Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Even though it's not fall here in Swaziland, I have been in a pumpkin and squash sort of mood lately. And in a pancake mood, too. So you can see where this is going. I based the recipe for these on one I found on the Gluten-Free Mommy's website and tweaked it a little bit. The results were fantastic - a moist and very flavorful pancake that tasted as delicious with a mere sprinkle of cinnamon sugar as they did with maple syrup drizzled on top. I caramelized some pecans and sprinkled them onto one of the pancakes as well, which was also heavenly. These are very easy to throw together, and if you're in the mood for a pancake that will taste like pumpkin bread, this is for you.  

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. oil
1 cup soy milk (or other nondairy milk, or water)
1 egg
7 heaping tbsp. pumpkin puree

Place all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, and soy milk and pour into the dry mixture. Add the pumpkin puree and stir to mix. It is ok if there are a few lumps in the batter. Heat a skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray or melted butter. Drop about 1/4 cup of pancake batter onto the skillet for each pancake. When bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes, flip them over and continue to cook for another 3 - 5 minutes. These are very moist and may need a little more time than normal pancakes to cook all the way through. When they are done, remove from pan and serve immediately. Top with cinnamon sugar, pumpkin pie spiced sugar, caramelized pecans, whipped topping, or maple syrup. Delicious!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Homemade Tacos

I have had a pesky hankering for Mexican food for the last several weeks, and what I have been craving most of all recently is a good taco. I am lacking the ingredient necessary to make some good corn tortillas or corn chips (namely, Pan Masa Harina, a specially treated cornmeal), but I did find a recipe for flour tortillas that I adapted slightly to the ingredients I had available to me. The next challenge was finding a recipe that would replicate the flavor of a taco seasoning mix - and this one went above and beyond in that regard. It was full of flavor and tasted just like the meat seasoned with a store-bought packet of spices. Serve with all the usual taco fixings, including salsa, sour cream and cheese (if you can have them), guacamole or plain avocado with some salt and pepper added, and chopped lettuce. Another delicious tip is to spray a nonstick pan with olive oil, sprinkle some garlic powder and black pepper onto the pan, and then fry the tortilla until it is puffy, flipping over once and adding more garlic powder and black pepper to the other side - it adds an extra burst of flavor into your meal.
Homemade Taco Meat

1 lb. lean ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken)
3 green onions, chopped finely
2.5 tsp. onion flakes
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 cup hot water

Place the ground beef and green onions into a skillet and cook until the ground meat is browned. Stir frequently and break the meat into very small pieces. When the meat has been cooked, drain any excess grease and return to the pan. Add the onion flakes, chili powder, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt, and ground pepper and stir to mix. Add 3/4 cup hot water and stir to mix, and return to medium heat. Let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so, and then remove the lid and continue to simmer until the water has been absorbed. Serve with fresh homemade salsa, fresh avocados (with salt and pepper added), lettuce or spinach, sour cream and cheese (if you can have them), all stuffed into a delicious gluten-free homemade flour tortilla.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Homemade Gluten Free Flour Tortillas

 3/4 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan/garbanzo bean)
1 cup potato starch flour (arrowroot works also)
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 - 1 cup very hot water

Mix white rice flour, chickpea flour, potato starch flour, tapioca flour, guar gum, xanthan gum, sea salt, and baking powder. Add the olive oil and, using a fork, blend with the flour mixture until it is crumbly.

Add 1/2 cup of very hot water and begin to knead the dough. Continue to add hot water by the tablespoonful until you can knead the mixture into a ball with your hands. Be careful not to add too much water, or your dough will turn into a soggy mess. Once the dough is stiff and you can handle it, form the dough into 10 - 12 balls, and set aside, covering with a damp towel, until the griddle is nice and hot. I do not have a tortilla press, so I made these in a regular old nonstick skillet coated with olive oil spray.

When you are ready to start cooking the tortillas, use a rolling pin to flatten each ball as thin as you can. If you don't mind a dough-fringe on your tortillas, put the rolled-out tortilla directly onto the skillet and cook over medium-high heat until large bubbles form. Flip over and cook for another minute, and then remove from heat. If you prefer a perfectly round tortilla, take a small bowl and use it to cut a circle out of the rolled-out dough before placing in the skillet. Serve immediately or freeze them in plastic bags. Reheat in the microwave or by toasting the tortillas.

**Note: These would double beautifully as naan to be served with an Indian curry.

**Note: To add some extra flavor, sprinkle some garlic powder and ground pepper into the skillet before placing the tortilla dough in it to fry. You'll end up with a lovely shot of flavor. This is especially recommended if you will use these as bread to accompany a curry. You could even try brushing them with olive oil or butter, sprinkling with garlic and baking in a 350 F oven until crisp and golden.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Maple Oat "Brownies" with Maple Drizzle

This isn't really a brownie in the chocolate sense, but it's the closest thing I could compare the texture to. These were an experiment, adapted from a recipe from the Gluten-free Goddess' website for Oatmeal-Quinoa Breakfast Brownies. The idea sounded great to me, but I decided to spruce them up with one of my favorite things in the world - maple. Also, I have not been able to find a lot of my specialty flours here in Swaziland, so I had to make some substitutions there as well. And even though my family sent me some gluten-free oats, I have been using them very sparingly, and so instead of using all oats, I used half rolled oats and buckwheat flakes to conserve my supply. Feel free to use all oats in place of the buckwheat flakes in this recipe. I am notoriously bad at waiting for baked goods to cool before trying them, and so predictably, as soon as these came out of the oven, I cut a small piece, expecting the maple flavor to burst into my mouth. Maybe I set my expectations too high, because I was a little disappointed with the flavor when they were hot from the oven. But let me tell you - once they cooled, these tasted phenomenally good. I didn't add as much sugar as Karina did in her recipe, but I made up for that by drizzling a simple powdered sugar-icing over the brownies to add a bit of extra sweetness. I had to give most of these away because I was in very real danger of eating the entire pan all by myself! '
Maple Oat "Brownies" with Maple Drizzle
¾ cup rice flour
¾ cup sorghum flour
½ cup potato starch
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup buckwheat flakes
¼ cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon xanthan gum 
3/4 teaspoon sea salt 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice 
1 1/2 cups organic light brown sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. maple extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 - 5 tbsp. soy milk
½ cup crushed pecans or the nut of your choice
½ cup chocolate chunks or chips
For the maple drizzle: 1 - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar 2 - 4 tbsp. water
1 - 2 tsp. maple extract 

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine all the dry ingredients (including the brown sugar) in a bowl and mix very well. In another small bowl, combine the eggs, oil, maple syrup, maple extract, and vanilla extract and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix well. At this stage, it will likely appear a little dry and crumbly; add 3 - 5 tbsp. soy milk (or other non-dairy milk) until the mixture is smoother and more consistent. Add the pecans or any other nuts of your choice and the chocolate chunks. Pour the dough into an 11" x 13" greased/sprayed pan, and press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before cutting.  

To make the Maple Drizzle:  

Put the powdered sugar into a bowl and add 1 - 2 tsp. maple extract and 2 tbsp. water to start and mix well. Add water one tablespoonful at a time until you have the consistency you desire. Drizzle onto the brownies only once they have completely cooled. Cut and serve. Store in the refrigerator or freeze, wrapped individually in foil.

To make this vegan,  substitute 1.5 tsp egg replacer + 2 tbsp. warm water for the egg.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Apricot Oatmeal Bars

Ever since my lovely family sent me a care package containing two much-coveted bags of gluten-free oats, I have been going to town with them. Mostly I've been enjoying big bowls of oatmeal with cranberries, almonds, maple syrup and brown sugar; or with apricot slivers with almonds and brown sugar; or just plain brown sugar and cinnamon. But when I came across a random recipe on the internet called "Apricot Oatmeal Bars" and saw how simple the ingredients were, I decided to give them a try. I adjusted the recipe to be gluten-free and to include a few more flavors, and what I ended up with was a completely addictive pan of cookie bars whose flavors of cinnamon, brown sugar, and apricot were perfectly in sync with each other. Next time I might try sprinkling some almond slivers on top, or use some almond meal in the dough; or maybe I'll try the same basic dough recipe with different kinds of jam. Perhaps I'll try a pumpkin spice bar with pumpkin puree on top. But for now, try these - you will love them just as they are!

Apricot Oatmeal Bars

1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup white rice flour
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons cranberry-apple juice
1 scant cup of apricot preserves, preferably “all-fruit”

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, making sure that there are no clumps of sugar or flour. Drizzle the canola oil and juice into the mixture and, using your hands, combine until it is evenly moistened and crumbly. Set aside 1/2 cup of the dry mixture and pat the rest of the mixture firmly into the bottom of an 8x8 pan (coated with cooking spray). Stir the apricot preserves, and if it is too stiff, microwave it for about 15 - 20 seconds to soften it. Spread the jam evenly on top of the dough mixture, and then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup mixture over the top. Bake for about 30 - 40 minutes and then remove from the oven. Let cool completely before cutting so the preserves will set. Store covered in the refrigerator or freeze to enjoy anytime.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thai Red Curry with Chicken, Red Peppers, and Pineapple

There is not much that is more satisfying to me than a bowl of Thai curry with some fluffy white rice on the side. My default bonding activity with my sister for the last few years has been to meet up for Thai food at our favorite place in the Loop area of St. Louis. There are four Thai restaurants within 2 city blocks of each other there, and they are all owned by the same family. The strange part of this scenario is not the number, but the differing levels of quality of these restaurants. The one that my sister and I go to is, in my mind, unquestionably the best. My cousins, however, maintain that the restaurant a block away is superior. In any case, during the summers, when my cousins are all around, back from school or from out of town for the summer, inordinate amounts of Thai food is a given. Sometimes more than once a week, we head over to Thai Café and tell stories and laugh (often hysterically) with each other as we spoon curry onto beds of rice. And as adventurous as we all may be outside of that restaurant, our orders hardly ever change. Unfailingly, I order panaang curry with chicken, my sister gets yellow curry with only chicken and potatoes, and my cousins ask for the masman curry. And it is delicious every time.
The day eventually came when I decided, just that once, to deviate from my usual and try a different taste. I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to stray from the coconut curries into other, less-traveled sections of the menu, but I studied the selection and chose the red curry with some slight trepidation. Would it live up to my beloved panaang? Would it be $7.50 down the drain, having me wish I’d just stuck to what I know is good? But when it came, I decided I had found a dish to rival my old favorite. The red curry paste maintains the intense heat of the dish, while the red bell peppers and pineapple soften the bite.
Since being in Swaziland for the last four months, there are foods that I have missed from home. And ironically, one of the foods that I miss most from America is that Thai curry. My lovely sister understood very well and was kind enough to send me a huge care package with some of my favorite foods, including containers of both red and panaang curry paste. It only took me about 2 days before I broke open the red curry, and this is what I was able to recreate.
Thai Red Curry with Chicken, Red Peppers, and Pineapple

1 tbsp. olive oil
3 green onions, chopped finely
2 – 5 tbsp. red curry paste (start with 2 and taste it after it has simmered for a while before adding more)
1 15-oz. can coconut milk
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin slices
¾ - 1 cup pineapple chunks (if from a can, drain the juice)
1 - 2 tsp. sugar, to taste
¼ - ½ cup boiling water, if extra liquid is necessary to cover all ingredients
salt to taste
Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions for about 2 – 3 minutes, or until they start to become translucent. Add the curry paste and continue to sauté for another 1 – 2 minutes, stirring it constantly. Add the can of coconut milk and stir well to mix. Heat through and bring to a simmer, and then add the chicken and red bell peppers and stir, then cover and continue to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the sugar to taste.   Add the pineapple chunks and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. When the chicken is cooked all the way through, add more curry paste, if desired, and salt to taste. Serve with fluffy white jasmine or basmati rice.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

As I remain caught between seasons here, with my mind adjusting itself from what is normally autumn to what is now the rainy spring season in Swaziland, I am having trouble shifting my baking and cooking tendencies along with it. I have been thinking about pumpkin bread lately, and as my first care package from my family recently arrived, containing pumpkin pie spice, it was decided. The first challenge was the lack of canned pumpkin in the grocery stores here, but it turned out to be no problem at all, and way cheaper to make my own pumpkin puree anyway. The second challenge was to convert my family's classic pumpkin bread recipe to a gluten-free alternative. It turned out to be a success! While this is no healthier than a regular loaf of pumpkin bread, it's no worse either, and it tasted identical to me. It was just as soft and crumbly as my Aunt Rita's pumpkin bread always is, and it was like eating a slice of fall. The only thing about this bread is that, like other gluten-free treats, it won't last long before it starts to go bad, so you should plan to eat it right away or freeze it in slices before that happens. And while my aunt's recipe makes 2 loaves, I really didn't need the temptation of that much pumpkin bread sitting around my apartment, so I halved it to get this recipe (and as such, a few of the measurements are a little awkward). But otherwise, it's a delicious recipe that will bring Thanksgiving, warm houses filled with the smell of turkey and stuffing, crisp air and the Macy's parade to your mind.

Aunt Rita's (newly gluten-free) Pumpkin Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (or white sugar, if you prefer)
1 1/2 - 2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree (*see note)
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum
2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine the oil and sugar well, and then beat in the eggs. Add the pumpkin puree and mix well. Combine the flours, salt, baking powder, xanthan gum, and spices in a separate bowl and then add slowly to the wet mixture. Mix well and then pour into a greased or sprayed bread loaf pan and bake for 50 - 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for at least 15 - 20 minutes, and then remove and continue to cool on a baking rack. Or, if you're like me and can't wait that long, serve warm from the pan with a nice, hot cup of coffee. **To make pumpkin puree, simply take large slices of fresh pumpkin and bake at 350 for 1 - 1 1/2 hours in the oven. When it is very, very soft, remove from oven, scoop out the pumpkin flesh, and remove to a large bowl. If it is soft enough, you don't need to puree it (I did not puree mine because I don't have any electric mixing devices), but if you do have a way to do it, it would be best to puree it to remove all chunks. Store in the refrigerator if you will use it that day, and otherwise, store in 1 cup portions in the freezer until you need to use them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Homemade Salsa

When you're away from home, you miss certain things. Sometimes you miss things you'd never expect, and sometimes you crave things you always craved, even when they were readily accessible. Last week, all I could think about was a big bag of crispy, salty corn chips dipped in some hot salsa. So I went and got some green onions, green chilies, and a bag of bright red tomatoes and set to work chopping. This is a pretty basic recipe for salsa, but it was absolutely delicious, especially after sitting in the fridge for a few hours. The corn chips turned out alright, but I haven't found a way to get Masa Harina here, and regular cornmeal just won't produce tortillas or chips in the same way. But as vehicles for consuming the salsa, the ones I ended up with worked just fine.

Homemade Salsa
3 – 4 tomatoes, chopped very finely
3 stalks of green onions, chopped finely
3 – 4 green chilies, chopped very finely (leave out seeds to reduce the heat)
3 – 5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Lemon or lime juice to taste

Chop and combine all ingredients. For best flavor, store in refrigerator for several hours before serving. Serve as a side to corn chips, as a topping for tacos, or as a side to any other dishes (especially curries).