Safe GF Party/Dinner Tips

Not to scare anyone but if you are throwing a party and plan to serve delicious food to someone who is gluten free be sure to do a few things to ensure their safe eating. I should have posted this last week but it slipped my mind, probably due to an excess of cookie baking and gift wrapping….

These tips will give you a general idea on how to feed people and do it safely if you have a gluten free guest.   If your friends or family members pooh pah gluten free as exaggerated or made up; let them know: getting glutened for most celiacs is a lot like having that Norovirus; you are very ill for several days, you may spend many hours in the bathroom sick as a dog.  That sort of result doesn’t happen to me but I do get a severe burning pain in my right side and can have to spend 3-4 hours prone on the sofa feeling dreadful, almost comatose, and unable to read a book or even watch tv.  We celiacs are not exaggerating, we get really ill from even a tiny amount of wheat.  This sensitivity actually gets worse once you are gluten free for a few months.

Do you really want to know that your carelessness or cavalier attitude led to someone being sick for 3-10 days? I am sure you are vigorously shaking your head No.  So follow these steps and you will be sensitive to the needs of guests with this severe allergy.  Basic knowledge on best practices will give you the power to make safe and yummy food for your gluten free friends/family.

  1. Wash all the cooking and serving items from pots and pans to utensils so you are starting with safe equipment and serving dishes.  That includes counter tops and cutting boards.  Do not use a wooden board that you cut regular wheat based bread on to cut or serve gf food on.  Colanders for pasta are particularly problematic: I bring my own when friends make pasta for me as the gluten clings to all those tiny holes; very hard to get it all off and make your colander totally safe and gluten free.
  1. If you are serving GF and wheat foods on the same table please set them far away from each other and never put them on the same serving plate. You should probably put a label near each item so those eating gluten free will know what is safe. Safer yet is to have a separate GF table at your buffet.  Safest is to only serve gluten free food.
  1. Remember there are lots of foods that are naturally GF. Like fruit, block cheese (except blue cheese) and veggies including potatoes, yams and salads.  Shredded cheese can be iffy; sometimes wheat products are added to facilitate the pourability of the shredded cheese product.  If you make a dip be careful with prepared mixes as they often contain wheat. There are lots of crackers in the grocery store that are GF.   I love Nabisco’s brown rice and pepper ones and Crunchmaster’s crackers are excellent. You could serve just them and no one will be the wiser but your guest will thank you. When packaging says “seasonings’ that is suspect; look for the GF label.  Wegmans now puts on a nice G label that means gf.  Save the bag so your guest can inspect it if they are worried as to the safety of the crackers.crunchmaster crackersricethins white
  2. Most alcoholic beverages are safe except beers and wheat based vodka.  You can get GF beer for those who are GF and must have beer!  Hard cider and wine are naturally GF.
  3. Look for the letters Gf on the packaging to be sure. Sometimes the ingredients are naturally gluten free but the  product has been processed on the same equipment as wheat products.  If the label mentions the possibility of wheat in the product to to that sort of thing, don’t get it.  People with celiac disease can and often do get very ill due to foods contaminated with minute amounts of wheat from the processing on shared equipment.  Read the ingredient list for all prepared or snack foods. Some cheese curls are GF and some are not.  Ditto for tortilla chips. Be careful about rice mixtures as the seasoning packet often renders them unsafe.
  4. Seafood is a good choice except for imitation crab and seafood as they are wheat based.  I did hear that there will be some new imitation crab in logs like string cheese that is gf; not seen it yet.  You can buy GF crumbs for breading things including for putting in your homemade crab cakes. Ready-made crab cakes are not GF.
  1. Sweet rice flour makes excellent gravy, get it at a Chinese grocery store. I use the same proportion as any flour; just dissolve it in cold water before adding to a hot broth or blend with fat/butter before adding.
  1. Don’t put wheat croutons in the salad; serve them on the side for those who can eat them with a label that they are not gf. You can set out slivered almonds, walnuts or pumpkin seeds to add crunch for GF eaters.  Or make your own croutons from GF bread cut into cubes.
  1. Follow the recipe very closely if you bake a GF bread or dessert as they should not be altered if you want good results.
  1. There are GF cake mixes that can be whipped up just as easily as regular wheat based cakes. King Arthur’s is my favorite as it makes two layers and the flavor and textures are quite good. Most frosting recipes are GF so you can easily make a tasty dessert for not that much cash (as compared to buying a GF cake from a bakery) and you get the satisfaction of having made it yourself.cake mix
  1. Of course, you can make a pudding or serve fresh fruit. There are GF pie crusts out there so pie is certainly a yummy option. Wegmans has them and so does Fry’s Better Foods in Hellertown. I have used GF chocolate cookie ready-made crust for a quick and delightful pudding pie dessert, see that post from last winter.
  1. Be careful about candies and chocolates. Read the label before you put out that candy dish. Wheat abounds in a lot of them!
  1. Ice cream makes a great dessert but don’t serve cookie dough ice cream or any other flavor that has crumbled cookies or pretzels in it. Do it yourself Sundays are a great dessert idea.
  1. You could make those tasty soft dinner rolls I gave the recipe for recently or the brownies I also posted some ago. I made those rolls this week and a fellow who eats wheat all the time asked for my recipe; he said they were the best rolls he had ever eaten, wheat or not!
  2. I have posted several gf cookie recipes, each is great for serving as dessert at your party or to take to one so you have something safe to share.
  3. Most of your meal will likely be GF if you cook from scratch: it is the pre-made and packaged stuff that tends to have wheat in it so scratch cooking is safer and frankly tastier.
  4. Check on the internet or at the library for GF cookbooks to help you make delicious meals for GF friends and family.
  5. There are GF bakeries out there, one in Catasauqua, PA, also one in  Coopersburg and a vegan bakery in Bethlehem. Great for a hassle free gf dessert option. blondies Bakerstreet bakery
  6. Save all food labels/packaging in case your GF guest has a question or wants to view the ingredient list themselves. Not that unusual a request for anyone with celiac disease.

It is not the end of the world for we celiacs to have to cook and eat GF but it gets tiring to cook every meal and eating out is often problematic: nothing much safe to eat.  I always feel especially loved when someone cooks a homemade and safe dinner for me to enjoy.  So go ahead and try making a meal in the coming weeks for you know someone who can’t eat gluten.  You can do it and you will thrill them!

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Lemon Shortbread Cookie Bliss

Sometimes you want those fancy, full of stuff kinda cookies and that is fine but occasionally a simple but delicious cookie is the way to go, like shortbread.  Dainty crisp shortbread cookies are great with a cup of tea or coffee.  I hadn’t tried them gluten free until this holiday season.  I now wonder why it took so long.

meyer lemons

I baked lemon ones using Meyer lemon peel but you can use whatever lemons you buy at the grocery store.  Mine were sprinkled with a touch of green colored sugar.  Top yours as you wish or leave them plain.

No forming needed.  You glop the soft dough onto a long piece of plastic wrap, close it and roll on the table to shape.  Chill well and cut the dough into slices, onto the baking sheet and into the oven.  Simple to make and they are perfect for many festive occasions. I can’t wait to try some other variations on these shortbread cookies.

shortbread cookie 001

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

½ lemon extract

1 tsp. lemon zest

¾ cup brown rice flour mix; recipe below

1/4 cup sweet rice flour

¼ tsp.  xanthan gum

1/8 tsp. salt

Directions:

Beat together the softened butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, add the vanilla, lemon extract, and zest and mix.

Mix flour, xanthan gum in small bowl; add to butter/sugar mix.  Mix until a soft dough is formed.

Place lumps of dough in a line along a big sheet of plastic wrap; from it into a 1 ¼ inch log of dough.  Twist ends shut, smooth into a round long by rolling it on the table top.  Chill it at least an hour; until firm.

Heat oven to 350 degrees, racks to center of oven.  Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray.

Slice into ½ to 5/8 inch rounds. Place 1 ½ inch apart on sheet, sprinkle with colored or plain sugar.  Chill in fridge 15 minutes. Bake 12-14 minutes until lightly golden. Mine all took 14-15 minutes.  Let cool on cookie sheet 2-3 minutes so they solidify; transfer to a cookie cooling rack.  Store in airtight cookie jar once cooled.

My recipe says the dough can be kept in the fridge for a week or in freezer for up to two months.  It made about 32 cookies. They went fast!

They are delicate; if left out in the air unsealed they will get soggy and loose their crisp, delicate texture.

To make them plain leave out the lemon extract and zest and add another ½ tsp. vanilla.

Brown Rice Flour Mix base mix
2 c brown rice flour

2/3 c potato starch

1/3 c tapioca flour

This recipe is out of Annalise G. Robert’s great cookbook: Gluten Free Baking Classics, second edition.

Crunchy Tasty Cranberry Crackle Tart

Like a fruit tart and a pavlova had a baby: this is the felicitous result.  Light and delicate, making it perfect after a hearty feast.  It is really guilt free if you eat it minus any toppings like the whipped cream or ice cream.

I found this recipe on line, back before Thanksgiving, at splendidtable.com.  I loved the look and sound of it but didn’t find time to make it until Christmas Eve.  Once I tasted it; love at first bite.   I devoured it with vanilla ice cream on top at the Christmas lunch, nice flavor combination.  New Years Eve is coming up and I want to bake another, this time serving it like you do a Pavlova, with lightly sweetened real whipped cream on top. Yumm!

crackle tart 007

It is really easy to throw together.  If you are gf you can use the recipe I provide, I adapted her recipe to make it gluten tree. At holidays like Christmas Wegmans often has gf redi-made crusts. If you are a wheat eater use whatever cookie tart crust you like.  I included cinnamon in the crust and found it added a lot to the complexity of the flavors.  The crust absolutely needs to be pre-baked before you put the tart together.

I should say I seldom use fresh cranberries; I generally make a fresh relish – old family recipe – for Thanksgiving but never got it made this past November.  So I had the bag of cranberries in the fridge in the fruit bin.  Yeah, it sat there a month: I did have to pick through it (you always should) after I rinsed them and remove and squishy ones.  There are usually a few of those mixed in and they aren’t great for anyone to eat.  Let them dry. Anyway, my point is; this tart is fantastic tasting even if you aren’t a huge cranberry fan.

I used some smooth raspberry jam (what I had) but you could probably use most any jam.  Just chose one full of real fruit in a flavor you enjoy as you can definitely taste the jammy flavor mixed in with the crust and the meringue topping. I loved it with raspberry jam, a favorite flavor for me.

crackle tart 005

Fresh out of the oven

I didn’t take a lot of pictures as I wasn’t really planning to blog this recipe but it was so tasty I had to get it out there for people to try.

——————-

Sweet cookie crust, gf

Place the following in a stand mixer bowl and combine:

1 cup GF flour (recipe below)

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tsp xanthan gum

½ tsp. cinnamon

Add 5 tbsp cold butter, cut into 6-7 chunks.  Mix on medium low until the butter is just crumbs blended in.

Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 tbsp water.  Blend well.

Pour the crumbs into a ten inch tart pan that was sprayed with cooking spray.  Or a glass pie pan.  Spread it up the sides.  Press gently in so it is a cohesive crust but do not press really hard or it will be like concrete when you finish baking it!

Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes. Set the crust on a rack to cool to room temperature.  Do not let it get more than light brown.

crackle tart 006

Just before cutting it

Brown Rice Flour Mix
2 c brown rice flour

2/3 c potato starch

1/3 c tapioca flour

Filling

2 tablespoons chunky cherry, raspberry or strawberry jam

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

Pinch of fine sea salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups cranberries (if they’re frozen, don’t thaw)

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting.

When you’re ready to fill and bake the tart: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Gently spoon the jam on top of the crust and spread it evenly over the bottom, I used the back of my big spoon for this operation. In a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt at medium speed just until they are fluffy and fairly opaque. With the mixer going, add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, then keep beating on high until the whites are shiny and form definite peaks; they will look like marshmallow.  This is a meringue.

Pour the cranberries into the bowl of meringue and, using a flexible spatula or spoonula fold them into the meringue. Try to distribute the fruit evenly, but don’t mix too much– you want to keep the meringue fluffy. Spoon the meringue over the jam and spread it to the edges, making it swirly if you’d like. The jam might push up around the sides of the meringue, and that’s fine.  Don’t fret if it looks like not enough filling, it will puff up in the oven to fill the pie pan.

Bake the tart for 1 hour, at which point the top will be light beige and cracked here and there. (If you’d like more color, you can bake it a bit longer or even put it under the broiler.)  I did not go there!  Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.  I did cut it while slightly warm and we all thought that was just perfection.  If you’d like, and I do, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Whipped cream on top is also great.Storing: The tart is best the day it’s made, although it’s still pretty nice the next day. Leave the tart at room temperature, covering only the cut part with a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap.  I doubt you will have any the second day anyway. It is that tasty.

Almond Paste Holiday Joy

Sometimes I find that it is just easier to make an ingredient yourself when you can’t easily locate it.  Case in point the venerable item of almond paste, found in many old school baking projects.  When I was a kid my mom used it to create marzipan fruit which she painted with delicate colors to resemble the real deal.  These dainty tasty treats were displayed on a crystal plate and served to company. I was lucky to get one itsy bitsy peach which was gone in one small bite of deliciousness. Don’t ask me how a woman with seven children found time and energy to make marzipan fruit.  Maybe because she didn’t have a computer or cell phone?

marzipan fruit

Not my mom’s marzipan fruit but still lovely.

Anyway, I wanted to make almond crescent cookies; had baked some last Christmas to much acclaim.  Forgot to get the paste and I was kinda busy cooking up a storm, so I texted my sisters to get some.  They brought almond filling, not the same, not even close. Bummer as we didn’t have time to shop again that day. I returned to the grocery store for the umpteenth time later this past week to get the right stuff and found no plain almond paste, only coconut or chocolate almond paste; weird.  I bought some marzipan, thinking it would do.  Nope.  Not the same; too sweet for a replacement in my recipe. So I googled almond paste and came up with a recipe to make my own.  Back to the store for plain almonds. I bought whole ones, they were out of blanched ones.

almonds

To blanch you heat a big saucepan half full of water to a boil; dump in the almonds and let them cook a couple minutes until they float.  Skim off and lay on a rimmed baking sheet, let cool a bit and then peel the skins off, your nails come in handy for that part. That can take a few minutes, maybe do it while you watch a Christmas movie or special.  Then bake those damp almonds on that rimmed cookie sheet at 170 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes to dry them out.  Do not brown.  Let cool completely before proceeding with the recipe.  FYI: rimmed baking sheets are the best; they bake things more evenly with less burning than plain un-rimmed sheets.  I found two old ones that are sturdy and with 1/3 inch rims, perfect.

blanched almonds

This recipe went together in just 5 minutes once I had the blanched almonds ready.  It makes really great tasting almond paste; better than the redi-made stuff. Good to know, just in case you can’t find any at the store.  FYI: I will post the almond crescent recipe but not today, one post at a time!

shortbread cookie 009

This was a cool experience because I learned something. Before, I just took almond paste for granted; now I know that it isn’t too difficult to make my own and it is really yummy homemade!  A bonus is that I got to use my ancient Hamilton Beach 2 speed processor, a faded refugee from the 1980’s.  It seldom comes out to play except when I make a big batch of carrot soup as I have a mini one that is perfect for most blending jobs.  This time it was the right size, got the job done and that is what counts!

Almond paste

INGREDIENTS

1.5 cups whole blanched almonds

1.5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 large egg white, lightly beaten, room temp

1/2 tsp almond extract

Yield: 1 lb (2.5 cups) almond paste

Directions:

  1. Place the whole blanched almonds and 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar in a large food processor (at least 7 cups in volume) fitted with a steel blade. Process the nuts and sugar until the nuts are very finely ground, stopping periodically to scrape the sides of the processor bowl. The sugar will help prevent the nuts from turning into almond butter, but done over process.
  1. Once the almonds are very finely ground, add the rest of the powdered sugar and blend until it is completely mixed into the ground almonds.
  1. Stop the processor and add the egg white and the almond extract. Turn the processor back on and process the almond paste until it comes together in a clump in the food processor.
  1. If it seems very sticky, add a little more powdered sugar, a spoonful at a time, until it is smooth. I didn’t need to do this.
  1. You can use the almond paste at once or wrap it to use at a later date. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then store it in a zip-top bag. Wrapped this way, the almond paste can be kept for up to 3 months in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer. Make sure to bring the almond paste to room temperature before using it in recipes.

PS: I forget exactly where I found this recipe, It is by Alton Brown, (my hero) just google almond paste and it should come up!

Jam Thumbprint Cookies, Thumbs Up!

As children we each had our favorite cookies to make, this was traditionally one of my brothers’ to bake but once grown up I continued to make it, ‘cause they are addictively tasty.  I love it made with apricot jam, you can used chopped slivered almonds instead of walnuts for that version.  But, any flavor good quality jam will work, pick what you like.  I used two flavors this time; homemade peach jam and some store bought but excellently flavored raspberry jam. Like getting two cookies out of one batch of dough.

xmas cookies 003xmas cookies 002

Last Christmas a dear friend gave me a new cookbook “Gluten-Free Christmas Cookies” by Ellen Brown.  I have tried several recipes and all were fantastic.  This is out of it, I swapped the candied red and green cherries for jam, but you can go old school and use those freaky candied cherries.

Jam and Walnut Thumbprints

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup white rice flour

1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

½ cup cornstarch

1 tsp. xanthan gum

1 tsp. cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

2 sticks unsalted butter cut into thin slices

1 lg egg

1 tbsp. whole milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

½ cup jam; raspberry, peach, strawberry

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl food processor, steel blade, blend briefly.  Add butter to work bowl and process off an on until it resembles coarse meal.

Combine egg, milk and vanilla in a small bowl; whisk. Drizzle into the work bowl, pulse about 10-12 times until it forms a stiff dough.  If it doesn’t come together, add more milk a tsp. at a time. I added a tsp. more of milk to get the dough to form up.

Chill the dough for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put racks in the middle of the oven. Place chopped walnuts in a wide shallow bowl and roll 1 1/2 inch balls of dough.  Roll them in the chopped walnuts, place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Press an indent in with a finger and fill with about ½ tsp. jam.  Bake 14-15 minutes, until just firm but not browned.  They will be very delicate to the touch.  Let cool 2-3 minutes on sheet before carefully moving them to a cooling rack using a metal pancake turner. I bumped a couple and they just fell apart on the sheet; very fragile while hot.  They will solidify once they cool.  I store mine in cookie tins or Tupperware containers.  They won’t last as long as wheat cookies but they get snapped up fast so that shouldn’t be a problem.  I supposed you could freeze them for a week or two if necessary.

They are not too sweet and so delicate, great with a cup of tea or coffee.  As good, if not better, then when I made them with all purpose wheat flour 2 years ago before I had to go gluten free.  Your family will be amazed that they are gf, no one you serve them to will ever guess.  Totally tasty and fun to make with your kids! Enjoy.

PS: my sisters who both eat gluten/wheat loved these cookies and ate a whole bunch this past weekend!  In fact, our lunch dessert Sunday was a big plate of homemade Christmas cookies, all gluten free and there were only 3 cookies left once everyone had all they wanted.

Russian Teacakes aka Mexican Wedding Cookies, Even Better GF

These miniature snowballs were the foundation of the Christmas cookie baking when I was a child.  They were always made every year, sometimes a second batch had to be baked as we ate the whole first one before the big day!  You can use pecans but I rarely do.  Some people call them Mexican Wedding Cookies but we called them Russian Teacakes. For me it is not Christmas without these cookies so I was extremely pleased to find a great recipe.

xmas cookies 006

This year’s batch; made with pecans!

They are easy to make with not too many ingredients.  Be careful lifting them off the pan as they are delicate until fully cooled. The texture and subtle flavor of this GF version is actually superior to the wheat flour recipe of my childhood.  They are delightful with a cup of tea or coffee.

If you like them really sweet sprinkle on extra powdered sugar, less of it makes them perfect for those who are not used to too much sweetness. No one will ever know they are GF and you will get complements on their flavor and texture.  This recipe is from Annalise Roberts’ fabulous Glutin-Free Baking Classics with very minor changes by me. Enjoy: they are rather addictive cookies!

russian teacakes

Russian Teacakes

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

6 tbsp. powdered (confectioners) sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups brown rice mix (recipe below)

1 tsp xanthan gum

1 cup walnuts or pecans chopped fine

Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

Beat butter and powdered sugar in large bowl of stand mixer until light and creamy.  Add vanilla, beat in.  Add flour and gum, mix in until well blended, stir in walnuts until distributed.  Chill dough for an hour.

Form into 1 inch balls.  Roll in confectioners sugar, place on cookie sheet lightly sprayed with Pam (not the bakers version that has flour).  Place about 1 ½ inches apart.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned on top and bottom.  Cool on pan for 5 min and then sprinkle with more powdered sugar before placing on wire rack to cool.   Store well wrapped: in airtight container, in fridge for a week or two or freezer for up to 30 days.  You could store unbaked dough in fridge for up to three days.

Brown Rice Flour Mix base mix
2 c brown rice flour

2/3 c potato starch

1/3 c tapioca flour

Note: This was originally posted to my old blog site last December (2013).  I just made a batch of them Wednesday night.  Still totally wonderful.

We Are Longing for Gourmet GF Entrees

My latest pet peeve is boring gluten free restaurant food.  If there is anything gluten free on the menu it is often simplistic and there are very few choices compared with the rest of the menu.  This is a major bummer.

Last weekend I was eating supper at one of the few restaurants where I feel truly safe in eating gf, BigBites BBQ located along Route 309 in Quakertown. Not boring food, just plain delicious!  They make the majority of their food GF, have dedicated areas for GF food assembly and cooking and they specially order their Udie’s GF buns for their sandwiches directly from the factory. The owners have 3 family members with celiac disease so they know what they are doing to make food safe and gf.

pulled pork signbigbites

Plus their BBQ is the best in the entire area.  Love their pulled chicken, their ribs with ruby red sauce and their sides: smoky baked beans, cornbread and coleslaw.  The owners were telling me about their plans to add gf tacos to their menu. They are going to make their own tortillas from scratch. Just hearing the owner describe those tacos made my mouth water. Can’t wait!

What I am getting around to spelling out is that we were also commiserating on why no restaurants make really complex gf foods.  I had been thinking that but it was interesting to hear the owner of a mostly gf restaurant making the same point. The few places that serve gf raviolis or pasta seldom dress the gf food up with fresh herbs or other additions, like the rest of their entrees have.  It is like they think we celiacs don’t like gourmet tasty food; that we just want it bland and plain.  No, no, no! We love fresh basil on our pasta, spices, cheese and all the yummy things that can fancy up a dish to make it delightful and memorable.

The only other place I have gotten some really tasty and well made gf food is Bella’s Restaurant here in Hellertown.  I wrote an entire blog post on their fantastic shrimp with pink vodka sauce, a few months back.  I just wish they would translate more of their incredible entrees into gluten free versions. Same for Nick’s on Main Street in Bethlehem.  Their gf baked ravioli is very nice but I think it could be fantastic with a few added flavor touches. bella sign

Maybe 2015 will be the year more restaurants get that concept and expand their gf menu making dining out gluten free a better experience. I am personally hoping to find somewhere that has gf perogies as their nightly special. Heavenly!