Recipe Makeover: Wacky Cupcakes

website wacky cake

“It’s just not wacky enough.”

The saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and certainly for families in the Depression and World War eras, lack of rations led to the creation of what we know as wacky or Depression cake. These are cakes made without eggs and milk which were scarce, and today many people with egg and dairy allergies have turned to them gratefully for countless number of birthday and family parties.

The email I received yesterday, though, made me laugh because it said, “Unfortunately, the recipe just isn’t wacky enough for my family.” This particular person also needed the cake to be gluten and sugar free in addition to egg and dairy free.

And I’m finding that to be a common problem among folks who send me emails. The world has come a long way: grocery stores, online sites and even restaurants carry gluten free products, nut free foods, dairy free items, and sugar free versions of just about everything. Unfortunately, for the person who is allergic to more than one of these, it can still be difficult to find foods which meet all the needed “free” criteria.

So, this morning, I took a gander at reworking the two recipes sent to me. I had signed up to bring some allergy friendly desserts to the Teacher Appreciation luncheon my children’s elementary and middle schools were hosting, so I decided I’d use the recipes to make cupcakes.

The first recipe sent was for a plain wacky cake calling for 3 cups of all purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp vinegar, 2 tsp vanilla, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 cups of water.

The second recipe was for a chocolate wacky cake calling for 3 cups of all purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder,  3/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp vinegar, and 2 cups cold water.

For both recipes, it just called for mixing everything together.

The Makeovers:

1. The flour: Since it needed to be gluten free, I had to decide which type of flour blend to use. Since the recipe is already compensating for the loss of eggs with the use of vinegar and baking soda, I was concerned about the batter’s ability to rise. As such, I decided that Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free Mix which is a blend of garbanzo bean flour, rice flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum, and baking powder would be best.

Why? Because 1) the mix of rice and garbanzo bean flour would allow for the higher fiber and protein without being too heavy; 2) the mix already has the xanthan gum in it which means one less item to mix in myself; and 3) the extra baking powder would help to compensate for the lack of leavening ingredients.

Folks who can have gluten could always use a white whole wheat or red whole wheat to boost the nutrients and fiber in the recipe.

2. The sugar: I decide that I would opt for two different sugar substitutes. For the chocolate wacky cake, I used coconut sugar because I wanted to try a dry substitute and because I thought the brown sugar flavor of the coconut sugar would complement the chocolate flavor better. I used a one for one substitute.

For the plain wacky cake, I opted for Agave, wanting to experiment with a liquid substitute. Also, I had decided I’d turn the cake into a chocolate chip spice cupcake which I felt the Agave would complement better. For the Agave, though, I used half the amount of called for sugar, and added 1/2 cup to the amount of flour needed to counter the extra liquid.

3. The oil: Because I prefer healthier plant oils, I chose to swap the vegetable oil with other types. For the chocolate cake, I used a blend of olive, grapeseed and canola oil which would lend a fruity undertone to the chocolate flavor. For the vanilla cake, I chose to use safflower oil to lend some flavor without overpowering it to the vanilla.

4. The vinegar: Since the recipe didn’t specify, I was presuming they were calling for regular distilled white vinegar. Since I prefer to always add a little “something”, I decided to use a raspberry vinegar for the chocolate cake and an apple cider vinegar for the vanilla cake.

5. The additions: I chose to keep the baking soda, salt and vanilla the same for each recipe, but I added cinnamon and nutmeg to the vanilla cake to make it more a vanilla spice cake, and I swapped the regular unsweetened cocoa powder for Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder to lend a deeper chocolate flavor.

I also decided to throw in chocolate chips to help give the cakes more structure. For the chocolate cake, I added a package of Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips. For the vanilla cake, though, I wanted more of the taste to exude from the batter so I put a package of Enjoy Life mega chunks into my food processor and ground them to tiny pieces which I incorporated throughout the batter.

6. The assembling: The original recipes called for simply mixing everything up. Since I wanted to make sure the batter would fully incorporate all the necessary ingredients for adding structure and leavening, I opted to do the cake batter in steps. First, I mixed all the dry ingredients minus the chocolate chips/pieces together. Then I used a spoon to incorporate the chocolate chips/pieces into the dry ingredients. Then I mixed all the wet ingredients minus the vinegar together. Finally, I added the liquid mixture to the dry mixture, adding the vinegar last and mixing until everything was well-blended. By doing this, I ensured that the effects of the vinegar would last through putting the batter into the muffin tins and into the oven.

7. The cooking: Since I needed to bake for the luncheon and because I wanted to see quickly if the structure of the batter would hold up, I opted to make cupcakes instead. I lined 24 muffin cups per each recipe with muffin liners and scooped batter into each cup all the way to the top of the muffin liner, being careful to simply scoop the batter in without squashing it down. Then I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, turning them halfway through the cooking time.

Upon removing them, I left them in the muffin tins for about 15 minutes before removing them. This allowed the cupcakes to begin their cooling inside the tins which allows the structure of the cupcake to gain stability before being removed. After the 15 minutes, I removed the cupcakes to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

8. The new recipes:

For the chocolate wacky cupcakes, the new recipe was: Mix 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free flour with 2 cups coconut sugar, 1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tsp baking soda. Then add one 10 oz package of Enjoy Life chocolate chips. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup healthy blend oil (olive, grapeseed, canola mix) with 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups cold water. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture with 2 tbsp raspberry vinegar. Blend well. Gently scoop mounds of the batter into 24 lined muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. Cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.

For the vanilla spice wacky cupcakes, the new recipe was: Mix 3 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free flour with 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, and 2 tsp baking soda. Food process one one 10 oz package of Enjoy Life chocolate mega chunks into tiny pieces and add to the dry mixture. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup safflower oil with 1 cup Agave, 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups cold water. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar. Blend well. Gently scoop mounds of the batter into 24 lined muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. Cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.

 

Handling Holidays: Side Dishes

website side dishes

“But it’s mostly Korean food.”

The first time anyone came to my house for Thanksgiving, it never failed that someone would make the above exclamation. Being a half Korean-half white family, our Thanksgiving dinner would consist of the traditional turkey but surrounded by mostly Korean side dishes with a couple of American ones thrown in for good measure. In many ways, the turkey was simply there as a centerpiece to accent the foods we actually wanted to eat: chop chay (Korean noodle and vegetable dish), kimbop (essentially Korean sushi), kimchee (fermented vegetables of all types), mandu (sort of a Korean dumpling), chemi (a Korean melon), gogoma (Korean sweet potatoes), chigay (a hot Korean soup), mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole.

As I’ve had the opportunity to attend other families’ Thanksgiving dinners, I’ve learned that it’s not just my half and half family, though, that thinks Thanksgiving is really about the side dishes and not the hailed turkey. The question being asked all around the U.S. this week is, “What are we going to serve with the turkey?” Families will have long Facebook, email, and phone conversations about who will bring what and in what quantity.

As wonderfully-tasting as the many side dishes are to our palates, they are also usually loaded with fat and calories and wheat and dairy which a lot of folks can’t have for one reason or another.  This doesn’t mean, though, that side dishes needed to be relegated to, well, the side, for us.  There are many ways to revamp traditional dishes.

For Healthier and/or Allergy Friendly Side Dishes:

1.  Roast the vegetables: Roasting intensifies the natural flavors of the vegetables so you don’t need to accent them with heavy cream or butter or cheese. Simply use just enough heart healthy oil to coat the vegetables for cooking. Then drizzle the vegetables with some freshly chopped herbs or a little balsamic vinegar or a light glaze. The other advantage of roasting is that you can roast the vegetables the day before and then just reheat them on Thanksgiving by popping them into the oven at the end of the turkey’s cooking time.

For glazes, work with flavors you like. Start with a liquid, add spices, and heat until it’s thickened down to a glaze. Maybe mix a little soy sauce with ground ginger, garlic, agave, and rice wine vinegar. Or take 100% unsweetened orange juice and add cumin and black pepper. Kids tend to like maple syrup mixed with a little balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Experiment and see what you can create.

Roasting tips: Make sure all your vegetables are the same size and shape, so they’ll cook evenly. Only put the vegetables into a pan just large enough to hold them. Cook similar textures of vegetable together. For example, don’t cook broccoli which roasts very quickly with carrots which take longer. Cook at a very high temperature for a shorter period of time for the best flavor.  I usually cook at 475 to 500 degrees and check them every ten minutes, turning them over as needed to cook all sides well.

2. Revamp your potatoes: Use reduced sodium, fat free chicken or vegetable broth for your mashed potatoes instead of milk.  Or make your potatoes with half potatoes and half cauliflower. If you cook the cauliflower with the potatoes until they’re very soft, they’ll mash up with the potatoes, providing moisture which means you don’t need to add any milk or butter at all. You can also cut back on the fat by reducing the butter and increasing the spices. Cooking the potatoes with garlic, onions, chives, or thyme adds a nice flavor that my kids particularly like. Or you can roast garlic, smash it and add it to the mashed potatoes for a more intense flavor. If you’re making twice baked potatoes, use a fat free regular or Toffuti sour cream or cream cheese and try Cabot’s 50% reduced fat shredded cheese.

3. Try a different style of stuffing: Instead of letting the bread dominate your stuffing, imagine it as the “glue” that holds better things together. Saute a variety of finely chopped vegetables and add it to the stuffing for added flavor as well as healthier eating. Use your food processor to finely chop dried fruit, coconut flakes or roasted chestnuts to add to the stuffing. Crumble cooked turkey or tofu sausage into the stuffing for protein. Swap out the bread for brown or wild rice. Use a heart healthy oil instead of butter. Use chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter.

4. Remake that green bean casserole: Instead of using canned soup, make your own sauce. Saute garlic, onions, mushrooms, and some finely chopped vegetables like carrots, peppers, zucchini and/or yellow squash in a little bit of olive oil, about two to three teaspoons. Add 2 to 4 tbsp of a flour of your choice, depending on how thick you want your sauce, (I like garbanzo bean flour) and stir. Add flavoring of your choice: thyme, oregano, basil, tarragon, chives, marjoram, etc…. Slowly add 2 cups of milk of your choice. Stir constantly and heat until it thickens.  Pour the sauce over partially cooked green beans and put into a casserole dish. Caramelize some onions by slowly cooking onions in a little bit of olive oil for 15 to 20 minutes until they thicken and become brown and sweet. Mix the caramelized onions with about 1/4 to 1/3 cup home made bread crumbs and top the green beans. (I make bread crumbs in my food processor with Udi’s gluten free millet chai bread.) Bake in the a 350 degree oven for until warm and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

5. Rethink that sweet potato/yam casserole: Instead of using heavy cream as the liquid, think about using chicken or vegetable broth or a nondairy fat free “milk”. You can even leave the liquid out entirely if you’ve cooked your sweet potatoes or yams soft enough. Instead of using butter for flavor,  ponder spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and a dollop of maple syrup. Or roast the sweet potatoes before mashing them, which will intensify their flavor. Instead of using a lot of large marshmallows and nuts, consider using a smaller amount of mini marshmallow and finely chopping a smaller quantity of nuts.

6. Get the sugar out of your cranberry sauce: Because cranberries are so tart, most recipes call for an awful lot of sugar. But making cranberry sauce without sugar is relatively easy. You can substitute agave or stevia or coconut sugar which would mean you could use half the amount of granulate white sugar. You can also use 100% fruit juices like pineapple or orange. You can also use unsweetened applesauce.

7. Consider soups: I personally like a nice soup at Thanksgiving. Butternut squash is my favorite. Recently I tried making it in a way a friend suggested, and I was very happy with the results. Roast chunks of peeled, fresh butternut squash with a couple of sliced apples until they’re soft. Take a hand blender and puree the squash and the apples. Add enough chicken or vegetable broth to make it the consistency you like. Add the herbs you like. I used thyme, onion powder and black pepper, but ginger and nutmeg would probably be great, too. Heat until the soup is warm. Simple, fat free, and delicious. And you could do this with anything. Roast some potatoes for a potato soup. Try carrots and parsnips. Let your imagination go wild.

8. Think outside the box: Create your own food tradition with side dishes that fit your dietary needs and which you like. As you’ve seen with my family, just about anything goes with turkey.

Korean Chop Chay

Ingredients:

Bean Thread Noodles

Assorted Thinly Sliced Vegetables (carrots, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, etc…)

Sesame Oil

Soy Sauce

Baby Spinach

Minced Garlic Ground Ginger

Black pepper

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Cooking Instructions:

1. Cook the bean thread noodles according to instruction. Rinse with cold water and let it drain in a colander. Use scissors to cut the noodles into shorter threads and put them into a large bowl. Mix the noodles with soy sauce to taste.

2. Saute the thinly sliced vegetables over medium heat in a little bit of sesame oil until the vegetables are softer and becoming a brighter color. Remove from the heat and mix in soy sauce to taste. Drain the vegetables of all liquid. Add to the bowl with the noodles.

3. Saute the spinach in sesame oil just until it begins to slightly wilt, just a couple of minutes. Add to the bowl with the noodles and other vegetables.

4. Mix the noodles, vegetables and spinach with ground ginger, minced garlic, black pepper and sesame seeds to taste.

5. If you’re not eating the chop chay immediately, refrigerate it until you need it. Then reheat on the stovetop in a pan until the noodles are nice and brown and everything is warm.

Handling Holidays: Cookies

website holiday cookies

Food Traditions.

My husband and I were only about a month into our marriage when we realized that growing up with a non-baking mother versus a baking one makes for very different expectations about the holidays.  For my husband, special holiday specific desserts were normal.  Cherry pie for Washington’s birthday and a Lincoln log for Lincoln’s. Coconut cake for Easter and a mint torte and cookies for Christmas.  And a variety of different pies for Thanksgiving! It quickly became clear that I had married over my head when it came to holiday treats!

Fortunately, we were able to reach a compromise:  I bake two of the four handed-down-from-the-Civil War-cookies and a mint torte for Christmas, only two pies for Thanksgiving – apple and pumpkin – and a coconut cake only when my husband’s parents’ are here for Easter.  The rest of the holidays fend for themselves!

Over the years, though, I’ve come to really appreciate the tradition of making holiday cookies with the children.  Never having done it myself as a child, I was surprised by the joy and eagerness with which my children looked forward to baking them every single year.  Our own new family traditions have evolved around the cookie making, and now Christmas wouldn’t seem like Christmas without them.

So you can imagine the pressure when I developed food allergies to flour and butter, the two key ingredients in our cookies, and had to also reduce my use of sugar due to hypoglycemic reactions.  Suddenly, the allergies weren’t just disrupting what I could eat, but they were affecting my family’s tradition and expectations for the holidays.

Fortunately, accommodating food restrictions and/or allergies is quite easily doable within the realm of cookies.  Below, I’ll share some learned experiences for making substitutions in any type of cookie, plus some tips specific to making holiday rolled, cut-out cookies.

Substituting Ingredients in Cookies:

1.  Swapping the white flour in the recipe for whole wheat or gluten free flour:  Match your flour to your cookie type.  100% whole wheat and heavier gluten free flours like garbanzo bean, coconut or almond are fine for heartier cookies like ginger, biscotti, and shortbread.

If, however,  you are making a lighter cookie like a spritz, linzer or snowballs, you should use white whole wheat or for a gluten free flour, rice flour or sorghum.

For both types, though, if you’re making them gluten free, a mixture of flours is better than simply using just one type. Authentic Food, Bob’s Red Mill, and King Arthur sell blended flour mixtures which you can easily substitute for regular flour. Just remember to add 1/4 tsp of xanthan gum per cup of gluten free flour if you’re using a mixture that doesn’t already include it.

2.  Swapping out the butter or shortening:  When it comes to the fat in a cookie, you need to consider the taste.  For cookies like sugar cookies, where keeping the buttery taste is important, you may want to use a vegan “butter”.

For a cookie that calls for melted butter, you can often substitute a heart healthy oil like safflower or grapeseed or Smart Balance without changing the taste.

Where the taste won’t conflict, like with an oatmeal cookie, coconut oil, which is actually a solid, not a liquid as the name implies, is a good substitute.

With all cookies, if you’re simply trying to cut down on the fat, you can also simply reduce the amount of butter up to half without usually affecting the cookie’s taste and quality.

3.  Swapping out refined sugars:  You can always use Agave, Stevia, or Coconut sugar in place of sugar in any cookie recipe.  For every cup of sugar use about half of any of these substitutes.  If you use the Agave and it’s simply a couple of tablespoons to 1/4 cup, don’t worry about it being a liquid.  If you’re using a cup or more, though, decrease any other liquid by at least 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup or increase a flour ingredient by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

For molasses, you can use date molasses in the equivalent amount.

4.  Swapping out milk products (milk, yogurt, cream cheese, etc….):  If you simply want to have a lower fat cookie,  use low fat, reduced sodium varieties of any milk product.

For food allergies, use soy, coconut, almond, and rice varieties of “milk” in equivalent amounts.

You can also simply use water or a 100% fruit juice in place of milk.

If a bar cookie recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk, make your own dairy free sweetened condensed milk.  This recipe only works for bar cookies that are going to be baked:  Beat 2 eggs until thick.  Add 1 cup brown sugar and mix well.  Add 1 tsp vanilla and mix well.  Add 2 tbsp of a flour and beat for one minute.  Add 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt. Beat for another minute.  Set aside until you need to add it to your recipe. This is equivalent to one 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk.

Vanilla soy milk is a good substitute for evaporated milk.

5.  Substituting for eggs:  If you simply want to cut your cholesterol, using egg whites in place of whole eggs works well in cookie recipes.  Just use two egg whites for every whole egg or 1/4 cup liquid egg whites.

To substitute for the eggs completely, mix 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal with 3 tbsp water for every egg needed in the recipe.  Simply mix up the meal with the water and let it sit for at least five minutes to thicken to an egglike consistency.

You can also use pureed fruit or vegetables as a binder in place of eggs. Use 1/4 cup for every egg needed in the cookie recipe.  Cooked and pureed apples, figs, pumpkin, squash, prunes all work really well in cookie recipes.

6.  Replacing nuts and peanuts:  If you’re making a cookie which usually uses peanut butter and you’re not allergic to tree nuts, there are a variety of nut butters you can use instead.

If you are allergic to tree nuts as well, there are soy butters and sunflower butters.

If you’re making a recipe that usually calls for nuts in the batter as a filler, just replace the nuts with chocolate chips or chopped dried apricots or cranberries or dates.

If you’re making a cookie that uses peanuts or nuts to give the cookie a certain “nutty” texture, using rolled whole oats will give the cookie a similar texture.  You can also use a gluten free flour mix that uses garbanzo bean flour, because the “beany” taste is similar to a “peanutty” taste.

Tips for Making Rolled, Cut-out Cookies

1.  Use wax paper to roll out the dough.  Simply cut a sheet that overlaps around a large cutting board or piece of cardboard and tape it down.  Then when you sprinkle your flour over the wax paper, your dough won’t stick to the board.

2.  Use sifter to put flour onto your cutting board and rolling pin.  If you sprinkle it on with your fingers, you’re more likely to clump the flour in places which then get stuck to your cookie dough.

3.  Use a long, thin metal spatula to periodically release your dough from the board while you’re rolling it, and before you use your cookie cutters, be sure to go completely under the entire rolled out piece of dough so that your cookies won’t stick to the board when you’re cutting the shapes.

4.  Invest in some smaller cookie shapes which you can use to cut little cookies from the dough left after you cut out the big cookie shapes.  This cuts down on the amount of dough you need to re-roll.  Put one cookie sheet aside specifically for the little cookies, which you fill up as you go along and then bake at the end.

5.  Make sure your dough for rolling is very cold and firm.  Most recipes will tell you to chill for an hour, but in reality you’re better off planning ahead and chilling your dough for several hours or overnight.  When you’re making the cookies, be sure to put the dough back into the fridge in between scooping out new dough to roll.

6.  Put all your re-roll dough into a small bowl which you then put into the freezer while you’re finishing up the regular dough.  This will make the dough firm enough for you to re-roll immediately as opposed to having to wait for it to firm back up again.

7.  Make your own colored sugars.  Put 1/4 cup of sugar into a bowl and add two to four drops of food coloring.  Carefully work the color into the sugar, using the back of a spoon to continualy “spread” the color completely into the sugar.  You can store extra, leftover sugar in a sandwich baggie for a very long time!

8.  Use parchment paper to line your cookie sheets.  Your cookies will never stick. You won’t have to clean the cookie sheets.  And you won’t have to worry about cross-contamination of your cookies.  I usually use the If You Care brand.  The parchment sheets can also be re-used over and over again on one cookie sheet.

9.  Be sure to completely cool your cookie sheets before putting new cookie dough shapes onto them.  I usually pop my cookie sheets into the freezer for a minute or two after removing the cookies.  Works like a charm.

10.  Invest in metal cookie cutters which you can use year after year. When you’re cutting out the shapes, put a pan of flour in the center which you can dip the cutters into so the cutters won’t stick to your dough.

11.  When you’re done with your cookie cutters, fill the sink with hot, soapy water and just let them sit for a while.  You’ll be able to simply rinse them off without having to try to “clean” the crevices.  Then pop them (as long as they’re metal) onto one of your cookie sheets and place the cookie sheet in the oven which is turned off and cooling down.  The residual heat will evaporate all the water, and your cutters will be sterilized and ready for next year’s use.

Gluten and Dairy Free Holiday Cut-out Ginger Cookies

These make a lot of cookies, so you may want to cut it in thirds.

Ingredients:

2 cups melted coconut oil (You can use regular butter, vegan butter, or a heart healthy oil if you prefer)

2 cups date molasses (You can use regular molasses if you prefer)

1 cup coconut sugar (You can use regular white or brown sugar or Stevia or Agave instead)

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp baking soda

4 tsp vanilla soy milk (You can use another type of milk like rice or coconut or use sweetened condensed milk instead)

6 to 8 cups Gluten Free Flour Blend or sorghum flour (You can use any gluten free blend you prefer, or the straight sorghum, or 100% whole wheat flour — you’ll need just enough flour to make a soft dough)

Baking Instructions:  (The dough needs to chill overnight so make the dough up  the night before you want to bake the cookies.)

1.  Mix the coconut oil with the date molasses, coconut sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, baking soda, and milk.

2.  Add in the gluten free flour, a cup at a time, only as much as you need to make a soft dough.  Blend well.

3.  Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight, or at least for several hours.

4.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

5.  Line a board with wax paper.  Sprinkle the board and a rolling pin with flour of your choice, and roll out small amounts of dough to a very thin thickness – thin enough to make a crispy cookie but not so thin that you can’t actually move the cut out dough to the cookie sheet.

6.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place on the prepared cookie sheets.  The cookies will not spread a lot so you can put them fairly close together.

7.  Decorate the cookies with colored sugar and/or currants. (You can also just bake the cookies and then decorate them with icing when they’re cooled.)

8.  Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes.  Start with 8 minutes and then go up by 1 minute increments.  The cookies should be browned but not burnt and slightly puffed.

9.  Move the cookies to a wire cooling rack and cool them completely. Once cooled, they’ll be nice and crispy ginger cookies.  If you eat them while they’re warm, they’ll be chewier.

10.  When the cookie are completely cooled, store them in a tightly covered container.  They’ll last for a few weeks, though after a couple of weeks, they’ll get a bit softer.

Handling Holidays: Strategies for Surviving Food Stress

website holidays

The Holidays.

In our home, the holidays can sometimes have a lot in common with schizophrenia. With two of our three children on the autism spectrum, there’s a disconnect between the fantasy of holiday love and cheer and the reality of life with it’s unexpected and unanticipated twists and turns.

When life’s reality prevents us from doing the “tradition” which must always be done every single year, our autistic children, like the schizophrenic, will declare that everyone and everything is against them.  Then, like the schizophrenic, they’re incapable of managing their emotions and relating to the real world, so they withdraw,

As a result, holidays aren’t always fun in our home.  The stress and pressure for everything to be “perfect” is that much more, and the effort it takes to help our children learn how to live in reality and be more flexible can drain all my husband’s and my energy and reserves.

So, imagine adding to this the fact that you also can’t eat any of the lovely traditional dishes that the majority of your family and friends will be serving for holiday dinner.  Suddenly you’re not only concerned with keeping your family life constant, but you’re depressed because you know you’ll only be eating turkey at Thanksgiving because you’re going to be served green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie at Thanksgiving when you can’t have wheat, dairy, nuts or sugar. (True experience one year!)

For those of us who need to watch what we eat, whether for dietary or allergy reasons, there are ways to still enjoy the holidays, but it takes some initiative on our parts.

1.  You can host:  If you invite folks to your place, you can simply incorporate what other family members want to bring into a menu of your own choosing. Then you’ll have a combination of the foods you make which you can eat and the traditional dishes the rest of the family still like to enjoy.

2.  You can contribute:  If you know there are certain dishes which everyone wants like a green bean casserole, you can offer to bring a revamped version so you can enjoy it as well as the others.  If folks are nervous about you messing up their favorite dish, you can offer to bring a similar dish so folks can have a little bit of both.

3.   You can  inquire:  If a family member or friend is hosting, ask them how they are going to cook a particular dish and whether they might be able to do it a tad bit differently this year.  Can they roast the butternut squash with olive oil instead of butter?  Would they be willing to purchase a dairy free “ice cream” for that apple pie?

4.  You can teach:  What I’ve encountered most is that folks are very willing to help me be able to eat at a holiday dinner, but they simply don’t know how to go about doing it.  So, I’ve learned to answer their questions with particular tips. If they want to replace ricotta cheese in a recipe, I tell them how to use silken tofu.  If they think that making a gluten free apple pie might be too difficult for them, I suggest a gluten free apple crisp.  If they don’t know where to purchase a certain type of flour, I tell them.  If you’re prepared to provide the necessary information, people are usually happy to accommodate your needs.

5.  You can learn:  The other situation I’ve experienced is that many folks with newly acquired dietary restrictions or food allergies don’t know for themselves how to revamp traditional holidays dishes which accommodates their needs and which the non-food issue people will actually like.  In these cases, you can learn how to cook to meet the needs.  In the posts following this, I will focus on certain traditional holiday foods to show folks how to create healthier, allergen friendly versions.

With the colder weather setting in, we’ve been enjoying hearty soups more, so below is one of my daughters’ favorite crockpot soup.

Crockpot Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

2 lbs of dried split peas (I buy two 16 oz bags)

1 red pepper

1 zucchini

1 squash

12 oz bag of broccoli slaw*

1/2 cup chopped onions (I just use frozen chopped onions)

16 oz diced ham pieces**

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

12 cups fat free reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth

2 bay leaves

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Put the split peas into a large bowl and fill the bowl with water, enough to cover the split peas.  Running your fingers over and around the split peas to loosen any white coverings still on the split peas.  (They’ll float to the top of the water, making it easy for you to pick them out.)  Drain the peas and sort through to pick out any stones that might be residing within the group of split peas.  Put the picked over split peas into a 6 quart slow cooker/crockpot.

2.  Using a food processor, chop up the red pepper, zucchini, squash, and broccoli slaw into tiny pieces and add them to the split peas.

3.  Add the onions, ham pieces, garlic, black pepper and thyme.  Mix well.

4.  Pour in the broth and stir carefully.  Your Crockpot will be filled almost to the top.

5.  Stick the two bay leaves into the center of the soup, and cook on high for 8 hours.  (Note:  During the cooking, the spices will rise to the top.  Some time during the 8 hours, after the halfway mark, stir the soup and recover to resume cooking.)

6.  When you’re ready to serve, remove the bay leaves and stir the soup well, smashing the peas a bit with your spoon.  (Note:  My children love to put some reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese into this soup.) 

*  If you can’t find the broccoli slaw, simply chop up a carrot or two and half a cup of broccoli.

** My grocery store sells packaged really finely diced ham pieces.  If you can’t find something similar, simply use some leftover turkey ham from a previous meal, just make sure to dice it into small pieces so the flavor will incorporate into the soup.  If you’re vegan, you can simply omit the meat altogether.  To get a similar flavor, though, when you serve the split pea soup, put a spoonful of diced, cooked, smoked tofu or veggie burger into the bowl of soup.

Food Allergies and Store Bought Products

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“It’s not fair.”

My son is at that age – you know the one – where everything is “unfair”.  If he doesn’t get what he wants, “It’s unfair.”  If things don’t go as planned, “It’s unfair.” If his older sisters get to do something he’s too young to do, “It’s unfair.”  If people around him have something he doesn’t, “It’s unfair.”

And unfortunately for him, “it’s unfair” that he doesn’t have very sympathetic parents or older sisters.

“Sorry, life’s not always fair, kiddo,” is what he gets from his father.

“Life’s not fair; get used to it,” is what his oldest sister says.

“I learned life isn’t fair; you need to learn it, too,” is what his other sister tells him.

And from his mother, the poor child gets, “Where in the world did you ever get the notion that life is supposed to be fair?  No matter what they tell you in school, life is not about fairness.  It’d be nice if it was, but it’s not.  So, get over it.”

Ideally, we’d live in a world that is “fair”, meaning that all the rules would be consistent without any universal partialities and obstacles to life.  It’s not the case, however, and quite frankly, I think “it’s unfair” that there are people like myself who are allergic to so many foods that it prevents us from being able to enjoy eating whatever we want when we want.

Just because it is unfair, though, doesn’t mean we have no options.  The question I get most frequently from folks is “What is out there for me to eat in terms of store bought items?”And the answer is “plenty”.

Just to name a few:

1.  Gluten Free Breads:  Udi’s, Kinnikinnick, Whole Foods, Rudi’s, Food for Life, EnerG, and Glutino all make breads which are you can choose from.  Try different brands.  Try different varieties of bread from the same company.  You may find that you like a variety of the brands.  You may find you only like one type of bread from one company.  You will, however, find something that you do like.  I can tell you that if you’re looking for a bread that tastes like a “regular” bread, that Rudi’s multigrain bread is one that even my children will eat.

2.  Dairy Free Yogurts:  Trader Joe’s, Silk, and So Delicious are actual dairy free yogurts that I’ve tried.  You have to be careful, because even yogurts that are “soy” still might have dairy in them, so for example, O’Soy yogurts are not dairy free, though they are “mostly” free of dairy.  But there are others besides the three above like Whole Soy and Co, Wildwood, Ricera, and Amande.  If you used to be a “regular” yogurt eater, you may have to try a bunch to find one that has the consistency and taste you like.  I prefer the So Delicious brands myself.

3.  Almost everything free Chocolate:  Enjoy Life, Chocolate Gelt, Premium Chocolatiers, Amanda’s Own Confections, Divvies, and Sweet Williams are just a few companies that make chocolates which are dairy free, nut free, egg free, soy free, gluten free, and peanut free for those of us who have too many allergies to count.  I’m eternally grateful to all these companies!  I do tend to buy the Enjoy Life products, though, because their products are readily available in most grocery stores these days for reasonable prices (as compared to other brands like them, not as compared to “regular” chocolate).

4.  Store bought Cookies:  Lucy’s, Pamela’s, Kinnikinnick, Enjoy Life, Schars, Barbara’s, and Home Free are some companies that make “everything free” cookies.  I really like the Home Free double chocolate cookies and Pamela’s ginger cookies.  I tend to prefer a crisper cookie, though.  If you prefer a soft cookie, Enjoy Life makes those, but I personally find them rather pasty.  Mi-Del, Glutino, and Tate’s makes gluten free cookies which aren’t necessarily dairy, egg, or nut free.

5.  Dairy Free Gluten Free Pizza:  Amy’s Kitchen and Bold Organics makes dairy free and gluten free pizzas.  Tofutti’s makes a vegan pizza.  My favorite is Amy’s Kitchen rice crust dairy free pizza.  It tastes almost like “real” frozen pizza.

6.  Dairy Free “Milk” Products:  Earth Balance, Shedd’s, Olivio, Nutive, and Silk all make dairy free “butters”, “milks” and creamers whether it’s using soybeans, almonds, coconut, rice or other ingredients.  Daiya, Go Veggie, Toffuti, and Follow Your Heart make cheese which is actually dairy free.  You have to be careful, because as with the yogurts, a lot of the “shreds” do have casein in them even though they may not have “milk” in them.  So be sure to read labels if you find a brand that’s not one of the above.

7.  Non-dairy frozen desserts:  Rice Dreams, Luna and Larry’s, So Delicious, Tofutti, Double Rainbow, Almond Dream, and Purely Decadent all make “ice creams” which are dairy and/or gluten free and/or soy free.  Tofutti also makes “ice cream” sandwiches and other novelty desserts.  What’s great these days is that I can find most of these brands at grocery stores in our area!     

8.  Store bought canned/processed foods:  If you have food allergies, you’re a label reader. You have to be because your life is at stake.  If you go to http://www.eatallergyfree.com/index.html?c=Main.GetPreparedFoods though you can find a list of soups, snacks, crackers, cookies, etc… with specific notes about certain “regular” store bought foods which tend to be gluten, dairy, nut, egg, shellfish, etc… free.  While you don’t want to give up reading labels for yourself, it’s helpful to know where you can begin your search, though, for foods you can most likely eat from the store.

9. Cereals:  If you like a nice bowl of cereal in the morning that’s a brand you know, General Mills makes a gluten free Chex, Kellogg’s makes Rice Crispies, and Post makes Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles.  If you don’t mind trying other brands, Enjoy Life, Nature’s Path, Arrowhead Mills, Kashi, and Glutino all have some gluten free cereals.

Dairy Free Gluten Free Soy Free Brownies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Gluten Free flour mix

1/3 cup Hershey’s special dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp gluten free baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy Free “butter” or coconut oil, melted and cooled

1/2 cup Agave or 1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp gluten free vanilla

2 eggs or 2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tbsp water

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 7 x 11 pan with If You Care parchment paper.  (You can use an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9, too.  Just remember that it will affect the thickness and therefore, maybe your baking time.)

2.  Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt well with a whisk until there are no clumps of the gluten free flour.

3.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Set aside.

4.  Mix the butter or coconut oil, agave or coconut sugar, vanilla, and eggs or flaxseed mixture. until well blended.

5.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet and combine until they are well mixed.

6.  Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  The brownies will be pulling away from the sides and mostly firm to the touch.

Cross Contamination: Preventing It

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“Don’t kiss a boy with your mouth open.  Boys have germs.”

It was the summer before I was slated to begin my first year at college when my mother decided to have “the talk” with me.   What I was expecting, I really don’t know, but the statements above were not it.

I wisely refrained from telling my mother that I had already violated her late-coming mandate, and only later, with my friends, did I laugh about the “cooties” theory of relationships.  I knew my mother meant well, and having been raised in an entirely different time and culture, she had no way of knowing that my modern American teenage life was unlike her Korean childhood.

Contamination concerns

I realized, as well, that my mother simply wanted to protect me as I left home to begin my “independent” life.  She cared, and I was glad she did.

In the same way, people tend to care about and be protective of family members who have food allergies.  They worry about possible cross-contamination, and since cross-contamination can be a matter of life or death for some folks, it’s definitely worthy of thought and concern. The two concerns most people have are that they might accidentally contaminate food being served or that they think it’s difficult to prevent such a thing from occurring.

Some Tips

My personal tips, though, are:

1.  Don’t stress! Avoiding cross contamination is not difficult.  You just need to be pro-active.

2.  If the allergies in the family are severe, keeping two separate sets of cooking utensils and pots or pans is one way method to use.  Have different styles and colors of each so you can easily identify which ones you use for regular cooking and which ones you use for the allergy cooking.   So, for example when I make eggs for the rest of the family using a little bit of butter (which they prefer), I have a larger egg pan which I use to make their eggs.  On the burner next to theirs I use a smaller pan to make my egg which I usually cook with olive oil.

3.  Another thing you can do either in conjunction with or instead of having two separate utensils and pans for everything is simply to wash things in hot water and soap in between the uses. Whenever I’m cooking for someone with a peanut allergy which happens to be one of the few food allergies no one in our family currently has, I first wash everything I’m going to use for baking or cooking in hot, soapy water and dry them with a clean fresh towel even before I begin cooking. Numerous studies have shown that any contaminating residue from what you’ve cooked before is definitely washed away with a good scrubbing in hot, soapy water.

4. A third method you can utilize is to invest in parchment paper which I use all the time. It’s great because you can line your cookie sheet or insert it in your tube pan or put it on your casserole dish for any cooking or baking and then simply remove it, which keeps the food from contaminating your pans.  During the holidays when I have to bake all sorts of different items — gluten free, egg free, sugar free, nut free, etc… — along with traditional baked goods, the parchment paper comes in very handy as I simply remove and reline with each different goodie I’m baking.

Chocolate Chip Bars

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour or 2 cups Authentic Foods gluten free blend

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup soy free Earth Balance “butter”

3/4 cup Agave

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line a 11 x 17 x 1 inch cookie sheet with parchment paper slightly larger than the pan, so the ends hang off.

3.  Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together.  Set aside.

4.  In a mixer, cream the butter until smooth.

5.  Slowly pour the Agave into the butter with the mixer mixing on low speed until the Agave is completely incorporated into the butter.

6.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each addition.

7.  Add the vanilla.

8.  Slowly add the flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing on low until all the flour is incorporated.

9.  Add the chocolate chips.

10.  Carefully spread the batter into the pan, using a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is evenly spread throughout the entire pan.

11.  Bake for about 20 minutes until the batter is golden and puffed.

12.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  (This stores well by simply covering it tightly with plastic wrap or foil.)

Making the Changes

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Look how far I’ve come with my split, Mommy!”

My middle daughter is a dancer. Not only does she look exactly like a dancer with her natural rail thin length and long, muscular legs and arms, she walks and moves with the grace of a dancer, too. In addition, she acts like a dancer, always thinking in terms of music and dance moves. Since she also likes children as well, it’s no wonder that she wants to be a dance teacher when she grows up.

As such, at almost 13, she’s already begun taking the steps she deems necessary to accomplishing her career goal. She’s taking a variety of dance classes so she can be accomplished in different types of dance. She’s working on her splits and stretches so she can be as flexible as she needs to be to dance, and she’s making plans to be a student aide in the preschool dance classes when she begins her first year of high school.

Step by step, little by little, with achievable goals, my daughter is doing what she needs to follow the course she’s set out for herself.

Adapting to Dietary Changes

Learning how to cook, bake and eat healthier and/or within the confines of dietary restrictions or allergies is just as achievable in the same way through many little changes in habit along the way which lead ultimately to a different eating and cooking lifestyle.

Sometimes a health issue leads to a radical change in diet – a heart attack, a diagnosis of diabetes, a severe allergic reaction to a type of food – which can be a source of frustration, especially if you’ve been eating a certain way for a large part of your life. The instinct is to simply change everything all at once, which can just set you up for disaster.

What’s key to remember is that changing your eating and cooking habits should be viewed as another lesson you’re learning in life. Being able to balance and ride your first bicycle as a child didn’t happen overnight. Neither did you jump into a lake and swim its length your first time out. So, if you’re learning to eat gluten free or with less meat and fat in your diet or without sugar and you’re finding yourself struggling with the recipes, the tips, and desire, cut yourself some slack.

Tips for Changing Your Diet

Some tips to help you on your journey:

1. Make one change at a time. Maybe it’s swapping out olive oil for butter this week and waiting until next week to make a turkey burger instead of hamburger with the goal that by the end of the month you’ll try a salmon burger. Or maybe you’ll try one new gluten free recipe every week or two, learning this week how to make pancakes you can actually eat but waiting until you’ve made those successfully a couple of times before you try to revamp your favorite birthday cake recipe.

2. Seek help. There are so many online blogs and websites, paper cookbooks, and cooking shows these days to turn to for aid for just about every type of cooking that exists. Use them to learn tips and to find tested recipes. Ask a friend who’s a few steps ahead of you what he or she has gleaned from his or her culinary experience. There’s nothing that says you need to go the road alone. Maybe you’ll even find a friend or family member who wants to practice revamping recipes with you or is willing to be your guinea pig for taste testing.

3. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. Unfortunately, there’s a myth out there that you need to just deal sometimes when it comes to eating food that is healthier for you or which fits into your allergy or dietary restrictions. It’s simply not true. If the texture or taste of the first gluten free brownies you try to make doesn’t appeal to you, don’t settle. Find another recipe to try. If you don’t really like the taste of olive oil in a recipe that calls for butter, try another healthy oil. If really and truly hate ground turkey, don’t use it. If you don’t like the foods you’re eating, you’ll never stick to eating healthier or within your dietary restrictions. Or you’ll force yourself to bear it, but you’ll be sad, craving the foods you’re really rather be eating. Neither is best, so make sure you actually like what you eat.

4. Practice, practice, practice. We all have those memories of failing at something and being riled when someone told us, “If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again,” but honestly, everything in life takes practices. Not just school lessons, sports and musical instruments, but relationships, exercise and cooking, as well. When my son was first diagnosed with an egg allergy, it took months for me to perfect a chocolate cake that the entire family liked. The practice batches weren’t bad. They just weren’t to the standard we wanted in terms of texture and taste. Now, though, I have a recipe that I go back to time and time again and which we all enjoy.

5. Start slowly. Unless you have a food allergy, you can begin a healthy diet by halves and work your way up, so to speak. If your goal is to eat 100% whole grains instead of white flour, but you’re unsure of the taste and texture appeal, try swamping out just half of the white flour in a recipe. If you aren’t quite ready to completely get rid of butter, don’t. Just limit yourself to a certain amount a week on something where the taste really matters to you while you swap it out in everything else. If you don’t think you can go from whole milk to skim, drink 2% for a few weeks, before drinking 1% for another few weeks until you’re drinking the skim and wondering why you were ever concerned in the first place about making the switch.

And if you do have a food allergy, you can still start slowly.  If you’re suddenly allergic to milk, just try one type of a different “milk” this week and wait to try vegan cheeses.  Though we often want to find substitutes for all our usual eating patterns, there’s no need to “fill” every niche of your diet in a short span of time.   It may take months for you to discover which substitute products for milk or wheat or egg or whatever that you like the best.

6. Be willing to experiment. If you come across a recipe or an idea that you think sounds interesting, but you’re unsure, just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t really like what you tried or made? Big deal. Now you know that there’s something you won’t do again. That’s a good learned lesson. More likely, you’ll discover something that you really do like and want to try to make or eat again. Or you may be inspired to figure out how to make the recipe better or to try the item again, just made by another company.

Fruit Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen strawberries (or peaches or blueberries or mixed berries or mangos or bananas, whatever you like)

4 ounce silken tofu (this is 1/2 cup)

1/2 to 1 cup soy milk, depending on how thick you like your smoothie (you can also use another type of “milk” you’d prefer or a 100% juice of your choice)

2 tablespoons Agave

Preparation Instructions:

1. Blend all ingredients using whatever method you prefer or have:  blender, hand blender, food processor, etc….

2.  Scoop into individual cups and enjoy!

NOTE:  You can also add yogurt to this if you’d like, 4 0unces of a dairy or nondairy type.

“Whole” hearted: Substituting for White Flour

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No one volunteers to have a chest x-ray, an EKG, a stress test AND an echocardiogram, all at the same time!

I certainly hadn’t.  As a young woman in her thirties (at the time), chest pains were the last thing I expected to be experiencing.  Yet, I was – intermittent pain over a period of a few months.  They weren’t regular or consistent enough for me to give much heed to them at first.  After a while, however, I realized that, though they were few and far between, the pains occurred whenever I became stressed or angry.  Still, however, I rationalized the pains away.

Then came that fateful day when I became angry during a spat with my oldest teen-aged daughter.  (Can anyone relate?)  Not only was my blood boiling figuratively, but it was literally wildly pumping through my veins and into my heart chamber, so much so that the pains in my chest became unbearable, and hence the x-ray, EKG, stress test, and echocardiogram.

I’m happy to report that, no, I didn’t have a heart attack, but I did learn that I have a minor congenital heart defect which over time can cause some issues.  The prognosis was that I would be fine, but the advice I was given was to slow down, stress less, and think more about my heart.

So, I did what I usually do in these situations:  First I prayed.  Then I read.  As I read, I learned that I was already doing what I needed in the way of food – mostly eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and fish with everything else in moderation.   What I was surprised to discover was all the new research about gluten and the many people who have issues with wheat and other such products.

What flour and gluten does

Folks don’t normally give flour and gluten much thought, but in reality flour and gluten are an important, dynamic part of our baking and cooking.  In baked goods, flour – and essentially the gluten in flour – is what actually provides the “framework” for the cake, cookie, or bread.  It absorbs the moisture and provides the protein strands necessary to give our baked goods a proper structure and a proper consistency.  So, when you replace gluten flours with gluten free ones, your baked good loses its ability to properly regulate its moisture content and its rising capacity, which is why many gluten free breads are denser and heavier than wheat breads.

You can substitute whole grains for white

For most people, flour and gluten is not actually an issue.  What is at stake is eating the right type of flour, which essentially means ditching the white, all-purpose flour and switching to a100% whole grain flour which has the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals lacking in its white, all purpose counterpart.  Many people are hesitant to make the switch, though, because they think their food won’t taste as good.

The trick to remember is this:  For baked goods, always lightly spoon your flour into your dry measuring cup and level it off without packing the flour down.  If you do this, you can substitute your whole grain flour in a one to one ratio without fearing for the density of your favorite dessert.  For your cooking, simply use less of the whole grain flour for that roux you’re making or those potato pancakes you’re forming.  A rule of thumb is to measure out one cup of whole wheat flour and then take out one tablespoon. This will be closer to what you’d use with white flour. Because the whole grain flour is slightly denser, you can use less to get the same consistency.  And for those of you who still are reluctant to attempt a change, you can compromise with the white whole wheat flours which have begun to flood the market.  It’s a white wheat instead of the red wheat and is closer in consistency to the white , all purpose flour, while still retaining many of the same benefits of the red, hard wheat.

If you need to omit gluten altogether

For folks who do need to refrain from eating gluten, though, you can still have your just desserts, as well.  It used to be that you needed to buy an umpteen number of different flours and starches, as well as xanthan gum, to make up your own flour mix in a specific ratio.  Today, however, we are blessed with an abundance of companies just dying to take our money in exchange for saving us time and reducing our stress.  You can get some of these gluten free flour blends at the grocery store… Hannafords, Shaws, Market Basket, Stop and Shop, Price Chopper, Wegmans…. At the grocery stores, Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Pillsbury blends are the ones you’re more likely to find. You can also go online. Some brands you’ll find online are Authentic Foods, Cup4Cup, Better Batter, Jules, Namastes…. For folks looking for a one to one substitute, there aren’t too many options when it comes to baking. For other types of cooking, you can substitute any high protein/high fiber flour because the flour is usually just for coating or thickening. For baking, sorghum flour can be used in a one to one ration in some baked goods but sorghum flour absorbs more liquid so be sure to increase your liquids by 1/4 cup or so. Some folks like to use spelt flour, but spelt is only a substitute for folks who can’t eat wheat. For folks who have gluten issues, spelt has gluten. If you do use spelt, it tends to usually need just a bit less liquid than regular wheat.

How to use the gluten free mixes

The benefits of the flour blends are that everything is mixed in the proper ratio for you already, and you can easily substitute them into your favorite recipes.  Read the information on the packaging carefully because some are one to one replacements and others are not. Always remember to whisk the flour in a bowl after measuring, though, before you add the other ingredients.  This helps to lessen the density of the flour by breaking it up and incorporating some air into the flour.

If you want to make your own gluten free mix

Every day, however, there are new flour mixes coming on the market, so folks should experiment and see what you prefer.  If you decide you do want to make your own mix, however, there are sites such as http://www.allergicliving.com/gfblend where you can find some great “recipes” for flour blends. As a general rule to make a gluten free flour blend requires mixing a couple of types of gluten free flours with a couple of types of starches to get the same consistency of wheat flours. Some combinations I make are below.

All Purpose Recipe (Makes 4 1/2 cups):

1 1/4 cup brown rice flour or sorghum flour

1 1/4 cup millet flour or gluten free oat flour

1 cup sweet rice flour or potato flour

1 cup tapioca starch or potato starch

2 tsp xanthan gum

Pie Crust Recipe (Makes 3 cups):

1 cup brown rice flour or sorghum flour

3/4 cup garbanzo bean or fava bean or chickpea flour

3/4 cup potato starch or cornstarch or arrowroot starch

1/2 cup 1/2 cup tapioca starch

High Fiber and Protein Recipe (Makes 3 cups):

1 cup brown rice or sorghum flour

1/2 cup gluten free oat flour

1/2 cup millet flour

2/3 cup tapioca or arrowroot starch

1/3 cup potato starch or cornstarch

 

 

Paula’s Gluten Free Pumpkin Pancakes

Ingredients:

2 cups “milk” (use what you prefer; I like to use flax milk or oat or soy milk)

2 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsp melted Earth Balance “butter” (or whatever type you prefer)

2 tsp oil (use a plant-based oil you prefer; I like safflower or avocado oil)

2 cups your favorite whole grain Gluten Free Flour Blend*

1 cup ground flaxseed

2 tsp gluten free baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup pureed cooked pumpkin

2 tbsp Agave

1 egg or 1/4 cup egg whites or 1 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp water

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Preheat your griddle or pancake pan on the stove,  preparing either as necessary.

2.  Mix the lemon juice into the soy milk and let it sit for at least five minutes.

3.  Mix the melted “butter” with the oil, and set aside.

4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, allspice, cloves, and salt.  Set aside.

5.  Mix the pumpkin with the Agave and egg or egg whites or flaxseed mixture.  Add the milk and lemon mixture, along with the cooled “butter” mixture.

6.  Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet, blending just until the dry ingredients are moist.  Let the batter sit for a few minutes.  (I like a thick batter for pancakes, but if it is too thick for you, add some more milk, one tbsp at a time until it’s the consistency you’d rather it was.)

7.  When your griddle or pan is ready, drop 1/4 cup-fulls of batter onto the griddle and cook until the edges are getting a bit dry and little bubbles pop in the center of the pancake batter.  Flip and let the pancakes finish cooking for a minute or two on the second side.

* If you don’t need to be gluten free, you can always make these with 100% whole wheat flour instead.  They’re good either way!  If you use whole wheat flour, though, omit the flaxseed unless you like really, really thick pancakes.