Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Vegetable Stirfry with Garlic Chicken and Quinoa


Summer vegetables are here! You know when summer's bounty has arrived because you go from having no tomatoes, corn, or zucchini at all, to having it coming out your ears! It's like a tidal wave of produce washing over your kitchen and coating every counter and open surface with vegetables that have to be eaten RIGHT NOW. As we speak, I have two gigantic baskets of cucumbers waiting to be scrubbed and pickled (and more on the bush!), and a Trader Joe's bag full of tomatoes. What to do? What to do?? Get cooking, that's what!

I have a confession to make: I find quinoa (say it KEEN-wah) to be intimidating and scary. I have had a box of it sitting in a dark corner of my pantry for over a year, and never once have I thought to myself "yum, just what I'm wanting for dinner." It's scary! And I probably never would have done anything with it at all if I hadn't had a quinoa/blackbean/corn salad at a recent potluck. It was good! A little bit like brown rice, actually, but softer and with a more hearty, nutty flavor.

So make it I did, and we were all big fans of this recipe. I mean, even JAMES loved it, and he's the pickiest eater ever. And it has zucchini in it, which Nate claims to hate, and he loved it to. So, ready to be brave? Try it! You'll like it!


Summer Vegetable Stirfry with Garlic Chicken and Quinoa
Serves 4

Feel free to play with the vegetable combinations - I used cherry tomatoes and zucchini because that's what I had to use up, but I think it would have tasted great with corn, diced baked squash, sauteed spinach, or whatever is in season near you. This was also great with a little drizzle of salad dressing on tip!

1 cup dried quinoa
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, mined or put through a garlic press
1 chicken breast, or 3 chicken tenders, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
3-4 tbs olive oil
salt, pepper
optional: ranch or Caesar salad dressing, grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup quinoa to boil with 2 cups of water. Reduce heat to low, and cover, cooking until water is absorbed, and quinoa is soft.

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed skillet, heat about 3 tbs olive oil over high heat. Sautee diced onions in the oil until softened and translucent. Add chicken and garlic, salting and peppering generously. Don't stir the chicken too much - you want it to brown. When chicken in cooked through (5-7 minutes), add zucchini and cook until softened and beginning to brown. Add cooked quinoa to skillet, and turn off the heat. Stir in cherry tomatoes and basil. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary, and drizzle a little salad dressing over the top, or sprinkles with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Best EVER Gluten Free Soft Iced Sugar Cookies!

Cookies 4

You know those super soft, frosted sugar cookies with festive sprinkles that they sell in the plastic boxes at every grocery store in the world? Yes, you know what cookies I am talking about: always decorated with colors and sprinkles to go with whatever holiday is coming up next?

I miss those cookies.

I don't usually use other blogger's posts as launching points for my recipes (that's really phoning it in, in my opinion), but this sugar cookie recipe really is just something else. I needs to be shared. It's the best sugar cookie recipe I have ever tried (gluten free or not, and that's saying something), and it's so good, it will make you cry. I mean it. It's just like the original grocery store sugar cookie, but better. (and to be fair to myself, I did adapt this recipe to be gluten-free myself, so I sort of made it up, I guess!)

It's hard to be gluten-free all the time, and to say to yourself, "I will never eat this or that ever again" (Au revoir croissants, puff pastry, sourdough bread! Perhaps we shall meet again on the other side!). It's ever harder to say to your children, "you will never even know what that tastes like." (Alas, goldfish crackers and icecream cones!) It sucks. And while I know that in the grand scheme of things this "hardship" is really nothing, try explaining that to a 2 year old when everyone else is eating birthday cake at a party or Cheerio's for snack, and he doesn't get anything at all! It's an unjust world.

My little helper assisting with dough quality assurance
Cookies 3
Cookies 5
The kids at VBS loved the cookies too!

But back to the cookies. Children love sugar cookies, and yes, the child in each of us probably gets a little pang of sadness every time we go to the grocery store and pass the boxes of brightly decorated cookies we can't ever taste again. The thing is, those grocery store cookies didn't actually taste all that great. Super soft, a little bland, very sugary, but always with that unmistakable tang of cheap, artificial ingredients. I was at the store a day or two ago, and I picked up a box of these cookies to read the label: the ingredients list was as long as my arm and full of unpronounceable words. It was like a laundry list of food you shouldn't put in your body: refined white flour, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, preservatives. Mmm, exactly what I want to feed my children! Not that I could feed it to my children because of the gluten, but you get the point.

Are you ready to have your world rocked? You can make those sugar cookies at home. You can make them with whole, wholesome ingredients. You can make them taste better than the store bought variety. And you can make them gluten free. My inner child is doing a little dance right now! And as a mom, I love that I can make these quintessential childhood treats for my own children, and that I can give them something better than what they are missing out on.

The best part? I swear on Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, if you didn't know these were gluten-free, you could never tell. I brought them to vacation Bible school last week, and not only could no-one tell they were gluten-free, but kids and adults loved them! Even the people who don't usually like sugar cookies said they liked these cookies. Now if that isn't a compliment, I don't know what is.

Cookies 6

 Looking for some other amazing, gluten-free cookies?? I've got you covered! 

- Gluten-Free Thin Mints!
- Lil Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies - Gluten Free!
Spicy Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles
- White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
- Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Toffee Bits

Best EVER Gluten Free Soft Iced Sugar Cookies
adapted from Hostess with the Mostess and Annie's Eats

The original recipe calls for rolling the dough into balls and flattening it a little onto the cookie sheet. This really didn't work with the gluten-free recipe at all, so I suggest doing the traditional rolling pin and cookie cutter thing (besides, kids love that). I rolled mine a little thick (a little less than half an inch) so the cookies would be plump, and wouldn't break during frosting (since they are so, SO soft).

Using the correct flours is really important here, if you want to get that perfect, perfect taste and consistency. Usually I say to substitute in an all purpose mix if you don't have the flours called for, but in this case this combination really is perfect. My first batch used an all purpose mix, and it was a bust. Learn from my mistakes!

NOTE: some people have said the dough was a little too soft: I think this probably means you need to add about 2 - 4 Tbs more flour. Since we typically measure flour by volume and not weight, you might have used some more fluffy flour than I did!

for the cookies:
1.5 cups white rice flour
1.5 cups sweet rice flour (mochi)
1.5 cups oat flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
3 sticks butter (1.5 cups), room temperature
1.5 cups white sugar
3 large eggs
1 tbs vanilla extract (or almond)

for the frosting:
5 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tbs vanilla extract
7-8 tbs milk, depending on consistency desired
food coloring/sprinkles

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1.5 cups white rice flour, 1.5 cups sweet rice flour (mochi), 1.5 cups oat flour, 5 teaspoons baking powder, and a pinch salt.

2. In a stand mixer, beat 3 sticks butter with 1.5 cups sugar on high, until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting for each egg to be fully incorporated before adding in the next. Beat an extra minute or two after last egg, and add vanilla.

3. With the mixer on low, fold in flour mixture, and mix until fully incorporated (with gluten-free baking you don't really have to worry about over mixing). Remove from mixing bowl, and form into a large disc. Wrap with plastic wrap, and refridgerate until firm, about 2 hours (dough can be frozen or stored in this state).

4. When you ready to make the cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat baking mat. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface (I use sweet rice flour, since it's the finest) to a little less than 1/2 inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut to desired shapes, and place in cookie sheet. Cookies will spread very little, so they can be close - about 1" apart.

5. Bake cookies until just puffed and set, but before they have begun to brown around the edges. This will ensure a soft, soft cookie! Let cool, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.

6. To make the frosting: Place confectioners sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, vanilla, and milk, and whisk until smooth, adding more milk to achieve desired consistency. Tint with food coloring, frost cookies, and adorn with sprinkles. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Practically Perfect Classic Buttercream Frosting ~ a la Rose Levy Beranbaum


If you're looking for a buttercream recipe that is practically perfect in every way, this is it! You really can't go wrong with Rose's recipe. I mean, she did write the cake Bible, after all. No, literally. Her cookbook is called "The Cake Bible," and it really deserves that title. It's exhaustive, it's exact, and every single recipe has been tested and perfected to the nth degree. It's my go-to guide for frostings, fillings, and yes, even cake (though I adapt the recipes to be gluten free, with varying levels of success!)

This is the frosting I used for James' first and second birthday cakes, and I also used it on the 4th of July to frost some chocolate cupcakes (which explains the festive sprinkles! Also, the terrible icing jobs. I am no professional cake decorator. Sorry internet. I can't be good at everything.) It's a great base recipe for lots of other flavors and colors, and it holds up very well to mix-ins and flavorings. For James' last birthday we did it in lemon, but you can also mix just about any jam, liquor, chocolate, extract, or candy into, and it will work beautifully.

This recipe is technically what Rose calls "neoclassic" butter cream. She call it this because to her, "classic" buttercream involves a candy thermometer and the softball stage of candymaking, and that gets complicated and is prone to disaster. Her "neoclassic" buttercream side steps this terrifying procedure by the addition of corn syrup. Now before you snatch your petticoats up in horror over the addition of corn syrup, hear me out: Frosting is not health food people. It really has no place in a sensible nutritious diet. And is shouldn't, because that's not the point of frosting. The point of frosting is to be sinfully delicious and have no nutritional value whatsoever. So what if it has a little corn syrup in it? It frosting! It's not supposed to be good for you. So please, have a cupcake. With some frosting! It's your birthday ;)


Rose Levy Beranbaum's Neoclassic Buttercream
adapted from The Cake Bible
Makes 4 cups

The reason this is Rose' favorite buttercream recipe (and mine too!) is that the corn syrup acts as a stabilizer to the sugar, and when the sugar and corn syrup come to a boil, it is exactly the right temperature, no thermometer needed. Further, the corn syrup prevents crystallization, so your frosting says practically perfect in every way.

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup liquid corn syrup
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
vanilla or other flavoring

Have a large greased glass measure near the stove. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until they are pale in color and thick, 3-5 minutes.

Heat the sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan...

...stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a rolling boil.

immediately transfer to the greased glass measure to stop the cooking.

Pour a small amount of the syrup over the eggs in the mixer, and beat until incorporated. Continue until all the syrup is used up, and the mixture is pale and sticky, like liquid taffy. Continue beating until the mixture is completely cool (or you will melt the butter and ruin the frosting).

Got your butter? Awesome! Beat it in, one stick at a time, waiting until each is incorporated before adding in the next.

When it looks like this, you are done! At this point, you may also add in any flavoring.

Transfer to a storage container, or frost your cupcakes! Enjoy!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Fresh Berry Tartlets with Creamy Vanilla Bean Filling - gluten free! (Or not)


You know how sometimes you land upon a recipe that just has some sort of magic combination of ingredients, and it turns into a family favorite that you make over and over again? This is that recipe. I have made this tart every summer since I discovered it, and I've been tinkering with the recipe until I got it just the way I like it. It's probably the most requested recipe I have, so its about time it went up on the 'ol blog, wouldn't you say?

BTW, I generally adapt recipes from other sources, but this crust recipe is all me! The original called for a graham cracker crust, and when I first started making this gluten-free graham crackers were not available (they are now). That's ok though, because I like this crust way better than a the graham cracker crust, and so does everyone else! There just something special about the nutty almond flour (and this crust) that really brings this dessert up to a whole new level.

And of course, you must make the filling. It is not optional. Do not use something else. This filling is THE BEST THING EVER. It makes pastry cream feel like an ugly stepsister crying in the corner. It's like, as good as cheesecake, but with none of the work. I promise, if you make this, you will never want to use pastry cream again (ok, ok, you might use it again, but you will like this better).


Fresh Berry Tartlets with Creamy Vanilla Bean Filling
makes 1 large tart, or 4-5 individual tartlets

I topped these with raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries because that's what was in season, and it looked cute for our 4th of July barbecue, but you can really make these any time of year and use whatever fruit or combination of fruits are fresh and in season. I have made it with peaches and raspberries, cherries, apricots, blackberries, and I bet it would taste great with poached pears, quince, or other fall fruits.

I used to make this as one large tart, but that was always a struggle for me, because as pretty as it looks when you are done making it, it turns into a real mess when you try to cut it up. One I did it as individual tartlets, I was sold: They are just so cute, and they don't fall apart when you slice them into individual portions.

For the Crust
3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup flour (you can use regular flour if gluten is not an issue, or an all purpose gluten-free mix, or yout favorite combination of gluten free flours. For this recipe I use 1/2 a cup sweet rice flour, and 1/2 a cup oat flour)
1 tbs xanthum gum
1/2 a cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar

For the cream cheese vanilla bean filling
8 oz (one stick) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1 Vanilla Bean, halved and scraped, or 1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
1/4 cup white sugar

For the topping
2 cups fresh fruit
optional: warmed jam for especially sour fruits, brushed over the top

1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together almond flour and other flour(s), xanthum gum, and sugars. Pour melted butter into flour, and mix with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed through the flour. Press into tart shell, and bake 15 - 20 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven, and cool completely.

2. Make the filling: In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add in vanilla, sugar, and cream. Mix on low until incorporated, then beat on high until cream is light and fluffy. Scrape into cooled tart shell, and top with fruit. If the fruit you have chosen is especially sour, feel free to brush some warmed jam over it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam ~ Mes Confitures


You asked for it, so here it is! This is my favorite jam. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to find organic apricots for only 50 cents a pound, so what to do? Buy 10 lbs and make apricot vanilla bean jam, of course!

The inspiration for this jam comes from Christine Ferber's jam making Bible, Mes Confitures. This book is incredible. It has so many amazing jam recipes - black cherry with Pinot noir, raspberry with white peach, apple with caramel. Is your mouth watering yet? She's called the fairy godmother of jams and jellies, and she deserves it.

Alright, recipe time!

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam
adapted from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures

2 + 1/2 lbs ripe apricots
3 + 3/4 cups granulated sugar
7 oz water (a little less than a cup)
juice of one small lemon
2 Vanilla Beans, or 1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste

1. Rinse and pit the apricots. Place the apricots, the sugar, water, lemon juice, and vanilla bean split lengthwise (or vanilla bean paste) in a large heavy bottomed pot, and mash with a potato masher. (Ferber has you do some macerating and over night stuff, and then you peel off the skins, but that is way too fussy for me!)

2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook on high heat, until the jam reaches 221 degrees. Or be lazy like me and forget the thermometer - boil until the jam sets (you can check the sit by dripping some onto a cold plate. It it sets instead of runs, it's done!)

3. Put the jam immediately into canning jars and seal.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beach Day: Newport Beach

beach day5
a few of James' little friends

June in Southern California is gray, misty affair. In fact, it could be said that California's weather never does what you wish it would: it's blazing hot in December, and overcast and cold in June. Just when you want to pull out the flip flops and the sunscreen, the sun disappears behind a marine layer and doesn't come out for a month.

We went to the beach anyway.

And it was a lovely day: Soft and pastel, but lovely all the same, and not even that cold, in the end. James had a great time running up and down the beach, chasing beach balls and makings sand castles. And the friends! It was so great to have so many friends there with us! Speaking of...


Internet, you have to meet James' little friend Amara. What a girl! Seriously - you look away for a millisecond, and she was gone, rushing toward the water. She had been heading back up the beach with a grownup, and I was standing down by the water talking to a friend, when suddenly I looked over, and she was waist high in the water with a wave rushing towards her. I ran in after her, slinging my camera over my back and praying it didn't get wet. (Notice how my first instinct was to pray for the camera and not the child. Hmmm. Priorities people.) Did she come up smiling? Oh yes, she did.

See her mom's expression? She's saying, "what am I going to do with this kid??" They were at the beach for like... an hour? After that, her mom was like, "we need to go home now. I am pregnant and I am done."


She's a fire cracker, that one.

My mom came and did a bit of painting while we were there. I love the relationship that James has with his grandma (all of his grandparents actually!). He calls her Kimmy, and he adores her. Whenever we pull up to my parents house, he has a sharp intake of breath, and then he yell "yaay!" I think that's pretty cool, because neither Nate nor I ever really had relationships with any of our grandparents, and it's so wonderful and unanticipated that my kid has such great relationships with his.


All in all, I'd say it was an excellent day. And more to come!