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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Apple Cheese Galette

Of all of the seasons I love Summer the most, but Fall is a close second. They say Autumn is the year’s last smile… before life comes full circle and everything begins anew in the Spring. We’re in the middle of gorgeous fall around here and I love all about it: The colorful leaves and warm drinks, not to mention soft sweaters and tall boots. Thankfully,  they haven’t gotten the memo that they should’ve started pouring down by now and not stop for the next five months up there yet (shhh, please don’t tell them… just a little while more!) The mornings might be crisp, but later in the day it still warms up enough so that we can enjoy all the beauty around.

Fall fills me with nostalgia, and as usual, I deal with it by firing up the oven and filling the air with all the wonderful aromas this time of year has to offer. Today it’s apples, scented with gingerbread and cinnamon. I paired them with sweet cheese, and created a simple but very flavorful galette. Not much to write about it: galette is a free-form crusty cake with various sweet or savory fillings, and to me, it’s a very laid back type of dessert that can be tailored to whatever fruit you have on hand. I chose apples because they’re such a typical fall treat for us to enjoy, but I imagine pears or plums would work just as well; the key is to vary the amount of sugar and cornstarch depending on the fruit used. The dough is simply folded over the filling, creating a wonderfully crispy crust, while allowing the fruit to shine in all its beauty. Galette is also much easier and quicker to make than its somewhat temperamental and high maintenance relative pie – thus giving you more time to  curl up by the fire with a book, or go for a walk on one of the last sunny afternoons, and still come home to a great dessert.

Put on a thick scarf and go play in the crisp leaves, and then drive out the chill from your fingers and cheeks with a warm galette. Who says you can’t have it all? With just a little planning you absolutely can!

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Apple Cheese Galette

(inspired by Nejlepší recepty 3/2015)

Pastry Dough:
  • 250 g (9 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 180 g (6 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • pinch salt
  • 80 g (3 oz.) powdered sugar
Filling:
  • 80 g (3 oz.) ground gingerbread cookies
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 250 g (9 oz.) soft white cheese, cream cheese, or quark
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons vanilla “cook and serve” pudding powder
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 2 – 3 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into rings
  • 2 tablespoons piquant jam (raspberry, cranberry)
  • 2 tablespoons spiced rum
  • pinch cinnamon
Gingerbread Streusel:
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 80 g (3 oz.) ground gingerbread cookies
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

+ 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

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Method:
  1. First, make the dough: Place flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cold cubed butter into the bowl of your food processor; pulse until the mixture resembles peas. Add in the egg and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill it for at least an hour before proceeding.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the apple rings in water with 2 tablespoons sugar for about 5 minutes until soft. Drain the apples and let them cool.
  3. Prepare the cheese filling: Place cheese, 4 tablespoons sugar, egg yolk, vanilla pudding powder, and lemon zest into the bowl of your food processor fitted with an s-blade. Mix to combine. Whip the egg white until firm peaks form, and mix in carefully with a spatula into the cheese mixture to lighten it.
  4. Make the Streusel Topping: Combine all the ingredients with your fingers; chill until needed.
  5. Remove the cold pastry dough from the fridge; roll it out on a lightly floured work surface into a circle about 3 cm (a little over an inch) bigger than a 23 cm (9 inch) round springform pan. Line the springform pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 °F  (180 °C).
  6. Fit the pastry into the pan, pressing the overhang up the sides for now. Sprinkle the bottom of the pastry with 80 g (3 oz.) ground gingerbread crumbs and cover them completely with the cheese filling. Arrange the cooled apple slices onto the cheese.
  7. Mix jam, rum, and cinnamon. With a teaspoon, place a tiny bit of the jam mixture into the apple slices, and sprinkle the entire galette with the gingerbread streusel topping. Gently fold the overhang pastry over the fruit, pleating as you go along. Brush the edges with the egg wash.
  8. Bake the galette for about 40 – 45 minutes until golden brown. If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil. Cool the galette for at least 30 minutes on a wire rack. Serve warm or at a room temperature.

Fig Tart with Caramelized Onions, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese

Once again I have a feeling summer just flew by. (Somebody please finally give it a speeding ticket… the rainy season never seems to be so eager to leave us!) I’m going to miss the sun of course, but even more I’ll miss the blue skies. Pretty soon the pretty blue will be replaced by dark grey that’ll stay hanging over our heads for months.

One of the things that help to carry me through the end of the summer blues are fresh figs. We have two fig seasons around here; the second is just starting and runs till the end of September. There is positively nothing better than the taste of a fresh fig. Sure, we have the dried ones available all year long, and they’re wonderful added to cereal or sweet breads, but fresh figs are something else. They’re soft, plump, and bursting with sweetness. I eat them as they are, often unwashed straight from the bag coming from the market. Mr. Photographer loves them stuffed with brie, drizzled with a little honey, and grilled. I rarely get to bake with them, because we always gobble them up, but this time I hid a couple away so I could play with them later.

And as usual, I couldn’t decide what to make – so many wonderful recipes and only about 2 pounds of figs 🙂 But in the end, I chose this savory tart, because I already knew figs go together phenomenally with cheese, and I suspected the caramelized onions and pine nuts would make the already great combination even better. And boy, was I right! Thanks to the store-bought puff pastry the tart comes together in a snap (one of these days I’ll try it with homemade puff pastry!) and looks beautiful. Methinks the same toppings would be great on a not-your-typical-tomato-based pizza, too.

A great little appetizer that lets the figs to take the place in a spotlight, just as they deserve!

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Fig Tart with Caramelized Onions, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese

(adapted from http://www.cooking.newyorktimes.com)

  • 2 tablespoons each unsalted butter and olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup half and half or whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 340 g (¾ lb.) puff pastry
  • 340 g (¾ lb.) fresh figs, halved
  • 2 oz. (55 g) blue cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 sprig rosemary, + more for garnish
  • honey for drizzling (optional)

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Method:
  1. Make the caramelized onions: Melt the butter/olive oil in a pan. Add sliced onions, chopped rosemary, and sugar, and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the onions are caramelized and nice golden brown. Stir in balsamic vinegar and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190°C). Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk milk and egg together. Add caramelized onions to the egg mixture and toss.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry into 11 x 9 inch (27 x 22 cm) rectangle. Transfer the puff pastry onto the lined pan.
  5. Assembling the tart: Remove the onions from the egg mixture (let the excess egg drip back into the bowl), and spread them evenly on the tart, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) border. Place the figs, cut side up, on the onions, and scatter cheese and pine nuts over. Make a lip on the edges of the tart and brush it with the egg – milk mixture.
  6. Bake until the tart is puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Scatter rosemary all over the tart, drizzle it with honey if desired, and serve. (The tart can be served hot straight from the oven or at a room temperature.)

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!

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