Avoid allergens at the dinner table this holiday season

Some of our best food memories are made around the holidays. The lingering smell of a turkey slow roasting, a steaming hot mound of mashed potatoes drowning in butter, Mom’s one-of-a-kind pumpkin pie tempting you from the counter …

Sounds better than worrying if something you’ll eat will trigger an allergic reaction.

Holidays can be tricky for people who live with food allergies. But if done properly, every get-together and feast can be safe and inviting.

Very simply, it’s about rethinking our food.

“Many people will say, ‘Don’t make food the focus of your holiday,’” said Cybele Pascal, author of “The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook” and the upcoming “Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking.”

“That, for me, doesn’t work. It’s about shifting the types of food, making sure everyone is included.”

First and foremost, Pascal recommends determining the severity of your guest’s food allergies. Triggers such as peanuts can often have devastating outcomes.

“If it can result in anaphylaxis, it’s not coming in the door,” Pascal said.

She recommends labeling everything you serve and making sure there are separate utensils for each dish.

Allowing your food allergic guests to be served first can help avoid cross contamination.

And don’t be shy about asking your guests to bring a dish or two of their own.

“I think it gives them a safety feeling,” Pascal said. “(And being singled out) is kind of embarrassing. I don’t like to make people cater to what I can and can’t eat.”

Most foods and baked goods can be replicated without any of the top eight allergens. The goal for food-allergy advocates such as Pascal is to “make food that tastes like everything else.”

For many, it’s rare that a Thanksgiving or Christmas passes without a turkey as the centerpiece of the meal. Fresh and frozen turkeys are often injected with hidden allergens, such as butter and gluten. Always call the company to verify the manufacturing process.

One option is to think local and get a turkey straight from the farm. The downside: They aven’t been brined. Pascal recommends Empire turkeys, which are kosher and already salted. When basting, reach for the olive oil instead of butter.

Gluten-free bread was “made for stuffings,” Pascal said. Leave it out to become stale, season it with olive oil and your favorite spices and bake into croutons or make bread crumbs.

Baking without the top eight allergens is trial and error. For those who don’t want to get involved with the chemistry involved with making cakes and pies, Pascal suggests crumbles and crisps.

“It’s a no-fail thing to bake,” she said.

Eggs can be a bit more tricky. In this case, Pascal says, it’s deciding what role your eggs play in your dish. Applesauce will help bind ingredients in muffins and quick breads when you need something dense. Items that need structure, lightness and rise, such as cookies, custards, puddings and delicate cakes, need a powdered egg replacer.

Allergy-Friendly Sweet Potato Pie

This modern spin on an old-fashioned southern favorite is the perfect end to your allergen-free Thanksgiving meal. Makes one 9-inch pie.

“Graham” Crust
1½ cups tightly packed Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs or any 9-inch
gluten-free pie crust of choice, being sure to pre-bake it.
¼ cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons melted Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening

Sweet Potato Pie Filling
2 cups sweet potato puree
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup rice milk
¼ cup cornstarch, or tapioca starch, or potato starch
1¾ cups coconut milk (one 13.5-ounce can), or rice milk
1 (0.3-ounce) packet vegan gelatin

1. Grease a 9-inch spring-form pan, then line bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

2. Combine Graham style crumbs with sugar and melted shortening. Mix. Press into bottom of pan, using palm of hand to press down. Use fingers to coax up sides of pan about 1½ inches. Patch as necessary,
being sure there are no holes or cracks. Let chill in fridge 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake crust 15 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

4. Meanwhile, prepare pie filling. Combine sweet potato puree, canola oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla extract, cinnamon, cloves and ginger in a heavy saucepan, stirring well. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and then decrease heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

5. Whisk together the cornstarch and rice milk. Pour into the sweet potato mixture and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes more. Whisk vigorously to smooth out any lumps. Remove from the heat and set aside.

6. Whisk the coconut milk, being sure to incorporate any coconut cream that may have separated. Whisk the vegan gelatin into the coconut milk. Pour into a small saucepan. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Working quickly, pour the gelatin mixture into the sweet potato mixture, stirring well to combine thoroughly, then poor into room–temperature pie shell. Transfer to
fridge. Chill for at least two hours. Remove outer rim of spring form pan. Eat plain or with vegan whipped topping.

— Source: Cybele Pascal

Smart tips

Instead of wheat-based breads and grains, steer toward the alternatives: quinoa, barley, rice, corn or tapioca.

Milk can be replaced in a recipe using any one of the alternatives that line grocery store shelves: Rice, almond, soy, coconut or hemp.

To rid yourself of regular butter, use Earth Balance dairy-free spread or Spectrum’s -all-vegetable shortening.

Want more holiday ideas? Visit Smart’s Holiday Countdown page.

Lyzz Jones

I'm the editor of GameTimePA.com. Wife. Mom. Towson and Millersville grad. Member of Raider Nation.

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2 Responses

  1. Meredith says:

    This is such an informative post, Lyzz! And the pie recipe sounds awesome – and unique at that. We also included some great allergy-friendly Thanksgiving recipes from bloggers in “the community” as well as additional tips here: http://bit.ly/XPKyHh Happy holidays – eat safe!

  1. November 29, 2013

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