Monday, May 25, 2009

The Day of Doing Without


Last Friday was "the day of doing without" in my family. It started at 10:13 pm, Thursday night. I received a call from the mother of one of the children in Rosie's playgroup informing me that there will be a birthday party for her daughter tomorrow, and the teacher suggested she call me due to Rosie's allergies. I thanked her, but all the while was thinking, "Are you kidding me, you expect me to start making cupcakes at (now) 10:15 at night so my daughter feels normal". Well, knowing me, I would, and I kicked myself for not having a supply in my freezer as I normally do (OK I have some for Lillie in the freezer, but they have eggs, so they are a no-no for Rosie). Anyway, I thought quickly and told the woman I would send in some cookies she could have (which I did have in the freezer), and she assured me she would bring in some Tofutti that Rosie could enjoy with the rest of the class. Unfortunately, the Tofutti was really Rice Dream, and the teacher was reluctant to give it to Rosie because I didn't OK that product. The teacher, who I adore, thoughtfully gave Rosie some ices, which she enjoyed along with her cookies.

Over at Lillie's school, they were having a Yom Yerushalayim celebration replete with a snack of Bissli, a deep fried and flavored, wheat snack popular in Israel, so that was out. They also served fruit punch which Lillie was denied because she said her teacher told her I didn't put it on her list of permissible foods. I found that puzzling since I pretty much OK'd all beverages. However I told Lillie that her teacher probably read the label (assuredly full of various artificial ingredients) and didn't know if she could have it or not. I tried to explain that it was a good thing to err on the side of caution, and she should be happy her teacher was careful with her special needs. Then I handed her a glass of pink lemonade because she's 4 1/2 and was simply a bit sad she couldn't have fruit punch with the rest of her class.

As for my "doing without" on Friday, I decided I needed to slow down a bit as I have been keeping long hours and exhausting myself. I toyed with the idea of getting a head start on the challahs, (now both gluten-free and traditional) that I would need for the following week. And, as I stared longingly at my muffin pans, my fingers itched to make the new gluten free cupcake recipe I wanted to try. But, I resisted. I served the remaining challahs I had in my freezer along with two types of homemade gluten-free chocolate chip cookies I had frozen in previous weeks. And, it was fine! Everyone ate well and I was that much more rested. So sometimes "doing without" is a good thing.

Speaking of doing without, what would the upcoming holiday of Shavuot be without cheesecake. Most cheesecakes have a crust made either of graham crackers or a sponge layer. Both gluten-full! In addition, many cheesecake recipes call for a couple of tablespoons full of flour in the batter. A recipe caught my eye in the local paper a few weeks ago that neither had a crust, nor flour in the batter. It was by renowned pastry chef Sherry Yard, who is the executive pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck's Spago. I recently read her book Desserts by the Yard, which is part cookbook and part autobiography. Her story is quite inspiring. She went from being a secretary in Brooklyn to being the executive pastry chef at one of the world's most renowned restaurants, in a relatively short time, due to a life changing turn of events and a lot of hard work. I was struck by the motto she employs in the very busy and demanding restaurant that caters to Hollywood's elite, who don't take no for an answer. To paraphrase, "Difficult, right away. Impossible, give me a minute." When I first found out that Lillie had Celiac disease, I thought to myself how am I supposed to bake without eggs, dairy (to accommodate Rosie) and now without flour! I may be a good baker, but I don't do miracles. But, employing Ms. Yard's motto, I saw that the impossible can turn into the doable with a little effort and a lot of research.

Here is Sherry Yard's A and S Cheesecake as the recipe appeared in the L.A. Times. I can also recommend my standby cheesecake recipe which is "Montana Mom's Dynamite Cheesecake" in the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. There is no gluten in the batter, but you do have to use gluten free cookies in place of the graham crackers in the crust recipe. I like to use gluten free ginger snaps. Trader Joe's makes an excellent one. There is also a good one produced by Mi-Del brand.

From the Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2009

For those of you who grew up outside of the New York City area, A & S stands for Abraham and Strauss, a now defunct department store. I can only presume this cheesecake was served in their restaurant.

A & S cheesecake

Total time: 2 1/2 hours, plus chilling time
Servings: 16
Note: From "Desserts by the Yard" by Sherry Yard.

6 ounces soft, creamy farmer cheese
1 pound, 14 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sugar

3 eggs plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup sour cream 3/4 cup heavy cream

1. Place a rack
in the upper third of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to prevent any water from coming in from the water bath.

2. Press the farmer cheese
through a fine-mesh strainer to ensure the curds are fine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer), mix the cream cheese and the sugar. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes, or until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle or beaters after each addition. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl and paddle.

4. Still on low speed,
beat in the sour cream. Slowly add the heavy cream, beating until blended; stop to scrape down the bowl and paddle every 30 seconds. Gently press the finished batter through a fine-mesh strainer.

5. Pour the mixture
into the prepared pan, scraping every last bit out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Place the pan in a baking or a roasting pan and place on the oven rack. Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for 1 hour.

6. Turn off the oven;do not open the oven door. Leave in the oven for another 45 minutes to an hour; the cake will be golden and set (if you don't have a window, open the oven door quickly to check).

7. Remove the cake
from the oven, remove from the water bath to a rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

8. To serve,
run a knife around the inside of the rim of the springform pan and remove the rim. Allow the cake to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

Each serving:
333 calories; 7 grams protein; 16 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 27 grams fat; 17 grams saturated fat; 147 mg. cholesterol; 195 mg. sodium.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Day!

My neighbor was having a margarine crisis last night into today. It's her birthday today and her husband and daughters baked her a cake. But she's out of margarine for the frosting (she doesn't like Crisco in her frosting). As her husband was leaving the house last night to buy margarine her daughter sprained her ankle on the stairs and they were in the emergency room until past midnight. Refuah Shleimah! This morning she called me for margarine, but I was out. When I got in touch with her she was happy to report that she went to the store and surprise, surprise, the large canisters of Duncan Hines Whipped Frosting in Chocolate and Vanilla is now pareve. That's right...pareve! Happy day!!! This great convenience item is back for those that are dairy allergic and who want to use it following a meat meal on Shabbos or any other time. I called to find out if it was gluten free. The perky customer service lady (I love speaking to the Mid-west...they're so polite) listed all their frosting flavors that are gluten free, and they do have alot. However, most of the varieties are OU-D. Then she added she would send me the entire gluten free list by mail, along with some money saving coupons, yippee! Duncan Hines gets a "thumbs-up" from me as a gluten friendly company.

Here is an easy cupcake idea using canned frosting. I call it "Babes on Waves", and I often make it for Shalom Zachors. It's not my original idea. I got it from Martha Stewart's Cutest Cupcakes contest, here is the original picture:

There is something somewhat macabre about babies clinging to lifesavers in the waves. But it's cute somehow. I make it a bit different than Martha. I put a few drops of blue food coloring in the frosting and stir it with a spatula, but not until it is combined completely. Leave it a bit swirly and ununiformly colored blue. That way you get the effect of white caps on blue water. I pipe the frosting on using a large star tip, and I find it gives a great wave look. I use jelly rings instead of lifesaver candies (see bear cupcakes below), then I stick the little plastic babies (available in the cake decorating section of craft stores) right in the center, so they look like they are floating in an inner tube, as opposed to desperately grasping for a lifesaver ring at sea. I found the cheapest place to order the plastic babies at Oriental Trading. Careful though, as the plastic babies are choking hazards. Sadly, the last time I made these I didn't take a picture, so you will have to make do with the two I provided today to give you an idea. They really are a big hit for new baby boy celebrations.

Someone brought me a box of Cherrybrook Kitchens Gluten Free Cake mix today. Now all I need is for a someone I know to have a baby boy and I'm good to go!

This image is from

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Have it your way....or the towering tostada!


Does anyone remember that jingle from a nationwide hamburger chain? Well I think the sentiment is a good one, and occurred to me as I was trying to think about what to make for dinner tonight.

After a difficult few days I was a little down about my household duties and wished I could just order out for pizza. An impossibility these days with the special food needs of my family. Like the mythical Sisyphus, so simple and so close, yet so out of reach!

Then I thought, why not satisfy everybody with a "make your own" night. To do this start with a foundation food like pizza crust, pasta or tacos and set out various toppings or mix-ins. I did this on Cinco de Mayo with a Tostada bar (see below). The kids love it as they have a hand in creating their own dinner, and everyone gets their favorite---no complaints! I've had a package of soy Italian sausage from Trader Joe's sitting in my 'fridge beckoning me for a couple of weeks. They have a nifty labeling system where-in they have a "G" symbol on gluten free foods. Sadly, this sausage is gluten full, therefore off limits to Lillie. Then it occurred to me to do a pasta bar, that way I can have my rice penne pasta (which I found Trader Joe's to have the best price around) with soy sausage, onion and peppers, Lillie can have sauce and melted cheese, Rosie can have hers with Tofutti cheese and Hubby, well, he'll be the wild card I guess.

In Amsterdam they serve a dish called Rice Taffel, which literally means "Rice Table". It comes from Indonesia, which used to be a Dutch colony. It is a dish of rice with many small dishes of various vegetables, curries, chicken and meat dishes to serve on top. You can pick and choose your favorites. Rice Taffel is so popular there are tons of restaurants specializing in just that, and at the supermarket you can buy little packets of pre-cut and shredded veggies to use in your homemade Rice Taffel. This is a great choice for Celiacs to try.

For my Tostada bar I used pre-fried tostadas, which are just corn tortillas that are deep fried and flat. Mission brand Tostadas Estila Caseros, just leaped out at me one day in my local Target. They look like giant round tortilla chips and are only 160 calories for two.

You can also make your own by frying corn tortillas in about a half inch of oil, or brushing them with oil and baking at 350 degrees for several minutes until crisp.

For toppings you can choose to do either meat, chicken or a vegetarian/dairy option. I tossed chicken strips with some taco seasoning and baked for 30 minutes. Then I laid it out on the table with chopped lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, homemade guacamole, salsa, Eden brand refried beans and Tofutti Better than Sour Cream. The kids had a lot of fun making their towering tostadas "to order". I just love Mexican food, so I was content.

I topped my tostada with homemade, baked plantain chips. Plantains are those big fruits that look like bananas in the specialty fruit section of the supermarket, often near the coconuts. However, you must cook them. In Cuba (and some other Latin American countries) they are used in a delicious dish called Tostones. They plantains are deep fried, then flattened in a special little press, and fried again.

At a food show I attended recently in Miami Beach, a lot of caterers were using these crisp, fried plantains in place of crackers. I thought that was a great alternative for Celiacs. I tried to make an oven baked plantain chip in the interest of time and health. The result was delightful! Below you will find my recipes for a very quick and easy homemade guacamole and the baked plantain chips. Enjoy!

The trick to good looking guacamole is to touch it as little as possible with metal. The reaction of the metal and the avocado will turn it brown. The "authentic" way to make guacamole is by using a stone mortar and pestle called a
molcajete (see picture below). In many trendy restaurants waiters are doing this tableside with fresh guacamole to order, in the same way that years ago it was stylish to do a Caesar salad at the table.

For our purposes at home, I suggest you use a non-metallic bowl, pour the lime juice over the avocado immediately, and use a fork only for mashing. For serving use a non-metal spoon. Another trick to keep the guacamole from going brown is to save the avocado pit and stick it back into the prepared avocado until you are ready to serve.

Quick and Easy Guacamole
1 ripe avocado*
juice of 1/2 lime
2 heaping tablespoons prepared, chunky style salsa
hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot) to taste

Cut the avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop avocado into a medium sized mixing bowl (non-metallic). Squeeze lime juice over avocado. Add salsa and hot sauce. Mash all together with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

*To test for ripeness, hold the avocado in the palm of your hand and press down with your thumb. If your thumb can slowly press into the avocado, it is ripe.

Oven Baked Plantain Chips
1 large ripe plantain*
½ Tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Line a cookie sheet with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Slice plantains 1/8-inch thick and place in single layer on cookie sheets. Brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle tops of plantains with salt. Broil on high on top oven rack for 5-6 minutes or until they begin to brown. Turn oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 13-15 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes, remove with a spatula.

*Ripe plantains are yellow with a lot of black streaks on the skin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just another day...

I thought I had things under control today. The breakfast dishes were washed before 4 pm (that in itself was a good thing), and I was headed out the door with Rosie and Daisie to go to the park. Rosie had been reminding me from the time she got up that she wanted to go to the park. Then the phone rang as I had one foot out the door. It was about an hour into Lillie's school day and they were going on a Lag B'omer trip to a park near school. Apparently about 2 minutes into the trip Lillie fell and may have broken or sprained her foot, I was told. I think it's a given that there has to be a "casualty" from Lag B'omer activities. As I was talking to the school nurse I heard moaning in the background. "Is that her?" I asked horrified, "Yes", the nurse said, and I was in my mini-van faster than you could say Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai!

Nuts! I thought as I drove. My well planned day was ruined. I thought I had everything under control. After the park Daisie would nap, I would fold my 6 loads of laundry sitting around from the weekend. At 2 pm, Rosie would have her nap and I could post a couple of blogs. So why when my daughter is moaning in pain does the selfish part of me pop up? Because yesterday I had to pick up Rosie about an hour into nursery due to an asthma attack, and Lillie's school called to say she was breathing funny, about 5 minutes after Rosie's teacher called. Plus I had very little and very chopped up sleep the night before. But alas, this is motherhood. How often does Hashem send us what we expect in life anyway? For example, when I took Lillie to the gastroenterologist I thought she may be complaining about her stomach b/c she didn't want to go to school or for attention. If it really was something, at worst I thought it was lactose intolerance. Celiac disease wasn't even in my scope. I realized today that the best way to deal with life's curve balls is to have a big mitt to catch them. I interpret this to mean emotional preparedness. If you look at things like sprained ankles and dietary considerations in "the big picture", you'll see them as a blip on the radar in life. One of my mentor's in life is really good at this. Unfortunately she does have really big things to worry about. So a call from school about a sprained ankle would be a minor, unscheduled "blip" in her day.

There was actually an upside to today. Since Lillie was home Rosie played with her (very nicely I am pleased to say) and I was able to work on several recipes uninterrupted, and even get a jump on my Shavuos cooking. As I heard Rosie "reading" to Lillie in her bed, I schepped nachas that my little one was learning the value of bikur cholim. I was sorry Lillie had this mishap and that she was in pain, of course.

One of the things I made today was Easy Chocolate Ice Cream from Cook's Country Magazine, June 2009. I highly recommend this magazine that comes out of the America's Test Kitchen Lab. It tries to improve upon existing classic American recipes, as well as tests products for the best value. It also has NO ADVERTISING (perhaps the best part)!

They decided that ice cream makers are the most returned wedding gift. For the same reasons they dislike the electric ice cream makers so do I. You have to freeze this clunky inner tub, which takes up a lot of room in the freezer (and remember to do it in advance), make a cooked custard with eggs, strain it, then chill it in the refrigerator before you even put it in the ice cream maker! When I purchased mine I had visions of making eggless, pareve delights for Rosie. Well the first thing I made, a frozen chocolate pudding ice cream (the quickest recipe I could find), came out with ice crystals, not smooth at all, and not terribly impressive. The folks at Cook's Country came up with a really quick no-machine ice cream that is better than premium store bought brands, so they claim. It tried it and they were right! Using sweetened condensed milk (that Eagle brand stuff), chocolate and heavy cream, they came up with a delicious frozen dessert that rivals Haagen Daaz. And the best part is you are sure it is gluten-free and not produced on equipment with nuts (if you are nut allergic). The resulting ice cream has a deeper and more complex chocolate flavor than store bought brands due the fact that they use bittersweet chocolate (I used Baker's brand) and coffee to bring out the chocolate flavor. If you prefer to add mint extract instead of the coffee, that would be fine too. Below I double the recipe, because I feel it is a more realistic amount for a family. It was a great do-ahead for Shavuos, and so easy it is worth trying.

If you have extra sweetened condensed milk and don't know what to do with it, I am including a recipe for my sister-in-law's super easy and super fabulous fudge.

Easy Chocolate Ice Cream
from Cook's Country Magazine, p. 17 June/July 2009

2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
2 Tablespoons hot water
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup (8-ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups cold heavy or whipping cream

1. In a medium sized microwave safe bowl, combine coffee powder and hot water. Let stand until coffee dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add chocolate and condensed milk. Microwave on high 1 to 2 minutes, stirring until chocolate is melted. Stir until everything is combined and glossy. Stir in vanilla and salt. Let cool, about 10-20 minutes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, with electric mixer on medium-high speed, whip cream to soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Whisk one third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Fold remaining whipped cream into chocolate mixture until fully blended. Spoon into an airtight container (an 8 cup or larger Tupperware works well). Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of ice cream mixture to prevent crystals from forming. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 2 weeks.

Note: Depending on your allergies and inclinations, you may mix in a total of 1-2 cups of any of the following: pistachios, mini-chocolate chips, mini-marshmallows, toasted almonds, dried cherries, chopped peanut butter cups or marshmallow creme.

Yield: 2 quarts

CoCo's Fabulous Fudge

1 1/2 bags (18-ounces) gluten free semi-sweet chocolate chips
1- 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips half way. Add sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and salt. Melt completely, stirring constantly until combined well.

Add nuts, if desired. Pour in an 8x8-inch pan lined with waxed paper. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Chill to set. Cut into squares of desired size.

This keeps well in the refrigerator and travels well in an airtight container.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cupcake Cuties


I had a rough morning. Lillie had a tantrum before breakfast. It was a screaming, crying, fling herself on the flour and pound her hands tantrum. It was over a rice cake. Or should I say rice cakes. After she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease I sent a big bag with rice cakes, chips, and Passover cookies to school in case she can't eat snacks or treats that are handed out to the other children. I also include a snack in her lunch. Apparently, though, the children receive two snacks in the course of the day, and her teacher has been giving her rice cakes in lieu of the graham crackers or pretzels the other children receive. And, she's had it. While I was trying to calmly spoon oatmeal and yogurt into baby Daisie's hungry mouth, Lillie was stating her case in a very pre-school manner, as to why she hates this practice. But, I don't think it's as much the repetitiveness of the snack as much as that it sets her apart. In general, kids like to be the same, or "normal", as they view normal. The difficulty with a Celiac diagnosis for a child, as opposed to an adult, is that an adult may see a piece of pizza and say, "Mmm, that looks good, wish I could have it.", and move on, the same way someone on a weight loss or salt restricted diet may react to a piece of pizza. A child sees normalcy, what everyone else has, socialization and "fairness" (as in "that's not fair" if they can't have it) in that piece of pizza.

As much as I can, not just for Lillie, but as I have been doing for Rosie for a couple of years now, I try to have very passable substitutes for food items the other children may have. I have a great eggless cake recipe that gets alot of use in my house. I also find that kids tend to judge a cake more by look than taste. So I took a couple of Wilton cake decorating classes at my local craft store, and it was well worthwhile (and fun of course)! I remember walking out of the allergist's office after I received Rosie's diagnosis of egg and milk allergies (among others) and thinking, "My poor baby will never have a proper birthday cake... she'll have to have jello for her birthday." Well here's her first birthday's amazing what you can do with a bit of frosting and a pastry bag...
Another mother of an allergic child told me that she leaves a tray of cupcakes her son can eat in the freezer at school. That way she doesn't have to worry about the teacher remembering to contact her before a birthday party or special event. I thought that was a terrific idea.

I used my easy, cheaty, fast frosting and some colorful sprinkles along with a potato starch based cake mix I bough half-price after Passover to whip up some cupcakes for Lillie to take to school.
I sent her one as a treat in a really neat, individual plastic cupcake holder I received as part of a prize for a cake contest from Cherrybrook Kitchen, a company that makes hypoallergenic and gluten free baking mixes. I call it the "Cupcake Caboose":

Here is my easy frosting recipe. I use a pastry bag for a more decorative application. If you don't have one, you can put it in a zip top plastic bag and snip one of the corners.

Easy, Cheaty Pareve Frosting

1 8-ounce container pareve whipped topping (such as Rich's Whip)
1/2 packet instant pareve chocolate pudding mix (4 serving size)
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules(optional)

Pour liquid pareve whip and coffee granules, if desired, into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Sprinkle pudding mix on top of whipped topping. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

Yield: Enough frosting for 1 dozen cupcakes or a single layer 8- or 9- inch cake.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Heaven Sent "Heaven Mills"


Well, we finally seem to have "lift-off" so to speak with the Lillie's Challah situation. This week I purchased Heaven Mills brand Challah from a local health food store. It's also available online at The company makes a variety of kosher, gluten free baked goods that looked scrumptious. Their website is

The 9 ounce loaf was about the size of a small hero roll and retailed for about $3.95 each. After getting over the initial sticker shock, I appreciated that loaf actually looked like a regular, whole wheat challah. It is made from oat flour, and therefore one can say the bracha of Hamotzi on this challah.

I wrapped the loaf in foil and put it on top of a pot of soup to warm up before our Friday night meal. I tentatively placed it on Lillie's own special little, challah board and covered it with her embroidered challah cover. We decided she should have her own, so as not to have to worry about cross-contamination from glutteny crumbs on the big challah board. It was a small investment at a discount store, and well worth it.

When eaten, the challah had a lovely soft texture, and best of all Lillie unequivocally declared it "Good!" Hubby thought it was excellent and said it had a muffin like texture. It does have alot of small holes internally, which I feel contributes to its light texture.

I was relieved that we now have a "go to" challah when I don't have time to make my own. The other baked goods from the company are appealing for their convenience. My local health food store carries hot dog and hamburger rolls from the company that look pretty convincing!