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!

The Best Tapas of All

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

This past weekend I went to Basque Country in Northern Spain with some friends. Famous not only for its mountains, The Northern Way of the Camino, its obscure language and rich history but also for some of the most incredible food in the country, if not the world. Some of the most famous chefs in Spain come from Pais Basco so you can imagine I was jumping up and down at the prospect of heading there.

We stayed in Bilbao and visited the Guggenheim before heading out on a mini tapas crawl I planned with the help of yelp, lonely planet, Rick Steves and Google maps. The first place was a bust, the second had perfectly cooked skewers of meat and the third was an absolute gold mine of deliciousness. The terrace and restaurant were bustling so we settled for standing room at the edge of the bar and chatted in Spanish to one of the servers. We watched wide eyed and drooling as plate after plate passed bye and others came back practically licked clean. The main dishes ranged from 12 euro to 30 but after sampling their 3.50 euro tapas… I can’t even imagine how incredible the big plates are.

Phototastic-2014-11-24-14-06-08my best friends and the best tapas

First we ordered wine and beer for the three of us, followed by patatas bravas, tapa txipi encebollada, tapa mozzarella, and tapa huevo + foie gras. We honestly had no idea what we were about to get but the bread was served on the side and the potatoes fried separately so it was safe for this happy little celiac.

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tapa mozzarella

The patatas bravas – a staple all over Spain – were the best we’ve ever had and the swooning started immediately. Then we dove into the txipi encebollada (calamari? scuttle fish? octopus? The verdict is still out…) with caramelized onions and collectively let out an audible gasp – it was that good. The tapa mozzarella turned out to be fresh mozza in a pool of pesto with sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts and salad on top. Incredible. And last but not least was the most interesting and sweetest of the tapa trio, the potato puree with egg, foie gras and mushrooms. Served in a tiny pan yet rich enough for me and my two best friends to get our share of, it was, if not my favorite, an experience on its own.

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tapa huevo + foie gras

We raved so much about these glorious tapas that we took our other friend back the next night (she missed our crawl due to homework and a headache) and ordered almost all the same things with the edition of some mystery tapas. One was pork neck and was so tender and juicy and served with asparagus that we all had to order our own instead of share. The other meat tapa remains an enigma but was one of my favorites. A small portion of meat with gravy served on potato puree, it was like eating Christmas dinner made by one of the best chefs in Spain.

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pork neck!

Dessert was chocolate mousse that may (or may not?) have contained a gluten-filled wafer cookie in the bottom. While it was fantastic (of course) I’d recommend my fellow celiac’s steer clear of that specific dessert. We finally left after oohing and aahing all over again right at closing time, thanking our same waiter friend from the night before and basically dancing out onto the street. 
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happy celiac in Spain chowing down on tapas and red wine

If you ever, ever find yourself in Bilbao, I am telling you La Vina del Ensanche is a life-changing meal.

IreLAND of Celiacs

Ireland may put the grey in great but they sure do know how to show a Celiac a good time! A  few weeks ago I returned to the motherland (I’m actually so pale a drunk Irish man trying to flirt with my cute American friend just looked at me and went “You’re definitely Irish”… so that answers that I guess) and home to a BUNCH of fellow gluten intolerant Celiac disease-having pale people. Needless to say I was in heaven.

IMG_8244 (2)walking along the cliffs of Howth outside Dublin

The very first thing I did after a my short, uneventful flight was head straight for the Old Jameson Distillery. Now if you know anything about liquor or gluten free diets you may be thinking I shouldn’t be drinking whiskey at all. And while it’s true that there is still some debate and even a handful of myths surrounding which alcohols are and are not safe for Celiacs to consume (definitely NOT beer, of course) it is widely accepted that the gluten used to produce whiskeys, bourbons, etc., is removed during the distillation process – unlike beer and other malted beverages.

The tour for students was 10 euro and very much worth every cent. The Guinness Storehouse costs almost twice as much, it’s self-guided, and if you can’t drink beer anyway it’s not worth it. At the end of the Jameson tour you are given a free drink (a generous glass of the famous drink or a mixed drink with ginger ale, Jameson, and lime) and left to your own devices in the bar. Also well worth the extra money is the Jameson dark chocolate bars sold in the giftshop. Holy gluten free Irish whiskey mecca.

Next stop for anyone visiting Ireland is – of course – fish and chips. Normally gluten intolerance and a craving for this incredibly fresh and delicious meal would mean you’re up the creek without a paddle but there’s such a high demand for gluten free foods in Ireland that Beshoff’s Fish and Chips serves up tasty gluten free options. Tell them you want it gfree and it is prepared in a separate batter (rice flour, spices, etc.) and fried in different oil. Yay! No gluten and no cross-contamination – every girls dream, right? Just beware that the traditional condiment for this dish is MALT vinegar. No, you can’t eat it. Tell the waiter and they’ll grab a gluten-free white vinegar just for you… But if you’re anything like me by the time they make it back to your table you are neck deep in tartar sauce and happy as a clam.

IMG_8219 (2)drooling over Beshoff’s gluten-free battered cod with chips

Another treat I enjoyed immensely was the buckwheat crepes (prepared on a separate crepe making plate thingy) at Lemon Crepe and Coffee Co. in Dublin. First time we went I got a chicken tikka masala and tomato stuffed buckwheat crepe – omg it was increeedible. A little pricier than your average European crepe stand at 6 euro a pop (at least) but well worth the visit for any Celiac – or anyone period. Visited again the next night for dessert with my friend and she got a sweet buckwheat crepe too so we could share our treats. Banana and chocolate? Heavenly. Strawberries and liquor? Perfect. Just what the doctor (gastroenterologist, to be exact) ordered.

IMG_8337 (2)my cutie cute roommate enjoying our dessert spread

IMG_8279 (2)me, attempting to eat my entire chicken tikka crepe in one bite….

Be sure to stop by Antoinette’s Bakery filled with ONLY gluten-free goodies. It’s a little out of the way but if you’re headed towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral or up to Dublin Castle it can’t be missed. I got the chocolate peanut butter brownie and it was so good I thought I was eating gluten. Don’t you love when that happens?!

IMG_8281 (2)outside Antoinette’s Bakery…. Gotta love a good cookie joke

Last but certainly not least – my favorite place in all of Dublin. Little Ass Burritos. In four short days we ate there a total of three times and each time was just as delicious as the one before it. I would get a box with beans, grilled seasoned chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, rice, cheese, salsa, crema, and a hint of chipotle for less than six euro with my Spanish student ID card. At first it didn’t look like enough food but I was so full I practically had to be rolled to the bar after. In fact, we usually opted for coffee after at Bean Hive just up the street. Order the London Fog and prepare to be amazed by what they can do with Earl Gray tea.

IMG_8334 (2)My favorite meal – the Cinco de Fryo box at Little Ass Burritos with extra pico de gallo & chipotle salsa!

No matter what your dietary needs, I highly recommend traveling in Ireland. Sure it’s cold and kinda dismal sometimes but the people are friendly, the alcohol is flowing, the food is comforting, the landscape stunning, and you might even be lucky enough to spot a leprechaun (which we did by the way. Tourist stunt? Definitely. Hilarious? YES.) Happy gluten free trails!

 

Girls Just Wanna Have Snacks!

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When it comes to eating gluten-free, I often find the hardest part isn’t actually the meals themselves (we eat a lot of rice and potato based foods at my house, so I don’t miss pasta. Other than toasted bagels for breakfast not much has changed) but the snacks (and don’t even get me started on eating out…). I like to snack a LOT and in some ways it’s a good thing I don’t have a ton of options available to me at all times. But when I want a snack… sometimes I just don’t want fruit. I want pita chips and hummus, I want cheese and crackers, I want cheez-its, I want pretzels and peanut butter… you get the picture.

I could just eat chips and granola bars (Kind bars, to be specific. Gotta be careful with your granola bar gluten!) indefinitely, but that doesn’t appeal to me. I have a sweet tooth and to kill two birds with one stone – my need for a snack and maybe some chocolate too – I like to whip up muddy buddies, or puppy chow, whatever you would like to call them.

These are such a good snack because sometimes I get sick of eating my gluten-free Chex cereal as is for breakfast and this recipe uses it all up! I like to use different flavor Chex, like chocolate or vanilla, to shake things up but any flavor is fine. For this recipe I used honey and while it worked (and was delicious!) the shiny honey coating on the cereal doesn’t make for easy mixins.

I also like to use Nutella AND peanut butter so I get that chocolate-y taste in there as well. Yummmmy. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. Chex cereal (make sure it’s gluten free! Wheat Chex can trick ya)
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 c. Nutella
  • 1/4 c. peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • roughly 1 c. powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Measure cereal and place in large bowl which you will be mixing everything in later.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt together the chocolate chips, butter, nutella, and peanut butter until smooth. Once removed from the heat, add vanilla extract.

3. Pour chocolate mixture over cereal and start mixing! This part was trickier for me than I anticipated, so having a big wooden or bamboo spoon on hand to help stir helps a lot and avoids burnt hands.

4. Next, pour powdered sugar over the cereal and keep mixing everything until it looks fairly homogenous. Don’t forget to be gentle so you’re not crushing all the cereal too!

5. Refrigerate for at least an hour before moving into an airtight container. This mix is enough to last me for a week… But if my whole family knew where I hid it, it would be gone in 24 hours!

6. Enjoy! Muddy buddies are a simple fix for all your gluten-free snacking needs and keep me happy when I get an urge for chocolate. And feel free to experiment with flavors! I want to try to make some salted caramel chocolate batches and maybe even orange, rum, and dark chocolate. Who knows, my Chex could have a fabulously fancy future ahead….

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Lemon Curd on Everything!

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I don’t know about you, but I could eat lemon curd on just about anything – and that includes those weirdly textured store-bought loaves of gluten-free bread. In fact, that’s part of the reason I decided to make some curd – so I would have something absolutely delicious to put on some mediocre pieces of g-free toast. (That was a lot of complaining for two sentences, but don’t worry, I’m working on some gluten-free bread recipes to solve aaaall my problems!)

The other reason for mixing up a batch of this gold magic is that I happened to have 6 egg yolks lying around thanks to a meringue recipe I was trying out and something my mom was making for dinner. And everyone knows the best thing to do with extra egg yolks is make lemon curd!

ImageLemon curd (or any citrus curd, really) is fairly easy to make as long as you don’t leave it to burn or something else silly like that. I pretty much used this recipe here but I used an entire stick of butter, because that’s what another site suggested and I thought – yup, that sounds good! It also occurred to me as I just reread that recipe that I didn’t follow their directions at all – or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve been doing it an easier way for years and guess what? It turns out so velvety and scrumptious you could eat it right off the spoon…. And I always do.

Ingredients:

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3  c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. – 2 tbsp. lemon zest (whatever floats your boat zest-wise goes here. I used 2 tbsp. because that’s how much I like lemons)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, and egg yolks. Stir continuously on medium heat until the mixture sticks to the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to burn or boil!
  2. Remove saucepan from heat and slowly add one piece of butter at a time, stirring until melted before adding another chunk. (I just cut the stick into about 10 pieces)
  3. When all the butter has been added, stir in the lemon zest.
  4. To prevent lumpiness (bleh) I pour mine straight into a pint mason jar and refrigerate.
  5. Allow to cool in fridge for at least 30 minutes, then… enjoy it on anything and everything you can find!

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Banana Berry Chocolate Smoothie

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Being new to this whole “you-can’t-eat-gluten-ever-again” thing, I sometimes find myself so frustrated that I just don’t want to make anything. Whenever that happens, (which is embarrassingly frequent depending on the week) I always make a smoothie. I add kefir and 2% milk for protein and calcium and then I throw in all the frozen fruit I can find in the freezer.

I like to freeze the bananas my mom and I forget about (nobody else in the house likes bananas for some reason!) as they start to become brown so I’ll always have a few on hand to put in the blender. And I don’t mean spotty – I mean dark scary brown like maybe you shouldn’t be eating that banana! But really, they’re fine. And they actually make for perfect smoothie additions because if you let them sit on the counter for a few minutes, they’re much easier to deal with than bananas that had thicker skins before they got tossed in the freezer.

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As for frozen fruit, I just buy whatevers on sale! Usually that means mango or a good berry blend. I don’t usually use pineapple in my smoothies because I don’t like how stringy the pieces become once they’re blended into oblivion. Same with blueberries… I’m weird about their skins being in my drank, but it’s really up to you! I’ve found frozen fruit is better not only texture and thickness, but frozen fruit is generally healthier because it is flash frozen on site (usually where it’s picked) meaning the antioxidants and other good shtuff is all preserved – unlike a lot of out-of-season fruits you may find at your grocery store.

And chocolate! Mmmm, who doesn’t want chocolate in their smoothie? Nobody, that’s who. I used to use Ovaltine malted chocolate powder, but I apparently can’t eat malt now (dangit! It’s one of those weird things I’ll genuinely miss that you wouldn’t even think about… I loved malted milkshakes). Chocolate syrup is usually fine (read the labels!) but in this instance I had fresh chocolate milk from a farm about 20 minutes from my house YUM. Enjoy your smoothies, y’all!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. of chocolate milk
  • 1/2 c. kefir (I used strawberry honey flavored kefir)
  • 3/4 c. almond milk (or regular milk, whatever is on hand!)
  • 1 c. frozen fruit
  • 2 medium frozen bananas, sliced and diced

Makes 2 snack-size smoothies (around 12 oz. each)

Directions:

1. I like to start with the milks, bananas, and kefir just to be sure the banana is blended really well.

2. Add frozen fruit, puree until smooth and pour into glasses. If you have fancy straws – even better!

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