Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Frozen Macaroni & Cheese dinners for those busy nights

Just ask anyone who's ever lived with me - macaroni & cheese is my go-to, default meal. When I was little and would hardly eat anything? Macaroni & cheese was one of my favorite foods. (As was broccoli. True story.)

Until I had to stop eating gluten, Annie's shells and cheddar was approximately my favorite thing on the planet. Their GF version doesn't thrill me as much, although I do like it. I find that DeBoles rice pasta and cheese dinner is much closer to the flavor of the original Annie's (for some reason, Annie's uses a different cheese in their GF dinner than in their original).

Just last night, I decided I needed to cook up that box of DeBoles that had been sitting in my pantry. Remember that broccoli-love I mentioned? Mmm, they taste great together.

But what I really loved when I was a kid was the Stouffer's frozen macaroni & cheese entrée, and since the start of my gluten-free diet, I've been a fan of Amy's rice macaroni & cheese. The problem is, a frozen entrée sells for upwards of $3 at my local Shaw's, and also it's not the best nutritional choice out there.

So, a week or two back, I pulled out my Gluten Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Foods, and did a little calculating. If a 9"x13" casserole makes 8 servings, what size stoneware dish do I need for an individual serving? Then, I went online and bought eight 16-oz ramekins with fitted rubber lids, and got ready to cook.

Let me take this moment to send my thoughts to the family of Bette Hagman, The Gluten-Free Gourmet herself, who passed away recently. She has given us all a great deal, and will truly be missed. Although I didn't follow her recipe exactly in this case, and haven't technically baked any of it yet, this one is

I mostly followed Bette's recipe for macaroni & cheese casserole, with two ingredient changes: in place of the butter, I used olive oil; and for the cheddar cheese, I used Cabot 75% reduced fat cheddar. I tasted the sauce, and trust me, nothing's missing.

I combined the cooked macaroni with the sauce back in the boiling pot (after rinsing pot and macaroni well with cold water), stirred them together, then spooned the mixture into the ramekins. I covered each with its lid, then stacked them in the freezer. Stoneware can go from freezer to microwave or oven to dishwasher (if I had one), so it's perfect for homemade frozen dinners. Looking forward to quickly grabbing one of these on a busy night when I want something yummy and don't have time to cook it!

Fresh corn and zucchini salad alla Al Forno

A few weeks ago, my parents were darling enough to take me out to dinner with them at Al Forno, one of the truly finest restaurants in Providence. One of the dishes I enjoyed there was a salad made from fresh, local corn and zucchini. Having come home from the farmers' market this week with the same two vegetables, I decided to try my hand at duplicating it:

To make this salad:
1. The secret to the pretty curls of zucchini? A vegetable peeler. I started with a smallish zucchini, maybe 8" or 10" long, and used the peeler to skin off the very outside and one more layer, going over the same "stripe" of the zucchini. I discarded those first two passes, then kept going, making more and more pieces. I had about enough by the time I hit the seeds. Then I curled and arranged the slices of zucchini in my salad bowl.
2. Shuck 1/2 cob of fresh corn (I pulled the leaves down only halfway, and broke the cob in half with my hands, then wrapped the remaining part back up). Using a sharp knife, slice the kernels off, then sprinkle them over the zucchini curls. I ended up pulling a few of the zucchini pieces back up so they showed through the corn, for a more balanced appearance.
3. Drizzle with good olive oil.
4. Using that vegetable peeler again, make curls of parmesan or pecorino cheese (anything sufficiently hard and salty will do). I barely had any left, so I didn't get as pretty, big shavings as the original had had.

Done! Yum!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

To serve leftover pizza

Catching up on some meals I'd meant to post:

When my sister visiting a couple of weeks ago, we were both too tired to think about cooking at home, so we went to one of my favorite restaurants: Twist on Angell, in the Wayland Square area of Providence's East Side. I love Twist for its funky atmosphere, extremely friendly and helpful waitstaff, and most especially for its gluten-free menu that includes pizza and beer. Hooray!

A small pizza would be no challenge for my pre-possible-eating appetite, but as I'm trying to get by on less food, I forced myself to stop at half-done and take the rest home. (I did have the crème brulée. It was delicious, and I'm not sorry.)

With a salad for a centerpiece, the four remaining squares of pizza made lovely accompaniments for two further meals. For this one, I mixed some torn-up fresh spinach and romaine lettuce and topped them with a handful of blueberries (all of the above being from the local farmers' market), almonds and I think a drizzle of apple cider vinegar.

Now, place the reheated pizza (which had sundried tomatoes, a mixture of smoked and shredded mozzarella, slivers of fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic reduction) alongside, and serve with a glass of red wine, because hey, yum.

Even Charcoal was looking for a taste!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer Peach Bread Pudding

I apologize for the long silence! Many thanks to new commenters theresa and sea for their compliments, and of course to hilary for her constant support. :-) This is a post I wrote a long time ago, when I actually was making this dish, but didn't get around to finishing until now because I was too lazy to upload the photos. Ah, the last days of summer.

Speaking of which, I do intend to keep posting once I'm back to the teaching grind (in, ergh, a few days), but please understand that it will be much less frequent than my intial flurry of posts. I'll try to be reasonably regular with adding things here, though.

On to the food!

Peaches are in season, and the ones from my neighborhood farmers' market are sweet, juicy and scrumptious. I honestly believe that the best thing to do with ripe, in-season fruit is to eat it raw, all by itself. Yum! It also inspires me to try new recipes - and occasionally to improvise, which I've done here.

I had most of a loaf of GF bread in my freezer, of a type that I don't particularly like for toast or sandwiches. This is what gave me the idea of making a bread pudding. I honestly don't know exactly how much I had, so I'm guessing it was about ten slices. If you try this yourself, you may find you need more or less to complete two layers in the dish. I would recommend the softest/airiest bread you can find, and giving it a good, long soak before baking (longer than the 30 minutes I did). My experience was that the peaches and bread all floated up to the top when I poured in the custard, and the bread stayed very dense and chewy, rather than incorporating the custard, which forced me to bake this far longer than the recipe indicates. It was still very tasty, but should definitely be considered a 'work-in-progress.'

Some of the proportions in this recipe were based on the Apricot Bread Pudding recipe in Rebecca Reilly's Gluten-Free Baking. Although it will go without saying on the slighest glance at the ingredients list, this dish falls securely under the heading of 'treat.'


about 10 slices gluten-free bread, thawed and crusts trimmed off
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 ripe peaches, pitted and skinned
cinnamon, nutmeg and powdered ginger
6 Tbs dark brown sugar, divided
5 eggs
1 Tbs or more vanilla
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. skim milk
[2 3/4 c. half-and-half can be substituted for the above two ingredients]

In a 6-cup Pyrex dish, make a single layer of bread by cutting slices to fit like a jigsaw puzzle. Drizzle with half of the butter. Slice one of the peaches into very thin slices, placing it to cover the bread layer completely. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon, slightly with nutmeg and moderately with ginger. Sprinkle 1 Tbs brown sugar over that. Repeat all of the above steps to create a second layer each of bread, peaches, spices and sugar.

Heat cream and milk in a saucepan over low heat, until very hot but not yet scalded. Meanwhile, beat eggs with a whisk in a medium-sized, heat-proof bowl, then whisk in remaining 4 Tbs brown sugar along with vanilla (I slipped at this point and added at least 2 Tbs worth; luckily, I like vanilla). Whisk in hot cream, gradually, then strain mixture over bread and peaches. (Top layer of peaches may float to the surface.) Allow to stand 30 min.

Preheat oven to 300°F. Place a roasting pan (or other pan large enough to allow your baking dish to sit in it) in the oven, place pudding inside it, and fill the roasting pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the pudding dish. Cover dish with buttered parchment paper (or foil). Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the pudding from the hot water bath (careful - water is very hot and can burn you). Serve warm, or try room-temperature or cold, as you prefer. I found this to be too rich to be enjoyable with any sort of accompaniment (e.g., ice cream), but that may change if the bread is soft enough to get a more classic bread pudding texture than I did on this try.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Blueberry Scones

My second recipe from Rebecca Reilly's Gluten-Free Baking has been as successful as the first! With my sister staying over and a basket of farmers'-market blueberries in the fridge, I decided to take a shot at making scones. One of the nice things about getting used to baking GF from scratch is that I've started to find that I have all the ingredients already at my house, usually with not more than one or two exceptions. In this case, I didn't have any heavy cream, but I needed some for a frosting recipe that I plan to try later this week, so I didn't mind going out to grab some. (If I'd known I'd need some for this recipe, and that my local Shaw's also only sells cream in pints [not half-pints], I would have ordered some from Munroe for this week's delivery. Ah, well.)

These were really easy to make, and came out very well. My sister, who can eat gluten, told me she thought they were tasty enough to serve to gluten eaters outside the family ... and even to Mom!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Indulgence, within 'limits'

So many people who really love food, who love to make truly gourmet meals, appear to hold the opinion that meat is necessary for a truly rich gastronomic experience. One of my favorite cousins, the sommelier, has said to me on a couple of occasions that he wishes I'd eat meat, so that I could taste something he thinks is an especial treat. A friend of mine from college, who has the wonderful initials A.Z., said to me at our last reunion that, "I really just feel that you're missing out."

My response? That I think he is, too. Not that he shuns vegetarian cuisine nor the panoply of fruits, vegetables and grains it offers, but that I have heard it said that eating meat reduces the tastebuds' capacity for appreciating the subtleties of flavor that vegetarian meals can provide.

Hey, maybe I'm biased.

It is a challenge, however, as someone who really adores good food, to convince friends and restauranteurs that exquisite meals can be had from vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and eggs. Even more so, now that wheat, rye, oats and barley have to be crossed off the grains list.

I suppose that's one of my reasons behind this blog. I hope that my cooking and my photography make the food look appealing enough that someone who reads this who can eat gluten and who does love meat will still look at one or more of my dishes and say ... I've gotta try that.

I think it's possible. If I may boast a little, I can at least say that my dinner guests never have complaints. :-)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sour Cream Coffeecake

As is probably obvious by now, I sometimes take a detour from the purely healthy, to try new baking (or other cooking, but mostly baking) projects. The aim is to expand and improve my GF-from-scratch baking repertoire, so that I know I can offer at parties - or bring to school gatherings - things that I can eat and my non-GF guests/colleagues will (and will want to) eat.

Luckily, I have the perfect taste-tester: my mother. She has been very unenthusiastic about some baked goods I've brought home in the past, so if she likes one of my creations, I know I'm on to something. It's like having an in-house Mikey.

She liked this one.

SOUR CREAM COFFEECAKE from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly

After trying only one recipe, I can already say that I wholeheartedly recommend this cookbook to everyone I know. I won't reprint the recipe here, other than my modifications/improvisations, but I do have photos!

This was also my chance, finally to try the silicone tube pan my friend N. and her parents gave me as a housewarming gift. Here it is, all greased and floured (with GF mix) and ready to go.

Notice the old baking sheet sitting under it: a must for silicone bakeware, which is very floppy.

The recipe calls for the streusel topping to contain walnuts, shredded coconut and mini chocolate chips, in equal measure. I wasn't in the mood for coconut or chocolate in my coffeecake (although I love both!), so I substituted almond meal for the coconut and more walnuts for the chocolate chips.

The walnuts I had on-hand were raw, so I toasted them in a dry skillet after chopping.

I then set them aside on a saucer until they were cool enough, so they didn't melt the butter in the streusel. Speaking of which, I was a bit confused at first about the direction to "pinch" the butter into the streusel. I decided to try in literally, by pinching off bits of butter from the stick (with very clean hands, of course) and dropping them into the flour. It worked nicely! It also seemed to work best to use my hands sort of to massage the ingredients into each other. The finished streusel was quite well blended.

The one other change I made in the streusel was to use crystallized fructose in place of sugar, because I had some in my pantry that I was trying to use up. Fructose is sweeter than sucrose, so I had to work out the correct amount to add, relative to the amount of sugar indicated in the recipe. This made a great example to use with my math tutee a couple of days later. Try it yourself: if 1 tsp fructose = 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and the recipe calls for 1/2 cup sugar, how much fructose did I use? (Answer below*.)

Next, of course, came the batter, which was pretty straightforward. Here it is, as I was just adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Have I mentioned that I love my mixer?

The batter is so dark because the only sugar in it is dark brown sugar. Yum!

Once the batter was mixed, it was time to layer it into the pan, alternated with the streusel. Partway into the second batter layer looked like this:

And then I baked it! The recipe gave different baking times for a bundt pan v. a tube pan, and I wasn't sure which way to go, especially since I'd never used silicone before. I ended up compromising, and went a little longer than the tube pan time, but not quite as long as the bundt pan time. I also did the toothpick test, and it came out clean.

The result:

Now comes the neat part about silicone bakeware, especially for gluten-free baked goods, which are often more fragile than their gluteny cousins. You can peel the pan away!

The center was a little harder, especially because the whole thing was still quite hot. In the future, I will probably wait more than the indicated 15 minutes before trying to remove the coffeecake from the pan.

Still, almost a clean getaway!

And it looked fine, once it was flipped over (impressions from the cooling rack notwithstanding).

When sliced, it looked almost perfect, imho …

… And it made for a very tasty breakfast.

I cut the cake in half and packaged up half of it to give to my friends L. and H. I then wrapped and froze one of the remaining quarters for later. The final quarter, I sliced into four pieces: ate one, gave one to Mom, and put the other two in a container in the fridge for the next two mornings' breakfasts.

* I used 1/3 cup fructose.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

New York City! (long)

My long silence here has been due largely to traveling and to intermittent internet access. I've been in NYC (Brooklyn and Manhattan) since Friday, and have been having a great time! The eating has been spectacular, too ...

I have to admit, although I know the best idea when eating out as a gluten-intolerant person is to call ahead, talk to the chef, etc. But I'm generally too shy/disorganized/spontaneous to do that. So, I rely on recommendations from other people, personal experience, and "safe" dishes like simple salads. One great resource was these posts on Wheat-Free, Meat-Free, about their family's experience traveling to the city.

Also: I'm trying not to be ridiculous about suspending my healthy-eating plans while I'm here, but I'm not skipping dessert when it's my only chance to try something really special.

Most of my dining experiences on this trip have come from places my sister thought might work, places my friend Y. (who is an omnivore) wanted to try while in NYC, and one place I'd eaten before. So far, so good.

Friday night: Chiles y Chocolate, 7th Ave. near Flatbush, Brooklyn. Very helpful server, fantastically tasty food. There was a little confusion that resulted in my initially receiving a plate swimming with rice and beans that I'd already been told were not vegetarian (I think because two servers were sort of tag-teaming our table), but they very nicely replaced it with a new plate that had a heap of steamed/sautéed spinach in place of rice or beans. The main dish was a chile relleno with Oaxacan cheese - a dish which is sometimes batter-fried, but in this case was roasted. Dessert was pan-fried bananas covered with chocolate mousse, and a cup of the house chiles y chocolate (chipotle-spiced hot chocolate) drink! ¡Qué rico!

Saturday: Started the day with a couple of the snack bars I had along, and went to Park Slope Food Co-op mid-morning (where my sister is a member, and could buy some food for me, her houseguest). Managed to get some breakfast and lunch food - yogurt, bread, cashew butter, jelly, some more snack bars - so that we'd only need to eat out for dinner.

Saturday night: Nana, 5th Ave between DeGraw & Douglass, Brooklyn. Most East Asian foods other than Chinese are usually safe, and this was no exception. The server understood my requirement that I be served no soy sauce, and my summer salad rolls and vegetarian maki platter were both excellent, and very fresh.

Sunday night: Long Tan, 5th Ave between Union & Berkeley, Brooklyn. One disappointment in that the fresh vegetarian rolls contained wheat noodles, but I'd rather be informed than get sick! Another excellent meal, starting with heirloom tomato salad with Thai basil, continuing with vegetarian yellow curry, and finishing with mango with coconut sticky rice, all of which were delicious.

Monday lunch: Uncle Vanya, 54th St near 8th Ave, Midtown Manhattan. This was the first meal with my friend Y., at one of the restaurants she really wanted to try. We drank hot tea with cherry preserves (awesome!), and I ate the vegetarian stuffed pepper, which was liberally garnished with fresh dill. Very delicious.

Monday night: Le Souk, Avenue B between 3rd & 4th, East Village Manhattan. Moroccan restaurant with friendly server who knew exactly what I was talking about when I launched into my gluten-free spiel. I had to remind him when he came around with the dessert tray ("oh, um, I guess you can't eat any of this, then"), but still, he took very good care of me. Y. and I shared a very yummy, fresh salad, although I can't remember the details ... and then my main course was a halloumi cheese salad with baked eggplant bits in among the greens. SO good. Since I couldn't have dessert there, we went in search of gelato, and found some in a place (whose name I, alas, forget) at the corner of Houston and Allen.

Tuesday lunch: Risotteria, Bleecker St & Morton St, Greenwich Village Manhattan. The Mecca of gluten-free dining was mercifully quiet Tuesday afternoon around 2pm, when Y. and I finally got back from a long morning of ferrying and line-waiting on and between Liberty and Ellis Islands. Tuesday is pasta day, and we luxuriated in a large, shared salad and giant bowl of penne pesto, and I drank a Bard's Tale beer and ate too many breadsticks and had to take my cupcake and fudgie to go. Simply and plainly, some of the best food I've ever gotten to have in a restaurant. Y. was surprised and pleased at how good gluten-free pasta can be.

Since lunch was late and huge, I just snacked on my dessert things in the evening, rather than having dinner. They were entirely delicious.

We did have some gelato from Ciao Bella, after failing to find the gelato place we'd been seeking, in the late afternoon.

Wednesday lunch: Les Halles, Park Ave between 28th & 29th Sts, East Side Manhattan. Anthony Bourdain's Manhattan restaurant offered some truly delicious food, and the one place I felt a little as though I may have accidentally ingested some gluten. My server didn't seem to have any idea how to deal with gluten intolerance, although he made a good effort. I had a delicious sweet potato soup, served at room temperature with slivers of parsley, followed by salade d'auvergne, which included mixed greens, sugared walnuts, apple (pear? can't remember) and one tiny piece of bleu cheese. My understanding is that most bleu cheese is no longer made with bread mold, but it's possible that this was the exception. In any case, it was shortly after that course that I had some minor belly cramps. I did stay for chocolate mousse (and was feeling better by the time our server remembered us to ask about dessert), which was delicious - very rich and dense.

That afternoon, we tried again and succeeded in finding Il Laboratorio del Gelato. It was well worth the search! Some very slow service (and one inept counter person) notwithstanding, the gelato was definitely the best we had this week, and probably the best I've had outside Tuscany. Around the corner was Babycakes, where I totally bought too many baked goods, then we stopped back by Il Laboratorio so that Y. could get a second helping of the honey lavender gelato. I'd had a medium the first time, and ate a chipwich at Babycakes, so there was no possibility of my eating anything else.

Wednesday after-show supper: Havana Central, 46th St. between 6th & 7th Aves, Theatre District Manhattan. We saw Mamma Mia! on Broadway, and were still full of gelato, so saved supper until after the show. In the playbill, we read about a place around the corner from our hotel, which sounded tasty, so we headed over there. Live Cuban music greeted us as we entered, and I immediately ordered a Moradito (blackberry mojito), then shared small plates of maduritos (fried ripe plantains) and moro (black beans and rice), and a "vegetarian cobbano" salad, which was delicious but way too huge to finish.

Thursday brunch: Park Plaza Restaurant, Cadman Plaza West at Pineapple Walk, Brooklyn Heights. After crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, Y. and I met my sister at the Park Plaza Restaurant for brunch. The iced coffee was refreshing in this hot weather, the "la guadelupe" omelette was quite tasty, and the grits were excellent. Also the server honored my request not to bring me toast. Turned out to be a lot of food for me, even after a week of expanding my appetite with vacation-portion eating, but very good.

After such a big breakfast, we decided to miss lunch and plan for an early dinner. In this hot weather, we spent most of the afternoon resting, but decided to venture out after some fine chocolate around 3pm.

Thursday afternoon snack: La Maison du Chocolat, 49th St near 6th Ave (NBC Studios building), Diamond District Manhattan. A selection of chocolates and a perfect single espresso were a lovely treat.

And finally, Thursday dinner: Dervish, 47th between 6th and 7th, Theatre District Manhattan. After a week of heavy, rich food, I was most interested in some light plates at this fine Turkish restaurant. Our server seemed a bit taken aback at my dietary needs, but suggested that I name the dishes that interest me, and he would confirm whether I could eat them. I ended up with two appetizers: a stuffed baby eggplant with onions, garlic, pine nuts and parsley, and a plate of stuffed grape leaves (dolma). The dolma had a sort of sweeter spice blend than the Greek version I've had more recently, and were delicious; the eggplant was excellent, too. For dessert, I had a poached pear in berry coulis with a dusting of ground pistachios, and also some of Y.'s milk pudding with almonds, which was rich and mild. A perfect ending to a really good week of eating.

Which brings us to now, the night before I return to Rhode Island. I don't have big plans for tomorrow's breakfast, so this is it for the gastronomical madness.

Coming soon: my long-overdue post on the sour cream coffeecake I baked last week.