Gluten Free Wallflower

I can't dance at your wheat-filled party. I'll make my own.

Convenient Gluten Free Take Away! September 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Holly @ 10:02 pm

One of the few things I miss since starting a gluten free diet is the ability to stop in a Chinese restaurant and grab some take out. So many of the dishes have soy sauce in them, and the risk of cross contamination is fairly high. I knew that P. F. Chang’s offers a gluten free menu but I really wanted someplace quicker and less expensive. I spent some some on-line the other day researching restaurants with GF options in the Baltimore area. That is when I stumbled upon Pei Wei Asian Diner.

Pei Wei (pronounced Pay Way) is another venture by the people who brought us P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. They do offer a take out option (hooray!) and all of the entrees are priced under $10.00. Unfortunately, there are only two locations in Maryland. One is in Dobbin Square, in Columbia, while the other is on York Road in the Cedarcroft neighborhood of Baltimore City. If you’ve been to Wells Liquors recently then you’ve been right next to Pei Wei.

Though I’d been looking for take out, we elected to eat in this time. The interior was attractive, dark and clean with black and white photos of life in China on the walls. Ordering was a bit confusing at first. The menu is displayed on large boards and everyone was grouped around reading, making it difficult for the folks taking orders to know who was in line and ready. Alas, the gluten free menu was not included on the general menu boards. No mention of it appeared anywhere. I went to the counter and asked if they still offered gluten free options. The reply was a reassuring “oh, yes” and the girl handed me a laminated index-card sized menu that she pulled off of a strip of velcro behind the counter.

Pei Wei’s gluten free menu currently lists five options:
Asian Chopped Chicken Salad
Pei Wei Spicy Chicken Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Salad Rolls (my choice)
Pei Wei Spicy (their “version of General Chu”)
Sweet and Sour Chicken or Shrimp

Once we had selected our choices we went to the counter, placed our order, and paid for everything at the same time. We were given a number, glasses for our iced tea, and asked to choose our seats. The restaurant was a little noisy during the dinner hour but we could still talk easily. We decided to fill our drinks while waiting for our food so we headed back to the beverage area.

I’d read that Pei Wei brews some fantastic iced tea and, being a tea lover, I wanted to sample it for myself. They offers two kinds of tea; Mandarin Orange Green Tea, and Black Chia Tea. I was very pleased to see that the teas are unsweetened, giving full control of type and level of sweetness to the customer. The orange green tea had a nice citrus taste and was pleasant, but I preferred the Chai tea. It smelled very nice, sweet and spicy and rich. I generally drink my iced tea unsweetened but I added a little bit of plain sugar to enhance overall flavor. It was very, very good.

We waited for about ten minutes before our food arrived. The Vietnamese Chicken Salad rolls come with a side of spicy sweet and sour sauce instead of the usual gluten-containing peanut sauce. They were delicious! Three rice paper wrappers were filled with lettuce, carrots, chicken, peanuts, chopped mint, and rice noodles. The flavors blended very well and each bite was better than the last. I would have been very happy if the order had come with four spring rolls instead of three!

We had few minor complaints but nothing that would stop a return visit. My friend’s appetizer (regular spring rolls which were declared “just okay”) arrived after the entrees, and the server had to be asked to bring the sauce that was supposed to be on the Japanese Teriyaki Bowl. That aside, the food was good, the atmosphere was friendly and the bathrooms were reasonably clean. What more can you ask for?

I will definitely pay a return visit to Pei Wei sometime soon. I need to try their gluten free version of Sweet and Sour Shrimp…


Cheesecake September 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Holly @ 12:44 am
Tags: , , ,
Gluten Free Dessert Board

Gluten Free Dessert Board

I had twenty-fours hours to complete my mission; dessert for thirty, must involve pears,  elegant but not too fussy.  Gluten free was not a strict requirement but was my choice given the fact that four of the guests cannot eat wheat.  And I really wanted to taste whatever I ended up making!

I spent some time browsing through cook books on Saturday morning.  I’d narrowed down my choices and eventually decided on New York style cheesecake with brown sugar-bourbon roasted pears.   The pears were easy.  I peeled, cored, sliced, and tossed about 5lbs pears  in a 9 x 14 baking dish.  I sprinkled them with 1/2 cup brown sugar, added a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon, dotted the lot with slices of butter, poured Bullet bourbon over the top and baked them for 45 minutes on 425.  Very good, if I do say so myself.

Next I had to deal with the crust.  I had decided to use the New York cheesecake recipe from Baking Illustrated, the book produced by Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  The crust they suggest is graham cracker and not GF.  I could have substituted gluten free cookies but, to make a long story short, the only grocery store I was anywhere near does not stock GF products and I had no time for a special trip.  So, I opted for my own walnut coconut crust.

Walnut Coconut Crust

2 cups walnut pieces

1 cup coconut

2 tbsp sugar (optional)

3 tbsp melted butter

Preheat on to 350.  Combine walnuts, coconut, and sugar in food processor.  Process for about a minute, until ingredient look like coarse meal. Mix in melted butter.  Pat crust mixture over the bottom and up the sides of a 9″ spring form pan.  Bake for 13 minutes or until lightly browned.


The crust turned out very well.  It smelled fantastic while baking, didn’t get soggy, and stayed together nicely while slicing the cheesecake.   The next time I make this crust I won’t be in such a hurry so I’ll have more freedom to experiment.  I will reduce the butter, omit the sugar, and try adding agave or honey as sweetener.

The cheesecake itself turned out beautifully and tasted great.  The texture was perfect, heavy and creamy without being too dense.  I followed the recipe exactly and the only problem I ran into was the dreaded crack. These weren’t small cracks, either.  It looked like a dairy version of the San Andreas fault.

Like the magazine that produced the book, Baking Illustrated includes lots of information with each recipe about the science of baking, and the various experiments that took place in the test kitchen.  I love this stuff; to me it’s like reading the best detective story.  The cheesecake section is excellent and contains lots of useful information.  The New York cheesecake tends to develop cracks for two reasons; over beaten eggs and/or an oven temperature that is too high.  I think the oven was my undoing.  The book cautions you to check your cheesecake’s internal temperature with an instant read thermometer but I will admit that I skipped this step and paid the price.

The brown sugar bourbon roasted pears filled in the cracks beautifully!


New Recipe August 31, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Holly @ 12:19 am
Chocolate Chip Cocoa Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cocoa Cookies

I *love* chocolate. And I love cookies. There are some good gluten free cookies available in stores now – Pamela’s shortbread and Midel gingersnaps are especially nice – but I still prefer home made. So, with a little trial and error, I created this double chocolate cookie recipe. These smell fantastic while they are in the oven! Be sure you don’t over bake them, and let them cool fully before removing from the cookie sheets.

Chocolate Chip Cocoa Cookies

3/4 stick (6 tbsp) butter or earth balance at room temp.

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup white rice flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1 12 oz bag GF chocolate chips

Preheat over to 325. Cream butter and sugar together in large bowl. Add egg and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients over top and beat in. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop teaspoons full of batter onto baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes.

Sooo good!


Starting Over August 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Holly @ 8:48 pm
Tags: , ,

There are three things in this life that I have always loved; textiles, animals, and food.  I make fabric from scratch, I am fortunate enough to be caretaker to many animals, and I have more opportunity than ever to play with my food.

I started baking when I was about eight years old.  I remember the first thing I made all by myself; pecan sandies.  I used the recipe out of my mom’s tattered old Betty Crocker cookbook.  The hand held mixer was heavy but exciting to work with.  And those cookies were amazing.  I can still remember the taste and texture all of these years later.  The butter and sugar and flour and egg smells, the pecan pieces, all of these memories helped to cement my love of food preparation and baking.

I still love to bake and I still love pecan sandies.  But I can no longer cook or bake with wheat flour.  Wheat gluten sends my body into practically instant inflammation response, anything from digestive troubles to asthma attack to a severe and angry rash.  This was bad news for someone with a passion for pastry.  Then I discovered how much fun it is to reinvent my favorite recipes with alternative flours.  Rice flour, both white and brown, sorghum flour, coconut flour, so many choices!  I will never again regret the absence of wheat in my life.  Especially now that I’ve discovered how delicious cupcakes can taste when made with coconut flour or how smooth and delicious turkey gravy is with a rice flour base.

Life is so very tasty.