Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Mint Cookies

It's baking-day today, and we are happily making cookies to share with church & family under the pretense that using the oven will cause the furnace to run less. As I formed the last sheet of cookies, I started wondering how many substitutions, omissions & changes must you make to a recipe before you can claim it as your own? Now I'm not talking about entering a contest with my recipes, or selling them in a cookbook or anything else nearly that professional... but here, on my own blog, when does an altered recipe become MY recipe?

Take my absolute favorite cookie recipe, for example. These cookies started from THIS recipe from my favorite food-blogger, the Gluten-Free Goddess. Except that I halved the baking soda. And omitted the salt. And added extra cocoa powder. And cut out ALL the white sugar. And used flax instead of egg-replacer. And made them half-size, which of course changed the baking time.

Now honestly, these started out as Karina's cookies. And honestly, I still consider them to BE hers... or, at least, inspired by hers. But at this point anyone making these cookies by HER recipe will have something radically different from what I make. Does this make the recipe mine? Hers? OURS???

Does it really matter WHOSE recipe it is when we're discussing a cookie so positively toe-curling delicious that my kids are willing to make them all by themselves if I don't have the time to be in the kitchen? Probably not. The point is, whether you make them her way or my way... this is the BEST chocolaty-minty cookie I've ever had with OR without gluten! Try them! Try them both ways! Create your own version if you prefer, but if you need a new gluten-free VEGAN Christmas cookie recipe... this is IT!

To make these "my way" you will need:

1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ground flax (I like to grind it VERY fine so it doesn't add texture)
2/3 cup Spectrum shortening
2 Tbsp molasses (the darker the better, baby!)
3/4 cup chocolate soy or almond-milk (I LOVE the unsweetened Almond Breeze!)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips.

Combine the dry ingredients, then slowly add the wet ingredients. Hand-mix in the chocolate chips, and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 350F & form measured-tablespoon balls of dough onto unprepared cookie sheets. Flatten to roughly 1/2" and bake for 8 minutes. Let them cool for 5 minutes before removing from the sheets. Makes ABOUT 40 cookies.

As if these cookies aren't good enough straight from the oven, their real character is brought out the next day... the longer they sit, the stronger they get! If you can manage to freeze a batch, they will be unbelievably peppermintylicious upon thawing... and don't crumble to bits! Enjoy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Cup of Christmas Tea - and TRUFFLES!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I really enjoy my tea. A lot. Maybe even TOO much. But hey, there are no calories so why not?

My sister in law brought over a box of the most amazing tea the other day. Now normally I'm not too fond of green tea. I'll drink it because it's "good for me" but it is NOT my favorite! This however is positively dreamy. Trader Joe's Candy Cane Green tea is SO much more than simply mint-flavored green tea! There's cacao in it. There's chicory in it. There's vanilla in it. It's like Christmastime wrapped up in a sweetly illustrated box!

And it goes, oh so well, with one of my other favorite holiday indulgences. Homemade truffles. I giggle when I see these little sweets selling for $3 apiece (or even MORE) since they are so easy to make! Anyone who can stir a pot can make them. And any child whose ever played with play-dough can roll & decorate them!

Today as I sit with my lovely cup of Candy Cane tea, I am enjoying the last of my chocolate hazelnut truffles. To make these little goodies you will need:

2 cups Nutella (are you hungry already?)
4oz dark chocolate (try chopping a bar of Green & Blacks for extra "oomph")
1/4 cup agave nectar
1Tbsp your favorite butter-substitute (I used Earth Balance)
3Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder - for rolling.

Microwave the first four ingredients until melted. Stir WELL every 30 seconds, as it will melt but not lose shape without the stirring! Once everything is melted & mixed, chill for an hour. Sprinkle the cocoa powder onto a small plate. Roll Tablespoon-size balls of the mixture in the cocoa powder, and set on wax-paper or in mini cupcake papers to chill until ready to serve. We made about three dozen... but when measuring "exact tablespoonfuls" with kids who crave variety you never really get the same amount twice.

Next week it's peppermint truffles - which may or may not survive long enough to be photographed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stone Soup

We are just entering the Depression era in our homeschool lessons, and I have been hunting for recipes that can be made or altered to be period appropriate. One "recipe" that I've used since my college days immediately sprung to mind, and became our lunch today.

While at college, I was required to pay for a meal-plan that covered two meals per day, five days per week. This would have been fine, but with my allergies there were quite a few days that I simply couldn't eat what was served... thus I became somewhat proficient at making the most of the itty bitty kitchenette in my dorm. One day in dire need of a trip to the grocery store, I checked the daily menu & found that lunch would be pork. So into my little kitchen I ran to see what leftover food might be found. I had three small potatoes, a can of evaporated milk, and a few baby carrots that were soft, but hadn't gone bad yet. So seeing as it was a chilly fall afternoon anyway, I diced the potatoes & carrots into a pot with the milk, and decided to make a warm bowl of potato soup.

One of my roommates came in, just as the potatoes were warming nicely & asked what I was making. I told her, and she asked if I would share if she gave me an onion she'd bought but not used. As we were dicing the onion, our other roommate came in, asking what on earth was making the hall smell so wonderful. She then offered the remains of a head of celery, and we added that to the pot along with some salt & pepper.

By the time our little pot of soup was done we had split it into two pots, to fit on our tiny stove. It smelled divine, and we shared it along with tea & a few lovely onion-rolls that had been donated to the dorm by a local bakery. (They would bring all sorts of baked goodies to the dorm & donate it the day it passed it's sell-by date, for anyone to use up immediately... Thursdays were very popular at our dorm!) That evening one of my roommates brought me a pretty lake-polished stone, insisting that I keep it in my kitchen as a reminder of the day we'd reinvented "stone soup."

That stone still sits in my spice-cupboard, and HAS reminded me that I can make dinner from anything, on several of our leaner days. Today as I dropped my stone into the pot along with potatoes, onion, carrot & celery I told the kids about my first pot of stone soup. My daughter decided that we needed to add black beans, parsley & garlic to the soup, but even with the new additions it was just as wonderful as that first pot... and we discussed how people during the depression probably cooked in a very similar fashion, using whatever they had in the most creative manner possible. If there's one thing I want my kids to take away from this next era of history it's that we may not always have everything we want, but with creativity & determination we DO have everything we need!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Old Favorites, Rediscovered

My kids LOVE carrots. They will eat them any way I serve them. Cooked, baked, mashed, raw, shredded... they all disappear faster than I can prepare them. So I've never really understood why my kids didn't like carrot-raisin salad. It's one of my favorite summertime dishes, and I love how quick & easy it is to toss together. This summer I was craving it, and decided that it just didn't matter if I had to eat an entire bowlful myself, I was going to make some.

As I was reaching for the raisins, our giant bag of dried cranberries caught my eye. I tend to prefer cranberries in just about everything, and since this was just for me I figured "why not?" and dumped a healthy serving of them in instead of the raisins. Since it was hot & I didn't feel like eating much, I also tossed a handful of walnuts in for protein. The next thing I knew, I had two kids begging to be allowed to try my colorful lunch. And they DEVOURED it! We have enjoyed our redesigned carrot-raisin salad at least a dozen times this summer, and it's now one of our favorite side dishes. The cranberries add a pretty jewel-like sparkle to what was otherwise a fairly "blah" salad, and the walnuts add enough protein that this can stand-alone or be enjoyed alongside just about any meal. And just like its' original recipe, it whips up in less than five minutes.

Today's lunch is a pretty dish of our carrot-CRAISIN salad, seasoned parmesan-rice with the last of our garden peppers, and a shaped hard-boiled egg. Everything was quick & easy to put together, and full of antioxidants & vitamin A. Hooray for rediscovered recipes!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Treacle Scones

I must admit that MOST of the time, when I want to try a new recipe I will search online & try one that someone else has already test-drove. It's easy, it's safe, and I'm relatively guaranteed that the results will be wonderful.

After having my kids ask me one too many times what treacle was, I finally looked it up only to discover that it's MOLASSES! Who would have thought, I've had it in my cupboards all this time?

We happen to LOVE the bold flavor of molasses, and go through quite a bit over the course of the cooler months. So after discovering its secret identity, I started hunting for new & inventive recipes. One that kept coming up as a "traditional Scottish breakfast item" was treacle scones, but no matter where I looked I couldn't find a gluten-free version.

My kitchen-bravery comes alive each fall. I don't know if it's the cooler weather or the fact that my favorite foods are all harvest-goodies, but I am always more adventurous in the fall than any other time of the year. This morning I decided that recipe or not, we were going to try treacle scones. And oh, am I glad of that decision! These are reminiscent of gingerbread, with the flaky texture of a traditional scone. Next time I make them, we will have them with fresh apple-butter... and there WILL be a next time, because both kids have declared this a "Threepeat!"

Treacle Scones
1/2 cup rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter-substitute, room temperature
1/4 cup black treacle (we used the darkest blackstrap molasses available locally)
1/2 cup almond milk

Preheat the oven to 425F. By hand, blend the dry ingredients & then cut in the butter. Slowly add the wet ingredients & mix well. Scrape dough out onto a well-floured surface, and pat into a circle roughly 1/2" high. Cut into eighths & slide each piece onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until they sound vaguely hollow when tapped... you don't want to overbake these! We enjoyed ours hot from the oven, though they would probably be wonderful cold as well... if you can wait that long!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Garden Goodies

I never really know what to do with our garden produce, when it first starts appearing... one tiny pepper, and one adorable little cucumber at a time. I can tell that NEXT week we will be positively buried in tomatoes & peppers, but two days ago we had three tiny tomatoes, an itty bitty pepper, ONE of our cucumbers, and an entire serving-bowl of beans mature.

Todays lunch is inspired by our garden... and is showing the kids exactly how much better the garden-veggies truly are. In the pink bowl are our purple-podded pole beans. On the plate is 1/4 of our pretty chocolate pepper, 1/4 of our "dragon's egg" cucumber, and one of our own tomatoes. To augment these goodies we paired them with extra tomatoes, extra cucumber, wedges of cheese, a few kalamata olives, and my favorite vegan gluten-free mini-pita recipe. The dressing is an organic Greek-olive dressing that was a perfect companion to a nice, hot-afternoon lunch.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mama's Gluten-Free 101

This post is especially for my friend Lisa! *waves* Enjoy & good luck!!!

I get asked about a dozen times per year, how to go about STARTING a gluten-free diet. After about the tenth time of typing out essentially the same message, I finally realized it was a LOT easier to save ONE message... and tweak/update it every so often. Since I know there are actually a few people following this blog, I've decided to post my latest "tweak" just in case it could help someone.

For anyone just starting out - there are a TON of helpful websites & blogs out there... this is just ONE way to go about starting. Please feel free to share any/all of this with anyone who could use it. I'm not claiming to be an expert, just someone who's been-there, done-that with nearly five years experience.

Mama's GF 101

Welcome to a new page in your life... one without gluten, but also with fewer stomach cramps and seasonal allergies! I will apologize for the length of this, but there are a LOT of things I get asked about – and most people seem to ask the same handful of questions when first diagnosed. My son and I have been gluten-free now for nearly five years, and I can honestly say that after the first few months... it really IS worth the headache, and we ARE thriving on our new favorite foods. My son is finally gaining enough weight to be within the healthy range, and *I* am finally LOSING weight! Gluten sensitivities are not easy to deal with, but it really & truly is worth the effort. Here are a few pointers that I wish I could have had, as we first began our journey.

First things first: going gluten-free is not a death-sentence, and yes you truly CAN adapt. I won't lie & say it's easy or that you won't have a LOT of trial-and-error moments/days/weeks... sometimes months, but it's doable. Rather than focusing first on what you CAN'T eat first – it might help to remind you of what you CAN still eat.

* Fresh fruits & vegetables. Every single one of them is still safe, and can be prepared hundreds of ways without making you sick.
* Meat, (if you choose) eggs, beans... most of your UN-processed proteins are still safe. (note: watch things like cured & processed meats – as these vary by brand & flavor)
* Dairy. With the exception of things like cookie dough ice cream or cheese with funky mix-ins, this is another whole food-group that's generally safe. Ditto for dairy-free soy, almond & rice options!
* Whole grains. This one shocks people, but rice, (ANY kind so long as it doesn't come with seasoning) quinoa, corn, and special oats grown in Canada are all safe for you. And if you've never heard of quinoa, it's definitely worth trying!
* Beverages. Nearly every non-alcoholic beverage you can think of is naturally safe. Steer clear of malts & grain alcohols, and do a bit of homework on wines, (many wine companies use a wheat-paste to "glue" their barrels together!) you're fine! For chocolate-milk, it's best to make your own... I've got a recipe on this blog, but you can search the internet for literally thousands of homemade mixes that taste better, and cost a mere fraction of what you'd pay for a store-bought cocoa. My current favorite? Hazelnut Cream!
* CHOCOLATE!!! Chocolate is naturally gluten-free, so as long as you're not addicted to a cookie-crunch type candy bar, you can still indulge! Most of the organic brands are made in dedicated factories too, which means that even if you're super-sensitive to cross contaminations these will be safe. For an at-a-glance page of safe candies... you can check this website: (a staple in our house, with a teenage son!)
Gluten-Free Candy List

Things have gotten a bit easier since we switched, in identifying “safe” foods. A new law passed in 2008 meaning that foods containing wheat or any of the "big 8" main allergens MUST list them, even if they're in hidden-ingredients! This doesn't rule out all gluten... but it sure makes our life easier. Most companies seem to have taken this required change one step further and you can now find THOUSANDS of mainstream foods clearly labeled "Gluten Free" right on the packaging.

For no-fail shopping, Trader Joe's is awesome for quick ready-made foods & pastas that actually taste like “the real thing” and don't turn to mush when refrigerated. Look for the crossed-out wheat head symbol on their store-brand packages, and if you ask they'll give you a LONG list of ALL the safe foods they stock! My son swears by their mac 'n cheese, and I am partial to their GF cranberry-almond granola when the budget allows. Another lovely store that we practically live at, is Fresh & Natural Foods. They have shelf-labels for immediate identification... if the shelf has a red arrow through the foods' name, it's safe! No reading labels, and NO hunting for hidden ingredients. Nothing could be easier!

For days when TJ's may be too pricey or too far away to justify a grocery run, some other nice things to know are that Chex cereal now has 4 types of gluten-free cereal. My son is addicted to cereal, and it's nice to pay less than $4 per half-size box of something NOT buried in sugar or that tastes like cardboard. Also, most of your traditional single-ingredient spices (NOT spice blends... as some use flour as an anti-caking device) will be naturally gluten-free. And three of the biggest brands out there: Kraft, Frito Lay & Nestle all have a strict labeling policy, so if it's safe the label will TELL you! They even go so far as to specifically list hidden-wheat, so you don't have to sit there chewing your fingernails wondering if “natural flavorings” is safe or not.

Now one question people seem to be the most worried about, is eating out... and I'm afraid it CAN be a nightmare, depending a lot on how sensitive you are. I can eat at places with some cross-contamination, but if an onion ring accidentally falls into the grease my son's fries are cooked in, we'll know. So because of his extreme sensitivities we tend to stick to places that have strict cross-contamination measures in place. I can tell you that with our experience it is ALWAYS best to call ahead & not go, if there's any question at all about being able to dine safely. Likewise, check a restaurants website first... MOST of them have gluten-free statements & safe-food lists available on the internet. I like to keep a printed list of safe foods for each place we know we can eat in our glove compartment as well as in a folder here on my computer desk at home. It helps for those “I don't want to cook, but can't think of where we could possibly eat!” days. To get you started, here are the places we have eaten WITHOUT my son getting sick:

* Subway – nearly all of their salads & most of their dressings are safe & they'll switch gloves if you ask!
* Chipotle – again, all of their bowls are safe & we've never had a problem here!
* Outback Steak House – one of our favorites for really fancy splurge-nights. They have a whole MENU... complete with chocolatey dessert! I could live on their garlic mashed potatoes.
* PF Changs – Another nice “splurge-worthy” place. Their gluten-free chocolate dessert is positively the best on the planet – and their meals are pretty good too... and if you choose, and they even had safe soy sauce!
* Taco Bell! Who'd have thunk - yet every time we eat there, we're fine! Their gluten-free selections are extremely limited, but when you just want a cheap dinner out - this is the place to go.
* Z Pizza is another new restaurant that is fast becoming our favorite. They will make ANY of their pizzas gluten-free in a small size... and they taste awesome!
* and a brand-new goodie... Mongo's Grill! These people really & truly go all-out with making sure their grill is scrubbed & scoured for you. No cross-contaminations and their food is awesome. If you've ever been to Khan's Mongolian Kitchen, it's just like that – but with healthier options!

Now there ARE other places that CLAIM to have a gluten-free menu, but we've had mixed luck with contamination issues. Burger King, Wendy's, Boston Market, and any number of fast-food places all CLAIM they have GF items on their menu... but the boy has gotten sick enough times that we've decided it's not worth the trouble.

Another question we get asked a lot is what OUR favorite foods are. So here is a list of a few of our absolute favorite pantry-stockers:

* Trader Joe's macaroni & cheese, Thai noodle bowls, and gluten-free granola.
* Pamela's Kitchen chocolate cake mix... GF or not, this is hands-down the best cupcake batter EVER! (possibly eclipsed however, by the new gluten free devils food cake by Betty Crocker – I reviewed this several months ago on this blog!)
* Kinnikinnik's ready-made (frozen) pizza crusts. These make the closest thing to a “real” breadstick we've had to date & are positively WONDERFUL for “lazy” days when you don't want to be in the kitchen for hours on end! Again, there's a personal review on my blog.
* Tinkyada pastas... regardless of your former cooking practices, you MUST add salt to the water with these, (I learned the hard way) but these taste like “real” pasta – even the next day! (most others turn to “mush” in the fridge overnight and are therefore only good for dishes that will be finished immediately)
* Namaste pizza crust mix... another nice mix to keep on hand. It spreads out to make TWO cookie-sheet size pizzas, OR you can use the whole bag & make a 11x15” pan of deep-dish yumminess!
* Food For Life rice tortillas... they're kind of crumbly unless you eat them immediately, but I prefer them over bread for a quick low-calorie sandwich option. (wink)
* Rudis whole-grain bread... for days when it's too hot or I'm too busy for a day of bread-baking.
* and Rapunzel brand bouillon cubes. Not all bouillon is safe, and I like their “not beef” and “not chicken” ones for soup bases better than anything else I've tried to date.

I always recommend one (and ONLY one after reading dozens) cookbook as a must-have for your kitchen. It's Incredible Edible Gluten Free Food For Kids by Sheri Sanderson. The front explains what being gluten-free means, how to make your kitchen “safe,” what things ARE still safe, and what “hidden ingredients” to watch out for. The recipes are really nice too... a bit bland as it's designed for kids, but if you double up on the seasonings or season-to taste they tend to turn out fabulous! Likewise, my all-time favorite recipe-blog is Gluten Free Goddess because she LOVES her seasonings, and nearly everything I've tried of hers has been a hit! I like her baked goodies better than most others I've tried and return to her site first when deciding to try a new recipe.

That reminds me however... baking gluten-free. I do not recommend simply trying to swap wheat-flour for an all-purpose gluten-free flour, even IF you add Xanthan Gum unless you're working with a very forgiving recipe. I've only had this work a couple times... which just isn't great odds for someone who makes nearly everything from scratch. Rather, find a recipe that's designed to be GF and then swap the spices or mix-ins to your liking. I always omit salt & halve the sugar, but tweaking flours needs to happen on your 2nd, 3rd, 97th try... NOT on the first try - and only then with extreme care & at your own risk. Likewise, there are over 3 dozen kinds of gluten-free flour available locally. I would NOT recommend picking up one of everything... you'd spend about $300 in flour, only to learn that MOST of them are only for specific types of recipe, and can only be used in extreme moderation. (I just had to toss a half-bag of coconut flour that was five years old & still unfinished!) What's in my kitchen? Rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch, and sorghum flour are my year-round staples. I also keep small quantities of 3-5 other flours on hand for seasonal baking, but these change with the weather since we don't eat (or cook) the same in July as we do in November. Currently I've got potato starch, garbanzo-bean flour, arrowroot flour, and almond meal on hand for “summer-weight” baking.

Cooking is completely different of course. Substitute cornstarch for wheat flour & make your gravy the way you always have, and swap pasta brands in your favorite one-dish recipe for a few “old friends.” Generally when a cooking recipe calls for flour as thickener, cornstarch or arrowroot flour can be swapped out in equal quantities. There ARE readily-available gluten free breadcrumbs, but I don't recommend them... they taste like cardboard & have ruined everything I've tried them in. Rather, save the heels from Rudis bread or any HOMEMADE bread, and freeze them for instant breadcrumbs that actually taste decent.

It's a huge change, and there are still days when I feel as if I'm missing out on “the good stuff.” But my son & I have dedicated ourselves to making this an adventure rather than a death sentence... and are committed to trying one new food & two new recipes every single week. The “adventure mindset” really helps on days when we try something not quite as tasty – we call those “misadventures” and add them to our experience!

Good luck! If you have any questions at all, PLEASE feel free to ask! I get asked about being GF fairly often, and don't mind sharing our experiences... heck, it would make my day to help someone before they do or something we've already learned the hard way!

In HIS Love,

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"I don't feel like eating"

When temperatures get above 80 degrees, my kids transition into a state of "too hot to eat" that just isn't healthy. I've tried waiting it out, but they can go days without eating. I've tried pleading & threatening to revoke privileges, but it doesn't do any good. And since I'm rarely in the mood to eat when I'm hot either, the only thing left to do is to find creative mini-meals we WILL eat!

With our susceptibility to heatstroke, this week marks the beginning of our annual "food fight" so I'm on the hunt for highly nutritious snacks & finger foods. I like to bake first thing in the morning & freeze batches of our favorite goodies for those days when it's TOO hot to turn on the oven. Today was one of those baking days, so for lunch I took our favorite tried-and-true soda bread recipe and created tiny sandwiches with cream cheese & apple chunks. Because this is a high-fiber, high-protein bread even though we're nibbling there's no lack of nutrition. And for a special "it was on sale so let's splurge" addition, we're enjoying Bolthouse Farms' Vanilla Chai & Purely Chocolate. This is a favorite "trick" of mine because often the kids will drink something even when they can't stomach food!

My soda-bread recipe is one of our favorites because it has that soft, non-crumbly texture that we crave. This is a five-flour bread, but it's definitely worth it. I used real buttermilk today, but have also soured almond milk for a vegan version that was positively divine. Please note however that this is NOT a low-sodium recipe & I haven't tried to create one yet... my apologies to those of you with blood-pressure issues, but I'm working on it.

You will need:
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup potato flour
1/2 cup bean flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
2 Tbsp. ground flax
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
(or 2 Tbsp lemon juice plus enough almond milk to equal 2 cups)
1/4 cup butter-substitute - room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Mix the dry ingredients together, then slowly mix in the wet ingredients. This is best hand-mixed as it is particularly aggressive at climbing up mixer-blades and is wet enough to REALLY splatter well. (a-hem... not that I would know, mind you!)

On a well-floured surface, hand-pat half the dough into a 1" thick "wheel" and cut into 6 equal slices. You can bake the slices like you would for a scone, but I prefer to roll then into balls to prevent overbaking the points. (note for moms: my daughter LOVES to help roll these - their texture is rather unique & fun to handle!) Set each section on an ungreased cookie sheet a good 3" apart & repeat for the second half.

If you're making a dozen, you'll want to bake them for 20 minutes... I've also made 6 mega-rolls that took 30 minutes to be done. These won't brown, but if you tap gently on their tops they'll make a hollow sound when done. Serve hot or cold - these are good with soups & stews as well as for mini-sandwiches! Enjoy - and good luck surviving the heat this summer!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Food Review - Kinnikinnick Pizza Crust

There are foods that you like, and foods that you crave... foods that call to you in the middle of the night, and force you into the kitchen at 3am. For my son & me this food was breadsticks. Chewy, garlicky, carb-loaded breadsticks dripping with butter & herbs.

From day one of our gluten-free adventure, finding a breadstick that would pass our finicky idea of what the perfect breadstick ought to taste like has been our ultimate challenge. We have mixed, baked, whined and cried as batch after batch of quasi-breadlike foods just didn't quite measure up. And to be honest, I think we were both beginning to think that perhaps this just wasn't possible.

I sent my husband to the local health food store for a pizza crust mix this weekend, but our favorite brand was out of stock. Knowing better than to return home emptyhanded when the teenage food-machine is craving pizza, he checked the frozen section and found frozen personal-sizza crusts by Kinnikinnick. Having enjoyed several other goodies from Kinnikinnick & finding them to be reminiscent of their glutened counterparts, he picked them up.

Here's the nitty-gritty for my GF friends. The package holds four square-shaped crusts literally as large as the package for $9. They are bagged in twos, so you won't have half a package getting freezerburn. They're gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, trans fat-free... and they come from a peanut/tree-nut free facility. They claim a single crust is two servings - and for me that's about right, but my starving son ate the whole thing... a sparse 496 calories before toppings as well as 10g fiber & 8g protein! (half that for an actual serving) The directions said to bake for 10-15 minutes & that longer baking times would create a crispier crust so we stuck with the 10 minutes for the chewiest crust possible.

It's tough to tell what a crust will be like when it's frozen solid, but we were vaguely optimistic when the cornmeal dusting on the bottom reminded us of several restaurant-variety glutened breadsticks. Still, we've been fooled before. We decorated our pizzas - mine with Greek toppings & his with cheese & pepperoni, and popped them into the oven. They weren't even halfway through baking before my son & I were sitting in front of the oven, chanting "come ON already!" as the aroma of pizza... real, honest-to-goodness pizza wafted through the house. Once baked the crust was a not-too-thick, not-too thin "handtossed" style chewy, firm, completely non-crumbly crust that reminded us of one thing... BREADSTICKS!!! Don't get me wrong, it made an excellent pizza crust, but we knew how we would be preparing the other two.

Last night we whipped up an herbed batch of Smart Balance for the second pair of yellow squares, and we giggled together conspiratorially as the house began to fill with the nearly-forgotten fragrance of freshly baking breadsticks. And oh, was it divine! They were chewy, rich, doughy... everything we could have wanted (and remembered) from a breadstick was there! It may have taken us 1670 days and dozens of wrong recipes, but we found our breadsticks! These little squares have absolutely made our year. And baby, my waistline is in danger.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Little Skinny Greek Lunch

I have to confess, today's lunch comes from a failed dinner experiment. We love to try new foods, and one of our favorite nationalities of late has been Greek. There's just something about tangy olives, feta cheese & fresh cucumbers that we all love to sink our teeth into.

One food we keep trying to recreate is spanakopita. It's a spinach & feta cheese pie, and traditionally it should be made with phyllo dough. We have tried making it in deep-fried & then baked springroll wrappers, and now our latest attempt was to tuck the filling between a Greek yogurt-flavored cornbread. And I am the ONLY one who even kind of enjoyed this, (the collective response from everyone else was "this tastes fishy!") so it's up to Mama to finish the leftovers.

So for Mama, today's lunch will be a serving of the not-so-popular spanakopita-wannabe dish, three of our favorite gluten free mini-pitas with a small dollop of tzatziki sauce (a yogurt & cucumber dressing) to be added last-minute, a scoop of horiatiki, (tomato-cucumber salad) and a handful of red grapes to fill in the empty spaces & round things out. The kids will be substituting turkey & cheese wrap sandwiches for the "fishy" dish, while happily helping me with the more palatable leftovers... which are all tried-and-true favorites from our growing recipe collection and will probably make quite a few returns to our bentos during the coming warm months.

Once again, it seems that the motto for today is "ONE new dish per meal!" I was tempted to break this family rule last night as I had found three fun new Greek dishes to try... but had I done so, I could be in serious leftover-trouble today. Yep, the rule stays!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bento#3 - "cheeseburgers"

Remember the "meat" loaf from two days ago? Here's the other meal! It's cheeseburgers! When pressed & formed into a pattie shape, these babies bake into itty bitty burgers that are better than any of the other gluten-free veggie burgers I've tried. They're a tiny bit dry, but that just gives us an excuse to use extra ketchup! The boy opted for turkey burgers today & pressed his own patties so Mama didn't have to play with the meat, while the girl & I happily created little cheese shapes with poppy seed eyes for our veggie versions.

Today's lunch is two veggie cheeseburgers, (the "extra cheese" from the cookie-cutter is stacked between the two burgers) tater-tots with plenty of ketchup, mixed vegetables, and apple-walnut salad. This is the end of week one, and my kids are positively giddy for next week. They've loved our meals so far, have LOVED helping to choose & create them, and have actually been carefully scrubbing out their own bentos (these are NOT dishwasher-safe!) each afternoon so they'd be ready for the next day! *thud*

I've actually shared my "meatloaf" recipe with several people now, so here it is just in case anyone else is looking for a meat-free alternative. This does have cheese in it, but I've also made a perfectly wonderful vegan loaf by substituting extra tomato sauce! I like to make this recipe a day or two after making spaghetti, and use my own sauce for a pre-seasoned richer loaf. This is also a nice "end of the paycheck" meal since I always have ALL these ingredients on hand!

3 cups cooked lentils
1 small onion, diced
1 cup Gluten-Free Oats (we use Bob's Red Mill & have found them for $2 cheaper per bag at Super Target, than at the local health food store!)
1 cup your favorite grated cheese
1 cup tomato sauce (if you're skipping the cheese, use 1 1/2 cups!)
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley

Mash up the lentils, and mix everything together. Form into loaves, "hamburger" patties or whatever shape you like, and bake at 350F. If you're using a regular loaf-pan, it will take roughly 45 minutes and patty-pans or burgers bake in 15 so keep an eye on them. The top will form just a bit of a crust when you tap it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bento #2 - Ladybugs

My daughter and I fell in love with THIS ladybug bento several months ago, and have been waiting for the weather to be warm enough to recreate it. It's still pretty chilly outside, but the other day a lone ladybug followed us into the house & flitted around our light until we shooed her back into the garden to keep the aphids from our lilies. In honor of our first garden-helper of the season, we decided to celebrate the return of ladybugs (and spring) with our own version of "ladybug salad" today.

Lunch today was a green salad with a half-tomato ladybug on top. Her face, stripes & spots were cut from a sheet of nori, and her eyes are itty bitty bits of the Babybel cheese wheel tucked into the side of the container. For the top layer, we had fresh mandarin oranges, and brown-rice stars which we were VERY excited to see turn out so well, as I've read that brown rice isn't supposed to form shapes very well. The kids are now quite excited about ordering MORE rice molds as they not only worked perfectly but were SO easy to make! Our next attempt will be to actually season our rice before shaping it, as they were a bit bland for our tastes. The nori has a distinctly "fishy" taste that we weren't expecting. It's not terrible, but we will be using it sparingly. Still, it was fun to make shapes on our food & my picky-eater was particularly excited about lunchtime today.

Bento #1 - "Meat" loaf

Yesterday we started our "Bento Adventure" with an old favorite, reinvented. We love our comfort-foods, and one day while considering dinner I had a sudden urge to make meatloaf. I don't know why because I HATED it as a girl, but there it was... one of those irrational, unfounded cravings that just can't be ignored. So I sat & schemed for a few days, and finally reinvented meatloaf - sans meat, and sans gluten. It was an instant hit, and has been repeated & tweaked dozens of times.

Today it got a facelift, thanks to our beloved patty-pans. For our very first bento lunch, the kids begged for mini-meatloaves. We prepared them & "frosted" them with ketchup, before laying them on a bed of corn, peas & carrots. The top layer was filled with strawberries and grapes.

The verdict? Yep, we like our meatloaf even MORE in miniature! It baked up in 15 minutes, and we were able to use the "leftovers" to create a new idea that we'll be enjoying for tomorrow's lunch. Two meals out of one quick baking adventure almost seems too good to be true! Our star pans were just a little too big for the bentos though - while my son's larger container was no problem, had we needed to use our lids my daughter & I would have never gotten it on properly without squishing our stars. Time to consider some silicone baking cups!

reinventing our food-blog

After nearly two years of neglect, we are reinventing this blog. No longer are we "Not-Quite Bento" as our first REAL bento boxes have arrived! So after several years of using divided plates, saving ideas & wishing we could carry our food in cute containers, we are venturing into the realm of bento boxes. And oh, are we excited!

Our first purchases included three bento boxes, two hard-boiled egg molds, two rice molds... and a package of nori wraps from the grocery store. We have dozens of other goodies on our "wish list" but for now we're just excited about making beautiful lunches in the cutest containers ever.

All of our posts have been & will be gluten-free. Most days we also eat vegetarian as mama doesn't eat meat, and we also watch our dairy as there is a dairy sensitivity. This will mainly remain a lunchtime blog, however I also do the occasional "new GF food" blog and also like to share creative recipes. I am not a professional photographer so sometimes the food-pics don't turn out as well as I would like. Please bear with me, I'm still learning. This is mainly a place for us to compile & review our food adventures but we've made it on a public site just in case someone else might find it helpful as well. For all of us dealing with multiple allergies, I don't think there CAN be too many food blogs or new ideas.

For the few people I know follow my other blog - I am officially splitting things up, so this blog is where all of my food photos reviews will be from now on. We'll see how long I can manage to maintain TWO blogs! Heh.