gluten free

(Gluten Free) Biscotti as Exercise.

Why does nothing warm me up faster (and better) than turning on the oven?  If this winter is good for anything, I’d bet it’s good for the collective weight gain of all of those who agree with me.  I shiver at the steady stream of carbohydrate intake for my picky kid, and yet I’m doing my fair share to keep him in steady supply.  Maybe I can’t help it; the very definition of comfort food is entwined with carbs.

On these cold mornings, the ones that you almost have to laugh at, I need something with the coffee.  Oh, I’ve had my reasonably healthful breakfast, but later in the morning when the deep black joe hits the cup, it’s begging to have the company of something sweet as well.  Maybe I comply under the guise of warming the kitchen, but really, it’s just nice to have a little something to nibble.  A little second breakfast of homey, comforting carbs to chase the caffeine. 

It can also be argued that the kitchen work itself is althetic too.  Ample amounts of hand dishwashing, that elegant dance of opening and closing cupboard doors and drawers: in my mind this qualifies as exercise.  And have you ever rolled out laminated croissant dough by hand?  I swear this itself is key to a well toned midsection.  When I'm cooped up in an endless winter, unable to take my usual walks, I take this revitalization instead.  And I add a few new sweet tidbits to my unending mental pastry library.

buckwheat biscotti

Of the many sweets that I find impossible to stay away from, I actually show impressive restraint with biscotti.  Unlike more traditional cookies, I can eat only one and be satisfied.  I can look forward to a single, crunchy brick every morning and feel secure in their preservationist ways since a batch of biscotti can last well on a month in an airtight glass container.

I got it in my head to try a gluten-free one the other day, maybe because my Mom is coming to visit next week and she tries not to overdo in gluten, but probably also because I really like trying out new gluten-free recipes. I really like alternative grains - or in the case of this buckwheat heavy recipe, alternative seeds.  I've always loved the flavor of buckwheat flour, and I ground my own from bulk buckwheat I had kicking around in the pantry.


Buckwheat is among the prettiest seed too, the tiny triangular things pop between the teeth when eaten raw or toasted.  I prefer this sensation even more when I've sprouted and dehydrated it first.  Then, it's a foolproof addition to granola as Marisa McClellan brilliantly noted in her first book.  I grind most of my nut flours and whole grain flours in my Vitamix, which works so long as you are careful not to turn the oilier of them into nut or seed butters. (I measure by weight into the dry container and then blend.)  This recipe called for almond flour, which I mixed up after the buckwheat was already turned to flour.  It helped the almonds become more flourlike, while preventing them from becoming butter.  Of course, you can use already ground buckwheat and almond flours.

I mixed this up by weights, check out the original recipe for approximate volumes.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Almond Orange Biscotti (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)
(yields about 3 dozen)
  • 88 g. buckwheat flour
  • 37 g. cornstarch
  • 120 g. almond flour
  • 60 g. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt 
  • zest of one orange, grated 
  • 55 g. unsalted butter
  • 125 g. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla extract 
  • 70 g. blanched, slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix buckwheat flour, cornstarch, almond flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. 

Cream the butter, sugar, and orange zest for 2 minutes on medium speed. (Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater with a spatula.)  Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat together for 1 to 2 minutes, until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed until well blended. (The batter will be very sticky.) Add the slivered almonds and mix at low speed until evenly distributed through the dough. 

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, and shape them into wide, flat logs, about 10 inches long by 3 inches wide by 3/4 inch high. Use wet hands to do this, and make sure they are at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until dry, beginning to crack in the middle, and firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer.
Place the logs on a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut them on a diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices. (They are more brittle than traditional biscotti, so cut carefully.)  Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake again in the middle of the oven until the slices are dry, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

buckwheat biscotti

You'd never know these were absent of gluten.  They have a pleasant crunch and aren't as brittle-tough as some biscotti, so they don't require a dunk to soften them enough to be palatable.  The orange is subtle, as (surprisingly) are the almonds.  It's a very nice dark chocolate biscotti, that I've considered storing down on the basement pantry shelf to further improve my exercising and restraint.

(Paleo and/or Gluten-Free) Strawberry-Rhubarb "Bars".

It is no secret that I have a wicked sweet tooth.  I have made great strides in consuming less sugar, specifically less desserts, but lately?  Man.  I am really craving the sweet stuff.  I'll go ahead and blame the pregnancy hormones, which is fun and easy to do - but so far, I'm doing a pretty good job of not giving in to overly refined sweets.  Part of the reason is that I'm finding naturally sweetened things to help me out.  The post-suppertime call of dessert is after all a part of my genetic make up, and who am I to buck the mold and abstain?

rhubarb strawberry bars, gluten-free

I will also publicly confess that I don't think I should be eating rhubarb.  This kills me, because rhubarb is one of my most favorite things - especially during this time of the year when you can't barely log onto your computer without finding a half dozen stellar looking rhubarby treats.  Rhubarb is part of the nightshade family, and one of the foods that I've self-diagnosed as a trigger for my skin problems.  Last spring, I may have overdosed on the kuchens and jams... and my hands really paid the price.  But this week there was one last bag of frozen, chopped rhubarb from last year in my deep freeze, and after this gorgeous post by Alanna at the Bojon Gourmet I figured I'd risk the minor skin irritations and come up with a no-refined sugar dessert for myself.  (Even though I'll likely have to make Alanna's version when the new crop rhubarb finally gets here!)

I suppose this dessert is mostly paleo friendly;  it's definitely gluten-free and refined sugar free.  It's also very much on the not-too-sweet side, leaving just enough room for a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, though I've been just as happy having a generous spoonful of full-fat plain Greek yogurt on top. To coerce my son into having some, I just added an extra drizzle of maple syrup over the top which made it plenty sweet enough to convince him that he might just like rhubarb after all.

rhubarb strawberry bars, gluten-free

If you use frozen rhubarb and strawberries, there is no need to defrost them first.  I think the flavor of the dessert is better the next day, after it has fully chilled and had a chance to "set up".  These are the type of bars that require eating with a fork, unless you are very cautious and eat over the sink.

Strawberry Rhubarb Bars
  • 2 c. chopped rhubarb (frozen is fine)
  • 1-2 c. sliced strawberries (frozen are fine)
  • 1 T. rapadura
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 1 T. cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 10 dates
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. sprouted almonds (50 g.) ground into a meal
  • 1/2 c. (50 g.) unsweetened, dried coconut
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 T. rapadura
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350.  Butter a 9x9 glass baking dish and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, 1 T. rapadura, 1 T. maple syrup, and cornstarch and stir well to combine.  Pour into prepared baking dish.
Using a blender, blend the eggs and dates until they are fully blended.  Pour over the rhubarb and strawberry mixture.

In a small bowl (or the same bowl you used to mix up the rhubarb and strawberries) combine the almond meal, coconut, salt, rapadura, oil, and butter and mix with your fingertips until you reach a good crumbly consistency.  Spread evenly over the top of the dessert.

Bake until puffed and lightly browned across the top, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean - about 1 hour.  Cool completely to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.  Serve with an extra splash of maple syrup, vanilla ice cream, and/or plain Greek yogurt.

gf coconut topping

Spring in Wisconsin is off to a slow start - which is really excellent news for maple syruping, but not so good news for us sun-starved northerners.  In many places around the country, the rhubarb is already up and ready to cut, but we're still waiting for a bit more warmth here to be so lucky.  Then, I'll replenish my frozen stores and continue to repress my physical sensitivities to this most wonderful marker of spring.  I'm sure I'll be figuring out a few more ways to enjoy rhubarb without so much sugar!

rhubarb strawberry bars, gluten-free

(Magic) Bars. And Paleo Diet.

My state is known as the drunkest state.  It's a fact that I'm not so proud of, and certainly one that bears no bragging rights in my opinion.   My city is founded on capitalizing breweries and brewers, Eastern European immigrants taking advantage of our excellent water resources and creating an environment where it's pretty easy to find a good beer, if not a few too many good beers.

Perhaps working in tandem with the drunkest state moniker are the  numerous corner bars dotting the city.  They give us the feeling of a being larger city than we are, and if you are not participating in the binge culture, there is also a sense of civic pride in our hand-craftiness.  Good things are indeed made in Wisconsin.

Not the least of which are bars of another sort, the cookie type hastily pressed into pans to avoid the more time consuming labors of shoveling drop cookies into and out of the oven every 12-15 minutes.  I assume it's a trend passed down by the same ingenious Midwestern predecessors, that at every church potluck and every summer picnic someone brings a pan of bars.  I think I took this for granted (or maybe didn't even acknowledge it) until a dear out-of-town friend visited years ago with her boyfriend at the time.  He had never been to the Midwest, and it was he who first mentioned the connection about bars and the Midwest to me.  And, wouldn't you know, my mother-in-law came over that very afternoon with a delicious pan of "Hello Dollys", a classic bar cookie for me to serve to my company...  I remember he was thrilled.

Paleo magic bars.

In my own kitchen, where I can't really spend too much time, cookie baking usually rules outright.  But cookies also run the risk of being too easily snatched and hastily eaten by yours truly.  They also have a lot of sugar, usually both white and brown to tame the tenderness issues often plaguing them.  I'm still dutifully trying not to give in to sugary temptations, and this results in not baking so many cookies anymore.  And then there is the business of all that grain...

I am endlessly interested in health as it pertains to staying out of the mainstream medical system.  That is probably the most driving force in my personal sugar reduction:  I know that nothing good can come from sugar.  Lately I see an increasing interest in the Paleo diet, or other similar diets that preach the exclusion of glutenous grains, adopting a more primal way of eating.  In general, I'm never going to subscribe heart and soul to a diet that leaves me devoid of all carbohydrates, especially when I am a baker at heart.  But more and more I can really see the appeal and benefit of these diets to mainstream America.  It's good to spread the gospel of heavy helpings of fruits and vegetables, and it's good to demonize the processed food industry.

So many people are so much busier than I am, and have far less time to soak, sprout, and obsess over what kinds of grain should be eaten.  In these cases, perhaps it is better just to cut grain out altogether?  Most people can benefit from eating more vegetables, and even more quality (well raised and sourced) meats too.  After all, paleo diets really are just whole food diets that focus on raw materials and not packaged cheats - and that is what is most important.  I'll support that type of diet!

Aside from health issues, I find it a great challenge to bake healthy, low or no-sugar desserts that satisfy both my need to bake and my desire for sweets.  I'm finding that desserts labeled "Paleo" fit that bill nicely.  One of my best recent finds has been a Facebook link called Just Eat Real Food.  It is exactly what it purports to be, real food links from across the Internet where it seems I'm spending less and less time.  It's nice to have a resource of links like that, one where I found this recipe for Paleo Magic Bars the other day.  Last night after supper I mixed them up and baked them, and I could barely get the kiddo out the door to school fast enough this morning to finish them up.  Our stormy morning was good for cracking a few more of the in-the-shell pecans my neighbor gave me anyway.

Paleo magic bars

For the date or date/fig paste called for in this recipe, I used leftover from the raw/vegan fig bars I made recently.  To make it, soak dates (and/or figs) in boiling hot water for about a half hour, then run them through a food mill or food pro with a bit of the soaking water until they have a jammy consistency.  I would think a half cup of dried fruit would give you more than enough paste for this recipe.  Also, make sure that your honey is "runny" and not crystallized and you will have an easier time of things.

Paleo Magic Bars (barely adapted from the Healthy Foodie)
makes 1 9x9 inch pan

bottom layer:
  • 1/3 cup date (or date/fig) paste(see note above)
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T. raw honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 T. coconut flour
  • heaping 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • handful (50 g. as the Healthy Foodie suggested) sprouted almonds, medium chopped
top layer:
  • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 T. melted coconut oil
  • 2 T. softened coconut "manna" or butter (like this, or make your own)
  • 1 T. raw honey
  •  2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks in a medium sized bowl
chocolate drizzle:
  • 1 T. melted coconut oil
  • 1 heaping T. cocoa powder
  • 1 T. raw honey
  • handful of toasted and chopped pecans for garnish
Preheat the oven to 365.  Brush a 9x9 glass pan with coconut oil, and line with crisscrossing sheets of parchment paper.  (This aids in removing from the pan later.)

In a food pro, combine the date paste, avocado, 3 eggs, honey, and vanilla.  Process until very well blended, about 30-60 seconds.  In a small bowl, mix coconut flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt with a fork until well blended.  Add to the contents of the food pro, and pulse just until combined, about 5 good pulses.  Spread the bottom layer into the prepared pan, taking care to smooth into the corners.

Rinse the food pro container out well, and add the coconut, coconut oil, coconut manna, and honey and process until well blended, about 1 minute.  Add this mixture to the soft peaked egg whites, and fold in gently until well combined.  Spread this mixture carefully in an even layer over the chocolate layer.

Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes until lightly browned across the top.  Cool on a rack for an hour (until room temperature) then refrigerate overnight or until well chilled (about 6 hours).

When chilled, make the chocolate drizzle by combining the coconut oil, cocoa powder and honey in a small bowl.  Add a little extra coconut oil if it seems too thick, you are looking for a thin drizzle consistency.  Drizzle across the top of the bars, and sprinkle with the pecans.  Store in the fridge, in part so you don't eat them all right away.

Paleo magic bars

These bars are much less sweet than traditional sweetened condensed milk versions of magic bars... but they still really satisfy.  I won't claim that they satisfy as much as a giant wedge of traditional magic bar, but they do not leave you feeling guilty and with a "why-did-I-just-eat-that-whole-thing" kind of feeling.  And, they are made entirely with real, whole foods.  I especially like that my picky kid liked them, and that they sneak in avocado, which is tremendously underused in chocolate bakery...

Paleo magic bars.

So what about you?  Are you also seeing a shift to more healthful, whole foods with less refined carbohydrate emphasis?  I think the Paleo trend is here to stay for awhile, and I am kind of glad.  I'm not about restriction and arguing over the color of my potato (though for the record, I do prefer sweet potatoes), but there are a lot of valid ideas surrounding this more natural way of eating and viewing food.

Carrot-Banana Muffins (The New, Improved, and Sugar-Free Year)

I can't believe it's already a week into the new year.  I just got my decorations put away today, after a week of procrastinating and bewilderment at how easily exhausted I get recently.  I have good energy until about lunchtime, and then I seem about shot for the day.  The good news is that I have finished reading an actual novel, and I read about 4 new to me cookbooks.  The cookbook reading is nothing new of course, but my healthy title choices were timely since Julia and I decided to go for year #2 of Sugar-Free January

Last year, I felt like I was going through sugar withdrawal.  Every single day seemed like a trial, I tried hard to find sweet replacements so I didn't feel the pangs of deprivation.  But a weird thing happened after January of 2012 bit the dust:  I had recalibrated my sweet tooth.  Instead of "needing" sweets, I came to appreciate them in much smaller doses - and I thought carefully before choosing and baking for myself.  I have to say that trend lasted throughout the year too.  But even though this Christmastime saw only 2 batches of cookies coming from my kitchen, when they were added to the sweets that congregated at the farm for my Christmas break, I definitely felt like I overindulged for the final week of the year.  Sugar-Free January is always a good idea I think.

carrot banana muffins

This year, I easily went 2 days without even thinking I was missing something sugary at all.  Then, a few, well chosen social situations found me making polite exceptions... but even then, I didn't overdo.  I ate a small square of coconut cake that barely weighed anything and reminded me of being 8.  I had a similarly tiny morsel of peanut butter rice crispy treat with a thick topcoat of chocolate.  I ate the last brandied cherry some friends dropped off as a gift.  Not all at once, just perfectly curated and well deserved if I have anything to say about it.  My goal this year isn't to be as militant as last year, but rather to continue on my path of continual sweets reduction.

Over the past year, I have come to realize that it isn't even eating the sugar that appeals so much to me, it's the baking and making with it.  I'm happy just tasting something and giving 90% away, and I really just adore any reason to fire up my oven and feel organized in my kitchen.  After 20 trips up and down the stairs carting ornaments, lights, and laundry I took a break this morning to make some muffins that almost any diet (except the unfortunate nut allergic) can appreciate: Carrot-Banana Muffins.

They come from a new cookbook written by healthy diet and living guru Dr. Weil (compiled with help from a chef and a restauranteur, Michael Stebner and Sam Fox).  Most times when reading Dr. Weil, I just really want to hire a private detective to see if he occasionally stops in at a donut shop in a moment of weakness.  I don't subscribe to a life of monastic purity, instead I strive for balance and moderation - and donuts when I feel like it.  In the cookbook True Food, there is plenty of inspiration for healthy eating featuring ingredients that are fairly straightforward (except the sea buckthorn, which I confess I had to look up).  It's easy, seasonal food that is photographed well and infinitely appealing to a generally healthy eater like me.

But I didn't get truly excited until I read the recipe for these muffins which not only fit nicely into a sugar-free regimen, they also are gluten and grain free - and full of enough decadent but healthful ingredients to convince you that you've had a slice of cake.  And I suspect with a well placed dollop of cream cheese frosting, you would have just that.

carrot banana muffin

I ground the last of the almonds I had on hand, which miraculously turned out to be the correct amount.  I didn't have the finest almond meal, which was okay with me, and added a great texture to the finished muffins. I also cut back slightly on the cinnamon, walnuts, and dates (on the dates only because I wasn't so lucky with the last of them).  They are moist and sweet, like the best carrot cake you've ever had, but better since they aren't hyped up on sugar.  You might never suspect there isn't a single granule of refined sugar in these.

Carrot-Banana Muffins (barely adapted from True Food, Dr. Andrew Weil, Sam Fox, and Michael Stebner.  Stebner's wife Ally is credited with coming up with this genius recipe.)

makes 12-16 muffins depending on size
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 4 oz. butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 bananas, mashed (my bananas were huge, so I used 2)
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 c. pitted and chopped dates
  • 2 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 325, and line a muffin tin with papers.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and coconut and whisk well to combine.  In a separate large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (or by hand) until creamy and soft.  Add eggs, bananas, honey, and cider vinegar and beat until well mixed.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir well to combine.  Fold in the dates, carrots, and walnuts.  Portion into muffin cups (you can fill them quite full, there isn't a lot of rise), and bake for 35-40 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

 Even better than the flavor and texture of these muffins, is the appreciation that comes when finishing one.  Normal muffins have me craving a second as soon as I finish the first - and these were satisfying enough to stand at a single muffin portion.  Perfect as the great sugar contemplation of 2013 is fully underway.  

I haven't quite decided how I will store them.  I suspect I'll keep a couple in the refrigerator for a few days since they are so moist I think room temperature could be quickly detrimental.  The rest will go into the freezer, for tucking into my bag when I'm not sure how long the errands will take, or for snacks at the movies that I hope to get to sometime soon.  I am looking forward to seeing how they age!