Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pavlova - Southern Style

The first time I tried a pavlova was in my single days living in Chicago, and my dear Australian friend made this for my birthday.  I couldn't get enough, and I wasn't even gluten-free at the time!  I just thought it was the greatest thing ever and wished my friend would make it for me on a regular basis.  The pavlova originated as a dessert from Australian and New Zealand, and is traditionally topped with cream, strawberries, kiwi and passionfruit.

And the best thing of all about this wondrous thing called a pavlova, it is naturally gluten-free!! Yippee, don't you just love when some of your favorite foods are safe for you just the way they are? Score!

For my "big" birthday last year, I requested from my mom, who was visiting from Florida, to make me one, and she didn't disappoint. I saw the cover of the April 2012 issue of Southern Living and knew I had to have it!  I had this issue saved since April on my coffee table, just because I couldn't get enough of the cover.  She did not follow the recipe exactly, but it was our inspiration.

And it came out looking just as beautiful.  Thank you mom!

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to ring in another year with my family.  And while I love my family more than anything, I know them, and I knew I wasn't getting a homemade birthday dessert from my husband or daughter, so I had to take matters into my own hands.

As my very good friend, Julie, in Chicago once told me....I will set myself up for disappointment if I wait for something to be done, so I need to do it myself and just enjoy the occasion.  And that is what I did.  I made my own birthday dessert.  Of course, M had to clean up the kitchen, but hey, I cook, I don't do the messy stuff.  It's the least fun part of the whole cooking experience.

Since, I picked up fresh Georgia peaches that morning from the Grant Park Farmers Market, I decided to whip up a pavlova (just one layer this time) with a Southern twist as this year's birthday treat.

A pavlova looks and sounds a lot more intimidating than it is.  It is simple....meringue, cream and fruit, and viola! There you have it.  The fact that it is simple is what makes it so good!  It also keeps easily in the fridge if you can't finish it, but it will be difficult not to go back for second, thirds......

The most crucial step in the whole pavlova-making process is to get good, clean egg whites.  My suggestion...seperate them one egg at a time, so if you do mess up, you will not ruin all the eggs at once, and need to run out to buy more in a frenzy of panic.  Trust me on this one.

We went out for an amazing birthday dinner with my family, to Wisteria, which had a delicious gluten-free menu, and then came home to this:

I may have made my own birthday dessert, and received funny looks from my friends, but hey, I wasn't disappointed. Thank you Julie for that wise tip!

It is important to make sure you have parchment paper before you start this recipe.  It is also important to note, that you don't want to assemble the meringue, cream and fruit until just before serving, so it is at its freshest.

Pavlova with Fresh Peaches

4 egg whites
1/2 cup fine, white sugar
1/2 teaspoon creme of tartar
parchment paper 

Cream topping
1 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of mascarpone or ricotta (different textures, but equally as delicious)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

fresh fruit for topping - sliced strawberries, blueberries, or sliced ripe peaches.  Any fruit will do. If using sliced fruit, you can slice ahead of time and toss in a bowl with a teaspoon of sugar and let sit for an hour, which will make them juicy and saucy.

Preheat oven to 250'

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar at high speed with an electric hand-mixture until foamy.  Gradually add the sugar until it dissolves.  Continue mixing until the egg whites become firm, stiff and spoonable, about 4 or 5 minutes;

Place parchment paper on a large cookie sheet.  Place a dinner plate upside down on the parchment paper and use a pen to trace around it.  Remove the plate.

Gently spoon the egg white mixture into the traced circle, and spread evenly;

Place in the oven, and bake for one hour, turning tray after 30 minutes;

Turn the oven off, and let the meringue sit in the oven with the door closed, but oven light on for 2 hours, or until meringue is completely dry.

For the cream topping, combine the 4 ingredients in a mixing bowl, and use an electric hand-mixer until it becomes stiff, and spoonable.

Once ready to serve, spoon the cream onto the finished meringue, top with the fresh fruit and serve.  To save leftovers (if there are any), carefully cover in plastic wrap, and the pavlova will be equally enjoyable the next day.

Bon Appetit mate!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Farro: It is *not* gluten-free

Today, while eating at one of my favorite places for lunch, I had an very unfortunate experience.

I go to this place because their menu changes daily and they use fresh ingredients.  Best of all, they clearly mark what items are gluten-free, which is usually a majority of them.  Score!  I have been going here for years, and I trust them when they say something is gluten-free.  It is so comforting to have a place like this.

And because of these reasons above is why today's experience was so disappointing to me.

I noticed on their daily menu that one item contained farro, and it was listed as gluten-free.  I figured I would tell them about the mistake before someone got sick.  The response I received was surprising.  The server assured me they had done research and farro was safe, and the least gluten of all the wheat grains.  I probably had to pull my jaw up from the floor at this point, as I just didn't have words, and of course did not order that lunch item.  The server, who I can only assume does not have celiac himself, was telling me it was gluten-free!

My own crisis was averted when I ordered something not containing any grains, gluten-free or otherwise.

Later, I emailed the owner to let him know about this mistake and that just because something is "low gluten", it is not free of gluten, and should not be listed as so.  This is a place, I and many others have come to trust, and if all the sudden they are marking items gluten-free, when they should not be gluten-free, how can I continue to trust it?

Imagine, if a friend, or a co-worker were to pick up lunch there for you, and since it is labeled as "gluten-free", it is assumed to be safe.  And then you eat it, because you also assume it must be safe.  Only to be sick later.

Farro is an ancient variety of wheat grown in Italy.  It *is* wheat, folks!  It contains gluten!!  And while it may contain less gluten than other commercially grown wheat, it is not free of gluten.  Those with celiac should not eat farro, period.

When I hear back from the owner, I will update here.  Until then, have you ever had a similar experience?  Have you lost trust in a restaurant or company that you felt was a trusted source when labeling their items gluten-free?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Giveaway: Vanilla Chex

I have to admit, I do like to indulge in Chex cereal every now and then, for breakfast, as a snack or even dessert at the end of the day.  And if not to eat in a bowl with milk, then I love make Chex mix, like Reindeer Chow during the holidays.  Sometimes I will even use the Rice or Corn Chex in place of bread crumbs in savory dishes.

General Mills recently introduced the newest flavor of Chex cereal, Vanilla, to their gang of gluten-free Chex cereals*.  I have to admit, while most people are fans of chocolate, I love me some vanilla!  Hot chocolate, egg creams, ice cream....I always go for vanilla!

And you should too!  Vanilla Chex are now available on grocery store shelves nationwide.  And to make it a little bit easier and sweeter, General Mills sent me some coupons for a free boxes of cereal to pass onto others.

Just respond here with your favorite gluten-free snack ideas, and I will choose 3 names to receive 2 coupons each on Wednesday, August 28th.  That gives you one week to give me your favorite snack ideas!

*Gluten-free Chex cereals include: Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Chocolate Chex, Cinnamon Chex and Apple Cinnamon Chex.