Thursday, November 25, 2010

GF Pecan Pie, a Southern Tradition

Despite the fact that pies have become the new bakery front fad, replacing all sorts of gourmet cupcake concoctions, I have to admit that I have never been a real fan of pie…except pecan pie. Now that, in my opinion, is PIE. I didn’t even know what pecan pie was until I went away to college in New Orleans, where authentic pecan pie making is considered an art. It didn’t take me long to place pecan pie right up there with boiled crayfish and Oysters Bienville.

There are essentially two kinds of pecan pies: those that use corn syrup and those that use brown sugar. The former comes out a little custardy or gooey, and the latter is more like a praline pie. Once I tasted great pecan pie—the praline kind--I knew I had to find a fool-proof recipe. I found it in the Houston Junior League Cook Book from 1968, given to me by my late mother-in-law over forty years ago. The cook book makes me chuckle for a number of reasons, but it is the pecan pie recipe page that I love. The top billing is for “Southern Pecan Pie” and underneath is a recipe for “Yummy Yankee Pecan Pie.” Guess which one includes white corn syrup as an ingredient? I can only imagine the two recipe authors (probably a native Texan and a “transplanted” Yankee) having a tiff over which was the best pie, so readers are given a choice. The “Yankee” recipe includes maple syrup; I can’t imagine how a) maple syrup could be desecrated by corn syrup, and b) it would taste anything like a real pecan pie. I can just hear my mother-in-law grumbling from her grave about those “damn Yankees thinking they can come down here and improve things.”

We have a Thanksgiving tradition in our household that everyone can pick one food for the dinner, aside from the main course. And yes, we went through a few years when the kids were younger and pizza was on the menu (although I always managed to relegate it to the appetizer category.) I never have to ask Tom his choice. It is always pecan pie, and that hasn’t changed in the six years we have been gluten free. I simply make my no-fail pie crust recipe and fill it with my favorite pecan pie recipe. No gluten free compromises here. And what were the four menu choices for 2010, aside from the pecan pie? Potato, bacon and kale (from our garden) casserole, pumpkin pie, and garlic bread made from Against The Grain Gourmet baguettes. Happy Thanksgiving to your family from ours. An d now you know what I do while the turkey is cooking—catch up on my blogging!

Southern Pecan Pie

1 unbaked pie shell
1 C light brown sugar
½ C white sugar
1 Tbsp GF flour
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ C butter (softened)
2 C pecans (1 C chopped and 1C whole for topping)

1. Beat brown sugar, white sugar, and flour with softened butter until creamy.
2. Add eggs and vanilla and beat 2 more minutes on high.
3. Fold in chopped pecans.
4. Pour into unbaked shell.
5. Bake at 375 degrees for 50-55 minutes (until center of pie is set.)
6. Top with whipped cream or serve with ice cream, if desired.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vermont Country Rolls, Where the Roll is Greater Than the Sum of it's Parts

For several years now, we have traveled far and wide to celiac support groups and gluten free fairs. We never tire of the enthusiastic support that our products generate. It has always been troubling, though, to see a person’s face light up when they see our products, and then get so disappointed when they realize that they contain dairy. We never wanted to produce a product that was a compromise in any way from the real thing; the impetus to create a line of dairy-free products was always there but relegated to the back burner.

We’re pleased to announce that we have just introduced our first dairy free offerings, and we owe a lot of that to Emily, a wonderful young woman who has worked for us for two and a half years. Emily is both gluten and dairy free and could never taste the products we produce. Over the years, Emily and I have had conversations about how she might go about making a dairy free version of our products at home. We are a soy free, yeast free, corn free, and peanut and tree nut free facility, so our gluten free palate of wet and dry ingredients was always limited. It was Emily that got me thinking that coconut milk just might be the answer for creating a tasty bread with the same look and texture of our other products.

Coconut milk is a very interesting food indeed. A number of health claims have been made for coconut milk, and some have been substantiated by medical research. Some refer to it as a “miracle food,” but I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that. Although it contains a saturated fat, the fatty acids in coconut milk are medium chain triglycerides, unlike the long chain triglycerides in other fats and oils. As a result, they are more easily metabolized by the body instead of stored as fat. Coconut milk also contains a significant amount of lauric acid, which is thought to have immune-boosting properties.

So, when the time comes to chow down on left-over turkey, you can have a sandwich that will make your non-gluten free friends and family drool. It doesn’t get much better than Turkey with Lettuce and Tomato on a Vermont Country Roll. Pure simple ingredients. No industrial additives, no binders, no enzymes--just delicious ingredients where the roll is greater than the sum of its parts!

Ingredients: Tapioca starch, organic coconut milk, whole eggs, non-GMO canola oil, water, molasses, sesame seeds, flax seeds, salt, cocoa, poppy seeds.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Unintended Consequences of a Gluten Free Diet

It was almost exactly six years ago that our family of four made the switch to a gluten free diet. For three years Tom’s had a “possibly celiac” diagnosis and had tried to restrict the amount of gluten he ingested. But it wasn’t until our younger son, then 13, was diagnosed with celiac disease, that we made the decision for the whole family to go gluten free. With two of the four of us requiring a gluten free diet, two teenagers, and the risk of contamination, we decided to make our entire household gluten free.

That first Thanksgiving in 2004 was a different one for us. Our younger son wrote up the menu, as he had done every year since he learned to write. The 2004 menu says it all: “Now Gluten Free.” That year, we made a wild-rice and pecan-based stuffing (our menu author didn’t even know what that was!,) since we hadn’t found any gluten free bread we liked. By the next year, we were making stuffing with our Rosemary Baguettes, and what a difference that made. Even our non-gluten free guests always begged for more, and rosemary baguette stuffing has become a tradition. (We also make a tiny slit in the top of each side of the turkey breast and insert a sprig of fresh rosemary. There is nothing like rosemary flavor flowing through with the juices.)

In those six years, some amazing things have happened. We ended up starting Against The Grain Gourmet one year after our son’s diagnosis. And what a ride it has been. With absolutely no experience in the food manufacturing business, I can honestly say that we have built a company that lives up to its name: Against The Grain. Not encumbered by preconceived notions of how to mass produce food at the lowest possible cost, we have created artisan products and sought out the highest quality ingredients. Along the way, we have supported a lot of family farms and independent producers. Since our inception, we’ve been on a mission to make high quality, tasty products that are naturally gluten free.

The other amazing thing that happened is that our older, non-celiac son, who has lived with a life-threatening seizure disorder since 18 months of age, stopped having seizures once on a gluten free diet. He has now been seizure-free for six years. Before going gluten free, he never went for more than six months without having a seizure. I know that critics like to bash Elisabeth Hasselebeck for suggesting that everyone should try a gluten free diet (,) but honestly, we never would have figured out how to control our son’s seizure disorder had we not placed him on a gluten free diet.

I get pretty exasperated with those who believe that non-celiacs on a gluten free diet are compromising their nutrition or that it is “bad” for them. Statements like "cutting gluten out can be dangerous " puzzle me. When celiac expert, Dr. Peter Green is asked, "Are there benefits to adopting a gluten free diet?" He answers, "Not that I'm aware of." Tell that to my seizure-free son. Tell that to the 60% of children on the autism spectrum that studies have shown have a "leaky gut."

A gluten free diet is not entirely healthy??  I mean, how hard is it to figure out how to supplement the vitamins, and sprayed on or "fortified" vitamins in many wheat-based products? Fiber concerns? If people are relying on their bread, pasta, and cereal to meet their fiber needs, they don’t have a very balanced diet. One thing that is clear to me is that we know a miniscule amount about the effects of eating highly processed/modified foods on our health. Heck, We don’t even know definitively how our health is related to what we eat. If a gluten free diet makes you feel better or even think you feel better, why not? Your choice is not in any way taking away from the seriousness of the celiac disease that afflicts my husband and son.