Friday, June 1, 2012
A few weeks ago, my friend Yvette–who is also one of The Hubs’ colleagues–sent me a basket of beautiful eggs from the chickens she and her family are raising. The eggs themselves are long gone, of course, but I needed to return her basket and wanted to fill it with something light and summery. It turns out that both The Hubs and Yvette had to be at an early meeting today, so I sent him to campus with a batch of these delicious Lemon Lavender Muffins–a few in the egg basket, just for Yvette and her family, and the rest for the committee members (who would, I was certain, be feeling disgruntled about having to be at work early on a summer morning. There are very few perks to being a professor, but leisurely summer mornings are one of them.)
I love the flavor of lavender, especially paired with lemon. Even so, it’s important to remember that lavender is an aromatic herb and very little goes a long way. Too much lavender will give a bitter taste to whatever you’re making. I used a tablespoon in this recipe, which is about half of what many other recipes will suggest; it gives the muffins a very light lavender flavor, but that’s what I wanted. Just know that you’d be safe in doubling the amount of lavender and adjust accordingly.
You can find dried culinary lavender in specialty grocers or on the spice aisle at World Market. The lavender buds will need to be ground, either in a food professor (grinding the buds with the sugar will help to distribute the lavender oil and give you a stronger lavender flavor), in a spice/coffee grinder, or with a mortar and pestle. I ground lavender, sprinkled it into the sugar, then sprinkled the lavender sugar through a fine mesh sieve as I added it to the flour, just to catch any remaining large pieces of lavender. If you use a food processor, that last step probably won’t be necessary. (I have a food processor, but it’s an older model and very heavy, so I rarely drag it out of the cabinet.)
This recipe calls for Greek yogurt, but any variety of yogurt will suffice–even light sour cream would work. Plain or lemon yogurt would be fine, if you can’t find honey-flavored yogurt at your local grocery store. Honey-flavored Chobani Greek yogurt is my favorite, and I thought the touch of honey would add a little something to these muffins. It most certainly did. Next time I make a batch, though, I’m thinking I might use plain yogurt and lavender honey, just to see how that tastes by comparison. I might also try topping them with a lemon-lavender glaze, rather than using a sprinkle of turbinado sugar–I didn’t do that this time around because The Hubs was taking them to a meeting, and I didn’t want them to be sticky or messy to eat.
The Girl ate two of these last night and pronounced them “super yummy.” I’m hoping for a similarly positive report from The Hubs when he comes home this afternoon.
Lemon Lavender Muffins
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 T. dried lavender, ground
1 T. lemon zest, packed
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 6-oz. container honey-flavored Greek yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 T. butter or margarine, melted
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Stir together the sugar and ground lavender, then sprinkle this mixture through a fine mesh sieve to catch any remaining large chunks of lavender. Add the lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir all the dry ingredients to combine. (If you want, you can use your fingers to rub the lemon zest into the other ingredients. This will give you a stronger lemon flavor and ensure there are no big clumps of lemon zest in the muffins. I almost always do this when I'm baking with lemon zest.) Make a well at the center of the dry ingredients.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt, lemon juice, and melted butter. Pour the wet mixture into the well in the dry mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir only until the dry ingredients have been incorporated.
Fill 12 muffin liners 2/3 full of the batter. Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins have browned and the centers are firm to the touch.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
I’ve always been proud of the fact that the Foodie children know how to function in the kitchen. The Girl knew how to crack an egg by the time she was three years old. The Boy has long been adept at making a batch of cookies, when the craving strikes. But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, we’ve just recently started sharing responsibility for making dinner. I talked The Boy through making a batch of French toast last weekend, and then on Monday evening he asked his sister to explain how she’d made the spaghetti we were eating. I love that he’s taking an interest in learning to make his favorite meals, since that means he’ll be able to make them for himself whenever he wants them.
Tonight–which was Do-Your-Own-Thing Night–The Boy asked me to talk him through making a grilled cheese sandwich. I was taken aback by the fact that, in all the years of making these for him, I’d never thought to explain the process–and he’d never thought to ask. It’s a pretty basic skill, to be sure, but between learning the recipe for French toast and the skills for grilled cheese, The Boy is basically ready to make lots of fancier things (like a patty melt or a Monte Cristo sandwich, for example), should he ever want to do that. Also, grilled cheese doesn’t mean one thing. I’ve made sandwiches with various kinds of bread and cheese, sandwiches with onions or a slice of fresh tomato. Once you have the grilling skills in place, the experimentation can begin.
And the skills, I must say, aren’t self-evident, because I’ve eaten a lot of disgusting, soggy, greasy grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve also heard a lot of people say “I love grilled cheese, but I can never make it like they do at a restaurant.” So, in the interest of saving The Boy (and all other beginning chefs) from that fate, this evening we went through the basics–starting with two slices of plain white bread.
Butter both slices of bread thinly but completely, getting all the way out to the edges. If you’re OCD, like me, you’ll want to make sure that one piece of bread is the mirror reflection of the other–that way, they’ll match up when you make your sandwich. Also, you don’t absolutely have to use butter. We normally use Brummel and Brown spread, which contains yogurt and tastes as delicious as butter with slightly less fat.
Now’s the time to add your cheese. The Boy likes basic American cheese, and though I think it lacks something in flavor, it does melt nicely and help to heat up the ingredients of your sandwich. I’ll sometimes use one slice of American cheese combined with another type (usually cheddar) for flavor. You don’t have to use American cheese, though. Just be sure that whatever you use, it’s grated or very thinly sliced. A big hunk of solid cheddar cheese isn’t going to melt by the time your bread is toasted.
Now plop the two halves of your sandwich together and butter the top, thinly and evenly. Too much butter and you’ll end up with a soggy sandwich that collapses in the center. (Sorry about the blurry knife. I tried to catch The Boy in a pause, but that’s no easy task.)
Once you’ve buttered the top, let your sandwich sit for a moment and turn your attention to heating your skillet. I turn the heat to high and let it sit on the burner until I can feel the heat from the pan with my flat hand about two inches from the surface. This isn’t an exact science, but you’ll know you got it right if, when you place the buttered side of your sandwich in the pan, it gives you a nice sizzle. If it does, turn the heat down to medium-low (on my electric cooktop, that’s setting 4.) If it doesn’t, leave the heat on high for a couple more minutes, then turn it down. Starting with high heat will give your sandwich a nice crust, and turning down the heat will melt the cheese without burning the bread.
While the underside of your sandwich is grilling, butter the top. Then wait three or four minutes–from here on out, you’ll be working accord to preference. Use a spatula to lift the sandwich and check the color of your sandwich. If it looks brown enough for your taste, slip the sandwich over and let the other side toast. If not, give it another minute. This is how we like it:
Once the bottom matches the top, transfer the sandwich to a plate. Let it sit for two or three minutes, so the cheese can stabilize a bit. This is a great time to slice up an apple (The Boy’s favorite accompaniment to this sandwich), dish up a bowl of soup, or just anticipate the bliss that only a truly great grilled cheese can provide.
There’s no end to the variations on this staple: add ham or turkey along with the cheese. Use grated mozzarella instead of American cheese, then add fresh basil leaves or a drizzle of pesto sauce. A friend once made me a version on sourdough bread, with sharp cheddar and thinly sliced green apple, that was pretty close to divine. If you have a favorite version of the grilled cheese sandwich, feel free to describe it in the comments and give the new chefs among us new options to add to their repertoire.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
One of the things I’ve really missed since going gluten-free last year is the texture of scones: crunchy, crumbly, biscuit-like scones. Which is funny, because most gluten-free cookies are closer to crunchy than tender–you wouldn’t think a gluten-free scone would be such a difficult thing to create. Every recipe I consulted, however, warned me that the scones would be more cake-like than crumbly. I wasn’t interested in cake-like. I wanted biscuit-like. Or, more precisely, scone-like.
After lots and lots of lots of searching, I came across this recipe from Gluten-Free Canteen. It promised the kind of scones I was looking for–but, I confess, I wasn’t entirely convinced that they would work. At this point, I’m pretty used to gluten-free recipes creating a product that’s not exactly what I expected, even if it’s pretty good. Perhaps the greatest surprised I encountered in this recipe was the instruction to “bake until the top and edges look golden brown.” One thing I thought I had definitely learned about baking gluten-free products is that they don’t brown during the baking process. In fact, they remain downright pasty. (Also, just as a point of interest, they don’t change shape. If you put a blob of gluten-free cookie dough into the over, you’ll end up with a blob-shaped cookie. You have to create the desired cookie shape prior to baking.) All in all, I was intrigued by the original recipe and ready to give scones a chance.
Well. You can see what happened.
Crunchy, crumbly, biscuit-like scones. And they browned. I was beside myself with glee.
I ate one of these scones almost immediately, and gave one to The Hubs, who said “Wow, these don’t taste weird at all.“ In spite of the fact that gluten-free baked goods can be gummy when they’re warm, these were not. The lemon zest gave them a light citrus flavor, not overpowering but definitely noticeable. I plan to make a batch of these with orange zest, and maybe some dried cranberries as well, before too long.
The original recipe gave me a chance to put to use my new kitchen scale, though I’ve translated the amounts I used into the measurements that you’re probably more familiar with. Instead of using the flour blend this recipe specifies, I used Namaste Foods’ Gluten-Free Perfect Flour Blend; I’ve been using this blend pretty regularly for the last month and, so far, I’m pleased with the results. (This flour blend includes xanthan gum, which the original recipe didn’t call for, so you might want to add some if you use a different blend. And if you aren’t eating gluten-free, of course, just use regular wheat flour.) I also used a little more sugar than the original recipe calls for, and I left out the Penzy’s lemon peel powder because I’ve never seen it available locally. Finally, I used turbinado sugar in place of Demerara sugar for topping the scones, simply because that’s what I had on hand. You might be unfamiliar with the buttermilk powder called for in this recipe, but it’s more than likely available on the baking aisle of your local grocery store.
These scones also did double-duty as shortcakes for dessert on Friday evening, split in half and filled with strawberries and whipped cream.
So delicious! While I was zesting lemons for the scones, it occurred to me that a lemon shortcake (made with lemon curd in place of the macerated strawberries) would also be really, really delightful. That may be on our dessert agenda before too long, but not this time around. The leftover scones made it to Saturday morning breakfast. After sitting overnight in a covered container, they’d moved from biscuit-like toward cake-like, losing their essential sconeness. Still tasty, but definitely better on their first day.
This recipe gives me hope that I actually can find a way to make the things I enjoyed before giving up gluten. Up until now, I’d made my peace with the fact that a gluten-free version of anything was going to be different–not better or worse, necessarily, but different. And now I’m not so sure. With the right combination of ingredients, maybe it’s possible to make exactly what I want, with or without wheat.
Gluten-Free Shortcake Scones
3 cups gluten-free flour blend with xanthan gum
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk powder
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Zest of two lemons
10 T. butter (1 stick + 2 T.), cut into cubes and refrigerated until use
1 large egg white
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 T. butter, melted
2 T. turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, buttermilk powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the lemon zest to the dry ingredients and, using your fingers, rub it into the mixture to distribute the lemon oil throughout. Drop the cubes of butter into the dry ingredients and, using a fork or pastry cutter, work them through until the chunks of butter are pea-sized. Make a well at the center of this mixture and set the bowl aside.
Whisk together the egg white and buttermilk, then add to the well in the dry ingredients. Stir just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined--the less you work the dough, the better. Turn the dough onto a cutting board and shape it into a rectangle about an inch thick. Cut the rectangle into nine squares. (If you'd prefer your scones to be a different shape, now's the time to create that shape.)
Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheets. Brush the tops with butter and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, until the scones are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. These scones are best right after baking, but can be stored overnight in a covered container.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Photo Credit: The Girl
We in the Foodie family are a team. (Not a basketball team, in spite of the photo above–that’s me trying to photograph The Boy in action, to update his picture on this blog, while The Girl takes a photo of the family in action. The Hubs is playing rebounder, so The Boy won’t have to run around.) More often than not, we operate as a cohesive unit: when one of us is upset or sick or overwhelmed by life or otherwise out of sorts, everyone else springs into action. No one even has to ask for assistance. This is true of both The Hubs and I as well as the Foodie children, who are quick to offer comfort to each other when trouble strikes. Like all siblings, they squabble when they have nothing better to do–but when it really matters, they step up. I’m not sure how The Hubs and I have managed to create such a terrific family, but we’ve very proud that these are the people we get to come home to every evening.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that, when I agreed to take on some administrative responsibilities at my university next year, The Hubs made a proposal: making dinner for the family each evening needed to become a shared enterprise. What if he and the Foodie children each took over planning and making dinner one night a week? And what if one evening were a do-it-yourself affair? Although my new position won’t kick in until August, the Foodie children were eager to get started–and it made sense for them to get in the habit of looking for recipes and making a shopping list (all requests submitted to me by Thursday evening) before their participation in those activities was absolutely crucial.
We’ve been following our new dinner plan for about two weeks now. In that time, we’ve enjoyed
- Crispy shrimp tacos with a sour cream and lime sauce, courtesy of The Girl
- Cheeseburger mac and cheese, courtesy of The Boy; and
- Gluten-free lasagna, courtesy of The Hubs.
All perfectly delicious, I might add. But it’s been surprisingly difficult for me to let go of the reins–not because the Foodie children sometimes require a little help in the kitchen (very little–The Boy, in fact, shooed me out of the kitchen while he was cooking), but because I’m used to making dinners the way I like them, and eating a meal prepared by someone else means accepting what they offer with gratitude–even if you would have made it a little differently. You wouldn’t go to a friend’s house and offer suggestions for improving the meal next time around, so I certainly can’t say this to the most important people in my life. In letting the Foodie children take the lead in the kitchen, I’ve had to learn to model what it means to be a gracious guest at another family member’s dinner table.
We’re still tweaking the system. This week, The Girl discovered how many of the recipes she’d like to make aren’t gluten-free, so I stepped in to suggest a small alteration for my portion of the meal. Because we each have a designated night to cook dinner, school events and unexpected commitments occasionally interrupt the order, and we haven’t yet decided what that means: should someone just get a night off? Should that person prepare his or her meal on what would have been do-it-yourself night? Should the chef trade nights with someone else if he or she suddenly can’t be home in time for dinner–and is that fair to ask of someone who wasn’t planning to cook? We don’t have answers to those questions yet, and it may turn out that our answers change each time a question is asked.
The most important benefit of this system (so far, anyway) is that it’s encouraging the rest of the Foodie family to think about the food we eat. The Boy found one of his recipes on the back of a ketchup bottle, and I’m fairly certain he’d never even noticed there were recipes anywhere other than in books and magazines before that moment. Suddenly, though, he’s finding them everywhere. The Girl realized, planning this week’s meal, that she’d made shrimp dishes for us twice in a row, which made her think about the importance of variety. The Hubs discovered the importance of planning ahead when he waited to shop for dinner ingredients until the evening on which his dinner needed to be made–which left him with no time to actually make a meal. All the work that goes into making a meal for the family every night is suddenly becoming clear to everyone.
So, we’re all learning valuable lessons–and that’s the way it should be. This time next year, The Girl will be finishing high school, and she’ll need to know how to cook for herself if she’s going to avoid eating fast food for every meal. The Boy has a little more time with us at home, but why not spend that time learning new ways to take care of himself? Sharing the responsibility for making dinner has been more of a challenge than a relief for me, but I know it’s the right thing to do. And I know the whole family will benefit. In the long run, that’s what matters.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
We’re going through a rainy patch in south Texas. After the past several years of extreme drought, I can’t complain about this–in fact, in spite of the fact that it keeps me indoors, a rainy day once in awhile is a welcome thing. It gives me a good excuse to settle in and do what needs to be done: prepare for my summer school class, catch up on email, and (of course) do some baking.
All right, all right. If you’re going to be technical, baking probably doesn’t qualify as a need. But I’ve had several packages of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Shortbread Cookie Mix in my pantry for awhile, and I did need to try it out. Nothing lasts forever, after all. And summer is almost upon us. Around these parts, that means the definite end of baking season.
I’ve had good luck with Bob’s Red Mill products in the past, so I had high hopes for this mix as well. One of the reasons I’d put off trying it is that the package directions call for rolling out and cutting the cookie dough into shapes. Had I known that before I ordered the mix online, I probably wouldn’t have bought it at all–cut-out cookies are generally more of an effort than I’m willing to put forth in the kitchen. But that would have been a big mistake. After following the package directions and mixing the dry ingredients with butter, water, and an egg yolk, I had the inspired idea of dividing the dough in half, covering each portion in plastic wrap, and rolling each into a long tube. (If I’d had pecans on hand, I would have rolled one of the tubes in chopped nuts–I love pecans in shortbread.) Half an hour in the refrigerator produced cookie dough was firm enough to slice and bake. No cookie cutters required. and the cookies were all relatively the same size and shape.
This method gave me about 3 dozen cookies. The first batch, I sprinkled with cinnamon sugar before they went into the oven, to approximate the snickerdoodles that we love. The second batch, I sprinkled with turbinado sugar, to give the cookies a bit of crunch. And the final batch I left plain before baking, but frosted with a sunny yellow buttercream after they’d cooled. A frosted sugar cookie is one of The Hubs’ favorite things, and the Foodie children also love their cookies super sweet.
Of those three options, I liked the turbinado-sprinkled cookies best. No surprise, since those are the ones I made with myself in mind.
With a chai latte, they made an excellent treat to brighten up the rainy afternoon. The texture of these cookies is very tender, which was a pleasant surprise–it’s unusual for gluten-free cookies, in my experience. They tend toward the crunchy end of the spectrum. This shortbread isn’t chewy, by any means, but it’s much more delicate than I expected it to be. The Foodie children were delighted to find cookies waiting for them at home after school, and even The Girl (who is a gluten purist, when it comes to baked goods) tried a frosted cookie, then had a second, and added a snickerdoodle for good measure.
The verdict? This mix is definitely worthy buying. The package directions called for 2 tablespoons of water, but because the dough looked very dry I added an extra tablespoon. I think I might add yet another tablespoon next time I make them, to see if that helps make the cookies even more tender. A tablespoon of lemon zest would also be a tasty addition, and if I try that option I’ll probably top the cookies with a lemon juice & powdered sugar glaze. (Two tablespoons of juice and a cup of powdered sugar will give you a pourable glaze–add some lemon zest if you want to boost the lemon flavor.) As I worked with the dough, it reminded me of the base I normally use for lemon bars, so I might also try a version of those with this shortbread as a bottom layer.
Bob’s Red Mill has yet to let me down with their gluten-free mixes. I’m still learning to make the things the Foodie family likes without wheat flour, and it’s good to know I can rely on this line of products to make that a little easier.