Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gluten-Free Fair at Draeger's Market

The Gluten-Free Fair at Draeger's Market in San Mateo last Sunday was a great success. There were just enough people to fill the classes and demo spaces but not such a crowd as to render things impassible.

Draeger's Mary Claire had lined up nearly 20 vendors that were scattered throughout the large 2-story building, dispensing bites of amazingly tasty fare. Some were disqualified for James by their buttery and chocolaty goodness; happily many items were dairy-free or vegan.

I'll add more complete details on the products later. Right now I want to be sure anyone who is interested in future meetups can sign up for themselves. So far events have been held at Blackhawk and San Mateo. Draeger's is not cheap but they give good value for your money.

Gluten-Free Club at Draeger's

Other great news is that Jacqueline Mallorca's new cookbook, Gluten-Free Italian is out! It was at Draeger's on Sunday and Amazon still thinks it's not released yet. Case in point. I've got my autographed copy in my hot little hand now. Some things are worth paying list price.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Photographic Evidence: These Cakes Are Good Eats

Since I honestly did not expect to win anything when I entered the cooking competition at the San Mateo County Fair, it was quite a pleasant shock to find a blue and a white ribbon gracing my cakes in the display case!

The carob-walnut torte, left, did not turn out as lofty as usual, but it tasted just fine, even after resting overnight. It's based on Jacqueline Mallorca's nifty four-ingredient chocolate-walnut cake in The Wheat-Free Cook, which is probably even better when using unsweetened natural cocoa powder as she specifies. I substitute the unsweetened natural carob powder from Bob's Red Mill, since James is highly allergic to chocolate. This is my go-to recipe when taking a dessert to share with others. It can be made ahead of time, it transports well, and can be cut into small pieces by people who want to sample everything on the buffet.

My adaptation of another recipe from The Wheat Free Cook took third place (left center). As you can see, these gluten-free cakes are not cake mix cover girls. They are low, plain cakes but they have a pleasing texture and good flavor. This is the cholesterol-free walnut-olive oil sponge cake. Jacqueline Mallorca specifies the zest of an orange as the accent flavor, but since James is allergic to citrus, I added chopped ginger instead.

The ribbons are objective testimony that you can eat well despite multiple food allergies, my reason for writing this blog. These recipes are real food that you can serve without qualms to your family and guests. You don't have to make separate food for the person with allergies. My aim in entering the fair was to get some recognition for special diet cooking as a category on its own. Instead, I would up proving my point that you can take these goodies anywhere, and they will be consumed with pleasure.

My other evidence is that James has to watch that the "normals" don't consume his dessert treat before he gets to it, as happened when I took the sherry-walnut cake to a tiki party a few weeks ago. That carob-walnut torte is going to The 25th Annual Gatsby Summer Afternoon this Sunday, along with its blue ribbon. What's a little bragging among friends? County fairs were quite the rage in the 1920s and '30s!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eating Around Allergies: Gluten-Free Goes To The County Fair

Eating Around Allergies: Gluten-Free Goes To The County Fair

Woohoo! My "Cakes Other Than Layer" took first and third place! (Carob-Walnut Torte first and Walnut-Olive Oil Sponge third.) I'm still amazed since there were other entries, and this was in competition with "normals." Backs up my ongoing claim, you can take these pups anywhere without apology. And that Jacqueline Mallorca is a cookbook goddess!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gluten-Free Goes To The County Fair

Every year, James and I enjoy the down-home ambiance of our San Mateo County Fair. We realize, as James says, that Maker Faire, filling the same venue, is probably more representative of what our county currently produces. But the quilts and goats and gardens all deserve our attention too. So does the food.

This year I took a deep breath and entered the culinary competition. In category "Other." There is no category for gluten-free or special diets. My hope is not to win anything other than recognition for the need for a "special diet" category. Let's face it, carob brownies aren't going to beat out real chocolate in a blind tasting. But on their own, they are a yummy treat, especially for someone who reacts severely to chocolate.

I'm taking four of what have become my "old reliables", with the various accommodations I make cooking for James. My point, as always, is that whatever your food restrictions are, you can find ways to eat well at home or while dining out or with friends.

CA - 232 - Quick Breads Class: 06
Description: Wheat-free: Rustic Seed Bread (no wheat flour or cows milk)
Recipe from The Wheat-Free Cook by Jacqueline Mallorca, substituting goat yogurt for cows.

CA - 233 - Cookies Class: 05
Description: Wheat-Free Barley Carob Brownies
The recipe from the back of Bob's Red Mill barley flour, substituting their excellent carob powder for the cocoa powder.

CA - 237 - Cakes Other Than Layer Class: 03
Description: Cholesterol-free, wheat-free torte made with walnuts, carob, liquid egg substitute, and sugar.
My version of Jacqueline Mallorca's "Four-Ingredient Chocolate-Walnut Cake" made using Bob's Red Mill carob powder for the natural cocoa powder.

CA - 237 - Cakes Other Than Layer Class: 05
Description: Walnut-olive oil sponge cake: no cholesterol, no wheat flour
Jacqueline Mallorca's version calls for zest of an orange. Since James is allergic to citrus, I add some powdered or chopped ginger -- Trader Joe has an unsugared version I like.

It's all rather exciting, made even more so when the entries are to be submitted between 7-9 this Thursday morning. Luckily these all hold well, because most of them are getting made Wednesday evening. There will be take-out salads for dinner, and many leftover desserts for us -- regulations call for half a cake or loaf.

Do support your local county fair, wherever you are!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sugar Blues?

One commenter asked about substitutes for sugar. Sugar is a tricky thing to substitute, particularly in baking. So much of baking is a science. Recipes assume certain chemical reactions, much as they presume one is not cooking at high altitude.
Thinking of this, I created a minor culinary disaster on Sunday morning. We had wonderful ripe peaches, courtesy of SPUD, that were at use-it-or-lose-it status. They were perfect just as they were. Did not need to be turned into clafoutis!
So I thought, let's try them on pancakes, with just a touch of maple syrup at the table. My favorite pancake recipe, from The Wheat-Free Cook, is elegant in its simplicity, and works every time. It called for 1 teaspoon of sugar. Not much. Let's substitute agave syrup, which is claimed to be easier on the body than sugar, adding it to the wet rather than the dry ingredients. So far, so good.

I'm not sure what happened, as it all was so fast. But I scorched the pancakes! They cooked up so fast. I think the griddle might have been hotter than usual; it's cast iron over gas burners, no thermostats to reckon by. I just fling drops of water on the griddle like my mom and gramma did. (And, to be honest, I was still a bit foggy from the previous day's Bay Cruise on the Jeremiah O'Brien.)

I barely finished dishing out the tablespoonfuls of batter -- these are small pancakes -- when the air filled with smoke. The pancakes were burning and sticking to the grill, faster than I could flip them. I was able to rescue most of them but a grim note of charcoal remained. We added more maple syrup than I'd anticipated.

The quickness with which these pancakes burned makes me suspect that the agave syrup cooked more quickly. Regular sugar would take a bit longer to melt. I have found the agave syrup to be an excellent sweetener, when you don't want flavors such as maple or molasses or honey. But for baking, caution is needed. Maybe if I tried a lower temp on griddle...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Clafoutis! Clafoutis! Clafoutis!

It's cherry time, and some of us are thinking ahead to a River City picnic, inspired by "The Music Man." This brings to mind Gluten-Free Girl's post linking clafoutis to the "Shapoopi" number.

When I posted on Facebook that I was preparing clafoutis for breakfast, I got quite a few responses, indicating that (a) my Facebook friends enjoy eating well and (b) some people have not heard of clafoutis.

There are numerous versions of clafoutis around nowadays. It's one of those thrifty French recipes that took fruit that was less than perfect and cooked it into a dessert somewhere between pudding and cake. It's a homey treat, not something you find on many menus.

Our clafoutis is based on ace food writer John Thorne's account in Outlaw Cook (1992), adapted to work around James' food allergies and use up any fruit that's gone slightly over-ripe. Like Thorne, we think it's a super treat for a weekend breakfast.

We first heard of John Thorne via the irrepressible Alton Brown, whose "Good Eats" show on the Food Network is an unceasing delight. [If you have not seen this show, you should be warned. Halfway into his first season, Alton discovered he had a big fan base among school kids, who loved his blend of food history, chemistry, theatrical improv, and rowdy sock puppets -- the belching yeasts doing their Busby Berkeley routine as the microscope zoomed in on them had me in fits of laughter. The shows can get zany, but Alton always delivers good information and painless food science. When Alton in print cited John Thorne as one of his great influences, we thought, better check this one out.

John Thorne is a delightful writer, full of wonderfully crafted sentences that keep you on the edge of your seat wondering where this particular saga will take you. Before there were blogs or the internet, Thorne was supporting himself through a subscription newsletter. His accounts follow history and nature into the particulars of how he and his wife Matt actually create the dish, for which the recipe is an approximation, not a formula.

"Winter has set in since I started writing, and the only strictly local fruit still available is a few forlorn apples clinging to the bare boughs of the apple trees, bright, rare posts of color in a world of spruce and snow."

Writing geeks -- you know who you are -- will appreciate how every word hangs together in that sentence, like a piece of Shaker furniture. Some of Thorne's books are making it back into print; they are well worth hunting down if you enjoy great food writing.

Our clafoutis -- Thorne says this is the correct singular but that Americans are dropping the final "s" because people assume a noun ending in "s" is plural -- our clafoutis has the additional burden of avoiding wheat flour, cow's milk, and lemon peel called for in his recipe.

Since I'm all about substitutions -- your allergies may be diametrically opposed to my husband's, but you could still derive benefit from reading these posts -- here's how I do it.

Clafoutis is traditionally a pudding, more than a cake. It's made with 1 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of flour, a little salt, and two eggs. I substitute almond or goat milk for the cow's milk, and for the flour, a blend of teff and brown rice flour.

For experimental purposes, I've tried adding baking powder and xanthan gum, which gives more poof and cake-like texture. We find the pudding texture comforting, so I tend to skip the poof.

This is one of those multi-stage concoctions that comes together quickly, so I like to stage ingredients. (This also helps as I'm still metabolizing my coffee and the brain is not fully in gear.)

1. Prep: Set oven to 425 degrees. Make seasoned sugar. Thorne calls for lemon peel; I grate some fresh nutmeg to avoid the lemon, since nutmeg has some of that tangy chameleon quality of lemon, going with sweet or savory. Peel and cut up your fruit of choice, stonefruit or berries being good choices. The French do not pit the cherries as it's considered more flavorful that way. When the cook is wielding a cast-iron skillet, I dare say the diners agree.

2. Assemble the batter, adding the dry ingredients into the wet a little at a time, ending with the seasoned sugar. Let batter rest while you prepare the fruit.

3. In a large heavy skillet, saute the fruit in butter (we use goat butter for special occasions like this). Add sugar to taste. Fruit should cook lightly and juices coalesce.

4. Carefully pour or ladle batter onto fruit. Pop in oven for 25 minutes.

5. Serve in bowls with cool milk-like substance of choice.

So that's the story behind one of our weekend brunch treats, plus links to a couple of fine food writers to consult for your own inspiration. Try a clafoutis of your own with this summer's stonefruits!

Note: the pictured clafouti is not in the skillet because it was Gluten-Free Girl's recipe, which was more of a cake and looks better in photographs. It was yummy, but the pudding sits well for breakfast. Did I mention she is also a fine writer? Fine food writers make you appreciate just how important food is in our lives, and that your efforts to cook and eat well are worthwhile.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gluten-Free Dining Now on the Zagat Radar!

Good news for dining out! has a feature article on chefs addressing the needs of those who must dine gluten-free.

Includes several SF area restaurants with gluten-free items. Let's hope this visibility keeps increasing.
Gluten lurks in so many food substances that it's difficult to avoid. How wonderful to have items on the menu that don't have hidden pitfalls.

I'll use this bully pulpit to lobby for one simple improvement: listing ingredients in each dish. This is so helpful for anyone with food allergies, and must save the wait staff hours of reciting or making trips to the kitchen with your questions. It gives the regular diner a quick picture of what a creative dish might be like, and the allergic person is forwarned. (We steer clear of dishes like the Martha Stewart pineapple-chocolate cheesecake with mint -- our all-time winner for combining foods to which James is allergic.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

When You Don't Feel Like Cooking

There are times you don't feel like cooking. It's too much work, too much thought, too much preparation and planning.

Perhaps you never really learned to cook. There was always someone to cook for you, or a series of favorite take-out counters. Or, if you have dietary considerations, the burden of having to demystify general advice made your brain want to explode. (Tomatoes! Why does every recipe have tomatoes, when they make my sweetie ill?)

I must digress to our favorite tomato story, when James and I sang madrigals at Renaissance Faire years ago. We had stopped for lunch at a booth offering toasted sandwiches. Like all the regulars who worked and played there, we had undergone weeks of training to speak and think in Elizabethan terms. Did the sandwich have tomatoes, James asked. "Oh, no sarrrh," replied the horrified serving wench in her finest BFA (Basic Faire Accent --just think pirate if you have never been to a Renaissance Faire, it's the same corner of Southwest England). "Everyone knows that tomatoes be poisonous!" "To me, they are," James replied. It was a fine moment of intersection of history with personal diet, and we all had a most hearty laugh.

Tomatoes are one of the hardest ingredients to substitute. When a recipe calls for a dash of tomato, I can substitute Avgar, a traditional Middle Eastern blend of eggplant and red pepper now available at Trader Joes and other places. But the great can of tomatoes called for in so many recipes--I throw up my hands in dispair.

So I am at a loss to cook from my latest find on the internet: The Three-Dollar Dinner (found at Television producer Jerry Kolber has written an engaging forward about how people ate when he was growing up, and the lessons this has for us in today's economy. For anyone who's not allergic to tomatoes, it is an excellent resource on how to prepare, shop for, and cook simple, healthy meals. Tomatoes are a cheap nutritional powerhouse, so they appear in about half of the recipes.

Our personal considerations aside, there is much to enjoy in this lively, engaging ebook. (Did I mention that it is a mere $6 download?) Here's a sample of Kolber's brash, positive attitude:
This is a new kind of cookbook, perhaps the first of its kind, focused on showing you how to make fresh food that is better than most restaurants will serve you, for well under three dollars per person. It’s about reconnecting with the joy of homemade meals while recognizing that no matter what your situation is you probably don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen. This book is for:
• One income or no income families with two, three, four or more mouths to feed
• Cool kids doing what they love in the big city and getting paid next to nothing (or nothing – thanks internship!) – but who still want to nourish their bodies and souls with fantastic organic meals for around $20 a week or less each.
• People who are trying to get out of debt but don’t want to eat rice & beans every day
• Grandmas and grandpas who want to eat well on a limited income
• People who don’t have a lot of time or money but want to eat well
• Anyone who wants to impress a date with a fantastic romantic home cooked meal
• Anyone who thinks it’s cheaper and easier to eat fast food than to cook at home--I’ll prove you wrong!
I've not yet tested the handful of recipes that did not have tomatoes as a key ingredient. (It won't be soon. This week I'm determined to work through the four recipes Jacqueline Mallorca is demonstrating this Saturday at Draegers.) I figured the advice alone was worth the price. There is a great divide today between the "healthy" nation and the "unhealthy" that mirrors the great cultural divide of the late 19th Century, when the newly rich robber barons appropriated "culture" as too good for the masses, who had been enjoying Shakespeare and opera just as much as the wealthy, thank you very much. Kolber addresses the current tendency to make healthy eating the province of the elite, and seizes it for the rest of us.

And, if you suddenly find yourself cooking for the first time, Kolber's little ebook is a fine place to start. Two weeks of healthy meal planning spelled out in detail, and recipes that come together easily. And cheap. Aside from the tomatoes, what's not to like?

[Thanks to spisharam for the wonderful tomato photo and this sassy quotation that fits Kolber's spirit: Someone smart said "If organic farming is the natural way, shouldn't organic produce just be called "produce" and make the pesticide-laden stuff take the burden of an adjective? " ]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Live and In Person: Jacqueline Mallorca at Draeger's in June

Great news in the mailbox supermarket flyers this week.

The author of my favorite cookbook -- The Wheat-Free Cook by Jacqueline Mallorca -- is coming to Draeger's Market in San Mateo on June 13, and I'm signed up for her class. Tah-Dah!

I've raved previously about this cookbook. Now I've got to whip up the recipes she'll be demonstrating, so I can concentrate on the subtle things she does that make a difference.

As I've noted before, every little detail in Mallorca's recipes is there for a reason, and one ignores them at one's peril. Having to make substitutions to avoid my husband's allergies to major food groups does not get me off the hook.

In other exciting news, Mallorca has a new book coming out this fall: Gluten-Free Italian: Over 150 Recipes without Wheat--from Crostini to Tiramisu (Paperback). Available for preorder on Amazon. Yum! My enthusiasm for cooking may be coming back.

More about the Draeger's classes here. If you've never seen a Draeger's Market, consider it a field trip for any serious foodie. Yes, there are plenty of high-end luxury items, and the average prices are slightly higher than Whole Paycheck. But there's excellent fresh produce at reasonable prices, a bakery with exquisite pastries, a vast deli section, superb meats, and, a Gluten-Free section. Our store also has housewares, cookbooks, wines, greeting cards, and a coffee bar.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winter Warmers: The Alice B. Toklas Fudge

It's the stuff of legend, at least in hippie-dippy Berkeley: the Alice B. Toklas brownies with the magic ingredient, hashish. I needed a treat for a dessert buffet, we had the book, James found the recipe, and the fudge sounded like a great winter snack, even without the active ingredient, that contained none of his food allergens.

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book was published in 1954 by friends to assist Alice financially in her later years. Her writings are quite interesting, especially those recounting the time she and Gertrude Stein spent in rural France under the Nazi occupation, and how people survived.

The infamous recipe is actually for fudge, which is not necessarily chocolate, as we think today. "Fudge" refers to things smooshed together, hence the expression "fudging it." Found in a late chapter added to Alice's own writings as "Recipes from Friends", it was contributed by one Brian Gysen, under the title "HASCHISCH FUDGE (which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)". There's an impish quality to the writing, with lines like "it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR".

Internet research points to Brion Gysin (1916-1986) as the artist who provided the puckish text. There's a wonderful website, Calligraffiti of Fire, showing his work over a long career, and a short biography. He moved from England to study at the Sorbonne in 1934, and lived in Morocco during the early 1950s. The fudge, he says, is based on a Moroccan recipe to ward off the cold in damp winter weather. It is heavily laden with two spices found in the Ayurvedic tea we are enjoying this winter: black pepper and cinnamon, plus coriander and nutmeg. Some internet accounts indicate that Gysin sent in the recipe as a prank and was surprised to have it included in the final book.

In a prankish spirit, I made up my own version of the fudge, minus the "active ingredient." It turned out to be quite tasty, getting better over time. It can be made in advance; it makes up in easily consumed pieces; and it's not likely to be brought to the buffet by anyone else.

Grind together (I use a dedicated coffee grinder for spices):
1 tsp. black peppercorns
4 sticks cinnamon
1 tsp. coriander seed
1 nutmeg.

Chop and mix together 3/4 cup each of dates, figs, peanuts, and almonds. (I set the food processor on chop and added the spice mixture).

Melt 1/4 cup butter or margerine over low heat, and add 1 cup sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the sugar mixture to the rest of the mix and blend until the mixture is slightly sticky. Turn the mixture out into an 8" square pan and press down. Let rest before cutting into small pieces. It can also be rolled into small balls, more the size of brandy balls than meat balls.

It's a fine treat for a winter evening, a good conversation starter, and an example of the great tastes that can be found without resorting to chocolate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another Great Gluten-Free Blog

My work is done. Just kidding; as long as I'm cooking for someone with food sensitivities, I'll be blogging about it.
But I would be sadly remiss not to share a wonderful treatise on food substitutions from Gluten-Free Goddess. And I'm adding her blog, which is a finalist for best food blog of 2008, to my rolling list of Foodie Favorites in the left hand column. Woops, better finish this before a blogger outage is scheduled today.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

We're enjoying what may be our new New Year's Breakfast. On a recent trip to Harley Farms in Pescadero, we scored some goat Fromage Blanc. As I suspected, it went superbly with smoked salmon, GF toast triangles, and capers. Divertimento had some chilled champagne -- LaCheteau (sic) Vouvrais from TJ -- about $10 -- with those Asti Spumante good-for-brunch qualities. Worth keeping in the fridge just in case. Next year, we hit the Coastside and pick up the local smoked salmon along with the local goat cheese.

While at Harley Farms, in the expanded gift shop and tasting room, we also picked up some goat ricotta. That went into some blintzes (using the rice crepe recipe from The Wheat Free Cook). Served with the Fromage Blanc and some lingonberry jelly -- mmmm!

Ricotta in hand, we made up the totally fake lasagne that's safe for James. He's allergic to cow's milk, tomatoes, and wheat, which renders normal lasagne completely off limits. We found a great rice pasta made as lasagne noodles, DeBoles Rice Lasagne. I followed the recipe on the package because you don't precook this pasta.

For the three-cheese mix of mozarella, ricotta, and parmesan, I substituted the goat ricotta, some fresh goat peccorino we purchased at Harley Farms, and some soy mozarella (think goat gouda would have been better). For spaghetti sauce, I substituted Avjar, a Middle Eastern blend of roasted red peppers and eggplant that we've found in glass jars at various places, including Trader Joe's and Long's Drugstores. (It could have been kicked up a notch with some simmering with leftover red wine, herbs and garlic. But we were hungry.) We threw in mushrooms and olives because James wanted them. It was good, and even better on subsequent days.

If you can't have cow's milk, and even if you can--check out the superb goat cheeses on the market now. Harley Farms makes some of the best and they are getting national and international recognition. We still are waiting to unwrap the goat cheese coated with chives that took international first in Dublin, and from my tasting room experience, deserved it! We'd planned to have it as a centerpiece of a goat tasting platter that would go to parties -- given my strategy of taking something safe for James and tasty for normals -- but have had to cancel due to a lingering cold. Perhaps it can go to a 12th Night party along next week with Andrew Weil's caponata that was such a hit at Thanksgiving.