Tag Archives: Gluten Free

About Onions, Folklore, Facts, and French

26 Jan

Onions

It is a rainy day in sunny Southern California and that makes me think about warm and comfy food. Amazingly, French Onion Soup keeps popping up into
my mind. The funny thing about French onion soup is that I haven’t always had such warm a fuzzy thoughts regarding it. As a matter of fact, my 8 yr old self didn’t want any part of it. I can remember having a terrible cold and my father, (who of course I idolized, I was daddy’s little girl), who I would make
great efforts to please, announced that onion had medicinal qualities and that some onion soup would be just the thing.

I decided that this was the time to draw a line in the sand and not one drop of the magic elixir passed my lips. However, my mumble, mumble, let’s just say older self does not agree. I guess that I am not alone in this change of heart toward the onion as I remember reading once, on the magazine they give you in the pocket of the seat in front of you on the plane, that in the US we consume approx 20 lbs of onions a year per person! That translates into 450 semi- truckloads of onions, at least that is what the National Onion Association says on their website http://onions-usa.org/all-about-onions/consumption.

The reason that this little-known fact stuck with me is because I read this while on my way home from visiting my mother for Mother’s Day where we had prepared a surprise brunch for the entire family that included, you guessed it, French Onion Soup along with Tortilla Soup, Waldorf Salad, and Caesar Salad.

All this came to mind recently as I read a post that talks about the folklore or maybe even an urban legend, surrounding onions and their medicinal properties. It is an interesting read especially since it is flu season. You can check it out here http://markraysolar.wordpress.com/ and decide how much is true and how much is wishful thinking.

For those of you who would like to try a little French Onion Soup right now, either because you love it or because you want to test my father’s theory, I have included this recipe that I found at http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/french_onion_soup/.

It is easy and well worth the time that it takes to create this golden brown treat and is much more cost-effective than ordering it in a restaurant. The secret here is to cook the onions to a golden brown, slowly, to help them release their sweetness. If you or those you are preparing this soup for have gluten-intolerance I suggest that you substitute Glutino Bagel Chips for the cruton of French bread , baguette, traditionally used to help support the melted golden cheese that rests on top. Or, you can do without it if you do not mind the possibility that the cheese might sink a bit.

Ingredients:

6 large red or yellow onions (I prefer yellow)

Olive oil

1/4 teaspoon pf sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups of beef stock or chicken stock (I prefer beef), or a combination of the two (traditioanlly the soup is made with beef stock)

1/2 cup of dry vermouth or dry white wine (I prefer white wine)

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon of dry thyme

salt and pepper

8 slices of toasted French bread (I prefer Glutino gluten-free bagel chips, no need to toast, for me, baguette for others)

1  1/2 cups of grated swiss Gruyere with a little grated Parmesan cheese ) I prefer very thin slices and sometimes use Muenster cheese)

Method

In a large saucepan, saute the onions in the olive oil on mendium high heat until well-browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes )or longer).  Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the caramelization.

Onions cooking

Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add the stock, vermouth or wine, bay leaf, and thyme.  Cover partially and simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Discard the bay leaf.

onion soup pot

To serve you can either use individual oven-proof soup bowls of one large casserole dish (I prefer paper cups if the meal is informal and finish in the microwave making clean up easy).  Ladle the soup into the bowls of casserole dish.  Put in the broiler for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned (if you use the microwave removes when cheese melts, it will not brown).  Serve immediately.

onion soup cup

Cheesecake, Gluten-Free, Woo-Hoo!

7 Aug

Gluten-Free Cheesecake

 

About a year ago I discovered that I have a sensitivity to gluten.  That day my world changed.  At first it seemed that it had changed for the worse.  I could not imagine not enjoying a crusty piece of french bread, buttery pasta, or even a simple peanut butter and honey sandwich.  These were among the things I counted as real pleasures in my life.

As I waded into this new gluten-free world I began to discover that gluten is hidden in the most unlikely places.  Just about any processed food can contain gluten and it is not as simple as finding what type of food is likely to contain gluten, you must also check each brand.  I found this out one night after we had just finished eating.  My husband had done the grocery shopping and fixed dinner, I really am lucky in that way.  Then came the headache and soon after the other discomforts that I have now learned to recognize as my body’s reaction to gluten.

I couldn’t figure it out.  We had eaten nothing that had caused a reaction before.  Later that night, I was taking out the trash and noticed that the empty can of green enchilada sauce used in our chicken dish was a different brand than what I usually buy.  I pulled it out to take a look at the list of ingredients and there it was, gluten.  Oops.

However, I must say that this story demonstrates just how much my world has actually improved even without my favorite breads, pastas, and my this and thats.  I feel so much better now, most days I don’t miss them, at least not too much.

Having said that, you can just imagine that having a baked dessert can present a challenge.  So a year later, I am so thrilled to discover a recipe for cheesecake that has a gluten-free crust and does not use flour as a thickener in the filling.  I share it here for all of you who have gluten-sensitivity or children who benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets.  This is so good that everyone in the family can enjoy it, even those who do not need to restrict gluten.
One word of caution.  When using oats, some people with gluten sensitivities can have a reaction if the oats are processed in a facility that also processes  wheat.  There are gluten-free oats (labeled) available or you may want to just use the almonds and some almond meal in place of the oats.

Just a heads up, there were two things that I did not have handy that you will need for this recipe, cheesecloth and the wider heavy weight sheet of foil wrap.

Also, flavor and texture is best if cheesecake is refrigerated overnight.

Crust:

1 1/2 cup    Oats (gluten-free oats)

1/2 cup       Chopped almonds

1/3 cup       Brown sugar

1/3 cup       Butter – melted (5 1/2 Tbls)

Heat oven to 350°.

Grease 9″ spring form pan.

Combine all ingredients, mix well.  press firmly on bottom and 1 1/2 inches on the sides.  Bake 18 minutes.  Cool in refrigerator.

While crust is cooling make the filling.

Filling:

20 ozs.    Whole milk ricotta cheese, drained (2 1/2 cup)

1 – 8 oz    Cream cheese (at room temperature)

1 cup       Sugar

1 Tbls     Cornstarch

4               Large eggs, at room temperature

Zest of 1 Lemon

1 1/2 tsp Pure vanilla extract

To drain ricotta cheese:

Place ricotta cheese in strainer lined with cheesecloth and suspend over a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To make filling:

In large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth, add ricotta cheese and sugar, beat until smooth.  Beat in cornstarch, add eggs one at a time beating about 30 seconds after each egg is added. Beat in lemon zest and vanilla.
Pour filling into cooled crust.  Use large sheet of foil wrap to wrap the outside of the spring form pan to protect the cheesecake in the water bath.
Place spring form pan in large roasting pan and pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about half way up the side of the spring form pan.

Bake for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes or until the top of the cheesecake is nicely browned and the center of cake moves slightly when the pan is gently giggled.

Remove from water bath and cool on a wire rack.  After cooling about an hour remove from spring form pan.  Cool in refrigerator 6-8 hours or overnight.

Enjoy!

Intensely Blueberry, Blueberry Sorbet

28 Jul

This post is for my youngest kidlet, the granddaughter of  The Queen of Everything Money (my sister).  My sister just discovered that the baby LOVES blueberries.  She can not be trusted near a container of blueberries, so they must be hidden and doled out to her in less than lumberjack-sized portions.

(If anyone knows what that you call the granddaughter of your sister, great niece?, grand niece? Please let me know.)

This is a recipe for blueberry sorbet that has an intense blueberry flavor.  It does not take a lot of this to satisfy a craving for blueberries and it is, of course, naturally gluten-free with relatively low amount of added white sugar (more about that to come in a later post).

I found the recipe on Simply Recipes, here is the link to original recipe,  how I made it follows:

Ingredients:

5 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries, rinsed, stems removed

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 Tbsp (fluffy) lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice (less than original recipe)

pinch of salt

Directions:

1.  Place the blueberries, sugar, honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl.  Stir to coat blueberries with the sugar.  Mash with a potato masher.

(I actually combine step 1 and 2 by using an immersion blender, much easier.)

2.  Put the mashed blueberries into a blender and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth.

(Be careful while processing the blueberries unless you just love the color purple.  They will stain your clothes, your countertop, your floor, or just about anything you allow them to stay in contact with for any length of time.)

3.   Place a sieve over a large bowl and working in batches, press the mixture through the sieve using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. This will catch the tougher and larger pieces fo lemon and blueberry peel.

Pour into sieve

$.  Chill the mixture for at least an hour in the fridge.  Then process following the directions of your ice cream maker.

(The colder the mixture is when putting it in the ice cream maker, the smoother the texture of the  sorbet.)

You can eat right away of put in freezer for a few hours to further firm the texture.

Makes a little less than a quart.

Another tip that came with this recipe was to add a tablespoon of two of corn syrup to the mix to prevent it from becoming too hard if stored in the freezer.  The longer its is in the freezer the harder it becomes.  Most others recommend the addition of a similar amount of alcohol maybe vodka or a complimentary liqueur, but because this is for family consumption, corn syrup, while not my favorite thing, sounds like a better choice.  I do not add either because it never hangs around long enough to need it.  (Here is where you will have to use your imagination because I was not fast enough to get a picture of the finished sorbet before it disappeared.)

For those of you who do not have an ice cream maker, good news, you can still make sorbet!  It involves freezing the mixture in a shallow baking dish in the freezer, then blending in a food processor or blender.  For the step- by-step process as well as more recipes and great tips click here to visit Busy in Brooklyn.

Store Brand or National Brand…This is the Question

5 Oct
Trader Joe's West Hartford

Image via Wikipedia

I do not know what camp you belong to but I find that most people live in the national brand camp or the store brand camp.  In other words, we have a very strong belief that there is a huge benefit of some  kind associated with the consumption of either a familiar brand name product, or with a lesser advertised store brand.  Often this preference is something that has been passed down from one generation to another and like many “traditions” the real reason we do this is less because we know that it is the better choice, and more because it is the way we have always done it.

Recently, motivated by the new economy, I decided it might be interesting to test these assumptions.  Of course, only you can decide what qualities a thing must meet to make it a “value”. We decided that it would be fun to do some head to head, blind taste tests with set criteria to see if our product choices and our “values” matched when we removed our label bias.

We chose three brands of the same product and did a blind, side by side tasting rating each on taste, texture and overall satisfaction.

We would then rank each as  A. The Best  B. The Same Quality, C. Acceptable But Not as Good, D. Not Acceptable.  Of course for some people price became a consideration in making this distinction.  So here we go.

The first tasting consisted of three brands of cottage cheese, Kraft Simply, Trader Joe’s, and Great Value.  All were 4% Milk-Fat.

As we sat down to do the tasting, we were chatting about cottage cheese generally and a comment was made that all cottage cheese was about the same, just something you eat because it supposed to be good for you, not something that you eat because it tastes good.  I, on the other hand, am a fan of cottage cheese, and feel that not all cottage cheese is created equal.  This was going to be interesting.

The mood was amused with a touch of seriousness as we all focused on the characteristics of the white blobs before us.  It is surprising just what you can notice about something when you focus on it.  Talk of graininess, creaminess, tang, and finish floated around the table reminding me of wine tasting parties.

Our panel found that Great Value Brand was creamy with a nice firm texture, and had good flavor, cost = .12 per oz. and had less sodium.  The Trader Joe’s Brand was found to be a bit watery, but had a nice tangy flavor, cost = .10 per oz. and had more calories.  The Kraft Simply was described as dry, grainy, and was found to have an unpleasant after taste, cost = .12 per oz.

When we tallied up the scores we found that we had a clear but surprising winner.  Great Value Brand was chosen as The Best by two tasters and as the Same Quality as Trader Joe’s Brand by the third.  Trader Joe’s Brand was rated as Acceptable but not as Good by two tasters and as you already know, as the Same Quality as Great Value by one taster.  The Kraft Simply was rated Not Acceptable by all three tasters.

Even more interesting was the reaction of one of the tasters when they discovered that they had chosen the  Great Value Brand (Wal-Mart) as a clear winner.  They said  “Oh, It really is the best.  I just wish that they paid their ladies better.”     They seemed sold on the quality, but somewhat sadly so.  It will be interesting to see what cottage cheese makes it into their refrigerator in the future.

This is what we found, but we invite you to share your thoughts of your own  blind, side by side tasting.  If you would like to use the score sheet we created,  just request it in the comments and we will send you one.

Because Life Can’t be all Baby Carrots and Tofu

8 Mar

A Sweet Addiction

One of the great secrets I have learned over the years is that to enjoy your kids while dashing from one place to the next (in our oh so scheduled lives)  you must make sure that you pay attention to keeping their blood sugar levels on an even keel.  How do you know you are accomplishing this without a blood test you ask? When no whining and no contact sports are heard from the back seat.  There is peace and all is well.

And how do you execute this magical feat you ask?  The best way I know is to have healthy, (or at least mostly healthy), snacks ready and with you at all times. A less perfect plan might find you pulling into the drive-thru once again, (putting a hole in your budget and who knows what into your kids).  Of course plan A only works if the snacks are eaten so on occasion rather than fixing baby carrots, graham crackers, or sliced apples, I prepare a special “treat”.  Here is one of my favorites, (found on a cereal box), because while it is sweet , but not too sweet, it offers fiber, grains and protein.  Who says brown food can’t be fun?  Oh, and did I mention that it only takes 6 minutes cooking time?

For those of you who don’t have kids you can dress this up in a party gown (your own unique packaging) and you have a great hostess gift or even a little gift for yourself.

Caramel Nut Mix

6 tbsp. – (3/4 stick) butter or margarine

1/2 cup – packed brown sugar

3 tbsp.- light corn syrup

4 Cups – Safeway® Rice, or Corn Pockets™  cereal

5 cups – popped popcorn

1 1/2 cups nuts, such as slivered almonds, pecans, walnut halves or chopped peanuts

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine butter or margarine, brown sugar and corn syrup.   Microwave on HIGH (100%) for 3 minutes or until boiling, stirring after 1 minute, 

In a large microwave bowl, stir together cereal, popcorn and nuts.  Pour butter mixture over and stir until all pieces are evenly coated. 

Microwave uncovered on HIGH (100%) for 5-6 minutes.  Spread on waxed paper to cool. (I add salt here, because sweet and salty is always a good idea.) Store in airtight container.

(Due to differences in microwave ovens, cooking time may vary.  These directions were developed using a 625 to 700 watt oven.)

Recipe developed by cookbook author Marlene Sorosky Gray.

If you prefer the directions to cook this in a conventional oven,  just make a request in comments and I will email them to you.

This recipe features a store brand rather than a national name-brand product.  In my experience, quality is what determines the difference between a bargain and waste of time and money when making buying decisions, and the process of trying out all the options can be expensive and sometimes down-right painful.  That gives me an idea!  I will start a page that reviews and compares store brands with national brands, and because I can’t possibly review them all, you can help.

Psst…The secret is the celery leaves

1 Mar

The secret to this soul-warming, low-fat, non-dairy potato soup (yes, it is actually fabulous) is celery leaves. 

One of the challenges we face when trying to save money on groceries is to actually utilize all of that ten pound bag of potatoes that we got for $1.99 before it sprouts so many eyes we feel like big brother is watching us every time we go in the kitchen.  Here is a solution for that potato surplus that gets a solid twelve thumbs up from our family.  The bonus here is that it gets its flavor from cooking techniques and not from lots of fats from cream, cheese or bacon often found in many potato soups.

7 medium potatoes, peeled and diced to 1/2″ size cubes

1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped

6 baby carrots, chopped fine

3 ribs celery with leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 box (or canned) 32 oz. chicken broth

In a large soup pot using a medium heat, add onions, carrots and celery (with chopped leaves) and salt and pepper. Cook until onions are transparent, (about 3 minutes) stirring occasionally.

Add diced potatoes, and chicken broth.  Make sure broth just covers potatoes.  If not add chicken broth or water.  Raise to medium high heat, cook for 20 minutes.  Check potatoes, you should be able to pierce easily with fork. 

Remove from heat.  Remove potatoes to a large bowl.  take one cup of cooked potatoes and return to hot broth.  Use a stick blender to puree the potatoes into the broth creating a smooth, slightly thickened soup.  If you do not have a stick blender you can use a blender to accomplish this.(you may need to do it in 2 batches, 1/2 cup cooked potato with 1/2 the broth).  Return cooked potatoes to thickened soup and stir. Adjust seasoning as desired and serve. 

The secrets here are: well, I guess the first one is not a secret anymore, it is the use of celery leaves.  amazingly it is getting harder to find celery with the leaves on so remember to notice this while in the produce department.  The second secret is to salt the vegetables while cooking them rather than waiting to add the salt and pepper in the end.  This creates a huge difference in the depth of the flavor. Finally, using the puree of potato as a thickening agent rather than cream or milk actually creates more flavor as the potatoey goodness is not diluted and the added bonus is that it is gluten free.

For a gluten free meal do not serve with bread (as shown in phot0).