Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Happy holidays, my darling friends! I hope yours has been as enjoyable and delicious as mine. I am currently awaiting dinner. Christmas dinner. One that I do not have to cook. That just makes it even better. We are being very un-Christmas-y this year and will be dining on Salmon, Green Chili mashed potatoes, and fondue for dessert. Yum!

This Christmas was a cooking jackpot. My mom outdid herself with the gifts. I received an All-Clad sauce pan, Kitchen Aid can opener and tea kettle, silicon spatulas, wine bottle opener, martini glasses, gluten-free cookbooks, and so much more. My mom loves to cull through all of the housewares at T.J. Maxx and Homegoods to find great deals on high quality cooking equipment. She did good. She even ordered me a little extra something from Cafe Press. Yes, that's right, she bought an apron from Karina's designs. Gluten Free Diva! She thought it was silly, but I love it. Karina, too fantastic.

So for you, my friends, I give the gift of recipes. (I know, not too creative on a food blog, but what can I say?) I have to admit to not being a clean cook. I make quite a mess. It drives mom crazy. The idea of cleaning up as I go along is a foreign concept for me. We started with macaroons from Mike's book. Very good recipe. I liked the addition of cinnamon. You want the recipe? Buy his book! I made Kolachkis with apricot filling. My faves! I used the Kinnikinnick pastry flour. Nice and light for the delicate dough. Sorry, the recipe is a top secret family recipe. No sharing allowed!

I did make two treats I can share. One was posted on Fancy Toast (Erielle's blog). Chocolate Cherry Cookies. I substituted Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix for the flour and such. They were great. If you make them be sure to keep out only the amount you will eat in two or three days. They get stale fast! The dried cherries aren't cheap, but they are worth it.

The other recipe is for Pumpkin Gingerbread. I found it on recipezaar. I wanted to bake bread for all of my friends for Christmas. I couldn't make it full of wheat flour and taste test it. No sireebob. So of course I made a GF version first. Pamela came to the rescue again. (You know, one of these days I am going to get ambitious and make my own flour mix.) I made mine in muffin tins so that it would be easier to freeze them in single serving sizes.

Pumpkin Gingerbread

1/2 cup soft shortening
1/2 cup
1 cup sour milk
1/2 cup thick
pumpkin (strained)
1/2 cup
dark molasses
2 1/4 cups Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon

Mix thoroughly shortening, sugar and egg.
Blend molasses, sour milk and pumpkin together.
Sift flour, soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon together.
Combine all mixture and beat until smooth.
Pour into well-greased and floured 9-inch square pan.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes at 325 degrees F.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

It is over!

The holiday craziness at school is over...sort of. Well, mostly, anyway. For the last three days I have been in performance mode. On Monday and Tuesday my school had the all-school holiday assemblies. Think: every class stands on stage and sings their prepared holiday song. I felt that I had finally begun to truly put my mark on this holiday tradition. Why? Because there was some diversity at last! My school is predominantly Polish-Catholic. If you are not familiar with Chicago, there are very defined ethnic and economic neighborhoods. My school is located in the Polish and cop/firefighter area. (Chicago cops and firefighters [and teachers!] are required to live within the city boundaries. You can't go much further than my school and still be officially in the city.) In the past, the holiday program contained many religious Christmas songs. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I was taught that it is important to show the school's and the city's diversity when choosing repertoire for a performance. (And, hello! Cultural education is important in developing a well-rounded, open-minded student.) Ehem...sorry, I'm off my soapbox now. This year we had a one or two religious songs, many non-religious Christmas traditional tunes (12 Days of Christmas, etc.), many generic winter songs ("Snow Pants"), a recitation of "Twas the Night Before Christmas", a Hanukkah song, some humorous Christmas ditties ("The Everlasting Fruitcake"), and a multi-holiday December song (it mentioned Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and La Posada.) It was the best, most smoothly run program in the three years I have been at the school. Yay! And the best part? I wasn't nearly as stressed out this year as I had been in the past! (Stress exacerbates my stomach problems and last year was bad. This year I had no problems.)

Last night was the holiday chorus concert. We have two choruses at my school. The "big kid" (5th-8th grades by audition) which has been directed by the kindergarten teacher for over 10 years, and my Junior Chorus. It is open to 3rd and 4th grades and is y'all come sing. Anyone who wants to join can come and sing with me. I was so proud of my little ones last night. They sounded fabulous and my soloists/duets were wonderful. I love the sound of young, unchanged singing voices. I am actually quite happy that I do not have to direct a chorus of adolescent changing voices.

So today, to relax and celebrate that the performances are over I will bake. I am playing hookie and am out at my parents' house. Mom and I will be heading to the store shortly for ingredients. Shortly thereafter baking will ensue. So far we are going to make Chocolate Cherry Cookies (thanks to Erielle's blog, Fancy Toast) and Kolatchki's. I think both GF and "regular" versions are on the docket. We shall see what time allows.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Communication is the key

What a long week! Grades, progress reports, preparing for holiday assemblies and chorus concerts. It has been a week full of stress and very little cooking. Sadness!!! This time of year is always hectic at work. Never mind the holiday social and family obligations.

After the long week, I was very much looking forward to last night. It was my friend Fernando's birthday. He called me earlier in the week and asked if I would join him and some friends for dinner. He gave me the name and number for the restaurant (Fonda del Mar) so that I could call them. I did. During this phone call I was assured that there were many items on the menu that were wheat free. All I had to do was let my server know and the cooks would tell him exactly which items on the menu were safe. "This will be no problem." Perhaps a little naively I walked into the restaurant thinking this would be a great culinary experience. I quickly discovered differently. I was informed that this would be extremely difficult. The server brought me an appetizer: guacamole with veggies for dipping (cucumber and jicama). Actually, that was delicious. I have never dipped those veggies into guac. So tasty. Perhaps one of the better guacamoles I have ever had. Everyone else placed their orders and the food was brought out.

"I'm sorry, but all of our meat is marinaded ahead of time."

"Your marinade has wheat is it?"

"Yes, I'm sorry. We could give you rice and beans."

"But I called ahead of time to make sure. I was told there would be no problem. I was told he was writing a note in the reservation book about it so that you would know ahead of time."

He just shook his head.

"I'm disappointed because I did my part and checked ahead of time. If I was told this would be a problem I would have eaten before I arrived so that I would not be hungry while everyone else was eating."

"I'm sorry." and he walked away.

Here's the kicker: I ditched out on my staff holiday dinner because they were going for Italian. After the call I made to the restaurant, I chose to attend the birthday dinner because there would be food I could eat. Now I look antisocial to my coworkers for not attending. So after all of that I had a dinner of guacamole and flan. Did he bother to let us know the flan was safe? No. We had to ask. (I sure as hell wasn't going to assume.) In the end he didn't even have the courtesy to comp my appetizer. I literally had to excuse myself for a minute so I could go the the little girl's room, I was so upset by this. I was starving!!! To add insult to injury, the place was BYOB. I couldn't even order the margarita I was craving. GRRR!!!!!

So today will be better...damn it. It has to be. This whole week has sucked. Stress, food issues, emotional crap biting me in the butt. (When everything gets crazy I get super sensitive. All of my personal issues gang up on me and make me a very weepy girl.) As the young kids say: I was incredibly emo this week. Today will be different. I will do a few Christmas shopping errands, wrap gifts, relax, perhaps watch White Christmas, and go to my friend Margaret's house for holiday movies. Well, movies that take place during the holidays: Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. :) I love Margaret! I need to stop and get some food, though. They will be ordering pizza. At least this time I know ahead to bring my own meal. Tomorrow is family holiday party number one (Dad's side). We have to travel far. Very far. Crystal Lake. Oy! I am going to bring a side dish. Mom in her infinite wisdom suggested a quinoa dish. She is so smart. At least if I can't eat the other food I can have a very healthy quinoa dish and the salad that Dad is making (with homemade dressing.) I may even dig a brownie out of the freezer so that I can eat something sweet while everyone else is enjoying the Christmas cookies.

So...yeah. A sucky week. It is now behind me, and behind me it shall stay. OH! Very good news! Mike's book arrived! I am so excited! It looks beautiful. I am dying to bake. So many things I want to try. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies! Cinnamon Marscapone Flan! Coconut Pudding! Mike, you are going to make me fat!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Culinary nirvana

Have you ever made a recipe that leaves you speechless? You finish eating and, while you know you are full, you just want to keep eating so that you don't have to stop tasting the food. It is just that amazing. I did that tonight. I can not take credit for the recipe. I really wish I could. It is a recipe that Erielle post over on Fancy Toast a few weeks back.

I started off by roasting the butternut squash that I bought at my local veggie market. There is just something so homey about roasting squash. Warm, sweet, smooth. So very orange.

Now, as much as I cook and experiment in the kitchen, there is one thing I have never been able to do with regular success. I struggle with caramelizing onions. About a quarter will caramelize, half will be transparent (nicely sauteed), and the remaining quarter are solid brown and dehydrated to the point of being tough. I can't figure out what I am doing wrong. They still taste good. They especially still taste good when you add garlic, fresh sage, and goat cheese. ::drool:: Goat cheese! Everything is better with goat cheese.

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée with Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Sage
~adapted from Butternut Squash Ravioli Recipe at

1.5 pounds of butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
1-2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped finely
3 oz. goat cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Cut the squash into two halves and scrape out the seeds. Discard seeds (or save for garnish). Place the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, until the squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the onions by cooking them over medium-low heat in the butter for about twenty-five minutes. Add the sage and garlic about halfway through the cooking time. When the onions are soft, dark, and caramelized, take them off the heat and stir in the goat cheese. When the squash has cooled, scrape the flesh into a bowl. Add the onion mixture. Using a hand mixer, blend the squash and onions until smooth and creamy. Season to taste.

Seriously amazing food. Unfortunately, this does not make a full meal. I needed to make another dish. No problem. I had extra goat cheese! Boil up a pot of Tinkyada. Toss it with olive oil, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, goat cheese, and... black currant vinegar. Yes, that's right, black currant vinegar. My aunt gave me about a 1/2 cup of it to try out. It is amazing. Sweet, strong, zippy. I'd venture to say it is better than balsamic, and I love balsamic. I emailed her for the name of the store she purchased it from. If they have a web site I will pass it along.

So tonight I ate an at-home gourmet meal: Black Currant Goat Cheese Pasta and Roasted Butternut Squash Puree with Caramelized Onion, Sage, and Goat Cheese. If you couldn't tell, my belly is feeling better :) It is a good thing. And best of all? Leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Something is amiss

Miss Clavel (of the Madeline books) and I have something in common: we both feel that something is amiss. She feels that the little girls who live at her school have run amok in the dormitory. I feel that gluten has run amok in my gut. I don't know where is came from, how it got there...but it is there. Bloating, cramps, heartburn, nausea. It is all back in full force. All I have wanted to do for the past couple of days is curl up in a ball and rub my tummy. Ever since I made that yummy tuna. The thing is, there were no offending ingredients in the dish. It should be completely safe. Maybe there was something wrong with the fish itself? Could bad fish cause the same exact symptoms as a glutening? Ugh. It feels like gluten.

I would not let my gut rule my life. I forced myself to go out. Here's the funny thing. I have noticed that when my gut is making itself known, being active helps take the edge off of the discomfort. I don't feel like going dancing, but at least 50% of the time the physical activity helps me to feel better. It probably just takes my mind off of it, keeps me from dwelling on the symptoms. Perhaps the endorphins ease the discomfort. I just have to remind myself that despite how my belly feels, I need to maintain my activity levels.

So after two nights in a row of dancer parties (darn good parties, at that), I am staying in today. I will be responsible. I will grade 800 papers. I will eat healthy foods. I will rest for the coming week so that I can dance another day. And I will go eat that tasty Kinnikinnick bagel I have toasting. Cream cheese and lemon curd? YES!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I am a geek

A food geek to be precise. Seriously! I'm not kidding. I know it may not come as a surprise to learn that, but let's just say this was a bit of a revelation to me. It's not that I used to hate cooking. I would never go that far. But there was once a time where I would have killed to have someone else cook for me.

Today I get excited by the smallest culinary moment. This morning I walked into the office at school. On the bench sat a shipping envelop. It was big, obviously holding a large, rectangular object. I rushed over to read the shipping label. Clutching it to my breast I danced around the office. It had arrived!!! What could cause such excitement, you ask? Why the copy of Starting With Ingredients that I ordered from Amazon. It is this enormous tome organized guessed it, ingredients. You purchased some quince when it was on sale at the veggie market and have no idea how to prepare them? No problem, look up the chapter on quince. You get a section that includes information about the ingredient, hints/tips on everything from purchasing to preparing, and about 3-8 recipes. The page count comes in at just over 1050. This sucker is hefty.

You would think that would be enough excitement. Oh no, more was to come. My Kinnikinnick order was delivered! Bread mix, 4 bags of pastry/pie crust mix, and a package of GF bagels. As soon as I arrived home I busted out the bagels. Toasted and slathered in cream Perhaps not like the New York bagels they claim to emulate, but these suckers are good. My dietitian recommended the pastry/pie crust mix for making kolachi cookies (a staple in the Mueller family Christmas baking.) Mom and I have a baking date planned.

No all of that excitement is understandable. The average foodie would be thrilled by both deliveries. The two things that tip me over the line into geek territory are thus: 1) I still have the forthcoming excitement of a delivery from Gluten Free Pantry and additional cookbook, and 2) I am having to seriously talk myself out of being a bad friend. I bought a book for one of my friends for Christmas. It is a food related book. I want to read it. I could buy myself a copy or borrow it from the library. OR...I could read the copy I bought him before Christmas. I can be careful with the book. He would never know it had been read. But that would be bad. Not a good friend. Damn. Must exert self control.

One thing that became clear to me is that in the midst of geeking out, finding new recipes, try new techniques, we often forget an important rule: KISS. Keep it Simple Stupid. Fancy is not always better. Of course it is fun, fulfilling, and compelling to challenge ourselves with complex recipes. I think in all that complexity, we forget how amazing the simple seasoning of a basic ingredient can be. Tonight I made pan seared tuna. Sounds fancy, but could not be more simple.

Rub tuna with olive oil. Rub with a coating of salt and Argyle Street Asian Spice Blend from the Spice House. (It is premixed. All you do is sprinkle and rub.) Pour 2 T of olive oil into a hot pan. Place seasoned tuna in the pan and sear until the edge begins to turn opaque. Flip tuna. Sear for another 1-3 minutes (depending on how rare you like you tuna). Move tuna to a plate. Eat. You basically season the fish and fry it up. EASY!

Ok, I made a rice dish that was slightly less simple.

Mandarin Almond Rice

In a medium sauce pan combine:
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup brown rice
2 t. Argyle St. Asian Spice Mix
1 t. salt

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer. When rice is cooked and render mix in:
1 can Mandarin oranges
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I can't stop cooking!!!

I know I go in phases with my cooking. One week I could not be bothered to open my pantry, the next I am stopping at the grocery store every day to pick up new ingredients. I am in the latter phase of the cycle right now. I cook. As soon as I finish I want to try making another recipe. Never mind that I am disgustingly full. Forget about the fact that I have multiple containers of leftovers in the fridge. A new dish beckons me.

Today I was lazy all morning. I couldn't even be bothered to put together a bowl of cereal. This afternoon I more than made up for it. I was hungry and wanted something tasty to warm my belly. Leftovers, shmeftovers. Warm, creamy, fragrant. I put that frozen shrimp to use. I had a recipe. Then I realized my tomato paste had roasted garlic and herbs in it. Good for Italian, not so good for Indian. Ew. I improvised with fresh tomatoes, threw in some spinach, doubled the coconut milk, ignored the whole "grilling" portion of the directions and came up with this:

Easy (Fake) Jheenga Chat Diva Style

oil for your pan

1 1/2 t. curry powder

1 t. Garam Masala

2 cloves garlic, minced

handful of fresh spinach

1 medium tomato, diced

1/2 cup coconut milk

10-20 shrimp, tails off

salt to taste

In a medium pan, saute curry powder, Garam Masala, and garlic in the oil over med-high heat until fragrant. Add in the spinach and tomato. Saute until veggies begin to wilt. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and add shrimp. Cook until shrimp is cooked/heated through. Season with salt to taste. Serve over rice or quinoa.

I had bought the Garam Masala at The Spice House a few weeks back and have been dying to use it. This dish smells amazing! Tastes pretty good, too. It is by no means an authentic Indian dish, but it hits the spot for me.

Now the big question was what to do with all of the leftover coconut milk. I refuse to dump it. It is too good to just throw away. If I simply put it in the fridge nothing will be done. Eventually the coconut would end up in the garbage. I had made a small batch of quinoa for my meal. Why not make some more? This time I could cook it with the coconut milk. (1 1/4 cups coconut milk, 3/4 cup water, and a hearty splash or three of half-and-half) I seasoned it with vanilla, ground cardamom and two star anise. I had a little spilling issue so I had to adjust the spices on the fly. I'm not quite sure how much went in, so I won't even bother to type out the actual recipe. I added about 4 spoonfuls of sugar and cooked it all on the stove. YUM!!! After I threw in some raisins it resembled rice pudding a bit. The leftovers will make a great breakfast this week.

You would think I was done at this point. NO WAY!!! I was on a roll. When I made the Blackberry Upside Down Cake there was still a bunch of berries left behind. They too have been taunting me. I knew if I did not use them today they would start to develop an unattractive, fuzzy wardrobe. I could use them in a sauce or salad, but that would be healthy. My sweet tooth has been raging lately, so healthy was not going to happen. I looked in my cookbooks and online, but nothing was quite right. Then I peeked into my cupboard. Ah-ha! There sat a bag of Bob's Red Mill Brownie Mix. Hmmm...berries and chocolate? Hell, yeah! Uh-oh! Another problem...I ran out of vanilla. Well, how about orange extract? Chocolate and orange have always been a favorite combination of mine. So...Blackberry Orange Brownies? Sure. I followed the directions on the bag of mix, substituting orange for vanilla extract. I threw in an additional egg white and folded in the berries after mixing. The result? Wait, let me go cut my first piece and see...

moist, cakey, chocolatey, definite orange flavor (too much perhaps?), the random bite of berry. The edges are fantastic. Damn, I need that Baker's Edge pan Mike mentioned on his blog. Considering these are my first GF brownies I would have to say they are pretty darn good. I am going to have to wrap up a bunch of brownies and put them in the freezer. Save them for a rainy day, chocolate attack, or future girls' night.

(Ok, the more I eat the brownie, the more I like it. My tastebuds are screaming for a glass of milk. That's a pretty good sign.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A taste of summer amidst the snow

A week ago today, I was perched on the back of a motorcycle speeding along Lake Shore Drive. The wind was whipping through my hair, there were sailboats on the lake, I was not wearing a coat. Today I have icicles hanging from my windows. I am still trying to figure out what we did to piss off Mother Nature. Must have been something pretty bad for this kind of about face.

Ironically, my local fruit and vegetable market (Stanley's) seems to think it is still summer. Blackberries were 98cents a pack. Big, plump, juicy blackberries. Ok, so they are a tad on the tart side. It is to be expected. What is the problem with that? Nothing, I say. They sat there taunting me.

"Shannon, come eat us."

"No!" I say, "I am saving you for something special."

"Oh really" They lift their little blackberry eyebrows in disbelief. "I heard you said that about the acorn squash you bought and we all know he ended up a shrively mess in the bottom of your garbage can."

"Well...I got busy. I don't always have time to cook." (Ok, really, I meant to cook him, I just kept finding other must-make recipes that he could have no part in.)

I decided to prove them wrong. I would cook them up. They would not go to waste. I trolled the Internet. What should I make? What recipe could withstand GF modifications, yet still be worthy of these delightful berries? Epicurious is such a great site. There were so many options. Cakes, pies, buckle, sauces for meats of all kinds. I decided it should be simple. I was going out to eat so I did not want to make a meal. (We went to The Cheesecake Factory where we had a waiter who was very helpful. This was really the first time I had gone out to eat with friends since diagnosis. He made the experience as low stress as possible. Sadly, no cheesecake could be eaten.) Anyhow, I picked my recipe. Partly the choice was made due to the fact that I had all ingredients on hand. I also chose it because it was straight forward and not fussy. I wanted to highlight the berries. I used my Pamela's Mix (love it!) and got the whole thing together in about 10 minutes. I did not have an 8 inch round pan. I had to use my 9 inch, but it still turned out just fine, if a bit shallower than usual. The result was an oh-so-moist, slightly sweet cake. Delicious!

2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (12 oz)
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Line bottom of a buttered 8- by 2-inch round cake pan with 2 rounds of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Dust pan with some flour, knocking out excess.
Arrange blackberries in 1 layer in cake pan. Sprinkle berries with 11/2 tablespoons sugar and shake pan to help distribute sugar.
Beat together butter and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and mix at low speed until just incorporated. Alternately add baking mix and buttermilk in 3 batches, mixing at low speed until just incorporated.
Spoon batter evenly over berries, smoothing top, and bake in middle of oven until top is golden and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes (mine took 45 min).
Run a thin knife around edge of pan, then invert a large plate over pan and, using pot holders to hold plate and pan together tightly, flip cake onto plate. Peel off parchment and serve cake with ice cream.

I did not have any buttermilk so I improvised by mixing 1 cup milk and 1 T apple cider vinegar (let it stand for 10 minutes to thicken) and measuring out 1/2 cup. (anyone who wants this recipe in the non-GF version can click on the title of the recipe.)

I ate a piece (or three) yesterday and had a bit more for breakfast this morning. This cake will not last the weekend. It was still amazingly moist this morning. I skipped the ice cream and ate it plain. Quite good as is.

Today I am being lazy and have been online shopping. I may need to run to the grocery store to pick up some more cornmeal, but that is it. The Gluten Free Pantry and Kinnikinnick websites have sucked up enough of my money this afternoon, thankyouverymuch! I will have quite the stash heading my way. Tons of different baking mixes to try, pretzels, snack bars...yum.

Now I think I am going to try out that box of GF mac n cheese I have sitting in the cupboard. I have to admit to loving Kraft Mac n Cheese. Gross and over-processed as it is, it is comfort food. Well, it was comfort food.