Monday, September 15, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins

As soon was we get the slightest cool-down at the end of the summer, I crave pumpkin. Pumpkin pasta, pumpkin patchin', pumpkin carving (yeah, not all is related to eating the pumpkin) and pumpkin muffins.

As for the frosting. Well, you know how that happens sometimes. You just so-happily have half a block of cream cheese in the fridge and it needs to be used for something and come on, who doesn't love a little cream cheese frosting? (Despite that these need no frosting whatsoever.) The frosting practically made itself.

Pumpkin Muffins

one 15 oz can of pureed pumpkin
2 cups of sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) cinnamon
2 teaspoons mixed spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, etc)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon (or 3 teaspoons) xantham gum
3 cups gluten-free flour

Preheat oven to 350. Oil or line two (12-cup) muffin pans.

In a large bowl, mix pumpkin and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and oil. Add salt, spices, baking soda, baking powder and xantham gum. Slowly add flour. Scrap down the bowl and mix again.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and sprinkle a little sugar on top (or not, if frosting). Bake for 20 to 25, until done.

Now, if you're crazy (like me) and want some frosting (like me) because you love cream cheese frosting (like me), beat 4 ounces room temperature cream cheese with 2 tablespoons butter and a tablespoon (or so) of milk. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, beat again and add a cup (or so) of powdered sugar. This will frost about 15-ish muffins. But after frosting them, you may want to call the cupcakes. Or not. Muffins don't have as much guilt.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to be Gluten-Free Sensitive

I got an email this week from Sara (hi Sara!) asking if I had any advise for someone who had friends who are gluten-free and wanted to be sensitive to that.

Oh, honey. You're awesome.

For starters, when you bring a pre-packaged gluten-free item to share on playdates, do not open the packaging until you get there (even drinks). That will be really helpful to keep down any contamination. Also, only purchase items that are not manufactured in the same plant as wheat. Considering how easy cross-contamination is, I cannot believe that these foods are gluten-free and people still get sick from them (I speak from experience).

As for cooking at home, that's a little more tricky.

Personally, I keep a gluten-free home. Last night my parents came to watch the boys (so we could go to Back to School Night at Griffin's school, where children are not welcomed -- that's a whole complaining post unto itself as they could at least name it to not sound child-friendly) and they brought takeout over to eat for dinner. With big wheat-y buns. I tried to convince them to eat outside but they weren't having that -- so they rolled paper towels all over my table and ate over them. And then I mopped after they left. Wheat ::shudder:: is not allowed here.

But, my home is the only home I know of that's gluten-free. When we visit family in Michigan I cook - and bake - in a home that has wheat, in a kitchen where wheat is served and prepared for every meal while we're there.

I have quite a few "rules" when I'm there (luckily, I have very understanding in-laws who want us all to stay healthy during our visits). One, is the the kitchen is really clean. Before I make anything - even a drink - I wipe everything down with cleaner and hot water. If I'm doing any mixing, I clean the black splash and under the cabinets as well.

When I cook something, I run all the dishes I need through the dishwasher before I cook with them (even if they were already "clean" - I've found traces of wheat flour in the cabinets, and I figure better safe than sorry). If you don't have a dishwasher, put on some gloves and re-wash what you need with super-hot water and soap. Gluten is one of the hardest proteins to denature. The hotter you can get dishes while cleaning, the better.

If you are using a hand-held or table standing mixer, make sure is is completely clean before using it. If it has anything dried or crusty on it, it's not safe and will contaminate what you're making.

Keep your own stash of gluten-free baking necessities and keep them separate to insure they do not get contaminated with wheat. This is such a pain, I'm sorry, but really you should not bake with same sugars, vanilla, spices, baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch or variety of flours (corn flour, for cornbread, etc) unless you open a new package for gluten-free baking and then use it for "regular" baking only afterwards. If you want to continue to use it for gluten-free purposes, put it in an air-proof container (or two air proof containers, one inside another) and label it all as gluten-free only. And I really want to say the same goes for milk, butter (not the whole box, just the bars), sour cream, yogurt, etc - start with an closed container for gluten-free cooking. When working with salt, take it straight of the big package, not what you use everyday.

And, of course, the items you use for gluten-free baking needs to be gluten-free and not processed in a plant that processes wheat. I've gotten sick from purchasing brown rice flour from a company that also manufactures a lot of wheat products - I'll never make that mistake again.

This is a good time to mention xantham gum, which is very important to gluten-free baking.

Gluten is a protein, a glue if you will. When you bake with wheat, the gluten is what helps make the final product hold it's shape. Baking soda and baking powder help it to rise, but the gluten is what makes it hold that shape once it's cooled.

Gluten-free baking, especially when using my gluten-free mix, is a very low-protein way of baking. Thus, no glue. No way to hold its shape. Xantham gum is very necessary because it works in the manner the glutens work - it helps it hold its shape. If the xantham gum is left out of a dish, it will collapse. If too much is used, it will also collapse. It's a very fine science.

Xantham gum is sold in bags that hold about 16 ounces - which is a lot. It will need to be decanted into it's own air tight container to keep it fresh. It takes me about a year to go through that much and I bake all the time, and it often goes stale before I've used it all. If something isn't baking right it's most likely your xantham gum, baking powder and/or baking soda has gone stale.

And here's my little hint: use one teaspoon of xantham gum for every cup of gluten-free flour in a baking dish like muffins, cakes and cupcakes; use half-a-teaspoon of xantham gum for every cup of gluten-free flour in baking dishes like cookies and brownies.

So if you have three cups of gluten-free flour in a cake recipe, you'll use one tablespoon of xantham gum (which equals three teaspoons). If you're making a cookie recipe that calls for one and a half cups flour, use 3/4 of a teaspoon of xantham gum.

The only other thing to touch on, really, is what contains gluten and what doesn't. The common idea is gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Oats are also avoided due to the high level of wheat-oat contamination in the fields and the processing plants. But, other grains are being discovered to contain similar glutens such as spelt and quinoa - it really depends on each individual's tolerance.

But the amount of chemicals and foodstuffs made from wheat, rye, barley and oats and astronomical. Gluten can be found in everything from ice creams, ketchup and hair products to yogurt, soy sauce, butter and soft drinks. Hidden glutens include natural flavors, mono and diglycerides, MSG, rice syrup, anything malted, yeast, vegetable shortenings, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), maltodextrin, maltose, food starch and spices -- and the list continues. Personally, I avoid anything chemically that I do not know exactly what it's from. Period.

If you do not have a gluten-free person in your home, I really, honestly recommend you only purchase items that are labeled gluten-free or are additive-free for sharing with your gluten-free friends. Read labels every time you buy something that should be gluten-free, because manufacturing moves and ingredients change.

And when in doubt, ask an expert - your friend who is gluten-free will definitely be able to tell you if she's comfortable with something or not. Or when in doubt, you can always ask me. I try to stay on top of the chemicals and the legislation.

I hope this helps! Happy baking!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Buttermilk Spice Muffins

These muffins are quickly becoming a family favorite around here, but if you're around Griffin you cannot refer to the word "spice" because he says these "aren't spicy, just yummy." And, don't ya know, six year olds know everything.

Buttermilk Spice Muffins

For the batter:
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 fluid ounces buttermilk (3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons, if you don't have a fluid-ounce measuring cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly-grated)
2 1/2 teaspoons xantham gum
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 cups gluten-free flour mix

cinnamon-sugar topping:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg (less than 1/4 teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Slowly add the three eggs, then vanilla and buttermilk (don't worry if the mix looks like cottage cheese).

Next, add the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, xantham gum and baking soda. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and beater and slowly add the gluten-free flour. Once the batter is fully incorporated, scrap down the sides and beater and again and mix for another minute.

Using an ice cream scoop (or not, if you don't have one), scoop 1/2 cup of batter into muffin cups. Mix the cinnamon sugar mixture and sprinkle on top of muffins. With a gentle hand. slightly mush (yes, mush) cinnamon sugar into batter -- you don't want to get any batter on your finger but you also don't want the majority of the cinnamon sugar to be loose (or, you can just ignore because these are you muffins and you should make them however you like them). The batter should make 12 muffins.

Place muffins into the preheated 375 degree oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife come clean from the center. Allow muffins to cool. Enjoy!

Best eaten off a thrifted plate! Or a paper towel, or standing over the sink, or whilst driving to a doctor's appointment, or...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Veggie Pasta (with shrimp!)

For the past few weeks, I've been enticing spring to come here to Kansas City. Come one dude, I'm using your vegetables... you should come for a nice, long visit.

And I do believe it's working.

Spring Veggie Pasta (with shrimp!)

1 sweet yellow onion or leek (rinsed and dried), diced
1 bunch asparagus, washed, dried, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
1/2 lb. carrots, pealed and diced (I used baby carrots)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 lb shrimp, pealed and deveined (with or without tails, up to you)
salt and pepper
olive oil
one box (12 or 16 oz) corn pasta
grated parmesan cheese, for topping

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt water and, when ready, add corn pasta. Boil until done (usually one minute over the recommended cooking time). Drain pasta and rinse* with cool water.

While the water pot is heating up, in a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add onion (or leek), salt and pepper and cook 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat, until translucent. Add asparagus, carrots and pepper and a little more salt and pepper and continue to saute another 5 minutes until veggies are bright in color. Push veggies to the edges of the skillet and add another tablespoon of oil to the center of the pan. Add shrimp (and a little salt and peper) and continue to cook shrimp and veggies, stirring often, until shrimp is done (about five minutes or so).

Once pasta is drained and rinsed, add to shrimp-veggie mixture after the shrimp is done cooking. Toss together, top with cheese and will spring to come visit you as well.

*Rinse: always, always, always rinse gluten-free pasta. In the event you aren't gluten-free and use regular wheat pasta do not rinse.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Chicken Fajitas

It's my full, complete intention to do a week of dinners this week. In part, due to me baking so much I realize people need dinner ideas... people cannot live on cupcakes alone. And due to the other fact that I lose recipes and can't find them ever again.

I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about, right? Right.

Chicken Fajitas:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
canola oil (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon chili powder*
2 teaspoons garlic powder* (divided)
salt and pepper
3 colorful bell peppers, cut into slices
1 sweet yellow or red onion, cut into slices

For serving:
6 inch corn tortillas
fresh limes
sour cream
anything else you deem necessary for fajita fixin's

Preheat boiler, place a rack in the highest position. Cover at least two cookie sheets with foil.

Cut the chicken breast - carefully, cut tenderloins off breasts and then cut breasts in half width-wise (tricky, I know). Place chicken on foil lined cookie sheets, drizzle them with 1-2 tablespoons of oil and season with chili powder, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, salt and pepper. With clean hands, rub everything all over the chicken, place chicken in a single layer and place under the broiler. Broil 6 to 8 minutes.

(For those with a more sensitive palate, rub chicken with salt and pepper and call it good. My boys aren't too fond of "that spicy stuff" that "burns" their tongues.)

While chicken is cooking, place sliced peppers and onions on another foil lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper. Rub all over veggies and try to place in a single layer.

When the chicken comes out of the broiler (on my case, top of my oven), put veggies under the broiler and cook 7 to 9 minutes, stirring the veggies every 3 minutes.

Let the chicken rest for a few minutes and then cut into strips.

Place a dampened paper towel on a microwavable plate, layer corn tortillas and another damped paper towel. Microwave on high for one minute to make tortillas soft.

When the veggies come out of the oven and the chicken is sliced and the tortillas are warm, eat up! And enjoy!

*Always, always, always make sure your spices are gluten-free. I purchase mine from Penzey's who lists the gluten if it's included. For other spice manufacturers, check out their website.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lemon Cake

Sometimes, cooking seems too precise. And it’s rather ridiculous, actually, for everything to be perfect and the same every time. When I make this lemon cake, it always turns out great regardless if I use big lemons, little lemons, two lemons or one lemon. Sure, you can measure the lemon zest to three tablespoons if you want, and the lemon juice to two tablespoons if you so desire. But I like to not waste lemons and simplify my recipes. So use what you have on hand and experiment a little!

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

zest of two lemons

juice of one lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature (make sure it is gluten-free)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons xantham gum

1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour mix

glaze: juice of remaining lemon and 3/4 to 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Meanwhile, butter a loaf pan with the butter wrapper.

Add eggs, one at a time, to mixing bowl. Add zest, lemon juice and vanilla and mix until combined. Slowly add buttermilk, mix and scrape down the bowl.

On low, add salt, baking powder, baking soda and xantham gum and gluten-free flour mix. Mix until well combined, scrape down the sides and the beater and mix again.

Scoop batter into loaf pan and spread. Bake in 350 oven 45 to 60 minutes until done (crust will be brown) and a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cake cool to room temperature and remove cake from pan and place on a plate.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice and 3/4 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Add more powdered sugar until you achieve a consistency you like. (Personally, I like it so thick it barely drizzles, so I use about 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.) Drizzle glaze over lemon cake, encouraging it to flow over the edges. Let glaze set up (if you can wait that long) and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Banana Bread

Even though I'm not suppose to eat bananas, I still love me some good banana bread.

No, I'm actually not allergic to bananas, but I do have an intolerance to them.

The difference between an intolerance and an allergy, you ask?

Allergies show up on the lab tests
. Intolerances do not.

That's the only difference.

And my philosophy with this whole hullabaloo is, if you're not going to die and not be in too much pain it's actually a little good to expose yourself to intolerances to help your body build some natural immunities too it.

Sounds good, right?

Gluten-free Banana Bread

½ cup (one stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons xantham gum
1 2/3 cup gluten-free flour
2 large (or 3 small) ripe bananas
1 cup pecans, optional

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or fork. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla and sour cream and beat until smooth.

Add baking soda, salt and xantham gum and beat until incorporated. Add flour and beat until smooth, scraping down sides.

Fold in bananas and nuts.

Pour batter into pan, smoothing out sides. If you like, sprinkle the top with a teaspoon of granulated sugar. Bake in 350 degree oven for 50 minutes to an hour, until cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool and share with your family. Or not.