Flashback Friday Post Update: Gluten-free Pie Crust

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Hi again, everyone.  I won’t bother asking how your week was, because I don’t really know that I want to talk about it.  At least not yet.  But, like always, the days keep going forward, which means we are getting closer and closer to Thanksgiving.  And what is Thanksgiving without dessert, right?  And what is a more Thanksgiving-worthy dessert than pie?  Maybe cheesecake…but I’m here to talk about my very favorite pie crust, so let’s keep the focus on pie!  Pie crust was one of the very first gluten-free recipes that I mastered.  The keys are: lots of starch to keep things light and to make the perfect mix with the fat (butter) to create a crispy crust.  A dash of vinegar helps too.  And best of all, while I suggest gentle handling while kneading and rolling out the dough, that isn’t quite as crucial.  See, the reason that we are so careful with pie crust is to (1) not melt the fat in the dough and (2) not activate the gluten in the flour.  We’ve removed one of those factors by using gluten-free flours.  No risk of tough, gluten-activated dough here!  Now we can focus on keeping everything chilled and make ourselves some super tasty pie!

Last Thanksgiving I made three pies: Pecan, Apple, and Maple-Nutmeg Custard.  (Don’t worry, my mother made a pumpkin cheesecake, so we fulfilled the pumpkin requirement!)  All three were delicious, but this year we have a ton of guests.  I plan to scale back to give them some room at the dessert table, so I am planning to make a traditional pumpkin pie using this crust.  And maybe a cheesecake, if I can’t help myself.

So here’s the deal with pies.  In general, fruit pies can be made with the dough raw, and the pie dough will bake along with the fruit.  Filled pies (that do not have a top crust), typically, want a par-baked (also known as blind-baked or prebaked) crust first.  Par-baking is nothing to be scared of, just form the bottom shell in your pie pan, place a sheet of parchment over the crust and fill the pie shell with a layer of dry, uncooked beans.  Bake for 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees, then remove the parchment and the beans (careful, they are hot!) and bake for another 5 minutes.  Then your crust is partially baked and much sturdier.  It will hold up better to the liquid, custard type fillings.

So pick your favorite fillings and get planning!  I usually try to cook my desserts one or two days before Thanksgiving, as they will keep.  Then I can warm them up gently, if needed, while we eat dinner!

Check out my recipe for Gluten-Free Pie Crust!

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Cake Mix Hack: Gluten-Free “Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

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I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend!  We jumped down to North Carolina for an overnight, to see our friends.  It was great to catch up with all of them and we had breakfast at the Saxapahaw General Store before heading back.  I’ve gushed about my love for this tiny strip of town before, and each year, it gets a little better and a little crunchier–in the best of ways. 😉  Now, in addition to the General Store, the cute industrial apartments, and performing space + Coffee Shop by day/Bar by night venue, Saxapahaw has added a butcher’s shop and a shared-space work studio.  I love this focus on community and local goods!  As for breakfast, M got the usual Coconut-Braised Pork Sandwich (which is still on my list to properly recreate at home!) and I had the brunch special: Eggs Salmon Florentine.  The staff assured me that if was gluten-free, so I was expecting a lighter version of Eggs Benedict Florentine.  You know, some kind of bread, layers of spinach and salmon topped with an egg and their “lemon and caper sauce”.  Instead, in this dish, there wasn’t any bread at all.  The spinach and over-medium eggs were resting on top of a salmon fillet!  It was delicious, and way more protein than I expected.

As for Monday, I had a meeting in the afternoon, so I missed what may have been the highlight of the summer: taking Punc to our community’s “Pool Pawty”.  Each year, the day before they close up the pool, our apartment complex allows the neighborhood to bring their dogs in to swim and play.  Our complex is great at these kind of parties, so M came back with a ton a gift bags full of dog treats, bones, tennis balls, and other swag.  It was pretty awesome!  While she didn’t enjoy the water, Punc did get a doggie massage and a pupcake.  Best of all, she got along with all of the other dogs!

M wasn’t able to take her hiking as often this summer, since it was so hot.  Our area has set a new record for the number of 90+ degree days in July and August.  Ugh.  I am definitely ready for the cooler Fall weather!  So it’s been nice to have this Pool Pawty and playdates with our friends’ dogs to fill in that exercise gap for Punc.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this weekend is our last heatwave, so we can start to settle into Fall.  I know M is itching to hike again, as well.

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Today, I am back with another cake mix hack!  They served me so well throughout the summer, being fairly quick and far less fussy than baking a cake from scratch.  I’m still on the search for my “one” cake flour mix.  But, I’m also starting to lean more towards the less sweet pound cake styles.  You know, not quite a quick bread, but not quite a cake.  So maybe I’ll keep my cake mix hacks in my back pocket for occasions that call for frosting and wrappers and all that jazz; and stay content with my simpler options for “everyday” cakes.  These cookies and cream cupcakes have a tasty surprise when you unwrap them: a whole “oreo” cookie at the bottom of each cupcake!  The chocolate cakes are even more fun, because the cake really hides the cookie until you take a bite of the cupcake.

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“Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

Serves 12

For the Cupcake

  • 1 box Gluten-free yellow or chocolate cake mix + additional ingredients listed on the back of the package*
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 (1/2 of a box) “oreo” style gluten-free chocolate wafer, creme-filled cookies**
  • Optional: the filling from 6 additional cookies (save the chocolate cookies for decoration)

For the Frosting

  • 4 oz (half a package) of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) of butter, softened
  • 2-3 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. crushed “oreo” style cookies (about 10-12 cookies)
  • Optional: 12 individual chocolate cookies leftover from the creme removed for the cupcake batter, for decoration

*I used Aldi’s GFree yellow cake brand, which calls for 3 eggs, 2/3 c. milk, and 1/2 c. oil per box

**I used Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Jo-Jo cookies

Make the cupcakes

Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the Cake Mix box.  Fill a cupcake pan with paper cupcake cups and drop one whole “oreo”-style cookie into the bottom of each paper liner.

Remove the inside filling from six cookies, being careful to keep the chocolate wafers intact.  Heat briefly in the microwave to soften, then mix with the liquids called for on the package–if a liquid fat (like oil or melted butter) is called for, this is the best ingredient to mix with the creme filling.  Mix the dry and wet ingredients as instructed on the packaging.  Be sure to include the extra vanilla extract as you mix in the wet ingredient.  Scoop the prepared batter over the cookies in each cup, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake as directed on the packaging.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

Leave the cream cheese and butter on the counter as the cupcakes bake and cool, to allow both to soften.  Whip the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract on low speed until the mixture is uniform and soft.  Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar, one half-cup at a time, whipping until fully incorporated.  After adding 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, add in the crushed cookies and mix well.  If the mixture is still soft, continue to add in the additional confectioner’s sugar in 1/2 cup measures.  When the mixing blade or whisk is removed, the frosting should be almost at a stiff peak–the mixture stands straight up from where the whisk was pulled away (if the very tip of the peak falls, that is okay, but the whole peak shouldn’t slump).  Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.  Favor a higher pile in the middle, which allows you to sink on of the reserved chocolate wafers upright into the frosting as garnish.


Martha Washington Candy & a Christmas Cookie Round-up

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I hope everyone is relaxing into the holidays!  I am, finally.  We are in Colorado for Christmas with my mother’s side of the family and it has been so nice to sit and do next-to-nothing for the two days since we arrived.  I’m planning another nap before M arrives tomorrow afternoon, since we have a long list of sights to see in the city.  I grew up with yearly visits to Colorado, so places like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Silence are near and dear to my heart.  My siblings and I always needed to visit the statue of the wolf pack out in front of the museum, and we gave each of the wolves names when we were young.  It has been almost three years since I have visited, so I am quite excited to revisit the old familiar sites and see what updates have been made.

As usual, we are still unearthing different treasures around the “Big House”.  This is the name our family has given to my grandparents’ house, where my cousin now lives.  There are still plenty of objects of my grandparents still around the house, waiting to be fully investigated.  The last time we visited, we found a pile of old photos that were pretty key to my family history research.  I might try to look through some of my grandparents books, or see if my cousin has rustled up any more photos.

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In the meantime, I wanted to get out one last minute recipe for holiday sweets, and link up some of my earlier Christmas cookie posts.  I’ve fallen somewhat out of the habit of posting in the last hectic weeks.  During November, every spare minute went to participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I won, which means I wrote over 50,000 words in just thirty days!  I am astonished on how much I wrote on so little plot (I tossed aside my original story idea the day before NaNo started, and began with an entirely fresh, unplanned story).  Oh man, is 50,000 words time-consuming, though.  No time for blogging or vacuuming, for sure.  I barely kept dinner on the table and laundry in line (I may not have kept laundry in line, actually…I think M has been really good at picking up my slack).

The start of December brought the crucial prep-time for our winter performances, which remained all consuming until just a few days before we flew out to Colorado.  M has a showing that runs up until today, so he cannot even join us until Christmas Eve.  Such is the life in the performing arts industry.  We provide the holiday entertainment, which means working right up to the holidays.  So it will be a very welcome break after Christmas, when we can slow down for a while with friends and family.  All of the siblings have finally come together for Christmas.  Though, in truth, I have been the one away, spending the last two Christmases with M’s family.  It will nice to have the three of us together, now that we are old enough to (mostly) stop bickering and enjoy one another’s company.

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I am working on a slightly limited pantry up here, since I do not want to fill my cousin’s house with all sorts of GF flours.  Colorado is a bit of a GF mecca, which I am truly enjoying, so I grabbed some White Rice Flour and Tapioca Starch at the local grocery and will be making due with that basic mix while I am here.  I might try my hand at making a Yule Log cake with the Rice Flour Genoise cake from Flavor Flours.  I love that most of the recipes only use one type of flour, so I wrote down the recipe to bring with me.  Of course, if I attempt the Yule Log cake, I’ll have to also make meringue mushrooms to nestle amongst the cranberries and rosemary garnish!  I’m hoping that the high-altitude won’t foil my baking too much.

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I will also be making a huge batch of my Swedish meatballs for Christmas Eve dinner.  Christmas day means a full breakfast with my great-grandmother’s Scrapple recipe, and ham for dinner.  E wants to make Derby Pie, so I will help her to make it GF.  If you need a simple recipe to round out your cookie platter, why not make a batch of these Martha Washington Candies?  These coconut-pecan bites taste a bit like almond joys and are naturally GF.  They are also a “candy” that doesn’t require the use of a candy thermometer, if the thought of watching temperatures makes you nervous.

I don’t know where this recipe came from.  My mother has been making Martha Washingtons forever.  A little Google research shows that these candies are pretty traditional in the south.  Perhaps it survives through my grandfather’s family, who came from Kansas.  Maybe it is a recipe that was picked up from a family friend.  However it arrived, these Martha Washingtons are here to stay–we love the sweet, coconut-y treats.

If this candy isn’t quite to your taste, you could also try: Triple Gingerbread CookiesCoconut Macaroons, “Twix” Bar cookies, Turtle Cookies, Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti, Lemon Tea Cookies, Spicy Almond Slices, or Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars.

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Martha Washington Candies

Serves: 36-48 candies | Prep time: 25-30 minutes (plus 2+ hours chilling time) | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 1 bag of shredded coconut (about 14-16 oz)
  • 1 1/2 boxes powdered sugar
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • optional: 1/2 bar of paraffin wax*
  • optional: white chocolate or other garnishes

*The paraffin wax will make the chocolate coating shiny and keep it from getting too sticky at room temperature.  I did not use any wax for the candies pictured, because I knew I could keep them refrigerated until serving.  If these candies will be at room temperature for a long time, I would recommend using the wax.  Paraffin wax is edible and nontoxic. 

Line a pan with wax paper.  In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, nuts, shredded coconut, sugar, and condensed milk until uniformly mixed. It should be very hard to stir.  If is seems to easy, add more sugar or coconut until the mixture is stiff.  Scoop out about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and roll in your palms to form into balls.  Place on the lined pan. Chill the formed candies for at least two hours. Melt the chocolate (and paraffin, if using) in double boiler, then use a fork or a toothpick to dip balls into chocolate. Return the chocolate covered candies to the lined pan and refrigerate until firm.  You can add any ‘drizzle-type’ garnishes, like my white chocolate, after the outer shell has chilled.  If you wanted to use sprinkles, I would recommend adding those before the chocolate shell is refrigerated, so that the decorations stick to the chocolate.

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Pumpkin-Coconut Custard

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Hello, hello!  Long time, no see.  I know, that’s all my fault of course. I have been distracted by a couple of projects this month, not the least of which is preparing for yet another showcase weekend swiftly approaching in mid-December.   I am 99% certain that all of the set is sketched out.  Since we are using foam board to create replaceable-facing style of set, it is possible that I missed one of the 48 piece of foam board that I am using to create the set.  I will find out soon enough–I’ve started piecing it all together and hope to get to painting next week.  I’m also on sound duty, though two of the shows are a little too intensive for me to go at creating them alone.  I’ll have to take advantage of M’s expertise there.  I’m thinking every small-company, multiple-hat-wearing theater administrator should have an audio engineer for a boyfriend.  They are exceedingly useful!

This week has been a little bit of an extra battle.  Every showcase for, at least, the last year-and-a-half of my two-ish years of stage managing our showcases, inevitably, I break on in hives on my face.  Typically, I get them in the last week or two and I am left with an itchy face all weekend.  This season, they’ve come early, at four weeks out from performance.  Worse, the temperature dropped at the same time, hovering in the thirties.  I’ve worn no make-up all week.  I picked up some hydrocortisone cream, but that actually made it worse.  I woke up red and stinging.  So, I’ve been reduced to dabbing tea tree oil and aloe vera, as that seems to be all that my skin can withstand while it is so cold and dry outside.  I’d nearly gotten rid of the hive, just to have them flair up again.  I am hoping some rest during the holiday break will be enough stress-relief to clear them all up.

Punc is also really disliking the cold, so at least I have company in my misery.  As a notorious seat-stealer, but anti-cuddler, Punc has thrown all of her rules out the window for the winter.  She sneaks up onto our bed in the early morning and wriggles up into the warm spot in between the two of us.  Whenever either of us sits down, she is quick to climb up beside us, making enough contact to start stealing body heat.  I’ve been thinking about getting her another coat, since she is looking pitiful so much more often these days.  The only one we have right now is a big, bulky coat that makes her look like a cosmonaut.  It works wonderfully for walks, but is a little inhibiting to wear around the house.  All in all, I don’t think I will have a puppy who is fully happy again until Spring.

M and I have finally figured out Thanksgiving.  We knew we would be sticking close to home, due to his work schedule, but we will be having dinner with his mum and whomever else we can get to join us.  I’ll be bringing my Knock-off Pepperidge Farms Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing.  I will be following that recipe, plus adding 3/4 c. each of whole cranberries and roughly-chopped, peeled chestnuts.  I tried this combo last Thanksgiving and it was fantastic!  Tart cranberries and soft, cozy chestnuts contrast perfectly against the herby cornbread backdrop.  I’ll also be using my Favorite Gluten-Free Pie Crust to make an apple pie and a pumpkin pie (unless I decide to make pumpkin cheesecake, or even this custard!).  M requested I make Popovers, which I think are the perfect roll for Thanksgiving: light and airy.  Who wants to fill up on rolls with the decadence of an entire Thanskgiving feast on the table?  Popovers are a nice compliment, without feeling so heavy.  It’ll be nice to have a low-key Thanksgiving Day.  I don’t even know if I will be going out for Black Friday shopping.  I may find something that I just have to purchase, but at the moment, I can’t think of anything.  This is also my very first paid holiday, which is pretty exciting!  I even managed to pay off one of my student loans in this first month on full-time salary!  Hurray!  I’m still working on creating my first true budget, now that I can plan with a steady income, but I’m getting there.  Baby steps, right?

Anyways, amidst all these projects, I decided to try eating semi-paleo (no grains, no dairy, no legumes) for a week.  This is a pretty huge challenge, though I tried not to think about it.  I pretty much subsist on yogurt and cheese.  So, as you might expect…I lasted 3 days.  I know that it wasn’t long enough to truly reset, but I didn’t notice any difference either way.  Eating a big bowl of cheesy pasta when I finally broke had no adverse effects.  Sure, it wasn’t a true test, but I was mostly seeing if I could actually manage to eat grain-free and dairy-free.  Obviously not.  I also found myself consuming a lot more sweeteners, which probably is not acceptable on paleo.  I am also sure that the only way that I survived was making this Coconut-Pumpkin Custard on day #1.  It soon became dessert and breakfast, and is a dish I will certainly make again.

This dish is pretty plain to look at, but the smooth coconut paired with the sweet flavor of lightly-spiced pumpkin is a match made in heaven!

Pumpkin-Coconut Custard

  • 2 c. pureed pumpkin*
  • 1 14 oz can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

*Canned is fine, but I used scratch-made pumpkin puree (1 sugar/pie pumpkin split in half and roasted at 425 degrees F for 40 minutes. Scoop out the seeds and discard.  Cool pumpkin, then scoop the flesh out of the pumpkin skin and puree until smooth in a food processor) because I had a sugar pumpkin on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch (for a thinner custard) or a 9 x 9 inch (for a thicker custard) casserole dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, maple syrup, and sugar.  Stir in coconut milk until thoroughly combine.  Then add pumpkin puree, all spices, and vanilla extract.  Mix well.  Pour in greased dish and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the custard jiggles slightly, but is not liquid at the center of the dish.

Serve warm or cold, by itself or with whipped coconut cream, or with ice cream.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Bars (and an unexpected nomination)

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Did you know that I am a finalist for “Best Mom Blogger” in Washington Family Magazine’s 2014 “Best For Families” Awards?  Yeah, that took me by surprise, too.  While I am honored to be in the ranks alongside The Bloggess, The Pioneer Woman, Honest Toddler, and Momastery (the winner)…as you may or may not have noticed, I am not a mom.  Nor do I plan on becoming one anytime soon.  No babies, thank you very much.

The WFM’s “Best For Families” Awards span a huge amount of categories, covering all facets of family life.  My company is eligible for several of these categories, and have won the awards in the past (and we won this year, hurray!)  However, gathering the votes is based primarily on a huge write-in paper ballot (as the WFM’s online ballot is notoriously finicky).  We often make these paper ballots available to our friends, family, and customers if they would like to fill one out.  And my mother did just that.  And her friends did just that.  And (possibly) my friends did just that.  Since a certain percentage of these ballots must be filled out to make the ballot valid, we are often spent picking one another brains–“Has anyone gone to an allergist?”  “Anybody know a good tutoring service?”–to fill in enough categories.  This reason is why my boss and other members of our staff have been nominated for several odd categories: “Best Interior Designer”, “Best Electrician”, “Local Hero”, “Person You Wish Would Run For Preseident”.  Blanks needed filling, and people got a little silly.  I suppose now it is my turn.  As the only blogger some of my acquaintances know, presumably the “Mom” part of the category was ignored..  (Thanks, Mom.)  To wind down this story, if, by some coincidence, you have found your way here through the WFM’s BFF Awards, I am sorry to disappoint you on the lack of “Mom” status.  I can offer you delicious gluten-free food, but no commiseration or celebration of life’s joys with little ones.  Wait!  I have a dog…does that count?

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Finalist-status aside, M and I are on the road again, taking a meandering route down to North Carolina for his nephew’s birthday.  We’ll spend a few days at the beach on our way down.  This will be our last chance to get away before our work schedules return full swing.  It’ll be nice to meander and take our time as we go down the coast.  If the weather holds, we will try to get out to kayak!  I went kayaking for the first time on our cruise in January and loved it!  M has been kayaking since he was young, so it would be great to have a chance to go out again.  M’s nephew is having a water party.  With five year olds as the main attendees, I expect a lot of chaotic fun!  North Carolina also means a visit to Saxapahaw, our favorite tiny strip of town.  After coffee, we will poke around the general store to see if we can find any fun local products.  This time, finally, we will be prepared with a cooler for transport back home.  Last trip, I was a little concerned for the local steaks that we found.  They had been frozen, so they just barely made it home while still cold…

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Many, many weeks ago, before camp, I mentioned some rhubarb bars.  They are made with the same base crust and crumble as my Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars, with the gooey caramel replaced with soft, sweet strawberry-rhubarb fruit filling.  You might be able to snap up the last stalks of rhubarb before the season ends, but you can also replace it with more strawberries, or another kind of fruit.  Without the tangy rhubarb to balance the sweetness, you may find you want to exclude the sugar in the filling as well. These are perfect when served warm with a spoonful or two of vanilla ice cream!

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Bars

Serves: 15-24 (depending on cut size) | Prep Time: 15 min. | Cook time: 30 min.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and prepare the base according to recipe directions.  For easy removal, line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper, and allow the edges to lay up the sides of the pan.

While the cookie base is cooking, combine the diced fruit and sprinkle with remaining ingredients.   Stir to combine and let mixture sit until the bar base is removed from the oven.  Allow the base to cool for five minutes, then spread the fruit mixture evenly over the base.  Sprinkle with reserved crumble topping.

Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and the crumble is golden.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then slice into bars.  Allow to cool completely.  Bars can be stored in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars

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M and I chopped off all of our hair today.  Or rather, I chopped my hair and he buzzed his off.  It is hot here.  If it isn’t humid and blazing sunshine, it is pouring rain.  And summer camp starts in ten days.  Yes, camp, that stretch of July when all our time and energy is funneled into the herds of students gathering to learn choreography, diction, improvisation, film acting, and getting said herds of children to all of these activities at Point A, Point B, Point C…

I love camp.  I really do, but it is also all-consuming.  What free time I do have is usually spent catching up on sleep.  Every year, I have disappeared during camp season.  I plan to, as always, do my best to post something.  I have weekly pot-lucks that allow me to feed everyone and test out recipes on a crowd, so hopefully I will have enough inspiration to prompt a few posts during the crazy weeks.

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In the meantime, it is now crunch-time for lunch prep.  If I can get my act together, I would like to make a huge batch of my meatballs that featured in my Swedish Meatball recipe.  I plan on adding a little oregano to a big batch, and then cooking them all off in the oven.  I’ll make a batch of gravy and a batch of marinara sauce and package it all up into lunch size portions.  If I am really productive, I’d like to make a batch of Asian potstickers as well.  It has been ages since I made them, but making the filling, then the dough, and wrapping up all of the dumpling parcels is even more time-consuming than the meatballs.   We will also stock-up on some individual mac and cheese, miso soup, and asian noodle packs in case of extremely time-crunched mornings that necessitate tossing a package into a lunchbox and heading out the door.

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My meal plans will focus on dinners with a quick turn-around time and the option to keep as leftovers for lunch the next day.  In past years, I have seriously under-utilized my crockpot, so perhaps I can make up some freezer packs.  After M and I successfully made sushi a few weeks ago, I know I can wrap up a few rolls using cooked fish or vegetables–a smoked salmon philly roll or a shrimp salad roll–without too much trouble.  M definitely prefers a “hot lunch” or, at least a lunch that feels more like dinner, rather than a sandwich.  Usually, it works in our favor, since I will make dinner to feed four people and pack up half for lunch the next day.  Throughout the year, I typically aim to cook for three so that I have leftovers, since I bring my lunch every day and eat while working at my desk.  M sometimes has the time to come home for lunch, and does go out with the crew occasionally.  When summer rolls around, it isn’t that hard to up each portion of ingredients to serve the pair of us twice over.

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As mentioned, we have a weekly potluck for staff that is always exciting.  I’ve had some fun challenges given the wide variety of dietary needs and inclinations of our staff: gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, depending on the week and on the dish.  It certainly keeps me on my toes!  We rotate courses, so over the summer, I will bring a main dish, a side dish, and appetizer, and a dessert.  These simple, unassuming-but-delicious caramel bars just might make it onto the potluck table, or I might try substituting ingredients to make them vegan and nut-free.  The chewy caramel sandwiched between crunchy oatmeal crusts is just too perfect.  I have to share it!  I’ve already used the same crust to make some rhubarb bars, that will also be appearing shortly.

Do you have any ideas for packed (gluten-free) lunches?  I do have access to a microwave, luckily!

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(Salted) Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars

Serves: 15-24, depending on cut size | Prep: 20 min. | Cook: 30 min.

For the Base:

  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. oat flour
  • 1/2 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/2 c/ tapioca starch
  • 1/4 c. ground flax seed
  • 1 c. light brown sugar (not packed)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbsp. butter (1 stick)
  • 4 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/2 c. chopped nuts, optional

For The Caramel

  • 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar (not packed)
  • 1/2 c. honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt*
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 8 Tbsp. salted butter*
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

*If you use unsalted butter, add up to 1/4 tsp. additional sea salt.  

Make the Crust Base

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Whisk together oats, flours, starches, flax, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until the thoroughly combined.  Melt the butter and oil, then add to the dry mixture.  Stir until the liquid in mixed evenly throughout (sometimes it’s easier to mix with your hands).  The mixture should be crumbly and clumping.  Reserve one heaping cup of the mixture and press the remainder into a 9″ x 13″ pan.  Bake the bottom crust for 10 minutes.  If adding chopped nuts, mix into reserved crumb topping.

Make the Caramel

Please note: you will need a candy thermometer or an instant-read meat thermometer.

Dice the butter into small cubes.  Mix the vanilla and salt with the cream.  Add both sugars and honey to a deep pot.  (When adding the butter and cream, the mixture will boil up.  Please use a pot (like you would for boiling water) rather than a shallow sauce or frying pan.)  If using a candy thermometer, clip to pan now and make sure it is not making contact with the bottom of the pan, but that the end is submerged in the sugar-honey mixture.  (If using an instant-read thermometer, wait until later!)  Cook sugar and honey over medium heat.  Whisk constantly.  The sugar will begin to melt.  If it gets clumpy, turn the heat lower and whisk slower.  Continue whisking as sugar liquifies, until mixture begins to boil.  Stop whisking.  Do not stir the mixture, but allow it to cook over medium heat until it turns copper-brown.  Once you stop whisking, this is when you begin to watch the thermometer.  If you are using an instant-read, submerge the end into the liquid, but be sure to keep it from touching the bottom of the pan.  When the temperature read 245 degrees, remove the pan from the heat.  Whisk in butter, one piece at a time.  After all butter is melt, whisk in cream mixture.  The mixture will bubble with the addition of butter and cream.  Continue whisking until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Assemble and bake the bars

Remove the par-baked bottom crust from the oven.  Carefully pour warm caramel over the crust.  Crumble reserved topping evenly over caramel.  Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Before completely cooled, cut bars.  Cool completely before serving.  Store in a tightly-sealed container for up to one week.


From My Grandmother’s Recipe Box: “Grandma Hanson Cookies” (Gluten-Free)

tea cookies text

This is my 100th post! I’m glad I realized this before I posted.  This is more exciting with the happy coincidence that this 100th post is on Valentine’s Day and I will be sharing the first recipe in my “From My Grandmother’s Recipe Box“.  I introduced this idea back in November, but didn’t have time to sit down and decipher the recipe cards until now.  We woke up to 14 inches of snow yesterday, and I took the opportunity to participate in such iconic snow day activities as: reading books, trolling pinterest, napping, playing board games, not going out in the snow…oh, and making cookies.

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The infamous Recipe Box

Given my snowed-in status, I had to make a recipe with ingredients that I had on hand.  This one truly intrigued me.  The recipe card has the type-written title “Grandma Hanson Cookies” with the recipe scrawling in green ink.  Grandma Hanson could be two people, depending on whether it was written by my Grandmother, Ginny, and her sister, my great aunt Mimi, or if is was written by their mother, my great grandmother, Helen.  The original Mrs. Hanson was my great-great-great grandmother Thea Hanson, but her son-in-law, Brady, took his wife’s (Thea’s daughter) maiden name for his surname.  Mary Jo Hanson was, then, the second Mrs. Hanson.  Thea would be the “Grandma Hanson” to Helen, while Mary Jo would be the “Grandma Hanson” to Ginny and Mimi.  I’m thinking this is probably Mary Jo’s recipe.

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Whomever it originated from, this recipe is pretty…basic.  Most of these recipe cards are missing some details that are usually deemed important in recipe making: cooking temperatures and/or times, mixing instruction, ingredient clarification–just to name a few.  In some ways, it makes me love these recipe cards more: the lack of instruction reinforces that these women and men in the generations before me trusted their instinct in the kitchen, and that many of these recipes were loved and made often enough to become partially memorized.   In this digital age, where hundreds of thousands of recipes are at the fingertips of home cooks, we are certainly exposed to an amazing variety of dishes.  We can share knowledge and ideas with people across continents.  But I also think it leads to a little bit of paranoia in the kitchen, or at least over-specificity.  We grow so concerned that the smallest details might ruin a recipe, where as our grandparents knew how to think on their feet to rescue a recipe gone awry.

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“Grandma Hanson Cookies” Original Recipe Card

  • 1/2 cup shortening (butter is best)
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2 cups flour (more if batter sticks)
  • 1 tsp soda

Bake about 12 min.  I usually make up a batch and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.

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Adapting this recipe was pretty difficult.  I had to fill in key information, along with converting it to gluten-free.  In the end, I had to step back and take a breath, and just try different techniques–even if they went against my own instincts.  I had to add a lot more flour, even when I used a scale.  I still had a sticky, loose mess of a dough and all I had left was to try refrigeration.  I put the whole bowl in the fridge overnight and crossed my fingers.  This morning, the dough still seemed too sticky.  But I decided to just try it anyways.  In the end, I found myself with light, crisp-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside, barely-spiced, lovely tea cookies.  To be honest–I have absolutely no idea how the gluten-ful result of this recipe would be.  I’ve never made them and my mother does not recognize them from my description of my end result.  I’ll bring her some for a taste test for a final verdict.  But I am perfectly happy to find myself with tea cookies.  As I mentioned, the nutmeg, lemon, and vanilla combined to barely spice these cookies–they have almost a floral sort of taste, simply because the spice elements are used in such small quantities.  They are light enough, and barely sweet–perfect for a bite in the afternoon.  I chose to add a little drizzle of lemon glaze over top of these cookies, just to bring out a little more citrus flavor.  I think these would also be wonderful with a drizzle of chocolate, as well.

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Gluten-Free “Grandma Hanson [Tea] Cookies”

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar (+ more for rolling)
  • 3 eggs (large)
  • 1/2 cup full fat* sour cream
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 c + 2 Tbsp white rice flour
  • 1/4 c. buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 c. almond flour
  • 1/2 c. sweet white sorghum flour
  • 3/4 c. tapioca starch
  • 1/2 c. potato starch
  • 1/4 tsp ground psyllium husk
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

Optional Lemon Glaze

  • 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Optional Chocolate Drizzle

  • 3/4 c. chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp. coconut oil (or 1/2 tsp. liquid oil–olive oil, canola, etc)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly with each addition.  Mix in sour cream.  Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix well.  The wet mix should be similar in consistency to pudding.  In large, separate bowl, whisk together all flours, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, psyllium husk, and xanthan gum.  Add dry mix to wet in two parts, mixing well.  The dough will stick be kind of wet and loose.  It’s okay.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

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Sticky, slumpy dough is fine!

When ready to bake the next day, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and remove plastic wrap from dough.  Grease a pan and line with parchment paper.  It will have tightened up a little, but still kinda slump and be pretty sticky for cookie dough.  Again, that is a-okay.   Spread about 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow bowl.  Spoon a scarce Tablespoon of dough into the sugar.  Gently turn the dough until it is coated in enough sugar that you can manipulate the dough.  Roll the dough into a small ball, re-roll in sugar.  Space the cookies 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.  Bake for 13 minutes.  Allow cookies to cool for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet, but remove them from the sheet to a cooling rack while still warm.  Cool cookies completely.

Make the drizzle: lemon or chocolate.  For lemon: thoroughly mix powdered sugar and lemon juice into a consistency slightly thinner than frosting.  Spoon into ziploc bag (or piping bag) clip a tiny corner off of the bag and squeeze glaze over cookies.  For chocolate: put chips and oil in microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second interval, stirring well in between, until melted.  Allow to cool for 2 minutes.  Spoon into ziploc bag (or piping bag) clip a tiny corner off of the bag and squeeze glaze over cookies. Allow to dry.  Store in airtight containers with layers of parchment or wax paper between the cookies.

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Happy Snow Day!