Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Picky Eater Problem: Is He Fussy, or Is Something Wrong?

There's a school of thought that some parents adhere to when it comes to meal time: Eat what's served or go without. But without finding out why a child is a picky eater, such a narrow approach is impractical and possibly negligent.

I say this only to impart this bit of advice: If your child is picky about his or her food to the point where you're concerned about his health, don't force him to eat or punish him. Take him to a nutritionist, dietician or forward-thinking pediatrician.

My son was picky as to be difficult when it came to eating and I tried all the tricks, to no avail. I didn't force him or punish him, but did try the "eat this or nothing" approach. He chose not to eat.

I nagged the doctor, insisting there was something strange about his selective approach to eating. The pediatrician merely shrugged it off. If he had been more enlightened, my son's digestive disorder may have been diagnosed much, much earlier. But his "picky eater" status was ignored, until he was an underweight teenager and his endocrinologist tested him for Celiac.

Yes, this one doctor finally conceded that my concerns were valid: My son's body had been trying to tell us something all along.

Now, though his diet is specialized, he is eating, and eating more healthily than before the diagnosis. So I reiterate: If your child is a picky eater, and the food he or she chooses is of specific tastes and textures, investigate the possibility there may be a physiological cause.

Read: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen's blog, How to Tell If Your Picky Eater Needs Help

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gluten Free Chicken Dippers

These chicken dippers make a great snack or serve them with a salad for a tasty meal. Use chicken tenders or slice boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips. Tenderize them a little bit so they cook up quicker.

Approximately 1/2 pound of chicken tenders or sliced chicken breasts
1/2 cup or so of gluten free flour mix (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup of corn meal
1/4 cup of corn flour
2 tbsp. vegetable oil or preferred cooking oil

1. Lay the chicken strips or tenders out on a clean cutting board and cut away any visible fat. Pat the chicken dry.
2. Spread the gluten free flour out on a dish and break the egg into a bowl. Beat the egg just enough to mix the yolk and white.
3. Mix the corn meal and corn flour together and spread out on a dish.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.
5. Dip the chicken strips or tenders into the flour and shake off the excess. Dip into the egg, then into the corn meal and flour mix. Turn to coat evenly.
6. Drop the chicken into the hot oil and brown. Turn and brown the other side. Remove to a clean plate.

That's it. That's all there is to it. Serve them with a favorite dipping sauce. My son likes ketchup. My husband and I like a Polynesian dipping sauce.

I converted this recipe for my daughter the vegetarian, substituting mozzarella cheese for the chicken. Put the cheese into the freezer for about 10 minutes, then cut into sticks, about 1/4 inch thick. Follow the same process and serve them up with barbeque sauce.

The best thing about this recipe is the versatility. Add chili powder to the corn meal mix, or paprika. Make a little jalepeno sauce and serve it up. Once you have a basic recipe such as this, the possibilities are all up to you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creating Gluten Free Baking Recipes

I recently succeeded in creating a recipe for gluten free cookies. The cookies don't crumble when you pick them up or turn rock hard after an hour or so. I've named these luscious treats "Gluten Free Chocolate Success Cookies."

When creating this recipe, I started with the basic foundation for the standard chocolate chip cookies, taking into account that I would need more fat and sugar than a recipe with wheat flour, and a little more moisture as well.

What I've learned in gluten free baking is that applesauce is a great way to reduce the crumblies- a condition in which the cookie or bread or whatever is overly dry and crumbles when you bite into it. I've also learned that using margarines such as Smart Balance or Earth Balance helps reduce the bad fats that my husband - who enjoys the Chocolate Success cookies- is not supposed to have.

I've also learned that substituting a gluten free flour mix cup for cup rarely works in gluten free baking. When using rice flours, I may been more. When using bean flours, I may need less. That's why finding the right combination of flours is so essential.

The most important thing I've learned is that some recipes take much longer, like my gluten free breakfast bread. I've been working on it for a few months now, but it's still not right. However, I think I've got the cinnamon rolls down, and that recipe will be coming soon. I hope.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Product Review: Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix

Bisquick, the pre-mix packaged product for baking, was introduced by General Mills in 1931. Now, in 2010, General Mills offers Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix, and I decided to test it against my own pancake mix.

Gluten Free Bisquick is available in a 16 oz package, and the cost at my local supermarket was $5.99. On the back of the package, the pancake recipe calls for 1 cup of the mix, 1 cup of milk, 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and 1 egg. That recipe yields 10 pancakes.

I made up a batch of Bisquick pancakes and served them to my son, asking him first if they tasted good, and then if they were better than mine.

Now, he may be biased because I am, after all, his mother, but he said the Bisquick pancakes were good -he gave them an exuberant thumbs up- but he claimed mine were better.

I had tasted the pancakes on trial here and found them to be quite tasty. They were a little denser than those from my own mix and so had a little more texture. But the taste was spot on, equal to that of any pancake house.

The most attractive feature of this mix is the convenience factor. Though I make up my own mixes and store them for use, there are times when I'm caught short. Having a mix on hand, ready to use, that tastes good and isn't expensive is a real boon for those who cook gluten free.

Disclaimer: I did not receive this product as a promotional item or for review from the producing company. I paid for it myself.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Product Review: Pamela's Products Gluten-Free Bread Mix

Each week I make at least one loaf of gluten-free bread from scratch for my son. This week, though, I made bread using Pamela's Gluten-Free Bread Mix. It's a yeast bread, and a packet of yeast is included. All I needed was 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of oil and about 1 3/4 cups of water. Into the stand mixer it goes and then into a prepared 8x4 loaf pan. Let it rest for an hour and then into the oven for 70 minutes.

I was skeptical. I've been disappointed before by bread mixes: the taste is bland, the texture crumbly or the middle collapses during the baking process. But I hadn't tried Pamela's bread mix yet, so I purchased a 19 ounce package for $5.99 and made a loaf of bread.

The final product tastes good, isn't crumbly and rose just like yeast bread should rise, with a nicely browned dome shape. Now, $6 is a bit high for a loaf of bread, plus the cost of additional ingredients, but contemporary cooking is sometimes a bit more costly.

Pamela's Products Gluten-Free Bread Mix, though, is available in bulk through Amazon.com, and it brings the cost down a bit. And you can store the packaged mix in the freezer, so the investment is well worth it.

Considering that I often pay as much as $4.50 for a loaf of whole grain, trans-fat free bread in the supermarket, the cost of Pamela's Gluten-Free Bread Mix isn't too bad.
 I did not receive this product as a promotional item. I paid for it myself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Every once in a while my husband and I indulge ourselves. We enjoy a rich-tasting meal that has just a little too much fat for daily fare. That's okay. It makes the meal special.

On my website, just Az.com, I offer a Featured Recipe. This week it's a tasty pasta dish called Italian Indulgence. It has sweet Italian chicken sausage, lots of pasta, cheese and marinara sauce.

This dish, though, can easily be converted to a vegetarian main dish. Use grilled zucchini in place of the sausage, or eggplant. Add sweet peppers to the dish for crunchy texture, cooking them just a little bit to bring out their sweet taste.

Use eggless pasta and vegan cheese to make this meal vegan friendly. You could even use grilled tofu in this dish to bring in a creamy texture.

Indulging yourself now and again is important. Just take a little care with the ingredients. The chicken sausage is better than the pork sausage. To reduce the fat content even more, and retain that delicious taste of naughtiness, use chicken sausage links. Boil them up for ten minutes to draw out some of the fat and then remove the sausage from the casing and fry it up.

Make this dish your own by trying different vegetables and cheeses. Just take care not to overindulge, and maybe skip dessert - or not.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not Cooking in August

Obviously, I haven't posted recently. To any of you readers out there who reside in Arizona's lovely city of Phoenix, you probably understand why. When temperatures soar to 105 degrees on a daily basis, I don't do much cooking or baking.

Meals consist of summer salads and sandwiches, sliced fruits and scrambled eggs. I only turn on the oven if I absolutely, positively have to. Lordy, it is hot here.

But I have managed to accomplish a few things. I've come up with a gluten free flour mix that makes terrific, yeast free sandwich bread that will be included in my upcoming cookbook.

I'm working on a couple of cookie recipes and attempted a gluten free pound cake. Attempted is the operative word here. I felt sure the dense, fat and egg rich cake was perfect for translation to a gluten free version. Turns out the translation is trickier than I thought.

I've also been researching the connection between thyroiditis and celiac disease. My son has both and fortunately, the generic form of synthroid- levothyroxin- produced by the pharmaceutical company Mylan is gluten free. But I'm looking into dietary influences on the endocrine system, which is likely to influence upcoming recipes.

Now that September is here, and the weather is slightly less humid and the nights are almost -but not quite- cool, I'll be posting more.

Look for some vegetarian recipes in the coming months, along with some gluten free snacks. Thanks and "see" you next week.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tomato Onion Salad

Salads make for great suppers in the summer months. This tomato and onion salad is low in fat and sodium, a vegetarian favorite and of course, gluten free. Serve it with crusty French bread or as a side with fish.

All you need for this salad is fresh spinach, ripe tomato and red onion, and a little vinaigrette. I used tomato and onion from my garden, but spinach is out of season here in Phoenix, where temperatures in June soar to over 100 degrees, so I had to purchase it. If spinach isn't to your liking, try peppery arugula or red lettuce.

Red wine vinegar and olive oil, with a dash of salt and a pinch of sugar, makes your vinaigrette.

Slice the tomato and onion and lay the slices on a bed of spinach. Dress the salad with a teaspoon or so of vinaigrette and squeeze a little lemon juice over the top.

Slice the bread and supper is ready.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

White Bean Salad

My White Bean Salad is great for a light summer supper or a side dish with lean grilled chicken breast. It's low in fat and sodium, gluten free and vegetarian.

2 tablespoons Olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 chopped onion
Two pounds of raw spinach leaves
8 ounces of cooked white beans
6 ounces of cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon orange juice or lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried dill
Olive oil to taste

Lemon Pepper spice blend
Sliced almonds

Whisk the orange or lemon juice, white wine vinegar and seasonings in a small bowl and allow to rest.

Heat a large pan on medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onion and spinach. Cook for approximately 3 minutes, until the spinach begins to wilt. Add the beans and cherry tomatoes and continue cooking until the spinach is wilted and the beans are heated through.

While the spinach mix is cooking, stream olive oil into the vinegar blend to taste, approximately one teaspoon. If you prefer a tangier taste, use less. If you prefer a smoother blend, add more.

Remove the spinach mix from the heat and pour into a salad serving bowl, preferably one with lower sides and a flat bottom. Slowly pour the dressing over the spinach mix and toss, using salad serving spoons.

Add a few dashes of lemon pepper spice blend and sliced almonds, if desired. The lemon pepper adds kick and the almonds add crunch. Don't have either? Add a pinch of pepper and a few croutons.

Use other greens if you don't care for spinach, such as baby greens. If you want the tomatoes to pop, add them in with the onions. Don't like cooked onions? Add red onions after the spinach or greens are wilted.

Remember: Use gluten free wine vinegar and gluten free croutons if you need to avoid wheat products.

Note: You can adjust the amount of beans you use in your salad as well as use canned beans. I prefer dried beans I prepare myself as they retain more calcium and protein than the canned.

Products you may enjoy:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Taylor Digital Nutrition Scale, Model 3833

The Taylor Digital Nutritional Food Scale not only tells you how much a given portion weighs, but the nutritional information for that portion as well. All you need do is weigh the food, then punch in a code and press a key to specify the information you need. This product is exactly what a health conscious contemporary cook needs.

A booklet comes with the scale that lists the food codes; the booklet is as important as the scale. For example, the code for raw tomatoes is 310. Punch in 310 with your portion of tomatoes on the scale and then press the calorie key and the exact amount of calories in that portion is revealed on the screen.

For example: One pound of tomatoes has 94 calories, 40 milligrams(mg) of sodium, 5.5 grams of fiber, 3.7 grams of protein, and 22 grams of carbohydrates.

I made a basic garden salsa with 1 pound of tomatoes, 6 ounces of chopped onion, and 1 ounce of peppers, which yielded 12 ounces of salsa. The nutritional value of 12 ounces of my salsa is as follows:

168 calories
46.5 mg of sodium
8.9 grams of fiber
5.9 grams of protein
38 grams of carbohydrates
0 grams of fat
0 grams of cholesterol

The Taylor Digital Nutrition Scale, which will weigh up to 8.8 pounds of food at a time, is available at many national retail chains; I bought mine at Targat a cost of $49.99 plus tax.

Disclosure: The author is in no way affiliated with Taylor Precision Products. The author purchased the product  reviewed in this blog.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Muffins for Everyone

While still learning how to bake gluten free, I attempted muffins. They were overly crumbly or undercooked or the centers caved in. I just couldn't get it right. This was a great loss to all of us, as we all loved muffins.

Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix came to the rescue. Using the mix along with 1/2 cup of yellow corn meal and a few other ingredients, I made the most delicious strawberry muffins of my entire cooking life.

The recipe, which is actually for blueberry corn muffins, is posted at a site called Live Gluten Freely, a goldmine of information on eating gluten free. I merely substituted strawberries for blueberries, chopping the berries into small pieces and adding it to the batter.

I also used Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix to make carrot cake. That, to, was delicious. That recipe can be found on the Betty Crocker website, courtesy of Live Gluten Freely.

As I collect recipes and tips to meet the diversity of diets in my household, I always have in mind that what I do is more than just cook. For my son, his diet is the only treatment for his celiac disease. There are no medicines available to prevent the damage the gluten protein can do to his body. A gluten free diet is his only option to obtain and maintain good health.

For my husband, a low-fat, low-salt diet is the primary element in maintaining a healthy cholesterol level, along with prescription meds. Because he cannot tolerate statins, the synthetic pharmaceuticals often prescribed to control cholesterol, the right diet is as important to his health as it is to my son.

My daughter, the vegetarian, is a healthy young woman. Her decision to follow a vegetarian diet is as much about her own moral compass as it is about good health. As her parent, I honor and respect her decision.
As more people become aware that their diets are tied to more than just "What's for dinner?" more of us become contemporary cooks, having to diversify our meals to meet everyone's dietary needs.

Thank goodness for Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix. The fat and salt content for prepared muffins is reasonable so my husband can eat them. They're gluten free so my son can eat them. And my daughter isn't vegan, so she can eat them as well. For this chief cook and bottle washer, that's one easy fix.

Disclosure: The author is not affiliated with Betty Crocker or received any compensation or free samples from Betty Crocker.
Further reading:
Live Gluten Freely Muffin Recipe
Betty Crocker Carrot Cake Recipe
How to improve HDL cholesterol levels

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Forget the Salt and Add the Herbs

Salt is thought of as the ultimate seasoning and if you watch Food Network, you'll see the chef hosts tossing quantities of salt into their dishes as they cook, and then again when plating them up.

"Good Lord," I mutter, "That much salt would kill us."

The human body requires a certain amount of sodium, about one to two teaspoons a day. That may seem like a very minute amount, but to your kidneys, it's just about right. Your kidneys may eliminate excess sodium, but if you're consuming five to six teaspoons a day, your kidneys won't keep up. Water retention sets in, resulting in high blood pressure. High blood pressure leads to heart and kidney problems.

After my husband's heart surgery, the doctors and nutritionists warned us off salt. I feared the food I served would be bland. My husband salted food even before he tasted it. I would have to wean him off salt.

Well, thank heavens for herbs.

The only salt in my homemade chicken noodle soup is in the broth. That's less than a 1/4 teaspoon because I make my own chicken broth to control the fat and salt content. Instead of salting the soup, I add dried thyme. Thyme enhances the natural flavor of foods, including broth. It's a natural substitute for salt.

Sage, shown in the photo to the left, has a pungent aroma and a strong, earthy flavor to it. Dried sage rubbed into a pork roast before cooking means no salt necessary, during cooking or when it's served.

A dried herb mix of sage, rosemary, oregano, basil and parsley is the perfect seasoning blend for Italian meatballs. Add the herbal mix to the raw ground turkey and bread crumbs, cook the meatballs in the slow cooker in a homemade red sauce and serve up a low sodium plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

I grow a selection of herbs in my garden: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, parsley, dill and lemon balm. I dry the herbs myself. This not only saves me money, it ensures the food I serve won't be bland.

My husband no longer salts his food, not only because I will nag if he were to do so, but because he no longer wants that salty taste. In his own words, "Salt is too salty. You can't taste the food."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Olive Oil Cake and Cereal

Baked goods are usually well received in my household and I like to try new things. I recently tried to bake an olive oil cake, a cake supposedly better for us low-fat dieters because there's no butter in it, just a healthy dose of olive oil.

Well, I made the cake and had a hell of time getting it out of the pan, but did manage, though it was a bit broken up. When my husband, that less-than-tolerant food tester, tried it, he said it was all right but tasted like it needed butter.

I did not consider the cake a success. This is something I've learned over the years, that to be a good cook you need to accept that not all your efforts will result in good stuff to eat. And you just have to let that go.

On the gluten-free front, General Mills is looking to get its share of the food sensitivity market. In stores now, you can find gluten-free Chex cereals. We tried the Cinnamon Chex, made from whole grain rice. It's very good and if you're not a fan of cinnamon, there's gluten free Corn Chex as well.

As the mainstream companies move in on these markets, I noticed that the mainstream supermarkets devote a little less room to the smaller pioneering companies' products, with one exception. Sprouts Farmers Market does not carry Betty Crocker mixes or General Mills cereals.

The convenience of having gluten-free packaged foods in the supermarket is undoubtedly a boon for us contemporary cooks who need to provide specialized diets for our loved ones. But are these giants of the food industry going to hurt the pioneers who so diligently worked to provide convenient mixes that are preservative and additive free?

What happens to these smaller companies, now that the Big Dogs are moving into the marketplace?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Foodus Interruptus

You may have noticed it's been too long since I last posted. It isn't my intention to neglect this blog, but I have been a bit busy with other concerns that have caused a foodus interruptus in my usual cooking routine.

Just to catch you up though, I will be posting over the next few days. I'm going to attempt an olive oil cake and then I'm going to make it gluten free. I'm also working on a recipe for gluten free soda bread that so far holds great promise.

On the vegetarian front, I'm starting to work with tofu, and my first attempt, a pasta sauce with tofu instead of ground turkey, was aptly described by my husband as "uneventful". The chocolate tofu pudding garnered only a bit more attention, probably because we could put whipped cream on it.

But good things are going to be coming out of my kitchen this week and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Visit to Lee Lee's Oriental Market

As the cultures inhabiting this planet migrate toward globalization, the identifying characteristics of a given region as they relate to regional dishes become increasingly intermingled with those from other regions. Globalization is a great big recipe exchange.

In the spirit of adventurous cuisine I journeyed to a supermarket in Peoria, Arizona called Lee Lee's Oriental Market.

It is a sort of United Nations of grocery shopping. My first visit I spent the first hour simply walking through the aisles staring at the products. Most of the labels were printed in languages other than my own native American tongue. I had no idea what most of the stuff was.

Lee Lee’s offers foods from Korea, Viet Nam, Africa, China, Japan, Thailand Brazil, Holland and more. There were jars and jars of sauces and spices and dried foods, boxes and boxes of cookies and candies and cakes, judging from the pictures on the labels. There were fish, both alive and not alive, pigs and ducks still in whole form, and meats of all kinds, including chicken feet. I wouldn’t even know how to cook a chicken foot.

I did get my bearings eventually and began to shop in earnest. I found fresh herbs and vegetables in the produce department. Portions of chicken and pork were negotiated from the smiling Asian fellow behind the meat counter. The labels on the jars and boxes and packages of dried noodles included American translations; I merely had to study the packages to find them.

It is a strange experience, an exhilarating one, for someone like me who has spent her life shopping at supermarkets where the fish don’t have heads and pork is not dangling from the ceiling, and all the labels are printed in English; where the few feet of space devoted to the Spanish foods includes tortillas and salsa and dried chili peppers.

My husband asked me, when I came home from my gathering of foods, if I was the only white lady there. Oh, no, I replied. There are white people and Asian people and Indians. There are Africans and African Americans and everyone is buying foods from all over the world.

And along side all these exotic (to me) foods were boxes of General Mills cereal, cans of Spam, and rock 'n' roll playing over the intercom.

And someday, when I’m a little braver, I may just buy some chicken feet, though I can’t imagine how I’ll convince my family to try them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Low Fat Lifestyle

Starting a low fat, low sodium diet wasn’t just a matter of changing the foods we ate. I discovered that it was also a change of lifestyle. I wasn’t just changing out red meat for white chicken breast, or adding extra vegetables to the dinner plate. Food was no longer just meals eaten at various times throughout the day; food was the stuff that could break us down and kill us, or keep us well, healthy and active for many years to come.

Once I started cooking without the fats and salts we had become so accustomed to I discovered that we had more energy, and we actually wanted to do things like go for a walk and exercise. We wanted to play basketball with the kids and putz around with the yard work.

Whoa. We were active adults. With this new-found source of energy, we found that our attitude toward food was changing. For the better.

The thought of eating a Grand Slam breakfast at Dennys or a sausage McMuffin now makes us queasy. A fast food burger would make me gag.

Where once dinner was a thick slab of meat with piles of mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s now a low fat, flavor packed pork and broccoli stir-fry. We eat smaller portions and taste the food. Really taste it. This new attitude toward food is a lifestyle change.

What makes some foods more heart friendly than others? Fat and salt content, and how the food is prepared. Red meat contains more saturated fat than chicken or pork. Shrimp contains more cholesterol than tilapia fish. Salmon has more omega-3 oils than cod.

Mashed potatoes made with 2 percent milk and salt free butter is better than mashed potatoes made with whole milk and salted butter. A baked potato topped with low fat sour cream and chives is a better side dish than fried potatoes.

Stir-fried vegetables seasoned with Chinese Five Spice are better than steamed vegetables smothered in butter. Sliced apples make a better side dish than bread rolls.

Eating low fat, low salt foods isn’t just a change of menu. It’s developing a sense of how food is meant to be eaten, how starting with fresh, raw ingredients means you control what kind of fat goes into your body, how much salt you take in and how the food is prepared.

How you eat makes a difference in how you live. Your diet shouldn’t just be about your weight or your cholesterol levels. It should be about how you connect to food and how it connects to you and your life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chicken Stew and a New Attitude

After my husband had his heart surgery, and the doctor informed us that his diet would need a radical overhaul to avoid death by clogged artery, I visited my local bookstore and bought three cookbooks.

“American Medical Association Healthy Heart Cookbook”
“American Heart Association Low-fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook”
“Better Homes and Gardens New Diabetics Cookbook”

Though neither my husband nor I are diabetic, a friend lent us her copy of the New Diabetics Cookbook because it offered a host of recipes low in fat and directed at controlling cholesterol levels. I liked it so I bought a copy.

Armed with this arsenal of collected culinary know-how, I went to work.

One of the first recipes I tried was from the Healthy Heart Cookbook: Chicken and Vegetable Stew.

The recipe called for baby onions and baby carrots, celery, red peppers and tomatoes. It called for salt free broth, soybeans and pinto beans, Swiss chard, spinach and a sweet potato. It called for dill, basil and pepper. And of course, it called for lean chicken breasts.

There was blanching and draining and simmering and pureeing. There was slipping off skins and trimming away roots and slicing and dicing and cutting.

When I served up this culinary conquest, my husband took a few bites, murmured something about missing beef stew, ate a few more bites and resumed mumbling.

I kind of wanted to hit in the head with my big wooden spoon.

Instead, I offered up this bit of wisdom: “Eat it or die.”

The chicken stew, and subsequent recipes that have since been added to my provisional repertoire, has been modified a bit, but the principles behind making it a heart friendly meal remain the same. In my next post, I’ll talk about what makes a dish heart friendly, and how to flavor foods that are not “fat dependent”.

The chicken stew, by the way, was delicious. My husband’s taste buds, and attitude, just needed adjusting, and we’ll talk a bit about that as well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Low Fat Diet Venture

No more Mac 'n Cheese
My husband is prone to high cholesterol and heart disease. His triple bypass at age 48 was the catalyst for my learning how to cook all over again, to cook “fat free”. No more beef stew with rich sauce, no more beef and Yorkshire pudding, or chicken kiev with gravy. No more Indian fry bread. No more biscuits slathered in gravy or mounds of mashed potatoes made with whole milk and butter. No more pound cake, cookies, ice cream sundaes or sweet, sugary cakes dressed in velvety frostings.

I worried about serving up boiled chicken and rabbit food. But I wanted my husband to live, so I learned how to cook all over again.

But “fat free” in an inaccurate label. Your body still needs certain fats. I don’t cook fat-free. I cook low-fat. My husband and I follow a low-fat, low-sodium diet.

The point of controlling the fat in our diet is to manage cholesterol, the culprit of heart disease. But, as my husband and I discovered, when you lower your bad cholesterol, you may also lower your good cholesterol. So I had to learn how to make the bad go down and the good go up.

Even if your cholesterol isn’t spiraling out of control, you should control the fats in your diet. In the next few posts, I’ll include some low-fat recipes that don’t taste like boiled chicken and rabbit food. I’ll show you how to adjust your diet so you don’t sacrifice taste for good health. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Mixes

Gluten free baking mixes have been available on the market for a few years now. Many of the manufacturers were small companies, and the products were marketed in specialty shops or online. And they were, and still are, quite expensive.

Enter Betty Crocker, a leader in the industry and a 900-pound gorilla in the gluten free product market.

Not only are the boxed mixes less expensive, under five dollars, the resulting baked goods taste every bit as good as their wheat-based counterparts.

The brownies I made up from the brownie mix, for example, are rich in flavor and have a moist, airy texture. No bitter aftertaste or dryness. No crumbly texture. No dense “wet spots”. I’ve tried quite a few of the gluten free mixes now, and Betty Crocker outperforms them all but Bob’s Red Mill and Cherrybrook Kitchens.

The 16-ounce box yields an 8x8 pan, which makes the cost a little higher than the mainstream mixes, but compared to other gluten-free mixes, the price is on the low end of the scale.

Betty Crocker produces not only the brownie mix, but also a chocolate chip cookie mix, and two cake mixes: devil’s food and yellow cake.

I find them in my local supermarket and usually pay $3.99 a box. That I can pick them up during my regular shopping trips, and don’t have to make a special trip, is a real boon.

That Betty Crocker is able to get these products onto the shelves of conventional supermarkets demonstrates not only that gluten-free has gone mainstream, but also that large food corporations, such as General Mills, are finally paying attention to the plight of those consumers who deal with food allergies every day of their lives.

Betty Crocker, just as in 1924 when General Mills aired “The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air” on radio for information hungry cooks, is once again turning a niche market into a mass market. Those in the food industry should be watching, because that Betty, she’s one smart cookie.

Note: I have not received any compensation from Betty Crocker or General Mills, nor any other product mentioned in this review.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

Note: I purchased this product, Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix, in the supermarket. The review has not been influenced by anything other than the quality of the product.

Bob’s Red Mill as a company has been operating for over 25 years, and is considered a leader in gluten free products. The company’s products include several gluten free flours and mixes.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix weighs in at 22 ounces and all that’s required to yield two-dozen cookies is butter, egg and water. A package of the mix can cost, on average, between five and eight dollars.

The mix uses natural ingredients and gluten free flours, and the result is a sweet, crunchy cookie that pleases even the wheat eaters in my family.

You may need to watch your cooking time, though. The package calls for 18 minutes in a 350-degree oven. If you overcook, the cookies get a little hard rather quickly. If you undercook, the taste is a little grainy.

Judging exactly when the cookies are done can be a little tricky. Because there’s no gluten in the flours, the cookies don’t take on that smooth, toasted look of wheat-based chocolate chip cookies. They tend to look a little “wet” and feel too soft to the touch.

Take them out anyways and let them cool on the cookie sheet for one or two minutes before moving them to the cooling rack. The trick with gluten free mixes is to NOT expect the end product to look like those from wheat-based mixes.

The taste and texture, though, of these cookies is very, very close to wheat-based cookies. I try to keep a couple of packages in the pantry so I can bake up a batch quickly. I store the cookies in my cookie jar and they stay fresh for two to three days.

You can also freeze the cookies, or even freeze the dough. Roll it into a cylinder and slice off as much as you need, just as you would a store bought dough.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gluten Free Daily Bread

I make gluten free bread from scratch. It’s a rice flour bread and the process is a departure from the usual one used in bread making.

Let’s start with the recipe.

Dry ingredients
3 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons milled flax seed
3 teaspoons xanthan gum
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup dry milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Wet ingredients
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon molasses
1 1/2 cups water

Butter a 5x9 loaf pan and sprinkle with rice flour to coat.

Mix all your dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl, including the yeast. You don’t proof the yeast with this gluten free bread as you would with wheat-flour bread.

Put the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat lightly with the whisk attachment. Add the vinegar, the canola oil and molasses and beat again to mix. Add half the water to this and mix again.

Change to the dough hook. Add your dry ingredients to the bowl all at once.

Mix the dry ingredients at low speed. Add the remaining water one to two tablespoons at a time.

The trick here is to add the water slowly, keeping the dough moist. The dough will not look anything like wheat-flour dough. You want to add the water slowly and get the bread dough to the consistency of thick cake batter. You may not use all the water. You may need a little more.

Adding the water is the equivalent of adding the flour in traditional, wheat flour bread making.

Once you get the dough right, spoon it into the pan. Spread the dough out evenly and set in a warm place. Cover with a clean towel and allow the bread to rise. Once it reaches the top of the pan, it’s ready for the oven.

Bake the bread at 375 degrees for about 50 minutes, depending on your oven.

Allow the bread to cool completely, at least two hours. Now you have to store it.

Gluten free bread should be frozen. If you leave it on the counter in a plastic bag, it will dry out, crumble and go bad within a couple of days.

I slice the bread, place the slices in plastic sandwich bags (I put in two slices to each bag) and then put all the bags in a larger gallon-size freezer bag. I take out a bag or two at a time, depending on need.

Just set the bag with the slices in it on the counter and allow the bread to defrost. This takes less than an hour. You can also put it in the toaster on low, if you like.

Unlike wheat-flour bread, gluten free bread doesn’t get soggy when frozen.

This bread won’t taste like white bread. It’s denser, hardier, and has an almost nutty taste. It tastes great with homemade jelly, which we’ll talk about in an upcoming post.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bette Hagman’s Scones, Modified

These gluten free scones are based on the recipe found in Bette Hagman’s cookbook, “The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread”. I do modify the recipe somewhat; the recipe lends itself well to tailoring the scones to taste. The flour mix used in this recipe is the author’s Gluten-Free Flour mix. Make up a batch of this mix to have on hand.

For 9 cups of the mix use the following:

Six cups of rice flour
Two cups of potato starch
One cup of tapioca flour

Mix the flours thoroughly and store in a cool place in an airtight container. Label the container so you know what’s in there.

The scones recipe is as follows:
2 cups gluten-free flour mix
1 rounded teaspoon xanthan or guar gum
3 teaspoons egg replacer (optional)
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon salt

5 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cold
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk

I skip the dried orange peel, cranberries and sliced almonds and substitute chocolate chips. You can also substitute dried apricots or raisins. I also skip the egg replacer and add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the wet ingredients instead. It’s cheaper and adds to the flavor.

For the butter, I use a non-hydrogenated, trans-fat free butter blend with no saturated fats. This reduces the high saturated fat content found in so many baked goods.

For the buttermilk, I add 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to vanilla flavored soy milk and stir. Allow it to stand for ten minutes and it’s just like buttermilk, but with fewer calories and no lactose.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk, including the sugar. You can use raw sugar, sugar substitute or white granular sugar. I prefer raw sugar.

Cut the cold butter into chunks and add it to the dry ingredients. Use a fork to break up the butter and mix it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly.

NOTE: With pastry, the butter and flour mix will coalesce, that is, come together when you press it with your fingers. This is a pastry mix. With gluten free flours, this happens, but the crumbly mix has larger, looser crumbles.

Stir in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. Nestles chocolate chips are gluten free.

Add the two eggs to the buttermilk or soy milk mix and stir. Add all but two tablespoons of the buttermilk to the newly formed pastry mix and stir until moistened. The pastry mix should now hold together; it becomes dough.

Place half the dough onto a sheet of wax paper and with your hands shape it into a rough disk. Place another piece of wax paper on top and slowly roll it out with a rolling pin to approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Now Ms. Hagman rolls out all her mixture at once to 1/2 inch thick and cuts the disk into eight wedges. I prefer round scones and I prefer working with the smaller amounts.

Once you’ve rolled out the dough, use a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut out your scones. Place them onto an ungreased cookie sheet. If I’ve got it on hand, I line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Brush the tops of the round scones with the remaining buttermilk or soy milk mix. This gives the scones a nice shine and helps keep them moist during the baking process.

Set your timer for 18 minutes. Roll out and cut out your second batch and bake. Allow the scones to cool for a few minutes before serving.

The scones are light and sweet, and the taste is close to that of a chocolate chip cookie. Store them in a plastic bag or airtight container.

You can also freeze the scones dough if you want to cook these up in smaller batches. Just allow the dough to come to room temperature before rolling it out.

In my next post, we’ll talk about how the process differs when baking gluten free compared to baking with wheat flour.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gluten Free Flours

I have in my pantry several gluten free flours. Unlike wheat flour, which is generally used as a single ingredient, gluten free flours are combined; you make specific mixes of flours to meet specific baking needs.

Cookbook author Bette Hagman includes several flour mixes in her book, "The Gluten0Free Gourmet Bakes Bread". For example, her Gluten-Free Flour Mix is a combination of rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour. The mix is just right for her scones recipe.

So, for the gluten free foods, I store brown rice flour and white rice flour, potato starch and potato flour, tapioca flour, soy flour, corn flour, buckwheat flour (which does not contain wheat or gluten), and garbanzo bean flour.

I also have cornstarch. Quite a bit of it. Cornstarch, commonly used as a thickener, gives gluten free flours a bit more texture, a bit more adhesion.

Brown rice flour is slightly courser than white rice flour, and does well in bread mixes. Potato flour is very fine and adds a savor, potato taste to breads. It also blends well with tapioca flour, which brings a bit of chewy texture to cakes and cookies.

Soy flour is high in protein and corn flour adds texture to muffins and breakfast rolls. Both buckwheat flour and garbanzo bean flour are high in protein and work well in breads.

This quick overview of gluten free flours will take us to our next blog, where we'll look at Bette Hagman's scones recipe and her Gluten Free Flour Mix. After that, we'll experiment with a recipe using a premix for cornbread and buckwheat flour to make a breakfast bread.

Monday, February 1, 2010


My kitchen is like a restaurant kitchen. It's a working kitchen. And I'm chief cook and bottle washer.

I need to bake gluten free foods and cook low fat foods and vegetarian dishes. I need to keep it fresh and diversified and avoid cross contamination between wheat flours and non-wheat flours. I need to keep the salt out and the flavor in.

For all you young parents out there who are just starting to raise your kids and need to cook in the 21st century, this blog is for you. For all you older folk who need to pass up the fried chicken to keep your arteries open and lose the salt to lose the pounds, this blog is for you. And for you vegetarians, new and seasoned, this blog is for you.

What this blog isn't is a collection of recipes, though recipes will be included in posts from time to time. But we'll focus on techniques and products for contemporary cooking. We'll focus on food sensitivities and specialized diets and designer diets. We'll explore what it means to feed your family in the 21st century. We'll explore what it means to be a contemporary cook.