Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Happy (Gluten-Free) Birthday

My birthday was a couple weeks ago and I had a party at my place. I considered serving a sit down dinner, but when the guest list swelled to 20, I knew I'd have to switch gears. I also had some guests with additional food restrictions to contend with, including dairy, vinegar, sugar, yeast, as well as one guest with anaphylactic salmon and Brazil nut allergies. I learned a few things in the process of hosting this shindig, so am here to share. 

Thing #1: There's no need to cook everything yourself.  

I opted to cook one dish (quiche) and buy or assemble (see: guac) everything else. I live in a food mecca; seemed a shame not to take advantage of that. 

The menu: 

Spinach feta kalamata quiches 
A selection of great cheeses, including my favorite, boucheron
Quince paste
Guac and chips
Baba ganouj and hummus (from Sahadi's)
Feta za'atar dip (from Trader Joe's, of all places - runaway favorite savory thing at the party)
Sesame rice crackers
Lentil crackers (from Mediterranean Snacks. So good - the Gluten Eaters couldn't believe they were GF)

Some of the goods

Dairy fat close-up:

Delectable cheeses on my GF board (a wonderful gift I received a couple of years ago and use all the time)

The one savory thing I cooked:

One of the quiches 

Thing #2: It's not your job to make every menu item meet every person's dietary restrictions/choices.

I have a few guidelines for when I host friends:

(1) If I invite you over for a small dinner party, say 4-6 people, most of the menu will meet your dietary restrictions/choices (i.e. if I ask three dairy-free vegetarians over, I won't serve meat lasagne.)

(2) For larger gatherings, like my birthday party, I will make sure there is at least one dish you can eat. With so many people, I focus on medically necessary dietary restrictions, in this case: celiac, lactose intolerance, and the severe nut and fish allergies.

(3) Whatever the occasion, once I finalize the menu, I send an email to anyone with food restrictions to let them know what I'll be serving. This way they can assess whether they need to eat beforehand and/or bring a dish to share. (I try to send this out >24 hours in advance.)

Personally, I like to know the menu ahead of time when I'm a guest so I can bring a GF something or eat a dish similar to what they're serving - helps to quell cravings.


And now, the cakes.

A GF cake big enough to feed 20 people would have been insanely expensive to buy and I've been disappointed in the birthday cakes I've had from local GF bakeries, so I opted to bake at home. I used to be an excellent baker in my pre-celiac days, but I just have zero interest in from-scratch GF baking. So I bought two mixes, the yellow and chocolate cake mixes from Pamela's. (Both are dairy-free, btw, though I added tons of dairy to the finished product.) My MO when I have to bake now is to use a mix, but doctor it up with high quality fillings, frostings, etc.

Thing #3: Make the cake ahead of time. (No, really.)

I knew I didn't want to make two cakes the day of the party, so I baked the four layers off three days ahead, flash froze them (see Smitten Kitchen for tips), and took them out the morning of, about an hour before assembly. I made my fillings and frostings and then sliced each layer in half. I was stunned at how easy it was to do when they were semi-frozen! Clean cuts, (relatively) even layers, and no broken pieces. I filled, frosted, and popped those babies into the fridge until the guests arrived. A couple of hours out at room temp gave the frosting and filling plenty of time to soften up. The results:

Texas Italian Cream cake

Chocolate sour cream cake with brandied ganache 

In short, a small dairy fat festival in my kitchen (and arteries). The Texas Italian Cream is an old favorite - coconut cake with nuts, lemon cream cheese frosting, and a coconut dusting. but I didn't love it with this particular cake mix; came out a bit gummy and dry. The chocolate, on the other hand, was slammin'. I added sour cream to the cake and used Guittard bittersweet chocolate to make a ganache, reserving half, and adding brandy to the remainder. I used the brandied ganache as a filling and whipped the rest until stiff enough to frost. It was the runaway favorite of the night, prompting some "I can't believe this is gluten-free" comments from some Gluten Eaters, a sure sign of success.

Since there's little sadder than everyone having cake but you, I snagged delicious DF/GF tarts in flavors similar to that of the cakes for my dairy-free friends:

Tasty GF/DF tarts

In the end: One of the most fun birthdays I've had in years. Low on stress, as all the food was prepped ahead of time and I wasn't stuck in the kitchen all night. I highly recommend keeping it simple and not stressing over store bought vs. homemade. Make what you're good at and buy the rest. Oh, and ain't no shame in using a cake mix, no matter what Pinterest and Twitter tell you.

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