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Where in the World is Carol?

Carol's in the kitchen, cooking up recipes for www.GfreeCuisine.com and www.CarolFenster.com

Carol's book, Gluten-Free 101, won 1st prize in the Cookbooks-General category of USA Best Book Awards.

March 31, 2015: Taping PBS-TV shows for "Creative Living with Sheryl Borden"

August 17, 2015: Denver Food Fair, more info at www.DenverCeliacs.org

August 20, 2015: Book-signing for Art Hop at Covered Treasures Bookstore, Monument, CO

September 26-27, 2015: Book-signing at Holy Cross Abbey Winery Fall Festival, September 26-27, 2015. Details later.

Welcome to Carol Fenster Cooks!

Welcome to Carol Fenster Cooks!

I have had a love affair with food since I was a small child.  But I didn’t understand that it was the very food I loved that made me ill. When I learned that gluten was the culprit, I left my corporate job to start Savory Palate, Inc. where I specialize in gluten-free, allergen-free, and vegetarian/vegan cooking. I believe that eating food is the most profound thing we do to our bodies each and every day. So my mission is to help everyone eat well and I love my job!

Ancient Grains Go Modern: Red Quinoa Salad for National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month- Eat More Whole Grains
I am a devoted believer in eating whole grains, not only for their important nutrients but if they are prepared correctly they can be a low-calorie dish—perfect for weight-loss. But setting aside time to cook whole grains requires discipline and planning, since most whole grains must be cooked from scratch and that takes precious time.

Red Quinoa Salad is Gluten-Free

Red Quinoa Salad is perfect for entertaining

Quinoa: The “Mother” Grain
Since March is National Nutrition Month, I am promoting whole grains all month and want to focus on quinoa today. Technically a seed, quinoa—called the “mother grain” because it is one of the most nutritious of all grains—cooks just like rice, in about 15 to 20 minutes, so it easy to plan its preparation for our gluten-free meals. That quick 15-20 minute prep time makes it on a good choice for busy households.

I use the term “whole grain” but after reading an article called “Grain Man” in the February, 2015 issue of Food & Wine Magazine, we could also call them “intact grains” which means they have not been taken apart, pulverized, or processed…they are the way they grew, untampered with. Quinoa is an intact grain.

True-Food Kitchen – a Dr. Andrew Weil-Inspired Restaurant
I first tasted red quinoa a few years ago at True Food Kitchen in Scottsdale—a Dr. Andrew Weil-inspired restaurant— in a salad similar to the one below. I was hooked because the flavor of red quinoa is a little less intrusive and a little more pleasantly nutty than the regular, white-tan quinoa—and I think it’s prettier. We now have a True Food Kitchen in Denver, but I have yet to find this dish on their menu so I have to make it at home now in my own way which turns out to be vastly different than what I ate in Scottsdale.

I’ve been tinkering with my idea of a red quinoa salad for awhile now and really like this vibrant, nutritious version that is also extremely flavorful. Red beets, pomegranates, and spinach (or arugula) are powerhouses of nutrition and the Clementines (called Cuties) add color and Vitamin C. Even beet-haters might like it because the beets are cut in shoe-strings and just blend in with all of the other wonderful parts of this salad. But, recipes like this just beg for tinkering so change out the ingredients as you wish and make it your own.

Red Quinoa Salad
By Carol Fenster©
Red quinoa is much more colorful than white quinoa and—along with the vibrant colors from the beets and Clementines—is a stunning dish, especially when made with dark green spinach for a lovely color contrast.

SALAD
1 ¾ cup vegetable broth or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup red quinoa
¼ teaspoon salt
2 small Clementines or 1 medium orange, some segments reserved for garnish
½ can (14-ounce) shoestring beets, thoroughly drained
Seeds from 1 pomegranate (about ½ to ¾ cup), reserve some for garnish
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup baby spinach or arugula, washed and patted dry
½ cup slivered almonds (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish

DRESSING
[1/4] cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, minced
[1/4] teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

[1] In large saucepan, bring broth to boil high heat. Add quinoa and salt and cook, covered, until broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Transfer quinoa to large bowl; drain any excess broth.

[2] Grate the Clementine (or orange) to yield two teaspoons zest and add to quinoa, then cut Clementine into segments and add to quinoa. Add the beets, pomegranate seeds, raisins, spinach, almonds, and 2 tablespoons of parsley. Toss to combine thoroughly

[3] Make dressing: In small bowl or glass jar, whisk together orange juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper until blended. Slowly whisk in oil in thin stream until well combined. Add enough dressing to quinoa to coat thoroughly and serve, either in large bowl or large platter, garnished with remaining Clementine segments, pomegranate seeds, and parsley. Serves 4 as a main dish; 6 as a side dish

 Calories for each of six servings: 310; 11g protein; 13g fat, 4g fiber; 42g carbohydrates; 360mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup—Paleo-Friendly, Allergen-Free

Winter is upon us. The days are cold. Something bright and cheery, yet creamy, warm, and spicy sounds just right for dinner. Crisp red bell peppers are a staple at our house all year long, but in the winter I transform them into a creamy, flavorful soup that is perfect for everyone because it is free of gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, peanuts, nuts, fish, and shellfish.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup is perfect for cold winter nights.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup is perfect for cold winter nights.

Of course, if you want to add some protein, you could top the soup with cooked shrimp or crab. Or, to keep it in the vegetarian-vegan family, some cubed tofu would work nicely. If your diet permits, swirl in some basil pesto just before serving for a generous dose of added flavor as well as appealing green color.

This soup is especially pretty served in little coffee or espresso cups as an appetizer, but if it is your main course, regular soup bowls work just fine. A final note about the roasted red bell peppers: you can always roast them yourself, but the peeling and hassle can be avoided by simply buying them in a jar. They taste the same and, for a few extra bucks, they save you considerable time! Enjoy!

 

ROASTED RED BELL PEPPER SOUP
By Carol Fenster
Of course, you can roast your own red bell peppers or buy them in a jar—they taste the same. This colorful soup is especially pretty served in espresso cups as appetizers or a first course for a dinner party.

½ cup chopped roasted red bell peppers, packed
2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon sugar
3 cups gluten-free low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
¾ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour (or 1 tablespoon potato starch) stirred into ¼ cup cold water until smooth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or parsley, for garnish

[1] Place all the ingredients except the sweet rice flour, and basil in a blender and puree until very smooth. Transfer to a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.

[2] Raise the heat to medium, stir in the sweet rice flour mixture and continue to cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly.

[3] Divide the soup among 4 soup bowls. Serve, garnished with a sprinkle of parsley or basil.
Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 100 calories; 9 g protein; 5 g total fat; 1 g fiber; 12 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 166 mg sodium

Chocolate-Orange Mousse for Two

If you live in a two-person household, making a full-size dessert may not be practical. Plus, making a recipe designed for just two people is a great way to maintain portion control—no tempting leftovers beckoning to you. This elegant little dessert fits perfectly into two small coffee cups, with no leftovers.

Chocolate Orange Mousse for Two

Chocolate Orange Mousse for Two

Dessert with Sentiment
Notice the china cups in the photo. I inherited my mother’s china when she died years ago. Sunday dinners (usually roast beef and all the trimmings) were served in our dining room in our circia-1900 Craftsman-style house. Afterwards, the inevitable dishwashing and drying at the kitchen sink led to more conversation with my mother. So, I look for memorable reasons to use this china—even if it is only the coffee cups for dessert—to feel my mother’s presence.

Chocolate-Orange Mousse for Two
I love the combination of chocolate and orange, so use either Clementine zest or regular orange zest. Or, leave it out if citrus is not your thing and add a drop of mint extract.

Desserts are so pretty served in cute little portions because they are so much more personal. Plus, they are already plated so there is no last-minute cutting or slicing. These chic little treats are ready whenever you are. And, you have control over portions (although no one will mind if you double the recipe and indulge again tomorrow or invite guests to share with you).

Healthy Chocolate Mousse
There are many ways to make mousse but this so-simple way is a healthy dessert with its tofu base and cocoa powder and of course, it is gluten-free. You choose the sweetener and the amount that suits you. Since soy is a legume, this dish is technically grain-free and you can opt for a coconut yogurt for a garnish to make it dairy-free. You can also dress it up with a tablespoon of your favorite liqueur that complements chocolate and orange. In other words, you’re in charge. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Orange Mousse for Two
Reprinted with permission from www.GFreeCuisine.com by Carol Fenster

5 to 6 ounces (half-package, undrained) soft silken tofu (use remainder in a smoothie next morning)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Dutch/alkali for its darker color)
3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup or agave nectar or coconut nectar, to taste
1 tablespoon grated Clementine or orange zest, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons whipped cream or whipped topping or yogurt of your choice

In a blender, puree tofu, cocoa powder, honey, and vanilla until very, very smooth. (Add a tablespoon of your favorite liqueur for a festive note. I like Kahlua—but orange or chocolate liqueurs also work well.) Stir in zest and divide mousse between two small coffee cups, wine goblets, or martini glasses and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. Serve, each garnished with a teaspoon of whipped cream and grated zest.

Calories: 185; 4g fat, 2g fiber; 5 g protein, 34g carbohydrates, 1g cholesterol, 13 g sodium

 

Chocolate Vegan Treats for Valentine’s Day

If there is one holiday that requires sweets, it’s Valentine’s Day. And, that means desserts…..especially chocolate.

Sweet Eats for All by Allyson Kramer

Sweet Eats for All by Allyson Kramer

Sweet Eats for All: new book from Allyson Kramer
My friend and colleague, Allyson Kramer, sent me her new book, Sweet Eats for All: 250 Decadent Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes—from Candy to Cookies, Puff Pastries to Petit Fours (DeCapo/Lifelong, 2014). For those of you who want chocolate treats that are gluten-free and vegan, Allyson’s new book has you covered.

You can choose from a myriad of delicious, beautifully-photographed chocolate enticements such as Devil’s Food Cake, German Chocolate Cake, Double Chocolate Caramel Bars, Chocolate Marble Biscotti, Chocolate Peppermint Patties, Chocolate Pudding, Chocolate Silk Pie, and Tiramisu (pictured on the book cover). That’s just a small number of the decadent chocolate-based desserts in this book, which you will want for your own or to give as a gift. Personally, I’m eyeing the Chocolate Soup and the Salted Espresso Truffles. No matter what your preferences are, you will find it in Allyson’s fabulous book.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
For a simple, yet sensationally gorgeous dessert here is my super-romantic Chocolate-Covered Strawberry recipe for you and your sweetie. This dessert is so simple and inexpensive, yet looks like it took tons of work and it is vegan.

For the most dramatic effect, arrange the finished strawberries on a footed/pedestal cake stand. But, they will look scrumptious any way you serve them. A glass of champagne is a nice touch. And, if you’re especially hungry, double the recipe. As I always say, “there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.”

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries from  Carol Fenster

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries from Carol Fenster

CHOCOLATE-COVERED STRAWBERRIES FOR TWO
Reprinted with permission from www.GFreeCuisine.com by Carol Fenster
You can use your favorite chocolate chips, coins, or bars, but I prefer dark chocolate―Ghirardelli or Sunspire―for its health benefits and stronger flavor.

4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon butter or buttery spread
10 large strawberries (preferably with stems on, for the prettiest effect)

[1] Wash strawberries and gently pat dry with paper towels. Lay sheet of waxed paper on baking sheet.

[2] Place half of chocolate chips and all of the butter in microwave safe bowl. Microwave on Medium power until chocolate melts. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth, then stir in remaining chocolate chips until very smooth. If chocolate doesn’t melt, return to Microwave in 5 second intervals until it does.

[3] Holding strawberry by stem, dip strawberry into chocolate, twist slightly, and then lift out, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl. Lay strawberry on waxed paper and repeat with remaining strawberries. Let strawberries stand for 20 to 30 minutes or until chocolate sets up and then serve.

 

Bananas-Foster Bread Pudding for Two

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding for Two

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding for Two

Bread Pudding–The Ultimate Comfort Food
Of all the comfort-food desserts I know of, bread pudding is undoubtedly one of the more appealing to me. I’m fond of heavy, rich desserts (why bother with a frothy dessert full of air!!). Right now, it’s snowing like crazy and this kind of weather makes my thoughts turn to substantial desserts that pack some heft. What can be more perfect for a cold winter night like this then this versatile bread pudding?

Strangely, I wasn’t introduced to bread pudding until I became gluten-free. Though she was certainly an economically-minded cook, my mother never made it. Once I saw other people eating it in restaurants, I became obsessed with bread pudding because it was an easy, yet delicious way to use up leftover, stale bread slices… especially the “heels” that I could not bear to throw away.

I now make bread pudding in many versions, but this is one of my newest creations…crafted out of frugality. We often have bananas that are beyond their prime, yet not ripe enough for banana bread so this dessert is just perfect. This recipe is designed for two people, so get out your mini-loaf pan and start baking!

Bananas-Foster Bread Pudding for Two
What is more comforting than bread pudding on a cold winter day? Save those leftover slices of gluten-free bread for this easy dessert that mimics the famous dessert, Bananas Foster. It is delicious with caramel topping, but we also like it with vanilla ice cream or vanilla yogurt. You can also use this for breakfast too.

Makes a 3 ¾ x5 ¼-inch loaf pan; 2 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 30 to 40 minutes

1 tablespoon butter or buttery spread
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
½ medium banana (ripe but firm), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
2 teaspoons banana-flavored liqueur or rum (or 1 teaspoon banana or rum-flavored extract)
2 slices gluten-free sandwich bread (about 1 1/2 cups, cubed)
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
½ cup whole milk of choice (the richer the better)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons store-bought caramel topping or maple syrup
Optional garnishes: dried banana chips, vanilla ice cream, frozen vanilla yogurt, or vanilla yogurt

[1] Preheat the oven to 325⁰F. Generously grease a 3¾ x5¼ -inch nonstick (gray, not black) loaf pan.

[2] In a heavy, small skillet, stir together the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and bananas and cook over medium-low heat until the sugar melts and the banana softens, about 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the banana liqueur or rum, and let cool while preparing the bread.

[3] Cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the loaf pan. Gently toss with the cooked banana mixture and pecans.

[4] Whisk together the milk, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt until smooth and pour evenly over the bread cubes. Press down on the bread and let stand 15 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil.

[5] Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and puffy. (Baking time may vary depending on the moisture content of your bread.) Cool the bread pudding on a wire rack 10 minutes. Divide into two small dessert bowls, drizzle with caramel sauce, garnish with banana chips, and serve immediately.

Per serving: Calories 430; 8 g protein; 16g total fat; 2g fiber; 6 g saturated fat; 64 g carbohydrates; 409 mg sodium; 118 mg cholesterol

Game Time! Gluten-Free Super Bowl Party

Chili in white bowl provides stark contrast, making food look bigger.

Gluten-Free Southwestern Chili for a Super Bowl Party.

Whether you are hosting a Super Bowl party, or just want a super-easy menu for a cold winter night, this flavorful, naturally gluten-free menu is sure to be a hit. It has simple ingredients and is easy on the budget.

My motto, especially for beginners, is: “Stick to simple gluten-free recipes with gluten-free dishes that everyone recognizes and serve them in a simple way.” 

That way, you can be the confident host or hostess and enjoy your own party, without worry.

 

Gluten-Free Super Bowl Menu
~Southwestern Chili~
~Plate of fresh vegetables and basket of corn chips~
~Guacamole and Mexican Salsa Dips~
~Cornbread~
~Chocolate Brownies~
~Your favorite beverages~

 

Southwestern Chili
Adapted with permission from Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

This easy chili dates back to my childhood, but I have been tweaking it for several years to reflect my family’s changing tastes.  We like it even better and, for added color and flair, have a plate of shredded cheese, sliced avocados, chopped green onions, and maybe a few halved grape tomatoes so guests can add their own garnishes. They will love it!

1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
2 cans (15 ounces) pinto or kidney beans (or both), rinsed and drained
2 cans (15 ounces) canned tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water (or more)

In large Dutch oven or skillet, combine ground round and chopped onion. Cook over medium heat until meat and onion are gently browned. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add enough water to reach desired consistency. Cover and simmer on low heat for 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight. Or, prepare the morning of the party and cook in slow cooker for 4 to 6 hours. Serve with shakers of additional spices near the slow-cooker for those who want to spice it up. Serves 6 (can double or triple)

Carol’s Tips for Hosting a Super Bowl Party
[1] Choose a simple menu that is also dairy-free, since lactose-intolerance often occurs with gluten-intolerance. Stick with high-flavor, straightforward dishes that you know how to prepare and that your guests are familiar with. It’s better to serve a simple, flavorful dish that you know how to prepare than attempt a new, complicated dish that might not meet your expectations.

[2] Plan a menu that can be cooked-ahead―preferably the day before the party (or that morning)―and then reheated before the party. I cook this chili the day before, then refrigerate it overnight to let the flavors meld. It doesn’t need thickening, so there is no conundrum about which gluten-free thickener to use instead of wheat flour. Reheated on party day and served in a slow-cooker (or cooked in the slow-cooker all day), it stays hot throughout the party.

[3] Serve a simple gluten-free bread that appeals to everyone. One of my favorites is a moist, homey http://savorypalate.com/index.php/gluten-free-cornbread/[cornbread] which goes well with chili. Bake it on the morning of the party, cut into serving pieces earlier in the day, and pile high on a platter. Wrap in plastic wrap until party time to avoid drying out.

[4] Choose easily-served desserts. Luscious layer cakes are pretty, but require your full attention when cutting and plating―which takes you away from your guests and the TV. Instead, serve “grab and go” desserts such as gluten-free cookies (store-bought if you’re not a baker) or http://savorypalate.com/index.php/carol-fensters-chocolate-brownies/ [Brownies] served on big platters. That way, guests serve themselves whenever they please, freeing you to focus on your favorite team.

[5] Make it easy for you and your guests. Serve the Southwestern Chili in a slow-cooker which allows guests to help themselves whenever they please. Place additional spices nearby for those who want to jazz it up a bit. Instead of bowls, use tall coffee cups so guests can balance food on their laps while watching TV―the cup’s narrow tops reduce spills, handles make hot soup easier to hold, and a spoon stands upright in tall cups so no need for saucers. Arrange gluten-free cookies or pre-cut brownies on a platter so guests can help themselves―and you won’t have to do any last-minute serving of dessert and possibly miss that game-changing touchdown.

Enjoy the game and may your favorite team win!

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes

Flourless, Grain-Free Chocolate Cupcakes from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

Flourless, Grain-Free Chocolate Cupcakes from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche

Anyone who dines at my house has probably tasted my Flourless Chocolate Cake.

It’s a staple in my entertaining repertoire. It is a simple, fail-proof cake and I recommend it to beginners all the time because it always turns out perfect and everyone enjoys it, gluten-free or not. And, most important, it is quick to make—perfect for busy cooks who want a spectacular, versatile dessert with minimal effort.

So, when I began collecting recipes for my new book,  100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES and needed quick, gluten-free recipes under 30 minutes I knew this one had to be in it. But could I make it even faster?

Bake or Cook in Small Sizes to Save Time
You bet, if I use one of my favorite principles to shave time: cook (or bake) in smaller sizes. In this case, serving size. You can always make the full-size cake (see Layer Cake below) but the batter bakes more quickly in cupcake pans. Plus, if you bake cupcakes you don’t have to cut the cake just before serving. Just put the cupcake on a plate, dust with powdered sugar, and you’re good to go—saving even more time.

The Perfect Mini-Dessert for Entertaining
With today’s fascination with small desserts, use this easy recipe to impress your guests. If powdered sugar isn’t fancy enough, use your favorite icing and decorate as you like. Personally, a decadent chocolate frosting using coffee as the liquid and topped with a chocolate-covered espresso bean is especially delightful (since I love chocolate and coffee, alone or with each other).

And, remember: 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes makes a perfect gift for friends, family, colleagues… or for yourself. It is also grain-free, perfect for your Paleo guests or anyone who can’t digest grains. Enjoy!!

FLOURLESS, GRAIN-FREE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
Excerpted from 100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES © 2014 by Carol Fenster. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Flourless cupcakes use ground nuts as the base and are extremely quick to assemble in a food processor. They also bake faster than standard-size cakes. Instead of the simple dusting of powdered sugar, you can top them as you like, with your favorite icing and decorations. These cupcakes are my “go-to” choice for gluten-free, dairy-free guests, but you can also use the batter for a 9-inch round cake (see Layer Cake option below). Feel free to use the same amount of ground walnuts or pecans instead of the almonds, if you prefer. For best results, make sure the eggs are at room temperature or add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda for more lift.

2 cups almond flour/meal or 2 cups whole almonds
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use either natural or Dutch-processed)
4 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting

[1] Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup nonstick muffin pan (gray, not black) with liners.

[2] In a food processor, place the almond meal. (If using whole almonds, grind the nuts to a fine, meal-like texture.) Add the brown sugar, cocoa, eggs, oil, vanilla, and salt and process for 30 to 40 seconds. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a spatula and process for another 30 seconds or until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, using about 1/4 cup batter for each cupcake.

[3] Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, then transfer them to the wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

STORAGE: Store leftovers at room temperature, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.

Makes 12 cupcakes
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Baking time: 20 to 25 minutes

Layer Cake
Bake in a 9-inch nonstick springform pan (gray, not black) lined with parchment paper until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack. Gently run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake on to a serving plate, discard the paper, and let the cake cool completely.

Per cupcake: 390 calories; 10g protein; 31g total fat; 3g fiber; 22g carbohydrates; 62mg cholesterol; 117mg sodium

Sugar: The Skinny on Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

A few years ago, I hosted a dinner party and, as I served dessert, the word “sugar” entered the conversation. The very word brought the lively conversation to a screeching halt. As my guests savored their cake, I could feel six pairs of ears eavesdropping as I discussed this emotionally laden word with the woman seated next to me.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce and Pomegranate Seeds

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce and Pomegranate Seeds

“My friend made a chocolate cake,” she was saying, “and wanted to cut back on sugar in her diet, so she made a few adjustments to the recipe. Instead of semisweet chocolate, she used unsweetened chocolate. In place of the sugar, she used a few tablespoons of Splenda.” But, my guest continued with a look of puzzlement on her face, “the cake didn’t taste like cake at all and it was hard and chewy and kind of rough-looking. My friend had to throw it away.”

In these days of low-sugar diets, many of us—like my guest’s friend—are tempted to skip the sugar in baking, or at least reduce it somewhat. Much maligned and often relegated to the back of the pantry, most of us regard sugar as an evil source of calories and are unaware of its other roles.

Sugar Is Everywhere and Hard to Avoid
Now, before I go any further let’s set the record straight. Sugar consumption is a hot topic. I think we eat far too much sugar. I look for ways to reduce it in my diet whenever I can. I avoid sugary soft drinks, only eat (small) desserts on special occasions, and watch for hidden sugar in commercial foods.

We are just leaving the holiday season with its sweets, parties, and dietary temptations. The American Heart Association (AHA) says that Americans eat about 22 teaspoons (110 grams) of added sugars a day. That’s 3.6 times the recommendation (or limit) for women and 2.4 times that for men.

At the same time, I also believe that sweet treats enhance our lives and have a meaningful role in a healthy diet. Deprivation doesn’t work for me, but I do try to make sure I don’t overdo it either.

The Role of Sugar in Baking
Nonetheless, after over two decades of developing gluten-free recipes, I have a healthy respect for the role of sugar in baking. Here, I mean white sugar or brown sugar, derived from either cane or beets. It is particularly important for us gluten-free bakers, because we already have to alter the flavor of our foods by removing wheat flour—and often dairy, as well. If you thinking about omitting sugar in your baking, here’s what you should know:

[1] First, the obvious. Sugar makes things taste sweet. You can replace sugar with a substitute sweetener but the cake may taste different because we associate “sweetness” with the distinct flavor of sugar (even though you may think of sugar as “neutral” because it’s white). Desserts are sweet so there has to be a sweetener of some sort in the recipe.

[2] Sugar accentuates the flavor of food, such as chocolate. A chocolate cake tastes downright strange without sugar, but delicious with the right amount. Try this experiment: Drink unsweetened tea and then add a little sugar to it and notice how much stronger the tea flavor is.

[3] Sugar tenderizes the crumb and makes it finer and moister. In contrast, substitutes like Splenda tend to produce a crumb that is larger, tougher, and somewhat drier.

[4] Sugar encourages the browning process on the crust of baked goods. It’s this browning that we often use as an indicator that a cake is “done,” and, it’s that tendency to brown that relates to its next benefit below.

[5] Sugar produces a slightly crispy, shiny exterior on baked goods that makes them more attractive. It’s the sucrose in sugar that does this and, since sucrose is missing in Splenda and other alternative sweeteners, it can’t promote the same level of browning.

Tips for Reduced-Sugar Baking
Next time you’re tempted to reduce or omit the sugar in baked goods, follow these tips:

[1] Instead of using all Splenda, use half white sugar and half Splenda. You will lower the calorie content, but your cake will be more tender, brown more attractively, and have a finer crumb than if you use all Splenda. A cake with Splenda may bake a little faster, so check it about five minutes before the recommended cooking time. It may also have a little less volume and not rise as high. Other granular sweeteners are now on the market; perhaps the topic for a later blog.

[2] Add a couple tablespoons of honey to the batter. Honey is a natural humectant and encourages the cake to retain moisture so it won’t dry out as quickly. Of course, honey has its own flavor which you may detect depending on the type and amount you use. Of course, there are many other sweeteners (agave nectar, coconut sugar, etc) but those are topics for another day.

[3] Increase the amount of fat in the recipe by 25%, but be sure to use healthier fats. Canola oil and (light) olive oil are good in baking and are good for you. Of course, this will increase the fat content and calorie content (each tablespoon of these oils is roughly 120 calories), but your baked goods will taste better and look better because fat is a flavor carrier and also tenderizes the crumb.

[4]Use a topping to conceal the rough crust found in low-sugar baked goods. For example, a streusel topping on low-sugar muffins will partially conceal their rough tops.

[5] Rather than drastically reducing the amount of sugar at the beginning of your sugar-reduced diet, gradually cut back on the sugar a little more each time you bake. Your palate will adjust and eventually you won’t want “ultra-sweet” foods as much.

[6] Try an alternative sweetener such as agave nectar. Even though it has calories, it has a low glycemic level (the rate at which it raises your blood sugar levels). If agave is not right for you, there are other sweeteners today (e.g., coconut sugar or Truvia, etc.) that I might have used had they been available back then. I sometimes use pureed prunes as a sweetener. But that is a topic for another day.

[7] Finally, (and this is the tough one) just try eating a smaller piece of those sugary baked foods to reduce your sugar intake. Maybe half a muffin, or a narrower slice of cake, or only one small cookie instead of a large one. Our portion sizes have crept up over the past couple of decades to the point where our muffins are anywhere from 3 to 5 times larger than a standard USDA serving.

What’s For Dessert?
You are probably wondering about that dessert my guests were eating. It was one of my “go-to” desserts—a flourless chocolate cake from my book Gluten-Free 101 made with one-third sugar, one-third Splenda, and one-third agave nectar. It was lightly dusted with powdered sugar, and garnished with mint and some pomegranate seeds but you could use a bright red strawberry . It’s main ingredient was almonds (lending protein and a nice, hearty, crunchy texture) and the slices were reasonably-sized—not the massive servings we often find in restaurants. My guests were relieved to learn that this dessert was a sweet, yet sensible ending to the meal…and, they ate every last crumb!

 

The Secret Behind Pumpkin Spice Latte

Every fall, one “flavor” gets a ton of attention.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin.

In fact, one sure sign that Fall has arrived is the Pumpkin Spice Latte. If you are a coffee fan, as I am, then this is good news since I love the Pumpkin Spice flavor. More about that word “flavor” later.

History of Pumpkin Spice Latte
But the holidays are over now and we’re in the dead of winter. However, I still remain fascinated by the flavors of Fall and want to continue enjoying them throughout winter.

Do you know the history of the Pumpkin Spice Latte? When it was developed in 2003 by the Starbucks lab, they weren’t sure it would catch on. But it became an instant hit and by 2006 it was even available as pods (K-cups) for home brewers. By 2007, other coffee chains began offering it and the Twitter handle of #PSL appeared. The Starbucks website says that there have been 29,000 tweets with the hash tag: #pumpkinspice since August, 2012.

This year, I tried to buy Pumpkin Spice Coffee at Trader Joe’s and was told that they sold out almost immediately. Starbuck’s says this drink is seasonal so it will eventually disappear by the end of 2014. Boo-hoo!

But now I know how to make it myself, so I can enjoy it all winter. 

Make Your Pumpkin Spice Latte
If you want to continue drinking Pumpkin Spice Lattes (or PSL) throughout the winter, we can thank the Food Network for this recipe that you can make yourself. One of the things I like about making my own PSL is controlling the sugar, since I find the Starbuck’s version too sweet for my tastes.

Make Ahead and Keep on Hand
Using the recipe from the Food Network as a base, you can modify your homemade latte as you like. Certainly less sugar for me! And, while I love nutmeg, I prefer less than this recipe uses so I cut it in half. You may have other preferences, so try the recipe and see how you like it.

Another great thing about making your own is that you can make a base (all the ingredients except the coffee and milk) and store it in the refrigerator. Then heat the milk and coffee (or, steam the milk if you’re lucky enough to have an espresso machine that also froths milk) and stir in as much of the base as you like. Using whipped cream on top is up to you (I don’t usually do that, except as an occasional treat). And, a final dusting of grated fresh nutmeg (or cinnamon) is the perfect touch.

Pumpkin Flavor without the Pumpkin?
Notice that the Food Network’s recipe contains real pumpkin. It may surprise you to learn that many “pumpkin-flavored” items don’t have any pumpkin in them at all. Of course, foods such as Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Bread contain real pumpkin, but most commercial coffee drinks do not. Have you ever tasted pumpkin by itself? It is actually quite bland and not necessarily that inviting. In fact, it’s awful. However, when blended with all those wonderful spices it is absolutely divine, so I use it in my recipe.

Wondering what to do with the leftover pumpkin? If you make a lot of lattes, you will use up a 14-ounce can in a few days. Store any leftover pumpkin, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to a week and use it to bake gluten-free Pumpkin Bread.

Happy Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Gluten-Free Pecan-Bourbon-Chocolate Pie for the Holidays

What is your favorite holiday pie?
It’s a toss-up for me when it comes to holiday pies: pumpkin or pecan. I love them both.

Gluten-free Pecan Pie jazzed up with Bourbon and Chocolate

Gluten-free Pecan Pie jazzed up with Bourbon and Chocolate

But this year I’m leaning toward making pecan, mostly because my friends and relatives tend to serve pumpkin pie and this way, I will get to eat both flavors at some point during the 6 week celebration between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But this year, I’m jazzing up my recipe to include bourbon (yes, it’s gluten-free because it is distilled) and a touch of chocolate. I’m not going to provide the calorie/nutrient information on this recipe because, trust me, you don’t want to know. Just enjoy it and resolve to live well in 2015. You earned the right to enjoy a little decadence this year!

Pie-Crust Challenged?
If you’re horrified at the thought of making your own gluten-free pie crust, try mixes from Bob’s Red Mill or Glutino. Or, if you don’t want to mix or shape the dough yourself, buy a ready-made pie crust by Whole Foods or Kinnikinnick. They are sold in ready-to-bake form in an aluminum pie pan, although I prefer using a nonstick pan (gray finish, not black to avoid burning) for better browning. This lessens the potential sogginess sometimes found in gluten-free pie crusts.

Gluten-Free Pecan-Bourbon-Chocolate Pie
Adapted from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)
Among the most decadent of pies, this remains a favorite at my house. Yes, it’s highly-caloric, but I give you permission to savor it once a year. The addition of bourbon and chocolate elevate this holiday favorite to new heights, but you can omit them if you wish. Enjoy!

9-inch gluten-free pie crust (recipe in Gluten-Free 101, 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes)
2 tablespoons milk of choice, for brushing on pastry crust
2 cups pecan halves
¼ cup chocolate chips
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups dark (or light) corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or buttery spread, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon bourbon or rum (or pure vanilla extract)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup whipped topping

[1] Place a rack in the bottom position and another in the middle position of oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare the pastry dough as directed in your recipe or use a premade crust. Brush outer edges of crust with milk to encourage browning. Arrange pecan halves on bottom of pie crust and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

[2] Make the filling: In a food processor fitted with knife blade, combine filling ingredients and blend until thoroughly combined and very smooth. Or, blend with an electric mixer until very smooth. Pour mixture over pecans in pie shell. Place pie pan on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven.

[3] Bake 20 minutes. Move the pie to the middle rack and continue baking for another 30 to 35 minutes more or until the filling is set. If the crust starts to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

[4] Remove pie to wire rack and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving to make sure pie is firm enough to cut. Cut into 8 slices. Serve with a tablespoon of whipped topping.