Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Success! (and a chocolate cupcake)

Once again for the holidays, I tried to make a pie crust and pumpkin pie. This time I was confident enough to go out on my own and tweak the recipes. Thanksgiving's pie was good, but not amazing. I strive for amazing.

My rule has always been to follow the recipe the first time, then change it the way you want after that. So, this time the crust came out better and thanks to a little mistake, the pumpkin pie filling was fabulous!

Using Gluten Free Pantry's pie crust mix and following the directions, this time I added a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla to kick up the flavor of the crust. Also, I mixed the dough with my hands, not using a machine and that left chunks of butter (about the size of small marbles) scattered in the dough. Break the dough into two pieces and refrigerate. Now, this is the important part...refrigerate at least 24 hours. The first time, we only let it sit for one hour and had to push it into the pie plate like a giant piece of Playdough. This time, after more than 24 hours of cooling in the fridge, the dough was much more firm and I was able to roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and place it into the greased pie plate. Press in any spots that rip. There are still a few small bits of butter left in the dough, but leave them. I wanted to sprinkle some sugar on the dough before baking it to give it a layer of crunch, but I forgot. Next time...

Bake the crust for 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven before filling it. (Can't remember what the package says, that was just what I decided to do. I threw away the box before checking that part.)

Preparing the filling is easy. Just use the recipe on the side of the organic pumpkin can. (Not pumpkin pie filling, yuk!) But instead of evaporated milk, I used a can of sweetened condensed milk. Didn't realize my mistake until it was mixed in, so we went with it and crossed our fingers. Added cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, sugar and eggs (and a tsp of vanilla). Pour into cooled crust and bake 10 minutes at 450 and turn the oven down to 350 and bake another 30 minutes.

There is no photo, the pie when that fast after dinner. Everyone devoured the pie and the crust, raving about how it was hard to tell that it was gluten-free. Always glad to hear that from the gluten eaters in the group. Little tweaks can sometimes be your best friend, dear chef!

I've added a photo above of the beautiful cupcakes my daughter made for the day. Gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with peppermint buttercream frosting and a white-chocolate/peppermint bark on top. Sweet! She's getting to be the real baker, and may even be better than me now since she's gotten so creative. So proud! Recipe to follow as soon as she gives it to me.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dear Martha

Recently, there was an article printed in The Daily Mail, UK edition, with a few quotes from Martha and her newest book. She was discussing dinner guests using cell phones and those with allergies or food preferences. I'm posting my letter to her in the assumption that this reporting is correct. If it is not, then I apologize up front and you are welcome to come by and chat, Martha. But if it's true, what I say below comes from the heart.

Dear Martha:
I'm sure you have many friends, and I'm sure your dinner parties are elegant, as we've seen on TV. But I also know the reputation you've gotten over the years and I was always there to try and soften it. "If she were a man," I would say to those who bashed you, "would they be so hard on her? No." Well, I think I'm going to have to take it all back based on your newest book and interview.

Now, I do agree with you on your stance about cell phones at dinner parties. Unless one has a babysitter or child at home who may need you, there is no need to carry a cell phone at a party. And if it rings (and it should be on silent with only a vibration) then a quick look to see if it's the aforementioned babysitter/teen at home and put it on ignore if it's not. There is no reason ever to text or take a call when you are at someone else's home, especially if that someone worked hard all day cooking, cleaning, and decorating in order to spend time with you and others in her/his home.

But when it comes to allergies and food preferences, I'm in the other camp. "Oh my God! Don't ask! My rule is do not ask about dietary restrictions," she says, clearly averse to making an extra effort for certain guests. This quote from the article reveals how selfish you are being when holding these parties. Are they about spending time with friends or showing off your cooking skills? It should be both! Why can't you accommodate the very people you are hoping to please in your home?

I have always tried to accommodate people with allergies or strong preference when they are in my home. For instance, I know my niece and husband do not like mushrooms. I am always aware and leave them out of my dishes when I know there is a dinner party and they will be eating the food. I would rather find another way to be creative than have them skip something just because I thought it was an inconvenience. It's about spending time with people, not just showing off.

At the same time, I do not expect anyone to cater to my needs. I am perfectly happy to bring my own food (I'm sure you would hate that, Martha. I won't even go there) or just have a salad or the side dish. But I would never, ever, assume that someone I personally invited to my home should go without a meal. "You have to be semi-prepared," she says of picky eaters. "But don't fret about it. Everybody can miss a meal." Seriously? You would be fine with someone coming to your home and eating nothing because you weren't prepared with even a small bite for them? I certainly don't want to be catered to, but I would also be pretty darn insulted if they had absolutely nothing, not even lettuce or fruit.

And finally, the big question. Do you do all the cooking for your dinner parties? I think not. What would be so hard about just asking one of the chefs in your restaurant-style kitchen to whip up something for the celiac/diabetic/peanut allergy/etc. eater who was invited to your party? Why not show them what a thoughtful, caring hostess you are and put to bed all that talk about you being a you-know-what?

Merry Christmas, Martha. If you want any help in preparing meals with thought, compassion and creativity, feel free to give me a ring.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Here's how to have a gluten-free book club tea party

It was my month to choose a book and host book club in November. Not only do I love reading, but I also love hosting parties. The book I chose was Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier. And since the book is based on the lives of spinster women searching for fossils on the coast of England in the early 1800s, (yes, it really is), I chose a tea-party theme with seashells and dinosaurs thrown in for fun.
Tea Party with sea glass, shells and dinosaurs
Tea is served

First let me note that I am the only GF eater in the group. It's been my mission to prove to them all that GF cooking is just as good and that the wheat is not missed. Top that with the fact that we're vegetarians and there isn't any meat at our house and I've got a real challenge, but I'm always up for a challenge, Dear Chef.
The dinosaur is there for a reason, trust me.

I decided on making two veggie tarts, (basically quiche without the crust). The first was made with carmelized leeks, browned mushrooms, mozzarella and goat cheese. Carmelize one onion and two leeks, then add mushrooms and brown them with the onions. When they're done, place them on the bottom of a tart pan and spread out evenly. Cover with a layer of shredded mozzarella and about 3 TBS of shredded Parmesan. Sprinkle with chopped fresh thyme and parsley. In a separate bowl, mix together about 4 egg whites and 3 eggs. Add about 1/4 cup of goat cheese and whisk it all together with a pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried mustard and nutmeg. Pour evenly over the tart and bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes. Don't let it get too brown. Slice when cool and enjoy. I'm always apprehensive about using goat cheese since even though I love it, I have found that people either love it or hate it. But this was first plate to be empty, so I suppose this wasn't anything to worry about.
Another dinosaur, representing the fossils in the book.

The second tart was onion, spinach, asparagus and Swiss cheese. Start with the onions in a bit of olive oil and butter (as above) and cook till brown and sweet. Add about 2 cups of fresh spinach and cook until wilted. Turn the heat on low and cook for about 10 minutes until the liquid has cooked out of the spinach. Add 1/2 tsp fresh garlic, pinch of salt and pepper. spread evenly into a pie/tart pan. Cover with 1 1/2 cups of shredded Swiss cheese. Take asparagus and arrange in a patter on top of the cheese. In a separate bowl, beat together 4 egg whites, 3 eggs, 1/4 cup half and half, salt, pepper, pinch of both nutmeg and dried mustard. Chop about 1 TBS fresh parsley and add to the mixture. Beat and then pour evenly and gently over the veggie/cheese mixture. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, but don't let it get too brown. Slice when cool.

Thanks to Udi's for the fabulous bread used to make the cucumber sandwiches and the egg salad sandwiches. They were the first to go and not one was left on the plate. Daughter and I kept eating them while making them, we love them that much. Simple to make, really. For the cucumber sandwiches, just cut the crusts off the bread, then spread with cream cheese and layer with strips of cucumber (use a veggie peeler for strips) and slice. Sprinkle with a little salt and a bit of chopped fresh parsley. For the egg salad I used chopped egg, mayo, apples, celery, salt/pepper and chopped parsley. I didn't cut the crusts off of these and they were yummy .

In keeping with the fossil-hunting theme, Daughter actually made a wonderful GF coffee cake and placed a small dinosaur in one of the pieces while plating the cake. (Fossil hunting in the dirt? Too much of a stretch?) The cake was gone quickly, and worked perfectly with the tea after dinner.

And believe it or not, I found the perfect wine in the spirit of the fossil-hunting theme of the evening. Thanks Trader Joe's.

I was depending on Trader Joe's for their lovely shell-shaped chocolates to round out the decor. And wouldn't you know it, they don't have them yet for the holiday season. What's a girl to do? Ask her teen to make some chocolate, that's what. Darling daughter actually melted white and dark chocolate and poured it into molds to give us our shell chocolate. What a doll! The night was rounded out with cheese/pesto/sun-dried tomato torte with rice crackers, caramels with sea salt and a lovely salad of spring lettuce, roasted beets and candied pecans in a balsamic dressing.

I'm sad the night is over, but I can't wait for next month. Try reading the book and see what it inspires you to cook. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Supernatural Gluten-free Party!

With an elegant twist in honor of Breaking Dawn, a party was created and I was lucky enough to be invited. I spent the evening last night in a beautiful place, eating beautiful food (all gluten free) all while talking with lovely people. I can't think of a nicer way to spend an evening. And since you were not there, let me tell you all about the fun and more importantly, the food.

Thanks to Angela Saban of Angel Cakes for hosting this fabulous party. Check out her blog, here, for updates on the amazing cakes she creates (see below for more details on the ooh- and aaah-worthy food).
When you're welcomed at the party by an old truck (Bella's with a better paint job?) and a sign, this sets the stage for what's to come inside. With this attention to detail, I had a feeling nothing would be missed from this point on.
Yay, Swag!
I followed the red carpet into the entry hall with it's TWILIGHT centerpiece surrounded by swag bags for all guests. Sweet! The centerpiece fascinated me with its simplicity yet creativity. I found out that Angela's wonderful daughter-in-law, Trista Williams, had fashioned it using pages right out of the series. (Although she did say she felt bad tearing up a perfectly good book, it was worth it!) Here's a close-up for you crafters.
Pages of the book, close up
Can you choose between Team Edward or Team Jacob? Even if you're not a fan of the movies or books, the theme is fun and whimsical, yet mysterious with werewolves and vampires. I chose Team Jacob, there I said it. Let the debate begin. Fangs for Edward's team, wolf ears for the better team, er I mean the other team.

Choose a team

With Full Moon cocktail in hand (Maker's Mark, apple cider and a splash of ginger ale), I made my way around the pool, which was surrounded by candles and spinning lights. Looking up on the wall I saw projected images of Bella, Edward, and Jacob, as well as scenes from previous movies lighting up the patio. DJ Gabriel kept the vibe going with music from the series, keeping the mood romantic and fun.
Photos and movie scenes on the wall

Moving on to the buffet table (you know that's what you were interested in!) was a real treat. First off, the tables were topped off with spectacular floral arrangements that fit the mood perfectly. A rose here, a red carnation there, moss and greenery everywhere. All arrangements were created by Elba Brown of Designs by E in Phoenix with an eerie, supernatural touch. Floating red roses among moss and soft white flowers gave the buffet table just the right touch of beauty, elegance and mystery.

Notice the enormous pile of potato chips near the flowers? Oh yeah, my friend. Freshly made chips that were crispy, not too salty and oh so yummy. An avocado cream dipping sauce was provided for the chips, but seriously, with a good chip who needs dip (although it was amazing and I just needed a spoon for it and I could eat it like pudding).

The food was provided by Jennifer's Catering in Phoenix. Check out the website and see how they serve the chips in little cones, Oh my. Maggie Wark, who works at Jennifer's, is the gluten-free guru there who made the slider rolls and is spear-heading the gluten-free division of the company. Also on the menu was a tomato salad with Cojita cheese. So refreshing and served in little cups with cute tiny forks. Pork belly and salmon rounded out the food, but you know of course that was not my cup of tea, although I hear it was quite good from those who tried it.

Tomato/Cojita salad (yes, I had about 7!)

On to the crowning glory of the party, the pastry table. Oh man, if I could have married it, I would have. It was that good. I stood there wishing I hadn't opted for the cute little purse that matched the outfit rather than the huge, pastry/cupcake smuggling purse. I would have to be content with eating it all there. (Next time, Angela, don't question the large duffle purse at the party.)
Edward and Bella should have had this at their wedding

First off, the cake. A beautiful centerpiece with edible flowers. Definitely would not fit in the purse (damn!) I did not eat any, but I've had Angela's cake before at a lovely tea party (check it out here).

Next the cupcakes. Both sides were represented with a special cupcake. Jacob's side (werewolves) had a fabulously chocolatey caramely cupcake with salted caramel and a fondant paw on top. I could have eaten four, I admit it, but I didn't. But I so wanted to, but I didn't.

Edward's side was represented appropriately by a vanilla-bean cupcake with raspberry filling and even bite marks. The filling was gooey and lovely, the cupcake was light and fluffy and the frosting was a dream.

True to my original team choice, I preferred the chocolate, but it was a tough choice, trust me. Both were light and airy like a cupcake should be, but it didn't fall apart at all. I felt like Florian from Cupcake Wars as I tried both. Of course, I gave them both good marks, but I'm a chocolate lover at heart, you know.

What about Bella, you ask? Bella-berry Cobblers with a berry filling and flaky, buttery crust gave Bella her chance to shine. And that she did. Two bites of a perfect cherry pie. My table mates all claimed that this was their favorite. The crust was something I have been trying to perfect without success. Once again, Angela shines with a gluten-free pie crust that is equal parts flaky and chewy, just the way it should be.

And yes, there were cookies! What, you say? No really, on top of all this, there were little white hearts of vanilla cookies with white icing. They reminded me of the glorious black and white cookie of my New York City days that I feared I would never eat again. Never fear, they are right here. I'll bet Angela could even make them black and white if you ask her.

Swag bags, you ask? Oh yeah! I was fortunate enough to meet the actual Tom Sawyer of Tom Sawyer Gluten Free Flour-fame, no kidding. And not only that, there was a bag of flour for everyone to take home and start baking. Sweet! A chocolate wolf lollipop, Werewolf "kibble" and "blood-spattered" popcorn, all by Angela Saban started the bags off. Add to that Udi's chocolate chip cookie, Julia's Gluten Free Cinnamon Roll and more. I can't imagine a better time with better food or company, and I even had swag to take home. Now that's how you throw a party!

I was lucky enough to meet Kim Pebley, president of the Southern Arizona Celiac Support group and Chandice Probst of Gluten Free Frenzy here in town. Check out her website for giveaways and fun restaurant reviews. I also had the chance to spend a little time with Nina Spitzer, the GF guru who started the Phoenix Celiac group and Gluten Free Absolutely, a wonderful restaurant menu consultation service. What a great group of people who are supporting and advancing the GF community.

Trista Williams, me, and the lovely Elba Brown
Proof positive by Angela that you can have a lovely, successful cocktail party with elegant food and not a speck of gluten to be found. Thanks!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Gluten-free, Chocolate Almond/Cashew Cups

Gluten-free, chocolate almond/cashew cups
I had a craving for peanuts and chocolate last night, so I decided that I would whip up something fun. These nut cups are modified from the protein bars I made previously, and are quick and easy to make, no cooking (unless you count a microwave for a few seconds) and yummy. I even had a few for breakfast.

Quick and Easy Chocolate Almond/Cashew Cups
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup flax meal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup unsalted, natural peanut butter

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 Tbs honey
1/2 Tbs GF vanilla extract
1/2 cup Enjoy Life GF, DF, CF chocolate chips

1. Spray a mini-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a small food processor, combine almonds, cashews, flax, sunflower seeds and peanut butter until it forms a paste.
3. Heat coconut oil, sugar, honey and vanilla in a small bowl in the microwave for just 15 seconds.
4. Pour coconut oil mixture into nut mixture and process until mixed (just about 10-15 seconds).
5. Put about a TBS of mixture in each tin and place in the freezer while you make the chocolate. This made 24 cups.
6. Heat chocolate in microwave for 20 seconds, then stir, then heat again for 10 seconds. Keep doing this until it's all melted. Be careful not to overcook.
7. Remove cups from the freezer and put about a tsp of chocolate on top of each cup and spread it out. Work quickly, it cools and hardens fast on the cold nut mixture. After you've put all the chocolate on, you can add more if you like.
8. Return cups to the fridge or freezer (depending on how fast you want to eat them).
9. When hardened, remove the cups from the tins and put in an airtight container in the fridge. They melt quickly so keep them in the fridge.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Calling all Vegans!

The logical step for many people who are vegetarians is to take the next leap and become vegan, right? But remember when you went GF and wondered, "How will I get pizza, cookies, bread, etc.?" It was scary. Well, going from vegetarian to vegan is the same thing. "What about pizza, what about cheese," we ask.
Southwest vegan pizza with black bean paste

Well, these days the answers are a lot easier than they were years ago. And I recently had the chance to sample the new vegan pizza at Gluten Free Creations that would make the transition even easier. Using Daiya cheese and vegan ingredients for the crusts, they've managed to make a pizza that is satisfying and vegan, finally.

There are a few varieties (along with just the crusts) that are quite good. I suggest the Southwest pizza with black beans or the pesto/spinach/artichoke pizza. The crust is crispy and just right for pizza toppings. It doesn't carry a lot of flavor on its own, which makes it the perfect vehicle for any toppings you want. At the time I tried the pizzas, there was an issue with canned mushrooms, which is one of my pet peeves, but just go without mushrooms and you're good to go (unless you like them, then have a blast). All in all, if I were a vegan, this would be a wonderful treat. Not on the cheap side, these are treats and not something we could do every day, but most GF products are costly, right? Buy a few and top them with your own special toppings.

As I've blogged before, I'm a big fan of the Italian GF crusts from this bakery and always have them in my freezer for those nights I have no creativity or energy to cook. Bake with just olive oil and spices and dip in marinara, or top with cheese and garlic, or even make a sandwich with it. The same can be done with the vegan crusts. Go nuts and be creative, or just heat them up and dip.

And once again, I have to put a plug in for the chocolate donuts there, which are my favorites. I get them when I have a killer chocolate craving. Chocolate donuts with chocolate frosting and chocolate chips. Phew, they are intensely chocolate and just what I need sometimes. What about you?

(I am remiss in this post since I spent a wonderful morning at Gluten Free Creations not long ago and I promised to blog about it. Well, it's been too long and I got too busy. Sorry for the delay in the post.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Whole Foods to the rescue!

Daughter and I were headed out to a baby shower yesterday and realized that we had no cake to eat at the party. Normally, I don't really care about eating at these things. I usually eat beforehand so I'm not tempted. Daughter has learned to do the same. But she wanted to have some cake and I'll admit it, I wanted something sweet. I didn't have time to bake and we were on our way so we stopped at Whole Foods and grabbed a package of their vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting.

When the cake for the party was served, it looked wonderful. It was chocolate with a chocolate mousse filling and everyone seemed to love it. Daughter and I broke out the cupcakes and tore into them right away. The cake was moist and yummy with a great cupcake texture. The icing was a bit sweet and overpowering, but I think next time I'll just eat half the frosting and be done with it. For the most part, we didn't feel deprived and it hit the spot. If we're on our way to another party, I may grab the chocolate for a change of pace. These are large cupcakes, which is good but, at $8.99 for 4 cupcakes, that won't be happening very often. It's much more cost-effective to make our own, but for a quick cupcake...not bad at all!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Egg "noodles" the grain-free way

Egg "noodles" with marinara
I've been absent for a bit, taking care of school work and remodeling work. But never fear, I've still been cooking and eating. After so long trying to curb the amount of grains in my diet, I fell off the wagon and went gangbusters on cookies, cakes, cupcakes, etc. for the past month. Finally, I'm back on track and feeling so much better.

Which means I'm still hungry, I just have fewer items on the menu. Noodles are one of my favorites and trying to find alternatives can be difficult. I've used raw zucchini in long, thin strips and it's wonderful with pesto, and I love spaghetti squash as a pasta alternative, but what if I'm trying to add more protein in my diet as well?

Aha, it hit me today while watching Jamie Oliver on TV while he made crepes and cut them in long, thin strips for a salad. Why not do that with eggs? I scrambled 2 eggs and 2 egg whites with a bit of salt, pepper and garlic powder. The rest is so easy it's crazy.

These are the "noodles" without sauce so you can see. Pretty, huh?
In a hot skillet with a little butter, add a small amount of eggs, just enough to cover the pan without leaving open spots (how much you use depends on the size of your pan. Just imagine you're making a crepe). Swirl it around until you get an even layer. Then let it cook without touching it for about1- 2 minutes depending on the size of your pan. It should start to get well done on the edges. Then gently lift it from the pan and flip it. (you might need to get the hang of this, but it's easy after the first one.) Cook another minute on the other side.

After you have a few of your egg "crepes," stack about 3-4 of them and roll them in a tight cigar shape. Then cut in strips from one end to the other, essentially making pinwheels. When you uncurl them and fluff them, you now have long, thin egg "noodles" to add anything you want. I had some marinara and shredded Parmesan, which was wonderful. The noodles were chewy and had a nice bite, reminded me of an egg noodle from long ago. But it's not a real noodle so don't look for that texture. I liked the egg taste of it and the way it worked with the sauce and cheese. Perhaps using them as manicotti and rolling some cheese might work, or serving with pesto, goat cheese, Parmesan, roasted mushrooms, etc. The possibilities are endless. Yum.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Garbanzos with spinach and lemon

Today's post is short and sweet. I wanted a quick, easy lunch before running out to a meeting, recently. I remembered that I had a great lunch recently in Tucson at the Shish Kebab House. Along with a lovely but standard Greek salad, we ordered the sauteed garbanzos and spinach. I decided to try and recreate it since it was so good. Mine tasted just like the restaurant, and I could even add a little more lemon. The garbanzos are firm and chewy and the spinach and lemon give it just enough tartness. It is quick and satisfying, and its good for you. Best of all, it's gluten free naturally. I love this recipe since it's so easy to prepare, but if you prefer to soak your beans overnight, go right ahead. The dish just takes a little more planning.

Garbanzos with spinach and lemon
1 can garbanzos, drained and rinsed
2 cups raw spinach, rinsed
Juice of one medium lemon
1 TBS olive oil

1. Sautee garbanzos in the olive oil till warm.
2. Add all other ingredients and cook until the spinach is wilted and warm, but don't overcook it. You still want some texture to it and a bright green color.
3. Serve with a wedge of lemon for a little treat.

Simple, quick and yummy. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gluten-free caramel corn drizzled with chocolate-my new addiction

My new addiction
I had a craving for caramel corn and decided to try and make my own. It always sounded so difficult and messy, but that never stopped me before. Besides, when a craving for something sweet hits me, not much can get in my way. After scouring cookbooks and the Internet, I decided to buy Trader Joe's air-popped popcorn to begin with. I got rid of my air popper last year after realizing I never used it. Now, I wish I hadn't. But, TJ's seemed to do the trick. Then, I decided to use Paula Deen's recipe for caramel corn, since it seemed to be the most simple. Click on the link for the entire recipe, but I've listed a few hints below to make it a little easier.

1. Once all the ingredients are in the pot and mixed, and the butter is melted, let it simmer/boil for 5 minutes without touching or stirring (resist the urge to stir, and I know that's hard to do). Then add the baking soda.

2. I used 8 cups of popcorn (1.5 bags) but I think I would use 6-7 next time since not all of the popcorn got a good coating of the caramel. Although it's not bad if some of it is lightly coated. That's up to you.

3. Even though it bakes for an hour, don't forget to stir it every 15 minutes so it cooks evenly. I spread it out on two large roasting pans that I sprayed with non-stick spray to make it easier.

4. I melted a bag of GF chocolate chips and drizzled it for just a little more decadence. If you do that, make sure you put in the fridge to harden a bit.

5. I dare you to make this and not eat it all night. I bagged it up right away and handed it out the next day. I made sure to leave enough for all of us to eat, but it's so addicting...it's hard to stop once you start. Trust me.

I think this would make a great hostess gift or even something to bring to a potluck or party if you can't decide. Best caramel corn ever...really.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Quick and easy beet salad with truffle oil

Beautiful beet salad with greens and truffle oil
Beets are unappreciated, in my opinion. Mention them and either get a big smile, or a big grimace from most folks. That's because they right away think of those pickled beets at the salad bar. Yuck! Now think of a nice, sweet roasted beet fresh from the garden. There, now I've got you thinking in the right direction.

I started this morning with a roasted a pile of fresh beets from the Phoenix Farmers Market that I bought this weekend. Half of them are for my Mom, who prefers it if I roast them for her. "You do it better," she says. I think she's just trying to keep her oven off in this heat.
Italian Truffle Oil, a special treat

So, like the good daughter that I am, I roasted them all. I saved hers to the side and wondered what to do with mine. Then it him me, why not use the greens and make a salad? Simple...

Then I remembered that my lovely sister bought a bottle of truffle oil for me when she visited Italy recently. I don't use it that often, I just don't want to use it all. But I adore the earthy aroma and flavor when it's drizzled over salads or bread. I know it can be quite expensive and not many people have it sitting in their cupboards, I never did till she gave it to me. But if you can find some, try. If not, olive oil is just as nice and gives a lighter flavor. Make sure you have some good, extra virgin olive oil.

Roasted Beet Salad with Truffle Oil
2 fresh beets, roasted and refrigerated
1 bunch of fresh beet greens, washed and dry
3-4 yellow baby tomatoes
1/2 tsp truffle oil (or olive oil)

1. Roast the beets the night before, or at least put them in the fridge for about an hour so they can cool off. I roast mine at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes.
2. Wash, drain, and pat dry the beet greens, then chop them.
3. Chop beets into bite-sized pieces.
4. Mix greens and beets in the bowl with the tomatoes, salt/pepper.
5. Drizzle just a touch of truffle oil over the salad and mix.

The truffle oil is the best part. It gives the salad a warm, earthy flavor. The greens are slightly bitter and crunchy while the beets are sugary and carmelized, making this a wonderful contrast. The truffle oil just brings this up a notch higher. Don't overuse the oil, or salt and pepper. Lightness is the key here, you want a summer, refreshing salad.

What do you do with your beets? I'm still looking for more ideas. Let me know.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gluten-free blueberry scones, the easy way

I woke up this morning with a craving for a scone. Now, I'm not usually a scone lover, they can be a bit dry for me. And couple that with gluten-free flour and you're sure to get something that resembles crumbling drywall. But, nevertheless I was determined, and hungry. I looked in the cabinet and found GF Bisquick mix...Hmmm. What if...

It worked! What a treat. More like a cross between muffin and scone, it was perfect on a summer morning. I used frozen blueberries that I had frozen just a few months ago when huge, sweet blueberries were in season. If possible, try to use something like this rather than those little, tiny, chewy frozen ones. The rest is ad-libbed...and gutsy but successful. I didn't have enough Bisquick, so I used about a 1/2 cup of GF yellow cake mix, which seemed to work out great.
Gluten-free blueberry scone and espresso

Blueberry scones
1 1/2 cup GF Bisquick mix
1/2 cup GF yellow cake mix
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup frozen blueberries

2 TBS melted butter
1 tsp sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Mix first 6 ingredients together in a bowl.
3. Once it's all come together, add the blueberries and mix for a moment.
4. Turn out onto a table or board using a bit of the mix to "flour" the table. Knead a few times till mixed thoroughly, but don't overdo it.
5. Pat out into a flat, round shape about an inch or so high, about 10-12 inches in diameter.
6. Melt butter for about 15 seconds, pour over the top, and spread evenly. Don't worry if you don't use it all, you just want a thin layer over the top to brown it up nicely.
7. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top of the dough. Depending on how big you've made it, you may need a little more.This will give it a lovely brown and crispy top.
8. Slice into 8-10 triangles.
9. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper, leaving about an inch between them.
10. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Let them cool slightly and serve warm. I haven't eaten one cold yet, but these are quite yummy. Like a blueberry muffin with a bit of biscuit/scone mixed in. Wonderful with a cup of coffee. (I caught my husband grabbing one and putting cream cheese on it.) Of course, add any fruit you like. I prefer the blueberries, but I'll try strawberries or even apricots next time. I would also love to try a rosemary/lemon scone soon.


Friday, July 29, 2011

True Food now offers GF pizza

True Food's version of GF pizza
A dear friend took me to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in town, True Food. I've written a review of the restaurant before and you can read it here. But this time, I was surprised to see gluten-free pizza on the menu. The server said it was new and of course, you know I couldn't refuse. We ordered one pizza with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes to split as an appetizer.

Since my daughter was with us, I knew we'd have the input of two GF eaters and one non-GF eater (my friend). The results? Lackluster on my part, so-so on my friend's and pretty good on daughter's side. Here's the rundown...

The pizza is made in-house by the chefs. The crust came out much too overcooked on the edges for my liking but the server said they all come out like that since they are still working on perfecting it. It tasted burned on the edges and I wasn't too impressed, but the inside and underside were not burned, so we passed on the offer of another.

The taste was bland and although the texture was crispy, I found it a bit dry. A perfect vehicle for spicy toppings, or strong flavors like pesto, as my friend pointed out. I still found it to be a little too bland, but my daughter said she found it to be quite good and ate most of it. The pesto was wonderful with a little bite of spice to it and the sun-dried tomatoes were just right. Sometimes they are too chewy on a pizza, but these were lovely. I love that it is a place you can trust will understand the needs of GF customers and I felt safe eating there.

True Food's Spaghetti Squash Casserole

My daughter and I split our favorite Spaghetti Squash Casserole, which I highly recommend if you visit the restaurant. (See my previous review linked above.) The spicy tomato sauce and cheese create a wonderful little casserole and the squash is still al dente, just the way it should be. We ordered one for us to share and the kitchen made two little casseroles, how cute. For dessert, the always-wonderful GF chocolate cake and a citrus sorbet that was divine, tart, sweet and addictive.

My final call...I rate my four top GF pizzas in the Phoenix area as 1. Picazzo's- lovely texture, best flavor, expensive. 2. California Pizza Kitchen- tasty crust, light and crispy, medium price. 3. PieZano's- GF Creations crust, made to order, great toppings, much too far away, (I've never been to the Glendale store, only the Phoenix one that closed), medium price. 4. True Food- least amount of flavor in crust, overcooked edges, good toppings, medium price.

What's your favorite Phoenix-area pizza? I have yet to try Naked Pizza, but I have tried Spinato's and was disappointed by the canned mushrooms - I just couldn't get past those rubbery, chewy bits of yuck. The server said even she hated them but the kitchen insisted on using them. Since they use GF Creations crusts too, it's not worth it just for that.

Side note: If you're in Tucson, I recommend Renee's Organic Oven.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ice Cream Cake and Carrot Cake...Happy Birthday to Me!

My darling daughter bakes a cake, just for me!
I celebrated my birthday a few days ago, and I've been continuing the celebration ever since. Actually it's been a birthday month for me. But more importantly, I gave myself permission to eat cake the entire month of July, with abandon. Good thing the month is almost up, I am going to need to lose a few pounds.

For the actual birthday, I made an ice cream cake similar to what my grandmother used to make when I was a kid. We would get to choose what kind of ice cream we wanted when it was our birthday, and then the celebration began. I wish there was a photo for you, but we ate it all so fast there wasn't enough time. But let me spell it out for you and you'll see why it didn't last.

In the bottom layer of a springform pan, crush half a package of Kinnikinnik K-Toos (take the filling out of about half of them) and add about 2 Tbs of melted butter. Press into a pan you've sprayed with nonstick (GF) spray. Let your first ice cream soften on the counter for a few minutes (I used Baskin Robbins chocolate chip). Each layer took about a quart. Layer the ice cream evenly over the crust mixture and freeze at least an hour.

Layer the rest of the crushed cookies (without butter) on top of the ice cream layer. Sprinkle a few chocolate chips in there if you want. We used about a 1/4 cup of Enjoy Life mini chips. Freeze again for about 30 minutes. Spread the next layer of ice cream (Baskin Robbins Gold Medal Ribbon) and freeze again for about an hour. Finally, pour a jar of chocolate fudge topping over the top and freeze again till you're ready to serve. And don't forget the whipped cream. Oh, that was good....

The best carrot cake in the entire world

OK, cake number two I just had tonight. My daughter wanted to make me another cake before the month was out and who am I to protest? Using The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free once again, she made a carrot cake that is out of this world. I haven't had carrot cake in years and even when I ate gluten, I couldn't eat the nuts so I would have to pass on the cake wherever I went. I never made one myself. Now, I see what I was missing. This cake had just enough spice and flavor and the cream cheese frosting was sweet and tart. No nuts, and just the right amount of golden raisins and fresh carrots. I ate it while it was still warm, I couldn't wait. My oldest daughter said, "It smells like Christmas in here," as it was baking. It sure felt like Christmas to me!

I'd love to give you the recipe, but I don't want to type it right out of her book. I urge you to get Anne Byrn's book, you won't regret it!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer means cherries & grilled corn and asparagus salad

Rainier cherries...get 'em while you can!
I love summer for one reason...the food. Living in Phoenix means we hibernate right about now and stay within AC at all times. And with the recent haboobs we've had (technical term for big damn dust storms), it's getting to be a real pain to leave the house. Saturday morning outings to the farmers market is the only think I look forward to takes place outside. Asparagus, fresh corn, summer squash, oh my... Then the Ranier cherries hit the shelves and I'm in heaven.

Taking inspiration from the fresh veggies available right now, I searched for ideas on what to do with the veggies I had in the fridge. I had a large bunch of asparagus and 8 ears of fresh corn. I gave mom a few of the ears of corn and a handful of the asparagus, then set out to make a salad from the rest.

Grilled asparagus and corn salad
I decided to grill inside instead of standing outside in the 110-degree heat. If you're someplace else in the country, you may be OK with standing outside. It still went pretty quickly. First, I grilled the corn a few at a time for just about 10 minutes...enough to grill and cook, but not overcook. Keep turning them and put a little olive oil and salt on it to keep it from burning.
Grilling brings out a fabulous smokey flavor!

Next, wash and trim the asparagus. These take a little less time and you just have to flip them once after about five minutes. Then another few minutes and they're done. I did mine in two batches since I had so much. I love watching them get brown and lovely. It's all I can do not to eat them right out of the pan.

Cut the corn off the cob, chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces and mix. I added about a Tbs of olive oil, the juice and zest of one medium lemon, pinch of parsley, oregano and basil. A little more salt and pepper to taste and you're done. Dear chef, don't fret over it, just keep tasting till you get the right mixture. This is a light summer dish, so go easy on the lemon and keep adding a little more till you get it right. This was wonderful a little bit warm, and even better the next day after it cooled in the fridge. The lemon had a chance to settle into the asparagus, which was smoky and grilled and still crispy to the bite.

Enjoy your summer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

California Pizza Kitchen's new GF Pizza fills a void, and my tummy.

CPK GF Margherita Pizza
California Pizza Kitchen has long been a favorite place for our family. The kids loved the pizzas and pasta when they were young and I loved the salads and pizza. When we were sidelined by the GF lifestyle so many years ago, we didn't stop going, just stuck to salads and soup. We didn't want to deprive the rest of the family, but no more pizza, although we watched everyone else indulge.

How thrilling it was to see that CPK had a new GF pizza on the menu. First order of business was to call and find out how it was prepared. I was assured that all utensils were color coded and not shared with wheat items and the pizzas were cooked in a separate place on separate foil. Yipee! We headed out.

After once again getting reassured by our server of the precautions, we ordered one Margherita Pizza (tomato, mozzarella and basil). When it arrived, I pulled out my camera to take a few shots, which piqued the interest of the manager. "I've never seen anyone take pictures of our food except PR people," he said. I told him about the blog, and how excited we were about the pizza. He said his wife had also tried it and was quite pleased. He was curious to know what we thought since not many of the pizzas had been sold yet.

I respect him for mentioning that although the pizza crusts are pre-made, there is flour in the kitchen and cross-contamination can occur, although they try very hard to avoid it. That's the case in any restaurant and I appreciated him repeating it. Make your own choice if you decide to go.

Now, on to the pizza... Yummy. The toppings were the usual cheese and tomato with fresh basil. The crust is light and crunchy. Although I would have liked a little more flavor to it, I will be trying it again. It's perfect with spicy or strong flavors since it doesn't have much flavor of its own, much like a lot of GF crusts. It tasted a lot like the Udi's Pizza Crust, although with a little more flavor. It's a blank slate for any toppings.

The crust is about the same size as the regular pizzas, which was so nice to see. So often, the GF pizza is more expensive and smaller than the regular pizza, right? That is so frustrating. These are the same size as the CPK regular pizzas and cost the same, which is even better. There are two pizza toppings that are not GF and they are listed clearly at the bottom of the pizza listings.

Although it was crisp on the edges, it was a little soft in the middle. I recommend ordering it a little overdone, which I'll be doing next time. Since it's on foil and not on the stone with the rest of the pizzas in the oven, it's easy for it to stay a little soft and not crisp up as nicely as the regular pizzas. For that reason, tell them to leave it in a few more minutes. FYI, we took it home and heated it up in a frying pan with a little olive oil for dinner. Much, much better. It's amazing what a little olive oil and heat can do. One pizza was enough for two of us for lunch and dinner. Fancy that!

Bottom line...I'm glad they have a new GF crust and are taking precautions to make it safe for us. I had no reaction and neither did my daughter, so we'll definitely be back. Each time a restaurant tries to accommodate the GF lifestyle, it's one step closer to making life a little easier. Make your own decisions and always be careful when eating out.

Now, when will they have GF pasta? Soon, I hope.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Quick and easy Summer Soycutash and Quorn

It's 118 degrees in Phoenix today. Not the kind of day that makes you want to spend hours in the kitchen. Check your fridge and see what you have that can be made quickly. No, barbecuing is not an option...that means standing outside in the scorching heat. Not my idea of fun.
Quorn and Soycutash

I found a bag of Trader Joe's Soycutash (corn, peppers, edamame), quickly sauteed it with some Quorn "chicken" tenders, added a bit of garlic, parsley and olive oil and done! Yummy, light and full of protein.



Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gluten-free brownie-cookie, ice-cream sandwiches...oh my!

Cookies with vanilla ice cream and chips.

Cookies in their lovely, chocolaty goodness...

My daughter decided to make dessert tonight! Oh my, so yummy. She's making me so proud as a young teenager with a talent for cooking and creativity. Using the Betty Crocker GF Brownie mix, she added a tsp of vanilla, 2 TBS of coconut oil and 2 eggs. Instead of making brownies, she put them in scoops on parchment paper and made cookies. (They spread a lot, so start with small scoops.) Oh my, if she left it at that it would have been tremendous. It's like eating the yummy, crunchy ends of the brownie in each bite. But then she added vanilla ice cream in between two of them and rolled it in Enjoy Life GF chocolate chips. Could there be anything better? I think not, you be the judge. Don't you just want to dive into this? I did (and another one, I admit it!)

Give it a shot. Any GF eater, and especially any GF youngster, will love you forever for this.


Monday, June 6, 2011

A Gluten-free Tea Party for Big Girls

Don't you just want to dive in there?
I was invited to a tea party by a dear friend recently. Normally, I turn those down since all those goodies are off limits to me and it can be quite depressing. I don't mind spending time with friends over tea, but it breaks my heart sometimes when a lovely affair is catered and I'm munching on fruit. But this time it was different. I wouldn't have to turn it down, I wouldn't have to pass on dessert, and as a matter of fact, I would have to refrain from eating too much. Surprise, surprise...everything was gluten free and fabulous.

And not only were all the treats GF, but the little finger sandwiches made by the adorable husband of my friend were made using Udi's bread. Yum! Top that off with every attention to detail in the design of the room down to the amazingly beautiful Ikebana flower arrangements keeping the theme of blue and yellow throughout their lovely home.
Lovely flowers

Crispy, light sugar cookies

 The party was catered by Angela Saban of Angel Cakes Bakery. Wow! It is very unusual for me to be speechless, but I couldn't find the words to express how delighted I was at everything I tried. Excuse me while I take a few minutes to gush...
Finger sandwiches with arugula and egg...yum!
(Thanks Chris)

Luscious lemon tarts
There were lovely, light and crispy sugar cookies tied in sweet blue ribbons. Along with those were luscious and delicate lemon tarts in a GF crust that was flaky and buttery, just like grandma used to make. Perfect little bites of lemon creme and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
 My favorites would have to be the little vanilla cakes with whipped cream icing and fresh fruit. The cake was so light and fluffy, I could have eaten the entire plate and not felt full (I tried, but darn it there were other people who wanted some.)
Little cakes with whipped cream frosting...oh I still dream about these.

The centerpiece of the table was a beautiful chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling. I didn't know if I even wanted to eat it, it was that beautiful. Even the flower on top was made of sugar...But I found the courage and couldn't help myself. The cake was just as I remember a chocolate cake was supposed to be. Light, chocolaty, moist and not too sweet filled with a chocolate mousse filling that I would have eaten out of a bowl if they let me. The cake was decorated with an elegant, simple style and looked more like a piece of art than food. But then again, we eat first with our eyes, right?

Thanks again to my dear friend, Elba, for such a wonderful time, as always....and to Angela Saban for making this one of the best tea parties I've ever been to. This topped any tea party the Mad Hatter or Alice ever attended! Any time I need something catered, it will be by Angela for sure. Her passion is obviously making GF treats that taste like we remember them, not like we have learned to accept them. Thanks Angela!