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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

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!

Raspberry Tart in a Buttery Crust

In my mind, raspberries are one of the prettiest and most versatile of all the summer fruits. I always wished that I had room for a raspberry bush in my yard, but for now I remain content to buy them in the supermarket and Farmer’s Market.

Gluten-Free Raspberry Tarts in a Buttery Crust

Gluten-Free Raspberry Tarts in a Buttery Crust

There’s no end to the many ways you can use raspberries, but one of the showiest ways is this cute little tart where the raspberries are nestled in a buttery crust that you shape by hand—no rolling pin needed. And, they are bright red and festive so they are perfect for a showy dessert for July 4th celebrations or the most elegant dinner party.

The other nice thing about this recipe is that the pans shape the tarts into cute little fluted edges, with no extra effort on your part. But you will need special 3.5 to 4-inch tart pans that have removable bottoms. I use a nonstick pan by Chicago Metallic called a “cup pie set” that makes 4 tarts at a time. You could also use a “lift and serve tartlet” pan by the same company. These should be available in kitchen stores or online.

If you want to get creative, you can use other fruits besides raspberries. For example, nestle fresh blueberries in the baked crusts and top with blueberry jam. Bing cherries would also be nice, paired with cherry jam. I like this tart topped with unsweetened yogurt to offset the sweetness of the jam.

Raspberry Tart in a Buttery Crust©
By Carol Fenster
These cute little tarts are so simple, yet so gorgeous. The best part is that you just press the dough into the pans—no rolling pin needed—and the pan shapes a decorative edge for you! I like it with a dollop of whipped cream or plain yogurt, but it is delicious just by itself.

Buttery Crust
1/2 cup Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see below)
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/16 baking soda
6 tablespoons butter or buttery spread
3 tablespoon milk of choice

Raspberry Filling
2 cups fresh raspberries
4 tablespoons good-quality raspberry jam (I like Bonne Maman)
2 to 4 teaspoons water

[1]Place racks in the bottom and middle positions of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, sugar, salt, xanthan gum, and baking soda until well blended. Add the butter and milk and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until small clumps form. If you can shape the dough into a cohesive ball with your hands, it is ready. If not, beat in water (a teaspoon at a time) until the dough is ready. Knead the dough with your hands until it is very smooth.

[2] Divide the dough in fourths and shape into 4 balls. Place each ball in the center of a 3.5 to 4-inch nonstick tart pan. (I use a Chicago Metallic “cup pie set” or “lift and serve tartlet” that makes 4 tarts. The tart cups have removable bottoms.) With your fingers, press the dough evenly on the bottom and up the sides of each indentation. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet. With a fork, prick the bottoms and sides of the dough a few times.

[3] Bake the tarts on the bottom rack of the oven for 5 minutes. Shift the pans to the next rack and bake for another 10 minutes or until the edges of the pastry start to brown. Remove the pans from the oven and cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack.

[4] Arrange the raspberries in a single layer in the crusts. Whisk enough of the water into the jam to thin it a bit and heat in the microwave on Low power just until the jam is melted, about 5 seconds. Pour the jam over the raspberries in each crust and use a pastry brush or fork to nudge the jam into the nooks and crannies between the raspberries and out to the edges of the crust. Let cool for at least 1 hour before serving. These are best eaten shortly after assembling. Makes 4 tarts.

Per tart: 375 calories; 3g protein; 16g total fat; 5g fiber; 58g carbohydrates; 42mg cholesterol; 327mg sodium

Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour or brown rice flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour
Whisk together until completely blended and store, tightly covered, in a dark, dry place.

Sprouting Gluten-Free Whole Grains and Seeds

I have always been fascinated by the idea of sprouting and vowed to try it—someday. Recently, I got serious about sprouting because I kept reading about its benefits, according to the Whole Grains Council.

Sprouted Wild Rice Salad

Sprouted Wild Rice Salad

Here is a brief list of those benefits from the Whole Grains Council’s website. I realize that these benefits may vary by the grain or seed you use, but here is the research:

BENEFITS OF SPROUTING
[1] Sprouting increases many of the grains’ key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and essential amino acids often lacking in grains, such as lysine—and makes them more bio-available so your body can absorb them better.
[2] Sprouted brown rice fights diabetes.
[3] Sprouted buckwheat protects against fatty liver disease.
[4] Sprouted brown rice reduces cardiovascular risk.
[5] Sprouted brown rice decreases depression and fatigue in nursing mothers.
[6] Decreased blood pressure linked to sprouted barley (obviously, off-limits to GF folks, but interesting).
(The science behind these claims is here.) Again, not every claim may apply to every grain but I’m most interested in making any grains’ ingredients more easily absorbed by my body.

I will add another benefit, although non-nutritional:
It is a great way to fix a meal during the hot days of summer because you don’t have to turn on any appliance.

WHAT IS SPROUTING?
Armed with these reasons I set out to conquer sprouting. But first, what is “sprouting?”

Here is my lay person’s definition: soaking a whole grain or seed (one that is “intact” because it contains the germ, endosperm, and bran) in water until it “sprouts” by opening up or growing little tendrils. You can “sprout” just about any grain or seed, but I will focus on those that are gluten-free and use the word “grain” for the rest of this post.

What does a sprouted grain look like? The answer is it varies by each grain. I decided to start with wild rice since I love its crunchiness, heartiness, and color. So, my recipe today uses wild rice. After sprouting, wild rice is soft enough to eat without cooking and some of the grains may open up like little flowers. If you prefer to cook your wild rice so it is softer and not so chewy, see my recipe from earlier this year. 

WHAT YOU NEED FOR SPROUTING
My first attempt was “Low-Tech” to say the least. I simply put the wild rice and water in a measuring cup and let it stand on the countertop, draining it through a sieve and changing the water twice a day, until it sprouted—which took about 4 days. It may take fewer days for softer grains.

Further research shows I could use something called a “sprouting jar” which is really like a glass Mason jar with a lid that has a built-in sieve and allows you to keep the grains in the jar while draining it upside-down. If you want to make this investment, (they are not expensive) you can find them at natural food stores or online. Or, you can just buy the lid with the built-in sieve and screw it onto your own Mason jar. Remember, if your grain is quite tiny (such as quinoa) the holes in the sieve must be very close together or they will fall through. Once you try it, you will discover what works best for you and your budget and patience.

HOW TO USE SPROUTED GRAINS
Some bakers use sprouted grains for bread, but I’m not experienced in that yet, so I am focusing on eating the sprouted grains in a salad which can be served cold or at room temperature, perfect for hot weather dining. This means you don’t have to heat up the kitchen by cooking the wild rice.

Grain salads are really just a base of grains tossed with chopped fruits or vegetables and a salad dressing—much like making a regular mixed green salad. Sometimes these salads are called “grain bowls” in restaurants and could be topped with grilled meats or perhaps fried eggs. The recipe below is for a grain salad using wild rice, but for a heavier meal I would top it with grilled salmon or chicken.

Sprouted grains can also be eaten as a hot or cold breakfast cereal. With summer’s hot weather almost here, they make a healthy cold breakfast cereal and can be topped with fruit, nuts, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey… or whatever you like on your cereal.

SPROUTED WILD RICE SALAD WITH BASIL-LEMON VINAIGRETTE©
By Carol Fenster
This recipe is my first try at “sprouting” so use it as a base for your own version. I make my own salad dressing, but you could use your favorite store-bought version to save a little time. I pair the wild rice with chickpeas because they provide a pretty color/shape contrast to the wild rice but you could also use white kidney or Great Northern beans. For a light supper, top this salad with grilled salmon or chicken.

SALAD
1 cup wild rice
Water for soaking
½ cup shredded carrots (I use store-bought because I like their shape or shred your own)
½ cup finely diced red bell pepper or grape tomatoes
½ cup chopped nuts (almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios)
½ cup chopped green onions
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked chickpeas (cook your own or use canned and rinse thoroughly)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
1 cup greens (such as baby arugula, or cooked edamame, or frozen green peas)

BASIL-LEMON VINAIGRETTE
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

[1] In a sprouting jar or medium bowl, combine the wild rice with enough rice to cover. Let soak at room temperature for 24 hours. Drain, rinse, cover with fresh water, and let soak for another 24 hours. Drain and rinse, then cover with water twice a day for the next two days or until the wild rice is tender enough to eat. Drain thoroughly. (If you are not ready to eat it, keep refrigerated for up to two days.)

[2] In a large bowl, toss together the wild rice, carrots, bell pepper, nuts, green onions, salt, chickpeas, basil, and greens until blended.

[3] Make the Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette: In a screw-top glass jar, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, lemon peel, salt, and pepper and shake until well blended. Add the oil and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette thickens. Or, puree all of the ingredients in a mini-blender or food processor until emulsified. Toss the salad with as much of the vinaigrette as you like. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.

Per serving: 310 calories; 19g protein; 17g total fat; 4g fiber; 34g carbohydrates; 0mg cholesterol; 220 mgs sodium

It’s Berry Time: Make Homemade Strawberry Jam

You may be surprised to learn that there was a time when fresh strawberries were only available in spring and only for a short period of time.

Homemade Strawberry Jam

Homemade Strawberry Jam

Yes, it’s true. This was before strawberries were flown in from around the world all year long. As a child, I remember back-breaking days in the hot Nebraska sun plucking ripe, juicy strawberries near our farmhouse. Since strawberries grow close to the ground on vines, we had to kneel down or squat to reach them. Maybe that’s why kids were assigned this task: we were closer to the ground to start with!

I have many favorite ways to eat strawberries (e.g., strawberry shortcake), but one of my favorites is a quick and easy homemade jam that contains no pectin and no preservatives. The natural pectin in the strawberries interacts with the sugar and lemon juice to thicken the jam. It doesn’t have to be canned or frozen so you don’t need any extra equipment. Simply keep it in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and enjoy on toast, pancakes, waffles, or spooned over ice cream Enjoy!

Quick and Easy Homemade Strawberry Jam

This easy jam lets the flavor of strawberries shine through without any added pectin or preservatives—and no canning equipment. I usually make it while I’m preparing dinner so I’m able to monitor its progress. It’s an especially good way to use up strawberries that are a little past their prime, but still delicious. I use a minimal amount of sugar in my recipe, but if you like your jam sweeter use 3/4 cup sugar.

1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and diced (about 3 cups diced)
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch salt

Stir the ingredients together in a 1-quart saucepan. With a fork or potato masher, mash a few of the strawberries. Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Then quickly reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the mixture is slightly reduced and somewhat thick and syrupy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a clean glass jar with a lid. Refrigerate and use within two weeks. Makes about 1 cup.

Calories per tablespoon: 25; 0g fat, 1g fiber; 0 protein, 6g carbohydrates, 0g cholesterol, 4g sodium

Red Velvet Cupcakes for Father’s Day

Father’s Day is June 21– a week from this coming Sunday. Celebrate that special guy in your life with these decadent Red Velvet Cupcakes. You can make the cupcakes ahead of time, freeze for up to a week, then defrost in the fridge the night before you frost them. Take the time to thank the men in your life (Dad, husband, grandfather, brother, or uncle) for all they do for you and your family.

For my husband, I usually prepare his favorite meal for Father’s Day. That is usually something on the grill, perhaps salmon or a juicy steak. He gets to choose dessert, and it has to be something chocolate. So, even though these cupcakes have only a little cocoa in them they will fit the bill just fine.

Gluten-Free Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes for Father’s Day.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
adapted from GfreeCuisine by from Carol Fenster, author of Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking. This makes a gorgeous little red cupcake, perfect for your favorite frosting or the simple, plain vanilla frosting I use here. They make a special treat for Dad.

CUPCAKES
1 cup GF flour blend (see below)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter or buttery spread, melted and cooled slightly
2 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup water, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon red food coloring

VANILLA POWDERED SUGAR FROSTING
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup melted butter or buttery spread
2 tablespoons milk of choice or water
½ teaspoon corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12-cup standard nonstick (gray, not black) muffin pan with paper liners. These are especially cute if you can find “guy-or-masculine-themed” paper liners.

[1] In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour blend, cocoa, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt until well blended.

[2] In a medium bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer on Low speed until well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Add vanilla and food coloring to water. With the mixer on Low speed, beat in one-third of the dry ingredients alternately with the water, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Spoon ¼ cup of batter into each liner.

[3] Bake until the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from oven and cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to wire rack to cool completely.

[4] In a medium bowl, beat frosting ingredients together with electric mixer on Low speed until well blended and frost cupcakes. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Per cupcake: 345 calories; 2g protein; 19g total fat; 1g fiber; 44g carbohydrates; 42mg cholesterol; 190mg sodium

GF Flour Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour
1 ½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour
Whisk together and store in a dark, dry place.

More Foodie Literature for Your Reading Pleasure

As you know by now, I am a voracious reader. Whether in airports, waiting rooms, or my nightly “quiet-time” with a good book—I manage to read several per month. With summertime not far off, here are some ideas for you to enjoy while traveling, in the backyard under a tree with a glass of iced tea at hand, or anytime you have a spare minute.

I have offered other reading lists in the past on this blog, so check them out:
Reading List #1
Reading List #2

Macaron Murder by Harper Lin

Gluten-Free French Macarons

French Macarons are naturally gluten-free

A novel set in Paris, with a culinary murder to be solved. French native Clémence Damour returns to Paris after traveling around the world for two years. She’s dog-sitting for her parents in the posh 16th arrondissement and overseeing the family patisserie, a famous franchise known for their delectable gourmet pastries and sweets in Paris and around the world. Fun, not too heavy, with a glimpse of what it’s like to live in Paris. Recipes for Macarons, which are naturally gluten-free. For my own recipe for French Macarons —not to be confused with Coconut Macaroons—see here.

Growing Home by Heidi Freestone
This is a novel that reads like a memoir. Set in the rural fringes of Sonoma County, with garden wisdom and a few recipes woven into a tale of a life reconstructed through hard work, friendships and a strong desire to make sense of the world. With her heart broken and world view shattered, big-city refugee Sara immerses herself in learning how to grow her own food in rural Sonoma County, California. Wish it were a real memoir instead.

The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself by Rochelle Bilow
A memoir of living and working on a CSA (Community-Support-Agriculture) farm. One summer, I subscribed to a CSA and now more fully understand what it takes to run such a farm. Bilow, a classically trained cook and aspiring food writer, is nursing a broken heart and frustrated with her yet-to-take-off career when she sets out to write a short profile of a CSA farm in central New York but instead finds temporary love (and lots of sex). She becomes the head cook for a year, with recipes for each season.

The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax
Kale. Sriracha sauce. Honeycrisp apples. Cupcakes. Chia seeds. They are suddenly superfoods, but this book addresses what exactly is a “superfood.” It’s more of an academic-read, but entertaining nonetheless.

All the President’s Menus (A White House Chef Mystery) by Julie Hyzy
One of my favorite series of culinary mysteries. Chef Ollie (Olivia) helps solve yet another murder tied to the White House, with lots of insights into the food served to the First Family and special occasions. This time the staff is sequestered because of foreign visitors to the White House kitchen, which turn out to dangerous. Chef Ollie is a somewhat like Goldie in Diane Mott Davidson’s series of culinary mysteries. Pure fun, with a few recipes.

Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
I had never read anything by Alexandra Fuller before, but she writes beautifully so I quickly became engrossed in her memoir which became a New York Times bestseller. Little mention of food, but here’s the storyline: A child of the Rhodesian wars and daughter of two deeply complicated parents, Alexandra Fuller is no stranger to pain. But the disintegration of her own marriage leaves her shattered. Looking to pick up the pieces of her life, she finally confronts the tough questions about her past, about the American man she married, and about the family she left behind in Africa. It is a fascinating look into a culture (Africa) I know little about.

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu
Did you know that the more words describing your dinner on the menu, the more expensive the dinner? A Stanford University professor examines the language of food by exploring the history and meaning foods such as ketchup, macaroni, and even salad. Why do we eat turkey for Thanksgiving (like we think the Pilgrims did?) when those birds are not native to North American and actually come from the Mediterranean. This book made me think!

Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan
What do coffee, IPA beer, dark chocolate, and radicchio all have in common? Other than the fact that I love them all, they are classified as bitter. We have recently seen a surge in the popularity of other bitter foods: craft beers; dark chocolate; coffee; greens like arugula, dandelion, radicchio, and frisée; high-quality olive oil; and cocktails made with Campari and absinthe—all foods and drinks with elements of bitterness. This book made me think about why I like certain foods. With recipes, too.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

A memoir from the author’s childhood, it’s full of Midwestern tales along with family recipes. Thoroughly enjoyable!

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Tall soy cappuccino, please.” That’s my usual order at our local coffee shop. But, while I love lingering over that cappuccino, I wish I had a gluten-free cookie or bar to eat with it.

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Recently, I noticed that Starbucks offers “flourless” chocolate chip cookies but they are not labeled gluten-free so I don’t buy them. However, gazing at them in the display case made me want one, right now! So I went home and concocted my own gluten-free version. Here it is:

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies©
By Carol Fenster
This recipe is small since many people ask me for small-batch recipes because they live in small households. If you just want a few cookies, bake as many as you need and the keep the remaining dough refrigerated for another 3 days. Or, shape into balls and freeze. Then bake as needed. I love pulling these out of the freezer at a moment’s notice and having fresh-baked cookies in about as much time as it takes to heat up the oven. Enjoy!!

Makes 12 cookies
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Chilling time: 2 hours
Baking time: 10 to 12 minutes

1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips (at least 60% cocoa), divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, buttery spread, or coconut oil
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/16 teaspoon baking soda
1/16 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/32 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

[1] In a small microwave-safe bowl, heat 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips and the butter on Low power in microwave oven for about 30 seconds, or until melted. Stir; set aside to cool.

[2] In a separate small bowl, beat the egg, sugar, cornstarch, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt with an electric mixer on low speed until well blended. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture until no cornstarch streaks remain. Stir in the walnuts and remaining chocolate chips. Dough will be soft. Refrigerate, covered, 2 hours.

[3] Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a 9×13-inch baking sheet (not nonstick) with parchment paper. Shape dough into 12 walnut-sized balls and place on baking sheet, at least 1 ½-inches apart.

[4] Bake just until the crust starts to crack, about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool cookies 2 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Or, freeze balls up to 1 month and bake later.

Per cookie: 130 calories; 2g protein; 7 g total fat; 1g fiber; 17 g carbohydrates; 18 mg cholesterol; 18 mg sodium

 

NOTE: You probably noticed the extremely small measurements in this—, for example, 1/16 teaspoon. You can buy mini-teaspoons at kitchen stores or online and they usually contain 1/8, 1/16, and 1/32 measurements. They are good investment for your kitchen if you bake in small batches that require small measurements.

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!