Friday, October 28, 2011

Not-so-Scary Halloween Ghost cookies - allergen free :)

So we're gearing up for cookie making season, and finally, what better opportunity to test out recipes than Halloween? 

Jessica found a great recipe for Sugar Cookies on the Bob's Red Mill site.  We had to adapt a little for some allergens in the recipe (butter became palm shortening, for example... a perfect example of how it's easy to subsitute once you have some viable alternative ingredients!), plus we didn't have honey or lemon peel handy, but overall we used this recipe as it stood.

But this is a great point... substitution when working around allergens can free you up to explore so many options, where once you found limitations. 

For example, palm shortening has been a baking godsend.  It swaps out equally for butter or Crisco in recipes.  Once I discovered its existence last year before Christmas, I was thrilled we could make holiday cookies like crazy.  

Vegans are great at substituting non-animal-based alternatives for ingredients  ~ check out a single vegan bakery in the East Village, and you'll be hooked for life! ~ so I've been taking cues from them on many recipes.  One great option for those with egg allergies is flaxseed flour - just 1 T ground flaxseeds  to 2 - 3 teaspoons of water = 1 egg equivalent for baking.  Some recipes say boil it for a minute then cool, others just say use warm water and let it sit for a few minutes.  So, if you have an egg allergy you can still make these cookies!

We baked these cookies for around 8 minutes

Sugar Cookie Recipe

•1/4 cup palm shortening (spectrum organics makes a nice one!)
•2 Tb Maple Syrup
•1/2 cup Sugar
•1-1/2 tsp GF Vanilla
•1-3/4 cups Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour
•3/4 tsp Xanthan Gum
•1/2 tsp Sea Salt
•1 tsp Baking Powder
•1/2 tsp Baking Soda
•1 Tb Water, if using electric mixer
•1 large egg white (or use egg substitution, above)

In stand mixer or with a hand mixer, blend palm shortening (room temperature, not melted), maple syrup, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, baking soda, egg white and lemon peel, blending until mixture forms large ball. If using electric mixer, blend ingredients, then add water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time. Shape into a ball, cover and refrigerate for about a half hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Oil a large cookie sheet with allergen-free oil. Roll out dough and cut into scary shapes!

Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until edges are set. Remove from oven; cool two minutes before transferring to rack to cool.


1/4 c confection sugar mixed with
1 Tsp of water
1 T corn syrup
1 Tvanilla rice milk,

...and used Enjoy Life soy / dairy / nut / gluten free chocolate chips to make scarrrry faces! :)

Of cooking, cheese and good morning omlettes

Am I obsessed with breakfast food? Maybe.

But... there might be a good reason.  Morning is the one part of the day I tend to have wide open stretches of time with my son. Cooking together has become a time for us to just be with each other ~ laughing, making something, and exploring new ways to communicate. It's our special time.

My little sous chef, with his own pots and pans. 
Canape "baby knife", spice cabinet, and favorite spices.

He's starting to talk a lot more, and it's so exciting. And even though I know it's happening, I am always surprised when ~ out of nowhere ~ he says words and phrases I didn't realize he had even heard before. Watching his mind and imagination blossom has been one of the single most amazing things I've ever experienced. I'm sure, if you're a parent, you've had this experience... you hear the words "apple cider" pop out of the mouth that used to solely utter "ba ba ba ba" ~ and you just want to jump for joy. Or cry. Or hug him. Or all of these things. But instead, so the kid doesn't think you're a complete loon, you say "oh, yes! I see the apple cider too! Would you like some?" and nod sagely.

While cooking with Q, I'm having more and more of these moments. He is showing so much personality, and I'm getting to know more of what he likes and doesn't ~ for example, he loves basil in his eggs and cardamom in his oatmeal.  I see how much of what he gets ~ like, he knows mommy loves smoked paprika, so he hands it to me whenever he finds it in the spice drawer. (we have a spice drawer that rolls out of the bottom cabinets, only 4 inches wide but cabinet depth... it's the perfect height for a toddler to pull out and, well, re-organize!) And I get to hear his new language skills as he describes what he is doing.  "I stirring, cover, bubble bubble!" he says to me as he does all those things.

We got him his own little pot and pan set (thank you Ikea kid's section!) and he's in love.  You see him using it in the picture above: I pull up a kitchen chair with its back toward the stove, remove the stove dials he can reach, keep him faaaar enough away from the hot spots, and let him pretend to cook alongside me.  He has to have a spatula all his own, a mini "cutting" board, and a few play veggies (or real ones) so he can make his own thing.  We let him "try" ingredients to see if he wants to include them in his masterpiece ~ if he likes them, they go in the pot!  Just the other day we ended up with a piece of broccoli, a tiny bit of mushroom, a couple peas, black pepper and some tarragon.    A lovely dish!

So... back to breakfast. 

We've been making eggs for Q for a long time.  Sometimes we mix it up a bit and fry a couple chopped hot dogs in there, or bacon.  (We have found both in nitrate-free, uncured versions ~ Oscar Mayer all-beef Angus Selects for the hot dogs, and Nature's Promise uncured bacon (from Stop & Shop)... plus other deli meats that are uncured and gluten free, like Hormel Natural Choice oven roasted turkey, shown below)   We can add variety by frying up a little of one of those first, then adding eggs and scrambling them.  Delicious!

Working on communication, I asked Q the other day what we needed to make "eggies" as he calls them.  During the conversation, we drew the items either he or I came up with, and it became kind of a visual recipe.

We needed: a pan, eggs, a spatula, oil, and of course basil. 

And while that's been fun for a while, I began to wonder how to mix it up.  At the same time, I heard about rice-milk based cheese!  Oh cheese, the holy grail of missing foods for me when I was nursing!  I missed it, craved it ~ but non-dairy versions I found either were soy-based or even had casein in them.  It was so frustrating!  

Just recently, however, I heard about rice-milk based cheese ~ it was hard to hunt down, but I found one at our local natural foods market that was soy, dairy, gluten and nut free ~ Daiya Dairy Free.  (For those in the New Haven area:  Edge of the Woods)  There were other dizzying options for those who don't have the same limitations:  almond milk cheese looked interesting, lots of soy, but... well, if you're reading this blog you're likely already a label-reading person.  There's a lot of hidden casein and soy in many.  

Even so, it was so exciting to stand at the cheese section and imagine the possibilities for my little guy... grilled cheese sandwiches, nachos, pizza!  Many of the foods that the grand poobah in the sky created specifically to delight children. 

I picked up two varieties: cheddar and mozzarella styles.  As soon as I was home, I had to try them!  Right out of the package, they seemed a little ... eh.  A bit salty, not so much creamy.  But, apply heat e voila!  Melty, gooey, and pretty darned good for something that isn't the real thing.  Yay!

So again, back to breakfast: 

Combining my recent discovery of the rice-milk based cheese and my desire to branch out in the eggs department, it was a natural progression to omlettes.  Simple, easy, fast, and way better than just scrambled.  Here's what we used:

Turkey-Broccoli-Cheese Omlettes

Olive oil
1/4 medium onion, diced fine
1 broccoli "tree" chopped fine
1 slice deli turkey, diced small  ~ or hot dogs, leftover chicken, etc.
2 Eggs
1/4 cup cheddar-style rice milk cheese
ground black pepper, just a shake 
basil or Italian spices, to taste

In a little oil, saute onion and broccoli together until the onion is translucent and the broccoli is bright green, just a minute or two.  Add the broccoli and saute a couple minutes. 

Meanwhile crack the eggs into a little bowl and scramble them.  Add to the pan in as close to a circle as you can manage.  Lower the heat to medium low, and cover for a couple minutes until the egg is starting to set. 

Add the cheese and spices and cover again until the egg is set and the cheese looks melty. 
Fold over the omlette, but if that doesn't work, just serve this as scrambled eggs and no one will know the difference!

Get the plate on the table to cool off while you wrangle your small child into the high chair, booster seat or if necessary, your lap.  This should be the precise time needed to cool off the omlette to the perfect temperature! 

This was such a win with Q! ... he gobbled it up, practicing "cutting" skills with his little plastic fork, but eventually just started grabbing chunks of egg and turkey omlette.  Dipping daintily into ketchup first, then unceremoniously shoving the food into his mouth, he loved it.  And I felt so close to him, as I did just about the same.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Pakoras! So exotic, so delicious, so easy.

If you haven't had them before, pakoras are crispy little fritters from India filled with joyful, crispy vegetables ranging from onions to green beans to cauliflower to spicy peppers. Normally they arrive on a silver plate at the Indian restaurant and a chorus of "ahhh" rises from the table. In Mumbai, they're street food - hot, tasty, and a wonderful snack along the way.
But at home, I'll let you in on a couple secrets: They are a perfect vehicle to use up extra vegetables, super fast to make ~ and best of all, they're a way to have fun doing something a touch crazy!

Pakoras are made from garbanzo bean flour. It's not hard to find it, and if you're gluten free you probably already have it handy. If not, you can get it at an Asian grocery or your health food store. But make sure the source is allergen free. As I learned when making Socca, not all garbanzo bean flour is safe. Yummy? yes... but not necessarily safe.

A couple things to note about garbanzo flour:
  • First - until it's cooked, it tastes a little, well, weird. Tinny or slightly sour perhaps? Completely normal. (When you make cookies, for example, it's not quite as fun eating the dough... but it still doesn't stop me.)
  • Second - If you are using it in a batter, let it soak in the liquid for maybe a half hour before you cook it. Otherwise it'll stay lumpy. Time is your friend here. So measure your flour, add the water, stir it up. Then, go chop veggies or play with your kids for a few minutes. Again, time being friendly!

The recipe is easy: mix flour, spices and water, chop veggies, stir in veggies, fry. yup, that's it.
A more accurate recipe, though:

Oversized monster pakora frying.
Hence suggestion for a smaller
2 - 3 " size -- but still yummy!

1 cup Garbanzo Bean flour
(I used Bob's Red Mill gluten free)
1 cup water (or enough to make a batter slightly thinner than pancake batter)
1 tsp (or to taste) curry powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
Oil for frying
about 2 cups of diced vegetables (around 1/4 to 1/2" chunks) -- some suggestions:
- onion (really a must) - green or red peppers
- green beans - cauliflower
- peas - corn kernels
Mix the flour with the water, whisk, and set aside for around a half hour. Using a frying pan (or to save oil, a saucepan), heat around 1/2 inch of oil until a drop of batter into the oil starts to bubble right away.
When ready to get frying, stir in the spices and vegetables. Dollop the batter carefully into the hot oil, making fritters 2 or 3 inches in diameter. Once you have a batch in, it helps to carefully tip the pan and allow the oil to roll over the top. Fry for a couple minutes on each side, and let rest on paper towels to drain the excess oil. Sprinkle with a little salt if you like!
While I was making these today, I began to wonder about alternate takes to this simple dish. Since it's apple season, why not try cinnamon in place of curry, and apples instead of veggies? Hmmm... you might see that up here very soon!
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.  The Holidays were coming, and I was running short on time in finding a present for my sweetheart of a husband.   The Winter blahs were hitting me already, and I began to dream of summer Saturdays, strolling down the block at the Cityseed Farmers' Market.  Aha!  I thought.  We'll get a CSA share for a local organic farm and have a reason to go there and relish the sunshine, people-watch, let Q run around in Wooster Square Park.   Dogs, squirrels, other kids... it was a perfect vision.  Sign us up! 

Then, Spring came and the bounty began.  With lots and lots of greens.  So many we could barely keep up eating them.  Scapes, which we'd never used before like scapes and other, as my husband put it, "tops of things" managed to get into our box each week.  We were a bit befuddled, but kept trying to integrate these farm fresh ingredients into our week's food.  Who knew how truly wonderful really fresh potatoes and onions were?  Us!

But then, toward the end of tomato season came a bag of tomatillos.  We literally had no idea what to do with them.  They're like tomatoes with Japanese Lantern plants around them.  Pretty.  But... do they taste like tomatoes?  We bit into them.  Nooooo, not tomato-ey.  Tart! Lemony! Many tiny little seeds... and there's a wierd waxy texture to the tomatoes once you take the husk off.  Not sure I liked it, to be honest. 

But the tomatillos kept coming each week! 


So, I was thrilled when we found a recipe for Tomatillo Salsa on! 

So easy... it's just 3 ingredients, ok 4 if you add a little olive oil to the pan.  Chop a large onion.  Crush a couple cloves of garlic.  Peel a bunch of tomatillos.  Broil on a foil-covered cookie sheet (one that has a bit of a lip) for 10 minutes.  Once it's cooled off, put in a blender.   And... oh my goodness, dig in!
Let's just say, I no longer fear my CSA box. 

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Variations on a Pancake: Banana Edition

If you have lemons, make lemonade. If you have ripe bananas, make banana pancakes! OK you could also make banana bread, but we'll get to that later.

Basically, this is an add-on recipe to illustrate another way to make pancakes.  Pictured on the left are the ingredients.  Note on the left side that a toddler-sized helper is essential to the process. 

Recipe: same as regular pancakes, but add a chopped banana to the batter.  If you want to get fancy here, bananas always go with: a dash or cinnamon or cardamom powder.  The other alternative is adding about 1/2 cup crumbled bacon, but you didn't hear that from me. 

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cinnamon Chicken

What, huh? Have I gone crazy to try cooking chicken with cinnamon? Am I throwing red hots in with the giblets? Cinnabon rolls in the gravy? No, silly!  OK, maybe I have lost it a little, but if so, I'm crazy like a fox.

Cinnamon is an ace-in-the-hole flavor that doesn't have to be sweet. It is warm, surprising, and happy. There is a lot of history of using cinnamon in meat dishes throughout the near east and Asia. (ever have Lebanese kibeh or Thai massuman curry?).   You can add savory flavors that balance out the sweet aspect of cinnamon: garlic, cumin, allspice, onion, celery, chicken bouillon, smoked paprika.  When all is said and done, the cinnamon becomes a rich alto in the chorus, not the soloist.  

Sounds fancy, but it's not.  It's a very approachable flavor, and our little guy loves it!  We use boneless skinless thighs, a rich and flavorful meat that is easy to cut up in finger-food sized cubes that Q gobbles up.  He loves to dip the chicken into the aromatic sauce, too.  (he's a dipper)   This dish can easily be served as an adult meal atop a mound of rice, or with pasta of your choice.  We used rice pasta elbows recently and everyone could enjoy the meal together!   An added bonus:  when you're cooking cinnamon chicken, your house smells amazing

Cinnamon Chicken

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
handful of cherry tomatoes or a small tomato, chopped (optional)
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (around 10 thighs maybe?)
1 cup water
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp chicken bouillon (we use Herb-ox sodium-free which does not have soy or gluten)
1 tsp ground cumin
Dash powdered garlic
1/2 tsp allspice (optional)
1/2 cup pre-cooked sweet potato, cut into bite sized cubes (optional)
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • In a large saute pan, saute the onions and celery until translucent.  If using, add the tomatoes and saute for a couple minutes until they begin to lose shape.  
  • Add chicken to pan, browning one side first for around 3 - 5 minutes, then flipping. 
  • While browning, keep yourself busy by stirring the spices (bouillon, cinnamon, cumin, garlic and allspice) to the cup of water. 
  • Once the chicken is browned on both sides, add the water to the pan.   Cook over medium heat for around 15 - 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  
  • Stir in the peas a couple minutes before serving.  If using pre-cooked sweet potato, add it now too.*
  • Serve with rice or allergen-free pasta like rice elbows or even pad thai noodles. 
* Oh and I hope you do... the sweet potato really compliments the warmth of the cinnamon!  If you didn't pre-cook the sweet potato, you could instead add it during the first step with the onions and celery.

I wish I had pictures of this to share with you, but we gobbled it up too quickly!  When I make it again, I'll take pictures and update this post so you can see it.  

This is an easy saute / brown / simmer recipe that you can make in between running around the kitchen catching your son to give him hugs, retrieve thrown balls from under furniture, and re-filling sippy cups.  Seriously, it's that simple!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Socca! It's so... Nice

I know I just did another post about pancakes. But this, my friends, is a special pancake.  Imagine yourself strolling along the boardwalk in the South of France.  You spy a street cart with what looks like a large pizza pan next to a stove... he's pouring batter into a the pan and an eager line is gathering.

are they crepes?  no!  they're socca!

Socca are garbanzo flour pancakes.  In Nice, France, they're thin and crispy.  Across the border in Italy, a slightly thicker version of the same thing is called Farinata. 

It's one of those simple foods that people revel in, and whose recipes lend themselves to infinite variation:  soak sifted garbanzo bean flour in water with a little oil mixed in, at least an hour but overnight is apparently better.  Heat a huge flat pan with a lot of good quality olive oil in a hot oven for a few minutes.  Pour the batter into the heated pan and return it to the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Traditionally, a large quantity of fresh ground pepper is added to the top of the socca.  Once cooked, either flake off the pan in crispy yummy bits or cut in wedges like pizza.  Simple, n'est pas?

Why socca?  Well, I've been looking for recipes that use new and different flours ... the ones I see in the Asian groceries with inscrutable uses.  Sure, rice flour is pretty obvious, but gram flour? besan?  mung bean?  sorghum?  tapioca? huh?  I have often seen some of these in gluten free flour blends, but they are a bit expensive.  Why not go to a local Asian market and buy them for far less and make my own stuff from scratch?  
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So I went to my favorite Indian market and stood in the flour aisle for a while.  There were many flours based on lentils, rice, corn.  Gram flour, also known as Besan, it appears, is really just another name for garbanzo bean flour. 

When I Googled garbanzo bean flour, I found many results for spicy pakoras (i.e. deep-fried veggies, Indian style), which looked enticing.  But a word kept coming up in the results: Socca.  Recently returned tourists from France and Monaco waxed poetic about the flaky, crispy treat covered with black pepper and olive oil.  The New York Times had even blogged about it in their Minimalist food blog... heck, it had to be good!

Back at the store, since none of the gram/besan/garbanzo bean flours claimed to be allergen-free, I looked for one that didn't say it was manufactured on machinery where allergens were processed.  I comprimised on a flour that said it was ground in the same factory but not on the same machinery... and one that was made in Flushing, Queens, NY... not overseas where standards are a bit different in terms of cross-contamination and full disclosure of ingredients: Laxmi brand Gram Flour.  With images of palm trees and the Meditteranean Sea in my head, I drove home intending to make an exotic treat!

I based my recipe on the one at the link to the NYT Minimalist blog, missing that I should include the onions in the batter.  I also made the mistake of not whisking the flour and water together and ended up with clumps that I didn't ever really get incorporated well.  And yes, it does take a little while for the water to soak in.  But these are nuances... generally, this is a pretty failsafe dish! 

Note, the following is clipped from the New York Times (see link above)

"...Sift the chickpea flour into your bowl, so it doesn't lump, and use a whisk to combine it with water. Do not skimp on black pepper or olive oil; the pepper should really hit you when you take a bite. Preheat your skillet or pan in the oven. When the socca is done, put the pan on the table, cut it into random shapes, hand out napkins and have at it. If more than six people are present, get started making another.

Socca (Farinata)
Time: 45 minutes

1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon, at least, ground black pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced, optional
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, optional.

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a well-seasoned or nonstick 12-inch pizza pan or cast-iron skillet in oven. Sift chickpea flour into a bowl; add salt and pepper; then slowly add 1 cup lukewarm water, whisking to eliminate lumps. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or as long as 12 hours. Batter should be about the consistency of heavy cream.
2. If using onion and rosemary, stir them into batter. Pour 2 tablespoons oil into heated pan, and swirl to cover pan evenly. Pour in batter, and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until pancake is firm and edges set. Heat broiler, and brush top of socca with 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil if it looks dry.
3. Set socca a few inches away from broiler for a few minutes, just long enough to brown it spottily. Cut it into wedges, and serve hot, or at least warm.

Yield: 4 to 6 appetizer servings. "

So the result?   Delicious.  Basic, straightfoward and wonderful.   My son gobbled, grabbed, scarfed it down!  The garbanzo bean flour has a nutty, tangy and rich flavor all at once.  The crispy edges surround a thick, almost baked-egg tortilla consistency inside.  Dense, satisfying and light all at the same time.  

I can imagine a million flavor combinations:  add different spices (rosemary and pepper are traditional ... but what about basil, tarragon, cumin, smoked paprika? or go sweet with cinnamon, cardamom, sugar?)   Add thinly sliced veggies inside (like onion, zucchini, carrots, asparagus).  Another whole dimension would be adding toppings, a la pizza!  Now... if I could just get some soy, nut and dairy free cheese! (anyone?)  Here's an exploration of socca experiments that I have to really delve into...

The downside: 

As much as my son LOVED the socca, he had a reaction.  Nothing horrific or ER-trip inducing, but some facial spots and itching.  My best guess is that buying the flour while crossing my fingers that cross-contamination wouldn't be a problem was a bad idea.  I though I could get away with buying inexpensive flours in exotic stores that make me pine for globe trotting... but you know what?  It's just not worth it.  

I will be adding socca to the regular rotation of yumminess, but I will also be making sure that the flour comes from a confirmed allergy-free source.  Bob's Red Mill, I might as well buy stock in you right now.