Monday, September 20, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

It's finally autumn. I love wearing handmade socks, pulling up the hood of my sweatshirt during early morning walks, warming my fingers over the steam rising from a cup of tea. It's time again for soup, squash, and warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. It's time to get out the oven mitts and get back to baking.

Inspired by my recent success with zucchini muffins, I swapped out applesauce for canned pumpkin, added brown sugar and maple syrup, and warmed up the flavors. The ingredient list is long, but it's worth the effort for gluten-free muffins this moist and cozy. These muffins aren't overly sweet, but if you'd like to, you could use a crumb or sugar topping, or substitute chocolate chips for the dried fruit.

As with the zucchini muffins, if you don't want to bake 18 at once, spoon the extra batter into lined muffin cups and place it in the freezer. Once the batter is frozen, remove the cups and store them vapor-proof freezer bags until ready to use. When you're ready to use them, just pop the frozen batter into a muffin tin, and increase the baking time by 10 minutes.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Dry Ingredients:
⅔ cup sorghum or millet flour
⅔ cup tapioca flour
⅔ cup brown rice flour
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:
15 ounces canned pumpkin purée
1½ teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
2 tablespoons warm water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup

½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare muffin tins with liners.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and stir until combined. Stir in nuts and dried fruit. Distribute batter evenly among 18 muffin cups.

Bake for 22-25 minutes. Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave muffins in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before eating, or they will stick to the liners.

Makes 18 small muffins.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Review: Portland Pie Co.

After my recent post about Flatbread Company's gluten-free pizza, several people pointed me toward Portland Pie Co., which has four locations in southern Maine and New Hampshire and carries a gluten-free crust, as well as vegan cheese. This weekend I stopped for lunch at the Scarborough location, in the soulless new Cabela's shopping plaza. It had the atmosphere of any good-time shopping mall chain, but where there's gluten-free pizza, I can overlook faux-brass fixtures or a stuffed moose head over the bar.

For $1.25 each, the toppings on my 10-inch pizza were pretty scarce. I went with red sauce, Daiya vegan cheese, black olives, broccoli, and garlic.

The gluten-free crust was thin and crisp. It's not bad if you prefer Neopolitan-style pizza; I've always loved big puffy crust with bubbles. The sauce wasn't notable. While I like Daiya in moderation, here it was just too heavy, and it tasted a little like plastic. I put a lot of salt and red pepper flakes on this pizza in an attempt to make it taste like something, but in the end, it wasn't much better than a frozen Amy's Rice Crust Spinach Pizza.

Of course, as a gluten-free vegan, I'm grateful anytime a restaurant provides me with more than an undressed garden salad. Portland Pie Co. doesn't do gluten-free pizza as well as Flatbread Company, but it's another option for gluten-free, dairy-free folks who want to enjoy a meal alongside omnivorous friends. Next time, I'll probably skip the vegan cheese and spring for lots more veggie toppings.

For carrying Daiya, Portland Pie Co. earns three chickpeas for vegan-accessibility. I'd love to see more creative vegetarian sandwich choices—currently there's a hummus wrap (yawn) and a toasted cheddar and veggie option. Portland Pie Co. is worth a visit if you're trying to appease a crowd with varying tastes and dietary restrictions.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Keeping Tomatoes

Imagine it's January. You've just come inside from cross-country skiing or building a snowman. Imagine reaching into your pantry for a jar of tomatoes that you skinned, crushed, and canned with your own hands last August, at the height of tomato season. Purée those tomatoes, and heat them gently in a saucepan with a bit of thyme and basil, black pepper, and soy, coconut, or cashew cream. Now stir in some cooked rice, beans, or pasta. Wrap your fingers around a steaming mug of homemade cream of tomato soup. It doesn't get any better than this.

I've been turning over ideas for another post about long-term food storage. It's been on my mind lately, as I squirrel away the summer's fruits and vegetables. If what they say about caring for new babies is true, I'll be too busy and too tired come winter to worry about cooking or nutrition. This gives my stockpiling a sense of urgency.

I heard a story on NPR this morning that asked why home canning has suddenly become popular again. Is it the economy? Maybe. At 30 pounds for $35, my tomatoes are significantly cheaper than the organic brand I used to buy at the grocery store. But canning takes a bit of investment up front, in jars and equipment, that may deter those interested solely in thrift.

Is it the local food movement? This probably plays a bigger role. I like knowing my tomatoes were grown just down the road in Pittsfield, Maine, then picked, brought to market, and canned the same day. I trust that the bearded farmer who sold them to me grew them according to his principles, without petroleum-based fertilizers or insecticides. And I like paying the farmer directly; when I buy a can of crushed tomatoes at the grocery store, how many ways is my money split, and how much of it do the growers and pickers actually see?

Taste is certainly a factor. Grocery store tomatoes, picked green and ripened with ethylyne gas, can never compare with tomatoes ripened outdoors on the vine. There is also the satisfaction of doing something by hand, in being able to feed myself the way families did a century ago. (Grocery store? I don't need no stinking grocery store!)

For all these reasons, I've become increasingly addicted to canning. I smiled when the radio reporter mentioned "the sound that every home canner loves to hear—the little thunk that tells you the lid is airtight ... 'the music of the jars,'" (or as one listener wrote in the online comments, "the ping of victory"). Hearing that little pop, and knowing my fruits, vegetables, jams and sauces are safely suspended in time, brings a sense of satisfaction that's hard to beat.

If you find yourself with more tomatoes than you can eat fresh (my favorite lunch of late is hummus and tomato sandwiches), canning or dehydrating them will buy you the most storage time. Freezing sauces and soups is another option. I've got 24 servings of Tomato Rice Soup with Roasted Garlic and White Beans (recipe in Veganomicon) in quart-size freezer bags, waiting for an overtired, overwhelmed new parent to thaw them out some cold evening in December.

Why have I gone crazy for food preservation? It's not about preparing for some apocalyptic scenario. It's about putting comfort foods in the bank, and opening them, like gifts to myself, all winter long.