Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

A mother I work with from time to time recently asked me if I'd read Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein. Then, a couple days later, I read about the book on NPR. How I missed this in February, when the article was originally published, I'm not sure. I was probably preoccupied with my graduate thesis defense, which was fast approaching.

I've taken a few (and yes, just a few) women's studies classes. My book explores paralleling stories of healing (eating disorder, serious injury) and growing up. I grew up feeling more comfortable with boys, and later men, than with girls and women. I'm torn between supporting the Hollaback movement and resenting that I need to/should support it--the equivalent of carrying a rape whistle or inserting the anti-rape condoms. In other words, street harassment, like rape, is something that happens. But I resent that I feel like I should have to defend myself against it at all--and that it's my responsibility to be prepared for that possibility and the emotional consequences.

The ideas presented in Cinderella Ate My Daughter are ideas I'm just beginning to explore--and simultaneously ideas that I've been exploring for a long time. I'm curious about the increasing number of eating disorders--and how they are beginning to appear in younger and younger children. I'm curious about the rise in make-up sales to children who haven't even reached double-digits. For that matter, I'm interested in knowing more about what I perceive as increasing consumerism/materialism not only as marketed to children, but as marketed to adults. I'd like to understand how the increasing pressure to read and know numbers up through 20 before a child starts kindergarten will affect both girls and and boys in the generation that's just starting school, and how this will define the haves from the have-nots. But more than that.

I'm curious about what it means to be female in America right now, and what it means to be female in general. I want to know if the division between girlie-girls and non-girlie-girls will cause a lasting division among women as this generation ages. I'm curious about why there's been the explosion of pink (and purple) in the girls' section of toy stores, shopping centers, and on the little girls I work with. And, I wonder about the messages we're sending girls--in an era when more women are taking science courses in college and entering the science field, but also in an era just before the generation of the girlie-girls Orenstein writes about.

Orenstein focuses, primarily, on cis-gendered (presumably) boys and girls, probably because that's her worldview. She nods, from time to time, to the idea that she'd still love her daughter, even if her daughter is a lesbian.Where this is inserted, it feels awkward, as though Orenstein is consciously trying to sound progressive. And, that being said, I think she is progressive. She wants her daughter to have sex before marriage. Long, long before marriage, in fact. But she's concerned about the early sexualization of girls, as well as the messages of "needing to be saved," or "being pretty," and that's what this book focuses on.

She cites one example of going to the Toy Fair and noticing that one particular banner (with pink script) says over, and over, and over, Beautiful, Pretty, Colorful. The other has the words Power, Energy, Heroes. Guess which one's for boys? She explores concern over pop-princesses and the exploitation of their girl-next-door wholesomeness especially as they get to the age where they try to step out of the pop starlet into young womanhood, possibly even starhood, over weight-issues and young women (and girls), over make-up and clothing and gender-associated playthings. Orenstein looks at the "harried, doing too much and none of it well" image of female superheroes as well as the hyper-sexualization of female superheroes when her daughter asks for a Wonder Woman costume for her sixth birthday.

And, I do give her kudos for exploring these issues as a mom of a young girl. I applaud her reading her daughter the Grimm fairy tales. I appreciate that she asked other moms for their opinions on the girlie-girl culture, and supports her writing with research (though some endnote markers would've been fantastic). I find her explorations more credible, and I'm more tolerant of the stumbles Orenstein takes as she works through these issues. In part, though I think the stumbles are intentional. She writes to impress a target demographic I'm not part of -- a part that wants to dismiss science (one Amazon reviewer blasts her for this early in the book after she talks about myelin sheaths and neural flushing, then in the same paragraph says, "Whatever that means."). But this also causes Orenstein to contradict some of her own thesis. We, as women (and men out there) should encourage the exploration of these terms if we don't understand them, rather than playing into a stereotype that talks down, at least to some extent to the audience.

This book seems particularly relevant to read right now, while fairy tale movies are coming out and/or are in post-production. The LA Times published a slideshow article in April on fairy tale movies for grownups. Included in the lineup: Red Riding Hood, Pan's Labyrinth, The Brothers Grimm, Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Movies coming out soon include Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror; Jack the Giant Killer; and Dorothy of Oz. Orenstein even nods to the Twilight series and movies, which she calls (and I'd agree) a modern fairy tale. I would love to know why we're collectively seeking this immersion in fairy tale lands. It's not as though this is recent, exactly. Thanks to E, I could name off fairy tale based movies, TV shows, and mini-series that are current for a while. But I could also name a fair number from the past 20-ish years, notable only because the Disney Princess line, which inspires Orenstein's book, was only created in 2000. We were already moving in that direction. Someone just decided to capitalize on it (more).

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. With reservations. I am not thrilled by the way Orenstein jumps to some of her conclusions unfounded. I'm also not thrilled with the lack of exploration of the other side of the girlie-girl culture, those girls who (for whatever reason) don't fall into that position. She begins to do that toward the end, as she notices her own daughter turning against women. Specifically Orenstein wonders if her messages have caused her daughter to see being a girl as a bad thing while being a boy--or at least liking boy things--is superior.

One of the major positive attributes of this book? I found it super-readable. Orenstein's style kept the book from seeming overly preachy and because she was exploring the topic as a mom and using a journalistic-style voice (more inviting, than say, an academic paper) I had a hard time putting the book down. I can't say that for most nonfiction books. But I would've liked to feel more depth, or at least seen more exploration. I wanted to keep reading.

What I would love to know if this book was longer: What is it about the girlie culture that these other girls reject, for instance? And what becomes of them as far as body image goes? As far as fitting in later in life? Or those people who don't fit the cis-gendered roles? Why, really, are these the messages we're sending to girls culturally now? What about girls who grow up poor and not white? What affect does culture this have on them, and are they affected in the same way?

But Orenstein does explore a lot of topics I'm interested in, a lot of topics I wish people talked, and researched, and wrote about more. And that's the primary reason I would recommend the book. To push this type of conversation back off the Internet (where, to me, it seems more prevalent) and out of college classrooms, and back into places where moms and women and girls gather, talk, wonder why everything is just so pink.

Let me know your thoughts on these trends--even if you don't read the book. I love to hear from you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Very Veggie Breakfast

A quick reminder: the follower drive is still going on. Follow this blog and tell your friends to do so too!

I'm still in my "I want to eat veggies. Lots of veggies. Lots and lots of veggies. Especially green veggies..." stage and I've been making sautes and stir-fries for breakfast because the idea of sweet breakfast turns my stomach a little. In particular, I've been making some variation of this for breakfast almost daily, either using kale, chard, collards, or cabbage, depending on what I have in my refrigerator (aka, depending on what I got cheap at the growers market or the grocery store).

This is nice for breakfast because it's simple. I can start it after I walk the dog, even on days I'm feeling somewhat more rushed than I'd like in the mornings. I can steep my coffee (French press) while my food caramelizes, perhaps get my lunch ready to go on my weekdays, and even turn on my computer to check email and other things, all the while, giving my food an occasional quick stir so it doesn't burn.

As a post-Thanksgiving day breakfast, this is fun, light, and doesn't involve leftovers--which there will be plenty of, for many people, in the coming days (and weeks! So glad that's not me this year.). Plus, if you pair it with a piece of whole grain toast or other whole grain, then you will have plenty of stamina for shopping, cleaning, decorating, or whatever it is you do with your Black Friday. Usually, I would make tamales. This year, I work. But as I said, I've been eating this, or some variation of this, for several weeks and I find it a lovely way to start my day in a veggie-intense way that doesn't involve a smoothie (kinda cool for that this time of year, and the blender noise is obnoxious first thing in the morning).

In the variation of this depicted by the picture, I'm using Lacinato kale, which (apparently) has a long tradition in Italian cuisine. I'll have to remember that next time I buy some -- I definitely want something with tomatoes and Italian flavoring soon, probably also for breakfast. Lacinato kale is the same thing as dinosaur kale (my personal favorite name for it), Tuscan kale, and black kale among many other names. This is simply the kale that's looked best at both the growers market and the grocery store.

Sometimes I add mushrooms, because I really like them. I don't always want mushrooms though and so I'm not including it in the list of ingredients. When I do add mushrooms, I usually add 4-6 sliced (depending on the size) a couple of minutes after I add the onions, but before I add my greens. They add a lot of extra flavor though, so if you like mushrooms and have them on hand, I highly encourage you to use them.

This makes a great main dish breakfast for one or two, or could be used as a side dish for several. You could also use it for lunch or dinner, if you're so inclined (and I've been doing some of that too, just changing up what specifically I add).

I've also been craving, recently, baked beans on toast with stewed tomatoes. Maybe all these British shows E and I have been watching are rubbing off. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don't usually have baked beans or stewed tomatoes on hand. Maybe though, I'll make that happen.

It's Good to Be Green (and orange!) Breakfast (or dinner)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 carrot, sliced in coins, or 1/4 cup chopped sweet potato
1 bunch kale, chopped
Salt (I use about 1/4 teaspoon, at most)
Red pepper flakes (I use about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
Red wine vinegar (if you don't have this on hand, use lemon juice)

One or more of the following:
1/4 cup raisins, optional
1 teaspoon curry powder, optional
2 tablespoons chopped or slivered, toasted almonds
2-4 tablespoons goat cheese
1/2 thinly sliced, firm apple such as Arkansas black or pink pearl 

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add ginger, onion, garlic, and carrot. Stir to coat with oil and then only stir occasionally (every 2-3 minutes, perhaps) until the onions and carrots just begin to caramelize (about 7-10 minutes total, depending on your pan).

Add the kale (or cabbage), salt, and red pepper flakes. Saute until the kale begins to wilt and then add the red wine vinegar.

Remove from heat when the kale is mostly wilted and stir in the raisins, curry powder, almonds, goat cheese, or apple (I wouldn't recommend using all of these at once--but perhaps two or three, with a specific flavor-idea in mind as you're doing it), if using. Serve hot.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with Three Types of Sweet Potato

Joyous thanksgiving. Let us use today as another reminder to focus on the things we are thankful for now (my friend Erica, over at Kinds of Honey is particularly good at finding small moments of beauty in the everyday and she reminds me, through her blog posts to be a more grateful and gracious person, something I am quite thankful for) and, at some future point, discuss the problems with celebrating Thanksgiving.

This dish was born out of a mini-dinner party, and a request for butternut squash stew. E wanted a chunky soup (more like a stew), with veggies--and I'm not one to stay no to veggies! When we went to the grocery store, we picked up sweet potatoes, three varieties, to add color, texture, and taste to the soup. We also decided to add carrots (because I always, always have carrots around). This is an easy, moderately low-fuss soup and could easily be made for Thanksgiving if you're prowling for a last minute idea!

At our grocery store, we actually had more than three types of sweet potato to choose from, plus yams. But we went with a white-fleshed, white-skinned sweet potato (O'Henry), a garnet sweet potato, and a Japanese sweet potato. For the soup, I cut these into moderately large bite-size chunks and scrubbed but didn't peel them, since all of the sweet potatoes were organic). If you can't find three types of sweet potato in your local markets, don't worry about it. Just buy three medium sized sweet potatoes and go with it. 
For the butternut squash: organic, canned butternut squash puree has been ridiculously inexpensive at my grocery store for several weeks now, so that's primarily what we used. But, I also had a butternut squash I wanted to roast up anyway, so we used about 1 pound of freshly oven-roasted butternut squash in the soup and I save the rest of the meat for another meal. I roasted the butternut squash while I cleaned, walked the dog, and was waiting for the bread to rise appropriately.

Pureeing about half the veggies you use lends to a thicker soup (you could also use less water, but with big chunky veggies, I think this looks weird and the flavor is pretty strongly "autumn" anyway). This is easier with an immersion blender, but could also work in a food processor or a regular blender. If you use one of these methods, please let the soup cool sufficiently so you don't scald yourself, or cause a lid to blow off from heat!

While I worked on the soup, E set a lovely table. She was excited about the opportunity to have a real dinner party, complete with a local wine, and a properly set table. And, truth be told, I felt excited about it too. She arranged my winter squashes and pie pumpkin around a piece of tableware from her family, and then we lit a lovely "holiday" scented candle.

The recipe I based this on actually uses shallot instead of onion, so if you've got easy access to that, I encourage you to use shallots . E and I didn't have shallots on hand and operate on a pretty limited grocery budget. If you wanted to make this vegan, you could use olive oil in place of butter, and coconut milk (perhaps 3/4 cup) in place of the whipping cream.

Butternut Squash Soup with Three Types of Sweet Potato
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 large onion, chopped fine

1 White sweet potato, with white skin (O'Henry), chopped
1 Garnet sweet potato, chopped
1 Japanese sweet potato (red skin with white flesh), chopped
3 medium carrots, sliced into coins
1 small apple (I used three large crab apples)

3 pounds butternut squash puree (see my notes above about this)

8 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ cup heavy cream, scant

Melt the butter in a large soup pan, over medium heat. Add the onion and saute 1-2 minutes, until the onion begins to wilt. 
Stir in the chopped sweet potatoes and carrot coins. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring infrequently, so the potatoes will begin to caramelize. Add the apple and cook another 3 minutes. 

Add the butternut squash puree and 4 cups of water. Bring to simmer and cook 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Use an immersion blender to puree about 1/2 the chunky vegetables. Return to the heat and add remaining 4 cups of water. Bring to a simmer again. Stir in the salt, brown sugar, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Cook until all the vegetables are tender (to your liking; I like them with a little crunch the first day so they're not complete mush the second day).

Stir in the heavy cream. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot. 

Serves 4-6

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homemade Butter

Butter is incredibly easy to make. Cooking for Engineers has a lovely post on making butter--it talks about benefits of butter, the science behind making butter, and also about the "traditional" way of making butter. They use a stand mixer, but this is definitely not a requirement. In fact, it's something you can do as easily with kids as you can do with your dinner guests, or on your own. Since we had whipping cream to go with our butternut squash soup (that post will appear soon), I asked E if she wanted to make fresh butter to go on the fresh bread.

E was skeptical. I think she imagined a butter churn. I told her I'd made it with the kids I was nannying over the summer, and that they were 2 and 5. This convinced E that it wouldn't be so bad (especially after I assured her we had plenty of cream for making whipped cream for the brownies I'd made her and for the soup, which was our real reason for buying whipping cream.) I love guilt-trips.

We poured cold whipping cream into a small jar and screwed on the top. E started agitating (shaking) the jar. After a bit--when we both thought maybe she'd been shaking it too long, we opened the jar, looked at the thickening cream, and poured off half the jar (about 1/2 cup--it'd started off with just about a cup) so that the process would go faster. E passed the jar off to our friend Caitlin, who was at our place for dinner and Caitlin diligently shook the jar. It finally started to form a very thick cream and then, very soon after that, butter and buttermilk. We added some salt, and Caitlin shook it a while longer. Then we scooped out the butter and got rid of the buttermilk (though you could use it -- I might recommend pour it off before you add the salt if you want to do that).

Then we added the other 1/2 cup back in and E had the opportunity to finish making butter. It went faster this time, in part because the cream was even colder (I'd stuck it in the freezer) and in part because there was less in the jar, and was therefore easier to agitate. At one point, E looked at me and said "I think it turned back into cream!"

What had, in fact, happened was that the butterfat and buttermilk separated. I got her to shake it a little longer and then we added salt and she finished shaking her butter. We spooned it out and put it on the same dish as Caitlin's butter--just in time for the hot bread and butternut squash soup.

All-in-all the entire process, both sets of butter probably took a collective 15-20 minutes. We had soft butter on the table and it was satisfying to spread fresh butter on my gluten-free bread--and I think fun to have a pretty much completely homemade meal, right down to the butter.

Although we used a jar to make butter, you can also whip it with a whisk or fork. In the past, I've accidentally created (literally sweet) butter by over-whipping air into whipped cream. Oops. But a kind of happy mistake that I spread on waffles a few days later.

Homemade Butter
Whipping/heavy cream
Salt (optional)

Pour a small amount of very cold whipping cream into a small jar that can be closed with a lid. Close the jar and shake until a ball of butter begins to form, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the amount of cream you used.

Pour off the buttermilk, add salt, and shake or stir in. Pour off any additional buttermilk. Chill in the refrigerator to help it firm up, if desired. Keep any butter you don't use in a sealed container, in the refrigerator, on in a butter bell.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread, with a twist

So, way back in 2006, Mark Bittman posted a no-knead bread recipe. It's super-simple and I've made it several times (or made it several times back when I was still eating gluten). I remember the first time I had it was at my friend Bekah's house, as a loaf of bread her husband made and which they also, if I remember correctly, served with a winter-squash soup. It was lovely.

In 2008, Bittman posted a speedier version that had a much shorter fermentation time and used more yeast (to speed up the process). I haven't tried this version, but in my mind I prefer the 2006 recipe because I usually (try to) plan major baking projects ahead of time. 

In this case, I just barely had time to plan ahead for this bread and almost wound up doing the speedier bread (which would have been more difficult with an 8-hour work day schedule, in all honesty.) While we were doing laundry earlier this month, E suggested we invite our friend Caitlin over for dinner, stew or soup, perhaps? I agreed and E asked if I could make bread.

"Sure," I replied, as I tried to work out how I might make bread on the same day I also worked. That's when I remembered Bittman's recipe. Simple to mix up, simple to work on when I finally got home in the evening, it could easily be ready in time for a mini dinner party on a work night. Perfect. Especially perfect when Caitlin said she liked butternut soup and when E said she wanted it chunky, with other vegetables. More on that in another post. Bread would be the perfect accompaniment to butternut squash soup, the house would smell lovely, and I'd have my GF bread I made a few days before. I looked forward to the evening--and to planning with E which butternut squash recipes we would base our soup on.

The next night--the night before our dinner with Caitlin, I started the sponge for this bread--which also turns into the dough, so perhaps "sponge" isn't the right word, and then let it sit out for nearly 24 hours (the recipe says at least 12 hours, preferably 18) and hoped it wouldn't overproof. I've never actually had this bread overproof, but I'm sure it's possible.

When I got home from work, I incorporated a little more flour, folded the dough over on itself a couple of times and let it rise another 15 minutes. Then I rolled it into a ball shape, coated it generously in flour and let it rise, on top of a warm oven (I was also roasting butternut squash that afternoon) on the oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes (the Bittman recipe calls for 2 hours, but because I had it rising in a warmer-than-70-degrees place, I was able to speed up the process a bit). I preheated a cast-iron pan (that had a lid, a good lid is key, I didn't preheat the lid) and then rolled the dough into the pan.

The dough actually didn't roll into the pan all that well. Bittman's recipe calls for using a towel, but E and I don't own tea towels and terry cloth won't work. Not to worry though, it didn't make a difference in the way the bread baked up--or not really. The holes in the dough were smaller than the last few times I made it.

My pan was also a little smaller than ideal, but I didn't feel like digging out my larger one. The bread baked up to have a very crunchy crust and a chewy inside, like good French bread. Next time E wants French bread, maybe this is what I'll make instead (only without herbs). Because I used a smaller pan, the bread did take about another 30 minutes to finish baking and it was just done on the inside.

Because the herbs marinate in the dough so long, you really don't need a lot to craft a loaf that has a nice, herbal flavor. Fines herbes are fairly mild herbs, which is also nice because they don't overwhelm the loaf. Caitlin and E had this with butter they made themselves.

This bread, along with the butternut squash soup, would make a perfect pre- or post-Thanksgiving day meal. It tastes (and smells) like autumn. One of E's co-workers, when she heard what we were having, said this was "autumn soul food." Indeed, it is.

Herbed No-Knead Bread
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fines herbes

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, salt and herbs. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Careful not to overwork it here--this is the easiest spot to just start kneading the dough, if you're used to that step in making bread. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour (I put it back in the bowl); put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel (or be like me and cover the whole bowl in a plastic bag from the grocery store) and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Deep Chocolate Brownies

Let's face it. Sometimes we crave chocolate. According to some people, chocolate cravings--especially cravings for dark chocolate are indicative of a magnesium deficiency. I've been craving dark chocolate, but unadulterated by anything else. 
Brownies, up close and personal
A word of warning: These brownies aren't vegan. Or gluten-free. If you're looking for something healthy--also not it. This is death-by-chocolate, rich dessert. After all, they're deep chocolate brownies. And this type of indulgence is just the type of pick-me-up that you might want for a rainy (literally or figuratively) day, or for a fun baking project for a day with frost on the windows and snow falling outside.  

So, these aren't brownies that I can eat (or should eat, perhaps, since I know if I did they'd make me feel icky). Why'd I make them? E asked me to make brownies and so that's what I did. I made "normal people" brownies, because I have yet to find a GF brownie recipe that I particularly like. Part of this, I think, has to do with the grittiness of many GF flours. And part of it, in all honesty, has to do with my lack of love of most brownies.

I spent some time trying to figure out a good recipe for chewy, fudgy brownies because that's what E wanted. Thank goodness. I have no patience for chocolate cake or cakey brownies--just make cake, if that's what you want. And maybe, possibly, don't make it chocolate. But you read about my chocolate cake biases in the pumpkin cake post. Long story short, I found two recipes I thought looked pretty good and which provided lovely explanations for how the authors got to the recipes they did. One had more chocolate -- and three types. One had brown sugar (entirely, instead of white sugar) and a lot less butter. I combined these two recipes, pulling out what I considered the best aspects and created this recipe. E and our friend Caitlin swore this was a good recipe, so you'll have to take their word for it--plus a few co-workers, who also had the opportunity to try them. One described these brownies as "not too cakey, not too flat, not too fudgy. You could put frosting on it and call it cake." They smelled absolutely lovely as it baked (and all night).

With whipped cream
I served these with fresh whipped cream after making/serving a lovely butternut squash stew (more on this in another post) and a variation on Mark Bittman's no-knead bread, as the conclusion to an autumn dinner party. If I'd had it (and if E liked it), I might have put small curls of candied ginger. If I were to make more whipped cream and had a lemon on hand, I might put lemon zest on the whipped cream, because lemon and chocolate are a lovely combination.

I love baking new projects and E's a willing subject, especially if it involves chocolate (thanks E!). If you have suggestions for things you'd like to see, let me know! 

Deep Chocolate Brownies
6 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into quarters
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour

Place an oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease a 9" pie pan.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.  Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated.  Then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined.  (It took me a while to get the flour evenly incorporated and I was worried it would affect the texture of the brownies, but they turned out fabulously – no need to worry.)  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer.  Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.  
Slice as you would a pie, creating about 24 slices.  Store in an air-tight container.   

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Product Review: Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese, Herbs and Chives

I don't like cream cheese. I'm just going to put that out there. Cream cheese frosting? It's okay. Occasionally. Like once a year, or on carrot cake. Cheesecake? I'll pass. Cream cheese on a bagel? For the most part, spare me.

But at some point back, I had a vegan carrot cake at the R. Thomas Deluxe Grille in Atlanta. If you haven't been there, you should go. I make a point of stopping there whenever I happen to be in Atlanta (and not just in the airport). I'm getting distracted from the point though. To say the least, after that visit (where I also shared, family style, several other dishes with my traveling companions), I learned to like fake cream cheese. It's not as strong as "regular" cream cheese, it doesn't leave an oil slick on my tongue, and well, in all honesty, it doesn't taste particularly like cream cheese.

For a long time, I only used fake cream cheese for vegan cream cheese frostings. And so, I wasn't buying it often or using much of it. But then, during my most recent move, I accidentally picked up a Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese Herbs and Chives. I think I actually intended to buy plain, for some specific purpose. Rather than returning it when I realized my mistake, I opened it and tried it (mostly because, in the past when I've been convinced to eat cream cheese, it's been flavored with other things).

It tasted like Thanksgiving to me. Stuffing, to be exact. And that was a lovely addition to my new GF yeast-bread endeavors, as well as to just making me feel like I was getting something more savory. It's smooth, creamy, and doesn't have that particularly tofu-y taste of the plain version of this mock cream cheese (or other mock cream cheeses). It spreads easily--perhaps more easily than traditional cream cheese--and where I'm living, it doesn't cost anymore for a tub of Toffuti than it does for organic cream cheese.

Tofutti makes other lactose- and milk-fat free varieties of "better than cream cheese," but I haven't seen them in my stores yet. According to the website, I should also be able to find garlic and herb (I wish!), garden veggie, French onion, and smoked salmon flavors--hopefully they'll come to a store near me soon, or better yet, maybe Tofutti would like to send me samples to review (fingers crossed!). The smoked salmon Tofutti product, in case you were wonder, is not vegan.

Since I first accidentally purchased the Herbs and Chives version, I've been purchasing it regularly. It's comforting to eat, nice and melty, and helps dress up my GF breads.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gingered Carrots with Honey

Lately, I've been on a serious veggies kick. As I've mentioned in recent posts, sweets haven't really appealed and this is about as sweet as I'd like, except really, really dark chocolates. I've also been on a bit of a ginger kick. It always adds a lovely flavor, but especially in the autumn and winter.

Carrots are a winter vegetable, which means I've seen plenty of organic carrots at my local markets, including the growers market. But, those of you who know me also know that I usually buy carrots 5+ pounds at a time. I happen to really love carrots.

I made this simple side dish while Rachael was visiting, on an evening that we had a veggie-rich dinner--we had these carrots, plus Rachael made collard greens sauteed with garlic and splashed with lemon, and fennel sauteed with just small amount of garlic and then tossed with goat cheese. Next to these, to help our meal last a little longer, we added some freshly made gluten-free bread*. The meal was filling and satisfying in that way that I find most veggie-rich meals to be--"I feel good about my life, about my body, about the things I just put into my body." It was the perfect meal for just-post the end of Daylight Savings Time, when darkness settled in too soon and for an afternoon filled by a long hike and baking (bread, vegan chocolate pie, granola).

Gingered Carrots with Honey
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
6-8 carrots, sliced into coins
Olive oil

Saute the ginger 1-2 minutes in olive oil, over medium heat. Add the carrot coins and cook 5-6 minutes. Add honey (I used about 1 tablespoon for 8 medium carrots) and saute another 2-3 minutes until the honey has formed a thick coating over the carrot slices. Serve hot.

*The bread, this time for those of you who are regular readers, didn't contain oats. Instead, we used both white and brown rice flour, and Bob's Red Mill GF mix.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not-Too-Sweet Chunky Apple Cake

Earlier this month, I was looking on a blog for work (yes, I sometimes get to read blogs for work, kinda awesome when i do) when I saw a post for a "kid-friendly" apple cake. The blogger was playing it up as super-healthy because it had DHA in it from flax. Okay, yes, technically you can get DHA from the ALA actually present in flax, but the human body isn't very good at making that conversion happen. And the original recipe contained 1 cup of sugar, plus 1/2 cup of butter. And that's before the topping, which also had a fair amount of butter and sugar.

Kid-friendly because it's super sweet? Fine. But maybe not the best option. The original recipe also used white whole wheat flour, which is fantastic (whole grains, whoo!), unless you're trying for a gluten-free diet.

I intentionally did not use guar gum or xantham gum in this recipe--quick breads don't always need it. That may be part of the reason that this cake is a little crumbly. It could also be that I used closer to 3 cups of chunked apples, or whole oats (which can be a problem for some people with gluten-sensitivity or intolerance, please ask if you don't know for sure). Or maybe I just didn't let it cool enough after initially coming out of the oven. It did get more solid as I let it cool.

The original recipe didn't contain any extra salt (maybe the blogger used salted butter, but the post didn't indicate one way or the other), so I added some because salt is a flavor enhancer. I also added cardamom and cloves because I enjoy the flavors. Also, it's just the time of year when I want the house to smell of sweet spices. As E put it when she came down in the morning, "It's that time of year, isn't it, when there's lots of baking?" I look forward to baking with her during these next few months, when the days are shorter and cooler.

I'd been wanting to make this recipe for a while, because it seemed like a fun thing to do with some of the extra going-soft apples I had around. I've already made applesauce this season (and will again) and still have some in my freezer. I wanted a different option. But I didn't really want a lot of bread. When my friend Rachael came for a visit, I decided it would be the perfect time to make this cake. I wanted to make it a lot less sweet and serve it with breakfast. I could send her on the road with some. And, because we planned to do a lot of hiking, it would be something fortifying we could eat in the morning and feel fuller with for a while.

The morning I made this, I also heated up some black beans Rachael brought with her, in a chipotle-peanut butter sauce and let them cook until the sauce thickened around them, which added extra protein to the meal--protein + whole grains = staying power. We spread a little extra butter on the bread, but a lot less than the recipe originally called for. Sometimes, I find spreading fresh butter on a bread lets me actually taste the butter, which I appreciate if I'm going to be eating those calories anyway. Then, we went hiking and walking through town and hiking again. And in between, we baked other things. Magical.

To make this vegan: substitute the egg for a flax seed egg, commercial egg replacer, or a banana, and use a vegan margarine or olive oil in place of butter. I used water in my recipe, but a milk alternative would work as well--and the original recipe used regular, low-fat milk.

Not-Too-Sweet Chunky Apple Cake (Gluten-Free)
Dry Ingredients
1 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (GF)
1 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Mix together in a large bowl and set aside while you mix the wet ingredients.

Wet Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon ground flax
1 1/2 cups water or low-fat milk
1 egg, beaten

Melt the butter and sugar together in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Add the vanilla, flax, and water or milk and remove from heat and let cool about 5 minutes. Stir in the egg. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

2 cups (or 3) chopped apples

Brown sugar
Cinnamon, optional

Stir the chopped apples and pour batter into a 9" greased pie pan or round cake pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake with brown sugar and cinnamon, if using. Bake in an oven preheat to 375 degrees for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

With butter

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Follower Drive & a Giveaway

I'm starting a follower drive. I'd like to get to 100+ followers by December 15 and so I'm announcing a follower drive. Here's the catch. If I don't get to 100, then no one gets the giveaway prize, a copy of Simply in Season or Supernatural Everyday (probably my choice, not yours, but we'll see). You can also opt out of this prize and instead I'll use that money to purchase ducks, chicken, or geese from Heifer International for a person in need. So, tell your friends! I'll select one follower, at random, to win (if you select the book, I will need your contact info to get this to you).

How to be entered to win:

1) Become a follower.
2) Comment on at least one post published between now and December 15.
3) Check back on December 16 to see who has been selected the winner.
4) If you are the winner, you must contact me by noon PST on December 17, with your contact info.


Although I love my followers who are outside the US, I cannot ship things to you at this point. I'm sorry. So, know that I am very grateful to your loyalty and I hope to be able to include you in the giveaways soon. If outside the US and you're selected the winner, I will make a gift to Heifer International of Ducks, Chicken, or Geese in your name (your choice of animal).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Baked Butternut Squash Oatmeal with Quinoa

My friend Rachael recently came to visit and we spent lovely days baking, cooking, hiking, and talking. One morning, we went out to breakfast. One morning we cooked together. One morning, I made this dish, based on a baked oatmeal recipe from a cookbook Rachael brought with her called Simply in Season. It seemed like a delightful base recipe to prep us for a long hike and it's nice to eat seasonal foods, even when some of my ingredients come from a can (more on this later).

Why this dish? When we were planning our day, the evening before Rachael said she'd never had baked oatmeal--not true, I reminded her. When we both still lived in the Midwest and ate breakfast together on Friday mornings with two other friends, I'd made a baked oatmeal recipe a handful of times. Baked oatmeal was something introduced to me a year ago this past summer, at a retreat center I stayed at while on a field trip focused on sustainable agriculture.

One of the lovely things about baked oatmeal is that it's warm, hearty, and can be prepped the night before. The recipe from Simply in Season did not recommend mixing everything the night before and then just sticking it in the oven. But, you could do this, I think, based on my previous baked oatmeal experiences. This is especially good if you're rushed in the morning. And, you could make this vegan by substituting the egg for either a commercial egg replacer, or a flax seed egg. You don't have to use the quinoa, if you don't have any on hand, but I wanted to include it to up the protein a little. If you decide to leave it out, you should increase the oatmeal to 2 cups.

We used butternut squash, because that's the puree I had on hand. At times, I might make my own rather than buying processed, but honestly I could pick up these cans of organic butternut puree for ridiculously cheap and it wasn't nearly as labor-intensive, and when I have butternut squash I've baked, I really just want to eat it. Immediately. You could also use pumpkin for this, or applesauce (as the original recipe suggests).

You could use pumpkin pie spice for this, if you didn't have these spices on hand, or leave the spices out entirely--the original recipe didn't use spices. I might have also added cardamom, if I'd thought about it early enough, but this combination of spices created a lovely taste reminiscent of autumn.

Note: although I've labeled this gluten-free, some people with Celiacs and gluten-sensitivity also do badly with oats, including gluten-free oats. If you are one of these people, or preparing this for someone who is gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, please check to make sure GF oats are okay.

Baked Butternut Squash Oatmeal with Quinoa
Dry Ingredients
1 3/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats (GF)
1/4 cup quinoa
1/4 cup demerara sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup raisins (or other chopped, dried fruit, optional)
3 tablespoons chopped almonds (optional)*

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Wet Ingredients
1 cup milk (I used coconut)
1/2 cup butternut squash puree
1 tablespoon oil
1 egg

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix in the spices.
Add the wet ingredients and mix until well incorporated.
Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees, in a greased 8 x 8 pan (or equivalent) 25-30 minutes, until a knife stuck in the center comes out moist, but clean. Serve warm with milk.

*I didn't incorporate the almonds, but left them chopped, on the side to be added later. You could also use walnuts or pecans, if you prefer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Vegan Chocolate Pie with Coconut Crust

Lately, I haven't really wanted sweets. Probably that's a good thing. But I have wanted chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but really dark chocolate. If it's not dark chocolate, I'm not interested. I could keep this trend, except I'm kinda also getting sick of chocolate--even while I still want it. I might resort to buying either the ridiculously dark chocolate or cocoa nibs, except those are outside my budget.

I'm hoping this pie will cure me of wanting chocolate. I've been wanting to make this pie for a while, but actually got around to making it because I had a friend coming to town. A friend who appreciates dessert. A friend who's open to trying the oddball things I make. Willing guinea pigs are always nice to have around. And I'm also hoping E will help me eat some of it. There are plenty of variations of vegan chocolate pie around. The type I like, I originally got from Alton Brown's "moo-less" chocolate pie and have since modified somewhat. But I wasn't sure what the point of this pie was--true, Oreos are vegan*, but if you're aiming for something that's a little healthier--this isn't necessarily the pie for you. On the other hand, maybe you're just lactose-intolerant and this works fine for you.

This is, however, a pie I like. It's smooth and silky. This variation is pretty light and fluffy (there are versions that are slightly heavier). It's got a fair amount of protein. It's quick to put together. It usually makes a pretty presentation. Since going gluten-free, I've made up the filling and eaten it like pudding, once. But it's so much more fun (and impressive) as a pie.

A friend of mine makes a really fantastic gluten-free pie crust for coconut cream pies and pear tarts, with coconut flour and/or Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose, coconut flakes, and sometimes even coconut sugar. My goal wasn't to replicate this crust (though I might need to ask how she does this), but just to use it as a jumping off place for a slightly less sweet crust. I think the pie is plenty sweet without a sweet crust, and I think it's fun to have the contrast between the crust and the pie filling. I used agave sugar, rather than sugar, in the crust and flax to replace the egg binder most pie crusts use. To replace the butter, I used a vegan substitute.

Edible Flowers
This pie is pretty forgiving flavor-wise. I've offered a few alternatives I've tried in the past with the filling, but I imagine lavender essence could be used to replace the vanilla, or that, if you were so inclined, you could even incorporate lavender blossoms (dried) into the pie. Or, you could top slices of the pie with individual edible flowers, like poppies or pansies. As you consider serving the pie, think about how you might plate it, based on the flavor profiles available in the pie -- chocolate-covered coffee beans, peppermints or mint leaves, candied orange peel, or raspberry sauce squiggled over the plate before you slip the slice from the pie dish. Presentation, I'm told, can make a huge difference in how people perceive your food--and if you're using a high quality chocolate, you can play up flavors already present in the chocolate as you plate it.

Vegan Chocolate Pie with Coconut Crust
For the crust:
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup quinoa flour
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tablespoon flax mixed with 1/3 cup cool water
2 tablespoons agave nectar
Olive oil

For the pie:
12 ounces Mori-Nu soft silken tofu
1/4 cup almond milk (or other dairy free milk, or coffee, peppermint orange or chocolate liquor**)
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8-9 ounces vegan semi-sweet chocolate

Cut the butter into the flours until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the coconut flakes. Add the flax-water and agave nectar and stir until it forms a very loose dough (it should not form a ball, but should hold together when pressed). Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Press the dough into a 9" pie pan lightly greased with olive oil. Prick bottom of crust lightly with fork. Cover and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake the pie crust 15-18 minutes, until it turns a light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Coconut Crust

After the pie crust has cooled, blend the tofu, almond milk, agave nectar, and vanilla in a blender until smooth. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a double-boiler (or very heavy bottomed sauce pan) over low heat, stirring often to avoid scorching. Once the chocolate has fully melted, scrape it into the blender and process until well mixed, scraping down the sides, as necessary.

Pour the filling into the crust, cover, and refrigerate at least 2.5 hours, or until the pie filling has set. Serve cold.

*Though not necessarily made with vegan sugar. And this depends on where you live in the world. In some places, apparently Oreos contain whey powder, which makes them non-vegan.

**I've also made this with peanut butter and sunflower seed butter, both of which work well--but didn't seem like they would be the best compliments to a coconut-based crust. If you're looking for something like a healthier chocolate peanut butter pie, you could certainly incorporate peanut butter or another nut butter into this, or layer peanut butter on the bottom and pour the chocolate-tofu filling on top. One day, I might post one of these recipes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rachael's Happy Curry

This recipe makes a ton of servings, or at least 8-10. My friend Rachael recently made it for me while she was in town. The original recipe comes from Simply in Season and Rachael made a few adjustments to the original recipe, which I tried my best to capture in the recipe below. It's a lovely meal for a cold autumn day. The day we ate it, we'd gone on a long hike in the mountains and for a while we hiked in snow--the first snow of the season, in this part of the country, which felt magical. As Rachael put it at one point when she tried taking a picture of me, "It's okay though, because it's like you're in a fairy tale."

And the entire weekend was like a fairy tale. We saw snow and a bit of a bus, or some other yellow piece of metal deep in the woods. We traipsed through clouds. We hiked through snow that was up to our hips. We scrambled up rocks and back down them. We went to Goodwill and the grocery store and drank local Viongier and local, organic chocolate vodka. We hiked daily, we baked and cooked, we had long conversations. We wandered through the First Friday art walk and looked at beautiful things we (for the most part) knew we couldn't afford. We went on a mini road trip. We talked about how we were both living lifestyles most people we know don't really understand and how small moments, like watching a video a friend of Rachael's made about Holden Village, make us feel like we're making the right decision for us, at this point in our lives.

While Rachael was here, we listened to Iron & Wine while making dinner, to a song, "The Perfect Space" by the Avett Brothers, that made us think of our friend Brenna while we drove on our mini road trip. We listened to Cat Stevens and The Beatles and a short story ("Paper Lantern") by Stuart Dybek, as read by ZZ Packer.

We talked about how we liked working outdoors--though Rachael works outside more than I do and I'm a bit jealous of it--and environmental education. We talked about how much we liked being able to go hiking or kayaking after work and how the best conversations either of us have occur while we're moving around. I felt more grounded, less like I was just existing, in a somewhat grounded way, in this liminal spot. But I also realized I was going to feel sad when Rachael left. I want her to live near me. I only feel that way, at this point, about a couple of people--though there are a lot of people I'd love to see more often. Rachael's a lovely, kind woman and I'm glad she's been such a constant force in my life over the past three and a half years, and especially during the last year as so many other things in my life have felt in transition.

It felt, to me, like having family around and helped me feel more like I belonged in the place I'm in, because Rachael and I were equally interested in having quiet adventures together--not the type that involve going out to the bar, necessarily, or constant entertainment in the traditional sense, but in ways that allowed us to interact with the places near here, with the place I live, with the food we were eating--which was almost entirely local and organic. Her visit made me feel less homesick--and simultaneously more because I knew I'd miss her when she leaved. It made me feel more like an adult. Rachael's someone I don't have to work to be around, which is sometimes the most comforting thing--which I needed more than I expected.

One of the best things about making this curry: that we worked on it together. I baked brown rice, sliced (the recipe calls for minced) garlic and ginger, and found things in my kitchen for Rachael. She worked on the rest and we talked about the things in our life that felt the most immediate, and also listened to a Day of the Dead mix full of wonderful songs. After we'd both had our fill of food, there was plenty of curry left over, so I could think of her as I ate some of the leftovers and send her back on the road with some of it, perfect for eating on the road, presumably while sitting in her distinctive car on her at a lovely vista.

Rachael's Happy Curry
1 large onion, chopped
1 tableespoon ghee, coconut butter, or olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped
2 serrano chile peppers, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon each: turmeric, ground cumin, black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 bay leaves

14 ounces coconut milk
1/4 cup tamari (we actually used some marmite and extra water)
3 large tomatoes, diced

1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
5 cups water

1 medium head cauliflower (cut into 1 1/2 inch florets)
1 large sweet potato
1/4 head cabbage (we didn't use this, but I will next time I make it)
1-2 cups peas (again, we didn't use this but next time I will)


In large saucepan or soup pot over medium-high heat, saute onion in coconut butter or oil, until transparent but not brown. Add garlic through bay leaves and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Do not let spices, garlic, and onion brown. Add the coconut milk, tamari, and tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring lentils to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add, with liquid to soup pot.

Add the cauliflower, sweet potato, and cabbage to the soup pot and cook until just tender, about 5-10 minutes. If using peas, add at the end of the cooking time. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Serve hot, over brown rice with toppings (optional) such as: Indian chutneys & pickles, fresh diced pears, roasted sunflower seeds, plain yogurt, or a squeeze of lemon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Horseradish

I was recently gifted horseradish. What, I wondered, does one do with horseradish root? Aside from make it into ground horseradish root, pickled with vinegar and salt. A quick internet search returned the result "not much." One can also make it into a relish with beets and onions, apparently, or turn it into an apple soup. But mostly it acts as a flavor enhancer and is used moderately sparingly. The apple soup uses 1/2 cup (pretty impressive--maybe I'd make it if I had apple juice around and let you know how it is). But generally, it isn't meant to be the main flavor.

That's not too much of a surprise. Horseradish is super-hot in the same kind of flash-in-the-mouth way of wasabi--not too much of a surprise, since they're in the same family, Brassicaceae and are used (and prepared) in moderately similar ways.

A couple of fun facts about horseradish:

  • It will tarnish silver.
  • 10 tablespoons fresh = 6 tablespoons dried, powdered
  • The young, tender leaves of the horseradish plant are edible and can be used in salads.
When I was in my early 20s, a friend gave me horseradish from her garden--horseradish to transplant, not to eat. She advised me to put it in a large container, rather than in the ground, because apparently horseradish spreads pretty crazily (at least if allowed to go to seed). A quick google search turned up close to 140,000 results. I did this and not long after had a lovely horseradish plant. I didn't know what to do with it though and after it chocked out the lettuces I'd planted along with it, I just let it die in its container. That being said, I don't think most people will need as much horseradish as is easily produced, so if you're considering planting it, you might also consider who you want to give it to when its ready to be harvested come autumn!
Horseradish about to be pureed
I pureed the horseradish with a little water, salt, and vinegar. I'm not reposting the recipe I used, because nothing was an exact, measurable amount. But basically, these are things that every "make your own horseradish" recipe called for, a pickling amount. Because that's, in part, how you preserve horseradish root--by pickling it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Product Review: Sonoma All Natural Gluten-Free, Wheat-Free Wraps in Ivory Teff

Since going gluten-free, I miss flour tortillas. Really good ones, the type that melt in your mouth, the type patted out by hand at The Original Donut Shop on Fredricksburg, in San Antonio. The type that Chevy's restaurant chain makes on tortilla machines. The type you can buy at HEB groceries--usually still steaming--if you live in Texas. I even miss the less-than-stellar fresh flour tortillas I'd occasionally make (mine usually turned out overworked, but I was getting the hang of it, right about the time I figured out I should probably avoid gluten).

To fully understand this you should know: for me growing up, Mexican food was comfort food. We were homesick Texans--and for a time, in grad school, I was a regular follower of Homesick Texan's blog. My family made tacos on the weekends. Pretty much every weekend. We made tamales and fresh salsa and huevos rancheros and moles. We ate fish tacos and occasionally smoked things in plantain leaves. We made corn tortillas and sometimes drank horchata. You've probably got the point. Even when we stopped eating as much Mexican food--we replaced it with Indian, to some extent, we still probably had something Mexican once or twice a week. Rick Bayless visited our house weekly via his public television show and my dad tried his recipes. We would find new favorites and replace old ones.

So giving up flour tortillas, in a way, was hard. Fortunately, I'd also moved to the Midwest, where I couldn't seem to find fresh flour tortillas unless I'd made them myself. That made it a little easier just because I wasn't eating as many.

When I moved again, I found La Tortilla Factory's Sonoma brand ivory teff wraps (they also apparently come in dark, but I haven't seen those at my local grocer). The full name is a mouthful and in the title for this post, so I'm not repeating it here. These wraps, when heated, become very soft, smooth and pliable, have a rich, complex flavor and just enough chewiness to be reminiscent of gluten. They almost melt in your mouth and leave a slightly sweet aftertaste, the way a good flour tortilla will. When they're cold, they're less pliable. I might almost describe the mouth-feel as a bit rubbery. Not in a bad way, but in a way that makes me just not want to eat them cold if I have the option to eat them hot. The flavor is less complex because there's no steam rising to your nose, helping you smell the grains.

These wraps--really not tortillas, unless you subscribe to the "burrito size" jumbo tortilla idea so many people seem fond of right now--only come in a size I'd call "too large." I never want a full one, which is good since a 6-pack of the ivory teff wraps runs $4-5 depending on which store I buy them at. Not outrageous (at least by market standards) for an organic, gluten-free product, but pretty expensive on my budget.

These wraps, like many gluten-free products, start with a lightweight flour (usually either cornstarch or tapioca flour--in this case, tapioca), and also include teff and millet flours, and guar gum--plus a number of other ingredients, including among other things: soy lecitihin (this is in almost every processed food you eat), canola oil, corn syrup solids, and "colloid powder" which is cellulose gum, maltodextrin, carrageenan), honey. You can just taste that note of honey if you're eating these wraps plain (but heated), or with a mild spread, such as cream cheese.

If you can't find these wraps in your local store, that might be because their distribution outside of Northern California is spotty, at least according to the website. If you're craving flour tortillas though, and are gluten-free, it's worth talking to your local grocer(s) and seeing if they can get their hands on some. I don't eat mine particularly quickly, if you're concerned about that, and they store just fine in my refrigerator, as long as I'm careful to reseal the bag properly. I suspect that like many flour tortillas--and an obscene number of gluten-free products--these wraps also probably freeze pretty well, but I haven't given it a shot yet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Homemade Crockpot Yogurt

My friend Marissa, over at We*Meat*Again recently suggested I should post about making yogurt. I've been making yogurt pretty regularly for about 18 months now--when I'm in a good habit of it, I make it once a week, every week. But since moving, I've fallen back out of the habit until recently.

Needless to say, at this point I've probably made 40+ batches of yogurt, just under 2 quarts at a time. And it's always come out well, except once when it turned into buttermilk and this past time, when I oops left my crockpot on too long after adding the starter cultures (procured from the last batch of homemade yogurt--but originally just from "live, active culture" yogurt). By too long, I mean overnight. On low. I came downstairs in the morning and had a brown, gloopy, bubbling mess.

Well shoot. Good thing I inherited the milk I'd used from a friend, I guess. It was going sour anyway, which made it pretty ideal for yogurt-making. It wasn't bad yet, but another 24-36 hours and it would've been. It felt less like a loss that way. And thankfully, since the way I make yogurt is pretty low maintenance, but does take a few days, I have a good supply of too-many-additives yogurt.

Marissa wanted me to create a blog post about making yogurt after she realized everything her yogurt had in it--a commercial brand I'll allow to remain nameless. Corn syrup, gelatin, starch, and food dye, among other things. A mutual friend told her she should make yogurt, like I do, in a crockpot. Other friends mentioned brands that are less processed.

To be fair, after making my own yogurt for the past 18 months, I do realize why food companies use some of these thing. I have yet to figure out a really effective way of getting thick yogurt without straining it (this is how Greek yogurt is made--at least if you're making it at home). Fermentation time is a major part of this process though--if yogurt ferments quickly, then it's less likely to hold its whey. More bacteria generally = a faster fermentation time (but this is also dependent on the number of active bacteria) and potentially more runny yogurt. Fewer bacteria = slower fermentation and a thicker yogurt. I've added things like powdered milk (which thickens it some, but also sometimes leaves clumps if I don't get it dissolved enough), but that only somewhat works. Food starch (often wheat-based if it doesn't specify) and gelatin both allow yogurt to come out the way we, as Americans, expect it to be. Thick. And well, gelatinous.

Each batch of yogurt you make will have a little different flavor, based on time, bacteria, and even the milk! That's one of the things I like about making yogurt (and even just buying yogurt, for that matter).

Other things I like about making yogurt:

  • I know exactly what goes into my yogurt.
  • It's easy & straightforward to make in a crockpot.
  • It can use milk that is about to sour, but it's better to use super-fresh milk. 
  • It's about the same cost of buying yogurt where I live now, but everywhere else I've lived it's been significantly cheaper to make yogurt than buy it. Even here, it's still a little cheaper.
Heidi, over at 101 Cookbooks wrote a great post about making yogurt back in 2005 and this was the recipe I started with when I started making yogurt. I've never had my yogurt thicken as quickly as she indicates her yogurt fermented (4-5 hours) and re-reading that post so that I wouldn't repeat too much of her information here, it made me a little jealous. But only a little, because honestly since this is crockpot yogurt, I don't exactly invest a lot of time and effort into yogurt-making. Heidi recommends using a yogurt-maker if you plan to make your own yogurt often. I, however, haven't been able to make myself invest in this. Yet. 

Milking Shorthorn in Iowa
The main thing about making yogurt is to keep it at the right temperature while the culture multiplies. This is about 85 degrees. You can wrap a heavy towel around your unplugged crockpot to help keep it at this temperature in most places, most of the year. When I lived in the (very cold) Midwest, I got in the habit of turning it to "warm" or "low" for a few minutes (where I screwed up this time!) a couple of times during the culturing period during the winter because my apartment was too cold for proper culturing--even with the towel (or, a towel and a jacket, even). The other thing to make sure of is that you heat the milk enough to begin with--various sites will tell you between 170 and 185 degrees. Try to avoid letting it boil (but, if it does, you'll probably wind up with a lightly caramelly flavor in your yogurt), though the milk should look frothy.

After your yogurt has cultured, you can move into a new container and store it in the fridge. The recipe below assumes you have a crockpot that can hold about one-half gallon of milk.

Crockpot Yogurt
3 1/2 cups organic milk
1/2 cup organic yogurt with active cultures (your starter--I've used StonyfieldNancy'sMountain High, and others that are locally available)

Heat your milk in your very clean crockpot on high for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn off & unplug the crockpot and leave covered until the milk cools to about 100 degrees. Depending on the time of year and the heat of your house, this will probably take about 2-3 hours.

Meanwhile, bring your starter yogurt to room temperature (this helps it mix better into the warm milk). When you do this, make sure that your starter yogurt is in a clean, covered container.

Stir your starter yogurt into your cooled milk, then wrap your crockpot in a heavy towel. Let sit 4-8 hours. If your home is particularly cold, you should probably turn the crockpot to warm or low for 3-5 minutes about halfway through the culturing process. Check your yogurt. If it looks thick* (be careful not to jiggle or stir it at this point--this might result in stringy yogurt) then it's done. If not, heat the crockpot just a little (another 3-5 minutes on low or warm and then unplug the crockpot again and re-wrap it) and leave up to another 8 hours.

Transfer the crockpot to the refrigerator to allow the yogurt to fully set** and then transfer yogurt into a container for storage.

*I can usually tell by the drops of moisture from the crockpot lid that drip when I lift it up.

**I've only done this a couple of times and it results in a slightly thicker, creamier yogurt, but I haven't experimented with this often enough to know if it's a thing that always happens, or if it's dependent on the type of culture I'd created those times. Usually I just transfer it straight into the container meant for permanent storage. If you experiment with this, please let me know your results!