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29 June 2010

gluten-free hamburger buns

from the good stuff cookbook

Last week, I had a lovely post planned for this space. Memories of barbecues from when I was a kid, and evocations of the taste of well-charred meat, and elaborate analogies to make you laugh.

But you know what? That farm-to-table dinner that Danny and I cooked on Friday took most of our minds' space last week. We loved the sun-glowing day (we haven't seen the sun much around here, so excuse the hyperbole). We loved the chance to cook together all afternoon, with friends, and even with a small person at pantry a few times. We loved meeting so many of you, making the connection with faces and stories, and humbled to hear how much you love reading here. Thank you. It was a glorious day.

Wow, though. I was exhausted the next day. As much as I loved the work being about slicing carrots, grilling slices of sourdough baguettes, and pureeing curried red lentils, instead of sitting in front of a computer, I am not used to being on my feet for nine straight hours. Danny didn't blink. He does this every day. I'm in awe of him. Me? I needed to sit down on Sunday, and not in front of a computer.

And now, when I thought I had cleared a couple of hours to write this post, Lu has decided that 10 pm is wake-up-and-frolic time. I can hear her in her bedroom, running through the entire catalog of songs she has begun to sing this week. "Tinkle tinkle dar!" she shouts, then glides right into "Ashes, ashes, all down," which slides into "Up down! turn aroun," from the Wiggles. People, I don't think we're going to bed until midnight tonight. We're in the middle of a growth spurt. There's too much joy to sleep.

(I was right. Danny listened to her sing while I fixed our dinner, then I sat with her as she clapped and danced as he ate, and he reminded her it was time to sleep while I ate our mustard-roasted chicken, and we both settled her down to a stupor just about midnight. So this is Tuesday now, sleep-deprived but still smiling.)

So, I'm going to go fast, in a list form, and tell you about the week we ate out of Spike Mendelsohn's The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, fries, shakes, wedges, and more.

1. Do you remember Spike? If you watch Top Chef you do. He was the slightly cocky, slightly obnoxious, slightly loveable chef who tried to portray himself as Johnny on the street (with a tweed fedora) but actually had a whole raft of classical training and fine-dining experiences under his belt. I was sort of annoyed by him and sort of pulling for him that season. He seared frozen scallops, which turned to mush, and then he went home.

2. And then he opened this restaurant in Washington D.C. called Good Stuff Eatery. (Even when you lose on Top Chef, you get a lot of attention, particularly if you set out to make yourself a recognizable character.) From all accounts, it's fabulous. Burgers, fries, salads, sides, and shakes, made with fresh ingredients and classic techniques and little chef twists that make each one outstanding. He's gotten a lot of press for this place.

3. From that, this cookbook. (I have to tell you that The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, fries, shakes, wedges, and more is published by Wiley, which is publishing our cookbook in September (!!). Also, our amazing book editor edited this book. This, and the free copy, really didn't affect why we cooked out of this book, however. It just looked good, right in time for grilling season.) The cookbook is bright, full of vivid photographs, and stuffed with smiling people and crisp brown fries. It's not pretentious. It's not trying to be anything other than what it is. We liked it.

4. The book is credited to Spike Mendelsohn in big letters, and just underneath it, in small type: Micheline Mendelsohn. That's his sister. How cool is it that this guy wrote his book with his sister? The book, and the ethos of Good Stuff, is clearly all about family. Danny and I love that, since it's what's important to us too. Good man.

(Also, no offense to Spike, but it's clear that the smaller type person actually wrote this book. I'm married to a chef. Chefs cannot sit down long enough to write a book. Remind me sometimes to tell you about the hilarious way we had to write our cookbook. So, way to go, Micheline!)

5. Spike makes his mayonnaise with grapeseed oil. That makes it a greeny green. I haven't decided if that makes it look like it belongs in the Munsters' house or if it's a soft pastel, like the first photos of spring taken by hip girls with Pentaxes. Either way, it was sure good.

6. The Good Stuff sauce, slathered on all the burgers at the place, uses this green mayonnaise with molasess and other secret ingredients. I just fricking loved it. I could put it on every sandwich and roast chicken and in eggs. Really addictive.

7. The toasted marshmallow milkshake. Oh, I was so excited about this one. Apparently, it's the calling card of the Good Stuff Eatery. Everyone loves it, craves it. And to make it, you toast marshmallows under the broiler, so they take on that charred, almost blackened but raw in the middle experience that you get when you're an impatient kid at a campfire. I was SO excited about this shake.

Bleh. It was way, way too sweet for me. Maybe it wouldn't be for you. After all, it's popular. I've lost much of my sweet tooth since I was pregnant with Lu. Ripe raspberries taste perfectly sweet to me, and anything else is too much. Still, Danny has a famous sweet tooth, and he couldn't finish this shake either. So that was a disappointment.

8. The fries from the book, however, were great. Danny has been telling me for years about the towering piles of shoestring fries, hot and showered with salt, crisp and addictive, that he used to make at Cassis, here in Seattle, when he was the sous chef. However, Cassis closed and he has never made me those fries.

We made the fries out of of Spike's book, the first fries we had ever made together. Oh yeah.

I miss fries. Did you know that if you have to eat gluten-free, you can't eat French fries in most restaurants across the United States? Fries are most often fried in the same oil as onion rings and other gluten-containing goodies. Do you know how often most restaurants change their fry oil? Um, not often, according to Danny. So all that gluten hangs out there and contaminates the potatoes.

Much better to make them yourself at home. The Good Stuff Cookbook makes it easy for you.

baked sweet potato wedges

9. However, I think I enjoyed the baked sweet potato fries with thyme and honey even better than the French fries. These are keepers.

Spike's wedge salad with dried cranberries and fried goat cheese

10. I was grateful for the salads in The Good Stuff Cookbook. Not only because they are interesting combinations of flavors — and lots of them wedge salads with iceberg, which I'm starting to love — but also because I needed a respite from all the burgers and fries.

This was the wedge salad with fried goat cheese, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds. Fried goat cheese! I'm keeping that one too.

11. The truth is we tried to eat out of this cookbook all week long, the way we normally do with the cookbooks we feature here. We gave up after a few days, though. I just couldn't eat one more burger.

There are vegetarian burgers and turkey burgers and tamarind-glazed pork burgers with red cabbage slaw and grilled pineapple. They all sounded fabulous. So it's not as if we had to eat a big hunk of beef every day to cook out of this book. The sides alone would have sustained us. I wish that the watermelon at the store had been good so I could have made the grilled watermelon, yuzu, and feta salad. Soon, I will.

12. That's the thing. This is a great book if you want to use it occasionally. With the Fourth of July coming up this weekend, we're pulling it out again for the big party we're attending on the island. Maybe I'll bring the perfectly roasted wild mushrooms or the zucchini fritters or the farm-fresh potato salad. I may not want burgers two days in a row (and the day after we made the burger, fries, and the toasted marshmallow shake, I swore I wouldn't be eating a burger of any kind for months), but I like this book.

13. The Good Stuff Cookbook is fresh, filled with good flavors, and doesn't take itself too seriously. We really dig it. We think you will too. So we're giving away a copy. Tell us a story about burgers or fries or your favorite side for a barbecue or what you consider good stuff (food done right without any pretension). We want to hear.

14. Frankly, the book was worth it for us because cooking out of it forced me to finally create a recipe for gluten-free hamburger buns I like.

And frankly, after you read the title of this post, that's probably the only thing you wanted to see.

So here you go.

today's hamburger buns

Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns

I've been wanting to bake hamburger buns that make me happy for about 5 years. I don't mean those starchy, super-flimsy grocery store buns. I mean the buns that are really great bread rolls, crusty on top and soft inside. If grocery-store buns are a Casio keyboard, then great rolls for hamburgers are the organ at Westminster Abbey.

Well, last week, I started singing Hallelujah. After all the baking work we have done these past two years, and what I have learned about bread baking in general, I created these. And then I did it again, and again, to make sure this wasn't a fluke. It's not a fluke. You could be eating these for the Fourth of July this weekend.

The recipe was inspired by the hamburger buns in the Gourmet cookbook, which many people told me was their favorite. I've also been playing with making sponge starters for bread recently. I like them with gluten-free baking, in particular, because sponges build more flavor and a better structure to breads. We can always use that with gluten-free. I learned this technique from the incredible book Baking by James Peterson. It's my new baking bible. I'll be sharing much more soon.

After fiddling and eating, I came up with the rolls of my dreams. Golden crusted and a little crisp, with a soft crumb and air holes. These are not too dense. (You couldn't use them as hockey pucks.) They don't taste funny. In fact, the many people whom I handed these to in the last few weeks could not tell they were gluten-free, at all.

And here's a bonus. If you have a baguette pan, you can use this recipe to make crusty baguettes.

If you're new to baking, this recipe might seem long and fussy. Believe me, it's worth your time. You could be eating toasted hamburger buns this weekend. Or maybe even tonight.

Enjoy, everyone.

Update. Please read: A few of you were kind enough to write to me here and on email to say that the batch of hamburger bun dough you made was too wet. Perplexed, I shook my head and thought. I've made these at least five times before writing it. What could be wrong?

I just figured it out. When I originally typed this recipe (sleep-deprived, at the public library), I transcribed the wrong numbers from my recipe notebook. Instead of 70 grams of potato flour and almond flour, as I had originally written, it should be 140 of each. Big difference! I'm sorry to those of you whose doughs turned out wet from my mistake. (I have to stop typing up recipes when I'm so tired.) But thank you for writing and pointing out the error.

280 grams Aherns' all-purpose gluten-free flour
140 grams almond flour
140 grams potato flour
100 grams soy milk (if you use cow's milk, and your sponge is runny, use less next time)
165 to 260 grams water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon guar gum
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg, well-beaten (optional)
1/4 cup sesame seeds (optional)

Combining the flours. Put the all-purpose flour, the almond flour, and the potato flour into a food processor. Mix them for a few moments until they have become one, coherent flour. Using the food processor aerates the flours in a way that seems to really help the bread. If you don't have one, then use a stand mixer or a large bowl and whisk, then sift the flours into another bowl. This only takes a few moments, and it will really help the final buns.

Making the sponge. Measure out 210 grams of the combined flours into a large bowl. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it is barely warm. After you have put on the milk, let your tap water run warm until it is 115 degrees. (This is the temperature when the water runs over your wrist warm, the same warmth as your flesh.) By the time you have added the water to the flour, the milk should be warm enough. If it's hot at all, wait a few moments for it to cool down before you add it to the flours. Add the milk to the flours, then 165 grams of the water, and stir them all to combine. Stir the sponge well until it has the consistency of a thick porridge. If the sponge is too thick, add more warm water until you have the right consistency. (Each kitchen, depending on the heat and humidity, and elevation of where you are, will be slightly different.) Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture and let it sit for 3 minutes. Stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit in a warmish place until it has doubled or tripled in volume, about 1 to 2 hours.

(Here a note. If you let the sponge go more than two hours, — say, overnight, the way I did once — you'll have even more flavor. However, the sponge turns more liquidy the longer it goes. Adjust your flours accordingly.)

Finishing the dough. Put the remaining flour and the sponge, along with the guar gum, melted butter and eggs, into the stand mixer. (If you don't have one, you can do this by hand, with a lot of bicep work!) Mix until the dough is coherent, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl of the stand mixer with plastic wrap or damp towel and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Add the salt to the dough, then knead the dough in the stand mixer until it comes together into a ball, about 7 minutes. (The salt might make the dough stick to the sides of the mixer, but it will come back into a ball again. If it doesn't, then scrape the sides down with a rubber spatula. Remember that gluten-free bread doughs are always wetter than gluten doughs. It should be more like a thick cake batter, slightly sticky to the touch, than a finished gluten dough would be. See photo of it here.)

Once you have scraped the dough down into a one ball, shape it with damp hands into one coherent dough. (See photo of that here.) Put it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow it to sit in a warmish place in the kitchen until it has risen to twice its size, about 2 hours.

Baking the hamburger buns. About 1 1/2 hours after you have set the dough to rise, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. If you have a pizza stone (and boy, does it help with gluten-free baked goods), put it in the oven to come to temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. When the oven is fully hot, take the dough out of the bowl. It should feel good in your hands, like a traditional bread dough. (If it's sticky, because you let the sponge grow for longer than 2 hours, simply wet your hands and work with the sticky dough.) If you want small buns (like sliders), cut the dough into 8 pieces. If you want larger hamburger buns, divide the dough into 5 pieces. Roll each piece of dough under your hands until it feels like a good ball of dough. Place it on the baking sheet and flatten it just a bit with the palm of your hand.

If you wish, brush the top of each dough ball with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Put a large sheet tray into the bottom rack of your oven. Fill it 1/2 way full with water. (I pour it from the tea kettle.) Slide the sheet tray with the dough on top of the pizza stone (or on a middle rack, if you don't have a pizza stone). Spray the inside walls of the oven with water from a clean spray bottle. Close the oven door. Wait 30 seconds. Do it again. Bake the hamburger buns until they are golden brown, give a good hollow thump on the bottom, and have reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees (but no higher). This should take about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the buns you make and your own oven.

And voila! Hamburger buns.


22 June 2010

how to roast peppers

Danny loves heat and fire. It's part of the reason he's a chef. Only part. He really loves to feed people. However, if he gets to watch flames arc high toward the ceiling as he shakes the skillet over the burner while he's searing something, so much the better.

We wouldn't recommend that you do that at home. However, don't be afraid of heat or gas flames. Roasting a pepper over a gas flame makes the house smell wonderful, full of char and campfire memories of burnt marshmallows.

I love roasted red peppers. Make some pasta, top it with some olive oil, some sauteed mushrooms, and roasted red peppers, and you're nearly there. Grate some good Parmesan on top and throw in a handful of briny pitted olives? Dinner.

Roasted peppers lend a depth of flavor to simple foods like scrambled eggs, vegetable soup, and large chopped salads full of summer bites that might otherwise taste flat. You can buy them in a jar, but they are expensive this way.

If you don't know how to roast peppers, watch this video of Danny demonstrating and you will soon.

p.s. we need your suggestions...

We hope you enjoy the video. But frankly, it's a little hard for us to look at, because we're hating the video quality. We've been trying to make this work with a Flip camera, and then with a Kodak Z16. But both are so grainy in the close-ups. Plus, it may be summer, but on Sunday it was dark and cold enough that Danny was wearing that long-sleeve wool plaid shirt. Ugh.

So we want to get a proper video camera, one we can attach to a mic to put on Danny. That way, you can hear him! Does anyone have suggestions? Brands? Makes? Types? Anyone want to sell us one for cheap? We need something reasonable and good.

p.p.s. Thank you all for your lovely, heartfelt comments on the Oprah audition. Danny and I have been reading them, buoyed by your kindness. We are determined to do everything we can to make life easier for those of us who cannot eat gluten.

Did you know that you can vote for that video more than once? In fact, you can vote as many times as you like! And you can tell your friends to do the same!

16 June 2010

black bean roasted poblano hummus

roasted poblano pepper

I got some gluten by mistake a few weeks ago.

If you read this site, you might have heard about this already, on Twitter or Facebook just after. I was angry, I was in pain, and I wanted everyone to know what had happened so you wouldn't have to go through what I went through that day.

I wrote about the details for my bi-weekly Serious Eats column, so I don't want to repeat myself. In fact, I want this to be brief.

We've come a long way in the last decade in understanding celiac and gluten intolerance and what might make us sick. I met someone today whose grandmother is 90 years old. She was diagnosed with celiac when she was 30. Can you imagine how much has changed during her lifetime? (I'm grateful that we have more than white rice flour and cornstarch, for example.) I'm grateful for this increased awareness, the number of gluten-free foods on grocery store shelves, and the chance I have to write this site.

However, we're still not done changing the awarness of everyone we can, are we? The restaurant that made me sick for three days with one bite of food? They seemed to get it. They told me I couldn't have the chips because they were fried in the same oil as gluten foods. They pointed out all the menu items I could try. They hustled back to the table every few minutes with new information. This put me at my ease. That ease was shattered by one word: "Oops." The well-meaning waitress trotted over to me after I had begun my lunch, the one they promised me I could eat, and said, "They gave you the wrong sauce after all. You didn't eat it, did you?"

Yes. I had eaten it. For the next three days, I endured terrible headaches, multiple trips to the bathroom (on a travel day, changing airplanes, with a toddler), stomach aches, brain fog, insomnia, and some depression and anxiety, which always seems to hit about day three after I get some gluten by mistake. All this for one bite.

I felt about the way that roasted poblano pepper looks up there.

If you read this site regularly, you know that I'm not one to complain. In fact, I'm not complaining here. Mistakes happen. No one died. I survived.

But what if I had been allergic to peanuts? Would the waitress have simply said, "Oops?"

One time, at a pretentious wine bar in Seattle, the annoyed waiter, after I said that I couldn't have any gluten with my prosciutto and cheese, asked me: "You're not going to die on us, are you?"

Somehow, I found breadcrumbs in my teeth when I ate my slices of cheese. I don't know if he put them in there deliberately because he was annoyed I had made a fuss. Or if that restaurant was really that incapable of feeding someone with celiac or a food allergy.

I'm not complaining. I'm just saying, urgently: we still have work to do.

Danny and I are here to do what we can.

It is in this spirit that I tell you this: I have auditioned for a gluten-free cooking show for Oprah's new cable network, OWN. It's an open audition. Anyone can upload a three-minute video and fill out the extraordinarily long and deliberately thoughtful form ("What has been your biggest disappointment in life?") and audition. So, I did it. With the help of the folks who produce Good Bite, I pulled together this video about why I want to do a show.

Originally, Danny and I were going to audition together. We made this video first. We filled out the extraordinarily long form and had fun answering questions for each other. Then, we found out they didn't want couples. It had to be one person. Danny chose me.

So here I am, vulnerable and open to critique by everyone in the world. Why the heck did I do something that made my hands shake a little all day long today? Because we need a gluten-free cooking show on tv. Imagine the awareness that would spread with each episode! And for various reasons that seem surreal to me, I seem to be standing in the place where I can volunteer for this gig.

I probably have no chance of winning. However, if you'd like to see a gluten-free cooking show on Oprah Winfrey's new cable network? Well, maybe you'd click over here and vote for me. (And perhaps tell your friends.)

Thank you.

black bean hummus with roasted poblano

Black Bean Roasted Pepper Hummus

Before I got gluten by mistake at that restaurant, I shared an appetizer of black bean hummus with everyone at the table. (We ate it with carrots and red pepper slices instead of crackers.) Tell the truth, it was pretty bland. The disappointment of the entire experience made me come home and make up this hummus.

The roasted poblano pepper here gives the hummus a bit of a kick, but not so much heat that you feel like you've been kicked in the mouth. I love the chili powder and garlic mingling, the mix of black beans and garbanzo in color and texture, the warmth of sesame oil. I never grow tired of avocados, and I used one here in the place of tahini. It's a dark dip with the brightness of lime and unexpected tastes. We're pretty addicted to it here.

I'm not sure that I'm allowed to call this hummus. According to this piece in The New York Times, Americans are mercilessly bastardizing the idea of hummus with our artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. (Also, peanut butter? Really?) Call this whatever you want, then. Just be sure to call me over when you've put some on the table.

1 poblano pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 15.5-ounce can black beans
1/4 of 15.5-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 cloves garlic, peeled
juice 1 lime
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
pinch chili powder
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/4 to 1/3 cup sesame oil (depending on the consistency you like for your hummus)

Roasting the pepper. Preheat the oven to 450°. Massage the olive oil onto the pepper. Put the pepper in a sauté pan and slide it into the oven. Cook, tossing occasionally to sit on another side, until the skin of the pepper starts to blacken and separate from the rest of the pepper, about 20 to 25 minutes. Pull out the pepper and put it in a bowl. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and let the pepper sit until it has cooled completely. Peel it and seed it.

Making the hummus. Put the black beans, garbanzo beans, garlic, lime juice, avocado, chili powder, and the roasted poblano pepper into a food processor. Pulse it up until everything has blended into a chunky mix. Taste, then season with salt and pepper or more of any of the ingredients you feel it is lacking. With the food processor running, drizzle in the sesame oil until the hummus has reached the consistency you desire.

(Note: it will thicken as it sits in the refrigerator, so adjust accordingly.)

Refrigerate immediately and let it sit for at least 4 hours before eating it. Well, you can swipe a taste, if you want. However, the true flavors will not emerge until the hummus has sat for a bit. Plan ahead.

Feeds 4.

10 June 2010

the first meal I ever cooked

mise en place for mac and cheese

I'm pretty sure it was 1974. The year we watched the Watergate trials on television all summer long, in the cool dark den on the shag carpeting. The year that the Vietnam war had been declared over but still appeared on the television between Watergate and the Brady Bunch. The year of third grade, when my teacher was this embittered old woman who forced herself to smile at us through her false teeth. One day, she beat one of my classmates with a ruler, beat him on top of his hands and on the sides of his head, because he didn't read the worksheet very well that day. He had only moved from Mexico a few months before. I stood at the back of the classroom with my hands opening and closing into fists. I didn't do anything, but I told my parents. It was the year of striped pants, a banana seat on my bicycle, the Sunshine Family pottery store, barbecued steaks and lemonade, and wet t-shirt nights during the summer when we soaked our t-shirts and lay on mattresses on our parents' bedroom floor to huddle into the fan against the heat. It was the year I turned 8.

Then again, memory being the fickle friend it is, it could have been 1972. Or 1976. I really have no certainty here.

Our kitchen was outfitted with avocado-green counters and an orange sink. (Or was it the other way around? Or was it yellow?) There was a little breakfast nook, surrounded by walls my mother had papered with an intricate contact paper design of spindly, angular houses side by side. It wasn't until we were in the back of a neon-green Rabbit going down Lombard Street with our cousins that I realized I had been looking at row houses in San Francisco as I ate my Eggos every morning. There was a chugging-along dishwasher, an electric plug-in griddle on which we made pancakes most Sundays, a drawer full of candy bars and junk food, and not enough space for all four of us to fit at once.

Later, when I was an awkward teenager, I'd stand at that sink and look out the window at the avocado tree in our backyard, dreaming of boys who made me sigh and wishing they'd notice me. But in 1974 (or 72 or 76), I wasn't thinking of boys. I was thinking about macaroni and cheese.

I made a disastrous breakfast for my parents, which I believe happened before this mac and cheese. (However, looking back at that post I wrote in 2006, I said I knew how to make mac and cheese before this. See what I mean about memory?) My mother taught me early to sauté the ground beef if we were eating chili or tacos. I was allowed to fetch the sugar and flour from the baking cupboards when my mom set out to bake. But I don't remember another meal I made from scratch before this one.

I remember feeling excited, my knees trembling a bit as I stood on the chair. Slowly, I unwrapped every slice of American cheese of its plastic, then folded it into quarters, and made a stack of cheese squares. With great diligence — and a few scraped knuckles — I grated the cheddar on the tall box grater that had been in the drawer. While the pasta cooked in boiling water, I poured out the milk, unwrapped the margarine from its shiny gold foil wrapper, and waited.

(When I told Danny about this ritual, he loved it. He also laughed. "Hey, at least you were setting up a mise en place. It's taken you years to remember that now.")

I waited to make dinner for my family.

cheese sauce

Cheese sauce. Really, it was all about the cheese sauce. The pasta was elbow macaroni — were there other shapes available back then? Plain and functional and entirely necessary. But really, in the end, not that interesting.

It was the sauce, the gooppy sauce that tasted of cheddar and salt and milk, the sauce that thickened from the plastic substance that made up American cheese (you know that it's technically a cheese-style product, right?), and surrounding every small piece of elbow macaroni with the kind of whole-hearted embrace that I later hoped for from those junior high boys.

Did you ever pick up a single piece of elbow macaroni and suck out the cheese sauce? I did. I sure liked that.

I still love cheese.

(Just not American cheese. When we were re-creating this sense memory for our meal on Thursday, I tried to convince Danny to let us buy American cheese. No way. He is forever scarred by the experience of eating a piece of cheesecake when he was 12, an expensive piece of cheesecake in an historic hotel in Colorado, a piece of cheesecake paid for by his friend's mother, a piece of cheesecake that tasted as though it had been made of American cheese. No way, he said. I just can't do it.)

mac and cheese

I don't remember all the details, but I do remember my mother talking me through the process from the kitchen nook. I remember the magic feeling of watching the margarine melt into a lurid-yellow pool, the milk skimming its surface, and the sauce starting to thicken the more cheese I added. It was magic. I started with a bunch of ingredients on a paper towel. By standing in front of the stove, attentive and excited, I ended up with a casserole dish full of cheesy pasta nestled against each other, waiting for our forks.

I have rarely been so proud in my life as I was the night my family first ate my macaroni and cheese.

Lu helped to make mac and cheese

And now, as my daughter stands at the counter beside me (a counter free of avocado-green, unless we are slicing up another one and sprinkling it with salt), I laugh as she reaches for the gluten-free pasta. "Noodles!" she says, remembering her love for this food as well as the guy on Sesame Street, who always makes her smile.

I wonder all the time: what will be the memories of these years of her life? What will she be like when she is 8? And what will be the first meal she makes on her own, with Danny and I offering advice if she wants, but standing back and letting her make her own mistakes?

I know that when I eat that dish, whatever it is, whenever it is offered, I will think of my mother and thank her again. There's nothing having your own child to make you fully appreciate the parents you had.

Thank you, Mom.

* * *

This post was inspired by a conversation on Twitter late last week. Interested, I asked: "What was the first food you cooked when you were a kid? How did it make you feel?"

I've been thinking lately about cooking, and how some people don't cook at all, and how sad that makes me because it can be such a joy. There are so many reasons for the lack of cooking from scratch in some households. So many reasons. But I've seen that some people are intimidated by the process, think their food should be like the stuff in magazines, and so they don't begin.

I love fresh ingredients, produce from the farm stand down the street from us, deeply flavored cuts of meat we buy at the farmers' market, and everything in season. But since Lu was born, I've been softening some on what I now think of as my rigid insistence on the "right" food. Now that she's an active toddler who never stops moving, I can see the allure of the microwave and a packaged dinner. We still cook, though. I think cooking from scratch is not just about the food. We're cooking to create memories together.

If only we all cooked with as much attention and excitement as we felt the first time we cooked, we would never stop.

So I asked that question and was deluged with responses. People's answers were so rich with detail and exuberance that I could feel their faces smiling through the screen. I encouraged everyone to write a post by today, a piece about the first foods they ever cooked.

If you can, set aside some time tonight or tomorrow morning, and read. People, you are so generous and open-hearted here. I loved reading every single post.

And I'll be adding more as the week goes on, so if you feel inclined to write, let me know.

For extra credit points (because I gave you an assignment, after all), make the recipe written by someone else here and let us know how it worked out for you.

Custard French Toast with Macerated Strawberries from A Cozy Kitchen

Lasagna from Gluten-Free Maui

Lemon Pudding Cake from Parsnip + Pistachios

Scrambled Eggs from Danatopia

Tapioca Pudding from Cook It Allergy Free

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Celiac Teen

Apple Cake from Marta Fuertes Boto

Cream Puffs from Fran at Food News Journal

Eggplant Parmesan from Shelly at Food News Journal

Buttermilk Pancakes from Fresh Start

French Toast from Goodness and Goodies

Eclairs at A Baking Life

Snickerdoodles from Eat the Love

Guacamole from Hipster in My Latte

Southern-Style Chocolate Meringue Pie

Biscuit Pizzas from Real Housewife of Sheboygan County

Strawberry Cream Sherbet from Hitchhiking to Heaven

Scrambled Eggs and Steamed Rice from Island Dreaming In Oklahoma

Instant Top Ramen from Going for Seconds

Pie from Starving Off the Land

Roasted Chicken Salad from In Jennie's Kitchen

Omelets from Omnivorous Child

Dump Cake from My Mema's Way

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Chronicles of a Canadian Twenty Something

Coffee Chiffon Cake from The Cookbook Chronicles

Chocolate Chip Cookes from Eating Nearly Everything

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches from Kiku Girl

English Muffin Pizzas

Vegetarian Dishes from A Family's Life

Red Sauce and Meatballs from Creative Cooking Gluten-Free

Mouthwash Cake from Heather in SF

Jamaican Beef Patties from The Sophisticated Gourmet

Eggs Scrambled with Tomatoes from Eat More Cake

Raspberry Pie from Whispered

Easy Bake Brownies at Loaves and Wishes

French Toast from Gluten-Free Cat

Chicken and Dumplings from Feeding Maybelle

Chocolate Chip Slab Cookies from Backseat Gourmet

Stack-ups from Notes from the Home Plates

Easy Bake Oven Gingerbread Cookies from Kat's Food Blog

final mac and cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

You know, there's a recipe for macaroni and cheese in my first book. It's Danny's, and it's delicious. It has a gluten-free roux to make a white sauce, and Manchego and Gruyere (I think) and gluten-free breadcrumbs on top. It's refined and so lovely.

But sometimes, you just want food to taste the way it did when you were a kid. Last week, we made this mac and cheese, all cheesy goodness and no fancy techniques, and we all ate happily together.

12 ounces gluten-free pasta (we used this Bionaturae rigatoni)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
mound of grated cheddar cheese (a little more than a cup for us)
mound of grated gouda cheese (a little more than a cup for us)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to rapid boil. Throw in the pasta, along with a glug of olive oil. Cook until the pasta has a slight bite to it. (Gluten-free pasta needs to come out of the water with a little bit of crunch. Cook until it is soft and you will have mush.) Trust your taste instead of the timing on the package. They are usually off. Drain in a colander, toss with a little bit of oil, and set aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter. Add the milk and swirl them together. When you have one bubbly liquid, add handfuls of the cheese and stir. Add more handfuls of the cheese and stir until all the cheese has been melted fully.

I found that using the Gouda instead of the American cheese I used as a kid meant this sauce didn't thicken the way I expected. You could use less milk, or you could do what we did. Make a little slurry with the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir it well, then add a bit into the cheese sauce and stir. The sauce will thicken immediately (you may not need all the slurry).

Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Pour in the pasta. Stir.

You can easily eat the mac and cheese right here. Or, if you want, you can brown it in a 400° oven while you make some broccoli and salad for dinner.

Feeds 6.

08 June 2010

Starfish Seafood and Nakano Vinegars

Seafood and Nakano

We're happy to announce the two newest sponsors of this website: Starfish Seafood and Nakano Vinegars.

Starfish makes the most delicious frozen fish I've ever eaten. That it's gluten-free and delicious is quite amazing. We were lucky enough to sample the battered halibut and cod last year, and I've been meaning to recommend them to you ever since. The crust is crisp and light, the fish is whole with a chew instead of processed and mushy, and the effect of each bite is to make you want more.

I'm serious. Once you take a taste of this, you're going to want more.

You can also feel good about the fish because Starfish sources its fish through Pacific Seafood, based in Oregon, which has a strong sustainability practice. This isn't processed fish parts clumped and battered. This is wild-harvested fish. You can taste the difference.

I've had the chance to talk with the folks at Starfish, and in particular the head of Research and Development. He told me recently that the letters they receive from gluten-free folks mean more to them than any other. "People are so grateful. That pushes us to do more and better." This company truly cares about good gluten-free food.

Starfish Seafood is available nationwide at Whole Foods and at many stores near you.

This is a good company. We're very happy and honored to have them here with us.

We're also very happy to have Nakano Vinegars aboard.

Danny and I are both pretty crazy about rice wine vinegar. Rice wine vinegar adds a bit of sweetness, with a punch. The tangy quality keeps your lips puckered, trying to discover what that taste is. Rice wine veingar shows up in quite a bit of foods in our kitchen. I use it to season the water for poaching eggs (it also helps the egg white to coagulate). Danny splashes it into his favorite barbecue sauce. We couldn't pickle jicama or carrots without it.

Danny says he likes to splash rice wine vinegar in with miso, because it enhances the flavor so well. If you're making anything with a sweet and sour taste, anything with cabbage, and most every salad you'll make, you need rice wine vinegar.

We use Nakano's natural rice wine vinegar around here, but Nakano also makes flavored rice wine vinegars that a lot of people love. We appreciate the fact that Nakano has worked hard to make sure their vinegars are gluten-free and support the gluten-free community.

This is another good company, one we're happy to have as part of the team.

Buy some battered fish and splash some rice wine vinegar on it for fish and chips!


06 June 2010

dinner at Dog Mountain Farm

would you like to join us for dinner here

Would you like to eat dinner here?

Imagine late-afternoon light, rows of these picnic tables covered in white tablecloths with wine glasses and silverware glinting in the sun, hungry laughing people on all sides of you, warm air on your skin...

and Danny's food coming to the table. Food created from the fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, herbs, and meats produced by this farm. 5 courses in all.

All of it gluten-free.

Would you like to join us?

with this view of the Cascades

Would you like to eat a farm-t0-table dinner where the food travels about 40 feet from field to kitchen to your plate?

All the while looking at the Cascade Mountains?

You can, on June 26th.

farmers at work

This is Dog Mountain Farm, an idyllic spot tucked away on a dirt road just outside of Duvall. Run by passionate and down-to-earth farmers, David and Cindy Krepky, Dog Mountain Farm feels a world away from the city, even though it's only a 40-minute drive from downtown Seattle. The whole feel of the farm is rustic and warm. Plants and trees flourish everywhere. On the hill, behind the fields, are two white horses. (You can give them carrots, if you want.) This place feels like magic.

David and Cindy are no rubes, however. Sophisticated, smart, and eager to share the joys of local produce and good food with people who appreciate both, they run these farm dinners every summer. Guests arrive about 3 for a tour of the farm, with a glass of the bubbly in hand. By 4:30, diners are seated and waiting for the first course. Slow and savoring, the meal is meant to celebrate what is in season that moment, as well as the chef's skills. There will also be wine pairings — our menu will be paired with wines from Tefft Cellars, a family-owned winery from the Yakima Valley. By the time dessert is done, the sunset may be starting.

This is an amazing experience.

On June 26th, Danny and I will be cooking the Dog Mountain Farm dinner.

Lu was amazed by the place

Oh, who am I kidding? Danny's cooking the dinner. I'll be the sous chef, guest speaker, and the one chasing after a toddler running through the apple orchards.

This is Danny's night.

He would love to feed you. We would love to meet you.

inside the greenhouse

We don't know what the menu is yet. Danny will be making it up in the next couple of weeks, based on his creative ideas while cooking and the list Cindy will be sending him of exactly what is growing and should be ready for eating by the 26th.

He's so excited.

Just standing in their greenhouse a few weeks ago, when we went for a visit, I could feel the plants growing in the warm air.

we'll probably have some tomatoes

It's pretty safe to say that we'll have tomatoes at this dinner.


These seedlings will be full-grown plants by the time we are gathered together.

geese at Dog Mountain Farm

Of course, there are more than fruits and vegetables at Dog Mountain Farm.

These are the geese (with our friend Jenise in the background). They are quite entertaining.

We won't be eating these.

mother and baby goats

This mother and baby goat were so sweet and lovely the day we visited.

(We won't be eating these, either. These are milk goats. It's possible there might be goat on the menu, however.)

beautiful farm

I can't tell you how excited Danny and I am to be part of the farm dinner series at Dog Mountain Farm. This will be a singular experience.

We hope you can join us on June 26th.

Dog Mountain Farm Dinners
7026 Tolt Highlands Road NE
Carnation, WA

Make your reservation here.

02 June 2010

gluten-free rhubarb muffins

rhubarb muffins, done

Warm muffins just out of the oven. The sour-sweet kick-in-the-mouth taste of rhubarb this time of year, sliding through each tender bite. Soft as sighs.

I've been thinking about making these muffins since I saw the rhubarb plants in our backyard nudge themselves above the dirt. A few weeks ago, those plants exploded with growth. Time to play. I knew what I wanted, and I didn't mind baking, tasting, and tweaking until these muffins were it.

Now you can have some too.

making rhubarb muffins

There's something wonderful about rhubarb. I love its tanginess, its celery-like stalk, its girth when fully grown. The leaves are enormous. Did you know that? Even the thickest longest stalk is dwarfed by the palm-frond-sized leaves. (Maybe the slugs stay away from that shade. Whatever the reason, I'm glad at least the rhubarb was safe this rainy season.) It's an umbrella plant, spreading outward, the ruby stalks hiding.

Straight, it has a tang that makes you close your eyes against it for a moment. Stewed or simmered, rhubarb softens into something sweeter, ephemeral and pleasant. After a lifetime of not eating rhubarb, I look forward to its appearance in the farmers' market. It's the first real fruit of spring around here.

Rhubarb and vanilla are fast friends. So one day, after we cut down as many stalks as we could, Danny and I diced the rhubarb, sliced open a vanilla bean, slithered out the insides, and let them mingle.

This, I thought, will make an amazing muffin.

rhubarb streusel muffins

They look good, right? I mean, they were good. They were soft and yielding and slightly sweetened. But the streusel topping for which I had high hopes (rhubarb streusel muffins, I told people, and some of them swooned at the sound of it) ended up dominating these muffins. The warm oats and brown sugar had a soft, clumpy texture. Next time I make a coffee cake, I know the topping to use. But these rhubarb muffins? The struesel topping stifled the rhubarb. After waiting all year for that fruit, I wanted to taste it.

Back to the countertop for more baking.

some of the most enticing baked goods in Good to the Grain.

I was inspired to try these whole-grain muffins by this wonderful book, Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours. After reading raves by Heidi and Deb, plus Luisa's beautiful post about editing the book, I was convinced to order it. Never mind that every single recipe in the book contains gluten. That doesn't faze me anymore. In fact, I really only consult baking books that use gluten. It's baking that compels me, the ratios and techniques, the way butter and sugar and vanilla blend with each other to become something different.

Besides, how many baking books have chapters on amaranth, buckwheat, corn, oat, quinoa, and teff flours? Even if the recipes Kim Boyce so lovingly put together with those gluten-free flours use traditional all-purpose flour as well, I knew I could adapt them.

Reading the introduction of the book, I started smiling almost immediately:

"Baking with whole-grain flours is about balance, about figuring out how to get the right combination of structure and flavor from flours that don't act the same way as regular white flour. Getting the texture right was a challenge....The muffins I mixed using exclusively whole-grain flour came out dense and tough, sometimes almost leaden. Pancakes were heavy and limp. The elegant lift and structure of pastries I'd made with white flours were nowhere to be found. I found myself getting discouraged as I learned to bake with these whole-grain flours and almost stopped using them altogether. Maybe this is the reason more people aren't baking with whole-grain flours, I thought."

If you have been baking gluten-free, this has to sound familiar. In fact, it felt so familiar to me that I felt elated. Aha! It's not just those of us who have to bake without gluten who have to play and tweak and wonder what to do next. It's any of us who want to bake with anything other than all-purpose flour.

You probably haven't thought of it this way. I hadn't, at least not in clear words. Baking gluten-free means baking with whole grains. Baking with whole grains has its own special charms and frustrations. It's easy to think of the frustrations, but it's important to remember the charms. As Kim wrote:

"As I focused on the individual flavors of the various flours, I began to appreciate what was unique about them. I soon found that I enjoyed baking with them. As the flours came into their own, so did I. As I worked my way through different bags of flour, learning how each one behaved in my recipes, I began to trust my instincts."

Exactly! That's the joy for me of baking now. I throw a little teff, a little oat, some superfine brown rice flour together, and then see what happens when I combine them with starches. Honestly, at this point, the idea of baking with just all-purpose flour is pretty boring.

Even better, gluten-free baking with whole grains can be healthier than traditional baking.

"Here I was, a mom baking at home for my family and friends. Most days I was in the kitchen, mixing up muffins, pancakes, or quick breads, and I realized that I couldn't continue using the endless handfuls of sugar and white flour I had used during my professional years. But I couldn't stop baking! Now with my newfound interest in whole-grain flours, pairing them with seasonal fruits for incredible flavor, and making them with less sugar and butter than I used to, I realized that I didn't have to stop baking."

I'm never going to stop baking. Baking with almond flour and amaranth, sorghum and quinoa makes me feel much better about the daily baking we do around here, just as it does for Kim Boyce.

Her recipes are not made entirely with whole grain flours. As she wrote, use only whole grains and you have leaden muffins and sunken-ship scones. Mix the whole grains with some all-purpose flour and you have something great.

our all-purpose flour mix

Here is some all-purpose flour, gluten-free.

For years now, people have been writing to us, asking if we had an all-purpose flour mix we liked. We did, and we didn't. We've been throwing together flours and storing the mixes in giant Cambros like this since Danny and I met. But I haven't published one here because I am wary of "THE all-purpose mix." You probably know what I mean. Most gluten-free books contain a particular mix, an assemblage of flours in a specific proportion. All the recipes in the book require that mix.

I've tried them, used them, and liked them. I have liked almost all the all-purpose mixes I have baked with in our kitchen (well, except the ones with any bean flours. I just can't take the bean flours). If they all work sort of well, what were we to do? How could I recommend THE all-purpose mix?

It wasn't until I started baking by weight that it all came together for us. As Kim Boyce writes about in her book, we need whole grains and lighter flours both. For us gluten-free folks, we need brown rice and potato starch, sorghum and tapioca. After lots of fiddling, Danny and I have realized that, in our kitchen, what works best is a 40% whole grains/60% starches mix.

Like this one:

The Aherns' All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix

300 grams superfine brown rice flour
250 grams sweet rice flour
150 grams tapioca flour
100 grams sorghum flour
100 grams potato starch
100 grams cornstarch

Mix them all up in a large container. Put on the lid. Shake it around. You have flour.

If you look at this combination, the brown rice flour and sorghum flour make up 40% of the mix by weight. The sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, and cornstarch make up 60% of the mix by weight.

Here's the important part: if you keep to this same ratio of whole grain to starches, you can use other flours you like more for your all-purpose mix. Use millet instead of the sorghum, or amaranth. If you can't eat corn, use more potato starch in place of the cornstarch. Stick to this ratio and mix up a big batch of flour. You'll have all-purpose flour again.

You can bake almost any one of your old baking favorites now, substituting this mix for the all-purpose flour in the recipe. It's easy.

The only thing you have to remember is this: do not simply measure a cup of the gf all-purpose flour and expect the recipe to work. When you substitute your gluten-free all-purpose flour in a gluten recipe, use 140 grams or 5 ounces for every 1 cup of gluten all-purpose flour. 140 grams or 5 ounces. These measurements are your friends.

(And if you haven't bought a kitchen scale yet, what are you waiting for?)

Once Danny and I decided on this all-purpose flour, the rhubarb muffins fell into place as well.

I'd made a second batch, with a bit of batter in the tin, a layer of rhubarb compote in the middle, and more batter on the top. They came out....good. Still not rhubarb-y enough. Danny's brother Pat was staying with us when I baked these. He liked them. He thought they were done.

However, when I made the last batch, and Pat tried one, he said, "Oh, now I get it." These were spiked through with rhubarb. Just as I have learned to combine both all-purpose flour and whole grain flours, I used both rhubarb compote and raw rhubarb, which softened in the heat of the oven.

As much as I loved these final rhubarb muffins, I have to tell you this: the adventure of figuring out the flours and techniques tasted even better.

muffins in the sunlight

Rhubarb Muffins, inspired by Good to the Grain

This final recipe for rhubarb muffins is so entirely different than Kim Boyce's ginger-peach muffins that I can say it is entirely mine.
I really like the whole-grain taste and softness that the teff lends to these muffins. These don't taste like white-flour muffins at all. However, Kim Boyce's book inspired me, with her whole grain and AP flour combination and her baking techniques. So thank you, Kim.

The secret to this rhubarb muffin is the double use of rhubarb. You'll need a good, tangy rhubarb compote — we love Dana Cree's recipe or the one I wrote about two years ago — and a cup of raw rhubarb. Believe me, rhubarb has such a specific vegetal sweetness that you want the taste to shine through.

Here's a good secret, too. Once you feel comfortable with this muffin recipe, you can make it all summer long with whatever fruit is in the farmers' market. I made strawberry muffins the other day, after throwing together a quick strawberry compote and slicing up some small sweet strawberries. Danny loved them. Lu ate three of them in one day. We're going to be making fresh raspberry muffins, blackberry muffins, peach muffins, huckleberry muffins....

Mornings will be sweet around here this summer.

280 grams (about 2 cups) all-purpose gluten-free flour (see above)
140 grams (about 1 cup) teff flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream (or thick Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup rhubarb compote
1 cup raw rhubarb, fine-diced
Turbinado raw sugar for the tops of the muffins

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease the muffin tins with canola oil or butter. (we prefer butter.)

Combining the dry ingredients. Combine the AP flour and teff flour. Sift them together into a large bowl. Add the baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and guar gum. Set aside.

Combining the wet ingredients. Stir together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. (We did this in a stand mixer, but you can easily do this by hand.) Add 1 egg at a time, stirring well between each egg. Plop in the sour cream and compote. Combine until they are mixed well.

Finishing the muffins. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of flours and stir until they are just combined. Stir in the raw rhubarb. Scoop the muffin batter into the tins, slightly above the edge. Sprinkle raw sugar on top.

Baking the muffins. Slide the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 12 minutes, then turn the muffin tin 180° to promote even baking. Bake until the tops are golden brown and the muffins feel firm to the touch, about another 10 to 12 minutes. Take them out of the oven.

Let the muffins cool for a moment or two, until you can touch them. Take each muffin out of the tin and turn it on its side in the cup to cool. (Thanks to Kim Boyce for this suggestion. This keeps the muffins from growing soggy.) Eat.

These muffins are best when you eat them the day you make them, but they work the next day too.

Makes about 12 muffins.