Announcements

Visit the new, improved www.GfreeCuisine.com. Only $7 a month, choose your weekly menu. Get a customized shopping list, organized by grocery store sections to save you time. Plus, recipes for gluten-free breads, desserts, and other treats.
Fill out my online form.

Where in the World is Carol?

Carol's in the kitchen, cooking up recipes for www.GfreeCuisine.com and www.CarolFenster.com

Carol's book, Gluten-Free 101, won 1st prize in the Cookbooks-General category of USA Best Book Awards.

March 31, 2015: Taping PBS-TV shows for "Creative Living with Sheryl Borden"

May 2, 2015: Barnes & Noble Book Fair Book-signing at 960 S. Colorado Blvd., Glendale, CO

August 17, 2015: Denver Food Fair, more info at www.DenverCeliacs.org

August 20, 2015: Book-signing for Art Hop at Covered Treasures Bookstore, Monument, CO

September 26-27, 2015: Book-signing at Holy Cross Abbey Winery Fall Festival

Welcome to Carol Fenster Cooks!

Welcome to Carol Fenster Cooks!

I have had a love affair with food since I was a small child.  But I didn’t understand that it was the very food I loved that made me ill. When I learned that gluten was the culprit, I left my corporate job to start Savory Palate, Inc. where I specialize in gluten-free, allergen-free, and vegetarian/vegan cooking. I believe that eating food is the most profound thing we do to our bodies each and every day. So my mission is to help everyone eat well and I love my job!

It’s Time to Plant Your Own Herbs

Two types of sage grow in Carol Fenster's herb garden.

Two types of sage grow in Carol Fenster’s herb garden.

Some of us have had a really tough winter! Here in Denver, we had months of bitter cold, followed by unseasonably warm and dry days. Still, we can’t plant flowers and herbs until the danger of frost is over…and experts say that date is Mother’s Day. So, it’s time to plant herbs!!!

Some herbs are perennial and return every year, such as chives and sage, and mine are already 12-inches tall. But annual herbs such as basil, mint, and parsley must be replanted each year. Surprisingly, one of my thyme plants returned on its own this year, so I’ve been enjoying little sprigs since March.

Fresh Herbs are One of Life’s Joys!

You all know that I love my herb garden. To me, gathering fresh herbs and using them in cooking is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Herbs lend flavor and aroma to our gluten-free cooking and make a simple dish come alive with added pizzazz, plus many of them are just plain good for us. I use herbs in everything: rosemary sprinkled on potatoes, basil in homemade pesto, mint in Mojitos, dill in potato salad and homemade pickles, oregano and marjoram in Mexican stews, parsley in Chimichurri, chives in chive oil…the list goes on.

It is really rewarding to snip fresh rosemary or fresh basil or any of the other wonderful herbs and then cook with them immediately, without having to run to the store. And, it’s much less expensive. So, start planning which herbs you want to plant; choose the pots, get the potting soil, and decide on a good location. Then wait until the danger of frost is over before you buy and plant the herbs.  Then enjoy! You will thank yourself throughout the summer!

Tips for Growing Your Own Herbs

Here are some tips to make the most of your herbs:

[1] Buy healthy plants. Look for the healthiest plants you can find with no signs of disease or blemish. Plant them soon after getting them home; I’ve had herbs die while waiting to plant them. What a waste!

[2] Choose a good location. My herbs prefer a patio on the northeast side of my house that gets mild morning sun, but is shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. You might experiment with different locations to see where your herbs grow best.  I grow them in big pots rather than in the ground so the rabbits can’t eat them, or  put them in your garden plot if you have one.

[3] Give herbs lots of TLC. Although most herbs are fairly forgiving for those who are green thumb-challenged, be sure to plant them in good potting soil and water them as directed. Some need lots of water; others don’t. Follow the instructions that come with the plant. If they start to flower at the top of the stem (called bolting), pinch the flower buds off right away or else the flavors may diminish and the plants may produce fewer leaves.

My Grandmother’s Whole-Grain Canadian Haystack Cookies

A sign in my kitchen says “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Little do we realize how certain memories—no matter how ordinary—stay with us forever.

Canadian Cookies  are whole-grain.

Canadian Cookies are whole-grain.

These cookies are one of those memories. For reasons I never fully understood, my grandmother referred to them as Canadian Cookies. They were always piled high in a green glass dish—like little chocolate haystacks—in the hutch in her dining room. She had 12 children and 40 grandchildren, most living nearby, so there were many little visitors who knew Grandma would have these cookies ready for us. Of all my childhood memories of Grandma, these cookies are my most vivid.

This recipe is from a tattered recipe card, written in my mother’s handwriting which I’ve cherished all these years. Mom continued to make these cookies for us after Grandma died, but I wish I had asked about their origins before Mom’s death only five years later. Now that I have grandchildren of my own that story —whatever it is—seems more important.

Whole Grain, No-Bake, Quick, and Delicious
Fast-forward to today, we would describe these cookies as “no-bake” and tout their ease and simplicity—plus the fact that they are made with whole grains. Rolled oats—even when are quick-cooking—qualify as a whole grain according to the Whole Grains Council. So, even though it a sweet dessert I see no reason not to indulge once in awhile. Enjoy!

No-Bake Canadian Haystack Cookies
Adapted with permission from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)
This was Grandma’s treat for us when we visited her. It is no-bake, whole-grain, and quick.

3/4 cup sugar
¼ cup (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter or buttery spread
¼ cup milk of choice (I used 1%)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free, quick-cooking oats*
½ cup +2 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut
3 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process or alkali)
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

[1] Line a 9×13-inch baking sheet with wax paper; set aside.

[2] In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, and milk over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and boil 1 minute.

[3] Remove the pan from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, coconut, cocoa, and salt until blended. Working quickly with a spatula, stir the oat until mixture into the saucepan until thoroughly combined. Stir in the vanilla. Drop by heaping tablespoons (or a #30 metal spring-action ice cream scoop) on the wax paper. The cookies will be quite soft, but will firm up as they cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up 2 days. Makes 12 cookies.

*Check with your physician about whether gluten-free oats are right for you.
Calories per cookie: 140; 2g protein; 6g fat, 2g fiber; 21g carbohydrates; 27mg sodium; 11mg cholesterol

Grain-Free Almond, Flax, and Chia Muffins for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is next Sunday. For those of us without mothers, Mother’s Day is bittersweet.

Grain-Free Almond, Flax, and Chia Muffins

Grain-free Muffins in paper tulip liners.

My own mother died quite young (age 54) and I wish she was here so I could shower her with love and attention. Instead, I treasure two dear elderly aunts who mean a great deal to me and are my connection to my mother. They live out-of-state, so I don’t see them often as I would like.

If you are lucky enough to have your mother in your life, why not bake these healthy muffins for her that say “I love you and I care about your health.” Or, bake them for yourself as a self-embracing hug or salute to your own health. Remember, May is National Celiac Awareness Month so that is another reason to bake… celebrate how far we’ve come!

These muffins feature several healthy ingredients such as almond flour, flax, and chia—ingredients that, ironically, were not widely available during my mother’s lifetime. But I know she would approve. Many of you want grain-free recipes on a Paleo diet or you simply can’t tolerate any grains so this muffin meets those needs. It is sweetened with apples and brown sugar. Choose versions of ingredients that suit your needs (such as grain-free baking powder).

Chia
One ingredient you may not be familiar with is chia, a nutrient-dense seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. “Chia” means strength in the Mayan and Aztec cultures —probably because these seeds contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein , fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. You may find them in light or dark colors but either color works just fine. Plus, you don’t have to grind them first to get their nutritional benefits. I add chia seeds to smoothies for a protein boost.

These muffins are dense and filling, rather than light and airy so don’t expect them to raise super- high. Because of their density, they also travel well so stick a few in the freezer. See here for how to make your own “tulip” liners.

Grain-Free Almond, Flax, and Chia Muffins
By Carol Fenster, author of Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Serve these hearty muffins when you want a healthy treat that fills your kitchen with a heavenly cinnamon aroma. And, you don’t have to save them for Mother’s Day; anytime is just fine. Any type of apple works well, and I prefer to leave the peel on but you can peel if you wish. These are best eaten the second day, so make them the day before and store at room temperature overnight, then refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.

1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup almond flour/meal
3/4 cup ground flax seeds or flaxmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice or apple pie spice
1 teaspoon guar gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 medium cored, grated apple
2 tablespoons raisins

[1] Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F. Generously grease a standard 12-cup non-stick (gray, not black) muffin pan or use paper liners.

[2] In a small bowl, soak the chia seeds in the apple juice for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

[3] In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flax, sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, xanthan gum, salt, and baking soda until well blended. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat in the apple juice-chia mixture, eggs, and vanilla until thoroughly blended. Increase the speed to medium-low and beat until the batter is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Gently beat in the apples and raisins. Divide the batter evenly in the muffin cups. (A 1 [½]-inch metal spring-action metal ice cream scoop helps ensure uniformly -sized muffins.)

[4] Bake until the muffin tops are firm and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out almost clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. If the muffins start to brown too much, lay a sheet of foil over the top. Cool the muffins in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely on the wire rack. These are best served the next day.

Per muffin: 175 calories; 8g protein; 8g total fat; 3g fiber; 20g carbohydrates; 31mg cholesterol; 274mg sodium

Celebrate a Gluten-Free Cinco de Mayo with Tortilla-Shell Salads

Here in the Southwest, we observe Cinco de Mayo (May 5), a day of celebrating Mexican heritage and pride. While it has some serious roots in the history of Mexico, this date is also a good excuse to indulge in Mexican food and drink and have a little fun.

Gluten-free flour tortillas make crispy tortilla shell salads.

Gluten-free flour tortillas made crispy tortilla shell salads.

In keeping with the Mexican theme, have you ever craved those cute little tortilla shells filled with salads? I have, and then I discovered the fluted tortilla shell pans (4 to a box, around $10-$12 per box) in my local Kroger grocery store and I just absolutely had to make my own crisp tortilla shells.

TO MAKE THE TACO SHELLS
[1] Place the tortilla shell pans on a rimmed 9×13-inch baking sheet for easier handling and to prevent sliding.

[2] Gently press the flour tortillas into each pan with your hands, taking care not to tear the tortillas. If the tortillas have been refrigerated or are stiff, steam each one on a splatter guard set over a skillet of simmering water, covered with a lid, until soft and pliable, about 5 to 10 seconds. Then press it into the pan while it is still pliable.

[3] I tried all of the brands of gluten-free flour tortillas and the brand that was easiest to work with was Rudi’s and the flavor of their tortillas that best complements the Mexican salad is Fiesta flavor, although I have used all 3 flavors (Spinach, Fiesta, and Regular) with great success. Also, Rudi’s tortillas are fairly pliable so you may not need to steam them.

[4] Bake, following the instructions on your package. The time varies depending on the size of the tortilla, but will be under 10 minutes. Let the shells cool in the pan and then remove them and fill with your favorite salad. I used a simple oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, with some extra cilantro tossed in because I love it, but you can use whatever you like. Ranch dressing would be also be great.

Crispy gluten-free tortillas bake into crispy shells.

Gluten-free tortillas become crispy shells when baked in fluted pans.

FILLING
The salad in the photo contains lettuce, beans, tomatoes, black olives, cheddar cheese, avocado and some cilantro and a dollop of sour cream, but you could add chopped cooked chicken or cooked ground beef as well. Whatever makes a good Mexican filling is fine. Top with your favorite Mexican salsa and a wedge of lime and serve it with your favorite gluten-free beer. Here in Colorado, we’re partial to New Planet, brewed in Boulder, CO. If you prefer hard cider, you might try Angry Orchard.

The best part of this dish? You get to eat the shell so enjoy!!!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Carol Fenster on PBS-TV in 2015

When you watch cooking shows on TV, you probably don’t think about all the food preparation behind the scenes. Having taped several TV shows over the years, I have learned that appearing on TV is a lot of work. Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at my latest experience:

Carol Fenster with hostess, Sheryl Borden, on "Creative Living with Sheryl Borden" on PBS-TV

Carol Fenster with hostess, Sheryl Borden, on “Creative Living with Sheryl Borden” on PBS-TV

Gluten-Free on PBS
Each year, I tape three segments for a show approaching its 40th year called “Creative Living with Sheryl Borden” on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). It is taped in a lovely studio with a great kitchen on a university campus in New Mexico. Sheryl is a delightful hostess, always curious about how we prepare gluten-free food, and she is a joy to work with.

This year, I was promoting my latest cookbook, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). The goal of the book is to prepare dishes in less than 30 minutes, though many are ready in far less time. Some TV stations provide a food stylist to prepare and plate the food attractively for the camera. However, at PBS, I do all the work to get the food ready.

How I Plan My Appearance
I selected a simple theme for each of the three segments each between 6 and 9 minutes long: [1] Coconut Flour, [2] Gazpacho, and [3] Black Quinoa. Despite simple themes, preparing for these tapings takes a lot of planning and preparation. You should see my “to-do” list! Before I leave, I write the script for each segment, emphasizing the main points that Sheryl and I will focus on.

I fly in the day before, do the grocery shopping, and get as much ready as possible such as chopping vegetables, measuring ingredients, and so on so we’re ready to tape when the studio opens the next morning. Then an assistant helps with last-minute details during taping. It is not like the Food Network, which has a huge cast and lots of people to help with the food preparation. But we have lots of fun and the staff—mostly students at the university—is terrific.

Segment 1: Coconut Flour
Of all the flours we use in gluten-free baking, I get the most questions about coconut flour. Perhaps because it is a flour with high protein and fiber? Maybe because it can be used for the Paleo baking, instead of grain-based flour? Or, perhaps because coconut simply tastes good? Or, all of the above!

After discussing how many foods are coconut-based (yogurt, waters, chips, desserts, etc.) I focused on how difficult it is to use coconut flour in baking and how important it is to use a recipe designed for coconut flour. This is because coconut flour soaks up far more liquid than other flours, so we use less of it. In fact, it takes about 4 times as much liquid to hydrate coconut flour as it does rice flour.  And, most coconut-flour recipes call for many, many eggs.. perhaps an egg for every quarter-cup of flour.

In addition, in certain types of baked goods it is important to blend coconut flour with other flours for a more pleasing result. So, experimenting on your own can result in disaster unless you follow a recipe specifically designed for coconut flour. One of the more frequent distress phone calls I get is from bakers whose baked goods have failed while trying to adapt coconut flour in their own recipes.

I demonstrated how to make Coconut Macaroons, one of my favorite cookies. They have lots of yummy sweetened shredded coconut, plus coconut flour, and coconut-flavored extract and they are super-simple. For extra glitz, drizzle them with chocolate frosting.

Segment 2: Gazpacho
For the second segment, I focused on the Spanish soup known as Gazpacho. Gazpacho is really vegetables served in a tomato-based liquid. Tomatoes are an important source of lycopene and other nutrients, plus all of the other vegetables in this dish make it truly a nutritious dish.

Though it sounds innocent, traditional Gazpacho is often thickened with bread. But I think Gazpacho tastes better without it, so I showed how to make a quick and easy Gazpacho that serves two (since I get lots of requests for small-batch recipes to meet the needs of small households. See below for the recipe. One of the goals of 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes is to offer meals that can be ready in less than 30 minutes. With this recipe, it is only 10 minutes—plus some chilling time.

Quick and Easy Gazpacho for Two
Reprinted with permission from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Fenster (Avery/Penguin, 2011)

This cool refreshing “liquid” salad is perfect for hot-weather dining because no cooking is required. I use canned tomato juice which contains salt, so if you use unsalted tomato juice just add salt to taste. Double the recipe to serve four.

Serves 2

Quick and Easy Gazpacho

Quick and Easy Gazpacho

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Chilling time: 1 hour

1 1/3 cups canned tomato juice, divided (two 5.5-ounce cans), divided
2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
¼ to ½ small jalapeno, seeds and veins removed, coarsely chopped (or to taste)
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 English cucumber, diced, plus very thin half-slices for garnish
½ celery rib, finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided

[1] In a food processor, puree ¾ cup of the tomato juice along with the onion, jalapeno, garlic, and lime juice.

[2] Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the cucumber, celery, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, and the remaining tomato juice. Divide evenly among two soup bowls or goblets and chill for at least an hour to let the flavors meld. Serve chilled, garnished with a half-slice of cucumber and the remaining cilantro as garnish.

Segment 3: Black Quinoa Salad

I strongly believe that our gluten-free diets should include lots of gluten-free whole grains, so I always try to focus at least one segment focusing about whole grains. This year, my third segment focused on black quinoa which is related to regular, tan quinoa as well as reddish-brown quinoa.

What many people don’t realize is that we can treat cooked whole grains like mixed greens, add chopped vegetables, nuts, and fruit and toss them with salad dressing for a cold salad that tastes great anytime, but especially for hot weather. So, that is what I do in this flavorful recipe that is stunningly gorgeous, especially when served on a stark-white plate. There recipe for Black Quinoa Salad is here

Where to Watch “Creative Living with Sheryl Borden “
“Creative Living with Sheryl Borden” airs in all 50 states in over 118 PBS stations in the U.S., Canada, Guam, and Puerto Rico. For more information, go to http://kenw.org/creative-living-home-page. The segments I taped will air during the 2015-2016 season and that is a long ways away, so check your local PBS station for air times. Send me an email at carol@carolfenster.com when you see it in your area.

Luscious Coconut Macaroons

Next to chocolate, coconut is my favorite flavor. My husband does not share my enthusiasm. However, I didn’t learn this little fact until we cut the cake at our wedding reception.

In the little Nebraska town where I grew up, the same lady made the wedding cakes for every single wedding. Back then, there were only white cakes and there were no “groom’s” cakes, either. One cake for everybody!!

And, it was her tradition to add coconut flavoring to the batter. I was accustomed to her cakes and thought all wedding cakes were white and tasted like coconut.

Imagine my husband’s surprise when he bit into our coconut-flavored wedding cake. He politely swallowed the first bite, but no more. To this day, we laugh about the wedding cake he hated.

Today, I am still enamored with all things coconut and that’s why I love these Coconut Macaroons, though they are obviously not my husband’s favorites. They are so easy that the kids can make them and they are virtually fool-proof. Serve them plain, or drizzle with chocolate frosting for added decadence. Leftovers? Crumble them on pudding or yogurt. Enjoy!

COCONUT MACAROONS©
Coconut lovers, this recipe is for you! They are super-simple and gorgeous as well. 

Luscious Coconut Macaroons

Luscious Coconut Macaroons

Makes 8 small cookies
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Baking time: 20 to 25 minutes

2 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon coconut flour or cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or coconut extract
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (7-ounce package)

[1] Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch rimmed baking sheet (not nonstick) with parchment paper.

[2] In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy and airy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar, coconut flour, vanilla, almond extract, and salt and beat just until blended. Add the shredded coconut and beat just until well blended. The dough will look somewhat coarse.

[3] With wet hands or a #30 spring-action ice cream scoop, drop 8 balls, about 1 [1/2] inches in diameter (about 2 ½ tablespoons of dough each), 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. For the prettiest look, don’t compress the balls too much so some coconut flakes poke out from the ball and brown prettily.

[4] Bake until the cookies are browned around the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to the wire rack and cool completely.

Per macaroon: 145 calories; 2g protein; 8g total fat; 1g fiber; 18g carbohydrates; 0mg cholesterol; 90mg sodium

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake for Special Diets or Passover

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake

Increasingly, many people avoid grains altogether. Are you one of them? While avoiding gluten grains is hard; avoiding ALL grains is extremely hard—but not impossible. Whenever I have guests, I ask ahead if they have any special diet needs (or simply detest certain foods) and I try to accommodate their requests—especially for dessert. After all, who doesn’t like dessert!!

You could also serve this cake during Passover and your Paleo friends can eat it (if you use a Paleo-friendly oil rather than butter). It freezes well, too. I particularly like walnuts for this cake because of their unique flavor but ground pecans would be equally tasty.

This cake is moist because it is sweetened with honey, which is a natural humectant (that means it draws in water). It is also easy since you grind the nuts in a food processor and blend the other ingredients into the nuts—all in the same vessel—which means fewer dishes to wash. If you can find pre-ground walnuts (or pecans) you can use 2 cups.

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake
By Carol Fenster
Everyone will love this cake, but it is especially nice when you have guests who are grain-free as well as gluten-free. If you use buttery spread or oil, it is also dairy-free, plus there is no soy, either and if you use a corn-free baking powder, you eliminate that culprit as well. So, it can meet the needs of many guests with different special diet needs and everyone is happy.

2 cups walnut pieces (measure before grinding)
1/2 cup honey
3 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or buttery spread, melted (or your favorite oil such as canola, coconut, etc.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting

[1] Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously grease; then line the bottom of an 8-inch round nonstick (gray, not black) springform pan with wax paper or parchment paper. Grease it again and set aside.

[2] Grind the walnuts in a food processor to a very fine meal. Add the honey, eggs, baking powder, butter, vanilla, and salt to the food processor and process 30 to 40 seconds. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula and process another 30 seconds more or until smooth. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.

[3] Bake about 35 to 40 to minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake rises as it bakes, then falls slightly as it cools. Watch carefully toward the end because it is more likely to burn due to the honey. Cool the cake in the pan 15 minutes on a wire rack. Cut around edge of the pan with a sharp knife to loosen the cake. Release pan sides; discard paper liner. Dust with powdered sugar, cut into slices, and serve. Makes 10 servings.

Per serving: 270 calories; 8g protein; 20g total fat; 4g saturated fat; 1g fiber; 19g carbohydrates; 69mg cholesterol; 195mg sodium

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns for Easter

Well, it’s that time of year again. Just like we want Irish Soda Bread on St. Patrick’s Day, we want Hot Cross Buns for Easter. For some people, it just isn’t Easter without Hot Cross Buns, although history suggests they were traditionally baked and eaten on Good Friday. According to Wikipedia, sharing a hot cross bun with someone else is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if you recite this poem while sharing:
“Half for you and half for me, between us two shall goodwill be.

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns from Carol Fenster

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns from Carol Fenster

The “cross” of frosting on each bun is supposed to ward off bad spirits as well as mold. Chances are good, however, that mold won’t be an issue since you’ll gobble these treats soon after they are baked.

Hot Cross Buns
adapted from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley, 2008)
A tradition at Easter, these delectable lightly-spiced buns can also be enjoyed year-round.

Buns
3/4 cup warm (110°F) milk of choice
1 packet (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs (about 2/3 cup), at room temperature
1½ cups potato starch
1½ cups Carol’s Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see below)
1 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
¾ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice
1/8 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
¼ cup unsalted butter or buttery spread, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
½ cup dried currants or cranberries
Brown rice flour for dusting

Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk of choice

Frosting
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk of choice
Drop of lemon extract (optional)

[1] Generously grease 11×7-inch nonstick (gray, not black) pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving 2-inch overhang on two ends for easier removal.

[2] Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in warm milk and set aside to foam for 5 minutes.

[3] In large bowl of heavy-duty mixer, beat eggs on Medium speed until thick and foamy and then reduce speed to Low and add yeast-milk mixture and remaining sugar, potato starch, flour blend, xanthan gum, guar gum, salt, spices, melted butter, and vinegar. Beat in ingredients until blended, then increase speed to medium and beat one minute or until mixture is thoroughly combined and slightly thickened.

[4] Use 1 ½-inch metal spring-action ice cream scoop to measure 15 equal pieces of dough. Dust pieces of dough with rice flour and with very lightly oiled hands, gently shape each into round ball. Place balls very close together in prepared pan in 3 rows of 5 each for a total of 15 rolls. To make the egg wash, whisk together the egg and milk until very smooth, then brush it on the tops of the rolls. Cover lightly with foil (don’t let foil touch dough), and let rise in warm place (75°F to 85°F) until dough is just level with top of pan.

[5] Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tops are lightly browned, then brush rolls with egg wash again and bake another 10 to 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 200°F when inserted into the center of roll.

[6] Remove pan from oven and cool 10 minutes on wire rack. To serve on platter, use edges of parchment to lift rolls from pan (discard parchment) and cool another 10 minutes on wire rack then transfer to serving platter to cool completely.

[7] To make frosting, whisk together powdered sugar, milk, and lemon extract (if using) until very smooth; it will be fairly thick. Transfer glaze to heavy-duty plastic food storage bag, cut 1/8-inch hole in one corner, and pipe an “X” or “cross” on each roll. These are best eaten on same day they are made. Makes 15 rolls.

Carol’s Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 ½ cups brown rice flour
1 ½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
Whisk together thoroughly and store tightly covered in a dark, dry place.

Carol’s Kitchen Notes
[1] Be sure to cool the buns completely before adding the frosting “cross,” or it will simply melt and slide off into oblivion. The buns can be reheated in a Low microwave, but they are best eaten on the same day they are made.

[2] The reason that you tightly pack these buns into the pan is so they rise higher rather than spread out. But this also means that the sides of the buns don’t brown. I have tried it both ways and believe me, arranging them tightly in the pan works better for our soft gluten-free dough than trying to create individual buns that brown on all sides but spread out too much while baking.

[3] The dough may seem impossibly soft, but dusting the balls with brown rice flour makes it easier to shape them with your hands into a smooth ball.

[4] My favorite place to let dough rise is my warming oven, which has a setting for this. You can also use your microwave oven: place 1 cup water in a glass Pyrex measuring cup heat on High for 1 minute. Leave water in the oven and place the pan of dough inside (no need to cover since it is a moist, airtight enclosure). The nice thing about using a microwave is that you can see the bread rising through the window. Other places to let bread rise are the top of your dryer (while it is running, the metal frame heats up a little), or on a heating pad, but be sure to cover the bread with foil to avoid drying out, which is an especially big problem for me in dry Colorado. You can also use your regular oven by turning on the light which generates some heat, but don’t let the temperature rise above 85°F or you will dry out the crust and the buns won’t rise.

[5] The reason that I use both xanthan gum and guar gum is that there is a natural synergy between these two gums that produces a better texture. Gum experts (yes, there is such a specialty in the baking world!!!) verified this fact. If you can’t find guar gum in stores, order it from www.BobsRedMill.com. If you prefer to use xanthan gum only, use 2 teaspoons.

Enjoy The “Dark” Side of Whole Grains

As our gluten-free world evolves, I’m delighted to see new and different grains come on the market. I am particularly excited about the dark grains that are increasingly available. I’m thinking of black and red quinoa, black or purple rice (and black sorghum, if you can find it). Throughout March, I am focusing on gluten-free whole grains in celebration of March as National Nutrition Month.

Whole Grain Salad Using Dark Grains

Whole Grain Salad Using Dark Grains

Why Are Dark Grains Important?
All whole grains are good for us because they contain the three necessary parts to qualify as a “whole” grain—that is, they have a germ, bran, and endosperm. This means that nothing has been milled or polished away and you consume all their nutrients when you eat them.

In contrast, white rice has been polished and milled to strip away many of the important parts, such as rice bran and rice polish, so white rice is not nearly as nutritious. (You can learn more about gluten-free whole grains at the Whole Grains Council website.)

When grains are dark—as in black, brown, purple, or red—they contain anthocyanins which are flavonoids and pigments that give food its dark color. They provide more antioxidants than white, tan, or light brown grains. However, in any recipe you can use the light-colored version of the whole grain and still have a very healthy dish.

Dark Grains are Beautiful
Aside from their health benefits, I like using these dark grains because they are so beautiful and provide a dramatic contrast again the plate they are served on AND the foods they are served with. Since we eat with our eyes, these lovely contrasts are especially enticing. In the photo, I have used black sorghum to show you what it looks like (mine was a gift from a farmer friend) with very colorful fruits and vegetables such as mandarin oranges, pomegranate seeds, parsley, and sliced almonds. The overall effect is stunningly colorful, don’t you think?

Dark Grain Salad©
Recipe by Carol Fenster
Any gluten-free dark grain will work in this colorful salad, so use what you have available. You can also use the light-colored version of these grains instead, but the salad will be less colorful. It is good served slightly chilled or at room temperature, rather than hot.

SALAD
2 cups cooked dark grain (black or red quinoa, black or purple rice, or black sorghum)
1 cup chopped celery (or diagonally-halved snow peas or thinly sliced fresh fennel)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup pomegranate seeds (or dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots)
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped fresh mint or parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh dill or cilantro
¼ teaspoon salt

DRESSING
¼ cup orange juice
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

[1] In a large bowl, combine the cooked grain, celery, parsley, pomegranate seeds, green onion, mint, dill, and salt and toss well to thoroughly combine.

[2] In a small bowl, make the dressing by whisking together the orange juice, mustard, garlic, salt, and black pepper until thoroughly blended. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until it thickens. (Or, shake all the ingredients together in a small glass jar with a tight-fitting lid until thickened.)

[3] Toss the grain mixture with as much of the dressing as you like, adding more salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight and bring to room temperature the next day before serving. Serves 4.

 Calories: 270 ; 6g protein; 13g fat, 4g fiber; 33g carbohydrates; 245mg sodium; 0mg cholesterol

Wild Rice Salad for National Nutrition Month

In my continuing promotion of whole grains during March as National Nutrition Month, I want you to try some whole grain salads to boost your intake of whole grains. You might think that cooked grains need to be served hot to be enjoyable, but they are delicious when you treat them like lettuce: tossed with salad dressing and served cold or at room temperature.

Gluten-Free Wild Rice Salad is nutritious, colorful, and delicious.

Wild Rice Salad is nutritious, colorful, and delicious.

Benefits of Whole Grains
Why should we bother with whole grains? People who regularly eat whole grains have a lower risk of obesity, lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. In addition, whole grains are on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet and a higher intake of whole grains is associated with lower belly fat. That’s reason enough for me!! The USDA and the Whole Grains Council recommend 3 to 5 servings of whole grains per day. One-half cup of cooked whole grains equals one serving.

Is Wild Rice a Whole Grain?
Technically, wild rice is a grass. But we talk about it in the same category as grains and it is “whole” since nothing has been removed during processing. Of course, it is gluten-free and has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. Experts suggest we should use the term “intact” rather than whole.

But Whole Grains Take Too Long to Cook!
I hear this frequently when I’m teaching cooking classes; people shy away from cooking whole grains because they take so long. That’s because whole grains contains all the parts (bran, germ, and endosperm) and that makes them tougher for water to penetrate and soften them so it takes longer for a whole grain to cook.

Tips for Cooking Whole Grains
[1] Rice cookers cook whole grains without the need for tending or stirring, freeing you up to do other things while they cook. The timer lets you know when the grains are done.

[2] Slow cookers are perfect for long-cooking grains such as wild rice or sorghum. They cook slowly overnight or while you are at work, ready to eat when you walk in the kitchen at the end of the day.

[3] Cooked whole grains can be frozen in individual portions and reheated as needed, allowing you to have several meals from just one cooking session.

[4] Salads such as this Wild Rice Salad can be made ahead: cook the wild rice the day before (I like to use a slow cooker) and refrigerate. You can also chop the other ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate them, then assemble the next day when you’re ready.

Wild Rice Salad
Reprinted with permission from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Fenster (Avery/Penguin Group, 2011)
Wild rice isn’t really rice at all, but the seed of a grass. Hearty and chewy, its nutty flavor and dark color complement the green snow peas, dried apricots, and citrusy flavors. This showy dish is perfect as a buffet dish, warm or cold.

3 cups gluten-free, low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup wild rice, rinsed 3 times and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup fresh snow peas
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

[1] In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over high heat. Add the wild rice and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until done, about 45 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid, then transfer the wild rice to a serving bowl.

[2] While the wild rice cooks, bring a small pan of boiling water to a boil. Add the snow peas and cook 1 minute, then drain and immerse in cold water to stop cooking. Add them to the serving bowl, along with the green onions, apricots, walnuts, and parsley

[3] In small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, orange zest, garlic, remaining salt, and pepper until well blended. Whisk in the oil until slightly thickened. Drizzle it over the salad and toss to coat well. Serve at room temperature, garnished with parsley. Or, chill it for 4 hours, let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, and then serve. Serves 4.

Calories: 300 ; 18g protein; 6g fat, 8g fiber; 47g carbohydrates; 664mg sodium; 0mg cholesterol

NOTE: Salads like this beg for tinkering: replace the snow peas with cooked edamame or thinly sliced fresh fennel. Instead of wild rice, try black rice or black or red quinoa. Instead of dried apricots, use raisins or dried cranberries. The possibilities are endless, so get in the kitchen and experiment.