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Where in the World is Carol?

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

Get Carol's new cookbook, Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner's Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking. Now available wherever books are sold, including Amazon.com

Visit Carol's booth at the Annual Food Fair in Denver at the Merchandise Mart on Sunday, August 17.

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!

NORWAY: LAND OF FJIORDS AND MY LONGEST DAY ON EARTH

“Can you move the curtain a little to the left.. no, a little to the right. There, that should keep out the sunshine.” This was our nightly ritual around 10 PM each night in Norway…adjusting the curtains in our hotel room so we could sleep without the sun in our eyes! Imagine going 10 days without seeing night or any darkness, just constant sunshine. I just returned from 10 days in Norway, a beautiful Scandinavian country that reminds me of my home state of Colorado but it also reminded me of Alaska, Canada, and Switzerland because of the mountains—and a little bit of Minnesota because of the many lakes.

Waterfall on fjiord in Norway

Waterfall on fjiord in Norway

It is a land of steep mountains, deep fjiords, and incredible beauty…and in summer, very long days. The sun doesn’t set until 11 PM and rises again around 4 AM. We happened to be there on June 21, the longest day of the year known as the summer solstice, so I can safely say that I spent the longest day of my life in Norway.

WHAT IS A FJIORD AND WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT NORWAY?

I know you’re wondering: what is a fjiord?A fjiord (pronounced fee-yord) is a long, narrow and very deep inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial erosion.  They occur in many places in the world, but we were drawn to Norway because of its incredible beauty. We weren’t disappointed!

Fjiord in Norway

Fjiord in Norway

Our trip began in Oslo, then we traveled by a 7-hour train ride over the mountains of Norway to a harbor town called Bergen. Then we joined our tour group for a 5-day tour called “Land of the Fjiords.” Our sightseeing included gorgeous scenery in the fjiords, towering mountains, glaciers, waterfalls , and rushing streams along the roads. We traveled by bus, train, and ferry as we made our way back to Oslo, via Lillehammer—the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. It was interesting to see a 25-year-old Olympic site, compared to the mega-sites built for today’s Olympics. This trip has been on our “bucket list” for many years.

GLUTEN-FREE DINING IN NORWAY

Except for a little pre-trip reading, I knew little about Norwegian food…except that I could expect lots of fish and that Scandinavia was well-versed in gluten-free dining.  Both were true.

I had alerted our tour operator, Robinson Scandinavia, about my gluten-free diet and our wonderful tour guide, Anne Marie Reinholdt, did a superb job of making sure my needs were met. There was gluten-free bread, usually whole grain (some of the best I’ve ever eaten in Europe) at every meal….although I had to ask for it each time.

Gluten-free bread in Norway

Gluten-free bread in Norway

My favorite fish was a Norwegian catfish at the Scandic (formerly Rica) Ornen in Bergen in its restaurant, called Roast. If this is Nordic cuisine, I want more. The fish was delicious, served on a bed of delicately roasted vegetables. The staff, like most of the other restaurants we visited, understood gluten-free, spoke excellent English, and understood what foods were appropriate for me so dining was very easy.

Catfish in Norway

Catfish at Roast restaurant in Bergen, Norway

While on the tour, some evening meals were buffets and I was surprised to learn that most of the main dishes were gluten-free, even the sauces were either reduced or thickened with something other than wheat flour. So, I had lots of choices. Also, on the buffet tables there were many types of fish such as shrimp, stone crab, herring, and mussels. One day, for lunch, we had the most fantastic roasted salmon.

But the most unusual fish I ate on the whole trip was whale. It was, as our tour guide explained, a “nuisance” whale called “minke” and not one of the endangered types.  Apparently, Norwegians eat it often. It was smoked, looked like dark-colored dried beef, and was thinly sliced. It tasted like very salty fish and I can honestly say I didn’t like it at all.

It is very easy to communicate in restaurants because Norwegians speak excellent English. In fact, I never had to use my Norwegian dining card! One day, we ate gluten-free pizza at Peppes (a chain across Norway) in Oslo.  While it was good, our American versions of gluten-free pizza are better. Another day, we tried the gluten-free hamburgers at Burger King (in the Oslo train station). Again, our American hamburger buns are better, but I appreciated their effort. The main difference? The Norwegian pizza crust and hamburger bun were composed primarily of white rice flour and lots of tapioca, giving it a texture similar to sponge cake. But, as I mentioned earlier, the whole-grain breads served with meals were phenomenal.

On some days, my desserts were actually better than the rest of the people in our tour group. For example, this dense, dark chocolate

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse in Norway

mousse was fantastic and I was the envy of everybody!!

FOODS I TOOK WITH ME

Of course, I always travel with food. My favorite muffins are made by Flax 4 Life and they are not only dense, hearty, and filling but that same density makes them extremely good for traveling. They don’t crush or break apart, even after jostling around in my purse or suitcase.  I also took a container of gluten-free rolled oats that just need hot water to make instant oatmeal, an indispensable food I always have in my carry on in case there is no edible food on the airline. I also took nuts, crackers, and some dried fruit… my usual snacks. As it turned out, Icelandair had a gluten-free meal for me, so that worked out well.

 

GETTING THERE: OUR BATTLE WITH ICELANDAIR

If you have read today’s blog this far, then you know the trip was wonderful. But, international travel is always fraught with possible disasters and this trip was no exception. Maybe you can benefit from our experience. Here is what happened:

Despite meticulous planning, a hint of potential debacle arrived in the form of a vague e-mail from our air carrier, Icelandair, two days before departure. We had flown Icelandair before with excellent results so we had no reason to expect complications on this trip.

The ominously vague e-mail mentioned a change in our itinerary, but no details—we were instructed to call the airline to book the required changes. Except no one would answer the phone, for 2 days!  From the airline’s website, we learned that the 2nd leg of our trip, from Iceland to Oslo—was cancelled due to a 24-hour mechanics strike, but the website does not allow passengers to rebook flights online. Instead, we were instructed to call the airline. But, remember… they do not answer phone calls.

We are seasoned travelers and know that there are several ways to address a problem, so we even drove to Denver International Airport (DIA)….thinking that if we could just talk to a real live person, then we could rebook the needed changes and all would be well. Unfortunately, Icelandair contracts with Lufthansa to handle their gates at DIA,—and Lufthansa is only empowered to do check-ins, not book or re-book flights.

Acting on faith, we departed Denver for Iceland making sure to carry on our luggage rather than checking it, to allow flexibility to catch another flight.  When we arrived in Iceland after a 7 hour flight, we (and 12,000 other stranded travelers on 65 flights all over the world) were again instructed to call the airline to re-book the next leg of our journey.  We were told to stand in line at the airport, but only 4 airline representatives could rebook our flights in person. At the rate they were going, we would have been standing in line for 12 hours waiting for our turn.

So, while waiting in line, we decided to try the phones one more time. After 20 minutes on hold, an airline representative re-booked our flight for the next day.  While many airlines may take the initiative to put you into a block of hotel rooms that they have reserved for just this purpose (Lufthansa says that is what they do for stranded passengers), Icelandair leaves everything to the passenger’s initiative.  Icelandair’s 24-hour strike required us to stay overnight, incurring hotel, meal, and transportation costs to and from the airport. Icelandair promises to reimburse us for these unexpected expenses, but we will see if they are true to their word.

This whole experience makes us wonder if we want to fly Icelandair again. I’m sharing this with you because you should know that, unlike flying to continental Europe where you have many more airline options or perhaps can use a train, bus, or rental car to reach your destination, Iceland is an island-nation and you’re trapped! You can’t just hop a train or bus or rent a car and get off the island. However, Iceland is a fantastically interesting country (we visited for 5 days in 2012) so don’t pass up the chance to visit—but do go knowing your options.

Melon-Peach Gazpacho with Crispy Prosciutto

Two of my favorite fruits are close to ripening: peaches and melons, grown right here in Colorado.  In fact, Colorado is known for some of the best peaches and cantaloupe in the country.

Melon Peach Gazpacho

Melon Peach Gazpacho

I like to blend the two into a cold summer soup. Some call it fruit soup; some call it gazpacho (a Spanish soup that has been reinvented countless times by creative American chefs, usually made with tomatoes). You’ll see some gazpachos thickened with bread, so that’s why it is often off-limits in restaurants, but my version doesn’t need bread for its lovely, creamy texture.

The lovely golden color and enticing flavor of this refreshing soup is enhanced with the salty, crispy prosciutto. Because it is naturally gluten-free, so you can serve it to everyone. Just omit the prosciutto for your vegan or vegetarian friends. Enjoy!!


Melon-Peach Gazpacho with Crispy Prosciutto©

By Carol Fenster, www.GFreeCuisine.com

Serve this chilled soup in pretty goblets, shot glasses, or as a luncheon main dish in bowls. Pair it up with gluten-free crackers to add a little complementary crunch.

One-half medium, ripe cantaloupe, peeled and chopped

2 medium ripe peaches, chopped (no need to peel)

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon champagne or sherry vinegar (or better yet, dry sherry)

1 small peeled and minced shallot (or 1 tablespoon chopped white onion)

5 tablespoons finely diced prosciutto (available in deli-section or dice it yourself)

Garnishes: salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chopped fresh herbs such as basil, mint, or thyme

[1] Puree cantaloupe, peaches, water, lemon juice, vinegar, and shallots in a blender until very smooth. Divide among serving dishes (refrigerate for up to day if you aren’t serving right away).

[2] In a small skillet, fry the prosciutto over medium-low heat until very crispy. Lightly sprinkle chilled soup with salt, black pepper, crisped prosciutto, and fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

Note: I designed this version to serve 4 as a soup course (about ¾ cup each) or 8 as an appetizer (about 1/3 cup) in over-size shot glasses—using two peaches and one-half melon. To serve more people, simply scale up the recipe accordingly.

Per serving: 75 calories; 5g protein; 1 g total fat; 2g fiber; 12g carbohydrates; 10 mg cholesterol; 380 mg sodium

Overnight Muesli

There are some summer mornings when the last thing I want is a hot breakfast. Knowing that the day will heat up, I want something cool and refreshing to get me started… yet something nutritious and tasty.

Muesli made with gluten-free oats.

Muesli made with gluten-free oats.

Overnight Muesli is just the ticket.

I first learned of muesli back in my corporate traveling days when I ate breakfast at my hotel in Seattle. Now I make it for myself, at a fraction of the cost, and vary it as I like.

This version of muesli is made from gluten-free rolled oats (the whole grain part) and milk and yogurt (for dairy nutrients) plus a little honey and grated apples for sweetness.

It’s also perfect for busy summer days when your family—or guests—want breakfast at different times of the morning. All they have to do is reach into the refrigerator and grab one of these little gems.

I like using these cute little Mason jars, but use any vessel you like…as long as it’s got a lid to seal in moisture while the oats soak in the liquid overnight.

Enjoy!

Overnight Muesli

Reprinted with permission from www.GfreeCuisine.com* by Carol Fenster

Museli , an oat-based cereal dish commonly served in European countries, is very creamy, hearty, and filling. It is especially cute when served in mini Mason canning jars, but you can use regular cereal or soup bowls. If you use non-dairy yogurt and milk, this is a vegan breakfast.

Makes 4 servings

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Chilling time: overnight

3 [1/2] cups gluten-free granola**

2 apples (Gala or Fuji, or your choice), cored and grated (I don’t peel the apple, but you can)

8 ounces plain low-fat yogurt or soy yogurt

1 cup milk of choice

1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar, or to taste

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Fresh fruit for garnish

In a large bowl, toss all of the ingredients until well blended. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold, garnished with fresh fruit.

Per serving: 230 calories; 8g protein; 7g total fat; 4g fiber; 35g carbohydrates; 3mg cholesterol; 77mg sodium

*Check with your physician to make sure gluten-free oats are right for you.

** Www.GfreeCuisine.com is a weekly e-booklet menu planning service that provides you with a personalized grocery shopping list.

Blackberry Coolers for Hot Summer Days

Hot summer days call for cool, refreshing beverages and I’ve got a great one for you today. First, as you can see from the photo, it is gorgeous to look at. Your guests will be impressed! But, it is also light and refreshing. Plus, it is versatile—you can also make it with raspberries instead of blackberries if you prefer. Personally, we like blackberries at our house so that’s how I usually make it.

In addition, you can use non-dairy ice cream and it is still delicious. In fact, I’m fond of coconut-based “ice cream” because I like the flavor but use what works in your household. Enjoy!!!!

Blackberry Coolers

Reprinted with permission from www.GfreeCuisine.com, Carol’s weekly online subscription e-cookbook that generates a personalized grocery shopping list just for you!

Blackberry Coolers

Cool, refreshing Blackberry Coolers from www.GfreeCuisine.com

2 cups fresh blackberries

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

1/4 gallon vanilla ice cream of choice (can use non-dairy coconut or rice versions)

20 ounces seltzer water

Fresh mint, for garnish

[1] In a small saucepan, combine all but 12 of the blackberries with the water and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the berries are very soft—roughly 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

[2] Press the blackberries through a sieve set over a bowl and discard the solids. Refrigerate the blackberry mixture until cold.

[3] To serve, divide the ice cream among 4 tall (at least 16 ounce, to contain the fizzing!!) glasses. Pour the seltzer on top, then divide the blackberry mixture evenly in each glass. Garnish with the remaining whole blackberries and a sprig of mint. Serve immediately with straws and spoons. Makes 4 coolers (16 ounce glasses). For 8 small servings, use 8 ounce glasses.

per 16 ounce glass serving: 357 calories; 6 grams protein; 16 grams total fat; 5 grams fiber; 10 grams saturated fat; 50 grams carbohydrates; 63 mgs cholesterol; 146 mgs sodium

Make Your Own Tulip Cupcake and Muffin Liners

Those cute little cupcake liners you see in bakeries and in Grain-Free Almond, Flax, and Chia Muffins from an earlier blog post are called “tulip” liners because their shape bears some resemblance to tulips.

Grain-Free Almond, Flax, and Chia Muffins

Grain-free Muffins in paper tulip liners.

Yes, you can buy them but it’s much cheaper to make your own. Even the kids can make it a project. You can make as many as you want—enough for one batch of muffins or several dozen to store and use as you need.

You can also give them away as gifts. After all, who doesn’t want their muffins and cupcakes looking like they came right out of a cute little (gluten-free) French bakery?

Supplies You Need

Parchment – white or natural (unbleached)

Ruler

Scissors

6-ounce tomato paste can

Your hands and fingers

Directions

* Using scissors, cut 5 ½-inch squares of parchment paper. I use a ruler to mark squares on the parchment paper so I know exactly where to cut. (Note: some commercial tulips are 5 inches; others are 6 inches. I like 5 ½ because this size is large enough to hold the batter, but not so tall that the muffins are obscured.)

* To find the center of the square, fold it in half and in half again. Then unfold and the point where the lines intersect is the center. Make a dot on this intersection with a pencil or ballpoint pen.

Cut a 5 1/2-inch square of parchment paper, mark the center

Parchment paper ready to be shaped into tulip liner

*Center the dot on the parchment square on the bottom of the tomato paste can, which measures two inches—the same size as the bottom of a standard muffin pan.

* Press the parchment square down around the mold, using your fingers to press creases so it conforms to the shape of the can. I typically make about 4 to 5 creases, by trying to bring the 4 points of the parchment square as close to each other as possible. Remember, the sharper the crease, the better the liner will hold its shape. The more tulips you make, the more adept you will become.

How to Use

Place the liners in the cups of your muffin pan. There is no need to grease or coat them with cooking spray because parchment paper is already lined with silicone to prevent sticking. Now, step back and admire your creativity and ingenuity! Enjoy!

Tulip cupcake and muffin liners made from white and natural parchment paper.

Tulip cupcake and muffin liners made from white and natural parchment paper.

Shape parchment squares around tomato paste can

Shape parchment squares around tomato paste can

Grain-Free Banana-Maple Muffins

When we think of sweeteners for baking, plain old white sugar is usually the first to come to mind. But many of us want other ways of sweetening our food.

Grain-Free Banana-Maple Muffins

Grain Free Muffins Sweetened with Maple Syrup, Banana, & Coconut

One of my favorite alternative sweeteners is either maple sugar (which behaves a lot like white sugar in baking) and maple syrup, which is a liquid and therefore a little harder to bake with since most recipes are formulated for white or brown sugar. So, today’s blog contains a muffin recipe that relies on many sources for sweetness, including maple syrup.

The Skinny on Maple Syrup

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, maple syrup has about three times the sweetening power of cane sugar and has just 40 calories per tablespoon. Make sure to buy pure maple syrup, not the blended stuff. It will be a little more expensive, but worth it. Maple syrup is nutrient rich—it’s a great source of manganese and a good source of zinc.

In baking, start with a recipe that is formulated for liquid sweeteners (as I do here) or make adjustments to an existing recipe by decreasing the liquids to compensate for the liquid nature of maple syrup (easier said than done, so stick with maple syrup-formulated recipes for best results.)

Grain-Free Banana-Maple Muffins

By Carol Fenster

Author of Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

This grain-free muffin is a 6-muffin recipe, designed for small families or families where only a few of you adhere to a gluten-free diet. Plus, these muffins are appropriate for a Paleo or vegetarian diet. The sweetness comes from multiple sources—maple syrup plus the natural sugars in bananas, coconut, and raisins. Because it is heavily laden with these add-ins, it will be a dense muffin and won’t rise very high.

1 cup almond flour/meal

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

¼ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

½ cup mashed ripe banana

¼ cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil or coconut oil (melted, slightly cooled)

½ teaspoon vinegar

½ cup raisins or chopped dried plums (or pitted and finely chopped dates)

¼ cup shredded coconut

[1] Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325⁰F. Generously grease a 6-cup standard muffin pan or line with paper liners. (Or, use a 12-cup muffin pan, but place 2 tablespoons of water in each unused cup.)

[2] In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour/meal, cinnamon, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt until well blended. In a small bowl, beat the banana, oil, maple syrup, and vinegar together with a fork or whisk until smooth. Stir the banana mixture into the almond flour mixture until well blended and then stir in the raisins and coconut. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, about a scant ¼ cup of batter per muffin cup.

[3] Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, Cool the muffins in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then remove from the pan and cool completely. Makes 6 muffins.

Per muffin: 245 calories, 11g protein; 11g total fat; 1g fiber; 31g carbohydrates; 30mg cholesterol; 208mgs sodium

Chimichurri for Big Flavor

Years ago, my son found a recipe for a “green sauce” that he loved. So, I made it for him frequently as he was growing up. I didn’t know it then and the recipe never referred to this name, but it was a variation of Chimichurri—a piquant sauce from South America made of herbs, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and a little chili pepper— traditionally used on grilled meat, such as steak.

Chimichurri made from fresh herbs.

Chimichurri made from fresh herbs.

I have since lost that recipe. But as summer gets underway and my herb pots start flourishing—and with my love for bold flavors—I want this flavorful food in my diet. I use parsley in my version, but I have seen Chimichurri made with a wide variety of herbs so feel free to vary yours to suit what’s growing in your herb pots or garden. The chlorophyll in the parsley keeps the Chimichurri looking green, so keep a little parsley in your recipe for that reason. But try also using some fresh oregano or basil or chives, depending on what’s available.

One clever way to use Chimichurri is to reserve three-fourths of it to use as a sauce at serving time, but marinate your meat overnight in the remaining one-fourth (discard the marinade after you remove the meat). That way, your meat absorbs some of the flavors before grilling. As summer grilling season gets underway, you will use this sauce again and again. Enjoy!

Chimichurri

Adapted with permission from http://tinyurl.com/mszavqy 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Wiley, 2008)

This is an excellent way to use herbs year-round, but especially in the summer when you may have them growing in your backyard. Chimichurri transforms a plain old steak into something special. But, if you’re vegetarian, I’ve even used it with tofu, so give it a try.

1 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, whole

2 teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

[1] Place the parsley, oil, vinegar, garlic, paprika, cumin, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper and in a food processor and pulse until combined but leave a few chunks for texture. Refrigerate until serving time, but let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving. Makes about 1 cup.

Chia Pudding

From Chia Pets to our Kitchens

By now, we’re all familiar with Chia, that South American seed that migrated from those cute little green pets at Christmas time to a nutritional powerhouse in natural food stores. We see it everywhere now: cereals, bars, cookies… just to name a few.

Chia Pudding

Chia Pudding is healthy and delicious for breakfast.

Even though chia was eaten by South Americans for centuries, we Americans were slow to catch on. I was the keynote speaker on gluten-free grains at a Gluten Intolerance Group conference in 2008—when Chia was just beginning to get attention in the U.S.—when an audience member asked me how to use it in gluten-free cooking. I didn’t have a lot of advice for her since I had barely begun to use it myself.

Since then, it has become a staple in my kitchen. I use in my morning smoothies for extra protein, add it to muffins or replace poppy seeds in salad dressings, and I’m especially fond of Chia Pudding, which is so simple and easy to make.

Nutritionally, chia is a powerhouse and that’s the main reason I use it since it doesn’t have much of a distinct flavor of its own. Chia seeds contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. And, another advantage is that chia seeds don’t have to be ground (as do flaxseeds) for our bodies to absorb those nutrients. So, try this easy pudding; you’ll love it.

Chia Pudding

Reprinted with permission from www.GfreeCuisine.com

Chia is a South American seed, known for its extraordinary nutrition qualities. The word “chia” means stamina or strength in the Mayan language and Aztec warriors used it for endurance. I often eat this cool pudding for breakfast during the hot summer months when hot cereal just seems, well… too hot. But it makes a great dessert anytime, but especially in summer, topped with fresh fruit for garnish.

Makes 4 servings

Preparation time: 2 minutes

Chilling time: overnight

4 to 5 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill chia seeds (less for thinner pudding; more for thicker pudding)

2 cups milk of choice (you can use cow’s milk; I like soy milk or coconut milk)

1/3 cup sweetener of choice (maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Shake all of the ingredients together in a screw-top glass jar and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to shake or whisk a few times during the first two hours to redistribute the seeds or else they stick to themselves and you will have a gummy layer of seeds at the bottom. The consistency is similar to tapioca pudding. If you prefer a smoother texture, grind the chia seeds in a blender before blending with the other ingredients.

Per serving: 200 Calories; 6g protein; 6g total fat; 3g fiber; 2 g saturated fat; 31 g carbohydrates; 70mgs sodium; 5 mgs cholesterol

NOTE: for Chocolate Chia Pudding, stir in ¼ cup Hershey’s chocolate syrup or your favorite chocolate syrup before chilling

Start Your Herb Garden Now

Fresh Herbs are a Good Thing

Every year about this time, I ponder when to plant my herbs. My concern is frost. Depending on where you live, the last frost was long ago or still about to happen. Here in Denver, we’re advised to wait until after Mother’s Day to plant anything and every year that I don’t follow those instructions, I regret it. So this year, I waited until late May.

Discussing Herbs on Creative Living, PBS-TV

Discussing Herbs with Sheryl Borden, host of Creative Living, PBS-TV

You all know 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).

Growing your herbs saves money. A package of fresh herbs costs about $3 (or more if organic). So, growing your own makes sense economically. If you grow too much, share your bounty with friends and neighbors.

And, then there is the purely sensory enjoyment of fresh herbs. One of my favorite summer experiences is stepping outside my kitchen door to the herb pots on my patio and clipping fresh herbs to use in preparing our gluten-free dinner that night. I use basil, oregano, and rosemary in Italian dishes, savory and thyme in stews, and of course, I use parsley and cilantro in almost everything but especially as garnishes. I even use fresh-cut herbs as fillers in flower arrangements, or sometimes I just put a bunch of herbs in a small vase and that serves as the centerpiece when I’m entertaining.

Growing Herbs for Maximum Yield

Follow directions for your zone and fertilize accordingly. Location (in relation to the sun) is critical. Some herbs, such as rosemary, need sun while others, such as basil, can’t tolerate too much. Where I put my plants in relation to the shade and time of day is critical to how well they fare throughout the summer. I have found that my northeast-facing patio is an excellent location because it gets the morning sun, but is then shielded from the harsh afternoon sun by the shade of my house. You will need to experiment to find the best place for herbs at your house.

Pinch new growth regularly— just above a node or joint in the stem—to maintain a healthy, bushy plant. I found that this is especially important with basil, one of my favorite herbs. Don’t let it produce seeds (called bolting) so pinch those off right away. Remove any withered or yellowed growth.

Water according to what the plant needs; some can tolerate drier soil while others like it wetter. Read the directions that came with the herb plant or look it up in a gardening book or the Internet.

Storing Fresh Herbs

When you pick a whole bunch of herbs from your garden or buy a lot at the Farmer’s Market, store them properly to prolong their freshness. Store fresh herbs with cut ends in a glass of water in fridge OR wrapped loosely in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag. Leave the end of the plastic bag unsealed to allow for some air circulation.

Plant Your Own Herbs

I hope you’re encouraged to plant your own herbs this summer. Whether it’s herbs in a huge garden or herbs in small pots, you’re bound to enjoy huge rewards.

Gluten-Free for Beginners at GIG: May is Celiac Awareness Month

As the nation celebrates May as Celiac Awareness Month, I was honored to be a guest speaker at the 40th Anniversary Conference of the Gluten Intolerance Group this past weekend in Atlanta, GA. One of my presentations was for beginners, those who are just starting the gluten-free diet.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

As a beginner, one of the first recipes i converted to gluten-free was my mother's chocolate cake.

We were all beginners in this gluten-free journey and I talk to beginners every day about their concerns. They are overwhelmed and confused yet eager to eat their favorite foods again such as pizza, bread, cakes, and cookies—all of which require baking. And, like, me they want to continue eating their favorite baked items (for me, it was my mother’s chocolate cake which is shown in the photo). So, drawing from the information in my new book, Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking, here are some tips on baking that I shared with these beginners:

Use a Gluten-Free Cookbook.

Beginners should start out with cookbooks that contain gluten-free recipes to assure early success and build confidence as you learn new techniques and working with unfamiliar ingredients. Then, apply this new-found expertise to transform family heirloom recipes or favorite recipes from non-gluten-free cookbooks to a gluten-free version.

Follow the Recipe.

Follow the recipe precisely as written—especially the first time. Gluten-free batters and doughs are much softer and wetter than wheat-flour versions, so resist the temptation to add more flour which makes baked goods dry and crumbly. (I know this from personal experience! The first gluten-free bread I ever made was a resounding failure because I thought the dough was too soft and added more flour.)

Use a Blend of Flours in Baking.

Replace wheat flour with a blend of gluten-free flours instead of a single flour. Use the flour blend recommended in the recipe for best results. Find a blend you like (either store-bought or homemade) and keep this gluten-free flour blend in your pantry so you’re always ready to bake.

Use the Right Tools.

Use dry measuring cups to measure dry ingredients; liquid measuring cups for liquid ingredients. Many beginners don’t understand the difference between the two. Liquid measuring cups are usually see-through plastic or glass and have spouts. Dry measuring cups are usually opaque—such as plastic or metal—and the cups nest together. Dry and liquid measuring cups are not interchangeable in baking since it is very difficult to measure flour accurately in a liquid measuring cup.

Measure Flour Correctly.

Before measuring, run a whisk or spatula through the flour to aerate it a bit. Measure the flour by loosely spooning it into a measuring cup. Level the mound of flour with the flat side of a knife and never pack the flour down into the cup. Incorrect measuring can yield 20% more flour than needed, leading to dry baked goods. See my video on “How to Measure Flour” under Videos button at www.CarolFenster.com or www.CarolFensterCooks.com.

Incorporate Whole Grains for Better Nutrition.

Some gluten-free flours and grains are vitamin-deficient so search out recipes that use whole grains or whole grain flours such as amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, sorghum, and teff for wider diversity and better nutrition.

Consider an Increase in Flavorings, Herbs, and Spices.

Beginners may want to increase spices, herbs, and flavorings (such as vanilla extract) by ¼ to 1/3 to compensate for the loss of wheat flavor that many notice as their palates adjust to the new flavors and textures of gluten-free foods.

Don’t Forget the Gum.

Use xanthan gum or guar gum as directed in the recipe. It compensates for the missing gluten and improves texture and rise in baked goods. Without gums, baked goods crumble and fall apart. If you absolutely, positively don’t want to use gums in your baking, you’ll have better luck with smaller items such as bars, muffins, and cupcakes that don’t have to rise too much.

Use Smaller Pans for Baking.

Breads may be more successful in several small loaf pans (e.g., 4×6-inch) instead of one large (5×9-inch or 4×8-inch) loaf pan. A Bundt pan (instead of a 9×13-inch pan) produces a more successful cake because its circular shape (with the hole in the middle) promotes even heat distribution and reduces falling.

Use Nonstick Pans for Certain Foods.

Use nonstick pans (gray, not black) for pizza, breads, cakes, bars, and muffins to promote proper browning and encourage rising. For cookies, use shiny (not nonstick) baking sheets. Generously grease baking pans and use parchment paper on baking sheets to avoid sticking.

In Conclusion.

So those are my tips for beginners. Hopefully, you—and all of the people in the audience last weekend—will get in the kitchen and start baking.