Archive | August, 2010

A few words on gluten-free (G.F.) cooking

28 Aug

By Nancy Bertolotti

Before you start preparing G.F. food there are some things you need to know.  First, if a product is not labeled “gluten-free” you may still be able to use it but should always check with the manufacturer to find out if it contains gluten.  Some products may not say they are gluten-free on the label but may be.  Others won’t.  Be wary because you also need to watch for contamination.  Anyone who bakes knows that flour has the ability to ‘fly’ around the kitchen and end up in places you would never suspect. For a person with celiac disease this is a problem.  Many of them can’t even have a crumb.  A gluten-free label means a product was processed or prepared in a separate facility where there is no possibility of contamination.  Another thing you need to be aware of if you are purchasing products that are not labeled gluten-free, is that suppliers of the ingredients for prepared foods often change.  In other words, one batch of something may be gluten-free while another may not.  The manufacturer of the prepared food should be able to tell you its status.  Check with them often.  Don’t just assume because you purchased this product before and it was gluten-free that it still is.

Is it necessary for you to have a completely gluten-free kitchen?  No, it’s not, but I do recommend you clean all utensils just prior to use.  And if you are baking items that are not gluten-free on the same day, bake the gluten-free ones first.

If you are on a gluten-free diet or you want to cook for someone who is, try this tasty Zucchini Bread.  You and they will love it!

G.F. Zucchini Bread

It’s zucchini season!  Every day I find a new zucchini ready to be picked from my garden and sometimes I find oversized ones that have been hidden under the large leaves of the zucchini plant.  The optimum size for picking is around 6 inches, but if your plants should get away from you, this recipe might help you use some of those extra large zucchinis.  It is an adaptation from a book I can’t recommend highly enough called The Gluten-Free Kitchen by Roben Ryberg (2000).

Gluten-free zucchini bread

Ingredients

1 egg
3 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup potato starch
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
1 cup grated zucchini
optional:  chopped walnuts  (Don’t forget to check with the manufacturer of the nuts.  Sometimes they use flour when roasting them.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl mix egg, oil, butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Add all remaining ingredients except zucchini and nuts.  Mix more – it will be thick.  Then add zucchini and nuts.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

You will notice that baked goods that are gluten-free are a little more crumbly than non-gluten-free goods.  You will also want to wrap this shortly after cooling so it doesn’t dry out.  This loaf does freeze well and you may even want to cut it into pieces before freezing and then just extract the number of pieces you need when you need them, microwave them from frozen for 15 to 30 seconds and you have a ready-to-eat dessert for your guests who require gluten-free food.  This recipe also passed the test with family members who do not need to eat gluten-free.

Enjoy!

Check out Nancy’s bio and a link to her food blog on the Contributors page

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Lunchtime variety

26 Aug

Do you ever think, Argh, if I have to plan one more packed lunch I am so going to shoot myself in the head? Well, I do, and I can’t even complain that much, since I only have to prepare my own lunches.

Every once in awhile, I just get utterly sick of lunch options. Moreover, my altruistic career choice of public librarian prevents me from chowing down at the Château every day (alas). I have more or less been riffing on “Salad variations” for the past year or so, except for my evening shifts, for which I try to pack something more substantial. I eat little meat, so I also always have nuts on hand.

This week, even the spouse was feeling that the trusty regular choices just weren’t inspiring anymore, so something had to be done. I decided to whip us up some grilled sandwiches to pack and re-heat for lunch.

File this one under: Recipes, Unlikely Sources for: I got this recipe for a Portobello Mushroom Sandwich from the Globe & Mail. It’s simply divine, and easy to make and simple to pack and re-heat (if you have a toaster oven at work; if not, I’m sure it’s lovely cold, too). This is an easy-peasy sandwich with few ingredients, and it tastes gourmet; it’s also a great pick for vegetarians. I like to use Première Moisson whole wheat bread instead of the baguette recommended above; this time, I used some lovely olive miche from Fidélice, patisserie fine.

Warning: last time I warmed up this sandwich in the toaster oven at work, library staff flocked into the staffroom to hover over my food like vultures. The pesto smell will win over even the most reluctant nose. Bring a stick to beat back the masses if necessary.

One delicious sammie

Love letter to the brioche

21 Aug

Dear brioche*,

I have always loved you. Since we first met, I knew you were vastly superior to the common croissant and its infinite variations (almond, chocolate, apple, and so on).

I love your substantial nature: since you contain eggs, you can be considered a meal in a pinch, to be consumed (head first) while walking down the street (preferably in Paris, but Montreal will do). Unlike  other viennoiseries, you are also low-maintenance: you leave no sticky residue on fingers or flaky shavings on clothing.

I love your size: you are just right, compact, a perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. Bakers, take note: this is how big a muffin should be (well, unless they are adorable mini muffins). My poor brioche! You are dwarfed these days by cookies and muffins (and sometimes – gasp! – even croissants) seemingly made for giants!

I love your shape: your beauty is unique. You are instantly recognisable in a crowd, with your jaunty head perched on your crimped bottom. I think it’s sweet that you need your own fluted tin to be baked in. This may be your only high-maintenance moment, but you save it to have in the secrecy of your own oven. I thrill in your shiny egg wash.

Others may dress you up with a sugar dusting, or dried fruit, but I love you au naturel – your simple, rich taste should not be undermined or distracted from by empty baubles.

Even if the French Baker only makes a few of you each day, (apparently “people here don’t know what to do with a brioche”), and you haven’t yet found your way into every ubiquitous Starbucks or Second Cup, you are still my favourite.

Yours,

Alex.

xoxo

*Or brioche à tête, to be specific.

Tofu with shōjin ryōri mushroom sauce

11 Aug

by Megan Fitzgibbons

I am a very lucky woman. My husband cooks for me nearly every day, and we usually eat dishes drawn from “homestyle” Japanese cuisine.

This is the first recipe that my husband tried from a beautiful shōjin ryōri cookbook called The Enlightened Kitchen by Mari Fujii (limited preview on Amazon). Shojin ryori is the traditional cuisine of Japanese Buddhist monks and does not include any animal products (although this book calls for yogurt in one dish). The diet has been explained with the principle that the monks do not eat anything “that flees when chased.” The food is based on seasonal vegetables and spices that nourish the body in accordance with the season: to warm, cool, or fortify against the cold.

The author’s expertise in temple cuisine is due to being married to a Buddhist monk (convenient!) in Kamakura, an ancient city that we visited during a trip to Japan in 2008. For a  lovely review of the book, visit Maki at the Just Hungry blog.

I was surprised that many of the recipes involve frying food and frequently call for copious amounts of sesame oil, maple syrup, and peanut butter. In other words, the dishes are not all necessarily low-calorie. Other staples include miso (soybean paste), kombu (a type of seaweed), and kanten (agar-agar powder).

We cheated a little on the concept of shojin cuisine by eating a dish intended for another season. According to the book, this “nutritious tofu is served with a sauce of fall mushrooms, a dish to warm the body as the days grow cooler.” Oh, well, it was delicious in summer as well.

As the name suggests, this dish is simply boiled tofu topped with a mushroom sauce. Simple instructions follow.

tofu with mushroom sauce

tofu with mushroom sauce

The base for the sauce is kombu. My husband made a special trip to get Japanese kombu at Miyamoto Foods in Westmount, a place off our usual path. A single strip of dried kombu was needed for this recipe, and it was soaked in water for a few hours beforehand to make the stock.

Ingredients:
1 block silken tofu (400 grams)
50 g mushrooms, assorted types (e.g., shitake, button, shimeji) (1 3/4 ounces)
40 g carrots (julienned) (1 1/4 ounces)
400 ml konbu stock (1 2/3 cups)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
Chopped raw green onions (garnish)

The tofu is simply cut into four chunks, boiled in plain water, and drained.

To prepare the sauce:
1. Bring kombu stock, soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and salt to a boil in a frying pan or pot.

2. Add thinly sliced mushrooms and carrots and simmer for a few minutes.

3. Lower the heat and mix the cornstarch slowly into the liquid to thicken the sauce.

4. Pour the sauce over the tofu.

The recipe recommends garnishing the tofu with strips of blanched green beans, but we used chopped raw green onions instead.

Final judgment: simple, satisfying, and extremely yummy.

The next day, I ate the leftover sauce poured over rice. I had packed my lunch container the night before, and by the time I ate it, the sauce had soaked into the rice, softening the texture and adding a rich flavour.

Megan Fitzgibbons

Check out Megan’s bio and a link to her food blog on the Contributors page

A Taste of Charlevoix

5 Aug

by Jill Boruff

I like knowing where my food comes from. My recent trip to the Charlevoix region of Québec was an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with the origins of my lunch.

The tourist office has an excellent guide to food in the area called the “Flavour Trail.” It helps you find many farms and local producers of food in the region. We made a point of visiting several of these sites during our stay.

Our first stop was Boulangerie Rémy. Not only do they bake bread, but they stone-grind the flour in a restored grist mill. We had a tour of the mill, where we got to see the waterwheel and the stones in action.

mill at Boulangerie Remy

mill at Boulangerie Rémy

Of course, we had to buy bread (and flour!). They are most known for the “Batard de Charlevoix” which is a sourdough loaf using a mixture of wheat and rye flours. It was delicious! We loved it so much that we went back for two more loaves. We were amazed at how long the bread stayed fresh and chewy without getting mouldy.

Batard de Charlevoix sourdough

Batard de Charlevoix sourdough

Our next stop on the Flavour Trail was La Maison d’affinage Maurice Dufour to gather some local cheese for our picnic. Before buying the cheese, we got to meet the sheep who produce the milk for some of the cheese. The cows were in a different pasture, so we didn’t get to meet them. I really enjoyed seeing the animals and where they lived.

We chose two cheeses for our picnic. The first one was a firm cow’s milk cheese called Le Migneron.

Le Migneron

Le Migneron

The second cheese was a runny cow-sheep milk mixture called Le secret de Maurice. This one was so runny that you had to eat it by cutting a hole in the top of the cheese.

Le secret de Maurice

Le secret de Maurice

For our second picnic on another day of visiting the region, we visited La ferme basque. Here, we were quite charmed by the women and girls running the little shop and giving tours of the duck farm. The girls, the daughter of the farmer and her cousin, who were only about 11 or 12, were so excited to show us the newborn ducklings that had arrived that very afternoon. They also showed us around to the other duck pastures, for lack of a better word.
ducks

La ferme basque

La ferme basque

We were able to taste many of the duck products in the little shop, and we finally chose duck rillettes to add to the leftover cheese and bread for our picnic. All of their products were made in small batches the farmhouse and were absolutely delicious.

rillettes

rillettes

It was so satisfying to meet the people (and the animals) who were feeding us. I only wish that I got to do it more often.

Jill Check out Jill’s bio on the Contributors page

Life is just a bowl of cherries…complete with pits

4 Aug

by Jessica Roy

cherry clafoutis

cherry clafoutis

Cherry clafoutis, for those of you who’ve never had the joy of eating some, is a French,
 not too sweet, puddingish dessert that is summer’s answer to winter’s fruit cobblers.
Usually I follow a super easy recipe that calls for sour cream and ricotta resulting in
 something that is more like a cheesecake. While this is quite yummy it is not very 
traditional.

This time around, I used a more standard recipe from The Essential Mediterranean
 Cookbook, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. It has never let me down and the
 photos are designed to drive your appetite absolutely wild. On this occasion, however,
 it evilly had me pitting 1 lb of fresh cherries by hand. It turns out that there is really no 
need for this. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. I’m pleased to report what various internet
 sources confirm; that the fine folk of Limousin (who happily invented this dessert) bake
 their cherries pits-in. They claim that this laissez-faire method actually adds a subtle
 almond like flavour. This appeals to me on so many levels. First, it’s authentic. Secondly,
it’s simple. Pitting cherries is a stain making, painstaking task I’d rather avoid. You
 can buy a weird little cherry pitting device but honestly, who needs another piece of
 equipment cluttering up their kitchen drawers waiting for the one day a year you might
 actually use it to pit some cherries? Not me. When it comes to clafoutis, I’m pits-in all
 the way.

Pits weren’t my only problem though. As this was a late night emergency dessert 
situation, I found myself low on staples and having to make a few questionable
 substitutions, such as whole wheat for regular flour* and soy milk for cow’s. Plus,
there was no thick cream and no suitable thick cream substitute on hand. I know, not
 very French. It wasn’t a total clafoutis fail though. In fact, it was really so very good.
 It was a little denser and heavier than usual (think bread pudding) but, still good.
 Also, the bing cherries were dark, plump and sweet, which helped. As for the much-
anticipated almond flavour, well, it was incredibly subtle but totally worth spitting pits 
for.

Also, if you’re like me, you’ll be singing this song the whole time you’re making cherry 
clafoutis. Fair warning.

*Epicurious suggests you blend almonds into your flour! Just thought everyone should
 know about that.

Check out Jessica’s bio on the Contributors page.