Gluten Free Christmas Treats

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You can be the most well-prepared person ever, but when December hits, so does the chaos.

It seems that everything gets scheduled for those first 2 weeks of the month on purpose, to prevent you from catching up and swanning into the holiday season like you own it. The obligations come at you thick and heavy, and so do the treats!

We’re stretched thin, not able to work out as often as we want, and of course the diet goes out the window. My little helper this month is going to be an all natural pre-workout fat burner, a metabolism booster that gives me an energy boost so that my workouts are more efficient, and as an added bonus, since I’m not used to drinking coffee, my buzz keeps going even after I work out, and I get more done throughout the day.

Gluten Free Christmas Village

On the agenda this week: Gingerbread Houses. All the cool kids are doing it, so my little bird wants to put up and decorate his own version. We chose a cute cookie cutter that makes one small house that would fit on the palm of your hand. They’re so cute, you can make a whole village (and we did!)

I also found a 3D Christmas tree cookie cutter to complete the scene.

First: The Walls

The reason gingerbread is usually used for these kinds of crafts, is because wheat flour based gingerbread cookies are very hard, so they make good building materials.

When you go gluten free, you’ll often find that the cookies turn out soft. In fact, they can be downright crumbly not to mention impossible to roll.

Luckily I found a recipe, Lila Loa’s End-Al For Chocolate Cookies,  that I was able to convert to gluten free very easily buy reducing the butter to 1/2 cup, and subbing in Bob’s Red Mill gluten free flour. I used cane sugar to end up with harder walls, after my attempt with date powder ended up being an absolute disaster.

Yes the cookies are chocolate – I wanted to go for real taste. I’m not a huge fan of those hard gingerbread houses covered in tooth-breaking icing and hard candies that no-one wants to eat. These little chocolate houses and trees were  designed to be eaten, they’re not just decorations. In fact they’re downright scrumptious.

Tips For Success

The reason I chose these small 3D cookie cutters, is because I didn’t want bigger GF cookie pieces to crack. Gluten free dough is a bit more crumbly than regular, and once the cookies are baked, the end result breaks more easily. So small shapes are the way to go.

Once the dough is rolled to 1/4cm, it helps to slide it onto a silicone mat on the cookie tray before using the cookie cutter. that way you can leave the pieces where they are, and simply remove the excess. Slide the pieces away from each other a little, but this roll-out dough doesn’t rise very much.

The tree shapes in particular needed to stay in place, because otherwise the slot where they fit together became warped. We lost a few trees that way, they crack if you try to force them together!

The Icing

I didn’t want to use traditional icing, as I find it’s too sweet, takes too long to set, and the flavor of white icing simply doesn’t go with chocolate cookies in my opinion. So I went with actual chocolate.

Chocolate is a joy to work with. You can pipe it just like icing, and it sets really fast – especially in the fridge. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler without letting it get too hot, then put it into a piping bag or ziplock with the corner cut off.

I used milk chocolate to hold the houses together, and white chocolate to ice the trees. I added a little green tea to some of the white for more realistic looking trees.

Technique For Fiddly Little Houses

For the houses, I found it best to put together sets of 2 walls, cool completely, then put 2 sets together. Let that cool completely before adding one side of the roof, cool, then the other side. I won’t sugar coat it, the houses were a fiddly pain, they kept cracking or caving in until I started using this technique! Luckily cracks can be quickly mended with more chocolate. Is there nothing chocolate can’t do?!

For the trees, I slotted them together and then simply piped the green chocolate all over the trees and joints, followed by white chocolate for the edges. The drippiness worked well, and I used a LOT of white chocolate for each tree.

Once they were completely set, we decorated the houses with just a little white chocolate at the edges of the roof. The trees received cranberries and yellow raisins stuck on with white chocolate.

Making them Into A Cute Gift

The trees, each sporting about a ton of white chocolate along with yellow raisin and cranberry baubles, are strong enough to give away as end of year gifts for the teachers at this week’s upcoming party, so I popped each one into a clear treat bag and tied it up with a nice ribbon. They are absolutely delicious. You just can’t go wrong with a dark chocolate cookie covered in a thick layer of white chocolate. They do need to be kept in the fridge though, at least up until gift time – otherwise you could end up with grubby looking chocolate marks inside the treat bag.

The houses aren’t as strong, so they couldn’t be given away. They are now forming our entire entranceway display for the holidays, and we’ll thoroughly enjoy destroying the village, maybe while we watch Lilu and Stitch, the Godzilla scene!

Did I mention those houses were very fiddly and I may have lost my mind a little while making them? And of course the broken pieces found their way to my mouth all too often, wreaking havoc on my weight loss goals. My fat burner pill and a trip to the gym are in order as soon as I’ve published this post!

 

 

 

 

Breakfast

banana chocolate chip quinoa squaresOn the weekends, breakfast is easy and delicious. Gluten free pancakes with seasonal fruit is always the best way to go. During the week however, there just isn’t time. Of course it would be tempting to go with a bowl of cereal because there are so many gluten free options, but the high sugar and low protein simply doesn’t make for a good start to a busy day for anyone, big or small.

The easy solution is of course a shake – and personally I’m not adverse whipping up a delicious shake with just protein powder in my vortex mixer. I use a great tasting vegan, gluten free chocolate protein powder with an added shot of espresso if I need that extra little boost!

My little bird just won’t drink protein shakes though, even when they’re more like milkshakes than anything healthy. So looking to add more protein and less sugar, I used a banana bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, and added some cooked quinoa, to come up with these great breakfast squares with a decent protein, fat and carb balance.

I make a double batch when everyone’s busy, that way they have a chance of surviving the cooling process. Then I wrap them individually in parchment paper. I don’t tie them up, just fit them tight into a ziplock bag and freeze.

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Squares

Prep time:10 mins  Bake time: 25 mins

Ingredients

1 cup gluten free flour (Arrow or Bob’s Red Mill)
1/4 t xanthan gum if not included in the flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/3 cup of coconut sugar or date powder
1 large egg
1 over-ripe banana
1/3 cup full fat yoghurt
2 tbsp oil (I used olive)
3/4 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Method

Combine the GF flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt in one bowl.

Whisk together the egg and coconut sugar until creamy, then add the yoghurt, banana and oil- squishing the banana up with the whisk.

Fold together the wet and dry ingredients, then add in the cooked quinoa and chocolate chips.

Pour into a 9 x 9″ brownie pan lined with parchment paper, and let sit for 20 mins while you preheat the oven to 350F. This resting time lets the gluten free ingredients do their thing so you get a better consistency and flavor.

Put into the preheated oven and bake for 25 mins or until a sharp knife comes out clean.

Let sit for half an hour again to cool slightly before turning in out and slicing into squares. Cool completely before wrapping and freezing.

They defrost quickly, and actually the chocolate chips are even more delicious when still slightly frozen – I usually grab a couple and set them on the counter while I pack lunch and gently shout at my little darling to get dressed. Then he can eat them like a human being at the kitchen table, or like a wild animal in his carseat. His choice 😉

I’m a huge fan of America’s Test Kitchen and especially their book How Can It Be Gluten Free. Because they give so much detail around how they came up with the final recipe, you can really learn from each thing you bake, and grow as a recipe creator and gluten free cook. Thanks ATK for making my life so much more delicious!

 

 

the cracker conundrum

When I first became a mom, I was determined to get it right! I knew that I would follow a holistic path to introducing new foods, and I wouldn’t feed my little bird any junk whatsoever.

Then he turned two.

This cutie could EAT! Not only was he still breast fed and having plenty of fruits and veggies, soups, meat and gluten free grains, but he would whine and gripe in between meals so consistently that eventually I was forced to either loose my sanity, or find him the crunchy, munchy snack of his dreams.

Enter the Elmo Cracker.

They’re organic, they don’t seem like they have a lot of junk, and they’re made in cute elmo shapes. What can possibly go wrong?

Check out the ingredients for yourself and see what you think:

Wholesome Organic Elmo Crackers
Ingredients: Organic Wheat Flour, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Sea Salt, Organic Invert Cane Juice, Organic Wheat Gluten, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, MonoCalcium Phosphate), Organic Barley Malt and Corn Extract, Natural Butter Flavor, Soy Lecithin, Vitamin Mix [Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12), Folic Acid, Niacinamide], Reduced Iron, Zinc Oxide, Papain (Enzyme).
Contains: Wheat and Soy.

Except for the crackers, which he LOVED, my little bird didn’t have much in the way of wheat, added gluten, sugar, salt, or flavors. He ate some oatmeal in the morning sweetened with prunes, and veggies, meat and a little gluten free quinoa, corn pasta, or rice.

When his behaviour started to change, I put it down to the terrible two’s. My friend would come over and comment “look how he’s manipulating you”, and I started to receive those dreaded calls from preschool informing me that my little darling had whacked another kid in the head with a toy car… again!

It took me a while to put two and two together, but eventually I decided to experiment with a gluten free diet. I’ve always had issues with gluten and let’s call it my stomach’s comfort level, but I had hoped my little bird would be more like his dad who can eat any old junk and feel fine.

It wasn’t easy at first, because he was in preschool and they provided a healthy snack of fruit, crackers and cheese every day (when I thought about it, what a lot of crackers the little guy was ploughing through each week!)

I had to send in a snack, and he had to be the only one to be different. That was a little sad, I had hoped he could just join in all the time – but really the junk eating only gets worse as they get older, so I guess they might as well get used to it.

I sent the same thing every day – organic rice cakes, and humous or goat cheddar. Luckily that hit the spot for him carb wise so he didn’t go around snatching the other kids snacks!

I should also mention that the orange in the “marble” cheese the daycare was feeding the kids, is red food coloring that is well known to cause behavioural reactions in sensitive kids. So yeah, I took him off that marble cheese too!

So how did it turn out? Surprise surprise, after about a week there was less of that sense of urgency about him. He didn’t have as many frustrated outbursts, and eventually he even stopped crying for Elmo crackers all day long!

His stomach deflated a little, just like mine does when I’m off gluten.

He started to get better in his social relationships, and the preschool teacher was able to see him for the sweet and lovely little boy he really was. And at home, it felt as though a layer of yuck had been scraped off our lives, and we could breathe a little deeper, love a little better, and best of all, sleep a little longer!

I’m not saying that every kid is sensitive to gluten. But when frustration and urgency start to rule the day, it’s definitely time to have a closer look at the possible triggers – they could be emotional of course, but the foods kids eat can also have a huge effect on how they feel, act, learn and develop. Especially in these tender years where the body’s so fresh and clean that even an organic cracker can wreak its quiet havoc.

That week I cried for the kids who are given goldfish crackers every day. The sensitive ones don’t stand a chance, and when your school labels you as a troublemaker, that stuff sticks!

So it’s a gluten free diet for us from now on, with the exception of birthday parties where my lil guy gets to join in just like everyone else :)