Friday, October 25, 2013

Recipe Review: King Arthur's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been putting off doing some true, from-scratch, gluten free baking for a while now. I've been baking for a long time and I have always loved it but this entire world of gluten free baking scares me. Have you seen some of the ingredients? Therefore, I've mostly only baked from mixes up to this point. 

As I've mentioned in past posts, among other things, I've made some brownie and cake mixes with mixed results. I've used gluten free Bisquick with very mixed results. And, more recently, have played around with Pamela's flour blends and mixes with better results. The Pamela's baking has been as close to from-scratch baking as I've gotten up until now.

Enter King Arthur's Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. I bought a box of this shortly after I was diagnosed, way back in June. I used it recently in my mac & cheese but I've really been wanting to get into some of that baking I miss. Ya know, the "throw a couple sticks of butter on the counter to soften and make sure you have enough eggs and brown sugar" kind of baking. At least that's how it goes in my house as I'm always running out of brown sugar and eggs. Why hadn't I dug right into this box of flour? What was I afraid of? King Arthur ruled my baking world prior to my diagnosis. Their catalog comes to my mailbox. I've been to their store a couple times. I only bought King Arthur brand flour. I always referenced their website and cookbooks for recipes. Why did I think they would not come through in my new, gluten free world?

Well, I decided it was time to find out if the King would continue to rule. I knew the brownie mix was amazing. Like, "is this really gluten free?" amazing. Would the chocolate chip cookie recipe be as amazing?

For the most part, yes. It's pretty darn good. 

I read through the recipe and also, the reviews. King Arthur's site is great as they have their staff respond to some of the negative reviews. Usually it's with offers of troubleshooting via their 1-800 number but sometimes they reply with troubleshooting tips right there on the review and that, to me, is invaluable advice. Especially to a new baker or to like me, a new-to-gluten-free baking-baker.

In reading the reviews, I learned that a couple reviewers were having issues with an ever present problem with gluten free baked goods, grittiness. What I loved was one of the descriptions of the residue that the cookies left in your mouth that was described as "microsand". Yes, gluten free food is so much fun to eat and describe. The King Arthur staff left some feedback about the xanthan gum and I had an "a-ha" moment. They're not only one of my favorite 80's band, a-ha moments are very helpful in gluten free baking too. 

The directions for these cookies instruct that you refrigerate them for at least an hour or up to 2 days. I get it, I can do that. However, I can see why some may be tempted to skip that step, we want cookies NOW. This does seem to be an integral part of keeping the cookies as grit-free as can be, as I learned from the staffer who commented on the review. I do love to know the reasons as to why I'm doing things and while I understand you can't explain EVERY single step in a recipe, things like this would be good to know. The staffer explained to the reviewer that refrigerating the dough helps to hydrate and activate the xanthan gum, reducing it's grittiness. A-ha. I don't know a lot about xanthan gum and I have a feeling I don't want to know about it. I will investigate that another day. But, now I know the longer I refrigerate the dough, the more I may reduce it's tendency to be gritty. 

The cookies were very typical to throw together. You beat the butter with the sugar, add the dry ingredients, add your chips. You have cookie dough. You refrigerate. You bake. You have cookies. The only two things I changed were that I used dark brown sugar and I added about 1/3 cup more of extra chocolate chips since I skipped the nuts. The light brown sugar I had was possibly cross contaminated since my husband had made apple crisp and I don't know if he double dipped with the flour measuring cup he used. 

I always have a rule when I bake cookies. You must taste them at every stage of warmth, right out of the oven and right through to room temperature. Here's how it went.

Out of the oven-
You could taste a bit of "microsand". Although, I would liken it more to a wheat germ texture. It almost tasted like a sneaky mom threw some wheat germ into the cookie dough to make this treat just a wee bit more healthy for her youngins. The cookies were good though. Very Toll House-ish. Homemade goodness was there, for sure.

Still warm-
The cookies continued to taste like mom was being sneaky with the wheat germ but now the cookie was firming up and it was really tasting so good. Woo-hoo. Baking from scratch can happen in a gluten free world and taste good. 

Room temp-
I'm definitely making these again and King Arthur is going to at least rule my gluten free chocolate chip cookie world. Wheat germ texture is minimized as it's cooled but still there towards the end of the cookie. The butter flavor is wonderful, it really shines through. I'm not sure these would completely fool anyone who isn't gluten free because of that bit of a wheat germ texture. In every other way they are the real deal though. Soft, chewy, chocolate chippy...so very good! 

Making this recipe has given me hope. Every time I play in my new gluten free world and have a little success, I have hope. My world certainly didn't end when I got my diagnosis, not even close. However, for those who know me, they know how very much I loved my world of all things baking. Celiac disease felt like a pretty cruel diagnosis for someone who loved to play with flour as much as I did. I truly enjoyed baking and to know that my hobby was wrecking my insides kind of blows my mind at times. 

However, I am learning that I can still bake. This little experiment here is proof. It's certainly not the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had and I'm definitely limited to what I can do with my mixer (that I bought at King Arthur, by the way) but time will certainly help me to develop my abilities just as it did with wheat flour baking. It took years for me to learn the basics there so that I could venture off on my own and get creative. I just have to be patient and learn all over again, one basic recipe at a time. One down, many more to go!





Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gluten Free Homemade Mac & Cheese

I was going to just throw together a post on this quickly last week. I had a photo of this dish that I made a month or so ago and thought it was time to share it. Easy, peasy...write it up and publish it.

Then, I got a hankering for mac & cheese since I'd been thinking about putting it on the blog. I made it last Friday night with the ingredients I had on hand, which were different than the ingredients that I used in the picture I had, and it turned out so wonderfully better! While it looked the same, it tasted SO much better. I'm so glad I waited to write this.

When I first started playing around to make my tried and true mac & cheese recipe gluten free, I was using corn pasta and Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour. I really like corn pasta, a lot. It's most definitely different than wheat flour pasta but I appreciate it for what it is. Much in the way a chicken burger is different than a beef burger but I really like it for what it is...a chicken burger. 

This combo of corn pasta and Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour was good. My son does not appreciate homemade mac & cheese, he'd rather have the stuff in the box, but my husband thought the gluten free version was good. He had no problem eating it at all. I even made it when we had friends over for a cookout. They all ate it, even the kids, and I didn't notice anyone leaving it on their plate uneaten. I had been satisfied with that new variation of my favorite recipe until last Friday night. 

I started poking around in the cupboard to see what kind of pasta I had on hand. I had a lot. Trader Joe's, Sam Mills and Wegmans' corn pasta in various shapes. Gluten Fee Bionaturae pasta which is made with rice, potato and soy in a couple different shapes. Tinkyada brown rice pasta in one shape. The Tinkyada was calling to me. No reason, it just was. The only other time I'd used their product was for lasagna. It was hardly noticeable that it was gluten free. At one point my husband said, "I assume this is gluten free because you are eating it?" Yep. Love it when that happens. It's not like I'm kidding anyone because they know I'm not going to cheat so if I'm eating it, it's clearly gluten free but when it's not obvious, it makes me very happy. 

Onto making the recipe. I used the last of the Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour a while ago so I was now into my box of King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour. The box is open with a little bit used. I can't recall what I used it for. There's not much gone at all so it was nothing significant so I'm considering this my first time using it. 

Usually I wouldn't tell you what brands to use in a recipe. I will tell you what I use and why but that's only my suggestion. I suppose the brands in this recipe are my suggestions also but I will have you know that using the Tinkyada pasta and the King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour has made the best version of gluten free homemade mac & cheese that I've made yet. 

The Tinkyada pasta had a really good texture for his dish. It was soft without being mushy. Corn pasta tends to be a bit more chewy, I guess you could say. It's good, don't let that description turn you off to it. The softer texture of the rice pasta just seemed to work better with this recipe. 

The King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour made a much smoother sauce than the Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour. King Arthur's website does mention that you can bake without "grittiness" so I'm not sure if they do something special to it to lessen that tendency or if it's the combination of flours and starches that they use. At any rate, whatever it is, there was a noticeable difference in the smoothness of the sauce. 

You can most certainly make this without using gluten free ingredients. This was the first mac & cheese recipe I made and it's still the only one I make. I found it in an old Betty Crocker cookbook from the late 80's. My mom bought it and decided she didn't want it shortly after she purchased it so she gave it to me. It's what I started cooking out of in my late teens. There are a few recipes out of the book that I still go to, this being one of them. The book is a disaster, it's been loved a lot over the years and has all the stains, splatters and splashes on the pages to show for it!






Gluten Free (or not) Mac & Cheese
Adapted from an old Betty Crocker Recipe 

6.5 ounces of uncooked, gluten free (or not) pasta (1 to 1-1/2 cups)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup gluten free (or not) all purpose flour
1 3/4 cup milk
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
gluten free (or not) bread crumbs (optional)
additional shredded cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil the pasta according to package directions to the al dente stage. The pasta will be baked again later so you don't want it to get too mushy with all that cooking. Drain pasta and set aside. 

Melt butter over medium heat. Once it's melted, add the flour and stir until combined. 

Slowly start to add the milk while whisking it in. If you add it all at once it will be hard to get it all incorporated. Once you have the milk all poured in and combined, stir frequently and bring the mixture to a boil, still over medium heat. Once the mixture is boiling, continue to boil and keep stirring constantly for 1 minute. 

Remove from heat and add the shredded cheese. Stir until cheese is completely melted. Add salt and pepper to your liking. I usually just add a little salt to help bring out the flavor of the cheese. 

Add drained pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to thoroughly combine. Once combined, pour into a baking dish. An 8x8 baking dish works well, as does a medium round casserole dish or a medium oval baking dish. You can now top it with gluten free (or not) bread crumbs and/or additional shredded cheese if you'd like to. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and the top is golden brown. Or, however well done you like the top of your mac & cheese.















Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Disappointment


Generally speaking, I'm a pretty positive person. I try to be happy. I try to find the silver lining when things don't go my way. I believe things happen for a reason. Even the bad things.

However, when I'm anticipating something, I tend to expect the worst. I just had this conversation with a friend and she understood. When you expect the worst, you are prepared for when it happens. If it doesn't happen, then you are pleasantly surprised and it's a good thing.

And so I start the story of my birthday pecan pie.

I visited a health food store a few towns over in July, a month after my diagnosis, and spotted a gluten free pecan pie in the freezer case shortly after I got there. I found a lot of things there that day. So many things I was overtaken with emotion at one point. I well up with tears when I feel I've found that things aren't going to be so bad after all because there are foods or restaurants out there that will allow me to feel like I can eat normally. Heck, I broke right down into tears in Wegmans this past weekend in the pasta aisle when I saw that they had gluten free orzo. Not even the health food store had that. My son was just asking me not a week or two earlier about an orzo recipe I used to make and how much he loved it and could I make it? I could, but not for me. And there it was, I cried. It was building up though as I was seeing all the other wonderful things they also had, and that broke me. Orzo...sigh.

Back to the pie. So, pecan pie is my most favorite pie, EVER. I didn't buy it that day because I don't just randomly buy pie because I would most certainly randomly eat the whole thing, all by myself. I did keep this pie in mind for my birthday that was coming up in a couple months. Especially since the gluten free cakes I've tried since then have really been hit or miss. 

As my birthday approached I started to become very excited about the prospect of having pie. I've been back to following Weight Watchers so I was most definitely ready to treat myself to something indulgent like pie. I planned it all out. My birthday was on a Saturday so I would go out to the health food store on Friday and buy my pie. This way, it would not be tempting me for too long by being in the house for too many days prior to my birthday. Yay. I was going to have pie.  

Friday morning arrived. I dropped everyone off to where they needed to be in the morning. I took my cat for her allergy shot, came home, grabbed breakfast and then headed out. It was pie-buying day. I was already doing my "expect the worst" thing though. The whole, "They probably don't even carry the pies anymore" and "I'm going to drive all the way out there and they'll be out of them" thing. This is what I'm thinking all the way there.  

I walk in and make a bee-line to the freezer case. They have the pies. Woo-hoo. They have many pies. See, now I'm happy because I was expecting that they'd totally be out and they weren't. I spend a lot of time at the store and find many great things. My negative thinking worked and I'm pleasantly surprised by my whole pie buying experience.

This is where all positivity ends.
 
I pull out the box to prepare the pie on Saturday, the day of my birthday. I notice in the ingredients that the crust has been made with garbanzo bean flour. I try not to panic. I have cookies made with garbanzo bean flour and they're fantastic, as long as I don't think about it too much. You see, these little beans kind of freak me out. I have seen that some gluten free products do use garbanzo bean flour in them but they seem to be few and far between. Ugh. My lovely pecan pie is encased in....gag....garbanzo beans....gag, sputter...blech....can't handle it. I get ahold of myself and again, recall the cookies and tell myself that it's going to be okay. Really, it is.

I bake the pie according to directions and it's taking way longer to get warm in the center than the box is saying it should. I have found that when I bake gluten free that it seems it does always take longer than the the directions usually say but this is just baking a frozen pie. Who knows? I keep checking it with my thermometer to make sure the middle is warm enough in case it's not been pre-cooked since I can't find any indication on the box about that and there are eggs in it. I'm noticing as it's cooking that it's kind of goopy and runny.  It doesn't seem to setting up the way pecan pie should be. I pull it out when it is FINALLY done and let it cool. 

It's time to cut into it and try it. I turn off what seems to be a broken record player in my head screaming, "garbanzo beans, garbanzo beans, garbanzo beans", and cut into it.  It's so very runny. I use a pie server AND a spoon to get it onto a plate. What an extremely sorry looking piece of pie.
 
I sit down with it and muster up enough courage to try it. I seriously cannot believe that this is the pie that I have been so eagerly anticipating for two months. It's now in front of me and I feel like I'm on Fear Factor with a plate of something squiggly that I must eat in order to win the grand prize. 

First bite goes in. The filling, while very runny, is very pecan pie-like. The flavor is not bad at all even though the consistency is severely lacking between it being so goopy and the lack of smoothness that I can only assume is from the non-wheat flour thickener they must have used. I tasted it in my apple crisp too. The pecans are wonderful, when aren't they? Then, there's the crust.

The crust. You know I already have issues with the crust. What was it that I was not liking about it before I even opened the box? Oh yeah, GARBANZO BEANS. That broken record player turned right back on and a streaming chant of those two words were playing full volume. Shhhhhh. I'm trying to be neutral and give this crust a chance. GARBANZO BEANS, GARBANZO BEANS, GARBANZO BEANS. Can you hear it? If you could feel the way this crust felt in your mouth you might be hearing it too. I'm not even talking about my usual texture issues, this was just gross. It was a mushy I can't describe. I'm not even really sure what the flavor was. There was no chewing involved. It just kind of smashed against the roof of my mouth. Even if the dreaded garbanzo beans were not in this, I would not have been able to handle it. The fact that they were in it just made it worse. The crust that was on the edge of the pie tin got nice and crisp and that was not too bad so I have to wonder if the nature of the filling had something to do with the way the bottom crust baked up, or failed to bake up.

Disappointment.

I didn't touch the pie on Sunday. Normally, a pecan pie would be gone the next day. It would be breakfast and then dessert after lunch and also dessert after dinner. Gone. I was looking in the fridge Monday evening and was going to throw it away, something I hated to do but I knew I was never touching it again. That's when my husband stopped me and let me know that my son had a piece after his breakfast that morning. Really? He also had a piece last night after dinner. I can only assume that because he is a growing 13 year old boy who is constantly hungry that this pie is even remotely appealing to him. So, the pie is still in my refrigerator. I'm glad someone is enjoying it. I asked him if he liked it that much and he told me that it wasn't bad. Yet another gluten free thing that his child of mine doesn't mind. This does make me feel better knowing that he does have about a 1 in 22 chance of inheriting this disease from me. He's okay with most of the food. At least someone wasn't disappointed with my birthday pie!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Homemade Gluten Free Hamburger Helper

Do you like Hamburger Helper? It's okay to say, "yes". There's no judgement going on here from my end. I'm doing a whole blog post on it so I have no room to judge. I won't tell anyone if you do say, "yes". Your secret is safe with me.

If you did say, "yes", definitely keep reading on. You don't even have to be gluten free. I started making this as a non gluten free recipe and just decided one night that I wanted it so I adapted it to be gluten free, which wasn't hard at all.

I'm not quite sure how my mother ever convinced me to try Hamburger Helper with as picky as I was. She did though and it's now one of those guilty pleasures of mine. When I decided I wanted to eat a little more consciously, this is one of the things I took a look at. We didn't eat it often but when we did, I knew there were absolutely no redeeming qualities about it whatsoever and looked to see if I could change it. 

My first move was to replace the Betty Crocker brand with the Annie's brand. Annie's was made with more natural ingredients and I felt better serving it when we did have it. I was buying it at Target and then it disappeared. I would check every time I went in and it never showed back up. I was quite disappointed because it was actually so much better than the Betty Crocker brand. It had a really decent taste to it, no matter how bad it looked in your bowl. I did see it still on the shelves of one of the supermarkets here. However, they wanted over $5 a box for it. There was NO way I was paying that much for a box that had a little itty bit of pasta and a pouch of seasonings in it. No way, no how. I decided to see if I could make it at home. Of course I could.

I made it a few times and again, so much better than the Betty Crocker brand. Who knew in all those years that I'd been eating that brand that there were alternatives out there that were not only better for you, but tasted better too. When you are making it right from the start in your own kitchen, you have control over every ingredient in it and that is a huge plus when you are trying to eat more consciously. I was happy to have found my way to making homemade Hamburger Helper.

Fast forward to my current eating limitations. I hadn't thought about Hamburger Helper of any sort in a while until I had wandered into an odd lot store a couple months ago. They had a gluten free version of it put out by Sam Mills. I love, love, love Sam Mills gluten free corn pasta so I grabbed a couple boxes. They were due to expire within the next 6 weeks so 2 were more than enough. We tried it and it was pretty darn good. More like the Annie's brand than Betty Crocker in flavor. I searched around to see if I could find this anywhere else with better sell by dates but it just wasn't happening so I forgot about it.

That was until this week. I got a craving. I know, a craving for Hamburger Helper? Yeah, it happened. What can I say? I know most people crave things that are much more distinguished than slop like this. Tomorrow I may very well be craving something much more hoity-toity but for now I'm running with the Helper.

I pulled up a search for "homemade cheeseburger Hamburger Helper" and they all came up. They're all very similar but I used this one from Food.com:

Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni Hamburger Helper  

This is what I did differently:

-The most obvious, in my case, would be to swap out the regular pasta for gluten free. I used DeBoles Corn Pasta and it turned out quite well. I only cooked it for about 8 minutes instead of the suggested 12. It was tender at that point and I didn't want to risk over cooking it to the point where it completely disintegrated. I won't be buying this brand again though as there is no mention of it being GMO free on the box or their website.

-I used grass fed ground beef. Luckily, we have a store right in our city that sells this for a pretty reasonable price. I always have a few pounds in my freezer for main meal dishes similar to this or to make a few burger patties with. 

-I used organic cornstarch so that I could be sure that the corn was not from GMO sources. It is so hard to avoid food with GMO's in them so when I can, I grab every opportunity to buy ingredients that I know do not have them. 

That's pretty much it.  I didn't bother taking a picture of it. We all know what it looks like and we all know it's not pretty. I would like to encourage you to actually try this and I'm pretty sure any picture I could take would only do the opposite. 

So, if you are a proud Hamburger Helper lover, a closet Hamburger Helper lover or just a brave soul who is willing to give something new a try, give this a whirl. If someone presented this recipe to you as a one skillet dinner recipe with no knowledge of Hamburger Helper ever existing, it might not sound too bad, right? Maybe? Enjoy!

Woodman's of Essex

I received the phone call about my celiac diagnosis on a Thursday morning. That weekend we were supposed to take a day trip up to Maine. We kind of, sort of eat our way through Maine. Don't get me wrong, we love the ocean, the rocky coast, the lighthouses...all that coastal Maine has to offer. We also love the fried seafood, Stonewall Kitchen, Brown's Ice Cream and Congdon's Donuts too.  

I contacted one of the places we go to for fried seafood because I saw on a message board somewhere that they will do your fried seafood gluten free. I was ecstatic. I wanted to confirm this though. I was new to all of this and really wasn't sure about much of anything. They got back to me right away and told me that while they can adapt their fried seafood coating to be gluten free that they do still fry it in the same oil as the seafood that's coated with flour and they cannot guarantee anything to be gluten free as flour is "flying in the air" in their kitchen. Hmmph. They fry chicken and other non seafood items in their French fry fryer for those who have shellfish allergies so they weren't able to fry any gluten free seafood in that fryer either. 

I was going to go for it since it was only a couple days after my fated phone call. However, It turned out that we did not go up there that weekend. My husband had spent the day before traveling home from a business trip and was much more wiped out than he thought he'd be. I thought I lost my one and only chance to ever have fried seafood ever again. After that point, I was not going to mess with my gluten free diet.

That was until the next time we decided to go up to Maine. I was searching around online to see, if by chance, there was any hope of finding gluten free fried seafood up that way. There are clam shacks on every corner, it seems, someone had to have gluten free fried seafood. Amazingly enough, I found nothing in Maine but I did find something in Massachusetts. Woodman's of Essex.

Most people who are into fried seafood, particularly fried clams, and who are also familiar with the Boston area, are aware of Woodman's. We had never been ourselves because there had not been much reason for us to head out that way but, I have had a catered Woodman's clam bake before at a house party. They are reportedly the creators of the fried clam. Parts of the movie Grownups was filmed there. It's a not a very fancy place at all located along a road filled with antique stores. And...it has gluten free fried seafood. 

In fact, everything on their menu just happens to be gluten free expect for their onion rings, clamcakes and sandwiches. Holy Cow! When I read this I was so flipping happy. I truly thought that I'd never find gluten free fried seafood.  

We have been twice now.  The first time we went there was shortly after I'd been diagnosed. I was still extremely hesitant about eating out. The menu on Woodman's website made me feel confident about ordering there. I was so very pleased with the ease of ordering and not feeling like I had to worry about getting sick after eating there. 

Both times we've been I indicated to the cashier that I was gluten free before placing my order. Because you get both fries and onion rings with your order, you are then asked if you would like double fries or coleslaw instead of the onion rings. I have picked double fries both times. I noticed after the cashier rang in my order that she rang in something on the cash register to indicate that the order was "gluten free". 

When it came time to pick up the order, my plate was separate from the other two plates in our order. They don't use trays, instead they use Budweiser beer boxes for your orders and mine was sitting in it's own box. The person at the pick up counter slid my box forward and told us that it was "gluten free".  



The first visit here this was so very comforting to me. I felt even a little emotional about it all. Someone cared enough to provide such an easy gluten free fried seafood experience for me! Well, for me and everyone else who requires gluten free fried seafood. I guess it wasn't just for me, but it did make me feel very special to be eating something I thought I had to give up forever.

Eating at a place like Woodman's makes you feel "normal". Completely normal. 100% normal. There's really nothing all that different about your plate than that of the person sitting next to you. In fact, because I hate onions SO very much, I'd ask for double fries anyway.  



I'm grateful to have Woodman's in my region. It's a little bit of a ride and we have to make a day trip out of it but that is fine by me.  If it were much closer I'm afraid I'd be in jeopardy of never losing this extra weight I'm carrying around. If we make it there a couple times a year it will be just perfect. I know they have a Budweiser box with my name on it waiting for me!   

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gluten Free Apple Crisp

This has always been my go-to apple crisp recipe with a bunch of tweaks. I'm not super fond of apple crisp. My idea of dessert does not always include something that has fruit in it, even if the fruit is surrounded with all kinds of not good for you stuff. However, this has enough not good for you stuff that I can tolerate it. 

I wondered if I could do this gluten free. I figured apple crisp would be one of the easier things to convert since there are easy substitutions for the gluten containing ingredients that it does contain. I gave it a whirl and I do believe I have success. 

I had Bob's Red Mill gluten free oats on hand so those were used for the oats. Oats are gluten free but from what I understand, they are almost always processed on the same equipment as wheat so it's very important that if you are using oats to make sure at they are gluten free. I also understand that some people with celiac disease have a hard time tolerating oats as well. I've not found this to be the case so far for myself, luckily.

The flour I used was a mixture of the little bit of Trader Joe's gluten free all-purpose flour I had left and a little bit of King Arthur's gluten free all-purpose flour. 

In keeping with the original purpose of my blog of buying more consciously, I did do a few things to go along with that. I used Cabot butter because they are a farmer owned company and free of growth hormones. While the apples I used were not organic, they were Eco-Grown apples. This method uses less pesticides and less toxic ones at that, as I am I understanding from their website. I also used real organic maple syrup. I love that BJ's, my area warehouse store, has this at such an excellent price. I feel very fortunate about that.

If you're not gluten free you can certainly make this with non gluten free ingredients.  I did for years. Throw some vanilla ice cream on top and enjoy it, gluten free or not!





 

Gluten Free Apple Crisp

- 5 medium apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I slice them and throw them in the baking dish to see how it's filling up and add more as needed)
- 2 tbsp gluten free all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 3/4 cup pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup)

- 1 cup gluten free all-purpose flour
- 1 cup gluten free whole rolled oats
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 stick butter (please don't use margarine, the taste will be so much better)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put prepared apples into a large bowl with flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss until apples are coated with flour and spices. Place apples into an 8x8 baking dish. Pour maple syrup evenly over apples. Set baking dish aside.

Wipe the apple mixing bowl dry and put the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt into it. Stir together until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Cut butter into about 8 pieces and put the pieces into the bowl. With your hands, get in there and mix it all up until it's completely combined. 

Top the apples in the baking dish with the dry mixture. Make sure to evenly cover it, get the corners. Everyone needs their fair share of topping!  

Pop this in the oven for about 35-45 minutes, or until the apples are tender. It will get very bubbly but I've not had a problem with the juices flowing over. If you do notice that it looks like that's going to happen, just slip a baking sheet under it.






Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pamela

I first noticed Pamela at Whole Foods. Couldn't help it. Her package of chocolate chip walnut cookies looked wonderful. You could see the cookies through the packaging and they looked pretty fantastic. I passed them by the first couple times I had the need to buy gluten free cookies. When they went on sale, I did finally pick up a package. I didn't dig in right away. As always, I was and still am battling a few (well, more like 10) pounds and was holding out on opening these up. Truth be told, I should have left them at the store. 

Before I had opened them up, I started reading Elizabeth Hasslebeck's book, "The G Free Diet". She even mentioned Pamela in her book. If I remember correctly she mentioned that even her non-gluten free family members get into her Pamela's cookies. I had a good feeling about this chick, Pamela.  

When I did finally give into the call of the cookies, they were amazing.  So much better than any of the other brands of cookies I had tried up to that point. They were a nice size, more than one or two bites. They had some thickness to them. They had a wonderful texture, so wonderful. As you may have noticed by now, I've got a lot of texture issues that are only enhanced now with trying to adapt to the new texture of gluten free foods. I would buy these cookies even if I did not have to eat gluten free, they are that good. 

Moving on...

I made my way to a natural food store a few towns over and was so thrilled to find a ton of gluten free foods and they were at decent prices. Their sale prices were even better. They were aware of Pamela too. They had her flour blends and mixes on sale. I'd seen these also at Whole Foods but hadn't paid too much attention to them because at the time, I was still hesitant about paying the price for these mixes. 

However, this was the day I got over it and realized that if I were to ever bake again that I needed to accept the fact that it was going to cost more money. Also, I had to accept the fact that it was very likely that I would fail a lot at the beginning and be wasting some of that money I was spending on these ingredients. I opted for the bread mix and flour blend since I have been missing making bread so very much.

I've had success with the mix.  There has been nothing technically wrong with the things I've made with this blend/mix.  

I first made the Amazing Bread recipe from the back of the bag. It was easy to put together. I love that you don't have to knead gluten free bread...no gluten to develop!  It rose like I couldn't believe. It looked lovely when it came out of the oven. It looked lovely when I sliced it. It tasted great and had a really decent texture. There was something though, I don't know what it is. The more I ate it, the more I wasn't so sure about it. I can't say it was the taste and I can't say it was the texture.  It just wasn't as pleasing as I wanted it to be, I guess.  

I even have a very not-fancy picture of it:


I can't say that I won't make it again and give it another try. I rather think I'd like to make the Cinnamon Bread variation of it that is also on the back of the bag then cut it in thick slices and make French toast with it. That, I think, is what this may be more suited for. Lots of flavor to go along with it.

I then made the Crispy Buffalo Wings found on the Pamela's website. The website is amazing for recipes. It's broken down really well. You can search by meal, type, product or diet. There are 10 pages of recipes for the bread mix and flour blend! The wings were really good. I tweaked it to use boneless chicken breast tenders and we each picked our own sauce to dip them in once they were done. I actually ate them plain as I thought the flavor of the breading was very good. It was a success but I hate frying so I don't know how soon I'll be making it again. Plus, all that frying does not help that 10 pounds that's stuck to me.

The third and final thing I've made up to this point is the Fococcia recipe from the website. I touched on this a bit in another post but, I had hoped that this bread recipe would be different from the Amazing Bread recipe because it omitted the eggs that the Amazing Bread recipe required. I really couldn't even tell the difference at all between the two. I put some coarse sea salt on it before I baked it and it wasn't bad. It kind of tasted like a soft pretzel....kind of. I still was not thrilled with the bread. 

At this point, I wasn't sure how I was feeling about Pamela. I loved her cookies (I also tried the swirled shortbread in the meantime) but was having a love/hate relationship with her flour blend that I had bought.

I had mentioned last week that my husband was having some travel trouble. He was in California. Near where he stays when he goes there is a grocery store called Mother's Market & Kitchen. He tells me I would absolutely love it. I'm sure I would. He asked if I wanted him to look for anything special there when he went this last time. I looked up their ad and saw that they had Pamela's mixes on sale. I looked up the kinds of mixes and blends on the Pamela's website and sent him a list. 

I noticed two things on the website that I had not seen around here. One was a Pizza Crust Mix that looks like a new product and the other was a product called Whenever Bars that came in different flavors, one being Oat Chocolate Chip Coconut. I put these on my list hoping they'd have them. Turns out they did and, they totally have made Pamela my new bestest friend.

First off, the bars. So good. Another thing I'd totally eat even if I didn't have to eat gluten free. They are so easy to grab in the morning when I haven't had time to feed myself. There's nothing too special about them but they are soft, chocolate-y, coconut-y, oat-y...it's all stuff I'm a huge fan off and I'll be grateful if they show up on the shelves around here.  

Now, and I think, more importantly, the Pizza Crust Mix. 

Look...


Not only is it another not-fancy picture, it is pizza that turned out really, really well. 

I was so nervous to make this. The directions were saying to handle the dough very gently. What if I was a little too un-gentle with it? The pressure. I mixed it all up and set it aside in a warm spot to rise. While the bread mix rose like crazy, this seemed like it hardly rose at all. Was the yeast it came with bad? After 2 hours, I decided to go for it. It did seem to rise some so I figured at least something happened. I divided the dough into two 10 inch pizzas, pre baked as instructed then topped them off and finished baking. 

Still very nervous, despite the fact that they looked good, I took my first bite. It was good. Really good! The texture was totally different than that of the bread mix. I suspected that there may be tapioca flour in it based on the Against The Grain copy cat recipe I had made. I checked the ingredients and sure enough, there was some in it. When I got to the end, the crust, I was so happy...it was crunchy! I've not yet experienced crunchy/crusty bread yet unless I've accidentally burnt my bread under the broiler trying to toast it because we still have not gotten a second toaster for me to avoid cross contamination when I want toast. I cannot tell you how happy I am with this pizza crust mix. I did try another brand, I can't even recall the name of it, and it pretty much tasted like a biscuit, not good for pizza. This however, is just lovely.  

I checked the list of ingredients in Pamela's Artisan Flour Blend and they are somewhat similar to the Pizza Crust Mix ingredients. This will be my next purchase from Pamela's line. I'm trying to not get my hopes up too high but I am somewhat hopeful that this blend will produce a bread that is a little more pleasing to me. The little I've played with tapioca flour, I've noticed it does seem to produce a gummy result but I'm hopeful that it being balanced with the other flours that are in the Artisan blend that it will work out to make something that will be just right.

I will be sure to post my results when I get it and I might even post a not-fancy picture or two! 
 



Friday, September 13, 2013

Few Friday Things

Apparently today is Celiac Awareness Day. I didn't know we had a day. I knew we had a month but I missed it, wasn't diagnosed yet. I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do for this day of a Celiac Awareness. Everyone I know already knows I have it and I'm quite sure at times, are sick of hearing me talk about it when I'm in a bad place and need to vent. I suppose another thing I have to learn, how to celebrate Celiac Awareness!

I'd been feeling quite tired this week and feeling very foggy. Yesterday it all kind of hit me...headache, tummy trouble and extreme exhaustion. I did what I had to do, get the other people in my house on their way and did some errands. Then I came home and slept for 3 hours. Do you know what it feels like to admit that?  I had gone to bed early (for me) the night before and got 8 hours of sleep. I should not have been tired. However, I sat down when I got home and it was O-V-E-R. I found a great blog shortly after being diagnosed called Gluten Dude. It's my favorite by far as I find myself relating to so many of his posts. One of the first of his I read was a list of "You know you have celiac when" and one was something like "you nap more than a pre-schooler". Yep. I'd been sneaking naps for a longtime. I was a closet napper, too ashamed to let anyone know I'd been sleeping during the day prior to being diagnosed. It's something I'm now more comfortable admitting knowing that my body is fighting an auto-immune disease. I still don't like that I do it but now I feel more validated because now I know there is a reason I'm tired.

More food happened. 

I made focaccia with my Pamela's bread mix. I'm not thrilled with it. It's not "spummy" like the coffee cake I made but I'm still not loving the texture of the breads this mix makes. This did not have eggs in it like the sandwich bread I made with the mix so I was hopeful for a positive change in texture but it was remarkably the same. I did, however, make something with the leftovers the next night that was much better. I topped it with Italian seasoning and garlic powder and warmed it through in the oven which also toasted it. Then, I topped it with shredded asiago cheese and broiled it until melted. Much better. It definitely needs toasting and something on it to counter what I don't like about it. 

A note also on textures. I don't like a lot of foods because of textures but it's never been breads and cake, usually vegetables and fruits. I have serious oral texture issues. I learned they were called this when my son was diagnosed with sensory integration dysfunction when he was a toddler. We worked through his issues and I'm guessing my pickiness has a lot to do with the fact that my own issues were never dealt with. Oral texture issues or not, GF breads and baked goods are usually different. With that being said, my husband and son both liked the coffee cake and focaccia and had no problems with the texture of either of them. I think I just like good, crusty, artisan bread and that's a tough task when you're dealing with alternative flours.  As for cakes, I love a good, homemade, buttery cake...something even regular Bisquick cannot deliver. I will now drop the coffee cake, I'm officially over it. 

I made crisped rice treats today. Notice that I did not make Rice Krispie Treats. Do you want to know why? Because they have malt flavor in them. Do you know what malt flavor has in it? Yeah, gluten. You're getting good at this! I thought Rice Krispie Treats would be a good snack back in the summer when we were going somewhere I needed to bring a dessert. I made a regular dessert and thought this would be good for me and would not scream "GLUTEN FREE" but found I was wrong when I spotted malt in the ingredients. I've made them since with Nature's Path cocoa type of crisped rice cereal but it's not my favorite. I recently found Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice and it's gluten free. However, in keeping with the original intent of this blog, I hate pairing it with the marshmallows that although are gluten free and say so right on the package, also contain all kinds of junk. Right above the words "gluten free" on the marshmallows is the junky ingredient list. Who knew WHITE marshmallows had blue food coloring in them? I'm still trying desperately to find my balance with eating more wholesomely with my limitations, my pickiness, my budget and desire to get this 15 pounds off I've been carrying for far too long.

This makes 3 whole blog posts this week. I will try to keep going. I feel that this is an outlet for what's in my head without holding anyone hostage in face to face conversation. I thank those of you who are following along. Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spummy

Is that a word? Well, I am making it one.

Introducing, "Spummy", the combination of spongey and gummy that describes a fair amount of gluten free baked goods. 

If you read my post from yesterday, yes...that does make 2 blog posts in a row...don't get used to it though, I had a gluten free Bisquick coffee cake in the oven. It smelled wonderful as I typed away. My son came home from school, smelled it and exclaimed, "apple crisp?". I made him keep guessing, since he was wrong, and then told him it was coffee cake when he guessed every other fall dessert. There was excitement in the air, I tell you. I'd been craving cinnamon something for a while now. A couple days ago it was cinnamon rolls. Then, after I saw this recipe, I wanted coffee cake. In between it was all the fall recipes starting to float around that all inevitably have cinnamon in them. It was finally THE day. The day I was going to have a cinnamon baked good.

One reason I made it was for dessert. I was going to make a nice dinner for the family since my husband had been traveling since late last week. He'd had a nightmare of an ordeal at the airport and there was now no way he was making it home for dinner. Now, I had to figure when was appropriate to dig in. Did I wait until he came home later and have some with him for a snack? As the day went on it seemed more and more it'd be a midnight snack if I waited, his 1 hour layover ended up turning into about 7 hours. My son and I decided to just dig in...we wait for no one when it comes to cake.

It looked lovely. Nice streusel topping. I cut into it and the cake had risen nicely, had a good looking crumb and color. The texture looked good. It did not crumble to pieces when I cut it or tried to get that first piece out that can be troublesome. You know what this is all leading up to, right?

Spummy. 

How can something that looks so much like the real thing taste so much not like the real thing? Oh dear. Where do I begin?

To start off, many of the reviewers on the official Bisquick website indicated that this cake needed moisture. I took their word for it. That Betty Crocker yellow cake I mentioned in yesterday's post was so terribly dry, I knew they were onto something. A majority of the reviewers added oil and sour cream to the cake and some substituted agave for the sugar. I did not have agave so I couldn't do that. I thought about maple syrup instead but decided to just use my regular sugar. I did add additional oil and sour cream. I read through the posts and decided on an amount based on what most were saying, a quarter cup of each. I baked it an additional 10 minutes or so as some indicated it would need and mine did, it was jiggly at the end of the recipe's stated bake time range. Are these modifications where I went wrong? It could be, but everyone who did this gave it 4 and 5 stars.  

My son took the first bite and said that the "cinnamon stuff" was good. Well, yeah...cinnamon stuff is always good. My first bite consisted mostly of cake. Um, not so good. It's so indescribable. There was no taste and again with the vanilla that it called for and again using Nielsen Massey and a little extra that I let splash over the measuring spoon like the yellow cake I had made. The texture seemed like it wanted to be normal. It almost was and then you realize it isn't the more you chew. You keep wanting it to be because as you are chewing this flavorless, spummy cake, you are looking at the piece of it on your plate and it's inconceivable as to how something that looks like "that" can possibly taste and feel like it does in your mouth.

I think the Bisquick I've been hoarding will be kept strictly for pancakes and garlic cheddar biscuits. This girl is done experimenting with things that I would have never used Bisquick for before I went gluten free. It's time to start using from scratch recipes for things like coffee cake. It's really not much more work in the end and I'm hopeful that it will taste better. I never really used Bisquick for too much before because the end product was never very pleasing to me so I'm not really sure why I was expecting something spectacular out of it gluten free.


Summer's End

Well, I made it through my first summer gluten free.  Also, blog free.  My intention, of course, was to blog more frequently but with all the summer goings on, it didn't happen since I'm not yet back in the habit of getting on here and getting it done.

Over the summer I started to do a little baking so I'm building my confidence with that.  It's been nothing complicated and a lot of it has started with a mix or pre blended flour but it's a start. Can I tell you I have 5 boxes of gluten free Bisquick in my house right now?  I'm kinda hoarding it because it helps me. This is not my preferred method of baking AT ALL but it fulfills my need to whip up some pancakes that taste like pancakes, especially when you use buttermilk in the recipe.  Currently, as I type this, I have the gluten free Bisquick coffee cake recipe in the oven with a bazillion tweaks that I mixed and matched off of the recipe reviews. We'll see what happens with that.  Some of the other things I've played with this summer are:

-The first thing I made with the gluten free Bisquick was their garlic cheddar biscuits. They turned out so nicely. A little tiny bit gritty but there was so much flavor otherwise, it was easy to overlook the small flaw in the texture. 

 -I bought Pamela's Bread Mix and made a loaf of bread. It turned out pretty decently. I think it needs something though...can't quite put my finger on what bothered me about it after eating a couple slices of it.  I love Pamela's website. The recipes are broken down by flour blend/mix and you can make a lot of things with each type they make. I'm looking forward to playing with this blend/mix more. 
  
-I love King Arthur's brownie mix.  A lot.  Enough said.

-I made a Betty Crocker yellow cake mix.  It was very dry.  It was flavorless...even though it was a yellow cake mix and you still had to add your own vanilla to it.  I use Nielsen Massey vanilla so it's real vanilla and it's good quality and I always splash a bit extra over the measuring spoon and it still had no flavor. (That's a lot of and's)

-I made biscuits using the Bakewell Cream biscuit recipe with Trader Joe's all-purpose gluten free flour. This definitely needs some work but it was edible. As I'm learning, gluten free baked goods tend to be very dry. Lots of oil and eggs seem to be used to help counter this. I'd like to play more with this because I love the Bakewell Cream recipe for biscuits.

-I did also make a recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring website at the beginning of the summer and had posted it here. I took it off when I noticed the font was screwed up.  I never got back to fixing it, I was having a lot of difficulty with it and was aggravated with the thought of doing it completely over. It was for a copycat of Against the Grain rolls.  They were pretty good and I've made them again since.  I will probably make them again. The only thing I don't like is the amount of fat in them but you can't have it all, right?!?

I managed to not gluten myself too much this summer. I did get sick a few times and I'm pretty sure I figured out the culprits each time. It's a hard thing because gluten hides in the trickiest of places. Restaurants are well meaning having gluten free items on their menus yet do not fully understand the major impact cross contamination can have on someone who has celiac disease.  Different varieties of the same food can have different gluten statuses. Do you know how confusing Milky Ways are?  Don't eat the original, but the the caramel and dark are okay. I can't figure out why but I sure learned there is a difference after I did some more thorough research AFTER eating the original. I thought I had it right BEFORE but it never hurts to double check again before you eat.  Lesson learned. 

I had an endoscopy in August to follow up the blood work which showed the antigens that indicated I have celiac. Seems at one time an endoscopy was the "gold standard" for celiac diagnosis but from what I've been reading, more doctors are not leaning towards that school of thought as much anymore.  My doctor was going back and forth on whether or not to do one, we did already have it scheduled before the blood results came in so she said we might as well go ahead. She was able to see "blunting" of the villi during the scope, indicating celiac damage.  She also found minor esophagitis. This was a surprise to me as I've never had a problem with heartburn. The biopsies she took did come back showing celiac so I guess that I am totally and completely official. Gold standard and all. 

I successfully went on vacation. We had planned this trip prior to my diagnosis and to be honest with you, had I known I was going to have this, I probably would not have planned to go. I was so worried I would not find anything I could eat for a reasonable price. I'm super picky too, on top of everything. A lot of challenges. I brought tons of gluten free bars with me and had a few on me at all times but only found a few instances in which I had to use them instead of a meal. I ate a lot of baked potatoes at Wendy's during the week for quick lunches and I will forever be grateful that there was a Wendy's about a mile each way out of our hotel so no matter which direction we headed out, we were not far from one. (We went to Vegas and stayed on the strip) I found a lot of the staff were super helpful at the places that were not Wendy's.  I don't think I got sick.  I know, how could I not know.  Well, there is a thing called TMI so I will keep it to myself but what did happen, I don't think could really be attributed to what I ate since it was early in the trip and before too much restaurant food that could be suspect.  This trip really boosted my confidence with eating out. It did require a lot of planning and also, a lot of patience from my family but we made it happen without too much inconvenience. I had pizza, pasta, burgers, fries and a lot of baked potatoes...one every day!

That's a quick summary of my summer. I won't promise too much here as to when I'll blog again but do know that my intention is that there will be less time in between blogs this time around. Fall is here and the baking bug has bit me but so has the "I need to lose some weight" bug.  Perfect timing. I'll see what I can come up with for the next blog, somehow these two worlds have to collide!  



Friday, June 21, 2013

Things Are Changing At Court St. Kitchen

Wow. It's been a very long time since I've blogged. I've wanted to. I've not stopped with what my intent was when I started to blog.  I've still been seeking out a way to feed myself and my family in a better way while doing it cost consciously. 

However, things changed. I lost my oomph. I suppose this is common with blogging, in some ways. You get this grand idea to blog and then, after a while, it becomes like everything else...another thing to do in a day.  Thinking of something to make, making it, photographing it, blogging it, editing the blog, publishing it...blah, blah, blah.  It's time consuming, yeah, but I really did enjoy doing it. Something was different though. I did not only not want to do this anymore.  I lost my oomph for a lot of things. 

For the last 8 months I've been under the care of a gastroenterologist. I've had issues since I was a teenager and it was just casually diagnosed as IBS with no direction given at the time. I had a pretty bad flare a couple years ago that I sought medical help for and was given some direction at that time. Last summer things hit hard. I waited it out figuring it was just another flare. I think my doctor did too because what ended up to be such a simple and quick diagnosis took 8 months.  

I received a phone call yesterday morning from my GI, who sounds very much like Heidi Klum when she speaks.  This is all I can think of when I listen to her. She doesn't look like her but she is definitely the most glamorous doctor I've ever seen, by far.  So, you add that to the voice and it's kind of hard to believe she deals with THAT end of the body all day long!  She was calling to give me the results of some blood work. Blood work she hadn't realized we hadn't done yet in all our time together, along with an endoscopy that's yet to be done, before she sent me on to Beth Israel hospital in Boston since she couldn't figure me out with the one obscure finding that did show up in one of the many tests I've done since October 2012.

"Jennifer dear, you have Celiac." "This is why you are having problems." "I am so sorry we did not do this sooner."

What a flood of feelings. I don't even know if deep inside I knew I had it all along.  I did know that eating gluten free definitely made me feel better.  I did know that while my GI symptoms did correspond with the GI symptoms of Celiac, that they were maybe not as severe as other have them.  I did know that I have experienced a lot of the other non-GI symptoms of Celiac since I was a teenager, including the recent exhaustion and fatigue that led me to stop blogging. I just didn't want to self-diagnose. I did not want to jump on the trendy band wagon of "needing" to be gluten free for no particular reason other than it was what the current diet trend was at the time. 

Today is the day I've woken up with the full knowledge that I have Celiac Disease.  I'm still processing it all but boy, oh boy, does this throw a curve ball into my eating and the point of this blog.  Essentially, it should not be that hard to incorporate all the things I'm striving for into a gluten free diet. However, I'm not a veggie loving girl and I'm picky as all get out which means that I will struggle my way through this whole process. 

I did start to experiment with a gluten free diet towards the beginning of May. Up until a couple days ago, I'd only bought pre-made gluten free food. I've been 100% overwhelmed with the thought of gluten free baking.  The ingredients are expensive and from what I've tasted from commercially made gluten free baked goods, home baking could definitely be a challenge with limited equipment to manipulate these strange ingredients into tasting AND feeling like the real deal.  

That is where I think I will be changing the direction of this blog a little bit.  I will still incorporate the original premise of the blog into my entries but I will be working, for the most part, with gluten free foods.  I will always love baking with wheat flour but will be saving it for my family and for occasions when we can take it with us to share with others.  For now, I am content with the fact that I cannot have gluten. I know how I feel when I eat it and how I feel when I don't. It's not worth feeling like that when there are alternatives out there. Even if there were not such good alternatives, I still don't think it would be worth it to feel like that. This is what I am saying now, my first full day as a diagnosed Celiac.  Talk to me 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 20 years from now...I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune and screaming at someone to just give me a piece of REAL, crusty artisan bread or making someone's life really miserable because I want a piece of real cake but I, and whoever is in my way, will cross that bridge when we come to it!

I've got some rolls that I made the other nite so I hope to throw together a post about them soon.  They're interesting, that's for sure. Until then...thanks for stopping by and reading!  


  





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