Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Way to His Heart

They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  For the most part, my man could exist on protein shakes, bananas, and bowls of cereal.  He'll enjoy an incredible meal that I make, but he'd rather spend time with me than enjoy the taste of the results of my three hours of cooking in the kitchen.  So the way to his heart is definitely not through his stomach.

But I did learn, early on, that one of the ways to his heart was through chocolate chip cookie dough.  Not chocolate chip cookies.  Just the dough.

The Husband and I met at the very beginning of our freshman year of college.  At the time, I had no idea what cooking or baking was about.  And I also had no idea that I was gluten intolerant.  The only cookie that I'd ever made from scratch was chocolate chip cookies using the Tollhouse recipe from the back of the Nestle chocolate chip package. 
Well, I was quite smitten by a certain Man living in the dorm next door.  So, I signed out my dorm kitchen for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, made a batch of chocolate chip cookies for him, and sent the warm cookies up to his floor in a brown shipping box.  Apparently, this certain Man wasn't the only one who enjoyed the aromatic package.  I think half the floor wanted to date me after tasting those cookies.  Maybe I ran out of baking time, maybe it was the fact that he kept a roll of frozen cookie dough in his dorm fridge, maybe it was that I knew his favorite ice cream was Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, or maybe it was just fate.  But I also sent up a little extra cookie dough in a baggie.

Apparently, for the Husband-In-Training, cookie dough is the way to a man's heart.

Most women smack their husband's hands when they dip into the cookie batter.  We just have an understanding.  He gets the dough.  I get the cookies.  Win-win.

Last month, glutenfreegoddess posted a recipe for chocolate chip cookies using quinoa.  I was instantly intrigued as quinoa is one of my staples.  I use whole quinoa for side salads.  I use quinoa flakes for a delicious hot cereal breakfast, but I've never used quinoa to make cookies.  It was time to change that.  I modified her recipe slightly, and I was really happy with the results.  So was the Husband.

Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from glutenfreegoddess

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the following dry ingredients:

3/4 cup Ancient Harvest Quinoa Flakes
1/2 cup Organic Quinoa Flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 2/3 cups organic light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a large measuring cup blend:

2/3 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Kahlua (definitely MY addition)

Combine the wet and dry ingredients until you get a thick, sticky batter.  Then beat in two large eggs.  Finally, stir in 1 cup of dark chocolate chips.
Cover and chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper.  Now for the fun part.
I used a melon baller to get cute little uniform balls of dough, but you can roll spoonfuls of the dough between your hands to form the little balls.  Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheet and press down to flatten them slightly.  (I placed the dough on the first batch too closely together and got a lovely cookie mass.  These were quickly designated the Husband's cookies.  He was happy to help.)  
Place the pan in the center of a 350 degree oven and bake until they are golden in the center and brown around the edges - about 11-12 minutes.  (GFG's recipe called for 21-22 minutes, but my cookies were ready much earlier.)  Allow the cookies to sit on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before placing them on a wire rack to cool completely.

Don't they look amazing?

They taste even better.  If you happen to have any left after 24 hours, I recommend freezing them.

Whether you like the dough or the cookies better, this recipe is a keeper.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Loving Vegetarian Food...and Cake

I am not a vegetarian, but I've had some great vegetarian experiences this week, both in my kitchen and out.  I love animals, and I believe that they should be treated well.  But I am not opposed to eating meat or animal products.  I just think that we should be aware of where our food comes from and support those who provide animal products from hormone-free, well-cared for animals.

This was the last week of school, so there was very little cooking in the Whiskers' home.  There was a lot of blending.

The one night that I did cook, I made a vegetarian meal.  I was surprised at how time efficient it was.  Chopping and cooking a package of tofu is much faster than dealing with slimy chicken breasts.

I had one more CSA veggie in the fridge and decided to make an Asian dish.  Pak Choi is a Chinese green with a mustardy, spicy flavor.  It's tender spoon-shaped leaves sit atop celery-like stalks.  Chopped up, it makes for a delicious stirfry, and I was craving orange.

Asian Orange Tofu Stirfry

Stir Fry Ingredients:
1 head of pak choi
1 small head of broccoli
8 oz package of extra firm tofu
1 bell pepper
1 T grapeseed oil

Orange Sauce:
3/4 c water
1 T orange juice
2 T lemon juice
2 1/2 T gf soy sauce
3 T brown sugar
1 1/2 T orange zest
1 1/2 T minced ginger
2 garlic cloves minced
dash of cayanne pepper
1 T cornstarch
1 T water

1.  Make the sauce first, and then set it aside.  In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, combine all of the sauce ingredients except for the cornstarch and water.  Once the sauce boils, turn off the heat and let it sit.

2.  Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl until it's smooth.  Set it aside.

3.  Heat the oil in a wok on medium-high heat.  Add tofu, fry for 5 minutes, and remove it from the pan.  Place the vegetables in the pan, fry for a minute or two, and then add the orange sauce.  Return the tofu to the veggie mix along with the cornstarch slurry.  Cook for a a few minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Serve over brown rice.  Who needs takeout?

This recipe definitely gets printed and filed in the over-stuffed recipe box.  Thanks, Wheat Free Meat Free for the orange sauce recipe.  It's perfect.

This week the Husband happened to be in East Nashville and remembered my post about Aunt April's Bakery as he saw The Wild Cow.  April supplies The Wild Cow, a vegan restaurant with an extensive gluten-free menu, with their gluten-free bread and assorted yummy desserts.  Because I have the best husband in the universe, he stopped in to pick up a slice of April's gluten-free Chocolate Heaven Cake for me.  Considering that this was the last week of school, coming home to chocolate cake was an incredible treat.  Kitchen happy dance moment.

This cake was beautiful.

This cake was moist and light.
This cake was...wait!!!  Now, I trust my husband implicitly, so I'm not sure why I had to ask this.  It just sort of popped out of my mouth after I recovered from the first delicious bite.  "Are you sure this is Aprils' gluten-free cake?"  There wasn't anything about this cake that said, "I'm gluten-free."  The texture was perfect.  The plate didn't weigh five pounds.  The cake itself was light and airy.  The frosting.  Oh, the frosting.  Excuse me while I take a moment here...

Yes, of course it was April's gluten-free cake.  Of course, the Husband peppered the poor Wild Cow employee with questions about the cake, gluten, and cross-contamination issues.

The cake didn't last long.  I'm lucky to have this picture.

On Saturday, I had vegetarian experience number two.  We actually went to The Wild Cow for lunch.  I loved that I got an entire laminated menu of gluten-free meals.  No little star designating the three items on the menu that could be made gluten-free if I requested modifications.  This menu was covered with options from front to back!

I highly recommend the Prince Fielder on April's gluten-free flax bread - marinated and grilled tempeh, avocado, tomato, sprouts, cucumbers, shredded carrots, onions, Vegenaise, and spicy mustard.  Even the Husband ordered his sandwich on April's bread.

And the cold quinoa salad was fantastic.  The dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and parsley made the quinoa taste like a picnic at the park.

So, am I becoming a vegetarian?  No.  But I have to say I sure felt clean and satisfied after my vegetarian experiences this week.  There's just something about eating food from the earth that makes you feel alive and healthy.  Now that school is out, maybe it's time for some vegetarian experimenting.

What are your favorite vegetarian meals?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Greens for Breakfast?

Would you eat this for breakfast?
I just lost half of you, didn't I.   (Brittney, you were gone when you saw the picture!)

I didn't mean raw.

If these greens look like the weeds in your front yard, you're on to something.  They definitely resemble dandelion weeds, but they are not true dandelions.  They are Italian Dandelion Greens. 

So, would you eat them for breakfast?

I do not like green eggs and ham,
I do not like them Sam I Am.

 But, seriously, what if they turned out like this?

This year, we've received so many greens from our CSA that were new to us, and my challenge has been to figure what to do with them while they were still fresh. 

Of course, my default is to throw them in the Vita-Mix and make a green smoothie.  But I'm trying to be a little more creative.

And I think we're all just a little bit healthier as a result.

Today I made an Italian Frittata, and I was inspired by two things:

1.  The Italian Dandelion greens in the picture above.

2.  The amazing looking muffin from Aunt April's Bakery that definitely needed a protein counterpart.

The frittata was quite easy to make.  Here's my simple little recipe:

Italian Frittata

1 1/2 cups of egg whites
2 whole eggs
1 clove of garlic
1 bunch of green onions sliced
1 bunch of Italian Dandelion Greens
2 tsps grapeseed oil
1/8 cup of shredded parmesan, asiago, and romano cheese blend
1 medium tomato sliced
fresh oregano leaves

1.  Heat an 8-10 inch pan on medium and cook minced garlic and sliced green onions in grapeseed oil.  After 1-2 minutes add chopped Italian Dandelion Greens and saute until they are soft.

2.  Whisk together the egg white and whole eggs and pour them over the greens. 

3.  Sprinkle the cheese over the egg mixture and place tomato slices over the top in a circular pattern.  Why?  Because it's pretty.

4.  Sprinkle fresh oregano on top.

5.  As the edges cook, tilt the pan and gently lift the egg away from the side of the pan with a spatula allowing the liquid to run underneath the cooked egg.  After about five minutes, if you're lucky enough to have a mom who got you a great frittata pan for Christmas, place the second pan with interlocking handles over the top and flip the frittata.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  (If you're working with a single cast-iron pan, put it in the oven at 400 until the frittata is firm.) 

6.  When you lift the lid it may just look something like this:

Slice into wedges and serve.

Green Eggs and Ham?  Definitely not.  I couldn't even taste the dandelion greens.  Cooked with all of the other ingredients everything just tasted delicious.

Now for that blueberry muffin...or the part that I didn't inhale.

Yesterday, I introduced you to my new friend, April, owner of Aunt April's Bakery, the only 100% gluten-free bakery in Nashville.  Besides being gluten-free, most of April's creations are dairy and soy free as well.  She uses as much local produce as possible and strives to use ingredients without any major allergens.  And if you have a special dietary need, April is willing to work with you to find something that you will enjoy.  "If it can bring a little normalcy to someone's life, that brings satisfaction to me," she explained.

Those of us who have food allergies pass up muffins at brunches, in restaurants, over coffee.  So we go a little crazy when we find a muffin that we can actually eat.  Sometimes the gluten-free muffin isn't even great, but at least we've had a muffin.  But then to taste a muffin as light and fluffy as April's is quite a treat.  It would make April so happy to know that I floated around the kitchen in muffin reverie after my first bite. 
Marcy didn't quite understand what all the fuss was about.

Thanks, Bountiful Blessings CSA and Aunt April's Bakery for inspiring a great breakfast.  Thanks, Dr. Seuss for teaching us that eating greens for breakfast is a good thing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Gluten-Free Bakery in Nashville!

When I was a little girl I was enamored with bakeries.  Visiting corner bakeries with their glass-front cases bursting with jelly-filled donuts, muffins, cookies, brownies, scones, and fresh rolls was a rare treat, but that was only one of the reasons that bakeries were so special to me.  Another reason is that I got to make a choice.  I could choose any treat in the entire bakery case.  Did I want chocolate or vanilla?  Cream-filled or jelly-filled.  Oooh, and what kind of frosting should I have, and would I choose sprinkles?  Chocolate or rainbow?  Once the decision was made, we'd walk out with sticky fingers and powdered sugar mustaches while nibbling on the best baked good in the entire store.

For those of us who are gluten-intolerant, bakeries are a thing of the past.  Bakeries are now store fronts that initially bring back fond memories, but then they're followed by the disappointing reality that we will never enjoy a bakery again.  Because if we at even a crumb of the sweet treats held within, we'd be sick for days, some of us weeks or even months.

There are several well-known gluten-free bakeries that have popped up within the last few years, but most of them are in large cities.

When my mom and I were in Chicago, we hunted down Swirlz Cupcakes because we heard that they made a different gluten-free option every day. After following the maps app on my iPhone through the streets of the city, we finally found it, and it was well worth the effort.

This is the picture that I took through the glass display case.

My 8-year-old niece didn't seem to miss the gluten.

When we're in New York City I always have to stop at Risotteria.  Not only do I enjoy the chance to eat gluten-free pizza and breadsticks, but I get to linger at the display case wondering how many of the delicacies I can reasonably fit in my carry-on.

This cupcake didn't even make it out the door.  And, no, I don't want to split it.  Get your own.
New York City has another gluten-free vegan bakery called BabyCakes, but I haven't made it there yet.  But just clicking on that link will send your blood sugar through the roof as the sweets craving rushes through your veins.

Well, Nashville, we no longer have to fly to Chicago or NYC to find a gluten-free bakery.  We have not one, but TWO of them right here in our little city!

You know I'm a huge fan of FiddleCakes.  In fact, the Whiskers Family likes to think that we keep them in business.  The last time the Husband stopped in for his favorite peanut butter chocolate chip cookie there was someone new working behind the counter.  When he asked if he'd ever been to FiddleCakes before, one of the owners beat him to his answer.  "Oh, he's a regular."

This weekend I met a new friend named April.  April is the owner of Aunt April's Bakery, Nashville's only completely gluten-free bakery, and I'm so excited to introduce her to you. 

Many of you know April's baked goods because you buy them when you stop in at Matteo's for gluten-free pizza.  The first time you saw her basket of goodies on the counter you were shocked that single servings of gluten-free cookies and brownies existed!  Providing a safe, delicious, convenient dessert for you brings April so much joy.  When she went gluten-free three and a half years ago, she realized that if she wanted a treat she had to bake an entire batch of cookies or a whole pan of brownies herself.  There wasn't anyplace where she could just pick up a simple cookie.  It was her husband who suggested that April start her own gluten-free bakery for that very reason.  "I'm trying to help people with that convenience," April explained.

Some of you have ordered sandwiches on April's incredible gluten-free Flaxseed Bread at The Wild Cow in East Nashville. Ordering a sandwich in a restaurant like a normal person is a gluten-free person's dream.  I've not yet been to The Wild Cow, but April did bring me a loaf of her bread to try.  Take a look at this beauty!
You've seen pictures of MY bread attempts, so you can really appreciate this!  Not only was it gorgeous, but it sliced like real bread.

It handled the weight of my sandwich fillings -- yummy Salsalito turkey, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.
And it even passed the gravity test.

But, best of all, it was delicious.  It was so good that the Husband said, "I think this is the best gluten-free bread I've ever had."  After another bite, he changed his mind.  "No, I think this is the best bread I've ever had."

Even Marcy needed to know what we were so excited about.

You can also find April's products at Yolos Restaurant in Green Hills and The Green Wagon East.

Aunt April's Bakery does not yet have a storefront, but that's not slowing April down.  She's baking and making deliveries all week long.  You can even place an order by contacting April directly. 

I have more to share about April and her amazing baked goods, but it will have to wait for another day.  Time for an evening treat.

Now, where did I put April's gluten-free chocolate chip cookies?  Oh, that Husband!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Faith, Hope, and a Whole Lotta Love

I do not have a green thumb. That's why we only have one plant in our entire house.  Herman.  He was a housewarming gift from a very dear friend, and he has to be the hardiest plant on the planet, because he's lasted through seven years of sporadic watering, only one repotting, and plenty of cat pawing and biting.  Poor Herman.

But in the spring, my thumbs take on a light green hue as I start dreaming of crisp lettuce salads with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.  It's herb garden planting time.

With a merry heart, I was off to Lowe's.  I was faced with potential flavors.  I caressed leaves, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply.  So many choices, so little room on my deck!  I had my list of must-have herbs and tried to stay focused.

Once my cart was full of the required supplies, I could barely steer the cart.  I wondered how in the world I was going to heave those bags of Miracle Grow into my truck.  I know the bags look small in the picture, but they had to have weighed fifty pounds each.  I managed the first two on my own, and as I was catching my breath and staring at that third bag wondering if my glutes or back would give out first, a man jumped out of his car.  "Let me get that for you."

If he had asked, "Do you need help with that?" my pride would have answered for me.  Thankfully, he didn't wait for my response and muscled that last bag into the truck.

I wonder how it feels to be someone's hero of the day.

So after a morning of some serious lifting, scrubbing, digging, planting, sweeping, washing, and sweating, I have hope.

I have hope that this basil will grow to spice up Thai stirfrys.  That the pesto that I make will bring out the flavor of grilled swordfish on a hot summer night.  That everyone who eats a salad in my home this will get a flavorful surprise when they find that hidden basil leaf amongst the other greens.
I have hope that there will be homemade salsa with that happy zing of cilantro.  That there will be scooping and laughing, sharing meals and sharing stories.
I have hope that parsley will liven up an ordinary sandwich.  That a sprinkling will freshen up a pot of brown rice or quinoa.  That salads will sparkle and casseroles will giggle.
I have hope that there will be thyme-rubbed steaks and pizza with fresh oregano.  That sauces will simmer and marinades will do their magic.
I have hope that there will be cool refreshment.  That mint leaves will grace a scoop of vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries.  That they will float between the ice cubes in a glass of iced tea.
But I also have faith.  Faith that God will use these feet to go where He would have me go.  Faith that he'll use these hands to make things for those He brings my way.  Faith that I will grow this summer in ways I might not have planned.  Faith that these little plants will have a greater purpose.

This summer I'll be pruning and picking, watering and training.
But growing an herb garden takes more than just work.

It takes hope.

It takes faith.

And it takes a whole lotta love.

But isn't that what life is all about?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hot Poppin' Sesame Seeds!

Cooking in the Whiskers' household is always done under the watchful eye of Marcy.  Her usual perch is on top of the refrigerator where she lays like a lioness, draping an arm over the door.

But tonight she wisely chose to observe a little further away from the stove.  The upright piano is high enough for her to see over the counter, yet far enough from the flying sesame seeds.

Do you know what this is?  It was my challenge for the night.

Tokyo Bekana.  It's an Asian green.  (Duh...Tokyo?)  I'd never heard of it until we joined the CSA.  At first I thought it was another bunch of leaves to toss in a salad, but it has quite a bitter taste.  So I followed a tip from our farmer and decided to cook this one. 

I figured that a dish of Asian greens had to have an Asian flavor, so after a little online research I knew that I couldn't go wrong with sesame, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.

You could use the following recipe to cook any Asian green, but I highly recommend the Tokyo Bekana.  (I'm making myself laugh as I type about this obscure vegetable like I have more than one night of experience with it!)

Hot Poppin' Tokyo Bekana

2 T sesame oil
2 T sesame seeds
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 small pieces of chopped ginger
Mounds of Tokyo Bekana
2 T gluten-free soy sauce
1 T brown rice vinegar

In a wok, warm the sesame oil on medium heat.  Add the sesame seeds and stir until you are overwhelmed with the nutty fragrance, the seeds darken, and you wish you had a spring roll.

Next, add the garlic and ginger, but watch out!  The sesame seeds freaked out and flew out of the pan in all directions when I added the garlic and ginger.  This was quite a surprise to me, but I persevered through the stings, and I stirred, yelped, and danced in front of the stove.  All the while, Marcy watched.

After a minute, add greens by the handful, cooking them down.  In 3-5 minutes they will still be a beautiful, light, spring green, and the stems should still be crunchy. 
I served the greens with plain quinoa.  The nutty taste complimented the Asian flavor of the greens, and it was especially delicious drizzled with leftover saute sauce.

I'd love to tell you that, in addition to learning about a new vegetable, figuring out how to cook it, and being amazed that I actually had all of the ingredients I needed in my kitchen, I also served Asian-flavored salmon with a orange, soy, honey marinade.  Mmmm.  Doesn't that good?

Maybe next time.  We settled for leftover salmon that had been frozen for such a night as this. 

Remember, this is crunch week.  Six days of school to go.

So, the next time you're in the produce section of your local grocery store, pick up a bunch of Tokyo Bekana.  Ha!  Good luck with that one.

Seriously, have any of you seen this before?