Archive | November, 2011

No Problem Pumpkin Pie (A Recipe with Variations)

23 Nov

Need a sugar-free pumpkin pie? No problem.  Avoiding gluten? No problem.  Need a non-dairy pumpkin pie? No problem.

When I started making sugar-free pumpkin pie, it was for my mom, back in the 1970s.  At  that point, artificial sweeteners tasted so bad no one but my mom would eat the sugar-free version, so I made two pies. These days, the sweeteners have gotten better, and so has my cooking. Now I make sugar-free pie for everybody, and it vanishes, no problem.  This year my pie will also be gluten-free.  But I only need the one recipe.  Here is how.

THE CRUST: I start with two frozen pie crusts, thawed but unbaked and ready to go. (The filling recipe below will fill two frozen pie crusts or one home-made or deep-dish frozen crust.)

Frozen crust is fine, especially for Thanksgiving when so much is going on.  Almost all frozen pie crust is sugar-free. There are lots of choices, including gluten free, and all vegetable, whole wheat, and, kosher, and  organic.  With frozen crust, you can mix and match.  This year I will make one gluten-free crust and one organic.

A note: Of course you can make your own crust.  The basic ratio is 1 c. flour to 1/3 c. butter or margarine, and 1-2 T cold water.  Cut the fat in with a pastry cutter, add the cold water, and make into a ball.  (I do this with a food processor.)  Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, roll it out, roll it onto rolling pin, put it on pie pan, crimp it, prick it, and by then you will be ready to lie down for a rest yourself.  For a detailed how-to, consult any standard cook book.

For gluten-free crust, in theory you can try to substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour into recipe. If you plan to do this, do a “dry-run”.  All purpose gluten-free flour is really a blend of several kinds of non-wheat flour, each brand is a different blend of flours and each will behave differently.  Gluten-free flour doesn’t behave like regular flour, so you might need to adjust the amount of shortening, water, or flour to get the consistency right.  Experience making regular pie crust will help. There are gluten-free pie crust mixes out there, and plenty of recipes to be found on the web, too.   But unless you have a back-up plan and time for a do-overs, I would go with the frozen gluten-free crust for Thanksgiving.

THE FILLING: First, flavor and sweeten the pumpkin.  Start with 2 cups (or 15 oz can) of pumpkin.  Put it in a bowl and flavor with 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t ginger, and 1/4 t allspice, and 1/2 t salt.  Add 1 tsp vanilla.  Then add 2 T maple syrup, or for sugar-free version, Vermont-Maid sugar-free syrup with Splenda.  Mix well. Then add sugar or Splenda, about 3/4 c.  Mix and taste.  If you need it sweeter, add another 1/4 c of sugar or Splenda.

In a separate bowl, mix 2 eggs and 1 cup liquid, which can be light cream, evaporated skim milk, or non-dairy creamer.  (Rich’s non-dairy creamer is also gluten-free and kosher.)  Add to the pumpkin and mix very, very well.

Use a ladle to pour the filling into pie shells.

BAKING: Start with an oven pre-heated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 and bake for about 50 minutes.  It is done when you can stick the tip of a butter knife into the pie and it comes out clean.

WHIPPED TOPPING: Put a pint of real whipping cream in a small mixing bowl. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 1 or 2 T of sugar or Splenda, for sugar-free.  The vanilla makes it tastes so good that you don’t need it any sweeter than that, and there is no gluten here either.  Whip with a mixer until you get firm peaks, and it starts to look like whipped cream. Don’t whip it too long or you will make butter.

For dairy-free or pareve topping, Rich’s also makes a dairy-free whipped topping that is kosher pareve and gluten-free.

A NOTE ABOUT VEGAN PUMPKIN PIE:There are lots of recipes out there for you.  Many of them substitute silken tofu for the dairy and eggs in the filling. The best one I saw was on the Whole Foods Web site, for a vegan pumpkin pie with a pecan crust.

ONE PIE FOR ALL? Well, maybe not.  Not everybody likes pumpkin pie! So I usually make an apple pie, too.  But that’s a post for another day.

NOTE: If you are cooking for someone with Celiac disease, ask questions and check every product for gluten-free labels and certification.  Check non-fat dairy products because added food-starch might contain gluten.

By Randa Dubnick

Image is “The Pi of Pie (Posterized Photo)” by Randa Dubnick.  All rights reserved.


Grandma Aptaker and the Apple Pie

16 Nov

Even now, when I see an apple tree full of apples, I think of Grandma Aptaker and apple pie.

Grandma Aptaker was my husband’s grandmother.  She was originally from Russia, then Brooklyn, and then Pueblo, Colorado, which is where I met her when I was dating her grandson, Mel.  She spoke Yiddish and heavily accented English (like my own grandmother, who had died when I was twelve). At first, Grandma Aptaker didn’t believe I was Jewish because I made salami sandwiches with mayo and white bread, but  seemed to warm up to me when she discovered I could play gin rummy.  I used to like to watch her cook, and would ask questions so I could capture her recipes and write them down.

Back in 1975, Grandma Aptaker came to Kansas to visit us, accompanied by our young nephew.  By then, Mel and I were married and had two little kids. We had recently moved to Emporia, Kansas for our first “real jobs” teaching at Emporia State. We had an apartment on the edge of campus. It was summer, and summers in eastern Kansas are very hot and humid.

One afternoon, we showed Grandma the college.  On the way back to our apartment, she saw an apple tree on campus, full of apples. It was just across the street from our apartment and  Grandma thought we should pick the apples and make apple pies.

“Oh, it’s too hot, Grandma.”  That didn’t dissuade her. Neither did arguments that those weren’t our apples, that wasn’t our tree, and the campus was state property. Grandma replied that no one was going to eat those apples, and they were already starting to fall on the ground.

Grandma was very persistent, and I finally gave in.  Very early the next morning, before anyone was about on campus, I skulked out to the apple tree with a grocery bag and picked enough apples for a couple of pies, working quickly, trying to look casual, and hoping to avoid notice from by students, faculty, or campus cops.  I confess this now, hoping the statute of limitations has run out on this theft of Kansas state property.

Later that day, we made pies. We peeled apples. We sliced them. We made the filling. We made pie crust dough. We rolled it out. We made bottom crusts and top crusts. We crimped them all around.  We baked them in my little kitchen.  (Have I mentioned that summers are very hot in Kansas?) All this with three children watching, waiting, and whining. As the kitchen got hotter, I thought, boy, Grandma must really like apple pie!

Finally we were done, and so were the pies.  They looked beautiful and they smelled great.  And finally it was time to eat them.

“Have a piece of pie, Grandma,” I said.

“No tank you,” she said. “I don’ like apple pie.”

Well, I started to laugh, and couldn’t stop. I laughed till I cried.  And the story became a family legend.

* * *

So what was this about? Apparently not apple pie.  And not even about trying to make me crazy, which is what I suspected at the time. It was about apples on a tree, about to go to waste, and not letting that happen, even if it meant hard work and a hot oven on a summer afternoon in Kansas.

by Randa Dubnick

* * *

The image is by Randa Dubnick,  “Apples in Sunlight and Shadow” from

West Coast Cole Slaw

11 Nov

For summertime picnics and “California Dreamin'” any time of the year:

Take 1/2 of a head of green cabbage. Slice it and then cut it up (rough chop about 1 inch pieces), and put the cabbage into a large salad bowl. Slice 1/2 of a sweet red pepper. (Red field peppers are great if you can find them.)  Cut the pepper slices so you get 1 inch pieces, and add to the cabbage.  Then add about 1/4 cup red onion, diced fine, and 2-3 T of fresh cilantro leaves (separated from the stems, but no need to chop.)

Make the dressing:  Thin 1/2 cup mayo (the real thing) with 2 T lime juice.* Add 1/2 tsp ginger (fresh if possible, but powdered will work) and 1 tsp soy sauce (gluten-free and/or low sodium okay).

Pour the dressing onto the salad, mix well, and serve.

*If you don’t have lime juice, you can use orange juice or even a light vinegar.

Recipe and photo by Randa Dubnick

Pasta for Everybody

5 Nov

The whole world eats pasta: spaghetti, luchen, udon, soba, fettucini, fideo, maifun. And everybody loves it! However, some people have a bit of a challenge in finding pasta they can eat. This includes people who have issues with diabetes, problems with gluten, or just want to eat more whole grains.

But there really is pasta for everybody!

CHALLENGE #1: High-fiber pasta (diabetic-friendly). A few years ago, in a nutrition workshop I learned that as chief cook for someone with diabetes, I needed to switch to pasta with high fiber content, like whole wheat or whole grain. Now, I love pasta and I was not at all happy to hear that advice. Up to that point, I had never met a whole wheat pasta that tasted better than the box it came in.  But hey, it was important, so I got to work in the kitchen and figured out how to make diabetic-friendly pasta.

SOLUTION #1: I tried a lot of pastas, and went with the brand I like best for standard pasta, which is Barilla.  Now I use Barilla Whole Grain and Barilla Plus, which has flax and omega 3 as well.

With this kind of pasta, it helps to add extra seasoning to the water, and be very careful to get the timing right.

And my secret trick: while the cooked pasta is draining in the colander, I put 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil back into the pan, and add seasoning to the oil.  This can be salt or salt seasoning substitute, and pepper.  My favorites are Adobo seasoning and McCormick Montreal Steak seasoning.  (You can season tires with that stuff and they would taste good.) Then I put the pasta back into the pan and stir it up.

If the dish is Chinese or Japanese, you can use a little soy or teriyaki sauce to flavor the noodles (instead of salt, pepper, and olive oil).

CHALLENGE #2: Gluten-free pasta.  A few years later, I discovered (by trial and error) that if I can keep my diet (mostly) gluten-free, then I can be (mostly) heartburn free, so I also had to explore gluten-free pasta options.  (NOTE FOR COOKS: for people who have celiac disease, there is no “mostly” avoiding gluten; their diet has to be “absolutely” gluten-free,  so ask questions, read labels carefully, and look for certification on the label that each ingredient you use is gluten-free.)

SOLUTION 2: This was a bit trickier than finding high-fiber spaghetti, because I had to find pasta without wheat.

After some trial and error, I found a line of pasta for spaghetti that I liked: Bionaturae Organic gluten free, made of rice, potato, and soy.  In my supermarket, I can find spaghetti, rigatoni, and elbow macaroni in that line.

Of course, there are lots of cuisines that use rice noodles anyway. Annie Chun brand makes a line of rice noodles for maifun and for pad thai.  But I like to make stir-fry with udon noodles, which are wheat, and I couldn’t find an alternative.

DeBoles makes rice noodles, including fettucini, linguini, and even angel hair pasta.  It is also in most supermarkets, and it is pretty good.But my favorite is a line called NottaPasta, which makes fettucini, linguini, and a wide noodle.  These are basically rice noodles made with some tapioca flour, which gives it a nicer texture.  I use NottaPasta linguine or DeBoles fettucini in place of my beloved udon noodles, and it works pretty well.

To cook gluten-free pasta, you have to follow the directions very carefully.  If it says to stir, they mean it!  If you don’t stir, your pasta may all stick together in a great big clump.  And watch the clock, and taste, taste, taste to get the “mouth feel right”.

As with the high-fiber pasta, I put a little oil and seasoning into the pan to flavor the pasta after it is drained.  If I am making stir-fry, I use gluten-free soy sauce or gluten-free teriyaki sauce instead.  A tablespoon or two is enough to make a difference. It can be a little extra effort to work the sauce into the gluten-free pasta, but the payoff in taste is worth it.

DOUBLE-TIME PASTA: These days, when I make spaghetti, I sometimes make two kinds, one high-fiber (diabetic-friendly), and one that is gluten-free.  (I usually make one batch at a time,to keep the timing straight.) I keep the first batch warm, or even reheat, or just let the hot pasta sauce do the trick. But if you are organized and less easily distracted than I am, you can cook both batches at once, in separate pans, of course. But with some recipes, especially stir-fry, I just settle for one kind of pasta.

If you don’t want any carbs at all (perhaps someone’s blood sugar is through the roof at the moment), you can use a pound or two of haricot vert (skinny French green beans), trimmed and steamed or parboiled until they are ‘al dente’, and serve them with your spaghetti sauce.

And of course, you can learn to make your own pasta, but that’s a post for another day.

In any case, this is worth the trouble, because like the rest of the world, we all love pasta.

NOTE: All of the brands mentioned above are available in regular supermarkets, and each also has a web site.

ALSO NOTE: If what you want to make for dinner is a reservation, Macaroni Grill now offers gluten-free pasta.

— Randa Dubnick

The illustration is a pen-and-ink drawing called “Composition with Pasta” by Randa Dubnick.  All rights reserved.

Garbanzo Fiesta Salad

1 Nov

I came up with this salad last summer, but it is easy to make in any season. Even people who are not fans of garbanzo beans seem to like this salad.  Maybe it’s the parsley or the lemon or the red onion. . . .


Drain two cans of garbanzo beans and empty them into a bowl.  

Add about 1/2 cup slices of red onions, and about 1/2 cup slices of red pepper.  

Add 3/4 to one cup of fresh parsley leaves, whole or rough chop (but separated from stems.)  Season with salt and pepper.  

Then make a vinaigrette:  1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup lemon juice (or light vinegar), 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp garlic, 1/2 tsp sugar.

If you want to take this to a pot-luck or picnic,  you can take the vinaigrette along in a container, and add at the last minute so that the parsley stays crisp.

Photo by Randa Dubnick; all rights reserved.