The Weirdest Bread

My mother finds all these things on Facebook and tags me in them. I am always tempted to keep them open in tabs until I realise just how slowly they make my computer run. I’ve only recently started using bookmarks; my thinking has been that I’ll never actually go back and click on them. So far, I’m kind of right.

One post was intriguing enough that I didn’t have to keep it open for long. Here is the original post, though I should warn you that it’s confusing. I’ll fill you in on the details.

So, basically, “oopsie breads” start as meringues and ends as airy breads. I don’t know how it works. I put my scientist-analyst head on my shoulders (In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have a scientist-analyst head anywhere in my bag of tricks.), and I still didn’t really get it. When I tried it, I think I might have overwhipped the eggs whites, if that’s possible. The recipe suggests that you could make 6 large breads or 8 medium ones. I had 8 really big breads that, as I later learned, were probably a bit too tall.  You might want to smooth them down with the back of a spoon to make them shorter.  I probably could have made 10 of the right size had I known.  They are really light and airy and kind of felt like foam.  I did NOT have high hopes.

I’m happy and surprised to say that they were really nice. CB liked them, though I only let him have one and half. They work really well as hamburger buns. I even sprinkled sesame seeds on a few of them to harken back to childhood barbeques.

Oopsie Bread

Yes, one has a bite taken out of it already.  How else was I to know it was done?!

Yes, one has a bite taken out of it already. How else was I to know it was done?!

Ingredients:
3 eggs
100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cream cheese
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon psyllium husk powder

Hardware:
Stand mixer
Spatula
Spoon
Small bowl
Baking pan
Oven

Directions:
Separate eggs.  Place the whites in the bowl of the stand mixer with the salt and whip together until you achieve stiff peaks.

While the egg whites mix, place the egg yolks, cream cheese, baking powder, and psyllium husk powder in the small bowl and mix until combined.  When your whites are whipped, slowly spoon the yolk mixture into it and stir together with the spatula.  Try to do it with as few motions as possible to keep in all the air you have created.

Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet in dollops depending on your desired size.  Like I said, the recipe says that it will make 6 large or 8 small breads, but I had 8 large ones.  It’s possible that my eggs expanded in the mixer more than expected.  I imagine you could top them with any spice or herb you want; I only tried the sesame seeds on a few.

You can see they didn't expand much in the oven.

You can see they didn’t expand much in the oven.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.  I thought they looked like they would be done much faster, as they had a real shape after about 10 minutes, but they needed the entire time.  If they stick to the pan, use a metal spatula to pry away.

It doesn't feel like bread to the touch, but my mouth was fooled!

It doesn’t feel like bread to the touch, but my mouth was fooled!

A Pizza Praise

I know I JUST wrote a post about how we feel bad when we eat things that aren’t homemade, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t scaremongering. No matter where you live, there are some wholesome choices you can make outside the home. You can find restaurants with sustainable, fresh, local ingredients, who do not use chemical-laden products because the real thing is so much better, and who care about your specific dietary restrictions or concerns. There are restaurant kitchens you can learn to trust nearly as much as your own.

This post isn’t about them. This post is about pizza.

Pizza is one of my favourite foods. I love love LOVE pizza. One of my favourite silly jokes is even about pizza:

How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even

You’re groaning now, but you know you’ll tell someone later. Anyway, I sorely miss good pizza (and even bad pizza).  I haven’t yet perfected a gluten-free pizza dough myself. A lot of pre-made bases are chewy, and I never remember that I need an extra hour before baking for boxed doughs to proof. The frozen pizzas offered in the Tesco and Sainsbury’s shops here vary wildly, and, when I found one I really liked, it disappeared forever. What’s a gluten-free girl to do?!

Last year, Dominos UK announced they were rolling out gluten-free pizzas to all their stores by 1 November. All staff would have to take gluten informational training to know about cross-contamination. A couple of days before the 1st, we decided to give them a try. If the Belfast branches were waiting until the 1st to roll out, I figured the worst that could happen was we would be told to wait a few days to order. Wrong. CB phoned, and it went something like this:

CB: Do you offer your gluten-free pizzas yet?
Dominos employee 1: I don’t know what that is. I’ll get the manager.
Dominos manager 1: We did have gluten-free bases, but nobody ordered them. We binned them.
CB: You binned them? You didn’t even advertise them. It wasn’t on your menu.
Dominos manager 1: You can call another branch and see if they have them still. Tell them I told you to call over.

Second branch:

CB: Do you offer your gluten-free pizzas yet? One of the other branch managers told me to phone over to you.
Dominos employee 2: I don’t know what that is. The manager isn’t in, but I’ll phone him and have him phone you back.
. . .
Dominos manager 2: I’m not sure if we have them. What is gluten?
CB: In short, gluten is something that’s in wheat and other grains that some people are allergic to.
Dominos manager 2: Really? Can you tell me more about it? What does it do?
CB: [proves he actually listens to me and spends about 3-4 minutes talking about Celiac and gluten]
Dominos manager 2: Wow. Thanks. I’ve never heard of that. We don’t have anything gluten-free, I don’t think.

While the employees and managers were really nice, they had no idea what was going on (and I have to assume the bit about having binned them was a panic-driven fabrication). At that point, I wasn’t even so bothered they didn’t have the bases — I was prepared for that possibility since it was only rolling out — but I was very concerned by the fact that the information was so sparse and different. They clearly had not be trained about gluten cross-contamination if one of the managers didn’t even know what gluten is. As you may know, I like to have my voice heard. I got in contact with the national Dominos folks and discussed the issues we discovered in the Belfast branches. After a bit of back and forth, we agreed that it was best they pushed the roll-out date back a few weeks and work on employee education. I was later offered a voucher for my assistance and trouble and to try the new pizza when it came out and give feedback.

A few weeks later, voucher in hand, I tread onto the Dominos website. There is a big GF on the choice of bases. There are comments about which toppings are not gluten-free, which, it is good to see, are very few. I double- and triple-check everything before I place the order. I half-expect the phone to ring, and they will tell me they still don’t have them in Belfast. Not even three minutes later, an unknown number calls. I answer.

Dominos employee: You ordered a gluten-free pizza?
Me: (sighing) Yes, I did.
Dominos employee: I just wanted you to know there is egg in the base. Some people are allergic to eggs, and I wanted to make sure that was okay.
Me: Absolutely. Thank you so much for asking.

What a difference. Less than a month prior, no one in the shops even knew what food allergies were. Now they’re phoning to make sure I’m not allergic to eggs?! How wonderful! The delivery driver explained that they always make sure the pizza boxes marked with a gluten-free sticker sit on top of the others, just in case something could fall down into it somehow. Some drivers choose to leave off the dips because they aren’t sure about the content and don’t want to give out something that might have gluten (They don’t; I checked). I was overwhelmed by the allergy-attentive service by a take-away pizza chain!

The Dominos pizza is good and tasty, but it’s not fantastic. It relies a lot on corn, which results in a heavier crust than their usual fare. It is crispy, which is a big problem with gluten-free doughs, and it isn’t too chewy. It only comes in one size (9″), but, in all, it makes for a good indulgent take-away, especially since they added spinach back to the toppings choices! The next hurdle I see for them is understanding that, because of some recent recipe changes, not a single side item or dessert is gluten-free. Currently, the only gluten-free option is the pizza itself.

Dominos Pizza delivered

Dominos Pizza delivered, pre-spinach return

Only a few weeks ago, Pizza Express announced their new gluten-free range (It’s even on the main page of their website!). After doing my research on how they are meant to be trained for cross-contamination (and knowing that I expect a little more from them than I would from Dominos), we decided to give them a try. The menu clearly marks items which have “NGCI”: Non-Gluten-Containing Ingredients. There aren’t a ton of options, but there are a few starters (including a lovely white wine and butternut squash risotto), at least one dessert, and a beer. (Their extensive online allergen menu (PDF) makes suggestions on how to make other items suitable for X allergy.) Nearly all of their pizzas can be made on the gluten-free base without any topping adjustments.

The service astounded me. I always fear the worst when someone questions the gluten-free thing.

Server: Oh, are you gluten-free?
Me: Yes, I am.
Server: I will alert the kitchen.

Rather than being made to feel a picky eater, she let me know with that simple statement that my dietary needs would be taken seriously. One table over, I heard the same server discussing with the mother of a young Celiac girl the changes the company had made in every kitchen for the gluten-free range. They have a completely new and gluten-free portion of every kitchen. Nothing ever goes on that side that has touched the other foods. They have a new oven that is only for gluten-free pizzas. In the cases where they are forced to utilize the same shelf space, the gluten-free items are all on higher shelves so that no errant flour can fall onto them. They are clear when they deliver the pizzas to the table which is gluten-free, but the setting is just the same — it sounds like such a little thing, but, when something is obviously different from others, it draws attention to it when you’d rather just get on with eating.

Pizza Express does have a superior crust. I would expect that. They have quality ingredients with responsible sources. The crust looks and tastes like a regular pizza crust. I’m shocked to say that I almost forgot I was eating a gluten-free pizza. Every once in a while, if I let my mind wander while eating, I’ll come back to the meal with a sudden paranoia that I have made a massive mistake and WHAT HAVE I EATEN?! That panic lasted a second longer when I realised there was pizza in my hand and it looked so good.

REAL pizza from Pizza Express!

REAL pizza from Pizza Express!

Pizzas from Dominos and Pizza Express lead completely divergent existences in the pizza world. Though Dominos did stumble at the beginning, eventually both chains impressed me. I can’t expect for any employee or company to know everything straight out of the gate, but a true willingness to learn and a commitment to respect go a long way in my book.

Chocolate Chip Smooshy Bars

As it is crazy marking season in my Real Life, I’m opting for quicker meals and easy treats.  This recipe is one of my new favourites; it is sweet and satisfying, but you don’t feel like you’ve eaten a big, stodgy dessert when you’re done.  If you want to make it more of a treat and not quite as good for you, leave out the oats and flax, reduce the agave nectar to just under 1/3 cup, and only include 1 tablespoon of milk.  I like a bit more texture, and I like the addition of the oats and flax for mixed fibre.  Without it, they are softer and smooshier, almost like a blondie. Both are tasty, and both come recommended by my husband, the undisputed King of Desserts Sydney Makes.

Chocolate Chip Smooshy Bars

This one is the oat-free version

This one is the oat-free version

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
Extra coconut oil or other oil for greasing pan

Hardware:
large mixing bowl
small mixing bowl
whisk
measuring cups and spoons
8×8 baking pan
oven
knife
spatula

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.  Lightly grease the bottom and sides of your baking pan.

In the large mixing bowl, combine your almond flour, flax meal, oats, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk well.  Almond flour won’t clump as badly as other flours, but, because it has a slightly wetter texture, it can stick to the bottom and sides of your bowl and keep it from being properly mixed.

In the small bowl, combine the agave nectar, coconut oil, vanilla extract, milk, and eggs.  Whisk to combine.  Add the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk together.  Let stand for five minutes.  Whisk again.  Fold your chocolate chips into the batter with the spatula.

Scoop (yes, it will be scooping instead of pouring) your batter into the baking pan and smooth.  Try to get the top as smooth as you can to ensure even cooking.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.  You want a golden colour on the top.

Remove and let stand for at least 30 minutes before cutting.  If you’re impatient (like we were), they taste just fine scooped out with a spoon after 15 minutes, but they won’t hold their shape.  They actually taste the best the next day once they get a bit more smooshy!

Seriously, you have to wait.  I know it's not fair.

Seriously, you have to wait. I know it’s not fair.

Back in Belfast and Black Bean Brownies

From my last meal before travelling

From my last meal before travelling

I am back home to Belfast!  I wish I could say it feels great, but so far it feels like my head against my pillow — but MY pillow!  The tiny traveller made it, too; she got lots of special attention from a lovely family on the transatlantic flight, so she arrived feeling very important and very cute.

She climbed into her luggage while I was packing and did not want to get out.

She climbed into her luggage while I was packing and did not want to get out.

A couple of days before I left, I made dinner with dessert for the family. I’ll be posting the dinner later, but the dessert was too good to leave for long.  The beans provide the starch necessary to hold the brownie batter together without the need for any sort of flour, but they also provide a high level of fibre and protein among other great things.  Even my incredibly picky grandfather enjoyed these guys. If you’re not a big fan of dark chocolate, use regular cocoa powder.  My mother didn’t care for it until she had a scoop of ice cream with it because of the richness.

Decadence

Decadence

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients:
1 can of black beans (or cook up your own), about 15 oz
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used 3 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa and 2 tablespoons regular cocoa)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey powder)
a bit of icing sugar
cooking oil or spray

Hardware:
large food processor
sieve or colander
mixing bowl
spatula
8×8 baking pan
oven
measuring spoons and cups
cooling rack
knife

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Drain and rinse the black beans in the sieve/colander.  You want the water to run cleanly through the beans.  Shake off the excess water.  Blitz the beans and eggs together in the food processor.  It will look soupy, but the eggs helps the beans to break down better.  Without them, the beans will be very lumpy.

Bean and egg soup

Bean and egg soup

Add the vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder.  Pulse to combine.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Stir in the sugar with the spatula.  When completely combined, it should look like any other brownie batter.  I added some chopped pecans and chocolate chips (no measurements, just whatever looked right), but I think they would be great without them.

Brownie batter -- can you even tell this stuff started as a weird soup?

Brownie batter — can you even tell this stuff started as a weird soup?

Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

Brownies!

Brownies!

Sprinkle the icing sugar over the top if you’re feeling fancy.  I was.

Fancy

Fancy

Wait until they are completely cooled before slicing.  I cut mine into 16 pieces.  If you make them bigger, no one will judge you.  Just tell them you’re eating your vegetables.

Thanksgiving 2012 & Feeding the Stuffing Addiction

apron brooch

CB thinks it’s hilarious when I wear his apron because I can’t eat pork.

I have to admit, Thanksgiving went down better than I ever anticipated.  I made the entire meal gluten-free rather than having things I couldn’t eat after I slaved over it for two days.

Here was our menu:

Turkey (cheated and bought a Marks and Spencers ready-to-roast job)
Gravy
Cornbread and bacon stuffing
Sweet potato casserole
Green bean casserole
Pecan-crusted spinach and artichoke dip (with homemade creamed spinach, no less!)
Baked macaroni and cheese
Sour cream mashed potatoes
Pao de queijo (not traditional Thanksgiving by far, but I wanted rolls, and this is what I got)
Pumpkin cheesecake
Pumpkin cupcakes

I was going to make oven-roasted root vegetables but decided at the last minute that we had more than enough food already.

Clockwise from top left: Cornbread and bacon stuffing, sour cream mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin cupcakes, pecan-crusted spinach and artichoke dip, pao de queijo, turkey breast, green bean casserole (left), sweet potato casserole (right), and the shining sun in the center is the baked macaroni and cheese. Pumpkin cheesecake not pictured.  And, yes, we have a terrible tablecloth.  We know.

Clockwise from top left: Cornbread and bacon stuffing, sour cream mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin cupcakes, pecan-crusted spinach and artichoke dip, pao de queijo, turkey breast, green bean casserole (left), sweet potato casserole (right), and the shining sun in the center is the baked macaroni and cheese. Pumpkin cheesecake not pictured. And, yes, we have a terrible tablecloth. We know.

When I was young, I became fascinated with stuffing.  It was my favourite part of Thanksgiving, and I remember being so excited when I found out you could eat it other times of the year.  I begged for it until my mother finally showed me a box and told me I could make it myself.  No, it’s not good for you, and it’s especially not good for you from a box!

When I found out I couldn’t eat gluten, stuffing was the first thing that came to mind.  Instantly, I wanted it all the time and for every meal.  Gluten-free stuffing mixes exist here (well, at least one), and, while tasty, they just don’t scratch the itch of this Stove Top purist.  I’m afraid nothing ever will.  However, last year, while visiting my parents for Christmas, I came upon a recipe that I adapted into a satisfying replacement.  Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t taste like Stove Top — but it is good enough to go back for seconds.  I used a bag of Bob’s Red Mill cornbread mix last year, but I didn’t have one for Thanksgiving.  I immediately went to the Gluten Free Goddess and located something I could make work for me with several adjustments.  So, without further ado, here is my version of what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.

Cornbread and Bacon Stuffing

Sweet Cornbread

Ingredients:
1 cup stone ground gluten-free cornmeal
3/4 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (optional — not included in dry ingredients list)
1/2 cup organic light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 cup very warm water
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
2 extra tablespoons water, if needed

Hardware:
Cast iron skillet
Oven
2 mixing bowls
2 whisks
Measuring cups and spoons
Spatula (to get the last bits out of the bowl)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C with lightly greased skillet inside.

Combine the dry ingredients — cornmeal, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder, fine sea salt, and brown sugar — in a bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together for about 1 minute.  This is where the original recipe had me confused.  I checked the comments and notes, and it seems like I’m the only person who can’t seem to figure it out.  I don’t see where the warm water and juice is meant to be added.  I choose to add it here, as I thought it might be lumpy if you tried to mix it in later.  So, add the lime juice and the warm water. Mix to combine.

Add the dry bowl to the wet bowl in three or four portions, ensuring to mix thoroughly between each portion.  You are looking for a smooth, cake-like batter; do not beat it past when it looks like cake batter.  If your batter is too thick, add in a little extra warm water, bit by bit, until you get the consistency you want.  Mine came out perfect without extra water.

Remove the skillet from the oven (carefully!) and sprinkle the coarse sea salt into it.  The salt here is optional, but I love the complexity it gives a sweet cornbread.  Pour the batter into the skillet, scraping the bowl with the spatula to make sure you have it all.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Definitely check on it at 25 minutes because mine did not need any longer.  Let the cornbread cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving (or turning it into stuffing).

Stuffing

Ingredients:
3 cups crumbled cornbread
6 slices gluten-free bread, toasted
6 slices bacon (I used 4 slices of turkey bacon [turkey bacon has bigger pieces because there is less fat])
2 eggs
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped (I didn’t bother)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Hardware:
Casserole dish with lid that can go in oven
Oven
Stove
Small bowl
Measuring cups and spoons
Frying pan or skillet
Various kitchen utensils (fork, spatula, something to help with frying)
Mixing bowl

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Cut the toasted bread into small cubes.  Set aside.

Fry the bacon until crispy and remove from the pan.  If you are using veggie or turkey bacon, add some oil to the pan, as there is a lot less fat in them than pork bacon.  Add the onion, celery, sage, and thyme to the pan and fry until the onion is tender and translucent.  Remove from heat.  Crumble cooled bacon back into the pan.

In the small bowl, beat the eggs with the fork.  Add to the mixing bowl with the bacon and onions/celery and all seasonings — salt, black pepper, and garlic powder.  Fold together with the fork.  Add the cornbread crumbles and bread cubes and fold with the spatula.  Try to ensure that all the dry parts are covered.  Pour half of the chicken broth over the mixture and fold with the spatula.  Assess how much more broth you need (I needed the whole cup) to completely moisten the mixture and add it in.  Fold again.

Pour the mixture into the casserole dish (no need for greasing) and cover.  Bake in oven for 30 minutes.  Alternatively, it can be used to stuff a bird instead of baking.  I’m not that adventurous yet.