Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gluten Free, or Just Another Fad?

I have to admit, when the huge out-cry about gluten began, I was clueless on what the fuss was about.  First off, what the heck is gluten and why is it bad for the human body?  Gluten is, to put it into layman’s terms, glue; a mixture of two proteins, found mainly in wheat, rye, spelt and barley.  When water is added, the gluten helps the grain form a sticky consistency and gives dough elasticity.  I like bread, I bake breads, so that’s good, right?

No, not so good for those who have Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy; and the main culprits are those two proteins, glutenin and gliadin.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease; the gluten is an invader that must be destroyed, but the immune system also targets the lining of the stomach.  Symptoms of this disease are almost the same for those with gluten sensitivity and IBS, so a blood test will be a necessary test; if inconclusive, a biopsy of the stomach lining may be necessary as well.  The most common symptoms of Celiac disease are digestive discomfort, tissue damage in the small intestines, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headache, tiredness, skin rashes, depression, weight loss and foul-smelling feces. More bad news though, some people don’t show the digestive symptoms, but only show typical signs of anemia; a blood test will hopefully give the truth of it all.

With the huge out-cry came more labeling on all food packaging and cookbooks galore from cooks, chefs, bakers the world over.  With it also came the celebrity push, you know how it goes.  A stream of celebrities suddenly decide to go gluten free; Zooey Deschanel, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry are allergic; Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Keith Olbermann have Celiac disease.  Others, however, are on the train of, “It just makes me feel healthier, that’s all.” and when a celebrity says that, suddenly their fans have to jump on that train.  Will going gluten free make anyone healthier?  Sure it will, breads and grains are known for putting on weight, and being carb central, are extremely bad for those who are diabetic.

So, it’s no wonder I decided to play with a gluten free recipe for chocolate cookies.  I have to say I take a little exception at the name of the cookies, “Chewy Chocolate-Coconut Cookies”.  Yes, they’re full of chocolate, but coconut?  The gluten free flour used is coconut flour, but I wouldn’t put it in the name of the recipe.  That’s like baking up cookies using regular white flour and putting that fact into the recipe name.  I followed the recipe as written, but then went two steps better; switching out regular sugar with coconut sugar, then also rolling the cookie dough into flaked coconut.  Now that’s what I call chocolate-coconut!

First I’ll give the recipe as is, then list the changes I made for the other two batches I made.  The recipe came from Savory Magazine (page 75 - January 2018), put out by Giant Food Stores.  I gave samples to my coworkers at Canyon Country Discovery Center, located at the northern end of Monticello, Utah.  I got a rousing approval from all who tried the three types I baked up.  Even my hubby enjoyed them, and this from a man who keeps telling me he doesn’t like chocolate!

Chewy Chocolate – Coconut Cookies


4 Tbsp. butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. coconut flour
¼ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Coconut Sugar vs. White Sugar


Step 1 – Preheat oven to 350F.

Step 2 – In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt until creamy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla, mix until smooth.  Add the coconut flour and mix until combined (if batter seems runny, add 1 more Tbsp. coconut flour).  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Step 3 – Using a tablespoon or mini cookie scoop, drop the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Gently press the cookies to flatten slightly.

Step 4 – Bake 12-14 minutes, until set around the edges.  Cool on baking sheets on wire rack.


Living at a high altitude, adding the extra tablespoon of coconut flour was necessary.
I let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheets, but then removed them to baking racks.

Second batch of dough; switch out regular white sugar with same amount of coconut sugar.  Coconut sugar looks similar to brown sugar, but has a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugar.

Third batch of dough; again, use coconut sugar, but roll each tablespoon of dough in coconut flakes.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Plums, Prunes and the Pioneers.

Being a pioneer in the 1800s, the work was long and hard; what better way to fuel up than by eating dried fruit?  Prunes, now don’t go making that pruney face yourself; are simply plums that have been dehydrated.  According to The Old West Baking Book by Lon Walters, “records from old supply houses indicated prunes were used throughout the area.  Pound for pound they were high in nutrients, low in cost and kept well.” (page 140)

In Utah, there are two major types of plum trees, the first is Potawatomi plums.  The trees were planted and grown along natural waterways, canals and ditch banks by Utah Mormon pioneer settlers.  Prunus americana, commonly called the American plum, wild plum, or Marshall's large yellow sweet plum, is known by most Utahns as the Potawatomi plum.  It can be seen planted in the historic orchard groves of Fruita, Utah, within Capitol Reef National Park.

Secondly, and commonly seen in San Juan County yards and gardens is the Purple Pershore.   There are three distinct varieties of Pershore Plum (Prunus domestica): the Pershore Yellow Egg, Purple Pershore and Pershore Emblem.  The Yellow Egg variety whose seedling was discovered in the ancient Tiddesley wood, Worcestershire, England was developed and named in 1871. The Purple variety is a cross between the Yellow Plum and a similar seedling.  It was originally called Martin’s seedling around 1890, but became more widely known as the Purple Pershore. The Pershore plums have many culinary uses such as jams, chutneys, added to cheeses and sausages, used to make puddings as well as the drink Plum Jerkum.

Within the pages of Utah State Fare – A Centennial Recipe Collection by Paula Julander and Joanne Milner, there is a recipe for Plymouth Prune Cake (page 125).  I found the first step of the preparation rather interesting.  “Chop prunes and place in a small saucepan with 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil…” basically this is reconstituting the prunes into plums; or re-adding the water back into the fruit.  Which got me to thinking about several cans of plums that I had been given.  Oh, I am getting very used to folks leaving anonymous bags or boxes of food items at my door with a simple note of, “Here, see what you can do with this.”  I chuckle as I consider this a challenge of sorts.  Anyway, back to the plums; if the recipe calls for reconstituting the prunes, why not just use plums from the getgo? 

I made a couple of other changes such as using three 8” x 3.75” loaf pans instead of one 9” x 13” pan, and added an extra ½ cup of flour to adjust for high altitude baking.  To gussy up the cake when serving, I put a dollop of whipped cream on the side with a sprinkle of walnuts; it did the trick!  The overall texture of the batter is similar to gingerbread, thick and firm, until the plums and juice were added, then it loosened to a pouring consistency.  The smell of cinnamon and cloves permeated the home; the taste is similar to spice cake, but slightly milder.  This is one of those cakes that makes a cold winter day a bit more comfortable, from the inside out.

So remember, love a prune, it’s just a plum that’s been out in the sun a bit too long.

Plymouth Prune Cake
Utah State Fare – A Centennial Recipe Collection, page 125

1 cup prunes (or 1 (15 oz.) can plums
1 cup water
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups flour (plus ½ cup for higher altitudes)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 cup milk


Chop prunes and place in a small saucepan with 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Strain, reserving ½ cup of juice and set aside.  (Note: if using the canned plums, you can skip the cooking part and use the juice from the can too.)

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and eggs.  Mix well.  Stir or sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves.  Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk (1/3 dry plus 1/3 milk).  Add chopped prunes and ½ cup reserved prune juice.  Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13-inch baking pan.  Bake at 350F degrees for 30 to 35 minutes (my cakes took 50 minutes since the loaf pans were denser in batter).

Mary Cokenour

Friday, February 9, 2018

Moving to That Salsa Beat.

The very first time I ever went to a Mexican restaurant, the waiter asked, “Would you like to try our salsa?” to which I replied, “No thank you, I’m not very good at dancing.”  Fortunately the person I was dining with said yes to the request which changed the waiter’s confused expression into a smile.  Until then, the only salsa I had heard about or seen was on the dance floor, mainly at college when the Hispanic clubs put on dances.

The dance of Salsa originated around the mid-1800s, a combination of Cuban, Latin American and Caribbean dances.  It became very popular in the Latino communities of New York in the 1940s where the style of dance was hot, sultry and spicy.  Depending on which community visited, there were different dance moves and music explaining the use of the name.  Salsa, or Latin American sauce, is a mixture of different ingredients dependent upon which country visited.

When hearing the term salsa, one would immediately think of what is typically served in a Mexican restaurant; a mixture of diced tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers, cilantro and garlic.  Did you know though, that India has its own version of a salsa which is called Chutney?  A combination of fruits and/or vegetables, vinegar, spices and sugar pureed into a jam, or diced into relish form.  Whenever I go explore a large supermarket, farmers market, or even an event where food products are displayed for sale, finding new salsa or chutney to try is a must!  It’s not just the idea of finding something different to have as a snack, but the potentials in cooking up fantastic new recipes.

Of course, concocting your own types of salsa is always a fun experiment.  For example, a recipe I call “Confetti Salsa” as the diced vegetables I use are so colorful.  I actually came up with this recipe out of indignation; I was insulted by a can of “Mexicali Corn”.  I'm getting ready to make a noodle side dish to go with my seared chicken and wanted to add corn to it.  In my pantry I find a can of Mexicali corn, it has corn and diced bell peppers in it, so that would work fine.  The corn is a nice yellow color and firm; the peppers, however, have much to be desired as in "Where the heck are the diced bell peppers!?!"  They're more like flakes than actual pieces of the vegetables; there are also listed sugar and salt on the can and I'm wondering why do I need sugar in a vegetable dish?  Think about the cost too; an 11 ounce can of Mexicali corn is approximately 25 to 50 cents more in cost than a 14.5 ounce can of whole kernel corn.  Believe me, flakes of bell pepper do not justify a smaller quantity costing more; and if I want sugar and salt in my vegetables, I'll add them myself, thank you very much!

The “Confetti Salsa” I came up with looked more appetizing and the mixture of ingredients was so flavorful.  To change it up a bit, consider roasting corn on the grill, or adding black beans, for a more savory sensation.  Oh, the noodle dish?  I did away with that idea and simply served the chicken with the salsa; much tastier indeed!

Confetti Salsa


3 medium sized tomatoes, ripe and firm
1 ¼ cups whole kernel corn
1 small red onion, diced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
¼ cup each diced red, green and orange bell peppers
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. fine sea salt
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup chopped, fresh cilantro


Cut tomatoes in half and scoop out fleshy pulp and seeds; cut into strips and dice. Steam the corn over boiling water until just tender; place in refrigerator to cool. Into a medium mixing bowl, add all ingredients and gently mix. Refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Makes 4 cups of salsa.

Mary Cokenour