Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Foto: San Marzano Deep Dish Pizza


We eat a lot of pizza in the Bronski household. I may have mentioned this a time or two on the blog in the past. The reasons are many. Three immediately come to mind:

1) Kelli's side of the family has a tradition of ordering pizza on Sunday nights for dinner, which we've carried over by making a gluten-free pizza in our own household. Not every Sunday night. And not always every week. But pretty darn close.

2) I love pizza, and grew up eating my share of it - New York style thin crust, Sicilian, Chicago style deep dish.

3) Marin loves it. (Charlotte does, too.)

While we have our favorite go-to pizzas, we're also always on the hunt for fun new flavor combinations of toppings, or for improved versions of old recipes. In the case of today's Friday Foto recipe, we - or should I say, I - was on a quest.


During my childhood, we'd sometimes go out for dinner to a pizza place called My Pie. They made some of the best deep dish pizza I've ever had. It started out in the Midwest, and eventually grew to some 40 locations across a good chunk of the country. Apparently, those places are all gone now, save for one or two My Pie II locations run by the original founder's son, which resemble nothing like the My Pie I went to more than 20 years ago.

The flavors of that pizza still come to me after all these years. And yet, those flavors are something I've never had in a gluten-free pizza. It was time to change that. I started doing some research. What made deep dish pizzas like the one at My Pie taste so distinctive? How could I authentically translate those secrets - whatever they were - into an awesome gluten-free pizza?


I'll spare you some of the boring particulars of my research. More importantly, let me tell you what I decided needed to be done in order to make a gluten-free version of a My Pie deep dish pizza:

1) I wanted a gluten-free dough that I could press into the pan with my hands, and which required little or no par-baking before adding the sauce, cheese and toppings.

2) I wanted heat - I'm talking 500 degrees Fahrenheit - in order to mimic the intense fire of a proper pizza oven.

3) I wanted a sauce that was fresh - never cooked, boiled, or otherwise heated - before it was added to the pizza.

4) That pizza sauce had to have San Marzano tomatoes. This requirement may seem particularly nit-picky, but it has proved crucial. I first heard about San Marzano tomatoes from my brother-in-law, Peter, who works in the supermarket business. They are grown in a specific part of Italy and imported to the United States. Despite their higher cost, he said, they flew off his store shelves. I was initially reluctant to try the SM tomatoes for two reasons - I wondered if they could really be all that different from conventional canned tomatoes, and I wasn't thrilled about the fact that they were shipped from Italy to the US, when we have perfectly good tomatoes right here. But the more I researched pizza, the more I found that all the best pizza places were using sauces made from SM tomatoes. I caved. (And boy am I glad I did, but more on that in a minute.)

Side note: The SM tomatoes are usually sold canned either whole or diced, in San Marzano tomato sauce, usually with a single, whole basil leaf tucked in there for good measure. However, Kelli has since found US-grown canned San Marzano tomatoes (sans basil leaf), for less money, and with just as much flavor. On any given day, there's a good chance you'll find half a dozen of those cans in our pantry. (We're also growing SM tomatoes in our garden...stay tuned!)

Finally 5) The pizza needed a healthy dose of dried oregano and dried basil.


And the result? It took several iterations, but we finally nailed it. I can honestly say there have been few times in my life when I've taken a bite of a food and been so instantly transported, reminded of a particular time and place. As best as I can remember, this gluten-free pizza is a mighty close approximation to the My Pie pizza I was trying to replicate from memory. This accomplishment alone was satisfying, but the taste and texture really put me over the moon. Hopefully, the recipe does the same for you:

San Marzano Deep Dish Pizza
Makes one 9x13-inch pizza

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp sugar
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp salt
2 2/3 cups + 2 tbsp Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 14.5-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1 tbsp dried oregano
Shy 1 tbsp dried basil
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 500 deg F.
2. In a large bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast. Let stand for five minutes, allowing the yeast to activate and become foamy.
3. Stir in the olive oil, xanthan gum and salt.
4. Mix in the flour to form a dough. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and roll to coat.
5. Generously olive oil the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Press the dough into the pan, and use your fingers to work up a 1/2-inch lip around the edges to contain the sauce, cheese and toppings.
6. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise 30 minutes. At about 20 minutes, re-press the sides to make them just a bit taller, but resist the temptation to press the bottom. (You don't want to lose all that beautiful rise in the dough!)


At this point, the recipe diverges slightly. The deep dish pizza dough requires about 20 minutes of bake time at 500 deg F in order to fully cook. If you're using the sauce on top of the cheese, or using high-moisture mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce, follow step 7a. If you're using a lower-moisture mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce, follow step 7b. (The latter step - 7b - prevents the cheese and toppings from cooking too much before the dough is also done. Either way, and whether you do the sauce on the cheese or the cheese on the sauce, you want your dried basil and oregano added on top of the sauce itself.)

7a. Add the sauce, oregano, basil, cheese, and toppings, and bake for 20 minutes.
7b. Par-bake the naked crust for 5 minutes. Then add the sauce, oregano, basil, cheese, and toppings, and bake for 15 additional minutes.

8. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

Note: For the San Marzano tomato sauce, either used diced tomatoes for a chunky pizza sauce, or use a handheld immersion blender (or other method) to puree diced or whole SM tomatoes to make a smooth pizza sauce. 

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Prospect of a Celiac Vaccine: Part 2

Photo courtesy Stock.Xchange / Little Man
In Part 1 of this week's series on the prospect of a vaccine for celiac disease, I looked at the company and the researchers behind Nexvax2, the coverage their study has garnered, and the methods and results of their phase I clinical trial. In today's Part 2, I take a look at myths, misconceptions, and assumptions surrounding the research, its implications and limitations, and finally, offer my own personal perspective on the prospect of a celiac vaccine.

Vaccine Myth-busting

As I've scoured the Internet, reading the original research, then reading the websites reporting on the research, then reading the blogs reacting to the reports that discuss the original research, and finally reading the blog comments responding to the blogs reacting to the reports that discuss the original research (whew!), I've noticed some common myths, criticisms, misconceptions, and assumptions creep into the discussion. It's not especially surprising, given how far removed a blog comment is from the original research, once the information has passed through several intermediate hands, including websites and bloggers. So, I thought I'd address several of the more common concerns.

1. Vaccines contain toxins, including metals. There's no way I'm putting that in my body.

This concern is not specific to the Nexvax2 vaccine. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about a potential celiac vaccine, a vaccine that cures cancer, or a vaccine that cures a hangnail. This is a much bigger general controversy. Some people say vaccines are perfectly safe and save millions of lives. Others say vaccines make people sick and may cause or trigger conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. I'm not opening up that Pandora's Box in this blog post. Just remember that this concern is not specific to Nexvax2.

2. Great, another vaccine to add to the already-long list of vaccines we give our children when they're young.

Umm, no. In Part 1 of this series, I talked about how Nexvax2 is NOT a pre-emptive vaccine used to inoculate someone against getting a certain disease. We're not going to start wholesale vaccinating babies across the board against celiac disease. That's not how the vaccine works. It's a therapeutic vaccine, given to patients with diagnosed HLA-DQ2 active celiac disease.

3. Yeah! A cure for celiac disease!

Not so fast. Nexvax2 is neither a prevention of celiac disease, nor a cure for celiac disease. Whether you get the vaccine or not, if you have celiac disease, you will continue to have celiac disease. It's more appropriate to think of the therapeutic vaccine as a treatment option, alongside the gluten-free diet, for celiac disease. Whereas the gluten-free diet keeps you healthy and manages symptoms by keeping the offending gluten out of your body, the Nexvax2 vaccine would keep you healthy and manage symptoms by teaching your body not to react to gluten when it does enter the body. That's different than saying your celiac disease is gone. In fact, researchers anticipate that if the vaccine is eventually approved by the FDA, the treatment protocol will require weekly or monthly injections in order for your body to maintain its gluten tolerance.

4. Sign me up! Where can I get the shot?

You can't. The vaccine is still in the early-middle stages of clinical trials. As a matter of fact, researchers still have to tackle phase II, during which they'll see if the vaccine actually works. (Kind of important to know...) Indications are good that it will, or might. But at the earliest, and assuming no snags in the clinical trials and approval process along the way, we might see the vaccine available in 2017, six years down the road.

Implications and Limitations

For certain, Nexvax2 is big news, and deservedly so. It's another important milestone in science's understanding of how celiac disease operates in the body, and how we might treat it with options other than a gluten-free diet. But the vaccine does have its limitations. First and foremost, it's not for everyone. Rather, as I said earlier, it's for people with diagnosed HLA-DQ2 celiac disease. That's a sizable chunk of the celiac community, but hardly all of the celiac community, nor does it represent the broader gluten-free community. For example, the vaccine won't necessarily help:
  • Non-HLA-DQ2 celiacs. Scientists once thought that you had to have the HLA-DQ2 gene in order to have celiac disease. They're now finding that's not the case. In fact, they're increasingly discovering an interesting phenomenon, where patients test negative for both HLA-DQ2 and -DQ8, and yet test positive for celiac disease. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among men.
  • People with gluten intolerance and other forms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
  • People with wheat allergy.
  • People using a gluten-free diet to treat other conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • People on the Paleo diet, who adhere to a gluten-free (and grain-free) diet.
  • Athletes who adhere to a gluten-free for its anti-inflammatory properties.

My point is, the vaccine's early clinical trials may justifiably garner attention, but it's hardly the be all, end all for the gluten-free community.

To Vaccinate or Not?

For those people with HLA-DQ2 celiac disease, that still leaves open the hypothetical question - should the vaccine eventually receive approval and make it to market - of whether to get the vaccine or not. It's not an either/or decision. You could of course skip the vaccine and remain on a gluten-free diet. And in theory you could get the vaccine and supposedly eat gluten again. But there's also a middle ground where you can both get the vaccine and remain gluten-free, a sort of redundant back-up system.

There's also a much bigger, more fundamental question about whether or not the vaccine treats the symptom, rather than the cause (in my opinion, the vaccine strikes a middle ground between those two extremes). And about whether or not we (as human beings, not just people with celiac disease or other gluten issues) should be eating gluten in the first place.

There's mounting evidence that gluten may be bad for people in general. For two examples, consider that adherents of the Paleo diet (I'm not one of them...) argue that humans aren't meant to eat any grains, gluten-free or gluten-ous; and consider that elite athletes are increasingly flocking to the gluten-free diet, because many find that gluten has inflammatory properties for the human body, and that maintaining a gluten-free diet enhances athletic performance.

But for more startling evidence, consider these facts: 1) Rates of celiac disease in the United States have been on the rise for decades, and that rise coincides with increasing per capita consumption of wheat and wheat products. 2) In countries around the world traditionally based on naturally gluten-free diets, as those traditional diets have become influenced by Western diets and have started adding gluten to diets that never had it before, researchers are seeing rising rates of celiac disease in places that never had it before, and as long as rates of gluten consumption in those countries continues to rise, researchers expect the celiac disease rates to rise in kind.

In both cases, researchers note that the genetics of the human populations in question haven't changed. Instead, they point to environmental factors - and in particular, gluten in the diet - as the most likely culprit for the rising rates of celiac disease. Which brings me back around to the central question: should we be eating gluten in the first place, even if we don't have a diagnosed condition such as celiac disease?

With that in mind, I can't help but draw this analogy with the potential celiac vaccine... It's not a perfect analogy, but it's still a good relevant example: Many Americans today are obese (some morbidly so), have high blood pressure, and have high cholesterol. By and large, all of these conditions could be treated with nothing more than diet and exercise. Treat the cause, rather than the symptom. And yet millions of Americans instead opt for medication to treat their blood pressure, medication to treat their cholesterol, medication and surgical intervention to treat their obesity. (And yes, I understand that there are certain people for whom these treatments are appropriate...) For the vast majority, though, people have chosen to treat the symptom with medicine, while continuing to pump their body full of the thing that's making them sick in the first place.

Would we be doing the same thing with a celiac vaccine that lets us eat gluten again? Would it be more appropriate to avoid gluten in the first place, and stick to a gluten-free diet? Would we - in some sense - be turning ourselves into feedlot cattle, which are fed something they're not normally meant to eat in nature (grains), which their body revolts against, and which are then are given medicine (antibiotics and other drugs) to keep them alive and somewhat healthy?


A Personal Response

At this point, I'm starting to editorialize a bit, treading water in the "personal response" end of the pool, rather than wearing my more objective journalistic hat, so I might as well tell you how I feel about the prospect of a celiac vaccine.

I genuinely and sincerely praise the researchers who've done some amazing science in pursuit of a therapeutic celiac vaccine. And I also admit that I can foresee a number of instances in which having the celiac vaccine would be a benefit: To eat a beloved gluten treat (perhaps a stout beer, or a flaky croissant) for which you haven't found a suitable gluten-free alternative. To make business trips easier. To give options when traveling, or eating at a festival where there may literally be no gluten-free option at all. For children in a school environment, where they may be too young to understand all the places where gluten hides, be too young to look out for themselves, or be too young to not resist wanting to eat the same thing that all their friends are eating. In all of these cases, having the celiac vaccine in your back pocket is certainly a plus.

But in the grander scheme of things, I'm just not that excited. In my work with the NFCA, my personal interest has always been with the awareness end of things, rather than the research end. I've been less interested in finding a "cure," and more interested in getting people diagnosed, seeing them switched to a gluten-free diet so they feel healthy and whole again. Still, over the last few days, I've been wrestling with the question of why I'm not more excited. Isn't this what the gluten-free community has been waiting for? Maybe... I'm not entirely convinced.

I think it's because, at a personal level, I don't feel a need for a vaccine. The vast majority of the time, I find the gluten-free diet to be easy. I'm healthy. I'm happy. In other words, life is good. The vaccine wouldn't change that.

And so I'm watching these developments... Cautiously. A bit skeptically. Curiously. Interestedly. Optimistically. And ultimately, conflicted.

But how about you? Whats you're take on it?

- Pete

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Prospect of a Celiac Vaccine: Part 1

Photo courtesy Stock.Xchange / Leonardini
In recent weeks, the celiac world has been abuzz with news of promising clinical trials that hint at the potential of a vaccine for the disease. If you want to read any of the reports yourself, you can check out the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness' news feed, Celiac.com, Science Daily, and International Business Times, just to name a few sources. Or, you can go straight to the horse's mouth and read a PDF from the biotech research company, ImmusanT, or watch a YouTube video where the findings are explained by principle researcher Bob Anderson.

First, here's an overview of who's behind the vaccine: Bob Anderson Ph.D. is a faculty member and researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia, where he specializes in autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease. He also sits on the Medical/Scientific Advisory Board of the NFCA, and is the chief medical officer and chief scientific officer of ImmusanT, the Cambridge, MA-based biotech startup behind the vaccine.

Understanding Celiac Genetics and the Vaccine

To understand just how the vaccine works, I first want to take a step back and do a quick lesson in celiac genetics for the layperson (at least insofar as is relevant to the vaccine at hand...). The vaccine, known as Nexvax2, specifically targets the immune response of those celiac patients who carry the HLA-DQ2 gene.

Two genes - HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 - have been implicated in celiac disease. DQ2 is by far the more prevalent of the two. Actually, a significant minority of the population of western European descent (estimates hover in the 35% range) carries the DQ2 gene, even though they don't have celiac disease. However, of patients with diagnosed celiac disease, a sizable majority (in the vicinity of 80%) carries the DQ2 gene.

As a result, the DQ2 gene is often considered to be (somewhat) necessary, but not sufficient, to diagnose someone with celiac. In other words, if you have celiac disease, there's also a pretty good chance (though not 100%) that you carry the DQ2 gene.

From the standpoint of developing a vaccine of this type, it makes the most sense to target this population of celiacs, since you're essentially capturing the largest segment of the population in one fell swoop.

The vaccine operates through the use of three proprietary peptides. Gluten, as you know, is a family of proteins. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which link together in short strands known as peptides, which further link together in longer strands known as polypeptides, which link together and fold even more to form complex proteins. But researchers have increasingly realized that it's not the whole gluten protein that makes a celiac sick. It's only certain peptide segments within the larger protein. Nexvax2 isolates three suspected peptides, and puts them into a single vaccine.

It's important to understand that Nexvax2 is a therapeutic vaccine. You don't take it before you have a disease, with the idea of inoculating yourself against a disease. Instead, the vaccine is used as a form of treatment after you've been diagnosed with an active condition. In this case, you need an active diagnosis of celiac disease, and be a carrier of the HLA-DQ2 gene. The vaccine then works similar to allergy therapy, where the patient is repeatedly exposed to controlled doses of the offending substance (in this case, gluten), with the idea of inducing tolerance. Said another way, scientists are experimenting with exposing diagnosed celiac patients to controlled amounts of the offending gluten peptides, so that your body "learns" the gluten and you no longer get sick from it. If the vaccine works as researchers hope it will, in theory you'd be able to eat gluten again.

It's an approach that has showed promise with other conditions, such as asthma, and researchers are exploring the approach with relation to other autoimmune conditions as well.

Clinical Trial Methods and Results

The vaccine recently completed its Phase I clinical trial, during which it was tested for its safety and tolerability with a small number of human patients. 34 people - all positively diagnosed with celiac disease, positive for the HLA-DQ2 gene, and on a long-term gluten-free diet - were broken into five groups: placebo, plus four groups which each received different dose levels of the Nexvax2 vaccine weekly for three weeks.

Some patients experienced nausea and vomiting. Others, particularly among the groups that received higher doses of the vaccine, experienced gastrointestinal symptoms consistent with their celiac disease. One person's symptoms were bad enough that they withdrew from the study. In follow up tests, patients showed T-cell (immune) responses to the vaccine.

Believe it or not, this was good news. For one, a phase I clinical trial, in addition to testing for safety and tolerability, helps researchers to hone in on appropriate dose levels. Just as importantly, the fact that celiac patients had celiac reactions to the vaccine confirmed for researchers that they had in fact isolated the appropriate gluten peptides.

Of course, this still leaves open the very big question of whether or not the vaccine will work as intended. That's for phase II of clinical trials, which tests efficacy, and which researchers hope to begin within the next year.

Coming up in Part 2...

The vaccine has generated enormous amount of excitement within the gluten-free / celiac community. It's also generated a fair bit of skepticism. And as might have been expected, rumors and misinformation have begun to circulate the blogosphere, and people are left with a number of lingering questions, such as What's next? Where do we go from here? Would you get the vaccine, or stay gluten-free, or both? And what are the implications of these clinical trials?

We'll tackle all that, and more, in Part 2, coming soon!

- Pete

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Foto: Foil Packet Blackfish


I'm a sucker for nostalgia. It transports me to another time and place; brings back fond memories of experiences of long ago. That's not to say I dwell in the past. But through nostalgia the past does inform my present. And few things invoke as much nostalgia as recipes.

Today's recipe is a dose of nostalgia wrapped in a bit of extra nostalgia, with a nostalgia cherry on top. It marries three experiences of my childhood, and kicks them soundly into the modern day. Not that that was my intention. It was purely accidental.

Ever since we moved to New York's Hudson Valley from Colorado six-plus months ago, we've been taking full advantage of our proximity to the ocean and the bounty of fresh seafood it offers. More and more, we find ourselves spending time on the New Paltz side of the river, where I introduced Kelli to rock climbing when we first started dating more than 8 years ago. Each time we made the short drive, my eyes kept getting drawn to Gadaleto's, a fresh seafood market. We kept saying we were going to stop in and check the place out, but for one reason or another, we kept postponing. Finally, last Sunday was the day.

From the moment I walked through the front door, I was reminded of some of the seafood markets I knew growing up on Long Island, NY (Nostalgia 1.0). These were the kind of places where the fish was local, wild, and super fresh, and the types of fish they offered were whatever had just come off the boats. As we browsed Gadaleto's offerings, I was almost instantly drawn to the blackfish.

The vast majority of blackfish is caught by recreational fisherman. As a result, it's extremely rare to find it for sale in a seafood market. I couldn't resist the opportunity. In fact, the last blackfish I ate was some I caught myself more than 15 years ago (Nostalgia 2.0).

I used to go fishing with my Uncle Joe. In the fall - maybe October, or early November - after most folks had taken their boats out of the water following Labor Day, and after the weather had turned colder, we'd head out in his boat for blackfish. He had a few choice spots in the waters in and around the Great South Bay, a body of water that separates the narrow barrier beaches of the Atlantic-facing south shore of Long Island from the island's "mainland." Using green crabs for bait, we'd drop our lines to the bottom of the bay and wait for the unmistakeable strikes of the blackfish.

When it came time to decide how to prepare our Gadaleto's blackfish, one idea came instantly to mind. Much of the time during my childhood, the fish and crabs and clams we'd catch would be taken home, where we'd do the gutting, the cleaning, the prep, the cooking, the eating. But there were times when we'd eat our fresh catch right on the beach. Uncle Joe would make a large tin foil packet, put the cleaned whole fish inside, add some seawater (literally), maybe a few cloves of garlic, some slices of lemon, and perhaps a pat of butter or touch of olive oil, and cook it over an open fire. Then we'd open up the foil packet, peel the fish's skin back, and use forks to eat the moist, tender meat right off the bone. Also known as Nostalgia 3.0.

I made a foil packet for our blackfish (a filet, rather than the whole fish, in this case), made a saltwater solution that emulated the saltiness of seawater, added some garlic cloves, slices of lemon, and for good measure, a touch of both butter and olive oil. I roasted it in the oven, and roughly 30 minutes later, those first bites of moist, tender blackfish had me in nostalgia overdrive. Just ask Kelli, who patiently listened to me relate the stories I describe above in exacting detail as we ate the fish.

I can't promise this recipe will mean quite the same thing to you that it does to me (nostalgia, after all, is hard to transfer from one person to another), but I can promise that it's delicious. And you don't need blackfish to give it a try. This method of cooking - somewhere halfway between poaching and steaming the fish - would work well for many varieties.


Foil Packet Blackfish
Makes 3 servings

Ingredients
1 lb blackfish filet
1 lemon, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, halved
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 c water with 1 tbsp salt dissolved

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 475 deg F.
2. Rinse and pat dry the fish.
3. Place the fish into the center of a large piece of foil. (If using heavy duty foil, one layer will do. If using regular foil, a double layer is better to make sure it doesn't break.)
4. Roll up the ends of the foil, so that the foil will hold the liquid.
5. Add the remaining ingredients, spreading out the lemon and garlic throughout the packet.
6. Bring together the open-topped sides of the packet, and loosely pinch them together in a few places. (Leave some spaces for steam to escape...)
7. If concerned about potential liquid leaks, place the whole foil packet into a large baking pan or tray.
8. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the fish is opaque throughout and flakes easily with a fork.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free.


- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Product Review: New Planet's Off Grid Pale Ale


In the world of bottled gluten-free beer, most breweries are one-trick ponies. They offer up a single gluten-free brew, and you can take it or leave it. (Think Redbridge. Or New Grist. Or Bard's.) Green's is an exception to that rule. And now, so is New Planet.

We've been following the brewery's evolution since it came on the scene a little less than two years ago. First we reviewed their Tread Lightly Ale, their inaugural beer and flagship brew. We updated that original post, then updated our opinion of New Planet's TLA yet again in a separate post when the brewery improved its recipe. Then came the 3R Raspberry Ale. Then came a blind gluten-free beer tasting that we hosted in which New Planet emerged as a leader.

Now, New Planet brings us Off Grid Pale Ale. I've been eagerly awaiting its release. Back when we still lived in Colorado (New Planet's home), I had been fortunate enough to taste a preliminary test batch of the beer and provide the brewery with some feedback. Since then, I've waited. The wait is over! (Thanks to New Planet, who sent a gratis sample pack...)

Before I launch into a specific review of the beer, let me say this: New Planet is giving American gluten-free beer drinkers genuine variety. Like so many gluten-free breweries, they started out with a light, refreshing ale. But New Planet has quickly moved in bold directions, offering truly unique brews that are quite different than anything else out there. It's one thing to praise variety in gluten-free brewing in terms of a choice between Redbridge or Bard's or New Grist or New Planet. But it's another to praise variety in gluten-free brewing when a single gluten-free brewery such as New Planet gives us a straightforward ale, a raspberry beer, and now a hop-forward pale ale.


Speaking of hop-forward... There are a lot of ways to classify beer. One way is to classify beers as grain-forward or hop-forward.

Grain-forward beers accentuate the flavors of the grains used to brew them. The lighter the beer, the less roasted the grains, the more that grain flavor is pure and unaltered. It's been a bit of a mystery to me why so many gluten-free breweries have gone this route, bringing us lightly hopped light ales and lagers. By definition, they're grain-forward beers. And since they've been brewed with different grains than traditional beer, it of course stands to reason that they'd in turn taste different than what we're expecting when we drink a beer.

On the other hand, hop-forward beers (not to mention fruit-infused beers and dark beers with roasted grains) accentuate other flavors, such as the hops (or the fruit, or the roasted-ness). Gluten-free breweries would do well to bring us more beers in this category. Hop-forward beers, like many of those coming out of the Pacific Northwest these days, make the differences between grain flavors more subtle, since other flavors - from the hops - are prominent. New Planet found success with this formula when they released their Raspberry Ale. They do it again with their Off Grid Pale Ale.

The beer has 5% alcohol by volume, and is brewed with sorghum and brown rice extracts, molasses, tapioca maltodextrin, caramel color, three types of hops, and yeast.

First, a word about ingredients. The molasses is a nice addition, in my opinion, to the sorghum and brown rice as the main fermentables in the beer. The maltrodextrin - a fairly common ingredient in home brewing - has likely been added to improve the beer's "mouth feel." The caramel color I don't care for. Beer is a multi-sensory experience... Taste. Smell. Texture (not just mouth feel, but the coarseness of the carbonation, the creaminess of the head of foam, etc.). And visual. I understand New Planet's desire to work with the visual component in adding caramel color, but I'd rather go without it, or see the color come from roasted grains and other ingredients (admittedly hard to do when you're brewing with sorghum and brown rice extracts...).

And finally, the actual review. The beer has a deep amber color. The first pint I poured had relatively poor head retention. A second pour - of a cold bottle of beer into a room-temperature pint glass - yielded a much better initial head, which lingered for about five minutes before fading as I drank the beer. It had good carbonation, and as expected, a very hoppy nose.

For taste, the beer has none of the cidery sweetness commonly associated with gluten-free beers that have sorghum as their main fermentable. A bitterness from the strong hop flavor is the star of this beer's show. Kelli felt that the beer had a very good aroma, but finished a bit too bitter for her taste. That said, she concluded that it's an excellent GF beer and a great addition to the spectrum. I also agree that the beer is just a touch too bitter. The balance is ever so slightly off. Hops can impart bitterness to a beer, or they can impart aromas to a beer. I'd like to see the bittering hops scaled back just a touch, and see the aroma hops increased by an equal amount. I think that change would yield a hop-forward beer with an even better flavor profile.

The bottom line, though, is that New Planet has brought us another strong offering in the gluten-free beer category. Both gluten-free and gluten-ous beer drinkers would enjoy the Off Grid Pale Ale's bitter, boldly-hopped flavors. If you're a gluten-free beer drinker, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on a bottle.

- Pete

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Celiac Awareness Month 2011


May is Celiac Awareness Month. As per usual, there's been no shortage of events going on. Perhaps you caught the work of 1 in 133 earlier this month, when they built a massive gluten-free cake in Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the FDA's long-past-due mandate to develop a gluten-free standard in the United States.

There are a number of great organizations doing awareness, advocacy and research work on behalf of the gluten-free community. One of those is the Pennsylvania-based National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Founded in 2003 by Alice Bast, it has become a leading voice on behalf of those with celiac disease, and increasingly, on behalf of the greater gluten-free world. (Did you know that yesterday, Bast was honored as the recipient of the prestigious 90th annual Philadelphia Award?)

As part of this month's activities, NFCA is highlighting one blogger each day. As you might guess, today is our day! But though today's highlight is in the name of Celiac Awareness Month, in truth it marks just another day in the long, mutually-supportive relationship between NFCA and No Gluten, No Problem. I've long been a fan of the work of the NFCA. So much so that in 2009 I signed on as a spokesperson for the organization as one of their Athletes for Awareness. (You might recall last fall, when I ran an ultramarathon in support of the NFCA. With your help, and the support of some great gluten-free food companies, we raised some $3,600 for the NFCA! Stay tuned... I'm planning another fundraiser for later this year.)

I don't just support any old celiac or gluten-free organization. I have to believe in the work they do. See that they're effective. Know that they're a voice for the gluten-free community I can get behind. NFCA is just such an organization. Here's a few highlights I find particularly notable:

  • They have great information for patients seeking diagnosis, including a widely-distributed brochure, and a symptoms checklist.
  • For patients already diagnosed, they have great resources about living gluten-free with celiac disease, including medical information, food and recipes, links to blogs, free webinars and much more.
  • As part of its GREAT initiative (Gluten-free Resource Education and Awareness Training), NFCA has targeted educational modules and continuing medical education programs for healthcare professionals, including allied health organizations, physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, dietitians, and most recently added, pharmacists.
  • Also as part of the GREAT initiative, NFCA has targeted education programs for the food service industry, including for chefs who work in restaurant kitchens, as well as for manufacturers that make gluten-free foods.
  • And while I'm on the topic of gluten-free food manufacturers, did you know that NFCA is partnering with Quality Assurance International, a leading U.S. certifier of organic foods, to launch a new gluten-free certification program? Take their survey today (I did!) to give your input and help shape the program.
  • Speaking of what's new, NFCA has also launched Kid Central, targeted at children and their parents.
Are you getting the picture? In short, there's a lot to love about the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Which is why I support them, and I hope you'll get involved, too.

- Pete

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Foto: Peanut Butter Chickpea Soup


If you caught our Black Bean Soup recipe from one month ago, you know that we've been big into pureed bean soups lately. Today's recipe falls right in line. Packed with chickpeas, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and peanut butter, it's a surprisingly hearty and "meaty" soup (despite the fact that it has no meat...).


Peanut Butter Chickpea Soup
Makes 2-4 servings

Ingredients
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 green cubaneli pepper, diced
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and strained
16 oz GF vegetable or chicken stock
1/3 cup natural peanut butter (lightly salted, no sugar added)
Olive oil
Dash ground cumin
Dash ground coriander
Dash ground turmeric
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1/4 lemon

Steps
1. Saute the garlic and peppers in a bit of olive oil in a medium saucepan, until the garlic is fragrant and the peppers are soft.
2. Add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are soft, too.
3. Add the remaining ingredients through and including the spices. Stir to mix well.
4. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer uncovered 5 minutes more.
5. Puree the soup with a handheld immersion blender.
6. Simmer 5 more minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.
7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, vegetarian (with vegetable stock).


Have a great weekend!

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Product Review: The Gluten-Free Bistro Flour Blend


If you caught the updated Great Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend Nutritional Comparison a few short weeks ago, you know that I revised the detailed post with 5 additions...3 gluten-free flour blends (now totaling 12) and 2 wheat flours (for comparison). One of the new entrants is The Gluten-Free Bistro. Back in December 2009 we reviewed their pizza crust, and in short, we were fans. At the time we lamented that the flour blend used to make the crust wasn't available at retail. Well, times have changed.

The Bistro Blend Flour is made of brown rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, buckwheat flour, coconut flour, and xanthan gum. (Various ingredients are labeled as "eco-farmed," "whole grain," or "organic," but I've omitted those designations for clarity in the above ingredients list.) It ranked quite well in the nutritional comparison, and it's fairly easy to see why...several nutrient-dense flours are used, while few refined starches are in the blend. For this reason, The Gluten-Free Bistro sometimes calls it their 80:20 blend, noting that theirs has the highest percentage of whole grain vs. refined starches of most gluten-free flour blends out there. Their website lists the official ratio as 76% whole grain, and 22% starches. (Presumably the last 2% is the xanthan gum.)

Nutrition was one thing, but how would the Bistro Blend stack up in a baking challenge? Based on our experiences with the pizza crusts a year and a half ago, and on how closely the nutritional profile of the Bistro Blend mirrors that of whole grain wheat flour, we expected it to do quite well. But would we be right?

As per usual, we put the Bistro Blend through its paces with 3 baking challenges - pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, and blueberry muffins.


Rather than supply their own recipes, the Gluten-Free Bistro has a blog post with some handy tips about using their Bistro Blend flour in other people's recipes. (You can also find plenty of Bistro original recipes on their blog...) Most importantly, they recommend substituting the Bistro Blend flour 1:1 for all-purpose flour called for in a recipe, and they recommend baking "low and slow," decreasing the baking temp by 25 deg F and increasing the baking time by 10-15 minutes. Using those guidelines, we took popular "standard" recipes and made them using the Bistro Blend.

First up was the pancakes, which we made using the very popular gluten recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. The batter required quite a bit of extra milk to get it to the appropriate consistency. Once we did that, however, the pancakes had excellent flavor and texture. Compared to the Pamela's and the Bisquick, the pancakes had a darker more "whole grain" look and feel to them, with the buckwheat really coming forward in the flavor profile, while other ingredients, such as coconut and tapioca, took a back seat.


Next up we made chocolate chip cookies using a Ghirardelli recipe. The first batch of cookies flattened out way too much. We added extra flour to counteract this effect, and the result was perfect chocolate chip cookies. (See the photo above.) A little crisp around the edge, a little chewy in the middle, with great flavor.

Lastly, we returned to Better Homes & Gardens to make a blueberry muffin recipe. The batter was very thick, didn't rise as much as we expected, and the result was a soft but slightly dense muffin. They probably would have turned out better had we thinned the batter as we did with the pancakes.

Overall, we found the Bistro's recommendations to decrease the baking temp and notably increase the baking time missed the mark. The cookies were done at 0% extra baking time. The muffins were overdone, and could have had 50% less extra bake time than we gave them. Substituting the Bistro Blend flour 1:1 in recipes also yielded inconsistent results - sometimes we needed to add extra flour (as with the cookies), sometimes we needed to add extra liquid (as with the pancakes and muffins).

Once we worked out the nuances of baking with the Bistro Blend and tweaked it to maximize its performance in the recipes we tested, however, it proved a versatile all-purpose gluten-free flour blend that yields great taste and texture, and which has one of the best nutritional profiles of any we've seen. At $5.99 for a 13.5-ounce bag, you'll pay a little more than $7 a pound, which is toward the more expensive end of the spectrum for all-purpose gluten-free flour blends. But I think that, in this case, you could make a pretty good argument that you get what you pay for.

- Pete

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Makeup: Bagels


NOTE: Today's Monday Makeup (as so I've dubbed it) was meant to be last week's Friday Foto, which obviously didn't happen. But I have a good excuse: I was in the hospital. I usually try not to let personal matters affect the public face of the blog (unless they have relevance to the gluten-free lifestyle). This time it was unavoidable. I've been in and out of the hospital several times, actually, over the past 2.5 weeks. First with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. Then with tick-borne erhlichiosis. I'll spare the particulars... suffice it to say that I've been through the ringer, I'm fatigued, have weeks of recovery ahead of me, and have had to withdraw from the first races of the summer season. Sigh. But life marches on, and so does this blog post, which I've been super excited to share. Here it is, as it would have appeared on Friday, had I not been hooked up to an IV in a Hudson Valley hospital:

There are some things in life about which I have absolute conviction. One of them is bagels. I'm a native of Long Island, NY. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the island. There are some things I adore about it... the ocean, beaches and surfing, the wineries and agriculture of the East End, the seafood, fishing and boating, the lacrosse. And there are things I could do without... incessant traffic, overpopulated overdeveloped suburbia, people who refer to it as "Strong Island." But one fact about Long Island is indisputable: it has the best bagels. Ever. In the world. Period.

Some people say it has to do with the water. I once knew a friend of a friend, a guy from Long Island, who moved to Florida and opened an incredibly popular bagel shop. His secret? He reportedly imported his water from Long Island. Every town has at least one, if not several, bagel shops. Early in the mornings on weekends, they'll be packed with customers waiting to take home a dozen or two fresh, hot bagels for their family's breakfast.

If you have never had a proper Long Island bagel, then I fear my attempt at describing it will fall far short of the sublime reality. First, they are boiled before being baked. This is a crucial step in the bagel-making process. They have a smooth, shiny, slightly crunchy exterior. And a moist, doughy, tender interior. They are best consumed fresh - hot straight from the oven; cooled later the same morning; or perhaps toasted the day after. That's it. You don't let them get stale. You don't store them in the freezer for later. You eat them now, and next weekend, go back to the bagel shop to get more.

Lox. Cream cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. Butter. Ham and egg. Nothing at all. The Long Island bagel is the perfect delivery mechanism for any of the above.

And of course, these famed, exalted Long Island bagels of which I write have one very large drawback: gluten. It's been long enough that I can't remember the last time I had a proper Long Island bagel, and since I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in early 2007, I know that I won't have one ever again. Unless I do something about it and make a proper Long Island bagel for myself.


There are, of course, some gluten-free bagels to be found. A handful of bakeries, such as Mariposa, offer them. And Udi's and Kinnikinnick sell them in supermarkets fairly widely. Of the gluten-free bagels I've had, though, they've all lacked "authenticity." One thing or another about them just hasn't been right, hasn't matched up to the ideal in my mind of the perfect, quintessential Long Island bagel. And since the bagels are pre-made, and even perhaps found in the freezer section at the supermarket, you're never going to get a fresh, from the oven, hot and doughy on the inside gluten-free bagel. All the more reason to make your own.

There are, also, some gluten-free bagel recipes to be found on the Internet. Of the 6 or 7 I read, the ingredients and methods varied wildly. Many of the photos seemed to suggest a "bagel" quite different than the one I was aiming to make. I turned my attention elsewhere...to researching authentic gluten bagel recipes. With that knowledge in-hand, I made some important modifications to make a gluten-free version, and then made many more important modifications as my gluten-free bagel recipe went through 8 rounds of recipe testing over the course of about 2 months. The results, I believe, speak for themselves.

True to form, these bagels are boiled, then baked. They have a smooth, shiny, slightly crunchy outside. They have a moist, doughy inside. They are the gluten-free equivalent of a Long Island bagel. (Though I won't go so far as to say it is exactly like a Long Island bagel...) I would put good money, though, on a wager that these will be some of the best gluten-free bagels you'll have.

I'll admit right now so you're not surprised - they're a bit labor intensive. Working efficiently, it takes about 2.5 hours to go from "start" to "hot fresh bagels from the oven." But the result is worth it. (And the bagels can be allowed to cool, then sliced, and then stored in the freezer for later enjoyment...) I tested the recipe in 4 bagel batches, but I recommend multiplying the recipe so that your time spent yields more bagels for the effort!


Bagels
Makes 4 bagels

Ingredients
3/4 c warm water
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
298g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (~2 1/4 c plus scant 2 tbsp)
7 g salt
1g xanthan gum (~1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp)
2 large egg whites

Non-stick cooking spray
Extra light olive oil
1 large egg white
Water
4 heaping tbsp sugar
Toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc.)

Steps

Preparing the Dough
1. Set your oven with one rack in the middle, and one rack on the bottom. Place a deep 9X9 or 9X12 or similar baking pan on the bottom rack. Preheat to 200 deg F. When the oven reaches temperature, turn it off, and leave the door closed.
2. Meanwhile, bring a full teakettle of water to a boil. Turn off and let stand on the stove.
3. Spray a cookie/baking sheet with non-stick spray.
4. Add the 3/4 c warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the 1.5 tbsp sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in the yeast and let sit about 5 minutes, until the yeast activates and forms a thick "yeast cake" on top of the warm sugary water.
5. In a separate small bowl, whisk together 124g (1 cup) of flour with the salt and xanthan gum.
6. Add the egg whites to the yeast mixture, and beat briefly with the paddle attachment. Add the flour mixed with salt and xanthan gum, and mix at slow, then medium, then medium-high speed until well-mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and briefly mix again.
7. Add 124g more (another 1 cup) of flour to the main mixing bowl. Again using the paddle attachment, mix at medium speed until well-mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and briefly mix again.
8. Add the remaining 50g flour to the main mixing bowl. Switch to the dough hook and mix until all flour is incorporated and well-mixed, and forms a wet dough ball. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and briefly mix again.
9. Remove the dough hook, drizzle a bit of olive oil down the sides of the bowl, and toss the dough ball to coat evenly.

Forming the Bagels (Keep going! You're doing great!)
10. Pour some olive oil into a small cup or ramekin.
11. Liberally olive oil a smooth work surface. Turn out the dough ball onto the work surface. Olive oil the blade of a serrated knife. Cut the dough ball in half, and each half in half again, so that you have four equal quarters.
12. Liberally olive oil both hands, and roll each dough quarter between your hands, like you're making a large meatball, until the dough forms a perfectly smooth ball. (Take the time to make sure it's perfectly smooth. Any wrinkles or creases in the dough ball will get amplified as imperfections in the finished bagel as it rises.)
13. Place each smooth dough ball on the pre-greased baking sheet, evenly spaced apart by at least several inches. Gently pat down each dough ball to form a disc - you're aiming for thick hockey puck, not thin hamburger patty. (Again, try to keep the dough as smooth and undisturbed as possible...)
14. Dip your index finger in olive oil, then punch your finger straight down through the center of each dough disc, until you're touching the baking sheet beneath. Then, keeping your index finger in contact with the baking sheet, swirl it in a circle to enlarge the bagel hole, until about the size to fit a golf ball. Re-olive oil your finger as necessary if it's sticking to the wet dough.
15. Use a silicone or other brush to brush each bagel with a thin coating of olive oil.
16. These next instructions should all happen as quickly as possible: Place the baking sheet with the bagels on the middle rack of the oven. Pour the hot teakettle water into the baking pan on the lower rack of the oven. Shut the oven door. Whew!
17. Let the bagels rise in the warm, humid oven for 1 hour. No peeking!

Boiling and Baking the Bagels (Stay motivated! You're almost there!)
18. When there are 30 minutes left on the bagel rise, add 2 liters of water to a large, wide saucepot. Add 4 heaping tbsp sugar (about 1 heaping tbsp per half liter of water). Cover and bring to a boil. When a boil is reached, reduce the heat to low and hold temp until you're ready to boil the bagels.
19. Mix 1 egg white with equal parts water and whisk to make a basic egg wash.
20. When there are 15 minutes left on the bagel rise, remove the bagels from the oven and let them finish rising in a warm location, such as on the stovetop. Remove the baking pan filled with hot water from the lower rack of the oven. (Be careful!) Preheat the oven to 425 deg F.
21. At the end of the 1 hour bagel rise, place the baking sheet of bagels in the oven and "flash bake" them for 4 minutes, then remove from the oven. (This "sets" the bagels so they hold their shape for boiling.) Reduce the oven temp to 400 deg F. Flip the bagels over so they're upside down. Turn the stovetop burner on full blast to bring the pot of sugar water to a full boil.
22. Use a spatula to transfer the bagels to the boiling water. Depending on the size of your bagels and the size of your pot, you may be able to do one at a time, two at a time, or more. Boil the bagels for 3 minutes per side. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and return them to the baking sheet. (Turning them upside down after the flash bake, and then flipping them once during the boil, should ensure that they're right-side-up when you remove them from the boil and return them to the baking sheet.)
23. Brush each bagel with the egg wash, and while the egg wash is still wet, sprinkle the bagels with any desired toppings, such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or cinnamon sugar.
24. Bake at 400 deg F for about 22 minutes, until golden brown on the outside.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.


Don't be intimidated by the sheer number of steps in this recipe. It's really pretty straightforward, and I include a lot of detail to give you the greatest chance for success!


- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Recipe Roundup

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! In honor of the day, here's a look back at previous No Gluten, No Problem recipes that can add a bit of Mexican and Latin spice to your dinner tonight:

Dishes
Barbacoa
Carnitas
Chipotle Fish Tacos
Pupusas

Salsas
Black Bean-Corn Salsa
Cilantro Sauce
Mango-Pineapple Salsa
Peach Salsa (over Grilled Swordfish)
Salsa Verde
Tomato Salsa

Also, check out our post about making homemade corn tortillas.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Mesquite Scones


Several months ago, a growing group of gluten-free bloggers began the Ratio Rally. Each month, they focus on a particular baking challenge...pancakes, muffins, and this month, scones. The idea is that each "item" is based upon a particular ratio of ingredients, of flour to liquid to fat to eggs. A ratio is a relationship, an expression of relative quantities. If you know the base ratio for a recipe, you can scale it up or down at will. In theory you can swap ingredients, as long as you remain true to the ratio.

Ratios need a unit of measure to be useful, and you really could use anything as your base unit...teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, grams, kilograms, pounds, metric tons. For the rally, everyone is being encouraged to bake by weight. (Conveniently, we recently bought a precision kitchen scale!)

Ratios are a powerful tool for baking, but they also have limitations. A ratio doesn't tell you how many servings a recipe will make. If you choose grams as your base unit, your recipe might feed a few people. If you choose kilograms as your base unit, your recipe might make enough to open a bakery. Ratios also typically don't tell you how much baking powder, or salt, or vanilla a recipe requires.

The beauty of ratios, though, is that they give you a framework, a guideline, for building your own recipes. What if you found a great scone recipe, and wanted to create your own new scone recipe with different flavors, different flours, perhaps a dairy-free or egg-free version. The ratio gives you a starting point to do just that.

Which is partly the purpose of the rally. Hopefully you're inspired to use the ratio in your own kitchen to bake some delicious gluten-free goodies. And hopefully the collection of bloggers participating in the rally show you that it can be done (and at the very least leave you with a long list of delicious recipes!).

This month, we join the rally and get in on the fun!


When we found that scones were the theme for this month, I immediately thought of mesquite. Before you jump to conclusions, I'm not talking about mesquite wood chips that you use in your barbeque. And I'm not talking about the fake mesquite flavor that's added to many store-bought barbeque sauces. Rather, I'm talking about mesquite flour. Made from the dried and ground beans of mesquite pods, mesquite flour is almost a powder. It tastes naturally sweet, and our mesquite has hints of chocolate and cinnamon to it.

I was really inspired by a November 2009 media trip to Arizona, where I met several chefs who were active in the resurgence of native American Southwest cooking. They were rediscovering local ingredients that had sustained Native Americans for centuries, and bringing them to contemporary American cuisine. Mesquite is one of those ingredients.

It is naturally rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and soluble fiber. It's high in protein. It's considered great for diabetics, thanks to its low glycemic index. And importantly, it's naturally gluten-free. The Andes have quinoa as their native gluten-free superfood. North America has mesquite.

While the ingredient is experiencing a resurgence in American cooking, especially in the Southwest, it's still growing in popularity and not super widely available. However, a number of companies are importing mesquite flour from South America. (I've also recently found at least one company making mesquite flour from Sonoran mesquite in the southwestern US.)

Fortuitously, about a month ago the folks at Casa de Fruta sent us a gratis sample pack of their mesquite flour to test and review in recipes. It costs about $10 per pound, which puts it roughly on par with almond flour. But mesquite is seldom used as the sole flour. Usually, it's used to replace a portion of the flour called for in a recipe. Recommendations vary, but so far we've found that replacing 20% of the flour in a recipe with mesquite works well.


For these mesquite scones, we used the chocolate chip scone recipe on page 25 of our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, as a starting point. Then we modified the recipe to incorporate the mesquite and to yield a clean ratio. Our scone ratio is 4 parts flour : 2 parts liquid : 1.5 parts fat : 1 part egg. True to our style of gluten-free baking and the needs of a good scone, we used heavy cream for the liquid and butter for the fat. The result is a scone with a moist, tender and flaky crumb, just as you'd expect.

Mesquite Scones
Makes 8 small scones

Ingredients
140g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
72g mesquite flour
3g (1 tsp) xanthan gum
16g (1 tbsp) GF baking powder
25g (2 tbsp) sugar
80g (shy 3/4 stick) cold salted butter
106g (shy 1/2 cup) heavy cream
53g (1 large) egg
1/4 tsp GF vanilla extract
1 tbsp powdered sugar

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 375 deg F.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and sugar.
3. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. (You can use your hands or a pastry blender.)
4. In a separate bowl, mix together the cream, egg, and vanilla.
5. Add to the flour mixture, and work until it forms a dough. (Using a spoon at first, and then your hands, works best.) Let rest for about 2 minutes.
6. Form the dough into a flat rectangle. Cut it into 8 scones. (Cut in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter on the diagonal to yield 8 triangle scones.)
7. Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart.
8. Bake for 15 minutes.
9. Remove from the cookie sheet and let cool on a wire rack.
10. Lightly dust each scone with powdered sugar.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.


This month's rally is being hosted by Lauren over at Celiac Teen. Be sure to check out her blog.

Also don't miss the other scone recipes that are part of this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. Lauren's blog post has a list of more than 30(!) bloggers and recipes that'll have you baking scones 'till the cows come home.


Coming up next month: pate a choux! But for now, enjoy these scones, and get baking!

- Pete