Monday, October 31, 2011

Fancy Dipped Apples, Cupcake Monsters, and Were-rabbits

Apple of My Eye
No recipe this time. I'll just put that out there right now. But I've been walking past these apples at least once a day for the past week (or at least ones that look like these apples--hopefully not actually the same apples) and they were too Halloween-y adorable not to share. Something to aspire to, perhaps, if I want to ruin a perfectly good apple in order to decorate it.

A friend of mine went to culinary school and I remember listening to her talking about her chocolates classes -- and being amazed by the beautiful creations she came up with. Creations like those, and like these apples and were-rabbits, are exactly the type of thing that makes me want to seriously investigate how to work with chocolate, maybe even take classes. But then, I think of all the things I could better use that money for. And so instead, I consider possibly working at a place that would teach me how to make creations like these. I haven't ruled that out yet.

One thing I've got to say about Halloween--and other holidays--is that it certainly makes walking past bakeries, chocolate shops, and other such places much more interesting. I've already posted a picture of a "pan muerto" from our local growers market. In fact, I like window displays a lot when it's holiday time--especially when people aren't too terribly concerned about the political correctness of their displays. I think too, even in my Halloween grumpiness this year, the window displays in town have helped me feel a little more in the spirit. It's hard to not feel a little bit of fondness for the holiday when there are skeletons in wedding dresses, apples like these, little monster cupcakes, etc. Last year, in my previous town, I took pictures of fancy cupcakes at my favorite bakery (pictured left). The lighting was pretty horrible for pictures, but you get the general idea.
Such cute monsters...though I'm not
a fan of the pipe cleaners.

In my mind, one of the big problems with specialty cupcakes is that amount of frosting that's used. Maybe I only feel this way because I'm not a huge fan of frosting--or dye--but also because these specialty cupcakes (even ones that are much less fancy-decorated than these) cost so much, when really the ingredients are often very cheap to buy. The profit margin must be huge--and for products, that when I've tried them, aren't really worth it.

Speaking of things I'm not a fan of: caramel apples. That's a little ironic, perhaps, considering that was the impetus of this post. However, I don't understand why anyone would ruin a perfectly delicious apple by putting caramel on it--much less dipping it caramel and peanut butter. Or caramel and M&Ms. Or, well you get the point. I don't care much caramel, but even if I did, this just seems like a sugar-overload. I'd love to hear from a few of you who like caramel apples. Why do you like them and when do you eat them? People's food memories are always great.

The average American eats about 120 apples a year (hm, considering I pretty much eat an apple a day most of the year, that makes me concerned for the low consumption by other people). The average caramel apple has between 230-340 calories, according to one site I found. But these are (white) chocolate dipped apples--and probably "cost" a lot more than 700 calories. I'm guessing this number, because one of the only uber-indulgent caramel apples I could find statistics on, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory's Apple Pie Caramel Apple, supposedly contains more than 700 calories.

Something maybe we should eat more of? The relatives of these carved babies. Pumpkins you carve are edible but they're not super good like the smaller pie pumpkins. E, her boyfriend, and her co-worker K carved these beauties last night. E's boyfriend and K both carved pumpkins they'd grown and I'm proud (or something like that) to say E's pumpkin was "pamper'd." The label said so. Hers is the eye. And it's a little blocked by the boyfriend. Alas. Happy Halloween.

K's kitty in the window, A's Jack, E's Eye

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Yeasted Bread (Oat, Brown Rice, & Quinoa))

Multigrain Bread with Cream Cheese
When E wanted to make a creamy artichoke pasta with garlic bread, and I made her a French-style bread, I wanted to make myself bread also. I haven't done much with gluten-free yeast breads, but I do get tired of buying them, because most seem far too expensive and often don't taste that great.

In my current town, the GF bread options are better (and tastier), but still pretty expensive for the size loaves I get. I figured, if an attempt at GF bread didn't work, I could go buy one of these breads (or, more likely, go without garlic bread). But, I miss trying GF baking experiments and I'd been keeping my eye on a gluten-free bread recipe from Moosewood Daily Special for a while. Since I had some non-wheat flours on hand, I decided to give it a try--making a LOT of substitutions.

I think it turned out fairly well, and what I found interesting was that because I didn't stick it in the refrigerator for the first two days, it developed a nice sourdough flavor. It slices easily and is better toasted (much better toasted, in my opinion). Many gluten-free breads seem to be that way--better toasted. It still stays pretty moist after it's toasted, unless I leave it in our toaster oven for a long time.

The first time I made this bread, I didn't include quinoa and as you'll see here, there still isn't much--quinoa flour is expensive (about $11 for 1.5 lbs online through two different companies)! I like both ways, but the variety of grains is fun and adds complexity to the flavor. This bread is easy to make--you literally mix all the ingredients in one bowl at the same time, toss it in a greased pan and let it rise in a warm place before baking--which I appreciate, especially with a busy schedule. It doesn't feel (too) inconvenient to make myself a loaf of bread after work that will last me for a week (or more!).

I use a base of rice and oat flour here, but I know some people are sensitive to oats (use certified GF oat flour and if it bothers you, using millet works out pretty well too--but lends a very different flavor) and rice. If you have a rice allergy, check out my friend Victoria who is creating GF bread-y recipes that are also rice-free.

Multigrain Gluten-Free Bread
1 cup oat flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour or corn starch
1 tablespoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light brown cane sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon dry yeast (or, if you don't buy it in bulk, 1 package, close enough)
2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Loaf, close-up
Using a wooden spoon, combine all the ingredients. Mix pretty well--you could also do this with an electric mixer, but I think the dough is too thick if you only have a hand-held mixer. Scoop the dough into an oiled 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and smooth the top. Spray or brush the top with a light coating of vegetable oil (not imperative if you're using foil or plastic to cover the dough while it rises, definitely necessary if you're using a tea towel). Loosely cover the pan and set aside, in a warm place, to rise until the dough is even with the top of the pan, about 1 1/2 hours.

After the dough has risen for 1 1/4 hours, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the covering from the bread and bake the bread until golden brown, about 45 minutes. It's done when it sounds hollow, when tapped. Remove from the oven, invert onto a rack, and cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

Look at that paleness. Toast it first!
Again, this bread tastes fine if you eat it as slices, but is much better toasted. If you don't eat much bread, it also freezes well (slice it first and toast to warm up).

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Little Medusa's What I Need (Garlicky Swiss Chard with Raisins)

Pan Muerto...well, kinda, not really
When I was a the Growers Market the other day, I couldn't resist taking pictures of a few of the more innovative Halloween-ish decorations. The bread coffins above were one of my favorites though and could turn into an easy Halloween decoration if you needed something last minute--or just something to help you get a little more in the spirit (I'md definitely in that category).

Also as regular readers know, the other day, I blogged about my little crocheted devil. I've also crocheted a tiny medusa, using the same yarns and the same book. She was a little more difficult to put together, mostly because of her snake hair and placing her head on her body. I think my medusa might be looking downward a bit much -- just look at this picture!

But, that's okay. She was a good project to work on during Knit at Nite and she went together quickly, which I appreciate in a project. It's nice, sometimes, to be able to sit down and finish the majority of a project during an evening knitting at a local bar with friends. Yes, really. As a friend I ran into on my way to the bar pointed out, "what a wild night." I think he realized how this sounded because he continued by telling me that he learned, when he lived in Norway, a woman wasn't a real woman until she could knit. Nice save, friend. Nice save.

Something about Medusa--probably her greenness and my vague sense of guilt about buying greens and then not eating them right away--did inspire me to cook up the chard I bought the other night though. This is a pretty simple recipe, perfect for a quick dish after a day at work. It's inspired from a favorite tapas that I first had when I was 13. If you're serving this to kids around Halloween, you could call it Medusa-hair (green snakey swiss chard with raisin eyes!).

This dish goes well with steamed brown rice drizzled with just a touch of tamari, or with roasted butternut squash. Or, if you're me and you don't have either of those on hand or easily prepared, you can also pair this with a nice bread (I used gluten-free, spread with a little bit of Tofutti cream cheese) and an heirloom apple, bought from my favorite farmers at the Growers Market, sliced.

Garlicky Swiss Chard with Raisins
Olive Oil (about 1 teaspoon)

3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard, thoroughly washed and chiffonaded 

Red pepper flakes, to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon)
1/4 cup raisins

Heat a small amount of oil in a pan over medium-low heat and add the garlic.
Uncaramelized garlic
Stir frequently, until the garlic has just begun to caramelize. It should only be a light golden color.
Caramelized Garlic

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the Swiss chard and saute 4-5 minutes, until the chard begins to will.
Chard, just before I add it -- I don't remove the stems unless they seem particularly tough
 Add the salt and red pepper flakes, cook another minute. Add the raisins and cook 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

Garlicky Swiss Chard with Raisins

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lemon-y Snickett Risotto

Ingredients, minus dairy products
It's almost Halloween! What better to do than to have Halloween-themed food (which I fully intend to do for at least a couple of posts--hopefully that intention will actually happen!)? This post is inspired by E's recent endeavors into a (wonderful) lemon risotto. She's made it a couple of times now and it seems worthy of sharing with others. I'm not sure which site she got it from originally, either, but I am going to try and write it up to best reflect what she does when she makes it.

So, what makes this risotto lemon-y snickett risotto? Honestly, not much. Okay, not anything. Totally unauthorized re-use of the name (hence Lemon-y with a hyphen and snickett with two "t's") BUT, this basic lemon risotto can be dressed up with little "lumps of coal" (aka black olives), reptile tongues (aka carrot curls), or fire flecks (aka red pepper flakes).
Risotto in Pot
E seems to have endless patience for stirring the risotto rice--but honestly this doesn't take that long to make, as far as risottos go. In the past, I made a risotto that took forever to cook. And I don't remember it being as tasty as this one. The original recipe calls for parsley, but we haven't used it yet. I imagine it would brighten up the flavor nicely and provide lovely little flecks of green to make it look even fresher (serpent scales to go with the theme of lemon-y snickett?). We also haven't used shallots, but instead just use a bit of yellow onion. I suspect that the lightly garlicky flavor of shallots would be beautiful in this dish, so if you can get your hands on it, you should definitely use shallot in favor of the onion. Don't skip the lemon zest. It'll taste fine without it--but you get an extra hit of lemon flavor whenever you bite into a zesty curl.

Like many risottos, this dish is rich. But fabulous. And I would happily make/eat it for breakfast if I wanted something savory/lemony one morning and had all the ingredients handy. I might also saute some mushrooms and add that, but E doesn't like fungus, so we haven't tried that.

Lemon-y Risotto
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
ZestingTools & Zest
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
3 tablespoons lemon juice (at least!)
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Bring broth and water to a simmer in a large bot over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, saute onions in the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat, until tender, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add the arborio rice; stir one minute. Add wine and stir until evaporated. Add 1 1/2 cups broth; simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently.

Add remaining broth 1/2 cup at a time, simmering until completely absorbed before adding more broth. This will take about 35 minutes. Stir in cheese, then lemon juice. Add zest just before serving.
Risotto with "fire flecks"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Trickery, or Things that Glow Under Black Lights

At work, we have a black light. We also have water beads (aka, water marbles, warblettes, Orbeez, and many other names). We also have a quinine solution. In other words, I work at a pretty awesome place.

Quinine Soaked Water Beads Under Black Light
We soaked the water beads in our quinine solutions until they swelled (though not as much as they swelled in regular water and we're not sure why yet--that will require more experimenting) and then we held them under the black light, hoping that they'd absorbed the quinine, which glows under black light.
There are about 1/3 the size of beads soaked in plain water
Indeed, we had little glow-under-black-light pearls.

Fantastic. We plan to make up a whole bunch of these and put them in a glass bowl or vase of some sort and keep them under a black light in honor of Halloween. Who wouldn't love this*? We also plan to make petroleum jelly glow under black light (smiley faces have been on the back of my hand for several days), write things with yellow highlighters in the black light area. If only we had an emperor scorpion...

Look closely! Little halos around the spots!
But we do have bananas--whether we'll use them on Halloween, I don't know (but it would be pretty excellent to do so just because it's something that most people in the U.S. have easy access to). I wouldn't have guessed bananas glow under black light, but that's exactly what happens (you didn't expect me to somehow still make this food related, did you?). As the chlorophyll breaks down, it releases fluorescent chlorophyll carabolites. As brown spots start to appear, little blue halos form around the dying tissues (aka those brown spots). The bananas I had access to didn't show this super-well, but for your viewing pleasure, I've included an image.

In other fun news about food under black lights, we had broccoli in the work fridge and under a black light it glows a dark red--to dark for me to get a clear picture of, but if you've got dark, leafy greens (or cruciferious greens) and a black light, you should put them under it. I'm thinking that this would be a pretty sweet party trick -- put the salad under a black light (who needs it to be Halloween?) and watch your guests reactions.

Glowing pyramid of water beads
*If you're planning to do something similar, make sure you give the water beads (or even just use them as "eyeballs" for blindfolded storytelling or a "what's in the bowl?" game) at least 8 hours to soak and absorb liquid.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Support of Green Halloween

Late last week, I had the opportunity to learn about Green Halloween. I spent some time reading through the website, trying to figure out the basic principles and ideas behind the movement, and also trying to figure out who is behind the movement. I'm still not sure who's behind it aside from "EcoMom Alliance" which I'd never heard of and haven't had much time to research--but they dub themselves
"a non-profit 501.c.3 organization empowering mothers to create a healthy and sustainable world."
"We are dedicated to offering fun, healthy, affordable, not-too-time consuming ideas that will support your goal of creating a Halloween that is happy and healthy for your kids and the planet we all share."

I'm not sure I support them yet--not without doing more research (sorry ladies)--but I do support Green Halloween. One of the major goals that started the Green Halloween movement was to move two children (yes, just two, totally manageable) toward healthier choices and candy-free treats at Halloween. According to the story on the website, what one mom wanted was a sign that would let parents know if a house had healthy (or at least non-candy?) treats. Brilliant.

I remember the houses that had non-candy treats from my own childhood--and no, they weren't handing out toothpaste either (though I did get pill boxes one year). And I remember wanting to be that house (to some extent, we were--my parents passed out small toys from fast food (here you should roll your eyes a little) that I didn't want, or leftover party favors, or whatever in place of candy sometimes) and how I thought about how I'd want to be that house when I was an adult.

But then, for me, I don't remember the best part of Halloween being the candy. I loved getting dressed up, getting scared, seeing neighbors dressed up. It was a night meant for the imagination.

And maybe this, the idea of getting permission to engage in imaginative exploration of the night, is why I feel so dis-enchanted by Halloween as an adult. I think it got lost at some point, perhaps when I decided I was too cool for Halloween. Earlier today, I had a talk with a friend about this--he said he became too cool for Halloween in 5th grade, which is I think about the same time I stopped wanting to wear costumes. I sill don't particularly like to think up costumes and create or buy them--I'd rather devote that energy to something else (though I must admit, when I see a costume I really admire I become jealous that I didn't think of it). I am bored by the consumerism of most holidays. I'm not engaged with the "Hm, it's a holiday. You know what would be fun? Binge drinking" attitude of many of my friends and fellow adults--and this is true for most holidays. And I'm concerned about the fact that this generation of kids--and the generation I'm in as well--are expected to have shorter lifespans than our parents*.

This last point in particular is something that I've been trying to work against. As you might've noticed, if you'r ea regular reader of this blog, I'm not wholly focused on healthy foods. But do we really need to give kids another excuse to eat candy? And for that matter, do we really need to give kids chocolate that destroys tropical rain forests and was likely harvested through child labor (unless you're handing out fair-trade, rain forest friendly chocolate) or focus on the concept of very cut & dry, no shades of gray "good v. evil" with little [insert your personal villain here] running around? Probably not.

Right now, I feel conflicted. Where I live now, Halloween is a very big deal. It's a reason to party and everyone wears costumes. The businesses pass out candy and other treats to kids, the local science museum is hosting a spooky science event, the libraries have been holding storytimes, Rocky Horror screenings, and much more. Take what most towns probably do and compound that. By a lot. It's hard not to get sucked in a little.

But I've also been trying to live, more or less, by the philosophies listed on the Green Halloween website (kid healthy, planet healthy, people friendly) for more than year now, and in some ways, have been trying to live this way for a large chunk of my life. I was an early environmentalist, at least to some degree. And I've been pleased by the increasing prevalence of green grocers, farmers markets, CSAs, etc., in many communities--I would like to see these trends continue to increase. I would like to see programs like PlayWorks continue to spread (as one person I know from PlayWorks said, "People don't play anymore."). I would like to do my part in promoting these things, which at least today, means blogging about it. And hoping that maybe you'll consider participating in Green Halloween.

I won't spend time rehashing the things listed on the Green Halloween website (party ideas, trick-or-treat treats, costumes, etc.). And I don't want to come across as preachy. If you can only make one change, you should make the one that makes sense for your family (and, at this point, considering how close we are to Halloween, the one you can still pull off). My contribution to Green Halloween this year -- I won't be passing out candy (but that's due to budgetary constraints) at the Halloween event I'm attending meant for "safe" trick-or-treating.

My less than perfect M&M experiment -- took too long
to add the yellow & blue M&Ms after the green.
And, since I've seen this in the past week also, if you need additional reasons to get behind Green Halloween, try this simple experiment. Take 3-4 M&Ms of different colors. Fill the lid of a screwtop jar with water. Place the M&Ms on the lid and watch what happens to the ink. Then, read this.

Maybe most disturbing: the Ms, really do contain titanium dioxide. You can also find that in sunscreens. And you know, things like semiconductors (plus many other food stuffs). And, in Florida, mining titanium dioxide is destroying the wetlands--search Google Earth for "Trail Ridge Mine, Stark, Florida" and look at what's going on. Maybe also read this article from Salon, published in 2008. There's probably not a real health risk--or at least one hasn't been identified. We consume--directly and indirectly a lot of it.

Titanium dioxide accounts for 70% of the total production volume of pigments worldwide. It is widely used to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, plastics, papers, inks, foods, and toothpastes. It is also used in cosmetic and skin care products, and it is present in almost every sunblock, where it helps protect the skin from ultraviolet light.
I didn't know any of this until I started researching for this post--and as Andrew Leonard, the author of the Salon article points out, he is complicit in this destruction because so many things we use on a day-to-day basis contain titanium dioxide. He is complicit. And so am I.

*Many studies acknowledge that this is still based to some degree on the likelihood of (in)activity of the child as the child ages. Childhood obesity factors in, but adult lifestyle decisions also play a part. These studies don't, however, seem to look at the increasing environmentally based issues that aren't  necessarily related to weight and so we'll just have to see who's right in a few decades.

Ghost Bites (aka Muddy Buddies), a Halloween Snack

Regardless of exactly how you make it, or what you call it, chocolate-peanut butter-powdered sugar covered cereal is pretty addictive--and super quick to make. I don't think I've ever spent more than about 15 minutes from start to finish (though it does take me longer when I go the route of stove-top melting the chocolate, peanut butter, and butter). When I lived in the Midwest, I could reliably bring this to parties and people would gobble it down--and tell me their puppy chow (that's what they all seemed to call it) memories.

This snack is easy to make vegan* and gluten-free**.

I've heard it called:
Muddy Buddies ("technically" the Crispix recipe)
Puppy Chow (this is the recipe on the side of the Rice Chex box)
White Trash (though this is made with white chocolate about as often and often has actual peanuts and sometimes mini-pretzels as well)

Ah, the joys of living all over the country and hearing colloquialisms.

In honor of Halloween, I'm dubbing it Ghost-Bites. I also took these to a movie night where we watched a scary movie and Ghost-Bites seemed a bit more in the spirit of the evening. We watched a supposed comedy, Super, which turned out to be not so much of a comedy in the laugh-out-loud or even dark humor sort of way, but a comedy in the variety of "I laugh at gratuitous violence and at the mentally ill." To keep my review short and avoid spoilers, I doubt people will see this movie and think, "Hm, I should become a superhero." At the end of the movie night, I think all seven of us felt pretty uncomfortable. E and I went home to watch a couple episodes of Coupling to help erase the images of Super.

But back to Ghost Bites (which, I was surprised, were new to several of the movie-night attendees).

If I'd thought about it early enough, I probably would have dyed my powdered sugar orange (and really, it's not too late. I have more of all the ingredients and so I might make a small batch, just to post here).

I seem to use a little less sugar than any of the recipes I've seen -- which call from anywhere between 1 bag of powdered sugar (so much waste!) to 3 cups to 1.5 cups (Chex). I use about a cup.

I tend to mix this in a paper grocery sack, because I always seem to have extra, and because it absorbs a little of the extra grease. For the same reason, I let the Ghost Bites cool on a paper grocery sack that I've cut down the sides to increase the surface area that lies flat on the counter top and let it cool several hours (preferably overnight when I don't need my kitchen counters).

A note on peanut butter: I personally like using freshly ground peanut butter, which isn't quite as smooth as some natural peanut butters, but is smooth enough. You could use chunky peanut butter, I suppose, if that's all you've got, but I would recommend a smoother version just because it makes coating the cereal a little easier.

Ghost Bites
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate (you can also use vegan chocolates if you're making a vegan version)
1/2 cup natural, unsweetened peanut butter
1/4 cup butter (or vegan margarine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
9 cups rice or corn (or a combo) Chex
1 cup powdered sugar

In a saucepan, over low heat, melt together the chocolate, peanut butter, and butter, stirring often so you don't scorch the chocolate. As an alternative, you can microwave these ingredients in a microwave safe bowl on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir and microwave for another 30 seconds, if necessary. Stir in the vanilla.

In a separate, large bowl, measure 9(ish) cups of cereal. Pour the chocolate-peanut butter mixture over the cereal and stir until the cereal is thoroughly coated.

In a large paper grocery sack, or in a sealable 2-gallon plastic food storage bag, measure your powdered sugar. Pour in the chocolate-coated cereal, close the bag, and shake until the cereal is well coated. Spread out on a cookie sheet (or another paper grocery sack slit in half) to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

*If you're making this vegan, be sure to check with your vegan and make sure you're using a vegan powdered sugar (or see if they care), vegan chocolate, and vegan margarine.

Puppy Chow
**If you're making this gluten-free, be sure to check ingredient labels. Use certified GF products.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Roasted Carrot Carrot Cake (and muffins!), Gluten-Free

On a mountain
It must be fall. I'm in serious baking mode. French-style bread. Gluten-free risen bread. Monster cookies. Brownies (semi-failure). Chocolate pumpkin cake. Carrot cake. If only I had more time. The day I made this cake, I also hiked a nearby mountain with a co-worker and then volunteered to yank invasive species out of the ground at a local park for three hours in advance of Make-a-Difference Day since I'll be at work on the actual day. Then, I went home to walk S (okay, okay, hike with S) and call a couple of people who I've been playing phone tag with for a week or so. There's so much to cram into weekends.

I had this much carrot
when I gave up grating
To say the least, this cake was inspired by general feeling of "there's no way I'm going to stand here for 45 minutes and hand-grate carrots for this carrot cake," which I was making at the request of my supervisor for another co-worker who's birthday had recently passed. I said yes, because I love to bake (and I knew I could try and make it gluten-free) and when I said yes, I had no idea how much time I'd invest into other activities during my weekend.

Rather than grate the carrots, I decided to pan roast them (which I define as different from sauteing only because I didn't stir them very often at all) until they were very soft and then mash them before adding them into the cake batter. Pan roasting the carrots let me:

1) work on making dinner, which was good, since I'd only had a carrot since breakfast
2) do a little kitchen clean-up
3) mix up other cake ingredients
4) turn on Chain of Lakes because I had carrot-free hands
5) feel less irritated by the very slow process of hand-grating carrots (I did hand grate about 1/2 cup before I got fed up with the process and you could do this too, if you were so inclined--I just added the grated carrot with the mashed carrots to the cake batter.)

Roasting the carrots also makes them sweeter and deepens their carrot-y flavor.
Look at those brown sugar-spots

The base recipe for this carrot cake came from one of my favorite carrot cake recipes--a vegan recipe (though I used regular cream cheese in the images you see--I have made it the other way and actually prefer the way Tofutti  Better Than Cream Cheese tastes to regular cream cheese, but that's just me--because the person I'm making this for is neither GF or vegan).

I'm still experimenting with gluten-free flours and trying to avoid that not-so-lovely GF flavor. Since I started helping a friend out with her pie stand at the local growers market, I've heard several people say "I don't like anything gluten-free," to which I have a hard time not being snarky ("do you realize how much you eat that's naturally gluten-free?"). But to be fair, a lot of gluten-free baked things not only taste gluten-free, but they have a particularly grainy texture that's not so appealing. In this cake, I used a mixture of brown rice flour, GF oat flour, quinoa flour, and millet flour.

I poured the batter into an 8x8 pan and still had plenty of batter left to make a dozen cupcakes (muffins, I'm not adding extra sugar to them all and if I were to intentionally make them as muffins, rather than cake, I'd probably scale back the sugar by at least 1/2 a cup--I think it's far too sweet right now for muffins).

Vegan Roasted Carrot Carrot Cake (Gluten-Free)
2 pounds carrots, washed and sliced into coins
Olive oil

3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup oat flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup millet flour
2 teaspoons guar gum
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon each cardamom, cloves, nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light brown cane sugar 
3/4 cup cane sugar
3 egg equivalents (I've used both flax eggs and Ener-G Egg replacers with this recipe, both work fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 14-oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup shredded coconut
nuts and raisins, optional

Faux Cream Cheese Frosting
(again, you could use regular cream cheese and butter if you're not vegan or preparing this for a vegan, but this is really good frosting)
1 8-oz package vegan cream cheese
1/3 cup vegan margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups vegan powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (really, you should do this after you've mashed the carrots to save energy, but this type of information is usually at the front of recipes, so here you go). Roast the carrots in a saute pan, lightly coated in oil, over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the carrots are beginning to caramelize and are very soft.

Carrots ready to pan roast
If you're under time constraints* or your carrots just don't seem to be getting soft, you can add a little water to the pan and cover it for a few minutes to steam them after they've begun to brown. Let the carrots cool a little and then mash them until you've got very few chunks. You will want about 1 1/2 cups of mashed carrots total.
Carrots, almost ready to mash--get them a little browner than this
While the carrots are roasting, in a medium bowl, mix flours, guar gum, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt.

In a large bowl, mix sugar and egg replacer until creamy (use an electric mixer if you can get your hands on one--it makes life so much easier). Add the vanilla and combine, then add the vegetable oil and mix well. Mix wet and dry ingredients together, combining well (one of the great things about gluten-free foods is that it's a bit harder to over mix). Stir in the carrots, pineapple, and coconut. Add nuts and/or raisins, if using.

Grease a pan (9" x  9" pan for a thicker cake--I promise it won't fit into an 8" x 8"--or 9" x 13" for a thinner cake) and smooth the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes (for a thicker cake--reduce time if you're using a 9" x 13"), or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool entirely before frosting.

Above and Below: Roasted Carrot Carrot Cake Muffins
(1/2 of which turn into cupcakes because E requested  it)
For the frosting:

Beat together the cream cheese and margarine in a medium-large bowl until smooth. Add the vanilla and incorporate well. 1/2 cup a a time, beat in the powdered sugar. Beat in the powdered sugar until smooth before adding more. The frosting should be very thick. On a humid day, you might have to add more powdered sugar.

Frosted Cupcake
*For my carrots to get soft enough to mash, it took about 45 minutes of pan roasting in a medium-large saute pan over medium to medium-high heat and I did add about 1/4 of water and let them steam for about 10 minutes at the end to make sure all the carrot coins would mash pretty well.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oat Groats, a hot cereal

Brown Rice (left) v. Oat Groats (right)
As the days start to change from summery to autumn-y (and they should, since we're officially in autumn as of September 23rd), I want hot breakfast more often. My new love right now -- oat groats aka oat berries. They look a little like brown rice (see the picture, they're the ones on the right without any little green flecks) and have that kind of chewy texture that brown rice has (and take about the same amount of time to cook) but with that lovely, lovely oat flavor.

A groat, if you're wondering, is the parent grain--the grain that comes from the plant and hasn't seen much processing (in this case, unlike the cut or rolled oat, or oat bran or flour). Due to this lack of processing, as far as I could research, these contain none of the gluten that causes people with Celiac's disease or strong gluten intolerance any problems. Oats, I've learned, do contain a type of gluten--but it's not the same as the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye, and only contain a very small amount of it.

I'm actually a little surprised about how little I was able to learn about oat groats online. The sources that talked about oat groats, with a few exceptions (mostly dedicated to gluten-free lifestyles) focused more on the by-products of oat groats we're all more familiar with. But I suppose this shouldn't surprise me too much. I was just talking to a friend about oat groats and his response was "I'll have to look for those next time I go to my co-op." He doesn't like oatmeal much, though he didn't specify why (I suspect it's because that's the primary thing he's eaten for breakfast for a couple of years now because it's cheap and filling). I tried to sell him the idea of groats based on their texture--much superior, I think.

Look at those little groat beauts!
To be fair though, I found out about oat groats when I moved to my new town. They were in bulk bins everywhere (note: if you're celiac, and you're new to it, the advice is don't buy from bulk bins. Instead, you can order your groats from an online retailer or potentially find it with the other grains in your local grocery. I got a small amount, since to my knowledge at that point, the reason that oats were not good for people with gluten sensitivities was because of the processing, not because of the oat itself. This is how come you can find gluten-free rolled oats on the shelves of some markets.

Groats take a lot longer to cook than regular oats and I recommend the pre-soak method to reduce cooking time. I usually add my oats (1 part groats to 3 parts water) to water and bring to a boil and then turn off and go for a run. This reduces my cooking time to 20-25 minutes. I've also seen recommendations for soaking groats overnight. Do what makes sense for you.

I've also read that you can cook extra oat groats and store them in the refrigerator for the next day (apparently they're easy to reheat) but I don't see much point in this. If I'm that rushed, I'm probably grabbing something and walking out the door. Otherwise, I'm going to be able to at least start my groats (especially if I've soaked them overnight) while I'm getting dressed, walking my dog, etc. and then pour them into a reusable container to take with me. Some people cook their groats with salt. I opt out, but if you want to add salt, remember just a sprinkling should be fine.

But so far, I've been able to savor my groats. I like them with pumpkin or sunflower seeds, and sometimes a little bit of local blackberry honey. Sometimes I add milk (lately this has alternated between a dairy option, coconut, and almond). Sometimes I throw on some fresh fruit. Usually I add cinnamon. But they're also really pretty good with nutritional yeast, pepitas (raw, hulled), and a little black pepper if you're looking for something more savory.

I imagine these groats would also make a lovely stand-in for rice in a pilaf, especially a pilaf with a couple of sweeter aspects, like raisins or apricots.

Oat Groats for One

1/4 cup oat groats
3/4 cup water

Bring the water and groats to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, cover, and let rest for at least 30-45 minutes. After the groats have soaked (go do something like run, shower, read, whatever), uncover and turn the heat back on. Bring the groats to a rapid boil once again and then reduce the heat to low and simmer another 20-25 minutes. Serve how you would typical rolled or steel cut oats.
Cooked Groats, no toppings

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Little Devil (Crochet) + Book Review

E and her friends (becoming my friends) have a weekly knitting group, Knit at Night, and during the past knitting group session, I crocheted this little devil from Creepy Cute. This fellow seems super-appropriate for Halloween. He's supposed to be done with terra cotta colored yarn, but since I didn't have that I went for green (better than a variegated devil!).

He might go sit in the store window at E's yarn shop, but today he went to work with me so my co-workers could see. I'm rather fond of him, especially since I embroidered the face--something I've never actually be taught to do--but easier (in my mind) than sewing felt onto his face for his little triangle mouth, nose/mustache, and eyes. Name suggestions, anyone?

The most confusing part of this pattern -- the cape. I'm still not sure I did it right. Alas. If that's my biggest issue, that's not too bad. And it's not the fault of the author--the book is complete with a little illustrated pattern about how the crocheted cape (not to mention everything else) should look. The pictures, in addition to the pattern, make this a very user-friendly book and for that reason alone, I'd recommend it to people who are looking to crochet small toys, beginning crocheters or advanced. For this book, you mostly need to know:

SC - single crochet
Sl st - slip stitch
Dec - decrease
Inc - increase

My devil also used double and treble crochet, but if you've got those four above, you can make almost any pattern in the book. Perfect for quick (if you're an experienced crocheter) Halloween decorations, or a nice starter with manageable projects for someone who is newer.

Other creepy cute critters include:

Corporate Zombie
Grim Reaper

and much more. If you click the link above, you can look at the table of contents on Amazon.

As for me, Medusa is next.

French-Style Bread

Not too long ago, my roommate told me she wanted to make a creamy Italian dish with garlic, artichoke, and pasta. With it, she wanted garlic bread.

"I'll stop by the co-op and pick some up. Monday night sound okay for Italian?"
"Sure," I replied. A couple days later, on Sunday, at work, I was talking with co-workers about baking when I was struck by the urge to make bread. A gluten-free bread for me and regular bread for E.

When I got home that evening, I asked E if she would be okay with homemade bread instead, and when she said yes, I made sure she didn't mind me using her flour.

The next morning, I started to work making bread. I had a guest in town who sat companionably at the kitchen table, on the computer, while I flipped through my Beard on Bread cookbook (inherited from my grandmother) looking for a simple bread recipe for E's bread. I settled on the French-style bread because it seemed straight-forward, and as far as yeasted glutinous (non-overnight/no-knead, I might add) breads go, not too time-intensive.

All seemed to go well at first. The dough mixed up nicely and smoothed into supple elastic under my hands. It rose beautifully. And then I couldn't get it to shape into logs quite the way I wanted it to. Okay, I told myself, so it won't be beautiful. That's okay. So I baked it and it turned crispy on the outside like a good French loaf should. Except it seemed almost tough on the bottom. Okay, too. I've had otherwise perfectly good French loaves that are tough to slice (and on which the bottom crust is hard to chew). But when I sliced it, it didn't have those lovely holes French bread seems to have. And it wasn't chewy like baguettes and French loaves often are.

Hm. I went back to the cookbook, thinking maybe I'd missed a rising (there isn't one after you create the free-form loaf). Nope. Okay. I read the front of the book where Beard troubleshoots. No answer. I went to the folks at The Fresh Loaf and re-read (for the upteenth time) their primer on bread-making. Nothing relevant. The problem, I think was how wet (or, in this case dry) my bread dough was. To make a free-form loaf, you need fairly firm dough otherwise it spreads out the way you'd expect from ciabatta. However, these firm loaves weigh more and provide less opportunity for the little yeasties to make big bubbles. Figuring out how to do this with a French style bread will be a project for another day--perhaps after I've quizzed Jake, one of the bakers assistants at a local bakery co-op.

Okay, so from what I understand the bread didn't taste bad--I didn't actually get much feedback from E or my guest on how it tasted at all. Therefore, I conclude it wasn't anything to write home about either. But, that's kinda what I expected from a basic loaf (really basic, look at these ingredients) that was created with the purpose of being turned into garlic bread. It's a little denser than I might like it to be, but on the other hand, it doesn't have those irritating (though I love them) holes that things fall through.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal (I didn't have this and substituted garbanzo bean flour, which got dark but served the same purpose)
1 tablespoon egg white, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water (so you don't cook the egg!)

Combine the yeast with sugar and water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix the salt with the flour and add to the proofed yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough. Remove to a lightly floured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to coat the surface with butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Turn out on a floured board and shape into two long, French bread-style leaves. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal, but not buttered. Slash the tops of the loaves diagonally in 2 or 3 places and brush with the egg wash. Place in a cold oven, set the temperature at 400 degrees, and bake 35 minutes or until browned and hollow sounding when tapped.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

Okay, so the name is a bit deceptive. Maybe more than a bit. The only thing that's pumpkin about this cake is the color and (kinda) the shape. E's boyfriend asked for a "very moist" chocolate cake for his birthday and he wanted it pumpkin-themed. The cake, not the birthday (though a pumpkin-themed birthday would be pretty sweet--coming from someone who loves carrot cake and pumpkin bread).

Those were his requirements. When E shared this, I immediately started looking up recipes for moist chocolate cake. But I'm skeptical of any recipe that informs me that it's moist. If you need to advertise it, usually I think you're lying. Or at least not being fully honest. Eventually, I fell back to a recipe I've used (and made gluten-free) several times, the vegan chocolate avocado cake on Joy the Baker's website. If you're interested in the gluten-free version, please take a moment to look at those modifications.

At first E seemed skeptical. "Avocado?" she asked from the other end of our dining room table. 

I nodded and she wrote it on her shopping list.

We only made the cake part of Joy the Baker's vegan chocolate avocado cake, and then added (non-vegan) orange frosting to the outside. The orange frosting came from a bag (which was a total revelation to me--I didn't know you could buy frosting mix--and now, after watching E put it together, I'm not sure why you would. To me, it seemed like selling really expensive confectioners sugar and vanilla since we still had to add milk and butter to the mix. The frosting turned out super-thick and in an attempt to make it just a little thinner E added too much milk and made it a bit runny--which was fine, since we had extra confectioners sugar and could thicken it back up some.). We added orange (well, yellow and red) coloring after making up the frosting.

We did decide to make this a layered cake, so I also made a chocolate frosting from cocoa powder, butter, sugar, and non-fat yogurt. I didn't measure ingredients there, so the recipe is approximate and you'll probably have to play with it or wait for me to have another occasion to make chocolate cake and try that recipe again (and this time measure).

To achieve the pumpkin shape, we used a bundt cake pan and, because we only had one pan, baked the two parts of the cake one after the other. If I were to do this again, I probably wouldn't want to do it two batches, but instead make one larger (taller) cake that was less round, but probably equally pumpkin-shaped. For the cocoa, we used Dagoba unsweetened cocoa powder, but any unsweetened dark cocoa will do.

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tablespoons unsweetened organic cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil (we used olive oil)
1/2 cup soft avocado, well mashed, about 1 medium avocado
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Buttercream frosting (see note about this above)
Chocolate wafer cookies

Sift together all of the dry ingredients except the sugar.  Set that aside too. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch bundt pans.  Set aside. 

Mix all the wet ingredients together in a bowl, including the super mashed avocado. 

Add sugar into the wet mix and stir. 
Mix the wet with the dry all at once, and beat with a whisk (by hand) until smooth. 
Pour batter into a greased cake tins. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 
Let cakes cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely before frosting.

Cake with Chocolate Yogurtcream Frosting
Chocolate Yogurtcream Frosting
(Strange, but it works! Remember, these proportions are approximate--but if I make it again (when I make it again) I will post updates about quantities.)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup Dagoba chocolate powder
1 Tablespoon plain, nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream together the sugar, butter, and cocoa powder . Add the yogurt and vanilla and mix until creamy. If it's too thick, add a touch more yogurt. If it's too thin, add more confectioners sugar.

To assemble the cake:
Once both cakes have cooled, you'll want to have them both with bundt-cake top (the part that was nearer to the rack as it baked) down on the cooling rack. Spread the chocolate yogurtcream frosting on one of the cakes (you probably won't use it all, but maybe it's really thick and you really like chocoalte). Flip the other cake on top, making sure the bundt-cake edges align.
Aim for something more or less like this
Carefully spread on the (orange) buttercream frosting. 
E Spreading frosting

It's best if this is thicker than the pictures show so you can smooth it into the contoured shape of the cakes. 
Our frosting is a bit runny, but so tasty (and super sweet!)
Once you've frosted the cake, carefully insert the chocolate wafer cookies (if you can get a green wafer, more power to you) to create a stem-effect.

Our first attempt at pumpkin shaped cake is complete!