Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure and priviledge to be part of Toronto’s very first Gluten-Free Expo. The lineup of eager people started early and there were an estimated 5000 people who attended a day packed full of fantastic vendors, exciting news and wonderful speakers.
I happened to be one of the featured speakers and shared some of my secrets to converting any recipe to make it gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free. The floor was packed and there were probably another five rows of people standing in the back!
I wanted to take a moment here to thank everyone who came by to see me speak, and came to chat with me during the day including Lisa from Gluten-Free Find, Jax from Gluten-Free Ontario, Rachel from the Integrative Health Institute, Margaret, the amazing organizer of the Gluten-Free Expo, and of course all my past, present and new readers.
I was so surprised and humbled with the number of people who came by who have already read my book and enjoyed my recipes (including a lovely lady who baked my zuccini bread recipe the night before and stopped by to tell me how delighted she was that it tasted like real delicious food!) and others who have seen me speak or who have been following my blog and my gluten-free career since my early days (shoutout to Andrea – probably one of my biggest fans!).
It occured to me that I am one of the first gluten-free writers in Toronto (Canada?)- I started selling custom order gluten-free cakes in 2008, published my book in 2010 and started blogging shortly after – and I feel absolutely priviledged to be part of this welcoming, supportive and positive community! You are all the reason I do this, and it is so rewarding to me to hear about how far you’ve come along, and how much healthier you’ve become. I look forward to seeing you all again, and hope you’re excited to see what I’ll be working on next!
Last week on my way back from running errands, I dropped into my local Chinese supermarket. I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store every time I make these all too rare trips – it’s at these stores that I always find great deals on foods that I typically can’t find elsewhere. One of these things was a great big pack of agar agar.
Agar agar is a flavourless seaweed extract that is clear in colour (although I did see artificially died options as well) and makes an excellent vegan substitute to gelatin. You can use it to thicken liquids much like you would use gelatin, only it sets slightly harder, and will also work in liquids that are served warm. Personally, this is my ingredient of choice for desserts.
You’ll often find agar either as loose flakes or as a “brick” (pictured above). It is very light weight and is kind of like crunchy rice paper in texture. To use agar, you want to allow it to dissolve in hot water for up to 10 minutes before bringing it to a boil with your other recipe ingredients. Sometimes a hand blender can help too.
The recipe below was inspired by my discovery a couple years ago of dairy-free coconut ice cream when I was in Washington speaking at the annual American Library Association conference. It was one of the most delicious and decadent ice creams I had ever tried, and when I found this agar, I decided to experiment myself. I kept this dessert in my fridge, but I suppose there was enough fat content (from coconut oil) to put it through my ice cream maker. Nevertheless, it turned out thick and creamy and made a great topping over some freshly peeled lychees!
1 box Creamed coconut
1 can Coconut milk
15 drops pure Stevia liquid
3/4 cups Agar flakes (packed)
1 bunch Fresh lychees
- Heat creamed coconut, coconut milk and stevia in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Once the creamed coconut has dissolved and mixture is hot (but not boiling), use your fingers to crumble agar flakes into the saucepan. Stir well. Reduce heat to minimum, cover saucepan and stir occasionally until well incorporated, approximately 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn the coconut.
- Use a hand blender to ensure ingredients are all well incorporated. Bring mixture to a boil for 2 minutes.
- Pour mixture into a shallow ceremic or glass baking dish and refrigerate overnight.
- Serve over freshly peeled lychees. You can also enjoy it as a healthy substitute for whipped cream over hot chocolate or your favourite pie!
I’m not sure what it’s like where you are today, but in Toronto it is sweltering HOT!! To keep the temperature manageable in my house, I decided to cook my meal on the BBQ outside on the porch. I had some lovely organic turkey burger patties wrapped in fresh lettuce along with this easy recipe from my book. This stuffed squash is ultra easy to prepare, and an impressive item to serve at the dinner table. The recipe below is gluten-free and naturally sweetened with maple syrup. I like to use butter because it tastes so delicious, but for a dairy-free version, I’ve suggested some possible substitutions below. Best of all about this recipe…since the squash is the bowl, you’ll have one less dish to wash! Yay!
1 Buttercup squash (or similar small squash of choice)
2 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Maple syrup
1-1/2 cups Chopped pecans, cashews, almonds and/or walnuts
- Wash buttercup squash. Cut a circular opening around the stem and discard seeds and pulp, just like you would a pumpkin. Take the “cap” that you just cut out, and slice away a small section from one side. When you close the squash, this will leave a small gap to allow air to escape.
- Stuff squash with nuts, followed by butter and maple syrup. Close the squash with its cap and place on cookie sheet.
- Cook at 350ºF (175ºC) for 30-40 minutes, until inside of squash can be easily pierced by a fork.
- Serve on a plate with a large spoon. Each person can scoop out their own portion directly from the squash.
For a dairy-free version, substitute butter with grapeseed oil or coconut oil.
Substitute maple syrup with honey.