Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sweet and Tangy Cherry Apple Meatballs

These are a new twist on an old favorite.  I have been craving them for a while, but sadly, Trader Joe's has not stocked the cranberry chutney I used to use for ages.  I tried making it with their mango ginger chutney to mixed reviews; I liked it okay, but the rest of my family seemed to be less than enthused.  It was the ginger, I think, that was the misfit.  Don't get me wrong - I like ginger in general.  But it didn't belong in this concoction of sweet and tangy.  It knocked the other flavors out of its way.  It took over.

So it was time to do some tweaking.  This recipe is so simple that it wasn't hard to find substitutions;  I used homemade cherry jam to roughly parallel the tartness/sweetness of the cranberries, and while I was at it, added some apple butter I had in the fridge.  And then, I remembered the box of Kinnikinnick bread crumbs I had on my shelf.  (They sent me a box of them to review about a month ago, and with the end of the semester and being home for the holidays, I hadn't had a chance to use them yet.)  Since I was already in experimental mode, I tossed them in, too, replacing the oats from the original recipe.

They were wonderful, with a tender yet sturdy texture, and strike a beautiful balanced between sweet and a kick of spice.  These make a great dinner, but are essentially a fancier version of the cocktail meatballs made with grape jelly, so you could also make smaller meatballs and serve them as party snacks.  But trust me - whatever size you make them, you'll probably want to eat every last one yourself. 

Sweet and Tangy Cherry Apple Meatballs
Serves 3 - 4

For the meatballs:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
3/4 cup Kinnickinnick bread crumbs
1 1/2 tsp. basil
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. minced onion OR Trader Joe's 21 Season Salute
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tbsp. maple syrup or maple butter (or you could substitute agave nectar)
2 tbsp. cherry jam
1 1/2 tbsp. apple butter (or substitute any other kind of jam)

For the sauce:
1 1/4 cup Trader Joe's Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup cherry jam
2 tbsp. apple butter (or substitute any other kind of jam)

To serve:
1/2 cup brown rice (cook as directed on package)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Get a glass baking dish ready for baking.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the meatballs and mix well.  Spray a non-stick pan with cooking spray and put over medium heat.  Form the mixture into meatballs, dropping them into the pan.  Saute on all sides just until browned (they won't be done in the middle yet) and place them in a single layer in the glass baking dish.  You'll probably have to do this in about 3 batches.

In a separate bowl, combine the barbecue sauce, jam, and apple butter and mix well.  When the meatballs are all browned and arranged in a single layer in the glass baking dish, pour the sauce evenly over them, turning them so that all sides are coated.  Cover with foil and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the meatballs are completely cooked through.

Serve over brown rice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cornmeal Pancakes

Intriguing, aren't they?  Pancakes...made of cornmeal.  Perhaps not the first whole grain you'd jump to if you were looking to change up your favorite breakfast food.

Mark Bittman of the New York Times wrote this week about pancakes.  About whole grain pancakes, specifically.  Have you ever thought about the intrinsic value of pancakes?  I mean, pancakes sans maple syrup, butter, powdered sugar, etc.  What are pancakes without all those frills?  Don't get me wrong - they are delicious frills, and personally, I am usually okay with the thought of a pancake serving a purely vehicular purpose.  As a simple means of transporting maple syrup from the plate to my mouth.

But I will admit, they are not the healthiest option, nor do the plainest ones taste like much if you take away the maple syrup.

So I decided to adapt this particular recipe from Mark Bittman's column, which was already inherently gluten-free, but which I predicted might lack the sweetness I'd want to have in my pancakes.  So I added a little sugar - not much, but enough to bring a tinge of sweetness - and a dash of cinnamon.

And they were actually good.  Golden crisp, they held their own in flavor and became even better when drizzled with agave nectar (you could also use honey or maple syrup).  I won't claim that these are necessarily healthier than regular pancakes (although being devoid of processed starches is at least one point in their favor).  But I think you'll enjoy the new flavor in this creative, whole grain departure from an old favorite.

Slightly Sweet Cornmeal Pancakes (Adapted from a recipe from the NY Times, found here)
Makes 5 - 6 medium pancakes (can be easily doubled)

Non-stick cooking spray
3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup Vanilla Hemp Milk (or other non-dairy milk of your choosing)
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
Toppings:  maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, almond butter, cinnamon-sugar

Combine the cornmeal and salt, and then add the boiling water.  Let it sit for about 8 minutes to soften the cornmeal.  Slowly add the hemp milk bit by bit, stirring to mix well.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.

Spray a nonstick frying pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat.  When it is fully preheated (when a drop of water sizzles on it), spoon about 1/6th - 1/4th cup of batter per pancake onto the griddle.  Cook for about 4 minutes (until small bubbles start to appear or the bottom becomes nicely browned) and flip, cooking for another 4 - 5 minutes, until they are done all the way through.

Serve with your favorite toppings (I had mine with a scoop of almond butter and a drizzle of agave nectar, but go crazy with your own favorites!).

Hint:  You could also make these savory by omitting the sugar and adding in your favorite herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary, and serving as a side dish for dinner or lunch. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites - Healthy, Vegan, and Raw

I know the words "vegan" and "raw" can have a similar effect to flipping an "off" switch for some people.  They become suspicious and doubtful of its flavor potential.  But just hear me out on this one.

I was browsing through food blogs last night and, after following a long chain of hyperlinked posts, stumbled across a blog called "Chocolate-Covered Katie."  Feeling an immediate kinship with the title, I delved further into Katie's website and discovered an entire section of her blog dedicated to making what she calls "Fudge Babies."

Intrigued, I scrolled through the list of varieties she has mastered.  Some of the flavors she has developed recipes for include peanut butter cup cookies, snickerdoodles, chocolate fudge, tiramisu, and s'more cookies, to name a few.  There are many others, and they all look fantastic. 

The first one I wanted to try is a flavor most of us will recognize and love.  Something we probably ate too much of when we were kids (and, um, some of us beyond the time since we were kids):  chocolate chip cookie dough.  What is it about cookie dough that is so damn good?  Yes, it's bad for you.  But it's awfully hard to resist one little taste while you're dumping chocolate chips into a buttery, sugary, silky-smooth bowl of cookie dough.  And once you've had one little taste, it's awfully hard to resist another little taste.  And then another.  And another.

With these, you don't have to worry about all the butter, sugar, and raw eggs you're consuming as you eat cookie dough.  It's not completely spot-on in flavor, I will say that - but it's very reminiscent of cookie dough, and you can make it even more so by upping the vanilla content.  But even though they aren't exactly the same as cookie dough, they are still really, really good.

And best of all, you can feel good about trading in that sliver of flavor for a huge slice of health.  As Katie describes, these are sort of reminiscent of Larabars in their flavor, texture, and simplicity.  They are super easy and quick to make (you can have them done in less than 15 minutes) and make a healthful and delicious snack.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites (Modified slightly from "Chocolate-Covered Katie's" fantastic recipe, which you can find here.)
Makes about 12 - 15 pieces

90 grams (~1/2 cup) dates
30 grams whole raw cashews
1 tsp. gluten-free vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt (optional)
2 heaping tbsp. shredded coconut
1/4 cup mini-chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life brand)

For best results, chop dates into smaller pieces before placing into food processor so they are easier to grind up.

Place the dates, cashews, vanilla, and salt (if desired) into a food processor (Katie uses a Magic Bullet, but I don't have one of those, so I just threw it all into my plain old food processor).  Blend on the highest setting until the dates have been reduced at least to small crumbs and will stick together in clumps (longer if you want it to be even smoother).  Scrape into a bowl and add the coconut and chocolate chips, stirring to mix well.  Scoop out by the tablespoonful and mold into small balls with your hands.

That's it!  Now you can go ahead and eat them.  You can store at room temperature or in the fridge.

I haven't tried it yet, but I suspect these would be great dipped in a chocolate ganache.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Health Nut Crunchy Granola

You know how granola you buy at the store always has that wonderful crunch?  It's not the crunch of over-baking - it's the crunch of perfect baking.  Not too hard, and not too soft.  It's the kind you marvel at with each bite - light, crisp, and utterly addictive.  It's a melt-in-your-mouth kind of crunch.

I eat homemade granola for breakfast almost every day, and every time I make a new batch, I tweak my recipe a little bit in an attempt to make it taste like one from the shelves of Whole Foods.  I've tried different ratios of liquid to dry ingredients, different ingredients, and different baking temperatures.  And it turns out, that particular kind of crunch is not all that easy to achieve - at least, not until you've discovered a few secret tips after many failed attempts.  (Well, maybe not failed - I never made a batch I couldn't eat.  They just weren't perfect.)

Yesterday, somehow, I hit upon a magical combination of ingredients, baking temperature, and baking time.  I'm not saying this recipe is perfect yet.  But I'm sharing it with you because it is really, really, really good - by far, the best granola I've ever made.  The flavor is addictive, and the best part is that it doesn't rely on a lot of oil for its texture.  Instead, it's packed full of nuts, pure nut butter, and seeds.  If you can't have any of the ingredients listed, you can easily substitute the same amount of something else.  For instance, if you can't have nuts, use all Sunbutter; if you can't have almond butter, you can substitute all Sunbutter or use peanut butter instead.  Don't like sesame seeds?  Leave them out and put in more flaxseeds.  If you like dried fruit in your granola, go ahead and add some.  I'm going to keep working on it until it's perfect, but for now, this makes a fantastic breakfast on its own, or sprinkled over some fruit and yoghurt.  It's full of flavor - but it's also healthy.

And the crunch?  That's the best part.  It's there, too. 

Health Nut Crunchy Granola
Makes 2 - 3 cups of granola

1 cup gluten-free oats (make sure to talk to your doctor before starting to eat oats if you have celiac!)
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup whole cashews, ground or crumbled
1/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp. flaxseeds
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp. Earth Balance Buttery Spread (or oil)
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. agave nectar (can substitute honey)
1 1/2 tbsp. almond butter
1 1/2 tbsp. Sunbutter (can use either all Sunbutter or all almond butter if needed)
3 tsp. gluten-free vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 F.  Spray a glass baking dish with non-stick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, coconut, ground cashews, almond meal, flaxseed, sesame seeds, buckwheat flour, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix well and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, Earth Balance, honey, agave nectar, almond butter, Sunbutter, and vanilla.  Heat over medium heat until it starts to simmer and everything has melted together.  Pour immediately over the dry ingredients and stir very well to mix.  Make sure all of the dry ingredients have been coated.

At this point, the granola will be very sticky and will look like one big clump.  Spread into the glass pan and place in the oven.  Bake at 300 F for 45 - 50 minutes, reaching in every 5 - 7 minutes to stir.  If you want lots of big chunks in your granola, don't break up the clumps; if you want lots of smaller clumps, do a stir-and-chop to get the consistency you want. 

The granola is done when it's got a sort of golden hue and when the clumps are not breaking apart easily when you stir the granola.  They will not be completely crunchy yet (they'll get crunchier as they cool), but they should taste kind of toasted - slightly hard on the outside and a little softer on the inside.

Remove to a large plate or another pan and spread out to cool.  When completely cooled, store in a container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator for longer shelf-life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Soup with Thyme

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.  I recited this to myself as I watched this soup simmer, resisting the familiar urge to reach into the spice cabinet and dump more seasonings in.  Stop.  Breathe.  Keep it simple

I'm beginning to realize how vital this concept is in culinary pursuits.  Cooking need not involve lots of heavy machinery or fifteen different spices which will only confuse your palate.  Food can be uncluttered without sacrificing flavor.

This is a soup for a cold, gray day (if possible, hold out for a snowy one) - not just for its color, which will inject some brightness into the bleakness of winter, but also for its vivid taste, which delights afresh with each bite.  The thyme and sun-dried tomatoes are perfect together, giving each other space but merging beautifully at the same time. 

It is simple, but there is no flavor sacrificed in this soup. Best of all, you can serve it to almost anyone, as it is gluten-free and vegan.

Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Soup with Thyme (Adapted from Food and Wine)
Serves 2 - 3

1 tbsp. Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. minced or crushed garlic
2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil), drained and coarsely chopped
1 large tomato, diced
3 cups gluten-free vegetable or chicken broth (such as Trader Joe's or Pacific brands)
6 - 7 whole fresh thyme sprigs, divided
1/2 - 1 cup soy creamer (to taste/texture)
1 tsp. brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
You will also need:  A food processor or blender

In a medium-sized pot, melt the Earth Balance and olive oil together over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat for about 4 - 5 minutes or until the onion is becoming translucent.  Add the diced tomato, sun-dried tomato, chicken broth, and 4 whole thyme sprigs to the pot.  Bring ever-so-briefly to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 20 minutes, but up to 35 or 40 minutes if you have the time.

Remove the whole sprigs of thyme and discard.  In batches (depending on the size of your food processor), puree the soup as finely as possible.  Return to the pot.  Add the soy creamer (adding more if necessary or if you want it to be especially creamy), add the brown sugar, and then season with salt and pepper to your own taste.  Take the remaining 2 - 3 sprigs of thyme and pull off the tiny leaves and sprinkle into the soup.  Serve with hot garlic bread or this grilled cheese.  It also goes quite well with Roasted Red Pepper Mini Meatloaves.

You can make this ahead of time and store in the fridge for a day or two until you're ready to serve it.  Heat over medium-low heat for about 10 - 15 minute until it is warmed through. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I'm a convert.  A soda bread convert, that is.

It's not like I used to hate soda bread or anything.  I don't even know that I ever even tried a regular piece before being diagnosed with celiac.  And maybe that's why I was never particularly compelled to make a gluten-free version of it.

If only I had known, I might have tried this recipe years ago.  It's a bread that sits on the fence, with a hint of sweetness on the one side and a slightly bitter aftertaste that gives you pause, and then makes you want to take another bite, and another, and another.  It doesn't taste quite like a regular loaf of bread, but also doesn't taste like a dessert bread.  It's fantastically in between the two, and to make it even better, it comes together very quickly since you don't need to proof any yeast.  The raisins add intermittent splashes of subtle sweetness (hint: try using the raisins that are specifically for baking so they don't dry out as much).  Absolutely perfect with a steaming cup of tea or coffee, this bread is pretty addictive.

Since I have learned not to trust my own taste buds as indicators of what others will find delicious, I tested it on several friends who can eat gluten;  one friend took one bite before proclaiming "Oh, it's delicious!", while another (who is a huge fan of regular soda bread) called it, in his own words, "DAMN good" (he really did put that emphasis on DAMN, I swear).

Having never made a regular loaf of Irish soda bread before, I was unsure about the texture.  I knew it was supposed to be a very sturdy bread, but even though it called for 30 minutes of baking, I got nervous after the top was dark brown after only 25 minutes and took it out of the oven then.  It was baked through, but ended up being rather soft when it cooled.  Unless you're really wanting that particularly hard texture, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and besides, it firmed up quite nicely after 2 days in the fridge.  However, if you want to eat a firmer loaf, I'd suggest either baking it for longer at a lower temperature (perhaps 325 F instead of 375) or making it a day or two before you want to serve it.

You can find the recipe I followed from the Gluten-free Goddess here.  I used Sunmaid Baking Raisins, substituted a real egg for the egg replacer, and also brushed a thin layer of hemp milk over the top of the loaf before baking to give the crust more of a sheen and crunch.  Make this when you have someone to share it with - they'll appreciate it!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

English Muffins by the Gluten-free Goddess

That is an English muffin, friends.  A real English muffin.  I received a lovely set of English Muffin Rings from my cousin for Christmas, and I put them to use immediately upon returning to Boston yesterday after spending the holidays in St. Louis.  I tried this recipe for English muffins by the Gluten-free Goddess, and you are looking at the rather delicious result.  I halved her recipe and used a real egg instead of the egg replacer and ended up with 5 English muffins.  This is what mine looked like when they came out of the oven (the dusting on top is cornmeal that I sprinkled on before baking):

These were pretty simple to throw together - the longest part about this recipe is proofing the yeast.  And that only takes five minutes.  But once the yeast gets frothy, the dough comes together in just about another ten minutes.  Definitely no longer than you'd spend driving to the store to buy a bag of English muffins, let's put it that way.

The texture of these was pretty good and was pretty close to a regular English muffin; however, I might play around with the recipe a bit more to see if I can make it even lighter.  But even as they were, these were pretty fantastic and are definitely worth making.  They may seem slightly dense once they cool, but don't worry - pop them into the toaster and they will be transformed into airy lightness.  They are even sturdy enough to make an egg sandwich without falling apart.  I suspect these would also be great for making mini-pizzas or mini-paninis, if you have a panini-maker.

Or you could keep it simple and delicious with some good homemade jam and peanut butter.

Check out those air pockets!  Try them out for yourself.  If you don't have English muffin rings, you could try using (carefully cleaned!) empty tuna cans with both the top and bottom cut off.  Freeze any leftovers as soon as they're completely cooled and toast to defrost as the cravings hit (you could even slice them before freezing to make it easier on yourself).  If you've missed English muffins, these will hit the (approximate) spot!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bakery-Style Hamantaschen

Ok, yes - it's too early for Purim.  Heck, to be honest, my family is not even one to celebrate that particular Jewish holiday.  Perhaps if I had known about the Hamantaschen, though, that would have been different...

These were my first Hamantaschen.  What is a Hamantaschen, you might wonder?  These cookies are little three-cornered wonders that puff up into bite-size pastries filled with any number of things, including jam, chocolate hazelnut spread, nuts, dates, and perhaps most commonly, poppy seed filling or prunes.  Their triangular shape is sometimes called evocative of the ears of the villain of the holiday of Purim - you guessed it - Haman, who is defeated in the story as told in the Book of Esther.

You'll probably forget all of that after your first bite.  The dough for this looks remarkably like regular old gluten dough, becoming elastic enough to survive a rolling pin and cut-outs, and pinching together like its gluteny counterpart. [We suspect that you could use this basic dough recipe as a pie crust as well, but that is yet to be tested.]  And after about 12 minutes in the oven, they turn into golden brown beauties, tiny crystals of sugar dotting their crispy tops even as the inside stays soft as a pillow and melts in your mouth.

These look a little different than the pictures of other Hamantaschen we saw, which seem to be more open in the middle and look vaguely like a mini danish.  But I rather like the way this shape distributes the filling, and so I would encourage you to try it out this way at least with some of them.  We filled ours with some of our homemade strawberry, peach, and blueberry jams, and also made a few with Solo Poppy Seed Filling (confirmed gluten-free here).  As my mom cut out the rounds and lined them up on the parchment paper, I filled each one with a teaspoon-sized dot of filling and pinched them together at the top.  A final dusting of sugar and then into the oven they went.

You would never in a million years know these were gluten-free.  With some gluten-free desserts, the flavor stays intact but the texture suffers, or vice versa; rarely do the stars align and create something that surpasses its glutenful counterpart in both taste and texture.  But both my father and brother actually requested that my mom make the gluten-free version of these because that is how good these are.  And how often does that happen?

All I can say is, there is a reason these are called "bakery style."  Seriously.  No one will regret your making these cookies - even if it's not Purim.

Gluten-free Bakery-Style Hamantaschen (Adapted from "A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking" by Marcy Goldman)

Makes 4 - 6 dozen pastries

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted non-dairy baking margarine (we used Fleischmann's, but you could also try Spectrum Butter Shortening)
1 1/4 cups sugar + 1/4 cup for sprinkling before baking
3 eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups white rice flour + up to 1 cup more to use when rolling out the dough
1/2 cup tapioca starch (allow to settle well into the measuring cup)
3/4 cup potato starch (allow to settle well into the measuring cup)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. gluten-free baking powder
Fillings of your choice, such as jam (strawberry, peach, or blueberry); Solo Poppy Seed or Almond Paste filling; nutella; dates; or prunes

Combine the margarine/shortening and the sugar together.  Add the eggs and mix until smooth.  Stir in the orange juice and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, fold together the white rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, salt, and baking powder. Fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture to form a firm but soft dough.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat it down.  Cover and let it rest for about 10 minutes.  Alternatively, you can dust it with tapioca starch and wrap it in saran wrap and store in the refrigerator (up to 2 days) or freezer (up to 3 months) until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 2 or 3 flattened discs and work with one at a time.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board to a thickness of about 1/8 inch.  Depending on how sticky your dough is, you may need to use quite a bit more white rice flour to make it workable.  Don't fret, though - they'll still be delicious!  We used the top of a cup with a diameter of 2.5 inches to cut out rounds from the dough.  As you run out of space to cut dough from, rework and roll the dough out again, as many times as necessary until you run out of dough completely.

Line the rounds up on the lined baking sheet.  Fill each with a generous teaspoonful of the filling you've chosen and then draw each round of dough together by pulling three sides together and pinching them together in the middle.  You'll now have a pastry that looks like the top picture.  Once you've pulled all the rounds together in this way, sprinkle generously with the remaining sugar.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until the tops are nicely browned.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  Or eat warm from the oven.  Store in an airtight container (if they last long enough to be stored).