Friday, March 23, 2012

French Press Lakewood: Gluten Free Friendly

I love it when I find new restaurants that have really good gluten free options. It means that I don't have to just take what is on the menu and order it without bread or rely on a salad with no croutons. My recent find, thanks to a dear friend, is The French Press located just off Union in Lakewood.

Not only do they serve gluten free "petals" (a type of gluten free wrap bread) they also have gluten free Thursdays. Every Thursday they have one rack of baked goods devoted to gluten free treats. I have tried several of them during my three visits. The raspberry muffin was yummy. I am a sucker for coconut macaroons and theirs were so good. The cookie was tasty too. I wasn't a fan of the raspberry coffee cake as it had cinnamon in it. I know I am a freak, but I don't enjoy cinnamon very much and don't like it with any fruit except sometimes apple. I also didn't enjoy the brownie but that's because I am a cake-type brownie fan and this one was thin and a bit grainy in my mind.

This is a locally owned little gem and they seem eager to please their customers. I think they would try to accommodate any special requests to the best of their ability. Perhaps the best thing is the prices. They are reasonable, very reasonable, especially when you consider the quality of the food.

But don't go expecting some fancy dining experience. You order at the counter and take a seat at one of the hodge podge of tables in the small space. It is cozy and well decorated but can be a bit crowded and noisy during peak times. Just try to avoid high noon and you should be just fine. Oh yeah, and make sure you go on a Thursday to take advantage of the ever changing menu of gluten free baked goods!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't You Hate Failure?

I hate it when I try a new recipe and it fails - whether it's user error, baking conditions (I am at altitude), or just a bad recipe. Not only is it a disappointment because I won't enjoy eating it, but it wastes my time and perhaps most importantly in my mind, it is a waste of ingredients.

As most of you probably realize, gluten free ingredients are more expensive than traditional flour. I can get cheap rice flour from my local Vietnamese market or in bulk at the health food store but the rest are more pricey. Almond flour, while delicious and nutritious, is REALLY expensive. Other gluten free flours and flour blends also come with a steep price tag.

When a recipe fails I have wasted the various flours plus the eggs, sugars, oils and other ingredients put into the recipe. I wouldn't throw away $10 or more in cash yet that's often what I end up doing when a recipe fails and I throw the resulting item away.

Yesterday's failure was Irish Soda bread. I have made this in the past using a recipe from Elana's Pantry. The first time I made her recipe the center didn't cook well but the edges were yummy. The second time I made it I made two smaller loaves and it turned out great. Note: In general, I have determined that most gluten free baked items do better when sized smaller (e.g. cupcakes instead of cake, mini loaves instead of one large loaf, etc.)

This year on St. Patrick's Day I decided to try a different Irish Soda bread recipe for something new. I landed on a recipe created by Shauna Ahern from Gluten Free Girl. I love Shauna's writing and have relied on her for several recipes so it was natural to turn to her recipe for the bread.

As is often my habit, I decided to halve the recipe. This helps me avoid wasting so many ingredients if I don't like a recipe. This recipe was a bit unusual in that it called for between 2 and 4 cups of buttermilk. I thought that was a huge range but decide when I split my recipe in half, I would add one cup and then adjust up from there.

I am 90 percent certain that I measured out all of the dry ingredients correctly as I was using a kitchen scale. But when I added that cup of liquid my batter was soupy, like pancake batter. There was no way I could form that dough into a ball shape and score it like the recipe directed. So, I decided to add the other half of the recipe and better watch the liquid. The resulting batter seemed more appropriate after I added just a few more tablespoons of liquid - for a total of just one cup and a few tablespoons -- a far cry from the 2 to 4 cups the recipe called for originally.

I baked the bread and it cooked just fine. Looked lovely in fact. But I hated it. It was dense and flavorless and grainy. I looked back at Elana's recipe and realized that hers called for apple cider vinegar, giving the bread some acid. In addition, it had a little sweetener in it. I think the recipe I made needed both of those things.

Lovely Shauna responded to my post on her site and said that the recipe called for so much liquid because gluten free baking requires a lot of liquid to keep it from being dense. I can't necessarily disagree because I am not an expert in this area. So, perhaps my bread would have been lighter if I had added more liquid. Maybe it wouldn't have been as grainy. But I fear it still would have been tasteless to me without the acid and sweetener.

Others on Shauna's blog raved about her recipe and I am glad there are people that like it and enjoy it. The world is an interesting place because we are all so different. I have a friend that loves, loves, loves spicy food. I can only tolerate a little spice. I love her because she's different than me and our differences make for interesting conversations, and a few jokes.

So now I move on, knowing that next year I will be making Elana's Irish Soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. Now if I can just forget the partially eaten loaf of this year's bread that is now in the trash!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thanks Jennie for the BEST Banana Bread Recipe

I follow In Jennie's Kitchen written by food blogger and recipe developer Jennie Perillo.

I started reading her blog last year after another food blogger (Gluten Free Girl) posted about fundraising efforts for Jennie whose husband died suddenly. I made a small donation and subscribed to Jennie's RSS feed and have been following her ever since.

Her posts are poignant and emotionally stirring. And they have been pertinent to me only because several people at arm's length to me have died recently causing me to think about death and grief and the frailty of life. Jennie's experiences have given that a voice beyond my own thoughts.

But I digress . . . the reason for this post today is to rave about Jennie's banana bread recipe. I love banana bread and make it often because I do not enjoy over-ripe bananas so I end up with lots of "bad" ones. I usually pop them whole into the freezer until they start falling out when I open the door. I then make banana bread.

Sometimes it is banana bread with oatmeal. Sometimes it is the recipe that calls for sour cream or yogurt. Yesterday it was Jennie's newly posted recipe.

Since I eat gluten free, I substituted Pamela's Gluten Free Baking and Pancake Mix for the flour. I also added 2T chia seeds and 3T flax seeds to the mixture. It made the best banana bread I have perhaps ever eaten.

If you want the recipe, follow this link to Jennie's site: Everyday Banana Bread

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gluten Free Handy Brand Crab Cakes - YUM

I made a remarkably yummy discovery recently. Namely gluten free crab cakes from Handy International.

I found these delicious crab cakes at Whole Foods two weeks ago. I didn't even pay attention to how much they cost because I was so excited to find them. I LOVE crab and the idea of eating a crab cake really appealed to me. I am so glad I rolled the dice and bought these.

After deciding to eat them for lunch today, I choose to pan saute them in a little olive oil. Probably not the healthiest choice to add oil, but I really craved that crispy finish that you get by pan sauteing. It was the right choice. They came out crisp and brown on the outside while still being moist on the inside.

Aside from being the gluten free, the best thing about these crab cakes is that they are full of big pieces of crab! Not a bunch of filler and low grade mealed up crab. By adding a small quinoa and romaine salad, I had a very satisfying lunch.

Whole Foods here I come, I WILL be buying these beauties again!