Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Break

After I heard last night there would be no school the following day due to the blizzard, I was wandering around the house whispering to myself my snow day mantra, "Embrace the snow day, embrace the snow day." I used to hate snow days. The kids would be so bored despite my efforts at crafts, baking, play dates with the nearest neighbors, and I would get nothing done around the house. Then I decided to mentally reframe how I thought about snow days. I decided to see the positive in them: I didn't have to get the kids dressed and out the door at the crack of dawn, ditto for me, no lunches to make, no carpool. Of course, there is also the memories that are made from watching the little ones make snow angels and catch snowflakes on their tongues.

Fortunately, my husband was off this snow day. He spent most of the day shoveling, and my kids went outside to play around in the snow as he cleared the walkways. The neighbors wandered over and the children made snow angels with their friends. Rosie didn't like that Lillie threw snow at her. I told her that's how you "play" in the snow. When they came inside their noses were pink, and their clothes coated with snow like a donut with powdered sugar. "Hot cocoa, hot cocoa", they cried. No problem, easy enough request. Wait, no, the packet of hot cocoa is processed on equipment that processed wheat. Once again the seemingly easy becomes not so easy. I decided to pull down the canister of Ghirardelli cocoa, and make the hot cocoa recipe on the back. Hot cocoa became easy once again. Once you try making cocoa from scratch, you will never go back to the packet. There is a richness which cannot compare to the boxed stuff.
I can't say the day was exactly idyllic, moral begins to break down by early afternoon, but while all the kids were gathered around the kitchen table drinking their hot cocoa, they were quiet and content. So make yourself a cup of cocoa and embrace your snow day!

It's worth buying better quality unsweetened cocoa powder. I think Ghirardelli natural unsweetened cocoa is the best you can get in the supermarket. It's not much more than Hershey's, and if you put the two side by side you can't help but see the difference in color and richness of texture. There is also a type of cocoa called Dutch processed, which contains alkali. For an easy primer on dutch cocoa versus plain, click here. For this recipe, you can use either.
Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup milk (dairy, soy, rice, coconut)
Whisk together first two ingredients in a small saucepan. Add the milk, whisk together until blended. Heat over low heat for 8-10 minutes, until small bubbles appear on the surface. Whisk occasionally while heating. Serve immediately, garnished with marshmallows or whipped cream, if desired.
Microwave method: Mix cocoa and sugar and set aside. Pour milk into a mug and heat on high for 1 - 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir in cocoa mixture.
Serves 1

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Swap This!


I feel like every magazine this time of year has a cover story on cookie swaps. These are parties where groups of people get together and bring several dozen of one kind of cookie, and a large container. Then they each take a few of the other people's cookies, resulting in a stunning array of goodies without doing all the work to make such a variety. People often try to show their personal best at these affairs, either by bringing elaborately decorated cookies or outrageously delectable ones. But once again, these parties are gluten fests for which the Celiac doesn't benefit.

As I peruse the the recipes the home magazines give, usually accompanied by a lush photo spread, I "tsk, tsk" to myself that they are train wrecks for the food sensitive--full of eggs, nuts, wheat flour and butter. But can you expect much more from the "non-sensitive world"? Then every so often, I will serendipitously come across a recipe that works well with gluten free flour subbed for "regular" all-purpose flour. Butter in these recipes is easily switched with non-dairy margarine, ditto for milk. Occasionally, I will even find a recipe that is egg less--then I'm dancing in the streets!

Below, I am presenting two sweet treats that no-one will even suspect are gluten and allergen free. They are stand outs on their own. If you are bringing them to a cookie swap, or putting them on a buffet or platter with gluten-ful goodies, I suggest wrapping them in cellophane bags with a ribbon bow. This will keep them uncontaminated while attractively presented. Holiday's are especially difficult times for the food sensitive, with all the celebrations and gatherings that include festive foods. But with a little creativity no one has to be left out!

This recipe was adapted from a cookie contest winner in the January 2011 Cook's Country Magazine. The nuts in the recipe are optional, and the cookie is totally fine without them. You may want to mix up the types of chips you use (i.e. white chocolate or cinnamon flavor), as long as the total equals 1 1/2 cups. Judging by the look on the faces of those that have eaten these bars, they are truly bliss!

Chocolate-Cherry Bliss Bars

1 1/4 cups all-purpose gluten free flour blend with xanthan gum* (such as Jules' brand)
1 1/2 sticks non-dairy margarine (such as Earth Balance Buttery Sticks), chilled, cut into cubes
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (light brown works fine too)
1/4 granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted**
1/2 cup gluten-free old fashioned oats
1- 12 ounce jar cherry preserves
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted** (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350F degrees. Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, with 3 inches of foil hanging over the edge of the pan. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, margarine, sugars, salt and cinnamon until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to a medium sized mixing bowl, and stir in coconut and oats. Reserve 3/4 cup of mixture, and press remaining mixture into prepared pan. Bake 15-18 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

Spread jam over warm crust. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts (if using), top with remaining crumb mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 18-22 minutes. Cool on wire rack, about 1 hour. Lift cookies out of pan using foil sling or parchment paper. Place on flat surface, and cut into 24 bars. Store in airtight container.

Yield: 2 dozen bar cookies

*If your flour blend doesn't include xanthan gum, add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum to dry ingredients

**To toast coconut or nuts: Spread coconut in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 350F degree oven for 8-10 minutes, or until light brown, turning occasionally. Coconut can go from
brown to burnt quickly, so keep checking it.

Anyone who has seen snow in New York City needs no explanation for the name of these cookies. This recipe was inspired by one in a Joanne Fluke mystery.

New York City Snowballs

1 cup (2 sticks) non-dairy margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond or mocha extract (optional)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose gluten free flour blend with xanthan gum* (such as Jules' brand or
Better Batter)
1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut or finely chopped nuts (or half of each)
Confectioner's sugar

Pre-heat oven to 325F degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, cream together margarine and granulated sugar. Add the vanilla extract, cocoa and salt. Mix until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the flour in 3 additions, blended well after each addition. Stir in coconut or nuts.
Dampen fingers, and roll dough into walnut sized balls. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes until firm. Switch cookie sheets halfway through baking time.
Allow cookies to cool a few minutes on the cookie sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely (at least 30 minutes).

Place confectioner's sugar in a small bowl. Roll cooled cookies in confectioner's sugar. Store in covered container.
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

*If your flour blend doesn't include xanthan gum, add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum to dry ingredients

Monday, December 6, 2010

Donut Mix-Up


During the holiday's it can be especially difficult to find substitutes for ones family's tried and true recipes and memory evoking foods. For example, giving a child a store bought gluten free cookie is no substitute for freshly made sufganiyot, the fried jelly donuts traditionally eaten at Chanukah time. To me it is especially important to have nice gluten free and allergy free options at home, since there are so many parties at school (and elsewhere this time of year) where my kids need to bring their own food. I want them to feel caught up in the festivities like everyone else. And, let's face it, inevitably food contributes to the celebration.

Last year I thought I was really clever when I discovered a shortcut to make great gluten free donuts---gluten free pizza dough mix! I used Whole Foods 365 brand, and it was great. I came to this by dusting off an old syllogism I learned in college (if, then, therefore). I remembered reading that Paula Deen's mother made donuts from refrigerator biscuits (the kind you buy in the tube), and I thought the gluten free pizza dough mix yielded a biscuit like crust, therefore it may also yield a decent donut. And, it did just that.The only thing I did different than the package directions was add an extra 1/4 cup sugar. They fried up beautifully in 350 degree oil. I used a pastry bag to fill them with strawberry jam, and put out melted chocolate and confectioner's sugar for toppings. Lillie loved them!!!

So what a disappointment on the first night of Chanukah this year, when I took the remaining box of 365 Pizza Dough Mix out of the cabinet and mixed up the contents only to find that it had a weird smell. Checking the box I saw to my chagrin it had expired a while back. Yikes. The clock was ticking and I had a kid with a special diet who I didn't want to disappoint on the first night of Chanukah. To add insult to injury, I used all my eggs on the rotten mix. I frantically thought and remembered the box of Gluten Free Bisquick I had in my fridge. I remembered once seeing a recipe for Bisquick donuts with the non GF variety. I quickly went to the Betty Crocker site and did a search, no luck. A Google search finally yielded the recipe. My nice and ever prepared neighbor lent me another dozen eggs, and I set to work with a prayer on my lips that this would work. I had to add more liquid to the GF version, but they came out lovely. One advantage of the Bisquick donuts over the pizza crust version is that they stayed soft even the next day. Gluten free baked goods often harden when not eaten fresh. But Lillie was able to take one in her lunch for a party at school! So for this mother, I found that necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

As a postscript you may be wondering what Rosie ate, as the donuts contained egg, I have a little secret I use to make super easy eggless and vegan (but glutenny) donuts. E-mail me at the address on the right if you would like to know!

If latkes are your thing, pretty much any recipe will work, just substitute potato starch or any gluten free all-purpose blend for the flour or matzo meal called for in the recipe. As an egg substitute, you can use Ener-G Egg Replacer, or 1 Tablespoon potato starch dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water. This acts like a "glue" to keep the latke together.

If sugar cookies are your thing, I tried Better Batter's Vegan Sugar Cookie recipe this year. It came out nice, but not as sweet as I would like, although the kids didn't seem to care. Sugar cookies are more about the process than the end result in my opinion---especially if you're 4 years old. It seemed as if it would work great in a spritz press though, just don't refrigerate first.

Happy Holidays!

The gluten free version of Bisquick is dairy free as well---a nice plus in my opinion. I call these "anything fritters", as you can add just about anything to them, such as grated apple or zucchini, or sliced bananas. They are easy to make and delicious to fresh and hot.

Gluten Free Bisquick Donuts
2 cups gluten free Bisquick
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup rice, soy or dairy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Confectioner's sugar

In a large mixing bowl, mix together first 6 ingredients. Add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, if mixture is very thick. Cover and refrigerate until oil heats.

Meanwhile, heat 3 inches of oil in a large pot on medium-high (375 degrees) heat. To test readiness of oil, drop a walnut size piece of dough into hot oil. If it floats and small bubbles appear around it, the dough is ready. Using two tablespoons, scoop up batter in one and push it off the spoon with the other into the oil. Don't crowd the pot. Fry only 2 or 3 donuts at a time. Using a slotted spoon, turn donuts when they appear golden. Fry for 3-4 minutes per side. Remove donuts to a paper towel lined plate and drain well. Repeat until all batter is used up.

Hint: Put a two inch piece of peeled carrot into the boiling oil to soak up all the yucky brown stuff that appears when frying. It keeps the oil clear and your donuts looking good.

Allow donuts to cool for 5 minutes. Using a pastry bag fitted with a round tip, fill donuts with jam. Place confectioner's sugar in sieve and sprinkle over donuts. Best served warm. Store tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

Yield: 1 dozen small or 9 large donuts.