Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Medjool Dates

My sister-in-law turned me on to these decadent treats! O.K., so maybe they are mostly sugar but I can think of a lot of reason why they are good for someone with Celiac. Dates are full of phosphorus, calcium and Vitamin A (helpful in absorbing calcium) and they are loaded with iron. Mine are repackaged locally by my grocer and the label says they are processed in a plant where there is wheat. As soon as I get home, I open the package and wash them really well and put them in my own container. I love to eat them as desert but recently I discovered stuffing them with a small cube of good Parmesan, wrapping them in bacon and roasting them in the oven renders the best treat ever. I don't have a photo to share but trust me these are really good. You can make how ever many you want.

Half the dates width wise and remove the pit.

Stuff a small piece of good Parmesan cheese into each half, you can eyeball the size. You want enough to notice the cheese, if the piece is too small it will simply disappear.

Wrap each stuffed date in about 1/3 a piece of bacon (I like Nueskes) secure with a toothpick.

Cook in a 450 degree oven for about 7 minutes, turn the dates and cook another 7 minutes or so, until the bacon is done. You can assemble these a day ahead if you want and store in an airtight container until your ready to cook.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fresh Pea Soup

I had no idea that some people just don't like peas. My partner Tina is one of them. When I ask people about pea's, I get some very strong, emotional reactions. One person actually said, "evil".  As for myself, I love peas and I look forward to the spring harvest of fresh peas I can shell myself.  For the moment I will settle for frozen peas to make this soup.  You can serve this warm, or chilled, garnished with gluten free croutons and fresh cut chives.
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (about 2 medium leeks)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups chicken stock (I used Kitchen Basics Vegetable broth)
5 cups freshly shelled peas, or 20 ounces frozen peas
2/3 cups fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup gluten free croutons
Heat the butter in a large saucepan, add leeks and onion and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until tender. Add broth/stock, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the peas, cook 3-5 minutes, until tender. Off the head, add mint, salt and pepper. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth and return to saucepan. Whisk in creme fraiche. For a truly velvet like texture force the soup through a tamis (drum sieve) or a chinos. I used a tamis and the result was remarkable. Serve hot or chilled with gluten free croutons and chives.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Daisy Cake

How's this for a beautiful cake! I made this for my partner to take to work one day using a fun daisy cake pan. I love lemon, lemon anything and this pound cake is irresistible, especially paired with fresh fruit and lemon curd. You can cut the recipe in half and use a loaf pan instead of the daisy cake pan. The cake is infused with a lemon syrup while still warm and then covered with the lemon glaze. The recipe below makes enough batter for a full cake, or two loaf cakes and is easily cut in half.

1/2 pound butter at room temperature.
2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6-8 large lemons)
3 cups gluten free flour (I like Bob's)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
For the glaze you will need:
 2 cups powdered sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, grease your pan
Cream the butter and two cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, for about five minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, then add the lemon zest.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, begin and end with the flour. Pour batter into the pan, smooth the tops and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low until the sugar dissolves. When the cake is done, let it cook for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a rack, set over a tray, and poke holes in the cake with a long wooden toothpick. Spoon the lemon syrup over the cake and allow to cool completely. 
For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and mix with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the top of the cake and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Indian Food

I just love Indian cuisine! One of the best aspects of Indian food is that it is by an large naturally gluten free. You do however, need to check out your spices very carefully. I learned this the hard way after using something called Asafetida, or more commonly know as hing. The truth is, I got sloppy and I did not check all my Indian spices and this one slipped through the cracks as a result of my sloppiness. Hing is a gumlike resin made from three different fennel species. It is sold in a solid or powdered form and is often laced with flour to prevent clumping. After discovering that powdered hing indeed contained flour I consulted with my Indian cooking mentor, Raghavan Iyer who initially suggested trying the solid form. A few days later I got a second email from Raghavan warning me that the solid form may also have wheat in it and I should steer clear altogether! Raghavan is a local (Twin Cities, MN) cooking expert, author of three great Indian Cookbooks and instructor of Indian cooking. I have taken two classes from him and for my 50th birthday I hosted a home cooking class that Raghavan taught. I always struggle for an explanation when people ask, "What is curry". Raghavan's definition comes as close as any good explanation: "any dish that consists of either meat, fish, poultry, legumes, vegetables, or fruits, simmered in or covered with a sauce, gravy, or other liquid that is redolent with any number of freshly ground and very fragrant spices and or herbs." Since my partner does not like Indian food, I have to find moments when she is out of town or working late to experiment with this cuisine. I love Raghavan's approach to cooking Indian food and rely on his cookbooks for almost all of my recipes. One in particular that I really enjoy is a version of Malai Koftas that calls for opa (Indian squash) or zucchini.

Malai Koftas
Adapted from Raghavan Iyer

For the croquettes:

1 medium peeled opa squash, or two medium zucchini to render 1 1/2 cups 
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger root
2 fresh Thai, Serrano or cayenne chilies, finely chopped
1 cup garbanzo bean flour (besan)
vegetable oil for frying
For the cream sauce:
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground
1 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon Garam Masaala
1 tablespoon cilantro finely chopped.
To make the croquettes mix the shredded squash with salt in a medium bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Squeeze as much water out of the squash to drain and then mix with remaining croquette ingredients except oil. Shape into eight balls, slightly larger than a golf ball. Heat oil, 2-3 inches deep in a wok or other heavy pan, to 350 degrees (yes you need a thermometer!) Carefully drop the croquettes into the oil and fry for 2-4 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

To make the cream sauce heat the ghee in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add the whole cumin seed and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the onion and garlic and stir fry 2 -3 minutes, until golden brown. Stir in tomatoes, ground coriander, ground cumin, salt and turmeric. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer 5-6 minutes or until a thin film of oil forms on the surface. Gently stir in the fried croquettes. Cover and simmer 5-6 minutes or until the croquettes have absorbed the sauce and have softened. Remove from heat,  stir in the whipping cream and Garam Masaala, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Asparagus Soup

This is a quintessential spring soup. My friend Jennifer is coming for dinner tonight before we head out to a Lynne Rosetto Kasper event. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make this soup with the first tender asparagus of the spring. It is inspired from a recipe in Eating Well

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
zest and juice from one lemon, divided
2 cups peeled, diced red potatoes
3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth if you prefer)
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups trimmed asparagus, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion greens or fresh chives
slivered almonds toasted in sesame oil (optional)

Melt butter and oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, sweat until golden about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder, ginger, lemon zest and potatoes, stir to blend flavors and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in broth, coconut milk and asparagus. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, partially cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree in a vitamix (or regular blender) until smooth. Season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper if you like. Strain through a chinos. Whisk creme fraiche lemon juice and scallion or chives in a small bowl and garnish with a swirl, top with toasted slivered almonds. May be served warm, or chilled.