Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pumpkin soup and playing catch-up with the season

As you can see, we are a bit behind on our raking duties. It seems like we have been a bit behind on the seasons all year, though. Is it October already? Indeed the leaves falling on our lawn won't let us forget.

Oh wait, it's nearly November!

This year has been flying by, dear readers. A pair of weekends ago weekend Ben and I traveled back to the town where I grew up for my 10 year high school reunion. (I know writing this outs me on my age, but there you have it - I'm, relatively speaking, pretty young!). Ben and I took a day and headed to my old stomping ground in South Minneapolis to tour the galleries of the newly renovated and expanded Walker Art Center. Some of you might know this area of town for the famous sculpture garden nearby (yes, the one with the cherry and the spoon).

Afterwards, I remembered how close we were to the French Meadow Bakery, which has always had a famous to-die-for bakery case, and I had heard recently they began offering a selection of gluten free baked goods. Needless to say, we stopped in for a cup of joe and a sweet treat.

Their gluten free offerings were all pre-packaged and well-labeled. That day, they had a choice of a brownie, a chocolate chip cookie, and an apple-cinnamon muffin. I chose the brownie, of course, because I wanted some chocolate and felt the need to compare it to the Betty Crocker brownie I made earlier in the month. The French Meadow Bakery brownies were awesome. Period. Really nothing more to say about them, except I wish their cafe was here in Portland! They do offer online ordering and list several stores in Portland that supposedly sell their products, but I haven't found the gluten free items in two of those stores (but, many more stores can be visited and phone calls can be made!).

In our farm share this past month, we have received a number of sugar pie pumpkins and we inadvertently grew a pair of small ones in our front yard (planted there by previous owners, we're guessing). So, when handed pumpkins, what does one make?

Well, we made pumpkin soup. And it was good.

This is my entry in this month's "Go ahead honey it's gluten free" event (started by Naomi at Straight into bed cakefree and dried), which is being hosted by Heather over at Life Gluten Free. The theme is pumpkin treats! Check out her round up!

Pumpkin soup

1 medium-sized sugar pie pumpkin

1/2 small onion, diced

4 cups chicken broth

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp gound cloves

olive oil

coconut milk or half and half

toasted pecans

grated Parmesan cheese

ground black pepper

Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds (save them and roast them after dinner!). Place pumkin halves cut side down in a baking dish and add water to the dish until the water covers the bottom of the dish about an 1/8 inch high.

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 40-50 minutes until soft. Allow to cool and scoop out the flesh into a bowl.

Saute diced onion with some olive oil in a large soup or stock-pot until they become translucent. Add the broth, pumpkin, and spices. Stir well to mix.

Simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes, until heated through and somewhat cooked-down. Blend in a blender until smooth.

On each serving, drizzle some coconut milk (or half-and-half), and sprinkle with pecans, cheese, and pepper.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oh Betty!

Sunday morning I pushed a cart up and down the grocery aisles wondering where all the people came from. Where I grew up, the phrase, "Before church lets out," meant something. Primarily, it meant that if you get your errands done Sunday morning before noon (a.k.a., when church 'let out' for the day), you would enjoy less traffic in the stores and in general. It was usually our goal to get things done before this time ran out.

Around here, this doesn't really mean much apparently. Sunday morning at the grocery store was pretty busy. I tried to tuck briefly into the baking aisle to pick up some paper muffin cups (Ben appreciates the ease of clean-up when I use these to bake muffins or cupcakes) and was forced to make my way down the entire aisle because traffic blocked any sort of quick duck-out.

Imagine my surprise as I sped past the baking mixes when I saw the words, "Gluten Free," in big, red print on a row of baking mixes. These were the much talked about, but yet to transpire, Betty Crocker Gluten Free baking mixes. I couldn't resist slowing down, stopping, and picking up the packages to examine them more closely.

The ingredient list indicated the primary flour in the mixes was rice flour. I should have you know I am weary of any gluten free baked good that relies primarily on rice flour because they are usually grainy and not so flavorful. This particular store stocked the vanilla cake, chocolate chip cookie, and brownie mixes. They were about $4 a box, which is less expensive than Pamelas or Bob's red mill (at around $6 a mix), but more expensive than their 'regular' mixes, which come in between $1.50 and $2. They are made in a dedicated GF facility. Even though I knew they were likely to be not that great, considering their reliance on rice flour, I HAD to try one.

It was maybe the novelty of it (I haven't eaten a Betty Crocker product in over a year at least) and mostly curiosity that made me do it. I chose to purchase the brownie mix. I have heard it is hard to screw up gluten free brownies and I haven't eaten a brownie in over a year either. I have yet to attempt to bake gluten free brownies. And, heck, at least the ingredients were pronounceable!

So, Betty came home with me that day and sat proudly on the kitchen counter for about two days. I took pictures of her. Then I baked.

First of all, the batter is easy to throw together. It only fills an 8x8 pan, however. I figured the toughest thing to replicate would be the brownie top - you know, that flaky, crispy top? These did that just fine. I was a tad disappointed with the rest of the texture and the flavor. The texture was a bit too gummy. Brownies are supposed to be chewy, I know, but these were somewhat different...almost like they seemed too unnatural. And the flavor - the little chocolate chips definitely saved these brownies because without them, I think they wouldn't really be flavorful at all.

I think people forget that wheat flour has taste and rice flour does not. When you rely on rice flour as the primary substitute for wheat flour, the flavor suffers. You really have to include other flours or other flavors to make up for it.

I'm not sure how much of my distaste for the brownies comes from simply baking from a mix (don't home-made baked goods always taste better than ones from mixes?) or my lack of other gluten-free brownie-eating in the past year or ? Perhaps Betty has some more work to do before her mixes are up to par with what we expect.

In any case, they were "good enough" brownies, especially for those looking for a familiar brand and for those baking for gluten-free loved ones who don't want to invest a lot of money in various flours to bake from scratch (If you are in this category be sure your pan is clean and don't use old scratched-up pans or silicone pans, which harbor gluten. You can always line your pans with aluminum foil or parchment paper if you have any cleanliness worries. You can read more here for baking and cooking for others). They are also incredibly fast and "good enough" for those who have little interest in investing lots of time to their baking.

Have you tried any of the other Betty Crocker Gluten Free mixes? What did you think of them?