4.24.2010

we're all hungry

Oh man. It's impossible to write about just food today. To describe my recent attempts at gluten-free baguette-making, or wax ecstatic about the bacon scones I made for breakfast yesterday, or even to tell you about the dessert I have planned for an upcoming dinner party, simply feels too trivial, too frivolous. Because I (along with who-knows-how-many thousands of others, you included probably) read Shauna's post yesterday, and can't get it off my mind.

If you haven't read it, I highly encourage you to head over to Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef right now. She writes about important stuff, that lady.

This most recent post of hers, plus her post on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and another a while back, about trying to feed her family on $18 a day (which is the equivalent of the maximum food assistance available to a family of three in Washington state), have had me thinking so much about food, and what it means, and how all of her essays are linked by politics and culture and economy, and how it all keeps coming back to hunger. Food, which can bring us such primal pleasure, can also cause us so many problems. Not enough of the good stuff. Too much of the bad stuff. Conflicting information about what is and what isn't good for us. Contaminants, chemicals, pesticides, artificial hormones . . . And then there is all the emotional baggage we bring to the table. Food is rarely simply food.

Bear with me now as I take you through the rambling progression of thoughts Shauna's words sent racing through my head this week (and please forgive me, as this might look rant-ish): There are people who genuinely need assistance in getting enough to eat, and our nation is lucky to have a government that provides it to them. But, curiously, the maximum dollar amount provided is so much more than what we spend, per person, to feed our own family, and we feel that we eat pretty good! What's the catch? We cook nearly everything from scratch. It's our training, it's our philosophy, it's our way of life. And we believe it's healthier and more economical than buying prepackaged, processed foods. But since most of America doesn't eat the way we do, the government ends up subsidizing more expensive diets consisting of processed convenience foods. Which, while it helps alleviate the body's hunger for calories, does nothing to address its hunger for real, wholesome (and whole!) foods that provide a wide variety of nutrients. And so our country is still hungry. Fast-forward to the Food Revolution, and we see how the public school system has continued this policy of favoring calories over quality, thus filling our children out without truly filling them up. These children still look hungry to me. Hungry for foods that enrich them, that honor their bodies and minds and allow them to tackle the world with the natural fervor and excitement that all children are born with. And finally, with Shauna's most recent honest, raw look at the role food has been playing in her own private life over the past year, we see another side of hunger. One which has less to do with money and nutrition, and more to do with emotions and the singular act of living a full, complex life, of always giving to others, and the realization that it has meant neglecting oneself. More proof that carrying excess weight does not mean that one's hunger needs have been met. (Whew. I did warn you!)

I've got lots more thoughts swirling in my head, jostling each other for space and time. But the one that I keep coming back to, the one that ties all the rest together? I don't like hunger. I don't like it on any level. I don't like the nagging little kind you get when you've been so busy all day that you've only grabbed bites here and there, never enough to really satiate. I don't like the low-blood-sugar kind that's so prevalent when traveling, when finding "safe" gluten-free foods can be so hard. But that's not what I mean.

I can't bear to see or think about hungry children. I'm not talking about the ones who whine that they want crackers ten minutes before dinner is served. I mean children who are truly hungry, who won't be getting a decent meal today or anytime soon. This breaks my heart. No one, and I mean no one, should have to go without enough to eat, or have to settle for unnutritious food. But most of all, children - those who need healthy food the most, yet have the least control over their access to it - absolutely should not have to suffer from poor nutrition. Especially not when we know how important it is to their overall health, development, and future well-being.

I realize that I am saying nothing original here; I am not crafting a new platform. I am merely jumping on an already-fast-moving bandwagon, and joining a movement that counts among its active members people at the top of the Obama administration right on down to individuals working directly with their local communities all over the country.

This doesn't lessen the importance of talking about it, of keeping it alive in people's minds. And it certainly doesn't mean that there are already enough people working on the problem. On the contrary, I would argue that that's why we still have child hunger in this country - because not enough people are working to end it. It has been estimated that there are 17 million children in America who struggle with hunger. That number is gut-wrenching. It boggles my mind. Clearly no one person (or even organization) can fix the problem; it is something we all have to share responsibility for.

So I ask you: does your family have enough to eat? Yes? Wonderful. I am so happy and relieved for you. You deserve it. And now I challenge you: pay it forward. Find a way - a way that fits into your budget and beliefs and busy life - and give back. Donate, advocate, volunteer, talk about the issue with your friends, whatever feels right to you. Get involved and fight child hunger. Because none of us is removed, separate from the children of this nation; we all have a stake in their health and vitality. So do something, even if it's just being aware and supportive of where some of your tax dollars go.

And know that my family will be right there with you, doing what we can in our own way.

Pay it forward. It's all I ask.

4.20.2010

it's a clafouti! it's a Dutch baby! it's a . . . flognarde?


My taste buds have been kind of weird lately.

It started back on Easter, with the tart astringency of the strawberry-rhubarb pie and the super-lemony beurre blanc we dipped our asparagus in. Then it was the citrus olive oil cake, chock full of orange-y goodness. Since then I have made a Meyer lemon curd, which, aside from being slathered on our blueberry pancakes on Sunday, is still awaiting the inspiration for its final destination (ideas anyone?). I have also discovered the addictive nature of raw kumquats. And then this morning I made a raspberry-rhubarb clafouti, which I spiked with Meyer lemon zest and juice.


Friends, I am all about tart these days. Is it the influence of Spring? Is it from watching my parents try to kick their sugar habit? Is it old age? I can't give you a definitive answer (although I'm really hoping that it's not that last one). All I know is that I've recently found myself embracing sourness like never before. Maybe it's just my body finally figuring out a sense of balance, a Dessert Equilibrium, as it were. Because I haven't traded out my fondness for sugar during this time (oh no, not even close!), I'm just becoming more inclusive and varied in my preferences. And I'm enjoying it, so I don't want to question it too much.

I especially enjoyed this clafouti. I realize that raspberries are very much not in season right now (at least here in Maine), but these from-away berries actually worked in my favor this time - their puckery tartness blazed a path right through the warm, sunny sweetness I usually associate with fresh-from-the-vine raspberries. A perfect match, I felt, to equally zesty rhubarb. The brown sugar and spices gave the dish warmth and complexity, a "what is that flavor?" elusive quality that made the dish anything but plain and homey. And the batter? Oh, the batter! Rich with egg yolks and creme fraiche and perfumed by vanilla, I could easily eat this without any accompanying fruit. Of course, then I would feel like a bit of a hypocrite when I admonished the kids to "take a bite with the fruit, too! It's the healthy part!" But still, it's the kind of pillowy, velvety custard-cake that one might be tempted to bury one's face in, if no one else was around to see. Not that anyone at my house would do such a thing. Of course not.


Moving right along (not to change gears too quickly or anything), I'd like to address that slightly-odd title you may be wondering about. No, I am not confused as to what to call the dish I made today. But apparently the rest of the free world is. You see, a clafouti is technically only a clafouti if it's made with cherries (and then, if you want to get really nit-picky, you need to leave the pits in. But I'm not that into trepidation with my dessert). Any time you take a clafouti recipe and switch the cherries out for another fruit, you're really making a flognarde (say "flow nyard"). But has anyone ever, EVER, seen a cookbook - or menu - listing for flognarde? I didn't think so. (Although I'd love to know about it if you have! Go ahead, prove me wrong!) Maybe it's because the name isn't as fun to say, but even highly reputable pastry chefs call their flognarde a clafouti. So I will too, but just so long as we're clear that I do know the difference. And now you do, too.

And the Dutch baby part? Well, it's a similar dish, an eggy, custardy baked pancake thing, which is sometimes (and to its benefit) paired with fruit. But no one would confuse what I made with a Dutch baby - mine is much richer and more complex, without quite as dramatic an inflate-deflate tendency. (Yes, clafoutis still deflate! But in a gentler, cakey sort of way.) But since Dutch babies are an accepted (if occasional) breakfast food, I had hoped that by getting them into your head right from the start, no one would bat an eyelash when I later suggested you eat my clafouti for breakfast. Because mine is also a comforting, satisfying dish made with fruit, eggs and milk, which sounds an awful lot like a breakfast food to me. Maybe just not an everyday one.


Spiced Raspberry-Rhubarb Clafouti
Serves 6-8

This recipe is a sure sign of how small the restaurant/pastry world really is. While the filling is my own, the batter is my adaptation of a clafouti recipe I discovered randomly in a blog. The author credited a friend of hers for the recipe, and when I read that entry's comments, I saw that her friend deferred to a chef, a former boss, as the one who gave her the recipe (and he got it who-knows-where). This particular chef was one that Josh also worked for, in his first restaurant job in NYC, when we lived there years and years ago, which set off a light bulb in my head. When I asked Josh about it, he told me that yes, he remembered both the blog author and her friend, as they both worked at the NYC restaurant during the same period that he was there. So, apparently, had I known to ask for it, I could have had - and been making - this clafouti recipe going on eight years now. Better late than never . . . 

For the filling: 
2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (mine was frozen, thawed and drained of most of the accumulated juice)
1 cup fresh raspberries
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 whole star anise, ground with a mortar and pestle, then sifted so only the finest bits get kept
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
zest of one Meyer lemon
juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon

For the batter: 
1/2 cup (75 grams) Tara's gf pastry flour mix (at the end of this post)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup (114 grams) confectioner's sugar
pinch salt
2 whole large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cup (10 fluid ounces/300 ml) whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup creme fraiche 

Make the filling: 
Combine all filling ingredients in a wide saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the fruit softens (the raspberries will begin to break down) and the sauce thickens a bit. Let cool. 

Make the batter: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. (You can also use individual ramekins for this.)

Combine the flour, xanthan gum, confectioner's sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk to remove any lumps.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and yolks, and then whisk in the milk and vanilla.

Pour a little of the liquid into the dry ingredients and whisk to make a slurry (this will help prevent lumps), then whisk in the rest of the liquid.

Stir the creme fraiche to smooth it out, then whisk it into the batter.

Spread the filling in an even layer in the pie plate or ramekins (you should have some filling leftover). Pour the batter through a fine mesh strainer to remove any rogue lumps. Pour the batter over the filling. (I combined the strainer part with this step - just held the strainer over my baking dishes as I slowly poured the batter in. Worked fine and saved an extra bowl from having to be washed.) Fill your pie plate/ramekins about 2/3 of the way full, which might leave you with a little extra batter.

Bake until well-puffed, golden brown, and set in the middle. The original recipe says this should take 40-50 minutes for a large clafouti, and less time for ramekins. In my oven? The ramekins took 40 minutes, the large version took almost 70 minutes. This is with an oven thermometer in there, registering a steady 350 degrees. Clearly something is wrong in my oven, and I hope that the 40-50 minute estimate is more accurate for the rest of you. Unless you, too, are dealing with a wacky, 25 year-old ex-restaurant oven, in which case I sincerely feel for you.

Allow to cool before serving. Can be served at room temperature or re-warmed in the oven. Refrigerate any leftovers.

4.16.2010

in her honor

When I drove up to the house, she was outside, bent under the hood, digging around in the engine of her car. Later that evening, she was busy editing photos from a recent wedding shoot she had done. In between? We talked, we laughed, we ate, we played with the kids.

This was my sister, on her birthday.

She's four years younger than me, but a couple inches taller, so everyone thinks she's the oldest. She has a daughter, who's pretty much the cutest little girl I've ever met, and her husband constructs wonderful wooden toys for my kids. She's crafty (the sewing type, not the sneaky type), she's a reader and a word-lover, she doesn't like avocados, she's an athlete who has completed a triathlon, she's a wonderful baker, and anyone who was at her wedding saw first-hand that she knows how to party. She's generous and loyal, devoted to her family and friends, and is weird and wacky in the best possible ways. She is the kind of person everyone should be lucky enough to count among their friends, never mind their relatives.

And I don't have any photos of her to share here. Oh sure, I've got some pictures that she's in, but none that are actually of her. Probably because she's usually behind a lens as well. But she's tall, she's blond, she's beautiful - that's all you really need to know.

Since she was part of my surprise birthday dinner, I decided at the last minute to surprise her by driving the hour-plus to her house to share the tail-end of her birthday day with her. The kids thought this was a brilliant idea, since it meant lots of play-time with their cousin (Wylie chanted her name non-stop the last five minutes of the drive). I knew as soon as I made the decision to drive down that, if I was going to make that much effort (which really wasn't much, truthfully), then I needed to take it a step further and arrive bearing edibles. Birthday cake, specifically.

Last-minute decisions, however, don't leave a lot of room for traditional cake baking. And while I have, at various points in time, had a freezer well-stocked with Swiss meringue buttercream, this was not one of those times. So I needed a special, festive cake that could be made quickly, without needing to purchase a lot of extra ingredients, and that could, if need be, survive the car trip down while still warm from the oven.

Serendipitously (because that's how life has been these days), I just happened to have come across a new-to-me blog several days prior, whose author was describing a citrus olive oil cake he makes that is the best-loved dessert among his pastry repertoire. He had already adapted it to be gluten-free, and it looked easy and delicious. Perfect!

I made only minor changes to the recipe, to accommodate my tastes and what was in my pantry at the time (and because . . . well, I don't think we food bloggers can ever leave well enough alone and just make the damn recipe, already!), and made the switch from lemon to orange, which is a totally acceptable shift, per the author's notes. I was a bit hesitant to present the cake as a Birthday Cake, since it was so unique and definitely not of the topped-with-frosting-or-glaze variety, but I needn't have worried.


This is good cake.

This cake is super-moist, full of bright citrus flavors and sweet nuttiness. And the fruity olive oil contributes a satisfying richness that doesn't leave you feeling heavy and greasy, as I had worried it might. It truly needs no other accompaniment save a dusting of powdered sugar, but we paired it with strawberry ice cream (Haagen-Dazs - only the best for my sister!) and it was lovely. The dense texture of the cake and its chewy caramelized crust remind me of my wedding cake, which helps explain my new devotion to it. But even if you haven't had the experience of my wedding cake to compare it to, you're going to love this cake. The little ones, who range in age from 19 months to 4 years, gobbled it up. My sister said it might be her favorite birthday cake. And I'm pretty sure she was being sincere. Because that's just the type of person she is.


Mediterranean Citrus Olive Oil Cake
adapted from Eat the Love blog

2/3 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp for oiling the pan
2/3 cup fresh citrus juice (I used the juice of one cara cara orange and one blood orange)
1/2 cup superfine brown rice flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp potato starch
3/4 cup finely-ground almond meal/flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp xanthan gum
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
grated zest of 4 citrus fruit (I used two cara cara oranges and two blood oranges)
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 10-inch springform pan with 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Once the oven is preheated, toast the almond meal/flour in the oven on a baking sheet for 5 minutes. Let cool.

Zest the four citrus fruits, then juice enough of them to give you 2/3 cup fresh juice (or more, if you feel like drinking some, too).

Combine the olive oil and citrus juice in a measuring cup; set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (rice flour, cornstarch, potato starch, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt) and the citrus zest.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs while gradually adding the granulated sugar, mixing until thick and light. Add one-third of the oil/juice mixture and beat to combine, then mix in one-half of the flour mixture. Repeat, ending with the final third of the oil/juice mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan to finish cooling. Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving. This cake should keep for several days, covered on the counter, if anyone is lucky enough to have leftovers after day one.

4.09.2010

brown is the new . . .

I realize that I'm pretty late to the game when it comes to publicly lamenting Gourmet magazine's demise. It was, after all, many months ago that it was announced the august culinary publication would be shut down, and its last issue printed. I was not alone in my shock, disbelief, and genuine mourning for the magazine's premature end.

As part of my grief process, I followed my fellow mourners around the Web for a couple of weeks, reading articles, blog posts, forum discussions, and pretty much anything else I could find documenting this gastronomically historical event. And in doing so, I discovered something extremely disconcerting.

Gourmet magazine had quite the legion of detractors.

This was, to me, like finding out that a favorite aunt or uncle harbored the deep dark secret of receiving daily hate mail. What? There are people out there who dislike Gourmet? How can that be? And I admit that this is simplifying it a bit, but their primary complaints seemed to boil down to two things: One, that Gourmet had become irrelevant to their lives (excuse me? You've evolved past the whole cooking-and-eating thing?), and Two, that the magazine had too much brown food in it. Now, I don't really want to spend a lot of time thinking about what sorts of people make up the anti-Gourmet camp, but their criticisms of the magazine's food photography really got to me.

Too much brown food? What kind of an objection is that? Brown food is beautiful! Brown is the warmth of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and mace. Brown is the hominess of a good roast, and the exoticism of ethnic street food. It is the crisp lacy edges of a perfectly fried egg, the earthiness of tamari, the dreamy comfort of creme brulee. It is pretty much everything that comes out of a fryer. Brown is vanilla and coffee and chocolate and bacon. It is caramelized and toasted and perfectly seared. Good lord, of course the editors at Gourmet couldn't stay away from brown food! Brown is what I want to eat!


And, whether or not it was a recipe I felt driven to make, all the photographs in Gourmet were spectacular, in my view. The one time I was lucky enough to meet Ruth Reichl, in fact, I made a point of telling her how impressed I was with the evolution of the photography in the magazine, and how, for me, it elevated her publication above all the other food periodicals out there. I was a huge fan of the art department there, and so I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of other people taking issue with it.


I've been thinking about this controversy a lot recently, as I take more photos of our food and, when reviewing them, find that brown is a frequent theme. I really don't think of this as a negative, except for the challenge it presents to a hobbyist-photographer like me to capture the meal enticingly, rather than drably. Take roast chicken, for example. I make it a lot, since it's one of the easiest, almost-labor-free meals out there. Straight from the oven, I think its burnished skin is absolutely lovely, but I've had a hard time transferring that glowing sense of yum to a still image. And then there are all the meals we get out of the leftovers: chicken pot pie, chicken tossed into pasta, baked into a frittata, mixed into a summery lunch of chicken salad sandwiches. All brown. Hmm.


Even when we're not eating chicken in all its forms, we still put away a good deal of brown food. Just look around this blog! Cake, brownies, pies, breads . . . brown just seems to be what you get when you bake a lot. Not that I am complaining. Defending, is more like it. We love brown food and have the photos to prove it!


Still, I can understand the desire for some color, some pop. I mean, even I get a little tired of all the roasted and baked whatnots by the end of winter! (Which is why Easter dinner was such a welcome change.) So, with the coming of another growing season, I'm predicting that the images around here will start to feature a lot more greens, reds, and oranges. Heck, why don't we start now? Here are the kale chips I made last week:


This is a pre-oven-roasted shot, obviously. Kale chips taste great, but have a sort of shriveled, petrified appearance. Mine came out kind of ugly, to be honest. But here, with the light playing off their gloss of olive oil, and their edges all frills and ruffles, well, it's almost like they're dancing, isn't it? Which is a great way, I think, to enter any new season. But, just in case you're like me and believe that, no matter the season, Brown Is Where It's At, here's another brown recipe for you to file away.

Roast Chicken and Potato Frittata
Serves 4

Well, so this isn't so much a recipe as a template. We had it for dinner one night, and it was one of those throw-in-whatever-you've-got kind of dinners. And I didn't measure or time anything, so I can't give you precise instructions even if I wanted to. But that's the great thing about frittatas - once you understand the basic concept, you can customize it infinitely and never really have a bad one. Here's the rundown of what I did:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Scrub, dry, and cut into cubes two large potatoes. Using equal parts unsalted butter and olive oil, cook the potatoes over medium heat in a preheated 12-inch cast iron skillet, as for home fries. Season with kosher salt. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together 6-8 eggs, depending on how hungry you are and how many people you're feeding. Season with salt and pepper. Cut/shred some leftover roast chicken (one breast was enough for us). Look in the fridge to see what else you have that would be good in there (I found caramelized onions and fresh thyme). When the potatoes are nicely browned (there's that word again!), add the chicken, onions, herbs, and whatever else you want. Toss it all around, then spread it evenly in the pan. Turn the heat down to low, pour the eggs over it, and cook like you're making an omelet or scrambled eggs. (So move everything around, but gently, creating pillowy mounds of set egg around which the still-liquid egg can cuddle up to.) When about 3/4 of the egg mixture is set, slide the pan into the oven to finish cooking. It's done when it's set, puffed up, and a very pretty golden brown (of course!). Serve warm or at room temperature.

4.07.2010

wake up! it is Spring!*


 I remember an Easter many, many years ago. One which felt unnaturally warm. Everything was thawing, and there was a small stream running down the hill, past the steps off our porch. I sat outside in the warmth and brightness, watching the water scurry by. I must have been wearing some sort of Easter finery, since no where in my memory bank do I see myself actually getting into the rivulets, as I am sure I was tempted to do. But the sun was out and I along with it, jacket-less, and it was Easter morning. It was a good day.

It was also an Easter that, climatically, hasn't been repeated very often around here. Usually the snow is gone by now (but not always), and we're lucky if we can start thinking about packing away our winter coats. This year, however, has been different. Spring arrived in Maine about a month ago, chasing away a winter that barely had time to get a firm grip on us. Seriously, as I raked the yard of debris several weeks ago, I realized that the motions felt so familiar because I had just done the same thing not three months earlier.

Now, global warming or not, it's hard to complain too much when your yard is awash in flowers and green shoots, the birds are singing mating songs out your kitchen window, and the kids can be occupied for hours at a time digging in the mud. It's also nice to feel like you're in step with the rest of the country for once. Everywhere you look, people are getting excited about prepping the gardens, eating the first of the new produce to hit the markets, and dining al fresco, and it feels completely appropriate to join in the fun.

In that spirit, we planned a very bright, Spring-like menu for our Easter weekend with my family. To give you a brief run-down: eggs, fruit salad, new potatoes, asparagus with beurre blanc, pork tenderloin, baby mesclun mix, and strawberry-rhubarb pie all graced our table. It felt so good to get away from the heavy, starchy foods of winter!

We spent two very full days enjoying the outdoors as much as possible, kite-flying, blowing bubbles, and visiting a friend's new lambs, and returned home exhausted but happy. And full of chocolate. (The Easter Bunny has always been kind enough to leave plenty for the kids to share with the grown-ups.) The gorgeous weather got us all geared up to get our vegetable garden planted, and do some decorative landscaping as well, so we'll probably be hitting the garden stores soon. Until then, we'll be crossing our fingers that we don't get hit with a notoriously-Maine mid-April snowstorm . . .


Gluten-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
makes one 9-inch pie

This is a gloriously vibrant, tart pie. It's just the thing to clear your palate of Winter's thick coating. For me, the tartness is perfect, not puckery-tart but still front-and-center. If you're hesitant to make it because of that, just increase the brown sugar in the filling by another 1/3 cup.


For the crust:
1 single-crust recipe of gluten-free pie crust, rolled out, pressed into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate, wrapped in plastic wrap, and chilled. (In the interest of saving time, I blind-baked my crust the day before I assembled the pie. In the end, it didn't save much time, but did result in an over-baked crust. I wouldn't recommend it.)

For the filling:
4 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (I used frozen, which I had thawed overnight) 
1 quart whole, hulled strawberries (again, mine were frozen and thawed overnight)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp cornstarch, depending on how juicy your fruit is
2/3-3/4 cup light brown sugar, or to taste
zest of one orange/tangerine
juice of 1/2 a lemon
pinch of salt

For the topping: inspired by Smitten Kitchen's adaptation of Nigella Lawson's topping
1 1/3 cups Tara's gf pastry flour mix (at the end of this post)
1/2+ tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
zest of one lemon
1/4# (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Make the filling:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together all filling ingredients in a Dutch oven or other large, oven-proof pot. Cover, and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the fruit is broken down and the juices are nice and thick. Taste and adjust the sugar, if necessary. Chill until ready to assemble pie.

Make the topping:
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, sugars, and lemon zest. Add the melted butter and stir until the mixture is good and clumpy. Chill until ready to assemble pie.

Make the pie:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove all pie components from the refrigerator. Spoon the filling into the unbaked crust, spreading it around to smooth and level it. (At this point, you can brush the edges of the crust with an egg wash, if you prefer your crust to have some sheen. Your call.) Crumble the topping in an even layer over the filling. Place pie on a parchment-lined sheet pan (to catch any wayward juices) and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until crust and topping are golden brown. Cool on a rack. Tastes great served with vanilla bean ice cream.

*Two points if you know that "literary" reference!

4.01.2010

community and breakfast

I love the Internet.

I love it, of course, for its practical value. Email, weather forecasts, online banking, recipes, and all those news stories too wacky or frivolous to make it onto NPR, but that I want to know about anyway, are right at my fingertips.

And then there are the guilty pleasures, the things I could (and sometimes do) spend far too many hours doing: watching episodes of Family Guy, reading People.com, wistfully browsing Anthropologie's newest collections.

But the thing that I love the most, the thing that I truly miss when our Internet's down or I'm away from the computer for days? It's the thing that some people are the quickest to criticize and downplay about the Web: the community. Now, I don't spend my days chatting on Twitter or in forums, so I don't mean community in the same way that others are actively pursuing new friendships online, in lieu of strengthening their existing in-person relationships and fostering their local community ties. My community is much more virtual, more like a collection of resources and like-minded individuals sharing ideas and inspiration across the fiber networks. The blogs that I read regularly, the photos on Flickr that amaze and entice me, and the websites that I go to when I need unbiased, accurate information, all make the Internet an invaluable resource for me. I can honestly, genuinely say that my life is enhanced by them.

It is because of the Internet that I am the gluten-free baker that I am. I haven't come across many gluten-free cookbooks that really wowed me with their authority or all-purpose usefulness (there are some, but not enough). But the tips, tricks, and trial-and-error accounts that are generously peppered across the Web by other bakers and cooks trying to master this gluten-free thing? These have all been an enormous help as I've worked to become a better gluten-free baker. This spirit of sharing and working-togetherness, posting photos of recipe flops and cheering unlikely successes - it's like having a circle of dedicated gluten-free cooks as friends and collaborators!

This is not to say that I wouldn't love to have this type of community right here, in my actual social circle. But I know surprisingly few people who are celiac or gluten-intolerant, and none who are quite so passionate about food and recipe development as I am. So, for now, my online community challenges and sustains that side of myself, for which I am truly grateful.

I am also grateful for the unlikely, delicious ideas that these people, who are actually strangers to me, put in my head. I saw this picture last week, and immediately became enchanted with the idea of waffles of all sorts. I had never made waffle batter. My only gluten-free experiences with waffles have been of the freezer variety, which is to say, nothing to crow about. A waffle iron always seemed like one of those gadgets you'd get as a wedding present, and it would forever sit in the back of a cupboard, unused and ignored. (So Josh and I decided not to register for one, all those years ago.)

Why, why, why was I so close-minded about waffles? Don't I know better than to write off an entire category of food based on a couple of bad experiences? And why does it take just one photo (from a woman whose palate I trust, to be sure), to so completely change my mind that I can't stop thinking about waffles for days? I don't know, but I'm glad it happened when it did. Because three days later, I thrifted a Belgian waffle maker at my local Salvation Army, and yesterday we feasted on gluten-free yeast waffles, with local maple syrup and strawberry sauce made from last year's bounty.

My waffle expectations had gotten pretty high, fueled by the three days of fantasizing about them, and so that morning I mentally prepared myself to be let down, in case homemade waffles weren't quite the glory I had built them up to be. The batter smelled good, rich and yeasty, and they looked lovely coming out of the iron, but still I held my breath at that first bite. What would the texture be? Would they be gummy, or gritty, or dry? Would Josh politely request that I just stick to pancakes for my breakfast baking forays? Would the dog end up eating more of them than the kids would?


Nope, on all counts! They were the waffles of my dreams. Crisp on the outside, really moist and satiny-smooth on the inside, with a complex, nutty flavor that almost made me believe they could be healthy. (And gussied up with some savory ingredients, I think they really would be.) They were light and airy and perfect - the prettier, thinner, and more successful second cousins of the leaden, overly-sweet Belgian waffles I remember from my college days. I am now a total waffle convert. Short of running out of eggs or milk, I can think of nothing that will stop me from making these very frequently. And if my family objects? No problem - that means more for me!


Gluten-Free Yeast Waffles
adapted from King Arthur Flour

12 fluid ounces whole milk
3 ounces unsalted butter
2 Tbsp real maple syrup
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups Tara's gf pastry flour mix (at the end of this post)
1/4 cup gluten-free oat flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp rapid rise yeast

Heat the milk until it's very hot. Pour it into a large mixing bowl and add the butter, maple syrup, salt, and vanilla. Stir until the butter melts and the mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, flours, xanthan gum, and yeast. Stir to combine (it's fine if it's not completely smooth). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rest for one hour at room temperature. The mixture will begin to bubble. You can cook it now, but it's much better if you refrigerate it overnight (which is what I did).

Cook according to waffle maker instructions. (As mine didn't come with instructions, I heated the iron, brushed the top and bottom with some melted butter, then poured about 2/3 cup batter in the center and spread it gently toward the edges before I closed it. The waffles took about 3-4 minutes to cook. Easiest breakfast ever!)

Yields about five 7" Belgian waffles (which was perfect for our young, but hungry, family of four).
 
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