Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blackberry Granita with Whipped Cream

Although the summer months have waned, we are fortunate in California to find our local grocery store shelves still stocked with fresh blackberries and raspberries. With pie season in full swing, I wanted to create a recipe for something cool and smooth to serve as a complementary dessert... so that our holiday guests may choose to enjoy both warm pie and cool sweetness at our table.

There are several attractive things about this granita recipe. First, it is extremely simple to make. Next, during berry season it is a highly inexpensive and satisfying alternative to buying a half-gallon of ice cream. Lastly this is a very healthy dessert using only a handful of ingredients... but so delicious your family and friends will never miss all of the additives, sweeteners and preservatives they are accustomed to in regular store-bought treats.

Top your homemade blackberry granita with freshly whipped cream for extra perfection.

Homemade Blackberry Granita with Whipped Cream

What You’ll Need:

2 ½ cups fresh blackberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup Z-sweet (or sugar)
¾ cup water

For Topping:
½ pint heavy whipping cream
1 ½ tbsp Z-sweet (or sugar)

How It Works:

Combine water, Z sweet and lemon juice in a small pot over medium heat and bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat and allow the syrup you have created to cool.

In a blender or food processor, add blackberries. Blend them at least one minute or until extremely smooth. Next, add cooled syrup and continue to blend until well combined. The consistency should be completely fluid, with no lumps.

Pour blackberry granita mixture into a small metal bowl or nonstick metal baking pan (I use one that is 13x9x2) and place into freezer. Freeze for approximately 30 minutes, then stir all of the icy outer parts into the center of the bowl or pan and continue freezing. Check every 20 minutes or so, and continue scraping the edges into the center... for about two hours. (Our freezer doesn't get very cold, so this process takes about three hours at our house.)

Finally, cover tightly and freeze. This recipe can be made up to one day in advance.

To serve, scoop or scrape your gorgeous blackberry granita into bowls and top as desired with sweetened whipped cream.

Serves 4 – 6.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chicken and White Bean Chili

Having recently learned that I am pregnant with our third child (we're thrilled!) my husband and I are wondering what differences we will discover between my first two "normal" pregnancies (which actually triggered my autoimmune thyroid disorder and subsequent diagnosis with gluten intolerance)... and this new totally gluten free pregnancy. Will I gain less weight? Experience less morning sickness? Have more energy? There have already been so many positive outcomes from my gluten free diet over this past year, I am definitely excited about a gluten free pregnancy.

Some things about pregnancy never change though, and already I find myself feeling hungry all of the time. For this reason, I have decided to keep large kettles of homemade soups and chili on hand at all times so in those sudden and desperate moments of extreme hunger*, I will have something nutritious and gluten free on hand that is ready to eat. For this reason, I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different varieties of chili.

I am really proud of this new chicken and white bean chili which is very easy to make, savory and filling. The combination of spices – cilantro, chili pepper, cumin and oregano – brings out the best in both the tender chicken morsels and green bell peppers. An excellent budget meal, this chili will provide an adult sized portion for up to 8 people for somewhere between $10 and $15 dollars total! You can prepare it up to 24 hours before serving if necessary and, believe it or not, the flavors will actually improve with time as they continue to combine inside of your soup pot or storage container.

Everyone in our now-expanding family loves this new recipe ~ and happily I can attest - after many helpings - that it seems to agree with our new baby-on-the-way as well! (Our children have always loved spicy food...) We hope this chicken and white bean chili brings you luck and many blessings, along with a satisfied tummy!

Chicken and White Bean Chili

What You’ll Need:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into tiny pieces
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 large white onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery with leaves, thinly sliced
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped
½ head of garlic (approx 6-7 cloves), finely minced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 cans cannellini beans
2 tbsp chili pepper (or to taste)
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 cup chicken bouillon
Sea Salt
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil

Optional toppings..
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Organic sour cream

How It Works:

Pour a large glug of olive oil into a deep pot and place on burner at medium high temperature. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add chopped onion and sliced celery and cook – stirring frequently – approximately 4 minutes until onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add chopped green bell pepper, sauté with onions and celery another 4 minutes until peppers begin to soften. Next, add minced garlic and stir into vegetable mixture for approximately 30 seconds or until its aroma is quite fragrant.

Your chicken thighs should be cut into very small pieces – approximately ½ inch in length and width. At this time, add the chicken pieces into the vegetable mixture and cook at medium high temperature (stirring frequently) for another 5 minutes. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally. Add tomato paste, chili pepper, cilantro, oregano, cumin, diced tomatoes and cannellini beans with their juices. Combine the entire chili mixture well and then add chicken bouillon. Bring all ingredients to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for at least 30 more minutes. I personally simmer our chicken and white bean chili for up to two hours at a low temperature before serving, as the delicious taste seems directly proportional to amount of time cooking.

Top with sour cream or garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs as desired.

Serves 6 – 8.

*Extreme Hunger: If I don’t eat something RIGHT NOW, I’m going to (a) throw up or (b) become extremely grumpy and disagreeable. I’m pregnant!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homemade Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie...
From a Real Pumpkin!

A few weeks ago on Halloween, my young son and his daddy went to a real pumpkin patch for a school field trip and brought home one small pie pumpkin. We had already carved two Jack O’Lanterns for the big night, so the adorable pumpkin sat for a few days on our dining room table while I wondered what we could make with it.

At last, I found a recipe for creating the softened pumpkin for pumpkin pie from scratch – complete with photos showing how to do it. I’d never made anything like this before, and it seemed like a really fun cooking challenge. Following the steps to create the soft pumpkin filling turned out to be easy, and from there I improvised my own pie recipe.

I know that canned pumpkin is a whole lot more user friendly for most chefs… and I’m pretty sure this recipe will taste just as yummy using gluten free pumpkin from a can. So if you’re considering trying out my pie recipe and just don’t have the time to steam, skin and mash a fresh pumpkin – simply skip the first steps!

Baking this pie is the perfect activity for a rainy or dreary day... its cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice smell so warm, cozy and inviting that by the time you are done putting it in the warm oven you will feel as though your kitchen is hugging you.

The pie itself, when cooked and cooled, is very tasty. It is important to note though that soft pumpkin from a patch - even a pie pumpkin - is not inherently as sweet as the kind you will typically find in a can, so if you don't want a natural taste you may wish to add more sweetener than my recipe calls for.

It was a real joy to bake this pie with my small son, who loved that we were using his special pumpkin to make a sweet dessert. I can now say in all honesty, "It is delicious and even a preschooler can make it!" Happy Holidays!

Homemade Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie... From A Real Pumpkin!

What You’ll Need:

For Crust...
1 pkg Authentic Foods pie crust mix
(or your own homemade gluten free crust)

For Filling...
2 cups of pumpkin puree (see this recipe for steps…)
2 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Z Sweet
2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice

For Topping...
Sprinkle of Z sweet
Heavy Whipping Cream
Gluten Free Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

How It Works:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Wash your pumpkin with warm water and dry well.

Next, carefully slice your pumpkin in half lengthwise, using a sharp serrated knife. With a sturdy metal spoon or ice cream scooper, scoop out all of the pumpkin seeds and "glop", keeping only the actual pumpkin shell.

Next, carefully slice the shell into several smaller pieces that will fit into a stovetop or microwave steamer. I used a microwave steamer and steamed each of the batches of pumpkin shell for approximately 7 minutes. There are great directions on how to steam your pumpkin using a stovetop steamer here.

Once you have steamed your pumpkin and cooled it slightly you should be able to easily remove the rind from the flesh with a butter knife or even your hands. Discard the rind, and place the softened pumpkin flesh into a food processor or blender. I use a Cuisinart.

Blend your steamed pumpkin until it is extremely smooth and supple, with no “threads” or lumps. Measure out two full cups of your pumpkin blend, and set aside to use when creating your pie filling.

If you are using the Authentic Foods pie crust, now is the moment to put it together and pre-bake it for five minutes in a greased pie pan.

You can also use your own homemade gluten free pie crust, or any other crust that you particularly enjoy.

When your crust has pre-baked and is ready to fill, mix together the pureed pumpkin, eggs, heavy cream, Z Sweet, xanthan gum, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. You can do this by hand but for best results I would recommend a mixer of some sort to make sure that your filling is smooth and well blended.

Pour filling into the crust and cover the crusts with tin foil. Bake in oven with crusts covered for approximately 20 minutes. Remove foil and then bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes more, until the center comes out clean when a knife or toothpick is inserted.

Before serving, dust the top of your pie lightly with Z sweet - or for those who can have dairy this is wonderful served with freshly whipped cream and/or vanilla bean ice cream.

The sprinkles you see here on top are Z Sweet and cinnamon... yum!

Serves 8 – 10.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Satisfying Stuffed Peppers

We’ve been trying to get a few more veggies tucked into our culinary repertoire: for our health of course… but especially for our small children who much to our dismay seem to have recently decided that if a dish doesn’t resemble pizza or chicken nuggets it isn’t worth eating. Stuffed peppers are always so tasty and elegant… in this recipe I decided to let the mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes replace any kind of meat, and it really worked. The combination with fresh arugula and feta cheese was extremely tasty (albeit a tad salty). My main piece of advice is to make sure that you use sun dried tomatoes that have been preserved in olive oil... the dried kind that need to be rehydrated are not as tasty in this recipe. We’ve tried it both ways and definitely prefer the more supple variety stored in olive oil.

Sheep’s milk feta is supposed to be fairly digestible for people suffering from dairy allergies, and I find that I do much better with it than regular cow’s milk feta. Perhaps you will have the same experience.

Overall, this is a very simple dinner to prepare – extremely filling – and not too hard on the pocket book. The peppers themselves are quite beautiful when stuffed and baked, and look chic when placed artfully on dinner plates next to a fresh side salad.

I am happy to report that exactly one of our children ate all of his stuffed pepper with gusto and asked for more. The other child, darling that he is, picked at his plate and asked for pizza. Ah well, we’ll keep on trying!

Satisfying Stuffed Pepper Recipe

What You’ll Need:

6 red bell peppers, sliced lengthwise
2 cups quinoa
4 cups vegetable broth (beef broth for non veggies)
1 cup sun dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil
1 cup sheeps milk feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz mushrooms
1 bunch fresh arugula leaves (approx 2 cups of leaves)
Fresh ground black pepper
Sea salt
Top w/ grated parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese
Olive Oil

How It Works:

Preheat oven to 350.

Slice bell peppers lengthwise, then place a dab of butter and a drizzle of olive oil in each half pepper and cook in oven for approx 10 minutes or until flesh of peppers begins to soften. Remove tray from oven and set aside, leaving heat on.

Cook quinoa in vegetable broth or water (beef broth for non-veggies). Prepare crumbled feta, dice your sun dried tomatoes, thoroughly rinse and de-stem the arugula leaves. Thinly slice your mushrooms. Melt approximately one tablespoon of butter and a nice sized glug of olive oil in a standard sauté pan. When butter/oil is warm but not smoking, add sliced mushrooms, sea salt, pepper and marjoram. Cover pan and sauté until flesh is has changed texture and color, becoming darker and more juicy. Stir now and again while sautéing.

When quinoa has finished cooking and looks fluffy and not too moist, add to the pot all diced sun dried tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, arugula leaves and sauteed mushrooms.

Mix thoroughly using either wooden spoons or your own clean hands. Then, using a large spoon, ladle heaping spoonfuls of this mixture into each of the softened bell pepper halves and return to oven for approximately 10 - 15 minutes, until peppers are tender but filling has not dried out. Check them frequently during this time.

Before serving, grate parmesan or sharp white cheddar cheese on top of stuffed peppers.

Serve while still warm.

This tasty dish feeds 4-6 adults as main course.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tasty Vegetarian Chili on a Budget

Since our family of four began to eat gluten free a year ago we have definitely noticed a slight increase in our weekly grocery bill – especially during weeks when I try to create gluten free desserts from scratch using a variety of flours or pre-packaged mixes. I have justified spending a little more money in order to keep our family free of gluten related health disorders (such as my autoimmune thyroiditis which has now resolved).

Still, in the past two months with U.S. economy tanking and our family budget stretched thin, I’ve been working even harder to plan gluten free meals that are also economical – without sacrificing quality or taste!

This explains why I am extremely proud to present to you this original recipe for vegetarian chili… which I recently created using only items which were already in our pantry or refrigerator! In my opinion, the individual ingredients which make this recipe stand out are its quinoa and marjoram. My husband immediately pronounced this one of his top favorite meals I have ever served, high praise indeed coming from H. Better still, my economical recipe creates a large quantity of food that will definitely feed your family or friends for more than one meal!

Chili is a wonderful and flavorful meal to savor during Fall and Winter months as the weather outside grows cold. When served with a side salad and gluten free dinner rolls this homemade vegetarian chili makes a delicious meal that will fill your tummy and warm your heart.

Tasty Vegetarian Chili on a Budget

What You’ll Need:

Basic Chili...

28 oz diced tomatoes (plus liquid)
15 oz corn kernels
15 oz black beans (plus liquid)
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth (for non-vegetarians, beef broth works nicely)
8 oz tomato sauce
3 well chopped zucchini
2 – 3 stalks thinly sliced celery
1 diced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp marjoram
½ teaspoon chili powder (If you like it spicy, add 1 tsp)
Fresh ground pepper
Sea Salt
Olive Oil

Top With...

Jack cheese, grated
Parmesan cheese, grated
Scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

How It Works:

Using a 3 quart pot, pour in one or two glugs of extra virgin olive oil and warm over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Add diced onion and thinly sliced celery and sauté (stirring frequently) for approximately 6 minutes or until onion is translucent but not quite browned. Add minced garlic and sauté until garlic becomes fragrant (approx 30 seconds to 1 minute). Sprinkle in marjoram and chili powder, plus dashes of fresh ground black pepper and sea salt according to your personal taste. Continue stirring.

Pour chopped zucchini into mix and sauté it until it begins to change color and texture, becoming softer and more translucent. At this point add black beans, corn and diced tomatoes with all of their liquids. Stir and allow to bubble at medium temperature while you add quinoa, tomato sauce and chicken broth. When all ingredients have been combined, increase temperature to medium high and bring to a boil.

Once the veggie chili mixture is boiling, reduce temperature to low and cover pot with lid. Simmer at low temperature for 20 – 30 minutes, until quinoa is fully cooked and much of liquid has been absorbed.

Ladle chili into bowls. Dust them with grated Jack or parmesan cheese (or both). Top with thinly sliced scallions (green onions) for a beautiful presentation and extra kick.

Serves 6 comfortably as Main Course.