Posts Tagged ‘gluten free’

Life Is Short. Eat The Damn Cookies

December 2, 2018

These chocolate chippers were a winner with chunks of hand-cut chocolate and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt

This week, I devoted a few days to recipe development for cookies and muffins that did not contain any refined sugars or gluten. After spending a full day baking, tasting and tweaking, I stumbled upon a few conclusions.

Although it is possible to create really good items despite the restrictions, I’m not sure they are actually healthier than their conventional alternatives. Although I only used natural ingredients and avoided artificial sweeteners, including Stevia ( which is naturally derived and then processed making its purity questionable) my stomach has been bloated and gurgling ever since.

Gluten-free flour blends are high in carbs. Most include various rice flours, tapioca flour, sorghum, and potato starch, and require something binding to replace the gluten. This is usually the addition of Xanthan gum, which is derived from a fermented, inactive bacteria. For those looking to follow a low-carb lifestyle for weight loss and energy, removing the gluten doesn’t lower the carb count.

These cinnamon streusel muffins could be a good base for add-ins and held moisture better than the loaf cake version

Store-bought gluten-free flour blends have varied calorie counts, ranging from 400 calories to 587 calories per cup depending on the contents. White, all-purpose wheat flour comes in at about 455 calories per cup.

Coconut nectar sugar is the sweetener of choice. Purported to have a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugars, it still is loaded with fructose and is similar in calories to refined white sugar. Honey and pure maple syrup have more nutritional value, but also are high in fructose, and can weigh in at a greater calorie count than conventional sugar.

Maybe some apples would help these keep moist and fresh for a longer period of time

While many people have health issues that prevent them from enjoying foods containing gluten, for the rest of us, there may be no value in avoiding it. I am guilty of eliminating foods from my diet, whether for vanity or perceived good health, but I try not to replace them with faux versions. Diet soda is actually worse for your health than the real deal, although I would strongly advocate for passing up soda in general. If you are eliminating food groups ( i.e. gluten or refined sugar) and eating a lot of replacement foods, especially those with processed and fabricated ingredients, it might be affecting your health in a negative way. In my case, too many cookies were simply too many cookies, regardless of what might be in them.

These were a winner. RIch and fudgy!

The moral of the story: Life is short. Eat the damn cookies.

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The Wheat We Hate to Eat

September 16, 2013

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Hating on wheat is the trendy thing to do these days. Everyone, it seems, has issues with the grain, and gluten free is the fashionable way to be.

After reading an article in Harper’s Bazaar about the perils of today’s wheat, it sparked a lively discussion.

In the book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Way Back to Health, by William Davis, it blames gliadin, a component of gluten, for causing our distress. Dr. Davis contends that wheat causes diabetes, heart disease and acne. He states that the gliadin found in wheat, and its interaction with the opioid receptors in the brain over stimulates the appetite and ultimately causes obesity. Later in the article, several other doctors disputed his theories as bunk, and states that other foods have this effect, including milk, soy and spinach.

It’s difficult to know who to believe.

I have heard people (myself among them,) discuss bloating, stomach distress, acne and “brain fog” as after effects of eating foods containing gluten. I have heard it blamed on the evils of American wheat vs. European wheat, and genetically engineered wheat vs. non-GMO types. Yes, the wheat we eat today is not the same wheat our fore folks ate hundreds of years ago, nor is it the same exact wheat we ate 50 years ago. It is not, however, the genetically modified Frankenwheat it is often accused of being.

I set out to gather the cold, hard facts on wheat production:

It is not legal to produce genetically modified wheat for commercial consumption in North America. Europe also does not permit their wheat crops to be genetically modified. There is no need to brag about flour or baked goods being non-GMO by labeling them as such, since all the wheat products in the United States and Europe fall into that category. Both countries are testing genetically modified wheat, but it is not available for consumption at this time.

Wheat has undergone hybridization over the years, caused both by nature and from man helping the breeding process and therefore creating new species of the plants. While hybridization is naturally occurring, the low-tech process of assisting compatible species to merge has been going on since the beginning of agriculture. This process does not alter the plant’s genetic structure through use of chemicals or technology, and does not introduce genes from other kingdoms into the mix, as does genetic modification.

Gluten is a naturally occurring protein that gives elasticity to dough. It is what helps it rise, and gives shape to the dough. Some grades of flour have a lower gluten content than others due to the milling process, but it is intrinsic in the natural makeup of wheat, as well as that of rye and barley.

Gluten-free flours and baked goods come from the use of alternative flours, not from removing the gluten from wheat. That in fact, would require genetic modification.

There is nothing going on in other countries that would make their wheat more palatable, or digestible than ours. Some common alternative flours are almond meal, garbanzo flour and coconut flour, among others. They often alter the consistency of the food, and can rarely be substituted in a recipe without adapting it accordingly.

While only 1 out of 100 people have Celiac disease, which makes it impossible for their body to process the gluten in wheat and other products, the rest of us are fully able to digest it. While that number is indeed higher than it was 50 years ago, it is still quite low. Many attribute the increase in Celiac disease to the fact that more and more people are being tested for it. Gluten is also being used in many medications, cosmetics and processed foods, which exposes us to much higher quantities of it than ever before.

Going gluten free, or even just opting to go wheat free does have its benefits for the mass population. Most people experience weight loss from cutting these products from their diet. Eliminating bread, pasta, cookies, cakes and other flour-based foods eliminates substantial calories. As people reach a healthy weight, they tend to experience less health symptoms.

Wheat or not to wheat, that is the question. If you suspect you have a problem with wheat, even though your doctor has ruled out a real allergy or Celiac disease,try eliminating wheat based foods, or gluten based products from your diet for two weeks and see how you feel. If you feel more energetic, and your skin or digestive issues improve, then go for it. If it doesn’t seem to have much effect, keep whole grains in your diet for the fiber, vitamins and minerals they offer, as well as the joy we often get from eating them.

Then sit back, relax and wait for the next food villain to emerge.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Unrecipe of the Week: Socca Pizza

March 25, 2013
The finished product

The finished product

I have already posted our recipe for Socca, a chickpea flour flatbread that is gluten free, high in protein and delicious. Tonight, I was looking for something low in carbs, crispy and full of vegetables. After a little thinking, I decided to use the Socca as a pizza crust, and top it with a hearty blend of tomatoes, artichokes and mushrooms. The result was a beautiful flatbread, brimming with flavor and surprisingly filling. As with any unrecipe, top it with whatever you are craving. Consider adding goat cheese, parmesan or a little shredded mozzarella. Toss on some finely sliced pepperoni or bacon if you are a meat lover. Use zucchini instead of artichokes, or even both. The possibilities are endless!

For the crust:

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Whisk together 1 cup of garbanzo flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 cups water. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or up to a few hours.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 12″ skillet with olive oil. Add a chopped shallot, and place in the hot oven until sizzling. You can also add the herbs of your choice at this stage.

Pour the batter over the shallots, and bake until the flatbread is crisp and brown, about 40 minutes. The flatbread will easily lift out of the pan when it is fully baked.

For the topping:

The topping

The topping

Saute 1 clove of garlic and about 6-8 sliced mushrooms until brown. Add a few chopped artichoke hearts ( canned or frozen) and lightly saute them. Season with salt, pepper, basil and oregano. Add 2 chopped plum tomatoes (or some crushed canned tomatoes) and cook until the tomatoes start to soften. If the mixture gets too dry, drizzle in a little more olive oil.

When the crust is done, spread the the mixture over it, leaving a rim all around. Sprinkle with chopped arugula, and enjoy!

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Diet Riot

December 26, 2012

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I am planning a small holiday soiree and want to include a variety of foods that suit a variety of dietary choices.

There are the vegetarians, the gluten free, the lactose intolerant, and the just plain fussy.

Some won’t eat fish, some won’t eat red meat, and some won’t eat chicken. One guest has a shellfish allergy.  A few won’t eat vegetables. There are the carb restrictors, and the sugar- free. There are the adventurous gourmets, and the no sauce types.

Sound like an impossible to please group? Not really.

These days, everyone has a dietary issue, due to allergies, or just personal taste. A good host can plan around that, and make sure that everyone has something to eat that they (hopefully) will enjoy. It’s not necessary to adapt recipes to cater to dietary preferences, but it is important to offer a selection of foods to suit everyone.

I have stated my distaste for serving too many hors d’oeuvres, which in my opinion just fill everyone up before the main meal. I tend to opt for a few simple “nibbles” that won’t wreck anyone’s appetite before the big event, but will tide my guests over while they are gathering with cocktails before dinner.

Tangy dips or spreads, made without mayonnaise, sour cream or cheese, are good options. Put out crackers or chips, as well as baby carrots to cater to the gluten free crowd. I love Food Should Taste Good multigrain chips, which are gluten free, lactose free and whole grain. Spiced nuts, or a selection of olives are easy ideas.

As long as everyone has something they can snack on, feel free to offer a cheese plate or meat based hors d’oeuvre for the others.

Variety is the spice of life, and when possible, it’s nice to have choices. Few people will love everything, but as long as everyone has a few things they can enjoy, the menu is a success.

An interesting salad, made with vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing is a nice way to start the meal. Skip the cheese, so that the lactose free guests can partake.

For a buffet, it is easy to make a few different types of protein, such as fish, chicken, pork or beef. Make sure that at least one of them can have the sauce served on the side, to accommodate someone with a simpler palette. If it is a sit down dinner, with only one main course, be sure that the sides are ample enough to please anyone who doesn’t care for it.  Be sure that the dishes don’t all contain sugar, cream, or tons of butter, as many holiday sides do.

Dessert can get a bit trickier, as flour, butter and sugar are the mainstays of most pies, cakes and cookies. If you can’t include at least one gluten free option, and at least one lactose free option, have some fresh fruit so that all of your guests can enjoy a final course.

At the end of it all, the act of getting together and sharing a meal is the most important part of holiday entertaining. Enjoying time spent with family and friends trumps sticking to a rigid diet any day!

photo: Glasshouse Images

Substitutions Welcome

September 10, 2012

I am extremely health minded when it comes to fitness and nutrition. I don’t believe in using anything fake in my food to make it lower in fat, calories, sugar or even gluten. I prefer to avoid these things on a regular basis, and indulge in the real deal from time to time.
Recently, I have started experimenting with substituting a bit, and have been creating recipes that still use all natural food based ingredients, but make things just a bit healthier in the process.

When last night’s gluten free cheesecake with an almond meal crust drew rave reviews from people who preferred it to my usual cheesecake recipe, I realized that I was onto something.

Butter is a mainstay to baking, and I would never consider using margarine or “fake butter” instead.  There are lots of healthy and even vegan foods that can be substituted that will still yield moist, rich baked goods without sacrificing taste.

Applesauce is a great alternative to butter in denser baked goods, such as muffins and banana bread. Substitute ½ the butter for the same quantity of applesauce. You can use all applesauce if you like an even moister, heavier texture.

Avocado is also a good butter substitute. Use ½ butter and ½ of the equivalent amount of mashed avocado. It creates a softer, chewier texture, making it a great choice for cookies.

Greek yogurt is a rich creamy dairy product that can also be used instead of butter. The rule of thumb is replace ½ of the butter, with ½ the amount of yogurt. (If the recipe asks for 1 cup of butter, use ½ cup of butter and ¼ cup of yogurt.)

You may need to experiment a bit to find the consistency you like best.

I have made an amazing lemon yogurt loaf cake that is one of best versions of a lemon pound cake around. It uses both yogurt and canola oil, instead of butter.

I will continue to experiment and share some of my successes here on indigo jones.

Remember that even with substitutions to make baked goods a little more virtuous, they still are not “diet foods.” With a little practice, you may actually come up with something better than the original recipe!

photos: Glasshouse Images 

Eating Religiously

April 6, 2012

Several weeks ago, as my Trader Joe’s “Sweet, Savory and Tart Trek Mix” addiction was reeling out of control, I discovered it was Lent.  While I am not Catholic, and honestly couldn’t tell you anything about the significance of the occasion, I did know that it involved giving up something you enjoy until Easter, and I loves me some good trek mix!

Always one for a challenge, or in this case an intervention, I tossed the last of it in the trash and decided to do without it for awhile. (Before the food waste followers gasp in horror, if truth be told, the bag was nearly empty!)

Tonight marks the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, where one is expected to do without flour products for 8 days in remembrance of the Jews’ escape from Egypt, where the bread did not have time to rise. I am not certain what that has to do with cookies and pasta which are relatively flat, but since the rules were established centuries ago, let’s just roll with it.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, now is a great time to take a break and go gluten free for 8 days. If you don’t fill up on all kinds of “replacement” foods, and just forego the bread, cake, pasta and cookies, it’s highly likely you will lose weight.
If you are like me, you will also lose that bloated belly, and gain energy.

So consider yourself challenged: Try to spend the next 8 days, “passing-over” refined carbs and eat only whole foods that have not been processed, preserved or packaged.

If your body really is your temple, it will thank you!


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