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This moist, delicious chocolate cake is the only dessert recipe you need to serve all your loved ones with food allergies – unless they’re allergic to awesomeness!  It is not only free of the top allergens – wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts – it is super cheap and easy to make.  But most importantly, your guests won’t know what they’re missing.  When my gluten-eating family members come to a birthday party, they eagerly ask, “Is this THE chocolate cake?”  When I served this at a party with gluten-eating friends, one of the teenagers – a TEENAGER, people – said, “This is gluten free and dairy free?  It tastes better than regular cake!”  She is wise beyond her years.

The secret to the moist crumb is vinegar and baking soda for leavening instead of eggs.  I know, it sounds weird, but I promise you won’t taste the vinegar.  This cake is inexpensive, and doesn’t need refrigeration because it contains no milk or eggs.  Like most GF chocolate baked goods, it tastes better the second day, so it’s a perfect make-ahead dessert.  For a finer crumb to make cakes in molds, just omit the extra tablespoon of water and beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.  To keep it from sticking to the pan, grease the pan and dust with cocoa.  The cake won’t be as moist and dark, but it will hold its shape for fancy cakes like my son’s Lord of The Rings, ring-shaped cake (a.k.a. One Cake To Rule Them All), which I baked in a tube pan.

Ring Cake

I substitute cornstarch for 2 T. of GF flour because that’s how you make cake flour.  However, if you have a corn allergy, you can substitute potato starch.  If you don’t have sorghum flour, or are using a flour blend that contains sorghum, just substitute 2 more tablespoons of your flour blend for the sorghum.  I’ve made this with both my flour blend (below) and Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend (in which case I don’t use sorghum or add xanthan gum since this blend contains both).

For frosting, I have yet to come up with a chocolate frosting that tastes better than Pillsbury’s Fudge Frosting.  It is dairy free, but contains soy, so if you have a soy allergy you’ll need to make homemade frosting.  However, the original recipe I modified calls for a dusting of cocoa on top, so you could also try that instead of frosting.  If you want a white frosting that’s allergen-free for a birthday cake, I’ve made one using canned coconut milk that tastes really good (recipe below).

Moist Chocolate Cake

Allergy Friendly Chocolate Cake
Makes one 8″x8″ pan or 8″ round, or 12 cupcakes

1 c. sugar
3 T. cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s cocoa, found in the baking aisle)
1 1/4 c. GF flour blend*
2 T. sorghum flour (or use additional flour blend if yours contains sorghum)
2 T. cornstarch (or potato starch)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if it’s in your flour blend already)
1/2 tsp. salt
6 T. canola oil
1 T. GF vanilla extract (we get ours from Costco)
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 c. + 1T. warm water (or more, if needed to get a loose batter)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  It’s important that the oven is ready to go and the cake goes into the oven as soon as the vinegar and soda are mixed, otherwise the cake will be flat.  For this same reason, be sure to grease your pan or muffin tin ahead of time.  If you’re planning on making a molded cake or removing it from the pan to frost, dust the greased pan with cocoa powder, as well.

Use a whisk or the whisk attachment from your mixer to combine the cocoa and sugar in your mixing bowl.  (I just hold the whisk attachment from the mixer to blend the dry ingredients, then attach it when I’m ready to mix in the wet ingredients.)  Once the cocoa is thoroughly blended with the sugar, to keep it from clumping, add the remaining dry ingredients and whisk to combine.

Fill your 1 c. liquid measuring cup with hot water, then set it aside while you add the wet ingredients, starting with the oil.  Add the water last and mix on medium low for about 30 seconds, scraping the bowl occasionally and adding the additional tablespoon of water to get a thin batter.  Do not overmix.  If you use a different flour blend that absorbs water more, you may need to add another tablespoon of water to thin it.  The loose batter guarantees a moist crumb.  (See notes above if you want to make a molded cake that requires a finer crumb.)

Fill greased pan or muffin cups and immediately place in oven.  Bake square or round pan 25-30 min., or 20-22 minutes for cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (Use the shorter time if using a dark, nonstick pan.)  Cupcakes should rise to the top of the pan, but a square cake will not rise all the way up, so don’t worry that it didn’t turn out!  What it lacks in height can be made up with frosting…

Cool completely and frost or dust with cocoa powder.  Store tightly covered at room temperature.  Serve with vanilla ice cream – for a dairy free option, we like So Delicious brand coconut milk ice cream – drizzled with Hershey’s chocolate syrup, which is also dairy free!

Allergy Friendly Frosting:

1/2 c. dairy free margarine (I imagine coconut oil would work, with a dash of salt)
4 c. powdered sugar (this contains cornstarch, so do not use this recipe for corn allergies)
1/3 c. full-fat canned coconut milk (in the Asian food aisle, NOT the kind in the carton)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large mixer bowl, cream margarine and half the powdered sugar until light and creamy.  Add coconut milk and vanilla.  Gradually add remaining powdered sugar, beating until smooth.  Add a little more coconut milk if frosting is too stiff, or a little more powdered sugar if too thin.  This will have a mild coconut flavor that complements the cake well.

Chocolate Variation: I haven’t tried this, but according to my cookbook, you can replace 1/2 c. of the powdered sugar with 1/2 c. cocoa, sifted together with the remaining powdered sugar for a chocolate frosting.  For a mocha frosting, blend 1 T. instant coffee powder into the margarine.

*Brenda’s GF Flour Blend – I triple this and store it in a gallon freezer bag in the fridge:

1 c. rice flour
1 c. brown rice flour
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/3 c. potato starch
1/3 c. tapioca starch/flour
1 T. potato flour
1 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)

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I came up with this recipe after scoring a reduced-price Udi’s gluten free raisin bread loaf from the day-old bakery cart at the grocery store.  This is a great way to use up GF bread that is past its prime, since it’s too expensive to waste!  However, we were low on milk, so I searched the internet for recipes that use evaporated milk and found an easy one on the Carnation site that I modified by adding extra butter and substituting some rum extract, one of my husband’s favorite flavorings.  I used 9 slices of bread for a “cakey” bread pudding, so if you prefer a more traditional pudding texture, use 8 slices.

Substitutions
The original recipe called for bread and raisins, not raisin bread, so if you don’t have raisin bread you can substitute 8 slices of GF bread and 1/2 c. raisins.  I used a little less sugar than the original recipe called for, since the bread was already sweetened, so add another tablespoon of brown sugar if using plain bread.  If you’re not a fan of rum flavoring, or don’t have it on hand, just substitute additional vanilla extract for the rum extract.  To make this dairy free, substitute 1 1/2 c. original almond milk for the evaporated milk, since I have found that they both have the same creamy texture and have successfully substituted that in the past.

Raisin Bread Pudding

Gluten Free, Buttery Rum Raisin Bread Pudding

8 or 9 slices gluten free raisin bread, cut into 1/2 in. cubes
2 eggs, beaten
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk (NOT fat free) or 1 1/2 c. almond milk
1/3 c. brown sugar
5 T. butter or DF margarine, divided (if subbing unsalted oil, like coconut oil, add 1/8 tsp. salt)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. rum extract

Cube bread and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl combine beaten eggs, brown sugar, and 1/2 of the evaporated milk.  Melt 3 T. butter and add to mixing bowl with remaining ingredients and milk.  Stir until combined.  Add bread cubes and stir until coated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  While oven is heating, set a timer for 5 min. and grease an 8″ x 8″ pan.  When the timer goes off, stir bread and transfer to prepared pan, pressing down on the mixture with a spatula.  Set timer for 5 min. again.  Cut remaining 2 T. butter into 8 cubes and place on top of bread mixture.

Butter-topped Bread Pudding

When the timer goes off, place pan in the oven and bake for 35-40 min. or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  (Mine took 35 min.)  Serve warm with whipped cream or, for a sweeter bread pudding, drizzle with caramel or butterscotch sauce.  For a dairy free topping, I’d suggest a powdered sugar glaze with almond milk and vanilla.

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Making gluten free frozen meals doesn’t have to take extra time, just extra planning, and it can save you a bundle on expensive GF convenience food for those nights when you just don’t have time to cook.  The most economical way to freezer cook is to stock up on meat and ingredients for side dishes that freeze well when they’re on sale, and plan to cook enough for 2 or 3 freezer meals in addition to your dinner that week.  If you do this only twice a week, you’ll have a treasure trove of quick meals for busy nights in no time!  I did this for three weeks last month, and was able to take the week before Thanksgiving off of cooking as a result.  It was awesome!  If you’re having company come to visit, then you’ll definitely be glad you took the time to make a few meals in advance so you don’t have to spend precious visiting time slaving in the kitchen.

Tips on Freezer Cooking
The key to successful freezer cooking is to get rid of as much air as you can in your bag or container.  I have a fancy vacuum-sealer that I never use because it’s cheaper to just use a Ziplock freezer bag (I use generic brands).  Just place your completely cooled food items into the smallest size bag that will work, press out the air, close the bag almost all the way and, if it’s not raw meat, use a straw to suck out the rest of the air.  You’ll see the bag shrink around your food.  Then just pull out the straw and quickly seal.  Your food will last for months this way with nary an ice crystal to cause freezer burn!  For casseroles or side dishes like mashed potatoes, I like to place them in a disposable tin pan (from the dollar store) with a layer of plastic wrap against the potatoes and heavy duty foil over that.

If you’re new to freezer cooking, avoid dishes with rice or pasta, as these can be tricky to freeze without them turning to mush – especially rice pasta, which gets mushy easily.  However, corn tortillas freeze well, as do potato side dishes.  Most GF breads freeze well, as do cupcakes and cookie dough.  (I prefer to freeze the dough, rather than cookies which can crumble after thawing, since freshly baked cookies are the best!)  Homemade meatballs and chicken strips freeze well and go with side dishes that are quick to heat, like pasta or frozen GF French fries (always read labels on fries, since some contain wheat).  When making a homemade sauce or cream soup for casseroles, be sure to add a pinch of xanthan gum to keep the ingredients from separating.  (This miracle ingredient is in just about every commercial sauce or convenience food, and it’s already in your pantry.  Use it!)  It’s best to freeze sauces or crunchy toppings (like the onions for my Green Bean Casserole) separately and assemble thawed ingredients just prior to baking.

Some of my favorite freezer meals are right on this blog:

Crock Pot Pork Taco meat can be frozen in serving sizes for tacos or nacho meat. You can also make the tacos ahead of time and freeze them in a bag.  These make great enchiladas, too, but freeze the sauce for enchiladas separately.  This is a very versatile meat that is on the menu regularly because it’s easy to throw together, makes a lot, and pork roasts often cost less than $2/lb.

  • If you don’t have enough green chilies, you can substitute chopped onion.  Or if you’re not a fan of pork, just freeze your favorite meat with GF taco seasoning!
  • If you’re new to cooking with corn tortillas, heat 3 or 4 at a time over low heat on a griddle sprayed with oil.  Flip after a few seconds, and immediately top with shredded cheese (we use cheddar or co-jack).  Put a 1-in. stripe of meat down the center.  When cheese is melted, lift one side of the tortilla over the meat, then roll the whole thing over to seal.  The heat makes them more pliable for rolling, and the cheese will keep the tortilla from popping open.

Lasagna – Okay, I know I said to not do pasta, but this is the exception since you don’t cook the noodles in advance.  Just layer the ingredients and freeze for later, or make a double batch so you can cook one and freeze one.

Mashed Potatoes – I tried the recipe from the Pioneer Woman blog for Thanksgiving and loved it!  I mashed a 5 lb. bag of potatoes the week before and had some for dinner, then froze the rest in a gallon-size freezer bag.  Then, on turkey day, I thawed it in the microwave and plopped it in a greased crock pot on high for a few hours, stirring occasionally to heat evenly.  At first, it was really soupy, but it thickened as it heated up – and tasted amazing!

  • For dairy free potatoes, skip the cream cheese and just use dairy free margarine and rice milk.
  • For a one dish meal, set aside some mashed potatoes for Shepherd’s Pie, which can also be frozen.

Fried Chicken Strips – These are a great way to use tenderloins trimmed from chicken breasts, or you can slice chicken breasts into strips.  I’ve linked my Mandarin Chicken recipe, but these work with any dipping sauce.

  • To freeze, cool cooked chicken at room temperature on plates lined with paper towels, then transfer to a freezer safe baking tray to freeze for a few hours.  Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and press out (or suck out) the air.  Cook from frozen in a 400 degree oven for about 20 min.
  • Recently, I’ve been using/loving the Hodgson Mill GF Seasoned Coating Mix (dairy, soy and corn free, and available at our Wal-Mart).  I follow the directions on the back for Country Fried Beef (which you can also make and freeze), and skip the messy egg wash by just applying a liberal amount of coating mix and frying in oil until golden brown.  (I coat all the chicken once, then do it a second time.)  The recipe on the box for Country White Gravy is easy and awesome, so make sure you freeze some potatoes to go with your chicken strips!  However, these also taste great with barbecue sauce or honey mustard.

Meatballs or Mini Meatloaves – You can grind oats in a food processor as a healthy substitute for bread crumbs in your favorite meatball recipe, or grind the heals from GF bread (I save mine in the freezer for making bread crumbs) and combine with your favorite seasonings.  Recently, I’ve begun adding shredded potato and grated onion to my meatballs for moist meatballs that somewhat resemble my Grandma’s Swedish meatballs (only I’m too lazy to roll them in flour and fry them, like we do with Swedish meatballs).

  •  I like to heat up frozen meatballs in spaghetti sauce while the pasta boils, but we sometimes eat them like mini meatloaves or as meatball subs in toasted Udi’s hot dog buns with some spaghetti sauce and melted mozzarella or provolone.

Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on Onion Poppy Seed Cheese Rolls/Buns – My mother-in-law made these for get-togethers with family and friends because you can make these in advance and pop the wrapped sandwiches in the oven for a quick meal.  I like to make cheese rolls from a Pamela’s bread mix for these, but you could use your favorite hamburger bun/hot dog bun/roll for these.

Also, don’t forget to freeze leftover turkey or roast chicken to make Turkey or Chicken Pot Pie Pizza or Biscuit Pot Pies!

Some of our favorite gluten free breads and desserts to freeze include:

With some quick meal items in the freezer this month, you’ll have time to bake yummy goodies like Sour Cream Sugar Cookies or these Easy Holiday Goodies to Make with Kids.  Throw some Wassail in the crock pot, and you’re set for the holidays!

 

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After nearly 5 years of disappointing attempts to make soft, delicious, gluten free rolls, I finally found a keeper!  The softness comes from sour cream, and for the flour I just tweaked my cookie flour blend by substituting 1 T. cornmeal for 1 1/2 T. of the flour blend.  I’ve discovered that adding a tiny bit of cornmeal to yeast breads gives your taste buds something to latch onto without tasting “corny.”

I almost discarded the recipe when my first attempt yielded tasty, but tiny, little dough nuggets, until I fished the yeast packet out of the trash and discovered that my yeast had expired.  With good yeast, these rolls still aren’t huge – about the size of a biscuit – but they taste heavenly fresh out of the oven with a little honey butter.  This recipe only took me a half hour to assemble, plus one hour to rise and less than 20 minutes to bake.  The dough itself is easy to work with, and would probably work well for cinnamon rolls.  (When I get around to trying that, I’ll let you know!)

For other Thanksgiving recipe ideas, check out my GF Green Bean Casserole and Pumpkin Pie Crunch.  And as long as you’re assembling my all-purpose GF flour blend (at the bottom of this post, with tips on how to use it for everything), make a large batch to have on hand for baking holiday goodies like my grandma’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies or our favorite “I Can’t Believe These Are Gluten Free!” Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Happy Gluten Free Holidays!

Gluten Free Rolls

Gluten Free Sour Cream Rolls

Step 1 in Large Bowl of Mixer:
1 c. Brenda’s all-purpose flour blend* (see recipe below)
2 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 package rapid rise or instant yeast (check expiration date!)

Step 2 in Separate Small Bowl:
1/2 c. tapioca starch/flour (they’re the same thing)
1/2 c. potato starch (NOT flour)
1 1/2 T. additional all-purpose flour blend
1 T. cornmeal
1 T. sweet rice flour (also called “sticky rice” flour)
1 tsp. xanthan gum

Step 3 in Sauce Pan:
2 T. butter
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. sour cream (I used regular, NOT reduced fat)

Step 4:
1 egg

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and keep it on for about 5 min.  Turn off oven for at least 10 minutes, so you’ll have a warm place for your rolls to rise.

Combine step 1 flour blend, sugar, salt, and undissolved yeast in a large mixer bowl.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the step 2 ingredients.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Add water, and stir in sour cream.  Turn off heat and continue stirring until sour cream is thoroughly incorporated.  If you have a thermometer, test to make sure the temperature of the liquid is between 120 – 130 degrees.  If it’s too hot, set it aside to cool for a minute.  (You don’t want to kill the yeast.)

Add the warm liquid mixture to the step 1 dry ingredients in the mixer bowl and beat 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally.  Beat in egg.  Beat in step 2 flour mixture just until combined.  You should have a soft dough like cookie dough.

Grease or spray a muffin pan with nonstick spray.  (I use a silicone pan, so if you have dark, nonstick pans, you may need to lower the temperature or shorten the baking time.)  Spray a little oil on one hand and rub your hands together to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers.  Pull off about 1/4 c. of dough and roll into a ball.  Place 12 dough balls in the muffin cups.  (You’ll want to smooth the outside of the balls as much as possible, since gluten free rolls keep the shape of the dough when they rise.) Cover muffin pan with a dish towel and place in warm oven to rise for 45 min.

Remove rolls from oven, keeping covered, and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake rolls for 15 – 18 minutes, until golden brown.  Immediately brush warm rolls with butter or gently rub a stick of butter over the tops (my preferred method). Store rolls in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

For best results, serve fresh from the oven – or reheat, if making these ahead of time – with butter and honey.  To make honey butter, blend 2 parts softened butter and 1 part honey with a fork.

*Brenda’s All-Purpose GF Flour Blend:
3 c. white rice flour
3 c. brown rice flour
1 c. tapioca flour/starch
1 c. cornstarch
1 c. potato starch
3 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)
3 T. potato flour

Whisk together flours/starches in a large bowl and store in a gallon-size freezer bag in the fridge.  Always store anything containing brown rice flour in the fridge because it can go rancid.  I also store my sweet rice flour and potato flour in the freezer.  (If you can’t find these flours in the store, you can order them online through Vitacost.)

A note on substituting a GF flour blend for wheat flour in recipes: There are lots of “all-purpose” GF flour blends out there, but a good rule of thumb is that it should look like regular wheat flour when you measure it, which mine does.  (If it looks more like cornstarch, then it has a high starch content.)  This flour can be substituted cup for cup of wheat flour in most recipes.  However, you’ll want to add some additional starches for rolls or delicate cookie flour, like I did in the recipe and links above.  For cake flour, substitute 2 T. cornstarch for 2 T. of the flour blend.  For yeast breads like pizza dough, substitute 1 to 2 T. cornmeal or corn flour for some of the flour blend.  With my all-purpose blend you can substitute sorghum and/or millet for 1/4 c. of flour when making “whole grain” muffins/sweet breads, or add more starches for things like biscuits.  The point is, you don’t need a bunch of different flour blends.  I use mine as the base flour and lighten it with starches for delicate baked goods or mix it with high fiber flour in the same way you would add whole wheat to regular flour.  No need to have a different blend for every recipe!  

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This versatile cookie dough is perfect for times when you need a dessert but are out of gluten free flour blend.  (Yes, I said “need a dessert.”)  We made some of these not-too-sweet cookies for our trip to Yellowstone last summer, and they were the perfect afternoon snack while hiking, providing protein and fiber from whole grain oats to keep us going.  I was surprised that they stayed soft and delicious for several days.

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This recipe yields a lot of dough and freezes beautifully, so it’s handy for this time of year when you may need a last minute treat to take to a party or family get-together.  The chocolate-covered bar variation looks especially festive for fall when you sprinkle mini Reese’s Pieces on top, and is always a hit with my “gluten friends.”  To make festive looking cookies, just substitute M&Ms with holiday colors for the chocolate chips.  My nine-year-old daughter helped me throw together the easy dough for cookies this afternoon, then I pressed the remaining dough into 2 gallon-sized freezer bags set inside my 8×8-in. pan to freeze for later, so I can plop the frozen dough right into the pan to make chocolate-covered peanut butter oat bars the next time our “need” for dessert arises (a.k.a. next week).

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The cookies are fine stored at room temperature, but the bars taste best refrigerated, even though the candies on top may pop off when you cut through the chocolate topping.  (I call the loose candies the “mom tax.”)

Flourless Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

1 1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. butter or dairy free margarine, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 c. GF oats (Winco carries cheap bulk GF oats, but they’re no longer labeled GF, so ask an employee to help you)
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips or holiday-themed M&Ms
1 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips or mini M&Ms (we prefer semi-sweet chips for at least 1 c. of the chocolate)

In a large mixing bowl – seriously, it needs to be large – cream peanut butter, butter and both sugars.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  Combine oats and baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips and/or M&Ms.

Using a cookie scoop, drop mounds of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Smash down with fingers to the height of the chocolate chips, since these won’t spread very much.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes.  (I like my cookies soft and chewy, so I prefer a shorter baking time and pull them out before they brown around the edges.)  Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yields 2 dozen cookies plus one 9×13-in. pan (or 2 8×8-in. pans) of bars.

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Oat Bars:

If using frozen dough, place frozen dough in a greased 9×13-in. pan (or 2 8×8-in. pans) and thaw.  Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.  When bars are cool, melt 1 package of milk chocolate chips (or semisweet, if you prefer) with 2/3 c. chunky peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl on 70% power until chips look glossy, about 45-60 seconds.  Stir until smooth, heating for 15 sec. intervals as necessary to melt chips – don’t overheat or you’ll get frosting.  (If making one 8×8-in. pan, use 3/4 c. chocolate chips and 1/3 c. peanut butter.)

Pour melted chocolate over bars and immediately sprinkle with mini Reese’s Pieces, if desired.  Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, and cut into bars.  Store in the refrigerator.

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Last weekend, I spontaneously decided that a family fun night was in order – it was either that, or lock the kids in their rooms for the rest of winter – and invited my daughter, Little Miss Planner, to help organize it.  Honestly, I think putting her “in charge” was as much of a thrill for her as the actual event itself.  We started by coming up with 3 possible options for the dinner menu, dessert, game, and family movie.  (We’ll use this same format next month when it’s my son’s turn to plan our family fun night.)  Even though I came up with most of the ideas, I tried to casually mention them as options from which she got to choose.  Again, she had so much fun writing down the ideas we came up with and circling her favorites, I was reminded that giving kids opportunities to have control is good from time to time.  (Not surprisingly, she’s been a much more cooperative child this week.  Hmmm…)

As we narrowed down the list of ideas, I realized that we could easily turn our fun night into a snow-themed party, a fitting way to celebrate the good part of winter – snow!  Here is what we did, along with some ideas for your own snowy fun.

Dinner Menu
Since we’ve had snow on the ground since Christmas, I suggested that we gather some clean snow to make snow cones.  I had bought some snow cone syrup years ago, and it had been sitting, unopened, in the garage for who knows how long.  But since it’s just corn syrup and chemicals, we decided to take a chance and ended up enjoying delicious, watermelon-flavored snow cones.  (It was actually strawberry syrup, though – I said it was old.)  Real snow cones are awesome!  If you have the means, I highly recommend them.

To go along with our snow theme, I wrapped homemade burgers on buns in white parchment paper and called them “snowball burgers.” (This was a BIG deal to my gluten intolerant family, since we rarely buy expensive GF buns.  However, I’ve discovered that the crusts from Udi’s and Rudi’s bread make great buns when buttered and grilled.)  I made a fresh fruit salad with pineapple, strawberries and kiwi, then sprinkled dried coconut on top and called it “snow-covered fruit salad.”  For veggies, I cut up broccoli “trees” and drizzled ranch dressing “snow” over top.

January 2013 006

Atmosphere
I knew my craft-loving daughter would get excited about decorating, so I dug out some snowflake stamps for her to use to decorate white paper as place mats (which, unfortunately, doesn’t show up in my picture).  We set out colored pencils so everyone could draw snowman pictures on their place mats while they waited for dinner, like the kids do at restaurants.  I also gave my daughter snowflake stickers to put on cheap, white paper plates.  I dug out some plastic snowman cups and snowman napkins from Christmas, and also set some snowflake votive candle holders on the table.  It’s easy to re-purpose Christmas decorations to add a festive touch (if your husband is willing to drag out the boxes from the garage that you JUST put away).

For music, we played the “Happy Feet” soundtrack (which I’ll admit, I do enjoy) while we got everything ready.  During dinner, we switched to George Winston’s “December” album, which is not overly Christmasy, and provides nice background music.

Activities
Our favorite activity, hands down, was the “snowball” fight with rolled up white socks as snowballs.  We each took a corner of the room and started with 6 “sockballs” each.  The kids and I hid behind chairs, while my husband was exposed (to level the playing field a little).  My daughter got to tell us when to start, then we proceeded to pelt each other with socks.  The great thing about sockballs is that they’re reusable, so we played until I got tired of getting beaned in the head by my husband, who has way better aim than I do.

For our other game, my daughter chose Cadoo, which is Cranium for kids.  It involves easy word puzzles and group activities like charades, drawing, and sculpting.  The winner got a ride in the “snowmobile” (an 18-gallon storage bin powered by my husband), while the losers dumped a sockball avalanche on the snowmobile.

Ice Cream Snowmen

Dessert
After so much play and exertion, we were ready for dessert.  To go with some leftover cake, we made ice cream snowmen.  Unfortunately, we were in a hurry to assemble them before we started the party, and did not let the ice cream scoops harden long enough, so our snowmen ended up leaning on the cake for support.  Oh well.  They’re super easy to make, however.  I used a cookie scoop to scoop out 3 small vanilla ice cream scoops for each snowman, and placed them in a wax paper-lined pan.  (I’d recommend letting them harden in the freezer for at least a half-hour to avoid lopsided snowmen.)  When the balls are firm, stack them into snowmen next to an edge of your pan to keep them from tipping over.  Put them back in the freezer for another 10-20 minutes.  (I skipped this step and regretted it.)  While they’re firming up, gather your supplies for making the face, arms, and hat.  Decorating the snowmen is a great activity for the kids.

  • For the face, we used mini chocolate chips for eyes, and jimmies sprinkles for the nose and mouth.  We use an orange sprinkle as a “carrot nose” by inserting a pointed end into the ice cream.  We used a brown sprinkle as a mouth.
  • For the arms, we used Glutino gluten free stick pretzels.  I broke the sticks in half, since a half pretzel looked better.
  • For the hat, we used a partially melted chocolate chip to “glue” a Rolo candy onto a Peppermint Patty because that’s what I had on hand.  (I warned the kids to eat the candies separately because…yuck.)  You can use a mini cookie for the base of the hat and whatever candy you have on hand for the top.  To glue them together, put 1 chocolate chip per hat on a piece of wax paper and heat it in the microwave until it starts to soften.  It should still retain its shape until you press down on it.  Use a spatula to transfer it to the base of the Rolo or whatever candy you’re using, then attach it to the base of the hat.  We had a hard time keeping the hats on the snowmen, but they still looked cute!

Snowman Candy Hats

Movie
After dessert, we watched our favorite winter movie, “Snowball Express” – a must-see family movie!  It’s from the ’70s, so it might be hard to track down, but it’s great fun.  “Happy Feet” and “Happy Feet 2” are also great for little ones.  Older kids will like “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” or “Chronicles of Narnia.”  Any movie about winter/snow would work, though.

During the movie, we had to have some hot chocolate, of course.  (We normally don’t consume this much sugar, but that’s what makes it a party!)  This easy mix can be used with any kind of milk, so it’s perfect for kids with dairy allergies who can’t have the powdered mixes.  I like to keep a batch of this mix in a container to add to warm milk whenever the kids have been playing in the snow.  Add your favorite flavoring and you have gourmet cocoa that’s a whole lot healthier than the stuff from the store for just pennies.

Dairy Free Cocoa

Dairy Free Cocoa Mix:

  • 1/4 c. cocoa (the kind you use for baking)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • Milk (dairy, rice, almond, coconut)
  • Flavoring, optional (vanilla flavoring, peppermint extract, rum extract, coffee syrups)
  • Canned whipped cream or mini marshmallows, if desired

Combine cocoa and sugar in a container.  Heat milk of choice (or decaf coffee for the grown-ups!) in the microwave until just warm.  In my microwave, it takes about 1 min. to heat 6 oz. (3/4 c.) milk.  Stir a heaping tablespoon of cocoa mix into each 6 oz. of milk (slightly more for coffee), then add a drop or two of flavoring, if desired.  Top with a squirt of whipped cream or mini marshmallows (or if you’re me, use kitchen scissors to cut up old, hard marshmallows leftover from last summer – the kids will never know!).

With a little creativity and planning, having a snow party can break up the winter blahs and brighten those long, dark nights.  For more indoor winter party ideas, check out my posts on cheap Valentines Fun with kids and Spring Break Staycation ideas.  Yes, it can be a happy January!

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This past Thanksgiving I finally conquered my gluten free Mt. Everest – green bean casserole.  Frying the onions wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be, thanks to the advice in this post and our little electric fondue pot.  This recipe makes enough onions for a 9″x13″ casserole, but I decided to make a half recipe since it was for our little family of four.  I froze the rest of the onions on a baking sheet, then transferred them to a bag to save for our Christmas dinner.

2013 Update: The onions freeze well and just need to be reheated in a warm oven to crisp them up before adding to the casserole.  Even though the cream of mushroom soup is not hard to make, if you can find Progresso’s GF Creamy Mushroom Soup, it works really well when brought to a boil with 1 T. GF flour to thicken it a little before mixing with the green beans.  (I added 1/8 tsp. pepper to mine this past Thanksgiving.)  However, the homemade version can be made with rice milk for dairy free folks, so it’s a good one if you have multiple sensitivities in your home.  Happy Gluten Free Holidays!

Green Bean Casserole

Gluten Free French Fried Onions

1 med. onion (I used a sweet onion, but any should work)
1 egg
1 1/2 c. milk (I used rice milk)
1 c. GF flour blend
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if using a blend containing xanthan gum)
Pinch pepper
Canola or vegetable oil for frying

Slice onion into thin rings.  Halve the slices so that you have what looks like little rainbows.  Separate rings and cut outer 3 or 4 pieces in half, so you have uniform sized pieces.  (Set aside a few rings to chop for the cream of mushroom soup, if making the recipe below.)

November 2012 002

Beat egg and milk in a medium bowl.  Add onions and soak until oil is heated.

In a shallow bowl, combine flour, salt, xanthan gum and pepper.  Heat about 1-in. of oil to 375 degrees in an electric fondue pot or med. high on the stove.  (When you’re ready to fry – the oil will sizzle and pop when you flick a drop of water into it – turn down the temperature to 350 degrees or medium heat on the stove.)

While you wait for the oil to heat, line a couple plates with paper towels and gather your utensils.  I recommend using a fork to transfer the onions from the milk mixture to the flour, and using chopsticks to coat them with flour and transfer to the oil.  We used tongs to transfer the onions from the oil to paper towels.  Having separate utensils for each step keeps them from accumulating thick clumps of dough.

GF French Fried Onions

When the oil is ready, turn it down to medium and begin coating about 1/4 c. of the onions in flour, then dropping them in the oil.  Use tongs to turn onions over after a few minutes, then continue frying until golden brown.  Remove to paper towels to cool.  Continue until all onions are fried.  Set aside while you make the soup.  (I’d store them at room temperature, rather than in the fridge, so they don’t get soggy.)

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Cream of Mushroom Soup
(Equals approx. 1 can of soup – double recipe if making a 9″x13″ casserole.)

4 T. butter or dairy free margarine
1 T. finely chopped onion
6 T. GF flour blend with a pinch of xanthan gum (I used Gluten Free Pantry’s blend)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 c. milk (I used rice milk)
1 c. GF chicken broth OR 1 c. water with 1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon
1/4 c. chopped mushrooms OR half of a drained 4 oz. can of mushrooms

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Sauté onions in butter until soft but not brown.  (If using fresh mushrooms, sauté them with the onions.  DO NOT try to sauté canned mushrooms or they will jump out of the pan!)

Whisk in flour, salt and pepper, stirring constantly until a bubbly paste forms.  (If using Better Than Bouillon instead of broth, you can stir in the bouillon during this step and just add water instead of broth.)  Gradually whisk in the milk and broth (or water).  Stir constantly until you have a nice, thick soup.  Stir in mushrooms.

To use this soup in the traditional green bean casserole recipe, you may skip the step of adding extra milk, since this is not as concentrated as the canned soup to begin with, or add milk until it’s the desired consistency.  Add 2 cans green beans and desired seasonings according to whatever recipe you traditionally use (some add 1/8 tsp. pepper or soy sauce), stirring in 2/3 c. of your fried onions.

Transfer to a greased baking dish and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then top with another 2/3 c. onions and bake 5 minutes.  Serves 4-6.

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