Friday, December 31, 2010

GF Makeover: Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

It wasn't all that long ago that I fell in love with the perfect chocolate cake which I made more times than I can count last summer. It goes with ice cream and whipped cream and fresh berries and makes a delightful bit of breakfast if the truth be told. This was one I was really sad to think of going without once I got my gf sentence. I know there are all kind of flourless death-by-chocolate cakes but those tend to be way too intense for me. I loved this cake for being simultaneously light and dense and for its slightly chewy texture.

This is the first time I've been really happy with a gf makeover of an "old" recipe. Sometimes the recipes written specifically to be gf have been fine but I wanted to take something I loved before and see how it would fare without gluten and it turns out this was a great test subject.

I've already learned that to replicate the qualities of gluten you need to blend grain flours and starches or baked goods will be heavy, dense, and weird. GF baking books are full of complicated formulas and recipes for various flour blends and right now I am trying out as many possibilities as I can. I have already decided that even thought we love, love, love Bob's Red Mill, their all purpose gf flour is too beany and leaves a weird taste in almost everything. I have heard good things about Pamela's baking flours but they are really spendy. My friend Anhata made me some delicious holiday cookies using the all purpose flour mix from Gluten Free Cooking School and I loved the whisper of corn from the masa harina in the blend. But it wasn't what I wanted in a chocolate cake so I reached for the flour blend than is increasingly becoming my favorite: Gluten Free Mama's Almond Flour Blend. This stuff looks and feels like "real" flour and has no weird aroma or aftertaste. I have had good luck using it in muffins and quick breads and we were able to switch it out 1:1 in my son's chocolate chip cookie recipe (along with 1/2 t xanthan gum) and there was much rejoicing in our home. Just make sure to whisk all your dry ingredients together really well before adding to the wet as it does tend to get a little lumpy.

For this cake, I used the same amount of gf flour as regular flour in the original recipe plus 1 t xanthan gum which helps hold it all together. The only noticeable difference was the gf version took longer to cook (maybe 10 minutes past the original recipe) but has that same rich chocolate flavor and slightly chewy texture.
Definitely a gluten-free success! I've rewritten the recipe and I hope you'll give it a try. If you use a different flour blend, let me know what worked for you.

I've been buying my Gluten Free Mama's Almond Flour Blend through Azure Standard but they have it at as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Meal Plan Monday

Here's another week of meals. My kids will be gone for two nights which means we might take advantage of some of Portland's dining options and take a break from the kitchen.

We have dear guests coming one night and New Years Eve and Day this week so there will be sparking drinks, delicious ice cream, and a couple of new year traditions: Hoppin' John has a long history in the South and Golden Fruitcake is our family's new year tradition. Here's to a happy, healthy 2011!

December 26-January 1

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Meal Plans

I'm guessing you all have heard about The Economy, right? So you know what I'm talking about when I say hard times have come to our home. It's not the end of the world and I know things will turn around soon but meanwhile we've been needing to cut way back on spending and with food being a big budget item, it's definitely an area where we can trim some fat.

Also, since I've started this whole gluten free thing the days of easy, on-the-go snacks are over. I really need to think about what I'm going to eat and when and what I need to pack to get through a busy day out.

These two factors have combined to nudge me in the direction of a habit I really should have developed years ago. I am finally starting to make weekly meal plans with corresponding shopping lists. It is hard for me to sit and focus on a week's worth of meals but it sure makes a difference in how much time and money I spend at the grocery store.

It took me a while to come up with a system that works for me. I don't do well with paper and I am forever losing lists. I need to be able to see my meal plan on my computer, allowing me to link to recipes. I use an online shopping list which syncs with my phone and I have my meal plans bookmarked on my phone's browser. You'd think someone would have figured out how to put this all together but I haven't found anything but my cobbled together system works for me.

I am guessing that those who are naturally better organized are able to keep meals and ingredients in their heads but I need all the help I can get so I'm not running to the store over and over again.

I've been at it pretty consistently for quite a few weeks now and it seems to be working. I am going to try and have my meal plan ready to share here every week. Ideally I would love to see what others are cooking because that's the fun part, isn't it?

This week's meals

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On the Go

One thing I am learning about gluten, the very substance I am supposed to avoid, is that it's in everything easy. Seriously. When you're out and about and you need a quick bite, what do you reach for? A sandwich? A bagel? A slice of pizza? A roll and a slice of turkey? Right now it seems like everything quick and tasty involves gluten.

And so....more planning--a thing which I already fail to do well but perhaps with more practice? I can dream, no? Anyway, I have always been quite lackadaisical about our frequent running around days, figuring I can always munch on a scone, right? Wrong. And so I need to be prepared. Prepared with healthy, tasty, satisfying food I can pack with me and eat on the run. Some things that work: Lara bars, nuts, hard boiled eggs, Nut Thins with cheese, and recently discovered quinoa-fruit bars.

They aren't very pretty, I know. But they are satisfying, nutritious, and just sweet enough. They are sturdy but not nearly as tough as they look and I have found a ziplock bag of them to be just the thing to ward of hunger-induced panic attacks.

I found the recipe in Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood which is a fantastic book full of great ideas for making the most of this amazing little seed. I find quinoa really tasty but I haven't really done much with it past my favorite quinoa dish. This book has page after page of fantastic-looking recipes, most of which are gluten free. Oddly enough, this recipe wasn't written gluten free but I've made them so using first Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour and Gluten Free Mama's Almond Flour Blend. I found the latter flour a bit lighter and tastier but the first wasn't bad at all.

If you'd like to give these a try, my recipe is here. Let me know what you think.

I'm back...and I'm Gluten Free!

Way, way back when I started this little food blog I had hoped that, along with sharing tasty recipes with my readers, the blog-making would help me get re-inspired in the kitchen. Well, isn't it funny how things come around again? Here I am, four years later, re-examining my diet and looking at my food with new eyes as I just received test results indicating strong gluten sensitivity.

While I swore I'd never go this route, there's been some crazy health stuff going on in my body. I won't bore you with the details but the short version is that my Grave's disease just hasn't been getting better. While I've always been horrified at the thought of a gluten free diet, that horror pales in comparison to things like thyroid surgery and/or radiation so I'm going to give this a try. And I'm hoping you'll come along for the ride with me!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seattle Eats, part 1

Lola seattleImage by conjunction3 via Flickr

We just got back from an anniversary trip to Seattle. Because the kids were elsewhere we had the unusually delightful pleasure of being able to eat whatever we wanted. If you've been cooking for picky kids for over a decade then you understand just how remarkable this is.

We decided that, given our relatively limited funds for this adventure, we'd rather spend less on fancy lodgings and more on good food and that was a brilliant decision! We stayed in a little studio apartment in an old building right downtown. I was a little hesitant to rent it sight unseen but when Google maps showed its location to be directly across the street from the Dahlia Bakery, out came my debit card and a reservation was made!

What I didn't realize until we arrived was that our budget studio was located right in the middle of chef Tom Douglas' Seattle dining empire. We stayed two doors down from Lola, across the street from The Dahlia Lounge, around the corner from Serious Pie and a block away from Palace Kitchen. We'd planned to have a fancy dinner at one of these well-reviewed restaurants but when we arrived in Seattle, ravenous after a 3+ hour train ride and with time to kill before we could check in to our rental apartment, we decided it was a perfect time to try Lola.

This was probably the best of many good meals on this trip. It may have been due to our hunger after the long train ride or the playing hooky feeling of ditching the kids and skipping town or maybe just plain fantastic food--whatever, this was a meal to remember. Lola's menu is Greek inspired but features fine local ingredients. We started with freshly baked pita served with skordalia, a delicious potato garlic spread. I had amazing grilled salmon kebabs served with more pita, a lovely, tangy tzatziki and amazing "smashed" potatoes which were like no potato I'd ever eaten: golden and crunchy outside with creamy insides. Unbelievable. We were unnecessarily tempted by dessert and probably and ended up overstuffed and not nearly as delighted as we'd been by the meal itself but overall it was fantastic.

We spent the afternoon and evening wandering and, remarkably, ended up hungry again after hiking up to Capitol Hill hours later. There are plenty of restaurants along Broadway but none really caught our eye until we came to Galerias Gourmet Mexican Restaurant. A quick scan of their menu showed that this is definitely not your average burrito bomb Mexican place but a place that had a variety of interesting looking, unusual dishes. We stepped inside to some truly fabulous, over the top decor: bright colors everywhere, huge paintings of intense Biblically inspired scenes, and the tallest fake flower arrangement I've ever seen. We were seated in the shadow of the awe-inspiring monster bouquet but quickly forgot it once our food came. The trio of salsas which came as a starter was delicious. Each was distinctive, well balanced, and clearly made with care. The giant, tasty margarita was quite good and a definite bargain. My entree was poblano chiles stuffed with cheese and grilled veggies and wrapped in a light, buttery pastry which was an vast improvement over the usual soggy, eggy batter found clinging to chiles rellenos.

I thought I'd be able to write a quick post on our Seattle food adventures but I'm realizing this is way too much for one post...I'll break it up into manageable portions--stay tuned!
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake I've Ever Made

Cover of "How to Be a Domestic Goddess: B...Cover via Amazon

How's that for a title?

But it's true.

Last week I made the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess. This recipe is found in an entire chapter of chocolate cakes but somehow I'd never gotten around to trying this one out. Too plain, maybe. But plain and simple was what I was looking for when I was trying to put together a festive meal to welcome my kids home from two soggy days in the woods last week. Our menu included buttermilk chicken and baby potatoes cooked on the grill, herbed focaccia, and a couple of salads which should have been enough for anyone but a dessert was definitely called for.

This cake fit the bill: simple, easy, and no running to the store for ingredients. I mixed up the cake and wondered how the liquidy batter could possibly transform itself into cake. Plus, only 4 measly ounces of chocolate? I did not have high hopes.

I was totally surprised by just how good this cake was. It doesn't look like much with it's sagging, cracked top--it's all about taste. I think it's the dark brown sugar that gives it the deep flavor. It tastes rich and complex but without the intensity or fuss of the "death by chocolate" genre of cakes. Which, for better or worse, means it's far too easy to have a second (or third) piece. I made the cake again later in the week just to make sure it really was a winner and I am happy to report that the first time was not a fluke.

The only change I made was the addition of a bit of salt because as far as I'm concerned all sweets taste better with a touch of salt.

The recipe is here. Go make it NOW!
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

In which Melisa finally talks food again

It's been so long since I've had anything great to share here. The days are flying by. We are, of course, still eating but what we're eating hasn't been all that memorable and time to write and photograph has been exceedingly scarce.

This holiday weekend, however, my lovely have been taken (by their lovely grandparents) to a hiking lodge in the gorge. I don't want to think about what they're eating but we are eating quite well. As soon as they left yesterday morning we headed out to the Flavour Spot waffle cart where I thoroughly enjoyed a tasty waffle wrapped, burrito style, around a creamy maple filling and topped generously with crunch toasted pecans. That kept me going nearly all day until a dinner at Por Que No made even tastier by the rum-laced mango agua fresca. We then headed out for hours of dancing and returned home ravenous. I don't know why I don't pack the car with snacks on the nights we go dancing as we are always starving when we leave but luckily I had a few of my father's heavenly sourdough biscuits tucked away and they hit the spot toasted and topped with Tillamook cheddar.

We had a very late Cuban style breakfast at Pambiche* complete with a basket of delicious pastries and cafe cubano. Their breakfast plates are full of nice little sides like friend plantain, tropical fruit salad, and other goodies so they are a bargain as you won't need lunch. What you will need is a walk and during ours we pretty much talked

I just borrowed Tessa Kiros' lovely Falling Cloudberries from the library for the second time. Nothing will pull you out of a cooking rut faster than one of her books. They are filled with gorgeous photos, family stories, and delicious recipes that are neither the usual humdrum fare nor terribly unfamiliar. The photos are spectacular enough that I would almost consider violating my admittedly lax standards of kashrut to try a bit of calamari. But not to worry, there are plenty of other dishes that I can happily eat either as written or with only slight modification.

After this morning's picadillo, a simple vegetarian meal sounded perfect. I've always wanted to try to make a pan-fried halloumi at home so that was a given and the chickpea salad with feta and cilantro sounded like a good match. What surprised me was just how nicely the cilantro went with the chickpeas. Onion and garlic-scented olive oil makes a simple, tasty dressing. I added the zast of the lemon I'd juiced but it occured to me later that some of the preserved lemons I have, finely chopped, might be a nice way to incorporate the lemon flavor. I took more than my fair share of "tastes" before getting this dish to the table and I think this will be a frequent dish this summer.

Of course I couldn't quite follow the recipe exactly given what we had on hand so my take on the recipe can be found here.

*click the link for a treat!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Recent Breakfast

Crepes filled with fruit and cream--so simple and so good. The crepes were made with eggs from my friend's chickens, we picked and froze the berries last summer, and the piima cream was cultured on my son's dresser above my kitchen.

I recently did a kitchen purge and got rid of my two nonstick skillets. The coating on the 12" Farberware one had started to peel, no doubt putting plastic bits into our bodies, so I wasn't sad to see it go. My lovely little blue Chantal skillet, on the other hand, still looked fine and was the best crepe pan ever. Once it left my kitchen I was a bit reluctant to make crepes but I found that Mark Bittman's recipe cooked up perfectly in an 8" stainless steel skillet.

It's true that crepes don't exactly make a quick and easy breakfast but they're absolutely worth the work, especially if you can share the cooking duties. And leftover better can be refrigerated for a quick snack later on.
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

How to Feed a Spring Cold

Actually, I think I picked up a nice case of the flu on my spring break. My head was fuzzy my sense of taste blunted for days. Nothing sounded good until I remembered the bag of Meyer lemons I'd brought back from California. I know it's not exactly sickbed food but I couldn't think of anything a appealing as Meyer lemon sorbet. I think I greedily gobbled down an entire quart in one otherwise miserable evening.

Fast forward a week. I've made Meyer lemon sorbet, Moroccan preserved lemons, and I marinated our Passover chicken in lemon juice before drizzling with honey and roasting to perfection. Even after sharing a few of my precious stash I have a few more lovelies in the bowl.

I don't know why but in the middle of our return to winter (dark, rainy skies and chilly air) I needed another batch of that sorbet. But this time I topped it with some rhubarb that had been stewed with a bit of sugar and a vanilla bean and then chilled overnight. This was nothing sort of heaven! Meyer lemon and rhubarb are made for each other, a perfectly puckery pair!

I used the sorbet recipe from Simply Recipes (doubled!) and then made stewed rhubarb in the usual way. What? You haven't made stewed rhubarb? OK--fine, then. Take a couple of pounds of rhubarb stalks, wash them, and cut into 1" chunks. Throw your chunks in a pot with some water and and sugar, maybe half a cup of each. A slit vanilla bean is a nice addition, too. Simmer gently until the rhubarb breaks down and then taste. Adjust for sweetness. Cool before serving over Meyer lemon sorbet (but serve warm over waffles and pancakes).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Savory Cheese Custard

This is one of my favorite standbys when I realize a meal is low on protein and we have nothing but cheese and eggs on hand. These savory custards from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone are quick, tasty, nutritious and well received, even by pesky children. You could make the custard in one large baking dish (cook it longer

You could certainly play around with different cheeses and seasonings but we are always pretty happy with a simple blend of Tillamook cheddar and Parmesan. I like these served with roasted potatoes and a simple vegetable on the side.

You'll find the printable recipe here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not Food

Taking a break from my regular yammering about food because, well, this hardly seems the time, does it?

Stand With Haiti