Hello Again

I’ve tried another blog site for this blog the last few years and decided to stick with my roots. WordPress allows me more freedom to customize my blog to fit what I want it to look like. With that being said…

Last month marked 14 years for me being gluten-free. Wow. I’ve reached the point where I’ve been gluten-free for almost half my life. That is just shocking for me. Being gluten-free is just part of my life and I still get people asking me what the gluten-free food tasted like after I first started on this way of life because that’s exactly what it is. Fourteen years ago, gluten-free food was bland, boring, and quite frankly disgusting. I still use the nickname of cardboard for my waffles even though the flavor has improved immensely. The texture still isn’t what I really want but I’m now used to it.

peach pie

Peach Pie for the pie contest. (This is actually my trial run but the picture is better)

This past weekend was the Fair in my hometown and while I only entered two baked goods this year instead of the many I usually do, I still had fun. Not being able to enter more simply came down to cost. Money is tight right now and I needed to focus on saving. Next year I will be debt free (YEAH!!!!!) and I am planning a trip to Iceland.

In the fair this year I entered the pie contest (this year was peach) for the fifth time and sadly did not win…again.

Here are some tips when entering baking contests:

  1. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t win. It’s sad and I always want to get upset but really contests come down to the personal likes of the judges. You never know what they like and they might not like what you do.
  2. Listen to the judges critiques. Try to talk to the judges afterwards. Most Fairs hire judges that are professionals and will remember the majority of what they taste. I did this last year to see what advise they could offer. Last year my pie crust was flaky but not up to the judges standards. They suggested using lard rather than shortening. It worked. My crust this year was very flaky and tasted like a normal pie crust.
  3. If baking a pie, use a clear pie plate. That way the judges can see if the bottom crust is evenly browned all the way around. If it is a double-crust pie, make sure the top and bottom crusts are the same light, golden brown.
  4. Make sure a pie crust is perfectly even all the way around. This is why I didn’t go further this year.
  5. The top edge of a pie crust has to be the perfect thickness. If it’s too thick, it won’t baking properly all the way through. If it’s too thin, it will over cook.
  6. apple muffin

    Spiced Apple Cider Muffins

    For cookies, muffins or cupcakes, make sure you enter ones that all look the same. Eat the ones that are smaller or oddly-shaped. (Use the excuse of quality control if you must.)

  7. And the most important tip I can gave is – have fun. I may get frustrated and want to throw half of my stuff against the wall, but I do have fun. I learn a lot year-to-year and a lot of that comes from talking to the judges.

The other item I entered in the Fair this year were my Spice Apple Cider Muffins. I am happy to report that I got First Place!! I’m also going to give this recipe to my aunt that bakes at Black Sheep Coffee Roasters in Bishop, CA where they are trying to get more gluten-free options on their menu.

I’m hoping that I will be able to enter more.

I’m Back… And I Got a New Cookbook

I cannot believe it’s been almost eight months since I blogged on here. I will do my best to post on here more often especially because I’m going on my first international trip by myself. I will be spending one week in Vancouver, BC Canada and one week in Portland, Oregon. Ok so it’s not that big of an international trip since I live in the U.S. but it’s still a big deal to me.

While I am on my trip, I plan on visiting some gluten-free bakeries that I have found on Yelp and will do my best to post reviews. Lately I’ve been able to eat food with dairy in them so I’m wondring if I have out-grown my lactose intollerance. I read somewhere that you possible can. Knowing that, it will be easier for me to enjoy treats while I’m away.

This will not be a long post, but I did want to share with you that I have found a new cookbook – or new to me since it was first published in 2002. It’s called The Dairy-Free & Gluten-Free Kitchen by Denis Jardine. I bought the book without even looking in it. That night I tried one of the side dish recipes. The roasted brussell sprouts in a balsamic reduction was so good. I even added zuccinni to it and it was amazing. I cannot wait to try even more recipes from this book.

Walmart Supercenter

Yesterday I drove to Lancaster, CA for the day to do some shopping. I decided to go to a Walmart Supercenter and see what their prices were on food. If you have never been to a big Walmart like this, go. Their prices are amazing and the variety of food was almost overwhelming especially when you come from a small town and the Vons doesn’t have as big of a selection of fresh produce. In size, they were about even, but the prices were half or lower than what we spend here. I’ve been trying to eat more fresh fruits and veggies to help me lose weight, but when one bell pepper costs almost $3 you don’t want to because you can’t afford it.

As I was wandering up and down the isles looking for stuff for everyone in my family, I noticed a few items that were gluten-free. Then I looked up. They had a whole gluten-free section down one isle. I wasn’t hidden either. There it was in the front, closest to one of the main isles. I expect to pay a lot more for gluten-free foods. You have to. Gluten-free is considered “specialty” items and there-for cost more. I got Gluten-Free Bisquick for $4.29 a box, here at home it’s on sale for $6.29 a box. I got pasta and bread mix by a Schar (out of Italy) that I have a hard time finding.

I called my dad and grandma and all I could tell them was that I was amazed at how cheap everything was and that they had a gluten-free section. More and more stores are providing us Celiacs with gluten-free options but to have a whole section of an isle is amazing to me. I live so far away from a Whole Foods Market and even they can be little pricey, but now I know that I have an option that is closer.

Recipe Fail

First and foremost: Happy New Year everyone!

For this Christmas season, I fell on the rotation of being the one who was sick for the holiday. A few days before I started getting a scratchy throat and felt like someone was slightly choking me. My chest tightened and I found myself using my inhaler a lot more than what I usually do. Stupid asthma. I did everything I could think of to keep myself from getting sick. Nothing worked. I’ve been sick for almost three weeks now but it’s just been reduced to a cough that isn’t as bad as it was.

My candy thermometer

Anyway to get to my point, I don’t buy very many gifts for people for Christmas. One, I can’t afford it and two, I never know what to get people. So instead I bake. Everyone always says that they like my cookies and what-not and it’s fairly cheep. Being sick though, people got a rain check on baked goods this year.

A few days after Christmas I decided to try penuche. It was a recipe I found while trying to find a dairy-free fudge recipe. Penuche is a brown sugar fudge that doesn’t have any chocolate into. I had all the ingredients in my kitchen so I figured what the heck, why not?

I forgot two of the basic things about candy-making because that is what fudge is. Once the sugar, corn syrup and water mixture completely dissolves into simple syrup you cannot stir it too much and you must LEAVE THE TEMPERATURE ALONE. I kept stirring it and adjusting the temperature on my stove. What? My head was in a cold medicine induced coma of sorts.

Simple Syrup

Needless to say, it crystallized and did not turn out very good. I didn’t like the texture of it or the taste. There were a few other things that could have added to the failure. I will try this recipe again once my cold is completely gone with fresh ingredients. I think my brown sugar wasn’t too good.

All I can say is recipe fail… until next time.

The Results Are (Finally) In…

I’m sitting here typing this up with a brace on my wrist after realizing that I haven’t blogged in a while. Sorry about that. I’ve been fairly busy over the last month and a half with decorating cakes, a knee injury, and two plays. What is with the brace you might ask? Well it’s one of the pains of being a cake decorator. With my love of baking came the love to decorate cakes. Kind of follows the whole wanting to open a bakery doesn’t it?

Anyway…

Ma's kitchen during my take-over.

So the Tri-County Fair is now over. The last you heard from me I was contemplating what to enter and shared my recipe for the Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing. While I entered twelve items total (that includes my picture, which did not place, and the Favorite Cookie Contest), I only got six done and still managed to make somewhat of a profit with my winnings. I placed on four of my six items. As the deadline approached fast, I invaded my grandma house and took over her kitchen because quite frankly, she has a much larger kitchen than my apartment. So I spread my flours, sugar, eggs, butter and what-not on her counter and got to work. As the hours ticked away, I realized that there was no way I would be able to get all of this done. Why do I procrastinate? So while a batch of oatmeal cookies baked away in the oven, I picked through my recipes and chose the ones I felt the most confident with. My favorites if you will.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

I dropped my entries off and left for work leaving what I can only describe as my best effort at the last minute for the judges to critique. I waited anxiously for Thursday to come and hurried to the Fairgrounds after. While I was greeted with the flashing lights and various sounds that marks the beginning of the Fair, I was focused on getting my entry for the Favorite Cookie Contest over to the Party Barn and off to the Home Economic Building after the cookies were waiting for the judges. My eyes searched every inch of the many glass cases looking with confidence for my name. Around one case… nothing. Around a second… nothing. What? Around a third… nothing… wait my Pumpkin Cupcakes! It was the only one I wasn’t entirely sure on. It was only the third time making them. The recipe is still in a test stage. My eyes didn’t stay long on the cupcakes themselves but traveled down to the name tag. I know I need to see the eye doctor but I couldn’t be seeing a blue ribbon right? It has to be another color but no I was seeing correctly. First place. Down a little further and there was my Herb Cornbread and Oatmeal Cookies, both with the familiar red that I know to be second place. But wait… where’s my Chocolate Cake? I search the cases… nothing. What? Sure enough it was in a different case than what I am used to. I knew it had to be there. I mean come on for one thing my mom and I got creating and made a stencil so we could put the image of a palm tree (the theme was Gilligan’s Island) with powdered sugar. There it was. The judges were careful to cut around the tree to preserve the image for the people to see. Everyone loves my chocolate cake, so they say, but the judges found it to be a little dry and gave it a third place. Maybe I slightly over-baked it in my hastiness to finish.

Oatmeal Cookies

The best compliment I heard about my Pumpkin Cupcakes was that when the judges took their first bites, they asked Susie (my cousin) if they were in the right category. Apparently they didn’t believe Susie that they were in fact gluten-free. There were a few people who entered the gluten-free division, much to my surprise, and Susie said they had a few that were unfortunately absolutely disgusting. I really hope they keep this division.

Herb Cornbread

So I walked away from the 2010 Tri-County Fair with a first, two seconds and a third place. I’m happy. Like I said before, I don’t do this for the ribbons or money. Those are the perks after getting your stuff out there and letting the people you live with everyday see what you can do and that you love it. I enter things in the Fair because I love doing it despite the stress and frustration that goes along with it.

I do this for me and no one else. And will always do it for me.

Chocolate Cake

Apple Tart with Almond Cream

Since Christmas this year we’ve been having weekly barbeques at my grandparents’ house for just about every weekend. What’s the reason for this you may ask? One, we all love to cook. Two, my grandfather’s health isn’t the best. He is 78-years-old and has Speech Aphasia, a language disorder that can be linked with Alzheimer’s. We are trying to spend as much time with his as possible. It’s been well over a year since he’s been able to call any of us by name. It’s one of the hardest things in life to watch someone you love and have looked up to your whole life, fade from you as quickly as he is. This is our second go-around with Alzheimer’s. My great-grandmother had it and she passed away five years ago.

A slice of my Apple Tart with Almond Cream

Anyway, a few weeks ago I decided to attempt something other than a cake. I was flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools by Margaret M. Johnson, and found myself staring at a full-page photo of a Pear Tart with Almond Cream. I’m not a huge fan of pears, I do like them I just wasn’t in the mood. But there was a variation listed for an Apple Tart. I had everything but the apples. Here is my gluten-free version (that still needs a little work but was still very good) of Margaret Johnson’s Apple Tart with Almond Cream made in a small pie tin because I don’t have a tart pan with a removable bottom.

Crust:

1 3/4 cups Gluten Free Flour Mix

1/2 tsp guar gum

1/2 cup margarine or butter, cut into small pieces (you want this to be cold so I keep a few sticks in the freezer)

1 tbsp sugar

Pinch of salt

3 to 5 tbsp ice water

 Filling:

1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup finely ground almonds (I used sliced and it gave it a nice crunch)

2 tsp Gluten Free Flour Mix

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

1/3 cup apricot preserves

1 tsp water 

Crust: Combine the flour, guar gum, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse 8 to 10 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 3 tbsp of the water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Add remaining water if necessary. Dust a work surface with flour. turn out the dough, form it into a ball, then wrap it in plastic wrap (I use a Zip Lock bag and squeeze as much air out as possible) and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove the dough from the fridge 10 minutes before rolling. This allows the butter in the dough to soften and not crack too much while rolling.

Filling: Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the almonds, flour, vanilla, and almond extract.

My whole tart fresh out of the oven.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with non-stick spray. Roll out the dough to a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to the prepared pan, fold excess dough in and press with your fingers to form thick sides. My dough still fell apart a little but I just pieced it together until all the side we about even.

Pour the filling into the crust. Starting in the center, arrange the apple slices in concentric circles over the filling. I filled in the empty spaces as much as possible. Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is lightly browned and the apples are tender. Remove from the oven (I burnt my thumb pulling them out of the oven and now have a lovely scar to remind me of this recipe) and transfer to a wire rack.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the apricot preserves and water. Heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until bubbling. Brush, or spoon, over the top of the apples while the tart is still hot. Cool the tart in the pan before releasing the side.

Quick & Easy Peach Spice Surprise

In this busy and hectic world we live in, it seems that more and more people choose the quick and easy recipes over the ones you slave away in the kitchen for hours. But even though I would prefer to spend time on a dish, there are times when I either don’t feel like it or just simply don’t have the time because of the various things I do in life. As is the case with a lot of people.

I have always loved peaches. There is something about biting into a sweet peach freshly picked off the tree on a warm, sunny day and having the juice run down you chin and neck. My great-great-aunt (my great-grandmother’s sister) had a few peach trees and when the peaches were ripe you could bet your life that the phone would be ringing a few minutes later. There was Aunt Margarete on the other line, “Come get these peaches!” Now one thing that you have to know is that Aunt Margarete was probably the epitome of an Italian woman. No matter how far away you lived from her, you better be at her doorstep in fifteen minutes or that phone would be ringing again and you would never hear the end of it when you finally made it. I loved that feisty woman with all my heart and I know she’s to blame for my love of the fruit. I miss you Aunt Margarete.

A few years before being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I had a day where I was craving peach cobbler but didn’t have the necessary ingredients to make it. I looked around the cabinets to see what we had available to try to make something that resembled what my body wanted so badly. I found myself staring at canned peaches and a boxed spice cake mix. I wonder…

This is one of the easiest recipe I think you could ever make. It takes very few ingredients and so little time.

Peach Spice Surprise

You will need:

1 box cake mix (you could use spice cake, but I used Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix)

The ingredients listed on the back of the box

If you are using a basic cake mix, feel free to add cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg to the dry mix. Add as much or as little as you prefer.

1 can sliced or diced peaches (I prefer in juice or light syrup), drained. I use harvest spice peaches if they are available to add a little more spice to the cake.

Directions:

Follow the instructions on the back of the cake mix box. Lightly grease the bottom of 13x9x2-inch pan. Spread out the peaches in an even layer on the bottom of the pan and cover with the cake mix. Bake according to the instructions on the back of the box, usually 30 – 35 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until a toothpick enter near the center comes out clean.

The moisture from the peaches will keep the cake part moist. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream and/or fresh peaches. I usually just leave it plain and it tastes just fine. Enjoy.

A Celiac Attack

So I’ve been debating for a while now about what to write about next or what recipe to share, but there are days like this that I feel I should share with all of you. I stumbled across a challenge today. A gluten-free challenge being put on by the Gluten Intolerance Group challenging people who don’t live a gluten-free life to experience it for one weekend. This couldn’t have come at a better time.

Today was a day that I feel I should share since I have gotten at least one person to join this challenge. If you already live a gluten-free life and join this challenge, in a way it’s unfair. While yes you get to feel what it is like on a day-to-day basis for those of us unable to consume gluten, you don’t have to worry about the repercussions once the challenge is over. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a wonderful challenge and one that I hope a lot of people get on board with. I signed up even though it’s not a challenge for me but I get to share tips and tricks for this.

Lately I’ve felt very tired, bitchier than usual, unable to focus on the simplest things, etc. The worst is the dizzy spells. I had the first one the day before my birthday in February while we were at California Adventures and my mom and I were on Soaring Over California. My brother found out a few days ago that one of my favorite Mexican restaurants have fried flour tortillas in the same oil as the corn chips, even throwing a few chopped up flour tortillas in with the chips as they are served to the customers. I know that I’ve never eaten one of the flour chips myself, but what quite a few people don’t realize is that gluten can be transferred to other ingredients if cooked on a pan/grill that has not been properly cleaned and sanitized. It’s the same thing for any grease or oil for fried foods. What I have been experiencing the last few days makes sense. The majority of it hit today while I was at work. I was miserable but managed to make it through the entire day (I have a hard time asking to go home sick or call in. Long story. Don’t ask.) but I knew what I was feeling was what my mom and I have named a “Celiac Attack”. We call it that because most of the time the symptoms come out of nowhere and knock you on you ass. Mine has been a minor one but I know I’m going to hurt for a few more days and suffer the consequences of someone not knowing what they are serving to their customers.

I don’t blame the restaurant. It’s a challenge to eat out because you are completely unaware of how your food is being prepared. I will give it a while and go back to that restaurant because, quite frankly, I enjoy their food. I do love to cook but there are times when I need a break. Most of the people in my hometown know me and know that I have a lot of food allergies. I have to be picky. I have no choice. It’s either be picky and be safe than to “go with the flow” and spend hours to days in the bathroom with the worst stomach ache of your life. The abdominal pain that I usually get with a Celiac Attack makes me feel like I’m in the movie Alien that has a creature clawing its way out of the middle of my stomach.

I still have the slight aching of a migraine that’s attempting to reach the surface and really make me suffer (if you’ve ever had a migraine, you know what I’m talking about) and I still feel weak and dizzy. Thank God I’m sitting down while writing this. I’ve tried everything when I’ve gotten a gluten-induced migraine, from Tylenol to Vicodin, nothing works except a dark, silent room and sleep. I have, however, been forced to darken the screen on my laptop and lower the volume on my music.

Yes I have adapted to living a Gluten-free life, but days like these makes me really, really hate my disease. I don’t have any control over it and until scientists and researchers find a cure, I’m kind of screwed, dealing with the repercussions of living a life in a gluten-filled world. So I encourage you to take the challenge and if you really want to feel risky, don’t stop after the one weekend. Try a week, two weeks, a month… whatever you feel comfortable with. Then you would really get to understand what so many of us in this world go through every day of our lives. And who knows how many eyes this experience will open to the ever growing need we have to raise the awareness of Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance.

“The glass is not half empty, the glass in not half full, there is the perfect amount of liquid, the glass is just too damn big. We should be thankful for what we have been given and want for nothing more.” ~ Dustin Pari, TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International

Craving Chocolate?…

I love chocolate cake. Just had to get that out there first. I found a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens: Celebrating the Promise Cookbook and decided to try it. I played around with it a few times until I came to this recipe I am about to share with you. There is a little warning that comes with this recipe: it is very, very rich. My mom described it as tasting almost like a brownie. You don’t need a big slice to fill you up. Enjoy.

3/4 cup butter or margarine

3 eggs

2 cups Gluten Free Flour Mix, sifted

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp guar gum

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups sugar

2 tsp vanilla or Kahlua*

1 1/2 cups milk (I use soy milk)

Allow all ingredients to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Grease pan(s) and set aside. In a medium bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, guar gum and salt; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium speed until well combined. Scrape sides of the bowl; beat for 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla or Kahlua. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to butter mixture (I begin and end with the flour), beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat on medium to high speed for 20 seconds more. Spread into prepared pan(s).

Bake times:

For two 8-inch pans or 13x9x2-inch pans: 35 – 40 minutes

For two 9-inch pans: 30 – 35 minutes

Cake(s) are done when a toothpick inserted near center(s) comes out clean. Cool in pan(s) on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool thoroughly on racks. Frost with desired frosting.

*Note: Kahlua is a coffee liquor and helps to enhance the flavor of the chocolate. You will not be able to taste the coffee flavor of the Kahlua and most of the alcohol will cook out.

Helping Tia Out with Her Recipe

My first attempt at Tia's Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins.

About a week ago, Tia posted a recipe for Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins: Take One on her blog at Christopher and Tia. I felt really bad for her when she discovered an allergy to eggs all of a sudden with her expecting her and Christopher’s third bundle of joy. I decided that when I do eventually get to open a gluten free bakery, I would like to offer vegan options, but then came the difficult part of taking out the egg in Tia’s recipe and still have it taste just as good and hold together. I called my mom to see if she had any suggestions and I looked through my many cookbooks while she searched the internet. We came up with replacing the egg with 1/4 cup of applesauce. Would it work though? There was only one way to find out and off I went. 

One thing to keep in mind (and I keep forgetting it when I bake) when trying any of my recipes, I do live at 4140 feet in elevation. I never remember to follow the high altitude (3500 – 6500 feet) instructions when making something from a mix. When they don’t turn out right I know why. Even though my first batch of Tia’s recipe turned out okay, I knew there was still more tweaking of the recipe to do. A few days later, I was not only craving blueberries, but a tripe berry blend (blueberries, raspberries and blackberries) from Schwan’s so I got a bag and tweaked the recipe a little more when I got home. The berries ended up being a little too big for the small cupcake-sized tin. What? I didn’t have a muffin pan until yesterday. The only applesauce I have in my place is already sweetened so I knew to cut back on the sugar. 

Taking notes

Another tip – when converting a recipe to fit your dietary needs, print out a rough recipe on a blank sheet of paper and tape/pin it to your wall or cabinet door. This way it will not get in the way and it will be handy (keep a pen around as well) to take any notes about what you are doing. That way you won’t forget in the future. Keep taking notes until you’ve decided the recipe is as good as it’s gonna get (a.k.a. perfected). Here’s my version of Tia’s Gluten Free blueberry/Triple Berry Muffins (I just copied the recipe and added my changes) that I made tonight:

2 cups gluten free flour mix
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp guar gum
1/2 cup melted margarine (I use Nucoa) or Smart Balance
1/3 cup sugar (2/3 cup if using unsweetened applesauce)
1/4 cup applesauce
1 2/3 cup soy milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup frozen blueberries or triple berry blend

Preheat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers (skip if using silicone). Mix melted margarine, sugar, applesauce, soy milk and vanilla in a bowl until combined. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and slowly add to the liquid mixture. The batter will seem kind of gummy, and that’s okay. Fold in the berries. Fill a 1/3 sized measuring cup with batter, and then pour into cupcake paper. That should fill the cupcake paper all the way full. Put muffin in the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick/knife inserted in the center of them comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

My Triple Berry Muffins

Tia I hope this helps. I think I’ll still tweak it a bit but I will keep you posted. The ones I baked tonight I kind of over-baked but they still turned out moist in the center. I hope everyone enjoys these.