Monday, July 30, 2012

A Sunday To Myself

It's Sunday.  It's a warm, beautiful day outside and I have the day to myself. The hubby isn't home and I surprisingly don't have any plans. 

There are a lot of things I "should" do.  I'm sure there is something more I could find to clean; I really do need to exercise; I've got some work hanging over my head that it would be nice to get done; and the list goes on. 

On a day when there are many things I "should" do, what do I choose to do?  Did I mention it's a warm, sunny day and for some reason I am resisting turning on the air conditioning?  Yet, I chose to spend the day in the kitchen with the oven on baking.

Yes, baking....

It started with the desire to make something for our new neighbors.  They showed up on Friday.  I'm trying to be neighborly, and not be resentful that they didn't buy my house instead.  They looked at it twice!  Anyway, back to neighborly.... what says welcome better than cake?

 This past week I made the previous, beautiful angel food cake.  Isn't it pretty?  And tall?  I'm very proud as it's not so easy to make tall, pretty cakes like that at 6, 400 feet elevation.  So that success, made me try a new cake today, a Mocha Chiffon Cake.  If you live above 3,000 feet and you have not yet done so, go to right now and order Susan G. Purdy's cookbook Pie in the Sky.  It is phenomenal! 

 So, I started my day out with Susan's McCall Mocha Chiffon Cake.  And if I do say, so it turned out pretty nice.  The new neighbors seemed to be surprised and thankful to have someone say welcome, so that is accomplished.

 No matter where you are located the key to a pretty angel food or chiffon cake falls in two areas.  One, the eggs.  The egg whites are going to need to be whipped with cream of tartar and then folded into the cake batter.  Any recipe will tell you how to do this, but just one tip from me.  If you are at sea level, you will whip them until they have stiff peaks, but at higher elevation only whip until they are soft peaks so the egg whites have room to grow and don't collapse.

 Second, after baking how you cool the cake is important.  I was always taught to hang it upside down.  Thanks Mom!  This keeps the elasticity of the eggs and the cake doesn't collapse.  Wine bottles work perfectly for this purpose!

 One would think a cake might be enough, but no, I wasn't ready to leave the kitchen, so I decided to play with crackers.  I'd been asked if the crackers I made for my birthday party could be made gluten - free.  Well, "I'm sure they can - I'll play with that" I said!  So I decided I had time to play today.  I used the Multi-Seed Crackerbread from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook as a base. 

Before I start let me state that the King Arthur Flour recipe is excellent, if you can eat gluten.  Also, there are many gluten free cracker recipes online, so search for them and check them out.  Particularly, I intend to try some of the recipes on Gluten Free Goddess.  But, today I was ready for a challenge and to try to learn a bit more about the challenges in gluten free (GF) baking.  To start with I just replaced the flours with other flours I had.

Christine's GF Multi-Seed Crackers - First Try

 This cracker is very open to change, use whatever seeds and herbs you want.  I’ve also made it with just seeds and no herbs, but it could be the other way around if you wanted.  You can also use a wide variety of flours or even a GF flour mix you might have around.

1 1/4 cup flour ( I used the following)
    1/4 c. Amaranth flour
    1/2 cup Brown Rice flour
    1/4 cup Quinoa flour
    1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 cup whole yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup assorted seeds, such as sesame, poppy, fennel, caraway, anise, and flax
1 Tablespoons assorted dried herbs such as, rosemary, basil, dill, tarragon, and thyme
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon coarse salt (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the center position.  Use a baking sheet or baking stone.
  2. Combine the flours, cornmeal, and salt in a medium bowl.  Mix in the olive oil thoroughly, then add the water.  (I just used a fork and spoon to mix, but a food processor would work also.) You may not need the entire cup of water, so hold back a couple tablespoons and check the texture.  It should be stiff, not crumbly.   With the GF flours you may need to get your hands in there to work it into a ball. Turn the dough onto a board and knead it until it holds together in a stiff yet supple ball of dough. 
  3. Combined the seeds, herbs, pepper and salt.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and cover them with plastic wrap.  Working with one piece at a time, scatter about 1 Tablespoon of the seed mixture on the work surface.  Press the dough onto the seed mixture, add seeds to the top of the dough and begin to roll it out.  Flip over and keep adding more seeds.
  5. The goal is to get the dough as thin as possible and full of as many seeds as possible.  Once you have the dough as thin as you can get it put it on parchment paper on the baking sheet.  I found that by rolling it out onto the parchement that helped with these crackers because the GF dough doesn't hold together quite enough to turn over as often.  (If using a baking stone have that preheated).
  6. Bake until the top is medium brown, 7-10 minutes.  Repeat with each piece of dough.  Cool completely on wire racks before serving.  Break into the pieces as needed.
  7. Crackers will stay fresh for about a week in a baggy or other airtight container.
The above cracker is good, but tends to be a bit crumbly which speaks to the lack of gluten (elasticity) in these flours. So I adjusted my recipe and added Zanthum Gum, which can be used to replace gluten. Of course, if I was a proper scientist I would have made the exact cracker with added Zanthum Gum. But I am not and have never claimed to be a scientist.

Christine's GF Multi-Seed Almond Crackers - Second Try

1 1/4 cup flour ( I used the following)
  • 1/4 c. Almond Meal
  • 1/2 cup Brown Rice flour
  • 1/2 cup Quinoa flour
1/4 cup Quinoa Flakes
2 teaspoons Zantham Gum
1 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup assorted seeds, such as sesame, poppy, fennel, caraway, anise, and flax
1 Tablespoons assorted dried herbs such as, rosemary, basil, dill, tarragon, and thyme
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon coarse salt (optional)

 Use same Directions as above in first recipe.

Both of these crackers were good.  I might try a cracker sometime using a slightly beaten egg white to see how that works, but in trying these the next morning, they both are still crisp, held together well, and break cleanly into nice pieced.  While I would continue to play with them if I were searching for the perfect GF cracker, the reality is this makes a good base and one could use a wide variety of GF flours to make your perfect cracker.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Three, Four or Five Bean Salad

It's that time of year.  The flower beds and the farmers markets are both overflowing and colorful.

Everyone remembers the traditional three bean salad from childhood.  While it often included canned green beans and probably more sugar than was needed, the recipe was on the right track.  It can be a great protein packed snack or lunch.  So, as I looked at the beautiful green beans I found at the farmers market, this salad was the first thing to come to my mind.

I used this Three Bean Salad from Eating Well as my base recipe, but below you can find my final recipe. 

In addition to the green beans, I had found these amazing Dragon Tongue Wax beans at the farmers market.  Aren't they pretty?  I was very excited, but I learned something that I'll share.  The purple goes away when they are cooked, or in this case even briefly blanched!  I suggest, if you are lucky enough to find these beautiful beans, that you eat them raw to enjoy their pretty coloring.

Four Bean Salad

  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper , to taste
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound dragon's tongue wax bean or any other varietal
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

  1. Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Fill a large bowl half full with ice water and place next to the stove.
  2. Drop fresh beans into boiling water until just tender, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and put in ice water to maintain color.  Pat dry and add to the bowl.  My salad was nice and colorful for dinner after I made it, but today the colors of the beans had muted some.
  3. Whisk cider vinegar, rice vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, mustard, oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl until blended. Add onion, parsley, basil, chickpeas and kidney beans.  Toss to coat. 
  4. Add the fresh beans and toss to coat.  Serve immediately or chill.

As always I want to leave you with the thought of possibilities.  What would make this the perfect salad for you?  Feel free to change it up as needed for you.  And remember, who says there can only be three beans in the salad, or, who says there can only be beans?  Feel free to add corn, peppers or whatever makes you happy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's My Party....

I wanted to have friends over and it's just impossible in summer to have a weekend when everyone is in town, so I used my birthday to just pick a date and throw a party!  The beauty of throwing your own party?  Well if you love to cook it means, you can be totally controlling and turn down offers of "what to bring" and make everything yourself. 

I had inspiration for my food - Paris!  I'd come away from Paris with a fascination for simple, and yet, flavorful foods.  My party menu combined this desire for simple foods with my love of local and organic foods. Everything was homemade or locally made from artisan foodies in the Salt Lake City area.

Party Menu:
Flatbreads and Crackers
  • Smoked Fish Dip
  • Olive Tapenade
  • Bruschetta
  • Roasted Tomato and Herb Chevre
  • Pea and Herb Cream Cheese
  • Butter, Radish, and Black Salt
  • Quinoa, Swiss Chard, and Pine Nut
  • Roasted Beet and Goat Feta
Meat Platter
Cheese Platter
  • Vanilla Cream and Berry Tarts
  • Lemon Curd Tarts
  • Beer from Epic and Uinta Brewing Company in Salt Lake City
  • Wines
  • Bourbon Slushes
Getting ready for a party takes preparation.  I had my menu broken down for the three days before the party into which pieces I could do ahead of time.  For example, I was able to roast the pretty beets below a day ahead.  Check out those pretty white and pink beets!

I made the crackers and flatbreads the night before also.

The Crackers were very fun to make, it takes a little time, but they are simple. I used the Rosemary Flatbread and Multi-Seed Crackerbread recipes from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking cookbook.

I was able to make the Olive Tapenade and Smoked Fish dip the day before and keep them in the fridge.  The Smoked Fish Dip used fish caught and smoked by my dear husband.  The Bruschetta I chopped up that morning.  Using both yellow and red tomatoes, really make it pretty.

Tartines are something I took away from Paris.  I do dearly hope these would make the Parisian's proud.  They were good!  Tartines are one piece of bread with a spread of some kind and a single layer of meat or vegetable.  I am sure this is an oversimplified definition!

I used some loaves of Ciabatta and Mixed Seed bread from our farmers market.  The first one layers an Herb Chevre from Drake Family Farms, in Utah, with Roasted Tomatoes and thinly sliced basil.

The second, tartine used an herbed cream cheese, topped with pea shoots, and fresh shelled peas.

And the third, was inspired by a wonderful tartine I was served at Caffe Niche in Salt Lake City. This tartine had thinly sliced radishes, on top of creamy salted butter, and topped with black salt.

The star of my salads was the roasted beet.  How could it not have been wonderful with those beautiful beets? The Goat Feta cheese was also from Drake Family Farms.  They have a stand at the downtown farmers market in Salt Lake City and the flavor was perfect, not too strong to overpower the beets.

What a summer party without BBQ?  But really, it's as summer party, this nice cool menu was perfect and everyone loved this plate of local artisan sausages from Creminelli.  This plate consisted of the Capicola, Tartufo Italian Salami, and the Barolo Italian Salami.  This plate was gone at the end of the night!

The cheese plate was equally wonderful.  This plate consisted of the Snow Canyon Edam and Zwitser Gouda from Rockhill Creamery in Richmond, Utah; the Seahive cheese from Beehive in Uintah, Utah; and a 3 year aged cheddar from our trip to Wisconsin!

Does that bring us to the tarts! I definitely came from Paris with a love for beautiful desserts that weren't quite as sweet as their American counterparts.  The tarts were done over many days.  I made the Vanilla Cream and Lemon Curd on Wednesday; the tart shells, Thursday night, and I put the tarts together Friday afternoon before the party, with enough time to chill and set for a couple hours.

I used the Vanilla Pastry Cream, Lemon Curd, and Pate Sucree (tart shell dough) recipes from Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts cookbook.  The berries were from the Salt Lake City farmers market the previous weekend and the organic edible snapdragons were from Colorado, by way of Whole Foods.

This menu was perfect, because when the last guest arrived the final plate was prepped and set out.  All I had to do all night was visit with my wonderful friends and remember where I'd set my drink down!

Thanks to my Mother-in-Law and BFF Teresa for the flowers that were perfect for my party!  And, thanks to my friends who honored my wish to make everything and just came to help assemble plates or brought wine, the perfect gift!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Savory Tarts

With summer upon us, I believe one of the best ways to highlight the fresh flavors of our vegetables is in a savory tart!

I was reminded of this by Martha Stewart the other day as I made my lunch and I used her recipe as a guide to create my own tart that very night.

I watched her make the Tomato Tarte you can find on her website, here.  Of course being me, I thought "Well I would like to add Swiss Chard and fresh corn to that dish." and "I don't want to go to the store for Comte cheese.  Yes, I think it will work!"  You can find Martha's recipe at the link above, but I want to provide some thoughts on how you can use this recipe as a guide for your own creation - although it is hard to improve on Martha!

Knowing this, I didn't even mess with the roasted garlic base.  Really, there isn't anything better than roasted garlic.  If you grow garlic, or have access to heads of it from your farmers market, you should be roasting some!

Now I believe this tart really can open itself up to many vegetables.  I had a beautiful head of Swiss chard in the fridge so I chopped that up and sauteed it.  I also had the first fresh corn of the season.  I took one ear and grilled it lightly before cutting the kernels off the corn.  But, I'm pretty sure there would be room for kale and possibly peppers in this tart.

I used white cheddar because that is what I had, be creative with your cheese.  A simple feta topping would have been perfect also.

One last hint, don't be afraid of the crust.  Use the food processor and even spice it up by adding some herbs.  I used Whole Wheat Pastry flour and added some thyme to my crust. 

This made a great dinner and the next day it still made a special lunch, sided with some fruit.  Treat yourself to a special dinner and lunch over and over again through the summer with this fresh vegetable tart. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Memories and Strawberries

From a young age, I knew from where my food originated. I helped my maternal grandmother plant potatoes and pick rhubarb and apples. I picked strawberries with my paternal grandmother. I weeded and planted gardens with my Mom. We fished for pan fish, trout and salmon on Lake Michigan, smelt and sucker’s during their runs. I was a part of animals being raised for food, whether it was chickens, pigs, cows, or rabbits. Both my grandparents were dairy farmers, I knew what real milk tasted like as I grew up and how early farmers were up and "at ‘em".

I recently visited my parents for a lovely long weekend in June, and all those memories came rushing back as I went to pick two buckets of fresh strawberries the morning after arriving. The best thing about picking strawberries is eating every sixth berry or so. We gorged on those strawberries and ate them all in the next 4 days! We used them on cereal or with yogurt for breakfast, snacked on them, and made desserts out of them.

This simple activity of picking strawberries clarified for me the main reason we are putting our efforts this spring and summer into moving to a different community. It is possible to grow things in the high desert, but it is hard. There are no lush strawberry fields, no apple or peach orchards, or farm stands from local farmers, or CSA’s. Also, the organic produce if found is iffy. Did you know strawberries are in the top 10 fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides in them? I believe in quality food and I need to be in an area where food is grown, harvested, and enjoyed, all locally.

The first dessert we made with our strawberries was this Cold Strawberry Pie. This pie is a favorite of my husbands. This is a Cooking Light recipe that I make almost every year, and you can find the recipe by clicking on the above Cold Strawberry Pie link.

I’ll leave you with the recipe for the second desert we made, of which I did not get a picture. This cake would be perfect for your Fourth of July celebration, it was very good and easy!

Frozen Strawberry Layer Cake
  • 1 ½ pounds, hulled and sliced strawberries (about six cups)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • ½ t. salt
  • 2 store bought angel food cakes cut into ¼ inch slices (the recipe called for one, but that would not have been enough for my layering!)
  • 4 cups fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt or vanilla ice cream


Strawberry sauce: combine strawberries through salt (I added a bit of orange rind and some almond extract at the end), stir until sugar melts and it comes to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes, mashing about half the berries when done. Cool to room temperature.

In a 9” springform pan, layer 1/3 cake, ½ frozen yogurt, ½ strawberries. Layer again and top with final third of cake. Cover in plastic wrap and freeze at least 6 hours or up to 3 days. Let the cake stand at room temperature 5-10 minutes before unmolding.

Note: If you don’t have a spring form pan, an angel food pan would work. My Mom cut this recipe out of one of her WI papers, probably either the Manitowac Herald Times or Country Today.

The night before I picked strawberries it rained. The smell of that moist, sweet, warm strawberry field was intoxicating and full of smiles as I remembered my childhood, and particularly picking strawberries and then watching while my grandmother made strawberry jam. I knew how good that jam was going to taste in winter as I put, yet another, fresh picked strawberry in my own mouth.