December 12, 2012 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Nut Allergies and Then Some

If you’ve ever watched Food Network for more than 2 minutes, you will soon hear that there are two kinds of chefs: savory (cook) and pastry (baker). I am solidly in the baker category.


Tom Douglas in his The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, explains it this way in his introduction:

“Bakers are crazy, bakers are irrational; bakers are perfectionist; bakers need to know mathematics; bakers are chemists. Need I go on? They’re just smarter than the average bear and thus by nature are difficult to get on with.”

Yep…that’s me! (Except for that last part…)

In case you are curious, he describes cooks in this way:

“Cooks are a scrappy lot, often feeling the sting from the prior late night.” and “Cooks “throw” recipes and menus together and scramble for virtuosity…”

(And yes, this introduction is hilarious and you might need to have this cookbook in your stocking this Christmas.)

In any case, I love to bake, and Christmas is like the grand finale to the baking year. I never have time to bake during December, and yet I make the time, because all the different cookies sound so good and look so delicious in the pictures! I’m always on a quest for that new special cookie, the one that makes my loved ones close their eyes and groan in delight as they bite into it. That’s when I know it has earned a place on our traditional favorites list that I make every year.

Here are some old favorites and a couple of new ones I’m trying out this year. I think you’ll soon learn that chocolate and peppermint are alive and well in our house!

Martha Stewart’s Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

A combination of fresh and ground ginger and cocoa powder and chocolate chunks come together in the perfect cookie: so chocolatey, perfectly gingered, and the chewy texture is sublime.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies

A simple chocolate cookie wafer covered top to bottom in white chocolate with a crushed candy cane topping? Divine.

Cinnamon-Chipper Snickerdoodles

The extra blast of cinnamon from the cinnamon chips and the addition of white chocolate chips and crushed graham crackers make these snickerdoodles something special. The original recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies December 2011 issue, but it can be found online here.

If you have a nut allergy, and can’t use the convenient Hershey’s brand of cinnamon chips, try this substitute for homemade cinnamon chips. They aren’t chips, but the cinnamon is soooo good!

Chocolate Chip Peppermint Crunch Cookies

This is a new recipe I just tried today, and it is yummy! I love the simplicity of a chocolate chip cookie, and the Peppermint Crunch Junior Mints and crushed candy cane topping dress it up perfectly for the holiday season.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

Another new one for this year from the RecipeGirl. If you haven’t checked out Lori Lange’s site, do: she’s got lots of great recipes on there! This recipe is easy, which I love, and tasty, which I love even more. Think of your classic peppermint bark with a cookie on the bottom.

Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, chopped

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies


For more Christmas Cookie ideas, check out my Pinterest board!

If you have a favorite holiday cookie, please share!



October 15, 2012 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Nut Allergies and Then Some

Apparently me, but not by choice! I am not Martha Stewart (although at times I wish I was) and as much as I like to bake, I would prefer to buy my candy corn from the grocery store.

But my oldest son is allergic to all nuts (read about that here) and soy protein.

Soy protein is tricky. He’s allergic to the protein found in soybeans, but not the fats. This is an important distinction because soybean oil is found in everything, and soy lecithin is found in everything chocolate. I shudder to think what our lives would be like if he couldn’t have these fats.

Soy protein is found in products that use the entire soybean, like soy milk and soy flour. The presence of soy flour rules out most of the pre-packaged baked goods (think sliced bread) and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Sometimes food manufacturers isolate the soy protein and add it to products for no apparent reason that I can discern, like Campbell’s soups (goodbye any casserole calling for Cream of Mushroom soup) and candy corn.

Yes, it’s true. My son is allergic to candy corn.

Considering how much I love Halloween and how candy corn is its official candy, this is a big deal! I have spent hours scouring the internet for candy corn that does not contain soy protein. It does exist, but invariably those versions are made in a plant that processes nuts, so they’re out for him too.

This year, thanks to Alton Brown and the Food Network magazine, I tried to make my own candy corn. (The recipe is here.)

It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious. Rolling the ropes of orange, yellow, and white, pressing them together, slicing them, and molding them into the familiar candy corn shape took some time. They taste good, although they don’t have that crisp “snap” when you bit into them. They’re chewier. Alton does mention that it takes a couple of days for the candy corn’s flavors to intensify, so I’ve hidden some away to sample later in the week.

Was it worth it? Yes and no. If I ever find a soy protein-free, nut-free candy corn, I’ll never make these again. However, I did notice that during one stage, the flattened ropes look suspiciously like bacon. If I ever need to make a bacon garnish (for a steak cake?), I will definitely break out this recipe.

In the meantime, I think I’m good for making this recipe once a year during the Halloween season, especially since there are plenty of other treats we can indulge in that scream Halloween that I don’t have to put any effort into at all.


July 13, 2012 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Nut Allergies and Then Some

My oldest son is allergic to all nuts known to man and soy protein. The soy protein allergy is a topic for another day,  but the “all nuts” is easy: he can’t eat nuts, period. If it has nuts, might have nuts, or is made in a plant where nuts might come in contact with it, it’s strictly off limits.

For example, he’s not allergic to anything in Plain M&M’s, but because they’re made in the same facility as Peanut M&M’s, the possibility of cross-contamination precludes him from having them.

I find this annoying. The M&M/Mars company is huge. Couldn’t they have two factories, one for manufacturing the nut-containing varieties of M&M’s, like Peanut, Dark Chocolate Peanut, Peanut Butter and Almond, and one for the nut-free varieties such as Plain, Dark Chocolate, Pretzel, and Coconut? Because I’m sure I…I mean, he…would love to dive into some of those.

It’s not just an M&M problem. Most chocolate candies are made in plants that also process nuts, so finding safe chocolate options for him is a challenge. Since we maintain a nut-free household, it is a challenge for me too.

However, I, as a good mother and chocolate addict, have found three wonderful online companies that offer delicious nut-free products that we all can enjoy.


Based in Vermont, this company was born out of the very challenges we face: a mother with a peanut-allergic son trying to find a safe way to enjoy chocolate. Both their products and their production lines are completely nut-free. In addition to chocolate-covered caramels, truffles, pretzels, holiday-themed chocolates, and baking chocolates, they make a product they call Skippers: miniature drops of chocolate covered in a hard candy shell in bright colors…like M&M’s! And they’re safe! Not to mention delicious…


This web store offers a whole range of products, but the ones I find interesting are the Kit Kats and Mars Bars. We can’t eat the ones sold here in the US because they’re made in a facility that also processes nuts, but these particular ones are made in a nut-free plant in Canada, complete with a giant right on the package! (So, M&M/Mars, it can be done!) They have everything: granola bars, baking ingredients, donuts, cookies, crackers, candy, trail mix…and it’s all nut free made in nut-free facilities! They also sell pea butter, a fabulous substitute for baking. I’m sharing a recipe below that we couldn’t make because of the peanut butter, but now that we have pea butter, they’re back in our rotation.


Of course, we can’t get every candy we’d like from these two sources, so I’ve been driven to make my own as the occasion arises. Enter Chocoley, nut-free dipping and enrobing chocolates and candy melts! Not everything on their site is nut-free: the pre-made cream centers and caramels are not, so if I want to get into truffle making, I’m on my own. But for my basic dipping needs, like chocolate-covered Oreos, Chocoley has got me covered. Plus, they send you lots of delicious recipes via email, and this is the company that gave me the free pancake pen! (Read about that here.)

If you’re not allergic to nuts, I’d still keep these websites in mind in case you run across someone who is. Say you might want to get them a little gift and they love chocolate. See’s candies, Godiva chocolates, and almost every other specialty chocolate available is out. But Vermont Nut Free has gourmet chocolates that are yummy, Peanut Free Planet has chocolate bars, and Chocoley will have the supplies you need in case you’d like to make your friend a gift yourself.

I’d like to extend each of these companies a heartfelt thank you for recognizing the need and the value of providing nut-free chocolates to these kids and adults who might not otherwise get to experience the lovely chocolate high!

BOILED COOKIES (Ok, it’s not the most appetizing title, but these are good; trust me!)

2 cups sugar

3 tbsp cocoa powder

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup pea butter

1 tsp vanilla

1 stick butter

3 cups rolled oats

Mix sugar, cocoa powder, and milk together in a heavy pot. Boil for 1 minute. Stir in pea butter, vanilla, and butter. Remove from heat and add rolled oats, mixing well. Using a teaspoon, drop the still warm mixture by the spoonful onto waxed paper. Let cool.