Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vanilla Yogurt Pancakes

It's been pretty quite around these parts, I know. It's not that I haven't eaten well. It's not that I haven't cooked a up a few good things. It's well.

I moved.

I know. I know! I moved and I was too afraid to tell you. Too scared you'd be sad, or hurt, or maybe you wouldn't even care at all. That would be kinda bad too. So, like a little sulking kid, I gave my 'ol blog the silent treatment.

But moving out and moving on is a good thing for me, I swear. So let me tell you again, not just "I moved", but I moved!

It was a sudden and quick turn around. An "okay we're offering you this job and you've got 12 days to move here" kinda quick. The kind of move that makes your head spin, the kind of move that makes you pack only your essentials and makes you hound UPS for the arrival of the rest of your stuff, and the kind of move that doesn't involve bringing measuring spoons, or muffin tins, or even mixing bowls. Seriously.

But I've been here nearly a month now, and this morning, I woke up with a serious craving. So despite not having legit measuring equipment, despite my teeny-tiny kitchen (I prefer to think of it as "darling"), and despite not having milk, I was bound and determined to make pancakes.

And pancakes I shall have.

With my last remaining baby cup of Trade Joe's vanilla and cream yogurt, I made the most curious, gummy, spongy pancakes. I love 'em. I don't know if I can go back to regular pancakes again...even if I have milk.

(PS: Get out your datebooks, blackberries, and open those gmail calendars, next meeting of the Greater Cleveland Celiac Society will be in Solon, Sunday September 13)

Vanilla Yogurt Pancakes
as inspired by those POM Wonderful pancakes, which were inspired by Joy the Baker

1 cup all purpose GF flour w/ xanthum gum mix (as measured by a ziplock storage container)
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt (or like 8 grinds from the salt grinder, for those who have no table salt or teaspoons)

2 Tablespoons earth balance butter, melted and cooled.
1/2 cup cold brewed orange spice tea (water would work okay, too)
1 egg
4 oz (1 container) Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cream Yogurt

Additional cooking spray or butter for frying
If you have berries, cinnamon, vanilla, almond extract, chocolate chips, nutmeg, etc,
by all means, add some or all in. This kitchen has ziplock containers; I'm lucky I had the tea.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar) in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the egg into the cooled butter (or temper, slowly, if the butter is still warm), followed by the yogurt and the tea. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet, in three parts, letting all of the flour get incorporated into the batter.

This batter will be thick. I mean thick. If you need to, pour in additional tea until the batter becomes workable again. Remember though, this is yogurt based, yogurt is thick, these pancakes are thick.

Let the batter rest as you heat up your pan and grease it with your desired spray, butter, or butter substitute. Make sure not to pour out too much batter into each pancake (remember that whole thick thing?) and cook about 3 minutes before flipping (check for bubbles, you know the drill pancake people).

Makes about 12 small, chewy, delicious, filling, can't believe I never made 'em this way before pancakes. Cover with jam, fruit, or syrup and devour.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eastside Mexican Food Just Got Easier: Don Tequila

I've lived around the corner from Don Tequila for about a near now, and still hadn't eaten there. Sure I like Mexican food, but being a vegetarian celiac in the land of cheese, rice, tortillas, and well, more cheese is not only calorie crazy version of dinner but decidedly heart unhealthy one. Plus, like so many of you, I have a fragile tummy and there's only so much sour cream or guacamole I can eat before I can eat no more (it's about five bites, if you're keeping count).

Sure, authentic Mexican is great, veggie laden, full of protein rich beans, but authentic Mexican food is harder to find than it's Americanized, cheese covered cousin. But this isn't about bad Mexican food, it's about good Mexican food, it's about Don Tequila on Green Road in University Heights.

Taking over Jack's Deli's old space, this unassuming Mexican restaurant has thrived where once a Jewish deli reigned supreme. Their menu is extensive and options plentiful (so you can your dinner, and smoother it in cheese too, should you wish). Best of all, though there is certainly a language barrier, they very clearly understood me when I said "I have a serious allergy to flour. Corn is okay but no flour. Can I eat this?"

Sometimes, when I get the head nod or when waiter assures me something "will be fine", I just don't feel so secure. You've had similar experiences, no? You want to believe them that those corn chips really are just corn, but your gluten-free paranoia takes over and suddenly your sipping water and pushing food around your plate to make it look like you've eaten something. We've all been there. Sure, I was worried, too, but when I ordered spinach enchiladas (actually filled with spinach, not gobs of cheese with a bit of spinach mixed in), I double checked to make sure the sauce didn't have flour in it, too.

"Oh. Yeah, enchilada sauce is made with flour," the waiter with a sudden wash of understanding of just how pervasive the whole wheat allergy thing is. I bit my lip trying to figure out how to navigate the menu, not being sure what was safe."Don't worry. We'll just put another sauce on it. One with no flour." With that, he took my menu. Problem solved!

When my food arrived - smothered in a delicious green sauce - it was not only gluten-free goodness, but one great meal. Actually two great meals, considering I took my leftovers home and had 'em for lunch! Not bad a bad deal for $6.75, not a bad deal at all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Date with Date-Nut Bread

A little more new business: I got a few emails this week from confused readers who weren't sure why the "Essential Gluten Free In Cleveland" links (the ones I talked about last week that organized information on gluten-free restaurants in Cleveland by Eastside & Westside and highlighting grocery stores and bakeries on a right hand side bar) weren't showing up in the emails they received on last week's post.

Thing is, those super cool emails you get are just the post itself email to your inbox. However, to access the links - as well as see lists of my favorite gluten-free websites, cleveland websites, and see all past posts and recipes - you'll need to visit the actual site. Sorry for the confusion and I hope this clears it up!

And now, back to the food...Sometimes, my best ideas come to me right before I go to sleep. Laying in bed, my head resting on the cool pillow, my limbs tangled up in blankets that will surely be kicked to the floor by the time the night is through, I have often wished the notepad I keep on my night stand was just a little bit closer so I could just write that last thought down before...I...fall....asleep....zzzzz.

Sigh. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don't. Somedays I spend all morning trying to remember that character arc or snappy joke, and somedays I hardly remember my 3am moments of genius happened at all. Sure if it's for my actual work, the idea has a 50/50 chance of being gone forever, but if I fall asleep recipe planning? Oh you'd better believe my brain sticky noted that craving to the forefront of my memory, demanding attention the very moment I wake up.

My meaning? Some people fall asleep counting sheep, I fall asleep counting cups of sugar... and this morning, I woke up wanting to add that sugar to the same recipe I dreamed up last night: date-nut bread.

Date-nut bread is perfect brunch fare. Shmeered with cream cheese and served up with a nice fruit salad, there is maybe no better accompaniment to your Sunday morning news programs, your magazines, or your trashy VH1 shows. And yet, since my gluten-free diagnosis, I haven't had a single slice of date-nut goodness. What's up with that?

Things gotta change. For you and me. Date-nut bread style.

Date-Nut Bread
changed ever so slightly from Allrecipes

1 packed cup chopped and pitted dates
2 - 3 Tablespoons Earth Balance Butter (or regular butter), softened
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water

2/3rd cup sugar
1/2 cups chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1 & 1/2 cups all purpose GF flour
3/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 8x4 inch loaf pan.

Combine baking soda, dates, and butter in a medium sized bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir and let sit for fifteen minutes.

Mix sugar, walnuts, and eggs into the bowl, followed by the flour, baking powder, xanthum gum, and salt. Pour the mixture into your pre-greased and floured loaf pan and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes. (I give you a huge time gap here because I let mine cook 42 minutes and it burnt!! It was nearly done at 30 minutes - the toothpick came out clean everywhere but directly in the center - and I foolishly trusted myself to remember to pull it out of the oven 5 minutes later, without adjusting the time. The smell of just-starting-to-burn date bread reminded me it was time to it to pull it out!!)

Let cool at least 10 minutes before removing it from the loaf pan. Now I know the temptation to have a piece of fresh from the oven bread is quite overwhelming (I succumb too, I admit it!), and sure it is good then, but wrapping it up in cling wrap, letting it sit overnight, makes it great. Besides, cutting into this moist, just sweet enough, nutty loaf is a perfect way to begin any morning.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Roasted Vegetable & Chickpea Salad

A little new business. You might've noticed this site has been through a little revamping. The layout has literally had a 180 degree swap, making it more readable and there's even a search bar to make ingredient / recipe / eatery inquires that much easier for you.

Course, that's not the exciting part. Okay, it's one of the exciting parts, but it's not the most exciting part. You see, I get lots of emails from people asking me where they can eat when they visit Cleveland. Which is very cool by me (thanks people!), and I always do my best to toss out some new ideas (or give them directions to one of those cross country, gluten-free friendly chains) in addition to sending them a direct link to the restaurant label on the this site. Admittedly, I feel a little silly doing this, but as my best source, most consolidated form of information, it's the most helpful...right? That plus the fact that sometime life intercedes and I miss responding to some of the nice people who want to know where to get a bite to eat made me realize this site was in need of a bit of an overhaul to be even more of a user friendly resource.

Ta da! The "Essential Gluten Free In Cleveland" was born (ie, that nifty list of links on your left). Hope this helps streamline things, folks, though don't think this is closing the door on emails, I'm still just a mouse click away.

Anyway, back to the food....

I know there's been a lot of talk of baking 'round here, but I eat actual food, really I do. Vegetable filled, good for you, savory dishes. In fact, in some circles, I'm known for 'em. ....And by circles, I mean anyone whose showed up to the same holiday pot luck I have, wrinkled their nose at my surprisingly unattractive dish, only to ask for the recipe by the time I catch them scraping the remnants from the emptied bowl.

With the perfect blend of lemony acidic tang, sharp garlic, and smooth olive oil complementing beautiful summer veggies, this roasted vegetable and chickpea salad is a crowd pleaser - even if those crowds include people who don't particularly love vegetables or chickpeas.

I came across it two Christmases ago - apparently trying to make the most Sephardic Jewish dish I could possibly bring to a decidedly non-Jewish occasion - while flipping through my favorite cookbook, the now out of print Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook. While, sadly, this book evaporated somewhere between post college pack up and moving back to Cleveland, this recipe, at least survived the move. Good thing, too, because from Christmases, Passovers, and Fourth of July barbecues, this recipe has served me in serving up a yummy dish. (There are used version of the book available on Amazon, and buying one is always on the bottom on my to do list. ...Though I suppose singing the virtues of this book and directing you all where to get it ought to inspire me to get my copy while I can....)

Because it yields so very much food, it really is a perfect bring-it-to-a-party dish. This salad is so good, you certainly don't need a special occasion to make it. Plus, it keeps in the fridge for a good three days. Besides, with it finally just now getting warm this summer, who couldn't use another amazing summer salad in their repertoire?

Roasted Vegetable & Chickpea Salad
From The Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook

1 lb butternut squash cubed
2 red pepper, halved
4 slender eggplant cut in half, lengthwise
4 zucchini cut in half, lengthwise
4 onions, quartered
1 Tablespoon olive oil (for brushing)

2 10 oz cans of chickpeas
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, divided
1/3rd cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice, more or less as desired
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 425. Spray a baking tray with baking spray and arrange the vegetables evenly over the surface. Brush evenly with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes or until they are tender.
Brush baking tray w/ oil and arrange vegetables brushed with oil evenly. Bake 40min or until Remove from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/3rd cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, and half of the parsley. Set dressing aside.

Remove the skin of the peppers and chop; chop remaining vegetables into bite-sized chunks. Mix into the chickpeas, toss with dressing, and let sit for 30 minutes. (This is actually super important, do not skimp on the time!) If bland, season to taste with an additional tablespoon of lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper; the acidic zing will quickly spark your salad, honest. Sprinkle remaining parsley over the top before serving.

Eat as is, or enjoy over toast. (I prefer Whole Foods Gluten Free Bake House's Prairie Bread, how 'bout you?)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Girl Blueberry Muffins

About a week after my biopsy confirmed my neurologist's suspicion that I needed to be on a gluten-free diet, I remember stopping into my gastroenterologist's office for a quick check up. I was still having stomach pains, and was frustrated that going gluten-free hadn't magically evaporated all my problems. (Of course, the stomach takes a little time to heal, but I'm a bit off an impatient girl.) Worse still, I worried that giving up gluten was going to snowball until all the foods I loved were thoroughly off limits.

"I don't know if this celiac thing is the only thing going on," I sighed, sitting woefully on the exam table, "I mean my stomach still hurts a lot. Do you think I'll have to give up coffee, soon, too?"

He smiled and shook his head, "Dana. You don't drink alcohol. You don't do drugs. You're a vegetarian. You don't eat wheat. You're allowed to have one vice."

Hear that tummy? Starbucks, ho!

I'll admit it, I follow the straight and narrow like it's my job. Everyone laughs when I tell that story, Your one vice would be coffee. In my defense though, my supreme weakness, pumpkin spice lattes, are pretty gosh darn, dog-gone sinful.

So if coffee is the one and only way I pollute my system, it would go to follow that I handle stress in a similarly compulsive yet decidedly nondestructive way: baking. Ever see that Boy Meets World episode where Cory's crazy grandmother (as played by Rue McClanahan) drives her winnebago into town, promises to take Cory to get a baseball card signed, and then fails to show up because she goes to a poker tournament? Instead of telling him Grandma isn't coming, Cory's mom spends the whole day baking with him and, sure, Cory isn't fooled by the time they pulled the 8,000th muffin tray from the oven, but it did pass some of that stress time, right? (Plus Cory and his dad share a bonding moment over crazy Grandma's flaky yet virtuous heart. Then Rue shows up and apologizes and Cory learns to accept his grandma for who she is. And they have 8,000 muffins. Win, win, win.)

Anyway, Saturday night I was decidedly stressed out. I was pacing around the house trying to out run my stress, stressed. I was rearranging my room to take my mind off my stress, stressed. I was I need to bake but I have no eggs so I guess I'm going to the 24 hour Giant Eagle to buy ingredients at 11pm, stressed.

But you know what, when I stress bake everyone wins: recipe for you, muffins for me.

Coffee and muffins, man I'm trouble. Mother's of the world, lock up your sons!

Bad Girl Blueberry Muffins

6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) Earth Balance Spread (or butter), melted and cooled
2/3rd cup skim milk
1 egg
1 cup of sugar

1 1/2 cups GF flour mix
3/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon Expandex (fully optionally)
1 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, divided
1 - 1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (more or less as desired)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners.

Whisk together melted (cooled) butter), milk, sugar, and egg in a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk flour, xanthum gum, baking soda, baking powder, salt, Expandex, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon until well combined. Add the dry mixture into the wet, about a third at a time, stirring in between each addition. When mixed, stir in most of the walnuts (reserving a Tablespoon or two) and gently fold in blueberries. Swirl in extra 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon if you're so inclined (I was!).

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cups and stud those bad girl muffins with the remaining chopped walnuts. (Don't they look totally hardcore?)

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Red, White, & Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

I know this is a fair bit late as far as Fourth of July recipes go, but you'll forgive me, right? After all, I come baring gifts...fruit, creamy, cookie crumbly gifts. Cheesecake bars. Who doesn't like a girl with cheesecake bars?

I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to trying new things in the kitchen. I can't help
it, I see every mini party or afternoon guest a great opportunity to try out a new recipe. Every invitation to dinner is like an invitation to my own personal Food Network Challenge. Some in my position would dust off a tried and true recipe, spending time choosing favorite gluten-free cake that has established itself as a pastry the gluten-eaters in my life have already loved rather than working on something new. But no. I like to make things difficult.

So completely from scratch patriotically themed cheesecake bars? No sweat. With ingredients not bought until T-minus 5 hours to party time? Not a problem. I might like to make things difficult, but I don't like to make difficult things, and lucky for me, these some assembly required bars were actually pretty easy to put together.

Cheesecake has always seemed daunting, but this one was assembled all in one bowl. One bowl?! You mean I get cheesecake and a mini scale clean up? Sold.

The best part about these cheesecake bars is that they didn't taste gluten-free. Not one little "Waiter, is there a navy bean in my cheesecake?" little bit. I mean, just look at that crumbly crust! When my mom's gluten-eating friend asked me for the recipe at her husband's insistence, well I knew I had unbridled cheesecake type success on my hands.

Summer tis the season for outdoor get togethers. Hot weather just begs for eating outdoors, grilling, and tempting fruity desserts. People may think dessert means chocolate, it might be what they say that want, but set out a plate of fruity, creamy, lemony bars and they'll disappear every time, trust me.

Red, White, and Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

1 box Cherrybrook Kitchen GF Vanilla Graham Mini Cookies
4 tablespoons of Earth Balance (or butter) melted
2 Tablespoons of sugar
1/8 teaspoons of salt

12 oz neufchatel or lowfat cream cheese
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2/3rd cup sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 cup fresh blueberries (more or less as desired)
1/2 cup chopped strawberries (more or less as desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch pan (or a 5x9 inch pan) with aluminum foil, lightly greased with cooking spray.

In a blender, blend the cookies in the blender a quarter of a package at a time, until the cookies are ground into a fine crumb. Pour in to the bowl with melted butter and mix in salt and the 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Press the mixture firmly over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer of cookie crumb and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, beat neufchatel until fluffy with an electric mixture, adding the eggs one at a time. Beat in sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest until fully combined.

Spread the cheesecake mixture over the top of the crust. Scatter berries evenly and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until you touch the center of the cheesecake and find it just set.

Let cool for 10 minutes before placing in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. When completely cooled, cut bars and lift them from the aluminium foil covered pan and onto a serving plate. (Or transfer bars before cutting, if easier.) Share and enjoy! :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Let Them Eat Gluten-Free Cake!

Who doesn't like a good celebration?

Fancy clothes (or plain Jane blue jeans if it's more your style), balloons, friends and family, and yummy, yummy food. That's right, I said it, yummy, yummy food. Just cause you're celiac doesn't mean you can't enjoy your special day with gluten-free style. And just cause it's gluten-free, your cake doesn't have to be dry, dense, and oddly potato flavored.

As previously mentioned, hot tipper Tonia found herself a great gluten-free wedding cheesecake courtesy of helpful baker Lydia at Celene's Cuisine. Since then, I've been lucky enough to be contacted by not one, but two equally helpful readers anxious to connect their gluten-free brethren with scrumptious special event cakes.

If you're in the Northeast Ohio area and your looking for a traditional wedding cake, then have I got a lead for you. Thanks to hot tipper Vicki who shared her lovely wedding photos with me, I learned that White Flower at La Place in Beachwood makes gluten-free wedding cakes! As I so often write this blog from the Caribou Coffee that stares into White Flower Bakery, you can well imagine how I kicked myself for not following my instincts to walk the 50 feet from the coffee house to the bakery and inquire about the possibility of gluten-free baked goods!

No matter, Vicki thankfully did the oh so hard work of test driving White Flower for me. Of her cake, Vicki says:

The cake changed every other tier from lemon with raspberry and cocoa with ganache. I brought Marianne from white flower in a picture I saved of a cake because I thought the flowers were gorgeous. She recreated the cake into a style I loved! My favorite thing about my entire wedding was my cake!! A tad pricey, but so worth it!!!

If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is. And with such a beautiful storefront, it's not surprising that White Flower would create a towering cake that is a true work of art. On top of being so
beautiful, it sounds absolutely delicious. What more could a girl ask for at her wedding? (Other than a groom, but a pretty cake like that, a husband become just a wee bit optional, no? Just me?) [[Edited to add: 3 years later, White Flower tells me they no longer make GF cakes.]]

Just a little west of Northeast Ohio? Fear not readers, because thanks to hot tipper and baker extraordinaire Kristen you literally can have your cake and eat it to. Kristen is the owner and baker of The Gluten-Free Bread Factory in Toledo, Ohio - the name alone makes me want to trek out of Toledo for a visit. Lucky for me, and you, Kristen does a lot of her business online. You can order her bread mixes from the comfort of your couch, and after you get them, you can eat them from the comfort of your couch, too!

Lucky enough to live in the Gluten-Free Bread Factory's area and have a birthday coming up? Kristen makes cakes for gluten-free boys and girls of all ages. Just contact her at kristen [at] theglutenfreebreadfactory [dot] com for more information.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

POM Wonderful Pomegranate Pancakes

Writing a blog about food does strange things to my imagination. The curled gray matter of my brain has long been past fire code, so stuffed to the brim with characters and stories, it's a wonder I manage to take in any new information without some of my thoughts leaping from my ears, just to free up the space. And yet, writing this site makes me think about, talk about, and dream about food. Sure I might look busy, type type typing away at my desk or relaxing on the couch watching the day's 3rd episode of Law & Order, but no, if you could see the cogs of my mind a-spinning, you'd know really I'm wondering... If lemon zest tastes great in pasta, what about orange zest? What kind of fruit cobbler would pair up best with the chocolate peppermint I'm growing outside? Can I make a homemade veggie burger with the ingredients in my cabinet?

But now the, well, wonderful people at POM Wonderful have given me a new flavor problem for me mull over while you think I'm listening to you speak. (Well, that is, if your my parents or the secretary in my doctor's office...Just kidding parents! I always listen when you're talking! That secretary though... ) Since receiving a case of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice last week, my mind's been busily working out a plan for each and every bottle - that is, aside from the ones I have already straight up consumed a beverage. (I can't seem to drink it on it's own - it's too sweet and strong for my water drinking palate - but mix a few tablespoons it to a great big, ice cold glass of H2O and you'll have good, good stuff. So good, you almost won't want to cook with it. Almost.)

To me, the obvious thing to do with POM Wonder is make some kind of cake. Lemon-Pomegranate cake. Pomegranate poppy seed pound cake. Chocolate pomegranate cupcakes. Oh my. Sure it sounds decedent, really decedent, maybe too decedent, but if the 3 pages of information on the cancer fighting, heart healthy antioxidant proprieties of their juice POM Wonderful sent me along with their product mean anything, its that consuming this juice is good in whatever chocolatey package you hide it in. (So, I tell myself, and you, anyway...)

Still, at the time I received the POM juice, my fridge continued to harbor that 1234 Cake. I'm not going to debate the merits or demerits of having one to many cakes, but regardless, a stale cake is no ones friend. So with fear of wasting perfectly good cake, I was forced to be a little more creative than a typical sweet. Lucky for me, I had my new favorite baking & cooking inspiration to turn to....

Joy the Baker. I absolutely love her. I love everything about her site. It's so darling, she's so positive, her food is so delicious. And Joy loves pancakes. And I love pancakes. And POM Wonderful Juice. And so POM Wonderful Pancakes were born. They're so spectacularly delicious, I know you'll love them, too.

** While we're on the subject of breakfast food: Thanks to hottipper and generally great source of gluten-free information Denise of the Rasin Rack, I've become aware that Van's new brand of GF Pancakes and French Toast Sticks not only have barley in them, but are not being recalled. What? What, what? You heard right. Easy peasy toaster pancakes and french toast sticks sound wonderful - but please be cautious when buying these products; read the ingredients... twice! They plan on releasing new, reformulated, barley-less products, but for now, buyer be aware when it comes to the pancakes and french toast sticks.

But who needs Van's pancakes when you have these...

Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Pancakes

1 cup GF flour blend (I use Mr. Ritts, with xanthum gum already mixed in)
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar (I bet brown sugar would be fantastic, too)
1 egg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup of skim milk (I didn't have buttermilk, but I can't imagine how using it would be anything but delicious)
1/4 cup of Pom Wonderful juice + 1 table spoon
2 tablespoons earth balance, melted
cooking spray, butter, etc for frying (I used olive oil spray and was surprised at how normal it tasted)

Temper a beaten egg into melted butter, then mix in milk, juice, and vanilla. Next whisk in flour, (xanthum gum if you need it), salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar, and mix until smooth.

Joy reccomends you let your batter rest a few minutes - I trust her on this. In the mean time, I heated up a frying pan (I lack a cool griddle pan) and sprayed it with my cooking spray. Make each pancake about two tablespoons of batter and let cook until the pancakes start to bubble and set. Flip, cook a few more minutes, and then keep your pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven whilst you make the rest (to avoid eating them, mainly).

Makes 12 -14 small pancakes. Serve with cherries, yogurt, or Ohio made maple syrup.

...And speaking of syrup, POM Wonderful has a recipe for Pomegranate syrup - it looked amazing, and also like something I'd probably get in trouble for getting stuck to the inside of a pan. If you make it, let me know how it goes!!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gust Gallucci's Italian Foods

About a week ago, I happily wrote about one of the best gluten-free meals I've had to date, Spaghetti Aglio E Olio with Broccoli, using white rice pasta straight from Italy. Sure I'd heard that the best gluten-free pasta is from Italy, but that's like saying the best paella is in Spain or the best sake in is Japan. Well, of course it is! But unless you're planning a trip there anytime soon, that information does you about as much good as a big ol' plate of glutenous spaghetti and a tall, malted beer. I'd never imagined an Italian speciality store around here would carry any of this mythic gluten-free pasta, and even if it happened to, the price would likely be so exponentially compounded, between shipping and limited demand, that seeking it out would only be the worst kind of tease. 

You can understand my shock, then, as I turned the corner of the pasta aisle in Gallucci's Italian Foods, and came face to face with not one but two brands of Italian gluten-free pasta. One corn, one white rice, both at an affordable price. 

I don't know about you, but when I was first diagnosed I was in effect told by doctors "yes, you're going to feel better, but this new, gluten-free life of yours is going to be hard and it's not going to be fun. It's not an adjustment, it's a constant adjustment." But friends, gluten-free times, they are a-changing, and suddenly our needs are commonplace than annoying speciality consideration. Suddenly, buyers are thinking about our needs in addition to the general gluten-eating public. Suddenly you, too, can buy amazing gluten-free pasta at $3.99 a bag.

Upon talking to a manager, I learned of an upcoming trip to Italy the food buyers would be taking in the next week, and that a gluten-free pizza shell was on their product agenda. Let me say that again, authentic Italian gluten-free pizza shell. While the companies are still working out the logistics of packaging and shipping, it seemed that the availability of GF pizza at Gallucci's isn't so much a matter of if, but when. 

Of course, you shouldn't let the absence of pizza crust delay your trip, there's still plenty of gluten-free goodness to stock up on. Pastas aside, Gallucci's offers homemade gluten-less sauces, imported cheeses, gluten-free polentas and risottos, and all kinds of amazing direct from Italy products that - thanks to the high incidence of Celiac Disease in Italy - are all stabilized with rice starch. Still not satisfied with that array of products? Wish they had a great gluten-free dessert or bread mix? If recent events have taught us anything, it's that making our presence known as a celiac community can make a big impression on our world as a whole. 

Why not go to Galluccis, buy some of their products, ask to speak to a manager and mention you'd love to see more gluten-free goods? Tell them that if they had gluten-free coffee syrups (or almond cookies, or lasagna noodles) you know at least 20 people who'd snap them up...or 5 gluten-free people who'd buy the equivalent of 20 regular shoppers, just at the joy of having such a great product at their fingertips. 

Then go home, knowing you've made the world a better, yummier place for the gluten intolerant, and enjoy your pasta - you've earned it! 

Convenient for East and Westsiders a like, Gallucci's Italian Foods is located on 6610 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Perfect 1-2-3-4 Cake (Advanced Math Version)

A few weeks ago, my brother graduated from college. 

This is fully weird on two levels. The first, is that for the past year, I've described myself as "a recent college graduate." And while that's still true, reactively speaking (relative to say the moon walk, the fall or Rome, or dinosaurs), I really am no longer "a recent college graduate". That plants me firmly in adulthood. Or pre-grad student-hood. 

Secondly, my brother, my little brother, is a college graduate. And not just a college graduate, but one with a job. A job with great pay, benefits, and a starting bonus. Who gets a starting bonus at 22? I guess the stars kind of align for you when your passion involves dollar signs and mergers, rather than in crafting the perfect comedic beat, or the ultimate gluten-free cake. 

Luckily for us both, we followed seriously divergent paths, and I am in no way envious of his cool new life. The thought of sitting in an office all day dealing with numbers and decimals makes me limp all over. Besides, you can't bake with envy. If I put it in my batter, it would make my batter bitter. I don't have time for bitter batter because, in addition to graduating college, my brother also had a birthday. And every birthday needs a birthday cake, right?

Mike happened to be coming home this week, and I decided to surprise him with a homemade birthday cake. We weren't much on the homemade growing up, and my brother isn't really much on the gluten-free baking (you may remember his utter shock at how great the cranberry cornbread was at our fully gluten-free, fully delicious Thanksgiving dinner), I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

I've made chocolate cakes before (the strong cocoa always manages to hide the weirdest of GF flavors), but I wanted to do something better. No, not better, best. I wanted to make the perfect cake.  Something that was great, all on it's own, and, oh yeah, happened to be gluten-free, too. If only I could channel such perfectionism into something that yielded a profit. ...Oh who am I kidding. It yielded cake, what's better than cake?

As I always do when searching for  little baking inspiration, I turned to Deb at the epically delicious Smitten Kitchen. Her food is so tempting, her picture so delicious, and her recipes are so easy to follow that every time happen on the site (...that is, everyday...), my mind and taste buds launch some kind of tantrum campaign, practically willing me into the kitchen for my own gluten-free adaptations and variations are her already stellar desserts, dinners, and brunches. (I should add here that Deb has never failed me yet. I've made GF versions several of her recipes and they always turn out beautifully.)

After wasting (or in my world, intensely productively working for) a few hours clicking through her cake recipes, I was finally remembered I was making this cake for a boy, er, man, er, brother (and therefore pink and / or citrus-y was probably not the way to go) and was "forced" to combine my favorite parts of her sumptuous desserts. The result was mixed and matched perfection. A beautifully crafted cake that I can't help but think as my greatest baking success to date. 

I managed to completely surprise my brother, asking him to put a jar of jam away for me in the fridge, so he'd coming face to face with his cake upon opening the door. He, in turn, surprised me, practically inhaling a slice. The verdict? "The only way this cake could've been better is if there was gluten in it." Somehow, I doubt that. 

Advanced Math 1-2-3-4 Cake
inspired and adapted from the Smitten Kitchen's 1234 cake, which was adapted it fromgeneral baking knowledge. 1-2-3-4 cakes get their name from their oh, so simple construction 1 cup of butter (and 1 cup of milk), 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. My version uses fractions, think of it as the honors class version. 

1 cup of Earth Balance (or butter) at room temperature
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cups all purpose gluten-free self rising flour blend**
4 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

(**Self rising flour is regular flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. To make your all purpose GF flour self rising, please follow this formula: 1 cup GF flour (- 2 teaspoons) + (1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder) + (1/2 teaspoon of salt), multiply by 3 for 3 cups of GF self rising flour. My all purpose GF flour mix - I currently use Mr. Ritt's - has xanthum gum in it, but if you need to add xanthum gum to your flour, you'll need 1 and 1/2 teaspoons, that is, 1/2 teaspoon x 3, the number of cups of flour. ...Don't look at me like that, I said it was the advanced math class from the get go. But how many times did you get a perfect cake at the end of doing a proof? I rest my case.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9 inch cake pans. 

Prepare the self rising mixture in a small bowl and set aside. Combine milk and buttermilk and set aside. In a medium sized bowl, cream butter until it puffs and fluffs up. Add in sugars and continue to cream for and additional 6 - 8 minutes. Crack in eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Beat the flour and milk mixture into the batter, starting and ending with the flour. Add the teaspoon of vanilla and mix until just combined throughout. (At least that's what deb said. I misread and added mine to the milk and buttermilk. It worked out fine!)

Divide evenly between the three pans and level them out as evenly as possible, a little extra work here is really worth it, trust me. Bake for 20 -25 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into your golden brown cake comes out clean. 

Let sit for 5 - 10 minutes, before turning cake pans over on a large plate, tapping on the bottoms coaxing the cakey goodness' release from their nonstick prisons. Let cool completely. 

Strawberry Filling
I totally cheated on this. I knew I wanted some kind of fruit in the center of the layers, and thought my brother would enjoy raspberry, or strawberry, or strawberry rhubarb... and oh, I just happened to have a fresh jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam on hand from my trip to Fowler's Milling Company. And as I have one eye blurred from my recent surgery, and one eye still filled with cataract, I figured I was already doing well enough with quite literally flying blind on this cake, and that, well, a little cheat would be okay. Just this once...

Deb has a recipe for raspberry filling, if your in the mood for full on from scratch baking,  but any all natural jam / preserves will do, too. I spread 1/4 of a jar over the bottom layer, and another 1/4 over the middle layer. The result was a soft, subtle strawberry twinge to the cake , and perhaps more jelly would've made more of a punch, if you're so inclined. 

"Wait, You Can Make This From Scratch?" Icing (Vanilla Butter Cream)

Michael swiped icing of the side of the cake with his finger, "Whoa, this is good icing." 
"Thanks," I smiled proudly, take that gluten-filled frostings! 
"What are you saying thanks for, it's not like you made it," my brother pointedly responded. The future law student has a penchant for exactness that's equal parts entertaining and fully annoying. 
"No, actually, I did" ... Though, in my head it as more like, Ha! Gotcha! 
"Wait, you can make icing from scratch?" Mike asked, fairly shocked. 
....See, totally different life paths....

1 stick of Earth Balance (1/2 cup butter)
3 cups + additional tablespoons as needed organic powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

With and electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Slowly add in sugar, cream about 5 minutes. Add in milk and vanilla and beat until mixed. Add additional sugar or milk until you get desired consistency. 

I'm not one for a thick icing so this covered my cake completely, and then some. The recipe is easily doubled or halved, though.  I added a little blue McCormick food coloring and, lacking any piping tools, made a haphazard border with two forks and a lot of will power. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Pal, Joey's

Okay, for starters. I eat more than pasta, really I do. 

A firm gluten-free veggie burger, a fluffy quiche, a crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a baked potato loaded with veggies, the perfect poached egg, or even simple oatmeal. These are great meals that I love and eat often, Scout's honor. Yet, of the last 8 posts, a full forth have been on pasta. 

But be honest, you love pasta, too. 

There are times though, times you don't feel like standing over a stove, times you loathe watching your pot with hawk-like attention, burning your tongue and your finger tips as you hastily test those blasted rice noodles that so easily over cook. On those day, your not pasta's biggest fan. But what's a celiac to do? If your craving pasta (and you've gone to Maggiano's so many times the wait staff notices when you get a new haircut), you've got not choice but to make it yourself. 

That is, unless you've forgotten about Joey's

Nestled away in quaint Chagrin Falls, Joey's doesn't look like the sort of place that would accommodate to your gluten-free needs, much less, know what gluten is. The place is small, made smaller by it's perennially darkened interior. In the summer, the outdoor tables that line the sidewalk in front of Joey's seem more like the little restaurant has spilt out onto Main Street, rather than purposefully set out for al fresco dining. If that sounds chaotic, then I've described it right. Reminiscent of tiny places with an occupancy max of 100, yet favorited by some 20,000 New Yorkers, so too is Joey's a Chagrin Falls eating icon. 

Of course, if they give you that dreaded hour wait, it's not like you'll be bored. You're in beautiful Chagrin Falls after all, and if staring at the majesty of Northeastern Ohio's best known waterfall doesn't do it for you, you'll absolutely want to browse someone the shops that sell everything from absurd old clocks to gorgeous vintage furniture.  There the kind of shops I for one want to live in and absolutely can't step into without my wallet held by someone else.

When you do get your table at Joey's, the menu itself can be deceiving, as it doesn't advertise it's ability to suit your gluten-free needs. The fact is, they don't have gluten-free pasta every night. It is (as it always is!) best to call ahead, to alert them that your coming, to ask for them to set a serving of GF pasta aside for you.  (I, myself, ended up with the last serving of the night. Getting gluten-free pasta is serious business and I don't mess round. ) Of course, if your a meat eater, then eating at Joey's will be all the more easier for you - your waitress can get great information from the kitchen on which sauces are safe and which had trace amounts of gluten - but for the vegetarians among you, well, you're going to want that pasta. 

I enjoyed a dish of pasta Aglio e Olio (kinda funny, since I'd just made some myself) and asked for mushrooms to be added. It was really very good, very garlicky, not too oily, and beautiful, as fresh parsley clung brightly to nearly every noodle. Accompanied by as salad, it was the kind of meal you'd never know was gluten-free. And that's what it's all about, isn't it? Absolutely delicious, completely normal dining?

While your not charged more for your gluten-free pasta (always another nice way to feel normal eating out) the plate was somewhat smaller than the monster-sized bowls of pasta set in front of gluten-eating patrons. Trust me though, what you get is enough, more than enough, and well worth your money.  And the next time you feel like treating yourself with a night out, a great meal is waiting for you at Joey's. 

Joey's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gluten Free PSA #11: June Celiac Events

Summer is meant for fun. 

Cookouts. Festivals. Picnics. Artwalks. Sports games. Parades. Crafts' Fairs. Concerts. 

Memorial day may signal the beginning of the carefree summer season, but I knew summer had arrived the moment the muzak tone of Yankee Doodle rose above the near constant din of landscapers' lawnmowers as the neighborhood ice cream truck rounded the corner and inched it's way down my street. (Suddenly, I find myself living in a neighborhood with an ice cream truck, how adorable is that?) 

But for official purposes, I ushered in summer by making my way out to Chagrin Falls for their Blossom Summer Festival that includes three days of hot air balloon launches. If there's one thing I love, it's people who are overly enthusiastic about their craft. And there's nothing more endearing that hear a really enthusiastic lifelong balloonist talk for forty minutes about the past 500 year history of hot air balloons to a crowd of people only half listening, his words merely background noise for their kettle corn munching or Frisbee throwing. I mean, that's full on dedication, no, love, for ballooning. How many people do you know who are that passionate about anything, much less something that requires sailing up into the sky in a gigantic balloon you painstakingly sewed yourself?

Sorry you missed out on ballooning? Worry not, there's another balloon festival in August. Not so interested in ballooning? Be sure to check out this list of Ohio Festivals to find something more suited to your interests.  

And speaking of your interests, time to get those datebooks out and flip ahead to June....

June 13th  - The Raisin Rack is having an huuuuge vendor's fair. Don't be worried about being stuck inside on a warm, sunny Saturday, this yummy event will be held outdoors (under a tent, in their parking lot) and will feature products from Celiac Specialties and Mr. Ritt's Bakery. As Denise wrote to me in her email, "Celiac Specialties is of course famous for their donut holes and Mr. Ritt's for their flour mix, Angel Food cakes, Bavarian butter cream cake...need I say more??" 

June 14th - All that gluten-free goodness got you wishing you could meet people with celiac disease and get advice on how to use all the cool gluten-free products you just picked up? Has actually shopping with other celiacs made you long for a sense of gluten-free community outside of cyberspace? Well then, you'll want to check out the Greater Cleveland Celiac Association's June meeting, held this month at the Parma Community Hospital. 

June 28th - Grab your mitts and your appetite because it's Gluten-Free Night at the Akron Aeros! Enjoy a gluten-free hot dog and a gluten-free hot dog bun and root for the home team! Please click here for more information on how to register. 

Happy June!! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spaghetti Aglio E Olio with Broccoli

Do you want to know a secret? Doo-waaa-doo Let me whisper in you ear. Doo - waaa - dooo Oh, Oh Closer. Doo-waa-doo. Do you promise not to tell?

I have a secret. A fully awesome secret. I found the greatest gluten-free pasta in Cleveland, Ohio. And I found in the most unlikely, yet most likely of all places. An Italian grocery store. You know, the kind of place you wouldn't even think of going into because wall to wall pasta and cannolis are more than you can take. Yeah, that kind. 

Like most things in life, the simplest answer, the easiest solution to your problem is always right under your nose. Italians have the highest rate of celiac disease of any ethnic population. Italy is the home of great pasta. Ergo, Italians know how to make great gluten free pasta. Wonderful if your a celiac in Italy, lousy if your one in Ohio. it? 

Friends, I'm planning a full on reconnaissance mission to said grocery store tomorrow (as when I bought the pasta, I shrugged and said, eh, we'll see how this goes and neglected to talk to anyone or take pictures, foolish, foolish), so I don't want to spill the details yet. But I will leave you with the fruits of my perfect pasta labor, the best plate o'spaghetti I've had in a long, long time. 

Spaghetti Aglio E Olio with Broccoli 

1/4 cup of starchy cooking water (from cooking above spaghetti)
1/2 cup good olive oil (I had Greek on hand)
3-5 cloves of minced garlic (depending on your garlic taste)
1 tablespoon kosher salt (plus salt to salt the pasta water)
a dash of pepper
at least 2 Tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley 
zest of 1/2 a lemon
grated Parmesan cheese (optional, I mean, kinda optional, but when is cheese ever optional really? Unless you have a food allergy. Then it's forbidden.)
2 heads of broccoli

Bring a pot of well salted water to boil. Cook Scotti spaghetti (or other, lesser pasta) for amount of time directed to ensure al dente pasta, drain and reserve 1/4 starchy cooking liquid, setting it aside. Put another medium sized pot on a burner, bringing the water to a boil. 

Meanwhile, in a medium pan, heat the oil, garlic, and salt over a low / medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic browns and softens. 

As the water in your second pot boils, plunge a head of broccoli into the water, holding it there for 60 or so seconds (that is to say, blanch your broccoli). You will notice how the stalk and buds turn a lovely vibrant green and become considerably softer. After approximately 60 seconds, remove the broccoli, set it aside, and repeat with the other head. Pull apart (or chop if your not into using your fingers as kitchen tools) the heads into bite sized pieces. 

Mix the oil and garlic into the pasta, adding in the cooking liquid, and zest the lemon over top. Throw in broccoli pieces, parsley, dash of pepper, and salt to taste. Add cheese as desired. Enjoy your simple and simply delicious meal. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tales of Gluten Free In Cleveland Greatness, # 1

If you haven't heard - and hey, maybe you haven't because you're living under a rock or are a gluten-free blog lovin' shut in who wears giant soundproof headphones 24/7,  after all, readers get the benefit of the doubt around here - Cleveland is 2 games away from being thrust on the national stage. That is if our winning streak, MVP, and one man basketball magician hasn't already helped us sail through the air landing safely there, already. 

While Cleveland hasn't had any kind of national sports championship since 1964 (The Browns, and before that the only other one was The Indians in 1948), anyone who's come within 30 miles of the greater Cleveland area on game day (any sport, any game, even T-ball) knows that Cleveland sports fans are such rabid fans of their teams, and so very ravenous for a win ....and yet so very complacent with their losses.  We shrug, we get drunk  anyway, we go to work grumbling about Chicago, New York, Dallas, and how nice it would be to live in a city with a valid sports team (but backing up our statements with a host of reasons why we would never, could never, don't want to move there). The whole love / apathy involving sports around here is so curious it even sparked a 1994 movie, Major League, with Charlie Sheen.  But you already knew that, didn't you sports fan?

And yet, with Lebron bringing his city center stage, I think we'd all agree it's better to step up and meet the national spotlight, lest it shine on things we'd rather hide (the fact that we're actually moving the Inner Belt bridge 4 to 5 inches, anyone?), and with that in mind, let's use this opportunity to highlight some of the great gluten-free goings on right here in Cleveland, Ohio. 

A few months ago, a nice bride-to-be, Tonia, emailed me in hopes that I'd know someone who could make her a gluten-free wedding cake. More than ready to go the nontraditional route, Tonia had already decided to hedge her bets and go for a GF wedding cheesecake, figuring a suitable crust would be easier to prepare, rather than altering a whole towering cake. She signed on with a baker, went about attending to other pre-wedding details, and was utterly dismayed when her baker pulled out just a little over 3 months before the weddings, saying she just wasn't comfortable assuming the risk. 

Tonia and I brainstormed - tossing out ideas like contacting Kathy of Kathy's Creations for a small bride & groom's cake, perhaps trying an online bakery one, like A Bountiful Harvest, or working with her bridal party to create a GF cupcake tower instead of one massive cake - but in the end, I think the girl had her heart set on cheesecake. And who wouldn't? Though it maybe nontraditional, it's creamy, dreamy texture, luxurious flavor, and beautiful off white hue certainly says elegant wedding to me.  Lucky for her, a great cake was in reach, thanks to Lydia of Celene's Cuisine, to make the cake of her dreams a reality. Tonia says: 

"Lydia blew me away when she told me she bought new baking pans, utensils, a new mixer, and she is even planning to have her stove professionally cleaned, all to make sure there is no chance of cross-contamination. She's new to the GF world of baking, but her aunt has many food allergies so she's aware of how difficult it can be. The sample cheesecake she created for me was amazing! It is everything I told her I wanted - down to the hint of lemon and the almond crust!" 

So congratulations to you Tonia, on your wedding, on your great GF find, and on your determination to make sure celiac disease doesn't stand in your way, not now, not ever! Lydia bakes out of her home, conveniently centrally located for Eastsiders and Westsiders alike in Cleveland, by CSU.  You can contact Lydia, and drool over her beautiful cakes, through her lovely Celene's Cuisine website. 

Though some erroneous information led me to report this same news in October (oops!), May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. While it's nice to be recognized, let's not forget that for those of us who live the gluten-free life day in and day out, every day is a chance to spread some awareness and some gluten-free goodness. As Tonia's story proves, a little GF persistence pays off, and even more importantly, there are members of the gluten-eating population perfectly ready, willing and able to help us out - we just have to find them (or help them find themselves). 

If you've made it this far and a bit miffed to discover this post is recipe-less, worry not! Just in time for Celiac Awareness Month, an article I wrote on Celiac Disease was featured on the cover of the Cleveland Jewish News' health section in early May. (Page 2 here.) Along with general facts and figures, the article also features a recipe for gluten-free mandelbrot adapted from one of my favorite Jewish cookbooks. Mandel bread, Jewish biscotti like cookies, are a perfect not too heavy, not too sweet, crunchy summertime treat. Grad a glass of milk (or Manishevitz if that's more your speed) and check 'em out.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake, Made Fluffier with Expandex

I miss baking. 

I the very first book on the kitchen arts I owned - which was actually called "My First Baking Book" - and it overflowed with the magical secrets of sugary sweets, ones that didn't just spell out how half a teaspoon of this a a cup of that could so easily be transformed into crunchy cookies and moist cupcakes, but outlined how thoughtful decorating could turn already tempting treats into even more enticing cupcakes-shaped-like-kittens. (Or dragons.)

Like kids need any help wanting to devour baked goods. 

Now sure, over the past say fifteen years, I've gone hot and cold on my cooking and baking hobby, but it's always been on my terms. Like so many of you, I even relearned baking basics after getting the celiac diagnosis handed down to me, just to prove that a lack of gluten wasn't going to get me down. 

But for the past few months - as seen by a lack of updating 'round here - I haven't been able to cook, bake, broil, or saute much of anything. And it hasn't been my choice; in February, I developed cataracts. Given the kitchen accidents that could've befallen me do to limited vision range  - from the severe (cuts and burnings) to the comical (swapping in sugar for salt) - I found it best to hang up my apron, close my cookbooks, and get used to eating food from the freezer.  

All that is about to change, though. Tomorrow is my first surgery. By the first week in June, I should have normal vision in both eyes. It's a pretty exciting possibility for both my retinas and my tummy. A girl can't live on Amy's rice crust pizza, alone. 

Yet, I love cooking, and I miss it. And - call me Emily Post, or Bree Van De Kamp - but I can't stand the idea of attending a meeting without bringing along a freshly made dessert, cataracts or no. So not feeling comfortable enough to experiment with flavors and flours I can only somewhat see, I whipped up a variation of my favorite pound cake for a few ladies who worked so very hard planning and executing a fundraising benefit on behalf of Northeastern Ohio's Homeless

While I swapped out the orange zest and almond meal from the pound cake in favor of a lemon poppy seed (nut allergy friendly) version, the true exciting experimentation was the use of brand new gluten-free product Expandex - a modified tapioca starch that puffs up gluten free baked goods and imitates that gluteny texture you all know, love, and woefully miss. Currently, Expandex's only retail vendor in Ohio is the Raisin Rack, but do check their website for more information.  

My pound cake with Expandex didn't just have the light, airy taste a pound cake should, it actually looked more appetizing - more springy and bouncy - and that was only using half of the recommended amount! I'm honestly embarrassed to say that I had a dream about using it to make french bread last night, yet in the face of gluten-free honesty, who among us hasn't had a dream about bread? I thought so. 

Perfect Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake 
adapted from Ina Garten's Orange Pound Cake 

8 Tablespoons of Earth Balance Butter (or regular butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
the zest of 2 -3 large lemons
1 and 1/2 cup of GF flour
1/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
1 tablespoon Expandex (optional, if you can't find it)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
scant 1/2 cup buttermilk 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant 1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup poppy seeds

Juice of 1/4 of a lemon
3 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a loaf pan. 

Combine buttermilk, orange juice and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, xanthum gum, baking powder, baking soda, and Expandex. 

In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter (beat with electric mixer about 3 minutes, until fluffy). Beat in eggs - one at a time - and chase it with the lemon zest and then the poppy seeds. Alternate adding the wet and dry ingredient mixtures to the batter, starting and ending with the flour. 

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out clean. 

Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes, then turn the pan upside down (over a plate!!) and tap on the bottom until the cake slides out. Continue to let another 5 minutes. 

When you're ready to serve, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar, stirring it into a glaze, and top the cake as desired. 

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