Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating


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Pie, Pie, in July- and that’s no lie

The days have been busy here!  But, I have made a new discoveries lately in the pie and ice cream departments.  Both make me very happy!

First on deck was the great pie crust discovery.   Since going gluten-free we have struggled and struggled to find a good pie crust recipe.  I have one now.  It works like wheat flour crust, but it is gluten-free.  We’ve made several pies, and they all come out flaky and light, like real pie crust.  My grandma even liked it, and she makes the best pie crust in the world.

How did I do it?  The flour blend did it.  Otherwise I followed regular pie crust making protocol, like you might find in Elizabeth Gordon’s Allergy-Free Deserts, or even from Alton Brown’s method.  Honestly, I find the two of them to be quite similar, and in the end I blended the two sets of directions.  If I understand copyright correctly, I can give you my list of ingredients, which is different from either of the above sources.  To get the directions on what to do with the ingredients, follow the link or go get the book.  Either way, you’ll be happy- I promise.

Ingredients for a perfect gluten-free pie crust:

Makes 1 1/3 crusts and the left over freeze, thaw, and roll well.

  • 6 tablespoons butter, place in freezer while assembling the rest of the ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons palm shortening, place in freezer while assembling the rest of the ingredients
  • ** if you are dairy-free, use 6 tablespoons palm shortening and 2 tablespoons coconut oil**
  • 1 cup flour blend, plus extra tapioca starch for rolling dough
    • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
    • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
    • 1/2 tapioca starch
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup ice water, approximate, will depend on the day

Follow basic pie crust directions, and I tell you, you have pie.  I pulse it in the food processor, drizzling in water as I go, until a ball forms and sticks together.  If you add too much water, just add a bit more tapioca starch.  I find this rolls like a dream.

Rolled Out Pie Crust- hard to see since it is the same color as the counter top

“Well thanks for the crust recipe, but in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a heat wave.  No way I’m turning my oven on.”

Funny you should say that.  You don’t have to turn the oven on.  You can grill this pie!

All you have to do is place the dough in the bottom of a cast iron dutch oven.

Bottom Crust Ready for Filling

Fill with the fruit or whatever of your choice and put top crust on. Then cover with the lid. Place on tops of dying coals after say, a nice dinner grilled out. Put a 1/2 batch of freshly lit coals on top of the lid. Cover the grill and cook for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. depending on how hot your coals are.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Grilled Pie

Now what could be finer than a little pie a la mode?  I just read through Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, yes, read it like a book.  It is that good.  The ice creams are mostly all egg and gluten-free (yay!) and the macaroons are gluten-free as well- BUT they are nut and egg based.  She also gives recipes for ice cream cones and fortune cookies- two recipes that should be easy to adapt to gluten-free flours.

I have made several of her sorbets and have her beet ice cream freezing in my freezer as I type.  Everything has tasted great so far!  The big bonus being that her ice creams actually scoop unlike all the other homemade ice cream recipes I’ve tried.  I’m not even using an ice cream maker.  I’m doing it the lazy way- putting it in a container, and stir every hour for three hours.  It doesn’t get as much air that way, but it will work if you don’t have a maker.

One last summer thought.  Have you found a good gluten-free ice cream sandwich recipe?  If not, check this link out.  When I make it, I use flax steeped in water for the eggs and sweet rice flour for where she calls for “rice flour”.  They come out great.  Rather than cut them by hand, I roll them like pie dough and use a biscuit cutter to cut uniform circles out of the dough.  They freeze well.

Enjoy summer!  I hope you’ve got a great link to fresh produce and that you can enjoy the flavors of summer!

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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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Getting Started: Living Life Gluten-Free

I meant to write this post on our anniversary of being gluten-free, which was early last fall. The mad rush to preserve summer’s goodness got in the way of blogging then. Recently a couple of different people of mentioned to me or my husband that they want or need to be gluten-free- but where to start?

Here’s what worked for us. This isn’t the only way to do it. I offer our story as a menu to pick and choose from; maybe something on here will work for those of you considering* going gluten-free. A little over a year later and we have so many fewer ailments to deal with. Years of pain and related health troubles have been erased or reduced. Once you start feeling better, it is worth all the effort of getting started. And now? Gluten-free cooking is fairly easy. I wouldn’t go back- not for anything.

(*I should also say here that you should make all major diet changes with the advice of your health care professional)

First, find some support: For us, this came in several forms.

Books:

We read books that first educated us on Celiac’s Disease. One of my favorites is The Hidden Epidemic, by Peter Greene.

Real life people:

We also talked with friends who were already gluten-free. We knew at least 3 people before we made the switch ourselves. The best bit of advice that we got was, “Try it for 6 months to a year. If you don’t feel better, go back to wheat. What have you got to lose?”

There are lots of other support groups at www.celiac.com and www.celiac.org, along with tons of resources.

Enlist the support of family.

It is really hard to go gluten-free, or anything-free by yourself. When you are the one who is sick, it is hard to have the creative energy to figure this out. Find someone in your circle of family and friends who can help you cook the way you need to for a good 4-6 weeks. That way if you get overwhelmed, someone else is there keeping things on track. That’s how this blog was born. I have no food restrictions at all, but someone needed to help the Geographer get his diet under control. Now that I’ve navigated us to a stable, functional diet, he’s ready to get back in that kitchen!

It also helped to have the whole house follow the Geographer’s restrictions. We get enough cross-contamination when we’re out and about, we don’t need it in the house too. If you don’t have a food restriction, remember you can always get your favorite food when you eat out. Especially when you’re starting a diet with a new restriction, whether that is gluten or something else, having everyone on board helps you figure out how to live normal life with that restriction faster.

Social Media.

Facebook has several gluten-free groups. The one I’m in has people who post recipes and product information all the time. I know some of these people in real life too, which makes the group feel even more supportive. I’ve noticed Twitter also has a #glutenfree hash tag, so if you like to tweet, check them out!

Blogs:

There are tons of blogs. I didn’t find any in particular to follow, so I started my own. I’ve noticed that there are 2 tiers of gluten-free writing. There is a main tier for those with gluten as the only dietary restriction. Most blogs, cookbooks, and support are aimed at this group. If you fall in this group, you have a lot of choices for finding recipes. A lot of those recipes will work because they rely on egg or soy to give your cooking binding.

The second tier is where my household falls. We are finding more and more people with the same allergy list and the gluten intolerance/Celiac’s problem. If you can’t have egg, soy, and all the other things we can’t have, finding resources is harder. That’s why I started this blog. I’m trying to get resources in one place for folks like us. But, everything I post will work even if you only have a gluten problem.

Support is great, but what am I going to EAT?!

 Pre-Packaged:

More and more companies are offering gluten-free products. If you like the pre-made route, and you can have eggs and soy, most major grocery stores offer brands like Udi and Schar, with pre-made bread and pasta products. Amy’s Soups offer a wide range of gluten-free options, and there is always Bob’s Red Mill for various flours, cakes, and cookie mixes. Now that I’ve settled on the flour blend that works best for us, I buy those flours in bulk from the local natural food store. My favorite pasta brand is a quinoa/corn pasta from Ancient Harvest. I like it tons better than rice or plain corn pasta, and it is higher in protein, so there is no starch crash like traditional pasta has. If your grocery doesn’t carry what you’d like to buy, ask them to order it, or look on Amazon or Vitacost. Someone will sell you the food you want!

Homemade:

This is where people get worried, but really, even if you think you don’t like to cook, you can make your food from scratch. I spend about 1-2 hours a day on food prep, and I spend a little less than $10 per day per person on food in my house. It did take time to get it so streamlined, but it was worth the effort. We are gluten-free and it isn’t breaking the bank or taking all day to make the food. But, as you transition to cooking more, realize the beginning will have a learning curve. If you live in northern Ohio and want help, let me know. I love to consult with people and teach you the fine art of…..

Substitution:

If you are gluten-free or allergy-free, this is your cooking skill. You don’t have to toss out your favorite recipes. You have to learn to substitute. You need to figure out the flour blend the works for you. Start subbing there, and make changes as you go. The “Tips and Tricks” category on this blog is often about substitution. When I consult with people, I often just help them navigate how to substitute what they can have in for what they can’t. Our main substitutions are:

  • 1 cup all-purpose wheat flour= ¼ cup millet flour, ¼ cup sorghum, ¼ cup potato starch OR sweet rice flour, ¼ cup tapioca flour. If you can have eggs, you probably won’t need so many types of flour.
  • 1 egg= 1 tablespoon ground flax-seed steeped in 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • soy sauce and hoisin sauce
  • 1 cup rolled oatmeal= 1 cup quinoa flakes (this makes a great granola too!)
  • xanthan gum- most recipes that use flour need ½ to 1 teaspoon to aid in binding.
  • Creamed soups- I use Bette Hagman’s recipe from her Gluten-Free Gourmet book.
  • Gravy- replace wheat flour with brown rice flour in a basic roux
  • Tortillas- use lettuce wraps, or buy Mesa corn at the grocery, a tortilla press, and make them the traditional, wheat-free way
  • 1 tablespoon lemon= 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • Palm shortening – I tried to do without this, but cookies and pie crust need a shortening, and this is the only kind out there that is soy-free
  • coconut oil- I couldn’t bake without it!

Books (part 2):

I cannot sing the praises of the Allergy-Free Desert Cookbook by Elizabeth Gordon enough. If you can’t have wheat or egg or soy or dairy, buy it. It is worth the investment. If your gluten-free cakes are disappointing, buy this book. If you are frustrated with pie dough, use this book. Every cake and pie crust I’ve made from this book so far is perfect. She has a blog too. Right now, that’s my favorite cookbook. I used to advocate for Bette Hagman’s books as a good GF starting point, but gluten-free cooking has come a long way since her time. If you need to read the classics, start with any of Hagman’s books, but if you just want to jump into what’s simple, start with Gordon’s book.

Snacks on the go:

This one has taken us the most time to figure out. What to snack on? The vending machine at work no longer works for us! Our short list includes: gluten-free crackers (Mediterranean Snack Food’s Baked Lentil Crackers and Blue Diamond’s Nut-Thins Crackers are our favorites), corn or potato chips, popcorn (We make it ourselves. I don’t know if microwave popcorn has gluten in it or not), nachos, fruit (grapes, dried fruit), quinoa granola, and well, now the list seems endless!

Eating out:

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog about the national Gluten-free restaurant registry. But, we find that while restaurants do offer items that are gluten-free, they also can have cross contamination issues due to how food is handled in restaurants. If you are supper sensitive, give the restaurants a pass until your sensitivity calms down. Most areas now have gluten-free finder sites such as http://glutenfreetoledo.com/ and http://neohioceliac.com/restaurants.html.

Don’t dismiss the smaller, local places that don’t make it on these registries. If you have a favorite local place, call them. Tell them what you need, and they will likely accommodate you. Our most successful meals out have been at small, local places. We call ahead, the day or two before, and let them know what we need. They tell us if they can accommodate our needs and when they can meet our needs, we experience far fewer cases of cross contamination than at national chains.

Bread:

This is a tough one at first. We are so accustomed to store-bought bread, making it ourselves seems daunting. Now, if you can have eggs, you do have pre-made bread options at groceries (often in the frozen food aisle) and fresh-baked at natural foods stores. If you can’t have eggs, or don’t care for the taste and texture of pre-made GF bread, here are a couple of things that work for us:

  • Search for egg-free bread sites. I found this one, and have since modified the bread recipe, but it is by far the best I’ve found yet.
  • If you can have egg, this recipe is very good.
  • With slight modification, I have found this to be the best pizza dough recipe out there.
  • I’m working on a method of making bread in English muffin molds that make “sandwich-style” bread- watch for a post on that soon!
  • Remember, lettuce makes a great wrap for tuna salads, and even lunch meats.

Finally, the ultimate trick is to get into a rhythm of making the bread regularly once you find a recipe and method that works for you. We’re almost there, but not quite. Ideally, I’d like to make bread dough once a week and freeze it. Then thaw and bake when I need it.

What did I forget? Let me know if I left an element of gluten-free life off of the list, or, if you have your own experience or tip to add. After all, we’re all in this together!


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Catching Up: THE sugar cookie recipe from Chirstmas

Christmas was only a month ago. It isn’t so bad that I’m just now posting the recipe, right? On this grey day, it’s nice to remember the glitter and shine of Christmas anyway. This recipe came from several disastrous attempts on my own, then the research and merging of recipes from other places. The result is now a cookie that I can roll and cut, frost, and love. I like them better than gluten-filled sugar cookies. We found if you roll them out very thin (1/16th of an inch) they bake in about 4 minutes and are very good. Thanks to my sister for getting us a new rolling-pin with thickness discs on it!

Cookies cut, and heading to the oven

½ cups millet flour
¼ cup sorghum flour (Or you could skip the millet and sorghum and do 3/4 garbanzo bean flour instead)
½ cup corn starch
1 cup tapioca flour
1 ¼ cups sweet rice flour
½ cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon flax steeped in 4 tablespoons water
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup whole milk , (or just 1/2 cup sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Optional:
1 teaspoon cracked anise, (eye-ball it)
3 drops peppermint oil

Makes about 3 dozen – depending on how you roll them

1. Mix together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light in color. Add flax, milk and sour cream, and vanilla. Beat to combine. Gradually add flour, and beat until mixture combines and is creamy.

If you want your cookies to just be sugar cookie flavored, wrap the dough in plastic for a couple of hours and skip to step 4. If you’d like to play with the flavors continue to step 3.
3. Divide the dough in half. In one half, add in cracked anise (this batch will taste like pizzelle, especially if you roll it thin). In the other add the peppermint. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight
4. After the dough has rested,  roll the dough between plastic. I use a pie crust bag (go google it or look for it on amazon).  Don’t forget to preheat the oven to 375 ℉. Use tapioca flour to keep the dough from sticking to the bag.   If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill or pop it back in the fridge.
5. Cut into shapes if you want, place a cookie sheet lined with parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating cookie sheet halfway through.  The cookies won’t brown and that’s ok. Move them, baking mat and all to a cooling rack.

A little Tip: This dough keeps really well in the refrigerator.  Instead of baking up all 3 dozen at once, we would roll out a sheets worth every day or every other day and bake them up.  That way the cookies always were fresh.  I will say though, we kept some towards the end for over a week and they still tasted fresh and crisp.

Lightly browned and still holding their shape!

Lots of sugar cookies heading to an office party

Now, if you’d like to frost these, I recommend looking at the new Allergy-Free Deserts cookbook by Elizabeth Gordon (I am making a desert every week out of it all year, watch for posts on it soon!).  I got that book for Christmas, and she has a lovely icing that would work here.  But, I made these cookies before I had her book, so this is the icing I used.

Vegan Frosting
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup agave
½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine all the ingredients.

2. Add food coloring if desired.

3. Spread it on the cookie and refrigerate to get the frosting to harden.

Enjoy!

A Christmas goodie plate with ginger cookies, frosted sugar cookies, and cream cheese and hot pepper jelly on a pecan nut cracker.


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The best Gluten-Free Pizza? I think we found it!

We’re almost ready to settle in for a long winter here in NE Ohio.  I finally put the garden hose away today, and my son delighted in all the ice cubes that we shook out of it first.

I’m ready to start Christmas baking.  Last year, right at the end of December, I found the perfect cookie recipe, and promptly forgot to write it down.  But I have a whole year of successful (and almost succesful) GF baking under my belt, maybe this year it won’t take all month.  In the past few weeks I have gotten ever closer to that elusive gluten-free egg-free bread, and I am unlocking the benefits of both millet and amaranth.  I intend to have lots of posts on them soon.  In fact, I intend to start blogging more regularly again, and in smaller chunks when I do.  After all, this is a Web Log- and I think I’ll start using it as such.  A place to record my successes and failures, and probably a little less on the food photography and recipes but we’ll see 😉

The stand out success for the last week was pizza.  Real, perfect, cook it on the pizza stone pizza dough.  Not this pancake batter dough that I’ve been using.  My neighbor saw it in an e-newsletter she gets and forwarded it on to me- Thanks Judy!  We’ve made it several times now (yes, in just the last week and a half) It tastes so good.  Plus, it holds together so well we were able to form it on the pizza peal, transfer it to the pizza stone and bake just like the old days.  It comes right off the pizza stone when done.  We did bake it at 500F, and it did just fine.  Remember though, it only makes one pizza.  Double or triple it. I don’t have a picture, but the next time I make it, I’ll take one of the perfect, workable, ball of dough.  For those of us who are gluten-free and egg-free, isn’t that the better picture anyway?

The other success MacGormet.  This is the best recipe software I have tried so far.  I am able to keep my hundreds of recipes more organized, and searchable by keyword or category.  I’ve made categories for my seasonal eating tendencies (Fall, Winter, and so on), for cost (low, medium, high), and for time (short <1 hour, medium 1 1/2 hours, and I suppose long, but I don’t think I have any recipes for long!).  This is a huge help for planning and budgeting.  Best of all, I can keep track of all the changes I make to the recipe along the way and reference back to the original.  My cookbooks are almost unreadable for all the scribbling I do altering the ingredients.  If you’re juggling a lot of food restrictions, and like to cook from recipes, check it out.

Happy 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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Time for a poll- what do you think about recipe software?