Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Going gluten-free in American grocery stores

I’ve been so amazed by the selection of gluten-free foods here that I figured I would echo my post about going lactose-free in the American frozen section. There are also many, many gluten-free items that are not frozen (bread, breadcrumbs, pastries, cake mixes, pancake mixes, flours, etc.). I wanted to start by pointing out that the cookie-dough “ice cream” I mentioned in that post (the Purely Decadent made with coconut milk) is also gluten-free. As far as I know, it’s the only cookie dough ice cream that’s gluten-free!

I’ve also tried Glutino donuts. I talked about Glutino before, when I said that their gluten-free pizza crust rocks (though I couldn’t say the same about their pizza toppings). It turns out that their donuts are really great! It’s a little tricky to warm them up without drying them out, but that being said, the crumb is nice, and you’d never know that there’s no gluten. They also make things like bagels and pretzels.

Another company that males gluten-free bread products is Udi. Their products are all over Whole Foods and do look quite good, though I never got around to trying them. They are warmly recommended by Gluten-Free Girl, though. Whole Foods also has a big gluten-free section with dozens of products by smaller companies.

We recently tried Amy’s gluten-free chocolate cake, made with rice flour. It was very moist, and the crumb was really wonderful. My verdict is that it’s a very good cake. When you factor in the fact that it’s a frozen cake AND the fact that it’s gluten-free, it’s really surprisingly good. Oh, and it’s vegan, too! Amy’s has a good selection of gluten-free products.

I’ll end by recommending Bob’s Red Mill, which has the biggest range of gluten-free flours I’ve ever seen. The brand is in just about every store now. I know that even in Montreal, where I had trouble finding it sometimes, the IGA at the Cavendish Mall has started carrying a lot of their gluten-free products.

When you think about it, the majority of grains don’t have gluten, so there’s really a world of possibility out there! It’s just nice to know that there are ready-made products for those who don’t cook or bake much. Here’s one last link to The Kitchn’s best gluten-free links of 2010.


As of this fall, I already had three latke recipes: one from a newspaper clipping I’ve had since I was twelve, one from Chowhound and one from my friend Jen (not including variations like sweet potato latkes). But right before Hanukkah this year, my friend Jen shared a new recipe, published on the Bon Appétit website and created by a woman who makes literally hundreds of them for the holiday. So even though I was not in need of a new recipe, I decided to try them this year.

There are usually two basic points of view: the latke as potatoes held together by batter, and the latke as batter that contains potatoes. This latke is one that has a lot of batter. I tried my best to wring out the water from the potatoes, but I could only get ½ cup, whereas I was supposed to get at least 1 cup. Once the potatoes were mixed with the rest of the ingredients, though, they released more water that I scooped out of the bowl as best I could (you can always add more flour, which will create more batter for the latkes).

Another unusual point (at least for me) is that the potatoes are not grated, but are processed in the food processor. My whole life, I’ve been told to never put potatoes in the food processor, because something happens that makes them bad and… the space-time continuum is disrupted and the world as we know it might implode on itself. But since this expert was recommending the food processor, and since I trusted the recipe, I decided to take a leap of faith and process the potatoes. Nothing bad happened, which was a relief. The recipe serves about 4 as a side dish. I made them along with sweet potato latkes this year. I wanted to serve them with Tofutti’s sour cream substitute, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any at the store, so I only used apple sauce.

I’ll also share a link about how to deal with the latke smell that seems to inevitably permeate the house after making them!

2 ½ cups finely chopped onions, divided
1 large egg
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp coarse kosher salt
1 sp baking powder
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¾-inch cubes
vegetable oil (for frying)

Line colander with smooth kitchen towel.

Stir 1 ¼ cups onions, egg, flour, salt, baking powder and pepper in large bowl to blend.

Place remaining 1 ¼ cups onions in processor; add potatoes. Blend until potatoes are very finely chopped and mixture is almost a puree (some liquid is forming).

Scrape potato mixture into towel in colander. Wrap towel around potatoes and squeeze out as much liquid as possible (at least 1 generous cup).

Scrape dry potatoes into egg mixture. Stir until batter begins to moisten and stick together.

Heat 4 Tbsp vegetable oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop potato mixture by scant ¼-cupfuls into skillet; flatten each latke to 2 ½-to 3-inch round. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to large rimmed baking sheet. Repeat, adding more oil to skillet as needed.

Latkes can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Or up to 1 day ahead: cover latkes on sheets and refrigerate. To make latkes ahead: Preheat oven to 425 °F. Bake latkes until crisp and deep brown, 5 to 6 minutes per side.

To serve the latkes right away: Preheat the oven to 325 °F. Place latkes on a baking sheet as they come out of the skillet and keep them warm in the oven.

Sweet Potato Latkes

I made this variation on latkes early this month. I really, really liked them, though the Engineer still prefers regular potato latkes. I had a little trouble with the consistency, so I added an egg (I’ve written the instructions below with that extra egg), but feel free to adjust the egg/flour ratio as you need. I’ll also move to say that the rosemary is not optional; in my opinion, that’s what really makes the dish. It serves about 6 people as a side (in my case, they were a side to regular latkes). Enjoy!

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 large onion, more or less finely chopped
3 eggs, beaten
6 Tbsp flour or matzo meal (plus a little more if you need it)
1 tsp Kosher salt
several of grinds of your pepper mill
2 tsp fresh rosemary
extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil as needed for frying

Peel the sweet potatoes well and grate them using the grater attachment of a food processor.

In a medium bowl, combine the sweet-potato pieces, onion, eggs, flour, salt, pepper and rosemary. In a large frying pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil until the oil begins to shimmer.

Scoop some of the sweet-potato mixture out of the bowl with a soup spoon, and flatten it with your hand. Pop the flattened potato into the hot oil. It should hiss and bubble a bit; if not, wait before you put more pancakes into the oil.

It’s just fine if your latkes are a little ragged around the edges. If they don’t hold together and are hard to turn, however, you may want to add a little more flour to your batter.

Fry the pancakes a few at a time, turning each when the first side turns a golden brown. Drain the cooked latkes on paper towels; then pop them into a 250 °F oven to stay warm until you have finished cooking all the batter.

Chocolate Waffles

This waffle recipe is by Alton Brown. We found the waffles good, though the batter was a bit thin and the cooked waffles were a little flimsy (we added more flour to try to correct the problem). I don’t know if this could be because we poured the dry ingredients in the wet ones instead of the other way around, as was required (but the recipe started off by having me put the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, not a big one, so I was a little stuck once I had my wet ones in the big bowl – I’ve corrected that below). I’m writing this recipe with 1 ½ cups of buttermilk instead of 2, to try to correct the consistency. Then again, I measured things by volume out of reflex, so perhaps if you really stick to weight measurements, things are fine; follow the link to wee the recipe with weights. I had my first waffle with a whipped soy topping and chocolate chips, but found it a bit dry – syrup is a better accompaniment for it, but I think chocolate syrup might be overkill.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp sugar
½ cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
3 whole eggs, beaten
¼ cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups buttermilk (or lactose-free milk with lemon juice), room temperature
¾ cup chocolate chips
vegetable spray, for waffle iron (try to pick one without alcohol)

Preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.

In a big bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl beat together the eggs and melted butter and vanilla, and then add the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir in the chocolate chips just until combined. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Ladle the recommended amount of waffle batter onto the center of the iron. Close the iron top and cook until the waffle is crispy on both sides and is easily removed from iron. Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200 ° F oven until ready to serve.

Cupcakes Galore!

As if the last cupcakes weren’t enough, the Engineer needed another two dozen a few days later. So I tried another recipe, namely vanilla cupcakes made with the recipe used at Magnolia Bakery. I loved getting to try a new recipe without having to eat all the cupcakes it produced! I made four dozen cupcakes in three days, but only ate a total of four cupcakes in four days, which was perfectly reasonable. They were really good vanilla cupcakes! We made them again a few weeks later for a Christmas party, and I was asked for the recipe. I was short on time, though, so I had used Duncan Hines whipped vanilla frosting from a can to top them (not very healthy, but lactose-free). That being said, the frosting recipe from Magnolia Bakery can be made lactose-free by using cold vegan margarine instead of butter. I also used all-purpose flour instead of self-rising flour and made the adjustments necessary, which I posted below.

For the cupcakes
2 ½ cups + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, or cold vegan margarine
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup lactose-free milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line 2 muffin tins with 24 cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, or cold vegan margarine
6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
½ cup lactose-free milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled. Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. )

Chai Cupcakes, Two Ways

The Engineer had promised to bring cupcakes to work, but didn’t have a recipe in mind. I saw this as an opportunity to try some recipes on my list, and I started with these two kinds of chai cupcakes from Dessert First. I liked them both, and they were more original than plain chocolate and vanilla. We decided that while both kinds were quite good, the chocolate chai cupcakes with vanilla frosting were the best kind. That being said, they spread out a bit more than the vanilla chai ones and weren’t as neat. We tried our hand at piping for the first time; the disposable bag we had rigged ended up not being compatible with our piping tip, though, so in the end we just piped frosting straight from the bag.

I made a few changes to the recipe, namely because I don’t keep cake flour on hand – but I always have all-purpose flour and cornstarch, so I make do. Also, I recommend using the rest of the chai mixture in the chocolate cupcakes (what is called for is 1 tablespoon, but in theory you should have about 2 ½ teaspoons left; it all worked out well, though). For the chocolate ganache, instead of using cream, I used a whippable soy topping (found in the refrigerated section at the grocery store); the honey meringue buttercream can be made with vegan margarine instead of butter, as long as it’s very cold. The recipes make 12 cupcakes each (or about 30 mini cupcakes); if you pipe the frosting, you may have some leftover. You can choose to make only one kind, of course!

With this recipe, I also started using an ice cream scoop to transfer batter from the bowl to the cupcake tin. It works out perfectly, and keeps the mess to a minimum! I’m now using that trick for all my cupcakes.

Chai Spice Mixture
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom

Combine the spices together in a small bowl.

Vanilla Chai Cupcakes
1 cup + 5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp corn starch
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp chai spice mixture
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, or cold margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg whites
½ cup whole lactose-free milk

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Sift the flour, corn starch, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.

Add in egg and egg whites, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.

Add in the flour mixture and milk in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.

Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with batter. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean. Mini cupcakes will take about 15 minutes, so check sooner.

Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

Chocolate Chai Cupcakes
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
¾ cup + 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp corn starch
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp (or what’s left) chai spice mixture
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, or margarine
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
½ cup buttermilk (or lactose-free milk with lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Place chocolate in a metal bowl and melt over a pot of simmering water. Set aside.

Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.

Cream the butter and both sugars together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.

Add in the chocolate and mix to combine.

Add in eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.

Add in the flour mixture and buttermilk in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.

Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with batter. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean. Mini cupcakes will take about 15 minutes, so check sooner.

Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

Swiss Meringue Honey Buttercream
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp honey
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces (or cold margarine)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Combine the sugar, honey, and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 °F. (You can dispense with this is the egg whites had been pasteurized.)

Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.

Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add the butter too quickly or beat too quickly or the buttercream may break.

When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. It may appear to separate briefly but continue beating and it should come back together.

Add in the vanilla extract and beat to combine.

The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

Whipped Chocolate Cinnamon Ganache
4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (or substitute, as long as it can be whipped)
½ tsp cinnamon

Place chocolate into a medium heatproof bowl.

Combine cream and cinnamon in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat just until it comes to a simmer. Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for a minute before stirring to combine. Stir until chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth. (If you are using the whippable soy topping, then skip this step, because you’d alter the consistency and ruin the final product; just melt the chocolate separately and add the cinnamon to that, and slowly pour it into the soy mixture as you’re whipping.)

Pour into a container and chill in refrigerator for an hour until it is firm. (I didn’t do this and just used the frosting right away.)

Place ganache in a stand mixer and whip with whisk attachment until it is light and fluffy. Do not overwhip or it will become dry and crumbly, just like overwhipped cream.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. It takes a little while to make, because the broth needs to reduce and be absorbed by the barley, but it is simple to make and well worth it. It’s also quite a versatile recipe, as many of the ingredients can be substituted for others or omitted entirely. I used leftover arugula and spinach instead of escarole and didn’t bother with the wine. The blogger from Smitten Kitchen explained it in more detail, so I’ll reproduce her foreword (in italics). The Engineer and I both loved this recipe, as it’s hearty, healthy and delicious. This makes about 4 servings.

Be sure to use a low or no sodium broth; as the broth reduces and concentrates in flavor, a regular broth will yield a too-salty dish. I’ve learned the hard way many times! Only have a full salt broth or bouillon around? Swap some of the volume with water. And do play around with this dish — try different broths, such as beef or mushroom. Skip the beans, swap a cooked vegetable. Use your favorite greens and adjust the cooking time accordingly. Add a clove of garlic, use shallots or leeks instead of onion. Use romano instead of parmesan, dollop in some crème fraîche at the end; use red wine or skip the wine. I know it can sometimes be overwhelming to have too many options but the possibilities here are really endless, and a little extra tinkering could make a staple out of this dish for you.

5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
¼ tsp thyme
½ cup white wine (optional)
1 cup pearled barley
1 cup beans, canned or precooked, rinsed
3 cups chopped escarole or spinach
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (or margarine)
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and thyme and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine if using and cook, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock ½ cup at a time in six additions — you’ll have a cup of stock left in the pot — stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions. Most barley risottos are done when the barley is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 35 minutes; however, you can make this one a little “soupier”, adding another half to one cup of stock. (This gives the beans something to drink up, and you have a margin of error if your grains continue to absorb the stock once you think they are done.)

Stir it in until the risotto is on the loose side, then add the beans and let them cook for a minute. Add the escarole and let it wilt and then cook for an additional minute. Stir in the ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve at once, passing more cheese at the table.