Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bagel Dogs


Back when Kelli and I first started dating, in early 2003, we did our fair share of camping and rock climbing on the weekends. There was nothing like spending the day up on the cliff, and then retiring to a tent and campfire in the forest later that evening. It was then that she introduced me to hot dogs wrapped in dough. Not pigs in a blanket. We're talking full-on hot dogs encased in doughy goodness.

We'd skewer them lengthwise onto long sticks and patiently hold them over the fire, rotating them every so often to ensure even browning on all sides. Before wrapping her hot dog in dough, Kelli would even partially split the dog down the middle and fill it with a bit of cheese.

Fast forward to late 2004. By then we'd moved to Boulder, Colorado. And wouldn't you know it? A local bagel shop offered bagel dogs. A hot dog, wrapped in bagel-like dough, cooked to golden brown. Divine. For my money, I'll take a bagel dog—campfire cooked or not—over a plain white hot dog bun any day.

When it came time to trim our Christmas tree earlier this month, Kelli had the brilliant idea to make bagel dogs as part of our hors d'ouerves. Our tree trimming party with drinks and appetizers has been a tradition for as long as we've been together. In many years, pigs in a blanket makes an appearance on the menu. It's one of the only times of the year when we make them, and I always look forward to it.

Hot dogs—full sized or mini—are one of my guilty pleasures. (Ask my college roommates about how I'd eat my way through a pack of 8 or 10 hot dogs, plus buns, in the course of a single evening pulling an all-nighter...) To this day, as healthy as I often try to eat, I can't resist a good hot dog. For that reason we don't keep them in the fridge too often. If I know they're there, I'll want to go and eat them. I might be addicted.

All of that said, when we made these bagel dogs for our tree trimming party they totally hit the spot. The girls loved them. Kelli loved them. And I especially loved them. And the best part is, they're super simple to make. Choose your favorite hot dog. Add a basic pizza dough recipe. Form the bagel dogs and bake them. Bada bing, bada boom. Done.


Bagel Dogs
Makes 4

For the pizza dough
175g warm water (3/4 cup)
1 tbsp honey (or sugar)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
175g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 1 1/3 cups plus 1 heaping tbsp)
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt 

4 GF hot dogs (we used turkey dogs, but take your pick!)
Olive oil

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
2. Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Give the yeast about 5 minutes to really activate.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, and salt.
4. Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture. Then add the dry ingredients. Mix well to form a dough ball. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roll around to coat evenly on all sides.
5. Divide the dough evenly into 4 pieces. Wrap each hot dog in a piece of dough, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking pan.
6. For a puffier dough, give it 20 or more minutes to rise. If you're impatient, as we were this time around, pop them strain into the oven.
7. Bake for 20 minutes, turning after 15 minutes or so to help brown evenly.

Enjoy!

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

Note: To make this recipe refined-sugar-free, use honey to activate the yeast.

- Pete

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gluten-Free Cupcakes (Elana Amsterdam)


It's another week, which means another cookbook review here at No Gluten, No Problem. (There appears to be no end in sight, as we have at least four more books in the queue following today's post!)

Yesterday was National Cupcake Day, and so today we're focusing on Gluten-Free Cupcakes by Elana Amsterdam. She's the popular blogger over at Elana's Pantry. We crossed paths with Elana a few years back, when we were both presenters at the Gluten-Free Culinary Summit in Denver, and would carpool to and from Boulder County, where we both lived at the time. (Elana still does. We obviously don't since we're in New York now.)

Today's write-up is a bit different than ones we've done in recent weeks. We're recusing ourselves from a formal review. As far as I can tell, there are only two cookbooks on the market dedicated solely to gluten-free cupcakes: Elana's and ours (Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes). Not only that, but the books coincidentally were officially released within 5 weeks of each other earlier this year, and both contain recipes for 50 cupcakes. Did we just enter the gluten-free cupcake Twilight Zone?

Clearly, there'd be a bit of a conflict of interest. No matter how objective we might try to be—or even claim to be—I think some readers would quite reasonably question whether we had any bias in writing the review. If we wrote a review we couldn't fault anyone for wondering if there was a bit of "Buy our cookbook! It's great!" in there, whether we said it literally or if it was hidden between the lines. So we're not going to go there.

But we didn't want to flat out ignore Elana or her beautiful book. Elana and us bring different perspectives to gluten-free baking. I like to think of our approaches as complementary. If you're a fan of Elana, her blog, and her previous cookbook, you'll likely love her cupcake book. Ditto for us—if you like this blog, and our previous cookbook, you'll likely love our cupcake book, too.

We realize that, for most kitchens, one cookbook on gluten-free cupcakes is enough. Unless you're an obsessive cookbook collector (or a really big fan of cupcakes), you're not going to buy both books. For those of you wondering, "What's the difference between them?" we thought we'd offer a side-by-side comparison, a tale of the tape. (Or in this case, a tale of the cake...)

Here's how the books size up:

Title Gluten-Free Cupcakes Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes
Author Elana Amsterdam Kelli and Peter Bronski
# Cupcakes 50 50
# Frostings 14 33
# Photos 16 pics of 20 cupcakes, plus a few "collages" 50 pics of 50 cupcakes, plus some step-by-step sequences
Flours Used Almond and Coconut Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (whole grain brown rice flour, whole grain sorghum flour, cornstarch, potato starch, potato flour, xanthan gum)
Sweetener Agave nectar, Some stevia Sugar, plus appendix with instructions for refined-sugar-free with agave or brown rice syrup
Other diets? Many dairy-free recipes, Some vegan Appendix with detailed ingredient subs for dairy-free, egg-free, and vegan
Cupcake categories classic; chocolate; fruity; warm and spiced; special occasion; savory treats; frostings, fillings and toppings classics; fruity; nutty; chocoholic; sweet surprises; old faithfuls; extraordinary
Classic flavors in both chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, mocha, chocolate peanut butter, banana split, pina colada, pumpkin spice, German chocolate cake
Unique flavors ice cream cone, savory muffins (i.e. scallion goat cheese), fallen chocolate souffle, vanilla fig, orange rosemary strawberry shortcake, hazelnutty, s'mores, caramel apple pie, jelly donut, fruit tart, snickerdoodle, cannoli, tiramisu, poached pearfection

And so there you have it. Happy National Cupcake Day! (One day late...)

- Pete

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Almond Chocolate Brownie Swirl Cake


Whew! What a whirlwind this time of year is. The run-up to the holidays, while fun, can get insane. Thanks to the coincidental timing of birthdays, I feel like that's especially true in the Bronski household. In the span of six short weeks, we have: my birthday, Thanksgiving, Kelli's birthday, St. Nicholas Day, Marin's birthday, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, and New Year's.

On top of it all, this year Kelli and I have been busy putting final touches on the 2nd edition of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, and I've been additionally swamped cranking through another book project due just after the New Year (as in...due January 2, 2012!). Oh, and like many of you—workers, and parents, and working parents alike—there's that whole "day job" thing. Thank goodness we have a tropical vacation planned for the second week of January. We're going to need it!

When it came time to celebrate Kelli's birthday, I asked her what she wanted for dinner, and what kind of cake she'd like. For dessert, she demured, saying I was too busy to worry about that sort of thing. If I did anything at all, she just wanted some nice brownies. I couldn't let that happen.

With Marin as my sidekick and kitchen helper, I decided to combine Kelli's request—brownies—with her favorite cake flavor—almond. I based today's recipe off the Almond Cake and Brownie recipes in the 1st edition of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, but I adjusted ratios and ingredient quantities so that the yield of the two batters matched more closely, had similar texture, and was convenient to measure.

The result was superb. Great texture—moist and chewy. When the cake was still warm from the oven, the chocolate flavor was dominant. As the cake cooled, the almond became more and more pronounced, especially on the morning of the day after, when Kelli and I agreed the flavors had achieved full harmony. Try it for yourself and see!


Almond Chocolate Brownie Swirl Cake
Makes one 9x9-inch pan

Almond Cake Ingredients
5 oz GF almond paste
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup (41 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend

Chocolate Brownie Ingredients
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 oz baking chocolate
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp GF vanilla extract
1/4 cup (31 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend

Steps
1. Grease a 9x9" baking pan, sprinkle with flour, and shake out any excess. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.
2. Start by making the almond cake batter: In a stand mixer, combine the almond paste and sugar until well mixed.
3. Add half the eggs, then the softened butter, then the rest of the eggs.
4. Add the flour and mix well, just enough to fully combine. Pour into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
5. Continue by making the chocolate brownie batter: Melt the butter, chocolate, and cocoa together in saucepan on the stovetop.
6. Remove from the heat, stir in the eggs, sugar, and vanilla and mix until smooth.
7. Stir in the flour until combined. Spread over the almond cake batter in a second even layer.
8. Use a knife, the handle of a spoon, whatever, to swirl the batters together. There's nothing scientific about this part...have at it!.
5. Bake for 30 min, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Enjoy!

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

- Pete 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Forlini's, New York City


A little over two weeks ago—on Friday, November 25—we did the unthinkable. We went into Manhattan on Black Friday. We'd just hosted 17 people, mostly family, for Thanksgiving the day before. We all thought it'd be fun to keep the party going and head into New York City the day after. Soon, a plan came together... We'd start at the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, and eventually work our way downtown to Little Italy for dinner later that night.

If you know anything about New York's Little Italy, you know that the "happening" place is Mulberry Street (in the photo above). It can be something of a crazy scene. There's one restaurant after another. Some offer authentic Italian-American food. Many others, however, feed into the tourist mentality and offer a caricature of Italian-American cuisine and culture. People known as "wranglers" stand out in front of each restaurant, trying to lure you in, competing for your business.

As one of the members of our group with the strictest dietary needs, the task of finding an Italian restaurant that offered a gluten-free menu wandered its way onto my shoulders. I searched high and low, exploring options. But my gut instinct kept bringing me back to one: Forlini's.

It had a lot of great reviews on many of the commonly searched websites (TripAdvisor, Urban Spoon, Yelp, etc.). The New York Times noted that it does a popular lunch business with high-powered judges and lawyers. (Forlini's is just a few blocks from the major courthouses...) The restaurant didn't have a website (they do have a phone: 212.349.6779). And, it was located on Baxter Street, south of Canal Street, which technically puts it in Chinatown, not Little Italy.

To me all of this boiled down to one hopeful conclusion: a place where we could grab authentic Italian-American eats away from the Mulberry Street scene. But did they offer gluten-free menu items? I'd read rumors of such. A quick call to the restaurant confirmed it: yes they did. We made a reservation for 6:00pm.


At Forlini's, "Little Joe"—manager Joe Derek—gave me the story. They'd started offering gluten-free versions of their foods about one and a half years ago, and the move has proven very popular. Forlini's does it right...they have separate pots, separate pans, and separate pasta water for the gluten-free foods. There's gluten-free rice pasta. And they use crushed gluten-free Rice Chex cereal to bread menu items such as the chicken parmigiana. The only thing they didn't have was a GF bread option, which would have been a nice way to round out the offerings.

We ordered three gluten-free versions of Forlini's menu staples: chicken marsala, chicken piacentina, and chicken parmigiana. At $15-$16 each, all three of our entrees were very reasonably priced. The chicken marsala was great. The chicken piacentina—with cheese, eggplant, and prosciutto—was excellent. And the chicken parmigiana was sublime. You'd be hard-pressed to tell that the breading on the chicken cutlet was actually crushed gluten-free rice cereal. The melted, lightly browned mozzarella and red sauce were in great balance.

The entrees each came with a side of angel hair gluten-free rice pasta tossed in the house red sauce. Loved it.

The non-gluten-free diners among us also complimented the food. One said the baked ziti was good. Another raved about the veal parmigiana.

We left at the end of the night feeling very satisfied. Forlini's is not a fancy place, nor a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It's exactly what I expected—and hoped—it would be... a no frills, give-it-to-me-straight restaurant that offers up the classic Italian-American red sauce food experience. If you're looking for that experience, done gluten-free, don't overlook easy to miss Forlini's. It's worth finding. I know I'll be back.

Later that night, as Kelli, the girls, and I strolled Mulberry and popped into one restaurant for strawberry gelato (for the kids) and a glass of Montepulciano (for the 'rents), I was already planning my return.

- Pete

Friday, December 9, 2011

125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes


Our review-one-cookbook-per-week extravaganza continues this week with Carol Fenster's 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes. If you've poked around the gluten-free world even just a little bit, you've almost certainly come across Carol. She's about as big of a household name as you get in the gluten-free community. Teaching cooking classes, appearing at conferences, publishing popular cookbooks (including 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes and 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes). 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes is her latest offering.

What's so intriguing about this book is that Carol is an omnivore. She eats meat, but has written a vegetarian cookbook. We immediately connected with Carol's perspective. We're an omnivorous household, but one that—as of late—has been trying to eat smaller portions of meat, and eating meat less frequently. We purposefully try to incorporate vegetarian meals into our weekly food planning, and hoped that Carol's new book would provide inspiration. (Unfortunately, the book contains no photos, so our inspiration was based solely on the titles of the dishes and their descriptions.)

The book has many divisions. For example, a section on Main Dishes is subdivided into pastas, breads (bread salad, bread pudding, pizza), polenta, stuffed with rice, rice on the bottom, casseroles, beans and lentils, and grains. We did find a few idiosyncrasies here or there...for instance, the Beans and Lentils subsection of the Main Dishes contains 6 recipes, none of which call for lentils.

Other major sections of the book include Vegetables, Soups and Stews, Appetizers, Breads, Breakfast, and Desserts. The inclusion of sections such as desserts (brownies, cookies) and breakfasts (waffles, pancakes) caught us off guard. We don't normally think about vegetarian desserts, or vegetarian pancakes or waffles, because they tend to be so anyway. Ditto for the inclusion of recipes such as Bistro French Fries. Then again, they all are vegetarian recipes, so why not?

All of the recipes appear quite manageable. Nothing is overly complicated. A handful of recipes, in fact, perhaps verged on the too simple. Such as Parsley Buttered Pasta, which contains nothing but pasta, butter, and parsley, plus salt to taste. (This is not a criticism. We're "guilty" of the same thing in our Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, which—in addition to more complex offerings—similarly contains a handful of super-simple recipes, such as our Grilled Asparagus, with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, or our Jasmine Rice, which uses just rice, water, olive oil, and salt.)

If you know Carol's work, you know that she has a flair for catering to multiple palates. I remember several years ago, when Kelli and I and Carol were presenters at the Gluten-Free Culinary Summit in Denver, Colorado. Carol demonstrated a recipe—a bread or muffin, I believe—that she called her Little Black Dress, a go-to piece that could be accessorized in myriad different ways. The same is true of the some of the recipes in 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes. Case in point: Carol's Thai Noodle Bowl. It reminded us of our own Asian-Inspired Noodle Bowl. The sauce had classic flavors—soy, ginger, garlic, sesame—and we used her recipe, combined with ingredients we had on hand in the house, to make a quick, easy, delicious lunch earlier this week. Her Thai Noodle Bowl was our Little Black Dress, that we fancied up as needed.

A section on grain salads—using wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum—was compelling.

For this review, however, we felt pulled toward the book's savory vegetarian entrees. We made a pasta dish, a falafel, a pizza, and a soup. And so, without further ado, on to the recipes...


For a pasta dish, we made Tofu Stroganoff. It had been a long time since either of us had had a stroganoff, vegetarian or otherwise. Gluten-free brown rice pasta, mushrooms, and tofu form the base of this dish, pulled together by a unique sauce. With cumin, mustard, GF soy sauce, tomato paste, dill, and sour cream, it was unlike any stroganoff we've ever had. It was rich and creamy, but the flavor combinations left us scratching our head. For us, it was not a successful dish.

That said, our girls loved this recipe. They devoured the food on their plates. If we would have let them, they would have licked their plates clean.

Perhaps this says something about the power of expectation. Kelli and I each had a very particular idea of stroganoff in our minds. When this dish didn't match our pre-determined expectation, our taste buds revolted. But our girls, free from any expectation, ate this dish on its own merits. And by that measure, they voted with their mouths, showing hearty approval.


Next up was a classic Falafel. We hardly consider ourselves falafel experts, and from what we've read, it can be difficult and finicky to make well. It certainly was for us. A first attempt disintegrated while we tried to fry it in a pan, leaving us with a pan filled with lots of tiny falafel bits swimming in oil. A second time around, we baked our falafels to avoid the previous disaster. They had good flavor, though in part because of the baking, were dry and crumbly. The fried falafel bits had better flavor. If we could learn the knack of working with falafel dough, Carol's pan-fried falafel patties would be great.


Carol's recipe for Pizza followed. In short, this one was a real winner, though we tweaked her recipe in a few ways to get it there. Carol's pizza sauce recipe calls for a can of tomato sauce, which you amend with some dried herbs, salt, and other goodies. However, because you're using a store-bought brand of tomato sauce as a base, your pizza sauce's sodium content is at the mercy of the tomato sauce base. The tomato sauce we bought happened to have plenty of salt on its own, so we omitted the extra salt called for in Carol's recipe. Using it would have resulted in a too-salty sauce.

The other challenge we had was the consistency of the dough. Prepared according to the recipe, it was way too wet. Kelli had to add more than half a cup of extra flour to get it to a workable consistency as described in the recipe. That's a lot of extra flour. Once Kelli made that tweak, however, this pizza crust was magic.

It browned nicely and had very good flavor. It was crunchy and cracker-like in places, with a complementary chewiness throughout. You could easily hold a slice in your hand. Fork and knife not needed here. We both agreed that Carol's pizza crust was excellent, and the resulting pizza was very good.


Lastly we made the Thai Corn Chowder. This is an imaginative dish. It takes some classic Thai ingredients and flavors—basil, mint, cilantro, lime, coconut—and melds them with a potato-and-corn chowder. The cilantro came through strongest of the herbs, while the basil was not very present. For me, the mint coupled with red pepper flakes in the recipe resulted in a pleasant Icy Hot juxtaposition of sensations in the mouth. (Kelli didn't get that same sense...)

We reduced our chowder (a step not called for in the recipe) to intensify the flavors, and added a touch of soy sauce for depth of flavor and salt. The lime (which is called for in the recipe) greatly brightened the flavors. Kelli and I agreed that full fat coconut milk—as opposed to the recipe's light coconut milk—would give better richness of flavor.

Overall, this was a very successful dish that we enjoyed greatly.

Conclusion

In the interest of trying to quantify our subjective experience (as we did for The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen and Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free), we're using a five star ratings scale, with points earned as follows:

Layout and design = up to 1 star
Is the book appealing to the eye? Intuitive to navigate? Sensibly organized?

Photos = up to 1 star
Are there photos? Are they in color? How many photos are there? Are they good photos?

Recipe quality = up to 2 stars
Most importantly, how good is the food? Are recipes easy to follow? Do they deliver as promised?

Overall impression = up to 1 star
How well does the book achieve its vision?

And so, how does 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes rate?

Layout and Design: 0.75 stars
Photos: 0 stars
Recipe Quality: 1.25 stars
Overall Impression: 0.75 stars
Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars

As we've noted with other photo-less cookbooks, the addition of pictures would be a great enhancement that would boost its quantitative star rating. The book's many sections, each with many more subsections, sometimes made navigating the recipes less than intuitive. Some recipes presented challenges (flavor on the stroganoff, texture on the falafel). Other recipes were very successful (pizza and Thai corn chowder). We found that the recipes were most successful when we made modifications...either to the preparation steps and/or the ingredients. At the end of the day, though, Carol has delivered another solid cookbook. Gluten-free vegetarians will find much to love in this book, and if—like us—you're an omnivore looking for vegetarian inspiration, Carol's book is a good resource.

- Pete

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Belgian Speculaas Cookies


This month's Ratio Rally is a special and timely one for us. The theme is cookies, and yesterday was St. Nicholas Day, the Belgian Christmas. My grandmother was Belgian, and the holiday has always been an important one in the Bronski household. Every holiday season, you'll find pairs of wooden clogs under our Christmas tree, and on the morning of St. Nicholas Day, those shoes get filled with gold-wrapped chocolate coins in keeping with tradition.

So it was again this year. Now that we have young girls, it's been wonderful passing along the tradition to them, too. (For now, I think the thing they were most excited about with this holiday was the novelty of eating chocolate at 8 o'clock in the morning...)


Another hallmark of the Belgian St. Nicholas Day is the speculaas cookie. It's akin to a spicy gingerbread cookie, and is sometimes pressed or stamped with a wooden mold that evokes scenes from everyday life in Belgium and the Netherlands. Our recipe—which we share in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking—dates to the 19th century, and comes direct from my great-great-grandmother.

Usually, we cut the dough into simple shapes and bake it. But for today's Ratio Rally, we wanted to "step up" our game and use our wooden mold to make the cookies just as you might find them over in Antwerp or Brugge, where some of my relatives still live. To do that, we made some minor modifications to the recipe—in how you prep the dough, as well as with the oven temperature and bake time.

For this recipe, our ratio of flour to butter to sugar worked out almost exactly to 5:3:3 (plus a whole bunch of spices thrown in for good measure).


Belgian Speculaas Cookies

Ingredients
375g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (3 cups)
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp GF baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
225g salted butter (2 sticks)
233g packed brown sugar (1 cup)
1 tsp GF almond extract
2 tbsp rum or cognac

Steps
1. Sift together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until fluffy. Add the almond extract.
3. Add the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. The batter will be very crumbly.
4. Add the rum to form a paste-like dough. Shape the dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 deg F. Butter cookie sheets.
6. Remove the dough from the fridge, and let warm until it becomes workable.
7. Cut the dough into manageable sections, and roll out each piece into a thick sheet between two pieces of plastic wrap.
8. Remove the top piece of plastic wrap, then use the plastic wrap on the underside to flip the sheet of dough over onto the prepared cookie sheet.
9. Press your mold into the dough, and cut away any excess. Dough scraps can be combined and re-rolled.
10. Bake for 12 minutes.

Enjoy!

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

Note: We usually use dark brown sugar, though for today's recipe, we used light brown sugar. Also, if you don't have a speculaas mold (but seriously, who doesn't these days!?), simply cut the log of dough into quarter-inch-thick slices and bake.

Finally, be sure to visit Caroline over at The G-Spot Revolution. She's hosting this month's Ratio Rally, and there are lots of other tasty cookies to check out, including many seasonal ones that'll be great for holiday parties.

- Pete

Mozzarelli's, New York City


We recently passed the one year anniversary of our relocation from Boulder, Colorado to New York's Hudson Valley. My how time flies! Now that we're living just an hour and a half north of "the city," we're trying to take advantage of our proximity to the Big Apple.

So it was that one recent weekend (I can't believe it was a full month ago already) we met up with Amie V. of The Healthy Apple to stroll the Union Square Greenmarket and grab lunch nearby. We had a delightful time, and after saying goodbye to Amie, started making our way back to our car.

That's when friends from Connecticut called to say they were headed into the city on the train, and would be arriving at Grand Central. Quick change of plans: we grabbed our Chariot—a double-wide jogging stroller / bike trailer—from the trunk of the car, loaded up the girls, and started walking north to meet up with those friends.


Along the way, we stumbled upon Mozzarelli's. From what we'd heard, it was something of an institution among New York's gluten-free community. The gluten-free menu boasts everything from pizza by the slice, to baked ziti and penne alfredo, to biscotti chocolate chip cookies and tiramisu brownies. Make no doubt about it—they're doing some great things, and they know what they're doing in terms of minimizing the potential for cross-contamination. (The owners' niece was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003, so they take it seriously...)

Of course, we couldn't resist popping in to grab a slice. (Actually, by this time both girls had fallen asleep in the Chariot, so Kelli stayed outside with them while I went in to order a slice and come back out, but let's not split hairs...)

Before I tell you what we thought of their pizza, I should offer a disclaimer of sorts. I'm a Long Island native. I grew up eating not just New York-style thin crust pizza, but actual, authentic, dyed-in-the-wool New York thin crust pizza. Kelli hails from the Finger Lakes region of New York, but she's been around my side of the family enough to be an honorary downstate New Yorker, too. We both had the same reaction to the pizza.


We were disappointed. The crust—made from a blend of rice and bean flours, plus a few gums—was somewhat light and airy, as Mozzarelli's proclaims, but it was also mealy and broke apart in the mouth, rather than being chewy. The cheese was fine, but the tomato sauce was forgettable, with a flavor closer to plain tomato paste than to the pizza sauces we're accustomed to. At $4 per slice ($5 with toppings) we expected better. Sigh.

At the end of the day, I'm left feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I applaud Mozzarelli's for offering such a varied gluten-free menu at a pizza-by-the-slice joint. They do it well, and they do it with care for cross-contamination. Do I think it's great to be walking the streets of New York City, and to be able to pop in to a place like this and order a slice? Absolutely, without question.

On the other hand, a part of me feels like—to grossly generalize—we, the gluten-free community, can sometimes be placated too easily. If a restaurant offers genuinely gluten-free food, with care to prevent cross-contamination, we rightly praise them and say bravo. There's an appropriate posture of gratitude. But the applause often comes without regard for the quality of the food. If it's gluten-free, it's good enough. Right? Not any more. Standards in gluten-free foods are rising rapidly these days, and I'd love to see Mozzarelli's revamp its pizza crust recipe to give the Big Apple's gluten-free community more of the chewy-meets-crispy thin crust the rest of New York is eating.

But maybe that's just me. Have you eaten gluten-free pizza at Mozzarelli's? If so, please leave a comment and let us know what you think!

- Pete

Monday, December 5, 2011

Daddy's Hard Cider


Just over one month ago we posted a recipe for simple, easy home-brewed hard cider. After two weeks of fermentation, and another two weeks of bottle conditioning, we're now ready to report on the results!

I am amazed at how thoroughly the champagne yeast converted the apple sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. When I took hydrometer readings to confirm that the cider was ready for bottling, I was shocked. The cider had fermented to bone-dry status. There was basically zero residual sugar left behind. The result is a cider with about 7% alcohol by volume.

Because this cider is very dry, it had a mild tartness to it from the apples. (Most commercial ciders are back-sweetened to balance out this effect.) With the benefit of just two weeks (so far) of bottle conditioning, however, the flavors have matured wonderfully. It's nicely carbonated, the tartness has dialed back, and a crisp, clean apple flavor (with subtle pear notes) has come forward.

We're enjoying the results so much that we're planning to brew another larger batch before apple season is truly over. Whether you're an experienced home brewer, or new to the process, this is a great recipe to try.

- Pete

P.S. As is tradition with many home brewers, we name each batch of our brew. This time around, we gave Marin the honors of naming the batch, and she decided to call it like she sees it: "Daddy's hard cider."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free


Today marks Week Two of our gluten-free cookbook review blitz. (If you missed last week, check out our review of Laura B. Russell's fabulous The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen.) This week we focus on Amy Green's Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free. 

Amy is the founder of a popular blog of the same name. She's also the organizer of the upcoming Nourished conference, about food blogging and publishing, scheduled for April 2012 in Chicago (I'll be a panelist at the event). Nourished immediately precedes the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo (where Kelli and I will be teaching a Breads class).

A hallmark of Amy's recipes is that they are both gluten-free and refined-sugar-free. She uses some Stevia, but principally coconut palm sugar and agave nectar.

Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free is divided into major sections of recipes: starters and snacks; spreads and condiments; simple soups; salads; main dishes; side dishes; cookies and bars; cobblers, crisps and pies; cupcakes and cakes; fast frostings; mousses, puddings and custards; and frozen desserts. In other words, she offers up wide-ranging cuisine.

In general, her recipes have inspiring combinations of flavors. This is especially true of the naturally gluten-free entrees. Many recipes are also accompanied by handy "Quick Tips" that aid in the preparation of the dish.

One thing that became immediately apparent to us is that, by incorporating lots of fruits and vegetables (including into baked goods), and by using alternatives to refined sugar, Amy's is a very healthful way of cooking.

Admittedly, we did have difficulty finding some specialty ingredients at our local stores. After trips to five stores—3 major supermarkets and 2 natural foods stores—we still didn't find some things we needed, such as quinoa flakes that we wanted to use to make the book's apple spice muffins. Also, recipes are written in paragraph form, rather than as numbered instructions. We sometimes had to take a moment to re-find our place in a recipe. Other than the cover, the book contains no photos.

But on to the food...


First up we made the chocolate black bean brownies. Amy's book also contains a more conventional brownie recipe, but we were curious to try this unique alternative. The recipe contains no flour, and if you're coming in with "traditional brownie" expectations, prepare to be surprised! The consistency, texture, and flavor were all different. We thought of it more as a tasty chocolate bar than as a brownie. Banana, used in the recipe, comes through, as does a very mild sourness from yogurt. You'd never know there were black beans in it, however. The next morning, the first thing our girls asked for was more of these brownies. With how healthy they are (with bananas, beans, and just a bit of agave and stevia), we didn't hesitate to say "sure."


Next up we made the tomato, pesto, and fresh mozzarella socca pizza. The socca crust is made with garbanzo bean flour, whipped up as a liquid batter in a blender, and then poured into an oven-heated skillet. (Her recipe called for a cast iron skillet, which we don't have, so we used a heavy-duty Calphalon skillet of the same size.) Very unique. Amy describes it as a modified flatbread.

As a flatbread, it was very successful. As a pizza crust, for us it was less so. With the moisture from the fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, the crust became very soggy, to the point of almost falling apart on us. Par-baking the crust for longer, and using toppings with less water moisture, might help that.

We did absolutely love the flavor combo. In some regards, it was reminiscent of a margherita pizza, with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, and basil. But instead of basil leaves, Amy makes brilliant use of basil pesto as a sauce for the pizza. Prosciutto, meanwhile, provides a pleasant light saltiness.


Then came blueberry yogurt crumb cake. The coconut palm sugar gave the crumb topping great flavor. (In fact, there's none left on our remaining cake because the girls ate all of the topping right off the top...) The cake was moist, and a little dense but not overly so. The taste of bean flour—part of Amy's Basic Flour Blend—came through strongly. As a matter of personal preference, we don't use much bean flours in our baking, but Amy notes that you can substitute brown rice flour for bean flour in her blend to change the flavor profile.


Finally, we made the carob chip cookies. It was pretty close to a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe, though a little thick. An initial batch remained more as slightly mounded cookies. For a second batch, we pressed the dough balls flatter, resulting in more traditional cookie shape. The cookies had less overt bean flavor than did the crumb cake, and have a cake-y cookie texture, as opposed to a chewy cookie texture.

Conclusion

In the interest of trying to quantify our subjective experience (as we did for The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen), we're using a five star ratings scale, with points earned as follows:

Layout and design = up to 1 star
Is the book appealing to the eye? Intuitive to navigate? Sensibly organized?

Photos = up to 1 star
Are there photos? Are they in color? How many photos are there? Are they good photos?

Recipe quality = up to 2 stars
Most importantly, how good is the food? Are recipes easy to follow? Do they deliver as promised?

Overall impression = up to 1 star
How well does the book achieve its vision?

And so, how does Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free rate?

Layout and Design: 1 star
Photos: 0 stars
Recipe Quality: 1 star
Overall Impression: 1 star
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

If you're looking for a cookbook that serves up recipes that are both gluten-free and refined-sugar-free, Amy delivers. She does so with many inspiring flavor combinations.

For this review, we specifically chose baking recipes from several sections of the book. We did have some challenges with the baking recipes—collecting required ingredients, executing steps, some unexpected flavors and textures. The addition of photos would be a great enhancement, and pump up the book's quantitative star rating...potentially to 4 out of 5 stars.

Meanwhile, we're very excited to try many of Amy's naturally gluten-free savory dishes, which have us drooling in anticipation.

- Pete