Friday, November 15, 2013

Amy's Gluten-Free Flour Blend

When I started my adventure in gluten-free baking, one thing that stressed me out was the amount of flours in a recipe. It was so off-putting, sometimes I did not want to bake. I was soon rescued by a friend, Amy Andrews of Amy's Food Room, who gave me her recipe for a flour blend that she had created. Over the years, I changed it to what you see below. I am very grateful to her for getting me started on the road to successful gluten-free baking.

One of the differentiators of my recipes from others you may see is the concept of using one blend for almost everything. This flour blend can be your new best friend. I mix between 6 and 9 cups at a time (1 to 1.5 times the recipe below). I use it for bread, waffles, pancakes, cupcakes, cookies, etc. with few exceptions. I almost always use it in other people's recipes.

One thing that I noticed with many recipes and pre-mixed flour blends was that these have a lot of “white” flour, for example white rice, potato and tapioca starch. My blend still has more nutritional value with the brown rice and millet; it's 2/3 whole grain. The upside is that it is light enough to create a baked good with excellent texture.

Another distinction from other flour blends is that I do not add xanthan gum to my mix for three reasons. I find that for most cakes, you only need 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum for every 2 cups of flour but for cookies, you need more like 1 teaspoon for every 2 cups of flour. So it's better to mix according to the recipe. Another reason is that the xanthan gum, which lasts over a year, should be refrigerated. I don't refrigerate my flour mix for reasons of space and finding it is not necessary. Lastly, if I'm only mixing a small amount of xanthan gum with a large amount of flour, I would worry it would not get properly distributed. These are my views. If you are worried about the cost and not using it in a year, find a friend to split the bag. So, this is the secret to my success. I hope it helps.

Mix together and keep in an air tight container:

3 cups brown rice flour
1 cup millet flour(if you can't find or don't want to use millet flour, substitute with brown or white rice flour instead)
1 cup tapioca flour or starch
1 cup potato starch (not flour)

Here's to happy baking. Let me know if you like it.

Tip: When you measure the flour into the large container, it's ok to put in a little more or less of a flour. I have found it's ok to estimate. However, when you measure flour for a recipe, fill the cup with about half of the flour then scoop flour on top, enough so that it is heaping. Use a flat edged knife to level the cup to measure exactly.

The Warm Kitchen gluten-free cookbook is chock full of tips. This is one of about 40!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Plan and Cook a Holiday Meal

Whether you are planning one or two dishes or a whole meal for the holidays, it’s always nice to have some extra tips. Here is my quick guide to planning and creating a delicious meal that happens to be gluten-free (with dairy and egg-free variations). As I always says, you don’t have to be a chef to be the “family chef”; you just need good recipes and techniques.

Let's start with the basics:

1. Plan your menu
2. Figure out amounts including what you would like to have for leftovers
3. Make your shopping list including what can be purchased before and what has to be purchased the day or so before
4. Create a prep list for the days leading up to the big day
5. Create a prep list for the day of, working backwards from when you want to eat
6. Eat and enjoy your meal!

That’s your high level guide. Now let’s get into the details.

Plan Your Menu
This is a combination of what you are in the mood for, what your family likes, and what you have time to make. Of course many people opt for the traditional minimum such as: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, vegetable and/or salad, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pie for dessert. If you eat gluten, dairy, and even egg-free, all of these dishes can be made as good as their regular counterparts. Make sure to have your recipes ready to go. You can find gluten-free and dairy-free recipes perfect for the holidays in The Warm Kitchen cookbook; how convenient!

My suggestion is to start with a basic recipe, especially if you are new to this. Some people prefer the taste of the traditional recipes for the holiday meal; others like to experiment. The best advice is that if you are making a new recipe, test it out first to see how long it takes and make sure you like it.

Your menu drives everything else which includes your shopping and prep lists so it has to be the first step.

This is another tricky topic as most people love to have leftovers. Consider this in your planning. Generally for turkey, it’s one pound per person. For the gravy, I usually make 1 cup for 4-6 people (most will use around 1-2 tablespoons but others use more). A tray of stuffing will feed 6-8. For potatoes, I estimate one large russet potato to feed 2-3 people. If you want more, plan accordingly.

Shopping List
Now that you know what you are making and how much of it, start the shopping list. Check to see what is in the pantry first. If I see certain things on sale, I tend to buy extra if it’s not perishable. Sometimes I forget about things like eggs and sugar so make sure to check everything (unless you have neighbors who you can call upon for that cup of almond milk you need).

When you make the shopping list, include what can be purchased ahead like the frozen turkey, vegetable shortening for the pie crust, etc. and what needs to be purchased a few days ahead such as the fresh fruits and vegetables. The bottom line is the shopping list will help you to be able to plan the meal. Having some things in the house beforehand means that when you go to the store for those last few items, you won’t have to fight the crowds as you only will need a few things.

Prep Lists
When I worked in big kitchens, it was all about the prep list; what has to be done today as well as tomorrow. Think about what can be done the day or two before like making the pie crust, toasting the bread for the croutons, making the cranberry sauce, and even chopping the vegetables.  Don’t forget to defrost the turkey 2-3 days before. That should be on the list. I leave mine in the fridge; it is not recommended to leave it out to thaw (unless it’s outside, about 40F, and safe from animals).

For the day of the big event, figure out when you want to eat, leaving an hour for the turkey to cool down a bit and be carved. Work backwards for everything else. Potatoes can be cooked and mashed in the morning and then heated in a pan in the oven. I usually make my gluten-free gravy (here's a recipe from my other blog) from the drippings so that’s always something done in the last hour. The stuffing can also be done ahead. Salads can be prepped but not mixed with dressing unless directed. Most veggies can be cut for the salad except for anything that browns like avocado, pears, and apples.

A prep list is also helpful when someone says to you “what can I do?” You can share the list and go from there. One thing I love to do is cross things off the list. Having someone else help with this is even better.

The Big Day
Remember the holidays are supposed to be a time for us to enjoy our family and friends. If you are stressed out or have made too much, it won’t be fun. If you have to, take a few things off of the menu or ask for more help. Then, get ready to sit back and enjoy yourself!

Here are some other gluten-free recipes you might enjoy:

Beet "Caviar"
Crustless Quiche (see note for gluten-free version)
Roasted Tomatoes over Mascarpone and Polenta
Caesar Salad
Butternut Squash Risotto
Pumpkin Pie (note: the crust is NOT gluten-free; you can use a pre-made gf crust or find a recipe in The Warm Kitchen)
Gluten-Free Brownies