Thursday, May 31, 2007
Fresh mint sprigs are the key to brewing your own homemade fresh mint tea from scratch. I just picked a handful of tea-mint (shown in picture above) from our yard to make yet another batch of a favorite summer cool-down drink. The temperature has been approaching 90-degrees here in Cleveland the past few days, and I go through about a gallon of iced mint tea every 2 or 3 days.
After picking the mint (above), I just get out a 5-quart pot and fill it with a gallon of water. I rinse off the mint leaves and sprigs a bit (lately, a requirement since there is so much tree-pollen on everything outside), and then toss them into the pot (the whole sprigs -- I don't waste time plucking leaves from the plant).
I then bring the water and mint to a boil, and allow the mint to remain at a light boil for about 5 minutes, stirring the mint leaves every so often. I do this to release the mint flavor, but also to kill any tiny little bugs or microbes that may be left on the mint after I've rinsed it. Next, I turn off the heat, and allow the mint to steep another 10 minutes. After that, I just remove the sprigs from the water using a strainer-spoon and discard them (this is also why I leave the sprigs intact -- removing them from the water is so easy compared to removing a whole bunch of individual leaves).
While it is still warm, the tea can be sweetened. I have lately been experimenting with sugar-free recipes (in addition to gluten-free recipes), and purchased some Xylitol (bag of it shown below). Xylitol is a sweetener used in things like Trident gum.
The Xylitol is gluten-free (of course, or I wouldn't use it), and it dissolves readily in liquids just like sugar. I find the taste to be quite similar to sugar also. And, it's always nice to know that when I am drinking so much of this sweetened mint tea, that I am not subject to tooth-decay: in fact, Xylitol has been shown to be a proven cavity fighter! If that wasn't good enough, it has zero net carbs, and is safe for use by diabetics and hypoglycemics (it has a Glycemic Index of only 7 - which is super low).
Finally, after my tea is sweetened to my liking, I simply let it cool down to close to room temperature and then funnel it into a gallon water-jug and refrigerate for future use.
I still have not baked any gluten-free desserts with the Xylitol, but I hope to soon. It can't be used to replace sugar in baked goods that rise using yeast (since, it will not "feed" the yeast properly), and it doesn't crystallize the same as sugar when heated, so you can't make hard candy from it. But, I think it has potential for other desserts where I can substitute part of the sugar. According to the label on the bag, it is recommended that you ramp up your Xylitol consumption gradually over a few weeks for proper (intestinal) tolerance adjustment. And, you can not feed it to your pets, since it can be toxic to them (note: this includes chewing gum sweetened with Xylitol -- don't give it to your dog!)
If you have any interest in xylitol, I found mine online here: World Health Depot (just search for Xylitol, and you'll get a list of items including the granules I pictured above). I get Spry brand chewing gum from this same place (it's Xylitol sweetened too).
So, there you have it. Sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free peppermint tea just in time for summer!
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The main course will be a gluten-free pulled-pork recipe (same idea as pulled-chicken recipe, but using a pork roast), some homemade potato salad and homemade glutenfree baked beans. I am definitely looking forward to this, as I enjoy all of these dishes quite a bit -- they were all favorites long before the "no gluten" days for me.
I'll be making freshly-brewed peppermint tea for the drink of the day. We have a nice little patch of tea-mint growing in the yard, so I just pluck a few sprigs of it and boil it in a pot of water. Add a bit of sugar, xylitol, or whatever you prefer, serve it chilled (or over ice) and it makes for a great way to cool down on a hot day (we've had a warm-streak here lately - nearly 90 degrees recently).
Finally, a very simple to make fruit salad using frozen fruit will be the "healthy dessert" for the day. Here's what I do to create my chilled fruit bowl with nearly zero effort (takes 5 minutes or less, and do this about half an hour before serving lunch or dinner):
- Choose a bowl large enough to accommodate the servings for all your guests
- Toss whatever frozen fruit you have into the bowl that will yield a synergistic flavor combination when served together. Some of my favorite combinations include: pineapple, blueberries, and cherries; or, mango, blueberries, and blackberries; and so on...
- Pour orange juice (or another complementary juice you choose) over the fruit, filling the bowl about 1/2 the way up the frozen fruit depth or so.
- Just let that bowl of fruit and juice now sit out at room temperature while you serve and eat your lunch or dinner. Then, when time for dessert arrives (probably an hour or hour and a half after you first created this mix), stir the fruit up along with the juice. At this time, you should have fruit that is mostly thawed, but nearly icy cold - in fact, it may almost be like a chunky sorbet of sorts. Place it into serving bowls and distribute to your guests. Perfect!
Of course, I am still tempted to supplement this otherwise healthy meal with a gluten-free cheesecake or Boston Cream Pie or some other decadent indulgence. But, if time is not permitting for some Celiac-safe baking, I will still have the bases covered. Have a great gluten-free Memorial Day holiday everyone!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Above is a picture of one of my favorite recent gluten-free food discoveries: Gluten-Free English Muffins from Foods by George. What you see here is one-half of a glutenfree muffin (in the foreground) that I sliced and toasted. And, with luck, the picture is detailed enough to give you a pretty good idea what the interior texture of the toasted English Muffin is like. Quite simply, it's wonderful!
Had I not been gluten-free, and had someone give me one of these muffins for breakfast, I am rather sure I would have still found it to be a nice morning treat. Although the picture shows a plain muffin, I later created a nice little gluten-free English Muffin with Eggs and a bit of cheese (I'm sure a few of you are familiar with a McDonald's restaurant creation that is quite similar). The results were excellent and delicious, regardless of which way I served the muffin.
Toasted (as shown), the muffins get a nice crispy, crunchy surface as you'd expect, while maintaining a softer spongy/resilient inside region. This makes for a nice balance of texture as I think a good English muffin should have. And, the taste is quite mild and is easily complemented by your choice of butter, eggs, jam, or whatever else you love to eat on your breakfast creations.
I first encountered this product when I met George and his wife at the Long Island, NY Celiac event a month ago, and I was quite pleased to recently find out that both my local corner health-food and gluten-free foods provider (a mere mile up the road from me) carries these gluten-free English Muffins, as does Whole Foods and a couple other nearby stores. I have now added these to my regular-items list, and make sure I keep a bag in the freezer.
There are four of these (quite thick) gluten-free breakfast treats per bag, and even once sliced horizontally in half, they will almost certainly require one of those wider large-mouth (or bagel type) toasters. I suppose you could also brown them in a pan or in the oven if you didn't have the wide-capacity toaster.
These muffins are also dairy-free if that is of interest to you as well.
I definitely give these gluten-free English Muffins an unconditional "thumbs up" rating, and am glad I found them. After years of living gluten-free, it's always nice to encounter yet another wonderful product to have available for regular consumption. Tomorrow I'll be trying one of these muffins with some Black Raspberry Jam - I'm already looking forward to it!
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Jigsaw was nice enough to provide a coupon-code for $5.00 off any orders from first-time customers, so here it is: FRIEND806
I didn't see an expiration data on that offer, but it did say "limited time"... so, that that as you will.
When I placed the order on the phone, they did tell me they were considering making a third flavor - peanut butter - in the future. I am personally looking forward to that, since PB is on my top-ten food items list along with chocolate!
And, speaking of Peanut-Butter and Chocolate, I had the wonderful opportunity to help consume a double-batch of gluten-free peanut butter cookies (the ones on page 120-121 in our book) my wife baked up a few days ago (yep, all gone already! Thank god for calorie-burning summer lawn work and such!). My sister always requests these cookies every time she visits the area, and lucky for her my wife was nice enough to bake up a nice pile of them. I had planned to do so, but needless to say, even the best plans don't always get executed. Thank god my wife picked up where I slacked off (since I personally received half the benefit of the baking - an entire batch of gluten-free cookies to consume).
Did I mention how great gluten-free peanut-butter and chocolate chip cookies are for breakfast? A few of those each morning is a great way to get the day started... and then comes the afternoon snack... the evening snack...
Thursday, May 17, 2007
We avoided Oats completely in our Gluten-Free Gourmet Desserts recipe book due to the controversy over them. So, there are no recipes with Oats in them. Certainly, if you can tolerate (certified) gluten-free oats, there is no reason why you could not use such oat-flour in some recipes.
As for buckwheat, very few recipes use it, because many people are rather scared by just the name "buckWHEAT" if you know what I mean. Pure buckwheat is gluten-free, and you can find it from a few sources that certify it as such. We only used it in a few recipes, where the flavor was a nice complement to the recipe.
If a particular Celiac sufferer was allergic to certified gluten-free buckwheat or otherwise intolerant to it, I would probably recommend using Sorghum flour instead if I was to still want to make the few recipes that used buckwheat by performing a direct-substitution; or if you could tolerate Teff, perhaps use just a bit of Teff with mostly Sorghum to still get a bit of the "grain" flavor that buckwheat would have otherwise added. Certainly buckwheat flour is not contributing any "binding power", since it does not contain gluten -- just like other GF flours like Sorghum.
Recipes that Use Buckwheat
There are only a handful or recipes in our book that use buckwheat, and where it is used, it is not a primary flour and should be quite simple to substitute out if you so desire. Here is a list of the only dessert recipes with Buckwheat in the ingredients list:
- Buckwheat Chocolate Torte (the book's cover-image recipe actually)
- Peanut Butter Cookies
- Almond-Snowball Cookies (i.e., Russian Tea-Cakes)
- 2 Biscotti Recipes (easy substitution to remove this minor ingredient)
- Ginger Bread
- The crust for the Rhubarb pie
I hope that this clarifies our use of Buckwheat in any recipes, the lack of oats in our recipes, and how simple it should be to perform a substitution if required. Our objective with the book has been to deliver wonderful gluten-free recipes for high-quality desserts, and to also include a few recipes that make use of a couple more healthy (not just simple-starch type) gluten-free flours like buckwheat, sorghum, and even a bit of amaranth here and there (also slightly used). And, we guarantee you'll like the results!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
For all of you in the USA, you probably have seen how the US Postal Service (USPS) has increased rates yet again. The only good thing they did (in my opinion) is create that "Forever" Stamp - presuming they really honor it forever, since I am so sick of having all these postage stamps around here that keep getting outdated every year or so, and the piles of 1-cent and 2-cent stamps I need to keep around to bring my total postage up to current rates when I mail an envelope.
But, in addition to the everyday letter-rate going to 41-cents this week, I see they have completely changed the rate structure for domestic Media Mail and Priority Mail International (aka, "Global Priority Mail" before this week's rebranding). I spent this morning researching the new rates, and what it means to my gluten-free desserts book shipping charges. Basically, the Post Office raised my shipping costs by 10 or more percent across the board! Arghhh!
For domestic shipments, I plan to eat the cost-increase this time around. But, sadly, I am probably going to have to add a dollar or so to my current international shipping charges, since the post-office raised the flat-rate International Priority envelope fees by $1.50 -- but, I'm also feeling a bit lazy so I don't know when that will occur (I need to update shipping-rate tables on my website: talk about a boring task!)
I guess all these rate increases from the post-office are due to increased fuel costs to deliver mail and the like. But, there are some inconsistencies that make no sense with the rate increases: like, e.g., I noticed how if I was shipping a larger number of items at a time (weighing 10 pounds or more), the USPS rates for domestic media-mail actually went down (great for Amazon.com and other large book-sellers I'm sure, but no benefit for me).
Well, my costs are going up, but I plan to hold the line on domestic shipping for now, especially since my main goal is to get this gluten-free dessert recipes book out into the hand of as many people that can benefit from it as possible. At times like this though, I must admit, I do wonder if I made the book too large/heavy, since shipping sure would be more affordable if the book was a lot smaller :)
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Well, Mother's Day this year was a simple one. Since gas prices are sky high, we decided to stay in the area and simply have my wife's mother over for lunch (she lives just a few miles away). And, having people over makes it easier for me to know that what will be served for lunch will be gluten-free and "safe", it does mean that my wife has to do all the baking. But, she didn't seem to mind doing so, especially since the guest of honor today was her mom.
And, holidays (in general) are always a welcome occasion for me, since they tend to inspire my wife to bake up some wonderful dishes, and some gluten-free treats / desserts to go with the main course. Today was no different. The menu included stuffed red and yellow peppers (the large ripe sweet peppers) - stuffed with a variation of her Garlic, Pepper, and Herb Quinoa Recipe. They were excellent, and a hit with everyone! Next came a pan-fried, thin-sliced boneless chicken-breast that was breaded with some (I know not the full details) gluten-free breading / coating - also excellent. And, finally for dessert, one of my favorites, these gluten-free lemon bars (picture on second page of that PDF) - wonderfully tangy lemon, balanced with a pastry crust and just a bit of glazing . Most welcome by me, and another complete success.
Sure, it was "Mother's Day", but I was sure feeling like it was "my day" too with all that wonderful gluten-free baking :)
If that wasn't enough, we also had a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures in the mid 60's. This made for the perfect opportunity to get everyone outside to tour my wife and daughter's various flower gardens (which I must say, are looking really nice now that warm weather has finally set in). This all added up to a relaxing day of food, sun, and fun.
I called my mother to tell her we'd TRY to save some of the lemon-bars for when she and my father were in the area in a couple days, but I just don't know if there will be any left (I have a rather pervasive weakness for those things!). I will try to resist eating them all though, otherwise I'll have to bake up something else as a belated Mother's Day surprise. Actually, it seems that baking may be in my near future regardless. My sister from out of town is here on vacation next week, and she tends to beg me for gluten-free peanut butter cookies -- perhaps I'll just make a double (or triple) batch and hand them out to everyone (as I recall, mother likes them too).
Hope everyone had a great Mother's Day (especially all the Mothers out there!)
Saturday, May 12, 2007
It works like this: you place non-perishable food items (especially canned items, cereal, pasta, and rice) out in bag(s) by the mailbox and the postal / letter carriers pick up the donations, take them to the Post Office, and then have them delivered to local food banks or pantries to help families in need in the community.
So, I rounded up a couple bags of items, and sure hope that whoever receives the donations will appreciate the gluten-free items I included (needless to say, a LOT of items I had laying around in the house are gluten-free). I have included some Enjoy-Life granola and coco-loco bars, some Amaranth-O's, and a couple other items that were certainly marketed to Celiac / GF people but can be consumed by anyone. I know I sure like these product, and I hope others will too.
We also included usual canned vegetables and such (things that are not just marketed to "gluten free" consumers), though most of these items were thing I could have consumed anyway if I wanted, since they didn't have any ingredients I avoid. Those items will at least be "normal" for most people that do the food donation sorting or distributing.
If it's not too late, and your mail carriers are involved in this today, consider putting out some foods to share with those less fortunate. I actually always wonder how anyone that is forced to rely on donations to eat would ever have a chance of maintaining a gluten-free diet if they were on one -- it'd be nearly impossible, just because of the cost of such certified GF items. More so, any donated GF items would probably all just get handed out to anyone and not necessarily "prioritized" for recipients with Celiac Disease, unless of course the donation-handlers are familiar with 1) those with special dietary needs, and 2) what foods are "safe" for them. I just hope if there is anyone that needs gluten-free donations, that mine somehow make it to them. If not, worst case is that someone who is hungry and in need of food will have something they otherwise would not.
Monday, May 07, 2007
I have been really busy the past week since our gluten-free recipes book sales in Long Island, as various tasks backed up in the queue. Reviewing one of my new favorite products was near the top of the to-do list, and I am just now getting to it. I always wonder, where does all my time go?
That trip to Long Island did afford me the opportunity to really give these Jigsaw Bars the detailed evaluation they deserved. I had a few each of the Chocolate variety and the Coconut-Almond variety along for the 18+ hour round-trip, and they came in quite handy as I was able to improve my average driving pace by not stopping for food along the way.
I also took along a couple other snack bars to compare to: the Enjoy Life "cocoa loco" bar, and a couple varieties of the "Larabar" products. Each of these products is gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free (and a few other "frees" too) in hopes of satisfying the requirements of the allergen-avoiding consumers they are sold to. So, I'd say the comparison group is pretty well suited for a head-to-head evaluation. And, not only did I (the gluten-free guy) try them, but my wife (not gluten-free or celiac) also tried each of them and provided feedback.
I'm going to start with the results, and then talk in more detail about the comparison. Bottom line: these Jigsaw Bars are really good! My wife and I both came to the same conclusion that the Jigsaw Bars are definitely a cut above the other products, for various reasons.
First and foremost - the Jigsaw bars' taste and consistency is quite nice and pleasing, and had I not known they were gluten-free, I would never have had a reason to suspect so. By comparison, although I don't mind the Enjoy-Life cocoa loco bars on occasion, they have a strange consistency, especially given the fact that the rice-flakes in them tend to remain in your mouth after the remainder of the bar has dissolved already (and, I'll be chewing just rice flakes for some time) -- those bars definitely make me think "gluten free" every time I eat them. The Larabars are a really nice product, but the one thing that causes my wife and I to get a bit burnt-out on them is the fact they are all date-based, and those Dates certainly contribute a dominant taste and texture, regardless of which Larabar variety is consumed - thus, if you don't like dates, you won't like Larabars.
As for which variety of Jigsaw Bar I prefer - you guessed it! - Chocolate! :)
Both are really good, but the coconut-almond variety I found more to my liking when I "enhanced" it. On the road, I simply popped a small piece of chocolate into my mouth along with a bit of the bar. At home, I melted some 70% dark-chocolate in the microwave and thinly coated the bar - the result was perfect :) I am not saying that Jigsaw Health needs to chocolate coat the coconut-almond version, but rather that they may want to consider making a third type of bar, which is a chocolate-coated coconut-almond bar... I think that could be a nice addition to the group, and I'm sure that some people who don't care as much for chocolate will appreciate having the option to get coconut-almond without chocolate still.
Now, another neat thing about the Jigsaw Bars is their health/nutrient composition. These things have Omega 3's, quite a bit of protein, a decent amount of dietary fiber, and some other added nutrients - making them a nice "health bar" as claimed.
I provided a detailed comparison below (using the nutritional values printed on each product's label) to give a side-by-side view from a more scientific approach. A couple things worth nothing when comparing between bars:
- Enjoy Life bar is MUCH smaller (just over half the weight), so its calories and carbs look favorable (until you multiply it up to the same serving-size as the other two bars).
- The Enjoy Life and Jigsaw Health bars both fortify their products, which explains why their B-Vitamin counts are so high compared to a Larabar e.g. (Larabar does not add any supplements at all, and are very simple ingredient formulas).
- Jigsaw achieves a super-low Sugar rating (and glycemic index) by using "sugar alcohols" like Maltitol (it is GF) and Xylitol. This is certainly something of interest to diabetics.
Enjoy Life (Cocoa Loco)
|Fat g (total)|
|Fat g (trans)|
The bars are a bit on the pricier side, but I'm willing to pay a bit extra for a superior product. I see they are offering free shipping on orders over $69.00 right now (which means you'd have to order 2 cases of 12 bars that come out to roughly $70.00). The price would keep me from eating these every single day, but the taste and texture are good enough I'm rather certain I could eat them every day and not tire of them. :)
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Laura and I really enjoyed meeting all of you at the Suffolk Country Celiac and Gluten-Free vendor's fair this weekend on Long Island. This was a really great way to start off our "vendor" experience, as this was our first event where we have ever exhibited our book. Til now, all of our gluten-free recipes book sales have been from our website, or a few retail locations (mostly in Ohio), and this Celiac event was certainly a great way to get out and meet a lot of people that could really use our desserts book - all in one place (we were told there were something like 1400 attendees this year! wow!)
So, let me start by thanking everyone that purchased a copy of Gluten-Free Gourmet Desserts from us. We greatly appreciate each and every one of our customers and sincerely hope you get many years of wonderful baking from the recipes in the book, whether you are a Celiac or just living on a gluten-free diet! We realize there are many other books on the market to choose from, and though we certainly think our dessert recipes are the best, we realize the ultimate choice is up to you and that we need you all to spread the word around once you try some of the wonderful gluten-free cakes, cookies, pies, tortes, biscotti, and the like. Word of mouth is still our number one marketing tool, and we appreciate everyone who has sent others our way since buying the book and baking the desserts. Thank you!
We also apologize for having not been able to take credit/debit cards right at the event. Perhaps next year if we can work a way to do it we will. If you missed out at the event, hopefully you got a coupon from us that you can use online... it's just too bad we have to add the cost of shipping we otherwise didn't have at the show.
Other Event Reviews
Now, as for the rest of the event. Sadly, my wife and I were too busy selling books to do much "shopping" or sampling at the event. But, I did sneak away from my post for a few minutes now and then, and was able to try a couple new items. And, I am so glad I did.
One of my favorite finds were the Gluten-Free English Muffins by Foods by George. I'll be doing a full review of those soon, and show a picture of them I took personally, but I can tell you right now: these things are quite wonderful! And, George and his wife are just fantastic people to say the least - super nice and friendly. In fact, when I asked George to save me a bag of English Muffins for the end of the day, when the time rolls around he insisted I just take a bag of them home to try for free (and, when I get home I find out he slipped me a couple bags of them!). I must aspire to be such a good person myself! Thanks George (and wife)! And, your Muffins truly are excellent! You have got yourself a repeat customer for sure now! :)
The fellow from "Bone Suckin'" sauces was also just over-the-top nice. I stopped by to purchase some of his sauces (we were almost out of at home), and he said he wasn't selling anything at the show, but just giving out taste-testing for the day. But, he insisted I take a few jars of his products (Sweet Hot Mustard, and Hot Bone Suckin' Sauce - great on ribs) for free. I tried repeatedly to at least get him to accept some cash for them, but to no avail - so I gave him a cookbook I hope he'll enjoy as much as I enjoy his tasty and tangy sauces. I plan to review his stuff in more detail too, since we use it regularly and really love the stuff!
What a drive!
Now, the down-side of the event... the drive. Wow, that is one long drive! PA seems to go on forever as you take I-80 through the State lengthwise from end-to-end. And, I can hardly describe the "fun" (not!), even on a weekend, we encountered taking the cross-Bronx freeway through upper New York City on Saturday/Sunday -- both directions we sat in traffic for an hour just to go a couple miles. Insanity! How do people deal with that all the time, and to think this was on a weekend?!
From now on, any event more than 4-hours (by car) away is almost certainly going to happen only if I get on an airplane and fly. This event was well over 8-hours (thanks to NYC traffic), and my body just wasn't liking it at all -- I felt stiff and tired both days from spending so much time sitting in the car. And, I still find hotels less than ideal to achieve a great night's sleep.
At least the scenery along the way was nice (during the daylight hours). Long Island was new to me, and not quite what I had envisioned. I had been to NYC before, but even now I am still amazed at the sheer size of the place. The views of town from the Throgs Neck Bridge (going onto Long Island) were definitely amazing too.
For anyone interested, David over at Gluten-Free NYC Blog posted some pictures from the event (luckily, I didn't see pictures of us on there - in our sleep-deprived state). In all our haste and busy state at the event, I never got around to taking any pictures of my own. I'll blame it on lack of sleep. But, regardless, the event went well and (aside from the long drive) we had a good time. We hope to get to a few other events this year and meet more of you. Certainly Columbus, OH in November... and, with luck, maybe a couple other events around the country between now and then - time permitting. Speaking of time, I now have to get back to work :)