Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner in 30 minutes...or less!


After 82 years of travelling the same route down Broadway, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade changed it's path. This was a well coordinated change on their part, choosing the most optimal route for maximal enjoyment by spectators. We don't all have the benefit of well planned changes, sometimes they are sudden and not so pleasurable. So it was this past week when Rosie fell ill with swine flu, the next day Lillie was diagnosed with strep throat, and the next Hubby and Daisie came down with bad colds. I knew attending my family's annual Thanksgiving extravaganza was completely out of the question.

I felt somewhat bereft at the thought of missing our annual family get together. It was the only day in the entire year my whole family manages to get together, if only for a few hours. My mother fusses over her menu with me on the phone, making sure there are choices for Lillie and Rosie's special dietary needs. "No, " I tell my mother, "you don't have to make gluten free stuffing...I'm sure Lillie won't eat it anyway." No matter how hard I try to convince my mother not to make the Sweet Potato Pineapple Puffs they always seem to end up on the table. The week of Thanksgiving my mother times her cooking schedule down to the minute. The golden crusted franks-in- blankets and mini-knishes are pulled from the oven as the first grandchild crosses the threshold. That is what I missed this year.

As for me, I was rushed off my feet this week, bleary eyed as if I had a newborn infant in the house. My sleep was not restful as a feverish children (or husband) woke me up at midnight or 3 a.m. for more Tylenol. My house ran like a hospital ward for several days, and I was the head nurse. I graphed temperatures and medicine dosages on a legal pad. One hand constantly flying to people's foreheads to see if the cursed fever had broken, the other to the tissue box. Needless to say, a turkey dinner with all the trimmings was not in my scope this year. But as the day neared I felt we should carry on that great American tradition of eating turkey on the last Thursday in November, simply because we are Americans. Even though, when asked most people will sheepishly admit they don't really like turkey. The week prior I stood talking to me neighbor as she unloaded our kids from carpool debating whether or not to get my "free" turkey which the supermarket gave out to customers who had spent a certain amount the prior month. "Yeah, " she said, "I don't really want mine either, we don't really like turkey. But it's free." And there's the rub, it's free! I would be a fool to turn down 20 lbs. of free meat. And that is why I always have a turkey hibernating in my freezer over the winter months, until I decided to finally cook it or throw it out in the midst of Passover cleaning. Several years ago I switched over to getting just a turkey breast after a particularly disastrous episode involving a too small roasting pan and a large Turkey prepared too close to the start of Shabbos.

After getting over my turkey trauma and getting just the breast one year (which is infinitely more manageable to cook) I found it came out delicious in the crock pot. The meat becomes incredibly moist, and most of the traditional accompaniments (carrots, potatoes and turnips) can be prepared in the crock pot as well. This year I decided I would go the crock pot route as my day was hectic. I could pop the bird into the pot in the morning and forget about it until dinner time. This was my kind of Thanksgiving prep. So in the end we did sit down to a Thanksgiving meal. Infinitely simpler than the one eaten by my extended family, but it retained the spirit of the day--even without the sweet potato pineapple puffs!

This recipe can easily be prepared either in the crock pot or in an oven cooking bag. Either way, you don't need to baste or tend to the turkey as it cooks. Toss a few whole sweet potatoes (pierced with a fork) in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour, and you have a meal!

Crock pot Turkey
(or Thanksgiving in a pot)

2 cups baby carrots
6 new potatoes, scrubbed and halved

1 cup chicken broth or stock

1 medium sized frozen turkey breast roast (bone in)
, thawed
2 medium onions, peeled

black pepper to taste

1/4 cup orange juice

3 Tablespoons maple syrup

1 Tablespoon fresh ground ginger root or 1 teaspoon dried ground ginger

Place potatoes and carrots in bottom of crock pot, pour chicken broth over all. Remove turkey breast from wrappers and cut off excess fat. Rinse inside and out with cold water. Place onions in cavity of turkey and place breast side down in crock pot (depending on size of crock pot, you may have to position your turkey breast vertically). Sprinkle with black pepper.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients and pour over turkey. Cook on Low setting for 6 hours, or until turkey reaches 180 degrees with a meat thermometer.

To prepare in an oven bag: Using a large oven bag, such as Reynold's brand, shake 1 Tablespoon of corn or potato starch inside the bag. Prepare turkey as above, inserting ingredients in bag placed in a large baking pan, instead of crock pot. Tie end and make 6-inch sized slits in bags. Cook in 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees. Allow to "rest" 15-20 minutes before slicing.

Easy Turkey Gravy

Pan drippings
1 Tablespoon corn starch

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Ladle pan drippings into a small saucepan*. Set over a low flame and whisk in corn starch. Continue whisking several minutes until gravy has thickened. Stir in pepper and allow to simmer 3-5 minutes.

*Note: If you prepare your turkey in an oven bag, my little secret is to hold bag over the saucepan, snip one corner and allow the liquid to pour into the pan while holding back the solid material.

If you want an easy, gluten free alternative to stuffing, try this buckwheat recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin (p. 88).

Kasha Pilaf

1 Tablespoon Margarine (or Olive Oil)
8 ounces mushrooms, quartered (3 cups)
1 medium-size onion, minced

1 1/4 cups kasha (medium granulation buckwheat groats)

1 egg or equivalent egg substitute (such as Ener-G Egg Replacer)

2 1/4 cups hot vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Melt Margarine in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onion, and cook until the mushrooms are brown and tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Mix the kasha and egg together in a medium-size saucepan, and stir briskly over low heat until all of the kasha is coated with the egg. Turn the heat to medium and "toast" the kasha by stirring constantly until the grains are dry and separate, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and onion and toss. Add the vegetable stock and salt, and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Serves 4

As for the Sweet Potato Pineapple Puffs, the recipe can be found on page 286 of the Spice and Spirit Cookbook.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Catch Up with Ketchup


I am a member of a great e-mail list that services the area in which I live. It provides updates on stores and restaurants that have gluten free products, as well as general helpful information. This week the e-mail came through with a complete list of Heinz products that are gluten free. One of the member's of the e-mail list made an inquiry to the Heinz corporation, and passed the information on in the weekly e-mail. So, I am passing it on to you, my good reader, to save you an annoying phone call with yet another customer service rep. who asks you tons of personal information short of your cat's name.

Heinz BBQ Sauces (Original, Chicken & Rib, Garlic, Honey Garlic Only)
Heinz Chili Sauce
Heinz Cocktail Sauce
Heinz Horseradish Sauce
Heinz Ketchup
Heinz Organic Ketchup
Heinz Reduced Sugar Ketchup
Heinz No-Sodium Added Ketchup
Heinz Hot & Spicy Ketchup
Heinz Mustard (All Varieties)
Heinz Pickles (All Varieties)
Heinz Peppers (All Varieties)
Heinz Relish (All Varieties)
Heinz Sloppy Joe Sauce
Heinz Tartar Sauce
Heinz Traditional Steak Sauce
Heinz Worcestershire Sauce
Heinz Vegetarian Beans
Heinz Distilled White Vinegar
Heinz Red Wine Vinegar
Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar
Heinz Apple Cider Flavored Vinegar
Heinz Red Wine Vinegar
Heinz Garlic Wine Vinegar
Jack Daniel's BBQ Sauces (Original #7, Honey Smokehouse, Hickory Brown
Sugar, Spicy BBQ Only)
Jack Daniel's EZ Marinader -- Teriyaki Variety
Jack Daniel's EZ Marinader -- Garlic & Herb Variety
Jack Daniel's Steak Sauce (Both Varieties)
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
Lea & Perrins Traditional Steak Sauce
TGI Fridays Salsa (All Varieties)

Current as of October 2009

The corporation also provided an easy Barbecue sauce recipe using some of the ingredients above. You can prepare it in large batches and can or freeze it for later use and added convenience.

Heinz Ketchup Basic Barbecue Sauce

1/2 cup Heinz Tomato Ketchup
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce*
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

In saucepan, combine all ingredients.
Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.
Brush ribs or chicken with sauce during last 10 minutes of grilling or

Makes about ¾ cup of sauce.

*For use with meat, make sure Worcestershire sauce does not contain any fish products.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is Better Batter Better?


The challah trials (and tribulations) continue at our house. For several months, I have been using Bob's Red Mill GF Homemade Wonderful Bread Mix with chocolate chips on top, for added appeal, for Lillie's challah. It was passable. She tended to eat the chips off the top, and about half a muffin. As far as affordability, one packet of mix (about $5) yielded enough muffin size challah rolls to last me a month (I use 3 per Shabbos). But, there was always an unappealing sliminess (sorry Bob that's the only way I can describe it) in the mouthfeel of these rolls. Then a product crossed my radar called Better Batter. The product is a blend of rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, potato flour, pectin and xanthan gum. It differed from my standing favorite flour blend, Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, in that it contained brown rice, as well as white rice flour (Jules also uses corn flour). In certain applications, I felt the Jules flour did not have enough structure and was too delicate for certain applications (those Souther Belles!). So I set out to see if Better Batter is better.

The flour is sold both online and in health food stores. Their website offers numerous recipes, including many vegan options. The fact that the flour could be used in eggless, dairyless recipes has particular appeal to me, as I can make one baked good for the entire family instead of gluten free items that contained eggs and egg less items that contained wheat flour. Better Batter wasn't available in any store near my home, so I ordered a 5 lb. box online (I was optimistic). It is also available in 2.5 lb. and 25 lb. boxes and cases. The company also sells pancake and brownie mixes. The shipping and handling charge was a bit off putting when I calculated the value of the product versus those available in the supermarket, or Jules' flour--which often has free shipping deals. But if Better Batter is ordered by the case (which is only 4 boxes), it actually works out cheaper than Jules'. I inquired at my local health food store if they can give me a case discount, and they said they would and looked into ordering the product. It pays to ask!
When the very chic pink and brown box arrived, I decided to put it to the test according to the instructions on the back. For yeast breads (loaf), it instructs you to double the liquid in the regular recipe, and for shaped yeast breads, halve the liquid. Since I wouldn't be shaping my challah, I went with the doubling method. I decided to use my standard, white flour, egg challah recipe from The Taste of Shabbos. When I opened the Better Batter I noticed it was closer in texture to wheat flour than Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, which resembles more a fine powder (not surprising since the first 3 ingredients are tapioca, potato and corn starch). It also looked more like real flour; I attribute this to the brown rice flour, which adds some appealing tannish flecks to the blend. In addition, the smell was similar to wheat flour. I was cautiously optimistic. I loaded the ingredients into my special-reserved-only-for-gluten-free-flour bread machine and set it on the dough cycle. I looked in the window after a few minutes and noticed it seemed a bit too dry. I pondered whether it was the flour blend or me. Hmmm. Then I realized when the box said "double the liquid", they didn't just mean the water in the recipe. The challah recipe also contains oil and eggs---both liquids. I added a bit more water and oil and set the bread machine in motion once again. The result was a nice fluffy batter which I spooned into oiled muffin cups. One batch yielded18 muffin sized rolls. Enough for 6 weeks. In terms of economy, Better Batter was shaping up to be as good, if not better than Bob's bread mix. But, the proof is in the pudding. If the baked good tastes awful, economy goes out the window (or in the trash can).

The challah came out nice and fluffy, with a light golden crust. I popped a barely cooled roll out of the muffin tin and tasted it with some jam (Trader Joe's makes the best). It was delicious! Whoopie! The texture straight out of the oven was just like a baking soda biscuit. The roll of course lacked the chewiness of wheat bread, but that is the case with all gluten free bread. It is the strands of gluten which are created in the kneading process that lend chewiness to wheat bread. This challah was more like a not too sweet muffin. When I gave it the ultimate test (Lillie), it passed with flying colors. Even without chocolate chips, Lillie munched through the entire roll and uttered an "Hmmm, good!" So, I knew I had a new challah recipe (an unslimy one to boot)!

The next, and ultimate in my opinion, litmus test was Rosie's favorite chocolate chip cook recipe. If Better Batter could hold up in an eggless recipe, I knew it was a keeper. It passed with flying colors. In comparison to Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, Better Batter held together, well, better. Without eggs as a binder, and without gluten to similarly bind the batter, gluten free baking can be tricky. But I found the Better Batter yielded a soft, chewy cookie that didn't fall apart.

Lately, I seem to breathe a sigh of relief when I find a gluten free product I can "settle on". That is, the end of the road, so to speak, in my search for the perfect pasta, challah, cake mix, etc. With so many balls in the air in my daily life, it's one less thing I have to worry about. So finding "go to" products is a big relief.

I definitely intend to use Better Batter in more of my baking; I will probably order a case next time. As for Jules, I am not tossing her aside entirely. Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour will be like my cake flour. The more delicate texture is perfect for cakes and shortbread cookies. The wonderful thing about gluten free baking is there is room for so many different flours. Like a family, they each have their own unique qualities and talents!

This challah recipe tastes best when warmed before eating. I wrap the individual rolls in foil, and store them in a Ziploc bag in my freezer. I thaw and heat as needed. The Better Batter website also offers a braided challah recipe.

Always Successful Challah
from The Taste of Shabbos, p. 3

4 1/2 cups of Better Batter Gluten Free Flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1 packet dry yeast
2 cups warm water (more as needed)
1/3 cup oil
3 large eggs (plus 1 for egg wash, if desired)

Add ingredients to breadmaker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Set breadmaker to dough cycle. If dough appears too dry after first mixing, stop machine and add additional water.

Pre-heat oven to 350F degrees. Spray two muffin pans or 2 medium sized loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray.

When cycle is complete, scoop batter into prepared baking pans. Beat egg with 2 teaspoons of water. Brush top of batter with egg wash. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes for muffin pans and 30-40 minutes for loaf pans. Remove from oven when top of bread is a light golden brown. Cool on racks.

Store tightly covered in the freezer if not using immediately. Heat in a 225F degree oven for 10 minutes prior to serving.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Celebrate! Good Times?


Last Shabbos, we had two celebrations to attend. One was a shalom zachor, the celebration on Friday night to welcome a new baby, and a bar mitzvah the following day. Both are known for endless tables of baked goods and other goodies. So, of course I came prepared. For the shalom zachor, I packed up two luscious, sprinkle ridden cupcakes for Lillie and Rosie, I even put them on their own plates. So, when we arrived, I was able to pop out their desserts and place them in front of the girls. It was not an issue of trawling the dessert table to maybe or maybe not find something acceptable for their dietary needs (more likely not).

They happily licked and munched their cupcakes, but as children will be children, their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. And, their big eyes spied an artfully arranged bowl of blue chocolate lollipops. "Can we have them?", they asked hopefully, knowing my usual answer of, "No, they're allergic and/or have gluten," was coming. But it didn't. I thought long and hard. Knowing they were homemade, and knowing that only one store in my neighborhood sold the blue confectioner's chocolate, I wracked my brain trying to think of any offensive ingredients. I decided it was worth trying, praying silently Lillie wouldn't be moaning with pain the next day, and I would go to the head of the list for Most Irresponsible Parent of the Year award. Their eyes lit up when I said yes and they eagerly grabbed for the blue chocolate teddy bears and baby shoes. They ripped off the cellophane and carefully curled blue, shiny ribbon, and chomped eagerly into this rare treat. It gave me joy to know they could choose something off the dessert table, like all the other children. But, I know that being a "good" parent doesn't mean doing what necessarily makes your child happy, rather it means making the responsible choice---I hope I had.

The next day Lillie was fine, and I breathed a sigh of relief. One point for me. I was floating on the cloud of satisfaction about the prior night's event going so well, that I didn't see the figurative wall that loomed in front of me at the bar mitzvah. Once again we set off with the girls' food packed in a small tote bag, along with the Epipen and Benadryl. Usually we can find something for Rosie in the form of fruit or potato chips, and we weren't disappointed. But, we recently were told to be more circumspect with Lillie at parties as potato chips for example, could be cross contaminated with crumbs from the pretzels clinging to someone's hand as they reach into the bowl. We gave the two older girls fruit, and Rosie had some pretzels. Daisie was given a cookie I hoped wouldn't make too much of a mess and Hubby and I helped ourselves to kugel and salads. Then the trouble started. I paused as I was spooning some apple kugel into Daisie's mouth, and when I reached down to give her another spoonful, Rosie was in her place. I panicked, the egg laden kugel had touched Rosie's mouth, but not gone further, as far as I could tell. I wiped it off, then we waited. I watched her like a hawk for an outbreak, but thank goodness, nothing appeared. In the meantime, Lillie kept staring wistfully at the displays of gorgeous chocolate and nut cakes, and trays of cookies she couldn't have. Then the whining started. I pointed out a large bowl of tortilla chips (hopefully uncontaminated) I felt were alright for her, but she wasn't interested. At eye level were bowls of chocolate pastilles. Once she got hold of the idea, she roped Rosie into the whine fest. "But we had candy last night at the party, why can't we have today?" went the argument. "Well, I said, these have decorations and I need to look at the ingredients, also most dark chocolates are produced on equipment with nuts." I made my way into the kitchen to try to find the containers for these chocolates. No luck! I returned to my kids and had to deliver a firm no, and point out what they could have. The protests ensued, loudly. The "unfairs" flew like bullets at me. I turned toward Hubby and strongly suggested he finish up and we head home. I was deflated. I was the "mean mommy" that afternoon. But, I knew I was really the "responsible mommy", and that means doing what is necessary for your kids well being, not what is popular with them 100% of the time.

In general, I try to be well prepared so my children don't feel a "lack" at social functions. For an upcoming party at school, I asked the director what will be served, so if for example they are having chocolate chip cookies, I will try and send in permissible chocolate chip cookies, so they don't feel so different. For birthdays, I like to make really great decorated cakes, so their isn't a feeling of having a "nebby" allergy-free or gluten-free cake. This year, I had a joint party for Lillie and Rosie (their birthdays are one month apart), and I made an egg free, dairy free chocolate cake to accommodate Rosie, and a gluten-free vanilla cake for Lillie. Both butterfly cakes looked fabulous and received rave reviews. No one could tell they were "special" cakes. For Lillie's cake, I decided to try a "regular" recipe and put Jules Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour to the test. It passed with flying colors. I used a recipe from Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard, Spago's pastry chef. The cake has more eggs than most birthday cake recipes, so I feel they really gave the gluten-free flour the structure that it needs. I made the cake the day before, and it was buttery tasting and light the next day.

Here is my gluten-free, (and optionally dairy-free) version of Sherry Yard's favorite birthday cake. You can experiment with your favorite gluten-free flour blend, but I cannot guarantee the results will be the same as mine.

My Favorite White Birthday Cake with Chocolate and Butter Fudge Frosting
from Desserts by the Yard, p. 7, by Sherry Yard

For the cake:
3 cups Jules Gluten- Free All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter or Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks margarine
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk or soy or rice milk

For the frosting:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, or Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks margarine

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and pre-heat to 350F degrees. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together two times and set aside.

3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a large bowl and a hand mixer, and beat together at medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Scrape down the paddle or beaters and the sides of the bowl.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

5. Beating on low speed, add the milk and the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating wet and dry ingredients. Beat only until smooth. Scrape into the prepared pans.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, switching the position of the pans from front to bake and rotating them halfway through. To test the cake for doneness, lightly touch the top with a finger-it should spring back into place; the cake should also be beginning to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan. If necessary, bake for 5 to 10 minutes more.

7. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto the rack and remove the pans. Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before frosting. (The cakes may be wrapped and refrigerated or frozen at this point).

For the frosting:
1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl (or double boiler) on 50 percent power for 2 to 3 minutes. Allow to cool until warm to the touch.

9. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until fluffy. Add the cooled melted chocolate and beat for 1 minute, until smooth. Frost cooled cake as desired.