gluten-free Mexican hot chocolate cakes for Valentine’s Day

You all blow me away.

This past week has been extraordinary, for a number of small reasons. However, mostly it’s because my life has been imbued with your love stories.

Every day, I have been coming here to publish comments and ended up in tears. Happy tears, mind you. Your vulnerability, generosity, and humor has lifted me — and all the countless others who have been reading — out of these bleak mid-winter grey days.

(The sight above helped too. One of our neighbors down the road put a small red heart up on the grass so everyone could see it on the way into town. Valentine’s Day may be sold as a hokey holiday, but it’s really just a day to talk about love, unabashedly. This small gesture made my day.)

What I love most about all those stories you left in the comments is how quirky, individual, and unexpected every single love story is. Anyone who falls for the Hollywood-swoony version of romance is set up for disappointment. (“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” — William Shakespeare) When we open ourselves to something stumbly and imperfect, we’re changed.

Thank you to everyone who shared, so openly, your stories of love. I have heard from many people that you made their week brighter too.

If you have not gone over to the post and read all the love stories, make some time and sit down. Every single one of them is a gift.

I’ll be honest. When we first thought of asking for your love stories, we thought of it as a way to promote our cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. After all, it’s the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, right? We gathered other cookbooks, baking supplies, and books with great love stories. All to remind you that you should buy our cookbook.

You know what? We couldn’t do it. After reading the first day’s comments, Danny and I both agreed that choosing some at random and awarding prizes cheapened the whole thing. Your generosity was so astonishing that it would have felt tacky to give away stuff on top of this. We’ll find ways soon to share some good stuff.

For now, we want to just keep spreading this love. Here are some of the incredible blog posts people wrote in response to our call for love stories:

Our fabulous friend Irvin at Eat the Love told the story about he and AJ met, along with a recipe for Bourbon Caramel Rice Crispy Treats with Dark Chocolate

Diane at The Whole Gang wrote about meeting her terrific husband

Krystle at Krystle’s Karma tells the story of her imperfect love

Kylie of Thin Crust, Deep Dish tells the exhilarating story of her engagement

Gwen of Tea and Vino tells her hurricane love story

My dear friend Tamiko of Kiku Girl shares her love story with Josh, for babygirl C on the eve of kindergarten, and for babygirl M

Monique in Texas wanted to share this love story from No Greater Joy Mom

Elizabeth from Retinal Perspectives shares her love for her puppy

Not Ibid reminds us to cherish the person who appreciates us the most

Diana from No Rhyme or Reason writes about how they met, the wedding (part 1), and the wedding (part 2)

Diana Banana shares the joy of being with someone who pushes you to be as healthy as you can

My dear friend Brooke shares her kitchen love letters to her husband

Robyn from Pre-Sifted shares the beauty of someone making her grits

Allison of Your Every Color shares the details of her love

Niki of Life in Recipes writes about the calm contentment of true love

Emily of Revolving Mama writes about landing in love

Erin of Mysteries Internal writes about a simple act that reveals so much caring

Wonderful Jenn of The Whole Kitchen writes a love story in letters

Emily of Nomnivorous wrote a love letter to New York City

Lovely Allison of Sushi Day shares her love story with Son

The wonderful Smith Bites writes about her love, along with beer and quinoa pancakes

Thank you, all of you. Your generosity amazes me.

(And if you wrote a post, and I didn’t include it here, please let me know. I’ll add it in.)

Clearly, there are many ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

When I was younger and single, I could never have imagined that my favorite Valentine’s Day would involve making a mess in the kitchen with my daughter and eating cheese and crackers in the dark with my husband.

We had a power outage last night. The winds whipped around the house, howling, after torrential rain. Lu was asleep in her bed and I was sautéing onions on the stove for the oxtail potpie I was making Danny for dinner as a surprise. Without warning, the house went dark. I looked up, then went to the junk drawer to pull out the flashlight. I kept cooking, the flashlight tucked under my chin and aimed at the stove. The electric heater stayed on, fueled by battery at that point. All around us was darkness.

After I had sautéd the onions and garlic, I realized the oven wouldn’t work. No baking a pie without power. I set them aside, hoping for the lights to come on. Danny was at work, feeding a full house for the big romantic restaurant day. I couldn’t work on this blog post, which I intended to publish before Danny returned home. Without power, I could do no work.

I sat down to read, instead. It was my Valentine’s Day present to myself — time to read without worrying I should get up and do something else. I stretched out on the couch and read by the light of the fake fire in the corner. I miss this most of the time.

Danny came home. He had been working all day, hard, and he was hungry. I had nothing to feed him, at least nothing that I had planned. But we hugged and talked and kissed and laughed about how dark it was outside. And then I went to the refrigerator with the flashlight and found soft goat cheese, pepperoni, French feta. I pulled open the cupboards and found by memory the rice crackers, the almonds, the pears. I tumbled them all onto the coffee table. We shared one knife and had a picnic in the semi darkness, our legs touching, our hands both reaching.

We talked as we ate. And then we talked as we lay on the couch, my head on his chest. Our days are so full that we rarely have time to meander and wander through our memories. We talked about the first time we met, the easy comfortable coffee date in the middle of the day. We talked about those heady first dates, the both of us so grateful for the way we fell into each other’s lives. We talked about the myriad ways our days are different than those, how much we have helped each other grow, how grateful we are.

We ate little Mexican hot chocolate cakes for dessert.

And we talked about Lu. We laughed about that morning, when we were making muffins for her pre-school that day. (It’s our week to make snacks.) When I pulled out the scale and the flours, Lu looked at me and said, “How many grams flours, Mama?”

I started at her for a moment, amazed, then said, “350, my love. Let’s measure them together.”

She helped with everything: the tipping of flours into the bowl, the pouring of soy milk, the stirring with the spatula, the tasting. And when it came time to scoop muffin batter into the prepared tins, she grabbed the cookie scoop, put her hand on my arm, and carefully filled each hole with blueberry muffin batter. We cleaned up the mess later. That didn’t matter. We were together, the three of us (Danny taking photographs), baking in the morning.

That was the best Valentine’s Day present I’ve ever received.

GLUTEN-FREE MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE CAKES, adapted from the McCormick Gourmet recipe

The inspiration for making these came from the fact I couldn’t eat them. This happens often.

When I was at the McCormick spice weekend, the good folks there worked to make everything on the menu gluten-free. I so appreciate this. However, dessert the last meal involved these little Mexican hot chocolate cakes. Damn, they looked good. I didn’t suffer. They brought me Saigon cinnamon ice cream instead. I was happy.

And then, when I returned home, I converted this recipe.

They have a lovely taste: chocolate with just a bit of heat, enough to wake up your senses but not enough to make you sweat. (That’s really not so appealing on Valentine’s Day, right?) The texture? Danny took his first spoonful and said, “They’re marshmallowy.” Even if that’s not a word, it’s the right word.

Here’s the better news: these are not only gluten-free, but they are also egg free and can be dairy-free. Everyone should be able to celebrate love with something sweet.

40 grams sweet rice flour
35 grams teff flour
35 grams sorghum flour
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (we used the McCormick Gourmet one)
1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (again, we used the McCormick Gourmet one)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk (you can sub in soy or another alternative milk here. We used soy)
¼ cup oil (we used olive oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
boiling-hot water

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour 6 ramekins. (We use sweet rice flour for this, since it’s already in the recipe.)

Combining the dry ingredients. Mix the sweet rice flour, teff flour, and sorghum flour. Whisk them together to incorporate and aerate. Add 2/3 cup of the sugar, 4 tablespoons of the cocoa powder, baking powder, ancho chile powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk them together.

Finishing the cake batter. Pour in the milk, oil, and vanilla. (Don’t worry if the batter feels a little stiff.) Spoon the batter into the ramekins, filling them about 2/3 full.

Combine the remaining sugar and cocoa powder and sprinkle it evenly over the tops of the ramekins. (You might have a little left over. We did. Save it for some oatmeal the next morning.) Spoon 2 tablespoons of boiling-hot water into each ramekin. Do not stir.

Baking the cakes. Slide the ramekins into the oven. Bake until the water is fully absorbed and the tops are dry to the touch, about 20 to 30 minutes. (Keep checking. Each oven is different.) Pull the ramekins from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack before serving.

Top with whipped cream or ice cream. (We used Coconut Bliss chocolate here.)

Serves 6.

As an aside, the original recipe said this makes 8 ramekins. We found it only made 6. I don’t think we have particularly large ramekins! It might make more in your kitchen, so be aware.


sweet potato latkes, gluten-free

We have fallen in love with sweet potatoes lately.

Look at them, so humble and lovely, nestled against each other. Sweet potatoes don’t call attention to themselves, the way the blowzy red tomatoes of August demand our noticing them. Zucchini are vivid green, with stripes sometimes. The peppers blare so bright they can can hurt the eyes.

Sometime, in the mid-winter, I wish for all that color. However, when I look at these sweet potatoes, I remember this is the time of quiet, of plants laying dormant, of grey skies and windows that are cold to the touch from the inside.

Sweet potatoes in January are just the right bite.

Sweet potatoes present so many possibilities.

Last month, Danny made a sweet potato cheesecake with a cranberry-pecan crust. No dessert has ever sold so fast at the restaurant where he works now. (I’d say I want a bite right now, but I am so done with sweet things after the cookie extravaganza of December that I will politely decline.)

We love sweet potato puree with pumpkin, curried sweet potato gratin (oh the gratins of winter, with the edges bubbling brown against the casserole dish), and baked sweet potato fries. I could eat those every night these days, with a touch of smoked paprika and ginger. We have a recipe for boulangerie potatoes in our cookbookthat might be even better with sweet potatoes than with Yukon golds. I also want to try Heidi’s sweet potatoes with coconut milk and macadamia nuts, Amy’s sugar-free sweet potato ice cream sandwiches, and this intriguing caramel corn from Jessica that has honey, sweet potato puree, and flax seeds.

(Okay, maybe my sweet tooth is coming back.)

And parsnips. Oh, the parsnip is even more humble than the sweet potato. Does anyone sing the praises of parsnips? I will, in a small quiet voice.

That’s what the parsnip has — a small, quiet voice. It has a faint sweetness amidst the vegetal sturdiness of the root vegetable. Sipping a spoonful of soup and finding a honeyed note of parsnip amidst the louder flavors is like hearing a compliment from your quiet friend, the one who is always there but doesn’t say much. It’s such a kind surprise that you remember it for months.

Combine parsnips and sweet potatoes and you have humble sweetness.

The past few weeks, we have been making latkes.

I know, we’re late. In the first week of December, my Twitter feed was awash in latke recipes for Hannukah. Folks I respect made them every which way, including spicing them with peppers or throwing in brown butter. As much as I wanted to make every recipe, I was drowning in powdered sugar and cinnamon for cookie fest 2010. I had to wait.

Besides, the quiet of January is a perfect time for latkes. Who needs a holiday to celebrate these swirls of shredded potatoes and shallots?

It doesn’t take much time to make latkes. Peel some sweet potatoes and parsnips directly into a bowl of cold water. You can use the food processor or you can use a box grater and work on your biceps at the same time. Sway to some music — I have fallen under the spell of Keane again, along with Ted Leo’s Biomusicology. Let the shreds sit in the water to remove the starchiness both offer. Try to keep the kid from dipping a spoon into the bowl, thinking this is some delicious soup.

She can play with the shreds after you have dried them, however.

This is satisfying too, to take up all the wet bits of sweet potato and parsnip, swoop them into a kitchen towel and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until no more water drips from the bottom. This only takes a few moments. It’s worth it. You want latkes that crisp in the hot oil.

Next — and this might surprise you — grate in a few scrapings of fresh nutmeg.

Yes, nutmeg. It’s not just for holiday cookies, you know. In fact, a small amount of nutmeg — something like 1/8 teaspoon — in a savory dish lends a depth that you won’t find otherwise. Try a bit the next time you make pasta sauce or macaroni and cheese, then listen to everyone wonder just why your dish is so good.

Did you know that nutmeg was one of the spices for which Columbus was searching when he set sail from Spain? Or that it’s used in many Indian dishes? Of course, you probably think of nutmeg when you imagine desserts with cinnamon and ginger, but nutmeg also pairs well with cheese (especially ricotta), chicken, lamb, mushrooms, rice, and spinach. Plus, of course, all forms of potatoes, including sweet potatoes. (Thank you, Flavor Bible.)

If you’d like to learn more about spices and how to use them in your kitchen, we’d like to recommend Tony Hill’s wonderful book, The Spice Lover’s Guide to Herbs and Spices, as well as Monica Bhide’s helpful iPhone/iPad app, iSpice. Both are well-researched and particularly useful in the kitchen.

(This is our chance to announce that Danny and I have been chosen to be part of the McCormick Real Gourmets program. We’re happy to be joining some of our other favorite bloggers in this program — Jaden from Steamy Kitchen, Jenny from Picky Palate, and Nicole from Pinch My Salt — to learn more about spices and share what we’ve learned here with you. To be completely transparent, we are being paid by McCormick and we were sent a big batch of spices last week to try out in our kitchen. However, we regularly use McCormick spices, especially the Gourmet collection. They are available at our grocery store on the island. More and more, we want our recipes to use what is readily available to most of you. Once we got the confirmation that all the single-ingredient spices in the McCormick Gourmet line were gluten-free, we felt especially comfortable sharing this with you.

This week, I’m flying to Maryland for two days — leaving Lu for the first time! — to visit the McCormick kitchens. I’ll be looking in particular at their practices to avoid cross-contamination to make sure that everyone gluten-free feels comfortable using these spices.)

We like to grate our nutmeg fresh, for the strongest taste. That’s why the microplane gleams in this photo.

With the smell of fresh nutmeg in the air, we heated up grapeseed oil in the cast-iron skillet. Time to make some sweet potato latkes.

We think you will fall in love with these too.

p.s. You may have noticed some changes around here. We’ve been migrating this site from Blogger to WordPress. Did you notice that everything is in Garamond now? Or that you will now be able to print the recipes straight from the site? There are plenty of ways this place will be better for the change.

And thank you to the brilliant Thomas Dawson for doing this for us!

Be patient, however. We’re still in the midst of it. If you look at the recipe index, you’ll see there are better categories! And photos! But I have to go through all 667 posts and put categories on them before that will be complete. Give me some time. If you are looking for a specific recipe, such as biscuits, go to your favorite search engine and plug in “gluten-free girl biscuits.” Soon, you can just search here.


Once you have grated the sweet potatoes and parsnips and squeezed and grated some nutmeg, pull out some yogurt. Guess what! You don’t have to use eggs to make these latkes. And if you can’t eat cow’s milk, try the yogurt you can eat here. (I think a coconut milk yogurt might be particularly good. You only need 3 tablespoons, after all.) You just need a binder, a little protein, to hold together the latkes. Frankly, we found out that yogurt works because we ran out of eggs before making the latkes for photographs yesterday.

It’s a new year. Why not eat something for breakfast that is healthy, easy to make, gluten-free, egg-free, and potentially dairy-free?

If that sounds like a mouthful, all you need to know is this: these latkes are a gracious surprise in the morning.

1 large sweet potato, peeled
1 or 2 large parsnips, peeled
2 large shallots, peeled
1/8 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (the McCormick dried thyme works well)
3 heaping tablespoons yogurt (use full-fat and the kind you like)
60 grams (about 1/3 cup) potato starch
kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Grating the sweet potato and parsnips. Grate the sweet potato and parsnips into a large bowl of cold water. Let them sit for a few moments to release their starches. Unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes are not particularly starchy, so you won’t have much starch remaining at the bottom of the bowl in the end. However, you want to remove whatever starch you can.

Squeezing out the water. Grab a kitchen towel, or paper towels, and put it over a colander. Scoop the shredded sweet potatoes and parsnips into the towel with a slotted spoon. After you have moved them all over, grab the kitchen towel, close it up at the top, and squeeze all the water from the vegetables over the kitchen sink. Keep squeezing until the sweet potato and parsnip shreds are dry. Transfer them to a large bowl.

Finishing the latke batter. Grate the shallots into the sweet potato bowl. Add the nutmeg, thyme, and yogurt and mix it all up with your hands. Pour in the potato starch and toss everything together. You want the mixture to cohere without being starchy or clumpy. Season it with salt and pepper.

Making a taster. Set a large cast-iron skillet (or similar heavy-bottomed pan) over medium-high heat. Pour the grapeseed oil into the hot pan. (Move the kids out of the kitchen.) Grab 1 tablespoon of the latke batter and put it in the hot oil, gently. Cook until both sides are browned, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow the tiny latke to cool, then taste it. Did it fall apart in the pan? Add more starch. Does it need more seasoning? Add that.

Cooking the latkes. When you have the latkes the way you want them, turn the burner onto medium-high heat again. When the oil is hot, add 1/4 cup of the latke batter at a time, pressing down on the top when it is in the pan. Do not crowd the pan. We put in 3 latkes at a time. Allow the bottoms to brown, about 3 minutes, and carefully turn the latkes over, cooking for about 3 minutes. Be careful to avoid oil splatters. Remove the latkes from the pan when they are as browned as you wish.

Continue cooking the rest of the latkes. Sit down to eat.

Makes 8 latkes.


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