Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Coffee Cake
by Gluten Free Pantry

After several very rough weeks of morning sickness that have mostly kept me out of the kitchen (and away from pungent aromas of any kind!) I am thrilled to at last feel well enough to re-enter my culinary sphere and begin cooking and blogging again. I received a few fantastic cookbooks for Christmas that I can’t wait to begin experimenting with and adapting for a gluten free lifestyle!

Yesterday evening we attended an absolutely lovely holiday wedding, complete with scarlet bridesmaid gowns, soft white flowers and candles everywhere. For dessert, the guests dined upon what looked to be outrageously delicious red velvet cupcakes... and I thought to my pregnant self, "How I wish I was feasting on a velvety gluten free cupcake!" When we arrived back at home, I scanned our pantry shelves for any tasty and gluten free dessert that could be whipped up with ease and relative speed in order to sate my raging sweet tooth.

Imagine my joy to discover this lovely pre-packaged recipe for a light, crumbly gluten free coffee cake! Gluten Free Pantry makes elegant and affordable dessert mixes that can always be guaranteed to brighten any brunch or dessert, and having loved their blueberry muffins in the past, I felt quite excited to put together the coffee cake as bedtime treat!

Once baked the cake itself was everything one could hope for – sweet, delicious and not heavy at all. For personal reasons I would have loved a Z-sweetened coffee cake, since my body doesn’t love "real sugar" too well. However my husband, a passionate sugar appreciator, has now sampled the cake too and pronounced it fantastic.

While I greatly look forward to creating original tasty and gluten free recipes for my readers over the coming months, I am so happy to share with you great acclaim for this simple to prepare and very satisfying coffee cake.

Coffee Cake by Gluten Free Pantry

What You’ll Need:

Yogurt or Buttermilk
Gluten Free Vanilla
Gluten Free Pantry Coffee Cake Mix

8 inch Spring Form pan

How It Works:

Purchase this wonderful and affordable mix, preheat your oven and you’re on your way! You can put together the entire thing according to the directions on the box in less than ten minutes and enjoy a slice of your warm and crumbly gluten free coffee cake in just an hour! Hurray!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake
"Factory Style"

This wonderful dessert could be called Happy Baby Cheesecake as I first experienced the recipe at a warm and loving baby shower for one of my dear friends. The hostess had kindly worked with her family to create a gluten free version of the same wonderful cheesecake she shared with the other guests, and everyone agreed that the gluten free version was just as tasty as the "regular" one. I felt both honored and overjoyed to be able to celebrate her new baby with this cheesecake.

I have adapted the recipe to my own tastes – e.g. my favorite brand of gluten free cookies (MI-DEL) and Z-sweet instead of regular sugar. I also found that the gluten free crust required more crumbs and butter to create than had the original crust. Ali’s recipe reportedly comes from The Cheesecake Factory, so full credit should be given there for the filling.

Thanks to my extreme (all day) "morning" sickness over the past few weeks, it’s been pretty tough to spend time in the kitchen... sadly for me, since the kitchen is typically my favorite place! The smell and even the thought of food – even delicious gluten free food – hasn’t been kind to me. Even so, it was a total joy to bake this gorgeous cheesecake for our Thanksgiving feast – and to share it with all those people I love the most. I hope your family and friends will enjoy it too! Happy Holidays!

Ali’s Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake, "Factory" Style

What You’ll Need:

2 cups gluten free cookie crumbs
6 – 8 T melted butter

1 cup canned pumpkin
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups plus 1 T Z-Sweet
3 eight oz pkgs of softened cream cheese
1 t vanilla
½ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t allspice

Whipping Cream

How It Works:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

While the oven is warming, work on putting together your crust. Crush enough gluten free cookies (your favorite kind) to create two cups of cookie crumbs. At our house, we use a mortar and pestle for this process but you can also use a food processor or Cuisinart to blend the cookies into small, even crumbs. Next, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted butter and 1 tablespoon of Z-sweet in a large bowl. Make sure all crumbs are coated with butter and that the mixture holds together well.

Using a 8 inch Springform pan, press the buttered crumbs onto the bottom of the pan and along the sides as high as they will go, uniformly distributed. This will make a crust that rises approximately 2/3 up the pan. When you have finished this step, place the crust in the oven and bake it for 4 – 5 minutes until it sets. Remove it from the oven and set aside.

With a heavy mixer, combine Z-sweet, cream cheese and vanilla. Blend until it is very smooth and creamy. At this stage, the mixture will still be a bit thick. Next, add the pumpkin, eggs, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Keep beating, using a scraper to make sure that all of the cream cheese is blended in from the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. The final consistency will be like very thick cream.

Pour all filling into the Springform pan and carefully return it to the oven. Bake for approximately one hour (50 minutes in our oven, which runs hot), until the center of the cake is firm and its top has darkened slightly. Remove from the oven and place your cheesecake on a wire rack to cool.

When the pan is sufficiently cool (room temperature) place it in your refrigerator and allow it to chill before serving, preferably overnight. If you don’t have that kind of time, try to arrange at least 2 – 3 hours of chilling time.

Top with sweetened whipped cream and serve! This is a delicious and extremely rich gluten free holiday treat.

Serves 8 – 10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blackberry Granita with Whipped Cream

Although the summer months have waned, we are fortunate in California to find our local grocery store shelves still stocked with fresh blackberries and raspberries. With pie season in full swing, I wanted to create a recipe for something cool and smooth to serve as a complementary dessert... so that our holiday guests may choose to enjoy both warm pie and cool sweetness at our table.

There are several attractive things about this granita recipe. First, it is extremely simple to make. Next, during berry season it is a highly inexpensive and satisfying alternative to buying a half-gallon of ice cream. Lastly this is a very healthy dessert using only a handful of ingredients... but so delicious your family and friends will never miss all of the additives, sweeteners and preservatives they are accustomed to in regular store-bought treats.

Top your homemade blackberry granita with freshly whipped cream for extra perfection.

Homemade Blackberry Granita with Whipped Cream

What You’ll Need:

2 ½ cups fresh blackberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup Z-sweet (or sugar)
¾ cup water

For Topping:
½ pint heavy whipping cream
1 ½ tbsp Z-sweet (or sugar)

How It Works:

Combine water, Z sweet and lemon juice in a small pot over medium heat and bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat and allow the syrup you have created to cool.

In a blender or food processor, add blackberries. Blend them at least one minute or until extremely smooth. Next, add cooled syrup and continue to blend until well combined. The consistency should be completely fluid, with no lumps.

Pour blackberry granita mixture into a small metal bowl or nonstick metal baking pan (I use one that is 13x9x2) and place into freezer. Freeze for approximately 30 minutes, then stir all of the icy outer parts into the center of the bowl or pan and continue freezing. Check every 20 minutes or so, and continue scraping the edges into the center... for about two hours. (Our freezer doesn't get very cold, so this process takes about three hours at our house.)

Finally, cover tightly and freeze. This recipe can be made up to one day in advance.

To serve, scoop or scrape your gorgeous blackberry granita into bowls and top as desired with sweetened whipped cream.

Serves 4 – 6.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chicken and White Bean Chili

Having recently learned that I am pregnant with our third child (we're thrilled!) my husband and I are wondering what differences we will discover between my first two "normal" pregnancies (which actually triggered my autoimmune thyroid disorder and subsequent diagnosis with gluten intolerance)... and this new totally gluten free pregnancy. Will I gain less weight? Experience less morning sickness? Have more energy? There have already been so many positive outcomes from my gluten free diet over this past year, I am definitely excited about a gluten free pregnancy.

Some things about pregnancy never change though, and already I find myself feeling hungry all of the time. For this reason, I have decided to keep large kettles of homemade soups and chili on hand at all times so in those sudden and desperate moments of extreme hunger*, I will have something nutritious and gluten free on hand that is ready to eat. For this reason, I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different varieties of chili.

I am really proud of this new chicken and white bean chili which is very easy to make, savory and filling. The combination of spices – cilantro, chili pepper, cumin and oregano – brings out the best in both the tender chicken morsels and green bell peppers. An excellent budget meal, this chili will provide an adult sized portion for up to 8 people for somewhere between $10 and $15 dollars total! You can prepare it up to 24 hours before serving if necessary and, believe it or not, the flavors will actually improve with time as they continue to combine inside of your soup pot or storage container.

Everyone in our now-expanding family loves this new recipe ~ and happily I can attest - after many helpings - that it seems to agree with our new baby-on-the-way as well! (Our children have always loved spicy food...) We hope this chicken and white bean chili brings you luck and many blessings, along with a satisfied tummy!

Chicken and White Bean Chili

What You’ll Need:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into tiny pieces
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 large white onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery with leaves, thinly sliced
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped
½ head of garlic (approx 6-7 cloves), finely minced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 cans cannellini beans
2 tbsp chili pepper (or to taste)
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 cup chicken bouillon
Sea Salt
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil

Optional toppings..
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Organic sour cream

How It Works:

Pour a large glug of olive oil into a deep pot and place on burner at medium high temperature. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add chopped onion and sliced celery and cook – stirring frequently – approximately 4 minutes until onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add chopped green bell pepper, sauté with onions and celery another 4 minutes until peppers begin to soften. Next, add minced garlic and stir into vegetable mixture for approximately 30 seconds or until its aroma is quite fragrant.

Your chicken thighs should be cut into very small pieces – approximately ½ inch in length and width. At this time, add the chicken pieces into the vegetable mixture and cook at medium high temperature (stirring frequently) for another 5 minutes. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally. Add tomato paste, chili pepper, cilantro, oregano, cumin, diced tomatoes and cannellini beans with their juices. Combine the entire chili mixture well and then add chicken bouillon. Bring all ingredients to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for at least 30 more minutes. I personally simmer our chicken and white bean chili for up to two hours at a low temperature before serving, as the delicious taste seems directly proportional to amount of time cooking.

Top with sour cream or garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs as desired.

Serves 6 – 8.

*Extreme Hunger: If I don’t eat something RIGHT NOW, I’m going to (a) throw up or (b) become extremely grumpy and disagreeable. I’m pregnant!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homemade Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie...
From a Real Pumpkin!

A few weeks ago on Halloween, my young son and his daddy went to a real pumpkin patch for a school field trip and brought home one small pie pumpkin. We had already carved two Jack O’Lanterns for the big night, so the adorable pumpkin sat for a few days on our dining room table while I wondered what we could make with it.

At last, I found a recipe for creating the softened pumpkin for pumpkin pie from scratch – complete with photos showing how to do it. I’d never made anything like this before, and it seemed like a really fun cooking challenge. Following the steps to create the soft pumpkin filling turned out to be easy, and from there I improvised my own pie recipe.

I know that canned pumpkin is a whole lot more user friendly for most chefs… and I’m pretty sure this recipe will taste just as yummy using gluten free pumpkin from a can. So if you’re considering trying out my pie recipe and just don’t have the time to steam, skin and mash a fresh pumpkin – simply skip the first steps!

Baking this pie is the perfect activity for a rainy or dreary day... its cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice smell so warm, cozy and inviting that by the time you are done putting it in the warm oven you will feel as though your kitchen is hugging you.

The pie itself, when cooked and cooled, is very tasty. It is important to note though that soft pumpkin from a patch - even a pie pumpkin - is not inherently as sweet as the kind you will typically find in a can, so if you don't want a natural taste you may wish to add more sweetener than my recipe calls for.

It was a real joy to bake this pie with my small son, who loved that we were using his special pumpkin to make a sweet dessert. I can now say in all honesty, "It is delicious and even a preschooler can make it!" Happy Holidays!

Homemade Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie... From A Real Pumpkin!

What You’ll Need:

For Crust...
1 pkg Authentic Foods pie crust mix
(or your own homemade gluten free crust)

For Filling...
2 cups of pumpkin puree (see this recipe for steps…)
2 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Z Sweet
2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice

For Topping...
Sprinkle of Z sweet
Heavy Whipping Cream
Gluten Free Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

How It Works:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Wash your pumpkin with warm water and dry well.

Next, carefully slice your pumpkin in half lengthwise, using a sharp serrated knife. With a sturdy metal spoon or ice cream scooper, scoop out all of the pumpkin seeds and "glop", keeping only the actual pumpkin shell.

Next, carefully slice the shell into several smaller pieces that will fit into a stovetop or microwave steamer. I used a microwave steamer and steamed each of the batches of pumpkin shell for approximately 7 minutes. There are great directions on how to steam your pumpkin using a stovetop steamer here.

Once you have steamed your pumpkin and cooled it slightly you should be able to easily remove the rind from the flesh with a butter knife or even your hands. Discard the rind, and place the softened pumpkin flesh into a food processor or blender. I use a Cuisinart.

Blend your steamed pumpkin until it is extremely smooth and supple, with no “threads” or lumps. Measure out two full cups of your pumpkin blend, and set aside to use when creating your pie filling.

If you are using the Authentic Foods pie crust, now is the moment to put it together and pre-bake it for five minutes in a greased pie pan.

You can also use your own homemade gluten free pie crust, or any other crust that you particularly enjoy.

When your crust has pre-baked and is ready to fill, mix together the pureed pumpkin, eggs, heavy cream, Z Sweet, xanthan gum, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. You can do this by hand but for best results I would recommend a mixer of some sort to make sure that your filling is smooth and well blended.

Pour filling into the crust and cover the crusts with tin foil. Bake in oven with crusts covered for approximately 20 minutes. Remove foil and then bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes more, until the center comes out clean when a knife or toothpick is inserted.

Before serving, dust the top of your pie lightly with Z sweet - or for those who can have dairy this is wonderful served with freshly whipped cream and/or vanilla bean ice cream.

The sprinkles you see here on top are Z Sweet and cinnamon... yum!

Serves 8 – 10.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Satisfying Stuffed Peppers

We’ve been trying to get a few more veggies tucked into our culinary repertoire: for our health of course… but especially for our small children who much to our dismay seem to have recently decided that if a dish doesn’t resemble pizza or chicken nuggets it isn’t worth eating. Stuffed peppers are always so tasty and elegant… in this recipe I decided to let the mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes replace any kind of meat, and it really worked. The combination with fresh arugula and feta cheese was extremely tasty (albeit a tad salty). My main piece of advice is to make sure that you use sun dried tomatoes that have been preserved in olive oil... the dried kind that need to be rehydrated are not as tasty in this recipe. We’ve tried it both ways and definitely prefer the more supple variety stored in olive oil.

Sheep’s milk feta is supposed to be fairly digestible for people suffering from dairy allergies, and I find that I do much better with it than regular cow’s milk feta. Perhaps you will have the same experience.

Overall, this is a very simple dinner to prepare – extremely filling – and not too hard on the pocket book. The peppers themselves are quite beautiful when stuffed and baked, and look chic when placed artfully on dinner plates next to a fresh side salad.

I am happy to report that exactly one of our children ate all of his stuffed pepper with gusto and asked for more. The other child, darling that he is, picked at his plate and asked for pizza. Ah well, we’ll keep on trying!

Satisfying Stuffed Pepper Recipe

What You’ll Need:

6 red bell peppers, sliced lengthwise
2 cups quinoa
4 cups vegetable broth (beef broth for non veggies)
1 cup sun dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil
1 cup sheeps milk feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz mushrooms
1 bunch fresh arugula leaves (approx 2 cups of leaves)
Fresh ground black pepper
Sea salt
Top w/ grated parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese
Olive Oil

How It Works:

Preheat oven to 350.

Slice bell peppers lengthwise, then place a dab of butter and a drizzle of olive oil in each half pepper and cook in oven for approx 10 minutes or until flesh of peppers begins to soften. Remove tray from oven and set aside, leaving heat on.

Cook quinoa in vegetable broth or water (beef broth for non-veggies). Prepare crumbled feta, dice your sun dried tomatoes, thoroughly rinse and de-stem the arugula leaves. Thinly slice your mushrooms. Melt approximately one tablespoon of butter and a nice sized glug of olive oil in a standard sauté pan. When butter/oil is warm but not smoking, add sliced mushrooms, sea salt, pepper and marjoram. Cover pan and sauté until flesh is has changed texture and color, becoming darker and more juicy. Stir now and again while sautéing.

When quinoa has finished cooking and looks fluffy and not too moist, add to the pot all diced sun dried tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, arugula leaves and sauteed mushrooms.

Mix thoroughly using either wooden spoons or your own clean hands. Then, using a large spoon, ladle heaping spoonfuls of this mixture into each of the softened bell pepper halves and return to oven for approximately 10 - 15 minutes, until peppers are tender but filling has not dried out. Check them frequently during this time.

Before serving, grate parmesan or sharp white cheddar cheese on top of stuffed peppers.

Serve while still warm.

This tasty dish feeds 4-6 adults as main course.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tasty Vegetarian Chili on a Budget

Since our family of four began to eat gluten free a year ago we have definitely noticed a slight increase in our weekly grocery bill – especially during weeks when I try to create gluten free desserts from scratch using a variety of flours or pre-packaged mixes. I have justified spending a little more money in order to keep our family free of gluten related health disorders (such as my autoimmune thyroiditis which has now resolved).

Still, in the past two months with U.S. economy tanking and our family budget stretched thin, I’ve been working even harder to plan gluten free meals that are also economical – without sacrificing quality or taste!

This explains why I am extremely proud to present to you this original recipe for vegetarian chili… which I recently created using only items which were already in our pantry or refrigerator! In my opinion, the individual ingredients which make this recipe stand out are its quinoa and marjoram. My husband immediately pronounced this one of his top favorite meals I have ever served, high praise indeed coming from H. Better still, my economical recipe creates a large quantity of food that will definitely feed your family or friends for more than one meal!

Chili is a wonderful and flavorful meal to savor during Fall and Winter months as the weather outside grows cold. When served with a side salad and gluten free dinner rolls this homemade vegetarian chili makes a delicious meal that will fill your tummy and warm your heart.

Tasty Vegetarian Chili on a Budget

What You’ll Need:

Basic Chili...

28 oz diced tomatoes (plus liquid)
15 oz corn kernels
15 oz black beans (plus liquid)
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth (for non-vegetarians, beef broth works nicely)
8 oz tomato sauce
3 well chopped zucchini
2 – 3 stalks thinly sliced celery
1 diced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp marjoram
½ teaspoon chili powder (If you like it spicy, add 1 tsp)
Fresh ground pepper
Sea Salt
Olive Oil

Top With...

Jack cheese, grated
Parmesan cheese, grated
Scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

How It Works:

Using a 3 quart pot, pour in one or two glugs of extra virgin olive oil and warm over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Add diced onion and thinly sliced celery and sauté (stirring frequently) for approximately 6 minutes or until onion is translucent but not quite browned. Add minced garlic and sauté until garlic becomes fragrant (approx 30 seconds to 1 minute). Sprinkle in marjoram and chili powder, plus dashes of fresh ground black pepper and sea salt according to your personal taste. Continue stirring.

Pour chopped zucchini into mix and sauté it until it begins to change color and texture, becoming softer and more translucent. At this point add black beans, corn and diced tomatoes with all of their liquids. Stir and allow to bubble at medium temperature while you add quinoa, tomato sauce and chicken broth. When all ingredients have been combined, increase temperature to medium high and bring to a boil.

Once the veggie chili mixture is boiling, reduce temperature to low and cover pot with lid. Simmer at low temperature for 20 – 30 minutes, until quinoa is fully cooked and much of liquid has been absorbed.

Ladle chili into bowls. Dust them with grated Jack or parmesan cheese (or both). Top with thinly sliced scallions (green onions) for a beautiful presentation and extra kick.

Serves 6 comfortably as Main Course.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Heaven In A Box

Very rarely in life… but sometimes it really and truly happens… something great just drops into your lap. Or in this case, into your sweet tooth. This summer I became affiliated with a wonderful Southern California based gluten free blog called Gluten Free In SD which promotes education about celiac disease and gluten intolerance and acts as a forum to connect San Diegans with gluten free resources of all kinds. Not long after my Tasty... and Gluten Free! URL was published on their site, I received an email out of the blue from an extremely talented gluten free chef. Her name is Rachel Marie Helmer, and she is the dessert genius behind Mari Made.

Diagnosed with celiac nearly four years ago, Rachel Marie started her blog for the same reasons why many of us do: to share her gluten free discoveries and recipes with others going through a similar experience. Her lifelong passion for cooking and baking enabled her to see going gluten free as a fun adventure that has "introduced (her) to an array of different flours, each with a unique flavor and texture."

Adds Rachel Marie, "I can honestly say I love my gluten free diet now, not only because I don't feel sick anymore but because it has inspired me to try all sorts of new foods that I shied away from before... and filled my life with even more dining and cooking adventures than I had back in my gluten eating days."

Over time, Rachel Marie’s passion for gluten free baking has led her down a new and exciting life path – the creation of her own gluten free bakery. After receiving numerous emails from San Diegans who had read her blog and were interested in trying out her recipes but did not have time to bake for themselves, she realized it was time to share her cooking with others. "I started Mari Made in response to these requests and have been having such fun with it ever since."

Thanks to Rachel Marie’s genuine delight in gluten free cooking it is no surprise that her bakery has already developed into a successful small business catering for private parties and social fundraisers - including a recent fundraiser to benefit San Diego’s Monarch School and A Reason To Survive. At this event called Fruit of the Soul, she provided hundreds of cupcakes and assorted tarts to share with attendees.

As she shares her favorite part about participating in the event, Rachel Marie describes how happy guests were to discover that her baked goods were gluten free. "When someone would come to my table and look at all the cupcakes and tarts, and I would say to them that all of the baked goods were gluten free, their eyes would light up and they would exclaim that they had celiac and were just looking at my treats and wishing that they could have one." How wonderful it must have been to assure them that they could!

After checking out the Mari Made website, I knew exactly how these eager eaters must have felt. In fact, as the resident Tasty and Gluten Free Expert of this blog I felt it was my sacred duty to sample some of her scrumptiously decadent looking desserts and report back to my readers about them. (Hahaha, how noble of me!!!) My sole challenge was deciding which of her gorgeous desserts to order first.

Exceptionally gracious, Rachel Marie worked with me to select a sweetie that fit our price range and cravings. After much discussion and upon suggestion from Rachel Marie, my husband and I decided to order a box of her "favorite" mini lemon tarts, which she describes as "a kind of cross between a mini tart, butter shortbread and lemon bar".

Willing to go the extra mile - even beyond gluten free - she kindly created the lemon tarts according to my individualized dietary needs. After I explained my difficulties with sugar (and my husband’s distaste for agave nectar) she suggested using Z-Sweet instead and kindly adjusted her recipe to support my tummy. Sugar lovers will be relieved to know however that she usually creates her delicacies using real sugar and powdered sugar. That said, my husband and I were thrilled with the Z-Sweet filled tarts and highly recommend them. Not only were they the perfect blend of lemony flavor and sweetness, but she also does something very special with the crusts, which held together beautifully.

Other Mari Made baked treats include peanut butter cookies, blueberry muffins, pumpkin scones and maple-oat-pecan scones (gf certified oats) – and many more.

Currently offering delivery in the San Diego area, Mari Made is in the process of expansion and will eventually offer shipping of baked goods all around the United States. In addition to running her bakery, Rachel Marie also acts as a private consultant for people new to the gluten free diet – helping them to learn how to grocery shop safely, cook gluten free versions of their favorite meals, plan for vacations and eat out at restaurants.

What a joy for those who, like me, suffer from gluten intolerance or celiac disease to know that such a fulfilling and accommodating gluten free bakery exists in Southern California. I dearly hope that bakeries like this will be popping up in every neighborhood, so that ALL families and children will be able to relish eating gluten free desserts with great affection and appetite!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dark Chocolate Anniversary Pie

For our recent anniversary I wanted to surprise my husband with a chocolate cake that was truly decadent – something rich, creamy and extremely sweet. Without question the most devoted chocoholic I know, H is especially fond of the bittersweet dark flavors (while I prefer milk chocolate). It was important to me to create something that would top his best experiences with chocolate desserts – and yet still be gluten free so that we could share our anniversary dessert together. And since – unlike me - he is not much of an agave nectar fan, I knew I needed to use a different sweetener. In short, there was a lot of adaptation – and slightly pricey thanks to the fancy chocolate – but H is most definitely worth it!

The original recipe for this pie comes from the Flavors of Bon Appetit 2007, and I have adapted it to be gluten and sugar free. I also converted it from a cake into a pie, since we are big pie fans around our house. I hope you will enjoy this dark chocolate anniversary pie, and that you too will have someone special to share it with on a magical night.

What You’ll Need:

For the filling...

9 oz of 70% bittersweet chocolate – broken into small pieces
(I used Scharffen Berger)
Four 8 oz packages of cream cheese
1 ¼ cups Z sweet
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)
4 large eggs

For the Crust...

24 gluten free chocolate wafer cookies
1 tablespoon of Z sweet
¼ cup melted butter

For the Topping...

6 oz (2 bars) of 70% bittersweet chocolate – broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon of Z sweet
¾ cup of whipping cream

How It Works:

As you know I prefer to get all of my ingredients ready before starting to cook, so that I don’t run into time pressure while putting a meal together. I would suggest chopping or breaking up your chocolate bars (in two separate bowls – one for filling, one for topping) before doing anything else. Also have your other ingredients, measuring spoons and cups handy plus all pans and stirring rods.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large glass pie pan with butter to prepare it. Next, use a food processor or heavy mixer to mash up your gluten free wafer cookies into a fine floury consistency.

Add Z-sweet and melted butter. Continue processing or mixing until fully blended. Use your hands to coat the pie pan with the delicious wafer crust mixture until you have formed a shapely crust. It should be about ½ inch in thickness throughout the entire pan. Place your pie crust in the oven and bake for 5 minutes until it sets together. Remove pan from oven and set aside, but keep the oven on (same temperature).

Place a metal bowl over a saucepan full of water, and simmer the water at a medium temperature. Fill the metal bowl with the chocolate pieces for your filling, and use a wooden spoon to stir it slowly until all of the chocolate has melted and is smooth and creamy. Remove the bowl from the pan of hot water, and allow your chocolate to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, using your food processor or heavy mixer, blend together the cream cheese, Z-sweet and Ghirardelli cocoa powder until it is smooth. Add eggs and blend them in one at a time. Add the lukewarm chocolate. Mix all together until your filling is completely combined – it will be thick and creamy but the color of coffee ice cream.

Pour your filling into the wafer cookie crust and smooth the top with a plastic scraper. If you are concerned about your crust burning at all, cover the crusts with tin foil until the last ten minutes (leaving the center of the pie uncovered the entire time). Bake the pie until its center is firm and just appears dry – between 40 minutes and 1 hour depending on how hot your oven tends to run. Check it periodically during this time to make certain your crust does not burn. My oven runs very hot so by 40 minutes, it was ready to remove. Allow your dark chocolate pie to sit until the pan is cool enough to put in the refrigerator – then cover it and place it in your refrigerator to chill overnight (or all day, if you make it first thing in the morning.)

Lastly, to make the topping you will pour the whipping cream, Z-sweet and 6 oz of remaining dark chocolate (chopped or broken) into a small saucepan and stir it over low heat until it is smooth. Cool the mixture for a minute or so and then pour it over the center of your pie, spreading it with a scraper or spoon all the way to the edge of the crust. Chill your pie again for at least one hour, until the topping has chilled and set.

For a fancy presentation, top your slice of pie with fluffy whipped cream or a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. You will need a sharp knife to cut through the gf wafer cookie crust without it crumbling, but it is oh so worth it!

The verdict:
My husband said it was one of the best chocolate pies he had ever tasted. I myself thought it was a little too bitter, and when I make it again in the future I think I might opt to use milk chocolate or at least something slightly less dark. H laughs at me and tells me that is the difference between a true lover of dark chocolate… and one who does not really appreciate its virtues. He really loved the pie and has eaten at least one piece each night this week.

Serves 8 – 10 (very rich)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wheatgrass for Celiacs

My interest in wheatgrass is recent, stemming from a suggestion by my OB-GYN that taking a daily shot of wheatgrass might help with PMS symptoms during the week before my period arrives. She explained that my body is attempting to detoxify and cleanse itself as one cycle ends and another begins, and that I might want to try assisting the detoxification process.

Of course, this is sort of like telling a kid about an ice cream stand just down the street. The likelihood of me trying out wheatgrass jumped from 0% to 100% in less than one minute... based on even the smallest hope that my OB was right and soon all PMS aches and irritability would be a thing of the past.

Thanks to my gluten intolerance I was a bit wary of taking wheatgrass for the simple (and self-admittedly ignorant) reason that wheatgrass has the word "wheat" in it. Before purchasing my first shot, it was important to me to check with my primary care doctor to make certain that a person with Celiac or gluten intolerance could indeed enjoy wheatgrass with no negative side effects or ramifications.

Luckily, my doctor laughed kindly at me and explained that wheatgrass is a carbohydrate that contains magnesium. He said that there is no gluten in it as the grass top is cut off before juicing and so there is no gluten berry in wheatgrass. He gave me the 100% two thumbs up approval to try wheatgrass and see for myself if it provided benefits. "Won’t hurt ya, might do some good," was the basic response.

Seven days before my period was due, I went to the deli section of my local market and boldly ordered my very first shot of wheatgrass. I drank it on the spot. Delicious, you might ask? Um... Nooooooooooooooooooo. Not really. In fact, it tasted pretty awful thanks to the advice of the girl behind the counter who told me to swish it over my gums and between my teeth for three minutes before swallowing and then not to eat or drink anything for at least an hour. Wow, that was one of the grossest hours I’ve ever had! Not only did my mouth taste awful but I also felt like I would vomit for most of the rest of the day and had one of the rip-roaring headaches of my life.

Given that first experience I almost gave up on the whole wheatgrass experiment. However before throwing in the towel I did some online investigation into “wheatgrass, headaches” and discovered that headaches are a very common detoxification reaction when you begin to take wheatgrass, and that they do get better as the days pass. I also learned online that if you follow up your shot of wheatgrass immediately with a smoothie, you won’t have the same gag reflex or urge to vomit.

So I tried again, and to my joy, almost all of the nasty effects from the day before were gone. No nausea, no stomach upset or desire to puke, and best of all – almost no headache. With every passing day, the wheatgrass had less of a negative effect upon me and I could see more positive results. I definitely found myself feeling more energetic and less achy and stagnant then I typically do so close to the start of a new menstrual cycle. So, overall it was a positive enough experience that I plan to try again this month and see how it goes.

I am not a doctor and I can’t personally guarantee that wheatgrass will make you feel better or help heal you from anything. That said, maybe you should talk to your own physician about the potential benefits of wheatgrass – secure in the knowledge that Celiacs and sufferers of gluten intolerance can choose to enjoy (or not enjoy) a daily shot of wheatgrass just like everyone else.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Heartwarming Pizza with Italian Sausage
Red Onions and Mushrooms

The weather is turning colder where we live which has inspired me to work on a number of hearty, filling suppers including stew, baked potatoes, roasts and casseroles. Above all though, we seem to be on a pizza kick at our house – enraptured by crispy thick crust pizza topped with flowing cheese, lots of veggies and even various meats. Pizza turns out to be the perfect way to lure my children into eating organic vegetables and protein... and since it is such a simple, fast meal to create, I highly recommend homemade pizza for gluten free families everywhere!

This week’s creation involves mushrooms, red onions, hot Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella cheese and an optional handful of sun dried tomatoes. I can imagine that it would be just as good if you added some sautéd asparagus too!

We hope that your family is keeping warm and well-fed now that Fall has begun, and that you will be as comforted by this tasty pizza as we were last night.

Heartwarming Pizza with Italian Sausage, Red Onions and Mushrooms

What You’ll Need:

4 – 6 Seven inch Kinnikinnick Frozen Pizza Crusts
Olive Oil
15 oz can or jar of gluten free marinara sauce (or tomato sauce)
2 large hot Italian sausage links
1 medium size red onion, sliced into thin rounds
8 oz Crimini mushrooms, sliced or quartered according to preference
Parmesan cheese for grating (a few oz)
Fresh mozzarella cheese (approx 8 oz)
Crushed red pepper
2 -3 sprigs of rosemary
Fresh ground black pepper
Sea salt

Optional: a handful of finely chopped sun dried tomatoes in oil

How It Works:

I am a big believer that getting your prep out of the way first makes cooking a lot simpler. So, after you preheat your oven to 450 degrees F and grease two baking sheets with butter, start working on getting your meats and vegetables ready. One side note is that within your oven you should place racks in the top and bottom thirds of your oven before you start the preheating process.

Pour a nice sized glug of olive oil into a heavy frying pan and heat it to medium. Add the sausage (casings removed) and break into small bits with your stirring spoon. You want to brown it well, but not burned. When it is finished, set the meat aside and use the pan for your onions and mushrooms.

The onions should be sliced into thin rounds which do break apart nicely. Saute them in the sausage drippings and olive oil for a few minutes until they are browned (caramelized) but not crispy.

Remove the onions from the pan, set aside, and then add the mushrooms and a bit more olive oil. Saute the mushrooms well, stirring frequently, until they are soft and their flesh has darkened.

If you are using the optional sun dried tomatoes, now is the time to drain them of their olive oil and chop them up. Slice up your fresh mozzarella cheese into thin strips (or crumble it up with your hands – whatever works best for you.)

Once all of your ingredients are prepared, putting the pizzas together is fast and easy. First, place four to six Kinnikinnick pizza crusts on top of the buttered baking trays.

Next, grate fresh parmesan cheese onto the tops of each of them. Sprinkle them lightly with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt, and dust them a bit more heavily with crushed red pepper flakes.

Spoon a bit of marinara sauce into the center of each crust and smooth it gently over the spice mix. Top it with thin slices of fresh mozzarella, then the crumbled sausage, next the sautéd onions and last but not least, the sautéd mushrooms. If you are using sun dried tomatoes, add them to the mix between the sausage and onion layers. Top the whole thing with a sprinkling of fresh rosemary leaves (removed from sprigs) and grate more fresh Parmesan cheese over the top of your lovely pizzas.

After admiring your handiwork, place one tray of pizzas on the top rack of your oven and the other on the bottom rack. Cook each tray for 5 – 8 minutes (check to make sure it isn’t burning) and then switch trays from one rack to the other. Finished pizzas should be crispy on all sides (but not burnt) with lovely melted mozzarella cheese bubbling in the center.

Remove and serve promptly!

Serves 4 – 6.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pizza Fusion

In her excellent blog Mari Made, my new gluten free friend (and talented chef) Rachel Marie highly recommended a pizza joint that I’d never heard of before... Pizza Fusion. Not only did she describe it as her 'new favorite restaurant' but she also specifically mentioned their excellent gluten free, dairy free pizza crust. It sounded too good to be true, so my husband and I decided to investigate further.

If you read this blog often you know already that in terms of cooking pizza at home, my heart belongs to Kinnikinnick. I’ve already posted several pizza recipes using their delicious crusts, the most recent of which - Italian sausage, red onion and mushroom - can be viewed here later this week.

That said, it has been almost a year since I’ve been able to walk into a restaurant of any kind and order a slice! Many, many times I have jealously watched my husband H sink his teeth into an enormous, gorgeous greasy piece of pepperoni and cheese pie and found myself thinking – "Grrrrrrr... Some people have all the luck!"

Which may explain why eating at Pizza Fusion this past weekend was genuinely an emotional experience for me. From the moment we walked in, I could tell we were going to have a good experience. The Pizza Fusion menu is extremely gluten free friendly, with a wide range of salads and pizzas that can all be created gluten free. A rarity: our server was actually knowledgeable about Celiac and gluten intolerance, and she was able to describe exactly which items on the menu I could not order (e.g. the sausage) thanks to their potential gluten contamination.

The Pizza Fusion House Mix salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing was extremely delicious and filled with fresh organic produce including cucumber, tomatoes, black olives and greens. H and I split a full size Build Your Own pizza with prosciutto, tri-color peppers, natural mozzarella and a gluten free 'thin' crust (pictured above). As you will clearly see, this pizza was dreamy! I ate four slices in one sitting, and felt great all night afterward. H was also very happy about the beer menu (offering both regular and gluten free beer) and treated himself to a nice cold brew.

In short, we loved our meal.

It turns out that Pizza fusion is much more than just another pizza joint. First, the restaurant chain supports organic agriculture – most items on the menu are organic. 100% of the energy used in creating your dinner will be offset by the purchase of renewable wind energy certificates. Food is delivered to customers using company owned hybrid vehicles, and you will even get a discount on your next order if you bring back your pizza boxes to recycle! Best of all, all plastic-like containers and silverware are made from materials that will decompose in 50 days in a landfill. I could go on and on... there are a million reasons why Pizza Fusion is a dedicated earth-friendly company - probably why they were recognized in this month’s PLENTY Magazine as one of the 20 businesses that will change our world.

Luckily for Celiac lovers of pizza, wherever you may live and thrive, Pizza Fusion franchises are about to open up all over the country. Next time you feel a hankering for your favorite slice of heaven, do yourself (and our planet) a huge favor and head straight to your nearest Pizza Fusion restaurant.

Note: In addition to its gluten free menu items, this restaurant also offers many tasty meals for diners with vegan, vegetarian and lactose free dietary restrictions. Your wheat eating friends will definitely enjoy the organic white crust pizzas and many sandwich options.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pinot Noir Pot Roast

Although I have always savored the delicious roasts that I have been served at both elegant and humble dinner tables, creating one of my own seemed a bit beyond my culinary reach. Experienced chefs may laugh when they read this, thinking: "But it’s not hard at all to make a pot roast!" You’ll understand then just how little I knew about cooking before my gluten-free diet began last December... and how far I’ve come!

Such surprise and delight - such joy - when at last I realized that creating a roast is one of the simplest and most effective uses of cooking time... for a tender roast is not only a thing of beauty, it also provides meal after meal for a family of four.

This dinner will really and truly melt in your mouth.

Pinot Noir Pot Roast

What You’ll Need:

A 3 lb boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed
1 cup Pinot Noir (any decent dry red wine is okay)
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, without juice
4 cloves minced garlic
8 oz Crimini mushrooms, quartered
2 small yellow onions
3 celery stalks, sliced fairly thinly (1/2 inch wide)
1 tbsp marjoram
1 cup beef bouillon
Olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Sea salt

How It Works:

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Place your chuck roast on a wooden cutting board or a stainless steel tray, gently salt and pepper it on all sides. Next, pour a decent sized glug of olive oil into the bottom of an oven safe three quart Dutch oven or cast iron pot which can be covered with an oven safe lid. Heat oil until warm but not smoking over a medium temperature burner. Add your chuck roast and cook on all sides until it is brown on all sides (10 – 15 minutes). Remove meat from pot but retain drippings, place meat in a separate dish to the side.

Next add chopped onions and celery to the oil and drippings at the bottom of the pot. Lightly season them with salt and pepper and cook at medium temperature until they begin to brown (6-8 minutes). Add minced garlic and dry marjoram, continue to sauté for a minute or two.

With clean hands, crush your whole tomatoes directly into the pot – but do not add the remaining juice in the can. Stir the onion-celery-tomato mixture frequently and allow to sauté for another two or three minutes, when you will add the cup of Pinot Noir.

Boil the entire mixture for five minutes before adding the beef broth and then boiling for five more minutes.

Now comes the final and easiest part. Return your browned chuck roast to the pot, spooning some of the juicy onion-celery-tomato mixture onto its top. Cover the pot, place it in the oven and cook it for 90 minutes.

When your timer goes off, take the lid off of the pot, turn your roast over and add the quartered mushrooms into the wine sauce around the sides of the roast. Cover the pot once again, and cook it for 90 more minutes.

Although you can serve it up right away, you certainly don’t have to. The longer your roast sits in its juices, the more rich and flavorful it will be. Spoon away excess fats before serving, but you will not even need to cut this roast, the meat is so tender and juicy it will seriously fall apart when you even touch it with a fork. Amazing!

Serve with rice or potatoes, and a side of sautéed or roasted carrots. Make sure to cover it with a nice helping of the tomato wine sauce. This is a wonderful dish to serve in the Autumn and Winter months... one bite will warm you from top to toe and its scent alone will make your house smell incredibly cozy and inviting.

Serves 6 – 8.

Adapted from "Red-Wine Pot Roast with Porcini" from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2007 (p. 40)