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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gluten-free Hermit Cookies

I always get excited when I come across something new - especially if it presents me with a baking or cooking challenge.

When Heidi of 101 cookbooks posted Sante's Hermit Cookies recently, I thought, "Hermit cookies? What are those?" In her post, they appeared to be small, spiced, soft cookies with fruit, nuts, and icing. Just the thing for a good holiday cookie.

I, of course, had to do some additional research - what are they traditionally like? Why the name? What variations have others created?

And, most importantly, I wondered how I should best go about making them gluten free. How do I replicate that whole-wheat pastry flour, softened with milk, texture?

As it turns out, it is a big mystery as to why these cookies are named "Hermit cookies," but they are traditionally made with lots of spice, nuts, and fruit. They are also traditionally square in shape and seem to be more popular (or well known) in the eastern part of the United States. I would be curious to know, however, from any non-US readers whether they have heard of such cookies (especially German or Dutch folks?).

Upon noticing they are usually brown in color (which is one theory as to their name - that their brown color resembles a hermit's brown sack-cloth clothing), I immediately thought of my little-used container of Teff flour waiting for me in the kitchen. It also seemed like a natural fit for a recipe that called for whole-wheat pastry flour.

Teff - that teeny, tiny grain that makes a dark colored, fine flour. It's full of fiber and other nutrients, lends a wonderful texture to baked goods, but I tend to over-look it because I don't want my gluten-free baked goods to look different than their gluteny counterparts. That's a hang-up, however, I should probably learn to get over, because Teff flour really takes (makes) the cake! :)

--sorry for the stupid pun, but I couldn't resist.

I also thought these would be great with some pumpkin flavor, and, to be totally honest, I had some leftover pumpkin puree from the pumpkin scones I baked earlier this week.

I think I found another favorite holiday cookie!


By the way - this new little blog was just listed at Massage Therapy Careers as one of ten gluten free blogs in their Top 100 Wellness Blogs list! I am both surprised and honored.


Gluten Free Hermit Cookies:

I chose to toast some unsweetened coconut with the walnuts because I am in love with the flavor of coconut right now, but certainly omit it if you don't have any on hand or don't like coconut. Also, I imagine some soft, ripe bananas (about 1 cup mashed) would substitute well for the pumpkin in this recipe. By the way, with the nutrients from the Teff and pumpkin alone (not to mention the coconut, raisins, and walnuts), these are pretty darned nutrient-packed little cookies -- definitely outweighs the butter and sugar ;) Make them dairy-free by using shortening or soft (not liquid) coconut oil.

1/2 cup Teff flour

1/2 cup Millet flour

1/2 cup Brown rice flour

1/2 cup Tapioca flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup pumpkin puree (or mashed banana)

2/3 cup butter, room temperature

2 eggs

1/2 cup honey or agave nectar

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I throw them in a sturdy plastic bag and mash with a heavy-bottomed coffee mug)


Heat oven to 350F.

Mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl until well-combined.

If you wish to toast your coconut and walnuts, throw them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Blend the butter and honey until mixed well (will likely be lumpy, with small pieces of butter). Lightly whisk eggs and mix into butter/honey mixture. Mix in pumpkin puree.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until mostly combined. Add raisins, coconut, and walnuts. Mix until evenly distributed. The mixture should be soft and slightly sticky - the kind of dough you can't really roll with your hands.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using two spoons (one to scoop batter and the other to scrape the spoonful onto the baking sheet), drop rounded spoonfuls onto the baking sheet. I imagine a small ice-cream scoop would also work well for this.

Grab another spoon and put some water in a small cup. Dip the back of the spoon in the water and slightly flatten the balls so they are thick, flat disks. They will rise slightly while cooking, but not a ton.

Bake for about 15 minutes.


Allow to cool completely and ice with the following:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon hazelnut milk (or your favorite)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Mix above ingredients and add additional milk a small bit at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. I used only the tablespoon milk for a thicker icing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cooking gluten-free holidays

I love this man.

If you think for a second that food isn't an important part of the holidays, think again. In fact, Ben spent hours Saturday morning on the phone with his family, talking about that very topic. Let's just say I am terribly grateful, to both Ben and his family.

Since we will be making the trek out to New York to visit with his family over the holidays, his parents are doing more than any gluten-free gal could ever hope for to make my visit a safe, healthy one. They are asking all the right questions about all the traditional foods and this means Ben has been on the phone with them a lot. He even put together a shopping list and potential menu for the time we will be there.

On that list are some traditional foods, such as pumpkin pie, with GF variations, but it's mostly focused on foods and ingredients that are naturally gluten free. By that same token, many of the 'traditional' foods of the holidays ARE gluten free if they are made from scratch and prepared on clean surfaces. Roasted root veggies, turkey, asparagus, ham, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and green beans are all gluten free.

If you, too, will be preparing a holiday meal with a gluten-free guest, this post is for you.

If you are the gluten-free-er and you are heading to someone else's home for the holidays, I hope your hosts are as open to learn and concerned about your health as mine are. Even if they aren't, direct them to my site, this post, or any number of the other GF bloggers out there. The Gluten Free Girl also has a post on how to cook for someone gluten free.

This is a rough guide with just the basics, and may be incomplete (please comment if you see anything missing!). And, I cannot emphasize this enough -- Don't ever feel silly or stupid or like a pest asking your gluten-free-er about what gluten is and how to cook gluten-free. They will be happy to fill you in with more than you ever wanted to know and feel blessed you care enough to ask.

Gluten-containing grains: Wheat, Barley, Rye, Kamut, Spelt, Triticale, and regular oats contain the protein called gluten. Certified gluten free oats are available; oats only contain gluten when grown and processed near wheat – it is basically a cross-contamination issue. Gluten is a protein and it is what makes baked goods elastic and hold together.

Ingredients to watch out for in processed foods: If you are cooking for someone else who is gluten-free, it is sometimes easier to cook from scratch or only trust products that label themselves “gluten free.” It can become mind-boggling to keep track of all of the ingredients derived from gluten containing grains. Ingredients/foods to be avoided include: wheat, barley, rye, oats, kamut, spelt, triticale, beer, flour, monosodium glutamate, wheat starch, malt (malt extract, malt syrup,malt flour, malt vinegar), soy sauce, gravy (including “sauces” and “roux”), marinades, teriyaki, imitation seafood (imitation crab), and licorice. Blue, stilton, and roquefort cheeses sometimes contain gluten, as does Maltodextrin. The blue part of blue cheese is a mold, usually started from wheat grains. There are exceptions, however, for some cheeses made in the United States, so check with companies. Maltodextrin (and dextrin) is made from corn in the United States, but for pharmaceuticals and food products made outside of the United States, check with each company. "Natural flavors" are sometimes made using barley, so it's usually best to check with the company.

Remember - "wheat free" does not mean "gluten free;" some people have an allergic reaction to wheat specifically, but can tolerate barley, spelt, etc., so some manufacturers cater to this crowd, but are not gluten free.

Many companies will provide gluten information upon request and often have information on their websites, especially in the FAQ section.

If you are out looking on the internet, be sure to find recent information, as many companies change their ingredients and sources for ingredients.

Gluten-free flours: Some "grains" that are naturally gluten free, like buckwheat (which is technically not a 'grain'), may not actually be gluten free when sold as a flour. If they are processed along with wheat, they will not be gluten free. Always check labels. The flours from Bob's Red Mill are tested regularly and their GF flours are labeled as such (note that their buckwheat flour, for example, is NOT GF). Unfortunately, gluten free baking is not as easy as substituting a gluten free flour for all-purpose flour. See my post on flours for more information on how to use these flours and be sure to ask your gluten-free-er about other sensitivities, such as corn.

Xanthan gum: This is a binder that is used to approximate the properties of gluten in baked goods. Most recipes will call for a small amount of gum (either xanthan gum or guar gum). They are, from what I understand, interchangeable in most recipes. It is expensive, but a small bag of it will last you a long time. It should be stored in the fridge to maintain effectiveness.

Kitchen contamination: To be completely safe, kitchen items (cutting boards, spoons, spatulas, etc.) made from wood, plastic, rubber, and silicone that have been previously used with wheat flour should not be used. Also, non-stick skillets and other non-stick cookware previously used with gluten-containing food items are likely to harbor gluten. Don't forget about bread machines, toasters, pizza stones, and cheese cloths – all of these need to be avoided. All stainless steel, metal, and glass objects (provided they are thoroughly cleaned and no sticky residue is left behind) are safe to use for cooking for gluten sensitive individuals. When in doubt, a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil can be used to cover any surface, placing a barrier between the gluten free food and the previously used object.

Anyone who is familiar with clean-room environments, and the dirty vs. clean dichotomy that necessarily follows from it, will immediately understand the concept of cross-contamination. I worked for a summer as a sterilization assistant in a dentist office during college, so I have been well-versed in this dichotomy and I'll give you the gist here, in gluten terms.

If you touch something with your hands, or a knife, or a spoon, etc. that contains gluten, your hand or that object is now "dirty" and should not be used for gluten free eating or cooking. Once you wash your hands or the dirty object, it is once again "clean" and safe for gluten-free eating and cooking. For example, a slice of bread is on the counter. You take a knife and spread butter on the bread, then take some more butter, and spread that on the bread as well. The counter, the knife, the butter, and your hands are all dirty -- even if you can't see visible crumbs. A good way to get around this is to start with unopened products, especially butter, nut butters, jam, and anything else in which a knife or spoon may have been previously dipped. No one wants to have to rack their brain, trying to remember what has been where.

Here's another example that is less obvious. The cat food has gluten in it. The cats eat the food, lick their fur, and they crawl in my lap to be petted. Needless to say, I wash my hands a lot.

This may seem like overkill to some, but gluten is a protein that sticks to surfaces. Unlike bacteria, which can be "killed," gluten cannot be boiled or disinfected away. It has to be physically removed from a surface by washing it away. Do you remember those plastic goggles from biology class? Placing them in the "sterilizer" killed the germs, but did not "clean" them - the gunk stayed.


If your head is spinning, take a deep breath, relax, and remember what I said about whole, natural ingredients - they are all gluten free except for the few grains I listed above. Just keep in mind the cross-contamination issues, enlist the help of your gluten-free loved one, and all will be fine.

And, although we all know food has an important place in holiday celebrations, what is most important is celebrating the presence and health of loved ones and the appreciation we have for those with whom we share our lives.

I am certainly grateful beyond words - for my family, friends, Ben, and his family.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow day!

We woke up to snow yesterday morning, a rare sight in downtown Portland.

Ever since I moved to Portland from Minnesota, I have been glad I don't have to deal with driving in the snow, but I still miss how pretty it is falling from the sky, blanketing the ground and trees with a cover of white. So, it was nice to see those big, puffy flakes falling from the sky, turning the world white. I also find it funny that a couple of inches out here has everyone excited - almost the whole city shuts down and all the schools close.

My first winter here, we had a big ice storm that left ice all over the streets and sidewalks. I laughed as I watched the news, how big of a deal they were making out of a small layer of ice. School was canceled, so I put on my coat, hat, and gloves and headed to the computer lab to get some homework done (by the way - stupid Lauren, the computer lab is closed if school is closed!).

I quickly realized the difference between bad weather in Minneapolis and bad weather in Portland is salt. No salt as well as fewer plows and sand trucks results in SLIPPERY ice. I used to walk around on ice and snow all the time in Minneapolis, but it was made passable by the amount of salt and sand dumped on it.

Yesterday was the kind of day that never really became "light" outside, and we had our christmas tree lights on most of the day, like my family always does on Christmas day. In fact, it sort of felt like Christmas day - both Ben and I home from work, snow falling, and an easy-going feeling that comes from having a holiday to enjoy and nowhere to be.

Ben and I enjoyed our home-bound day hunkered down in our apartment, drinking tea, trying to keep warm, and pursuing individual projects.

I had wanted to bake some holiday cookies yesterday (Russian tea cakes, please!), but I'm out of tapioca flour (I used the last bit of it Friday for our "gluten free pizza Friday" dinner), and I wasn't about to go out in the snow to the other side of town just to buy more, so I had to busy my hands other ways instead.

It was the perfect excuse to crochet some toys for my twin nephews :)

As I crocheted these little guys, I watched the Christmas cartoons my brother recorded on VHS sometime around 1985...included in this tape are gems such as Charlie Brown's Christmas, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, and Garfield's Christmas Special. I thought about how excited I was, growing up, to watch those cartoons year after year. I also noticed how commercials have changed over the years - my oh my! This was back in the day when Ronald McDonald dominated McDonald's commercials and 7up gave away a "count-down to Christmas" poster with each pack of 7up.

No matter how many times I watch Mickey's Christmas Carol, it still cracks me up to see Goofy trying to ski and hear Mickey's laugh (ha-hah) as he narrates the transitions between cartoon clips of the gangs's favorite Christmas's. Oh, and then there's the ghost of Christmas present and his inability to pronounce "pistachios." (He says, "mismashios," which is what I have been lovingly calling them for years).

In addition to these beauties, I have a few other movies I love to watch this time of year, usually while baking cookies or wrapping presents:

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

The Sound of Music

It's a Wonderful Life

White Christmas

I have them memorized by now, but they conjure up memories of home and holidays past. For me, they are part of the tradition around the holidays. What are some of your favorites?

We also finally broke down and turned on the heat yesterday - with highs in the upper 20's and lows in the teens, we just couldn't put on enough clothing to keep us warm. Even as I type this, I am sitting near a window, with a radiator below it, and I have on two sweatshirts, a longsleeve shirt, jeans, socks, slippers, and a blanket over my lap! My toes and fingers are still pretty cold.

And our cats? They have been particularly playful (I think it's hard for them to sleep when they are cold) - playing hide and seek with each other for large parts of the day. At night, they all climb in bed with us, curling up in the nooks of our arms and legs.

We fell asleep last night listening to the wind howl through cracks in the window frames and the clanging of the christmas lights hanging off our balcony.

We made this for dinner last night - simple as can be and healthy and delicious (not to mention the oven helps keep the kitchen warm!).


Roasted winter root vegetables:

You can really use any winter vegetables you want in this - I just used what I had on hand, but would have loved some brussels sprouts or winter broccoli to round it out.


1 Large sweet potato, cut into small pieces

2 cups chopped carrots

1 rutabaga, cubed

1/2 large sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

olive oil

toasted sliced almonds


Toss all chopped veggies in a baking dish (or two) and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle seasonings over the veggies and toss to coat.


Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes, until sweet potato is tender.


Serve and garnish with sliced almonds.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dairy-free, gluten-free, creamy sweet potato gratin

I came home from work yesterday, after walking around on my feet for 8 hours, ate dinner and, even though the kitchen was already a total disaster, set out to make chocolate chip cookies.

I had been craving something sweet yesterday, but it's not like I could walk over to the corner store and pick up something to satisfy my sweet tooth. This is why I usually have SOMETHING on hand, waiting for me, for those days when I want something sweet. I bake double batches of goodies and throw them in the freezer.

My treats wait for me in there, with their little ice crystals, for me to take them out, nuke them a bit in the microwave, and enjoy.

Over thanksgiving, I did a lot of baking, like I mentioned. In addition to my sugar cookie cutouts, I made those delicious little pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (sans pecans) on Karina's site. I stuffed them in the freezer and took two or three to work with me each day (believe me, I need the calories). Unfortunately, I ran out mid-week and, after walking around on my feet for 8 hours, I just don't have the energy to bake when I get home.

Friday afternoon I wished desperately that my situation were different; that I could pop over to the coffee shop on the corner and pick up a lovely little treat (or any other shop, for that matter) with no worries.

I've found that it isn't until moments and days like this that I ever feel frustrated with my diagnosis - when I'm tired, hungry, want something ready-made, and everything around me is filled with gluten. Experience has told me that having a stockpile of things ready to go in the freezer (sweet or not) helps eliminate these woe-is-me, pity-party-conjuring, situations. I also try to keep a well-stocked kitchen in general, with ingredients I need to create something delicious.

With no gluten-free bakery next door yesterday afternoon, I had to find comfort in promising myself I would go home at the end of the day, put on a holiday movie, and bake cookies. And, that's what I did.

Well, almost - Ben was working on a music project, so I didn't want to put on that holiday movie, I just listened to his music instead, which turned out very pretty :)

Until last night, I hadn't yet tried making regular chocolate chip cookies at all. The picture above shows the perfectly functioning dough I created (with our christmas tree in the background!). Unfortunately, once baked up, they revealed themselves to be overly delicate and a bit too grainy. They turned out sweet and delicious, and they will do for me right now, to satisfy that sweet tooth, but I am going to have to do some more experimenting before I post a recipe. Just a couple small tweaks, though, is all I think it will take!

In keeping with my desire to keep a well-stocked kitchen, I went overboard again last Saturday (is this really a surprise?) at the farmer's market and picked up a ton of squash, apples, onions, and pears. And then I couldn't resist a new crop of winter broccoli, from my favorite farm (Sungold Farm) - it looked so beautiful and green, with long stalks and slightly elongated florets. At the time, I wasn't sure what I would do with them, but I was sure I would find a way to cook them.

Wednesday night I put together the sweet potato gratin you see pictured below, with andouille sausage, broccoli, and mushrooms. Just the perfect thing for a non-dairy, comforting, creamy meal!

Gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato broccoli gratin:

2 andouille sausages, cut into small pieces

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes

1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced

1 cup mushrooms, diced

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups hazelnut milk (or your favorite milk)

2 1/2 tablespoons tapioca flour

Cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise and slice into 1/4 inch pieces. In a large bowl, mix the broccoli, sausage, onion, and mushrooms. Layer the broccoli mixture with the sweet potato pieces in a large casserole dish.

Bake covered at 375F for about 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a large saucepan, combine tapioca flour and milk and stir until tapioca is dissolved. Heat over medium heat until mixture thickens, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in sage, rosemary, and sea salt.

When potatoes are tender, remove the casserole dish from the oven and drain excess liquid. Stir in the sauce. Return to oven, uncovered, and heat through.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A soup to warm your soul

While I wait, hope, and dream for THE job as I finish up my degree, I've been working retail downtown. It helps pay the rent (barely), but it also takes much time away from my usual cooking, baking, and writing pursuits. I have also become amazingly behind on emails and slacking in my efforts to recruit participants into my dissertation study. So, forgive me if my posts become somewhat less frequent. I promise to share as many of my kitchen successes as possible!

When I started this job, I decided my "thing," the thing that would make this job a bit more interesting, is that I would wear a tie everyday. It turns out I am the only woman there wearing a tie.

Ben has an amazing collection of ties, some very pretty and some downright terrible. He likes the pretty ones just as much as the terrible ones. He finds joy in finding some of the most hideous ties he can and flaunting them at work, just as much as he likes flaunting the pretty ones. So, I decided this would be my excuse to wear some of those pretty ties - probably the only time and place in my life when I can wear a tie everyday and not be considered strange. I'm having fun picking out my ties each day, though the rest of my outfit doesn't vary much (that darned dress code!).

There is something I like about working retail during the holidays - it's almost always busy, most people are in good spirits, and there's a vibrant energy in the air. I also kind of like being downtown during the day.

Walking home tonight, I thought about the tradition of lights during the holidays. I walked past several park areas and trees, many of which were lit up with tiny white specks of light, and it felt happy. They seemed to dance in the air. Lighting trees during the holiday season is meant to give a bit more light to a season with little sunlight, to boost spirits. I noticed for the first time in probably my whole life that they really do give more of a sense of warmth to the winter months. I wonder why we don't leave them on until February or later?

I love those twinkling little white lights and the red and green lights with which the downtown buildings are adorned. I especially love that Portland lights up a big evergreen tree right in the middle of downtown, just like the one in New York City. It seems that some of our post-holiday let-down might be due to the removal of those bright little lights we so enjoyed October through December, don't you think?

Anyway, Ben and I have been craving soups lately, to sort of add some inner-warmth as the temperatures dip to the 30's at night, and we're cranking out some good ones this week. This first one is a good, hearty soup, with lots of vegetables, and can easily be done in the crockpot. Done again, I might even leave the peas out, but they do add a sense of fullness to the soup. Throw in some red pepper flakes for a bit of kick.

Vegetable ham and pea soup:

2 cups carrots, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 large red onion, diced

2 medium parsnips, diced

4 cups broth

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups cubed ham

1 pound split yellow or green peas

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

olive oil

black pepper, to taste


In a large pot of water, bring peas to a boil and simmer on low heat until tender, about an hour. Drain and rinse. Set aside.

In a large dutch oven, saute chopped veggies, garlic, and red pepper in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add broth and cubed ham and simmer on medium or medium-low for about 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Add peas and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so, to heat through. Add black pepper to taste.

If you are cooking it in a crockpot, add all ingredients to the crockpot and cook on low for about 8 hours or high for about 4 hours.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No bummer: Gluten-free sugar cookie cutouts

As I finished up my breakfast yesterday morning, I heaved a heavy sigh, placing my dirty dishes in the dishwasher. My heart felt heavy.

My heart hadn't felt that heavy since last year, when fires took over the country of Greece. I ached for the loss of lives, the loss of homes, and the loss of farms, vegetation, and animals. The face of Greece was changed for many decades to come due to the work of arsonists. It was the kind of heavy heart that could only come from tragic “world” events, about which I could do nothing.

Yesterday, my heavy heart came from a conglomeration of events... the attacks in Mumbi, the possibility of increasing tensions between Pakistan and India (both nuclear powers), the 600-point drop in the markets the day before, and the announcement that OHSU is on a hiring freeze. All of this was on the news Monday night, giving a feeling of impending doom for all of us.

I am usually a news-addict. After years of living alone, I got in the habit of watching the news in the morning while eating breakfast and getting ready as well as in the evening while eating dinner. I grew up in a household of five, in which we ate meals together. Eating alone was somehow made tolerable by watching the news – my news-anchor family was always there to talk at me. (Unfortunately for Ben, this means I have the news on a lot more than he is used to). However, Ben had last week off from work, so we spent a lot of time doing other things and didn't see much of the news.

When I finally got caught up this week, the world felt pretty brutal.

I immediately thought of the SNL skit aired during the election campaign – the one where “President Bush” holds the news conference in the evening because every time he talks during the day, the stock market “goes in the crapper.” In that skit, “President Bush” is also surprised to learn his low approval ratings, stating he was previously ignorant to his ratings and, in general, world events because he had declared the oval office, “a bummer-free zone.”

I want a bummer-free zone.
Don't you??


Last week, like I said, Ben had the week off of work, so we did a lot of nothing – like a good vacation should be. We ran errands together, I graded papers, he recorded music, I baked (a lot), he painted, and we made dinners together. We also went for a couple of walks together – one to see the big tree in downtown Portland (Portland's version of the big tree in New York City). We watched movies, some Christmas movies, put up our Christmas tree, and celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than that, we just sort of lazed the time away, sleeping in and enjoying coffee and breakfast longer than usual.

We will be going to visit Ben's family over Christmas. Since this is not only my first gluten free Christmas, but also my first family get-together with Ben's family, I am feeling a little nervous about the whole thing (to say the least). Like most families, Ben's family likes to bake cookies at Christmas, and, in particular, they typically make sugar cookie cutouts.

Knowing this, I have taken it upon myself to figure out a good flour combination to make sugar cookies that look and feel and taste just like the gluteny-version. I have to be honest and say I agonized over my first test batch for at least a day – looking online for other GF recipes, to see what they suggest. In the end, I discovered that most (in fact, I think all) recipes called for a disappointingly vague “Gluten free flour” or they called for “rice flour.” “Hmmm...,” I thought, “These will not do.”

So, I decided to simplify. Just as I did for my gluten free pizza crust, I took a look at my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (yes, a regular, old cookbook) to see what the recipe for regular, gluteny sugar cookies listed. Then, I improvised, armed with my knowledge of gluten-free flour.

I chose coconut flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and millet flour. I added a touch of xanthan gum. I followed the Better Homes and Gardens recipe. I did a dance of joy when I took them out of the oven.

They looked and smelled beautiful!

We never got around to decorating them with icing. At Thanksgiving, Ben and a friend of his ate what was left of the batch – two gluten-eaters.

Speaking of, I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, celebrated with friends or family (or both). I made my first home-made pumpkin pie - which also happened to be my first gluten-free pie!

And, may you have a bummer-free zone, at least while you are baking :)



Gluten-free sugar cookie cutouts:
These cookies turn out with the perfect texture! I like my sugar cookies crispy on the outside and soft and cake-like inside. If you like yours crispy throughout, I think rolling them a little thinner might just do the trick. The only detectable difference between these and the gluteny version is a slight bit of grainy texture at the very end of chewing and swallowing them. My guess is that using either white rice flour or a fine grain rice flour would eliminate this. Or, try Sorghum flour in place of the rice flour.  I haven't tried these with a butter substitute, but let me know if you are successful making these with coconut oil or shortening and leave a comment.  Diary-free readers would benefit from your experience!  Thanks!
 
¾ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup millet flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
¾ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons any milk (I used hazelnut, but any will do)
In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.

In another bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar using your mixer or hand-beaters.

Add egg, vanilla, and a tablespoon of milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time until incorporated (you may need to take your hands to it if your mixer can’t take the dough).

Add another tablespoon or so of milk if mixture appears too dry. The dough should be moist, but not sticky at all.

Place dough on a sheet of cling wrap and flatten slightly. Wrap up the dough with the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can go overnight as well).

Use white rice flour to roll out the dough to about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into shapes using cookie cutters.

Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies. When done, the edges will be firm and the cookies will be slightly golden on the bottom.

*If you are baking these for a gluten-free loved one, in a gluten-containing kitchen, be sure mixers and beaters are cleaned of any previous baking residue and place a sheet of parchment paper between your rolling pin and the dough when you are rolling it out.