I hope everyone on the path of Hurricane Sandy is getting themselves and their homes tightened up and prepared for the storm. Make sure you have water to drink (and fill up the baths for extra water for…ahem, flushing, if your water is electrically pumped, like M’s). Choose shelf-stable foods, or, at least, things that can last a few days on the counter. Stock up on batteries, flashlights, candles, and firewood. Bring in or secure outdoor furniture and other decorations that can blow about. Remember, the big thing about this storm is, yes, the rain and the wind, but most importantly, if power goes out (likely), power lines cannot be repaired until winds are under 35 mph. It is highly likely that most of the those under the storm will be without power for several days.
As far as food, food can stay fresh in a powered-off refrigerator for up to three days if the door is not opened. Choose foods that do not need refrigeration to get you through the next few days. Gluten-free cereal power bars, dried fruits, nuts, soups, and other canned items. I’m making a batch of my Gluten-Free French Bread, which will keep very well on the counter. Especially if, as I do, you make two loaves from one batch. Only cut into the second after the first is consumed, and even more moisture will stay within that thick crust. I bought soup and instant oatmeal at the store (both can be heated on top of our fireplace), and trail mix and crackers. We have some fresh fruit that won’t spoil by the end of the week, and potatoes and onions to wrap in tin foil and bake in the fireplace. I found smoked sausage and the hardest, smoked cheese at the store (an aged gouda, though a smoked, aged, hard cheddar would have been good too). Those will remain in their intact wrapping, and we will eat them within the second day that we open them. Yes, it is not ideal to keep cheese and meats at room temperature, but, remember, cheese was discovered as a way to preserve milk, and the same things go for smoking foods. If I get especially bold, I might try popping popcorn on top of the woodstove.
Please stay safe. I hope I won’t be out of electricity long, and that I’ll have tried-and-proven ‘recipes’ for blackout meals when I get back!
This week is one of our crazy weeks where M and I are on entirely opposite schedules. He was in all day on Monday, which left me, not only, solely responsible for Punc in puppy class (she did so well!), but also with a whole day to binge on baking. This is what my life has come to: I’ll have a ‘normal’ couple of weeks with work, research, responsibilities, and such, and I’ll make dinner and pack lunch and look at recipes online until it all builds up and my next ‘free’ day is spent measuring, mixing, boiling, baking, marinating, and glazing to my heart’s content. Since Monday wasn’t exactly ‘free’ (I still taught for an hour and then I succumbed to a nap), I only managed to make pumpkin scones which will be making an appearance here very, very soon. But, when I started driving over to M’s and tried to think of dinner, I realized that a meal with the potential for a week’s worth of leftovers and versatility was what we really needed.
I thought of a shawarma plate. If you’re anything like me, you probably hadn’t heard of shawarma before this summer with the Avengers movie. Some strangely named food that Tony Stark mentions while they all get beaten up by aliens.
It is a sandwich. A sort of lebanese gyro. Before Monday, me only exposure was this delicious platter. A savory collection of “Chicken and Meat Shawarma, Tabouleh, Hommus, Pickles, Garlic Toum” and Naan that M brought me after the show when he came to watch this summer. At 11pm, it is absolutely delicious, even if I couldn’t eat the fragrant naan (it was heartbreaking). Their tabouleh contains an alarmingly sparse about of couscous–M and I thought it was minced garlic and didn’t realize it contained couscous until I went back today and read the ingredients. Fortunately it was so sparse that we were spared the ill-effects. I wanted a shawarma platter that I could (and should) eat, complete with gluten-free naan. And so, at 9:00pm, I started an undertaking.
It is because of that time that what I made truly isn’t shawarma. Shawarma is the meat; and it required marinating in garlic, lemon, and other delicious things. Instead, I opted for the tandoori spice mix we had in the cabinet. I mixed up the dough for the naan bread using Nicole’s recipe using Kate’s flour blend instead of Better Batter, set the dough to rise and tossed the chicken in to roast in the oven. Then I set about the other portions of the infamous platter. Tabouleh was fairly easy, I had all the general ingredients. I also add some finely diced cucumber because M loves it and I like the freshness. I was stumped for the Toum until I looked it up. When I first tasted it, I was convinced it was mostly butter, even though I’d first guessed it was some kind of aioli. My instincts were right. Toum is basically a Lebanese aioli, which is basically a mayonnaise. Aioli and Toum have garlic added, but it’s all an emulsion to me! 😉
While I’d love the thought of fresh toum or aioli, it was now after 10pm and I was not about to get that fancy. I turned to some store-bought mayo instead. I understand folks in the no-mayo boat. Mayo-based dips make me gag. Toum, however, does not. The only food I love more than garlic is probably lemons. And this toum had both. A little dollop on a piece of naan, piled with tabouleh and hummus and chicken is absolutely wonderful. Make a little. Call it aioli. Do what you need to do, but do try this dip. Better yet (if you have the time) make your own. This recipe sounds spot on.
But I needed toum quick. And it worked out well enough.
Well enough that, when all was said and done, M and I sat down after 11pm and inhaled dinner so fast that I couldn’t take a picture. The only one I have is from my dinner for today when I packed this morning, one where we’d run out of hummus and I’d added lentils instead:
And guess what: 3 days later and hummus-less it was still delicious. These are the lunches that make my afternoons better!
- 3/4 c. cooked quinoa or Kasha (which is a buckwheat cereal/porridge)
- 2 bunches parsley, leaves removed and chopped
- 2 tbsp (about 20) mint leaves, chopped
- 1/4-1/2 of a large cucumber, finely diced
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- 4 green onions or 1/4 onion, finely diced, greens and white portions
- 1/4 c. lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- salt & pepper
Prepare quinoa, kasha, or even brown rice by package direction (if you use quinoa: please, please rinse it thoroughly in cold water before cooking. For even better flavor, toast the dry, uncooked quinoa in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they start to smell toasty, then transfer to a mesh sieve and rinse, rinse, rinse, and rinse again!). Put aside to cool slightly.
Add lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper to the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Finely dice your cucumber, onion, and tomatoes. Add to bowl. Chop the leaves of parsley well, add to bowl. Chop mint leaves and add to bowl. Add quinoa/kasha/rice to bowl and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. This will probably taste even better the next day.
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tsp butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- Salt and Pepper
Melt butter in medium-sized dish. Add garlic, mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper and mix until combined and smooth.
When I was in the prime of my childhood (i.e. grades K-7 when it was still fun to play outside all day, every day), there were 37 children living in our cul-de-sac. Not the block, not the sprawling network of a ‘neighborhood’, but the 19-house stub of a street. It tumbled out 37 bodies under the age of 15 every Saturday morning. Nowadays, with my–ahem–broader view of the world and especially of the area where I live, I realize how lucky we were to have our house on that street. We were two turns away from the busiest street to the north, with a generous network of neighborhood to the south. A similar cul-de-sac was across the street, and, of course, our ended in a wide circle that we were never tempted to stray from. Parents in the neighborhood drew a line: “Don’t go past the corner”. And 99% of the time, we didn’t. My mother got a large, old copper whistle to call us home for dinner. The shrill notes stretched just long enough to reach our ears at the top of the street.
There was more than enough to do on our little street. Summer evenings turned our circular end of the street into a milling sea of bicycles, without a care for traffic. One lucky summer, an ice cream truck came every other night for two weeks straight. We climbed trees, built forts, collected seed pods. Endless hours were spent on our trampoline, in the neighbor’s clubhouse, and playing some sort of jumping game most akin to reverse limbo with more dangerous results. Whoever jumps over the stick held at the highest place, wins. The losers are those who catch the stick with an ankle and careen face-first into the ground.
We thought it was fun.
While the children of the cul-de-sac whiled away our hours in constant contact, the adults were friendly, but didn’t push the neighborly relationship much beyond sidewalk conversations as they collected their progeny, and the occasional stroll-and-chat through a neighbor’s yard sale. (It does make me laugh, as the new generation on the street have young, 10-and-under children, and the parents seem much more social than our parents ever did.) Once, we decided to try to change that. I must have been on the older end of the spectrum, and all of the kids decided that we wanted a barbecue. We made flyers and stuck them in everyone’s mailboxes after pleading with our parents. Feeling especially kind, we even put flyers in those houses of families without children (in our tiny world, I doubt we’d ever met some of those households). And then we got to planning, pre-facebook. We took polls as to who would bring what kind of food, who could drag their grill down into the street.
And there, in our family’s own search for picnic food, we found a recipe on the back of a Carnation sweetened, condensed milk can. Or perhaps a box of cake mix. All the same, the title was alluring (Better Than Anything Cake) and the ingredient list was even more so (anything containing toffee with always get my vote). This was pre-gluten-free, and the height of my childhood meant the hieght of my mother’s quick-fix dishes. The recipe was simple enough.
Mix up a batch of chocolate cake (preferably Devil’s Food) according to package directions.
Bake the cake in a sheet pan (I chose cupcakes for portability).
Poke holes throughout the top of the cake with the handle of a spoon (or a fork, for cupcakes).
Pour one can of sweetened, condensed milk and one bottle of caramel sauce all over the top.
Let sit overnight so the sauces can be fully absorbed into the cake.
Spread top with one tub of Cool Whip and sprinkle with one bag of Heath toffee bits.
The ultimate 90’s recipe. Quick, easy, all prepackaged, no measuring required. And let me tell you, it was delicious. This was serve-with-a-spoon cake. It couldn’t stand up to being sliced, so soaked with caramel, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. Needless to say, we took home a pan and some crumbs at the end of the night. I’m positive that someone at the barbecue let my mother in on the other name for this cake: Better Than Sex Cake. Either way, years later as I began to stumble through the world of online recipes, when I encountered “Better Than Sex Cake”, I knew what it was. I’ve seen it with a variety of names (Better Than Sex Cake, Almost Better Than Sex Cake, Better Than Almost Anything Cake…), take your pick. The ingredient list and the assembly have always been the same.
Recently, when a friend and I planned dinner while compiling a lesson plan, I was charged with dessert. It had to be easy to make the morning off, be transportable, and delicious for those eating gluten-free or not. And, I had a bag of Gluten-Free chocolate cake mix wallowing in my pantry. Cupcakes. Cupcakes were a must. The dessert would have to survive coming to work with me, a stint in the work fridge, and the drive to my friends. Cupcakes offered the portion-ability and portability that would be perfect. I didn’t quite prep well for this recipe. At the grocery store, I grabbed some cream cheese, heavy cream, and whipped cream, deciding to figure out frosting later. I grabbed the toffee, we had the caramel and condensed milk at home. I forgot cupcake liners.
By lucky chance, M’s mum had huge cupcake liners at home. It worried me since they fit strangely in our muffin tin, but this turned into a stroke of pure luck. With these cupcakes, the taller the liner, the better. I scaled back the condensed milk and the caramel (only used about 6 Tablespoons of each), since I didn’t have the time for these to soak up the sauce overnight. If you are able to give these cupcakes the time to rest, I highly recommend it.
I also did not want to take a chance with pure whipping cream as frosting. Inevitably, in our long journey, it would melt. Ultimately, I ended up compromising with a whipped cream cheese frosting I’ve seen on a few sites that is phenomenal and entirely stable. In my cream-cheese-loving-opinion, this frosting only makes these cupcakes better, but for you BTSCake purists, perhaps investigate whipping cream stabilizers? I’ve never used them before. Either way, with very little effort, you can have delicious cupcakes that people will be talking about all week (my co-workers can attest to that!) You don’t even have to share our little secret about the cake mix…
Better Than ____________ Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes
- 1 package gluten free chocolate cake mix + ingredients listed on package for making cupcakes (or use your favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe, prepared to batter stage)
- 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
- 6-8 Tbsp (or more) sweetened condensed milk (low-fat/non-fat is fine)
- 6-8 Tbsp (or more) prepared caramel syrup/sauce
- 1 cup Heath toffee bits
For the Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz (1 package) cream cream (low-fat is fine, non-fat is not)
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- Pinch of salt
Prepare your cake batter as directed on the package, or according to your usual recipe, adding the tablespoon of brown sugar with the dry ingredients or with the other sugars in recipe. Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, stir in chocolate chips by hand. Spoon into cupcake liners and bake according to directions for cupcakes.
Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, mix caramel syrup and sweetened, condensed milk. Poke a dozen or so holes into the top of cooled cupcakes with a fork or a toothpick. Drizzle a spoonful or so over each cupcake (more of the syrup mixture can be added depending on how much time you can allow the cupcakes to set. Up to a tablespoon per cake if they can sit overnight). Allow cupcakes to set as long as possible: at least one hour and up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Make your frosting: in medium bowl, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form (watch carefully at end to see that you do not over-whip the cream. If you see it starting to separate, stop! The next stage after stiff peaks is butter!). In large bowl, combine softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat until smooth. Fold in whipped cream. Remove cupcakes from fridge, sprinkle with toffee bits. Spoon frosting into piping bag, or a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and pipe onto cooled, set cupcakes (or simply spread with a knife). Top with additional toffee bits.
This past monday was Punc’s second puppy class. I touched very briefly on the first session. Here’s the scoop. Punc is a boston terrier-mix. Super-mix. Her father was pure boston and her mother was a mini-shepherd-ish looking thing. Maybe some spitz or some sheltie or some aussie and some more terrier…maybe a mix of several. Luckily, boston-mixes are near the top of the hierarchy for creating cute puppies. (Because, lets be honest, some mixes and even some ‘designer’ dogs actually make some funky-looking creatures). Punc’s sister, Panda, favors the boston’s wide mouth, and otherwise looks a little hound-y. At the right angle, she can look like a miniature pit bull. Punc, as a baby, has a reverse bobble head. Definitely too small for her body and suspiciously chihuahua shaped. (Again, very strange, because we can be almost certain that these girls have neither pit nor chihuahua in them). Luckily, she’s grown into it. A bit small, still, but not really noticeable.
So anyways, boston terrier mix. Right now, she about 16-17 lbs and we’re only expecting a pound or two more when she fills out. Her head is right at my knee–I’m certain, because she is in the habit of following me closely and I’ve knocked her in the eye a time or two when I turned around. Ooops. So Punc is not the largest of dogs, however, she is two-to-three times the size of my mother’s two dogs and certainly outweighs E’s Arcas. He looks bigger, but its all fur. Long story short, Punc is a timid, underdog in her nature. When she and Panda were puppies, we had issues getting one dog to recognize that they were dogs (just little ones). He didn’t stop to notice the submissive behavior they were exuding, and both puppies got bitten and shaken a few times. So the puppies didn’t trust dogs for a good long while. Now, of course, each has adjusted perfectly to those dogs that they share a household with, though neither will ever be (nor want to be) top dog. Punc adores all people, from toddlers to adults. She pulls at the end of the leash when she sees one and gets upset if she cannot meet everyone she sees.
However, she is extremely wary of new/strange dogs. She cowers and cringes and tries to stay out of the way. So, M and I signed her up for puppy classes. By now, she knows a good portion of what is being taught in the class, but we wanted the chance to socialize her with young (and hopefully less intimidating) dogs. Our class has a miniature schnauzer, a teacup beagle, a wheaton, a malamute, a labradoodle, a very young shepherd mix, a chihuahua mix, and, possibly, a gigantic 5 month-old German Shepherd (may be switching to another class). And Punc. Right now, she’s bigger than four of them, though the shepherd-mix may outgrow her by the end of class. However big, little, young, old, aggressive, outgoing, shy, loud, quiet…Punc is scared of all of them. She spent the first session under M’s chair, and was so distracted by the other dogs that she then wouldn’t respond much to the instructor giving her a treat.
It was actually pretty close to what we expected. So,when week two rolled around, off we went, without much expectations. Punc was ecstatic to enter the store and sniff around (we’re taking classes at Petsmart). We met a lot of people and even bravely met humans while their dog was nearby, but distracted. She balked a little bit at the entrance to the puppy class, but soon took up her usual residence under M’s seat. But, as class went on, she moved. She tangled herself up several times, trying to go see the humans beside us, and even crept out to sniff some butts while their owners were distracted. She cowered if a dog noticed her, but she didn’t run away. Baby steps. We even got some tail wags, and crept out to sniff the instructor, even though she wouldn’t go far enough for the loose-leash-walking example. And, at the end of class, when the instructor picked her up, Punc realized she was a normal person and was quite excited. I’m hoping that will have a big impact on her interaction with the instructor.
These are not huge milestones. But they are vast improvements. I don’t need a dominant dog, but I do want one that will at least exist calmly near other dogs. I’m quite happy that there was such an improvement in just two sessions. Hopefully we can only go up from here.
In other news, M and I’s one-year anniversary was on Friday. He worked a 13 hour day. I worked both jobs and ran back to my mother’s to grab a bread pan to make even more French Bread. Weekends are sandwich days, as we spend 9 1/2 hours at one job, then drive an hour through rush-hour traffic to get to the second job for 3-5 hours for me and 6-8 for M. Weekends necessitate sandwiches, something I can pack for two meals on Friday night, and can keep through the day on Saturday. So, between the work bookending our time, and my need to make bread, we were not planning anything special for our anniversary. It wasn’t a big celebration, or unusual or surprising, but it was a nice evening. I made him a man-bouquet, a la Pinterest.
However, I was too cheap to invest in a pot/vase and foam, and whatever people use to attach them. So they balanced carefully in an old glass, and I did my best to arrange them in a way that hid the duct tape. It’s the thought (and the content) that counts, right? I got him a mix of 5-hour energy shots, chocolate, a couple of British candies, jelly beans, and whatever was the higher-priced mini-bottles of gin, whisky, and tequila. And M still loves me, in spite of my utter ignorance regarding booze…and I think he likes everything I got him. For me, M brought flowers, firewood, chocolate, and cheese (nice, nice brie!) Can you tell we know each other well? It really was a nice day for both of us, simple and sweet. As cheesy as it may sound, I don’t need a celebration. Hitting the ‘one year mark’ is just a reminder that we’re doing things right and making it work. And that’s what counts.
This was my snack today. 🙂
Look at those air pockets. And the thick, chewy crust.
And how perfectly it sits next to brie and grapes…
And I’m unashamedly, really, really proud of myself!
I have had a love-hate relationship with French bread and baguettes since becoming gluten-free. As in, I love French bread. And I hate that, on top of being made out of finicky dough, you need a special pan to bake it in. (The same thing goes for donuts. There are so many donut recipes out there and I cannot convince myself to invest in a donut pan. What else could you possibly use it for?) And so, I passed up recipe after recipe of French bread while I pined hopelessly for Against the Grain Gourmet’s baguettes. Their crisp, crunchy crust and soft, chewy, eggy interior is unbelievably delicious! I would highly recommend them for anyone…however those of you who are not on the post-graduate budget might have an easier time following that recommendation. While eating the bread might be happily done, their price tag is a little hard to swallow. But every once in a while, I couldn’t hold out any longer and I’d run down to MOM’s and buy a pack of two. And spend the next blissful day or two eating all sorts of sandwiches, bruschettas, or just gobbling down buttered slices.
Needless to say, my french-bread-pan-less state was a serious problem. Then, yesterday, when I was home (for Punc’s very first puppy class!), I was flipping through my cookbooks in hope of finding a quick new recipe to try when I stopped to read through Bette Hagman’s French Bread recipe. And, lo’ and behold, there was the only trick I needed! A tricky so simple, I was a little embarassed to have not thought of it myself. “If you do not have a french bread pan, simpled form the tube out of doubled, heavy duty aluminum foil.” Duh. Bette, you’ve earned my love twice-over, between this and your pie crust recipe!
And, bonus points, her bread flour mix was made up of 3 ingredients. 4 for whole grain. And, the french bread only needed a 15 minute rising before jumping straight into the oven. I was sold, easily. I combined the dry ingredients, then mixed in the wet batch, and set about constructed my make-shift bread pans during the 3 minute mixing time. My foil was wide and long enough that I folded once lengthwise and once width-wise before shaping my half-tube around a vinegar bottle. I made a second tube and set them together on a jelly-roll pan. I had enough space to wedge a regular 9×5″ bread pan in beside them to keep them sturdy. This, I fill with about 1 cup of water, just to keep the heat distributed easily.
By now my dough was mixed and ready to rise. In a snap, they were ready for the oven.
I was quite proud of myself when I pulled the steaming, fragrant loaves from the oven a little over an hour later, and happily explained my trick when my mother came downstairs. She looked from me to the foil molds, and then back and said: “You know we have french bread pans, right?” And then she pulled not one, but two double french bread pans from the depths of the cabinet. (On a side note, I didn’t even know that said cabinet went back as far as it did.) This is my life, folks. One, I’ll discover all of the cookery treasures that she has hoarded since my birth.
But anyways. Real bread pan or aluminum foil form, this french bread was incredible!
I’ve fiddled with the flours and the yeast a little from Bette’s original recipe. Here’s my spin for delicious bread:
Adapted from Bette Hagman’s recipe.
Makes 1 long (14-18 in) baguette, or two short (8-12 in) baguettes
- 1 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp White Rice Flour
- 1/4 cup Tapioca Starch
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp Cornstarch
- 2 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp quick-rising yeast
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a french bread pan. If you do not have a french bread pan, just take a long sheet of aluminum foil, fold it in half lengthwise and again widthwise, then shape into a half-tubular-type shape. Crimp edges as needed until it fits on your baking sheet. You are trying to make a mold like a french bread pan. For reference, here is what my actual pan looks like:
Make each ‘half-tube’ out of a separate piece of foil, I made two, and set them on a jelly roll pan. I had just enough room left over, that if I wedged a 9×5″ bread pan beside them, they were supported enough to not slide around.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, starches, xanthan gum, sugar, salt and yeast (dry ingredients) until thoroughly combined. Add warm water, egg whites, and vinegar, mix on low until thoroughly combined. Turn the mixer up to high speed* and beat the dough for 3 minutes. Scoop dough into french bread pan, leaving several inches from the edge on each side. Smooth top with a wet spatula, and, if desired, slice three diagonal, 1/4″ deep slash into the top. Cover dough and allow to rise in a warm place for 15 minutes.
After rising, transfer pan to 400 degree F oven and bake for 1 hour. Then turn down the oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 15 more minutes. This bread will not slice until its cool, but if you can’t resist the warm, steamy bread, feel free to tear off pieces.
Go make your own. I promise, its so easy! Because once you try it, you can have an excuse to eat this 6 times a day:
Well, after a rocky start, Panda has successfully been up lving with E & A & Arcas for a couple of weeks without any trouble. Panda, Arcas, & E came to visit for an afternoon. Punc is still rather terrified of Arcas. But, right about when it was time to go, she seemed to remember her sister. I suppose we have a long road ahead of us. Her puppy class starts next week. She knows the majority of what we will learn in this beginner class, but it’s mainly for socialization purposes. I suppose it’s obvious now, that M and I will keep her, even though it took us a while to realize that. E said she suspected as much all along. Punc absolutely adores M, and though she makes our search for apartments slightly more difficult, I think the pros outweigh the cons. For today, I’ll leave another pile of photos. 🙂