Live Blog: Vittles: Recipe Development and Adaptation for Special Dietary Needs


Welcome to the BlogHer Food '11 live blog of the Vittles: Recipe Development and Adaptation for Special Dietary Needs panel!

Top 8 Food Allergies: Wheat, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and eggs.

If you have your own tips you want to give out – feel free!

Take-home strategies: How do you adapt a recipe to be sugar-free or low-fat? Is there a certain process you follow?

Sarena: First I look at what fat they are using and what sugar they are using. If its an oil based recipe I can use some sort of fruit puree to substitute the oil. When it comes to cooking (as opposed) to baking
– I start by adding a little bit at a time to try to get it close to eliminated as possible. I use a lot of herbs and spices to give flavor instead of using fat. If I am subbing sugar – there are a ton of options. I start by lowering the sugar amount to see how far I can go with getting away with not using as much.

Q: How do you adapt your recipes to be vegan?

Alicia: First you look at the dairy products. Nowadays there are a ton of options on subbing dairy. A lot of it is really trial-and-error when it comes to baking. The biggest issue is what kind of plant-based
substitute for the meat. Satan is a personal favorite of mine and so is textured vegetable protein, like tofu is takes on the flavor of what its cooking in. I also love to use chickpeas in place of chicken, they are
high in fiber and flavor.

Q: What about gluten-free?

Colette: Usually you are eliminating wheat, but sometimes rye and barley. There are a number of really tasty whole grain flours out there that all have their own unique taste. Experiment with them and see which ones you like to use. Also, bean flours are really good too. First I consider the flour, and then I consider how to bring flours together. A lot of gluten-free recipes call for rice flour- but I like to blend flours to get a less grainy flour taste. For example, combining rice flour with a couple others can get you pretty close to standard white flour. To help your foods hold together – you need a starch. It also lightens your food and helps it not be as dense. Also, without gluten you are missing the stickiness.

Xantham gum is something you can use just a tiny bit of to help your breads hold together. A typical whole-wheat flour blend weighs about 4.5 oz a cup. Some rice based flour blends weigh as much as 5.6 oz per cup – that makes a really big difference when baking! You can adjust by adding more liquid, OR you can adjust the amount of flour you use to lighten it up. You’ll get fluffier muffins instead of hockey pucks.

Alisa: what’s important to me in substituting are taste and texture. I’m replacing the properties of that ingredient and it still needs to work. For example, cream. When you whip dairy cream, you get a fluffy result. Most plant based fats do not solidify when they chill so they don’t fluff as well. A great sub is coconut milk. The cream on top of the coconut milk has saturated fat that behaves like a dairy fat and so it fluffs well. Then there is the flavor component – a lot of times when you have cheese in a recipe what you are replacing is the saltiness of the cheese. For mashed potatoes I use rice milk, soy milk or cashew milk; almond milk does not work well.

Q: What can you do about the cheesiness that you lose? Other cheese substitutes?

Alisa: I honestly don’t believe cheese subs do a good job of mimicking real cheese. However the Dea cheese does a good job.

Alicia: Teese does good and so does Dea – it’s allergen free. But like, Alisa I don’t use a lot of cheese subs. Since DEA has come out – a lot more companies are working on getting it right.

Colette: Cheese is one of those foods that I don’t’ think I have to replace it if I can just leave it out.

Alisa: Nutritional Yeast is another great product that has a cheesy flavor. And Tahini is a good option too.

Sarena: Also hummus adds creaminess and tang that cheese offers.

Alicia: Also, if you can do nuts – cashews are great as a creamy substitute. Soak them first and they will cream up really well.

Q: Coconut cream: how long do you whip it for? Is it light or heavy?

Alisa: It’s a similar process as whipping dairy cream; I follow the same process. It is very simillar to dairy cream, especially if you add a powdered sugar to sweeten it and some vanilla extract helps. You could
also use coconut sugar for a lower-glycemic option.

Q: What are your 2 favorite products for creating low-fat?

Sarena: I use a lot of fruit purees in my baked goods. I also use Smart Balance Lite in my dairy free baking – but you have to eyeball it to make sure the batter looks like the right consistency. I also use a mix of Steevia and sugar to lower the sugar intake. However, it does take away the bulk of the batter – so you have to make sure you balance it right. New Naturals by Steevia is my favorite product to use. They have a wide variety of products you can use in your baking that don’t sub flavor.

Q: Does Steevia work better in certain types of food?

Sarena: A lot of it is about cutting back. You do have to be careful with how much you use – which is why I like to use fruits because the flavor component isn’t lost. I also use a lot of natural raw sugars. The Swanson vitamins website is a great website. Liquid Steevia is what I prefer for baking. I also make my own fruit purees to use in baking.

Q: What are your favorite fruit purees to use?

Sarena: Applesauce. It’s mild enough to use even in yellow cakes.

Q: What are your 2 favorite products for creating vegan food?

Alicia: Soy yogurt. There actually an un-sweetened soy yogurt version that I like. If you ask for it, they will start stocking it. It’s great to replace eggs and I’ve also used it with fruit purees. It binds lovely.
Texture-wise the yogurt works better than Flax, and there is a visual difference when you use the yogurt versus the flax.

On the meat side of things – chickpeas are probably my favorite. I’ve fallen in love with their texture and they are cheap, low in fat and high in protein. And they are flavorful! I’ve only used them in chicken
recipes – I don’t think they would work as well as a beef substitute. Though they are a good sub for tuna. Use a cup to 2 cups for every pound that would be in a recipe. You can mash them, chop them, etc. There is so much to do with a little bean.

Portabella mushrooms (or any mushrooms) are great standbys for meat subbing. Dried mushrooms can go a long way.

Q: What are your 2 favorite products for subbing gluten in recipes?

Colette: There are a lot of gluten-free products popping up and I really like flour blends. The few I really like are: Jewel’s Gluten-free all purpose flour (get It online). It contains a specific type of tapioca starch that expands well. I don’t like it as much for cakes, muffins or cookies, but it works extremely well when making bread! It already has the Xanthan gum – so do check to see which ones have it so you don’t add it when you don’t need to.

King Arthur Flour Multigrain Flour Multi-Grain Blend – it’s only available online or in their stores. It doesn’t contain the Xanthan gum, so you need to add it.

Also, I want to mention oats. Naturally oats do not contain gluten. The problem lies in that most oats are made in gluten environments. I like to bake with oats. Bob’s Red Mill has a line of gluten-free oats – all kinds. Gluten-free products can be very expensive so I recommend you buy in bulk and save where you can.

Q: What is the best flour to use that is gluten-free for cookies or cupcakes?

Colette: I’d give pretty much the same answer. I’d choose the King Arthur Multi-Grain blend or one from Namaste foods- I think it’s called the perfect gluten-free flour blend. You can go either way – whole wheat flour blends or rice flour blends. In terms of making them fluffy – think about your options.

You can use sweet rice flour as a thickener. For example, a pie filling would normally use a starch to thicken it. And sweet rice flour will do practically the same thing. Sweet rice flour is the sticky rice.

Quinoa is a great grain and you can use it as a cereal sub and works great for cookies. You can grind the flakes into a fine powder and use it in flour.

Alisa: If you are subbing oil for butter, you sub it by at least half. Then when you have the dough/batter, you add liquid to make the right consistency.

Q: What are your 2 favorite products for creating dairy free?

Alicia: At the end of the day it’s still a sugar. And it turns in to glucose into your body. Agave does have a lower GI but you still have to be conservative when using it. It’s less refined than white sugar – but
sugar is sugar. Alisa: coconut oil and coconut cream. I really love using coconut oil for making spreads. I make a carrot whip where I whip carrots and coconut oil and it makes a wonderful spread. It solidifies really well. The one problem I have with it is that when you are using cold ingredients, you have to have them warm/room temp before you add them. Otherwise it messes up and you can’t re-warm it then. But if you use it to make biscuits it works well as a lard sub. And, I haven’t had many people notice the coconut flavor. Nutiva coconut oil on is a great option. I also like Smart Balance for a good soy-free option.

I also like cashews, but a lot of people soak the nuts. But cashews are wonderful because you can grind them well into a fine powder and then you can easily whisk in to a starchy dish to add creaminess. They have a slightly sweet taste (not pronounced like the other nuts) that works well in a variety of ways.

Also, avocado is a good egg replacer. They have a natural gelatin texture to them – so it’s creamy and it works well in mousses and smoothies.

Q: Opinions on agave nectar?

Sarena: If you bake with it you have to lower the amount of liquid you bake with. It’s also sweeter than sugar so you have to go easier on it. It is processed, but it is also a natural ingredient. You usually use 2/3 of a cup for every cup of dry sugar you would use.

Alisa: It gets a lot of flack because it is a high fructose alternative. But so is honey.

Alisa: Dates are also a great way to add sweet to a recipe without using sugar. You can puree them down and use them as a natural way to sweeten.

Primal Diet – great blueprint for nutritional info.

Q: Tell me more about using dates.

Alisa: I like using Medual Dates. They are the sweetest and most regulated in flavor. I add some hot water and mash them with a fork. That’s how I puree them. Or you can use a high powered blender or food processor. I like to combine peanut butter, dates and cinnamon and make a spread for a rice cake.

Q: When I use applesauce as an oil sub it makes my muffin seem spongy. What’s going on?

Sarena: when you eliminate things from your diet - try doing a 50/50 replacement first and then see.

Colette: Applesauce can replace eggs, oil and sugar. It’s like a miracle ingredient. It’s really versatile in your baking. It works extremely well in cakes and muffins. Stay away from it in breads and crusts.

Alicia: sometimes you just have to leave the recipe and move on. If the sub is too much – you might just have to throw in the towel.

Alisa: good point. I tried to recreate an enchilada recipe one time and it wasn’t working. So instead I looked up more authentic recipe and focused on the flavors, not the ingredients. Sometimes we have to make it better! Throw out the idea of making it better and make it different.

Q: Have a mayo sub?

Colette: Hummus and avocado are great mayo subs. You just need a little moisture.

Q: Problems that arise in subs?

Sarena: I think buckwheat flour is a great product to make sturdy hearty bread. It makes great pancakes. Also, make smaller pancakes – it works easier.

Colette: Any gluten-free pancake can be hard to master. But if you use half buckwheat flour you can make them without having them stick to the pan.