Archives for posts with tag: Gluten-free

The day started well enough; I woke to brilliant sunlight against the flaming leaves on the maple outside our window. A late season chance to do laundry and get it dry on the line! Even before coffee, I zipped down to the basement to get the first load into the machine. It is probably the last weekend of color, with wintery weather in the forecast. As if to prove me right, the helicopters were out early, sweeping the tourists over the valley for a vast bird’s eye view of the best color season in years.

By the time the first load of laundry finished, it had clouded over, and the temperatures dropped. Rick looked dubious as I wondered aloud about getting these things dry on the line. As if to punctuate his remarks, it started to rain. I sighed, and resigned myself to the dryer. In this one day, we’ve had sunshine, drizzle, hard rain, blustery winds, some more sunshine and cold and dropping temperatures.

Beyond laundry, all my big plans for the day were outdoor work. What else was there to do, but bake?

I gave Rick some options, and he picked “those cookies.”

I think he’s hesitant about the name I’ve given them, “Rick’s Everything Cookies.”

I stopped making cookies, years ago, when I learned I couldn’t have gluten. I’d tried a few things, but gluten-free flours have evolved a lot since then, and my early efforts were leaden, crisp to the point of dental concern, and flat. Try as I might, I couldn’t achieve a decent chewy cookie. I gave up.

Fast forward a decade or so to the era of experimentation. Information on the science of gluten-free alternatives is light years from where I first started. And, perhaps the biggest incentive was that I had a partner who wanted baked goodies that we could share. I’d offered to make him regular-people desserts, but he wanted something for the two of us.

The evolution of these cookies was a bit like today’s weather–a sampler of possibilities. We started with oatmeal-raisin. They were okay–but perhaps a little on the high-fiber, healthy side. Rick was looking for decadent. Then the search was on for a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie–soft and chewy. I searched and found a recipe which came close. Then Rick wanted nuts…then raisins, too… and then some oatmeal for good measure. We tinkered and toyed with it until I met all those needs, in one cookie. The result is an odd hybrid cookie–but maybe one of the best treats I’ve ever made. Here it is:

Rick’s Everything Cookies

Add the ingredients in the order in which they are listed. The usual “wet” and “dry” ingredients are mixed in order, to saturate certain dry ingredients, so they will add texture without interfering with chewiness. We make them by hand. If you decide to use a mixer, don’t ‘over fluff’ the sugar/butter stage. Otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward recipe.

3/4 cup butter (softened)

1 cup brown sugar (compacted)

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (though walnuts might do)

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat or stir vigorously until combined smoothly.

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup raisins

1/2 teaspoon xanthum gum

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 and 1/2 cup gluten-free flour

Chill for at least one hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE! The objective is to have a blush of golden and golden edges–but no more, or you risk losing your chewy texture. To keep them uniform, I use a 2 tablespoon coffee measure to form the cookies. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for 6 minutes before transferring to a wire rack–or plate. Gluten free flour has no protein–so you’re using the binding power of the eggs to hold them together. If you try to move them too soon, they’ll fall apart. They’re best in the first three days–so good, in fact, that they rarely last much longer. You could freeze them.

I like Namaste GF flour. It’s a good “cup for cup” alternative to wheat flour. My close second choice would be Bob’s Red Mill. I haven’t tried it, but I imagine those of you who are ‘wheaties’ could make this with regular all-purpose baking flour. (If you use wheat flour, you may have to adjust the baking soda/powder levels, as GF flours have a little leavening in them already.)

So, that’s what’s up on a blustery day. Laundry, a loaf of bread and cookies.

IMG_2639

You hear it all over the internet, everyone is crazy for sour dough. The pandemic lockdown has brought a flurry of interest in cooking and baking. I guess it started because of shortages of staples in grocery stores. First toilet paper. Then bread. And then, surprisingly, yeast. Locked in their homes, Americans started to bake bread. And when the yeast ran out (which clearly happened before the flour disappeared), they reverted to old-fashioned, flavorful sour dough.

So did I. But with a twist.

You see, in my previous life I was a bread-baking maven, a yenta of yeast. I was so deeply into bread making, that I ground my own organic flour. By hand. You see, machine driven flour grinding heats the flour–not in a good way. I did this, every week, for twenty years. I would grind and blend flours–in the search for the perfect crust–the perfect crumb (the fleshy inner part of the bread), and to bring out the maximum flavor in various types of grain. My loaves were gorgeous–light whole-wheat sandwich breads, earthy, crusty french loaves with just the right heft and chewiness, hearty seeded loaves to go with soups or stews–or just some cheese and a good wine. I was a nut.

Then, in 2004, I learned I was a celiac. The very obsession that fed my soul had been killing my body. I had to go gluten-free. The end of bread.

For years, I just went without. I’d tried the commercial gluten-free breads. Leaden. Tasteless. Brick-like. In later years they came out with some better tasting varieties–lighter but not richer. And the ingredients. Oh my! I never saw so many additives and multi-syllabic ingredients. I’d buy a little, here and there. But if that was the best that bakeries specializing in gluten free bread could do, who was I to think I could do better?

Until the pandemic. For Mother’s Day, my niece gave my sister a gluten-free sour dough starter, a loaf of gluten-free bread, and a recipe. (She cannot do gluten, either.)  It was in the spirit of the current craze for sour dough. My sister was smitten and she sent me some starter–and a recipe. I was skeptical.

And yet…there’s something about homemade bread in the oven that brought back all those memories. It was worth a try.

And here it is, my first gluten-free loaf of sour dough bread. It rose beautifully. I think next time, a little more flour, maybe some sorghum. Maybe I’ll go out and find some teff. Even Rick likes it. There’s certainly room for improvement and experimentation. I might even pull out my old flour grinder. There’s lots to explore…maybe even to obsess over.

 

cheesecake

Holidays with the Family

It’s always interesting, getting together with family. Holidays spell festivity, good food and indulgence. By that, I specifically mean dessert–which is where it gets interesting.

My family is rife with allergies and food intolerances, and it only gets worse with age. Some cannot do sugar, some gluten, some dairy from cows. It’s like cooking in a straight jacket. I cannot complain, as I am one of the afflicted. So, while it’s a departure from my usual fare, I’ll share a delicious recipe, in time for Labor Day.

Cheesecake (well, sort of)

This is a simple, elegant temptation, that even normal people can enjoy.

Crust

one cup dried figs

one cup finely chopped pecans

one half cup boiling water

one quarter to one third of a cup gluten free flour

Chop the figs finely (about a quarter of an inch bits). Add the boiling water to the figs. Stir vigorously a couple of times as the mixture cools. Add the pecans and the GF flour and mix to a thick paste.

Lightly oil a pie tin and press the mixture into it so that it looks like a pie crust. It’ll be about a quarter inch thick–and a little thicker at the rim.

Pre-bake on a low oven (about 300 degrees) for ten minutes–just to the point where the mixture isn’t sticky.

Filling

Approximately 10 ounces creamy goat cheese. (my package from Costco is 10.5 oz., and I’ve used as much as 12.)

three eggs

generous teaspoon vanilla*

one quarter cup honey*

Beat the goat cheese and eggs together until smooth. (If using mechanical equipment, do NOT whip a lot of air into the mix. I use a wooden spoon and a hand whip.) Add the honey and vanilla and mix thoroughly.  Pour mixture into the pre-baked crust and bake, on a low oven (still 300 degrees) for about an hour–or until the center is firm. Remove and cool–then chill. The low oven is really important–it keeps the cheese mixture from becoming friable and dry–and it keeps the sugars in the figs from carmelizing and making the crust dark and brittle. If you plan on a topping, press the crust mixture a little taller above the line of the cheese mixture–just because it looks nice.

*Variations on a Theme

You can use sugar, instead of honey–but you must be sure to beat the mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved. Sometimes, we put a fresh berry topping over it, and if so, we stick to just the quarter cup of honey. If it’s to be eaten without a topping, we sometimes increase the honey/sugar to one third of a cup. We usually use vanilla, but have been known to play with this. For example, if you want to put strawberries on top, you may want to substitute the vanilla for Grand Marnier, or Cointreau (or, if you decide to throw some chocolate chips into the cheese mix–chocolate and orange are lovely together.) You could play games with this in many directions–Kahlua and some cardamum, or just the cardamum and a little cinnamon, if you wanted to put peaches on top.

Toppings

a cup and a half to two cups fresh fruit, (usually berries)

a third to a half cup sugar

(if the fruit mix is runny, add a teaspoon or so corn starch**)

spices to taste, depending upon fruit

Take half of your fruit and mash it up. On medium heat, add the mashed fruit ant the sugar/honey (and corn starch if used.) Stir over heat until the sugar is dissolved (and/ or mixture has begun to thicken). Add most of the rest of the fruit, and remove from heat. Allow it to cool before spooning over individual pieces of cheesecake.

Alternatively–with really great fruit, skip the sugar and just put fresh slices on top of each slice of cheesecake.

Possible combinations–strawberry or strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, raspberry or blackberry, peaches, kiwis (alone or with strawberries). Consider serving with melon balls and a sprig of mint.

** if corn is a problem, you can thicken with tapioca, gelatin or even potato starch–but be careful with potato starch, a little goes a long way and it can make the mixture taste gummy.