While there was more room for the vendor fair at the Westin, they don't have the dedicated classroom with stadium seating and desks of the Wyndham , just a small room with chairs lined up in rows which made the classes more difficult to watch and to take notes. It was also pretty tight in there so it was harder for the folks bringing in the samples to maneuver.
Saturday morning found me leaving the house later than I intended and having to rush to get to the hotel on time (the event was 12 miles from my house so, cheapskate that I am, I opted to not get a room). Turned out the pair of pants I was originally intending to wear were too big and I had to rifle through the closet to find something smaller to wear (nice problem to have to deal with). I managed to get there about 10 minutes before the start of the first session.
By the time I got to the class, it was already packed and I ended up in the very back of the room. It made taking photos difficult but not impossible.
The class was called Italian and Asian Adventures. I was really looking forward to this as the first presenter was Laura Russell, author of The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen (which I reviewed in October). The session did not disappoint. She made three dishes, Barbecued Pork Fried Rice, Stir-Fried Glass Noodles with Spinach and Beef, and the Gingery Pork Pot Stickers an Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce I made in my review. After each dish, a sample was passed to everyone in the room. It was very informative. For instance, I learned that Mirin cannot be substituted for Sake in the Stir-Fried Glass Noodle dish because it's too sweet and the dish is best with a dry Sake. She also talked about the options in gluten free Asian noodles.
Next up were the folks from DaLuciano Restaurant in River Grove. Originally it was the store's owner, Rosalia Libreri who was suppose to present but she had to make an emergency trip overseas so her son, Ignazio, and son-in-law, did the presentation. Ignazio is a co-owner and chef and he and his brother-in-law made a great team. They made a Bruschetta and a meat sauce for spaghetti. Their restaurant features a full gluten free menu which they developed when several family members were diagnosed with Celiac disease. The pasta they served with the meat sauce was a corn based product.
The final presenter for the morning session was Jen Cafferty, the founder of the Expo who made Tiramisu. Some of the lady fingers she use in her recipe came from DaLuciano Restaurant. The process for making it was pretty simple. I have never made it myself as I was never all that big on it even when I ate gluten (it uses espresso and Kahlua to soak the lady fingers in and I'm not a fan of the flavor of coffee and drinking alcohol gives me migraines).
Brandy Wendler, Mrs. Alaska 2012 International, helped out in the morning sessions, fielding questions from the audience and repeating them so it would be heard by all the members of the audience and on the video tape of the session. She has a masters in nursing and has started a non-profit, A Spoonful of Wellness. She was diagnosed with celiac disease 4 years ago and has been trying to educate others about the disease and healthy cooking but no one wanted to listen to her as a health professional so she entered the Mrs. Alaska contest in order to use that as a platform to spread the word about gluten intolerance.
Also there helping out was Sueson Vess. She is a contributing writer for Living Without magazine and was a presenter at last year's Expo. She also does presentations at my local Whole Foods and has a blog called Special Eats as well as a cookbook called “Special Eats: Simple Delicious Solutions for Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Cooking”.
During the break between the morning and afternoon sessions, I started making the rounds of the vendor fair. I took samples of everything and grabbed every flyer and business card I could find. After all, I had promised to report back to my Celiac Disease/Gluten Intolerance support group. I managed to get about halfway through the vendor fair before having to head back for the afternoon classes. While at the vendor fair, I stopped by Laura Russell's table where she was selling her book. Since she wasn't going to be there the second day (and I didn't think to bring her book with me), she kindly offered to sign a label that I could put in my book.
The afternoon class was on Healthy Living. I was able to get a seat in the front row this time (there weren't as many people in the afternoon class as the morning). The first part featured Robert Landolphi who's a Certified Culinary Arts Instructor and Culinary Development Manager with the University of Connecticut. He is also author of the books Gluten Free Everyday Cookbook and Quick Fix Gluten Free Cookbook. He made a "Very Berry Flax" Smoothie, "Top of the Morning" Muffins and Chewy Oat and Fruit Bars.
One of his tips was that if substituting Earth Balance for butter in baking that you should cut back on the Earth Balance or you'll end up with a "waxy" flavor. He suggested 6 Tbsp Earth Balance per 8 Tbsp of butter (personally, I prefer to use butter or coconut oil rather than butter substitutes).
He discussed the variety of options available to students at the University of Connecticut. Certainly, if I had been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance when I was in college, I would have been sorely tempted to go there for my higher education.
Next up was Ryan Hutmacher, co-founder of Centered Chef which serves to educate, entertain and inspire a well balanced lifestyle. He made an entire meal consisting of Grilled Asparagus with Citrus, Chicken Rosamarino and Quinoa Pilaf with Roasted Butternut Squash and Toasted Pine Nuts. One of his tips was that, when frying up chicken breasts, you know when to turn them when there is a "crown" of cooked chicken on the uncooked side.
After the second class, I had some time to kill waiting for the gluten free dinner that was an additional event you could purchase a ticket for. The vendor fair was closed for the evening so I went out to my car with my "stash" and read through my two autographed books by Robert Landolphi (hey, they had been on my Amazon.com "wish list" so why not get them at the Expo and get them signed while I was at it?).
The dinner was at Mon Ami Gabi. I ended up at a table occupied by a woman from Conte's Pasta (her brother started the company). I had met her the year before, again at the Saturday night dinner. Eventually we were joined by another couple who were friends of the Expo's founder Jen Cafferty and her husband (who also joined us, though I never saw where Jen, herself ended up sitting). The restaurant had lousy acoustics and my hearing aid's "Speech in Noise" setting wasn't sufficient to counter the background din. Hearing and being heard were difficult. You didn't so much talk at people as yell at them. As a result, when we were giving our orders, the waiter misunderstood me and didn't supply me with the advertised dessert. Oh well.
The food was, mostly good, though the gluten free French Onion Soup left a bit to be desired. There was very little soup and mostly lots and lots of cheese and a rather hard, tasteless bread. The other unfortunate thing about the dinner turned out to be my dinner companions. While the woman from Conte's Pasta was nice, the husband of the couple opposite me (the friends of the Expo founder) not so much. I learned early on that the couple's political leanings were diametrically opposed to my own so I avoided any discussions of a political nature. After all, this weekend was suppose to be about gluten free living. I was more interested in sharing stories of how others were managing their gluten free lifestyle.
I don't know about the wife, but the husband was not someone who followed a gluten free diet. As a result, his topics of conversation were not what I would have chosen to discuss, particularly anything of a political nature. However, the more the husband drank, the more obnoxious he became and the more he seemed determined to convince me of the error of my political ways. It didn't help that this odious man couldn't carry on an actual discussion but continually cut me off, talked over me, and was dismissive my arguments. The man was a salesman of medical equipment and had that typical pushy, arrogant salesman personality. At one point I just stopped talking as I contemplated the chance of having a constructive conversation with him and realized that I was essentially talking to a brick wall. This man did not wish to consider the viability of my arguments but only wanted to beat me into philosophical submission.
To make matters worse, I had made the mistake of taking the bench seat so was blocked in on both sides with no easy way of exiting. Note to self. When sitting with people you don't know and may not like, make sure you have a ready escape route. Eventually, the couple on the other side of me left and I took advantage of the opening to vacate the premises. It was late and I still needed to drive home. By the time I left, I was angry and upset and the meal sat like a lead weight in my stomach. I tried using the drive home to calm down but I was still pretty wound up so I didn't get off to sleep until well after midnight, an all together unpleasant end to an otherwise pleasant day. Frankly, if I'd had an inkling of how the dinner would end up, I would have saved myself the cost of the meal and simply gone home to eat.
Thanks to the previous night's unpleasantness, I woke up the next day with a headache. Trying to get my act together was difficult and once again I found myself running late. To make matters worse, there was a marathon of some sort that morning and the route I would normally take was partially closed, forcing me to take several detours which made me even later. As a result, I opted to take the tollway to make up for lost time. Again, I got there with a few minutes to spare and once again ended up at the back of a packed room.
First up was Blissful Baking, beginning with Karen Morgan of Blackbird Bakery and author of Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free cookbook. She made an Orange-Infused Angel Food cake, Pistachio Mango Gelato and Gluten Free Pizzelles. Some tips she offered for the Angel Food Cake were that the egg whites are sufficiently whipped when they stick inside the whisk. She also uses a whisk to fold in the dry ingredients and keep the eggs from deflating. Lastly, she recommends running a spatula around the edge of the tube pan to create a lip before baking. It was all absolutely delish (and yes, I bought her book, too, and had her sign it). One of the cool things is that they had a device that fit on a smart phone which swipes a credit card for those wanting to pay by plastic.
Next up was Kyra Bussanich from Crave Bake Shop, best known as the gluten-free baker who won Cupcake Wars. She made mini Coconut Cream Pies and Truffle Fudge Brownies. Brandy Wendler was once again helping out during the morning session and before the start of Kyra's presentation she changed into a T-Shirt from Crave Bake Shop. She and Kyra had partied the night before and were quite the characters together during the presentation.
One of Kyra's suggestions was that if you overcook brownies, to grind them up and use them as a crust for cheese cake. Also, if you put a can of fully fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight, when you open the can the next morning, you can skim the fat off the top and turn it into coconut whipped cream. Finally, if you're out of confectioner's sugar, take regular sugar and either corn or tapioca starch and grind them together until it forms a fine powder.
Both Karen and Kyra not only provided a lot of good information but they were highly entertaining as well. There was an awful lot of laughter involved in both their presentations.
During the break between classes, I finished my rounds at the vendor fair and picked up a stack of magazines for my CD/GI support group. Since we were sampling all the foods at the classes and most of the vendors had free samples, it wasn't necessary to sit down for an actual lunch.
The last class was Bread and Beyond. It began with Beth Hilson, author of Gluten-Free Makeovers, Food Editor at Living Without magazine, Founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, and President of American Celiac Disease Alliance, making Sunflower Flax Bread in a bread machine and a master dough that could be made into either Bacon Rosemary Breadsticks or Soft Pretzels. There was a small problem with the samples and it turned out they didn't have enough of the soft pretzels to go around. As there were several full sized pretzels (vs. the bite size pieces being passed around) that she used to show what the final product looked like, those of us who didn't get the samples, helped ourselves to the full sized versions. Frankly, I was unimpressed with her breads. They were okay, but nothing to write home about.
When making bread in a bread machine, she recommends that you don't put the salt on top of the yeast or it will "burn". My bread machine (the same brand as she was using, a Zojirushi) says to mix all the dry ingredients together except for the yeast, put the wet ingredients in, top with the dry ingredients and then make a small well to put the yeast in. When it comes to flour, she recommended Amaranth as one flour to use in a blend because it has high protein, fiber and adds elasticity. In her recipes, she was using Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Flour. She said it was not necessary to proof your yeast for baking bread (unless the yeast is older and you aren't sure it's any good) and did not see a particular advantage to weighing your ingredients vs. using volume measurements.
Those last two pieces of advice were the exact opposite of the recommendations of the next presenters, Peter and Kelli Bronski, authors of Artisanal Gluten Gluten-Free Cupcakes, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking and the No Gluten No Problem blog. They proofed their yeast for every recipe which included Rosemary Focaccia, Baguettes, and Bagels. They also were firm believers that weighing gives better results. While I have had great results in baking my favorite gluten-free bread without proofing the yeast first, I do agree that, for baking bread, weighing is better.
I will also say, their breads were much better tasting. The focaccia was especially good. They also recommend that to go egg free with the bread recipes to use 1 Tbsp flax mixed with 4 Tbsp of water.
So, that was it. I thoroughly enjoyed the classes and everything I learned. The only downsides being the belligerent dinner companion on Saturday night and the fact that sometime on Saturday I lost a bracelet. It wasn't an expensive item, but I had bought it only a month before for my birthday and it featured little cats and dogs on it. I contacted both the hotel and the restaurant about it, but no one had turned it in. I left them my contact information though I don't expect I'll ever see it again. :-(
Once again, I had a great time in the classes and really learned a lot. Which is why this is probably my last year attending the Expo. Apparently, it's become too difficult to manage the classes and since the vendor fair has really taken off, they are going to concentrate on that instead. There will still be cooking demos but there won't be samples to pass around of the food made. Which, for me, is an important aspect of the cooking classes. I can buy all the cookbooks in the world but unless I can imagine what a recipe will taste like, I am not likely to make it (I hate wasting time and money making something I can't stand to eat). The cooking classes give me the opportunity to not only see how something is made but how it tastes. I can explore taste combinations that I never would have thought to try and discover new flavors that I love.
Years ago I use to attend a number of Science Fiction conventions. I went to them to hear the invited guests speak, not to go through the dealer room. For me, the dealer room was a way to pass the time of day while waiting for the next presentation. I might actually buy something, but it was not what drew me to the convention. I feel the same way about the Expo. It was the classes that drew me to it, not the vendor fair. As I've moved farther and farther away from eating processed foods, the offerings of the vendor fair hold less and less appeal for me.
Even though they intend to hold cooking demos, the lack of samples for them makes them less desirable. Plus, I find the craziness of the vendor fair with all the people talking at once nerve wracking. It's hard for me, as a hearing impaired person, to follow what is being said. I was grateful to only spend an hour or two at the vendor fair and happy to leave. Even when the vendors were giving away the leftovers of their samples at the end of day two, I chose to skip the freebies in favor of the quiet of the classroom.
I am glad I attended the last two years and hopefully there will be other opportunities to take part in some kind of gluten free cooking classes at other venues but I can skip the Expo's vendor fair in the future.
One dish that I haven't had since before I went gluten free (about a year and a half ago) has been pot stickers. I love pot stickers. There was a Chinese restaurant I use to pass on the way home from work and many's the time I would call ahead and pick up an order of pot stickers to go. So, when I saw a new cookbook that was due to be published in August of 2011, I put it on my wish list of books to get. I was so excited when it finally came out. On the cover of the book was....pot stickers!
So, natch, the first thing I had to make was...pot stickers. Granted, it would mean making the dough for these delectable dumplings from scratch but, I figured it would be worth it. I finally managed to set aside enough time to devote to the preparation of this long awaited and much desired meal.
And they were fantastic!
The book is The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen and includes recipes for most of the common sauces used in Asian cooking. A god-send for someone who is not just gluten but also soy intolerant. I was able to substitute coconut aminos for the soy sauce in the dipping sauce.
I also substituted chopped green onions for the jalapeño/red pepper flakes since I'm a complete wuss when it comes to spicy foods.
While my pot stickers weren't as neatly formed as the ones in the book, they were close enough for my needs and more importantly they tasted like the wheat based ones I use to buy from that Chinese restaurant.
I will say that the original instructions had you go through several (in my opinion) unnecessary steps when forming the wrappers. They must also have made theirs a lot smaller than mine since the recipe claims to make 28 pot stickers and I ended up with 11. However, based on the amount of filling they said to put into each wrapper, I don't see how they could have managed to make the wrappers any smaller than I did. When I tried using smaller portions, it made the dough thinner and would tear too easily. You can also chuck part of it up the fact that I'm kinda lazy when it comes to baking. I'm not a fussy person and perfection goes against my grain.
Instead of dividing the dough into two sections, rolling each into a rope and cutting into 14 pieces each before rolling out into a disk, I just pinched off a small piece, rolled it into a ball, flattened and rolled out to the appropriate size to fit around the filling. Since the dough is prone to drying out, I figured the less handling, the better. I was also concerned about rolling the dough too thin and having it tear.
So far, though, I have to say I love this book. If you have to be gluten free (and even if you don't) and want to learn how to make your own Asian dishes from scratch, then I highly recommend you get this book.
Recipes reprinted with permission from The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen: Recipes for Noodles, Dumplings, Sauces, and More. Copyright © 2011 by Laura B. Russell, Celestial Arts, an imprint of Ten Speed Press and the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA. Photo Credit: Leo Gong.
Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce
Stir together all the ingredients in a small serving bowl. The
dipping sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for about
1 week with fresh jalapeno or 2 weeks with red pepper flakes.
*Note: Not all soy sauce is created equal. Most commercial brands in the U.S., unless they specifically say they are wheat/gluten free are not safe for anyone who is gluten intolerant. So check the label. There are a number of brands (San-J, La Choy, Chung King, and Eden Brand) that offer a gluten free version of their soy sauces. Tamari sauce is naturally gluten free (but be careful and double check the label as some types of shoyu that have gluten have been marketed as Tamari).
I prefer the less spicy taste of the green onions. It provides just the right amount of zing without making it too hot. I could have eaten the entire amount in one sitting but I decided to reserve half for a second meal.
When you have to go gluten free as I do, the one food item that seems most elusive to recreate in a gluten free form is bread. Cakes and cookies are a breeze to make gluten free and not miss the gluten. Bread is a much more delicate creature. The gluten in wheat flour has a magical quality when used in bread. It's what gives bread the elasticity and rise we've come to love in a good loaf. After being diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, I had begun to experiment with both commercially made breads as well as home made varieties. While I managed to get things that looked like bread, taste and consistency were another matter. Most breads were dry and crumbled into tiny pieces if used untoasted. And while I like toast, there are some times when I want a regular, soft, flavorful piece of bread to make a sandwich with.
Finally, last spring, I ran across Silvana Nardone's recipe, Isaiah's Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread. At long last! A bread that was moist, delicious and didn't crumble into a thousand pieces. I can make up a loaf on Sunday and still have slices that are edible on Friday that don't need to be toasted. That's the thing about most gluten free breads, after the first day, they are only palatable when toasted. Now, I could finally have sandwiches every day for lunch.
There are a couple of tricks to making good gluten free bread. The first is the recipe, of course. But in addition to that, here are some rules that will help ensure success.
Always weigh your ingredients
Don't use a measuring cup to measure out gluten free flours. Because foods settle, you can end up getting up to 50% more of an ingredient than the recipe calls for if you measure it rather than if you weigh it. Flours are no different. A cup of sifted flour will weigh a lot less than a cup of flour that has been allowed to settle, particularly so if you're one of the scoop and level folks, that adds to the compaction. With bread, the ratios of wet to dry ingredients are key to getting a good result. Weighing the ingredients will ensure consistent results.
Silvana's recipe gives the amounts in both volume and weight. I say, skip the volume and always use weight. The United States is one of the few countries that relies on volume measurements in their recipes. Europeans have already discovered the increased accuracy in weighing foods vs. measuring them.
So, what if you don't have a kitchen scale? The simplest answer is buy one! They are not expensive and after using it awhile, you'll wonder how you did without it. If you absolutely must use measuring cups then whatever you do, don't scoop with the measuring cup and level the ingredients. Use a large spoon or a kitchen scoop and pour the flour into your measuring cup and level.
Don't let your bread rise in a pre-heated oven
I know a lot of cooks will tell you to preheat your oven to its lowest temperature (about 200°), turn off the oven and put your bread in there to rise. Frankly, that's too hot an environment. The bread will rise too quickly and is almost guaranteed to fall during the cooling phase. Gluten free bread needs to rise more slowly and not too high before baking. Without gluten to support the structure, the bread can't sustain the height. If you need a warm, draft free location, stick the bread in your microwave (but don't turn it on while the bread is in there). If your house is particularly cold, you can take a glass of water and nuke it for no more than a minute before putting the bread inside. When I make Isaiah's Bread, I only let it rise slightly above the level of the pan. It will continue to rise as it bakes. In so doing, the crust is able to properly form and support the final height of the bread.
Let your ingredients come to room temperature before starting
Yeast is a very sensitive thing. If your ingredients are too cold at the start it will inhibit the growth of the yeast and therefore the rise of your bread. As gluten free flours are best stored in either the refrigerator or freezer to prevent them from going rancid, you will need to plan ahead to ensure they are at room temperature when you are about to begin. To speed up the process you can microwave them for a few seconds after you have measured them out (no need to heat up the rest of the flour that isn't being used). Make sure you don't overheat the flour because that can also adversely affect the yeast. For eggs, set them in a glass of warm water, but not too hot otherwise they may start to cook in the shell.
I made a few alterations to the recipe that I thought improved the texture, longevity and/or nutritional profile.
(Note: for the original recipe and pictures of each step, see Silvana's article)
Note: the bran/rice flour mixture sprinkled on the top and three diagonally slices in the loaf are merely to add to the artisan appearance of the loaf and are optional.
I will often make up several batches of the dry ingredients and store them in a ziplock back in the refrigerator. It saves a little time in the preparation.
Pictured above is the first loaf I made using 85g of organic non-fat powdered milk. To the right is the loaf I made using 85g of Montina™ Baking Supplement. If you like your bread with more fiber, just use the Montina™. If you'd like it with less fiber, use all powdered milk or as I usually do now, about 45g of Montina™ and 40g of powdered milk.
Expandex™ is a gluten free non-GMO modified tapioca starch that helps improve the texture and longevity of baked foods, especially breads. The process for modification is proprietary but according to one source I read, it involves fermentation rather than chemical treatment. Silvana's recipe did not specifically call for using Expandex™ and will work fine with regular tapioca starch. Also, some people have reportedly experienced "digestive issues" (i.e. diarrhea or vomiting) using it. However, I've never had any problems using it and I know there are lots of others that swear by it. It does improve the texture and longevity of bread, in my opinion.
About Montina™ Pure Baking Supplement
Silvana's recipe called for whey powder. I looked all around the stores in my area and the only whey powder was the kind in protein drinks that typically had other flavors/ingredients in them. The online sources that I could find required you to buy it by the case. Silvana's other suggestion was to use soy protein powder but I'm allergic to soy, too. The common feature of both whey and soy protein powders is, well, the high levels of protein.
While surfing the web for an alternative ingredient that would provide the protein content of the whey powder, I found Montina™ Pure Baking Supplement. Montina™ is made from Indian ricegrass. It's a Native American grass that grows in the plains of the United States. It's naturally gluten free and is high in protein and fiber. Montina™ was developed by the University of Montana to boost the financial security of farmers who were having difficulty making ends meet cultivating more conventional grains like wheat, rye and barley. They needed a grain that was drought tolerant and could grow well in poor quality soil. For more information about Montina™ and their products go the their website: Montina™ Amazing Grains. (Note: as of 2013, this product appears to be no longer available)
About the Author
I'm a tech writer who loves animals and fostering homeless cats and kittens. After being diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), I adopted a Paleo/Keto lifestyle to improve my diet and repair my gut. I have a passion for learning and sharing that knowledge with others (probably why I became a tech writer in the first place). My interests range from cooking, scrapbooking, and animal welfare to home improvement, genealogy, and photography. This blog will likely cover a wide variety of topics as the mood hits me.
The Paleo Mom
Nom Nom Paleo
Ditch the Wheat
Mark's Daily Apple
Low Carb Yum
All Day I Dream About Food
Keto Cooking Christian
My Life Cookbook
The Castaway Kitchen
My Montana Kitchen
Ditch the Carbs