Monday, April 20, 2015

Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts & A Giveaway!

After all of the Passover cooking, who doesn't have a renewed sense of appreciation for those who go all year round without gluten? While there are those who will be quick to say that 8 days isn't so bad and that they have their favorite Passover desserts/ recipes - maybe even a few they use year round - reaching for flour-filled cakes, cookies and bread after the holiday, is always welcome. Having the ability to only have to limit our flourless intake to eight days a year is a luxury!

Being the only one in my family who keeps kosher, I'm sensitive to having food available to meet any dietary requirement. It's such a central part of gatherings and truthfully, our heritage. I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have parents who are not only understanding but also super accommodating. They've gone above and beyond to provide M with a BBQ and always ensure we have what to make/eat when we arrive at their home for Sunday dinner. With Y a part of the party now, it's amazing to see the variety of snacks and treats my parents always have on hand for him. He never has to feel like he's missing out!

While planning Y's birthday I did my best to take into account that a few of our guests wouldn't be able to partake in most of the sweets. While there were fruit and veggie options on the table, what kid would enjoy going to a party where they couldn't have cake or candy while everyone else around them was? I was nervous to attempt to bake anything myself, with all the flour constantly floating around the kitchen, and it took having to search for delicious gluten-free kosher options, to realize the shortage of availability! In the end we made individual bags with plenty of candy, iced brownies from a local gluten-free bakery and more! My respect and admiration is endless for families that have this as a daily challenge.

Given all of this, you can imagine that when I opened Nicole Spiridakis' cookbook, Flourless I was blown away. Nicole herself is not gluten-free, but her sister in law does keep a gluten-free diet. Nicole became obsessed with the idea of naturally gluten-free recipes after exploring the idea that it's "often easier to make desserts that did not call for any wheat flour at all compared to those that incorporated a gluten-free flour substitute." Truth be told, that was also another reason I was hesitant to bake anything myself for our gluten-free family members. While recipes are plentiful and easy to find, those that didn't include complicated/ expensive/ hard to find flour blends or gums, were in short supply.


Nicole's cookbook is absolutely fantastic, and that's coming from someone who basically can't make it throughout the day without a baked good. I love that her cookbook is compiled of recipes that have easily accessible and inexpensive ingredients and don't require unfamiliar components to make gluten-free treats! Additionally, I think she makes an incredibly important point when she says that, "The main thing to keep in mind when creating flourless desserts is to not see them as substitutes for more traditional desserts... They're delicious in their own right."

This cookbook is wonderful in all regards. The writing is clear, heartfelt and you can't help but be inspired to give it a shot, regardless of how far outside your comfort zone flourless baking is. I love the dark tone of the images, and how they showcase respective recipes in clear, real, natural ways perfectly complimenting their inherent structure and qualities. The styling and arrangement is perfect. You really question how these muffins, cookies and more could be gluten-free!

That's right, I said muffins and cookies! Flourless holds within its pages recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Cookies, Puddings, Tarts, Candies and Confections among other treats. You're not limited to the soufflés and flourless chocolate cakes that all too frequently come up when you search for gluten-free recipes (although those are surely included as well!). Here you will find recipes for a flavorful Lemon Loaf, a delicious Apple Tea Cake with Maple Glaze and what will become your go to gluten-free Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies! The recipes are versatile, perfect for breakfast, dessert, to gift and more. You can bake them seasonally and enjoy summer picnic or Thanksgiving go to's, from berry pies to pumpkin bread (yes, bread!), or enjoy them year round. You'll also find bold flavors such as ginger, sesame, tahini, rosemary, pistachio and more, to expand your palette! The array of recipes goes above and beyond to provide you with a comprehensive collection of options that leaves you with plenty of inspiration, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the lack of availability to muffins and more.

Oatie Squares
Quick & simple to make, with easy to find, natural ingredients! A total hit here!
Given how inspired I was by this cookbook, and how great my appreciation is for families and individuals who face the task of altering their menu to comply with a gluten-free diet for any of a variety of reasons, I'm so excited to be able to share a giveaway for this cookbook, courtesy of the very generous Raincoast Books. You can enter below and I hope this cookbook brings plenty of inspiration and warm delicious delights into your kitchen and home! Good luck & enjoy!

Flourless Giveaway Contest Details/ Rules:
Open to Canadian residents. No purchase necessary. Skill-based question will be asked upon drawing winner's name. Prize is one (1) copy of Nicole Spiridakis' cookbook Flourless provided by Raincoast Books, approximate retail value of $38.95. Odds of winning are dependent on number of eligible entries received. Contest will run from Monday April 20th, 2015 until Sunday April 26th, 2015 at 12:00 am EST.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Even though it's officially Spring, it's still a bit chilly outside. Truthfully, I am not hot weather's biggest fan, so clinging on to cooler temperatures for a bit is welcome! Take me outside into the heat for more than 15 minutes and I become an itsy bitsy bit grumpy. Good thing I live in Canada where hot weather lasts approximately 1 week!

Last year was different. Y was born in January, during quite possibly the coldest winter ever. I mean we had an ice storm right before he was born. C'mon!  I can't even explain how worried I was that I was going to go into labor and be trapped in a storm. Yeah. Then he was born and let me tell you, there is nothing quite like having a colicky baby and being trapped in your apartment for 24 hour day cycles, with the risk of frost bite if you just want to get outside for a breath of fresh air. It sucked. A lot.

Then summer arrived and with it colic left. I'm making it sound significantly lighter than it was, but more on colic another time.

Basically, last Spring and Summer were more than just sticky days. It was freedom, and new adventures with our little boy!

As I reminisce about those warm, sunny days, I'm sharing a recipe that M & I would make for Shabbos pretty much every week when I was pregnant with Y. I was obsessed. I could not get enough of this salad - yeah salad. I skipped all those sweet cravings and opted for salad. For reals.

For years the only vegetables I'd eat were carrots or potatoes. And let me clarify... I'd only eat the carrots if they were baked into a cake or muffin, or if they were boiled the way my grandmother, Avo Ana, would make them. By the way when I say "for years" I mean up until, oh maybe... six years ago! But all of a sudden, pregnant me tolerated and actually liked spinach! The strawberries, vinaigrette & almonds could have something to do with it though...


I will admit, I used a store bought dressing *gasp.* In my defense it is pretty fantastic. I've never been very good at making dressings, they're always either too oily, not oily enough or just off. That and caramel, are two things to date, that this itsy bitsy balebusta has not been able to successfully make. Anyhow, M & I finally settled on a Tonelli raspberry vinaigrette after standing in the aisle at the grocery store for way too long. We had previously tried one other dressing which M accurately described as, "tastes like cardboard." We definitely had better luck with this one, I mean we literally wanted to add it to everything we ate! It's light, sweet and adds the perfect finishing touch! If you feel inclined to make your own, you can find a fantastic homemade variation over at Overtime Cook, where she shares her recipe for Raspberry Zinger Vinaigrette! I've substituted the raspberry tea for pomegranate tea (special Rosh HaShanah treat!) and it was great, so you're able to play around with it to suit your taste. If I can successfully make this vinaigrette, you most definitely can too!

So here's a fresh, healthy and colorful way to bring in Spring! I'll return to dessert recipes shortly, promise!

Strawberry Spinach Salad (Serves 4)

5 cups of flat leaf baby spinach (washed and checked, I usually refer to the Kof-K guide)
1 cup of sliced strawberries (again, checked using the Kof-K guide)
1/2 cucumber, sliced thinly
1/4 cup slivered almonds
vinaigrette of your choice
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Add ingredients to a large bowl and toss. Dress with vinaigrette after plating. Add sesame seeds after vinaigrette!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How To Plan A Stress Free Party Part 3: Decorations & Details!

I hope our previous post in the series, helped you with ideas for layout and general party set up! At the end of the series, I’ll provide a check list with all of the tips in one place as well as my prep schedule for the week leading up to the party!

Now for more fun stuff!

When it came to the decorations for the room, we tried our hand at making them ourselves! I really loved the way the display on the main table turned out and it was super simple and cost effective! Each month, M & I (struggled) to take a “month by month” picture of Y. We’d dress him up in a white onesie and jeans, and add a tie that read how many months old he was and seat him in the same chair. It started off super simple in the early days (about the only thing that was simple then, ha!), when he would just sit there and cooperate unknowingly, but towards month 7 he started attempting to eat the tie, jump off the chair and in general wreak havoc on the mini photo shoot! Regardless we got a picture each month, and the progression from baby to little boy over the 12 photos is unbelievable! I wanted to incorporate these photos into the party and decided that a backdrop on the head table, was the perfect way to do so! It wasn't difficult at all, and replaced the customary “Happy Birthday Banner” I assumed we’d use. It was definitely a more personal touch, and a conversation piece for guests as they approached the table. M loved hearing people debate which month and photo the transition from baby to little boy happened, and it was so interesting to hear everyone’s different opinions!


Basically, I took a large white project board and wrapped it in green wrapping paper. I had the month by month photos printed out as 4 x 6’s with a white boarder, and lined them up in two rows, months 1-6 and 7-12. Above these, using the same file we created for his invitations, I printed out three 8.5 x 11 sheets, reading, “Happy Birthday Mr. 1-derful” respectively. I cut them out into a wavy pattern and placed them above the images! Finally I came across this quote on Project Nursery's post and absolutely loved it, so I added a matching frame with the quote, right above the photos. It was the perfect personal touch to decorate the head table and replaced the need for decorations on the wall or a banner!

As I mentioned in part 2 of the series, the gift table also held a bib, that served as a guest book for Y's first birthday party! I originally saw this idea on the BLovely Events page (through Pinterest) who used a onesie at a baby shower in the same way. I was planning on first writing Y’s name on a onesie. I decided a My First Birthday onesie would be ideal, but searched with no luck. It wasn't until I came across this bib, in the clearance section, that I finally found a suitable piece! Other than packing it into the bag to take to the party, together with a box of markers, it left me with no work! It was a really easy addition, a great conversation piece and memento, and it was very cute to see how enthusiastic everyone was about signing it! We purchased a second one for Y to actually wear when we had cake, over his Birthday Boy t-shirt. That tee, a long-sleeve white onesie and a pair of jeans, completed his simple, comfortable, birthday outfit! 

On the table, alongside the bib, we placed two posters, outlining Y’s milestones over his first year. There is plenty of inspiration on Pinterest that can help you tailor this to your unique little one! I especially loved this one. On our poster, I added info about all of Y’s favorite things, from his favorite books, songs and foods, to all the things he can do (Wave! Give kisses! etc) as well as, all of the things he loves (walks, my parents dog etc). I created it on a chalkboard background from How to Nest for Less and downloaded chalkboard fonts from Where the Smiles Have Been, to complete the look! We then had it printed at our local Staples and laminated so that we could keep it and add it to his baby book (that I’ll finish one day!). 

Next to this, again using the same file we created for his invitation and the Happy Birthday banner on the board, I created a poster with all of Y’s firsts! I wrote the milestone in one font and the date/ month it happened underneath it in a different one. Everything from first smile, to first road trip, airplane ride, food, tooth, crawl and so on. I had kept track of these on my phone in a calendar and note over the course of the year and realized this would be a great way to get them all in one place! A quick scan of my private Instagram account also reminded me of a bunch of milestones (and luckily on the webpage – not on the app, the dates are listed underneath each picture!).

Both of these posters accompanied the bib “guest book” and like the board, were great conversation pieces. They also ensured the décor really reflected our little boy and all the many reasons we have to celebrate his first year!

A final small but effective addition to the décor, was the use of these place cards from Catch My Party. I used them to clarify what was dairy/dairy-free on the main table, one on the coloring table asking the kids to color in a sheet for Y and one on the gift table next to the bib reading, “We’re so happy that you’re here! Please sign Y’s bib to celebrate his first year!”. They were incredibly useful, and I brought along a bunch extra in case I thought of anywhere else I would need one. The pattern is also absolutely adorable and simple enough that it complemented the rest of the décor easily!

That’s all for the décor aspect of the series! If you have any questions feel free to email me (victoria@itsybitsybalebusta.com) or leave a comment below!

Next up… our menu and all the baked goods, sweets and snacks! Join us for the next part of the series coming up soon!