Tuesday, June 9, 2009

POM Wonderful Pomegranate Pancakes

Writing a blog about food does strange things to my imagination. The curled gray matter of my brain has long been past fire code, so stuffed to the brim with characters and stories, it's a wonder I manage to take in any new information without some of my thoughts leaping from my ears, just to free up the space. And yet, writing this site makes me think about, talk about, and dream about food. Sure I might look busy, type type typing away at my desk or relaxing on the couch watching the day's 3rd episode of Law & Order, but no, if you could see the cogs of my mind a-spinning, you'd know really I'm wondering... If lemon zest tastes great in pasta, what about orange zest? What kind of fruit cobbler would pair up best with the chocolate peppermint I'm growing outside? Can I make a homemade veggie burger with the ingredients in my cabinet?

But now the, well, wonderful people at POM Wonderful have given me a new flavor problem for me mull over while you think I'm listening to you speak. (Well, that is, if your my parents or the secretary in my doctor's office...Just kidding parents! I always listen when you're talking! That secretary though... ) Since receiving a case of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice last week, my mind's been busily working out a plan for each and every bottle - that is, aside from the ones I have already straight up consumed a beverage. (I can't seem to drink it on it's own - it's too sweet and strong for my water drinking palate - but mix a few tablespoons it to a great big, ice cold glass of H2O and you'll have good, good stuff. So good, you almost won't want to cook with it. Almost.)

To me, the obvious thing to do with POM Wonder is make some kind of cake. Lemon-Pomegranate cake. Pomegranate poppy seed pound cake. Chocolate pomegranate cupcakes. Oh my. Sure it sounds decedent, really decedent, maybe too decedent, but if the 3 pages of information on the cancer fighting, heart healthy antioxidant proprieties of their juice POM Wonderful sent me along with their product mean anything, its that consuming this juice is good in whatever chocolatey package you hide it in. (So, I tell myself, and you, anyway...)

Still, at the time I received the POM juice, my fridge continued to harbor that 1234 Cake. I'm not going to debate the merits or demerits of having one to many cakes, but regardless, a stale cake is no ones friend. So with fear of wasting perfectly good cake, I was forced to be a little more creative than a typical sweet. Lucky for me, I had my new favorite baking & cooking inspiration to turn to....

Joy the Baker. I absolutely love her. I love everything about her site. It's so darling, she's so positive, her food is so delicious. And Joy loves pancakes. And I love pancakes. And POM Wonderful Juice. And so POM Wonderful Pancakes were born. They're so spectacularly delicious, I know you'll love them, too.

** While we're on the subject of breakfast food: Thanks to hottipper and generally great source of gluten-free information Denise of the Rasin Rack, I've become aware that Van's new brand of GF Pancakes and French Toast Sticks not only have barley in them, but are not being recalled. What? What, what? You heard right. Easy peasy toaster pancakes and french toast sticks sound wonderful - but please be cautious when buying these products; read the ingredients... twice! They plan on releasing new, reformulated, barley-less products, but for now, buyer be aware when it comes to the pancakes and french toast sticks.

But who needs Van's pancakes when you have these...

Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Pancakes

1 cup GF flour blend (I use Mr. Ritts, with xanthum gum already mixed in)
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar (I bet brown sugar would be fantastic, too)
1 egg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup of skim milk (I didn't have buttermilk, but I can't imagine how using it would be anything but delicious)
1/4 cup of Pom Wonderful juice + 1 table spoon
2 tablespoons earth balance, melted
cooking spray, butter, etc for frying (I used olive oil spray and was surprised at how normal it tasted)

Temper a beaten egg into melted butter, then mix in milk, juice, and vanilla. Next whisk in flour, (xanthum gum if you need it), salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar, and mix until smooth.

Joy reccomends you let your batter rest a few minutes - I trust her on this. In the mean time, I heated up a frying pan (I lack a cool griddle pan) and sprayed it with my cooking spray. Make each pancake about two tablespoons of batter and let cook until the pancakes start to bubble and set. Flip, cook a few more minutes, and then keep your pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven whilst you make the rest (to avoid eating them, mainly).

Makes 12 -14 small pancakes. Serve with cherries, yogurt, or Ohio made maple syrup.

...And speaking of syrup, POM Wonderful has a recipe for Pomegranate syrup - it looked amazing, and also like something I'd probably get in trouble for getting stuck to the inside of a pan. If you make it, let me know how it goes!!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gust Gallucci's Italian Foods

About a week ago, I happily wrote about one of the best gluten-free meals I've had to date, Spaghetti Aglio E Olio with Broccoli, using white rice pasta straight from Italy. Sure I'd heard that the best gluten-free pasta is from Italy, but that's like saying the best paella is in Spain or the best sake in is Japan. Well, of course it is! But unless you're planning a trip there anytime soon, that information does you about as much good as a big ol' plate of glutenous spaghetti and a tall, malted beer. I'd never imagined an Italian speciality store around here would carry any of this mythic gluten-free pasta, and even if it happened to, the price would likely be so exponentially compounded, between shipping and limited demand, that seeking it out would only be the worst kind of tease. 

You can understand my shock, then, as I turned the corner of the pasta aisle in Gallucci's Italian Foods, and came face to face with not one but two brands of Italian gluten-free pasta. One corn, one white rice, both at an affordable price. 

I don't know about you, but when I was first diagnosed I was in effect told by doctors "yes, you're going to feel better, but this new, gluten-free life of yours is going to be hard and it's not going to be fun. It's not an adjustment, it's a constant adjustment." But friends, gluten-free times, they are a-changing, and suddenly our needs are commonplace than annoying speciality consideration. Suddenly, buyers are thinking about our needs in addition to the general gluten-eating public. Suddenly you, too, can buy amazing gluten-free pasta at $3.99 a bag.

Upon talking to a manager, I learned of an upcoming trip to Italy the food buyers would be taking in the next week, and that a gluten-free pizza shell was on their product agenda. Let me say that again, authentic Italian gluten-free pizza shell. While the companies are still working out the logistics of packaging and shipping, it seemed that the availability of GF pizza at Gallucci's isn't so much a matter of if, but when. 

Of course, you shouldn't let the absence of pizza crust delay your trip, there's still plenty of gluten-free goodness to stock up on. Pastas aside, Gallucci's offers homemade gluten-less sauces, imported cheeses, gluten-free polentas and risottos, and all kinds of amazing direct from Italy products that - thanks to the high incidence of Celiac Disease in Italy - are all stabilized with rice starch. Still not satisfied with that array of products? Wish they had a great gluten-free dessert or bread mix? If recent events have taught us anything, it's that making our presence known as a celiac community can make a big impression on our world as a whole. 

Why not go to Galluccis, buy some of their products, ask to speak to a manager and mention you'd love to see more gluten-free goods? Tell them that if they had gluten-free coffee syrups (or almond cookies, or lasagna noodles) you know at least 20 people who'd snap them up...or 5 gluten-free people who'd buy the equivalent of 20 regular shoppers, just at the joy of having such a great product at their fingertips. 

Then go home, knowing you've made the world a better, yummier place for the gluten intolerant, and enjoy your pasta - you've earned it! 

Convenient for East and Westsiders a like, Gallucci's Italian Foods is located on 6610 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Perfect 1-2-3-4 Cake (Advanced Math Version)

A few weeks ago, my brother graduated from college. 

This is fully weird on two levels. The first, is that for the past year, I've described myself as "a recent college graduate." And while that's still true, reactively speaking (relative to say the moon walk, the fall or Rome, or dinosaurs), I really am no longer "a recent college graduate". That plants me firmly in adulthood. Or pre-grad student-hood. 

Secondly, my brother, my little brother, is a college graduate. And not just a college graduate, but one with a job. A job with great pay, benefits, and a starting bonus. Who gets a starting bonus at 22? I guess the stars kind of align for you when your passion involves dollar signs and mergers, rather than in crafting the perfect comedic beat, or the ultimate gluten-free cake. 

Luckily for us both, we followed seriously divergent paths, and I am in no way envious of his cool new life. The thought of sitting in an office all day dealing with numbers and decimals makes me limp all over. Besides, you can't bake with envy. If I put it in my batter, it would make my batter bitter. I don't have time for bitter batter because, in addition to graduating college, my brother also had a birthday. And every birthday needs a birthday cake, right?

Mike happened to be coming home this week, and I decided to surprise him with a homemade birthday cake. We weren't much on the homemade growing up, and my brother isn't really much on the gluten-free baking (you may remember his utter shock at how great the cranberry cornbread was at our fully gluten-free, fully delicious Thanksgiving dinner), I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

I've made chocolate cakes before (the strong cocoa always manages to hide the weirdest of GF flavors), but I wanted to do something better. No, not better, best. I wanted to make the perfect cake.  Something that was great, all on it's own, and, oh yeah, happened to be gluten-free, too. If only I could channel such perfectionism into something that yielded a profit. ...Oh who am I kidding. It yielded cake, what's better than cake?

As I always do when searching for  little baking inspiration, I turned to Deb at the epically delicious Smitten Kitchen. Her food is so tempting, her picture so delicious, and her recipes are so easy to follow that every time happen on the site (...that is, everyday...), my mind and taste buds launch some kind of tantrum campaign, practically willing me into the kitchen for my own gluten-free adaptations and variations are her already stellar desserts, dinners, and brunches. (I should add here that Deb has never failed me yet. I've made GF versions several of her recipes and they always turn out beautifully.)

After wasting (or in my world, intensely productively working for) a few hours clicking through her cake recipes, I was finally remembered I was making this cake for a boy, er, man, er, brother (and therefore pink and / or citrus-y was probably not the way to go) and was "forced" to combine my favorite parts of her sumptuous desserts. The result was mixed and matched perfection. A beautifully crafted cake that I can't help but think as my greatest baking success to date. 

I managed to completely surprise my brother, asking him to put a jar of jam away for me in the fridge, so he'd coming face to face with his cake upon opening the door. He, in turn, surprised me, practically inhaling a slice. The verdict? "The only way this cake could've been better is if there was gluten in it." Somehow, I doubt that. 

Advanced Math 1-2-3-4 Cake
inspired and adapted from the Smitten Kitchen's 1234 cake, which was adapted it fromgeneral baking knowledge. 1-2-3-4 cakes get their name from their oh, so simple construction 1 cup of butter (and 1 cup of milk), 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. My version uses fractions, think of it as the honors class version. 

1 cup of Earth Balance (or butter) at room temperature
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cups all purpose gluten-free self rising flour blend**
4 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

(**Self rising flour is regular flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. To make your all purpose GF flour self rising, please follow this formula: 1 cup GF flour (- 2 teaspoons) + (1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder) + (1/2 teaspoon of salt), multiply by 3 for 3 cups of GF self rising flour. My all purpose GF flour mix - I currently use Mr. Ritt's - has xanthum gum in it, but if you need to add xanthum gum to your flour, you'll need 1 and 1/2 teaspoons, that is, 1/2 teaspoon x 3, the number of cups of flour. ...Don't look at me like that, I said it was the advanced math class from the get go. But how many times did you get a perfect cake at the end of doing a proof? I rest my case.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9 inch cake pans. 

Prepare the self rising mixture in a small bowl and set aside. Combine milk and buttermilk and set aside. In a medium sized bowl, cream butter until it puffs and fluffs up. Add in sugars and continue to cream for and additional 6 - 8 minutes. Crack in eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Beat the flour and milk mixture into the batter, starting and ending with the flour. Add the teaspoon of vanilla and mix until just combined throughout. (At least that's what deb said. I misread and added mine to the milk and buttermilk. It worked out fine!)

Divide evenly between the three pans and level them out as evenly as possible, a little extra work here is really worth it, trust me. Bake for 20 -25 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into your golden brown cake comes out clean. 

Let sit for 5 - 10 minutes, before turning cake pans over on a large plate, tapping on the bottoms coaxing the cakey goodness' release from their nonstick prisons. Let cool completely. 

Strawberry Filling
I totally cheated on this. I knew I wanted some kind of fruit in the center of the layers, and thought my brother would enjoy raspberry, or strawberry, or strawberry rhubarb... and oh, I just happened to have a fresh jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam on hand from my trip to Fowler's Milling Company. And as I have one eye blurred from my recent surgery, and one eye still filled with cataract, I figured I was already doing well enough with quite literally flying blind on this cake, and that, well, a little cheat would be okay. Just this once...

Deb has a recipe for raspberry filling, if your in the mood for full on from scratch baking,  but any all natural jam / preserves will do, too. I spread 1/4 of a jar over the bottom layer, and another 1/4 over the middle layer. The result was a soft, subtle strawberry twinge to the cake , and perhaps more jelly would've made more of a punch, if you're so inclined. 

"Wait, You Can Make This From Scratch?" Icing (Vanilla Butter Cream)

Michael swiped icing of the side of the cake with his finger, "Whoa, this is good icing." 
"Thanks," I smiled proudly, take that gluten-filled frostings! 
"What are you saying thanks for, it's not like you made it," my brother pointedly responded. The future law student has a penchant for exactness that's equal parts entertaining and fully annoying. 
"No, actually, I did" ... Though, in my head it as more like, Ha! Gotcha! 
"Wait, you can make icing from scratch?" Mike asked, fairly shocked. 
....See, totally different life paths....

1 stick of Earth Balance (1/2 cup butter)
3 cups + additional tablespoons as needed organic powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

With and electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Slowly add in sugar, cream about 5 minutes. Add in milk and vanilla and beat until mixed. Add additional sugar or milk until you get desired consistency. 

I'm not one for a thick icing so this covered my cake completely, and then some. The recipe is easily doubled or halved, though.  I added a little blue McCormick food coloring and, lacking any piping tools, made a haphazard border with two forks and a lot of will power. 
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