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Where in the World is Carol?

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

Coming October 7, 2014: Carol's latest cookbook, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes, wherever books are sold.

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

Join Carol for "Gluten-Free Cooking" at the Lone Tree Public Library in Lone Tree, CO on February 19, 2015: 6:30 PM.

Join Carol at the Holy Cross Abbey Winery Fall Festival, September 26-27, 2015. Details later.

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!

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes

Flourless, Grain-Free Chocolate Cupcakes from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

Flourless, Grain-Free Chocolate Cupcakes from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

Anyone who dines at my house has probably tasted my Flourless Chocolate Cake.

It’s a staple in my entertaining repertoire. It is a simple, fail-proof cake and I recommend it to beginners all the time because it always turns out perfect and everyone enjoys it, gluten-free or not. And, most important, it is quick to make—perfect for busy cooks who want a spectacular, versatile dessert with minimal effort.

So, when I began collecting recipes for my new book,  100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES and needed quick, gluten-free recipes under 30 minutes I knew this one had to be in it. But could I make it even faster?

Bake or Cook in Small Sizes to Save Time
You bet, if I use one of my favorite principles to shave time: cook (or bake) in smaller sizes. In this case, serving size. You can always make the full-size cake (see Layer Cake below) but the batter bakes more quickly in cupcake pans. Plus, if you bake cupcakes you don’t have to cut the cake just before serving. Just put the cupcake on a plate, dust with powdered sugar, and you’re good to go—saving even more time.

The Perfect Mini-Dessert for Entertaining
With today’s fascination with small desserts, use this easy recipe to impress your guests. If powdered sugar isn’t fancy enough, use your favorite icing and decorate as you like. Personally, a decadent chocolate frosting using coffee as the liquid and topped with a chocolate-covered espresso bean is especially delightful (since I love chocolate and coffee, alone or with each other).

And, remember: 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes makes a perfect gift for friends, family, colleagues… or for yourself. It is also grain-free, perfect for your Paleo guests or anyone who can’t digest grains. Enjoy!!

FLOURLESS, GRAIN-FREE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
Excerpted from 100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES © 2014 by Carol Fenster. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Flourless cupcakes use ground nuts as the base and are extremely quick to assemble in a food processor. They also bake faster than standard-size cakes. Instead of the simple dusting of powdered sugar, you can top them as you like, with your favorite icing and decorations. These cupcakes are my “go-to” choice for gluten-free, dairy-free guests, but you can also use the batter for a 9-inch round cake (see Layer Cake option below). Feel free to use the same amount of ground walnuts or pecans instead of the almonds, if you prefer. For best results, make sure the eggs are at room temperature or add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda for more lift.

2 cups almond flour/meal or 2 cups whole almonds
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use either natural or Dutch-processed)
4 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure 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 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup nonstick muffin pan (gray, not black) with liners.

[2] In a food processor, place the almond meal. (If using whole almonds, grind the nuts to a fine, meal-like texture.) Add the brown sugar, cocoa, eggs, oil, vanilla, and salt and process for 30 to 40 seconds. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a spatula and process for another 30 seconds or until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, using about 1/4 cup batter for each cupcake.

[3] Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, then transfer them to the wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

STORAGE: Store leftovers at room temperature, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.

Makes 12 cupcakes
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Baking time: 20 to 25 minutes

Layer Cake
Bake in a 9-inch nonstick springform pan (gray, not black) lined with parchment paper until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack. Gently run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake on to a serving plate, discard the paper, and let the cake cool completely.

Per cupcake: 390 calories; 10g protein; 31g total fat; 3g fiber; 22g carbohydrates; 62mg cholesterol; 117mg sodium

Sugar: The Skinny on Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

A few years ago, I hosted a dinner party and, as I served dessert, the word “sugar” entered the conversation. The very word brought the lively conversation to a screeching halt. As my guests savored their cake, I could feel six pairs of ears eavesdropping as I discussed this emotionally laden word with the woman seated next to me.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce and Pomegranate Seeds

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce and Pomegranate Seeds

“My friend made a chocolate cake,” she was saying, “and wanted to cut back on sugar in her diet, so she made a few adjustments to the recipe. Instead of semisweet chocolate, she used unsweetened chocolate. In place of the sugar, she used a few tablespoons of Splenda.” But, my guest continued with a look of puzzlement on her face, “the cake didn’t taste like cake at all and it was hard and chewy and kind of rough-looking. My friend had to throw it away.”

In these days of low-sugar diets, many of us—like my guest’s friend—are tempted to skip the sugar in baking, or at least reduce it somewhat. Much maligned and often relegated to the back of the pantry, most of us regard sugar as an evil source of calories and are unaware of its other roles.

Sugar Is Everywhere and Hard to Avoid
Now, before I go any further let’s set the record straight. Sugar consumption is a hot topic. I think we eat far too much sugar. I look for ways to reduce it in my diet whenever I can. I avoid sugary soft drinks, only eat (small) desserts on special occasions, and watch for hidden sugar in commercial foods.

We are just leaving the holiday season with its sweets, parties, and dietary temptations. The American Heart Association (AHA) says that Americans eat about 22 teaspoons (110 grams) of added sugars a day. That’s 3.6 times the recommendation (or limit) for women and 2.4 times that for men.

At the same time, I also believe that sweet treats enhance our lives and have a meaningful role in a healthy diet. Deprivation doesn’t work for me, but I do try to make sure I don’t overdo it either.

The Role of Sugar in Baking
Nonetheless, after over two decades of developing gluten-free recipes, I have a healthy respect for the role of sugar in baking. Here, I mean white sugar or brown sugar, derived from either cane or beets. It is particularly important for us gluten-free bakers, because we already have to alter the flavor of our foods by removing wheat flour—and often dairy, as well. If you thinking about omitting sugar in your baking, here’s what you should know:

[1] First, the obvious. Sugar makes things taste sweet. You can replace sugar with a substitute sweetener but the cake may taste different because we associate “sweetness” with the distinct flavor of sugar (even though you may think of sugar as “neutral” because it’s white). Desserts are sweet so there has to be a sweetener of some sort in the recipe.

[2] Sugar accentuates the flavor of food, such as chocolate. A chocolate cake tastes downright strange without sugar, but delicious with the right amount. Try this experiment: Drink unsweetened tea and then add a little sugar to it and notice how much stronger the tea flavor is.

[3] Sugar tenderizes the crumb and makes it finer and moister. In contrast, substitutes like Splenda tend to produce a crumb that is larger, tougher, and somewhat drier.

[4] Sugar encourages the browning process on the crust of baked goods. It’s this browning that we often use as an indicator that a cake is “done,” and, it’s that tendency to brown that relates to its next benefit below.

[5] Sugar produces a slightly crispy, shiny exterior on baked goods that makes them more attractive. It’s the sucrose in sugar that does this and, since sucrose is missing in Splenda and other alternative sweeteners, it can’t promote the same level of browning.

Tips for Reduced-Sugar Baking
Next time you’re tempted to reduce or omit the sugar in baked goods, follow these tips:

[1] Instead of using all Splenda, use half white sugar and half Splenda. You will lower the calorie content, but your cake will be more tender, brown more attractively, and have a finer crumb than if you use all Splenda. A cake with Splenda may bake a little faster, so check it about five minutes before the recommended cooking time. It may also have a little less volume and not rise as high. Other granular sweeteners are now on the market; perhaps the topic for a later blog.

[2] Add a couple tablespoons of honey to the batter. Honey is a natural humectant and encourages the cake to retain moisture so it won’t dry out as quickly. Of course, honey has its own flavor which you may detect depending on the type and amount you use. Of course, there are many other sweeteners (agave nectar, coconut sugar, etc) but those are topics for another day.

[3] Increase the amount of fat in the recipe by 25%, but be sure to use healthier fats. Canola oil and (light) olive oil are good in baking and are good for you. Of course, this will increase the fat content and calorie content (each tablespoon of these oils is roughly 120 calories), but your baked goods will taste better and look better because fat is a flavor carrier and also tenderizes the crumb.

[4]Use a topping to conceal the rough crust found in low-sugar baked goods. For example, a streusel topping on low-sugar muffins will partially conceal their rough tops.

[5] Rather than drastically reducing the amount of sugar at the beginning of your sugar-reduced diet, gradually cut back on the sugar a little more each time you bake. Your palate will adjust and eventually you won’t want “ultra-sweet” foods as much.

[6] Try an alternative sweetener such as agave nectar. Even though it has calories, it has a low glycemic level (the rate at which it raises your blood sugar levels). If agave is not right for you, there are other sweeteners today (e.g., coconut sugar or Truvia, etc.) that I might have used had they been available back then. I sometimes use pureed prunes as a sweetener. But that is a topic for another day.

[7] Finally, (and this is the tough one) just try eating a smaller piece of those sugary baked foods to reduce your sugar intake. Maybe half a muffin, or a narrower slice of cake, or only one small cookie instead of a large one. Our portion sizes have crept up over the past couple of decades to the point where our muffins are anywhere from 3 to 5 times larger than a standard USDA serving.

What’s For Dessert?
You are probably wondering about that dessert my guests were eating. It was one of my “go-to” desserts—a flourless chocolate cake from my book Gluten-Free 101 made with one-third sugar, one-third Splenda, and one-third agave nectar. It was lightly dusted with powdered sugar, and garnished with mint and some pomegranate seeds but you could use a bright red strawberry . It’s main ingredient was almonds (lending protein and a nice, hearty, crunchy texture) and the slices were reasonably-sized—not the massive servings we often find in restaurants. My guests were relieved to learn that this dessert was a sweet, yet sensible ending to the meal…and, they ate every last crumb!

 

The Secret Behind Pumpkin Spice Latte

Every fall, one “flavor” gets a ton of attention.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin.

In fact, one sure sign that Fall has arrived is the Pumpkin Spice Latte. If you are a coffee fan, as I am, then this is good news since I love the Pumpkin Spice flavor. More about that word “flavor” later.

History of Pumpkin Spice Latte
But the holidays are over now and we’re in the dead of winter. However, I still remain fascinated by the flavors of Fall and want to continue enjoying them throughout winter.

Do you know the history of the Pumpkin Spice Latte? When it was developed in 2003 by the Starbucks lab, they weren’t sure it would catch on. But it became an instant hit and by 2006 it was even available as pods (K-cups) for home brewers. By 2007, other coffee chains began offering it and the Twitter handle of #PSL appeared. The Starbucks website says that there have been 29,000 tweets with the hash tag: #pumpkinspice since August, 2012.

This year, I tried to buy Pumpkin Spice Coffee at Trader Joe’s and was told that they sold out almost immediately. Starbuck’s says this drink is seasonal so it will eventually disappear by the end of 2014. Boo-hoo!

But now I know how to make it myself, so I can enjoy it all winter. 

Make Your Pumpkin Spice Latte
If you want to continue drinking Pumpkin Spice Lattes (or PSL) throughout the winter, we can thank the Food Network for this recipe that you can make yourself. One of the things I like about making my own PSL is controlling the sugar, since I find the Starbuck’s version too sweet for my tastes.

Make Ahead and Keep on Hand
Using the recipe from the Food Network as a base, you can modify your homemade latte as you like. Certainly less sugar for me! And, while I love nutmeg, I prefer less than this recipe uses so I cut it in half. You may have other preferences, so try the recipe and see how you like it.

Another great thing about making your own is that you can make a base (all the ingredients except the coffee and milk) and store it in the refrigerator. Then heat the milk and coffee (or, steam the milk if you’re lucky enough to have an espresso machine that also froths milk) and stir in as much of the base as you like. Using whipped cream on top is up to you (I don’t usually do that, except as an occasional treat). And, a final dusting of grated fresh nutmeg (or cinnamon) is the perfect touch.

Pumpkin Flavor without the Pumpkin?
Notice that the Food Network’s recipe contains real pumpkin. It may surprise you to learn that many “pumpkin-flavored” items don’t have any pumpkin in them at all. Of course, foods such as Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Bread contain real pumpkin, but most commercial coffee drinks do not. Have you ever tasted pumpkin by itself? It is actually quite bland and not necessarily that inviting. In fact, it’s awful. However, when blended with all those wonderful spices it is absolutely divine, so I use it in my recipe.

Wondering what to do with the leftover pumpkin? If you make a lot of lattes, you will use up a 14-ounce can in a few days. Store any leftover pumpkin, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to a week and use it to bake gluten-free Pumpkin Bread.

Happy Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Gluten-Free Pecan-Bourbon-Chocolate Pie for the Holidays

What is your favorite holiday pie?
It’s a toss-up for me when it comes to holiday pies: pumpkin or pecan. I love them both.

Gluten-free Pecan Pie jazzed up with Bourbon and Chocolate

Gluten-free Pecan Pie jazzed up with Bourbon and Chocolate

But this year I’m leaning toward making pecan, mostly because my friends and relatives tend to serve pumpkin pie and this way, I will get to eat both flavors at some point during the 6 week celebration between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But this year, I’m jazzing up my recipe to include bourbon (yes, it’s gluten-free because it is distilled) and a touch of chocolate. I’m not going to provide the calorie/nutrient information on this recipe because, trust me, you don’t want to know. Just enjoy it and resolve to live well in 2015. You earned the right to enjoy a little decadence this year!

Pie-Crust Challenged?
If you’re horrified at the thought of making your own gluten-free pie crust, try mixes from Bob’s Red Mill or Glutino. Or, if you don’t want to mix or shape the dough yourself, buy a ready-made pie crust by Whole Foods or Kinnikinnick. They are sold in ready-to-bake form in an aluminum pie pan, although I prefer using a nonstick pan (gray finish, not black to avoid burning) for better browning. This lessens the potential sogginess sometimes found in gluten-free pie crusts.

Gluten-Free Pecan-Bourbon-Chocolate Pie
Adapted from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)
Among the most decadent of pies, this remains a favorite at my house. Yes, it’s highly-caloric, but I give you permission to savor it once a year. The addition of bourbon and chocolate elevate this holiday favorite to new heights, but you can omit them if you wish. Enjoy!

9-inch gluten-free pie crust (recipe in Gluten-Free 101, 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes)
2 tablespoons milk of choice, for brushing on pastry crust
2 cups pecan halves
¼ cup chocolate chips
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups dark (or light) corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or buttery spread, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon bourbon or rum (or pure vanilla extract)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup whipped topping

[1] Place a rack in the bottom position and another in the middle position of oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare the pastry dough as directed in your recipe or use a premade crust. Brush outer edges of crust with milk to encourage browning. Arrange pecan halves on bottom of pie crust and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

[2] Make the filling: In a food processor fitted with knife blade, combine filling ingredients and blend until thoroughly combined and very smooth. Or, blend with an electric mixer until very smooth. Pour mixture over pecans in pie shell. Place pie pan on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven.

[3] Bake 20 minutes. Move the pie to the middle rack and continue baking for another 30 to 35 minutes more or until the filling is set. If the crust starts to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

[4] Remove pie to wire rack and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving to make sure pie is firm enough to cut. Cut into 8 slices. Serve with a tablespoon of whipped topping.

Gluten-Free Holiday Bar Mix: The Perfect Last Minute Gift

Need a last-minute gift? This festive layer-bar is perfect with its chocolate crust and decadent layers. Assemble this easy mix in a 3-cup glass jar and store in a dark, dry place until gift-giving time. You can also include a can of sweetened condensed milk, but for your dairy-intolerant recipients you might include a jar of your homemade sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below).

Gluten-Free Layer-Bar Mix for Holiday Gift-Giving

Gluten-Free Layer-Bar Mix for Holiday Gift-Giving

And be sure to include the instructions—printed on a festive recipe card and tied to the jar—so the lucky recipient knows how to prepare this decadent treat. In fact, why not make one for yourself while you’re at it! My version is for Christmas (e.g., candy canes) but you can tailor this to suit the occasion. For a non-Christmas version, I would try butterscotch or peanut butter chips in place of the candy canes.

Layer Bar Mix in a Jar
1/4 cup chopped candy canes
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
3/4 cup crushed GF cookies (such as Pamela’s Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookies)

Ingredients to Be Added by Gift Recipient
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or buttery spread, melted
7 ounces (half of 14-ounce can) sweetened condensed milk (see homemade recipe below)

Assembly Instructions to Affix to the Jar
In 3-cup glass jar with screw-top lid (a 24-ounce Classico pasta sauce jar works perfectly), layer ingredients, starting with candy canes and then chocolate chips, coconut, pecans, and white chocolate chips. Spoon crushed cracker crumbs into small plastic bag and place on top of layers. Screw on lid, cover the lid with 6-inch circle of colorful wrapping paper or cloth, tie a festive bow over the paper-covered lid, and affix the recipe card to bow with more ribbon. Store in dark, dry place away from sunlight (so chips don’t melt).

Baking Instructions for the Gift Recipient
Preheat oven to 350⁰F and coat 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Remove cookie crumbs from jar and combine with melted butter. Press evenly into bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle remaining mix ingredients over crumb mixture. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly on top. Bake until chips are melted, about 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 16 small bars.

Dairy-Free Sweetened Condensed Milk
Reprinted with permission from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Fenster (Avery/Penguin Group, 2011)
Quite often, gluten-free folks are also dairy-sensitive and there is no store-bought version of sweetened condensed milk that is gluten-free. So, make this easy version at home. This recipe makes the equivalent of a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, about 1 ¼ cups.

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk of choice (I like So Delicious coconut milk or Living Harvest hemp milk)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or buttery spread
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

[1] In a small, heavy saucepan whisk together the sugar, sweet rice flour, and salt until thoroughly blended. Whisk in the milk until smooth, then add the butter and heat the mixture on medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.

[2] Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. Cool to room temperature to thicken a bit more. It is best used at room temperature; can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks but bring to room temperature again before using. Be sure to keep refrigerated until gift-giving time and tell the lucky recipient that it must be refrigerated.

 

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake

Increasingly, many people avoid grains altogether. Are you one of them? 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.

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake

Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake

For example, at a single dinner party, I once served a variety of people with multiple needs—in addition to no gluten, all of the dishes were free of sugar, corn, soy, and dairy. Luckily, I could use eggs and nuts which gave me lots of options.

The Gluten Intolerance Group tells me that a high percentage of gluten-free folks also have other allergens to contend with (usually dairy), so I’m not surprised to see many of you with multiple needs… that’s why all of my cookbooks are also dairy-free—including my latest cookbook, 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes

This Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake is an example of a dessert you can serve to many people with differing special diet needs. It is moist because it is sweetened with honey, which is a natural humectant (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.

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, even your Paleo guests.

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 canola oil)
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

 

Spice Cookies for the Holidays (no egg, dairy, soy, or corn)

Spice Cookies are perfect for the holidays.

Spice Cookies are perfect for the holidays.

Ever notice how the seasons have their own smell? To me, summer is freshly-mowed grass and barbecue smoke from the patio grill. Fall is fireplace smoke and raked leaves. Spring is gently-warming soil and spring rains. But certain holidays have unique smells, as well.

What do the Christmas holidays smell like? For me, it is spices―like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. One whiff and I’m in the holiday mood. This is Thanksgiving week, so these smells are everywhere.

Experts say that we encounter new smells as children, so it makes sense that the experiences we associate with different aromas conjure up childhood experiences. The moment I smell the heavenly aroma of these spices wafting from the kitchen I am transported to happy times and ready to break out the tree decorations, address holiday cards, and wrap presents.

This cookie is perfect for those who avoid gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn and they are so delicious you can serve them to any holiday guest. Even if you’re an inexperienced baker, these cookies are super-easy and always a success. Don’t be put off by all the spices; they are essential for this incredible flavor.

These sturdy little gems freeze well so if you have any leftovers (fat chance!!) they can be thawed at room temperature. And, they are sturdy so they travel well and will survive the trip to Grandma’s house.

Plus, the sorghum flour and bean flour boost the health profile of this cookie with protein and fiber so you can indulge with a little less guilt. But best of all, their heavenly aroma and marvelous flavor will delight you and your guests! So get in the kitchen and start baking!

Spice Cookies
Adapted from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Fenster (Avery/Penguin Group, 2011)

Moist and very flavorful, these cookies are perfect for snacks, cookie exchanges, or dessert for your family. Or, process them into crumbs in a food processor for a pie crust (about 1 ½ cups for a 9-inch crust) that is perfect for a pumpkin cheesecake. Adding the optional black pepper turns them into Pfeffernüsse, a traditional German treat served during the holidays.

½ cup butter or buttery spread (use rice version of Earth Balance to avoid soy)
¼ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup sorghum flour
½ cup bean flour (such as garbanzo/chickpea, black bean)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons (turbinado or coarse) sugar, for rolling

[1] Place rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 9×13-inch metal baking sheet (not nonstick) with parchment paper.

[2] In medium mixing bowl, beat butter, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla with electric mixer on low speed until well blended. Add sorghum flour, garbanzo flour, ginger, cinnamon, xanthan gum, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, salt, and black pepper (if using) and beat until well blended.

[3] With #50 (1¼ tablespoon-size) metal ice cream scoop, shape 18 balls, roll each into smooth ball with hands, and then roll in sugar for pretty crinkly appearance. Place 9 of the balls at least two inches apart on the baking sheet.

[4] Bake just until cookies look firm and began to show little cracks on top, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on baking sheet on wire rack for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Bake remaining 9 cookies in same way. Makes 18 cookies.

Per cookie: 130 calories; 2g protein; 6 g total fat; 1 g fiber; 20 g carbohydrates; 14 mg cholesterol; 55 mgs sodium

Pumpkin-Chocolate Marbled Loaf with Orange Glaze

Years ago, I was a faithful watcher of the Lynette Jennings Design Show on the Home and Garden Network. As its title suggests, it was about home decorating. But the thing I remember most was— after Lynette made or showed us something that was wonderful in itself—then she make it even better with a decadent, over-the-top addition. She called it “gilding the lily.”

Pumpkin-Chocolate Loaf with Orange  Glaze

Pumpkin-Chocolate Marbled Loaf with Orange Glaze

Apply “Gild the Lily” to Food
I like to take that “gilding the lily” concept and apply it to food. So, I took a plain pumpkin loaf (which is lovely in itself) and jazzed it up beyond the traditional pumpkin spices. It is a prettily marbled pumpkin loaf with additional flavors of grated orange peel and chocolate, including chocolate chips…topped off with an orange glaze. Let’s be honest: all of the gilding makes this recipe more of a dessert … be forewarned and enjoy!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Marbled Loaf with Orange Glaze
By ©Carol Fenster
This loaf makes a decadent, yet delightful addition to a Sunday Brunch or a special family meal during the holidays… or anytime you want to serve something memorable.

Makes 12 slices
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 50 to 60 minutes

2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup milk of choice, at room temperature
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see below)
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch)
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (I use Hersheys)
2 tablespoons gluten-free chocolate chips
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (plus extra for garnish)
2 tablespoons chopped raw pumpkin seeds, for garnish

ORANGE GLAZE
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange juice, or more as needed to create a glaze

[1] Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F. Generously grease a 5×9-inch nonstick (gray, not black) loaf pan.

[2] In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, milk, pumpkin, oil, and vanilla with an electric mixer on low speed until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, xanthan gum, salt, and baking soda until well blended. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture just until blended. Increase the speed to medium-low and beat until the batter slightly thickens, about 30 seconds. You will have about 4 cups of batter. Transfer 2 cups of the batter to a small mixing bowl, leaving the remaining 2 cups in its original bowl. With the electric mixer, beat the cocoa powder and chocolate syrup into the other bowl on low speed until thoroughly blended to create the chocolate batter. Stir 1 tablespoon of the grated orange zest into the remaining bowl of pumpkin batter.

[3] Spread 1 cup of the chocolate batter evenly in the pan and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the chocolate chips. Spread 1 cup of the pumpkin batter on top of the chocolate batter. Repeat the layers, by spreading 1 cup of the chocolate batter, sprinkled with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips. Then, spread the final layer of pumpkin batter. Draw a knife through the batter back-and-forth, lengthwise through the pan, to create a slight marbling effect. Sprinkle the top with pumpkin seeds, coat lightly with cooking spray, and sprinkle with a little sugar.

[4] Bake until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 55to 60 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and cool completely on the wire rack.

[5] When ready to serve, mix the orange juice into the powdered sugar adding more juice as needed to reach a soft consistency that can be drizzled. Using a fork, drizzle the frosting back and forth across the top of the bread to create a decorative effect and sprinkle with the remaining grated orange zest. With a serrated knife or an electric knife, cut into slices and serve. Keep leftovers tightly covered.

Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour or brown rice flour
1 ½ cups potato starch (not potato flour)
1 cup tapioca flour/starch
Whisk ingredients together thoroughly and store, tightly covered, in a dark, dry place.

Per slice: 290 calories; 3g protein; 12 g total fat; 2g fiber; 45g carbohydrates; 32 mg cholesterol; 316mgs sodium

 

The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten-Free by Beth Hillson and Other Good Reads

One of the last things I do before leaving for the airport on a trip—whether it’s a business trip or a family vacation—is load my Kindle with books. I can withstand any airline delay, cranky seatmate, or insomnia from jet lag if I have a book to read. Reading transports me to another world; I simply “check out” of my current situation and enjoy what the words are telling me. So, I read lots of books; in fact, several a week. So, today’s blog is about books that you might like to read as well.

Books Make Perfect Holiday Gifts
It’s almost holiday time. Are you making a gift list? Everybody has someone on that list who is hard to buy for. Or, friends and family want to give you a gift, but want your input. Either way, books make perfect gifts.

Here’s what I’m reading; each of these books has some relationship to food. Some are heavy reading and make you think; others are easy reading and just plain fun.

The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten-Free by Beth Hillson

The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten-Free by Beth Hillson (2014)
Beth’s new book is a great reference guide, especially for people who want a good overview of gluten-free living and related issues …such as choosing a physician, getting tested, setting up a gluten-free kitchen, understanding FODMAP, dating, dining out, traveling, etc.

Beth, a friend and colleague, is extremely well-qualified to write this book: she has celiac disease (in fact, she had it as a child, was pronounced “cured” yet was re-diagnosed later in life). She is also the founder of the Gluten-Free Pantry, food editor of Gluten-Free and More magazine (formerly Living Without), and president of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. I have known Beth for nearly 20 years and together we’ve watched the gluten-free industry grow from just a few of us trailblazers to the huge industry it is now.. and we both marvel at the changes. 

I found the whole book extremely useful, but I especially like the section on frank answers to personal questions (the ones you’re hesitant to ask in public… such as “gluten smooching.” ) This book would be a great gift for a newly-diagnosed person because it is such a good overview of the whole gluten-intolerance issue and it has Beth’s great recipes, too. But, frankly, anyone who follows a gluten-free lifestyle will benefit from this book. And, Beth is also the author of another book, Gluten-Free Makeovers, which also makes a great gift.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl (2014)
The author, formerly of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, writes her first novel about a young woman who takes a job in New York City as assistant to the editor of Delicious! Magazine and gets more than she bargained for….including a cache of old letters written by a young fan to James Beard. I found this novel fun to read and deliciously entertaining. This is the sort of book I save for reading during a vacation because it is so easy to keep up with the plot and doesn’t require deep thought.

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz (2014)
The premise of this book is that there is no sound science behind the “low-fat” diet that we’ve been told to follow since 1980. In fact, we need fat in our diet and even saturated fat may not be the “bad guy.” Of all the books in this list, read this one for your health. I was stunned to learn about the role of fat in our diet and why avoiding it may be unhealthy.

Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg (2014)
The author, writer of the popular Orangette blog, chronicles the struggles she and her new husband endure in setting up a new restaurant in Seattle and the toll it takes on their marriage. If you ever considered starting your own restaurant, read this sobering memoir first. Molly has written previous memoirs, so check those out too because they give you some history on her perspective.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber (2014)
Chef of famous New York City restaurant, Blue Hill in Manhattan, and also with the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester, NY, Barber describes how he envisions food (both the growing and eating of it). The “third plate” is his vision of how we will eat in the future. (I would tell you what this plate looks like, but that would be a spoiler.) I found the book to be a fascinating way of thinking about food and his writing style is entertaining and informative. I was actually sorry to see the book end.

Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal by Ava Chin (2014)
The author is known as the “Urban Forager” in the New York Times which means she eats plants, mushrooms, weeds, etc. that she finds growing in unlikely places in New York City. She describes finding things I didn’t know you could eat and her parallel story is her search for romantic love as well. This book opened my mind to other types of foods, though I won’t be digging up backyard weeds for dinner anytime soon.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (2008)
This novel, by the author of Lost in Translation, focuses on a young widow who travels to Beijing to defend a paternity suit against her late husband’s estate. With that plot as the background, the widow—who happens to be a food writer—explores Chinese cuisine for a future article…only to find love with a Chinese chef. I loved the book and its portrayal of real Chinese food, not the Chinese buffets here in America.

Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables by Joan Dye Gussow (2010)
Though she in the same league as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, I had never read her books so I had no idea of what to expect. Now in her 80’s, this book chronicles her widowhood and how she adjusts to it, especially a garden which provides her food year-round, especially vegetables—despite continual flooding from a nearby river. My take-away from this book was how to look at aging. Gussow defies stereotypes and remains young and vibrant in mind as well as body.

 

Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods–How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Business by Joe Dubrow (2014)
This is a history of the natural foods movement, with stories about household names such as Whole Foods, Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, Sprouts, etc. At one time, each of these companies was a mere start-up trailblazer, struggling for a place in what would become an $88 billion natural foods industry. Though gluten-free isn’t a focus of the book, it helped me understand the larger natural foods industry of which our gluten-free world is a part. This isn’t a novel or memoir and it isn’t light reading, but I’m glad I read the book.

100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (2014)
My new book is the perfect gift: small, very colorful, hardback so it will wear well, and full of quick recipes to make your life easier. All of the recipes can be made in less than 30 minutes (some much quicker than that) and my goal is to help you feed yourself and your family with minimal effort. I’m especially pleased with the gorgeous full-color photos. They make you want to lick the page!

Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread for Two (egg-free, too)

Every time I walk into a Starbucks coffee shop I want a slice of their yummy-looking pumpkin spice bread. Especially now that it’s Fall, the perfect time for those wonderful spices. I have never tasted it, but several members of my family eat it and, at times, I’m surrounded by all of them happily enjoying it.

Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread

I share my passion for pumpkin bread with my little 6-year old grandson who is allergic to peanuts, nuts, and eggs. Every time his siblings eat this bread he turns to me with his big brown eyes as if to say, “Why can’t I eat this?” and my heart melts. So, I developed my own recipe that I can adapt for him to be egg-free, too.

At the same time, several of you have asked me for small-batch recipes. What you all have in common is this: you don’t want to bake a standard-size loaf that will spoil before you can eat it all. And, some of you tell me you don’t have enough room in your freezer. So here is my small-batch version that is peanut and nut-free and can be egg-free, if necessary. But first, a little background on small-batch baking.

Small Batch Baking for Small Households
Today, more Americans are living in small households, such as 28% of the 115 million “solo” households in 2011, compared with 26% in 2000. According to USA Today, the largest jump is among seniors who are part of the 77 million baby boomers that become “empty-nesters” when the kids leave home.

In my travels around the country, I meet other “family” configurations: two-roommate households, one or two members within larger families who must eat differently than the rest of the family, and so on.

The Importance of Precise Measuring in Small-Batch Baking
What I have learned by down-sizing this recipe is that precise measuring is even more critical to success here than in standard-size recipes. Scaling a recipe that serves four down to two servings isn’t as simple as dividing everything in half. Far from it!

In some ways, these small-scale recipes needed even more testing than regular recipes because there is a smaller margin of error. Lack of precision here or there can throw off the delicate balance between liquid and dry ingredients. So, when this recipe calls for 1/16 teaspoon of baking soda be sure to use only that amount which is half of 1/8 teaspoon. If you plan to do lots of small-batch baking, invest in a set of mini-measuring spoons so you can be precise.

What Do Those Mysterious Terms Mean?
In some recipes, you may see mysterious terms such as a “pinch” or “dash.” Here’s what those terms mean:

TAD = 1/4 teaspoon
DASH = 1/8 teaspoon
PINCH = 1/16 teaspoon
SMIDGEN = 1/32 teaspoon
DROP = 1/64 teaspoon

Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread for Two
Recipe by Carol Fenster

I always salivate when I see the pumpkin spice bread at coffee shops. Here is my small-scale version which contains a lot of spices to produce that terrific flavor and aroma. Your kitchen will smell heavenly and these cute little loaves also make great gifts for your gluten-free friends. For an egg-free version, omit the egg and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water instead.

1 large egg, at room temperature
[1/2] cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
3 tablespoons canola oil
[1/2] cup Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see below)
[1/3] cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
[1/2] teaspoon baking powder
[1/2] teaspoon xanthan gum
[1/4] (rounded) teaspoon salt
[1/16] teaspoon baking soda (pinch)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon chopped raw pumpkin seeds

[1] Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Generously grease a 3 1/4 x 5 3/4-inch nonstick (gray, not black) loaf pan.

[2] In a small bowl, whisk together the egg (or 1 to 2 tablespoons water for egg-free), pumpkin, and oil until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice until well blended. With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture just until blended. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and sprinkle the pumpkin seeds evenly on top, slightly pressing them into the batter with your fingers.

[3] Bake until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and cool on the wire rack for another 10 minutes. Use a serrated knife or an electric knife to cut into 6 slices and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Makes one 3 ¼ x5 ¾ -inch loaf; 6 slices
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Per serving: 165 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams total fat; 1grams fiber; 23 grams carbohydrates; 31 mgs cholesterol; 165 mgs sodium

Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour
1 ½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour/starch
Whisk together until well blended and store, tightly covered in a dark, dry place.