What’s next for my farmer’s market berries?

_rkp3872A deliciously sweet and simple summer berry crisp is my¬†quick answer. Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries would all make a lovely warm crisp straight out of the oven, right alongside a generous scoop of soy vanilla ice cream. Every Saturday morning I love to go to my local farmer’s market because quite frankly there is nothing better than fresh produce from the farm. However, I have been known to make my summer berry crisp all year long successfully with frozen berries. Sometimes frozen can be better than fresh.

There are so many ways to flavor a crisp topping to your particular taste; more brown sugar, vanilla , granola, etc. As many of you know I am a purist and like simple flavors so my crisp reflects that. My favorite add ins are brown sugar and cinnamon.

Feel free to change up the berry combination too. I like raspberries paired with nectarines, or blueberries with peaches. I also like to prepare the topping ahead of time and store in a resealable plastic bag. This is a great ahead of time trick if you plan on serving the dessert to guests. The whole dish can literally be thrown together in five minutes, and it will make your kitchen smell heavenly. Happy summer and enjoy!

Summer Berry Crisp

  

 

Yield: 6 servings

 

Berry Filling

7 cups frozen or fresh mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Soy ice cream, for serving

 

Crisp Topping

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup dairy-free margarine, cut into small pieces

 

Preheat oven to 400¬ļF. In a medium bowl, combine berries, sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Place in an ungreased glass 8-inch square baking dish. Bake 15 minutes.

 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine oats, 1 cup flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon with a wire whisk. Cut in the margarine using a pastry blender or your fingers. The mixture should clump into pea-sized pieces.

 

Take the fruit mixture out of the oven, sprinkle the crisp topping over it, and bake about 30 minutes more, or until fruit is bubbling and crisp topping is browned. Serve crisp warm, with soy ice cream.

 

Tip: There is no need to thaw the berries.

 

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Dairy and Egg Free Key Lime Pie….

_rkp2899When I left Chicago for San Diego nearly two weeks ago it was 50 degrees and rainy. Since I returned home a couple days ago we’ve been under a¬†heat warning as indexes approach 105 degrees. Just as Chicago winters can get very cold, summers here can also get very hot. Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat. But I prefer to leave my oven off on these hot days as my kitchen is already warm and the air conditioning is working in overdrive.¬† The next best thing? A no-cook desert (not counting prebaking a pie crust).

The perfect no-cook treat is a cold and refreshing Dairy and Egg Free Key Lime Pie. This particular dessert happens to be one of my daughter’s favorites. It’s so deliciously light that you almost feel it is good for you. It IS good for you, especially on very hot days like today.

It is very important to prebake and cool the graham cracker crust completely. If you don’t the Key Lime mixture will make the crust soggy. Also, plan to make this dessert a day ahead of time, which is perfect for parties and get-togethers. The longer the mixture sets in the refrigerator, the better. Finally, I love to serve my pie with thinly sliced fresh limes for garnish. A little extra squeeze of fresh lime juice wouldn’t hurt either.

Enjoy and stay cool!

Easy Graham Cracker Crust

 

I use Honey Maid¬ģ Original Crackers.

 

Yield: 1 9 inch pie crust

 

11/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs

1/4 cup granulated sugar

5 tablespoons dairy-free margarine, melted

1/8 teaspoon salt

 

Preheat oven to 350¬ļF. Combine all ingredients together in medium bowl, and press into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Bake about 10 minutes, or until crust is set and lightly browned.

 

Key Lime Pie

 

The Key Lime Pie is one of those desserts our food-allergic children will never be able to order in a restaurant. This pie is as good as the real deal, if not better.

 

Yield: 6 servings

 

1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust cooled completely

1 package silken tofu

1 (8-ounce) package Tofutti¬ģ Dairy-Free Cream Cheese

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lime zest

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 package unflavored gelatin

 

Prepare Graham Cracker Crust recipe as directed.

 

In a blender, combine tofu, cream cheese, 1/2 cup lime juice, sugar, lime zest, and salt until thoroughly puréed. In a small bowl, combine gelatin and 3 tablespoons lime juice, and microwave 20 seconds, until gelatin is dissolved. Add gelatin mixture to blender, and mix thoroughly. Pour into prepared Graham Cracker Crust, and chill 4 to 6 hours.

 

Note: It is very important to cool the prebaked pie crust completely before filling. Otherwise, your graham cracker crust could get soggy while it sets up in the fridge.

 

 

 

 

 

A Food Allergy Friendly Vacation To California….

san-diego-046Even though our vacation won’t be officially over until Monday I have to say this has been one of my favorite trips of all time. I never thought the kids would be able handle the busy days we had scheduled for them, but for the most part they have done really well. My primary concern, of course, was how we would be able to manage all the theme parks, sightseeing excursions and meals with food allergies. I tried to think ahead in nearly every situation, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it all turned out:

Disneyland: This was the main reason we travelled to California in the first place. My kids have never been, and neither have I.  I had always dreamed of going as a kid, and now at 34 years old I can finally say I did. It literally took my breath away to walk into the front gates and down Main Street. Everything was as magical as I had imagined it all these years. I was seeing it all for the first time, right alongside my own children. That is a moment I will treasure for a long time. Disneyland should really be called Dreamland, especially for those with food allergies. Snack carts were overflowing everywhere with healthy choices such as watermelon slices, grapes, apples, pineapple, etc. Just before lunch time I literally bumped into a head chef at Disney, Chris Justensen. I asked him the best place to eat with food allergies, and he responded with not only the best places, but he was incredibly well versed in food allergy awareness, cross contamination issues, their food safety protocol, and ingredient lists. He even let me know that if a reaction were to occur on the grounds, emergency services would be there in minutes. The only negative was that Divvies was not sold there (I think Disneywold has them). I asked if they are going to put it on the menu again, and his reaction seemed to indicate no.

Legoland: Another great, kid friendly place with more rides and fun interactive stuff for the kids. They also had healthy snack carts (although no one beats Disney for doing things right….they’re kind of like Martha Stewart). We had lunch back at our hotel room that day, but dinner out at a local brewery was fabulous and our servers and chef were very responsive to our food allergy questions.

Wild Animal Park/San Diego Zoo: We took a Wild Animal Safari ride as well as saw Dino Mountain (well, my husband took the older two while I hung back with my two little scaredy cats). Again, we came back later to have lunch in our room but had a fabulous Italian dinner in one of the nearby coastal towns with gorgeous views. Our servers there were also very attentive to our food allergy concerns.

San Diego Padres Game: Yes, baseball games are typically a food allergy nightmare (especially with a severe peanut allergy) but my son is obsessed, I mean OBSESSED with baseball so we really wanted to show him a newer park that is totally different than our beloved Wrigley Field. We sat in bleacher seats, which are very kid friendly and have grassy spots, as well as a sand pit in the outfield where young kids can play with their sand buckets while mom and dad watch the game. Upon arriving at our designated seats, I saw just a few peanut shells that I removed. John sat in his seat and never moved anyway because his eyes were glued to the game. He LOVED it and I am so glad he got to go.

Sea World: This is another park that knows how to handle medical issues and food allergy questions. When we first entered the park, the security who checked my bag saw my EpiPens and proceeded to give me a map of all the nearest first aid stations in the event an allergic reaction occured. Later in the day when we were watching one of the famous Sea World shows, that information came in handy since my 4-year-old suffered his first bee sting. He screamed out in pain, and I immediately removed him to outside the show. I got a hold of medical personnel who treated my little guy. We were initially a little concerned as we didn’t know if he was allergic to bee stings so we kept a close eye on him for 30 minutes. All turned out OK in the end.

Hotel del Coronado: One of the most majestic, gorgeous and beautiful hotels I have ever seen. We took in breathtaking views of the island as well as the the historic hotel. Marilyn Monroe filmed “Some Like It Hot” there, and there amazing photo opportunities throughout the grounds. We had a beautiful lunch there, and the servers were awesome. The chef even came out with the hot dog bun wrappers to show me the ingredient list himself. It was perfect.

We still have the weekend here as my BFF from Scottsdale is driving in with her two adorable kids tomorrow. Then we are leaving Monday…and here’s to hoping for another safe and uneventful flight back home to the Windy City. I’m a changed person after this trip. I used to worry obsessively over travelling with John, but this expereince has opened our eyes that as long as we prepare well enough, a trip away from home can be a happy and memorable experience.

One more side note: my good blogging friend Lissa at Raising Food Allergic Kids is doing a fun contest with Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels (my personal good friends as well, and they are VERY food allergy aware….way more than most companies). Visit her site at www.rfak.org for more information….

Have a great weekend everyone!

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John’s First Plane Ride….

On Sunday my nut allergic son John¬†flew in his first plane ride….ever. He’s six, and I intentionally avoided air travel with him because of my fear that someone on the plane would mindlessly open a bag of peanuts on the plane, and subsequently sending him into¬†anaphylactic shock. Also I had two other babies after John so it just seemed to make sense to do trips by car rather than plane.

However, when a dear friend invited us to rent their timeshare condo near San Diego, CA I jumped at the chance. For one, I love California. The oceanside, mountains, palm trees and nearly perfect weather was more than enough for us to get out of the Windy City (which by the way, has experienced much cooler than average temperatures this year for winter, spring and now summer) There’s so much to see and do in San Diego, including a short drive to Disneyland in Anaheim. Many of you know from my previous blog entry “What Six Year Old Boy Wouldn’t Want to Go To Disneyland?” that it was imperative John go to Disney this year, whether in Florida or California. He needed to trust in his ability to be safe and eat safe, even when far from home.

In preparation for the plane ride I didn’t care much about packing enough activity books and Nintendo DS games for all four kiddos on a four-hour plane ride. I cared far more about packing enough EpiPens, backup EpiPens, Benadryl, Inhalers, Wet Wipes and enough food to last the entire plane trip for all four kids (the younger two seem to want to snack every 15 minutes). I was anxious but prepared. So when I got to the airport I felt confident all would be fine. John was the one who was really nervous and needed to be put at ease. I assured him all would be OK, and he might actually find the plane ride to be exciting and fun. I’m not sure he bought that last part.

As soon as we got to the gate I asked the airline representative to move our seats to the very last two rows, because I felt being in the back of the plane was the safest location in the event a passenger decided to open a bag of nuts or eat a peanut butter sandwich (which happens more often than not since airlines often don’t offer meal service anymore in coach). I notified the fight attendant of John’s allergies, and she even offered to help be on the lookout for any nut related food being eaten.

Everything turned out great, and John seemed excited and relieved when it was all over. I hope the flight home is equally as uneventful. But we’ll have to wait until Monday to find out.

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Strawberry Shortcake with Soy Ice Cream

_rkp2896This is the time of year I most look forward to; lazy days at the beach, eating dinner on the patio on warm evenings, playing sports in the yard with my kids and of course¬†weekly visits to our¬†local farmer’s market. I LOVE going to the market, and have even been known to go into the city to enjoy the larger,¬†more diverse offering of fresh and locally grown produce. (I’ll also snag a chocolate doughnut whenever I can).

June is the month of the strawberry, and this is the perfect month to make my Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Strawberry Shortcakes. They are easy to make ahead of time and  perfect to serve and picnics and barbecues. They are also wonderful for brunches and simple dinners at home. The dough is so easy to mix and roll, and literally takes minutes to bake. Once baked, let them cool slightly and split open with a serrated knife. Fill with fresh, ripe strawberries that have been macerated with just a little granulated sugar and top with the other biscuit half. I love my strawberry shortcakes served with Dairy Free Soy Ice Cream.

If you plan to serve these ahead of time. Keep the biscuits in an airtight container up to one day. Reheat gently if desired and proceed as directed. The next time you see a little wooden basket of gorgeous, red strawberries, make this fabulous yet simple dessert.

Enjoy!

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Strawberry Shortcake with Soy Ice Cream

  

Yield: Makes 6 shortcakes

 

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup cold dairy-free shortening cut into small cubes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup soy or rice milk

Soy ice cream, for serving

 

In a small bowl, combine strawberries and sugar. Macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a wire whisk. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in cold shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add soy milk, and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

 

Preheat oven to 425¬ļF, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape dough into a ball, and transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead ball for about 5 minutes, and roll out into a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Cut out each shortcake with a floured 3-inch round cutter, and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly, and slice crosswise.

 

Place one half of each shortcake biscuit on plates. Fill with soy ice cream and 1/4 cup of macerated strawberries. Top with remaining shortcake halves, soy ice cream, and an additional 1/4 cup strawberries each.

 

 


A Food Allergy Mama’s Hits and Misses of the School Year…

On the eve of the last day of school for my children, I am amazed at how fast this school year flew by. Yes, my children are still very young and have many more years of schooling ahead of them, but it is still bittersweet when we say good bye to their favorite teachers. My children have been blessed with some of the most caring and amazing teachers and staff, and for that I am truly grateful.

I always like to reflect on the school year to remember all that was accomplished, as well as what could have been done differently. John’s first grade year was a memorable one, and in the world of food allergies, it had its share of hits and misses:

Greatest Hits:

1. John ate safely and without incident in the lunchroom the entire year.

2. John was able to order some of his favorite foods in the cafeteria line, and felt for the first time, totally included.

3. John went on all his field trips without incident, including some that weren’t¬†close to home.

4. John played all his sports, and enjoyed all his post game snacks without incident. He only suffered one asthma attack during that time.

5. John went to sports excursions and other birthday celebrations with friends, and had  a great time without worrying too much about his allergies. He was perfectly happy with a bag of Skittles as his special treat.

For the most part, John felt like your typical first grader, not an easy feat as a kid with severe food allergies. It made me happy to see him so happy. I treasure our little victories when John can experience the wonder of childhood without feeling the weight of his allergies all the time.

And the Misses:

1. The Birthday Treat/Non Food Policy: Who knew it would be this hard? We’re not discussing Global Peace here, but it sure feels like it.

2. The Incident: The potential reaction at my son’s first grade Spanish market could have been life threatening. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

3. Food Allergy Teasing: I’ve heard of it happening to other kids, but this year John was one of those kids. To his credit, he’s pretty tough and handled the situation well.

4. Reaction at School: This just happened yesterday…a last minute decision to move our first grade class picnic inside instead of the tradtional location of a nearby park, John ended up having a reaction(albeit minor with just hives and a splotchy face). The room was cramped with parents, students and siblings, and apparently some kids had peanut butter in their lunches. John’s teacher was awesome in giving me the heads up, but still….the school principal should have moved us to a larger more ventilated location. And she should have called me to give me the heads up (per my 504 Plan)

5. A solid-as-a-rock 504 Plan isn’t ironclad: Mistakes still happened even with the protection of this very important legal document. It’s updated again and ready to go for the 2009/10 school year. Here’s to hoping….

As much as I would have liked to see certain policies move forward this year, I am comforted by the fact that at least we are moving in the right direction. Much can be learned from mistakes and accidents, and I hope to do a better job next year of educating other parents and staff about the dangers of food allergies, and that¬†every precaution should be taken to ensure our food allergic children’s safety.

Here’s to a great summer everyone!

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Caramel Corn (with a chocolate variation of course!)

_rkp3690I have a thing for popcorn and an even bigger thing for caramel popcorn. It must have started when I was a kid and ate Cracker Jack any chance I got. I always thought the little prizes stuffed inside were the coolest thing ever. That love for caramel corn never waned as I grew up. In fact, I became an addict once again when I worked on Michigan Avenue in the Windy City of Chicago. If you have ever had the good fortune of visiting Garretts on the Magnificent Mile you know what I mean. Nearly every day lines of grownups and kids alike would wait for the freshly roasted caramel corn. Walking by the shop and getting a whiff of their fabulous treats was enough to make me stop in more than once.

As many of you know, Caramel Corn is a big No-No in the world of food allergies because they often contain milk and nuts. But I wanted John to experience the joy of eating sweet caramel corn too so I created a version that is in fact better than any prepackaged version. The recipe is so easy to make that I usually make a second batch and drizzle it with dairy free melted chocolate.¬†It’s the perfect treat for birthday parties, patio parties, or even dinner parties with a funky twist. It also keeps¬†well for a few days in a sealed plastic container. Enjoy!

Caramel Corn

  

Yield: 4 servings

 

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

6 cups popped corn

 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

 

In a large, heavy pot, heat brown sugar, corn syrup, and margarine over medium heat until melted. Add popped corn, and stir thoroughly to coat. Remove from heat, and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Bake caramel corn for about 30 minutes or until caramel begins to set on the bottom . Remove from oven and let cool. Break caramel corn into clusters and store in re sealable bags for up to one week.

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Chocolate Caramel Corn

 

A yummy update on the classic version.

 

Yield: 4 servings

 

1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1 recipe prepared Caramel Corn spread on parchment-lined baking sheet

 

In a microwaveable bowl, heat chocolate chips for 30-45 seconds, or until chocolate chips are melted. Drizzle melted chocolate over the caramel corn. Let chocolate set completely and break caramel corn into clusters.

 

The School Administration has spoken….

Here’s the latest on our Birthday Treat Policy in our school district: The Admin Council has rejected an outright ban of food from birthday celebrations but they do believe a Resource Guide filled with sample letters and treat alternatives would be helpful for teachers to use at their discretion. They are concerned that without full staff buy in the implementation of a non food birthday treat policy would receive considerable backlash. I am simply not satisified with this lukewarm response, because I know so many parents (even those with non food allergic children) would welcome a Non Food policy as a healthy, and equally as rewarding alternative. We’ll keep on it folks…

Below is my response to our school superintendent:

Thank you¬†for the follow up. I am disappointed the Ad Council wouldn‚Äôt take the initiative and just eliminate food from birthday celebrations. ¬†Clearly we aren‚Äôt banning the celebration of ‚Äúbirthdays‚ÄĚ from the classroom environment, we are simply eliminating food. Given the alarming rate of childhood obesity and substantial rise in food allergies among school aged children, I am shocked the Wellness Council and Ad Council would advocate otherwise. The backlash(if any) is most likely limited to a handful of teachers and parents, and the majority of parents I have spoken to would welcome this change wholeheartedly. We all agree that the food itself shouldn‚Äôt be the center of the celebration, but rather the celebration itself.

 

I agree with the fact that staff buy in is critical in any successful implementation, but I would imagine the majority of teachers would love to eliminate the mess and hassle of food anyway. Also, it is often forgotten that children with food allergies are often excluded from these activities or singled out by having their parents make special accommodations (for the record, sometimes me or other parents I know haven’t been given sufficient time or warning from the teacher with regard to bringing in a special treat for their child. Again, an unnecessary hassle).

 

I appreciate the recommendation of a Treat Resource Guide for teachers. However, after the resource guide is issued to staff, how will you measure teacher feedback and implementation? Do you have a process in place that will determine how many teachers adopt a non food birthday policy? When will you collect this data and how will we (parents) learn of its findings? When will the Ad Council meet again to discuss this issue, and how do they plan to use the data to determine when and if a change will be made? In my opinion it seems like this approach is a lot more work and unnecessary time will be spent discussing the value of food and how it relates to the educational impact of a child’s day.

 

My husband and I are very appreciative of your support and willingness to speak on our behalf. However, we are frustrated that this issue is really an issue at all. More and more school districts already have a Non Food Birthday Policy in their schools. It is a provision with many positives and few negatives, yet we can’t implement it. I truly hope that we can come up with a solution that benefits everyone.

 

My Favorite Summer Frozen Treat…Lemon Granita

_rkp3936One of my favorite food allergy bloggers (Jenny at www.nut-freemom.blogspot.com) has posted a couple of fabulous¬†homemade ice cream recipes on her blog, one of which I can’t wait to try. Her post inspired me to share with you my favorite simple frozen treat;¬†Lemon Granita. Nothing could be simpler and can stay in the freezer until you are ready to use it.

This recipe is included in my upcoming cookbook and I¬†photographed it the way I’d serve it for dinner guests. It can be dressed up in ice cold martini glasses with thinly sliced¬†lemons as a garnish. But I also scrape¬†it with a fork straight out of the glass covered container and serve it¬†in little ice cream bowls for the kids. Its light, refreshing and always on hand as an after camp or summer school treat. My kids also always ask for this granita when they’re sick and feverish.

Here’s to a happy and hot summer!!

 LEMON GRANITA

Yield: 6‚Äď8 servings

 

2 cups water

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon zest

Juice of 2 lemons

 

In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar, and heat on low until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

 

Add the lemon zest and juice to the sugar syrup mixture. Cool to room temperature, place in a shallow glass container, and freeze until solid. Use a fork to scrape the lemon ice block into small crystals.  Transfer lemon ice crystals into serving glasses.

 

Another treat idea for end of school year parties….

_rkp2530I have a deep affection for Little Debbie’s snacks…all of them. There’s not one snack cake I¬†don’t love. One day last year my son pointed out those cute little boxes of goodness at the grocery store and asked if¬†he could try them. At first my heart melted because for one, if he didn’t have food allergies I would have screamed OF COURSE! But I held myself back, checked the label, and said nope, this one isn’t safe, but we’ll figure something out together that tastes even better.

And so I did, and the end result is this: the Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies. They remind me so much of the taste and texture of a Little Debbie treat, and so John was able to have his “Little Debbie” moment too. These little cookies are somewhat delicate because of its chewy texture so store them in between squares of parchment paper in an airtight container to maintain its freshness.

As the unofficial treat mom for my children’s class and sports parties, I like to make¬† a fun and colorful platter of these cookies, along with my chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip brownies and snickeroos. There’s literally something for every-one’s tastes. I also like to include a pretty tray of fruit kabobs, because kabobs are way more fun to eat then a little bowl of fruit. Whether or not you are making treats this week, give the Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies a try; I know you and your kiddos will love them.

Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies

 

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

 

2/3 cup dairy-free margarine

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

2/3 cup dairy-free buttermilk (1 T. vinegar mixed with 1 cup Soy or Rice Milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup dairy-free mini chocolate chips

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine margarine, sugar, applesauce, buttermilk, and vanilla. In a separate medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt with a wire whisk. Add to margarine mixture, and mix on low for about 1 minute to combine. Increase speed to medium high, and beat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in chocolate chips.

 

Preheat oven to 400¬ļF, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a¬† cookie scooper to place batter onto baking sheet. Bake 7 to 10 minutes, or until set. Cool completely on baking sheet.