Allergy-Free Birthday Catering

/ Friday, February 13, 2009

Planning a menu for someone with food allergies can be challenging. It's easy to get caught in the mindset of "No butter, No dairy, No seafood = No good!" Well, what if the guest of honor could not eat dairy, nuts, seafood or pork? Things become interesting, but thrilling nevertheless. 

Panzanella Salad
Thursday evening I catered a surprise birthday party for about 15 people. The birthday boy, Gabe, has a love for food but unfortunately has to be mindful of what he puts on his plate. I was determined to make him a delicious allergy-free spread that he could dig into with no hesitation. The goal was to have him singing "It's my party and I'll eat if I want to!" by the end of the night. The biggest challenge was the dairy. It's surprising how much of it we use in our day-to-day recipes. At the same time, it's surprising how easy it is to cut it out once you make a few adjustments. For example, fried onions in olive oil not butter. It's a no brainer Phraner! Ha...sorry.

Beef Sliders with Caramelized Onions & Garlic-Herb Aioli 

Gabe's beautiful girlfriend Milena orchestrated the event. When I arrived at her apartment she was surprisingly serene polishing silverware. Besides organizing a few chairs she was set. What a party maven! If she was nervous about setting up the surprise it certainly didn't show. She excused herself, went over to Gabe's apartment and the guest began to arrive. 

Now, as for the menu.  I went for a fresh & flavorful mediterranean vibe with lots of color. The best part of the night when when one of Gabe's friends walked in commenting, "wow...look at all of the colors!" Score. 

Gabe's Menu
Proscuitto & Melon 
Green Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette 
Marinated Asparagus 
Mediterranean Chicken Salad in Sprouted Tortilla Cups
Sweet Sausage Kebabs
Beef Sliders with Caramelized Onion & Garlic-Herb Aioli
Dairy-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes 

Sweet Sausage Kebabs
Here are a few party tips for those of you who like to entertain: 

1. Dress last. For the panzanella & green salad you see here, I did not dress them until right before guests ate...otherwise they would look and feel too soggy. I love the idea of making salad dressing in "almost empty" honey bottles. They're easy to transport and store. 

2. Keep a few baking sheets in the oven on low heat. Keep bread, appetizers or entrees warm. If it's meat, try covering it with tin foil & leaving it in a try of its own juices to keep them moist. 

3. Add an interactive element. Something as simple as dipping a kebab in a oil & vinegar makes the meal a bit more entertaining. Dipping, spreading, building, shaking... making food is fun! Share that with your guests. 

Of course the cupcakes were the item I took the most pride in that evening. Cupcakes & the aioli. The cake was a moist dark chocolate cake which I hollowed out and filled with a dairy free chocolate 'pudding' of Toffuti, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder. 
The frosting was definitely a highlight. The inspiration for the creamy topping (he's not allergic to peanuts btw) came from my favorite snack,uncooked peanut butter cookie dough. Essentially I made peanut butter cookie dough: margarine, peanut butter, powdered sugar & vanilla, and just thinned it out with a little vanilla soy milk. Gabe's birthday cupcakes were two desserts in one! 

Gabe was completely surprised. As a final sweet gesture, Milena presented Gabe with a gorgeous chocolate cake from a bakery he loves up town. The fire hazard you see above is what 27 candles look like on a cake built for two! 

Happy Birthday Gabe!

If you'd like any of the recipes for the dishes you see above, please leave a comment. Enjoy!

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