Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

To be honest, I agonized a little over what to bring to my future in-laws house for Christmas. In the final hours I settled on gingerbread cake. Baking this cake literally filled the house with the smells of Christmas. It’s moist and well spiced, and deeply, deeply satisfying.

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The only substitution I made was to use brown sugar instead of cane sugar. To the best of my knowledge, a little extra molasses flavor has never hurt a gingerbread cake. Speaking of molasses, don’t even entertain the thought of making something in the gingerbread family if it doesn’t call for this rich, dark syrup. There are only two ingredients that make gingerbread what it is—ginger and molasses. Everything else is an avenue for these two flavors to shine.

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The other great thing about this cake is that I had almost every ingredient on hand. It’s not difficult to make, but it does take some patience to mix the sticky molasses and water in thoroughly. My cake was done in 35 minutes and probably could have come out of the oven a few minutes earlier. With a little dollop of maple whipped cream on top, this cake is like tasting Christmas.

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Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

Fine Cooking            Issue 23

Black Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin (or Portabella Mushrooms) with Chimichurri Sauce

I’m not cooking a traditional Christmas dinner this year, but I wanted to share a recipe that’s worthy of the holidays. Steak is the perfect meal for an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner. I love that this dish is simple and special at the same time. Good beef doesn’t need a lot of dressing up. You create a crust of salt and pepper, sear it in cast iron, and pop it in the oven to allow it to cook through. I initially set the timer for 120 degrees internal temperature, but decided to wait until it hit 125 so the steak would be rare-approaching-medium-rare.

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The chimichurri sauce tastes fresh, full of herbs enriched with a little garlic and olive oil. Unlike rich, buttery sauces, it doesn’t hide the flavor of the beef. Instead it adds an herbaceous savory note that complements the meat. There is enough time to prepare the chimichurri while the steaks are coming to room temperature, which makes it possible to prepare this meal in under an hour.

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DSCN1677This Braised Winter Squash & Potatoes with Mustard & Shallots recipe paired with the steak perfectly. I’m not adverse to leftovers, but I didn’t want to have steak two nights in row. Instead I used the remaining chimichurri sauce to marinate and roast some Portabella mushrooms. They were delicious but I’m not going to lie—the steak was better. That said Portabella mushrooms are the steak of the vegetarian world. They are hearty, savory, and even have a meaty texture. I cleaned them and removed the stems, put a little cross hatch in the center of the caps, and lightly coated them with the chimichurri, salt, and pepper. I roasted them for 10 minutes per side at 400 degrees and topped them with the remaining sauce. You can get a walk-through version of this technique here.

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This is one of my favorite steak recipes because it’s easy and impressive. Whether you go the steak or mushroom route, may this meal help you ring in a New Year!

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Black-Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Chimichurri Sauce

Fine Cooking            August 2012

Cafe Milano: Dining Out Italian-Style

My Aunt Therese was diagnosed with celiac a few years before me, and she’s been a wonderful resource and friend as I learned how to adjust to a gluten free diet. We have a lot in common, including our love of food and cooking. I asked her to write a guest post for the blog and here it is!

There are two things I appreciate about her post. First, she wrote about Italian food. We’ve both spent time in Italy and can’t say enough good things about authentic Italian cuisine. When you say you can’t eat gluten, most people immediately think of pasta and bread. For that reason, it may be surprising to discover that traditional Italian food has a lot to offer a gf person. A good Italian restaurant should be able to offer several gluten free options, including risotto, meats, and possibly gf pasta. Therese’s experience is a general guide to gluten free dining, Italian-style.

I’m also grateful that she mentions her happiness watching others eat good food, even if it’s something she can’t have. This may not be true of everyone with celiac, but I completely agree with my Aunt. People are inclined to apologize if they’re enjoying a gluten-filled food in front of me. There’s no need! If it’s well made and you’re savoring it, I’m happy for you. Especially because I pretty much always have my own plate of deliciousness, too. And with that, I would like you to meet my Aunt Therese.

Café Milano

 I am Ms. Stephanie’s aunt, Therese, and a diagnosed celiac as well.  Steph and I have a lot in common, one most particularly is our love of good food!  My husband, Charlie, and I were fortunate to visit La Jolla, California recently as a gift to ourselves for Christmas.  Charlie and I don’t exchange gifts, instead we prefer to “have experiences”.  Stephanie’s parents, Joe and Jane, (my bro and sister-in-law) arranged to meet us for an overnight visit.  We’ve spent a lot of time together in La Jolla and really enjoy the coast, our walks and the fabulous restaurants.

One restaurant we frequent is Café Milano. A photolovely Italian gentleman, Pasquale, has served his good cuisine for years here, and I always smile when I pull up out front to see the lighted Fiat.  He keeps the lights on all year, but now at Christmas, has the packages on top and Santa in the driver’s seat!  Great advertising!

Inside is cozy and warm and the service is attentive.  They accommodate special diets very well.  They have gluten free pasta, and can make any veal or chicken dish gluten free by not dusting the protein with flour ahead of time.  My favorite starter is the Italian straticcella soup made with homemade chicken stock, fresh spinach, an egg whirled in, and topped with parmagiana reggiano. It’s soul satisfying, delicious and the perfect light start to the meal.

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Our choices were varied: I had veal parmesan with capers and a side of spaghetti with olive oil and garlic, oh gosh, yum…photo-4

You don’t see the gluten free pasta here because I had eaten it all on a side plate!  They know exactly how to cook gluten free pasta because, hey, they are Italian!!!  A lovely Caprese here was just as fresh as could be with homemade mozzarella and the freshest of basil and delicious artichokes and although I hadn’t ordered it, my brother graciously shared.

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The meatballs looked really, really good. Unfortunately they weren’t gluten free, but I still admired them.  I am always happy when someone eats good food in front of me and enjoys it!

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Same goes for the wild mushroom risotto — it was lovingly prepared and I was too full to share in that dish!

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Pasquale and his staff always make us feel so welcome.  My family is so important to me and to make and keep traditions alive is the best ever.  Who knows, we may find another restaurant next time, but sharing time and sharing food and making laughter is the best Christmas gift ever!

therese, joe, jane, charlie

therese, joe, jane, charlie

May your holidays be bright, your hearts full, your smiles bright, and may you know that you are loved!  Merry Christmas, Therese.

For those of you interested in gffriendly Italian restaurants in Portland, check out Iorio  or D.O.C.

Pamela’s Pancakes!

Who doesn’t love pancakes? If it’s you, you’re missing out, because they’re delicious. Pancakes are the easy answer to the gffriendly person who wants some sweet carbs for breakfast. Sometimes we all need an excuse to eat syrup.

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With that in mind, Pamela’s Pancake and Baking Mix does a great job on pancakes. Of course you can make your own, and anything between buckwheat and corn flour can make a tasty version, but Pamela’s knows what it’s doing in this department and I think you should trust it.

You may think you know everything you need to know to make a good pancake. Well there are a few things that separate the good from the great.

Cinnamon

This is not optional. It sounds optional, but once you’ve tasted your pancakes with cinnamon you will never go back. I’m liberal with the cinnamon, adding it directly to the mix and then sprinkling some on top of the batter once it hits the pan.

cinnamon topped 'cakes

cinnamon topped ‘cakes

Color

You’re looking for a warm brown, and there two keys to achieving it. The first is using butter in your pan. Sorry, but nothing browns like butter. Second, stop cooking pancakes on medium high! Medium to medium low is as hot as you go. Pour the batter into the pan and wait for it to bubble. Only then can you flip it. If it starts to fall apart then it’s not ready to be flipped. If it’s already too dark, your pan is too hot. I’m a fan of flipping three times—once to brown both sides and once more on each side just to be sure it’s cooked through and browned nicely.

some might call this cinnamon brown

some might call this cinnamon brown

Airiness

This is also known as the fluffy pancake. Remember those bubbles we were talking about earlier? You want those in your pancake. The trick is not to press down on the pancake when it’s in the pan. If you’re not sure it’s cooked through, keep the heat low enough that you can keep flipping the cake without burning it. If you keep it moving you can cook the inside without burning the outside.

see the little holes?

see the little holes?

Syrup

We’re talking real maple, no substitutes. Too many people think Grade A is the best, which is a scam. Grade B has more richness and flavor. It’s maple for maple-lovers. Try it!

You have many more options for making your pancake recipe special. Diced apple? Sure! Chocolate chips? Why not? If you love it, try it in a pancake and see how it goes. And with that I say farewell and happy breakfast.

happy pile of pancakes for brunch

happy pile of pancakes for brunch

Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash and Carrot Stew

I forgot how delicious this is and I’m so excited to share it!

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This Moroccan-inspired stew is intricately spiced, rich with paprika, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne and a pinch of saffron. Before serving, the stew is topped with freshly chopped mint and cilantro. The combination of spices and fresh herbs is absolutely perfect.

carrots and squash

carrots and squash

I follow the recipe almost to a T. I like a hearty stew, so I add closer to 3 cups carrots, 4 cups butternut squash, and 2 cups of chopped onion, without adjusting the liquid. Extra garlic can be added as well, if you’re that kind of cook (I am.) Smoked paprika stands up to the other spices without becoming overpowering and can easily be substituted for the sweeter variety. To make it vegan you can substitute olive oil for butter in the quinoa. The stew tastes better and better as it sits, so you can prepare it first and then start the quinoa. I was so ravenous that I chopped all of the ingredients first so I could put the stew and quinoa on the stove at the same time. Since the spices all go in at once, I find it convenient to mix them together beforehand. Other than that, just follow the directions and you can thank me later!

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caramelizing onions and carrots for quinoa adds depth of flavor

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This is a dish to satisfy your senses. It’s flavorful, colorful, and the smell will fill your kitchen. You’re welcome!

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Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash and Carrot Stew via Epicurious

Bon Appétit            January 2006

Gffriendly Holiday Gifts

Happy holidays! I spent my afternoon shopping for gifts at Crafty Wonderland, Portland’s annual holiday craft fair. There are so many beautiful things created by local artists and crafters that it’s hard to take it all in. If you’re buying presents for a gluten-free food lover this holiday I have some ideas that might inspire you. Or if you’re a gf foodie yourself, here are some things you might want to add to your wish list:

For bakers I recommend Flying Apron’s Gluten Free & Vegan Baking Book. I rarely purchase gf-specific cookbooks, but the precision required for high-quality baking makes a gf baking book worthwhile. What I love about this one is its focus on nutritious ingredients. Gluten free baked goods often rely on lots of starch and artificial sugars. These recipes are all about maple syrup, dates, coconut oil and spices. The results are still indulgent and naturally sweet without tasting artificial.

The Flavor Bible is on my wish list this year. This book is great if you want to start writing your own recipes. It explores the flavor profile of various foundational ingredients then identifies what pairs well with each one. Have a ton of chickpeas and no idea what to do with them? Let this be your guide.

Food is always a good gift, because who doesn’t like to eat? My friend Dawn directed me to these recipes for some gluten free sweet treats this holiday season. The BabyCakes NYC Chocolate Chip Cookies look ah-mazing. Food 52 has a list of 8 Edible Gifts You Can Make at Home—I keep eyeing the peanut butter cups and chai mix. Drinking chocolate with homemade marshmallows is also a special treat.

A subscription to a cooking magazine can be a wonderful gift. My mom bought me a subscription to Fine Cooking last year and I still think of her whenever arrives in the mail. Cooks Illustrated is also beautiful and definitely worth a subscription.

A nice wooden or slate cheese board, pretty serving dishes, or special napkins are ideal for cooks who love to host.

Tulip savoring the season

Tulip savoring the season

These are just a few of the many ideas that could make great gifts for the gffriendly food-lover in your life. Personally, I’m particularly grateful that I’ll be enjoying a Christmas meal with my future in-laws, who have gone to great lengths to ensure that I will eat well. Wherever and whatever you indulge in this season, may you stay healthy and be well!

Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

It’s the season for brunches and potlucks. This dish a go-to for me when I have an invitation to a special event. It’s creamy and rich, but not too heavy. Since I’m allergic to eggs on top of having celiac brunches are often a sad occasion for me. Preparing something this gratifying ensures that I’ll have a warm and hearty dish to enjoy, and surprises people who think gffriendly food can’t be delicious.

DSCN1608 This recipe is best made with butternut squash, but I had a Red Kuri and Carnival squash from my Thanksgiving centerpiece that I wanted to use up, so in they went! I substituted half and half for whipping cream, but otherwise followed the recipe. Use salt and pepper liberally—it’s a necessary balance to the cream and butter. The end result is nutty, creamy, and savory. It’s absolutely perfect for a cold wintery brunch with friends.

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It’s hard to go wrong with a gratin! This dish is sure to please and is easy to make ahead.

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Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts via Epicurious

Bon Appétit            November 2007

Apple-Filled Acorn Squash Rings

If you’re looking for a special gluten-free side dish for an upcoming holiday gathering, this is an impressive and delicious option. Acorn squash has a nutty flavor and hearty flesh, similar to a butternut. I chose to microwave the whole squash for about two minutes a piece in order to make them easier to cut. This also reduced the roasting time by about five minutes and didn’t impact the overall flavor or texture.

sliced acorn squash rings

sliced acorn squash rings

The heart of the dish is the sautéed apple with currants and curry butter. Some spice brands add flour as an anti-caking agent to their spice mixes. I use Spice Hunter because they promise theirs is gluten free, but you could easily make your own. The recipe calls for Granny Smith but any tart apple will do. I substituted dried cranberries and tart cherries for the currants and didn’t notice a difference. If you have a good butter substitute, such as Earth Balance, this could easily be made vegan. You can make the filling one day ahead, but I’ve never found it labor intensive enough to bother. Remember to salt and pepper to taste before roasting!

apple filling

apple filling

One of the reasons this is such a great special occasion dish is that it’s beautiful. The slices of acorn squash almost look like big stars. You need a good, wide spatula to transfer from the baking dish to the plate, so I recommend roasting the squash in an attractive oven safe serving dish if you plan to make this for company.  The skin remains tough even after roasting, so I prefer not to eat it, but I leave it on because it’s decorative and difficult to remove when the squash is raw.

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To turn this into a vegetarian main, I served this with sautéed kale and shallots. We have enough leftover to take some squash-stars to lunch this week. It’s savory with a subtle sweetness from the apples and dried fruit. I love it! I hope you will, too.

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Apple-Filled Acorn Squash Rings via Epicurious

Bon Appétit            November 2001