Saturday, February 28, 2015

Beyond Wheat Flour

There are a lot of food bloggers and recipe developers devoted to creating only gluten free recipes. I am not one of them. But I recently had a client ask me to develop some gluten free baked goods and so I experimented with several non-wheat flours including rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca and potato starch. I quickly realized that they have their own flavors, strengths and foibles. 

Anyone who has visited the grocery store lately may have come to the conclusion that we are moving into a new realm, discovering and rediscovering non-wheat flours. While I haven’t reviewed gluten free baking books up till now, I found these books particularly interesting and each takes a very different approach. 

Alice Medrich experimented with non-wheat flours, baking for flavor, rather than for health or to avoid gluten. While her book Flavor Flours features 125 gluten free dessert recipes, it’s really all about exploring flavor through flours opening up possibilities for all bakers not just those limited to gluten free ingredients. The flours she focuses on are rice, oat, corn and cornmeal, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum and nut and coconut. 

Each chapter focuses on a flour, rather than a style of baked goods and begins with a list of flavor affinities—the ingredients that play well with the flour such as nuts, caramel and fresh apples with oat flour or toasted hazelnuts, dark spice an coffee with buckwheat flour. In exploring these flours, she has reinvented classic desserts such as Oat and Almond Tuilles, Chestnut Buche de Noel, Buckwheat Gingerbread and Coconut Key Lime Tart.  It's a ground breaking book. 

Honey & Oats is not a gluten free cookbook, it’s focus is on whole grains and natural sweeteners. The book includes whole wheat flour, which is often not used to it’s best advantage. What I like about this book is that taste clearly comes first. The author Jennifer Katzinger is not afraid to use eggs, butter and some whole wheat flour. This book is really good for bakers who want to start using whole grains, alternative flours and less refined sweeteners and don’t want to use ingredients like xanthan gum. Gluten free and vegan recipes are indicated as such. In some recipes Katzinger gives the option to dial up or down the texture using ingredients like tapioca flour or blending two kinds of flours instead of using one. Recipes you’ll want to try include Chocolate Pistachio Shortbread Bars, Lavash Flatbread, Honey Oat Bread and Carrot Pineapple Cupcakes. 

Veteran recipe developer and magazine editor Kristine Kidd is the author of Williams Sonoma Gluten-Free Baking, a great primer for those adopting a gluten free diet. Kidd goes beyond flour blends that she calls “nutritionally empty white starches.” In addition to well-tested recipes there are lots of tips, tricks and techniques as well as information about each of the gluten free flours and starches and how to use them. There are classic recipes like Cheesecake with Blueberry Sauce, Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies and Apple Crumble Pie as well as appealing modern desserts like Fudgy Ginger Nut Meringues, Broccoli and Goat Cheese Quiche and Chai-Spiced Flan.
In The Everyday Art of Gluten-Free, Karen Morgan of Blackbird Bakery takes almost the opposite approach to gluten free cooking and baking--she offers six different gluten free flour blends that can be used for recipes for everything from fried chicken to sourdough to cinnamon rolls to pastas to tempura. There are 125 recipes for both sweet and savory things you might not realize you can make gluten free. There are biscuit, donut & fritter, pie & pasta, cookie jar, cake & muffin and bread & pizza blends. Most of the ingredients are measured in cups as well as grams. Use a scale for best results. 

While Alice Medrich approaches baking with the rigor of a scientist, the true kitchen geeks are Aki Kamazawa and H. Alexander Talbot the Ideas in Food bloggers. Their book Gluten-Free Flour Power will be released towards the end of March 2015, but I received an advance reading copy. Their recipes rely on three custom "all purpose" blends of gluten free flours, including one developed with no milk powder for those with dairy allergies. They have tested every recipe using each blend and find them to be interchangeable. They also explore doughs like sourdough starter and brioche. The goal of their book is to recreate favorite recipes that traditionally use wheat flour—everything from Chinese steamed buns and dumplings, to pound cake, madeleines, pastas, crackers, crumpets, breads, cookies, pies, cakes and more. While I didn’t see a recipe for croissants, there is one for kouign amann, a type of laminated dough. It’s a very intriguing book sure to satisfy gluten free bakers on the quest for the illusive gluten free doughnut or pizza recipe. 

Disclaimer: This post includes books I received as review copies and affiliate links

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

10 Delicious Things from the Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show

If I had to make a shopping list based on what I tried at the Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show, here is what I would recommend buying.

I thought I knew something about maple syrup, but now after talking to Dori Ross of Tonewood Maple I know so much more. Tonewood Maple has gotten some serious attention for their solid maple cube that you can shave to create maple sugar, but it was their single estate varietals of maple syrup that blew my mind. When processed separately (something that doesn’t happen everywhere) you get amazing differences in the flavor. Each bottle is labeled with the actual sugarbush it came from. Some are sweeter, others earthier or even a little spicy. They also make a maple cream, which is something I discovered in Canada. On the East Coast it’s fairly common, but I’ve never seen it out here. It’s a creamy spread made only from maple that you would swear has butter in it. It’s great on toast, pancakes or waffles. They also have a maple tree adoption program that gives you an opportunity to support small maple producers and sustainable farming practices, and bottles of four grades of syrup.

Some years I see a lot of fancy ketchup, this year I didn’t, but a few unusual ones stood out nonetheless. Traina Foods makes ketchup with sun dried tomatoes. They are richer, less sweet, more intense and fresher to me than conventional brands, but can definitely be used the same way you’d use any other ketchup. This year they released a sun dried tomato and sriracha ketchup. Their ketchup has higher concentrations of lycopene and less sugar and salt than other varieties, and is gluten free.  I tried it on a spoon but can’t wait to experiment cooking with it.

Blackberry Patch is now offering fruit ketchups. I tried the raspberry chipotle, blackberry and blueberry. These can also be used just like regular ketchup, but have a much more sophisticated flavor. They are tangy and you really taste the fruit. I would use them as a glaze on lamb, pork or even chicken. The company is owned and operated by two farmers and everything is made in small batches.

I’ve been a fan of Sonoma Syrup for ages. I particularly love the lavender simple syrup with sparkling wine. They also make my favorite vanilla extract and "crush", a combination of Tahitian and Madagascar beans. Their latest product is a mixer, the Olive Mary Mix, which is basically a bloody mary mix but with olive juice, from a dirty martini. It’s briny and spicy and combines the best of two great cocktails in one! 

Glossops is new simple syrup company and I particularly liked two of their flavors. One was Hibiscus Ginger and other was Smoked Sugar. These both scream to be used in cocktails. They are unusual and a bit exotic, but easy to love. 

I sang the praises of Mother In Law’s kimchi from them moment I tried their wares at the Fancy Food Show a few years ago. This year they are introducing gochujang which is a fermented chile sauce used in lots of Korean dishes. I have some in the refrigerator but I’ve never been a big fan. Until now. Mother In Law’s gochujang varieties in tangy, sesame, and garlic are out of this world! I could eat these "everything sauces" with a spoon. They aren’t sticky but smooth, luscious and robust. These will become your go-to Korean sauces. 

I’ve tried a lot of flavored hummus but none that impressed me as much as the organic ones from Hope Foods. They use high pressure processing which allows for 2-4 times the shelf life of other products and they use no preservatives. My favorite is their Thai Coconut Curry hummus, but I also really like the spicy avocado, kale pesto and jalapeño cilantro varieties. Each had just the right amount of kick. They also make some very good black lentil dips. I will be trying to recreate those at home.  

I tend to prefer plain Greek yogurt so I can add my own flavorings. But Fage does make some really good flavors. This year I tried their split cup with blood orange and also their fruyo blackberry lime which comes premixed. They were not too sweet and really bright. I really do like a bit of sour with something sweet.

Frutta Rustica is a brand of citrus preserves. There is orange, clementine and citrus medley (oranges, clementines and lemons). The orange is good, but the clementine and citrus medley are outstanding. These preserves are thicker with much more fruit than marmalade, up to 82% fruit, all gathered from within nine miles of the facility where it’s processed. All the preserves are made with only fruit and sugar, made within 24 hours of the fruit being picked from the trees in Calabria. The freshness  really shines through. Use it on toast or with cheese. 

I also discovered some very high quality and luscious French preserves from Lucien Georgelin imported by KL Foodways. The apricot is 65% fruit and the orange, lemon and grapefruit preserves is 55% fruit, both were outstanding. I cannot begin to tell you how fresh and bright these jams are. They come from Lot-et-Garonne, in Aquitaine and are made very traditionally in copper pots, in small batches. You can find them at Market Hall Foods

And another thing—KL Foodways is also bringing honest to goodness mustard oil into the US that is specifically for culinary use (it's also available at Market Hall Foods). If you’ve looked for it in the past you may know it has been nearly impossible to find. It’s a key ingredients in mostarda and also some Indian recipes. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Christmas Lima Bean & Butternut Squash Stew Recipe

One of my new year's resolutions is to use more of the food stored in my pantry. My shelves are overflowing with packages of grains, heirloom beans, dried pasta, Asian sauces, jams, mustards, sardines, cans of tomatoes and more. My goal is to cook with something that is languishing in the pantry or my equally stuffed-to-capacity freezer, every single day. Yesterday I chose some Christmas lima beans to transform into a vegetarian main dish. Eat less meat and more vegetarian food! That is yet another new year's resolution.

Christmas lima beans are sometimes called chestnut lima beans. When uncooked they are beautifully speckled like a calico horse, and when cooked they are more uniformly brown like chestnuts--but they really don't taste like chestnuts, despite what you may have heard. They have a texture a bit like russet potatoes and a mild earthy flavor but none of the characteristic sweetness or dry crumbly texture of chestnuts.

Beans are often used in salads or soups, but Christmas lima beans are the perfect bean for making a stew because not only are they large and "meaty" but the liquid they soak and cook in becomes a rich brown gravy when reduced. I combined the beans with silky sautéed onions and chunks of sweet squash to make a satisfying meatless main dish. It's a mild but hearty dish and the toppings jazz it up considerably.

Note: I get Christmas lima beans from bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery, you can also get them online.

Christmas Lima Bean & Butternut Squash Stew
Serves 4 - 6


2 cups Christmas lima beans
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon red chili paste or harissa
1/4 teaspoon minced peeled ginger

Extra virgin olive oil
Wedges of lemon
Crumbled soft goat cheese, optional
Chopped cilantro, optional


Place the beans in a large dutch oven and cover with water. Water should rise at least one inch over the top of the beans. Let soak overnight.

Do not drain the water! Simmer the beans gently until tender, probably an hour or so. Add the butternut squash and more water if necessary, cover and gently simmer for 15 minutes or until the squash is cooked.

Meanwhile in a separate skillet heat the olive oil and add the onion. Add the salt to the onions and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the cumin, chili paste and ginger. When fragrant, add the onion mixture to the beans and squash. Simmer without the lid until the remaining liquid thickens to make a velvety gravy. Taste for seasoning.

Top each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon and any other toppings you like. 


Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter Fancy Food Show 2015 Trends: Turmeric, Beef Jerky & Fermented Foods

Attending the Winter Fancy Food Show (which is a trade show for the specialty food association) is a terrific opportunity to see what's new and happening in the world of speciality food. The biggest trends I noticed this time around were teas with turmeric, beef jerky and fermented foods, which included kombucha, probiotic drinks (most dairy based) and raw live active culture salsas, pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut. 

Interestingly enough, they each have a health angle to them. Fermented foods provide probiotics which are healthy bacteria and yeasts. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Beef jerky can be a high protein and low carbohydrate food that fits with low carb and Paleo diets. 

Fermented Food & Drinks
There are lots of different kinds of fermented food and drinks. One is kombucha, which is a fermented tea, usually combined with fresh fruit juice to make a healthful and tangy beverage. I noticed at least three exhibitors offering kombucha to enthusiastic crowds perhaps because a couple swigs of it is particularly refreshing after lots of sampling and tasting of rich food. Kombucha is a natural product and the flavor can vary greatly from one brand and one flavor to another. I like a balance of sweet and tangy. One brand I particularly liked was Health Ade. All their products are organic and made with local seasonal farmers market fruit. The flavors vary seasonally. I tried several flavors liked the pink lady apple and the pomegranate. 

Something new this year in addition to the kimchi and kraut, were some fantastic spicy pickles and sauces both of which I’d recommend. The pickles I liked were from Dan Fruin’s company Genuine Grub. Dan was born in Korea, but adopted by Irish and Irish German parents. He makes spicy crunchy pickled cabbage, radishes and cucumbers without a vinegar brine. They have a better crunch and fresher flavor than other pickles. While I love spicy flavors, he also has a mint and dill cucumber pickle that had plenty of flavor without any heat. 

I also enjoyed Cultured & Saucy products. They make raw fermented salsas, sauces and condiments that are juicy and fresh. Created by a sisters in Santa Barbara. I particularly liked the lemon, garlic, dill condiment. It had a pleasing sour tang and would be great as a base for a salad dressing or on fish. They also make their unique products in flavors like citrus ginger curry  and lime chile cilantro. Some of the products are called salsas, some chutney and another just “topper.” The names can be a bit confusing, these are all raw, fresh, fermented sauces that can be used in a variety of ways. Right now they are only available in Southern California. 

Turmeric Tea
I wasn’t aware of the turmeric tea trend until I attended the show and saw it at practically every tea booth. Some tea companies have had a turmeric tea for a while and others were just introducing it. A top supplement, it has anti inflammatory properties and a mild somewhat earthy flavor. There are probably tons more out there, but these are the ones I noticed at the show. 

Numi introduced four all organic turmeric teas, Amber Sun with rooibos, honeybush, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla, Fields of Gold with chamomile and lemon myrtle, Golden Tonic with lemon verbena and lime and another Three Roots with ginger and licorice. The turmeric plays more of a background note, so the tea you like best will depend on the flavors. 
Choice Organic Teas makes Easy Digest, a tea with organic ginger, organic licorice root, organic lemongrass leaf, organic turmeric. 
Stash makes Gold Cup Chai which is an herbal tea with organic cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, orange peel, cardamom and clove. The main flavor here is really ginger. It’s nice as a ginger tea, but I didn’t get much of the other spices. 

Spicely Organics makes Sweet Turmeric with organic turmeric, organic ginger, organic pure vanilla powder, organic cinnamon true and organic stevia leaf. I particularly liked this drink, the warm ginger, vanilla and cinnamon were enhanced with a bit of sweet stevia. Sorry I don't have a photo of it.
The Republic of Tea has has turmeric teas in their line since 2010. They sell a biodynamic organic turmeric cinnamon tea, organic turmeric ginger green tea an a herbal blend called “Get Limber.”

Those are the ones I saw but it's possible there were even more...

Beef Jerky
Blame it on the low carb and paleo diets. Beef jerky is not just something you find at gas stations anymore! I couldn’t believe how many companies were exhibiting beef jerky. I also couldn’t believe how much of it was positively dreadful. Some was too chewy and tough, some was not chewy but dry and mealy like sawdust. But there were a few notable exceptions. The ones I found most tasty were the following three.
Epic is specifically geared towards the Paleo diet and uses grass fed and organic beef in mixes that include things like nuts, coconut, dried berries or apples. They also make savory bars that are combinations of meat, nuts and berries. They come in flavors including beef, habanero and cherry, turkey with almond and cranberry and lamb with currant and mint. These were surprisingly good, tender with good texture and a savory and sweet flavor that was odd but tasty. 

Field Trip makes classic beef jerky, but it’s the perfect texture and the flavors are bold but not overwhelming. It’s lower in sugar and sodium than a lot of other brands. It's all gluten free and was created by three partners who wanted a better quality product without msg, corn syrup, preservatives, nitrates or artificial ingredients. The quality shines through. 
Uncle Andy’s Jerky has the most unusual flavors including Bandito Loco’s Spicy Coffee Beef, Lumberjack Maple Bourbon Beef and Southern Gent Lemon Mint Beef. All the flavors were a big hit at the show and created a lot of buzz. Andy wants to keep the price affordable and is looking into different means of distribution. For now you can check out the location finder or purchase it online