Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Easter Bunny doesn't bring soy-free chocolate

I promised a chocolate post some time ago.

I didn't get any chocolate eggs for Easter, because the Easter bunny doesn't bring soy-free chocolate. If there was a Passover bunny, he could, because Passover chocolate is soy free--something to do with certain Ashkenazim not eating legumes during Passover. So I ordered mini-chocolate chips, chocolate "buttons" with nonpareils on them, and peppermint patties from (!!!)

I also got some Hostess-cupcake-like things at our local Giant grocery store. They weren't so hot. Oh, well. The Giant either didn't have the usual complement of chocolate this year, or I was too late.

You can also get soy-free chocolate at Soy Free Sales, Chocolate Emporium,, and, according to Uncle Phaedrus, at the Soy-Free Chocolate Company, which doesn't seem to have an active website.

My daughter made a chocolate-cherry cake yesterday from an old Betty Crocker cookbook (baking chocolate is soy-free), which refused to come out of the pan, so we ate it with Bird's custard sauce flavored with maraschino cherry juice and called it cottage pudding.

In case you can find soy-free chocolate chips, here's my grandmother's recipe for:

Congo Bars

2/3 cup butter
1 lb light-brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate bits
1 cup broken walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Cool to almost room temperature. Stir in the brown sugar, then the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

3. Sift together the dry ingredients, or stir together in a bowl. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate bits and walnuts.

4. Spread into a 9" x 13" pan. Bake 25-30 minutes (recipe says "32" but that's too much), or until it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. You can also do the toothpick test, but if you hit a chocolate chip, it throws it off.

5. Refridgerate. When cold, cut into bars.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Cross-contamination Problem

Eating away from home is tough if you're soy-allergic.

I make a point to go to the same neighborhood restaurants over and over, so the owners and cooks get to know me and will watch out for me. But this is not foolproof.

One time I had cultivated a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I told them I was allergic to soy. I only ordered steamed shrimp, steamed rice, steamed vegetables, and sweet-and-sour sauce on the side, while the family ordered what they wanted. Everything was fine for months until the staff apparently forgot WHY I only ordered plain steamed everything. I can only guess that they used a spoon to serve my food that had already been in something else. I was sick before we left the restaurant that night. I won't go into details, but it wasn't pretty.

Another time I started getting asthma 2 or 3 times a week at the end of the workday. I couldn't figure out what was doing it, until I realized I had been buying fat-free pretzels out of the machine in the break area on those days. Those pretzels had no oil, but the company that made them made a non-fat-free version made with soy oil, and I am willing to bet they were run on the same machines without cleaning them in between. I stopped eating the pretzels, and I stopped getting asthma.

Last week I realized that a Swiss Bakery had opened a few doors down from my Tae Kwon Do studio. I stopped in after work before the evening rush to talk to the owner. She readily identified the rolls and bread and even cakes that had no fat or only butter in them. But as she kept talking, she realized that everything is rolled out on the same tables, and they run everything through the same mixer, starting with the lightest color and ending with the darkest. So everything in her bakery, potentially, could have some amount of soy in it.

Right now my favorite neighborhood restaurant is a Pho place. Pho, for those of you who don't know, is Vietnamese soup, and it is made with fish sauce, not soy sauce. It's very good, and comes in different varieties, including chicken, beef, seafood, and other things I am not familiar with. But, good as it is, Pho gets old, so I asked the manager about soy in his other dishes. It was quite a production, with the language problem and the manager going back and forth to the kitchen to talk to the cook. It eventually turned out that everything else on the menu, with the exception of the uncooked rice paper spring rolls, had soy in it, usually in the form of what the manager called "soybean vegetable salad oil."

Oh, well. Like I said, Pho is good.