Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lemon Cake

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I’ve missed it, but life happens.  Now that things have settled down, I’m excited to get back to cooking and writing.
I would like to discuss one of my favorite subjects – cake.  Recently, some of my sisters visited, and while they were here, one celebrated her birthday.  Since she and I both have grown children, I won’t say which birthday she celebrated, but it’s pretty far up there.  She asked for a lemon layer cake, and since, as an older sister, she’s the boss of me, I decided to figure out how to make a gluten-free lemon cake that we would all enjoy.  What we won’t do for our family, geez.
I looked around on the internet for good lemon layer cake recipes, but didn’t have all of the ingredients, and since the closest grocery store is three hours round trip, I had to adapt.  Thank you, Paula, for making me be creative.

One advantage I had was fresh lemons.  Our daughter-in-law’s parents have a lemon tree, and Bailey had kindly brought me some lemons that week.  Thank you, Bailey.  Your timing couldn’t have been better.
Now, not long ago I wouldn’t have tackled a recipe like this.  It looked like a lot of work, and I’m a pretty lazy cook.  Actually, it turned out to be easy peasy, lemon squeezy (I had to say that). I’ll make it again for my husband’s birthday because he loves all things lemon.
Enough talk; let’s get to the good stuff.
First, put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 3500F.  Next, you’ll want to grease and flour two 9” round cake pans.  Actually, there is a great mix for greasing pans.  Things seldom stick when I use it.  The mix is: one part Crisco, one part oil, and one part GF flour.  You can store it in your cupboard in an airtight container for up to three months.
Anyway, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or wax paper, and grease the paper.  This step isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will make your life a whole lot easier.
In a medium bowl, you’ll sift together GF flour, salt, baking powder, and xanthan gum.  You don’t have to sift them together, but I’ve found that baked goods are so much lighter when the dry ingredients have been sifted. 
In another bowl, you’ll stir together milk, oil, vanilla, and the zest of a big, fat, juicy lemon.  Well, the ones I had were big, fat and juicy.  In fact, one could probably have won a prize at a county fair.
Next, using an electric mixer, you’ll need to beat together granulated sugar and eggs until they’re just combined.  Reduce the speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixtures in batches, beginning and ending with the flour.  I emphasize turning the mixer to low, because I didn’t.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake about 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Once they are finished baking, cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, run a thin knife around the edge of the pan and, laying a cake rack across the top of the cake, flip it over so the rack is holding the cake, and slide the pan off the cake.  Do this for both layers.  Peel off the parchment paper and let those cakes cool.
Time to make some lemon curd.  You know those lemons that you used for zest?  Well, now that you’ve stripped them of their outsides, you’ll want to squeeze out their insides.  Whisk it together with more zest, sugar, egg yolks, a pinch of salt and xanthan gum in a heavy saucepan.  Add butter and cook over a medium heat whisking constantly until it starts to thicken.  Whisk in some lemon extract and immediately pour the mixture into a bowl and cover the surface with wax paper so a skin doesn’t form on top.  Chill the curd in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
While the curd is hanging out in the fridge just chillin’, make the frosting and prepare the cake.
Beat some butter with an electric mixer until it’s light and fluffy.  This should only take about a minute.  Turn the mixer to low and add confectioner sugar, lemon juice and a bit of lemon extract to give it a little more of a punch and mix until it’s creamy and smooth.  On a side note, I sift the confectioner sugar before using so it melds more easily with the butter.  It’s not necessary, but makes the frosting smoother.
Next is the fun part.  Using a long, serrated knife, cut each cake in half horizontally so you now have four layers.  Put the first layer on a cake plate.  Spread half the lemon curd on this layer before putting the second layer on top of it.  Spread some frosting on this layer.  Now add the third layer, and spread the remaining curd over this layer.  Finally, top that with the fourth layer.  Now, frost the entire cake.  For the finishing touch, sprinkle the top of the cake with the last of the lemon zest – beautiful as well as tasty. 
Not to brag, but it was so good, we didn’t even stop to get pictures of the cut cake.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Raisin Bread

Raisin Bread


Some of my sisters are coming to visit, and I am beyond excited.  We are scattered across the country, so seldom get to see each other.  I want to make them feel at home, and what better way than to make one of our mom’s best recipes – Raisin Bread.  Mmmm, so good.  Just the thought of it makes my mouth water.  It was the favorite of more than one of the siblings, and there were several of us.
 To start, you’ll need 2 cups of fresh raisins. I recommend Sunmaid because, not only do they taste great, but they’re from California’s central valley, so I have more than a little partiality toward them. 

 Anyway, you’ll want to boil them along with 2 cups sugar and 2 cups of water.  Let them boil together for ten minutes. 
Next, you’ll add 3 TBS of butter and stir just until it melts.  Remove the concoction from the heat and let it cool.  Actually, it says to let it cool, but really what you want to do is let it sit for several hours.  You want those raisins to try to recapture their youth by plumping up like fat little grapes.  I let them sit overnight.  You don't have to do this, but it really adds to the flavor.

 Once you’re ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 3500 F.  While it’s heating, dissolve 1 ½ tsp. baking soda into 2 TBS boiling water, and add it to the lovely, plump raisins. 

In a small bowl, beat three eggs and set aside.  In a large bowl, sift together 3 ½ C gluten-free flour, ½ tsp salt and 1 ½ tsp xanthan gum.

 Now, mix the beaten eggs into the flour, add the raisins and 1 TBS vanilla extract, that’s right, a full tablespoon.  It makes the bread so much richer.

Pour the batter into a greased tube pan or two greased loaf pans.  I recommend the tube pan, mainly because that’s what my mom used, and it always came out perfectly. I have my mom’s old tube pan, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Pop it into the preheated oven and bake about 60 to 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  I’ve found that gluten-free generally takes a bit longer to cook.  Check it after 60 minutes and if it’s not done, check it again at 75.
It’s deliciously moist and is great on its own or with a bit of butter spread on top.  This recipe also makes beautiful muffins.

Thanks, Mom, for the best recipe ever.  We’ll enjoy it in your honor.
Raisin Bread
2 C Raisins
2 C Sugar
2 C Water
3 TBS Butter
1 ½ tsp Baking Soda
2 TBS Hot Water
3 ½ C Gluten-Free Flour
1 ½ tsp Xanthan Gum
½ tsp Salt
3 Eggs, beaten
1 TBS Vanilla Extract

1.   Combine the raisins, sugar and water in a saucepan
2.   Bring to a boil, and let boil for 10 minutes
3.   Add the butter and stir until dissolved
4.   Remove from heat and let cool completely
5.   Preheat oven to 3500 F
6.   Dissolve the baking soda in 2 the boiling water and add it to the raisin mixture
7.   In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt and xanthan gum
8.   Add the beaten egg
9.   Add the raisin mix and vanilla, and mix well
10.   Pour into a well-greased tube pan, or two well-greased loaf pans
11.  Bake at 3500 F for 60 to 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
12.  Remove from oven
13. After five minutes, remove from loaf pans to wire rack and let cool completely

Monday, February 27, 2017

Brazilian Cheese Bread

Po de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Today is an auspicious day for me. The sixth book in my favorite series is due to be released.  That means a day of binge reading!  In order to do major binge reading, I must have snacks at the ready, and I can think of no better snacks that Po de Queijo.  It is naturally gluten-free, easy to make, and oh so tasty.

First, I decided to make three different flavors.  Strictly speaking, two of them are not Brazilian Cheese bread since they don’t follow the precepts, but they use most of the same ingredients, but a girl (stretching that a bit) needs options.

For the first and true cheese bread, boil together butter, milk and water.  When it just comes to a boil and the butter is all melted, remove from the stove and pour over tapioca flour.  The flour will melt into the liquid.  The first time I made this, I didn’t believe it would really meld together, but to my astonishment, it did.  It looks kind of like cottage cheese, but it worked.  Immediately, put it into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, turn it to high, and mix away. 

 You’ll want to mix it until it becomes smooth and elastic looking.  Add some parmesan cheese and minced garlic and continue beating until it’s completely mixed. 
At this point, let it take a bit of a nap.  It needs to rest for about ten minutes so it has a chance to cool a bit. It would be sad to cook the eggs you’ll be adding before their time.

This leads us to the eggs.  While the mix is napping, beat a couple of eggs together in a small bowl.  Once the mix has cooled down, slowly pour in the eggs while the dough continues to beat and let it go until the eggs are well combined.

Now, take an ice cream scoop – it’s the perfect size for the job – and scoop out 2 TBS size balls and drop on prepared baking sheets. 

Bake them for about 20 minutes in a 3750 F oven until they have light brown speckles from the cooked cheese and are just starting to work on their summer tan.

Next is my favorite part.  Remove from oven, and serve warm.

The second type of bread was a bacon and cheddar cheese bread.  It’s made exactly the same, but I replaced the butter with bacon grease, the parmesan cheese became sharp cheddar cheese, and I chopped up three slices of cooked bacon and added that to the mix.  As anyone who knows him can attest, this is the one my husband likes best.

I really needed something sweet to cut all of the savory flavors, so I decided to try some chocolate.  Now this is the farthest cry from the original recipe.  Sift a quarter cup of baking cocoa and a quarter cup of sugar into the flour before adding it to the boiling liquid.  Everything else will be the same – even the parmesan cheese.  It tastes a lot better than it sounds.

While we’re talking, I would like to introduce you to my favorite books.  Because they have given me so much pleasure, I would encourage everyone to give them a try. So, check out the Green Rider series by Kristin Britain www.­kristenbritain.­com

Now, time to go do some serious reading.
Brazilian Cheese Bread
½ C Butter
¼ C Water
¼ C Milk
¾ tsp Salt
2 C Tapioca Flour
2 tsp Fresh Garlic, minced
2/3 C Parmesan Cheese
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1.    Preheat oven to 3750 F

2.    Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment

3.    Put butter, milk, water and salt in a saucepan and heat until the butter has melted and the liquids have come to a rolling boil.

4.    While the mixture is heating, put 2 C of tapioca flour in a large mixing bowl.

5.    Pour the boiling mixture over the flour and mix with wooden spoon until the tapioca flour is well combined.

6.    Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat on high until the mixture becomes smooth and elastic-looking.  This should happen fairly quickly.

7.    Beat the garlic and cheese into the dough until well combined.

8.    Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes to allow it to cool.

9.    While it’s resting, in a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs.

10.                       Once it’s cool to the touch, beat on medium and slowly add the beaten eggs until well combined and the dough is smooth.

11.                       Drop the mixture by 2 TBS size balls onto baking sheets, about 1 ½” apart.

12.                       Bake about 20 minutes until they look speckled from the cheese and are just starting to turn a golden brown.

13.                       Remove from the oven and serve warm.
This recipe makes about 20 cheese balls

Bacon-Cheddar Cheese Balls:

Replace the butter with bacon grease
Replace the parmesan cheese with cheddar cheese
Chop 3 or 4 slices of cooked bacon and add to the mix with the cheese.

Chocolate Cheese Balls:

Sift ¼ C baking cocoa and ¼ C Sugar into flour before adding the liquids.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Creamy Tomato Soup

Recently, we celebrated our daughter’s birthday.  She turned, well, that’s for her to say. In any case, we still stick with the family tradition that the celebration involves the favorite dinner of the birthday celebrant.  For Tiffany, that means tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. 
With a celiac in the family, a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup no longer cuts it since it has gluten.  Consequently, we had to build a better soup.  Beyond doubt, Creamy Tomato Soup is a better soup.
Start with some lovely, ripe tomatoes, about 2 pounds worth, which in this case was about 5 medium tomatoes. Quarter them, then take two red onions and quarter them as well.  Peel 4 cloves of garlic and cut them in half.  Toss them together in a large bowl like best buds
In a small, separate bowl, mix together salt, black pepper, dried oregano, dried basil and dried celery.  Now, drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and onions in the bowl, sprinkle your spice mix over it, and get your hands dirty mixing them all together.  You could lay them all out politely on a baking sheet, drizzle on the olive oil and sprinkle on the spices, but where’s the fun in that.  Besides, I like to know the vegetables are well coated.
Next, lay them all out politely on a baking sheet.
Bake at 4000 for about 30 minutes making sure to turn the baking sheet half way through cooking time.  Once the veggies are out, let them cool a few minutes while you get your blender ready.
Fill the blender with veggies and a bit of vegetable stock and blend away until you have a smooth consistency.  If you like a thick soup, use less stock, for a thinner soup, use more stock
At this point, the soup is ready to be eaten.  It should be fairly warm, but it you would like it warmer, pour it into a saucepan and gently heat it to desired temperature.  Before serving, sprinkle with chopped, fresh basil.  Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches.
My daughter approved the flavor, so we had a very successful dinner and happy birthday.

Creamy Tomato Soup
2 lbs Tomatoes, quartered
2 Red Onions, quartered
4 Cloves Garlic, halved
2 TBS Olive Oil
1 tsp Sea Salt
½ tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1 tsp Dried Basil
¼ tsp Dried Celery
½ C Vegetable Stock
Fresh Basil
1.      Preheat oven to 4000 F
2.      Add the tomatoes, red onions and garlic cloves to a large bowl
3.      Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables
4.      Spinkle the spices over the vegetables and mix to coat the vegetables
5.      Lay the coated vegetables out on a baking sheet
6.      Roast in the oven for 30 minutes
7.      Remove from the oven and let cool about five minutes
8.      Fill blender with vegetables and just enough stock for desired consistency
Before serving, slice up some fresh basil to top each bowl
Goes very well with grilled cheese
Serves 4



Tips for Following a Gluten Free Diet
While it seems overwhelming when you need to completely change your diet, it won’t take long before you’re an old pro at it.  Mostly, it’s a matter of learning to read labels religiously, and knowing what to look for.  There is gluten in so many items you would never believe.
1.  On labels, there are code words that usually equate to gluten.  Watch for words like:  Modified Food Starch, dextrin, Food Stabilizer, brewer’s yeast, malt vinegar or anything with wheat, barley, rye or malt. The food starch might be corn or something similar, but if it doesn’t say, don’t risk it.
2.  Most yeasts and vinegars are fine, just watch out for the two listed above.
3.  Anything with oil should be made with corn oil, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.  Just make sure it’s not vegetable oil. 
4.  Don’t use margarine used with vegetable oil unless it’s corn oil or olive oil.  I recommend using butter, because, as Julia Child said, “With enough butter, anything is good.”
5.  Even some of the sweeteners, coffee creamers, puddings and yogurts have gluten.
6.  Be especially careful of yogurts as they contain yeast.  Most plain yogurts are fine, but check the labels. Flavored yogurts are more likely to contain gluten.
7.  For most people with celiac, oats are fine, but some have trouble with them, so this is really a trial and error issue.  Make sure they’re not processed in a facility that also processes wheat.
8.  Sadly, ice-cream is often made with a custard base, which means flour. This means even plain vanilla ice-cream may contain gluten.  I mention this because it is natural for people to assume ice-cream is simply dairy. This was a harsh reality for myself and other gluten sensitive people I have known.
9.  Frozen Vegetables (this was most shocking) are often not safe.  Some are made in facilities that process wheat, and some actually contain wheat.  This is why reading all labels is so important.
10.                   About sandwiches, gluten free bread is often like cardboard, but if you toast it a little bit, it will make it much more palatable. Keep bread frozen as GF bread, once opened, molds very quickly. You can thaw it quickly by wrapping it lightly with a paper towel and putting it in the microwave for 20 seconds.
The best source of information I’ve found is .  They have all the info you would need, but it’s a bit intimidating, and can be hard to wade through.  Be patient.
Where to shop:
1.  Trader Joe’s didn’t have as many gluten free items as I thought they would, and they are hard to find, but it’s worth a try for some items. In all fairness, they are slowly getting in step with the gluten-free market.
2.  Whole Foods on the other hand has gluten free items in every section and they are clearly marked.  You can also get gluten free sandwiches at their sandwich bar, at least in Fresno.  Don’t be afraid to ask specific question about what is or is not gluten-free, and don’t be afraid to ask them to change their gloves and wipe down surfaces that your food will be sitting on.
3.   Sprouts is also an excellent store for gluten-free. You can also purchase sandwiches in their deli.
4.  WinCo (in the Fresno area), as well as most supermarkets, are offering more and more GF items all the time.  They carry the Betty Crocker cake, brownie, and cookie mixes (as well as other items).  Other stores, like Save Mart, are beginning to offer gluten free, but they’ve been slow coming to the table.
About baking: 
1.  There is much advice about making your own flour mixes (this much rice flour, this much potato flour, etc.)  I find that premade all purpose GF flour works fine for most (but not all) items.  The best I’ve found are from King Arthur’s Flour, Bob’s Red Mill and gfJules.  They’re more expensive than wheat flour, but so worth the money if you’re going to be baking regularly, or even semi-regularly. Bob’s Red Mill also has a bread mix that’s fantastic, the same taste and consistency of regular bread, and biscuit mix that’s every bit as good as Bisquick.  I do have a recipe to make my own biscuit mix to keep on hand.  Many stores that have bulk sections offer gluten-free flours.  Be very cautious that there’s no cross-contamination.
2.  I’ve been able to adapt most recipes.   One thing to keep in mind is that however much Baking Soda you add, you need to add the equal amount of Xanthan Gum or Guar Gum unless the recipe says otherwise.  It’s expensive, but lasts a very long time and is essential in baking.
About Restaurants: 
1.  Chinese food is dangerous because they use soy sauce in everything.  You can buy GF soy sauce and take it with you, but make sure they don’t use the soy sauce in cooking (this was a tough one for me). I had to completely give up Mu Shu Chicken.  I cried a little bit.
2.  Never be afraid to ask what’s in any item.  Ihop puts pancake batter in the eggs to make their omelets and scrambled eggs fluffy. I learned this the hard way.  Always ask what’s in it, and never be afraid to ask if it can be made gluten-free.
3.  Most Italian restaurants offer GF noodles upon request.  Make sure they use separate water for boiling.
4.  I recommend getting a restaurant guide for eating gluten free.
Baking can be tricky, but there are so many items that are naturally gluten-free.  Look for those first.
This is the gist of it.  Most of it is trial and error, but you’ll catch on very quickly.
Thanks for reading.  Next time, let’s talk about preparing your kitchen for gluten-free cooking.