12.10.2011

weekend breakfast::at home

::The night before, par-bake your favorite pizza crust.


::Next morning, preheat the oven as hot as it will go.

::Top the crust with your favorite breakfast items and bake it until everything is cooked to your liking.

::(Decide that next time, you should probably crack the raw eggs directly onto the crust.)

::Serve with hot coffee, grated Parmesan, and maybe even some sriracha.

::Breakfast pizza. A civilized way to start your day, despite the kids fighting in the background, the dog barking in the yard, and the cold wind whipping around your house.

12.07.2011

gluten-free ratio rally confessions


Maybe it's just me, but sometimes these Ratio Rally posts have a bit of a confessional air about them.

This is not a bad thing. It's nice, as a baker, to read about your peer's slip-ups in the kitchen, the flavor combinations that they thought would work but flopped, the recipes that they'd never before tackled for fear they'd be too advanced, or even the everyday challenges posed by equipment failure or last-minute ingredient substitutions. Knowing that others have had to deal with some of the same problems I've encountered during my baking career? It makes everyone seem that much more authentic, relatable, human.

It also brings into focus the "Rally" part of this endeavor. It's not merely about the rush and enthusiasm of everyone posting about the same topic on the same day. It's about reaching out to each other, and all of you, to share knowledge, swap stories, and expand our culinary repertoire through collaboration. It's a group effort, for sure.

I was reminded of this late last week, as I was throwing away an entire batch of black walnut shortbread.

Yes, a whole batch, trashed. I never do that. I can't bear to throw away food - it goes against all my sensibilities. And to be honest, rarely do I make anything that is so bad as to be unpalatable. Even if it's not great, we'll still eat it.

But man oh man, were those cookies bad. It all started with the walnuts.

I get crazy ideas sometimes. Randomly, I'll remember hearing or reading about some food or ingredient that I've never tried, never even seen, maybe, and I'll decide then and there that not only do I need to track some down immediately, but that I'm going to love it unconditionally, and will soon be trumpeting it's virtues to anyone who will listen. So it was with the black walnuts.

Everything I'd read made them out to be a gourmet delight, much better than conventional, English walnuts, and worth the splurge. So I splurged, and spent a lot of money on a tiny little bag of nuts, took it home and opened it, and . . .

Ewww. What's that smell? Have they gone bad? The expiration date's months away! But there's a sweet, almost alcoholic air coming from those nuts. Do nuts ferment? A taste reveals no answers, only more questions. Why are they so . . . funky? Is that really a trace of blue cheese under all those dusty, sweetly-stale layers?

Fortunately, I'd bought two bags (assuming, of course, that I would love them so much that I might need to start stockpiling them), so out came specimen number two. Also fermented-scented and weird. Why my red flags weren't waving wildly in my face, I don't know. But I kept going.

Convinced that all those online resources couldn't be wrong about the luxurious gourmet-ness of black walnuts, I toasted some, ground them up, and mixed them into a standard shortbread recipe.

While baking, the magic of butter and sugar managed to muffle any off-scents the walnuts were emitting, and I was genuinely looking forward to trying the cookies. I broke off pieces for myself and Josh, and took a bite. I immediately knew it wasn't right, but I didn't really have more than a split second to think about why before my attention was drawn to what Josh was doing. What Josh's face was doing, more specifically.

It had gone into convulsions. His mouth was twisting side to side in a truly unnatural way. His eyes were scrunched up, practically closed, and his cheeks were sucked in, even as his tongue made acrobatic tumbles in and out of his mouth.

He was, to put it mildly, in the throes of the most vile flavor he'd ever eaten.

Let me tell you, it doesn't feel good to know that you made a cookie that caused your husband to gag and choke and make references to all the disgusting, nasty things you're never supposed to write about on a food blog. Not good at all.

Clearly, there was no room for discussion, no nuanced debate over this cookie's traits. It needed to leave our kitchen now.

Stupefied (and chagrined), I took to Facebook the next day, wondering what others knew about black walnuts. Turns out, many people don't like them. "Odd," "vile," and "funky" were all mentioned. Huh. I started to feel a little bit better. It wasn't completely my fault that Josh had to wash his mouth out; black walnuts have a very peculiar flavor, and it seems they're one of those love-it-or-hate-it things. I wish I had known this earlier. (Our unscientific tests point to a heavy "hate it" trend, as everyone at the restaurant was also revolted by the nuts. We even ordered a box of them from one of our suppliers, just in case the grocery store inventory really was spoiled, and the response was the same. Maybe they're not so luxurious after all.)

However, I couldn't just chalk the loss up to experience and walk away. I needed walnut shortbread. I needed it for the restaurant, for a new dessert I'm developing, and I needed it for the Ratio Rally, which is all about cookies this month. I needed to make this work.


Luckily, all it took was using regular walnuts in the recipe. I'm normally not a big fan of walnuts; hence my excitement over a "gourmet" walnut that promised a different taste. But between toasting the nuts and using a high-quality butter, plus the addition of a hint of cardamom, the bitter, dry flavor I always associate with walnuts was nowhere to be found in these cookies.

And aside from teaching me that some foods are best left untouched, my failed batch of shortbread reminded me of a little baking trick, one of those things I seem to periodically remember and then forget again. When I had tried the black walnut shortbread, before being overcome by the awful flavor, I had noticed that the texture was just a bit too dry, too crumbly. (Even for shortbread, which is supposed to be a light, crumbly cookie.) I didn't want to tinker with the ratio by adding more butter, so I fixed the texture problem with an egg yolk. A hard-cooked, sieved egg yolk, to be precise.

Adding a hard-cooked egg yolk that has been pushed through a fine mesh strainer adds just enough protein and fat to the cookie dough that it becomes enriched in an almost imperceptible way. The flavor is still delicate and buttery, the texture crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth, but it holds together just a bit better, and feels just a bit softer on the tongue. It's a little bit of magic, taking an almost-there cookie to perfect.

Thank you so much to the lovely Caroline of The G-Spot Revolution for hosting this month. And please be sure to follow the links to all of the Rally-er's delicious posts. With so many incredible options at your fingertips, your holiday cookie planning can stop right here!

Amanda | Gluten Free Maui | Simple Shortbread
Amie Valpone | The Healthy Apple |
Grapefruit Sugar Cookies
Brooke | B & the boy! |
Candy Cane Shortbread
Caleigh | Gluten Free[k] |
Mulled Spice Cookies
Caneel | Mama Me Gluten Free |
Cardamom Date Cookies
charissa | zest bakery |
Coconut Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Caroline | The G-Spot | Double Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies
Claire | Gluten Freedom |
Chai Latte Cashew Cookies
Erin | The Sensitive Epicure |
Spritz Cookies with Jam
gretchen | kumquat |
Classic Sugar Cookies
Irvin | Eat the Love |
Apple Brown Butter Bay Leaf Spice Cookies
Jean | Gluten Free Doctor Recipes |
Reindeer Cookies
Jenn | Jenn Cuisine |
Basler Brunsli
Jonathan| The Canary Files |
Vegan Salted Oatmeal Cherry Cookies
Karen | Cooking Gluten Free! |
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Lisa from Gluten Free Canteen |
Molasses Rum Raisin Cookies
Mary Fran | frannycakes |
Pinwheel Cookies
Meaghan | The Wicked Good Vegan |
Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Meredith | Gluten Free Betty |
Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Morri | Meals With Morri|
Stevia Sweetened & Grain-Free Thumbprint Cookies with Apricot Preserves
Pete & Kelli | No Gluten, No Problem|
Belgian Speculaas Cookies
Rachel | The Crispy Cook |
Melomakarona
Shauna | Gluten-Free Girl | Soft Molasses Cookies
Silvana Nardone | Silvana's Kitchen | Old-School Italian Jam-Filled Hazelnut Cookies
T.R. | No One Likes Crumbley Cookies |
Cinnamon Lemon Cookies



Walnut Shortbread
Yields one 8-inch round shortbread; recipe can be doubled or tripled

The ratio for this recipe is roughly 3 flour: 2 fat: 1 sugar (The ground nuts are included as part of the 'flour' in this ratio.)

22 grams raw walnuts, toasted in a 325ºF oven for 8-10 minutes or until fragrant, and cooled
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
121 grams Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
½ tsp xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder
½ tsp cardamom
113 grams (1 stick) best-quality unsalted butter, room temperature
52 grams confectioner's sugar, sifted
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp fine sea salt
1 hard-cooked egg yolk from 1 large egg, pressed through a fine mesh sieve
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Have ready an eight-inch tart pan, or other appropriately-sized baking pan.

In a small food processor or clean coffee grinder, combine the toasted walnuts and 1 Tbsp sugar and process until finely ground. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the pastry flour, xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder, and cardamom. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (alternately, you can use a mixing bowl and handheld electric mixer), cream the butter until light and creamy. Add the confectioner's sugar in three additions, beating well after each one and scraping down the paddle and sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla, salt, ground walnut mixture, and sieved egg yolk. Finally, add the pastry flour mixture, in three additions, mixing just until combined.

Press the dough evenly into your tart pan, and chill for 10 minutes. Sprinkle surface liberally with sugar, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until shortbread is golden brown and surface is cracked and crinkly. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into wedges. Shortbread keeps, wrapped airtight at room temperature, for up to 1 week.

11.22.2011

the exception


Is there anything to say about New York that hasn't already been said?

Probably not. But seeing as no one has yet said anything about my recent trip there, I'm going to forge ahead.


We went for the food. And good lord, did we eat well. Practically as soon as our plane touched down, we raced over to Peels, just in time for a late brunch of shrimp and grits and one of pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon's gluten-free orange and almond cakelettes. We loved it. We especially loved the space - there's some really good restaurant design going on there.



And that pretty much set the tone for our entire trip. We ate great food in beautiful spaces, and ogled all of it. Broiled king crab with aioli at Nobu Next Door. Amazingly fresh, creamy ricotta with figs, raspberries, pine nuts and honey at Prune (not to mention one of the best Bloody Marys I've ever had). A wonderful raw kale and grapefruit salad at Eataly's rooftop beer garden, Birreria. Marinated sardines with pickled beets at Babbo that were absolutely perfect. Incredibly complicated and complex cocktails at Death + Company. (I had the Sweet Hereafter. Highly recommended.) Homemade mallomars from TuLu's. Fancy pastries from Eataly. Baked eggs with creamy spinach at Pulino's. Cipollotta pizza at Palà Pizza. Belgian frites. Salted peanut caramel tiramisu. Jalapeño cheddar muffins. Chocolate soufflé with shiso syrup and white chocolate. Probusto sausage and krauti. Fig sorbetto. More fancy cocktails...







Seriously, the list just goes on and on, and trying to remember it all makes my head spin. (The fact that I am typing this late at night certainly doesn't help.) I was touched and relieved at every turn, finding again and again that it was not only easy to eat gluten-free in the city, but that I had a plethora of choices everywhere we went. I never felt limited or concerned that my needs weren't being accommodated. (Well, there was that one server at Birreria. But he was the exception. You've always got to have one.) But there was something interesting about all that food, something we hadn't expected.

It wasn't better than what we have here in Maine.

Don't get me wrong, it was great, really really great, it's just that the food scene in Maine (especially in Portland and here in the Midcoast region) has practically exploded recently with phenomenal products, restaurants, and chefs. We eat really well here. It was actually incredible for us to realize this, because we'd imagined Manhattan's restaurants as being these cities on the hills that nothing around here could hold a candle to. (An opinion influenced, surely, by the year we lived there, and couldn't afford to eat out anywhere.) True, there are no Per Se's and Eleven Madison Parks around here. And certainly, there are a lot of places in Maine that serve really awful food. But for the most part, for the places we chose to eat at in NYC and our favorite restaurants at home, they're all in the same league. Wow.

After flying back in to Portland, we stopped for one more meal before driving to pick up the boys at my parent's house. (Oh, how I missed them. I was restless and itching to get back to them.) We ate at El Rayo Taqueria, because somehow, in our crazy attempt to hit every place on our list, we had forgotten to get Mexican food in New York. Starving after a hurried morning rushing to catch our flight - and literally running through the airport, being escorted by security - we descended hungrily on chips and salsa and guacamole, fish tacos and grilled chicken tacos, pork tamales, corn on the cob with chipotle mayonnaise and cotija cheese, and Mexican chocolate pudding. It was awesome. Comforting, flavorful, and fresh. Josh knows the manager, so we chatted with her, trading compliments. The owner of one of our favorite wine distributors dropped by on a sales call, so we got to catch up with him and sample some wine. Good food and personal connections, all rolled into one. A great meal.

We are so lucky.

We are lucky also, I think, to realize this right now, as we head into not only a season of gratitude and compassion for each other and our lives, but also the end of the busy season, restaurant-wise. It can be all too easy in Maine, in a tourist town like ours, to bemoan the dearth of customers in January compared to August's highs. But really, despite our appreciation for them, it's not those here-today-gone-tomorrow summer people who sustain us. It's the locals. The regulars, who come in on a cold Tuesday night not because of any special occasion, but because they appreciate good food and are frequent supporters of it when they find it. And it's the growing population of these enthusiastic eaters that has allowed coastal Maine to become a culinary force to be reckoned with. They allow us to do the work we love, with the dedication and passion we feel it deserves, while simultaneously making it possible for us to make sustainable choices regarding where we raise our children and how we live as a family. Thank you.


The culinary culture we crave, that we have been working towards for the past decade, and the small-town, family-oriented community we feel is best for our kids, they both overlap right here. We truly have the best of both worlds. As we head into the cold and dark of the coming season, I will remember this often, with gratitude.

Understanding all this will help you put into context what I'm about to say next.

We did have one dining experience in New York that blew us away. I don't even want to call it a meal, because it was so much more than that. It might have been the best restaurant we've ever been to.

We had dinner at Gramercy Tavern.

I don't think I can write adequately about this. The entire thing was phenomenal, from the way we were greeted when we arrived to the tiny amuse bouche (one of three) of curried chicken served in a Brussels sprout leaf to the kitchen tour the manager led us on at the end of our meal. The whole time, Josh and I couldn't stop spouting off superlatives. The service was impeccable. The timing of the courses was fantastic. Our server was better than any we've met before. And the food . . . oh, the food. I sort of lost my mind (and my vocabulary!) over the food. I remember saying, when I took the first bite of my pork loin and belly entrée, "This is perfect. This tastes just exactly as it should." There was no need to say any more. We ate a surprising lobster salad with apples. Beef tartare with root vegetable chips and one pristine, glistening egg yolk. Josh had a special of fresh pappardelle bolognese, with meltingly tender braised beef. The already-mentioned pork loin, which was served pink (truly, we are all over-cooking our pork) and accompanied by spicy, vinegary carrots, tender leek hearts, and creamy wedges of white sweet potato. Oh, and crispy, ridiculously flavorful pork belly and a scattering of pork rinds. Needless to say, I was in a hazy, pork-induced oblivion for a while there. I did manage to raise my head just long enough to taste Josh's duck dish (breast and confit), but quickly turned my attention back to my own plate. I hate to overuse the word, but it really was perfect, in every sense.

It didn't matter that we were full; dinner at Gramercy includes dessert. I wouldn't have left without tasting some of pastry chef Nancy Olson's creations anyway. So I had the peanut butter semifreddo, which was a delightful study in contrasts. The kitchen sent out the pear sorbet sundae. We ate Harbison cheese, from one of my favorite artisan cheesemakers. I believe Josh had the apple upside down cake, but to be truthful, I had stopped paying attention to what he was eating a while ago. The steady march of food and drink to our table was overwhelming, in the most heady, opulent of ways, and by the end it was all I could do keep up my end of the conversation. And then, as if they hadn't already done more than enough, Josh was handed two smartly packaged muffins, to bring back to the hotel for the next morning. There were sincere apologies that the pastry kitchen had no gluten-free baked goods to send me into the night with. (I wasn't feeling left out. I had my muffin from TuLu's waiting for me).


I have fallen head over heals in love with Gramercy Tavern.

If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be this: eat at Gramercy Tavern. If ever you are in The City, eat at Gramercy Tavern. Eat at Gramercy Tavern, so that, for those few hours of that one night, you can have the experience of being fully, totally enveloped and seduced by true artistry.

That is New York.

The more I thought about how to describe our Manhattan vacation, the more I realized that it was all about artistry. The food, the architecture, the sidewalk musicians, the fashion, the faces, the history, the public art - everywhere we turned, we were face-to-face with art, with beauty. The only way for me to really explain that is with visuals, so I'm leaving you with some (ah, ahem, maybe a whole lot of) images from our trip. And if you scroll way, way down to the end, you'll even find a recipe, inspired by one of the dishes we ate in New York.

Speaking of recipes, 'tis the season for lots of menu planning, recipe searching, and festive gatherings. If you're looking for inspiration, might I direct you over to Williams-Sonoma's blog, The Blender? They're compiled a Virtual Thanksgiving Potluck (although I think it's application covers much more than just Turkey Day), featuring an array of seasonal recipes, including four of mine. Personally, I think that spicy sweet potato soup might make the rounds at our house next week, when we just can't bear the thought of Thanksgiving leftovers showing up in one more meal.

Have a wonderful week, friends. Thank you for being here.






























Lacinato Kale and Grapefruit Salad
Serves 4-6


Maybe it's because I was still recovering from our Gramercy Experience the night before, but my eyes immediately honed in on the raw kale salad when we sat down at Birreria. Crisp, dark greens, tart citrus, and the nuttiness of Parmesan work together to create a dish that tastes great, but better still, tastes like a great thing to give to your body. I loved it so much I had to recreate it when we got home, and it's going to grace our Thanksgiving table in a few days. But if raw kale and grapefruit are a little too untraditional for your family, might I suggest that you break it out once the holiday meal has passed, and a little detox feels like just what you always wanted. The original salad was dressed with an anchovy vinaigrette, but I found that the elusive richness of sesame oil makes a great substitute.

2 bunches Lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale), stems removed and leaves chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 large grapefruits, segmented (a great how-to video can be seen here), juices reserved
4 Tbsp fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
6 or 7 Tbsp fresh grapefruit juice (depending on how much your grapefruits yielded, and also how tart you like your vinaigrette)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Parmesan-Poppy Frico pieces, for garnish (see below)

Combine the chopped kale and grapefruit segments in a serving bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the olive and sesame oils. Slowly drizzle in the grapefruit juice, whisking constantly, to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Gently toss the kale salad with the grapefruit vinaigrette. Top with pieces of Parmesan-Poppy Frico, and serve immediately, with extra frico to pass around.

For the Frico:
This is more a method than a recipe. Simply grate a bunch of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or other hard cheese) with a microplane or the small holes of a box grater over a silicone baking mat-lined sheet pan. Pat the cheese down and spread it out into a thin layer, filling in any large gaps with more cheese. Generously sprinkle poppy seeds over it. Bake in a 350º oven for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and just the edges have begun to brown. Cool completely, then use a thin metal spatula to lift the frico off the baking mat. Break it into smallish sized pieces, and store in an airtight container at room temperature if not using immediately.

11.02.2011

as it should be


You know how sometimes you'll stop by a favorite blog and find a post that starts out, "I've been trying to write this post for a while now...?" And then the author talks a bit about the writer's block s/he's been suffering, or the conflicting feelings s/he's been wrestling with about broaching a particularly touchy subject, or even all the extraordinary busyness of ordinary life that has conspired to keep him/her away from the computer.

This is that post.

Except that this is very much not that post.

My excuse for not having written this sooner is not one that I ever see brought up in other blogs. At least, not the blogs I read.

I have been having trouble getting this post to you because I keep falling asleep.

No, I do not have narcolepsy, or mono, or even an inordinately exhausting life.

I simply have a child with a bedtime routine that routinely puts me to sleep, as well.

Every night, I lay down with Wylie until he falls asleep. And snuggling with my little boy at the end of the day, in a cozy bed in a dark room, is apparently exactly what my body needs to trigger my own sleep mechanisms, despite my best efforts to stay awake. If I wake up at all, it is often not until 10:30 or 11pm; too late to begin writing for a mama who needs to be up at 6:45 the next morning. Sometimes I wake with a start when I hear the front door shut and the dog start doing her excited, tail-wagging wiggle dance; Josh has arrived home, so it must be closing in on midnight. Definitely too late to write.

To compound the problem, evenings are the only time I get anything that resembles a block of kid-free, uninterrupted time to write. Preschool ended up not being a good fit for Wylie right now, so he's back at home every day, and my promising pastry assistant is no longer working at the restaurant, so the little bit of daytime freedom that was opening up for me has abruptly disappeared.

I'm actually okay with this, usually. Decisions were made that were in the best interests of all involved, and I'm enjoying having, for the first time in both of our lives, regular periods of one-on-one time with Wylie.

But at 11 o'clock at night, groggy and grumpy that I have missed yet another night of "me" time? That's when I realize that part of this system is broken.

Wylie and I need to find another way to get him to sleep. One that is nurturing, efficient and unobtrusive to Kalen (they share a room), but that allows me to stay alert and awake and productive past the kiddo bedtime hour.

I'd like to propose a trade. Not with Wylie, necessarily, although wouldn't it be wonderful if he was rational and mature enough to barter his way to a mutually agreeable bedtime routine? No, I'd like to trade with all of you. Josh and I have talked about some strategies that we think might work, but really, we're just stabbing at the dark here; Kalen's transition was under very different circumstances. I'd love to know how other families have transitioned their little ones to independent sleepers, especially when said little ones are really not so little at all anymore, and are in fact around the ripe old age of three.

So, you tell me all your secrets and tricks, and in exchange I'll give you the recipe for perfect cinnamon cream cheese ice cream. Perfect because it's quick and easy, and stays smooth and creamy in the freezer for weeks, but also because it tastes perfect. The cinnamon is warm and cozy — as it should be — not high-pitched and biting like a Red Hot®, the way some cinnamon ice creams I've had are. And the tang of the cream cheese makes you realize that this is a real, sophisticated Flavor, not merely some cinnamon garnishing vanilla ice cream.


In fact, this ice cream may be the only one you need as we approach the holiday season, with so many pies in our future waiting to be à-la-moded, and baked apples and cranberry-pear crisps wanting to get in on the action too. Just another nod to its perfectness.

At the end of the week, Josh and I are heading off on whirlwind four days of eating our way through lower Manhattan. Yes, that's right, folks: a kid-free vacation. One that involves air travel and reservations at fancy restaurants and late-night drinks. It's a bit mind-boggling to imagine myself doing such adult things, for days in a row, after so many years of being a constant parent. Mind-boggling and exhilarating, for sure. And when we get back, after the pain of missing my children has worn off, the Wylie-Tara Sleep Project will commence. For now, simply making the commitment to change what has become a well-worn (and worn out!) habit is enough for me. But very soon, I'll need some concrete plans.

Here I am, ready and waiting for your suggestions, friends. And, to prove to you how serious I am, I'll go ahead and keep up my end of the bargain: The Recipe.


Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream
Yields 1 quart

This recipe is really just a variation of my Vanilla-Brown Sugar Ice Cream recipe, with a few tweaks here and there. And while the tweaks may seem minor, the end result is a different product altogether. Where the original ice cream tastes of the simplicity of my childhood summers, this version is all grown-up, with extra tang from more cream cheese and the richness and heat of quality cinnamon. For me, if I'm going to be eating ice cream in the colder months, atop my slice of apple pie or alongside a fudgy brownie, this is the one I want.

360 gr/12 fluid oz whole milk
360 gr/12 fluid oz heavy cream
120 gr light brown sugar
8 gr light corn syrup
¾ tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp best-quality ground cinnamon
large pinch kosher salt
55 gr cream cheese, room temperature, in a small bowl

Have ready a metal bowl set over an ice bath.

Combine everything but the cream cheese in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a fast simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to the metal bowl in the ice bath. Whisk a small amount of the mixture into the cream cheese until the cream cheese has dissolved, then whisk the cream cheese mixture into the ice cream base. (I find an immersion blender works especially well for fully incorporating the cream cheese.) Once the ice cream base has cooled, transfer it to the refrigerator and chill until very cold, up to overnight.

Strain the ice cream base into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pack the churned ice cream into glass storage containers (or use a metal loaf pan), press plastic wrap or parchment directly onto the surface, cover tightly, and freeze. Ice cream keeps for up to 3 months.

10.15.2011

stop-you-in-your-tracks good


Did you catch what I said earlier? About the chicken class?

Yeah, I'm that person. Every time I want to tackle a new project, be it knitting or planning a garden or photography, I find it impossible to just jump in headfirst. Before I can do, I have to learn. I do extensive Internet research, I check books out of the library, I seek out tutorials, and I talk to anyone I can find who knows more than me about whatever topic it is I'm currently obsessing over.

Obviously, then, when I decided I wanted, no, needed, hens, I immediately signed myself up for chicken school.

Okay, that might be exaggerating a little bit. It was not so much a "school" as a "three-hour introductory class on the basics of keeping chickens." But still, it was me once again embracing the role of student before embarking on a new adventure. And it was a good starting point for a girl like me, one with no close friends or neighbors keeping chickens from whom to learn the ropes, who had no idea that hawks and racoons would suddenly be problematic creatures, who naively assumed chicken wire would be the best material for constructing a chicken fence (apparently its uses run parallel to duct tape - good for everything but), and who never would have guessed that a dog crate is handy to have around for dealing with broody hens.

I'm happy to report, I'm finding chicken husbandry utterly fascinating.

It's not just the thrill of collecting freshly-laid eggs that I'm most looking forward to. (Although it's a big one, being as it is the leading cause of my campaign to install hens in our yard.) The more I learn, the more excited I get to witness the differences between various breeds (we're hoping to have two, maybe three varieties), and to laugh at all the humorous antics hens are (apparently) known to perform, and most certainly to share in my children's experience of caring for and bonding with the creatures whose "product" they are already so in love with.

Of all we do to be part of the self-produced local food movement, I anticipate that having chickens will be a lot more life-changing and fulfilling than, say, our small garden plot has proven to be. (Not to knock gardens! I love ours! It's just that, most of the time, the interaction and entertainment factors are quite low.)

So anyway, there I was at the chicken class, listening to discussions around different types of feeders and how much kitchen scraps you can feed your hens and what size and shape your roosts should be to allow the ladies to use them to warm their feet in the winter, when the conversation turned to gluten-free food.

It should have been unsurprising. Gluten-free is on the tips of so many tongues these days that it has a habit of sneaking into even the most unsuspecting conversations. And really, given that the class was taking a break to visit the store downstairs, where, among the naturally-dyed yarns and locally-made soaps, gluten-free baked goods were prominently on display, it was inevitable.

The most surprising thing, actually, was the tone of the chatter. It was so . . . negative.

I was waiting in line at the cash register when I heard the cashier caution the man in front of me about the whoopie pie he was trying to buy.

Cashier: "You know that's gluten-free, right?"

Man: "Oh, no, well, I'll get it anyway."

"Are you sure? I feel I should warn you: it's an acquired taste," the cashier said, delicately.

Things went downhill from there. The cashier recounted other customers who hadn't liked the whoopie pies. A woman behind me had had them once, when she was trying to eat gluten-free. They were awful, she said.

At that point, the gluten-free lifestyle more generally became the topic around which the talk swirled. How hard it was to find things to eat. How expensive all the gluten-free (packaged) foods at the grocery store are, and how bad they taste. The whoopie-pie-hating woman exclaimed that she was so happy when she gave up eating gluten-free, that living that way was unbearable. Everyone else agreed, in a chorus of talking over each other with their gluten-free horror stories.

This was where I jumped in.

I practically had to shout to be heard above all the eager-to-complain voices, but finally I had the floor. I spoke emphatically, with an urgency that was new to me; never before had I so strongly felt the need to defend the gluten-free lifestyle. And while I may have gone on too long, and been too fervent in stating my case, I think I got my point across.

Food that comes with a warning, that needs to be apologized for, is not good food. Gluten-free should be no exception; no one should have to settle for food that, in its most polite description, is an "acquired taste." Living gluten-free should be far from unbearable.

I talked about my work at the restaurant, about the rave reviews we get for our gluten-free focaccia and pasta and all the desserts I make. I talked about this space, and all the other amazing gluten-free bloggers and bakers and chefs and cookbook authors out there proving daily that gluten-free food is not only not a shadow of its gluten-full cousin, but in some cases actually, defiantly, better.


But you know what? I didn't have any concrete evidence with which to prove my point. I didn't have anything to feed to my classmates. All I had was my convictions and some business cards and the whoopie pie the guy at the cash register gave me for free, because he wanted my opinion of it.

It was not a good whoopie pie. It was a very bad whoopie pie, in fact. I would not want to eat enough of those whoopie pies to acquire a taste for them. And yet, as the cashier explained to me, they wanted to have gluten-free treats for sale, and support local businesses. There was only one local gluten-free bakery, so it was these whoopie pies (and chocolate chip cookies and brownies) or nothing.

While I understand the desire to accept fresh-baked gluten-free items with gratitude and bite our collective tongues against any criticism we may have (Hey! The fact that there even are local gluten-free bakeries is a big deal, and we should support anyone out there making an effort to feed us well!), it still doesn't feel very good to be presented with food that is unpalatable. Not now, not when the culture has changed and we've realized that gluten-free can be stop-you-in-your-tracks good.

I don't want my food to make me sick. And I want to eat tremendously, phenomenally well. These two desires should not be mutually exclusive.

So what to do? Well, we've got to keep making amazing food, for one thing. We've got to keep sharing our knowledge and discoveries, spreading the word on how to make gluten-free taste great. When we find a product or company worth talking about, we've got to do our best to promote it. And we've got to be patient. Because as explosively popular as gluten-free has become, it is still a very, very different way for most people to approach baking and cooking. And, like all foods, there's always going to be a range of gluten-free food out there, from the barely passable to the five-star. Accepting that, while still working to tip the scale further and further away from the "passable" end of things, is the job of many food movements right now. We're in good company.

And if we're lucky enough to do all that with a delicious, pillowy-soft, seasonally-scented whoopie pie in hand, well, all the better.


Multigrain Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies
yields 2 dozen individual cookies, and 1 dozen whoopie pies

These whoopie pies are not only far better than any of the ones I remember eating as a child, they also have the added benefit of being a lot healthier. Packed with whole grains and pumpkin, the fluffy domed little cakes sandwich a filling that eschews the traditional questionable ingredients (shortening and marshmallow fluff) for cream cheese and pure maple syrup. As an added bonus, they are gum-free. Whoopie!

65 grams light buckwheat flour
55 grams almond flour
55 grams Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour (or your favorite all-purpose blend)
50 grams certified gluten-free oat flour
25 grams potato starch
20 grams teff flour
8 grams/2 tsp baking powder
4 grams/1½ tsp roasted Saigon cinnamon (regular cinnamon is fine, too)
3 grams/1 tsp psyllium husk powder
3 grams/½ tsp fine sea salt
pinch ground cloves
dash of freshly ground black pepper (I did about 10 turns on my pepper mill)
50 grams sour cream
4 grams/1 tsp baking soda
175 grams light brown sugar
114 grams/1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
212 grams pumpkin purée
52 grams/1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
175 grams/1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 recipe Maple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line two sheet trays with parchment or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the buckwheat flour, almond flour, all-purpose flour, oat flour, potato starch, teff flour, baking powder, cinnamon, psyllium husk powder, salt, cloves, and black pepper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add the pumpkin, and mix until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

With the machine on low speed, add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Using a small ice cream scoop with a spring release mechanism (I use this one; you want something that scoops 3-4 tablespoons of dough), scoop the dough onto the prepared sheet trays, about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges have just begun to brown, the tops are cracked and dry, and a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To assemble the whoopie pies, fill a piping bag fitted with a large star tip (or just use a large plastic freezer bag and snip off one corner) with the cream cheese frosting, and pipe a spiral of frosting on the flat sides of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies. Wrap each whoopie pie in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days. Whoopie pies can be served cold or at room temperature.

Maple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields enough to fill 1 dozen whoopie pies

454 grams/16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
226 grams/8 oz confectioner's sugar, sifted
140 grams/10 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
80 grams/4 Tbsp pure maple syrup
30 grams/2 Tbsp heavy cream
¾ tsp roasted Saigon cinnamon (regular cinnamon is fine, too)

Combine all in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer to thoroughly blend. (You could also use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a whisk and elbow grease!) Refrigerate until needed.

10.01.2011

settling in


Long absences are funny things.

Whether it's reunions with old friends, returning to a beloved-but-seldom-visited location, the long-anticipated commencement of your favorite season, or simply rereading a much-loved book you've practically forgotten about, it's easy to hype it up and expect the experience to be intensely exciting. With the rush of memories you know it will conjure, and the fervor and anticipation with which you will approach it, it seems like the entire thing should be a jumble of emotional fast-talking and laughing and catching your breath while you're swirled around in a nostalgic soup.

I've found, however, that these things usually happen a lot more gently, organically almost. There's that initial burst of excitement, but pretty quickly everything calms down and you just sort of  . . . ease into it, as if the absence, all that space and time, had never happened. It feels natural, and easy, and right.

I think this might apply to blogs, too.

I've been absent from this space for several weeks now, which in the instantaneous world of the Internet is a pretty long time. And a lot has been happening, between parties and first days of school and backyard poultry classes and hiring and training a new pastry cook at the restaurant and weekend travel . . . you get the idea. We're busy.

And as much as I'm not writing regularly here, I'm thinking about this space more than ever, wishing I was here, trying to scheme up ways to get just a little more time each day so that maybe I can eventually have a recipe for you with pictures to go with it and some text, just a little, so that it feels like more than merely a page out of a cookbook.

I've fantasized about all the stories I will tell you, about how remarkably my first-day-of-school worries for Kalen were proven to be completely unnecessary, about how fortunate I feel to finally have an extra set of hands in the 40 Paper pastry kitchen, and about our family's increasing excitement about and commitment to getting some hens next year. And then, of course, I wouldn't be able to leave without waxing ecstatic about last weekend's Fair, which is one of our most-looked-forward-to events of the year.

But you know what? Just like The Fair and the best reunions, now that I'm finally back in this space it doesn't feel all jumpy and excitable like I'd expected. I don't want to give you lots of extended, breathless recounts of everything that's happened between then and now, running anxiously from topic to topic to make sure I haven't left anything unsaid. Because being here again feels comfortable and normal. And easing back into our routine, with photos from last weekend and a recipe for a delicious and unusual apple cake, feels right, and a lot more authentic.

Catching up and settling in, with a slide show and good food. Classic reunion fare, wouldn't you agree?

It's good to be here again with you, friends.


















Tuscan Apple Cake (Torta di Mele)
Yields 1 9-inch round cake, or 8 individual cakes

This cake is one of the newest additions to the 40 Paper dessert menu. It's light, only faintly sweet and a little bit homey, with the unmistakable fall flavor profile of spiced apple. Of course, we fancy it up with a scoop of cinnamon cream cheese gelato and lots of spiced caramel, but the cake is delicious all on its own, or served simply, with a side of vanilla ice cream. We use it to feature one of my favorite local apples, the Honey Crisp, but feel free to use your own favorite variety. You can pretty much assume that if you love a particular apple in pie, you'll love it in this cake.

unsalted butter, room temperature, for greasing pan(s)
100 grams granulated sugar, plus additional for coating pan(s)
1 large Honey Crisp apple (or other tart, firm apple), peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced into 24 thin wedges
220 grams whole eggs (about 4 large), room temperature
55 grams granulated sugar
60 grams sour cream
1 Tbsp vanilla
zest of one lemon
70 grams Tara's gf pastry flour
33 grams almond flour
¾ tsp cinnamon, plus additional for apple slices
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp xanthan gum (optional; your cake will be a bit firmer with it)
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
375 grams peeled, cored and thinly-chopped Honey Crisp apples (or other tart, firm apple)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, or 8 large ramekins. Coat with a layer of granulated sugar, then scatter the 100 grams of granulated sugar over the bottom of the pan, shaking it gently to evenly distribute the sugar. (If you're using ramekins, divide the 100 grams of sugar among them; it's just under 1 Tbsp per ramekin.) Arrange the apple slices in one layer in the prepared pan/ramekins, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until very light and foamy. It should more than triple in volume. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla, then stir in the lemon zest.

In a small bowl, whisk together the pastry flour, almond flour, ¾ tsp cinnamon, baking powder, xanthan gum (if using), nutmeg, and salt. Fold into the egg batter. Gently stir in chopped apples to thoroughly distribute.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 15-18 minutes for ramekins, or up to 22 minutes for the springform pan, or until the top is golden brown and shiny, and the cake has started to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, then remove sides of springform pan to finish cooling. (If using ramekins, let cakes cool completely in them.) Cake can be served at room temperature, but I find it's even better warmed up. At the restaurant, we upend the ramekins onto a plate (the cakes easily slip out), warm the cake briefly in the microwave, then use a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar syrup and apple slices on the bottom (now top) of the cake. It's wonderful.

Cake keeps, wrapped airtight and refrigerated, for up to one week.
 
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