Gluten-free Brie en Croûte

They say that secret to a happy marriage is a deaf husband and a blind wife. Mr. Photographer has suffered from selective deafness for years, just like any other man on this planet… and come to think of it, suffer is probably a bit strong of a word to use in this context – he’s perfectly content living with this condition; it’s me and millions of other wives around the world that suffer! So the male deafness part has been taken care of, now we just needed to deal with the sight in his wife to achieve that promised marital bliss. You see, I see everything. Everywhere. And what’s more, feel the need to comment on everything I see, which results in a near constant stream of words coming out of my mouth. Did you…? Have you had a chance to…? Can you do it now? I mean, I’d gladly see less; when I’m home, I actually quite often take off my glasses for just this purpose – as long as I don’t see the dust bunnies, cluttered desk, or unkempt yard, I’m fine. If I see, I talk. And delegate. I mean, I’d gladly talk less if it didn’t feel like our household and life in general would fall apart without all my monitoring questions and reminders! Men call it N-agging. We call it N-ecessity.

I’m not sure if God intended to make me blind to match my selectively deaf husband to let us experience a spousal happiness together, and simply made a mistake and confused the body parts he planned to work on. (Hey, even experts make mistakes sometimes!) It’s also possible he knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to help me not to feel like a broken record for once, or help Mr. Photographer and his sons to catch a break from the (necessary) nagging. Whatever the reason… instead of poking my eye out, he just took my voice away. He was thoroughly thorough however – it wasn’t like I just suddenly couldn’t sing in the shower or raise my voice to get the attention of a headphones wearing teen. No. I woke up, opened my mouth, and instead of good morning out came nothing. Not even a peep.

And it stayed that way for three whole days.

It was funny. My men were hollering their questions at me from upstairs, repeating them two or three times before they remembered “Oh, she lost her voice!” and realized they would have to find me if the answer was really so important. It brought us closer – quite literally, because to hear me at all they needed to be glued to me, reading from my lips. (How’s that for the undivided attention and visual contact we ladies crave so much? Score!) I think we all enjoyed our little break, each for a different reason, but felt relieved when the voice ever so slowly started coming back. I’m still nowhere close to my usual yelling ability level, but I’m getting there! 🙂

Luckily, the non-talking stint didn’t interfere with my baking, unlike the loss of vision would, and for that I’m super grateful! And since I couldn’t tell Mr. Photographer I loved him, I decided to step into the kitchen to let him know that 🙂 He’s been talking nostalgically about the baked brie appetizer he used to love in his long gone gluten-full days. One of these days I plan to attempt gluten-free puff pastry… but for now I went with something simpler – a buttery pastry dough enriched with sour cream. Adding sour cream to any pastry (gluten – free or gluten – full) is always a great idea, as it makes the pastry wonderfully tender. The process is relatively easy and quick; the only thing to remember when making the dough is to keep the butter very cold. When the dough is ready, the whole thing comes together in a snap, and after 20 minutes out of the oven emerges a gooey goodness enclosed in golden pastry crust. As we’re scooping up the melty cheese with crackers and sipping wine, I’m here to tell you that achieving marital bliss is obviously easier than one would think – no tinkering with sight or hearing of the involved parties necessary!

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Gluten-free Brie en Croûte

(adapted from http://www.glutenfreeonashoestring.com)

Sour Cream Pastry Dough:
  • 1 ½ cups (210 g) good quality gluten-free flour mix
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix contains it already)
  • 6 tablespoons (84 g) very cold, unsalted butter; diced
  • ½ cup (120 g) full-fat sour cream
  • icy cold water, only if needed

+ 8 oz. (225 g) Brie wheel, about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter
optional: preserves, chopped nuts, honey, dried apricots, etc.
1 egg yolk mixed with little water – for egg wash

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Method:
  1. Place the flour, salt, xanthan gum, and baking powder in a bowl of your food processor. Add in the cold diced butter and pulse to coat the butter with flour. Add the sour cream and pulse again, just until the dough comes together somewhat (it will look shaggy). If it’s too crumbly, add in some icy water by the teaspoon – only if necessary. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.
  2. On a work surface covered with parchment, roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Fold the dough over itself into thirds as if folding a letter. Chill for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn the dough and roll it out again (sprinkle the parchment paper with some flour, if the dough begins to stick, but it’s chilled, so it shouldn’t stick much). Fold it into thirds again, and return it to the fridge for 10 minutes.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Roll/fold the dough one last time, and divide it into two equal parts.
  5. Roll out one half into a circle about 3/8 inch thick and 8-inch  (20 cm) in diameter. Place the circle onto the lined baking sheet and chill while rolling out the second half of the dough into circle. (The circles don’t have to be perfect; you’ll be trimming them later.) Chill the second circle as well.
  6. With a sharp knife, cut off the top rind of the cheese wheel. Place the cheese onto the circle on the baking sheet. Brush the edges of the dough around the cheese with the egg wash.
  7. Cover the cheese with the second rolled out circle of dough, pressing around the cheese to enclose it. Trim the dough if necessary. Brush the entire pastry with egg wash again. Re-roll the scraps of dough and cut out decorations to place on top of the pastry or make a couple of crackers to bake later.
  8. Chill the pastry for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  9. Give the pastry another coat of egg wash if desired. Bake for about 30 minutes until nice golden brown. Let cool for about 30 minutes before serving with crackers, sliced apples, and wine.
  10. (You can make the pastry in advance up to point 7; omit the egg wash and freeze, tightly wrapped. Let the pastry come to room temp before baking, give it a coat of egg wash, and bake.)
Note:

Variation: Spread the cheese with preserves and sprinkle some nuts on top before enclosing it in the pastry. Alternatively, you can drizzle the cheese with honey and sprinkle it with dried fruit.

If making crackers from the dough scraps, brush them with egg wash, sprinkle with coarse salt and/or seeds, and bake at 375 °F (190 °C) for about 10 – 12 minutes.

 

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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

Easter is coming really early this year. The spring is playing with us in our neck of the woods – it teases us with blooming trees and sun here and there, and just when I’m ready to let out a sigh of a relief that the winter is finally over, we get slammed with two major windstorms within three days. And let’s not even get into the subject of spring cleaning. I know it should be done, I heard it can be very cathartic… I may even find some things I’ve been looking for all around the house for months. But just when I muster up the courage to tackle those windows, I remember my poor back, and the courage dissipates within seconds. I wish at least one of my personalities would like to clean, but alas, I haven’t had that luck. I take some comfort in the fact that the Easter Bunny is a male, and judging by the three male specimens I’ve had the opportunity to observe, they don’t see dust until it’s a layer one inch thick. We haven’t reached that stage yet, so I don’t think the Easter Bunny will mind enough to refuse to visit. Quite the contrary, I’m convinced he’ll come hopping whether we’re ready or not, and will try his best to kill us by cholesterol overdose as he does every year.

Unlike many other Easter traditions from back home that I’m not too fond of (how would you like to get whipped, albeit lovingly, just *a little*, and with the promise of great health and outstanding beauty next year, just because it’s Easter and you were born with a wrong chromosome?!), I actually like egg decorating. The thing is I always end up with way too many eggs to know what to do with, and after five days of eating hard boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner my men are ready to start throwing them at me, or maybe even to become vegans if it means to never see eggs again.

But now we’re just starting out, and I see lots of deviled eggs, eggs on toast, and eggs in casseroles in our near future. Blue eggs, green eggs, red eggs; organic eggs, free-range eggs, omega-3 enriched eggs; whole eggs, sliced eggs, chopped eggs. So to start out the season right, and to make the Easter Bunny feel welcome, I made him these nice little carrots, filled with – wait for it – curried egg salad! I got the idea when I was making the sweet cream rolls some time ago. Those were made with puff pastry, and if you don’t feel like making yeast dough or simply don’t have the time, you could use puff pastry here too. I just wanted something a little more substantial and “bready” to accompany the salad, and I’m glad I went with yeast dough. The carrots emerged a little crunchy from the oven, but then softened some under the egg salad, and I liked the combo very much. It’s a wonderful finger food for lazy people who don’t want to bother with slicing bread for sandwiches 🙂 I think they turned out pretty cute, and would be a nice addition to your Easter table menu!

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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

 Yeast Dough Carrots:
  • 500 g (1 lb.) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 300 ml (10 oz.) lukewarm milk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 2 ½ teaspoons dry yeast

+ carrot juice mixed with tomato paste – for brushing the carrots; egg white for egg wash

Curried Egg Salad:
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • salt & pepper to taste

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Method:
  1. To make the dough, combine the milk with the sugar and yeast; set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place flour, salt, egg yolks, and oil in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, pour it to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. With a mixer on low speed, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic. (If the dough is too dry, add in couple of tablespoons milk/water; if it’s too wet, add in some additional flour to achieve the right consistency. The dough should be soft, but firm.) Let the dough rise in a warm spot, covered, until it doubles in volume, about 50 minutes.
  3. Mix ¼ cup freshly squeezed carrot juice with 2 tablespoons tomato paste (use more or less till you like the color). Set aside – this will be your glaze for the carrots. Lightly butter and flour the cream horn molds. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Roll the dough out quite thinly and then cut it into long thin strips, or roll them into thin ropes – mine were about 4 mm wide. Wrap the dough firmly around the molds. Place the mold upright and glaze the dough from all sides with the tomato – carrot mixture. You can add a coat off egg white to make the carrots shiny if you wish. Place the molds onto the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake the carrots for about 15 minutes until golden brown; let them cool for a while, take them off the molds, and let them cool completely.
  6. For the egg salad, mash up the eggs with a fork or chop them finely. Place them in a bowl with chopped pepper, celery, scallions, and garlic. Mix the rest of the ingredients into a dressing and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl. Chill.
  7. Fill the carrots with the salad; decorate with dill or fresh parsley leaves and serve.

Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

There are three things I can’t imagine my domestic goddess career without: Vitamix blender, a big enough food processor, and a strong stand mixer. In my book, they’re like the holy trinity of kitchen gadgets and I have an undying love for each one of them. Having said that, last Monday was a sad, sad day: My beloved KitchenAid, a trusty companion and mighty helper quite unexpectedly bit the dust. I put it on my Christmas list some ten years ago and it proved to be a true workhorse: it never let me down, managed to keep up with my crazy pace of one loaf plus some muffins (or rolls, or pasta) a day and did everything I asked for without a single glitch.

But then the fateful Monday came: out of the blue it breathed its last and left me to my destiny – with sticky hands, counters covered in flour and a sourdough starter bubbling away by the fireplace, ready to make some bread. Mr. Photographer took one glance at my sad puppy face and bless his heart, didn’t hesitate one second. He knows too well that a PMS-stricken woman that can’t calm her all-over-the-place emotions by much needed baking is nothing but bad news and presents a potential threat for the entire family, so he told me to promptly go order a new one and pay for express shipping. What can I say – I married a wise man 🙂

Thirty six hours later (not that I was counting!) my late KitchenAid’s red-colored cousin arrived to my doorstep and I’ve been a happy camper ever since. And this weekend the cheerful newcomer helped me to bring forth some homemade happiness: Slovak crescent rolls to accompany a traditional cod fish salad. Cod fish salad, with finely chopped onions, crunchy carrots, and loads of mayo, most often wolfed down with crispy crescents is a Slovak man’s food, and any guy back home could easily live on it for months on end, especially if he has some cold beer to wash it down with. The homemade version is million times better than the salad sold at delis and grocery stores, of course, and the crescents – crispy from the outside and soft and chewy on the inside – are a must; they round up the whole meal very nicely. The salad needs to be made a day before, so the flavors have time to marry… and the crescents are best fresh, straight from the oven 🙂 Please give this simple meal a try when you’ll be feeling adventurous and will want to branch out a little from the usual tuna salad sandwich!

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Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

(crescent recipe adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk; recipe makes about 1 kg (2 lbs.) cod salad and 8 big crescent rolls)

Cod Salad:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh cod fillet
  • 3 l (qt.) water
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) + 5 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 big carrots
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • approximately 250 g (1/2 lb) good quality mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
  • 3 tablespoons mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
Crispy Crescents:
  • 450 g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) milk, lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • coarse salt & caraway seeds, for sprinkling
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Method:
  1. For the cod salad: Place 3 l (qt.) water with 1 cup vinegar into a deeper saucepan; add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add in the cod fillets and continue to simmer for 10 additional minutes.
  2. While the fish is cooking, peel the carrots. Set aside.
  3. With a slotted spoon, take out the cooked fish from the water; set aside to cool. Place two whole carrots into the same vinegar water, and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until still crunchy.
  4. Grate/finely chop the carrots into a big bowl. With a fork, tear the cooled fish meat into small pieces and add it to the carrots together with finely chopped onion.
  5. The quantities of the remaining ingredients are approximate; add as much mayo as to make a moist salad, and salt/pepper/vinegar to taste. Cover and let the salad rest in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
  6. For the crescents, combine yeast with lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon sugar; set aside for 10 minutes to let the yeast “bloom”.  Place flour, oil, honey, and salt into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook.
  7. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix/knead the dough until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple tablespoons milk/water – 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in some additional flour. (Mine was a little dry and I added in about a tablespoon of sour cream that needed to be used up).
  8. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 50 – 60 minutes. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
  9. When the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a big wooden block (I didn’t even have to flour the board, the dough was very easy to work with.) Divide the dough into smaller balls, depending on how many/how big crescents you’d like to make – I  weighed it and divided it into 130 g (4.5 oz.) portions.
  10. Working with one portion at a time and keeping the rest of the dough balls covered, roll out each ball into an oval. Don’t roll out all the way, and keep one end of the oval thicker. Starting from the thicker end, start rolling the oval into a crescent, pulling the opposite end away to elongate the oval as much as possible without tearing it. Roll the crescents fairly thin (about 3 cm, a little over 1 inch and 15 cm, 6 inches long) – they will rise substantially during their second rise and while in the oven; making them longer and thinner is better. Place the crescent onto the parchment lined pan and continue making the crescents the same way.
  11. Cover the crescents with a clean dishtowel and let them rise the second time for about 15 minutes while preheating the oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Brush the crescents with egg wash and sprinkle them with coarse salt and seeds. Bake for about 15 – 17 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the crescents to a cooling rack to cool (and try not to eat them all while they’re still hot and crackly 🙂

 

Gluten-free Potato Lefse (Bezlepkové zemiakové lokše)

Despite the uber-positive and uplifting post I was going for last week I have to confess the holiday craziness caught up with me after all. I was so determined not to succumb to the shopping/cleaning/wrapping insanity this year and most of all to preserve peace among our little tribe… but unfortunately I only partially succeeded. No, I didn’t join the ranks of last-minute shoppers ramming into each other in the crowded lit up shopping malls, and the Lord knows my bathrooms could still use a good scrub down. But I have to say the peace preservation part proved to be a little tricky. Even without squirreling needless stuff to wrap and with a strong resolve not to run circles with the vacuum there is always lots that still needs to be done this time of year. Add to it loads of mixed Christmas emotions and yearning to hug all the people close to my heart that are far away, and you’ve got a pot that’s ready to boil over any minute.

I think holidays are just hard – for the kids who live for weeks in anticipation of the magical Christmas moment, as well as for mothers who want so desperately to make the magic happen for those around them. (Fathers are somehow exempt from this pre-holiday pressure it seems.) The days leading to Christmas morning feel just like an amusement park train ride. The train, i.e. Mother is slowly and painfully climbing uphill: cooking the elaborate four-course menu (because it’s traditional, and keeping traditions alive is important!); wrapping cookies to share with the neighbors (what, you want to tell me being on good terms with neighbors isn’t?!); mailing out last-minute holiday cards (wishing everybody love and peace she would give her right arm for); plus doing all the ordinary stuff like laundry and bills (because neither can be put on hold and both just keep piling up, as if they didn’t know it’s Christmas time, darn it!). While stirring and whipping, Mother – the huffing and puffing amusement park Locomotive is already thinking about what needs to be scrubbed or washed or folded or mixed in where. And in the back of her mind looms this huge exclamation mark: Whatever spills/burns/doesn’t go according to the plan, please just keep keeping on. And whatever it takes, don’t yell, do you hear me? For Pete’s sake, just don’t start yapping at anybody. You know Christmas is supposed to be magical! Do you want to be the one that kills the Christmas magic? Huh? See, I didn’t think so!

And so the motherly locomotive groans and creaks while inching upward to the top, the high pinnacle all her efforts were oriented to: the festive dinner by the candlelight, happy smiles under the tree, and fleeting moments of sibling harmony. From there it only takes seconds till the train plummets back down to the starting station and Christmas is over. Scraps of wrapping paper are strewn all around the room, the kids can start fighting over the gifts, and Mother can finally pull the emergency brake and put her feet up. I confess I love the post-Christmas time. Since I can never properly judge how much food I’ll need, I always make about five times more we’re able to put away; our refrigerator shelves are subsequently bending under all the stuff, and I don’t have to lift a finger for three days straight. For me Christmas starts on the 25th 😉

Today I present you a snippet of our post-Christmas feast assortment. In Slovakia Christmas celebrations last three days, and on the third day – Feast of St. Stephen – folks traditionally roast a goose and serve it with braised cabbage and either yeast dumplings or these potato flatbreads that are very similar to Scandinavian lefse. I roasted a duck instead of goose, and quite successfully attempted to de-glutenize potato lefse. I already mentioned a couple of times that the dough made with gluten-free flour is usually very hard to roll out, but in this case the potatoes together with a little powdered gelatin helped it to stick together much better. Another big help in the process proved to be cast iron tortilla press. With that little gadget I simply pressed small balls of potato dough between two floured sides of a cut ziploc bag, and voila – in an instant I had these thin and uniform little flatbreads. They are smaller than both the original Scandinavian lefse and their Slovak version, but since I didn’t have to slave over them with a rolling pin and they taste just the same, I don’t care one bit. Lefse are very versatile and can be eaten savory or sweet, and you can also very easily freeze them.

Happy Post-Christmas do nothing, everybody 🙂

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Gluten-free Potato Lefse (Bezlepkové zemiakové lokše)

  • 700-750 g (about 25 oz.) cooked potatoes, cooled down & riced (See Note)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g (7 oz., 1 ½ cup) all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 2 teaspoons xanthan gum (if your flour mix contains gums already, reduce the xanthan gum to 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon Knox powdered gelatin
  • 1 egg (about ¼ cup), beaten
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if making lefse as a savory side dish, add ¼ teaspoon salt more)

+ 1 gallon size Ziploc bag
– more gluten-free flour for flouring the Ziploc bag
– butter or duck/goose fat to coat the hot lefse

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Method:
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl of our stand mixer fitted with a hook. With a mixer on medium speed, combine everything together into a soft dough.
  2. Divide the potato dough into small balls, about 60 g (2 oz.) each. Cut off the top of a large Ziploc bag, and then cut it down the sides to open it up completely.
  3. Making the lefse: Heat up an ungreased non-stick pan over a medium heat. Place the open Ziploc bag into the tortilla press, so that one side covers the top and the other one covers the bottom plate. Flour the plastic lightly with all-purpose flour. Place one ball of potato dough between two layers of plastic and press it down with the handle to make a thin (2 mm) pancake that’s about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.
  4. Carefully remove the top layer of plastic, taking care not to tear the lefse. Invert the lefse onto your left hand and peel off the bottom Ziploc layer. Place the lefse on a preheated non-stick pan and cook until browned in specks on the bottom, about 1 – 1½ minutes. Turn over and cook the other side. Remove the lefse on a plate and grease it with a bit of butter/duck fat. Dust off the flour that remained in the pan and continue making the lefse in the same way, laying them on top of each other on a plate.
  5. Serve the lefse rolled up with your favorite jam, sprinkled with powdered sugar, filled with duck liver pate as an appetizer, or as a savory side dish to accompany roasted duck and braised cabbage.
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Note:

Use either russets or yellow potatoes for the dough. The potatoes need to be very cold before ricing – it is best to cook them the night before and chill them in the refrigerator. If you don’t have a potato ricer (I don’t either), you can grate the potatoes on a small-opening side of a box grater. When you mix up the potato dough and roll the balls, it is best to try to work quickly, because the potato dough gets more and more sticky with time and it’s therefore harder to work with.

 

Tapioca Cheese Wraps

I’ve been baking gluten – free for quite some time now, but compared to years and years of regular baking I still consider myself a newbie in this area. Gluten – free baking gives me an opportunity to learn, try out new recipes, methods, and flour combinations, which I like. I’d even say gluten – free baking is somehow more interesting to me than regular baking – there is this sense of uncertainty and anticipation I rarely have when baking wheat – based goodies anymore, and I love it. Gluten – free baking keeps me on my toes constantly. I still can’t be sure how a new recipe for bread will turn out, so I sheepishly put it in the oven and then keep peeking through the steamed – up oven window what is it doing in there. I haven’t had to throw out anything in a long time, which is good, because gluten – free flours aren’t exactly cheap. Nevertheless, some of the goodies have been better than others, and it’s still very much a learning experience for me. When the effort turns out to be a success, it makes me very happy, much more so than when I pull out (yet another) wheat cake from the oven. And these wraps I’d definitely call a success – when I took the first one off the griddle, I actually did a little happy dance in the kitchen!

I realize that for someone who isn’t gluten – challenged it might seem silly. Everybody knows there are all kinds of wraps at every corner in every supermarket. You might think I haven’t accomplished anything dance – worthy and that I should just get a life. But if you think so, you probably haven’t had a chance to taste any store – bought gluten – free wraps. They do exist, of course, made of brown rice or other gluten – free grains, but we’ve tried couple of them and decided not to bother. To me, wrap is something you can actually, you know, wrap around other ingredients, but these wraps were bland, and so tough and stiff that even warmed up, you were lucky if you’ve managed to fold one over without breaking it.

Not the case with these babies! Looking at them, they kind of remind me of potato lefse, with their brown speckles scattered all over… but there are no potatoes in them, just loads and loads of cheese. The recipe is similar to Brazilian Cheese Puffs, but has even fewer ingredients. The cheese is what makes them super flexible, so you can roll, roll, roll your wrap and don’t even have to be that gentle about it! My men wolfed them down with just some ham and cheese rolled in, and gave them a thumbs up. They work well as an alternative to sandwiches, but with their superb rolling capacity, I see many possibilities in our future: quesadillas, hummus and veggie wraps, even various meat and veggie fillings tucked in. It is without a doubt my new favorite gluten – free recipe!

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Tapioca Cheese Wraps (makes 10 wraps)

(adapted from http://www.glutenfreeonashoestring.com)

  • 1 cup (250 ml, 8 oz.) whole milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups (300 g, 10.5 oz.) tapioca starch/flour
  • 3 tablespoons (42 g, 1.5 oz.) mild tasting oil (I used mild tasting olive oil)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 200 g (7 oz.) grated cheese (the original recipe called for part-skim mozzarella; I used medium cheddar)
  • 55 g (2oz.) grated Parmesan cheese

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Method:
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and salt to a simmer. Remove from heat and immediately mix in all the tapioca flour and oil. The mixture will look “shaggy” and you won’t be able to make it uniform; but that’s ok. Let it cool for about 15 minutes before proceeding.
  2. Transfer the tapioca mixture in a bowl of the food processor fitted with an S – blade. Pulse couple of times to smooth out the dough. Add the egg and mix to combine. The dough will be very stretchy. Add both cheeses and let the machine work to smooth it out (about 1 minute).
  3. With a wet spatula, remove the dough from the food processor. Divide it into two equal parts and wrap each one in a saran wrap. Place the dough balls into the freezer for 30 minutes or chill them in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (up to overnight).
  4. Unwrap one dough ball, place it on a work surface sprinkled with more tapioca starch or gluten – free flour, and divide it into five pieces (each about 3 oz., or 85 g). Dust the dough with more tapioca, and roll it out into an 8 inch (20 cm) circle. (When rolling, move the dough often, and sprinkle it liberally with tapioca or gluten – free flour to prevent sticking.)
  5. Heat a 10 inch (25 cm) non-stick skillet over a medium heat. Place the rolled-out wrap onto the hot skillet and cook for about 2 – 2½ minutes, until one side is cooked and the wrap can be moved easily with a spatula. Flip the wrap and press it down with the spatula. Cook for another 40 – 50 seconds. Remove the wrap onto a plate and cover it with a moist dish towel. Make the other four wraps in the same way, and stack them up under the towel. Repeat the same process with the other cheese dough ball.
  6. Serve immediately, or wrap the wraps in a saran wrap/Ziploc bag and store them in the fridge for up to a week. To warm them up, place them onto a preheated skillet for a minute, or just nuke the in a microwave until they’re soft and pliable again.

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Note:

The original recipe says to only use tapioca starch from one specific manufacturer, and specifically warns NOT TO USE tapioca from Asian food stores, because the recipe won’t work. I only buy tapioca at Asian food store ($ .79 versus $4 is a big difference!) and I’m happy to report their tapioca flour worked just fine and the wraps were easy to roll out. If you are just starting your gluten – free journey and you’re suffering from a sticker shock looking at the price of gluten – free flours, please check out your local Asian/Indian food stores! They often carry many different gluten – free flours/starches at a fraction of a price of your regular grocery/health food store. But be careful and always check where/how the flours were made to avoid cross – contamination. That way both your tummy and your wallet will be happy 🙂

Brazilian Cheese Puffs

This weekend we celebrate motherhood – the hardest and most rewarding job there is. I skip through snippets of memories tucked in the back of my mind over the years. First tooth. First words. First steps. Cute little presents made by the tiny hands, such as this pink birthday card with a picture of a pig in the front, signed in big shaky letters: Love, Daniel. I still have it, and I still don’t have the slightest idea what the darn pig was doing there, but I’ve decided to take it as a compliment. Pigs are very smart animals, after all.

I remember laughs and tears, and lots and lots of learning. Learning to hold, learning to let go. Learning to hold back when you ask them for a little more respect and they tell you with an arrogant teenage eye roll: “So you gave birth to me. So what? Big deal.” (For the record, said son is still alive. I still love him and he now claims he doesn’t remember any verbal squabble in which he’d utter a similar statement, and swears he’d never dream of saying something like that to his Mother).

Yes, we give birth to them. And then find out we can go three days and three nights in a row without any real sleep to speak of. We can answer hundred whys in an hour. We can live through a half an hour long bus ride all smelly and covered in vomit, because the rickety ride made the munchkin sick, so he barfed all over you, himself, and his stroller. We can read the same story about a little mole over and over again, until hordes of fat black rodents haunt us in our dreams.

Yes, we can.

It’s funny. When you’re in the midst of it, the days can seem endless. You count minutes till bedtime, convinced you really won’t make it this time. And then suddenly they’re taller than you, and you’re wondering where the hell has the time go. You see the awesome people they’re becoming – in part thanks to you and in part despite everything you’ve managed to mess up as a parent, and you know without a shadow of a doubt It’s been all worth it, and you’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Barf and all.

So here’s to motherhood. A wonderful experience, powered by love, coffee, and wine. But mostly love.

Cheese puffs

Brazilian Cheese Puffs

(recipe makes about 25 puffs)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup mild tasting oil (or butter)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 oz. ( 280 g) tapioca flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1½ cups (6 oz.) parmesan cheese (or any other cheese, grated)
Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 °F (230 °C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk with oil (butter) until very hot but not boiling; take off the heat.
  3. Transfer the hot milk/oil in a bowl of your food processor or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add all the tapioca to the milk/butter mixture; stir until well combined. The mixture should be thick, smooth, and gelatinous. Let the mixture cool until lukewarm.
  4. Gradually add eggs to the lukewarm mixture, mixing well after each addition.
  5. Lastly, beat in the cheese. The mixture will be very soft, almost like a cake batter.
  6. With a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, portion out rounded mounds on a parchment lined sheets, spacing them at least an inch apart.
  7. Put the baking sheets into the oven, and immediately turn down the temp to 350 °F ( 175 °C). Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the puffs are dry on the outside and are nice golden brown.
  8. Let cool slightly and serve with wine.

Cheese puffs 2

These little cheese puffs are a must for those “it’s wine o’clock” moments. They’re similar to French Gougères, but better, because unlike their French counterparts, these little munchies are made with gluten-free tapioca flour, which means even folks with allergies, such as Mr. Photographer can have them. We all know the wining moments don’t apply only to Mothers. Sometimes it’s just better for any parent to pour himself/herself a glass, and shove a cheese puff in his/her mouth, before yelling out saying something that he/she wouldn’t be proud of five minutes later. These little balls are best steaming hot from the oven, when they’re crispy on the outside, and soft and gooey on the inside. But they also freeze really well, which means you can (and should!) always have a first aid in the form of bottle of wine and some cheese balls at home!

Cheese Puffs 3

Traditional pierogi with bryndza sheep cheese

Food doesn’t play just a practical role of feeding and building up our bodies. As it happens, very often we turn to it to seek comfort as well. Even though we may not always like it, food and emotions are closely intertwined, and you find this to be even more true when you live abroad. Many times I am so homesick I (could) cry, and I want nothing more than to hop on a plane right now to go hug the people I left on the other side of the world, visit familiar places, and eat the food I grew up with. But since I live in the real world, and don’t have thousands of dollars to offer to the airlines every month, what’s a girl to do? I walk into the kitchen and whip up some real Slovak food. I sit down at the table with my three Slovak men, we eat and laugh, and I feel somewhat better. Never underestimate the therapeutic potential of a good grub.

Pierogi (pirohy in Slovak) are crescent-shaped dumplings of unleavened dough, stuffed with various sweet and savory fillings. They are popular all over the Central and Eastern Europe and can be boiled, baked or even fried. The form pirohy is plural; the singular piroh is rarely used, since the meal consists of several pieces, and you’d never be able to eat just one 🙂 This savory version is filled with typical Slovak sheep cheese called bryndza, and topped with fried bacon, onion, and sour cream. It is a traditional Slovak dish,  and along with a similar dish of small gnocchi mixed with bryndza, is served in pretty much every Slovak restaurant. Finding bryndza in my neck of the woods can be somewhat of a challenge, though. Some Russian stores might carry it from time to time, but it’s not a regular thing, and since I can’t keep sheep in my backyard, I – again – had to adapt. (It seems the life of an expat is all about adapting, all the time!) Lucky for me, the crumbly and tangy bryndza is rather similar to Greek feta, which is readily available at stores around here, and when I mix in a little sour cream to make it creamier, the taste is pretty close. The dough for pierogi is pretty simple and consists of only flour, water, egg, some grated cooked potato and salt. It is rolled thin and cut into circles. The filling of bryndza, potato, and chopped dill is placed in the center, and the dough is folded over to form little crescents. The pierogi are then  boiled in salted water, drained, and topped with bacon and onion. They’re best served right away, still piping hot.

Cooking well doesn’t always mean cooking fancy, and sometimes the best eats are quite simple. A plate of pierogi is a great example of that. So please, gather some friends and cook, and then go on and indulge. Smother those babies in (full fat) sour cream, and don’t forget to fry up some bacon! Life is short, and sharing delicious food with those you love is one of its very best experiences. Because really, food isn’t just a mere fuel to keep us going. Made and shared with love, it feeds our soul.

Pierogi

 Traditional pierogi with sheep cheese

Dough for pierogi:
  • 150 g (5.5 oz.) yellow potatoes, boiled in their skin, then peeled and chilled
  • 500 g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ – 2/3 cups hot water, as needed
Filling:
  • 400 g (14 oz.) yellow potatoes, boiled in their skin, then peeled and chilled
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) bryndza or crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 – 2 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
Method:
  1. To make the dough: Grate the potatoes, or run them through a potato ricer directly into a big bowl. Add in all other ingredients for the dough except water. Gradually add hot water until the ingredients start to form a ball. Knead the dough, until it changes from rough and floury to smooth and silky. (Alternatively, you can make the dough in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.)
  2. To make the filling: In a food processor, combine all the ingredients to make a uniform mixture. Chill the filling while you prepare the pierogi.
  3. Divide your dough ball in half and keep one half covered while you work on the first batch. On a floured surface, roll the dough thin (1/8 – 1/10 inch, 2 – 3 mm). With a biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out small circles (I used a glass with 8cm or 3.5 inch diameter). Sprinkle more flour on the work surface as needed to keep the circles from sticking (the potato dough becomes more sticky with time). Re-roll the remaining dough to make more circles.
  4. Place about ¾ tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle, and moisten the edges with water.  Fold the circle in half to make a crescent, press the edges with a fork to seal.
  5. In the same way, make the pierogi from the other half of the dough.
  6. In a big pot bring water with a tablespoon of salt to a boil. Working in batches, add about 10 pieces of pierogi, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook the pierogi for 1 – 2 minutes until they float to the top and are tender. Remove the pierogi with a slotted spoon and brush them with butter to keep them from sticking.
  7. Serve hot with sour cream, fried bacon, and fried onions (or minced spring onions).
 Note:

Recipe makes about 45 pierogi. You can flash freeze uncooked pierogi on a baking sheet, and then keep them in a Ziploc bag to cook as needed.