Friday, December 23, 2011

Sugar Cookies!

I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!! I start celebrating in what I call, the "er" months~ September, October, November, December. I wait until after Thanksgiving to cut down a tree, mostly so I don't scare anyone and become "that weird neighbor" who has Christmas up before Halloween. But one of my favorite things about this holiday is having family over to celebrate Christmas Eve with a delicious meal at our house. This year, the menu is "roll your own sushi." I will put out all our favorite ingredients for sushi and everyone can create their own  But as non-traditional as dinner may be, dessert will be an array of my favorite cookies.

One of my favorite, simple cookies is a good sugar cookie. The crispy outside and soft center makes for a delicious bite! I spent the morning making all sorts of variations of this cookie, from powered sugar, to white, egg or egg-less. All of them were made using Earth's Best stick butter alternative, which our family has come to love given our issues with dairy as well as gluten. But even with the fake butter, these were incredibly delicious. If you want to make a rolled cookie for cutting, this recipe works great. Lightly dust the dough with flour (any of the alternatives works fine) and then place between two sheets of parchment to roll. Roll the dough into a sheet approximately 1/4 in thick, then cut with your favorite cookie cutters.

In this recipe. I vary the brown rice flour and use sweet rice flour instead. It is a little harder to find, but it makes a wonderful sugar cookie!

1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup potato starch
3/4 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (I used organic evaporated cane sugar and it was wonderful)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream your sugar and flour then add egg. When blended thoroughly, slowly add flour, vanilla, baking soda and xanthan gum. Drop in small balls or roll out and bake at 375 d4egrees for 10 minutes. Cool and enjoy!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advice for the Novice

I realize that going gluten free seems overwhelming for a lot of people, and I have met so many people recently that have tried and given up this lifestyle because it seems like it is too difficult. One of the main set backs is that it can take a while for gluten to clear from your system, so if you "cheat" a little, you start from square one. I have talked to many people that say they didn't notice any difference for them, but after asking a few questions, I realize that they are still eating wheat here and there and their body has not been able to truly function free of gluten. So, my first piece of advice, and the most important advice I can give you is, if you go off of gluten, you really have to give it a couple of weeks without any slips before you will know for certain whether or not it works for you.

So, where is gluten? It is easy to figure out that it is in wheat, barley, rye, and most oats. The only reason it is in oats, though, is that oats are grown on farms that rotate crops with wheat, barley and rye. The good news is that you can get gluten free oats! The bad news is they don't have a Quaker man smiling at you and enticing you to eat them.

Other slightly less known foods that contain gluten are soy sauce, imitation meat (like fake crab, but you can ask for your sushi with real crab), malt (sorry, no more Whoppers) and maltodextrin (which they add to things like Rice Krispies, so beware). Be wary of french fries. Although potatoes are fine, fries are often coated in wheat to prevent them from turning color, and are also often fried in the same oil as all of the breaded items on a restaurant's menu. In N' Out Burger has safe fries, and McDonald's says theirs are fine too (although I have seen Super Size Me, so I avoid it for things other than the safety of the fries). Beer is a no no, but distilled liquor is gluten free (I even got to do a little whiskey run in Scotland). Licorice and other gummy candies use wheat protein, but there are specialty gluten free versions out there. Foods like vinegars or chocolates not made in the US may contain some gluten. Be careful of things that say "natural flavors". Unless they are marked as gluten free, they could have gluten. Really, beware of anything that is processed (like hot dogs or deli meat) because with all of those additives comes more and more chance of gluten hiding in the ingredients.

Hidden gluten is in all sorts of places, and for the truly sensitive, it means a lot of investigating. First, you will need a new toaster. All those crumbs at the bottom of your old one will add gluten to your new toast. Oddly, non-stick coated pots and pans can hold on to gluten as well. So here is your excuse to get some new stainless steal ones! Medicines can have gluten, so talk to your pharmacist before you take anything new. This next one is weird, but the sticky substance on envelopes and stamps can also contain gluten. *

(*these lists are not exhaustive, but a good start. Go on for even more info)

If you are new to gluten free living, you are starting at a wonderful time. Foods are now marked with notices about allergens and even what is made in the same facility. As you first start down this road, look for foods that are marked "gluten free." It is the safest way to start your diet, and there are many products out there now that are delicious and gf. Make sure that your foods are not "processed in a facility that also processed wheat" as you will not know if it is contaminated and your system really needs to clear. As you go on, you will find that you will "know" when you accidentally ate gluten, but you want to be your own guinea pig as infrequently as possible.

I love and use my smart phone often. I will google all the way through the store. "Is this sugar gluten free?" or "Is that baking soda gluten free?" There is an amazing amount of information out there, and you will often find what you need.

So, good luck out there. Ask me any question you want. If I can't answer it, I will find a way. May your bodies thank you for this, and I hope this helps the transition.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I just wanted some cereal!

I think when I first became gluten free, I missed breakfast most of all. Eggs and fruit was my go to meal, but the slimy texture of the eggs without toast to sop up the yolk started to turn my stomach. I ventured out into the gluten free aisles hoping to find a good cereal. No such luck for me. I spent a lot of time and money buying all sorts of cardboard~ I mean "cereal"~ to try. Yuck! As time went on, more companies came out with new kinds, but they were often one of two things: 1) meant for my kids and so sweet they burned my taste buds in the morning, or 2) inevitably had some other additive I am allergic to. This list for me includes, but is not limited to, bananas (seriously, who is allergic to bananas? It is ridiculous), cranberries (again, why me?), almonds (are you shedding a tear for me yet?), yeast (but I eat it on occasion anyway because all it does is make me tired), milk (yeah for alternatives!), etc... But even on the off chance that I found a cereal without any of the items on my allergy list, they cost $7 for maybe two or three servings. By the time I sampled every cereal I could, I knew it was time to do it myself.

I scoured the internet and books for recipes I would like and adapt. I am so thankful for Bob and his Red Mill for having certified gluten free oats (as well as almost everything a gluten free lady needs). So, here is what I came up with. You can snack on this dry or pour milk (or in my case, milk alternatives) over it for a delicious cereal. Enjoy!

Granola with anything you want~
1/2 cup canola oil (or veggie oil that has a neutral taste)
1/2 cup hot water
2/3 cup honey
6 cups Bob's Red Mill g/f oats
1 1/2 cup lightly chopped nuts of choice
1 to 1 1/2 cups of dried fruit of choice

Whisk liquids in a bowl. Add oats and nuts slowly and mix until dry ingredients are well coated. Spread thinly on baking sheets (you will likely need two). Bake at 250 degrees for an 1 hour and 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to brown throughout. Stir in the dried fruit and store in a sealed container once it is cooled.
Variations~ I love walnuts and dried apple, or cherries and pecans. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's Party Time!

It is the most wonderful time of the year, and where there is a holiday, there is a party. I love going to see friends, toasting friendship and eating good food together. However, the eating together is the hardest part for people with food allergies. Close friends try to accommodate your needs, but usually don't know the finer details of gluten free living. Those rice crackers they purchased are great, but they share a plate and dip with  Wheat Thins. They made steak and potatoes with no bread products, but didn't realize that the marinade had soy sauce in it. Then you get bombarded with questions. "Can you eat rice?" "Well, you can have white flour, right, because it isn't whole wheat?" Then you get to give a lesson on what gluten is and how even a small amount can affect you. This is the part I struggle with, mostly because I don't want to dominate the conversation or bore anyone. And although I find food interesting, I am sure that not everyone does.

So, now I eat a little something before I go anywhere so I can avoid food if necessary. I also bring a little something to share so I know it is fine for me to enjoy. And I make a short and condensed version of my story to share so no one goes glassy-eyed while I speak. I am curious what others do when in this situation. It happens quite a bit more early on when you are converting to gluten free. That is the time where you start sharing your issue with family. It is when you feel the, "When did my wool start turning black?" feelings. Now, 5 years later, my family always has something for me to eat, even if it is different from what they are having, and that is fine with me! My friends just let me figure out what to eat with them and since I love to make food, it is great.

If you have friends and family that want to know more, there are great sites out there. One that is easy to find info on and is a great is but really if you google gluten free, a thousand sites pop up now. Here is a great recipe to make and take to enjoy with anyone at any party. Good luck out there, and may all your parties be merry!

Roasted Veggies with Quinoa~

(any of your favorite fall veggies are fine, but I like these)

carrots (cut in half and then into small lengths, about 2 inches)
quartered onion (or use pearl onions for something a little special)
asparagus (cut into medium sized lengths)
red and orange bell peppers (seeded and cut into cubes)
grape tomatoes (cut in halves)

Coat the veggies in olive oil and salt to taste.I often put a little balsamic vinegar on top to help the veggies caramelize and bring a nice flavor to them.  Roast the veggies in batches in a 400 degree oven.
The onions will need about 35 minutes. You can parboil them to make it faster. The carrots will need about 20 minutes and the rest will take about 12 minutes. While the veggies are roasting, make your quinoa. I use Tru Roots and the directions are on the back. The total time to make them is 20 minutes. When everything is done, toss it all in a bowl with some balsamic and salt to taste.

This is a salad, but is also a dinner if it needs to be. Enjoy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas!

Let the fun begin! I have been invited to at least four parties this season that require me to bake. Fortunately, I love to share my goodies, so it is fun for me. However, I am under no dilusion that other people love it like I do. I think almost everyone is required to bake cookies at least once this season, if for no other reason than that Santa may leave you coal if you don't leave him anything yummy to keep him going. Have no fear! Here are two wonderfully delicious recipes I rely on for holiday parties that are sure to please everyone, gluten free or not. And, if you are GF and bring these, you get to eat, too!

Oatmeal Cookies with Cherries and Pecans

1 cup of butter with 3/4 cup sugar and 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
mix in 2 eggs at room temp. and 1 teaspoon vanilla
beat in:
1 cup Sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup brown rice flour
3 1/2 cups of gluten free oats
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup dried cherries

Drop onto a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes or until baked through. These cookies are awesome for breakfast with coffee, so enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peppermint

Cream 1 cup of butter with one cup of sugar and one cup of brown sugar. Add two eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 1/2 teaspoons of peppermint extract.
Then add:
1 cup Sorghum flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 cups chocolate chips
Put some broken up pieces of candy canes on top (Bob's are gluten free and available in most stores)

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool and enjoy!

I hope you get the chance to bake this season and I hope this helps make it an easy and fun process. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wonderful Brownies!

Okay, so some things intimidate me. I spent most of my life making brownies from a box. I remember sitting on the floor of my kitchen when I was around 10 stirring the egg and water into that sweet smelling mix, dipping my fingers (and sleeves) into that yummy goop and licking it up like a kitten lapping up milk... This, of course, was before the age of dangerous raw eggs and poisonous wheat flour. This was the age when my grandmother would let us taste the raw meat and spices of her lamb meatballs just before they were popped into the oven, and when Sylvester Stallone would crack a raw egg into a glass to drink for protein.

So, well, life has changed for everybody. But I have found a way to bring brownies back into my life (and I still lick the bowl at the risk of my health). I adjusted this recipe from one I found on Give it a try! They are moist and delicious, even days after you bake them.

1 cup butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
blend the two together then add
4 eggs at room temperature
slowly add 3/4 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup potato flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix thoroughly and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes in a 9x13 pan that has been lightly greased.

The recipe calls for some ingredients to be room temperature. It actually does make a lighter, fluffier brownie, but you will still make a good brownie if you take the eggs from the fridge. The butter and sugar won't blend though, so microwave the butter for 10 to 20 seconds to soften it a little before blending. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The World of Flour

If any of you have tried to bake anything gluten free from scratch, you know this dilemma; what flour to use. As I ventured into this new world, I was ready to conquer baking. Then I took a look at the gluten free aisle and saw that there was a flour for every bean, grain and nut known to man! And I felt the need to try them ALL! At one point my pantry was full to the brim with container upon container of wheat alternatives. I had garbanzo bean flour, hazelnut flour, amaranth flour, corn starch, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum, xanthan gum, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, gluten free oat four, potato flour (very different than starch), flour mix from all sorts of different companies, white rice flour, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, etc.... It was crazy, not to mention expensive! The only one I didn't try was almond flour, and that is because I didn't want to go into anaphylactic shock (another allergy of mine, sadly).

So, I started to bake (and bake and bake and bake). I bought every book I could find on gluten free baking and set to work. Here are some lessons from my kitchen:

1. Bean flours have a very distinctive flavor that stands out in sweet foods. They are fine for savory things though.
2. Use potato or corn starch, not tapioca. In my experience, tapioca can turn and give a sour or metallic flavor to your baked goods.
3. Although I hear almond flour is great, hazelnut is gritty and isn't my favorite flour.
4. Xanthan gum gives a stretchy pull to your baked goods, so always use some. Guar gum is supposed to do the same, but xanthan gum worked better for me.
5. Potato flour is starchy and bland.
6. Rice flours should not be used on their own or you will have a gritty texture to your food.
7. I like oat flour, but not all people with gluten allergies can tolerate it, even if it is labeled gluten free.

So, now five years later, this is what I know: you need THREE flours and one additive for almost everything you bake.
1. Sorghum~ it is a little sweet and is a very soft texture.
2. Potato or corn starch~ This lightens your food.
3. Brown rice flour~ not only is it a whole grain, but gives a bouncy texture. Don't use too much or you will make it gritty.
4. Adding just a teaspoon of xanthan gum to your mixture keeps it from getting too crumbly.

I really want to encourage you to try anything you want, but this mix of flours is my tried and true combination. I make brownies, cookies, muffins,scones... really most things with just these four things to replace my wheat. Good luck out there, and have fun experimenting!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gluten Free for Life

So, after the 10th person mentioned to me that I should have a blog, I decided to give it a try. I have been living a gluten free lifestyle for 5 years now and it has changed my life. Eight years ago I had my second baby. My body didn't do so well being pregnant and my little one was born too early. It was a harsh reality that we had a sweet little preemie on our hands. As he healed and grew, I noticed some changes in the way I was feeling. I could not feel fully awake. My body ached and nothing seemed to help. By the time my baby turned three, I was needing to nap every day and was taking medication just so I could walk. My knees and hips were always swollen and I was bloated and uncomfortable. I went to doctors and told them my symptoms but I always came up clear in my blood work. I thought I was going crazy...really. On one doctor's recommendation, I went to seek counseling, but nothing was helping. I hated how I felt. I hated how the fatigue set in every day and I couldn't control it. I hated how the pain in my body made me react to those I loved. It was awful!

During this time, my sweet niece was diagnosed with Celiac's disease. Her parents took her off of gluten and she went from a lethargic sick girl to a vibrant three year old. During this time, gluten became a topic of many conversations. I decided to see if this could be the culprit of my own pain. I took a month and went off of gluten. After a week or so, I noticed I didn't need to nap anymore! Then, a week or so later, I was waking up in the morning able to walk out of bed with no pain! The joints in my hips and knees looked much less swollen and even my hands stopped aching. I had more patience and was able to handle everything my little ones threw my way. But, I wasn't convinced.

My brother got married just after my month of gluten free living came to an end. I decided it was time to test the gluten waters and have some cake. Oh...the goodness! After a month of tapioca bread and what other few items I could find, I savored every bite...until an hour later. Oh my gosh, sometimes you don't realize how bad something was until it goes away, then returns. I couldn't get out of bed for almost three days. Every part of me ached. I slept all the time and felt like someone had pumped liquid into every joint. Being my own guinea pig was a painful experience, but revealed to me what I had suspected. Gluten was not my friend! No, now it was enemy number one. Now I am gluten free for life!

I am writing this blog so that I can document my food experiments. After five years, I have really become somewhat adept at adjusting recipes for my needs. And, if anyone reads this, I hope to make the search for delicious gluten free foods easier and more enjoyable. I will take some of my favorite recipes and make them gluten free and delicious. Our health should never prevent us from enjoying every morsel we put in our mouths!