Gluten Free Sandwich Bread, for soup

So, remember way back, when I shared the recipe for Socca with Roasted Tomatoes, Swiss Chard and Goat Feta? I mentioned then that I sometimes cooked for family members on gluten free diets. Well, I am now one of those family members. So any recipe that I share here from now on will very likely be gluten-free. And I had to share this one – it’s the first GF bread I’ve tasted that really tempted me to have another slice. And what’s more, it tempted my (non-GF) husband – he stole part of my piece, and then got his own.

Along with it, I’ll share a recipe for curried sweet potato Balti soup, which is a variation of a dish I’ve had many times, but never made. We are still working our way through about 20 pounds of sweet potatoes that we received as part of our CSA (community supported agriculture) membership this past season. I was dismayed to find that this had only used about about 1 pound of the haul! Balti Seasoning is a spice mixture from Baltistan in northern Pakistan – I got it from Penzey’s spices. According to Penzey’s, it contains “coriander, garlic, ginger, cumin, dundicut chilies, Ceylon cinnamon, brown mustard seeds, cardamom, clove, fennel, fenugreek, charnushka (kalonji, black onion seed), ajwain, star anise, black cardamom, cilantro, anise seed and bay leaf,” but I would say that the coriander, ginger and cinnamon are the dominant flavors. It also contains kalonji seed, which is one of my favorite spices – great to have on hand to add a subtle onion flavor to curry, and fabulous sprinkled on pita chips when you make them at home (Pita chips, alas, are not gluten-free! Sob!)

Here’s the bread recipe – soup recipe will follow shortly!

GFBread

Gluten Free Sandwich Bread
adapted from Kneadlessly Simple, by Nancy Baggett

Note: This bread can take anywhere from 24-48 hours from start to finish, including 2 rises. So don’t start making it if you want bread right away! Luckily, it requires no kneading, so most of that time is just waiting for the dough to do its thing.

Ingredients:
1 2/3 cup brown rice flour
2/3 cup gluten free oats (rolled – not instant)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/3 cup flax seed meal (you can grind your own in a food processor if you have whole flax seeds in your cupboard)
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast (I used SAF Instant Yeast which is much cheaper than buying it in individual packets)
1/3 cup corn oil or canola oil
1 1/3 cups ice water (I usually use spring water for baking, since our hard water sometimes kills yeast)
3 tbsp honey
1 egg
1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used whole milk cream top yogurt)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Directions

Mix 1 1/3 cup of the rice flour, the rest of the flours, and flax meal thoroughly in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the ice water, oil and honey, and whisk vigorously. Tip: Pour the oil into the tablespoon measure, then pour it into the 1/3 cup measure and top it up. Use the oily tablespoon to measure the honey, and the honey will slide right out! Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly (do not knead). I found this dough quite wet, so I added about another 1/2 cup of rice flour until it didn’t stick to the bowl anymore, but was still moist inside.

Cover the bowl (I used one of the Abeego reusable food wraps that I got for Christmas – thanks twin sister!), and refrigerate for about 3 hours, then take it out of the fridge and leave it at room temperature for about 12 hours. I started making the dough on Friday night at around 8 – exciting nightlife! – put it in the fridge at around 8:30, took it out of the fridge before I went to bed, and did the next step the next morning at around 11. The dough smelled yeasty by that point, but it did not look like it had risen at all. This step is primarily to develop the yeast flavor – the rising effect comes from the baking soda and yogurt.

Next, mix the remaining 1/3 cup of rice flour, egg, yogurt and baking soda thoroughly in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the dough, and stir vigorously with a fork. Note: the original recipe called for you to keep back 1 tsp of the egg and use it to brush over the top of the loaf, but I thought this was too fussy (nevermind how fussy it is to make bread that takes 48 hours – ha!), so I just brushed the top with milk instead.  Empty the dough into a greased loaf pan. Leave at room temperature for another 5-7 hours until it has risen above the top of the pan. But mine never actually rose above the top of the pan, and it was still fine. I did put the loaf pan next to the heating vent for the last three hours, and I think this helped.

At this point, my photocopy of this recipe is cut off, so I guessed at the baking directions. Bake at 375F for one hour, until the top is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you knock it on the top with your knuckles. Let the loaf sit for a few minutes, loosen the loaf from the sides of the pan by drawing a knife around the edges, and turn out on the counter. Dig in!

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Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi: Recipe for Socca with Roasted Tomatoes, Swiss Chard and Goat Feta (Gluten-free)

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One of my birthday gifts was the cookbook Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi, whose Israeli heritage has obviously shaped his approach to food, is a chef in London, and also writes on vegetarian and other types of cooking for the Guardian newspaper. I was really excited to get this book, as one of my sisters is a rabid fan of Ottolenghi’s writing in the Guardian (well, she’s a rabid fan of many things in the Guardian, but particularly of Ottolenghi!). As I leafed through the book, it struck me immediately that these were different from the vegetarian recipes I was used to: they seemed lighter, with a greater emphasis on vegetables rather than trying to simulate meat dishes, and they made heavy use of Middle Eastern and Asian flavors. This is a great book to check out if your primary vegetarian cookbooks have always been of the Moosewood cookbook variety.

In comparison with another recent acquisition, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, this book seems less accessible to the inexperienced cook. First of all, the book is organized according to the primary vegetable used in the recipe. Initially, this seemed to me like an excellent system, especially for a cook who was interested in eating seasonally. I pictured myself plucking a strange vegetable from my CSA (community supported agriculture) box, (perhaps one fitting the theme of the chapter titled “Funny Onions”?), locating the relevant chapter, and going on my merry way to cooking a masterpiece of seasonal appropriateness. However, the more I tried to figure out how to fit this book into our daily cooking, the more I realized that this is not actually the way I plan my meals: I think that categories such as “curries,” or “noodles”, or “salads” (hopelessly old-fashioned, I know!) are more helpful when you are trying to figure out which recipe might be appropriate to a certain day, pantry situation, or level of hunger.

The other criticism I have of this book is that, in comparison to the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook or some of my other favorites, such as Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, the instructions for each recipe are somewhat scanty, and there are few “process” photographs and no illustrations. It’s often hard to visualize exactly what the author is describing, and there are few tips or pointers to reassure you. One of the things I find most useful about the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, for example, is the fact that the author will tell you “the dough should have enough flour incorporated so that it does not stick to your fingers” or “the fritters should be golden brown after 1 minute: if they are not, turn down the heat.” It’s tips like this that actually ensure that you will have success with recipes, so I will be interested to see cooking with this cookbook will be more challenging. It’s certainly not a book for a beginning cook.

So, what is this book good for, then? Inspiration! Many of the recipes combine ingredients in ways that I would never have thought of, to make less-usual categories of food such as cold noodle salads, flatbreads with toppings, etc. One featured ingredient that I had never used before is chickpea flour (sometimes sold as garbanzo flour, or pakora flour, since it’s what those Indian fritters are made of). I had, however, eaten chickpea flour many times, because I love love love pakoras, and I had also eaten socca, a Provencal chickpea flat bread, while in Europe several years ago. I made a variation on Ottolenghi’s recipe for Socca, which appears in the “pulses” section of the book. While Ottolenghi served his version with a tomato, onion and thyme topping, I made a topping of tomatoes, chard, fresh herbs and goat feta. Ottolenghi adds two egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks, to his socca batter. I omitted these to make the recipe quicker, since I had seen socca recipes without eggs, and the pancakes were delicious.

Note re: chickpea flour:

I think chickpea flour will become one of my new favorite ingredients: it’s tasty, high in protein and iron (good for vegetarians), and it’s also gluten free (I’m not gluten-intolerant, but I sometimes cook for people who are, so it’s good to have some GF recipes up my sleeve). Surprisingly, it wasn’t available in the bulk section of my local (extremely well-stocked) food co-op, but I finally located it in the baking aisle. The kind I bought was made by Bob’s Red Mill. It can also be found in the bulk section of natural foods stores, or in bulk stores, or in grocery stores that carry South Asian/Indian foods.

The Recipe: Socca with Roasted Tomatoes, Swiss Chard, and Goat Feta

Ingredients

For the socca:
1 3/4 cups chickpea flour (see Note above)
2 cups water
pinch salt
1 teaspoon olive oil (for the batter)
canola oil for frying (or other neutral vegetable oil)

For the topping:
2 pints cherry tomatoes (2 small containers) – You could also use large tomatoes, cut in quarters. I used cherry tomatoes because I was making this in the winter, when cherry tomatoes have better flavor than other kinds, but I would make this with large tomatoes if they were in season.
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch fresh mint (about 1 cup, chopped)
1 bunch fresh basil (about 1 cup chopped)
1 large bunch swiss chard (about 6-8 cups, chopped roughly)
about 6 oz goat-milk feta – You could use sheep-milk feta or cow-milk feta but I like the flavor of goat-milk feta

Equipment note: You will need to use a frying pan to cook the pancakes, and the swiss chard. I used a large saute pan to cook the swiss chard, and a cast-iron frying pan to cook to the pancakes. If you don’t own two frying pans, cook the Swiss chard first, set it aside, and use the same pan to make the pancakes.

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut each cherry tomato in half and put the tomatoes in a baking dish (I used a ceramic casserole dish). Drizzle olive oil over top and season with salt and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and roast until they are starting to shrivel and release juice – about 30 minutes.

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They will look like this when they are done:

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Wash the swiss chard, and chop it roughly:
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Make the socca batter. Put the chickpea flour in a bowl and add water, oil and salt. Whisk until it reaches a smooth consistency. Leave the batter to sit for a few minutes, then whisk again and add a little water if it seems too stiff. It should be a thick, pourable batter, like pancake batter.

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Fry the swiss chard with a little olive oil until it is soft, but not mushy (about 10 minutes).

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While the Swiss chard is frying, make the socca pancakes. Heat a spoonful of oil in the frying pan, wait until it is hot, and pour in a large spoonful of the batter. I think I used about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Wait until bubbles appear on the top of the pancake, and the top of the pancake is no longer wet-looking and appears solid.

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Flip the pancake over, but don’t worry if it breaks – you will be eating this mixed up with the toppings anyways!

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While the pancakes are frying, chop the basil and mint, and set the table with bowls containing the herbs, feta (crumbled), swiss chard and roasted tomatoes.

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Everyone can help themselves to a pancake and top it with vegetables, herbs and cheese!

They know me too well

I had a fairly momentous birthday this month, which led to these wonderful sights:

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Flowers (delivered!), a giant pile of packages at the breakfast table, scrambled eggs for breakfast, and, on the left, a knitting-themed card and the latest installment in the series of book look-alike gifts from an enthusiastic user of the Royal Mail. Yes, folks, that is a box of hazelnut Bacio chocolates in a tin that looks like an early 20th-century Italian novel! Happy Birthday to me!

Recipe: Spicy September Noodles

We are drowning happily in good vegetables these days from our CSA membership to Harmony Valley Farm. I came up with this recipe to use up some veggies and I’m quite happy with it! It’s slightly reminiscent of pad thai, but less work and a bit lighter tasting. It’s slightly reminiscent of pad thai, but less work and a bit lighter tasting. I’ve called it “September Noodles” because eggplant, peppers, basil and cucumbers are all really amazing right now (and cheap!)

And yes, I do like spicy Asian eggplant dishes.

Ingredients:

1 asian eggplant (pale purple skin, long and skinny)
2 red bell peppers (I used about 8 miniature sweet peppers, which we get from the CSA)
one onion (I used a red onion)
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 package wide rice noodles (I used Thai Kitchen “stir-fry noodles”)
2 tbsp. San-J spicy Szechuan Sauce (for Canadian readers, this seems to be similar to PC Memories of Szechwan Spicy Peanut Sauce, but without the peanuts. Also, it’s not as good, let’s be frank. But us expats have to make do with what we have.)
1 tbsp. soy sauce
canola oil

to serve:
1 lime
1/2 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
small handful fresh basil
1 cucumber

Method

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices. Heat up about 2 tsp. oil in a cast-iron frying pan. Place eggplant slices in hot pan in one layer and cook on high heat until they are soft and slightly charred. This will take about 5 minutes per side. The smoke alarm may go off!

Boil water in a kettle. Place rice noodles in bowl, and pour boiling water over noodles. Let soak in hot water for 10 minutes, and then drain.

Cut onion in half, and then cut each half in thin slices. Cut the tofu into one inch cubes, slice the red peppers, and cut the cooked eggplant into one inch cubes.

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wok (we have a non-stick wok – if you don’t, you may need more oil). Add the onion slices and fry for one minute. Add the tofu, and fry until tofu is lightly browned and the onions are soft and beginning to caramelize. Use high heat and don’t stir too much – if you move the tofu around too much it will not brown as nicely. This will probably take 5-7 minutes.

While the onions and tofu are frying prepare the garnishes. Finely slice the basil, and cut the lime into wedges. Grind the peanuts into smallish “crumbs” using the food processor, or by putting them into a ziploc bag and smashing them with a rolling pin. Cut the cucumber into thirds, and then cut each third into slices, then cut each slice into strips.

Once the tofu is lightly browned, add the red pepper slices, and stir fry for about three minutes. Add the Szechwan sauce and soy sauce to the pan, along with about 1/4 cup water, and stir until the tofu is coated with sauce. Add the drained noodles, and stir-fry until the noodles are heated through, about 1 minute. Add more soy sauce to taste. Add fresh basil and stir to combine.

Serve in bowls with cucumber strips, peanuts and lime wedges.

In Arcadia

Twin Valley beach
Twin Valley Beach at Governor Dodge State Park, via wonder_al on Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of discovering a new bookstore, Arcadia Books, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. (Why yes, the URL for the store’s website IS readinutopia.com – they are obviously able to laugh at the fact that some parts of southern Wisconsin don’t really seem like the real world). We were in Spring Green looking for a place to eat lunch before we headed to Governor Dodge State Park to go to the beach. Our lunch was so-so (if you can call a swiss-cheddar-cheeseburger with fried onions on toast grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich so-so), but our visit to this bookstore certainly made up for it.

The first sign that Arcadia Books was my kind of place was evident when we first entered: they have a large range of children’s book-cover t-shirts from Out of Print Clothing hanging above the shelves in the children’s section. I’m a huge fan. There is also a nice little cafe in the store. After we had done our shopping, we enjoyed sitting down and drinking an iced cold-brew coffee. I have found that cold-brew coffee is much more common in Wisconsin than it was in Toronto when I was visiting this summer, so I was excited to share the joy with my sister, who was visiting. Try it yourself! It’s got a much better flavour (less bitter) than iced hot coffee.

And, what did we shop for? My sister was looking for some children’s books, being as its birthday season in my family. We had a great chat with the store manager, who obviously has a great knowledge of children’s books, and a great memory for titles! The selection of children’s books in the store, especially chapter books for ages 6-12, is one of the best I’ve seen. And I visit A LOT of bookstores! They had some old favourites, like The Great Brain and many many Tintin books, but I was mostly impressed by the great selection of children’s books I’ve never heard of, including many many series. Two that books that stood out were:

Shoeless Joe and Me, part of the Baseball Card Adventure Series of stories about kids and baseball heroes in historical context, and

The Mysterious Benedict Society, the first in a series about four kids who answer an ad in a newspaper asking “Are you a gifted child looking for new opportunities?”

As everyone who was a voracious reader as a child knows that as soon as a kid finishes one book, he or she is bound to ask “What’s next??”. The store manager not only knew which series were likely to be attractive to kids of a certain age, he also knew which books came first in each series, and which books they had in stock for each series. Excellent!

We also received several recommendations for adult books, and my sister picked up a copy of The Night Circus. I had the chance to look at their great selection of NYRB Classics, a reprint series from the New York Review of Books which I had never seen “in person” before. They are very aesthetically pleasing but somewhat daunting. I’m not sure I’m ever going to pick up my own NYRB classics edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton – only 1392 pages of light reading! The store also keeps on hand a full set of all the plays being performed during the current season at American Players Theater in Spring Green, and, as one might expect, has a large number of books on Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived at nearby Taliesin.

Me, I opted for some beach reading, and picked up a copy of F in Exams: the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers. I had browsed through this book earlier in the summer in a bookstore in Toronto, and I had been kicking myself for not buying it. I was not disappointed, and I sat in the cafe at Arcadia Books and laughed so hard at this book that I started crying.

I’ll definitely be back to Arcadia Books!

 

Home again, home again

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(thanks, Willy St. Co-op Facebook feed, for this cartoon)

3 things that are making me happy these days (besides the summer produce taking over my fridge) . . .

1. Returning to my home library, and the “place hold” button
After a fairly monogamous summer vacation, reading-wise, of devouring A Suitable Boy, I had lots of fun picking out my reading matter for the rest of August, using that ever-so-satisfying (and economical too!) “place hold” button. On hold, or already borrowed right now, are

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Ruby Programming for the Absolute Beginner, Jerry Lee Ford
Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Head First Excel, by Michael Milton
“Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Are You My Mother, by Alison Bechdel
Head First PHP and MySQL
Canada, by Richard Ford
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs

(I’ve linked these to WorldCat so you can see if they are your local library – just enter your location at the top of the results list to find the copies nearest you)

2. Friends working on cool projects
A friend of mine just made me aware of an interesting project she’s working on: Marine Lives . The project team will be transcribing 17th century documents about life at sea from the High Court of Admiralty in the UK, which tell us, among other things, just what to do with a drunken sailor. I find this type of project really interesting: it appeals to both the “treasure hunter aspect” of my intellectual interests and to my desire to engage in certain kinds of more repetitive work. Transcribing, like making bibliographies, or coding html pages, or even taking notes, casts me into a satisfying trance-like state of focused relaxation, much like knitting does. If you want to know more about these kind of projects, I recommend this article on Galazy Zoo and the New Dawn of Citizen Science, which appeared in The Observer earlier this year.

Pssst, Marine Lives is looking for volunteers to start training next week for 50 hours of transcribing documents and learning about 17th century seafaring! Anyone interested in history can do it, from Grade 12 students on up!

3. Speaking of trance-like knitting

I’m also excited to be making some plans for knitting for the fall, as, if you can’t tell from my reading list, I’ve got quite a bit of free time and I can’t spend all of it learning new computer skills and cooking Chinese food! In addition to knitting several pairs of baby booties for the offspring of friends and family (these ones? or these ones?), I think I might jump on the short-row stripes bandwagon and attempt a Stripe Study Shawl, using some lovely red and cream yarn my parents brought me back from Copenhagen (oooh la la!), or, I’ll try and get better at doing cables and make a Sagano Shawl using some firecracker-coloured sock yarn I got recently in a swap.

(PS, do my non-knitting readers find, like my husband, that when I talk about knitting all you hear is the sound that the adults made in the Peanuts cartoons?)

The ten longest novels ever written?

I finished A Suitable Boy! Yes folks, I read 1474 pages in 5 weeks. I love summer.

Which brings me to this (unscientific, but seemingly reputable) list of the ten longest novels ever written, compiled by an Amazon customer. How many of them have you read? In addition to A Suitable Boy , which is number seven on this list, I’ve only read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which is number ten on this list. Could it be a coincidence that I also read this enormous tome on a summer holiday? I think not! My sister, it should be said, also happens to be tackling another big one on this list right now – Les Miserables – and the only time I ever tried (and failed) to get into War and Peace , it was also summertime.

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into David Foster Wallace’s crazy world of insidious entertainment, drug addiction, obsessive tennis and Quebecois terrorists who speak inexplicably bad French, here’s a good starter guide to reading Infinite Jest. In my case, my reading of Infinite Jest was greatly encouraged by the fact that I started it while I was in Europe on holiday with my (now) husband, and I read most of it during two weeks in Budapest, while my husband was at a summer course. Once you’ve seen many of the sites in Budapest, which are lovely, it is a sad fact that you can get a little lonely, surrounded by people who speak Hungarian, also known as “the least accessible language in the world for foreigners who don’t happen to be Finns.” Budapest does, however, contain a number of parks with excellent swimming pools, many of which are equipped with ice cream stands, beer gardens, and best of all, places that sell the excellent savoury doughnuts called Lángos. I don’t think it’s essential to eat fried dough covered in cheese and cream in order have the energy to wade through Infinite Jest , but it certainly helped!

And so, in memory of another big book read in summer, a few photos of Margaret Island in Budapest, where I read many, many pages:

Margaret Island, Budapest, ruins

Margaret Island, Budapest, food stand

Margaret Island, Budapest