Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spinach Pasta – Gluten-Free, Vegan, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free

A few weeks ago I shared a “basic” make-at-home pasta recipe. Kathryn suggested I make spinach pasta next, so here we are!

The tricky part about making spinach pasta was to make sure I didn’t make it too wet. Every recipe for homemade spinach I could find started with cooked spinach, so I did as well. But once spinach is cooked it gets mushy and wet, and I didn’t want to lose the great nutrients. Instead of squeezing all the juice out, I simply drained mine. Then, instead of the usually flax seed gel, I combined the spinach, flax seed meal, and water in a food processor first, then let it sit. (Kind of like a spinach flax seed gel.) This worked surprisingly well!

Spinach Pasta

¼ cup spinach, cooked and drained
2 tbsp flaxseed meal
4 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp light olive oil
1 ½ cups gluten-free flour (182 grams)
¼ cup tapioca (32 grams)
¾ cup brown rice (90 grams)
½ cup millet (60 grams)
½ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt

Puree the spinach, flaxseed meal, and water in a food processor until it is smooth. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then transfer to the mixing bowl.

Blend in the olive oil. In a separate bowl, stir together the flours, xanthan gum, and salt. Add it to the spinach mixture and blend until crumbly. From there, follow the process for the basic pasta to form small balls and feed them into the KitchenAid attachment. Let them dry until you are ready to make dinner.

I cooked mine for 3 ½ minutes, and they were perfect!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Creative Cupcakes at the CIA

I am such a lucky girl! On Saturday I attended a class at the Culinary Institute of America called Creative Cupcakes. I consider myself very fortunate to live just a few miles away from the CIA. I’d be crazy not to take advantage of it, right?

First, a warning: The cupcakes you are about to see are not gluten-free, dairy-free, allergen-free, or free of any of the foods most of us need to avoid. These cupcakes were made with wheat, butter, and eggs. The frostings were made with sugar, butter, and milk. Some of us might call them inedible, while others might call them poison.

I didn’t take the class to learn how to make the cupcakes; I went to the class because I wanted to learn how to make them pretty.

But before I get to the beauty shots, allow me to share a few things I learned:

Flavor, flavor, flavor
– baked goods are all about flavor. I agree! In fact, that’s one of the reasons I love gluten-free/dairy-free/egg-free baking. If all you use is wheat flour, butter, eggs, and sugar your flavor options are limited. When you use different grains (buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa) instead of wheat, and different fats (coconut oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil) instead of butter, there are unlimited flavor options. Am I becoming a gluten-free baking snob? Hmmm… maybe.

Orange and chocolate go really well together
– Great idea! I have long been a believer of mixing chocolate and fruit. You will see me combining orange and chocolate in the future, for sure!

Add alcohol
– This is not something I think to do very often. Even though vanilla extract is alcohol-based, I rarely think to add alcohol beyond that. This is one I will explore.

Everything looks better with colored sugar sprinkles
. Even if you do a lousy job with the frosting, sprinkle some sugar and you get:

Now, about making those cupcakes look pretty.

We learned how to make two different kinds of frosting roses:

Nope, I didn’t make those – they were mostly made by our instructor:

Here are a few of the cupcakes I decorated:

These were decorated by my instructor:

And these last few were decorated by a class attendee who has been decorating cupcakes for more than 30 years:

Clearly I still need some practice!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Butternut Squash Luncheon Tart

I am always searching for creative ways to top a pizza crust. A photo I saw in a recent issue of Bon Appetit Magazine inspired this recipe. Their version had a layer of cream cheese beneath the squash and was topped with sugar; nevertheless I wanted to come up with an allergen-free version of a butternut squash tart. On a recent snow day I decided to get busy creating.

Butternut Squash Luncheon Tart

2 cups of butternut squash slices (I used ½ of a medium squash)
1 tablespoon olive oil (additional oil needed for crust)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pizza crust (see note below)
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic
½ tablespoon basil

Peel and seed the squash. Use a mandolin slicer to make thin slices of squash (or use a knife, keeping the slices about ¼ inch). Spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush a light coat of olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) and sprinkle a small amount of salt (about 1 teaspoon) on top of the squash.

Bake the squash slices at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. After baking, cover with a wet paper towel until it’s time to assemble the tart.

For this recipe I used The Thin Pizza Crust recipe in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free.Yes, a pizza crust is what you want to use here and this one works fabulously with this recipe.

Spread a light coat of olive oil on a par-baked (partially baked, about 12 minutes) pizza crust. Layer the squash on the crust. Slice onions and garlic and layer them on top of the squash.

Garnish with 1/2 tablespoon of basil, if desired.

Bake at 350 for 14 minutes or until all ingredients are done.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Five Fabulous Reasons to Attend the GFAF Expo

In 2012 I attended my first Gluten-Free/Allergen-Free Expo.

Even though it was a plane ride to Chicago, I was tired of jealously watching twitter and facebook as others talked about their favorite finds. I was very happy to have attended last year and am really looking forward to this year’s event in Chicago on April 20th and 21st.

Here are my top five reasons why you should attend:

1. There are terrific products for food allergy families. Yes, it started as a gluten-free expo, but we all know that the need for gluten-free and allergen-free products is tightly linked (and tends to run in families). Last year there were many vendors that – in addition to providing gluten-free products – were serving up products that eliminated the top food allergens (or at least some of the top allergens). Tons of vegan products as well!

2. There is food. I can taste nearly all of the samples! I don’t worry about what I am going to be able to eat. There are samples – lots of them. With my own allergies to gluten and soy, I can try nearly all of the samples. (Of course there is a downside to being able to try everything – and that is that you just might do so.)

3. New, new, new… While I expect to be able to find some of my favorite products on display, I am looking forward to finding great new products. Click here to see some of my favorite new finds from last year’s show. What am I looking for this year? Gluten-free and soy-free skincare and haircare products (it’s not just about food), anything chocolate, and anything I can bake with!

4. Inspiration. Just walking around and checking out the displays, and trying new products, I am bound to come up with ideas of new things I can create in my kitchen. The best part really starts once you get home and get out the mixer.

5. I’ll be at the Expo in Chicago signing books. I’ll be in the author area signing books, meeting you, and answering your questions. (Have I mentioned that I love to answer how-to questions?) And it’s not just me, there will be lots of gluten-free and food-allergy book authors there. If you’re going, please stop by and say hi!

Find out more about the GFAF Expo in Chicago here.

And I’m thrilled that the Expo is coming to the East Coast this year. If you can’t make Chicago, then perhaps I’ll see you in New Jersey in the fall.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Grass Roots Food Allergy Movement – Take the Pledge

NAAC Take the Pledge
We all know that moms will do anything to protect their kids. And we know that moms of children with food allergies have to be strong advocates for their kids. And many of those moms go well beyond advocating for their own children by starting support groups and driving an agenda for change.

What happens when a group of these special moms and advocates put their heads together to move a cause forward?

The National Allergy and Anaphylaxis Council happens!

This new organization is led by volunteers/advocates who care – most of whom are already strong advocates for the food allergy community. Their mission is to raise awareness regarding food allergies and anaphylaxis and advocate for the fair treatment, inclusion, and safety of those diagnosed with this hidden disability.

Kudos to Gina Lee, Lisa Horne, Thanita Glancey, Karen Harris, Yael Kozar, Caroline Moassessi, Amelia Smith Murphee, Lisa Giuriceo, Christina Stainkamp, and Aleasa Word for starting this movement.

But their voices alone are not enough.

Would you like to add your voice? Take the pledge!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Natural Light Food Photography at MDR Studios

There are many things I love about photographing food; the subject always sits still and never complains, I can show as much detail as I want, and I can take my time to get the shot right. I find photographing food to be very cathartic and engrossing – not something to be rushed. Of course, I usually do it alone – I don’t have food stylists or prop stylists to work with, and I am my own client.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a food photography class at MDR Studios in Los Angeles. I had been searching for just the right class, and this one fit the bill. It helped a lot that my oldest son is living in Pasadena and I could combine the class with a trip to visit. I probably wouldn’t have dragged myself out to California if that hadn’t been the case, but I am so glad that I did.

First, the instructors – Christina Peters (photographer) and Liesl Maggiore (food stylist) were nothing short of amazing. Having learned from the Internet, online classes, and books, I’ve been doing it myself for a while. I surely could have used a class like this before I started taking pictures for my book, but no doubt I’ll put everything I learned to good use for the next one.

Here’s just a bit of what I learned:

Decide on the shot first. This may have been the most enlightening bit of knowledge for me, as most instructors suggest moving the camera around to find the best angle and composition. Not Christina – she decides on the shot (including where to place her camera and what lens to use), and while she may move the camera a bit for framing purposes, for the most part once her camera is set up it stays where it is. Then she moves the food (in tiny increments), adjusts the light, and adjusts the camera to get the right exposure and depth of field – making tiny tweaks along the way to get the right shot. One picture could take hours to set up and shoot.

While Christina is manning the camera and all that goes with it, Liesl prepares the food. Patience may be the most required skill for a food stylist – in addition to having a good eye. Liesl knows what she wants the picture to look like when it is complete, down to where every crumb goes. She spent a good half hour (maybe more) filling a pitcher with the drink Christina photographed. Every slice of fruit, and each ice cube was carefully placed.

Each of the students had an opportunity to create their own shot. Since most of what I do is baked goods, I chose some scones to photograph. (Note: these are not gluten-free or allergen-free, but they made a good subject.)

After a few preliminary shots to get the right exposure and light, this was my picture:

Christina suggested getting in closer and trying to capture powdered sugar being sprinkled on the scones. That required re-adjustments to the camera for a faster shot at a higher ISO setting, and here was the result:

Hungry? Well, we can’t eat these scones, but there are three terrific scone recipes in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Q&A: How Much Baking Powder Do I Need?

I love questions from readers. Most often the questions I receive are very specific to a particular (often very limited) diet, but I recently received a question that is applicable to everyone, so I will share my response.

(wording has changed) I am attempting to adapt a traditional recipe to be gluten-free. This recipe uses both baking soda and baking powder. Do I use them both? And in what amounts?

Answer: When baking gluten-free (and especially if also egg-free) I recommend doubling the amount of baking powder that a traditional recipe calls for.

If the recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder, use the baking soda (do not adjust the amount) and double the baking powder.

For example:

If the original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 ½ teaspoons baking power, use 1 teaspoon baking soda and 3 teaspoons baking powder in your gluten-free recipe.

Keep in mind that baking soda needs an acid to react with. This could be lemon juice, orange juice, chocolate, vinegar, etc. Many recipe developers mistakenly add baking soda to their recipes when they don’t have an acidic ingredient. If that’s the case, then feel free to leave out the baking soda – you won’t lose anything. Also keep in mind that baking soda reacts quickly, so make sure you get your project into the oven quickly once your batter is mixed!

Happy Baking!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Make Your Own Bourbon Vanilla Extract

Late last year I shared the results of my project to make my own vanilla extract. The vanilla I made for gifts was made with vodka; I wanted to be able to see the color change over time, and I just happened to have some vodka in the pantry that was probably never going to be used for drinks.

I’ve been using that vanilla extract for baking, and I’m quite happy with it – but I wanted to try making some vanilla extract with Bourbon – like the fine (and expensive) Madagascar bourbon vanilla we can buy at the store. I am pleased to report that my bourbon vanilla is now ready, and I am delighted with the results.

First, a comparison:

On the left is the vodka vanilla extract and the bourbon vanilla extract is on the right. The containers are identical (white) so you can see the difference. I placed ½ tablespoon in each container. (I didn’t edit the color at all – this is a straight from camera shot.) Wow! What a difference!

But it’s not just the color that’s different – the smell is distinctly different. While the vodka vanilla smells simply like vanilla, the bourbon version has that rich smell that we associate with high-end vanilla.

Perhaps the most important question is:

Is it worth it to make your own?

Let’s do the math:

To make your own vanilla extract (three 4-ounce bottles) you need:

4-5 vanilla beans: $6.50
I bought a package of 10 Madagascar vanilla beans from amazon for $12.99. I don’t recommend buying them 2 at a time in the grocery store. If you are going to do this buy a larger package – it’s much cheaper.

Alcohol: $30
Prices vary dramatically depending on whether you have some sitting around unused, or whether you want to splurge on high-end bourbon. So let’s say you spend $30 on a small bottle of nice bourbon. (If you are concerned about gluten-free ingredients, make sure you pick bourbon that is made from 100% corn grain, not wheat, rye, or barley. If you choose vodka make sure you choose one that is made from potato, not wheat.)

Bottles: $5
You may be able to re-use some that you have (perhaps from the vanilla you used to buy at the store). A pack of 12 4-ounce bottles will run about $14.50 at amazon.

The total for three 4-ounce bottles of vanilla extract is $41.50, or $13.83 per bottle.

Comparison: A 4-ounce bottle of good Madagascar vanilla extract will run you about $12.50.

I call this a draw. If you use ingredients that you already have (like my vodka in the pantry) the cost goes down dramatically. You can also reduce the cost by re-using the bottles. And remember – don’t throw away the vanilla beans after you’ve made the extract. Save them to use with jams, puddings, etc.

So – if you are inclined to do a science experiment, go ahead and play, but if you’d rather buy it at the store you won’t be throwing money away. What’s your take?