Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gluten-Free Christmas Recipes and Wishes

I hope the Christmas holiday season brings you joy and comes with some great gluten-free snacks, main courses, and desserts! I always enjoy the holidays from a food perspective, as we tend to create new gluten-free recipes and/or put a few tried and true ones to use as we prepare baked items for our own household and for friends and family we visit during the season.

I have been considering baking up one of these Citrus-Accent Gluten-Free Panettone Breads (recipe link) that we created last year - or was it the year before? I have not had one any more recent than Christmas last year, and I keep seeing those gluten-filled commercial boxed pre-baked Panettone breads in what seems like all the store windows I go past when out shopping lately... leading to a massive craving for a sweet holiday bread! :)

I also want to experiment with some slight alterations to that recipe and perhaps even try substituting some Tofu and/or whey protein and chia seed for the cream cheese and butter it currently employs. But, then again, the butter does lend flavor... perhaps it will need to stay!

I already have a gluten-free chocolate cheesecake ready for consumption, which is a definite "win" for the holidays already. And here, as I ramble about all the gluten-free desserts I plan to consume, my wife is working on preparing a homemade gluten-free ham glaze and some homemade potato salad to take to one relative's house. I guess I need to stop typing and get baking :)

I hope everyone has a wonderfully enjoyable Christmas and holiday season!

In addition, I sure hope you are able to enjoy the holidays completely, and that you have not experienced any overwhelming difficulties or hardships resulting from the current economic situation in the World. I simply try to look past the negative daily news in hopes for a better 2009 and beyond, and a return to more widespread optimism and normalcy on many fronts. There are bound to be challenges ahead, and I figure I will be better prepared to face them when I am in a positive mood from enjoying a week of eating delicious gluten-free holiday treats (surely can not hurt!). Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake : Recipe (variation)

What better way to relax than with some delicious gluten-free dairy-free chocolate cake... yum! After the recent car accident, I needed something positive to enjoy, and this latest recipe variation worked well, at least during the time spent consuming it :)

My wife created this new gluten-free diary-free cake recipe by performing a few rather simple alterations to the Gluten-Free Chocolate Ganache Cake recipe from our cook book (recipe spread on pages 20-21), by using Silken Tofu (i.e., Soy Protein) as a replacement for the dairy components (originally some buttermilk and cream cheese were used - now replaced with Tofu).

The results were fantastic! The cake's taste and texture were excellent, and I never would have guessed it was dairy-free (or gluten-free for that matter). If you can eat Soy, this is a great dairy-free cake option. It maintains exceptional chocolate flavor and a great bouncy, spongy cake texture just like a "real" cake would have.

Instead of frosting the cake, I just sprinkled a bit of powdered sugar on top, and then proceeded to eat a piece... or two... or three. I love great chocolate cakes, and I found it rather difficult to control my desire to eat more than I should. Such is the down side of baking. he he he.

I posted the simple VARIATION to the Chocolate Ganache Cake recipe that appears on Page 20 in our Gluten-Free and Wheat-Free Gourmet Desserts book on our gluten-free recipes page. Here is a link to the Variation text:
All dairy products have been removed for those who wish to avoid casein as well as gluten. Great for vegan diets and celiacs alike. And, we baked this variation in a standard 9" x 13" x 2" cake pan, whereas the original (in the gluten-free cookbook) was baked using three 9" round pans and layering the cakes.

If you have a birthday or other event coming up soon (or, just want to eat cake!), I highly recommend giving this one a try. It is rather simple to bake, fits your gluten-free diet (and/or dairy-free diet), while adding a bit of soy protein too (which, must mean it is good for you, right? heh)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Crash Report : Alive to Write About it, Thankfully!

I am thankful to even be writing today's Gluten-Free Blog. Sorry, no recipes this time...

Last evening was the first significant car accident I have been in. And, it is as close to death as I am ready to come for a LONG time. Til now, the worst motor vehicle incident I can remember being in was a few years back when we were parked at a stop light and the poor old man in line ahead of us accidentally put the car in reverse and slowly backed into us, causing hardly any damage, and absolutely no fear.

This time was quite different,... it caused fear, and it happened so quickly.

Our daughter just returned home from College on Friday, and barely 24 hours later my wife, daughter, and I all decided to do our consolidated shopping together at CostCo and Trader Joes. It was snowing some on the East side of Cleveland where the stores were located, but the snowing had abated completely on the return trip by the time we were heading Westbound on Interstate-480.

In fact, the roads were so clear that I couldn't help thinking, as I saw a snowplow in the rightmost lane 1/4 mile ahead of us, how there was not much of anything for it to really do, aside from applying salt to the surfaces (it was 25 degrees out), until the snow started in this area. Our lane was nearly completely clear of any evidence of recent snowfall with pavement being the only thing to be seen as the semi-sparse weekend evening traffic was steady at 50-55MPH.

But, only a few moments later, though driving with my usual defensive manner and leaving a huge amount of room in front of and behind us, I learned how quickly cautious driving methods can still be destroyed by variables outside my control.

I have a rather clear recollection of what transpired, though the times involved are mere seconds. In a lane or two over to our right side, and just a bit forward from us, an SUV suddenly just apparently lost control and started shimmying and swerving.

Perhaps the SUV driver hit some "black ice", or a similar slick spot and simply panicked or over corrected, perhaps they were distracted by something and made a driving error, I do not know... but regardless of the reason, they soon were entering into a sideways slide. At first, though their car was in the process of turning sideways, it remained to our right and in their lane, sliding in a forward direction. But, the situations was quickly changing as the SUV gained traction, with it now sliding into an arc-shaped path that was drawing it left rapidly.

It was clear the SUV was sliding on an intercept course that would place it immediately in front of our car soon. This happened incredibly quickly. One minute everything was just a normal day on the highway, the next, our lives were in danger!

In what seemed like no time, that SUV previously positioned to our side and right was quickly ending up in a semi-diagonal sliding course that was taking it directly in front of our car. And, of course, a concrete median-barrier was to my left as this sliding SUV approached from the right. All my years of driving experience were tested, and did my best not to lock the wheels or panic, and instead to try to minimize the angle of intersection, and potential impact, with the SUV while not smashing into the concrete wall to my left.

For a moment, it seemed that our car might just slow enough and be able to move enough left and back, relative to the SUV's path, in time to allow the SUV to slide barely past us and across our lane in front of us. But, as split seconds passed, the likely outcome was being rendered differently and a much worse outcome was becoming inevitable. I remember telling my wife and daughter quite calmly, as the space between vehicles was quickly being reduced to zero, something to the effect that "this is going to be bad", and that I loved them.

The next thing I recall is how that dark (probably black) SUV was suddenly white in my vision, as our headlights were essentially at zero-distance from the side of the other vehicle.

And then was the impact... the jarring, jolting bang... the not knowing if we were going to live or die... and, then the momentary disoriented feeling as our car entered into a fast counterclockwise spin induced by the SUV hitting us askew on the front-right corner as its own path was taking it diagonally toward the median (which, later, after my senses were focused again, I noticed the luck of the SUV driver, when I saw how that concrete center-barrier had just ended a few yards earlier - and they ended up in a grass center region, unhurt from what we were later told).

We were now spinning...

I realized my seat belt had saved my life as I was not stuck to the windshield, and I attempted to apply everything I learned for controlling a spin, which I found was rather different in the midst of 4 lanes of continued traffic flow - lanes that our spin was taking us into and through. Then came a quick wave of fear... fear that there would be a domino-effect of a pileup with other vehicles on the highway, with us getting bounced around by repeated vehicle impacts. After what I believe was just 540-degrees of rotation (a full spin and a half), our car was now facing the oncoming headlights of drivers going in the same direction we were originally going.

The engine was off now - it had just "died" somewhere in the collision. I had brought the car to a stop. Some cars still zipped by us, some beeped as they zipped by, and I could see more headlights approaching us as we were stationary in the middle of this multi-lane highway.

A quick survey among each other in the car started: "are you OK,... are you all right... is anyone hurt?"... the questions echoing, along with relieving answers of "I think so", "I believe so", and so on, as I began flashing the headlights, between the high and low beams, at oncoming cars to warn people that there was a car stopped, facing them, right in front of them, in the middle of a 60MPH-zone highway (I figured they would think I was perhaps a police vehicle from a distance, and heed the warning). That finally held enough other drivers off long enough for my wife to activate the hazard lights and for me to see if the engine would restart.

Luckily, the engine did start and what remained of our trusty car, which just took rather a beating, allowed me to drive it, slowly and with some mechanical metal-rubbing and tire-rubbing noises, to the right-hand median and turn to face the direction of traffic; all the while plenty of impatient people were STILL flying by us at what appeared to be "normal" speed. Even after getting all the way off to the right side (against a guard-rail), traffic entering the highway from behind us (we were just past an on-ramp loop) continued to fly by to our left beeping and such.

Witnessing the action of other drivers going past us was a bit surreal, and hard to understand from our vantage point as we sat parked. Sure, they didn't know my pulse felt like it was 200, that my respiration rate was abnormal, and that I nearly felt like passing out from the adrenalin coursing through my body, or that me and my entire family were nearly just killed... they just knew a car was in the right median lane with their hazard lights on. So, beep they must I guess.

We finally had time to assess our condition a bit more, and it still seemed we had escaped essentially unharmed. I found myself amazed, and/or shocked a bit considering the force of that impact. None of our airbags (neither front nor side) deployed, which told me that we were lucky enough to have reduced the impact-speed (difference between our car's speed and the SUV's speed) to probably not more than 15MPH. The front corner of the car was clearly mangled, but we were OK. I can not even imagine the force of a higher-speed impact - this was plenty!

Then we start thinking "now what do we do, and are we really OK?" Strangely, after not owning a cell phone for years, my wife had just picked one up a couple weeks earlier (one of those "short-term" Virgin Mobile units) for a business trip to Illinois, and still had it in her purse. We turned it on and dialed 911, and after trying to figure out where we were exactly, were transferred to local police that, though quite pleasant and helpful, took between 30 and 40 minutes to arrive on the scene; with a tow truck taking another 1/2 hour thereafter. Thankfully, during that wait time, we contacted a friend of the family that lived only 20 minutes away and was able to come get us after we had our first ride in a police car - to a station just 5 minutes away.

Thankful to be Alive!

In what seems like a miracle to me still, we apparently suffered no major injuries aside and were just banged around the car and jolted about, with some bumps and bruises. In fact, a few minutes after the crash, as we were taking our health-inventory, it seemed strange that aside from some feelings of anxiety and shock, that there was not much noticeable physical pain. Well, that did not last too long, as within an hour or two the widespread muscle pain and tightness started, especially in our backs,... and impact pains where the seat belts had focused the force of our weight-restraining efforts. I did not have any physical impact with the car interior, though my wife and daughter had less fortune, even with seatbelts on, as they were on the side of the impact and were banged against the door interiors and such, and will certainly have some bruising or tender areas for a while.

The shock of the experience was more than any of us cared for or ever want to experience again. It all still feels a bit surreal to me, and I am hopeful that writing about this will clear my mind a bit.

Most importantly though: I am glad to be alive, and to know that my family was not significantly injured. There was no blood, no loss of life or limb.

It was a good day! Well, surely it was better than some alternatives we flirted closely with! After seeing the doctors at the hospital later in the evening, and being prescribed Motrin to help with the muscle pains, and being advised to just take it easy for a while and expect the pain to be worse in the morning,... I just have to say that if muscle pain and a few bruises are the limit of the trauma, we all feel extremely lucky and are thankful to alive and be here to say so.

I generally do not care about the car, though I admit I am a bit miffed, as it was our first new car purchase in over a dozen years when we bought it just a year earlier. The car had only 5,000 miles on it. I would have preferred that my 100,000+ mile old car had been the one to get hit, but again, it is all rather irrelevant compared to personal health and well being. I can replace a car. The car's post-accident condition was a fair trade for a positive outcome and for our safety!

For everyone else that has experienced an accident first hand, I can say "wow! I never knew." In fact, given that we have few injuries, I still only partially know. And, I am sorry anyone has to experience such a scary thing!

Please try to drive safely and defensivley everyone,... I know I will... in fact, I will be driving with near paranoid-caution for a while I suspect. Now it is time to go stretch and see if I can get these muscles loosened up a bit.

Friday, December 05, 2008

American Made Holiday Gifts for the Kitchen

I always try to purchase American-made products whenever possible, and the current state of the economy makes me try even harder to locate USA manufactured goods for my Gluten-Free kitchen and home - all in hopes that I help keep people employed here in the United States. I have located some items for my holiday shopping "wish list" this year that will meet my objective, and enhance my baking and culinary capabilities.

I will start by discussing an item I already own from a past holiday purchase... one of my favorite kitchen tools ever! I can hardly describe how much time and effort that LamsonSharp 6" Turner has saved me. It works wonders for flipping my gluten-free pancakes (especially the full pan-sized pancakes I make)! And, all those gluten-free cakes and cheesecakes you see in my book: this "turner" makes a great "cake lifter" too, especially when moving a full 8 to 10" round cake.

We use this large turner utensil to transport an entire cheesecake off of the baking-parchment (that we line a spring-form pan with) and onto a fancier plate, platter, or other cake holder. The leading-edge of the LamsonSharp turner is tapered nicely and slides under gluten-free cakes, pancakes, pizza, etc quite easily. Wonderful product!

Which, leads me to my wish list items from LamsonSharp for this year...

I was looking at the various USA-made kitchen and baking products from LamsonSharp, and noticed they actually make nice knife sets here in the United States yet. I have been looking for a good set of kitchen knives for years now, but keep avoiding all the imported (mostly Chinese, or Chinese components) knife sets that are EVERYWHERE these days. I have looked at higher-end retailers too, and for whatever reason, they bulk of what everyone carries is foreign made.

So, this year I have my eyes on a set of knives from Lamson & Goodnow (i.e., their LamsonSharp line). They sell both stamped knives and forged knives, with the stamped ones being made completely here, and the forged ones incorporating German-made tempered steel. I really do not know if I care whether my blades are forged or stamped; whatever they are, they must be nicer than the knives I currently own.

I also am eyeing up a few of their other kitchen necessities; other specialty items I can see helping me with my gluten-free desserts and baking in general - like that lovely 6" flipper shown above. I bought that one on a whim a couple years ago thinking that it would be nice for pancakes; only to later discover it is handy for so many of my recipe baking and post-baking tasks.

The prices do not look TOO bad, and even if they are a bit more than the cheap Chinese imports, I do not care. I would rather spend a bit extra to get a quality product that, with luck, also helps keep someone in the United States in their job. Saving money on cheap imports does not accomplish much in the long run if nobody in here has a job in the end, right?

This brings me to another favorite bunch of USA-made products...

I have always been a fan of the Lodge Brand Cast Iron products, especially the pre-seasoned cookware (which, if you do not have time to season an unseasoned pan yourself by coating lightly with oil and placing in an oven for a few hours, makes a great solution for just a few bucks more than the unseasoned version). I wrote about using Lodge Cast Iron products for your gluten-free cooking (link) in a prior blog, where I discuss them in more depth.

Lodge cast iron pans are quite reasonably priced too. And, they do not wear out (like inferior Teflon-coated pans). You can scrub these products clean with steel wool if you need to, or nearly anything else (i.e., you are not going to scratch them in any way that will hurt them). Worst case is that you may want to re-season a pan if you end up needing to scrub some of the black patina off. I have a nice collection of them: fry pans, flat griddles, Dutch ovens, etc... the are ALL wonderful. You can find these pans at WalMart and quite a few other places. These pans are highly recommended products - and, made right here in the good old USA in a South Pittsburg, TN foundry.

Although we have a fairly nice collection of these cast-iron pans, there are still a couple most specialized ones that I hope to acquire this year. And, with luck, it helps keep some people in Tennessee employed too!

There are actually still a few products manufactured in the United States. And, some really high-quality and useful products too. I would love to see more products made here, and perhaps this latest economic crisis will reinforce the need for domestic manufacturing... so that when we consumers "consume", we are actually consuming something will result in domestic employment too. Employed persons can then return the favor and purchase other domestically produced items, and perhaps the future of the US economy will start looking brighter.

Well, those are a couple ideas for gluten-free / wheat-free kitchen items this year - all made in the USA. If you have some USA-made ideas that fit this them, feel free to share them in comments. Thanks!