Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating


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Happy Gluten-Free Birthday (part 1)

We have celebrated the birthdays of almost everyone in our families in the last couple of months.  It has been a great time of visiting and catching up with family after a long winter and spring.  All of this celebrating took place away from home, which meant a lot of thinking through food arrangements, and of course coming up with good treats that everyone could enjoy.  Today, I’m going to share a restaurant we found, and a treat I made, and in Part 2, I’ll share what my sister worked out for a quick, easy, and yummy set of birthday cakes.

For my birthday, we ate dinner out, and I did some research trying to find a restaurant in the Toledo area that we felt confident would work, and we were rewarded big time.  We used the Gluten Free Registry and discovered Biaggis Italian Restaurant in Perrysburg.  They’ve got a lengthy gluten-free menu (a full-page plus), which I did not expect from an Italian restaurant.  Their breads and pastas were also egg and soy-free.  I couldn’t believe it.  My husband ordered a pizza and a salad and was very pleased.  The food off the gluten menu was great too.  I will definitely go back there again.

For the next round of birthdays I was really in the mood for lemon bars.  It sort of snuck up on me, and I couldn’t get the thought of them out of my mind.  So I spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to make an egg-free, gluten-free, citrus-free version.  After a couple of attempts, I think I’ve finally figured it out.  I started by trying to modify an actual lemon bar recipe, but since those have something like 4 eggs minimum in them, it just seemed like too much substitution to work out.  Then I started to think about the texture and consistency of the lemon filling in a lemon meringue pie.  Obviously, this too is loaded with egg, but for different reasons than the lemon bars.  Ultimately, I crossed the lemon meringue filling with a panna cotta recipe, and found my pineapple bars!

A&V Pineapple Bars

Since GF cookie dough is often kind of crumbly, I used the sugar cookie recipe from Gluten Free Gourmet and pressed it into a 9×9 pan.

I baked it for 15 minutes at 350F.

A cookie crust

As the crust bakes and cools, heat:

  • 1 1/2 cups of pineapple juice
  • and dissolve in 1 1/2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin

Turn the heat to low and stir in:

  • 1/4 cup of agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup of white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • a pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)

Stir until the filling sets up into a uniform and light consistency.    Remove the pan from the heat and stir in:

  • 1 TBSP of butter

The Pineapple Filling

Spoon the filling over the crust.

Adding the filling to the crust

Bake at 400F for 40 minutes or until the filling looks slightly toasted.

Pineapple Bars

We liked these very much.  They aren’t exactly like lemon bars, but they are close.  Keep an eye out as I tweak this recipe more in the future!


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Subtracting foods increases our options

Limitations breed creativity.  That’s my motto in the kitchen, which is good.  We have a long list of foods that my husband reacts to, most are allergies.  One such food is citrus.  Yep.  You would be amazed at how many foods you eat in a day have some citrus in them. But, like all food restrictions, when one pantry door closes, another opens up – with the added bonus that the food made through substitutions keeps everyone feeling healthy!   What are your options if you are citrus-free?  Our favorites include:

  • Sumac berries we mainly used dried ones, which are easy to find in Mediterranean markets.  It’s the red spice some people sprinkle over humus.  Others make a lemonade -like drink out of the fresh berries, watch for a post on that later this summer (I hope!).
  • Tamarind a dried fruit concentrate that you can easily find in Indian groceries.  I use this a lot in soups or stir-fries.  Just cut the amount in half.  If your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon lemon juice, use 1 to 1 1/2 tsp tamarind.  A little goes a long way!
  • Cider vinegar especially in soups or casseroles, in small quantities, can replace that sour taste without making your dish taste like vinegar.
  • We’ve also been better about using herbs like parsley and cilantro, which also provide a citrus-like taste to foods.
  • For large quantities of citrus replacement, I like to use pomegranate.  It is easy to find in grocery stores and has tartness to it.

Which brings me to a recent cake I wanted to make.  I subscribe to the Splendid Table’s Weeknight Kitchen, which is a mostly weekly email with very yummy and usually quick meals.  Sometimes they throw in dessert recipes, and the French Lemon Yogurt Cake they printed from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg seemed too tempting.  Never mind that the main ingredients are lemon and wheat flour.  By the time I was done with it, it was a completely different cake, but very satisfying!

I created the Pomegranate Yogurt Cake for the same dinner with friends I described in my last post.  I started in on the cake about a week before our dinner, when I stared looking in earnest for ground pomegranate seeds.  I’d been looking for months for them, after I had heard somewhere about their use as a sour agent in some types of cooking.  I checked the Mediterranean market several times, the high-end spice store, the grocery store, and then I finally found it at the Indian Grocery.  They called them anardana powder.  I call them tart and slightly bitter, a nice replacement for citrus zest.

Pomegranate Yogurt Cake:
I followed the directions for the Lemon Cake, roughly well.  I substituted  1-1/2 cups 4 flour bean blend for the flour called for in the recipe.
I also added in 1 teaspoon xantham gum and substitued  2 teaspoons pomegranate seeds for the lemon zest.  In place of the eggs, we used 3 tablespoons ground flax-seed steeped in 9 tablespoons boiling water.  Let the flax steep about 15 minutes, or until the mix is the consistency of an egg.

The recipe also called for both a syrup and an icing for the cake.  When it called for lemon juice, I substituted pomegranate juice in the same amount.  It baked for about 40 minutes, and came out fairly well.  It was a little dense, but I have some ideas on how to deal with that.  More soon, but in the mean time….Eat and enjoy!

Updated on 4/3 to accommodate my evolving understanding of copyright rules 🙂  Oh, and to fix a few typos.  Cheers!