December 2009

It’s been quite a whirlwind of activity down here in Alabama and it’s a blessing to be able to sit down for a second and check up on everyone’s holiday and give you all a recipe. It certainly looks like everyone had a relaxing, family-filled, delicious Christmas yesterday! For me, this week has been filled with family–or almost family, I suppose. Given that my mom isn’t married yet, the family is soon-to-be, and there’s quite a lot of it. I come from a tiny one, so the plethora of step-siblings, step-nephews and nieces, step-cousins, step-uncles, and step-grandparents is hard to keep track of. Don’t ask me to name names–I won’t remember any of them!

But for one afternoon my mom and her fiance, Todd, and I did break free from the Christmas madness and tromp around Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island is one of the major barrier islands on the Gulf coast and it was great to see the ocean–so gray, but so beautiful–and picnic on the beach for an hour or two. A few years back in an ecology class on barrier islands we studied the island, so it was fun to see something I’d read and talked about at length. The natural gas rigs off shore were a bit disheartening, but even their creepy, spider-like shadows fit the wintry ocean scene.

Tonight we’re having all of Todd’s kids over for a Christmas dinner so I’ve been in the kitchen working all morning and afternoon. Most of his kids and kids’ kids are vegetarian and a few of them are gluten-intolerant, so I’ve had fun thinking of dishes that would be special, yet easy enough to find ingredients for in a small, not-so-gluten-free-friendly town. A few weeks ago I helped a friend make Rachael Ray’s Pumpkin Sausage Lasagna for a food ministry and I figured that everyone would love a delicious gluten-free pasta dish. Unfortunately gluten-free lasagna noodles were not to be found at the local WinDixie, but I did find a bag of gluten-free penne. By layering the pasta with the bechamel sauce and veggies, I was able to make a delicious and creamy, if not photogenic, pasta casserole. I substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin and mushrooms for the sausage, but feel free to substitute any squash or alternative meat.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas/holiday weekend!

Gluten-Free Butternut Pasta Casserole

adapted from Rachael Ray

2 tbsp olive oil
8 oz button or portobello mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp Earth Balance
1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
1 1/2 tbsp soy/chickpea flour
3 c soy milk
2 c butternut squash/pumpkin puree*
10 oz gluten-free penne pasta

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until slightly al dente. Remove from heat, rinse with cold water, set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, cook 1 more minute. Add the eggplant and mushrooms and cook for 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the vegetables are cooking, melt the Earth Balance in a medium sauce pan. Add the flours and whisk to make a roux. Slowly add the soy milk, whisking constantly, until a sauce forms. Whisk and cook for 10-15 minutes, until it thickens. Add the squash puree* and cook for one more minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium casserole dish (a deep 8×8 or a 9×13), cover the bottom with the sauce. Next layer some pasta, then the veggies, then another layer of the sauce, etc.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Let cool, then serve.

Serves 6-8.

*To make squash puree, peel, seed, and dice a large butternut squash. Place in a pot of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain the water and mash.

Greetings from Mobile, Alabama! When I left Roanoke two feet of snow piled on the ground and now I’m walking around in sandals and a t-shirt–kind of a big switch. The snow was awesome–lots of running around, building snowpeople, throwing snowballs, keeping warm with whiskey, and etc.–but it’s great to see my mom again and tear up a mess in the kitchen.

Tonight I’m meeting all my soon-to-be family at a light horderves open house (my mom is getting married soon, which is why I’m spending Christmas in a town I’ve never visited before), so naturally we spent the entire afternoon prepping delicious food for the party. In addition to the meaty items, I whipped up some pesto stuffed mushroom caps, the walnut mushroom pate from VCon, and these quick and easy samosas. While these samosas are not the most authentic, I think they’re pretty darn close since my high school boyfriend’s mother (they were from Madras) used to make her samosas this way. Using the rolled out croissant pastry cuts back on time and utilizing the oven instead of a fryer makes them a little easier on the arteries. It’s a win-win situation!

I hope everyone is having a stress-free pre-Christmas week, or just a good week in general and hopefully soon I’ll have some south Alabama local color to share!

::edit:: And looking for the perfect kitchentastic holiday treat for yourself, a gift that keeps on giving? Head over to I Am Gluten-Free and enter the TofuXPress giveaway!

Quick & Easy Samosas

adapted from Food Network & my ex-boyfriend’s mother

3 medium baking potatoes, boiled until tender, drained and cooled
1/4 c olive oil
1 c onion, minced
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 c green peas
2 tubes vegan croissant rolls

Over medium heat on the stove, saute the onions in the olive oil for 5-6 minutes until translucent. Add the spices and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add the potatoes and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring to combine. Add the peas. Adjust spices if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Roll out the croissant pastry into thin sheets. Cut into 3″x5″ squares.

Drop a tablespoon of the potato mixture into the middle of the puff pastry wrapper. Wet three sides of the wrapper with your finger and fold the left and right sides into a triangle. Fold up the bottom to seal.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on the top and bottom.

Makes 20-25.

Who doesn’t love vegan balls, especially vegan chocolate peanut butter balls? While these holiday treats aren’t quite as quick and easy as the chocolate chip bars, they’re pretty darn close and definitely as delicious.

The other night a friend hosted a Christmas record listenin’ and cookie eatin’ party, and while I had planned on making rum balls, I didn’t exactly plan ahead enough. Rum balls definitely need at least 24 hours to marinate in the rum goodness and I bought graham crackers instead of vanilla wafers, so a back up recipe was much needed. Thankfully I remembered the peanut butter balls, and as long as no one is allergic to peanuts, they’re a crowd pleasing choice. Kind of like a peanut butter cup, but round, and since they’re as easy as crushing graham crackers and melting chocolate I daresay you might want to make a batch for your next party.

Peanut Butter Balls

2 1/3 c powdered sugar
1 c crushed graham crackers (gluten-free graham crackers recipe)
1/2 c Earth Balance, softened
3/4 c crunchy all-natural peanut butter
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 c peanuts, chopped

In a large mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar and crushed graham crackers.

Using your hands, mix in the Earth Balance and the peanut butter until well combined. You should be able to form balls that don’t fall apart. If they’re a little dry (mine were since I used the all-natural peanut butter), add a little vegetable oil.

Form 1 inch balls and place on a parchment sheet lined baking tray.

Chop the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. You can make your own by bringing 1 inch of water to a simmer in a pot and then placing a heat-proof bowl on top above the water.

Place the peanuts in a dish (I used a pie pan).

Roll the balls in the chocolate to cover, then roll in the peanuts. Place on the parchment to cool for approximately 1 hour.

Makes ~40.

The holidays are all about traditions, and in my family, all the traditions are food related–something I alternately love and embrace and also something I feel I have to defend, for example, to boyfriends whose families are a little more “normal.” See, I wasn’t allowed to believe in Santa Clause–ever. From the moment I could remember anything, I just knew that Santa wasn’t real simply because I was told he wasn’t’. The presents under the tree were always from mom or dad, or, if my mom was feeling funny, from one of the cats. I never missed believing in Santa Clause–after all, he’s just some creepy old guy in a mothball smelling suit–but it’s a weird thing to try to explain to someone.

As for our own traditions, like I said, they revolve around food–Jesus’ birthday cake, Christmas cookies, Christmas brunch, etc. I think I tried to make a gingerbread house once, but it didn’t turn out too well and I quickly lost interest in that normal tradition. We also didn’t really decorate Christmas cookies. My mom made a the spritz kind and maybe one or two others, but it was always a simple and delicious affair. After all, she had clients to take care of (she was a caterer). The main thing for us was definitely Jesus’ birthday cake (a towering dark chocolate layer cake affair with amaretto cheesecake between cake layers) and Christmas brunch–quiche lorraine, chocolate cream cheese Danish braids, sausage cheese balls, fruit, and sometimes cream puffs. Brunch rocked my socks.

So now that I’m out on my own, I have to come up with some of my own traditions, and this process has translated into me just baking more, I think. Right now I have peanut butter balls cooling, rum balls in the works, hot chocolate mix galore, lists of other goodies to make–it’s a little ridiculous for one person. But it’s what I love. These chocolate chip bars are my mom’s recipe. You probably have one like it, but in our house these were constantly around. For any of the lunches she catered, my mom always had a tray of these, simply because everyone loved the buttery, chocolatey goodness of them, and also because they’re just so simple to make. You can whip these up in the time it takes to make biscuits–which for me isn’t too long, given my love affair with the latter. If you’re looking for a quick and easy holiday (or any day) treat, these might just do the trick!

Chocolate Chip Bars

2 c all-purpose flour
1 c brown sugar
pinch salt
1 c Earth Balance, in chunks and cold
1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Using a pastry cutter, cut the cold Earth Balance into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.

Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula, then pat into a 9×13 baking pan and squish flat to fill the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden on top.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into squares. Let cool for another 30 minutes before serving.

Today has been one of those really satisfactory days. Classes ended for the semester last night, I woke up this morning after a full night of sleep ,refreshed and ready to get back to the pool (being sick is so frustrating energy wise, it’s good to be back to normal), swam a mile, caught up on Top Chef (sigh…is Atlanta cursed in the finale or something? Kevin better win fan favorite), and bounced into the kitchen ready to try something new, creative, and, most importantly, colorful. It’s a beautiful day outside–sunny, windy, crystal blue sky, brisk air–and I wanted to mirror nature’s gift with something incredibly, and naturally, colorful.

I already had some sweet potato puree leftover from the sweet potato cream cheese frosting, so that made the list, and after a quick look-see of the fridge, I emerged with a bag of local kale, a three pound head of local purple cabbage, and a block of tofu. Remembering that I have the all-too-awesome-for-words circa 1973 Fry Daddy, I figured, to celebrate the end of the semester, I might as well deep fry the tofu. Any excuse is a good excuse for deep frying, really. Then, thinking of my love affair with brussels sprouts, I decided to chop the cabbage into wedges and roast it at 450 F with olive oil, salt, and pepper until they were soft in the middle with crunchy outer leaves. If you haven’t roasted cabbage yet, get on it–just as delicious as brussels (maybe not as cute), and definitely cheaper. I also blanched and sauteed some of the kale with garlic.

The one thing left was a sauce. I could have grabbed the bottle of Jonesville BBQ sauce I have in my fridge, or I could have made a nice gravy, but I wanted something a little more interesting, something I haven’t tried yet. That’s when I remembered the kimchi sitting toward the back of my condiment shelf. After spending a minute or two wondering if I were off my rocker, I went ahead a pureed it and then cooked it down with some brown sugar. Oh man, I’m really glad I did. It turns out a little like BBQ sauce, with some different fermented (of course) flavors mixed it. Earthy, hot, sweet, and tangy, the sauce was a perfect condiment with the meal. All in all, I’m pretty darn happy with the plate (although I wish I were better at plating, or at least invested in some squeeze bottles for sauces) and ready to get to work on the final revisions so the semester can completely end.

Kimchi Reduction

1 1/2 c kimchi (hot or mild)
1/4 c water
1/4 brown sugar

In a blender (or food processor) puree the kimchi with the water until smooth. If you want a very smooth reduction, drain the liquid out with a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.

Transfer the liquid/puree to a small pot. Over medium heat, bring the kimchi puree to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Stir in the brown sugar and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring often.

Serve over protein of choice, refrigerate for later use.

Makes 1 cup.

Thanks to the goodness of friends, I’m up and kicking and back in the kitchen. I’d planned on just giving you another condiment recipe, since I have a backlog (chipotle ketchup anyone?), but when I sent out the query for everyone’s dream coffee shop pastry/baked good, A-K gave me the best: “My dream pastry right now is a gf vegan maple cranberry cornmeal muffin with sweet potato frosting… it’s kinda intense!” Intense…but delicious.”

Of course I had to make it. Immediately. So after waking up and taking a shower and getting the right screws for my brand spankin’ new VA front license plate (we don’t have front plates in GA and my car didn’t have any screws on the front), I hit up Fresh Market and the Co-op for ingredients. Although I forgot to make the flour mixture exactly the way I wanted it (talking on the phone to my mother while baking is, perhaps, not the smartest idea ever), the muffins turned out gloriously corntastic and cranberry tart. The cream cheese frosting and I are not exactly at the place we’d like to be (a little liquidy), but it tastes sweet and sweet potatoey which is exactly what I was going for. Together? Well, A-K, it’s a match made in heaven. So thank you.

Oh, and for those of you who missed out: pretend you’re in a coffee shop chock full of vegan and gluten-free pastries and baked goods. What would you order?

Maple Cranberry Corn Muffins
with Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Frosting

For the muffins:
1 c corn flour
1/4 c sorghum flour
1/4 c rice flour
1 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c soy yogurt
1/4 c brown sugar
1/6 c maple syrup
4 tbsp Earth Balance, melted
3/4 c soy milk
1/2 c fresh cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a medium size bowl, mix together the flours, guar gum, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the soy yogurt, brown sugar, maple syrup, and melted Earth Balance.

Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet to form a still batter. Slowly mix in the soy milk until well combined and smooth (add more soy milk if necessary to get the right consistency).

Mix in the cranberries, then spoon the batter into pre-oiled muffin tins (makes 24 mini muffins or 8 regular muffins).

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden around the edges and top and an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature before frosting.

For the frosting:
1/4 c vegan cream cheese
1/4 c Earth Balance
1/4 c sweet potato puree
2 1/2 c powdered sugar (or more)
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a bowl and using a handheld mixer, beat together the cream cheese, Earth Balance, and sweet potato puree. Slowly add the powdered sugar until the right, stiff consistency is achieved. Add the vanilla.

I fully intended on giving you all a lovely recipe today, but I managed to get super sick last night (and thus just barely miss hanging out with Jessy at the Pine Street Barber Shop–it’s such a small world, holy crap!) But the savior of the story is the snow–lots of snow! All week, the forecast called for a rain/snow mix and, being from Georgia where the weather never cooperates with the prediction, I never believed it would actually happen. But when I woke up this morning, the yard was white and big, fluffy flakes were a’flyin. Even though it probably wasn’t the smartest thing, I could resist a walk through the neighborhood and I’m really glad I did. There’s nothing more wonderful than unexpected snow, especially when the last time it snowed where I lived was two years ago. Happy weekend everyone and if you’re somewhere where the weather is delightful, go frolic!

I love a recipe with a story. Even better, I love a good recipe with a good story. Thankfully, living in a family as food-obsessed as mine, we’ve got a few, and what better way to spice up a blustery day than with a good BBQ recipe?

Back in 1981, my father had just graduated from theology school and taken a post in Jackson, Mississippi. For a little while, my parents decided to drive three hours southwest of Jackson to Jonesville, Louisiana, to fill the spot of a pastor while the church worked on finding a permanent minister. Jonesville is in the middle of nowhere, and as my mother puts it, and everyone was either emaciated because they don’t eat or grossly overweight–“Life is fried down there and fried well.” One of the women who befriended my young, twenty-something, extremely pregnant mother, was Mrs. Wurster, who shared this recipe with my mother. She boasted that the sauce went well on everything from wild game to hot dogs, and she always had a double recipe in her fridge.

Mrs. Wurster also gave my mother a check for $100 to use for the baby (my brother). At the time, my parents had no money to buy a crib, bottles, diapers, or clothes for their coming son, and somehow, probably like Jesus with the loaves and fishes, my mother stretched the money out enough to get the basics. So not only did this amazing BBQ sauce recipe come out of the middle of nowhere Louisiana, but also the things my brother needed to make it–seriously, can you imagine a baby without a crib of clothes? Not a good thing.

So, Mrs. Wurster, thank you for your amazing recipe. I have changed it a bit, but not too much, and you know what, if I had enough mouths to feed other than my own, I’d definitely keep a double recipe in my fridge at all times. And I’m sure you never thought of it and you might find it strange and otherworldly, but the sauce goes great on baked tofu and on mashed sweet potatoes. I’ve even been known to dip vegan pigs-in-a-blanket in it. Thanks for keeping my brother clothed and my mother fed, and now it looks like I owe you for the tangy, tomatoey, smoky goodness.

Jonesville BBQ Sauce

1 c white vinegar
1 c water
1 large onion
28 oz diced tomatoes
4 tsp spicy brown mustard
3 tsp salt
pepper to taste
8 oz vegan margarine
1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp bourbon (optional)
1/2 c vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/3 c liquid smoke

In a food processor or blender, blend together the vinegar, water, onion, and diced tomatoes.

Pour the tomato mixture in a saucepot on the stove at medium heat. Add the mustard, salt, pepper, margarine, and sugar. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add the bourbon, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke and simmer an additional 20-40 minutes, until the sauce has thickened as desired.

Makes approximately 3-4 cups.

Happy December everyone!  I really can’t believe it’s the last month of the year.  In fact, if it weren’t 34 degrees when I woke up, I wouldn’t have believed it.  But it’s definitely that time of the year–when the weather gets a tad bit nippy (ok, or cold), the holiday decorations are out in full force, and my thoughts turn to dreams of chocolate and cookies and pastry and everything that’s not necessarily good for me but keeps me going through the winter months.

When I was growing up we didn’t have much money, but we definitely had traditions. One of the traditions was that on the first day of the month my mom would always say “Happy December” (or whatever month it was) and surprise us with a little gift–normally funky, colorful socks for me. The gifts were always something she got on super clearance the year before–you know, the 90% off Christmas or Halloween decoration bin–but I didn’t care. Any day is a good day for twinkle toe socks.

So in the spirit of “Happy December!” I’m giving you guys my first attempt at gluten-free non-pie goodness: Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes. The recipes are adapted from various VCTOTW recipes, but I added my own flair as I went along. Because I milled my own quinoa and millet flours with my coffee grinder (seriously, best trick ever for cheaper gluten-free baking), the cupcakes had a grainy texture. But I didn’t mind it so much and neither did the testers, including a pastry chef, so, hey, they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty darn close. The cinnamon and cayenne pepper give the cupcakes the perfect chill fighting kick and the super rich chocolatey base makes them the perfect holiday treat.

I’ve enjoyed reading and seeing everyone’s Thanksgiving feasts (I just roasted some veggies because I was so over Thanksgiving by the time the day rolled around) and I can’t wait to see what everyone whips up this month! Anyone have any exciting baking project plans? If so, I’d love to hear about them! And if you have any gluten-free requests for recipes, send ’em my way and I’ll see what I can do. I’m always looking for fresh inspiration.

And again, Happy December! And if you’re looking for that perfect Christmas or Hanukkah gift (or just a way to beat the cold yourself), check out Ricki’s Matcha Source giveaway!

Gluten-Free Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 c coconut milk
1/3 c canola oil
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
4 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
1/8 c tapioca starch
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 c rice flour
1/2 c quinoa flour (I milled regular quinoa in my coffee grinder)
1/4 c millet flour (I milled whole millet kernels in my coffee grinder)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

For the ganache:
1/4 c coconut milk
4 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp agave nectar

Preheat oven to 350 and oil a muffin tray (or line with cupcake liners).

In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the coconut milk, oil, sugar, extracts, and melted chocolate and mix on medium speed to combine.

Add the tapioca starch and flax seeds and mix for one more minute until emulsified.

Add the cocoa powder, rice flour, quinoa flour, millet flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Mix on medium-high speed for two minutes until well combined.

Fill the cupcake tin three-quarters full and bake for 20 minutes, until a knife inserted comes out clean. Place the baked cupcakes on racks to cool.

While the cupcakes are baking, bring the 1/4 cup coconut milk to a boil in a small sauce pan. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate to melt it. Add the agave nectar and mix till smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

After the cupcakes have cooled completely, glaze with the chocolate ganache.

Makes 12 regular size cupcakes or 24 mini cupcakes.