Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gluten-Free Cauliflower Pizza Bento

Hello people! Remember the first gluten-free pizza crust I made over in this bento last month? It was from a mix, and it was okay. It had that gluten-free background flavor, not like real crust. Well, this time I wanted to try something totally different, and I found this cauliflower pizza crust idea floating around. I saw it at RecipeGirl's site first, but she noted that lots of others had tried similar variations. All you do is grate a head of cauliflower, mix it with egg and cheese, form a crust and bake. Sounds crazy? Actually I thought, there's no way this is going to stick together to make a crust. So I added some rice flour and some flaxmeal. Did I ruin it? Who knows? Let's just say this does not turn out to be what you think it'll turn out to be. It's basically a cheese cracker with some cauliflower bits mixed in there. Nothing wrong with that, but I mention it just so you'll know. Now, I love a cheese cracker. Salty, crispy, and yes - greasy - goodness is hard to argue with. So of course my little girl loved it! But if you try it, I'd caution you to use a nonstick pan, or parchment paper.


Cauliflower Pizza Crust (from Recipe Girl)

1/2 large head cauliflower (or 2+ cups shredded cauliflower)
1 large egg
1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
[not in original recipe but I added 2T rice flour and 2T flaxmeal]

1. Grate the cauliflower into small crumbles. You can use the food processor if you'd like, but you just want crumbles, not puree. I used a box grater. You'll need a total of about 2 cups or so of cauliflower crumbles (which is about half a large head of cauliflower. Place the cauliflower crumbles in a large bowl and microwave them (dry) for 8 minutes. Give the cauliflower a chance to cool. They'll be nice and soft.
2. Prepare the crust: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a cookie sheet or pizza pan with nonstick spray (or use a nonstick surface). In a medium bowl, mix the cauliflower crumbles (about 1 1/2 cups since they shrink after cooking) with the remaining crust ingredients. Pat the "crust" into a 9 to 12-inch round on the prepared pan. Spray the crust lightly with nonstick spray and bake for 15 minutes (or until golden). Remove the crust from the oven and turn the heat up to broil.
3. Add toppings of your choice and return pizza to oven to broil for 5 minutes or until toppings are hot and cheese is melted and bubbly.
For this pizza I used chopped mushrooms, sliced zucchini, pepperoni, and diced capsicum in varying colors, then topped with shredded mozzarella. The pizza came out nice and crisp, since I pressed the crust as thin as I could manage. It doesn't stick together very well, so a thin crackery crust probably works better than a thicker crust which might break. I packed some in her Keroppi sandwich box, and placed some refreshing fruit and veggies in the lower tier. Pretty successful as a gluten-free pizza, but my search continues...
Added to What's For Lunch.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sticky Rice and Canadian Bacon Bento Bowl

Twitterfoodparty showed up this month in the form of bacon. You can check out this month's submissions on twitter by searching the hashtag #twitterbaconparty. I rarely cook bacon at home but happened to need a gluten-free alternative to lup cheong for the sticky rice (method here) I was planning to make. Most Chinese sausages and deli meats are marinated in shoyu, making them no-nos in a gluten-free diet. I steamed some sliced lup cheong separately to be mixed in everyone else's servings, but TinySprite was satisfied with diced and pan-fried Canadian bacon in hers. The overall flavor just wasn't traditionally the same, but it'll have to do, since I don't plan on learning how to make my own Chinese sausage! It was still tasty enough, though. I packed some in her favorite panda bento bowl, along with a selection of fruit in the top tier: cherries, lychee, blackberries, peach, and sweet potato. Next month's theme will be strawberries!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gluten-Free Adventures: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

Okay, so I have been hard at work experimenting with treats and snacks in the gluten-free vein. When I saw this recipe for GF peanut butter chocolate chip bars, I thought: perfect! And also: so easy. I love bar recipes, because they're so much less labor-intensive than ones requiring you to make crusts, or roll out balls, or scoop into muffin tins. You just pour it into a pan and forget it until the timer dings. And it's usually at least a half hour or so, so you can kick back and relax too. This recipe, from Serious Eats, is no exception. I liked that the main flour is brown rice flour, which I've grown to realize I like the flavor of. And the peanut butter should mask any other taste issues as well.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars (Serious Eats)

3 3/4 ounces (3/4 cup) brown rice flour
2 ounces (1/3 cup) potato starch
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces (1/2 cup) smooth peanut butter (I used chunky)
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
4 ounces (1/2 cup) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup chocolate chips
[I added chia seeds and flax meal too]

Preheat oven to 350°F;. Grease 8x8x2-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In small bowl, whisk together brown rice flour, potato starch, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In large bowl, cream together butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about one minute. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well between each addition. Stop mixer and scrape down bottom and sides of bowl. Turn mixer back on and continue to beat until mixture is light, fluffy, and almost white. Turn off mixer. Add dry ingredients, turn mixer to low and blend to combine. Add chocolate chips. Mix until just combined.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake until bars are puffy, golden brown, and a cake tester interested into the center of the bars comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 35 minutes. Place pan on wire rack to cool. When cooled, cut into 12 bars.

I have to say, these bars turned out perfectly. They look and taste exactly like gluten-filled peanut butter bars. Mine came out a tad bit dry, but that was my fault; I let them cook longer than the recommended 35 minutes because I thought they looked anemic (and I like my baked goods to look nicely golden brown). I won't do that next time. They were deeeeeeeelicious. A definite kid-pleaser!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gluten-Free Gyoza Bento and Method

Gluten-Free Gyoza Bento by sherimiya ♥
Gluten-Free Gyoza Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Today's bento contains homemade gluten-free gyoza. Really!

Ever since deciding to try a gluten-free diet for TinySprite nearly 6 weeks ago, I've been trying to come up with alternatives to all our favorite wheaty foods. So far I've been successful with cookies and breads, but I was worried about gyoza. You see, we love gyoza. And wonton too. But how are we going to make them gluten-free? Well, luckily I'm not the first one to wonder this. I decided to use Andrea Nguyen's recipe and method for making them with mochiko, tapioca and millet. She made it seem easy enough, and even noted that they tasted great! Well, it was hard! Hard for a non-dough-expert like me, anyway. I'm not a fan of rolling and cutting out dough, but for gyoza I'll do it. And if I can do it, so can you!

Nguyen's Recipe for Gluten-Free Basic Dumpling Dough

3 3/8 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca starch
3 3/8 ounces (3/4 cup) millet flour
4 3/8 ounces (3/4 cup) Mochiko Blue Star Brand glutinous (sweet) rice flour
2 teaspoons xantham gum
3/4 cup just-boiled water plus 1 to 2 tablespoons cold water

I simply mixed everything up and formed a wettish lump of dough.

I pulled off balls about the size of golf balls.

Flattened them with my fingers.

Rolled them out with a wooden dowel and cut out circles that I thought would be big enough. They turned out to be a bit bigger than standard sized wrappers, but she cautioned that this dough doesn't really stretch and give, so I wanted to make sure I could fill them sufficiently without them tearing.

This recipe made about 24 wrappers, but mine were a bit thick since (as mentioned) I was concerned about tearing. In fact, they look like tortillas, don't they?

I filled the gyoza wrappers as usual, placing a teaspoonful (or so) of pork and scallion mixture, then folded into a half-circle. The edges do not glue together like regular skins, but must be pinched together like dough. I was able to make pretty good pleats and close off the edges. These are ready to go into the pan.

Yes, they turned out to be a bit thick, but making them bigger was a good move since I could fill them pretty heftily. I pan-fried and steamed them as usual. They developed a crispy bottom and soft tops, and held up pretty well! The wrapper was a bit chewier than the normal wheat wrappers, but not in an unpleasant way. Otherwise, they tasted great! TinySprite loved them! I ended up making the wrappers on one day, storing them in a sealed container in the fridge overnight, then filling them the next day after bringing them back to room temperature. This is due to the fact that the wrapper-making was a bit time-consuming. The wrappers stored just fine, staying soft and pliable without drying out. I'd consider this recipe a success and would definitely make them again!


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Piggie Norimaki Bento

Piggie Norimaki Bento by sherimiya ♥
Piggie Norimaki Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Did not feel like cooking anything for bento, so I prepared the quickie backup bento of turkey dog rice and nori rolls. Not technically "sushi" but along those lines. I used a mixed rice (red, white and brown plus quinoa) for these rolls. After cutting into bite-size pieces, I decided to add little piggie faces to them, pink as they are. The rest of the bento contains the usual carrots, peapods, steamed broccoli and Okinawan sweet potato, strawberry, blackberries and lychee. Yes, lychee! I spied them in the markets here this past week, and I am extremely excited about it. As you can see, they are wonderfully white, juicy and sweet: my favorite fruit of summer. Well, early summer. Until mango season. Heh.
Added to What's For Lunch.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mabo Tofu Dragon Bento

Mabo Tofu Dragon Bento by sherimiya ♥
Mabo Tofu Dragon Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Today's bento is ma bo tofu (recipe here), over mixed rice in a lettuce leaf. I attempted to cut a tofu dragon with my awesome cutter. I first cut a thin slab, about a half inch thick, of tofu the length of the cutter, then pressed. The cutter made a precise cut; the problem was removing the dragon in one piece. As you can see, I got most of it out pretty well, using the rounded end of a chopstick. The only problem was that one of the hind claws broke off. I simply replaced it on top of the meal, and it looks fine. I added a nori eye and some fancy cut radish halves, which kind of look like lanterns. This would make a nice celebratory bento, I think. I have now used this cutter on tofu, cheese and dragonfruit. It's very cool. The rest of the bento contains a variety of early summer fruit: apricot, blackberries, cherries and strawberry.
By the way, Happy Little Bento got a mention at KoreAm Journal, and a short interview with me, in an article on the power of social media in bento box popularity. Take a look to see mentions of other bentomakers such as HapaBento, OhayoBento, Bentobird and Adventures In Bentomaking. Cute pics too!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gluten-Free Adventures: Lemon Bars!

Lemon Bars (gluten-free) by sherimiya ♥
Lemon Bars (gluten-free), a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Since we were gifted with a couple of bags of Meyer lemons recently, I thought it would be a good excuse to try out some gluten-free lemon recipes. I used some of them for the lemon blueberry bread I posted about here, and this time I decided to try lemon bars. I'm not a big fan of lemon bars; neither am I expert at crust-making, but that said: these lemon bars were pretty darn good! I found a recipe at Serious Eats that seemed easy enough, and I followed it very closely. It requires a bit of muscle (and talent) to make the crust well, but if I'm not mistaken, it's really the buttery crust that MAKES the lemon bar. I mean, the rest of it is just lemon, sugar and eggs, right?


Gluten-Free Lemon Bars (Serious Eats)


yield: makes 12 bars, active time 30 minutes, total time 3 hours
For the Crust
2 ounces (1/2 cup) white rice flour
1.25 ounces (1/4 cup) sweet rice flour
1.25 ounces (1/4 cup) cornstarch
1.25 ounces (1/3 cup) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, cold and cut into small pieces
For the Filling
5.25 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
Zest of one lemon, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons white rice flour
Non-stick cooking spray
Confectioners' sugar for dusting, optional

Prepare the crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray eight-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Line pan with two pieces of parchment paper. (Paper should crisscross in the pan and overhang the edges by about two inches.)
In bowl of food processor, combine white rice flour, sweet rice flour, cornstarch, and xanthan gum. Pulse to combine. Add butter. Pulse until no large pieces of butter remain. Add water. Pulse until water is absorbed and dough forms, about 45 seconds of long pulses. (At first dough will be sandy. Keep pulsing until it comes together.)
Turn dough out onto counter. Press into a ball.
Press dough evenly into prepared pan. (To make this easy, I divide my dough in four pieces and place one piece in each corner of the pan. I then press the dough down and toward the center of the pan until the pan is evenly covered by the dough.) Chill for 15 minutes.
Bake crust until golden brown, about 40 minutes.
While crust is baking, rub sugar and lemon zest together in medium bowl.
When crust is golden brown, remove pan from oven. Set aside on a wire rack. Add eggs, lemon juice, and white rice flour to granulated sugar. Whisk until smooth. Pour over crust. Return pan to oven. Bake until filling is set and does not jiggle, about 12 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Chill bars for two hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator. Lift bars, using parchment paper as an aid, out of pan. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired. Cut into squares.


Oh, and is this really a gluten-free recipe? Who can tell? I could've eaten the whole crust by itself, lemon or not. But of course, the lemony part was just sweet and eggy enough. My crust was a bit uneven and lumpy in sections, and the lemon part not uniformly thick, but I'll tell you the kids didn't care. And the lemon zest sugar? I couldn't stop inhaling that. This one was a hit. Definitely one to repeat!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Furikake Fish Bento

Furikake Fish Bento by sherimiya ♥
Furikake Fish Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
I wanted to use salmon, but there wasn't any at the market so I used wild snapper instead. This fish doesn't stay together as well, so you have to be more careful if you pan-fry it. I used butter, flipped once, then sprinkled with furikake after it was nicely browned. In the same pan I tossed the pencil asparagus, which cooks up pretty quickly. There are two colors of steamed sweet potatoes cut into flower shapes, and a fruit section of strawberry, cherries and cara cara oranges rounds out this LunchBots Trio. She ate it all. If you think your child won't eat fish, try smothering it in furikake (I used a no-salt no-msg variety). Suddenly, it's delicious!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shoyu Chicken Froggie Bento

TinySprite's bento today contains my old childhood favorite: shoyu chicken and rice. I used the Secrets of the Red Lantern recipe again, with a whole bunch of drumsticks.


Soy Chicken Drumsticks Recipe (adapted from Secrets of the Red Lantern, By Pauline Nguyen, Luke Nguyen, Mark Jensen)

4 and a half pounds chicken drumsticks
3 Tbl fish sauce
3 Tbl shoyu (I used gluten-free tamari)
1/2 cup shaoxing Chinese cooking wine (I omitted)
1 cup coconut juice
1 Tbl sesame oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbl cracked black pepper
1 onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbl ginger, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2 scallions, sliced, for garnish
cilantro, for garnish

Marinate drumsticks for 4 hours with the rest of the ingredients, except the chicken stock, and use only 1 Tbl each of the onion and garlic.
Remove from marinade, pat dry, then wok fry on all sides until golden brown. Place into crockpot.
Fry the remaining onion and garlic until golden. Add to crockpot with reserved marinade and chicken stock.
Cook on high for 3 hours, or until meat is cooked and tender.
Remove lid, turn to low for an additional hour or so, to reduce sauce. Mine didn't reduce much.
Once cooked, the chicken should fall off the bone.
Transfer chicken to serving platter, boil the sauce to reduce further, then pour over. Garnish with scallions and cilantro.


I like making this in the slow-cooker, and especially on busy afternoons, because then I can run in and out of the house while the meat gets more and more tender all by itself. To make things easier for my preschooler, I pulled the meat off the bones (really, it fell off) before I packed it into this two-tier froggie bento, layering it atop a white/black rice mix alongside steamed broccoli. It's even better the next day, after you skim the fat off the top. I added a radishroom for a pop of color, and the top tier holds chunks of cara cara oranges, blackberries, carrots, and a perfect little baby white peach. So good!

Happy Little Bento has been getting a bit of press lately, which is pretty exciting! A few months ago, I got an email from an educator who wanted to use my bento pictures for a passage she was writing for a 5th grade reading workbook by ECS Learning Systems. I can't show you the passage, but it's been published and I suppose some 5th graders are now learning about "Lunch Art". Last week, a high school classmate of mine talked about bento as an art medium, using my creations as an example, for her advertising/marketing company website. Then today I saw my radish star tutorial get a plug at Dotcoms for Moms, along with other cute ways to make mealtime fun for kids; and also today another plug over at MentalFloss, in a piece on What Kids Eat around the world. More exposure means meeting lots more people, and I often get emails from parents who tell me they look here and realize: "hey, I can do that!" I just got a couple today, and that always makes my day ^_^

Monday, May 14, 2012

Panda Curry Bento Bowl

Panda Curry Bento Bowl by sherimiya ♥
Panda Curry Bento Bowl, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Curry bowl bento, one of TinySprite's favorites. After this one she asked, can I always have my bento in this panda bowl forever? Um, yes! The recipe I usually use, from Just One Cookbook called Keema Curry, calls for Japanese curry blocks. But since there's wheat in those, I made my own roux to thicken it up with rice flour. Along with ground turkey, there are a lot of colorful diced veggies in this one (red capsicum, carrot, celery, potato, onion). I served it over mixed grain rice in the panda donburi bento box. The top tier holds fresh fruit of summer: blackberries, strawberries and baby yellow nectarines. My farmers market has just started offering various stone fruit such as cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots. And they are sweet already! They come all the way from the central valley and Sacramento areas, where the temps are much higher much earlier in the season than in the Bay Area. So very happy about that :D

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gluten-Free Adventures: Gingersnaps!

After the disappointment with the chocolate chip cookies, I decided to next try a cookie that I don't really care for. My reasoning is: if I don't usually like it, then it won't matter too much if it fails. True, right? But then, how will I know if the recipe turns out well or not? Hmmm. I'll try a cookie that someone else in the family really loves. Gingersnap! This cookie seems like a holiday cookie to me, which I eat out of politeness at Christmas; but actually, people seem to eat it year-round. I adapted a 10-year-old recipe out of the Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman.

Gluten Free Gingersnaps Recipe

1 cup garbanzo bean flour (she uses Garfava)
1 cup constarch
1 cup tapioca flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
2 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 and 1'2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 stick butter
1/2 cup olive oil (she uses Crisco)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first 10 ingredients and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in molasses and eggs.
Add the dry ingredients gradually while mixing, until well blended.
Place rounded teaspoons of dough on baking sheet, 2 inches apart.
Bake 10 minutes at 350F.
Remove carefully and cool on wire rack.


First of all, these cookies came out super thin I think because I used olive oil instead of shortening. Maybe if you used all butter, the batter might be less runny. But that aside, these little crisps are undeniably delicious! And that's coming from a non-gingersnap-lover like me. I could not sense the bean flour at all in this cookie, perhaps because of the strong spices. The kids did not remember ever eating gingersnaps before (what?), so when they tasted it I was curious to know what they thought. They both loved them. And this cookie got raves from the gingersnap fan too! If you prefer the thick, chewy kind of ginger cookie, then this recipe is not for you. They came out so thin they were almost like crackers. But that was their beauty. TinySprite was enamored of them. She doesn't eat snacks at preschool (usually goldfish or graham crackers), so when she comes home she asks for one of my homemade gluten-free treats. These she cradled "gingerly" in both hands so she wouldn't lose a single stray crumb. I will definitely make these again, and probably add extra ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Success!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Another Chili Bento

Another Chili Bento by sherimiya ♥
Another Chili Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Yep, you've seen this one before. It looks a lot like the other chili bentos. And we have it a lot because it's gooooood. It's similar to the basic recipe I've used before but I'll change it up depending on what I have on hand. This time I skipped the hominy and used regular corn, and omitted the chocolate. I scooped it over rice in the thermal jar, and it's good to go. Little side dish for TinySprite holds strawberries and cara cara oranges, since the chili is already packed full of vegetably vitamins. Now that the hotter season is coming up, I may have to skip the thermal bentos for awhile in favor of cool refreshing meals. Can't wait!
Oh, and by the way, I've been baking up a gluten-free storm over here, with some hits and some misses. And some hits that were nowhere near pretty enough for pictures (lemon bars!). I'll bring you up to date on the sweet stuff soon...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Enchiladas Bento

Enchiladas Bento by sherimiya ♥
Enchiladas Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Both kids took leftover enchiladas for bento today. I made a big batch so there would be lots of leftovers. These are filled with shredded boiled chicken, onions and cheese, rolled in corn tortillas, then smothered in red sauce (not homemade), mounded with more cheese, and then baked. The adult version had diced green chiles inside too. I topped MisterMan's bento with chopped cilantro and tortilla ship cutouts, while TinySprite's had little flower shapes. I also pre-cut hers for easier eating since this is not a very "neat" meal. Both kids got an assortment of fruit and veggies alongside. I put in those cute airplane and balloon picks (actually bookmarks) because, I don't know, that way there would be a transportation theme or something. Easy!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hello Kitty Fishcakes Bento

TinySprite gets two fish and rice cakes (made with brown rice, cod, quinoa, green onion, cilantro, salt and pepper). I might add an egg to bind these better next time. I made balls, then flattened and pan-fried them to a crispy finish. No bread crumbs or wheat of any kind. You might also include tartar sauce, or plain yogurt mixed with sweet pickle relish, which is what we sometimes use. I topped hers with a corn tortilla Hello Kitty with nori and carrot face and a radish bow. To the side she has carrots, strawberries and blackberries.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Children's Day (こどもの日, Kodomo no hi) Bento

Happy Children's Day (こどもの日, Kodomo no hi)! The 5th day of the 5th month used to be called Boys' Day (with Girls' Day falling on the 3rd day of the 3rd month) when I was a kid growing up in Hawaii, but now it has been generalized to include all children. I will always think of this day as boys' day, though, symbolized by the carp. I made gluten-free pepperoni pizzas to commemorate. This is the same dough I used last time, pressed into a fish shape before topping with cheddar cheese, quartered pepperoni scales, and a zucchini/pepperoni/mozzarella/kale eye. Underneath this fish pizza is a regular shaped pizza topped with shredded kale, julienned zucchini, pepperoni and cheese, and in the top tier of this EcoLunchBox is cottage cheese/sunflower seeds/wheat germ, blood oranges, strawberries and blackberries, and carrots. Happy Children's Day to all the littles out there!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tacorice Panda Bento

Tacorice Panda Bento by sherimiya ♥
Tacorice Panda Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Today's easy bento is the kind that goes well in the donburi bento bowl: tacorice. MisterMan prefers tacos the regular way, in a tortilla, but I convinced TinySprite to go for the tacorice because it's much neater that way. Especially when you're a preschooler. I layered seasoned ground turkey atop mixed (millet quinoa brown) rice, followed by cheese, shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. We added sliced avocados at dinner, but if I sent them to school for lunch they might turn brown by lunchtime. I've been meaning to try sprinkling them with lime juice to see if it would keep them green; I'll remember to try it one of these days. The top tier contains a rainbow of fruit: strawberries, cara cara orange chunks, and blackberries. I mean, how quick and easy is that? Add a cute fruit pick and it's done in minutes. My favorite kind of bento to pack ^_^

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gluten-Free Adventures, Part 1

Since starting a gluten-free phase in our house about 2 weeks ago, I've been experimenting with various alternative flours for baked goods. There are lots of different "flours" you can use to substitute for wheat flour, and each has its own characteristic qualities which make it good for some kinds of foods and not so good for others. I've baked with sweet rice flour before, and you may have had it as well if you've eaten mochi or other kinds of rice cakes. There are others such as quinoa, nut, millet, soy, and sorghum; I'm planning to try them all out of curiosity to see what they taste like. I've tried a few recipes so far; some have been more successful than others.

I'll start with the one that I think turned out the best (in my opinion): lemon blueberry bread. It's not so much a bread as a kind of tea cake, sort of like the way banana bread is called "bread". I used the recipe I found here, and pretty much stuck with it except that I added chocolate chips and omitted the glaze. It came out moist and flavorful enough that I thought it didn't need a glaze, although if you did add it, I'm sure it would be delicious. The best thing about this bread is that it tasted exactly as if it were made with wheat flour. Couldn't tell the difference.

Next, I tried chocolate chip cookies. I can't find the recipe I used for this batch, but it doesn't really matter. I'll use a different recipe for my next batch. I thought this would be a good standard because everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, but it backfired on me because since it happens to be my favorite cookie of all time, it turns out that they couldn't possibly reach the heights of deliciousness I was imagining. They did look very good, though.

And everyone else in the family seemed not to mind the distinct bean flour taste. Next time I'm going to omit the bean flour and use rice flour instead. This batter was a bit wetter than normal, and the cookies spread out a bit during baking, but they came out nice and crisp (after cooling) all the way through. I added almonds and chia seeds too.

Lastly, I tried making a regular loaf of sandwich bread. I adapted this recipe here, except I swapped out some of the rice flour. Since no one seemed to mind the bean flour in the cookies, I decided to go for it in the bread. I also added sunflower seeds and almonds. This dough looked very strange: it never came together in a sticky dough ball but rather just sat there as a wet blob. I was worried that it wouldn't bake since it didn't really rise much, but it did turn out sort of bread-like, in a way. The slice has a nice airy, almost gluten-y look.

There's a nice crust. It slices well and holds together just fine. I've toasted it, peanut-buttered it, and sandwiched it. Holds up fine. Just like regular bread, but a little denser. And it really tastes different. But who cares what I think of it? TinySprite is perfectly happy with her very own special loaf of bread, and that's what matters.

Have you tried gluten-free baking? Once you stock up on the different flours and additives, I've found it's pretty much the same as regular baking so far. It's just that the batter, dough and finished products often look quite different, and of course the taste varies. I don't know about you, but I always thought gluten-free baked goods would be dry, crumbly and with all the flavor of cardboard. Not so! In my limited experience, some might be an acquired taste, but others are virtually indistinguishable from their wheaty counterparts. Still on my list is pizza dough and pie crust. Wish me luck!