These Are a Few of MY Favorite Things!

I like to browse after I finish my necessary shopping whether at the grocery store or any other store. I don’t buy everything I see, but when I find something that works for my hobbies, my health, or my comfort, I’m willing to indulge. So, thought I’d share a few of my current favorite things.

We are gluten-free at our house because of my husband’s intolerance to wheat products. It took us years to discover the problem so never going to change that aspect of our life. If any of you are gluten-free, I’m willing to bet one of the things you miss the most is any kind of bread product. Yes, you can bake a sort of, not really, reasonable facsimile but it is never quite as satisfying as the real deal. I was an avid bread baker until we had to change the family diet around. You CAN produce a reasonable bread-like outcome on a gluten-free diet but the texture of the dough and the process is different.

I was cruising the Internet a few weeks ago and discovered Authentic Foods – Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread Flour. It promised great things and I purchased some with not too much hope. Bingo! First loaf of bread was amazing with the right texture and a wonderful yeast rise. I currently have a 25-pound bag of the stuff in my former wheat flour storage container! Definitely, number one on my discoveries of late.

Here is an odd, new favorite – Hemp hearts! I saw this at Costco and was intrigued. It has a lot of vitamins including three grams of fiber per serving. Supposedly, it claimed to taste good, too. And, it does! It now gets sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies, and even enjoyed by the spoonful. I gave one of my sons a bag for his apartment living and his three roommates enjoy it, too. Great for those between-meal hunger pains.

Dry weather and being a constant knitter, crocheter, seamstress is very hard on my hands. I am seldom without chapped hands and split fingers. Buy stock in Liquid Bandage as I keep two bottles in the house constantly. Discovered O’Keeffe’s Skin Repair 48-hour lotion. It stated it was guaranteed to relieve extremely dry and itchy skin. I was desperate. I used it at bedtime and the next morning there was noticeable improvement. Found it at Walmart.

In the realm of gluten-free again, two other flour blends are good additions to my baking/cooking efforts in the kitchen: BetterBatter and Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Flour (Dairy-free, too!) are now staples in my cupboard. BetterBatter has a multitude of recipes on their Internet site for inspiration. Pamela’s is cup for cup for using in formerly favorite regular recipes and especially nice for baking cookies. Again, you can find recipes on-line and try some of your own favorites from the gluten day. I usually buy my flour blends on-line as it is less expensive than health store prices.

My addiction to yarn and crocheting/knitting was satisfied recently. I love making projects with varicolored yarn but couldn’t find exactly the mix of colors that pleased me in the usual offerings. Several months ago, I was looking at the yarn aisle and there was something new! It was a yarn that was soft, came in a larger amount than others for a good price and . . . it was variegated in the most interesting color combinations. I liked the whimsical names of the various choices, too. I recently completed a blanket for one daughter in the color blend ‘Gnome’. It was a wild assortment of vivid almost neon colors with enough somber ones to create a nice result. I’m now working on a blanket for my older son’s birthday and it is called ‘Sphinx’ which is a manly (can we still use the word manly in this day and age?) combination of brown and blue tones. The really nice thing about this yarn is that each skein has a lot more yardage than other brands which makes the under $5.00 a skein actually a bit of a bargain. Right now, Walmart is the only store selling this yarn. It is called Mandala and produced by Lion Brand Yarns.

End of sharing time. Laundry calls and I still haven’t invented dinner for this evening! Would rather be crocheting but them’s the breaks!

Last-Minute Baking Suggestions

The clock is definitely ticking down to Christmas. It really seems to sneak up on a person the last week when you realize that you do NOT have another week to shop, you do NOT have another week to buy groceries, and you do NOT have some great Christmas cookies stocked away in the cupboards and freezer. There is also the concern for people who have to avoid gluten. It wasn’t stated in my marriage vows, but after thirty-plus years of marriage, I seem to have acquired a husband who is very sensitive to gluten.

Around Christmas time, Christmas cookies  would make life sad for my husband until I discovered ‘flour’ blends that can turn out rather great cookies and still be safe for him to eat.

My latest discovery is Pamela’s All Purpose Flour, Gluten-Free Artisan Blend, Non-Dairy. It doesn’t work well for yeast-raised goodies but some people think it makes better cookies than wheat flour. It is pretty much cup to cup for measurements so you can use some of your old favorites still. I found the best deal on Amazon.com.

BetterBatter is a standby in my cupboard for making quick biscuits, egg noodles, tortillas and such. Their computer site has a lot of recipes to cover just about any need you have for baking during the holiday and throughout the year. Sometimes, the best deal is on Amazon and other times directly from BetterBatter.

King Arthur’s Flour is almost the same as Pamela’s and BetterBatter but, probably best for cookies and cakes. They, too, offer recipes for the asking  and just surfing for a particular recipe on the internet with their name in the search will bring up a lot of recipes from individuals, too. Just make sure to read the ratings for hints to avoid disasters.

Before my husband had to omit gluten from his diet, my specialty was bread and most any yeast-raised recipe. Although I have managed to produce some reasonable outcomes, to date, nothing was exactly what I wanted. I just discovered Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread flour blend by Authentic Foods. The first baguette turned out amazingly well with a crust and a ‘bread interior’ that was springy and didn’t ‘melt’ down exposing it’s gluten-free origins. I purchased 25 pounds and bread baking is back in my schedule. It looks, acts, and tastes like the real deal.

Beer Batter Bread

This is always a fun bread to make especially since it is simple and you can oversee the children in the mixing but keep track of the beer! Actually, a priest gave me this recipe.

Beer Batter Bread

1 12-ounce can of your favorite beer
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 cups self-rising flour

butter

preheat oven to 350 degrees. Vegetable oil spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. (You can put this batter into muffin tins, too.) Mix all the ingredients together and put into your prepared pan. Bake for approximately one hour depending on your oven. Every 15 minutes, butter the top of the bread with bits of butter.

Let cool in pan a bit before removing. Great to pull out of the oven about ten minutes before dinner and serve warm with soup or stew.

Homemade Naan Bread

I tried a new recipe for dinner last night. Given the dish was called Chicken Tikki Masala, I knew I would have to make Naan bread to go with it. I had planned on taking a picture but . . . It seems the bread was popular and it was gone before it had time to cool down.

Gluten-Free Naan Bread

Ingredients:
Approximately 1 cup milk (I use lactose-free)
½ cup plain yogurt (If you are out, I just added a tablespoon of vinegar to ½ cup milk and allowed it to thicken)
2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (I always use BetterBatter)
1 ½ teaspoon psyllium husk powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
½ teaspoon salt

First, stir the yeast into a quarter cup of just warm water and stir to dissolve. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the dissolved yeast, yogurt and enough milk to form a dough that is soft but still holds its shape. Cover and let sit in a warm place for an hour.

Heat a heavy frying pan or a cast iron one if you have it, and heat.

Divide the dough into eight to ten balls of dough. Dust your surface with some of the BetterBatter and roll out one of the balls of dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Place in the heated pan and brush the top with olive oil. When the top forms bubbles, turn it over and brown the other side. Brush the already-browned side with some olive oil. Flip it, again, to set the oil and removed to a plate while you make the rest of the breads.

These are great freshly baked from the pan but you can bake them all and then cover with plastic wrap and a towel to keep warm and supple until serving. A brief zap in the microwave works, too.

These are great for serving with stews dishes with gravy. No manners allowed when it comes to dipping up a chunk of meat between a pinch of the Naan.

Gluten-Free Bread – Success!

You can make good gluten-free bread but you still know that it isn’t quite the same although tasty. I’ve tried a variety of recipes and they were all edible and helped sooth the sighs of not having real bread anymore.

A few weeks ago, I saw a sale on a boxed gluten-free bread that claimed to be very much like the real thing. It looked good on the box picture and I liked the fact that it contained a variety of seeds to add protein and fiber. I purchased a few boxes and it was extremely close to the real deal. However, it is imported from Australia and pricey.

Now, I already have a go-to recipe for white bread that works well for us but wondered what the boxed mix had that gave the bread a good ‘crumb’, crust, and a chewy texture. It LOOKED like bread structure when you brown a roll open. I used to bake bread every week for the family so know what a good bit of bread looks like. I had an inspiration! To go with soups and stews, I often make Brazilian Cheese Bread which is gluten-free because it uses tapioca starch instead of flour. I always thought the cheese was giving the bread that chewy texture. I checked out the ingredients on the boxed mix and . . . a good amount of tapioca starch was in the ingredients. I evolved my own recipe and it worked perfectly and smelled like the good old gluten days.

Benevolent Bread Pudding

Ever have one of those days when you don’t know how you are going to get dinner on the table much less come up with dessert? My favorite go-to has always been the ‘lowly’ bread pudding . . . only bread pudding doesn’t have to be considered at the end of the wanted list for dessert. Another plus with bread pudding, that it takes care of the aging bread on the counter.

Benevolent Bread Pudding

3 cups cubed bread
4 cups whole milk, scalded
3 beaten eggs
1/3 granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

Add bread cubes to milk. Combine eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, spices to the bread mixture. Pour into greased pan and dot with the butter. Bake for approximately 45-60 minutes our until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Ideas:
White bread is not the only ingredient you can use. Think about sourdough bread, raisin bread, Hawaiian bread, etc.

Adding dried fruit like crasins, raisons, diced fresh apple, diced peaches . . .

Want to go wild for the children, chocolate chips and serve with ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Chopped nuts are allowed, too!

Christmas Baking . . . It is Never to Early to Plan!

The weather is finally getting cooler in the evenings and, hopefully, foretells the coming of an Autumn season with some chances of having a reason to heat up the oven and begin some holiday baking. My first baking of that season is usually fruit breads. My favorite came about when I had leftover yams and I try never to let a leftover go to waste. My husband insists that everything we eat has roots way back to the first meal I fixed for him. I like these substantial loaves full of everything but the kitchen sink that stand up to a slather of butter, toasting, or just slicing and eating straight from the oven. There is also a lot of latitude for creativity and anyone who knows me, knows that I always find a twist in everything from my sewing to my baking. My husband’s only complaint in life is that I can never exactly replicate a favorite meal or baked good as I tend to stray off the printed pages of the cookbook . . . when I use one!

Besides the yam bread, I’ve included some ideas for making several other types. And, remember, as with ‘icing on the cake’, it never hurts to put a lemon glaze to soak into a tasty loaf of sweet bread when it comes out of the oven.

Yam Bread

2/3 cup shortening
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups cooked yams
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cups coarsely chopped nuts
2/3 cup raisins (optional)

Whip up the yams until fairly smooth.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of two loaf pans, 9x5x3 inches.

Mix shortening and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs, yams, and water. Blend in flour, baking soda, salt, baking power, cinnamon, and clovers. Stir in nuts and raisins. Pour into pans. (If batter seems too dry, you can always add bits of juice or water but go slowly as you don’t want it runny.)

Bake about an hour or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove and cool completely before slicing.

Pumpkin Bread
Substitute yams for 2 cups of canned pumpkin.

Zucchini Bread
Substitute 3 cups shredded zucchini. Blend in 2 teaspoons vanilla with the clovers. Decrease baking time to under 60 minutes

Banana Bread
Substitute 3 very ripe, smashed (and it ain’t easy getting them drunk!) bananas

Cranberry Walnut Bread
One cup roughly chopped fresh or frozen cranberries and ½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts.