Friday, January 20, 2012

Gluten What?

So my son told me not long ago that he had to stop taking my yummy treats back to his house because his roommate was gluten free and having all that stuff around was just a big tease. I was crushed! Well, not really, because I always consider those things as challenges.

So I started down that road of gluten free cooking. At first I paid high dollars for gluten free mixes. They were OK but boy, were they expensive. Then I decided I would try my hand at making a gluten free baking flour that would be cup-for-cup the same as all-purpose flour in any recipe. My lovely friend Kate from Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking turned me on to the Art of Gluten Free Baking website for a recipe to make a cup-for-cup mix. I went to the local Asian market and bought all the rice flours and starches to make the mix and it did come out pretty good. Luckily for me, Kate also hooked me up with some xanthum gum (that stuff is really pricey!) that she buys in bulk since she lives a gluten free life herself. I ended up making some citrus sugar cookies with that mix during the holidays only to make a HUGE mistake... I decorated them by rolling each in candy sprinkles that coincedently were made and packaged in a wheat-borne environment. Really?????? Ughhh, OK, so that was a fail (but provided a good laugh to many of my gluten-free friends). Over it and moving on, I gave the rest of that batch of flour to my son's roommate which he says he has since used to make breaded chicken and other flour-based recipes. With all the craziness of trying to find good gluten free recipes I seemed to miss one of the key components along the way. I was trying too hard. It occurred to me that if I just stop for a second and pay attention, I have a whole bunch of yummy recipes that don't have flour in them at all. No excuses, trying too hard just ripped a hole in my check book and gave me a ton of unneeded, self-induced stress. So a day late and a dollar short, I am looking at this in a whole new way and I'm just going to keep baking delicious cookies for my son that won't make me break a sweat or my budget, I'm jus' sayin'!

Double Chocolate Orange Truffle Cookies
Adapted from this recipe

3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 egg whites (at room temperature)
1 tbs. of orange juice
2 tbs of orange zest
1 tbs. of vanilla
2 cups of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Place parchment lined cookie sheet in freezer to chill.

In a large mixing bowl with a whisk, mix the sugar, cocoa and salt. With a wooden spoon, mix the egg whites, orange juice, zest and vanilla. When mixed well, stir in the chips and incorporate well. Place tablespoon sized mounds on baking sheet and bake 12-13 minutes until they have a nice sheen and hold there shape. Cool and enjoy with a glass of milk. No, really, you will need something to drink with these bad boys. They are decadent and rich. Oh, and gluten free! *Insert jazz hands here*

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Cranberry Moment

I must really have cranberry on my mind because this next post is also cranberry-related and about a very favorite treat of mine from a very famous coffee shop. One of my very favorite things about going on vacation is that I don't have to get up to make coffee or even remember to prepare it the night before. It makes no difference to me if my coffee is being poured from a waitress, a barista, or a hotel coffee dispenser, as long as it's rich, dark, and hot, I am a happy person. Now, I live in a town of wonderful local coffee shops and I will make every effort to support them when I have time to choose. However, it's no secret that the famous Starbucks is seemingly on every corner and always seems to be closer to where I'm going. I rarely take the time to go inside because the drive-through is simply too convenient, but when I do go in it's usually during the holidays because I just love to drool over their holiday desserts shining behind that sparkling glass counter. They generally taste as good as they look and I often try to re-create those sweet treats at home. One of these days I may just have to go get a job there so I can delve into the "secret" recipe folder - even though I know that most of them are outsourced.

As I alluded to previously, my last post was about cranberry orange muffins (a muffin they make at Starbucks too) and it would appear that I have not quite squelched my cranberry fix. I was looking through my boards on when I remembered pinning this yummy recipe last Christmas. I wanted to bring something into the office for the staff and this seemed to be the perfect recipe since I know they frequent the above coffee shop as well. This recipe was adapted from the Lovin From The Oven blog, who adapted it from another blogger. I take no credit in creating this recipe other than adding a little orange zest in the final icing. However, I will take full credit for indulging in each bite... I'm jus' sayin'!

Cranberry Bliss Bars adapted by Lovin From The Oven

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1–1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1–1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, minced
1/4 cup plus 1/4–1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup crystallized ginger slices, minced
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. grated orange zest
2 tbsp. of milk
1–1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan or line it with parchment paper for easy removal.
Beat together the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs and vanilla.
Add the flour, ginger, and salt into the batter. Beat well. Lightly stir in the 1/4 cup cranberries, 1/4 cup chocolate chips and minced ginger.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven.
Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, butter, and orange zest and milk until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until you reach the desired consistency.
Spread the frosting onto the cooled cake.
Cut the frosted cake as desired into bars or triangles. Sprinkle the remaining minced cranberries and chocolate chips on the top.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cranberry Orange Sweet Harmony

Some flavors I really believe were created to mingle with others to become a product on there own. I also believe that there are still a million other flavors waiting to be mixed and matched by some creative kitchen chef or scientist. I'll leave those to the mixologists of the world to work on and until then, I'll stick to those flavor combinations that I have committed to memory.

I can't honestly say when I had cranberry and orange flavors mixed together for the first time. It may have been a Thanksgiving dinner way back when my mom added orange juice to the cranberry sauce. That citrus provided some extra zing that made the tart cranberry wake up. Or maybe it was that first cranberry-orange scone I tasted at the local tea house my mom and I would go to as a teen. This I do know: cranberry-orange is a delightful and easy flavor that just works well on every level whether part of a complex dish or a simple one. It's also one of those flavors you can fall back on when needing to whip-up a sweet little morning treat.

I buy cranberries on sale after Thanksgiving and then freeze them. I like to use them in canning, coffee cakes, simple syrups (Cosmos anyone?) or sugared for a pretty garnish. As with most anywhere today, citrus is available year-round here in Texas and I always have a bowl of it on my table, especially in the winter to keep things looking and tasting fresh. Yes, this is an old recipe and yes, it's probably one you have made before, but remember how good they were when you opened one up and exposing those jeweled cranberries, then that zing of orange tingled your tongue at the same time that the cranberry popped with a tart burst of flavor? Yep, that's what I thought! You feel like making some right now, right? Well, if not now, then maybe the next time that someone reminds you how good those flavors are together... I'm jus' sayin'!

Cranberry Orange Muffins with Crumb Topping

Preheat oven to 400°f
In a large bowl whisk the following:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Then add the following and stir until combined:
1 cup cranberries
1 egg
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons grated orange rind

In a small bowl combine the following. (If your butter is cold and hard, use the cheese grater to grate the butter into bits and then combine with fingers to create "crumbs")

Streusel Crumb Topping
1/2 cup flour
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons sugar

Line your 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners ( I used these fun new ones I got as a Christmas gift). Fill 3/4 full with muffin batter in each muffin paper. Then sprinkle 1 tbs. of crumb mixture on top of batter (you can use less but I happen to love that crumb topping which is why I use more). Don't pack the crumb mixture down. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and when you place a tooth pick in the middle of the muffin it should come out clean.

These beauties freeze well if you can actually stop eating them...

Or place a couple in a basket with some orange juice and champagne for a neighbor?