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!
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
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!
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
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
Need a last-minute gift? This festive layer-bar is perfect with its chocolate crust and decadent layers. Assemble this easy mix in a 3-cup glass jar and store in a dark, dry place until gift-giving time. You can also include a can of sweetened condensed milk, but for your dairy-intolerant recipients you might include a jar of your homemade sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below).
Gluten-Free Layer-Bar Mix for Holiday Gift-Giving
And be sure to include the instructions—printed on a festive recipe card and tied to the jar—so the lucky recipient knows how to prepare this decadent treat. In fact, why not make one for yourself while you’re at it! My version is for Christmas (e.g., candy canes) but you can tailor this to suit the occasion. For a non-Christmas version, I would try butterscotch or peanut butter chips in place of the candy canes.
Layer Bar Mix in a Jar
1/4 cup chopped candy canes
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
3/4 cup crushed GF cookies (such as Pamela’s Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookies)
Ingredients to Be Added by Gift Recipient
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or buttery spread, melted
7 ounces (half of 14-ounce can) sweetened condensed milk (see homemade recipe below)
Assembly Instructions to Affix to the Jar
In 3-cup glass jar with screw-top lid (a 24-ounce Classico pasta sauce jar works perfectly), layer ingredients, starting with candy canes and then chocolate chips, coconut, pecans, and white chocolate chips. Spoon crushed cracker crumbs into small plastic bag and place on top of layers. Screw on lid, cover the lid with 6-inch circle of colorful wrapping paper or cloth, tie a festive bow over the paper-covered lid, and affix the recipe card to bow with more ribbon. Store in dark, dry place away from sunlight (so chips don’t melt).
Baking Instructions for the Gift Recipient
Preheat oven to 350⁰F and coat 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Remove cookie crumbs from jar and combine with melted butter. Press evenly into bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle remaining mix ingredients over crumb mixture. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly on top. Bake until chips are melted, about 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 16 small bars.
Dairy-Free Sweetened Condensed Milk
Reprinted with permission from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Fenster (Avery/Penguin Group, 2011)
Quite often, gluten-free folks are also dairy-sensitive and there is no store-bought version of sweetened condensed milk that is gluten-free. So, make this easy version at home. This recipe makes the equivalent of a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, about 1 ¼ cups.
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk of choice (I like So Delicious coconut milk or Living Harvest hemp milk)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or buttery spread
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
 In a small, heavy saucepan whisk together the sugar, sweet rice flour, and salt until thoroughly blended. Whisk in the milk until smooth, then add the butter and heat the mixture on medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.
 Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. Cool to room temperature to thicken a bit more. It is best used at room temperature; can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks but bring to room temperature again before using. Be sure to keep refrigerated until gift-giving time and tell the lucky recipient that it must be refrigerated.
Increasingly, many people avoid grains altogether. Are you one of them? Avoiding gluten grains is hard; avoiding ALL grains is extremely hard—but not impossible. Whenever I have guests, I ask ahead if they have any special diet needs (or simply detest certain foods) and I try to accommodate their requests.
Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake
For example, at a single dinner party, I once served a variety of people with multiple needs—in addition to no gluten, all of the dishes were free of sugar, corn, soy, and dairy. Luckily, I could use eggs and nuts which gave me lots of options.
The Gluten Intolerance Group tells me that a high percentage of gluten-free folks also have other allergens to contend with (usually dairy), so I’m not surprised to see many of you with multiple needs… that’s why all of my cookbooks are also dairy-free—including my latest cookbook, 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes.
This Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake is an example of a dessert you can serve to many people with differing special diet needs. It is moist because it is sweetened with honey, which is a natural humectant (it draws in water). It is also easy since you grind the nuts in a food processor and blend the other ingredients into the nuts—all in the same vessel—which means fewer dishes to wash.
Grain-Free Walnut Honey Cake
By Carol Fenster
Everyone will love this cake, but it is especially nice when you have guests who are grain-free as well as gluten-free. If you use buttery spread or oil, it is also dairy-free, plus there is no soy, either and if you use a corn-free baking powder, you eliminate that culprit as well. So, it can meet the needs of many guests with different special diet needs, even your Paleo guests.
2 cups walnut pieces (measure before grinding)
1/2 cup honey
3 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or buttery spread, melted (or canola oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting
 Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously grease; then line the bottom of an 8-inch round nonstick (gray, not black) springform pan with wax paper or parchment paper. Grease it again and set aside.
 Grind the walnuts in a food processor to a very fine meal. Add the honey, eggs, baking powder, butter, vanilla, and salt to the food processor and process 30 to 40 seconds. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula and process another 30 seconds more or until smooth. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
 Bake about 35 to 40 to minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake rises as it bakes, then falls slightly as it cools. Watch carefully toward the end because it is more likely to burn due to the honey. Cool the cake in the pan 15 minutes on a wire rack. Cut around edge of the pan with a sharp knife to loosen the cake. Release pan sides; discard paper liner. Dust with powdered sugar, cut into slices, and serve. Makes 10 servings.
Per serving: 270 calories; 8g protein; 20g total fat; 4g saturated fat; 1g fiber; 19g carbohydrates; 69mg cholesterol; 195mg sodium
Years ago, I was a faithful watcher of the Lynette Jennings Design Show on the Home and Garden Network. As its title suggests, it was about home decorating. But the thing I remember most was— after Lynette made or showed us something that was wonderful in itself—then she make it even better with a decadent, over-the-top addition. She called it “gilding the lily.”
Pumpkin-Chocolate Marbled Loaf with Orange Glaze
Apply “Gild the Lily” to Food
I like to take that “gilding the lily” concept and apply it to food. So, I took a plain pumpkin loaf (which is lovely in itself) and jazzed it up beyond the traditional pumpkin spices. It is a prettily marbled pumpkin loaf with additional flavors of grated orange peel and chocolate, including chocolate chips…topped off with an orange glaze. Let’s be honest: all of the gilding makes this recipe more of a dessert … be forewarned and enjoy!
Pumpkin-Chocolate Marbled Loaf with Orange Glaze
By ©Carol Fenster
This loaf makes a decadent, yet delightful addition to a Sunday Brunch or a special family meal during the holidays… or anytime you want to serve something memorable.
Makes 12 slices
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 50 to 60 minutes
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup milk of choice, at room temperature
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see below)
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch)
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (I use Hersheys)
2 tablespoons gluten-free chocolate chips
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (plus extra for garnish)
2 tablespoons chopped raw pumpkin seeds, for garnish
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange juice, or more as needed to create a glaze
 Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F. Generously grease a 5×9-inch nonstick (gray, not black) loaf pan.
 In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, milk, pumpkin, oil, and vanilla with an electric mixer on low speed until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, xanthan gum, salt, and baking soda until well blended. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture just until blended. Increase the speed to medium-low and beat until the batter slightly thickens, about 30 seconds. You will have about 4 cups of batter. Transfer 2 cups of the batter to a small mixing bowl, leaving the remaining 2 cups in its original bowl. With the electric mixer, beat the cocoa powder and chocolate syrup into the other bowl on low speed until thoroughly blended to create the chocolate batter. Stir 1 tablespoon of the grated orange zest into the remaining bowl of pumpkin batter.
 Spread 1 cup of the chocolate batter evenly in the pan and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the chocolate chips. Spread 1 cup of the pumpkin batter on top of the chocolate batter. Repeat the layers, by spreading 1 cup of the chocolate batter, sprinkled with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips. Then, spread the final layer of pumpkin batter. Draw a knife through the batter back-and-forth, lengthwise through the pan, to create a slight marbling effect. Sprinkle the top with pumpkin seeds, coat lightly with cooking spray, and sprinkle with a little sugar.
 Bake until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 55to 60 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and cool completely on the wire rack.
 When ready to serve, mix the orange juice into the powdered sugar adding more juice as needed to reach a soft consistency that can be drizzled. Using a fork, drizzle the frosting back and forth across the top of the bread to create a decorative effect and sprinkle with the remaining grated orange zest. With a serrated knife or an electric knife, cut into slices and serve. Keep leftovers tightly covered.
Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour or brown rice flour
1 ½ cups potato starch (not potato flour)
1 cup tapioca flour/starch
Whisk ingredients together thoroughly and store, tightly covered, in a dark, dry place.
Per slice: 290 calories; 3g protein; 12 g total fat; 2g fiber; 45g carbohydrates; 32 mg cholesterol; 316mgs sodium
One of the last things I do before leaving for the airport on a trip—whether it’s a business trip or a family vacation—is load my Kindle with books. I can withstand any airline delay, cranky seatmate, or insomnia from jet lag if I have a book to read. Reading transports me to another world; I simply “check out” of my current situation and enjoy what the words are telling me. So, I read lots of books; in fact, several a week. So, today’s blog is about books that you might like to read as well.
Books Make Perfect Holiday Gifts
It’s almost holiday time. Are you making a gift list? Everybody has someone on that list who is hard to buy for. Or, friends and family want to give you a gift, but want your input. Either way, books make perfect gifts.
Here’s what I’m reading; each of these books has some relationship to food. Some are heavy reading and make you think; others are easy reading and just plain fun.
The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten-Free by Beth Hillson (2014)
Beth’s new book is a great reference guide, especially for people who want a good overview of gluten-free living and related issues …such as choosing a physician, getting tested, setting up a gluten-free kitchen, understanding FODMAP, dating, dining out, traveling, etc.
Beth, a friend and colleague, is extremely well-qualified to write this book: she has celiac disease (in fact, she had it as a child, was pronounced “cured” yet was re-diagnosed later in life). She is also the founder of the Gluten-Free Pantry, food editor of Gluten-Free and More magazine (formerly Living Without), and president of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. I have known Beth for nearly 20 years and together we’ve watched the gluten-free industry grow from just a few of us trailblazers to the huge industry it is now.. and we both marvel at the changes.
I found the whole book extremely useful, but I especially like the section on frank answers to personal questions (the ones you’re hesitant to ask in public… such as “gluten smooching.” ) This book would be a great gift for a newly-diagnosed person because it is such a good overview of the whole gluten-intolerance issue and it has Beth’s great recipes, too. But, frankly, anyone who follows a gluten-free lifestyle will benefit from this book. And, Beth is also the author of another book, Gluten-Free Makeovers, which also makes a great gift.
Delicious by Ruth Reichl (2014)
The author, formerly of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, writes her first novel about a young woman who takes a job in New York City as assistant to the editor of Delicious! Magazine and gets more than she bargained for….including a cache of old letters written by a young fan to James Beard. I found this novel fun to read and deliciously entertaining. This is the sort of book I save for reading during a vacation because it is so easy to keep up with the plot and doesn’t require deep thought.
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz (2014)
The premise of this book is that there is no sound science behind the “low-fat” diet that we’ve been told to follow since 1980. In fact, we need fat in our diet and even saturated fat may not be the “bad guy.” Of all the books in this list, read this one for your health. I was stunned to learn about the role of fat in our diet and why avoiding it may be unhealthy.
Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg (2014)
The author, writer of the popular Orangette blog, chronicles the struggles she and her new husband endure in setting up a new restaurant in Seattle and the toll it takes on their marriage. If you ever considered starting your own restaurant, read this sobering memoir first. Molly has written previous memoirs, so check those out too because they give you some history on her perspective.
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber (2014)
Chef of famous New York City restaurant, Blue Hill in Manhattan, and also with the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester, NY, Barber describes how he envisions food (both the growing and eating of it). The “third plate” is his vision of how we will eat in the future. (I would tell you what this plate looks like, but that would be a spoiler.) I found the book to be a fascinating way of thinking about food and his writing style is entertaining and informative. I was actually sorry to see the book end.
Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal by Ava Chin (2014)
The author is known as the “Urban Forager” in the New York Times which means she eats plants, mushrooms, weeds, etc. that she finds growing in unlikely places in New York City. She describes finding things I didn’t know you could eat and her parallel story is her search for romantic love as well. This book opened my mind to other types of foods, though I won’t be digging up backyard weeds for dinner anytime soon.
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (2008)
This novel, by the author of Lost in Translation, focuses on a young widow who travels to Beijing to defend a paternity suit against her late husband’s estate. With that plot as the background, the widow—who happens to be a food writer—explores Chinese cuisine for a future article…only to find love with a Chinese chef. I loved the book and its portrayal of real Chinese food, not the Chinese buffets here in America.
Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables by Joan Dye Gussow (2010)
Though she in the same league as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, I had never read her books so I had no idea of what to expect. Now in her 80’s, this book chronicles her widowhood and how she adjusts to it, especially a garden which provides her food year-round, especially vegetables—despite continual flooding from a nearby river. My take-away from this book was how to look at aging. Gussow defies stereotypes and remains young and vibrant in mind as well as body.
Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods–How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Business by Joe Dubrow (2014)
This is a history of the natural foods movement, with stories about household names such as Whole Foods, Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, Sprouts, etc. At one time, each of these companies was a mere start-up trailblazer, struggling for a place in what would become an $88 billion natural foods industry. Though gluten-free isn’t a focus of the book, it helped me understand the larger natural foods industry of which our gluten-free world is a part. This isn’t a novel or memoir and it isn’t light reading, but I’m glad I read the book.
100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (2014)
My new book is the perfect gift: small, very colorful, hardback so it will wear well, and full of quick recipes to make your life easier. All of the recipes can be made in less than 30 minutes (some much quicker than that) and my goal is to help you feed yourself and your family with minimal effort. I’m especially pleased with the gorgeous full-color photos. They make you want to lick the page!
Every time I walk into a Starbucks coffee shop I want a slice of their yummy-looking pumpkin spice bread. Especially now that it’s Fall, the perfect time for those wonderful spices. I have never tasted it, but several members of my family eat it and, at times, I’m surrounded by all of them happily enjoying it.
Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread
I share my passion for pumpkin bread with my little 6-year old grandson who is allergic to peanuts, nuts, and eggs. Every time his siblings eat this bread he turns to me with his big brown eyes as if to say, “Why can’t I eat this?” and my heart melts. So, I developed my own recipe that I can adapt for him to be egg-free, too.
At the same time, several of you have asked me for small-batch recipes. What you all have in common is this: you don’t want to bake a standard-size loaf that will spoil before you can eat it all. And, some of you tell me you don’t have enough room in your freezer. So here is my small-batch version that is peanut and nut-free and can be egg-free, if necessary. But first, a little background on small-batch baking.
Small Batch Baking for Small Households
Today, more Americans are living in small households, such as 28% of the 115 million “solo” households in 2011, compared with 26% in 2000. According to USA Today, the largest jump is among seniors who are part of the 77 million baby boomers that become “empty-nesters” when the kids leave home.
In my travels around the country, I meet other “family” configurations: two-roommate households, one or two members within larger families who must eat differently than the rest of the family, and so on.
The Importance of Precise Measuring in Small-Batch Baking
What I have learned by down-sizing this recipe is that precise measuring is even more critical to success here than in standard-size recipes. Scaling a recipe that serves four down to two servings isn’t as simple as dividing everything in half. Far from it!
In some ways, these small-scale recipes needed even more testing than regular recipes because there is a smaller margin of error. Lack of precision here or there can throw off the delicate balance between liquid and dry ingredients. So, when this recipe calls for 1/16 teaspoon of baking soda be sure to use only that amount which is half of 1/8 teaspoon. If you plan to do lots of small-batch baking, invest in a set of mini-measuring spoons so you can be precise.
What Do Those Mysterious Terms Mean?
In some recipes, you may see mysterious terms such as a “pinch” or “dash.” Here’s what those terms mean:
TAD = 1/4 teaspoon
DASH = 1/8 teaspoon
PINCH = 1/16 teaspoon
SMIDGEN = 1/32 teaspoon
DROP = 1/64 teaspoon
Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread for Two
Recipe by Carol Fenster
I always salivate when I see the pumpkin spice bread at coffee shops. Here is my small-scale version which contains a lot of spices to produce that terrific flavor and aroma. Your kitchen will smell heavenly and these cute little loaves also make great gifts for your gluten-free friends. For an egg-free version, omit the egg and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water instead.
1 large egg, at room temperature
[1/2] cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
3 tablespoons canola oil
[1/2] cup Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see below)
[1/3] cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
[1/2] teaspoon baking powder
[1/2] teaspoon xanthan gum
[1/4] (rounded) teaspoon salt
[1/16] teaspoon baking soda (pinch)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon chopped raw pumpkin seeds
 Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Generously grease a 3 1/4 x 5 3/4-inch nonstick (gray, not black) loaf pan.
 In a small bowl, whisk together the egg (or 1 to 2 tablespoons water for egg-free), pumpkin, and oil until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice until well blended. With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture just until blended. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and sprinkle the pumpkin seeds evenly on top, slightly pressing them into the batter with your fingers.
 Bake until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and cool on the wire rack for another 10 minutes. Use a serrated knife or an electric knife to cut into 6 slices and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Makes one 3 ¼ x5 ¾ -inch loaf; 6 slices
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 35 to 40 minutes
Per serving: 165 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams total fat; 1grams fiber; 23 grams carbohydrates; 31 mgs cholesterol; 165 mgs sodium
Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour
1 ½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour/starch
Whisk together until well blended and store, tightly covered in a dark, dry place.
Fresh Herb Preservation 101
It is no secret that I love my herb garden. And for good reason. Herbs add flavor to our food—no matter what diet you follow, gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian, low-fat or whatever. They can be used decoratively in floral arrangements as well as food garnishes and they also have medicinal qualities (e.g., sage tea for sore throats or thyme tea for respiratory congestion).
Parsley is a healthy garnish and a delicious herb.
I use fresh herbs in all of my cookbooks, such as 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes, but I also give equivalent dried amounts for those of you who don’t have access to fresh herbs. And, I love to make Chimichurri, a flavorful mixture of fresh herbs and spices.
Few things give me more pleasure than stepping outside my kitchen door to snip a few herbs as I’m preparing dinner. So, though I love Fall, I’m also sad that summer is nearly over.
It is late October now, the inevitable hard frost that is just around the corner will reduce my lovely, leafy herbs to mush if I don’t gather them now. The problem is that I have far herbs more than I can use up, so I must preserve them now or they will go to waste.
Preserving precious fresh herbs not only saves money but also makes them available to us throughout the year, whenever we want. Even if you don’t grow your own herbs, use my ideas for store-bought fresh herbs too. After all, a package of fresh herbs costs about $3 (or more if organic), yet most recipes don’t use the whole package. Leftover herbs are often thrown away after wilting in the fridge and that costs money.
I have two main methods of drying fresh herbs, which I describe here. Plus, I also freeze certain herbs, so here are my tips.
Preserving Fresh Herbs by Drying Them in a Paper Bag
Last year, I used my microwave to quickly dry my fresh herbs. This year, I used the paper grocery bag method because I had a bunch of bags to use up and this seemed like an appropriate use for them.
 Cut the stalks or stems of herbs from the plant, leaving the leaves on. Wash and blot the herbs with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Discard any mushy or wilted parts.
Place the herbs in a large paper grocery bag (not a plastic bag, which doesn’t breath). Be careful not to crowd them or put too much in a bag or the air can’t circulate as well. Fold the top of the bag over and seal with clothespins or paper clips to keep out bugs and dust. Place in a dark, dry place. I use a shelf in my garage, which is dry (after all, I live in Denver) and still gets warm enough to create a nice, dry hothouse effect. Check the bags periodically to see when the herbs are totally dry.
 Strip off the leaves with your fingers and discard stems, which can be tough and woody.
Place the dried herbs in airtight glass jars with tight-fitting lids, not plastics or metals. Be sure to clearly label each herb. Glass spice jars work especially well for this purpose. Store these jars in a dark, dry place without sunlight so moisture doesn’t build up inside and cause them to spoil.
Preserving Fresh Herbs by Drying Them in a Microwave Oven
You can also dry herbs in the microwave oven, which I did last year with great success.
 Cut the stalks or stems of herbs from the plant, leaving the leaves on. Wash and blot the herbs with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Discard any mushy or wilted parts.
 Place the herb sprigs in a single layer on a paper towel-lined, microwave-safe plate. Microwave on High power for 2 to 3 minutes, in 1-minute increments. Check after each 1-minute increment; they should be completely dry and brittle. If there is any moisture, they could mold during storage. The exact time to dry them will vary by the amount of moisture in the herbs and your microwave.
 Strip off the leaves with your fingers and discard stems, which can be tough and woody. Last year, I failed to remove all of the thyme stems and now I have to pick them out by hand from the dried leaves.
 Place the dried herbs in airtight glass jars with tight-fitting lids, not plastics or metals. Be sure to clearly label each herb. Glass spice jars work especially well for this purpose. Store these jars in a dark, dry place without sunlight so moisture doesn’t build up inside and cause them to spoil.
Freezing Fresh Herbs
Some herbs―especially soft herbs that hold a lot of moisture such as basil, lemon balm, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, and parsley―freeze well in plastic freezer bags for up to six months. Rinse them first and pat as dry as possible, then place in the bags. They will look a little bruised when thawed—and they must be used in cooked dishes (e.g., in soups, stews, casseroles, etc.) and won’t look nice in fresh foods like salads since they will be mushy—but their flavor is still intact and they retain all of their health benefits. In fact, I routinely freeze parsley and save considerable time later by not having to chop it up; it’s just waiting for me in the freezer. Plus, I save money because it doesn’t go to waste.
Are you time-challenged?
Mexican Skillet Beef and Rice from 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes; Photo by Jason Wyche
I remember when I would rush home from work after a long commute and head straight to the kitchen to start dinner. We had to eat quickly because there was always the inevitable homework for my son, office work for me, and—on some nights—a school or community meeting to attend.
Early on, I decided that we would not sacrifice our health by skipping meals or resorting to TV dinners or simply snacking over the kitchen sink. So, I made time to sit down and eat a meal at the table. Of course, I had my repertoire of quick recipes for nights like this but I would have loved the recipe for this one-pan dish back then.
I strongly believe in planning ahead (such as having cooked rice and browned ground beef on hand for this recipe), but I know that even the best intentions go astray. I read recently that home cooks who plan the week’s meals still tend to “fall off the wagon” by mid-week so that Thursday and Friday are more likely to be take-out meals or hastily-assembled affairs.
I can relate to this: it takes discipline and commitment to adhere to a weekly meal plan, especially if you are extremely busy. But I also feel strongly that what we eat is the most profound thing we do to our bodies, so I still prepare our own meals as often as I can. I hope you do too.
Try this quick, easy dish called Mexican Skillet Beef and Rice (from my new book, 100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES). It’s got loads of flavor from the chili powder, oregano, and cumin plus protein from the ground beef. You serve it right from the skillet, so no extra serving bowls to wash. Super-easy, boldly flavorful, it is sure to become one of your family’s favorites. You can get your copy of 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes wherever books are sold.
Mexican Skillet Beef & Rice
Excerpted from 100 BEST QUICK GLUTEN-FREE RECIPES © 2014 by Carol Fenster. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
This dish is for really busy nights, when you want dinner on the table right away. Serve it with a tossed salad, along with corn tortillas wrapped in damp paper towels and heated gently in the microwave. This is a good way to use up leftover cooked brown rice that you’ve stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Or, quickly cook instant brown rice while browning the ground beef.
8 ounces lean ground beef
1/4 cup chopped onion or 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
½ cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 can (14- to 15- ounce) can pinto beans or black beans, rinsed and drained and rinsed
1 can (4- ounce) can diced green chiles
2 medium Roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
 In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and onion over medium-high heat until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring to crumble the beef. The beef will be more flavorful if it is fully browned and all the liquid has evaporated.
 Add the water, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and salt and stir to combine. Stir in the rice, beans, and chiles and heat to serving temperature, about 5 minutes. Top with the chopped tomatoes; garnish with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately, right from the skillet.
STORAGE: Refrigerate leftovers, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 days.
Makes 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 to 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Per serving: 520 calories; 29g protein; 8g total fat; 28g fiber; 85g carbohydrates; 21mg cholesterol; 234mg sodium