Some bakers will cringe, but to me, the best indicator of delicious results is a delicious batter. And the Banana-Ginger Peanut Butter Snack Cake I just whipped together has a lot of promise.

I’ve made my fair share of gluten-free cakes, cookies, and other baked experiments, and there have been plenty of batter/dough-tastings that made my heart sink. After spending all that time, and money, mixing together ingredients in the name of providing my daughter with a top-notch knockoff of a gluteny favorite, I’ve slid the pan into the oven knowing it would come out a failure.

Today I awoke to find three too-brown, too-soft bananas on my countertop. I knew there was baking to be done. My kids will eat banana bread or muffins — with an emphasis on will; it’s not something they clamber for — but I was in the mood to make a treat to take into the office. (And I wanted to let/make Ava try something new, too.) I also had a jar of Peanut Butter & Co. The Bee’s Knees (peanut butter blended with honey) taking up space in my pantry. Again, something I bought for Ava thinking she’d love the combo (and I’d love the lack of processed ingredients), but alas, Jif wins out.

Anyway, I turned to the Internet in search of a peanut butter-banana recipe, and after ho-hum hits on my usual sites, I somehow decided to check Skippy’s website. And there I found the aforementioned snack cake recipe. It caught my eye with the title, but the clinker was the ingredients list — just 1 cup of flour in the cake. When I follow regular recipes using gluten-free flours, I look for those with flour in a supporting role, not the star ingredient. My rule of thumb: 2 cups is OK (depending on the size of the recipe), but 1 cup or less is fantastic. That’s why I love to make brownies — Ava loves them, and I’ve found many delicious recipes with very little flour. The results are always far more moist and “normal” than treats with 2 cups plus.

The banana cake came out of the oven looking great, and best of all, Ava tried it — and loved it! Maybe there’s hope for expanding her taste buds after all.

Here’s the recipe:



image The list of foods containing gluten is overwhelming for the newly diagnosed. Perusing any gluten-free aisle offers hope—and can overwhelm all over again. The selection of mixes and quick fixes for brownies, cakes, breads, and other normally glutenous no-nos has become quite wide, and so it begs the question: Which one is the best? We started the sampling process with products in the most widely produced, legit-looking packaging. In 2009, that was Gluten Free Pantry and Bob’s Red Mill; now we’d likely be drawn to Betty Crocker, King Arthur, and Hodgson Mill.

I won’t get into who makes the best brownies, but I will divulge our top pick for another off-limits, oft-replicated food: pasta. We’ve tried pretty much every brand available in Ankeny, Iowa, and for noodles and spaghetti, we recommend Ancient Grains quinoa pasta. Hands down. It’s fairly easy and inexpensive to test the various GF pastas—the prep requires no extra/special effort, and among GF convenience foods, pasta is on the less-expensive end of the spectrum. I can honestly say that, in terms of taste, I don’t miss regular pasta one bit.

image One thing I do miss, though, is no-boil lasagna noodles. I’ll admit it: I’m a lazy cook. I use canned and frozen beans and vegetable products whenever possible. So when I went to make my first batch of GF lasagna, I was faced with the task of boiling the noodles for the first time in my life. It didn’t go well. The noodles stuck together, then stuck to the paper towels I drained them on, and they just didn’t have the same texture of the old Barilla sheets I was accustomed to. Hence, lasagna has been a rare treat around my house for the last few years.

Then recently I ran across a recipe for slow cooker lasagna. I was intrigued. I’ll try anything in the slow cooker—again, lazy cook. What became even more intriguing was the fact that the recipe specifically called for uncooked lasagna noodles. The old-fashioned, non-no-boil noodles—the only kind I’ve found in GF form on local grocery shelves. Worth a shot, right?

Right. It worked like a charm. The noodles cooked up perfectly, the filling was just like the lasagna I used to make, and, most important, it tasted “normal.” Of course, it had been so long since I’d served Ava lasagna that she tried it—barely—and decided she didn’t like it. But that wasn’t the most important test for me. The greatest lesson was that we grown-ups in the household can now make our funky, chunky lasagna concoctions without the worry of contaminating pots, dishes, or Ava. Hooray!


You can find the basic recipe here, on Betty Crocker’s website:

I skipped the onion (for Ava’s sake) and used fewer noodles (because there aren’t as many in a GF box, and for our tastes that was plenty). But you could add, subtract, or modify to your heart’s content. Or even just Google it—I’d love to create a veggie-filled version, maybe even with white sauce. The only downside is the lack of structure in the end product; you won’t get pristine rectangles displaying a crisp cross-section of noodles and filling. It’s more of a loose interpretation of lasagna. But the flavor is still there—and that’s all that matters to this lazy cook

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Oh fudge!

On January 14, 2012, in Food, Recipes, by Carrie

No, this isn’t a cleaned-up version of what I said when I found out my daughter, Ava, has celiac disease. (Though that’s probably true as well.) This is what she says after I whip up a pan of her favorite sweet treat. And every time I hear her say it—or any other words of praise for some gluten-free goodie I’ve made—it takes away some of the sting of that phone call from Ava’s doctor two-and-a-half years ago.

Fudge has taken the place of the chocolate chip cookie in my household. A few years back, I had a reputation for making some darn good chocolate chip cookies. (Or at least that’s what people told me. It’s hard to accept compliments for following the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag to the letter.) After Ava’s diagnosis, I experimented with GF flours and mixes to mimic the soft, gooey goodness of a gluteny chocolate chip cookie. While some came close in flavor, none compared in texture. And while Ava liked the cookies she sampled, she never ate more than the sample, leaving me with a batch of baked goods I had deemed decent but not worth eating.

I resigned myself to the fact that Ava doesn’t really like cookies. I missed baking, but I was happy that Ava was satisfied to eat candy and ice cream for her sweet fixes. We even discovered that mini ice cream cups make great gluten-free yet mainstream treats to take to school for birthdays.

But the urge to bake nagged every now and then, especially at Christmastime, when I wanted to deliver homemade goodies to the family, friends, and neighbors who once raved over my cookies.

In the fall of 2010, I was editing a slideshow of fudge recipes at work (for, and my mouth started watering (a hazard of the job) — especially when I noticed most of the recipes were gluten free. And not the type of gluten free that people graciously try and praise and then silently thank heaven that they can eat gluten. Fudge is what I like to call “accidentally gluten free.” It’s delicious as-is, without substitutes or caveats. I perused the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book and found a recipe titled “Easy Fudge.” Straightforward prep, no candy thermometers. It was a hit. Not only did it make a great gift, but Ava absolutely went crazy for it.

This fall, when I broke out the sugar, evaporated milk, butter, marshmallows, chocolate chips, and vanilla, Ava asked me what I was doing. When I told her I was making fudge, her eyes widened more than I’d ever seen and I think she literally started to drool. She even did a fudge dance around the kitchen and made up a fudge song. My batches turned out even better than last year, and family, friends, and neighbors raved. It turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m making, as long as it makes everyone — especially Ava — happy. And I’m getting better at taking the compliments, even though I follow the simple recipe to the letter.

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The conference is beginning, stay tuned for updates!

9:04am – ISU grad Amber Kastler, HY-Vee dietician speaking now

9:09am – The average additional food cost increase for each patient is $4,000/year

9:17am – Awesome, she is bashing GF fad diets. IT IS NOT FOR WEIGHT LOSS!

9:28am – Talking Hy-Vee NuVal system. I am convinced now that Ankeny Hy-Vee has the best GF department in the region. :-)

9:32am – Speaker is getting called out for asking who can TOLERATE some GF products made in non-GF facilities. She isn’t understanding that it is all or none. Some gluten is still gluten and still hurts your body if you have celiac disease. There is no “toleration level.” That is merely for outward symptoms, or gluten intolerance, which is different than celiac disease.

9:36am – Go comment on the FDA proposed regulations!

9:39am – Speaker number one not determined to be a great option. She is wrong on a lot of things…but at least she is sparking conversation.

10:00am – Speaker number two, benefits of a GF Mediterranean diet, by cookbook author Laurel Mors.

10:10am – This might be a low-notes section of the conference…

10:19am – Summary: eat right, exercise, be healthier.

10:40am – Whew…that one was painful. But it’s over. We are excited for the breakout sessions now. Parents of celiac children, especially!

10:55am – Breakout session time with leader Betty Bast. “So far today no experts or updates on anything” was Carrie’s comment. Hoping for better now!

11:00am – A lot of parents seem to have some great ideas for school. It is obvious that school is the number one concern for everybody, which makes sense since that is where the most time is spent…

11:10am – And the testing discussion has begun, and thankfully ended quickly with logic working to our advantage. People seem to be learning about what tests are available and working now. Good stuff!

11:17am – Fad diets will be the death of us. Hopefully the GF fad diet is over soon so we can focus on the fact it is the only medicine we have and the restaurants understand the importance.

11:27am – Now talking hospitals and medication contamination. I always forget about that. Check your labels and talk to your pharmacists! Also, be very careful of your hospital food!

11:44am – Face paint … possible contamination? Another thing I never thought of. Check out

1:09pm – Lunch is over, time for the keynote with Dr. Joseph A. Murray, M.D. “The case for screening for celiac disease”

* 1% of the United States have celiac disease, somewhat on par with the rest of the world, but still under-tested

* Targeted testing has shown a much higher rate of diagnosis (a three fold increase from previous testing)

* Olmsted county study tests have shown 1% undiagnosed celiac disease in non-targeted testing, based on 35,000 tests

* Most subjects with undiagnosed celiac disease will remain undiagnosed

* Google “The Swedish Epidemic”, interesting. Study of celiac disease in infants in Sweden.

* CD can start at any age in people previously negative. “You are never too old…”

* Most celiac disease is silent in young people (under 50)

* Significant bone disease is prevalent in undiagnosed celiac disease

* Extremely low cholesterol can be a sign of malabsorbtion, and thus a sign of undiagnosed CD

* Old military testing showed a 400% increase in mortality rate in those who tested positive vs. negative. After five years on a gluten-free diet, the mortality rates go back to normal. (Note: other studies, at least one in the UK, have indicated no difference, apparently there is a variation)

* Another reminder that no cheating on the gluten-free diet is the only way to stay healthy.

* Two most important words in health…and why people tend to feel better on a GF diet if you don’t have celiac disease: EAT. LESS.

* The genetic test is most helpful when it is negative, meaning it is highly unlikely you have CD. If you test positive, you have a 30% chance of developing CD.


On October 1, 2011, the annual Iowa Celiac Conference will be held in Okoboji, IA. We just booked our room at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center and can’t wait! Assuming I have a good data connection, I will be live-blogging/tweeting/etc. all day, too.

Last year we went to the 2010 conference, hosted in Cedar Rapids, and found out how good of a job they do. It is worth it.

Check out the details for the 2011 conference in the flyer, right here (PDF): 2011 Annual Iowa Celiac Conference flyer

And, their blog site, here: 2011 Iowa Celiac Conference