Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Icing

I'm back after a two-week hiatus! I've just started a new part-time job and am still juggling my old part-time job (as well as my full-time+ job as a stay-at-home mommy). All of that has led to not as much cooking experimentation. We've been eating some old favorites and emptying out the freezer--after all, it's almost blueberry season here, and I need to make room!

As some of you might remember, I went to my cousin's wedding two weeks ago. I felt pretty good about how my gustatory experiences panned out: I think all the food I ate was safe, and I managed to eat more than just the salad (though I'm definitely going to take Sally's advice next time and take salad add-ins for a more substantial dish!).

I couldn't eat the dessert at the wedding, of course. They served cupcakes that you ice yourself. Apparently, the caterer thought allowing guests to ice their own cupcakes was a terrible idea. My opinion is that you can do what you want at your own wedding and that it's no better or worse of an idea than the current trend in wedding appetizers: the mashed potato bar. Think ice cream sundae meets mashed potatoes, chives, and bacon. There were even sundae-style dishes. Suspecting lurking gluten, I skipped it.

Missing out on ice-your-own-cupcake fun wasn't a terrible hardship. I've never been much of a dessert person when I eat out. Not that I don't love dessert. I once attempted to fast for Lent (don't ask me why) only to fail when I encountered a chocolate chip cookie for the first time in months at Bohemia Bagel in Prague. But I have found that my waistline and my general well-being both appreciate it when I consume very moderate amounts of high-sugar desserts. I'm much more likely to eat a small piece of dark chocolate or a few spoonfuls of ice cream partnered with squishy Medjool date than a whole piece of cheesecake.

Enter mini-cupcakes. I bought two mini-cupcake pans last summer when I was experimenting with gluten-free cake recipes and didn't want to have to eat a whole piece of cake just to try out the recipe. I'd get to try a few bites of a new recipe and not have to feel like I was splurging. So all summer, I made cupcakes, tried them out, and then took them to picnics to share with my friends.

This is the beauty of the cupcake. Think about it: when you make a whole cake, there are no "tastings." You bake the cake, you ice the cake, you refrigerate the cake until serving time. With cupcakes, you bake the cupcakes, you ice the cupcakes, and if one or two get eaten between then and the party, no one's the wiser.

I tried a few of Brendan's recipes at Something in Season before he decided to stop blogging: the caradmom-date cake and the ginger cake with dark chocolate glaze stand out. I wish he still maintained his archive so that I could link to them. I hadn't tried a chocolate cake, though.

Having a solid chocolate cake recipe in your repertoire is key. The flourless chocolate cake--a blessing to us gluten-free folks--is not what I'm talking about here. Don't get me wrong, the flourless cake is heavenly--smooth, decadent, and super-chocolaty. But it's also expensive, relying on lots of eggs, butter, and good-quality melted chocolate, and fancier than what I have in mind.

I'm talking about an old-fashioned, layer cake type of recipe. With that, you can always make a great birthday cake. Before going gluten-free, I used the thrifty Moosewood chocolate cake with no eggs or butter (it uses oil and is leavened by a reaction between baking soda and vinegar--remember those volcano demonstrations in elementary school science?).

Making a gluten-free version turned out to be easy. I started with the Moosewood, threw in a pinch of Brendan's ginger cake and some cinnamon, and voila! Chocolate cake, or rather, mini cupcakes. I iced them with an old-fashioned caramel icing that my grandmother taught me how to make. The only substantial change I made to her icing was to add sea salt for a salted caramel taste. Yum!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Icing
This recipe will make 1 8-in cake, 12 cupcakes, or 24 mini cupcakes (plus a ramekin of batter for the cupcakes).

1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. xanthum gum
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt
a generous pinch of cinnamon
2 eggs
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. pureed prunes
1 tsp. vanilla
10 tbsp. brewed coffee (or water)

As simple as it gets. Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients. Mix them together. Spoon into your prepared pan of choice. Bake at 350 for 15 min. (mini cupcakes), 20-25 min. (cupcakes), or 30-35 min. (8-in cake), until a knife comes out smooth.

Salted Caramel Icing

1 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. milk (any kind)
1/4-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4-2 c. powdered sugar

Mix the sugar, butter, milk, and salt in a heavy pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 5 min. Add the vanilla. Cool the mixture to room temperature and beat in the powdered sugar a bit at a time with your mixer. (The cooler the caramel when you add the powdered sugar, the less you'll have to add to get it to a spreadable consistancy. Alternatively, you can mix in the powdered sugar and refrigerate it--the icing will stiffen as it sits.) Ice your cupcakes and refrigerate!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weekly Menus: May 11

Our menu this week comes mostly from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Recently, he's inspired me to cook my own beans instead of buying canned. I never realized how easy it is. With a 12-hr soak, the beans are usually cooked in less than an hour. I plan to use them in a few meals and freeze the rest. For the price of two cans of Progresso chickpeas (about $2.50), I get 2 lbs of cooked beans, or over nine cups. And their taste is immeasurably better than canned.

Tips for cooking dried beans: When cooking your own beans, add 5 inches or so of kombu to make the beans easier to digest. Don't add salt until the beans start to become tender.

Our Mother's Day meal--sushi bowls--consists of brown rice topped with pickles (in the small bowl), Japanese omelets, braised veggies, and avocado. Mmm! What more could a first-time mom want? I've included the recipe for spicy 2-hour pickles. Don't be too scared by the amount of sriracha called for--my palate doesn't tolerate very hot chiles, but I don't have a problem with these.

The Gluten-Free Menu Swap is being hosted by Faking It Gluten-Free Style this week so head on over there to check out what other GF bloggers are eating.

Question of the Week:
What do you do when you're invited to a wedding (or similar event)?
Take your own food? Call the restaurant ahead of time? Talk to the caterer?

Sunday: sushi bowls with Japanese egg crepes, pickled daikon (see recipe below), and braised carrots and parsnips

Monday: stewed chickpeas in their own broth with tahini and bread crumbs, kale

Tuesday: chicken soup, yet-t0-be-determined veggie

Wednesday: chickpea redux

Thursday: Dinner at my in-laws'

Friday: my cousin's rehearsal dinner

Saturday: my cousin's wedding

Spicy Quick-Pickled Daikon (a variation on Bittman's Asian-Style Quick Pickles)

1.5 lb. daikon sliced into quarter circles
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. dark sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 tbsp. chili-garlic sauce (sriracha)

Place the daikon in a colander. Sprinkle the salt over it and rub it around with your hands. Put a plate over the salted daikon (still in the colander and in the sink or over a plate to catch the liquid) and a weight on the plate (I use my iron tea pot). Let it sit for 30 min. Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Put the daikon in a bowl and pour the chili sauce over it. Let it still for at least one hour before eating.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Eating Out and Gluten-Free in D.C. Part II: Java Green

The last time I was in Washington, D.C., I discovered Teaism and their gluten-free menu. We just returned from another visit--and, oh, were the azaleas gorgeous! No Teaism this time, as delicious as it was during my last trip. I was hunting for new gluten-free territory, and I found it at Java Green, a downtown cafe on 19th, near K St.

After a morning at the National Portrait Gallery, we headed over to Java Green. The Science Teacher raised his eyebrows when I told him, somewhat sheepishly, that it was a (mostly) vegan cafe. He has nothing against vegan food, but having worked summers at a camp with a not-terribly-good macrobiotic chef, he maintains a healthy skepticism towards it. However, he loves to eat out and loves it even more when I get excited about eating out, so he was game.

We arrived and the place was fairly busy, but it was around 1 p.m. so we were able to order and find seats without waiting too long. The menu is large and consists of paninis, wraps, noodle and rice bowls, salads, and huge selection of blended juices and smoothies. They also only use wheat-free soy sauce! Kaveat: nothing on the menu is designated "gluten-free," but there are a number of items labeled "wheat-free" (their online menu doesn't indicate the wheat-free options, but you can download their new menu, which does show the wheat-free dishes, at the bottom of their homepage). From what I can tell, beyond the obvious fact that a panini isn't gluten-free, some of the fake meat products or the sauces used on them contain wheat and some don't. The Science Teacher ordered sweet potato noodles with spicy mock chicken, which was not wheat-free; however, if he'd ordered it with the regular mock chicken, it would have been wheat-free.

I ordered the Silk Road (pictured above), a plate of baby spinach, steamed silken tofu, mock chicken in a sesame-soy dressing, carrots, cucumbers, and roasted nori. I was a little worried about the mock chicken, thinking about my favorite vegetarian sausage that I had to give up when I went gluten-free (isn't all of that stuff made with seitan??). I questioned the woman who took my order, and she went back to the kitchen to check. When she returned, she said it was only made of soy products. I was good to go! As you can see, the food was beautiful and fresh. It was also very tasty. I usually don't finish my restaurant meals, but I kept nibbling at the mock chicken until nothing was left on my plate. It was a pleasure to be able to order something "as is" from the menu.

Java Green also bills itself as an "eco" cafe. They compost the food waste and recycle their utensils, glass, and paper products. They use china dishes instead of disposable and biodegradable carry-out containers. They buy wind power to offset their carbon footprint and support a variety of eco-conscious, fair-trade organizations. You can eat gluten-free and support a business that's trying to act in an ecologically responsible manner!

The Science Teacher's sister told me that Java Green is also one of the few places that her kosher-keeping friends can eat downtown. Another plus!

Also, check out the DCGluties' post on Java Green and other information on their website about eating out gluten-free and finding gluten-free food in the D.C. area.

Stay tuned for reviews of gluten-free eating (in non-chain restaurants) in Vermont:

Kismet in Montpelier serves up gluten-free buckwheat crepes, wheat-free tamari, rice bowls, tamales, gluten-free bagels, and more. The owner's son has celiac so she knows what she's doing.

That's Life Soup
in Montpelier always has gluten-free options, and they're labeled on the menu. They also usually have vegetarian and dairy-free soups. Call ahead though because the menu changes daily and sometimes they run out of some soups by dinner time.

The Skinny Pancake in Burlington offers up a complete menu of gluten-free crepes to nosh on as you listen to their great line up of musicians.