This week has been all about the kitchen. With the cooler weather (highs in the 70’s this week, absolutely lovely!), shorter days, and early sunsets, I’ve been in the mood for hearty fall foods, and have been devoting extra time to expanding my gluten-free baking skills. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to:
#1 – Sourdough bagels, gluten-free.
I’ve been cooking and baking with a homemade sourdough starter since Ray and I went to Italy for a Jovial Gluten-Free Culinary Getaway in June, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. This was our second — but certainly not final — trip to the 18th century villa outside Lucca, in the Tuscany region, to spend a week cooking and baking traditional Italian foods. I went back by myself last month for a 3rd week of fabulous food, friendship, and cooking classes, determined to conquer the sourdough bread recipes that have been eluding me.
Success is coming slowly, as I work towards a perfect blend of gluten free grains and starches, and the correct ratio of liquids to dry ingredients. Today — Friday — was a major victory, because I seem to have gotten the flour blend right to make these fabulous bagels, which we ate for dinner with cream cheese and salami. These bagels look, feel, and taste like wheat bagels, and the sourdough flavor is awesome! I’m looking forward to making them for breakfast on Thanksgiving.
#2 – In addition to working with sourdough, I’ve been trying out new recipes for yeast breads, using the terrific How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, that I purchased from Amazon.com last week.
There are two things I truly love about this cookbook. First and foremost, the recipes work as written, which is a rarity when it comes to working with gluten free grains. And each recipe is prefaced with an explanation of exactly *why* it works: details about the ratios of ingredients, and the many not-quite-right attempts, in creating each successful recipe.
Here’s a photo of the super-easy sandwich bread I made from the cookbook:
Whether you’re an experienced baker and cook, or just learning your way around the kitchen, this book deserves a prominent position in the libraries of all gluten free cooks. In addition to providing 180 delicious and do-able recipes for any occasion — including a recipe for their basic flour blend — the editors also review many of the gluten free products available in stores. I was not at all surprised to learn that America’s Test Kitchen’s #1 choice for gluten free pasta is the terrific organic brown rice pastas from my friends at Jovial Foods in Italy, which are available in many U.S. stores and can also be ordered directly from Jovial’s website.
#3 – Boiling and braising … soups, stews, and delectable dried beans
As noted last week, I added a beautiful bright red 7 quart dutch oven to my collection of enameled cast iron cookware. I love these hard-working pots, and use one or more almost every single day, on the stove top and in the oven.
I’m going to do a separate post on the 10+ things I cooked this week in my cast iron pots, so please check back in a day or two. I’ll add a link here when the post is online.
#4 – Wine Tasting for the home cook
Every time I go to Italy, I learn so much about cooking basics: Italians excel at preparing high quality food from fresh, simple ingredients, at home and in restaurants. Roasted, grilled, and braised meats are a year-round staple, and — much to my surprise — the cooking wine of choice in Tuscany is white wine, not red. Despite America’s love with red-wine-heavy, tomato-based Italian American dishes, central Italy — home to excellent red wines — mainly uses white wine for braising and sauces, with or without tomatoes, adding herbs with a very light hand.
As native Californians, and lovers of big, bold, red wines, this was quite a culture shock. The results, however, are delicious, and we pay very close attention to the chefs we cook with in Italian kitchens, learning to cook with a lighter touch, with less garlic and fewer, well-chosen herbs, high quality olive oil and healthy animal fats (ah, lardo!), and white wines that bring out nuances we’ve missed in the past.
We haven’t abandoned our beloved red wines, we’ve simply added something new to our toolbox, and we’re pleased to be re-creating favorite Tuscan dishes in our own kitchen. And if you’re wondering, I chose the Liberty School Chardonnay for my lovely Italian stew, and used the same wine for the pumpkin risotto we had the same evening.
#5 – November Eggplant
In early June, I transplanted three small eggplant starts into the new front yard cottage garden. Despite going in two full months after the backyard eggplant — and despite the fact that summer’s brutal heat had already arrived — these plants grew fast and strong, and are still providing us with armloads of eggplant.
These came off those three plants, and they’re spattered with soil from an unexpected thunderstorm. I used three of them to make Moussaka, and hubster Ray gave the rest away at work on Monday morning.
What’s cooking in your kitchen? Please say hello in the comments section so I’ll know you were here.
And now, I’m off to the garden! Have a delicious weekend!
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