Spring Into Eating Safely…Let Me Rant a Little First!

Okay, call this my spring bitch rant.  Need to freak safely and this blog is my vent place! First, let me say that I am great being gluten free.  But, I am tired of justifying to people I barely know as to why I can’t eat gluten.  I am very tired of friends and even family saying words that clearly imply that I might sometimes choose to eat things that contain gluten, say a slice of birthday cake or a tasty looking donut.  That just makes me nearly crazy.  Because that idea is nuts to someone with celiac; that you can just eat a slice of regular cake because you want it.  That is nuts.  If you have celiac it is a serious, life threatening allergy, not some diet choice.  Eating gluten can give any combination of up to 200 symptoms. None of them are fun or worth having just for a few bites of dessert.

My reactions include burning pain in the area of my small intestine.  I get extremely tired, to the point of being unable to function. My head aches and I can do nothing but lie down for a long time, generally several hours. It is sort of like a stomach flu and generally is unmistakably from accidental consumption of gluten. Other people with celiac may have different symptoms than me, some terrible and some rather mild.  There is a wide range of how severe the symptoms are of someone with celiac.  But even without any noticeable symptoms anyone with celiac who eats gluten (wheat, rye or barley) is damaging their small intestine in a serious and lasting way.  That exposure to gluten can lead to malnutrition, leaky gut, cancer and a few other diseases.  Celiac is serious business, not to be ignored or made light of.  It totally pisses me off when someone makes light of my disease.

It used to annoy me when I went to a function and couldn’t eat anything.  Two years ago I was at a church gathering with a 40 foot long table of desserts and not one single one that I could eat safely.  I had a glass of water.  That was all that was okay for me.  These days there is often something safe I can eat.  Sometimes people serve a vegetable tray or some cubed cheese.  I always hope they will keep the crackers on a separate plate and get a dip that is marked gluten free.  I was at a pastoral installation last week and there were two kinds of gluten free cake and gluten free rolls for sandwiches as well as a ton of fresh fruit and trays of raw veggies that I could enjoy.  What a difference! I asked and discovered that someone in the congregation was celiac so they knew to serve some safe foods for those of us who cannot consume gluten.

It should be known that I really am glad to be eating safe for me.  I feel so much better.  I was amazed at how great my tummy felt about two weeks after I was totally gluten free in my diet.  And that continues to this day.  It’s wonderful to feel healthy.  It was very difficult to be happy with a constantly painful gut.  Now, 2 ¼ years later I have found many good recipes, many tasty ways to eat safely.  There is not huge sacrifice in always eating gluten free.  Getting that gf baking thing down these days feels fantastic. My brownies are crazy good.  I bake muffins far better than my old gluten filled ones.  The fennel and golden raisin bread I recently made was amazing, my sister is still raving about the flavor and aroma.  She eats wheat but she loves my Christmas cookies, said so the other day; that they were the best this past holiday season. fennel italian bread 012turkey meatballs, cranberry blue muffins 004shortbread cookie 001xmas cookies 006

So please, do not pity me. I don’t want or need it.  Quite the opposite: you can envy my perfect brownies or my lovely lemon almond cake or my best ever chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. Or all the entrees and sides I now make safely with a variety of starches or flours that don’t include gluten.  I am totally fine.  I don’t have to take any medicines to make me well.  I just need to keep all the gluten away from my body, not in my food, my medicine, my shampoo or my moisturizer.  Not even a pinch of it- anything from 20 parts per million is contamination. 

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Please don’t be offended if I don’t eat food I am not sure is totally gluten free.  I have lost friends that way; they were actually offended that I got sick at their house. If you bake, don’t make me a cake in your pan that baked wheat flour cakes, use a disposable aluminum pan.  And read the freaking labels if you cook for someone with celiac.  It is appalling how many foods have wheat contamination issues due to the equipment a lot of food is processed in/on or by. Don’t trust promises by caterers. I wrote a post on that once.

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I am good these days.  I really am. No pity…maybe you can have some dessert envy as I’m still a great baker! Gluten free is no death sentence. For those of us with celiac it is more a release from pain, undiagnosed suffering and a way to live healthier and happier. I blog so you can eat safely too, or cook safely for someone you love. Be happy, enjoy good food and live with joy.  I know I do!

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Marvelous Chocolate Cake: One Layer, No Fuss

Nothing satisfies quite like a thick slice of homemade chocolate cake.  This dessert is my favorite chocolate fix these days.  It is a simple one bowl recipe.  I love that I can make it with ingredients I usually have around.  It is not too sweet which is good as I am not supposed to eat as much sugar as I have been doing.  It only makes one layer which I like because there are less leftovers for me to snack on.  Best of all, it is moist and tender and addictive.  I made it on the fly this weekend for a belated birthday celebration, out of milk, no problem; this recipe uses water, out of butter; fine as it is made with vegetable oil.  No chocolate; okay…it uses cocoa powder.  I have made it 2-3 times.  It is from well known blogger and prolific cookbook author Nicole Hunn.  Unfortunately she doesn’t allow other bloggers to give her recipes. So I will honor that and just give you a link to her site; look it up and next time you need a quick cake, this is your recipe! This time I put a chunky peanut butter icing on top.  Utter perfection in the chocolate cake department.

It has a lot of unsweetened cocoa powder, sour cream, 2 eggs, canola oil,  baking powder, water and some gluten free flour mix: I like a mock Better Batter recipe I found on Nicole Hunn’s blog. Use your favorite blend and I am guessing it will be good; this is a very reliable recipe.  So easy: you put the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, stir good and add the wet ingredients one at a time stirring well with a spoon.  Pour it into a greased 9 inch cake pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool ten minutes and turn out to cool.  More than ten minutes and you run the risk of your cake seriously sticking.  Do not frost it warm.

I will say that my latest cake was made with 2 tbsp. less cocoa powder than the recipe on line. I liked it just fine; not quite as dark.  My peanut butter icing is simple and spectacular.  We love it made with chunky but you can use smooth peanut butter if that is your preference. For this cake I only iced the top; double this if you use it for all over or for a 2 layer cake. I used a square 9 inch cake pan; love that square look.  I also used my magic cake strip; silver fabric strip that you soak in water and put around the pan before it goes in the oven. It keeps the edges from drying out and you get a more level cake.  For the square pan which is too much perimeter; I just used one and clipped it on with 2 clothes pins; worked great.  You can buy them on-line and they really work to make your cake level and keep the edges moist.

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The last two slices; cut on the long side and it is taking every ounce of my willpower not to eat one right now!

This is an awesome cake; people rave about it, people who eat wheat every day and know what a great cake can taste like.  You can make it; so easy; no mixer, one bowl, simple ingredients, no fuss and fantastic results. Go on her website; this fantastic chocolate cake recipe is to be found at http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/.  Click on recipes, type in chocolate cake, it is the “One Bowl GF Chocolate Cake” recipe.  Leave in all the cocoa if you like it extra dark.  She also gives a great ganache recipe for topping the cake.  Dark on dark chocolate: always a winner!  Check out the rest of her site; fantastic gluten free recipes.  I love the look of them and you may well find a recipe for your next special dessert to impress whomever you bake for.

Simply Smashing Slow Cooker Citrus Chicken

I really love my new slow cooker with a timer and that great oval shape.  I have made some really yummy suppers in it.  As I have said before, I am not a fan of overcooked vegetables so I am rather choosy in what I make if it has to cook for 4 hours.  This citrus chicken is a variant on a recipe in that gf slow cooker cookbook by Carrie Forbes that I bought last fall.

I changed boneless chicken breast into thighs with bones; more flavor as far as I am concerned.  I didn’t have orange marmalade so I used some of my homemade lemon marmalade.  I added some slices of lemon.  All to the good of the flavor parade.  It was addictively fantastic served over brown rice with a side of asparagus.  I made the rice the night before so all I had to do was heat my serving of rice and top with the hot chicken.

Another lovely easy meal is created in my magical time machine slow cooker!.  Not that pretty to look at, maybe slightly more handsome than the Peruvian chicken.  But oh the flavor!  Serves 4 if you can restrain yourself from eating more than one thigh.  I used 4 in my recipe; I think you could put in up to 6, less sauce per serving which I frankly object to as this sauce is the bomb! I ate it four days in a row and each night I couldn’t wait for dinner because of this sauce and this dish.  One of those recipes where the results seem more than the sum of the ingredients.

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Citrus Chicken Thighs

4-5 chicken thighs

1 medium onion diced

½ cup orange juice; I made mine from concentrate

3 tbsp. orange or lemon marmalade

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce (GF of course)

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

½ a lemon sliced in ¼ inch thick rounds

1 tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp. hot water

Grated rind of one naval orange

Directions

Spray the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray.  Lay the chicken thighs in the bottom.  I left the skins on but I am sure you could remove them if that is your preference.  Top with the onions.  Mix the oj, marmalade, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and mustard in a small bowl.  Pour over the chicken. Top with the lemon slices.  Cook 4 hours on high.  Add the cornstarch water mix, cook ten more minutes. Add the grated rind and stir. It’s that simple!  I serve it over rice.  I sided it with asparagus once and with a lovely salad of greens, european cucumber, chickpeas and avocado with my own vinaigrette another evening. Enjoy!

Lemon Honey Flourless Cake with Candied Lemon Slices

Cake….always a party pleaser.  I enjoy it on special occasions but confess it is not one of the things I am good at baking, never was even when I could use regular flours.  And don’t get me started on the birthday cake curse I am crouching underneath.  But sometimes you just need that fancy dessert that serves a crowd and makes everyone happy.  This cake is fairly easy to make, is gluten free and has great lemon flavor. The honey is more of an undertone. Each bite has a satisfying texture due to the almond flour, not heavy but not light with a lovely moisture built in from the honey and olive oil. The tiny bit of potato starch helps make that great texture. No butter either; extra virgin olive oil does the trick. Make sure your eggs and whites are all at room temperature for maximum loft when whipped.

The candied lemon slices take a bit of effort but look great on top. I know I was happy with the results when I bit into my slice of yummy cake!

This recipe comes from Food Network’s test kitchens and I made only minor changes, used slightly less water making the syrup as it seemed too thin even after simmering 20 minutes and no pomegranate seeds for on top; it is spring and pomegranates are a fall fruit. I looked; none to be found. I used a half pint of fresh raspberries and they were perfect – added great color and flavor.

If you can get Meyer lemons they are recommended because of their awesome flavor but I used the usual ones from the grocery store and they worked out fine. I thought the candied slices were tasty although a couple of guests who didn’t much like lemon skipped their candied lemon while still enjoying the cake itself.  It is a very impressive looking cake with a tender moist texture. Extra syrup on top is a tempting option!

I put all my pictures together in a chunk; they can be annoying sprinkled through out the recipe when you are trying to make it.  I often use my tablet to make my own recipes straight off my blog posts so I know what I am talking about here!

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Flourless Lemon Honey Cake with Candied Lemon

Ingredients

¼ cup EVOL plus more to grease pan

1 ¾ cup almond flour plus more to dust the pan

1/3 cup potato starch

½ tsp. salt

1 ½ cups sugar

2/3 cup honey

3 lemons; two zested and juiced and the third sliced very thinly

4 eggs separated

2 egg whites

½ tsp. vanilla extract

¼ tsp. almond extract

Chopped or slivered almonds; ¼-1/3 cup

½ pint fresh raspberries

Directions:

Brush the sides and bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan which you lined the bottom with a round of parchment paper; brush with EVOL and dust with almond flour.  Put rack in middle level in oven.  Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix flour, starch and salt in medium bowl.  Combine ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup honey, lemon zest, 4 egg yolks, vanilla and almond extract in mixer bowl.  Mix on medium high until creamy; about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low, beat in the flour mixture just until blended.

In a separate clean bowl beat the 6 egg whites until foamy, about a minute.  Gradually beat in ½ cup sugar until stiff glossy peaks form, 3 minutes maybe 4.  Gently fold about 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the cake batter, and then fold in the rest of the whites until just barely incorporated.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake until golden brown and springs back when pressed lightly; 50-55 minutes.  Place pan on a cake rack to cool completely.

While it is baking you should make the candied lemon slices.  Put the slices in a small saucepan, cover with water, bring to a simmer over high heat; maybe 3 minutes.  Drain, return to pan and cover with fresh water, repeat the heating.  Do this three times total. It gets the bitterness out of the unpeeled slices. Put the slices back in the pan; add the remaining ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup honey, the lemon juice of the two lemons and 3/4 cup water.  Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce heat to medium, cook, stir occasionally.  Cook until lemon slices are tender and the honey liquid is thickened; becomes like a syrup; about 20-25 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Unmold the cake: run a knife around the edge of the pan, remove pan.  Flip cake to take off parchment paper.  Place on a serving plate.  Use a fork to remove the lemon slices from the syrup and brush the cake all over with some of the lemon syrup.  Then decorate the cake with them. Sprinkle with the raspberries and pass the leftover lemon honey syrup along with the cake.

Serves 8-10.

Delicious Safe GF Meals for That Special Night Out

When you want to eat out for a special celebration it can be tough to find safe gluten free choices in the Lehigh Valley.  One place I like is Hotel Bethlehem,  I have eaten safely there three times.  I agree it is a tad pricy but if you eat in the Tap Room as opposed to the fancy restaurant on the next level it is a bit more affordable but the atmosphere is still comfortably upscale, the servers are very pleasant and the food is excellent.

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We recently went there for our anniversary.  I was thrilled with every single moment of our visit.  The hostess placed us at a romantic table for two right at the huge windows that look out on Main Street.  It is right there in the picture I added to this post, courtesy of tripadvisor.com.

We were attended to immediately by a young man pouring cold water and our server showed up within a couple minutes.  The menu had several options clearly marked gluten free.  This marking on the menu is reassuring that they know what they are doing and are providing safe food for people like me.  I told our server I had to have only gluten free food, she said they served lots of people who requested gluten free meals and that it was not a problem at all. Sounded reassuring.

I ordered the short ribs with potatoes and kale and we shared an appetizer of mussels in a balsamic and bacon vinaigrette. Joe got to eat the grilled bread that came with that but I did enjoy the tart little mussels. The house salad was pleasant and my white wine was even better.  Then our entrees showed up and I was thrilled with the lovely beefy taste of my tender short ribs in a red wine sauce and how delightfully they went with the nice slab of creamy gratined potatoes and some still bright green sautéed kale.  I was fearful that the potatoes might not be safe – that flour was used to thicken the sauce and we immediately doubled checked with our friendly server.  She assured me that she had alerted the kitchen of my special needs when she placed my order and that my food was indeed gluten free.  Her calming words allowed me to enjoy every mouthful of that meal.  Joe enjoyed his salmon but I could see he was envying me the delightful short ribs and gratin.  I didn’t rub it in and even gave him a bite of my meat.  True love; sharing my short ribs!

We both had dessert.  Mine was a scoop of Penn State Creamery mint ice cream studded with flecks of dark chocolate.  Great flavors and mouth feel and so creamy….ice cream perfection! Joe had a chocolate mini cake with a berry sauce and some whipped cream– nice but I think I came away the winner.

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There was a wedding going on in the ball room but it only occasionally slightly intruded with some boisterous cheering.  The service was excellent; the manager even stopped by to ask what we ordered and how we enjoyed our meals. Tasty and safe (read gluten free for us celiacs) food in a lovely setting.  Keep it in mind next time you need a special place to eat out safely.  I’m still reliving that wonderful combination of short ribs and gratined potatoes.

PS: sorry no pictures of my meal, I was not in writing mode and didn’t think of writing about the restaurant until dinner was long over.

Delicious Gluten Free French Bread – Easy and Fast

When my family asks for gluten free bread this is my go to recipe.  It always tastes great; the original came from food.com.  I have modified it slightly. I think it is better for my changes.  If you don’t like brown rice flour use double the white rice.  In my opinion the brown rice makes the flavor more like the real deal.  Don’t change anything in the recipe until you have made it a couple of times.  It is a remarkably forgiving bread.  The original recipe came from food.com

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The only thing is you really need a French bread pan; metal, zillions of tiny holes, makes two loaves.  I can’t see how to successfully make this without my French bread pan. Just get one! I made this bread several times a year and get many compliments from people who don’t need to eat gluten free.

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It is very easy and quick to mix up.  You need to keep an eye on it rising; should be in a warm but not hot location.  Sometimes I turn on my oven and let it heat to 105 degrees upon which I turn it off and put in the bread.  Just warm enough and no drafts inside there.  Don’t over rise it or it will deflate; disaster! Once it is getting close to ready you need to preheat the oven; take the bread out first if yours is rising in there…

It is still tasty the next day.  Makes good crumbs, great croutons if you fry it in some olive oil and garlic and if you slice extra thin this bread is excellent with a cheese course if you are into that sort of thing.

These pictures below are of my golden raisin French bread – they illustrate the process, look very much the same and I don’t have any photographs of the basic French bread in the rising process.  I will snap some next time I make it.

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Gluten Free French Bread

Makes two loaves

1 cup white rice flour

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup tapioca flour

3 tsp. xanthan gum

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp. sugar

1 ½ cups lukewarm water; about 90-95 degrees

1 tbsp. yeast

2 tbsp. melted butter

2 large eggs or 3 egg whites, room temp. I use the two whole eggs generally.

1 tsp. cider vinegar

Directions:

Put the flours, gum and salt in bowl of stand mixer, blend.

In two cup measuring cup or small bowl dissolve yeast and sugar in the lukewarm water; let stand 3-5 minutes until foamy.

Dump into the dry ingredients; add the butter, egg whites, and vinegar.  Beat on high for 3 minutes.

Spray French bread pans, those ones with the tiny holes everywhere and the half round shape; spray them with cooking spray and dust all over with yellow cornmeal.

Glop in the bread dough; it will be like soft putty.  Smooth the top with your fingers that you dampened in water.  Cut 3 slashes diagonally on the top. Sprinkle it with more cornmeal if you like.  I often do that.

Let rise for 30 minutes until doubled.  Bake in pre-heated 400 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

Cool before slicing.  It doesn’t have to be stone cold to slice but cutting it hot is a bad idea; gets all gummy….not a good thing.

This is a version of a recipe I found on food.com. I put in brown rice flour and use whole eggs.  I also have a version with orange rind, golden raisins and fennel seeds elsewhere on my blog.

Slow Perfection: Peruvian Chicken with Red Potatoes

When you work long hours, have two jobs: making a real supper becomes problematic.  I have tried lots of ideas and recipes but I really like making one dish early in the week which provides several meals all week long. Step one: I bought a new slow cooker.  My old crock pot was absolutely ancient, I don’t care to disclose how old.  This one does some basic programming and keeps food warm once it stops a cooking cycle.  I love that it is oval so I will be able to put a whole chicken or a long pot roast in it. Step two; I bought a new cookbook just for slow cooking; The Everything Slow Cooker Cookbook by Carrie Forbes.  Step three: testing lots of recipes!

I pick and choose carefully from my new cookbook; I hate overcooked or mushy food.  The recipe has to be quick to assemble into the pot so I can head off to my second job while it slowly turns my ingredients into a marvelous flavor combination.

There is a Peruvian restaurant in South Bethlehem but they told me that most of their menu is unsafe; could only guarantee one thing and that made me too nervous to try their food.  I had heard that Peruvian food was excellent and it is! This is my version of Peruvian chicken with red potatoes.  It is a slight variant on a recipe in my slow cooker cookbook.  I use chicken thighs, bone in rather than a whole chicken and added extra potatoes and fresh garlic.  If you are diet conscious you could leave off the skin.  I know, it has a lot of spices but they blend and are not overwhelming, don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients.  It dumps together in 5 minutes.

I really enjoy it after a long work day; a salad goes well and gives the greens I crave most suppers.  In the past I have hesitated to post slow cooker recipes as the final results can be a tad drab for photographing. But this spicy flavor party of a dish is a must try even if it is a bit plain in the looks department. I took a pix, sorry if it is rather blah looking but trust me the flavor is outstanding..

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Peruvian Chicken with Red Potatoes

4 good sized chicken thighs, bone in

5 tsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. paprika

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp black pepper

½ tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp. oregano, heaping

2 garlic cloves cut in half

½ large lemon quartered or one small one halved

1.5-2 lbs red potatoes; I used 5 – not too big but not small, quartered

3 tbs. white vinegar

2 tbsp. white wine or vermouth

1 tbsp evol

Directions:

Mix the dry ingredients;put in a big baggie, add chicken pieces and mix well.

Place the potato chunks in the bottom of the slow cooker, Put the chicken on top. Add two garlic cloves which you halved and the lemon chunks.  Drizzle the last three ingredients over top and add ½ cup water.  Cover, cook on high 4 hours. Stir it well before serving and make sure everyone gets some of the thin sauce; ridiculously good on the potatoes you have mashed up with your fork.

Some people like a sauce; ½ cup mayo mixed with 2 tbsp. mustard and 3 tbsp. lime juice as a dipping sauce.  I tried it; okay but I am not a huge mayonnaise fan….

Dig out that old crock pot or better yet get a new one and enjoy something totally different and totally yummy.