Funny Oranges

After I got the Breville Citrus Press and started making fresh squeezed orange juice each morning, I found myself knee deep in orange peels.  Instead of throwing them all away, I wondered if I could use some of them for a fun lunchbox treat.  I remembered seeing a recipe for Gelatin Oranges on Disney’s Family Fun website so I thought I would give it a try.  If you or your child has a beef allergy (gelatin), avoid artificial colorings, etc., keep reading…  this gets much better! 😉

These are relatively easy to make (and super easy if you have the Breville Citrus Press to do the juicing work for you!).

Funny Oranges

  • Just slice oranges in half and scoop out the fruit. Be sure to scrape well and remove all the orange pulp, you will want the inside of the orange to be white.
  • To keep the oranges upright, I used a muffin pan to set the oranges in.
  • Prepare gelatin (or substitute, see below) as indicated on the package.
  • Pour gelatin into the prepared orange halves and refrigerate until set.
  • Slice Orange halves and you will have a fun little treat for snacks or to stick in a lunchbox!

The juicer only does so much, I still had to peel the last bit of orange "stuff" out by hand.

Prop the hollowed out oranges in a muffin pan for support.

Pour prepared gelatin into orange halves.

After reading a few of the comments for the Easy Lunchbox Giveaway, I decided to send in tacos for a cool new lunch. Wish I had re-read the comments before I made them as I would have known NOT to assemble the taco the night before! They were pretty soggy come lunch time the next day, LOL! I always seem to learn the hard way. 😉 If you make a taco lunch, be sure to seperate all the components and let your child assemble their own taco at lunch time... this is "much cooler" anyway as they have their own taco bar!

So there’s that version.

I have been doing a lot of reading over the past few months on artificial colorings, dyes, preservatives, etc. and I’m now of the mind that “less is definitely more!”  Just yesterday, I was reading an article in the May/June 2010 issue of Well Being Journal titled, “ADHD Increase Linked to Modern Diet,” by Jane Hersey, pages 16 – 17.  In the article, Jane sited some research by Sanford C. Newmark, M.D., from the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine:

Research has shown a consistent relationship to the intake of artificial colors and/or preservatives on the symptoms of ADHD or hyperactivity.

After describing two large British studies linking food dyes and preservatives with hyperactivity, including one that was published in the Lancet, he concluded,

One can see how the intake of these substances could ‘shift’ in a positive direction the proportion of children diagnosed with ADHD.

The article went on to credit the late Ben Feingold, M.D. for first discovering the link between artificial food additives and hyperactivity.  I just read an article on the Feingold Association website pertaining to ezcema and ADD.  Seems that children with excema are far more likely to develop ADD (Wow, I didn’t know that.  I really encourage you to check out the Feingold Association website, there is some very interesting information on it, that only further demonstrates the negative effects of processed food on our health).  Funny, I had ezcema as a child and was diagnosed with Adult ADD about a year ago.  Luke also suffers from severe ezcema (worse than mine was as a child).  Hmmm…

Another startling fact that was mentioned in the article was the dramatic increase in American consumption of artificial dyes.  Consumption of these dyes has increased almost threefold since the 1980’s, rising from about 6.4  million pounds in 1985 to more than 17.8 million pounds in 2005!!

Last quote from the article that I want to mention, and I think it is very important that all parents think about this:

Newmark pointed out that since more and more families have two working parents, family meals increasingly consist of processed (additive-laden) foods.  “It is hard to know just when a Pop-Tart became an acceptable breakfast, but it often is.  School lunches are abysmal, with an unacceptably high intake of processed foods and [denatured] saturated fats.”

I just looked at my boys after reading the article and thought to myself, “They deserve better.  They have their entire lives ahead of them and I do not want to burden them with health problems (ironically, the very ones I have!), that I can control by simple diet modification.”  That’s right, I am the one who can potentially alter the course of their life and health by taking the time to think about what I am putting into their mouths.  While we already have the benefit of being a gluten-free family (which means we cannot eat most processed foods like Pop-Tarts, but there are obviously still many products like Jello and Koolaid that we can technically have, but probably shouldn’t!).

Needless to say, the rest of my Jello stash went into the trash, as did my remaining Koolaid stash (okay, I’ll admit it…  I was actually the closeted Koolaid drinker! 😉 ).

I have been experimenting with making my own “jello” from natural juice and pectin (the grape turned out to be a kickin’ Grape Jelly without added sugar or HFCS, but it really didn’t taste like Jello.  I have yet to try juice with gelatin, but I have that one on my short list.  I did however, find a really cool new product (new to me anyway) on a recent shopping excursion to my local co-op: Natural Desserts by the NutraDrink Company!!  Check this out from their website:

Natural Desserts’ line of flavored and unflavored Dessert Jels are a truly unique line of gluten free, vegan, dairy free, Kosher dessert jells that are truly indistinguishable from gelatin, yet are manufactured using an exclusive blend of vegetable gums.  Perfect as a simple dessert all by itself, or marvelous for use in the most elaborate mold.

They even have pudding!!  I have yet to find the pudding in my local store, but I am definitely on the hunt. 😀

So, I re-made the oranges with the All-Natural Strawberry flavored Jel Dessert:

This product is still high in sugar, so moderation is key.

We really liked these quite a bit, even though Sam is still hung up on the green Jello. Wonder if I could make a spinach/apple combo juice and just add the unflavored Jel for a natural and healthy green color?? He might disown me... but it's worth a try! 😀

Update: At the suggestion of Deanna, I just submitted this recipe to the May “Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten-Free” monthly recipe roundup (it’s a Jello theme for May), being hosted by Mrs. Ed’s Research and Recipes.  This is my first time participating in this monthly event and I am so happy that Deanna mentioned it to me, because it introduced me to a new blog that I am excited to read.  Anyone can participate in this blog carnival, you do not need to be a blogger to join in on the fun!  The “Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten-Free” blog carnival was created by Naomi Devlin over at “Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried.”  What a fun way to make cooking at home an even more rewarding experience.  It’s like sitting at the kitchen table, swapping gluten-free recipes and the stories behind them, with great friends over a hot cup of coffee.  🙂

Homemade Coffee Creamer

We, like many people, went through a tough time when the economy tanked in 2008.  Since changes in the stock market can affect our income, I’m sure you can imagine just how tight things became around here!  We sought out all sorts of ways to cut costs and a funny thing happened in the process… we really had a lot of fun doing it as a family, and dare I say, we grew even closer as a team!  It makes you really start to think of all the mindless dollars that go out the door each month.  Times were tough, but we wanted to make lemonade out of lemons and still try to enjoy the things we loved, just in a new way!

I began my “homemade odyssey” making my own body scrubs and soaps to give as gifts for the 2008 holiday season.  I did not know how to give “nothing.” At first, I was really embarrassed to give my “piddly” little homemade gifts (if you recall yesterday’s post when I mentioned that the words ‘frugal’ and ‘Heidi’ never appeared in the same sentence, I wasn’t joking.  I love to give gifts and make people happy, but I had a tendency to go overboard in that department!).

I was floored at how well my homemade gifts were received.  It seems as though people liked them BETTER than the high priced body scrubs I used to give my gal pals as gifts!  I had so much fun that first year, that I did it again in 2009, even though I really didn’t have to.  My friends also made me handmade gifts and it felt so good to know that someone cared enough to spend the time making something, just for me.  It has made me really think about how disconnected we have become as a society, in our pursuit of bigger, better, more.  I have been slowly edging myself toward jumping off that runaway train ever since and I cannot say that I have ever been happier, nor my kids for that matter.  I have been guilty in the past of giving them all the latest “it” toys and they never reacted to them (outside of the first 30 minutes before something inevitably broke or disappeared) nearly the way they have reacted when I invite them into the kitchen with me or Mike shows them how to use a drill!

Change is not easy, and I am by no means the “perfect” mother (besides, perfect is boring in my opinion 😀 ), who spends all her time making crafts, doing science experiments, coming up with crazy lunchbox ideas, cooking from scratch… no sirree Bob (so please don’t think I am some “Martha Stewart-Wanna Be” because of a few of the posts I have made, that is just one small slice of my pie, and most of these things I only started doing recently because I was trying to come up with good blog material!). 😉

One small successful change for me, led to another and yet another.  I began my gluten-free journey with an obsession for GF copycat recipes of mainstream processed foods that I grew up on and now I am eating raw Swiss Chard and I even had Broccolini last night!  I went from a shopaholic to a frugal homemade gal.  I went from being a very wasteful person to being a re-user and recyclyer.  I went from putting my kids in 20 different activities and buying them all the name brand clothes and “cool toys,” to spending real time with them. I went from feeling very empty, sad and angry, to being happier than I have ever been in my life, and lost 50 lbs. in the process.  I feel like I finally “get it.”  Had someone told me that even 2 years ago, I would have LAUGHED at them! 😀

So on to the coffee creamer!

This is a recipe that I have been making for about a year now and have received a lot of, “You made that?” comments from unsuspecting guests at my house. My father-in-law, who loves coffee creamer was stunned at how good it was. While I personally like my coffee black, there are times, like after a dinner party, when a flavored coffee hits the spot.  Or during the autumn when I live at Starbucks during Pumpkin Spice Latte season!

I found a recipe on the Frugal Village Forum, posted by “Yankee Mom.” for homemade creamer. I will post a portion of her recipe here so I can give you my side by side tweaks in red, as usual. (I do this because I am NOT an intuitive cook and I need recipes to start with, then I can modify as needed.  So if I can do it, ANYONE can do it!  One just needs to know how.).

Delicious Coffee Creamer
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk (I make my own, see below. You can easily make this dairy-free too!).
1 1/2 cups Skim Milk (or dairy substitute).

  • Measure all ingredients into a 32 ounce container (with a cover), seal container and shake vigorously. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

“Yankee Mom” has a few flavoring combination’s on the Frugal Village Forum that you might be interested in, so click on the above link!

Last night, I tried something new to flavor my coffee creamer with… Vanilla Creme Liquid Stevia! I added about 5 drops then also added 1/4 tsp. of Cinnamon Extract (see photos below)… yum! Want to know where I first learned about the flavored Liquid Stevia?  From Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut, if you haven’t visited her website… you absolutely must!  You also need to check out Kelly’s post from yesterday (hint: healthy coffee cake!) over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang, as part of the “30 Days to a Food Revolution” series.  I am beyond THRILLED that Diane is doing this series, it is so much fun!!  I encourage you to check it out and get on board for a chance to win some fabulous prizes!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk (I found this recipe on Recipezaar)

1/2 cup Cold Water

1 1/3 cups Nonfat Dry Milk Powder (I have also made this using Vance’s Darifree Milk Powder and Better Than Milk Vanilla Rice Milk Powder, since these are sweet milk powders, I reduced or omitted the added sugar below, adjust to your personal taste).

3/4 cup Sugar (I used 10 packets of Truvia for a natural sugar-free version. Technically, I think the conversion from 3/4 cup of sugar to Truvia is 18 packets, but 10 was sweet enough for me).

1 tsp. Vanilla (I omitted the vanilla since I was going to add it to add the flavoring to the coffee creamer)

1 Tbs. Butter, Earth Balance or Smart Balance (optional, but I added this to round out the taste of the Truvia; this is a new product for me so I am adjusting to it).

  • In a saucepan, combine powdered milk and sugar (or sugar substitute). 
  • Slowly add water, while stirring, into the milk powder/sugar mixture. Continue stirring occasionally over medium-low heat (Click here for microwave directions).
  • Add in optional butter or butter substitute, and vanilla if you choose to use it.
  • Heat through for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly (so it doesn’t scorch) until mixture is thickened.
  • Use this in place of the canned Sweetened Condensed Milk in the above Homemade Coffee Creamer recipe!

Add powdered milk to saucepan,

Add 10 packets of Truvia, or sugar,

Add water,

Whisk to combine,

Add optional butter, and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until butter has melted and the milk powder has dissolved.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk!

To make coffee creamer: add 1 1/2 cups milk to the Sweetened Condensed Milk,

Whisk again.

I added about 5 drops of the Vanilla Creme Liquid Stevia.

Add 1/4 tsp. Cinnamon Extract (or other flavor extract, to taste).

Pour in a container with lid and refrigerate! Shake before using.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

Homemade Limeade Concentrate

I love Limeade, especially during the hot summer months.  I find it to be even more refreshing than Lemonade or water for that matter. 😀  While I have been learning to reach for water first, or even sparkling water with a spritz of freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice (no added sweetener), I still enjoy a cold glass of Limeade on occasion.

I grew up on the Minute Maid Frozen Limeade from Concentrate.  It is very easy to make, but it has high-fructose corn syrup in it and I try to avoid that ingredient at all costs.  Yes, this recipe does have granulated sugar in it and can probably still be improved upon, but for now, I will take this.  Baby steps and moderation is key.

I like making concentrates because, well, it’s convenient.  Being a busy mom, convenience items do come in handy at times, but if they are homemade convenience items, that is even better.  I control what goes in and can eliminate the undesirable ingredients.  And it’s cheap.  That is such a funny thing for me to actually say.  Up until fairly recently, the words ‘Frugal’ and ‘Heidi’ were never part of the same sentence!  Saving money by learning how to make many things on my own, has been seductively addictive! 😉

I found the following recipe on the Cooking for Engineers Website and it is by Michael Chu.  I am going to rewrite it here in a format that is easier for me to refer to in the future.  I like to make my Limeade Concentrate in large batches to reduce how often I need to make it, so I quadruple the recipe.  After doing this a few times, I realized that I am not a fan of juicing by hand, especially in large quantities!  So a bought a really nice electric citrus juicer by Breville, to do the work for me!  I love this juicer so much, that it stays on my counter and we have freshly squeezed orange juice each morning with breakfast.  No more Tropicana.  I also buy mass quantities of limes and lemons at Costco.  I like to juice them up and freeze the pure juice in ice cube trays so if a recipe calls for a little fresh lemon or lime juice, I just grab a cube, thaw and ta-da!  No more yucky lemon or lime “juice” in those little fruit shaped containers!  And no more getting caught unprepared and needing to run to the store at the last minute for a fresh lemon that is called for in a recipe.  The Breville citrus juicer is not inexpensive ($190), so I don’t recommend buying one unless you really plan to use it (and pay cash… living credit card debt-free is an amazing feeling!).

Homemade Limeade Concentrate

1 cup fresh Lime Juice (I use 4 cups, to quadruple)

1 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar (I use 6 cups)

1 1/2 cup Water (I use 6 cups)

  • Make a simple syrup, combining the sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Add lime juice and stir to incorporate.
  • Now you have Homemade Limeade Concentrate!
  • At this point you can either portion out and freeze for future use (I freeze the concentrate in 2 cup portions because I like to make up a small pitcher at a time), or chill the hot mixture in the refrigerator until cool.
  • When you are ready to use it, simply add 2 cups of cold water to each cup of concentrate that you use.  It does not make a lot, but that is okay… keeps me from drinking too much!

Stir and Enjoy!

I like to make the lime juice first:

This is one AWESOME gadget, worth every hard earned penny, in my opinion!

Just press down on the lever... no carpal tunnel! 😀

The Breville Motorized Citrus Press comes with 2 strainers: a fine strainer if you do not like added pulp or a large strainer if you do like some pulp. AND, (this was the kicker for me because I loathe hand washing), it all comes apart and everything is dishwasher safe, Woo-Hoo! 😀

To make the simple syrup:

Add sugar to a large saucepan,

Add Water,

Stirring occasionally, warm over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Simple Syrup.

Add Lime Juice to the Simple Syrup.

Stir to combine.

Portion and freeze. I always add the directions to my containers, as I have major 'CRS' syndrome and it saves me more time by not having to look it up! 😉

Since I don't have the cardboard containers that store-bought juice concentrates come in; I place my frozen concentrate in a warm water bath to loosen it up so it slides out easier.

Add concentrate to a pitcher,

Add cold water, stir and enjoy!

Sam LOVES this juicer!  I cannot believe how fast he is growing up, he makes his own juice in the morning and his favorite is Blood Orange juice!

I love Wisteria and they are in full bloom at the Rio Grande Botanic Garden in Albuquerque!

Gluten-Free Eggless Meatballs

Maybe I should have called them “Eggless Meatball Wonders,” or “Guiltless Meatballs,” because there are several nutritious ingredients cleverly hidden inside, and you cannot even tell! 😉

Ever since I started experimenting with “flax eggs,” I have become increasingly impressed with the results in most of my experiments.  So much so, I have found myself buried in excess eggs that I have delivered in my CSA box each week!  That’s okay though, I have some quiche to get working on for the Gluten-Free Quiche Challenge over at The Gluten Free Homemaker!

Flaxseeds are a good source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Manganese, Dietary Fiber, Magnesium, and Folate (I highly recommend checking out the World’s Healthiest Foods website, there is a lot of great information on it, especially for people like me who do not have a degree in nutrition!).

I was inspired to seek out a recipe for eggless meatballs for a friend who has a child with an egg allergy and I finally settled on a “rough” recipe from another mom’s post on the Spiffy Moms forum.  Tamika’s recipe hooked me because of the oats.  Growing up, my mom always made meatloaf with oats instead of breadcrumbs, which I really like because it is much more moist than the breadcrumb version of meatloaf.  Using Tamika’s ingredients as a guideline, I made my own adaptation which also included shredded carrots and zucchini.  There is a trick to making the shredded veggies work though, which I highly recommend to avoid any “texture” issues!  Once you compile all the ingredients, throw everything in a food processor and pulse until combined.  The oats and veggies get pulverized into microscopic bits and you cannot tell they are in there!  My boys LOVE these!!

Eggless Meatballs

1 lb. Ground Beef or Turkey (I used Ground Bison)

1/2 cup Oats (I used Certified Gluten-Free Oats)

1/3 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (or Dairy-Free Substitute)

1 Flax Egg

2 Tbs. Milk (or Dairy-Free Milk Substitute)

1 tsp. Plain Vivagave Inulin Powder (Adding the fiber supplement is optional. I used Vivagave because it is gluten-free, has zero taste or texture and a full serving size (1 Tbs.) has a whopping 10 grams of fiber!)

Assorted Seasonings (Feel free to experiment but I just used 1 Tbs. dried Italian Seasoning, 2 cloves of fresh minced garlic and a pinch of salt, as I am a low-salt person, so adjust according to your taste preferences. Just keep in mind that whatever sauce you use will have salt and seasonings too).

1/2 cup shredded Carrots

1/2 cup shredded Zucchini

1 – 2 Tbs. Olive Oil for cooking

  • Combine all ingredients (except the olive oil) then put in a food processor and pulse until combined, it will somewhat resemble a paste.
  • Pinch of small pieces and roll to form meatballs.
  • Cook in a large skillet with olive oil over medium heat until cooked through.

I like to make these in large quantities and freeze them.  This way, I can just grab what I need and toss into some pasta sauce as it is cooking for an almost effortless gluten-free meal! 😀

Please forgive my dark photos, we had tinting placed on all our windows last week as the sun is really intense here in the high desert! I am going to have to figure something out, but until then… bare with me 🙂

I start by making the flax egg first:

1 Tbs. Ground Flaxseed.

I added 3 Tbs. Water

You will have a watery mixture at first.

After a minute or two, the watery mixture will congeal and have the texture of an egg white.

i used 1 lb. Ground Bison

Add 1/2 cup Oats

Add 1/3 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

This is optional, but I added 1 tsp. Vivagave Inulin Powder for added fiber.

Add the Flax Egg. You can see the texture better in this photo.

Add your desired seasonings.

Add 1/2 cup shredded Carrot.

Add 1/2 cup shredded Zucchini

Add the combined mixture to a food processor and add 2 Tbs. Milk then pulse.

You will have an interesting looking "paste," but don't worry!

Shape meatballs and cooking in a skillet with added olive oil, over medium heat until cooked through.

Click here for a guide to internal cooking temperatures, beef is 160° F., turkey is 165° F. I cannot recommend getting a good cooking thermometer enough! I recently bought a new one at my local Restaurant Supply Store for around $25, and so far I am very impressed (my OXO didn’t last but a few months).

Once the meatballs are done cooking, I drain them on a paper towel. I then place the meatballs on a cookie sheet, uncovered, and place in my deep freezer for a couple of hours until they are frozen solid. I store them in a Freezer Ziploc bag and usually use them within a month (at most). Mike has been enjoying meatball subs again and Sam and Luke like to stick the cupcake picks in the meatballs and just have them for lunch. They are even coming up to me and asking, “Mom, may we please have “appetizers” for lunch?” LOL!

See? No "detectable veggies!"

Sam wanted me to show his creation… the tree is from the Monster Truck Cake I made a few weeks ago and he stuck it in his meatball. Love it!

“Tricky” Chocolate Pudding

I blame this recipe for my youngest child’s O.B.S.E.S.S.I.O.N. with chocolate!

Luke was my smallest baby, at 7 lbs. 13 ounces and 21″ long. That may not seem “small” for a newborn, especially one that was born 2 weeks early, but Sam was 9 lbs. and 23-inches long! Sam never lost an ounce after he was born like most newborns tend to, but Luke did lose weight, almost a full pound! Luke stayed on the small side for quite sometime and it was a struggle to get him to gain weight (one of the many “signs” that I thought he had celiac, not Sam).


Anyway, I was on heightened celiac alert after Luke was born and on the advice of his pediatrician (based on the information at the time), we delayed introducing gluten to Luke until he was 1. Lots of commercial baby foods have gluten, so I started making my own baby food. That was the beginning of my “make my own” era! I got Jessica Seinfeld’sDeceptively Delicious” cookbook and got to work. It was during this time that I actually picked up the tip to freeze purees in ice cub trays, and I still use that trick for my GF Condensed Soup components!

One of the recipes that I first tried and was blown away by the results, was the Chocolate Pudding recipe on page 159. This was especially helpful for helping to put weight on Luke because of the healthy fats. Click here for more nutritional info on avocados. I found a very close copy of the recipe on another website, so I will link to that, but I originally got the recipe in Deceptively Delicious. The only thing different is the missing added cornstarch from Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe. I did not use the cornstarch either just to see how it would turn out, and I think that is the reason the pudding was so shiny. Taste-wise though, I think it is better without the added cornstarch.

“Tricky” Chocolate Pudding

1/4 cup Trans-Fat-Free Soft Tub Margarine (I used the Soy-Free Earth Balance, which is also gluten-free and dairy-free. You could also use Palm Shortening).

1 cup Avocado Puree (about 2 large) make sure they are very ripe! (Of the 6 avocados I had, only two were in good enough condition to use, so I had slightly less than a cup of avocado puree. If you use ripe avocados, just smash them up really well with a fork to make the “puree” or you could throw them in a blend or food processor).

1 cup Confectioners Sugar (I used 365 Organic Powdered Sugar which is corn-free).

1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (I used 1/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa Powder and 1/4 cup of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder)

1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract

  • Melt the margarine in a medium pan over low heat.
  • Mix avocado puree and melted margarine in a small food processor or blender until very smooth. (I omitted this step).
  • Return to pan and add sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla. Cook about 3-4 minutes until it thickens.
  • Serve warm. (Luke likes this cold too!).

Melt the butter (or butter substitute),

Mash up 1 cup of ripe avocado (or thereabouts),

add the cocoa powder, powdered sugar and vanilla,

and there you have it!

This is REALLY GOOD pudding! You cannot tell there is avocado in it!! The texture is thicker and creamier than a dairy-based pudding mix. It’s kind of like a fudge brownie batter, if that makes sense. But in case you are not convinced…

Exhibit A:

Does this look like a face that would lie to you? If you are not convinced of that, click here, and check out the last photo.

Now do you believe me? 😀

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free Banana Bread

This is the recipe my mom always used when I was growing up and I still use it today (not sure the original source), with my gluten-free “tweaks”.  I decided to make some the other night using a few other alternative ingredients just to see how it would turn out, and boy am I glad I did!  I think it is actually better than the original recipe, even in gluten-form!

I have been reading a great series of posts on sweeteners, both natural and artificial, on a fabulous blog called A Life of Sugar and Spice.  Jen has Crohn’s Disease and is chronicling her journey of healing herself through diet, including the elimination of gluten.  Jen also avoids dairy and keeps sugar to a minimum.  I like Jen’s blog because of her spunk. She says everything I want to say but thus far have been too chicken! 😉  She does a lot of research and writes great articles on topics that I am just recently becoming very interested in (after watching Food, Inc.).  Check out Jen’s thoughts on the film Food, Inc. and another great post on the difference between grass-fed and corn-fed beef.   Anyway, the sweetener series is called “Know the Facts,” and so far, Jen has posted on Agave Nectar (WOW!) and Honey.

I went with the honey for my banana bread.

I also bought some Soy-Free Earth Balance the other day to see if it worked just as well as Smart Balance (dairy) and Earth Balance (dairy-free) in baking.  I’m happy to say, so far, so good!.  I used the Soy-Free Earth Balance in this recipe as well.

I kept the eggs this time around because I do not like to change too many ingredients at once.  I am going to try this recipe again today using flax gel to replace the eggs, I’ll keep you posted on the results!

The original recipe is in black, my tweaks are in red.

Banana Bread (with my tweaks, this banana bread is gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free)

3/4 cup Sugar (I used 3/4 cup Honey. I referred to this article when figuring out how to replace sugar with honey)

1/3 cup Margarine (I used Soy-Free Earth Balance, which is also dairy-free, and gluten-free)

2 Eggs

1 cup Mashed Ripe Bananas

1/3 cup Water

1 2/3 Cup Flour (I used Better Batter Gluten-Free Flour. You can read the ingredients of Better Batter GF Flour here and more on their product info page here.)

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Baking Powder

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • In a bowl, combine: margarine (or healthier substitute 🙂 ), sugar (in my case, honey), and eggs (or egg substitute). Mix well.
  • Add mashed bananas and water to the margarine, sugar and egg mixture.  Mix well.
  • In a separate bowl combine: flour (**Better Batter has the Xanthan Gum already added so if you are not using a gluten-free all-purpose flour with Xanthan Gum, be sure to add the appropriate amount of Xanthan or Guar Gum to your flour blend), baking soda, salt and baking powder.  Whisk to combine the dry ingredients (I also sift mine to make sure everything is well dispersed).
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until all ingredients are moist.
  • Pour banana bread batter into prepared bread pan and bake 55 – 60 minutes at 350° F.  I do the prick test to make sure the bread is done.

I’ve been looking for more breakfast ideas that include protein, so I tried spreading some peanut butter on the banana bread and it totally ROCKED!  Think banana bread with an “Elvis” twist! 😉

Take 2 – 3 RIPE bananas and smash with a fork until it is almost a liquid consistency  (more like a pudding).

I only had 2 bananas and it came to just under a cup, which didn’t affect the final outcome.

Local Honey

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free and GMO-Free! 😀

Honey, Water, Eggs and Soy-Free Earth Balance

Combine dry ingredients and whisk/sift before adding to the liquid mixture.

You do not need a mixer, I was being lazy!

Pour batter into prepared pan, then pop in the oven!

Corn-Free, Gelatin-Free (and of course, Gluten-Free) Homemade Marshmallows!

This is (almost) the end of a 4 year frustration of mine! I have been stumped over how to make marshmallows without gelatin (beef or fish) or agar. While my family and I can have regular store bought marshmallows, several years ago, I wanted to make these for an old playmate of Sam’s who was allergic to corn, beef and egg (these do have egg, which is why I am “almost” at the end of this project, but not using gelatin was a MAJOR hurdle to jump! I will work on the egg part next). When you read the ingredient label on a bag of KRAFT Marshmallows, you will see:

Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch and Gelatin...corn, corn, and corn-fed beef.

The good thing is there are no eggs in Kraft Marshmallows so I know it can be done! 🙂 Here is an ingredient I learned about today: Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (what exactly is slightly toxic??).

Makes me look look at celiac disease in a different light. As hard as it to find hidden sources of gluten, I would rather have to deal with avoiding gluten than have to avoid corn and soy… it is literally EVERYWHERE!

Before I do the marshmallow recipe, I want to make sure I clarify a few things. I have had a few people ask me if I am going vegetarian, vegan, joining The Rainbow Family or heading for the hills to live off the “fat of the land,” which I think is their kind way of asking me if I have lost my mind! 🙂 The simple answer is no (not necessarily in regards to the “losing my mind” part, because I have indeed opened a Pandora’s Box for myself). I have celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis which requires me to be on a strict gluten-free diet for life. That is all I can handle right now in the “no forever” department with regards to food. I do eat corn and use cornstarch as it is a major ingredient in the gluten-free diet, but now that I am at a place of peace and dare I say actual enthusiasm over my GF diet, I am on a quest to “ask the next question” on other foods that I eat and feed my family. I am cutting back on corn (mainly corn syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup) and incorporating more natural ingredients when I can. But enough on that for now, (in case this is of no interest to you). I will continue my “ramble” after the recipe for the purposes of documenting our family’s journey for my children in the event I get hit by a bus tomorrow (knock on wood). 😉

I came across a very cool blog last week called “Pie of the Tiger,” by Jessica Peterson. Jessica has a recipe for homemade Vegetarian Marshmallows with a picture of the cutest homemade Peep made from her recipe! While reading her post, I clicked on a link for a free PDF download of Texture: A hydocolloid recipe collection, available on This is a very cool recipe collection that has some rather unusual recipes using different hydrocolloids. Utterly fascinating to my inner food science nerd! I have read the text and I think there are some useful ideas (as well as some not so useful!) for re-creating popular convenience foods at home for people with dietary restrictions, or who want to start eliminating some of the additives that are in main-stream convenience foods. Shoot, this text would fun if used just for science experiments with your kids!

I realize this is not for everyone but it is nice knowing there are options! The following recipe is in the Xanthan Gum section, page 60. Since I am GF, Xanthan Gum is something I keep on hand.

Corn-Free, Gelatin-Free (Vegetarian, not Vegan) Homemade Marshmallows

60 mL Water

Pinch of Cream of Tartar

255 g. Granulated Sugar

255 g. Light Corn Syrup (I used the homemade Corn-Free, Light “Corn” Syrup)

1/2 Vanilla Bean (I just used 1 tsp. Clear Vanilla Extract and I did not add the extract to the hot syrup mixture itself, but added it after combining the egg whites and hot syrup mixture in my mixer bowl)

85 g. Egg Whites (~ 3 Egg Whites)

5 g. Xanthan Gum (0.76%) (I am not sure what (0.76% means, but I just used my Xanthan Gum from my pantry)

  • Ground Xanthan Gum with a tablespoon of sugar (I did this in my food processor), set aside
  • Heat water, cream of tartar, remaining sugar, corn syrup and vanilla bean to 120° C. (248° F.)
  • Meanwhile, whisk egg whites, about 2 minutes, until soft (I took this to mean “foamy”)
  • Discard the vanilla bean
  • Continue whipping the egg whites at slow speed while slowly adding the hot syrup mixture to the egg whites.
  • After adding the hot syrup to the egg whites and while still whipping, sprinkle the xanthan gum/sugar mixture to the egg white/syrup mixture.

(This is also where I added the Clear Vanilla Extract)

  • Turn speed up and continue whipping 2 – 3 minutes until the marshmallow pulls away from the sides.
  • Sprinkle a pan or baking sheet (I used a 9″x 13″ cake pan, and it was too big, my marshmallows were rather flat and not as “poofy.” Next time, I will make these in an 8″ x 8″ pan), generously with cornstarch (I used corn-free powdered sugar, but you could also use arrowroot powder, potato starch, tapioca starch, sweet potato starch, etc. instead of the corn starch…although, I don’t know how well the starch alone would taste. The author of the Pie of the Tiger blog used vanilla sugar, which sounds great too, especially if you are making homemade Peeps), then add marshmallow mixture and spread out.
  • Top marshmallow with the starch, powdered sugar or vanilla sugar (same stuff you used for the bottom).
  • Cover with plastic wrap and allow to set in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
  • Cut marshmallows into desired shapes and dip cut surfaces into the same starch/powdered sugar or vanilla sugar mixture that was previously used (which I forgot to do before taking my photos and now they are gone!).

The marshmallows are delicious, but not as dense as a commercial marshmallow. We have enjoyed these alone and in hot cocoa so far, but have not tried to use them in a recipe like crispy treats or as Smore’s, so I am not sure how well they work for those purposes.

My pictures are not nearly as good as those that are on the Pie of the Tiger blog, but because I used “un-corn” corn syrup, I wanted to show what mine looked like in comparison with those made with real corn syrup.

Homemade Corn-Free Light "Corn" Syrup

All the ingredients to make the hot syrup mixure (sans vanilla bean).

Whipped egg whites, before adding the hot syrup...they are foamy.

I added the clear vanilla extract right about this stage.

This makes great marshmallow "fluff!"

I also lined my pan with parchment paper to make the marshmallows easier to lift out. I sprinkled the powdered sugar on top of the parchment paper.

Very cool new find: 365 Organic Powdered Sugar is Corn-Free!

No corn starch!

After adding the marshmallow mixture, sprinkle again with powdered sugar.

See how flat they came out in the 9" x 13" pan? I would definitely recommend a smaller pan!

So back to my “ramble:”

Up until late December when I watched Food, Inc. for the first time, I knew that things like High Fructose Corn Syrup were probably not good for us, but I did not know WHY they were not good for us. I honestly didn’t give it much attention because it was hard enough to keep track of all the hidden sources of gluten and I have been prone to “not wanting to know” about certain things because that might mean giving up something else!

I am at a place now where I am ready to start finding out what these other ingredients are (like Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate), why they are used, and whether or not I should be eating them. It is a personal journey, and we are all at different places, so please understand that when I make posts touching on things other than the gluten-free lifestyle; I am not trying to be “preachy,” or to make judgments or sway viewpoints or anything other than to share what I am learning, and to leave a personal journal for my children.

Over the past year, I have caught many news clips or articles about the newest “study” that has linked things like Autism, Down Syndrome and ADD/ADHD to celiac disease/gluten intolerance. Or how the GF diet (among other dietary restrictions) can help with managing them. The gluten-free diet has also become that latest “it” diet with people from from all walks of life (non-celiacs) going gluten-free and swearing by how it makes them feel better. There is a lot of debate over whether or not the GF diet is truly beneficial to anyone other than those with celiac, DH or non-celiac gluten intolerance, but I am not one to question how people feel or if a parent sees genuine improvement in their child by going GF. I am not a doctor, medical researcher, etc. so I have nothing scientific to contribute to this other than a humble opinion or two.

I also understand the concern for celiacs (I am one of them) of the gluten-free diet not being taken seriously, or getting lumped in with some kind of new “low carb” diet, and how a restaurant server or fast food worker who does not understand the dire consequences of consuming gluten for people with celiac disease, might be lax and just “pick the croutons out of a pre-made salad” or pick the rogue chicken nugget or onion ring out of the “gluten-free” french fries.

My husband, who does not have to be gluten-free but is for his own personal reasons; swears by the gluten-free diet and how it has made him feel better, have more energy, and lose weight (about 15 lbs.). I do not doubt how he feels, but I do hold him personally responsible for how he explains this to others, and to differentiate his dietary “preferences” from that of Celiac Disease (which he has no problem doing, especially when it comes down to the fact that further perpetuating the misinformation that is already out there can harm his wife and son).

I will also take it a step further by saying it was not the Gluten-Free diet per se, that made Mike feel so much better; but rather what the GF diet excludes (keeping in mind this was prior to Burger King’s new “gluten-free” menu). When Mike went GF, he was no longer grabbing as many McDonald’s or other fast food meals as he possibly could while on his lunch break at work (seriously, it was like he had to stock up just to survive coming home to a GF house for 24 hours!). 😉 I also cook a lot (obviously), and I try to limit (not omit entirely) how many processed foods (like hot dogs) we eat, which further reduces the additives in our diets. Seeing the changes in Mike alone, has lent a lot of credibility (for me) to the documentaries (Food, Inc. and King Corn specifically), and the books I have been reading, like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The information I have been taking in has helped to further open my eyes about how our food is made and the overall health and social consequences of those processes. I cannot help but ponder the possible correlation between the rising prevalence of celiac disease (4 times greater than in the 1950’s) and other food allergies, etc. to processed convenience foods and the scientific changes that have been made in wheat and other genetically modified crops over the years to make those convenience foods. I could be totally wrong but it is certainly something to think about!

Check this out for additives (this is Morgan Spurlock from “Supersize Me“):

Okay, I am done. Back to doing what I do best… cooking! 🙂

Corn-Free Light “Corn” Syrup

So you may be asking why on earth am I making a post on this, especially since we do not have a corn allergy in our house. Well, I am making this post for a few reasons:

1) The documentary King Corn flipped me out. If you are interested, check out the film’s trailer below. Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup are now things that I would like to avoid when I can. Now that I have my gluten-free diet down, I am at the beginning of a new journey to know where our food comes from, and to remove as many processed foods as possible. This recipe is made with granulated sugar, which is processed but I do not know a great deal about all the other more natural forms of sugar yet, or how to cook with them. Baby steps. 🙂

2) I have known many friends over the years who have children that are allergic to or need to avoid corn. Marshmallows are great kid fare: marshmallow cereal treats, Smore’s, Peeps, you name it, but most commercial marshmallows contain corn syrup and or cornstarch. So this is step one towards a corn-free marshmallow that you can make at home. (As I sit here writing this, I just saw another blogger’s post for corn-free marshmallows, where the author used Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is made from cane sugar. I have never heard of this product before, but it might be worth checking into! Here is one other recipe for corn-free/cane sugar-free marshmallows that you might find worthwhile too).

3) I have also known (or known of) a few kiddos that are allergic to beef. I remember when I found out Sam’s old friend, who has EE, was allergic to beef. I had never heard of a meat allergy before! This opened my eyes to ingredients that are derived from beef (corn-fed, I bet! 😉 ), and one of those ingredients is gelatin. The gelatin has nothing to do with corn syrup, I am just leading up to the recipe for corn-free, cow-free marshmallows! 🙂

4) Lastly, I am just fascinated by the science of food. If I could go back in time, I would have changed my degree at Ohio State from Hospitality Management to Food Science. Maybe someday I will go back just for fun, once my kids are “off the payroll!” 😀

So here is the recipe for making your own Light “Corn” Syrup at home and without corn! I found the recipe on website called “Nibbledish.”

Light “Corn” Syrup

2 cups White Sugar (Cane or Beet)

3/4 cup Water

1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar (acts as a stabilizer) (Cream of Tartar is a pure, natural ingredient that’s created as grape juice turns to wine).

Dash of salt (about 1/8 tsp., or a little less. I saw these measuring spoons at Bed, Bath and Beyond the other day and I might just get some!)

  • Combine all ingredients in a heavy, large pan. Stir and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer and put cover on it for 3 minutes to get sugar crystals off the sides of the pan.
  • Uncover and cook until it reaches soft ball stage (I stopped at 230° F. because an earlier trial when I went to 240° F., the syrup solidified rather quickly. I would also recommend getting a digital thermometer over a traditional candy thermometer. They are easier to use in my opinion. I have a digital thermometer by OXO. It has not received great reviews on Amazon, but it has worked well for me over the course of the 2 months that I have had it. I bought it at a local cooking store and had not read the reviews before I purchased it.). Stir often.
  • Cool syrup and store in a covered container at room temperature. It will keep for about 2 months (So far, I have tried two different methods of making this, and this method has worked best; where the syrup stayed in a liquid consistency for a full 24 hours. This morning though, my left over “syrup” had changed to a solid. You might be able to reheat it to change it back to a liquid but I have yet to try this, so I don’t know how well it works. At this time, I would recommend making the syrup as you need it and not in big batches to save for later use. I will keep experimenting and if I find a solution, I will let you know!). Makes almost 2 cups. Use this as a substitute in recipes that call for light corn syrup.

Put all the ingredients into a heavy saucepan.

After reducing heat to a simmer, cover for 3 minutes to get the sugar off the sides of the pan.

Final product, nice and "syrupy!"

Tomato-Free “Marinara” Sauce

This is such a cool recipe! I have not made it in a few years, in fact I forgot about until I made a post and referenced a disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). Sam used to have a playmate with EE and I got the opportunity to play around with different combinations of foods that never would have occurred to me in a million years! Several recipes would have made my stomach churn just by reading the ingredients and this is one of them!

It was trick-or-treat night in 2005 and Sam and his little buddy we’re going out for the first “real” time to beg for goodies (I say “real” time because I took him out the first time when he was 18 days old, but I don’t think that counts! 🙂 ). We wanted to make a little party of it and pizza sounded like a great idea, never mind the fact that this little boy could not have tomatoes, dairy, beef, pork, mushrooms… you name it. If it was a “classic” pizza topping, it was pretty much off limits. Of course, I was too stubborn to just give up there! I made the following sauce and we made pizza with just the sauce and added chopped black olives, no cheese or anything else and it was really good! Think Bruschetta on a pizza crust.

Nothing warms my heart more than to see little sets of eyes light up, especially when those eyes belong to little ones that battle such serious medical issues. Children such as these, who have been through more in one short lifetime than most adults ever go through in 40+ years, remind me of the pure and true joy in life. To make a child a pizza that consists of the following ingredients and to get a reaction greater than if you had bought them the latest “it” toy, is priceless.

I don’t remember where I originally found this recipe but Living Without Magazine has it on their website here. One of the reasons I am making it again is not because I need to stay away from nightshades, but it is a really great way to “sneak” some very powerful vegetables in my family’s diet. While I love pumpkin, beets are another thing altogether! When I see a beet, especially those from a can, all I can think of is going to MCL Cafeteria (Ohio), as a kid with my parents and seeing all the “mature” patrons eating pickled beets with eggs. UFTA!

Ever see these? How does one come to LIKE these??

Please forgive me if you love pickled beets, I am not picking on anyone. 🙂 It’s funny to me how an experience from childhood can still have such a powerful impact on your acceptance of a food! Or even how our food memories of childhood can make a later-in-life celiac diagnosis all the harder to accept (especially if you are “asymptomatic,” like I was, and are not motivated by pain to make the necessary dietary change). I have even tried roasting fresh beets and they still make me think of pickled beets… they (pickled beets) smell like sour dirt to me, plain and simple. Regular beets just smell like regular dirt though. 😀 Never one to give up, and trying to practice what I preach to my kids, “eat them, they are good for you!” I am now applying the same rule to myself. Before, when they would ask why I didn’t eat certain foods that I made them eat, I would just say, “I am done growing so I don’t need (“insert yucky vegetable here“). But now that Sam is 6, he is on to me. I think I actually use the Deceptively Delicious cookbook more for me than my kids! I need to hide certain flavors and smells in order to get them down. This is one of those types of recipes, if you can get past opening the can of beets (think clothespin on your nose).

Tomato-Free Marinara Sauce

1 Onion, finely chopped

1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped, (optional) (I used 2 cloves of garlic)

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Tbs. Fresh Lemon Juice

1 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar (in the end, I ended up adding a little more, maybe a tsp.)

1 (8-ounce) can Beets*, drained (reserve the liquid) (Get your clothespin or hold your breath! 😉 )

1 (14-15 ounce) can Pumpkin Puree (make sure it is not pumpkin pie filling)

1/2-3/4 cups gluten-free Chicken or Vegetable broth (I used Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock)

1 tsp. Coarse Salt

24 grinds Fresh Black Pepper

1/3-1/2 cup Chopped Fresh Basil (I used 1/4 cup dried Basil, plus I added a couple of Tbs. dried Oregano)

1 ½ tsp. Cornstarch or Arrowroot, moistened with 2 Tbs. reserved beet juice

  • Sautee onion and garlic in oil until onion is translucent and slightly brown.
  • Add lemon juice and vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Puree beets until very smooth. (I did this in my food processor, but a blender would be fine too. You will a little liquid to help the pureeing process: use some beet juice or water, maybe 1/4 cup or so)
  • Add pureed beets, pumpkin puree, salt, pepper and basil to pan. Stir until combined.
  • Whisk in the broth. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Do not over-cook; beets discolor with prolonged cooking. If sauce is too thick, add a little more broth to thin.
  • Whisk in the moistened cornstarch (or arrowroot). Cook for 1 more minute. Taste and adjust seasoning.

*TIP: If you prefer, you can use fresh beets. Roast them in the oven until soft and puree them in a food blender before adding to recipe.

TIP: If the sauce seems too acidic, add a teaspoon or two of sugar. (I added about a tsp. of Agave Nectar instead of sugar)

Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil.

Add balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except the beet juice slurry).

I had to include this photo, the colors were so pretty!

In case you are new to cooking: Never add a starch (cornstarch, tapioca starch, potato starch, arrowroot or sweet potato starch) directly to hot liquid! You will get unsightly little balls of starch: not good. 🙂 Make a slurry first with cool or room temperature liquid, then add to the hot ingredients.

Now the starch is ready to be added to the hot mixture.

Voila! This is a beautiful deep maroon color, with not a peep of beet flavor in it! YEA!!!

This is really good, all my guys liked it too, and could not guess what was actually in it! WOO-HOO! I am going to use this sauce for a couple of things this weekend and will hopefully get the recipes up next week!

I found some really interesting stuff on Nightshade allergies, so if you are interested, check out this.