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Homemade happiness

6 Feb

I’m lazy, I realized as I edited my Super-Bowl grocery list.

After all, just beneath the catalog of carrots and cream cheese and powdered sugar needed for the complex recipe (i.e., requiring me to wash extra dishes from the food processor and mixer) for carrot cake, I’d added a tentative or . . . and the simple ingredients for a gluten-free version of “Rice Krispies” treats.

Of course, a simple, crunchy dessert would likely make the best football-game finger food, but its Super-Bowl suitability wasn’t its main appeal.

It was easy.

And I’d grown accustomed to the ease of combining an initially promising King Arthur Flour brownie mix with a bit of melted butter or turning some gluten-free Bisquick into a hasty batch of biscuits.

Those products, however, had proven as fast as they were disappointing. In fact, my only truly satisfactory recent dessert had been homemade. And rather easy, I reminded myself as I reconsidered my grocery list.

Yet still, the main ingredient–a five-pound bag of gala apples delivered, along with several other unsolicited groceries, by my father after one of his trademark Trader Joe’s runs before a visit to me–had languished in the fridge for days. Every evening I’d glimpse the daunting bag and envision hours of peeling and slicing.

And then, in 15 minutes, I’d finished–even in spite of (or because of) the distraction of my boyfriend stealing apple skins (and a surreptitious slice or two).

His late-night offer to pick up any needed groceries before his visit to me had inspired me to ask for the dish’s last missing ingredient–milk. And as I poured it into my dry ingredients, while he scrambled eggs and fried bacon for an impromptu 1 A.M. “breakfast for dinner,” I’d never been happier in my tiny kitchen, full of laughter and love . . . and the warm aroma of apples and cinnamon.

Adapted slightly from my mom’s worn ’70s edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, this apple cobbler evoked childhood memories of cozy winter nights when I craved the richness of my favorite apple slices but lacked the time or patience to roll out the lengths of unwieldy dough.

With such an excessive amount of dough unlikely to translate into a flavorful gluten-free version, an apple cobbler is now–as then–the perfect apple-slices or apple-pie substitute.

Combine 1 scant cup sugar (for gala apples, perfectly sweet and firm, 1 cup of sugar may prove a bit too much), 3 tablespoons corn starch (for a thinner filling, reduce to 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon), 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 6 cups sliced gala apples over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes until sauce thickens and apples soften.

Meanwhile, combine 1 cup Sweet Ali’s gluten-free flour mix, sifted (This instruction had always seemed optional–and ignorable–to me. Then my boyfriend, who rarely follows recipes himself, insisted on the importance of this one rule, and he was to thank for the fluffiest gluten-free pasty ever concocted in my kitchen!), 2 heaping tablespoons sugar, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cut in 1/4 cup butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Beat together 1/4 cup milk and 1 egg, add to dry ingredients, and mix till just moistened.

Place apple filling into 8-inch casserole dish and top with 6 dollops of dough. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Then serve warm, with Edy’s Slow Churned French Vanilla Ice Cream, during today’s Super Bowl. Unless, of course, carrot cake is being served, as it is in my home.

Grandma’s carrot cake

18 Jan

My grandma’s holiday desserts were always unpredictable.

“I decided not to use the lamb cake pan this year,” she announced unexpectedly one Easter.

“Don’t worry, it’s carrot cake,” she lied about her pumpkin-cake counterfeit to my suspicious brother one Christmas.

“I didn’t do anything differently,” she responded to my mother’s inquiry about a frosting tasting more of cream cheese than of confectioners sugar one Thanksgiving.

So when the holiday baking soon (understandably) became my duty, it proved—if not innovative or complex—reliably consistent.

But when I recently began adapting my grandma’s holiday recipes for my gluten-free diet, I feared a relapse into her baking’s trademark volatility.

Surprisingly, however, her delicious recipe for a rich, moist carrot cake has evolved into the most authentic, consistent, and—during this past holiday season—frequently requested dessert in my gluten-free baking repertoire.

1 and 1/2 cups of canola oil
2 cups of sugar
2 and 1/2 cups of grated carrots
4 eggs
2 and 1/2 cups of Meister’s all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 cup of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose baking flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of salt

Combine the first four ingredients. Sift together the dry ingredients, add to the wet mixture, and mix well. Bake in a greased tube pan at 350 degrees for one hour. Allow cake to cool, and frost with cream-cheese frosting.

6 ounces of Safeway or Trader Joe’s cream cheese
2 tablespoons of butter, softened
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 pound of confectioners sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons of milk

Cream together the cream cheese, butter, and then the vanilla. Gradually add the powdered sugar and enough milk to make the frosting of spreading consistency. Then frost and serve. (And, every once in a while, top with chopped nuts for an unpredictable holiday surprise.)

Blueberry cream-cheese pie

4 Jul


I’ll never forget my childhood visits to the McKendrick’s house. These old family friends with four kids had novel computer games, enviable cabbage patch dolls, and abundant, delicious home-baked goods. This recipe from Mrs. Kathy McKendrick has been a favorite of my family for years, and, with my discovery of Jo-Sef gluten-free cinnamon graham crackers, the pie is as delicious as ever. This weekend, it’s the perfect addition to my July 4 menu.

Mix 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and 3/4 cup of cold water in a pot. Add 1 cup of fresh blueberries and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens. Simmer and stir for 2 minutes until berries release their juices. Remove and stir in 2 cups of fresh blueberries. Cool.

Crush approximately 1 package of Jo-Sef gluten-free graham crackers. (The cinnamon flavor is the closest to the taste of real graham crackers. I’ve found the best way to crush these is by placing the crackers in a plastic bag and pounding with the blunt end of a rolling pin. A pastry cutter has also worked. The food processor has not crushed the crackers as finely as desired.) Mix 1 and 1/4 cups of these crumbs, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 5 and 1/3 tablespoons of melted butter together. Use the back of a large spoon to pat the mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. (The spoon will help crush any large chunks of graham crackers.) Bake in a 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool.

In a bowl, beat 1 8-ounce package of light cream cheese (I use Lucern since Safeway includes it on the company’s list of gluten-free products.), 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread over cooled crust. Cover with the cooled blueberry mixture and refrigerate overnight. Then share with family, friends, or any children visiting to play with your computer games or dolls.