2.28.2010

think healthy thoughts


Would you believe, based on this blog, that I was raised a really healthy eater? As in, lots of macrobiotic-vegetarian-type fare, no refined sugars, and whole grains everywhere? And that I still eat that way quite often?

I didn't think so.

But it's true. Just ask my aunt, who got in trouble for giving me ice cream on a really hot summer day. Or the boy in kindergarten, whose offer of a lollipop I sadly declined, because I was too afraid to eat sugar, even out of my mother's view. Or all the kids in grade school, who made fun of my brown bag lunches, packed as they were with natural, organic sodas (which were a very special treat for us!), fruit leathers, raw veggies, and whole wheat bread. My grandmother used to (gently) make fun of my sisters and I for eating - and loving - tofu, or "toad food" as she liked to call it. We had an organic vegetable garden and were members of a food co-op long before any of that was even remotely trendy.

You may have guessed it by now - I'm the child of back-to-the-land hippies. And that provenance is one I'm eternally thankful for, because without that early imprinting of healthy eating habits, I'd have nothing today against which to balance my raging love of sugar. So whenever it occurs to me that maybe I've been giving in to my sweet tooth a little too often, my own personal "cleanse" involves lots of tofu/veggie/brown rice stir-fries, beans and rice, and lentil soup. Which essentially means we eat like this at least once, and usually more like two or three times a week.

But really, who can find fault with dinners like that? I know they're good for me (when your body's screaming for kale and tamari, it behooves you to listen to it), but they're also setting my kids up on the same firm ground I was raised on. Ever since Kalen was old enough to request specific foods, one of his favorite dinners has always been tofu stir-fry ("peas-tofu-tamari-rice-chicken" is his standard plea). And Wylie gets excited, genuinely excited, every time I open up a package of tofu. Often I don't get to put much of it in our dinner, because the boys snatch it all off the cutting board before I can get in into the pan.

I get that this might make my family seem weird to most (what is this obsession with tofu?), but it's a weirdness I love, and will continue to cultivate. But there's another weirdness, or, more accurately, contradiction, that I'm just now realizing is also part of my family's culinary legacy: I am not alone in my craving for sweets. I just don't hide it from my kids as well as my parents did.

Both of my parents love chocolate, in all its forms. Ice cream is another big weakness. And I'm pretty sure that every single time there is apple pie in the house, my mother has it for breakfast. But, when I think about it, I don't remember sweet treats being an everyday occurrence for any of us. In fact, my memory of only being allowed small quantities of sugarless (honey-sweetened! nothing artificial!) treats is much stronger than that of any white sugar indulgences we may have had.

However, now that I've grown up, I think I'm on to the truth of the matter: Mom and Dad were probably eating their fair share of junk food, just not so blatantly. Which was apparently wise of them, seeing as I never caught on to the double-standard. Now that they're officially Empty Nesters, though, it's interesting to visit and see all sorts of things in the cupboards we were never allowed to have as kids. Was it all always there? Is there a secret hiding spot we girls never knew about? What were we missing out on?

No, seriously, they made the right choices with what they fed us. The real question is: should I be making sweets more hidden, more off-limits in my own home? Is it better to be faced regularly with temptation, through which you (hopefully) learn moderation, or is "out of sight, out of mind" the healthier mantra? And do I even have the willpower to explore this beyond the world of words? (Well, we can all pretty accurately answer that last one. Ahem.) But still, even as I'm actively teaching my kids about all the health benefits of good, wholesome, unprocessed foods, I know it's important to think about what sorts of silent messages I may also be sending them. I'm curious to know what others think about this, both from the child's and parent's perspective. Has anyone found the perfect balance?

It's something I'm going to keep thinking about over lunch. Which would be apple pie, with a side of cheddar. I am my mother's daughter, after all.


Simply Perfect Apple Pie
This pie is from In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley. Which is one of my favorite pastry cookbooks, and it always baffles me that more people don't know about it. So here's my completely biased plug for it: if you love to bake, you need to own this cookbook. The pages upon pages of techniques, ingredient explanations, and charts alone make it worth the purchase. And the exquisite recipes push it over the top into the realm of Classic Culinary Tome. Buy it, buy it, buy it. But first, make pie.

1 double recipe gluten-free pastry crust (go here for my single-crust version), separated into two uneven discs and chilled

3 pounds Northern Spy apples, or other tart cooking apple
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
5 tsp cornstarch

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp milk

Additional granulated or sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the two discs of dough from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you want to roll them out, to allow them to soften a bit. Take the larger disc and roll it out into a circle with a diameter of about 12-inches. Now, depending on what gf pastry crust recipe you're using, different techniques will work better than others for rolling it out. For me, I find that rolling the dough out on a piece of parchment works best. I don't flour the parchment, but I do dust the top of the dough with gf flour mix when rolling it out. Ease the dough into a deep 9-inch glass pie plate (I pick it up by the parchment, then invert it, peel off the parchment, and ease/patch it into place). Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until needed. Roll out the other portion of dough between two sheets of parchment to a circle just larger than the top of the pie plate. Keeping the dough between the parchment, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate as well.

Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples and place them in a large mixing bowl. (Ms. Daley reminds us that the thinner the fruit, the more you can fit in the pie, and thus the thicker and denser your filling will be. All good.) Sprinkle the apples with the lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Sift the cornstarch over this mixture and stir with a small whisk or a fork until everything is well blended. Add the sugar mixture to the apples and toss to coat well. Let the apples sit for 3 to 5 minutes; if there seems to be a great deal of juice, add an extra teaspoon of cornstarch and toss to distribute it evenly. Take the lined pie plate out of the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and spoon the apples and their juices into the shell, pressing gently on each spoonful to pack the apples in as tightly as possible. Mound the filling slightly in the center and take care not to get any filling or juice on the edges of the shell.

Brush the edges of the shell with the beaten egg. Remove the other pastry circle from the refrigerator and peel off the top piece of parchment. Invert the bottom piece of paper over the pie, centering it as you do so, and settle the pastry onto the filling. Peel off the parchment and gently press the top pastry onto the filling, easing out any air bubbles, then press around the edges to seal. Again, depending on your crust recipe, you may find yourself doing more patching than easing and pressing. When I made my apple pie, my top crust got so warm (note to self: don't work next to the oven!) that it was almost melting under my fingertips. One section fell apart, and only sort-of went back together. But, as you can see from the photos it all turned out fine, and even those cracked and patched sections of crust were still super flaky and delicious. So don't stress it. Trim the excess pastry with a very sharp knife and crimp the edges of the shell decoratively if desired. Mix the milk with the remaining beaten egg and brush over the entire surface of the pie. With a sharp knife, make three or four long slits in the top to allow steam to escape, and sprinkle the surface of the pie with 1/2 to 1 Tbsp of granulated or sanding sugar.

Place the pie plate on a baking sheet to catch any drips and turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Bake the pie for 50 minutes to 1 hour (my pies usually take closer to 75 minutes), or until the crust is a lovely golden-brown and the filling can be seen bubbling up between the slits in the pastry. If parts of the crust seem to be darkening too quickly, cover those areas with a bit of foil; this will prevent them from scorching. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.

This pie can be stored at room temp, lightly covered, for up to 3 days. Reheat in a preheated 300 degree oven for 15 to 25 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

2.25.2010

take two


Seeing as my last post was all about comfort food, I thought now I'd be moving on to the recipe for the cake in my banner. Or, speaking of cake, maybe I would backtrack a bit and give you the recipe for the delicious Black Forest cake I made for my birthday. But no, we're sticking with the comfort theme for another day. Because I was recently reminded that I'm not the only one who is comforted by food when they've been sick: Kalen's thoughts have been turning back to food (after a heartbreaking "I never want to eat food again!" comment during his own bout with the flu), and it's been interesting and charming to listen to him count off his favorite foods, and make requests at the most random moments. He likes, in no particular order, pasta carbonara, popcorn, milk, honey, bacon, french fries, candy, peanut butter, oatmeal, and pancakes. Not the healthiest list, for sure, but since he'll eat almost anything I give him, I'll let him have it. Especially since he woke up in the middle of the night recently and asked me, "Mom? When can we make muffins again?" Any boy who dreams of baking is clearly my son!

So of course, first thing upon waking, we fired up the oven and made blueberry muffins. Food promises are important to keep, even ones made when you're groggy and not really aware of what you're saying. It was a rainy, stormy morning, and baking was a nice way to ease all of us into the day. We sang The Muffin Man song (with some of our own lyrics - much more fun that way), and later even made up a story about said Man. And oh my, it really did warm my heart to witness Kalen getting excited about eating again. ("Mmmm! They . . . smell . . . yummy!")

However, lest you start to think I am That Mother, I did make him eat some probiotic yogurt first, because, truth to tell, these muffins are closer to cake than healthy breakfast food, even with the wild blueberries in them. You know how diet-types are always warning you not to buy those huge bakery muffins, saying they're worse for you than, say, a croissant? (Which they are.) Well, these muffins are no different, except that I make them a normal size. So maybe they're only as bad for you as a croissant, with a little extra point for them from the blueberry-antioxidant boost. But still, don't eat only muffins for breakfast. Or if you do, don't do it in front of the kids.

I had an elaborate photo shoot planned, a from-all-angles-and-with-various-props extravaganza, so that I'd have lots of scrumptious images of muffins for you to drool over. I got off one test shot, and the next time I looked through the viewfinder, instead of a muffin I saw a chubby, dimpled hand squishing my muffin. So rather than muffins in all their glory, you get to see one very happy toddler enjoying his stolen treat. What can I say? They're irresistible.






Gluten-Free Muffins
Yields 12 normal-sized muffins - you really don't need them any bigger!

Josh stopped by a local coffee shop the other morning, and happened to pick up a muffin. He then called me from the road to say he forgets how spoiled he is at home by all the delicious baked goods I make, and how rudely he was reminded of it by the very un-deliciousness of the muffin in his hand. I was flattered. And I think it means more people need to be making really delicious muffins. So, go forth and spoil your family!

56 grams unsalted butter, room temp.
225 grams sugar
56 grams canola oil
105 grams eggs, room temp. (put them in a bowl of warm water if they're straight from the fridge)
113 grams buttermilk (I really can't recommend Kate's enough!)
7 grams vanilla
133 grams gf pastry flour mix (see this post for the recipe)
133 grams gf all-purpose flour mix (see this post for the recipe)
1 tsp xanthan gum
7 grams baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
several handfuls (really - I just eye-ball it) of blueberries, or raspberries, or chopped apples, or chopped pears . . . whatever sounds good at the moment! Heck, just admit these are cake and throw in chocolate chips, and have them for dessert.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups. (Side note: have you seen these? Do you realize how easy it is to make your own out of parchment? What would we ever do without Martha?)

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Combine the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla (I use a liquid measuring cup - less splashing around) and mix lightly. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. (There's not enough butter to really 'cream,' so just get everything blended well and lightened.)

Add the oil mixture in three additions, beating well and scraping the bowl after each one. It should be pretty soupy now.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until well-blended.

Stir in your fruit of choice by hand, adding enough to make the muffins as chock-full as you like them. Isn't it fun to be in charge?

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until nicely browned and a tester comes out clean. Try to let them cool before eating. You don't want all those chocolate chips dripping down your chin, now do you?

2.21.2010

unintended consequences


I was sick. So I made a chicken pot pie.

Now, this might not sound like the most logical course of events, but let me explain. Becoming an adult does not remove the desire to be comforted when you're ill. (Although it does seem to decrease the odds of that desire being fulfilled. Oh well. Moving on.) So, once the illness fades and you're left with more of a memory of that illness and it's accompanying comfort-desire, but you're now in a position to meet your own needs again without complaining (and assuming that you're human and thus need to eat), it is only logical that making comfort foods feels like the right act to bridge the abyss between sick and well. And what, pray tell, screams louder of comfort than a homemade chicken pot pie?

Well, actually, having now made one, I can say definitively that while the scent, flavor, and experience of eating chicken pot pie is quite comforting, the actual making-from-complete-scratch of it is NOT. It was an in-and-out-of-the-kitchen-all-day process for me, with a big burst of intense activity near the finish line, and the end result being a delicious, but hour-late, dinner. And that was starting with already-roasted chicken from the previous night's dinner.

What was I thinking? Obviously, I was not as well as I thought. Surely only a feverish woman would have the lack of clarity to read a recipe that clearly states it's a long, involved process - hence no one making it anymore - and decide that it would be fun to "throw one together" for dinner. To begin with, there was the issue of chicken stock - I had none, so first had to make a mock one with the giblets I had thankfully saved the night before. Then there was the part about having to cook the vegetables before mixing them into the sauce. And the sauce itself? It was, of course, based on a roux, something I had no prior experience with using gluten-free flours. Oh, and I needed something to cover the whole lot with. I wanted a pastry crust, but not one like my most recent attempt, which was closer to a mock whole wheat crust. (Which has it's uses, but not, I decided, on top of my idealized chicken pot pie.) I wanted it to be lightly golden brown, with the flaky layers I associate with the pie crusts I used to make, pre-gluten-free. I didn't know how to make that happen. So you might say there was a bit for me to contend with.

But you know what? It was worth every effort. Firstly, because dinner that night (and the next) was just what I was hoping for: pure, old-fashioned comfort food that really tasted good. (The roux worked perfectly, by the way, with a 1:1 substitution of my all-purpose gf mix.) Secondly, and more importantly, because somewhere in the hectic-ness of the day, I managed to perform a magic trick. A very important magic trick.

I made the gluten-free pie crust of my dreams.

Honestly, this thing was the stuff of fantasies - really buttery, layer-upon-layer of pie crust fantasies. (What? You don't have such thoughts about pie crust? Who are you?) Well, if you're anything like me, this next photo is going to be food porn for you. Go ahead, ogle it for a good long while. I won't tell.


Do you see? Do you see? Those layers! Those flaky pockets of buttery joy! That beautiful white-into-bronze color! Would you ever in a million years look at that and believe it was gluten-free? Neither would I. And if I hadn't made it myself, I'd assume it was a hoax.

Instead, I'm here to shout from the rooftops (do we have roofs in cyberspace?) that this crust is the real deal. Tender and flaky, and delicious to boot. And it's easy to make (although the method is unusual), and even the ingredients are just basic pantry items for a gluten-free baker. I don't know what made me decide that cream cheese was the missing ingredient in all my other gf crusts, but for some reason I clung to that thought until I could find a good cream cheese pastry recipe to convert. I didn't have to look long - it was sitting on the bookshelf, in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible. The only change I would make - and really, I'm just being nit-picky here, because this recipe is close to perfect - would be to leave out the vinegar she calls for. The reasoning being that there is no gluten in my version that needs tenderizing (vinegar's purpose in the original recipe), and it lends the crust just a hint of tang that I think in a sweet application would be a bit odd. On pot pie, though, it was fabulous. Literally, the crowning glory. It was so good, I'm still dreaming about it.

So, needless to say, I may be on a pie-baking kick for a while. I've got lots of frozen fruit stashed away that Josh has been urging me to use up, plus I have only begun to explore the world of savory pies. And then there are quiches. And tarts. And crostatas. Oh my. I can't wait.

Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible
Yields enough for a 9-inch pie shell, or a 9 1/2- or 10-by 1-inch tart shell


6 Tbsp/90 grams unsalted butter, cold
1 cup/134 grams gf pastry flour mix (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/8 tsp salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup (2.25 ounces) cream cheese, cold
2 1/2 Tbsp ice water

To make:
Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Place the flour, xanthan gum, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. (Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to make the recipe in two batches if you decide to double it.) Set the bag aside.

Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of a pea. (Toss with a fork to see it better.) Remove the cover and add the water. Pulse until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together. Spoon it into the plastic bag. (If you double the recipe for a double-crust pie, it is easiest to divide the mixture in half at this point.)

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag, with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece.

Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs) and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight.

Store:
Refrigerated, up to 2 days; frozen, up to 3 months.

To roll out:
Place the disc of cold dough on a large piece of parchment paper. Dust lightly with gf flour (I used sweet rice flour, since it's so fine), and gently roll out into a circle with a diameter of about 11-12 inches. If you find the dough to be too sticky, cover it with another piece of parchment and roll it out that way. If it cracks a bit, just press it together with your fingertips - don't worry, this dough can handle a bit of wrangling! When it's the right size, pick it up, parchment and all, and invert it into your pie plate (or over your pot pie, as the case may be), then peel off the parchment and gently ease the dough into place. Again, any cracks or breaks can be pushed back together. This dough tastes really good by itself, so when you trim the edges, you may want to save those scraps and bake them off for a little snack. Treat yourself.


Fill and bake according to directions for whatever recipe you're following (I usually bake at 350º for tarts, galettes, and other single-crust items, and 425º for double-crust pies), covering crust with foil midway through baking if it looks like it's getting too dark, too quickly.


Tara's Gluten-Free Pastry Flour Mix

2 parts white rice flour, as finely-milled as you can get (I use Bob's Red Mill)
2/3 part potato starch
1/3 part tapioca starch

Blend well with a whisk, in whatever quantity is right for you, and store in a cool, dry place or refrigerate it.

2.18.2010

to the brink and back again

Ugh.

There hasn't been much going on around here, food-wise, for the past few days. Entirely my fault, in a roundabout, not-really-my-fault-at-all sort of way. You see, I've been suffering what apparently has been a lovely bout of food poisoning. (Are we supposed to call it "food-borne illness" now? A little less accusatory?) Whatever you call it, it has felt horrid.

A yummy (but evidently toxic) dinner of take-out Monday was followed by an evening of feeling not quite right. (I blamed it on the too-big mug of hot chocolate I consumed before bed.) Tuesday had me feeling increasingly sick, and by the time Josh got home from the restaurant after midnight, I was curled up on the floor in the bathroom, trying to stay lucid enough to listen to the baby monitor. My body turned against me quite violently, as bodies are wont to do in these sorts of situations, and I assumed that was that and I'd be better in the morning. Not so. Now, by Thursday evening, I have finally felt well enough to eat a real meal (albeit a small, fairly bland one) and am actually awake past 7:30pm. A big change, let me tell you. Is it too much now to hope that I'll be back to normal again by tomorrow?

The thing about being sick when you're also a parent is that you don't get to take sick days. Laying in bed with a cup of tea and napping? Those are luxuries not seen around these parts in ages. Children still need to be fed, messes need cleaning up, and there are the general attempts at keeping everyone happily occupied all day when the last thing you want to do is get out of your chair. All of this requires energy, something in short supply when you have no appetite and are plagued with a constant stomachache. If I was a gluten-eater, I probably would have solved this problem by munching my way through the box of saltines that Josh and Kalen keep insisting they need in the house.

As we know, I am not a gluten-eater. However, during Monday's pre-illness hours, I did bake off the last loaf of gf boule from my most recent batch of dough. This loaf of bread is what has gotten me through these past few days. I've been living on toast, with just a bit of butter and some salt sprinkled over it. It's been the only thing that remotely appealed to me, in the mornings when I could barely get out of bed, and in the afternoons when the thought of preparing dinner filled me with dread.


Oh, gluten-free crusty boule, I loved you before, in an extravagant, "isn't it fun to be eating 'real' bread again?" sort of way, but now I appreciate you so, so much more. That's how it always is, right? When things get tough, that which we turn to - that which literally or figuratively sustains us - becomes something to be truly grateful for. And I really am grateful. Grateful for the timing of that fresh-baked loaf when I needed it most. Grateful that my alterations of the recipe resulted in something that I love more than the original. Grateful that I even stumbled across the original recipe in the first place. And grateful that, as I'm nearing the end of this illness, I still have some bread left, to enjoy in more inspired ways very soon.

The changes that I made to the original recipe are minimal, but really affected the final outcome, to my taste at least. I was a bit put-off by the strong flavor of the sorghum flour in the original, which made it seem closer to a sourdough rather than an all-purpose bread to me. Also, the texture was just a bit too tacky (even when completely cooled), and reminded me of so many other gluten-free breads I've tried and rejected. Happily, it didn't take much to fix these issues. By replacing some of the tapioca starch with potato starch, and some of the sorghum with gf oat flour, this bread really, really works for me. I can cut a slice off a day-old loaf and eat it plain, untoasted, and truly enjoy the texture and flavor, which I think is the ultimate test for gluten-free bread. (As any gluten-free eater will tell you, most gf breads need to be toasted to be really palatable. Which is not a great selling point, in my opinion.)

The only other real change from the original is that I measured all the dry ingredients out by weight, to make baking easier and more accurate. But the method (mixing, storing, and baking) remain the same. So I'm only posting the updated ingredient list here, as you can still go off the instructions in my earlier post. And, as a side-note, I also used this dough several times for pizza, and it came out fantastic. I didn't weigh it out, just glopped some onto an oiled and cornmeal-dusted sheet tray, and used an off-set spatula to spread it out. Let it sit, covered, for about an hour, then baked in a hot oven (400 degrees? I can't remember that part) for about 20 minutes, pulled it out, topped it, and back into the oven until the cheese was nicely browned. We loved it.


Updated Gluten-Free Crusty Boule Ingredients

300 grams brown rice flour
86 grams sorghum flour
65 grams gf oat flour (I grind my own in a coffee grinder)
256 grams tapioca starch
158 grams potato starch
24 grams active dry yeast
10 grams kosher salt
19 grams xanthan gum
2 2/3 fluid cups lukewarm water
4 large eggs, whisked together
1/3 fluid cup canola or olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
super-fine sweet rice flour, for dusting

2.15.2010

just another sunday


That is, if your ordinary Sundays include lots of hearts, chocolate, cookies from friends, and a new, beautiful, handmade centerpiece. If so, lucky you to live such a charmed life!

But, for the rest of us commoners, it was Valentine's Day. Which, I realize, is a love-it-or-hate-it sort of holiday for most people (I've always been a bit ambivalent towards it myself). But as a food-lover, it is a great excuse to shower everyone around me with extra-special goodies, and the older I've gotten, the more I've found myself embracing the day. Also, now that I've got a husband and kids, going out of my way to express love doesn't feel quite so artificial and forced as it used to. Because there's nothing wrong with a little heartfelt gesture every now and then, right?


So we marked the day with some breakfast symbolism (as Kalen likes to remind us, "Hearts are for love"), a mid-day snack of ultra-rich hot chocolate with whipped cream, a box of fancy bonbons, and delicious homemade pizza for dinner (using my latest version of gf crusty boule dough as a base - more on that another time!). It was all delicious, and - in our family, at least - the perfect way to say "I love you" all day long.


As it was Sunday, Kalen insisted that we keep with tradition and start our day with pancakes. But I had to do something to make it feel festive. So I tweaked our standard recipe, by folding in some extra egg whites that I had whipped into a firm meringue. I also scraped in the seeds from 1/4 of a vanilla bean, because in my experience you just can't go wrong with vanilla in your pancakes. It gave them just enough oomph to feel decadent, but still breakfast-y. As Josh said, "They're richer, yet fluffier." Exactly.

My pancake recipe is adapted from one in the late, great Bette Hagman's More From the Gluten-Free Gourmet cookbook. She actually called hers drop scones, but I call them the only pancakes my pancake-hating husband will not only eat, but request. They're thick and sturdy, and don't give you a laden-stomach feeling after you eat them. And the leftovers are nice later in the day, toasted and topped with peanut butter. Oh, and the heart shapes? Totally optional, but they do seem to up the enjoyment factor.


Gluten-Free Pancakes
makes 12-14 pancakes

2 cups gf flour mix (I use my all-purpose blend)
2/3 tsp xanthan gum
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
5 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp dark corn syrup
4 Tbsp butter, melted
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1/4 vanilla bean pod

In a medium bowl, blend the flour and xanthan gum. Add the whole eggs and beat into the flour mixture, gradually adding the milk.

Add the sugar, syrup, butter, baking powder, and salt. Beat well.

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the egg whites. Whip the whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Gently fold them into the batter. (If we're going to add berries to the pancakes, we fold them in now.)

Drop the batter by the quarter-cup onto a medium-hot, lightly buttered skillet. Cook as for any pancake, but since these are thicker, they will need to cook longer, so make sure your pan isn't too hot or the centers won't cook through. Serve hot.

2.12.2010

the whole batch of cookies


There is a really cute book that Kalen loves to get out of the library called "The Baby Blue Cat and the Whole Batch of Cookies," by Ainslie Pryor. One day, Mama Cat decides to bake oat cookies with raisins, which happen to be Baby Blue Cat's favorite treat. While the cookies cool, the other cats play outside. But Baby Blue Cat manages to eat the whole batch of cookies before he even knows what's happening, and is in tears (and eventually sick to his stomach) when he realizes his mistake. Mama Cat, in her infinite wisdom and patience, immediately makes another batch, then consoles Baby Blue Cat while the other cats have their treat. It is such a sweet and gentle book, and I wish that I could say I identify with Mama Cat. I don't.

I am Baby Blue Cat.

As I type this, I am finishing off the last of a batch of oat raisin cookies. I did not eat the whole batch, but I ate far more than my fair share, and it was only because I love my family so much that I was able to restrain myself enough to let them have a taste, too. They were such delicious cookies! Unlike Baby Blue Cat, though, I do not think I have learned my lesson, if the lesson we are speaking of is: "Do not eat too many sweets because it will make you sick and is inconsiderate of others." No, I have not learned that at all. My Achilles' Heel is and always will be sweet baked goods.

However, I have learned a very important lesson in all of this. One which will benefit you, as well! I have learned how to make a really fabulous gluten-free oat raisin cookie. The fact that I can even say "gluten-free oat raisin cookie" is itself a bit of a marvel, since only recently have certified gluten-free oats become widely available. (Thank you wonderful people at Bob's Red Mill!) So it has been years since I've had an oat raisin cookie, and likely many, many years since I've had a truly stupendous one. Thankfully, I can now make just such a cookie every week, if I so desire. (And can afford the oats. Gluten-free oats are expensive!)

The recipe I started with was one I used to make when I worked at a local bakery. That recipe was based on a Culinary Institute of America teaching recipe, so it was a good, solid recipe. It could easily be scaled up or down, it baked consistently, and it was a good base to which other, more exotic ingredients could be added. It made cookies that were a deep, caramel brown, with shatteringly crisp edges and chewy centers, chock full of oats and raisins with just enough flour to keep everything from falling apart.

I never tasted those cookies. I did smell them, though, every morning for two years, and it drove me crazy. The smell of those cookies fresh out of the oven, more than any other product at the bakery, really got to me. I had never been a huge oat raisin cookie fan, and I realized that it was because I'd never had one that smelled like that (and so, my reasoning went, tasted like that, if not better). The scent of the proportionately-large quantities of butter, sugar, and brown sugar mingling with cinnamon, caramelizing into a perfect union, crowned by the barely-tannic aroma of raisins toasting . . . well, it became my cookie-baking Ideal Smell.

Several days ago, my own kitchen was filled with that lovely perfume. The cookies came out of the oven just I as remembered them: the color of copper, too fragile to handle until they cooled and firmed up, with crackling edges that I just knew would release crispy shards everywhere at first bite.

We tried them. Oh my, they were heaven! Buttery and nutty, sweet and tangy, chewy and crisp - such a yin-yang of cookie perfection! And Josh confirmed that yes, these were the same cookie that I had made for years at the bakery. Success!



Now, these will not be everyone's oat raisin cookie ideal, not if you prefer a soft, tender crumb. These can't be that - they don't have enough flour. But if you're a fan of caramelized anything, I'm betting you'll love these. The recipe makes about 3 dozen large, bakery-sized cookies, but you could make smaller cookies, cut the recipe in half, or increase it as it suits you. If you don't want to eat all the cookies right away (they're best consumed in the first two days), scoop some batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and freeze the unbaked cookies. Once frozen, you can take them off the baking sheet and throw them into freezer bags, if things fit better that way. When you want cookies, just arrange the frozen ones on a baking sheet (for really big cookies, don't crowd more than six on there - they really spread), thaw (in the fridge overnight if you're thinking ahead), and bake only as many as you need.

We made some of these into ice cream sandwiches, and honestly, it was Too Much. Two huge cookies, hugging a big scoop of very-sweet vanilla ice cream, was more sugar than anyone (even me!) needs at one time. But crumbled over the ice cream as a garnish? I can think of no better topping for your favorite vanilla bean ice cream. As Baby Blue Cat would say, "Wow-meow!"


Gluten-Free Oat Raisin Cookies

One problem: this recipe (and the mother recipe it is based on) is measured in grams. Which makes for very exact baking. But is not so easy to convert to volume measurements (cups, teaspoons, etc.). Buy a scale. Even a cheap one, as long as it measures in grams. Your baking will be so much better for it. And, more importantly, you'll be able to make these cookies.

410 grams unsalted butter, room temp.
160 grams sugar
472 grams light brown sugar
10 grams vanilla
150 grams eggs, room temp.
202 grams Tara's all-purpose gf baking mix (see this post for recipe)
75 grams buckwheat flour
35 grams sweet rice flour

3 grams xanthan gum
5 grams salt (I use fine sea salt for baking)
10 grams baking soda
5 grams cinnamon
426 grams gluten-free rolled oats
360 grams raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flours, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars 'til light and fluffy. Combine the eggs and vanilla in a small container, then mix into butter/sugar mixture in three additions, scraping bowl between additions. Add flour, and mix until combined. Mix in oats, then raisins. Normally I'd say don't mix it too much, but since there's no gluten in the dough, you don't have to worry about overworking it. Get the oats and raisins as evenly-distributed as possible.

Scoop cookie dough into balls (anywhere from 2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup per cookie, depending on the size you want) and arrange on parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheets, leaving space for cookies to spread. Flatten the tops - this will allow them to spread more evenly. Bake 10-15 minutes, depending on size, or until cookies are a lovely caramelized brown color. Cool cookies on tray until firm enough to slide off with a spatula, then cool completely on rack.

Makes about 36 large cookies.

2.09.2010

Feb. 7th


{Sigh.}

I had a really, really lovely birthday over the weekend.

For many years, my own birthday hasn't been that big of a deal. Which has been fine, but I was always aware that it could be different. More special. More memorable. More of an event.

This year, it was.

From my favorite Sunday morning breakfast with my boys, to the best handmade gift ever from Kalen, to the picture-perfect release of my birthday hot air balloon (a new tradition with us), to my first ever surprise party with some of my closest friends, everything was wonderful, special, and just the ideal way to begin my 33rd year of life. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who had a hand in it. I loved it! And thanks especially to Josh, who went to great lengths to ensure my day was unforgettable. So sweet.

I'll be back soon with recipes (the pancakes are easy, the Black Forest Cake is mostly-easy but time-consuming), but for now will leave you with some (well, okay, lots of) images of the day.












Doesn't that all just look fabulous?

2.05.2010

biscuits in the oven, gonna watch 'em rise


Well, not really. Our oven is an old commercial one, with no window through which to watch. But still, that Raffi song does a jig through my head each time I make biscuits.

And I made biscuits yesterday, for no reason other than the fact that I was looking for something for breakfast and it wasn't pancake day. Meaning, it wasn't Sunday. Biscuits are quick, the boys can help, and they (the biscuits) aren't too sweet. Which is good, since we invariably slather them with fruit preserves.


So breakfast was biscuits, which sounds simple enough. But that's the beautiful thing about food - it's always more complex if you take the time to look. My biscuits are based on my mother-in-law's recipe. Which, seeing as she's Southern, probably means it's an old family recipe. I've never tasted her version, since I was gluten-free long before I met her. But I have her recipe, and Josh's insistence that they are really, really good. Obviously, I had to try my hand in making them gluten-free. After a couple of attempts, we found a winner. They're tender, flaky, with a bit of crispiness in the crust (gotta love all that butter!), and just delicious. Most importantly, Josh and the kids love them. And when I'm making them, I'm not just sifting flours, cutting in butter. I'm creating traditions within my own family, while continuing traditions started by generations of Southern cooks before me. I'm forging connections that, while they may not be natural for most Northern girls, feel natural to me. At the same time, I'm staying tied to my Northern roots, by using my late grandmother's lovingly-worn biscuit cutter. These things are good.


And then there is all the wonderfulness that happens when we actually sit down to eat them. My heart melting when Kalen sweetly asks, "Can I have Italian plum butter on mine, please?" (I fantasize that he is the first 4-year old to ever have said that.) As he comes downstairs, Josh recounting the memory that the smell of biscuits always awakens in him: being very young, eating biscuits with fig preserves made by his grandmother (or great-grandmother - that part is fuzzy), and the dawning realization of how amazingly good those preserves were. He mentions that it is the only childhood food memory that he hasn't been able to re-create, and commits himself to making memory-worthy fig preserves this winter. This is also good.


And so I give you my biscuit recipe. Enjoy, and feel connected. Oh, and don't bake yours for as long as I did mine - we had a little butter incident, and by the time that was all sorted out, the biscuits had gone just past perfect. Still delicious, just crispier than usual.


Gluten-Free Buttermilk Biscuits
makes 8-12 biscuits, depending on the cutter size and dough thickness

1 1/2 cups Tara's all-purpose gluten-free mix (recipe follows)
1/4 cup buckwheat flour (I like this brand)
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
3/4+ cup lowfat buttermilk (I use Kate's)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in butter (I like to use my hands). Stop when the butter pieces are pea-sized - these will create steam pockets while baking that will give your biscuits their flake. Stir in buttermilk until the dough is moist enough to come together without being crumbly. Gather it into a ball and, on a gf-floured board, gently pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut with a biscuit cutter (cut your scraps, too - they'll be tender and yummy, just not as flaky), prick tops with a fork, and bake on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet for 12-18 minutes, or until golden brown. (The thickness of your biscuit really determines the baking time - roll them out 1/4-inch thick, and they'll only bake about 10 minutes. So keep an eye on them.) Eat them warm.

Tara's All-Purpose Gluten-Free Mix

3 1/2 cups (493 grams) brown rice flour
1 cup (128 grams) sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups (230 grams) potato starch
3/4 cups (85 grams) tapioca starch

Sift all flours together (I use a whisk). Store on the counter if you bake a lot, or in the fridge if you're an occasional baker. I keep this on-hand at all times, and in addition to the biscuits, use it for things like quick breads, cookies, and muffins.

2.02.2010

the best meal of the day



Oh breakfast, how I love thee. You of the softly-set yolks, seeping aureolin happiness across my plate. Of crispy edges and fluffy centers studded with wild blueberries. Of potatoes prepared every way imaginable, hopefully with a good measure of bacon or duck fat thrown in. And of course, the way harmony and clarity enter my day through your flagship infusion, coffee. Darling breakfast, I am hurried to sleep each night by the sweet anticipation of your impending arrival, and reluctant to leave the table each morn when you conclude. You are perfection.

So. Would you believe I am not a morning person? It's true. I hate getting up, especially if it's dark and/or cold, which it is a lot around here. Trying to wake up my eyes, force my seemingly-ten-pound eyelids into the upright position, clear away my dreams so that I can talk coherently; none of it is fun. It sounds decadent to say that I haven't used an alarm clock in years, but the very un-luxurious reality is that I haven't needed one, since my children are guaranteed to wake me long before I would ever have reason to be up. It would be so easy to enter each day in a cloud of grumpiness.

Instead, I have discovered my saving grace: breakfast. The initial push out of bed is still a bit of a struggle, but as soon as I'm lucid, I get excited about breakfast. Really, what other meal is so inclusive? Whether you're craving spicy sausage and uber-garlicky home fries, or a warm bowl of holiday-scented oatmeal, they're both welcome at the breakfast table. Hearty grains, cold pizza, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink hash, apple pie, roasted vegetables - it all seems acceptable for that first meal. It's a food-lover's dream. And it really sets the tone, don't you think? Beginning the day with great food starts you down a path of pleasantries, simple joys, and happy satisfaction. And if by chance you end up having one of those truly horrible days? Well, you can remember, you did have a good breakfast. There's that, at least.

And mornings, I have noticed, are my favorite time to cook. The kitchen is still clean, I am not in the middle of a million projects, the kids are (usually) happy to play together, and the rest of the world hasn't quite gotten up to speed yet. There's an openness about mornings, especially early ones, that makes cooking and baking and filling the house with deliciousness feel like the right thing to do. (I have a tendency to like doing things right. A habit that's only sometimes healthy. Ahem.)

Mornings around here have gotten even better, if possible, since I discovered my new favorite breakfast. Broccoli. And not just any ol' broccoli, but Nancy Silverton's long-cooked broccoli. This is broccoli like I've never had it before. This is broccoli with a depth and unctuousness that I never knew the vegetable possessed. This should be a craze sweeping the nation. Really, people, make this now. Feed it to everyone you love. And make a big batch so you can have the leftovers for lunch.



We've been eating this the way Ms. Silverton presents it in Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book - spooned over grilled bread (the crusty boule from the previous post), topped with creamy scrambled eggs and salty feta. It is divine. But I'm really hoping that soon we'll be able to tear ourselves away from that breakfast so that we can enjoy this broccoli later in the day on pizza. And pasta. And rice. And chicken. And fish. Because I truly want to eat this all day, with everything. I just haven't had enough leftovers yet! Also, if you want this for breakfast, you should make it the night before, while you're making dinner. That way, you're good to go in the morning. Just warm and serve.


Long-Cooked Broccoli
from Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book


1 to 2 heads broccoli (about 1 3/4 pounds), 1-inch end of stalk trimmed off
1/4 cup plus 2 tsp kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced (I've been known to increase this to 6)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole dried red chile

Cut the head of the broccoli off the stalk, leaving about 1 inch of the stalk still attached. Slice the outer layers of the fibrous peel off the main stalk, and cut it vertically into long, flat slices, about 1/4 inch thick and 1 inch wide. (If the broccoli seems extra tough and fibrous, slice the stalk on the extreme diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick pieces.) Slice all the way through the broccoli top, cutting it vertically into 1-inch-thick pieces, cutting through the florets when necessary. You should have several long pieces of broccoli.

In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water and 1/4 cup of the salt to a boil. Cook all of the cut-up broccoli in the boiling water for about 2 minutes, until it turns bright green. Drain the pieces and put them in a large bowl of ice water to chill. Drain them well, and pat dry with a kitchen towel.

In a large heavy-duty skillet, combine the pieces of broccoli, garlic, onion, olive oil, chile, and 2 tsp salt. Over very low heat, cook the broccoli, stirring occasionally, for about 1 1/2 hours, until it's very soft and tender. Season with salt, to taste.
 
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