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

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!

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!

 

Barcelona Prep: Where and What Celiacs Eat (part 2)

I told you in my last post that the internet is my best friend, and while googling “Barcelona gluten free” throughout the past month or so I have come upon some real gems. Nothing is official in the sense that it came from Spain or Barcelona’s tourism department (unless you count a few yelp reviews… which I don’t) but the blogs I have found with just one or multiple posts related to eating gluten free while traveling or living in Barcelona have prepared me enough for my arrival that I no longer fear starving to death in the first week or imploding from gluten exposure. 

First I’d like to share a few of my favorite resources with you that I found extremely helpful, then below I will include a list of restaurants and grocery stores I plan on visiting as soon as the plane wheels hit that Spanish ground. 

1. Spain Gluten Free: I really like this blog even though it is focused on Spain rather than just Barcelona. In fact, there is little to no information about Barcelona aside from a very helpful list of gluten-free bakeries all over Spain (yay!) and a few other helpful lists. But the travel guide/travel research help and list of resources is very useful for those traveling to Spain on a gluten-free diet. You can search this site by city to find gluten-free meals wherever you are visiting! Here I come Madrid!

2. Guiri Girl in Barca: This one post is loaded with great information – namely the best gluten-free brunch, sandwiches, tapas, pizza, and grocery stores in Barcelona. Perfect!

3. Gluten Free Boston Girl: This link takes you directly to the archives and entire “Barcelona” category. At first, I saw only one post and it was so thorough that I was excited to go all the places mentioned. Then I discovered even MORE posts about what seems like a very gluten-free Barcelona. Tons of great recommendations and even a few trips further outside the city are covered. 

4. Gluten Free BCN: I haven’t even arrived in Barca and this site has already saved my life. This blog is dedicated to everything gluten free in Barcelona and will just rock you celiac socks right off. Post after post reviews places to eat, shop and more around the city.  I will be keeping up with this blog religiously and sampling many of the places mentioned!

5. Yelp: Okay so it’s not the most comprehensive or detailed, but at a glance yelp can help you find a safe place to eat that’s already been reviewed by others and provide all the necessary information to get you there. Phew!

Okay! Now on to the list I have been cultivating for myself with help from the resources listed above as well as a few others. As I visit them (I’ll be there in just eleven days – ah!) I will try to write regular posts and talk about what I’ve been doing (aka, eating) out and about in the city and beyond. 

  • Copasetic I’ve read about on multiple sites and it has been described as the best gluten-free brunch around. And what’s more, it’s a mere ten minute walk from where I’ll be staying. First stop in Barcelona? Probably.
  • Conesa is sounding kinda like gluten free sandwich and panini heaven to me for a tiny fraction of the cost of what one would pay in the states. The bread tastes real according to reviewers too…. which is something less widely available in the US, as much as it pains me to say it. With two locations in Barcelona and one located near my campus, I can’t wait to get my hands on those gluten free buns (haha).
  • Syngluten is a bakery also located conveniently near my future residence and just the website alone is making me drool from across the pond. When every bread and sweet my heart could dream of is followed by “sin gluten” I’m sure I will become a fixture here.
  • Gelatomania I may not be able to have my cake but you better your bottom dollar I will eat my gelato. Also located so near my residence it makes me swoon just to think of, this popular gelato shop will get lots of euros from my grubby little foreign hands. I can’t wait.
  • El Corte Ingles I’ve been told by multiple people that this is the department store/superstore/grocery store to frequent for amazing and edible gluten-free deals while in Barcelona. You don’t have to tell me twice!
  • La Boqueria is Barcelona world famous market full of fresh foods like fruit, meat, veg, etc. I will be wandering through it as much as possible and buying up all kinds of fresh produce to snack on when my granola bar supply runs out. Or maybe just instead of granola bars. Good thinking. 

That’s all for now! I’ve got to get there and do some of my own exploring before I get a longer, more detailed list going. Stick with me and I’ll include actual pictures of the deliciousness I’ll be feasting on in Barca. You’re welcome in advance!

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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