Monday, December 27, 2010

Chocolate Chunk Blondies by Cybele Pascal

You're looking at round two of baking from my favorite new cookbook, The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook: How to Bake Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, and Sesame by Cybele Pascal.   (You can also check out her blog here.)  Unfortunately, the recipe for these blondies is not posted there, as far as I can see, but that is just more incentive to buy this fabulous cookbook for yourself. (Note: I did not receive a copy of this cookbook for free, nor am I in any way connected to Cybele Pascal, so this review is completely unsolicited and is based solely on my personal experience with her cookbook and blog.)

It's taken me a long time to build up my baking credibility with some members of my family since being diagnosed with celiac.  A long time.  For the first year, anything I brought to a family gathering was regarded with a great deal of suspicion.  Eyes would flicker warily to the plate I held in my hands, and looks were exchanged.  Sometimes it wasn't so subtle, and rumblings of "....gluten-free.....gross...." could be heard across the living room.  One time, I made a batch of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and asked my cousin to walk in with them instead of me.  They were gobbled up and exclaimed over by all, but when I revealed that they were, in fact, gluten-free, one of my sisters actually grimaced and refused to touch them again for the rest of the night.

That's a powerful association to try to break.

As I've made and shared more and more desserts, a hesitant trust has formed.  People have started to realize that the lack of gluten and dairy does not break a dessert.  Things can be delicious even without those two seemingly core elements, they have realized.

I was flipping through Cybele Pascal's cookbook, and one of my sisters caught sight of a picture of the Chocolate Chunk Blondies and exclaimed over how delicious they looked.  That same sister happened to get engaged later that night - and so - clearly the only thing to do was to make a batch of Engagement Blondies!

I personally love baked goods warm out of the oven and thought these tasted heavenly while still hot, but others in my family insisted that the taste improved drastically once they had been chilled.  But go with your own gut.  I will say, though, that the sister who used to grimace at the mere mention of "gluten-free" finished half the pan.  By herself.

That, to me, says more than any blog entry can.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Food Bonanza: The American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo

We've all been surrounded by food because we all go to grocery stores (although some of us take much more delight in this chore than others).  But have you ever found yourself surrounded - truly surrounded - by people who love food?

Well, let me tell you - it is a wonderfully affirming feeling to walk amongst people who are just as obsessed as you are with all things culinary - and beyond that, all things healthy.   Because I am part of a Health Blogger network called Wellsphere, I was recently given the opportunity to attend the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo held here in Boston as a member of the media.  It was not only my first time being a member of the press, but also the first time I had an official piece of paper with "Freelance Writer" written under my name.  That is one piece of paper I will not be letting go of for a very long time.

After a stop in the press room - partly out of curiosity, it being my first time in a press room - I decided to head to the expo floor before the talks I wanted to see in the afternoon.  As I stood at the top of the escalators and looked down at the expo floor, I gazed at booth after booth spanning in every direction, with people spilling out of the aisles, carrying one, two, sometimes three bags full of samples and papers.  This was big.

The program for this conference was a tome, and quite overwhelming.  I wanted to go to everything, but it all seemed to be happening at once!  The most interesting talk I went to focused on celiac disease and the newest research about it and gluten intolerance.  Did you know that while 1 % of the population is estimated to have celiac disease, there is an additional 6 % who likely have a non-celiac gluten intolerance?  Those are huge and alarming numbers, when you think about it - particularly as most of the people behind the statistics are not being diagnosed.  Many may continue to struggle with their symptoms for years before they discover how to feel better - if they discover it at all.  It is so important to raise awareness so those people can live healthier lives.

And after all of the other speakers had spoken, and we had sampled all of the food on the expo floor, we all came together at the end in the largest hall I think I have ever been in, and listened to Anthony Bourdain's parting words.  From his opening proclamation ("I don't know if I'm really the right person to address a conference with the word 'nutrition' in it..."), he was funny, amusing, and charming.  He talked about our increasingly globalized world and how to be a citizen of that world, even when (and especially when?) we are doing something as routine as eating (particularly in parts of the world where eating is sadly not as routine as it is for us here).  He talked about having respect for where food comes from and the central role it plays in families and cultures.  And he talked about food itself, and the joys of the perfect meal prepared in just the right circumstances, even if they may also be the (seemingly) least glamorous of moments.

He was preaching to the choir, of course.  We loved him. 

In between conference talks, I wandered around the food expo, past representatives thrusting bags of almonds, pistachios, baked chips, and dried fruit into my bag.  They offered me brownies and gluten-free macaroni and cheese; avocados and chocolate tortilla chips (no kidding - look here.  They are really, really good.).  I drank shot-sized samples of hemp and almond milk.  Simply by following the crowd, I found myself in the line for a book signing for "The Food Cure for Kids:  A Nutritional Approach to your Child's Wellness."  The same thing happened to me an hour later with a different book.  After shaking hands with the author, I tucked the book into one of my (now several) bags and continued walking, searching for what, for me, was one of the main draws to the expo.

Yes.  The Gluten-Free Pavilion.  Where I spent every spare minute at the conference. 

While I was wandering around the Gluten-free Pavilion, I was lucky enough to meet the author of one of my very first gluten-free cookbooks: Carol Fenster!  She was there to promote her new cookbook, 100 Best Gluten-free Recipes.  It was amazing to meet her, and I even got proof that I did!  What I remember most from the encounter is thanking her profusely for her focaccia recipe, which completely changed the course of my experience with (and trust in) gluten-free bread, and then snapping this picture before becoming aware of the crowd forming behind me, eager to meet Ms. Fenster as well.

Many thanks to Wellsphere for sponsoring me to attend the ADA Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo!  Official conference information (and information about the ADA) can be found here.  Find out more about Wellsphere here.

Food Reviews

I was lucky enough to taste many products that I had not had a chance to try before (many of you know that some of these products can be quite expensive, and I am always wary of spending $5 on something if I don't know what the quality is!).  Here are some of the things I sampled, with a quick review of each.

Amy's Macaroni and Rice Cheese Pasta, Rice Cheese Pizza, Tamale Verde - both delicious.  The macaroni and rice cheese pasta was incredibly creamy and rich, and while I don't know that I could eat a huge portion of it at once, it tasted pretty close to regular mac and cheese.  The Tamale Verde was also delicious, with lots of flavor and protein packed into each serving.  And the rice cheese pizza was absolutely amazing, with a crisp crust and melted cheese; the sad news, however, is that it is quite expensive (I recently saw them in a local store for $11.49 each!).  I don't think I could justify buying one for myself unless it were cheaper, and will simply continue to dream about it instead.

Udi's Blueberry and Lemon Struessel Muffins - I enjoyed both varieties, which had a cakey texture.  They're expensive, and come in packs of 4, but they are also huge muffins, so I suppose it is a trade-off.  I would not hesitate to serve these to someone without a gluten intolerance.  However, I think you could make something equally great at home.

Udi's Original Granola - This was fantastic.  Delicious, flavorful clumps of gluten-free oats with a powerful vanilla flavor - it was hard to stop eating it.  The granola has several different kinds of nuts and banana chips, which at first struck me as slightly odd but then quickly grew on me as I continued to crunch through the bag.   I took a whole bag home and it was gone within a week.  Highly recommended.

Kettle Cuisine Chili and Thai Chicken SoupAmazing soups!  The Thai Chicken is a yellow curry-based soup that is extremely rich in flavor, but which still manages to have a light texture.  The chili is less outstanding but still delicious.  Highly recommended - I would definitely buy either of these!

Almond Dream Chocolate and Vanilla Milk - I tried both the sweetened and unsweetened versions of each kind of milk, and because this is largely a matter of personal taste and tolerance for sweetness, it is hard to offer a clear review of each.  I personally preferred the sweetened versions of both the chocolate and vanilla almond milk; the chocolate in particular tasted like regular chocolate milk to me.  The unsweetened versions tasted.....well, unsweetened.  The unsweetened chocolate milk tasted a bit like cocoa powder, and while I wouldn't drink it on its own that way personally, I could see myself using it to bake. 

Foods by George Brownies - Amazing brownies - decadent and rich, and wonderfully chewy.  I believe you could make some good competition in your own kitchen, but for a store-bought kind of day, these are fabulous.

Vegan Gourmet Cheese  - Quite good - they were making little mini pizza-type appetizers with gluten-free bread and cheese toasted together.  It melted quite nicely, which surprised me, and while I still think Daiya Vegan Cheese is my personal favorite, Vegan Gourmet is very good, too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cherry or Chocolate Chip Oat Scones by Cybele Pascal

Think back.  When was the last time you had a scone?  A scone like you remember them - crumbly, subtly sweet, faintly biscuit-like and scattered with sugar crystals?

Well, if you can't remember, don't worry.  I found one for you.

If you haven't heard of her yet, check out Cybele Pascal.  I recently discovered her fantastic cookbook, The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, and then - much to my delight - found that she also has a blog with instructional videos for several of her vegan and gluten-free recipes.  (Check below for the link to the recipe for these scones.)

Every single one of her recipes will make your mouth water.  Just try to watch these videos without wanting to reach through your computer screen to take a bite of whatever she is making.

The only modifications I made to Cybele's recipe (which originally was for Cherry Oat Scones) were to substitute Silk vanilla soy milk for the rice milk, and then to divide the batter to make half cherry and half chocolate chip (at the request of my family).  You could go crazy and make them all cherry chocolate chip if you want.  Or you could substitute your favorite kind of dried fruit for the cherries.  I get the feeling you could use any other toppings you like in these scones, as long as you don't change the basic ratio and weigh the batter down too much.  They are deliciously soft on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside - and in the cherry version, the hint of cinnamon is wonderful.

The only thing that is for sure is that if you miss scones, these are for you.  The members of my family who are not gluten-free tend to be brutally honest about these things, and they were not complaining.  In fact, they had seconds.

You can watch Cybele Pascal make these delicious scones here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bagel Pizzas

You can tell I just got done with finals by all the quick and minimal-effort food I've been eating.  Being gluten-free, it can sometimes feel hard to have a truly quick and easy meal.  This is pretty simple, though.  If you have the fifteen minutes it takes to bake it, you're golden after spending about 5 minutes assembling it.  Promise.

I recently attended a food and nutrition conference here in Boston, where I was given a bag of Udi's Multigrain Bagels to try (so, for full disclosure, I did receive these for free).  I think they are pretty fabulous; I've tried them with Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese, with peanut butter, and with a fried egg as a sandwich.  And now, with this, the final bagel, I decided to get a little more ambitious and see how they would hold up as a pizza base.

It turns out that they hold up really well, becoming deliciously crispy on the outside while staying nice and soft on the inside.  These little pizzas are very versatile, although the prime real estate space on the bagel is pretty limited, plus you have to work with the big hole in the middle, so you can't really pile on too many toppings.  Just take it easy and choose 2 or 3 to start with.  I had a Trader Joe's sausage in my fridge, along with a jar of roasted red peppers.  I went with that.  But next time - who knows?  It could turn into anything.

Bagel Pizzas

Per person:
1 Udi's Multigrain bagel, cut in half
~1/2 cup gluten-free pizza sauce
1 pre-cooked gluten-free sausage, sliced thinly (I used Trader Joe's Sweet Apple Sausage)
1/4 cup sliced roasted red peppers
3/4 cup Daiya Vegan Cheese (mozzarella works best, but if you've only got cheddar, go on and use it)
Optional: oregano, basil, and parsley (to sprinkle over)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper so any cheese that falls off doesn't attach itself permanently to your pan.

Assemble the pizzas:  spread the pizza sauce over each bagel slice, then arrange the roasted red peppers and sausage slices, and then top with the Daiya Vegan Cheese and if desired, sprinkle with the spices.

Bake for about 12 - 15 minutes (but depending on your oven, it could take shorter or longer so I would start checking after about 10 minutes, just in case).  When the cheese is completely melted and the bagel slices are crispy, you can remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Quick and Easy Grilled "Cheese"

Cheese.  Melty, gooey, stringy cheese.  

Ok, it's not really cheese.  But I swear, it tastes and acts so much like it you won't be able to tell much of a difference.

My second attempt at gluten-free bread in my new breadmaker was a loaf of challah bread that I first posted about two years ago.  It came out beautifully - soft, chewy, and sliceable.  I'll be posting more about that one later.  

But did I mention it's sliceable?  As in, it doesn't fall apart when you try to eat it.  Something we take for granted with regular bread.  And that opens you up to a whole array of new recipes.

Like grilled cheese.  This is so simple, and so quick to make, and you can modify it any way you want and it will still be great.  (See below for some extra-good modifications).  The combination of the Daiya cheese with a bit of mayo makes the filling extra creamy and melty.  Serve by itself or with tomato soup.  If you were like me as a kid, maybe you ate it with ketchup (I know, I know - it probably sounds disgusting to those who haven't tried it.....but I remember it being oh-so-good that way!).

So slice up some of your favorite bread - the best kind for this grilled cheese is a softer white bread - and get cooking.  Get melting.

Quick and Easy Grilled "Cheese"

2 slices of soft, white bread (like challah)
1 tbsp. gluten-free margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1-2 tbsp. Veganaise or regular gluten-free Mayonnaise
1/2 - 3/4 cup shredded Daiya Vegan Cheese (either mozzarella or cheddar will work)
Garlic powder (optional)

In a small bowl, mix the Veganaise and shredded Daiya Vegan Cheese together.  If you want a garlic kick, add some garlic powder to taste; otherwise, omit.  Spread the gluten-free margarine on one side of each slice of bread. 
Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Place the bread, margarine side down, in the skillet.  Immediately spread the cheese/Veganaise mixture evenly onto both slices.  Cook for 3 - 5 minutes, or until both pieces of bread are nicely browned and the cheese mixture has started to melt.  Carefully take one of the pieces of bread and flip it onto the other so the sandwich is formed.  Continue to cook over low heat until all the cheese is melted.  

Serve immediately (with tomato soup or alone!). 

Some especially delicious modifications include:
-Spread both slices of bread with your favorite dairy-free pesto before adding the cheese.
-Add fresh basil leaves to the cheese mixture.
-Arrange roasted red peppers onto the slices of bread while they are cooking.
-Add slices of tomato to the sandwich just before serving.
-Serve with tomato soup or any other favorite soup.

Multigrain Breadmaker Bread by the Gluten Free Goddess

You know how gluten-free bread sometimes withers under the heat of the oven?  How it looks so full of yeasty promise, only to deflate disappointingly once you attempt to actually bake it?

I've been hearing rumblings of the wonders that a breadmaker can work on gluten-free bread, and as I was lucky enough to inherit a Breadman Breadmaker from my cousin recently, I decided to try out a recipe from Karina's website (always trustworthy) in my first attempt to use it.  She raves about her Multigrain Bread in her blog, and so I decided to give it a try.  I followed her recipe pretty exactly, using real eggs instead of egg replacer and used all water for proofing the yeast instead of using half non-dairy milk.  I also left out the seeds on top (and I only did that because I stuck this in the breadmaker at an ungodly hour of the night after a marathon paper-writing session and promptly fell asleep before it was time to add the seeds on top).

The result?  Mine was a little dry, but made a beautiful piece of toast spread with sweet jam.  And it slices!  It slices without falling apart!  I'm inclined to blame myself for the slightly dry texture because I originally only used 1 cup of warm water to proof the yeast since I'm not cooking at a high altitude like Karina was.  I think next time I'll use the full 1 1/4 cup and see if it turns out to be any moister.  Overall, though, it was a pretty good loaf of bread and held up well in terms of texture, and was particularly good as toast.  I think everyone's breadmaker will be slightly different, so I'd start with Karina's original recipe and then tweak from there.  Even if mine turned out a little dry, it was still eons above some of the store-bought stuff I've choked down.  Thanks for the recipe, Karina!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chewy Mint Chocolate Cookies

Do you ever miss Thin Mints?

I do.  They were my favorite kind of Girl Scout Cookie (aside from a maple cream one they sold for only one year before yanking it off the market for some inexplicable reason).  The combination of the chocolate and mint - dangerously addictive, and completely delicious.

Well, it's just as hard to stop eating these.  I overbaked the first tray I put in and was extra careful not to repeat that mistake with the rest, standing like a hawk by the oven to pull them out after exactly 9 minutes.  The results?  Chewy, chocolatey, minty, coconuty goodness. (But don't worry - if you hate coconut, you can leave it out and they will still taste awesome.  I tested it out for you.)

I got the idea from the Gluten Free Goddess and tweaked the recipe from her site (which you can find here) based on the ingredients I had on hand.  I also halved her recipe, fearful of the implications of a full batch of chocolate cookies alone with me in my apartment. 

And those fears were justified.  The gooey chocolate chips and chewy coconut are a wonderful combination, and the mint makes them festive somehow.  They'd be perfect for a holiday party!

Try them for yourself and see if anyone you serve these to complains about their being gluten-free.  Dare them to. 

Chewy Mint Chocolate Cookies

1/3 cup Spectrum organic shortening
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼   cup white sugar
1 tbsp. agave nectar
1 egg
7 - 9 tbsp. mint chocolate Silk soy milk (or any other non-dairy chocolate milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 -1 ½ tsp. peppermint extract (according to your own taste)
1 ¼  cup of your favorite gluten-free flour blend (I used Montina, but others would work, too)
½  tsp. xanthan gum

¾ tsp. baking powder
½  tsp. baking soda
¼   tsp. salt
¼   cup plus 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
½  cup chocolate chips
½  - 1 cup shredded coconut (optional, but recommended!)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine the shortening, sugars, and agave nectar and mix well.  Add the egg, 7 tbsp. of the mint chocolate soy milk, and the vanilla and peppermint extracts. 

In a separate bowl, combine the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.  Add to the liquid mixture, stirring well.  Stir in the chocolate chips and coconut, if desired.  If the batter is too dry, add more mint chocolate soymilk by the tablespoonful until the batter is smooth and stiff.

Drop by tablespoon-ful onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 8 - 12 minutes, or just until they are barely cooked all the way through.  I baked mine for about 9 minutes.  Do not overbake!  They may not look completely done when you pull them out of the oven.  Allow to rest for 2 - 3 minutes on the hot cookie sheet, then remove to a cooling rack or plate.