Sunday, December 20, 2009

Popcorn Balls

Another thing that my Grandma made every year was popcorn balls. My cousin and I would run into her house and head directly to the kitchen, where she always had a bowl of them sitting on the counter. Here are two recipes if you are looking to make them. She made hers with Jello, but I am including a delicious recipe that does not use gelatin.

Cornflake Wreaths

My Grandma used to make these every single Christmas. They were my favorite treat that she made because they were so special. Now that I am looking for wheat/gluten free desserts to make for Ella, these couldn't be more perfect. And they are pretty easy to make.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jelly Doughnuts, a day late

Ella's school took a field trip down to City Hall on Thursday. They went to help light the Menorah, along with a couple of other groups from several Temples. It was a lot of fun, mostly because the kids got to ride the subway downtown (not a common thing for a bunch of Los Angeles children). It was fun for the parents because we got to hear our adorable children singing Hanukkah songs. There were tons of jelly doughnuts on hand to add to the festivities. Knowing that there was a chance that some sort of wheat treat would be available, I had brought along some wheat free cookies for Ella to eat. But she really wanted to try the doughnuts, so we had to settle with her licking some jelly off my finger. Truth be told, it was a bit of a sad moment for me, as these are the times when I so wish she could partake in what everyone else gets to eat. So I promised myself that I would make her some wheat-free jelly doughnuts this weekend. Tonight, she and I whipped up a batch from the Culinary Institute of America's Gluten-Free Baking Cookbook. Instead of piping the dough into rings on parchment, I rolled the dough into balls and had Ella gently flatten them into patties before letting them rise for a second time. After they cooked, I drained them and dusted them with powdered sugar. (Or dropped them into a bowl filled with a cup of granulated sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon mixed together.) And then I filled a piping bag with blackberry preserves (Ella's favorite). Then I poked the doughnuts and gently filled them with about a teaspoon of preserves. Oh, dear Lord were they ever yummy! They are best eaten warm, but we now have so many of them that something tells me that we will be eating them for breakfast tomorrow.

Enchilada Tamale Pie

This is a great, easy dinner to serve the family on a cool night. I adapted the following recipe from one that I found at I garnished each serving with guacamole and sour cream. It was delicious! You could substitute soy cheese for the cheddar or simply omit it if you are avoiding dairy. Serves 6.
1 pound lean ground beef
1 chopped onion
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can (16 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 jar (16 oz.) red enchilada sauce (I prefer Trader Joe's)
1 cup grated Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup grated Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, for topping (optional)
1 small can (4 ounces) sliced ripe olives, for topping

Brown ground beef with onions; drain well. Add kidney beans, corn and enchilada sauce. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until thickened. Add cheese; stir until cheese is melted. Set filling aside. In a saucepan, combine cornmeal, salt, water and chili powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick. Stir in butter. Spread half of the mixture into a baking dish, about 12- x 8-inches. Spoon filling over bottom crust; spoon remaining cornmeal mixture over filling. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes. If desired, sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese and olives over the crust about 5 minutes before casserole is done. If you would like your cheese to be a bit brown, turn on the broiler and broil for a few minutes until desired doneness. Let set outside the oven for about 5 minutes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Restaurants that we LOVE: American Girl Cafe

There is a part of me that does not want to give into the whole American Girl doll thing. Let's be honest, this is a "hobby" that should come with a savings account (sort of like a college fund). There is no end to the amount of money that can be spent on the dolls, the accessories, the books, the clothes and on and on. We happen to live in Los Angeles where there is a giant American Girl store smack dab in the middle of one of the city's most popular gathering destinations, the Grove. For four years, I have walked past this store with my head down or turned in the opposite direction. Not wanting to acknowledge its presence. "Some day, maybe," I thought. I looked at the parade of little girls with their matching dolls and matching outfits and matching hair styles and matching smiles and imagined that I would have years before Ella would even inquire about what was going on. She is so little and THOSE girls seemed so old. Boy, was I wrong. It seemed like overnight, but before I knew it, she was hooked. For the past few months she has been begging us for a doll. (Um, the kid has never shown any interest in ANY doll and then all of a sudden she was asking for the creme de la creme of dolls. Ugggghhhh!)

And then my sister mentioned that she would be taking my niece to their cafe and wanted to know if Ella and I would like to tag along. My response was the same as it always is, "Um, maybe. Not sure what they will have for Ella to eat." So I went online and checked out their menu. It looked like there were a few things so I told my sister that we would give it a try. She called for a reservation and they asked, "Are there any food allergies?" So my sister mentioned the wheat and nuts. And they said, "No problem." That was a peculiar response and both she and I were uncertain about what it meant.

When the day arrived, Ella was buzzing around the house. She did not have a doll but we had been told that she could borrow a loaner doll at the restaurant to dine with her. When we arrived to the cafe, the girls were bouncing all over the place. The dining room was adorable. Everything was pink, white and black. It all felt like out of a fantastical dream. The waitress brought our menus and to my great surprise, Ella had been handed a gluten-free menu. And the options were like nothing I had ever seen at a restaurant. The three course meal started with blueberry muffins. WHEAT AND GLUTEN FREE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS!!!! Next came the main course, of Ella's choosing... hamburger stars with buns made from rice flour and a fruit kabob. The dessert was raspberry sorbet and a GF cookie from Nana's. In the time that we have known about Ella's allergies, I can honestly say that I have not seen her that happy. She was practically levitating. It was every little girls dream world and she was a part of it!

The next day, I returned to the cafe to see if I could get a copy of their menu. The hostess was so wonderful and helpful. She told me, "We want everyone to have the same experience at American Girl, regardless of their circumstances." All of their foods are peanut and tree nut free. They also offer egg and dairy free menus as well as an entire vegetarian menu. And all three courses are only $24, which is remarkable, considering what you get for the price. My heart is so full of love for this company. I am a former skeptic who is happily surprised to have found something so special. From what I was told, they have cafes in New York and Chicago which offer similar menu options. If you happen to be near one or know of someone who might be able to visit, I strongly suggest that you give them a try. They have earned a gold star in my book!

Oh, and about that doll... she received her first one (a Bitty Baby) on Friday for the first night of Hanukkah. That child almost lost her mind. And since we are a multi-cultured family, she will also be receiving one from my Mom at Christmas time. And with it, tons of clothes and accessories to go with them. What can I do? I am a soft target!

American Girl Cafe at the Grove
189 The Grove Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(877) 247-5223

Too many things to do, so little time

Forgive me, loyal readers for I have been so busy lately and neglectful. As it happens, decorating a top TV show for one of the world's best known chefs can be quite time consuming. Not that I am complaining because I love, love, LOVE my job. All I do is drive around and spend other people's money. And then bring it back to the stage and exercise my creative muscles. It is really quite wonderful. But I have been going crazy with blog ideas and topics and yearning for a moment to type some things out. When I work, life feels like it is spinning twice as fast. No different than any other working parent feels, just adding to the madness is the additional challenge of feeding Ella. And with the holidays in full swing, there are even more hurdles to jump over. Thankfully, I have my trusted arsenal of cookbooks. Anything that I cannot find there I am able to hunt down on the Internet. Today we had a bit of an emergency, as my husband told me that Ella needed to bring some wheat free cookies to school so that she could decorate them with her classmates. (He had been told about this on Thursday and had forgotten to mention it to me). So I quickly whipped up a batch of sugar cookie dough and hustled some of it into the oven. Phew! Crisis averted.

My oven will be burning constantly come Saturday. That is when I am on holiday hiatus and will dive into my annual baking session. On the roster this year will be rum balls, almond cookies, sugar cookies, truffles, peppermint bark and cornflake wreathes. Some of that will be Ella safe, some of it will not. But it should be fun, nonetheless.

Here's to staying happy, healthy and sane over the next few weeks. Good luck with all that you have to do!