Grocer Damnation

Welcome to Issue 08 of Cook-zine of the Damned! I want to say, "Only five more issues to go!(before I achieve my goal for this project)", but at the rate I'm encountering supply problems, I can't promise there will be a ninth let alone a thirteenth. Creativity and inspiration are not trained circus animals that perform on cue. In other words, this takes work. For the most part, it's work I enjoy. This issue was not so much of a joy to create, primarily and almost exclusively because a retail grocery chain decided to screw me with yogurt.

When I say, "me", I mean myself and anyone else who must rely upon non-dairy, non-soy, non-flax substitutes for egg and dairy in their baking and cooking. Specifically, I'm referring to those who require a non-soy plant-based yogurt such as is typically made with either coconut or almond milk. Naming names, the product in question is: So Delicious Unsweetened Cultured Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative. If there are other brands, they are nowhere to be found in my area. As for the product mentioned, only one local store(Wegmans) carried it. They still carry several other products from that brand but dumped the only one that can be baked with successfully.

It's not the first time something like this has happened. For the first two issues, rice milk was the non-dairy milk of choice. Subsequent issues use coconut milk, because there was only one brand of rice milk that was genuinely gluten-free and didn't taste like a chemical spill. When the only grocer in my area that sold it decided to stop carrying it, I was left to scramble for an alternative to what was already in and of itself an alternative. Ordering it online to be shipped by the case, although possible, was cost prohibitive and inconvenient.

For the yogurt, I would consider cost prohibitive shipping a luxury, however, the manufacturer refuses to sell directly to private consumers. So Delicious customer service cheerfully suggested I try Whole Foods. I cheerfully informed them that the nearest store of that chain was two hours away. That left me to beg local grocers to carry it. An effort which has so far proven in vain. Meanwhile, my recipe writing for baked goods is at a halt.

I have tried to doctor the plain in the Greek-style from the same brand by diluting it to a similar viscosity with coconut milk. It worked fine for recipes such as Road Trip Chicken Patties. When it came to baked goods like cakes and cookies, there were two if not three major problems: Unfortunately, the descriptive terms "unsweetened" and "plain" as used on packages of yogurt are not mutually exclusive. Thus, in switching from regular unsweetened to Greek-style plain, I picked up an extra six grams of sugar. This extra sugar resulted in recipes that had already passed testing suddenly turning out over-browned, tough-crusted results. Also adding to the toughness problem, the Greek-style is much drier and gummier, hence the need for dilution. Dilution with coconut milk coupled with the extra sugar created yet another problem --pH. Many of my recipes call for baking powder, baking soda or both; pH matters a great deal.

Presently, I'm looking into culturing my own alternative. My research up to this point has failed to swell me with optimism for the endeavor. Turns out, gluten-soy-dairy-free yogurt culture starters are not so easy to find. I'll either have to bust open some capsules of an allergen-free probiotic dietary supplement, or culture off an existing gluten-soy-dairy-free yogurt bought from a store. Also, from what I have read, culturing canned coconut milk with consistent results is a hit or miss thing. Thankfully, yogurt makers are reasonably priced. Still, I don't like to spend money on failure, especially when it wastes food.

I would be less of a whiny bitch about this if the store in question didn't have close to a dozen different brands of plain/unsweetened dairy yogurt and one soy brand on their shelves right now. That one yogurt that isn't made of soy or dairy or nuts(not for me but for the people in my life allergic to nuts who eat my food) --That one yogurt alternative is just too much to ask of them.

Now, with my harangue on the unpleasant realities of living with and cooking for multiple food allergies and the pitfalls of niche product dependency in a retail environment run by money-chasing trend-whores out of the way...
I should probably say a few things about the recipes in this issue.

Chocolate Chip Cookies II is an overhaul of the chocolate chip cookie recipe from the very first issue of COTD. That particular recipe called for butter and eggs. In spite of what became almost total avoidance over the past seven years, my dairy allergy somehow worsened, going from heartburn and other adverse digestive symptoms to face-swelling, throat-closing anaphylaxis. The butter had to go, as did the eggs, which I used in spite of testing positive for allergy. For a few years after diagnosis, I tried to justify the use of eggs in cakes and cookies by telling myself it didn't matter when divided across many pieces. I now know that to be complete bullshit, but it sounded good at the time. I also wanted a firmer textured cookie than the first, a texture more in keeping with what I ate in the pre-diagnosis days.

What began as an endeavor to make Salisbury steak ended in chicken patties designed to travel well. I didn't want to make just any Salisbury steak. I wanted budget-priced TV dinners of childhood nostalgia Salisbury steak. I consulted a few old cookbooks and the textbook definition of the dish --Yes, there is one. My first attempt literally fell apart. The leanness of the meat was undoubtedly a factor. It was then I checked the actual ingredients used on a frozen dinner manufacturer's website. Then and now, TV dinner Salisbury steaks are mostly comprised of a small quantity of low quality beef held together by a lot of soy, wheat and egg. At some point, I remembered that I hate working with ground beef and switched to ground chicken. Ultimately, I created Road Trip Chicken Patties.

The other main dish is my version of my grandmother's chicken and bow ties. She accomplishes it with ease by taking advantage of carton broth and frozen vegetables. My dietary restrictions required me to make it completely from scratch and without bow tie pasta[farfalle]. It is a mystery to me as to why with so many brands of gluten-free pasta, only two offer farfalle. Of those two brands, only one is made from brown rice, which is what I prefer. The other brand is made from corn. Neither brand is sold in any of the stores near me. I prefer pure brown rice pasta, because it is the most similar in both taste and texture to semolina pasta. Corn pasta tastes like corn. So, Granny J's Chicken and Spirals it is.

Many years ago, I was given an index card upon which, as I was told, was written my great grandmother's best cake recipe --a Bundt cake laden with apples. Another relative and I tried to make it. It overflowed its pan and made a giant mess of the oven. What was left in the pan refused to release from it. Cleaning up after that initial disaster was such an ordeal, that we never tried it again. Last winter, I came across that old handwritten index card. My great grandmother passed away when I two years old. I never got the chance to try her cooking. I don't know if Apple Dumpette is anything like her original recipe. I don't even own a Bundt pan. I know this version won't explode in the oven or ruin the baking pan. It can be served warm or chilled. It's at its best when chilled for several hours or overnight, then allowed to come back to room temperature...great for make and take.

Based on taste alone, there is only one name to call 19.59852, -155.5186 Punch, but that name is trademarked. I was gifted a bottle of Cointreau over the summer. I used it in this recipe, because it is smooth and natural tasting, and I'm not allergic to it. This punch was created for several reasons. I wanted to put hibiscus together with passion fruit. I wanted a mild adult beverage suitable for a long hot summer. I try to have at least six recipes in every issue and at least one beverage. I used granitas from previous issues, because I typically have one or both handy in the freezer during summer. Plus, they double as an easy and healthy frozen treat for non-adult persons and teetotalers at summer gatherings. Starting with frozen ingredients lessens the need to water down the punch with too much ice.

Lazy Milk and Honey Pops...The title is self-explanatory.