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Archive for the ‘Gluten Free’ Category

I was, by all accounts, a precocious child. Once, when I was about seven or eight years old, a woman my mother knew ran into the two of us at a local restaurant. I had ordered a creme brulée for dessert and the waitress had just brought it to our table when the woman approached to say hello.

“Well hello! Isn’t this nice, two ladies having lunch!” She winked. “And what are you having, little lady? Oooh, some yummy vanilla pudding! How nice!”

I looked up at her, annoyed that she’d interrupted my consumption of this delicious dessert, my spoon hovering impatiently over the shattered surface. “It’s called creme brulée,” I informed her. “It’s a French vanilla custard with a burnt sugar crust.”

“Well!” She paused. “Isn’t she something!” Oh, I was something alright. Exactly what…well, I’ll leave that to my mother to say.

But just because I was correcting my elders’ culinary lexicon at eight doesn’t mean I was a food snob. Far from it. I liked my McDonald’s and Roy Rogers as much as the next second grader — possibly more, since I was willing to try almost anything on the menu.

For a long time, I was partial to chicken nuggets. For me, it wasn’t so much the chicken (or McDonald’s case, “chicken”); it was the intoxicating honey/chicken nugget duo. See, when it comes to choosing a nugget dipping sauce, some folks fall into the BBQ sauce camp, others prefer sweet and sour sauce, but me, I always went for the honey.

I loved dipping the crunchy chicken into the gooey, sticky honey, and most of all I loved eating something savory with something sweet. Admittedly, I always preferred Roy Rogers nuggets. For starters, the chicken tasted more like real chicken (as opposed to the gristly, multi-colored stuff I found inside McDonald’s nuggets). But what set Roy’s nuggets apart was the coating: it was lightly spiced, which made them killer partners for some thick, sweet honey.

Fast forward about 20 years, and I can’t even remember the last time I saw a Roy Rogers. But I still crave that heavenly combination of crunchy chicken and honey. So when I found this recipe from an old issue of Food & Wine, I knew I had to make it.

Think of it as a sophisticated, worldly version of chicken nuggets and honey: Chicken braised with spices and saffron, then coated with a paste of chopped almonds, honey and rose flower water and baked until golden. The result is tender, aromatic chicken with the crunch of almonds and sweetness of honey. This isn’t finger food — you’ll need a knife and fork — but if you’re anything like me, you’ll suddenly realize you’re using your fingers to get every last, sticky morsel. It’s that good.

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Sunday Night Dinners are big around here. I cook during week, but given that I don’t get home until 7pm or later most nights, any recipe that takes more than an hour to get from the refrigerator to the table is instantly nixed.

But ah, Sundays. On Sundays I can spend a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen, pottering around and trying my hand at a few of the hundreds of recipes I’ve bookmarked. Sunday dinners also provide a nice break from the hassles of the week and the busy socializing of the weekend. I can snuggle up next to my fiance as we share plates, enjoy our apartment and bask in a moment of cozy domesticity.

Sunday Night Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy; in fact, it rarely is. The meals I whip up on Sunday are usually more homey, rustic dishes — like roast chicken (and I have an excellent new roast chicken recipe to share with you soon) or saffron risotto. In fact, on some level it isn’t so much what I cook but rather that can take time to enjoy the process of cooking it. Cooking is always fun, but it’s just more fun on Sundays.

This pork tenderloin and arugula salad is simple, light and delicious and comes together quickly enough that I could probably prepare it on a weeknight. But then I’d rush through it, foregoing the enjoyment I get from smelling the toasted walnuts, deglazing the brown bits from the pan, emulsifying the vinaigrette. On Sunday, I can appreciate all of those steps — and even have dessert in the works at the same time.

Throw in a loaf of crusty bread, some goat cheese and a bottle of red wine, and this salad might have you thinking you’re in France, forgetting that your weekday routine begins again the next day…

Well, maybe doing the dishes will remind you.

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Tap Tap Tapioca

Apparently I’m on a crusade to redeem the foods people love to hate. A few days ago I was singing the praises of the disrespected brussels sprout, and today I’m lauding the humble tapioca pudding, a dish many love and an equal number passionately detest.

Recruiting people for Team Brussels Sprout is, believe it or not, a lot easier than convincing people to embrace tapioca pudding. See, with brussels sprouts, you just need to cook them properly and get the flavor right. But with tapioca, you’re not up against flavor (tapioca doesn’t really have any); you’re up against texture.

Tapioca 1

I’m convinced there is a contingent of people out there who are “texture eaters.” Just like there are “supertasters,” who are acutely aware of flavors the average person cannot detect, these “supersensers” are extremely sensitive to a food’s texture. Most people I’ve met who would fall into this category don’t like oatmeal, oysters, sushi, or even yogurt — anything that might feel slippery, strange or lumpy on the tongue.

For these people, or ones approaching that level of sensitivity, tapioca pudding provides the ultimate ick factor: it’s slippery, lumpy and unusual. The tapioca balls, which are small balls of dried cassava starch, become jelly-like when cooked in the custard mixture. So not only do you have the slickness of the custard itself; you also have a bunch of slippery little buggers floating around in there.

So for the supersenser types out there…I’m sorry to say, there’s not much I can do to win you over. But for the rest of you, I’ll say this: tapioca pudding is often butchered by cafeterias and mess halls, whose cooks turn out gloppy, slimy, icky pots of so-called “tapioca pudding.” If this is your only experience with tapioca pudding, give it another chance.

This Regan Daley recipe dresses up tapioca pudding with a vanilla bean and is truly delicious — nothing like the jiggly mess my elementary school cafeteria used to throw at us. It’s sophisticated and yet totally comforting, a perfect winter treat. And if I haven’t won you over in my “scorned foods” crusade…all is I can say is, hey, I tried, right?

Tapioca 2

Note: This is my submission to this month’s Sugar High Friday — “The Proof is in the Pudding” — and my first SHF ever. Given the title of my blog, how could I not participate? If your interested in knowing the history of pudding…I have an oh-so-nerdy write-up here.

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Do you like Nutella? Oh, good. You’re human.

I can honestly say that, with the exception of people with nut allergies, I have never met a person who dislikes Nutella. Sure, not everyone loses his or her mind over its chocolatey hazelnut goodness, but I can’t think of a single person who has tasted it and said, “Ew.”

Gianduia mousse cake 3

I, for one, do go crazy for the stuff, and my boyfriend loves Nutella even more than I do. In fact, when I need a jar of it for baking, I’ve considered hiding it from him. He’s a big boy, but even the mighty Odysseus had trouble resisting the Sirens… And as it turns out, the man responsible for this addictive spread that my boyfriend and I adore may be none other than Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte.

Chocolate hazelnut paste, historically called gianduia and today marketed as Nutella, dates back to the mid-1800s in Piedmont, when chocolate had become a rare commodity in Europe. Napoleon had imposed a continental block in 1806, which made it impossible to import chocolate from South America and made local chocolate extremely expensive. So a man named Michele Prochet came up with the idea to make chocolate go further by adding chopped hazelnuts, grinding the hazelnuts into the cocoa to form a paste. The confection was officially given a name in 1865 at a carnival in Turin, taking the name of Gianduia after a carnival character representing the archetypal Piedmontese.

Gianduia mousse cake 2

And, man, something about that combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is completely irresistible. Mr. Prochet, I lust after your creation.

Consequently, I’ve been on a quest to find a dessert that tastes like a big slice of Nutella. With an entire jar of Nutella and almost a cup of hazelnut butter, this Gianduia Mousse Cake nearly does it. The cake is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. But I still want a more pronounced hazelnut flavor, so next time I will probably add some Frangelico to the cake and use hazelnut oil when making the hazelnut butter.

So merci, Monsieur Bonaparte. Without your obstructions, who knows when we would have perfected the chocolate hazelnut confection that makes this dessert possible.

Gianduia mousse cake

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Returning to work after Thanksgiving weekend is one of life’s less pleasant experiences. After a weekend of food, family, friends, and pajama-like clothes, the cold shower that is the workplace seems decidedly bleak.

I guess that’s what makes Thanksgiving such a special holiday. You put on the brakes, step out of the daily grind and remind yourself of the things, the people, that matter — that make you who you are. Sure, I would never forget that my brother can make me laugh until I cry and shoot water out my nose, but having him make me laugh until I cry (and yes, shoot water out my nose) is much more special, I assure you.

Apple Manchego salad

But not every day can be like that, all fuzzified with pumpkin pie and cornbread stuffing and apple-topped sweet potatoes. If every day were like that, holidays wouldn’t feel special. But we knew that already.

That doesn’t mean every other day has to be boring, though, even if it feels that way sometimes after a holiday weekend. Take this apple manchego salad, which showcases some of autumn’s best. Crisp apples and toasty walnuts are paired with zesty Manchego cheese in a wonderfully refreshing salad. I doubt this salad would make an appearance on my family’s Thanksgiving table. But that’s okay; sometimes you need things that make every day feel a little special too.

Salad closeup

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In my family, Thanksgiving is a Big Deal — the sort of holiday that I and about two dozen family members and friends look forward to for months. I’ve been known to start thinking about it as early as July.

Traditionally held by my mother, the holiday involves 30lb turkeys and massive crocks of sweet potatoes and vegetables, all eaten on tables decorated with dried leaves and votive candles. Mom doesn’t mess around.

And just like a football coach wouldn’t run a new play at the Super Bowl, my mother doesn’t serve a dish at Thanksgiving unless it has been tested and tweaked and tested again. It’s serious stuff, this Thanksgiving business.

So a few years ago, my mom decided to experiment with a new turkey recipe that claimed you could cook your turkey in about 2 hours at a very high and dry heat and yield the most succulent bird you’ve ever tasted. No basting, no turning, no stuffing. Just bake the bird at 450°F for a couple of hours. The claim sounded improbable, but she figured if it didn’t work out, she’d only wasted 2 hours of her time. She could always fall back on her stand-by recipe.

The turkey turned out fantastically and has since become our Thanksgiving standard. But I started wondering if the same method could be applied to other meats and poultry, particularly chicken. After looking into it, I found that Barbara Kafka has been touting this method of roasting for decades, often to the skepticism of cooks like Julia Child (who was quoted as saying she “hates” this method).

Roast Chicken

I was a little fearful of jacking my oven up to 500°F to roast a chicken, so I found another, similar recipe by Thomas Keller that roasts the chicken at 450°F for about an hour and is positively fantastic. The high, dry heat caramelizes the surface of the skin and melts excess fat and water out of the chicken, which bastes the bird as it cooks.

Thanksgiving is a special day, where I’m surrounded by loved ones and eat holiday fare that I look forward to all year. But this chicken recipe is something special that I can eat all year round, making even an average Monday night something to look forward to.

Roast chicken 2

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Okay, that’s it. Each day in October, as temperatures hovered in the 70s and 80s, I reassured myself that tomorrow would feel like fall. Well, maybe not tomorrow, but the day after that. Or the one after that. Or not at all.

But it’s November, people — stuff-your-face-with-turkey month — and I barely need a jacket. Don’t get me wrong; the weather has been wonderfully sunny and breezy, a refreshing 63°F, even. But it just doesn’t feel like I should be gearing up for pumpkin pie and cornbread stuffing.

Oatmeal 2

I’ve been trying. I’ve made sweet potatoes and apple spice cakes and so many other “fall” dishes that you’d think I ate them cozied up beside a roaring fireplace. I guess I figured I could will the arrival of autumn weather. But alas, my efforts were in vain…

I will concede, however, that recently the mornings have felt like fall, with the crisp sort of air that turns the tip of my nose red and makes my eyes water. The first morning this happened, I was so happy that at least something felt fall-ish that I broke open my jar of steel-cut oats and made a big pot of oatmeal.

Oats

As far as I’m concerned, on cold mornings nothing beats a big bowl of hot cereal, and steel-cut “Irish” oatmeal is one of my favorites. Steel-cut oats come from the inner portion of oat kernels and have been cut into only two or three pieces. They have a nuttier flavor and chewier texture than the more familiar rolled oats, which are flake oats that have been steamed, rolled and toasted.

To make the naturally nutty flavor of steel-cut oats even nuttier, I toast mine lightly before cooking them. I figure if I am going to be warm and toasty, the cereal should be too.

So let’s go, Autumn, time to get down to business. This hot cereal will only fool me into believing it feels like fall for so long, and turkey day is just around the corner.

Oatmeal

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