Breakfast Buffet: Spinach Strata

It’s already out of print….”

Last Saturday the writing collaborative I helped to found brought in an illustrator who gave me a wonderful book she had illustrated for an author who wrote about a girl who was gluten-sensitive, celebrating her birthday. The illustrator knew I did workshops for allergy-friendly baking and thought I’d enjoy the book. When I mentioned that it would be nice to purchase a few, she told me that the book had already gone out of print. (It was published in 2013.)

I was bummed. Not only because I wouldn’t be able to purchase more copies of the book but because there had been such a lack of interest in such a great book.

I should not have been surprised, though. My own experience has taught me that unless it affects folks personally, the impetus to consider other people’s plight and show consideration seems to be non-existent at times, and such a book would not need to be purchased by those of us who already know but by those who need to learn.

That does not mean that we stop trying to teach, though. Recently I met with the principal of our high school about a staff appreciation luncheon, and he, too, surprised me.  He asked me if I was considering staff with food allergies in my planning. Since this was the same principal who had held a breakfast for the senior students without any food that students with food allergies could eat, my astonishment must have shown on my face. He was quick to explain that he’d “learned his lesson” about food allergies, which I took to mean that a whole lot of parents must have called him about that breakfast!

Only when we continue to share will people start to come around. I have spoken so many times to the local PTO and my church that, though it has taken several years (years!), people finally have started to make changes. Not at every event, which they still need to consider, but at least at events where they know for sure that people with food allergies will attend.

Recently a local group called me to ask if I could make a breakfast dish for some folks with dairy and gluten allergies. I had the perfect hot dish which I had made over Christmas, a Spinach Strata. Made with gluten free bread, eggs, soy milk, and spinach sautéed with tofu cream cheese, it is cheesy and gooey and yummy. We had enjoyed it at Christmas, and the folks at the breakfast buffet the other day apparently enjoyed it as well.

The recipe is below so you can, too!

Spinach Strata

Best if prepared the night before and cooked in the morning.

Ingredients:

six slices favorite gluten free bread (I used Ancient Grains whole grain millet-chai bread; I used an 8 x 11 pan; if you use a larger pan or smaller pan, you may need to adjust the slices of bread you need to cover the bottom of the pan)

dairy free mozzarella (I used about a cup of the Daiya brand but how much will depend on what size strata you may be making; you want to cover the top of the bread cubes)

fresh spinach (I used a 16 oz package of washed baby spinach; a smaller strata may need a less; a larger strata may need more, depending on how much spinach you like)

one container tofu cream cheese (I used an 8 oz container of Tofutti brand cream cheese; unless you aer halving the recipe, slight decreases or increases in spinach does not warrant changing the amount of cream cheese used)

eggs (I was making the dish in an 8 x 11 pan and ended up using six whole eggs, but the amount will vary depending on the size pan you use; you want the egg/milk mixture to cover come to the top of the spinach mixture)

“milk” (I used soy milk but you can use whatever you like; I also used a cup and a half for the six eggs because I was making the dish in an 8 x 11 pan, but the amount will vary depending on the size pan you use and how many eggs; you want the egg/milk mixture to cover come to the top of the spinach mixture; ratio is usually about 1/2 cup of milk per egg)

herbs and spices (I used black pepper, a little bit of red pepper flakes, onion powder, oregano and thyme, but you can use what suits your tastes)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Grease a pan of your choosing.
  2. Cut the slices of bread into small cubes and spread the bread over the bottom of your pan.
  3. Sprinkle the bread cubes with the dairy free mozarella.
  4. In a pan saute the spinach with a little bit of water just until the spinach begins to wilt. Add the tofu cream cheese and stir well until the cheese has melted into the spinach.
  5. Carefully dollop the spinach mixture over the top of the bread and mozzarella cheese.
  6. Whisk together the eggs, dairy free milk, and herbs until well blended.
  7. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread and spinach. You want the egg mixture to reach the top of the spinach. If you need a little bit more, simply whisk up an additional egg or two and add it to the pan.
  8. Wrap the dish well in plastic wrap or foil and let it sit overnight in the fridge. If making the same day, let it sit at least an hour in the fridge so the bread can soak up the egg mixture.
  9. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the strata is puffed and golden. Time will depend on the size and shallowness of your pan. My 8 x 11 pan took about 45 minutes.
  10. Leftover strata stores well in the fridge and tastes just as good when microwaved the next day.

 

Recipe Makeover: Waffles

website waffles

“But I was good all week; I went to school!”

My two daughters love school — my oldest because she’s academically inclined; my middle child because she’s socially inclined. My son, however, believes school was designed by adults who want to torture little boys. His current goal is to grow up to become President of the United States for the sole purpose of changing the laws which mandate that children need to attend school.

Still, I laughed this morning when he asked if I would make waffles for special breakfast, and his reason for why I should was because he had been good by going to school all week. What he thought he might have been able to do otherwise, I do not know….

To be honest, though, I hadn’t been inclined to make waffles because we had always used a lovely recipe from my mother-in-law which now I can’t use due to my new wheat sensitivity and dairy allergy. So, I had been making a lot of French toast and pancakes and frittatas instead for our special Saturday breakfasts. However, I bit the bullet this morning and decided to attempt a recipe makeover and see what happened.

What happened was that the waffles came out delightfully delicious and perfect with no inkling that they weren’t the same waffles from my mother-in-law’s recipe, so I’m going to share the makeover this morning in case anyone else has a son wanting waffles to eat.

Original Waffle Recipe:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup wheat germ, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 2 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, and 2 eggs.

The Makeover:

1. Flour: I had loved this recipe because it called for 100% whole wheat flour which is more nutritionally dense than white flour. To make it gluten free, though, required making some choices. I could use a more nutritionally dense flour like garbanzo bean and gluten free oat flours which are usually my flours of choice, but waffles really require a lighter, finer flour if you want them to come out light and airy, so I chose instead to use a brown and sweet rice flour blend from Authentic Foods instead.

2. Wheat germ: Because wheat germ has added nutritional benefits I didn’t really want to simply replace this part of the recipe with more flour. So, instead, I opted to replace it with golden ground flax seed which is a great addition for those omega-3’s and has a similar texture and consistency to wheat germ.

3. Sugar: Since I rarely use refined white sugar, I decided to use 1 tbsp of Agave in place of the sugar.

4. Baking powder and salt: Since baking powder has sodium in it, I reduced the amount of salt to 1/4 tsp and added 1 tsp of cinnamon for some flavoring.

5. Milk: Because of my dairy allergy, I decided to experiment with both soy milk and flax milk, since we usually make a double batch so the kids can toast up waffles during the week before school. The soy milk has the advantage of adding protein to the waffles. The flax milk would provide another alternative since I’m always watching how much soy I use in case my body decides to add yet a fourth allergy or sensitivity onto my plate. Both versions came out perfectly, so I would imagine that folks could experiment with almond or coconut milk, too. Rice milk is always an option, as well, but remember that it’s much thinner than all the other milks so sometimes it needs the addition of a tbsp of flour or arrowroot to thicken it.

Because I was concerned about getting the right thickness for the waffle batter and about how well the gluten free version would rise, I also decided to borrow a technique I use for pancakes and make a “buttermilk”. So, I added 2 tbsp of lemon juice to the 2 cups of “milk” and let it sit for a couple of minutes after stirring. This added acid to the batter which created a “just right” batter texture and perfectly risen waffles.

6. Vegetable Oil: So, nowadays you can google oils and find all sorts of reports saying that even the ones which were touted as good like safflower are bad. It’s difficult to know what to believe anymore. The truth is moderation in all things is always the key. Since the one thing which hasn’t changed — ever — is that people continue to tout the benefits of olive oil, I decided I’d use a blend for the waffles. Using olive oil alone would considerably alter the taste of the waffles s I used a blend of olive, canola and grapeseed which I purchase at BJs and keep in the house.

7. Eggs: Since no one has an egg allergy (currently!), and neither my husband nor I have cholesterol issues, I opted to just keep the eggs as is, and this recipe is marvelous because you just whisk the eggs in with the batter without having to separate the yolks from the whites and whip the whites, which takes so much more time to do. If someone does have to watch cholesterol and opts for using four egg whites instead of the two eggs, I would encourage you to then whip the egg whites and fold them into the rest of the mixed up batter.

8. Additions: Since I was creating a new waffle recipe, I decided it would be nice to try to jazz them up a little bit, so after whisking the batter, I gently folded in one cup of frozen mini wild blueberries. Not only did this make the cooked waffles pretty but it added a very nice taste to them.

Gluten and Dairy Free Waffles

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup gluten free flour blend

1 cup golden ground flax seed

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

2 cups “milk” (soy and flax work well)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 cup plant-based oil blend

1 tbsp Agave

2 eggs

1 cup frozen mini wild blueberries

Cooking Instructions:

1. Preheat waffle maker.

2. Whisk together the flour, ground flax seed, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. Whisk the lemon juice into the milk and let it sit for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the oil, agave and eggs to the milk, and whisk well.

5. Gently fold in the blueberries.

6. Put one cup of the batter into the waffle maker and cook according to the waffle maker’s design. (We have two; and for one, the light goes on when it’s done, but the other the light goes off. It always makes for an interesting morning!)

7. When the waffles are done, if you aren’t going to eat them immediately, put them onto a wire cooling rack so they can cool, and then put them into the fridge in a container. To reheat, simply toast them in the toaster on low.

Note: One recipe made 20 waffles for us with a waffle maker that makes four at a time.

 

 

Sodium Extract: Thinking about Salt

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The chickens ruined it.

The town meeting was on target for being the shortest I’d attended in twelve years.  Every warrant article had passed unanimously with nary a peep, blink or cough.  Even the 17 million dollar town budget had passed for the first time in my memory with no debate.  I was overjoyed at the prospect of an early meeting end, some time with my children, and a reasonable bedtime for myself.

But then the chicken warrant was read.

45 minutes of discussion followed about the pros and cons of changing the current regulations to allow chickens on less acreage.  Everything from tick control to poop possibilities were presented and argued by the “defense” and the “prosecutors”.

All my dreams and wishes for the evening swished straight down the drain because of one local hotbed issue.

Salt Disagreement

In the same way, salt can be a source of immeasurable disagreement among even the experts.  Some say everyone should refrain from salt usage.  Others state that only folks with family histories of health issues need to worry.  Still more present arguments for why we need to keep salt in our diets.  It can be confusing and frustrating to try to sort out exactly what we should know and do.

Salt Facts

Salt isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself.  It provides flavor in cooking; it helps metabolize yeast in breads; it draws moisture from veggies and fruits when needed; and it tightens protein bonds, giving strength to dough and batter when we bake. In our bodies, salt helps our blood cells, our nerves and our muscles; and unfortunately salt isn’t something our bodies make, so we need to ingest it.

On the other hand, folks prone to high blood pressure, migraines, heart and stroke problems, and kidney stones have found that cutting back on their sodium intake helps their overall health.  In addition, studies do reveal that our bodies only need so much salt to function properly, and we have a tendency to eat way above that amount.

Salt Moderation

Sodium is naturally in a lot of the foods we eat, and simply eating fresh fruits and veggies and low fat meat and chicken and fish will provide our bodies with much of the sodium we need.  So, for myself and my family, when I cook, I don’t usually add salt.  Herbs and spices lend flavor to just about anything cooked or baked without any need for salt.  In most baked goods, you can almost always cut the salt by half and your baked product will not be affected in taste or texture.  Sometimes you can even omit it altogether.  When I do want to use salt, though, I judiciously use small amounts of coarse salt.  The coarse salt tends to give you that slightly salty flavor without overdoing it, and by reducing the amount and using the slightly large salt crystals, you do cut down  on your actual sodium intake, even if only by 25%.

Salt in Processed Products

Of course, most of our salt “problems” stem from the products on the grocery shelves which tend to have large amounts of either salt or sugar to both preserve and provide flavor.  The good news is that many companies are making low salt and reduced sugar versions of their products.  You just have to look for them and choose to use them.

A few years back my children discovered a breakfast muffin they liked, but I was horrified by the amount of salt in one muffin from the bacon, the salt in the batter, and the cheese.  So I revamped the recipe, omitting the salt in the batter and using reduced sodium products.  Of course, I also made other changes to fit my family’s allergies, but you’ll see those all below.

Breakfast in a Muffin

Original Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose white flour

1 tbsp white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 whole eggs

1 cup cream

1/2 cup melted butter

12 strips cooked bacon

12 medium egg yolks (they tell you to save the whites for another recipe)

1/2 cup cheddar, swiss or jack shredded cheese

Revamped Ingredients:*

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour

2 1/2 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp dried thyme (crush the thyme leaves in your hand before adding)

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp onion powder

3/4 cup liquid egg whites (I use the egg whites from the yolks needed later)**

1 cup soy milk

1/2 cup safflower oil or grapeseed oil or Smart Balance oil

1 tbsp Agave

12 strips cooked low sodium turkey bacon

12 small egg yolks

1/2 cup reduced fat reduced sodium shredded cheddar cheese

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare a 12 cup muffin tin.  (I usually use “If You Care” muffin cups, but you can spray the tin or coat it with oil or butter.)

2.  Blend the flour, thyme, oregano, basil, pepper and baking powder together.  Set aside.

3.  Whisk the egg whites until frothy (which just means they’ll be bubbly and a little thicker looking).  Add the milk, oil, and Agave, and mix well.

4.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing quickly just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Put 2 tablespoons of the batter into the bottoms of each of the muffin tins.

6.  Insert a bacon strip in a circle into the batter of each tin and carefully put an egg yolk into the center of the bacon.  (If your yolk breaks, don’t sweat it.  It still tastes good, even if it doesn’t look as pretty when you cut the muffin.)

7.  Cover the muffins evenly with the remaining batter.  (I usually put 1 tablespoon of batter on top and then find that I can add about another 1/2 tbsp of batter to each muffin to finish up the batter.)

8.  Divide the cheese evenly on top of each muffin.

9.  Bake the muffins in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.  (The muffins will rise, and the cheese will be a golden brown on top.)

10.  Cool the muffins for five minutes in the pan before removing to cool.  To serve, slice the muffins in half vertically to reveal the pretty yolk and bacon strip inside.

*  As always you can substitute ingredients to fit your needs, so for example, you don’t have to use soy milk if you’re allergic.  Use another type.

** I separate the twelve yolks from their white ahead of time into a little bowl and use the whites for the egg whites needed in the batter.  Then I gently spoon the yolks out of the bowl into each of the bacon circles.