Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cardamom-Carob Mousse

I made the mistake, or rather, took the risk of making an experiment for guests that were eating here at Huerta Grande.

And the result was about as can be expected with an experiment: average. Some people loved it, other people hated it and politely pushed it away, and other people kept expecting chocolate with each bite, even after being proven wrong the first few times.

That's the tricky thing about carob- it's not for everyone. According to one guest, it tasted "green". His tastebuds were confused: his eyes promised him something that tasted brown (read: chocolate) and instead reality gave him carob. Which, though it is used as a substitute for chocolate, doesn't really taste the same.

Which is why I think instead of thinking of it as a poor man's chocolate, carob should be considered as its own, delicious ingredient. Many recipes claim that carob can be used as a substitute for chocolate, but it is simply not the same. So this introduction is my disclaimer: don't expect this to taste like chocolate mousse! It's much lighter, does have a bit of an earthy taste, and is incredibly decadent in its own way.

And it's almost vegan! I wanted to make it vegan, but caved in the end and used a bit of cream. But you can easily substitute soy milk or even soy creamer and create a vegan bliss.

And if you have a food processor, it's a very quick and easy fix.

You need:

Carob powder
2-3 avocados
Cream/Soy milk
Dried figs
A bit of sugar
Shredded coconut for decoration

Before getting started, soak the dried figs in water or liquor for an hour or so. It makes them MUCH easier to process.

Cut up your avocados, tear up your now mushy figs, and add them to the carob powder and cardamom. It all goes into the food processor. Process these together, then check for consistency. If it's a bit thick and not smooth, add cream until you get the texture of a mousse. Also check for taste - the figs can make it pretty sweet, but if it needs sugar, throw a bit in.

Process, process. And done!

Put in the refrigerator for a couple hours, top with some coconut, and you're good to go.

If you want to be super decadent, add fresh fruit (I used kiwi, but whatever is in season, mango, berries, cherries, etc. works). It adds some beautiful color and plays perfectly with the carob.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gluten-free Swiss chard and Mushroom Quiche

I normally enjoy the things I cook. And normally they come out about how I would have expected. But rarely am I ever as surprised as I was when I tried my first fresh-out-of-the-oven bite of this quiche.

It all started with an overload of vegetables. They desperately needed to be made into something more exciting than a soup or puree. A quiche, I thought. And then I realized that if I was making a quiche, I would need to make a pastry crust. And with that pastry crust I could make a little extra to make a mini sweet potato pie from leftover sweet potato wedges. And then it was a done deal.

The pastry crust was a simple combination of butter, corn flour, a bit of water, and a bit of rum. (The alcohol in the rum evaporates, leaving the crust nice and flaky.) It's the same that I used for the Gluten-free empanadas (, minus the sugar and plus the rum.

Then I sauteed, each separately, and in a generous amount of olive oil:
1 large onion (sauteed for a lonnnng time, letting the onion become sweet and caramelized)
Lots of Swiss chard, ripped into pieces, with the stalks removed
Lots of sliced mushrooms

I threw in a bit of salt and pepper to help them gather up some flavor while they cooked.

We had a lot of vegetables, and so I used them all, which produced a extremely veggie-laden quiche. By varying the amount of vegetables you put in, you can completely change the taste and texture. (Less vegetables, you notice the egg more (reminds me of a Spanish omelet), more vegetables and it feels less eggy.)

Then the cheese. I always feel like quiches don't have as much cheese as I want them to, and the cheese helps all the flavors wake up. So I grated a generous amount of Gouda and Parmesan.

Finally, the egg mixture. I whisked together until foamy:
5 eggs
A good amount (a cup or so?) of cream
Spot of olive oil

Then it all came together. First I pressed the crust into the baking dish, poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Then I laid out the onions in a thin bottom layer. Next I mixed the mushrooms, Swiss chard, and cheese into the egg mixture, and all that happy eggy-cheesy-veggie goodness filled up the dish.

Into the pre-heated oven: about 200 Celsius for 30 minutes.

And the result, like I said, was surprising. I hadn't made a quiche in years, and consulted a couple internet recipes for a general idea of proportions. Of course, in the end I just threw things together and did it how I wanted to. But this quiche was something else. It got me so excited that I was talking about it in each Skype conversation I had that day and the next.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gluten-free Lemon Avocado Cookies

For a lack of a nail, the horse lost the shoe... and down the line the whole war was lost. But sometimes lack can lead to invention which yields a far more exciting result. Were it not for a lack of egg, these would have been ordinary gluten-free lemon cookies, too plain to feature on my blog.

But due to some benevolent force, when I had my cookie craving and meandered into the kitchen to figure out what I could make, there were no eggs in the refrigerator. But I was determined to make cookies. I considered that many vegan cookie recipes call for banana instead of egg...but no banana. What did we have that had a similar consistency? Avocados. And so, lemon-avocado cookies were born.

First I blended:
1-2 avocado
Splash of milk

This made a nice, sweet, buttery avocado-butter. Depending on how ripe your avocados are, the milk may or may not be necessary. Mine weren't really quite ripe enough. I also tried to balance the sugar with the lemon juice. If you want a cookie that's not too lemony, just grate the rind into the butter mixture. If you want a bit of lemon punch, then add the juice too.

Then I mixed the flour - a blend of rice flour, corn startch, and corn flour, and added a pinch of salt and a bit of ground ginger. Then I mixed the flour into the butter mixture.

I spooned the cookies onto a greased cookie sheet and baked them at 200 C for about 10 minutes. I tried different sizes - having some rounds that were larger cookies, some that were smaller. The smaller ones are better, especially for tea.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gluten-free Zucchini Bread

Some things never change. I work on a farm in the very southernmost part of Spain and there is an overload of tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. I go to a farm in the Alpujarra mountains, close to Trevelez, the highest town in Spain, and I find the same abundance.

What to do with so much verdura?

Make preserves. This past week, I found myself discovering ways to preserve lettuce, to make cold creamy vegetable soups, and to deal with the ripe tomatoes that weren’t able to make it to the market.

And, along the way, I made two loaves of zucchini bread. According to my friend Rose, of, zucchini bread must have been invented by someone who had too much zucchini and didn’t know what in the world to do with it. Who else would have thought to put this vegetable into bread?

Well, I’m glad they did.

And here is my own version. Gluten-free, of course.

Maizena (Spanish brand fine white corn flour. But really it’s just cornstarch.)
Baking soda
Grated zucchini (if you have a food processor, you’ll be very happy.)

Once the zucchini is grated, dry it on with paper towel to take out some of the liquid. This will help avoid the too-gooey center problem that happens when fruits and vegetables make their way into bread. (A trick I picked up from

Toss the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then add the zucchini, tossing it with a fork. You want the mixture to look crumbly, and have almost an equal proportion of zucchini to flour, but a little heavier on the flour side.

In another bowl mix together:

One egg

Then add the wet ingredients to the zucchini-flour bowl and stir. Add in some cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove (or all three, depending on your pantry stock).

Into a greased baking dish and into the preheated oven. The oven I used was a bit broken, so I wasn’t able to judge the temperature. As a safety measure (and so as not to dry out the bread too much), I put a pan with water on the bottom rack, so that the bread would be moist.

This one I made for the market. But plans went awry, and we never made it to the market. So I ended up eating a good ¾ of it by myself.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gluten-free Sweet Potato Empanadas

I was dreaming of sweet potatoes when I walked into my kitchen on the farm. There, in a plastic crate was a pile of recently discovered sweet potatoes. They had been living a little while in an old brick oven kitchen, and had been forgotten. And then they had been uncovered, only to land in my kitchen where my eager hands grabbed them and started peeling.

Peeled them, chopped them in chunks, and tossed them in a pot of boiling water.

When the potatoes were soft, I took them out of their hot bath and mashed them in a bowl. I added (to taste):

A bit of butter
A couple spoonfuls of queso fresco (which, in this form, was more like sour cream)

Next, another discovery: you can use corn flour to make pastry dough.

Half fat to flour, I told myself as I approximated proportions. This pastry dough contained:

White corn flour

First I measured out the dry ingredients, then chopped in the butter. No pastry cutter, no problem. Criss-cross cutting with knives did the trick, until the dough was in small crumbs. Then I added water little by little, tossing the dough with a fork until it formed a ball.

Then came the tricky and not so elegant part - putting it all together. I am far too impatient to wait for a dough to get cold in the fridge, so it always is a bit more difficult to work with. Difficult, but possible.

I divided the ball in half, laying out the first layer in the rough oblong shape of an empanada. I spooned the sweet potato mixture inside, leaving a small dough border. Then I patchworked together a top - flattening the rest of dough in my hands in small bits and laying them on top. It worked surprisingly well, but was a bit tedious.

A sprinkle of sugar on top, and it was into the oven. 200 Celsius, for about 30 minutes, until it turned a nice brown.

My host family and fellow wwoofer were pleased, but not as much as me.

This is one case in which, in my opinion, using corn flour is actually better than wheat flour. The resulting pastry is the perfect complement to sweet potatoes which have a hearty flavor. Normally with gluten-free substitutes, I am trying to imitate something that I often see done with wheat flour. However, corn flour pastry stands on its own, has a different taste and texture, and is just as good.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Queso Fresco with Cranberry Sauce

Snack time!

I know this doesn't count as something I cooked, but it was such a tasty invention and so photogenic that I couldn't help myself.

And, as the name suggests, it was incredibly simple.

As vacation time has started creeping closer, the contents of the fridge are slowly being consumed and not replenished. Which leads to more creative snacking, and to this particular combination: queso fresco with cranberry sauce.

Queso fresco is a mild, unaged, white cheese that originated in Spain and has since then taken on many other forms (according to wikipedia, it has migrated to Mexico and other American countries and can be compared to a very mild feta or an Indian paneer cheese). In this case, it comes in a handy little yogurt-like container. When plopped upside down, it leaves its plastic home to rest on the plate in a small etched dome.

Alone, it's delicious, but often it's paired with membrillo (a quince paste). Our fridge did not have membrillo. But it did, courtesy of Ikea foods, have cranberry sauce.

A spoonful of cranberry sauce on top and I was in snack heaven.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vegan Gluten-Free Sesame Crackers

I've learned how to successfully manage my sweet-tooth cravings with gluten free creations, but lately I've been missing the other half of my snacking repertoire - the world of salty and savory.

So when everyone else was at the pool and I finally had some time in the kitchen alone, I decided to try out making my own crackers. I scanned over some recipes online to get a general idea of proportions, and then stalked the pantry to see what ingredients I could find.

First I mixed together all the dry ingredients:

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup sesame seeds
Garlic powder
Sweet dry red pepper
Herbs de Provence

Then I added 1/2 cup olive oil, stirring until the mixture became crumbly. Finally, I mixed in water, a spoonful at a time, folding the dough until it became a relatively cohesive mass.

Into the oven! I formed the dough into small balls, flattening them with my palm, and baked them for 10 minutes or so at 170 C. (Note: the flatter, the better. I did a second round with the kids and they came out fatter and not as crunchy.)

Simple, crunchy, and satisfying.

The fun part about this recipe is that the only constant is the ratio of water to olive oil to flour. From there you can add different seeds, spices, herbs, cheese, etc to your heart's delight. Each time, something new.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gluten-free Nutella-Chocolate Chip Cake

Having an affinity for mixing together odd ingredients, it was strange to suddenly feel the need to make something "kid-friendly." Kid-friendly? Isn't it a bit early in life for that?

My stint as an au-pair for a Spanish family living outside of Madrid introduced me to this new, unexpected challenge: cooking for and with kids.

So before I decided to challenge their palates with a ginger-coconut-chocolate-spice cake, or something like that, I decided to go back to the basic: chocolate. That's common ground, right?

Then I remembered the Nutella I had seen in the cupboard from my extensive kitchen-stock-stalk, and we were set.

Dry ingredients:
Cup of rice flour
Cup and 1/2 of gluten-free-flour mix (this particular one composed of what I think translates to cornstarch, baking soda, sugar)
A bit more baking soda

Wet ingredients:
1 egg
3 spoonfuls of margarine
5 spoonfuls of cream cheese
Chocolate chips

Elsa was in charge of mixing the wet ingredients, Rodrigo in charge of the dry ones, and I made guesses and approximations until I was content with the contents.

Then we mixed them both together, adding the flour mixture to the other. Finally they both mixed in a handful of chocolate chips.

We poured the mixture into the baking pan, and as I handed them the bowl filled with the batter's remains I discovered something: Elsa likes batter; Rodrigo doesn't.

As a final touch, I decided that our cake deserved more nutella, and spooned some over the top, swirling it in.

Then it was into the oven. As I was too lazy to figure out the proper conversion of Celsius to Fahrenheit, I guessed. I put it at 170 C, and cooked it for 30-40 minutes.

And it actually rose. In my ventures in gluten-free baking, my constant concern and failure is to get cakes to rise. My new conclusion? Baking soda works way better than baking powder when it comes to heavier flours (which happens to be the nature of many gluten-free flour options).

And we waited. It emerged: a success. Evidence? We made it this morning and at 10:00 PM there's only one slice left.

Monday, June 27, 2011


In the vocabulary of Spanish cuisine, "vegetarian" is close to a three-letter word.

But not everyone agrees; Madrid now boasts around 30 vegetarian restaurants. My dear friend Nina came to town for a veg conference, giving me the perfect companion for a tofuventure.

In the list of options that appeared in my Google search, the name Yerbabuena (an herb that's a member of the mint family) caught my attention. As did the website (, filled with photo evidence of the chef's culinary talents. I had made up my mind.

We were greeted by a friendly face, one which I recognized from my excessive online stalking of the restaurant. Our server was none other than one of the owners.

As typical, we were each given a roll to accompany our meal. Encouraged by evidence of gluten-free-friendliness in their menu, I asked if they had gluten free bread.

"Yes!" our waiter said. "Well, no. It's not bread - it's just a little rice cake."

Rice cake? That's good enough for me (and better than you'll find just about anywhere else). My little rice cake happened to be two little ricecakes and buckwheat crackers. I was definitely warming up to this place.

To drink there was a cold homemade infusion (blend of herbal teas) served with none other than a yerbabuena leaf.

Then came the decision. Luckily, the Spanish menu del dia saves me from having to scour the entire menu (though the *GLUTEN FREE PIZZA* was very tempting, the menu always wins out. What can I say? Dessert's included.)

Primer plato: a cold melon and mango soup with diced fresh avocado, sliced almonds, and alfalfa sprouts. This soup has become what I crave whenever I'm hot, hungry, and thirsty (which in summertime in Spain seems to happen quite a lot).

This is not just any chilled soup. The melon and mango are perfectly balanced so it doesn't taste like you are drinking juice. It's sweet, savory, refreshing. And, surprisingly, filling. I was wondering if I was going to be able to eat more, when the second plate arrived, eliminating my doubts.

Segundo plato: Layers of grilled pineapple, wild mushrooms, tomato, eggplant, and garlic zucchini served atop a potato puree with a bechamel cheese sauce.

I'm all about unexpected flavors ending up on the same plate. And in this case, pineapples and potatoes worked. In a combination of sweet and savory, heavy and light, the chef again produced a balanced plate that was filling but not monotonous.

Now I was full. But what to do about dessert?

I opted for a lighter option: homemade yogurt. The first bite was surprising - not as smooth as I anticipated, but fresh. A drizzle of honey and I was converted. And I added the yogurt to my mental list of things I knew I'd be craving again.

No culinary point system needed here; I knew as I was leaving that I would be returning.

And, admittedly, already have.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gluten-free Mango Torte with Chocolate-Coconut Ganache

So I debated long and hard whether or not I could use the term "ganache" to describe the thick chocolaty mixture that topped my unintentional torte. During this process, I discovered a lot of interesting things on Wikipedia.

1. Ganache comes from the French word for "jowl." Hilarious.
2. Ganache is typically made by heating heavy cream and then adding chocolate.
3. Proportions of cream to chocolate determine blah blah blah.

Ultimately, I decided to use it because

1. It sounds a lot prettier than "icing"
2. Even though I didn't use cream, I used milk.
3. Next time I'm definitely going to use cream. Thicker ganache? Yes, please.

And since we're already on the fascinating topic of ganache, I'll start there.

For my particular version I used:

Powdered sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Shredded coconut
Little bit of salt

And I whisked, poured, tasted, repoured. The key here is balance; letting the powdered sugar and cocoa play even parts, and giving it just a splash of milk as you mix. I ended with a smooth, shiny chocolate-coconut delight that I wanted to eat out of the bowl. But I didn't; I saved it for the torte.

The torte! What a surprise it was.

A simple concoction:

1 Egg
2 Mangoes
Gluten-free flour blend
Baking powder

I cut up 2 mangoes (that were on sale at Earth Fare for $.50 and it was almost as good as the time at Elsewhere some artists brought fresh mangoes they had stolen from their neighbor's tree in Florida), beat the butter, yogurt, egg, sugar and then added the cut mango. Threw in some vanilla, then the flour with baking powder and salt.

And the whole time, I thought I was making a cake.

I put it in the oven at 350 - my go-to temperature (though I eventually raised it to 375).

It didn't rise. After about an hour, I sighed, gave up on my cakey dreams, and took it out of the oven.

Well, it has mangoes in it so it has to be good.

I resigned myself to icing it inside the pan, knowing that any attempt to take it out would result in disaster. It felt incomplete, but some blueberries in the fridge did the trick.

After dinner, I brought out the "cake." We cut into it. M dad couldn't make up his mind about it, my mom and grandma praised it, and I was frustrated that it wasn't a cake.

Then it dawned on me; what is dense and sweet and kind of like a cake?

"It's a torte!" I declared.

Suddenly my dad changed his mind, and handed his plate in for seconds.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lemon-Tarragon Summer Squash and Sauteed Arugula Salad

The fruits of my farmer's market labors!

Fresh basil (from mom's garden), local tomatoes, onions, and that sweet banana pepper, you were meant to be together.

Normally, when cooking for myself, I stick to one dish per meal. It fills me up just fine and my blessed metabolism works in such a way that I'll be hungry again in 2 hours anyways. But, being home means cooking more, somehow.

So for this Sunday dinner special, I paired two concoctions that I wouldn't normally put together. To me, all the items on the plate should be able to be enjoyed separately, but also in one, big, glorious bite a la Thanksgiving dinner. In this instance, the flavors of the two separate dishes don't really compliment each other. So, I'll go through them separately.

First, the summer squash. It was composed of:

one yellow squash
one small zucchini
one green apple
lemon juice
brown sugar
dried tarragon

Using my oh-so-special food processor, I was able to thinly slice the squash and apple and grate the zucchini. I love different textures. It keeps the dish visually interesting.

Then I heated up some lemon juice (enough to generously cover the bottom of the pan), tossed in the produce, and added a few spoonfuls of brown sugar, and a healthy dose of tarragon. (I wanted mint, but found that tarragon made a pretty good substitute. IF YOU HAVE FRESH MINT, USE IT!) I put on a lid and let those veggies steam.

I also boiled some short grain Italian rice (the kind usually used in risotto, but any short grain rice will do), and tossed in a few spoonfuls of brown sugar when it was done. My goal was a sort of sticky rice. The rice finished before the rest of the meal was ready, it had plenty of time to settle into itself, and voila! Sticky rice.

Now, moving on to the arugula. I used:

Two small tomatoes
One small onion
One sweet banana pepper
Fresh basil
Salt, pepper
Balsamic Vinegar

I heated some olive oil and added the onions, fresh basil, sweet banana peppers, and probably some salt and pepper. Once that had had enough time to get all friendly and sauteed, I tossed the arugula on top, turned the heat to barely on, and put a lid on it.

Next to that pan, I made a balsamic vinegar reduction to balance out the bitterness of the arugula. For those of you who haven't tried this before, TRY IT! All you do is put some balsamic in a pan, cooking it over high heat, and stir it while it bubbles. After a few minutes, it gets sticky and sweet, forming a syrup-like consistency.

I plated my arugula salad and drizzled some reduction on top. Next to this went a mound of sticky rice with the summer squash. And next to that, one large fork.