Gluten-Free Feature: Yummy Chocolate Chip Cookies (really!)



As I've bemoaned in previous posts, being gluten-free is not easy. Everywhere I turn, I'm beckoned to by rolls, cookies, crackers, soft pretzels... even corn dogs (but don't tell anyone about the latter!). One of the things I'd been missing more than anything, though, was a good chocolate chip cookie. I'm not much of a sweets person anymore, but every once in a while, nothing will do but a big glass of milk and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. So, I started experimenting.

I have probably gone through a dozen different recipes and finally settled on this one -- it is the closest I've been able to come to a "real" chocolate chip cookie. It was actually stumbled upon quite accidentally one evening when I was using my "good enough" recipe and realized I was going to run short on butter AND flour mix. Boy, am I glad I did! The coconut flour gives these a really nice, rich taste. Coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid, so to compensate for this, you will add milk to the dough. Cow's milk or vegan options should work just fine; I used whole cow's milk. The coconut oil lends itself to a firmer form, so you don't end up with those squished-out flat cookies that can often happen with all-butter recipes. Here is my version of this old classic. If you make them, please let us know how they turned out for you!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see mine below)
  • 1/4 cup Coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil, melted or at soft room temperature
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla*
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips, or a combination of chips (I used 2/3 cup milk chocolate chips and 1 1/3 cups white chocolate chips, since this is what I had in the pantry when I wrote this post)*
  • 1/2 cup of pecan pieces (optional)
 Instructions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F. 
  2. While your oven is preheating, beat together the sugars and butter and coconut oil until fluffy. Add in eggs and milk and vanilla and beat again until smooth and fluffy.  
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour mix, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. 
  4. Now you'll start adding the dry ingredients into the wet a bit at a time, mixing thoroughly. Continue adding in dry ingredients until they're full blended. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts (if desired). 
  5. Place rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Place in oven and bake for 8 - 12 minutes, or until just golden brown around edges. 
  6. Remove from oven, let sit for 5 minutes, then move to wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. These also freeze really well! 
*If you must avoid all gluten, be sure to buy a gluten-free baking powder, chocolate and vanilla. Apparently some of them are packed in facilities that handle wheat. 

 Gluten-free flour mix:
My favorite all-purpose mix is 6 parts brown rice flour, 2 parts potato starch and 1 part tapioca starch. It creates a smooth baking flour and works well for thickening soups and stews.
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Super Easy Sun-Dried Tomato and Fresh Basil Pesto

So, it's probably painfully obvious now that I'm a Trader Joe's slut fan. I can go in there and spend more money in ten minutes than I would if someone turned me loose in a Jimmy Choo store. Not that I don't love a well-executed pair of stilettos, size-ten-thank-you-very-much (no Bigfoot jokes!)... Anyway, on my last trip to TJ's I found a gorgeous package of organic basil. Big, beautiful leaves full of flavor. I used small amounts on a couple of caprese salads, but I still had a ton left over. I HAD to figure out some way to use every last leaf! Then it occurred to me -- on the same trip I bought a bag of sun-dried tomatoes and some olive oil. Then I thought, "Ah-ha! Pesto!" I was having an Italian-themed trip, I guess!

Both Scott and I love pesto, so it seemed like a no-brainer to me. Toss it with some of the brown rice fusilli (see, I told you it was an Italian kind of day) from TJ's and YUM. This pesto is so ridiculously easy that it can be done in a few minutes.

Here is my personal husband-approved take on pesto. It would be great mixed with cream cheese and served as a cracker spread, or do what Scott does -- mix it with a little mayo for a rockin' turkey sandwich spread!

Here is what you will need to pull off this feat of culinary delight.

EQUIPMENT:
  • Blender, food processor or something of the like (I used my Magic Bullet because I was too lazy to get the food processor dirty and my blender's a POS)
  • Rubber spatula
  • Little bowls to rehydrate stuff in
  • Measuring spoons and cups
INGREDIENTS:
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes
2 - 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (stems discarded)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp dehydrated minced garlic, or 1 - 2 cloves fresh
2 tbsp almond butter (you can substitute 3 tbsp of whole pine nuts, a few pistachios, or really whatever type nut you prefer in your pesto, or leave them out all together for a stronger flavor)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, if desired
Salt to taste


HOW YOU DO IT:
Prepare tomatoes, if necessary. Since I used regular sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in water or oil), I set them to soak about 20 minutes ahead of time. Make sure your water is pretty hot so that they "perk" up properly. The same goes if you're using dehydrated, minced garlic. I used about 2 tablespoons of water to rehydrate the garlic -- otherwise it's impossible to strain and most of it ends up going down the sink. If you're using oil or water-packed tomatoes, skip this step.


Pick all the basil leaves from the thick stems. If it's going to be a while before you get to them, cover them with a damp paper towel and place in the fridge.

 
Place all ingredients except salt into your blender or food processor. Pulse on high speed, scraping sides intermittently, until thoroughly puréed. If the mixture is too thick, you can add a bit of tomato juice or water to thin. Add salt to taste.


Serve tossed with pasta, or as a condiment with artichokes, cut veggies or crackers. Keep in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to a week. Pesto can also be frozen with good success.

***Delicious Pesto Sandwich Spread***
Using in a ratio of 2 parts mayonnaise or Vegannaise to 1 part pesto, mix thoroughly and use in place of regular mayo on sandwiches, or drizzle over grilled veggies. So delicious!


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Tidy Tuesday Tutorial: A Homemade Grout Cleaner That Works!

I'm a little embarrassed by our floors. Our house is almost all floored in this peachy-pinky fake saltillo tile. Gosh, the nineties were stylin'! I'm grateful that it isn't genuine saltillo, as that stuff is even harder to care for, but this porcelain version has its moments. When we moved in, the grout was already grungy. I didn't realize that this wasn't its normal colour until I was fishing under a table for something. Yeah, gross, huh? It's actually supposed to be a sort of tan-peachy-pink. Not a brilliant choice for the desert southwest! EVERYTHING is dirt around here. Red. Dirt. I set about trying to scrub Every. Last. Inch. I gave up. I got the foyer done and ran out of steam. It was too daunting and frankly, I was having a heck of a time getting the grime to come up. Since that epic failure, I've just quietly mopped and pretended the grout is that colour.

A couple of weeks ago I came across (what appeared to be) a really great DIY Grout Cleaner. It didn't claim to magically lift the grunge without some work, but the results looked stunning! I had to see if it would work on our grout!

The space in front of our stove is a nightmare. It's got to be one of the dirtiest, most disgusting spots in the house. It's a food magnet, and any spill magically gravitates toward it and lands SPLAT right there. I scrub it fairly regularly, but it's another one of those spots that I like to pretend is supposed to look that way. Until recently. I spilled spaghetti sauce on the floor, and before I could get a rag to clean it up, the grout had slurped the stain right on in to party with the others that have decided to live there. It seemed the perfect opportunity to mix a batch of this cleaner up and see what it could do!

The grout cleaner is composed of a handful of different ingredients you'll find in most homes. It contains baking soda (make sure you use baking soda and not baking powder), household ammonia (scented or unscented -- it doesn't matter, as the smell in the other ingredients is fairly neutral), and white vinegar and water.



Here is the recipe:
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda 
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp ammonia 
  • 2 Tbsp vinegar

Here is the equipment you'll need:
  • Spray bottle
  • Something to mix in; preferably with a pour lip
  • Rubber gloves
  • Grout brush
  • Old rags
  • Eye protection (I accidentally caught the edge of the brush and spurted a bit of this stuff into my eye. Not my finest moment and it HURT.

Now, I would highly recommend you mix this up outside. You won't be able to smell the ammonia once it's mixed in, but it's pretty potent when you're putting everything together. As with all chemicals, add them to the water; not the other way around. I would also recommend using a non-reactive container to mix it in, such as glass (I used my 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup) or plastic. Once it is thoroughly mixed, decant into a spray bottle.

Here comes the fun part: spraying it on and scrubbing! Make sure that the area you're going to be working on is clean and free of loose dirt. Working in small sections, spray the cleaner directly on the grout line and allow to sit for a few minutes. Get after it with a stiff brush -- I would recommend a grout brush. I couldn't locate ours, so I used a stiff toothbrush and it wasn't quite as tough on the stains as I'd hoped. I still got good results -- especially for that DISGUSTING amount of build-up! I scrubbed, rinsed my brush in a bucket of hot water, wiped the grout line down with a rag, then moved onto the next section. Here are the before and after pics:

As you can see, the stains were MUCH lighter (I mainly worked that midline in the bottom photo -- I was eager to take pics and compare. This is about 2 minutes of work here) when I got done, even before it was fully dry. I gave it a good quick steam mopping to pick up the slight haze the baking soda left behind. I will need to do this again with a stiffer brush, but I can't tell you how delighted I was with how well this simple recipe pulled the grunge out of the grout! A whole-house work-over looks like a good summer project! Once I achieve the results I'm happy with, I will seal the grout. Hopefully, it will last for a while!



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Frugal Friday How-to: Ballard Designs Knock-off Botanical Prints

I am beginning to think that the folks at Ballard Designs are just cruel. Every few weeks they send me a catalogue FILLED with gorgeous furniture, linens and home décor. I spend a couple of hours with it, drooling and wishing. Then I dog-ear the pages with the things I'm jonesing for the most and mull over whether I can recreate them.

This afternoon I noticed some really beautiful botanical prints hung in a grouping in one of their collections. I would LOVE to have something like these adorning the narrow strip of wall next to the back door!

Photo via: Ballard Designs
Well, what's a girl to do??? At almost $100 a piece, we're talking a mortgage payment on the wall! Then I remembered seeing some great free printable art during one of my searches. I went back through my stuff and found them on thegraphicsfairy.com. In the search box look for "botanicals" and it will bring up a huge variety of gorgeous graphics. Have you ever been on their site? There are tons of incredible printables and clip art on there! I highly recommend you check out their site just for the eye candy factor!

Since these are going in the living room, I decided I wanted a trio of colourful prints. We don't have a colour printer, so I right-clicked them and saved them to a folder on my hard drive. I decided to have them printed by Walgreens -- they have a feature where you can get your photos printed in-store from an order you place online with your digital images. Another upside is that they have a cropping tool that lets you choose what will be in your photo -- I wasn't sure I'd be able to make that happen exactly by trying to do it in my photo editing software and then printing them from my zip drive at Kinko's. Anyway, if you choose this option, they almost always have a really great coupon code to get a decent discount. I chose 5x7 inch prints, as the space they're going into isn't huge and I didn't want the wall overpowered by them. That's the beauty of doing these yourself -- you can choose the size that's right for the application. The ones in the Ballard Catalogue are 14.5"x12" -- definitely too big for where I wanted to place them!

On to the frames! We have a fairly eclectic style in our home -- we surround ourselves with the things we love and try to group them together in ways that are aesthetically pleasing. I had a trio of frames housing outdated family photos. Two of them are the same colour and the other is a nice, deep red. I considered spray painting them all black, but then realized that the red matches the rose hips in the one print I chose, so I decided to keep them their original colour. The two tones of the frames I think adds a little interest, but the same style creates a cohesion within the group. We have these strange narrow spaces between doors and windows all throughout the house, so these balance nicely vertically with the red one in the center.

On the other hand, if I were going to create a large collection like the one above from Ballard, I would probably purchase some simple black wooden frames from Michael's or the like and distress them a little myself. Most frames like that can be had for around $5 (especially if you use the 40% off one item coupons Michaels puts out almost every week. Check with your local store for their policy -- some will allow you to use multiple coupons in one transaction and some won't). I digress...

I placed each photo in a frame, being careful not to smudge up the glass or the photo's surface. I played around with placement until I was happy with the arrangement on the wall, and then voi la! A completely gorgeous new wall arrangement! What do you think? Aside from the crummy photo, that is. ;-)



Price breakdown:

Photo prints: ~$9 for 5 -- other two going in kitchen
Frames: Free
Total for project: $5.40

Not bad when you consider that this project cost 1/20th of a single print from Ballard Designs!

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Practical Wisdom Wednesday: The Value of Restoration

Antiques Roadshow has taught practically an entire generation that DIY antique restoration is bad. Okay, if you pay a pretty good chunk of money for an unrestored piece at an antique store or auction, then yes, it would be a good idea to leave the piece as-is. Perhaps it is wisest to buy a large bell jar with which to house your item, so as to maximize the possible future value for your great-grandchildren.

Or, do as we do. Find something that you like: a piece that looks interesting; a chair that is comfortable to sit in; that one piece that will fill an empty spot in your house in just the right way. For there are truly two types of value: the monetary value at auction of a piece that you would have a hard time enjoying in any sort of practical way, or the intangible value of an old piece made new again that brings you joy every day. One of my favorite pieces ever is the 50s era Japanese spice rack that cost all of $2.99 at Goodwill. Jennie will be publishing a short on that soon.

Just about anything made from wood today is orders of magnitude lower in quality and durability as compared to something made 50 years ago. So much of the new furniture market is rubber wood and particle board. Among the worst examples are the 4-in-1 crib-to-college bed sets that cost a few hundred bucks. Crib-to-curb-alert would be a better description! By the time your kid is in junior high, one of those things will have had something break off, cross-thread, strip out, or otherwise show itself for the rickety piece of junk that you would have never imagined buying in hindsight. And think about this: do you really think that a teenage kid would proudly show off his/her rubber wood bed frame that once was a crib?

Wooden furniture made in the 50s and 60s is particularly attractive for restoration. These items are often made from solid old-growth hardwood lumber that is almost never seen in modern furniture, such as walnut, cherry, or mahogany. Furniture from this era is also pretty common at garage sales and thrift stores. This has all the ingredients for the canonical Knock It Off project: high quality, solid wood, easy to find, low price. The key is developing a good eye for a piece. We here at Knock It Off can help in that regard by providing examples of pieces that are straight-forward to restore.

This is the value proposition. Whether you buy a fully refinished piece, or restore a fabulous find on your own, it will cost less, perhaps much less, than comparable high quality piece made new today. New, high quality hardwood furniture costs several hundred dollars for just a simple chair, while new bedroom or dining sets can easily run several thousand dollars or more. If you restore a found piece, you are also creating additional intrinsic value for yourself, in knowing that you have brought back to life something that is very well made and most likely of higher quality than almost everything that is new today. It could well be the next family heirloom.
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Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffle Pie

Is there a better combination than peanut butter and chocolate to cure a sweet tooth? I think not! This dessert is so easy to make and is incredibly smooth and rich.

This pie is made completely vegan! Tofu replaces the dairy you would normally find in a cream pie. Never fear my dear! You can't taste the tofu at all. I promise. The tofu lends to the creaminess and heaviness of the truffle taste and texture. My son said it is his new favorite pie :)


Ingredients you will need:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-12 ounce container firm tofu
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1- 9" graham cracker crust

















To make your own graham cracker pie crust:

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegan margarine or butter, melted

Combine the three ingredients and press into pie plate. Leave some of the crumb mixture to go up the sides of the pie plate as well.

You can use something with a flat bottom (a measuring cup, coffee mug) to firmly press the cookie crumb mixture into the pie plate.







1. Place chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat heating and stirring in 30 second intervals until chocolate is just melted. Stir until smooth. Set aside.

2. Combine tofu and maple syrup in food processor or blender until smooth. Add peanut butter and blend until smooth. Do you see a pattern here? ;)  Add the melted chocolate chips and blend again until smooth.











3. Pour peanut butter and chocolate mixture into pie crust. Smooth the top. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes. Keep in refrigerator until ready to eat.

You could also add some chopped peanuts or chocolate covered pretzels to the top of pie as garnish.
Delish!!

 *** I added the star design on top by taking a cookie cutter and gently placing it on top of the pie. I then placed chopped peanuts inside the cookie cutter. Pull the cookie cutter away and kapow! :)
xoxoxo ~Heidi
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Broccoli Cheese Soup, A Gluten-free Knock-off of a Knock-off



I went on a broccoli-buying spree recently. The box of local organic produce I get every couple of weeks had some in it, and then the organic stuff was on sale at the store for 98 cents a pound! Nevermind that my family members aren't big broccoli eaters... it was there and it was inexpensive! I used a decent amount of it in some stir-fries and a veggie soup, but there was still a lot left over.

Tonight I had to have my husband cook dinner (long story). Knowing his culinary skills, I went searching for a good broccoli cheese soup recipe that could be altered easily for gluten-free ingredients. That's when I came across this one on recipecritic.com. It's a knock-off of Panera's Broccoli Cheese Soup and sounded completely delicious! Simple ingredients, simple instructions. And you know what? It's REALLY good! We made a few alterations to make it vegetarian. We try to eat vegetarian at least three nights a week.

This soup would be totally customizable, according to what you have in your fridge. I had a couple of stalks of celery that needed to be used up, some grassfed organic milk cheddar I'd stashed in the freezer (it was on SERIOUS sale so I bought quite a bit! Ever frozen cheese? It works well for most harder cheeses, making them great for cooking. Check out the how-to in the Kitchen library section), and a couple of cloves of garlic I wanted to get used.

For our gluten-free, vegetarian version, here is what we used:

  • 1 tablespoon butter plus ¼ cup butter (you could also use coconut or olive oil to make it vegan)
  • 3/4 medium chopped onion (Recipe Critic's calls for 1/2, but I have about 3/4 left from a recipe I made earlier in the week)
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half cream or whole milk. I used whole milk. Soy or almond milk could be used in place for a vegan alternative)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups fresh, cut broccoli
  • 1 cup carrot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced (works equally well with the dehydrated minced garlic; read package for conversions)
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese, or whatever cheddar you might have handy (substitute a cheddar-style vegan cheese such as Daiya to make it completely vegan)
  • Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholula (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
So here's what you need to do...
  1. Chop your onion, dice your celery and carrots and mince your garlic. 
  2. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet. Sauté all of the chopped/diced/minced ingredients over medium heat until the onion is transparent.
  3. In a small stock pot melt the butter and add the rice flour. Create a roux, stirring the flour/butter mixture constantly until it starts to lightly brown. Slowly add in milk, whisking to keep it smooth. Then whisk in the water. Add the sautéed veggies and broccoli and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the broccoli and carrots are tender.
  4. Add the cheese and stir until melted. This would rock topped with croutons! 
If you make this, please let us know how you liked it! 
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