Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Foto: Caramelized Onion and Sweet Corn Salsa


As you've probably noticed, more and more, our Friday Foto posts - and the recipes they usually contain - are being influenced by our garden, either with produce we've harvested, or with ingredients we expect to be harvesting soon. Today's caramelized onion and sweet corn salsa continues that theme.

We haven't harvested corn or onions from our garden. At least not yet. But we will be doing so. And soon. The corn is more than eight feet tall, with tassels on the tops, silks on the sides, and ears slowly growing. It should be about 20 days, give or take, until they're ready to harvest. The onions are coming along nicely, too.

(Check out the photo below of Kelli and Charlotte at the garden earlier this week, wedged between 8-foot stalks of corn and 4-plus-foot beefsteak and San Marzano tomato plants. There's also a bit of broccoli peeking in the bottom left corner. Out of photo to the right, are two rows of Walla Walla onions. And much more...)

The point is, that while we didn't make today's recipe with corn and onions from our own garden, it was very much inspired by our garden, and in a few short weeks, we'll make this recipe again, having grown the ingredients ourselves. How cool. (Plus, we did use cilantro harvested from our garden. Boy do we have lots of the stuff. In the last two weeks, we've harvested about 15 bunches worth.)

As a salsa recipe, it's fairly unique for us. When we use onions, they're usually fresh, not caramelized. When we use corn, it's usually grilled or steamed, not cooked in a skillet (cut from the cob first) with the caramelized onions. But you know what? It really works... The onions, which would usually have a crisp bite, instead lend a subtle sweetness from the caramelization. Paired with the sweet corn, some lime to brighten the flavor, and fresh cilantro, and you have yourself a home run. (Or at least we think so!) Try it for yourself and see!


Caramelized Onion and Sweet Corn Salsa
Makes about 1.5 cups


Ingredients
2 ears sweet corn, cut from the cob
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium onion, diced
Juice from 1/2 lime
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste
Olive oil

Steps
1. Saute the onion in a touch of olive oil in a pan or skillet over medium-high heat until soft and caramelized.
2. Add the garlic, and saute for 2 more minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. In the same skillet, add another touch of olive oil and saute the corn over medium-high heat until golden.
4. Add the lime juice, and saute for 2 more minutes. Add to the bowl containing the onions and garlic.
5. Add the cilantro and cumin, mix well, and season to taste with salt.

Enjoy!

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

- Pete

P.S. For an alternative corn salsa, check out our Black Bean and Corn Salsa recipe.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Party Planning Tips

The birthday girl
Today is a special day. Charlotte, the youngest member of our Bronski clan, is one year old! (Happy Birthday, Charlotte!) We actually celebrated her birthday last weekend, when we hosted lots of family and friends at the house for a party.

In retrospect, Kelli and I joke that it was actually a party themed around the number 3, rather than 1. We had three proteins (shrimp, chicken, and beef, grilled on skewers) prepared in three different marinades (ancho agave, cilantro lime, and satay, respectively). There were three snack foods (crudites, crackers, and chips) alongside three dips (spiced lentil, cucumber, and tomato-cilantro salsa). We made a three-layer cupcake (the Red, White and Blue, with raspberry, vanilla, and blueberry), and had 30 guests. See what I mean?

We also had a tossed green salad, a fruit salad, and seasoned roasted potatoes, plus red sangria, a non-alcoholic punch, and a few other food and drink items that escape my memory at the moment.

Feeding that many people in and of itself can be a challenge, especially if you're not accustomed to entertaining large groups. Feeding that many people with a range of food prepared in so many different ways added a layer of complexity to our party preparation. Could we have simplified the menu? Gone with something easier? Sure.

But we were excited about the menu. Plus, armed with a few of the following handy tips, we were able to do much of the prep ahead of time on Saturday, so that when it came time to party on Sunday, we weren't scrambling to make it all happen.

Here's how we did it, and how you can, too:

Marinades: Let 'em soak vs. Keep 'em separate
For most sweet and savory marinades, especially when you're dealing with "hearty" proteins such as beef, pork, and even chicken, it's fine to combine your meat and marinade, and let them soak together overnight in the fridge. That's what we did, so that the morning of the party, all we had to do was thread them on skewers and toss them on the grill. But when you're dealing with "tender" proteins such as shrimp, and with highly acidic marinades (such as ones that have a lot of vinegar or lemon or lime juice), it's better to keep them separate. The acids in the marinade will "pre-cook" the shrimp. In our case, I marinated the shrimp the morning of, skewered them, and grilled them, all within a matter of a few hours.

Preventing Oxidation
For the roasted potatoes - and there were pounds and pounds of them - the question was how to do as much prep ahead of time as possible, without allowing for oxidation of the cut, cubed 'taters. Usually, you'd soak the potatoes in a bowl of water, to prevent exposure to the air. That's fine when you're cubing potatoes to make mashed potatoes, which are going to be boiled anyway. But when you're making roasted potatoes, as we were, we didn't want to soak the potatoes overnight, so they'd get waterlogged and not roast properly. Solution: we tossed them in a generous coating of olive oil, so that any exposed potato surface had a thin sheen of olive oil that protected it from the air. (We toss them in a bit of olive oil anyway to roast them, so we would have done this anyway.) Then we seasoned them, covered with plastic wrap, and popped them in the fridge until 1.5 hours before the party, when we put them into a preheated oven.

Keeping Veggies Fresh
Crudites (cut fresh vegetables, such as celery, carrots, and bell peppers) always seems to be a popular appetizer at parties, and for good reason. It's tasty, naturally gluten-free, and most people like it. There's just one problem. Cutting the veggies ahead of time can lead to dry carrots, and brown, dry celery. Fortunately, there's an easy fix. Place all your cut veggies into a reusable, resealable container. Add water until all of the veggies are fully submerged. Pop the top on your container, and throw it in the fridge. Drain the water immediately before you plan to plate the crudites. They'll be crisp and fresh and good as new, even though you sliced them the day before.

Dippin' Don'ts (and Dos)
Dips can almost always be made ahead of time. In fact, many benefit from the extra time, which allows the flavors to meld. Such was the case with our spiced lentil and cucumber dips. If texture of the dip is an issue, as it was for us with the lentil dip, allow it to come to room temperature - or even gently warm it - and stir before serving.

Happy entertaining!

- Pete

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Product Review: Wolfgang Puck Soups

Image courtesy Bullfrog and Baum PR
Most of the time we make our soups from scratch. But from time to time, there's something to be said for the convenience of opening a can of soup, heating the contents, and simply eating. And when you do, you want that soup to be healthy, high-quality stuff. When the PR firm that represents Wolfgang Pucks Soups offered to send gratis samples for us to review here on the blog, we hoped the soups would meet that criteria. They were only partly successful. Read on.

The Wolfgang Puck brand makes a line of 17 soups, many of them organic. Seven of those soups are currently listed as gluten-free. They are: free-range chicken with white and wild rice, tomato basil bisque,  signature tortilla, signature butternut squash, hearty lentil vegetable, black bean, and French onion. All of the gluten-free soups are tested to ensure they come in at or below 10ppm, half the proposed FDA GF standard of 20ppm, and matching the stringent standard of the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (though the soups are not GFCO certified). Good stuff.

The first soup we tried was the tomato basil bisque. It had very good base flavors. Both the tomato and the basil came through nicely. It had familiar natural ingredients, which we like. The flavor tended to be too salty and too sweet, however. It turns out there's a reason for that. The ingredients included evaporated cane juice as a sweetener. I would have liked to have seen the tomatoes alone give the requisite sweetness and sugars. Secondly, the ingredients included sodium...lots of it. As in 590mg (25% recommended daily value) per small 1 cup serving. (Other flavors have as much as 850mg (35%) per serving!) 1 cup is an awfully small amount of soup. Too small to be a meal. You'd likely eat more, maybe twice as much soup, plus pair it with some toasted GF bread. Which means that you'd consume half your recommended daily allowance of sodium (nearly 1,200mg) in a single bowl of soup. Yikes.

The second soup we thought we were going to try was the hearty garden vegetable. As Kelli prepared to take her first bite, she glanced down at the medley of vegetables in her spoon and remarked, "What do you think this is?" I looked to see what she was inquiring about, and recognized the culprit almost immediately: barley. A quick check of the ingredients label confirmed as much. The soup was NOT gluten-free.

Mind you, this was not a labeling issue. A check of the ingredients label on any given can of soup would reveal the gluten-free status, and it appears that only those Wolfgang Puck soups that are actually gluten-free bear the "GF" stamp on the can, as you can see in the bottom right of the picture above.

Instead, what was at work here was human error. Again. If you remember from last week's review, GoPicnic sent us two supposedly GF product samples to review, but one of those products wasn't GF. Amazingly, that scenario has repeated itself for the second time in as many weeks. A company sent us two supposedly GF product samples to review, but one of those products wasn't GF. Seriously?

In the case of the Wolfgang Puck Soups, what makes matters worse is this: the press release accompanying the GF soups is titled, "Chef Wolfgang Puck's Organic Soup Line Features Gluten-Free Options." The press release then goes on to list 9 soups. But if you're an astute reader, you'll remember that above I noted there are 7 GF soups. The press release touting a line of GF soups lists 2 soups that aren't GF, including the hearty garden vegetable variety I almost ate.

As an objective reviewer, I'm trying my hardest to separate the product from the people, to evaluate the soup and not the people making mistakes by writing misleading press releases and sending gluten-ous product samples to gluten-free bloggers. But I can't. Because every product has people behind it, and when egregious errors like these are made, it undermines my confidence in the product. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and leaves me potentially, literally, sick to my stomach.

In the end, I do believe that Wolfgang Puck Soups offers a quality product, with wholesome ingredients, and labeling and manufacturing processes that ensure a gluten-free product. But they have too much sodium, and the snafu with the press release and the product samples have turned me off. I'll stick to my from-scratch soups, or look elsewhere for a canned option.

- Pete

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Foto: Zucchini Pancakes


After much anticipation, our garden is at last producing a regular harvest. The cilantro (photo below) has gone in dishes ranges from chicken tikka masala to pad thai. We've been enjoying almost nightly mojitos, with freshly muddled mint. And basil - combined with tomatoes and other vegetables - will go into a cold pasta salad for dinner tonight. The Swiss chard is ready, the carrots coming along nicely (I ate one fresh last night, rinsed of soil, but otherwise unadulterated). I'm long overdue to post a photo roundup of the garden. Maybe next week, I hope. I just need to snap some more photos to show the progress!

By far, though, our greatest producer (at least so far) has been the zucchini. It always seems there's another one or two to harvest. Several have been at least as big as my forearm. Having this constant supply of zucchini has been wonderful, but it has also challenged us to use the vegetable in new ways.

Witness today's Zucchini Pancakes (photo above). Full credit for this creation goes to Kelli, who whipped up this great recipe. At first glance, they appear to be nothing more than "regular" pancakes with some shredded zucchini in them. But I can assure you, through personal experience, that they are much more. They are moist and savory and surprisingly rich-tasting. Kelli said it best when she described each pancake as a personal quiche. Try them and see for yourself!


Zucchini Pancakes
Makes 24 pancakes

Ingredients
1.5 lbs zucchini (1 very large), shredded
1 medium onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 eggs
1/2 cup Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tsp GF baking powder
Dash each salt and pepper
Butter and olive oil (equal parts, for skillet)

Steps
1. Combine the zucchini, onion and garlic.
2. Add the eggs.
3. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Mix/whisk well.
4. Ladle or spoon the batter onto a greased skillet over medium-high heat.
5. Flip when the edges are set.

Enjoy!

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


Note: For these zucchini pancakes, we greased the skillet with a combination of equal parts butter and olive oil. The olive oil lowers the smoke point, while the butter imparts flavor.


- Pete

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Product Review: GoPicnic


When the friendly folks at GoPicnic offered to send us some gratis product samples to review here on the blog, I gladly accepted. But I'll admit - from the outset, I was skeptical. GoPicnic markets its products as "ready to eat meals," "meals on the go," and - prepare yourself for this one - "shelf-stable meals."

Listen. I understand the intent behind saying "shelf-stable." It means the product doesn't require special care. It need not be refrigerated. It won't spoil quickly or easily. Good enough. But use the term "shelf-stable" with your distributor, or the supermarket that's carrying your food. Don't say that to consumers. To me, nothing about that term is appealing. On the average, I prefer my food fresh. It's inherently shelf-unstable.

So instead, please tell me - the consumer - that GoPicnic meals don't require refrigeration. That I can store them in my pantry (or wherever). Okay? Now let's move on...

The idea - in theory - is that GoPicnic takes other brand's products (ideally healthy and high quality, though that's debatable...) and repackages them in a convenient box you can tote anywhere, so that you have a complete meal, in GoPicnic's words, "good food anytime, anywhere."

They also claim that the meals are environmentally-friendly, since GoPicnic strives to use packaging that is either recycled or recyclable. But you know what? By putting more packaging (a box) around other companies' products that already have their own packaging, it creates a lot of...stuff. And much of what I found in the box pictured below appeared neither recycled nor recyclable. It just produced a lot of garbage.

You know what would be more eco-friendly? Putting your own picnic lunch to go in a reusable, resealable container. We have a whole set of glass ones at home, and they work great for all sorts of foods.


Okay, so let's talk more nuts and bolts about the quality and gluten-free status of the contents. GoPicnic sells 5 varieties of gluten-free meals: Hummus and Crackers, Steak Nuggets and Cheese, Tuna and Crackers, Turkey Pepperoni and Cheese, and Turkey Stick and Crunch. They cost $5 each. Okay so far.

Each meal is packaged with an assortment of goodies. For example, the Steak Nuggets and Cheese meal contains essentially beef jerkey, cheese spread, crackers, trail mix, and a piece of chocolate. This immediately poses a potential problem. Every product is from a different company, each with its own definition as to what "gluten-free" means. The end result is that, depending on your sensitivity and your own personal level of acceptable cross-contamination risk, these foods may or may not be okay for you. In the Steak Nuggets and Cheese meal, the products ranged from GFCO gluten-free certified, to products made on equipment shared with wheat. That's the first problem. (A second related problem is the issue of constantly keeping up with ingredient or manufacturing process changes to any one component of the GoPicnic meal, since every part of the meal comes from someone else.)

Second problem. The second flavor that GoPicnic sent me to review was the Salmon and Crackers. You might notice that Salmon and Crackers is NOT included in the GF list I cite above. That's because it isn't! The crackers are wheat flour crackers. Thank goodness I continue to religiously read labels before I eat anything. I'll admit - this was probably an employee oversight. Someone carelessly mailed a gluten-free blogger a gluten-ous product, intending to send a gluten-free one. Maybe it was a one-time mistake. But it does make me question GoPicnic's vigilance in ensuring the GF status of the meals they purport to be GF.

Third problem. Size. These are marketed as meals, but at best, I'd call them a snack. The Steak Nuggets and Cheese meal contains a scant 320 calories. While I don't count calories, I'd wager that I eat at least 2,500 calories per day. That means I'd need to eat 8 GoPicnic meals to feed myself for a day.

Think of it another way... The "cheese" in the meal is actually a 0.75-ounce container of cheese spread, barely largely than a generous pat of butter. The bag of crackers contained 7 crackers. Seven! And they were small crackers. Other components of the meal were similarly small. 0.625 ounces of beef jerkey. 0.42 ounces of chocolate. 0.75 ounces of quasi-trail mix. My stomach is already grumbling from the cavernous space left behind after eating this pint-sized snack.

In the end, for me, the GoPicnic meals fail on several major fronts. I'm not convinced they're reliably gluten-free, they're too small, and they're not my style. I'd prefer to pack my own meal to go...shelf-stable or not.

I do begrudgingly admit that I see some utilitarian value to them. Keep one stashed in a desk drawer at work, in a dorm room on campus, or in a locker at school, for when you need a GF snack in a pinch. But for my money, you're better off getting your meals elsewhere.

Sorry, GoPicnic, but for me, it's NoPicnic.

- Pete

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Compensation

Louisa Pond atop Shaupeneak Ridge, Hudson Valley, NY.
Photo courtesy Robert Rodriguez Jr. Photography
Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle. I shouldn't be complaining, really. In a year and a half of intense trail running - including training for the Virgil Crest ultramarathon - the only two major physical injuries I sustained were, ironically, to my arms. Both happened during trip-and-fall accidents while trail running. (There was also, of course, the issue of my time in the hospital earlier this year, but I'd hardly call the staph infection and the tick-borne illness "training injuries.")

I was running at Shaupeneak Ridge, an almost 700-acre preserve on the western shore of the Hudson River, protected by Scenic Hudson. From the lower trailhead, a trail winds its way 1.6 miles, and about 600 vertical feet, to the top of the ridge. Once there, a growing network of trails provide several opportunities for loop runs before returning down to the lower trailhead.

It was early on a Tuesday morning before work. I was the only person in the preserve. It had been a good run, but as I made my way back to the descent trail to conclude my run, my right ankle rolled. My ankles roll all the time, actually, in minor, insignificant ways. With the uneven terrain, and the roots, and the rocks, it's the nature of trail running. I'm constantly adjusting my gait and catching my balance.

But this time was different. As my ankle rolled, I felt the unmistakable twinge of pain along the outer edge of my ankle. This was not good. Trail running for the week was over. I rested for 7 days, trying to give the ankle a chance to heal.

Then, one week ago (and one week after the sprain), I returned to Shaupeneak Ridge, the scene of the crime, to test my ankle and see how it felt. As usual, I began with the 1.6 mile, 600-vertical-foot trail run up to the top of the ridge. The ankle felt okay, not great. But what I noticed much more so was how suddenly tired and fatigued my left quadricep was becoming.

I knew instantly what was going on. Subconsciously, my body was compensating, making adjustments to accommodate and mitigate the pain and the injury. (Two weeks later, the ankle is still not 100%, though it's feeling good enough that I'm back up to trail running 9 miles at a clip, so I'm pleased with the progress.)

I'm not sure why, but that subconscious compensation reminded me of my pre-gluten-free days, when I was still wracked by debilitating symptoms. When gluten has been making us sick enough for long enough, our body and our mind recalibrates. Just as my mind subconsciously favored my left leg to spare my right ankle, so had my mind readjusted my lifestyle to accommodate my gluten-induced troubles.

For example, I've always had a love of flying. Take-offs and landings were especially my favorite part, though the whole act of flying mesmerized me. (One reason why I, at one point, was on track to become an aerospace engineer. But that's another story...) Because I loved flying, I always wanted to sit in a window seat, not just for the view of the earth far below and the clouds around, but also to see the wings and flaps, the engines and landing gear.

But as my gluten-induced symptoms came on with a vengeance in my mid to late 20s, a funny thing happened. I started booking flights by requesting aisle seats. I abandoned my beloved window seats, because suddenly, there was anxiety with flying. I needed an aisle seat so that I'd have easy, quick access to the bathrooms not if, but when, I would get sick from gluten. I can't say that I consciously made this switch in seat preference. It just sort of happened somewhere along the line. I was subconsciously compensating, working my life around the gluten.

(I'm now happy to report that I'll take whatever seats I'm assigned. It doesn't matter where I sit on an airplane. The gluten-induced anxiety is gone, as is the need for instant access to the aisle so that I could scoot the loo. Being gluten-free is awesome, but you already knew that, didn't you?)

My life adjusted in other ways, too, though one example ought to do for this blog post. But how did your life adjust, consciously or sub-consciously, to accommodate the problems caused by gluten? Did you start avoiding restaurants and public meals? Carry a bottle of medicine for stomach trouble? Give your GI doctor the #1 spot on your phone's speed dial?


Feel free to share!

- Pete

P.S. To see more beautiful pictures of the Hudson Valley, which we now call home, be sure to check out the website of Beacon-based Robert Rodriguez Jr. Photography. He graciously shared the Louisa Pond pic at the top of this post.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Foto: Cilantro Hummus


Over the years, Kelli hasn't been shy about professing her love for all things cilantro. (I'm a fan, too, though she definitely has me beat.) When it came time to plan and then plant our garden earlier this season, there was no question that at least one herb would be on the list: cilantro. And lots of it. In fact, we planted 3 six-foot-long rows of the stuff.

Those rows are finally robust enough that we're going to start harvesting some cilantro (photo below). Alas, for the photo of the hummus above, I must confess that we used purchased fresh cilantro. When we made the hummus and took the photo two weeks ago, our own cilantro wasn't yet ready. But that's about to change!


Cilantro Hummus
Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients
One 15.5-ounce can chick peas (retain half the liquid from the can)
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp tahini paste
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro leaves and stems
Salt to taste

Steps
1. Pulse everything in the food processor. Bada bing, bada boom. Done.

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


- Pete

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Say Potato...

Image courtesy Stock.Xchng / JR3
You say "potato." I say "rosemary-kissed, oven-roasted fingerlings?"

The way we talk about food matters. You and I could be talking about the exact same thing - say, a spud, or a particular dish, or a favorite recipe - but the words we use to talk about it convey much more than just what's literally in front of us on the dinner plate.

Is the food something generic to eat? (A potato.) Or something specific to be appreciated? (A seasoned, roasted fingerling.)

Are we connected to the food we eat, or dispassionate and ignorant of the journey it took from field to fork?

Are we humble in the face of nature's/agriculture's bounty, or pretentious food snobs who prefer to "elevate" descriptions of our food?

Do we convey usefully specific information? (Hey, this potato is seasoned with rosemary!) Do we convey a region it came from, giving a nod to the influence of terroir on the food we eat? (A Long Island North Fork sweet corn, say, vs. a Colorado Olathe sweet corn.)

Or are we over-descriptive simply for the sake of being so, and stating the obvious? (Is oven-roasted really necessary? Where else might you roast a potato? In the Friars Club, telling sarcastic jokes to and about your potato, meaning to flatter it while simultaneously insulting and humiliating it?)

There's a balance to be struck, I think, between too much and too little information in the descriptions we use to tell people about our food. And in this day and age, when supermarkets and commerce threaten to disconnect us more than ever from the sources of our food, I'd wager that we ought to err in the direction of the former, toward too much information.

Locavore restaurants and foodies have been doing this for a little while now (and some supermarkets are getting in on the act, too). On a menu you might see the name of a particular local ranch precede the name of the steak. Or it might specify "grass-fed" beef, or "pastured" eggs. Or it might note the particular heirloom variety of tomato, or the farm that the tomato came from. This is a good thing.

Just as the convenience and size and scale and disconnect of the supermarket has separated us (in some respects) from the land, language is connecting us back to the landscape. As a writer, I love this power that words can have.

An example:

Suppose you're planning dinner one night, and someone asks what you're having. How might they react to the following spectrum of responses, which all describe the exact same thing?

"We're having chicken and vegetables." (Ho hum. I could take it or leave it.)

"We're having grilled chicken with roasted veggies." (Sounding better. I'm always down for a little grill action.)

"We're having grilled chicken marinated in a red wine vinaigrette, paired with roasted Brussels sprouts tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of garlic powder." (Yee haw! No we're talking! Do you have an extra seat at the table?)

"We're having a lovely grilled chicken, marinated with a red wine vinaigrette. I made the vinaigrette from scratch. I just loathe those store-bought varieties. They taste so...fake. Did I mention that I made my own red wine vinegar, fermenting grapes pressed with my bare feet in the hills of Tuscany? That's really the only way to produce tolerable red wine vinegar. Oh, and the roasted Brussels sprouts. They're to die for. Not literally, of course. But the olive oil I use to toss them...it's cold-pressed. Very expensive stuff. They ship the olives to northern Canada, where native Inuit press them between mill wheels carved of solid clear ice." (Prick. Enjoy your dinner. How many Michelin stars does your home kitchen have? Are the Zagats swinging by?)

That last example is way over the top, but you get my drift.

When we talk about the food we eat, in this day and age, sometimes more is more. More descriptive food language helps us build better relationships with that food. It's like getting to know a good friend, or a significant other. They're not just a person. You know more intimate details about them, and that deepens the relationship.

As I said at the outset, the way we talk about food matters. A potato is just a potato, unless we rightly make it something greater...
- Pete

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Foto: Zucchini Cupcakes


Today is an historic day for No Gluten, No Problem. For the first time in the history of the blog, we're sharing a recipe whose main ingredient is something we grew ourselves, in our garden, from seed. You see, two days ago our organic 400-square-foot community garden plot - a humble space with great aspirations - yielded its first fruit: a pair of gorgeous zucchini. And so it was that on July 6 we reaped our first harvest.

I imagine that every gardener goes through a similar climax moment, the time when your garden has paid its first dividend, and you go home and proudly prepare and eat whatever it is you've been trying to grow. It is a magical moment. Though I have a firm grasp of the biology of it all, I remain in awe that we began with a 20x20 square of weed-choked earth, and that - through the inputs of nutrients, water, sunlight, and tender loving care (usually 3 or 4 nights a week spent at the garden lately) - seeds sown weeks or months ago have grown, almost before our very eyes, into robust plants that are now beginning to feed our family.


It has been a roller coaster of a ride thus far. Part of that must certainly be due to our status as novice gardeners. We both grew up with very modest gardens out our childhood homes, but it's been many years since either of us has put our proverbial green thumbs to any real use. In past seasons we've purchased a single basil plant that served us well through pestos and margherita pizzas. And there was the one summer I tried to surprise Kelli with a culinary herb garden. (Of 5 pots, only 4 germinated, and none grew into anything usable.)

I suppose it's true to our artisanal, from-scratch style of cooking and baking, but we've grown everything from seed, rather than purchased starter* plants from a local nursery. And as newbies, we've inevitably made some mistakes doing so along the way. We left our peppers (bell and jalapeno) in the seed starter trays much too long, stunting their growth. We didn't give the tomatillos enough sunlight, causing them to grow tall and leggy in search of solar radiation. We failed to sufficiently harden off our three varieties of tomatoes before transplanting them to the field. (24 hours later, they had withered and yellowed, and we were sure we'd lose the whole lot of them...) Some seeds sown directly into the field seemingly failed to germinate after weeks, and we gave up on them, assuming we'd need to start again.

And yet, the plants and the garden have surprised us with their resiliency. The corn, which the folk saying says should be "knee high by the Fourth of July," is instead approaching eye level. The stunted, yellowed basil and peppers have regained their vibrant deep green hues and are growing well. The tomatoes have genuinely shocked us - from the brink of death they have made an astounding comeback, and we should be harvesting tomatoes in the not too distant future. Cilantro, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce - which all failed to germinate, or so we thought - are now growing well. Meanwhile, the beets, Swiss chard, onions, carrots, broccoli, winter squash and zucchini are all exceeding our expectations.

The garden has been an emotional roller coaster ride, taking us from high to low and back to high.


The garden has also been therapeutic. There's something about time spent doing physical labor under the glaring late-day sun. We disconnect from our phones, and emails, and television. We instead immerse ourselves in heat and humidity and dirt and bugs and the occasional thunderstorm, and best of all, family. Our garden - just one mile, almost exactly, from our house - has become an integral part of our weekly ritual.

I sense that the ritual of the garden is reaping some sort of spiritual earnings. My soul benefits from the time spent there. I look forward to gardening each week, not just for the tangible growth, the cultivation, the expectation of a harvest to come, but also simply for the process.

Of course, the garden is now also paying real dividends, and those two zucchini are our first withdrawal. The larger zucchini we set aside for a fresh preparation with dinner tonight. But the smaller zucchini we earmarked for something a little more indulgent, a little more celebratory - a cupcake.

We contemplated including a zucchini cupcake in our new cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes. It ultimately didn't make the cut. Not for lack of merit, mind you. Many cupcakes failed to make the cut, simply for lack of space. We were committed and bound to 50 cupcake flavors, and our brainstormed list of potential flavors easily doubled that number. In the end, our Carrot Cake Cupcake got the nod for a shredded vegetable cupcake.

But that's okay. Instead, we share a zucchini cupcake recipe with you today. It's loosely based on our zucchini cake recipe from 2008, though with some modifications here or there. It's moist and tender, sweet but not overly so, with a cream cheese frosting whose mild tang provides a perfect counterpoint to the subtly sweet zucchini cupcake.


Zucchini Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients
2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini (about 2 medium)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tbsp GF pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (about 310g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp GF baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line standard cupcake tins with paper liners.
2. Combine the zucchini, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl. (We like a stand mixer, but it's not required.)
3. Add the flour and all remaining ingredients, mixing just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix at high speed for 5 seconds.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the paper-lined cups. Make the tops of the batter as smooth as you can.
5. Bake for 25 minutes.
6. Let cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
7. Finish the cupcakes with some cream cheese frosting (recipe follows).

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

Cream Cheese Frosting


Ingredients
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup salted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tsp GF pure vanilla extract

Steps
1. With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until completely incorporated.
2. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla, and mix until smooth and of spreading consistency. (Use additional confectioners' sugar to make a thicker frosting, if needed.)

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


This recipe can be easily made dairy-free and vegan by substituting vegan butter and vegan cream cheese.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Tortellini


Welcome to another monthly installment of the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally! (For those who missed out on our participation in previous months, don't miss our Mesquite Scones from May and our Almond Choux Florentines from June...)

This month's theme is pasta. In principle, it's super simple - the myriad shapes and sizes across a wide range of cuisine all start with two primary ingredients: flour and eggs. For this month's rally, the working ratio is 3:2, flour: egg.

We've certainly tackled from-scratch gluten-free pasta before, such as in our recipes for Butternut Squash Ravioli, Gnocchi, and Fettuccine, not to mention linguine (with clam sauce), (meat lover's and Mediterranean) lasagna, and more. But we've never approached pasta from the perspective of a ratio before. In fact, you might say our typical approach is the anti-ratio anti-recipe. Instead of relying on hard and fast quantities of ingredients, it's an intuitive method of preparation. You make a well of flour, add the eggs, and start mixing. When the pasta dough reaches the desired consistency, you're done and ready to form it into the chosen noodle. With this method, I know about how much flour I need for a given number of number of eggs, but I could never tell you that I used X grams or Y cups of flour.

Well, that's about to change. For this month's ratio rally, we've challenged ourselves by laying out several goals: 1) "formalize" a pasta recipe with ratios, 2) develop a new pasta recipe (made richer with mostly egg yolks, versus all whole eggs), and 3) tackle tortellini, a pasta we haven't made from scratch before.

Tortellini - not to mention its variants, tortelloni and cappelletti - is a stuffed Italian pasta. It might have a meat filling or a veggie filling, and depending on the region and the preparation, might be served with a sauce or in a broth. For today's recipe, we went with a seasoned meat filling that includes a blend of turkey, pork loin, and pancetta. I have to say, we're really quite delighted with the result!

As for the pasta, it turned out great, though we ended up deviating from the "standard" ratio, migrating much closer to a 1:1 flour: egg ratio. But no matter. Scroll down for some step-by-step pictures of the tortellini-making process, and find the recipe at the bottom. Also, don't forget to visit Jenn over at Jenn Cuisine. She's hosting this month's rally, and will have links to all the other fabulous bloggers rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with pasta!









Tortellini
Makes 48 tortellini

For the filling:

Ingredients
10g butter
120g lean ground turkey
120g pork loin, cut into small pieces
40g pancetta, diced
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, dash each
1 large egg (50g)
8g Parmesan cheese

Steps
1. Melt the butter in a skillet over high heat. Add the meats and brown to cook thoroughly.
2. Put the meat in a food processor and pulse to cool.
3. Add the spices, egg, and cheese, and blend to combine and form a paste. Set aside.

For the pasta

Ingredients
240g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (plus extra)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
160g egg yolks (about 10)
100g whole eggs (about 2)

Steps
1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, xanthan gum and salt.
2. Add the eggs, and mix well to form a dough ball.
3. On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough ball with the heel of your hand. Occasionally sprinkle the dough with flour, working in additional flour a little at a time until the dough is smooth and elastic, and just until it is no longer tacky to the touch.

Now you're ready to make some tortellini!

Making the tortellini

1. Divide the dough in half (or into whatever size pieces you find workable for rolling out).
2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a sheet as thin as you can make it without tearing.
3. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares.
4. Place a small dollop of meat filling into the center of each square.
5. Wet two adjacent edges with water, and fold the square over, creating a triangle with the filling inside. Press the edges firmly to seal.
5. Roll the base of the triangle up toward to the point of the triangle once.
6. Wrap the pasta around your pinky finger, with the point of the triangle on the outside.
7. Wet one end of the pasta, overlap the second end, and pinch to seal.
8. Boil in vigorously boiling water for 4 minutes.
9. Serve with your favorite sauce or broth.

Enjoy!

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

This recipe is easily made dairy-free by cooking the meat in olive oil or non-dairy butter and omitting the Parmesan cheese.


A couple of tips for working with from-scratch pasta:

1. When rolling out pasta dough, I like to use a rolling pin, a flour sifter, and an offset spatula. The use of the rolling pin is obvious. I like the flour sifter because it allows me to give a light even coat of flour to the work surface and to the pasta dough as I'm working, to prevent any sticking. The offset spatula is great for getting under the rolled pasta dough to "liberate" any stuck spots, and to pick up the pasta dough to flip it over.

2. A pizza cutter and a long straight edge works great for cutting the squares.

Finally, for today's post we photographed our tortellini with a very basic red sauce and just a touch of grated Parmesan. But we'd also recommend serving it with a garlic cream sauce, or simply olive oil and garlic.

- Pete

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Foto: Red, White, and Blue Cupcakes


It's the eve of the Fourth of July weekend, which - if you live in the United States - means only one thing: summer party time. (Well, that and maybe barbeques... and beaches... and fireworks... and patriotism... but you get my drift.)

From a food standpoint - and speaking from personal experience - the weekend can be indulgent. It's also prime season for fresh berries. So why not combine those two things in the form of a cupcake? Fresh fruit in an indulgent cupcake. What could be better?

Today's Friday Foto and recipe comes from our new cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes. And, this particular recipe was inspired by Kelli's aunt, who makes a red, white and blue cake every year for...you guessed it...the Fourth of July!

True to our style of gluten-free baking, these babies are 100% from scratch. We use no artificial colorings...only natural, fresh fruit purees, which impart both great flavor and color, and which lend a moist, tender crumb to the cupcakes. Each one is like a sweet bite of summertime.

Red, White, and Blue Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients
1 cup raspberries
1 cup blueberries
3/4 cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
3 cups Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 1/2 tsp GF baking powder
1 tsp GF baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line standard cupcake tins with paper liners.
2. Puree the raspberries and set aside. Ditto for the blueberries. (But keep them separate!)
3. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the vanilla.
4. Add the eggs and eggs whites - one at a time - mixing to incorporate after each addition.
5. Add the milk and sour cream. Mix until combined.
6. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, xanthan gum, baking power, baking soda, and salt. Mix with a whisk to sift the ingredients and break up any lumps.
7. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the sugar-egg mixture. Mix for about 10 seconds at medium-low speed to incorporate.
8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix at high speed for about 5 seconds, just until the batter is completely mixed and smooth.
9. Divide the batter into thirds. Place each in a separate bowl.
10. Add the pureed raspberries to one bowl of batter and mix to incorporate. Ditto for the blueberries. Leave the remaining bowl with plain cake batter.
11. Divide the blueberry batter evenly among the paper-lined cups. Smooth the top of the batter with two water-moistened fingers.
12. Add a layer of plain vanilla batter to each cup. Again, smooth the tops.
13. Finish by dividing the raspberry batter among the cups, so that you have a three-layer cupcake in each. Again, make the tops of the batter as smooth as you can.
14. Bake for 25 minutes.
15. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Then remove from the tins and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Finish the cupcakes by topping with fresh whipped cream, and decorate with fresh blueberries and raspberries.

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

To make alternate versions of these cupcakes (such as dairy-free or egg-free), follow these guidelines for baking allergen-free cupcakes.

Enjoy!

- Pete