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 (www.yerbabuena.ws), 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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Matthews Farmer's Market

I love the farmer's market. No matter what city I'm in, the farmer's market is always a source of:
1. Sunlight
2. Smiling people
3. Kids
4. Fresh produce
5. Local produce
6. Organic produce

So, being back in my hometown of Charlotte for a couple days (and with my mother's money), I headed over to the Matthew's Farmer's Market Saturday morning.

And was greeted by:


I took a turn around the small market, gazing at edible flowers, baked goods, local meat, and fresh produce. But I was shopping on someone else's dime; I had to keep myself in check. So I ended the trip with:

1 bag of peaches
1 yellow squash
1 round "eight ball" zucchini
1 bag of arugula
2 tomatoes
3 small sweet banana peppers - given to me for free (!) by the smiling farmer and his wife after I took photos of his vegetables (pictured below)

And with that, I headed home to mull over what I was going to cook for my parents when they came home from their trip. Something that would taste like the farmer's market.