Saturday, September 19, 2015

Going to The Gatsby, Allergies Notwithstanding

I'm not posting to this blog as frequently as I used to, because a wonderful new bakery -- Zest! -- opened several years ago in nearby San Carlos, turning out gluten-free/dairy-free breads, muffins, cookies, and even ravioli as good as any regular menu items in our food-centric Bay Area.

There are, however, occasions where one simply must bring a prepared dish -- or three. I always offer to do this so that my husband has some known items he can consume, and my friends are very considerate in avoiding this things he can't have, like citrus, cow dairy, tomatoes, mint, and chocolate.

This special occasion was the Gatsby Summer Afternoon, put on by the Art Deco Society of California at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland every year on the second Sunday in September. This spectacular event fills a five-acre lawn with antique cars, fancy picnics, a dance floor with a live band, and, in its 31st year, over 1000 paying attendees, all dressed to the nines. We've been to about the last 20 of these marvelous occasions.

Our hostesses set up on the lawn across from the mansion. 

With vintage Japanese china plates, carefully collected.

The "safe for James" table.

I brought (l-r) a Motor Loaf, a German Potato Salad, and a Depression Cake recipe I found on the Zest Bakery blog. Other contributions on the "safe for James" table included devilled eggs, fresh mixed berries, and some amazing fresh mochii from JapanTown in San Francisco. 

The Motor Loaf is a delicious specialty of the charming San Francisco Tal-Y-Tara Tea & Polo Shoppe. Since Zest makes a wonderful whole grain loaf that's gluten- and dairy-free, I decided to attempt making a version that my husband could enjoy. 

Carving up the loaf was a challenge. From the back side, you can see my version crumbled. My old Joy of Cooking had instructions for carving out a hollow loaf, but I found nothing on the interwebs, and muddled through. Next time I will simply slice off the entire top and the entire bottom, then hollow out the middle so that it can be cut into dainty sandwich slices, and reassemble the sides and bottom with toothpicks. As fragile it was, I did not dare remove it from the mid-century modern tray on which I transported it. 

You can see the sides caving despite the toothpicks. Not Martha Stewart perfection here!

For the sandwich fillings, instead of cream cheese, I used plain goat cheese thinned with a bit of water -- a teaspoon of vermouth might be even better. One set had smoked salmon with dill and another set had good old tinned ham with chives. The sandwiches get wrapped in waxed paper and popped back into the loaf. The top keeps them naturally fresh all afternoon, as you motor about. 

The Depression Cake turned out well for a first time venture. 

I really should test everything beforehand but this looked so perfect for 1930s! And it was totally safe for my husband as written. The recipe mentioned pecans in the title but omitted them in the text, so I threw in a cupfull. It called for 2 cups of cold coffee, which seemed a bit much.  The batter was more like a pudding than a cake. Next time I will try 1.5 cups, or be more cautious adding it. It took extra long to bake, and was more like an English pudding than a cake. But rich and tasty in a fruitcake way.

My friends ate everything happily.

And a good time was had by all, including James, relaxing at left in pinstripes and boater.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Poor Attempt at Rout Cakes: Challenge #1 for the Historical Food Fortnightly

I've been quiet lately on the foodie front. I've been saved a world of torment by a wonderful local business, Zest Bakery in San Carlos, which turns out gluten-free / dairy-free goodies every day of the week. Their whole grain bread, pastries, and squash ravioli are as good as any restaurant. So we've been heading to Zest every weekend, and skipping the roller-coaster of adapting recipes to fit my husband's multiple food allergies: cow dairy, citrus fruit, chocolate, mint, tomato, pineapple, and wheat-like substances.

Until last month, when The Historical Food Fortnightly started up. Yes! Historical costumers, like me, who often cook for events or for pleasure, and have the nerve to blog about it. Every two weeks bring a new challenge, and these talented people are rising to the occasion in wonderful ways.

I'm late to the party: today is the last day of the first week's challenge. I decided to try, just for the heck of it, to meet the challenge of the week, while adhering to my own personal challenge of making  food that is appropriate to bring to historic themed events, and can still be consumed by my husband.
(I am not merely lazy; I have been down with what turned out to be pneumonia, but tonight I felt up to facing the kitchen again, so here goes.)

The Challenge: Literary Foods  June 1 - June 14
Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item. 

Since we do a lot of English Regency era dancing -- my husband leads the band that plays for our SF Bay Area  balls -- I am always looking for historic foods he can have, that will be happily consumed by normals. 

The Recipe: I found two winners in the back of The Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Dierdre Le Faye. The Ratafia Cakes are a gem: perfectly suited for James with no adaptation whatsoever. But alas, I found no literary citation for them in any books I could reach. These little almond based cakes would have probably been consumed by Jane Austen, since the book is based on the recipes from her friend and housemate, Martha Lloyd. 

I did find a citation for the Rout-Cakes in Jane Austen's Emma, where the snobbish Mrs. Elton looks down her nose at Highbury's "poor attempt at rout-cakes." Mine certainly would fit into that tradition!

The Date/Year and Region: England of the early 1800s. A similar recipe appears in Maria Raffald's 1806 book. The Jane Austen Centre has a nice page on it here. (It's pretty much Martha Lloyd's recipe that I adapted.

How Did You Make It: To accomodate James' allergies, I substituted the Trader Joe Gluten-free flour mix for the flour, goat butter for the cow butter, and apple juice for the orange juice. Liquor, no problem. 

Time to Complete: I spent more time finding ingredients and bowls and mixers than I did assembling the ingredients. Actual prep time about 20 minutes, plus 15 to bake.

Total Cost: These were all larder ingredients. It will be much pricier if you have to buy the brandy, sherry, and rose water. 

How Successful Was It?: The Rout-Cakes were edible, but not up to my usual party donations. I was not sure how much the goat butter would break down in the cooking, so I left the dough in little mounds. I should have added more liquid -- perhaps the gluten-free flour mix absorbs more than the regular flour. 

How Accurate Is It?: I'm not that happy with the current version. I'm going to try again, and be sure the "drop" part happens. The overall taste is bland and somewhat muddled. The flavorings are so subtle that the butter comes through as too aggressively "goaty." And it might be that my taste buds are addled by the antibiotics. We shall try this again.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hooray for GF Off-The-Shelf!

Cooking special treats that don't poison my dear husband are a challenge I'm happy to take on, ordinarily. But when life hands you a succession of lemons, it's time to back off from some of the voluntary challenges. Blogging went by the wayside.

I've not been posting -- or cooking as creatively -- for over a year. In that time we've had a succession of medical situations among our circle of family and friends. Not unexpected when said friends and family range from late 50s to early 90s. But still much sorrow and loss to work through, and new challenges of dealing with health for those who are still with us. 

We have to keep eating, and I want us to eat healthily, so I am profoundly grateful for some new GF products that are out there. 

I'm a big fan of Udi's baked goods, which we find locally at Trader Joe's. Their GF breads and buns actually taste like bread, and spoil like real bread (a good sign, in my opinion). They survive being made into French toast or grilled cheese sandwiches. And the buns have been a great excuse for the occasional hamburger (organic grass-fed beef) or chicken hot dog. Unlike many other GF breads out there, they do not use pineapple, one of my husband's allergens, as a sugar substitute. 

Another fine product we love is The Pure Pantry's Organic Buckwheat Flax Pancake and Baking Mix. Not cheap but good. It's $9.29 at our nearest locally-owned health food resource, Earthbeam Natural Foods in Burlingame.  Draeger's and Whole Foods carry other items in this line, but not this one. When I'm too emotionally wrung out to face all those measuring cups and spoons, this is my go-to breakfast mix. 

Our former favorite mix, a wild rice pancake and waffle mix that worked like a charm, has apparently been dropped by Arrowhead Mills. They now make one GF Mix that approximates the white flour experience. Apparently this is what most people are looking for, and the stores like Whole Foods are simply going with what sells, and cutting back on the variety of options on their shelves, according to their information desk. Another reason for paying a little more at a local business that cares about customers, and will naturally skew toward the preferences of the hippy-dippy granola set like me, rather than what some number-cruncher in the midwest home office decrees. 

Wishing you happy local shopping, and safe and tasty dining. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Cheese Tray: A Pot-Luck Strategy

We spent a lovely holiday season catching up with various friends and relations.  As usual, pot-lucks figured into more than one occasion. This year I tried something new: bringing a tray of cheeses for that pre-dinner wait that sometimes takes forever.  Unlike fruitcake, this would work at any time of year.

For persons with multiple food allergies, pot-lucks can be trying. We check in advance with the hostess or other friends, to see what else will be served. Then I plan to bring one complementary dish that is "safe for James" and tasty for normals. This season, my contributions was a large platter featuring sheep and goat cheese, which he can have, along with cow cheese for comparison.

The presentation of the cheeses was instigated by finding adorable white ceramic figures of cows, sheep, and goats: two each plus a pen to write the variety in washable ink at the base of the figure. This led to interesting visits to cheese bars at several local stores featuring a variety of sheep and goat cheeses. You don't need a high-end store to find non-cow cheeses: Trader Joe's now stocks a good variety of Manchgo, Peccorino, Goat Brie, and other cheeses.

Overall, our best finds (all at Whole Foods) were a goat Fleurette, soft and delicious; a "Drunken Goat" with a Gouda-like texture, and a wonderful non-pasturized sheep Manchego. To go with them, I baked a gluten-free whole grain bread from Jacqueline Mallorca, or brought Nut Thins.  The Trader Joe's Basque sheep cheese, Manchgo, and Goat Brie all turned out well too.

The reception varied with just how ravenous people were in the interval before dinner. The first attempt, at Thanksgiving, was devoured in 45 minutes.  Other presentations were nibbled more discreetly.  People enjoyed the animals, although the writing sometimes ran off into the cheese. Only one person flatly refused to go near anything from a sheep or goat, international prizes notwithstanding.

Watching how people deal with cheese, I realized it's not an affectation to use individual planes for each of the hard cheeses and soft knives and spreaders for the soft cheeses. The more expensive cheeses have wonderful, distinct flavors. A little taste goes a long way toward satisfaction.

The project was not as expensive as I'd feared: the cheeses averaged under $5 for a 3-5 ounce cut, which was enough to put out on a tray. And, as with buying wine, you can say up front what price range you are want and the counter person will be able to direct you.

I was happy with the experiment. We learned more about sheep and goat cheeses, most of our friends enjoyed trying some different, and I did not have to knock myself out in the kitchen. Options are good.