Sunday, June 23, 2013

Freebie Files – How to Cook Everything: The Basics

Another great book by the minimalist chef and recipe-creator extraordinaire, Mark Bittman
I’ve been away for a stretch, and although I’ve been eating well, I haven’t been in the kitchen.  I was leading a writing retreat at Salish Lodge last week in Snoqualmie, Washington.  Normally when you think “lodge” you think bunk beds, giant picnic tables in the dining halls, and more oatmeal than decadence.  Not here.  This lodge has plush rooms, each with their own log-burning fireplace, a beautiful view of a waterfall, and great food.  I typically have to dig into my own snack supply when I travel because gluten-free options are hard to come by, but Salish Lodge had plenty.  Gluten-free blackberry muffins for breakfast, roasted fennel and baby carrots with goat cheese for dinner – it was amazing food at every turn. 

But now I’m back home and it’s time to post the gluten-free and dairy-free recipes from our latest cookbook, How to CookEverything:  The Basics (2012) by Mark Bittman.  This cookbook is a dramatic departure from Bittman’s other books.  Normally his cookbooks are crammed with hundreds of recipes, but they’re all font and no photos.  This cookbook breaks that tradition, and, much like The Pioneer Woman Cooks and other trendy cookbooks, offers step-by-step photos for every recipe.   As a result, this installment of How to Cook Everything boasts 1,000 photos and 185 recipes.

But as we’ve come to expect from Bittman, the minimalist cook, the recipes are simple with familiar ingredients and clear instructions.  And the results are delicious.  I've tried and adapted two recipes, the Baked Rice Pudding and the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, and both were fantastic.  

Of Bittman's 185 recipes, I’ve counted 59 that are gluten- and dairy-free straight out of the book.  As you'll see below, I've listed 19 that I'm eager to make.

What do I want to make first?  I love a good quiona pilaf, so the Quinoa Pilaf with Ginger and Chiles has my attention.  And now that it’s summer, I’ve been in the mood for a creamy chicken salad, piled high on a plate of Bibb lettuce with a couple of tomato wedges on the side. Bittman’s recipe for chicken (or turkey) salad sounds crunchy with almonds and celery.  Normally I’m not a fan of mayonnaise-based salads because they’re too goopy with mayo, but his recipe has a generous pound of shredded chicken to a mere ¼ C. mayonnaise, which sounds just about right to me.

Gluten-free and dairy-free recipes from How to Cook Everything – The Basics
Crudites with Warm Olive Oil Dip, pp. 74-75
Apple Salsa, pp. 80-81
Quick Pickle Spears, pp. 88-89
Chopped Salad, pp. 116-117
Spicy Coleslaw, pp. 120-121
Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon, pp. 132-133
Fast Tomato Soup, pp. 140-141
Smoky Red Bean Soup, pp. 150-151
Rice Pilaf, Plain and Fancy, pp. 148-149
Quinoa Pilaf with Ginger and Chiles, pp. 208-209
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, pp. 224-225
Garlicky Sweet Potatoes, pp. 240-241
Spanish-Style Lentils with Spinach, pp. 256-257
Perfect Roast Beef, pp. 274-275
Barbecued Spare Ribs in the Oven, pp. 296-297
Braised Chicken, Mediterranean Style, pp. 324-325
Chicken or Turkey Salad, pp. 336-337
Crisp Sesame Fish Fillets, p. 352-253
Beef Tacos, pp. 392-393

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Soft Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

A rare find: A oatmeal chocolate chip cookie that's soft and gluten-free
I don’t often see gluten-free oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in bakeries or grocery stores, so when I do, I’m tempted to pick one up.  The temptation is strongest when it’s a hefty cookie, and when you press it ever so gently in the cellophane wrapper, it promises to be soft.  I know there are people who line up on the crispy oatmeal cookie side of the aisle, but I like mine soft, with just enough texture from the oats to remind you this could, in a pinch, be breakfast.  

So I pay for the cookie and unwrap it before we’ve even stepped out of the store.  And one bite in, I’m asking my husband if he wants to eat the rest of it.  Although cooked oats are inherently soft, somehow gluten-free oatmeal cookies aren’t.  They tend to be too crisp and crumbly for my tastes.

So I was eager to adapt Mark Bittman’s recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from How to Cook Everything – The Basics (2012).  Bittman promises that the original recipe was both chewy and crispy, and as long as there’s some chewy in there, that’s good enough for me.  I’ve often wondered whether gluten-free cookies are dry because they don’t have enough liquid in them, and this recipe seemed promising because it had milk as an added ingredient.  Unusual, yes, and I’d need to substitute something else for the milk since we don’t eat dairy, but Bittman is a brilliant cook and he’s probably onto something.  This could be the key to soft oatmeal cookies. 

Adapting the Recipe
To make the cookies gluten-free, I used an all-purpose gluten-free flour and added some xanthan gum to improve the texture.  I also used gluten-free rolled oats (thank you, Bob’s Red Mill, for being so easy to find). 

To make the cookies dairy-free, I cut out the butter and used a combination of margarine and non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening.  I thought about using all margarine, but there was a lot of liquid in this recipe (as you’ll see below) and I was concerned that if I used all margarine the cookies would spread too thin.  This cookies recipe was unusual in that it called for a half cup of milk, and I used unsweetened almond milk instead.

I also used gluten-free chocolate chips instead of the chopped chocolate, and I increased the amount of salt.  Bittman only used a pinch, and I thought with the shortening, they’d need more.

Enjoying oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the back porch
These are mighty fine oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  They’re not gooey and bendy, but they are soft, and that’s what I was going for.  (I’ll have to work on gooey and bendy cookies another day).  They’re also unapologetic about the chocolate.  There are chocolate chips, lots of them, in every cookie.  I made some for a friend and her sons gobbled them up.

In sum, these are world’s better than any gluten-free oatmeal chocolate chip cookie I’ve purchased in cellophane or at a gluten-free bakery.  These would be perfect arranged on a plate for a potluck, tucked into a cooler you’re taking to the beach, or snuck into a movie theater.  Can you tell I have plans for the weekend?

These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies spread a little, but mostly stay tall and soft in the middle
4 T. margarine
4 T. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (I use Spectrum)
½ C. granulated sugar
½ C. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ C. gluten-free all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. xanthan gum
2 C. gluten-free rolled oats (not instant)
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ C. plain almond, rice, or soy milk
1 1/3 C. (8 oz.) gluten-free chocolate chips

This recipe works best if you make the batter at least two hours in advance and let it chill.  You can make the batter the night before you plan to bake the cookies and then bake a cookie sheet’s worth in the morning while you make breakfast.  That’s what I did and I had warm cookies to take to work with me.

Use an electric mixer to combine the margarine, shortening, and sugars in a large bowl.  Cream the mixture on medium speed until the color is even and there are no lumps.   Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a separate large bowl, gently whisk the flour, xanthan gum, oats, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until you can see that the cinnamon is evenly distributed.  (Everything else will be evenly distributed as well, presumably, but the cinnamon is easiest to see because it’s darker).

In a measuring cup, combine the vanilla and almond, rice, or soy milk.

Add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the margarine / sugar mixture and mix the batter on low until well incorporated.  Add about half of the vanilla milk, mixing the batter on low again until the batter is smooth.  Keep alternating dry and wet ingredients, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the chocolate chips. 

At this point, the batter will be a lot wetter than most cookie batters you’re used to.  Cover the bowl and chill the dough for at least 2 hours to let the batter firm up. 

When it’s time to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (*** degrees Celsius).  Use a tablespoon to scoop out the dough and drop tablespoon-sized mounds onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes, rotating the pans at 7 minutes into the baking process to ensure the cookies brown evenly.  The cookies will be lightly browned around the edges when they’re done.

Set the baking pans on cooling racks, or if you need your cookie sheets to bake the rest, let the cookies cool 3-4 minutes before removing them from the pan and setting them directly on the rack to finish cooling.  Store the cookies in an air-tight container.

Bittman says the original recipe is best the first day or two, and I expect that’s true for the gluten-free version as well, so I’m going to freeze most of these and we’ll enjoy them slowly over the next week or two.  

Makes 3 – 4 dozen cookies

Yeah, you know how I spoiled my dinner

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Creamy, Hold-the-Cow, Rice Pudding

Creamy dairy-free rice pudding, perfect plain or with a few berries
Hold-the-cow?  C’mon, you get it.  It’s dairy-free rice pudding, and it’s really, really good. 

You remember how I've said “desserts should be eaten with a spoon?”  Well, this recipe continues in that fine tradition.  It’s creamy, dreamy rice pudding, the ultimate comfort food.  It only has 6 ingredients and if you’re like me, you’re going to eat the first batch entirely by yourself, wondering where it all went as you scrape the last bits of vanilla sauce from the bottom of the container. 

It’s ok.  This recipe is simple enough you can more for your friends and family later in the week.  They don’t have to know about the first batch.

This recipe is an adaptation of one from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything – The Basics (2012) cookbook.  Unlike Bittman’s earlier How to Cook Everything cookbooks, this one has lots of pictures, with step-by-step images to ensure you that you’re heading in the right direction. 

Adapting the Recipe
The original recipe didn’t have any gluten, so no changes there.  To make this dairy-free, however, took a bit of creative maneuvering.  Instead of whole milk, we’re going to substitute a combination of unsweetened almond milk and lite, canned coconut milk.  We’re not going to use much coconut milk – the goal is to have a distinct vanilla flavor – but the coconut milk thickens the pudding and adds a touch of richness.  It makes this relatively healthy dessert seem decadent. 

Heavenly.  If I had a starring system, this recipe would easily merit a full 5 stars out of 5.  It’s creamy and smooth, which is a big win in the non-dairy world.  If you've tried making rice pudding with soy or rice milk, you know it can turn out either watery or curdled.  This pudding has just the right amount of vanilla, and if you make it with basmati or jasmine rice, you’ll fine yourself swooning with the delicate fragrance.  And it’s so easy.  Just measure the ingredients directly into the baking dish, stir, put it in the oven, and give it a few more quick stirs while it bakes.  Done and done.

You might be wondering about the texture.  You can see it mounds a bit, but it's not as thick as pie filling.  If you you want a really thick pudding, use Arborio rice, which will plump up nicely and release a lot of thickening starch into the pudding. 

Dress up rice pudding by serving it elegant tea cups
1/3 C. white rice*
½ C. granulated sugar
Pinch salt
3 C. unsweetened almond milk
1 C. lite (or low fat) canned coconut milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).  Get out a large casserole or gratin dish that holds at least 6 cups.  Believe it or not, you don’t even have to grease the dish.  Mix the rice, sugar, salt, almond milk, and coconut milk directly in the dish.  The rice and sugar will settle to the bottom of the dish, but that’s fine for now.  Put the dish in the oven, uncovered. 

You’re going to bake this dish for just less than 2 hours, but you’re going to do it in stages. 

       1)     Bake for 30 minutes, then gently stir the rice again.  You can remove the dish from the oven to stir it (carefully now, so it doesn’t spill) or simply pull out the oven rack and stir the rice while it’s still in the oven.  It will still be quite thin and you’ll be thinking that this recipe isn’t working, but have faith – it will get there. 

       2)     Bake the rice for another 30 minutes, then stir gently again.  At this point, there may be a thin skin forming on top of the rice.  Just stir it back into the mixture.

       3)     Bake for another 30 minutes.  Now the rice should be plumping up and the skin on top of the pudding will be quite visible, potentially browning a little.  Stir the pudding well, pushing the skin back into the pudding.  That skins has a lot of flavor and will help thicken the pudding.

      4)     For this final round of baking, let the pudding bake for another 10 minutes.  If the pudding falls away from the spoon in soft clumps, it’s done.  If it isn’t clumping, stir the pudding, put it back in the oven, and bake another 10 minutes.  Check again, stir, and if it’s not done, bake for a final 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool.  (At most, you’ve let it bake an additional 30 minutes). 

Stir in the vanilla when you remove it from the oven.

The pudding will be finished cooking before it looks done.  The rice should be quite swollen (to it’s normal size) and the milk mixture will have thickened but still be a touch runny.  It will thicken further as it cools, so don’t worry if it’s not as thick as you were hoping.  Stir the pudding and let it sit at least 30 minutes before you serve it.  Serve it warm, room temperature, or cold. 

Serves 4 - 6

*You can use any white rice in this recipe.  Basmati or jasmine will have an incredible fragrance, reminiscent of the rice pudding you’d get at an Indian or Thai restaurant at the end of a meal, and short-grained rice, such as Arborio, will make a much thicker pudding. 

I had just enough rice pudding left to take these photos.  I want to eat it every time I open the fridge.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Freebie Files – Slow Cooker Revolution

From the editors at America's Test Kitchen, it's the Slow Cooker Revolution

When I sat down this morning to tag all of the gluten-free and dairy-free recipes from our latest cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen SlowCooker Revolution (2011), I was in for a surprise.  As I mentioned in the Chocolate Pudding Cakepost, I love this cookbook and have easily made or adapted 15-20 recipes from it, but somehow I hadn’t read through the entire thing.  There is an entire chapter of side dishes that I’d overlooked. 

Mexican Brown Rice?  Heck, let’s add that to tonight’s dinner.  I needed something to go with grilled chicken.

Seriously.  The rice is cooking even as I type.

This is yet another great cookbook from the editors of America’s Test Kitchen.  They just do things right.  You open up any one their cookbooks, you prep the ingredients, you follow their clear and careful steps, and you can rest easy.  You know the result is going to be good, if not great. 

This cookbook boasts 200 recipes on the cover and I count at least 75 that are gluten- and dairy-free.  The good news is that many of the remaining recipes could be made gluten-free easily if you’ve got a carefully stocked pantry.  For instance, they use soy sauce in a lot of their recipes to amp up the flavor (even in Italian or Mexican dishes).  I didn’t include those recipes in my count because most soy sauces contains gluten, but if you’ve got gluten-free soy sauce at home, you’ve got many more recipes to try.

I’ve listed 19 of the gluten- and dairy-free recipes that I’ve either made or am eager to make.  What can I already recommend from this list?  The Italian Style Pot Roast is fantastic and the Roasted Chicken Broth is an incredible base for homemade chicken soup.  Or if you’re having a potluck this summer and want to wow the vegetarians, try the Black Bean Chili.  Very tasty and it’s oh-so-easy to set out the crockpot and let people help themselves to chili and their favorite toppings. 

The Coconut Rice Pudding is also a crowd-pleaser.  I made this for a picnic last summer and two people came up to me asking for the recipe.  They had both tried making rice pudding without dairy and thought this was much better than their attempts.  And the Fresh Strawberry Jam is intensely sweet and strawberry.  I like my Strawberry Rhubarb version a tad better, but if you’ve got a lot of kids’ sandwiches to make this summer, the Fresh Strawberry Jam is your new best friend. 

P.S.  The Mexican Brown Rice recipe we just tried from this cookbook was fantastic.  We had to add some salt at the table (our chili powder was salt-free), but after that, the rice was tangy, spicy, and the perfect way to jazz up a simple meal of grilled chicken breasts.  

Gluten-free and dairy-free recipes from Slow Cooker Revolution
Curried Chickpea Soup, pp. 38-39
Tex-Mex Chicken Stew, p. 50
Spinach Salad with Carrots and Sesame, p. 58
Chicken Cacciatore, p. 89
Italian Style Pot Roast, p. 98
Maple Glazed Pork Loin, p. 113
Tomatillo Chili with Pork and Hominy, pp. 126-127
Vegetarian Black Bean Chili, pp. 138-139
North Carolina Pulled Pork, p. 145
Shredded Barbecue Chicken, p. 154
Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce, p. 163
Italian Sunday Gravy, pp. 172-173
Fennel Tangerine Slaw, p. 205
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Coconut and Cilantro, p. 255
Mexican Brown Rice, p. 263
Spanish Egg and Potato Tortilla, pp. 272-273
Coconut Rice Pudding, p. 294
Fresh Strawberry Jam, p. 300
Roasted Chicken Broth, p. 310

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Slow Cooker Chocolate Pudding Cake

Fudgy Chocolate Pudding Cake
When it comes to dessert, do you prefer one that requires a fork or a spoon?  I’m a spoon-person, all the way.  Ice cream, puddings, tiramisu, parfaits, things oozing with chocolate sauce – the creamier and oozier, the better, I say.

And that brings us to today’s cake.  It’s a pudding cake, which is a fancy way of saying “put away the forks, silly.”  So many gluten-free and dairy-free desserts are dry that it's nice to have one that actually oozes and clings to the roof of your mouth.  

This is the second recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution (2011).  I love this cookbook and have probably made twenty recipes from it in the two years that I’ve owned it, but this is, hands down, my favorite.  I'd made this pudding cake recipe several times before we had to cut wheat from our diet, but I was eager to see how well it would adapt to gluten-free flours.

Adapting the Recipe
Let me start by saying it adapts beautifully.  I’ve made this cake four times in the past four months, partially because it's that good, and partially because I've been trying to figure out the right balance of wet ingredients to dry.  The first time I made this recipe, I added 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum, but it soaked up all the excess liquid, leaving almost all cake and no pudding.   Still tasty, but I wanted more pudding.  After all, this is supposed to be a dessert you eat with a spoon.

Each successive time I made the recipe, I reduced the xanthan gum, and on my fourth try a week ago, I eliminated it all together and I liked that version best.  (And eliminating the xanthan gum means that it’s a less fussy recipe that has familiar ingredients even my mom would recognize).  Now we’ve finally got a good cake-to-pudding ratio.  It’s mostly cake, with a nice bit of chocolate goo on the bottom.

To make it dairy-free, I’ve substituted either margarine or canola oil for the butter (I like the margarine version a little better) and used non-dairy milk.  I’ve had success with soy milk and almond milk, and I suspect rice milk or coconut milk (the diluted kind in the dairy case, not the thick kind that comes in a can) would work well too.

I have found my happy place.  It’s cake, yes, but it’s one that begs for a spoon so that you can get every moist, gooey, and fudgy bite. 

This cake is dependable and it’s easy.  You can put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker just before a dinner party begins and it’s done by the time you’re asking “Would anyone like some dessert?”  The only downside is that it’s not visually stunning.  It’s comfort food, plain and simple.  You can serve it with whipped cream if you eat dairy or with some sliced berries if you don’t.

This cake has one expected bonus - it travels well.  I travel a fair amount, and I’ve begun to carry a small plastic container of this cake with me on flights.  I used to travel with my own homemade granola bars, but there are so many good gluten-free bars available in airports now (Kind bars and NuGo bars are popping up everywhere) that it’s only in the smallest airports that I find myself at a loss for a tasty bar. 

But a moist, gluten-free chocolate cake?  Heck, anything that’s moist and gluten-free can be hard to come by in a well-stocked grocery store, let alone in an airport.  I took a hunk of this cake with me on a recent trip to Duluth, Minnesota.  I didn’t get to my hotel room til after 11:00 pm that night, and after a long day of travel, I put my feet up, got out my plastic spoon, and dug in.  It’s a cake that makes anyplace feel like home. 
Not glamorous, but a gluten-free chocolate pudding cake that makes your shoulders slump with calm
1 C. all-purpose, gluten-free flour
1 C. sugar, divided
½ C. unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed for a richer flavor, also divided
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ C. dairy-free milk, either plain or vanilla (such as soy, almond, or rice milk)
4 T. margarine, melted (1/2 stick) or canola oil
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ C. chocolate chips (or chop up a bar of dark chocolate)
1 C. boiling water

First, line the back of your slow cooker (the side where the cord extends to the wall) with a strip of aluminum foil.  Slow cookers tend to heat unevenly, and the aluminum foil will ensure that the parts of the cake nearest the heating element don’t overcook.  Start with a piece of aluminum foil that’s about 18-inches long.  Fold the long edge of the foil up like you’re folding a letter into thirds, folding up the bottom edge first, then folding the top edge over.  When you’re done, you’ll have a strip of aluminum foil that’s about 18-inches long, about 3-inches high, and has three layers.  Stand the aluminum foil strip up along the back of the slow cooker, making it snug against the back and curving it around the sides as best you can. 

Spray the bottom and sides of the slow cooker as well as the aluminum foil strip with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk the gluten-free flour, ½ C. sugar, ¼ C. cocoa, baking powder, and salt until the dry ingredients are uniform in color and the lumps of cocoa powder are broken up.  In a smaller separate bowl or Pyrex measuring cup, whisk the dairy-free milk, margarine or oil, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing well.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Spoon the batter into the prepared slow cooker, and use a spatula to spread the batter evenly to the edges. 

In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ C. sugar and ¼ C. cocoa, then sprinkle this mixture evenly over the top of the batter.  Slowly pour the boiling water over the sugar-cocoa mixture, but DON’T stir.  Just pour.  Cover the cake immediately and cook on HIGH until the top of the cake looks cracked and the sauce is bubbling, about 1 ½ hours.

Turn off the slow cooker (or turn it to “Warm” if yours has that function).  Remove the foil strip and let the cake sit 10-20 minutes before serving.  Scoop into little bowls or cute serving plates and pass out the spoons.

Makes about 6 to 8 servings