Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Get Fruity!


This Saturday is the holiday of Tu b'Shevat, the new year of trees. We celebrate by eating all sorts of fruits, fresh and dried, and especially try to eat a "new" fruit---that is one we haven't tasted all year. I chose persimmon, they are just ripe and I look forward to digging in to the enticing burnt orange flesh.

A fun project and yummy dessert to make with the kids are fruit kebabs. Naturally gluten free, they are healthy and easy to make. To add an elegant touch you can serve with a chocolate dipping sauce that's a cinch to prepare. I prefer tropical and summer fruits such as pineapple, kiwis, berries, mangoes, etc. But if all you have on hand are apples, oranges and bananas, that's fine too. Like many recipes that are geared towards children, it's more about the process than the end result. What's important too is that children see the variety and attractiveness of fruit; not something that's "icky" and forced on them to eat. Start the process by taking the kids to the farmers market or supermarket and choosing what looks appealing to them. You can discuss where the fruit comes from and how they think it tastes.

If you want to make a more "grown-up" version of this dish, you can add some of your favorite liqueur to the dipping sauce. Almond or fruit flavored liqueurs work especially well. The amounts for the kebabs vary depending on how many people you are serving, so no specific cup measurements are given for the fruit in this recipe.

Fruity Kebabs

Any of the following fruit cut in cubes:
Strawberries (halved)
Blueberries (whole)
Cherries (whole)
Grapes (seedless, whole)
Mandarin oranges (pith removed)
Bamboo skewers

Thread several kinds of fruit onto the skewers creating an attractive, repetitive pattern. Leave about an inch of skewer showing at either end. Arrange on a platter and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with warm chocolate dipping sauce.

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

1 - 8 ounce container non-dairy whipped topping (such as Rich's Whip) or heavy cream
1 - 10 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 Tablespoon liqueur (optional)

In a medium sized microwave safe bowl, place sauce ingredients. Microwave on high for two minutes. Stir with a rubber spatula until smooth and thoroughly combined. If chocolate is not melted completely, return to microwave for 15 second increments, stirring in between until smooth. Allow to cool 10 minutes.

Divide into individual small bowls and serve alongside fruit kebabs.

*Any equivalent amount of sweetened chocolate can be used in any combination you like, from bittersweet to milk chocolate. If using bar chocolate, chop coarsely before placing in bowl.

Note: Leftover sauce may be covered and chilled until firm to create a truffle filling. Roll teaspoonfuls of firm chocolate mixture into grape sized balls, then roll in cocoa, confectioner's sugar or ground nuts. Chill until ready to serve.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hold It!


Last night night I feel like I broke the unbroken spell hanging over Lillie of not eating in restaurants. Since she was diagnosed neither she (nor we) have gone out to eat due to the fear and uncertainty of food prep that was not under our control.

Yesterday I decided to take the plunge. Our family was on an outing near a Chinese restaurant we used to enjoy several times a year, Eden Wok, in New Rochelle, NY. I broached the subject to Hubby and he was apprehensive at first. He really worried that Lillie may be "contaminated" by gluten. I was worried too. Noone likes to see their child writhing in pain. I decided to call ahead and ask if they do gluten free meals, they said they did. I know they have a very nice sushi selection, and tried to convince Lillie on the way over that this was the "safest" option. But given the fact that she's never eaten sushi and she's five, I decided not to push the issue.

The takeout menu totes a sticker that says: Food Allergies? If you have a food allergy, please speak to the owner, manager, chef or your server. That put me at ease somewhat. When we sat down, I looked over the menu and felt frustrated. It seemed like everything was either coated or wrapped in flour. Many kosher Chinese restaurants have an "American menu" (which I thought they did), and would allow me to go with something simple like a hot dog (whose ingredients I could check and french fries). But they didn't, so I kept looking. Prior to being diagnosed with celiac disease, Lillie's favorite dish was lo mein. I spotted a section of rice noodle dishes. Our waiter didn't speak English so well, so I was a bit nervous about having a discussion about allergants with him. Instead I chose to go over to the manager and ask my questions directly. He was very hospitable, and told me the rice noodles have neither eggs nor flour (the lo mein noodles have eggs...bad for Rosie). But, the dishes themselves do have eggs and soy sauce. I asked if those could be omitted. He assured me they could, but seemed to convey that the taste without the soy sauce wouldn't be optimal. I decided Lillie could live with that. So I sat back down and I ordered one chicken chow fun hold the soy sauce and one hold the eggs and any sesame the dish may have.

The items came to our specifications and the kids dug in. Rosie had been very cranky as she eyed the crispy noodles on the table which she couldn't have them because they contained eggs. Then she wanted some broccoli from my chicken dish. As far as I could see there was no problem, but ever cautious Hubby (by the way I'm not a negligient mother, but I guess Hubby is even more cautious than I) wanted to ask if there were any allergants in the chicken dish. The waiter said the chicken may have been marinated in egg. I held my breath as I realized if my chicken pieces were marinated in egg, then in all probability so were the ones in Rosie's dish. We had a problem on a couple of occaisions in the past where she threw up after eating steamed chicken and vegetables--no sauce, what we thought was a safe dish. We were puzzled until we inquired at the restaurant and where told even the steamed chicken is marinated in egg whites. The waiter returned and told us, much to my relief, the chicken was fine. Rosie happlily munched away on my broccoli. She was even happier that she could have the fortune cookies which were eggless...that was a real treat. Lillie handled her fortune cookielessness maturely. I think she is beginning to see that she must be resigned to the reality of her situation. The restaurant also gives orange segments for dessert.

I considered our trip a success, but Hubby reminded me we wouldn't really know until the next day when we see if her stomach is bloated. This morning I asked her first thing how she felt, and was overjoyed when she answered simply, "Fine."

One caveat. Although I was boasting to Lillie that sushi (without soy sauce to dip, of course) is the best option. I noted at the sushi bar that the salmon pieces had a fake crab roll (a.ka. surimi) resting on them. Any self-respecting celiac knows that fake crab rolls generally have gluten. So be wary. You may also wish to ask the sushi chef to change his plastic gloves and even put a fresh piece of plastic wrap on the bamboo mat he uses for rolling the sushi. Always be wary of the little things that can set of a reaction.

Eden Wok in New Rochelle has an "all you can eat buffet" on Monday nights that included sushi (as of the last time I was there on a Monday night). This is an especially good deal as sushi can be expensive in general.

If you can't get to a restaurant, try this recipe from Martin Yan (fave Chinese cook) for vegetarian chow fun. Most chow fun recipes I found contained oyster sauce, which is not acceptable in kosher cooking. This recipe featured on the Food Network is complete without the oyster sauce.

Hakka Vegetarian Chow Fun



  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Chow Fun:
  • 2 dried black mushrooms
  • 12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried flat rice noodles, about 1/4 inch wide
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 cup shredded napa cabbage
  • 3/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 3/4 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup chopped Chinese celery or 1 small celery stalk, julienned
  • 1/4 cup sliced preserved vegetable or mild kim chee (optional)
  • 3 green onions, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten


  1. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl; stir until sugar dissolves.

Hakka Vegetarian Chow Fun

  1. In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and thinly slice caps.
  2. If using dried rice noodles, soak in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain.
  3. Place a stir-fry pan over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, swirling to coat sides. Add noodles and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add half the sauce and stir to evenly coat noodles. Remove noodles from pan.
  4. Return stir-fry pan to high heat. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms, cabbage, carrot, bean sprouts, celery, preserved vegetable, and green onions. Stir-fry until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Push vegetables to side of pan, add egg, and stir-fry until egg is cooked, about 1 minute.
  5. Return noodles to pan and toss gently. Add the remaining sauce, stir to evenly coat, and cook for 2 minutes. Serve.
Yield: 4 servings

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sugar Cookie Baking with Lillie


Snow day season is upon us, and it seems like the day is longer when you have the little ones to to entertain unexpectantly. One of my and their favorite things to do when we are stuck in the house is to bake. When the baking involves icing and sprinkles...even better. Sugar cookies are the perfect canvas for your little ones artistic efforts. Just because you've gone gluten free, doesn't mean you have to give up this treasured parent-child activity.

I feel sugar cookie making is a good option when you have hours to occupy, because it is a multi-part activity. First you have to make the batter, then cut out the cookies, bake and finally decorate. You can even push your children's creative talents further by wrapping the cookies up in a creative manner, attaching cards (homemade...yet another activity to occupy the kiddies) and distributing to friends.

A few years ago I starting using a shortbread recipe when I needed an eggless sugar cookie recipe for Rosie. It was superior to any of the allergy free sugar cookie doughs I tried, as it kept it's shape better-- which is a good quality for a cut-out style cookie. Many traditional Scottish shortbread recipes are made with rice flour, so you're ahead of the game in terms of gluten freeness.

Most sugar cookie recipes require chilling for several hours. If your kids don't have the patience for the chilling time required of sugar cookie dough, you can prepare the dough the day before and chill overnight. I like to make a double batch of dough and form logs out of the extra dough. I wrap them well in plastic wrap and pop in a ziploc on which I write the baking instructions. Then I freeze the logs, and have when needed, I have my own prepared dough logs-- just like the type made by that famous doughboy. The dough is very versatile and can be sliced, dipped in sprinkles, coconut or ground nuts and baked, rolled out for cut-out cookies, and even used as a pie crust.

Below I provide a recipe for gluten free sugar cookies (but you may use any of the abundance of recipes available), as well as step-by-step instructions with visuals courtesy of Lillie.

The cookie recipe I use is adapted from a recipe for Shortbread Hearts (p. 261) in The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (may she rest in peace). I used Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, but you can try your favorite gluten free flour blend, although you should make sure if it does not contain xanthan gum, add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon to the batter.

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

3 sticks unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine such as Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
31/2 cups all-purpose gluten free flour blend (with xanthan or guar gum), such as Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour or Better Batter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond or orange extract)

1. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter or margarine and confectioner's sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend throughly.

3. Form dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 4 to 6 hours.

4. Pre-heat oven to 325F degrees. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

5. Roll out chilled dough to approximately 1/4- inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes. Carefully transfer to cookie sheets with a spatula. Decorate with sprinkles if desired.

6. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until they just start to turn light brown.

7. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack with a spatual to cool completely. Ice and decorate as desired.

Yield: Approximately 2 dozen cookies

Hints and Tips for Perfect Sugar Cookies

Lightly spray cookie sheets with water before laying down parchment paper. This will help keep the paper in place, and secure the cookies on the baking sheet. You can buy empty plastic bottles at the dollar store or any hardware store. Never use a bottle that held chemicals.

To easily roll out your dough, place between two sheets of plastic wrap before rolling out. If you have a metal rolling pin, chill before using. If your dough gets too "mushy", chill a metal cookie sheet and place on top of dough for a few seconds to harden.

Dip your cookie cutters in gluten free flour or cornstarch before cutting to keep them from sticking to the dough, and help to keep the desired shape of your cookies.

Use a spatula to transfer shapes to cookie sheet and don't overcrowd. If you fill up your sheets, refrigerate dough until you are ready to make the next batch. You can find inexpensive cookie cutters at dollar and craft stores on sale.

Have on hand a variety of sprinkles, chocolate chips and dragees to decorate your cookies. Betty Crocker and Wilton both make cake decorating items that are gluten free. Remember this endeavor is messy, but it can all be cleaned up with the vacuum at the end of the day.

Store finished cookies in airtight containers, or freeze in ziploc bags up to 3 months.