Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Conference Season Again

Because of scheduling I only have one conference this year and that was last weekend. In total there were 9 people that requested gluten free out of a total of about 400 attendees.

For the most part the conference hotel was fine - and indeed the final dinner where two gluten free diners were seated was the same for the whole table - ie the whole meal was gluten free. This is vast improvement to having the table served and the server leaving the special requirements until the end or one server finding all the special meals at the start and serving them before the rest of the table! Both these scenes are common.

It was the off site meals that were more of a challenge and neither were catered to be gluten free. Dinner one was buffet style and we did not rush down at the start (mistake #1). The meal had one pasta dish, some multi colored Doritos and some chicken bits in a gravy - oh boy. By the time we got down the Doritos were down to a few crumbs so I took a piece of chicken and tried to extricate the white meat out without the skin or gravy. Thank goodness I had taken two precooked Udi's rolls. They were rather dry but enough to see me through. Lunches both days were a little boring but had GF bread and fruit which worked even though it was messy. Dinner 2 was also off site and saw a reappearance of pasta salad and some little pastry covered somethings. There was a salad and some fresh carved turkey though with the chutney which worked, even if I did go back for more of the turkey. What was rather frustrating was that the servers did not know if the chutney was GF or not and it took several minutes to find anyone that did know. It was gf and decent but knowing these things when you serve buffets is rather imperative! The breakfast between these two events was also offsite and buffet with lots of pastries etc, some scrambled eggs and sausages (which looked questionable).

So overall the rolls and a baggie of Chex saved the day because garden conferences are long days and tiring without the complication of being low on calories. There is no point sitting at home and not going to conference, you just have to take some added 'snacks' along because good conferences are well worth attending!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake

I have seen Strawberry Festivals every spring when the lovely berries are at the best. After a long winter, strawberries are the first major commercial crop on the market. Strawberry shortcake is part of those festivals and that was enough to keep me away.
This year though, for some reason, I wanted to see how to make strawberry shortcake. My first research was to hit the ipad and see what came up. This was a variation on flour, sugar, whipped cream for the base with strawberries on top. What was very strange was that my English cookbook uses no cream and the base is basic biscuit/shortbread mix of flour sugar and fat/margarine. I used the ipad one from Food Network:

The strawberries were soaked in sugar for half an hour to extract the juices. The base mix was:

2 cups flour - I used Arrowmills General GF flour
2tsp baking powder
pinch baking soda
2 tbl sugar

mix these together. Stir in 1.5 cups heavy cream. This should make a dough. I found the dough too dry so added a beaten egg to the mix which is what some other recipes had done.

Bake in med to hot oven (400) for about 20 minutes. Mine was a little browner than I would have liked in 20 mins but still edible so maybe 375 is better. The base is cooled then cut into squares and covered with the strawberries and the strawberry juice. Then topped with whipped cream.

Not a dessert for those who are lactose free or worried about cholesterol but for gluten free - it was good. I think next time I will mix the egg with the cream at the start and maybe add some liqueur to the strawberries too for that extra special meal.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pancakes for One

With the plethora of new gluten free flours I have started baking for probably the first time in my life - Using a mix of potato starch, rice flour etc etc was not conducive to great baking so I basically gave up and just used recipes that used no or little flour. That is now changing.

On the back of most flour packages there is a recipe for basic pancakes - 1 cup flour plus 1 egg plus vanilla and milk to get the right consistency - that is all well and good but I don't want pancakes every day for a week which is what the large amount makes - in summer I just want one occasionally. This is the recipe that I came up with:

1 heaped tbl flour
Break egg into small bowl and whisk lightly with a fork;
Add an equal amount of milk;
Add a few drops o vanilla

With the flour in a bowl or jug, add just enough liquid to make a light batter.

Heat a little oil in a pan and heat over medium;
Pour all the batter into the pan and flip when the pancake bubbles and the batter is brown on the bottom;
Cook the second side until just nicely brown.

Tip onto a plate and add syrup or other ingredients  - my choice is a dribble of lemon juice and a sprinkle of sugar.
Add a bowl of fruit to the side, and breakfast is done:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Great Gluten Free Restaurants

The past ten years of so have seen more and more people diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease which has led to restaurants accommodating the clientele in various ways. The most common way is to scan the menu, take a stab at what looks likely to be gluten free and have the wait staff go ask the chef, who usually can make the dish without certain ingredients.

The next level is those fast food places that have a gluten free sheet. This is sometimes a whole menu with gluten free items or the the waiter trudges back with a book listing with all allergy listings including a page with which things can be made gluten free. The down side to both these ways is that all the neat sounding sauces on pork chops, steak or salmon have to be omitted leaving a boring piece of meat, often dry because it is suppose to come with a sauce, and some veggies.

This past two weeks I have been happy to find two places that were indeed more gluten free friendly. The first was a company dinner at a restaurant in Princeton NJ. There was an email sent around to see if anyone had any dietary accommodations and of course we sent back gluten free. We arrived at the restaurant and found that the CEOs wife is also gluten free. Appetizers were sent round as people mingled before dinner and after refusing most because they looked like things on crackers and little cups with cauliflower soup, I was surprised to be told that ALL the appetizers were gluten free!! Moreover when the menu came around, the waiter merely pointed to which of several dishes on the menu were gluten free - not 'could be made gluten free' but were made without gluten. This did indeed make for a fun and relaxed meal.
This is Elements in Princeton:


The second dinner was in a small town restaurant and I had, of course, checked the menu beforehand. Here the whole menu was starred with what was gluten free - and that included many meats with sauces. For the first time ever, I was able to order crab cakes knowing that they would be almost 100% crab and have not bread/rusk or whatever in them.
The Yardley Inn


Both these restaurant illustrate that gluten free meals can be produced in a commercial kitchen that are both appealing and tasty for everyone.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

An Apple Crumble

With the temperatures being so cold, I decided that some comfort food was needed. I had green apples and plenty of flour options so I dragged out several older cookery books and looked for a simple apple pie recipe. On the net you can find dozens of tinkered with recipes but sometimes you just want the original, old fashioned simple apple crumble.

My favorite cookery book for such items is a 1970's Marguerite Patten Perfect Cooking book. This gives blue prints for standard recipes and then a few options for different flavorings etc. The theory is that if you know how to make the original then you have the knowledge to change some ingredients and still get a good outcome. This of course does not include making it gluten free but it was worth a shot.

The first clue that things might not go quite right was the flour that I used - it was a rice flour base and even after rubbing in the fat it still seemed dry. It went into the oven and did not crisp as I would have liked but the taste was ok. Next time I will try with a different flour base.

Not a great looking crumble but a starting point.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A New Bread from Europe

Late last year I visited England where the situation with gluten free goods has always been ahead of the USA market. The bread this time was a major improvement to the normal gluten free bread - whether home made or purchased. Udi's did a much better job than most but the new one from Genius Gluten Free is truly remarkable.

For the first time there is a bread that is soft, and edible. The thin sliced white bread was able to made into sandwiches and eaten without any falling apart, in fact if acted just like 'normal' bread.

The problem seems to be the distribution. From the site is mentions several USA companies such as Wegmans and Whole Foods, plus Shoprite however I have yet to find it. The closest was a Genius by Glutino which was definitely not the one I had.

Here is the home site : Genius Gluten Free 
An image of the bread package - if you find it please let me know!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pillsbury Gluten Free Dough

So looking at this blog it has been a full year since I did anything, and in that time Google seems to have taken control! It also points to the fact that I probably only cook a few times a year. This year we did a similar selection to last year with the flour less chocolate sponge, an open apple pie (Dutch style) and a sponge flan. All the items were gluten and dairy free, the year as well. Alas I was too busy to take any images.

However yesterday I noticed a new product - Pillsbury have brought out a ready made gluten free pastry dough. That was worth a try I thought.

The dough was cool and soft and the instructions suggested flattening between 2 sheets of parchment paper. This is ok for a small area but really you need to roll the dough and, of course, it cracks. It took a couple of goes to line the small pie dish. In part this was not the dough's fault but my inability to gauge how far over the pie dish I needed to be with the dough and as it neither stretches well nor lifts easily I had to return to the rolling bit again. Here the thing though, the instructions indicate that there is enough for a covered pie which would be fair for normal dough, but not when you need the dough thicker to avoid cracking. I did make it but the pie dish was only 8" rather than the standard 10". I filled the pie with apple wedges and brushed a little milk then sugar on top to give a brown look. Here is the pie:

Ok looks good - right? Actually it wasn't too bad but I am used to a sweeter pie crust for fruit pies and this was a standard pie shell. The taste was a little bland and not flaky as pie crusts should be. Overall I thought that as the rolling and getting the pastry into the pie pan is probably the most time consuming part of the process, I could probably do better with my own mix (made with one of the new flours, and mixed with egg yolk and milk rather than water. I also add a tbs of sugar to mine). I am probably going to try it again though for smaller items such as individual mince pies where you can roll out quickly and lift the small pieces easily into molds. 

Here's the thing though - about 2 hours after dinner I had extreme cramps and felt drained this morning - ie signs indicative of contamination. I am not sure if this was coincidence or not, but something that is certainly worth thinking about and I am cautious about doing too much with this dough until I can assess whether that was the culprit or not.