Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spumoni Cookies


This is not your ordinary cookie. When you look at the top five most popular cookies, you get chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, peanut butter, oatmeal, and sugar cookies—nothing remotely similar to spumoni cookies. And you won’t find them on long lists of cookie flavors. These are very special cookies—the kind you might bake for your closest friend, for a special occasion, or to impress the recipient.

Many years ago, when we lived in New Orleans, there was favorite local ice cream place in the French Quarter called Angelo Brocato’s Italian Ice Cream Parlor on Ursulines Street. It was here that I first tasted spumoni ice cream: a brightly-colored ice cream with chocolate, pistachios, dried fruit, and lemons. To this day, spumoni ice cream is a favorite of mine.  Alas, Brocato’s has moved uptown, but back then it was the coolest place, with slowly turning ceiling fans, tile floors, and rows of apothecary jars. In these cookies, I tried to recreate that taste sensation. The recipe specifies maraschino cherries because Alex loves them, but chopped dried cherries taste just as good, even if they are not brightly colored and festive. I began my recipe development with Almond Cloud Cookies from King Arthur’s website so you’ll notice some resemblance, but these cookies contain less sugar, less almond paste, and lots of interesting flavor add-ins.


The batter looks so pretty!

(Makes 20 cookies)
Ingredients:
8 ounces almond paste
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons Amaretto (or almond extract)
½ cup cacao nibs
½ cup chopped pistachios
12 maraschino cherries, chopped and blotted dry (or ½ cup chopped dried cherries)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, blend the almond paste, sugar, salt, and egg whites until the mixture is a smooth paste.
3. By hand, stir in the nibs, nuts, cherries, and lemon zest.
4. Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls and press down slightly with dampened fingers to flatten the tops.
5. Bake the cookies for 35 minutes, until they're brown around the edges. Allow to set for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Time To Stop Bashing Gluten Free Diets

It is very empowering to change your relationship to food. This, I believe, is the major reason the gluten free movement has taken hold and is here to stay. I’m not talking about those people with celiac disease, like two of my family members, or those with wheat allergies. Eating gluten free for them is a medical necessity. But for the remainder of the 22% of Americans estimated by Mintel to be following a gluten free diet, no amount of gluten-free scare tactics will change their minds. They feel better, and they believe it has improved their health. 

It doesn’t matter why people follow a gluten free diet. They are reading labels. They are conscious of what they are eating. They are experimenting with their diet rather than relying on pharmaceuticals. Yet the same folks who have industrialized our food system with additives, preservatives, and sprayed on vitamins want to convince us it is dangerous to follow a gluten free diet—they warn us we won’t get the required nutrients and fiber. As if we are eating healthier following a processed wheat-based diet? After all, pizza is the fourth largest source of fiber in the American diet.

As you know, I am a manufacturer of gluten free bread and pizza products. Of course, you say, I have a vested interest in believing that gluten free is not a fad. Not really. I never encourage anyone to take up a gluten-free diet unless I feel it is warranted. Despite its popularity, it is a challenging and inconvenient diet that requires vigilance.

My oldest son, now 25, has a life-threatening seizure disorder. Before eating gluten free, he never went more than six months without a status seizure requiring hospitalization. Unlike my younger son and husband, he does not have celiac disease, yet his seizures have been eradicated on a gluten-free diet. As his case illustrates, the effects gluten have on us are not well understood. But it is not a reason to mock those that follow a gluten-free diet.

Every day, I communicate with gluten-free consumers who never have any intention of eating gluten again, regardless of what they hear or read.  News organizations frequently refer to a 2013 study published in the journal, Gasteroenterology, that questions the validity of non-celiac gluten intolerance, yet it studied only gastrointestinal symptoms and fatigue. It did not address individuals who find conditions like brain fog, skin disorders, migraines, depression, chronic fatigue, infertility, osteopenia, and joint pain improve or are eliminated when they remove gluten from their diets.

As if it is not enough to debunk gluten sensitivity, nearly everyday an article appears warning us of the dangers of a gluten free diet. A recent article entitled, “The Dangers of Going Gluten Free,” criticized the nutritional value of gluten free products. It asserted that gluten free manufacturers have to put more sugar and sodium in products to compensate for gluten in order to make the products more appealing to consumers. That’s news to me. Does this mean that foods like Twinkies are better for us than, say, gluten free cupcakes? And, why is a gluten-free diet considered bad for you if you are not a celiac, but not bad for you if you are? A gluten-free diet is no more “dangerous” than many other common diets, such as vegetarian, vegan, or a Paleo diet. And, how can a gluten free diet be criticized for being more dangerous than a lifetime of medication? One suspects the only real “danger” in gluten-free diets is the threat it presents to conventional industrial food manufacturers.

 It’s time to stop bashing gluten sensitivity, and maybe start listening to those who feel better on a gluten-free diet. Gluten free is neither a fad nor a trend. It is a recognition that we really are what we eat, and controlling we eat is often a much less risky and less expensive way of addressing what ails us.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tangram Birds: Playing With Chocolate Rollout Gluten Free Cookies


Our kids went to a rural Vermont elementary school in a funky building on Route 9 in southern Vermont. Many of the facilities at that time were constructed with parent volunteers, and there wasn't a lot of fancy equipment and state-of-the-art classrooms. To this day, I think their elementary school was unique for turning out lovely, caring, and highly imaginative human beings. At recess, the kids build tree forts in the woods. In the classroom, creativity ruled, and they were encouraged to write every day and engaged in peer-to-peer and project-based learning. One day, they came home with five tangram puzzles for homework with a note encouraging parents to join them in this activity.
Tangrams are a Chinese puzzle that includes two large right triangles, a medium sized right triangle, two small right triangles, a small square, and a parallelogram. What is most amazing about them is that they can be arranged in ways to make over 6500 figures. Not only do they teach visual-spatial relationships, but in this case, they did something even more important--they engaged the parents in the child's learning process. Want a wonderful baking and learning experience for your kids? Make these Rollout GF Chocolate Cookies (recipe below) tangrams using this template:

from http://home.adelphi.edu/~stemkoski/mathematrix/tangrams.gif
and start making up your own edible flock of birds: roosters, geese, vultures, cranes, herons and the like. I'll be making sets of these for The Blue Project, a free family event in Brattleboro on April 11 to help raise autism awareness in our community. LOTS and LOTS of fun!!!





Chocolate Rollout Cookies
 Ingredients:
½ cup (70g) tapioca starch
1 cup (120g) light buckwheat flour
¼ cup (30g) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons (70g) butter
3 tablespoons (36g) palm shortening
1 cup (200g) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg yolk

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the tapioca, light buckwheat flour, cocoa, and salt.  Set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream the butter, palm shortening, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk until fully blended.
4. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until the dough comes together and the flour is fully incorporated.
5. Gather the dough into several balls to work with. Roll out a ball of the dough at a time between two pieces of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Remove the top piece of plastic and cut out desired shapes. Carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheet by inverting the bottom sheet of plastic or by using a tin, flexible metal spatula. (For Tangram Cookies, use a tangram template and a ruler to measure and cut out the individual tangram shapes.)
6. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes. The cookies will set as they cool so allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before attempting to transfer them to a cooling rack.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Grapefruit Muffins


Every year the Brattleboro Music Center sells citrus fruits as a winter fundraiser. Every year, we order a case of organic grapefruit. I’m one of those people who loves grapefruit and peels and eats them by the slice. But I always seem to forget how many grapefruit really come in a case. And, as with any fresh fruit, their size and sweetness varies with the year and time of season. This year, I got a pretty puckery bunch. I’ve been slowly eating them and giving some to friends, but have been on a quest for ways to incorporate them in meals. Grapefruit is great just broiled with a little sprinkling of brown sugar, and it pairs extremely well with avocados in a salad, but I’ve found my new favorite use in these Grapefruit Muffins. These are not cakey, but very much muffins. They are moist with a sunny yellow color and texture kind of like corn muffins--perfect to brighten up a breakfast platter on a dark winter morning. Although baked, they very much retain the taste of a fresh grapefruit. If you want a more subtle grapefruit-ness, use the zest of only ½ grapefruit.

Ingredients:
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (105g) light buckwheat
¾ cup (105g) tapioca starch
¼ cup (30g) coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt (such as Fage)
½ cup sugar
½ cup honey
4 large eggs
Zest of one grapefruit
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1/2 cup canola oil

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°F and grease a 12-muffin tin plus a small loaf pan or ramekin.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, tapioca starch, coconut flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
Using a hand mixer, blend together the yogurt, sugar, honey, eggs, grapefruit zest, and grapefruit juice. Beat in the dry ingredients. By hand stir in the oil until well-combined.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them to about ½ inch from the top. Spoon the remainder into the loaf pan or ramekin.
Bake for 20 minutes until tops are lightly browned and the tops spring back when pressed. Allow to cool for ten minutes before removing the muffins and transferring them to a cooling rack.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Just in Time for St. Patrick's Day: Chocolate Chai Bourbon Truffles



Raw pumpkin seeds make these truffles mighty festive.

About 80% of Vermont’s roads are dirt and gravel. They make for a lovely way of life and a great place to bike and walk most of the year. But in mud season the roads we have bumped and slid over all winter turn to gnarly, deeply rutted mud. Some seasons it has been so bad that cars have been known to sink in so far that the driver gets stuck and is so deeply embedded that he or she can’t get their car door open. Mud season in Vermont usually comes around the time of St. Patrick’s Day. It is literally a bittersweet time since the weather that produces impossible to navigate mud also brings maple syrup season. What better way to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day than with these green studded truffles sweetened with just Vermont maple syrup and dates. They are vegan, nut-free, and a snap to whip up.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
10 medjool dates, pitted
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
¾ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/8 cup bourbon
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon finely ground fresh black pepper

Directions:

1. In a food processor, pulse the pumpkin seeds until finely chopped and set aside in a separate bowl.
2. Hand chop the crystallized ginger and set aside.
3. In the food processor, combine the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes on high.
4. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the truffle mixture to thicken somewhat.
5. Using a damp teaspoon, scoop out about 1-inch diameter balls of the truffle mixture, drop them in the pumpkin seeds, and roll them around until covered. Dampen the spoon as necessary to prevent sticking. Place the truffles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for 1 hour or until set.

Spiralizing

Recently, I had the occasion to review Inspiralized by Ali Maffucci. For those on a gluten fee diet, there is comfort in knowing that the entire cookbook is written without the use of any flours, so it is chockfull of naturally gluten free recipes.

I really expected to love this book. I am a huge Spiralizer fan and have bought seven Spiralizers from Amazon, the first for myself and the other six as gifts. I am not a reader of the author’s blog and, in fact, did not know about it. My Spiralizer usage and experimentation comes from trying to spiralize every fruit and vegetable I can think of and use the results in my day-to-day cooking.

There are a few inspired recipes in Inspiralized, such as the Butternut Chips used in nachos and the Sweet Potato Waffles, but for the most part, the recipes are more about making vegetable-laden meals, salads, and sides with vegetables in interesting shapes. I think Inspiralized may be great for the new cook, one who needs an interesting dinner or salad idea, or someone who needs to follow recipes to the letter. But for the experienced cook, I think the book is more about technique. I liked the concept of ricing vegetables, and I hadn’t yet thought of spiralizing broccoli stems (although the author states that the vegetable should ideally be 1-1/2 inch in diameter and the stems of the organic broccoli I buy or grow typically aren’t that thick.) There are many cool things that can be done with dehydrated, spiralized vegetables and fruits, and I would have liked to have seen some of these. Also, combining spiralizing with fermenting would have been an interesting topic, such as making the ideal carrot matchsticks for kimchi.

I don’t quite get the recipes for making faux rolls and muffins--bread-like products. Spiralizing a white potato seems to me not a whole lot different than using a gluten free non-grain like quinoa, which would be a lot better for you. On the other hand, the presentation may wow dinner guests. In recipes like these, this seemed more like a diet cookbook, which I wasn’t expecting. I’m of the belief that high quality butter and cream are not only good for you but increase satiety and go wonderfully with spiralized vegetables and fruits.

A final point is that the author recommends cooking her spiralized vegetables far longer than I do. I’m not sure how they don’t become mushy and lose their integrity.

I received a copy of this cookbook from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Have Food Shows Become Food Deserts?


For most of the past week, we were travelling and participating as a vendor at the largest natural foods show in the world. Yesterday, after returning to Vermont, I had to go to the grocery store to replenish our refrigerator and pantry. Honestly, I probably bought twice the amount of vegetables, fruit, and greens I usually do because I was starved for produce. You see, the largest natural foods show in the world has become, in my mind, a food desert—one huge, one million square foot convenience store. How could this be? The USDA defines food deserts as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.”  These neighborhoods don’t have traditional supermarkets and grocery stores and are typically served by fast food establishments and convenience stores.  Why am I calling the show a “food desert” when in fact there were mountains of free food and samples?

There were over 2500 vendors, and if you take away those exhibiting health and beauty aids, supplements, pet foods, and packaging, over three-quarters of the vendors were promoting chips, desserts, cookies, crackers, snacks, and snack bars--789 of them, by my account. We were there exhibiting our new pita bread, as well as several flavors of our pizzas and baguettes. Attendees would stumble by our booth and say “OMG, real food!” while simultaneously reaching for a slice. And, we’re talking pizza here, not exactly a high nutrient meal. Over the last 8 years I have been attending regional and national natural foods shows, I have seen a trend towards more and more snacks, and most of them are highly-processed even though they might contain high anti-oxidant ingredients or the latest nutrient-dense foods like chia, coconut, hemp, quinoa, and even cricket flour.


To be fair, the organizers of the show report that 38% of products exhibited claimed to be organic, and 35% were gluten-free. But the organizers themselves also point to an increased trend towards snacks, or what they call “snackification,” as well as convenience items. The result is a lot of quick-fix, highly-processed health food.  I didn’t go to the show expecting aisles of produce or hand-crafted cheeses, but it felt like you had to walk miles of the exhibit floor to find real food.  I guess that is the state of the natural food world today, mostly because it is what consumers are looking for. Honestly, it is kind of disheartening.