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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers Go Crackers

This month we are making Daring Bakers history as our September challenge is vegan and/or gluten free. For the first time ever, the torch has been passed to Alternative Daring Bakers, Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl.

Many of the Alternative Daring Bakers must change a recipe to fit dietary restrictions or lifestyle decisions. They are a pretty smart bunch. They can take an egg laden, glutenized, nutty, sugar loaded concoction and transform it into a masterpiece. My hat is off to every alternative baker for educating us.

Our hosts chose something savory this month, the recipe for Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice .

This challenge allowed for large helpings of creativity and personality. Free range was given in flavour choices for the crackers and dip/spread choices. You could make the Lavash Crackers either with wheat flour or we could make them gluten free. All the dips had to be vegan and gluten free.

This challenge was much less time consuming than some of our past ones. Because it was a relatively quick challenge, I made it three times. Each time I tweaked the recipe flavouring and finally, I adjusted the liquid to yield a better gluten free cracker.

The first time, the crackers barely rose and they were the hardest gluten free Frisbees to take to the air. It wasn't a fault of the original recipe. Gluten free recipes need more liquid because the xanthan gum competes with the yeast and the yeast loses. It can't grow, bubble and lift the dough without more liquid. My next attempt doubled the liquid of the original recipe and there was a much better result.

Each cracker attempt had different flavours of flour and spices.

#1 Millet based flour with cinnamon and sugar
#2 Garbanzo flavoured flour with oregano and thyme
#3 Teff/sorghum flour with caraway and fennel seeds, sprinkled with coarse salt

We paired the crackers with hot pepper jelly and hummus because I have no imagination when it comes to vegan dips...

...but I make an amazing pate!Thank you Shel and Natalie, this quick recipe allowed me to experiment a little more with my gluten free side. Much much appreciated!

You can check out the other Daring Baker exploits by clicking on the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coffee Maker

I do not make a good cup of coffee. In fact, I don't even own a coffee maker. Whenever we have a gang over I have to go begging for a coffee maker to serve up the brew. At my house it's never a BYOB, bring your own booze but a bring your own (coffee) brew.

Each time I borrow a coffee maker the owner has to patiently explain how many scoops, how much water, this button, that plug... the whole shebang. I always aimed for the black tar look myself.

The reason I don't make a decent cup of coffee is because a good friend gave me a little Bialetti stove top espresso maker. It's perfect for my one cup a day habit.

Stove top espresso makers are simplicity in themselves to use. The bottom is filled with cold tap water to the level of the safety valve, the funnel is placed over the water and packed with coffee grounds. Then the top part of the espresso maker is screwed into place. When the coffee pot is placed on the stove top, the heat forces the water and steam to expand. Hot water shoves its way through the coffee grounds and rains into the top part as a perfect brew.

In Italian, this is commonly known as the Vesuvio method. Before yesterday, I thought this referred to the explosion of good coffee streaming upward into the upper chamber of the espresso maker. But now I know better.

Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano in Naples, Italy and it's famous eruption in 79A.D. destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. This volcano is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

Back to my coffee maker. I love my Bialetti and I take very good care of it. I regularly take it apart to rinse out all the stray grains of coffee. It's been good to me and I've been good to it. But I did discover how important the little filter plate over the coffee grounds can be....

Without the top filter plate, the Bialetti explodes coffee grains all over the kitchen like Mount Vesuvius seeking Pompeii.

There are no words.

The bottom part was completely blasted clean of every coffee grain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Allspice Teff Muffins

Gluten free cooking has been quite an adventure for our family. Last night I announced that I was serving Indian food. Since we've tried Indian food at different restaurants, we were confident we would like this theme. I had picked up a korma spice mix that was wheat free and looked delicious. A spice mix seemed the easiest route to a fine meal for this neophyte Indian cook.

My eldest son took one bite and was gasping for water. My family has a very low spicy heat tolerance and a flair for dramatics ... or so I thought. But when I bit into the korma, I grabbed that water jug like a drowning man grabbing a life saver. Holy moly, it was spicy.

Generosity should have been the brand name of that spice mix because there was twice as much spice mix as labelled on the original box. I missed the little sticker that said "an extra 50 g included". The instructions stated to mix one package (50g) into yogurt. Only when our tongues were hanging out and we were panting for relief did I read the instructions more carefully.

What did I learn from this?
1) Read instructions carefully.
2) Treat your family nicely.
3) It's a great bargain and I'm going back for more.

After that debacle, my family deserved a little relief. I've been experimenting with different flour mixtures to recreate some of the whole grain taste and mouth feel of wheat. These muffins are light if you follow the instructions to sift your dry ingredients and whisk the wet ones. Ironic that I would insist on that.

Allspice Teff Muffins
1&3/4 cup teff flour mix*
¾ cup white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp xanthan gum
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp allspice (mixture of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg)
2 tbsp flax meal

Sift together dry ingredients. If you use a sifter it will aerate the dry ingredients and give more loft to the muffins. Set aside dry ingredients.

2 extra large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup pureed prunes (baby food)
1/3 cup warm water

½ cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare 12 muffin tins by oiling them lightly.

Whisk the eggs until they are light coloured and foamy. This works more air into the batter. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking all the time to form an emulsion. When the oil is incorporated fully, whisk in the pureed prunes. Once they are thoroughly mixed, whisk in the warm water. The mixture will be viscous but light.

Carefully fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients along with the raisins. Spoon the fully mixed batter into the muffin cups.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

This recipe could be improved with molasses and if it had been in the cupboard, I would have used it.

*Teff flour mixture

2 cups teff flour
2 cups sorghum
1 cup rice flour (glutinous, very white, squeaky when pinched)
1&1/2 cups cornstarch (again, white and squeaky)
1&1/2 cups tapioca starch/flour (white and squeaky)

Starch “squeaks” when pinched or rubbed between two fingers. If you’ve never tried this, take cornstarch and pinch between your fingers. Then try it with corn flour – which is yellow, fine but won’t squeak.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scientific Experiments

Some things are just harder than others.

Last spring I decided to perform scientific experiments on my children. There were reasons besides mere curiosity. Anywho, the experiments I perform on my children always follow the Hippocratic Oath - cause no harm. But I'd like to update that to "cause no harm, learn something and make it fun." I'm sure in Greek it sounds fabulous.

Back to the experiment. We had a month of a gluten free diet that just about killed me. There was no more thunking down to the jumbo wheat-a-palooza cereal and mindlessly shovelling it into sleep dazed faces. This required planning.

No problem I thought. I'll just buy rice palooza or corn palooza since there are so many other cereal types on the market. No dice. Each one of them contained a gluten bearing ingredient like malt barley syrup or the like.

Next thought. I'll just buy gluten free cereal even though it's a tenth the size and ten times the price. Bland wasn't the first problem, especially with the cocoa versions. I became enlightened as to how enriched our breakfast cereals are these days. Gluten free cereals are not enriched. In fact, without milk, most of them are a big nutritional zero.

Third thought, uh, fourth thought. We'll have oatmeal. Nix that. There was no solid guarantee that this would be feasible and tolerated well. Sooo, I was baking gluten free muffins, making gluten free pancakes, preparing fruit, doling out yogurt... all in an effort to make sure my children were eating a healthy breakfast.

I bribed them with every gluten free treat I could find. My children thought this would be heaven if only it included real pizza.

But that month was only a trial run. Turns out that mother's intuition is right on the money. Celiac is officially here to stay.

I'm not worried about giving up gluten. I could care less. It means more planning and less garbage that is eligible to be in our diets. I will miss baking and working with yeasty springy flour dough. Sigh, anybody want a monster flour tin that doubles as an end table?

Monday, September 8, 2008


It's been a busy time for all of us. School, appointments, rearranging... I welcome the all the changes and busy-ness of this time of year. There has been quite a bit of painting this summer, most of it on the walls but I managed to sneak in a bit for my own pleasure.

There is an energetic happy dog that lives in our neighbourhood. She chews pink feather dusters, barks at the squirrel zipping along the fence, and constantly seeks the elusive chipmonk that burrows under the patio stones. Her name is Sadie, which means princess.This is my painting of Sadie surrounded by her family and a few furry friends. Who's who in the painting? That's a good question. There is a little of each person in everyone and a lot of joy throughout.