Easy Nut-Free French Macarons

 

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Over the summer, I took a break from the blog to spend time with my kids and to catch up on many neglected projects around the hive. It was a good change of pace and I have many things to share. What I’m trying to say is…I’m baaaack!

I’m not sure if you should be happy or afraid. Your pick.

Because I have a sweet tooth and I want to go to Paris someday, I made some French macarons. The trouble with macarons is that they are made with almond flour and I’m allergic to almonds.

Let’s all take a moment to throw a tiny pity party for me.

That was fun.

So, being allergic to almonds, I had to find a substitute. Naturally, I turned to sunflower seeds. They are my go-to nut replacement. I use them to make peanut-free peanut sauce, or “unpeanut” sauce as we now refer to it, homemade sunflower seed butter and all sorts of delicious treats. More on those later.

Today, we focus on the lovely French macaron.

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Just a side note: A macaroon is a coconut concoction and macaron refers to this heavenly French delight.

Moving along.

These were surprisingly simple to make. And that is dangerous, my friends.

 

You will need:

1 c. powdered sugar

3/4 c. sunflower seed flour (or almond flour)*

2 large egg whites at room temperature

1/4 c. white granulated sugar

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

food coloring (optional)

*To make your own sunflower seed flour, place roasted sunflower seeds into a food processor and process for about a minute.  The mixture will look coarse and crumbly.  Resist the temptation to go longer, as the blade will heat the oil causing the mixture to become sticky.  Sift the mixture through a fine sieve.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  2. Pulse powdered sugar and sunflower seed (or almond) flour in a food processor until combined.  Sift with a fine mesh sieve into a separate bowl.
  3. Whisk egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until they are foamy.
  4. Add cream of tartar and mix on medium speed until soft peaks begin to form.
  5. Add the granulated sugar and mix on low until incorporated and then switch to high speed and beat until stiff peaks form.
  6. Add flour mixture to the egg whites, half at a time, and fold gently until mixture is smooth and glossy.  If using food coloring, add it at this step to ensure it is evenly distributed.
  7. Transfer mixture to a pastry bag  or a quart-size zip top freezer bag.  If using a pastry bag, use a plain 1/2″ round tip.  If using a zip top bag, snip the corner to make a small hole. Err on the side of a smaller hole rather than larger.
  8. Pipe onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 1″ apart.  Tap the baking sheet on the counter top to get rid of air pockets and let stand for about 10 minutes.
  9. Place in oven and reduce to 375 degrees F.  Bake for 10 minutes, rotating halfway through the cooking time, until they are firm and crispy.
  10. Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes and transfer to wire rack. If they stick to the parchment, lift the parchment at one end and drizzle a few drops of water underneath the paper.  This causes steam from the hot baking sheet to release the macaron.
  11. Using 2 macarons that are the same size, sandwich with one teaspoon of your filling of choice.

Filling Options:

  • buttercream
  • chocolate ganache
  • chocolate hazelnut spread
  • seedless raspberry jam
  • dulce de leche

Today, I went for a classic vanilla buttercream.

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For a chocolate version:  Substitute 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder in place of 1/4 cup of the sunflower (or almond) flour.

If you have a favorite macaron flavor, leave a comment and send me back to the kitchen!


			

Gluten-free and Peanut-free Peanut Sauce

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Say what?! How can peanut sauce not have peanuts? By simple definition, it would be a sauce made with, or containing, peanuts.

Not in this house, it doesn’t. And…it’s gluten-free!

Three of my four children are peanut allergic so “peanut” is a four-letter word in our house. Yes, I know the word peanut actually has six letters, but you know what I mean. Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe I’m confusing you. I’m confusing myself. It happens all the time.

Before I completely loose my marbles, let me pass along one of the tastiest UNpeanut sauce recipes that I have ever tasted. I should have titled this post “Unpeanut Sauce”. That way people would be buzzing about the new unpeanut sauce in town. It’d be all the rage. I’m sure it would go viral.

To clarify, I have tried many different variations of sauces to mimic peanut sauce for my gluten-free chicken imperial roll recipe, which was recently pinned by BlogHer on Pinterest, by the way (*cough*shameless plug). Actually, they pinned the old blog post, but whatever, I’ll take it!

Since sunflower seed butter is our go-to replacement for peanut butter, I tried subbing it, but the sauce always fell short of my expectations. For the most part, I settled into thinking I would be stuck with only plum sauce in which to dunk the delicious rolls.

Last night, I was a woman on a mission. I blended and tweaked until I came up something that took me back in time to my peanut-eating glory days!

I didn’t take pictures of the process because it was really very simple. I threw all the ingredients in a regular mason jar, screwed on the blender blade and ring and let it whirl. I did stop once to scrape the sunflower seed butter off the sides and then blended it again.

Here’s what you need to make the “unpeanut” sauce:

2/3 c. gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
2 TBSP. rice vinegar
2 TBSP. apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. grated ginger
1/4 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. sunflower seed butter
Sriracha to taste*

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and there are no visible chunks of garlic.

*If you have many people in your home with varying tastes for spicy, the Sriracha can be left out of the original blend. When serving, add a dollop of Sriracha on top of the sauce in individual bowls.

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Serve it up with these lovely rolls, which were pinned by Blogher on Pinterest.  Did ya hear?

 


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Make sushi at home

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Please forgive me.  It has been a few weeks since my last post.  I have been busy and this is beginning to sound like a confession of sorts.  What a weird way to begin a blog post.  But, by  now you know me and would expect nothing less.

Now that this month of crazy is coming to an end, I promise I’ll be better at trying to post more regularly.  Don’t you love my commitment?  I’ll be better at trying to post more regularly.  Don’t be like me.

But, if you’re already like me, you need to eat gluten-free to be healthy. Also, if you’re like me, you prefer to stay at home in your t-shirt and yoga pants and have dinner and a movie night with the family.  Fun for all ages!

Although, sushi is healthy, store-bought or restaurant sushi is typically not gluten-free. The seaweed wraps and rice do not contain gluten, but the fillings can contain soy sauce, which contains gluten.

What’s a gluten-free girl to do?

She makes her own at home. That’s what!

Here’s what you need:

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bamboo mat

Nori (aka seaweed wraps)

1.5 cups Jasmine or sushi rice (cooked with 3 cups of water)

4 oz. smoked salmon (sliced into long strips)

1 cucumber (peeled, seeded and cut into strips)

1 avocado (sliced)

wasabi sauce

rice vinegar

gluten-free tamari or soy sauce

 

Here’s what you do:

Measure out rice and water into a pan and set on high heat.  When the water begins to boil, turn down to low heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.  Remove lid and fluff with a fork or rice paddle.

I would advise letting the rice cool, with the lid off, for several minutes so you don’t burn off your finger tips.  You will need those in the future.

Lay out the bamboo mat.  You can buy a mat specifically for sushi, or you can do what I do and use a place mat.  I have also been known to roll the sushi without a mat.  I’m a rebel.

Place a sheet of nori on top.  Sprinkle cooled rice over the nori, leaving about a quarter of an inch border on the bottom edge and about a half-inch along the top edge.  It only takes about a half cup of cooked rice for each roll.  Dip your fingers into a small bowl of rice vinegar to keep the rice from sticking and press the rice into an even layer across the nori.

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Make a horizontal indentation with your fingers along the middle of the rice and add a strip of salmon, cucumber and avocado slices extending from one side to the other.  It’s ok if you don’t go all the way to the edges, as you will trim the ends to make it all look pretty.

Squeeze a generous amount of wasabi sauce along the filling.  I like it hot, some like it not.  Do whatever makes you and your loved ones happy.  Or, surprise them and sit back and enjoy the show.

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Dip your fingers into the vinegar again and moisten the top edge of the nori.  Working quickly, roll the nori away from you and over the fillings all the way to the top edge, making sure it seals evenly across.  Use the mat or towel to lift and roll.

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Let sit, seam side down, while making the remaining rolls.

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When all rolls are complete, trim the ends with a sharp knife and slice into 1-inch pieces.  Between cuts, wipe the knife for cleaner slices.  It’s nice to have a friend who is willing to eat the ugly end pieces to destroy the evidence of you being anything but perfect in your sushi-rolling endeavors.

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I usually make my sushi in advance and cover and refrigerate until the chaos has subsided and we are all ready to sit down together.

When ready to serve. Make a dipping sauce with the wasabi sauce, tamari or soy sauce and rice vinegar mixed together.  I use small bowls for the sauce so that everybody can make their own according to their own tastes.

We buy frozen edamame to eat with our sushi.  Five minutes in the microwave and it’s ready to sprinkle with coarse sea salt and to eat.

Making sushi at home is easy and inexpensive. I can feed my family a meal of sushi and edamame for under $10. The fact that I can wear a t-shirt and yoga pants and watch a movie while I eat is a bonus.

Sayonara folks!

Gluten-free Strawberry Lemon Tart

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Last week was a difficult week.  Because I was stressed out, I wanted something sweet.  I’m healthy that way.

Since we deal with dietary restrictions and food allergies, wanting a sweet treat usually goes unfulfilled.  After all, gluten-free convenience can be pricey.  My frugal nature does not permit me to buy a six-dollar box of cookies.  I just cannot do it.  My mother once accused me of having lived through the Depression.

After rummaging through my fridge and pantry, I came up with a few items that seemed to go well together.  They went so well together, in fact, that I made this a second time for our church potluck and I’ve had several requests for the recipe.  So, here you go.

For the filling, you need:

16 oz. cream cheese, softened

zest and juice from 2 lemons (Meyer, if you have them)

1 cup granulated sugar

For the crust:

3/4 cup pecans

1 cup dried dates, pitted

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

pinch of sea salt

For the topping:

sliced strawberries

white chocolate, melted

 

What to do:

In a food processor, pulse the pecans until they are a coarse crumb.  set aside in a separate bowl.

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Next, process the dates and the remaining crust ingredients until everything has a crumbly texture.  Then add the pecan crumbs back to the mixture and pulse a few times to combine.

Dump the crust mixture into an 8-inch spring-form pan.  I used a spring-form pan because I don’t have a tart pan.  Use what you have.

Press the crust to the bottom of the pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup or a spoon to press evenly and firmly.

Place the crust in the refrigerator to firm up a bit while making the lemon cream.

Since I was making this on the fly, I had to zap the cream cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds to soften.  Once again, plan ahead.  Don’t be like me.

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In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and zest.  Beat until creamy.

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Spread the lemon cream on top of the crust.  Then lick the beaters.  And the bowl.  Don’t forget the spatula.

If it turns out that you love the lemon cream as much as I do, I highly recommend making this recipe for Gluten-free Meyer Lemon Cream Crepes.

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Now it’s time to make the top pretty.  Layer the sliced strawberries and drizzle a little white chocolate on top.  If you don’t have white chocolate, use dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolate.

Side note:  The photo above is from the “test” recipe.  This recipe will result in a filling with twice the thickness.  Feel free to add more strawberries to the top as well. I didn’t take a picture of the final tart recipe, because I don’t have my act together. Thank you for listening.

A word of caution about the chocolate drizzle.  Go lightly on the amount.  To much chocolate covering the top will make slicing the tart difficult.  You will mangle at least one piece beyond recognition and be forced to eat the evidence.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Homeschooling on a Budget

Homeschooling on a Budget

Not unlike many homeschooling families, we are on a strict budget.  If you homeschool, you know that buying curricula can be a major annual expense.  Multiply that by several children all on different levels and it can quickly become a budget buster!

I’m sharing a few ways that I cope with the expense of buying curriculum.  These are by no means revolutionary or ground-breaking, but they might be of some use.

Buy and Swap Online

One of my favorite websites is PaperBackSwap.com.  After becoming  a new member, you list 10 books you would be willing to mail if someone requested it from you.  After your 10 books are posted, you will receive 2 credits that allow you to request 2 free books from other members.  When a member requests a book from you and they receive it, you gain another credit for another free book.

With this site, we have been able to pass along the books we no longer need and receive new books that tie in with our school lessons.  If you use a literature-based curriculum like Sonlight, this can be a huge money saver.

Another way we save on curriculum is to buy it used on eBay.  In March and April I sit down to fine tune next year’s school plan for each of my kids.  After I have a good idea of which curriculum I need, I begin stalking.  At first, I watch a few auctions to get an idea of the going price.  Then I become a full-on, lurk-in-the-shrubbery (figuratively speaking) stalker.  I have purchased the more expensive curriculum this way.

Half.com is another great resource when buying readers not available at the local libraries.  Many times, sellers using a literature-based curriculum will list all their readers for a particular year at the same time.  By searching for a title and then looking at the other books available by that seller, you can quickly scan to see what they have available.  When buying multiple books from the same seller  you save on shipping charges.

Buy Used from Local Sources

Once a year, our local libraries host a huge book sale.  On the last day of the sale, they hand you a large reusable tote bag at the door and it’s $10 for all the books you can fit in the bag.  We have purchased much curriculum and many readers this way.

Used bookstores are another great way to find classic literature and, if you’re lucky, some popular curriculum.  The books are used, not the stores.  Just so we’re clear.

Goodwill, Salvation Army and other thrift stores often have a large book selection.  Their prices for books tend to be very inexpensive.  Many times, I’ve found a Teacher’s Guide for a subject that I can use as a road map to construct lessons.  This works better for lower grades.

A quick search on Craigslist will sometimes result in a good buy.  We began homeschooling with the bulk of our curriculum purchased this way.

Another great source in our community has been local yard sales.  We live in rural area with many Christian homeschooling families.  A quick detour on our way home has given us the opportunity to buy books and curriculum at very low prices.  It has also led us to know our neighbors better.  Win-win.

Buy New from Local Sources

If you didn’t know already (I didn’t until a couple of months ago) Barnes and Noble offers an Educator’s Discount to homeschoolers!  I was over the moon on this one.  Then, a little baffled that I never knew this before, as we spend so much time there.  A short application will get you a card you can use that day.

Half Price Books is another book retailer that offers a Teacher’s Discount card (homeschool teachers included).

Don’t be afraid to ask any chain retailer if they have a program that would be of benefit to you.

More Expensive Doesn’t Always Mean Better

After struggling with Tween Bee over math, I was desperately seeking out a curriculum that would fit her learning style.  After trying Abeka, Horizons and various workbook supplements, we made the switch to Life of Fred math.  We had to back up several books to help fill in some learning gaps.  Even when purchased brand new, these books are affordable.  The great news is they are hardcover and non-consumable so they can be used again for the younger ones.

Because Life of Fred has worked so well with Tween Bee, I ordered Life of Fred Trigonometry for Teen Bee for next year.  After looking through the book, he decided to begin ahead of schedule and has remarked several times how much he loves Fred.

Fred has become a family friend.  The kids fill me in on what is happening in Fred’s life and talk about him as if they know him personally.  Fred has saved us from tantrums and tears, and that’s just me.  Tween Bee actually enjoys her math now and has bumped it to the first subject of the day.

Ordering online is easy.  Visit stanleyschmidt.com for ordering info and to view sample lessons.

Free is best

Library cards are free to obtain and to use.  So get one already!  Even if weekly trips to the library aren’t your thing, many libraries offer a free download service with an impressive selection of titles.  Whether you use an e-reader or read on your computer, several formats are available.  No car? No problem.

Libraries are not only good source for free books.  We supplement our history lessons with DVDs from the library.  Popcorn and history go well together!

Check your local library schedule and let the kids participate in the scheduled activities.  Our library offers weekly story time for younger kids.  Knitting and crochet classes are often taught, as well as drawing classes for teens. Take advantage of this valuable, free resource.

Useful education-based websites are popping up like dandelions in my yard.  Many offer free printables, lap books, tutorials, science experiments and other freebies.  Consult the Google.

My last tip:

Find and follow homeschool bloggers.  They are a treasure trove of useful information.  Heather Sanders if a favorite of mine.  I’m not sure if it’s her writing style or the fact that her kids are roughly the same ages as mine that attract me.  Many of her posts have an immediate practical application for our family.  Whatever the reason, I find her posts informative and refreshing.  Hop over and check her out.

Note:  I am not affiliated with any company for which I have provided links.  I only offer them to you as a tool to further your research.  They have no idea who I am.

Gluten-free Crepes with Meyer Lemon Cream

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No matter the question, the answer is always Meyer lemon.

For example:

Q:  What type of lemons are the most delicious?

A:  Meyer lemon

Q:  What is a good way to squeeze in some vitamin C today?

A:  Meyer lemon

Q:  What flavor do I want my crepes that I’ve been craving for two weeks to have?

You see where this is going.

My point is, Meyer lemons are always a good idea.  Always.  Forever and ever.

Amen

First, we make the gluten-free crepe batter, then the Meyer lemon cream.

Patience is a virtue, grasshopper.

For the crepes, you need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (cow’s, soy, rice, almond, etc.)
  • 3/4 cup gluten-free flour blend*
  • 1/4 tsp. xanthan gum (if your flour blend doesn’t contain it)
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. canola or sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

*I’ll let you in on a secret.  I don’t know exactly what is in my gluten-free flour blend.  I’ll explain, lest you think ill of me.  Whenever I only have a little bit of gluten-free flour left in a container, I toss it in a large bin with an airtight lid.  It ends up being a blend of sorghum, millet, teff and quinoa flours with tapioca, potato and corn starches.  It might not be the best for baking when you need precise properties for the flour to magically transform into delicious baked goods, but it works well for crepes, flatbread, pancakes and as a thickener for gravy and cream sauces and soups.

I’m glad I got that off my chest.  Thank you for listening.

Add all the ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides with a spoon or silicone spatula to fully incorporate all the flour.

Once blended, place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before commencing with the crepe making.  You can leave the batter refrigerated overnight if you want to speed up the process for breakfast or brunch.

Easter is this Sunday.  These would be a delicious addition to Easter brunch.  Just a suggestion.  No pressure.

While the batter is chillin’ like a villain, (assuming villains spend time in refrigerated environments.  It could happen.) make the Meyer lemon cream.

Angels just sang when I typed the words “Meyer lemon cream”.

You will need:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened (inspiration struck and I couldn’t wait for the cream cheese to soften, so I microwaved it for 30 seconds.  Plan ahead.  Don’t be like me.
  • zest of one Meyer lemon
  • juice of one Meyer lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar

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Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a hand mixer until blended and fluffy.  Leave at room temperature to make spreading on the crepes easier.

Meyer lemon cream

Meyer lemon cream

Now for the crepe-making fun and festivities!

I used two different types of pans to speed up the process.  The cast iron Lodge allowed for larger crepes.  The smaller non-stick pan allowed for flipping the crepes.  I like to flip.  It makes me feel fancy.  Then I speak with a French accent and make my kids secretly hope the aren’t really related to me.  Sorry kids.  You are.

Heat whatever pan you choose over medium-high heat.  If using cast-iron, a slightly lower temp is best.

When drops of water dance across the surface of the pan, it is ready to roll.

I use a soup ladle to measure out the batter.  About half a cup is sufficient.

 

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Pour the batter in the center of the pan and immediately begin to rotate the pan to spread the batter thinly and evenly in a larger circle.

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Cook for about 30 seconds or until the surface of the crepes loses its shine.

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Flip the crepe, either my your fancy flipping skills or with a spatula, and cook on the other side for another 30 seconds or so.

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Move crepes to a plate.  Some people layer parchment in between their crepes.  I don’t bother and I’ve never had a problem with them sticking together.  Go with your heart.

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Now for the fun part.  Take a crepe, spread with a generous amount of Meyer lemon cream and fold over.  Dust with powdered sugar, if you so desire.

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Then, eat daintily like a lady or gentleman, using the proper fork and dabbing your mouth gently with a napkin.

Who are we kidding?

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Dig in!

 

 

 

Homemade Yogurt in the Crock Pot

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Yes, I know Crock Pot is a brand of slow cooker, but I’m an old dog and I grumble when I’m forced to learn new tricks.  Add that to being raised in Texas where all slow cookers are referred to crock pots and it’s doubly embedded in my brain.  The only crock pot (there I go again)  in my house that I don’t call a crock pot is the Ninja.  I like the idea of having a ninja as a sous chef.  I’ll bet they are proficient with the knife.  I also like being able to say things like, “The ninja is cooking dinner tonight”.  And I especially love yelling, “Don’t let the ninja burn down the house!” as I walk out the door.  Confusing my family is one of my gifts.

To say I love my crock pots is an understatement.  I have a very close, personal relationship with my crock pots that most people don’t understand and, really, neither do I.

Crock pot is a member of the family.

Crock pot is swell.

Homemade yogurt is the most recent culinary delight that crock pot concocted in my kitchen.

Now, I have made yogurt before using various methods.  The yogurt maker I had, left me with a very thin yogurt that just wasn’t my thing.  When making it using a Thermos, I was limited with the small capacity.  With the crock pot, I can make a huge batch!  This is important because we eat massive quantities of yogurt around here.

This recipe is a result of tweaking a basic recipe until I reached the desired flavor and consistency.

You will need:

  • 1/2 gallon of  whole milk (2% will work, but result in a slightly thinner yogurt)
  • 2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt (if using a thinner yogurt for a starter culture, double the amount)
  • 1/2 c. powered milk
  • a crock pot (aka slow cooker)
  • ice chest large enough to house the crock pot wrapped in towels
  • towels (to insulate the crock pot)

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Pour the milk into the crock pot.  Cover and turn to high heat.

Now go on about your business for the next two hours.  That’s about how long it will take for the milk to reach 180 degrees (Fahrenheit).  At this point, remove the lid and turn off the heat.

Let the milk cool to 115 degrees.  Stir the milk periodically and test with a thermometer after stirring.  As the milk cools, it will form a skin on the surface.  Remove the milk skin and try not to gag as the words “milk skin” rattle around your brain.

When the milk reaches 115 degrees, whisk in the powdered milk making sure to not have any lumps.  I run the powdered milk through a mesh strainer to get rid of any lumps before adding to the liquid milk.  It works. Do it.

Stir in the yogurt and mix completely.  Only 2-4 tablespoons of yogurt is needed as a starter.  The lovely bacteria need plenty of room to go forth and multiply.  Resist the urge to add more yogurt than necessary.  It will not result in a thicker yogurt.

Place a large towel in the bottom of your cooler.  Put the whole crock pot into the cooler and place another towel or two on top.  Then bring up the bottom towel to wrap the crock pot entirely and shut the cooler lid.

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Now, here’s the hard part.

Walk away.

Just walk away.

Leave the crock pot in the insulated cooler for 10-12 hours.  No peeking!

After 10 hours, check on the yogurt.  If it’s the consistency you like, then you can move it into separate containers and place in the fridge.

I usually begin the yogurt making process early in the morning so that the yogurt is ready to place in the refrigerator, crock and all, right before I go to bed.  In the morning, I transfer the yogurt into four 16 oz. jars.

I leave a couple of the jars plain so they are versatile.  We use yogurt in smoothies, in place of sour cream and for baking.

The remaining yogurt is made into creamy vanilla yogurt.  You can use any sweetener you like, but I like the “no added sugar” approach so I use 12-15 drops of Vanilla Stevia per 16 ounces of yogurt.

gluten-free granola with homemade yogurt

gluten-free granola with homemade yogurt

Top a bowl of vanilla yogurt with homemade gluten-free crunchy pecan and coconut granola and you will be happy you did.

Tip:  Don’t eat all the yogurt!  Save 2-4 tablespoons to use as a starter culture for the next batch.

Do your gut a favor and give probiotics a chance!

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