Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Popcorn taste without the corn

We've tried out a new homemade, gluten free snack food that's kid friendly: Alegría. can tell ours are falling apart. More than you know. It's supposed to look like a granola bar, but every time we've made them, our granola bars fall apart, too, so we smash them into little balls before we eat them. It works, though.

I'm really searching for anything that would make a good finger food aside from the traditional fruits and veggies. Living out in a desert like we do, fresh produce doesn't do really well as a snack when we need to go out in the summer heat. So I need, basically, a grain bar. A yummy munchie that I can feed to the kids.

Finding one has been a time-consuming process that hasn't yielded great results, mostly because of how many food restrictions we have, and my unfamiliarity with the foods I am left with.

The kids are both gluten free now for the Celiac Disease (one is positive, and one I want to stay negative), but both of them are still having issues; my daughter actually feels worse since she's gone off gluten. So we're doing an elimination diet.

Which means I have to find a snack food that avoids all the foods we're avoiding on their diet, obviously. It makes this little yummy a real treat: a dairy free, wheat free, fish free, shellfish free, peanut free, tree nut free, egg free, soy free, potato free, chicken free, peach free, tomato free, sugar cane free, and white/navy bean free snack for kids.

Woo hoo.

Oh, this sucker is corn free too, since corn is looking suspect as well.

I'm so glad this snack isn't too hard to make! Right now, simply cooking our meals is a lot of work. I don't know that I would have even made the attempt at a snack food, but we have relatives visiting for the holidays, both my folks and my husband's. I needed some food for the kids that was a bit less labor intensive, because I've realized something very life altering, at least with regards to having people over.

It's a HECK of a lot of work to cook for this many people when I have to make every broth, every sauce, practically every everything from scratch. I can see why women around the world were so happy when canned goods and pre-prepared foods were invented! I have spent about 2/3 of my holiday cooking or cleaning up after cooking, and if I really wanted that much of my day spent in cooking, I would have pursued a career as a cook.

But let me share the recipe. Or rather, the link to the recipe. This small snack-bar contains Amaranth whole grains, honey, and a few drops of lemon juice. That's it. As I said above, it's called 'Alegría,' commonly eaten in Mexico. It's a little crunchy, a little sweet, and if you have a child that used to like granola bars and the like, they might enjoy this. The kids can have fun making it, as well, once you figure out how to do it. Although it's a bit messy for us, so far.

The link for a recipe we've been using is here:

The recipe itself is half-way down their page. However, the recipe asks for 'toasted amaranth seed,' which I've also heard called 'popped amaranth.'

You do not have to buy this - I haven't actually ever seen it for sale. You can toast it yourself, however, and frankly, it's a real trip!

To Toast or Pop Amaranth
What you'll need:
whole grain amaranth - Bob's Red Mill sells this, at health stores or online
a pot or skillet with high sides that can take high heat
a bowl
possibly something to mix the amaranth with

What you do:
1. Heat your pot/skillet to a high heat. I have read to put it on 'high,' but that has been too hot for us, so we've tried med. high with better results.
2. Get the bowl ready - this will be to dump the popped amaranth into.
3. Measure out a Tablespoon of amaranth and dump it into the pot. Move it around immediately, either by swishing the pot around, or stirring it with a spoon, spatula, or small brush.
4. It will start to pop within seconds, and as you can see, it looks just like popcorn.

Of course, it's like popcorn made for someone the size of Tom Thumb.

Ah well, the taste is still fine. Now, these little grain will pop straight into the air once they start going. Some will stay in the pot, some will pop right out of the pan onto you, the stove-top, the floor, the children. Yes, the kids all think this is absolutely hysterical. You keep stirring for a few more seconds, until a fair amount has popped, and then you dump it out into the bowl. You may need to scoop them off of the bottom/sides of your pot, if they stick, because they will burn very quickly after they've popped.
5. Put the pot back on the stove-top, let it reheat a few seconds, and add another Tablespoon of amaranth grains and repeat the whole thing until you have enough to eat. 4 Tablespoons of Amaranth seeds will make about 1 1/2 cups of popped amaranth.

A few things we have learned along the way:
- Popped amaranth tastes, to my non-gourmet palate, just like popcorn. It's funky. If you or your kids can no longer have corn but miss popcorn, this is, I think, a great fix for the taste, at least.
- Unfortunately, burnt popped amaranth smells just like burnt popcorn. Yuck.
- Unpopped amaranth kernels mixed in with the popped ones don't seem to cause any problems for us. Not too hard to chew, just a little crunchier than the popped amaranth.
- I have read many methods for popping amaranth, and none of them I've seen have really addressed the 'it's popping all over me!' issue. The other cooks all say to stir it, which means that I can't put a lid on, which means this stuff goes everywhere. If I find a good solution to this, I'll make sure to post it!

As I said before, we haven't made this yet so that it stays together - I understand humidity differences and the viscosity of the honey mixture make a difference - but it's edible, and it was fun to make, so that's been enough for us so far. We'll keep experimenting.

On another note, I would love to give a shout out to the very few pre-made foods we can have on our elimination diet. They have made this holiday just that little bit less stressful.

Pre-Fab Food Recommendations:
Earth Balance Soy-Free natural buttery spread - Dairy free and gluten free, although this contains corn, I believe. The kids both like the taste fairly well. It also melts better than any other non-dairy spread I've tried.

Food For Life Millet Bread - One of the few gluten, potato, sugar cane and dairy-free breads I've found (Udi's breads taste better, and don't need to be toasted, but they have potato). Toasted, this bread is less sweet than the rice breads we've tried, and remains the only gluten-free bread that the kids are willing to eat on their elimination diet.

Agave Nectar - Many brands. This has been a live saver with our sugar cane-free issues. I've added this stuff to everything from smoothies to gluten free pancakes. Yee ha for this!

So Delicious (Turtle Mountain) Coconut Milk Beverage and Coconut Milk ice cream - Awesome stuff. It's dairy free, gluten free, soy free, and at least some flavors of the ice cream is sweetened with agave nectar so it's sugar cane free. We've been using the unsweetened coconut milk beverage to make smoothies with frozen fruit, or in place of milk in gluten-free pancakes, as well. The flavor is mild, and seems to go over well with my kids, even the one who is not a big coconut fan.

Good luck with your own holiday experiments in gluten-free cooking this year! I hope they turn out tasty and easy to make at the same time.

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