Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Have a Holiday Plan

For many, Christmas is a sacred time of religious observance, for others a family time and for some, it’s a commercial fete of indulgence. Which means for all, there is a lot to eat.

Since we have weathered the glutinous and gluttonous Thanksgiving Holiday, the rest of the holiday observances are much easier.

I am looking ahead, and know that I will be cooking two holiday meals: our “Christmas Eve” which is not really on Christmas Eve, and our “Christmas Day”, which again, is whenever we can get everyone together. We are at a generational transition in our family, so we go with the flow on holidays.

Christmas Eve is not very formal: Christmas Day is more so. I have planned my menus already (subject to change, of course) to give me time to test drive a few of the items that I haven’t attempted before.

Christmas Eve is when our parents come over, and watch the kids open presents. We have teenage boys, so we also have girlfriends and one or two Christmas orphans. In the past, we have treated this as a soup-sandwich-and-dessert event, but I thought we would go a slightly different route this year. I am doing Oyster Stew, which is a favorite of several of my family members, a stuffed potato bar of sorts, and cookies.
Christmas Day is when my husband’s family gets together, and it is a little more formal. It is also the most difficult for me to navigate eating GF. My side of the family has another Celiac, so we have them well-trained (without much protest, I might add), but we really don’t get together with my hubby’s side often enough to attempt it. His mom has read up on it, and my one sister-in-law has cooked for me-quite well, but I think I will not attempt to make Christmas day fully GF this year (Thanksgiving pretty much was). Since Thanksgiving went off so well, I am cooking the main course at Christmas, and everyone else is bringing appetizers and desserts. My current menu is; roast beef, a four-cheese potato bake, roasted Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, a citrus Grand Marnier salad and an apple Waldorf green salad. I also have a nice crop of chard and mustard greens in my little green house, so they may show up on the menu as well. Just so I can show off and say, “Look what I picked today.”

What's on the menu at your place?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Roux the Day

Roux (roo) is the classical thickener used in sauces and some soups, like gumbo. It is made with all-purpose flour.

Thanks to Carol Fenster, (check out her books- I was inspired to try to make roux again. Some of the sauces in her books include something called sweet rice flour, which in Asian markets would be called glutinous rice flour- although it has no gluten protein in it. Aside from its good sauce making properties, it doesn’t break when it’s frozen- which is great for me, because I like to double and triple batch things.

When I first made roux with the sweet rice flour I was detecting a slight off flavor in the finished sauce- but I alleviated the problem by toasting my flour in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350*. I put a thin layer- about ½ inch thick- in a pie tin and toast it when I am baking something else. Don’t do this if you have the fan on in your convection oven. Trust me.

The basic recipe for roux is:

Sweet Rice Flour, toasted if desired 2 Tablespoons
Do not sub regular rice flour
Butter or Favorite Substitute (even lard) 2 Tablespoons

Cook both of these together in a sauté pan on medium to low heat with a non-reactive utensil such as a wooden spoon or heat resistant rubber spatula until it reaches a nice toasty color. The darker the roux, the nuttier the flavor will be.

At this point, you can continue to make a sauce, or cool the roux for another time. Two tablespoons of finished roux with thicken 1-1 ½ cups of liquid. Remember that your liquid and your roux need to be opposite temperatures. Cold roux should be whisked into hot stock or hot roux should have cold stock (or milk) whisked into it. Otherwise, it’s lump city.

Béchamel Sauce
This is the basic sauce you can use for almost anything. This is what Cream of Whatever Soup wants to be when it grows up: use this to make your casseroles, white lasagna or serve it over sautéed chicken.
Yields about 2-3 cups

Sweet Rice Flour 2 Tablespoons
Butter or Favorite Substitute 2 Tablespoons
Milk 2%, Whole or Substitute, cold 2-3 Cups
Dijon Mustard ½ Teaspoon
GF Chicken Base of choice** to taste (½ teaspoon)
Salt to taste

**I use Trader Joes Concentrate, but it has a “produced in the same facility” warning on the package. You could substitute some of the milk with stock or broth.

Make your roux. Cook your butter and flour together over medium heat until it becomes a nice beige-y color. Turn up the heat a bit. While you are stirring, add in the milk, a little at a time. Keep stirring. Let it come up to a simmer. Add in the mustard, base and salt. Stir and taste. Adjust the seasoning. Serve.

If you are using this in a casserole or lasagna, make it a little thinner, if you want to make it into a pepper gravy, or something hearty, use a little less milk.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday Holdout

I'm starting my diet early this year...

Actually I am hoping to not have to diet. Several of us are weighing in this week, and weighing "out" after January 1. Whoever has lost most (or gained the least) over the holidays wins.

Wish us luck!!

Chebe Flour Blend- My Two Cents

It's Almost Turkey Day!!

Okay, I know everyone has his or her own blend of flour. They all certainly have their merits. The goal with flour blends is to get the protein level, strength and flexibility of wheat flour. Each kind of flour has good qualities and not-so-good qualities.

Most of my cooking and baking is done for non-sillies. My household “critics” do not like the flavors and textures of most gluten free baked goods. The successes I have had have mostly been with this Chebe flour blend, and recipes that don’t rely on flour for the main structure: things like pumpkin muffins or banana bread.

I do like Better Batter (, but I typically use it with her recipes, all of which have worked out well for me.

I am a little on the lazy side, so complicated blends each time I bake doesn’t work for me. I also don’t like to run around town looking for different ingredients. This blend has worked well for me in most gluten free recipes I have tried it in—I haven’t done a lot of experimenting with non-GF recipes.

This works well because the Chebe contains the hard-to-find modified tapioca starch- brand name “Expandex” (, as well as some leavening agents.

Chebe Flour Blend
Plain (not Italian or Cinnamon) Chebe Mix (1) package
Cornstarch 3 Cups
Sorghum, Millet or Teff Flour** 2 ½ Cups

Blend ingredients together, keep in a 1-gallon zip-top bag. I have used this blend in places where “all purpose” flour would typically be used- piecrusts, quick breads, and pancakes. For recipes that require more “gluten” I add Xanthan gum and Modified Corn Starch (Clear Jel), but that requires more liquid in the recipe. If I were using this flour in a gluten-containing recipe for the first time, I would add an egg or egg equivalent for structure.

Keep in mind- with any baking, gluten free or otherwise, the liquid content in a recipe is a guideline. I know that in the winter, the liquid in all my baking recipes goes up- the kitchen air is a lot dryer.

**You can sub any flour with about 4g protein content. Millet flour can have a strong flavor: I would recommend blending it with the sorghum (I use Bob’s Red Mill- I have heard some sorghum flours can be harsh tasting also.)

Happy Baking!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why the funny hat?


I am a lot of things- a chef, a foodservice consultant, a vocational instructor, a sometimes free-lance writer, a mom, a step-mom (if it makes any difference) and a wife.

As a chef, I am a Certified Culinary Educator through the American Culinary Federation (ACF information: . To reach a level of certification requires education, experience in the field, a rigorous cooking exam, as well as a written exam. I achieved this designation within weeks of learning that I had Celiac Disease.

“If I hadn’t seen you cooking, I wouldn’t believe that these sauces were produced by the same chef that cooked the other dishes”, said the man in the tall toque who would determine if I would pass or fail, “The sauces are bland- technically correct, but not anything special—These other items—the African Braise and the Mediterranean seafood dish are inspired, bold and well seasoned.”

The bland sauces were made with roux, a cooked flour and butter thickener used in classical sauces. I had made the required sauces in a proficient way- but they still, well, sucked. I didn’t taste them. I couldn’t. I was three hours from home, and still needed to load up and return all of my equipment.

I never mentioned that I couldn’t have flour. It wouldn’t have mattered.

I’m still getting the hang of gluten free cooking. There are some things I probably never will master- I’m too vain about my weight to do massive baking recipe de-construction.

Cake goes straight to my butt.

That’s not to say that I don’t do my fair share of baking.

Life is good, however. I have made a roux, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Come along with me as I relearn to cook. It’ll be fun!