Wednesday, December 21, 2011

GFCF Gingerbread Pound Cake Petit Fours

After drooling over pictures of gingerbread cookies, dreaming about moist gingerbread, and lusting after images Christmas cakes, I got to work in the kitchen. I created a more pound cake like version of a gingerbread cake and turned them into petit fours! Petit fours are simply small cakes - the perfect bite sized treat during the holidays! Making them gluten and dairy free was easier than I thought! Warning - there's a lot of Crisco in this recipe so they aren't the most calorie-light dessert, but since when did we count calories in desserts?

The white cakes provide a blank canvas for decorating. I finished these late at night so my creativity at that point boiled down to green zig zags in thinned icing with the cakes nestled in holiday cupcake liners. I brought them to work and everyone in my gluten-eating office loved them! Warm up the oven and get baking! These are magical little cakes that are sure to brighten up your holiday! I'm so excited to share my recipe with you!

GFCF Gingerbread Pound Cake Petit Fours

1 c Crisco
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
1 c molasses

1 cup buttermilk (1 T of lemon juice plus enough rice milk to make 1 cup. Let sit for 5 minutes.)

Dry Ingredients
2 t xantham gum
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t sea salt
1 1/2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a stand mixer, combine the Crisco, molasses and sugar until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
With the mixer on a low speed, alternate adding the buttermilk and dry ingredients together, until everything is thoroughly mixed.

Pour the batter in the parchment paper lined pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted is clean.
Cool for 20 minutes in the pan. Then cool on a wire rack. Once totally cool (placing the cake in the refrigerator or freezer helps), slice the cake into bite-sized pieces.
White Chocolate Icing
3 lbs white chocolate bark, divided
1 1/2 c Crisco, divided

In a double boiler, melt 1 lb of chocolate bark and 1/2 cup Crisco. Mix together. Dip the cake pieces in the chocolate. (Watch this video! I love her technique!) Let dry on a wire rack. If crumbs appear, cool the cake in the refrigerator and give the cake another coat. Make more icing as needed.

Decorate with thinned royal icing or sprinkles or wherever your creativity takes you!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

GFCF Gingerbread House

Last year, I bought a gingerbread house kit from the store and called it my most stressful decision ever. I nearly had a panic attack from working with wheat and dairy-filled icing. In the end, the gingerbread house was built with a hot glue gun and sat throughout Christmas on the far corner of my table - away from anything I would eat. This year, I wanted to put my Wilton skills to use (I took the first course and went from horrible to terrific very quickly) and that meant making a gingerbread house that could proudly take center stage on my kitchen table and I wouldn't be flipping out over touching a wheat-filled kit and then touching everything else in my kitchen. No gingerbread house is worth getting sick over!

Pamela's Products held the answer to my gf Christmas wish! Her website has a recipe that uses Pamela's Gluten-Free Bread Mix to create a gingerbread house! And it even included templates for the house! Before work one morning, I quickly mixed together my dough, using Crisco as my butter, and refrigerated it.
When I came home, I laid out some parchment covered cutting boards and got to work. Since I don't have wooden bars for consistent dough rolling (this is on my Christmas list, Santa!), I laid down two square chopsticks and was mindful of where they started to taper down. I cut out the templates with scissors and then gently placed them on top of the dough to cut out the shapes with a dough cutter/scraper.
Only problem was the paper was sticking to the dough! Since these were rolled out on parchment paper, I simply picked up the paper and flipped the dough over onto my parchment paper covered cookie sheets. Voila! Problem solved! The nice, smooth side was face up. The dough gave me just enough for the house and three small gingerbread trees. Before cooking my house, I used some stencils that my mom and I found (unopened) in her kitchen (similar to these) and drew out the shapes I wanted to draw in an attempt to minimize any free-handing the cake needed.
The pieces ended up baking for about 20-22 minutes. When they came out of the oven, there were several bumps in the dough. I've never done proper gluten free cookie cutter cookies so I don't know if this is normal, the dough, or me. The lumps are barely detectable now that the house has some distracting decorations on it.

This year, no glue gun was needed to put this house together! I made Royal Icing from Wilton's website (naturally dairy free) and used almost a dozen tips and three colors (white, red, and green) to decorate my house. I had a lot of fun putting this house together this year. The stress was off and I was in my element decorating with swirls and flourishes. Having the stencils imprinted with the designs helped immensely! All of the decorations were made from royal icing, so I had no additional labels to read. Wilton has been great about responding to my e-mailed requests about their products being gluten and dairy free - I know my colors are all safe for me!
Are you building a gingerbread house this year? Will yours be gluten free or gluten full?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day-After-Thanksgiving Pizza!

I'm not one for a turkey sandwich for leftovers. This year, I used Katz's gluten free, dairy free, nut free pizza crusts, loaded them with Libby's pumpkin, some turkey, corn, and a dollop of cranberry sauce and called it a Day-After-Thanksgiving Pizza!

My mom questioned my judgment (and why I was taking pictures of my food), but this was surprisingly delicious! All of the turkey-day favorites in a new form! The pizza crust held up nicely under the weight of my toppings, but I ended up eating it more like a pita than a pizza.

Katz products are made in a gluten free, dairy free, nut free facility. I've sampled several of their products and enjoy their offerings. And I LOVE that I can grab any of their products (and there are lots) without worrying about my restrictions!

How do you eat your Thanksgiving leftovers?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes

Thanksgiving is a foodie's holiday - right? And why not get things off with a great start - breakfast! In my family, lunch is skipped in favor of having an early dinner so having a filling breakfast is essential. Doing a Thanksgiving breakfast with my home-bound grandma was all my sister's genius idea - and was quickly met with instant approval from everyone! I prepared a feast for us - fruit salad, hashbrowns with rosemary and thyme, Applegate Chicken and Apple sausage and pancakes. My grandma loves pancakes but said I didn't need to make anything special. Plain pancakes are fine. But Thanksgiving is for more than plain pancakes - they are for the best ever (and very fluffy and sweet) gf pumpkin pancakes!

Two days later I got a phone call from my grandma thanking me again for breakfast and she kept telling me how proud she was of me. I was thankful that I was able to show off my culinary skills to her and prepare something that the family could enjoy! And I'm sure you will be thankful for this delicious recipe! It makes a lot (I was cooking for 8) - freeze the leftovers and you can have a taste of Thanksgiving any time!

Pumpkin Pancakes
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups + 1 T rice milk
1 t cinnamon

1/4 t ground ginger

Preheat an electric griddle to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients together with a hand mixer, or whisk together.

Lightly spray the griddle with cooking spray. Scoop the batter on to the griddle using a 1/8 or 1/2 measuring cup. When halfway done cooking, flip over.

Serve while still warm. Tastes great with maple syrup (and perhaps even powdered sugar?).

Monday, November 21, 2011


Thanksgiving means turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, another scoop of stuffing and more, right? Back during my less-than-ideal eating habit stage, I would make Stoffer's stuffing and have that be my meal. One night, I had my leftovers cooling in plastic containers before putting them in the fridge. The next morning, I found my (then very cooled) stuffing still on the counter. I cried. What a waste of stuffing!!! I never realized how emotionally attached I was to bread and herbs...Am I the only one with this problem?

Last year, I was on a mission to make stuffing. I tried and fell in love with Silvana's recipe in Cooking for Isiah. I made the recipe twice - once as soon as I got the book and the second time for Thanksgiving. I even brought over the entire recipe (after several healthy "tastings" first, of course) to my family as another stuffing option. The cornbread stuffing is packed full of corn, bacon and apples.

This year, I am a recipe tester for the new on-line gluten free magazine Easy Eats.
(Do you subscribe? You really should.) I tested the rye bread stuffing. Did you know that ryeless rye bread is a thing? It is and it is delicious! I made Gluten Free Goddess' recipe found here. First and foremost - I didn't realize I missed rye bread until I had a slice. I highly recommend trying it out! The stuffing recipe I tested for Easy Eats was Mushroom-Rye Stuffing (page 79). The recipe was easy to make and had such a hearty flavor. This is a dish that is worth passing around the table for the holidays! I'm glad I took on my recipe assignment - it pushed me beyond my traditional family favorites and I tried a new recipe that tasted more like Thanksgiving than any other stuffing I've had before.

What's going in your stuffing this year?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Road's Ends Organics Mac and Chreese

I love (and miss) the novelty of convince foods. Even though I have no desire to eat food from McDonalds, I miss the simple pleasure of going in, ordering, and leaving without asking any questions in mere minutes. Same went for packaged foods. I pretty much lived off of Kraft Mac and Cheese my first year out of college. I've seen gluten and dairy free mac and cheese in a box at the store once, passed it up, and then spent months trying to find it again. Road's End Organics has a Dairy Free Mac & Chreese Alfredo Style. Gluten free, soy free, lactose free, cholesterol free and vegan. Perfect! Over $3.00 a box at Wal-Mart? This was going to be a splurge. Especially since the blue box gluten and dairy filled versions were priced under a dollar in the same

The good:
The product is organic. And soy free (most gf foods contain soy). The cooking instructions are pretty close to the Kraft version. It cooks pretty quickly - the noodles need 6-10 minutes of cooking time. The only ingredients that you need to add are a milk product of your choice or water as well optional butter or olive oil. I added bacon (ruining the vegan-ness of the meal) and that was quite tasty. You can never go wrong with bacon (unless cooking for a vegetarian or vegan, of course).

The bad:
It was really bland. I was more excited about eating my frozen veggies seasoned with salt and pepper. It was expensive. I had high hopes for the dish, so I realize the bar was set pretty high. It didn't taste like Alfredo and the color was an off-putting beige with dark specks. The best word to sum of eating it was "meh".

The ugly:
Not my prettiest dish.
Maybe I should stick with making my mac and cheese from scratch. It tasted much better and had lots of flavor.

(Note: I have issues with cow's milk products and butter, but my stomach loves goat and sheep's cheeses. My default from scratch mac and cheese uses goat's cheese.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mummy cupcakes

Cupcakes aren't just for kid's parties! They are a giant hit with adults as well!

I made these mummy cupcakes for work and a party and everyone loved them. These cupcakes are very easy to transform into a spooky Halloween treat. These were made gluten free and dairy free, much to the surprise of some of the eaters - they could not tell that anything was different!

To make, you need:
Baked, unfrosted, and cool cupcakes (I used a devil's food cake mix)
1 recipe of buttercream frosting (I used the Wilton classroom recipe with water, powdered sugar and Crisco)
Two decorating bags or freezer bags
No taste red icing coloring (or whatever color eyes you want for your mummy)
Decorating tip 104 for the white mummy wraps
Decorating tip 10 for the eyes
Coupler for your decorating bag
Sprinkles for the center of the eyes

Put about 1/4 cup of frosting into a small bowl. Using a toothpick, add about 2-3 "dips" of the red icing coloring and mix well. Add to a decorating bag with tip 10, using a coupler if you prefer

Put the rest of the frosting into the other decorating bag with tip 104, using a coupler if you prefer.

Pipe two eyes on the cupcake in red.
Then, using your white icing bag, pipe a circle around the edge of the cupcake. This will provide maximum mummy coverage.
Then pipe a large X below the eyes, making sure the wraps extend the entire width of the cupcake.
Continue piping wraps over the mummy.
For an extra spooky (and even creepy) effect, carefully place sprinkles in the center of the eyes.

Get creative! These had red eyes, per the request of the party host. In no time, you can have custom made cupcakes for Halloween! Making mummies was so easy - this project would be great for little hands as well!

Monday, October 24, 2011

GFDF Lasagna

Lasagna was the first dish I made for my family by myself. I always referred to the no-boil lasagna recipe my mom had clipped from a magazine and kept in the cabinet next to the spaghetti sauce. My small hands were great at layering the noodles, sauce, and cheese in the pan and putting in the oven. This was my most commonly repeated recipe growing up. I’m sure my mom loved it – “Michelle, can you make lasagna?” meant I went to work for five minutes, barely made a mess, and an hour later, a perfect lasagna would come out of the oven and out to the dinner table.

Dairy free lasagna? I thought it was going to be impossible, or at least a $50 dish. I’m fortunate to be able to tolerate goat and sheep cheeses in reasonable amounts, but spending $30 on specialty cheeses for one dish is too much of a hit on my budget.

And gluten and dairy free lasagna? I may as well give up. But gluten free lasagna noodles exist for a reason, right?

My lasagna is a mash up of this recipe from Glutenfreechops.blogspot and the Engine 2 vegan lasagna with tofu ricotta.

The tofu ricotta was simply made with two blocks of extra firm silken tofu, honey, apple cider vinegar and salt mashed together with a fork.

I cooked 2 medium sized sweet potatoes and then mashed them with my electric hand mixer.

The noodles (I used the entire 8 oz package of Maplegrove Gluten Free Foods Inc's brown rice pasta lasagna) were cooked with the Glutenfreechops hint borrowed from The College Housewife. My secret to prevent the noodles from sticking together? Add some olive oil to the water first. I had no issues!

I browned some ground beef mixed with some Italian seasonings and drained it. Then I sautéed some sliced zucchini and diced onions and red peppers with salt, pepper, and some more seasonings.

In my Corning Ware casserole dish, I placed some olive oil on the bottom and then laid out three pieces of lasagna. I poured my store bought basil spaghetti sauce on top and layered in mashed sweet potatoes, beef, tofu ricotta, and more noodles until my ingredients were almost used up. The last bits of spaghetti sauce and tofu went on top and the dish (with the glass lid on) went into the 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. For the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking, I took the lid off to brown the tofu.

This definitely wasn’t my mom’s lasagna recipe. I think I used almost a whole dishwasher’s worth of dishes and pans and bowls making this. But the lasagna was heavenly. My first bite made me forget that I even had food intolerances. I was able to make a delicious gluten and dairy free lasagna without ruining my budget and made it guilt-free with the extra veggies. My lasagna made about 8 servings – some more is already packed away in the freezer for the next time my lasagna cravings hit!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


After a long work week, I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner. Earlier in the month, I bought a groupon for a Japanese restaurant in my former neighborhood (I recently moved five blocks away - nothing major.) Making my way to the restaurant, I noticed how many places that were very accommodating to the gluten and dairy free diet - Italian, Indian, Mexican, and even the little grocery store where I was once asked where I was since I hadn't been in there for a month. One of the only restaurants left to try was a Japanese one.

The trick when dining out is having confidence. (More of my tricks are here.) I was going to be eating alone, which required confidence in myself on a different level. At home and work, I was used to eating in front of a computer. Now, I was going to be detached from the glare of a computer screen (my eyes were thankful) and instead enjoy good food with the company of a good magazine. After I was seated, I handed my waitress my Thai dining card from Triumph Dining and said that I was allergic to gluten (often I will say "allergic" rather than "intolerant" to place a little more weight on my requests). Apologizing that I did not have a Japanese card (I somehow lost it), the waitress thankfully said that she
was Thai so the card was perfect for the situation. She was able to read the information in Thai and took it back to the kitchen. Many of the sushi rolls also contained cream cheese so I was left to explain my dairy intolerance (no cheese, milk, butter, dairy but yes to coconut milk). They used imitation crab meat in the rolls I wanted, so that was going to be left out from my order. In the end, I ordered endamame (my absolute favorite - the saltiness of the hot vegetable sliding through my teeth is heavenly), rainbow rolls, shrimp rolls and asparagus rolls. I noticed the elegant wood chopsticks and had to politely ask for disposable chopsticks (the "cross contamination is everywhere" paranoia was kicking in and I was not taking any chances). This was a great confidence boost for me - I was able to accurately and effectively express my needs and have a safe, delicious, and very filling meal. I even tried new things (one of my first times consciously eating shrimp - I'm not a fan) and enjoyed treating myself to a dinner out. (Another secret to dining out gluten free with sushi? San-J soy sauce travel packs - I've seen them at Dominick's.)

Today after church, a friend and I wanted to catch up over lunch. He parked near Argyle and we were headed towards a tried and true restaurant where I had great service in the past. A brand new Thai noodle place caught our eye (there can be a lot of restaurant turnover in the area) and we decided to check it out. An empty restaurant translated into less stress over explaining my needs as our server was not juggling me and dozens of other guests. Before even opening my menu, I showed the server my card and she took it back to the kitchen. The curry dish seemed appetizing and it is my go-to when dining out Thai style - the coconut milk sauce is deliciously dairy-free and curry typically does not have soy sauce or noodles (in my experience). After taking my order back to the kitchen, the server reappeared and said that they could not guarantee that my food was gluten free. For some things, they did not know what ingredients went in them. That was a huge disappointment because there is a Thai grocery store in almost every other building that are loaded with fresh vegetables, packaged spices, and cans of coconut milk. This was not going to be as effortless as my sushi the night before. I asked if they could just cook some vegetables in oil and place on top of rice for me. The waitress (bless her heart), must have gone from our table to the kitchen half a dozen times before I was given a piece of paper that said "Dear Miss, Can you please write down what you can have. Can you have salt?" I wrote down rice, a list of vegetables cooked in oil, beef cooked in oil, and yes to the salt. Keep it simple. My order finally came out - a generous mound of rice with a large helping of broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, peas, carrots, and corn sauteed in oil on the side. I took a San-J soy sauce packet from my purse and called it a meal. Was it the best thing I ever ate? Hardly. Was I bummed that the kitchen didn't just create a dish like previous chefs have? Yes. Did I still tip well? Of course. Ultimately, this time the point of going out was to enjoy time with a friend and we accomplished just that.

This weekend marked three years since my appendectomy, when my dairy and gluten food intolerances were "turned on". At that time, did I picture that I would be quizzing waitresses on their sauces or be mindful of cross contamination and what touched wheat and then touched my food? Never. But I also never pictured that I would even have the confidence to be trying shrimp while eating sushi at a restaurant alone. I'm thankful that my food intolerances have shaped me into a more adventurous (but still cautious) diner.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Course - Complete!

Sometimes I even amaze myself.
After finishing Class 4 of Wilton's Decorating Basics at Michael's, I'm finding myself emerging as an artist. I have better-than-average crafting skills (in college and in Chicago I worked as a prop designer on several theatre productions) but nothing was truly amazing. But this? Cake decorating? I found my strong suit!

For our final lesson, we had to bring in an iced and ready to decorate cake. I used The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free's recipe for Devils Food Cake with Bob's Red Mill Chocolate Cake mix. I made the cake ahead of time and leveled and froze it. The day before class, I defrosted it in the fridge and then made my icing and frosted it while watching TV. So it took a little longer to frost than it should have (Glee was very distracting this week). I realized that the more I messed with it, the worse the cake looked. It was better to walk away and leave it be at a point. I also mixed two pounds of powdered sugar worth of icing in various colors for my cake, choosing vibrant and bold colors.
In class, we learned how to print. Writing is not my strong suit - I'm left handed in a family of right handers and I grip my pen really weird. So holding the bag properly was weird for me. It didn't look that bad - but it left me with something to keep practicing. The only other thing we learned was how to make a ribbon roses . My icing was a little too thick, so the petals did not have a super clean edge. But as my instructor pointed out - they look very natural. I made a lot of progress even between my first and fourth rose.

For decorating the cake, we could do whatever we wanted to showcase the different techniques we learned throughout the course. The general cake decorating guidelines are to do your writing, flowers, leaves, and borders in that order. I found that using the Wilton Flower Lifter (rather than a spatula or my fingers) to move the flowers was a lifesaver. I was able to get my flowers perfectly positioned every time. As my cake came together with each addition and splash of color, my adrenaline started pumping. I was very excited to create something so beautiful and so uniquely me.

Taking the class with food allergies was actually not a big deal at all! I went into the class terrified that someone was going to accidentally glutenize my food (I pictured cake flying everywhere - not the case at all) and was so relieved to have an incident-free experience. The icing (assuming you don't use milk and go with water or a milk alternative) is dairy free. Wilton has been fantastic with answering my questions regarding products' milk and gluten statuses (their products tend to be "same facility as" wheat and milk). My frosting behaved just like everyone else's did and I was never at a disadvantage in class. When my friends on Facebook asked if I made it "edible (by us) or poison?" I was excited to answer that it was entirely gfdf. I maintain a strict dedicated gluten free kitchen (I live alone - it's easy) and could not imagine the emotional stress of working with wheat.

I'm planning on taking the next two courses when the weather gets warmer. Juggling a cake, bag and purse or backpack on public transit during rush hour was a little much. I can't imagine doing it with a bulky jacket in the snow. (But now that I've said that, watch, I'll sign up for a January or February course during a blizzard.)

Overall - I highly recommend the Wilton classes. They are an easy and affordable (if you time your coupons right) way to learn lifelong skills that help you elevate your baked goods to the next level. You learn so many tricks and techniques along the way that open up the door to so many new decorations on the Wilton website. You'll impress your friends and coworkers and surprise yourself and have fun all at the same time! And you'll never look at an overpriced, poorly decorated cake at the store the same way again!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Decorating Basics - Week 3

Week two was a cupcake cake (how meta) and week three moved the cupcake to the starring role.

For Lesson Three of Wilton Cake Decorating Basics (I'm taking the class at Michaels), we learned how to make icing flowers and a few new techniques. The drop flower is super easy - we learned both methods - the star flower (simple squeeze and lift) and the swirled flower (squeeze, turn and lift). The rosette was nice and elegant.
The shell gave me a bit of trouble - I'm having difficulty being consistent and this is one technique that I really need to master since the shell is one of the most common borders on cakes. We took out our flower nails and learned the pompom flower (which my instructor loving calls the sea urchin). My very first attempt is pictured - I swear I got better as I made a few more. Net up was leaves - the tip does the work for you! Beautiful leaves every time! We also learned shaggy mums that were very fun to make. We had the opportunity to fill our cupcakes and tossed around some ideas of good fillings. Perhaps the greatest thing we learned was how to ice a cupcake. My instructor said that the trick is to go faster and with more pressure than you think you need. In about five to ten seconds, I had a perfectly iced cupcake. I think that is faster than taking a spatula out of the drawer... This is now my go-to-method for icing cupcakes. Where has this trick been my entire life? The tip is only $1.69. That's nothing considering the praise you will get for your beautifully iced cupcakes!!

After we learned all of our new techniques, we had time in class to practice what we learned. My gluten free cupcakes started off looking very pitiful (I used a doughnut recipe to make mine, so they were all sunken in) and ended up as a colorful array of cupcakes! Once I got home, I took out some plates (these make cleanup a BREEZE!) and started practicing some of the techniques I learned and used up my extra icing. My white plates were quickly dotted with pink flowers, purple shells, green leaves, and white stars.

When I started this class (meets for four weeks, two hours a time, on the same night throughout the month), the class was crowded with 11 students. By the time we got to week 3, we were down to 5 students. Where did everyone else go? All the ladies in my class were super excited to take it, but our numbers keep dwindling. I'm all for learning on the internet and from TV, but there's something important missing when you don't have an instructor who can help guide you along or fellow classmates whose work can inspire you. (I totally keep looking over to see what everyone else is doing - we can all be doing the exact same technique but we each have our own personality woven into it. Very cool!)

Next up? Learning roses and my final project cake. (Color scheme and theme still to be determined...Really only two days to decide since I need to make my frosting on Tuesday night...No pressure.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It's a Cupcake Cake!

For our second class, we were to bring in one 8" cake and then level and fill the cake in class. Gluten free cakes do not rise well, so I made two 8" layers from one recipe (I used the yellow cake potato starch recipe from You Won't Believe It's Gluten Free. Strangely enough, this is my first gf yellow cake.) I made chocolate pudding with soy milk for my filling. As predicted, I WAS the girl on the train balancing a cake, a messenger bag, and an overflowing bag of cake make supplies. Taking this class is probably the first time I ever wanted a car in the city. I got nervous watching my cake slide around in its carrier on the over-crowded bus and eL.

During the class, we learned about curving lines and tight zigzags (which require holding the bag at an awkward 45 degree angle) and dimensional decorating. We also started coloring our icing - I bought the 12 color set (thank you, 50% off coupon!) so I have a variety of bold colors to use. After a few minutes of practicing the new techniques, we got to work on our cakes. Everyone in class worked at her own pace and soon our bare cakes were transformed into colorful creations as we iced the cake. While the icing was setting (put your cake in the fridge for 15 minutes if you can!), we mixed colors for our top design. The patterns for the designs are traced with piping gel on parchment paper and then placed on the cake and ever so gently transferred. The instructions in our class guide recommend using a paint brush; our instructor used her finger and said that the paint brush method was good for people who would otherwise have a very heavy touch. Well guess what - I'm a paint brush person.

My first attempt at transferring failed so I had to retouch my cake, wait 15 minutes for the icing to set, and then try again. When my cake was finally ready to go, I got to work with my various icing bags. Decorating the cake with dimensional decorating was much easier than I thought. I was basically making zig zags and circles and out came a gorgeous cupcake! The base of the cake was decorated with white circles.

I had one of those "Oh my God - I made that? (And it doesn't suck?!?)" moments.
Remember how I said I wish I had a car in the city? If I thought I was nervous with a naked cake moving around in its carrier while on public transit, I was panicking with an iced cake. I made it the few blocks to the train station and as I was sitting down on the eL, the cake shifted and one side got smashed. I brought most of my icing home with me, so I was able to perform some cosmetic surgery and return my cake to its original glory. I adhered the cake board to the base of the cake carrier with some duct tape and successfully and problem free carried it on the bus to work the next day. My coworkers loved the cake and I was happy to share something that looked beautiful and tasted great, too!

Next up: cupcakes and flowers. Don't worry - my cake carrier has cupcake holders so my creations won't slid.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wilton Decorating Basics - Class 1

While my cupcakes with powdered sugar dusted on top are pretty, at some point in my gluten and dairy free life I need to put a little more work into the finished product. And learn how to decorate a cake without resorting to the decorate-while-warm-for-the-melted-frosting look. I've known about Wilton cake decorating classes forever - there is a Michaels store in my hometown and I've always wanted to go but never really felt like it was the right time for me or it did not fit in my schedule. This past birthday, my aunt went to the Wilton tent sale and bought me some new brownie and loaf pans (with rounded edges so no crumbs stick) to upgrade my gear and surprised me with a 25 piece decorating set with some piping gel. She obviously thought more highly of my decorating skills than I did... When I was a prop designer, I decorated three cakes in a year - all of them looked horrible. But that's going to change! I signed up for the Wilton Cake Decorating Basics course at my local Michaels craft store and now I'm going to be a decorating extraordinaire!!!

For the first class, our supply list included the kit, ready made icing and cookies. After a few e-mails back and forth with Wilton, I learned:

White Decorator Icing, 710-118: no dairy or gluten in this product but there was dairy and gluten in the plant. This means our lines are cleaned for cross contamination but we let customers know this for air born allergies.
Most of our icing colors are gluten and dairy free but the only way to be sure is to check each stock number such as 610-256 in order to know for sure. I hope this helps and I apologize for any inconvenience. If you have any other questions or stock numbers you would like us to check, please feel free to let us know! We appreciate your business,

So far, so good! I'm still not a fan of needing to e-mail the company with stock numbers of already purchased products (that seems to be the only way to get a solid answer), but am happy to know that Wilton is on top of the cross contamination issue and declares allergens on their labels. (The white decorator icing is made in a facility that also processes milk and wheat products.) They were also quick with their responses.

I'm always going to be the special kid in class because I'm left handed. But I can't eat wheat or dairy? And I need to make buttercream icing? Fun fact: Wilton's class buttercream icing is butter and cream free. It uses shortening (Crisco), milk or water, confectioner's sugar and the optional flavor, meringue powder and salt. Helpful hint: Crisco doesn't change consistency with temperature. Butter does. Keep it dairy free. No problem!

For the first class, we were supposed to bring in cookies. Since I'm super excited about baking these days, I made up a recipe to make six very large, chocolate cookies. Recipe at the bottom. I was ambitiously over-prepared for the first class (I found the supply list online) so was able to buy some things with 40% off coupons first (you get a 10% off class supplies coupon, but 10% off is kind of a joke when you are looking at all the toys you need/want. At the first class, we started late because people needed to still buy their kits and icing (do this in advance!). Our instructor went over how to bake a cake (no new info for me), recommended using box mix (too expensive for me), how to make the icing and how to water it down for the right consistency, how to fill a decorating bag, leveling and torting a layered cake, how to ice a cake and how to make a piping gel transfer. Seems like a lot of info, but a lot of the class was very basic.
When we did get our hands into the action, we pretty much just piped stars using tip 18 on the practice board and then class was over. I wasn't leaving until I decorated at least one cookie, so I piped some stars in a swirl on one and took a picture. I decorated the rest when I got home. The next night, I took out the practice board and kept going with the stars. They are getting closer to consistent the more I practice.

Next week we need to bring in an 8" cake to level and tort. Gluten free cakes don't rise too much, so this means I'll be making two 8" layers and leveling off the tops. I still need to decide on the filling... And find a recipe! And buy more things! Yeah...I'm going to be that awkward girl on the train next Wednesday during rush hour juggling a cake, plastic tool box and backpack, aren't I?

Michelle's First Ever Cookie Recipe
1 stick vegetable oil spread/dairy free butter
1 c gluten free flour mix
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
2 t vanilla
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a stand mixer, cream the butter. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Slowly add to the butter mix. Then add in the vanilla and egg. Mix well. Place cookies on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Bake in oven for 8 minutes. The cookies should expand quite nicely and give you PLENTY of room to add as many stars as you desire.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blog Entry 150

"I have a blog."
"What's a blog?"

Does an explosion of recipes, pictures, stories, challenges, dining out adventures, and all things gluten and dairy free but still delicious on the internet count as a good answer?

I've been blogging for just over a year now. I started writing when I went gluten free and had no idea what the hell I was doing. (Note: I still don't always know what the hell I'm doing. I'm just a girl with a camera and a computer with internet connection.) Already dairy free, adding another and stronger food intolerance was a blow to me. How was I going to eat? Was there anything left to eat? But I had the trade off of having constant gluten reactions in recent memory. If I had not reached my lowest point health-wise, it would have been more of a struggle for me to rethink how I eat. I know what even the smallest trace of gluten does to me and I do everything I can to avoid it: obsessively washing my hands before eating, maintaining a gluten free kitchen, playing it safe while eating out, asking questions of people preparing my food or calling manufacturers, reading about the gluten free lifestyle and news constantly, scanning the grocery store aisles to see if a gluten free label popped up on anything new.

So why blog?

This is entry #150. I went into the blog with the intention of taking some pictures, writing some recipes, and keeping track of what I'm eating with the target audience being my mom and only writing about ten entries. She saw how much food was cut from diet when I eliminated dairy and I did not want her to panic or worry about me. I'll show my mom that there are some things I can still eat and that will be that. Heck, I can even put my creative writing major to a practical use.

I've had over 5,000 hits in the past year - some from countries I have never heard of, much less countries that my mom (intended target audience) has visited. Somehow I became a source for if smarties contain gluten or lactose (they don't) and for Royal Carribean cruise dining (awesome experience!). Hundreds of people saw my embarrassingly bad attempt at using a bell pepper as a sausage bun. My voice is out there in the gluten free world and beyond. There are hits from people just looking for recipes and lo and behold, they found the allergen friendly version! (I wonder if they made it gluten free...) One of the most surreal moments was when I found my blog images on google. That's when I knew I needed to step up my game and make sure that the presentation was also lovely. Being on the local news (local being Chicago - I still think this is surreal) telling my story about being non Celiac gluten intolerant (ncgi) elevated me to the next level only months into my gluten free journey.

So why the title "Living Lactose and Gluten Free in Chicago" and "windycitycooking"? I'm a Chicago girl - born in the city, raised in the burbs who returned to the city. When I chose my blog address, it was on a whim and I liked the ring to it. I wasn't sure if I was going to always be lactose free (maybe I would grow out of it?), so purposefully avoided mentioning dairy in the address. At the moment, I have no intentions on trying to make dairy part of my diet again. I have small plans for trying small amounts of dairy so I can have something made with butter and know my cross-contamination concerns. Fortunately, I am able to tolerate goat and sheep cheeses so I'm technically not lactose free. And "Living Cow's Milk and Gluten Free in Chicago" just doesn't sound the same... I am grateful to be living in Chicago where I have access to resources and an abundance of grocery stores. Restricted diets aren't easy, but living in the city has made it much easier.

The key phrase is in my tag line is LIVING. While on gluten, all of my energy was being taken away and I felt horrible. I would miss work, spend days in bed, and just want to curl up in a ball and stay there. I passed on every social engagement and literally just worked, saw doctors, and slept for months. I describe being gluten free as the lights coming back on for me. Something flipped a switch and the world changed. Energized, healthy and excited to live (and capable of staying awake past 7pm!), I was ready to take on the world. But first I needed to conquer my diet.

Now that I have gotten a better handle on the cooking and dining out aspect of being gfdf, I'm excited to get back into the kitchen and play with flours and start baking more. My culinary confidence has grown and my repertoire has increased a hundredfold in the past year. I'm still excited to develop recipes, take pictures of my food, and write about it. Without my blog, I do not think I would have walked into a restaurant again. While dairy free, I was terrified to eat out (people put butter in everything). I needed a mindset adjustment and this blog helped make sure that I was not deprived on this diet.

Thank you for reading my blog! Whether you are a first time reader or long time follower or my little sister (hi, Val!)! I'm excited that you are here and I hope that I can help inspire you to lead a full and healthy life - whether or not you are gluten and dairy free.

If you use Twitter, be sure to follow me! Windycitycookin

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday Concert in the Park

When I first moved to Chicago during the summers while in college, I heard of this magical place called Ravinia Festival where people spend the day sitting in the park with their picnic tables and tablecloths, drinking wine, and listening to live music. I went to the free concerts in Millennium Park a few times and my friends would point out who there also goes to Ravinia (matching sets of lawn furniture and vases of flowers on top of the table cloth on the low wooden table is a
giveaway). I've always wanted to see Rufus Wainwright perform. When a friend posted about going on Facebook, I jumped at the chance. We would invite a few other people and make a day of it - delicious food included!

Michael got the ball rolling - he was going to make a roasted sweet potato salad. One of his roommates is gluten free so we knew what was off limits and how to safely cook. Thomas picked up some Asian treats (off limits to me) and mango spears (devoured by me). I wanted to do a pasta salad with summer vegetables, but a trip to the Asian grocery store moved me away from an American classic dish towards a rice noodle Asian dish. When stirfrying the noodles with the vegetables, I had an overwhelming sense of dread - rice noodles stick together. With a little ingenuity, I portioned out the noodles into zip lock containers so everyone had their own. I could say I went this route to prevent extra dishes and serving utensils (we were carrying everything on the Metra) and so the food would fit in my small cooler. Not because I momentarily forgot that gf dishes don't always behave like their wheat counterparts. Never!

One of the best parts about the day? It was amazing to be with friends and have great conversation and meet new people, eat a picnic feast during an unusually cool August day, listen to soothing live music, drink blueberry wine and people watch (grapes are a BIG hit at Ravinia). But this was my favorite:
Just relaxing.
Existing and taking it all in.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Two of my friends recently bought me an ice cream maker and I have been experimenting with different recipes since none of the included recipes in the booklet that came with the machine used non-dairy milks. There are some fruit sorbet recipes without any dairy, but that's all in due time. First things first. I need to make a solid chocolate ice cream recipe to satisfy my cravings.

Coconut milk tends to be creamier than rice or soy milk, so it naturally lends itself towards making delicious frozen desserts. I used Aroy-D coconut milk (regular) and the rest of the ingredients were normal brand name items. Helpful hint: coconut milk is typically 25% to 50% cheaper at an Asian market than a big box supermarket. If you are planning on making lots of coconut milk ice cream and are on a budget, it is worth the trip to your nearest store!

Michelle's Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream
2 19oz cans of coconut milk
3/4 c cocoa powder
1 T vanilla
2/3 c sugar
1/2 c packed brown sugar

Mix all ingredients together with a small handheld mixer until smooth. Put in a 2 quart ice cream maker. Turn on and let mix for 20-25 minutes until desired consistency is reached. Serve. Makes approximately 6-8 servings.
How easy is that? This recipe is gfdf (gluten free dairy free), gfcf (gluten free casein free), and free of the top eight allergens without being free of flavor!!

And here's my suggestion for maximizing this treat: buy small plastic containers that are freezer safe. Portion out the ice cream ahead of time so you can free up space in the freezer AND have a variety of flavors on hand AND prevent the need to take the entire carton of ice cream out to thaw a little bit before you can handle it! (Or am I the only one that needs to let dairy free ice cream sit out on the counter for 10 minutes before I can even pretend to scoop the ice cream into a bowl?) I made the above recipe and portioned out 4 servings and then threw a handful of chopped raspberries in the mixer and let it go for another few minutes. After I portioned the remainder of the coconut milk ice cream out, I placed a whole raspberry on top so I could easily see which flavor I grabbed. Feel free to get creative! Use this recipe as a base and throw in some additional flavors! And comment with what you added!

Sorry folks without ice cream makers - I only tried this recipe with the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker. The only time I made ice cream without my new toy, it involved rock salt, rolling ice cream and rock salt in cans on the floor, and watching Angel at a friend's house after school. It was fifty times more complicated than the new fangled machines (which cost less than $70 on Amazon)!

Cheeseburger in Paradise

"Well, where CAN you eat?" my sister asked. She was in charge of choosing a restaurant for a family dinner and had to juggle my gluten and dairy intolerances, my dad's spicy food intolerance, my stepmom's vegetarianism, and her love for a good meal. I told her there are pretty much two ways to go: small hole in the wall restaurant where the chef can easily create a dish for me or a chain restaurant where corporate headquarters likely started outlining the allergens in the foods. She chose the later and started naming off restaurants nearby while I was google searching the name "+ gluten". Cheeseburger in Paradise came up. Not too bad, I could always get a bunless burger or a salad. Whatever. And then I went to their website...

How are they not exploding in the gf blogsphere and twitterverse as being a super friendly restaurant for those who are gluten free??? Cheeseburger in Paradise partnered with the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) to create their gluten free menu. I was excited to eat there and my sister was thrilled that there was a place nearby where we could all eat (and my dad was perhaps the most overjoyed because he is a huge hamburger fan).

At the restaurant, I told the hostess that I was gluten intolerant. I got my very own menu - that looked like everyone else's! It had a smaller selection and did not list any prices, but the look and feel of it was the same. (Other restaurants have quickly made one page print outs of what is gluten free - I appreciated the professionalism and respect for me as a consumer for getting something that is high quality.) As we looked over our menus, the manager came by to see who was gluten intolerant and went over some cross contamination concerns and the gf training the staff went through. The fries still seemed too good to be true, so I asked and they said that in order to have their fries be gf, they now make ALL their french fries in a dedicated
fryer - nothing but fries go in there! Win! Also, every three months their menu is updated so what I saw was only the beginning of them reaching out to their gluten intolerant customers.

I ordered a Bacon Cheddar Burger (hold the cheese.) For a dollar extra, I could get my burger on a bun (yes, please!). The manager said that they used French Meadow buns and went back to the kitchen to confirm that they were also dairy free. When my food arrived, it was introduced as a gluten and dairy free burger (additional win!). The bun was pretty good - even if it didn't hold up through the entire meal and I had to flip my burger upside to eat some more and then ultimately, just use a fork and a knife. Everything was delicious - it felt great to bite into a juicy burger and also have some thin french fries. My sister commented that this was the most normal thing she has seen me eat (we don't eat together very often) since going gf. She couldn't come up with anything I ate that was particularly weird, but sometimes my meals looks like they are missing something. At Cheeseburger in Paradise, I had a normal restaurant experience. If you photographed a gfdf burger and a traditional allergen filled burger, only the cheese would alert you to something being different. The manager and staff went the extra mile to make sure that I was comfortable and my food was safe for me.

Worth going back? Oh, yes! There are two Illinois locations - Algonquin and Downer's Grove.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chinese Dinner Party

To celebrate my new home (where I can comfortably entertain) and my birthday (I keep getting older!), I had my siblings and two of my cousins over for a small dinner party that was big on the food. When my mom hosts parties, she's easily entertaining for 20+ people. I'm just starting to get in the swing of hostessing, but kept getting stuck on my mom's style of feeding LOTS of family and sending people home with leftovers. So when I had 5 guests, I still had a huge appetizer spread, a side, two main dishes, and a dessert for a Sunday evening party.

Appetizer Menu
Pork meatballs (with water chestnuts inside!)
Vegetable rolls in rice paper (which my siblings both said felt like a jellyfish even though neither of them have ever touched one, but they liked the rolls nonetheless)
Carrot sticks
Fruit - watermelon, raspberries, strawberries
Small bowl of sugar
Chunky peanut butter
Chips and salsa (bought)
Chex mix

White rice
Asparagus with freshly toasted sesame seeds
Ham fried rice (my siblings and I LOVE fried rice - I switched it up with adding ham rather than chicken this time)
Steak and bell peppers stir-fry (San-J sauces are the best!)

Vegan gf chocolate cupcakes

I will admit that I went a little overboard on the appetizers, but everything worked out perfectly and there was enough food leftovers for two lunches for me and plenty of appetizers to make sure I was snacking throughout the week! When I was planning the menu, I chose a lot of things I could prep in advance. The fried rice and stir-fry were both "cook in five minutes" items, so I chopped and refrigerated my veggies in advance. I wrote down lists of what veggies went in what pan so I could start cooking without trying to remember what went where. Right before we were ready to eat, I heated up one wok and started adding food and then put my sister in charge of stirring it while I began the next. We plated everything on my fancy dishes and in some of the bowls she bought me for Christmas and we were set! I was a little disappointed that I still somehow remain the only one in the family who can use chopsticks despite our love for Chinese food. Being a courteous hostess, I set forks on the table so no one felt bad. But one of these days, I'm going to have to get chopsticks into my family's hands!
It was great to have my family in my new place. I think this was even the first time I properly cooked a meal from start to finish for my siblings. Normally when I'm home at my mom's, I'll contribute to one or two dishes, max. But here the whole meal was my responsibility. I enjoyed creating the menu and wondering what people will like, as well as show off some of my culinary chops (no, really, toasting sesame seeds just is turning a pan on, letting it warm up, and stirring around the seeds until they are toasted.) It was fun, it was rewarding, and I can't wait to do it again!

Sparkling Juice
For a bit of class without the booze, try serving juice in a whole new way!

Three limes
Two lemons
Juice - your favorite flavor will work
Sprite or 7-Up

Wash and thinly slice the limes and lemons. Place in freezer for several hours.

Right before serving, pour the juice with a "splash" of Sprite (about 1/2 - 1 cup for 6 servings) in a fancy pitcher. Add the frozen lime and lemon slices and ice. Stir. Serve in wine goblets. Whoever said wine goblets were reserved just for wine?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gluten Free Labeling Law

An open letter to the FDA:

I urge you to make clear, standardized gluten free labeling a priority. The proposed labeling guidelines are excellent, but time is of the essence for gluten free consumers!

Almost immediately after an appendectomy, I started having abdominal pain that no doctor could figure out that soon grew to a laundry list of problems. In the six months leading up to my gluten intolerant diagnosis, my medical bills (before insurance) soared over $20,000.00. My only treatment to prevent excessive bowel movements, extreme abdominal pain, nausea, brain fog, migraines, grogginess, lack of energy, difficulty breathing, chest pains, raised lumps on my abdomen, and more is to maintain a strict gluten free diet.

Every month, more manufacturers are providing gluten free labels on their products so I am thankful to have started the diet a year ago. There is currently no standardization on gluten free labeling, which means that despite a colorful "gluten free" label taking up prime space on the front of a package, the entire ingredient list must be read for offending allergens. Products are labeled gluten free that are made on the same equipment as wheat. Others only declare that “no gluten ingredients are used” but does not provide any indication of efforts set forth to prevent cross-contamination, let alone using wheat flour to prevent items from sticking together. There should be a uniform symbol, such as the Kosher symbol, that easily demonstrates that a product tests below 20 ppm for gluten, wheat, barely, rye, and oats and efforts are made to prevent cross contamination.

The widely accepted definition of gluten free means free of wheat, barely, rye, and sometimes oats. Since regulation is not yet in place, any manufacturer can label a product as gluten free. Tasty Bite recently labeled their Barley Medley as gluten free, even though barley is listed as one of the first two ingredients (behind water). Their mistake was thankfully easily caught by informed consumers, but what of “natural flavoring” that can currently easily hide malt flavoring without any allergen declaration?

Gluten free labeling needs to extend beyond the supermarket shelves and into the pharmacy. Before I take any medicine, I need to call the company and ask if gluten is used as a binding agent otherwise what is supposed to cure me can cause considerable damage to my health.These phone calls, which often can only be placed during the manufacturer’s business hours which are impractical for the average 9-5 worker, can easily take twenty minutes or more and I have even had to wait three days to get confirmation on a product’s gluten status.

With the gluten free diet, my health has dramatically improved and I feel better than ever. Every reaction I have to gluten now has me wondering if I simply need to take the rest of the day off from work or if I need to head to the emergency room. Standardizing and regulating which products are labeled gluten free is essential for the health of so many individuals, whether they have Celiac disease, non-Celiac gluten intolerance, wheat allergies, or have found their health improves on this diet.

Thank you,

Michelle R

For more information on how to register your comments, visit Gluten for Punishment's blog entry. You can also visit the official FDA site on the gluten free labeling. Be sure to leave your comment before the deadline of October 2, 2011! (My comment was a little on the long side, so the FDA got a shortened version of the above.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

All-American Party Food

It's party (food) time!

This past weekend was my birthday so I had a few friends over one day and some family over the next (maximizing the "clean house" look). I was busy in the kitchen trying to show-off my skills and ability to hostess. Before, I lived in a studio apartment that had a two-butt kitchen. I could easily fit plenty more people in the new kitchen - and that's where everyone gravitates during a party anyways!

My one friend asked if everything I made was gluten free. I looked at the spread - carrots, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, peanut butter dip, hummus, rice crackers, chex mix and cupcakes and jokingly told him, "The carrots were really hard to get gluten free." A trip to Edgewater Produce drastically drove down the cost of the fruit (so much so that I ended up buying much more food than I needed) and the rest was relatively inexpensive.

On to two of my All-American Party Food recipes!

Michelle's Hummus
1 15ozcan chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 c tahini (found near peanut butter in grocery stores)
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 T oil
2 T water
3 T fresh squeezed lemon (the juice of about 1 lemon)
1/4 t cumin

Combine all ingredients in a Cuisinart or a blender until smooth (or preferred consistency). Serve with fresh veggies, chips, or gf crackers. This recipe only takes minutes to make.

Italian Chex Mix (modified)
I used this recipe from the Chex cereal website as my jumping off point. (Check it out - there's loads of variations and they even utilize gf and microwave symbols!) I used both Rice and Corn Chex cereal and deviated from the recipe by using Season Salt instead of Italian seasoning (that makes it "all-American" - right?), salted cashews rather than soy nuts, skipped the cheese and made my own popcorn. Almost all microwave popcorn contains butter, so I've been buying "naked popcorn". Just the kernels in a plastic bag from the farmer's market. I add a small amount to a brown paper bag, fold the bag and use my microwave's popcorn setting for delicious and healthy popcorn. I followed the directions as written and then tossed in some Glutino pretzel twists. I'm a little shocked it took me over a year of being gf before I made Chex mix. For my first 9 months or so, I only ate Chex cereal. But now, I'm crabby because I ate the last of the mix today (I had one and a half sandwich bags worth as a snack) so don't have more readily available. But since this is such a fast an easy recipe, I should quit my complaining and make more already! This is a great recipe to have on hand - whether for on-the-go healthy snacking or at a party! My sister kept grabbing handfuls of it when she was over!

What are your favorite party foods to serve that are gluten and dairy free? Do you have any ingredients that ALWAYS go into your Chex mix? What about other additions to a basic hummus recipe?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Introducing Rawr-y

Getting a Kitchen Aid Mixer was one of my life goals. Growing up, my mom always promised me that she would buy one for me when I got married. As a kid, I always thought that I would get married right after college. But when I came out in college, I was paranoid that I would never have a proper wedding ceremony therefore would never get the proper gift I dreamed of as a baking-loving kid. I started saving up my credit card points and was counting down the months until I "earned" the Kitchen Aid (even though my mom is supportive and would have still bought me a mixer when my happy day arrived). Then I saw it on sale on Black Friday and the amazingly low door buster price was much more cost efficient than the points. I bought it on the spot and took it out of the box at my mom's house and sat on her living room floor while making sure all the parts were there and it worked. Then, reality sunk in. The Kitchen Aid didn't fit into my tiny studio apartment kitchen (the microwave ended up taking over most of my desk when I began cooking more), so the Kitchen Aid would need to stay at my mom's until I moved. I took pictures of my greatest kitchen purchase and put them as the background image on my laptop to remind me that I made it into adulthood - I had my own mixer and just needed to find the proper home for it. I e-mailed a picture of it to Eliot:

Michelle: I feel like it needs to have a name. I feel bad for leaving it alone in my childhood bedroom, but I think it will manage... I don't know how I'll manage, however.
Eliot: Haha, it looks like a baby dinosaur. We'll think of a name for it.

I loved his response and couldn't help but think "Rawr!" so Rawr-y was christened!

A month after moving, when all my flours were properly put away and my kitchen was organized, Rawr-y came to life. Her first creations were chocolate cupcakes for my birthday. I used a recipe from You Won't Believe It's Gluten Free! Those recipes are extremely simple and tend to be one-flour recipes, which is rare for gf baking. I was a little concerned about the amount of sugar compared to some of the other ingredients (1.5 cups sugar, 1 cup potato starch, 3/4 cup oil, 3 eggs, among other things) as the recipe only made 15 cupcakes, but I was sharing them with adults who could responsibly handle a sugar overload better than kids - right? While the cupcakes were baking, Rawr-y got a handwash so I could make the frosting. Bring on the sugar!

Michelle's Frosting
6 T Crystal Farms Vegetable oil spread (non-dairy "butter")
pinch of salt
2 cups (plus more) of powdered sugar
3 t vanilla (plus more) rice milk

Cream together the vegetable oil spread and pinch of salt. Then add the 2 cups of powdered sugar and 3 t vanilla rice milk (alternatively - use original rice milk and add a splash or two of vanilla) until smooth. Slowly add additional powdered sugar or rice milk until the desired consistency is reached. Do not settle for mediocre frosting! Adding a little bit more of one ingredient can make all the difference between "meh" and "holy cow!" frosting! I tend to average 2.5 to 3 cups of powdered sugar.

See? Just as easy as opening a tub of over-processed frosting!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Juggling a new home (unpacking, learning that gas stoves are VERY different from electric, building bookshelves), new responsibilities at work, cooking energy-providing foods, and then blogging about it was a bit harder than I thought! The dishwasher has already been a tremendous help - it gives me a few hours of my week back. Now if only I could teach it to make me a sandwich...

By the time I get home from work and face a wall of heat (we've had a very hot and wet July in Chicago), the last thing I want to do is turn on my stove or oven. I've been eating a lot of sandwiches, salads, grilled meats, and rice. My cooking has turned very low-key to cope with the heat as well as give me time to spend elsewhere in my new place. My food motto lately has been KISS - Keep It Simple Suppers.

Here's my salad. Doesn't look much like a salad, right? I swear, underneath the generous servings of avocado (healthy fats!), red onions, tomatoes, and wild rice cooked in the rice cooker, there ARE some spinach leaves (calcium!)! The rice is such a welcome addition to any of my salads!

Pictured above is brown rice penne tossed with olive oil, lemons, tomatoes, and basil leaves with once-frozen talipia coated with seasoning grilled on the George. Nothing fancy, all this was thrown together in minutes.

Tonight I toasted an Udi's bagel and smeared peanut butter and grape jelly on it. If that doesn't scream simple, I don't know what does. My dinner, though, was inspired by the train conductor who said, "Have a good night. Enjoy your steak supper. Or your peanut butter and jelly." Why not have a meal chosen by an overhead announcer? The steak supper sounded lovely, but that would have required another trip to the grocery store.

In exciting news - my weight is slowly but steadily starting to climb up! I hit my record adult low soon after doing the healthy eating challenge and moving (too much exercise up and down stairs!), but I'm seeing the numbers on the scale starting to once again stretch towards a healthier weight. Maybe I should have dairy-free ice cream more often. That seems to be doing the trick...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Scream, You Scream

I feel like such a kid again.

A few weeks ago while visiting my mom, we headed to the grocery store and she told me to choose an ice cream to keep in the freezer at her house. I eyed the wide selection of dairy free desserts, apparently for too long, because it prompted my mom to tell me to get whatever I wanted. I saw chocolate brownie "ice cream", smiled, and looked at the ingredients. Dairy free does not mean wheat free. Ultimately, I settled (more like got excited over another fun flavor combination) for a chocolate peanut butter swirl option. The ice cream never even made it to the freezer when we got home as I helped myself to an over generous serving.

The July meeting for the Chicago chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group in the South Loop was a dairy free ice cream social...complete with ice cream cones! We had two gluten free cone options (which were on sale at Whole Foods - still kicking myself for not buying them) - cake or sugar - or plastic bowls. There were four different varieties offered, but when I heard chocolate chip cookie dough, my emotions were a cross between a swear-word string of excitement and giggling with my eyes wide open. I have never been so excited to eat a particular food before. I had my coconut milk ice cream with its certified gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough in a sugar cone and felt like I was transported to summers in my childhood. Truly, this was a little bit of heaven on earth and I normally hold back from exclaiming praise like this. But this ice cream is GOOD. You must try it - whether or not you are gluten and/or dairy free. The ice cream is so creamy and the cookie dough has just the perfect texture. (Don't worry - I got seconds.)

So imagine my childlike excitement during an otherwise very adult, routine shopping trip
to the local Dominick's to buy groceries for dinner lead me past their dairy free ice cream (for two reasons: I watch sale prices on their gluten and dairy free products and it was almost 100 degrees and a stroll through the freezer section felt good) and their ice cream was on sale (win!) and they had the So Delicious chocolate chip cookie dough! The regular price was $5.59, down to their new low price of $4.99 but only $3.59 with your Dominick's Card! (Through July 26, price found at the Dominick's on Foster and Sheridan in Chicago. Hurry, because I'm probably going to stock up on their ice cream before the sale ends.)

I went home, scooped myself a big bowl of unmatched perfection, and sat on my porch with my feet up, cooling off in the most delicious way possible.

What more can I say? Life is great!

So Delicious's Purely Decadent's coconut milk cookie dough non-dairy frozen dessert contains coconuts and soy. It is a vegan product.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Valerie's Mexican Fiesta

For my sister's birthday this year, she wanted a Mexican Fiesta. Having themed family parties is always fun - there's a variety of foods to eat all fitting neatly under one theme. And having a party at my mom's house means I can have some say in how much gluten there will be. There was only one offending item: flour tortillas. For appetizers/munchies (my family is big on grazing on food throughout the afternoon, so much so that on family party days, my siblings and I never really ate a proper lunch), we had veggies, fruit, and corn tortilla chips with five different kinds of salsas and a few dips, guacamole, and hummus. Since nothing contained gluten that was out, I was free to dip my food from the bowl like everyone else.

For the main course to our fiesta (yes, I appreciate the irony that in celebration
of my sister's Independence Day birthday we had Mexican food - even if it was watered down Mexican) we had tacos - there were two different kinds of corn shells - tostadas and the traditional crispy corn variety - and soft shell flour burriotos. I was in charge of cooking our rice - I used Guy Fieri's Mambo Rice recipe from to great fanfare from the family. It was made with basmati rice, gluten free chicken stock from Sam's Club and loads of fresh ingredients finely chopped. This was an easy rice cooker dish - the ratio of liquid to rice was spot on! My mom meanwhile grilled the meats and my sister made her "spicy corn" dish - made two ways - with or without butter. Everyone loved the build your own taco idea and the easy dishes naturally lent themselves to more time with the family and less time in the kitchen.

My sister decided that she didn't want a cake this year. My mom wanted me to find a recipe with rhubarb that I could eat since she harvested some from her garden. After twenty minutes of surfing the internet, I only found gluten-free recipes rather than naturally gluten free options (except for the compote). Another trip to and we were eating Mexican Brownies, again from Guy Fieri. Brownies were the easiest since I was able to buy Bob's Red Mill mix and dump the bag into the bowl rather than try to measure everything out (I have a lot of dairy-free substitutions at my mom's house but not that many flour options other than white rice flour.) I did my best to combine the two recipes, always defaulting to Bob's instructions when there was a discrepancy. The required about 5-10 minutes longer than recommended and due to the liquid from the rhubarb compote, I omitted adding water. For the brownies, you could really taste the chocolate - I used Baker's chocolate - and they turned out to be very rich and decadent. We even successfully passed them off to some of my sister's friends and no one noticed that they were gfdf (made with a vegetable oil spread stick to keep it dairy free) - they just tasted different because of the extra chocolate, rhubarb, and cinnamon. This must be the way to go with gf baking! Make something so different that no one can compare it! Overall, it was a great party with lots of delicious food and company to celebrate my sister's latest trip around the sun! Happy Birthday, Valerie!