Monday, May 16, 2011

Dining Out in Toronto: Beach Bird

I'd just like to tip my hat quickly to the Beach Bird Restaurant for catering to my needs!
I enjoy dining out, and pasta has always been a favourite dish of mine. Since I went gluten free, it can sometimes be tricky to find a place to eat, particularly in regards to pasta! I frequent Beach Bird with the mister - so much so that they said they would make an effort to keep gluten free pasta in stock! They happen to have Pad Thai on the menu as well, so when they run out of the regular gluten free pasta, I order my pasta with the rice noodles from that instead, and they're very accommodating about it. But Huzzah! Now it might be a regular thing, and I can order gluten free pasta any time! I'm such a big fan of their Seafood Linguine, as seen below ( but minus the linguine! The mister's favourite is the bolognese). I'm so thrilled to have a place I can eat without having to hum and ha about the menu for 20 minutes, asking all kinds of questions.

Anyways - if you have a favourite restaurant, it's worth asking if they'd be willing to stock gluten free options if you intend to return regularly. Also, don't be afraid to make substitutions - I've been known to order the pasta sauce from one dish, but on rice, if its already on the menu! Let it be known that I'm also a big fan of ordering all the ingredients of a taco, but in a bowl! You have options! You don't have to be afraid to dine out. It's heartening to know that restaurants are starting to cater more to the gluten free crowd.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is the recipe I use as a control group to test my flour mixes with. It's fairly quick, and gives me a good idea of how similar the taste and texture is to regular wheat flour! And did I mention it's delicious? I recommend halving the recipe, because it's so large. However, if you make too many, they freeze really well - I usually throw some in a ziplock bag and save them for a rainy day.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen (depending on the size of your cookies)

1 1/4 cups Butter
(unsalted, and at room temperature is best)
2 cups Brown Sugar
2 lrg Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
3 cups Flour Mix
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
3 cups Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
parchment paper to line the pans

In a large bowl (preferably glass), cream together the butter and brown sugar, and then stir in the vanilla and eggs. In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together your dry ingredients, except for the chocolate chips. Add the dry mix to the creamed butter, and stir until there is only a little flour stuck to the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate chips, and fold until the chips are evenly distributed through your dough. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees C.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and drop spoon fulls of dough onto the paper, leaving about an inch between cookies, as they will spread. For crispier cookies, use smaller dollops of dough. By the time you finish with that, your oven should be preheated. Place your cookies in the oven, and bake for 10-12 minutes.

As a note, I recommend baking them closer to 12 minutes, as gluten free cookie dough is slightly more obvious when it's undercooked than regular dough. It's just a bit pastier than the dough we're generally used to, but when fully cooked the difference is hardly noticeable since gluten free flours lend themselves nicely to crispy desserts.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Thoughts on Corn Starch

I haven't been doing a lot of baking lately, but I have been learning more about roasting! And I've come to spread the word! Cornstarch is amazing. Pot roasts, oven roasts and turkeys or chickens were always a big part of my childhood - and I was a gravy-and-potatoes fanatic. Roasts became more rare when I found that I couldn't eat wheat, and while I settled for eating the meat and the veggies - it just wasn't the same. But the other day we had a family roast, and my dad was kind enough to try something new, and made the gravy using corn starch! It turned out amazing! I couldn't tell the difference! You really only need a little corn starch, because it thickens things very quickly - and you'll want to treat it a bit more like a reduction (simming off some of the moisture, rather than relying on the starch alone to make the gravy thick). I'm very happy with the results though, and its so easy to do. After I learned that trick, I tried cooking with cornstarch whenever i needed to dust things with flour or thicken things or soak up extra liquids. I tried using it to brown stewing beef, but I'm sorry to say it just stuck to the oil in the bottom of the pot - but it DID make a lovely thick stew after! Last night I tried making gluten free apple crumbled for the first time since I've nixed wheat! I wasn't very optimistic about it, because I'd just finished eating a terrible frozen crumble that felt like paste. I was thrilled when it turned out so well! I used cornstarch in the filling to soak up extra juices from cooking, and I used my gluten free flour mix #1 for the top crust. It was so much better than I hoped for, and now I'm going to go eat apple crumble for breakfast!

There's a new camera in the house now, so as soon as I learn to use it and laern to take photos before I indulge in my own cooking, I'll be posting cookie and apple crumble recipes. Sorry for the delay on that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Favourite Products: Oreos and Mac & Cheese and Cake

Hi Everyone! Sorry for the slump in activity. I'm working on getting my cookie recipe up here, but I haven't had a camera available to me yet - and what's a food blog without pictures? I tried a couple of recipes for banana breads, but they turned out sort of.. meh! Edible, but maybe not worth sharing yet. I'll keep working on it!
So in the mean time I thought I'd mention a couple favourite products of mine - something to replace my favourite wheaty foods.

I love Oreos, and a good old box of Macaroni and Cheese, and Cake. I'm pretty sure everyone does. They definitely made the short list of foods I would miss when I went gluten free. I was horrified at what some brands pass off as gluten free mac & cheese - I definitely shopped around before I found a good brand, and the selection of sandwich type cookies is extremely limited from what I've seen. Cake is more common, but I haven't actually tried too many, because as much as I would like to eat cake all day - that would be wrong. I am pleased to say that I've found some good options though, for all you pining for comfort foods of the past!

Kinnikinnick Foods makes some very tasty sandwich cookies called KinniToos in a few flavours - oreo style (chocolate cookie with vanilla icing), Vanilla sandwich cookies (vanilla cookie with vanilla icing), and fudge (chocolate cookie with fudge icing). I haven't had a chance to try the fudge ones, but the others make me happy! They're a little more crumbly than your average oreo, and maybe a little less sweet overall - but they will definitely give you your sandwich cookie fix! They are mildly addictive - so consume with caution. Kinnikinnick is one of my favourite gluten free brands so far - they do frozen cinnamon sugar donuts, and some decent butter tarts and pecan tarts that I have a weakness for.

Annie's Homegrown does a really tasty Macaroni & Cheese. It looks like absurdly long kraft dinner, and tastes delicious - with the added benefit of being natural and free of GMOs, preservatives, and artificial colours and flavours! Just cheesy goodness. Always read the boxes because Annie's does a variety of regular pastas, but one version comes with rice pasta - though they are coloured differently. I'm personally hoping they make a gluten free version of the white cheddar mac & cheese! Annie's also does their version of gluten free animal crackers, which I hope to try sometime.

And lastly - cake! I sighed that I might not get a birthday cake ever again (until I remembered that ice cream cake existed), but I then discovered O'Doughs cakes. They're really more like loafs, but they're a good example of how gluten free cake does not have to be crumbly and dry! They come in Banana (with chocolate chips!), Carrot (which is more prone to falling apart than the others, but is very good), and Chocolate (which I like to eat with jam!). They're not overly sweet, and they're quite moist for gluten free foods. They're usually found in the freezer of the health food isle, though they can be hard to come by. The website has a map of the stores that sell their products, but it seems a bit out of date, because some of those stores I went to do not. My not-so-gluten-free boyfriend also enjoys the cakes! Its nice to find products you can share and enjoy with others - eating gluten free can sometimes feel a bit isolating, but this could actually pass off as a birthday cake if you fancy it up a bit, and people probably won't know the difference!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Flour Mix #1

So far, this has been my most successful flour mix to date, however it's not quite perfect yet. I was really pleased with the results in my control group cookie recipe! In fact - my Dad ate several of them!

Flour Mix #1
Yield: just over 5 cups.

2.5 tbsp Xanthan Gum
1.5 cup Rice Flour
1.25 cup Arrowroot Flour
1 cup Tapioca Flour
1 cup Potato Flour
3/4 cup Soy flour
1/4 cup Corn Flour

Very easy, since you just have to whisk or sift the ingredients together. You can use one cup of this flour mix to substitute for one cup or regular flour.

Note: If you're lazy like I am sometimes, I mix my flours together in the storage container I'm going to keep it in, put the lid on tightly and just shake it! What can I say... laziness breeds innovation. Innovate at your own risk though!

Also note that I haven't tested this flour for breads and rising baked goods yet. I plan on starting with a pizza crust, or banana bread soon.

Some Notes on Flour

Flours can be a tricky thing in gluten free cooking. Many people might be temped to just substitute wheat flour for a straight flour like rice or potato flour. And that, my friends, can be recipe for all kinds of disaster - you may have read elsewhere about breads that were burned on the outside but raw on the inside, or that crumble in a light breeze.

One of the most important things to remember about gluten free flours is that there is no gluten! No glue to hold it together! However, since science and nature are awesome, and we have some options! Xanthan gum is a magical substance grown in petri dishes. I know - it sounds appetizing right? But it's not so scary an ingredient - gums are quite common in processed foods. It's used as a thickening agent, but for our purposes it will replace gluten, and help your glorious cakes from crumbling. It comes as a powder, and feels slimey and sticky when you add water - as I noticed from cleaning my measuring spoons. There are other gums available for your cooking pleasure - Guar gum for example - though people are known to have more stomach sensitivies to guar gum. Gelatin is also sometimes an option for cooking, but I haven't had any experience with that yet.

Also to think about with gluten free flours are the taste, and the texture you want. Using one flour might be temping, but I find that the best substitutes for flour is a blend, and the more the merrier. My first attempt at making cookies used only two flours - rice and potato, with xanthan gum - and they were not so much cookies as they were chocolate chip paste lumps. The best thing to do is to find a mix that you find close enough to flour for you to enjoy, or accept and find uses for individual flours, with their own unique taste and texture, rather than try to make it something it' s not.

There's a cornicopia of flours and starches for you to explore. Make sure check what you're buying, because you can get potato starch (also known as potato starch flour) and potato flour and they're different things!

Here's a list of just some of the flours you can find that are suitable for our purposes - but again, you will probably need to add a gum or gelatin to them to keep them together for baking:

Rice flour
Sweet Rice flour
Brown Rice flour
Potato flour
Potato Starch
Tapioca flour
Arrowroot flour
Corn flour
Corn starch
Quinoa flour
Buckwheat flour - Buckwheat is actually a grass, and is not related to wheat.
Soy flour
Coconut flour
various nut flours
Chickpea flour

And the list goes on! Since there are so many options, you might start to think that you can have anything that doesn't have the words "wheat" or "barley" in it. However, there are a few flours or grains you must AVOID if you have trouble with gluten, some of which you may or may not have encountered before:


And as a foot note - Oats are natually gluten free, HOWEVER - they are often processed in the same machinery or facilities as wheat. If you plan on using oats or oat based flours, only buy them if they are labeled as being gluten free.

I hope that's helpful! I'll be posting some recipes for flour mixes so that you don't have to do so much of the guess work - however, feel free to experiment. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Beginnings of Pantry Alchemy

Hello, and welcome!
My name is Magda and I've started this blog to share my experiences with living gluten free, as well as some of my successes and failures in cooking, and hopefully make your life a little easier if you're trying to avoid gluten. I've been eating gluten free for about a year now, for medical reasons. But before I go into that - let me explain briefly what gluten is.

Gluten comes from the Latin word meaning "glue", which is exactly what it does. It is a sticky protein found in wheat, barley and several other grains - it's the stuff that gives bread that light fluffy texture and keeps it from crumbling.

Normally, most people don't have problems eating wheat, or products with gluten in them - but for a few, a plate of pasta can cause days of misery and discomfort. Celiac disease is the most commonly known intolerance to gluten. It is an auto immune reaction - similar to an allergy - triggered by gluten which causes inflammation in the small intestine, and thus the inability to absorb nutrients. In real life, that translates to much time spent in the bathroom, pain and discomfort, weight loss, fatigue, as well as nutrient deficiencies in the long term. Oh, and peeling wallpaper.

Now, I don't have Celiac disease, but I would fall under the category of having a "gluten sensitivity". I have Crohn's disease, which is another auto immune disease of the digestive tract. It has all the symptoms of Celiac disease, with the difference of some genetic markers/antibodies, but with added serious and long term complications, such as scarring, infections and holes where there should be none. These complications could lead to surgery, as it did in my case. Crohn's is not caused by diet (the cause is unknown, and there is no cure yet), but it can be managed through diet - though "trigger foods" vary from person to person. For me, wheat and gluten are one of my trigger foods,which means that I avoid it like the plague!

But enough about medical stuff. Let's talk more about what being free is like.

Honestly, it's not so bad! I'll post a blog later about my experience of going gluten free - but I'll tell you right now that it was damn hard. I love food, and it was devastating for me to have to change my diet so drastically. However, this forced me to cook more, which is something I was starting to enjoy anyways, and I always read the labels anyways, which was fortunate! Let me just say that they sneak wheat into the oddest things, like potato chips, and anything with the word "malt" in it is evil. After a year of trial and error, food has become a joy again, rather than a chore - and I'm also finding lots of stand by options for when I don't feel like cooking. You'll be happy to know that someone out there DOES make a decent box of macaroni and cheese with rice pasta!

Which brings us back to this blog. One of the hardest things about cooking and eating gluten free is finding substitutions. For example - how do you bake a cake without flour? The answer is a mix of gluten free flours - like rice flour, or tapioca. I'll be posting some of my cooking efforts - flour mixes and recipes, tips or mistakes to avoid - and may be even some products that I've found enjoyable (or ones I found were disastrous)! To test my mixes, I have a "Control Group" - a recipe for chocolate chip cookies - that I like to use to judge the success of my flours and see how much they taste like real flour.

So! I'll get started soon with "Flour Mix #1", my most successful flour to date, and of course... Chocolate Chip Cookies! Seriously folks. They just like the real ones.