Health in Action: Allergen-Free Cooking with Shari Roberts of Positive Kitchen
Our Health in Action series profiles people in the community who are living Actively Northwest. Follow along each week as we profile new people who are committed to living active, healthy lives through fitness and food.
After 22 years of eating whatever he wanted, Shari Roberts’ son experienced a life-altering change: he was diagnosed with gluten, dairy, egg, soy and beef intolerances. Finding food he could eat that still tasted good was a challenge, for both him and his mom.
Instead of giving up, Shari tapped her chemistry background to modify delicious recipes and make them allergen-free. From that hard work and experimentation, Positive Kitchen was born.
Read on for Shari’s tips and tricks on how to eat healthy and deliciously through allergen-free cooking.
ANW: Why did you create Positive Kitchen?
Shari: I wanted to create a resource for other people with food intolerances. Soon after my son’s diagnosis, I began teaching allergen-free cooking classes at the PCC Cooks cooking school. There, my students strongly encouraged me to write a book or start a blog. I was fortunate to partner with a talented editor and cook who not only experiences dietary restrictions every day, but is also interested in expanding and sharing their culinary repertoire. So we launched!
ANW: Does the name Positive Kitchen have a special meaning?
Shari: The word “positive” is the entire reason the blog exists. When an individual learns that they can no longer eat certain food groups, there is a period of mourning. The focus of Positive Kitchen is to celebrate all of the wonderful healthy, tasty foods that can be easily replicated and enjoyed.
ANW: How do you create recipes that are free of gluten, egg, dairy and soy and still make them taste so delicious?
Shari: After spending countless hours substituting out eggs and dairy from gluten-free recipes, I realized that a better approach was to take well-developed traditional recipes and convert them from scratch. Well-written cookbooks such as the Joy of Cooking, Cooks Illustrated and Betty Crocker have recipes that have been developed by professionals in test kitchens and taste tested by millions over decades. I then use my knowledge of chemistry to substitute out the gluten, dairy and egg. The results are much better and can be derived more quickly this way.
ANW: How does your background in chemistry help you develop your recipes?
Shari: Baking is pure chemistry, with a little chemical engineering thrown in. My background in the two fields enables me to modify the recipes in a scientific manner. I also take very precise notes during the development process so I can reproduce the results every time.
I was surprised by how important technique is to this special kind of baking. Here are a few examples:
1. It is crucial to weigh your ingredients (especially dry ingredients).
2. Recipes that contain gluten often recommend mixing as little as possible. However, most gluten-free recipes actually benefit from being mixed for a much longer time.
3. The foolproof way to know if your baked good is done is by using an instant-read thermometer.
Many of the recipes in allergen-free cookbooks and websites result in dishes that are a serious step down from the foods they try to replace. I always strive to find appropriate ingredient blends and methods for each recipe to ensure they are comparable, if not better, than their traditional counterparts.
ANW: Which one of your allergen-free creations is your favorite?
Shari: I have a few favorites, but I’ll share this recipe for allergen-free bagels, since breakfast choices are often limited when you can’t eat gluten, dairy, egg or soy. Sure, there are gluten-free oats and polenta, but there is something about a bagel with a cream cheese substitute that really makes you feel like everyone else—not the kid who needs special meals. You couldeven top it with lox or meat and veggies to make a sandwich!
Recipe to Try: Allergen-free Bagels
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Rise time: 1 hour
Baking time: 25 minutes
Yield: 8 bagels
- 3 ½ cups or 500 grams of Pamela’s Gluten-Free Bread Mix
- 2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
- Pinch of sugar
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup warm water (yes, there are two separate amounts of warm water)
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- Canola oil for shaping
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Combine yeast, pinch of sugar and 1/3 cup warm water in large bowl of stand mixer. Mix with fork or rubber spatula until dissolved. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it starts to form bubbles.
3. Add remaining ingredients, except oil for shaping.
4. Using balloon whisk attachment, mix for 3 minutes (use a timer to make sure you really mix for 3 minutes). Scrape bowl occasionally.
5. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking liner such as Silpat. Oil the parchment paper.
4. Spread oil all over a 1/2-cup measuring cup and your hands—inside and out of both. Scoop 1/2 cup lump of dough onto Silpat (or parchment paper) and gently shape into ball, then grease pointer finger and poke hole in middle. Move your finger in a circle in the hole, stretching the hole until the bagel looks like a bagel. Repeat with rest of dough.
5. Allow to rise in warm place for 1 hour.
6. Gently place risen bagels into large pot of boiling water. (Recommended boiling four bagels at a time.) Boil for 30 seconds, turn over and boil for 30 more seconds. Remove with a skimmer and place back on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
7. Bake on lowest rack for 20 to 25 minutes until brown. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and take the temperature of a bagel with an instant-read thermometer. Bagels are done when internal temperature is at least 200 degrees.
8. Cool on wire rack then slice and enjoy with margarine or Daiya cream cheese spread. These are also excellent toasted!
Note: Leftovers should be sliced and frozen in a freezer bag. Recipe adapted from Pamela’s Products.