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Monday, April 21, 2014

GFCF/Dairy-free (vegan) ranch dressing

My kids have gone through dipping and non-dipping phases many times.  We had a mercifully brief stretch where Boy #1 wanted ketchup at every meal and dunked everything from peas to strawberries in it.  While the kids aren't (yet) interested in MY personal dipping fave (blue cheese dressing), they do occasionally want something like ranch dressing (also one of MY personal favorites).

Since ranch dressing is buttermilk-based, I needed to find a substitute.  While it doesn't have to be vegan for my household, the recipe I decided to try was nut-based and therefore vegan.  My go-to homemade recipe for ranch dressing calls for mixing a blend of herbs and spices (given below) into equal parts mayonnaise and buttermilk.  While you can mimic the acidity of buttermilk by adding a little lemon juice to a non-dairy milk, I thought the flavor might still fall flat and that the cashews might help return a bit of richness to the dressing flavor.

Also I have a bottomless bag of chia seeds that I need to use up.

My first attempt at following this recipe exactly as written was underwhelming.  My results were on the thin, runny side and rather bland for my taste.

The consistency issue is likely a two-pronged problem...I prefer a thicker, more commercial consistency (the better for dipping, yo) and also I'm using a food processor rather than a Bone Crusher 6000 blender.  I have a blender that makes a decent daquiri, but it can't reduce raw carrots to sub-atomic particles.  The food processor does better, but it's also no cell-phone grinder.  I'd maybe get a thicker, creamier dressing with a higher-powered blender.

In lieu of heavier-duty equipment, I went with heavier-duty ingredients.  I doubled the amount of nuts and chia seed, reduced the liquid and went with my personal tried-and-true blend of herbs and spices for what *I* think ranch dressing should taste like.  It's a little heavy on the garlic and dill, but that's what I like and I'm not apologizing for it :)

I'd like to try this nut-and-chia recipe head-to-head with an acidified non-dairy milk plus mayo base to see if I prefer one to the other, but for now here's the nut-and-chia vegan version.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Natural Egg Dyes

This is all over Pinterest, but I'm so pleased with the results we had from our natural egg dying, that I want to jot down my notes for next year :)

I used the What's Cooking America website for ideas of materials to try dying with.  We tried spinach, carrot tops, beet peels, paprika, espresso, red wine, red onion skins, yellow onion skins and red cabbage.  Other possibilities include herbals teas (especially rooibos and hibiscus), other spices like cumin, saffron and turmeric and really, anything else you can think of that will turn cooking water a color when it's boiled.

Yellow onion skins, red onion skins, red cabbage, beet peelings, espresso and spinach

The day you decide to make the dye solutions, make sure you have LOTS of pots available and a couple of hours to spare.  I've only got 4 burners on my stove, so I could only boil 4 dye materials at once and had to wash pots out in between batches.

Also when you go to dye the eggs, unless you're going to do a bunch of eggs in a single color, have lots of little containers handy (1/2 pint jars were a great size for a single egg) so your kids can concoct special color combinations for each egg.

I hard-cooked the eggs first, made the dye solutions separately, and soaked the eggs overnight to color them.  If you make your dye solutions, then boil the eggs IN the dye solutions, the colors will turn out much darker and richer.  But then there's no mixing of colors for the kiddos.  And that's no fun.

We dyed 23 eggs in individual cups (you always lose one when you boil a batch, dontcha?) in a total of 3 quarts of dye solution (and actually had some left over).  Probably you'd use less dye solution to cover a bunch of eggs in one bowl than each egg individually ya know?  That's just to give you an idea of what kind of volume of dye solution to shoot for.

3 quarts total dye solutions
To make the dye solutions, I didn't do a lot of measuring.  For vegetal stuff, I put in enough to come about halfway up the sides of my pot (or as much as I had, in the case of the red onion skins and carrot tops), covered with water by about 1/2" and boiled.  For spices, I could only get about 1 tsp to dissolve per cup of water.

So here's my materials rundown:
  • Peels, tops and tails from 5 beets (cooked the beets for dinner) --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 quart dye solution
  • Skins from 4 yellow onions --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 quart dye solution
  • Skins from 1 red onion plus tops and tails --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 pint dye solution
  • 4 cups chopped red cabbage --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 pint dye solution (I could have gotten more of this dye with the same amount of vegetable just by using a bigger pot and more water)
  • tops from 1 bunch carrots --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 1/2 pints dye solution
  • 4 cups spinach leaves, finely chopped --> boil 1/2 the spinach for 30 minutes, add the remaining spinach and boil 30 more minutes --> 1 1/2 pints dye solution 
  • 2 tsp paprika --> dissolve in 2 cups boiling water --> 1 pint dye solution
  • leftovers from the coffeepot plus water to make 2 cups plus 1 tbsp espresso powder --> 1 pint dye solution
  • don't finish the red wine bottle --> 1/2 cup or so dye solution
Boil, strain, put in a jar.  Fridge until needed.

Dying was a lot of fun.  The kids each got a large measuring cup and requested mixtures of colors.  We Grownups poured the colors into the measuring cups to order, then the kids put an egg in a container and poured the mixture over.  No spills, no broken eggs...it was well-nigh an Easter miracle LOL  We poured a bit of vinegar into each cup afterward (about 1 tsp per egg cup), mixed gently with a spoon and let them sit overnight in the fridge.

Mad Color Scientist at work
Getting the wet eggs out of the dye baths requires a bit of gentle handling.  Some of the colors want to rub off very easily while wet (spinach and red cabbage particularly).  Some were sturdier even while wet (beets and the onion skins).  This is where one of those wire egg dippers could come in handy.

Color rubbed off the wet egg where my fingers slipped on it
I put mine on a cooling rack under a ceiling fan for a few hours, turning them once *very* carefully.

Once the eggs are dry though, no more color rub-off.  They will dry more mottled and speckledy than they look while wet, but they're still beautiful!

Beet dye
As far as final color results go, don't be surprised by what you get.  The dye may not be the same color as the plant material (yellow dye from carrot tops, blue-purple dye from red cabbage), the color on the wet egg may not be the same as the dye color, and the dry finished color may be different as well.

The 3 reddish dyes all produced rather different final colors.  The very intense beet dye solution gave a pale mottled pink.  The red onion skin dye gave a deep orangey red.  The yellow onion skin dye gave a solid yellow.

The red cabbage dye was not surprisingly the most striking dye.  Definitely want more of that one next year.  Since red cabbage liquid will turn different colors with acids/bases, I'm curious to try adding baking soda to the dye bath in place of the vinegar (not in addition to!) and see what we get.

Red Cabbage dye

The red wine had an interesting effect...sediment fell out of the wine and crystallized on the eggs, leaving the eggs a surprising mixture of blue, green and wine-purple with sparkles.

Red wine dye

The spinach was fairly pale.  I might try a greener green next year...kale or collards maybe?  When we combined spinach and carrot top dyes, we got more vibrantly colored eggs than using either one alone...perhaps I'll do a mixed batch of spinach-carrot top as well.

Whatever else we think up to try, we will definitely be doing this again next year :)  Happy Easter! Pin It

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Flourless GFCFDF muffins

In our expedition into the world of GFCF cooking, I've been looking for recipes that don't try to mimic gluten-based baked goods.  I've been looking for recipes that are natively gluten- and dairy-free, that don't use a ton of substitute ingredients.

This is one of them. Yay!

These are incredibly delicious.  And sneaky with the veggies.  You seriously would have no idea that there was a vegetable in these guys.

The only tricksy part here GFCF-wise is the chocolate chips...if you want a totally dairy-free recipe, you have to find specialty dairy-free vegan chocolate chips. Which exist. But not at my regular grocery store.  I chose to use regular white chocolate chips because we still had some hanging around that needed to be used up, and our need for dairy-free foods is not as absolute as it might be with, say, a true food allergy.  You could leave them out altogether (though you'll lose a muffin or two in terms of yield), or use something like chopped nuts instead.

As always, do what works in your kitchen and household.

A note on butternut squash puree...I actually did see this in a can on the organic-and-other-oddments part of the canned vegetable aisle at my grocery store.  I personally used 2 cups of boiled butternut squash, which was about 1/2 of a medium-sized squash.  The main difference I suspect is the remaining moisture content of the two...the homemade puree will likely be moister than the canned, and will possibly take longer to bake (this was my experience).

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Back to Basics: Sandwich Bread (GFCF)

2014 has brought evolution to our family and to our kitchen.  We're trying out a gluten-free, casein-free (read: pretty much dairy free) diet in addition to the dye-free efforts we've made over the last year or so.  Between my daughter's dairy sensitivities and my oldest son's ADHD/potential spectrum issues, we're trying whatever might work.

Initially, when we decided to try this GFCF thing, I felt...well...overwhelmed.  Like I might have to quit my part-time job (which I LOVE) and pull Boy #1 out of preschool (which we DID NOT want to do) to make it work.  Because it means giving up my easiest, no-work meals, it means having practically no backup take-out options when I, say, forget to put dinner in the crockpot, it means cooking and providing every single bite my kid is going to eat whether he's at home, school, a birthday party, soccer practice, what have you.

Fainting <--this was me thinking about all of that

Given a few weeks to plan however, I'm back on the prep-ahead, freeze-ahead horse with some new recipes in tow, confidence that we can make this work and hope that it helps my kids and their various *stuff*.

There are many, many, many blogs out there dedicated to GF/CF/Whatever-F cooking out there.  I do not intend to duplicate those efforts.  My focus, as ever, is the prep-ahead aspect.  What works to make in advance. What works to prep in advance to finish later. How to plan and shop and work ahead to make dinner (and lunch and breakfast and snacktime) happen on time, healthfully (as we now define it), and without making your brain explode.

So here we are.  In some ways, doing the same-old-same-old (there are an awful lot of natively GFCF/DF recipes, many on this very blog...if I get a chance to breathe, I'm going to try to go back and add appropriate tags/pins), and in some ways relearning the basics.

Like bread.  The Holy Grail in many ways of GF baking.  When you think of "bread" (yeast breads in particular), you probably have the sense-memory of the chew, the toothsome pull of each bite.  That's the gluten.  Even with a soft yeast bread like a Parker House roll, there's a particular flavor that comes from the wheat.  Yes, wheat has a flavor...you don't realize it until you're eating a roll made without wheat, but wheat has its own distinctive flavor.  Wheat is such an omnipresent grain in our cooking culture that it's like wallpaper...you don't notice it until it's gone.

So the downside to GF baking is that it's just not going to be the same.  It might be close with a really good recipe and set of ingredients, but it's not going to be the same.

The upside, however, once you reset your expectations for the final product, is that there is no gluten to worry about.  No need for extensive kneading or long double and triple rises to develop gluten in a bread, and no worries about overmixing causing too much gluten development (and therefore toughness) in quick breads and cakes.  No pull-back when you shape dough.  No need to let a pizza crust rest before rolling it out.  It's really quite brilliant.

One of the "downsides" to GF bread--namely how quickly it dries out and gets stale at room temperature--is ideal for my purposes.  The solution is to bake bread ahead and freeze it (although so far, the bread I've made is eaten up by my family of 5 so fast, it hasn't needed to last more than 24 hours fresh anyway).

As far as shopping for this goes, you do need some "unusual" flours and ingredients.  Fortunately, it's not hard to find them.  All the major grocery store chains near me carry these items.  Bob's Red Mill is the brand that's most prevalent.  Some stores carry them on the regular baking aisle and dairy case; some have them in a "specialty diet", "organic/natural foods" or "gluten free foods" area.  If you don't see what you need, ASK.  I bet they have it somewhere.

One last thought...the first rule of GF baking is You Don't Talk About... No, that's not it, just kidding.

The first rule of GF baking is Don't Change the Recipe.  You can't just take a gluten-based recipe, sub in some GF flours and have it work.  You need thickeners, binding agents, extra leaveners and a lot of trial-and-error to start generating a workable GF recipe out of thin air.  You also need to be mindful about whether you inadvertently add gluten to a recipe by switching ingredients (there's a lot of hidden gluten in the world).

So I'm not changing anything about the GF baking recipes I try.  I'm going to link to the original recipe found wherever it originally lives on the interwebs, and post my notes about how it worked for me.  With pictures of course.

So off we go.  Please join us :)  And please point out my mistakes...I'm not new to allergen-sensitive cooking, but I am new to this particular (and rawther tricky) branch of food sensitivity.  So I'll try not to screw up, but if I do...holler!

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