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Where in the World is Carol?

Carol's in the kitchen, cooking up recipes for and

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

Join Carol at Bob's Red Mill, April 21, 5-7PM, in Milwaukie, OR for "Gluten-Free Pastries, Cakes, Breads, for Parties, Weddings, Showers, Graduation, and Afternoon Tea. Sign up at Bob's Red Mill website.

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!

Gluten-Free Sailing on the Baltic Sea with Viking

Visiting eight European countries around the Baltic Sea in 14 days is an ambitious goal, but that’s what my husband and I did this summer on a Viking Ocean Cruise.

Viking Ocean Cruise ship

Viking Ocean Cruise ship

From my earlier blogs, you know that I was very pleased with the two Viking River Cruises I took in 2013 and 2015:

a) Christmas Market Cruise on the Main River in Germany from Frankfurt to Nuremberg

b) the Danube River Cruise from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary

The Viking Ocean Cruises began in 2015 and all of their ships are brand-new, luxurious, and offer many amenities (such as a spa, pool, entertainment, heated bathroom floors, etc) that the smaller river ships (barges) cannot offer.

Why Viking?

In addition to my prior experience with the Viking line, the other reasons I chose this Ocean cruise were:

[1] I previously visited only two of the Baltic countries before (Norway and Germany), so this was a chance to also see Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, and Poland in one single itinerary.

[2] Viking Cruises handles my gluten-free diet superbly, so I knew I would eat well and safely.

[3] Every cabin on this ship had its own balcony (no port-hole rooms) so they were open and spacious, not claustrophobic. In fact, our cabin was every bit as large as several hotel rooms in the U.S.

The Itinerary

We set sail from Bergen, Norway and continued to Denmark, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden over the two weeks. This was probably one of the most ambitious European trips that we ever did and yes, we were tired. But, we were also excited about seeing a new city in a new country almost every other day. This excitement made it easier to deal with jet-lag, too.

The Food!!

Sightseeing was fun, but eating was even more fun! Cruise ships have an abundance of food, available in multiple restaurants at almost every hour of the day. In fact, if you miss a meal you can always order 24-hour room service to your cabin.

Early on, I met my hero—Restaurant Supervisor Ljupcho Toevksi, a very handsome young man from Macedonia who spoke perfect English. His job was to make sure I ate well. Thanks to his communications with the kitchen staff (over 100 people work in the kitchen to serve 930 passengers) I had delicious whole-grain gluten-free bread (baked daily on-board) at every meal—both sandwich bread and rolls, made from Schar baking mix. 

Gluten-Free Bread on Viking Ocean Cruise

Gluten-Free Bread on Viking Ocean Cruise

In addition to bread, which could be used as toast or sandwiches, I also ate gluten-free pizza topped with my choice of toppings. It was so good that I ate an entire pizza myself. They used a bread mix from Schar and then modified it.

I also ate gluten-free waffles and pancakes for breakfast and then they turned the sandwich bread into Eggs Benedict—which was so good that I ate it for three mornings straight.

Gluten-free pizza

Gluten-free pizza

There were usually at least one or two gluten-free choices for dessert, often a mousse, pudding, and the usual gelato and sorbets. At Manfredi’s restaurant, I had the most divine Dark Chocolate flourless cake. One of my favorite naturally-gluten-free desserts was the chocolate fondue with fresh fruit. One evening we had chocolate mousse in chocolate cups, which was superb.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

The Process

Every evening, Ljupcho would send the next day’s dinner menu to my cabin. I circled my choices (for appetizer, entrée, and dessert) and returned it to the dining room the next morning. When I arrived for dinner, my server already knew what my choices were and made sure I got the right dish. Of course, I could always eat in the World Café (the buffet restaurant) which was really quite good and had two major benefits: it was super-fast because we could simply choose our food on-the-spot from the vast array of choices and it also gave us a chance to taste a wider variety of different dishes. As we progressed from country to country, the kitchen often featured a dish from that country (e.g., German food when we were in Germany; fish chowder when we were in Denmark).

Yet another advantage to the World Café is that it featured an open-kitchen so there were lots of chefs that I could ask about the contents of any dish. They were all very knowledgeable, but they didn’t hesitate to ask a superior about the dish’s ingredients to make sure I was safe. And, I could watch them prepare my food right there on the spot. For example, they prepared my Eggs Benedict right in front of my eyes so I knew it was safe!

My Tips
The one thing I learned about getting what you want on a cruise ship is that you must pre-order the gluten-free baked goods (except for the bread), because they are not baked unless a passenger asks for it. So, unless you ask for it before-hand (e.g., the pizza, waffle, etc.) you might not get it.

Finally, if you are considering a Viking cruise my advice is to go for it! I found it to be a very comfortable, safe way to see Europe.


Upset the Apple Cart with This Twist on Apple Pie


Enjoy Apples!

Fall is here, apples are at their best, and the aroma of apples baking in the oven is both comforting and enticing. Of course, you can make a traditional, two-crust Apple Pie, but here is a super-simple No-Bake Caramel Apple Pie from the Denver Post.

Although the Denver Post recipe is not gluten-free, it will be if you use easy-to-find, gluten-free versions of all the ingredients. Warning: It is extremely decadent, and doesn’t cut into clean slices. You just scoop it onto your plate. But it is so darn good, you won’t care about that!

No-Bake Caramel Apple Pie – What’s In It?
The pie is basically apples cooked with caramels and spices, piled in a crumb-crust (use gluten-free cookies if you can’t find gluten-free graham crackers) and top it with whatever you like: crushed gluten-free cookies, chopped nuts, and mini-chocolate chips were used in the Denver Post recipe. Personally, I like crushed toffee-chocolate bars such as Skor, butterscotch or white-chocolate chips, and then perhaps Pamela’s Ginger or Chocolate cookies. If you plan Halloween wisely, maybe you will have leftover candy for this pie.

Even though the pie is “no-bake” you do have to cook the apples before putting them in the crust. Here are some tips for which apples to use and some secrets to a good apple pie filling. They may not all apply to the above recipe, but will be very useful when you make a traditional two-crust pastry apple pie.

Secrets to Baking Success in Apple Pies
Pre-Cooking the Apples
Cook’s Illustrated magazine says to pre-cook the apple filling before making pies. They recommend simmering the filling ingredients for about 15 to 20 minutes on low heat (or until the apples just start to break down). Apparently, when gently heated (and the key is “gentle,” not to exceed 140°F or you won’t get the desired result), the pectin in apples is converted to a heat-stable form that keeps them from becoming mushy when cooked further in the oven. Who knew?

An added benefit is that our gluten-free pastry pie crusts don’t stand up well to prolonged baking, so pre-cooking the apples helps reduce baking time. Also, precooking the apples shrinks them down a bit and you can fit more apples into the pie crust if you like a really big, high pie (which I do!).

Use a Blend of Apple Varieties
These same experts recommend using a blend of apples in pies, rather than just one variety. Some apples remain firm, others get mushy. Some diminish in flavor from baking, while others actually improve. For baking, they suggest equal parts of both tart and sweet apples…such as Granny Smiths, Empires, or Cortlands for the tarts and Yellow Delicious, Jonagolds, or Braeburns for the sweets.

Sweeteners, Spices, and Flavorings
For sweeteners in pie, use two-thirds white and one-third brown sugar, rather than just white sugar. The molasses in brown sugar adds a hint of caramel that complements apple flavor. Maple syrup or apple cider (reduced to half by simmering over low heat) provide nice flavor, too. A squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon of lemon zest provide acid to highlight flavors and balance sweetness. A quarter-teaspoon of salt heightens flavors.

Spices are such a personal thing; I have a heavy-hand when it comes to spices but you may prefer a milder approach. For some, just a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon is all they need. Others want more variety, so they add one-eighth-teaspoon ground allspice and maybe a quarter-cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger. For a spicier pie, add one-eighth teaspoon ground cloves, along with the cinnamon and allspice. Or, if allspice isn’t your thing, use the same amount of ground nutmeg. Of course, you can just use apple pie spice (a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) and use as much as you like!

Finally, Pastry Pie Crust
Wondering about gluten-free pastry pie crusts? Each of my cookbooks has a no-fail pastry pie-crust recipe. Or, use one of the gluten-free pie crust mixes such as Bob’s Red Mill. For a visual guide to shaping gluten-free pie crusts, see my website for my video on making Pie Crusts.

It is Pumpkin Spice Latte Time!

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

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Latte


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

Pumpkin is Everywhere!
It appears that we are a pumpkin-loving society! That unmistakable pumpkin flavor shows up in pie filling, coffee, yogurt, milk, desserts—even dog food. (Yes, you read that right.) Pumpkin-flavored dog food fetched more than $12 million in 2014. If you would like to see where we spent our dollars on pumpkin-flavored food last year, see this Nielsen data. This might make good cocktail-party conversation, you never know!

History of Pumpkin Spice Latte
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. According to CNN, today the Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has 85,000 followers on Twitter.

Make Your Own Pumpkin Spice Latte
If you want to make your own Pumpkin Spice Latte or PSL, we can thank the Food Network for this recipe. One of the things I like about making my own PSL is controlling the sugar, since I find the Starbucks 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. Of course, your homemade version will be gluten-free because you control what goes into 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. And, of course, your homemade version will be much cheaper.

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.

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!

Cloud Bread

If you are gluten-free, grain-free and on a low-carb diet, you may have heard of Cloud Bread which is making the rounds on the Internet. I first saw it on the Dr. Oz TV show where it was demonstrated by famed chef Rocco DiSpirito and immediately realized that this recipe could fill an important void for some people.

Cloud Bread

Cloud Bread

What is Cloud Bread?

It is an extremely light, airy flatbread…hence the name Cloud Bread. It is as light as a cloud (if one could eat a cloud, that is!). If you are a fan of heavy, dense whole-grain breads like I am then this one might not excite you.  But this bread is super-easy and only uses 4 ingredients, so it may be a life-saver for some families.

But if you are grain-free and gluten-free (and also dairy-free), then it might be a suitable substitute for traditional breads. It bakes up in 10 light rounds. If you put two of the rounds together, they resemble flat hamburger buns so you could make a sandwich with them. Or, you can eat them as flatbread as an accompaniment to a meal.

Find the recipe for Cloud Bread here  

Nutrients per each round of bread: 37 calories, 3g fat; 2g protein, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 61mg cholesterol, 30mg sodium

Carol’s Tips for Cloud Bread

Since I didn’t invent the recipe, I can’t reprint it here. But I can give you some tips for making it better:

[1] I followed the recipe exactly as printed online. Be sure to bring the cream cheese to room temperature, or it won’t blend into the eggs.

[2] The breads are not that flavorful, so you could toss in finely chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, or basil into the batter. Or, sprinkle them with poppy seeds or sesame seeds…or whatever you like to make them more interesting. But if you like plain bread, then don’t add anything.

[3] If you are also lactose-free, use Green Valley cream cheese which has the lactose removed.  It behaves the same as regular cream cheese in baking and measures the same.

[4] Some other recipes for Cloud Bread call for 1 teaspoon baking powder, which I haven’t tried.  I would blend it in with the eggs, cream cheese, and sugar. It will probably make the bread rise higher, but I don’t think the breads need it.



Three Fabulous (Gluten-Free) Days in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Antigua Inn

Imagine a beautiful 100-year-old adobe house—conveniently located near the famous Santa Fe square—that has been remodeled to preserve its heritage, but with every modern convenience imaginable. Then add in a chef who understands gluten-free cooking and offers the most fabulous breakfasts, and you have the perfect Bed & Breakfast. That’s how I spent 3 days last week in the Land of Enchantment, otherwise known as New Mexico.

Antigua Inn kitchen

Antigua Inn kitchen

We visit Santa Fe at least once a year, mostly to enjoy the fabulous food. This year’s visit coincided with our wedding anniversary so we chose a special Bed & Breakfast, the Antigua Inn. It was mentioned in Food & Wine Magazine so I knew it was good. But we were amazed at how special this place is.

Beautifully restored, this lovely house features every modern convenience despite its 100-year old heritage. 

Notice the gorgeous kitchen in the photo.

But it was the warm hospitality and superb, gluten-free food that I want to tell you about.


Gluten-Free Breakfasts at Antigua Inn

The first morning we had gluten-free mini-Quiches made with non-dairy ingredients and it was fabulous. Baked in cupcake pans, the quiche had a hint of green chile (a must in New Mexico), accompanied by house-smoked bacon, fried polenta, and a lovely fruit salad. And, the coffee was superb—made from hand-roasted beans you can order at Antigua Coffee Company.  They also offered gluten-free toast, but I already had plenty of food!



The second morning, we ate Blue Corn Pancakes with blueberries and pine nuts (called pinon in New Mexico). Gluten-free and dairy-free, they were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten. They were served with gluten-free sausage and a marvelous yogurt parfait topped with gluten-free granola. I was in heaven!

Blue Corn Pancakes

Blue Corn Pancakes

On the third morning (as if it couldn’t get better!!) we had gluten-free, dairy-free Huevos Rancheros—one of my favorite breakfasts. With bacon and fried polenta, and the usual fruit plate it was absolutely delicious. On top of these marvelous breakfasts, there were gluten-free treats such as Biscochitos (cookies).

Huevos Rancheros Antigua Inn 2016

Huevos Rancheros Antigua Inn 2016

Other Gluten-Free Dining in Santa Fe

Santa Fe is known for its fabulous food, so finding gluten-free options was easy. One of our favorites is La Boca with chef James Campbell Caruso, an 8-time James Beard Chef of the Southwest nominee. We love his tapas and always have a glass of sherry too since the restaurant’s theme is Spanish. Our favorite dish was Paella. But I also had house-baked gluten-free bread that I used to sop up the delicious liquids from a bowl of Mussels. An incredible meal; in fact, we went to that restaurant for lunch the next day, too.

Radish & Rye was recommended to us by the Antigua Inn and it was our second fabulous dinner. The menu features local, farm-to-table fare and it was upscale and superb. The staff was extremely well trained. I had salmon and a tossed green salad that was incredibly fresh and lovely. I would go to this restaurant again.

Our third dinner was a “dive” compared to the other two restaurants but a fun experience nonetheless. Called Tune-Up Cafe, it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri. It features food with an El Salvadore-style touch, such as a Pupusa which was delicious. I also had a Tamale wrapped in a banana leaf. The ambience shouts “dive.” The café is very small, noisy and cramped. But we knew that before we went. The food is not fancy but delicious and I would go there again.

All in all, Santa Fe did not disappoint! I will be back next year!

Egg-Free Mayonnaise from the Liquid in Canned Chickpeas

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month. Eggs Are a Severe Allergen.

Egg allergies can be quite serious. I know from experience: My grandson is allergic to eggs. We carry an Epi-Pen at all times and watch his diet carefully. I prepare his food without eggs, including items like pancakes. But I find baking without eggs very difficult, much harder than baking without wheat.

So, whenever I read about replacements for eggs or egg- based foods, I listen.

Egg-Free Mayonnaise Made from Chickpea Liquid Called Aquafaba

The first time I heard of this idea I couldn’t believe it. It uses the liquid that surrounds a can of chickpeas which is called aquafaba. Really? Mayonnaise from the lowly chickpea (or garbanzo bean)? But then I tried it, and I liked it.

The idea comes from the Serious Eats website and its primary chef, J. Kenji López-Alt. Plus, I have read his book The Food Lab. He has a marvelous way of explaining what happens in a kitchen in a simple, easy-to-understand way. So, I knew that if he liked this egg-free mayonnaise, then I would too.

Kenji explains that aquafaba is the protein-rich liquid surrounding canned chickpeas. As he says, “It’s pretty amazing stuff—you can whip it into stiff peaks like a meringue, use it to leaven pancakes and waffles, or make light sponge cakes, all without any eggs at all.”  This is good news for those of us who cook for people who can’t eat eggs.

I plan to try the meringue later, but I was most intrigued by the fact that aquafaba can also be used to make mayonnaise. So, below is the link to Kenji’s mayonnaise recipe. Enjoy!

Egg-Free Mayonnaise Recipe

You can find the recipe here:

Carol’s Tips
[1] Kenji uses SW brand of chickpeas, which has a milkier, thicker composition (more viscous) than the brand I used which was Simple Truth by Kroeger stores. The next time I make it, I would use SW brand.

[2] Two garlic cloves make this a very garlicky mayonnaise—which really limits its use to savory dishes. I often use mayonnaise in my Waldorf salad, where garlic is inappropriate. In fact, I think this mayonnaise is really closer to aioli, a garlicky Mediterranean sauce that resembles mayonnaise. So, I would either omit the garlic OR use only a portion of a whole garlic clove for a mild, but not overpowering flavor.

[3] Be forewarned, your mayonnaise might not thicken as much without the garlic. The recipe makes a looser, thinner mayonnaise. If that’s OK with you, fine. Or, add 1/8 teaspoon of guar gum to the finished product for a thicker consistency.

[4] Be sure to add the oil only AFTER you have pureed the other ingredients. This is necessary to create a good emulsion so the mayonnaise stays together.

Grain-Free Orange Cake with Chocolate Sauce

Grain-Free Orange Cake with Chocolate Sauce

Grain-Free Orange Cake with Chocolate Sauce

Special Occasion Cake Without Gluten, Dairy, Grain

There are a number of special occasions in the Spring— Easter, Passover, Seder, Mother’s Day, graduations and so on— at which many of us will either host or be a guest at a meal in which the dessert needs to be grain-free, leavening-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

I have the perfect dessert for this occasion—a flourless cake made with almond meal and sweetened with orange marmalade. This cake turns out moist and flavorful and—when garnished with a drizzle of chocolate sauce—reassures those with food sensitivities or special diets that it is possible to “have your cake and eat it, too!”

Why Grain-Free?

There is a great deal of interest these days in grain-free baking, partly due to the Paleo diet. We also see interest during holidays where we celebrate with friends or loved ones who have special diets.  Right now, we have graduations, weddings, bridal showers, etc. Other people simply feel better when they avoid grains. In this case, almond meal (or other nut meals made from pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts) is perfect for baking. It can also be called almond flour; if you can’t find it, grind 2 cups of blanched almonds in the food processor to make almond meal. If the almonds are whole, the skins will make the cake darker in color and not as pretty so it’s better to use blanched or slivered almonds, which have the skins removed.

How to Serve This Cake

To garnish it, I dust the cake with powdered sugar and eat it plain or garnish it with a drizzle of your favorite store-bought chocolate sauce/syrup, with some pretty raspberries and fresh mint for garnish. It is so moist that it keeps very well on the countertop for a couple of days, although this is dangerous since you will find yourself grabbing a slice throughout the day as you walk by. Trust me….it is irresistible.

Grain-Free Orange Cake with Chocolate Sauce

Adapted from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley, 2008)

This is the perfect dessert for those occasions where guests have a variety of special diets; it’s fail-proof, gorgeous, and delicious. You can even bake it ahead of time, freeze (tightly wrapped) and thaw on the countertop before serving at room temperature.

1 ¼ cups store-bought orange marmalade

2 cups almond meal

¼ cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

5 large whole eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt (optional)

4 tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting

Store-bought Chocolate sauce, fresh mint leaves, and fresh raspberries, for garnish

[1] Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350?F. Generously grease an 8-inch nonstick (gray, not black) springform pan and line it with parchment paper. Grease again; set aside.

[2] In a food processor, process the marmalade, almond meal, brown sugar, xanthan gum, eggs, vanilla, and salt (if using) for 30 to 40 seconds. Scrape down the sides with a spatula, and blend again 30 to 40 seconds or until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

[3] Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cover with foil during the last 20 minutes of baking to avoid overbrowning, if necessary. Cool the cake in the pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. Gently run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove outer rim. Cool the cake completely on the wire rack. Invert onto a serving plate and remove parchment paper. Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar, chocolate sauce, fresh mint, and fresh raspberries.

Gluten-Free Serendipity on the Oregon Coast

Do you believe in serendipity? I do. Numerous times, events happen that—strange as it sounds—turn out unexpectedly for the best. The experts define serendipity as something that happens by chance, but unexpectedly turns out in a happy way.

Sunset on Oregon Coast

Sunset on Oregon Coast

Here is what happened to me:

My husband and I were vacationing in Cannon Beach, a resort town on the Oregon coast that is famous for its unusual haystack rock formations. I was in Oregon because I taught a gluten-free class at Bob’s Red Mill Cooking School in Portland and we were enjoying a few days on the beach before returning home to Denver.

After a day of sightseeing near Astoria to the north, we were driving south on Highway 101 (the only main thoroughfare along the coast), hoping to have dinner in Cannon Beach and then a nice quiet night by the fireplace in our hotel room—with the sound of the ocean in the background.

Sadly, a fatal accident blocked the highway and we had no choice but to return north 7 miles to the next town—which happened to be Seaside, a community not exactly known for gourmet dining. We were frustrated, to say the least.

Google to the Rescue

I “googled” the term “upscale dining” and a few restaurants popped up, with Maggie’s on the Prom at the top. It is located within the Seaside Oceanfront Inn, with Maggie’s being the only fine-dining oceanfront restaurant in the whole town. We sat in our car outside the restaurant, read all the reviews of the restaurant, and finally decided we would give it a chance. I had my doubts, since the reviews were mixed.

Gluten-Free Serendipity at Seaside Oceanfront Inn

What a delight! The restaurant faces the ocean, with outdoor dining on a patio. But it was raining so we opted for a table indoors. Our waiter was fabulously helpful and I had my choice of delicious dishes that I rarely get to eat in a restaurant such as clam chowder, crab cakes, and calamari. Obviously, the chef understood the gluten-free diet.

Chocolate Mousse at Maggie's on the Prom, Seaside Oceanfront Inn

Chocolate Mousse at Maggie’s on the Prom, Seaside Oceanfront Inn

But the best part was the Chocolate Mousse, three tiers of luscious chocolate heaven topped with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Easily the best dessert of the trip! Thoroughly sated, we began our journey back to the hotel.

As it turned out, the highway was closed for 4 hours, we had to take a detour that added another hour to our trip, but we were happy campers at having found this little gem of a restaurant. I would return in a heartbeat!

The moral of the story?

Sometimes, especially when traveling, it’s best to just go with the flow and let events happen. In this case, our story had a happy ending.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Crispy Beef Tacos

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Crispy Beef Tacos

Here in the Southwest where I live, we observe Cinco de Mayo (May 5) seriously, a day of celebrating Mexican heritage and pride. While it has some significant roots in the history of Mexico, this date is also a good excuse to indulge in Mexican food and have a little fun—and it’s an excellent excuse for a margarita. 

Crispy Beef Tacos

Crispy Beef Tacos

We celebrate Cinco de Mayo with many foods, but one of the most family-friendly is simple tacos. My grandkids love them, adults love them, and they are colorful and versatile.  You can use beef, as I do here, but we often use ground turkey instead and no one’s the wiser.

Crispy Beef Tacos

Anything goes when it comes to tacos. I usually use leftover cooked meat (such as browned ground beef or shredded pork) in the fridge or freezer, but you can use browned ground turkey as well. You can also use soft white or yellow corn tortillas. Just check the label to make sure they are gluten-free since some corn tortilla brands also include wheat. This recipe makes 6 regular-size tacos; simply double the ingredients to make 12 tacos.

3/4         cup browned ground beef or turkey (or shredded pork)

Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)

1 ½ to 2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste

1/4         cup diced red onion

1/2         diced tomato 

1/4         cup store-bought Mexican salsa

1/4         cup shredded cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese, or a mixture of cheese

1/2         cup shredded iceberg lettuce (or lettuce of your choice)

1/4         cup chopped fresh cilantro

4            crisp gluten-free corn taco shells

[1] In a small skillet over medium heat, toss the browned ground beef with the salt and pepper (if using) and chili powder and then heat to serving temperature.

[2] For each taco, layer the beef, onion, tomato, salsa, cheese, lettuce, and cilantro in a taco shell. Serve immediately. Makes 6 tacos.

Per taco:  505calories;  23g protein;  32 g total fat; 6g fiber; 33g carbohydrates; 79mg cholesterol; 466mg sodium

Lentil Underground: A Case for Eating Beans and Legumes

Lentil Underground? What is that, a crime organization? When I first heard of this book during an interview with author Liz Carlisle (a Michael Pollan protégé), on Splendid Table I thought I misunderstood. But since I’m a huge fan of pulses (which includes lentils, but also beans and legumes such as peas) I listened anyway. I am glad I did.

Enjoy Beans in This Quick Main Dish (photo by Jason Wyche)

Enjoy Beans in This Quick Main Dish (photo by Jason Wyche)

The Story Behind the Book

The story behind the book, Lentil Underground:  Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America, began forty years ago when corporate agribusiness told small farmers to “get big or get out.” But twenty-seven-year-old David Oien took a stand, becoming the first in his conservative Montana county to plant a radically different crop: organic lentils.

Why lentils? Lentils make their own fertilizer and tolerate variable climate conditions, so farmers aren’t beholden to industrial methods that require chemical fertilizers. Today, Oien leads an underground network of organic farmers who work with heirloom seeds and biologically diverse farm systems. Under the brand Timeless Natural Food, their unique business-cum-movement has grown into a million dollar enterprise that sells to Whole Foods, hundreds of independent natural foods stores, and a host of renowned restaurants. You have probably seen these legumes in stores and may have a bag of them in your pantry. Most importantly for us—they are gluten-free.

Why Lentils Are Good for You

While I support farming methods that restore the soil, I’m more intrigued by the importance of underrated legumes in our diet because they are so good for you. Here is a brief summary of these benefits; for more details read here and here:

*full of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals

*facilitate weight loss

*reduce cholesterol (when eaten regularly)

*have a low glycemic index (they break down slowly in the digestive tract)

*help people feel fuller, sooner, and the fiber in these foods “may reduce the absorption of fat.”

How to Prepare Legumes

 I will add another benefit to legumes: they taste good and are amazingly versatile. But the question most people have is: “How do I eat them?”

To answer that question, Pulse Canada (a Canadian industry association) asked noted dietitian Shelley Case, RD and me to write a booklet about the various ways to prepare them, ranging from using them in salads, main dishes, and ground into flour for baking. In Canada (and Europe), they use the term “pulses” to collectively include beans, chickpeas, legumes, and peas. So, Shelley and I produced this booklet, which is free here .

Using Beans and Lentils in Gluten-Free Cooking

Using Beans and Lentils in Gluten-Free Cooking

Meanwhile, enjoy this quick, one-skillet dish that features beans:

Mexican Skillet Beef & Rice

Reprinted with permission from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

 This dish will become one of your go-to choices for those nights when you need dinner on the table pronto. You control the heat with the spiciness of the salsa (mild, medium, or hot), so choose accordingly. It is very colorful to serve it with avocado slices and sour cream.

8 ounces lean pork sausage

2 cups tomato juice

2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup Mexican salsa, plus more for garnish

2 cups corn tortilla chips

½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar cheese or both, or cheese alternative

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 small head iceberg lettuce, chopped

[1] In a large, heavy, deep skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with a spatula, until deeply browned, about 5 minutes. Pour off the fat and drain the meat on paper towels to remove excess fat. Return the meat to the skillet.

[2] Add the tomato juice, beans, and salsa and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the tortilla chips. Sprinkle with the cheese and cilantro, cover, and heat over low heat just until the cheese melts, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately over a bed of lettuce, garnished with a drizzle of salsa.

Per serving: 480 calories; 20g protein; 23g total fat; 14g fiber; 49g carbohydrates; 34mg cholesterol; 778mg sodium