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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan pumpkin scones


Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin!

It's a favorite for bakers this time of year and, to be honest, I can't quite get enough of it.

The sweet smell is so comforting as I scoop it into the bowl. I hold the spoon up to my nose and take a deep breath. Its bright burnt-orange color strikes a happy chord somewhere deep inside. It is almost like the color of a beautiful fall sunset, with the orange glow of the sun lighting up the red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees.

My parents' house is on a corner lot, with a small pond to the west. The pond prevented building and provided us with an almost 'far as the eye could see' view of the sunset. Behind their house used to be a farm (until I was about 12 years old), so there is a long line of tall trees still separating their yard from what used to be the farmer's property. (In case you didn't grow up anywhere near a farm, these tree lines are used as a wind break). These big, beautiful trees turn lovely colors every fall and I have vivid memories of looking out of my bedroom window at the sunset and the glowing trees.

I am such a sucker for a good scone, so I made up a batch or two (okay, I admit - three!) of pumpkin scones this week, adapting a “Joy of Cooking” recipe to make it gluten and dairy free. I even took out the butter and the refined sugar. They came out good and hard on the outside and slightly soft, yet textured on the inside – exactly how I like my scones.

I nearly fell off my chair, biting into the first one. I couldn't believe I got it right on the first try! Not to mention, I gobbled it up in about 2 seconds. And, as far as I can tell, they are not that finicky, since this last batch came out just the same as the first. I am, of course, freezing a bunch of them for easy Sunday morning breakfasts.

Gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin scones:

Note: I have gotten a number of questions about whether these can be made with regular butter and the answer is yes! Use 3/4 cup of butter, cut into pieces.

You can probably substitute any combination of gluten free flours in these, but I am finding that coconut flour contributes to the soft, almost pillowy, texture of baked goods and the millet flour makes them nice and tender. The tapioca flour is what gives you the “crust” and should only be substituted with another starch such as potato starch or arrowroot. Sorghum flour in place of the brown rice flour would definitely up the nutritional content.

1 cup brown rice flour

1/3 cup coconut flour

1/3 cup millet flour

1/3 cup tapioca flour

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon


¼ cup agave nectar or honey or brown rice syrup

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree

6 tablespoons of coconut oil (in solid, but not “frozen” from; it should be about the consistency of refrigerated butter)

1/3 cup of hazelnut milk (or your favorite milk)

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper on top and place that cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet (unless you have an “airbake” cookie sheet). The double layer will prevent the bottoms from burning. Preheat the oven to 400F.

Pour the apple cider vinegar into the hazelnut milk and set aside for about 10 minutes (this makes “buttermilk”).

Mix all of your dry ingredients together in a large bowl or in the bowl of your mixer. Scoop the coconut oil into the flour mixture – for this I used a tablespoon measure and used a butter knife to drop each scoop individually into the flour mixture.

Either cut the coconut oil into the flour mixture with a butter knife or mix on low in your mixer until the mixture has the appearance of small pebbles.

In another bowl, mix your agave, “buttermilk,” pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract and blend well.

Mix the dry with the wet ingredients and, as the dough starts to form, use your hands to knead the dough a few times, until it is all combined.

Form a ball with the dough and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Flatten the dough into a circle, about an inch and a half tall.

Grab a large, flat spoon and pour a bit of hazelnut milk into a small glass. Dip the back of the spoon in the bit of hazelnut milk as needed and use it to both spread milk over the top of the dough and smooth the dough. If desired, sprinkle a bit of raw sugar on top.

Using a knife, slice the circle in half and cut each half into three triangles (the cuts will look like spokes on a wheel). Slightly separate the pieces from one another.

Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

Tip: Do a double batch and freeze some for later!


HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So much of Fall to take in

A friend of mine has a huge Halloween party every year. Everyone comes dressed in costume to compete for prizes and, mostly, bragging rights. It's so serious that many keep their costume idea a secret, only to be unveiled at the night of the party, preventing others from potentially trumping their idea.

Last year, I came up with a last minute costume - the “runaway bride” - after poking around on the internet for ideas. I bought a cheap wedding dress at goodwill, flaunted a pink sportsbra underneath, and wore white running shoes with pink trim (I happened to already own the pink accessories, even though I really loathe wearing pink – go figure). I even bunched up some fake flowers I had sitting around my apartment for a bouquet. It was really easy and, I think, fairly well-received.

This year, Ben and I wanted to come up with something we could be together. Our costume idea, after a LOT of thinking, ended up not being so easy, but I think it is pretty clever. We spent the majority of last Saturday afternoon getting it together and then carving our pumpkins.

And, if you read my last post, you will find it interesting to know that Ben prepared dinner Saturday night out of his own head. I was busy finishing up part of our costume and he noticed it was getting to be about that time to make dinner, so he started it up (and I think he was actually really excited to have the reigns and create the dish how HE wanted it!).

He put together a great pasta dish with fettuccine, chicken, spinach, and pine nuts (pictured above). He cooked the chicken in a good dollop of olive oil and seasoned the whole thing with Spanish paprika, crushed garlic, fresh basil,and a bunch of other things (I'm sure). He served it over a bed of fresh spinach. It was mighty tasty! And doesn't it look fantastic?

Our pumpkins turned out lovely, and check out the tons of seeds we got to roast! I don't think I have carved pumpkins since I was a kid and I forgot how slimy the pulp and seeds feel between your fingers; it was freeing, in a way, to roll up my sleeves and dig my hands in, careless about how dirty and messy everything became. I definitely recommend it – grab yourself a pumpkin and a carving set and release your inner child (oh, and it's even better with a gluten-free beer, of course!).

Oh, and our Halloween costume idea? You'll have to wait until my weekend post to see! Yes, I'm keeping it a secret for now :)

And, just as my arms have been literally elbow deep in pumpkin this week, our bellies have been filled with pumpkin, squash, cranberries, roasted pecans, apples, brussels sprouts, and all of the other lovely fall foods. They have been parading through our kitchen, filling our apartment with delicious scents, and lingering in my mind as I fall asleep at night (poor Ben only dreams about work lately and I dream about food!).

I have been intrigued by the bags of cranberries popping up everywhere, so I had to pick up a couple of bags. Admittedly, I have never in my life cooked with cranberries (I don't think that "craisins" count), so I have been slowly gathering ideas of how people typically cook with them and thinking of new ways to use them. They seem like such a great food – low in sugar and full of fiber, vitamin C, and manganese (among other nutrients) – I would love to come up with some new ways to incorporate them more regularly into my pantry.

I started out making the basic cranberry sauce, which usually calls for: 1 cup water, 4 cups of cranberries, and a bunch of sugar. However, I am boycotting processed sugar these days and substituted 3 tablespoons of agave nectar for the sugar. This may be a bit too tart for some, but I like it's lightly sweet, mostly tart flavor. Add more agave or honey, if you prefer yours sweeter. Basically, you bring the cup of water to a boil in a large saucepan, add the agave and the cranberries, and bring to a boil again. Then you reduce the heat to low and simmer for a bit, about 15-20 minutes seemed about right for me. It's fun listening to the cranberries burst and pop as they cook down.

What other ways do you like to cook with cranberries?


Mmmmm...just that rich red color is enough alone for me to love these berries.

For dinner last night, I created the apple-cider vinegar chicken dish pictured below, using my cranberry sauce.

I'm also working on a pumpkin scone recipe that will be allergy and vegan friendly, which I will post later in the week after another test batch (oh darn! More scones to eat??)

And, last, but not least, we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend! Ben and I had our first “date” on November 2, 2007... but more on that later too! I know, so much waiting!


Apple cider vinegar chicken with cranberry sauce:

The cider vinegar in this recipe makes the chicken tender and adds a sweet flavor as the vinegar cooks down in the pan. Sprinkling cinnamon on only one side of the chicken lends a subtle spice that I think really complements both the vinegar and the cranberries.

2 chicken breasts

½ cup apple cider vinegar

olive oil

black pepper

cinnamon

cranberry sauce (see above for how I made it)

1 cup cooked wild rice, spiked with a pinch of sea salt

Place chicken breasts in a small dish and cover with the apple cider vinegar. Allow to marinade for about 15-20 minutes.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken breasts in the hot skillet and pour vinegar over the top of the chicken. Grate fresh black pepper and sprinkle ground cinnamon over the top of the chicken. Carefully flip the chicken and grate black pepper on this side as well (but not additional cinnamon).

Cook for a few minutes on each side, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes on each side (or until center is no longer pink).

Serve each chicken breast on top of half of the wild rice and spoon a drizzle of cranberry sauce over the top.

Enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stuffed kuri squash

“Oh honey, it smells so good in here,” was the first thing that came out of Ben's mouth as he walked through the door yesterday evening, home from work. It's something I hear pretty often these days, but I never get sick of hearing it.

For a while now, I have felt like I needed to make excuses to myself for why I have adopted the stereotypical female role when it comes to cooking. My usual self-justifications have been:

  1. I have a student lifestyle right now and it is just easier for me to start dinner, since I am home and Ben is not. (But, if I were working full time and he got home before me, would this change?)

  2. I know better what my dietary needs and restrictions are. (True in the strictest sense, but he really understands a lot. If asked, he will list you the foods I absolutely cannot eat and the foods I can eat on a rotational basis).

  3. And I could even go so far as to say I am a better cook than he is. (He might actually agree with this, but he is a great, imaginative cook. HE owned the kitchenaid mixer, not me).

It's hard for me, someone who strives hard to not let society define my femininity, to be someone who plans, prepares, and has dinner on the table when her partner gets home from work. I have even begun to turn on Oprah (gasp) while I prepare dinner and then, as it's getting close to done, call Ben at work to see when he thinks he will be home! Horror of all horrors, I have all the earmarkings of ...a housewife.

And, I like it. Female stereotypes be damned.

I like cooking good food and I like feeding those I love. Specifically, with Ben, I love his almost child-like excitement and unyielding appreciation for what I make. Is it my fault that years before I was born, society marked this behavior as ultimately feminine? Should I deny something I enjoy out of fear of being labeled?

Heck no.

Food is something which connects us, all of us. We celebrate with it, we drown our sorrows in it, and we provide it for those we love as a gesture of caring. How did the preparation of food become labeled as strictly feminine, for one, and two, how on earth did that develop a negative connotation??

I feel blessed in my ability to put together safe, healthy, and delicious meals.

This stuffed squash recipe is what Ben was oooing and ahhing over the other day. We have been eating a lot of winter squash lately, going to the farmers' market together to pick out new varieties to try. We get most (if not all) of our squash from Sun Gold Farm, which has been a favorite vendor of mine since I moved to Portland. Their fall harvest is full of winter squash varieties, several apple varieties, venus grapes, onions, and chillies (to name a few highlights).


Stuffed Squash (gluten free, dairy free):

I used two Kuri Squash because their insides are mostly seeds, leaving plenty of space to fill with your favorite filling. Save the seeds and roast in your oven for a healthy, delicious snack.

2 Kuri squash

½ cup cooked rice (I used a black and mahogany rice blend, cooked in broth)

2 chicken-apple sausages, cut into small pieces (try to find a brand that has pronounceable ingredients, like Applegate farms)

1 ½ cups chopped spinach

1/3 cup toasted pecan pieces

½ a medium sweet onion, chopped

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

nutmeg

cinnamon

ginger

Cut the tops off of the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Sprinkle the nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger inside the squash and pat the sides, turning the squash to evenly distribute the spices (like you would to flour a cake pan). Place the tops back on the squash and place in a glass baking dish, with enough water to come up about ½ an inch on the squash. Bake in a 375F oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in olive oil and a good dose of balsamic vinegar over medium heat, until onions begin to caramelize.

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, rice, sausage, pecans and spinach. (You can also create this mixture for a delicious salad. In fact, I ended up with some left-over and at those leftovers for lunch as a salad)

Remove the squash from the oven and stuff each one with the rice mixture. Place the tops of the squash back on and return the dish to the oven. Cook for another 25-30 minutes (until the squash becomes tender).

Enjoy!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

(Sometimes elusive) happiness

After spending almost an hour trying to explain ANOVAs to a group of undergraduate students, I walked out of the classroom, set my bag down, and put on my coat. I felt frustrated and inadequate. I looked up as I was working my arms into the sleeves, and my eye caught on something taped to the wall right in front of me. It was inches from my face. It read, “Happiness is found along the way, not at the destination.”

I was taken aback, instantly reminded of the fact that this IS life; what happens today and tomorrow and the next day is MY LIFE, not days leading up to the start of my life. Almost simultaneously, I recognized this quote is similar to so many others stating that “happiness is a journey, not a destination,” and I wondered why we so quickly forget this simple truth in our daily lives.

Even someone as well-adjusted, positive, and generally happy as me can sometimes lose sight of the good life.

In real life, there is no big “happily ever after.” We don't work and toil and hope and plan for that day when we will be “happy” and then relax (as many movies may want us to think). We make our happiness in how we live our lives on a daily level.

Joys and setbacks and frustrations and unseen ease...all of which make up a typical day. But, we get so caught up in the frustrations and setbacks that we forget to celebrate the joys or recognize the ease. Why?

Why do we get bored with our jobs? Why do we get frustrated with the time it takes to accomplish a goal? Why do we fail to recognize our successes so shortly after we have achieved them? And, why are we often ignorant of the ways in which our lives are blessedly going well?

Psychologists have suggested one explanation for some of these phenomena is that our bodies respond positively to novelty, while we quickly adapt to both positive and negative experiences. This automatic positive response to novelty, in the form of happy emotions, is thought to keep us constantly striving for new experiences and accomplishments. This striving is evolutionarily adaptive; those who continue to grow and change throughout their lives are better able to adapt to changing environments, solve problems, and pass on their genes to the next generation. It is this striving which enabled human kind to develop ways to heat our homes, build underground sewage systems, and create other innovations which make our lives healthier. Thus, the fact that we quickly adapt to our current situations is something we inherited from our ancestors and actually makes our lives better in the end.

Another, related, explanation is that we focus on the negative aspects of our lives because they are mostly rare. On average, our daily lives are mostly positive; most of our interactions with others are pleasant and we have a basic level of creature comforts at home (even if you are struggling to pay your bills). If we naturally tend to focus on things which are rare, or novel, then the negative things we experience, think, or feel, will demand much of our attention. Meanwhile, those daily pleasantries we have with our friends, significant others, and coworkers help maintain our general level of positive emotions (most people rate themselves above “neutral” when asked how happy they are), but they don't demand our attention like the negative moments do.

In a recent article in the Oregonian, the author asked Danish citizens why their country had the happiest people in the world. Some pointed to contentment, while others pointed to the government's focus on doing what is right for the middle class. There is definitely something to be said for appreciation and gratitude for one's life, and contentment in that life. One major lesson of Buddhism is that life is impermanent; sorrows and joys and frustrations and victories are all temporary and we must be able to roll with them. Being attached too much to any one thing or moment in life will only bring disappointment. Perhaps the Danish are better able to accept the transitory nature of life. Or perhaps it is something cultural; I cannot help but to think in some large way, the media's portrayal of the next big thing we HAVE to have or do, purposefully works to make us feel inadequate in their drive to get us to purchase, purchase, purchase.

Are we in the United States fed discontentment? Perhaps the media is where our seeking of novelty comes from, and not our ancestors?

Taking the idea of government into question: Would we be less bored or frustrated with our jobs and feel more pleasure in our daily lives if the government paid for things like our healthcare and our education? It may be that we would worry less about our financial situations and be able to enjoy more of life's little pleasures. Or, the system would be set up in such a way that would make us feel more supported in our lives, able to do the basic things we need for a good life, without struggle.

In any case, whatever the source this discontentment, researchers have also found that taking a few minutes out of every day to recognize those aspects of our lives for which we are grateful, significantly improves our sense of well-being and happiness.

It may also benefit us to try something new once in a while. If you normally come home and turn on the television, try going for a walk instead. Or, if you have the means, enroll in an evening non-credit course and learn something about that thing you've always wanted to try. I certainly found that having rowing in my life, and even starting this blog, have not only given me something to focus on outside of "work," but are positive in my personal development.

In the end, the more we are conscious of the positive in our lives, the less time we have to focus on the negative. It may be easier said than done, but worth a try, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Easy-peasy gluten-free macaroni and cheese

I have to confess.

I have never been able to successfully make macaroni and cheese from a roux. Not with gluteny flour, not with un-gluteny flour. Melting that butter and whisking in the flour to just the right consistency...I just could never do it right. It either burned, becoming too hard too fast, or never fully cooked and made grainy-textured macaroni and cheese. I feel that not being able to accomplish this basic cooking task, which is central to making any white sauce, which so many cooks have done before me, makes me somehow an inferior cook. But, such is life.

Those of you who can accomplish this "basic" cooking task, I salute you.

However, now neither I nor you have to. While making homemade condensed soup a few weeks ago, I realized how easy it would be to add cheese to that mixture, pour it over gluten-free noodles and bake for macaroni and cheese.

Which is precisely what I did the other day, to make the macaroni and cheese you see pictured above.

Oh, it was absolutely creamy, cheesy, and unbelievably delicious.

And I didn't even have to stress about whether the roux would work! Really, this is the easiest macaroni and cheese recipe I have ever seen.

Easy gluten-free macaroni and cheese:

The cheeses I have listed are what I used, because I had them on hand, but use any combination of cheeses you like in your mac and cheese. Also, the cheese measurements are rough approximations – use more or less, to taste. I'm sure you can make this dairy-free by using your favorite milk substitute (I have successfully created the white sauce using hazelnut milk in the past) and adding almond or soy cheese.

1 cup milk (or half and half for richer sauce)

2 tablespoons tapioca flour

1 tablespoon butter


about 2 cups (loosely measured) cheddar cheese, shredded (I use sharp cheddar)

about ¼ cup aged Gouda cheese, shredded

about ¼ cup Havarti cheese, shredded


4 servings of gluten free noodles (I like Tinkyada brand)

¼ cup Almond flour

Pour the milk cold into a saucepan and whisk in the tapioca flour, until dissolved. Add the butter, turn on the burner, and heat over med-high heat to a slow boil, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to thicken. Turn off the burner and add the cheese, a bit at a time, until all of the cheese is melted and incorporated (reserve some if you like extra cheese sprinkled on top of your mac and cheese bake). Set aside.

Cook your noodles according to package directions and drain well. Place cooked noodles into a large casserole dish and pour cheese sauce over the top. If you like pepper or any other ingredients in your mac and cheese, add them at this point. Stir the mixture to cover the noodles with the sauce.

Sprinkle any reserved cheese and the almond flour on top.

Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, until the top becomes golden brown and the cheese is bubbly around the edges.

Enjoy!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Go ahead honey, it's gluten free: Hazelnut-apple wild rice salad


Did you know that Oregon produces 98 percent of the hazelnuts in the United States? Actually, here they are more typically called “filberts,” by native-born Oregonians, or so I'm told. Although these nuts are not technically native to Oregon, they were brought here in the 1850s, from England, and became the state's official nut in 1989. But then again, I now consider myself an "Oregonian," though I was transplanted here four years ago...

I am actually a native Minnesotan, where Wild Rice is indeed native. In fact, it isn't really a rice at all, but an aquatic wheat that grows naturally in the cold lakes of Minnesota. No need to fear, though - even though it is related to wheat, it is naturally gluten free.

This month's “Go ahead honey, it's gluten free” topic is indigenous foods; utilizing food that is native to your area to create delicious dishes. My entry this month is a delicious, healthy wild rice salad and the best part? Everything I used to make this dish could be bought from local farmers. Hazelnuts, wild rice, spinach, broccoli, and jonagold apples are all abundantly available from local farmers in Oregon. Chicken is available as well, but I purchased mine at the grocery store. I feel like it is a good blend of what is native to my "native" part of the United States as well as symbolic of what is grown locally to my current part of the United States.

Hazelnut-apple wild rice salad:

1 cup cooked wild rice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups shredded, cooked chicken*

1 enormous (or two smaller) jonagold apples, chopped into bite-size pieces

Nutmeg

Allspice

Cinnamon

1 cup hazelnuts (filberts)

2 cups coarsely chopped spinach

1 cup chopped broccoli

½ large sweet onion, coarsely chopped

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

Place apple pieces in a saucepan and add a splash of water. Sprinkle with nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice (or apple pie spice) and stir. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, until apples are tender, stirring occasionally.

In a medium-sized skillet, over medium heat, saute onions in olive oil and a good dose of balsamic vinegar. Saute until onions start to caramelize. Add cooked chicken and heat through, adding spinach and cooking until the spinach just slightly starts to wilt.

Mix the onion/chicken mixture and the apples in a large bowl.

Steam the broccoli in a small saucepan and add to the onion/chicken mixture.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350F. In a sturdy plastic bag (I usually use a quart-sized freezer bag), coarsely crush the hazelnuts. Place them on a baking sheet and roast them, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown and turn fragrant, about 10-15 minutes.

Warm the wild rice (if cooked ahead of time), add the lemon juice and salt, and stir. To serve, place ¼ of the rice on a plate and spoon a ¼ of the chicken/onion/apple mixture over the top. And, last but certainly not least, sprinkle the hazelnuts over each plate.

Feeds 4. Enjoy!


*Kitchen tip: I often cook a whole chicken the crockpot on Sunday or Monday and then use the cooked chicken in all sorts of ways all week. The small scraps from wings and legs can be used in soups or salads and the breast meat can be used for sandwiches. I may even use it in a dish which I freeze for later - this week I shredded some of the breast meat, added cayenne pepper, cumin, and rosemary and used it in a batch of gluten free empanadas, which I froze for later!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mini mint-chocolate financiers

Thank goodness pure chocolate is gluten free.

In fact, so many of the foods I love are gluten free, if they haven't been processed in some way. Pure chocolate, whole almonds, spinach, eggs, coffee – all of them gluten free (yes, coffee is a 'food' :)). In fact, most food is gluten free.

Real, whole food, that is. Being gluten free means I am wary of any pre-packaged or processed product, but that doesn't rule out any food for me, it just limits convenience. And, if you pay any attention to processed, convenience foods, you know that these are the least healthy things you can put in your mouth, so I really don't think the convenient food itself is much of a loss – just the convenience.

(See, most food in restaurants and in the middle of the grocery store are always under suspicion. Food producers take things like wheat and barley and use them to make products fuller, thicker, or enhance the flavor. But then, they are called things like, “natural flavors,” or, “modified food starch” when they are listed in the ingredients. Why do they muck things up like that?? The easiest way to keep from getting a headache wondering if the “natural flavors” are barley-based (or getting that headache, or worse, from eating the product) is to avoid the product altogether. However, this is changing dramatically, even as I type. So many companies are beginning to test and label their gluten-free products. And so many grocery stores, like our Food Front Coop in Portland, are purposefully stocking these items as well as appropriately labeling deli items.)

When I have to tell people I'm gluten free, I am usually met with a sympathetic look and an, “oh, I'm so sorry!” I really appreciate their sympathy, but I think what they don't realize is that, while gluten hides in a number of various processed products under a number of different names, the majority of real, whole food is naturally gluten free. Being gluten intolerant means I can't eat wheat (or its cousins), barely, rye, or spelt without getting sick. You can count those things on one hand! And, I couldn't begin to list the foods I can eat without getting sick!

And one of those lovely, naturally gluten free foods is pure ground chocolate. And thank goodness! Otherwise, I couldn't enjoy a good chocolate financier, like the ones pictured above.

One of the birthday gifts I received was a very thoughtful gift card to Sur la Table, with which I purchased the bake mold pictured below. It has heart, star, rose, sunflower, and other shapes to make small baked treats or chocolates! It was way too cute; I couldn't resist!

The first thing I decided to make were chocolate-mint financiers. These are one of my favorite gluten free desserts - first, because they are so incredibly delicious and second, because they are so darned easy to make. I found the original recipe for chocolate financiers from the Gluten Free Girl, who discovered them via her meeting David Liebovitz (!). I added peppermint extract to mine, making them an oh-so-delicious combination of chocolate and peppermint!

Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Financiers:

1 cup almond flour

¾ cup powdered sugar

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Dagoba)

6 tablespoons butter

2 egg whites

¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

Muffin tins work great for these as well, if you don't have any other molds. Prepare your molds as you would for a cake (grease and flour); if you have non-stick molds, you don't need to do anything special.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat and set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the almond flour, sugar, and cocoa powder until blended. Add the egg whites and the peppermint extract and begin to stir the mixture. Slowly add the melted butter and continue stirring until all the butter is incorporated.

Spoon your mixture into your molds of choice, but don't fill more than ¾ full (the mixture rises a bit as it bakes).

Bake at 400F for about 12 minutes (depending on the size of your molds). The financiers are done when they are puffed up slightly and springy to the touch. Allow the cookies to cool a few minutes in the molds before you try to remove them (or, however long you can wait!).

Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Simple, gluten-free pleasures

At the heart of my relationship with Ben is a shared life philosophy. We agree on basic values, what is really important in life, and how we want to live our lives.

Beyond that, I believe what makes our relationship so enjoyable is the pleasure we take in the little things we share - things like our morning coffee, our love of food, our simple appreciation of one another, laughing at our cats' strange behavior, and dancing together in our living room.

This weekend, Ben and I celebrated my birthday, taking pleasure in simple activities together and in sharing small, simple food. Well, with the exception of breakfast, that is. For breakfast, Ben made coconut pancakes, chicken apple sausage, and scrambled eggs made our favorite way (with a sprinkling of turmeric). With this large meal behind us, we wandered through the farmer's market together, picking out several types of winter squash, a large bundle of apples, some grapes, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

We stopped for lunch at Andina, a Peruvian restaurant that also has a large gluten-free menu, and our experience here nearly brought me to tears. To start things off, our server saw we requested gluten free menus and she confirmed we were both gluten-free while informing us she would get the cooks to start up the Yucca right away (in place of the bread basket). I felt a pang of deep appreciation knowing they had an automatic alternative for the gluten-free diners. When you spend so much time at restaurants literally omitting things in order to eat gluten free (“I'll have the salad without the croutons”) and then hoping they listen, it's an amazing experience to dine somewhere like this. Almost like two giddy teenagers, we shared several small plates from their tapas menu: grilled asparagus, a quinoa salad with cucumber-mint dressing, Parmesan-encrusted scallops, and chorizo. Each one was more delicious than we imagined. To top it all off, our server brought out a caramel-chocolate mousse complete with two small fresh flowers on top and a single green candle. She apparently overheard Ben mentioning it was my birthday and brought me her favorite dessert, wishing me a happy birthday and hoping I enjoy the dessert as much as she did. And I didn't even have to ask – I knew it was gluten free.

For the remainder of the sunny afternoon, we spend time poking around in shops in Northwest Portland before it was time to stop by the grocery store to pick up dinner.

That night we listened to Miles Davis and dined on a good wine, a variety of cheeses, several types of olives, two types of gluten-free baguettes, sliced zucchini and hummus, and gluten-free kibbeh. We savored small bites of good, rich tastes; some cheeses were strong, some were delicate. Some of the olives had a more sweet flavor, while others were more salty. It couldn't have been more simple, or more enjoyable.


See, gluten-free food can be complex - several types of flours and yeast and gums and seasonings to make a great loaf of bread - but, at its best, gluten-free food is simple. It is simple, whole ingredients, which is one reason it is so special.

And, for dessert, we curled up on the couch with our homemade chocolate peppermint ice cream. (We joke that this is one big reason we are perfect for one another – chocolate peppermint ice cream happens to be both our favorite ice cream flavor.) In this picture, I am chopping up a dark chocolate Dagoba chocolate bar.

Reflecting on the day, we both felt incredibly grateful for our time together and the wonderful things we shared. Remarkably, we also both felt very refreshed. After spending the last few weekends organizing our things and getting settled, it felt great to get out of the apartment without care for what work remained at home. It was amazing how energetic we felt Sunday, ready to get our errands and housework taken care of. And ready to start another week. We agreed to continue activities like this, now that we have the apartment almost settled, savoring our time together and sharing small indulgences.

Gluten-free Kibbeh:

Ben has all the credit for the gluten-free kibbeh. I had actually never heard of it before, so I was excited to try it, and it turned out delicious! To make it most simply, he omitted the breading around the meat (though we could have taken the time to make it with gluten-free ingredients, we didn't want to).

We forgot to take a picture of these, so unfortunately there is no visual for you to see, but they turn out like small meatballs. Ben is a lot like me in the kitchen and measures little (actually I think he doesn't measure at all, while I measure infrequently), so there isn't much of a recipe here, but guidelines with which you can play. Feel out the portions to your liking.

½ pound ground lamb

cumin

allspice

about ¼ small sweet onion, diced finely

about ¼ to 1/3 cup pine nuts

Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and form small balls with the mixture, about 1 ½ inches across. Place in a glass baking dish and bake at 350F for about 20-30 minutes.

Enjoy!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sweet Potato Hawaiian Casserole


I'm guessing some of you are wondering how I can be a busy graduate student and still find the time to cook healthy meals. Well, I've learned a few tricks over the years.

When I lived alone, it was easy to make a meal Sunday night, large enough to feed a family of 4 or 5, and eat it for dinner every night that week. Now that I live with Ben, it is a little more difficult to do that, since one large meal with 4 servings last Ben and me only 2 nights. I have found myself cooking dinners 3 or more times a week.

On the plus side, we have a lot more variety in our week (and I have more opportunity to 'try things' on him!), but it takes much more of my time planning and cooking those meals during the work week. And things have been especially busy lately as I finalize the details of my dissertation study before I begin recruiting participants. I have also been helping out the last 5 weeks with the novice learn to row class at my rowing club.

These are the times when I turn to really simple “standbys” that I have created over the years. Luckily, many of them are naturally gluten free!

One of my favorites is an adaptation of a Hawaiian yam casserole I found in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook during my first year of graduate school. I made it a bit healthier and a more filling meal, rather than a side dish. As this cooks, my apartment begins to smell of cooking ham and pineapple and it always reminds me of the holidays. It is a great, easy, warming meal for these chillier days!

Sweet Potato Hawaiian Casserole:

3 to 4 sweet potatoes (fewer if they are particularly large)

1 cup cubed ham (or sliced ham, chopped)

1 small can crushed pineapple (in it's own juice!)

½ cup raw pecans

1-2 tsp ground ginger, to taste

Peel and slice the sweet potatoes length-wise. Then slice each sweet potato half into ¼ inch slices.

Layer the sweet potato slices, ham, pecans, and pineapple in a large casserole dish. Repeat the layers until you have used all of the ingredients. Sprinkle a few more pecans and the ginger on top.

Bake covered at 375F for about 1 hour (depending on your oven and the thickness of your slices).

Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Success is... a crispy, healthy, gluten free cracker

Did I mention these crackers are vegan too?

It’s interesting how when the balance within the body shifts, our cravings shift. I have always been a craver of sweet things, not salty things. My sister was the one who craved salty snacks, like potato chips. Not me, no ma’am. Give me cookies or give me nothing.

But lately, I have been wanting something salty and crispy to snack on. I really believe it is because the balance of everything in my body has shifted; similar to how pregnancy can alter a woman’s cravings, I believe that the shift I have created in my body as a result of the healing process has somehow changed my cravings. Oh, I still crave sweets, don’t get me wrong (just see my post on ice cream, for example), but just not as much as I used to.

Since the gluten free cracker options available to purchase ready-made are pretty devoid of any nutrition and some contain soy, dairy, potato starch and other ingredients I am working to avoid (and, not to mention outrageously expensive), I was determined to create a recipe for some relatively healthy gluten-free crackers.

This was met with some trial and error.

I began searching the internet for recipes, both gluten free versions and gluteny versions. I found none which suited my purpose (many called for yeast, for example), but I used them as templates.

My first attempt came out way too bread-like and with an unfortunate flavor. My second attempt came out with a delicious flavor, but still too bread-like. My third attempt (like Goldilocks) seemed to be juuust riiiight.

And, I think it might be thanks to Zora’s help!

I used sorghum flour, almond flour, and ground flax to add some fiber, protein, and other nutrients. This is the basic recipe, but feel free to add sesame seeds, herbs and spices, and anything else you want to make your crackers yours!


Crispy Gluten-free Crackers:


½ cup sorghum flour

¼ cup tapioca flour

¼ cup almond flour

¼ cup ground flax, soaked in ¼ cup warm water for about 5-10 minutes

1 teaspoon coarsely ground sea salt (I used a mortar and pestle to crush the large granules I have on hand)

2 teaspoons grapeseed or olive oil*

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Roughly 2 tablespoons warm water


Mix together the flours and the sea salt, blending well. Add the flax mixture, apple cider vinegar, and the oil and begin mixing. Mix until a course, pebbled mixture forms. Add the warm water, a small bit at a time, just until the dough comes together. Knead the dough in your hands until the dough is even textured and shape into a ball. The dough should be moist, but not sticky. If it is too sticky, add more flour.

Place half of the dough on a parchment-paper covered cookie sheet. Flatten the dough with your hands a bit and place another sheet of parchment paper on top.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough so that it covers the entire sheet. Roll it out paper thin. And I mean paper thin. Carefully peel off top sheet of parchment paper. Either use a knife to cut the crackers into squares or wait until they are cooked to break them into irregular pieces.

Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes, until the crackers turn golden brown and crispy.

Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store completely cooled crackers in an air-tight container or plastic bag. They will probably stay fresh for about a week, but I have never had them last that long! I usually eat them all up by then!

Enjoy!

*the oil really flavors these crackers, so use an oil you like the flavor of.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Happy apples: happy breakfast

I woke up oddly cranky yesterday, sort of like a young child not wanting play time to be over. I couldn't really pin it on one particular thing, but as I sat on my couch, drinking my morning cup of coffee and watching it drizzle outside, I decided it must be the weather.

Here in Portland, we've turned a corner of sorts...the dry, sunny summer weather that is practically guaranteed on a daily basis has given way to mostly cloudy days, speckled with rain showers and bursts of sunshine. When they say it rains in Portland nine months out of the year, it's the half-truth. Mostly, it means we have little guaranteed sunshine and most of our 'rainy' days are filled with some combination of sun-breaks mixed with rain to varying degrees; it comes in the form of mist, drizzle, intermittent rain showers, and all-out down-pours.

The days are also getting shorter at what seems to be a unusually rapid pace and I am walking home from rowing in the morning before the sun has even come up.

So, yesterday I felt kind of cranky as my subconscious took its time working through all of this. I even had little desire to go to the farmer's market to pick up the vegetables and fruit we would need for the week. It just felt like another chore.

I was amazed at how the market always seems to lift my spirits.

Even yesterday, in my funk, it took merely moments at the market for me to begin to feel happy, excited, and calm. I love the relationship we have with our farmers, I love the people who believe in buying local food, and I love the willingness of the farmers to teach the customers what they know about growing, cooking, and eating healthy food. In short, I love the conversations I overhear, and often have, among the vendors and farmers and customers.

Fall is an especially favorite time for me at the market. I know, I love all of the other seasons too, like mid-summer when berries of all colors, shapes, and sizes take over, but there seems to be a special place in my heart for the fall food season.

It might have been my first fall in Portland when I realized apples came in countless varieties and was delighted each weekend to see the overwhelming barrels of beautiful apples at nearly every fruit stand. I had never enjoyed eating apples until that fall...the ones I had experienced growing up (or at the grocery store) were all grainy and covered in that waxy coating – blech! Or the Fall I turned 25, when my mom came to visit me and (with her help) I made acorn squash for the first time (and fell in love with it).

It's also the moist, chilly weather. It's the smoke, coming from the vendor roasting peppers, that hangs heavily in the air. The crowds also thin out this time of year; with tourist season being over, most of the people at the market now are Portlanders, making the market feel more calm.

Yesterday I loaded up on delicious apples (three different varieties), peaches (likely to soon be gone), acorn squash, ambercup squash, zucchini (how could I resist?), and those delicious french-style green beans.

This morning I had been thinking about how many gluten-free-ers have several other dietary restrictions (see no gluten, no problem for a great post on the topic) and many are even completely grain free (I have read this helps reduce inflammation, though I don't know if personally that is why they are grain free). With these thoughts floating through my brain, I created a different take on a meal I used to eat while studying in Germany. This meal originally consisted of white rice, moo-cow milk, cinnamon, and sugar. I later began to add diced apples to the mix.


With the apples from the farmer's market yesterday, I concocted the meal pictured above: a healthy, filling breakfast that was grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and (of course!) gluten free.

Some of the apples will go to making gluten free apple empandadas, but they will also serve me well for breakfast this week. This really isn't much of a 'recipe,' but more of a description of what I threw together. Play with it and make it how you like it!

Grain-free, dairy free, apple cereal breakfast:

Cut a large apple (of your favorite variety) into bite-sized pieces, like you would for a pie. Place the apple pieces in a medium saucepan and add a splash of water. Sprinkle generously with apple pie spice (or cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice) and mix well. Simmer on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the apples are tender.

Throw the apple pieces in a large bowl, top with a handful of cashews, a healthy dose of sunflower seeds, and a smattering of coconut. Pour your favorite milk on top (I use Pacific Foods Hazelnut) and enjoy!

Tip: You can cook up several apples at once and refrigerate the leftovers for a quick work-day breakfast all week!

How do you like your apples?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Gluten free, vegetarian cabbage rolls


My mom and I must have been thinking with the same brain this week. At the grocery store the other day, I picked up a head of cabbage, without forethought as to how I would use it. It just called out to me, looking so green and pretty, and I knew I could come up with something.

My mother called me the next day, asking what seasonings I put in my cabbage stew. Unfortunately, before I started this blog, I never really kept track of my kitchen creations and, most of the time, they were never the same twice. Sometimes my chilli had rosemary, sometimes it had lots of garlic. Sometimes it had both. The cabbage stew I made around St. Patrick's day last March? It probably had about 5 different herbs in it, but I can't quite remember what they were! In any case, we were both dining on cabbage this week, though I had decided to try my hand (literally) at making cabbage rolls.

I had an idea to make them somewhat Asian-style, sweet and sour, with granny smith apples. So, last night, with my dissertation proposal behind me (Yay! On to data collection!), I set to work on a creating my first cabbage roll feast.

What I finally came up with turned out to be a success, but I am still playing with ideas to make them even more spectacular. If anyone has any good ideas, shoot them my way!

Cabbage is really healthy, especially for those of us on an anti-inflammatory diet! It has high levels of glutamine, which reduces inflammation in the body. I have been taking glutamine in a supplement form for a few months now, since it is easily depleted when you keep an active, athletic lifestyle. The lentils add a significant amount of fiber and iron to this meal.

Vegetarian, gluten free cabbage rolls:

1 head green cabbage

2 cups cooked brown rice (about 1 cup dried)

1 cup cooked lentils (about ½ cup dried)

1 med granny smith apple, diced finely

½ med sweet onion, diced finely

2 tsp sea salt

2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon ginger

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Two large eggs


Mix all of the ingredients together, except for the cabbage. Core the cabbage and peel off the outermost leaves. Place the entire head in a large pot of salted, boiling water and cook until the outer leaves turn bright green. The outer leaves should begin to pull off nicely. Take the pot off the heat and peel off the first couple of leaves. The outer leaves will be cooked and tender, but as you work your way into the head, the inner leaves are less cooked. Leaving the head in the hot water as you roll the “done” leaves will soften the inner leaves as you go.

Line a large baking dish with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F.

Slice the ribbing out of the leaves (slicing the leaves in half at the rib). Orient the leaf half horizontally, so that where the rib used to be is farthest from you. Place about a ¼ cup of the mixture onto the leaf edge closest to you, fold the sides in, and roll over (like rolling a burrito). Place the roll into the baking dish, seam side down. Repeat with remaining leaves until you fill your baking dish(es).

(I only did one dish, but could have filled at least two. I decided to chop up the remaining cabbage and mix with the remaining rice mixture, filling three souffle dishes. These I baked at 400 for about 30 minutes for another version of rice gratin (and another night's meal!).)

Bake uncovered at 400F for about 30 minutes. The rolls will slightly brown on top.


Serve with this dipping sauce, or your favorite!

1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoons agave nectar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced

Mix all the ingredients well in a small bowl and refrigerate while you make the cabbage rolls.


Enjoy!

Post-publication P.S.: I just noticed that Gluten Free For Good's most recent post is on cabbage! Read more about the health benefits of cabbage there!