August 18, 2016 by Dan
August 7, 2016 by Dan
Chicken adobo has become one of our go-to dishes over the past few years. It’s a simple recipe that can be quickly whipped up on the stove top but is also an excellent use for our slow cooker.
In The Adobo Road Cookbook, Marvin Gapultos describes ‘adobo’ as “the Filipino method by which any meat, seafood, fruit, or vegetable is braised in a mixture containing vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, black pepper, and salt.” In most cases today the salt is provided by a soy sauce, which for us is tamari. Much to our delight adobo is an extremely flexible recipe that encourages variation and experimentation. That is, mistakes are generally tolerated and we can vary things up.
The following is our slow cooker version adapted from the Adobo Road Cookbook.
August 3, 2016 by Dan
We generally rely on Marukan rice vinegar whenever a recipe calls for ‘vinegar.’ Rice vinegar is more mild and less sharp than white vinegar, but is still an excellent substitute.
Unfortunately, most white vinegar sold in stores is made from generic “grain,” which is problematic when avoiding gluten like we must. This is because wheat and barley are the two grains grown most in the US. Both contain the gluten protein that causes allergic reactions in our son and celiac disease in other people.
As with other ingredients we use, we started the process of selecting Marukan rice vinegar by reading the ingredients label: water and rice. Then we contacted the company directly and asked about the facility in which it makes and bottles the rice vinegar, its hygiene practices, and the steps it takes to prevent cross-contamination. Once satisfied, we used the Marukan rice vinegar in a dish that we then introduced slowly to Sprout.
Use in any recipe that calls for generic vinegar. You can also substitute rice vinegar in place of lemon juice where it makes sense in a recipe. For example, I use rice vinegar in place of lemon juice for roast chicken when I don’t have lemons.
We recommend storing rice vinegar in the refrigerator because we’ve had a bottle go bad at least once. It isn’t likely when the bottle is emptied quickly, but there are times where we might go months without using rice vinegar in a recipe.
Where to buy
We buy Marukan rice vinegar at Asian markets around Los Angeles. I do see it in some of the local Ralph’s and Whole Foods. If you don’t see any in your local supermarket ask the manager to stock some for you. Larger chains like Kroger (it owns Ralph’s) may already have Marukan rice vinegar available in their distribution networks due to its availability in my local California markets. We were also able to find some in Saipan, which may say something about either it’s broad reach in the Pacific rim or overall market saturation.
Note that some stores may stock only a seasoned rice vinegar used for sushi and other Japanese vittles. Trust me, the seasoned rice vinegar doesn’t substitute well although it makes excellent sushi. In case you’re wondering, yes we tested Marukan Seasoned Rice Vinegar, determined it safe for our Sprout, and now use it in foods we prepare for him.
July 16, 2016 by Dan
Bone stock is one of the most important components of any meat-based soup and a special flavor enhancer for many other recipes. It’s also generically referred to as ‘stock’ in this blog, many cookbooks, and likely a good number of your most cherished family recipes. Unfortunately, most processed stock sold in stores contains allergens such as dairy or gluten or is made on lines and in plants that process undisclosed allergens. Therefore, making stock at home is crucial when trying to avoid allergens like we are. Luckily for us – and you – it’s also one of the easiest recipes possible, on par with white rice. At its most basic you simmer bones and aromatics in water for a long while.
Note that stock and broth are commonly used interchangeably although technically not the same thing. Stock is liquid without solids and usually made from cooking bones and other cuttings. Broth is made from (and usually includes) meat.
I always begin this recipe with fresh bones from a full service butcher, usually at one of the local Chinese markets here in Los Angeles. I also buy organic bones from Whole Foods when I can get them (otherwise it isn’t worth the extra cost: $0.99 versus $5.99 per pound).
I mostly use beef or pork for stock although you can use bones from any other animal you might eat such as venison or chicken. One other benefit of Chinese markets is that they usually sell de-boned chickens and sometimes have bones for less common animals (though I’ve yet to take advantage).
The best pork or beef bones to use are the long leg bones. You’ll find these bones advertised alternatively as “soup bones,” “marrow bones,” or sometimes simply “bones.” Shank pieces are also good to use when they’re mostly bone (the downside is that shank is usually more expensive). These leg bones pack in the greatest flavor per pound, which I attribute to marrow. This soft sponge-like tissue at the center of bones is where stem cells develop into blood cells. It’s also mostly (~80%) fat and gives credence to Julia Child saying “fat gives things flavor.” That said, I do remove most of the fat as you’ll see in the recipe below.
Here’s my basic stock recipe using a 6 qt (5.7 L) slow cooker. Try it then experiment to your heart’s delight with other aromatics that appeal to you.
Difficulty Level: super easy
Prep Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 to 12 hours (in a slow cooker)
Makes about 2.75 quarts stock
Ingredients (and our sources)
- 2 to 4 lbs (1 to 2 kg) Marrow bones (fresh from the local full service butcher)
- 1 whole onion (local farmers market)
- black pepper (McCormick)
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (Squid Brand)
- 2 bay leaves (McCormick)
- 1 inch piece ginger, sliced (local farmers market)
- 4 to 5 cloves garlic (local farmers market)
- Combine the bones and all dry ingredients in the slow cooker
- Add water to fill the remainder of the pot
- Cook on low for about 10 to 12 hours
- Strain the liquid (your stock) into a large metal or glass bowl
- Side note: Most bones come with meat or tendon still attached – see the photo, below – so pick out any edible parts to eat. You can put them into a soup or add to rice or other grains for a quick meal.
- When the stock container is warm to the touch cover the container and put it in the fridge overnight
As it cools, fat will rise to the surface and coagulate while the stock itself will become a semi-solid gelatin (think meat jello). The next day, you’ll be able to remove and discard a thick layer of fat from the top of your gelatinous stock, shown below (yes, that thick white sheet is fat). The gelatin will melt back into a liquid when heated.
- Soup base
- Substitute for half the water in grain recipes such as rice or quinoa.
- Stock takes very little effort or time to process despite the length of time from start to finish. Most time is spent doing other things – such as work or sleep – as the stock cooks or sets. I make stock regularly enough that I often – though it never seems often enough – have stock in the back of the fridge to use when needed.
- I don’t add salt to my recipe. The fish sauce is salty enough. You can substitute sea salt for fish sauce in the recipe.
- Stock isn’t intended as a stand-alone soup. In fact it will probably be bland, one-dimensional, and perhaps a bit tasteless.
- The fat layer will help preserve your stock gelatin, so leave it on top if you don’t need the stock for a few days.
- Stock is one of the most flexible recipes I know, so feel free to substitute other aromatics.
- When I have a particular soup in mind I’ll add the aromatics for that soup into the slow cooker for the stock. That is, when the aromatics can be cooked a long while. Some aromatics like cilantro or basil go in at the very end, just before serving. For example, I cut out a step in a recipe for Chinese beef stew by adding about 5 or 6 star anise pods (I’ll eventually post that recipe).
- Fresh bones from a full service butcher are best. I like to buy from the local Chinese supermarkets that have a full service counter, but will buy organic when I can get them from other sources such as Whole Foods.
- Organic is important and worth the extra cost because many of the toxins from pesticides are concentrated in fat.
- If you’re in Los Angeles, Shun Fat Supermarket in Monterey Park and Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel are my go-to markets.
- The Glendale Whole Foods regularly stocks organic marrow bones because it serves a thriving immigrant population from Armenia, Eastern Europe, and Korea who provide sufficient demand. It also regularly sells other meats such as cow tongue and organic beef liver I rarely see elsewhere. I haven’t had as much luck at other Whole Foods in the area.
June 23, 2016 by Dan
Fish sauce gives a savory boost – some people call it ‘umami’ – to a lot of foods. Squid Brand is a bold-flavored Thai-style fish sauce that has become our go-to for most recipes (excluding dipping sauces) that call for fish sauce. I’m also prone to drizzle some into recipes in lieu of salt when experience says the flavors match.
Unlike some other brands of fish sauce, Squid Brand only contains three ingredients: anchovy extract, salt, sugar, and water. It doesn’t have any additional MSG or preservatives. And – even more importantly – in our experience it is safe for our little Sprout (i.e. it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and sesame-free).
We use it for Vietnamese and Thai recipes that call for fish sauce – naturally. We also like to substitute fish sauce in place of salt in many dishes that need an extra oomph. I often drizzle a bit into stir fry recipes, and have used it 50/50 with tamari (a gluten-free soy sauce) in a modified 3-2-1 marinade (3 parts sake, 1 part tamari, 1 part fish sauce, and 1 part sugar).
We also put Squid Brand in any recipe that calls for Worcestershire sauce, which is actually a British version of fish sauce. As an aside, we found out about this substitution while trying to find a Sprout-safe Worcestershire sauce in 2009. At the time, Heinz – owner of Lea & Perrins – refused to tell us anything about its products beyond saying it would only disclose whether the product includes the top 8 allergens. In fact, Heinz is by far the most frustrating company to deal with in our quest to find safe foods. Unlike other companies Heinz (a) wouldn’t tell us if Lea & Perrins or its other products contains sesame (despite it being required to make such disclosure in other countries where those products are sold); (b) tell us if the product is produced in a facility that processes other allergens on our list; or (c) disclose any detail about its hygiene practices when switching a line between products. Forget even getting them to rule out sesame or gluten from ‘natural flavorings.’ Needless to say we avoid Heinz products and use Squid Brand Fish Sauce instead of Worcestershire sauce.
Where to buy
Squid Brand is generally available in Chinese markets in Los Angeles. In the San Gabriel Valley I’ve also seen it a few Ralph’s supermarkets.
If you’re outside Los Angeles, check with a local Asian market close to where you live. It’s one of the most common brands sold, so may be available. You can also buy online at some online Asian markets such as ImportFoods.com.
May 22, 2016 by Dan
We’d like to highlight beans from Rancho Gordo
In our experience it’s difficult to come by beans (and other legumes) that aren’t cross-contaminated with gluten. The same equipment is generally used to process and store legumes and grains up and down the production and distribution chain. This requires us to buy directly from growers or smaller distributors that have a reputation as not having gluten cross-contamination. Rancho Gordo fits into the latter category.
Rancho Gordo sells a variety of high quality, gourmet, heirloom beans it sources from farmers across the US and Mexico. These aren’t cheap at $6 a pound (about two dried cups worth) but the peace of mind preparing from a source we’ve vetted and quality level make them worth the cost. If you like to eat well, these beans are for you.
Here are a few varieties we heavily rely upon and that I don’t think you can go wrong using.
Yellow Eyed Peas – These are equivalent to, and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for black eyed peas. These are so good that I take a bag or two of yellow eyed peas when we travel with Sprout.
My most common use is to put the following in a slow cooker on low: one cup yellow eyed peas, three cups water, and an onion. They’re soft and creamy in eight hours. Yum! I also drop a handful into soups that I would otherwise put in peanuts or where these just seem to fit the bill.
Royal Corona Beans – Gigantic white runner beans that can be used in any recipe that calls for cassoulet or gigante beans. They take about 12 hours in my slow cooker to become creamy. Our best luck has been with a 1-2 lb chunk of stewing meat like pork shoulder or beef chuck.
Are they gluten free?
Note that Rancho Gordo doesn’t guarantee that its products won’t be cross-contaminated. From its FAQ:
Are your beans gluten free?
All of our products (which are indigenous to the Americas) are naturally gluten free. You can enjoy them with a reckless abandon. We make no special efforts, however, to keep things gluten free and it’s possible that there can be some cross-contact in the fields and cleaning facilities. Dried beans need to be rinsed (and well!) so any potential danger should go right down the sink.
Unlike legumes from other sources, we — knock on wood — haven’t had any issues to-date. This may be due to luck but I think may stem from fewer parties handling the beans in the distribution chain. Rancho Gordo appears to work directly with farmers without middlemen. It could be the long and winding distribution chain (with greater chance of cross-contamination) that has caused us problems in the past. Either way, we do rinse beans twice before using.
Where to buy
Prices are generally best when buying directly from Rancho Gordo via its website — ranchogordo.com — or at its store front in the San Francisco Ferry Building (when we’re there). Right now, it offers free shipping over $75, which really isn’t hard to do. Its website has a store locator with local distributors if you want to try some beans first before dropping $75+. The list isn’t complete as I recently purchased beans from a Whole Foods in south Denver that isn’t listed. The price was still $6 per bag.
And because these are heirloom varieties you can use some of the beans to seed plants in your garden to harvest yourself. It’s a great project for kids. Sprout had fun growing his own food and took on an added appreciation for farm work.
May 18, 2016 by Dan
May 16, 2016 by Dan
It’s been difficult returning. A month turned into two, then a year, a second, and, voila, three years.
I recently winced inside – and hopefully not visibly – when I saw a baby at the local Target store. His face was red, peeling, and crusty around the edges, and he looked very much like our son at the same age (about 1 year old). At first, I didn’t think the mother would want anyone to make a spectacle of her child. But thinking back to our journey, I decided having something to grasp onto in explaining her baby’s condition may be helpful and, assuming food allergies are the culprit, she may appreciate seeing that things can get better. So, I said “excuse me,” asked if her baby has food allergies, and – pointing to my son – said my son looked like hers at that age because of allergic reactions to food.
The mother instinctively said yes and rattled off a number of allergens – “milk, wheat, peanuts, shrimp, …” She also threw in “eczema,” the catch-all-phrase doctors use when they don’t know the answer to skin reactions. Needless to say, she has her work cut out for her. Hopefully we can help others like her in the same boat traveling through Allergyland.
May 13, 2016 by Dan
We avoid most food products at Costco (and other grocery stores) due to allergies. In case it helps someone else, here are the things we got in our latest trip. All we’ve verified “safe” for Sprout.
In our cart:
1) case Green Giant whole kernel sweet corn
2) Sun-Maid raisins
3) Wild Planet, Pacific Sardines in olive oil
4) Foster Farms organic chicken
May 1, 2016 by Dan
Today’s spotlight is on Laura Soybeans, grown and sold by the Chambers Family Farm in Iowa.
We consume a lot of soy. It’s provides a complete protein, is a healthy substitute for meat, and is very versatile as an ingredient. Most importantly for us, soy was one of the first things we cleared in Sprout’s diet seven years ago. Although he reacted a bit through the skin prick and IgE blood tests, the reactions were relatively small compared to other allergens, and his food challenge was negative. Not that it wasn’t already in our diet before his allergy diagnoses, but it has become much more important since then.
In our experience it’s difficult to come by beans (and other legumes) that aren’t cross-contaminated with gluten. The same equipment is generally used to process and store legumes and grains up and down the production and distribution chain. Based on past experience washing in water doesn’t remove all gluten, though we’ve tried at various times. This requires us to buy directly from growers, such as Chambers Family Farm, or smaller distributors that have a reputation as not having gluten cross-contamination, or (usually) larger companies that certify their products gluten-free.
At first we bought a lot of soy milk in boxes (please note that we had to clear that soy milk when first giving to Sprout). In fact we’d buy a case of plain, organic soy milk every week or two from Whole Foods (10% off when you buy a case). Eventually, Brett stumbled across the Chambers Family Farm website for Laura Soybeans. Their legumes are non-GMO and don’t share facilities with gluten. As their website says, Laura Soybeans “are grown, harvested, processed and packaged right here on our 5th generation family farm.”
We generally use about twenty pounds of dried soy beans per year. Most goes into soy milk but we sometimes add the dried beans into soups or stews. I also adding them to the slow cooker with caramelized onions to use as a side dish. One day we’ll try making our own tofu. We also use the okara – the bits of solid left behind after making soy milk – in place of breadcrumbs when dried, or as a filler or base for a snack when wet.
Soy milk can be used in place of dairy milk in most recipes. For example, we use fresh soy milk in mashed potatoes, pancakes, bread, non-dairy ice cream, and many more things.
Where to buy
Buy from directly from the grower, Chambers Family Farm at http://www.laurasoybeans.com.