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)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

One Crust Scottish Apple Pie

This recipe is extremely fun to make. First off you’re creating a deliciously sweet yet tangy dessert that will be ready to please your palate in less than one hour. Secondly, unless you are Scottish (and even then, maybe not...) this is definitely NOT your grandma’s apple pie. The complexity of its flavoring comes from a delightful combination of ginger snaps and orange marmalade. Paddington Bear would be proud!

If you choose to top your slice with a cheery cloud of whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream your taste buds may even start disco dancing for joy as they revel in the combination of tart orange rind mixed with rich cream. As always I use agave nectar as my sweetener of choice but sugar lovers can always substitute "the real thing"... just remember to add 25% more sugar if you are making a substitution, as it is less sweet than agave. (Also note that sugar requires less baking time than agave nectar.)

One Crust Scottish Apple Pie

What You’ll Need:

1 gluten free pie crust (I use Authentic Foods Pie Crust Mix)
6-7 Granny Smith apples (peeled)
6 tablespoons agave nectar
¾ cup crumbled MI-DEL gluten free ginger snaps
1/3 cup orange marmalade
¾ tsp orange zest
1 – 2 tbsp heavy cream

Optional Topping:

Whipping cream
GF Vanilla bean ice cream

How It Works:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out pie dough and place in buttered 9 inch pie shell (I use glass). In a large bowl mix together your peeled sliced apples, agave nectar, ginger snaps, orange marmalade and orange zest.

Pour mixture into the crust. Drizzle with heavy cream and lightly sprinkle entire pie with cinnamon. Finally, place one large dollop of sweet butter in the center of pie. Bake for approximately 45 minutes until apples are soft and mixture is bubbling. If you're worried about burning the top of your crust, consider covering it with foil for about 3/4 of the baking time before removing the protective foil. When fully baked, allow your pie to cool down a bit before serving. Delicious when topped with whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream.

Serves 8.

Recipe adapted from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2006, page 179