Friday, March 28, 2008

JJ's Gluten-Free Blueberry Pie

If you're looking for a gluten-free pie crust recipe, click here :).

Now, I know in the last entry I mentioned that my next post would include a lentil soup recipe...and last time you checked, blueberries don't go in lentil soup ;), but I also promised my friend JJ that I'd bake her a gluten-free pie! It just so happens that I was able to gather all the ingredients yesterday, so I was finally able to bake that pie earlier this evening. I was a little worried that I'd end up with a disaster instead of a pie because, not only have I never used gluten-free flour before, but I've also only baked one other pie, period...yep, just one. Well, thanks to the Gluten-Free Pantry's Perfect Pie Crust Mix, this second pie was a success!

It might seem a little strange that I used a mix, instead of preparing my own gluten-free flour blend, but it wasn't because I didn't want to...believe me, I did my homework, even the research, and compared a few gluten-free pie crust recipes with a smile on my face; it was nice to actually come across a somewhat decent selection after scouring the web top to bottom for them. Here's the catch, the recipes called for things like sorghum flour, AND potato starch, AND tapioca flour, among other really neat sounding ingredients that I've never seen on the shelves in the baking aisle of my puny, everyday grocery store. So I went to Whole Foods, and even Central Market (a really cool gourmet-type market you should check out if you're ever in TX) and was happy to discover that they carried these fun ingredients...but if I wanted to make a yummy tasting gluten-free flour blend, I'd need to purchase a wide variety of flours and interesting thickening agents. So to save some money, and we all need to do that these days, I opted for the Gluten-Free Pantry's mix! I liked that it didn't have any nasty fillers or gross, fake ingredients!

All in all, I was happy with the results. I was a bit weirded out by the fact that Ms. Hillson (the professional chef who came up with this mix) expected this pie mix to make 2 double-crust 8" pies, considering how difficult it was to get the dough to roll out in one piece. This might seem a bit strange, and keep in mind I've never used gluten free flour, but I chose to use the whole mix for my 1 double-crust blueberry pie. I did use a 9" pie pan, and I later realized that I probably could've gotten away with using less dough for the top layer, since it was a bit thick. The pie was mighty delicious, I really didn't miss the all-purpose flour I normally use, at least when I took the first bite. But I did have some minor issues when I was trying to cut the perfect slice of pie for my poor little pie now looks like it's been attacked by some very hungry mice; I had to cut 4 slices before I could get one that actually kept its shape. But part of what makes this gluten-free flour so different is that it doesn't have the very ingredient that makes dough elastic. Gluten provides elasticity and "togetherness" in dough, so that's why this dough is crumblier/more powdery in texture than you might expect if you're new to gluten-free baking. Crumbliness aside, this pie mix worked great, and it yields a very flavorful pie that anyone could love!

Here's what I used to flavor the blueberries:
1 16 oz bag of frozen blueberries
1/2 TBSP cinnamon
1/2 cup white sugar
4 TBSP butter
3 TBSP rice flour

I defrosted the blueberries by soaking them in some warm water, I did end up having a bit of water leftover in the bowl after straining them (about 1/4 cup) but I just used that to make a kind of sauce for the blueberries - adding the cinnamon, sugar, and rice flour for flavor and texture. My husband said the pie wasn't too sweet, it didn't have an artificial blueberry taste. If you have a pretty big sweet tooth, I suggest adding 1 cup of sugar instead of 1/2. (Oh and here's another tip: instead of using flour to roll-out the dough, just use plastic wrap. In this case, it actually worked better because it helped the crumbly dough stay together when I placed it in the pie pan. I picked this tip up from the show I mention below - Throwdown :)

Also, as far as the mix goes, I didn't add the 10 oz of butter and shortening. Instead, I added 8 oz of butter, 8 oz of vegan shortening (it's not hydrogenated, so, in my opinion, it's easier on the gut for those who have issues with hydrogenated oils, like me!) and 1 TBSP canola oil (Jose asked me to try to give the recipe a minor healthy make-over). I even added a bit more sugar and a few sprinkles of cinnamon in the dough for flavor, I think next time I might add some grated lemon peel...this mix is nice because you can be creative with it!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I'll post again before it's over. I'm going to a really cool edible book festival tomorrow - it should be fun! Jose and I will also be taking our first trip to Flip Happy Crepes, where we'll get to try the delicious crepes that went up against and defeated Bobby Flay's at his Throwdown not too long ago!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Honey Glazed Porkchops with Veggies in a Marsala Wine Reduction

Part of the reason why it's taken me so long to post the recipe for these pork chops/veggies is this: I haven't been able to come up with a short enough title that accurately captures the tasty ingredients I used to make the dish! I know it seems silly, why should I have to mention all of them? Well, it's a loaded dish with a variety of savory flavors which combine to create something that can't be summed up in a few words. The cranberries add a tartness that's balanced out by the sweetness of the honey-grape juice reduction...that's complemented by the marsala wine and parsley covered pork chops...that are covered in sweet, diced carrots and sauteed onions...that melt in your mouth while you're wondering if it's ok to keep eating such an illegally rich yet healthy dish. Well, it's more than OK! With only 2 tbsp of butter to thicken the light glaze-like sauce covering the pork chops, and a bit of extra virgin olive oil for flavor, these pork chops are lean! You know you're safe with the carrots, onions, and cranberries; even if you're not an onion fan, you will probably like how lightly candied they taste in this dish. The sourness of the cranberries is also softened against the natural sweetness of the carrots.

I initially planned on posting this recipe before Easter. I thought it'd be a fun alternative to the usual glazed ham dinner, but this year we (my husband and I) had a vegetarian Easter feast. It might seem a odd that we ate lentils and homemade veggie pizza for Easter, but who knew that such simple comfort foods can be really delicious and colorful when made with the right ingredients? Take lentils, they're not very pretty, and they have a very rich earthy taste (that I've personally loved for years) but with a little tomato sauce, spinach, and a few finely diced veggies, they can light up even the most boring, plastic bowl. Vegetables have the ability to add beauty to whatever dish they become a part of, just look at that pork chop picture. A couple of meat slabs on a plate wouldn't look very appealing to me, but those bright and orangey carrots bring the picture to life! It's nice to know that the most naturally beautiful foods, veggies and fruits, are actually the healthiest :). I'll post the lentil recipe next!

4 large pork chops
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
1/4 cup marsala wine
1/8 cup honey
1/8 cup grape juice
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup sliced sweet onion
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 TBSP flour
3 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP butter
1/8 tsp lemon juice

First I drizzled the olive oil in a large all-purpose pan. Then I sprinkled salt, pepper, parsley, and thyme on both sides of the pork chops. I lightly browned the pork chops on both sides, then added the carrots and onions on top of the pork chops, along with the marsala wine. I let these ingredients cook over a low-medium flame until the carrots were soft - about 30 minutes (by this time, the pork chops should also be cooked). While the pork chops/veggies cooked, I put the cranberries into a warm cup of water and let them soak for about 5 minutes, until they rehydrated. I then strained the cranberries and added them to the pork chop/veggie mix in the pan. I let them simmer for a few minutes more. After this, I removed the pork chops from the pan with a fork and added the grape juice, lemon juice, honey, water, and butter. I stirred these ingredients together then removed the veggies/cranberries. I then added the flour, to thicken the sauce, and then put the pork chops back in the pan. I raised the flame to a medium-high setting and let the sauce become a glaze for the pork chops, turning the pork chops over so that both sides were equally covered in the thickened glaze. Finally, I put the flame on a low setting and added the veggies/cranberries back into the pan with the pork chops. After I let all these ingredients rest in the covered pan for about 5 minutes, I turned off the stove and uncovered the pan until the pork chops were cool enough to serve.

Sheesh! That was a long set of cooking instructions! But you know what? Once you stare at the ingredients for awhile, you'll see that it's hard to go wrong with this combination of ingredients, you can even add more to the list if you like. I know I've been baking like crazy lately. It's because I have an official sweet tooth now! I had my first cavity filled last week - EEK! It wasn't a pleasant experience. I miss experimental cooking, though. They (Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay) say cooks don't bake, and even though I consider myself more of a "cooker" than "baker" (simply because it comes a lot easier to me) I don't see why I, or anyone else, can't be both! But I have to admit, cooking is a lot less stressful than baking. It's a lot easier to cook rather than bake on a whim, I've discovered (which is why IF I go to culinary school in the near future, I will not become a pastry chef!).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sticky Toffee Pudding and a homemade lightbox!

Because I often found myself running outside to get that perfect picture with just the right amount of natural sunlight, even when it was painfully cold outside, I came to the conclusion that something needed to change! I read a few informative online food photography articles, but they all pretty much offered the same tips about what kind of camera to purchase. Though I'd love to buy one of those gorgeous little pieces of technology, they are a little over my budget...actually, more than a little bit. Thankfully, Jose came across a site that offered a solution to my problem, an easy and cheap solution, at that. I am still very, very ignorant when it comes to photography, so the concept of creating a homemade light box deeply intrigued me. Though quite a bit of cutting and measuring was involved, all in all, making the light box was fun and really easy. I picked up a few supplies at the local fabric and home appliance stores, threw a huge pan of sticky toffee pudding in the oven, then got started on the light box. It came together in a little over an hour, and after messing with my camera's settings for a few minutes, I took a few shots of the heavenly and very loaded sticky toffee pudding. Yes, this pudding is unbelievably delicious, and although I can only handle a few bites without my gut regretting it the next day, I would gladly make it again for friends and family, using this same exact recipe I found on Key Ingredient. Even Jose agrees that this might possibly be the tastiest dessert on Earth. Too bad the person who posted the recipe on Key Ingredient remains anonymous, they certainly deserve a high five and a ton of brownie points!

(This is the lightbox, a cheap,cardboardy magic box!)

and here is a close-up of the strawberry mouse I adopted from the thrift store yesterday (this pic was also shot in the above lightbox):

You'll be needing this recipe, oh and make sure to top it all off with caramel sauce!