Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guilty Pleasure foods

Tonight was supposed to be book club night with some of my girlfriends. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts, most people had to bow out before today, and the three of us remaining ended up canceling - mostly because traffic was horrible due to the first snowfall of the season. (Seriously, we live in Upstate NY. The roads weren't that bad, and people should really know how to drive in a little slush up here.) So anyway, my husband already had plans so that left me on my own for dinner.

You know what that means - guilty pleasure food time. We all have a handful of foods that we eat all the time when we don't want to cook/are on our own. Sometimes it's because we just really love the food that much - but usually it's because no one else in the house likes our concoctions, so when we get a chance to indulge, we do so shamelessly. I know my husband's guilty pleasure food is macaroni and cheese made from gluten free elbows and Kraft cheese powder. It's not that I don't like the taste of it - who doesn't? - but if I'm going to be completely honest here cheese just isn't supposed to be delivered in powder form. Maybe if you're an astronaut - but that's a big maybe. So whenever he's on his own for dinner, he happily makes his bright-orange mac and cheese. 

Me, on the other hand? I have a handful of guilty pleasure foods that I can think of. Leftover pizza heated up and dipped in Frank's Red Hot. French fries (those thin "fast food fries" that Ore-Ida sells work best) absolutely drenched in salt and dipped in honey. Loaded nachos - ground beef, refried beans, olives, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, and TONS of monterey jack cheese layered over tortilla chips (though my husband would be very upset if I ever indulged in that one without him!)

The biggest one though? A concoction that I found out about in college (probably while seriously inebriated) that sounds - and smells - absolutely vile, but tastes like heaven.

Fried Rice. Optionally mixed with Chinese boneless spare ribs. Mixed in with a LOT of Frank's Red Hot. And finally, mixed with some Ranch dressing. Sounds gross, right? ... Do Not. And I repeat, NOT, knock it before you try it. It's Chinese food combined with wings. The best of both worlds. (I just read this paragraph again - I think I can confidently strike the "probably" before "inebriated" regarding the first time I tried this). It stinks the entire house to high heaven, and causes my husband to gag if he's in the room while I'm eating it, but I LOVE it. So that's what I had tonight.

Now, the easiest way to do this is to order takeout. Unfortunately, I know of only one Chinese takeout location that offers gluten free food in our area - P.F. Chang's. (If you know of others, please share!) You can approximate this very easily with P.F. Chang's fried rice - see if they'll do a house fried rice with everything, otherwise get your favorite meat. Instead of boneless spare ribs, the GF Mongolian Beef works perfectly - just make sure not to mix in the scallions. Take everything home, mix with Frank's and ranch dressing, and enjoy!

Too much time/money/distance? Leftover, homemade fried rice also works pretty well with this as well.

Tell me, what are your guilty pleasure foods?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Second-Annual Pumpkin Carving

Last night was the second-annual pumpkin carving at our house. We had a couple of friends over, carved our Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns, and of course talked and ate way too much food. We also opened the first bottles of hard cider (the regular cider and the maple cider that we bottled in early October) to good reviews. I was glad to see that it was palatable and our hard work was not put to waste! (The picture on the left was my husband's work. I wish I could claim that level of skill!)

Anyway, we had a couple of cancellations at the last minute because of the autumn cold that was going around, so here was what we decided on for a menu. First, for drinks, we had apple cider - hard apple cider from our earlier bottling, and "soft" apple cider, heated on the stove top with cinnamon sticks.

I also made pepperoni pizza puffs (always a favorite), a modified stuffed mushrooms recipe (my husband's not a fan of too much spice, so I substitute the cayenne for seasoned salt and add just a teeny tiny dash of crushed red pepper flakes - one shake - so they're not too spicy), and then made holy-foodgasm caramel corn. No lie, this stuff is like crack.

Here's the recipe:
  • 1 stick butter (unsalted)
  • 2 cups golden/light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • big bowl plain popped popcorn
  1. Preheat oven to 250F. 
  2. Pop the popcorn over the stove in a bit of canola oil. Place the popcorn in a large baking dish (a disposable turkey pan is best) and keep it warm in the oven until you're ready for it. 
  3. Melt the butter on the stovetop over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it comes to a boil, let it boil for 4 minutes without touching it. 
  4. Take off the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla. It'll turn a really cool light color and thicken up immediately - that's normal. 
  5. Pour over the popcorn and stir so all the popcorn is coated. 
  6. Bake for 45 min, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool, break apart and serve. Pairs insanely well with (non-alcoholic) warm cider and cinnamon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

White Pizza - Finally!

After a few trial-and-error attempts at making a white broccoli pizza, I finally succeeded! (No pictures because unfortunately it was late and it disappeared pretty quickly). White pizza is one of my husband's favorite pizzas, but every time I made it something was... missing. Finally, a colleague of mine (whose family name ends in a vowel) tipped me off to the trick to turn my white pizza from blah to yum. After diligent research using Google, suggested wine pairings are a nice crisp white like Pinot Grigio or bubbly.

Now... when I make pizza I almost never measure anything, I just eyeball it to taste. Because let's be honest, a little more cheese never hurt anything besides the waistline, and pizza is intended to be a treat so may as well make it good, right? 

So with that said, here goes.

(This is my standard pizza crust recipe. I started out by reverse engineering Pizzeria Uno's crust recipe and now I think it's better!)
  • 1 cup warm H2O
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1-1/2 cups potato starch (The recipe will taste fine with just one cup, but adding the extra half cup makes the dough a lot more malleable. I've never been brave enough to *throw* the dough, but I can gently toss it.)
  • 1 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 generous tsp xanthan gum (some might call it heaping)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • EVOO
  1. Place pizza stone in oven and preheat to 400 F. 
  2. Mix water, sugar, yeast. Set aside to let the yeast foam. 
  3. Mix together all dry ingredients in a stand mixer. Whisk together a bit until flours are completely combined. 
  4. Add egg, shortening, and water. Beat until thoroughly combined.
  5. Lightly grease a 14 inch pizza pan. I usually grease with shortening. 
  6. Using your hand, Roll the dough into a ball and start shaping it/flattening it out if possible. (If it's not just start pressing it into the pizza pan). Press into the pizza pan, making sure the dough evenly covers the entire pan. 
  7. Lightly brush the top of the crust with EVOO. 
  8. Bake for at least 10 minutes. Check it after 10 minutes, especially if you like a softer crust. I like a bit crispier crust so always keep it in for at least 15 minutes. 
  9. Take out of the oven and transfer to a pizza stone, and add toppings.

  • 6 Cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • Ricotta Cheese (Enough to liberally cover pizza shell)
  • Mozzarella Cheese (Buy one bag of shredded)
  • Chopped Steamed Broccoli (you can short-cut and use frozen veggies here)
  • Salt and Pepper 
  1.  Turn oven to broil.
  2. Sautee 5 cloves garlic with EVOO. Mix with Ricotta, season with salt and pepper. Spread on pizza crust. 
  3. Liberally sprinkle mozzarella on pizza crust. 
  4. Season entire crust with a lot of salt and pepper. Seriously - I went to the point of, "Wow, this is going to be too much."
  5. Combine final clove garlic with chopped broccoli. Sprinkle on top.
  6. Broil until pizza cheese is completely melted, and is starting to turn brown. Take out of the oven and enjoy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hard Cider

We have friends who are really, heavily into the brewing hobby. They make beer, hard cider, mead, you name it - and most of it is pretty darn good. Since they enjoy it so much and my husband is a fan of hard cider, we decided (with consultation) to give it a try.

We started by ordering the deluxe beer brewing kit from Northern Brewer, specifying the glass carboys (we had been advised that the glass carboys were better than the plastic carboys as a general rule of thumb, so we decided it was worth the slight price difference). I also stopped at the Homebrew Emporium in North Greenbush for some incidentals - yeast, additives, stuff like that.

So, making hard cider is - well, pretty darn easy! The starter kit gives you just about everything you need at first - a bucket, two carboys, all sorts of siphons, bottle caps, sanitizer, etc. as well as directions on how to use everything. The directions are geared more toward beer, but they can be easily adapted for cider.

The day before "cider day" we took a trip to Indian Ladder Farms, to pick up six gallons of cider. You want to stay away from the chemically pasteurized cider, but their cider is UV pasteurized so it's OK to use. An employee at Homebrew told me that you can request unpasteurized cider from Goold orchard as well but I haven't tried that yet. I also had two things of yeast - a dry premium wine yeast and a wet cider yeast - and some pectic enzyme to help with cider clarity.

We did two batches - five gallons went into the six gallon carboy with the dry yeast, and nothing else. The last gallon went into a separate jug with 100 mL of pure Canadian maple syrup (bought during a recent trip to Niagara) and the cider yeast. After two weeks of fermentation, we "racked" them - basically transferred them to new, clean carboys and got rid of the dead  yeast at the bottom of the containers - and let it sit for another week, and then we were good to bottle! I did backsweeten the cider with some wine conditioner (an insoluble sugar that will sweeten the cider without triggering additional fermentation) and we ended up with two cases plus of cider - the regular cider was 6% alcohol and the maple cider, due to the additional sugar content, was 7%.

It turned out pretty darn good - and naturally gluten free!

During cider season, I'm planning a couple more batches - with additional fruit, cinnamon and mulling spices - before trying my hand at vino. I'm excited!

Bake with Price Chopper

Last night I had the privelege to attend a holiday baking course hosted by Price Chopper at the Century House. Two chefs, Gail Sokol (professor at SCCC's culinary department) and Elizabeth Barbone (of East Gluten Free Baking fame) presented recipes. It was a wonderful time and I was so glad that Lisa from Price Chopper contacted me to tell me about it! 

Gail presented two (non-gluten free recipes) for a chocolate cranberry walnut babka and an espresso almond biscotti.

Elizabeth (whom I was delighted to meet in person for the first time!) presented a rustic apple pie (otherwise known as a galette) with my favorite granny smith apples, pumpkin whoopee pies with a wonderfully gooey marshmallow filling, and an easy-but-delicious chocolate bark that I am planning to use for my annual cookie swap with the girls! Of course, we got to try samples, which were delicious! (Confession, I brought my samples of Elizabeth's recipe home so that I could share them with my celiac husband - while everything was delish, we were both especially impressed by the pumpkin whoopee pie - I must try this recipe at home).

We did find out some good tips - at least, tips that I hadn't really known about beforehand. I was Tweeting a few of them during the event with the hashtag #BakeWithPC but here are some of the tips for you in blog form:

  • Dough scrapers are a useful little gadget - used both for molding dough if you don't want to use your hands or cleaning off surfaces. I must pick one up.
  • Whisks are recommended to thoroughly mix blended flours before processing (SN: I already do this, but I use the whisk attachment of my stand mixer rather than a hand whisk).
  • Never, ever use liquid measuring cups (with a spout) for measuring solids!
  • Sugar gets clumpy because it's hydroscopic - that means that is absorbs water from the air. Is that a Words with Friends word or what?
  • The Niskayuna Price Chopper recently had a grand re-opening and have expanded their line of gluten free products.
  • The crumbs at the bottom of the stand mixer are NOT to be ignored (what I usually do). Make sure to mix them in by hand, halfway through the stand mixing process, for better baked goods.
  • Gluten free all-purpose flour is NOT recommended for high quality gluten free baked goods (That said, some mixes are better than others. Betty Crocker/Bisquick mixes and King Arthur Flour are higher quality than many others).
  • Food processors can be used to mix all flours, etc. before baking. Interesting!
  • Never replace butter or other solid fats with oils when making pie crust or other doughs.
  • Tapioca starch, potato starch, and corn starch are pretty interchangeable in recipes.
  • While tapioca flour and tapioca starch are the exact same thing, potato flour and potato starch are notably different!
  • Many gluten free recipes are over-aggressive in their use of xanthan gum. Too much gum can make food gummy - and cause gluten free bread not to toast!
  • "Imitation" flavorings are legally required to be gluten free since they're derived from a synthetic rather than organic source. (Organic in the chemistry sense here...)
  • Don't ever use a wet sponge or paper towel to clean up spilled xanthan gum, as the moisture will result in a slimy mess.
  • Corn starch will not thicken sauces or other goods unless it comes to a full boil. 
Some of the bloggers I met throughout the evening (I'm sorry if I left your link off, if I did please let me know and I will add it!):