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Natural Medicine is the Best Medicine: December 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gluten-free Christmas cookies!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Joyful Holidays! 
Many of you know that I have been dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free for a number of years now (with much improvement in my health).  Being on a restricted diet in the holiday season is not always fun, so I thought I would share with you some of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes.  Enjoy!

Gluten-free, dairy-free Svenska Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingersnaps)
Making Pepparkakor at Christmas time is a longstanding tradition in my family.  It typically requires two days - a few hours to prep the dough, and one long afternoon with the family spent reminiscing, listening to choir carols and rolling out dough.  When I first went gluten-free I missed out on the festivities - it only took one season of being left out to know that I needed to develop a gluten-free, dairy-free version. 

1 1/3 cups Spectrum Spread or butter
2/3 cup light corn syrup (not so healthy, I know, one year I’m going to try molasses)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
3 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups sweet sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups tapioca flour
3 teaspoons xantham gum
~2 cups brown rice flour for rolling out dough (I’ve found brown rice flour the best for rolling out dough - but you can use any GF flour you’d like). 
Several tablespoons extra spectrum spread or butter (or cooking spray) for greasing cookie sheets.

Melt 1 1/3 cups Spectrum Spread or butter in a saucepan over low heat with syrup, sugar, and spices.  If using butter, wait until sugar has dissolved before removing from heat (sugar will not completely dissolve in Spectrum spread, but wait until it is somewhat homogenous without caramelizing the sugar - it will look a bit like syrup).  Pour into a large heat-safe mixing bowl and let cool in an ice bath or at room temperature until just slightly warm to the touch. 

In the meantime mix baking soda, sorghum flour, tapioca flour and xantham gum and set aside. 

Add eggs to sugar/shortening/spice mixture, mix well.  Add in flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well, until all the flour is incorporated (using a lot of arm power near the end!).  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. 

Next day:

Preheat the oven to 375.  Turn on some Swedish Christmas carols on your ipod or CD player (this is very important).

Keep the dough in the fridge, but scoop out a small handful at a time and roll paper-thin on a well-floured board (use a wooden board, wooden rolling pin and lots of brown rice flour for the best results).  These cookies are designed to be extremely thin, so take your time rolling them out.  Cut out shapes with metal cookie-cutters (hearts, pigs and stars are traditional Swedish shapes), and transfer to a well-greased cookie sheet (use Spectrum spread or butter for best results).   Bake at 375 for 5-10 minutes until dark golden brown.  Caution - keep a close watch on your first batch or two - these cookies darken and can burn extremely quickly. 

Let cookies cool for 30 seconds on the pan before dislodging with a metal spatula.  Do NOT wait for the cookies to cool completely.  (These gluten-free cookies have a tendency to stick to the pan and turn into cookie crumble - which makes for some tasty bites to snack on while making the rest of the cookies). 

Makes 8-15 dozen cookies, depending on how thin you roll the dough and how small the cookie cutter is.



Gluten-free, dairy-free Pseudo-Sablé Cookies
These delicious, finely textured cookies are not exactly healthy (6 egg yolks!) - but can be made for a special treat this time of year.  Use organic, DHA-containing eggs for the best health and taste results.  (“Sablés” are french butter cookies.  Since these don’t technically have any butter, I call them pseudo-sables).  I also make these cookies in two batches - one with the vanilla bean, and another with vanilla substituted for the grated rind of 1 lemon plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Delicious!

1 cup Spectrum Spread (or butter)
3/4 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks (brown eggs seem to have better looking yolks)
1 vanilla bean
4 ounces blanched almonds
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups Sorghum flour
1/4 cup Tapioca flour
Optional: 2 drops “Umami” flavoring* (see note)

Beat the Spectrum Spread with the sugar until creamy.  Add egg yolks.  Cut a slit in the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the mixture.  Beat yolks, vanilla bean and creamed sugar until smooth. 

In a food processor combine almonds, salt, baking powder and flour and process until the almonds are finely ground. (If you do not have a food processor you can finely grind the almonds  in a coffee or spice grinder in small batches).  Add the dry ingredients to the rest of the mixture and mix until smooth.  Pat the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour (overnight is okay too). 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Lightly flour a wooden cutting board with more Sorghum flour (brown rice flour also works very nicely). Roll the dough (working in small batches) to 1/4” thick.  Cut out cookies using ~ 2” round cookie cutters and place on lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the bottom and edges are lightly browned.  Let cool, then transfer to a platter.  Store in a closed container in the refrigerator (keeps up to 1 month). 

* Erika’s note: In cooking “umami” is considered to be the 5th “taste” (along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter), and is responsible for the savory flavor in foods.  I noticed early on in dairy-free cooking that foods taste bland in comparison to those cooked with butter.  The reason is that butter has that delicious, rich, savory component to it that enhances the natural flavor of nearly all foods - the “umami” taste!  It was my botanical medicine instructor who inspired me to add small amounts of umami flavoring to my cooking, whether it was a savory or sweet dish.  He adds a few drops of mushroom tincture to all of his botanical formulas to make them taste better.   Most people don’t have mushroom tincture laying around, but many of us do have tamari sauce (if there are no soy allergies), or fish sauce.  Personally, I add 2 drops of fish sauce to my Spectrum Spread as I am creaming the butter.  It sounds crazy, but it really adds a smidge of savory flavor to the cookies, and makes them taste like they were made with real butter.  Give it a try!

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Give the gift of good health...


'Tis the Season!

'Tis the season of giving, sharing, loving and being mindful of others less fortunate than ourselves.  Unfortunately it also is the season of overconsumption (of both the digestive and financial variety).  'Tis the season where our waistlines and pocketbooks feel the stretch, our poor adrenal glands go into crisis-mode, and many of us get lost in the tide, forgetting the deeper spiritual implications of the holidays. 

So, I'm sending you (my readers) a challenge: spread health instead of just wealth!  This year, consider giving the gift of good health for Christmas or Hanukkah.  I've compiled a mini-list of gift ideas that promote health, play, and well-being. 

1. A Tea ball and Thermos.  Prepackaged teas in disposable bags are neither economical nor ecologically friendly. Buying bulk teas can save a lot of money, and are typically fresher and higher quality than the pre-packaged kinds.  A thermos is a great way to keep a whole batch of tea with you (or your loved one) all day long.  For a special gift, give a batch of "homemade" mixed tea; Lemon Balm, Chamomile and Peppermint (equal parts of each) is my favorite relaxing herbal blend. 




2. Give a massage!  Everyone loves the gift of touch... give your loved ones and best friends a special treat - in a gift basket or bag combine a Massage tool, some Massage lotion or oil and a handmade certificate for a massage, back-rub, or foot-rub.  Consider adding a book on reflexology so your gift-recipient can pass along the health benefits. 






3. Give a local or healing foods basketLocal wild honey is delicious and extremely healthful, a perfect substitute for sugar.  Make garlic or herb-infused olive oil for your culinary-minded friends.  Or, pick up some local organic produce at your nearest health-food store or farmer's market.  Include fruits and veggies in a basket with some toasted nuts (cinnamon-roasted almonds or spicy pecans).