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Thanksgiving: All the taste, none of the allergens

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November has barely begun and already I have holiday anxiety. I'm expecting more than 20 guests for Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm feeling the pressure to ensure every dish is incomparably delicious. And I have to make the meal without using a crucial list of staples: butter, milk, eggs and flour.

My son and daughter are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, and Talia is allergic to wheat, dairy and eggs. In years past, she has had to make due with a dull combination of turkey, rice and canned green beans.

This year I vowed to do better.

I started by getting some tips from other parents of children with allergies. Pamela DiDomenico's son is allergic to dairy, eggs, nuts, sesame and legumes. She says she has successfully substituted safe alternatives in most of her traditional recipes.

"We substitute Earth Balance Buttery Sticks for all butter in any recipe, Tofutti cream cheese for regular cream cheese, Tofutti sour cream for sour cream, Egg Replacer for eggs," she says. "You'd be surprised at how many 'regular' recipes we can make with just these three easy substitutes. I'd encourage others to take a weekend and welcome your family or friends into your 'test kitchen' before the holidays, and have fun."

My challenge started with the turkey. I discovered a no-fail way to ensure a safe and delicious bird. I brine the turkey in a 20-hour bath of herbs, salt, sugar, water and vinegar. Fire & Flavor's Turkey Perfect herb brine (usually available at Kroger and Harris Teeter stores or www.fireandflavor.com for $5–$10) produces a juicy and flavorful bird every time. I drain it and stuff the inside with onion, celery, carrots, half a lemon, fresh rosemary and an apple for added flavor and moisture. I rub the outside with olive oil and dairy-free butter, and sprinkle rubbed sage, poultry seasoning and salt and pepper on the skin. Then I baste it with Coke. Yes, Coke. Voilà, an allergen-free and picture-ready bird the whole family can enjoy. Phenomenal.

Next, I pulled out my grandmother's stuffing recipe. I buy Schär's gluten- and egg-free loaf white bread from Harmony Farms in Raleigh. I butter five slices with dairy-free Smart Balance Light buttery spread and toast them in the oven for five minutes. I sauté half a chopped onion and a sliced stalk of celery in vegan butter and a little extra virgin olive oil. I dust it lightly with salt and pepper. I combined the veggies and torn pieces of bread in a small casserole dish, sprinkle it with 1/4 teaspoon of rubbed sage and 1/4 teaspoon of poultry seasoning and toss it to coat. Then I moisten the stuffing mixture with gluten-free Swanson's chicken broth. It smells heavenly. I cook it 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven to soak up the liquid. When it was done, I sneaked a spoonful to my very finicky husband for a taste. He couldn't believe it was made without wheat. Talia loved it and asked for it for two nights in a row.

Several readers submitted to our food blog, Big Bite, their favorite recipes for gluten-free or other allergen-friendly stuffing recipes that you may want to try. Caper Lauver offered her recipe for a sausage-inspired stuffing jubilee, and Raleigh reader Dana DeBuhr wrote in to share the Italian-influenced Mama Capone's sausage and parmesan cheese stuffing from the website wheatfreegourmet.com.

If macaroni and cheese is on your list of Thanksgiving faves, the closest thing I've found to the real thing is Amy's Rice Macaroni with Non-Dairy Cheeze in the frozen foods case at Earth Fare. While dairy eaters might notice something a little different about the taste, it wasn't enough to keep me from a hearty sampling of my daughter's plate. It's smooth and creamy, looks like the real thing and is a hit with the kid.

I love scalloped potatoes. But the heavy doses of cream and cheese make it a no-no for Talia. I often boil cubed potatoes in chicken broth until they're tender for a flavorful substitute.

My grandmother's recipe for canned green beans is always delicious. I heat them in chicken broth and add a can of drained shoe peg corn for oomph. Find another recipe for green bean bake on our blog, too.

Mary Hogan, a local mom and the author of Good and Good For You, shares her recipes for stuffing, mashed sweet or white potatoes and cranberry sauce, too. You can order her cookbook at www.goodandgoodforyou.net.

Sara Truelove's 4-year-old daughter is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs. Truelove shares her recipes for cranapple sauce, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes and scalloped tomatoes on Big Bite.

I'll round out my menu by making Betty Crocker's gluten-, egg- and dairy-free Devil's Food cupcakes. I substitute two individual containers of applesauce for the eggs and one Fleischmann's unsalted margarine stick for the butter, then top it with Pillsbury's dairy-free Creamy Supreme Chocolate Fudge icing. Delicious. For a more autumnal recipe, try the recipe for pumpkin bars I found on the blog www.eatingwithfoodallergies.com. You can find recipes for other allergen-friendly fare on Big Bite or at www.livingwithout.com.

With all of these choices, my family will have a lot to be thankful for.

Joyce Hicks can be reached at joyce4indy@gmail.com.

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