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Where in the World is Carol?

Carol's in the kitchen, cooking up recipes for and

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.

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!

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

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.


Fresh Herbs 101: Preserving Summer’s Bounty

Fresh Herb Preservation 101
It is no secret that I love my herb garden. And for good reason. Herbs add flavor to our food—no matter what diet you follow, gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian, low-fat or whatever. They can be used decoratively in floral arrangements as well as food garnishes and they also have medicinal qualities (e.g., sage tea for sore throats or thyme tea for respiratory congestion).

Parsley is a healthy garnish and a delicious herb.

Parsley is a healthy garnish and a delicious herb.

I use fresh herbs in all of my cookbooks, such as 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes, but I also give equivalent dried amounts for those of you who don’t have access to fresh herbs. And, I love to make Chimichurri, a flavorful mixture of fresh herbs and spices.

Few things give me more pleasure than stepping outside my kitchen door to snip a few herbs as I’m preparing dinner. So, though I love Fall, I’m also sad that summer is nearly over.

It is late October now, the inevitable hard frost that is just around the corner will reduce my lovely, leafy herbs to mush if I don’t gather them now. The problem is that I have far herbs more than I can use up, so I must preserve them now or they will go to waste.

Preserving precious fresh herbs not only saves money but also makes them available to us throughout the year, whenever we want. Even if you don’t grow your own herbs, use my ideas for store-bought fresh herbs too. After all, a package of fresh herbs costs about $3 (or more if organic), yet most recipes don’t use the whole package. Leftover herbs are often thrown away after wilting in the fridge and that costs money.

I have two main methods of drying fresh herbs, which I describe here. Plus, I also freeze certain herbs, so here are my tips.

Preserving Fresh Herbs by Drying Them in a Paper Bag
Last year, I used my microwave to quickly dry my fresh herbs. This year, I used the paper grocery bag method because I had a bunch of bags to use up and this seemed like an appropriate use for them.

[1] Cut the stalks or stems of herbs from the plant, leaving the leaves on. Wash and blot the herbs with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Discard any mushy or wilted parts.

[2]Place the herbs in a large paper grocery bag (not a plastic bag, which doesn’t breath). Be careful not to crowd them or put too much in a bag or the air can’t circulate as well. Fold the top of the bag over and seal with clothespins or paper clips to keep out bugs and dust. Place in a dark, dry place. I use a shelf in my garage, which is dry (after all, I live in Denver) and still gets warm enough to create a nice, dry hothouse effect. Check the bags periodically to see when the herbs are totally dry.

[3] Strip off the leaves with your fingers and discard stems, which can be tough and woody.

[4]Place the dried herbs in airtight glass jars with tight-fitting lids, not plastics or metals. Be sure to clearly label each herb. Glass spice jars work especially well for this purpose. Store these jars in a dark, dry place without sunlight so moisture doesn’t build up inside and cause them to spoil.

Preserving Fresh Herbs by Drying Them in a Microwave Oven
You can also dry herbs in the microwave oven, which I did last year with great success.

[1] Cut the stalks or stems of herbs from the plant, leaving the leaves on. Wash and blot the herbs with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Discard any mushy or wilted parts.

[2] Place the herb sprigs in a single layer on a paper towel-lined, microwave-safe plate. Microwave on High power for 2 to 3 minutes, in 1-minute increments. Check after each 1-minute increment; they should be completely dry and brittle. If there is any moisture, they could mold during storage. The exact time to dry them will vary by the amount of moisture in the herbs and your microwave.

[3] Strip off the leaves with your fingers and discard stems, which can be tough and woody. Last year, I failed to remove all of the thyme stems and now I have to pick them out by hand from the dried leaves.

[4] Place the dried herbs in airtight glass jars with tight-fitting lids, not plastics or metals. Be sure to clearly label each herb. Glass spice jars work especially well for this purpose. Store these jars in a dark, dry place without sunlight so moisture doesn’t build up inside and cause them to spoil.

Freezing Fresh Herbs
Some herbs―especially soft herbs that hold a lot of moisture such as basil, lemon balm, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, and parsley―freeze well in plastic freezer bags for up to six months. Rinse them first and pat as dry as possible, then place in the bags. They will look a little bruised when thawed—and they must be used in cooked dishes (e.g., in soups, stews, casseroles, etc.) and won’t look nice in fresh foods like salads since they will be mushy—but their flavor is still intact and they retain all of their health benefits. In fact, I routinely freeze parsley and save considerable time later by not having to chop it up; it’s just waiting for me in the freezer. Plus, I save money because it doesn’t go to waste.

One-Pan Mexican Skillet Beef & Rice from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes

 Are you time-challenged?

Mexican Skillet Beef and Rice from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

Mexican Skillet Beef and Rice from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

I remember when I would rush home from work after a long commute and head straight to the kitchen to start dinner. We had to eat quickly because there was always the inevitable homework for my son, office work for me, and—on some nights—a school or community meeting to attend.

Early on, I decided that we would not sacrifice our health by skipping meals or resorting to TV dinners or simply snacking over the kitchen sink. So, I made time to sit down and eat a meal at the table. Of course, I had my repertoire of quick recipes for nights like this but I would have loved the recipe for this one-pan dish back then.

I strongly believe in planning ahead (such as having cooked rice and browned ground beef on hand for this recipe), but I know that even the best intentions go astray. I read recently that home cooks who plan the week’s meals still tend to “fall off the wagon” by mid-week so that Thursday and Friday are more likely to be take-out meals or hastily-assembled affairs.

I can relate to this: it takes discipline and commitment to adhere to a weekly meal plan, especially if you are extremely busy. But I also feel strongly that what we eat is the most profound thing we do to our bodies, so I still prepare our own meals as often as I can. I hope you do too.

Try this quick, easy dish called Mexican Skillet Beef and Rice (from my new book, 100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES). It’s got loads of flavor from the chili powder, oregano, and cumin plus protein from the ground beef. You serve it right from the skillet, so no extra serving bowls to wash. Super-easy, boldly flavorful, it is sure to become one of your family’s favorites. You can get your copy of 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes wherever books are sold.

Mexican Skillet Beef & Rice
Excerpted from 100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES © 2014 by Carol Fenster. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

This dish is for really busy nights, when you want dinner on the table right away. Serve it with a tossed salad, along with corn tortillas wrapped in damp paper towels and heated gently in the microwave. This is a good way to use up leftover cooked brown rice that you’ve stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Or, quickly cook instant brown rice while browning the ground beef.

8 ounces lean ground beef
1/4 cup chopped onion or 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
½ cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 can (14- to 15- ounce) can pinto beans or black beans, rinsed and drained and rinsed
1 can (4- ounce) can diced green chiles
2 medium Roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

[1] In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and onion over medium-high heat until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring to crumble the beef. The beef will be more flavorful if it is fully browned and all the liquid has evaporated.

[2] Add the water, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and salt and stir to combine. Stir in the rice, beans, and chiles and heat to serving temperature, about 5 minutes. Top with the chopped tomatoes; garnish with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately, right from the skillet.

STORAGE: Refrigerate leftovers, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 days.

Makes 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 to 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

Per serving: 520 calories; 29g protein; 8g total fat; 28g fiber; 85g carbohydrates; 21mg cholesterol; 234mg sodium


Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies: Quick Decadence from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes

This cookie has a history behind it (as many of my recipes do). Years ago, I sent my marvelous editor, Linda Ingroia, a box of Christmas cookies. 

Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes

Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

It was a chocolate cookie recipe that I had been working on because my family loves chocolate.

At the time I was working on my huge tome, 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, and she asked, “Is this recipe in the book? Because—if it’s not, it better be.” I had not planned on including that recipe in this massive book because it already had lots and lots of cookie recipes. But I love my editor and her uncanny sense of what should go into a cookbook, so I quickly added that cookie to the line-up and it has become a huge success.

So, when I began selecting recipes from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes to be adapted for my latest book, 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes, I knew this could easily be adapted to be a refrigerator cookie and save precious time for busy cooks.

What is a Refrigerator Cookie?
It is a cookie whose dough can be refrigerated (or frozen) then sliced and baked as needed, using as much of the dough as you like (and keeping the remainder refrigerated or frozen until you need it). Or, if you prefer, shape the dough into balls and freeze them. I served these decadent little gems recently to dinner guests and they were enticed by the lovely chocolate aroma wafting from the kitchen as we finished dinner. Served slightly warm and gooey, they are mouthwateringly decadent.

The benefit for busy cooks? You make the dough ahead of when you need it, roll into a log and refrigerate (or freeze in balls). Then slice it off in ½-inch thick slices. All you have to do is place the balls or slices on a baking sheet and bake; they’re ready in less than 12 minutes. Serve them warm while the chocolate chips are still slightly melted. This will become a family favorite and perfect for unexpected guests who drop by during the holidays. So make a batch and be prepared during the holidays.

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

Refrigerator cookies come together in two basic steps: First, make the dough, and chill or freeze it. Next, bake as needed when you want. By planning ahead, you can have cookies in about 15 minutes. If you don’t have sorghum flour, use the same amount of brown rice, millet, bean, or amaranth flour—or whatever flour you prefer.

21 ounces gluten-free bittersweet chocolate chips (at least 60% cacao)
5 tablespoons (about 1/3 cup) butter or buttery spread
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
[1/2] teaspoon pure vanilla extract
[1/2] cup sorghum flour
[1/4] teaspoon baking soda
[1/4] teaspoon xanthan gum
[1/4] teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

[1] In a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat 9 ounces of the chocolate chips with the butter in the microwave on Low power for 1 to 2 minutes, or until melted. Stir until well blended.

[2] In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer on low speed until thick, about 1 minute. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt, and beat into the eggs on low speed until no flour streaks remain. Beat in the chocolate mixture. Stir in the walnuts and the remaining 12 ounces chocolate chips. The dough will be very soft. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for 2 hours.

[3] When thoroughly chilled and solid, shape the dough into 2 logs, each 1 [1/2]-inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to hold the shape, and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Or, shape the dough into 48 walnut-size balls with your hands, place in a plastic freezer bag, seal tightly, and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

[4] When ready to bake, place an oven rack in the middle position of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F. Line a 13×18-inch baking sheet (not nonstick) with parchment paper. Cut twelve [1/2]-inch-thick slices from the log and place on the baking sheet; or place 12 walnut-size balls on the baking sheet.

[5] Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or just until the cookies look shiny and the crust starts to crack. Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the pan; then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough. Serve or store.

STORAGE: Refrigerate leftovers, tightly covered, for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Now available wherever books are sold. Makes a terrific gift.

Now available wherever books are sold. Makes a terrific gift.

Makes 48 cookies
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Chilling time: 2 hours
Baking time: 10 to 12 minutes

Per cookie: 110 calories; 2g protein; 7g total fat; 1g fiber; 13g carbohydrates; 15mg cholesterol; 22mg sodium

100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes Cookbook Saves Time — The Essential Ingredient in Healthier Eating

Most of us cite “lack of “time” as the main reason we don’t prepare more of our own food. But living a gluten-free lifestyle means we can’t always grab a sandwich at a corner deli or the local drive-thru. We often prepare more of our own food to stay safe. We all get 24 hours a day to live our lives, but we gluten-free folks spend a disproportionately higher amount of those 24 hours involved in food preparation. I wrote my latest cookbook, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes, to save you time. It publishes today, October 7, so look for it on store shelves or at Amazon.

Slow Cooker Red Beans & Rice

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice; Photo by Jason Wyche

Now here’s the good news: We’re better off preparing our own food. Read on….

Time as the Essential Ingredient?
We all know that cooking means assembling ingredients into dishes we like to eat. Survey information gathered for the Seattle Obesity Study suggests that people who spend more time preparing and cooking meals are more likely to have healthier diets. So, time is yet another ingredient.

They found that people who prepare their own food eat one-third more fruits and 18 percent more vegetables, per week. Furthermore, families who prepare their own food spend about $7 less per family member, per week. For a family of four, that’s $28 that can be spent in other ways. Over the course of a year, that weekly savings of $28 grows to almost $1500. Just imagine what you could do with an extra $1500 per year!

The study goes on to say that planning is one of the keys to success for health eating. I totally agree; in my talks with people around the country I sense a reluctance to plan grocery lists, do the shopping, and make a meal plan for the next week. Yet, time and again, time spent in planning turns out to be a key factor in eating well. In concluding, the study suggests using slow cookers and that’s my focus in today’s blog.

Slow Cookers: A Home Cook’s Best Friend
I am a big fan of slow cookers. I don’t have extensive experience with them, but they play an important role in my own kitchen. Although I cook many different foods in my slow cooker, I use it primarily for soups, stews, and meats. I use slow cookers in my brand new book, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes.

Slow cookers (the term “crockpot” is a trademarked brand name) are a wonderful invention, but they are more of a “time-shifter” than a “time-saver.” The slow cooker doesn’t measure, cut, or brown the food—you still have to do that. But slow cookers allow you to schedule WHEN you perform those tasks. To me, the best thing about the slow cooker is that it cooks for you while you do something else. It won’t boil over, burn the food, or dry it out. A slow cooker allows you to be gone all day, or do other things while the food cooks untended. That’s a huge help when it comes to how you spend your hours in meal-preparation.

Here is one of my all-time favorite recipes—Red Beans with Rice—modified to work in a slow cooker, from my brand new cookbook 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes. The book makes a terrific gift, too. Enjoy!!

Slow Cooker Red Beans with Rice
Reprinted with permission from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

You can cook this dish in a pot on the stovetop, but it is so much easier to just let a slow cooker do the job for you. To really speed things up, plan ahead to have cooked brown rice waiting in the fridge for a quick reheat. I use a salt-free Cajun seasoning by Spice Islands; if your seasoning contains salt, reduce the recipe’s salt to 1/2 teaspoon, or to taste. Leftovers are great!

1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons prepared store-bought gluten-free Cajun seasoning blend
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste
2 gluten-free andouille sausage links, cut into [1/2-inch rounds (I use Boar’s Head)
1 cup dried red beans (not kidney beans)
4 cups water (or more as needed)
2 dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste
4 cups hot, cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

[1] Place the onion, celery, garlic, Cajun seasoning, salt, brown sugar, hot pepper sauce, and sausage in a 4-quart slow cooker.

[2] Pick over the beans to remove stones or debris, then rinse thoroughly and add to the slow cooker. Add the water (it should cover the ingredients) and simmer on Low for 6 to 8 hours, until the water is absorbed and the beans and rice are tender. Taste and add more hot pepper sauce, if desired. Serve over hot cooked brown rice, sprinkled with the parsley.

STORAGE: Refrigerate leftovers, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.
Makes 4 servings (1 1/4 cups each)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Slow Cooker time: 6 to 8 hours

Per serving: 495 calories; 10g protein; 8g total fat; 17g fiber; 89g carbohydrates; 10mg cholesterol; 798mg sodium

Now available wherever books are sold. Makes a terrific gift.

Now available wherever books are sold. Makes a terrific gift.

One More Thing….Join Me at the Bookworm at Edwards, Colorado, November 13, 2014: 6 PM
If you are in the Edwards, Colorado area please join me at 6 PM at the Bookworm Bookstore for fun, some tips from me, and tasting recipes from my new book, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes. Hope to see you there!


Quick, Easy Shrimp, Sausage, and Pineapple Skewers from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes

I am about to give birth again… to my latest cookbook! One week from today, October 7— my 12th cookbook, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes, will be on store shelves.

Carol's new book in stores October 7.

Carol’s new book in stores October 7.

One of the joys of writing a cookbook— in addition to eating all of the food during recipe-testing—is that I learn so much. As I researched the idea of “quick” recipes, I took a fresh look at my own kitchen habits and thought about what busy people want from a “quick” cookbook. I came up with several tips, one of which I use in today’s blog.

Use Flavorful Ingredients
One of my tips is to use extremely flavorful ingredients. What does that mean? It means selecting ingredients that are boldly flavored or spiced……such as mustard, vinegar, or, as in today’s recipe: sausage and chili sauce. Yes, you could assemble several ingredients to approximate a sausage flavor or a spicy chili sauce. But by using these ready-made (and gluten-free, always check the labels) store-bought ingredients you save precious time in gathering, measuring, and then cooking together the many ingredients that would ordinarily go into a homemade sausage or homemade chili sauce. Though pineapple is a simple, naturally gluten-free fruit it holds its own in flavor and adds some delicious sweetness that contrasts nicely with the spicy sausage and chili sauce.

So, here is this super-simple recipe that can be assembled the night before (or let the kids do it) and can be grilled outdoors or indoors —and they are ready in only 5 minutes—on a ridged grill pan.

One More Thing….Join Me at the Bookworm at Edwards, Colorado, November 13, 2014: 6 PM
If you are in the Edwards, Colorado area please join me at 6 PM at the Bookworm Bookstore for fun, some tips from me, and tasting recipes from my new book, 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes. We will sample these Shrimp, Sausage, and Pineapple Skewers, plus some of the book’s desserts. Hope to see you there!

Shrimp, Sausage, and Pineapple Skewers
Reprinted with permission from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes  by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Shrimp skewers are easy to make and cook quickly because shrimp and sausage chunks are small. Andouille sausage is highly flavorful, and the sweet pineapple contrasts deliciously with the spicy chili glaze. Be sure to soak the wooden skewers in water for 20 to 30 minutes to prevent them from catching fire on the grill.

Shrimp, Sausage, and Pineapple Skewers

Shrimp, Sausage, and Pineapple Skewers; Photo by Jason Wyche

1 pound extra-large raw shrimp, cleaned, peeled and deveined, with tails on
4 gluten-free andouille sausage links, cut into 1-inch chunks (I used Boar’s Head)
1 can (14- ounces) can pineapple chunks, well -drained
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
[1/2] cup chili sauce (I used Heinz)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
[1/4] teaspoon honey or agave nectar
Dash of hot pepper sauce, or to taste
8 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes beforehand

[1] Thread all of the shrimp together on skewers (about 3 or 4 to a skewer), so they will cook at their own speed and won’t overcook. Then thread the sausage chunks, pineapple chunks, and bell pepper chunks alternately on the remaining skewers.

[2] In a small bowl, whisk together the chili sauce, lemon juice, honey, and hot pepper sauce until blended.

[3] Place a barbecue grill about 6 inches away from the heat source. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Place the skewers on the grill and cook until the shrimp are pink and opaque, about 4 to 5 minutes, and the other items are heated through, generously brushing the skewers with the chili sauce during the last minute of cooking. Remove the food from the skewers and serve immediately.

STORAGE: Refrigerate leftovers, tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, for up to 2 days.

Makes 4 servings (2 skewers each)
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Grilling time: 5 minutes

Per serving: 345 calories; 27g protein; 13g total fat; 3g fiber; 28g carbohydrates; 192mg cholesterol; 365mg sodium


A Decadent Twist on Apple Pie

Fall is here, apples are at their best, and the aroma of apples baking in the oven is both comforting and enticing. A recent article on heirloom apples caught my eye in the Denver Post and, all of a sudden, I craved apples!


Fall is apple time!

Fall is Apple Pie Time
Of course, you can make a traditional, two-crust Apple Pie, but here is a super-simple No-Bake Caramel Apple Pie from the Denver Post.

Although the original recipe is not gluten-free, it will be if you use easy-to-find, gluten-free versions of all the ingredients. Warning: It is extremely decadent, and doesn’t cut into clean slices. But it is so darn good, you won’t care about that!

The pie is basically apples cooked with caramels and spices, piled in a crumb-crust (use gluten-free cookies rather than graham crackers or look for gluten-free graham crackers by Kinnikinnick or Outside the Breadbox here in the Denver area) and top it with whatever you like: crushed cookies, chopped nuts, and mini-chocolate chips were used in the Denver Post recipe. Personally, I like crushed toffee-chocolate bars such as Skor, butterscotch or white-chocolate chips, and then perhaps Pamela’s Ginger or Chocolate cookies. If you plan Halloween wisely, maybe you will have leftover candy for this pie.

Even though the pie is “no-bake” you do have to cook the apples before putting them in the crust. Here are some tips for which apples to use and some secrets to a good apple pie filling. They may not all apply to the above recipe, but will be very useful when you make a traditional two-crust pastry apple pie.

Secrets to Baking Success in Apple Pies
Pre-Cook the Apples
Cook’s Illustrated magazine says to pre-cook the apple filling before making pies. They recommend simmering the filling ingredients for about 15 to 20 minutes on low heat (or until the apples just start to break down). Apparently, when gently heated (and the key is “gentle,” not to exceed 140°F or you won’t get the desired result), the pectin in apples is converted to a heat-stable form that keeps them from becoming mushy when cooked further in the oven. Who knew?

An added benefit is that our gluten-free pastry pie crusts don’t stand up well to prolonged baking, so pre-cooking the apples helps reduce baking time. Also, precooking the apples shrinks them down a bit and you can fit more apples into the pie crust if you like a really big, high pie (which I do!).

Use a Blend of Apple Varieties
These same experts recommend using a blend of apples in pies, rather than just one variety. Some apples remain firm, others get mushy. Some diminish in flavor from baking, while others actually improve. For baking, they suggest equal parts of both tart and sweet apples…such as Granny Smiths, Empires, or Cortlands for the tarts and Yellow Delicious, Jonagolds, or Braeburns for the sweets.

Sweeteners, Spices, and Flavorings
For sweeteners in pie, use two-thirds white and one-third brown sugar, rather than just white sugar. The molasses in brown sugar adds a hint of caramel that complements apple flavor. Maple syrup or apple cider (reduced to half by simmering over low heat) provide nice flavor, too. A squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon of lemon zest provide acid to highlight flavors and balance sweetness. A quarter-teaspoon of salt heightens flavors.

Spices are such a personal thing; I have a heavy-hand when it comes to spices but you may prefer a milder approach. For some, just a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon is all they need. Others want more variety, so they add one-eighth-teaspoon ground allspice and maybe a quarter-cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger. For a spicier pie, add one-eighth teaspoon ground cloves, along with the cinnamon and allspice. Or, if allspice isn’t your thing, use the same amount of ground nutmeg. Of course, you can just use apple pie spice (a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) and use as much as you like!

In Conclusion
This is a very decadent dessert, so I’m not even going to post the calorie count (you don’t want to know!!). But, once in awhile, it’s OK to indulge…so go for it!!!