Friday, August 29, 2008

GF Flour Testing... and Gingersnap Cookies

Pete and I have had this blog for some time now, and I regrettably have not blogged my own entry yet. Since Pete is the writer it is much easier to let him do the blogging, but since I am the baker in the family I thought it was time to jump in and talk about our most recent quest this past weekend: attempting to create our own gluten-free flour mix.

Since we went gluten free we have used Deby's Gluten-Free Flour mix for all of our flour needs, which has worked great; however, there is no quick source to buy the flour other than driving to Deby's Gluten-Free Bakery & Cafe in south Denver. We also feel we have experimented enough with other people's products to be able to create our own.

As a side note, there are some unique results when cooking and baking with gluten-free flour that we have discovered. When making yeast dough you need to decrease the amount of flour and when making cookies you need to increase the amount of flour slightly. Quick breads such as muffins and banana bread use a straight measurement of flour.

Based on other flour mixes we have used, we decided on starting with a combination of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, sorghum flour and xanthan gum. We figured this would give us the right balance of chewyness and flavor we were looking for...unfortunately that was not the case, at least not in the ratios we started with. We used the mix to make our traditional Saturday morning pancakes. The batter looked and smelled great, but when I poured the pancakes on the griddle they puffed up in a way I have not seen before, and when I removed them from the griddle they deflated leaving a funky chewy textured pancake. We added more tapioca flour thinking this would balance out the mix and it was still not quite right. The flavor was also not what we were looking for.

Now that we had all of this flour pre-mixed we thought we would try another recipe to see if the balance was really that far off or if it was just the pancakes. I made gingersnaps because they are really flavorful cookies and would be a great snack for our planned hike the following day. The first batch of cookies was extremely flat so I added more flour. The second batch was just as flat even though they had more flour! Ultimately our mix is not right yet, but the resulting cookies were delicious. They were thin and lacey but oh so chewy!!

Gingersnaps
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup granulated sugar

In a mixer cream together brown sugar and butter. Add molasses, egg and spices. Stir in flour and mix until combined.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in the granulated sugar to coat. Place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake at 375 for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on wire rack.

- Kelli

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democratic National Convention

As most everyone in the United States - and much of the world - knows, the Democratic National Convention is being held in Denver, Colorado, right in our own backyard. Last night, Kelli and I attended an invitation-only, VIP DNC viewing party at the Cruise Room Bar and McCormick's Fish House in the Oxford Hotel in downtown Denver. We walked in on a red carpet behind the velvet rope while photographers snapped our picture. Talk about a surreal experience! The party was co-hosted by 5280: Denver's Mile-High Magazine and the National Journal, and I have to say a big word of thanks to 5280 - to which I'm a frequent contributor - for the invite.

Inside, media folks and politicos mingled and chatted until it was time for Hillary Clinton's speech, at which point the crowd hushed and all attention was focused on the many large flat-screen TVs installed throughout the event.

Of course, this is a blog about gluten-free living, so I feel compelled to comment on the food. As you might expect from a swanky party, the food consisted of a wonderful blend of sweet and savory hors d'ouevres, some set out in lavish spreads on tables, others passed by the attentive wait staff. Unfortunately for me, much of the food was off-limits, either because it clearly contained gluten, or because its ingredients or potential for cross-contamination were far from certain. But I did thoroughly enjoy chocolate-dipped strawberries, deliciously sweet and tender crab claws, and shrimp served with a cocktail sauce just teeming with fresh horseradish.

I've been eating gluten-free for long enough, and I feel so healthy and Celiac-symptom-free on the GF diet, that I long ago abandoned any sadness or longing for the foods I once ate but no longer can. I'm perfectly happy to avoid gluten, and I can easily savor the smell of a fresh-baked loaf of bread without feeling compelled to eat a slice. And while none of that sadness or longing returned last night, I did experience just the smallest tinge of jealously. Kelli had a Napoleon - a delicious dessert layered with puff pastry and French butter cream, and one of my favorite desserts in my pre-GF days. It was fresh, the cream silky smooth, the puff pastry perfectly layered and flaky. I took two deep sniffs to experience its aroma, and that was it. Kelli confirmed for me that it tasted as good, or better, than it smelled. But we've made a pact to develop and perfect our own GF Napoleon, and you can be sure that when we do, we'll post the recipe here!

- Pete

Monday, August 25, 2008

Aunt Kay's Gluten-Free Creations

My brother and his girlfriend have been in town visiting from New York, so this past weekend, we took them to the Boulder Farmers' Market for a morning of shopping for fresh, local produce at our favorite vendors. Our first stop...Aunt Kay's Gluten-Free Creations. We discovered Aunt Kay earlier this summer. The farmers' market had expanded this year, we noticed, utilizing a small side alley a few steps down 13th street from the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. In among those new vendors was Aunt Kay.

Aunt Kay is the gluten-free manifestation of the Outrageous Baking Company, and both enterprises, it turns out, are the brainchild of Pamela Fletcher, who began cooking gluten-free for her baby. Pamela has done a wonderful job perfecting her own GF flour mix, and then translating that mix into delectable goodies. Among our favorites are her lemon-poppyseed cake and her coffee cake. Her GF treats are rapidly gaining a strong foothold (and following) in Boulder County - you can find Aunt Kay's Gluten-Free Creations at the Boulder and Longmont farmers' markets, as well as at more than 25 coffee shops and other outlets throughout Boulder, Louisville, and Longmont.

- Pete

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mary's Gone Crackers

My friend, Amy, introduced me to a brand of organic, gluten-free cracker made by Mary's Gone Crackers. The original flavor tasted nutty, and to my surprise, whole grainy. (Yes, I'm using "grainy" as a word!) They were delicious by themselves, and you could tell they'd work really well with a variety of spreads and toppings, too. I couldn't believe I'd never heard of these crackers before! Apparently I'm not very observant while shopping. During my most recent trip to the grocery store, I kept my eyes peeled for Mary's Gone Crackers, and sure enough, there they were on the shelves of my supermarket's natural foods / organic / gluten-free section.

I picked up a box of the original, as well as the Caraway flavor. With the caraway seeds, the crackers tasted reminiscent of rye bread, a slice of which I haven't eaten since before going gluten-free. How nice it was to taste those flavors again! Mary's also makes three other flavors: herb, black pepper, and onion. Based on what I've tasted, I'd wager that these crackers would become a regular stock item in your pantry if you give them a chance! I know they have for me.

- Pete

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recipe: Zucchini Cake with Fresh Fruit and Cream Cheese Frosting

This recipe for zucchini cake was inspired by a deli in Denver's Larimer Square called The Market. They make a zucchini cake with fresh fruit and a cream cheese frosting that they call the Spring Fling, and by Kelli's taste buds, it's one of the best cakes she's ever had. Needless to say, we set out to develop our own gluten-free version, and after several iterations playing with ratios, we're pretty pleased with the result. We hope you are, too!

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups white sugar
2 cups unpeeled shredded zucchini
2 1/2 cups GF flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Steps:
  • Combine the eggs, oil, vanilla, sugar and zucchini.
  • Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.
  • Beat well in a mixer.
  • Pour batter equally into two greased and GF-floured 8-inch round pans
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
  • Let the cakes cool on a rack until room temperature. This is a good time to make the cream cheese frosting.
  • In a mixer, cream together 8 oz cream cheese and 1/2 cup room temperature butter.
  • Gradually work in 2 cups powdered sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
  • Mix until light and fluffy.
  • To construct the cake, place the first cake layer on the serving plate or cake tray, spread the top with cream cheese frosting, and layer with fresh fruit (sliced red grapes, mango, strawberries, kiwi).
  • Place the second cake layer over the first, and spread cream cheese frosting over the entire cake (sides and top). Finish with a layer of well-arranged fruit on top.
  • Enjoy!

- Pete

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Locavore's Culinary Tour of NH and Boston

While Kelli and I were in North Conway, New Hampshire for a wedding, we used our down time between events to tour around and sample the local harvest. Stop Number One was a pick-your-own blueberry farm in Chocorua Village along Route 16 south of Conway. The berries were deliciously ripe, and practically falling off the bushes. One pint cost $4, and didn't last long!

Stop Number Two took us to the Stonywall Sugar House. The maple sugar operation has been run by the Williams family for four generations! They offer a free self-guided tour with eleven "education stations," and the small shack out front sells tons of great maple goodies - maple syrup, maple candy, maple fudge, and just about anything else maple you can think of.

On our last day in New England, stop Number Three took us to Belle Isle Seafood, a local institution in East Boston. Good friends of ours from Charlestown recommended it, but horrendous traffic coming into Boston kept the time very tight before our flight back to Colorado. Thankfully, we made it to Logan with just enough time to run over to East Boston and indulge in possibly my favorite food ever: fresh, steamed lobster. Growing up, I was a notoriously picky eater, but if there was one thing I would eat, it was lobster. As a young tike I even took to calling it lobster-chicken. Nowadays, it's food perfected on a plate. The tenderness of the meat and the sweet, subtle flavor is best served steamed and unadorned (in my humble opinion!).

Belle Isle Seafood sits right along the shores of the Belle Isle Inlet, part of greater Boston Harbor. Nearby you'll find fishermen casting off a bridge, and overhead, you can watch the enormous planes taking off and landing at Logan (Belle Isle Seafood is directly in the final approach pattern for two of the major runways).

All told, it was a wonderful culinary tour free of gluten and full of local flavor!

- Pete

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Restaurant: Yankee Smokehouse, NH

This weekend Kelli and I are off to North Conway, New Hampshire for a wedding. The trip got me thinking about last year - specifically September 2007 - when I ran in the Reach the Beach Relay, a 24-hour, 200-mile road running team relay that basically runs across the entire state of New Hampshire. While some of our racers were out on the course, my van of runners stopped for dinner in West Ossipee. We piled into The Yankee Smokehouse, a local, independent restaurant in rural New Hampshire. Much to my delight, they had a gluten-free menu! I enjoyed a hearty dinner of barbeque chicken with a side of corn on the cob. If you're ever in that corner of the state, stop in for a bite to eat. You won't be disappointed.

- Pete

Recipe: Pasta with Basil Pesto

Earlier this summer, Kelli and I bought a basil plant from a local vender at the Boulder Farmer's Market. We've thoroughly enjoyed cooking with the fresh basil, using it on pizzas, tomato salads, you name it! But our plant was growing faster than we were using the leaves, so we did what anyone would do when you're overwhelmed with large quantities of basil - we made pesto!


The recipe turned out great. We used Tinkyada brand pasta this time around, which in our opinion is the best GF pasta you can buy at the supermarket. To cook it, boil a pot of salted water and add the appropriate amount of pasta (depending on how many people you're serving, how hungry you are, and whether or not you want leftovers). When the pasta has cooked to your desired tenderness, strain and immediately flush it under cold water to halt the cooking process. This is critical to prevent your GF pasta from turning into GF mush! Set aside and prepare the pesto as follows:

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup walnuts
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper

Steps:
  • Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth
  • Mix the pesto with the pasta (you can also heat it up in a pot on the stove, but be careful - too much heat is evil for pesto)
  • Serve and enjoy!

The pesto also stores well in an airtight container in the freezer. In lieu of walnuts, which is what we had on hand, you can also use pine nuts, which are the traditional pesto nut of choice.

Our basil plant is looking a lot more scrawny post-pesto, but we think it was worth it!

- Pete

Monday, August 11, 2008

Article: Long Island Pulse Magazine


Earlier this year, I published an article in Long Island Pulse magazine's May 2008 issue about gluten-free dining on Long Island, NY - my native land. After an intro with basic information about Celiac Disease and gluten-free cuisine, I launch into a list of restaurants in Nassau and Suffolk counties that have dedicated GF menus. If you're interested in reading the article, you can check it out here. Two months after the article published, I was excited to see that it got a favorable mention on Gluten Free NYC, another GF blog. Yeah for positive feedback!

- Pete

Friday, August 8, 2008

C.B. & Potts - "Don't Be A Gluten" Beer


Last year, I heard through the grapevine that the C.B. & Potts brewery at Flatirons, in Broomfield, Colorado, was experimenting with a gluten-free beer. Alas, when I contacted head brewmaster Dennis O'Harrow, I found that the brewery was fresh out of the new brew. Thankfully, the GF beer - Don't Be A Gluten - is back on tap this summer, with many improvements, according to O'Harrow.

About the Brewmaster:
O'Harrow was a passionate homebrewer for 12 years, and worked for the Safeway brand of supermarkets. One day, he turned to his wife and expressed a desire to make his passion his work. He accrued two years worth of vacation and then jetted off to the University of Sunderland's Brewlab, in the United Kingdom, to learn how to become a brewer. Upon returning to his native Colorado, he apprenticed before landing a position as the head brewmaster for the C.B. & Potts in Broomfield, and he's been there ever since. C.B. & Potts has six locations in Colorado and one in Wyoming, and is part of the Ram International family of restaurants and breweries. About two years ago, O'Harrow read a newspaper article about Celiac Disease, and was astonished by its prevalence. That motivated him to craft a GF beer for people like me (and presumably, you the reader!).

About the Beer:
Don't Be A Gluten is a pale ale made from a blend of 65% sorghum, 5% buckwheat, and the remainder being corn and rice. It has 4.2% alcohol content, a golden yellow color, and sells for C.B & Potts standard pint price: $4 per glass. O'Harrow released the beer on July 15, and it's available at all of C.B. & Potts Colorado locations as taps become available. Don't Be A Gluten has been entered in the GF beer category at the upcoming Great American Beer Festival, and in a twist of sweet irony, O'Harrow pulled a planned wheat beer entry in order to throw Don't Be A Gluten into the mix of competition. Already, it's selling well at the Flatirons location, and drinkers have described it as "a great summer beer." O'Harrow admits: "It would probably sell better if I marketed it as a light pale, but I want people to know that it's a gluten-free beer."

My Review:
Don't Be A Gluten is nothing short of an exceptional GF beer. It's light and refreshing, and the flavor profile is superb. This beer can stand up against the best GF beers in the world. It scores major points with me on a few additional counts: 1) It's on tap! Literally every other gluten-free beer I've ever had has come out of a bottle. It's wonderful to have a pint glass of beer pulled off a tap. 2) It's a pale ale! Most GF beers are either ambers or lagers. It's wonderfully refreshing to have a lighter choice in the pale ale category. My final analysis: I'd be genuinely shocked if it doesn't medal at GABF. The only downsides to the beer are that it's only available locally (beyond Colorado's Front Range you'd have a hard time getting your hands on some) and that it's currently a seasonal (meaning you can't enjoy it year-round). Notwithstanding those minor points, Don't Be A Gluten is a home run.

- Pete

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Recipe: Margherita Pizza


Growing up on Long Island, New York - and with a Sicilian grandfather - Italian cooking has been a big part of my history. And when it comes to pizza (especially New York-style pizza), I like to think that I know what the good stuff tastes like. What can I say? I have high standards.

As much as I enjoyed ordering a great pie, I also enjoyed making one at home from scratch. It became a tradition for Kelli and me. Most often on Sunday nights, she'd make the dough, I'd make the sauce, and then we'd shape the pizza and cook it on a stone in our oven.

Naturally then, when we went gluten-free, one of the first things we wanted to do was try to make a GF pizza. It was early in our GF days, and the learning curve was still steep, so we figured the easiest thing to do would be to buy a pizza crust box mix and whip it up. As usual, Kelli pulled out the KitchenAid mixer and prepared the dough. "It's ready for you to shape," she called out.

I walked over and peered into the bowl. What I saw had the look and consistency of cake frosting. "How am I supposed to shape that into a pizza crust?" I asked.

"You're not," she explained. "You plop it into a pan and spread it with a spatula."

It just felt wrong. But I followed the directions and what came out of the oven tasted...terrible. The crust puffed up to twice the thickness of a slice of Sicilian, had the texture of sponge cake, and a taste so bad Kelli couldn't finish the first slice and I couldn't finish my second.

Since those early days we've perfected several pizza recipes, including this one, which uses the Chebe brand pizza dough mix. This recipe's combination of fresh tomato, garlic and basil makes it pop with flavor. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
Chebe pizza crust
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 brick Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
5-6 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
Dried basil
Dried oregano
GF turkey pepperoni

Steps:
  • Prepare the Chebe pizza crust as per its instructions. Be sure to par-bake the crust.
  • On the par-baked crust, layer the cheese first, then the tomato.
  • Mix the garlic and olive oil in a small container and then spoon onto the pizza.
  • Sprinkle with fresh basil, dried basil and dried oregano.
  • Add pepperoni.
  • Pop it in the oven and continue cooking until it's done to your liking (we like our pepperoni well-done!).
  • Enjoy!
- Pete

Monday, August 4, 2008

Offroad Triathlon: Xterra Beaver Creek


This upcoming Saturday, August 9, I'll be racing in the Xterra Beaver Creek, an offroad triathlon in Avon, Colorado that includes a 1.5k swim, 25k mountain bike, 8k run, and more than 4,500' of vertical ascent. I've been training hard, but I have a feeling this is still going to be a mighty tough race!

When I switched to a gluten-free diet a little over a year and half ago, I had to completely rethink my pre-race, during-race and post-race nutrition. Athletes often carbo load on pasta the night before a big race, and sponsors often provide a free beer to competitors after the race. Both of those were obviously off limits. The question was: how to fuel my body?

Usually, a combination of meat, vegetables and either potatoes, corn or rice would be my meal of choice the night before a race. It wasn't always that straightforward, however. Often, racing involves traveling away from home... Which means eating away from the safety of my own kitchen... Which can mean risking gluten contamination in a restaurant... Which is exactly what happened to me earlier this year.

It was the COSMIC Snowmass race, a ski mountaineering race near Aspen, Colorado. The night before the race, Kelli and I went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Glenwood Springs. I wasn't very confident in our server's understanding of my dietary needs, so we talked to the owner of the restaurant - who assured us that my meal would indeed be safe to eat. But before we even left the restaurant a short time later, I could feel myself getting sick. I was up half the night in pain. Sometime after midnight, I sat on the edge of our bed in the hotel room nearly in tears - the start of the race was less than seven hours away, and I felt as though all my hard work training in the weeks leading up to the race had been sabotaged at the last minute. I finished the race, and did okay, but I had wanted to do better. Could I have if I hadn't gotten sick the night before? Almost certainly yes.

Now, I always travel with a soft-sided shoulder bag with an integrated cooler. It's packed with "safe" foods I don't have to worry about eating. This way, whenever there's a question about gluten, I know I have something to eat...especially when a race is looming and I can't afford to be sidelined with gluten contamination.

Finally, I wanted to share a few thoughts on my during-race nutrition. Lots of racers use goo or different energy or sport bars. Unfortunately, many of those have gluten. However, I've become a big fan of two products that I use during races: Jelly Belly's Sport Beans, and Sharkies. Both are formulated for racing, and both are gluten-free. I'm a huge fan of the orange, lemon-lime, and fruit punch Sport Beans. I haven't tried all the Sharkies flavors yet, but so far, I've loved every flavor I've had. If you're looking for a way to fuel your body during high exertion activities, give them a try!

- Pete

Friday, August 1, 2008

Recipe: Honey-Soy Chicken with Grilled Zucchini


This is a quick and easy recipe that packs a lot of flavor punch into a simple package.

Ingredients
1/3 cup honey
3 tbsp Tamari wheat-free soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 zucchini
salt
pepper
garlic powder
Jasmine rice
hot chinese mustard
chili garlic sauce

Steps

  • Combine honey, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic in a medium bowl. Add chicken breasts and let marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Slice zucchini on a bias. Brush slices with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  • Preheat grill (so you get good grill marks!) and grill chicken and zucchini. Brush chicken with remaining marinade every so often until done.
  • In a small soy sauce bowl, combine 2-3 tbsp soy sauce with one dollop each of hot Chinese mustard and chili garlic sauce. Stir until well mixed.
  • Plate one chicken breast, and a serving each of rice and zucchini. With a spoon, drizzle the sauce from the previous step over the rice and chicken.
  • Enjoy!

- Pete