Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating

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Thoughts on the Allergy-Free Deserts Cookbook (and my all purpose flour blend recipe)

Despite my lack of posts, I am in fact managing to make a recipe a week out of Elizabeth Gordon’s cookbook Allergy-Free Deserts.  And if you haven’t done so already, go check out her blog.  I have tried 10 of her recipes so far, and I’d rate 8 out of 10 as top-notch, and the two that weren’t absolutely amazing, were so much better than anything else I’ve tried, and honestly the lack of perfection was probably user error.  Here are my thoughts:

Three cakes (with frosting):

I have made the Coconut Cake, Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes, and let’s throw the Berry Muffins in here too, even though they aren’t technically cake.  All three are 5 out of 5 stars.  Just perfect.  They all had great taste and felt like cake.  None of them lasted long in this house and I served both the cake and cupcakes to family and friends who also agreed they were great!  I did try a version of the Vegan Buttercream Frosting on the coconut cake, and that was a 4 out of 5 for me, but I am sure that was my fault.  I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, so I can’t be surprised it wasn’t the same level of perfection that the rest of the delights in this book seem to be.

A slice of coconut cake.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes (and a rhododendron branch)

Five other great baked goods:

The very first recipe I tried were the Cherry Crumb Bars.  Mine didn’t work out quite right, this is another 4 out of 5, but it was good and the crumb toping tasted like crumb topping should.  I think the problems I had were again user error.  Why can’t I follow a recipe properly?  Oh, and if you make it- use two cans of pie filling- one just doesn’t seem to be enough 🙂 .

In the perfect category are the Cinnamon Swirl Rolls, the Pumpkin Bread (which we have also made and gifted to a friend already), Free-form Raspberry Scones, and the Pancakes.  Ah the Pancakes.  Seriously, I have never had such a great gluten-free pancake.  In fact, you won’t even notice they are gluten-free.  They are easy to make, and come out perfect every time.  We’ve tried for over a year to make such satisfying pancakes.  This recipe alone is worth the price of the book (with that coconut cake and the muffins also worth the price of admission).

Which brings me to pie:

I haven’t actually made any of the pies in the book yet, but I have made the pie crust for a beef pot pie and a fig pie.  It is good.  It’s the best gluten-free crust I’ve found yet.  It still isn’t as perfect as I want a pie crust to be, but honestly, if I never find anything better than this, I’ll be happy.

Why the lack of photos?  Most things we ate so fast, we didn’t even stop to get the camera.  She has great photos in the book though.

Final Thoughts:

In my mind, two reasons these recipes are so great are 1) she’s trained in baking, so she knows what she’s doing but more importantly 2) she found a great flour blend that actually works.  If you are like us, first you start with a commercial blend, but it tastes off.  Then you start trying to make a blend yourself, but things don’t rise, the item is only good 10 minutes after you bake it, or it still tastes off.  I always thought this had something to do with us not using eggs.  Now I know it gluten-free and egg-free can be very satisfying.

Her blend is a combo of garbanzo bean, tapioca and potato starch flours (and she sells it pre-made).  I was already experimenting with something similar, and actually haven’t used her exact blend in any of these recipes.  Instead I have riffed off her proportions to come up with a millet-based blend.  We have some family with issues with beans, so we try not to cook with bean flours, especially if we want to share!  I’m still tweaking the proportions, but basically this is the flour blend I have been using:

  • 1/4 Cup millet flour
  • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/4 cup potato starch OR sweet rice flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour

If I need more flour, I up the proportion of millet and sorghum first and then the potato and tapioca.  I’m finding that as long as I use some combination of these flours, most recipes are fairly forgiving if I deviate from the proportions.

A year and a half in, and maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to figure this out 🙂


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Happy Gluten-Free Birthday- Part 2

I said ages ago I was going to share this, and recently a friend of a friend asked how to make gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free cake, so now seems like a good time to finish writing about the cake recipes that are working for us.

Over the course of all of our spring birthdays, my sister developed a great cake. It was a chocolate cake gluten-free mix (I think she used King Arthur, but Bob’s has a chocolate mix too) and then she used 18 oz of canned pumpkin. Mix them together, add a little water if the batter is too thick, and bake following the directions on the cake mix box. You may need a little more or less time. This works fabulously with brownie mixes as well and I used a brownie mix in the photos below.  I have had this using both brownie and cake mixes. The actual recipe is 15 oz of canned pumpkin to an 18.25 oz of cake mix. She just eye balls it though, and wow- it is moist and stays moist for a couple of days unlike most gluten-free, egg-free baked goods.

Gluten-free brownies in a pan

For frosting, in my family we have a long history of putting cherry pie filling on our cakes.  Comstock is even gluten-free!  But if you want a frosting, I have 2 favorites.

The first comes from my sister-in-law, and I don’t know where she found it:

Chocolate Frosting: (double for 2 layer cake)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients. Pour it on the cake, spread it around and then chill the cake. The frosting will get hard once it is refrigerated, so do all of your spreading before you refrigerate it.

My second favorite frosting is a basic butter-cream frosting, if you can have dairy!

Beat together:

  • 6 TBSP of butter
  • 4 TBSP of milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/8 of a tsp of salt.
  • Add powdered sugar to taste.  I usually add about 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, but the recipe can take a lot more if you like it sweet.

From there you can also beat in melted soy-free chocolate.  Dark chocolate is almost always soy-free, and Enjoy Life has a great semi-sweet chocolate chip, I get it at my local grocery. Or add other flavors like pineapple. You may need to reduce the milk to keep the consistency of the frosting if you add in other flavors.

From there it is yours to enjoy!  As I still take a bit of a break this summer, I’m working on trying a gluten-free, egg-free sourdough bread, and I’ve been heavily experimenting with flour blends to get a protein mix that will hold air and moisture.  I hope to have great results to post in a few more weeks!  Oh, and I think I’ve perfected pizza crust.  Just a few more tests, and I think I’ll have it.  Yay!

What are your cooking triumphs this summer?

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Gluten-Free Easter Week

I know Easter was a couple of weeks back, but the food was so good I’m still thinking about it :-).  We ate well and there were several gluten-free gems hiding in the various celebration meals.  The best part was that the savory dishes were inherently gluten-free.

Coloring Easter Eggs

Maundy Thursday

We started the Holy Week celebrations with a simple dinner at church for Maundy Thursday.  Several of us were all given the same recipe to make and bring for dinner. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures, but I was amazed that while we all used the same recipe, no two pots of soup were alike.  I loved the recipe though because it is a corn chowder, but it didn’t call for a flour base.  It is a higher fat soup, but it was satisfying and delicious.  I did swap out the chicken from the original recipe I was given, but other than that, I didn’t need to make any substitutions.  I also changed it from a stove-top recipe to a slow cooker recipe, which made it easier to take to church hot.

Kelbasa and Corn Chowder Soup

  • 4tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 Anaheim chili pepper, seeded and chopped (or jalapeño)
  • 2 12oz bags frozen corn kernels
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 red potatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 2-3 tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • ½  package cream cheese
  • 5-10 drops Tabasco
  • 1 pound cooked kelbasa, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used Easter Kelbasa)

In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter.  Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, and peppers. Cook while stirring for about 5 minutes until softened.

Add 1 bag of corn, salt, pepper, cumin, and thyme, cook a few more minutes and then transfer to a slow cooker.  Add broth, stir and add potatoes.

With a blender, puree cream, cream cheese, remaining bag of corn, and cornstarch.  Pour puree into soup. Stir and add kelbasa and parmesan to the soup.  Season with Tabasco and additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Cook on low for 3 hours or until the potatoes cook through.


Then, of course, came the two main meals of Easter Sunday, the breakfast potluck at church, and our dinner at home.  For breakfast, we decided to bring blintzes.  I’d never made them before, but we saw the recipe as we flipped through The Gluten-Free Gourmet, and they just sounded good.  They were.  I was able to follow the directions and only needed to swap out eggs for flax seed.  The crepes came out tasting and feeling like they had egg in them.  I did find they only cooked properly in my teflon coated electric skillet.  They stuck too much in the cast iron skillet.   We made a raspberry sauce to go on top.  The Geographer loved them, and they didn’t last very long in the buffet line either.

Egg-like crepes

Crepes filled with ricotta and cream cheese

Gratin and Ham

This year, instead of traveling for Easter Dinner, we stayed home, just the three of us.  I made a ham with a pineapple glaze baked on top and the Potato, Leek, and Smoked Gouda Gratin recipe I found in the Plain Dealerjust the Wednesday before (Follow the link and scroll down-the recipe is towards the bottom of the page).   Instead of the Idaho potatoes the recipe called for, I used purple potatoes.  I also

added in about a pound of chopped brussels sprouts.  I love the way the purple of the potatoes and green of the brussels sprouts go together.  I thought it was an appropriately colored dish for Easter.  Purple potatoes are a Peruvian heirloom variety that is very high in antioxidants

Spring Colors

The finished product

Ginger “Pudding”

We ended the meal with a ginger “pudding” from a recipe I found in Extending the Table.  It was good.  I’d never made a cake using this method before, so I’m not sure if it came out right or not.  Some parts were almost like a jelly, and others were  a bit dry.  The recipe said to drop the cake batter into the ginger syrup, it did not say to mix it.  I think I would make it again though.

Raw Ginger Pudding

Ginger Pudding

All in all, a yummy few days.  I hope that those of you who celebrate Easter had a blessed celebration as well.

(*For some reason, this post won’t save my formatting that allows the text and pictures to look reasonable with each other.  It insists on lumping it all together like you see here.  Sorry for the messed up aesthetics!)

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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!