Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer-Thyme Lemon Roasted Zucchinis & Tomatoes

This spring my husband and I decided to plant about 6 vegetables with no expectations of them growing and producing. We picked up a large planter box and planted 1 banana pepper, 1 eggplant, 3 red pepper plants and one zucchini.  When I lived in Hayward, zucchini was a big deal.  In fact the Zucchini Festival is an annual event in Hayward, CA and I remember going as a kid and watching people filled with pride holding up their gigantic zucchinis as they hoisted them over the heads like the heisman trophy.  Zucchini grew very well in Hayward and I loved picking it.

My husband is in charge of the planting, watering and tending to the vegetables and I am in charge of flowers and herbs. He did a great job because when our zucchini started to grow, it grew by leaps and bounds almost crowding the other plants.  I'd go back in our yard and visit the plant, touch the leaves and smell my hands.  The smell took me right back to zucchini picking in Hayward.

We have had an intense heat wave the past week in the tri-state and the squirrels in our backyard are quite thirsty.  They pick off our neighbor's green tomatoes and bite into them eating about half just to get some water.  And they are quite civilized these squirrels...  they actually carry the tomatoes to our patio table and eat them there leaving the skin and the half eaten tomato for us to clean up.  Not only are they eating the tomatoes but they chewed almost all the way through the roots of our zucchini plant. Thank you squirrels.  I began to cut off the leaves to clean up the mess and was happy to find 3 decent zucchinis.  I guess you know where I am going with this.  Yes, it was zucchini for dinner.

Summer-Thyme Lemon Roasted Zucchinis &Tomatoes

3 zucchinis sliced diagonally
4 vine ripened tomatoes quartered
4 tbsp olive oil
1 large handful of fresh thyme sprigs
zest of one lemon
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

1)  Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2)  Line 2 cookie sheets with foil
3)  Toss sliced zucchini with 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon zest, and 1/2 handful of fresh thyme sprigs and scatter on cookie sheet
4)  Toss quartered tomatoes with 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper and 1/2 handful of fresh thyme sprigs and scatter on cookie sheet
5)  Roast in oven for about 20-30 minutes (depending on oven)
6)  Serve over rice for a delicious & light vegetarian, gluten-free meal

Friday, May 14, 2010

Celeste-ial Thumbprint Cookies

A favorite quote of mine is "You pass on more to your children and your grandchildren than your eye color." I think this is true in many aspects and if you are lucky, not only will you get their love, attention and character traits, you will learn the stories of their life and get handed their best recipes.  My Great Grandmother Celeste made the best strawberry thumbprint cookies and they are my mother's favorite.

Growing up in California, we were fortunate to have weather that yielded a plentiful fruit, vegetable, and flower garden year-round.  Out in my Great Grandmother Celeste's garden grew the most wonderful produce.  It was a garden hip before it's time - local and organic.  In this small plot of land she had persimmons, oranges, lemons, apples, kumquats, strawberries, figs, apricots, cherries, plums, zucchinis, green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, swiss chard, potatoes, green beans, fava beans, tomatoes and kale.

Preparing a meal was fun and educational.  Grandpa would take my hand and lead me to the garden to pick the best zucchini for dinner.  My Grandma steamed it with herbs and a touch of butter and it was delicious!  Grandpa carried a small pocket knife and when in the garden, he would pick a fruit or vegetable, cut it open and tell me to "try it."  I vividly remember disliking persimmons however he did open my eyes and taste buds to many different fruits and vegetables.  I'll never forget my first bite into a fresh, juicy, California plum or the delight of picking our adorable little strawberries.

My grandparents lived next door to my great grandmother up on a hill in Northern California. On a clear night, I could sit with my friends on the deck with a Hansen lemon-lime soda in hand, gaze at the sherbert colored sunset and almost see the Golden Gate Bridge.  During the summer, I had a blast with my Grandma & Great Grandma Celeste watching soap operas.  I would watch The Young and the Restless with my Grandma and then run as fast as I could to my Great Grandmas to make it in time for The Bold the Beautiful and As the World Turns.  (Ahh... those CBS Daytime summers!)

My Grandparents and Great Grandma Celeste had beautiful flower gardens. Just past the gate to my Great Grandmother's house climbed beautiful pink trumpet flowers and in her garden lived large vibrant roses.  In the back of Great Grandma's flower garden was a brick grill area for family barbecues and a covered patio with glass walls.  On the patio was an old swing that I loved.  Lying on that swing, reading my mom's Nancy Drew novels and feeling the sunlight on my face was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.  If I close my eyes and think back I can still smell the air, hear the crunch of the tarp-like fabric on the swing and feel that warm California sunlight.  Sometimes my Great Grandma would come out and swing with me.  And if I was lucky she would bring fresh, homemade orange juice and cookies.

This past Christmas, I surprised my mom.  I called my Grandma and asked her for my mom's favorite recipes and one of them was my Great Grandma Celeste's infamous thumbprint cookies.  I baked the cookies exactly as the recipe called for using regular all purpose flour so they would be exactly how she remembered them.  My mother was so happy to have these cookies again, since Great Grandma Celeste stopped making them in the late 1980s and had passed away in 1998.  We shared stories about her as everyone enjoyed them.  I couldn't have them, but the joy these cookies brought my mom and sister brought the biggest smile to my face. I knew I would make them gluten-free for myself at some point.  And I did.  This one wasn't easy.  I've been working on this one for some time.  After a few tries I think I got it.

One of the best parts about my Great Grandma Celeste's thumbprint cookie recipe is they are easy and inexpensive to make.  I didn't want to change too much especially the "easy" part so I experimented with several gluten-free flour blends. Each all purpose gluten-free flour delivered very different results and I found Bobs Red Mill All Purpose Flour the best for this recipe.  I have been doing some experimenting with coconut oil lately so I decided to try that.  If you do not have coconut oil on had, you can use margarine or butter however your measurement needs to be 1 cup vs. 2/3 cup of coconut oil. 

Great Grandma made these with fresh homemade jam from fruit in her garden.  Normally she made them with walnuts and strawberry jam and if my mom requested it, they were rolled in coconut.  She also made them with her apricot jam.  I made a coconut rolled thumbprint with a meyer lemon curd center which was delicious.  Or you can make  blackberry vanilla jam which is lovely as well.  These cookies can be anything you want.  Make them your own creation with your favorite chopped nuts or jam.

I'm on the left, then Great Grandma Celeste, and my little sister Jaclyn.  Of course I am tickling my sister to make her smile for the picture.  I love this photo because of the smile on my Great Grandma's face.

I hope you enjoy these as much as our family has for the past 75 years and that you continue the tradition of passing this recipe on to your gluten-free family and friends.

Celeste-ial Gluten-Free Thumbprint Cookies

2/3 cup coconut oil (solid - not liquid)
1/2 cup brown sugar 
2 large egg yolks - reserve whites 
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
chopped walnuts and/or shredded coconut
strawberry jam and/or lemon curd 

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2)  Beat coconut oil and brown sugar together.
3)  Add egg yolks, vanilla and flour and mix with electric mixer.  Mixture will be slightly crumbly.
4)  Pull small pieces of dough into your hand, squeeze to form and roll into small balls.  
5)  Dip each small ball of dough into egg whites then into chopped walnuts or coconut to coat.  Place a dozen on sheet with parchment paper and place in oven for 5 minutes.  
6)  After 5 minutes, pull out and put a thumbprint or fingerprint in the center.  Place back into the oven for an additional 8 minutes.  Remove again and place approximately 1/2 tsp of jam into each thumbprint.  (You may need to make another imprint at this point just prior to the jam step.)
7)  Bake for an additional 22 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.  Let cool on the cookie sheet then transfer to racks once set.  

Enjoy! Makes 2 dozen delicious cookies.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Valentine's Day Date Cake (aka Sticky Toffee Pudding)

When I think of Valentine's Day, I think of having a "date night."  Perhaps it is a dinner at a really great restaurant followed by an amazing dessert I probably wouldn't have normally or a quiet dinner at home cooking with my husband.   I figure if you are going to indulge, why not just once on Valentine's Day?  This is an indulgent dessert.  Not low fat.  Not low sugar.  It is pure decadence.   If you choose to indulge, I have the perfect dessert for you and I call it the Valentine's Day Date Cake otherwise known as Sticky Toffee Pudding.  

A few years back I was sent abroad for a business meeting and training with a retailer in London.  This was my first time in Europe and I couldn't be more excited.  My boss said if there was one thing I must do in London, it was to have sticky toffee pudding.  This sounded a little gross at first.  Who would want pudding that had sticky toffee in it?  Little did I know that in England "pudding" means "cake."  I visited Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and had lunch on the rooftop.  Following the most amazing crayfish salad, the waiter brought me the sticky toffee pudding.  I remember sitting with our other employee and being completely speechless after I took a bite.  It was almost as if all went quiet and I could hear the heavens open up and sing "you have arrived to dessert heaven."  Upon returning home, I found Whole Foods had it however it did not compare to that delectable dessert in London.  I hadn't had this dessert in over 2 1/2 years because of my gluten intolerance.

On a recent trip to visit a friend in New York I just happened to be in Martha Stewart's neck of the woods.  Rumor has it she shops at a particular food market and of course I just had to go in. On the counter sat the most beautiful dates and I remembered I did find a recipe in December's Everyday Food by Martha Stewart that could be used to set the framework for the recipe.  So I snatched up those dates and as soon as I was home I began baking.  It turned out perfect the first time and even better the second time I made it.  I must give credit to the Grand Duchess of everything domestic: Martha Stewart for the original recipe.  I've adapted this recipe to be gluten-free and made a couple of tweaks along the way and I think you will love it!

This dessert is sweet and is perfect for your sweetheart this Valentine's Day.  You can even bake it in a heart shaped cake pan like I did or bake it in a regular 9X9 square pan.  Also, you can use pre-chopped dates that are packaged however I highly recommend you go with fresh dates as they are not as dry and will make your cake more moist.  

Behold literally the best dessert you may ever have...

Valentine's Day "Date" Cake 
(aka Sticky Toffee Pudding) 

6 TBSP unsalted butter plus more for baking pan
2 cups chopped, pitted dates 
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/3 cups Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground all spice
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
toffee sauce (recipe below) 

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9x9 cake pan or a 9" heart shaped pan.  In a small saucepan bring dates and 1 cup of water up to boil on medium-high heat. Add baking soda and stir until thickened (1-2 min) and set aside.

2)  In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking powder, all spice, and coarse salt.  In a large bowl cream together the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract (about 3-5 minutes).  Beat until light and fluffy.  

3)  With mixer on low, begin adding alternately the dry mixture and the date mixture (beginning and ending with the flour mixture).   Then increase speed to medium and beat to combine.  Pour batter into greased pan and bake until a skewer or toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs attached (about 45 minutes).  Meanwhile, begin making toffee sauce.

4)  Set baking pan on a wire rack and poke holes over the top of the cake with a wooden skewer.  Then pour 1/2 cup toffee sauce directly over.  The toffee will dip down into those holes and make the cake even more delicious.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into.  

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with remaining toffee sauce.  Store at room temperature for 3 days (We all know it won't last that long!)    

The recipe I listed above includes ingredients that are readily available in most supermarkets.  If you want to get adventurous or kick it up a notch, perhaps replace the light brown sugar with molasses and organic cane sugar?  Or use half date sugar/ half brown sugar?  Try substituting the flour mix with your favorite mixture?  (Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour really works very well though!)  Maybe consider swapping out the butter in the cake to coconut oil and honey for sugar for a healthier version?  Or go crazy and try to make it vegan with egg replacer & soy milk - that's on my list to try!

On to the toffee sauce...

Toffee Sauce 

This recipe is straight from Martha - I wouldn't mess with it :-)   It's perfect.  Here is her toffee sauce recipe

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
6 TBSP unsalted butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of coarse salt
2 tsp whiskey

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, butter, cream and salt.  Cook over medium high heat stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved completely and mixture boils.  Reduce to a simmer and cook without stirring for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in whiskey. 

Hope you have a delicious Valentine's Day & enjoy this amazing gluten free dessert!  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Simple & Healthy Gluten-Free Veggie Pasta

One day strolling through the frozen vegetable section I was surprised to find frozen artichokes.  I hadn't had artichokes in a while and sometimes it can be difficult to get good artichokes on the east coast so this was a great find.  Having frozen artichokes ready to go is a simple way to add flavor to dishes.  This dish is very light, healthy, inexpensive to prepare, and is also customizable.  If you want more tomatoes, add more tomatoes... less garlic... add less garlic.  You can also substitute with vegetables you already have in the house.  Enjoy!

Simple & Healthy Gluten-Free Veggie Pasta

1 pkg brown rice spaghetti or linguini (I prefer Tinkyada & Trader Joes)
1-2 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic - minced
12oz frozen artichokes (usually they are halves and quartered and in 12oz pkgs)
2 tsp sweet basil - fresh or dry
fresh cracked pepper
2 zucchini sliced and quartered (optional and recommended)
about 15 cherry tomatoes (crushed by hand) or canned diced tomatoes
1/3 cup dry white wine
squeeze lemon

1) In a large pot, bring water and a tsp of salt to boil. Once boiling add pasta and cook until al dente reserving about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water.

2) In a large deep pan over medium heat, add olive oil, garlic and frozen artichokes.  Add basil, fresh cracked pepper and stir until artichokes are about 1/2 thawed.

3) To the pan add zucchini, stir to combine and cover.  Cover and cook for about 3 minutes (zucchini should be about 1/2 way cooked at this point).

4) Crush tomatoes into pan and stir to combine.  Cook for about 2 minutes.

5) Don't worry if you see that some of the ingredients are starting brown on the bottom of the pan, the next step is magic and fixes it.  Add the dry white wine and scrape bits off the bottom of the pan.  The deglazing effect also makes clean up of the pan so much easier.  Continue to cook at medium heat to cook off the alcohol in the wine (about 2-3 minutes)

6) Add in the 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and stir.  This is going to thicken the sauce slightly.

7) Add drained pasta to skillet and toss with sauce and vegetables.  Add a squeeze of lemon and serve.  If you can tolerate dairy, add freshly grated parmesan reggiano on top.

Serves about 4