Primal Check-in

Hi again. Just checking in with more Primal recipes from the past week. Gil’s birthday was this weekend, so we celebrated with lunch at Mistral Restaurant in Princeton Saturday afternoon. I’ve been dying to go back ever since the photoshoot I did there over the summer and am happy to report that time didn’t cloud my memory at all; the food was just as fantastic as I remembered.

But even with the extravagant dining, I made the smartest choices I could — cheese plate for dessert, no bread or anything with wheat explicitly listed on the menu — and walked out without feeling cheated in any way.

I mentioned our love of Thai food in my last post. Specifically, there’s an amazing warm coconut milk and peanut butter salad dressing that our new favorite local Thai restaurant (Thai Jasmine in Bloomingdale, NJ) makes, and I decided I needed to have a go at it. Extensive online searching didn’t turn up anything that sounded quite right, so I turned to my copy of Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking and found just the thing! I used a full can of coconut milk instead of just one cup as directed in the recipe, but found the balance of the rest of the ingredients — sweet, salty, sour and spicy — undiminished. It topped a simple salad of shaved Napa cabbage, baby spinach, cilantro and lime juice.

Salad with Peanut Dressing | Amy Roth Photo

But man does not live by salad alone, so I made a rich carrot soup to accompany it. You can see from the photo at the top of the post that it was vibrant enough to ward off even the grayest day. Again, the key to Thai cooking is balancing the various flavors and even though this recipe isn’t in any way traditional, I think I did a pretty good job of it. I roasted the carrots to heighten their sweetness so I wouldn’t have to add sugar to the dish, added some cauliflower to keep the texture smooth and velvety and spiced it up at the end with a judicious sprinkling of dried Thai red peppers. Check out the recipe at the end of this post.

Chili | Amy Roth Photo

After being cooped up in the house for the better part of a week, 15 degree temps were NOT going to keep us from our regular Sunday morning greyhound hike. We were all going a little stir crazy. While doing about four miles bundled up will keep you from freezing in place, it still took several hours (and a long nap) to warm up once we were home. This chili took the last of the edge off. I made it with grass-fed beef and about a cup of smoked brisket that came home with us after the Christmas holidays. To amp up the nutrition, I added lots of carrots and celery, then finished it off with mustard greens and baby spinach leaves. Grass-fed cheese and pickled jalapenos added creaminess and a vibrant pop of flavor.

Baked Sweet Potato | Amy Roth Photo

And then we went really basic for lunch today. I microwaved two sweet potatoes and topped them with some grass-fed butter and sautéed garlicky leftover greens, featuring the undressed leftover salad from above with mustard greens for flavor. And for such a simple lunch, it was packed with flavor. Definitely a winner and something that can be put on the table in less than 30 minutes.

I’m really happy with the way this challenge is going. In fact, I’ve decided to join the official Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge that started at Mark’s Daily Apple today!

Thai-Spiced Roasted Carrot Soup

Allergy Fish
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Main Dish, Soup, Starter
This gluten-free/dairy-free soup relies on roasting the carrots for extra sweetness, then balancing them with sour, salty and spicy elements common in Thai cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 1lb organic carrots (scrubbed)
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 Medium yellow or white onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 2 stalks celery (chopped)
  • 2-3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 head cauliflower (broken into florets)
  • 1 roasted red pepper (chopped)
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • water
  • 1 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • salt (to taste)
  • dried Thai red peppers

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss whole carrots with 2 teaspoons olive oil and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until a knife can be easily inserted into the thickest part of the thickest carrot. Cool, then coarsely chop carrots.
In a large pot, heat remaining 3 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. When oil shimmers in the pan, add chopped onion, garlic and celery and sauté until softened. Add Thai curry paste and turmeric, mix well with sautéed vegetables, and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add carrots, cauliflower, roasted red pepper and coconut milk to pot and stir well. Add water to come about 3/4 of the way up the vegetables and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to keep at a simmer until cauliflower has softened.
In a high speed blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth and creamy. Wipe out pot and pour soup back into it. Season with lime juice and fish sauce to taste and add salt, if necessary. Garnish with dried pepper flakes.

Let’s Prime the Pumps

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge this month, and it’s going really well! I’ve cooked more in three days than I usually do in a week and everything’s been healthy and delicious, not to mention economical with all of the leftovers. And while I didn’t do this to lose weight, I’ve already dropped a little Christmas padding from my midsection, so I’m excited to continue after seeing such fast results.

Why are you doing this challenge, anyway?

My diet is pretty good overall, but what started as an occasional treat (a little dessert here, some pizza or a slice of bread there) became the rule rather than the exception. Knowing that wheat does a number on me and that my weekly burger and fries weren’t doing me any favors either, I decided plunging headfirst into an eating plan that eliminated the bad stuff and encouraged more good stuff was the way to go. (YMMV, of course.) Making it easier was just how crappy I felt after all of my Christmas indulgences.

Without getting too preachy or going into too much detail — you can find all the information you need and then some here — I’m concentrating on the following:

  • Eliminating grains, legumes, vegetable oils and refined sugars. (This is the most important part for me, though I’ll add legumes back in small quantities after the 21-day mark.)
  • Loading my meals with lots of fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Eating quality fish and pastured/grass-fed meats and eggs.
  • Eating good, satiating fats — grass-fed animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil are doing me right right now. 

And that’s basically it.

Our meals so far

I decided against a daily post because I’m cooking enough to make leftovers, so there isn’t always something new to share, plus we’re still eating out once a week. 

Primal Beef Shank Braise | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 1 – Braised Beef Shin

My decision to make this braise was made for me when I discovered the door to our big freezer open and this shin partially thawed. It’s from Snoep Winkel Farm, where all of the beef they sell is grass-fed and pigs and chickens are pastured. I also love them because Basia & Gary keep me supplied with beef tongue, organ meats and chicken feet whenever they’re available. Yum!

Braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques because you can be pretty imprecise and still turn out an excellent meal. Just remember a few simple steps:

  • brown your meat to create a fond in the pan
  • deglaze the pan with whatever liquid you like
  • don’t completely cover the meat with liquid, but leave a little sticking out from the top
  • braise covered in a 300°F oven for about 3 hours

I used the vegetables available to me — onions, celery, garlic, carrots and mushrooms — plus about 1/2 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes and served it over spaghetti squash and topped it with a sharp, garlicky gremolata. It was a rich, satisfying dish and the perfect way to kick off this new eating plan. If you’re not familiar with braising and you’d like a basic recipe to follow, try this recipe for short rib ragu and adapt it any way you like.

Primal Beef Shank Braise with Spaghetti Squash | Amy Roth Photo


 

Primal Chicken Vegetable Soup | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 2 – Chicken & Vegetable Soup

This meal took advantage of a leftover roasted chicken half plus made liberal use of our vegetable crisper drawer and freezer. When tomatoes and cilantro are in market, I make batches upon batches of Daisy Martinez’s sofrito and freeze them in 1/2-cup portions to use throughout the winter when I need to add a little zing to my meals. (It also makes the task of cooking a full meal much less onerous if all you have to do is sauté frozen seasonings instead of chopping onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, etc. before you even turn on the stove.)

I chopped the chicken and put it aside as the bones simmered in 1 quart chicken stock plus 1 quart water. I chopped up a few celery stalks, a few carrots and broke half a head of cauliflower into small florets. In a pan with olive oil set over medium heat, I cooked the frozen sofrito until it had released its water and softened, then I added the carrots and celery to cook for a few minutes and added a big pinch of kosher salt. I fished out the bones from the stock and added the sofrito mixture with the chopped Pomi tomatoes I didn’t use in the braise. I let it simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots were nearly softened, then added the cauliflower and chicken to the pot along with a package of frozen peas (I LOVE peas in my vegetable soup) and half a package of French-cut green beans. Once the veggies were softened and seasonings adjusted, we were ready to eat. And we’re still eating it, two days later! Gotta love soup.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can dress this up: Add a parmesan rind to the broth early on for extra savoriness, add a little pesto to each bowl of soup, add other vegetables as your heart desires, top with sesame oil and/or Sriracha…you get the point. It’s soup! How hard can it be?


 

Gluten-Free, Primal Za'atar Crackers Side | Amy Roth Photo

A Snack — Almond Crackers with Za’atar

Snacks are the big downfall of healthy eating plans for a lot of people. You want something quick and satisfying, but not necessarily a piece of fruit or the old standby, carrot sticks and hummus. Well, these primal-friendly crackers from Elana’s Pantry are just perfect. She has several cracker recipes on her website, but I chose to adapt the recipe for salt and pepper crackers by eliminating the pepper and halving the salt, brushing the rolled-out dough with olive oil and dusting it liberally with za’atar and crunchy finishing salt before cutting and baking.

All of Elana’s recipes use finely ground almond flour, so Bob’s Red Mill is out, unfortunately. It’s great for recipes that need something more coarsely ground like meal, but doesn’t work with the recipes on her website. I’ve had luck with Honeyville, Wellbee’s, and JK Gourmet brands.

You know how much I love za’atar, right? It’s a generic name for popular Middle Eastern blends of dried herbs and spices. There are all sorts of varieties out there, but my favorite ones tend to be heavy on sumac and sesame. The blend I bought at Penzey’s (where it’s called “zatar”) is delicious, but I’ve been just as happy with all of the varieties I’ve found at Kalustyan’s over the years. I’m sure any number of other spice shops would have it, too, so explore and enjoy!


A Word About Fats

I’ve been obsessed with coconut ghee for the past week; it’s replaced any other oil I used to use for sautéeing. You can buy it online, but it’s easy to make and lasts a while at room temperature, so there’s really no need to spend extra for it. All you do is add coconut oil to grass-fed clarified butter and you have a delicious, healthy fat with a high smoke point. I loaded up on a high-quality coconut oil from Tropical Traditions* the last time they had a sale — which they do often, so sign up for email reminders — and use it a lot, but it does taste fairly coconutty, so cutting it with clarified butter eliminates that flavor while retaining all of the benefits of coconut oil. If you’d like to use just coconut oil, they have a wonderful, neutral-tasting expeller-pressed oil, but I like the coconut ghee so much, I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back to it.

What About Breakfast and What Do You Drink?

Oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, grits and toast are out, which seems like a big deal until you realize you can have all of the pastured eggs and bacon you want. Actually, I don’t often want to start my day with a big meal, so I’ve been sticking with my green shakes. I’ve never enjoyed sweet smoothies, so what I have is more like a salad in a glass than the fruit-heavy shakes you might be thinking of. I know that’s a hard sell, but if that sort of thing appeals to you, I posted a general recipe here. These days, I add kefir and ginger and don’t really bother with the apple or cucumber, but as with so much of what I make, it changes depending on what’s at hand.

And as for drinks, I cut out all soda long ago, so that’s been easy. I drink water, seltzer, coffee and tea, plus the occasional glass of red wine, which is beneficial to both health and outlook!

*If you order by clicking on any of my Tropical Traditions links and have never ordered from them in the past, you’ll receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I’ll receive a discount coupon for referring you. Same goes for Amazon, minus the coconut oil book.

The Last Hurrah

Happy New Year! Did you pave the way for luck and money to enter your life in 2015 with black eyed peas and greens or is there something else that’s a little more traditional for you? Gil and I met friends in the city for BBQ yesterday and enjoyed Hoppin’ John fritters and collard greens side dishes there, so there was no need to rush home and cook another meal simply to allay my superstitions.

I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions and resolutely avoid making them, but the time is right to start making some dietary changes. Now that the parties are over, the travel is done and life is returning to normal, I can stop making allowances for “just this once” or justifying another wheat or fried food-laden meal with this twisted logic: “I’ve already eaten bread (or fries) this week. How much worse will I feel if I do it again?” (For more classic excuses — a few more of which I made — check out Gretchen Rubin’s piece on self-sabotage.) Starting today, I’m getting back to the Primal Blueprint plan with its 21-Day Challenge and look forward to feeling good again, healthy and strong. I know a lot of people are skeptical about primal/paleo generally and gluten-free diets specifically, especially when there’s been no celiac diagnosis, but I know how my joints ache and pop when I eat wheat, I know the number it does on my stomach, and how much older I feel when I indulge even a little bit. And I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to ditch sugar after the sheer number of cookies and other desserts I ate over the last two weeks!

But before I start posting all of our nutritious primal dishes, here’s one last carb-y hurrah for you:

Mac & Cheese from Modernist Cuisine | Amy Roth Photo

Mac and cheese is the world’s most perfect comfort food, don’t you think? Even bad boxed versions are tolerable, but when you start it from scratch, there’s nothing better. So when a friend posted a link to a recipe that promised the creamiest mac & cheese possible — and without a bechamel — I took notice. I don’t find the task of bechamel-making too onerous, to be honest, but if anything could get me one step closer to mac & cheese nirvana, I was willing to try it.

The recipe was originally published in Modernist Cuisine at Home and uses calcium citrate to keep the cheese’s oil and milk solids mixed when heated instead of allowing it to separate into a big greasy mess without the benefit of some medium (such as bechamel) to hold it together. SCIENCE! Chemistry was not my strong suit (she says, in the understatement of the year), but I needed to try this, so I ordered the Modernist Cuisine-recommended WillPowder Sodium Citrate from Amazon, which turned out to be the best value for the money I could find online.

I used a combination of cheddar and gouda and found it very creamy and quite rich, as you’d expect from a recipe that so revels in cheese. The only drawback is that you must eat it right away or it will solidify into a block (à la melted Velveeta) as it approaches room temperature. But you can always adjust the proportions to make just what you need. I reheated leftovers with a little added milk, but they just weren’t the same.

Find the recipe here. Playing with your food has never been so satisfying.


Oh, well, ok. I guess I do have a little more to share since the pictures are taken, anyway. As everyone knows, Christmas season is fueled by cookies, so I whipped out my favorite paleo chocolate chip cookie recipe to make a special batch just for us. I like to top them with Maldon sea salt before baking to give them a little extra pop, but otherwise stuck to the recipe as written. Gil devoured about 85% of them, but I got to enjoy a few. So many other cookies found their way into my mouth when I was in Louisiana that these don’t even tempt me now.

One the one hand, it’s a sad state of affairs. On the other, this sweets aversion will make my life relatively easy for the next 21 days as I go full primal. I haven’t decided if I’ll post my progress daily or just in bi-weekly digest form, but I’ll be sharing good primal-friendly recipes here, either way.

Happy New Year! Are you doing any sort of month-long challenge, too? Let me know in the comments so we can hold each other accountable/cheer each other on!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies | Amy Roth Photo

 

Gluten-Free Cookie Dough | Amy Roth Photo

Your Gumbo Needs a Gluten-Free Roux

With a little over a week until Christmas day, the empty spaces on my Christmas list are filling in as quickly as those in my calendar. I love the way things pick up this time of year and generally enjoy the task of finding the perfect present, though I really could do with a few more good ideas for secondary gifts to round things out. What’s your holiday season looking like?

All shopping and party stress aside, I know a lot of you are looking forward to Christmas dinner, perhaps one featuring roast turkey. Me? I can barely be bothered to cook one for Thanksgiving most years, though I relented a few weeks ago when my father-in-law ordered a gorgeous 20-pound organic turkey for the occasion. So I bent my rules, cooked the bird (breast-side down and the day before), and invited extra friends to our Thanksgiving feast. We didn’t have the house-busting crowds I remember from my childhood, but this band of strays had a terrific time. Here we are late in the day after too much food and many bottles of wine, still in place at the table, laughing over who remembers what:

Thanksgiving Chez Roth | Minimally Invasive

But even with eight people — several of whom took home leftovers, mind you — that was a lot of bird. Gumbo to the rescue!

As ever, I took Michael Ruhlman’s advice for making stock and broke up the turkey carcass in a large stockpot, covered the bones with water and a little cider vinegar, and let it sit in a 200°F oven, this time for about 25 hours. That’s much longer than I typically let it go, but I was rewarded with the most flavorful batch of broth I’ve made yet, so I think there’s little danger of overcooking it.

Gumbo | Amy Roth Photo

But with the wealth of great gumbo recipes available — Donald Link’s Fried Chicken Gumbo is the perfect place to start — the rest of this post is less about the specifics of making a gumbo than the benefits of starting one with a gluten-free roux. So many Cajun and Creole dishes are roux-based that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to convert one for someone who can’t eat wheat, but I’m here to tell you it’s an easy thing to do!

Whether you’re on board with a gluten-free diet, think it’s overblown or just don’t play attention to it at all, there are actually several reasons you might prefer making gluten-free roux for your gumbo:

  • It’s a great way to use bean flours or blends you don’t much care for.

    If you’re anything like me, you have a few odds and ends of these flours in the fridge that you bought in a burst of enthusiasm only to discover they make breads taste weirdly, well, beany.

  • It’s an economical use of alternative flours that can be pretty expensive to buy.

    The longer you cook a traditional roux, the darker it becomes and the less it ultimately thickens. While I haven’t tried every last GF flour available to me, I can say that the more common ones — garbanzo bean flour, sorghum flour and many baking mixes — don’t behave the same way. In fact, if you swap GF out in equal measure for AP flour, you’ll end up with a much thicker end product than you imagined. For this reason, I like to use half the amount of oil and flour called for in any given recipe.

  • It cooks faster.

    SO MUCH faster. In the gumbo link above, you’ll be standing in front of a hot stove constantly stirring that roux for nearly an hour. Even if you have multiple beers for companionship, that’s a long time. But GF flours brown to a nice peanut butter/milk chocolate shade in about 10 minutes, which barely gives you time to remember the beer, much less get through the better part of a six-pack. (At least if you’re like me.)

  • Best of all, there’s no sacrifice on the flavor-front.

With all that said, maybe you prefer tradition and have no need to part with your standard roux. Well, there’s another thing you can do to enter roux heaven: play with your fat. Not a Homer Simpson situation, but just start your roux with something more interesting than olive or canola oil. I keep jars of bacon grease and schmaltz in the fridge and love to work them into meals to amp up the flavor. So if you’re making a turkey gumbo and have some of the seasoned fat left from roasting, try using it in the roux. Building flavor from the bottom-up is a sure way to make any meal (but especially one of converted leftovers) memorable.

Some people recommend you cook the roux in a cast iron skillet with a whisk to keep from splashing yourself, but I like to do everything in one pot because I’m a rebel who loves to take risks lazy and hate washing dishes. A large pot and flat-bottomed wooden spoon work really well as long as you’re careful. Seriously, DO NOT splash yourself with hot roux. They don’t call it “Cajun napalm” for nothing.

Gumbo3 | Amy Roth Photo

I hope you found this post helpful! As long as you follow my tips for adjusting the ratio of roux to gumbo and don’t splash yourself (or burn the roux), you’re golden! Tell me, what’s your favorite dish made with gluten-free roux?

At Least Thanksgiving Dessert is Set

Thanksgiving is coming! Yikes! I’ve been bookmarking recipes on my “Thanksgiving” Pinterest page for a few weeks, but somehow lost track of time and now it feels like:

I’LLNEVERGETEVERYTHINGDONEOMGRUNAWAYRUNAWAYRUNAWAY!

Deep breaths…

I’ve never been one for making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, I was planning to serve my Short Rib Ragu as the main this year, but my father-in-law ordered a turkey for us instead, so we’re going with a tried-and-true menu! We’ll pick up the bird Wednesday, which means no dry brining for us, but I’ve found a few traditional recipes that should do the trick, either alone or in combination. The bird will be 18 POUNDS for only five of us and I really don’t know if my refrigerator can accommodate such a large bird, but at least we’ll have plenty of gumbo over the weekend, if anyone wants to join us.

Seriously. Please join us.

So as far as I can tell, we’ll have a fairly traditional Thanksgiving, with:

Nibbles

  • Cheeses, olives and Prosecco
  • Endive with figs, blue cheese, chopped walnuts and a drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar

Main Course

  • Turkey – I’m leaning toward this simple recipe, though Peking-style sounds amazing, and I wonder if breaking apart the bird before roasting would be the better course of action. I can break a raw chicken into parts without mangling it most days, but fear this beast will be too much for me to handle.

Sides

  • Purple potatoes, either salt roasted whole or prepared this way
  • Kale salad, which I’ll try to replicate from a salad I threw together a couple of Thanksgivings ago. I really should start writing things down!
  • Alton Brown’s cornbread
  • Green beans, maybe? I’m leaning toward the version on this Pinterest board with lemon and capers. What do you think?

Dessert

  • Apple Pie from Auntie El’s in Sloatsburg, NY (There’s no website, sorry.)
  • Sweet Potato Chiffon Puddings (picture above, recipe below)

While the menu doesn’t sound inspired, exactly, it will be the type of cooking I enjoy doing — simple home cooking that relies on fresh, whole ingredients. I’d love to throw in some of the traditional Cajun foods I grew up with (like my grandpa’s Oyster Dressing or Uncle Phil’s Cornbread Dressing), but I’d be the only one to eat them. And sentimentality aside, that’s a lot of work and expense for an already-busy holiday. Also, I can usually count on my dad to make oyster dressing at Christmas, so it isn’t that long of a wait.

What are your Thanksgiving plans? Are you spending it with family, taking in strays or maybe escaping completely and going on vacation (preferably someplace warm)?

Sweet Potato Chiffon Puddings

Allergy Egg, Milk
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Dessert
Misc Pre-preparable
These gluten-free Sweet Potato Chiffon Puddings have an airy texture, spicy orange flavor and can be made ahead in individual servings, so they're perfect for a dinner party or Thanksgiving gathering.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1lb roasted sweet potato (peeled)
  • 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 Large egg yolks (room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 Large egg whites (room temperature)
  • pinch cream of tartar
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Note

If you'd like to make your own pumpkin pie spice, I highly recommend this recipe at My Baking Addiction.

I'm thinking a thin layer of caramel, dulce de leche or cajeta would be a delicious addition between the sweet potato and whipped cream layers.

I adapted this recipe from my favorite Sweet Potato Pie and this recipe for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie at Chow.

Directions

Pour orange juice and Grand Marnier into a small measuring cup and sprinkle gelatin evenly over the surface. Set aside for later.
In a food processor, add sweet potato, milk, brown sugar, egg yolks, pie spice and salt, and pulse until smooth. Pour into a medium saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture reaches 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove pan from heat, add orange-gelatin mixture and orange zest and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
Pour egg whites into a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment and add cream of tartar. Whisk on high speed until whites start to form medium peaks, about one minute. Add sugar a little at a time and whisk until stiff peaks form, about another minute and a half.
Using a rubber spatula, fold half the egg whites into the cooled sweet potato mixture until no streaks are visible, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.
Either spoon the pudding into individual serving cups and chill or cover bowl and refrigerate pudding until ready to serve.
Just before serving, whisk heavy cream until soft peaks form. Top puddings with the cream and sprinkle with ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg or crumbled gingersnaps, if desired.

The Ins and Outs of Pesto: I’m Sorry

I’m sure you don’t want to know this, but pesto made with a mortar and pestle really is better than pesto made in a food processor.

I know, I know: It’s a LOT of work and more difficult than dumping ingredients into a bowl and pushing a button, but you just can’t argue with the creamy, airy texture. I didn’t really notice any difference in flavor and probably won’t bother with the labor-intensive method TOO often, but when I have time and my inner gourmand demands it, I will.

Read the article that finally convinced me to try it. Maybe you’ll be convinced, too! I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe, substituting walnuts for the Italian pine nuts I couldn’t easily find. (Note about the photo: I wasn’t quite done yet, but the light was fading fast, so I shot by the window then returned to my labors.)

Gluten-Free Lemon Cake

If there’s one thing I hope I’ve made clear in this blog over the years, it’s that I hope you’re having fun in the kitchen and aren’t afraid to make substitutions. (Or is that two things? Oh, well.) Unless it’s a main ingredient like beef when I want to make pot roast, I don’t mind swapping out ingredients if I have something on hand that sounds appropriate.

Take this sunny, gluten-free lemon cake from Serious Eats. I haven’t had a great deal of luck with gluten-free cakes in the past, but this recipe sounded simple and intriguing enough for me to give it another go…with changes. I don’t often like the texture of cakes made with oil (and don’t keep vegetable oil in the house, anyway), so I used butter instead. I could’ve melted it to keep things simple, but wasn’t sure if that would leave me with the same texture I was trying to avoid, so I creamed it together with some sugar and hoped for the best. It smelled great and looked just fine coming out of the oven, so I was halfway there.

And then neither of the topping options sounded very good to me, so I whipped up a lemony cream cheese frosting that I thought would complement the cake. And it was tasty, but the cake’s texture was a little spongier than I like. But when I woke up the next morning, I gave it another try and was really happy to see that the cake had evolved overnight into something softer, almost pudding-like, probably the result of the humid weather we’re having. So I wholeheartedly recommend this recipe, especially if you like bright, lemon flavor without a lot of sweetness. Just wait a day for perfection.

And if you want it sweeter or tarter? Make a few substitutions. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? (Not rhetorical; I’d really love to know. Leave a comment with any baking horror stories you’ve experienced, please!)

Gluten-Free Lemon Cake

Serves 6
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk
Dietary Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature (plus extra for greasing pan)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup sweet white rice flour (5 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch (1 ounce)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (rounded)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from 2-3 lemons)
  • 2 Large eggs (at room temperature)

For the icing

  • 4oz cream cheese (softened)
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
  • pinch kosher salt

Note

This recipe was adapted from Serious Eats. I wanted a lighter textured cake than oil normally provides, plus a slightly sweeter base and tangy icing. I think I succeeded on all counts, and thank Serious Eats for the inspiration!

Directions

CAKE
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with butter.
The the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until butter is light and airy.
In medium mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients — rice flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, and salt. In a measuring cup or a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, lemon zest and eggs.
With the mixer set to speed 3, add one-third of dry ingredients and mix until incorporated into butter. Add 1/3 of buttermilk mixture and mix until incorporated. Continue alternating dry ingredients with wet and mixing between additions until a batter is formed. Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides, then mix again for about 30 seconds.
Pour batter into greased pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool to room temperature in pan.
ICING
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until it's light and fluffy.
Turn mixer to low and add remaining ingredients, mixing until incorporated fully into cream cheese.
With the cake still in the pan, frost with cream cheese mixture.

Cherry Clafoutis

I know a lot of people are impatient for farmers’ market darlings tomatoes and corn to make an appearance, but I’m just happy to experience the seasons as they unfold and enjoy each week’s new arrivals. Cherries came to market two weeks ago and I’ve been shoving them in my face with a speed rivaled only by Ru at his bowl. But I managed a little restraint as well, because what’s the start of cherry season without a clafoutis?

If you’ve never had clafoutis, you’re in for a treat. It’s a simple, homey French dessert with a custardy base and fruit baked in. Cherry is very popular, but you can use just about any fruit you’d like, really. The traditional recipe isn’t gluten-free so I haven’t made it in a while, but when I saw a recipe by Kimberley Hasselbrink at Cookbooks 365 that used a mixture of almond flour and brown rice flour, I knew clafoutis’ time had come again for me. Visit Cookbooks 365 for the recipe and stick around for a bit for delicious, wholesome recipes and gorgeous photography.

French Feta with Cherries | Minimally Invasive

Because I pitted more cherries than I needed for the clafoutis, I tried something a little different with the extras. To go with a luscious French feta I bought on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Corrado’s, I tossed halved sweet cherries with a touch of honey, some chopped rosemary, toasted and chopped pecans, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of kosher salt. The sweet-tart cherries balanced the salty creaminess of the feta so perfectly, I may or may not have eaten a quarter pound of cheese in one sitting that day. I’ll never tell.

All this talk of cherries has me hungry for more. Lucky me, I loaded up at the market again this weekend. Yum.

Season’s Grillings

Sitting at my computer with the windows open, a cool breeze occasionally lifting the scent of the charcoal grill from my top, I am a happy girl. My tailbone is still painful, but getting better everyday. If I can find anything to be thankful for in this situation, it’s that I’ve had to slow down. I’ll start a full-time summer job at my former company this Wednesday, so I’ve been shooting and designing freelance projects until I can’t anymore, then taking advantage of my few remaining days at home by taking naps when my body demands them. I’ll miss semi-retirement for the next few months.

I’m writing this Saturday, as Gil is preparing to leave for a business trip to Scotland. I thought he could use a good meal before his redeye flight, so I sent him off with grilled steak, garlic scapes and asparagus. And because I plan to cook more large meals on weekends to bring for lunch during the week, I used a small-yet-sizable flank steak bought from the Snoep Winkel Farm booth at the market this morning. There was no time to marinate the beef before lunch, so instead I relied on a dry rub plus grilled garlic scape purée to impart flavor.

Grilled Garlic Scapes | Minimally Invasive

Garlic scape pesto is really popular, but I’ve never really liked it. The flavor is just too overpowering for me, but I can eat my weight in grilled scapes, which turn mellow and smoky after spending time over hot coals. I thought it would be fine to pound them into a paste with a mortar and pestle, but quickly realized that I’d be in the kitchen all day if I relied only on my own power, so the food processor took over. But the stone mortar and pestle are so pretty, I had to continue styling with it.

Grilled Garlic Scape Mash | Minimally Invasive

The purée is really nothing more than garlic scapes, olive oil, salt, lemon juice and red wine vinegar, but it cut right through the tiny bit of fat in the grass-fed beef and gave each bite an extra hit of smokey goodness. Highly recommended, if you have access to scapes and a grill.

Grilled Flank Steak with Garlic Scape Purée

Serves 6
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot
Garlic scapes are in season and so is grilling. Thank goodness grilled flank steak was made for garlic scape purée.

Ingredients

For the garlic scape purée

  • garlic scapes (a few handfuls)
  • olive oil, divided
  • Diamond kosher salt
  • lemon juice
  • red wine vinegar

For the flank steak

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon aleppo pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 grass-fed flank steak (about two pounds)

Note

Instructions are for grass-fed beef, which tends to be a bit leaner than grain-fed, so you don't want to overcook it. This cooking time produced a medium-rare steak for me, but monitor your steak closely. Remember, you can always cook your steak longer, but you can't uncook it!

Directions

GARLIC SCAPE PURÉE
Heat gas grill to high or build a hot fire in a charcoal grill.
Wash and dry garlic scapes and trim off the thin tail end, just beyond where the bulb attaches to the stalk.
Toss scapes with a little olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt.
Once charcoals have a layer of white ash on them, clean the grill with a wire brush. Add garlic scapes to the grill in one layer and cover with lid. Grill for a few minutes then flip.
Garlic scapes are done with both sides are blistered and blackened in spots and scapes are tender. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a bit before handling.
Chop garlic scapes and pulse in food processor until a paste forms. Scapes are fibrous, so it won't be smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of red wine vinegar, a few tablespoons of olive oil and blend until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
GRILLED FLANK STEAK
Combine sugar, black pepper, aleppo pepper, garlic powder and salt in a small ramekin. Sprinkle over both sides of flank steak and press into surface.
For medium-rare steak, grill over high heat for 3-4 minutes, then turn the steak 90° and grill for another 3-4 minutes. Flip steak over and grill for 3-4 minutes, then turn the steak 90° and grill for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from grill and tent with foil for 5 minutes before slicing very thinly across the grain and serving with garlic scape purée.

 

Grain-Free Tabbouleh Salad

Things have been moving a little slow at the junction this weekend, though not from any laziness on my part. See, my ass is broken. Not broke — though the money situation could always be better — but brokEN. I had the bright idea of taking a 5 1/2-mile hike with Gil and the boys last Friday morning to take advantage of the wonderful hiking trails and lakes we have around here. And it was a perfect day, honestly; a cool breeze was blowing, the sky was clear and blue and we only passed a few people and their dogs in the two hours we were out. Otis was a very good boy throughout, barely paying attention to the first three dogs we passed, but then (dunh, dunh, DUNNNNHHH!) along came number four. We’d just passed him without incident and I was praising Otis for being such a gooood boooy, when the other dog barked and Otis just lost it, as he tends to do when that happens. Being a big, slinky greyhound, he managed to trip me and I came down hard on my back and bruised my tailbone in the process. Ouch. So now I have a preview of what it’ll be like in 40 years when I’m puttering around the house and groaning whenever I bend over or get up from a seated position. Oh, the indignity!

He’s SO lucky he’s cute.

Otis B. Driftwood | Amy Roth Photo

Ru was fine, being a pretty chill dog until someone approaches our house or thunder/fireworks disturb him.

Rufus T. Firefly | Amy Roth Photo

But back to food. I’m sure you can imagine that I haven’t really felt like cooking much all weekend. But I do have this new weekly posting schedule and a variation of tabbouleh salad has been worming its way into my mind lately, so I decided to suck it up and do some chopping!

Gluten-Free Tabbouleh | Minimally Invasive

We’ve gotten tabbouleh so wrong for so long here in the U.S. that it may seem odd when you proportion things correctly. It’s supposed to be a parsley salad with a little bit of bulgur wheat instead of the other way around. And even though the bulgur wheat is barely there, it’s still wheat, so I started brainstorming gluten-free substitutions. Quinoa was the first thing to come to mind, but I knew it wouldn’t have the right texture, so I let my mind roam and came up with the idea of using chopped, roasted chickpeas. They’re one of my favorite snacks — crunchy yet chewy, and I figured they’d hold up pretty well, even sitting overnight in leftovers.

While I won’t know how the leftovers held up until tomorrow, I have to tell you that it was so good for dinner tonight, I’m surprised there was anything to pack into the refrigerator.

Gluten-Free Tabbouleh Salad

Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish, Salad
Misc Serve Cold
Roasted chickpeas make a delicious substitute for bulgur wheat in this gluten-free version of tabbouleh salad.

Ingredients

Roasted Chickpeas

  • 1 can chickpeas (drained, rinsed and patted dry with dish towel)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoon sumac
  • 1-2 teaspoon aleppo pepper
  • 2 pinches kosher salt

Tabbouleh

  • 1/4 cup roasted chickpeas (finely chopped)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes (quartered lengthwise and chopped into small dice)
  • 1 Medium cucumber (peeled, seeded and chopped into small dice)
  • 5 green onions or scallions (trimmed and very thinly sliced)
  • 3 bunches flat leaf parsley (large stems removed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (toasted, then ground)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (finely ground)
  • 1 lemon (juiced)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt (to taste)
  • sumac (to taste)
  • aleppo pepper (to taste)

Note

Adapted from Anissa Helou's recipe at David Lebovitz.com and Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Grains and Greens.

Sumac is a spice with a tart flavor that can be used in place of lemon. It goes well with meat, fish, and hummus, so don't be shy about picking up a big bag. If you have trouble finding it locally, you can order from Kalustyan's or World Spice Merchants.

Directions

ROASTED CHICKPEAS
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a small baking pan, combine chickpeas, olive oil and seasonings, and toss to combine.
Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Cool to room temperature, then finely chop 1/4 cup of the chickpeas for the salad. Reserve the rest for another use.
TABBOULEH
Put diced tomatoes and cucumbers in a mesh strainer set over a bowl to drain away some of the excess liquid.
Gather as much parsley as you can in your hand, and slice it into thin ribbons with a very sharp knife. Place sliced parsley in a large bowl.
Add sliced green onion, drained tomatoes and cucumbers, and chopped roasted chickpeas to the sliced parsley. Season with cumin and black pepper and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Toss gently until well mixed.
Taste the salad and adjust seasonings by adding more sumac, aleppo pepper, salt and/or pepper, if you like.