“I used to serve my family Strawberry Cake before I became gluten-free,” said Alice. Any chance you could create one like that?”
I told her I had seen a bunch of recipes. Some used Jell-O and others used real strawberries. What did she have in mind?
“Not the one with Jell-O. Mine was like a white cake with pureed fruit in it,” she told me.
“I know how to make a gluten-free cake and I’m a sucker for strawberries,” I told Alice. I mean, I’ve been known to plan vacations to coincide with the local strawberry crop, I explained. I was eager to give this a try. But, as it turns out, our local crop of berries has gone by and the fresh strawberries come from across the United States or South America this time of year. I ended up using frozen, whole, unsweetened strawberries. They were easier and tastier. The flavor was more concentrated and more consistent. So, you’ll see that my recipe calls for frozen berries. Unless your local berries are in season, I suggest you do the same. Use fresh berries for garnish and even dip a few in chocolate for an added touch.
And use a good gluten-free cake flour blend, one that includes sorghum and cornstarch. Sorghum is light and less grainy than rice flour. Plus it has nutrients and fiber. Cornstarch lightens the texture and adds structure to the cake. If you are able to have corn products, use it in this recipe. Otherwise, tapioca or potato starch are okay, but a distant second. If you can’t tolerate dairy products, Earth Balance products work well.
Now about color. That’s a matter of preference. I’ve seen versions of strawberry cake that are bright red. That’s not from the berries, I’m afraid. Rather, it’s from red food coloring. If you like that stuff and that color, by all means, add a drop or two to the batter. I prefer the subtle pink and don’t really like food dyes.
So, here’s a really, truly completely from-scratch, fresh strawberry cake. No Jell-O, food coloring, or artificial flavors! Using frozen strawberries makes this easy and means you can celebrate strawberry season anytime of the year.
1, 16-ounce bag frozen, unsweetened whole strawberries
1 cup white rice flour, more to dust pans
¾ cup sorghum flour
½ cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 ¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk or milk of choice, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil 2, 8 or 9 inch round pans. Dust with rice flour. Set aside.
Slightly thaw strawberries. Puree in a food processor. Transfer to a mesh strainer and set over a bowl large enough to set the strainer over the opening. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the puree through the strainer, then scrape the underside of the strainer, catching the puree in the bowl. Repeat until just seeds and pulp remain in the strainer. You should have about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of puree. Set aside and discard the seeds and pulp.
Combine rice flour, sorghum flour, cornstarch, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, and baking soda. Mix well.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients and beat to combine. Fold in ¾ cup strawberry puree. (Reserve remainder for frosting.) Add milk and beat until smooth. If you would like a deeper pink color to the batter, add a drop or two of pink or red food coloring here.
Divide the batter evenly among the pans and smooth tops.
Bake for about 23 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto wire racks. Let cakes cool completely before frosting.
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 ounce) package of low-fat cream cheese, softened
½ stick of butter, softened
½ cup pureed strawberries from above
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk (if needed)
Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth.
Slowly add the sugar in 1 cup batches until desired sweetness and consistency is achieved.
Stir in puree and vanilla. Add milk slowly if you need a looser consistency.
Frost cake and garnish with sliced or halved fresh strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
You can also make 24 cupcakes from this recipe.
Using Your Noodle
I’ve always had a love affair with pasta salads. Easily transformed, they take on the flavor of the dressing, the add-ins, the seasonings, the spices. Cilantro, black beans, corn, and pico de gallo allow me to call my salad, “Mexican Fiesta.” Adding chopped pepperoni, black olives, mozzarella cheese, and artichoke hearts turns my dish into “Antipasto Pasta.”
What’s more, I make it up as I go along. If I have feta cheese and Greek dressing that’s gluten free, the salad might be more of a “Greek Goddess” salad. Caesar dressing and anchovies might become my “Hail Caesar Pasta Salad.” You get the picture. Pasta salad is easy, versatile, and delicious. And little tweaks can completely change its ethnic roots.
With all the gluten-free pasta products available, the trick is selecting the best cut for your salad and following a few simple tips to keep the noodles from getting mushy or absorbing all the dressing before it’s served.
For most pasta salads, select a short pasta. Spirals (fussili), elbows, cavatelli, and small shells are great choices as they hold their shape and pull the flavors of the salad into the crevices of the noodles.
Undercook pasta by 3 to 4 minutes or just until the brittleness is gone. It should be chewy, but not crunchy. Drain the pasta and rinse well under cold water. This removes the starch and cools the pasta so that it does not continue cooking. Now the pasta can sit while you prepare the added ingredients.
Pasta salads can be prepared a few hours ahead but don’t toss the ingredients and dressing into the salad until just before serving.
All Grains are Not Created Equal
Gluten-free pasta comes in all matter of grains. Quinoa, corn, rice, and brown rice are the most common. And many are a blend of flours as well. White rice and brown rice pasta do not hold up as well as others. You might want to leave these for hot dishes that are served as soon as they are made. Corn pasta (preferably from Italy) and quinoa pasta are well suited to pasta salads. They do not fall apart or turn mushy and can even stay overnight in the refrigerator without decomposing.
Here’s one of my favorite summer pasta salads. Roasting the vegetables before they are added, produces an intense and vibrant flavor that is both fresh and satisfying.
Quinoa Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Orange and Olives
1 (8-ounce) box Ancient Harvest quinoa rotelle pasta (about 2 cups) or other quinoa or corn pasta
6 large plum tomatoes, each cut into 6 to 8 wedges
1 large onion, halved lengthwise, cut into thin wedges
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Juice and zest of one orange rind, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Fresh basil, cut into thin strips (about ¼ cup)
½ cup halved, pitted Kalamata olives
½ cup fresh feta cheese crumbles or dairy-free cheese shreds 2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water 6 to 7 minutes or until tender but still firm to bite. Rinse in cool water and drain well. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Oil 2 rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray.
Spread tomato wedges on one sheet and onion wedges on the second sheet.
Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and juice and rind of one orange. Drizzle half over vegetables on each sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven until vegetables are very tender and brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes for onions and 45 minutes for tomatoes. Cool slightly. Set aside.
Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl. Add roasted tomato and onion mixtures, basil and olives to pasta. Stir gently. Add cheese, 2 tablespoons orange juice and olive oil. Toss. Add more salt and pepper, to taste.
May is Celiac Awareness Month
I am celebrating with cupcakes and I hope you’ll join me. I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first, here’s a little background on why this event has far-reaching implications for all of us.
The World’s Tallest Gluten-Free Cake
Last year I was part of the world’s largest gluten-free cake event along with the American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA) and the 1in133.org awareness project. Hundreds of us met in Washington, DC to build the world’s tallest gluten-free cake, bring attention to the number of people with celiac disease and convince the FDA to reopen the process for creating gluten-free regulations.
While Jules Shepard and John Forberger headed the confectionery team, Andrea Levario and I headed to Capitol Hill to manage the legislative front. With our sons, media folks and gluten-free manufacturers in tow, we spoke to Congressional leaders about the importance of gluten-free regulations. We asked them to keep the pressure on the FDA to push the regulations forward.
They Heard Us And We Ate Cake
In the early evening, we gathered at a reception for supporters and Congressional folks. To our delight, the Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, Mike Taylor, attended. In front of hundreds of us, Deputy Commissioner Taylor told the group we would have gluten-free regulations. On August 4, the FDA reopened the comment period for the regulations. The comment period closed on October 3 and the FDA promised to issue these regulations by the end of the third quarter of 2012. The countdown is on.
Calling All Cupcake Builders
This May, as we await the forthcoming regulations, I invite everyone to make cupcakes – - one for every year you have been gluten-free. Take a picture and share it with the community by posting to the ACDA’s Facebook page. Then post to your Facebook page, blog and link back to the ACDA’s page. Vote for your favorite cupcake by “liking” the photos on the Alliance Facebook page. Prizes will be awarded in categories like best presentation; most unique decorations; most years being gluten-free; and kids categories. The winners will receive products and coupons from several gluten-free companies. Get out those whisks and mixing bowls. The more likes we receive the more voices will be heard from our virtual community. Go to 1in133 for guidelines.
Let’s Eat Cupcakes
This weekend, I made 56 chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting; 36 for me and 19 for my son, Jeremy. That’s a lot of cupcakes. Let me tell you. But, I’ve seen, firsthand, the power of community. When a standard for gluten-free on food packaging comes out, I can say I had a hand in making it happen. I hope you’ll join me in that effort. It feels good. And, besides, you get to eat cupcakes!
Here’s the recipe I used. You are welcome to “borrow” it. The chocolate cupcakes are a variation on those in my book, Gluten-Free Makeovers. The frosting is pure decadence – - a blend of peanut butter and cream cheese. I love peanut butter and chocolate and the slightly tangy cream cheese flavor cuts the sweetness in a lovely, subtle way. To bring it all together, I top these cupcakes with crushed Reese Peanut Butter Cups. If you are allergic to peanut butter, you could use sunflower butter or simply frost these with plain cream cheese frosting.
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOM CUPCAKES
Makes 24 to 28 cupcakes
2 ¼ cups Cake and Pastry Flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter or non-dairy buttery spread, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk, soy milk, or rice milk
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease or oil two 12-cup muffin tins or line with paper liners. Combine the cake flour, cocoa, baking powder; and baking soda. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate. Blend in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin cups, filling a little more than half full. Smooth the tops and bake on the center rack for 16 to 18 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting.
PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOM FROSTING
1 cup smooth peanut butter (any gluten-free brand)
½ cup milk
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup (about 6) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, crumbled (optional)
Beat the peanut butter, milk, cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Frost cupcakes. Sprinkle with crumbled peanut butter cups. Refrigerate until time to serve.
Cake and Pastry Flour
1 cup sweet white sorghum flour (4 ounces)
1 cup white rice flour (5.4 ounces)
¾ cup cornstarch (3.4 ounces)
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum (or guar gum)
½ teaspoon salt
SHORTCUT: This blend makes very light pastries and cookies with a fine crumb but, if you are pressed for time, you may use 2 ½ cups of any all purpose flour blend. Add the xanthan gum and salt if they are not already in the blend.
Quick, Delicious Chicken and Rice
I went to culinary school in the seventies when classic techniques were still in vogue. We whisked egg whites in copper bowls, boned whole fish, and removed chicken from its skeleton leaving meat and skin intact. But, Auguste Escoffier forgive me. There is more than one way to skin a chicken. As a modern chef and cook, I take shortcuts. Besides, being gluten-free, I cook to eat. I can’t wait all day to enjoy a meal.
In that same era, I took a cooking class in Indian Cuisine. We toasted and ground aromatic spices and made our own customized garam masala, a blend that’s used to flavor every dish. We peeled and grated ginger, poached tomatoes to remove the skin, and fried onions until they were a perfect golden hue. The end results were amazing; but, come on, who has the time to cook this way?
I did meet my future husband in this class and we fell in love over Biryani and Vindaloo. But, I confess we rarely made Indian food together. (It’s still one of my favorites to eat in restaurants and is a decidedly gluten-free-friendly cuisine.) Then I fell in love again - – with Passage Foods Simmer Sauces, aromatic blends of exotic spices, ginger, onion, and garlic, that simmer for hours before they are packaged. These sauces brought Indian food back into my kitchen. All I do is add a protein (chicken or lamb) and some veggies like eggplant, okra. tomato or potato. (Veggies aren’t even necessary if I’m in a rush.) In the time it takes to cook basmati rice in my rice steamer, I have a full meal.
Today, I added a few extra steps so I could justify calling this a recipe instead of a tip. With these additions, I turned Passage Foods Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce into Chicken Biryani and it tastes just like the meal we made in my Indian cooking class years ago.
In case you don’t know about Biryani, it’s a flavorful rice dish filled with aromatic Indian flavors, pieces of chicken or lamb and chunks of potato. There are four hallmarks of a good Biryani. (1) The grains of rice should not clump but be separate and easy to spread apart. (2) The aroma should fill the room with a sweetish fragrance that is not overpowering or reminiscent of any one specific spice. (3) The taste should be flavorful and roll off the tongue and the flavor should fill the meat. (4) There must be nicely browned potatoes and they should be as flavorful as the meat . Without potatoes, it is not Biryani.
So there you have it – - a perfect Biryani. And here’s the recipe. I think you’ll agree it’s easy and delicious. And thanks to simmer sauces, I’ve found a better way to skin a chicken.
Easy and Delicious Chicken Biryani
1 pouch Passage Foods Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce, divided (or other Indian simmer sauce)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 ½ cups raw Basmati rice
3 cups gluten-free chicken broth
¾ cup dark raisins
1 ¼ cups shredded carrots (commercial product like Dole brand)
Reserve 1/2 cup of simmer sauce. Marinate chicken in the remaining simmer sauce for 30 to 90 minutes.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and sauté the potatoes and onion until brown and potatoes are fork tender. Remove from skillet and set aside.
In a medium pot, combine the rice, reserved simmer sauce and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add raisins and carrots. Simmer until liquid is absorbed (about 18 to 20 minutes). The rice should be slightly chewy, not too soft. (Remember – it should not clump.)
While the rice is cooking, heat remaining oil in skillet. Sauté the chicken until browned and cooked through.
When rice is done, fold in the potato and onion mixture. Reheat briefly (about 1 minute). Spread mixture over a serving platter and top with chicken.
Now For Some Deals!
Want a sample of Passage Foods Tikka Masala? Sign up for our newsletter in the upper right hand corner of this site. We’ll send five lucky people sample packs of Indian, Thai, and Moroccan Simmer Sauces. Or go to Passage Foods for information on where you can find their sauces.
Blender Girl Giveaway
I love this community of bloggers. So much energy! Look at this. My new best blogging friend Tess Masters aka Blender Girl is making April gluten-free month with great recipes from all your gluten free blogger friends and a KitchenAid Giveaway. Check it out.
I recently asked people what they missed most after they became gluten-free. The number one answer was Chicken and Dumplings followed by Roasted Turkey with Gravy and Stuffing, Chicken Pot Pie, and Lasagna – - comfort foods we all equate with nourishing goodness.
Comfort food and I go back a long way. Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, when my tummy didn’t feel right, I would walk to the nearest Brigham’s in downtown Boston and order a hot turkey sandwich. The plate would be heaped with slices of turkey that had already left their indentation on two slices of Wonder Bread and their intention imprinted on my heart. The sandwich was swimming in turkey gravy, a mound of sage and celery dressing was casually deposited to the side and a little white pleated paper cup of cranberry sauce was propped against the meat. It was the only color on the otherwise anemic plate that matched my pasty complexion in those days. As I took the first bite, a fork full of equal parts turkey, bread and stuffing, I could feel wellness heading my way. This was my comfort food. But, ironically, I was dosing myself with the same medicine that was making me sick. Who knew?!
As I got sicker, my craving for comfort food increased. If it wasn’t a hot turkey sandwich, I ordered chicken and dumplings, or chicken pot pie. They engaged my soul and I felt good. My body, however, was another story. Hours later, I would feel that familiar tightening in my tummy, that slow burn and indigestion. By then the memories of my comfort food were far away. I would not correlate the meal I had eaten four hours ago with the queasiness I was experiencing now. For many years, I would not realize that the food I loved did not love me back.
When people on a gluten-free diet picked the same foods I craved before diagnosis, it made me wonder if they had similar memories. Perhaps they, too, remembered the days when they sought out these dishes in hopes of feeling better, in hopes of finding comfort. Perhaps “comfort food” has a double meaning for all of us who are gluten intolerant - – an unrequited love of old and a new, gluten-free love fulfilled.
Hands down, the ultimate comfort food seems to be Chicken and Dumplings, the recipe I am asked to makeover more than any other. It sends me back to those days when I tried to find comfort at Brigham’s lunch counter, when I knew something was missing and tried to replace it with a nourishment that was ultimately my undoing.
And it sent me to my recipe files for a makeover because it seems that making this dish into a delicious gluten-free recipe is a challenge. Readers say the dumplings are too hard, or they break apart in the liquid; they are too dense, too dry. I had the same experience at first. I dug out the dish from my past, the one my mother made in our Yankee kitchen (although this recipe has its roots in Southern traditional), and I tried to create something equal to the taste and texture of the meal I remembered. After several tries, I got it just right!
Here’s How I Made it Over
The first time I made this with a high protein flour blend. The results were tasty but too dense. The dumplings didn’t rise and fill the pot as I expected. Then I opted for a white flour blend and added baking powder and butter. This time, they were just right. The dumplings had doubled in size; they filled the pan! The texture was light and they had the mouthfeel I remembered from my gluten-filled years.
The first time, I poached a whole chicken in broth and vegetables, the way my mother had done. But no one has time to wait that long for a delicious meal. Next time, I poached boneless chicken breasts. They take 5 to 10 minutes. You could also purchase a cooked rotisserie chicken, as long as it’s gluten-free, and remove the meat from the bone. As a final tip, you’ll want to scoop the dumpling dough onto simmering (not boiling) liquid and cover the pot tightly. Don’t peek while the dumplings cook. These aren’t as tasty as leftovers, so you’ll have to eat them all in one sitting which should not be difficult.
This is a food that will nourish your soul AND your tummy.
Chicken and Dumplings Serves 4
1 quart gluten-free chicken stock, more as needed
1/4 cup dry sherry or vermouth (optional)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 medium potatoes peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Ground black or white pepper
(Makes about 12 dumplings)
2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour blend*
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives or other fresh herbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk of choice
1 large egg, beaten
Heat the chicken stock to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan. Add sherry, if used, and garlic. Add chicken breasts and salt and pepper to taste. Pouch covered for 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the breasts and cool. Skim foam off the surface of the liquid.
Return the pot of chicken broth to medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, parsnips, potatoes, and thyme. Cover and simmer vegetables until just fork tender (about 10 minutes), while making the dumplings.
Make the dumpling batter by sifting together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add chopped chives or other fresh herbs. Add melted butter, milk and egg to the dry ingredients. Gently mix with a wooden spoon or fork until mixture is moist and comes together. Do not overmix or dumplings will be too dense.
Cube the chicken and return to the pot. Add additional broth if mixture is too thick or liquid has cooked down too much. Return to a simmer.
Drop dumpling batter into the simmering stew by heaping tablespoonfuls, over the surface of the stew. (Note that the dumplings will double in size as they cook.) Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Do not uncover and peek while the dumplings are cooking. In order for the dumplings to be light and fluffy, they must steam, not boil. Uncovering the pan releases the steam. If after 15 minutes they are still not cooked through (use a toothpick or skewer to test) cover pan again, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Gently stir in peas and parsley. Ladle portions of meat, sauce, vegetables, and dumplings into soup plates and serve. Note that the stew will continue to thicken as it sits.
* If all-purpose flour blend contains salt, do not add additional salt. If blend does not contain xanthan or guar gum, add 1 teaspoon gum to the dry ingredients.