Vanilla Honey [dot] com

what to do when your immune system hates you

Allergen free cooking tips


how to cook free from allergens

An allergen free diet is not a fad diet or a quick-fix to lose weight. For those of us who have food allergies, it is a medical necessity to avoid those allergens. It’s the fastest way to stop feeling sick all the time. There’s no real way to “cheat” on this diet. If you ingest your particular allergens, you will become ill, and you don’t want that.

Once you have been diagnosed with a particular food allergy, the first step is to rid your house of that allergen. If at all possible, you avoid that allergen if it is in your house -- or not have it in the house at all. Many grain-based allergens will get into everything very quickly regardless of how careful you and your family are. You have to simply toss or give away any potentially contaminated items and start over.

Get started with allergen free cooking

Separate your safe foods

You will have to begin by organizing pantry staples and organizing spices to determine what foods are safe and what isn't. Basic food safety tips should also be applied while cleaning and organzing, of course.

Some advise relegating the allergen free products to a particular area. I recommend the opposite: confine the allergen and decontaminate the kitchen to determine if that is sufficient. If you have small children, this will probably not work as they are messy eaters who get crumbs everywhere.

No sharing condiments

You don’t want their crumbs in your butter. You don’t want their peanut butter in your strawberry preserves. Even one crumb can make you sick. Mark which is yours and stick to it. Bright labels for all your food will be very helpful.

Wash, wash, and wash

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Clean the kitchen counters frequently with a paper towel so as to remove allergens from the cooking area. Kitchen sponges harbour allergens; discard them.

Do not use the household pasta pot to cook your food

It will never be clean enough. Buy a small stock pot and a small saucepan for yourself. An eight-quart stainless steel stockpot will be plenty for one person’s use.

Use your own cooking utensils (in their own caddy)

You can get a roll of tape to mark your food prep utensils all in a particular colour (red, for example), and those may be used to prepare only your food. This includes scrapers, whisks, and especially cutting boards. Get coloured appliances if there is a potential contamination issue (food processors, blenders, etc that are hard to clean).

If you allow your particular allergens at all, the toaster likewise is contaminated from any grain allergens and/or oils. Get your own toaster. A toaster oven (in a bright colour) is better yet because it is easier to clean.

Any cooking utensil with small holes must be replaced. It is impossible to get them completely clean. This includes colanders, slotted spoons, pancake turners, and strainers.

No plastic food containers for leftovers

If your plastic gets scraped, allergens will be impossible to remove from scraped areas. Glass or metal only. I find Anchor-Hocking glassware holds up better than Pyrex. I also tend to store liquid foods such as soup in mason jars with a screw-top lid. Pint jars are good for single portions, quart jars work for larger amounts of leftover soup and chili. Likewise, no plastic mixing bowls. They get scraped easily. Glass or metal only. Again, I like Anchor-Hocking for glass because they’re sturdy and hard to damage.

No nonstick pots and pans

If the nonstick coating gets damaged, you won’t be able to remove the allergens. That same coating is also highly toxic to humans and pets when heated. Use cast iron or glass instead. I don't recommend enameled cast iron due to chipping issues. Get plain old Lodge cast iron, or take a look at your local Goodwill, yard sale, antique store, etc for something that can be stripped and re-seasoned.

All cast iron that you intend to use must be stripped and re-seasoned. 500oF for an hour or so will normally suffice to strip the old seasoning. Once that's done, oil lightly with a small square of paper towel, then heat it until the oil is absorbed into the pan to season it. Oil lightly after each use. You will probably need to re-season it once in a while.

Warning: All pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron has soy-based seasoning on it. If you are reactive to soy, it will need to be re-seasoned to be safe to use.

But I can't cook!

Once your kitchen is clean, you will learn to cook if you can’t cook already. I won't sugar-coat it: it's time-consuming to make everything from scratch. However, the best possible way to ensure you aren’t accidentally ingesting allergens is to make everything yourself: cooking from scratch. Remember, companies have a nasty habit of changing their recipes and blends out of the blue. If you made it yourself, you know exactly what is in it. Food should be clear, instinctive ingredients like "pears" and "avocado", not a chemistry lesson.

In addition, allergen-friendly packaged food is very expensive. Most people cannot afford to buy all their food in a pre-packaged form, nor is a steady diet of processed food a healthy choice for anyone. We need to eat things our great-grandmothers would recognise as food. We need to know what is in our foods. We need to put aside any idea that "a bit won't hurt you" because it does. It is, in my opinion, better to take the time to make it myself than spend my time reeling from the painkillers needed to function if I don't. It's not worth it to me to be sick all the time just to eat a particular food.

Is it worth the price of your health to you?

Tips for new cooks

Read the entire recipe before beginning

Make sure you know what you need before you start cooking the dish. You don't want to be halfway through before discovering a key ingredient is missing.

Take a few minutes to get everything (termed "mise en place") before you even turn on the stove. Have all necessarily utensils, pots, and pans lined up and ready for use. Grease your pans. Prepare (slice, chop, and dice) each ingredient, then measure it out into a prep bowl. Line your ingredients up in order of use. When you are ready to begin cooking, you can go right down the line to add each ingredient.

Sift lumpy ingredients

Some ingredients tend to clump when stored. The clumps don't mix out well, so use a sifter if needed.

Preheat the oven or skillet

It will take a few minutes to get to temperature. Flick a bit of water onto the pan. If it "dances", it is hot enough.

Mix just enough

You don't want a pan of mush. Mix ingredients just enough to combine them.

Don't overcrowd the pan

Allow plenty of room for food to simmer. It gets a nice sear on meats and vegetables to lock in juices and keep foods moist while cooking. Overcrowded food will bubble over the side of the pan.

Taste as you go, and season as you go

A small amount of seasoning at the wrong time can make a huge difference. Seasonings change flavours while cooking, so you need to check while you work that your spicy paprika didn't just become too sweet. If you over-salt by accident, it's best to catch it early enough to correct it.

Keep it simple until you get the hang of the art of cooking

It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you can follow a recipe, you can learn to cook. Like many art forms, cooking is going to take some practice on your part. Start off with recipes that accommodate your allergens, then you can try modifying existing recipes to suit your needs. A simple meal of pan-grilled meat with a side of steamed vegetables may be a staple until you feel more adventurous.

Tip: I highly recommend batch-cooking as much as possible on weekends, then freezing in individual portions. This makes it easy to pull out portions to heat as needed during the week.

Take it slow with new foods

Finally, don’t rush in to replace your favourite cookie recipe. If you have done an elimination diet, reintroduce foods slowly to verify that you don't react to them.

I would also recommend not eating any replacement baked goods for at least four to six months. Baked goods taste different if you use different flours and sugars, so it helps if you forget how the "real thing" tastes.

Menu planning

Once you start cooking more, you don't want to be wasting time before every meal figuring out what to eat. No one has time for that. Instead, take the time to plan a list of meals for the entire week. For each day, plan each meal out (including snacks) to ensure when it's time for that meal, you are good to go.

For example, I know I have two medications which need to be taken with food. That means I need to have just eaten or that I have a small snack to eat at the time the medication should be taken. This needs to be listed on the menu plan somewhere -- have something ready to eat at those times.

Sample menu for a day

Tealmermaid's Treasure Grotto