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.