If I were to look back on my life and find myself eating a bowl of muesli, it would most likely mean I was with my brother and sister at my dad’s house for the weekend. We would have found the box, the only cereal option, nestled with the Jaffa Cakes, the After Eights, and the Earl Grey tea in the kitchen cupboard, and it would likely be several months old, its powdery contents stale, any dried fruit petrified.
If we were in luck, there might be some milk in the fridge. If we were in more luck, that milk might be just a day or two past expiration. And if the stars were really aligning for us, we would avoid getting our fingers pinched in the mousetrap set in the silverware drawer while searching for a spoon. My English father is many things: a man of the kitchen he is not.
A few weeks ago I discovered that for all the years I have been cooking quinoa I have been doing it wrong. The quinoa I have made, as a result, while edible and receptive to countless seasonings and additions, has never kept my attention for very long — after the odd week-long-quinoa binge, I’d forget about it for months.
But after posting the radish entry a few weeks ago, I received a comment from a dear old friend who managed several of the Philadelphia farmers’ markets while I lived there. Joanna pointed me to a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for a quinoa salad with radishes, fava beans, avocado and a lemon vinaigrette she had recently made for some friends to rave reviews.
A quick google search led me to the recipe. While the ingredient list had me foaming at the mouth, it was the first few lines of the instructions that really struck me: Place the quinoa in a saucepan filled with plenty of boiling water and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, rinse under cold water and leave to dry.
PLENTY of boiling water. Simmer for NINE minutes. RINSE under cold water. Is this news to you, too? Why has every package of quinoa instructed me to cook it as if it were rice — 1 part grain to 2 parts water — in a covered pot? And to cook it for at least 15 minutes but often for as long as 20? And after the cooking process, to let it rest off the heat under its steaming lid for an additional 5 to 10 minutes?
On Christmas Eve my mother served this torta caprese — a flourless, chocolate-almond torte originating from the Isle of Capri — for dessert. If this is any indication of how it was received, not a single person sitting at the table, nine in total, turned down seconds. Later that evening, Santa even helped himself to thirds.
I love this class of cakes, those that can stand on their own, that don’t beg for layers of buttercream, pools of crème pâtissière, glazes of chocolate ganache or even dollops of whipped cream. This one, like the orange-and-olive oil cake and the Chez Panisse almond torte, fits into this class.
Containing no flour and leavened only by whipped egg whites, this torte is at once light, rich and moist. Ground almonds give it a wonderful texture throughout, and a splash of Grand Marnier offers a hint of orange. Made with bittersweet chocolate, it is perfectly sweet, and when it bakes, that brownie-like, most-delicious, paper-thin crust forms on the top-most layer. It is every bit elegant the finale of a special occasion should be, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. I hope you find an occasion to celebrate it soon. Read More
Have you ever spotted Kerrygold butter at your super market? Inexplicably in the cheese section? And wondered if it were any good?
Well, it is. My mother brought me some this weekend. She spoils me, still, at age 30. Along with the butter, she brought her favorites from the Greek market — a tin of olive oil, a branch of dried oregano, a block of manouri cheese; some pantry items she knows I hate spending money on — cheese cloth and parchment paper; and of course, some baked goods — Bakery Lane’s honey-whole wheat bread and toasted coconut-raspberry jam bars. Delicious. As my mother says, I felt like a bride.
But don’t be too jealous. No sooner had she unloaded the basket of goodies had she pulled out her travel file, spilling with newspaper clippings along with her latest neuroses.
“Just read the middle paragraph,” she insisted waving the clipping in my face, “about human skin cells and dander and dust mites and their feces. And about how much humans perspire every evening. And about…”
“Sure thing, mom.” I didn’t want to eat my breakfast anyway.
Yes, my friends, my mother is worried again. She’s worried about the ungrounded outlets in my bathroom; the dead, unfelled pine tree in our backyard; the dime-sized rash on my 6-month-old’s neck; and the copper can I store olive oil in — “What’s that lined with?” she asks every visit. These are worries I expect, however. Par for the course, really. But this latest concern — a personal hygiene affront veiled by a When to Clean the Sheets article — was a first. I’m starting to develop a complex.
I suppose some things never change. My mother worries about me, still, at age 30. Oh mama, you know I love you. And thank you for being such a good sport.
OK, on to some fun stuff:
1. As I mentioned, Kerrygold Butter, made from the milk of grass-fed cows in Ireland, is delicious. It’s definitely a splurge, best saved perhaps for spreading on good bread and topping with radish slices, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
2. C4C Flour. Several months ago, after watching Thomas Keller make polenta waffles and fried chicken on tv using his new C4C flour — a gluten-free mix that can be subbed one-for-one with all-purpose flour — I immediately ordered a bag. Beyond curiosity, I didn’t have a reason to buy this gluten-free flour, but I’m so happy I did. So far, and I’ve only made a couple of things (shortbread and waffles), I’m impressed. It’s pricey, certainly, but it’s a good product — worth it for the mere convenience of being able to use it in nearly any pastry, dessert or quick bread.
Follow-up (5/4): Apparently making your own gluten-free flour mix is easy. Recipe Girl pointed me to this post on making your own mix.
Side note: My mother recently tipped me off about a simple substitution when making our favorite brownie recipe gluten-free: She swaps the flour for almond flour. So simple. You’d never know the brownies were gluten free, and the almond adds a nice flavor, too. I suspect this works best when little flour is called for.
3. Lemon Shortbread. Melissa Clark’s shortbread continues to be one of my favorite foods on the planet. I find a reason, it seems, to make the rosemary variation at least once a month. Inspired by a visit to 2Amys, where a wedge of lemon shortbread stole the show (after the pizza of course), I had to make a batch. A few appropriate adjustments to Clark’s recipe produced a lemon shortbread to swoon over. This time, I also added lemon thyme from our CSA and used gluten-free flour. I can’t stop eating it.
Incidentally, the article my mother passed along, When to Clean the Sheets, is informative and entertaining, if you can get over the yuck factor. It’s perhaps best not read at mealtime.
When making shortbread, it’s important to not over pulse the dough. This is about what the mixture should look like:
Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, Gluten-Free or Not
Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread, about 16 pieces
Source: Melissa Clark of the NY Times
A few notes:
The thyme or lemon-thyme is purely optional. It’s a very subtle flavor, one I really like, but if you’re not into herbed sweets, just leave it out.
2 cups all-purpose flour or C4C gluten-free flour or your favorite gluten-free substitution for flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or thyme (optional — this flavor is very subtle)
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp. honey
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1. Heat oven to 325ºF. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, thyme, zest and salt. Add butter, honey and lemon juice, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.
2. Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. (Note: When I bake this in a 9-inch pan, it takes about 32 to 35 minutes minutes. And When I make it in my 8-inch pan, it takes about 35 to 37 minutes.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm. (Note: I have let the shortbread cool completely — cut it the next day in fact — and had no trouble cutting it up when cool.)
Whenever anyone asks me for a gluten-free recipe, I point them to two places: Gluten-Free Girl and Gluten-Free Goddess, two blogs with wonderful recipes and resources for celiacs. This recipe has been adapted from Gluten-Free Girl’s recipe for Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Zest. I only difference is that cornmeal (another gluten-free ingredient) has been substituted for the sorghum flour because I couldn’t find sorghum at the store. Though I’m not an experienced gluten-free cook, I imagine many gluten-free flours could be used in this recipe.
Here are a few facts about Celiac Disease:
• The symptoms of Celiac disease mimic many well-known illnesses and vary from mental manifestations such as irritability and depression to physical debilitations such as fatigue, weight loss, bloating, joint pain, delayed growth and itchy skin to more obscure indicators such as infertility and weakened bone density.
• Common misdiagnoses include irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, anemia, ulcerative colitis, anorexia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
• Researchers believed the disease afflicted only one in every 2,500 people as recently as 13 years ago. Today, that number has increased to one in 133, amounting to 3 million Americans.
• Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue and gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is an inherited, autoimmune digestive disease triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When celiacs eat food containing gluten, their immune system reacts by attacking their small intestine, damaging its ability to absorb nutrients from food. And when the body is denied essential vitamins, nutrients and calories, fatal health complications including cancer, osteoporosis, anemia and seizures can develop.
Gluten-Free Muffins Adapted from the blog Gluten-Free Girl Yield = 18
10 T. unsalted butter, room temperature 1 C. white sugar 2 large eggs 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 tsp. lemon zest 1 C. cornmeal 1 C. rice flour, white or brown 1 C. tapioca flour 1½ tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. baking soda ½ tsp. kosher salt 1½ C. plain yogurt 1 C. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and the zest and mix until blended.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the cornmeal, flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. Add half of the dry ingredients to the stand mixer and stir to combine. Add half of the yogurt and stir to combine. Repeat until all of the dry ingredients and yogurt have been added.
5. Fold in the blueberries.
6. Place liners in a muffin tin. Fill each two-thirds full with batter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the tops have browned and started to harden.
First let me make known that I’ve borrowed this “Gluten-Free Cooking Spree” slogan from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), an amazing organization started by Alice Bast, a Philadelphia woman full of energy and initiative. I spoke with Bast over the phone a few days ago and listened to her recount her tragic yet inspiring story.
Bast, after suffering the trauma of delivering a stillborn baby followed by several miscarriages, visited 23 doctors before learning she had celiac disease. When she discovered that all of her health complications could have been prevented had she changed one aspect of her life — her diet — she quit her job (a top executive at a tech firm), started the NFCA, and resolved to devote her life to raising awareness about this debilitating digestive disease. Read Alice Bast’s whole story on the NFCA’s Web site.
One out of every 133 people has celiac disease — 3 million Americans — yet 97 percent of celiacs don’t know they have it. Through the efforts of Bast, the NFCA and other organizations sharing the same goal, more doctors are recognizing the prevalence of the disease, and fewer people as a result are suffering. Currently the only cure for this disabling disease is to eliminating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, from the diet.
While Bast told me a half dozen or so stories about celiacs restoring their health and reclaiming their lives after adopting a gluten-free diet, one is particularly poignant. Last August, a woman who had been trying to get pregnant for 10 years without success, read Bast’s story in Good Housekeeping. The woman sensed she had celiac disease, began the diet, and within 6 months became pregnant.
Other celiacs have seen their migraine headaches, incessant stomachaches, diarrhea and nausea — stresses they have suffered their whole lives — disappear within days of beginning the gluten-free diet.
The “Gluten-Free Cooking Spree” is the name of an event the NFCA is bringing to cities across the country. This past June, 10 chefs and doctors in Philadelphia teamed up to prepare tasty gluten-free dishes in a competition judged by George Perrier of Le Bec-Fin and Christina Pirello of Christina Cooks. Read more about the event on the NFCA’s Web site.
I decided to see for myself what gluten-free cooking entails. I’ve now introduced my pantry to a host of ingredients I never thought it would meet — brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, tapioca flour and xanthum gum. And, I have to say, the two recipes I tested were delicious. I have been slathering fresh ricotta on the focaccia for breakfast, and enjoying a brownie each night after dinner.
I am not in any way trying to prove that anyone can easily conform to this diet by simply purchasing the necessary ingredients. This diet requires celiacs to inspect all food labels thoroughly and question restaurant wait staff and chefs exhaustively, because even the tiniest trace of gluten — present in soy sauce, vinegars, lunch meats, panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and most soups — can trigger an adverse immune response.
While I’ll likely never know what life as a celiac is like, I have a better understanding after speaking with Alice Bast and reading other personal stories on the NFCA Web site. I greatly admire Bast’s many noble efforts to prevent others from suffering the same tragedies she unnecessarily endured.
Gluten-Free Brownies Adapted from Karina’s Kitchen: Recipes From a Gluten Free Goddess www.glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com Yield = 16
5 oz. dark chocolate chips (gluten-free) + more for topping ½ C. butter 2 eggs 1 C. packed light brown sugar 1 tsp. vanilla extract ½ C. almonds, processed into a fine meal (or ½ C. almond flour) ¼ C. brown rice flour ½ tsp. fine sea salt ½ tsp. baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan.
Microwave the dark chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl for 45 seconds, stirring once halfway.
In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth.
Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat well for 1 minute. Add the vanilla and whisk until blended. The chocolate will look smooth and glossy. Remove bowl from stand and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the ground almonds (or flour), rice flour, salt and baking soda. Add this dry mix to the chocolate mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle another 2 to 4 tablespoons of chocolate chips evenly over the batter if desired. Place in the oven and bake for 32 to 34 minutes. Test with a paring knife or a toothpick.
Cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan. Turn pan over quickly and slam onto a cutting board. The whole block of brownies should come right out. Leave the brownie block face down and cut into 16 squares, wiping knife in between cuts. Serve or store in an airtight container.
Gluten-Free Focaccia Adapted from www.celiac.com Yield = 8 sandwiches
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for greasing 1½ C. brown rice flour ½ C. buckwheat, amaranth or teff flour 2 C. tapioca flour 2/3 C. instant non-fat dry milk powder 3 tsp. xanthan gum 1 tsp. kosher salt 2 T. active dry yeast 1 T. sugar 1½ C. lukewarm water 4 egg whites at room temperature 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped sea salt for sprinkling
Grease a parchment paper-lined or Silpat-lined sheet tray with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flours, milk powder, xanthan gum, salt, yeast, and sugar. In a large bowl, combine the water and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add olive oil-water mixture to dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed. Add the egg whites one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat on medium-high speed for 4 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Transfer dough — it will be very sticky — to the prepared sheet tray. With greased hands, gently spread dough out, dimpling the dough slightly with your fingers — dough will not fill the entire tray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 40 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap, gently dimple dough again with your fingers, being careful not to deflate. Lightly drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with the rosemary and salt to taste. Place in the oven, close the door and reduce the heat to 400ºF.
Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer until the focaccia is nicely golden. Remove from the oven and transfer bread from pan to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing and using for sandwiches.