Archive for the ‘Gluten-free’ Category
Once again, I was browsing one of my favorite ethnic markets, Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, and found myself in the puffed rice area. (They have a lot of puffed rice, and I don’t know yet what they do with it all. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.) Anyway, next to the puffed rice was a bag labeled “puffed lotus nuts.” They looked like puffed cheese doodles or pop chips, so I bought some.
It was not quite what I was expecting (nor was it what anyone in my office was expecting). It’s appearance leads you to believe that it will have a bit of a crunch, like popcorn, or at least be like a wafer—crisp and melty.
But, no. When you pop one in your mouth and bite down, instead of getting a crispy little bite, it collapses into a chewy, sticky blob. Everyone I gave some to got the same expression on their face—surprise and mild revulsion. It was actually kind of funny. The flavor of these snack balls was, oddly, like
smoky barbecue sauce. I’ve never had lotus nuts before so I didn’t know if this flavor was way off or not. It was just strange. Someone suggested that maybe they were simply stale, but I don’t think so.
Then, I did a little research and found that they’re eaten two ways: 1) In curries and stew-style dishes and 2) pan-fried.
I tried pan-frying them in a little oil and discovered that they actually crisp up. They became like popcorn! The odd barbecue flavor was greatly diminished, which, depending on whether or not you like it, could be a good or bad thing. For me, it was a good thing. I ate a small bowlful of them and I think I’ve found a new favorite snack.
In terms of health, lotus seeds are gluten-free, rich in calcium, and in traditional Chinese medicine, they are considered a cooling food. They are good for the spleen, kidneys, and heart, and have a calming effect that benefits those who get heart palpitations and suffer relentlessness.
Give them a try. Just heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet, throw in a as many puffed lotus nuts as will fit, and stir them every so often until they’re lightly browned. If you want, season them with salt, chili powder, garlic powder, or any other flavoring you like. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and you can snack on them instead of nutrition-less chips.
Yes, I’m talking about the same chia seeds that get watered on a head or little ceramic kitties and grow into a little mini landscape.(Remember those commercials?)
Those seeds contain antioxidants, essential minerals—such as phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium, and more iron than spinach—and more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Like quinoa, chia seeds are one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, and have been used for hundreds of years for sustained energy. They were once a staple of Native American (both North and South) diets. In fact, I’ve read that “chia” is a Mayan word for “strength.”
Chia seeds purportedly increase strength and energy, help retain hydration, and aid in weight loss. They’re great for diabetics because they lower blood sugar levels. It’s also been said that chia seeds help in relieving thyroid conditions, IBS, acid reflux, hypoglycemia, and even Celiac disease.
You can use chia seeds in just about anything you would use flax seeds in: salad dressings, smoothies, yogurt, or just sprinkled on top of any dish. If you’re looking to replace eggs in baked goods, chia (or flax) seeds will fit the bill. The quantity depends on how many eggs are called for in the recipe, but here’s a general formula:
To replace 1 egg:
1 tablespoon chia or flax seeds—grind in a spice grinder
Mix with 3 tablespoons water.
Note that products made with seeds instead of eggs will have a chewier consistency, so be judicious about what products you’re using them in.
This is my recipe for Beet-Apple-Chia Salad, which I like to have for lunch. Between the walnuts and chia seeds, there’s enough protein in here to get you through the afternoon. It makes 2 portions if you’re making it to serve alongside something else. But for lunch, I eat the whole enchilada.
- 4 small beets, roasted or boiled, peeled
- 1 tart apple, cored but not peeled
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1/2 tablespoon chia seeds*
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the beets and apples into bite-sized pieces. Combine them in a bowl, along with the walnuts, chia seeds, oil, and vinegar. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
- *Chia seeds can be purchased in natural/health food stores, but may also be found in larger supermarkets with an organic/natural food selection. I found my bag at Trader Joe’s.
A friend of mine recently asked me to make cupcakes to bring to a bridal shower. This friend has health issues that necessitate her to be on a gluten-free diet and she asked that I make the cupcakes gluten free. She’d tried some of my baked goods and had really enjoyed them. She wanted hers to be pumpkin and chocolate—40 of each. The verdict from the shower was that everyone loved the pumpkin, but the chocolate not so much. The chocolate had received positive reviews when I brought samples to work but even then I knew that the texture wasn’t quite right. They were very dense and rich and everyone thought they were great. One person told me that after she ate one, she wasn’t hungry for hours and she thought this was a good thing, but I knew that heartiness just isn’t what you want in a cupcake.
I tried it again, and I wasn’t able to quite get it right before the shower. I simply didn’t have the time.
The pumpkin, on the other hand, was a hit. I took the basic combination of ingredients for pumpkin cake and altered the recipe to make it less sweet than most cakes and, of course, gluten free. Actually, I should probably say “low gluten” instead because I substituted all-purpose flour with spelt flour. Spelt is a low-gluten wheat variant, so most people with wheat sensitivities can tolerate spelt, but those with full-blown Celiac Disease usually cannot.
I also wanted to make it lower in sugar, so I cut back on the amount that I saw most pumpkin cake recipes call for. And because I substituted brown sugar for white, it made it a little fluffier (not sure why) and more flavorful.
Now here’s where I had to make a decision between whole-food/holistic-eating versus weight loss diets. In the first category lies the basic tenet that you should eat foods in their whole forms—i.e., all its edible parts. In the case of dairy, that means with full fat. When fat is removed from dairy, the enzymes which make it digestible are also removed, making it a bigger issue for lactose-intolerant people than full-fat dairy would be.
BUT everyone is concerned about their weight, cholesterol, etc. My friend was concerned about bringing the cupcakes to the shower in the first place because the bride is a little overweight. She asked me if I could make them even lower in sugar than my samples. I told her that if I took out any more sugar, they would taste like nothing. Then she asked me if I could keep the frosting off, and I explained that cupcakes without frosting are muffins and hardly party fare. At first, I offered to try and experiment with alternate sweeteners (honey, applesauce, maple syrup, maple crystals) but I was faced with a time crunch. Experimenting like that—substituting ingredients that are vastly different than the original—often takes multiple tries to get right. I didn’t have the luxury of time in which to do that.
So, to compensate, I made the decision to use low-fat cream cheese for the frosting. My teachers at the Natural Gourmet Institute would tsk-tsk me, I’m sure. But I think they would also agree that we have to compromise sometimes—they themselves taught me that we can’t be “good” one hundred percent of the time. All we can do is do our best as often as possible. So, here’s my recipe for a gluten-free, low-sugar, low-fat (not vegan) but really tasty (no, really!) Pumpkin-Coconut-Walnut Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.
Yield: 20 cupcakes
3 cups spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 to 2 cups brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 (15-oz. can) pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
½ cup desiccated (unsweetened) coconut
¾ cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 (8-oz.) packages low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 20 paper muffin cups into muffin tins.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each one before adding the next. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and beat until well blended. (The mixture will look curdled but that’s okay.)
4. At low speed, add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the pumpkin mixture. Increase speed and beat until well blended. Fold in the coconut and walnuts.
5. Place about ¼ cup of the batter into each paper cup. (Pour water into any empty muffin wells, about ¼ of the way up, to prevent them from scorching.)
6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to racks and let cool completely. Meanwhile make the frosting.
7. Beat the butter until white and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese and then the vanilla. Begin adding the sugar a little at a time; alternate beating at low speed (when first adding the sugar) and high speed (to blend it in well). Stop adding when you’ve reached the consistency you want. Continue beating until completely smooth.
8. When cupcakes have cooled, spread or pipe on the frosting. Decorate as desired.
I was recently browsing the Gourmet Garage, a high end market in Greenwich Village, and came across a product I’d never heard of or seen before: Kañiwa. As I often do when I encounter a new product, I bought it. (Although I can’t afford to shop regularly in gourmet markets, I like to browse the aisles because I know that I will usually find something that is not commonly found in most other markets.)
Kañiwa , also spelled cañihua or canihua, is a tiny grain, about the size of a poppy seed. It is a species of goosefoot and is related to quinoa. Like quinoa, it is a whole grain native to the Andean mountains of Peru. Also like quinoa, when cooked, kañiwa seeds have little threads around them. Unlike quinoa, they do not contain saponins, which is the compound that gives quinoa its bitter taste. (If you ever cooked quinoa without rinsing it first, you know what I’m talking about.)
Although kañiwa is new to the U.S., it’s actually an ancient grain and health experts are now saying that kañiwa is the next big “super grain.” Nutritional facts about kañiwa are not yet available from the USDA, but considering that the people of the Andes have sustained themselves for thousands of years in part with kañiwa, it’s safe to say that kañiwa has something going for it. In fact, it’s high in protein (it’s 16% protein) and antioxidants, and also contains fiber, iron, calcium, and zinc. And it’s a gluten-free grain.
How to use Kañiwa
Again, kañiwa does not need to be rinsed. Most sources that I’ve consulted recommend toasting. Because it’s so small, it can be incorporated into many things, but is particularly popular made into a porridge. Kaniwa.org provides this recipe (with my edits):
Basic Kañiwa Porridge:
Cook one cup of kañiwa with two cups of water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed. Just like quinoa, it will sprout little tails when done. Fluff with a fork. Serve the kañiwa with butter and a sweetener, such as maple syrup or Rapadura. This will make about two cups of cooked kañiwa.
Right now, kañiwa is hard to find, although you can order it online. I paid $5 for 12 oz., so it’s not cheap but not over-the-top expensive.
The texture of kañiwa is almost like grits, but firmer and crunchier. It’s quite unique. Below is a recipe that I created. It’s a very simple recipe with simple ingredients. It’s great for a party and it will definitely have people asking, “What is this?” In a good way. Enjoy!
Warm Kañiwa Salad
Makes 6 servings.
1/2 cup kañiwa
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 finely chopped shallots or scallions
1 cup mushrooms (any kind)
2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 tbsp stone-ground Dijon mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Toast kañiwa in a dry pot, stirring frequently, until it has a nutty aromna, about 2 minutes.
2. Pour in vegetable broth. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic and shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms release liquid and start to brown. Add beans and cook until warmed through. Add this to kañiwa in bowl. Sprinkle in parsley.
4. Make dressing. Whisk all ingredients together until well blended. Pour over kañiwa. Toss to mix well. Adjust seasoning as desired.
Until recently, I had never seen sorghum grain in my life. I only became familiar with sorghum molasses a couple of years ago, when I encountered it on a trip through the South. But sorghum, as I learned, has been around for a long, long time.
Sorghum has been known by other names, the most common of which are “Guinea corn, “Johnson grass,” and “milo.” “Egyptian millet” and “great millet” have also been used, which is understandable, since the grain does look like millet on steroids. I’ve purchased sorghum flour in my favorite Indian market, Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, where it’s called marathi.
The oldest documented cultivation of sorghum is dated at 3000 B.C. in Egypt. Sorghum thrives in hot, arid climates, where other crops might fail. That could be the reason why it became such an important crop in the Near and Middle East. The Muslims introduced it to Spain, who then introduced it to France, and from there, it spread out to other parts of Europe. Sorghum is an important crop in Africa, and it is believed that it was introduced into the U.S. by African slaves in the early 17th century. According to Grain.org, sorghum is the third most important cereal crop grown in the U.S. and the fifth most important in the world. The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of sorghum.
Sorghum became a particularly popular product in the U.S. South, where sorghum molasses is a common substitute for maple syrup and is spread on biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, and—as I found out in Alabama—THROWED ROLLS.
Aside from food, sorghum is commonly included in animal feed, and it is used in the production of alcoholic beverages, such as maotai and kaoliang in China and beer in the U.S., such as Bard’s and Redbridge by Anheuser-Busch. In southern Africa, sorghum beer is popular and is said to be a traditional beverage of the Zulu people. Also, people in South Africa used sorghum beer to get around the prohibition laws imposed on the black community. And since sorghum is a gluten-free grain, sorghum beer is a great choice for those with gluten sensitivities. (If you’re so inclined, you can brew your own sorghum beer. Here are a set of instructions.)
As far as nutrients go, sorghum is rich in potassium, phosphorus, thiamine, and niacin, has some calcium, and has small amounts of iron and riboflavin.
When cooking with sorghum, it’s best to use “moist” recipes—that is, recipes that call for moist ingredients or a good amount of liquid—because the grains are thick and starchy and if they’re too dry, they can have a pasty mouthfeel and be difficult to swallow. And it’s best to serve sorghum hot (or at least warm) because as it cools, the starchiness becomes prominent.
While sorghum might be easy to find in the South, not so much in the Northeast. However, I did, by chance, find some at an Asian market. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was and, of course, I had to buy some. I did a little research on the best ways to use sorghum and came up with this recipe. Enjoy!
Sorghum and Kale Saute with Cannellini
1 cup sorghum grain
2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups chopped kale
1 ½ cups cooked cannellini
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp paprika
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
2. Rinse and drain the sorghum. Place in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot or Dutch oven and stir over medium-low heat until dry and slightly browned.
3. Carefully pour in the vegetable stock and a pinch of salt. Stir and place in the oven; bake until liquid is absorbed and grains are tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. If necessary, add a little more liquid to the pot.
4. Heat oil in a wide pan. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, sprinkle in paprika and red papper flakes and immediately put in the kale. Add salt and pepper and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until kale is wilted and tender (but not mushy. Add the sorghum and beans and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add more liquid if necessary.
5. Check for seasoning and serve hot.
Today is National Banana Bread Day. I love banana bread. It’s filling, satisfying, comforting, and just plain delicious. Plus, when you have those bananas that are just too ripe to eat, instead of tossing them, they can go right into a batter for bread.
We owe the existence of banana bread to the introduction of baking powder to the average household kitchen. Banana bread is in a class of baked goods called quick breads. This basically means that the dough doesn’t have to rise from yeast—it is leavened by a chemical leavener, thereby making it a “quick” bread to bake.
Baking soda is also used for quick rising, but it requires an acid to activate it, such as buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice. Baking powder is a chemical leavener that contains both baking soda and an acid. Variants of baking powder were being made in the early 1800s but the types we are familiar with today became more widely used in the late 1800s. By the time World War II rolled around, it was in common use. The use of bananas in bread came about for a simple reason: so money wasn’t wasted on overripe produce during the difficult war years. You can read some more interesting history on Wikipedia.
Because there are people in my life who are gluten free, I make a lot of gluten-free goodies. The banana bread recipe below is adapted from my favorite gluten-free baking book, Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly. I added my own touches to it (including the coconut) and it makes for a delicious, not-too-sweet breakfast bread or snack. I forgot to check on mine, so it got darker than it should have, but it was tasty just the same. Enjoy!
Gluten-Free Banana Bread
Adapted from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly
3/4 soy flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup rice flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/3 cup coconut oil (or other oil)
2/3 cup palm sugar
1/2 cup mashed banana
1 cup desiccated coconut*
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.
2. Mix dry ingredients (up to the eggs) in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients.
3. Mix eggs, oil, sugar, banana, and 1/2 cup coconut; pour into the well. Stir until blended.
4. Spoon batter in to loaf pan. Sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top.
5. Bake until a toothpick comes out dry but with some crumbs attached, about 40 minutes.
* Shredded, unsweetened coconut.
Gluten-Free Italian Indulgence
Chef: Fortunato Nicotra, Executive Chef of Felidia in NYC
On February 1, 2012, I did day 5 of my internship at the James Beard House. I assisted Chef Fortunato Nicotro, Executive Chef at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s restaurant in NYC.
It was the most interesting day for me thus far. First, I signed into the volunteer log book as usual. The log book has a column for the chef/event, for the volunteer’s name and signature, time in/out, and one for the volunteer’s school. I saw that another volunteer had already signed it and in the school column, it said “NG.” That meant Natural Gourmet. I haven’t seen another NGI student at JBH—most of the volunteers are either from ICE or FCI (Institute for Culinary Education and French Culinary Institute). When she walked back in, I introduced myself and found out that she graduated a couple of years ago and is now doing well with a catering and home-delivery business. (Shout out to Amy!) She lives in Western New York State and just happened to be in NYC this particular weekend and decided to volunteer.
Then, the chef and his crew arrived a short while later and as they came in, I immediately recognized one of them. She was another NGI alumnus, who graduated a few months ago, and I had helped out with her Friday Night Dinner. (Report on that FND HERE.) She interned at Felidia, which turned into a job. How about that for a coincidence? So, not only were there 3 NGI graduates there (when I was usually the only one), but one was a member of the chef’s crew, and I had actually worked on her Friday Night Dinner. I mean, I could have worked any Friday Night Dinner over the course of 11 months, and I happened to choose that person’s FND, and then encounter this person on a JBH shift of my choosing. What a small, weird world it is. (Shout out to Debbie!)
That was pretty cool. But my night became even more dramatic when, just prior to the guests arriving, two women walked in and leaned against the counter. Since all guests have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room, I really didn’t pay attention. I was busy spooning broccoli rabe into little shot glasses. I looked up briefly and one of the women smiled and said, “Hello.” I said, “Hello” and continued with my task. A moment later, I looked up again and it dawned on me that the other woman was Lidia Bastianich. I almost lost my broccoli rabe. Holy crap. Then I realized that the woman who had said “Hello” was her daughter, Tanya. And me without a camera! Doh!
They stood there and watched for a while as Amy and I helped the chef de cuisine (whose name I, unfortunately, missed) make little parfait hors d’oeuvres of ricotta, broccoli rabe, and saba. Lidia was watching me so I was as precise as I could possibly be. She and her daughter then went up to the private dining room and the rush of guests began.
I cut up burrata for a burrata and tomato salad. Burrata in Italian means “buttered,” and it is so named because it is made up of an exterior shell of mozzarella filled with a mixture of soft mozzarella and cream, making the texture buttery. I also sliced and speared salami with little wooden forks, dabbed homemade mustard with mustard seeds on them, and topped them with a homemade salsa of some sort (it looked like apple or pear and some root vegetables). I arranged them on a rectangular platter, the center of which Chef adorned with thinly shaved Grana Padano (my favorite grating cheese).
As usual, I didn’t get to sample everything because first priority is plating for the guests. If there’s anything left over, the staff gets to eat it. Unfortunately, there isn’t always food leftover, or it disappears before I get to grab some.
I absolutely wanted to try the Butternut Squash-Chocolate Ravioli with Butter-Sage Sauce, so I kept an eye on it. When all the servings were plated, there was plenty left for us, and I dove right in. The ravioli were absolutely divine. You would never have known that they were gluten-free. The dough was tender and fluffy, but firm enough to hold the filling, which was a delicious squash puree. The sauce was probably a thousand calories but it was luxurious. The tops of the ravioli got a generous dusting of ground pistachios. It was an extremely indulgent dish.
During the introduction/Q&A part of the evening (when everyone makes their appearance in the dining room for a round of applause from the guests), someone asked about the ravioli. Chef Fortunato talked about the process of coming up with a good gluten-free pasta that was superior to the stuff you find in the markets, but I don’t think he actually said what combination of flours they used. I think one of them was rice. I’d love to get my hands on the recipe. (Hint, hint, Chef Fortunato.)
I also tasted the beef duo of Braised Flatiron and Steak Tagliata, which were both tender and so flavorful, and I loved the Mashed Spinach and Potatoes. They were fluffy and smooth and delicious.
The cookie plates were adorable, and there were also little chocolate cakes adorned on the plate with a pistachio brittle that was worthy of a plate of their own. I never seem to be able to taste the ice cream at any of these dinners.
When dessert had been served, we were ushered up to the fourth floor, where Lidia and her guests awaited in the private dining room. I was so excited to be standing there in front of Lidia, who had obviously enjoyed the meal. The meal I helped plate! (Still getting over that.) On her way out a while later, she stated that everyone had done a great job. Of course, it was meant mostly for the main crew, but she did look at me, too, and I decided to bask in it anyway.
Chef Fortunato was really nice to me and I found his giddiness at the end of the night endearing.
I truly wish I’d remembered my camera. My phone camera is completely inadequate. However, the evening’s official photographer is a great person. I had met her a couple of events ago and I will be asking her for photos of both events. I’ll put a link here when the photos are available.
I really, really need a new camera.
Burrata and Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar
Bagna Cauda with Vegetables
Ricotta, Broccoli Rabe, and Saba
Flor Prosecco NV
Mediterranean Shrimp Salad with Toscanello Beans, Marinated Anchovies, and Tuna and Branzino Carpaccio
Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010
Butternut Squash–Chocolate Ravioli with Butter–Sage Sauce
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2009
Vacche Rosse Parmigiano-Reggiano Risotto with Pear and Celery
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2009
Beef Duo: Braised Flatiron and Steak Tagliata with Mashed Spinach and Potatoes and Braised Red Cabbage
Benanti Rovittello 2005
Poached Quince, Almond, and Frangipane Tart with Bourbon–Maple Syrup Ice Cream
Benanti Il Musico Moscato Passito NV
If you read this blog, or know me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, then you know that I just graduated from The Natural Gourmet Institute on January 6. I briefly reflected on this event, and now I thought I’d share the menu with you.
Every meal at The Natural Gourmet Institute is a fabulous one. I’ve done shifts working Friday Night Dinners for other classes and guest instructors, but on this Friday evening, my class was being served. We got to sit back and enjoy the meal without working, fussing, freaking, and, best of all, cleaning. The menu was created and overseen by instructor Chef Elliott Prag, who did a great job. So, here’s what we had:
Trio of mushrooms:
Mushroom Sherry Soup with Cashew Cream
Mushroom Walnut Paté with seeded (gluten-free, homemade) crackers
Mushroom Tempura with Shoyu-Yuzu Dipping Sauce
Shepherd’s Pie with hazelnut crust, spiced and seared tempeh, root vegetables, and sweet potato topping
Roasted Brussels sprouts and cipollini onions
Salad of Frisée and radicchio with olives, raisins, and pickled shallots in sweet rice vinaigrette
Cardomom-ginger poached Seckel pear
Gluten-free ginger tuile
This was a completely vegan and gluten-free meal.
Everything was expertly plated and looked beautiful. But, more importantly, it all tasted delicious. I enjoyed everything, and so did everyone else at my table. What’s interesting is to see people who are usually carnivorous, or just meat-and-potato people, taste the food at Friday Night Dinner and surprise themselves by enjoying it. The look on their faces of utter astonishment that they could possibly enjoy and be filled by a vegan meal is priceless. And I know a few people who enjoyed it so much that they plan on going to more Friday Night Dinners.
What made the mushroom appetizer trio particularly good was the fact that they used several different mushrooms—cremini, oyster, chanterelles, porcini, and perhaps others. Singly, these mushrooms all have their own distinct flavor—some earthy, some woodsy, some with nutty undertones—but together, they create something that is flavorful and complex.
The shepherd’s pie was a clever combination of tempeh and root vegetables and rather than be accompanied by sweet potatoes, they were topped by them. At the risk of insulting Chef Prag, I want to say that the pie was so cute! I don’t know if he would appreciate the word “cute” being applied to one of his entreés, but I mean that in the best possible way. They were these little, individual pies, decorated in a way that was both classy and quaint (see photos). And dessert was sweet and gratifying without being too much after such a filling meal.
I am getting sad writing this. There was something electric about going to class that you don’t get just anywhere. Friday Night Dinner was always a rush of adrenaline, and the frenzy and excitement always outweighed the anxiety over doing a good job. Ultimately, we always did a good job.
Thanks to everyone at NGI. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Hi, everyone. Since I’ve been in cooking school, I haven’t had much time to cook at home (ironically). The most I’ve been able to do throughout the course of the year is throw a bunch of vegetables together in a pot to make a chili, stew, or soup, or in a pan for the occasional frittata, and once or twice, I whipped up a batter for some muffins.
It’s now January 2, 2012. Classes are almost over (I have my last one on the 4th), exams are behind me, and my Friday Night Dinner is just a memory now. And because of the holiday weekends, I’ve been able to make a few things, like the New Year’s Red Quinoa & Black-Eyed Peas Salad.
It’s getting mighty cold here in New York, so I decided that I should make some soup today. I started with homemade vegetable stock, then made the soup with scallions, garlic, zucchini, carrots, plum tomatoes, peas, and black-eyed peas. Toward the end, I added some minced parsley, which gave it a nice, fresh, “green” flavor. I ladled some in a bowl, then I threw in some separately cooked noodles for good measure.
To accompany my soup, I also made baked millet croquettes, a recipe I got from the Natural Gourmet Institute. Millet is a whole grain that has been used since antiquity. It’s a staple grain in many countries, but until recently, you would most likely find millet in the U.S. in bird seed. Millet is a good source of magnesium, as well as phosphorus and manganese. In fact, 1 cup cooked millet provides 19% RDA of magnesium and 17% of phosphorus. Millet is recommended in our diets for heart health, the development and repair of body tissue, and to help prevent against diabetes, breast cancer, and asthma.
These croquettes are a nice way to use millet and they make a good party food. So here’s the recipe, which I’ve adapted from the original NGI version. Aside from being completely vegetarian and vegan, if you use tamari instead of shoyu, it's completely gluten free, too. Enjoy!
Baked Millet Croquettes
1 cup millet
2 cups water*
½ tsp salt
½ cup sunflower seeds, toasted**
1/2 bunch scallions, minced
½ bunch parsley, minced
1 small carrot, finely grated
2-4 tbs shoyu or tamari
- Wash millet in sieve. Drain well. In saucepot, dry roast over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes or until millet starts to smell nutty.
- Add water and salt to millet and bring to a bowl. Simmer 30 minutes until water is absorbed. Cool millet in large bowl.
- Grind sunflower seeds in food processor. Add to millet, along with scallions, parsley, and carrots. Add shoyu to taste, and squeeze mixture together with hands until soft and sticky. If the croquettes don’t stick together, add a little water to the mixture, just enough to make it stickier.
- Form into croquettes and bake on greased cookie sheet or parchment paper until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
* I prefer to cook the millet in vegetable stock for a better flavor.
** The sunflower seeds give the croquettes a discernible crunch; if you prefer a smoother mouth feel, omit the sunflower seeds.
Pizza has an interesting history, which I talk about in my cookbook, What, No Meat? Here’s an excerpt:
Virtually every culture in the world has one form of pizza or another. In the last couple of decades it has even found its way to the most culturally isolated countries. You probably knew that pizza is an Italian creation, but did you know that it goes back to the ancient Romans? The Romans made what they called moretum, a plain baked piece of dough that they ate with onions. Near the beginning of the 2nd second century A.D., the word picea entered the language to describe a piece of round dough dressed with various toppings, perhaps influenced by the Greek word pièzo, “to flatten.” It finally became pizza soon after. (Sauce didn’t enter the picture until the 18th century.)
The pizza that we know today was created in Naples in 1535 in honor of the marriage of Bona Sforza to Sizismondo I, King of Poland. Despite its grand origin, it became a food for common folk. Pizzerias started out as little holes-in-the-wall, selling pizza to the local peasants. As pizza’s popularity grew, pizzaiuoli (pizza-makers) began adding tables and chairs to entice people to enter. Little by little, they began to decorate and beautify their establishments by putting in colorful tiles or fancy brickwork.
Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in the U.S. in New York in 1905. Over time, it became very popular and more pizzerias opened all across the country, becoming a favorite gathering place for people of all classes. Today, pizza is just as American as it is Italian. According to one urban legend, U.S. pizza is so popular that in the 1980s, college students in England ordered pizza to be shipped overseas. Papa John’s pizzeria filled the largest pizza order in history by delivering 13,500 pizzas in June of 2006. This surpasses the Guinness World Records champion, Little Caesar’s, who delivered 13,386 pizzas on August 19, 1998 to employees of the VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C. at 180 locations in the U.S.
(Excerpt from What, No Meat?: Copyright © Roberti Roberti
Do not reprint in ANY form or media without express written consent.)
Wednesday night was pizza night at the Natural Gourmet Institute. It was probably a little awkward for some because our bread class was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. Irene hit us full-on on Sunday, August 28, 2011, but the city began shutting down on Saturday. Mayor Bloomberg ordered all mass transit to halt service at noon. This meant that people could get to class but they wouldn’t be able to get home. So, the school closed. That was a relief to me because to make up those classes would have been a pain in the behind for me.
Logically, bread baking should be a prerequisite to pizza making, but circumstances precluded that. But the students in my class are pretty quick learners and in the end, we made some pretty tasty pizzas and focaccia, some of them gluten free. (However, I must say that I did not agree with all the toppings that were made available to us. I just don’t think that tofu belongs on a pizza, no matter how tasty you make it.)
First, we all started by making sponges, a starter made with yeast, water, and flour and is set aside to ferment. Some bakers make a sponge and let it sit for days, even weeks. Some starters—often called “mothers”—have been around for years and years. This is achieved by making a dough with the starter, then taking a piece from that dough and setting it aside, making a dough with that starter, taking a piece, and so on. Artisinal bakers are known for doing this, as it supposedly makes a superior bread.
One of the gluten-free versions of the pizzas was slightly gummy. The bottom was crisp but the part just beneath the toppings had the appearance and texture of undercooked dough, even though it wasn’t undercooked. But the flavor was quite good—better than you’d think from a gluten-free dough. The texture of a gluten-free dough can never be that of regular dough, but you can still get a really good pizza, with a nice, fluffy texture and, with the right toppings, a complex flavor.
We were each assigned a specific recipe. Mine was pissaladiére, which is a French pizza made with caramelized onions, Niçoise olives, and anchovies. I thought it came out pretty good, although I refused to use anchovies. Sorry, all you anchovies lovers, but I just can’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of them. And that pizza was delish! I split my dough into quarters, so I wound up with 4 small pizzas. (See the picture below.)
It was a scramble to get a pizza stone. We actually had lines forming because there were only a few pizza stones and each person had multiple pizzas to throw into the oven. But, eventually, everyone got theirs in and we feasted! At the beginning of class, I was starving. By the end of class, I was stuffed.
So, here is the recipe for pissaladiére, as I made it in school. Enjoy!
¼ cup warm water
1 ½ tsp dry yeast
2 Tb unbleached white all-purpose flour
½ cup warm water
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tb olive oil
1 ½ cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
cornmeal for coating peels
1/3 cup olive oil
4 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
2 Tb Herbs de Provence
½ tsp sea salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Niçoise olives, pitted
6 plum tomatoes, sliced (optional)
In small bowl, combine ¼ cup water, yeast, and 2 Tb flour; stir until thick like batter. Cover sponge and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 20-30 minutes.
- Add ½ cup water, salt, olive oil and just enough of the remaining flour to create dough that pulls away from sides of bowl.
- Knead dough on table about 10 minutes or until soft dough is created.
- Place dough in medium, clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Proof in a warm place for 45-60 minutes or until dough has doubled.
- While dough is proofing, place pizza stones in preheated 425 oven, and prepare toppings.
1. Heat olive oil in medium pan over low heat. Add onions, garlic, Herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Slowly cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are very soft and translucent (don’t brown). Remove garlic.
2. Gently punch down dough and cut into 2 equally sized balls. Stretch out each ball of dough into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Place on peel.
3. Spread cooked onions on top of each dough. Add tomato slices and sprinkle olives over the top. Fold edge of dough over onion mixture to cover about 1 inch around. Let rise 15-20 minutes.
4. Slide pissaladiére onto hot pizza stones and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.