Friday, February 27, 2009

Jefferson Market and Cakery - the Ann Arbor Home of the Best Birthday Cake I've Ever Had

I didn't think I wanted a birthday cake. 

In the nearly 3 years I've been gluten-free, I've found it easier to simply steam roll over events and feelings that make me feel left out. Why spend holidays thinking about challah you didn't have or birthday cakes you couldn't eat?  

Still, it had been 3 years since I blew out birthday candles. Part of that was college life, most of it was lack of a proper cake, and if I'm honest, I secretly longed for such an experience...

But still, I didn't think I needed a birthday cake. Sure, professionally decorated, store bought, made especially for me was a nice daydream, but here in the Midwestern real world where money is tight and gluten free bakeries don't exist? Such a thing was a pipe dream, and one I hardly felt like wasting time worrying about. Besides, I'm becoming quite the little baker. I figured if I truly wanted a cake, I'd just make my own. 

Surprisingly, my boyfriend sternly put his foot down. Absolutely not. It's your birthday, Dana. You are not making your own cake. 

Sweet, silly boyfriend, I thought, he thinks he can find a gluten-free bakery in Ann Arbor. Sure a year and a half ago he was sure all restaurants offered gluten-free options, but had 18 months of calling ahead every time we went out to eat, or worse, him watching drinking a glass of water while he apologized through his steak/Mexican/Chinese dinner taught him nothing? Oh well, I thought, maybe he's just going to make me a cake himself.   

And had he not found the Jefferson Market and Cakery, he may have just baked his first gluten free pastry. Lucky for us both, though, nestled a few blocks away from Ann Arbor's Main Street, in a sleepy residential community of side streets sits the home of the prettiest, yummiest cakes in all of Michigan. Dealing primarily in special event cakes (the beautiful kind of wedding cakes that are enough to make you want to get married tomorrow), the quaint Cakery is filled with a whimsical magic I've rarely felt since my childhood birthdays. You know, that prickly, near tangible excitement that whispers this is going to be a special day. Upon stepping into the Cakery, such a promise enters your body via a sugary scent picked up by your nose and settles warmly, comfortingly in your bones. 

But the name practically does it on it's on, doesn't it? Cakery. It's impossible not to say that word and smile, imaging the possibilities. 

As far as gluten-free options go, the good people at the Jefferson Market and Cakery were able to offer us a gigantic, frosted flourless chocolate cake. A cake, with my name professionally pipe in pink frosting across the top. 

At about 12 inches around, the cake was seemingly gigantic large thanks to its thick, dense 5 inch high chocolate amazingness. Unbelievably, they actually gave my boyfriend an option of making this behemoth of a birthday cake a layer cake, with option upon option of fruity compote, citrus curds, or butter cream piled thick between the layers.  As delicious as hazelnut or lemon cream sounds, I'm so, so glad he settled with a simple vanilla icing on chocolate cake. After taking eyes-are-bigger-than-our-mouths slices and barely getting 2/3rd of the way through those, the idea of another layer of that cake is....mindboggling. 

While at $40, this was certainly a special event only cake, I can say we've happily enjoyed every cent - and every crumb - of it.  And after a week, when we'd only slogged through half of the thick chocolate goodness, I sliced up the remained, wrapped it up in aluminum foil, and froze it, ensuring we'd have sweet memories of my lovely birthday and cake for weeks to come. 

I called to thank the Jefferson Market and Cakery for making my birthday so special, and was pleased to find out that, upon request, they can also prepare gluten free coconut macaroons and gluten free almond cookies. It might not be a huge selection, but the mere fact that a bakery is willing to be so accommodating to the celiac community, so willing to not just provide a product, but also to consult on their product, ensuring that the cake makes the birthday as special as it can be? Well that's more than creating a specialized birthday cake, its creating a special birthday. 

In the end, the Cakery and my boyfriend provided me with the best of birthday surprises, a present I hadn't even realized I wanted it. As we stuck every last candle from the 24 pack into my cake (23 plus 1 for good luck), lit the candles, and turned out the lights, I bathed in the warm glow of a true birthday. 

It was the best present a girl could hope for. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Love

This Valentine's Day, my boyfriend got really lucky. 

Alright now, drag your minds from the gutter and look at the picture to your left. Honestly, what else would you call a man who's girlfriend made him a forest of hand dipped dark chocolate strawberries (drizzled with a white chocolate swirls) but lucky?
What with my negative income, I was operating the holiday of love on a pretty limited budget. I cook for my man all the time, and while I know enjoys any cheese covered potato concoction I throw at him, I wanted to do something with a little pizazz to show how much I really care. 

Decadent, delicious, and fruit filled, the chocolate strawberry is a perfect and economical gift. Aside from the $4.00 it cost for the strawberries, the bags of Nestle white chocolate and Nestle dark chocolate chips ran me under $5.00. (If your reading this love, I'm lying to the people. Everything was premium and expensive, just like you.) 

Conventional wisdom says it's the thought that counts, but I've never much liked that phrase. Usually used to explain away some stupid or useless present that is the epitome of thoughtlessness rather than to give a heartfelt present equal weight to a cold diamond as the saying was most definitely intended to do, I generally throw the "it's the thought that counts" line away with a pair of Hanukkah socks they come with. (I'm kidding, I loved the socks!) However, this holiday, I found myself truly making every thought I had about this gift count, endeavoring to make my budgeted ho hum V-Day present the best it could be. 

The other problem I ran across in trying to create a Valentine's Day present for my man was in straddling the line between holiday seasonal and overtly girly. While men don't exactly want pink puppy dogs and glittery hearts adorning their gifts, there's something to be said for holiday cheer, and (admit it ladies) your man will pout if he feels left out - even if being left out means he doesn't get a poofy, fluffy puffball. Thankfully, Target and their wide selection of Valentine's Day doodads helped me tightrope walk the line of romantic and kitch-tastic. 

Armed with a pastry box covered in a heart pattern and paper cupcake cups adorned with paper hearts themselves (a near steal at under $5.50 in total), I created the most elegant homemade V-Day gift for under $15.00. And my boyfriend adored it. That's love folks. 

Sure, Valentine's Day may have past, but really, isn't this a spectacular time to catch the person you love off guard, serving up this spectacular little treat and letting them know you love them those other 364 days, too? 

Or, hey, make them for yourself. Everyone deserves a little chocolate strawberry love. 

Chocolate Covered Strawberries
it's hard to say how many strawberries you'll need and thus, the chocolate is kind of an approximation too. start with a half - 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and add more from there. If you don't use it all, well I'm sure you can find other uses for melted chocolate. I've heard it pares quite nicely with a spoon....

1 package of Strawberries
3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips
1/4  cup of white chocolate chips
2 teaspoons of (vegetable or jungle) shortening 

a Styrofoam lid or container of some kind
a small sandwich bag

Prepare strawberries by washing them,  cutting off any bad spots, a sticking a toothpick in their leafy end. 

In a large microwaveable bowl, heat 3/4 of a cup of dark chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons of vegetable shortening on high for 30 seconds. Remove, stir, and heat for another 30 seconds, continuing to do so until the chocolate has melted. 
Pick up a strawberry with the toothpick stuck in it and dunk it into the melted chocolate, swirling it around so as to cover it and giving a good flick of your wrist upon bring it up, to prevent dripping. Stick the toothpick firmly into the Styrofoam and repeat until all of the strawberries have been dunked and covered. 

If your chocolate starts to seize, quickly add a little more shortening and microwave it again. You may want to cover the Styrofoam with a paper towel if you'll be needing to use it again and don't want it permanently covered in chocolate. 

While the chocolate covered strawberries are drying, pour about 1/4 of a cup of white chocolate chips into a sandwich bag. Fill a cup or bowl up with very hot water and dunk the bag into the water for a few seconds, pulling it out to knead the chips, melting them, and repeating the process until the chips have been well melted. (You'll be doing this quickly enough that you shouldn't need to worry about the plastic melting and getting into your food - or so I've been told, feel free to correct if I'm wrong!) 

Cut a tiny section off the tip of the bad and decorate the strawberries as you please. Swirls, dots, haphazard lines. Anything goes with chocolate. Refrigerate until dry and serve as desired, remembering to refrigerate the left overs!

La Dolce Vita / The Chop House - an Ann Arbor Dessert Destination

This is a Chocolate Melt Cake. Drizzled with chocolate syrup. Covered in house made Almond Ice Cream. Topped with slice almonds. Accompanied by a stick of dark and white chocolate. 

And this is the only picture I have of it.

This luscious, moist cake comes to you straight from Ann Arbor's La Dolce Vita - the dessert and wine bar situated in between upscale American restaurant The Chop House and Italian restaurant Gratzi - all three of which are owned by the same group, and all three of which have gluten free menus and celiac knowledgeable staff. 

As is imperative when you're talking safe gluten free fare, all of La Dolce Vita's gourmet desserts are made on site. Not only was the pastry chef on hand, not only can deserts be tailored to your gluten free needs (without that pesky wafer so many pastry chefs love to gluten up otherwise safe mouses and puddings with), but when you have a knowledge person in the kitchen, you can put your money on a safe, cross contamination free dining experience. 

Even though we arrived near 10pm on a week night, we were pleased to find the pastry chef was still there. She and our waitress pow-wowed on my gluten free needs, and were able to offer me several of the naturally gluten free confections on the menu, including approximately eight types of homemade sorbets and ice creams, a fruit and cheese plate, a sumptuous rice pudding with blood oranges, and, of course, the chocolate melt cake. 

Obviously, we went with the cake. 

This thick, deeply chocolate confection would've been enough on it's own, but pared with almond ice cream? I'm amazed I managed even one picture before we lapped it up. 

If you didn't know already, I love anything almond, anything dark chocolate, and any time I can safely dine out without worrying about being glutened. But a dessert bar in the Midwest that actually bats a 3 out of 3? Well I'd say that place pretty much offers a perfect dining experience. My boyfriend heartily agrees, giving La Dolce Vita's Chocolate Melt Cake a 9.9 out of 10, explaining the dessert only missed the mark because he could've done with another serving (or six) of it. 

I do love to make my boyfriend happy, so I'll just have to placate him and make sure we spend an evening at La Dolce Vita next time I'm in town. And if my arm gets twisted into tasting that tempting blood orange rice pudding? Well, that's just something me and my taste buds will have to deal with. 

Chop House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bangin' BOBs...Or My New Favorite Muffin

I woke up dreaming about muffins.

Gluten-free muffins were one of the first things I made after getting my diagnosis. Using a Gluten Free Pantry mix, I stocked my freezer with muffins of all shapes and sizes. Corn muffins, dried cranberry muffins, chocolate chip muffins. It was the summer of muffins. 

...It also happened to be the summer of two jobs that had me working 60 hours, 7 days a week - 6 of which I was up before 7:30 am - and in order to survive, I needed a wholesome, quick, energy packed breakfast I could take on the run. 

Enter the muffin. I baked in bulk, making and freezing 2 dozen muffins at a time, and thanks to my microwave, I'd have a toasty warm breakfast in mere seconds flat. Morning after morning, I ate my muffin breakfast happily, amazed I never got sick of 'em. 

Oh muffins. Fluffy, yummy, and deceptively impressive, muffins are one of my favorite things to bake and share with those I love. Made nutritious and antioxidant filled with berries, vitamin packed with grated veggies, fibrous with oats, protein packed with nuts, spicy with cinnamon, low in fat and heart healthy with applesauce, or simply sweet with chocolate chips, is there anything that you can't put in a muffin? 

But I didn't just wake up dreaming for muffins for their versatility. 

The night before I'd fallen asleep trying to find a solution to a very serious problem. You see, as delicious as the Amazing Almond Orange Cake was, it left me with an excess of buttermilk and orange zest. And I hate wasting good ingredients. 

But when I woke up with a fully formed recipe - a variation on my brother's favored Bangin' Cranberry Cornbread (a variation itself on Hold the Gluten Maureen's Skillet Cornbread) - and I'm happy to say that the muffin that wrote itself while I was sleeping ended up being the muffin of my dreams. I'd be happy waking up to this muffin any day. 

Bangin' BOBs, Corn Muffin Style
(Better to fill your mouth with the Blueberry Orange Buttermilk goodness than waste time saying their whoooole name, right? Of course right. )   

1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum
1/2 cup of GF flour
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of sugar
1 cup + 2 Tablespoon of cornmeal
1 cup of buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup of reduced fat sour cream (I used Horizon's Organic)
1/4 cup of canola oil
2/3rds cup of blueberries 

1/3  cup of orange zest (approx. the zest of of 2 oranges) 
4  Tablespoons of sugar, divided into 2 and 2

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with muffin cups and sprinkle sugar into the bottom of each cup (approx. 2 Tablespoons for 12 muffins, more of less as you like. 

Mix all of the ingredients - excepting the blueberries and the zest! - in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the blueberries into the batter. Evenly spoon the batter into the muffin cups. 

In a small bowl, combine orange zest and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with the sugary zest and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nian Gao - Chinese New Years Cake

February is quickly becoming the month of dessert. And why not? It's a month for love, a month for warmth, and being the heart of winter, and between the cold temperatures and short days, it's a month wherein we need things to look forward to. 

Therefore, before the month is out, I will have brought you practical a weeks worth of sugary confections, baked goods, and pastries. For what's probably the calendar's most despised month, February is surprisingly full of holidays. From Valentines Day to the Chinese New Year, from Presidents' Day, to well, my birthday, there's a lot to celebrate. So pull up your chair, loosen your belts, because February going to be filled with a month of carbs you'll love to eat, bake, and share. 

...I think March might be a month of salads. 

Until then, though, let's talk cake. 

It's been years since I've really traveled anywhere, and I thank my gluten free stars I had the good fortune to go to Japan when I did. At 16, I was still young enough have the experience of being immersed in a culture so different than my own leave a lasting  impression on my global understanding, my sense of history, and my palate. 
Without my trip to Asia, I imagine I would never have be bold enough to try adzuki bean paste, be familiar with the sweet and utterly tart flavors of lychee and umibushi, respectively, or know the spongy joy of glutenous rice flour. And so, when I was invited to a Chinese New Years potluck party a mere 20 hours before I was expected to arrive, I was certainly glad to know my way around an Asian dessert. 

Not that I'm insinuating Chinese and Japanese desserts are the same - though their cultures share a long history of cross pollination - but having a little knowledge of one certainly helped in the creation of the other. 

Nian Gao is a Chinese dessert eaten in greatest quantities around the new year because (as wikipedia tells me) when written in chinese characters, "nian gao" is homonym for "every year higher and higher". I admit it freely, I'm a sucker for symbolic food.  In any event, this not too sweet cake is made either plain or with adzuki bean paste. As an updated, cross cultural variation, I filled mine with dates and added a little vanilla, but I imagine it would be lovely with an addition of orange zest, almond extract, and / or substituting part of the milk with coconut milk. 

Delicious, simple, and naturally gluten free. What a wonderful way to ring in any New Year. 

(Baked) Nian Gao with Dates
A note, this cake is typically steamed, but not being so savvy with my Chinese cooking, I choose to prepare a baked version of the cake, but was told it had the look and consistency of the real thing. However authentic, or inauthentic, this cake is quite delicious. Recipe adapted from

16 oz of Sweet Rice Flour (I used Mochiko - you can get it at any local Asian food store) 
7 -8 Tablespoons of butter, melted (or 3/4 cup vegetable oil)
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups of skim milk (or whole milk, or coconut milk)
1 Tablespoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of vanilla 
11 - 13 shredded dates 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13x9 inch pan and set it aside. 

Mix everything but the dates in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer, first at medium speed for 2 minutes, then on high for two minutes. Pour half of the batter into the pan, cover the mixture with an even layer of the shredded dates, and then pour the rest of the mixture over the top. 

Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, cut into squares, and have a happy, lucky, new year. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's for Breakfast? Whole Os!

I miss Cheerios. 

You do too, admit it. Multigrain, honey nut, banana nut, berry burst, frosted, yogurt covered, and even the plain 'ol standard in the yellow box. God, I miss cheerios. 

They're iconic. Like Minute Maid, like Campbell's soup, and Little Debbie. Eating a bowl of Cheerios is like pulling up a chair
 to a Norman Rockwell painting; it's pure Americana. 
...And their adorable commercials about kids trying to help their parents lower their cholesterol by hiding the perfect little Os in the pockets of their coats? Yeah, only another aid in the infinite Cheerio crave-ability as far as I'm concerned. 

I truly love cereal. I eat it plain or with berries, with milk, mixed into plain yogurt, mixed into chocolate yogurt, or even straight out of the box. I would eat it on a plane, I would eat it in the get the picture. 

Anyhow, imagine my cereal lovin' joy when the kind people at Nature's Path offered me the chance to try out their new Whole Os. I would've said yes even if Nature's Path wasn't already the home of some of my other GF cereal faves like Honey'd Corn Flakes and EnvirokKidz Peanut Butter Panda Puffs. 

Whole Os, a blend of rice and corn sweetened with pomegranate juice, isn't just a yummy addition to your gluten free cereal pantry, this cereal is also rich in healthy, Celiac safe, whole grains - a dietary necessity that we gluten freers know isn't always easy to come by. 

While I'm not saying these Whole Os had the exact taste of my much missed Cheerios, I did enjoy the crunchy, oat-y taste (worry not, they're oat free), the shape, and how they stayed buoyant in milk! Best of all, I really enjoyed looking down at my cereal bowl and thinking of it just as breakfast rather than, my gluten free alternative. 

On the whole (har har), I'll be buying these whole Os the next time I get a Cheerios craving - thanks, Nature's Path! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Amazing Orange Almond Pound Cake

Peanut butter and jelly. Macaroni and cheese. Coffee (or tea) and cake. Such pairings a perfect and can be dressed up or had sweet and simple, but however you combine them, they're classic, timeless, and well, delicious. 

When the ingredients are good, fresh, and well blended, combinations like coffee and cake are a match made in culinary heaven. But when something is awry, well, you've got little to hide behind. 

I guess that's why I was more than a bit nervous when my mom informed me 4 hours before we intended to leave, that instead of having a post movie discussion at a coffee shop, we were going to have it at our house - and could I whip up a nice coffee or tea cake for our company? 

An on the fly gluten free Starbucks quality cake? Sure no problem...

Actually, thanks to a little planning and Internet researching, I came up with a perfect company cake. Coffee cake, with its crumbly, cinnamon sugar topping, seemed too complicated, and besides, my favorite coffee shop confections was always a slice of a simple, sugary, fruit flavored pound cake.

It didn't take long to happen upon Ina Garten's Orange Pound Cake recipe. With an orange glaze courtesy of  The Amateur Gourmet, and a a few adaptions of my own, I managed to recreate what I believe is gluten-free pound cake perfection. 

Beautiful, light, and with just the right amount of orange, this cake was perfect next to a cup of tangerine zinger tea and the in depth character analysis that followed our movie going experience. But don't take my word for it - my guests enjoyed three half-slices each. Not too bad for people who weren't quite sure what "gluten-free" meant mere hours earlier. 

With recipes like this, my dear Celiac friends, were slowing endangering ourselves of risking having our troublesome eating restrictions and the complications they cause us be brushed away by a nonchalant hand wave. No wheat flours, huh? Well clearly coming up with good gluten-free alternatives is easy. Polio, now there's something you have to watch out for...

Sure, sharing food like this might make friends and family think you're being a little over dramatic about the impact being gluten free has had on your life. But you won't care. You'll have this cake. 

Orange Almond Pound Cake 
with orange vanilla syrup and an orange glaz
based on recipes by Ina Garten and The Amature Gourmet

8 Tablespoons of Earth Balance Butter (or regular butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1/3rd - 1/2 cup grated orange zest**
1 cup GF flour blend
1/2 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
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

**(I zest to the whites so it was 2 oranges for me. approximately the zest of 2 - 3 oranges, depending on how you like your orange flavor) 

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 /2 teaspoon vanilla extract

scant 1/2 cup powdered sugar 
1 - 2 Tablespoons orange juice  

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. 

Likewise, combine (or sift, if you're feeling fancy) flour, almond meal, xanthum gum, sa
lt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set the dry ingredient mixture aside. 

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 orange zest. 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 the cake from the oven and let stand for at least five minutes. Then, turn the pan over on a plate (or drying rack), don't worry it will slip out easily provided you've greased and floured ahead of time. While the cake cools an additional five minutes, make the orange vanilla syrup. 

In a small pot, combine sugar, orange juice, and vanilla. Heat on medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes a little thick (about three minutes).  Spoon some or all of the mixture on top of the cake. 

When you're ready to serve, in a small bowl, mix 1 - 2 Tablespoons of orange juice with the powdered sugar to form a thick orange glaze. Drizzle some or all on top of the cake. 

Eat, enjoy with friends, and watch your cake disappear. 

Note: This amazing cake could be made with a tangerine, lemon, or lemon lime variation. Heck, it could be made as cranberry orange, peach orange, raspberry lemon...all depending on the kind of juice and zest you use. Experiment. It's good for the soul and the taste buds. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

Oatmeal and your February Celiac Events!

In case it wasn't painfully obvious, this Clevelander isn't too keen on the winter months. 

Besides the two, yes two, car accidents I've slid my way in too, the brisk winds and bitter cold don't quite agree with my toes or nose. (Not to mention what all this winter weather has done to the roof of my house! Apparently, I've been wishing a little too loudly for spring....last night it rained in my kitchen!) 

But whine as I might, winter isn't going anywhere quick. And it's high time I get used to it, right? Right! With that in mind, and in an effort to warm my frozen heart, I bring you one of my favorite Celiac treats. 

Hot Oatmeal. 

I can hear you dropping your cold cereal spoons from here. You can't be serious. Don't you know the gluten free mantra? No wheat, rye, barley, or oats! What are you trying to do, poison me?

Okay, I'll be more specific. Hot gluten-free oatmeal. 

I know what you might've heard, but the truth is oats themselves do NOT contain the gluten hazardous to us Celiacs. Oats are, however, often a victim of cross contamination as they're often processed in plants that handle glutenous flours. Also, many Celiacs report having digestion difficulties with oats, or stomach issues from eating too much oats (think several bowls of oatmeal). However, this is not related to a Celiac diagnosis (think of it as a kind of door prize, like your osteoporosis or vitamin B12 deficiency, you lucky thing you). 

What does that mean for you, you oatmeal loving Celiac you? 

1)If you haven't eaten oatmeal, introduce it back into your in small portions. 

2) Please, please, PLEASE only buy certified gluten free oats (Bob's Redmill, for example, offers a solidly GF oat). Quaker oats are NOT gluten-free. This goes for cereal bars, honey bunches of oats, and Famous Amos oatmeal raisin cookies. Oatmeal offered in restaurants serving breakfast isn't going to be gluten free, nor is the oatmeal your Aunt Sue uses to make her famous oatmeal cookies. Skip it. 

That said, hot oatmeal on a cold winter's morning (or evening) is perhaps one of my favorite post-Celiac discoveries. Warm, full of healthy carbs - the kind that lower cholesterol! - and oh so filling, I like to make mine with skim milk and frozen peaches. Or strawberries and a spoonful of authentic Ohio maple syrup. Or blackberries and a few pieces of dark, dark chocolate, if I'm feeling particularly decadent. 

What about you? What's your favorite way to dress a hot bowl of oats?

Now that I've got you running to the store, let me remind you that this Sunday February 8th,  Whole Foods on Chagrin Blvd, in Woodmere is hosting a gluten free Tour and Tasting for NE Ohio Celiac Support Group at 2pm. A short meeting will follow. Also! Serena of the gluten-free CO-OP (as explained here) will be there taking orders. Payment must be made at time of order. You may also contact Serena at A list of GF Co-Op products can be found at the Garden Spot web address: The Co-Op is not affiliated with Whole Foods. 

Trisha Lyons requested that you RSVP to her by Thursday (oops sorry!!) at , but I'm sure if you get to her today, she won't bar you from gluten-free goodness. For more information please visit or email Trisha at 

Live too far away from Woodmere but still want to get in on the Gluten-Free action? 

The Greater Cleveland Celiac Association is having it's monthly meeting on the same day and same time! Join them at the Solon Public Library at 2pm for an afternoon of Celiac conversation about ingredients, label reading, and soup. Yes soup! Bring your favorite soup and soup recipe to share (if soup or chili isn't your thing, your are happily encouraged to bring side dish or salad...fear not, the Solon library has a microwave). 

RSVP Cindy Koller-Kass at or check out the GCCA's website for more information! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I think we'd all agree that January and February are rather dreary months - especially where food is concerned. 

Snow, ice, and bitterly cold temperatures aside, there is no quintessential winter vegetable to cook with, no holiday to get creative for for. (That is, unless you count Valentine's Day, but really, in the heart of February, I think we'd all agree any piece of chocolate will do.) 

To make matters all the more complicated, we're wadding through the wake of the post-holiday food season,  a time when every calorie counts as we lament over tightened jeans and sweaters that are the door prizes of all those holiday parties, while desperately trying to keep ourselves warmed from the inside out. What sounds better on a cold winter's evening than something hot, thick, and filling? The conundrum of winter marches on...

I've got news for you folks, winter isn't going away any time soon (Punxsutawney Phil backs me up here) and, unless you're going to make oatmeal a three times a day ritual, it's time to get creative. 

I generally hate cooking for just me and, with my mom at work and my boyfriend in Michigan, I resigned myself over to freezer food for dinner. There's a bit of me that always scoffs at prepackaged frozen food - after all, is it really that difficult to make a casserole? - but when there's an option of quick, organic, and gluten free...well, who am I to pass that up?

My automatic go-to dinner in a pinch always involves sunshine sunflowerseed veggie burgers. Amazingly delicious and easy to make, between these burgers and salad from a bag, dinner may as well have been ready before I set foot in the kitchen. Well, almost. I had my vegetable, I had my protein, but a complete meal - much less a complete vegetarian meal - really does need a carb. 

There have been two sweet potatoes sitting in my kitchen, staring at me for weeks. I meant to eat them, really I did...and yet, there they sat, in the fruit bowl, supporting the apples. Maybe I didn't feel like cooking but a little kitchen experimenting? Yeah, I suppose I could manage that.

Besides, not actually being fried these fries are made out of the fantastically nutritional sweet potato. Rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and dietary fiber, iron, calcium, and protein, the sweet potato was ranked highest in nutritional value among all other vegetables in 1992 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. (For more fascinating sweet potato facts, please click here...though I'm sure it's only half as interesting as actually eating one!) 

Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries 
This is less of a recipe and more of a cabinet emptying, favored spice using experience. Have chili pepper? Love thyme? Throw it in, combine your favorite spices, and shake it up...

2 Sweet Potatoes
2 zip lock or otherwise sealable plastic bags (or one large plastic bag if making one type of fry)
1 pizza pan or cookie sheet

For savory fries...
1 TSP of Olive Oil
1-2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of pepper
1/2 tsp of garlic
1/4 tsp of rosemary (optional)
1/4 tsp of paprika (optional, instead of rosemary)

For sweet fries...
1 TSP of Vegetable Oil
1 tsp of salt
1-2 tsp of white sugar
2 tsp of brown sugar (add more as desired)
1 tsp of cinnamon 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel, or leave peel on for more rustic looking fries. Slice potatoes length wise and then in thin strips, no more than a half inch thick. Place potato strips into bag and combine oil (1 TSP per potato), seal the bag and shake, making sure the oil thoroughly coats all of the fries by rubbing the fries through the bag. 

Open the bag and add in the spices (or sugars for sweet fries). Reseal the bag and shake again, ensuring the spices get distributed as evenly as possible. 

Pour fries out on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 30 -40 minutes, turning the fries over once during cooking time. 

Serves 1 -2 persons per potato. 
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