Thursday was my birthday, and what's a birthday without cake? My 8-year-old son Scott decided to make me cupcakes using the Pamela's Classic Vanilla Cake mix we had in the pantry. They were super easy to mix up. Scott did almost all of the work himself with some able sous chef-ing from me. He is not gluten-free, but he completely enjoyed the smell and taste of the mix and the batter.
The directions on the mix accurately note that it will make about 14 cupcakes, which frankly is a little unwieldy. Instead of doing a whole muffin pan worth then doing only 2 more in a different pan, we poured the overflow into a little aluminum pie pan, hence the very large cupcake at the top of the tower in the picture below. As you can also see, we overfilled some of the cups, making a few of the cupcakes have a kind of lava-flow look to them. Since this was for home enjoyment and not Cupcake Wars, It didn't bother me, but if you are going for appearance, don't overfill!
I'm not way into icing, so I had my cupcake with thawed frozen strawberries. This was actually perfect for it because I found it to have more of an angelfood texture than a traditional cupcake texture (the packaging offers a number of variations to change the outcome -- I used the primary recipe, which calls for 3 eggs and 1/3 cup oil.) It had a little bit of a crust to the outside and was spongy and not terribly moist on the inside. Still very nice, and great with strawberries and whipped cream. My kids and partner used icing on theirs, and they liked them too. The flavor was good and my family didn't notice any big difference taste though gluten-free.I will definitely keep a mix in the pantry for future baking needs, and will try a recipe variation next time, just to see what happens. Thanks, Pamela's!
For a work holiday lunch, my colleague Nancy consulted me on where to go. Her first choice, Matyson (reviewed here) was booked. With very little time to come up with a suggestion, I used UrbanSpoon to identify a couple of places within an easy walk of my job. Le Castagne is a favorite of Nancy's, so we settled on it. I read up on line, and I found a positive gf review and was reassured that I would be able to have a nice lunch, generously paid for by my boss.
Because of work schedules, we arrived fashionably early. I did my usual song and dance "I need a gluten-free dining experience" etc. They don't have a dedicated gf menu, but the server did tell me that the gnocchi could be made gluten-free. Served with marinara, it also met my vegetarian needs, so I ordered it, along with a fancy pear and greens salad, dressing on the side. One of my colleagues ordered the regular gnocchi.
The service was leisurely, which actually wasn't a good thing, since a number of us needed to return to work for afternoon meetings. Regardless, the atmosphere was nice and it was a good choice for a workplace lunch. The salad was nice in a I'm-being-served-in-a-fancy-restaurant-so-I'll-be-all-small-and-adorned-with-dressing-drizzle sort of way. Well, mine wasn't adorned because I got my dressing on the side, but the ones with dressing already on them were drizzled. Anyway, it was fresh and tasty and nothing amazing.
Our entrees arrived, and we all tucked in. After a couple of bites of the gf gnocchi, I invited the other gnocchi eater to try mine to compare. His report was that it was noticably different than his. Even before he told me the differences, I predicted that mine was mushier and a bit pasty compared to his. He verified. The sauce was fine, but nothing to rave about. It wasn't a home run by any stretch of the imagination. I must confess though that most of my Italian dining experiences (except when we were in Rome) have been generally fairly blah. This food was hands down way better than the gf pasta we get at Olive Garden, but still. I was glad the bill was being footed by my boss! For that kind of cash, I want to be wow-ed by my food.
We did order the creme brulee to split, after confirming that it was gluten-free. It was DELISH. I would definitely come here for creme brulee if the opportunity arose.
Overall, as always, I am grateful that there was a gf option entree available to me. At least it gives me something to write a review about! And, I didn't have to work too hard to get my needs accommodated. Granted, this place IS $$$ rather than $$$$ like the anonymous restaurant in Part 1 of this series, but no one at Le Castagne entered my gf status in their computer, nor did they offer me ANY gf bread, let alone four kinds. They will not remember me. Do I need them to? Not really, since they didn't impress me enough to pick them over another place the next time a co-worker needs me to pick the place for a holiday work lunch.
This was, well, interesting. It was sweet and creamy but not really smooth (I suppose I could have stirred more, but it did have bits of coconut, so it would never have gotten all the way to smooth.) It cost $1.45 at the health food store, which is okay. 170 calories for 3/4 of a cup, so no bargain there -- the vanilla Dannon yogurt in my fridge is 170 for a whole cup. Vegan, dairy free, soy free, sweetened with fruit juice and laden with six live active cultures. It was pretty tropical and citrusy, but I was hoping for more of a coconut cream pie experience. I liked this well enough to try a different flavor to see if I like it any better.
I made and posted some new videos on easy gf living. Find them here on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/user/clairebakerOK?feature=mhee
Let me know if there are other topics that would be handy to hear about. I'm happy to share how I deal with any particular challenge regarding easy gluten-free living. Frankly, if it's not easy, I won't be sticking with it, so I figure out a way to live with ease, which makes me happy, and I don't mind having celiac.
I recently asked folks on the Celiac Listserv for their suggestions for go-to websites for GF recipes, in addition to a couple of good ones I was introduced to recently, Celiacs in the House (http://celiacsinthehouse.com) and Book of Yum (http://www.bookofyum.com/blog/).
Here are some others that I will keep handy for my own needs:
And here are some I had in "my favorites", so I thought I'd list them too, in no particular order:
Enjoy, and send me links for your favorites. I'll add them to the list!