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Food Bytes PG Cookbook The Food Chain
Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Cooking around allergies calls for creativity

Thursday, October 21, 1999

Tested by Rebecca Sodergren

When you're allergic to wheat, corn and dairy, what on Earth can you cook? Lots of things, Jenny Estes has discovered. Estes and her 9-year-old daughter, Zoe, both have these allergies. Yet Estes' favorite hobby is cooking, so she's developed recipes without those ingredients.

She and her husband, Jack, moved here from California two years ago so her husband could attend Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge. Before moving, Estes used to compile a newsletter for others in California with food allergies.

She now works part-time as a server and sometimes as a cook for catering services. The whole family is involved at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Beaver Falls, where her husband is the music director. Estes and her daughter are both Girl Scouts, and they also spend a lot of time at Zoe's soccer practices and matches.

Estes' recipe calls for cooked rice. Since that's technically cheating, according to the Countdown guidelines, we decided to try using boil-in-a-bag brown rice -- and we still came in well under the 30-minute requirement.

We were initially surprised that Estes cooks with feta cheese, since she and her daughter are allergic to dairy products, but she noted that sheep's milk cheeses -- pecorino romano and feta -- are the least allergenic type, so she can use those. In fact, she suggests storing French feta in the freezer so you can whip it out for a quick meal.

Considering the fact that we'd probably be relegated to a diet of carrot sticks if we had these types of allergies, we were impressed with Estes' ability to come up with a tasty, interesting meal.

For her efforts, Estes wins an addition to her cookbook collection. You could, too -- just follow the rules below.

Spinach Feta Rice

1 tablespoon olive oil
31/2 cups cooked brown rice
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1 cup crumbled French or Greek feta cheese, 100 percent sheep's milk
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil in a large frying pan, add cooked rice and spinach. Cover and warm on medium low heat for 2 minutes. Uncover and stir well to combine spinach and rice and to keep from sticking. Continue until mixture is hot throughout.

Add feta cheese, tomatoes, salt and pepper (feta is very salty, so salt sparingly). Stir lightly until mixture is combined and tomatoes and feta are just hot. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Do you have an entrée, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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