September 2009


I think it’s fair to say that Saturday morning breakfast is the most highly anticipated event of our family’s week.  There’s apt to be pancakes or waffles, bacon, slices of banana, handfuls of blueberries, a leisurely pot of coffee or hot chocolate, and lots and lots of maple syrup.  It’s not unusual for one of the kids to wake up on any given weekday morning and before even getting out of bed shout, “Is it pancake day?”  I’m proud of our breakfast feast.  It’s utterly lavish despite being entirely egg- and dairy product-free.  This week, I thought I’d try something new and cook some breakfast sausage.  But, as is often the case when feeding kids with food allergies, it was going to take a bit more work than just driving down to Trader Joe’s.

For the food-allergic consumer, what’s not written on food labels can be as frustrating as what is.  “Contains milk and soy.” (On a container of soy yogurt, of all things!  What is the point of dairy soy yogurt?)  “Processed on equipment shared with peanuts and tree nuts.”  (Chocolate, alas.)  Back on the shelf they go.  But when it comes to food allergies beyond the Top 8 — in our son’s case, mustard — things get a little trickier.  What exactly are the “spices” listed among the ingredients on package after package of sausage?  I could send an email to the manufacturer.  But Saturday morning waits for no customer service rep.

I don’t own a sausage grinder… yet.  But as it turns out, the food processor makes quick work of mincing boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Add a grated apple, some chopped onion, and a handful of herbs, and 10 minutes later you’ve got a plateful of the freshest, most incredibly delicious chicken sausage you’ve ever eaten.  The cooked patties freeze beautifully and reheat quickly in the toaster oven, so go ahead, make a big batch — you’ll always be ready to answer the call, “Is it sausage morning?”

Chicken breakfast sausage with apple and herbs

Yield:  Serves about 8.

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 small, sweet apple (I use macintosh), peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, minced

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small chunks

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh sage leaves

2 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Canola oil, for frying

Warm a small skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in olive oil, then add onion and apple.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until apple juices have evaporated and onion and apple are soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Set aside to cool.

While onion and apple cook, pulse chicken in a food processor to grind.  Be careful not to over-process: running the machine for 4-5 seconds, then scraping the bowl, then running it 4-5 seconds more should do it.   You want a chunky yet cohesive mixture.  Don’t turn it into a paste.

Transfer ground chicken to a large mixing bowl.  Add onion mixture, herbs, salt, and pepper and mix until evenly combined.

Heat a generous coating of canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  While oil heats, form chicken mixture into patties.  The mixture will be fairly loose — I roll golf-ball sized balls, flatten them gently, put them in the pan, then press them with my fingertips to form a patty.  Fry in batches until nicely browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Serve hot.

Fall has arrived in New England, and I am celebrating by pulling on my fleece socks and rekindling my love affair with all things pumpkin.  First from the oven:  soft, chewy, delicately spiced cookies, blissfully (and undetectably) egg- and dairy-free.  Save your homemade winter squash puree for soup — the unmistakable flavor of canned pumpkin is best for these homey treats.

Pumpkin cookies

Yield: 3 dozen cookies.

2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. butter (or use non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening — I like Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. packed, light brown sugar

3/4 c. pumpkin puree (half of a 15-oz. can)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 c. chocolate chips (I like the miniature variety for this recipe, and use the allergy-friendly Enjoy Life brand)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

Using an electric mixer and periodically scraping bowl and beaters, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy.  Beat in pumpkin and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Fold in chips.

Drop spoonfuls of dough about 2-inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until edges of cookies are just browned and centers are set.  Remove to wire racks to cool.

Cookies keep, tightly covered, for a few days.  Leftovers freeze beautifully.

A lunchtime favorite, minus the mayo.  If you use oil-packed tuna, omit the olive oil from the recipe.

Tuna salad with lemon and basil

Yield:  Serves 3-4.

2 cans water-packed tuna, drained

1/4 small red onion, finely chopped

1 heaping tbsp. capers, rinsed and finely chopped

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh basil

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3-4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Thickly sliced tomato, fresh basil leaves, and toasted bread, for serving

Combine tuna, onion, capers, basil, lemon zest and juice, and 3 tbsp. oil in a mixing bowl.  Stir well with a fork.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If tuna seems dry, add an additional tbsp. oil.  Salad keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

This no-fuss spin on Boston brown bread — baked in a loaf pan rather than steamed in a tin can — is about as wholesome as quick breads get.  Hearty enough for breakfast and just sweet enough to make a satisfying afternoon snack, I like it toasted and topped with cream cheese and honey or peach jam.

Whole wheat and molasses quick bread

Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Yield:  One 9×5″ loaf

1 2/3 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt (or use 1 1/2 c. milk, at room temperature, mixed with 2 tbsp. cider vinegar and let to sit until curdled)

2 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 c. molasses

Canola oil or butter, for the pan

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Into a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, and soda.  Stir well with a whisk until evenly mixed.

Whisk molasses into buttermilk or yogurt, then pour into dry ingredients.  Fold together with a rubber spatula until just combined.

Pour batter into a greased, 9×5-inch loaf pan and bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool 15 minutes in pan before turning out on a rack to cool completely.

Make it vegan: Soy milk  makes a fine substitute for cow’s milk in this recipe (rice milk, however, is too thin and lacks the protein necessary for curdling).  Or try using soy or coconut milk yogurt.

Packed into my garden among the winding cucumber vines and towering tomato plants, basil is taking over.  I’ve tried growing this quintessential summer herb in years past without success.  Instead of producing full, lush bouquets, my young plants grew spindly and yellow, yielding barely enough leaves for one insalata caprese.  This year, I learned the secret to an ample basil harvest:  regular pruning.  To get your single-stemmed, young basil plant to branch out, pinch off the top set of leaves and few inches of stem just above the second set of leaves.  As the plant grows, it will branch from the pinch point.  Once the new branches each have a few sets of leaves, you can pinch their stems in the same fashion.  This produces a large, bushy plant that you can harvest at will — just make sure you always pinch off stems immediately above a set of leaves.

What to do with the copious fruits of my new-found knowledge?  Versatile, freezable pesto is an obvious choice.  We have no pignoli or Parmesan in our now nut- and dairy-free household, so I gambled that a simplified version using just basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt would be good enough.  Indeed it is!  What my sauce lacks in the earthy richness of the original it makes up for with a bright, peppery zing.  Use it in any way you would use traditional pesto — with pasta and grilled, sauteed, or fresh vegetables, on pizza, with chicken, or drizzled over thickly sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.

Basil-garlic sauce

Yield:  Makes about 1 c.

8 c. fresh basil leaves (from 2 fat bunches), loosely packed

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Combine basil, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil.  You want a loose and spoonable — but not excessively oily — consistency.  If puree is too thick, add a bit more oil a tablespoon at a time.

Basil-garlic sauce keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge, or about 3 months in the freezer.

We ate it this week tossed with pasta, chicken, and cherry tomatoes from the garden, and on a pizza with sauteed zucchini and red onions (add fresh ricotta or mozzarella, if you like).