Almond Biscotti and an Ode to North Carolina Weather

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Winter storm Jonas has come and gone and for those of you who think a state as far south as North Carolina would get off easy, let me enlighten you. Here in the south there is a dreaded winter phenomenon (which requires stockpiles of toilet paper, gluten and milk) known to locals by its scientific name – Wintry Mix.

Situated smack in the center of the eastern seaboard, our state has four seasons (which I refer to as allergy season, hot & humid hell season, autumn and winter) and occasionally an extreme weather situation like a tornado. The coast and outer banks also stick out far enough to make them good target practice for rogue hurricanes that didn’t follow their hypothesized trajectory. Storms against this smattering of islands that jut out into the ocean earned the area its nickname long ago as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Moving from our coast to the beautiful mountains (aka the Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example) you will find yourself in the center of the state, also known as the piedmont. The piedmont area and the sand hills of North Carolina include the capital city of Raleigh, famous golf courses and retirement communities, college towns like Chapel Hill, my own industrial-turned-hipster hometown, Durham, a number of pig, corn and tobacco farms, and probably more than a few trailer parks and meth labs less classy than the ones as-seen-on-TV in Breaking Bad. We are a state of great diversity as you can see, and that diversity lends itself to the weather as well. As global warming continues to do very weird things to the outdoor temperatures, snow storms cruise in and cover the suburbs almost as quickly as 70 degree weather comes in to melt it all. And when snow hits the piedmont, our one snowplow just doesn’t quite cut it.

Winter storm Jonas wasn’t nearly as bad in Durham as the meteorologists claimed it would be, and for that we were very fortunate. They predicted up to an inch of ice, which would have been absolutely crippling. Luckily, we only got about 0.2” of ice and almost 2” of sleet in some places. Power outages caused by the ice in other areas of the state accounted for nearly half of the power outages on the east coast thanks to Jonas and while we had electricity, driving on thin ice (haha) simply was not an option for two days (we waited nearly four). So, I did what any normal person would do given the circumstances; drank lots of tea, watched Hallmark movies, and baked.

Being stuck indoors with daily tromps through the snow and ice isn’t nearly as bad as it seems. It happens rarely enough in North Carolina and when it does, for me at least, it is a welcome sort of vacation. The world is silent and covered in white and there is nothing to interrupt your morning coffee or afternoon tea with a perfectly tender and crunchy gluten-free almond biscotti in hand.

I got the second volume of America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free cookbook from my father for Christmas and I figured this would be the perfect time to experiment with some of the incredibly thorough and fail-proof recipes. I chose biscotti to start because it seemed a terribly elegant and European cookie to accompany my almost hourly consumption of warm beverages. The biscotti are twice baked; once to cook the dough and twice to crisp the edges just so. Biscotti in general can be a crumbly mess, so it is easy to imagine a gluten-free biscotti being even drier, but this recipe provided the perfect balance and made for a soft center.

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almond biscotti and cold brew coffee

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. gf flour blend
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. xanthan gum (I omitted this because I add so much xanthan to my flour blend. If you don’t make your own mix, read the ingredients carefully and decide if you will need to add extra xanthan gum)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 1-inch pieces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ c. slivered almonds (the recipe calls for ¾ c. whole almonds toasted and chopped coarsely, but I find slivered untoasted almonds just as good!)

 

Directions:

  1. Whisk the flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum (if using), and salt together in medium bowl. Using stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, water, almond and vanilla extracts to the butter and sugar and beat another 2-3 minutes until well-incorporated.
  2. On low speed, add the flour mixture and blend until you get a homogenous mixture. Add the almonds and beat to combine or mix in by hand. Cover the bowl and let sit for 30 minutes on the counter (not in fridge).
  3. Heat oven to 350 and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer all of the dough to the parchment paper and with wet hands form a long rectangular/log shape about 12”. Bake 35 minutes, or until just golden brown and cracked on the edges.
  4. Remove biscotti from the oven to cool for 10 minutes and in that time reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. On a cutting board, slice ½ inch-thick biscottis with a bread knife. Place the cookies flat and space ¼ inch apart on a wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
  5. Bake another 35 minutes, or until the biscotti is crisp and golden on both sides – e sure to flip the cookies over halfway through baking. Let them cool before serving and keep up to 3 weeks.
  6. Make tea/brew coffee and enjoy!

Gluten-Free

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Oatmeal Banana Chip Muffins

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I love breakfast foods but when it comes time to actually prepare a real meal at o’dark thirty, I just don’t have it in me. I’ve never been accused of being a morning person and that being the case I stay in bed as long as humanly possible before dashing of to class or work. My breakfasts are either yogurt on the run or a gluten-free granola squished at the bottom of my bag… Not the most nutritious start to the day (but, all things considered, also not as bad as a McDonald’s drive-thru… so there!).

Anyway, I decided I really needed to remedy this situation and when we had some brown bananas wasting away on the counter I remembered a funny little muffin my roommate made once years ago. This “muffin” is naturally refined sugar-free and gluten-free and is super quick and easy to pull together. The recipe makes about 18 so you’ll have breakfast for over a week! (I usually eat 2 in the morning)

The original recipe is from this awesome blog, but I’ve also copied it below for convenience. Also, please ignore how ugly these little muffins are. Your taste buds won’t notice, don’t worry!

Ingredients:

  • 3 mashed bananas (browner the better for mashing and tastiness)
  • 1 cup milk (literally whatever kind ya got!)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Baking powder
  • 3 cups Gluten-free Old Fashion or Rolled Oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 and spray muffin tins or muffin liners – this is important! The first time I made these I used muffin liners but did not spray the inside and the paper was impossible to get all the way off. So I had that extra fiber in my breakfast I guess…..
  2. Mix together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Divide the batter evenly until 14-18 cups are almost full (they won’t rise much at all) and bake for 25 minutes  (checking and rotating halfway through) or until edges are starting to brown.
  4. Let cool before eating and store in fridge. Enjoy as you run out the door with coffee and healthy breakfast in hand!

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ugly little muffys, but pretty damn good!

Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake

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This has been a weird year for weather and in central North Carolina we saw a lot more (6 inches, woo!) more snow than usual. One day it was 70 degrees and the next it would be 30 with sleet. See what I mean? All these unpredictable snowstorms and icy roads meant a lot of canceled classes and work for me. Which meant a lot of time indoors with my brother and his terrible taste in TV programs (aside from the most sports games ever, he also enjoys Cops, Gold Rush and Bar Rescue… if you’re familiar with any of those you understand my pain).

As the cabin fever set in I decided the only thing for it was to go on a baking spree. In anticipation of being snowed in, my mom stocked the fridge with butter and eggs before leaving town (very smart considering what happens when her son gets control of the TV). I made macarons, muffins, cookies, lemon curd and a delightful cake lemon ricotta cake from this blog. There is nothing quite like a bright, lemony cake to raise your spirits and mimic the freshness of spring when you’re stuck inside.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon zest, from about 2ish lemons
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, also at room temp
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray loaf pan. Cut and place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, letting it hang up and over the sides.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk (and/or sift!) together the gf flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Set aside. In your mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and beat until incorporated. Add the ricotta, lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on medium speed until well incorporated.
  4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and mix just until combined.
  5. Pour batter into pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool before removing from pan – make glaze while cooling!
    1. To make glaze, combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp. lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. almond extract and 3 Tbsp. of lemon juice. Wait until completely cooled before pouring glaze over cake.

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Enjoy with a cup of tea and a book, or serve up with a little fresh whipped cream after a light meal. You can’t go wrong with this recipe. The only thing I changed from the original was my use of a gluten-free flour blend (xanthan gum included).

Gluten Free in Prague? Czech.

Of all my mini-trips during this fall semester in Spain, going to Prague was the one that had me most worried food-wise. What do they eat there? And does anyone really understand that tricky language? Who knows. But I can tell you they eat like every day is a mid-winter holiday and it is amazing and dense and rich and gluten-filled.

Imagine my surprise then when an entire weekend went by without so much as a stomachache or dizzy spell from accidental gluten consumption. In fact, I would say I managed to eat better there than almost anywhere else and I owe a large part of that success to having printed out one of these bad boys to help with the language barrier. I’ve never used a gluten free dining card before and it truly saved my life. At restaurants I would simply present it to the waitress and when I went to order they would help me find something gluten free on the menu AND free from cross-contamination. I ate myself into a blissful, gluten-free, food coma.

I didn’t just eat there though. My friends and I found an underground cave/bunker bar, visited Terezin (one of the largest ghettos from WW2), walked to Prague Castle and Cathedral, crossed the Charles Bridge, visited the Lennon Wall, aaand ate some more. I snacked on chips as per usual but also found a nice gluten-free section at Tesco near the main square of Prague. For breakfast I packed and then bought certified gluten free oats because that is the best breakfast in frigid Prague. (Okay, it wasn’t that cold, but we were coming from Barcelona!!)

IMG_9131 (2)astronomical clock in Old Town Square

Our first night in Prague we went to a restaurant suggested by my friend who is studying there and its a good thing we showed up early (at 6:00pm) because by the time we left, and even the next evening when we walked by, the whole place was packed and there were lines out the door. U Medvidku is a hotel and restaurant with a brewery and outstanding food. I ordered and devoured grilled pork tails with garlic sauce, devil sauce (not spicy but maybe people in Prague think it is?), and a side of cabbage.

IMG_9116 (2)grilled pork tails with all the fixin’s

That gorgeous meal (horrible photo taken in a dark dining room) left me with a great first impression of Prague’s food that would last all throughout the weekend. The next morning, we were off on our walking tour guided by my old roommate and took in all the sights while huddling together for warmth. Our breakfast/brunch stop was at MLS Bistro on the hill up to Prague Castle. I had a deliciously gluten free goat cheese omelette with a salad and coffee for under $9. In fact, we loved it so much we back for brunch the next day to say goodbye to my friends before our plane left. On this occasion I inhaled a buckwheat crepe stuffed with basil pesto, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes followed by a glass of hot wine – my absolute favorite new drink. Its like sangria and Christmas got together and reproduced, giving birth to this heavenly drink.

IMG_9291 (2)even the bad lighting in this photo can’t keep me from swooning…. – MLS Bistro

Now I know being gluten-free is hard enough without having to hear about everyone elses delicious desserts, but I have to mention the trdlenik’s in Prague. What are they? Dough that’s been cooked into a large, hollow cylinder and then filled with chocolate, cinnamon, walnuts, or jam. They were all over Prague and even though none of the people I know can pronounce their name (Turtleneck? Tradelink?) they all agreed MLS Bistro makes a damn good dough shell thingy.

IMG_9290 (2)Trdlenik – NOT GLUTEN FREE – caution!!! (unless you’re normal, in which case enjoy)

IMG_9245 (2)$2 for happiness in a convenient takeaway cup

Last but not least but certainly not least was our smorgasbord dinner at Restaurant Mlejnice. There are two locations not to far from each other so while one was full, the nice waiters called ahead to the other to make sure we could be seated there. What they didn’t know is we would need to be rolled out of our seats after that meal.

For starters, my roommate from Spain and I split a warm brie wheel (small) with cranberry sauce. Although it came with a side of bread my roommate is super careful and separated all the cheese before touching her bread at all. It was so delicious I almost didn’t want my starter. But then…. my main course arrived and it was incredible. Pork tenderloin on a skewer with vegetables and red pepper sausage that the waitress helped me pick out due to its gluten-free-safe-ness. The pork was incredible, the vegetables fantastic and the sausage… yum! My side of potatoes was underwhelming and my friends side of grilled veg tasted way worse which was weird considering how good mine was but overall everyone was satisfied. We all had beers (my friends) and hot wine (me, duh) and enjoyed a leisurely, filling dinner together.

IMG_9264 (2)my very weirdly saturated photo of a phenomenal meal

After this feast we were hungry again somehow though and moved on the Cafe Louvre for a hot raspberry sundae dessert. Oh Prague, how I miss your food!

When You Can’t Eat Croissants in France…

Celiac disease is hard. Traveling with celiac disease is not only hard, it is at times traumatic, tearful, pathetic, embarrassing, and enraging. If you have a food intolerance then I am willing to bet you understand that it is absolutely possible and normal to experience all these emotions at once. And that also pretty much sums up my amazing trip to the South of France this weekend – completely breathtaking yet marred by frustration and extreme food envy.

Traveling with friends means you will also feel the added sense of guilt over not being able to eat with them everywhere they go. My friends in Spain are the best ever and want to find places I can eat too but every celiac knows this is not always a possibility. Cue the inner turmoil: Do I buy tons of snacks (aka rice cakes) and just eat those all day every day? What if they want my expensive gluten-free snacks? Maybe I can distract them with gum. What if they offer me their food? You’re too kind but no I don’t want to try your gluten-containing meal. QUICK does this restaurant they like have anything I can eat? Do these potatoes look like they were fried with other flour-battered things? Maybe I should just have gelato for dinner and chips later to make this easier.

I have at one point or another thought all of these things to myself. Usually all in one day and especially in France where I was constantly wondering what I could eat while friends were enjoying their warm chocolate croissants.

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Basilica of St. Sernin, Toulouse, South of France

Okay now we’re done with the brief pity party let’s get to my favorite topic – food. Breakfast at the hotel in Toulouse was provided for us and here I was able to employ my common sense and enjoy a drama-free meal. I bee-lined for the prepackaged yogurts and apple sauces, juices, meats and cheeses at the hotel buffet and was always pretty full after. I also grabbed mini servings of Nutella in case I found a gluten free snack to smother it with later on in the day. Fortunately the first day started off with a walking tour of Toulouse and a little wine and cheese tasting to fill me the rest of the way up!

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wine & cheese, cheese & wine

Lunch is usually the trickiest for me but in the south of France I think I got pretty lucky. Day ones lunch was provided by my host mom in the form of salami on gluten free bread (it is a testament to Spanish meats that I can tell you they make even gluten free bread completely palatable). The second day I had a picnic with my friends by the river with the food we found at local markets. Everyone I was with got excited when I found some fresh baked gluten free bread – in France of all places! I went for the buckwheat/corn option because the rice/corn option sounded like everything else I eat but if buckwheat is not your thing or if you haven’t tried it – steer clear!! It cost 3,75 euro but I still have some leftover because it is so dense. Again, if you like buckwheat it’s worth the investment.

IMG_8927 (2)me with my gluten-free bread in a market in Toulouse

Aside from this incredible glutey free find, I split a gorgeous little round of goat cheese with a friend so my bread would taste even better. We cut it in half and got our own knives to avoid any crumb cross-contamination. Annoying but necessary when sharing food with normals. If you’re as lucky as I am, your friends will be completely understanding and just so happy you can eat something that they eat.

IMG_8943 (2)the world’s most beautiful goat cheese

Picnics are a great way to fill yourself and I filled up on my gluten free bread, cheese, nutella, champagne and tons of fruit in our little riverside park location that day. Europe has fruit vendors and open air markets everywhere so when your need is dire you are never to far from delicious, fresh produce. Even when you’re not a starving allergen-ridden tourist the fruit here is amazing. I always find myself staring wistfully at the array of produce and wondering what the hell some of it is.

IMG_8936 (2)one of many colorful markets in Toulouse, France

Day threes lunch in Collioure (pictured below!) started off with chocolate coconut gelato because I did not think I would be able to translate another scary French menu. But as luck would have it my friends and I chose a crepe place not only with an English menu but with a meal option that included a huge omelette and generous “side” salad.  The lesson we learned here was that even in the tiny, picturesque town of Collioure there is hope, my celiac friends.

IMG_9032 (2)Collioure, France

Last but not least – dinner. The first night I downed half a rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes with a friend. We also split a basic salad with dressing (olive oil and herbs) on the side just in case it wasn’t gluten free (the owner and only waiter did not speak any English). For dinner the second night in France my friends wanted to go out for a fairly nice, sit down meal which naturally filled me with anxiety (because obviously I can’t eat a damned thing on the menu). But I worried for nothing because we chose a charming place called La Reserve that does a wide variety of Italian food and has the added bonus of being near the river park in Toulouse where all our friends were gathering after dinner. The staff was extremely accommodating to our group of 8 rowdy American students and everyone’s meal was fantastic – including mine. Pretty much the only thing I could order on the menu was a salad and while it came in at around 16 euros total, it was worth its weight in jamon. Seriously, half the plate was dry cured meat, and the rest was tomatoes, grilled peppers, onion, Parmesan, fresh Mozzarella and a a hint of lettuce. I know it seems like I end up with a lot of salads (and I do!) but even when they cost upwards of $20.00 USD it is absolutely worth it to be able to enjoy a worry-free meal with amazing people in a spectacular French city. Just like I said in Porto, I’ll have the salad – and I’ll enjoy the heck out of it.

IMG_8985 (2)dark grainy picture of a HUGE cheese and jamon stacked salad in Toulouse, France at La Reserve

Lemon Poppyseed Bread with Lemon Curd

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So, I made this lemon curd one time and it totally rocked. It was good straight from the jar, on some scones I made, and even on store bought glutey free bread (blegh – not my favorite). Then it got shoved to the back of the fridge and I forgot about the laaaast lonely 1/2 cup remaining in the jar until it was no longer at its most fresh (though still totally edible and awesome, as ever). When I unearthed it I wanted to make some lemon poppyseed bread to put it on and then, as luck would have it, I found this one recipe that swirled the lemon curd into the bread before it was baked. And it was heavenly. And moist. And didn’t taste gluten-free at all…. And if you know me you’ll know that is my goal in life – to fool my own taste buds into happiness!

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This is a short post because I followed this recipe to the letter, only substituting the flour for an AP GFree flour (my mixture includes xanthan gum – so if yours doesn’t add 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons to your dry ingredients just to be safe!). Also, I made a half batch which is how I like to experiment with new recipes – because we all know how tricksy gluten-free baking can be! But take it from me, this recipe is good enough to make the whole durn batch and get scarfed up by your family within the week.

Enjoy!!!

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Mile High Biscuits

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Most of the time I like to think I’m pretty smart but every once in a while it takes me an embarrassingly long time to catch on to certain things – like the fact that biscuits are not a universally enjoyed food. Unbeknownst to little old me livin’ it up with the buttery biscuits of the South, this breakfast staple is not as readily available throughout the U.S. as I originally believed. I thought they were just as widely consumed as, say, toast or muffins. But no, they appear to be a popular regional food that has sorta kinda spread to other parts of the country. Who knew?!

Whether you grew up without a clue such an amazing food could exist or you’re a biscuit connoisseur, I can guarantee you will loooove these biscuits – now gluten free just for you and me! Unlike the buttery, flaky biscuits of fast food chains, diners, and old-school Southern cookbooks, these biscuits almost approach a scone-like consistency and pair well with just about every topping I can imagine. Amazing on their own or loaded with jams and jellies, this biscuit will not disappoint you.

In my last post, I meant it when I said that adjusting to gluten-free meals wasn’t that hard. But here’s something I didn’t mention: I miss brunch – and all the croissants, pastries, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, scones and breads that come along with it – even more than my Cheez-Its and pretzels. My mom used to make these incredible biscuits known in our family cookbook as “mile high” biscuits because, you guessed it, they’re tall.

My gluten-free version stay true to the original recipe but they’re not as tall because I wasn’t quite sure how they’d bake the first time sans gluten. It turns out I worried for nothing because they are still incredible! After making so much lemon curd and spooning most of it directly into my mouth, I decided the time came to get civilized and make something to put it on. These biscuits were just what the doctor/dietician/gastro ordered. Enjoy!

ImageHere it is! Straight from the family cookbook from me to you.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. AP gluten-free flour blend (try Cup4Cup, Glutino or Betty Crocker’s rice flour blend if you don’t have you’re own mix you like to work with) plus extra for rolling out dough
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp.  baking powder (lots of baking powder to make them a mile high!)
  • 3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. shortening (butter flavored is fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 c. milk

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

2. Combine the first five ingredients on the list in a large bowl, being sure to mix well.

3. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until the mix looks course and the shortening is fairly evenly distributed throughout.

4. Combine the egg and milk in separate bowl before adding to the flour mixture. Stir until the dry ingredients are wet, but do not mix too long.

5. Turn out biscuits onto lightly floured surface. (Here I used the rice flour blend but it may give your biscuits a veeery slightly gritty quality on the outside, so just keep that in mind when choosing which flour to roll these biscuits out on.) Roll dough to a 1 inch thickness and cut with a round cookie/biscuit cutter. I use a 2 in. but you can use one with fluted sides or a slightly larger one works very nicely as well.

6. Place biscuits on prepared pan (they don’t really spread out, just up, so you don’t have to worry about that) and bake for 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. If yours are truly one inch thick, they will take a few minutes longer to bake but check them throughout the process as gluten-free flours tend to be a little more temperamental where the ovens concerned!

7. Eat plain, with butter, jam, lemon curd, eggs and sausage… whatever you’d like! The skies the limit with these towering biscuits.

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