Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sunshine Socks

I've been knitting for a little more than five years, but I completed my first pair of socks this morning. They're just your basic, no-frills socks, knit with lemons-and-sunshine washable yarn.

The weather today is disgusting (it's February—where is our snow?!?), but my cheery new socks lighten the mood.

Knitty's Socks 101 explains the basics of sock construction and design—it may be the only sock pattern you'll ever need.

I still prefer mittens and thick, fuzzy yarn, but I can't help but smile when I see those stripes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gluten-free Millet Falafel

Now that I'm gluten-free and living in almost-northern Maine, if I'm hankering for falafel I have to make it myself. My go-to recipe used to be Baked Falafel from the The Whole Foods Market Cookbook (you can see a slightly modified version of it here). A mix of chickpeas, bulgur wheat, breadcrumbs, and seasoning, it was a lighter variation on those traditional dense, fried patties. A few weeks ago I was playing around with millet, and realized it could easily stand in for bulgar wheat in this recipe; cooked with three parts water to one part grain, millet bulks up and gets sticky.

Baked falafel isn't as crispy as fried falafel, and it lacks that dirty street cart je ne sais quoi, but it's a whole lot healthier and easier to prepare. I hate frying at home— oil splatters all over my countertops, it stinks up the kitchen, and it forces me to acknowledge how much hot fat I'm about to eat. If you decide to fry this dough instead of baking it, leave a comment and let us know how it works.

Note: falafel loves—no, needs tahini sauce. Mine is a simple mix of tahini, water, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

Baked Millet Falafel

1 cup water
⅓ cup millet
1½ teaspoons cups cooked chickpeas
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp crushed red chili flakes
1½ teaspoons cumin
1½ teaspoons coriander
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
olive oil (to coat baking sheet)

Preheat oven to 400°F and lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.

Boil the water and add millet. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook 25-30 minutes, until water is absorbed.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine cooked millet, chickpeas, onion, garlic, red chili flakes, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, olive oil, breadcrumbs, chickpea flour, and parsley, and pulse until just mixed.

Form heaping tablespoons of dough into balls and use a spatula to gently press them into the oiled cookie sheet. Spray or brush the falafel with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, until underside of falafel are lightly browned. Carefully flip the falafel and cook another 10 minutes.

Makes 16. *Make your own breadcrumbs by drying a few pieces of bread on a rack overnight (or in the microwave, between 2 paper towels—30 to 60 seconds ought to do it). Break the dried bread into chunks and process into crumbs in a blender or food processor. This is a great way to make use of disappointing gluten-free loaves!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Photos of Fiber

Scenes from today's Fiber Arts Exhibition at the Bangor Public Library:

Michele Goldman, Fiberphilia

Pine Tree Quilters Guild, Inc.

rug hooking, artist unknown

felted sculptures by Bob Nichols, Artifelt Maine

masks by Susan Barrett Merrill

bobbin lace by Gloria Buntrock

Nothing to say but wow, Maine. Wow.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New York Mitten Part 2: The Healthy Stuff

I've already told you about the great desserts I ate in New York City. Seriously, I'll bet half my calories last weekend came from coconut oil and agave. It's okay, though, because I walked a lot, and I drank some vegetable juice.

Here's the Flu and Cold Fighter from Candle Cafe—ginger, orange, grapefruit, carrot, and lemon. Totally zingy, great for the sinuses. I'm going to start making this one at home.

We visited Candle Cafe on the upper east side at lunchtime, and a half hour after opening, they were already packed. The restaurant is entirely vegan, and gluten-free items are listed on a separate menu. For the first time in a long time, I was overwhelmed by my choices. I ordered a Good Food Plate, a combination of four sides paired with two dressings or sauces for 17 dollars.

I must have been feeling southern, because I went with black eyed peas, sautéed daily greens (kale and chard), coleslaw, and the garlic-shallot-potato mash, with tahini sauce and country gravy. The beans and greens were unseasoned—wholesome but a little boring—but the coleslaw was light and crunchy, and the mashed potatoes were incredibly creamy and smooth with rich golden garlic flavor. With Candle Cafe's selection of sides and sauces, I could order a dozen more variations on the Good Food Plate without getting bored.

Rod's meal was a celebration of gluten (perhaps he's feeling deprived?): the Grilled Seitan Burger.

It came with house-made fries, lettuce, sprouts, onion, coleslaw and pickles, and Rod added caramelized onions. I can't vouch for it myself, but it looked good!

I liked the bright, airy, laid-back atmosphere of Candle Cafe, but we also visited its dark, swanky cousin, Candle 79. The restaurant was crowded on Saturday night, and even though we had a reservation, we ended up standing at the end of a packed bar for twenty minutes. I felt conspicuous among the upscale patrons in tight black outfits and hard, pointy shoes. My "nice" outfit consisted of khakis, an L.L.Bean sweater, and my felted clogs. (They are wide, flat, and red, with embroidered flowers. In Maine, you can wear shoes like this in public. In fact, they are a huge hit with kindergarteners, who like to rub them during story time.)

After we were seated, in an upstairs nook too dark for photos, I started with some Green Goddess juice: mixed greens, apple, lemon and ginger. Green juice has always frightened me, but I decided to finally give it a go. And you know what? I liked it. It tasted like salad. It helped that the room was so dark I couldn't see.

I got a kick out of the waitress describing the evening's special beer, Maine's own Allagash Curieux. Apparently our beer, if not our footwear, is classy enough for New York. God I miss that stuff.

We shared the Vegetable Nori Rolls, which came with pickled ginger, avocado wasabi, chipotle aioli, and tamari-ginger sauce. The dish was labelled gluten-free, but I was still nervous about the tamari and any adobo sauce that might have slipped in with the chipotles. Eating outside my own kitchen is a tricky business.

For my entrée, I ordered Sake-Miso-Ginger Glazed Tofu, a thick stew made with Asian vegetables, maitake mushrooms, scallions, and toasted peanuts, and served with coconut black rice in a banana leaf pocket. The dish was creamy, lemony, and mild. Tofu and edamame made it quite hearty. Rod ordered the special, a breaded seitan cutlet with mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and julienned root vegetables—a very wintery dish.

Dessert (no surprise) was my favorite part of the meal. We shared the Live Orange Cream Parfait: crunchy nut granola, orange cashew cream, date-sweetened cherry ice cream, and a dried pineapple ring, served in a martini glass. We were both fascinated by the pineapple ring—it was as thin and crisp as a potato chip—and are now pining for a dehydrator.

Candle 79 and Candle Cafe are both completely vegan. Their menus are similar. Even if you're gluten-free, there's plenty to choose from. Candle 79 is more expensive and a bit too fashionable
(pretentious?) for my taste; if you like playing dress-up, you may prefer it. The food was delicious and beautifully presented at both restaurants. Four chickpeas.

There are so many restaurants in New York City that I still want to try (see The Urban Housewife's extensive NYC Travel Guide for tons of pictures and reviews). I need to plan these visits annually!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New York Mitten

We spent Valentine's Day in New York City, visiting old haunts and making pilgrimages to vegan dining institutions. We rarely venture south of Portland these days, but spending a holiday weekend immersed in bustling consumerism is just the thing to break up the long, quiet winter. Plus, in New York you can buy gluten-free vegan donuts—that alone is worth a 7-hour drive.

A few observations before we get to the food:

• I'd forgotten how late in the day everything begins in New York. Early to bed, early to rise is not a good plan if you want to make the most of your time in the city. Late Saturday morning I made a mostly fruitless journey to the East Village to find only Babycakes open. You can't shop at Mooshoes until 11:30 or eat vegan ice cream at Lula's until 3 in the afternoon. I thought I'd kill time in some restaurant supply stores on Bowery, but no luck there, either (I ended up in Starbucks). At ten-thirty in the morning I was alone, except for delivery men ratting hand trucks over the sidewalks and art school kids still in their pajamas, escorting jacket-wearing terriers to the curb. Walking downtown in my bright green coat, red clogs, and $30 jeans, with my hair unstyled and nothing pierced but my earlobes, I felt old, square, and white. Leaving Maine reminds me that I am just a grandma trapped in a young person's body.

• We went back to Rod's old building, to see if his crazy downstairs neighbor was still alive and living there. I thought for sure she would have been dragged away by social services—she used to bang her broom on the ceiling at 2 in the morning and demand we stop partying, when we had been fast asleep for hours and the only blaring music was in her head. She also felt compelled to tape frantic and threatening notes to the door. Her name is still listed by the buzzers, but that doesn't tell us anything because so is LAKE, R., and he hasn't lived there since 2005.

• New Yorkers: I admire your efficiency, but when you bump into someone you are supposed to say "excuse me," even if you weren't at fault. This doesn't even require you stop walking. Seriously, you would all be happier if you treated each other like humans.

• Stretch pants are apparently back. Nine out of ten women (of all shapes and sizes!) walking around Manhattan last weekend were sporting the following uniform: black quilted coat, black spandex pants, and puffy winter boots (preferably UGGs). I predict this trend will fizzle out before it reaches Bangor (probably somewhere around Scarborough). It's too cold for skin-tight pants, and most of us have more padding than we'd care to flaunt. You don't even see stretch pants at the Bangor Y.

As I mentioned, my first stop on Saturday morning was Babycakes vegan bakery. Reviews online are mixed (people tend to either love them or hate them), but the prospect of gluten-free baked goods was too much to resist.

I ordered cupcakes in chocolate and vanilla, agave and chocolate chip brownies, and two donuts, one lemon-coconut and one cinnamon-sugar. About half the items in the bakery case were gluten-free (the rest are wheat-free, made with spelt). It's a rare thrill to be able to have so many choices, and I would have loved more time to consider my order. Unfortunately, even though I was the only customer in the shop, the girls behind the counter seemed put out by my deliberation. After forking over almost $20 (Babycakes is not cheap!), I strolled past shuttered storefronts and piles of garbage bags, shamelessly enjoying my incredible cinnamon-sugar donut. It was warm, buttery, and moist, with a spongy crumb and a crunchy coating of large sugar crystals. That donuts of this caliber are possible without eggs, gluten, or refined sweeteners gives me hope.

After lunch I tried the cupcakes. The famous whipped coconut oil frosting was rich and subtly sweet, like room temperature ice cream—probably the best I've ever eaten in my frosting-loving life. The cake itself was dry and dense; the chocolate was dark and delicious, but the beany flavor of Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour shone through in the lemony vanilla. I had the bite-sized brownies for breakfast (shut up, I was on vacation), and found the chocolate chip brownie gooier and sweeter than the agave.

I made one more visit to Babycakes, hoping to stock up on cinnamon sugar donuts for the ride home, but found chocolate chip cookie sandwiches instead. The crunchy, slightly salty gluten-free cookies were unremarkable, but they held a generous dollop of that addictive frosting. From this recipe, it would take only a modest leap to create a vegan version of mankind's most deliciously evil invention, the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie. For $5, I could probably do as well in my own kitchen, but Babycakes' cookie sandwich is better by leaps and bounds than anything I can buy in Maine.

Babycakes: four chickpeas

My lust for dessert fully awakened, I visited Lula's Sweet Apothecary, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that is gluten-free friendly and entirely vegan. In other words, it's an earthly version of this agnostic's secret hope for Heaven.

Even though they were busy on Valentine's night, the staff were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, offering samples and suggestions. I ordered a two-scoop sundae with coffee and coconut fudge ice cream, caramel and hot fudge, walnuts, whipped coconut cream, and a freaky red maraschino cherry.

I'm about to destroy this thing.

Lula's was the highlight of the weekend. The shop is comfortable and fun—behind the cash register, toppings are stored in the tiny square drawers of an antique pharmacy cabinet—and it was such a joy to revisit a favorite childhood treat without worrying about getting sick or consuming hidden dairy. The ice cream was perfectly rich, creamy, and soft; Rod couldn't believe his scoop of peanut toffee crunch was made from cashews instead of cow's milk.

This photo of the Lula's menu may be a little clichéd (I've seen it on several blogs), but it gives you an idea of their selection. Starred flavors are gluten-free. If I'd had a way to get them home, I would have bought several pints to go.

Lula's Sweet Apothecary: four enthusiastic chickpeas

Dessert wasn't all we ate—we saved room for smoothies and vegetables, too—but since this post is getting long, I'll tell you about our meals at Candle 79 and Candle Cafe next time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mood Candy

Yesterday I posted heart-shaped sugar cookie sandwiches. Cute as they were, they were not my real Valentine's Day dessert. I've been working on a recipe for my real romance food for weeks—and today I was supposed to have a recipe for chocolate-dipped candied orange slices to share with you.

Oranges are in season now (no, not in Maine, silly), so I've been buying 8 pound bags for $5.99. For Valentine's Day, I wanted to create an elegant grown-up candy with a bite. I love dark, bitter chocolate paired with sour citrus.

Unfortunately, candying whole orange slices is not as easy as the food bloggers would have you believe: in the last three weeks, I've made soggy, sticky orange slices, rock-hard orange slices, and disintegrated orange slices. You must blanch the slices to soften the peel (and remove pesticides if your oranges aren't organic), but the softer orange flesh can't handle such rough treatment. This recipe, which involves soaking sliced oranges in a saturated sugar solution, seems to yield good results, but you and I would have had to start in January in order to have candied orange slices ready for Valentime.

In the end I gave up on candying whole orange slices and did only the peels. I blanched strips of peel twice, stewed them in simple syrup for an hour, and left them out to cool and stiffen overnight (there's a complete tutorial at Smitten Kitchen, so I won't repeat it here). Then I coated them in dark chocolate.

These candied orange peels are a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, and sour, smooth with a surprising crunch of crystalized sugar. They are not the sort of cutesy pastel candies you taped to your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles valentines in fifth grade; you could totally seduce somebody with these.

Whether you're planning to get romantic this weekend, or watch the Olympics in your pajamas with your cat, treat yourself to something yummy and out of the ordinary.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I <3 You, Gluten-free Sugar Cookies

I can't tell you how happy I am to be using cookie cutters again. I thought rollable, sliceable sugar cookie dough would be impossible without gluten and eggs, but happily, I was wrong. To make these chocolate-filled sandwich cookies, I followed the Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar recipe for Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies, replacing 2⅓ cups all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch with:

⅔ cup almond meal
⅔ cup white rice flour
⅔ cup tapioca flour/starch
⅔ cup millet flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum

I'm beginning to get the hang of gluten-free flour science. I've learned you need a little protein and a little starch, and you have to consider the desired texture and flavor of the finished product.

The December/January issue of Living Without (helpful magazine, terrible name) features an exhaustive guide to gluten-free flours. For every type of flour, it provides information about protein and fiber content, texture, color, flavor, and recommended proportions for mixing—exactly what I needed to begin adapting recipes with confidence, instead crossed fingers. I highly recommend it; I've tucked a copy in the front of my recipe binder.

You can see these cookies are a little flaky, but a little more xanthan would probably take care of that. I don't mind the almond meal bumps, but if you do, try a finely ground almond flour instead.

This dough behaved and tasted exactly like traditional sugar cookies. Thicker cookies were soft and buttery in the middle and held their shape best; thinner cookies spread a bit in the oven and were crispy.

Since there are so many types of gluten-free flour to work with, the combinations are almost infinite. There's bound to be more than one mix that will yield successful sugar cookies, and different bakers will have different preferences regarding flavor, texture, and appearance. I'm not sure I've found my ultimate gluten-free sugar cookie recipe, but I'm well on my way. It's a good thing, because I wouldn't want my concentric heart-shaped cookie cutters going to waste.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Millet Cakes at Maine Food & Lifestyle

Birds love it, and it makes excellent stuffing for juggling beanbags. It tastes like couscous and it's gluten-free. Millet is cool, but after you've filled your hacky sack and made pilaf, what can you do with it?

Head on over to Maine Food & Lifestyle for my recipe for White Bean and Mushroom Millet Cakes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Brown Sugar Jalapeño Barbeque Sauce

I've tuned out football since the Patriots' pathetic season ended during the first round of playoffs, but come Superbowl Sunday, I'll be right back on the couch, knitting in hand, routing against the Colts. So go Saints (I guess).

The Superbowl meal must be manly: salty, spicy, and crunchy, and full of starch and fat. Don't even coming near the tv room with your strawberry yogurt or your cleansing green juice. You will be tackled! (Or poked with a knitting needle.)

I'm planning a barbecue-themed meal: I'll finally try those infamous Crash Hot Potatoes (with so much oil and salt, how could they not be terrific?), and I'll sauté garlic and kale. For the main dish, I'm going to cube and fry some extra-firm tofu, then simmer it a finger-licking, pan-scraping, hot, sweet, and tangy barbecue sauce.

My stove is old; don't judge.

This recipe comes from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook; I've made it vegan by replacing honey with brown sugar. The list of ingredients is a little long, but the method couldn't be simpler. Give it a try; it's better than anything you'll find in a bottle.

Brown Sugar Jalapeño Barbeque Sauce
(adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook)

1 cup ketchup (without corn syrup if possible)
1 cup + 3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup minced jalapeño pepper (canned is easiest here)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1½ teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon hot sauce (I use Frank's RedHot)
1 teaspoon soy sauce (gluten-free, if necessary)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon canla oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Stir together all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Sauce will thicken and turn a deep red-brown. Makes 2 cups.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Gluten-free Review: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

I'm late in reviewing this book, which was published in November, because I almost decided not to buy it. Last fall I was banging my head against the wall trying to take the gluten out of vegan recipes and the eggs out of gluten-free recipes, and the last thing I needed was another collection of creative recipes and gorgeous photos to remind me of everything I couldn't eat. Thankfully, Isa and Terry remembered the gluten-free folk; as vegans, they understand how hard it is to eye a batch of warm, gooey cookies and know they are off-limits. In the first section of the book, Cookie Science, they provide ratios for an all-purpose Gluten Frida Mix, along with the promise that every single recipe in the book can be prepared gluten-free.

Could this be true? I threw together a gallon of Gluten Frida and began baking.

The book's one hundred recipes are divided into five categories: Drop Cookies, Wholesome Cookies, Bar Cookies, Fancy Cookies, and Sliced and Rolled cookies. I'm a drop cookie gal through-and-through (why make cookies if you can't enjoy the dough?), so I started with the Cherry Almond Cookies. Almonds, tangy dried cherries, and almond extract made a delicious and addicting combination, but the cookies were flat and crumbled easily. I added 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum to a second batch and got puffier cookies that stayed soft and cohesive for several days.

The Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (made with gluten-free oats) had similar texture issues: by the second day they had fallen apart and formed an oatmeal-raisin loaf. Not very pretty, and not very portable, but still delicious: I couldn't keep my fingers away from that cinnamon and nutmeg-spiced loaf. Without gluten, this recipe also benefitted from a teaspoon a xanthan gum.

I moved on to the wholesome Peanut Butter Agave Cookies.

They were soft and chewy, and thanks to the agave and brown rice syrup, didn't need any additional binders. They weren't as sweet as traditional peanut butter cookies, and it was nearly impossible to form a criss-cross pattern in the wet dough, but if you like the flavor of agave nectar, you might prefer these to the traditional granulated sugar version.

Next: gooey, caramely pecan filling on a shortbread crust? Good lord, yes.

For these Caramel Pecan Bars, I used for coconut flour instead of almond in my gluten-free mix, and it made the shortbread dough very dry. I needed half a cup of water to form it into crumbs. The shortbread needed a few extra minutes to begin browning, but it held together well and sliced cleanly, without any xanthan or guar gum. The recipe calls for lining a baking dish with tin foil, but since some of my (oiled) tin foil stuck to the sticky caramel, I might try parchment or wax paper next time. These pecan bars are almost as good as my favorite maple syrup-laced pecan pie recipe, and much less expensive. I will make them often.

The book's final recipe is for Cookie Dough Scoops, which are just spoonfuls of straight-up chocolate chip cookie dough (bitter-tasting baking soda is omitted). Gluten-free, with rice and almond flour, this dough was a little grainy. When I'm craving cookie dough, I prefer the near-instant gratification of the Cherrybrook Kitchen mix.

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar is good enough replace my tattered old Mrs. Fields as go-to cookie book. The variety of recipes is exhaustive, from well-known classics (Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies) to crazy new inventions (Tahini Lime Cookies and Spiced Sweet Potato Blondies). That said, if you're baking any of the recipes gluten-free, do a trial run before serving them to other people; you may need additional liquid or a binding agent. The Gluten Frida mix is fine for most cookies in this book, but the appearance and texture of ground flax seeds would alter the spirit of delicate cookies like shortbread or Macadamia Lace Cookies.

Because they don't need to rise much, cookies are generous to those of us new to gluten-free baking. I can't wait to try more of Isa and Terry's recipes and experiment with flour. I'm so glad I decided to give this book a shot!