Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cake One: Rushed Basic Sponge Cake

The thing with gluten free baking, especially if you're new to it, is that it is daunting. Here are some of my favourite excuses not to bake:

1) don't have one of the five kinds of flour I need
2) potentially disappointing results
3) don't have time to follow all the directions (letting ingredients chill or come to room temperature are the ones that get me most often)
4) so many dishes afterwards!
5) having to make some flour blend before starting

But if I am going to make thirty cakes I can't have excuses. I have to have reasons. Frankie has been sleeping poorly and I've been feeling a little worn down. Sounds like an excuse but, like the little Susie Sunshine I am, I turned that frown upside-down and made that excuse into a reason. I made a cake because I had a hard week and I would like to eat a piece of cake.

So I found the simplest recipe I could. It called for a specific flour mix - I just used all purpose/whatever I had. It called for margarine - I only had butter. It called for two eggs - I had one and a brown banana covered in fruit flies that I mashed up. It called for superfine sugar - I have literally never seen, bought, or used that stuff (has anyone?). I just used regular sugar. That's right. I just did it. Because even if you mess up a cake, you have a tasty mess that you can pour icing on.

The instructions said it would take 15 minutes to prep. It took me 17. The instructions said it would take 25 minutes to bake. It took 40. But it was good. And I did it. My first cake.

The recipe said "ice and decorate however you like." I like a little more direction than that, but I just improvised icing. I mixed some icing sugar with a little milk, vanilla extract, and some rum. Then when I went out to take a picture of it in the sun (the next morning) I found some strawberries in my strawberry patch. So I put those on top. Bippity, boppity, boop. Cake.

The recipe came from this book I found at the Book Mark. It's called Gluten-Free Baking and it's by a British fellow named Phil Vickery. He was the head chef at a fancy restaurant in England where he lost and then regained a Michelin star. I haven't made much from it but what I have made has been mixed. This recipe was simple and the cake turned out really moist with a good crumb. I can't find it on his website, but here is his recipe for cupcakes, which is quite similar.

He calls for vegetable glycerine, which I had never used. He claims that it helps gluten free baked goods retain moisture and gives it that cake-y feeling in your mouth. I found it at Planet Organic and it wasn't super expensive.

So that's my first cake. At the end of a long, kinda hard day. A rushed, improvised, barely-made cake.

I'll probably eat this whole thing today.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

30 for 30

I'm about to turn thirty and I don't really feel anything about it. I'm not worried about getting old (because getting older is awesome) or feeling particularly celebratory (mainly because any celebration would have to be scheduled between my baby's naps and take place before seven at night).

If you know me, you know I love my birthday. Not in a why-aren't-you-making-a-bigger-deal-of-me way, but as a gentle and affirmative acknowledgment of my own sometimes worthwhile existence. I love my birthday, because I always make it nice for myself. That's my definition of being an adult: knowing how to make yourself happy. A good adult knows how to make themselves happy while not making a total mess of the lives of other people. A great adult can even contribute positively to this world. Everyday of my life I think about the times that I fail to be great. On my birthday, I remind myself that it's possible and that I accomplish it every once in a while.

For me a happy birthday is to be with my friends and family and to play games. Oh and I want lots of dessert!

So in an effort to feel a sense of event about this milestone I am following Alex's advice and I am going to make 30 cakes between now and my birthday (November 23rd). I might stretch the definition of "cake" to "anything sweet" and the definition of "make" to "eat." And it's my birthday, so I can do that if I want to. I will also be looking for people to eat these treats with - a nice way to thank the humans that I love. I might even make a cake for my much-maligned dog, Honey.

I will chronicle it all here. Pictures and recipes, tips and advice. Lots of enthusiasm for summer fruit and  buttercream. Sometimes I won't be able to give you the recipe because it comes from a cookbook, not the internet, and I don't like stealing people's ideas like that. Sometimes I will take a horribly dark and badly composed photo of the sweet treat. But whatever happens I know you're going to want to eat sweets and make yourself happy.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hope for Homemade Pizza

When Tomasino's aka Tomavino's closed I felt betrayed. Not because they closed, but because they didn't call me to warn me. Does that sound ridiculous? For almost five years I have ordered one or more pizzas a week from Tomasino's. The person who answered the phone during the days would say "Is this for Kate?" after I had placed my order. I knew all the courier drivers who would come to my office to deliver it. They had the best gluten-free pizza crust in the city and the toppings were delicious.

Everything changed when Frankie was born. I was on maternity leave and made my own lunch every day. We didn't have extra money so I didn't order pizza very often. And Frankie's allergic to dairy, via my breastmilk, so pizza, in general, was pretty much out. And that's how, without knowing it, I ate my last Tomasino's slice.

Don't get my wrong. I love Morris East. I love the drinks and the toppings and the lovely Jennie who runs the place. I have celebrated almost every milestone in my adult life there. But the crust is ho-hum. I used to dream of sneaking a Tomasino's crust under Morris East toppings.

But once I tasted this homemade pizza crust, all my betrayal melted away. I haven't even ever eaten cheese on this crust and I still like it (I feel like anything can taste okay under a bunch of great sauce and a whole lotta cheese). It can be rolled really thin so you feel like you're Italian or you can leave it kinda thick and it will get AIR BUBBLES! That's right, like a normal pizza, it can have puffy pockets of air. This crust is super and pretty easy.

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois wrote a book about how to make artisan breads, easily, at home. It was hugely popular. I had actual feelings of envy and resentment when I'd read articles about how amazing this cookbook was. I couldn't eat a single recipe in it. But then they published a second book called Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day and it included a chapter on gluten free breads. It has five unique bread recipes and about a dozen others that build off of those five breads. For example, there is a Gluten-Free Brioche recipe that you can use to make Honey Caramel Sticky Nut Buns. One of the recipes is for a Gluten-Free Crusty Boule, which makes pretty decent bread, but rolls out into this amazing pizza crust.

The public library has six copies of this book - all checked out. But place your holds, because it is awesome. If you feel like buying it, order it from The Book Mark on Spring Garden - they are oh so helpful and independent.

But you don't have to borrow or buy anything to make pizza! I was worried about stealing a recipe from a cookbook, but the cookbook authors have put it on their website. Thank you, generous universe! Here is the fabulous recipe.

The cool thing about this recipe, and their technique in general, is that you mix up a bunch of dough, let it rise, and then keep it in your fridge for up to a week. The master recipe makes four pounds of dough and most recipes call for 1/2 or 1 pound balls. So on Sunday I make the dough and make a loaf, on Wednesday I make a pizza or four, and on Friday I make crackers (or whatever).

So make the recipe above and stop at the line "place the dough in the refrigerator and store for up to 7 days." When you want to make pizza just put a pizza stone (don't have one? see below) in a cold oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Farenheit.  Take the bowl of dough out of the fridge and take out a grape-fruit sized piece, jostle it into a ball, and plop it on top of a big sheet of parchment paper that has lots of rice flour sprinkled on it (I have to use copious amount of white rice flour on my hands to be able to do this without it sticking to me or the parchment). Grab a rolling pin (or a bottle) and roll that puppy out (also, with lots of rice flour on it). Roll it thin (like one 16th of an inch) or thick (one 8th of an inch) and bingo bango you've got a pizza crust. Put your toppings on, slide the parchment and crust onto the pizza stone, and bake it for 10-20 minutes. I know that seems like a wide window, but we all like our pizza differently and you'll know when you see your version of 'done.'

I didn't make this pizza for months because I didn't have a pizza stone. Then my mom found one for fourteen bucks and gave it to me. If a pizza stone is what's stopping you, try not using it and using a well greased and floured baking sheet instead. How bad can it be? If you know me, you can just borrow my pizza stone.

The other day I had some dough that was on day seven, some potatoes, roasted onions, and goat cheese. I boiled the potatoes for 15 minutes and sliced them thin. I mashed/pressed two cloves of garlic into a small bowl of olive oil. I chopped up some pancetta and fried it. I also chopped some sage and rosemary. I pureed the onions with olive oil and salt. Then I put the garlic-oil mix as my sauce, layered on the potatoes, half the chopped herbs, and the goat cheese, and then put it in the oven. When it came out I sprinkled on the fried pancetta and the rest of the herbs and used the onion puree as a high-end donair sauce.

It was great! I felt proud. I could have never made a meal like that, improvised, three years ago. It's a slow process, but I'm learning.

You're going to love homemade pizza again! Tell me what you put on it, I'd love to know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The May Issue

I wanted to start this blog because, after five years of avoiding gluten, I can finally say that I eat well.

I know good food isn't the most pressing issue in the world. Sometimes I am embarrassed about how much I think about food, because it is not THAT big of a deal. Love, politics, work, survival - I would be much more proud of having a wealth of knowledge about any of those topics. If I had to eat rice, plain fish, and some greens everyday, I'd still be a very satisfied human (and better off than many people, nutritionally speaking). But food isn't nothing either. And when you can't eat good food it can really get a person down in the dumps. So that's what this is all about - sharing how I eat well to help others in my situation.

Almost everything I do is motivated by my dislike for anyone having to be down in the dumps, or down in the dumps alone.

But I get insecure when it comes time to sit down and write. I mean, I don't really know that much about food. I just read lots of cooking magazines and cookbooks and make dinner every night. That's it. So the mocking audio track in my head says, "what can you possibly say that will be helpful to anybody?" Very Eeyore, if you know what I mean.

But screw it. I have eaten something almost every night for three weeks that makes my mouth sing and makes me feel proud. I need to share this. Surely someone can benefit from it, right?

So here's what I've been really into:

1) Fattoush
The May issue of Bon Appetit is slammin'! That's my new, hip, young word for 'very good.' One of the articles included a recipe for fattoush, which is a Lebanese salad. Here is the recipe as it appeared in the magazine. Here's what I changed:
- I used the foccaccia from Schoolhouse Gluten Free Gourmet instead of pita; I cut it into one inch squares, tossed in the olive oil, put it on a pan, and put it under the broiler until it was a little toasty; I tried using rice tortillas once, they were too sharp and hard, blech
- I didn't use sumac in the dressing, because I didn't have it; I did have something called Za'atar, which is a Lebanese spice blend that includes sumac; I bought it from Costas Halavrezos, aka The Spiceman, in the atrium of the Brewery Market; if you love the manoush at the Lebanese Festival, what you love is za'atar
- I used to think you couldn't buy pomegranate molasses in Halifax, but I was wrong; the Mid East Food Centre on North has it (and I think Pete's does too), but it's called "pomegranate concentrate"
- I don't know where to find purslane (Riverview Herbs didn't have any) so I left that out
- I added chickpeas, cause this nursing mom needs her protein, for real!
- I had a bunch of the dressing leftover so I used it in the next item

2) Roasted Spring Veggies
Also from the May issue of Bon Appetit is an exhortation to ROAST YOUR VEGGIES! Here is the recipe, which isn't even a recipe, but a very basic technique. Here's what I did:
- I bought radishes, asparagus, and leeks from the seaport market; Elmridge started coming last week, so I bought spring carrots from them too and did exactly what the recipe told me to do
- meanwhile I made a pot of quinoa with half-a-lemon's-worth of juice and a bunch of salt added to the cooking water
- when the two were done I put the gorgeous veggies on top of a steaming little pile of quinoa and poured the dressing from my fattoush all over it - I think this would work with any vinaigrette
- just a warning: Alex didn't like roasted radishes- he said they tasted like hot cucumber; I loved them; if you don't like the idea of hot radish, stick to carrots, leeks, asparagus and peas (if the ever make it to the market!)

3) Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza
Again, the May issue of Bon Appetit. Again, I did exactly what the recipe told me to do with one or two minor changes. Here is the recipe. Here's what I did differently:
- I used an onion instead of a shallot, because those things are expensive ($6 for a bag of organic shallots at Pete's) and I used white wine, because I didn't have Marsala just laying around
- I put prosciutto on it, because I love salty meats (I put it on part way through the baking so that it didn't get too crispy)

Of course, I also put that pizza on a gluten free crust. Not just any crust, but the best gluten free pizza crust I have ever tasted. I made it myself and it was so easy. How? Well I would tell you, but I have a sweet little baby waiting for me and I'm pooched. I promise, next time, I will talk about pizza. I will tell you all my secrets.

I guess I do have something to share, after all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pancake Showdown

I miss pancakes.

It wasn't the gluten that did it to me. It was the dairy. I can't seem to find a good pancake recipe that doesn't need gluten or dairy to be delicious. I used to rely on a mix: Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix. It was easy to whip up and delicious. I could use it in more complicated pancake recipes and they would turn out beautifully. But it has buttermilk powder in it, so it's been retired until my boy is done nursing.

In an attempt to find the best pancake mix out there, I invited four friends over for a pancake showdown. We ate about 50 pancakes. It was mayhem. Everyone took careful notes and discussed the benefits and limitations of each one. Then we cleaned the house and the notes went missing.

This is what I remember:

Hodgson Mill Pancake and Waffle Mix 
This was the clear favourite. It is gluten and dairy free, to boot! It is light, fluffy, and had some height to it. It is made with flax so it isn't white, if that's your thing. This is the one I will be buying from now on.

Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix
Everyone liked the flavour of this one. Some testers said it was too thin.

The rest of them blend together into one amorphous, maple, doughy mess. Only one was terrible, but I can't remember which one it was.

This is definitely not the most informative post ever written.

But it's an opening to talk more about pancakes. I am now on a determined mission to find one or two or three recipes that come together quickly and taste fantastic.

p.s. thanks to my taste testers: Alex, Brendan, Paul, Bethany! You're sure ate a lot of pancakes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

News Flash

Here's something I didn't expect: when you write a blog, people suddenly start sending you pertinent information that your blog readers might enjoy. This has happened THREE times in the last few days. So I thought I'd pass it on, even though it's not breakfast related.

1) Bone Density
I got a sweet email from my friend in Switzerland the other day. Here's what she had to say: "I was thinking about you after I saw the blog, because I just had a bone density test done. If you have Celiac Disease, it puts you in a higher risk bracket for osteoporosis. I wanted to mention it to you because in my experience doctors aren't very good at making sure their gf patients get the test done and it's something pretty much asymptomatic (unless you get a fracture). "

I'd like to hear if any of you have success getting a "pro-active" bone density scan. I think doctors are reluctant to order that test unless their patient is in real danger (i.e. are over 65). Let me know. I'll ask my doctor and report back.

2) Tax Deductions
I also got an email from my supersmart accountant/sister-in-law who wanted me to let you know there are tax deductions available for people with celiac disease. You can claim some of the cost of food. From my understanding of it, you can claim gf baked goods, cereals, etc. and ingredients to make baked goods. You need three things: a doctor's note confirming that you have celiac disease and require these products, a little itemized list of the products you are claiming, and a receipt for each thing on your list. CRA then calculates the difference between what you paid and what you would be paying for a similar gluten-containing item. I can't tell if there is a limit.

3) Pete's
Aidan and Jen from Schoolhouse Gluten-Free Gourmet send out a weekly email full of helpful info. This week there was this juicy tidbit: "We are so excited to tell you that Pete's Frootique (Halifax) will be opening a Gluten-Free Cafe and Coffee Bar on Monday April 9th (Easter Monday). We are thrilled to see a dedicated gluten-free venture open in Halifax. We are proud supporters of the cafe and will be supplying them with all of our products. Aidan and I will be at the opening on April 9th sampling products. Come on down to support and check out the space!"

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Morning After

Do you remember the moment you stopped eating gluten?

For some people it is a single, definitive point in time - maybe the moment after the doctor tells you the results of a biopsy. For others it's more nebulous, a suspicion that leads into a half-hearted avoidance. Still sick, you go whole-hog.

I said goodbye to gluten with a piece of gnocchi. I carefully ordered my meal at Fid, made sure every morsel was free of the offending protein. I even asked about preparation practices and cross-contamination. But then my date's gnocchi arrived at the table and I just knew I was going to eat one. And I did. I ate just one. It was pillowy and toothsome at the same time. It had that mild nutty taste that is characteristic of wheat. The tomato sauce sung in my mouth. And that was it. I have never eaten gluten (intentionally) since.

I woke up the next morning totally committed to feeling better and avoiding gluten.

And that's where I want to begin. The morning after. You've decided that this protein is making you sick. It is hopeful and terrifying. Maybe you won't have searing pain in your tum-tum - yes, hooray, that would be great! But also, what the heck are you going to eat for breakfast?

This week I will be exploring the wonderful world of eating food in the morning. I have some big ambitions for this week: a survey of breakfast at the farmers market, a pancake mix taste test, and a homage to eggs. (My baby might railroad some of these plans, but not all of them. I hope.)

By the way, if this is your moment, right now, if you have, just now, started to rebuild your diet after being sick for months or maybe even years, let me tell you one thing I know to be true: even if it's a dry rice cake with butter, the morning after is better than the night before.