One of the toughest aspects of going gluten-free is finding recipes for quality baked goods. Nowhere is gluten more critical than when attempting to make a fluffy cake or tender but giant muffins. The first batch of GF muffins I made were so hard that they clogged the garburator when I realized they were inedible. To add to the challenge, I can't eat eggs, which are an important part of my baking past. I have spent countless hours searching the web for good recipes, and bought way too many GF cookbooks. It has paid off, though, and I have a small cache of tasty and reliable recipes for sweets, when the mood strikes. I have also started converting some of my old family favourites and those recipes will make their way to this blog at some point.
This banana bread recipe is a winner. It is low in oil, has no eggs, and with the addition of chocolate chips, makes grown men cry. Well, not quite, but definitely beg for seconds. Speaking of grown men, Jon turned this bread into a spectacular dessert with a few simple steps. Lay a thick piece of banana bread in a non-stick pan and heat over medium-high heat until the chocolate chips start to melt, flipping so both sides are slightly crusty and lightly browned. Slide onto a plate and top with dairy-free Coconut Bliss "Naked Coconut" ice cream and devour. Absolute heaven.
A final word on gluten-free baking. I discovered a series of cookbooks by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt that are loaded with very good recipes. The secret they share is that the old methods of telling when a cake or loaf are done baking don't work with gluten-free recipes. You have to buy a small cooking thermometer, and when the centre of your loaf or muffin registers 200 degrees, it is done. If not, you run the risk of a gluey, sticky heavy loaf once it has cooled. This method works.
zed handmade banana bread
The chocolate chips are an optional addition to this great recipe, but I personally never make it without them!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8”x4”loaf pan and dust with rice flour.
combine in a large bowl:
3 medium/large bananas, mashed
1/3 cup Safflo or light olive oil
1 cup organic light brown sugar (can use golden or dark brown sugar as well)
2 tsp GF vanilla extract
whisk together in a separate bowl:
1 ½ cups gluten-free flour mix (see below)
1 tsp baking soda
2 ½ tsp GF baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp arrowroot starch
½ tsp xanthan gum
Add the dry ingredients into the banana mixture and stir until smooth. If the batter looks too thin and wet, add more gluten-free flour, a tablespoon at a time, to thicken the batter.
½ cup chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand for non-dairy option)
½ cup chopped pecans
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the center of a preheated oven for 60 minutes, until the loaf is firm, a bit crusty, and a food thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 200°
gluten-free flour mix
For 3 cups of GF Flour mix:
2 cups Brown rice flour*
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca flour (starch)
Mix well and keep extra in freezer. Always bring to room temperature before using in baking. Also, this flour settles so stir it up and lightly spoon into measuring cups for the best results.
Gluten is a word seen often in the media these days. It is usually attached to free, as in gluten-free. Four years ago, when I made the decision to take it out of my diet, most people asked me what in the heck gluten was, anyway? Is it in meat? In rice? What does it do? Friends were afraid to cook for me. Today, most people have a rudimentary knowledge of what gluten is and where it can be found.
I didn't make the decision lightly. I had been making bread for over 25 years, from cinnamon buns to heavy healthy seedy loaves. And everything in between. I also had a deep love of pasta, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, pizza, healthy boxed cereals, Lesley Stowe's amazing crackers, french fries, fish and chips, micro brewed beer, liquorice, smarties and pretzels. And yes, you guessed it.... these all contain gluten. Usually in the form of wheat flour, but gluten is also found in barley, rye, semolina, farina, matzo meal, graham flour, bulgar, durham, kamut, kasha, spelt and triticale. Though oats do not contain gluten, they are usually grown in proximity to and processed with wheat and are considered contaminated with gluten. Scratch my homemade granola. It is also hidden in a ka-zillion other places where you would never think to look, like those french fries (often coated with flour to keep them hot longer) and smarties.
I had been having stomach problems for several years and was on medication that didn't help much. After the medical profession shrugged their collective shoulders, I went for a food panel test administered by a local naturopath. Bingo. Gluten reaction was off the end of the chart, along with a few other foods I had suspected I shouldn't eat. I threw away my stomach medicine, removed every possible source of gluten from my diet and before long found energy I hadn't had for years. When my oldest daughter was also diagnosed as gluten-intolerant, and then my youngest daughter was diagnosed as celiac, my resolve to never go back to eating gluten was set in stone. In fact gluten issues, from intolerance to the more serious celiac disease usually run in families. When I think back to my father, I am sure he probably was at least gluten intolerant, if not celiac.
The proliferation of gluten-free products showing up on grocery shelves lately does not necessarily mean there are now healthy choices. In fact, many gluten-free recipes and products rely too heavily on white rice flour (the nutritional equivalent of processed white flour, or maybe even worse) and a lot of white sugar and fat to make them taste like something palatable. I discovered there are many ancient grains and flours that are preferable, like quinoa, amaranth, flax, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, chickpea, bean, and teff. With practice, they make tasty and healthy gluten-free dishes.
One of the first websites I stumbled on was 101cookbooks.com. Heidi Swanson is an amazing woman, and though her main focus isn't gluten-free food, she does have a section that contains some of my favourite recipes. In the early days of my new diet I was constantly starved. One of Heidi's recipes that saved me was her wonderful Big Sur Power Bars. I wasted no time converting it to gluten-free, changed a few things to suit my taste buds, and never looked back.
in this, the first of my blogs dealing with GF food, I would like to give you my version of Heidi's power bars. They are incredibly good, easy to personalize and change, and loved by all who try them. I have several versions with various fruit, spices and nuts, which I will cover in a later blog. I won't say they are calorie-free, but they are healthy, and better than grabbing a bag of potato chips when hunger strikes.
Future blogs will also feature recipes for granola, banana bread, peanut-butter cookies, cranberry bread and more.... all gluten-free.
zed handmade gluten-free power bars
Preheat oven to 375°.
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1 ½ cups wheat-free rolled oats
¼ cup whole flax seed
1 ½ cups unsweetened crisp brown rice cereal (Nature’s
Path brand is best)
¼ cup cacao nibs
½ cup craisins, raisins, chopped figs, chopped prunes,
chopped apricots, dried chopped cherries, dried
blueberries – your choice!
1 cup brown rice syrup
½ tsp fine-grain sea salt
2 tbsp high-quality cocoa powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
On a rimmed baking sheet toast the pecans, oatmeal, and sunflower seeds for about 7 minutes, or until golden. Toss once or twice along the way. You can also omit this step if you would rather eat "raw". Mix the oats, toasted nuts, flax seeds, dried fruit, cacao nibs and the cereal together in a large bowl and set aside.
Grease a baking pan or line with parchment paper. If you like thick power bars opt for an 8x8-inch pan; for thinner bars, use a 10x13-inch pan.
Combine the rice syrup, salt, cocoa, and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and stir constantly as it comes to a boil and thickens just a bit, about 4 minutes. If you undercook this mixture, the bars will not “set” and will fall apart. If you overcook, the bars will be quite hard.
Pour the syrup mixture over the oat mixture and stir until it is evenly mixed.
Spread into the prepared pan and cool to room temperature before cutting into whatever size bars you desire.
Makes 16 to 24 bars. Keep refrigerated for maximum freshness, if they last that long......
You might ask what a photo-shopped picture of a cardoon has to do with my brain. The answer, of course, is everything.
This cardoon, which grows every year in my garden, and beckons me with its marvellous structure and form, is analogous to what compels me to create new knit pieces. It is just so darned beautiful. So amazing. So perfect. And with a few adjustments the picture becomes a piece of art instead of an accurate record of a plant.
Every time I pick up a hank of yarn I begin to see form and texture and the possibility of perfection. The options are endless. Change the direction the yarn travels and you have a new stitch. Change how the stitches are combined and you have a new pattern. Decide on a colour and you have a statement of fashion and purpose. Knit outside the rules, and you have art.
Anyone who lives with a knitter knows the symptoms of getting lost in the yarn. The eyes glaze over, ever so slightly, a smile reaches the lips and the fingers work over the surface of the wool, imagining where it will travel. And before the last project is even finished, another is begun. There are always many projects on the go at once, boredom never an issue. New challenges, new frontiers. Eventually there will be a project involving strange fibers. In fact, anything that resembles string is fair game.
It all began with a spool of annealed wire from Home Depot. I had it in my brain that I wanted to make random wrapped balls of wire. I made small ones to add to a bracelet I was making at the time. Then I made a big one, shown on the right. That led me to finally try felting a bowl to hold the wire ball. It had been on my bucket list for a long time, and the rest is history.
But moving on, I wondered why I couldn't knit with the wire... hard on the fingers, to be sure, but possible? I bought some finer softer copper wire, and I was off and running. Who would have thought it was possible to knit with wire? It was, and I even liked the result until my mother-in-law told me it looked like a pot-scrubber! Minor detail. I would choose a different wire next time...
I discovered a whole new group of knitters who make knitted wire jewellery and other wonderful creations. Headed out to buy some more wire for another project.
But at the hardware store, I accidentally wandered down the rope aisle. Rope! I could knit with rope! I had no idea there were so many sizes and colours and kinds of rope. The fellow working the aisle finally gave up trying to help, and wandered off, muttering. I was paralyzed with the possibilities. Finally, bowing to the impossible logistics of wrapping giant rope around my needles, I settled on a wonderful rough sisal. The yardage was ample, the price was fair, and it seemed like a good place to start.
I decided to teach myself how to crochet on this project. The anatomy of the stitch seemed perfect, and I could achieve the straight sides I wanted, impossible with knitting. It was surprisingly simple, and as the basket started to take shape I grinned like a new mother, proud of my creation. But it needed something to finish it off. I remembered an old piece of metallic bronze fabric I had stashed away. I could cut it into strips and work it into the border! Perfect. Just what I had in mind. No matter that someone in a foreign country could make this for ten cents. I had made my own basket!
And there, you have it. Round and round in a crazy logic, I have moved from cardoons to sisal baskets. I makes sense to me. It is truly how my brain works, most of the time.
Oh, right. Cardoon. With all the rain, it has been growing to dizzying heights. I had better get out to the garden to tie it to a stake. Hmmm, I wonder if I can knit something with the green twine.......