Monday, September 26, 2011

Cook up a Homemade Life and Some Cabbage with Molly Wizenberg

There are times when you are in the mood for a light read to let you escape into another world; there are times for a chunky doorstop of a novel to distract you from the miseries of a stubborn cold; and then there are those occasions when a great book of essays or short stories is just the thing to see you through bouts of stop-and-start appointments and other life interrupters. Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table" (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2009) was the perfect book to tuck into during a busy last few weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and dog-earing the pages of this lovely book of food essays.

The author has chronicled her journey from anthropology grad student to popular food blogger and author on her blog Orangette and expands upon these writings in "A Homemade Life". The pivotal moment that changed her life focus came after the death of her gusto-laden dad, known affectionately as Burg. Burg smacked his lips when cooking and eating; he sometimes laughed so hard that he gagged; he showed his family how to live "wholly, hungrily, loudly" and to appreciate the whole process of cooking and gathering together around the table. The pages of "A Homemade Life" are packed with the author's memories of various members of her family and friends, but Burg is the one that cartwheels out of the pages with his effusiveness and charisma.

I was also tickled by Molly's memories of a first date with a health food aficionado who served her a salad made of seven kinds of sprouts--plus three cherry tomatoes!-- and then serenaded her with some sort of Chinese lute. She lurched home to her peanut butter jar to muffle the roar in her stomach. It reminded me all too vividly of some one and only dates in my past, including one strange encounter on Halloween night (I should have known better) with a cute but twitchy reporter who played opera music at Def Leppard volume while we poked at our bowls of not-quite-defrosted lentil soup with blocks of frozen legumes in the middle.

The book is stuffed with recipes for desserts and sweets, but I was lured in by her recipes for savory delights. Someday I will try her intriguing recipe for Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and those Tuna Buchons, but for a recent dinner, I made up a batch of her homey Cream-Braised Green Cabbage. The cabbage sections come out caramelized, yet sweet and this simple, luscious recipe has won a place in my brassica recipe rotation.

Molly's great book is the present selection of the online foodie book club, Cook the Books, that a couple of food blogger colleagues and I started back in 2008. We take turns hosting the bimonthly rounds of Cook the Books and this time round it was my Hawai'ian blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchens who picked this gem for us to delve into. Today is the deadline to submit a blog post for the roundup that Deb will put up with all the blogger contributions, so be sure to check back in later to see what others thought about the book and what they cooked up. Molly herself will be taking some time out of honing her next book to serve as the guest judge for the CTB submissions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gluten Free Chocolate Donuts with Chocolate Glaze: Baked, Beany and Beautiful!

I sit here stunned. Amazed that I baked up something that was not only edible, made with normally infuriating talc-like, slippery, gluten-free flours, but which looked kinda fancy; like something you might buy in a bakery.

I'm talkin' doughnuts, those circular little sweeties that form two-thirds of Homer Simpsons food pyramid; those coffee break staples and snack time scarfables that bring sugar and grease together in one carb-bursting handful of deliciousness. Oh, I tried lightening up my doughnut making foray with some garbanzo bean flour, by baking rather than frying, and by substituting in coconut oil instead of other oil or shortening. But I know doughnuts are lovely indulgences that wreck hell on one's middle-aged metabolism unless you are an annoyingly lean soul such as my Old Man.

Doughnuts and fritters are this month's baking challenge at the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally, hosted this time round by Meg of Gluten Free Boulangerie. Meg has all the other links to the toothsome doughnut varieties that other GF bloggers and awesome bakers have cooked up in their kitchens, so be sure to drop by on your coffee break.... The GF Ratio Rally is built on the premise that using ratios of flour:eggs:fat:liquid and measuring by volume will produce more predictable results in baking and I am sold on the concept after successfully churning out cream puffs and cherry bublanina cake with this group.

I was thinking about maybe sitting out this GF Ratio Rally challenge this month, as my Fear of Frying and visions of ending up with a greasy pan of burnt donut crumbs was scaring me off. But then I had a sign from Saint Honoratus, the patron saint of bakers, while I was making my weekly visit to my favorite charity thrift shop. Ever alert in the housewares section, I spied my Holy Grail: a bag of what I believed to be aluminum doughnut molds (they actually produce a rather skinny, though beautifully round, donut) but which I believe now to be individual jello molds. No matter, St. Honoratus gave me the self-confidence to put these new kitchen treasures to use, and after a thorough cleaning, drying and anointing with holy oil, or rather cooking spray, they were perfect for shaping my sticky and unwieldy donut batter into perfect little cake donuts.

I started with this great recipe for a vegan chocolate donut from this blogger, and then adapted it to be gluten-free and to incorporate the coconut oil for my exploration into the donut zone. I thought that the garbanzo bean flour would work beautifully in a chocolate doughnut, both in terms of taste and texture, and that proved to be the case. The dough was rather sticky, as most GF batters tend to be and really dripped rather slowly and thickly from my wooden spoon into the greased donut molds. It was a messy project, but satisfying, and the gooey batter leveled itself out after a minute or so, so I didn't have to smooth it into position.

These doughnuts are cakey, rather than CRISPY, like fried doughnuts. They had a not too sweet taste and the chocolate, gooey glaze was the perfect counterpoint. With a glass of cold milk or a mug of hot coffee on the side, (and I tried out both options), this made the perfect snack/breakfast/go-to-the-gym-motivator.

Gluten Free Chocolate Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze

Cooking oil spray

3 oz. coconut oil, (liquified if your coconut oil has gone solid in the jar)

10 oz.  sugar

10 oz. gluten free flour (about 1-1/3 cups - I used a mixture of 1 cup brown rice flour and 1/3 cup garbanzo bean flour, also known as besan)

4 oz. baking cocoa (about 1/2 cup)

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup milk mixed with 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (let sit for 10 minutes to get thick)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tsp. vanilla

Chocolate Glaze:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil

Doughnut Toppings of your choice (I used flaked coconut and sprinkles for my resident coconut-phobe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  If you own doughnut molds or donut rings/small jello molds, lightly spray them with cooking spray. If you don't own such things, try a different recipe, because this batter is too oozy for shaping freehand.

Blend together sugar, flours, baking cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.

Add the  milk and vinegar mixture, coconut oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix just until the ingredients are combined.

Dribble 2 1/2 tablespoons of batter into each prepared doughnut mold. My batter was very thick and I had a lot of drips and drizzles all over the molds until I got the hang of it, so I kept a wet napkin at the ready to wipe things down.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on the racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the doughnuts in the molds and invert them onto a baking sheet. Let cool another 10 minutes.

Make chocolate glaze by melted coconut oil over a low flame in a frying pan. Add chocolate chips, and, stirring continuously, let melt into a smooth chocolate glaze.While glaze is still warm, dip half of the doughnut into the chocolate sauce. Allow some to drip off and then dip glaze side down into your coconut or sprinkles. Let dry on a rack for at least another 10 minutes.

Makes 12 doughnuts. GF Ratios: 4:1.5:1.5:2.

These doughnuts are not super-sweet like a coffee-store donut or greasy like the cider donuts you get at an apple orchard. Instead, they are more cake-like and semi-sweet like a great cake donut, but they were a stone cold delight for my family. I am envisioning making spice cake and carrot cake versions in the future, and will certainly be checking out the other GF Ratio Rally recipes that other bloggers have posted over at GF Boulangerie. St. Honoratus would want me to.