Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday's Quote to Ponder

"I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship."
                                                                   -Louisa May Alcott

What a great visual picture of conquering the stresses of life...a sailboat heading into a storm. You can do it if you learn how to adjust the sails.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brownies With a Secret

     Brownies for dinner? Can you imagine answering the famous question "What's for dinner?' with "Brownies!" I can see the smiles now.

     While that may be inappropriate, I wanted a healthier way of making brownies. I learned from various sources that using black beans in brownies was a great way to sneak in nutrition and keep the texture of the brownie. How clever, I thought. Beans are full of protein and fiber. I hate that empty feeling you get when you eat a snack that is mostly refined flour and sugar.

      By putting beans in my gluten-free brownie recipe instead of starch flour, I add protein and fiber and make a complete protein with the brown rice......and nobody has to know!!! Though the recipe still has fat, sugar and chocolate, it has some nutrition, too. I have served it to my kids and their friends for after school snacks and heard the ultimate compliment, "May I have another?"

Black Bean Brownies               print recipe

4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. rinsed black beans
1/2 c. soft ghee, canola oil or
         dairy-free margarine
1 c. brown rice flour
3/4 c. cocoa
2 c. sugar
1/1/4 t. zanthan gun
3/4 t. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease  one 9 x 13 inch pan (for thicker brownies) or two 8 x 8 inch pans (for thinner brownies).

Blend beans, vanilla and eggs in blender or food processor until smooth. I use a hand blender.

Measure all dry ingredients into medium mixing bowl and whisk until well blended. Add ghee, oil or margarine and blended beans. Mix just until blended.

Pour into pan(s) and spread until even. Bake 25 - 30 minutes for small pans and 30 - 35 minutes for large pan or until toothpick inserted in center comes out fairly clean. Cool on rack. Dust with powder sugar, if desired. Cut and store in airtight container in refrigerator for 1 - 2 days or freezer for 3 months.

This recipe can be dairy-free if you use oil or dairy-free margarine. If you are just concerned about casein or lactose and are not familar with ghee see link for ghee (added 11/3/11).

Perfect treat for snacks, school lunches and family gatherings. Yum!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What is Ghee?

     Ghee (pronounced with a hard "g"), also known as clarified butter and drawn butter, is unsalted butter that has been boiled, removing the moisture and strained to remove the cooked milk solids. The remaining golden fluid is butter oil. Without the moisture and milk solids, it keeps at room temperature at least one month and can be used to saute at high temperatures. I like to combine it with olive oil when I saute. The two make a great flavor combination.

     Clarified butter is commonly used for cooking in South Asia. It is semi-soft at room temperature and hard with refrigeration. It has a wonderful aroma and intense flavor. Since it is oil, just a little is all you need. My son came home from Cub Scouts one evening after I had made ghee. The kitchen smelled so good his face lit up and he said, "Did you make cookies?"

     French ghee is only partially clarified. Ghee used in Indian cooking is fully clarified. When fully clarified, the casein and lactose have bee removed. However, trace may remain. It is up to you to decide if this food will work for you. We have chosen to use it on a limited basis. I have grown to really enjoy ghee and have learned to bake with it. Ghee can be purchased or made at home.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Simply Fruity Gelatin

     I like to make foods as natural as possible for my kids. My friend made a gelatin salad that had applesauce and berries in it. The gelatin was the boxed type with artificial flavors and colors, but the salad had a great texture. So, I tried it with unflavored gelatin and fruit juice and came up with the following recipe. The kids love it somewhat frozen, too.

Simply Fruity Gelatin             Print Recipe

1 envelope (.25 oz.) of unflavored gelatin
1 3/4 c. 100% fruit juice of choice
1-2 T. sugar, if desired
1/1/2 c. frozen blackberries
1/2 c. applesauce, unsweetened

Sprinkle gelatin over 1 c. of cold juice in a medium bowl.

Bring the rest of the juice (3/4 c.) just to boiling in a small saucepan. Stir in sugar (if desired) until dissolved.

Pour hot juice into cold juice and mix until well gelatin is dissolved (2-3 minutes). Stir in applesauce and frozen berries. Pour into bowl and refrigerate until set, about 2-3 hours.

Notes:  Adding sugar is not really necessary, but if your kids are used to the boxed gelatin, you may want to start with a little added sugar until they are used to the change. The frozen berries will help the gelatin set up, but if you are in a hurry, put it in the freezer. My kids love it when it gets a little icy!  It's an easy recipe for them to help make, too.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday's Challenge

      Happy Monday! It's a dark and rainy morning, but the weather report promises that the week will transform into sunny and decent.

     Which reminds me that we are still in a season of nice walking weather. My days get busy with kids and commitments, and there never seems to be enough time to exercise. Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to do.

     Whether you park your car a little further from the store, do a couple of extra flights of stairs or take walks in your neighborhood, I challenge you to fit a little extra simple exercise into your week. Feel good.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday's Quote to Ponder

"Start by doing what is necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."   -St. Francis of Assisi
     I consider myself an optimistic person, but I have to admit that some days life's challenges feel overwhelming - like I can't accomplish them. That's when I step back and say to myself what do I really need to accomplish today, and focus on smaller parts of the end goal. Just like the quote says, before I know it I'm getting more pieces done and then what didn't look feasible has been accomplished.
     When I first tried to figure out how I was going to be able to provide a gluten-free, dairy-free diet for my family, it felt impossible. But, over a year later it feels much different. I'm actually having fun with it and we are thriving because of it.
     So, whether you are trying to adapt to food sensitivities/allergies, trying to loose weight or trying to be healthier and it just doesn't seem possible, set smaller goals and before you know it, you'll be doing what you thought you couldn't.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cherry Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

     As the days become shorter and cooler, the garden is becoming empty. Though the garden isn't completely harvested, zucchini season is over here. I finished using my last zucchini I had stored in the refrigerator this week. 
     As I pull one my of my zucchini muffins out of the freezer, I am reminded of warm summer days and bountiful harvests.This recipe is my favorite one from last summer. It's light and moist with a wonderful blend of flavors.

Cherry Chocolate Zucchini Muffins  
print recipe

3 eggs
1/14 c. sugar
3/4 c. oil
1 1/2 t. vanilla
2 c. grated zucchini (unpeeled)
1/14 c. brown rice flour
1/2 c. potato starch
1/4 c. tapioca starch
1 1/4 t. zanthan gum
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
6 T. cocoa, sifted
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. coarsely chopped dried cherries

     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or place papers in 2-12 count muffin pans.
     Mix flours, zanthan gum, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa well in a small bowl.
     Whisk eggs in a separate bowl until blended. Whisk in sugar, then oil and vanilla until well blended. Stir in zucchini. Combine flour mixture together with egg mixture just until blended. Fold in chips and cherries.
     Fill the 24 muffin cups about 2/3 way full. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.
     Keeps well in refrigerator for 1-2 days or in freezer for 3 months in an airtight container.

     Mix chopped cherries with 1 t. of the rice flour before putting them in the batter so they don't stick together.
     If desired, save the chocolate chips until after batter is in muffin pan. Place 5-6 chips in the center of each unbaked muffin. Then, push chips into center of batter using your finger or end of wooden spoon. You will have a chocolaty center when your muffin is warm.

     Have fun and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Too Many Flours

     I remember getting started with gluten-free baking. I've always loved baking, but gluten-free baking was a bit overwhelming. Not only did the dough not hold together the same, there seemed to be a  lot of choices for flour. I was concerned with both nutrition and getting my kids to eat it.

     After trying different flours and mixes and reading labels, I found that rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch are common flours used and produce a taste and texture close to that of wheat flour products increasing the chances of it being accepted by those who need to change their diet. A flour blend of 3 parts grain (like rice) and 2 parts starch is a general rule that seems to work in creating flour blends. The Bette Hagman's flour mix requires 2 parts rice flour, 2/3 part potato starch and 1/3 tapioca starch. I have substituted this flour for wheat flour at a 1:1 ratio in some of my favorite recipes with good success. Remember the xanthan gum-see below.

     This is a good place to start, trying new flours a little at a time. There are many flours to choose from with many nutritional benefits. A bean flour combined with rice flour makes a complete protein.

      I like to use brown rice flour for increased protein and fiber compared to white rice flour. White rice flour does work nicely for treats like a lighter cake or sugar cookies. I also try to reduce the starch when I can since it does not have any protein or fiber in it.

      Of course there are flour blends and baking mixes already prepared for you, but it is usually cheaper to make them yourself. It is very easy to make the Bette Hagman or other flour blends ahead of time so you are ready to go. Your favorite baked goods can easily be prepared ahead of time by getting the dry ingredients ready.

     If you are going to try converting a recipe over to gluten-free, don't forget the zanthan gun. Zanthan gum is a dry powder that replaces the gluten or "glue" that holds wheat flour together in the finished product. Check for guidelines for usage on the package. Some recipes don't need zanthan gum. For example, banana or pumpkin can provide the "stickiness" in a recipe if there is enough of it.

     Look in health food stores or health food sections in grocery stores for gluten-free flours and blends and for zanthan gum.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tomato Basil Soup

     The tomato season has peaked where I live in the Midwest, although I still have a number of tomatoes in the garden. As I stared at a large box of tomatoes last week wondering what to do with them, I was stumped. I am the main tomato eater in the family and I still had some in the freezer from last year. I don't really like to can. Why we planted so many tomatoes is another story. Then my husband had a great idea. Tomato soup. I hadn't found a gluten-free version in the store yet. So, I researched for ideas and created the following recipe. My son and I ate most of it and he even requested it for his lunch bag for school.

Tomato Basil Soup                 print recipe

4 c. chopped fresh tomatoes
1 small onion
1/1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 T. ghee or  2 T. dairy-free margarine
3 T. potato flour (not starch) or rice flour
1/2 T. dried basil
4 t. sugar
1 t. salt
1 t. lemon juice

     Combine tomatoes, onion and chicken broth in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and work tomato mixture through a food mill or mesh strainer to remove seeds and skin. In empty saucepan, melt ghee or margarine, stir in flour and cook 1 minute on low, stirring. Whisk 1/2 c. tomato mixture into the flour mixture until smooth. Whisk in the remaining tomato. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Add more sugar or salt to taste if needed.

     I ended up making several batches of soup and freezing it. I hope to get a couple more done before the end of the season. Soup is such a perfect food for the upcoming chilly weather. Warms the heart and soul!

Note: Tried brown sugar instead of white sugar - delicious! (added 9/26)

This recipe can be dairy-free if you use dairy-free margarine. If you are just concerned about casein or lactose and are not familar with ghee see link for ghee. (added 11/3/11)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Complexity of Health

     On the first day of school this year, my daughter and I spotted little spider webs in the grass walking to the playground where the students lined up to go in. The webs were sparkly with the morning dew. She though they were so cool and wanted me to take a picture of them. I happened to have my camera in the car and attempted to capture natures beauty in a picture.

     You have to look close, but you can see the delicate web weaving in the blades of the grass. It reminded me of how intricate our own health is.
    There are many areas to address when dealing with our health. This blog focuses on diet. And dealing with allergies or sensitivities, weight concerns or just trying to eat healthy  in today's world can feel all consuming.

     But I still challenge you this week to consider other areas of your life that affect your health and how you feel. How will you handle them as you build your web of health?