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!
Today is Fat Tuesday. About this time every year we read about New Orleans and its fabulous food―including beignets―and, immediately, I want a beignet! Luckily, they’re not hard to make.
Crispy Biegnets are mouth-wateringly delectable.
Beignets are like doughnuts—fried and dusted with powdered sugar—but without the holes. Typically served in groups of 3 and liberally dusted with powdered sugar, these delectable little pillows are similar to the sopaipillas served in Mexican restaurants and are quite easy to make. Despite their association with New Orleans and Mardi Gras, they are appropriate any time of the year, so try this recipe.
Adapted with permission from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley, 2008)
Serve beignets with the darkest, richest coffee you can find such as a coffee-chicory blend for authenticity. New Orleans’ restaurants traditionally serve them with Café au Lait (dark coffee and heated milk).
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup + 2 to 4 tablespoons warm (110°F) water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup Carol’s Brown Rice Flour Blend (see below)
3/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter or buttery spread, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Brown rice flour for dusting
Canola oil for frying
Powdered sugar for dusting
 In a small bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon of the sugar in 1/2 cup warm water and stir in yeast until thoroughly mixed. Set aside 5 minutes to foam.
 In a large mixing bowl, combine flour blend, potato starch, sweet rice flour, xanthan gum, salt, and remaining sugar in large mixing bowl. Add yeast mixture, butter, and vanilla. Blend with electric mixer on low, adding remaining 2 to 4 tablespoons of warm water (a tablespoon at a time) to form thick but soft dough. Or, place all ingredients in food processor and process until thoroughly blended and dough forms a soft ball. Whether using a mixer or food processor, the dough should come together in large chunks or one ball when it reaches the proper consistency and it should be smooth and shiny when gathered into a ball and kneaded with your hands.
 Wrap half of dough in plastic wrap to keep from drying out. Roll other half of dough to 8-inch square of 1/8-inch thickness between sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap that are dusted with rice flour. To prevent slipping, place a wet paper towel under bottom plastic wrap to anchor it. Cut in 2-inch squares, trimming away any ragged edges.
 Heat the oil to 370 to 375°F at a depth of 4 inches in a heavy-duty saucepan on the stove or an electric fryer (following manufacturer’s directions).
 Use a slotted spoon to gently slide squares of dough into hot oil (to avoid splattering). When dough rises to the top, turn over to help beignet puff evenly. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, turning several times to encourage even browning (about 1 to 2 minutes total cooking time). Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining half of dough. Serve immediately with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Makes about 24 beignets.
Carol’s Brown Rice Flour Blend
1 ½ cups brown rice flour
1 ½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
Whisk together thoroughly and store tightly covered in a dark, dry place.
 Fry only a few beignets at a time to keep the oil temperature from dropping. Let the temperature return to 370-375°F between each batch. I use a tall, narrow heavy-duty saucepan (about 6-inches wide across the top which allows me to fry about two beignets at a time.
 Use a candy thermometer following manufacturer’s directions to monitor the oil’s temperature.
 If the beignets don’t puff up, it might be due to the oil temperature being too low OR the dough rolled too thin or too thick. Be sure the dough is 1/8-inch thick for best results.
 Hot oil is dangerous and the beignets fry up quickly so stay focused. Don’t leave the hot oil untended.
For safety, keep children and pets away from the hot oil.
 Beignets are best eaten right after frying, while still slightly warm.
Beef Stew in a Slow-Cooker. Photo by Jason Wyche
I have had a slow-cooker in my pantry forever. But I must confess, it (or more correctly…they, since I’ve had several different models over the years) had sporadic use. When I had 2-hour-daily commutes to work, it came in handy for Beef Stew (see recipe), soup, beans, etc. to assure a hot dinner that night. It is my favorite way to make marinara sauce. Yet, it could languish on my pantry, unused, for months.
Lately, I’ve used my slow-cooker for whole cuts of meat, such as the Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder Roast in my new cookbook Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking. The cut slow-cooks in a flavorful orange-juice based broth, and we simply slice it for dinner. Leftover pork is shredded later in the week for tacos and any leftover tidbits of pork go into a green-chile pork stew by week’s end. I love the time I save by cooking once, yet eating many times. I recently cooked a whole chicken (in my new oval-shaped model, perfect for a small whole chicken), following the manufacturer’s directions and it turned out great.
Although I think of slow-cookers as winter-time appliances, they are wonderful for summer because they release less heat into your kitchen than a full-size oven. Given my renewed delight with slow-cookers, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
Slow-cookers: Time Shifters More than Time-Savers
Slow-cookers are a wonderful invention for time-starved cooks—whether they’re gluten-free or not— but they are more of a time-shifter than a time-saver. The slow-cooker doesn’t measure, cut, or brown the food—you still have to do that. But you can perform these tasks when you choose (either the night before or in the morning). Also, the food cooks without your attention, rather than having to stir a pot on the stovetop or check a dish in the oven over the span of several hours. Experienced slow-cooker users know that planning ahead is critical, so always leave time to prep the ingredients.
Choose the Right Size for Your Family
Based on the number of servings you need to feed your family, use the size that allows you to fill the slow-cooker about half full, but no more than two-thirds full. An overfilled slow-cooker won’t cook food quickly enough, raising food-safety issues, while an under-filled slow-cooker can burn food. Generally, a 5- to 6-quart cooker works for most purposes, but if you cook for a larger crowd, a 7-quart version may be better. I often use a 4-quart size when I’m cooking for just the two of us.
Decide What Features are Important
Slow-cookers range from very basic to having lots of bells and whistles. Some slow-cookers switch to Warm when the cooking is done (so the food doesn’t overcook); others have multiple heat settings (to suit the food being cooked) and programmable timers (to control cooking time length). Most have glass lids (to see the food without lifting the lid and losing precious heat).
Some are round or oval, while others are square (which may fit better on the shelf). Older and smaller models don’t have removable crocks (like the kind I started out with years ago), but today’s crocks (also called inserts) are removable and dishwasher-safe. On some models, these inserts can be used to both brown meats on the stovetop and cook the food in the slow-cooker, eliminating the need for a separate skillet for browning. Decide which features are critical and be prepared to pay for more features.
Maximize Flavor in These Ways
You can just add all the raw ingredients to the pot and let them cook. But, browning ingredients such as beef, poultry, and onions will lend deeper flavor to the food, especially if you deglaze the pan with some of the liquid from the recipe and add it to the slow-cooker. This technique captures those flavorful browned bits, called fond, from the bottom of the skillet so you can add them to your dish.
And, you may need to bump up the seasoning (perhaps up to twice as much, depending on the recipe) because prolonged cooking time tends to dilute flavor. So, one teaspoon of oregano may translate into 1 ½ teaspoons or more.
Don’t add too much liquid; the meat doesn’t have to be totally immersed because the cooking process forces ingredients to release liquid, thereby diluting the seasonings.
Final Tips for Success
Don’t peek! Heat escapes every time you lift the lid and it takes awhile to regain the proper cooking temperature ….which slows down the whole process. It’s best to use a recipe formulated for slow-cookers because all of the factors you need to keep in mind are built into the directions. Enjoy!
Beef Stew in a Slow-Cooker
Reprinted with permission from Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound lean beef stew meat, cut in [½]-inch cubes
[1/2] teaspoon salt, or to taste
[1/4] teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 (14-ounce) can gluten-free low-sodium beef broth
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained
4 small red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cups peeled baby carrots
1 tablespoon gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
1[½] tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried, or to taste
[1/2] teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 small garlic clove, minced
[1/4] cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1] In a medium heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Season the stew meat with salt and pepper, add to the skillet, and cook until all sides are deeply browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the beef to the slow-cooker. Add the beef broth to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, to scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Add the broth to the slow-cooker.
 Add the tomatoes to the skillet (chop them if they’re too big for your taste) and heat to boiling, then add to the slow-cooker. Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the parsley to the slow-cooker and stir to combine.
 Cover and cook on Low until the vegetables and beef are tender, 8 to 9 hours. For a thicker stew, transfer about [1/2] cup of the cooked potatoes to a small bowl just before serving and mash them thoroughly with a fork; stir back into the stew. Remove the bay leaf and serve hot, garnished with the parsley.
Per serving: 300 calories; 21g protein; 14g total fat; 4g fiber; 24g carbohydrates; 46mg cholesterol; 477mg sodium
I take great delight in making it easy for beginners to prepare their favorite gluten-free meals.
Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner's Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking
That’s why I am especially happy to tell you that my new cookbook for beginners, Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking, is now in bookstores and natural food stores (and of course, on Amazon.com)
Watch for My Blog Tour
Visit my colleague Amy Green’s marvelous blog for a Lemon Bar recipe and her view of my new book. And, see Sueson Vess’s Special Eats blog for another review. Thanks, ladies!
Many of my other colleagues are blogging about my book in February, so stay tuned to find out where you can win a copy.
My Philosophy About the Book
I believe that living a gluten-free lifestyle can be fun, delicious, and easy. But it wasn’t always that way for me. Like other beginners, I was baffled by unfamiliar ingredients and new cooking techniques when I first adopted a gluten-free diet in 1988. My advantage, however, was that I already had some cooking skills, so the kitchen was not foreign territory to me—as it is for some of you.
Given my own experience and hearing from you, I recognized the need for a cookbook that makes it easy for beginners to make a simple and positive transition to cooking. So, my book explains how to select and work with gluten-free ingredients, how to continue eating healthfully, and how to master basic gluten-free cooking techniques, such as baking delicious breads or rolling gluten-free pizza dough—all with easy-to-follow instructions.
Gluten-Free 101 Has Recipes You Miss the Most
One of the first things newly-diagnosed patients tell me is how much they miss their favorite foods such as pizza, bread, and pasta— and all-American desserts such as brownies, cakes, and cookies. And they miss childhood favorites such as meat loaf, macaroni-and-cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, and comfort-food casseroles. So the book focuses on familiar dishes, but introduces time-saving, simple shortcuts and tips that are especially helpful to beginners.
Examples of Tips, Shortcuts in Gluten-Free 101
For example, using my “cold-oven start,” French baguettes bake in only 30 minutes. Pizza crusts can be baked ahead and frozen, ready for topping at a moment’s notice. I show how to use time-saving appliances such as a slow cooker for beef stew and a food processor to blend cookie dough in seconds. I give tips for handling sticky gluten-free bread dough and shaping gluten-free piecrust so breads and pies look perfect and taste delicious.
Get Your Copy Now
The book contains 175 recipes for everyday favorites with more than 25 beautiful photos to show how the finished dish looks, which is especially important to beginners and each recipe also offers nutrient content. This book joins my award-winning cookbooks— 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes and 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes, all from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers. You can buy your copy at bookstores and natural food stores or at order at Amazon.com. Send me your postal mailing address and I will send you a signed bookplate that you can paste in the book so you have a signed copy.
Despite all the wonderful gluten-free breads on the market, there’s nothing like homemade bread, piping hot from your own oven.
It tastes deliciously fresh, your kitchen smells heavenly like a bakery, and you’re in control of what goes into the bread.
“But baking bread takes so much time” you say. I have devised several shortcuts so everyone can have bread quickly. With a little advance planning, careful choice of pans, and some ingenuity, you can bake homemade bread ….to rave reviews from your family and guests.
The secret? Mix up the dry ingredients (potato starch through salt) ahead of time. Use a three-loaf French Baguette pan, and here’s the ingenuity…start bread to bake in a cold oven. Follow this easy recipe and enjoy homemade bread.
Gluten-Free French Baguettes
By Carol Fenster, author of Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
These easy French Baguettes bake quickly in a three-loaf French baguette pan that starts out in a cold oven—an unusual but effective method that makes perfect baguettes and is easy for beginners.
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm (110°F) water
2 cups potato starch
1 cup Carol’s Sorghum Blend (see below)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites ([1/2] cup), at room temperature (reserve 1 tablespoon for egg wash)
[1/4] cup (1/2 stick) butter or buttery spread, (at room temperature) or canola oil
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
 In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the warm water. Set aside to foam for 5 minutes.
 Grease a French baguette (three trenches) pan or line with parchment paper (for perforated pans).
 In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, whisk together the remaining sugar and the potato starch, sorghum blend, xanthan gum, guar gum, and salt until well blended. With the electric mixer on low speed, beat in the egg whites, butter, vinegar and the yeast-water mixture just until blended. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds, stirring down the side of the bowl with a spatula. The dough will be soft.
 Divide the dough among the three trenches of the baguette pan by dropping 4 or 5 balls of dough in each trench using a #24 or #30 metal spring-action ice cream scoop to make loaves of the same size. Smooth each third into an 11-inch log with a wet spatula, taking care to make each log the same length and thickness, with blunt rather than tapered ends (they brown too quickly). Whisk the reserved tablespoon of egg white with a tablespoon of water until smooth and then brush each loaf with the egg wash. With a sharp knife, make three diagonal slashes [1/8] inch deep in each loaf so steam can escape during baking. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
 Place immediately on the lower-middle rack of a cold oven. Set the oven temperature to 425°F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until nicely browned. Cover the loaves with aluminum foil after 15 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning, if necessary.
 Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing with a serrated knife or an electric knife. Makes 3 baguettes (twenty-one 1-inch servings)
Carol’s Sorghum Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour (or brown rice flour for lighter color and texture)
1 ½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour/starch
Whisk together until well blended. Store, tightly covered, in a dark, dry place.
Per slice: 96 calories; 1g protein; 1g total fat; 2g fiber; 19g carbohydrates; 6mg cholesterol; 110mg sodium
Starting Bread to Bake in a Cold Oven?
It may seem unusual to start bread-baking in a cold oven, especially when we have been taught to preheat the oven before baking anything. In reality, though, the cold-oven method works quite nicely with narrow or thin loaves like French baguettes. It does not work well with standard loaves (e.g., 4×8 or 5×9-inch) because they are too thick for the oven heat to penetrate quickly enough to bake them properly.
Gluten-free bread dough is heavy and wet. As the oven preheats, it warms the wet dough and activates the yeast, causing the bread to rise quickly, but that’s OK because the loaf is narrow, it doesn’t have to rise as much as a standard 5×9-inch loaf, and the heat from the oven dries out the crust to make it crisp. It also means that a French baguette spends only 30 to 35 minutes in the oven compared to a regular loaf that requires rising time and nearly an hour of baking time.
The bottom line? You will have bread much faster with the cold-oven method than with the preheated oven method. This cold-oven method works perfect in my KitchenAid wall oven, but it doesn’t work in all ovens—especially those with quick preheat cycles. Try it once in your oven; if it doesn’t work, then use the traditional method of first rising the dough and then baking it in a pre-heated 425⁰F oven for 25 to 30 minutes.
Want to Make the Dough Ahead of Time?
Dough for French Baguettes
To make this dough ahead and save even more time, use cold water and eggs straight from the refrigerator so you don’t activate the yeast. Assemble the dough, refrigerate tightly covered for up to 3 days before baking. Shape the dough, let it rest for 10 minutes to warm up a bit, and start baking in a cold oven as directed above.
NOTE: For an airier crumb, slightly higher rise, and longer shelf life replace ¼ to ½ cup of the potato starch with Expandex (modified tapioca starch). To see where to buy Expandex, go to www.expandexglutenfree.com.
I am happy to announce the publication of my latest cookbook,
Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner's Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking
Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2014).
And, this week we launch the blog tour for the book. What’s a blog tour? It is a planned series of blog posts by gluten-free experts who discuss my book, perhaps provide a recipe, and maybe even send you a free copy!
So, please visit these marvelous blogs from my supportive colleagues and please share the information with others:
Jan. 22: Amy Green at http://simplysugarandglutenfree.com/
Jan. 28: Elisa Bosley at http://deliciousliving.com/blogger/elisa-bosley
Jan. 30: Ellen Allard at http://www.glutenfreediva.com/blog/
Feb. 4: Sueson Vess at http://www.specialeats.com/
March 3: Rachel Begun, RD, at http://rachelbegun.com/blog
And, starting January 26, listen to me being interviewed by Jeanne Murdock on Celiac Radio.
Beginners Need a Book for Beginners
Now, little about the book. I believe that living a gluten-free lifestyle can be fun, delicious, and easy. But it wasn’t always that way for me. Like other beginners, I was baffled by unfamiliar ingredients and new cooking techniques when I first adopted a gluten-free diet many years ago. It can be confusing, I know.
From my own experience, I recognized the need for a cookbook that makes it easy for beginners to make a simple and positive transition to cooking gluten-free meals. So I wrote Gluten-Free 101, explaining how to select and work with the best gluten-free foods from an extensive and sometimes confusing product shelf, how to continue eating healthfully, and how to master basic gluten-free cooking techniques—such as baking delicious breads or rolling gluten-free pizza dough or piecrust, all with easy-to-follow instructions.
Enjoy Your Favorite Foods
One thing I hear frequently is how much you miss your favorite foods such as pizza, bread, and pasta— and all-American desserts such as brownies, cakes, and cookies.” And you miss childhood favorites such as meat loaf, macaroni-and-cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, and comfort-food casseroles. So the book focuses on familiar dishes, but introduces time-saving, simplifying shortcuts and tips that are especially helpful to beginners.
Get Your Copy and Buy One for a Friend
Gluten-Free 101 is a perfect gift for someone who has just been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity—maybe it’s a gift to yourself or a beloved friend or relative. If you want a signed bookplate that you can paste in the front of the book (making it a signed copy) email me at email@example.com. Enjoy!
It’s January and 2013 has quickly gone by. I want to thank you for being a loyal reader. Your support is greatly appreciated!
January is National Get Organized Month
Did you know that January is National Get Organized Month? The place where I need continual re-organization is my kitchen. How about you?
Ingredients for Sorghum Flour Blend
The term “spring cleaning” usually refers to cleaning closets. But the kitchen deserves that same level of attention. I know it’s not spring yet, but I am always motivated to do the “spring cleaning” at the beginning of a new year, because that seems like a real beginning to me (rather than springtime). Once those Christmas decorations are put away, my attention turns to getting my world in order after the chaos of the holidays!
Regardless of when you clean, the same principles apply―what to toss, keep, or donate―so here are my thoughts on getting organized.
Protect Your Investment in Gluten-Free Ingredients
Keep gluten-free flours, whole grains, rice, and legumes in food-quality storage containers with tight-sealing lids to avoid spills and deter pests. Label the containers so out-dated items can be purged. It always amazes me to find how many items are past their expiration dates.
Clean Storage Containers Between Fillings
Before refilling a container of flour or grains, first empty it, then wash and dry thoroughly. Why? Food at the bottom of a container can turn rancid or stale, even when topped by fresh layers, and can produce an off-taste in gluten-free baking.
The same holds true for gluten-free whole grains. In fact, whole grains (and the flours ground from them) contain all three parts of the grain (the germ, endosperm, and bran) which means higher oil content which in turn hastens deterioration.
Choose the Proper Storage Location
Be sure to store containers in dark, dry places away from heat or direct sunlight. Otherwise, a warm location or the hot sun shining on the containers causes moisture to build up inside, hastening spoilage. Many people store flours and grains in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve freshness. Be sure to bring chilled ingredients to room temperature before baking so the chill won’t hamper the leavening’s rising ability.
Clean and Organize the Storage Areas
Shelves, cupboards, and countertops should be cleared and then wiped down thoroughly with an appropriate cleaning solution to remove dirt, but also any spills that can attract pests. Take the time to organize what goes back on the shelf by placing similar foods together. For example, all flours together and all whole grains together in a systematic order for easier access and better inventory management. Knowing what’s on the shelf prevents inadvertently buying duplicates. If the refrigerator or freezer is the prime storage area, clean and organize them as well.
It should go without saying, but if you have an “integrated” kitchen, be sure to clearly label the gluten-free items and, if possible, store them in a clearly-marked area to avoid mishaps.
Purge Unused Utensils, Appliances, and Gadgets; Organize What’s Left
This is the part I have the greatest trouble with. It seems that every year I accumulate more stuff! Appliances take up precious space, so if they’re important―but not used frequently―relegate them to easily-accessible storage to avoid cluttered workspaces. My counter-top appliances include a heavy-duty stand mixer for mixing bread dough and cookie dough and a powerful blender for gluten-free batters and smoothies. All other appliances must earn the right to occupy precious counter space, such as my toaster oven and coffeemaker.
Items in good working order but no longer needed―including utensils and gadgets that haven’t been used during the past year―can be donated to charity or to a friend who can use them. Also, clean out drawers, including the silverware drawer. Arrange those spatulas so they’re easy to reach. Are your knives sharpened?
Even though it’s not my favorite task, I’ve learned that keeping a clean, well-organized kitchen makes day-to-day cooking and baking so much easier and saves money, so take my advice and invest the time now to make life easier throughout the year.
Happy New Year!
The presents are all unwrapped and the Christmas decorations stowed away for next year, but there’s one tradition that I want to continue all winter long.
Gluhwein (mulled wine) from Nuremberg's Christmas Market
It’s called Glühwein—pronounced glooh-vine—and it is the German version of what we call mulled wine—red wine with spices and citrus fruits added to it. Sometimes it has other spirits added, such as brandy or bourbon.
It seems like the perfect drink for winter: hot, comforting, lightly spiced, and lovely to look at. And, it seems doubly perfect now when Colorado is getting the first of several mini-storms and bitter cold temperatures.
Hand your dinner guests a cup as they enter your home and they know they’re in for a good evening. That’s what the Viking River Cruise chef did each night when we returned from touring a different Christmas market each day. Granted, it was a small cup but what a “welcome home” touch!
In Germany, glühwein was served at all of the outdoor Christmas markets. People walked around with a cup in their mittened hands as they shopped, both warming their hands and their hearts. The other interesting thing was that each booth served this drink in different-shaped cups and the idea (at least for tourists like us) was to buy both the cup (as a souvenir to take home) and the drink. See the cup I bought in Nuremberg in the photo.
There are many ways to make glühwein and you probably have recipes for mulled wine in your cookbooks. The version served on the Viking ship had different spirits (e.g., bourbon) added to it on different nights.
See this easy recipe (without additional spirits) from Sunset magazine that comes from an alpine bistro in Aspen, Colorado. The only unusual ingredient in this recipe is the juniper berries, which can be found at kitchen stores or natural food stores (or omit, if you like).
I like to serve the wine in glass cups so you can enjoy the lovely color, but use whatever cups you have. If you’re serving it a party, keep it in your slow cooker so it stays warm throughout the party. Or, keep it in the fridge and reheat just as much as you need, when you need it. It’s naturally gluten-free and a wonderful way to warm up those cold winter nights.
I’ve always wanted to go to Europe in wintertime to experience the Christmas decorations and rituals of the Old World.
Frankfurt's Christmas Market
So when a friend invited me to join her for a 6-day Viking River Cruise in December from Frankfurt to Nuremberg, Germany I said “why not, sounds like fun!” Germany is known for its Christmas Markets and the tour covered cities that I had never seen before, such as Heidelberg, Rothenburg, Bamberg, and Nuremburg.
Gluten-Free on a Cruise
Like all good gluten-free travelers, I asked Viking to provide gluten-free options for me. Gluten-free dining on cruise ships can be wonderful, not-so-wonderful, or somewhere in between (see my Alaskan Cruise experience earlier this year for a so-so experience).
To address these issues, Mark Roseman wrote a helpful ebook called Cruising with Special Diets, so check it out. You can also follow Mark on Twitter at @cruisediet. My experience was on the Viking ship named “Freya” so all of my remarks pertain specifically to that ship.
Gluten-Free on the Viking Freya
In a nutshell, the food on the Freya was fabulous! Not only was it high-quality and beautifully plated, my gluten-free options were delicious. Breakfast was served buffet-style, with many gluten-free options to choose from including eggs, bacon, roasted vegetables, gluten-free bread (see photo),
Gluten-Free Bread on Viking Freya
fruits, cereal, yogurt, etc. The servers were knowledgeable about what was gluten-free, but quick to query Chef George
Chef George with Carol
if they weren’t sure.
Lunch always started with a salad buffet, but then we ordered entrees from the menu and I had plenty of gluten-free options such as a Reuben sandwich.
Dinner was more elaborate; a sit-down affair. Each evening, the maitre ‘d, Jochen (a strapping 6 foot, 7-inch German fellow) greeted me at the door of the restaurant and discussed the menu, pointing out my options and how they could modify most dishes to be gluten-free. That way, I was confident about what I could eat even before I sat down at the table. (By the way, there were also vegetarian options as well.) Though most of our waitstaff was from Eastern Europe, all of them spoke excellent English so communication was never a problem.
Each dinner began with an “amuse-bouche” or surprise chef’s treat. Mine was usually different from my colleagues, such as a beautiful mini-collection of fresh fruit or cheese.Then we chose an appetizer, which might be soup, salad, etc. The main course offered at least 3 choices, usually fish/seafood, beef, or poultry and was beautifully plated. One of my favorites was the Salmon on Celery Root Puree with Brussels Sprouts.
Salmon on Celery Root Puree with Brussels Sprouts
Then there was dessert. One night, Pastry Chef Melanie prepared a fabulous gluten-free Tiramisu just for me. Some nights I had sorbet, but each was handmade on board and quite nice. One night I had a gluten-free bread pudding, which was very homey. The wine flowed freely throughout the meal and the coffee was top-quality.
Each meal took about two hours, so if you’re not inclined to long meals there was a “quick” bar menu in another part of the ship but we never got there so I can’t say how that went. We had a very collegial group of 6, so we looked forward to each night’s debriefing around the dinner table about what we had experienced during the day.
Throughout the cruise, I was impressed by the dedication to “hospitality” that every single staff member conveyed to us. Always smiling, they simply wanted us to have a wonderful time and bent over backwards to make sure that happened.
Accommodations on the Viking Freya
Our rooms were small, but very tastefully designed and appointed…complete with heated bathroom floors! The Freya is only about a year old, so quite new-looking. The ship holds under 200 guests so it is a small, intimate experience. The ship is 3 stories high, but looks like a very long white barge, with lots of windows. We opted for a French balcony, which includes sliding glass doors that give you a good view, but there is no balcony to stand on (despite the name). Each room had two electrical outlets that were compatible with our American appliances, but we needed adapters for the other outlets. Each room had TV, music, and air conditioning (although that certainly wasn’t necessary in December).
The whole point of this cruise, as far as I was concerned, was to experience the Christmas markets (ChristKindlMarkt in German) because they are magical. They are decorated with evergreen boughs and homemade Christmas crafts are everywhere. The air is perfumed with gingerbread, glühwein (mulled wine), and smoke swirling from bratwurst grills. Of course, I had to be careful about what I sampled, but the atmosphere is absolutely wonderful. Of course, it’s cold but we’re bundled up. I wear my heaviest, longest winter coat with layers underneath…plus a hat, gloves, and scarf. My tour group looks like a bunch of penguins as we waddled down cobblestone streets, so tightly swathed in warm clothing that we can hardly move. But we’re lucky that the temperature hovers in the high 30’s, with only one day of rain. We even had sunshine in Frankfurt, a rarity in wintertime Europe.
I think my favorite city was Rothenberg (pronounced “Rotenberg”) because it is a walled city and each store was decorated to the hilt with Christmas decorations. I also liked Bamberg, though it was a bigger city. But the largest Christmas market was in Nuremberg, with blocks and blocks of Christmas Market booths.
Gluten-Free on Lufthansa Airlines
My gluten-free meals on Lufthansa were good—maybe not as good as on the Freya—but I was always served first before any of the other passengers and even had German bread on the flight home. Dessert was always fresh fruit (rather than a sweet, yummy from the oven) but maybe that’s a good thing…!