Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tastes Like... Chemicals

In the pre-healthy-food days of yore, one of the big treats of road trips was seasoned curly fries.  You know how it is: You make a potty stop at a fast food place, but since rest rooms are really only for customers, you need to make some sort of obligatory purchase to justify your status as a customer.

Our go-to purchase was seasoned curly fries.  We'd get an order and share it.  Extra salt. Yummm. We never bought seasoned curly fries in real life. Only on road trips.

And, plain fries were medicine. They were the thing to eat when one's stomach was revolting.

So, last Thursday we were on our way home from Sacramento, and something I'd eaten had left my stomach in that delicate, needing plain fries state.  

We got to our final gas and Starbucks stop at West Laval Road, and Spouse suggested I get some fries.

I'd heard that fast-food fries are often cooked in grease shared with gluteny items, and some fries are coated in a "modified starch" -- i.e., gluten.  So, if I got some, he couldn't have any.  I hate eating things in front of him that he can't have.  It just seems mean.

He assured me that, since plain fries are medicine, he'd have no temptation.

So, across the parking lot I went to the fast food purveyor to buy one order of plain fries. Got back in the car, opened the bag, and grabbed a small hand full. 

My stomach was looking forward to the soothing combination of crispy moist potato and salt.

I lifted the fries to my mouth, opened my lips, and inserted the long, tender strands of starchy, salty, greasy goodness. 

Brought my teeth down on them, crushing their crisp outsides, and unleashing their potato-ey insides.

I began chewing, anticipating the soothing, gentle flavor of....



The (bleep) things tasted like... chemicals!!

Where was the starchy salty stomach-soothing goodness I'd remembered?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.  And, there's nothing like an upset stomach on a road trip to make one slightly insane.  So, I took two more bites.

And then came to my senses. Rolled the top of the bag closed, set it on the floor board, and tossed it when we got home.

The good news is, the chemicals didn't make my stomach worse. 

The other good news is, this particulare fast food purveyor posts its ingredients online.  Just in case you were wondering, some of the ingredients in their fries include:
  • natural beef flavor (including hydrolized wheat and hydrolyzed milk)
  • dextrose
  • sodium acid pyrophosphate
  • citric acid
  • dimethylpolysiloxane
  • hydrogenated soybean oil with THBQ

But, what's a THBQ?  And, do I really want to know?

Actually, this fast food purveyor gets points for posting their ingredients online.  And, they do have some food items that just include food.   Too bad that fries aren't among their food-only foods.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Molitos: Mole-inspired Black Bean Pancakes

Some leftover black beans were in the fridge, in grave danger of becoming green and gray beans if I didn't do something with them soon.

It was 7:20 AM, first cup of Via down, and time to think about the Spouse's breakfast.

Ages ago I made green pea biscuits and had been thinking of making some black bean biscuits.  Wouldn't that be just the thing for October?

On Tuesday a friend had sent a link to a recipe for socca -- a chickpea pancake.  I'd love to make some of those for Spouse.

But, I have leftover black beans on hand. And I can't find my garbanzo flour.

What if I made black bean pancakes?  What would you put in them?

Spouse loves, loves, loves mole.  And, it's hard or impossible to find gluten free mole. So, the black bean pancakes have to contain mole-like stuff.

Here's what I came up with... all measurements approximate, since I really just dumped things in a bowl and mixed.

About 1.5 cups of overcooked black beans, undrained
1 lg egg
2Tbsp flax meal
3Tbsp cocoa powder
1-2 Tbsp pecorino romano
1 Tbsp almond butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground ancho chili
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp dry chopped onion
1/2 tsp dried cilantro
pinch of nutmeg
pinch cayenne
pinch of salt

  1. Smoosh the black beans with a potato smasher. Dump everything else in, to taste. Mix it up.
  2. Heat a little more olive oil in a nonstick pan.
  3. Spoon pancake-sized amounts of the black bean goo into the pan.
  4. Cook until it's almost dry on top.
  5. Flip to brown the other side.
  6. Remove to plate and garnish with a little more pecorino romano and a dollop of salsa.

Results:  Spouse like 'em, but I think they could be improved. Maybe more egg and flax for better binding, more almond butter, and more of just about all the seasonings.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Exquisite Turkey Meatloaf

Four turkey burger patties, totalling about 1lb 6 oz, and small bouquets of fresh organic sage and parsley from the local farmer's market. 3/4 cup leftover pumpkin from some pumpkin bread made earlier in the day.

Definitely time to make a not-my-mother's meatloaf.

So, web search to find a turkey and pumpkin meatloaf recipe.  They're out there.

And, by the time I got around to making mine, I'd decided to add a few things not in the online version, and I was so tired I ended up forgetting the pumpkin part.  Ooops. But, it turned out wonderful, anyway.

Exquisite Turkey Meatloaf

  • 1.5 lbs ground turkey, more or less. Preferably with no broth, seasonings, or anything weird added.
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 C rolled oats  (gluten free, of course)
  • 8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 medium small zucchini, chopped
  • 1/3 C celery
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 T fresh sage, chopped
  • 1.5 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 pinches dried thyme
  • 1 pinch dried rosemary
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1.  Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Mush all ingredients together.
  3. Heat a small amount of olive oil in an iron skillet.
  4. Add  meat mush to skillet and smooth the top.
  5. Bake about 45 minutes or so, until done.

While it is baking, make the cranberry sauce:

  • 1 C fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1/3 C organic evaporated cane sugar
  • 1/2 C organic apple sauce
  1.  Cook until most cranberries pop and sauce thickens slightly.
  2. Taste. 
  3. Add more sugar if you think it needs it.

Serve meatloaf topped with cranberry sauce.  Like any self-respecting meatloaf, it's also good cold.

Note: For best flavor, use fresh organic vegetable and herb ingredients, and cage free organic eggs.

Sorry. No picture.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Spinach Squeezer

I only make goat cheese quiche for people I love.  

That's because squeezing the spinach for it is such a pain.  And, squeezing 4 lbs of spinach to feed 21 people, well, that's more love than my arms can take. 

So, after 21 loved ones had consumed the better part of 5 goat cheese quiches last week, I was bemoaning my dead arms and wondering if such a device as an Automatic Spinach Squeezer existed. 

Spouse 1.0 said, "Why not use a coffee press?"

Yup, you can tell he's been married to me for 23.5 years. Never mind "42."  The answer is "coffee."

I'm rather ashamed that I didn't think of it first.

The next night I was chatting with a chef. He'd never heard of a spinach squeezer. He just uses a salad spinner then finishes with squeezing.

Sorry, not good enough.  I need something that will eliminate the squeezing, not reduce it.

So, out and about, I started examing coffee presses. One had a double layer of mesh. Kind of flimsy. And, whooeee! What a mess to clean that would be! 

Another had a layer of mesh between two metal plates.  The top plate had little holes.  I wondered if one could remove the mesh.

It'd been so long since I had a coffee press, I'd forgotten that they disassemble so you can clean them.

So, finally I picked up an inexpensive spinach, coffee press and began my spinach squeezing experiment. 

Disassemble. Wash.  Reassemble, sans mesh.

Cook up some spinach. 

I started to let it cool, then realized. Duh. The Spinach Squeezer used to be a coffee press. It can handle hot things.

OK. Insert spinach. Insert pressing mechanism, sans mesh. Begin pressing.

It took a lot more pressure than I remember coffee making taking, but it did remove quite a bit of liquid. 

The spinach wasn't as dry as I would have liked it, but I think it's dry enough for quiche.  (I'll know Saturday morning when the next batch of loved ones get some quiche.)

Unlike normal squeezing methods, I was able to capture the juice, which might make a nice addition to my next batch of lentil soup.

So, do I recommend running out to your local merchant and picking up a Bodum Spinach Squeezer?  I'm not sure.  I guess I'll need to use it a few more times before deciding whether I can start making goat cheese quiche for people I merely like.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

GF Ice Box Cookies, Take 1

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about my dear departed friend Alice.  Alice is the one who introduced me to the joys of cornmeal lemon cookies.

Thoughts of Alice often lead to thoughts of cookies.

This time, my thoughts turned towards ice box cookies.  They had a rounded oblong shape and were fairly thick. Maybe a quarter of an inch or three-eighths. Brown and drab.  I vaguely remembered walnuts.

They weren't my favorites.  Chocolate chip cookies probably held that place of honor back then. What teenage girl can resist chocolate?  My other favorite would have been peanut butter. Or, better yet, peanut butter topped with a Hershey's Kiss.  Creamy white snickerdoodles with their spicy dusting of cinnamon and, of course, sunny yellow cornmeal lemon cookies would have rounded out my top five.

I have no idea why, after all these years, I should develop a yearning for drab, brown icebox cookies. But, I did.

And thus began the quest.

Job one: Find Alice's recipe. Not in my huge stack of recipes dating back to the '70's. But, fortunately, a Modesto friend had the recipe, and she was kind enough to facebook it to me.

Job two: Convert to gluten free. 

Which also means converting from cups to grams -- at least for the flour.  Lots of variation out there on flour weights.  The best guess: 3 cups of flour » 375 grams.

Also, lots of variation out there on proportions. One source said to use 50% starch, 50% grain.  Another said 30% starch, 70% grain.  Yet another recommends up to 10% bean.  Another, up to 10% nut.

I decided to go » 30/70 for a baseline, using tapioca starch, potato starch, sorghum, and brown rice.

The next consideration is xanthan gum. I think the rule of thumb is 1/4 tsp per cup of flour for cookies.

So, the first draft looks something like this:

GF Alice's Ice Box Cookies

60 grams tapioca starch
60 grams potato starch
125 grams sorghum flour
130 grams brown rice flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups organic dark brown sugar
1 cup Spectrum organic shortening
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets.

Mix dry ingredients together until well-blended
Cream shortening; add sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla. Add dry to the wet mixture. Add nuts. Mix thoroughly. Make into long rolls about 2" in diameter. Place in refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours.

OK, so these logs look slightly less appetizing than cookie logs should. Carry on... In the end, it's about how the cookies taste, not how looked along the way.

Slice thin and bake in 400 degree oven until lightly browned -- 5 to 10  minutes depending on diameter of your rolls and thickness of your slices.


A bit disappointing. I quickly realized that when you make your cookies smaller than Alice's, you need to bake them for a shorter period of time.

They spread out a bit more than they should have, and had a bit too much of a caramelized sugar texture.

Having said that, they've gotten pretty positive reviews from folks eating them.  I guess, so long as I don't expect them to be Alice's, they are enjoyable enough.

Next time:

Try a bit more xanthan gum?
Use part organic turbinado rather than dark brown sugar?
Up the flour to 400 grams?
Add a little bean or some other high protein flour?
Use part sweet rice flour for some of the starch?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Goat Cheese Quiche

Imagine, if you can, a vegetarian dish so very good that Mr. Carnivore Himself, AKA The Spouse, would eat it for dinner without requesting a side of animal.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not really a vegetarian.  Though three or four days a week you might think I was.

But, nothing says "Girly lunch" like a vegetarian entree or two. So, when I had the girls over for lunch yesterday, I had to do a goat cheese quiche.

The Crust

I adapted the crust from a recipe in Jacqueline Mallorca's book, The Wheat Free Cook.  She has a recipe for cornmeal pie crust.  I used blue cornmeal and substituted a mix of tapioca and potato starch for the cornstarch.  My other major modification: I pressed the dough into the pie pan instead of rolling it. It makes for a less even crust, but it's a lot less aggravation.

Wish I could give the recipe here, but that would be a copyright thing. 

The crust turned out OK, but next time, I may try a hash brown crust. Those are fun.

The Filling

The filling... ah, the filling.  I had more than my 10" pie pan could hold, so I made a couple of custard cups full.  Next time, I may skip the crust entirely, because the filling is that good.

1 unbaked pie crust
1 lb fresh organic spinach
8 oz organic mushrooms
2 Tbsp pecorino romano
5 eggs
1/2 C Greek yogurt (I used Fage nonfat)
1/2 C soy creamer
1/2 C almond milk
1 or 2 cubes Dorot frozen garlic - or 1-2 cloves of the real stuff
pinch of cayenne
pinch of paprika
pinch of thyme
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
4 oz goat feta

  1. Rinse spinach, discard stems. Do not dry the spinach.  
  2. Place spinach in a pan and cook on low heat until wilted.  Remove from pan with slotted spoon, and drain in collander.  You may have to cook the spinach in batches. Do not discard cooking liquid.
  3. Wash & slice mushrooms, then cook in the spinach liquid until done. Drain.
  4. Cool the spinach and mushrooms, then squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Chop coarsely.
  5. Mix eggs, yogurt, almond milk, creamer, garlic, and other seasonings.
  6. Bake pie crust 10 minutes, then remove from oven.
  7. Sprinkle romano on bottom of pie crust.
  8. Sprinkle most of the spinach and mushrooms in pie crust.
  9. Pour most of the custard mixture over.
  10. Sprinkle in most of the feta, then mix slightly to combine.
  11. Bake at 350 for about 40 or 50 minutes.
You can bake the left-over filling in greased custard cups for about 20 minutes.

Alas, we devoured most of the quiche before I could take a picture. Here's a photo of the last bits.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day Breakfast

When I saw that April Fool's Day was on a Friday this year, my first thought was, "April Fool's Day! Wow, what a cool day for doing a themed breakfast."

So, I immediately snagged it as MINE.

And, my next thought was, "OK, so... now... how exactly do you turn food into an April Fool's Day joke?

Start with Black Bean Brownies. I did a trial run, and sure enough, they were edible.

Then, one day I added some cheese to some millet I was making for The Spouse, and realized I had just invented Cheese Not Really Grits.

The menu was starting to take shape.

I noticed a recipe for eggless scrambled eggs in a library book.... made with tofu, colored egg-ishly with turmeric, and seasoned with enough onion, garlic, and mushroom to hide the tofu-ieness.

And, oddly enough, scrambled tofu wasn't awful. Probably because of all the onion and garlic.

Now, the only thing missing from the menu was fruit. I always bring fruit. It's expected. But, how on earth can fruit be deceptive?

It can't. Fruit is just fruit.

I racked my brains. I may have wracked them, too.

  • Do normal fruit,  resulting in 25% of the menu not fitting the theme
  • Skip the fruit, violating my self-imposed fruit rule
Nope. Neither option was acceptable.

More racking.

A friend pointed out that tomatoes are fruit. Good point, but everyone knows that tomatoes are fruit. She also reminded me that avocados are fruit. 

Now we're getting somewhere. Tomato & avocado salad. Expensive, lots of work, but maybe.

Then, last week, browsing through another library book, a blinding flash of the obvious: Rhubarb is a Vegetable!!!

Yah... Rhubarb with strawberries. Glorious! 

I'll skip the details of the rhubarb quest. Suffice it to say, when you add the value of the time spent searching, miles traveled, and cost of two 10-oz bags of the frozen vegetable, you've got a dollar amount exceeding the average American's life savings.

And so, the April Fool's Day menu is complete.

Happy April Fool's day!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green Pea Biscuits For St. Pat's

Alas, the green pea flour I’d ordered had not arrived yet, and I needed to make a green breakfast for The Spouse. Not that he expects, or wants, a green breakfast for St. Pat’s day – or ever. It’s just something I like to do for him.

In years past, green breakfast was easy. Just add copious amounts of green food coloring to … well… just about anything. (Green rice is lovely. Green oatmeal is kind of gross.)

But, in this brave, healthy new world of ours, green food coloring is just not appealing. (Spouse says that it never was, but that’s beside the point.)

So, green breakfast has to be naturally green, and there’s no green flour with which to make it. Luckily, I had a bag of frozen peas on hand, and some frozen chopped spinach. And, I had some gluten free Bisquick a dear friend had sent me.

Reading the ingredients on the Bisquick, the only thing that is expressly forbidden to us is the white processed sugar. But, desperate times call for desperate measures, and a little sugar once a year won't kill him.

So, I started with the basic biscuit recipe from the box, but at 2/3 quantity.  Substituted blenderized peas for some of the milk. Added some shredded white cheddar for flavor and for extra binding ability.   Drained chopped spinach for a little green-on-green effect.

Oops on the liquid. 2/3 of 2/3 is not ... 2/3. The batter was a bit wet and sticky. And, sampling the batter, it was just to pea-ey. Blech.

The second problem was easy to fix: Just add a bunch of dry chopped onion, dry garlic, and ground pepper.  Alas, the dry onion didn't soak up too much of the liquid, so I had to squish in some extra bisquick. 

The green-on-green sure did turn out pretty, even when baked. But, the real question is, would they elicit the official St. Pat's Day Look of Dread on The Spouse's face? Er, I mean, the real question is, would they taste good?

Lucky for me, the answer to both questions was a resounding "Yes!"

Green Pea Biscuits

1 1/3 C Gluten-free Bisquick

1/4 C butter or shortening

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 C whirled peas – or a little more

1/3 C almond milk, soy milk, or dairy milk.

About 1/2 C thawed frozen chopped spinach

1 C shredded white cheddar cheese

Dehydrated chopped onion, garlic granules, and fresh ground black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 (F) and lightly grease 2 cookie sheets or iron skillets.
  2. Prepare the peas by heating about ½ bag of frozen peas in water until they’re thawed, but not cooked. Drain and whirl in the blender. Measure about 1/3 C or a little more into a glass measuring cup.
  3. Add enough almond milk to bring the level up to 2/3 C.
  4. Cut the butter or shortening into the GF Bisquick.
  5. Add the pea mixture and eggs into the Bisquick mixture and stir in.
  6. Add the cheese and the seasonings, and mix well.
  7. If the dough seems a little to soft and sticky, mix a little more Bisquick in. (Use your hands.)
  8. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto cookie sheet. You can gently smooth the biscuits with your fingers, or just leave them rough.
  9. Bake about 13 to 17 minutes, until bottoms are brown and tops/sides are just beginning to brown.
  10. Enjoy plain or with butter.

Note: Even if you can eat gluten, I'd stick with the GF Bisquick.  All the mixing in this recipe would make gluteney biscuits tough.  But, GF flours stay nice and fluffy and light. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Microwaveless Cooking for Six

As I was blissfully rhapsodizing over the joys of the microwaveless lifestyle, and how I can get door to table in under 20 minutes, someone pointed out that they have a family of 6. 

Wow, feeding 6 people without a microwave sounds a lot scarier than feeding 2 people without one. But then, feeding 6 people sounds a lot scarier than feeding 2, no matter how you slice it. 

Make a salad, and you're washing an awful lot of lettuce. Toast? Even if you've got a fancy, new-fangled 4-slice toaster, feeding your family breakfast could easily take until noon.

So, can feeding 6 without a microwave be done?

Treading dangerous territory here, since I've never had kids (outside of a classroom).  I'd be an idiot to say I've got it all figured out and let me tell you how to live your life even though I have absolutely no experience with that life.

There was a reasonably famous fundamentalist/evangelical guru back in the '70's who did that. My husband and I still bear the scars. Luckily, that story has nothing to do with food.

So, back to food and feeding big families without a microwave...

Yup, I'd be an idiot to say I know how to feed larger groups of people without a microwave. I do it when we have company, or when it's my turn for breakfast at work. But, not on a day-to-day basis.

Now, my mom? She knew something about this. She died at the ripe old age of 44.5 without ever having owned a microwave.

Mom came from a family of 7 kids, and as the oldest, she had to do a lot of the cooking. On a wood stove, even.  She never quite outgrew the cooking for 9 (plus drop-in guests) mentality, even when our family had dwindled down to 3 people, one of whom only ate bologna sandwiches.

A big stock pot was the most indispensible item in her kitchen. She was the queen of stovetop casseroles.
Some of the things she used to make:
Soup beans and cornbread.  When you grow up in the Great Depression way back in the hills of Kentucky, and dad works in the mines and you are feeding nine people, most of whom are over 6 feet tall, you eat a lot of beans and cornbread.  I didn't care much for the way mom made cornbread, but her beans were superb.  Pintos, usually mixed with some type of white bean.  A ham hock (I don't even know what a ham hock is, or where you'd get one.  I just know she used them, and they were gooood.)  I can't remember what-all else. Did she use onions and celery?  I don't know. I do know that you can feed a lot of people for a long time on soup beans and cornbread.
Burgoo.  This probably means "hamburger goulash." Only, it wasn't really a Hungarian goulash. It was hamburger, macaroni, and tomatoes cooked with onion, garlic, and other seasonings. Almost certainly celery seed, oregano, bay leaves, paprika.  Think spaghetti, but all in one pot.
Spaghetti. Think burgoo, just made with spaghetti instead of macaroni.
Hamburger and cabbage casserole. Sort of like unrolled cabbage rolls. Hamburger, tomato, onion, herbs and spices, a little rice, and lots of sliced cabbage.  Yeah, the house might smell a little cabbagey, but it also smelled of all that other good stuff.  Mom's hamburger and cabbage casserole would make a cabbage-eater out of even the snobbiest of cabbage-disdainers.
Chili. Oh, my. Mom's chili. Yeah, that was definitely one-pot good eatin'. Sometimes she'd add a little macaroni as it was nearing completion. Slightly overdone pasta added to a rather nice mix of textures.
Hamburger soup.  Start with a quart or two of canned tomatoes, add chopped onion, celery, bay leaf, herbs and spices, and all that. After it gets to boiling, crumble the raw hamburger in and add the potatoes and carrots.  Add any other vegetables.  I always liked green beans, corn, zucchini. Cauliflower was OK. Broccoli just didn't belong, in my opinion.
Turkey feather soup.  After a holiday meal, mom would boil up the turkey carcass, and instead of straining it to make a clear stock like people do nowadays, she'd just pick the meat off the bones after they'd boiled a while, throw in some additional leftover turkey meat, add potatoes, vegs, and seasonings, and there you have it: Dinner.  One time my ex-step-father once came in when mom was making the soup and grumbled that she'd find a way to cook the feathers from the turkey if she could. So, from then on, we called it turkey feather soup.
She also sometimes did split pea soup or corn chowder, plus the usual (and sometimes unusual) assortment of oven casseroles and multi-pot meals. But, the above one-pot wonders were Mom's convenience food staples of choice, and she could feed an army of 6 or 16 with them.