Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Foto: Mussels in White Wine Broth

Mussels in a white wine broth is the kind of dish I have unilaterally positive associations with. I'll often order it as an appetizer in restaurants (almost always to share with friends and family...unless I'm feeling particularly ravenous and greedy...). Done right, it's a well-executed two-part equation: stellar mussels + divine broth. And when the broth is really good, the best part of the dish is arguably the end, when you take some of your favorite (gluten-free) bread and dip it in the sauce, soaking up all that flavorful goodness.

For whatever reason, it's a dish we've seldom made at home...until now. Kelli recently had a craving, and thank goodness. The recipe she whipped up - dare I say it - is as good as any we've had at a restaurant. (It's a bold claim, I know, but when I love a dish, I've never been one to be shy about saying so.) Here is how we (ahem...she) made it:

1/3 medium onion, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp salted butter
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Dash of black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 lbs live, cleaned mussels (beards removed)
1/2 tomato, diced

1. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a heavy saucepot (4+ quart capacity).
2. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper, and saute until the onions are soft, about 4 minutes.
3. Add the wine, and bring to a simmer.
4. Add the mussels, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and steam for 5-7 minutes, until all the mussels have opened.
5. Remove the mussels from the pot. (You can transfer them to a serving bowl, or simply set them aside momentarily if you're plating individual servings.)
6. Add the tomato, and continue to simmer the broth for 10 minutes over medium-high heat.
7. Pour the broth over the mussels, and serve with your favorite crusty bread.

A couple of notes:

If you're wondering, we used Sebeka's Chenin Blanc "Steen" wine, which our local liquor store retails for the dirt cheap price of just $8 per bottle.

Also, it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: always work with live mussels. If they're open while you're cleaning them, give them a little squeeze. The shell should reflexively close. If it stays open, it's probably dead. Discard it. On the flip side, live mussels will open when cooked. If, after steaming, a mussel is still closed, it's also dead. Discard. Depending on the quality of the mussels, up to 30% of a batch might end up being discarded. Even so, that's a small price to pay to avoid food poisoning.

Lastly, this recipe serves 4 people as an appetizer. (We enjoyed it as a dinner for just the two of us...)


- Pete

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Foto: Garlic Nots

Before you call me out on it I'll come right out and acknowledge it... yes, I know the title of this recipe is mis-spelled as "Garlic Nots" instead of "Garlic Knots." There's a reason for that (and always a method behind my madness...).

Garlic knots are an appetizer or side snack served by almost every New York pizzeria worthy of being called a New York pizzeria. Maybe they're served on a paper plate, or in a paper bag, or in a foil bag. Regardless of the method of delivery, the end product is the same: delicious doughy balls of garlic goodness.

As for my bastardization of their name: For one, "traditional" garlic knots contain gluten, while these do not. For another, in making traditional garlic knots, the dough is literally tied into a knot, but these are not. And lastly, I almost always make it a habit to publish the final, tried-and-tested version of a recipe. This, again, is not. Hence, I thought it only appropriate to call these Garlic Nots.

Earlier this week I found myself with a spontaneous craving for garlic knots, which I have not eaten since going gluten-free more than three years ago. Never one to be denied a food craving, I immediately went into the kitchen to make some. This recipe and Friday Foto is the result, but remember, it's a work in progress (and I'll post an updated and finalized version at some point in the future once my Garlic Nots become perfected as Garlic Knots).

If you want to follow my lead and experiment on your own, here's how I tackled making GF Garlic Nots:

I began by making a single batch of thin crust pizza dough from our cookbook, but I used an adjusted quantity of flour: 1 3/4 cups. I wanted a moist dough that would rise well, but one that was still firm and dry enough to work with by hand (a delicate balance to strike). Once I formed the dough ball, I gave it a quick toss in olive oil to coat, and then set it aside in a covered bowl to rise for 20 minutes or so.

After twenty minutes, I rolled out the dough until it was about 1/8-inch thick, and then cut it into long strips about 1-inch wide. I then cut those long strips into shorter segments each about 4 inches long. Then, working with two dough segments at a time, I laid them perpendicular to one another and overlapping in order to make an "x" or a plus sign. Next, I loosely rolled the dough between the palms of my hands - like I was making a meatball - in order to form a garlic knot shape. (However, I left the resulting dough balls "loose" enough for them to retain their folds and creases.)

The garlic knots - about 20 of them - went onto a greased cookie sheet, and then I brushed each with a little olive oil. Lastly, I sprinkled each with a bit of sea salt before popping them into a preheated 400-degree oven for about 13 minutes (until they were browned, but also still soft).

Meanwhile, I minced about 5 large cloves of garlic, and sauteed it in a tablespoon or two of olive oil just until the garlic was soft and aromatic. Lastly, the baked garlic knots came out of the oven, and they all went into a large bowl, along with the garlic olive oil. I tossed everything to evenly coat, and served them warm.

The result was good. I'd call it a craving partially satisfied. But I definitely see a little room for improvement. For the next iteration, I'll make the following changes:

1. Omit the dried basil and dried oregano from the pizza dough in order for the dough to have a more plain base flavor.
2. Incorporate the use of melted butter for an added flavor component (probably to saute the garlic and toss with the garlic knots).
3. Use a little more sea salt.
4. Sprinkle fine Parmesan cheese and parsley over the knots (traditional flavors used on many garlic knots).
5. Consider brushing the knots with an egg wash prior to baking to improve browning.

We'll see what a future version of garlic knots brings! In the meantime, I'll be more than satisfied to munch on these...

- Pete

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Foto: Chocolate Eclair Cake

Have any guesses for what the above photo is? You've almost certainly read the title of this post, so you already know. But play along with me... No, you're not looking at some funky zebra, or a Jackson Pollock painting, or a Rorschach ink blot test. The above photo is an overhead shot of a half sheet pan of gluten-free chocolate eclair cake. I was drawn to the abstract geometry of it, the way it's not immediately apparent what you're looking at, and how there's nothing in the photo that gives you a sense of scale.

Valentine's Day is nearly upon us, and no matter what you think of the invented commercial holiday, it is a time when I personally think of indulging in a slightly decadent dessert. Chocolate eclair cake definitely fits the bill.

We developed this recipe (and by we, I largely mean Kelli) in response to an email from you, our NGNP readers. From time to time I receive emails that contain requests to develop new recipes. Well, today's post is living proof that I don't simply discard those emails. I put those recipe requests on file, and when the time is right, we tackle one or another of them.

Making gluten-free chocolate eclair cake is involved - it includes several major steps - but it is not difficult. If you simply set aside the time to do it right, and tackle one component at a time, at the end of your time in the kitchen you'll have a delicious sweet waiting for you and your sweetie (and about fifteen other friends, if you make a half sheet pan worth!). Here's how to make the dessert:

Eclair Pastry Dough

The eclair consists of four layers: pastry dough, vanilla pudding, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. It all starts by making a gluten-free version of choux pastry (also known as Pate a choux).

1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup salted butter
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Artisan GF Flour Blend
4 eggs

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Add the water, butter, sugar and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and stir vigorously until it forms a dough ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
4. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat with a paddle on low speed until the dough cools (it will still be warm to the touch).
5. Add the eggs very slowly on medium speed and beat until they're completely absorbed.
6. Spread the pastry dough in an ungreased half sheet pan.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top. (Don't worry about any bubbles that form in the dough. They'll go down as the cake cools.)

Vanilla Pudding/Cream Filling

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp salted butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
8 oz cream cheese

1. Mix together the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan.
2. Add the milk to the sugar and cornstarch, and heat on medium-high until you reach a full boil. Boil for 2 minutes.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Temper the eggs by slowly adding about 1/3 of the milk mixture to the eggs while continuing to whisk. Then slowly return the tempered eggs back into the pot and the remaining milk mixture. (This is very important to avoid instantly scrambling your eggs in the heat of the milk mixture.)
4. Return the pot to the heat and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble.
5. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 2 more minutes.
6. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.
7. Chill in the refrigerator.
8. Meanwhile, bring the cream cheese to room temperature.
9. With the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, whip the cream cheese until fluffy. Then add the pudding and mix at high speed until smooth.

Whipped Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Make a double batch of whipped cream (found in our cookbook alongside the Angel Food Cake recipe). Because other parts of the eclair are quite sweet, feel free to leave your whipped cream less sweet by using less confectioner's sugar.

Make a single batch of chocolate sauce (found in our cookbook alongside the Dessert Crepes recipe).

Finally, you're ready to assemble the chocolate eclair cake!

1. You already have your half sheet pan of eclair pastry as the base.
2. Spread the vanilla pudding in an even layer.
3. Ditto with the whipped cream.
4. Drizzle the chocolate sauce back and forth across the top of the eclair cake.
5. For a final artistic touch, use a toothpick, knife, edge of a spatula, whatever, and drag it through the chocolate sauce and whipped cream (90 degrees to the direction you drizzled the chocolate).

Voila! All that's left to do is slice, serve, and enjoy. (Unless you went really overboard with the chocolate, you'll have some chocolate sauce leftover. It is DELICIOUS over a nice bowl of French Vanilla ice cream.)

- Pete

P.S. If you find the steps in making scratch chocolate eclair cake too daunting, there are some shortcuts you can take to make your life easier: use instant vanilla pudding, ready-made whipped topping, and ready-made chocolate sauce/syrup. Just always check to make sure the products you're using are gluten-free.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Foto: Lemon-Lime Sorbet Margaritas

If you've been following the Friday Foto over the course of the last two months or so, you may have noticed that I've been on a bit of a sorbet kick, as evidenced by recent recipes for lime sorbet and orange-cranberry sorbet. Well, I've been at it again. This time my inspiration was the Sprite soft drink, with its classic blend of lemon and lime flavors.

I have something of a formula when coming up with new sorbet recipes. (You can try this at home to make your own recipes, too!) I typically use 1 - 1 1/2 cups of fresh squeezed fruit juice, 3/4 - 1 cup agave nectar, about 1 cup of water, and in the case of citrus fruits, some zest. When whisked together, the ingredients should total 3 - 3 1/2 cups liquid, which you add to your ice cream maker as per its instructions. This time was no different:

zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 lime
juice of 3 lemons
juice of 2 limes
1 cup agave nectar
about 1 cup water

In this case, the 3 lemons and 2 limes yielded almost exactly one cup of juice. (I used a citrus reamer and a mesh strainer (to catch the lemon seeds).) Then I add the agave nectar, and finally add enough water to bring the total volume up to 3 cups or so (sometimes a little more). Then it's into the machine!

The result was delicious, but very strong...almost like a sorbet concentrate. When I make this recipe again (and I will make it again) I'll decrease the citrus juice by probably 1/3 to bring it into balance. But question remained for what to do with the batch of lemon-lime sorbet that we already had.

Kelli, in her infinite wisdom, suggested we use it make margaritas. Her suggestion was nothing short of brilliant! We combined roughly equal parts sorbet and ice in a blender and blended until we had a smooth "slushy." (I mixed 2 cups sorbet with 2 trays of ice cubes.) This yielded 4 glasses of "margarita mix." To finish, add one shot tequila and about 1/3 shot triple sec to each glass, and you're done! C'est magnifique!

- Pete

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talkin' 'Bout My Meditation

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Kelli, Marin and I are part of two informal dinner groups with friends here in Colorado.  One we call our Monday Night.  The other is WND, or Wednesday Night Dinner.  Both meet biweekly, usually on off weeks from one another.  This past Monday, we hosted the latest installment of Monday Night, and for the occasion, made a massive tray of gluten-free lasagna.  Kelli and I have both had a craving for hearty Italian, and lasagna is a perfect dish for feeding the masses (we had 15 mouths to feed this time around).

To take the edge off making the large dish (we made a 12"x18" lasagna), Kelli prepped the cheese and filling the night before. She shredded the mozzarella and made the filling, which consists of tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, Italian sausage, ground turkey and spices. Then on Monday, two hours before our guests were due to arrive, I set about making the fresh lasagna noodles.

I love the process of making my own fresh pasta from scratch, including lasagna.  Some might find it tedious.  But for me, it's a wonderful thing.  And one of the things I love about it is that, for me, it induces an almost meditative kind of state.  It sounds crazy, I know, but let me explain.

A double batch of lasagna noodles (which is what was called for in this instance with such a large baking pan) is no small thing to make.  5-6 cups of flour.  Some salt and xanthan gum.  8 eggs.

I start by making a single massive well with the flour (the salt and xanthan gum already whisked into the flour).  Then I dump the eggs into the well, and it's time to start swirling.  With the index and middle fingers of my right hand, I swirl the eggs, slowly pulling in and incorporating flour from the perimeter.  Little by little, the egg thickens into a pudding-like consistency.  Not soon thereafter, a wet dough begins to form.  And not long after that, you have a true dough.

At that point, I cease swirling and begin kneading.  Using the heel of my hand, I fold and press and knead the dough until the desired texture is achieved.  It's the kind of determination you learn by doing.  I can't simply tell you to mix in X cups of flour and be done with it.  It's an intuitive process, and the 5-6 cups of flour is an intended overshoot (you'll also need some of the extra flour later...).

But as you work the pasta dough, there comes a magical moment when suddenly, the dough is ready.  While I genuinely enjoy all parts of the pasta-making process, this is by far my favorite moment.  There, in my hands, I'm holding a perfectly formed ball of pasta dough.  More so than any other gluten-free dough that we make with flour - cookie, bread, pizza, pie crust - I'm partial to the pasta dough.  That perfect dough ball feels amazingly similar to gluten dough.  It's smooth and doughy and elastic and moist and wonderful.  You can press a finger into it and feel it give.  You can pull the dough and feel it stretch.

I'll take my dough ball, and use a knife to cut it in half.  Then I'll cut each half in half again, so that I have four equally-sized quarters.  At this point, all the remaining unused flour goes into a sifter.  But rather than use the sifting mechanism, I simply tap the side of the sifter with my hand to sprinkle a little flour on the counter, and a little flour on the dough as I'm working so that it doesn't stick.

At last, it's time to roll out sheets of lasagna.  Using a rolling pin and an offset spatula (the kind with a long straight blade, offset from the handle, often used to ice cakes) I begin to roll out the dough.  I sprinkle more flour as needed, and occasionally flip the sheet of dough to make sure it doesn't stick to the counter and to evenly roll it out.  I'll use the baking pan itself to gauge the size of the lasagna sheet, and once it's as thin as a dime (or thinner), I use a pizza cutter to slice the dough to match the exact shape of the pan.  Repeat four times to make four custom-sized sheets of lasagna.

Finally, the lasagna can be assembled.  I began by ladling a hefty portion of tomato sauce into the bottom of the pan and spreading it thin.  Then goes in the first lasagna noodle.  Then the filling.  Then comes ricotta cheese.  Then some shredded mozzarella.  Then the process begins anew with the next lasagna sheet.

(One of the beautiful things about fresh lasagna is that you don't rehydrate or preboil the noodles, and you don't have to match up strips of lasagna like you would when you buy it premade at the store.  Simply make the lasagna to match the size of your pan, and assemble the lasagna directly with the fresh noodles.)

In all, from measuring the first cup of flour to popping the lasagna in the oven to begin baking, the entire process took me one hour.  The lasagna baked for 45 minutes uncovered, and then another 15 minutes covered with tin foil.  Remove from the oven and let rest for the cheese to set up so all the filling doesn't spill out once you cut the lasagna and serve portions.  (If you're watching the clock, I started making the lasagna two hours before guests were to arrive. It took me one hour to make the noodles and assemble the lasagna, another hour for it to bake, and some time for it to rest...which means it was ready shortly after everyone arrived. Excellent!)

When the night was over, we were left with a single portion of lasagna.  The rest had been eaten.  I'll admit, there's a certain satisfaction to feeding a group of people, to beginning the evening with a large tray of lasagna, and piece by piece, to watch the lasagna disappear, leaving only a dirty baking pan behind.  There were also fun moments when I got comments such as, "This is gluten-free?  You made the lasagna noodles yourself?  They're entire sheets?  Not strips of lasagna?"  Why yes.

But about the meditation.  Over the course of that hour that I was making the lasagna, all else faded into the background.  Even the rest of the kitchen seemed to become a kind of blurry backdrop.  It was just me and the lasagna noodles.  Call it a Mangia Meditation.  

When I think about it, I think it's the repetitive process of lasagna making that induces my meditative-like state.  The swirling of the egg in the flour.  The repeated kneading of the dough.  The successive rolling of each dough ball quarter into a broad sheet.  The process of layering noodles with sauce with cheese, which repeats itself four times over.

Repetition is no stranger to meditation.  It's the principle behind saying the Rosary in the Catholic tradition (with its pattern of repeating Hail Marys and Our Fathers), or the Hare Krishna mantra in the Hindu tradition.  In both instances, the repetition of the words within the prayers/mantra, and the repetition of the greater pattern, are both meant to induce a meditative state.  Why should it be any different in the kitchen?  Why can't cooking be a meditative thing?

Sometimes, it can be.  And for me, no higher form of enlightenment comes in the kitchen than when I'm making lasagna.

- Pete

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Restaurant Review: Ling & Louie's Asian Bar and Grill

Just before the Christmas holiday, Kelli, Marin and I were in Denver finishing up the last bits of our gift shopping.  Dinner loomed, and with blood sugar levels plummeting, we headed to Ling & Louie's Asian Bar and Grill, which Kelli knew had a gluten-free menu.  (L&L currently has four locations - 2 in Colorado and 2 in Arizona.)  I'll admit, my expectations were high since comparisons with P.F. Chang's (of which I'm a big fan) were inevitable.

Before I continue with the review - the menu, the quality of the food, etc. - I must digress.  A funny thing happened between when we ate at L&L in late 2009 and now.  The gluten-free menu changed.  The old gluten-free menu included instructions for how to order an item (omit a marinade, request tamari wheat-free soy sauce).  The new gluten-free menu simply lists each gluten-free dish with a description of the food, as you might find on the regular menu.  Now you can simply say, "I'll have the XYZ dish gluten-free, please."  It's nice to be able to simply order, and for the waitstaff and kitchen staff to know how to get it done.  But what caught my eye even more so is that the updated menu is in, items that were on the old GF menu aren't on the new GF menu.  Notably, this includes the crispy calamari, which has a bearing on my story.

As we sat down at the table and perused the GF menu, I was impressed with the variety. Appetizers, chicken dishes, rice and noodle dishes, seafood, a selection of sides, and (just like P.F. Chang's), a sole dessert: flourless chocolate cake.  Kelli and I were both excited (and surprised) to see crispy calamari among the GF appetizers.  This is a rarity for GF diners, and I double-checked with our server (twice, as I recall) to confirm that the dish was indeed gluten-free.  She assured us that it was, and so we placed an order.  The dish came out, along with a side of tamari wheat-free soy sauce.  I'll admit...ordering (and eating) the fried calamari, which was "breaded" in cornmeal, was a nice treat.

But what about L&L dropping crispy calamari from the GF menu?  I can only include one of three possibilities: 1) something about the dish or its preparation changed, rendering it no longer gluten-free, 2) it was never gluten-free in the first place, and shouldn't have been included on the GF menu, or 3) L&L discovered a possible source of cross-contamination that warranted removing it from the GF menu.

Given that L&L is an established restaurant with four locations, I'm willing to bet that the ingredients of their dishes and their methods of preparation are highly standardized, so possibility #1 seems unlikely.  I know from personal experience that I didn't get sick after eating that meal, so possibility #2 seems equally unlikely.  Which leaves us with possibility #3...a cross-contamination concern.  I'd wager that the smoking gun here is the fryer, which if shared with non-gluten-free foods would represent a cross-contamination concern for GF foods prepared in the same oil.  So it looks like I dodged a bullet there.

For dinner, I ordered the Orange Peel Chicken.  I'm failing to remember exactly what Kelli ordered, but suffice it to say that it was another stir-fry dish with meat and veggies.  On the whole, I was quite pleased with the quality of the food at L&L.  But I must also say that I was a bit disappointed - the crispy calamari, my orange peel chicken, and Kelli's entree all came coated in the same heavy, dry cornmeal "crust."  For three very different dishes to all share that same cornmeal crust felt unnecessarily redundant to my taste buds.

In the end, though, it was positive experience with seemingly knowledgeable staff and quality food.  The change in the GF menu did initially give me some retrospective pause, but I'm inclined to think that the new menu has worked out any kinks that remained in the old menu, and so you can likely eat at Ling & Louie's with more confidence (and safety) now than ever before.

- Pete