Friday, August 31, 2012

Food Allergy-Friendly Labor Day Celebrations, plus, my Favorite Brownie Recipe!

Heading off on a Labor Day road trip? Here are some tips for a a food allergy-safe good time.
Traveling to visit friends and family or just getting together for a cookout is traditional on Labor Day weekend, the official "end of summer" for many of us. Food allergies can make things trickier, but they don't have to get in the way of a great time.

For those who haven't seen them, here's a link to some of my best suggestions for taking a road trip to celebrate with friends and family.

One thing that I get asked about all the time is how to find out if a homemade food is safe for a child with severe food allergies? The fact is, unless you made it yourself, you don't know if the food is OK for your child.

I remember the early days of dealing with nut allergies when I used to go around questioning and second-guessing every food on a party menu, trying to determine if it was OK for my child to eat. Besides being unable to get very good answers on this topic, it finally occurred to me that it would be much easier to bring foods to share that I either purchased or made myself. That way, I  have full knowledge of ingredients, plus I know the environment the food was prepared in and the other many criteria that determine a food's safety.

I urge everyone in my shoes to do the same thing. Bring your own food and load up a cooler if you must, but don't rely on others to provide safe foods. A lot of parents don't like this idea at first, because they worry that their child will be upset if they can't eat what others are eating. I've found that if we, the parents, don't make a big deal about it, bringing some yummy treats of our own to share with the group usually satisfies kids. In fact, once we started bringing our own food to share we all ended up having a lot more fun because nobody was worried about the what-ifs, including my daughter. She knew what she could have before we even arrived at our destination and could move on to having fun, engaging in activities and all the rest.

One thing I love to bring to a party is an easy dessert that doesn't need to be refrigerated. The following recipe is my favorite for brownies. They are so chocolaty and delicious and you don't even need a mixer--just two bowls and a pan.

If you're looking for something to share at a party, my favorite brownie recipe (below) has always been a hit. Double the recipe and use a 9 x 13 pan if you are serving a large group. If you must avoid dairy and/or eggs, read the labels to find a dairy-free margarine in place of butter and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil plus 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce instead of the eggs. The baking times may vary and the resulting texture might be a bit different, but still chocolaty and good. You might want to slightly under bake the dairy-free, egg-free brownies to make sure they don't get too dry. In fact, under baking, in general, is good for brownies.

Brownies, anyone?

Jenny's Nut-Free Brownies

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (organic or free range if possible)
2 squares unsweetened chocolate; I use Baker's brand
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder; this gives you a cakier brownie with a higher rise. If you want chewier, flatter brownies, omit the baking powder.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop chocolate and butter into chunks. Melt chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl until butter is melted and chocolate is almost completely melted (about two minutes.) Remove from microwave and stir until all of the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix flour with salt and baking powder if using, in a small bowl. Pour sugar into larger bowl that can hold all of the batter. Using a heat-proof spatula, scrape melted chocolate mixture into the bowl with the sugar and stir until fully combined. Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly. Add vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture into chocolate-egg-butter mixture until combined.

Bake for 16-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes up with a few fudgy crumbs clinging to it. (The 9 x 9 inch pan will bake up more quickly). Do not over bake.

Allow to cool, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.

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