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Archive for September, 2012

It was a warm, sunny day at the Western Idaho State Fair.  We were enjoying ourselves until we rode the whirl-and-hurl and decided to take a break from rides for a while.  We headed down the food concessions aisle – because the best cure for nausea is the smell of fried food – and stumbled through the crowd of people carrying various meats-on-a-stick and sugared lard dough.  As we sat down to eat our bunless burgers and fries, I vowed that I would soon make gluten free corn dogs that resembled my favorite fair food.

I don’t often fry foods or try to replicate “junk food,” but part of my strategy for helping my kids cope with having to eat differently than everyone else is to occasionally make gluten free versions of popular kid foods because I’ve realized that if I don’t make it, my kids won’t ever have it.  (No pressure.)  Since I’m aware that there are other moms out there in the same boat, I’m taking a break from posting my usual healthy recipes and focusing on some of those (not-so-healthy) kid favorites that help our kids feel “normal.”  A well-timed corn dog or doughnut can make all the difference in a gluten-free child’s ability to cope with his diet restrictions.  As moms, our job is to not only nourish our kids’ bodies but also their spirits.

WARNING: While the forthcoming recipes taste great, they will take as long to make as anything else you make from scratch.  The biggest hurdle in giving up gluten is giving up convenience and the expectation that certain foods – corn dogs, chicken nuggets, pizza – should be convenient.  I make delicious GF versions of all these foods, but they take time.  I’ve let go of the desire for convenience in the kitchen, and have decided that cooking tasty GF food is my gift to my family, regardless of how much time a recipe takes.  The smile on a child’s face is worth it!

Gluten Free Mini Corn Dogs

1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. gluten free flour blend + additional for coating hot dogs
1 T. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if using a flour blend with gum added)
Pinch black pepper, optional
1 T. honey
1 egg
1/2 c. milk (I used rice milk)
8-10 hot dogs (I used the cheap kind)
Canola oil for frying

Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.  Stir in honey, egg and milk.  Batter should be thick.  Set aside.

Pat hot dogs with a paper towel to dry them off.  Cut hot dogs in half and place in a pie plate.  Sprinkle with flour and roll hot dogs around in the flour to coat.  Add more flour if needed until hot dogs are completely coated.  (This helps the batter stick.)

Heat about an inch of oil in an electric skillet (I used a fondue pot) to 350 degrees.  If you’re making them on the stove, heat the oil over medium heat, then adjust heat as necessary.  (The corn dogs should take about 2-3 minutes to get nice and golden brown.  If they brown too quickly, turn the heat down.)  Using a fondue fork or regular fork, pierce hot dog and dip in batter – you may need a spoon to help coat the hot dog with batter.  Place corn dog in hot oil and turn after the bottom is golden brown, about 1 minute.  Turn over and cook until completely browned.  Working in our fondue pot, I can manage about 4 at a time.  If not using fondue forks (which can rest on the edge of the pot while you’re cooking), simply use another fork to slide the corn dog into the oil and use tongs to turn and retrieve it.  I put a craft stick into the one pictured for my son after it had cooked because he wanted one on a stick.  The rest of us ate ours with our fingers.

You can make delicious hush puppies with any remaining batter by just using a cookie scoop to drop mounds of batter into the oil.  (In fact, you might want to double the recipe just so you can make these!)  For maximum flavor, poke the batter with a fork several times as soon as it’s dropped into the oil.  Trust me.  It’s soooooooo good.  Spread the cooled corn fritters with a little butter and honey for a truly special treat that rivals anything at the fair!

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If you are on the gluten free diet and saw a news program or read an article online questioning the safety of rice due to a recent Consumer Reports finding of dangerous levels of arsenic in some US grown rice, you probably went to your pantry and looked at all the rice products you consume on a regular basis: rice flour, rice pasta, rice cereal, mixes containing rice flour, good old cheap rice and perhaps even rice milk.  You might have heard the advice to limit rice to once a week and said to yourself, How in the world can I limit rice when it is one of the main staples in the gluten free diet?  Before you panic, keep in mind these things:

  1. According to Consumer Reports, the researchers found “geographical distinctions in arsenic levels, with white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, containing higher levels than rice samples from other parts of the country” (for the complete article, click on the link above).  Gerber announced that their rice comes from California, where safe levels of arsenic are found, so we can assume that rice products from California will be safer to consume.  (See specific products below.)
  2. Arsenic occurs naturally in low levels in some foods – remember the apple juice scare last February?  Our bodies can handle a small amount.
  3. The FDA is in the process of doing a much more extensive report on arsenic levels in rice, which should be available by the end of the year and give us more detailed information about specific products and risks.  In the meantime, the FDA’s position is that rice is still healthy and should not be eliminated from the diet, but rather part of a varied diet, particularly for children whose bodies will be more affected by high levels of arsenic than adults.

So what should concerned parents of gluten free children – like me – do with this information when we are already challenged to feed our kids a varied diet without wheat, barley, rye or commercial oats? First of all, remember that some rice products ARE safe.  I have spent half of my day contacting various gluten free companies to find out where they get their rice.  I was encouraged by this response from Pamela’s Products:

“There are no known heavy metal (arsenic) issues with the California Rice Crop.  For years now, our supplier has conducted composite testing of each rice crop to evaluate heavy metal concentrations and chemical residue in California medium grain rice.  Year after year, the results have yielded extremely low heavy metal results.”

As I receive responses I will add them to this list, but so far the following companies have reported that their rice (typically organic) comes from California, where arsenic levels are safe:

  • Pamela’s – Pamela’s Pancake & Baking Mix got us through our first year of being gluten free before I started experimenting with my own flour blend.  (Check out my Orange Cranberry Muffins, Almond Poppy Seed Muffins, and Sour Cream Blueberry Muffin recipes made with Pamela’s baking mix.)  We also like Pamela’s cookies and bread mix (which I use to make Onion Poppy Seed Cheese Rolls and hamburger buns).
  • Crunchmaster – We love their multi-grain crackers because they’re high in fiber and nutrients from a variety of gluten free grains, including California-grown rice.
  • Lundberg – Their rice and rice cakes are made in California.
  • Ener-G Foods – Their rice bran comes from California.  I’ve asked for clarification to make sure the flour in their baked goods also comes from CA.  We recommend their Light Tapioca bread for toast and grilled sandwiches.
  • Blue Diamond – We like their Nut Thins crackers, especially the Smokehouse flavor.
  • Kinnikinnick – We love their S’morables (gluten free graham crackers), KinniToos (like Oreos), pizza crust, KinniKritters (animal cookies), hamburger buns, English muffins, doughnuts, and basically everything we’ve tried!  If you’re not familiar with these products, they’re available through Amazon.
  • Please scroll down to the bottom of the page where I have posted the comments I received from Udi’s (GF bread products), Tinkyada (GF rice pasta), and Annie’s (GF mac n’ cheese).

As far as we know, imported rice is safe, so you could also check an Asian grocer or the Asian foods aisle at your grocery store for imported rice products.  As for rice products with unknown origins, I plan to limit these to a couple times per week for my kids until more information about those products becomes available.  How?  By following the same advice I give in my Gluten Free Survival Guide to those who are new to life without wheat:

Focus on what you CAN eat, not what you can’t.

Products Containing No Rice or Safe Rice*

Yes, we have a lot of rice products in our pantry, but we also have many products that don’t contain rice:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Pancake Mix (try these delicious pumpkin pancakes)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Cornbread Mix (fabulous with 1/3 c. cream substituted for some of the milk, plus 1 T. honey and 1/2 tsp. vanilla)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats, Sorghum Flour, Millet Flour (check Amazon)
  • Ancient Harvest pasta made with corn and quinoa
  • Organic quinoa from Costco (a super healthy rice-alternative that’s high in fiber and a complete protein)
  • Corn tortillas, cornmeal, polenta, tortilla chips, popcorn kernels (yes, corn/popcorn – including my yummy kettle corn – is a whole grain)
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, canned yams, frozen sweet potato fries (to which I add seasonings to make our favorite Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Caribbean Sweet Potato Fries), tater tots (check labels because some are coated with wheat), potato chips, hash browns.  Despite the beating potatoes have taken in the media, the fact is one 3-oz. serving of hash browns has 2 g. fiber, 210 mg potassium plus other nutrients, and has only 16 g. carbs with no sugar added.  Compare that to the typical slice of bread.

Chances are you already have lots of favorite recipes that don’t use rice or rice flour.  Some of my favorite recipes on this blog, in addition to the links above, don’t contain rice, like my No Bake Cookies made with gluten free oats, Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies, and side dishes like Cranberry Orange Baked Yams.

But what about regular baking with flour blends containing rice flour?  

Until I know the arsenic levels in our rice flour (see the response from Bob’s Red Mill at the bottom of this post), I will limit baking with my regular flour blend to occasional treats, which I mostly did anyway.  However, there are many other gluten free flours that are great for baking, so if you haven’t tried sorghum or millet yet, now’s the time. In my last post, I shared our favorite whole grain oat muffin/coffee cake/cobbler recipe that can be used with just about any fruit and made completely allergen free.  Even though I recommended using a flour blend containing equal parts brown rice flour, millet and sorghum, this morning I made strawberry rhubarb muffins with this recipe using half millet and half sorghum flour, and they tasted great with a good texture.  You could do the same for any recipe with warm spices (like cinnamon, chocolate, etc.) that calls for a small amount of flour, like my Peanut Butter Oat Bars.  Some flour blends, like Carol Fenster’s blend, use only sorghum and starches.  Another option is to simply grind GF oats using a food processor into your own oat flour for baking.  Who knows, you just might end up healthier by trading your rice flour for a whole grain that’s high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients!

The key to good health is always to eat a varied diet and yes, it’s possible to do so when you’re gluten free.  Remember, too, that a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and antioxidant-containing teas will help fight off carcinogens and other toxins that might end up in your system.  As I’ve stressed before, avoiding too much sugar, which feeds cancerous cells, will also contribute to overall health (and potentially weight loss, like it did for my husband).

2013 Update: To find out how my attitude on the subjects mentioned above has changed somewhat recently, check out this post.

*Remember to check back for updates on additional products containing rice that are safe.  If you know of others, please leave a comment.  Below are the additional comments I’ve received since my first posting:

  • Glutino – “The rice ingredients in our Glutino products are sourced from California. Arsenic does occur naturally in rice products and the suppliers of all our Glutino ingredients do ensure all our ingredients meet food safety guidelines.”
  • Bob’s Red Mill – “All of our rice comes from California so this information alone puts some people at ease since some sources specifically mentioned the arsenic levels being higher in the south.  Unfortunately we don’t test our rice for arsenic so at this point I don’t have any specific info I can give you.  Our products are guaranteed so if you are anyone that reads you doesn’t feel safe to eat our products, we always offer replacements or refunds.”
  • Udi’s – “We are unable to give out any specific information regarding the sources of some of our ingredients as it is an integral part of our proprietary recipe.  What I can say, is that we are in the process of replacing brown rice syrup with tapioca syrup. However, any products still containing brown rice are tested monthly for arsenic.  To date these products have tested negative for arsenic at these levels.”
  • Tinkyada – “We use rice grown in Arkansas, U.S.A. as we found that Californian rice did not match our processing needs in producing rice pastas that are delicious and good in texture.  From our sample analyses, the arsenic level of our rice pastas appear to be in the range of 0.20 – 0.23 ppm (parts per million). Our understanding is that all rice contains arsenic and that many food contain arsenic too.  Even though it does not appear that there is an adequate scientific basis for recommending changes in the consumption of rice and rice products, it may be advisable to focus on a varied diet before a clear and thorough result from investigations has come out.”
  • Annie’s – “Thank you for taking the time to contact Annie’s, and for your concerns and questions about the rice ingredients used in some of our products. We use Brown Rice Syrup as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup and Rice Flour is used as an alternative to Wheat in our Gluten Free products. While the FDA has not yet adopted a threshold for levels of arsenic in food, the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed a strict standard of 300ppb (parts per billion); this WHO standard is a stringent one compared to the threshold of 1000ppb used in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It is this strict WHO standard which Annie’s uses as the threshold for our products. Annie’s tests our products at an independent, third party food lab and we know any trace levels of arsenic present in our ingredients are well below the WHO threshold.”

I want to thank all the companies who responded to my request for information.  I don’t have room to post all the pleasantries from their emails, but they were all very kind and helpful, and I’m pleased to promote their products.

  • Nature’s Path/Envirokidz – I received a lengthy response from Nature’s Path, basically repeating the call to a varied diet and need for additional research into the arsenic issue.  They said, “We want you to know that our products are safe.”  But they didn’t offer any evidence that they are safe.  They affirmed that they are working with the FDA “to help establish any necessary standards for acceptable levels of arsenic in food.”  So I guess you’ll have to decide if their desire to assure us of the safety of their product is good enough to put it on your table.

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This healthy, high fiber, versatile recipe tastes great with any fruit combination – whether you’re in the mood for banana muffins, pumpkin coffee cake, mixed berry cobbler, strawberry rhubarb muffins, peach cobbler, or apple cranberry coffee cake – and can easily be made completely allergen free: gluten free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, nut free, etc.  Depending on your mood, you can make muffins, cobbler, or a streusel-topped coffee cake utilizing whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand.  I make some variation of this recipe at least once a week for our family’s breakfast because it’s such a healthy and delicious way to start the day, and keeps us full all morning when served alongside some eggs, sausage or Greek yogurt.

Not only is this recipe 100% whole grain – a rarity in gluten free baking – it’s full of other good-for-you ingredients like 2 types of fruit, heart-healthy canola oil, and cinnamon, which has made headlines recently for its myriad health benefits.  Because I use cinnamon, vanilla, lots of fruit, and brown sugar instead of white sugar (since the molasses in brown sugar adds a little more flavor without adding more sugar), I’m able to use very little sugar and salt without sacrificing flavor.  (To find out why we limit sugar at breakfast, read this post.)

There are so many different ways to use this basic recipe that I like to make extra mixes and put them in resealable bags or containers for busy mornings or trips.  When our family drove to Chicago last summer, I added Ener-G brand egg replacer to the dry mix, so all I had to add at the hotel (which had an oven) was the oil, individual applesauce cup, and 1 T. water.  So easy!  The cinnamon and ascorbic acid from the commercial applesauce act as natural preservatives, so the breakfast snack cake kept for an entire week in the fridge/cooler without spoiling.  And the high fiber breakfast kept us from experiencing the – ahem – “sluggish digestive system” that typically comes with traveling.

Cranberry Apple Breakfast Cake with Pecans

All you need to do is assemble the basic recipe that follows and take note of a few suggestions for some of the variations.  (The cobbler variation is at the bottom.)  Or feel free to experiment with your own creations and leave a comment to share your great idea!

One Baking Mix To Rule Them All

Dry ingredients to make ahead, if desired (yields 1 dozen muffins or an 8″x8″ cobbler or coffee cake):

  • 1 1/2 c. oats (we get Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free oats through Amazon)
  • 1/2 c. whole grain flour blend, like Hodgson Mill’s GF Multipurpose Baking Mix (I make my own blend by mixing equal parts brown rice flour, sorghum flour, and millet flour, which I store in a container in the fridge.  These flours can also be found on Amazon.)  Or you can use whatever flour you have on hand.
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. brown sugar, depending on recipe (You may want to add this ingredient with the wet ingredients later because it tends to clump in the bag, and the amount used can vary.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if using wheat flour for non-gluten free baking)
  • For egg-free recipes, also add 1 tsp. Ener-G brand Egg Replacer, then add 1 T. water when you mix in the wet ingredients.  (I’ve only tried this with the cake version, and it does make it resemble more of a breakfast bar than a coffee cake.)

Basic Muffin or Coffee Cake Additional Ingredients:

  • 1 dry mix with 1/2 c. brown sugar OR 1/3 c. brown sugar if making a streusel topping (see notes below on sugar for peach variation and streusel instructions)
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce (or an individual applesauce cup), flavored applesauce, pumpkin, or other fruit puree
  • 1/2 c. canola oil for cake OR 1/3 c. oil + 2 T. milk of choice (we use almond milk) for muffins
  • 1 egg (see note under dry mix ingredients for egg-free baking)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (not extract – but you can use 1/2 tsp. extract if you prefer)
  • 3/4 c. fresh, frozen or dried fruit (see notes below for variation suggestions)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Add applesauce or fruit puree, egg, vanilla, oil and milk (if using) to dry mix and stir until combined.  Gently fold in fresh, frozen or dried fruit.  Divide into 12 greased muffin cups or pour into a greased 8″x8″ baking pan.  Top with streusel*, if desired, and bake cake for 24-26 minutes or muffins for 18-20 minutes.  Serve warm.

*Optional streusel topping:Sprinkle 2-4 T. chopped pecans, if desired, and 2-3 T. brown sugar over top of cake or muffins.  Dot each muffin with a sliver (about 1/8 tsp.) of butter or butter spread, or top cake with 8-10 slivers.

Muffin or Coffee Cake Variations & Suggestions

Zucchini Muffins with Cinnamon Chips

Zucchini

  • Add 1/4 tsp. nutmeg and 1 c. shredded zucchini to dry mix.  (Have a ton of zucchini from the garden?  Toss the shredded zucchini in a dry mix bag without sugar & freeze for later!)  Don’t worry about squeezing the water out of the zucchini.
  • In addition to the egg and applesauce, add 1/2 c. oil, 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract and 1/2 c. brown sugar (if not in the dry mix already).
  • If desired, stir in to batter or sprinkle on top 1/2 c. Hershey’s Cinnamon Chips, found by the chocolate chips.  (Trust me, you desire this.)  I made mine with 1/3 c. brown sugar in the mix, plus cinnamon chips and chopped pecans on top.  Mmmmm.

Apple Cranberry – the easy recipe I use when traveling or to give as a gift:

  •  Use 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce and 3/4 c. dried cranberries (or raisins, if you prefer).

Pumpkin, preferably with streusel topping:

  • Use 1/2 c. canned or pureed pumpkin instead of applesauce.
  • Add 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice to dry mix.
  • If desired, add 3/4 c. dried cranberries.

Strawberry Rhubarb, Blueberry, Blackberry, Raspberry, or Mixed Berries:

  • Unsweetened strawberry applesauce mellows the tartness of the berries, but regular applesauce can also be used.
  • If using rhubarb, use 2/3 c. chopped rhubarb and 1/3 c. diced strawberries or whole raspberries.
  • Instead of a streusel topping, try just sprinkling a little cinnamon and sugar.
  • If using frozen berries, do not thaw, but add a few minutes to bake time.
  • Be sure to let cool for 5-10 minutes since berries retain the heat.

Banana:

  • Instead of applesauce, cut a very ripe med. banana into chunks and place in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add oil and brown sugar, then mix on low with your hands covering the top of the bowl to keep the bananas from flying out (ask me how I know this…).  Increase mixing speed to med. high and continue mixing until banana is completely mashed.  Mix in remaining wet ingredients, then dry mix.
  • Use 1/3 c. oil + 2 T. milk of choice for this variation.
  • I used 1/3 c. brown sugar and the streusel topping.

Peach:

  • Substitute 1/2 c. white sugar for brown sugar.
  • Omit applesauce.
  • Use 2 eggs instead of 1.
  • Finely chop 1 can of drained peaches or enough fresh or frozen peaches to equal about 3/4 c.  (I used homemade frozen peaches that were very finely chopped.)
  • Use 1/2 c. oil and no milk.

Mixed Berry Cobbler with Vanilla Yogurt

Cobbler Variation
  • 1 dry mix with 1/4 c. to 1/2 c. brown sugar, depending on taste (I use 1/4 c. for breakfast for my family, but usually 1/3 – 1/2 c. for guests or a dessert cobbler)
  • 1/4 c. chopped pecans, if desired/tolerated
  • 1 T. ground flax, if desired
  • 1 egg (see note in dry mix for egg-free baking)
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • Enough fresh or frozen fruit (no need to thaw) to cover the bottom of a greased 8″x8″ baking pan, about 1 1/2 – 2 c.

Directions: Add egg, oil, flax and nuts (if using) to dry mix in a mixing bowl.  Spread evenly over fruit until all fruit is covered by the topping.  Bake 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Add 5-10 min. to baking time if using frozen fruit.  Serve warm with vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt for breakfast or with frozen yogurt as a dessert.

Notes: Variations we’ve tried include blackberries, mixed berries, chopped peaches with mixed berries, apple, and apple with dried cranberries.

  • For apple cobbler, toss peeled and sliced apples with a little apple juice (containing citric acid) or lemon juice.  If using tart apples, like Granny Smith, sprinkle apples with some cinnamon and sugar.
  • If using dried cranberries, soak them in hot water or apple juice to plump them up while you assemble the dry mix, then drain and sprinkle over apples.  (Dried fruit on the bottom of a pan can sometimes burn.)

Wake the kids up in the morning with the delicious smell of any of these variations and you’ll  have no problem getting them to get dressed and come down for breakfast.  

Happy fall baking!

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