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Lessons Learned From Gluten-Free Baking


After struggling with GI issues for many years, I recently decided to take my diet in hand. I had previously gone “dairy-free” for the same reason and experienced some success, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be, gastrointestinally speaking. Gluten, a storage protein in wheat that gives baked goods that elasticity and lightness, has long been touted as a contributor to aforesaid GI issues. My sister had already gone gluten-free for the same reason. There was only one thing standing in my way: my undying and uncompromising love for baked goods. I didn’t see how I could ever give them up and experience a satisfying diet. So, I went in search of gluten-free alternatives.

First, I bought several packaged brands of breads, bars, and some sweets. They were, for the most part, pretty horrible: dry, tasteless, heavy, just not a good “mouthfeel.” I found one or two bread brands that I liked, but I certainly wasn’t eating a sandwich every day. A little discouraged but still somewhat hopeful, I turned to homemade goods.

I have always loved to bake. It is relaxing and rewarding for me, and I enjoy trying new recipes. Since I have quite a bit of experience in the baking department, I figured this would be a cinch. There are many gluten-free (GF) flours available out there: rice, brown rice, soy, almond, and coconut, to name a few. I would simply substitute one of these flours for any white flour the recipe called for.

The first item I tried was GF pancakes. Easy! Same ingredients, just substitute the GF flour. The pancakes were rubbery with a gritty mouthfeel. Just in case I missed something, I tried again… with the same result. This was not a pancake that I could recommend, or for that matter, serve. After trying muffins, quick breads, cakes, cookies and brownies, I was discouraged. It was at this time that I discovered the Twist Bakery in Millis. This lovely little gem has not only gluten-free baked goods, but also dairy and nut- free. They have many selections, and everything I tried there was simply delicious. I live in Canton and can only get over there once in a while, so unfortunately Twist would not become my baked goods supplier. It did, however, inspire me to do some research. If GF baked goods can be this good, I can learn how to make them.

I went into the Minuteman catalog and typed in a search for “gluten-free baking.” One of the books that came up was The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Intriguing. After reading the introduction, I could see that good GF baking comes down to understanding the relationship between the amount of glutenin (a wheat protein) and its reaction to water and mixing. It’s not just a matter of using gluten-free flour. If the gluten is taken out, something else must be substituted, or one ends up with the aforementioned pancakes.

Three main factors come into play when one is using a gluten-free flour. First, the amount of glutenin in the flour is very important, as more glutenin = more strength and elasticity. With bread flour, for example, there is more glutenin, and using it results in a nice mouthfeel for bread. Cake flour, on the other hand, has a lower glutenin content and produces a soft structure that is perfect for cakes. Second, water is a big factor in the development of gluten. The more water, the stronger and more elastic the gluten is. This gives the baked good an “airier” result and is pleasing to the palate. Finally, mixing time is very important. The less a mixture is stirred, the less gluten will develop. In the case of muffins, this is why all package directions warn you not to “overmix.” Result? Tough, hard muffins that do anything but melt in the mouth.

Now we come to the substitutions for gluten. In the recipes from HCIBGF, America’s Test Kitchen, after literally thousands of tries, has developed a flour blend that can be used to produce pretty yummy baked goods. Their secret? A mix of GF flours, a mix of starches (for that elasticity), and nonfat milk powder (to help with browning). And for DF folks, we can use soy milk powder in place of the milk powder, with the same result. One other element is necessary with GF baking, and that is a binder. A binder acts as strengthener and gives the baked goods desired elasticity. ATK basically recommended xanthan gum, and, though it is not added to the ATK flour blend at the outset, each recipe calls for the flour blend AND a teaspoon or so of the xanthan gum.

The Living Gluten-Free Answer Book, by Suzanne Bowland

The How Can it be Gluten-Free Cookbook, Volume 2, by America’s Test Kitchen

https://www.americastestkitchen. com/guides/gluten-free/keys-to-successful-gluten-free-baking

Carla Howard is the Senior Circulation and Media & Marketing Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the February 21, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.


Make it Sous Vide!

sue-vide-at-home-book-coverBelieve it or not, I’m sometimes afraid of new technology. My ex-husband worked for one of Microsoft’s competitors in the late 1970s and 1980s and his company created one of the first word processing programs for the PC. Yet, in the early 1990s I still insisted on writing my graduate school papers on a word-processing typewriter. Because we had several computers in the house, my inability to embrace the PC drove him crazy – among a zillion other things, of course!

It’s not that I am distrustful of technology – I’ve actually been an early-adopter of many gadgets and devices –  but I must fully understand them first. I hate reading boring instruction manuals and that often trips me up. I’m a hands-on learner and my confidence level often has wild rides of highs and lows when learning how to use a new appliance or gadget.

That said, once I am a firm-believer, I drive everyone a bit looney when I insist on singing, and re-singing, the praises of each of my new gadgets and appliances. Gerry and I bore our friends with wondrous tales of inventions like the steam cleaner, vacuum sealer, spiralizer, espresso maker and milk frother.

This is especially true in the kitchen where I spend much of my time on the weekends. In my early marriage years, I heartily adopted the Cuisinart food processor, the KitchenAid stand mixer, and the automatic bread and pasta machines. Sometimes these machines hum in the kitchen for weeks, and other times they lie silent for months or years. Still some are part of my everyday repertoire.

My eldest daughter is an amazing, adventurous cook. Mostly due to her driven spirit, but also because she is severely allergic to nuts and seeds, she makes everything from scratch, including roasting her own coffee beans. Due to her infectious enthusiasm (the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree), I love to watch her use her newest equipment, sometimes adopting it into my own life.

That’s where the sous vide comes in.

Several years ago, she pronounced her love of her new sous vide on her Facebook page. I was, apparently, living in the dark ages because I had no idea what a sous vide was. I don’t usually watch any cooking shows (binge-watching the Great British Baking Show was an exception), so I researched this exotic tool myself. I asked her to bring her sous vide equipment to our home several years ago and we had the most amazing lamb rib chops that I’ve ever tasted at dinner that night.

Soon after I received my own sous vide stick from Gerry for my 65th birthday. (One of the things I love about my husband is his constant and hearty support of my whimsies and interests.)

Yet, that is where my fears sometimes bring my enthusiasm to a halt. It seemed to me that there were so many complications to cooking with the sous vide. I read several books and agonized over additional tools and equipment. It’s important to eliminate heat loss, and vacuum-sealed packets must not touch each other. I ordered numerous exotic accessories, and then promptly packed all of it in my appliance closet until my courage overcame my anxiety.

It was there that the sous vide sat – until this past weekend when my determination took hold and I decided to experiment in the way I learn best – hands-on and under pressure. I planned a dinner for neighbors and committed to an uncomplicated menu of center-cut beef shanks and butter-poached baby potatoes.

Sous-vide is a French term for “under vacuum.” Simply put, you cook food that is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch in a water bath for a long time at a perfect low temperature. With the sous vide technique, the food cooks evenly throughout. It doesn’t overcook or undercook, as long as you know what you are doing. The moisture in the food is retained.

Little did I know, but high-end restaurants use the sous vide method for meats and shellfish all the time. That is how they serve you a perfectly-cooked chop or scallop that is quickly seared and placed on your plate.

You can use fancy tools, or not so fancy. My Anova sous vide stick is a version that actually has a Bluetooth setting, which seems a bit extravagant and foolish. This sous vide immersion circulator is firmly attached to a plastic bin filled with water, the tool is turned on and brought up to a specific temperature, the vacuum-sealed food is placed into the bin, and the food is cooked for a specific time.

This weekend’s beef shanks were vacuum-sealed with a sprig of fresh thyme, slices of onion and garlic, and a sprinkle of freshly ground salt and pepper. They were then cooked in a constant 155 degree water bath for 20 hours. Yes, 20 hours. Some sous vide techniques call for 48 hours of cooking! The beef will be removed from the water bath several hours before dinner and quickly seared in a very hot grilling pan before serving. In the interim, the vacuum-sealed baby potatoes will poach with butter and parsley at 194 degrees for two hours.

If you’d like to learn about sous vide cooking, complete with amazing recipes, there are plenty in our Minuteman Library catalog and at our library here in Norwood. If you start with some of the best cookbooks, sous vide techniques and equipment are fully explained in the first chapters. The Essential Sous Vide Cookbook by Sarah James is a great book to start with because she has lots of practical guidance and advice, including techniques on preparing food for sous vide recipes. Sous Vide at Home by Lisa Fetterman even has techniques for cooking Thanksgiving dinner! Fetterman has another book, Sous Vide Made Simple (in 60 everyday recipes.) There are several eBooks instantly available on Hoopla: The Sous Vide Kitchen by Christina Wylie and Make it Sous Vide! by Meredith Lawrence.

Of course, this week’s column was due before dinner was fully cooked, but I have complete confidence in my sous vide technique. My daughter texted me a big high-five because she is delighted that I’ve finally overcome my anxiety. My husband is finally looking forward to another delicious dinner – this time, sous vide style.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the October 11, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


Fall Flavors Sans Pumpkin Spice

Saving-the-season-cookbook-coverLast fall, I was unpacking the groceries from a trip to the market. My husband popped into the kitchen to “help” put the food away, a.k.a. survey my selections so he can plan what I refer to as his “snack-tivities” for the week.

After a few minutes of cupboards opening, I heard him exclaim, “Ugh! Why would anyone buy this?!” I turned around, expecting him to be holding one of the weird veggies I buy without knowing what I’ll do with them, but nope, he’s holding a box of pumpkin spice Cheerios. I thought they looked good, but my husband thought I was trying to poison him. This was the moment that I learned that my husband hates almost all pumpkin spice flavored things.

He always ate my squash pie at Thanksgiving dinner, which has the same flavoring as pumpkin spice, so why this sudden hatred for this popular fall flavor? Apparently, the problem is over-exposure. Dunkin’s introduced a pumpkin muffin a few years ago, which I thought was a good fit. New Englanders have been eating spiced pumpkin bread for centuries, so why not make it muffin shaped? But the pumpkin spicing didn’t stop there. Now there are pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin spice tea, and pumpkin spice Peeps. Even I draw the line at pumpkin-y marshmallow chicks.

Still, I love warm flavors. Fall and winter are my favorite food seasons and my taste trends toward old fashioned. My favorite meals are the ones served from one giant roasting pan and heat up the whole house in their making. Give me apples, squash that will last months in a root cellar, cozy breads, and warm Indian pudding. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy a good avocado and egg sandwich- I am a millennial after all (barely), but if I knew it was my last meal, I would be ordering my grandmother’s Canadian boiled dinner followed by a gigantic slice of squash pie.

My husband is the opposite. He also likes warm flavors, if by warm, you mean HOT. He loves thermonuclear chicken wings, spicy and tangy fish tacos, and self-concocted barbecue sauces that make my eyes water. If I am an autumn/winter eater, he is all about summer flavors. I think that might be why he hates seeing pumpkin spice flavored everything lining the grocery store shelves- it is a signal that summer is over.

For my husband’s sake, I am trying to avoid pumpkin spice overload this autumn and am seeking out fresh fall flavors that won’t induce winter woes, but will still use the ingredients available from our local farms and orchards. Luckily, the library has more than a few books to help me.

The first book I found does less to celebrate the upcoming cooler weather and more to stretch the tastes of summer further. Saving the Season: a Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving, by Kevin West is a super book for gardeners and farm-share households. I am always scrambling in October to preserve the glut of late season tomatoes and other garden goodies practically falling off the tangle of vines that is my vegetable patch. This book gives options- tasty, tasty options.

The book that I am just loving right now is Dishing Up the Dirt: Simple Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons, by Andrea Bemis. The author is a passionate farmer and has crafted recipes that take advantage of what her organic farms has on offer each season. She experiments with flavors in recipes like her beet, walnut and kale pizza or winter squash carbonara, but still includes new twists on classic recipes, like tomato sauce to use up the last of the season’s tomatoes, and sweet potato pie.

Another book that made my mouth water is America Farm to Table, by Mario Batali. Batali also takes on using local, seasonal ingredients to make yummy dishes that will please a crowd. He looks to towns and cities across the country for inspiration. I found that the recipes inspired by Vail, Colorado fit well with what my garden is producing and what is available at nearby farmers markets. The beef and chard meatballs were lick-the-plate-clean good.

Even with summer quickly fading away, I am hoping to ease the transition into fall for my anti-pumpkin spice husband with a few recipes from these great titles. Maybe I can even save a few recipes to take the sting out of that first snowfall.

Alli Palmgren is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Alli’s column in the September 20, 2018 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


Cook the Book: Falling Back in Love with Cookbooks

Plenty-cookbook-book-coverOnce upon a time, I was an organized home cook. I planned our weekly menus for our meals at home, shopped for only fresh ingredients weekly, and did all my prep work in the mornings before work. Then I had a baby and all of my careful, well-honed organization went out the window. Gone were the days when I had time to flip through my cookbooks at a leisurely pace. I tried to make meal plans but then a baby wouldn’t stop crying and something would burn or a toddler interrupted me a thousand times before I could dice a shallot. Food shopping became a marathon exercise of half-remembered lists and saying “No, put that down; we don’t need that!”

Like every aspect of motherhood, there was a learning curve. Feeding my family was essential but I had to figure out how I could get back to my love of cooking instead of just throwing something (rather unhealthy) together while feeling exhausted and underappreciated. One simple change has made a difference: time has passed. I no longer have a baby or a toddler but a nearly self sufficient elementary school aged child who loves to cook herself. My husband arrives home on the later side, so I feed my daughter earlier in the evening and he and I eat after bedtime, leaving me a little time to put something decent together.

I’ve tried several strategies. My first attempt to reawaken the love of cooking was signing up for Blue Apron, a delivery service that provided meal kits to be prepared at home. The recipes looked delicious and the ingredients were extremely fresh but I soon experienced a few downfalls. First of all, I couldn’t choose what meals would arrive in a given week. Some people like that type of variety, but I suppose I’m more of a creature of habit than I realized. I like to look forward to things, even meals. Secondly, many of the recipes had steps I deemed unnecessary. I remember angrily shelling edamame and thinking, “But I could have bought shelled edamame to begin with and saved time!” I have a decent amount of experience in the kitchen, and I automatically scan recipes to see how I can streamline steps to maximize my time. One of my key time savers is buying produce already prepared and ready to use.

Blue Apron didn’t last long and I had already set my sights on switching to Plated, another meal kit delivery service that allowed us to pick from thirteen recipes each week. I solved my first problem by giving myself more control over what we received each week. I also found that Plated recipes required less fuss with ingredient preparation. We had a few issues with the actual delivery that led us to cancel the service so I was back at square one with meal planning.

Now that my daughter is a little older, I’m feeling the tug towards my long-neglected cookbook collection. Since discovering a new delivery service through Amazon called Prime Now, I’m starting to entertain the idea of going back to traditional meal planning with an updated food shopping service. Simply create a shopping list on your Prime Now app and someone will shop FOR you at Whole Foods and then deliver the grocery order to your house. No more wrangling a cranky child and an unwieldy shopping cart. That freedom has helped me rediscover some of my old favorite recipes from the dusty cookbooks on my shelves.

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi was my first foray into non-traditional vegetarian cooking. Ottolenghi is a well-regarded British chef, restaurateur, and column writer for The Guardian. His philosophy about cooking vegetables made complete sense to me after I read an interview where he described the importance of recipes highlighting the flavor and properties of a vegetable, not trying to sell it as a meat substitute. Plenty takes this approach and does not pretend to try and turn hardcore meat eaters to veganism. It’s simply a great cookbook if you want interesting vegetable dishes that shine. My personal favorite recipes include Very Full Tart, Smoky Frittata, and Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese. My one recommendation with this cookbook is to watch cooking temperatures and time. I suspect Ottolenghi used his commercial grade kitchen when perfecting his recipes rather than a residential one and often food takes longer than he says it should.

On the opposite end of the cooking spectrum is Ina Garten, who probably needs no introduction. In case you have been living under a rock, Ina is a world famous Food Network host, chef, and former owner of the Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons of Long Island. While some find her New York charm and insistence on “good” ingredients a little grating, I love that Ina never compromises on what’s important to her. The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics is filled with simple, tasty recipes and easy instructions. Ina is a home cook, so all of her recipes are usually very accurate and easy to make. Favorites like her Chicken Bouillabaisse take me back to a time before motherhood when I could spend several hours cooking every night and still remains my “date night in” specialty.

Now that fall is on the horizon, I find myself flipping through Molly Stevens’ classic Roasting. The oven is my secret weapon for mom-friendly recipes. I can quickly marinate or season a piece of meat with pre-chopped veggies while it preheats, and then walk away while everything roasts for 40 minutes. The house fills up with a delicious scent and I really feel as if I’ve made a good effort in the kitchen. Roasting is a master class in this, and Stevens’ chatty and detailed chapter introductions really help you master a technique rather than just one dish. When the cooler weather arrives, I love the comfort food appeal of Roasted Chicken Pieces Dijonnaise.

These three are only a few of my treasured collection! I’ve downsized a bit after several moves and have really only kept the cookbooks that contain recipes and techniques I truly love and use. I’m always on the hunt for new, tasty looking and well-written recipes, and frequently rifle through the library’s new nonfiction to see the latest cookbooks. I also love to wander in the library’s infamous “cookbook aisle” in the 600s on the mezzanine level. We have an unbelievable collection that could pull any home cook out of a slump.

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Read Kate’s column in the August 30, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.




Chill Out, New England

true-green-home-book-coverWe all know that one of the great benefits of living in New England is that we get to experience all the seasons. Our iconic foliage draws busloads of tourists every autumn, we usually get to have a white winter holiday season, and our landscape becomes furiously and gloriously alive every spring. As a result, our New England summers can feel all too brief, and many residents look forward to summer all the rest of the year.

While we’re busy bundling up for the other seasons though, we can sometimes forget just how hot and humid our New England summers can be. Heat waves seem to surprise us because they don’t happen very often in the course of a year – remember that stretch of 90+ degree heat a few weeks ago? Brutal, right? And no wonder we feel this way – in the course of June 2018 we went from chilly spring temperatures in the 40s to blazing 92F, according to That’s a pretty big difference, especially after what seemed like a prolonged winter.

I’m fully aware that we don’t deal with nearly the temperature extremes experienced in other parts of the United States or the world. For instance, according to the city of Quriyat in Oman in the Middle East just broke a world record for the highest low temperature in a 24-hour period, a whopping 108.7F. However, New England is quite humid, and therefore we tend to “feel” temperatures more acutely. In the course of a year, our weather changes from -40F to over 100F, with some areas of our region experiencing temperatures more extreme in either direction. From freezing pipes and frost heaves to the baking sun and high humidity, our roads and buildings have to stand up to a lot.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself if I’m seriously writing an article about the weather. (In May she wrote about statistics and algorithms in dating apps, and this month it’s the weather? Does this lady even get out?) Fooled you! I’m actually writing about how to keep cool and comfy in the summer without air conditioning at home. On some level we’re all getting used to air conditioning in public buildings, but as long as you don’t have a health condition that necessitates cool temps, do you need to invest in air conditioning at home in the Northeast?

There are some good reasons to go without AC if you can help it. Lowering your electric bill is a good motivation, since once you turn on the AC unit there’s a strong temptation to leave it running for most of the day. The cost of an air conditioner can also be prohibitive, as well as the hassle of properly installing the unit. Also, there’s a lot of joy in hearing birdsong and other sounds of summer coming through the window, which is drowned out by the chugging of an air conditioner. Plus, there’s the principle of the matter – there’s something perverse about turning on an air conditioner for a small amount of comfort when human activity is responsible for rising global temperatures in the first place.

Passive cooling measures are easier than you think; they just take a little bit of planning. It’s an awful feeling to get to work and realize a storm is heading your way on a day you decided to leave some windows open to catch the breeze. A few easy tips include: close the shades during the day, especially on the sides of your house that catch the sun; close the windows on the sunny sides of your house, though you may decide to leave windows cracked on the shady sides of your house if cool air is blowing in; as soon as the evening temperature drops lower than the temperature inside your house, open those windows and enjoy the night breeze; use window fans to draw in extra cool night air if the day has been especially hot, making sure to crack another window to help the fan work as efficiently as possible; avoid stove or oven cooking if you can help it, and instead eat cold foods like salad or use a slow cooker to keep from heating up your kitchen. For even more practical tips for keeping cool and conserving energy, especially if you’re planning a remodel project, check out these books from the library: The Carbon Buster’s Home Energy Handbook by Godo Stoyke, The Energy Wise Home by Jeff Dondero, True Green Home by Kim McKay, and This Cold House by Colin Smith.

We have lots of cookbooks with slow cooker recipes. Browse our cookbook section on the Mezzanine level next time you’re in, and keep an eye out for titles like The Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook, The Slow Cooker Revolution, and The Chef and the Slow Cooker.

Swim, wear loose fitting clothing, eat ice cream – and when we hit a streak of 90+ degree weather and all else fails – come to the library. We have free air conditioning, and lots of books and great programs all summer long.

Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the July 26, 2018 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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