MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Karen Ruckman-Robinson likes to cook and she likes to party. And holidays provide a perfect excuse to do both.
Recently, the Mercersburg, Pa., woman published a book compiling recipes and holiday crafts on 21 holidays and 10 seasonal celebrations, such as Super Bowl Sunday and summer.
She includes recipes for all parts of a meal, historical background on holidays, ideas for parties, three different Thanksgiving menus and much more.
Oh, yeah. And the recipes are all gluten free. Her book is "Celebrating Holidays Gluten-Free: An Invaluable Guide to Celebrating Holidays Gluten Free Year-Round."
Ruckman-Robinson emphasized that she developed her recipes to be good-tasting, not simply good for gluten-intolerant people.
"I tested these recipes on my son and myself and my family," Ruckman-Robinson said. "I'd make something and wouldn't tell them it was gluten free, and see if they noticed."
Ruckman-Robinson said she was happy when the recipes were a hit. Her mother's baker bought a copy of the book and made the apple crumb pie. Ruckman-Robinson said her nephews tasted the pie and declared to their father, "This pie is awesome."
People who cannot tolerate gluten typically must avoid wheat. This is often associated with celiac disease, but Ruckman-Robinson said she avoids gluten for other health reasons. This requires rejiggering recipes for breads, pies, cakes and other baked goods.
Ruckman-Robinson went into the process with a positive attitude. She aimed for simplicity and easy-to-find, locally available ingredients.
With Christmas just a few days off, Ruckman-Robinson sat down with The Herald-Mail to talk about her book and her recipes.
H-M: How many recipes are in the book?
Ruckman-Robinson: One hundred seventy-eight. The book is laid out month to month. It celebrates holidays. I think the biggest chapter is spring. It's my favorite season. The only holiday that is overlooked is Halloween.
H-M: How did you get started with this?
Ruckman-Robinson: I've had fibromyalgia since 1983. When I started reading about it, I saw how going on a gluten-free diet helped. For people with fibromyalgia and arthritis, eliminating gluten can lessen the pain. We like celebrating holidays, so I took recipes and changed them.
H-M: What do you use to make bread rise and avoid heaviness?
Ruckman-Robinson: I use rice flour, millet, sorghum flour, xanthan gum, potato flour. I call xanthan gum the glue. It provides the stickiness you need. Also, throughout the book, I use Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour.
(According to the website of Bob's Red Mill, the flour contains garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour and fava flour.)
H-M: So what guidelines did you follow as you compiled the cookbook?
Ruckman-Robinson: Simplicity is the main thing. These are (gluten-free versions of) old-time recipes. One thing I tried to do was everything (every recipe ingredient) is available in the area. In the recipes, I use brand names, like Hellmann's mayonnaise. (She said these are brands she knows are gluten-free).
H-M: What do you do to make breads rise?
Ruckman-Robinson: I only included a couple bread recipes. I did put some breads in there from Easter. They are dense. I didn't do any sandwich bread.
H-M: How long did it take you to put the book together?
Ruckman-Robinson: I have collected recipes since 1982. I've been working on this book for three years. I keep working on the recipes. The first try might not be the best try.
H-M: What substitutes do you suggest?
Ruckman-Robinson: If they're eating a lot of bread, find an alternative. I you eat a lot of sandwiches, try gluten-free bread. If you make a wrap, try using lettuce or a corn tortilla instead of a regular tortilla. If you're eating a lot of wheat products, try eating oat products. You can make gravy with cornstarch or arrowroot. Use more spices to flavor your food.
H-M: A lot of restaurants and grocery stores cater to people with gluten-free diets nowadays. Why cook at home?
Ruckman-Robinson: Just because there are restaurants out there that say they are gluten free doesn't mean they aren't cross contaminating. Someone may have handled your food who just handled bread. Some people can't tolerate any gluten. So I did a lot of cooking at home.
H-M: So is a gluten-free diet limited?
Ruckman-Robinson: (You can eat) fruits, vegetables and meats. Anything right from the animal is fine. The (factory-) processing is what adds gluten, like making baloney or glazing a ham. And you can eat almost any kind of nuts. For snacks, I'm big on dips with vegetables and fruits.
H-M: So you are saying it's not hard to cook gluten free.
Ruckman-Robinson: People say it's hard. It's not. I know people don't want to change what they're doing, but if they would think about what they're doing, (they could improve their health).
For one thing, shop around the perimeter of the grocery store, not in the middle, where the processed foods are. Making foods from scratch is the only way to be sure you're not cross contaminating your food.
Chocolate chip cookies
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup Domino Sugar (see cook's note)
3/4 cup firmly packed Domino Brown Sugar (see cook's note)
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon Arm & Hammer baking soda (see cook's note)
2 cups Good Sense walnuts, broken, optional (see cook's note)
2 cups Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate chips (see cook's note)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or grease pans slightly.
Beat butter until soft and fluffy. Add salt, vanilla and both sugars. Beat until smooth. Add eggs and beat.
In a separate bowl, combine both flours and baking soda. Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat at low speed. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, add remaining flour and beat thoroughly.
Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips. For best results, chill mixture for 2 hours.
Scoop dough into heaping tablespoon-sized balls and set 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Flatten balls to half inch thick. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until browned all over. These cookies should be crisp. Do not underbake.
Let baked cookies stand on cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
The uncooked batter freezes well. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
Cook's note: Karen Ruckman-Robinson specifies brand name ingredients in her recipes. Other products could be substituted, as long as the label says "gluten free." Ruckman-Robinson uses either light or dark brown sugar in this recipe.
— Courtesy of Karen Ruckman-Robinson
1 cup cooked pumpkin or Libby's canned pumpkin
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Grandma's Original Molasses
1 tablespoon ReaLemon juice
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine ingredients. Mix well.
Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until thickened.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
— Courtesy of Karen Ruckman-Robinson
1 8-ounce package Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Domino Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. Serve with fruit slices. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.
Makes about 1 cup.