Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Superman at a kryptonite party

It’s hard to imagine there was a time in my life when butter used to sit in my refrigerator so long that it actually expired.

It was my second year of grad school and I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies to get me over the hump of the start of a new term.  Imagine my horror when I happened to glance at the side of the box and saw an expiration date that had passed three months prior!  I didn’t even know butter expired.  

Fast forward to now.  In the past two or three months I have gone through at least 4 pounds of butter; using it to bake cookies, scramble eggs, and on toast – just to name a few.  Butter wouldn’t dare expire on my watch now.

‘Tis the season, of course.  What would holiday baking be without butter?

Ben and I went to a holiday cookie party the day before Christmas Eve, where the hosts were baking up batches of sugar cookie cut-outs and guests were decorating with various colors of icing.  Basically, it was a gluten-filled feast.  Being the only non-gluten eater there, I was given the title of “Superman at a kryptonite party” – I had to resist all those sweet, delicious, gluten-filled treats, lest see my demise (insert evil laughter here).

In reality, it was a piece of cake (no pun intended), but I love the title, so I’m going with it.  Who wouldn’t want to be thought of as superman?

Although that was an awesome compliment, I received an even bigger one that evening:  The gluten-free sugar cookies I brought were eaten by the gluten-eaters, who exclaimed how good they were!  If good things come in threes, I think our luck is good for that inch of snow to fall tonight that will bring Portland to a screeching halt (no work Wednesday anyone?).

If you’ve got some snow-related time on your hands, or if you are just a super-human and actually have butter left in your fridge at the end of this month, try mixing up your own better-than-kryptonite sugar cookies.

Peppermint sugar cookies
I made these into candy cane cookies, but you can also roll the dough into balls (just smaller than a golf ball) and flatten to about a ¼ inch thick and sprinkle with red sugar before baking.  A neat trick I picked up from my mother is to use the bottom of a small glass – 1) rub some dough on the bottom of the glass to get it a bit greasy (this step is just to get started), 2) then press the bottom of the glass onto a small plate filled with the colored sugar, 3) then press the sugar onto a rolled ball to flatten into a cookie.  Then repeat steps 2 and 3.  I found it works best if you use plenty of sugar and do a quick squash with the glass, then flatten the cookie a bit more with your hand. 

¾ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup millet flour
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt

½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp peppermint extract (make sure it’s GF)
2 tablespoons any milk
Red food coloring
Crushed candy cane and/or red sugar

In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.

In another bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar using your mixer or hand-beaters.

Add egg, peppermint extract, and a tablespoon of milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time until incorporated (you may need to take your hands to it if your mixer can’t take the dough).

Add another tablespoon or so of milk if mixture appears too dry. The dough should be moist and firm, but not sticky at all.

To make these into candy cane cookies, place half of the dough into another bowl.  Add 15 drops of red food coloring and work into the dough using a spoon.  Now you have a ‘white’ ball of dough and a ‘red’ ball of dough.

Place each ball of dough on a sheet of cling wrap and flatten slightly. Wrap up the dough with the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can go overnight as well).

When you remove the dough from the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 375F.  

To make each cookie: Grab a small bit of ‘red’ dough about the size of a quarter.  Work the piece of dough into a ball and then roll out on a plate so that you have a ‘snake’ (remember making ‘snakes’ out of play dough when you were a kid?  This is sort of like that).  Your snake should be about 6 to 7 inches long and ½ inch across.  Do this with the ‘white’ dough as well.  Place both snakes side by side and wrap one around the other so that they are twisted.  Bend the top around to make the hook in the cane.  Flatten slightly and place on the cookie sheet. At this point, you can sprinkle with red sugar or wait until they are baked to sprinkle with crushed candy cane.

Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for about 10-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies. When done, the edges will be firm and the cookies will be slightly golden on the bottom.
If using the crushed candy cane, sprinkle the cookies with it as soon as they are out of the oven.  Let cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer salads

I am waiting ever so patiently for my cherry tomatoes to ripen.

We have what I think are the largest cherry tomato plants in all of Portland, weighted down with countless clusters of cherry tomatoes. See them in the picture below?  Taller than our fence?  Unfortunately, they are all green. (I have actually had to do some serious cutting them back at least three times already!)

In a way, it is good they haven’t ripened yet, since we our cucumbers are just starting to become big enough to harvest, and one of our favorite summer salads is Greek salad.  We slice cucumbers with cherry tomatoes, throw in a little sliced red onion with kalamata olives, olive oil, oregano and black pepper.  Traditionally, from what I’ve experienced in Athens and on Crete, the feta cheese is served in a block on the side, but we often crumble ours up and toss it with the salad. 

Yes, we actually planted the tomatoes and the cucumbers with that salad in mind. 

Meanwhile, we’ve been putting together chop salads with our carrots and celery, along with spinach and other veggies we find at the farmers’ market.  I can’t get enough of these fresh veggies.  All I can think about is those winter months when avocadoes will be hard to come by (at least, avocadoes that ripen properly) and the taste of perfectly ripe peaches will be a distant memory.

A coworker of mine leant me her Cook’s Country magazine from a few years ago, which contained a number of great summer salads.  This one is an adaptation of one of those salads, and sort of a twist on a greek-inspired salad.  Though this works great as a picnic salad now (and is certainly a crowd-pleaser) it doesn’t require a lot of various vegetables, so could still be easily thrown together as winter approaches.

Greek-inspired shredded lettuce and spinach salad
I’ve made this a number of times in the past couple of months.  I really love the crunch of the iceberg lettuce, though it doesn’t lend much nutritional value.  The first time I made it, I threw in 2 cups of cooked rice and used less spinach and lettuce.  You could toss in some rice to this to make it feed more people, or perhaps some cold rice pasta (as written below, this feeds about 4).  To “shred” the iceberg lettuce, wash and core the head, then slice it in half.  Place the cut side down on a cutting board and, using a sharp serrated knife, slice thin slices of lettuce.   Then go back and cut across the slices perpendicular to your initial cuts to make small pieces of lettuce.

Mix together in a large bowl:
½ head iceberg lettuce, shredded and chopped fine
8 oz baby spinach, chopped fine
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced fine
1/3 cup sliced kalamata olives
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
1 cooked chicken breast, cooled and cut into bit-sized pieces
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Mix together in a small dish and toss over lettuce mixture:
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 minced garlic clove
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp sea salt
Freshly grated black pepper


Monday, July 26, 2010

Caramelized red pepper and onion over lamb burgers

Some of you might have noticed a little tag on some of my posts called, “Things Ben demands we cook.”  These are things that are particularly a result of Ben’s cravings and is more or less an inside joke between us. (Well, not so inside since the anyone with an internet connection and a decent computer can now read about it!).  He will come home from an evening out with his guy friends and say, “I had the best gyro tonight… we should really do up some tzatziki sauce this week, with some lamb…” Or, he’ll suddenly become very excited about an idea he has to change up one of our old favorites.  Sometimes, they are things he becomes obsessed with until we try a recipe.  I am often not very good at documenting these things, sadly, like a lot of the things we cook, they don’t end up here on this site. 

However, since he is almost as in love with flavors as I am, he is often coming up with some great ideas that stretch and improve upon my own. 

For example, we are both big fans of lamb burgers.  Sometimes we mix in other meats, like ground pork or ground chicken, but most of the time we leave them straight up lamb.  We always season our lamb burgers.  I haven’t ever posted a particular recipe for them, but described them previously here.  That is the general gist, and we absolutely love them. 

“We should do caramelized red pepper and onion to put on top of the lamb burgers, with some crumbled feta,” he said one Saturday morning as we were trying to come up with that week’s meals.  As he spoke, he motioned excitedly with his hands to add emphasis to how the peppers and onion would go ’on top’ of the burger.  

Yum.  This might become another staple.

How to sauté up some caramelized onion and red pepper strips:

What you need:
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced into long thin strips
½ small onion, sliced into long thin strips
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar

What you do:
Heat enough olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat to just cover the pan.  Wait until the oil is to temperature and toss in the veggies.  Stir frequently until the veggies begin to wilt and blacken in some spots (if it seems to be cooking too fast, turn the heat down a bit).  When the oil is almost all cooked away, splash a bit of the vinegar into the pan and keep stirring.  Once the veggies start to caramelize, move them immediately to a plate and serve.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Grilled Broccoli

During the long, gradual, uphill climb, in 95 degree+ heat last week, I thought to myself, “you asked for this.”  I had been yearning for, dreaming about, a hot summer day.  A day when the wind blew warm in the afternoon and the sweat on my skin from biking home wasn’t that bittersweet beaded sweat, gone almost as quickly as it started, but one that was so undeniably fierce,  it came down in little rivulets off my face and arms. 

This was definitely one of those days.

As I passed the Hostess Wonder Bread Outlet, and the wind became unforgiving, I felt a mix of satisfaction and pain.  And, to take my mind off of my physical anguish, I began creating smoothie flavors and ingredient combinations in my imagination.  Frozen bananas, coconut milk, blueberries, with a dash of cinnamon?  Frozen bananas, cream, coconut milk, strawberries, and a long, slow drizzle of honey?

When I got home, the crockpot was filled with Karina’s Rustic Chicken Mediterranean Soup and the house smelled undeniably awesome (really, if you haven‘t tried this yet, DO IT.  You won‘t be sorry).  I set to work with the blender, some frozen bananas, half & half, coconut milk, and sugar.  I then poured the mixture into the ice cream maker and set it to churn while I sat a the kitchen table to catch up with some of my favorite food bloggers (the ice cream later became a base for the banana & strawberry smoothie). 

Shauna (aka The Gluten Free Girl), queen of inspiration and asker of great questions, was asking readers when cooking from scratch became easier or more fun.  I looked across the kitchen.  Amazing soup simmering in the crock pot and homemade ice cream churning away… no question about it, cooking from scratch became more fun and a heck of a lot easier when I started taking advantage of the local ingredients, in season.  It is amazing how much better the food tastes. 

Then there are all of these great people online sharing their recipes and waxing poetic about favorite vegetables and childhood food memories.  I can’t help but be inspired by how passionately some talk of food and how creatively some pair flavors, in ways you never thought possible.

Especially among the gluten free set, and the gluten free and vegan set, and the entirely grain free set, who don’t let any of their dietary “restrictions” feel like restrictions, but rather make them reasons to live.  In the process, they create some of the most delicious, perfect recipes, and they drop morsels of life lessons in their stories, from which we all benefit.

This great food love of mine has taken me down the road of home gardening, and organic home gardening at that -- bugs and all -- and it has been an adventure to say the least.  There is no better education than experience; I can tell you life has proven this to me over and over again.  We are beginning to really harvest our vegetables - our broccoli turned out beautiful, though we lost quite a bit of it to the bugs. 

This is what we did with some of the good bunches - grilled in foil packets.

Grilled broccoli
This is less a recipe and more a method, so I’ll list what you need and what you need to do.

Here is what you need:
Broccoli, cleaned, sliced into long spears
Fresh or dried thyme
Granulated garlic
Sea salt
Lemon juice
Aluminum foil squares

Here is what you do:
Arrange the broccoli in the center of the foil square like the picture above
Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic.  Dot the top with butter.
Fold the sides up to meet in the middle and fold the seam over so that no butter can leak out when it melts.  Now you have a rectangle, with two ends open.  Roll each open end of the foil until you reach the broccoli and make sure everything is good and sealed.

Grill on a hot grill (400-500 degrees) for about 10 minutes, turning once.  Open the packets carefully and empty the contents onto a plate or into a bowl.  Toss with additional butter if desired and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pea and bacon quinoa salad

My brother used to call them “ball-balls.”  (sorry brother).  I am suspicious, though, that my brother calling these little, green, ball-shaped veggies by this particularly descriptive name had less to do with my brother’s innovative mind and more to do with my parents trying to get us to eat our vegetables. 

“Eat your ball-balls,” my parents would encourage.  And, if we managed to make them disappear off of our plates, “Do you want some more ball-balls?” my parents undoubtedly asked. 

Turn the food into something “fun” and your kids will think it tastes better than it really does?  Does that work? 

The rivers of peas my siblings and I used to construct under the lip of our dinner plates seem to argue that, no, it does not work.  In fact, I think peas might have been the most dreaded vegetable of my childhood.

Funny how our tastes change.  Even if yours hasn’t, I’m willing to bet you’ll love this salad - pair anything with bacon and suddenly even the pickiest of eaters will be asking for seconds…

Pea and bacon quinoa salad
This salad is easy to throw together and tastes great cold or warm.  It will make a great picnic salad this summer - bring it to the park with a blanket and some cold chicken or take along to a summer barbeque with friends.  This is also great to make when you have a few slices of Sunday-morning breakfast bacon leftover.

½ cup quinoa (red or white), rinsed and picked over
1 cup chicken broth
1 ½ cups sweet peas, cooked
3-4 slices cooked, crisp bacon, crumbled or cut into small pieces
2 green onions, sliced
Parmesan cheese, grated

Place the quinoa and chicken broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until broth is absorbed and the germ is visible in the quinoa (the curled little sprout of the grain that appears when it is cooked).

Toss in the bacon, onions, and sweet peas.

Top with grated Parmesan cheese and season with freshly grated pepper to taste.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Greek Frappe

“…sunshine today with possibly a few sprinkles tomorrow and that is it for the next seven days,” I heard as I reached over to hit the snooze button, “It looks like we finally have arrived.”

Indeed we have, Mr. 94.7 disc jockey.  (I’m not sure of your name, but I invariably wake up to your voice every weekday morning).  The past week has been gorgeous and suddenly,  we are thrown into summer.  T-shirt and tank-top weather.  Summer dresses and sunglasses because-you-need-them kind of weather. 

We didn’t even get those few sprinkles you mentioned, Mr. DJ.

This weekend I made Ben a Nescafe Frappe, just like my friend Nikos made for us while I was in Greece a couple of years ago.  It’s the best way to do coffee when it’s hot.  And you must drink it with a straw.

Now excuse me while I go read a book in my sunny backyard. (recipe below!)

Nescafe Frappe
If you don’t have an immersion blender or a milk frother (the vibrating kind, not the steaming kind), you can put the dried coffee, sugar, water, and ice cubes in a plastic shaker container/bottle or plastic container with a lid and shake it up until it gets all frothy.  Then pour it into a glass.  Also, don’t omit the sugar entirely -- it helps develop the foam.  I think traditionally this is made with evaporated milk, but you can use any kind of milk you can tolerate or perhaps coffeemate ‘original’ creamer, which is both lactose and gluten free.  I used half and half this morning.

Per serving, you will need:
2 teaspoons Nescafe classic dried coffee
1-3 teaspoons white sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
Milk (any kind) or creamer (half and half, coffeemate, etc)
2-3 ice cubes

Place the coffee granules and the sugar in a large glass (16 oz works best).  Add an inch or so of cold water.  Use an immersion blender or milk frother (not the seaming kind) to blend until foam almost reaches the top of the glass. 

Add a splash of milk/creamer and the ice cubes to fill the glass.

Use the straw to stir the drink as you enjoy it.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wash-and-wear gluten free cornbread muffins

I’ve found myself looking online for simple meal ideas.  For easy, quick, whole-foods kinds of meals.  No-frills, wash-and-wear-kind-of-gal meals. 

I’m looking for ways to simplify and streamline my life lately, especially in the kitchen.  I want to come home from work, put away my bike, change into human clothes, and put together a simple meal so I have time to enjoy working in the garden or relaxing outside with a pear cider.

It must be the warming weather.  I feel a furious need to spring clean - to get behind the refrigerator and wipe out the built-up cat hair and dust, to clean crumbs out of the toaster, to find a place for things that Ben and I have been kicking around since we moved in (in September) and for which we haven’t quite gotten around to developing a system.

This is helping.  Ben and I tackled the project of designing and building a built-in bookcase in one of the upstairs bedrooms, to house our numerous books.  Ben got them into place this morning and they're not quite organized yet (we were just too excited to get all of what you see here off of the floor and ‘put away’ as much as possible), so they look pretty cluttered right now, but it already feels 100 times better.

Basement - you’re next.

In my quest for simplicity, I’ve given in to frequent returns to one of our favorite baking mixes - Bob’s red mill gluten free cornbread mix.  We had this for the first time when my sister purchased it to make cornbread while we were in Minneapolis for Christmas.  Really, not too shabby, but a bit dry. 

So, I’ve been tweaking it, playing with it, coaxing it into something fluffier, sweeter. 

These make for a great morning breakfast treat or an afternoon pick-me-up, buttered with a drizzle of raw honey.

As part of my no-frills cooking this week, we will be having these tapas-style with sliced manchego, slices of avocado, and sautéed chickpeas with zucchini, seasoned with cumin, garlic, and cilantro.

If anyone has any good low-maintenance meal ideas, please leave a comment and we can all live a little simpler as the weather warms.

Doctored Bob’s red mill Gluten Free cornbread mix muffins
Have all your ingredients at room temperature.

1 package Bob’s red mill cornbread mix
2 eggs
1 ½ cups milk (any kind)
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons raw honey
1 tablespoon raw sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
About ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375F and line muffin tins with paper liners (makes 12 muffins).

Pour mix into a large bowl with cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.  Blend well. 

Add eggs, milk, honey, and butter and mix until you have an even consistency.  Spoon the mixture into the paper liners (they will all be full). 

Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and the muffin tops don’t give when you lightly press on them.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gluten free -- Mainstream?

Sometimes I indulge a small fantasy of mine. 

I think to myself about all of the delicious naturally gluten free food in the world, like strawberries, peaches, asparagus, or sweet potatoes, and my mind naturally follows to all of the wonderful gluten free baked goods I’ve eaten from my own kitchen and several others‘.  Scones, muffins, cookies, and pies.  All gluten free.  All just the right amount of sweet, crunch, and tenderness.

When I think of all that I eat and all that I can create to feed myself and loved ones, gluten free style, I start to wonder why the world even needs wheat, barley, or rye?  If we can eat this well and feel this satisfied without these particular glutenous grains, are they really necessary to harvest for “normal” consumption?  Especially given the evidence that suggests gluten is difficult for humans to digest in general (even for those who are not gluten intolerant per se), I can’t help but think we would all be better off if mainstream food producers started to remove the gluten altogether. 

I start to imagine a world where everyone’s go-to thickener for sauces is tapioca starch rather than wheat flour, or where dredging fish in almond meal or rice flour for fish and chips is the standard.  Bakeries stock their flour bins with buckwheat, sorghum, or coconut flours.

Would anyone miss the gluteny grains?  Would there be a mass uprising to bring back flours that contain little nutritional value and give most people troubled tummies?  I smirk at the thought of crowds of people outside their city halls and in DC holding signs, calling for the return of wheat to their Wheaties. 

My little utopia-bubble bursts quickly each time when I come back to reality and think about the mass production of wheat - it’s a historically high-yield, low cost crop that food manufacturers can use as an inexpensive filler - and it has become so ingrained (no pun intended) in our culture as a staple food product to make removing it feel like going up against “the machine.”  Plus, shifting how people think about baking, taking for granted the binding properties of gluten, would certainly be another sort of paradigm shift. 

Then, I see things like this:

Mainstream cereals going gluten free. 

No, they don’t have their “gluten free version” of Chex.  A while back I posted a review for Betty Crocker’s gluten free brownie mix.  They have a gluten free brownie mix and a regular brownie mix.  However, if you want honey nut Chex or chocolate Chex, for example, you have one option - the gluten free option.  Simple as that.  No more barley malt flavoring their cereals.  (They still have wheat Chex however, which are obviously not gluten free).  I'm not big on processed foods in general, but know very well how handy they are in a pinch, and I'm rather intrigued by such shifts in mainstream food producing.

It’s like someone in the company woke up one day and realized a whole segment of the population couldn’t eat their product because they were using a particular flavoring that could easily be replaced by something that didn’t make 1 in 100 people sick. 

While I don’t think we will ever live in a gluten-free world, I at least have hope that as consciousness grows about things like gluten intolerance, not only will individuals think more critically about what they put in their bodies, but food suppliers will think more critically about what they offer - they will ask themselves if they can create something that is slightly better tolerated, more nutritious, or less processed by changing a few small practices or ingredients.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sausage and white beans with swiss chard on crostini

Sometimes, you just need a little inspiration.  And some sunshine. 

We’re pulling out of the grips of a horribly wet stretch here in Portland, finally seeing some reliable sunshine for the first time in months.  Between my last post and this week, I felt paralyzed, the cool and damp weather sapping all motivation to pursue personal projects.  However, the world is finally waking up, and after what seemed like endless coaxing, fruit and vegetables are starting to grow.  They’re starting to appear at the farmer’s markets and in gardens all around Portland. 

Our garden beds are starting to look like they are about to burst.  We’ve already enjoyed fresh spinach from our hanging basket and will soon have more ripe strawberries and blueberries than might be good for us.  --- okay, that’s nonsense, there is no such thing.  We will make more blueberry jam and strawberry crisps.  We will pop them right in our mouths for a sweet snack.  We might even preserve some in wine for ice cream sundaes. 

This past week, I’ve been cooking out of the Farm to Table Cookbook - quite possibly the best cookbook purchase I’ve made since stumbling upon the Gluten Free Girl cookbook a couple of years ago.  It is written by a Portland author, so the ingredients she features for each season happen to also be abundantly available locally, because these are the produce that grow well in Oregon.  Also, the recipes are almost all naturally gluten-free, since she features whole foods (none of that “one can of cream of mushroom soup” junk), and for those recipes that are not GF, the substitution is obvious.  For example, in a pasta dish that calls for whole wheat pasta - use rice pasta instead.  However, the real reason I am in love with this cookbook?  Reading the recipes is better than any romance novel or chick lit book you’ve ever tried to read (let’s face it - we’ve all picked up a brain-insulting book for the beach at some point in our lives) and every recipe I’ve tried has exceeded all of my expectations about what good food should taste like.  

I started with Stuffed Vegetables Provencal, which stuffs zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, or any other vegetables of your choosing with a mixture of bacon, bread crumbs, herbs de provence and other goodies, along with the ‘meat’ of the vegetables you are using.  This smelled delicious and tasted even better.  I had never heard of Gremolata butter before using this book, but after tossing it on roasted veggies, I want to bathe in it.  Thursday night I made Roasted Chicken Peperonata (pictured below with gremolata buttered roasted new potatoes) and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  I’m not much of a bell pepper fan, but this was like no bell pepper preparation I had ever tried.  I’m glad I did. 

I was inspired to try something I made up - a variation on something I like to cook in the spring with Raab.  This is what I call Sausage and White Beans with Swiss Chard on Crostini.  I even used a veggie I hadn’t yet tried before - swiss chard.  It’s actually pretty darn good. 

Sausage and White Beans with Swiss Chard on Crostini
I bought a sesame batard from New Cascadia’s farmers market stand to use as the bread in this.  If you are not blessed with a source for delicious, artisan-style gluten free bread where you are, and you don’t want to bake it yourself, you might try spooning the sausage mixture over cooked quinoa or some other hearty gluten-free grain.  Buy a good pork sausage, from the butcher or the deli for this recipe. 

1 small sweet onion, finely diced
1 bunch swiss chard, roughly chopped
1 pound pork sausages, cooked and sliced
1 can great northern beans
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Olive oil

1 gluten free sesame batard, sliced thick

Prepare your bread by rubbing one side with the cut side of a sliced garlic clove and brushing with olive oil or butter.  Place slices oil-side-up on a baking sheet to bake later. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Dice garlic cloves.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Saute onions until they begin to soften and slightly brown on the edges.  Add the herbs, garlic, beans, and sausages and saute for a about 5 more minutes before reducing the heat to low.   Add in the swiss chard and stir to evenly distribute.  Cover and let simmer.

Meanwhile, slide the bread slices into the oven and bake at for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden.

To serve, place two slices of bread on a plate and top with the sausage mixture.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Grilled tomatoes with lemon caper creme sauce

The future home for delicious carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans (to name a few) are pictured here in our lovely backyard.  Ben and I recently spent an entire weekend digging up grass, building cedar walls, and pounding in stakes to create these three beautiful raised garden beds.  This week we will have soil and this weekend we will have starts planted! 

We plan on getting a cherry tree for the front yard and we will be building a trellis for hops along the south side of the house, which gets a good dose of sun. 

Those hops?  Yeah, they will make gluten free beer.  Gluten free beer with chocolate and coffee notes.  The kind of beer I used to drink, but that no company currently feels like making.  Ben and I will be making our own, exactly how we like it.

Home projects like this have been keeping us busy for a while.  And the Portland spring sunshine has been calling to us, pulling at us, asking us, will we please come out and play?  We’ve been stepping outside, shedding our layers, with the sun slowly drawing the chill from our damp winter bones.  I’ve been biking to work yet again, feeling the cool crisp air nipping at my face in the morning while the streets are still quiet, and peddling easily home in the warm afternoon. 

One Saturday morning, I taught Ben everything I know about basketball; how to shoot, dribble, protect the ball, box out on the rebound, and pass.  I filled his head with random tidbits I remembered about things like faking out, pivot moves, defensive positioning, and working the lane. 

The next morning we both woke up feeling like we’d been hit by a garbage truck.  Oi!  Our bones are less than forgiving these days. 

We have been taking every opportunity to use our grill, sitting in our backyard with a beer and a book, while combination of smoke, barbeque sauce, and food smells torture us until it’s ready to eat.  Ben makes his own sauces, rubs, and mustards, so – yes – we are incredibly spoiled.  

This is one you all need to try.  We mixed up some lamb burgers with nutmeg, rosemary, garlic, and a dash of sea salt and freshly grated pepper.  We then threw some asparagus and a few whole tomatoes over our smoker box in on the grill (filled with hickory chips).  We cooked them over medium heat, turning once, until the tomato skins began to crack.   Inside the house, I mixed a few spoonfuls of crème fraiche with a spoonful of capers and a few drops of lemon juice.  I spooned this mixture over the perfectly smoked veggies and after one bite of the tomato, I ran to get my camera – this was too good not to share.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lemon-ricotta pancakes!

After my miserable failure of an attempt at gluten free lemon-filled donuts, I was inspired by a co-worker to use one of the remaining sweet lemons to make lemon-ricotta pancakes, which her and her husband had eaten at Jam, one of Portland’s many delicious breakfast places. 

Lemon. Ricotta. Pancakes.   Need I say more?

I could imagine their spongy, light texture and tangy-lemony flavor before I even began plotting my recipe.  I imagined them accompanied by lemon curd or maple syrup or even the marionberry jam we still had in the freezer from this past summer’s jam session

Once imagined, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It didn’t take me long to find the gluten-filled version of a recipe for them, easy to adapt because it only called for a half cup of flour.  So, we had breakfast for dinner one night last week, complete with grapefruit mimosas, fried potatoes, and mango-fruit.    

The last lemon was used to make my favorite lemon-scented white chocolate cookies for our little get-together we had this past weekend.  (They were a huge hit!)

Gluten free lemon-ricotta pancakes

I adapted this recipe straight from the Gourmet magazine (1991) recipe that’s floating around the internet.  Since it only calls for ½ cup flour, I imagine the type of gluten free flour you use here doesn’t change the final results much, but would probably be particularly good with almond flour or buckwheat flour, if you don’t tolerate tapioca or sorghum. 

4 eggs, separated

1 1/3 cups ricotta

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

Zest of one meyer lemon

¼ cup sorghum flour

¼ cup tapioca flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

Blend flours and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the yolks, ricotta, sugar and lemon zest.  Stir in flour mixture.

Using and electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Stir ¼ of the egg whites into the flour-yolk-ricotta mixture, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. 

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-ish heat (I used just slightly lower than medium heat on my stove).  Using a ladle or measuring cup, scoop mixture onto skillet and cook pancakes for about a minute or two on each side.  These seemed to cook up much faster than traditional pancakes.

I always put a plate in the oven, on at 200F, and stack cooked cakes on the plate to keep warm until all of the cakes are cooked. 

Serve with maple syrup, berry jam, or lemon curd (or all three!).


Monday, February 22, 2010

A little food for thought

“It is a very safe space for you isn’t it?”  Ben asked after I finished explaining how quickly time passes while I’m at the gym.

“It’s like I just get a run in and start with some weights, and before I know it, it’s already been over an hour and I need to head to the showers,” I had said.  I thought about his question for a moment and his use of the words ‘safe space.’  I quickly understood he didn’t literally mean that the space literally felt free from physical threat or danger, but rather that it was a place I felt comfortable and competent.

“Yes,” I replied. 

For him, the gym is a very intimidating space, where he is too aware of the people around him who might be watching and judging; he is unsure of how he should dress or how to operate a treadmill.  For me, it’s a place where I feel strong, where I focus on things I’m good at, and where everything else sort of goes away.   

When I complete a challenging workout and my body feels rubbery and drenched in sweat, I feel like I can take on the world.  It’s just what I need when other parts of my life feel out of control or particularly stressful. 

This, of course, got me thinking about places where we feel competent and how we move through these spaces in the course of our day and what this does to our psychological well-being.  Feeling competent is one thing – it makes us feel good about our selves, provides a feeling of self-efficacy in that domain, and gives us a boost of energy.  But what happens when we feel so competent in a space that we feel bored?  It would seem that in order for us to continue to feel engaged and energized in a space, there needs to be a certain element of challenge, to keep us from feeling like our activity (job, hobby, etc) is too easy and therefore not really worth much…and thus reducing our sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

It reminded me of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (“Mike” to those who know him) was getting at when he conceptualized his idea of “flow” – which is what you experience when you are participating in an activity that balances skill and challenge, and time seems to cease to exist.  Everything else falls away in favor of your focus on the task at hand.  

Although these flow experiences require a bit of up-front energy (think of what it feels like to drag yourself to the gym instead of staying at home on the couch), participating in them results in feeling energized.  Though I had always thought Mike’s concept of flow was a remarkably astute observation of human motivation and productivity, it began to occur to me that maybe it is indeed at the crux of happiness – that engaging in activities that offer just enough challenge to feel somewhat difficult, yet we feel competent enough to try, elevates our mood and provides a sense of enjoyment.

For example, I feel competent at the gym because I’ve had a lot of experience with running, rowing, and weight-training.  I have little trouble logging a four- or five-mile run on any given day and this makes me feel good… but not for long.   

It gets boring.   

So, then I change it up and add inclines (if I’m on a treadmill – or, change outdoor routes if outside) and speed changes.  I add weight to my reps or reps to my sets.  I continually up the ante, to keep feeling challenged, and my lust for the activity flourishes. 

Similarly, being gluten free has forced me to become pretty competent in the kitchen (talk about a challenge at first – whew!).  Periodically, though, I get bored.  Bored of the same cookie recipe, bored of the same meals.   

So, I up the ante; I buy meat I’ve never cooked with before, or I experiment with a spice I’ve never tried.  I wonder if I could pull off a better gluten free pie crust.  With a challenge in front of me, I can come home from a full day of work and an hour at the gym and still feel energetic enough to stand over the counter and chop vegetables. 

I've noticed that doing this keeps me feeling challenged and interested.  In turn, I feel competent and self-confident.

The funny thing about flow, though, is that the process is cyclical.  It seems that competence and skill and energy are all so intertwined as to feel like the question of the chicken and the egg – which one comes first?  They are so dependent on one another that you could find yourself in a delicious feed-back loop of challenge-competence-energy.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in a space where you are seriously lacking in any of these, figuring out how to jump into the loop can seem daunting, doesn’t it?    

If you aren’t experienced with baking, for example, starting the gluten free diet and suddenly being faced with baking your own gluten free baked goods can seem especially foreign.  Maybe you don’t even own measuring cups or a muffin tin.  (As a side – this can be a blessing actually, because then you aren’t faced with donating or otherwise getting rid of your plastic or silicone bake-ware previously contaminated with gluteny flours).   As you set out to bake some gluten free muffins, the balance between challenge and competence might feel horribly weighted towards the challenge side of the scale – almost enough so that you don’t even want to start.   You feel an unnecessary amount of trepidation for the task in front of you; wondering if you have all the supplies you will need, wondering weather there are things about baking (and baking gluten free) that you don’t know you don’t know.

These situations seem to require the most amount of up-front energy to start. 
Once you’ve had a few good and bad experiences under your belt, however, your sense of competency grows, and you find yourself excited to bake a batch of muffins you know will turn out well.  Then, you feel enough mastery over muffins to want to move on to pie crusts.

It seems to make sense.  As we move through our day, into various spaces and activities, the more activities we undertake that contain an appropriate balance of challenge and skill, the more opportunity we have to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments.  Understandably, we will encounter a number of situations where the challenge feels a little outside of our ability, but if we muster through these difficult situations, as uncomfortable as they might seem, we might turn these activities into equally safe spaces in the future.  
Just a little food for thought :) 

P.S. The picture at the top is one I took at the Olympic ruins in Greece - it's the archway leading into the auditorium; I imagine Olympic athletes all vary slightly in the balance between challenge and skill they feel upon entering competition.  

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sausage and vegetable cassoulet

Let’s mark the day – February 16th

Tuesday was the first day of 2010 that I got to run outside sans long pants, sans fleece.  In fact, I was in running shorts and a t-shirt. 

Though purple crocuses are starting to pop up along the sidewalks in Portland, I felt like I needed to pinch myself this week when I realized it was more than pleasant enough for an easy outdoor run.  While on said run, I noticed pink cherry blossoms starting to bloom along the waterfront. 

The signs of spring in Portland are already here.

It still seems strange to this Minnesota gal to think in February that the season of warm, hearty soups and stews will soon be over.  Scenes like the one above, a picture I took on a recent snowshoeing trip on Mt. Hood, will be a distant memory – at least, until next year.

But, we’re not quite there yet.  There’s still time to enjoy some heavy, warming bowls of foodie goodness.

Like this cassoulet – one of my favorite dishes.  It’s not quite as heavy as a thick, meaty stew, but it’s certainly hearty and very easy to throw together.

Sausage and vegetable cassoulet
This isn’t really a true cassoulet, which are usually baked in a pot with lots of meat pieces in the oven – they are usually much heavier.  I like the simplicity of this one.  I also like to take it off the heat while the veggies are still al dente (just a bit of bite left).  Just personal preference.

4 pork or chicken kielbasa sausages, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, diced
4 or 5 stalks celery, sliced
3 or 4 small zucchini, sliced
1 can white navy or cannellini beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp dried basil
Freshly grated black pepper
Crème fraiche

In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté onions, carrots, and celery with a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until they begin to soften.

Add sausages, zucchini, garlic, and basil, continuing to stir.  Add the can of beans, with liquid and stir to mix.  Cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

Garnish each bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche and freshly grated black pepper.


Monday, February 15, 2010


Ben has been bugging me for months – maybe even an entire year – to attempt a gluten free donut recipe.  More than that, he has been not-so-subtly suggesting a lemon-curd-filled gluten free donut. 

This weekend, I finally attempted to make his dream a reality. 

I failed miserably.

I thought about taking a picture of the pale, flat, bland little discs on the baking sheet to share with you all how miserable it really was, but couldn’t even be bothered with it.  Despite the resounding failure, however, Ben was appreciative of the attempt and even ate a number of them dipped in the lemon curd we made.

“They taste like bland little cookies,” he said, as he made a lemon-curd sandwich with two of them.  I love how Ben can always take lemons and make…lemon sandwiches. 

I ate my usual rice cakes with sunbutter for breakfast that morning and we tossed the remaining batter in the trash, moving on with our day.  Though the donuts won that morning, I will certainly try again, until I get it right.  

Our day took us to the Hawthorne district, where I purchased the print pictured at the top of this post.  We were at Greg's - recently re-opened almost a month after his passing.  He was truly one of Portland's most amazing people (those of you who knew him know) and Ben and I were incredibly saddened to hear of his death.  I'm not sure he really knew how many lives he touched, even by some of the simple things he did every day, but Ben and I knew him for a scarce 5 months and we have felt a loss of someone we really admired. 

We noticed his shop was open, so we had to go in.  A number of Nikki McClure's prints resonated with me, but this one did especially.  I often speak of how enjoyable the process is in accomplishing any task, but mostly with cooking and baking.

The process of coming up with a fantastic gluten free donut recipe, is, believe it or not, enjoyable.  It's a challenge.

So, the fact that this print depicts someone pitting cherries (which are lush and delicious, but pitting them can be tedious) with the word "process" - it really spoke to me.  It also reminds me to slow down, to appreciate the little daily things that might appear tedious, and to think about how these small things matter.  Similar to the all the ways Greg touched the Portland community just by doing and being what he did every day.

This will go up in my kitchen.

Though we don’t really “do” the whole Valentine's day thing, I thought it was a good enough excuse as any for us to share a nice red wine and some of our favorite small-bites foods.  Taking center stage last night was our bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with toasted almonds and feta cheese. 

I know I might get sick of these if I ate them every day, but it would probably take years.  They are impossibly delicious – the perfect blend of salty and sweet, especially with the good, thick-sliced bacon and big, juicy medjool dates we used.   

These definitely turned out – no more experimenting required!

By the way, that is Dewey in the background - sitting up at the table, grumpy because there is no bacon for him :)

Bacon-wrapped dates
I bought a brick of feta cheese, which is easier to use because you can cut narrow bricks to stuff into the dates.  Also, the meatier (less fatty) your bacon, the easier it is to put these together and the better they hold up.  You can also use chevre and pipe it in using a plastic bag – just stuff the cheese into the corner of the bag and snip the tip with a scissors and squeeze into the date after you stuff in the almond.

10 medjool dates
5 slices thick-sliced bacon
10 toasted almonds
Feta cheese

To remove pits from the dates: using a long, narrow object (I used an orange peeler), push through the end opposite of where the date was attached to the stem and push the pit all the way out of the other end.  Remove all of the pits and create a pile of your dates.

Slice 10 small, narrow bricks of feta cheese and pile these pieces next to your dates.
Place your almonds next to your cheese and dates.  Then place 10 toothpicks there as well.

On a separate place, slice the bacon slices in half, so you now have 10 shorter slices of bacon.

Stuff each date with a piece of the cheese, then an almond.  Then roll the date up in a bacon slice and secure with a tooth pick.  Repeat for all dates.

Place dates in a baking dish or a sheet pan with edges and bake at 425F to 450F for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until bacon is cooked through.  Higher temperatures will obviously cook the works faster and will make your bacon crisp up more.

Let them cool a bit before you bit into them, because the cheese will be very hot! 


Friday, February 12, 2010

Toasted coconut and chocolate cookies

I had itchy hands yesterday, both literally and figuratively.  

In the literal sense, I recently had a flare-up of my DH (Dermatitis Herpetiformis), which many of you are likely familiar with.  For those of you who don’t know, DH is a skin condition experienced by approximately 25% of all celiacs that produces itchy blistery bumps, most typically on your hands, knees, elbows, and ankles.  And, according to Dr. Peter Green (Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia), if you have DH, you have Celiac disease.  

There are a number of photos of patients with this rash online and many look beyond worse than I’ve ever had it.  At its best, I’ve had a random bump here and there that doesn’t really itch that much.  At its worst, I’ve had close to 10 bumps on each ankle, irritated and blistery and itchy something furious.  It was at its worst for me when I was healing, about 4 or 5 months after starting the gluten free diet.  I’ve read conflicting information about whether these bumps go away completely on the gluten free diet, and how long that takes.  Some say the bumps often go away on a completely gluten free diet (this might take up to 2 years) and flare-ups mean the re-introduction of gluten into the system.  Others say someone with DH will mostly rid themselves of the rash when on a gluten free diet, but will have rash flare-ups throughout one’s life and it isn’t connected at all to whether that person ingested gluten or not. 

I’ve recently had a particularly bad flare-up on my hands and am left wondering – did I ingest gluten accidentally somewhere?  And, if so, was it recently or does it take some weeks for these symptoms to appear?  Alternatively, I’m coming up on my two-year gluten-free anniversary in March, so my body might still be riding itself of toxins…  Or, these flare-ups are just going to be a fact of my life…  Or, I could be reacting to something else?  All of this feels very frustrating.  The itching is one thing (mine aren’t that itchy), but they also leave scars. 

The best I can do in this situation is to not drive myself nuts looking for answers, but rather to monitor my diet and monitor my symptoms.  If there is something to know there, then I will find it. 

In the figurative sense, my hands were itching to get into the kitchen, to mix up some dough, to create and experiment. I haven’t baked anything in a while and the last batch of cookies I did were from a mix. 

I needed to bake cookies.

One of my favorite flavor combinations for sweet things is coconut with chocolate (well, that and peanut butter and chocolate).  Ben doesn’t care much for chocolate at all, but this weekend, I will finally be giving Ben something he has been waiting for for some time now – gluten free lemon filled donuts!  So, since we are baking something especially for him this weekend, I decided these cookies would be all about me.  Nice how that works, isn’t it? 

And a cookie was born.

Toasted coconut and chocolate cookies

I have been having a lot of good luck lately with quinoa flour, so I thought I’d continue experimenting with it here – with great results!  The texture of these are awesome.  They are not grainy and they don’t get soggy after a day or so (which happens with some gluten free baked goods, I’ve noticed).  Keep them in an airtight container on the counter or freeze ‘em for later.

1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup tapioca flour
½ cup coconut flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup butter
1 cup raw sugar (turbinado)
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup toasted coconut
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix flours and xanthan gum in a small bowl to create one homogeneous flour mix. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until well blended.  Add eggs and vanilla and stir until incorporated. Add flour mixture, about a third at a time, until it is all mixed in.  Then stir in your coconut and chocolate chips.  The mixture will be quite tough at this point, and you might want to use your hands.

Roll dough into golf-ball sized balls and place on a plate so they are all ready to go.  

Place the balls about an inch or so apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten with your hand or the back of a spatula to about 1/5 inch thick.  Bake at 350F for about 12-15 minutes. 

Allow to cool on wire rack.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Plumbing projects and The Cravings Place cookie mix

Although I didn't truly mean to, I did stew over that last recipe for days... A number of weeks, in fact (yowza). But it was that good...

In the meantime, we've been retreating to hearty standbys - chicken and vegetable soup, stuffed acorn squash, and risottos.  I pulled together a little home-made marinara sauce (with freshly grated nutmeg - as the Germans do) and we enjoyed a number of nights with buffalo meatball and vegetable spaghetti. Anything full and warming that combines meat and vegetables in one warm bowl was definitely what we wanted on the menu.

This past weekend, inspired by a friend and our trip to Otto's Sausage Kitchen the weekend prior, I made potato-leek soup with creme fraiche and bacon (if you live in the area - go there! for their sausages smoked on site, and then buy some fresh meats to take home with you.  All of their sausages are gluten free!).  Long story short, friend took home some bacon (and later declared that if she disappeared it was because she had eloped with said bacon) to add to her potato leek soup she planned on cooking up later that day. I heard her version was delicious, right down to the last drop.  Mine?  Yes.

And, you might be surprised to know that this foodie knows her way around other parts of the kitchen as well; I installed our drinking water faucet and under-sink filtration system all by myself (and even in-between dragging rolls of insulation upstairs and pushing them through the attic access to Ben, who was installing an attic blanket!). 

Beautiful!  And it works just as good as it looks.  (and, by the way, I installed the sponge-holder you see there the day before - it keeps the sponges out of the way and allows them to dry quickly, reducing stink build-up).


After my plumbing task was done, I had to try out a cookie mix given to me by a co-worker.  Although the gluten free mixes cut baking time down considerably, I don't buy them often because, 1) my cookies usually turn out better, and 2) when I bake, I actually enjoy the process of baking - blending the flours, creaming butter and sugar, and seeing the dough take shape - mixes take that away from me.  

However, when time is of the essence and I am 100% out of any form of sweet treat, baking cookies from a mix is better than no sweets around when a craving hits. So, I am known to have one lurking in my pantry from time to time (maybe 2 or 3x a year?), but many have been disappointing; I was curious to know if The Cravings Place lived up to its name.

First of all, putting the ingredients together couldn't have been easier.  I did a test batch to see how they spread and quickly realized they didn't.  So, I rolled the dough into balls and flattened with my hands.  They don't spread or flatten beyond where you physically shape them, so keep that in mind.

Out of the oven, they are amazing.  Very delicious, with only a hint of grainy mouth-feel.  The next day, after hanging out on the counter in a plastic container, they are still pretty good and hold their own fine, but pretty grainy.  But, they don't change much after a number of days on that same counter (which is a fine feat, as many of us gluten-free-ers know).  Overall, as far as processed gluten free cookies go, they're up there among the best.  Compared to home-made?  Definitely a notch below. 

I would definitely go to these again in a pinch, and feel confident to try their other mixes.  They are all also egg free, dairy free, and nut free.