Thursday, June 30, 2011

Portrait of a Community

Image courtesy Stock.Xchng / Lusi
It's been more than a week since our 400th blog post, (today's post is #404, if you're keeping count...), and responses to our survey have slowed to a tiny trickle.

First, I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone that responded to the survey! We were overwhelmed (in a good way) by the response rate, and we sincerely appreciate all of your comments, compliments, and suggestions. We're taking your input to heart, and incorporating it into a forthcoming blog redesign here at No Gluten, No Problem. Everything that you love about NGNP will stick around, but hopefully - if we do our job right - it'll be even better. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the aggregated results of the survey. They're an interesting (and valuable) window into the demographics of the No Gluten, No Problem readership. Now, before I get to the actual results, let me say that I'm sure these results have some inherent bias. I'm neither a statistician nor a professional survey designer, which undoubtedly influenced how we collected the info. There's also the inherent bias in the fact that the survey will reflect the demographics and opinions only of those folks who are inclined to complete such surveys. If you don't like to take surveys, you won't take ours, and that will skew the data. That's not good or bad. It just is.

But without further ado, here's what we learned:

Demographics

Sex. A full 95% of survey respondents were women. Wow! I didn't necessarily see that one coming. I know that there are more female GF bloggers than male, and that statistically more women than men are celiac/GF. But 95%? Fellas, I know you're out there! And I know some of you read this blog. Do I need to do more blogging about beer and pizza and other "guy topics?" (I feel like I'm pushing the upper limit on the frequency of pizza posts already...) Again, not good or bad. But interesting.

Age. Survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to 72. Most spanned their late 20s through their early 60s, and were pretty evenly distributed in between.

Content

What's important to you? I asked what types of content are most important to you, rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not important at all, and 5 being very important.

96% of you rated Recipes a 4 or 5, indicating it's a cornerstone of our blogging.

80% rated our Commentary / GF Journalism a 4 or 5. This was great validation for me, since those posts are time-consuming to thoroughly research and write.

Restaurant Reviews came in as a perfect sort of mellow bell curve. From 1 to 5, your responses were 14, 20, 28, 20, and 17 (percents rounded to the nearest whole number). I was surprised by both the relatively even distribution, and the symmetry of the results.

72% rated Personal Stories a 4 or 5. I often try to strike a balance between the personal and the professional in my blog posts, and I'll continue to do that.

Lastly, Giveaways / Coupons were similar to the restaurant reviews. Responses were distributed across the spectrum, although it did tend toward the "important" side of the scale a bit. Not to worry...we'll keep doing periodic giveaways.

Product Reviews. When asked if you preferred to read reviews of only "specialty" gluten-free products, or all products, including naturally gluten-free products, an even 86% of you said "review 'em all!" This is the exact opposite of my expectation. I had been talking to Kelli in recent weeks about focusing on only reviewing specialty GF food products, since I questioned the value of reviewing naturally GF products. Apparently, I was wrong! (We'll continue to review a wide range of GF products, and will continue our Versus posts that pit company against company in the same food category...)

Restaurant Reviews. This was another one that surprised me. As I wrote in last week's 400th blog post, I'd been considering abandoning restaurant reviews, since I questioned the value of reviewing restaurants that weren't near most of our readers. But you have convinced me otherwise. 60% of you said you're interested in reading reviews of "all restaurants," while "local, independent restaurants" and "national or major regional restaurant chains" also garnered significant votes. (Hence, we'll continue to review restaurants, and will continue our Small Town GF Guides, though our restaurant reviews will take on a new perspective that will make our experiences at a particular restaurant applicable to readers all over. Hopefully.)

Frequency. When asked how frequently you expect us to blog with new content, 25% said "once per week," 11% said "twice per week," and "less than once per week" and "three times per week" both returned negligible votes. The vast majority of you - 57% - said "I don't care, as long as the content's good!" What a great thing to hear! I've never said so publicly (until right now), but I personally strive for 2 to 3 new blog posts per week. There are weeks, though, when I don't meet that self-imposed quota for a variety of reasons. Your responses tell me that I shouldn't fret when that happens. Whew! Sigh of relief.

Dietary Considerations

As you may have noticed in recent months, I've started including a section at the end of each recipe that goes something like, "This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.," where I list major allergens and other significant dietary considerations. This is in recognition of the fact that we're all bound together by being gluten-free, but that many of us have additional dietary considerations, and I wanted it to be easier for you to identify if a particular recipe was suitable for you at a glance, without scanning the full list of ingredients. But I wanted to know more specifically what dietary considerations are most prevalent. Ordered by prevalence (response rate as a percent of all survey respondents), here they are:

Gluten-free = 100%
Dairy-free (lactose / casein) = 25%
Refined-sugar-free = 21%
Corn-free = 9%
Egg-free = 7%
Diabetic (carb counting) = 7%
Vegan = 5%
Nut-free (peanuts / tree nuts) = 2%

Other responses also included soy-free, wheat-free, and vegetarian, among a handful of others.

The results were interesting. The dairy-free contingent was significant, but I honestly expected the number to be even higher. The very low numbers for vegan and egg-free also surprised me. I expected those numbers to be somewhat higher, given how frequently I'm contacted about recipe substitutions to meet those needs. According to at least one source I read, the prevalence of nut-free folks here at No Gluten, No Problem is roughly twice the national average.

Again, these numbers aren't good or bad. They are simply a portrait of a community. And though we are constantly striving to be inclusive on this blog, such numbers can help us be even more mindful about the recipes we post, and how we respond to questions about substitutions.

A Final Word

Finally, I asked what we're doing well, and what we can do better. You gave us tons of great responses to both questions, which we'll be taking into consideration as we work on a blog redesign. Among other things, expect some new organization that will make it easier for you to locate (in one place) recipes, product reviews, restaurant reviews, Versus posts, Small Town GF Guides, etc. That's all coming down the pipeline in the foreseeable future.

For now, let me say thank you again. And no, I didn't forget about the cookbook giveaway. The winner of a copy of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes (chosen at random), is...Sarah! (Since there were multiple Sarahs, and the winning Sarah only submitted her first name, I'll be emailing you to notify you!)

- Pete

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's cookin'? Cupcakes!

Man, oh man. After this past weekend, I've decided that Murphy's Law must be a mean poker player... it either folds its hand, or goes all in. There's no halfway.

We were in New Orleans - the Big Easy - for the annual American Library Association conference. We were featured presenters for its popular "What's Cooking @ ALA" stage, where cookbook authors do a demo and book signing, and give away some tasty samples. (The presentation itself went great! More on that in a bit...)

Our plan was to fly down Friday during the day, have Friday evening to prepare and eat a nice dinner, do the demo and book signing on Saturday early afternoon, and fly back to New York Saturday night. If only it were that easy.

Because I was a later addition to the trip (remember: I was originally supposed to be running the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya that same weekend, but withdrew because of my illnesses this spring), Kelli and I were scheduled to arrive separately on different flights - her at 4pm Friday, me at 5pm or so. But flight delays, missed connections, and canceled flights had other plans for us. I didn't get into New Orleans until 9:30pm Friday night, and Kelli didn't arrive until 2:00am Saturday morning!

After much too little sleep, we awoke Saturday morning, ate a quick breakfast, and prepared to head to the conference center. We still needed to prep all our cupcake samples. We brought 150 or so mini chocolate cupcakes, plus a dozen full sized cupcakes for the demo. Plus three frostings - whipped chocolate ganache accompanied by a raspberry sauce, an almond Italian buttercream, and a traditional vanilla frosting. However, when we retrieved our cooler box - which contained our perishable items - from the hotel's walk-in refrigerator, we discovered that overnight a hotel employee had rummaged through the box, cracking a frosting container and breaking the eggs. The raw eggs got into the vanilla frosting, which we had to discard. Now we had to stretch two frostings across enough cupcakes meant for three!


After two hours or so of prep time at the conference center, it was our turn to take the stage. Thankfully, that part of our trip went great! About 150 or so people attended, which seemed pretty good based on the attendance of presenters who went before and after us. From an informal poll I conducted by a show of hands during our demo, roughly 1/3 of the people were gluten-free, while the remaining 2/3 knew someone who was.

We presented in our usual Pete-and-Kelli, his-and-hers, tag-team style, which works really well for us. The audience seemed engaged and entertained, and asked some great questions at the end. We even had a little unintended comic relief during the demo. Unbeknown to us, one of our bowls had been another casualty of the travel, and developed a crack in the bottom. As I'm whisking together a bit of cornstarch in cold water - part of making the raspberry sauce - the slurry is draining out the bottom of the bowl onto the demo counter! I couldn't figure out how I had such little liquid to whisk, until Kelli pointed out the puddle developing in front of me. But we rolled with the punches and carried on.

Everyone seemed to love the cupcakes. We received many wonderful compliments. One that stands out in my mind came from a woman who'd been gluten-free (diagnosed celiac) for 27 years. Our cupcakes, she said, were the first cupcakes she's genuinely enjoyed in all that time. We also received many compliments from the "I know someone who is gluten-free, but I'm not" crowd, who couldn't tell our cupcakes were GF. (Hooray!)

Returning home, Kelli's travel went pretty smoothly, but I ran into more troubles. My connecting flight from Washington Dulles to New York was canceled, so I spent Saturday night in a hotel in D.C., and flew to Newark, New Jersey Sunday morning. Unfortunately, my bags didn't make it there with me. The airline brought them to our house Monday afternoon. Whew!

So that's the weekend recap. Thanks to everyone who turned out for the event! I know that some of you are blog readers, have our first cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, or both. Thank you for your support! Happy cupcake-ing!

- Pete

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Foto: Sesame Soy Chicken Tenders


I don't know what it is about major sporting events, but they always seem to put me in the mood for pub-inspired finger food. Mozzarella sticks. Breaded chicken tenders. A slice of pizza. Cocktail shrimp. Chips and salsa. Pigs in a blanket. You know the drill.

Well, back in early February we posted a Friday Foto recipe for Sesame Soy Ribs. It was just a few days before the Superbowl, and we recommended making the sesame soy marinade on grilled chicken tenders, tossing them in reserved marinade for an extra coating of yummy sauce, and sprinkling them with some sesame seeds, as a perfect addition to your football party platter.

It was a great recommendation (if I do say so), and one we followed through with ourselves. But we didn't have a photo of the results...until now. And so we're revisiting that recipe from February in today's Friday Foto because, looking back, that older photo of the Sesame Soy Ribs just didn't adequately convey the deliciousness that is this recipe. It deserved a better photo. You deserved a better photo (or four...).


I have sports on the brain a little more than usual these days. Yes, I just ran in the Minnewaska Summer Solstice 14k trail run race. And yes, I've been shamelessly plugging the upcoming NFCA webinar I'm leading on "Nutrition and Training for the GF Athlete" (heck, the webinar is free, so there's no shame in plugging it!).

But there's another important reason at work. Two Friday Fotos ago, in the Campfire Cookin' post, I wrote about how we were attending our 10-year college reunion at our shared alma mater, Cornell University. It was great to see old friends, and to spend a long weekend in our old stomping grounds. Those stomping grounds are a bit older for Kelli than they are for me, since she grew up in the shadow of campus as an Ithaca native. Her parents still live there, which gives us a chance to get back to Ithaca more often than we otherwise might, though seldom do we spend time on Cornell's campus during those family visits.

Stick with me, this is going somewhere...


On Saturday of Reunion weekend we were at her parents' house on the shore of Cayuga Lake, dropping off the girls so we could run off to some more reunion events. As we mingled about, I happened to glance down at the front page of the Ithaca Journal newspaper laying on the breakfast bar of the kitchen. I did a double take. Kelli's high school alma mater, Ithaca High School, and my high school alma mater, Farmingdale High School, were playing one another for the New York State boys lacrosse championship! That day!

I ran to the TV and started flipping channels until I found the game, which was being played in Syracuse. It was still early in the second quarter. Plenty of game left to watch. I grabbed a Redbridge gluten-free beer and stood - sitting was not possible with the excitement and nerves - watching every moment. It was a close game, with each team at times taking the lead, only to have the game tied up minutes later. I can genuinely say that this was one of the few times in our marriage when we sincerely and deeply disagreed on a topic. We are usually of one mind. Not on that day, at that moment. Alma mater pride was on the line. (I should say, also, that I played lacrosse for Farmingdale during my time there, under the same coach I was now watching in the state championship final...)


The game went into sudden victory overtime. To my great delight, Farmingdale won! But that's not the point of this story. Instead, I just wanted to drive home the point that, whether it's knocking back a cold bottle of GF beer, or noshing on sesame soy chicken tenders, enjoying great pub finger food while watching the big game - no matter your sport - is not just possible gluten-free. It's easy to do.

Now watching your alma mater win or lose in a sudden victory overtime nail biter... that's another story.

- Pete

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Physical Challenge: 2011 Edition

Mud, it does a body good. 
(At the 2011 Minnewaska Summer Solstice Run)
What a year it's been already. Things are going well (all things considered), but athletically, they certainly haven't gone according to plan. I'll explain.

After training so hard and for so long for last year's Virgil Crest Ultra, I more or less took the winter off to give my body and my mind some rest and time to fully recover. That's not to say I became inactive. Instead, I traded targeted, intense training for fun recreational outdoor adventure that would help to maintain my base level of fitness. Snowshoeing with the girls in backpack and chest carriers. Skiing. Ice climbing. A weekly run or two through the Vassar Farm or along the country-ish roads that surround it.

As spring arrived I switched gears and began more intense, focused trail running training in preparation for the summer race season ahead. I had big plans... In the beginning of May, I was registered to compete in the North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge, a highly competitive 50-mile trail running race in the Hudson Highlands. Then in late June - two days from now as I write this post, in fact - I was scheduled to run the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya on assignment for Trail Runner magazine. Next in July, I had my sights set on the Escarpment Trail Run, a grueling 30k trail race in the Catskills. And the schedule continued from there...

Instead, I spent race day of the North Face Endurance Challenge laying in a hospital bed in Poughkeepsie hooked up to an IV, and I've withdrawn from the Safaricom Marathon (and am instead headed to New Orleans for the ALA conference where Kelli and I are doing a cupcake baking demo and book signing!).

My problems all started on Good Friday of Easter weekend. We took the girls for a beautiful hike up East Mountain in New York's Fahnestock State Park. The hike went great, except that part way through, I started getting a strange pain in my elbow. At first it was minor, barely noticeable. Then it became a nuisance. It got rapidly worse from there, seemingly by the 15 minutes, such that by the time we got back to the car, I was in legitimate discomfort. Enough so that I pulled off my jacket and shirt and asked Kelli to look at it. She grimaced. My elbow was red, hot, and very swollen. Back at home, the swelling continue to grow, such that I began to lose range of motion. The pain grew intense. By later that night, I was at the hospital.

They diagnosed me with septic bursitis, some 80% of cases of which are caused by a staph infection. (I later learned that people with autoimmune disorders can be predisposed to the condition, though I've never had bursitis of any sort in my entire life...) To make a long story short, the staph-related septic bursitis appears to have actually been unconfirmed MRSA, a particularly nasty form of antibiotic-resistant staph infection. It not only failed to respond to a series of 3 different prescription meds, but it grew. By Tuesday, four days after my initial visit to the ER, the infection had grown to encompass an 8" x 6" patch of my arm. Doctors admitted me for what would be the first of two in-patient hospital stays.

On my 4th and 5th antibiotics, this time administered via IV, the infection finally came under control, and three days later, I was discharged and sent home to complete my recovery. All seemed to be going well until the following Thursday, exactly one week after I had been discharged.

I awoke in the middle of the night with rigors. They're like having fever-induced shakes/shivers/chills on steroids. To get the proper mental picture, it's probably more accurate to equate my experience to having a seizure, though they're not the same thing. My shaking and muscle spasms - through my whole body - were so violent they shook the bed enough to wake Kelli from her sleep and startle her. Within an hour, I developed a 104 deg F fever. Back to the hospital.

Kelli's and my first fear was that this was the staph infection rearing its ugly head again, having possibly gone septic in my bloodstream. That turned out not to be the case. After another 3 days in the hospital - during which time a) they drew LOTS of blood for tests, b) my window looked out on the Hudson Highlands the same day the North Face race was being held, and c) stuck an IV in my veins again - I was diagnosed with tick-borne ehrlichiosis. They put me on my 6th antibiotic in 2.5 weeks.

When I finally went home, still on yet more prescription drugs, I was depleted.

The Bronski clan, after the Minnewaska Summer Solstice Run
It's easy to forget that - as much as we might like it to be - physical fitness and training for a specific athletic event is not a convenient, linear, upward trajectory. There are bumps in the road, setbacks, whole steps backward. Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of several previous experiences: abandoning an attempt on 14,000-foot Mount Yale in Colorado when I was wracked with GI and other symptoms weeks before my diagnosis and switch to the GF diet; getting "glutened" at a Mexican restaurant the night before a ski mountaineering race in Snowmass; coming down with a bad case of H1N1 two days before the Xterra US National Championship.

Usually, these setbacks are temporary, and in the grand scheme of things, they're a blip (if a large one) on the radar screen. In the bigger picture, the important thing is to focus on our net progress. (This is a useful lesson to keep in mind as you embark on a GF diet following a diagnoses with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Don't get overly discouraged by a setback. Be patient, and focus on your net progress!)

But my back-to-back stays in the hospital were somehow fundamentally different. Soon, weeks away from training turned into a month and a half. I was weak. Tired. Fatigued. In many respects, I felt like I had gone back to square one. Like I had lost so much of my hard-won stamina, strength, endurance, speed.

Normally, such a sequence of events might have left me frustrated, or even temporarily demoralized. To my surprise, that wasn't the case. I think that deep down, I understood that I had been very sick, that I'd been through a lot, and that it was going to take time to recover.

Finally, 3.5 weeks ago I tentatively resumed my training, testing the waters to see just how my body was doing. As expected, my fitness had faltered. Before the proverbial poo hit the fan, I had been on-track with my training, doing 30 miles or so of trail running each week, with runs ranging from 6 to 16 miles, and most of those runs being in the 8- to 12-mile range. Once a week, usually on Saturday mornings, I was even driving 30 min south to Fishkill Ridge and Hudson Highlands State Park, where I could put in lots of trail miles with some pretty decent elevation gain.

My first week back, however, I managed just 8.5 miles or so, split as two relatively flat 4+ mile trail runs. Each week, though, my strength has been returning. My times are getting faster. I'm feeling more pep in my step. The old endurance Pete is coming back. I'm up to 20+ miles per week, and I expect that number to continue to climb in the coming weeks.

Last night, pretty much impromptu, I decided to enter a trail running race and "test" myself to see how my progress was coming along. The race was the Minnewaska Summer Solstice Run, a 14k run held at Minnewaska State Park, atop the gorgeous Shawangunk Ridge. It attracts a pretty healthy contingent of runners from throughout the region. Race conditions were...less than perfect. 1 to 2 inches of rain had fallen (and was continuing to fall), leaving the course wet, muddy, with standing puddles of deep water. But the rain did keep the sun and heat away, which was a good thing.

Even with the limited visibility due to heavy fog and clouds throughout the course, I could tell this was one of the more beautiful venues I've ever raced at. The course followed a series of gravel-covered carriage roads past two picturesque lakes. It weaved above, below and through the white quartzite conglomerate cliffs that the Gunks are known for. The mountain laurels were in full bloom, their flowers a pale pink everywhere.

The race began with a steady 3.4-mile ascent to the first aid station at 6k. I'll admit - I was really hurting for some of those miles. I found it difficult to gauge just how hard to push myself. I tried to keep my body on the edge of moderate discomfort, a rate of exertion that I knew would challenge me, but which would not result in me "bonking" later in the race.

The next 3k was relatively rolling terrain, which offered an opportunity for my legs and lungs to recover some.

Past the 9k aid station (5.5 miles), it was a 5k - 3.1 miles - back to the finish, mostly at a gradual downhill. Here I really tried to open up the pace. I knew from my splits at the 6k and 9k aid stations that I was slightly ahead of my target race pace. I had wanted to try and go sub-1:10 for the race, which would roughly equate to 8 minute miles. With the weather and course conditions, and my uncertain fitness, Kelli thought sub-1:30 was more realistic.

When I was within 2 miles of the finish line, I progressively pushed my pace every 5 minutes or so, each time trying to maintain a slightly faster pace. I crossed the finish line in about 1:07:30, which equates to roughly 7:52 per mile. I was more than pleased. (I'm still waiting for race results to be posted, but based on last year's event, which attracted more than 260 runners, my time would have placed me just inside the top 30% of runners.) It was confirmation that I was getting "back in the game." There's more work to be done, for sure. But that experience was just the boost I needed to inject some fun and some motivation and some positive reinforcement into my training.

Now I have my sights set on races later this season... the Escarpment Trail Run in the Catskills hopefully, and the Virgil Crest Ultra in the Finger Lakes in September, which I plan to make another fundraiser for the NFCA as I did last year. (More on that to come!)

In the meantime, come join me for the NFCA's free webinar, "Nutrition and Training for the Gluten-Free Athlete," which I'll be leading next Wednesday, June 29!

- Pete

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Time to Reflect: Our 400th Blog Post!

It's a milestone day here on No Gluten, No Problem. This is our 400th blog post!

It's a day surrounded by other milestones. Our second cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes, came out earlier this month. The blog celebrates its 3rd birthday next month. (And it's been 4.5 years since I made the switch to gluten-free.)

In that time, we've posted dozens of product reviews. Dozens more restaurant reviews. And shared more than 85 new recipes. (I suspect those numbers are actually even higher, since the tallies are based on post tags, and despite my best efforts at being diligent with them, I'm sure I've missed a few along the way...)

I'm using today's milestone as a jumping off point to reflect on the blog, how far it's come, how it has evolved over time, and where it's going in the future. This blog is about us, but it's also about you. We can't be all things to all people, but as we forge ahead with No Gluten, No Problem, I want to be sure that we're a) staying true to ourselves, and b) taking into consideration your desires and feedback.

For example, over the years, our readership has grown - both in sheer numbers, but also in geographic scope. According to Google Analytics, in 2011 alone our readers have come from all 50 U.S. states and more than 120 countries. (Holy moley!) As the demographics of you, our beloved No Gluten, No Problem readers, have expanded, I've begun to question the value of certain types of content. Take restaurant reviews. If we review a local restaurant here in the Hudson Valley, that information has very little applicable value for a good number of our readers. On the other hand, I know that some of our perennially popular posts include our Small Town Gluten-Free Guides, which include roundups of gluten-free restaurant options in places such as Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Ithaca, New York. The backbone of those Small Town GF Guides is our restaurant reviews. And so, should we continue to do restaurant reviews?

That is just one of the questions we're wrestling with. But we don't intend to answer it ourselves. We want YOU to help us answer it! We've constructed a quick and easy 10-question survey using SurveyMonkey. Please take the survey, and help guide the future of No Gluten, No Problem! As an added incentive, we'll randomly choose one survey participant to receive a complimentary signed copy of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes. It's the least we can do to say "thank you" for three amazing years and 400 blog posts of No Gluten, No Problem.

Here's to the next 100...and beyond.

- Pete

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Foto: Beignets


If you caught our Gluten-Free Ratio Rally post at the beginning of the month - when we made Almond Choux Florentines - you know that the most recent theme was pate a choux, a versatile French pastry dough. We were so pleased with the results that we wanted to keep the pate a choux love going with a follow-up recipe for beignets.

With my love for silly puns, word play and (in theory) clever titles, I desperately wanted to call today's post "Taming of the Choux." But by convention the Friday Foto is always named for the recipe. By that measure, I thought of calling this recipe "Binge-ts," since I had a bit of a bingeing problem while eating the beignets. In the end, though, I called it like it is.

Beignets are the brilliant result of combining pate a choux with deep frying. They're often finished with a generous topping of confectioner's sugar, and sometimes filled with fruit. In these respects, beignets can be considered in the same family as Italian zeppoli. And yet, beignets are a pastry all their own. The moist, tender, egg-y pate a choux really comes through. And they puff up beautifully with giant pockets of air while they're being fried.


Beignets as today's Friday Foto are apropos, not just because they continue the pate a choux theme, but also because one week from today we head to the Big Easy - New Orleans - where we're doing a cupcake baking demo and book signing at the annual conference of the American Library Association. We'll be on the cookbook stage from 2:30-3:30pm on Saturday, June 25. Come on by and see us!

Also, the following week, on Wednesday, June 29, I'll be leading a National Foundation for Celiac Awareness webinar, "Nutrition and Training for the Gluten-Free Athlete." There will be 30 minutes of informative presentation, followed by 30 minutes of structured Q&A. The webinar begins at 1:00pm Eastern time, so people can catch it on their lunch breaks. Best of all, it's free to register! Sign up and join me and the NFCA!

Finally, Father's Day is this coming Sunday, June 19. The Stir at CafeMom.com published an article, "Father's Day Recipes for a Gluten-Free Dad." The centerpiece of the article was Barbeque Pulled Pork, excerpted from our first cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking. They called it "dude food" that's "free of gluten, but full of deliciousness." Sounds good to me.

And at last, the recipe for beignets:


Beignets
Makes about 24 pastries

Ingredients
300g water (about 1 1/4 cups)
100g salted butter (7 tbsp + 1 tsp OR 1 stick less 2 tsp)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
180g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 1 1/2 cups)
200g eggs (4 large)
Confectioner's sugar

Steps
1. Preheat a pot of oil to 350 deg F.
2. Add the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and stir vigorously until it forms a dough ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
4. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat with a paddle at low speed until the dough cools (it will still be warm to the touch).
5. With the mixer at medium speed, add the eggs slowly and beat until they're completely absorbed and the batter is smooth.
6. Use rounded spoonfuls to fry dollops of dough in batches, as the size of your pot allows. (Our beignets "turned" themselves while frying, but you can always turn them yourself to ensure even browning on all sides. They'll roughly double in size as they fry and puff up with air pockets.)
7. When they are deep golden brown, transfer to paper towels or a brown paper bag and let drain.
8. Toss in confectioner's sugar while still warm. (A small paper bag works great for this. Add some confectioner's sugar, drop a few beignets in, roll the top closed, and shake vigorously to coat. This method totally reminded me of the zeppoli I used to get at carnivals as a kid.)

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

- Pete

P.S. In the spirit of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes is Here!


It's an exciting week in the Bronski household. Our second cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes, is here! The first copies arrived in our mailbox. If you pre-ordered the book, your copy should already be in the mail to you, too. It's in-stock at Amazon, and brick-and-mortar bookstores (such as Barnes & Noble) should have the book in-stock nationwide within the next week or two. Hooray!

We're terribly excited, and terribly proud, of our sophomore effort. If we put our heart and soul into Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking (which we did), then Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes also contains our blood, sweat and tears. It was a labor of love, but it was also a labor, period. Brainstorming cupcake flavors. Developing and testing (and re-testing) recipes. Taking photos. Writing oodles of useful instructional info. All with our second young daughter often strapped to Kelli's chest, and while negotiating a move from Colorado to New York.

But here we are on the other side of that process, enjoying the sweet, dessert-y fruits of that labor.

Along the way, I'd conservatively estimate that we baked 1,000 cupcakes, and went through 125 cups (15.5 kg or 34+ lbs) of our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend. I'm not going to even try to estimate how much sugar and butter we used. A lot.


As for the book itself, here's what you can expect:

It includes 50 cupcakes, each and every one of which is accompanied by a full-page, color photograph.

The recipes run the gamut.

There are Classics, such as Vanilla with Chocolate Frosting, Chocolate with Vanilla Frosting, and perennially popular Red Velvet.

There are Fruity cupcakes, such as Mango Mania, Very Strawberry, and Red, White and Blue (a layered cupcake with vanilla, blueberry and raspberry cake batters).

There are Nutty cupcakes, such as Almond Addiction, Hazelnutty, and even Sweet Potato Walnut.

For the chocolate lovers out there, there are Chocoholic cupcakes, including Chocolate Mint (the cover photo), Mocha, Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and many more.

There are Filled cupcakes with sweet surprises inside, such as our Jelly Donut cupcake (like a Dunkin' Donuts jelly donut!), Key Lime Pie cupcake, Fruit Tart cupcake, Caramel Apple Pie, and more.

And there are what we call Extraordinary cupcakes that go above and beyond the normal call of cupcake duty. Such as Poached Pearfection, which includes a vanilla bean and white wine poached pear cake, topped with a salted caramel buttercream (modeled after our wedding cake). Or the Snickerdoodle cupcake. Or the Cannoli cupcake, where each cupcake is topped with a genuine, authentic (but gluten-free), from-scratch Sicilian cannolo. Or the Dulce de Leche cupcake.

There's tons of useful frontmatter in the book before you even get to the recipes. Info about different gluten-free ingredients and baking tools. Tips for successful gluten-free baking. Detailed, photo-by-photo, step-by-step instructions for making filled cupcakes, making a great Italian buttercream, and working with a pastry bag and piping tips to create different frosting designs. The recipe for our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend, including the measurements for both baking by volume (cups) and for baking by weight (grams).

And lastly, there's an informative appendix with detailed information about making dairy-free, egg-free, refined-sugar-free, and vegan versions of our cupcakes and frostings.

We cover a lot of ground. I hope this doesn't come across as boastful. It's certainly not meant that way. We're simply excited and proud...and breathing a sigh of relief now that much of the heavy lifting of writing a new cookbook is done.

You also don't have to take our word for it. Head on over to our sister site, Artisan Gluten-Free, and see what other folks are saying.

Finally, stay tuned for a cupcake cookbook giveaway! In the meantime, thank you for your continued support! This cookbook is for you...

- Pete

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Foto: Campfire Cookin'


I'm bucking recent tradition and foregoing a recipe in today's Friday Foto. We're on the road, attending our 10-year college reunion this weekend, so our time is over-committed already! Please don't hold it against us!

Last weekend we took the girls for their first camping trip of the summer. We pitched our tent in Woodland Valley, at the base of Slide Mountain, the tallest peak in the Catskill Mountains. As per usual lately (when it comes to car camping), we did all of our cooking over a wood fire. Hot dogs. Roasted marshmallows. Pouch potatoes (sliced Yukon gold potatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, and butter. And Chores (S'mores, but made with chocolate chips cookies instead of graham crackers and bars of chocolate... try it! You'll love it!).

Enjoy the photo montage. See you next week!

- Pete









Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Each Recipe, In Its Place

Photo courtesy Stock.Xchng / Plattmunk with modifications by Pete

Much of the time, the blogging community is a warm, happy place. There's lots of love to go around. But book publishing? Not necessarily...

I learned years ago that if you're going to be an author in the book publishing world, you'd better have a thick skin. Some people will love your work. Inevitably, though, others will not. And when they don't, they aren't shy about saying so.

This is only fair. People are entitled to their opinions, and here at No Gluten, No Problem, we certainly haven't held back in any of our product, bakery or restaurant reviews. We simply provide our candid and honest feedback. If we love something, we say so. If we don't, we tell you why. (We expect the same of reviews of our cookbooks...)

I imagine, though, that sometimes our negative reviews must sting a bit for the companies reading them. Fortunately, I get the sense that most of the companies that have been on the critical end of our reviews have taken our comments in stride and considered them a form of constructive criticism, which they are.

This is how I approach reviews of my and our books. You delight in the positive, and either absorb the negative as unsolicited constructive input for future improvement or simply move past it. For this reason, I seldom respond to negative reviews. Very little comes of doing so. It just looks unnecessarily defensive on the part of the author.

I have made exceptions to this rule, however. Such as the time a reader criticized our first cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, because our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend uses some sorghum flour, and this particular person didn't tolerate sorghum well. In that instance, I interjected to offer an ingredient substitution whereby they could make a sorghum-free version of the flour blend, so that they could still enjoy the baking recipes in the cookbook.

I can count - probably on one hand, and certainly not requiring more than one or two fingers on my second hand - the number of times I have done this. Usually, it's when I feel that a reviewer gets a substantive, factual aspect of the review wrong, or less often, when I strongly disagree with their perspective. (Most of the time, I just bite my tongue and grin and bear it...)

It is the most recent instance that has prompted me to write today's post. A reviewer took our first cookbook to task - pretty harshly, I might add - almost exclusively on the basis that our gluten-free cookbook contains some naturally gluten-free recipes. Within the same week, I saw my friend and fellow gluten-free blogger, Shirley, of Gluten Free Easily, praise Silvana Nardone's Cooking For Isaiah because it contained naturally gluten-free recipes which fit with Shirley's gluten free easily approach to the GF lifestyle.

The juxtaposition of those two diametrically opposed viewpoints prompted me to think more about the spectrum of gluten-free recipes, and which ones do or don't have a place in gluten-free cookbooks.


My thoughts are probably best shared in the context of my reply to the critical reviewer who didn't appreciate the naturally GF recipes in our GF cookbook. I made several points:

First, the cookbook was and remains an expression of us as people and food lovers. The recipes we included in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking are recipes we make regularly in our everyday living. Just as our tastes are eclectic (hence you'll find a wide variety of international cuisine in the book), our tastes also encompass a range of dishes that are either naturally gluten-free, made gluten-free with simple ingredient substitutions (such as swapping tamari wheat-free soy sauce for regular soy sauce in an Asian dish), or which are "specialty" gluten-free recipes that require heavy modification. Quite simply, to omit the naturally gluten-free dishes would also be to omit a part of ourselves from the book.

Second, when a specialty cookbook such as a gluten-free cookbook omits naturally GF recipes in favor of only specialty GF recipes, it forces you, the reader, to buy one cookbook for the specialty recipes, and another cookbook for the naturally GF recipes. By writing an inclusive cookbook that captures naturally GF, GF with simple subs, and specialty GF recipes, we offer "one stop shopping" where a wide array of GF recipes can be found under one convenient roof. There are many wonderful GF cookbooks that take this approach. In addition to us and Silvana, you can also look to the cookbooks of Shauna and Danny at Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. Or Elana at Elana's Pantry. Or Amy at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free. Or Carol at Carol Fenster Cooks. We're in good company.

Finally, I couldn't help but notice that the critical reviewer made frequent mention of several vegetarian cookbooks in his review of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking. Would he apply a similar critique to those vegetarian cookbooks, I asked? Should vegetarian cookbooks omit naturally vegetarian recipes? And only include those recipes which offer vegetarian versions of traditional meat dishes? I suggested he consider gluten-free cookbooks by this same standard. (Which you could apply to any specialty cookbook - Should dairy-free cookbooks omit naturally dairy-free recipes, and contain only recipes which make dairy-free versions of dishes that might otherwise contain cow's milk, cheese or yogurt?)

Naturally gluten-free recipes have a place in gluten-free cookbooks, I concluded.

The reviewer's response surprised me. He considered gluten-free and vegetarian cookbooks to be in different leagues; they were held to different standards; he didn't want naturally GF recipes in his GF cookbooks. His rationale: gluten-free is such a restrictive diet compared to vegetarian, and therefor he had different expectations when it came to a cookbook.

I declined to comment further. While I respected his opinion, I disagreed with it. But I also sensed that I wasn't going to change his mind. Maintaining the dialogue wouldn't necessarily yield any fruitful outcome for either side. Which was fine.

But his comment on the alleged restrictive nature of the GF diet gave me a fourth and important final point. Being gluten-free doesn't have to be overly restrictive, and it doesn't have to be difficult. As Shirley will tell you, you can be gluten-free easily!

When someone first goes gluten-free after a diagnosis, the immediate reaction is sometimes one of "Oh my gosh! What can I eat? There's nothing for me to eat!" Actually, there's plenty you can eat. And it doesn't have to be fancy, expensive specialty gluten-free baked goods. The road to healthy gluten-free eating starts with naturally gluten-free foods. (What's more, if the GF diet is so restrictive, why make it more so by omitting naturally GF recipes from cookbooks?)

But when you're diagnosed and told to go gluten-free, where do you find those foods? You look to cookbooks. Gluten-free cookbooks. And thank goodness so many great gluten-free cookbooks (hopefully you'll include ours in that list) include naturally gluten-free recipes.

When you're a part of a diet-restricted food community, you come to better appreciate inclusiveness; having a place at the table. From my perspective, we should extend that inclusiveness to recipes in our cookbooks.

That's just me, though. What's your take on it? I'd love to know.

- Pete

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Foto: Cornmeal-Encrusted Cod Fish and Chips


Once upon a time, Kelli and I were major brewpub aficionados. We had our favorite local joints, and anytime we were on the road traveling, if the town had a brewpub, we felt it our duty to stop, have a pint, and sample the food. (I'm sure I've said this before a time or two, but I haven't looked back through the blog to see exactly where...)

Those days - at least for now - are pretty much over. Finding a brewpub that serves both gluten-free beer and gluten-free pub food (often fried) that's safe to eat is about as rare as finding a politician who's in a long, happy marriage and who hasn't been in a sex scandal. In other words, good luck. (The great exception is The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont.)

And so, we bring the brewpub to us.


One dish that I always equate with classic pub fare is fish and chips. There's something about fried fish. The steaming hot, moist white fish on the inside. The perfect batter on the outside. The side of chips (French fries). A dab of ketchup. A dollop of tartar sauce (if that's you're sort of thing - Kelli loves it; me, not so much). It's not the kind of food I eat regularly (too much grease factor), but every once in a while, it really hits the spot.

Since time immemorial, it seems, fish and chips has relied upon one of two types of white fish - haddock and cod. Personally, I've long had a preference for haddock. But cod is a popular choice, too.

When my mom recently drove up to the Hudson Valley for a visit from Long Island, she brought with her a nice, big piece of fresh cod, purchased earlier that day from one of the local fish markets about which I waxed nostalgic a few blog posts ago.

From the moment that cod came in the door, I knew what we had to do...make fish and chips.

Today's Friday Foto recipe is the result. This time around, we went with a cornmeal crust for the fish. It's a little less conventional (than, say, a buttermilk batter or a beer batter), but it still really works well.


Cornmeal-Encrusted Cod Fish and Chips
Makes about 3 servings

Ingredients
1 lb cod filet
1/4 cup GF breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tbsp Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Salt
Pepper
Garlic Powder
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
Canola oil

Steps
1. Rinse and pat dry the fish. Slice the filet into the desired size pieces for your fish and chips.
2. In one bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, cornmeal and flour, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
3. In a second bowl, whisk together the egg and milk.
4. Dip both sides of the cod filet pieces in the egg-milk mixture, then dip both sides in the breading mixture, coating all sides. Lightly shake off any excess.
5. Pan fry in hot canola oil in a skillet for 3-5 minutes. Turn over and pan fry the other side for another 3-5 minutes, until the fish is opaque throughout and just flakes easily.
6. Serve with chips (French fries) and condiments.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, shellfish-free.

Note 1: For gluten-free breadcrumbs, you have lots of options. In this instance, we made our own by using the food processor and pulsing reject bagels from our recipe testing that had been living in the freezer (also check out the winning bagels). Any leftover GF bread would do the trick in this regard. Or, you could pulse some GF crackers, such as Nut Thins, in the food processor. Finally, you could buy ready-to-use breadcrumbs, such as those from Aleia's.

Note 2: Since the cod is breaded, it's not exactly an easy thing to check if it's done by using the "opaque throughout and flakes easily" method. A little bit of practice will make you a master in the fine art of the "finger firmness" test. Press on the breaded cod with a finger. The firmness and the "bounce back" will let you assess if it's done or not. If there's any question, pick one of your pieces, and break it open where it's thickest. If it's done there, the rest of that piece - and the others - will be done, too.

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Almond Choux Florentines


Pate a choux. It's a fancy-sounding French term that refers to a light, moist pastry dough made of water, butter, flour and eggs. Instead of using baking soda or baking powder or yeast or whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, its high moisture content creates steam that puffs the pastry while it bakes. This simple formula of sorts makes pate a choux incredibly versatile. If you've ever had profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, crullers, cream puffs, gougeres, or churros, then you've had pate a choux.

As you've undoubtedly surmised, it is the theme for this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. (As a reminder last month we tackled scones.) If you missed last month's iteration, here's the need-to-know about the Ratio Rally... Each month participating bloggers face a new baking challenge. We each make a variation on the common theme, baking (ideally) using ratios and baking by weight. And we have fun while we're at it. Simple as that.

This month's baking bonanza is being hosted by Erin over at The Sensitive Epicure. (After you've finished reading this post, be sure to head on over to check out her post, as well as links to all the other participating ratio bloggers this month!)


I'll admit, working with pate a choux wasn't entirely new to us. We've done it at least twice before - once when we made a Chocolate Eclair Cake in February 2010, and once when we made Cream Puffs about one month later.

But we haven't played with pate a choux since then. More than a year has passed, and this time around, we've approached the choux with new eyes...that of the ratio baker. Ratios we referenced varied from the elegant (2:1:1:2) to the decimal-happy (1.3:0.7:1.0:1.7) to the ordinary (5:2:3:3). As we tweaked our own pate a choux recipe to hopefully yield both a delicious pastry and a relatively clean ratio, we settled on the rather straightforward 3 parts water : 1 part butter : 1.5 parts flour : 2 parts eggs. Not too shabby.


The question of what to make with that dough was another matter. After all, as I mentioned above, pate a choux is a versatile little bugger. The possibilities were nearly endless. At first we were drawn to the idea of making pralines, a choux pastry filled with hazelnut pastry cream. Then we were drawn to the idea of making choux florentines, round pastries topped with whipped cream and caramelized sugar.

Then inspiration struck. Some almond paste burning a hole in our pocket (or, at least, calling out to us from the pantry) proved the focal point. We'd make a sort of hybrid between a choux florentine and a praline. Instead of topping the choux florentine with whipped cream and caramelized sugar, we'd top it with a nut-based pastry cream, as in the pralines. But instead of hazelnut, we'd make an almond pastry cream. Hence, almond choux florentines.


I'm going to have to start looking for new adjectives to describe our successful baking endeavors, but the result was - to use a word I've surely used before - divine. (And yes, we're biased, but our taste buds also don't lie...) The choux pastry was light, tender and airy, with a delightful moistness to the inside, pockets of air throughout, and an ever-so-subtle saltiness. The smooth, sweet almond pastry cream balanced the pastry wonderfully.

Personally speaking, my biggest problem with these almond choux florentines was one of self-control. I wanted to eat only one, but ended up having two immediately, and it took no small act of willpower to stop myself from devouring a third straight away. And while they taste great, you might argue that their biggest selling point is that although they sound fancifully French, they're actually rather easy to make.


Almond Choux Florentines
Makes 12 pastries

Ingredients
For the pate a choux:
300g water (about 1 1/4 cups)
100g salted butter (7 tbsp + 1 tsp OR 1 stick less 2 tsp)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
150g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 1 1/4 cups)
200g eggs (4 large)

For the almond pastry cream:
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salted butter
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
* The preceding six ingredients should yield 300g pastry cream.
100g almond paste

12 whole shelled almonds

Steps
To make the pastries:
1. Preheat your oven to 375 deg F. Grease a cookie sheet.
2. Add the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and stir vigorously until it forms a dough ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
4. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat with a paddle at low speed until the dough cools (it will still be warm to the touch).
5. With the mixer at medium speed, add the eggs slowly and beat until they're completely absorbed and the batter is smooth.
6. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe 2.5-inch diameter circles. Then pipe a second circle within each larger circle. Lastly, pipe a second layer of dough on top of the outer circle.
7. Bake at 375 deg F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
8. Let cool on the pan.

To make the almond pastry cream:
9. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.
10. Whisk in the egg yolks, beating until light in color.
11. Heat the milk in a saucepan over high heat to bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.
12. Temper the egg yolk mixture with the heated milk. (Slowly pour about half of the milk into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously, then pour back into the milk saucepan, again whisking vigorously.)
13. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
14. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and almond extract.
15. Stir in the almond paste, whisking to incorporate until smooth while the pastry cream is still warm.
16. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, until cool.

To finish the recipe:
17. Transfer the almond pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.
18. Pipe rosettes in the center of each choux pastry.
19. Top each pastry with a whole almond.

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

Note 1: To aid in making "perfect" 2.5-inch circles of pastry, you can dip the lip of a cup (drinking glass, coffee mug, brandy snifter, etc.) in flour and then "mark" the baking sheet.

Note 2: While the pastries turned out great, they can be even better. We ran into two minor (and easily correctible) snags while baking. First, we happened to bake on an unbelievably hot day in a non-air-conditioned kitchen that was 90 degrees. Blech! Secondly, when calculating the weight measurements for ingredients, I made a simple and silly mathematical error that resulted in us using about 30g (about 1/4 cup) less flour than we intended. That additional flour would improve the texture of the pastry and the dough's ability to hold its shape while baking.

Enjoy!

- Pete