Monthly Archives: March 2010

Daring Bakers: Orange-Pineapple Tian with Earl Grey Sauce

First of all, no, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. I know it’s been a while since my last post, and I apologize for that. But it was for a good reason – VACATION!

Of course, I fully intended to post my Daring Bakers challenge on the 27th, in spite of the fact I was on vacation. I prepared the dish in advance, took the photos, and had everything ready to go. Until we arrived at our lovely little cottage in Fredericksburg, Texas only to find that we were without internet access. We semi-remedied the situation by using our long-ignored NetZero account, but if you’ve tried to do anything using dial-up lately, you must realize how impossible that can be. Of course, this being vacation, I figured that might have been for the best, and so I remained largely unconnected for the entirety of the stay.

That stay, by the way, was absolutely wonderful. However, that’s not what this post is about, so I’ll get to the discussion about vacation another time. This post is about dessert – everyone’s favorite meal of the day!

The Daring Bakers Challenge this month was hosted by Jennifer at Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, and used a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris. When I read the challenge, I had to look up what a tian was; I’d never heard of it. Essentially, a tian is a casserole with specific layers of components. Of course, in this situation, it is a dessert tian – so the layers are sweet. What I loved about this challenge was that it looked impressive, when in reality, it was not all that difficult. It’s a perfect idea for a dessert for guests (hint: a great idea for Easter Sunday!). It was light, bursting with flavor, and fun to make. I’d love to try variations on this theme in the future.

I did vary from the original recipe slightly, using orange-pineapple juice instead of straight orange juice, and infusing Earl Grey tea into the caramel sauce. The pineapple increased the sweetness factor somewhat, but the Earl Grey helped to balance the flavors and added some dimension. Overall, it was lovely.

So for now, please enjoy this tian, and be patient as I unbury myself from emails and work to respond to comments and questions. I’ll share more fun about Fredericksburg soon – promise!

Orange-Pineapple Tian with Earl Grey Sauce

For the Pate Sablee:

2 medium-sized egg yolks at room temperature

granulated sugar 6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon; 2.8 oz; 80 grams

vanilla extract ½ teaspoon

Unsalted butter ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons; 3.5 oz; 100 grams ice cold, cubed

Salt 1/3 teaspoon; 2 grams

Gluten-Free Flour Blend (I used 3 parts sweet white rice flour, 1 part cornstarch, 1 part tapioca) 1.5 cup + 2 tablespoons; 7 oz; 200 grams

xanthan gum 1 teaspoon

baking powder 1 teaspoon ; 4 grams

Directions:
Put the GF flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, ice cold cubed butter and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

In a separate bowl, add the eggs yolks, vanilla extract and sugar and beat with a whisk until the mixture is pale. Pour the egg mixture in the food processor.

Process until the dough just comes together. If you find that the dough is still a little too crumbly to come together, add a couple drops of water and process again to form a homogenous ball of dough. Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.

Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until you obtain a ¼ inch thick circle.

Using your cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough and place on a parchment (or silicone) lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until the circles of dough are just golden.

For the Marmalade:

Freshly pressed orange juice (I used orange-pineapple juice) ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons; 3.5 oz; 100 grams

1 large orange used to make orange slices

cold water to cook the orange slices

pectin 5 grams

granulated sugar: use the same weight as the weight of orange slices once they are cooked

Finely slice the orange. Place the orange slices in a medium-sized pot filled with cold water. Simmer for about 10 minutes, discard the water, re-fill with cold water and blanch the oranges for another 10 minutes.

Blanch the orange slices 3 times. This process removes the bitterness from the orange peel, so it is essential to use a new batch of cold water every time when you blanch the slices.

Once blanched 3 times, drain the slices and let them cool.

Once they are cool enough to handle, finely mince them (using a knife or a food processor).

Weigh the slices and use the same amount of granulated sugar . If you don’t have a scale, you can place the slices in a cup measurer and use the same amount of sugar.

In a pot over medium heat, add the minced orange slices, the sugar you just weighed, the orange juice and the pectin. Cook until the mixture reaches a jam consistency (10-15 minutes).

Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

For the Orange Segments:

For this step you will need 8 oranges.

Cut the oranges into segments over a shallow bowl and make sure to keep the juice. Add the segments to the bowl with the juice.

For the Caramel:

granulated sugar 1 cup; 7 oz; 200 grams

orange juice (I used orange-pineapple juice) 1.5 cups + 2 tablespoons; 14 oz; 400 grams

1 tea bag Earl Grey tea

Place the sugar in a pan on medium heat and begin heating it.

Once the sugar starts to bubble and foam, slowly add the orange juice. As soon as the mixture starts boiling, remove from the heat, add the tea bag, and pour half of the mixture over the orange segments, leaving the tea bag in the remaining caramel to steep.

Reserve the other half of the caramel mixture in a small bowl — you will use this later to spoon over the finished dessert. When the dessert is assembled and setting in the freezer, heat the kept caramel sauce in a small saucepan over low heat until it thickens and just coats the back of a spoon (about 10 minutes). You can then spoon it over the orange tians.

[Tip: Be very careful when making the caramel — if you have never made caramel before, I would suggest making this step while you don’t have to worry about anything else. Bubbling sugar is extremely, extremely hot, so make sure you have a bowl of ice cold water in the kitchen in case anyone gets burnt!]

For the Whipped Cream:
heavy whipping cream 1 cup; 7 oz; 200 grams

3 tablespoons of hot water

1 tsp Gelatine

1 tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar

orange marmalade (see recipe above) 1 tablespoon

In a small bowl, add the gelatine and hot water, stirring well until the gelatine dissolves. Let the gelatine cool to room temperature while you make the whipped cream. Combine the cream in a chilled mixing bowl. Whip the cream using a hand mixer on low speed until the cream starts to thicken for about one minute. Add the confectioner sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high. Whip the cream until the beaters leave visible (but not lasting) trails in the cream, then add the cooled gelatine slowly while beating continuously. Continue whipping until the cream is light and fluffy and forms soft peaks. Transfer the whipped cream to a bowl and fold in the orange marmalade.
[Tip: Use an ice cold bowl to make the whipped cream in. You can do this by putting your mixing bowl, cream and beater in the fridge for 20 minutes prior to whipping the cream.]

Assembling the Dessert:

Make sure you have some room in your freezer. Ideally, you should be able to fit a small baking sheet or tray of desserts to set in the freezer.

Line a small tray or baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone sheet. Lay out 6 cookie cutters onto the parchment paper/silicone.

Drain the orange segments on a kitchen towel.

Have the marmalade, whipped cream and baked circles of dough ready to use.

Arrange the orange segments at the bottom of each cookie cutter. Make sure the segments all touch either and that there are no gaps. Make sure they fit snuggly and look pretty as they will end up being the top of the dessert. Arrange them as you would sliced apples when making an apple tart.

Once you have neatly arranged one layer of orange segments at the bottom of each cookie cutter, add a couple spoonfuls of whipped cream and gently spread it so that it fills the cookie cutter in an even layer. Leave about 1/4 inch at the top so there is room for dough circle.

Using a butter knife or small spoon, spread a small even layer of orange marmalade on each circle of dough.

Carefully place a circle of dough over each ring (the side of dough covered in marmalade should be the side touching the whipping cream). Gently press on the circle of dough to make sure the dessert is compact.

Place the desserts to set in the freezer to set for 10 minutes.

Using a small knife, gently go around the edges of the cookie cutter to make sure the dessert will be easy to unmold. Gently place your serving plate on top of a dessert (on top of the circle of dough) and turn the plate over. Gently remove the cookie cutter, add a spoonful of caramel sauce and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Why Do I Cook?

After reading a post from Jenn at JennCuisine, reading numerous posts from Amy at Cooking with Amy, and wading through the comments over at Michael Ruhlman’s blog, I wished to really delve down and think about why I cook, and why food is such a never-ending passion for me. But I wanted to give it more than a quickly-crafted response; I instead mulled over this topic for several days. (I even took notes as thoughts came to me!)

So, why do I cook?

I suppose we can start at the beginning. I mention in my About page that I enjoyed cooking, even as a little girl. I was hungry, I loved to eat, and making things was fun! But truthfully, a lot of things were fun at that age (roller skating, coloring books, catching bugs and placing them in glass jars) that, while still potentially fun, don’t keep my interest. Neither does sewing, or painting, or art – my husband can testify to my countless attempts at picking up a “hobby”. On the other hand, cooking always attracts; it’s a never-ending challenge, a game that can’t be won, but only played again and again, with infinite variations on the theme and outcome. I wonder why. In a lifetime of fleeting hobbies and interests, why has cooking dug its claws in so deeply that I can hardly define myself without referring to the art of food?

I’ve always cooked and experimented to some degree, and always loved watching cooking shows. I fondly remember watching Julia Child, Justin Wilson, and Martin Yan on PBS while growing up. I even participated in a county youth show, winning 2nd place with a sour cream chocolate cake, when I was in high school. Yet I truly feel that the “on” switch was hit around late 2007. It was a difficult time for our family. Our foundation and our lives were deeply shaken. At that time, I started to spend more time in the kitchen. I could make sense of things while cooking. Every time I whip egg whites, they become frothy and stiff. If I heat a pan of oil and then place food in it, that food will sizzle. It was science – and it was something I could understand. Around that same time, I received a wonderful gift from my parents – an amazing set of Mundial knives. Now, I could chop, slice, julienne, and mince with precision and grace. The entire process – prepping, cooking, plating – it all was soothing and relaxing. It was music to my soul; it was therapy. And as I slowly built my skills, the confidence and trust surrounding my life was building as well.

Now, more than 2 years later, I cannot imagine not cooking.

Cooking is still very much therapy for me. When I’m happy, I cook. When I’m sad, I cook. When I need to unwind, you guessed it – I cook. I can allow myself to be creative in the kitchen. I can use my hands. I can build, shape, create, and taste. In my world full of spreadsheets, analysis, rules and regulations, this is a wonderful treasure.

But even beyond the act of cooking, I perceive the world through cuisine. No matter where you are, the act of sharing a meal brings people together. Culture, history, geography – they are all connected and intertwined with food. It’s all at once humbling, welcoming, and eye-opening.

Along that same note, I love the comraderie that food brings. I love to share with others. I express my appreciation for them through cooking and food. I love that I can share a comforting favorite, an exciting new adventure, and a balanced meal with my family and friends. It might seem a bit self-serving, but I do love to experience the pleasure of someone else enjoying my meals. Gluten intolerance has only served to challenge me further in this regard – I now love to share gluten-free foods with those that long for the foods they once loved. I wish to bring those foods to them once again – in an uncompromising, gluten-free form!

Of course, there are benefits to my love for cooking and food. It’s cheaper to cook at home. I can prepare healthier, nourishing meals. Many times, it’s even faster than eating out. As a result of my love for cooking, I’ve learned to cook with the seasons, connecting with my body, its nourishment, and the Earth. I’ve also had the fortune of meeting many wonderful people that share similar passions, both through local farms and through the world of food blogging. I am continually amazed and astounded by the community and friendship. Most importantly, cooking was a catalyst in the ability to strengthen bonds with my family. The passion for food and cooking translated to a passion for life - I felt as though as time passed, I came to understand and appreciate each gift my family has given me. Of course, cooking wasn’t the sole reason for the growth and happiness that eminates from our home now, but for me, it definitely played a part. I couldn’t be more at peace with life and family, or more thankful for the gifts I’ve received. 

So why do I cook? Cooking is my outlet; my lifeline. I will never stop exploring, and I will never stop learning. I connect with my family, I find spirituality, and I connect with the world.

Through cooking, I find myself.

Kids in the Kitchen: Angel Food Cake

Today was one of those days. No, not those days. Just a day where I misjudged. A day where I “should’ve known better”. A day where I was reminded that gluten-free baking doesn’t always turn out beautifully in my kitchen. Of course, I realize nobody’s perfect. Everything won’t score a 10 in our kitchen. This is an obvious fact of life. But I felt disappointed nonetheless.

See, Brittany wanted to make angel food cake. We’ve made it before (wow, that was almost exactly a year ago!), and it was delightful. Except now, I’ve exclusively baked gluten-free for months. There is no wheat flour in my kitchen. And yet, I went into my first-time-ever gluten-free angel food cake with nary a worry. I didn’t opt to follow my gluten-filled recipe and simply sub alternative flours. I found another cake recipe, and arbitrarily substituted flours, not giving adequate thought to how the combinations would turn out.

And then WHAM! I was hit by a bummer of a cake. But it was more than that. It was a disappointment for Brittany. Oh, of course, we’ve all shared turns making less-than-stellar dishes in the kitchen. It’s part of experimenting, and it’s part of the cooking process. We all have to learn that lesson. Today, we did. (I just hate when I personally feel it had a lot to do with a few flour substitutions I made.)

We won’t let this experiment get us down, however. Brittany and I have already been talking about what we can change. We’re already talking about what will be wonderful to try next time. The reasons for our tenacity are many: Brittany wants to make a cake she can be proud of. (Well, so do I.) For me, I also want to achieve that goal I set for myself with any gluten-free dish: to provide a dish that is every bit as good (or better!) as a “gluten-y” recipe, sans gluten. But most importantly, I want to teach our children to cook in the kitchen. Sometimes, the two goals cannot be achieved in a single task, but we’ll keep on trying to reach both!

So, I will share the recipe with you, in case anyone happens to have opinions/suggestions on the subject. And to make things perfectly clear; I don’t hold the recipe creator accountable for the failure on our cake! (that had more to do with my errors and substitutions - besides, Gluten Free Mommy is awesome!) I do know one thing. Next time? No amaranth flour. (as my husband remarked, it makes the cake taste kind of like a dish towel!) But I would still like to work to make it fluffier and lighter, as it was rather dense. Still trying to work on how to accomplish that. Maybe I’ll revisit my old recipe, we’ll just have to see!

Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake, adapted from Gluten-Free Mommy

1 1/2 c granulated sugar

1/4 c sweet rice flour

1/4 c tapioca starch

1/4 c coconut flour

1/4 c amaranth flour

1 t xanthan gum

12 egg whites, room temperature

1 1/2 t cream of tartar

1/4 t salt

1 T vanilla extract

1/2 t almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and turn on. You will process the sugar until it becomes fine, nearly like powdered sugar. Separate egg whites in a stainless steel bowl and let them come to room temperature. In a separate medium bowl, sift gluten free flours, salt, xanthan gum, and 3/4 cup of of the sugar. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar. Beat until the egg whites form soft peaks. Beat in the other reserved 3/4 cup of sugar about 3 tablespoons at a time. Beat until stiff peaks form. Slowly fold in flour mixture about 1/4 cup at a time. Once the flour mixture is combined, fold in the vanilla and almond extract. Slowly pour the batter into a tube pan (preferably one where the inside lifts out) and spread the batter evenly. Run a knife through the cake to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake for 50-55 minutes until top is golden and sides begin to pull away. Cool for 10 minutes. Run the edges of a knife along the pan and pull out the insert to the tube pan. Run a knife along the bottom of the insert and invert onto a cake plate. Serve with topping of choice!

Red Chile Chicken, Garlic, and Basil Curry

One of my New Year’s resolutions (for both 2009 and 2010) was to learn more about Indian cuisine. Of course, that is a lofty goal – there are nearly as many variations on Indian cuisine as there are people in India! But in an effort to start somewhere, I looked to Monica Bhide. A while back, I ordered a copy of her book, Modern Spice. I immediately fell in love with the book. Monica shares stories surrounding many of her dishes – stories ranging from her childhood to enjoyable times with family and friends. And the recipes? Astounding. No old-fashioned Indian fare here. Instead, she shares recipes for various cocktails (Guava Bellini, anyone?) and a snack I absolutely must try: Cilantro-Lemon Corn Pops (popcorn spiced with onion, lemon, peanuts, and chile powder), not to mention so many other amazing recipes that it took me a while to decide which to try first. I finally settled on a simple, speedy chicken dish. Red Chile, Garlic, and Basil Chicken was a quick stir-fry that boasted some clean, bold, bright flavors. I opted to make it a curry by adding a bit of coconut milk.

This dish is by no means extravagant. As you can see, it doesn’t take a long list of hard-to-find ingredients. The red chiles I used were dried red chiles I found at an Asian market, but if you don’t have those available, you could use about a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red chile pepper. The flavors of this dish were so deep, cheery and comforting, however, that it tasted as though it had to be difficult to make. (Those are my favorite kinds of meals!) I loved it, and I can’t wait to make something else from Monica’s book!

Red Chile Chicken, Garlic and Basil Curry, adapted from Modern Spice

1 T olive oil

4 medium shallots, sliced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

3-4 dried red chiles, roughly pounded

scant 1/2 t ground turmeric

1/4 t kosher salt

1 lb ground chicken (preferably dark meat)

1/3 c lite coconut milk

7-8 basil leaves

In a large lidded skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until the garlic begins to change color. Add the chiles, turmeric, and salt. Saute for 1 minute. Add the chicken and saute for about 5 minutes. Then add the coconut milk, cover, and cook for about 15-20 minutes, until chicken is done.

Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Add the basil leaves and stir in. Remove from heat and serve hot. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Serves 3-4.

Daring Cooks: Risotto and Homemade Chicken Stock

When I read that Eleanor of Melbourne Food Geek and Jess of Jess The Baker chose risotto as the Daring Cooks’ challenge this month, I was excited. I love risotto – I’ve made a lot of variations, including a squash risotto I’ve made many times since this posting. Risotto is a definite family pleaser around here – and why not? It’s creamy, luscious, filling - the ultimate comfort food! But it’s only fairly recently that I discovered what can really make such a difference in the finished risotto, taking it from already-quite-delicious to oh-my-this-is-amazing. No, it’s not a fancy, expensive, hard-to-find secret ingredient.

It’s homemade chicken stock.

Yep, an unassuming, almost free ingredient (if you plan correctly) makes a key difference in your risotto – or any recipe calling for stock, for that matter. Why? Well, canned stock, while satisfactory in a pinch, is insipid and lacking in the robust flavor that homemade stock can provide. When I make stock, I rarely follow a regimented recipe. Over time, I freeze leftover vegetables – carrots, celery, onions, etc., roasted leftover chicken bones, backs and wing tips from breaking down whole chickens. (I also buy chicken feet just for stock – they add a luscious gelatin, giving the stock more body.) I simply dump approximate amounts of vegetables, chicken bones, and parmesan rinds if I have them, and simmer, simmer, simmer until the stock has taken on a wonderful golden brown color and bursts with flavor. The wonderful thing about this is that it takes little effort on my part. It’s a great thing to make when I’m busy around the house, tending to other duties.

Anyway, back to risotto. For the challenge, I opted to make two risottos – one savory, one sweet. The savory risotto was straightforward – nothing fancy, just quality ingredients throughout. I was glad I kept it minimalistic, as I think this was the best risotto we’ve had to date. Sometimes, simplicity wins.

As for the sweet risotto, I would like to try again at tweaking the recipe further. In spite of the combination of flavors, the resulting risotto was rather one-note. I think adding the lemon zest towards the end of cooking would have made a difference in the brightness of flavors, and I may try for that next time. I also would love to try to add cardamom to the spices for additional depth of flavor. Still working on it, so if I come up with an amazing version, I’ll definitely share it with you!

Chicken Stock

1 lb chicken feet

1-2 lb chicken bones (leftover roasted bones are even better than raw)

1 onion, cut in half (don’t bother to peel)

2 carrots, chopped roughly (don’t bother to peel)

2 celery stalks, chopped roughly

1/4 c parsley (you can even use stems)

2 rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (if you have them)

Place all items in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 4-5 hours, or until reduced nearly by half. Strain to remove bones and vegetables. Pour in glass jars and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight. Scoop fat that has solidified on the top of the stock. The stock should be nice and gelled. You can freeze for months, or use within a week if refrigerated.

Risotto

5-6 cups chicken stock

2 T olive oil

2 T butter, divided

2 T minced onion or shallot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c Arborio rice

½ c white wine

¼ c parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ c fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Warm stock in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Keep warm.

In a large, shallow pan, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. When melted and starting to bubble, add onion. Saute for 3-4 minutes and add garlic. Saute an additional minute. Add Arborio rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until grains are turning white. Add white wine and stir through rice, cooking until nearly dry. Add 1 ladle of warmed stock and stir often, cooking until nearly dry. Repeat this process until the grains of rice are plump and start to give off a creamy texture (this should take about 20-30 minutes). You won’t have to stir continuously, but you should be stirring the rice at least every minute or so. When grains are just shy of al dente, add just a bit more stock, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and the parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve when rice grains are al dente, but not mushy, garnished with a bit of parsley.

Serves 4.

Sweet Risotto

1-2 T butter

1 c Arborio rice

1/4 c marsala

2-3 c milk plus 2 c water, warmed

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 c golden raisins

1/4 c currants

zest of 1 lemon

3-4 T agave nectar

3 T mascarpone cheese

1 T amaretto liqueur

1/4 c chopped almonds

In a large, shallow pan, heat butter over medium heat. When melted and starting to bubble, add rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until grains are turning white. Add marsala wine and stir through rice, cooking until nearly dry. Add 1 ladle of warmed milk/water mixture, vanilla bean, cinnamon, raisins, currants, agave nectar and lemon zest and stir often, cooking until nearly dry. Add another ladle of milk/water mixture, and repeat this process until the grains of rice are plump and start to give off a creamy texture (this should take about 20-30 minutes). You won’t have to stir continuously, but you should be stirring the rice at least every minute or so. When grains are just shy of al dente, add just a bit more milk/water and the mascarpone cheese. Taste and season with additional agave nectar as needed. Serve when rice grains are al dente, but not mushy, garnished with chopped almonds.

Serves 4.

Mexican Chocolate Pecan Pralines

Sometimes, you just gotta have some chocolate. I know I’m not alone in this. I mean, they wouldn’t have created the term “chocoholic” if there weren’t a lot of us around with that intense, gotta-have-some, deep-down desire for chocolate. Good thing there is a chocolate for every type of chocolate craving. Sometimes, I crave a pure, dark chocolate – with its bitter, complex flavor, and just enough smoothness, so that I can enjoy a single piece, close my eyes, and enter pure chocolate bliss. A nice bar of Valrhona or Scharffen Berger will do the trick. But other times, I prefer a sweeter treat – something with a variety of textures and flavors – including nuts, fruits, and milk chocolate, rather than dark. However, a Snickers bar just won’t cut it. That’s where these come in.

Mexican Chocolate Pecan Pralines. First, let me explain to you – pecan pralines are one of my favorite candies. Sweet and buttery, with one of the best nuts known to man, a good pecan praline can cause my eyes to roll back and my knees to go weak. So when I came across a recipe at Homesick Texan that combined Mexican chocolate with a pecan praline? It just about blew my mind. Lisa has a knack for causing me to become giddy with excitement over a lot of her recipes, but these definitely were at the top of the list.

I’ve made them twice so far, following her recipe exactly both times. I can’t think of a thing to change. She discusses adding bacon in them, and while this sounds like it’s worth a try, I am happy with these as written. They’re perfect. The cinnamon and that bit of cayenne add a touch of heat that warms the back of your throat. The orange zest brightens the pralines, keeping them from being too rich or heavy. The texture is still very much like a praline – just slightly soft when you bite into them. While I am fully anticipating making a batch or two of these at Christmas, I don’t suggest waiting until then. These are too good to relegate just to the holidays!

As I haven’t modified Lisa’s recipe at all, rather than writing it out here, I’ll just send you her way. While you’re there, check out her other delicious creations. If you haven’t experienced all of the wonderful culinary creations that are Texas, she can definitely lead you on the right path!

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

While we’re starting to feel the effects of spring around here, there are still some chilly, rainy, dreary days hanging around. Now is the time to squeeze in all those wintery comfort foods before it gets too warm around here to truly enjoy them. I think I need to whip up a few more soups, one last pot of chili, and get to roasting as many winter vegetables as I can, before I wake up and realize it’s too late! But first, one key “winter” dish must be executed: pot roast.

I’m sure there are way too many pot roast recipes already, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I share my version. You see, as much as I can grill a steak with ease or whip up a pumpkin soup in no time, my pot roasts, in my opinion, have always left something to be desired. Too dry, too bland, too mushy…you name it, I’ve done it to a pot roast. So over the years, I’ve tweaked my techniques and recipes, making notes along the way. And now, I think I finally have it.

What did I discover that improved my pot roast? Here are a few tips/tricks:

- Some fat=flavor here. I have tried to make a pot roast with a really lean cut before, and it just wasn’t the same. Dry and uninteresting. Chuck roast is my preferred cut. I make a point to skim off the fat before I serve, both to balance flavors and to cut back the fat content in the finished dish.

- Don’t skimp on the salt. While I don’t heavily salt any of my dishes, I’ve found that proper amounts of salt really brighten the flavor of the meat. I salt in two stages – once before I brown the meat, and again once I’m finishing the dish and checking for seasoning balance. What’s the right amount of salt? That varies, depending on whether you’re using a store-bought stock or homemade. (I don’t salt my homemade stocks) It also depends on personal preference. What tastes salty to me might be bland to you. (I’m actually rather salt-sensitive – I have used such a light hand on salt at home for so long, that when I eat in restaurants, many dishes taste very salty to me!)

- Browning the meat before braising is essential. It’s an extra step, and so therefore takes some time, but the flavors are so much deeper when the meat is browned.

- Remove the potatoes from the pot roast, and instead serve mashed potatoes on the side. I just dislike the mushy texture of the soggy potatoes after they’ve cooked in the pot roast all day.

- Using alcohol as a flavor booster. You’ll see in this recipe that there are two kinds of alcohol. While this is not a requirement, I found that the combination of red wine and brandy added a depth to the dish that I couldn’t replicate otherwise. And with 6-8 hours in the slow cooker, I can’t imagine a smidgen of alcohol content remains.

- Taking advantage of that no-fuss, hands-off kitchen appliance: the slow cooker! When I compared the slow cooker to using my dutch oven, the slow cooker created a more tender, moister pot roast. The added benefit of reduced energy consumption (when comparing the slow cooker to the oven) definitely helps too.

So while this is a bit more involved than most of my slow cooker recipes (which are more of a “dump-and-go” routine), it’s worth it. And as with any slow cooker dish, the aroma that permeates throughout the house is wonderful. It definitely brightens any dreary, rainy day!

What makes a good pot roast, in your opinion? Do you have any secret ingredients in your recipe?

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

1 3 lb chuck roast

salt and pepper

1 large onion, sliced

1 celery stalk, sliced

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 c mixed mushrooms (or button mushrooms), sliced

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

2 c homemade chicken or beef stock

2 c full-bodied red wine (I used a dolcetto)

1/3 c brandy

1-2 T cornstarch

1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

Pat the roast dry and season with salt and pepper. In a skillet at medium-high heat, brown the roast on all sides. Place the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaves in the slow cooker, and lay the roast on top. Pour the stock, wine, and brandy over the roast. Set the slow cooker to low and allow to cook for 6-8 hours.

Remove the roast and vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the leftover juices, and skim the fat off the top (or use a gravy separator). Place the juices in a small saucepan. Spoon about 1/2 c of the juices in a small bowl, and whisk in the cornstarch. Pour this slurry back in the saucepan and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir until juices thicken into a gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Place the roast and vegetables back in the slow cooker, and pour the gravy over. Turn on high and rewarm for about 15-20 minutes.

Serve on top of mashed potatoes, garnished with parsley. Serves 6.

Kids in the Kitchen: Gluten-Free Churros

I called Matt last week, pressing him, trying to figure out what he decided to make for his upcoming turn in the kitchen. Churros, he said. Most kids don’t ask for churros – and it surprised me that he considered such a thing. I’ve only made churros once, as an experiment, and they didn’t exactly turn out all that well. And those were with wheat flour. These would have to be gluten-free churros. This would definitely be an experiment again. I said yes. We hung up the phone, and I immediately started searching for gluten-free pate a choux recipes.

Pate a choux (pronounced paht ah shoo) is a cooked pastry dough that is used for many of the most elegant of pastries – profiteroles, eclairs, crullers, gougeres, and yes, churros. While I’ve experimented with gluten-free baking, I haven’t spent much effort in other pastries, so this was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Good thing I had Shauna at Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef to rescue me. She posted a pate a choux recipe back in 2006. I love when I can stumble upon gluten-free recipes that are kitchen-tested, and I know her recipes are.

But wait. What are churros, you ask? Churros are possibly one of the best sweet treats in the world. Originally from Spain, but also popular among Latin American cultures, churros are fried dough strips, often sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and many times, served with chocolate dipping sauce. Here in Texas, I’ve had versions with cajeta, a caramel sauce, injected in the center. Heaven.

We opted to go the easy route, and just sprinkle our churros with cinnamon and sugar. I followed Shauna’s recipe pretty closely, not wanting to become too experimental in unknown territory. Once the pate a choux was ready, we scooped it into a pastry bag with the end snipped off (I tried to use my star tip, but the resulting churros were way too skinny). We piped lengths of dough into hot oil, a few at a time, and fried for a few minutes until browned. Matt invited his friend over to help, and so we took turns piping the dough into the oil, and Matt and his friend sugared the churros as they were cool enough to touch. (They thoroughly enjoyed that part!)

Verdict? Better than my previous gluten-filled attempt. I would still like for them to be crispier than they were, but the kids gobbled them up. I have a feeling this won’t be the last of churro-making at the Tasty Eats household.

Gluten-Free Churros, adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

32 oz canola oil

1/2 c water

1/2 stick unsalted butter

2 T sugar

1/8 t salt

1/4 c white rice flour

2 T sweet rice flour

2 T tapioca flour

3 large eggs

1/2 t vanilla extract

1/2 c sugar

1/2 t ground cinnamon

Place oil in a large heavy pot and heat to 360 degrees.

Meanwhile, place the water, butter, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as butter is melted, mix in the gluten-free flours, stirring with a wooden spoon, until ingredients are incorporated together. A crust will develop in the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry – this is supposed to happen. When the mixture is ready, it will become a ball of dough, pulling away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.

Place the dough in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add one egg. Let the mixer run until the egg has been incorporated into the dough. Add the next egg and mix until it has been incorporated. Repeat with the third egg. Add the vanilla and stir. (You can opt to do this by hand as well, if you don’t have a mixer.)

The dough will be soft, but not runny. Place in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip (or do as we did, and just snip off the end). Pipe dough into the hot oil, making each churro about 5 inches long. Allow to brown in the oil for a minute or two, and flip over to brown the other side. When browned, remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining dough.

In a shallow bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Dredge churros in sugar mixture. Serve warm.

Adopt a GF Blogger: Gluten-Free Easily

Once upon a time, Sea at Book of Yum came up with a great idea. What if there was a way for gluten-free bloggers to get to know one another better? What if there was a way to encourage them to try each other’s recipes? In an effort to enhance the gluten-free blogging community, Sea created the Adopt a GF Blogger program. This program has been in place longer than I’ve been blogging (it was created in February of 2008), but this will be my first time participating. I noticed that Ginger Lemon Girl adopted me this month, so I thought I’d adopt one of my favorite gluten-free bloggers – Shirley at Gluten-Free Easily.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of checking out Shirley’s blog, I strongly encourage you to do so! Shirley is a wealth of information, especially if you’re new to a gluten-free diet. She’ll show you how to navigate the diet without a lot of strange flours, without buying high-priced specialty items, and without a lot of stress. She has created some amazing things, like flourless gluten-free pizza made with a cheese crust, or surprise mint chocolate chip ice cream with spinach (no joke!). While I’ve been dying to try out her ice cream, I instead opted for 2 of her other recipes – her coconut chicken tenders and her pound cake.

First, the chicken tenders. Coconut is one of my favorite ingredients. I love it. So when I saw chicken tenders with coconut on her site, I knew I had to try it. As coconut is a nice, tropical flavor, I decided to keep with the tropical theme and make chicken tacos with these tenders. I made a pineapple salsa to top the chicken, and served them up in warmed corn tortillas, with a bit of lettuce for additional crunch. Even though I used sweetened coconut flakes, the chicken was not overly sweet – the heat from the chiles and the acid from the lime in the salsa provided perfect balance to the coconut and pineapple.

The only change I made to Shirley’s recipe was that I opted to bake instead of fry, and I added a touch of salt to the breading mixture. I placed the tenders on a foil-lined baking sheet and baked at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes, flipping halfway through. The coconut came out lightly browned, and the chicken was moist and flavorful. It might have been chilly outside, but indoors, we enjoyed a tropical meal.

You can check out the chicken tenders recipe here. Below is the pineapple salsa I made.

Pineapple Salsa

1 T onion, diced finely

juice of 1 lime

pinch or two of salt

1 c diced pineapple

1 T cilantro, chopped

1 thai bird chile pepper, minced

Place the onion in a bowl and squeeze lime juice over. Add a pinch or two of salt and stir to mix. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add pineapple, cilantro, and chile pepper and stir. Taste and add more salt if needed. Store in fridge for 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.

As for the pound cake, this was my second attempt. Shirley posted a perfect pound cake recipe a few weeks back, and I knew I just had to try it. Even in my gluten-eating days, rarely did I come across a decent pound cake. Most were dry and uneventful. However, there was one pound cake I can still remember like I tasted it yesterday. At our office, the widow of the former CEO bakes cakes and other goodies for us every Christmas. I cannot recall if she baked last year or not for us, (I was on vacation during the holiday, and I would have had to abstain anyway) but I remember fondly this lemon pound cake that she baked. It was moist, with the perfect amount of lemon, with a light, sweet glaze. It was amazing. When I saw Shirley’s recipe, I imagined recreating this pound cake of my dreams, gluten-free.

My first attempt was less than perfect. I tried to bake it in one loaf pan instead of two (or in other words, I didn’t follow her instructions!) and I didn’t change the baking temperature to compensate, so it came out underbaked in the middle, and browned on the outside. Rookie mistake. Second time around, however, I got it right. And there it was, lemony perfection. I followed Shirley’s instructions this time, subbing lemon juice for the orange juice, and adding 2 teaspoons of lemon extract. I also glazed the top making a simple lemon glaze – 1 cup of powdered sugar, about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and a few tablespoons of water. It was amazing. I am sitting here right now, eyeing the cake on the kitchen counter, considering another slice. So good.

Many thanks to Thomas at The GFCF Experience for hosting Adopt a GF Blogger this month. I am so glad I participated. Actually getting to try some of Shirley’s recipes just validates what I knew already – that she’s amazing in the kitchen!

Dallas Food Bloggers – Meet and Greet

Today I finally was able to meet some fellow food bloggers – live and in person! A while back, Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free organized a Dallas Food Bloggers group. (Amy is amazing at being able to organize things like this - she already has so many events on her blog, such as Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays and her latest, a series on gluten-free flours.) A few of the Dallas Food Bloggers (Natalie of Natalie’s Killer Cuisine, Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free, Karol Wilson – Dallas Gourmet Food Examiner, and me) met for lunch today at Kozy Kitchen, a “cozy” restaurant just north of downtown Dallas that makes clean, simple, fresh dishes using many local ingredients. They also cater to gluten-free diners – in fact, their entire dessert menu is gluten-free.  (It’s so refreshing to be able to look at a menu and not have to mentally limit yourself to 2 or 3 things that are possibly “safe” before the waitress even arrives at your table.)

What do food bloggers do when they go out? EAT, of course! We enjoyed a lovely bunch of dishes:

I ordered buffalo tacos. Ground buffalo on corn tortillas with bacon-blue cheese guacamole and raw cheese. I also ordered a side of sauteed veggies.

Amy ordered a buffalo mozzarella salad. It was a huge salad topped with fresh mozzarella and ground buffalo.

Natalie ordered a delicious omelet, stuffed with veggies – I can’t remember what she had in it – I knew there was asparagus, though!

And Karol ordered a spicy chicken salad sandwich, which looked amazing.

We also enjoyed their cookie monster cake for dessert (I didn’t get a photo), which I could have sworn was not gluten-free. It was addictively good, with a rich cream cheese frosting.

It was so awesome to meet other food bloggers in person. We all have vastly different blogs, but we also share so many things in common. We realize how difficult it is to balance the demands of blogging (yes, there are demands!) and the demands of the rest of our lives. We share such a passion for food. I can’t wait until the next time we get together!

Natalie of Natalie's Killer Cuisine, Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, and Alta of Tasty Eats At Home