It takes many a baker and cook in the kitchen during the holidays:
In my kitchen, I like to bake and cook with trusted friends. The kind that only speak or do when asked. My fiancee’s Aunt Pat is also a welcome friend in the kitchen. She’s super helpful, knowledgeable; and, she doesn’t distract or stress me out.
On Thanksgiving, The Pioneer Woman helped me brine and cook the turkey. Martha Stewart guided me through stuffing, green bean casserole, gingered nuts, pumpkin and pecan pies, and mashed potatoes – all from scratch. No canned mushrooms or onions, no bagged or boxed bread crumbs. The Tuck Shop‘s Roasted Brussel Sprouts recipe in my Chelsea Market Cookbook guided them to perfection. Butter instead of oil was key with those. If you consider yourself a foodie and have a chance to visit NYC, Chelsea Market is amazing.
Everything was from scratch, even my pie crusts.
Tears were shed cutting the enormous amount of shallots required for the green bean casserole and stuffing. During pie crust making my eyes almost overflowed with frustration tears. Have you ever done a homemade pie crust? The Zak Brown Band playing through my earbuds rescued me as they have many times before. It was too early for wine and company was coming.
Mixes and Pre-Made is Mostly Banned from my Kitchen
For most everything I’ve stopped using mixes. I don’t like buying pre-made either. Scanning ingredient lists is tedious. From everything I’ve heard and read, food preservatives preserve food and spoil humans.
On a package of Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix the ingredients listed are: enriched flour bleached (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, corn syrup, leavening (sodium aluminum phosphage, baking soda), salt, corn starch, artificial flavor.
What in the heck is artificial flavor?
My New Helpful Friend in the Kitchen: Tina Meseck, owner of Better for You Bakery
I’ve welcomed a new friend into the kitchen and her mixes: Tina Meseck, owner of Better for You Bakery. I met her at Feast. The mini chocolate cupcakes at her booth were delicious, gluten-free, and used applesauce to help cut some of the fat and refined sugars.
I decided to buy some of Better for You Bakery’s Sugar Cookie Mix for making holiday sugar cookie cut-outs.
The ingredient list: pure cane sugar, whole grain brown rice flour, tapioca flour, whole grain sorghum flour, powdered sugar (sugar, cornstarch), garbanzo bean flour, corn starch, potato starch, less than 2% of xanthan gum, baking powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate), salt (calcium silicate – an anti-caking agent, dextrose, potassium iodide).
What I love about the ingredient list:
- The ingredients are all findable.
- There’s no artificial flavor (again – what in the heck is that?)
- It’s free of the 8 major food allergens, so most anyone eating in our home can enjoy what I make from the mix. “There are some people who can’t eat all kinds of things. I’m not going to please every person out there.”
Also, I’ve met and talked with Tina. She is beyond passionate about creating foods that do no harm and that most everyone can consume. I trust her. #knowyourbaker #knowyourmaker
“No one needs to eat a bakery product. They’re not a health food and they should be delicious,” said Tina. “They can be better for a person.”
When Tina reads recipes she’s deconstructing and reconstructing them. “I’m looking at ingredients and seeing…Can I use something better? Do I have to use that much sugar? That much fat?”
I Made the Sugar Cookies Using Better for You Bakery’s Mix
In one night, I made two big batches of sugar cookies. One batch using Better for You Bakery’s Sugar Cookie Mix, another using Eleni’s Christmas Tree Sugar Cookie recipe from The Chelsea Market Cookbook. Both turned out great. I brought one of each out to my fiancee who was busy at work on his computer (or playing video games – jk he’s not a fan of video games). He liked them both equally. He did notice a difference in taste, but he couldn’t pick out which one was gluten-free. They were both great.
Reasons to Bake Gluten-Free in a Gluten House:
- From everything I’ve read, the jury seems to be out on whether or not gluten is bad for everyone. If something can taste just as delicious without gluten, I’d rather do without. One important caveat and a great point Tina made when we were talking, “If you’re thinking of going gluten-free be careful about what you choose to eat instead,” said Tina. “If you’re eating good whole wheat flour and you replace it with a product that is white rice and starches. You are not doing yourself any favors. Look at the label.”
- Being able to eat with all of my family and friends. We once hosted a dinner party and I had no idea that one of my fiancee’s friend couldn’t eat gluten. As luck would have it, almost everything we served was gluten-free. Thank goodness for grilling season and taco loving.
One of Tina’s goals with Better for You Bakery is to build inclusive relationships with food. “People are eating all by themselves, feeling isolated,” said Tina. “When you have food allergies, you’re the person who brings their own food, or is not eating at all. I don’t think I’ve found a person who doesn’t have a food allergy or know someone who does.”
Getting to Know Tina and Better for You Bakery a Little Bit Better
Better for You Bakery is in Jefferson, Iowa. It’s not your traditional stop and shop bakery and it’s not in a commercial building like one might expect.
Tina wanted to have a bigger impact than she felt she could through the stop and shop model. In it, there are limitations on how far one can reach. Commercial buildings in her small town needed a lot of work ($150,000 worth or more) to get them up to code and functional for what she wanted to do. To give her business a home, she bought a house, gutted it and worked with the state, changing it to fit her needs.
On her site, betterforyoubakery.net, Tina shares recipes and tips. Mixes can be ordered there. I can tell you from experience, she will e-mail you to check and make sure that your order has arrived safe and sound a few days after your purchase.
Tina listens to her customers
The idea to make mixes came from her customers. She thought it was a great idea. “It’s a win-win. The customer can bake whenever they want for a lot less money than they’d pay me to do it for them.”
She still creates ready-to-eat food like cinnamon rolls, pies, and more, baked and unbaked, for restaurants and grocery stores. Her business model allows customers to buy her food whenever they want. She can focus on baking.
Q: What keeps you passionate about your business?
A: Customers. Business is hard. You might have a hard day. You think something’s going to be awesome and you’re wrong.
It’s always, always the customers. It’s a fiercely loyal bunch. They’re so happy that it tastes like it’s supposed to. It’s different when you bake for people who can’t eat whatever they want. They remind me that it does really matter, it’s needed and appreciated.
With gluten baking you expect it to be good. With gluten-free baking the expectation is that it’s going to be terrible. (As this blogger can tell you, Tina’s baked goods taste AMAZING!)
Q: How did you develop the ability to alter recipes?
A: Growing up baking with grandparents. They baked from scratch, so you’re just used to baking from scratch and not being afraid to play. The most fun thing I do is change a recipe. I look at recipes all the time. I’m immediately deconstructing them. It’s just fun. Experimenting is fantastic fun.
Q: What advice do you have for someone new to altering recipes?
A: Just try it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe it doesn’t turn out. Maybe it does turn out. You created something. First, look at that sugar amount, look at that fat amount. Ask yourself, is it possible that this maybe has twice as much sugar in it than it needs and that I could cut back? What could I use in place of it? Pumpkin, banana; applesauce is pretty neutral. It doesn’t need to be high fructose.
Q: What are your thoughts on how to have good nutrition?
A: Moderation. Eat in moderation. Read food labels. You’ve got tons of choices in the grocery store. Choose a better choice. Choose a better product.
In the end…
As our conversation came to a close, Tina and I talked a little more about business and life perspective. There are some words she said that I absolutely love and have to share.
“At the end of the day, your integrity is all you have left. Your integrity should never be something that’s for sale,” said Tina. “It comes back to caring about the people you serve. If you do, you do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Some of that comes from spending a lot of time with grandparents. They’re wonderful teachers of integrity, morality and just caring about people.”
Note: I have the Gluten-Free Nut Blend at home. I’ve tried it. It’s delicious. I’m thinking of making granola bars with what I have left. I’m starting to substitute the Gluten Free All Purpose Flour for the regular stuff. So far, so good. I also have and will soon be baking with the Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix and the Gluten Free Italian Pizza Crust Mix. I’ll have results and reviews available as I give them a try.