Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Christmas Clean Up - Part 2 and A Gluten Free Flour Mix

In my last post, I told you about my pre-Christmas cleanup. I didn't get it all done, but we are well under way and things are looking pretty darn good. It's amazing how the fresh paint and the decluttering made things so much better!  Everything in my downstairs has a place and when I get a chance to finish up with my labeller, I will be able to actually find all the things that have new homes! Ha ha ha!  

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly time passes when one is busy with a project. November was gone in what seemed to be a blink! Before I knew it, December was here, so I had to switch gears and get back to Christmas prep, which leads me to the food portion of my Christmas clean up. 

I would like to share with you some of the things I did to make many items on my Christmas menu a little healthier while addressing special dietary requirements. I am learning that small changes in your usual recipes can make your life easier and healthier while accommodating those folks at your dinner table with special dietary needs. No one wants to make two different meals to accommodate dietary needs or exclude anyone either.

This was the second year we served an organic and pasture raised turkey. The flavour was better and we know that the bird had a better life before giving his so that we could feast.

I made my mashed potatoes dairy free by whipping them with a combination of homemade almond milk, oven roasted garlic, a generous pinch of Himalayan pink salt, freshly ground pepper and a glug of olive oil. Yep, these mashed potatoes rocked! They were flavourful, and we didn't miss the butter.

A little orange juice, orange zest, a shake of cinnamon and nutmeg were whipped into our baked sweet potatoes. We didn't miss the sugar or the cream!

My gluten free flour mix thickened the gravy instead of my usual all purpose flour.

I used a combination of fresh and frozen fruit in the jello fruit salad. I'm still working on a healthier option to replace the store bought jello, perhaps next year. Rome wasn't built in a day.

I am pleased to say, I found easy ways to do a little cleaning up on my baking. To begin with I have switched to unbleached flour and my baking is still white/neutral in colour when it needs to be. Fewer chemicals is a win! I also cut the sugar in half for my sugar cookies since we always decorate them with royal icing. I think it worked well. Now if only I could find a beautiful non-chemical green food dye and I would be over the moon!

I made half my shortbread cookies naked this year so only some had the artificially coloured cherries. The naked ones were pretty too! These were not dairy free, but I don't think ii can wrap my head around coconut flavoured shortbread if I substituted the butter for the coconut oil. I'm not even sure it would work. Thoughts? Has anyone tried?

I made my own candied orange and lemon peel. Not a whole lot of work with a lot of yummy bang for my buck! My homemade candied peel had no preservatives or artificial colourining and great flavour. I even used organic oranges and lemons which made them even better! I used these peels plus other goodies to fancy up my store bought mincemeat and in my Holiday Bread that we enjoy Christmas morning. 

In addition to my homemade lemon and orange peels, I used a combination of chopped dried cranberries and apricots to replace the commercially made mixed peel that were added to the raisins. Again, I decorated with a few commercially prepared red and green cherries, but at least the artificial ingredients were kept to a mini,um.  Perhaps next year I can convince my youngest that cranberries and pumpkin seeds will be a just as pretty!

This is the second year I have made 2 versions of Magic Cookie Bars. I make the conventional kind made with the sweetened condensed milk and a version that is gluten and dairy free. For my conventional ones. I made my own graham crackers this year... no store bought ones with mystery ingredients. I was thrilled with the results. I will definitely continue to make my own. They are SO much better...sorry Honey Maid! In order to further clean up the conventional ones, I used half sweetened and half unsweetened coconut AND my unsweetened coconut was sulphite free. These bars are very sweet and I think I could use all unsweetened coconut next year without a family uprising. 
I used two recipes from Oh She Glows to make my gluten free diary free magic cookie bars. For the gluten free graham crumbs, I made Gluten Free and Vegan Graham Crackers and for the magic cookie bars I used OSG recipe for the Lightened Up Magical Cookie Bars but I used the regular coconut milk instead of light coconut milk. The traditional cookie bars are on the left and the dairy and gluten free ones are on the right. Both versions were very good.
I used my gluten free flour mix in my Date and Toffee Pudding Cake this year (another recipe from Oh She Glows). Last year I used Bob's variety but all I could taste were the beans in the flour mix so I experimented this fall with my homemade mix and was pleased with the results. Keep in mind, when using my mix, the cake is better the next day because it is a little "grainy" when it is fresh. After a day in the fridge, the "graininess" disappears. Since my daughter does eat some eggs, I added an egg and reduced the almond milk by a quarter cup in the recipe which provided a more familiar texture in the end product. Don't get me wrong, the cake as it is in the original recipe is marvellous, but I am balancing the palates of those who still prefer more conventional baking. The goal for me is to be able to cook/bake something, preferably, a single dish, that will please all! I made the cake a few days ahead and stored it in the freezer. The cake and the sauce froze and thawed beautifully and both warmed up just fine too!

And finally, the pièce de ré·sis·tance, I made gluten free and dairy free pastry using my homemade GF Mix and a recipe from Canadian Living for the pastry. You can find the pastry recipe here - just scroll down past the filling part for the Gluten Free Apricot Fig Tarts. I substituted some of the GF flour called for with oat flour and added a scant 1/4 tsp of Xanthan gum extra to the mixing bowl when making this recipe (see below for complete instructions). It was a huge success. The recipe originally called for butter, but since I couldn't use the butter I used Crisco to keep it dairy free. Lard would work too if it isn't necessary to keep it vegetarian.
The pastry worked in my baby mincemeat tarts and for our Christmas morning quiche. The top picture shows my GF tarts and the bottom, my traditional ones.  BOTH were YUMMY!

Last but not least, our traditional smoked salmon, goat cheese and dill quiche was delightful. I was trilled that the pastry was light, tender and flakey; a HUGE success! I didn't put the cheese in part of the quiche so that those who can't eat dairy could enjoy the quiche too - another successful example of one dish to serve everyone at my table!

I would like to leave you with the recipe for my Gluten Free Flour Mix. I have been experimenting with it over the past year and have successfully used it in a few muffin recipes, date squares, in my date pudding cake (by Oh She Glows), in pastry (by Canadian Living), in fruit crisp topping, and as a thickening agent. Keep in mind that I like to add a some homemade oat flour into the recipes I use it in (except when it's a thickens agent). I do this for the same reason I sneak a little whole wheat flour into my conventional baking... just to add a little nutrition. For example, in a recipe for raspberry muffins I use, the recipe calls for 2 cups of AP flour. I use 1 cup of the mix and 1 cup of oat flour and the muffins are as good as the original recipe with all regular AP flour. For my gluten free pastry, I used 1/3 cup oat flour with 1 cup of the GF flour mix and a healthy pinch of Xanthan gum. Trial and error is the way I figure out exactly how much oat flour can be added without messing up the end product. Personally, I wouldn't use more than half oat flour in any recipe with the GF mix because I think the end product might end up too heavy with an unappealing texture. I have yet to try this mix in a cake or cupcake recipe. I would love to hear about recipes in which you successfully use this mix. 

Gluten Free Flour Mix
2 cups brown rice flour
1 cup white rice flour
3/4 cup potato starch
3/4 cup tapioca starch
3 tsp Xanthan gum
  1. Spoon the various flours into the measuring cup and then level off with a knife. This ensures that you were not packing the flour when you measure.
  2. Put all ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
  3. With the wire whisk, whisk all ingredients thoroughly to make sure you have a homogeneous mixture.
  4. Store this in a sealed container in a cool place.

**I have used this flour mix for muffins, fruit crisp toppings, and date squares. When I use it in the previously mentioned items, I usually take a look at the original AP flour requirements in the recipe and then use HALF GF flour and HALF oat flour.

**I have  tried this GF flour mixture in pastry using a Canadian Living recipe with great success. I did add 1/3 cup oat flour to 1 cup GF mix and a scant 1/4 tsp more of xanthan gum. I have yet to test with a cake recipe.

**I have used this flour mix successfully for thickening gravy and making béchamel sauce (cream sauce) with NO oat flour; wherever AP flour is called for as a thickening agent.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Pre Christmas Clean Up Project

Welcome to 2016! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebration. Finally, things are quieter and I have a chance to blog. I have been away for a while and now that I am sitting at my keyboard, I must say, I have truly missed it. In today's post, I have decided to catch you up on a recent project that has absolutely nothing to do with food. It does, however, have a lot to do with making me feel better. I hate clutter and mess. It drags me down. On the flip side, I can be really good at creating clutter and mess, especially when I let our "stuff" get the better of us and accumulate. It had been at least 6 years since I've tackled a major purging of things we have outgrown or moved on from and the result has been a basement that was starting to look a little junky. It was time for a therapeutic sort, edit and purge AND to get our basement ready for Christmas.

In November I wanted to work on getting our rec room and TV rooms finished. We started this project 10 years ago and since I am between jobs right now, I decided it was high time to move this longstanding work in progress forward. Quality projects take time, but this was getting ridiculous! So, step 1 of my Christmas Clean Up was to find my long lost basement and rejuvenate it to be an inviting space again. I had a lofty goal of getting 90% of my project completed before Christmas. Sadly, the second week of December hit and I ran out of time for this project. Completion would have to be put off until the new year, but I would like to share what I've done so far!

There was much editing, organizing and super cleaning required first and foremost. Then, armed with my hole filler, sanding pad, paint and assortment of brushes and rollers, I set out to colour me beautiful, one wall at a time! The inspiration for my wall colour was from this beautiful cuddle quilt my mother-in-law made for me. 

Several years ago, my husband built a cabinet to house our electronics. He chose a gorgeous espresso coloured stain. Then he built a shelving unit above our TV and the cabinet. This shelving unit remained a natural wood colour for many years. Finally, this unit got painted! The espresso coloured paint closely matches the stain too. Our entertainment centre is finally looking polished. Now, I want two more cabinets to finish the project. For now, it's coming along now and I'm pleased with the results so far. 

Even though I have purged a whole lot of "stuff", I found that displaying a lot of unrelated things, no matter how neatly, still looked junky and felt cluttered. In order to make my shelves and cubbies look cleaner, I used a variety of bins, baskets and boxes in which to store my stuff. Then I grouped similar baskets, bins and baskets together to help give a more streamlined and uniform look. The only thing that would make this better would be to use only one kind of basket or bin, but I've been trying to do my basement cleanup on a tight budget and make use of what we already had.


This bookcase is another project my husband made. It is still a natural colour and I am thinking it will stay that way (it matches the natural wood kindling box he made too).  Again, I have tried to create some continuity with similar baskets and bins on the shelves to hide a variety of items including my beloved mason jars in a variety of sizes; office items like files, taxes, and paid bills; an assortment of Frisbees, sidewalk chalk and miscellaneous outside toys; a collection of housewares I'm keeping to hand down to our youngest when she leaves the nest; plus a whole lot more. Before I tackled this bookcase, the contents used to be arranged on the shelves, and even though I kept things neat, it looked so busy and cluttered. I am pleased with the results and I think it looks so much more "together" and orderly.

Since most of the things are neatly tucked away in bins, baskets, and boxes, I used my favourite organization tool... my Brother labeller!  This allows me to attach labels to the box , bin, or on the shelf. Now I have visual cues to help locate items, not to mention, now my husband and daughter can find their stuff! 
It's still a work in progress, just not as much work left. Only a little more painting and a little more carpentry required; things are feeling more ordered and I am feeling a little more at peace! 

Budget Tip: If you know that the contents of a bin or box is going to be temporary, use green painter's tape to label. The label tape is expensive, so I reserve it for permanent labelling.