Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chewy Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Before I became gluten-free, I loved soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies.  In fact, chocolate chip was the only cookie I liked, and over years of experimentation I perfected a recipe that stayed soft and moist for days after baking.  After becoming gluten-free, my tastes and preferences didn’t change, but I started to settle for inferior cookies just so I could eat them! 

Gluten-free cookies are notoriously hard and crumbly, with the overpowering taste of sugar to cover up the nasty aftertaste of the binders.  I went from bakery to bakery in search of the perfect GF cookie only to be continually disappointed, so I did what any desperate person would do: I baked my own!

This recipe is a mingling of the chocolate chip cookie recipes from Cooking Free by Carol Fenster and The New Best Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated.  The most important tip to remember when making any sort of cookie or quick bread is to not over-mix the ingredients, and this is doubly important with GF baking.  Over-mixing will lead to too much air being incorporated into the dough, and the result is air bubbles and a fallen cake or cookie because there is no gluten to hold it together.  Also, in the case of these cookies, if you over-cream the butter, the cookie will spread too much.

Keep in mind that every kitchen and every oven is different, so cooking times will vary.  I also prefer my cookies slightly undercooked for a gooey center, so just keep checking your cookies until YOU think they’re done.  You may even need to bake the recipe a couple of times just to perfect it.  Don’t be shy!  Bake away and enjoy delicious, gluten-free, soft and chewy cookies!

Soft and Chewy GF Chocolate Chip Cookies

¼ cup butter, melted or ¼ cup walnut oil
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup sorghum flour
½ cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/6 cup brown rice flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
1 cup GF chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped nuts (optional)

1.     Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and grease 13 x 9 inch non-stick baking sheet (or line it with parchment paper).
2.     In a medium bowl, mix butter and sugar until just combined.  Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla.
3.     In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just mixed together.  Do not over-mix!
4.     Add the chocolate chips (and nuts, if using).
5.     Drop cookie dough in 1 to 2 tablespoon-sized chunks onto the prepared tray.  If you are using oil, spread the cookies out slightly, as they won’t spread on their own.
6.     Bake for 10-12 minutes.  The cookies should appear slightly under-done, and should firm up when cooled. 
7.     Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to wax paper to cool completely.  Do not use a cooling rack.  The cookies will be slightly crumbly when removed from the oven, but they will come together when cooled.
8.     Enjoy warm and tasty goodness!

Makes 16-24 cookies

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blanched Greens

I am the queen of the one dish meal.  I love being able to get the starch, protein, and veggies into one bowl so I can minimize the dishes because I HATE washing dishes.  Even better than only using one bowl is only using one pot, and there’s no better way to do that than blanching your veggies!
You can blanch anything: broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, kale, zucchini, chard.  All you need is a pot of boiling water and a slotted spoon.  Sure, sure, if you want to get fancy, you can use a colander and put that right in the boiling water, but I used the spoon technique for years without dire consequences.
What’s the best part of blanching veggies?  It’s so dang easy!  If you are making pasta, just blanch the veggies before you cook the pasta (using the same water!) and voila, beautiful green goodness to add to your 15-minute weeknight dinner. 
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about nutrition just a little bit, and since I blanched Swiss chard…  Swiss chard originated in the Mediterranean region and the Greeks and Romans used its juice as a decongestant, though nowadays we just use it for its wonderful nutritional value.  This luscious green is an excellent source of vitamins C, E, and K, and carotenes, as well as magnesium, potassium and iron.  It also contains trace amounts of many, many other vitamins and minerals and is a great source of dietary fiber.
Don’t forget, when you eat foods like Swiss chard that are rich in fat-soluble vitamins such as E and K, eat them with a small amount of fat like butter or olive oil so those important vitamins get absorbed!

Blanched Swiss Chard

1 bunch Swiss chard (rainbow or otherwise)
1 pot boiling water

1.     Loosely chop chard by removing leaves from the stem and cutting leaves into one-inch wide strips. 
2.     Chop stems into a one-inch dice.
3.     Place leaves and stems directly into boiling water or into a colander placed in boiled water.
4.     Boil the chard and stems for 1-2 minutes or until they reach desired tenderness.
5.     Remove chard with slotted spoon or simply remove colander from the pot.  Run under cold water to halt cooking process.
6.     Take a handful of damp chard and press out the water.  Depending how much water you remove, you may form a tiny ball out of the chard, which is completely normal.  Just pull it apart to serve.
7.     Serve under pasta sauce or as a side with olive oil, butter, and/or Ume Plum Vinegar.
8.     Enjoy!

Serves 2-4

What other ways do you enjoy eating Swiss chard?  What are your favorite recipes and serving tips?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Can Omega-3's Help with Depression?

Depression is a silent disease that according to the World Health Organization, affects about 121 million people world wide.  In fact, in the United States, a person has a 23.2% chance of suffering a major depressive episode by the age of 75!  There is a major rift between people with depression and those without, and the non-specific symptoms ranging from insomnia and anxiety to listlessness and social withdrawal, leaves those not afflicted with depression wondering why their friends, family, and colleagues can’t simply “get over it”.  Currently, research has shown that the most effective treatments for depression is a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and anti-depressant medications, but what if we could do more to support recovery?
            The causes of depression are not well understood but patient suffering from depressive episodes demonstrate dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and a heightened inflammatory state.  Now, the one thing we know about inflammation is that food can help!  No really, if you make a few simple changes to your diet, you can lower the oxidative stress in your body and help lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other associated autoimmune disorders.  And, it WILL help your mood!
            Now, the praises of omega-3 fatty acids can never be sung loud enough, and this is particularly true when thinking about depression and inflammation.  When it comes to depression, unfortunately flax and walnuts aren’t going to cut it so you need to eat fish or take fish oil to get the proper doses.  Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines are your heavy hitters and it’s recommended that you consume two servings of fatty fish per week to sustain general health.  But, is this enough to help with depression?  Three ounces of cooked salmon will contain about 1 gram of omega-3’s and will meet your daily recommended amount.  However, the current recommendations to combat depression, in conjunction with other therapies, is 1-2 grams of omega-3’s per day!  Now, fish oil contains both the omega-3’s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) but current research indicates that EPA is the most effective in treating depression. 
            So, what’s the bottom line here? If you would like to use omega-3 fatty acids in combination with your other therapies such as anti-depressants and counseling, the recommendation is to take 1-2 grams of EPA per day.  The supplement can also contain DHA and it will certainly not hurt you in the least but it’s really the EPA we are looking for to help ameliorate your depression.  And of course, just because you are taking a supplement doesn’t mean you should stop eating fish because those fatty fish contain other healthy nutrients besides just the omega-3’s! 
            Give it a try and tell me what you think.  What other dietary changes have helped you on your road to recovery from depression?

Depression: Advancing the Treatment Paradigm, A Functional Medicine Monograph. R. Hedaya and S. Quinn.  The Institute for Functional Medicine: 2008.