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Gluten Free Options at the Greek Food Festival

13 May

When I think of the Greek Food Festival, I think of my wedding day.

Of course, I had absolutely no intention of attending the festival that year, which began the day before our nuptials. A girl can’t be bothered when she’s got to rest up, get her hair done and spend the rest of the day at the church-house getting ready to marry her best bud. Then, we’d be off to our honeymoon; no time for a stop-off.

My husband-to-be, however, couldn’t stay away. The siren call of baklava and (unironically) wedding cookies was too much to handle. The morning of our wedding, while my bridesmaids and I fretted and prepared, he hauled down to the Greek Orthodox Church in search of goodies. He loves to tell the story: He walked up and asked if he could buy some things, despite the fact that they weren’t quite open yet. A couple sweet, older Greek ladies started to tell him no, but he told them (with a super-cute face, I’m sure) that it was his wedding day. They oohed, awed, and relented. That white paper bag of awesome fueled much of our honeymoon.

Some years later, I found out that I wasn’t supposed to eat gluten anymore, so baklava and cookies were off-limits. We still attend the festival and find other things for me to eat, and there are always plenty of activities and shows to keep our whole family busy.

This year, the Greek Food Festival folks tell me that there are a few items that are safe for gluten-intolerant folks like myself, given you aren’t exceedingly sensitive to cross-contamination. Fellow GF’ers, I present to you your weekend to-eat list:

These side dishes take center stage for GF patrons prepared with proper crackers or raw veggies.

These side dishes take center stage for GF patrons prepared with proper crackers or raw veggies.

Hummus dip (without the pita bread, obvs) and tabbouleh salad from the Jerusalem Café. Let’s face it, Greek folks know how to do hummus. With a little foresight, you can enjoy this right alongside your gluten-eating family. Just swing by Dempsey or your favorite grocer to pick up some GF crackers, and you’re all set. (I prefer Dempsey’s cracker bread, BTW. It’s so good, my whole family eats it.)

Tender lamb, savory potatoes and more. Just minus the pita, please.

Tender lamb, savory potatoes and more. Just minus the pita, please.

Roast lamb dinner—Sliced roasted lambserved with Greek-style vegetables and oven-roasted potatoes. Again, this is generally served with pita, so be sure to tell the server not to put it on your plate. You’ll have plenty of other yummy options on it. If you need bread to sop up all that goodness, bring some GF something-or-other in your bag. I won’t tell anyone.

Amazing hunks of meat love. Just ask them to leave off the pita.

Amazing hunks of meat love. Just ask them to leave off the pita.

Greek souvlaki/kabobs—Your choice of tender chicken or pork tenderloin, marinated in olive oil and a blend of Greek seasonings, grilled and served on a skewer. Again, be sure to tell the server not to include the usually-mandatory pita on your plate. I think this will be my first choice this weekend. Then again, I may hit all three.

Are you sad about leaving off the pita bread? I mean, it is pretty amazing. Don’t fret, friend! Just make a batch of this gluten free naan I wrote about a while back. Sure, it’s Indian, but honestly naan and pita are pretty close to the same thing. Sneak these into the festival with you and you’re golden.
Are you going to the Greek Food Festival? What are you planning to buy, GF or not?
2015 International Greek Food Festival
Friday, May 15 (11 a.m. – 9 p.m.) through Sunday, May 17 (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
1100 Napa Valley Drive, Little Rock
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Sometimes, you just need a corn dog. #glutenfree #giveaway

8 Dec
Crispy, delicious, gluten free corn dogs. Like whoa.

Crispy, delicious, gluten free corn dogs. Like whoa.

Disclaimer: Yeah, another semi-sponsored post. I’ll write up the killer chicken soup I just made pretty soon, as well as a review of a paleo-style dinner I recently attended. But this is free GLUTEN FREE corn dogs, people. And they’re awesome. And I knew they were awesome before I was contacted about giving them away, and I wouldn’t have put them on here if they weren’t. So there. 🙂 

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve learned quite a bit.

Eat whole, unprocessed foods to be healthy.

Eat a minimum of sugar, fat and starch if you can help it.

And the best rule of all: Every so often, shuck the rules.

Unfortunately for me, my rules must always include being gluten free, lest I spend the next day or so in the bed or restroom. (Le sigh.) So, when the time comes to totally be naughty, what do I want?

::Cue Spice Girls…I’LLTELLYOUWHATIWANT, WHATIREALLYREALLYWANT::

I want a corn dog. A crispy, salty, delicious corn dog.

Mustard

A few months ago, I noticed someone on the local Gluten Intolerance Group Facebook page talking about some amazing new gluten-free corn dogs that were available at Kroger. “Not me!” I silently gloated. “I don’t eat such things.” And I stared. And I really, REALLY wanted one. Slathered with mustard. Mmmmmmmmmmm…….

So the next time I was at Kroger, I looked around. Nobody was looking. I slid some into my cart. BAM.

gf_corndogsThey were Foster Farms Gluten Free Corn Dogs. And they were glorious. I found that I liked them cooked a little longer than the package says — baked in the oven, of course, not nuked — for optimum brown crunchy awesome.

So, although I usually tell people NOT to buy a lot of pre-packaged gluten free things, let me just assure you that it will be okay. As long as this isn’t representative of your diet, you’re gonna be fine. A few packages of gluten free Oreo-lookalikes won’t kill you, either. (Omigosh Trader Joe’s, WHY won’t you come to Little Rock??) Trust me, my pantry has its share of occasional treats.

Want to give these dogs a try? Sure you do.

It just so happened that, about a month after I purchased the aforementioned box, Foster Farms contacted me about the same product. I figured I could confess to them that I’d already bought some. And they had a cool offer for my readers who also just really, really wanted a (gluten free) corn dog.

Bite at angle

Mention in the comments how you like to eat your corn dogs. (With ketchup or mustard? Part of a meal or alone? Balanced with fruit and/or veggies or whatevs?) We’ll pick five commenters and Foster Farms will ship you your VERY OWN BOX, you guys. Comments close on Monday, Dec. 22.

I’m like the Oprah of corn dogs.

Oprah of corn dogs

Now that my secret is out, I guess I’ll eat more salad this week.

And some Joe-Joe‘s…

Holiday Tips and Recipes from ‘Tis the Season Class

24 Nov
cheese wafers spicy pecan crackers

Pecan Cheese Wafers from Saveur Magazine. These were the BOMB!

I was a goofy, disjointed mess at Friday’s ‘Tis the Season event at Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock, and that made it more fun. At least for me. I’m blaming my lingering cold, so there.

This annual women’s event includes a potluck the likes of which you’ve never seen (including some Burge hams provided by the church), door prizes, and the highlight: choosing three of nine available classes on topics from hair braiding and games to cake decorating and my class, holiday cooking.

I learned from the event flyer that I was sharing tips and tricks (ha), so I came up with these:

  1. Buy one good chef’s knife and learn how to use it. No need for a huge knife set! Maybe add a paring knife, and you’re set. I showed everyone my favorite santoku knife and said a regular chef’s knife is just peachy as well. Look for one in the $30-50 range for everyday use. I also demonstrated the very basics of knife work and how to cut things up safely.
  2. Take advantage of small appliances when tackling holiday cooking. For this class, we focused on the food processor and the magical things it can accomplish.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe your own! Take an old family favorite or something new you found online. Look in your cupboards for new ingredients you can use. Or just go crazy and make something up! Once you learn the basics of how ingredients go together (and I can help if you need it), the sky’s the limit.

The first item I made is a cranberry relish I’ve served at several Thanksgiving and Christmas events over recent years, from the Simply Recipes blog. Since it’s not my recipe, just click the link to check it out! This relish is super simple, with just four ingredients, and it freezes beautifully.

At the class I demonstrated in real time what happens if you overload your food processor with this recipe…you get perfectly-sized relish, with huge chunks of apple and orange throughout. Even if you have a big processor like mine, do half of the recipe at a time to ensure better uniformity, pulsing the processor until it’s just right. And if you have a meat grinder, use that instead for a PERFECT texture!

The next item was a pecan cheese wafer from Saveur magazine’s website. This is an innovative twist on the spicy cheese cracker I’ve made before (as here in culinary school), adding a pecan half with an egg white as “glue.” The pecan’s sweetness perfectly balances the salty, spicy cracker. This recipe is easily made gluten-free, too, since there is very little flour used and the low-protein GF flour keeps the crackers light. I used Cup for Cup for mine.

My only complaint about the Saveur recipe as published is the quantity listed. The recipe claims a yield of 2 1/2 dozen, rolling the crackers to 1/8 inch thick. This is actually pretty thick for a cracker, but I went with it since it’s easier to cut and transfer to a baking sheet that way. I QUADRUPLED the recipe and got just around 3 dozen. I imagine the Saveur folks actually rolled them much thinner in their test kitchens, likely 1/16″ or so. If you want to roll it that thin, try rolling it directly onto some parchment paper on the back of a baking sheet, baking it as a solid sheet. Once it’s crisp, break the sheet into “rustic” uneven pieces. (If you were at the class, you’ll get the joke about “rustic.”)

The final recipe was my own invention, a “Thanksgiving Dinner in a Bite” canapé (see below). This is the demonstration of tip #3 above, creating something completely different on your own. Using a few simple ingredients and fun techniques, I inventioneered this while planning the class. I couldn’t taste-test due to my gluten problem, but class visitors said it was pretty good! Somehow I managed to not take a photo both times I made it, so you’ll have to trust me. It’s pretty cute.

If you attended, thanks for coming by, and sorry I was a little crazy! But as I said, life is more fun that way, right? Let me know if you make any of these, and let me know if I can help!

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“Thanksgiving in a Bite” Canapé
Makes 24 pieces

  • One box of frozen puff pastry
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 thick slice of deli turkey or about 1 cup leftover roasted turkey
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 a standard box)
  • 1/2 cup cranberry relish
  • Optional: 2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Optional: 2 chives, cut into several 1-inch pieces

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and move the puff pastry and the cream cheese to the countertop about 30 minutes before starting the recipe.

The puff pastry should still be cool when you’re ready to cut out your circles. Dust a smooth working surface with flour and unfold the puff pastry onto it, then dust the top of the pastry with flour as well. Using a rolling pin or similar device, roll the pastry out just slightly to smooth it out.

Press straight down into the puff pastry with a 1 1/2″ round or scalloped cutter and move the cut rounds onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. The sharper the cutter is, the easier this step will be and the higher the rounds will puff.

Bake the rounds for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and punch down in the middle with the round end of a wooden spoon or similar utensil. Place back in the oven for 2-3 minutes or until the rounds are slightly browned on the bottom. Allow the baked rounds to cool before filling.

If you would like to lighten up the cream cheese, mix it thoroughly with the sour cream or plain yogurt. (It’s fine without it, just a bit heavier.) Place the cream cheese or the mixture into a piping bag or a freezer bag (don’t use a standard sandwich bag or the seams will burst). Cut off a corner and pipe a small amount, maybe a half teaspoon, into each baked puff pastry round.

Place a small piece of turkey into each round on top of the cream cheese. If you purchased the turkey at the deli, cut it into cubes and smash it a bit so it won’t look so “manufactured.”

Scoop a 1/2 teaspoon or so of the cranberry relish on top of the turkey, and garnish with the chives if you want. Pretty and delish!

Root Café’s Award-Winning Coconut Curry Collard Greens

29 Oct
Root Cafe's Coconut Curry Collard Greens

Our sampling of the glorious greens from last week’s Food Day event. (I went in for more later.)

And can I get an amen?

This holy manna makes an appearance just about every day (although sometimes in different forms, depending on what greens are available) at The Root Café in Little Rock. Even if you don’t think you like greens, you’ll probably dig these.

People dug them pretty hard at the 2012 Arkansas Cornbread Festival, where this recipe won “Best Side Dish.” And to our knowledge, the recipe hasn’t been published anywhere…until now.

Root Café owner and chef Jack Sundell prepares the restaurant's Coconut Curry Collard Greens with Dr. Meenakshi Budrahaja.

Root Café owner and chef Jack Sundell prepares the restaurant’s Coconut Curry Collard Greens with Dr. Meenakshi Budhraja.

Root Café owner and chef Jack Sundell served as a panelist on last week’s Food Day event at Pulaski Tech’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, giving insight on how restaurateurs can commit to using local ingredients. (Hint: It takes a lot of planning and networking.) After the panel, Sundell made this recipe for the audience, which included culinary students, middle schoolers from Conway, and members of the local food community.

Hope you enjoy as much as we did!

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The Root Café’s Coconut Curry Collard Greens
Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. best quality curry powder
  • 2 pounds collard greens or kale, washed and stemmed (should give you about 1 1/2 pounds ready to use)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. salt and more to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Sweat onions with salt until softening, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder and cook one minute, then add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant.

Add half the greens, lower the heat a little bit, and stir occasionally until the greens have mostly wilted.  Add rest of greens, coconut milk, stock, and 1 tsp. salt, cover pot, and reduce heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, 25 – 30 minutes.  Avoid over stirring.

Remove lid and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until most liquid has evaporated and broth has thickened, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully as not to scorch the greens.  Remove pot from heat, stir in one tablespoon each olive oil and lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fattoush: The garlicky salad that’s as awesome as it sounds

17 Oct

Fattoush FB image wordsWe pulled over at a ratty gas station somewhere in North Carolina, and I went promptly to the dank restroom to lose my breakfast.

The day before, the husband and I had witnessed the lovely wedding of our dear friends’ daughter (who is also a friend and super awesome) in Tennessee, and he talked me into the additional day’s excursion to Asheville. On the way further east, farther away from my kids and all the things I needed to be doing, I made the mistake of taking vitamins too long after the Holiday Inn Express just-passable breakfast of eggs and bacon and such.

The extra day of travel was to visit the Overland Expo East — think Jeeps, Range Rovers and such all decked out for serious long-distance travel, but with wine and cheese rather than meager rations. This is a trade show of sorts, where equipment providers can hawk their spendy wares. But overlanders also camped out, trading stories and tips, making it sort of a Woodstock of high-end adventurers.

I agreed to the excursion. I wasn’t crazy about the extra day away from home, since that would mean my mother having to take kids to school bright and early that Monday. But I knew that overlanders are often gourmet foodies, so I was on a quest to find them.

First, we looked for Overland Gourmet. Although I have but a passing interest in the overlanding experience, I’ve read this blog over my husband’s shoulder (and when he requested one of their recipes) many a time. Turns out they were on the original map of participants but didn’t quite get there. Gah!

Overland collage

I have to say, the travel rigs at the event were pretty cool. I mean, if you’re gonna go driving in the middle of nowhere, why not take along a gourmet kitchen?

Finally, we met the person who made the trip worthwhile (besides my awesome hubs, of course). My overland imzadi.

forks-cover-art-high-res

Allan Karl. This dude is legit. He motorcycled through countries all over the world over the course of three years, breaking bread with folks on five continents. And he wrote a book about it. Readers follow him along as he is led into a jungle, wondering if he is going to be killed (turns out they just wanted to show him something); awaits entry into not-so-friendly countries while border agents deny him and menacingly adjust their guns; and at every turn, finds friendly people who just want to share their food with him.

When we met Allan, he was selling copies of his book, Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection. The book in front of him fell open to the recipe page from his travels in Syria, a colorful salad with cucumber, olives and feta called fattoush. We were hooked. He said a worker at a gas station there offered it to him, and he wondered if this was going to be a good idea. Turns out it was just the refreshing, nourishing bit of hospitality he needed to move along on his journey.

Fattoush angle FPF

Not long after we got home, we made our own batch. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe it…garlicky, crisp, refreshing. As the recipe is written, it might be a little strong for some, but you can cut back on the garlic and/or feta if you like. (We dig it.) You could also use black olives in place of the pungent kalamatas, which is what my kids did. We also had to cut out the pita bread, obviously, for lack of time to make a gluten-free version. But next time I’ll use this GF naan recipe and go all the way. I also added some lemon zest, because, why not?

My recommendations?

  1. Make this salad. With a quickness. Double the recipe. We did, and the tiny bit that survived was even better the next day.
  2. Buy Allan Karl’s book, Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection. I don’t have any financial benefit in telling you to do so. It’s just really good writing about an amazing adventure, with recipes for every single country he visited, over 35.
  3. Share something with someone from a different cultural background. The whole book is about that very thing. Even within our own country, there are opportunities to break down borders, which is one thing food is really awesome at doing.

Oh, and when you’re traveling in a weird place, whether it be Syria or the wooded outskirts of Ashville, North Carolina, make sure you eat before taking your vitamins. And keep your eyes open…you never know what you’ll discover in a ratty gas station.

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Fattoush
(Recipe courtesy of Allan Karl)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded (if necessary), and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 2 large pitas (preferably pocketless, Mediterranian-style), cut into 3/4″ square pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, premium quality
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 vine-ripened tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon stemmed and finely chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped mint leaves (save a few sprigs for garnish)
  • Hearts of romaine, hand torn, rinsed and spun dry, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably from sheep’s milk (optional)
  • 1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Place the diced cucumber into a strainer, sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place the pita pieces on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven until crisp and golden brown, about 20 minutes, shaking the pan 2 or 3 times as they toast. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. (Note from Christie: Gluten free folks can use my GF naan recipe in place of the pita.)
  4. Make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. (Christie again: I used a food processor; a blender would be great, too.)
  5. Continue whisking until the dressing is emulsified, then stir in the bell pepper, tomato, green onions, parsley, cilantro, mint, pita strips, and cucumber. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and toss well to coat.
  6. Gently toss in feta and olives, if using, and transfer to a large platter garnished with the romaine and the mint sprigs. Serve immediately.
    (One last Christie note: I added lemon zest to garnish.)

On Using Up a CSA Box – Veggie Potato Fritatta

29 Aug
Completed frittata, with plain yogurt and some fresh thyme. It's what I had.

Completed frittata, with plain yogurt and some fresh thyme. It’s what I had.

A couple weeks ago, I signed up for my very first CSA share from North Pulaski Farms, a local, organic small farm. CSA means community supported agriculture, where you basically buy a share of the farm for a season. They can plan better and have a predictable flow of sales, and I get fresh veggies.

Every. Single. Week.

You see where I’m going with this.

Things went well with the first box. I made sauce out of the raspberries, used the eggplant for a cooking demo, roasted the grape tomatoes for risotto, and worked the bell peppers into several things.

This past week, though, was super busy. I pick up the CSA box on Sunday from the Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market. Today is Thursday. This morning, the tomatoes, okra, bell peppers (both fresh and smoked) and eggplant stared up at me from the veggie bins. There were also a ton of other leftovers and things needing to be used. Ugh.

After finishing up some critical biz-ness, I scrapped the rest of my to-do list and set up shop in the kitchen. Operation Fridge Cleanout, commence.

First, I was STARVING, so I made a frittata for lunch.

The quick version (see step photos below):

  • I preheated the oven to 375 degrees.
  • I seared some of the grape tomatoes in a super-hot, smallish cast iron skillet, no oil.
  • I added some leftover fried potatoes that were in the fridge.
  • I tore up some fresh parsley and basil that I had leftover. Added them to the hot skillet.
    Winning: No knives needed so far.
  • Salt and pepper on top.
  • I whisked 5 eggs (mine were small) and poured them over the mixture.
  • Parmesan on top of that.
  • Threw it in the oven. Waited. Ate.

BAM. I’m not even gonna re-write that in recipe form. I think it took about 20 minutes in the oven, but you can poke at it occasionally if you want. (Thermo-nerds like me can test for an internal temp of 160 degrees…I was busy.)

What was I busy doing, you ask? I was chopping up a crap-ton of other veggies for a GF veggie lasagna I put in the slow cooker. I was soooo excited about it. This is gonna be great on the blog, I said. Eggplant! Bell peppers! Smoked peppers! Mushrooms! It. Will. Be. GLORIOUS.

Meh.

It may have been good a couple hours before we ate it, but let’s just say even the very freshest veggies and the best GF lasagna pasta get mushy when overcooked. After cooking all afternoon and through piano lessons, soccer and a Boy Scout meeting…Slow cooker fail. Oh well.

At least I have frittata leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast!

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Chef James Harris Spotlights Gluten Free Cuisine at Eggshells (with Recipe for Gluten Free, Vegan, Sugar Free Chocolate Cupcakes)

26 Aug

Frosted cupcakes captionedRemember the other day when I talked about doing a cooking demonstration at the local Gluten Intolerance Group meeting? Because it was a busy day, I felt a little discombobulated and spazzy. Not my best presentation ever. 

But a good bit of my discombobulation was from being a bit nervous, due to a guest who showed up at said meeting. A chef. A “real” chef, one with years of experience specializing in gluten free cooking. (Although I have formal training, I shy away from the “chef” moniker because of my lack of restaurant experience.) 

He was gracious, not correcting me when he probably should have, and chiming in gently when I asked for his input. Only later did we find out he was Executive Sous Chef at the Pleasant Valley Country Club and former chef of the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness.

Dang. 

After the meeting, we also learned that this chef, James Harris, was holding a gluten free cooking class of his own at Eggshells Kitchen Co. the next Monday (yesterday). I had heard about this and meant to look into it further. Now I HAD to go!

I walked in the door of Eggshells, and lo and behold, a fellow culinary student was also in attendance. Ashley is now a pastry chef, working at one of the major bakeries in town. I visited with Chef Harris, joking about our earlier meeting and my less-than-stellar demo. He graciously blamed it on the low table I was using.

Somehow, during Chef Harris’ demonstration, I ended up cooking the risotto while he worked on other parts of the demonstration. Maybe it was me wildly waving my hand in the air, saying, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, let me help!” when he lamented not having an assistant. Ashley ended up helping later on — probably due to my hollering “ASHLEY WANTS TO HELP ICE THE CUPCAKES” — with the vegan, sugar free, gluten free dessert we enjoyed. (No, really; it was good!) Culinarians can be a rowdy bunch. 

Chef Harris’ risotto recipe, using shallots, mushrooms and asparagus, was an excellent example of how delicious naturally gluten-free meals can be. He also demonstrated cooking scallops and (cough) gave us a recipe for gluten-free pasta. Let’s just say live demos don’t always work out. Oh, how I know. 

Here’s the recipe for the cupcakes. This would be great for getting a “sweet fix” while on an elimination diet, or for those with multiple allergies or sensitivities. Heck, they were just good, just because. And I didn’t sugar crash after eating one. Okay, two. Sheesh.

Wanna see photos of the other food and fun? Keep scrollin’ on down, beneath the recipes. 

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Chocolate Cupcakes (Gluten Free, Vegan, Sugar Free)
Recipe provided by Chef James Harris
Makes 10

  • 1 1/2 c. gluten-free flour (recommended: Cup 4 Cup)
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. gluten-free baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. gluten-free baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 c. maple syrup (pure)
  • 1/3 c. coconut oil
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 1/3 c. coconut milk
  • 2 tsp. gluten-free vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in a muffin pan. 

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Puree avocado in a food processor until smooth. Add maple syrup, almond milk, coconut milk, oil and vanilla and blend until creamy.

Whisk avocado mixture into the flour mixture and combine until smooth. 

Spoon batter into muffin pan and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick that is inserted into center comes out clean.

Allow to cool before icing. 

 

Chocolate Mousse Icing
Recipe provided by Chef James Harris
Icing for 10 cupcakes

  • 1 c. raw cashews
  • 1/4 c. coconut milk
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 T. maple syrup (pure)

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend together until very smooth. If it is too thick, add more coconut milk to thin it slightly. 

 

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Squash Casserole (for People Who Don’t Like Squash Casserole)

27 Jun
Amazing squash casserole. It'll make you a believer.

Amazing squash casserole. It’ll make you a believer.

It’s been nearly a week since my visit to Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market. Although I seem to be growing Hardin Farms squash out of my ears, I still had quite a bit left today.

Squash uncut

Solution: Squash casserole.

Thing is, I don’t even like squash casserole that much. It’s usually really soft and squishy. And really oniony, which doesn’t always agree with my tummy. And kinda bland.

Time for a remodel.

1. First, to tackle the squishy squash problem. Most recipes require boiling the veggie. Um, how about not. Let’s try sautéing instead, over fairly high heat. This will give the squash some nice caramelization while cooking it just a bit, not to death.

2. Next, the onion. Freshness matters, so I used one from the North Little Onions for squash casseroleRock Community Farm, also at the Bernice Gardens market. Cooking it way down helps me be able to eat it, so after a small dice I added it to the same pan in which I had sautéed the squash. (The veggies had since been moved to a buttered casserole dish.) I immediately added a half-cup of chicken broth and a good pinch of salt, both of which will help soften the onion and cook it to translucent without burning. When the onion was almost ready, I added one large clove of garlic, minced.

3. Lastly, I added flavor and creaminess using low-fat cream cheese. Borrowing from Crescent Dragonwagon’s renowned recipe for Featherbed Eggs, I cut half a block of cream cheese into cubes, 12 total, and pressed them down into the casserole dish of squash. Because, really, what can’t be improved by cream cheese?

The finished casserole, plated in all its delicious glory.

The finished casserole, plated in all its delicious glory.

For the entire recipe, see below. But know this…I don’t like squash casserole, and I just ate three plates of this stuff.

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Squash Casserole for People Who Don’t Like Squash Casserole
Serves 8 (or fewer, depending on how much you end up liking it!)

  • About 6 cups diced squash, any kind (I used zucchini, Zephyr and pattypan)
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (can use low-fat/Neufchatel), cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. dry bread crumbs (I used gluten free, from leftover bread)

Slice squash into approximate 1/2″ pieces. For larger squash, quarter them before slicing; halve smaller ones. Butter the inside of a large, oven-safe casserole dish.

Sauté the squash over medium-high heat with a half-teaspoon of olive oil in multiple batches, only using enough squash each time to cover the bottom of your pan. Cast iron works well for this. Place the squash in a single layer and let it sit for about a minute, then stir to turn and let sit another minute. Once the squash is sautéed, move each batch to the buttered dish. You may need to add a bit more oil with subsequent batches to prevent burning.

Next, place the diced onion, broth and a heavy pinch of kosher salt into the empty pan; no need to clean any residue from the squash. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add more water or broth as needed to avoid burning the onion when it dries out. Add the minced garlic when the onion is almost translucent and cook another minute. Stir the mixture into the squash in the casserole dish.

Press the cut cubes of cream cheese down into the casserole dish, nestling them slightly under the squash mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 c. chicken broth with three eggs. Pour the mixture over the casserole.

Top with fresh thyme, cheddar cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until the egg mixture is no longer liquid.

Browned Butter Squash Noodles with Lemon Basil Pasta and Chicken

24 Jun

 

Browned butter squash noodles with fettuccine, lemon thyme and chicken.

Browned butter squash noodles with fettuccine, lemon basil and chicken.

As mentioned previously, I visited the Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market on Sunday to load up on veggies. One of my wonderful finds was a huge load of Zephyr and zucchini squash from Hardin Farms.

I’ve used them a few ways already, but I think tonight’s dinner gets a special mention.

First, I cooked some gluten-free fettuccine noodles (Le Veneziane, the only kind worth using in this), just three of the six nests in a package, to al dente in salted water. I held it in a colander in the sink, tossed with a bit of olive oil, until everything else was ready.

Results of the amazing DeBuyer mandoline. Not sponsored, just true.

Results of the amazing DeBuyer mandoline. Not sponsored, just true.

I’ve had my trusty DeBuyer mandoline for years, but I’d never used it to make veggie noodles. Before I ran out to buy one of those fancy noodles machines I’ve seen lately, I decided to give it a shot. Using just the right combination of the two reversible blades, I got these babies. Amazing, crunchy, long squash noodles. I ate a quarter of them before I ever got around to cooking them or anything else. I used three largish squash, finding that the larger ones are easier to run across the mandoline.

I will tell you this: real French mandolines work great, but they often collect a penance in the form of a piece of your finger. Be wary. I even had to skip the safety shield and pusher so I could shove the whole squashes across. If you do that…may the force be with you.

Chicken cooking in the incredibly not non-stick pan

Chicken cooking in the incredibly not non-stick pan

I had a couple large chicken breasts in the freezer, so I thawed them in the fridge overnight. I sliced them into 3/4-inch slices, seasoned with salt and pepper, and tossed them with a bit of olive oil. Then I seared the slices in a large, stainless steel (as in not-nonstick) pan and cooked until they were just done, turning once. They may stick a bit, but they should turn just fine when they’re properly seared. I moved the finished pieces out of the pan and into a separate dish, covered with foil, while I did a second round. Two chicken breasts made plenty for four people!

Are you cooking along? Oh, good! DO NOT clean your pan. All those brown bits are about to make this dish amazing.

This stuff is gold, people. If you scrub it off, we can't be friends.

This stuff is gold, people. If you scrub it off, we can’t be friends.

I added a tablespoon (ahem, or more) of butter and cooked it until browned, which didn’t take long since it picked up some of the pan’s yummy goodness. Then I put in a half-cup or so of chicken broth to fully deglaze the pan (fancy terms for picking up all those yummy bits), whisking the whole time to scrape them up. The squash noodles went in next, tossed a bit with tongs. Then I added the GF noodles and half of my fresh lemon basil, tossing a bit over the heat. You can add the chicken back at this point if it needs reheating.

The whole shebang now went into a serving dish, with the chicken (if you didn’t add it earlier) and the rest of the lemon basil. Top each serving with a bit of fancy salt, if you have it.

squash noodle close

I’m not writing this one out recipe style, so if you have any further questions, just leave a comment below!

Ridiculous Roasted Marshmallow Blackberries

23 Jun
Organic blackberry by North Pulaski Farms. Marshmallow by Kraft.

Organic blackberry by North Pulaski Farms. Marshmallow by Kraft.

I went to a local farmers’ market yesterday for the first time in I-don’t-know-when, other than a couple months ago when we had the Blogger Bake Sale at the Argenta Farmers’ Market. And I didn’t get to look around that day.

Honestly, I just can’t get up that early and get presentable on Saturdays. (Yeah, yeah, the Argenta one goes until NOON. Still.)

We had just rolled in from a vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Although I cooked whenever possible, we still had eaten more than our share of road food.

I recalled that the Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market runs until 2 p.m. on Sundays, offering a chance to load up on some cleansing fruits and veggies. Usually, this is my after-church crash-nap time. But, since I had just been sitting in a moving vehicle all day, I was daisy-fresh. Ish.

It was my first time to the Bernice market. I saw some newcomers to the market scene (North Little Rock Community Farm, which I’ll write more about soon), as well as some familiar faces, including Kelly Carney, owner of the all-organic North Pulaski Farms. I came away from his booth with some special breed of cucumbers and a carton of the biggest, most amazing-looking blackberries I’d ever seen. Did I mention they were organic?

Of course, the whole purpose of the trip was to make some healthy fare. That would be on the menu all week, what with all the squash and zucchini and onions and such I had picked up. I unpacked the camping goodies from our trip while I snacked on the blackberries. Marshmallows. Toward cabinet.

Full stop.

This could be something.

 

Progression of inspiration.

Progression of inspiration.

I fiddled with a marshmallow. I broke it open, kind of unrolling it from one end to the other so it would be long and thin. A muse descended and guided my hand, placing a ripe berry in the middle.

Munch. Amazing.

Then the gas cooktop caught my eye.

Soon, I had pierced another marshmallow-wrapped berry with a chopstick and was roasting it. A roasted marshmallow. With a berry inside.

Munch. Even MORE amazing.

Roasted marshmallow blackberry with balsamic. Oh, how it wanted a mint leaf!

Roasted marshmallow blackberry with balsamic. Oh, how it wanted a mint leaf!

Soon, my daughter caught on to the awesome and we roasted several. I drizzled a bit of balsamic on one, and that was over.the.top. It wanted a mint leaf, but alas, I had none.

I’ve made a couple healthier things with my market finds today. But I had to share this. It’s just so ridiculous, it’s awesome.