Friday, December 30, 2011

Between Christmas and New Years

August has new teeth!!! His bottom two teeth broke through sometime before Monday evening. Even though they showed up a day late, I couldn't help but start singing, "all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth, my two front teeth, my two front teeth." He thought that was hilarious, as did Charlie who started singing with me, which made Auggie laugh even harder. Now that he has the two bottom teeth, the upper teeth should show up in a few weeks. Not only will he be that much cuter, he will also start using them, which means that his food choices will soon become much more interesting--this is very exciting for Mom.

I love Christmas and I am so excited that Auggie's teeth arrived on, if not just after, Christmas. Once turkey day is over I am quick to put our Christmas tree buying day on the calendar and start planning the decorating, present and food frenzy. Our Christmas celebration actually begins on Christmas Eve, which has always been the big night for my side of the family. Our Eve dinner has historically revolved around a fondue feast and then gift exchange. Our dinner always begins with a cheese fondue appetizer, followed by savory fondue with various meats and seafood and assorted sides.

As the primary food planner and chef on my side of the family (historically I've been my mother's sous chef, but I've graduated to more of a collaborative role with her and my brother in law) I am responsible for a few of the dishes on Christmas Eve; the G-Free cheese fondue, blanched veggies for dipping in the cheese fondue, G-Free mac-n-cheese, and a veggie side to go with the meat fondue. We used to serve this a cheesy potato dish that could just about kill you, of course, it tasted so, so, so good. The dish is basically shredded potatoes mixed with onions, sour cream, various cheeses, spread out in a casserole pan, topped with butter coated smashed corn flakes and then baked until molten and bubbly.  Super.  Yummy. 

I can't remember exactly how it happened, but a few years ago I offered to make my triple cheese mac-n-cheese, instead of the potato dish, and it has stuck (perhaps the grand kids liked the idea of mac-n-cheese more than potatoes). So, now I make two giant pans of my mac-n-cheese: one for the kids, which is made without a bread crumb topping, and another for the rest of us who love the crunchy topping. My mac-n-cheese didn't start out G-Free, but it is now and I think everyone loves it, but really, who wouldn't love three types of cheese melted together, mixed with noodles and topped with butter coated breadcrumbs? Did I mention that it is G-Free?

Usually it is a rough, pinch here and handful there type of recipe and definitely not low-cal. But I tried to measure it out this time. I used four 12 oz packages of Bionaturae G-Free Penne pasta, but I will divide everything by two so that the recipe is more manageable and will fit into a single 9x13 pan.

2 12 oz bags of Bionaturae G-Free Penne Pasta (or Macaroni Pasta)
1 stick of butter
3/4 cup brown rice flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups milk
10 ounces Sharp Cheddar cheese shredded
10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese shredded
10 ounces Gruyere cheese shredded

1 loaf G-Free bread of choice (I have been using Udi's G-Free Millet-Chia sliced bread and I don't use the end pieces.) torn into pieces.
1/2 stick of cold butter cut into 6-8 pieces

For the bread crumb topping:
Pulse the bread and butter in the Cuisinart (or other food processor) for about 20 - 30 seconds.

For the pasta:
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheeses and measure out the milk, flour, and butter, setting everything aside.

Drain the pasta and put the pot back on the stove, adding the butter to the pot.

When the butter has melted, add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper into the melted butter, whisking until the mixture has lightened a bit and is fragrant.

Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly which will prevent the milk from burning.

While constantly whisking, make sure that the milk comes a low boil to ensure that it thickens properly.

When the milk mixture thickens after a few minutes, and resembles heavy cream, turn off the heat and stir in the shredded cheeses.

When all the cheese has melted, add the pasta to the cheese mixture.

Spoon the mac-n-cheese into a 9x13 inch baking dish and cover with the bread crumbs.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until top is golden brown, about 15 - 20 min.

I always make this a day or two before I actually need it, saving the baking step for when I want to serve it. As it will have been in the refrigerator, it will be cold and will need to bake longer (about 45 min). I start it in the oven covered with foil, so that the top doesn't burn, and then remove the foil for the last 20 min

This mac-n-cheese freezes amazingly well, either before it is baked or after, if you want to save the leftovers.

This can be made with the same amount of traditional wheat pasta and wheat flours.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Something for Everyone Cookie Exchange: Gluten Free and Full of Gluten

“Firsts” are happening a lot in our house these days, but more often with August. His first real oatmeal, first night in his crib, first time having his picture taken with Santa. I love “first” experiences, especially the monumental “firsts.” Yesterday we had somewhat of a monumental “first,” but this time for Charlie and I. She was invited to a cookie exchange. Cookie exchanges are a ton of fun, especially for cookie/sugar hungry kids and it is a great way to see and taste something new. But Charlie was the only G-free kid there, and I was the only mom baking and bringing G-free cookies, or so I thought. It turns out that our host, who has three kids under three and a half years old, made a huge effort to include Charlie and made two batches of G-free cookies in addition to making the rest of the food for the party. I don't think she slept the night before. And another mom made macaroons, with Charlie in mind, which are naturally gluten free.

It was a wonderful surprise and felt great to know that the moms of Charlie's little pre-school friends wanted to make the effort to ensure that she felt included. I was pretty sure that we weren't going to be able to participate in the "exchange" portion of the party, so it was a thoughtful surprise. I will admit, though, that I am still not quite sure how to navigate the situations when someone, who usually uses wheat flour, makes something gluten free. The cross contamination potential is there, but how much is too much? How sensitive is she really? I know what a crouton will do to her, but not what a batch of G-free cookies mixed in a clean mixer that is also used for wheat flour will do to her. We are living and learning.

As Charlie gets older and is becoming more involved in the world outside of our house, she is also being exposed to and put in situations where she is the odd girl out. While she can do anything she wants, she can’t eat anything that she wants. For example, at school she gets special snacks, such as G-free pretzels, while the rest of the class has Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. That can be difficult for a kid, even for adults. But I do believe that one positive aspect about being diagnosed with Celiac so young is that she will ultimately learn, much more quickly than she would have otherwise, that she can’t have everything that she wants, that other people can eat/do things that she can’t, and that sometimes life isn’t fair. Those aren’t fun lessons to learn, but they are essential to understand if she wants a fun, happy and somewhat contented life.

Now that I’m an adult, I can look back and see that learning, sooner rather than later, that not everything needs or can be equal all the time and that sometimes life isn’t fair, is in fact a great thing. But try explaining that to three and a half year old. My goal, in guiding her through this process, is that she will understand that it is o.k. that someone else has something that she doesn't or can’t have. I want her to be able to focus more on and celebrate the things that she has and can do. Even though she couldn't eat most of the cookies at the cookie exchange, she was there, having fun with her friends. Ultimately, that is the point of the cookie exchange in the first place, right? To bring together great friends, share and have a ton of fun running, squealing and laughing. She had to say, “No thank you” when someone offered her one of the gluten filled cookies but she handled it well, and was then able to proudly say, “have one of our cookies, they're good.”

That is where I came in. Until she can bake her own stellar cookies, I need to bake the stellar cookies for her. So, for this “first” cookie exchange, I baked two kinds of cookies. I haven’t worked on and figured out my own snickerdoodle recipe, but I wanted to bring them. So I used a recipe from another G-free baker/blogger, "Irvin Lin's snickerdoodle recipe." These are great. Justin, who is very particular about snickerdoodles loved them.

The second cookie is my version of the Whoopie pie, but bite size. I used my Chocolate Banana Cupcake recipe (I will post that recipe in a separate post) and a vanilla cream cheese filling. Each little Whoopie pie has an M&M on top. M&M's are G-free, as are some of the other best candies out there--Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, anyone?

The cookie exchange was a huge success. Charlie had a great time with her friends and I was able to have coffee and chat with a few great women/moms. Not only did we come home with some tasty little treats, but Charlie was allowed to borrow her friend Emmett's Halloween costume. She wore it for the rest of the day, even during her nap and to a quick visit to my parent's house.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Loving the glitter.

I now know why, at least partly why, I had kids. I really love book stores and art supply stores. Since having kids I am allowed, if not overly encouraged, to spend a lot of time in both places. Charlie is my little artist. She loves painting, drawing, gluing, using scissors (especially the fancy edged craft scissors), using glitter, puff balls, stickers and squiggly eyes. She has even gotten into my giant box of tooth picks in her quest to realize her artistic vision. As a result I am finding these silly tooth picks in the oddest places, but not in the box, where they belong, when I need to test to see if a cupcake is finished baking. I'm counting myself lucky that I haven't stepped on one.

As you can see, Charlie's art area in the kitchen is overflowing with completed projects, drying projects, in the process projects and future project material. It is difficult to keep this area orderly. But it is from this craziness that she has created some really fun and beautiful things.

The holiday season is in full swing here, and because of an overly successful trip to the local art store, our floors are covered with red, green and silver glitter. While the little one naps, Charlie and I are working on a series of crafts: christmas trees, snowmen, paintings and ornaments.

Yesterday morning we brought together glitter, styrofoam, glue and puff balls to make these little christmas trees. Today, after school, I am looking forward to making snowmen; hopefully Charlie is too.

Enjoy your day.