Friday, September 25, 2009

Betty Crocker's Cream Cheese Cookies

I grew up in the 1970s and '80s as the youngest of five children. Thanks to the spread in our ages, many of my siblings were already out of the house by the time I was a kid riding bikes, trading stickers and singing in the local elementary school pageant.

I loved listening to stories about my siblings and their adventures in the world, and longed to be as old as they were. I missed having them around. Being a youngest child with such a large age spread was a lot like being an only child - the house where I grew up was pretty quiet - and I looked forward more than anything to the holiday season when everyone would congregate back together in our parents' house to enjoy games, music, movies, laughter and lots (and lots, and lots) of food. And then there was the dessert... have I mentioned the dessert?

So many gorgeous, fabulous, decadent desserts graced our holiday table throughout the years. Of course we experimented with new recipes but certain sweet treats showed up annually by popular demand. These included sugar cookies, almond crescents (which would be fun to try making gluten free!) and our very favorite of all, Betty Crocker's cream cheese cookies.

My mom made most desserts from scratch and usually without a lot of sugar. In retrospect, that may have been part of the tantalizing allure of these fabled cream cheese cookies. Since they were made with yellow cake mix, the sugar had been pre-added by the cake company and mom couldn't tone it down or cut the proportions in half. The sweet result? A definite addiction to cream cheese cookies by all members of our family - most especially my dad :-)

Holiday meals and family gatherings have been a little more challenging to navigate since I first went gluten free two years ago. Food, usually such a uniting factor for my family, has been a sensitive topic. I get asked what people should cook, whether I will be able to eat the food they are bringing, and if not - why not.

I try in general just to enjoy whatever part of the meal that I can without putting anyone to extra trouble. This is rarely a problem as there are usually many tasty sides and vegetables that I can enjoy, and quite often the main course for holiday meals turns out to be fish. In a lasagna year, I bring along gluten free pasta or some kind of meat that has not been marinated.

The only real sense of loss that I have experienced in the last few years during the holidays has centered around the dessert table - so gorgeously piled with cakes, pies and cookies. None of which I can eat.

Which is why I absolutely FREAKED OUT when I read a few days ago that Betty Crocker is now making a gluten free yellow cake mix that can be purchased in major food chain stores all over the country. I was so excited that I did a happy dance AND called my mother to tell her that once again, I will be able to enjoy her famous cream cheese cookies at Christmas.

Of course I couldn't wait that long, since the holidays are still months away. I searched around my town until I found a grocery store that carried the magical goodies (Betty Crocker is also vending Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie mix, Brownie mix and Chocolate Cake mix). As soon as my husband returned home from work I handed him our three children and set forth to claim my Betty Crocker destiny.

So here it is... the famous Betty Crocker recipe for cream cheese cookies that my family has used for the last thirty years or so. I won't lie, the gluten free version doesn't taste exactly the same as they did when made with regular white flour - but they are still light, fluffy, moist and delicious. Your gluten free family will love them! Happy Holidays to you all three months early :-) and thank you Betty Crocker! for bringing gluten free goodness to the shelves of 'regular' grocery stores everywhere.

Betty Crocker's Cream Cheese Cookies

What You'll Need...

1/4 cup butter
8 oz cream cheese (or 1/3 less fat Neufchatel cream cheese)
1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 pkg Betty Crocker yellow cake mix

1/2 C shredded coconut or nuts

How It Works...

Cream butter and cheese. Blend in egg yolk and vanilla. Add cake mix (1/2 at a time). Mix well. If you're using a mixer, add the last part of the cake mix by hand. (If you decide to opt for the coconut and/or nuts, now is the time to add those too.) Chill dough 30 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Either use a cookie press/ ungreased sheet/ 6-9 minutes or drop by scant tea onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes or until delicately brown.

Makes about 24 two-inch cookies.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fabulous French Toast

Lately, my children have inspired me to be a pretty crafty chef. Today's recipe will show you how to sneak eggs into the gluten free breakfast of a cranky two year old. That said, your adult family members and guests will love it too!

Kids seem to go through phases with eating. My elder child loved tomatoes as a baby and suddenly one day decided that he would no longer eat them. Same thing with carrots... once his favorite food, now looked upon with disdain. And I've already told you about the problems we're having with bell peppers.

Our two year old started eating scrambled eggs about six months ago and couldn't get enough of them. Whenever my husband or I would ask what we should make for breakfast, the answer was always "Eggs!" Over the last two weeks though, he has begun to play a game with us when it comes to eggs. We ask what he wants for breakfast, he replies "Eggs!" but when we cook eggs for him he refuses to eat them. Worse, he will actually scoop up a cooked egg off of his plate in his grubby little hand, carry it over to my plate, plop it down (covered in crayon shavings, mind you) and say, "This is for you, mommy!" Did I mention his hysterical giggling? We are certain that he has no allergic reaction whatsoever to eggs, so it seems to be far more of a I'M-TWO-AND-I'M-IN-CHARGE type of thing. He likes to refuse to eat his breakfast to see who will blink first.

Healthy kids need more than bread and sugar for breakfast... so I decided to look beyond cereal, fruit, juices and bagels to find an alternative. The solution was so simple, I'm amazed I hadn't thought to make it years ago with my first child.

French Toast!

Yes, the same fabulous fluffy toast that your mother or grandmother might have made you when you were small... but healthier and even more delicious.
This meal is a win-win: your children will get protein, choline and B12 from the hidden egg while you (wink, smile) avoid the frustration of an early morning tantrum. As my son said just this morning, "Eggs are yucky mommy! French toast is yummy!"

Preparation is simple and fast - you will be able to start from scratch and have it on the table in less than 10 minutes. What more could a tired mommy with demanding (but picky) little eaters ask for? Oh yeah, that someone would make me a piece! :-)

Fabulous French Toast

What You'll Need...

4 slices of gluten free bread*
1/4 vanilla rice milk
1 egg
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 - 2 tbsp butter

*I recommend the frozen variety that you can find in many health food stores or ordered direct from companies such as Kinnikinnick. For this recipe I typically use the Whole Foods Brand Gluten Free Sandwich Bread which is sweet and thick.

How It Works...

In a medium sized bowl combine rice milk, egg and cinnamon and whisk it lightly with a fork. Are you using frozen bread? If so, toast it now so that when you are ready to soak the bread slices, they will be warm and firm. (If not using frozen bread, skip that step.)

When your bread is ready, soak it for 30 seconds per side in the egg mixture until it has absorbed the liquid but not become overly sodden.

Remove each slice after it has soaked on each side and place aside on a plate or tray until you are ready to fry it.

Melt about half of your butter in a medium sized saucepan over low-medium temperature. When the butter is warm but not smoking, add the first slice (more than one is fine if the pan is wide enough) and fry it for approximately 2 minutes on each side. Should excess egg accumulate on the sides of your toast, it is easy to gently "trim" off with your spatula before serving.

Delicious! May be served with jam, sprinkled sugar, maple syrup, apple sauce or your own favorite breakfast topping. I personally love this recipe so much I usually eat my slices just as they are, without any extras.

Serves 4. Yum!

P.S. You can make this recipe dairy/casein free by substituting canola oil or vegetable oil for the butter.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Simple Pasta with Red Sauce
(...and sneaky bell peppers!)

With three children under the age of five to take care of, I don't have a lot of time these days to experiment with new recipes. Not to mention, money is a little tighter with so many mouths to feed. When it's time to make dinner, I need to know that my kids are going to both like and eat their food. Yet I also want to make sure that they are getting the nutrition they need. Which means that as much as they would love to subsist on nuggets, fries, macaroni and ice cream, it just isn't possible. They need vegetables.

One of my favorite vegetables to cook with is the bell pepper (both red and green). My husband and I use them all of the time, and they remain a staple item on our weekly grocery list. We try to buy organic (thanks to the high level of pesticide residue on regular peppers) but when we can't I just give the regular ones a good scrubbing with a fruit and vegetable rinse. Bell peppers are an amazing superfood. Not only are they a great source of vitamins B6 and C, plus folic acid and beta carotene, but they are chock full of antioxidants.

However, try telling this to a four year old child. Or actually, don't bother. If yours is anything like mine, you might as well avoid this tantrum: "BUT I DON'T LIKE PEPPERS! I HATE PEPPERS! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME EAT PEPPERS!" I'm not going to lie, my children have gone so far as to throw their peppers right off of the plate and out the door.

So why not avoid the argument altogether? Here is our family recipe for a simple pasta with red sauce where the bell peppers are so tiny, your kids (or picky partners) won't even notice them!

Simple Pasta with Red Sauce
(...and sneaky Bell Peppers)

What You'll Need...

2 large ripe tomatoes
1 medium green bell pepper, finely minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 bay leaves
Penzeys Tuscan Sunset seasoning*
15 oz tomato sauce
grapeseed oil
1/2 pkg gluten free penne

*If you can't get the Penzeys, their Tuscan Sunset is a mix of: sweet basil, Turkish oregano, Aleppo pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise seed

How It Works...

Boil the gluten free penne in a large pot of salted water, following directions on the package. While this is happening...

Mince up your bell pepper, onion, garlic and shallot. If you have a Cuisinart mini-chopper this can cut your prep time considerably, but if not just use a sharp knife and mince away! Combine them in a bowl close at hand.

In a large, deep saucepan pour a good sized glug of grapeseed oil and heat at medium temperature. When the oil is hot but not smoking, use your clean bare hands to squish two large ripe tomatoes over the pan and then add their juice and flesh to the warm oil. Next add the minced vegetable mixture and saute over low heat until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the chili and garlic powders, a liberal sprinkling of Penzeys and the bay leaves. Stir and saute for about 1 additional minute. Finally, pour in the tomato sauce, and reduce heat.

Simmer the sauce on low for about 8-10 minutes and then remove from heat and allow to sit for a few minutes. It will thicken slightly. When your penne has finished boiling, drain it and then add it into the sauce pan full of red sauce. Stir gently with a large wooden spoon until all pasta is well coated with the thickened red sauce. Salt and pepper to taste (if necessary... I don't add extra salt or pepper to ours.) Serve to your family or guests while still warm.

P.S. I made this pasta with red sauce again last week and not only did my kids not notice the green bell peppers, they asked for seconds and thirds :-) HeeHee!

Serves 4-6 and makes a fabulous comfort food.