sugar and mix for 4 minutes on medium high.   At the end of 4 minutes check the consistency.  if you want it thinner add a little water and mix again for a minute.  Makes about 1 cup.

Nebulizer & Countdown to Solids

Early this week while Colin was still trying to shake his cold he started waking up every 30-45 minutes all night long.  Yes,that is correct, all night long!  After the third night I was so tired I could barely function so I took Colin to the doctor, figuring he’d developed an ear infection.  To my surprise the doctor said Colin has asthma.  We’ve heard Colin’s lungs sound like static when he was sick, he’s been doing this funny little cough for a while and he has started fighting laying down a lot, but it didn’t ever occur to me that he had asthma.  Apparently he really has trouble when he is laying down which explains his horrible sleep lately.   So now we are trying to make friends with the nebulizer.  He was terrified the first few times but he is getting more comfortable and his sleep is so much better!

In other baby news Colin’s latest trick is sitting up on his own. I love this stage.  He can sit up and play and see what is going on in the world but can’t get into too much trouble yet.  He loves watching his sister and the cat and he loves to sit and splash in the big bathtub.  A few times he has leaned forward and gotten into the crawling position.  He is not sure what to do there and makes a frog like jump forward.  It won’t be long before he is really on the move.

Lastly, we have decided to start solids on Saturday morning. He’s going to try the Happy Bellies Oatmeal.  This feels like such a huge step for him.   I’ll let you know how it goes!

Brussel Sprouts

Two weeks ago as Colin started to bounce back from his vaccines, I planned Brussel sprouts as part of our weekly menu.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t eaten them since Colin was born.  I tend to forget about them since they weren’t something I ate very often growing up. I think Brussel sprouts have been made to be a vegetable villain but when cooked correctly, they can actually be delicious.  I made a simple side dish of sautéed Brussel sprouts with bacon.  Our family enjoyed them for dinner but as time went on we discovered Colin was not a fan of Brussel sprouts.  The next night Colin had the worst tummy troubles since his colic days.  Terrible gas, crying, completely uncomfortable.  It was a long three days after that.  I’d eaten some for lunch the day before he started getting fussy so it took even longer for it all to clear his system. (We are still exclusively breastfeeding).  His GI upset pushed trying solids off another few days and then we were leaving for a trip to see my sisters out of town.  We were going to start Saturday when I got back but Colin now has a cold that is really messing with his system so solids are pushed off again.   He turned seven months old this last weekend. Goodness!  Where is the time going? His baby days are going too fast!

In better news we have been trying to add chicken back into our menu.  Although I don’t think I could eat chicken several days in a row, I think a chicken meal here and there seems to be okay for him.  It is really nice to have another protein option and to be able to use chicken stock here and there.

Hopefully you can enjoy this Brussel sprout recipe.  As soon as Colin is done nursing it will be back in our rotation for sure.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Ingredients

1 lb Brussel sprouts, washed and loose/damaged leaves removed.

4 slices bacon

Salt and Pepper

Directions

In a large skillet, saute bacon over medium heat until crisp. While the bacon is cooking, chop each Brussel sprout into four pieces.  I stand them up on the stem end and cut them down the center from top to bottom and then in half again.  Once the bacon is crisp, transfer the bacon slices to a plate with several paper towels on it (to soak up any extra grease).  Let bacon cool.  Drain off all but two tablespoons of bacon grease from the pan.  (You really can eyeball this.)  Return the pan to the stove and add the chopped Brussel sprouts. Cook the Brussel sprouts over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until soft.  Season the sprouts with salt and pepper.  Crumble the cooled bacon and sprinkle it over the Brussel sprouts.  Serve immediately.   Makes about 3 servings.

The Trouble With Cake

My family and I joke how when I was younger, during graduation or confirmation parties at our house, you could find me parked somewhere near the cake table. I love cake. The local grocery store near my childhood home makes amazing cake.  It’s light, fluffy and the frosting is just perfect.  Just the right amount of sweet and a clean finish, not greasy like some buttercream frosting can be.  (Is it bad I talk about cake like a wine lover might describe their favorite vintage?) My favorite cake is probably white cake with white frosting. It is not very exciting but it’s my weakness.

One of the hardest parts of going dairy and soy free has been giving up delicious baked goods like cake.  I’ve been on a quest to find safe recipes but it has been tough.  I’ve tried many different cake recipes, tried creating a few of my own and also made a few box mixes that were dairy and soy free.  Although I would say I am still searching for the PERFECT recipe/mix to make a white cake similar to wedding/birthday cake, I’ve found a few things that will calm my cake cravings.

1.   Chiffon Cake –  If white birthday cake and an angel food cake had a baby, they would name it Chiffon.  This cake, made with both egg yolks and egg whites, is really a mix of the two textures.  Because the recipe actually calls for canola oil, which I can use,  it tastes normal- not like I tried to substitute weird things in to replace butter as often happens with regular cake recipes.  You can easily make it lemon, orange, almond flavored- let your imagination run wild.  Chiffon cake is a bit of work because it requires making a batter and separately whipping egg whites until firm and then incorporating the two.  The key to a good chiffon cake is to almost overbeat the egg whites.  You can break up firm egg whites with your spatula if they resist mixing but underbeaten whites will result in an eggy dense cake.  Also don’t try to grease the pan.  The cake needs to stick to the sides to rise up so removal from the pan can be tricky.   I’ve tried chiffon recipes from cook’s illustrated, Alton Brown, and Taste of Home and all were very good.   I had more success making this in a large bundt pan than in muffin tins for cupcakes.  I think a glaze frosting works best with chiffon since it is so light but I’ve used mock buttercream frostings too.

2. Manischewitz Yellow Cake Mix –  I found this Kosher cake mix in my grocery store right before Passover and originally didn’t purchase because it was almost $6 a box.  It contains a yellow cake mix that is dairy and soy free, a pan and a packet to make fudge frosting.  We still can’t do chocolate here but I was really interested in the cake mix.   When it went on sale I went ahead and purchased it and took it home.  Somehow I missed the carrageenan in the list- whoops- but made it anyway hoping it wouldn’t upset my stomach too badly.   This cake was probably the most moist cake I’ve ever eaten period and was sooo close to the cake I’ve been looking for.  It was really more of a white vanilla cake than the yellow cake I’m used to.   I took a few bites and realized I might start crying.   Thinking about not being able to find any safe dessert on my birthday, passing on dessert at every party, feeling food deprived in general all came bubbling up as I ate this amazing cake.  Maybe it had just been a rough week.  I recently found a box that was just Manischewitz Yellow Cake mix (not Extra Moist) thought I made just for the purpose of being able add it to the list and it was tasty too.  Definitely the most “birthday cake” like mix I’ve tried.  Although delicious, this cake mix is pricey and also contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.  Maybe that is why it is so moist.  Another problem with this cake is finding it.  It is a Passover item so it probably won’t be in your stores but it is for sale here online for $7.96 a box.  It makes a tiny cake so this is definitely for special occasions.  Beware though,  I found a different looking box of Manischewitz yellow cake that wasn’t for Passover but it contained soy, so as always, make sure you are reading your labels!

3.   Angel Food Cakes – I have to add this here because almost all angel food cakes and angel food cake mixes are dairy and soy free.  It will do in a pinch with some nice strawberries when I need a dessert fix,  but it doesn’t go well with frosting.    So there angel food cake, you made the list but I’m moving on.

** Edit- I’m now making homemade angel food cake and find it to be much tastier than box mixes!

4.   See my more recent post about Cherrybrook Kitchen allergy friendly cake mix!

Dairy and Soy Free Cake Failures

1.  Dr. Oetker’s Organic Vanilla Cake Mix  – I find this at Whole Foods and although it is a safe cake mix, the end result is lacking.  The cake tastes like cornbread.  It is so bizarre.  To the people at Dr. Oetker’s credit, I’ve had that happen before with some homemade cake recipes.   Why corn?  There is NO corn in it.  I’ve searched the web trying to find out why this happens, because it isn’t just this mix, but haven’t found any answers yet.   So I covered the Dr. Oetker’s vanilla cake with frosting and we ate it, mostly because I was desperate for dessert.   Another time I bought it and mixed in some dry vanilla pudding (yes it is dairy free!) but that didn’t cover up the cornbread flavor enough.

2.  Trader Joes Cake Mix – same problem- cornbread flavor.  I’ve since found several people  who’ve tried it and reported the same results.

3. Homemade cake recipes- I’ve tried taking regular white cake recipes and using canola oil in place of the butter but nothing I’ve tried has come out decent.  Either the texture, taste or both are way off.  I’ve scoured websites looking for anyone who has success but haven’t found anything yet.  If someone has found a good recipe, please let me know!  Someday I will try a cake recipe using the Earth’s Balance butter replacer but it is so expensive, and until recently, was a bit of work for me to get, I haven’t included it in my experiments as of yet.

So hopefully this post helps those of you out there that are searching for a dairy soy free cake.   Next up: Frosting!