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The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook Review

There are very few allergen-free cookbooks, and The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook is the only allergen free baking book I know about.  The author of this cookbook is Cybele Pascal, the mother of two food allergic sons.  Because of the many food allergies in her family she set out to exclude all of the 7 major allergens (dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish) from her cookbook, which is obviously very tough to accomplish when you are baking.

When I flipped through this book at the bookstore I was impressed by both the number of recipes and the beautiful pictures.  The food in the photos actually looks like the real thing, I hoped the taste could measure up.  The recipes in this cookbook all use a flour blend which is a combination of superfine brown rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch.   The superfine brown rice flour is pretty pricey, I think the bag I bought was about $12 for a 3 lb bag.  At first I thought baking things out of this book would be prohibitively expensive, but I have made 4 of the recipes now and still have flour leftover.

The first recipe we made were the chocolate chip cookies.  I’ve made two other gluten free vegan chocolate chip cookie recipes and this beat both hands down.  I thought brown rice flour would be gritty but because of the superfine consistency of this flour it was not much more so than normal flour.  We then let my two year old pick out the next cookies to try and he wanted to try the chocolate sandwich cookies, which look like Oreo knockoffs.  This recipe was slightly more complicated since it required baking the cookie part and letting them cool and then making the frosting as well.  I was even more impressed with these.  They actually taste fairly similar to Oreo cookies, the chocolate cookie is crunchy and the creamy frosting is not too far off from the frosting in real Oreos.

The last recipe we tried really blew my socks off.  We had the baking powder biscuits, and I thought that there was really no way they were going to be as good as the previous two recipes.   They smelled like real biscuits coming out of the oven, and we served them warm with our meal.  My husband and I nearly forgot they were allergy free.  They taste just like homestyle biscuits you’d use for biscuits and gravy.  I have no idea how Cybele Pascal was able to recreate this taste but I’m pretty sure at that point we declared that she was a genius! :)

I definitely have no patience for baking experiments and when I’ve tried things and failed I get very frustrated.  That is why I am so thankful for people like Cybele Pascal who have spent the time and energy and who have the know how to create recipes like this for food allergic families.  My son didn’t even know what biscuits were until we made them that night.  We have a long list of other recipes we want to try from her cookbook, and also have plans to try some of the recipes from cybelepascal.com (including allergy free donuts!).

Gluten Free Fast Food

While most nights I make dinner for our family, there are nights when we are busy or I’m just tired.  I know our family is going to have a lot more of these nights coming up when our new baby girl arrives in February.  So, what does a gluten free family do when they want take out?  Here is a list of options I’ve found that work for us.  These are chain restaurants, so if you are worried about cross-contamination I’d talk to the people at your local restaurant about what they do to prevent it.  Even our dairy and egg allergic son can eat at a couple of these places.

CHIPOTLE

Our family probably eats at Chipotle more than any other restaurant.  They are very allergy friendly.  If you ask, they’ll change they’re gloves for you so the flour tortillas they’ve just touched won’t contaminate your food.  Most things on their menu are gluten free other than the tortillas.  I avoid the cheese and lettuce as well because the servers use their gloved hands (which have touched tortillas) to handle these items.  For Jacob, we avoid the sour cream and cheese as well.  We usually get a side of chips and guacamole which are also delicious!

Here’s a link to Chipotle’s allergen information:  http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/menu/special_diet_information/special_diet_information.aspx

LARKBURGER

Unfortunately Larkburger is currently only located in Colorado, but we love it!  They have gluten free hamburger buns, their fries are cooked in dedicated fryers and they are also very allergy friendly and the staff is usually very helpful.  Their gluten free hamburger buns do contain dairy and egg so for Jacob we just get him a hamburger patty wrapped in lettuce no sauce, a side of french fries, and one of their tasty fresh squeezed lemonades.  Angie, when you come to visit we can go here! :)

Here’s a link to Larkburger’s allergen information:  http://www.larkburger.com/menu/allergen-info

CHIC-FIL-A

We’ve only eaten at Chic-fil-a a handful of times, mostly because there is dairy in almost every item on the menu – so Jacob doesn’t have many options here.  However, we do stop by every once in a while to get french fries which are allergen free… also I think they are the best thing at Chic-fil-a. :)   I would double check with your Chic-Fil-A to make sure they use a dedicated fryer for the fries.  We’ve been to a couple of different locations and they both did.  I’ve also had their chicken garden salad with no issues… make sure to check the things they give you on the side for wheat though, mine came with sunflower seeds in a packet that had wheat as an ingredient!

Gluten free info:  http://www.chick-fil-a.com/#gluten

Allergen info:  http://www.chick-fil-a.com/#allergies

WENDY’S

We’ve only eaten at Wendy’s a few times since my diagnosis, but they have a pretty decent gluten free menu for a fast food place.  We haven’t ever tried to get Jacob anything there.  I’ve ordered the chili, a sour cream and chive baked potato, and a frosty.

Gluten free info:  http://www.wendys.com/food/pdf/us/gluten_free_list.pdf

OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE CURBSIDE TAKE-AWAY

Outback Steakhouse is not exactly fast food, but when you call in and just go pick up it up, it’s close enough.  We eat this pretty frequently, they are limited on dairy free options here so we just usually fix Jacob something separate when we get this for dinner.

http://www.outback.com/menu/pdf/glutenfree.pdf

P. F. CHANG’S ONLINE ORDERING

Again, P. F. Chang’s is not exactly fast food, but they also offer online ordering, and have a great gluten free menu.  I haven’t found where P. F. Chang’s publishes their other allergens, so we don’t order Jacob any food from here either.

http://www.pfchangs.com/menu/ – click on the gluten free tab.

Remember to talk to your local restaurant about how they handle gluten free cooking.