Lately, everyone and his brother seems to be jumping on the "gluten-free" bandwagon. Even paper plates announce that they are "gluten-free"-- just in case we decide to take a bite out of them. So what is all the fuss about? Well, many people DO actually have issues with the gluten found in some foods. Gluten is made of proteins which not all people can digest well, and which may damage their small intestine OR cause various allergic reactions. There is a fair amount of confusion out there about these different aspects of the gluten issue. There is also confusion about which foods contain gluten.
Whatever their reasons might be, people who want/need to avoid gluten have to carefully pay attention to what goes into their food. I have several friends who cannot eat gluten, so I have been trying to learn as much as I can about it. Sometimes I make sure to deliberately bake or cook without gluten-- but also I have realized that a lot of what I cook does not happen to have any gluten in it anyway. Often it is also really easy to make a substitution for an ingredient in a recipe which makes the gluten go away entirely without anyone even noticing it.
One such ingredient is oats. Oats, all by themselves, do not contain gluten, but oats are usually grown and processed where wheat is also grown and processed, and there is cross-contamination. It used to be difficult to find truly gluten-free oats, but not anymore. Last week I even found them at the local Trader Joe's in a 32 oz bag. Yay! No more mail order (as long as they keep carrying it). Oats-- in case you didn't know-- are really, really good for you. Good for reducing cholesterol, good for fiber, good for a lot of things (read more). And really good when made into cozy wintery foods-- the kind you might want to eat on a ski trip...
I got to go skiing in Taos this past weekend with some of my friends, and it was pretty awesome. There was some real snow up there-- something we have been missing in Albuquerque this winter. Taos usually gets over 300 inches of snow in a season. It has always been my favorite place to ski, since long before I moved to New Mexico. (Taos Ski Valley was founded by Ernie Blake the same year that I was born.) One especially nice thing about ski trips is that you have to eat a LOT of food to keep up your energy. So for our breakfasts I made some Nutty Winter Granola to bring. Then I thought we would probably also need to have plenty of Oatmeal Chip Cookies, in case we ran out of calories. Since two of my friends can't eat gluten, I used gluten-free oats in both. There was not a lot of complaining and we definitely did not bring back any cookies! It is hard work just walking around at high elevations, you know, and Taos Ski Valley is over 9,000 feet above sea level. You need extra cookies to make it down those tree runs, too!
My favorite granola recipe is the one my friend Kristin gave me-- I just keep changing it around, to suit the season. For winter I like it to add extra nuts and coconut, and the only fruit I put in it is dates. And then I bake it long enough to make it extra toasty. For this Nutty Winter Granola you will need: 4 cups rolled oats, 1 cup sliced almonds, 1 cup skinned hazelnuts, 1 cup pecan pieces, 1 cup flaked coconut, 1 cup local honey, 2/3 cup canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and one cup chopped dates. 1) mix oats, nuts, coconut, salt, honey & vanilla. 2) Spread mixture evenly over a large sheet cake or jelly roll pan. 3) Bake at 325 degrees, mixing every ten minutes until desired toastiness is achieved. 4) Allow to cool slightly, and the break up the big clumps as you mix in the dates. Store in an airtight container. Serve with yogurt, milk or fresh fruit OR just eat it by the handful-- it makes a great trail mix, too.
For the Oatmeal Chip Cookies, you need 1/4 cup butter, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda, 1 cup smooth peanut butter, 3 cups rolled oats, 3/4 cup chocolate chips, 3/4 cup butterscotch chips, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and 1/2 cup walnuts. (I adapted this recipe from the one on the back of the bag of oats--I was a little skeptical, but they rose beautifully.) 1) Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. 2) Mix in eggs, vanilla, soda-- then add peanut butter. 3) Mix in remaining ingredients-- batter will be very stiff. 4) Form 2" balls and flatten them slightly on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving 2" between cookies. 5) Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until puffed and golden. Cool completely and store in airtight container.