Got a Suggestion or Submission?

Got a Suggestion or Submission?
Send me an email to Niki at HoldingOntoTheMagic dot com!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

[Skillet Experiment of the Day--A Success!]

How long since I last wrote here? Eight months? Sheeeesh. Hopefully that will be changing soon, as I'm not teaching or taking classes this summer, so I'll just [hopefully] be doing a day job instead of working day and night. :)

I've recently started integrating chunks of Dr. Joel Fuhrman's nutritarian diet--it hasn't been a complete adoption, as it'd be very hard to do that on my current income and just using veggies out of my garden. But the changes I have made have helped me feel better--a little more energy, fewer day-in-day-out headaches... Plus, it's pretty much a lactose-free diet, so it does cut back on Explode-a-Gut, too. (Photos of my awesome upcycled-door garden below, from before most of the seeds sprouted):

Using some of these new parameters, I decided to use a few items from my fridge before they turned, and tonight's skillet experiment turned out better than I'd hoped. It's a bit like a breakfast scramble/burrito (if you put it on a whole grain tortilla like I did)--a little less flavorful, but spices go a long way in fixing that if it bothers you.

You'll need:

  • A deep pan skillet, 10 inches wide or more
  • 1 lb extra firm tofu
  • 2 ripe avocados, mashed
  • 1 lb fresh asparagus, chopped to 1-2 inch pieces
  • Kale--the more the merrier (spinach would taste great, too, though it will change the flavor somewhat)
  • Paprika
  • Turmeric
  • Sea salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (this does break the nutritarian rules a little bit, but the flavor would suffer without it)
Use 1/2 of the olive oil to grease the pan, then add mashed avocado, diced tofu, chopped asparagus, and paprika and turmeric to taste. You could also add chopped mushrooms and onions, which will make this taste even more omelet-y. Stir fry the contents of the skillet until the asparagus is beginning to turn tender, and then add kale, remaining olive oil, and any additional seasoning (taste test it--you may need more or not). Stir fry until the kale is wilted but still present and bright green, and your asparagus has cooked to your tenderness preferences. Then, serve either on whole grain tortillas or by itself, and enjoy! Lots of nutrients, fresh taste, and healthy with very little compromise.

If you try it out, let me know how it turned out for you. I have a low spice-heat tolerance, so my recipes usually require a little more presence of spices for the average food-lover.

Sorry--no pictures for now. I scarfed it too quickly, and what's left has already been refrigerated. The next time I whip it up, I'll edit this post with photos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

[Quinoa Lovers Unite! Portabello Marinara Quinoa]

I've recently discovered the joy that is quinoa. I posted a recipe on the Life After Lactose Facebook page on September 7, from a site called Fit Foodie. I've made it twice already, doubling the recipe and making a fantabulous hot breakfast and cold mid-morning snack for my art-class days (it's one really long day, let me tell ya). Filling, and fulfills my sweet-tooth cravings using Stevia instead of sugar. Note: I don't have flaxseed or chia seeds on hand (I keep forgetting to pick some up), but it's still a great recipe without them.

Tonight, I tried a recipe I put together on the spot and loved--lots of flavor, and unlike some of the packaged quinoa kits, low on sodium (I use little salt anyway, so salty meals don't particularly appeal to me). It required the following ingredients to make a two-person or two-meal batch:

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup red wine (I used blackberry merlot, but you can probably substitute grape juice or similar drinks if you don't want the alcohol--it burns out, but it's never fully gone, and I know some folks who have to avoid alcohol entirely)
1/2 cup tomato sauce (I use either Prego or Hunt's, depending on what I have on hand)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, pressed and diced, or at least chopped into several pieces
Portabello mushrooms, chopped into bite-sized pieces. I used half of a pint.
Italian seasoning to taste
Parmesan cheese (there are some good vegan alternatives if your lactose intolerance is severe enough that you can't handle even Parmesan--me, it depends on the week, so tonight I used the real thing) to taste

Bring to a boil the quinoa, garlic, water, wine, and sauce in a small-to-medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover for five minutes, stirring occasionally. After five minutes, add all of the remaining ingredients, except for the Parmesan cheese, which goes on top just before serving. Stir well, then cover and simmer for 8-15 minutes, or however long it takes for the quinoa to absorb most of the liquid (you'll want a little extra left over, because it absorbs the rest on its own shortly thereafter). Sprinkle with the cheese, and serve!

Tip: If you're like me and cooking for one, split it into two meals and save some sauce for reheating.
Another tip: If you'd like your quinoa to have a little less of an al dente texture (I think it's a fun texture, but it's not for everyone, and for this meal, I actually liked having it a little more tender), add more water so you'll have to boil longer.

This meal make a good spaghetti replacement, and it's high in protein. You don't have to eat as much volume-wise to feel full, so this actually makes a good stand-alone meal. I served mine on one of my little dessert plates, and despite the fact that I have a notably voracious appetite, I felt full and satisfied with the one plate. I plan to make it at least once more this week to finish off my pint of mushrooms and the rest of my small can of spaghetti sauce.

Monday, July 9, 2012

[Baked (Not Fried) Eggplant "Parmesan"]

All right now, I just made the most fabulous tray of eggplant Parmesan ever. Or close, anyway. Now, I will admit, for this trial run, I did use real cheese, but only because I haven't been as sensitive lately, though I may eat my words (and my meal again) tonight, and I never manage to eat my cheese substitutes before they mold. However, there's no reason that it wouldn't be just as (or nearly just as) delish using the cheese substitutes referenced in earlier blog posts--it'll just have a slightly different texture. But the rest of the ingredients will more than make up the diff.

This recipe is adapted from the Whole Foods Market  recipe, but changed to be a little healthier and a little more flavorful.

You will need:
1 large eggplant, sliced into 1/4"-1/3" medallions
2-3 farm fresh eggs (I have an allergy to eggs from chickens fed "special" feed, so I buy mine directly from a farmer friend of my family), beaten
Panko bread crumbs (amount depends on how "large" your eggplant is--I got away with less than 1 cup, but barely)
2-4 tomatoes (ripe make the recipe sweet, green makes it tangy--I had both, and both tasted awesome)
Italian seasoning
Olive oil to coat the pan and drizzle to taste on the eggplant

Preheat your oven to 375--you might put the pan in while it's preheating to warm up before the next step. Slice your eggplant, and coat the pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then coat each slice with egg, then with Panko crumbs (optional: add garlic powder to the crumbs if you love garlic), and place them on the tray, no more than one layer thick (some overlapping doesn't hurt, but even baking is the goal here). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, flip the eggplant medallions over, then cook another 10 minutes. During that last round, you might want to slice your tomatoes thinly, or do what I did and add each slice to the top of an eggplant medallion as you slice them. I did it later to use as much of the juices as possible. Either way, at the end that 10 minutes on the second side, remove the tray from the oven, and increase the heat to 475. For each medallion, place one slice of tomato on top. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and any other seasoning you like in your marinara sauces. Sprinkle generously with "mozzarella" cheez and vegan "Parmesan." Return the tray to the oven and bake for 5-15 minutes, until the "cheez" is melted and beginning to lightly brown. The WFM recipe called for 15 minutes, but as you can see in the photo below, 10 minutes was more than enough.

Take it out and enjoy it! What I found was so great about this version is how fresh the recipe tastes without the eggplant being fried and by using fresh tomato slices in the place of tomato sauce. Lots of flavor, and very satisfying.

I honestly had to restrain myself from scarfing down the other half of my tray. I think my distended stomach would've resented it, though. :) Oh, dear... and I think I'm already regretting using real cheese. Oh, well...

Yes, I know my pan is hideous. Unfortunately, it's also the only one that actually fits in my little oven.

So nummy! I'm definitely looking forward to eating the other half when I get home from work tonight!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

[Skillet Dinner]

One thing I love about summer is the ability to get fresh produce from local farmers and even our own gardens. I don't have a veggie garden myself (I'm testing myself for a couple years with flowers first), but my parents do. As a result, for a couple of months, I get as much zucchini and summer squash as I want. There are others in their garden, but these are my personal favorites.

Recently, I started to play around with these veggies to figure out a meal that's fast, easy, healthy, and filling, as well as tasty. I did have the additional challenge of suspecting that I might be allergic to tofu, so I had to go back to eggs to get my protein (I'm not vegan or vegetarian, but I do try to keep from overeating meat). Eventually, I worked out one skillet dinner that's good enough that I'm eating it almost every day. It's fast (important when I'm in and out of class for twelve hours four days per week), flexible, and healthier than some other dinners I've encountered.

You'll need:

  • Whole grain tortillas
  • Red or russet potatoes, diced
  • Red or white onions, diced/chopped
  • Zucchini or squash or both, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh garlic
  • Eggs 
  • Sea salt
One thing I like to do is chop up all my vegetables all at once, maybe once every one-to-two weeks, and place them in labeled bags or containers. It takes a couple to a few hours, but then the rest of the week is easier, and I'm more likely to cook dinner than to heat a frozen meal. This also allows me to make this recipe for either one meal or several days' worth. The recipe I'm going to describe here fits in a 7-inch skillet and covers my one tortilla completely. My goal is to not have to snack for awhile, so I can get more accomplished with my time. :)

Before beginning, drizzle olive oil in your skillet so that the entire bottom is coated (you can use more if you want--I'm usually just trying to keep my food from burning if I get momentarily distracted). Then, depending on your preferences, mince one or two garlic cloves and spread the garlic evenly in your skillet. Turn the burner to medium to medium high heat, and toss in a handful of chopped onions before the skillet gets hot. Let it cook for about 15-30 seconds before tossing in your diced potatoes (again, about a handful, depending on your appetite). When the onions begin to become transparent, toss in the zucchini/squash (a handful or two--it's the healthiest part, so you can be a little more generous). You don't want to throw the squash/zucchini in too soon, because it gets soft much faster than anything else in the skillet, and while you do want to cook it more than stir-fry "crisp," letting it get soggy creates a greasy feel. Then again, go with your gut. When you notice the z/squash beginning to turn translucent (cooked, but not to the point where you want it to be when you eat it yet), crack an egg or two into the skillet. 

Sprinkle with sea salt, then toss until the eggs are cooked and scrambled. Add additional salt to taste and serve on an open tortilla (it's not exactly the most burrito- or taco-folded friend meal--it's a bit messy, but delish!). Enjoy!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

[Vegetarian "Cream Cheese" Pasta]

The other night, I stared into my refrigerator, trying to figure out how to put together something filling, nourishing, capable of stretching across several meals, and different from my usual go-to skillet hodgepodges. In the end, I pulled out:

Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese Herb and Chives
1 lb of tofu (firm or extra firm, cubed)
1 half (up to a whole) carton of cherry/grape tomatoes
1/2 to 1 white onion chopped
1 bell pepper
1/2 or a whole box of whole wheat/grain pasta (shells, rotini, etc.)
Garlic power, to taste
Paprika, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Sea salt, to taste

It turned out pretty awesome. I actually repeated this meal, but because I had different veggies and only plain "cream cheese" on hand, I used the following ingredients in the same approximate order. To my surprise, I liked this one even better!  Use:

Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese Plain

1 lb of tofu (firm or extra firm, cubed)
1 half (up to a whole) carton of cherry/grape tomatoes
1/2 to 1 white onion chopped
1 can black olives
1/2 or a whole box of whole wheat/grain pasta (shells, rotini, etc.)
1 lb fresh asparagus, chopped
A handful of fresh cilantro

Garlic power, to taste
Paprika, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Sea salt, to taste

Dry fry tofu in large skillet, then add onions and seasonings. Stir fry for two minutes, then add the rest of the veggies.

Cover and stir often. While the skillet steams/stir-fries, boil pasta in separate container, removing and draining about one minute before it reaches al dente or your preferred doneness.

Combine with skillet ingredients, then add the "cream cheese" and stir until mixed in.

Simmer for five minutes or until the grape/cherry tomatoes break (trust me--they retain heat worse than the rest of the food, and it's rather unpleasant to bite into a still-scalding-hot tomato and burn your mouth!). Serve.

Behold, the deliciousness:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

[Back to the Diet]

I had a colonoscopy at the end of January (sorry if that's oversharing!), and the result for me was simply that I have IBS, not Celiac's or Crohn's, as I feared (the latter does run in the family--a cousin who is not much older than me just had his colon removed recently due to Crohn's, so it was a valid worry, especially since I had a lot of symptoms of my own). Severe and annoying IBS, but just IBS all the same. It did have the unexpected effect of giving me a short one-month reprieve from my lactose intolerance, since my system got flushed out. But, as of this week, milk and I are no longer on speaking terms.

What does all this mean? Well, a renewed interest in finding new lactose-free recipes, of course, and that means more posts! I do apologize for slacking off for awhile there. Keep your eyes peeled for something new in the near future.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

[Chocoholics Rejoice!]

Thanks to Chocolate Covered Katie, you can enjoy milk-free chocolate mousse shots. And they're relatively healthy!  I'll try it out this month and give you the report, but I'm already sure it'll be great. Here's the link for the recipe, out of respect to the originator:

frosting glass

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

[Still Alive!]

Good evening all! I haven't fallen off the face of the earth yet; I've just been going through a rough patch in my car-wreck recovery (getting a cold, a sinus infection, the flu (and I get vaccinated!), and yet another cold within the past two months on top of it. Needless to say, sickness combined with post-concussive disorder equals some difficulty in forming words on paper. But... I'm back! And I'm cooking a little, so I've got some new recipes to try on you all.

In the meantime, watch out for reviews of the following:

Amy's Kitchen Tofu Scramble (and my homemade version of this delicious dish)
Amy's Kitchen Indian Mattar Tofu (my first time eating an Indian dish)
Plus, a handful of Amy's Kitchen soups
Better Than Cream Cheese
Better Than Sour Cream
Daiya "Mozzarella" (hint: I wasn't wild about the texture of this one)
Almond Cheeze

For now, though, my dog is fussing at me for not playing with today, and since she's my family... :)

Until next time, readers! Again, feel free to send in recipes and reviews! If you'd like to do a guest post, we might be able to work something out, so let me know.

Monday, December 19, 2011

[Sassy For the Win]

Hey, everyone! Vote for Sassy for Subaru Spokesdog!

She's entrant number 14 (and, let's face it, the cutest of all...). 

Biased? Me?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

[Fantabulous Whole-Wheat Pancakes]

Note: this recipe is lactose-free, but it is NOT gluten-free or dairy-free if you use the same topping I use.

I love me some carbs, and when it comes to breakfast, I want to eat a breakfast that's going to tide me over until lunchtime--and believe it or not, that's a pretty tough job with me.  One recipe that does do the trick for me, however, is whole-wheat pancakes.

Here's what I use:

2 and 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
4 tbs carob or cocoa powder
2 cups fat-free lactose-free milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk
2 tbs lemon juice
6 tbs vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbs ground cinnamon

Optional: chocolate chips, fruit, etc.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, followed by the liquid ingredients. Mix well. Ladle onto griddle or into pan. Makes approximately one-week's worth of breakfast for one individual. Refrigerate leftover batter for the rest of the week.

As for toppings, you can go the traditional route, but I like to use either Nutella (note: Nutella and off-brands of hazelnut-chocolate spread DO have trace amounts of milk, but their amounts are low enough that I don't have a reaction, so use your own judgment), fresh fruit, or soy yogurt.

Oh, and another recommendation: If you're like me and can't tolerate eggs (I'm not talking about an allergy like hives, but stomach reactions), you might try befriending a local farmer who raises his or her chickens without the use of hormones or antibiotics. I could never tolerate eggs growing up, myself. I'd get these ridiculous stomachaches, often throwing up the breakfast I'd just eaten right before school. Sometimes the pain would last for two days. We wondered if I had a medical condition, but it just turns out my body was rejecting non-organic eggs. So if you've been in a similar boat, help support your local farmers and buy direct. Ask them what kind of feed they give their chickens, and if they feed them organic chicken feed, sans additives, see if you don't have better luck.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

[Short Hiatus]

Good afternoon, readers! I just wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten about this blog or stopped thinking of things to write about. However, it's the final stretch of the semester, and since I teach four community college writing courses, I have a stack of portfolios to grade that are taller than I am (okay, that's not saying much, but...). After that, I'll be putting in other miscellaneous points, dealing with standard end-of-the-semester drama and panicking.

Needless to say, I probably won't be posting anything between now and next Sunday unless I need a writing distraction.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. The blog now has a [small] presence on Facebook, and it's a great opportunity to have some kind of community. Head on over to "like" the page and get in on the updates. If you have suggestions, send me an email or leave a comment or post on the Facebook page wall.

Stay warm (or cool, if you live in the southern hemisphere or a tropical region), everyone! Try not to get run over while doing your holiday shopping over the next two weeks. :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

[Restaurant Spotlight: Bambu Vietnamese Restaurant]

Springfield, Missouri, is fairly well known for its distinct style of "Chinese" food--specifically of the cashew chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken variety. As such, one doesn't really expect to find much in the way of authentic Asian foods--mostly Americanized versions that, while tasty, are loaded with MSG and fried fat. However, that's changed in recent years.

For one thing, sushi has really taken off as popular local cuisine, and several restaurants dot the landscape, including Sakura, Nakato, Kyoto, and Wayo. All I've eaten so far, have been quite tasty, but like sushi in general (particularly here in the U.S.), eating it out can get expensive very quickly. While those little rolls are surprisingly filling, on my budget, I can't justify spending seven-to-fifteen dollars for one roll except on very rare occasions.

It's sad, too, because I love the Jurassic roll at Sakura's. Oh, lordy...

There are a few others popping up, covering cuisines from Thailand, India, Korea, Vietnam, and more.

But, still, no true dim sum, and I love me some dim sum. I guess that's what I get for living in the Midwest....

Home  I have found a tasty little restaurant on Battlefield Road, however: Bambu Vietnamese restaurant. A quick look at the menu reveals a largely lactose-safe menu, and their website even shares a list of menu items that are also gluten-free. Score! Ratings online reveal that, while not completely on par with Vietnamese restaurants in some of the coastal cities, most patrons consider the food to be authentic, healthy, filling, and delicious.

I have no previous experience with Vietnamese cuisine, but I can vouch for the other three factors. First off, within a three day period, I ate from the restaurant twice--once with carryout, once eating in with my mother.  Both times, mostly because I craved the meal after eating it the first time, I ate the:


Charbroiled Shrimp & BBQ Pork on Vermicelli
Charbroiled Shrimp and sliced BBQ pork on the top of vermicelli, shredded lettuce, carrots, sliced cucumber, mints, bean sprouts, and roasted peanuts. Served with fish sauce on the side

Holy moly.

Crazy-fresh vegetables, filling vermicelli, and no sign of preservatives... so no funky feeling afterward.

Without even trying, I made three full meals out of the dish. The pork is succulently sweet and moist, and the shrimp, well... it's shrimp! And I'm a lifelong shrimp connoisseur. It was charbroiled without being spicy, and if spicy is your thing, have no fear--Bambu gives you plenty of spicy condiments to choose from at your table. I nearly died laughing as my mom made the same rookie mistake I did by trying one of the chili sauces...

"Oh, now that's not too bad." She figured she'd pour some on her meal when it came.

"Hang on, Mom, it takes about thirty seconds to--"

Suddenly, her eyes bulged. "Right on cue, Mom."

Good times.

I haven't tried any of the other meals yet, since I don't get paid next month and therefore have to make every penny stretch, but the Pho noodle soups come highly recommended from Yelp patrons, and most of the items on the menu seemed to be largely dairy-free and beneficial for those of us watching our weight.

Now, it may surprise you since you know I have a bit of a spice aversion, but I'm a pretty adventurous eater. I made a vow early on in life that I would try everything at least once (with only a few exceptions, and none due to a food's exotic or weird nature), and most things, if I didn't like them, I would try them again a year or two later. So it's not a challenge for me to try out new foods, and it doesn't intimidate me much. If you are a little nervous to try Vietnamese, let me reassure you--there are a lot of similarities to some of the fresher Chinese dishes. It has its own distinct flavor, but you can easily taste the fact that both nation's cuisines come from the same area of the world.

Springfield restaurant patrons, whether visitors or residents, have you eaten there? What did you think? What menu items do you recommend for the uninitiated?

And non-Springfieldians... can you recommend similar restaurants in your area?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

[Cheesy Potato Soup Report]

The verdict:

It's spot on.

Any odd or off taste I noticed I was able to immediately attribute to the choice to use Thanksgiving turkey instead of ham. Nothing milk-substitute-related changed the flavor, except maybe to enhance the buttery, cheesy goodness.

One tip, though... don't make the rookie mistake Mom made and buy firm tofu. Buy soft tofu, so it melts in better. It's still great, but it will help thicken the soup up a bit to use the soft tofu.

My half-eaten bowl of soup. Yes, I had to dig in before taking a picture. Don't judge my artistic skills by my voracious appetite.

And now, for seconds.

If you try it out, tell us how YOU liked it!

[Stay Tuned for... Cheesy Potato Soup!]

Our family has a truly killer recipe for potato soup. Oh, yes, it's chock full of fat and cholesterol, but dear God in heaven is it ever fabulous. My college roommates and I (in the pre-lactose-free days) used to eat healthy all week so we could make ourselves sick on a full stock pot of that gloriousness. Oh, yes... *reminisces*

Ahem. Anyway, obviously the exact recipe is not going to work so well these days. It breaks my heart, yes, buuuuuuut... Mom's visiting this week while their friend is working on my house, so she's attempting to adjust the recipe for my stomach to handle, and substituting turkey meat for ham to get rid of the rest of our turkey.  I'll definitely post the adjusted recipe this evening with the verdict.

For my still-able-to-consume-dairy reading folks, here's the original recipe (it goes back at least two generations):

4 medium-sized russet potatoes chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped (I usually don't use the onion, but it works either way)
2 cans of cream of ______ soup (choose whichever you like)
1 stick of butter
1 can of evaporated milk
Garlic, salt to taste
Chopped pre-cooked/baked ham, roughly a large handful or two
1 large package of shredded cheese, usually cheddar, amount to taste, or half of a block of cheddar

Boil the potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion in water until tender. Drain. Return veggies to stock pot and add liquid ingredients with butter until it just starts to boil. Decrease heat to low or medium-low so it doesn't boil over, then add cheese and seasonings gradually until the cheese melts and the milky broth is a soft yellow color--not vivid yellow, but more yellow than off-white.  You may wish to add more milk to thin the recipe or more cheese to make it taste sharper. Most of the ingredients here are of the "add a pinch or a handful of...." variety, so adjust to suit your tastes.

Our adjusted recipe, made mostly the same way, will include not draining the veggies, using Lactaid milk (if you have a full dairy allergy, using non-sweetened soy, rice, or almond milk should be fine--but do NOT use a sweetened variety... I made that mistake when I wrote the recipe down wrong the first time and used condensed instead of evaporated milk. It was horrible!). Instead of canned cream-of-____ soup, we're using a non-dairy recipe from (, and we're going to use standard salted butter--it usually doesn't bother me. If it does bother you, use a non-dairy margarine or shortening like the linked cream of mushroom soup calls for. We're also using the Almond cheddar "cheese" from yesterday's photo instead of standard cheddar, and we're thickening the recipe by adding tofu (about half a package) with the milk, so it behaves more like evaporated milk.

Pictures and review coming tonight!

Monday, November 28, 2011

[Amy's Kitchen, Part Two: Burrito]

On my way home from work/the ear doctor, I stopped over at MaMa Jean's. I'm a little turkeyed out right now, so I thought I'd pick up some "cheeze" and another Amy's meal to sample.

For tonight's dinner, I heated up the burrito and a little of the Daiya Mozzarella in case the burrito came out spicy. I confess, I have a very low spice tolerance, hence my need for cheese! As it turns out, the burrito was delightfully mild with the right type of flavor for a spice-lover to sprinkle with tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper.

Yes, I eat in bed sometimes. Don't judge.

Overall, I enjoyed the meal. It filled me up nicely, and the cheese melted like, well, cheese. Was it a spot-on comparison? No, not really, but it was close enough I wouldn't have withdrawals. :) And the first few bits of the burrito were, oh, fantabulous. No hard corners, like my El Monterrey chimichangas and burritos tend to get, and it had an excellent balance of authentic (or "authentic"? Hey, I live in Missouri...) Mexican tastes without being, well, Tex-Mex. It was big enough (about the size of one-and-a-half El Monterreys) for my appetite.

However, the meal did have a couple of minuses. Like many other gluten-free wheat alternatives, after a few bites and as it cooled down, the tortilla's texture was a bit... off--almost like it was made of potatoes (could be, actually... I didn't check the ingredients before chucking the package). For some people, that's great... they love potatoes; however, I have a strong gag reflex, especially since I've had soft palate surgery, so a potato texture had a tendency to trigger that reflex. The other was price. At over $3.50 per burrito (I get eight with El Monterrey for the same price at WalMart), it was hard for me to justify buying them on a regular basis for a quick lunch.

Now, you can buy direct from Amy's for a lower price ($2.84 unit price), and if your budget allows for you to, say, eat out on a regular basis or buy "gourmet" meals from the store ($3-5+ range), then it may work for you. I'd just suggest you sample one for yourself at a local store before buying in bulk from Amy's. Additionally, entrees are still over $5.00 apiece for the most part, so they're the sort of meals you want to get as an indulgence when you have a craving for, say, Indian food or lasagna and you don't want to pay the gastrointestinal price.

Still, it's nice to know we have edible and fairly comparable options.

I'm planning to sample one of the Indian foods soon. I haven't had much (okay, any...) Indian food other than a brief sample on a youth group trip to London in 2001 (plus, there's the spice factor for me), so it'll be a new experience in more ways than one. Still, judging by how both meals I've had so far have compared to their milk-induced counterparts, I think I'll be getting a pretty accurate taste for that particular dish. I'll be sure to fill you in on the details as they unfold.

If you'd like to contribute to my culinary adventures (or my art business for that matter--I'm in the market for a pen tablet so I can do some web art for the first time and open my options up... but they're still a little steep for me with fewer classes to teach next semester, even at under $100), feel free to use the Google checkout to the right on this page (or my Amazon Wishlist, also to the right, for art-related needs).

Until next time, readers! Don't forget to check out my other two blogs, in the meantime, if you'd like to read more of my writing or sample some of my artwork.

After-note: Amy's does have a standard non-dairy (but not non-gluten) burrito that I couldn't find today, so when I sample that one, I'll let you know my reaction. I have a feeling it will be more positive.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Company Spotlight of the Day: Amy's Kitchen

Amy's Kitchen

According to their website:

Amy’s is sensitive to the dietary needs and concerns of our consumers. At Amy’s Kitchen we understand that 1 in 25 people in the United States suffer from a food allergy.While some common food allergies include: dairy, soy and tree nuts, several other allergies once thought to be uncommon are on the rise, especially among young infants and children In addition, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 65% of US adults are either overweight or obese, which can lead to other serious chronic illnesses 
Amy’s understands that many of our customers follow special diets, whether for an allergy related illness or just simply to live a healthier lifestyle and avoid chronic illnesses.

I've not had the opportunity to try many of their products, mostly because their frozen dinners retail at about $5 around this area if you buy from the store, and I'm on a $1-$3-per-meal budget these days, and I confess I like me some frozen dinners, but I have had the pleasure of sampling Amy's Vegetable Lasagna. Speaking as a lifelong pastaholic (I used to go to the Pasta House once a week growing up, and I'd still ask for spaghetti at home and usually get it), I was really impressed with the flavor. It tasted exactly like ricotta and spinach lasagna that I would make myself or even order in a restaurant (in smaller portions). As a bonus, it's not only dairy-free, it's great for those who are gluten-free and who are vegan! I'm rather fond of meat, myself, but I do enjoy some vegan options, and this one definitely tops my list. It's also low-fat, kosher, tree-nut-free, and only 300 calories for the entire meal. It filled me up nicely, so I felt no need to, say, make whole-wheat garlic bread to tide me over a bit more. Pretty nice for those of us who want to lose weight.

Additionally, when you're researching the products on their website, they have a very convenient checklist for special dietary needs. So if you're someone who's not just lactose intolerant, but also has a gluten allergy (I'm wondering if that's one of my other issues as well right now, but I haven't been diagnosed), is vegan, etc., you can easily narrow the product list down without having to read through all the ingredients one-by-one. By narrowing it down to lactose-intolerant and dairy free, the product list that appeared still had 160 products. Nice.

For my local readers, I've found Amy's meals at MaMa Jean's Market, Akin's Natural Foods, Dillon's, and HyVee. I haven't looked for it in WalMart yet, mostly because WalMart is not always on top of the special diet needs market, and I don't even bother to look generally. Amy's does have vendor directory, and if it's not available in your area, Amy's has a list of online vendors, including (bonus for those of us who are Prime members!), which sells the non-perishable varieties. Amazon's prices are pretty good--you can get, for example, the Lentil and Minestrone variety pack with Subscribe and Save for only $15.57, and you get eight soups. Price-wise, that's pretty much on-par with brand name soups like Progresso and Healthy Choice, and this way you know it's not going to set you off if you have sensitive levels of lactose intolerance.

Definitely recommended!

Which Amy's Kitchen products have you sampled? What did you think? Which ones do you recommend most?

Correction: I used the wrong product image for the meal I ate. The meal I actually sampled was the Tofu Dairy-free Lasagna: 

Tofu Vegetable Lasagna

And it was fabulous. If I get a chance to sample the other and it's different than what I've claimed here, I'll let you know. For now, I have the same basic expectation of excellence. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why the Blog?!

It's the holiday season here in the United States, and a condition that I've had in the past for, at the most, six months at a time, has become completely chronic.

I'm now lactose intolerant.

In the past, when my system's been out of whack, I've had to avoid richer milk products to avoid spending way too much time sitting on the porcelain throne. But eventually, I usually was able to return to my regularly scheduled cheese, ice cream, and miscellaneous products. So when it hit me about nine months ago, at the age of 27, I thought if I simply waited it out, I'd be back to normal.

Well, not this time. Nine months later, I can't even have a spoonful of green bean casserole unless I want to be homebound for about 48 hours--even if I take a dose of Lactaid at just the right moment. And it's taken my well-intentioned mother nearly this entire time to start reading labels before donating food to my personal pantry (and even then... oy!), and this month has been the first one in over a year when I haven't had to use copious amounts of air freshener in the bathroom.

Now, I love me some milk products, so this has been a rather difficult transition. But some research and experimentation has led me to conclude that, with a little extra effort, there can be life after lactose. More and more companies are producing products that remove the lactose from the milk or making products that use real alternatives to milk without sacrificing taste and that don't cost significantly more than normal lactose-laced products (because I don't know about you, but I barely make ends meet as it is without having to consider a specialized diet!)

This past week was Thanksgiving, and for once, Mom thought ahead and looked up a recipe online for pumpkin pie that did not use milk, and much to her and my surprise--it tasted the same! I'll be sharing that recipe in the near future.

Now, I'm just starting to be proactive about finding lactose alternatives, and living in a smaller city (Springfield, Missouri), there aren't always some of the products available that are more easily found in St. Louis, Kansas City, and some of the coastal area. So, I'm going to be sharing my newfound recipes and products, reviewing them here, and passing the information along to you. There may be other food-related posts as well.  But I can't do this alone...

So what can you do? If you encounter a well-priced store, product, a recipe, or a milk alternative technique that is truly comparable to the real thing, send it to me! Tell me where you found it, the price (or price to make), and tell me about your experience. I'll share it here, and eventually, I hope we'll have a splendid little Life After Lactose community and the comfort in knowing that we're not alone!

So send your submissions to Niki at HoldingOntoTheMagic dot com. Tell me your name and your website/blog, so I can give you credit, and any other helpful information.  Photos, links, and other media can help readers get a better idea what we're talking about, so don't be shy about sending those along.

Check back soon for recipes, products, store reviews, and more!