This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Recipe Box: Chocolate Cream Pie from Scratch

If you've ever had real chocolate cream pie, the kind not made from a pudding mix, you know what I'm talking about.  I started out using Emeril Lagasse's recipe on the Food Network for the filling, and found it horribly, over-the-top sweet.  It was so over-sugared that you couldn't really tell there was chocolate or cream in there as well.  So I gave it a makeover, with less sugar, more chocolate, and a gluten-free crust.

For the crust:

I use this gluten-free pie crust recipe from Land O'Lakes.  You can eliminate at least the extra xanthan gum from the recipe, and possibly from the flour mix as well (although it might be more fragile). 


3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, plus 1/2 cup to use later
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup white sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped or grated (I used 3/4 cup of semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, which work as-is)
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract plus 1/2 teaspoon to use later
4 egg yolks

  1. Set up the egg yolks in their own small bowl (with room for whisking)
  2. Set up the chocolate, butter, and vanilla in a medium glass or metal mixing bowl (heat-resistant)
  3. Put 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, milk, sugar, and corn starch in a medium pot.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Heat sugar/cream mixture over medium-high heat, stirring constantly and whisking occasionally.  Once it boils, turn down heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring.
  5. Temper the eggs by adding a tablespoon of the cooking mixture slowly into the egg yolks while whisking the yolks.  Repeat for two more tablespoons.
  6. Add the tempered egg mixture back into the cooking pot and whisk well for 2 minutes. 
  7. Pour the mix into the bowl with the chocolate, butter and vanilla.  Whisk until the chocolate and butter are melted.
  8. Cover the mix with plastic wrap in contact with the surface (to keep a skin from forming) and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  9. After 30 minutes, whip the remaining 1/2 cup of whipping cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla to stiff peaks. 
  10. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate custard.
  11. Pour mix into the baked pie crust
  12. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, to fully firm up before serving. 

  Whip up additional cream to top when serving.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Recipe Adaptation: Gluten-Free Potstickers

If you haven't found it already, Crysty at Garden of Gluten Free has a fabulous recipe for the dough needed to make your own pot-stickers gluten free.  I have devious plans to turn the same dough into ravioli and pierogi this month. 

So I use her dough, but a very different filling.  The recipe makes more filling than you need, because you'll really want to mix the extra into ground beef the next day and make potsticker burgers.  You'll thank me later. 

First, mix the filling and set it aside to marinade. 

1/2 pound ground pork
1 cup shredded cabbage (you can use a cheese grater to shred it, but if you buy it as a pre-shredded cole-slaw mix, the carrots won't hurt the flavor at all!) 
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger*
3 cloves minced fresh garlic*
1 whole green onion (white and green parts)*
1 tablespoon sesame oil*
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar*
2 tablespoons soy sauce*

*For each of these, double the amount called for and set half of it aside in another bowl for the dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce:
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 whole green onion (white and green parts)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
Go to The Garden of Gluten Free, where she has a great step-by-step with photos for the dough and cooking the dumplings.

To keep one batch of dumplings warm while you cook another, set up a double boiler with a layer of parchment paper lining the top pot.  Place the cooked dumplings in layers, with parchment paper dividing them.  They will glue to each other if they are touching.  Cover the pot to trap steam. 

The next day, mix the leftover filling half and half with ground beef and cook as hamburgers.  The dipping sauce also makes an excellent burger mix-in, or marinade for chicken or steak. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Recipe Box: Homemade Boba and Bubble Tea from Scratch

I'm from a little town in Southwest Michigan.  When I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, I was very excited to have my horizons opened up to a wide range of new foods.  One thing I became quickly addicted to was bubble tea. 

For those of you who don't know, bubble tea is a relatively new Taiwanese drink made from dark-brewed black tea in milk, sweetened and iced.  You can get it with boba, which are large tapioca pearls. The combination of bitter, sweet, and chewy is amazing.  Unfortunately, it is a sometimes treat for me.  Not only do I risk contaminating JD with gluten (as I have no idea whether the drink is gluten-free) but the caffeine affects my sleep and anxiety for days afterwards.

So began my quest to make decaf, gluten-free bubble tea at home.

It turns out that the only roadblock is the tapioca pearls.  Most of the large pearl tapioca we can get in the U.S. is a direct import from China or Thailand, and I couldn't find any manufacturer that would confirm their product was gluten-free.

What I did find was this Snapguide by Carolina Moura on making your own boba from scratch. 

So this recipe is adapted from the snapguide, but with added detail I had to find out from trial and error.

For the Boba:

1/2 cup tapioca starch
Boiling water (start with 1 cup)
Optional: a few drops of food coloring or frosting dye

The water must be at a full rolling boil.  The heat and moisture activate the starches in the tapioca, making them gel.  If you don't use boiling water, the pearls will fall apart when they hit the water to cook later.

There is no exact proportion because it varies based on the starch, the humidity, and other unknown factors.  Boil a cup of water, and add a little at a time to the starch, setting the pot back on the burner to keep boiling between adds.

When the tapioca is about the consistency of play-dough (but more elastic and inclined to stick to your fingers) then it is ready.  I used a spatula to stir, but if you have heat-proof sillicone gloves they will work beautifully to knead the starch. 

Dust a surface with starch and keep your hands dusted with it throughout.  Wash your hands as needed if dough builds up on your fingers.

Break off tiny pieces of dough at a time.  They will expand in the water, so make the pearls 1/2 the size you think you want to end up with.  Roll the piece on your starch-dusted palm to make into a ball shape (does not have to be perfect).  Set on a piece of parchment paper to dry.  Try to get the balls about the same size for cooking consistency.

Leave out to dry overnight.  Mine were not "dry" in the morning as they still had a soft center, but the outside was crusted over enough to hold together in cooking.

If you made a big batch, you can freeze what you don't want to cook right away.  Cooked pearls last less than a day, so only cook what you need.

 Prep the Tea

Brew a dark black tea by using three tea bags in two cups of water.  I used decaf tea, but caffeinated will work just fine.  Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat to let steep.  Once it is cool enough, transfer to a container and store in the fridge.

Make a simply sugar syrup using 1 part sugar to 2 parts water.  Bring to a boil (stirring constantly) cook for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.  You can store this in the fridge as well, for up to a week  (when it gets cloudy and starts forming crystals, discard it).

Make the Boba

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Use about 3 times more water than you think you need, because too little water will become starchy and keep the pearls from cooking through.  

Once it is at a rolling boil, drop in the tapioca pearls and stir to separate them.  Cover the pot and boil for 15 minutes. 

Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 15 minutes.  The boba should be translucent, with no more than a few white spots of uncooked starch, and chewy. 

Mix the Tea

Drain boba and drop into glass for bubble tea.  Add sugar syrup and let sit for 5 minutes to absorb sugar.

Add tea and milk (to taste).  Add ice as needed and stir.

Cut the end of a large smoothie straw at an angle (so that the boba are sucked up into the straw). 

Enjoy your bubble tea!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gluten-Free Product Review: Hidden Valley Ranch

For years, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has stubbornly avoided our pleas to make their salad dressing gluten-free.  Let's face it, no other ranch dressing tastes quite as good!  I should know; I've tried somewhere near a dozen in the years since giving up gluten.

But now, this year, Hidden Valley dressing bottles are suddenly sporting a new gluten-free label!  It is on all the ranch variants available at my local publix (regular, bacon, and buttermilk) and on the newer packets of mix powder.  Older packets of mix powder are not labeled, but I don't know if it means they are not gluten-free.  You may need to simply wait for stock to turn over, or contact Hidden Valley with the product code on a specific packet to find out (make sure they know it's an older packet). 

So now it is time for me to go overdose on carrot sticks and ranch dressing.

I am neither affiliated with nor compensated by the makers or sellers of products I review.  All gluten-free information is based on a combination of product packaging, manufacturer information, the Cecelia's Marketplace Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping Guide, and personal experience with a Celiac partner sensitive below 20ppm.