Friday, October 7, 2016

Transitions for the Contemporary Cook

Cooking for those with special dietary needs requires an added level of attention to the process of making meals. That's what I've been writing about in this blog – addressing special dietary needs in my own family. I've posted about some of the problems encountered during the years, and I've posted recipes.

Now, my husband and I are a few short years from retirement from our day jobs and our kids are pretty much grown. Our lifestyles are changing, and so to our eating habits.

Of course, Bob and I still adhere to the low-fat, low-sodium mantra of good health. And our son follows the gluten-free diet faithfully. Our daughter is now and always will be a vegetarian.

But I don't have to cook every meal now, and food makers and manufacturers have stepped up their game to capture the gluten free market. Bob's Red Mill, Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, and others all provide high quality baked good mixes; I don't always have to bake from scratch. Flour blends are also readily available and in some cases, are cup-to-cup substitutes for wheat flour.

Fresh and healthy, with a bit of dessert
So I'm going to move along, and explore the world of food from a different perspective. There's still dietary restrictions to deal with, but healthy eating is now a standard and gluten free is the media darling. For those of us dealing with specialty diets for the last decade, the rest of the world is just catching up.

Now, I want to look at how we can simplify the process of providing meals, in particular to a mature family. Cooking for kids and busy parents is different from cooking for adults, but the techniques and methods aren't mutually exclusive. Productions has various projects in the works; among them, a series of videos for Contemporary Cooking focused less on recipes and more on ingredients. We'll also be looking at some renovations in the just az gardens, focused on providing some fresh herbs and vegetables for this cook.
Over the next few months, we'll transition from the more singular focus of recipes and techniques to a broader approach toward providing meals, looking at more than just cooking in the kitchen. Healthy take-out, make-ahead meals, and product reviews are all on the menu. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Baking Gluten Free in 2015

How many ingredients does it take to make a batch of scones? Well, in February of 2010, I used nine ingredients to make a batch of gluten free chocolate chip scones. I used Bette Hagman's recipe from her book, "The Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread." The original recipe lists thirteen ingredients.

The gluten free flour used in the original recipe is a blend of flours also from the cookbook. So, to get a dozen scones I had to have the flour blend already prepared so I could take the required amount from the larger batch, add several more ingredients to the flour blend, and then put all the ingredients together to make the dough. And it really wasn't that easy a dough to handle.
Gluten Free Scones

Now, it's 2015 and I have this recipe down to six basic ingredients plus whatever I'm using for the treat, such as chocolate chips or raisins or blueberries.

I use Gluten Free Bisquick pancake mix and so do away with gums and egg replacers, as well as reduce the amount of baking powder and baking soda required. And the dough is much easier to handle.

In 2010, anyone who baked gluten free goods expected to have to make flour blends in large batches and store them for use in recipes. We had blends of all sorts; rice, bean, corn, and potato flour blends were staples in the pantry, all stored in airtight containers.

This meant buying all these different kinds of flours and blending them in varying mixes and ratios and adding enhancers such as gums and egg replacer. I needed a pantry to store the equivalent of a couple of bags of wheat flour.

Now I have Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake Mix and Pamela's Gluten Free Bread Mix in my pantry.

It's a hell of a lot easier to bake gluten free in 2015 than it was in 2010. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Basic Rules of Recipe Writing

It may be more accurate to say the rules for recording recipes, which is a different thing than creating/writing recipes. 
1: Use a descriptive title
Don't name your recipe Chicken and Noodles. Think about the herbs and spices you used. If it's lemon and rosemary, call the dish Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Broad Noodles.

2: List the ingredients in order of use
Ingredient lists allow the cook to assemble everything s/he needs before starting the cooking process.  Include how much of the ingredient is required, and how the ingredient is used, ie. 1 onion, chopped

3: Pay attention to how you write the amounts
Writing "1 onion, chopped" means you chop one whole onion. "1 cup chopped onion" means chop enough onion to make one cup. The first direction is ambiguous; the second direction is clear.

4: Write the directions in the right order
The first ingredient on your list should be the first ingredient you deal with in your directions. Be precise. Don't write, "Cook the meat a little bit before putting it in the slow cooker." Write, "Brown the meat in a fry pan, drain, then add to the slow cooker."

5: Include essential information
Just after your descriptive title, and before your list of ingredients, tell the cook how many portions this recipe makes, required oven/appliance settings, and any substitutions that may be used.

Why is this important? Because if food is a universal language then the recipe is the translator.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audre's Pizza Casserole, My Way

When Bob and I were first engaged, Bob's mother, Audre, made a pizza casserole for a luncheon with my mother and me. That was my introduction to Audre's Pizza Casserole. Years later, when Bob and I moved to Phoenix, Audre sent me a copy of the recipe.

Audre sort of led me to believe this tasty dish was her creation, but alas, this is not true. It was a lunch-lady at Bob's middle school that shared this recipe. The lunch-lady made it on a massive scale, and it was a dish Bob actually liked from the school cafeteria. Audre asked the lunch-lady to share the recipe, and since Audre was well liked in the school community, the lunch-lady happily complied.

And so was born Audre's Pizza Casserole.

Audre's Pizza Casserole
My Way
¼ cup tomato paste, 1/8 cup tomato puree, and 1 2/3 cup tomato juice
3 cans tomato sauce, 2 tbs sugar and 1 tbs salt, a palm full of dried herbal mix
1 ½ lbs of ground beef, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic salt
20 ounces of ground turkey, seasoned with herbal mix and garlic salt
½ lb of broad noodles, prepared according to package directions
About 12 ounces of cholesterol-free broad noodles, prepared al dente
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
10-12 ounces of reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese

When it comes to the assembly, Audre and I follow the same pattern:

1.      Sauce
2.      Noodles
3.      Meat and seasoning
4.      Cheese
5.      Sauce
6.      Noodles
7.      Meat and seasoning
8.      Sauce
9.      Cheese

Layer the ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Why Making Pizza Casserole This Way is Worth It
I've seen recipes for pizza casserole that consist of canned dough, a jar of sauce, cheese and packaged pepperoni on top. I don't call that a casserole. I call that sauce and cheese on a biscuit. (I sounded just like my mother there)

Anyway, the reason I take all this time and effort to make this pizza casserole from scratch is that it tastes that good. No doubt the quickie versions have their appeal, but once you make this dish, and have the leftovers the next day, so easily heated in the microwave, you'll never use canned dough again.

What's more, the licorice flavor brought in with the fennel seed – or Mexican Tarragon- is so subtle that at first you think you imagined it, that funny little tang in the midst of all this sauce and cheese. But no, there it is, a twist of sweet and heat nestled in a bed of comfort food.

What's more, it's easy to have some bit of this or that left over and that usually leads to some creative cooking ala Chopped – as in What's In The Fridge I That I Can Turn Into Dinner. If I have noodles and turkey, I can make noodles with turkey, veggies and white sauce. If I have just cheese and sauce, I make pizza bread on hamburger buns. And so on.

And So On
Recipes, especially family recipes, evolve and take on new ingredients, and substitute others. I'm pretty sure Audre's addition to this recipe was the fennel seed, because I have a hard time believing a lunch room kitchen in the 1970s was stocked with fennel seed. I think Audre knew this dish needed a bit of zing.

I miss my mother-in-law. She was sweet and fun and loved watching sci-fi – particularly Star Trek. And she like good food and board games and going to Star Trek conventions. And she liked animals and good books and  munchie food for breakfast. And she loved it when people raved about her pizza casserole.

So if you make this, and tell your friends you 'just came up with it', Audre will know. And she'll smile, and say something funny like, "Live Long and Casserole."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review of Krusteaz Gluten Free Double Chocolate Brownie Mix

The cost of gluten free mixes for baked goods is higher than that of their wheat-based counterparts. This irks me, because for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, opting for the less expensive item isn't an option.

So when I saw this 3-pack of Krusteaz Gluten Free Double Chocolate Brownie Mix for $7.99 at Costco, I bought it. The video is a review of this product.

Mixes versus Made from Scratch
The advantage of mixes is that most of the prep work is already done. All the dry ingredients plus the sugar are in the pouch. You add an egg, some oil or butter, maybe a little water and stir it all together. Bake. Cool. Eat.

Making brownies, or any baked good, from scratch is more work. There are more ingredients, more steps. Less uniformity of measurement and technique.

But you are also familiar with every ingredient in your homemade goods. There is no unpronounceable element, such as those listed on the side of the box of the oh-so-easy-to-use mix.

Is one better than the other? If I had the time, I would bake from scratch more often. But the mixes give me a way of making a dessert without too much fuss when I just don't have the time or energy to bake.

But What I've Noticed About Mixes
The cooking time for mixes is a real variable. The directions usually give you a 5-minute spread, and that should be about right. But too often, to get the middle cooked through, I find I need to cook it a little longer. My neighbor says the same thing.

This results in crunchy sides, such as those seen in the video. Cooling time, to, is a variable. As is the type of pan you use, and what altitude you live at. Maybe mixes aren't less fussy; they're just fussy in a different way.

It's All About Results
In the video, I make two batches of brownies using the Krusteaz brownie mix. The first was too gooey, and the second was better, but the longer cook time meant a hardened crust. Everyone cuts the brownies out from the middle and leaves a ring of brownie crust around the sides.

At the cost of gluten free pre-packaged foods and mixes, I get choosy about which company gets my dollars. The results I got from this mix aren't great, but I have one more pouch to go. Maybe, I'll try something different. Maybe, third's the charm.