Monday, November 16, 2015

Sugar Cookies (gluten-free) . . . Finally!

I love butter.  I love sugar.  I love flour.  I love vanilla.

Mix it all together, and the next logical deduction equals = I love sugar cookies!!

Simple to mix up, fulfilling to roll out, fun to cut, easy to bake, creative to decorate.  And that's before you even get to the eating!!  Sweet, tender, soft, chewy, and (with sprinkles or colored sugar) a little crunchy.  A world of delightful texture and taste.  Uncomplicated, unassuming, comforting.  Sugar cookies.

When this household suddenly went gluten-free, years ago, I thought sugar cookies were now extinct under this roof.

Trial runs with rice flours, and mixes incorporating bean flours of different types left us with unappetizing, thick, grainy, or heavy cookies.  You can only hide so much under a substantial layer of powdered sugar icing and sprinkles.  The experimental cookies usually sat neglected on the counter until they were so hard that I was doing us all a service by dumping them.  And yet again dumping the hope of a gluten-free sugar cookie that could be enjoyed.

 Enter the dear Silvana and her marvelous gluten-free flour mix that can be made right in your own kitchen (here).  Take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  It is more time-consuming to combine these flours; it is more costly to purchase these flours than the 5-pound bag of Gold Medal sitting on the market shelf.  However, this mix is gluten-free, and in cookie baking, the flour is a highly billed player!!  No compromises with the flour.

And so, this year we ended up with a chewy and delicious sugar cookie for the first time in years.  And if I ended up making 6 batches of these delights, I can hardly be blamed.

Gluten-Free Sugar Cookies
1/4 pound butter3/4 cup sugar1 egg1/2 tsp. vanilla1 Tbsp. cream or milk1 1/4 cups Silvana's gluten-free flour mix (recipe here) - I leave the salt out of the flour mix!!1/8 tsp. salt1/4 tsp. baking powder

Cream the butter.  Gradually add the sugar, beating until light.  Add the egg, vanilla, cream/milk and beat thoroughly.Mix the flour mix, salt and baking powder together.  Add to the first mixture and blend well.  Add more flour mixture if the dough is too soft.  Sprinkle flour mix on the rolling surface, roll cookies to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut out shapes and back for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Frosting:1 cup powdered sugar2 tsp. milk2 tsp. light corn syrup1/4 tsp. vanilla food coloring

Stir powdered sugar and milk until smooth.  Beat in the corn syrup and vanilla until icing is smooth and glossy. If the frosting is too thick, add more corn syrup.  Divide icing into separate bowls and stir in food coloring as desired.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Spiced Apples

This is a post from last Christmas . . . when I needed the aroma of spiced apples!

By the time Christmas had blown in and out and the ball had dropped and all the plans for the new year were put in place, the only thing I wanted in the whole world was for Christmas around the house to be gone!!

Really strange, actually, because when those same decorations came out last year, my heart melted over them.  I sat charmed and dreamy on the sofa, looking at twinkling lights, antique paper chains, and wreaths stuffed with all matter of natural materials.

This year, it just never felt right.  Tree too big.  Antique paper chain getting a little shabby, gaunt garland several years past needing replacing.  Pieces falling out of the wreath.  It all seemed tired and spent and secondhand from the moment the boxes were cracked open.

Christmas was fine.  Christmas was good.  It's just that I felt rushed and the house felt incomplete and the people that came for Christmas were Christmas-ed out upon arrival, after having already had 4 Christmases with various sides of their own families to attend.  And they tried, they really did.  But, actually, if you've already had Christmas 4 times and everyone has wanted it to be the absolute fun-est day of your life and the nights get longer and the desserts get richer, when you get to Christmas #5, you just might be yawning and you just might have your eyes glazed over and you just might be not quite so perky.
It's not their fault.  It's not my fault.  It's just life.  And life doesn't always look like we want it to.

Some Christmases are charming and fresh and warm and your heart hurts and your toes tingle and you find yourself floating around with scraps of overplayed Christmas songs humming through your head.  And other Christmases just feel a little . . . flat.
I'm learning to be okay with that.  That there can be a quiet kind of contentment, even in a Christmas that is a little less than . . . in every way.  There are bigger pictures, deeper fulfillments.
So, it was with a little too much gusto that we lit a fire, put on Peppermint Winter, stripped those trees bare and unceremoniously yanked off the garlands.
And while children dismantled (the decor that is!!), I heated up a skillet and got to work on hot Spiced Apples, to complete the comforting feeling of clean floors, order, and fresh starts.

Tart, thick wedges of very green Granny Smith apples, butter browning in the pan, and heavy sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Okay . . . there's sugar in there too!!

And then as those apples gave in and yielded themselves to the caramel-y buttery-ness, the house filled up with smells that could fool you into thinking a juicy pie is baking.
The storage boxes were eventually filled.  The wood floor strewn thickly with Frasier fir, swept.  Furniture scooted back into its familiar places.
The feeling of a fresh start hanging in the air . . . along with the heady scent of apples and spices.

And I'm reminded that the joy of life isn't in the perfection of a dreamy Christmas but rather in the never-changing faithfulness of my Father.  His mercies new every day.  His provision complete.
And if the year starts with a delicious plate of Spiced Apples too . . .well, all the better!

Spiced Apples1/4 cup butter6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 3 pounds)3/4 cup sugar1 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Melt butter in large skilled over medium high heat.  Add apples and remaining ingredients.  Saute' 15 to 20 minutes or until apples are tender.  Serves 6

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Italian Chicken Rice Soup

On Sunday night I was expecting dinner guests.  This particular group had the distinguishing characteristic of including a chef, a restaurateur, an artist, and various gluten-free, dairy-free, and tree nut allergic individuals.  All of these ingredients made coming up with a menu a slightly strenuous exercise.  But at last I had it down.

A melt-in-your-mouth brisket from America's Test Kitchen
Crash Hot Potatoes from The Pioneer Woman
Mixed Greens and Pear Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette
Various Breads from Flat Rock Village Bakery

Unlike other dubious times of entertaining, this time I was going to be relaxed and ready.  I had a menu, I had a schedule, I had a plan.  On Sunday afternoon all was going exactly to that plan.  Wood floors mopped, check.  Onions caramelized to a golden perfection, check.  Potatoes boiled and set aside, check.

I reached to put my marinated briskets into the oven and glanced once again at the recipe, just to make sure that 2 hours was the correct baking time.

And then I slowly went cold, head to toe.

The recipe read, "Bake 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until tender."  It was 4:00 pm.  Company was to arrive at 6:00.  A dinner hour of 7:30 to 8:00 was not a possibility with 8 school-aged kids involved.

So, with 2 hours, I must now come up with a new main dish that:

* went with my other side dishes
* appealed to my august group of trained palates and artistic sensibilities
* included no dairy, wheat or nuts
* could be ready in 1 1/2 hours (throw in a quick trip to the grocery store!!), and
* would cause me zero stress, since my stress level was threatening to enter the red zone.

A 5-minute glance through my tried and true recipes yielded only one recipe that would work . . . Italian Chicken Rice Soup.

The addition of any great spaghetti sauce gives this soup the flavor of having been simmered for hours.   My personal choice is Classico.

My company had no idea that the soup hastily slapped into two large tureens and served with freshly grated Parmesan was the product of 15 minutes of preparation, instead of my overnight-marinated, onion-caramelized, slow-baked brisket.

The soup was hearty, savory and amazingly comforting on a chilly winter night.

And when the evening was over, there was only one recipe requested by several guests . . .

Italian Chicken Rice Soup
49 1/2 ounces chicken broth
26 ounces meatless spaghetti sauce (I used Classico Tomato Basil)
1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (I used a tablespoon of dried)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon sugar

In a Dutch oven, combine the broth spaghetti sauce, chicken, parsley, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in rice and sugar. Simmer, uncovered, another 10 minutes or until heated through. Serve with a generous grating of mozzarella or Parmesan on top! Yield: 2 1/2 quarts

Friday, October 30, 2015

Southwestern Chicken Soup

Okay, let's be honest.  If you want a lot of flavor in a recipe, it's going to take time and it might take a lot of ingredients, the preparation of which may lead to even more time.

So, if you're going to go simple with your food, you're probably going to need a magic ingredient that gives the soup the flavor of having been simmered all day.

For this yummy soup, the magic ingredient is:

In this case, I am paying someone else to take the time to round up the tomatillos, chiles, cilantro, and onion and roast, chop, and combine them.  In return I get a delicious Salsa Verde to flavor my soup and to make it taste like, in fact, I roasted, chopped, and combined those very ingredients.

I would actually love to make my own Salsa Verde for this soup.  But that's the trade-off for simple.  There are times I let someone else do a time-consuming part of my cooking.  Sometimes.

Now, once I've let these nice people provide my soup with this awesome flavor, I add in chicken, cannellini beans, broth, corn, and spices.

Top with  some tortilla chips, sour cream and green onion, and you've got a soup that will make everyone in the family smile tonight.

And that, friends, is the secret of magic ingredients that make simple taste like amazing. Occasionally you CAN get the best of both worlds!!

Southwestern Chicken Soup (serves 4--I double!!)

1-12 oz. jar salsa verde
3 cups cooked chicken
1-15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained
3 cups chicken broth
8 oz. frozen corn
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili (Are you kidding??  I definitely double this!)
sour cream, tortilla chips, sliced green onion for toppings

Empty salsa verde into large sauce pan.  (If you double, use a Dutch oven.)  Simmer 2 minutes over medium-high heat.  Add chicken, beans, broth, corn, and spices.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Top each bowl with chips, sour cream, and sliced green onions.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Homemade Hot Cocoa

On Friday, Youngest Son surveyed weather, date, and occupants of the house and pronounced it a perfect night. 

A perfect night for making a fire in the fire pit.

Weather - clear and cold.  Mom can, therefore not make the excuse "too wet" or "too hot."

Date - no school in the morning.  Mom can, therefore, not say, "No fire pit on a school night."

Occupants - no older siblings home.  Therefore, no all-knowing brothers to be telling Youngest Son how to build a fire, tend a fire, or put out a fire.  No smugly confident older siblings to criticize the accidental burning of marshmallows, sparks on the deck caused by over-zealous stoking, or an entire 2-weeks worth of newspapers crumpled and added to the blaze.

No, altogether a perfect night for a fire in the fire pit. 

The building and tending of a fire is a wonderful, earthy experience.  Bringing out all the primal feelings of joy in the ability to put together gathered wood (okay it came pre-wrapped from the local market), set it to burning (yes, we were helped out by the Diamond Match Company),

nurse it through its fitful starts and stops and then through much blowing and poking and arranging and sighing suddenly come up with a magical source of warmth to all around its circle . . . holding forth against the 33 degree air at our backs.

Of course there were marshmallows and gooey fingers, faces that got too hot and backs that got too cold, smoky hair and eyes that got red and teary.

And when the discomfort of the gooeyness, heat, and stinging eyes overcame the delight of the stoking, roasting and warming hands, we all headed inside and sipped home made hot cocoa and agreed with Youngest Son.

It really was a perfect night for making a fire in the fire pit.

Homemade Hot Cocoa

Pour the following ingredients into a blender. 

4 cups of whole milk (sorry, but if you want the full, decadent flavor, you've gotta use whole!)
1/2 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of vanilla
5 tablespoons of cocoa (I used Hershey's)

Blend away on highest speed. The frothiness this creates makes the beverage even more delectable!

Pour into a pan, heat to desired temperature, serve to adoring children and/or adults . . . or yourself!