Tuesday, December 29, 2009

For the Love of Comfort Food

Let's face it, comfort food is almost always about the starch, which in many cases means gluten. Wait! Potatoes - wonderful, creamy, starchy, comforting potatoes. Here's a recipe that's all about cheesy, easy, comforting potato goodness. Enjoy!

Roasted Blue Cheese Potatoes
1 pound of thin-skinned, baby potatoes (I used a mix of red, white and purple.) - cut in half
Olive Oil
Fresh ground sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Heaping 1/3 cup crumbled Blue Cheese
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the potatoes in a glass baking dish and generously coat with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and arrange them evenly in the pan, cut side down. Roast about 40 minutes or until tender and the undersides are golden and crispy.

In the meantime, toast the walnuts. I always do this in a skillet on the stove so I can move them around a bit and not burn them, as I invariably do in the oven. Once toasted, set them aside in a bowl and add the scallions once cooled.

Once the potatoes are done, sprinkle with the walnut and scallion mixture and the blue cheese, in the pan the potatoes were roasted in, and mix well to coat. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Channeling Willy Wonka

There's no gluten in good quality chocolate...and for that I say "Thank God!". I celebrate this gluten-free fabulousness on a regular basis and also love to make candy every Christmas. The stars of this year's creations...Molded Chocolate Truffles! I'd made Hand-Rolled Truffles for years but last summer I took a class with Anne Mills, founder of Eat Chocolates. What a wonderful class! Anne is patient and generous with her time, knowledge and materials and the class is very reasonably priced. Classes are small, for lots of individual attention, and held in her professional kitchen in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

Once you're ready to tackle truffle making on your own, Anne rents out her kitchen and equipment and sells all the necessary supplies. Alternately, you can rent the necessary tempering machine and molds from Bill Fredericks, AKA The Chocolate Man, and mess up your own kitchen as I did. Bill also sells chocolate and carries a wide variety of high quality brands and additional candy making supplies. Call him up, tell him what you want to make and he'll tell you the best chocolate for the job; and his prices beat anything you'll find in stores and the quality is much higher. Bill also teaches classes through community colleges and cooking schools throughout Seattle.

I made a wider variety of truffles in Anne's class than I did at home this holiday season, but no one complained that they only received three varieties...Dark Chocolate with Cardamom Ganache, Dark Chocolate with Kahlua Ganache, and Dark Chocolate with White Chocolate Irish Cream Ganache. Yes, it pays to be on my "Nice List" each holiday season!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gobble, Gobble!

Well life has thrown me a few curve balls over the last two months, but I still have much to be thankful for. Seeing as a blog post in long overdue, I figured I'd better reemerge with something spectacular, so here's the dessert I made for yesterday's Thanksgiving festivities. It's a bit of an ambitious recipe but definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Bourbon Cream

2 cups Pamela's Gluten Free Pancake and Baking Mix
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Grease a 10" springform pan lightly with butter. In a large bowl, combine the baking mix and brown sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until fine crumbs form. Stir in the nuts and mix well. The crust will be crumbly but will hold together when pressed into the pan. Pat the mixture onto the bottom and sides of the pan, bringing the crust about half way up the side of the pan. Use a spoon or the bottom of a juice glass to press the crust evenly along the edge of the pan. Set aside and begin preparing the cheesecake filling.

1-1/3 cup raw cane sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1-1/2 pounds (three 8-oz packages) of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1 tbl good quality pure vanilla extract
1 tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. Before you start preparing the filling you must prepare your canned pumpkin to remove most of the water content. This procedure seems strange and magical at the same time and I highly recommend it for any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, as it will greatly reduce the water in the puree, making any recipe lighter and more "pumpkin-y" tasting. Trust me, it's worth the effort.

Spread at least two layer of paper towels (about three full squares long) onto a clean counter top. Spread the pumpkin puree on the paper towels with a rubber spatula. You went to spread it as thinly as possible, as if you were icing a cake. Once it's evenly distributed on the paper towels, cover the pumpkin with at least two layers of paper towels and press with your hands. You'll see much of the water soak into the paper towels yet the pumpkin will stay firmly attached to the bottom layer of paper towels. Once the top layer of towels is saturated, replace them with two more layers and keep doing this until the towels no longer soak up much water or until you get really tired of the process, which ever comes first. I typically do about eight rounds of this and use a half a roll of paper towels and then call it quits.

Now for the super magical part, grab one end of the paper towels and fold about a third of the pumpkin puree on top of itself. The bottom layer of wet paper towels should easily peel away and the pumpkin will stick to itself. Repeat this action until you have a small "stack" of pumpkin puree to add to the recipe. I now use this technique for any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin puree.

There are two additional preparation steps to take care of before you begin making the cheesecake filling. First wrap the outside of the springform pan with heavy duty foil. You need to do this because you'll be baking the cheesecake in a water bath. This will insure even cooking and will keep your cheesecake from cracking. Be sure you use heavy duty foil and if possible, purchase foil wide enough to wrap completely around the outside of the pan in one piece. If you use multiple layers of narrower foil, you run the risk of water seeping through the gaps of the foil and your crust may be a bit soggy.

Also, bring four quarts of water to a simmer. This will be the water for the water bath.

To prepare the filling, combine the sugar, spices and salt in a small bowl and set aside. With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the three packages of cream cheese on medium speed for about a minute. Add the sugar mixture in three batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition and mixing until well incorporated, about a minutes. Add the vanilla, lemon juice and pumpkin and beat on medium speed for about another minute more. Add three of the eggs and beat on low-medium until well incorporated. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and then add the final two eggs. Add the heavy cream and beat on low speed for about forty-five seconds more. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once or twice by hand, to be sure everything is well incorporated. Pour the filling evenly into the pan and carefully cut away any crust above the filling.

One the pan is filled and the four quarts of water are simmering, put the foil-wrapped springform pan into an empty roasting pan. Be sure the pan is large enough so that there's at least an inch between the sides of the pan and the springform pan. Carefully ladle the simmering water into the roasting pan, making sure that none of the water splashes into the cheesecake pan. Fill the roasting pan until the water is about half way up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the center of the cheesecake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken and it registers 150 degrees on an instant read thermometer. This was an hour and a half in my electric oven but may vary by oven. Once the cheesecake is done, remove the pan from the water bath, remove the foil and place the pan on a wire rack to cool. While still warm, run a thin paring knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the crust from the pan. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. I think cheesecake tastes best when it's been refrigerated at least twenty-four hours and I think it tastes even better the second day.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons good quality bourbon

In a metal bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, sour cream and brown sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours and up to twenty-four hours. Right before serving the cheesecake, add the bourbon and beat on medium speed until small bubbles form around the edge of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat until fluffy and doubled in volume.

Before serving the cheesecake, run the paring knife around the inside of the pan again and gently remove the springform ring. Run a sharp knife under cold water before cutting the first slice of cheesecake. Rinse the knife under cold water and dry between cutting each slice for cleanly cut slices. Add a dollop of the Brown Sugar Bourbon Cream to individual cheesecake slices. Enjoy!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's All About the Bread, Baby!

As most people do when they’re told they can no longer eat gluten, I found my way to the very small gluten-free section of my grocery store and I began my first gluten-free grocery shopping adventure. Okay, that makes it sound a lot more fun than it really is. Stay tuned for g.f. shopping tips, but for today, let’s start with bread. On that fine day three years ago, I reluctantly plunked down $6 for a loaf of gluten-free, brown rice bread. This was painful. My favorite crusty loaf of rosemary bread from a local bakery wasn’t even that spendy, but I didn’t feel I had a choice if I ever wanted to eat a sandwich again. One I arrive home and attempted to consume a slice, I realized I had just purchased a $6 door stop. Ok, I’ll toast it, I thought. It’s half way to hard already, so I bet my turkey sandwich with mayo, havarti, roasted red peppers, lettuce and alfalfa sprouts will be wonderful on warm, toasted bread. I then discovered that store-bought, gluten-free bread doesn’t toast. It’s some sort of freak of nature that I still don’t understand. Three attempts with the same slice on the highest setting produced burnt edges and a center that never toasted.

Enter Bette Hagman, the authority on baking your own gluten-free bread. I checked Bette’s The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread: More Than 200 Wheat-Free Recipes out of the library. I tried two of her basic dough recipes for bread machines and fell in love with one of them. I’ve since modified it slightly and the recipe follows. I should go back and try others from the book, but I’m so thrilled with this recipe that tastes amazing and turns out perfectly every time, that I’m adhering to the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in this situation.

Now, with that comment comes a disclaimer. I gave my tried and true recipe to a fellow gluten-free friend, telling her that no one would ever guess that this is gluten-free bread. It is nothing like the bricks of brown rice breads at the grocery stores. I swear if you put one of my loaves in a taste test with any other bread machine bread, no one would know which one was gluten-free. Well, she followed the recipe exactly and ended up with her very own doorstop. She said it was a good thing that her husband of many years didn’t happen to get on her last nerve that day, because she would have had a deadly weapon at the ready. I chalk it up to differences in bread machines, so proceed at your own risk.

My machine is an older model Breadman Ultimate TR2200C. Breadman currently makes a few models with gluten-free settings but they cost more than $100. Considering that bread machines were the holiday gift of choice by many misguided husbands in the 1980’s, I bet you could find the model I own at Goodwill for less than $20. Hey, as much as I love starch and love kitchen appliances and gadgets, I do not want them as a gift from a man. Go bling or go home is my motto.

Anyway, good luck with the recipe. Let me know how it turns out for you and it you came up with any tasty variations. I’d also be curious to know if this works with an egg substitute for those who can’t tolerate eggs.

Gluten-Free Bread Recipe
This recipe starts with a base flour mix. If you’re new to g.f. baking, you may be wondering where to find these funky flours. If you live in the Seattle area, Manna Mills is g.f. mecca! Alternately, try health food stores in your area or mail order. Bob’s Red Mill sells these as well, and many mainstream grocers are starting to stock this brand, but buying bulk from a health food store is often much cheaper, even for the organic versions. I buy most of my dried goods bulk now. It’s so much cheaper (especially for dry yeast and xanthan gum) and reduces my carbon footprint with reduced packaging.

Base flour mix for g.f. bread in a bread machine:
3 cups brown rice flour
3 cups tapioca flour
3 cups corn starch
3 tablespoons potato flour (this is different than potato starch)

Basic bread recipe:
In a bowl combine and mix well:
2 cups base flour mix
1 and ½ teaspoons xanthan gum (a necessary binding ingredient when gluten is absent, available at health food stores)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons raw sugar cane or white sugar
¼ cup powdered milk or unflavored soy protein
2 and ½ teaspoons dry yeast

In a separate bowl combine and mix well:
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter or Earth Balance Non-Dairy Spread
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup warm water (about 100 degrees)

Generously butter your bread pan for a nice, crispy crust. I usually spray the mixing paddle liberally with non-stick cooking, in hopes that it will stay in the pan when I remove the bread and not stay buried in the loaf. Layer the contents of the two bowls, starting with the wet mixture and alternating until all contents are in the pan. I start with the wet ingredients, so the machine’s motor doesn’t have to work quite as hard when it begins mixing the ingredients. I set my machine for a two pound, white-bread loaf with a medium crust - complete baking and rising time is three hours and ten minutes. This is likely where a lot of the experimentation is needed for different machines. Find the closest setting to this and give it a try.

Once the machine hits the first kneading cycle, I scrape the contents of the corners of the pan into the mix with a spatula, as my machine doesn’t seem to mix completely on it’s own and I add a little more warm water - just enough to help combine the last of the dry ingredients. Then go busy yourself with other things for three hours, while enjoying the wonderful aroma in your house! Happy baking - I’ve got my fingers crossed for ya!

Variations: Once I added cinnamon and walnuts to the dry ingredients but the bread ended up with an odd, metallic taste. I think it might have been a reaction between the cinnamon and the Teflon coating of the pan. I’ve also made it with blanched, fresh rosemary added to the dry ingredients. I like to blanch the rosemary, so it’s not so tough. With that version, I brushed the top with melted butter in the final ten minutes of baking and sprinkled the top with coarse salt. I was trying to recreate my favorite rosemary bread from a local bakery, and while it wasn’t as “crusty”, it was still very good!

My two favorite variations have been a tasty browned butter and seed bread and a cheddar-jalapeno version. For the seed bread, simply add about three tablespoons each of poppy seeds and sesame seeds into the mix of dry ingredients, along with a generous handful of raw sunflower seeds. Also, I brown the three tablespoons of butter, melting it in the oven or on the stove until it just turns slightly brown, which adds a wonderful, nutty flavor. For the cheddar-jalapeno version, add one finely chopped jalapeno pepper to the wet ingredients. Keep the seeds in the pepper if you want more heat, or scrape them out if you want less. Then as the machine kicks in for the second mixing, right before the second rise about an hour or so into the baking cycle, mix in about a cup of grated, sharp cheddar cheese. About twenty minutes before the entire baking cycle is complete, sprinkle the top of the loaf with a little more grated, sharp cheddar. Both of these variations rock, if I do say so myself!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Foodie Fight

Many of you know what I’m talkin’ about. You’ve been fighting with food. Your body’s been battling with itself, perhaps unbeknownst to you until recently, because of what you’ve been eating. Perhaps this has resulted in allergic reactions, intolerances and aggravated auto-immune conditions.

So you've made the change because you're sick and tired of being sick and tired, having stomach problems, experiencing achy joints, feeling bloated, developing hives or acne, feeling moody, experiencing sinus problem and a whole host of other "indelicate" issues we really don't want to discuss about on a food blog. Well, welcome my friend. You are not alone. One in twenty-five Americans has food allergies. The number of people with food intolerances is even higher and those who suffer from auto-immune conditions may have far more serious problems due to what they eat.

For me, gluten is the biggest offender. Dairy, soy and corn don’t go over too well in large quantities, either. I still eat those in moderation because they don't affect me in the horrible way gluten does...and you can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but you can’t take the Wisconsin out of the girl. I just haven’t been able to completely break up with cheese or frozen custard (more on that later). So, what does a foodie who loves to bake, cook and eat do when she’s diagnosed with gluten and dairy intolerances? Well, initially I got angry. Like most changes in my life that were not my idea, I entered this new phase kicking and screaming. Well, not literally, but there was a whole lot of grumbling. But then I mustered up all my creative powers to redesign my eating habits and relationship with food and, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, redesign my philosophy on life.

Food was wagging a war on my body, so three years ago I started fighting back with healthy ingredients, a new attitude, my computer, my library card, understanding friends who also happen to have food restrictions and/or are great cooks, and whatever else comes up along the way to help the process. And I’m astonished at how much better I feel. After just two weeks of eating gluten-free, I woke up and thought “Oh, this is what it feels like to wake up and not have a stomach ache everyday of my life!”

So, I hope you’ll join me on my continuing quest to better health and a new relationship with food. I hope you’ll find my ideas, information and recipes helpful, healthful and tasty. I hope you’ll bear with me as I continue to modify my culinary creations so that they’re yumliscious and accessible to people with all sorts of dietary restrictions and philosophies. Grab a gluten-free cookie (stay tuned for recipes) and a beverage of choice (no gluten in wine!), pull up a chair and join me!