A product review

So, remember that gluten-free cupcake mix I got from Williams Sonoma? I’ve been less than impressed with gluten-free mixes in the past, but knowing the W-S quality, thought I’d at least give it a try.

Tonight it was red velvet cupcakes…. and I learned a few valuable things. First off, contrary to normal baking, when baking gluten free you must have all ingredients at room temperature. Eggs, butter, milk…. ROOM TEMPERATURE. Then blend those ingredients well. Very well. As in 3 minutes or more well…you want a completely homogeneous mixture before you start adding the dry ingredients. The dry stuff should be added in small batches, scraping down the bowl periodically. Once it’s all combined, beat again THOROUGHLY for 3+ minutes. You wouldn’t do this with regular flour because you don’t want the gluten to develop…it makes the cake TOUGH. But gluten free flour doesn’t have that problem, and benefits from the prolonged mixing period.

So, that’s what I did and I ended up with a thickened, silky smooth batter that I spooned into twelve paper lined cupcake cups. Honestly, it looked more like ketchup than any cake batter I’d ever made.

Into a pre-heated oven (don’t cheat on this step…make SURE your oven is pre-heated)

and 22 minutes later, I had cupcakes that had risen, and were PRETTY! I let the pan cool on a rack for five minutes, then pulled the cupcakes out and let them cool individually on the rack while the spouse and I ran some errands. Once the cupcakes were completely cool, I mixed up some cream cheese frosting to top them off.

Here’s my cream cheese frosting recipe:
One 8 ounce block of cream cheese at room temperature
One stick of butter at room temperature
Powdered sugar – 1 3/4 cup
One teaspoon good vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese on medium until smooth and fluffy (about three minutes). Add the butter and beat another 3 minutes until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugar in stages, stopping to scrape down the bowl periodically… until all sugar is incorporated and there are no lumps. Finally add the teaspoon of vanilla and beat on medium until completely combined and the texture is smooth and slightly shiny. You will end up with a cream cheese frosting that is light as a cloud and not too sweet. Spread on completely cooled cupcakes.

Aren’t they pretty? But the final test was yet to come….

Heavens to Betsy (whoever she is) these cupcakes are DELICIOUS. The crumb is tender, the texture absolutely perfect, and the taste is richly cocoa without being overpowering. The rich taste is balanced beautifully by that light as air frosting, and I swear, this is the BEST gluten-free baked good I’ve ever made during an entire year of experimenting.

These cupcakes got thumbs up from the ENTIRE family. YAY! We may actually get to experience things like birthday cake, cupcakes, and the occasional dessert now. I can’t wait.

And for the record, Williams Sonoma has NO idea who I even am…I am not paid for this review, the only thing I got was delicious red velvet cupcakes after paying for my mix like anyone else. So for all you other normal folks who have to eat gluten free…. try the cupcake mix. It’s awesome!

Care package received, and celebrated!

So, Stretch got her care package today… I promised I’d post a photo once she got it, because I didn’t want to ruin the surprise (the little stinker reads my blog!)

Here’s what she got:

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I sent her some Halloween decorations and a pumpkin carving kit (most of them finds at my local Dollar Tree, or in the $1 bin at Target) so she can decorate her apartment, and maybe have some supplies to throw a little party. My favorite is the white and green sign that says “Witch Parking Only.” I love it because underneath the witch (you can’t see it in the photo) it says “All others will be toad.” That made me laugh… a lot.

She got some little costume items too, some clip in orange extensions, some glow in the dark nail polish, etc. Everything a little witch needs to look fashionable.

For pre-packaged food, I sent her some Jif to Go for those delicious western MD apples, some instant Gatorade powder, gluten free pasta, and gluten free brownie mix (I even found some Halloween/Fall sprinkles for the top!). Stretch didn’t know that Snyder’s makes gluten free pretzels, but they do, and they’re delicious. I also sent my little singing bird some N’ICE throat lozenges for the upcoming winter.

Now, see that fabulous thermal tote from Thirty One? The cute one with the butterflies and the green K? I have one just like it and it’s the most amazing lunchbox ever. Inside that tote were little goodie bags filled with gluten-free candy. I found a great list of gluten free candies online right here. I also put together little “bouquets” of Dum-Dum pops, and Charms Blow Pops. I grabbed three or four “movie candy” boxes I caught on sale (sour patch kids, sugar babies, and junior mints) and added them. Finally I filled the CUTEST little pumpkin bucket with M&Ms (regular and peanut butter).

Then I went crazy in the kitchen. Of course I sent her some marshmallow pops (hers have regular chocolate on white marshmallows), but I wanted to give her a few other treats as well. Caramel apples were just the ticket. I melted a 10-ounce bag of caramels and 1 T. of butter in the microwave. I put sticks into my COLD apples (unwaxed!) and then dipped and swirled them in the caramel. The coating was a bit runny, so to help things set up a little faster, and to add more taste, I rolled the apples in nuts, or crushed gluten-free pretzels before setting them on parchment paper to set up. After the caramel had hardened, I melted chocolate and dipped the top of the apples (after removing the sticks!). I set the apples back on the parchment, put the sticks back in, and honestly, the apples looked like chocolate cupcakes! She got one pretzel, one peanut, one pecan, and one almond.

Stretch, if you’re reading, make sure you CUT the apples to eat them! I doubt you’ll be able to bite these extra big, crunchy, chewy apples.

I made marshmallow popcorn balls. Forget that whole boiling sugar until scorching hot…these popcorn balls end up tasting like those beloved Rice Krispies treats. I popped a bag of kettle corn in the microwave, and emptied all the popped kernels into a bag. I emptied a bag of marshmallows, a tablespoon of vanilla, a healthy tablespoon of salt and half a stick of butter into the microwave. I heated it up (stirring at regular intervals) until melted. I had three bowls of “add ins” ready for the popcorn balls – dried cranberries, chocolate covered peanuts, and chocolate covered raisins. I let the marshmallow cool slightly before pouring it over the popcorn. Coating my hands lightly with coconut oil, I gently mixed the marshmallow popcorn mixture until it was all coated. I divided the popcorn into eight, and grabbing a handful of an add-in, I formed the balls so that each one had something delicious to complement the kettle corn and marshmallow. These treats end up being sweet and salty and absolutely addictive.

Finally, I whipped up some gluten free popcorn snack mix. Popcorn, gluten free pretzels, dry roasted peanuts, chocolate covered raisins, dried cranberries, and whatever leftover chocolate covered peanuts I had left. I tossed all the ingredients together, added salt…and then put the mix into my FoodSaver bags. I set the vacuum to “gentle” and removed the air before sealing. That will keep the popcorn crunchy until she’s ready to eat it.

As you can see in the photo, I also had a great time playing with my new toy – a personal Cricut machine! Mads and I made cards, and Halloween gift tags that we attached to everything. I even channeled my inner Poe and wrote cute little poems to add to some of the treats. Stretch called me today and I had the thrill of listening to her as she opened the box and exclaimed with delight over each new surprise. It made me so happy to hear her so happy! I asked her if she was going to share any of her loot… she remained noncommittal.

So, a little research into gluten free candy, a little work whipping up some homemade gluten free goodies, and finding some major bargains at my local stores turned into the best Halloween care package ever, and I am winner Mom. Stretch, I’m glad you were surprised and happy… just don’t eat it all at once…and remember to brush your teeth before bed!

No self control… none at all

There are some places I should NOT be allowed to go, because I cannot control myself.

Up near the top of that list would be Williams-Sonoma. It’s like crack cocaine for me. I walk in there and my brain is screaming “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODDDDDDDD LOOK AT ALL THE FUN STUFF!!!” Seriously, the cheering in my soul is impossible to ignore.

So today I went to the Annapolis Mall after Boy’s soccer match, and sure as heck, ended up at my own personal crack den…I mean Williams-Sonoma. They had scads of Halloween and fall goodies set up all over the place, including the CUTEST cupcake decorating sets, stencils, sanding sugars, cookie cutters, and stuff for spooky table decor, including a whole bunch of table linens, placecard holders, and coasters all designed around Poe’s “The Raven”.

I was browsing the perimeter of the store, sipping my complimentary apple cider, and I came upon an entire gluten free display of products (many of them NEW!) and I swear I squealed OUT LOUD. Pancake and waffle mix, cupcake mixes (in FLAVORS!), and Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Flour. Now, Cup4Cup … or C4C… is featured in this month’s “Everyday with Rachel Ray” magazine and is rated the BEST gluten-free flour on the market. It isn’t cheap (I paid $22 for a big bag) but for those of you who have fought with inferior gluten-free flours and gotten cakes that won’t rise, or has a weird texture, or the taste is “off”. Also, oftentimes, recipes have to be modified for gluten-free flours since they don’t measure quite the same way as wheat flour. Not with this stuff. I cannot wait to try it.

I also got cupcake mix… chocolate and red velvet. Williams-Sonoma uses C4C flour in their cupcake mix, so I have high hopes. I got some garlic aioli, and some super cute mini cupcake liners that I’m going to use in Stretch’s Halloween care package. If my phone hadn’t gone off when it did, I may STILL be in that store.

Because I need help. Maybe a 12-step program for Williams-Sonoma addicts?

I’ll be sure to let you all know how the cupcakes turn out. At this point, I’m so excited to make them, that MAY be what we end up having for dinner tomorrow night. The spouse will just LOVE that.

Finished a few goodies to be care packaged, and tomorrow afternoon I’ll put Mads to work on the final food project.

Until then, I’m off to sleep… hope your weekend is another delicious one!

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No good deed goes unpunished


So tonight I went out to eat at our local Texas Roadhouse. Our theater group was having a fundraiser, where a percentage of the sales during a certain time would go towards our efforts to keep electricity, water, and heat on in the theater. Our patrons tell us that lights, heat, and working toilets make the live theater experience SO much better!

Anyway, I did not do my due diligence on this restaurant, and (foolishly) assumed that a steakhouse … which serves meat, sweet potatoes, and vegetables would have something gluten-free for me to eat.

I was wrong…wrong… WRONG.

In fact, Texas Roadhouse doesn’t even have a gluten-free menu. From their website:

While we recognize that some guests have specific dietary needs, we are no longer able to offer our gluten-free menu at this time. It was a very difficult decision, but we concluded that due to the multi-use of utensils, supplier changes, substitutions, and the possibility of human error, we could not offer our guests a total assurance that the items were indeed 100% gluten-free. As such, we decided that the best approach was for the management team at each restaurant to work with guests individually to ensure that they can make the most informed menu decisions. Please ask to speak to your location’s Managing Partner, who will be happy to accommodate any requests or provide information about our food and preparation.

Uh. Ok.

Now, while I get that it really isn’t a requirement for a restaurant to accomodate food allergies, and I appreciate the honesty with which they put forth their statement on their website… I just want to scream. REALLY, Texas Roadhouse? REALLY? You’re not even going to TRY?

And for the record, YES, I should have checked. I shouldn’t have assumed. It’s meat and green beans, and a baked sweet potato for God’s sake! However, whatever they used in cooking my meal obviously had gluten in it because currently, I find myself in some pretty serious discomfort. I guess that’s the last time I eat there, which is sad because I do like meat, and the peanuts were a welcome diversion as well. However, it’s just not worth feeling the way I do now.

Guess I got complacent, figuring that I had managed so well for so long. Well not anymore… I won’t be assuming anything for a long long time.

The stomach ache just isn’t worth it, and even that 10% donation isn’t making me feel any better.

Now I’m off to find some cheese and fruit to go with my “whine”.

Tricks and Treats

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Y’all know Stretch is away at college, which is great for her but not so great for us.  The worst part is when she misses holidays.  She was particularly sad to have missed Halloween at home, despite being too old for Trick or Treat.  I took her to a local store, where they sell candy in bulk and she got treats that way, but it wasn’t the same.

So THIS year, I have started picking up things for her that I will send up as a Halloween care package.  So far I’ve found everything from decorations, to pumpkin carving kits, autumn scented candles, and nail polish.  I’ve also picked up a few candies, however, the no wheat rule is proving more difficult than I anticipated.

I had NO idea that gummy bears, and Sour Patch Kids have wheat in them!

Malted milk balls, chocolate bars with crispy rice cereal, even some milk chocolates all contain gluten thanks to the barley used in malted milk… Wonka Nerds have gluten in them… as does the oh so delicious original Milky Way bar.

However there are PLENTY of gluten free treats I can pack for Stretch, and thankfully, the internet has once again provided a comprehensive list of gluten-free candies right here.  I also plan on making some homemade treats like popcorn balls, caramel apples, and sweet Chex mix (with rice and corn Chex!)

What’s YOUR favorite Halloween candy?  If it’s gluten-free it may find a place in Stretch’s care package.  I’m always looking for inspiration.  I will get started on packaging these goodies for her starting this weekend, and next week after my theater show is over I’ll whip up the homemade treats.  I want to put it all in the mail to her by mid month so that she has time to use all the cute decorations and party supplies.

And with that handy list I’ll be able to more easily determine what I can steal from the younger kids treat bags.  Just don’t tell them I said so! 

 

A night off…

Means I actually MADE DINNER tonight. Man it felt GOOD to cook something again. I know that sounds weird, but I had really missed getting creative in the kitchen.

I had a ham steak in the freezer from one of our local pork producers. I also had those cute baby sweet potatoes and fresh green beans that I bought on Friday. The spouse had gotten some pearl onions for beef stew, and I had two Roma tomatoes that I needed to use. There’s that cheapskate gene again! I scrubbed up a bunch of those little taters and popped them in a 400 degree oven. I peeled and halved the onions, dropping them in a skillet with some olive oil. While they browned, I diced up the two tomatoes, and then added them to the skillet. Finally, my green beans went in along with a splash of chicken stock and sea salt. I let them steam a bit, then uncovered to cook off some of the juice from the tomatoes. I ended up with a nice medley there, and the tomato pulp added to the caramelized onion made a nice coating on those crisp-tender green beans. The ham steak went into a grill pan just to get warmed up and get a few grill marks. With good protein, all I want to apply is simple seasonings and HEAT.

I ended up with ham that had crispy skin and charred grill marks, potatoes that were perfectly creamy and sweet without any kind of seasoning, and savory green beans seasoned with tomato and those pearl onions. Completely satisfying. It was so satisfying in fact, that I concentrated more on eating than in remembering to take a photo for the blog tonight.

I wanted dessert, and I had four pears in the fridge. I also had two half bottles of Moscato wine. I’d never poached pears before, but I was in the mood to be adventurous. So, I poured the wine into a saucepan, added some organic raw honey, candied ginger, lemon peel, a vanilla bean, and a teeny bit of simple syrup. I let that mixture come to a boil, and then a simmer while I peeled the pears. I left the stems on and cored them from the bottom and then dropped them into the simmering poaching liquid. It took 30 minutes or so before the pears were soft (but not mushy) and I pulled them from the liquid, standing them in a bowl. I then turned the heat up slightly and let the poaching liquid reduce to a syrup. Into the fridge it went until cool and thick. I drizzled that syrup all over one of those pears and OH MY HEAVEN was it good. The pear was sweet, the reduced wine syrup still had a nice light acidic bite to it and the ginger came singing through clearly while not overpowering.

Some nights it’s so so GOOD to just have a night off to play with my food.

On another note, one of my Facebook friends suggested a mini feature within the blog called “Hey Stacy, look what I made!” He sent me a photo of his dinner tonight, and MAN did it look good. So I think I’d LOVE that. Since sometimes I end up eating instead of taking pictures, you all can send me photos of what YOU make for dinner.

Here’s what Ernie made:

Doesn’t that look good? Now he needs to give me the recipe!

So what have YOU made lately? Post here, or hit me up on Facebook. I’d love to know what’s cooking in YOUR kitchen!

The end of a ten month drought

I ended a ten month drought tonight. Ten. Long. Lonely. Months. I haven’t stopped smiling since.

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Pizza. For the first time since October 2011. Pizza with pesto, mozzarella, and chicken sausage. I added Parmesan and dried oregano at the table. Thin, crispy, delicious gluten-free crust served as the base.

My God that was so worth it. Shout out to Z Pizza for a completely customized and drool worthy pizza. Rest assured I won’t be holding out for another ten months.

And now I think I may need a cigarette.