Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Road Maps


I was cleaning out a cabinet today and found a class picture from Lillie's 2 year old play group. She seemed so small, staring at the camera with a short mop of red curls and the then ever present pony tails sticking straight up from both sides of her head. A row back the boy who insisted on wearing his sister's skirt that day. The absurdity of his act preserved for eternity. I glanced back at Lillie and noticed how thin she looked, and pale. Very pale. I never really was concerned with it until the first gastroenterologist we went to for her persistent stomach aches mentioned it. I knew she was pale genetically, but because she wasn't absorbing iron and other nutrients, never occurred to me. I silently kicked myself again for waiting over a year to take her to a specialist. Kicked myself twice since I don't even need a referral. Her pediatrician recommended a few crackers in the morning to settle her stomach and assurances that 50% of all children her age have stomach pains. Celiac wasn't even on my map at the time. Then of course, we took a detour.

We just marked the 2 year anniversary of Lillie's celiac diagnosis. At the time, I needed a new road map for the area we were thrust into. In modern terms, I would say my GPS had to recalculate. She was diagnosed a few days before Passover. My freezer was full of (wheat) matzo meal cakes and kugels. My husband ran out to get her the oh so expensive Oat Matzo ($25 per box), and I scrambled to make her dishes she could eat, while trying to figure out what she could eat exactly. I felt like not only had I been sent on an annoying detour, but my car went off the road into a forest, and I had to find my way out.

By the end of the first day of her diagnosis I had already ordered several cookbooks and general advice books. One of the first books I read on living with celiac disease was "Gluten-Free Girl" by Shauna James Ahern---who writes an eponymous blog. It is a combination guide for celiacs, memoir and cookbook. Given that Ms. Ahern, is a writer and teacher of creative writing, the book was very well written and wildly popular. It was not only informative for those seeking a gluten free lifestyle, it was just a good read, plain and simple, about one woman's journey in health, life and love. Like most Americans suffering from celiac disease, she didn't get diagnosed overnight. It took time, it was a process. A painful process. But she found her way in the gluten-free world, as well as her way into the heart of a great chef who learned about cooking gluten-free. At one point her husband to be even cooked everything in his restaurant gluten-free, in order that Shauna would be able to eat everything there (if that's not love, I don't know what is!).

The culmination of the Aherns experiences together navigating the gluten free foodie world is a second book, Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef. Although this is a cookbook, there are essays in between the recipes that give a glimpse into their lives and love. The photos in the book are lush and the prose even lusher.

Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef is definitely a book for foodies, filled with recipes centered around locally grown/raised, organic, slow food. Recipes include, "gourmetified" classics like smoked-salt caramel ice cream, tuna-noodle casserole with cremini mushrooms and thyme, house cured salmon, and sloppy joes with piment d'Espelette and veal stock. Some of the ingredients may seem daunting, such as kefir lime leaves or white-truffle honey, which, perhaps are readily available to the Aherns in Seattle's bustling Pike Place market, but not at your local supermarket. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone. If you don't have time or desire to make your own gluten-free pasta as the Aherns do, you can certainly sub store bought pasta in their dishes. And when you have the time to do cook something slow, it is worthwhile to try a recipe from this book.

The recipes I selected from the book to present are perfect for the upcoming Passover holiday. They are two of the more simpler recipes, with ingredients that should be fairly easy to come by.

Have a tasty and happy Passover!

Daniel Ahern, "the chef" learned to make this from Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern. I thought it looked similar to Sefardi style charoset. Either way, it can be used for passover, and would make a nice accompaniment to meat or chicken, and would certainly be a great spread for matzoh!

Fig Chutney

from "Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef" by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern, p. 145

3 pints fresh figs
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup ruby red port

Remove the stems from the figs. Quarter them and set them aside.

Set a large saute pan over low heat and pour in the oil. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook until the herb and spices are fragrant in the kitchen.

Add three-quarters of the fresh figs. Pour in the port and stir. Raise the heat to medium and cook the chutney, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until it is reduced and starts to thicken, 15 or 20 minutes; however, do not over stir the chutney, because you want the figs somewhat chunky. Stir in the remaining figs and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.

Chill the chutney in a long, shallow casserole dish, so it can chill evenly; if you put it in a deep container, it will keep warm and continue cooking, and the bottom will be hot and turn sour faster.

Yield: 2 cups

Everyone seems to buy a big horseradish root for the seder plate, then not know what to do with it the next day. You can use it in this dish, which makes a lovely appetizer for the holiday meals. Use mayonnaise instead of sour cream if you are serving it with a meat meal. During the year you can sub-Tofutti sour cream or silken tofu for the non-dairy eaters amongst your guests. If you are serving someone who is both dairy and egg allergic, omit the horseradish cream and make their stacks with tomatoes, salmon, lemon and herbs.

Smoked Salmon and Tomato Napoleon with Horseradish Sour Cream
from "Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef" by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern, p. 177

1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 Tablespoon finely grated fresh horseradish

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

4 large ripe heirloom tomatoes (in season)

8 ounces sliced smoked salmon

In a food processor, combine the sour cream (or mayonnaise), prepared horseradish, grated horseradish, and lemon juice. Puree until smooth and then stir in the chives by hand. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice the tomatoes to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Season with salt.

Start with a slice of tomato. Dollop some horseradish sour cream on top. Nestle a piece of smoked salmon in it. Repeat, going all the way up until you cannot eat any higher.

If you are presenting these on a platter, drizzle the sour cream sauce around the plate.

Yield: 4 servings

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Alice in Cookieland



Before Jacques Torres was wowing the American public with mousse filled chocolate desserts shaped like antique wood-stoves, Alice Medrich set up shop in Berkeley, California. Her goal was to educate the American Palate that there was more to chocolate than the milky bars that came in the ubiquitous brown and white wrapper (although I will take one of those any day still!). Her cookbooks further wooed the hearts of Americans unable to make the trip to her famed store, Cocolat. Alice's creations always contain high quality ingredients, and are also high in creativity, for instance using garam masala in a cookie! I flipped through her latest book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, not expecting to find anything I could make for Lillie and Rosie, but find it I spades.

I experienced the joy of the unexpected discovery, when I found both gluten free, dairy-free and eggless selections (although not all free of everything) in the book, including: Cocoa Nib Wheat-Free Rugelach, Spicy Carrot Masala Macaroons and Wheat-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. I especially liked that she incorporated oat flour into many of her wheat-free selections. I have been trying of late to re-incorporate whole grains into Lillie's diet. Before she went gluten-free, we ate largely whole wheat pasta and breads. Once she went gluten-free the only varieties of gluten-free breads and pastas she found palatable were the white flour ones. This distressed me somewhat, although I wanted to feed her what was appealing since she felt deprived of so much at that point. Alice Medrich's decision to include gluten-free and allergy friendly desserts in her book has given me hope that the culinary world is truly recognizing and accommodating special diets.

With Purim just around the cornier, I have been getting a lot of hits for hamantaschen. As an alternative to last year's recipe, you can also use these butter cookies from Alice Medrich. For a change from jam filling, Ms. Medrich includes a nice chocolate filling recipe for the hamantaschen, or use 1 cup chocolate chips melted with 1 Tbsp. margarine or shortening in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, stirred until smooth (as Lillie and Rosie did in picture above). These are also great for cut-out cookies.

Wheat-Free Butter Cookies
from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, pp. 44-45

1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon white rice flour, preferably superfine
1 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoon. oat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup sugar
2 oz. cream cheese, cut in chunks (Tofutti cream cheese or pureed soft or silken tofu may be substituted)
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted, butter, softened, cut in chunks (or non-hydrogenated, non-dairy margarine such as Earth Balance)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt, and baking soda, and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork. In a large bowl, using the back of a large spoon or an electric mixer, mix the sugar with the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla just until smooth and creamy. Add the flour mixture and mix just until it is incorporated. Do not over mix.

Divide the dough between two sheets of wax paper and form two- 8-inch logs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap them tightly in the wax paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably longer or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Use a sharp knife to cut eh cold dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined or greased baking sheets*. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown at the edges and well browned on the bottom. The tops will remain fairly pale. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through baking time to ensure even baking. For lined pans, set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool; for unlined pans, use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to racks. Cool completely before stacking or storing. May be kept in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks.

*For hamantaschen: At this point, dip the bottom of a glass in gluten free flour or granulated sugar, and flatten cookie dough rounds slightly. Fill with 1/2 tsp. jam, prune lekvar, ganache or date paste. Pinch to form 3 corners and continue as above. May need to bake a extra few minutes. Dough may also be rolled out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters.

Yield: 3 dozen

I made this recipe with gluten-free flour, and it came out fine, except I had to bake it about 10-15 minutes longer than the time called for. I also omitted the nuts due to Rosie's allergies and the vegan caramels b/c I've yet to find vegan caramels--perhaps in Berkeley they are in every supermarket!

Dairy-Free Caramel Rocky Road Squares
from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, pp. 210-11

1 2/3 cups unbleached all purpose gluten free flour blend with xanthan gum*
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon distilled vinegar
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6-oz. dairy-free semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into shards or pieces or use store-bought chunks or chips
1 cup broken or very coarsely chopped walnut or pecan pieces
3 ounces purchased vegan caramels, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
12 marshmallows, quartered

*If using a flour blend without xanthan gum, add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum to the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.

In a small bowl, mix the next four ingredients. Pour the liquid over the flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatulas just until smooth. Add half of the chocolate, half of the walnuts, and all the caramel, and stir to incorporate.

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it evenly. Distribute the marshmallow quarters all over the brownies an poke them into the batter, leaving the tips exposed. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate and nurse around the marshmallows.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (I found I needed to bake about 35-40), or until the batter no longer sways or jiggles when you nudge the side of the pan. Cool on a rack. Lift the edges of the foil to transfer the squares to a cutting board. Slide a slim metal spatula under the cake to release it from the foil. Cut into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

May be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Yield: 16 2 1/4-inch squares