Ambrosia Salad

ambrosia title

As much as I am interested in new food trends, there are a few classics–especially those that I grew up with–that will always have a special place on my table.  As a child of the ’90s, some of these dishes waver on that edge of decidedly old-school, especially as we look at cold salads.  Ambrosia is one of those.  I am seeing this creamy fruit salad less and less these days, but, in my mind, ambrosia is one of those quintessential summer dishes.  Due to the lack of vegetables and the inclusion of fruit, it was a universal favorite in my house while I was growing up.  It also made an impression on our extended family (here is the recipe, finally, Lizzie!)  Ambrosia was always a true sign of summer (even though, using the canned options, it can be made almost any time of year that grapes are in stores).

ambrosia fruit

I’ve sampled a few ambrosia salads at various barbecues, either a store-bought salad or by someone else’s recipe.  And I was always disappointed, if not disgusted.  They were always horribly sweet.  There are rules about Ambrosia Salad (in my adamant opinion! 😉 ).  Rule #1: no maraschino cherries.  Listen.  I love maraschino cherries.  Especially the un-natural, bright-red ones.  A visit to any fro-yo place usually ends with most of my money paying for at least one extra ounce of weight made up entirely of half a dozen maraschino cherries.  However, they do not belong in ambrosia salad.  The juice makes it all vaguely pink and the flavor just doesn’t fit.  No maraschinos.  Rule #2: no vanilla.  This is often linked to the third and most important rule: Rule #3: don’t cover the fruit with a sweet topping.  I’ve tried this dish made with whipped cream, cool whip, vanilla yogurt….all of those options will leave your teeth aching and your mouth crying out for water from the sugar.  The marshmallows and the coconut and, you know, all the fruit, provide plenty of sweetness.  Even vanilla extract adds a heaviness to the salad.  You just don’t need it.

In adhering to rule #3, I will finally admit the ingredient that may give you pause.  Yes, the topping that mixes everything together into creamy goodness is…. sour cream.  Gasp!  I know!  Just reminiscent enough of those terrible 1950s recipes calling for mayo and shrimp and jello and other horrors to make you stop and reconsider.  But hear me out:  Sour cream is great here.  The tang balances the sweetness of every other ingredient and after a couple of hours, the marshmallows break down into soft little pockets and the sugar on the outside of the marshmallows has blended with the cream to make the whole thing perfectly sweet.  Yes, I suppose I would allow swapping plain yogurt for the sour cream, if it really rattles you.  But let’s be honest with each other.  Sour cream achieves a texture of delightfully-creamy-without-being-heavy that no other dairy product can.  Greek yogurt would be too thick and heavy, regular yogurt would be too watery, especially combined with the juicy fruit.  Sour cream is the best option.  Just don’t think about it too much and do me a favor: try it with sour cream first.  Trust me.

ambrosia close

I was delighted, in fourth grade, when I started learning about Greek mythology, to learn that ambrosia was the food of the Gods.   Having had this dish for many summers, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate to feed Athena, Artemis, Zeus, and Apollo. So try it out…it is the food of the gods, after all!  Not to mention a really great addition to any barbecue or potluck and the perfect option for a summer evening!

ambrosia mixed

Ambrosia Salad

Serves 6-8 | Prep time: 10 min. + resting | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. crushed pineapple, drained (or 1 c. fresh, finely chopped)*
  • 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 c. shredded coconut (sweetened is traditional, but unsweetened would be fine)
  • 1 c. grapes (red or green), slice in half
  • 3/4 to 1 c. sour cream**

*My pineapple is fresh, but chopped too large in these photos.  As soon as I took a bite, I knew I should have chopped it much finer, when using it fresh.

**Depending on how juicy the fruit is, you may need less or more.  Gently fold in the smaller amount first, and then decide if you need the rest.

Combine the fruit, marshmallows, and coconut in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sour cream, being careful not to break up the mandarin orange pieces too much.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.

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Chocolate-Peanut-Butter & Coconut-Caramel Knock-off Cookies

Can you guess what I’ve been working on?  Its is the season of delectable cookies sold by a certain leadership group for girls.  A delicious season.  Just when we begin to recover from the Christmas candy and the cookie swaps, these little babies come knocking.  Only, now, I can’t answer.  Last was not so bad.  I was still in school and it was ignore the delectable bites when they weren’t in my kitchen. But this year, I am back home.  And the rest of the family can eat those cookies.  Several boxes appeared in my pantry, and I knew I was facing the inevitable.  I needed some cookies.  So I had to make them.

I used the recipes from Nicole at Baking Bites.  As you can see, she already has a lovely collection of knock-off recipes.  Including a gluten-free Thin Mints recipe.  But if you look closely at my (unfortunately dim) photo, I didn’t make Thin Mints.  I intended to.  They were third on the list.  But I won’t mislead you:  these cookies are a little labor intensive.  The taste is worth it, absolutely, and a double batch (one for each cookie) made over six dozen cookies.  Thats right.  One batch makes three dozen delectable morsels of nostalgia.  So if you can find the time to put in the elbow work of rolling, baking, filling, and dipping; you won’t be disappointed.

Look at all that melting chocolate…

I want to point something out from the get-go:  The recipe for these cookies uses (A) a store-bought All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour (Bob’s Red Mill) and (B) that blend contains bean flour.  I know the controversies of bean flour in gluten-free baking.  I’ll readily admit, I hate the smell of raw bean flours, and made the mistake of tasting the dough.  Please don’t.  That metallic-penny grit haunts my dreams. Seriously.

But, when baked, that taste and smell disappears entirely.  And, the bean flour in this mix makes the dough very pliable.  That is worth it in such an involved process for these cookies.  Mixing, rolling, and cookies out the cookies was an absolute breeze!  Plus, I had a bag of Bob’s Red Mill GF AP flour languishing in my pantry (a thoughtful purchase from someone trying to help…I couldn’t tell them I usually wasn’t fond of it).   As far as the “Bean Flour Bloat”, I’ve never had any issues resulting from bean flour.  And, if you think about it, we probably shouldn’t be eating enough of these cookies at once to have that much of an effect on our systems.  If you absolutely do not want to use a bean flour mix, I would suggest trying a baking mix with some elasticity–I’ve found that Soy Flour is the next best choice in that area.  Unfortunately, I haven’t worked with it enough to give measurements for a good mix.

My modifications were directly in the cookie dough, and I used the same dough for both the Tagalong- and the Samoa-knockoffs.

I used Nicole’s filling without any modifications.  Please follow the link above to find those.

Knock-off Cookie Base

  • -1 cup butter, softened
  • -3/4 cup sugar
  • -1 3/4 cup all purpose flour mix (Bob’s Red Mill GF)
  • -1/4 tsp baking powder
  • -1/2 tsp salt
  • -1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • -1/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flour mix, baking powder, salt) until thoroughly combined.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light, fluffy, and completely incorporated (the mixture will turn faintly yellow).  Beat in vanilla extract and milk, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Slowly add in dry ingredients, mixing well.  The dough should not be too sticky, and should be malleable.

Roll dough out to 1/8-1/4in thickness between two pieces of well-floured parchment paper.  Cut into 1-1 1/2 in circles.  Gather scraps and re-roll, continue cutting out circles.  If dough becomes too soft, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.   Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  The cookies will not spread in the oven.  Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until they begin to brown.  Browning will be very slight, as the dough contains no eggs.

Allow cookies to cool completely, and follow Nicole’s instructions for filling/topping/dipping in the link above.

I’d say they look pretty close to the originals!

Christmas Cookie Round-up

So I missed the sense of posting these recipes before the holidays so that you could also make them.  My deepest apologies, as these recipes were quite successful in my book.  For my first year (truly) tackling holiday baking sans gluten, I couldn’t be more thankful that each of the seven recipes I made panned out.  I’ll admit I was  little nervous and more than a little crazy.  At the end of it all, I made 25 dozen cookies!  I might scale things down a little next year.  But I’m putting all of these up now (with unfortunately scant pictures, they were all gifted away or eaten before I remembered to take individual pictures of them) so that you and I can file them away for next year, or for that Tuesday in June when an insatiable craving for wintry flavors overtakes you.

First round of baking (clockwise from top right): Lemon Tea Cookies; Frosted Gingerbread Cookies; Turtle Cookies; Lemon Bars (the Tea Cookies reformed); Almond slices; Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti; Gingerbread, Turtle & Lemon cookie overflow.  The ‘Twix’ bars and macaroons didn’t even make it into the photo!

My common sense lasted long enough to decide to use the same basic flour mix

  • 2 parts white rice flour
  • 1 part tapioca starch
  • 1/2 tsp xanthum gum per cup

 for almost all of the cookies.  Mix up a large batch of the blend now, it’ll be much easier than trying for the math come mixing time!  For the almond slices, I punched up the flavor by adding almond meal, and the Twix bars and Coconut macaroons used minimal-to-no flour.  But for all of the others, this is the blend I used.  But enough chatter.  Onto the (multitude of) recipes!

Lemon Tea Cookies

I adapted Food.com’s recipe, making them gluten-free and upping the lemon factor.  There is no such thing as too much lemon!

Cookies:

  • -1 2/3 c. (233 g.) GF flour blend  (or: 78g/about 2/3 c. tapioca starch, 156g/about 1 c. white rice flour, 3/4 tsp xanthum gum)
  • -1 cup butter, softened
  • -1/3 c. powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • -few drops pure lemon extract

Filling:-2/3 c. granulated sugar

  • -4 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • -3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • -1 Tbsp. butter
  • -1 tsp. cornstarch
  • -1/4 tsp. salt
  • -1 extra-large egg, beaten

In large bowl, beat butter, powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla until well blended. Stir in flour blend until dough forms. The dough will be crumbly.  Feel free to toss aside your spoon and mix with your hands until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Shape dough into 1″ balls.  Place balls 2″ apart on cookie sheet and use your thumb to make indentations into each cookie. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden.  I’ve found that gluten-free thumbprint cookies often puff up their indentations.  Take a tablespoon or teaspoon measuring spoon (whichever size is more appropriate) and repress the indentation when cookies are removed from the oven.  Allow cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack.  The cookies will be very delicate.

In a saucepan, combine all filling ingredients and stir constantly over low heat, for about 20-25 minutes, until thickened.  Cool about 15 minutes.  Spoon filling into cookie wells, dust with additional powdered sugar.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Variation: To make Lemon Bars: press refrigerated dough into a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, until golden.  Make filling as instructed and pour over cooked crust.  Cook layered bar in 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes, until edges of filling begin to brown.  Cool, dust with powdered sugar.

 

Gingerbread Cookies

I’ll be honest: I intended for these to be Shauna’s Soft Molasses Cookies, without any modifications.  But somehow, between my kitchen-scale-less math, my 1.5-ing the recipe’s amount, and my own tendency to play, they turned out much like gingerbread, dense and chewy, and showcased far more ginger than molasses.  This is the recipe I worked most heavily with by weight, which warranted a lot of math, but it is much easier with my new kitchen scale!  I’ve included the approximate cup breakdown as best as I can.

  • -2 3/4 c. + 1 Tbsp (400g.) GF Flour blend (1 1/2 c. + 3 Tbsp White Rice Flour, 1 c. + 2 Tbsp Tapioca Starch, 1 1/2 tsp. xanthum gum)-1 tsp. salt
  • -1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • -1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • -2 tsp. ground (dry) ginger
  • -1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • -2 sticks of butter, softened
  • -1/2 c. white sugar
  • -1/2 c. molasses
  • -2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely minced.
  • -2 eggs
  • -1/4 c. crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Whisk together all dry ingredients in medium bowl.  Cream butter and sugar in large bowl.  Add molasses, then fresh ginger, then eggs, one at a time; taking the time to fully incorporate each addition. Slowly add in dry ingredient mix, again, taking time to fully incorporate each portion of dry ingredients.  Fold in crystallized ginger.  Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Roll dough into 1″- 2″ balls, then press onto cookie sheet with palm to slightly flatten.  Bake for 12-14 minutes.

Mix 1/2 c. powdered sugar with 2-4 Tbsp milk and 1 tsp vanilla extract to make frosting.  The frosting should be soft enough to puddle after it is spread on top of the cooled cookies, but thick enough not to drip down the edges.  It should dry stiff, but not too hard, on top of the cookies.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size of cookies.

These almond cookies are an old family recipe, one of those yearly constants whose smell and taste scream “Christmas”.  Spicy and nutty, they were also the very first adaptation I tried after discovering I had to give up gluten.  These are great freezer cookies-make a batch, wrap into logs, and freeze one to slice and bake when unexpected company arrives.  Add a few minutes to the bake time, and you can even bake the cookies without thawing.

Spicy Almond Slice Cookies

I used almond flour in these cookies to up the nut flavor.  You can replace the almond flour with an additional 3/4 c. + 1 Tbsp of the GF Flour blend.

  • -1 c. (112 g.) almond flour
  • -2 1/2 c. + 1 Tbsp. (350 g.) GF Flour blend (or: 1 1/2 c + 1 Tsbp White Rice Flour, 1 c. Tapioca Flour, 1 tsp xanthum gum)-1 c. butter, softened
  • -1 c. granulated sugar
  • -3/4 c. brown sugar
  • -1 Tbs. cinnamon
  • -3/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • -1 tsp. baking soda
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -1/2 tsp salt
  • -2 extra large eggs
  • -2 c. sliced almonds.

In  medium bowl, whisk almond flour with GF flour blend.  In large bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, vanilla, nutmeg, salt, eggs, and 2 cups of flour mix until well-mixed.  With wooden spoon, stir in remaining 1 1/2 (+ 1 Tsbp) flour and sliced almonds.  Dough will be very stiff, use hands to mix if necessary.

Divide dough in half.  Shape each half into 10″x3″x1″ log, wrap each in wax paper or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 1 week.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut brick into 1/4″ slices.  Place slices 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes until browned around edges.  Cool on wire rack.  Store tightly covered.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

In addition to copious amounts of math, I undertook the imposing task of my first batch of biscotti, without a proper pan and gluten-free at that.  I turned to Nicole at Gluten-free On A Shoestring for the know-how.

Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti

I adapted these from Nicole’s Dairy-free Chocolate Almond Biscotti.  I knew I wanted a mint element for one type of cookie, as it is such a quintessential ‘winter-taste’ for me.  The chocolate drizzle and white-chocolate-based peppermint bits nix the dairy-free factor, but the cookies themselves are still dairy-free.

  • -1 1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp (196 g.) GF Flour mix
  • -1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • -1 tsp. baking powder
  • -1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • -1/2 tsp. salt
  • -1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • -3 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • -3 Tbsp. canola oil
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • -3/4 c. chocolate chips (I found a mix of peppermint chips and dark chocolate chips that worked perfectly)
  • -2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  In large bowl, mix all dry ingredients except chips and cornstarch.  Add eggs, oil, peppermint extract, and vanilla, mix for several minutes until batter is smooth.  In small separate bowl, combine chocolate chips and cornstarch.  Stir to coat.  Add mixture to batter and stir until well combined.

Pour dough into a biscotti pan (preferred) or into a greased 9×13 pan. Shake the pan to even out dough, and smack bottom on countertop to release air bubbles.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm(ish).  Turn down heat to 300 degrees F and remove pan.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then run knife around edges to release loaf.  Allow to cool completely in pan, then turn out onto cutting board.  If baked in biscotti pan, slice crosswise about 3/4″-1″ thick.  If using 9×13″ pan, slice loaf in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into 1″ slices.  Place slices two inches apart and return to oven.  Bake about 20 minutes until dry and crunchy.  Allow to cool entirely.

Melt 1/2 c. chocolate chips.  Stir in 1 tsp. canola oil and 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract (optional).  Drizzle over cooled biscotti. (I tried the dipping method like fancy coffee shops, but it was messy and not as pretty.  Sprinkle with peppermint bits or crushed peppermint candies.  Allow to cool.  Store tightly covered.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

I’ve actually never made these turtle cookies with regular flour, but my tweaking the gluten-free version has improved with each time I make them.  I’ve also made nut-free batches, without rolling the cookies in anything, but, if you can eat them, nothing beats this delicious chocolate-caramel-pecan combo.

Turtle Cookies

Adapted from Bree’s recipe.

  • -1 egg
  • -1/2 cup butter, softened
  • -2/3 cup sugar
  • -2 tablespoons milk
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -1 cup GF flour blend (2/3 c. White Rice Flour, 1/3 cup Tapioca Starch, 1/2 tsp. Xanthum gum)
  • -1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • -1/4 teaspoon salt
  • -1 1/4 finely chopped pecans
  • -16 caramels
  • -3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • -1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • -1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Separate the egg.  Reserve both parts.  Cream together butter and sugar in large bowl.  Whisk together flour blend, salt, and cocoa powder in separate bowl.  Beat vanilla, egg yolk, and milk into butter and sugar mixture.  Stir in flour mixture until just combined.  Cover and chill for 2 hours, up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  While oven is heating, roll dough into 1″ balls.  Whip reserved egg white until frothy.  Place pecans in separate bowl.  Dip dough balls into egg white and then roll in pecans.  Place 2″ apart on baking sheet and use thumb or tablespoon measure to press indentation into center of cookie.  Bake about 10-12 minutes until set.  Repress wells in cookies if necessary.  Cool on wire rack set on parchment paper.

Melt caramels and cream together in microwave or double boiler, stirring frequently.  Fill cookie wells with liquid caramel, let cool.

Melt chocolate chips with vegetable oil in microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until fully melted and mixed.  Use a fork to drizzle chocolate over cooled, filled cookies.  Let set.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.

These “Twix” bars are another classic in my house.  Originally only made at Christmas, over the years, we have been more successful at convincing my mother to make it more often, until we were finally able to make them ourselves.  These are incredibly easy cookies, and cheap, for folks who can eat gluten.  Gluten-free prices make it a little more costly, but this recipe is also very forgiving to substitutions.

“Twix” Bars

Feel free to play with the components of this recipe.  The cracker base provides a wonderful salty-sweet combination, and the graham-cracker caramel has a more distinctive taste, but, if you have a reliable recipe for sturdy caramel, feel free to use it in place of the caramel.  Nut allergy?  Swap in some soy butter, or make a simple ganache in place of the chocolate-peanutbutter top.

  • -2 boxes table crackers (find some similar to Saltines or Club crackers, preferably squared or rectangular)
  • -1 c. graham cracker crumbs (buy a box of GF grahams or make your own to crush up)
  • -3/4 c. brown sugar
  • -1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • -1/3 c. milk
  • -1/2 c. butter
  • -1 c. chocolate chips
  • -2/3 c. peanut butter

Line a buttered 9×13 pan with table crackers, breaking into pieces as necessary to fill bottom.  Heat graham cracker crumbs, sugars, milk, and butter in a saucepan, stirring frequently.  Bring mixture to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, or until thickened.  Pour over crackers, spread to corners if necessary.  Put on another layer of crackers.  Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter until liquid.  Spread over crackers.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Cut into bars and refrigerate for another hour, until set.  Serve chilled.

Makes 2 dozen bars.

I made coconut macaroons from a basic recipe; one I’ve seen all over the web.

Coconut Macaroons

There is such a minimal amount of flour in this recipe, you can use any kind.  I had some coconut flour on hand, and love the thought of purer flavors, so that is what I used.

  • -1 (16 oz) bag flaked coconut
  • -1 (14 oz) can condensed milk (I used fat free without any problems)-1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -2 Tbsp. coconut flour
  • -1/4 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.  Mix coconut flakes and flour in bowl.  Add condensed milk and vanilla extract, stirring until all coconut is coated.  Dropped by rounded tablespoons onto greased baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from baking sheet immediately with thin spatula (cookies will stick if allowed to cool on baking sheet) and transfer to wire rack covered with wax paper.  Allow to cool.  Melt chocolate chips and drizzle over cookies.  Store tightly covered.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen cookies.