Monthly Archives: April 2011

Swedish Meatballs (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

This recipe helps to dispel that myth that certain comfort foods are gone forever when one gives up gluten and dairy. Remember swedish meatballs? That creamy, silky sauce, coating delicious meatballs and a way-too-large plate of wide noodles? I do, although before I made this recipe, I hadn’t tasted swedish meatballs in several years – well before I went gluten-free. Even at their worst, (a.k.a. the “before I knew how to cook” swedish meatballs – processed powder in an envelope that you mixed together with the meat and some milk to make sauce) swedish meatballs still hold some nostalgia for me. My husband also loves the dish. So when I saw that Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut used cashews and lemon in place of sour cream in a dish (chicken paprika), immediately light bulbs went off. I knew I could make swedish meatballs. And so I made it happen the following night.

I soaked cashews before I left for work, and came home to start the sauce. I did add a non-traditional ingredient in the sauce – mushrooms – because I thought it would enhance the flavor. I had a leftover grilled portobello in the fridge, so why not? Since I pureed the mushrooms in the sauce, no one was any the wiser. It’s an optional addition, but personally, I loved the boost of flavor.

Once I had the sauce pureed and tweaked so that it tasted right, I worked on the meatballs. In the spirit of simplicity, I opted to bake them rather than cook them on the stovetop in batches. (The recipe already requires several steps – no need to complicate it further!) This allowed me time to make the pasta and warm the sauce, and then everything was ready to go. What I wasn’t prepared for was how good the result would be.

The sauce was excellent. Creamy, satisfying, and full of flavor. I had to double-check with my husband for authenticity. (Since it’s been so long since I’ve eaten certain gluten and/or dairy-filled dishes, my brain tends to somewhat forget what the original tasted like.) He said the sauce was lighter than the usual sour cream version, but that this wasn’t a bad thing. (I promise you, it’s still plenty creamy.) We both fell in love with it a little bit more with each bite.

This was one of those dishes where you wouldn’t find someone saying “This is pretty good for gluten/dairy-free” or “It’s different. Good, but different.” (I know we’ve all heard those statements once or twice before!) All our tastebuds knew was this was good eating.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Swedish Meatballs

For the cashew “sour cream”:

½ c cashews

Juice from 1 lemon

1 portobello mushroom, cooked and roughly chopped

2 t nutritional yeast flakes

For the meatballs:

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground lamb

1/3 c almond flour

1 egg

1 T flaxseed meal

1 t allspice

1/8 t cardamom

1 T onion powder

1 t salt

1 t ground black pepper

For the rest:

2 T ghee (or grapeseed oil – ghee is casein-free, but if you strictly avoid dairy, another oil will be a fine substitute)

2 T arrowroot powder

2 c beef stock

1 c vegetable stock

1 T onion powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1/8 t ground nutmeg

¼ c chopped fresh parsley

Soak cashews in enough water to cover overnight or around 8 hours. Drain and place in a blender. Add lemon juice and start blender to puree cashews. Gradually add about ¼ cup additional water and continue to blend until consistency is about that of thick sour cream. (Stop to scrape down sides of blender as necessary.) Add mushroom and nutritional yeast flakes and blend again until smooth. Set aside.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine ground beef, lamb, almond flour, egg, flaxseed, allspice, cardamom, onion powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until well-combined. If desired, check seasoning by making a tiny meatball and cooking on a skillet – taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Use a tablespoon to scoop out meat and form into meatballs with your hands. Place on baking sheet. You should get around 50 meatballs.

Bake meatballs for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat ghee or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add arrowroot powder and whisk until combined. Add beef stock and vegetable stock and continue to whisk until boiling. Scrape the cashew cream from the blender into your skillet and whisk in. Turn heat to medium-low and heat until warmed through. Add onion powder and salt and pepper to taste. When meatballs are finished, add to sauce and stir to coat. If sauce is too thick, add additional stock and stir in as needed.

Once everything is thoroughly heated, sprinkle nutmeg over. Serve on top of gluten-free noodles and garnish with parsley.

Daring Bakers: Edible Containers (Maple Mousse in Bacon Chocolate Chip Cups)

 The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!

Yes, more edible containers. What’s not to love about a container you can eat? Evelyne suggested making a maple mousse and a bacon cup to hold the mousse. I loved the idea so much, I decided to stick closely to the recipes suggested. I made the mousse (dairy-free, of course), refrigerated it, and got to making bacon cups. I molded bacon around the back side of a muffin tin, secured with toothpicks, and baked, but my bacon cups weren’t really cup-like – they shriveled and had holes too large to hold any mousse. Stumped on what to do instead, I questioned my husband. (Who was walking in and out of the kitchen this whole time, drawn to what I was doing by the aroma of bacon.) His suggestion? Let him eat the bacon. While this is a tasty solution, it doesn’t give me an edible container. (I did share some of the failed bacon cups with him though!)

After some time to think, I remembered that a year or two ago, bacon chocolate chip cookies were all the rage in the food blog world. Having never made them myself, I decided I would play with a chocolate chip cookie recipe, only instead making them in a cup form. I set off making dough and pressing the dough into muffin cups.

I did, however, forget that in spite of pressing the dough only around the edges of the muffin cup (like it was a pie crust), that the cookie dough would rise and fill in the cup entirely. Whoops. So what I ended up with was more like a bacon chocolate chip muffin. Undeterred, I grabbed my melon baller and scooped out a bit of the center, making it a cup once again. (And enjoying the bits of cookie I scooped out – the baker’s treat for sure!)

The rest was easy. Scoop in the maple mousse, top with bacon bits, and refrigerate. Voila – an edible container with a delicious mousse!

The verdict? I think if I try this again, I’ll modify the cookie/cup recipe somewhat. It was a bit dry and crumbly. The mousse, however, was amazing. I could sit down and eat tons of that by itself. As for the bacon-in-a-dessert thing? It’s not bad (it adds a lovely sweet-savory touch, but didn’t taste much like bacon), but it’s not my favorite combination. I could take it or leave it. I think I’d much prefer just to enjoy the mousse unadorned (or maybe with some dairy-free whipped cream).

This was definitely a fun challenge! A big thanks to Evelyne.

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cups with Maple Mousse

For the cups:

1 ¾ c gluten-free flour blend (I used equal parts arrowroot starch, brown rice flour, and sorghum flour)

2 t ground chia seed meal

½ t baking soda

½ t kosher salt

1/3 c vegan buttery sticks or oil (I used bacon grease leftover from cooking the bacon plus vegan butter)

½ c coconut sugar

½ c coconut nectar

1 large egg

½ t vanilla extract

½ c finely chopped cooked bacon (about 8 strips), divided

2/3 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, chia seed meal, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add buttery sticks/oil, sugar, and coconut nectar and beat for about 3 minutes or until blended. Add egg and vanilla and mix on medium until incorporated. Stir in half of the bacon and all of the chocolate chips. Refrigerate for an hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin and divide into 8-9 of the muffin cups, pressing up against the sides. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until beginning to brown on the edges and set in the center. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from tin and place on cooling rack to cool completely.

With a melon baller or similarly sized spoon, scoop out the center of each chocolate chip cup. Fill with chilled maple mousse and garnish with remaining bacon.

For the mousse:

½ c grade B maple syrup

2 large egg yolks

½ envelope gelatin

¾ c coconut cream (scoop cream off of the top of a can of coconut milk)

Bring maple syrup to a boil and remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and pour a little bit of maple syrup in while whisking (this is to temper your egg yolks so they won’t curdle).

Add eggs to maple syrup and whisk until well mixed.

Measure ¼ cup of the coconut cream and place in a bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Place in microwave for 15 seconds and then stir, and microwave for 10 seconds more if needed to dissolve gelatin completely.

Whisk gelatin mixture into the maple syrup and set aside.

Whisk occasionally, leaving mixture out for about an hour, until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten raw egg white.

Whip the remaining coconut cream in a large bowl. Stir ¼ of the whipped cream into the maple syrup mixture. Fold in the remaining cream and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Remove from fridge, whisk, and scoop into bacon chocolate chip cups.

A Review and a Giveaway: Simply…Gluten-Free Desserts by Carol Kicinski

Think going gluten-free means resigning to cardboard-flavored, overly dry and crumbly desserts? Hardly. I take a firm stance against tasteless desserts. Only the good stuff in our household! So when my review copy of Simply…Gluten-Free Desserts by Carol Kicinski arrived on my doorstep, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to devour every page. When it came time to test a recipe, I couldn’t decide on just one. After all, I should be doing my best to give you a thorough review of the book, right?

The first recipe I decided to make was her Grain-Free Chocolate Cupcakes. They seemed so simple to make, and was free of not only gluten, but also dairy and refined sugar. What was there to lose? I did opt to top it with some “buttercream” frosting (buttercream made with palm shortening instead of butter), so the end result did have sugar, but they were definitely a hit with Brittany. They weren’t overly sweet, but the cupcakes stayed moist enough and held together without crumbling – both big marks in the win column. Of course, they were chocolate – which automatically means they rank high on my “yum” list.

But I cannot live on chocolate cupcakes alone. I had to do something that was a bit different. So I additionally opted to make the mango sticky rice cake. Again, it was a simple recipe calling for relatively few ingredients. I did substitute coconut sugar for the brown sugar, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. Warm from the oven, it was sticky, creamy, with the lovely savory-sweet flavor of coconut and the sweet, fresh flavors of the mango. It’s not the flashiest cake in the world, but it definitely makes up for that with real, honest flavors. I could have eaten it for breakfast.

What surprised me about this book was that there was more than just desserts. Carol also included a few muffin recipes and breakfast ideas! I am a muffin fan – I make them a lot more often than I let on here (you know, I think I should remedy that, come to think of it…). Next on my list is to make her Apple Cinnamon Muffins, which are dairy-free and refined sugar-free as well as gluten-free. They sound amazing.

But of course, many of you are here because I mentioned “giveaway” in the title of this post. I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here are the details:

I will be giving away one copy of Simply…Gluten-Free Desserts by Carol Kicinski, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, to one of you. The giveaway will end on Saturday, May 7, 2011.

To enter, you will need to leave me a comment telling me what dessert you would love to see made gluten-free.

But wait, there’s more!

You can have additional chances to win by doing the following:

“Like” Simply…Gluten-Free on Facebook and leave me a comment telling me you did so.

“Like” Tasty Eats At Home on Facebook and leave me a comment telling me you did so.

Follow Simply…Gluten-Free on Twitter and leave me a comment telling me you did so.

Follow Tasty Eats At Home on Twitter and leave me a comment telling me you did so.

That’s it! I wish you the best of luck!

 

And last, but not least, the recipe for the Mango Sticky Rice Cake.

Mango Sticky Rice Cake, reprinted with permission, from Simply…Gluten-Free Desserts by Carol Kicinski

Ingredients:

 2 mangos, peeled and sliced lengthwise into about ¼ inch slices
1½ cups sweet rice (mochi, pearl or sushi rice)
1½ cups water
1 cup brown sugar (packed) plus about 1 tablespoon – use divided (I substituted coconut palm sugar)
1 – 14 ounce can coconut milk
Pinch kosher or sea salt
4 tablespoons butter or non-dairy substitute plus more for preparing pan

 Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9 inch round cake pan by greasing the bottom and sides liberally with the butter or non-dairy substitute. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar over the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Lay sliced mango on top of brown sugar in a nice spiral pattern.

Put rice in a large glass bowl and cover with enough water to come up about 1 inch over the top of the rice. Soak rice for at least 1 hour. Drain off water, rinse with running water and put back into bowl with 1½ cups fresh water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir rice thoroughly and return to microwave for another 5 minutes. Stir again. Rice should be tender, cooked through and sticky. If not, microwave for another 3 minutes and check again. Let stand covered for 5 minutes when done. Alternately you can cook the soaked rice in a rice cooker.

While rice is cooking, heat coconut milk with ¼ cup brown sugar and salt until almost boiling over medium heat. Do not cook it over too high of a heat or it will curdle. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved and it is very hot. Pour hot mixture over cooked rice; stir well and let sit for at least 5 minutes.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter or non-dairy substitute over medium heat with ¾ cups of brown sugar until it forms a thick caramel. Gently pour over the mango slices in the cake pan. Add rice mixture and press down to pack it well in the pan. Smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.

Place cake pan in a sheet pan to catch any caramel that may bubble over and bake in oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until the rice is lightly browned and the caramel is hot and bubbling. Let cool for 5 minutes and then run a knife around the pan to loosen. Invert on serving plate and let cool. The more you let it cool the easier it is to slice.

Winners of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free by Amy Green

I bet you’re just dying to know who won a copy of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free by Amy Green, aren’t you? Well, I won’t make you wait any longer. Here they are!

Pat R.

Zoe from Z’s Cup of Tea

Stephanie from Lunges and Lunch

Jeanie from Allergy Free and Gluten Free

Congrats to the winners!

I will be emailing you all, but if you don’t hear from me, please contact me.

For the rest of you, this book is available on Amazon for a great price – $10.22 (and it’s eligible for Super Saver Free Shipping!). It’s quite a find – I love the book and am finding myself going back to it again and again for ideas and inspiration.

Many thanks to Amy Green and Ulysses Press for making this giveaway possible for you all! They supplied these books and my copy for review.

Simple Quinoa Pizza Crust

This pizza crust recipe has changed my life. No more frozen pizza crusts. No more “going without” pizza. No more complicated recipes, complete with yeast and rise times and multiple gluten-free flours. As long as I remember to soak my quinoa ahead of time, I can have fresh pizza crust in a manner of minutes. And not “so-so” pizza. Good pizza. Chewy and slightly crispy on the edges, but soft in the center. It reminds me of a good New York style crust. Which, you can assume by my opening sentence in this post, is a good thing indeed.

I can’t take credit for the idea or the recipe, however. That credit goes to Charity Dasenbrock of For Life Personal Chef. She posted this recipe. Iris of The Daily Dietribe mentioned it a while back, and that’s where it caught my eye. It is supposed to be akin to socca, a chickpea flatbread that is also simple to make. (There’s a recipe in Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free by Amy Green – I happen to be giving away four copies of her book here – hurry! The giveaway ends April 23.) I’ve discovered I have a lot of trouble digesting chickpeas, so I have never had the opportunity to enjoy socca. This crust recipe, however, gave me hope. It was so easy, I just had to try it.

So the following morning, I soaked what quinoa I had left in the house (which turned out to be about a cup).  I came home, drained and rinsed it, and threw it in the blender along with a bit of water, salt, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. I blended, and heated up my cast iron skillet in the oven with a bit of oil. When the oven came to temperature, I poured my batter, spread it out, put it back in the oven, and hoped for the best.

In a little over 10 minutes, I checked it. It was ready to flip, and was a lovely color of brown and crisp on the bottom. It flipped easily. I baked it for about 10 more minutes, and then placed some toppings on top and baked for another 5. The house filled with the aroma of pizza parlor. When it was ready, I was so ready to cut and sink my teeth into that slice. When I did, I just about swooned. Another bite, and another, and I’m suddenly blabbing and carrying on to my husband about how absolutely wonderful this pizza was. I declared that we would now have pizza every week. That’s probably not going to happen in actuality, but I did make more the following week. It was just as delicious as the first time. And the leftovers? They make a pretty great breakfast.

Another bonus about this pizza crust, versus so many other gluten-free recipes, is that it is 100% whole grain. No starches, no gums. It’s vegan, and it’s allergy-friendly. You can top it with whatever you like. You could even leave it plain and enjoy it as a delicious flatbread, perfect for tearing and dipping into curries, soups, or hummus. The possibilities are endless. But whatever you do, make it.

Quinoa Pizza Crust, adapted from For Life Personal Chef

1 c quinoa plus enough water to cover for soaking

1/4 c grapeseed oil or olive oil

about 1/2 c filtered water

1/2 t kosher salt

1/2 t garlic powder

1/2 t Italian seasoning

Place the quinoa in a bowl and pour in enough water to cover the quinoa. Let it sit for about 8 hours to soak (I do this in the morning before I head to work, and then it’s ready when I get home).

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Use a large, 12-inch cast iron skillet, and brush with oil. Place in oven to preheat.

Drain the quinoa, rinse thoroughly, and place the quinoa in a blender. Add most of the water and the seasonings and blend. Add more water as needed, until the batter resembles a thick pancake-style batter.

Once the oven is heated to temperature, pour the batter into the skillet and quickly spread it out evenly across the bottom. Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the underside is well-browned and starting to crisp. Use a large spatula and carefully flip the crust. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove from oven, and top with desired toppings. (In the picture above, I used a homemade tomato-based pizza sauce, a bit of nacho cheese sauce from Go Dairy Free, sauteed crimini mushrooms, onions, a bit of organic pork sausage, and radish greens.) As with any pizza, be careful not to overload on toppings or the crust will get a bit soggy. Return to oven for 5-7 minutes, or until the crust is well-browned on the bottom and crisp. Remove from the skillet and transfer to a cutting board or plate. Slice and serve!

Makes one pizza – 2-4 servings, depending on how hungry your crowd is and whether a salad or other dish is served with the pizza.

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays and Make It Gluten-Free Tuesdays.

Kids In The Kitchen: Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I cherish these Kids In The Kitchen times. With three teenagers in the house (well, one is 12, but in some ways she’s going on 16 anyway, so I might as well include her in that “teenager” description), I realize that this special time we spend together learning to cook, experiencing food adventures, and generally having fun, isn’t going to last forever. Eventually, one by one, their focus will shift, priorities will change, and they’ll have grown up and won’t be cooking every other weekend in the kitchen with me anymore. This makes this time we have that much more precious. So much more happens than just a kid, a recipe, some food, and a resulting blog post. We get opportunities to learn together, to be silly together, to bond together, one on one. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world.

Matt is the oldest (he’ll be 16 next week!). I suppose that means he’s not a little boy anymore. He’s learning to really voice his opinions and trying to understand and feel his way around where he stands on important worldly beliefs and issues (ranging from what genre of music is best to religion), but at the same time, he continually tries to make us laugh with a quick joke. He takes after his Dad that way – the jokes aren’t always funny, but the sense of humor behind their delivery will guarantee a chuckle and a smile, and many times can disarm me, even in stern moments. In my opinion, a good sense of humor is definitely an asset.

But in spite of his ever-more-grown-up ways, he is still in some ways a boy. Take his suggestion for what we would make for Kids In The Kitchen – peanut butter cookies. That’s a childhood favorite I think he and I share (and a lot of others). Some things you just never outgrow.

These peanut butter cookies are a breeze to make. In fact, I’ve made an almond butter version before following the same recipe. It’s Shirley’s recipe from Gluten-Free Easily, and it’s by far one of the easiest cookie recipes out there. We made these as written – complete with chocolate chips. I only had a taste, but the kids definitely took care of the rest for me – they enjoyed two a piece when they were made, and gladly took the rest home to enjoy at the end of the weekend. They were indeed a hit. Of course, this won’t be the last time this recipe (or a version of it) will be gracing our kitchen. It’s an easy, go-to recipe for cookies that can please a crowd (and some hungry teenagers).

Check out the recipe for Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies here.

Have you entered into the giveaway for a copy of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free: 120 Easy and Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less by Amy Green? If not, there’s still time! Check out the giveaway details here. Hurry, because the giveaway ends April 23!

Kohlrabi and Apple Slaw

I love spring. While I’m really not fond of knowing that our unrelenting Texas heat is just around the corner, I feel like the bounty of fresh produce that starts arriving in the farmers markets makes up for it. As I mentioned before, it just seems like I become inspired with fresh, quality food. Like kohlrabi. I picked some up from Good Earth Organic Farm (this makes twice now, actually, and I plan on getting more tomorrow morning!), and used the greens in smoothies (the greens are mild on these kohlrabi, so they work well in smoothies!). But I wanted to do something special with the kohlrabi themselves. I love it raw – it’s crunchy and relatively mild, kind of like jicama and broccoli stems rolled into one. (If you can imagine that…) I poked around for some ideas on how to highlight that crunchy flavor, and came across a slaw over at A Veggie Venture. (A hint - if you ever are at a loss for vegetable ideas, check out her blog. She has so many wonderful ways to cook countless numbers of vegetables.) Of course, I’d have to make it dairy-free, but that came easily enough, with the help of a bit of coconut milk.  I had some Fuji apples lying around, so I brought out my mandolin slicer (which makes quick work of the kohlrabi and apple, but you can use the shredder on your food processor or cut it by hand if you’d prefer) and went to town.

Within a few minutes, I tossed everything together, and stuck it in the fridge to cool for a bit, but I already knew the verdict: it was delicious. Cool, creamy, crunchy, and sweet – this was definitely a different slaw than those vinegar-heavy or mayonnaise-laden varieties, and I loved it. The parsley and mint heightened the freshness of the slaw. I enjoyed a generous helping as a side dish, and also loved it atop some mizuna as a salad, where the spiciness of the greens could contrast the cool and sweet slaw. I’ve made this twice already in two weeks – and fully intend to make it a third time, for Easter dinner, alongside a ham.

Dairy-Free Kohlrabi and Apple Slaw, adapted from A Veggie Venture

1/4 c coconut milk

1 T tahini

3 T lemon juice

1/2 T dijon mustard

1 T chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 T chopped mint

1/2 t honey (you can use agave nectar to make it vegan)

Salt and pepper to taste

3 kohlrabi (about 1 lb), peeled and cut into batons (or shredded)

2 Fuji apples (Granny Smith would also be good here), cut into batons (or shredded)

Combine everything except the kohlrabi and apples in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Cut the kohlrabi and apples and toss immediately in the dressing (if you wait, the apples will start to brown). Adjust seasoning as needed, and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays and The WHOLE Gang.

Daring Cooks: Edible Containers (Nori Bowls)

This month for the Daring Cooks challenge, the sky was the limit.  Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers. She provided lovely ideas and recipes (a pumpkin bowl filled with creamy shrimp, or a fried noodle bowl), but we could also use our creativity and come up with our own idea, as long as our containers were edible and had suitable content for it.

For me, this was exciting. Rather than having to modify a challenge recipe to fit my dietary needs, I could come up with something completely from scratch! How exciting! But then I started brainstorming, and couldn’t come up with much. I had a few ideas – dips inside of avocado halves, a twist on deviled eggs, or some sort of roll-up thing…but nothing ground-breaking. So I enlisted my sister to help. (She is the artist in our family) I sent her a text message, asking her to think of some sort of edible container, and that the sky was the limit. She sent a message back: what about making nori sheets into some sort of paper mache thing?

Wow. I was inspired. Immediately, I dismissed my other ideas and focused on this one. I wasn’t sure how I’d get it to work, but I knew I had to. It sounded like fun. I had a few days before I would have time to actually make the bowls, so I instead spent time working out the issue in my head. What I loved about this challenge is that unlike some others, I actually didn’t do any research. This was all going to be playing around and going with my gut.

It wouldn’t exactly be paper mache, I thought. Paper mache involves some paste-like substance, and when I think of edible paste, I think of corn starch and water. That didn’t sound appetizing in the least. But I needed something sticky. Brown rice syrup. I purchased some to make Amy’s Slow Cooker Ketchup, and I loved the thick, neutral, not-too-sweet stuff. (Side note: there’s still time to enter into my giveaway for a copy of her cookbook! Check it out here!) I knew I was going to use it – it seemed like the perfect solution. I also knew I’d have to use some sort of mold in order to make and keep a bowl shape until it dried. I already planned on using my dehydrator to speed up that drying process, but as for the minute details? Those would have to wait until I was in the throes of making the bowls.

As it turns out, all that advance mental preparation helped. Making these bowls was a snap. Okay, well, not exactly a snap, as a snap implies speed (at least, in my mind it does) and they did take a while to dry, but they were easy to put together. Just a little brushing of my sticky brown rice and tamari solution, some time in my “molds”, and some time in the dehydrator, and I had a cute little bowl, perfect for filling.

Filling with what? Well, honestly, I did not spend much time brainstorming about that part. But as I surveyed my pantry and refrigerator, I quickly realized that I had the ingredients for a version of jap chae, and those flavors would go perfectly with the nori. I whipped it together (which really is a snap – jap chae only takes a few minutes to make), and I had a perfectly delicious, vegan meal in a cute nori bowl.

This was an exciting challenge, and my hat goes off to Renata.

Nori Bowls

2 nori sheets per bowl

Olive oil

2 T brown rice syrup

1 T gluten-free soy sauce

small bowls

1 recipe Jap Chae

Using kitchen shears, cut slits into the nori sheet, making sure you make them only about halfway to the center of the sheet, leaving room for the bottom of the bowl. (I cut the first one with slits as shown here, but then realized I should cut only 4 slits, one on each corner, for the second sheet. Sorry, no pic on that one, but you get the idea.)

Cut the second sheet of nori with slits and lay over the first sheet, offsetting the slits slightly so that the whole area is covered with nori. Lightly brush the bowl with oil on the outside, and place the nori sheets on top.

In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the brown rice syrup and soy sauce. Brush mixture along the cut edges, and press together firmly, against the bowl, until all of the nori is “sealed” with the syrup mixture. Brush oil on the inside of your second molding bowl, and place on top of your nori. Press together.

Using your kitchen shears, cut around the edges of your mold to remove excess nori. Repeat with additional nori sheets and bowls as desired. Let the molds sit for about an hour.

Remove the interior molding bowl, and place in dehydrator, right side up. Allow to dehydrate for an additional hour at about 130 degrees. Once the nori starts to feel less “wet”, carefully remove the second molding bowl and place the nori bowl back into the dehydrator. Continue to dehydrate for another hour or two, or until the nori is hard and no longer the least bit tacky to the touch. Trim the edges with kitchen shears as needed to clean up the look of your bowl.

It is now ready to fill! Prepare your jap chae according to recipe (or make another filling for your bowl) and serve. You’ll find that after a while, when the filling has had a chance to sit in the bowl, it will soften a bit, and you might be able to fold the sides and eat your jap chae-filled nori bowl rolled up, burrito style.

Braised Lamb Shank with Swiss Chard

Have you entered into the drawing yet for a chance to win a copy of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free by Amy Green? If not, check out the details here. The giveaway is open until midnight April 23, 2011.

Last weekend, we finally were able to pick up our long-awaited lamb from Good Earth Organic Farm. This is our third lamb we’ve ordered from Good Earth. It’s completely grass-fed and organically-raised, and lived its life less than an hour away from my home. Good Earth Organic Farm has practiced organic, sustainable farming for more than 2o years, long before the resurgence in local/organic/sustainable food began. That is to say, they know a few things.

Over the past few years, we’ve been slowly moving towards eating more organic, local, and sustainable foods in our home. At first, it was about taste. I could get fresher foods by visiting the farmers market and buying in season, and fresher foods meant tastier foods. Then, as I grew to know the farmers, I preferred to spend my money locally when I could to support local businesses and these local farmers. But I also learned about the work they did and the reasons behind it. Many of these farmers strive to provide healthy, organically-raised produce and animals for their families and their community, not because they make more money (they certainly don’t), not because they gain fame or recognition (most are very modest, down-to-earth folks, many more comfortable out on the farm than in a crowd of people), but because they strongly believe this is the right thing to do – for the Earth, for the health of their family and community, and to know that their animals (if they raise them) were ethically treated. For them, these values were strong enough that they chose to devote their lives to upholding them.

Until recently, while I wholeheartedly supported these farmers and the whole notion of eating locally, organically, and sustainably, my actions didn’t always echo that support. Why? To be honest? Convenience and price. Sure, when the farmer’s market was open, I’d shop there first, but often I wouldn’t buy meat (too expensive) and then, I would visit our local supermarket to pick up whatever was on sale that week to round out our meals. This often meant that at least half of our produce was conventionally grown. Our meat? All conventionally grown (with the exception of the lambs from Good Earth Organic Farm), although I would buy from a grocery that labeled their meats with things like “naturally raised”. (Which, mind you, doesn’t mean much, as that term is not regulated.)  I would pick up eggs from Jacob’s Reward Farm a good amount of the time, but even this past winter, I slacked on that, as my new job and new commute made it so that I no longer drove right by the farm each day. Again, that convenience factor played heavily into my choices.

I’m not saying what I already practiced was bad. I honestly think I was doing a pretty good job of providing healthy foods for our family – almost every meal consumed in our home is made from unprocessed ingredients. We rarely eat out. Unhealthy snacks and treats are kept to a minimum, and vegetables are emphasized and are forever present at each meal. There are no sugary sodas in our home. But I knew that I could do more to help keep our family healthy. Even more so, I needed to open my eyes and become fully conscious of what I was choosing for us to eat. And when I did, those choices became more apparent – I didn’t want us to eat pesticides. Or chemicals. Or hormones. Or animals that were constantly sick and stressed (for lack of a stronger term) because they were raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Nor did I want to endorse such practices.

Instead, I wanted to treat our bodies with respect and intention, and treat our food the same way. I  find that when we choose good food – food that is in season and is raised sustainably – I treat it better. I want to respect the ingredients. They are wholesome, and a lot of honest work went into them. It also connects me with the Earth to eat this way, and I find that there is a deep appreciation for what we put on our plates when we are conscious of what we are eating. As a cook in the kitchen, I am inspired by all of this. I was explaining this to my husband the other day as I was packaging leftovers of a fantastic kohlrabi and apple slaw I’d made using local, organic kohlrabi (also raised by Good Earth Organic Farm!), organic apples, and parsley from my garden. (recipe coming soon!) I feel as though when I buy grocery store conventional ingredients, I just throw something together carelessly. It gets us by, but it doesn’t taste nearly as good, and many times, it’s an uninspired dish. But when I’m presented with the best of the best, I treat it that way – and from my kitchen sometimes comes some pretty darn tasty dishes, if I do say so myself. He echoed my thoughts, saying he noticed that when I took the time to obtain quality food, the quality and creativity of the dishes I created also was greater. (I do have to say, it made me beam to know that he can also see that difference!) That inspiration, brought on by a sense of awareness for our food, the seasons, and the freshness of it all, is definitely an additional motivating factor driving me to not fall into the “convenience-over-quality” or “price-over-quality” trap.

Of course, this little rambling of mine isn’t to insinuate how elite we’ve become, or to sound political or extremist. Far from it. I understand that in a real world, not everyone can afford to spend extra on groceries. Especially in an economy that has certainly seen more prosperous times, there are many without work and they are surviving on what little they can manage to scrape together. I get that. But we as a nation spend less of our income on food than just about every other country in the world. In addition, many of us somehow find the money to spend on iPhones, cable television, satellite radio, restaurant food, and many other things we never even “needed” 5 or 10 years ago. We also spend more and more on medical costs. Perhaps instead, we could use some of that money to contribute to our health in the form of quality food? For a good many of us, it’s not about if we can afford it, it’s about the priority we place on our health.

Of course, this is about my choices and beliefs and that of my family. I will leave you to do research and make your own decisions if and when you are ready to do so, and I promise I will try not to preach. If you are curious about reading more, however, you might check out Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Joel Salatin (which I’m hoping to read soon) or for a more in-the-kitchen view, Hugh Fearing-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook (which I am reading right now). There’s a lot more out there, but I have enjoyed these because they aren’t preachy or propaganda-like.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Back to this lamb. When we picked up the lamb, and I started to load it into our deep freezer, I was getting excited. Chops, and roasts, and more chops…my mouth was watering as I started to imagine all of the delectable dinners to come, and my mind filled with ideas. Then my hands grabbed the package of shanks. This is what we’re eating first,  I thought. I could imagine the tender, fall-off-the-bone meat now, bathed in a flavorful sauce, rich but not overly so, letting the lamb flavor shine through. This recipe does a good job of that – imparting a slight sweetness to the meat, due to the cinnamon and prunes, but enough savory notes to balance it all out. Mashed potatoes pair nicely, as does polenta. What’s better – I recently acquired a pressure cooker, which I used for this recipe. Right now, I’m still enamored with the speed in which food turns from raw to delicious with this thing. The pressure cooker made an otherwise all-day affair – these lamb shanks – something I could cook on a weeknight without too much work beyond my normal efforts. The pressure cooker only set me back about $20 – it’s not fancy – but if you don’t have one, simply simmer these in a dutch oven at a low temperature for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling off of the bone. One additional note – I used green garlic in this recipe. Green garlic is simply immature garlic that is similar to green onions. Its flavor is more subtle than regular garlic. If you can’t find this, simply substitute 6 cloves garlic and 6 stems green onions. Also, if you can’t find swiss chard, feel free to substitute another type of greens, such as spinach, collards, or kale.

Braised Lamb Shank with Swiss Chard, adapted from Bon Appetit

1 1/2 t ground cinnamon, divided

1 t ground cardamom, divided

4 3/4 lb lamb shanks

2 T olive oil

6 stalks green garlic, green and white parts chopped

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes in juice

1 1/2 c beef broth

1/4 c prunes

1 T tomato paste

1/4 t saffron threads, crumbled

Large pinch ground cloves

1 T olive oil

1 large bunch swiss chard, chopped

1/4 c chopped flat-leaf parsley

Combine half of the cinnamon, half of the cardamom, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Pat lamb shanks dry and season with spice mixture. Heat oil in a large pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add lamb shanks and brown all over, cooking for about 2 minutes each side. Remove and set on a plate.

Add green garlic, reduce heat to medium-low, and saute for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, broth, prunes, tomato paste, and remaining cinnamon and cardamom. Add saffron and cloves. Increase heat and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Return lamb shanks to pressure cooker. Put lid on cooker and follow pressure cooker instructions on bringing to a medium temperature. Allow to cook at medium for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, while lamb is cooking, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add chard and saute for a minute. Add a splash of water and cover briefly, for about 2 minutes. Remove lid, stir, and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to come down (again, according to your pressure cooker instructions). Remove lid, and remove lamb shanks from sauce and set aside. Using a hand blender, puree the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Return lamb shanks to sauce – it should still be quite hot, but if it isn’t, return to a burner on low for a few minutes to reheat.

Serve lamb shanks on top of mashed potatoes, if desired, with sauce poured over and swiss chard alongside. Garnish with parsley.

Serves 4.

This post is linked to Friday Foodie Fix at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang.

Review and Giveaway: Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free by Amy Green

This giveaway has ended, and the winners have been announced here. Thank you all for reading!

In case you haven’t heard, my good friend Amy over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free has written her first book, Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free: 180 easy and Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less, and it’s just been released! I couldn’t wait until my copy arrived in the mail, and when it did, I plopped myself down on the couch and read the whole thing, cover to cover. I’m so proud of Amy’s accomplishments. This book is gorgeous, with amazing recipes for everything from buckwheat crepes to cauliflower soup to multiple brownie recipes, all free of gluten and refined sugar. As I am trying to cut refined sugar out of my diet, Amy has become a valuable resource. This book couldn’t have arrived at a better time. It was only a matter of deciding which recipes to try first, so I could share with you just how awesome this book is.

Of all of the tantalizing recipes, it might seem odd that the first thing I made was her Slow Cooker Ketchup (also available on her blog). I haven’t actually eaten ketchup in a long time. When you don’t eat french fries, burgers, or hot dogs on a regular basis, there’s just not that many ketchup opportunities left. I’ve also found that store-bought ketchup, which typically is full of high-fructose corn syrup or sugar, is intensely sweet - something I’ve lost a taste for. Amy’s ketchup, however, is more than just sweet – there are layers of spices, some tang, and a lovely full flavor. I used some of it later in the week for some chipotle sloppy joes (on a slice of gluten-free bread) and oven fries, and felt like a kid again. It was so, so good.

But I wouldn’t do a review of a cookbook purely based on ketchup. That just wouldn’t be right. After all, I’ve sampled Amy’s baking before, and I know what she’s capable of. Her baked goods are phenomenal. When I came across her Fig and Date Bars, I paused. She said they tasted like fig newtons. Fig Newtons? Oh yes, these were so about to happen in my kitchen. I couldn’t wait.

Did they deliver? I would definitely say so. I loved the sticky, sweet but not-too-sweet fig and date filling, and the crumbly topping was just perfect. I brought them to the office, and all day, people would venture back into the kitchen to sneak another one. Our company President even enjoyed some and shared them with his granddaughters (who were visiting that day), and remarked how good they were. (He didn’t know they were gluten and sugar-free until afterwards!) If they pass the test of the gluten and sugar eaters of the world with flying colors, I say that’s definitely a win.

Just look at them. How could you resist?

Do these recipes have you interested? I hope so, because I have FOUR opportunities for you to win a copy of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free! Want to know how you can enter to win? Scroll down to the bottom of this post and find out! The giveaway will end at midnight CDT on Saturday, April 23, 2011. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully so you can be entered as many times as possible!

Fig and Date Bars, reprinted with permission from Amy Green, excerpted from Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free

1/2 c pitted Medjool dates

1/2 c dried black Mission figs, stemmed and cut in half

1/2 c walnuts

1 c sorghum flour

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/4 t baking soda

1/4 t xanthan gum (I used guar gum)

pinch of kosher salt

1/4 c cold butter, diced (I used ghee (also called clarified butter), which is lactose and casein-free)

2 T honey or agave nectar

1 t freshly grated orange zest

1 T freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly mist an 8 X 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a medium heatproof bowl, cover the dates and figs with hot water. Set aside. Or, cover the dates and dried figs with water and microwave for 1 minute.

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, chop the walnuts until they are in small pieces but not mealy. Add the sorghum flour, cinnamon, baking soda, xanthan gum, and kosher salt. Process for 30 seconds or until the mixture is combined and the walnuts are a little finer. Sprinkle the butter evenly across the walnut mixture and drizzle in the honey or agave. Pulse until a dough forms. Turn the dough out into a large bowl.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the dates and figs to the food processor, reserving the soaking liquid; there’s no need to wash the processor bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid, the orange zest, and orange juice. Let process for several minutes, until smooth.

While the food processor is running, use wet hands to firmly press two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Once the date and fig mixture is smooth, spread it evenly across the dough. Break the remaining dough into marble-size pieces, sprinkle them across the fig and date paste, and lightly press in.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through, until the top becomes lightly golden brown. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and store in the refrigerator. These also freeze well.

Makes 16 2X2 inch bars.

Now, for the giveaway!

In order to be entered into the giveaway, simply leave a comment at the end of this post. Your name will be entered once into a drawing for a chance to win one of four cookbooks.

If you want more chances to win, then listen up!

For a second chance to win, follow Ulysses Press on Twitter and leave a separate comment here telling me you did so.

For a third chance to win, friend Ulysses Press on Facebook and leave a separate comment here telling me you did so.

For a fourth chance to win, like Ulysses Press’s new Health and Fitness fan page and leave a separate comment here telling me you did so.

(An added bonus for you, when you follow/like Ulysses Press – they often host giveaways and other fun stuff!)

For a fifth chance to win, like Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free on Facebook and leave a separate comment here telling me you did so.

For additional chances to win, Tweet about this giveaway on Twitter, post about it on Facebook or your blog, and leave me comments telling me you did those things.

And remember – the giveaway ends at midnight on Saturday, April 23, 2011.