Thursday, December 27, 2012

Now is The Perfect Time

Now that the bulk of the holiday frenzy has died down, it’s time to give back. There are still a few days left to make a donation to your favorite food allergy charity before the end of the year.

If you’re looking for inspiration, here are a few non-profit organizations and causes you might consider:

KFA (Kids with Food Allergies Foundation
): This organization is one I am very close to as a member of the Board of Directors. KFA’s mission is focused on helping families manage food allergies, education, and keeping children safe. You can get double bang for you buck by donating here, as the board of directors has pledged to match donations between now and the end of the year.

APFED (American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders)
is focused on helping families with EE/EoE and other eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders, as well as research.

FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education): This organization formed by the merger between FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) and FAI (Food Allergy Initiative) has announced that it will focus on research and education as its primary mission.

Heroes for Life at Lurie’s Children’s Hospital: Donations to this cause will help fund food allergy research. And with a donation of $250 or more you may be eligible to receive a signed copy of my book.

Whether or not you are able to contribute to any of these fabulous causes, your participation in this community is appreciated.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Have a fabulous holiday!

If you are in need of (very) last minute gift ideas, or holiday hostess gifts, check out my selection of artisan holiday gift ideas for gluten-free and food-allergic foodies.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea – Vanilla Extract Results

It’s been a fun month of artisan and homemade gift ideas for vegan, gluten-free, and food-allergic foodies. I started this series by attempting to make my own vanilla extract, and promised that I would report on the results. I am pleased to tell you that the experiment worked!

This may be the simplest food gift I’ve ever made. The recipe is as easy as placing whole vanilla beans in vodka, shaking it up every now and then, and letting it sit for 5-6 weeks. When I started on November 7th, my project looked like this:

In just a few days (on November 13th) I could see the vanilla seeping out of the beans:

By November 27th (about 3 weeks) you can see that it was a nice deep color and it was taking on that sweet vanilla smell:

On December 17th (about 5 ½ weeks) (see the picture at the top of this post), I decided it was ready to bottle:

It was a lot of fun to watch the color of the liquid change over time. This would make a fabulous science fair project!

My next version of this experiment will use bourbon. Vodka was a good choice of alcohol because it starts clear – making it very easy to see the depth of color change over time, but it doesn’t provide the same rich flavor that vanilla made from bourbon does.

Important note
: Make sure you check what grains are used in the making of the alcohol you use. Many alcohols are made from wheat.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Weighty Topic

Weight matters. The weight of your flour, that is.

Today I am going to share the single most important thing you need to know when baking with gluten-free flours. Even if you are baking without eggs and dairy (as I always do) the amount of flour you use is the one thing you must get right. It doesn’t matter whether you are using a rice-based blend, a multi-grain blend, or some other combination of flours, if you use too much flour (by weight) your baking project will fail.

I frequently get asked about recipes (mine as well as others) and why a particular baking project failed. The symptoms are usually things like:
  • My muffins (bread/cake) fell flat after baking.
  • My baked goods are too heavy.
  • My baked goods are too dry.
Sound familiar? More often than not, the problem is too much flour.

So what’s the secret to success?

Most recipes (including mine) will call for flour measured in terms of cups. When you are baking with wheat, a volume measurement for wheat works just fine; most wheat flours weigh between 120 and 124 grams per cup. There isn’t enough variation between flours to make a difference.

Gluten-free flour blends, on the other hand, vary tremendously in weight. The flour blends I use weigh between 120 and 160 grams per cup. Individual gluten-free flours (single grain) weigh between 110 and upwards of 160 grams per cup.

If you are modifying a recipe that calls for 2 cups of wheat flour and replace it with a rice-based gluten-free flour blend that weighs 160 grams per cup, you will be using 60 grams more flour than the recipe requires. You won’t be happy with the result.

So what’s a baker to do?

The trick is to adjust the amount of flour you use, based on weight. In the example above, instead of 2 cups of flour, you should use 1 ½ cups. Yes, there’s that much difference.

I know what you’re thinking – it doesn’t feel right. Trust me, I’ve done this experiment many times. The answer is simple – measure flour by weight, not by volume.

Yes, it’s math, but you don’t have to be a math whiz to be a great allergen-free baker. You have two choices:

Option 1: First you need to know how much flour the recipe really requires. For example, all of my recipes in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free are measured to 128-130 grams per cup of flour. That’s my preference because I like to use the lighter whole grain gluten-free flours. If you were able to use wheat in one of my recipes, you should add one tablespoon of flour per cup that the recipe calls for. (This is because wheat flour weighs less than 128 grams.) If you choose to use a flour blend such as King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Blend (in the blue and white box), which weighs 160 grams per cup, then you must reduce the amount of flour you use by 3 tablespoons per cup. For a recipe that calls for 2 cups of flour, you will take away 6 tablespoons after measuring 2 cups.

In my book, I include a table that describes how to make these important adjustments for some of my favorite off-the-shelf blends.

Option 2: Use a scale. This is the easy method. Again, you need to know how much flour the recipe calls for (by weight) and then simply measure to it. While you may not want to invest in a scale, I think you’ll find it saves you money in the long run, and I know you’ll be thrilled with the results. For my recipes, if you weigh to between 128 and 130 grams per cup, you’ll be in great shape!

Tip: Always measure your flour first. That way you can easily make adjustments without worrying about other ingredients in the bowl.

Have you had issues with the weight of your flour in your baking? Do you use a scale or adjust by volume?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea – Artisan Holiday Chocolate Truffles

Oh my! This week I decided to go decadent. I have not one, but two versions of yummy chocolate truffles for you.

It never takes arm-twisting to convince me to make something chocolate, and these are here just in time to make them for a hostess gift for a holiday party, or to serve on Christmas Eve, or alongside dessert on Christmas Day. And did you know that Santa really appreciates chocolate truffles after all those cookies? He (or ahem – she) might even prefer them!

Chocolate Truffles, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegan, easy to make and perfect to share!

The basic ingredients for these truffles is the same:

¼ cup coconut cream (I use So Delicious creamer – the one in the small carton that’s intended to be added to coffee)
1 ½ tbsp Earth Balance Natural Shortening (or shortening of choice)
1 cup chocolate chips (Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips is my choice)
½ tsp vanilla extract

What makes them special is what you add:

For Holiday Sprinkle Truffles you will need some festive sprinkles. Be sure to check the label for possible allergens.

For Peppermint Truffles you will need some crushed peppermint candy (either buy it crushed or crush a candy cane) and some unsweetened natural cocoa powder. Again, check the labels.

Here’s a trick – if you’re making more than one batch, make them together and separate the chocolate when you’re ready to add the special ingredients.

Half of the fun in making truffles is getting your hands dirty, and it’s a great activity to do with the kids (just make sure they wear something easily washable).

Step 1
: Melt the shortening and creamer together over medium heat. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir frequently, just bringing it to a boil. Add in the chocolate chips and vanilla and whisk to a smooth glossy consistency.

Step 2: Refrigerate for an hour to an hour and a half, until the mixture is hardened, but pliable. Soften it for 30 seconds in a blender, if needed.

I’m always afraid that this isn’t going to work, that the mixture won’t harden, and I am amazed when it works every time!

Step 3
: If you need to add in ingredients, add them now. For the Peppermint Truffles, this is where you add in the peppermint bits (1/4 cup for the full recipe). For the Holiday Sprinkle Truffles, there is nothing to add here.

Step 4
: Roll the truffles with your hands. Use cool dry hands. You can make the truffles as big or as small as you want. Scoop them out first, then roll. Use just your palms with very light pressure. Place the balls on a sheet of parchment.

Step 5
: Decorate!

For the Holiday Sprinkle Truffles: Place the spinkles in a shallow dish. Roll the truffles in the sprinkles to coat the exterior. You may need to gently press the sprinkles into the truffles to get them to stick.

For the Peppermint Truffles: The peppermint bits are already inside. Place ¼ cup of cocoa in a shallow dish, and roll the truffles in the cocoa to coat.

Making Chocolate Truffles, the perfect artisan gift for the holidays!

While the Sprinkle Truffles look pretty, I have a definite preference for the peppermint truffles:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Make Your Own Food Coloring

I avoid buying anything with food coloring in it, and I absolutely refuse to add anything to my food that isn’t – well, food. Who needs ingredients like FD&C Yellow 5, or FD&C Blue 1, or FD&C Red 40 in their food? Not I, and you may not want it either.

But without some kind of coloring, frosting a cake can become a bit blah. My solution? Use real food to color the frosting. Melted chocolate will make for a nice brown decoration, but my favorite ingredient to use to color food is fruit.

Here I used cranberries to color my white frosting pink. I used a small mashing tool to squeeze the juice out of about a dozen cranberries, and then added one tablespoon of the juice to my frosting. More juice would result in a deeper color, less juice would give a lighter hue.

I used the leftovers from a cake decorating project to decorate some Baked Doughnuts from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts.

Another great option for a natural red food coloring is pomegranate seeds. As you remove the seeds from the pomegranate, take advantage of the juice. What do you use for food coloring?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea – Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Apple Cider Candy

Last week it was chocolate chewy candy, this week I’ve got a new spin on the chewy candy for you – Apple Cider Candy.

Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Apple Cider Candy

1/2 cup powdered sugar 

1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups powdered rice milk

2 tbsp agave nectar
4 tbsp boiled cider
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Earth Balance Natural Shortening, melted
(or shortening of choice)

Combine the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and half of the powdered rice milk. Mix together well and set it aside. This will be a very powdery mix.

In a large mixing bowl, blend together the agave nectar, boiled cider, vanilla, and shortening. Add the dry ingredients and blend on low until completely combined.

Coat a smooth prep surface with a small amount of the remaining rice milk. Move the dough from the bowl to the prep surface. Work the remaining powdered milk into the candy ball with your hands, a little bit at a time. When you can no longer manipulate the ball with your hands (or you use up the remaining powdered rice milk) you are done kneading.

Place the dough ball on a sheet of wax paper and flatten it with your hands until it is a disk. Use a sharp non-stick knife to cut the dough into desired size pieces. Cut squares of wax paper and wrap the candies individually. This recipe makes about 24 pieces.

Wrap it up with a bow and you have a fabulous artisan gift for your favorite foodie!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Earth Balance Adds Flax to Their Natural Shortening Sticks

There are some things that just shouldn’t change. I hate it when my favorite bra is discontinued, or the formula for the moisturizer that I use for my sensitive skin changes. When food ingredients change – and they do – I get even more distressed.

Most recently, Earth Balance has changed the formula for their natural shortening sticks. These are the ones that come in the green and light yellow box, and work marvelously as a replacement for butter when baking. Until now, the sticks were a blend of palm fruit, canola, soybean, and olive oils – all non-GMO. Now, they have added flax oil to the mix.

This means that the parents of kids with allergies to flax or other seeds may no longer be able to use this as their shortening. I say “may” because the product consists of oils – fats – rather than proteins; most allergies are to the protein in food, and oils are usually refined well enough that no protein remains. However, seeds are tricky things, and anyone with a flax or seed allergy will want to check with their doctor before continuing to use this product.

That said, when I called Earth Balance to check on the ingredients, they were very excited about the change, noting that the addition of flax means greater nutrition in the form of Omega-3 fatty acid, and for many of us that is a good thing. It is also a good thing that the product continues with all non-GMO ingredients – including the canola oil.

I can also tell you that the new formula works equally well as the prior version when baking, and remains a favorite of mine for replacing butter. If flax is not a concern for your family, you will want to continue to use it too. However, this is a great reminder that ingredients change, and you must always check the labels – every time.