Archive for August, 2010

Fig-Lemon Walnut-Streusel Cake

    The SOS Kitchen Challenge is going on and I am not going to make the cut this month. There has been too much going on and did I mention that Central Texas fruit trees have me swamped in frozen and cooked, pureed fruit? So if you love peppermint you need to check in with Ricki at Diet, Dessert and Dogs  and/or Kim at Affairs of Living for fabulous MINT recipes, mint being the challenge ingredient for August.
    During the next few months I will be looking at ways to create gluten-free recipes using mostly staples found on the shelves at The Caring Place food pantry. The organization is in the process of stepping up to the next level in service and has formed a focus group to look at useful options. I will be looking at making gluten-free easier for people who do not have the luxury of time to experiment.
    So right now I am finishing up a few experiments that have been rattling around in my head. This afternoon it was using puree I had prepared from fresh figs. Rita was laughing at me as I sniffed the batter and tried to decide what flavor options to emphasize and how to do it. She giggled and accused me of ‘huffing spices’.
    And I was so engrossed I forgot to take pictures along the way. Happily this is not just good cake it is REALLY GOOD. We are planning on having some more of it for breakfast in the morning.

Looks Good, Smells Good, Tastes Good!

Looks Good, Smells Good, Tastes Good!

Fresh Fig Puree:
About 4 cups of fresh figs, cut in halves or quarters depending on size
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons agave syrup (to help draw the natural juice from the figs)
Place the figs, water, and syrup in a 1 quart saucepan that has a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid. Place the pan on the stove and turn the heat on low. Be patient while the heat begins to ‘melt’ the figs and draw out their juice. The lid on my pan was glass so I could watch the steam gather and begin to baste the fruit. The figs should cook until tender but don’t boil them to pieces either. Stir occasionally so all of the pieces are evenly cooked. The flavor is delicate and you want to keep as much as possible.
    Remove the pan from the stove to cool when the fruit is done. When it has cooled somewhat then transfer the mixture into your blender jar. Push the button that says ‘puree’ and watch carefully. You may need to scrape down the sides for an even texture. This should not take more than a minute or so. Small bits of pulp are a good thing. Take a tiny taste – if it is not ‘fruity sweet’ then add a few drops of stevia to help it out. This should give you the amount of puree needed for the cake. A little more or less is OK. If the cake has more moisture then it will just bake a little longer.
Note: this can be stored in the refrigerator for several days before putting into the cake.

Wet Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups fig puree (about)
1/2 cup agave syrup
1 teaspoon ground chia seed
1/2 teaspoon fruit pectin
1/4 cup coconut oil (your choice of liquid cooking oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil (found with essential oils and not with extracts)

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups quinoa flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 tablespoons coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Walnut-Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup quinoa flour
3 small packets Truvia sweetener
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup margarine (Earth Balance)(coconut oil probably OK)
3/4 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts (or your favorite nuts)
2 tablespoons agave syrup

    1. Pour the fig puree into a bowl. Sprinkle the chia seed across the surface and stir in quickly so it doesn’t have a chance to clump. Do the same with the pectin. Stir in the coconut oil, vanilla, and lemon oil and set the mixture aside.
    2. Sift the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl, stir with a whisk, and set aside.
    3. Prepare the streusel topping by mixing the flour, Truvia granules, and spices together. Cut in the margarine (or cold coconut butter) with a pastry blender. Add the chopped nuts. Lightly stir in the syrup with a fork. Then set this aside.
    4. Turn the oven on to 350*F. Lightly oil or spray 2 9” square pans and set aside.

    Stir the fig mixture quickly into the flour mixture. Divide the batter into the prepared pans and spread out evenly to the corners. Then carefully sprinkle the streusel mixture on top and press gently into the surface of the batter.

Remembering All of the Alterations

Remembering All of the Alterations

    Bake for about 25 minutes. If it still seems a little too moist then turn off the oven and let it remain for 2-3 more minutes in the residual heat.

Some thoughts about this recipe:
Most of the ingredients are nutritional superstars. This treat can be dessert or a meal. The flour ingredients are exactly the same as the Rhubarb-Date Pecan-Crumble recipe. The changes were the base puree and the spices and flavoring. I plan to experiment with different fruits and even mixing fruit and veggie, for instance banana or white squash with lemon and encourage others to play with it also. The ingredients that give this cake texture and post-baking stability are 1) chia seed stands in for an egg and 2) the fruit pectin combines with the acid in the fruit and the sugar in the agave to form the gel that produces jams and jellies.

Gretchen (Mom) and Rita

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Italian Orange and Almond Cake

    Sometimes it’s just destiny – a recipe appears on your radar from several directions in a very short time. It was a very unusual recipe. Simple ingredients, all of them already in the house, a very traditional recipe it seems, there was no flour in it, never had been, and first, you boil oranges – intriguing! It immediately went on the make-it-soon list.
    Fresh fruit is about to overwhelm me. When a season hits here, it hits hard enough to overwhelm. You can’t just pass up those bargains at the grocery – blueberries for 88 cents a carton? Between the strawberries, blueberries, and figs I was already making and freezing fruit puree so why not oranges? Except that I would use those oranges to bake this cake.
    Just to make sure I wasn’t heading up a blind alley I did an internet search on the ingredients and came up with several variations on the same basic recipe. Here is the way it worked out and even as I write about it my taste testers are confirming that it is a winner.
    One very curious note though. Does anyone remember a couple of years ago when Starbuck’s introduced their gluten-free orange cupcake nationwide? And then within months it disappeared never to be mentioned again? This cake tastes something like that, cake with a definite orange tang, only WAY better.

Italian Orange and Almond Cake
Ingredients:
2 oranges (about 12 ounces – oranges vary greatly in size)
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar (I used Lakanto, sugarless & no-cal, no-carb)
3 cups ground almonds (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 tsp baking powder

Oil, spray and/or parchment to keep things from sticking

Prepare the oranges:
   This process takes several hours so I ended up doing it two days before putting together the cake. Wash the oranges really well. Place them in a pot and add enough water to cover them (but they will then float). Bring the water to a boil, turn it down to a gentle simmer, put a lid on the pot, and set the timer for two hours. One of my oranges split but the other one did not.
   After two hours drain the water off the oranges and set the pot with the oranges aside to cool. When they are cool enough to handle cut the peeling off across the top and bottom. Cut the oranges into about eight sections and remove any seeds. Also remove the white string down the center. The oranges are really mushy. Toss all of the orange pieces into the jar of your blender. Process briefly on ‘puree’ – it becomes smooth very quickly. The puree is now complete so either begin the cake or store the puree, covered, in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

Prepare the cake:
   Set the eggs (and puree) on the counter to lose the refrigerator chill. If the almond meal has been frozen to keep it fresh (a really good idea) then set it out as well – it is horribly clumpy when frozen but un-clumps very nicely when defrosted. Choose your sweetener. You need the equivalent sweetness of one cup of sugar.
   Measure the almond meal into a prep bowl, whisk in the baking powder, and set aside. Separate the eggs and place the yolks in the larger bowl where you will mix the batter while the whites go into a smaller bowl.
   Prepare your pan(s). This recipe fits an 8” or 9” springform pan. I used the batter to fill a variety of smaller pans and silicone cupcake forms. Even with non-stick pans and oil spray some cake parts stuck. Next time I will also use parchment paper. The cupcake forms actually did the best. However, wait until the cake(s) have completely cooled before trying to pull them out. This is not a quick, in-a-hurry recipe. Set your oven to 350*F.
   Beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until the yolks turn a slightly lighter shade of yellow. I added 6 drops of liquid stevia just to be sure that by using the no-cal stuff the cake would still come across sweet enough. Add the orange puree and continue beating. Add in the almond meal mixture and beat until completely incorporated. You may need a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
   Rinse off the beaters and use the mixer to whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the whites to the almond batter and combine gently but completely – no stray bits of egg white!
   I used a large (50 ml) ice cream scoop to measure batter into the cupcake forms. A ripple-edged tart pan received about 1 1/2 inches of batter. And a 5 inch springform pan held the remainder.
The cupcakes and tart pan were both done in 30 minutes. The spring form pan held a thicker layer of batter so it baked for 45 minutes total. The cakes should be toasty brown on top.
   This cake is very moist and tasty. It does not require embellishment. However, these were several nice serving suggestions from various sources.
1) Sprinkle with powdered sugar
2) Brush with honey or syrup and garnish with toasted, sliced almonds
3) Top with plain whipped cream and garnish with dark chocolate shavings
4) Add poppy seeds to the batter; then serve with sour cream

Only a Few Cupcakes Remain

Only a Few Cupcakes Remain

    You would think that with Don being such an avid fan of Italian food that I would have come across this recipe long ago. Now I’m wondering how it would translate for my egg-allergic friends.

    When I stopped by The Caring Place and shared some of the cupcakes we had a discussion about how much the Lakanto costs. It certainly is a superior no-cal sweetener for baking but it works out to somewhere around $20 a pound including shipping charges.  And although it is a staple at our house I rationalize the expense by using it sparingly throughout the year. Treats are treats and not our daily bread. Instead I feed my notorious sweet tooth with a variety of densely nutritious carbohydrate foods to keep it under control.

Gretchen (Mom)

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Rita’s New Slow Cooker

    Rita spent the night and we used a Chebe Cinnamon Roll Mix as crust for the apple torte we baked before going to bed. I think Rita is trying to bring Mom into the current century as far as kitchen gadgets;-) We used her Cuisinart Prep 11 Plus ® Food Processor from Cooking.com to shred the apples for our torte. She remembers shredding cheese with my grandmother’s favorite shredder, a vintage Griscer food grinder replete with hand crank and clamp and I guess she didn’t want to revisit that experience. Of course I still love the Griscer being so ‘hands on’ but I no longer have a table or counter that will accommodate the clamp.
    We used half a batch of Chebe dough rolled thin and pressed into a 9 inch glass pie plate. We filled it with three prepped, shredded apples mixed with a handful of raisins, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and sweetened with 1/3 cup of Lakanto  and about 1 tablespoon of agave syrup. It baked at 400*F for about 45 minutes. We did not add a thickener to the fruit and I was afraid the juice would make for a really wet pie. But it came out just right. It wasn’t too sweet and we enjoyed quite a bit of it for breakfast. For next time I would go ahead and remove about half of the apple peelings. We washed them and cut out the core but left the peel. Sometimes less is more.
    The next morning Rita wanted to introduce me to her slow cooker. I still have the original (of course), 2.5 quart, red Rival Crock-Pot® with the funky feet and no-way does the ceramic part remove for washing. And it still works great! You might possibly find one like it on eBay. Some have said the low setting is too low and isn’t safe for cooking. They may have a different brand because this one cooks like a champ. Beans are sooo good cooked all day on low heat.
    Anyway, her cooker is a GE digital, programmable, cool touch, 6-quart model available on Amazon. It has a retractable cord, a glass lid with a soft seal edge and a steam vent and the entire appliance is not that heavy whereas the 6-quart stone-crock that we own I can barely manage to clean never mind pick it up fully loaded. The weight factor is a BIG plus with me. This one cleaned up very quickly in the sink with no strain at all. I prefer not to put extra-large items in the dishwasher. Rita and I feel very strongly that there was a focus group consisting of knowledgeable cooks that put together the requirements for this design. We can’t think of another feature that would make it better and believe that it is definitely worth the price. 

It's a Great Slow Cooker

It's a Great Slow Cooker

Together she and I put together a full cooker of spicy meatballs and tomato sauce – all gluten-free of course. The binder was a challenge because the two of us had wiped out most of a loaf of Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread. The few remaining slices plus a couple of my homemade flax meal biscuits plus a teaspoon of ground chia seed soaked in milk became the binder. This bread-binder approach makes a lighter textured meatball than using eggs to hold it together. We pounded fresh garlic in my mortar and pestle (there I go with that ‘hands on’ stuff again), added sea salt and plenty of green herbs (basil, oregano, sage), then mixed it in with the bread paste, and added it all to the ground meat. Rita used a large scoop to form the meatballs and put them into two baking dishes to pre-cook in the oven.
    I did clean-up while she blended our two jars of Classico Tomato and Basil Sauce with additional herb seasonings in the cooker. After adding the meatballs to the sauce the slow cooker was programmed to cook on low for three hours and then we adjourned to the living room to read the paper and relax.
    She and I had Tinkyada Fettuccini for our pasta while Don had his usual gluten brand. I don’t eat a lot of pasta even now that it is available to me. I used pasta sauce over vegetables for so many years that I am accustomed to having it that way.
    Rita and I had a weekend full of tasty, traditional food and all of it gluten-free! Plus I had fun spending time with my daughter and playing with more up-to-date kitchen gadgets. Don enjoyed our food and the break that he had from cooking. Plus we have two more days of dinner to enjoy and Rita took some with her. 

Gretchen (Mom) and Rita 

Disclaimer: No one pays us to talk about their products or sends us anything free. We are trying to stay healthy and hope to encourage anyone else who is on this gluten-free journey.

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Gluten-Free at the Eiffel Tower

    Jorge and Rick really know how to ‘see’ the Eiffel Tower. Skip the hours-long-wait-in-humidity/heat for tickets followed by the hours-long-wait-in- humidity/heat for the elevator up to a viewing platform. Instead: make a lunch reservation at the Jules Verne Restaurant at the very top – even higher up than the observation platform. True, lunch is pricier here than McDonald’s (think four-star restaurant) but this is a certifiable deal. According to Rick you need to make reservations weeks, if not months, in advance.
    You arrive for your designated sitting time and wait in the cool lower level for your trip up in the 12-person-only elevator. This is a gourmet experience featuring the freshest produce prepared by culinary artists. We were at table for three hours savoring our way through the courses. They do not have a gluten free menu but the waiter consulted with the chefs regarding ingredients to edit my selections from the regular menu and the result was more than satisfactory – it was amazing.
    The only meal I have ever had that was more impressive was one that Rick had served on Mother’s Day at the house in Austin.
    Dinner for me that night was four ounces of cherries from the market across the street from our hotel and a handful of cashews. Even in Paris you can only eat so much.

Eiffel Tower Lunch - Jules Verne Restaurant

Eiffel Tower Lunch - Jules Verne Restaurant

 Left to right: Rick, Gretchen (Mom), Don, Jorge

                                             My Lunch Choices

Appetizer – before you order, this arrives compliments of the Chef:
    Minced fresh vegetables, ricotta, tomato, and herbs – layered and served in a shot glass
       This was a spicy little concoction reminiscent of gazpacho. Our waiter assured me it was OK.
Starter – a term I’ve not often encountered in the United States:
    Asparagus, two sauces, hard-boiled egg, orange rind, and caviar garnish
      Two huge spears of tender fresh asparagus, creamy hollandaise sauce plus a spicier sauce, at separate ends of the asparagus, a bit of minced egg, teensy little curls of orange rind, plus a teaspoon of the caviar. The caviar was a leap of faith. I love almost every kind of seafood but stay away from anything fishy and raw including oysters, sushi, and caviar; still not a fan but it was OK.
Mainaka Entree:
     Roast duck with a tasty brown sauce, tiny sweet peas & broad beans, endive with vinaigrette sauce
       The duck was lean and savory and the vegetables were fresh and bursting with flavor. Broad beans are also known as fava beans which I usually think of as large white beans similar to mature lima beans. These were the same size as the sweet peas, pale green contrasting with the intense green of the sweet peas, and I ate every bite.
Dessert – gluten-free, off-menu but if it was on the menu I would have picked it:
     Fresh raspberries, two varieties of strawberries, Sauvignon blanc sorbet with a side of citrus flavor marshmallows. 
       The fruit tasted like there was somehow a garden in back of the kitchen it was so juicy, sweet, and fresh. The tiny variety of strawberries, also known as wild strawberries, are about 1/4 inch in size and each has as much flavor packed into it as a handful of the larger berries. Fresh marshmallows! There were a bowl of them and I shared them. Have you ever tasted a freshly made marshmallow? As a card-carrying lifetime fan of all things marshmallow it was incredibly different and the experience of a lifetime. I promised myself to never attempt to make these otherwise I would soon begin to look like a walking marshmallow.

Every restaurant had salads and each restaurant had a different style in presentation and selection of ingredients. My survival strategy for the entire three week trip was to eat lightly as I usually do and to choose simple meals. That worked for the most part.

Gretchen (Mom)

View of Seine River and Bateux Parisiens

View of Seine River and Bateux Parisiens

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