Monday, September 20, 2010

Dancing in the Kitchen with the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Three Gluten Free dishes courtesy of Shauna James-Ahern (The Gluten Free Girl)

I recently saw a post on FaceBook from Shauna inviting readers to register and they would be sent three recipes from her upcoming new book to prepare, photograph etc. and of course Blog about.

The book's called  - Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes

Now, when I found out about my GF state being a foodie I had certain concerns and went straight to the internet, every GF site seemed to be about how to make GF muffins that looked simply terrifying, stodgy and boring, then I stumbled on a link and found Shauna.

What a revelation, here was someone who once diagnosed as GF had found her life, a thrill for food and an excitement about all the foods you could eat as GF - instead of the 'you can't eat this' sites I had previously found.

I emailed Shauna straight away and she replied - wishing me luck and fun in re-discovering food. Over the past few years I have watched from the other side of the world (according to - the distance between Wellington New Zealand, and Seattle is 7253 miles, or 11671 km) as Shauna has met, fell in love, and married The Chef (Danny)  and then along came Lil Bean Lucy), possibly the most watched over baby in the foodie world.

So, when Shauna threw up a 'wanna try some of the new recipes early?' question I sent off an email and got the email back with the recipes enclosed;

Seared Shrimp with an almond-garlic sauce

Fresh pasta with anchovies, lemons, and olives

Chocolate peanut butter brownies

Immediately I saw a problem, the brownies, I don't bake, never really have and have even dismissed baking as 'chemistry' while cooking is 'art'

Have to eat those words if I was to fulfill on Shauna's request......

So - step one - buying the baking ingredients, Wellington has a wonderful store called Commonsense Organics, they stock every organic, GF, dairy free etc. etc. requirement you could ever have so I head there for GF flours and so on, they even had Oat flour in stock though not listed as GF it's organic and from Canada, the staff believe it is GF but have never checked this.

I decide to risk it in the first batch. (all good, no side effects at all so will report back to the good folks at CommonSense)

Issue one - almost everything required was in stock except for sweet rice flour which according to a quick Google search is milled from Glutinous Rice with a high starch level - but none in stock and the Asian food store I tried next was also out of stock. So - soldier on and manage none the less.

Issue two - the almonds for the sauce, Shauna and the Chef suggested a brand not available here in NZ so, improvise, again Google is my friend and raw almonds quickly toasted with a light olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt appears to be a good replacement.

Issue three - I don't have a mixer blender (broken motor in my multi mixer) so pasta is going to have to made by hand, but I'm not a 70 year old Tuscan Nonna so not sure how that's going to go.

Recipe One - seared shrimp with garlic-almond sauce
This is so simple (even if you have to prepare the sauce in a mortar and pestle - damm broken mixer)
The blend of fresh garlic, the toasted almonds along with the simplicity of the shrimp deliver an extremely subtle blend that had my 16 year old and I diving into the sauce time and time again.

Suffice it to say, this is a very nice recipe and one that I'll make many times again
Recipe Two - fresh pasta with anchovies, lemons and olives
Next the pasta - and this was a touch of a mission, as I noted above this is a whole new world and doing it by hand, let's just say that the experiment was slightly flawed. No matter what I did, how long I kneaded the dough, smooth and shiny didn't happen, gritty and lumpy was the best I could do. So when it came to running it through the pasta machine (thanks Megan) it didn't really slide out the far side in smooth supple sheets.
Next option, a trusty old wooden rolling pin, this worked to a point, but by now the dough was getting a touch dry so an extra egg yolk and a drop or two of water and more hand kneading and we were rolling again. End result some uneven strips of dough to be hand cut into ribbons.
The sauce came together quickly and easily, the anchovies, olives etc merging into a smooth viscous mass ready to accept the cooked pasta.
Fresh pasta normally cooks faster than dried and GF pasta often faster again, well due to the - how do I say this - structural integrity (thickness) of my pasta this took just a touch longer than expected. Finally al dente and ready to be combined

Another simple dish and one that with a tweak or two (my family aren't big olive fans) will be a standby in future, they'll never ever know about the anchovies as they just melt away into the body of the sauce.

Baking Time

Recipe Three - Chocolate peanut butter brownies

The big one for me and a step that as I said above necessitated not only the purchase of GF flours but when I thought about it, I needed baking trays as well. So Moore Wilson's is my local wholesale all-in-one outlet, fresh veges, meat, fish, breads, and full wholesale grocery and equipment areas, + a wine/spirits and beer store, this is my local one stop shop.

Into the mixing process and here came the exactness I never ever show in my cooking, measuring the flours correctly, reading and re-reading the instructions to make sure I didn't skip anything. The dry ingredients sifted and combined, the chocolate and butter melted in the bain marie and then the mix came together, the baking tray was greased and dusted and all was ready. The peanut butter didn't want to spread so I put it in the microwave for a few seconds and then that worked too.

In my search for GF ingredients I had located an imported GF chocolate (dark chocolate + mint flavour) but also noticed that our own excellent brand Whittakers appears to be fully GF. I used the import option but will use the Whittakers next time (yes - I will bake again)

Now the end result wasn't perfect, (oh no I hear you say - no surprise seeing it's your first time) but the only reason for this is that I forgot our oven cooks higher than the settings say, so at the prescribed heat, I singed the brownies and in less than the suggested baking time. Still both Bryn and I both think it's a pretty good first time go.
Dense and chewy outer layer and soft and gooey inside, the mint in the chocolate came through as a light aftertaste and the peanut butter next time might be a cashew or almond butter instead but I might even be tempted to take a shot at Shauna's other baking recipes on her blog site.

The book is available for order on the above link, well worth a look, even if you aren't Gluten Free the recipes (as they will all be like these three) will be ones that are simple, exciting and will taste good no matter what you can or cannot eat.

All in all, this was a fun exercise, three dishes, four different processes to follow (and all those who know me are very aware that recipes to me are normally simply a vague guide as I amend, and change on the go) and one I'm very pleased to have been a part of.

All the team at work will get to taste (if not the first batch) the second or third batches of the brownies as I play with the options there and with summer about to arrive down here in NZ, the shrimp and pasta with make appearances on those long summer evenings in the backyard.

thanks Shauna, Danny and Lucy for being who you are, for what you provide and offer so freely, you're a gift to the world