Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Moroccan Marbles

Almonds, dates and sesame seeds are all ingredients commonly used in Moroccan fare. Here's my recipe for a Moroccan flavour-inspired treat that I like to call Moroccan Marbles.

To begin, set up a contraption similar to this one. You will need a pot filled with approximately 1 inch of water and a strainer that is able to sit atop without being immersed in the water. You can also use the steamer for this purpose. (I don't have one, so I improvised.)

Next, you will need a handful, or so, of Medjool dates. (For information on Medjool dates, click here.)

Set the dates on top of the strainer and steam them for approximately 10-15 minutes. The steaming process will loosen them up, making them soft and sticky.

Once steamed, pit the dates.

Using a sharp knife, mulch the dates so that they become a paste. Once complete, set it aside.

You will also require some almond paste. Almond paste is similar to marzipan, but often contains fewer ingredients. It is usually comprised of almonds, sugar and water. It has a firm, but pliable texture, a sweet aroma and a very strong almond flavour. I found this small slab at JohnVince Foods (in North York, Ontario) for just less than $2.00 CAD.

On a clean surface and using a rolling pin, roll out the almond paste so that it is approximately between 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick.

Smear the date paste over the rolled-out almond paste.

Now, we will begin to make the marbling. Fold the paste-sheet in half.

Roll the folded sheet so that it flattens to the approximate thickness you started with. (There are no rules and you cannot make them too thin or too thick. We are really just trying to incorporate the two ingredients together.)

Make a second fold.

Roll it out a second time.

Make a third fold...

...and roll it out. This amount of mixing should be enough for our purpose.

Starting from one end, pinch out a section of paste.

Using the palms of your hands, roll them out into little marbles.

Repeat this process until you have a surface full of marbles.

Now comes the missing flavour; sesame seeds.

Gently roll each ball in a bowl full of sesame seeds. You will not need to use much pressure, as the oil from the almonds and the stickiness of the dates will help adhere the sesame seeds to the sides.

I like to put each marble in a mini cupcake paper.

These little treats are very addictive and will be a hit at your next gathering!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cheese please!

There are many individuals who cannot have dairy products, including cheese, for a variety of reasons. I came across an ingredient that can be used as a substitute: yeast.

Now, this isn't the type of yeast you are used to, although it is derived in the same manner. Yeast is the primary ingredient used in fermentation. Be it to ferment alcohol, e.g. beer, or to make breads rise, this product has been used for centuries.

Common baker's yeast is usually made from a species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The same species of yeast is also used to produce a product called nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast, compared to baker's yeast, has been deactivated, so that it does not reproduce. It is essentially dead yeast (R.I.P.). A very important effect of killing the yeast is that it produces a very pronounced cheese flavour.

Nutritional yeast is not just "nutritional" in its name. It is a great source of vitamin B12, which is the vitamin that:
- supports production of red blood cells
- prevents anemia
- allows for nerve cells to develop properly
- helps cells metabolize protein, carbohydrates and fat

Compared to other vitamins, which can be acquired through a variety of plants and animals, it appears that the exclusive source of vitamin B12 is through microorganisms like bacteria, molds, algae and yeasts. 

Nutritional yeast is rather inexpensive and can be found at some bulk food stores and health food stores. It is often found in the form of yellow flakes or powder.

To create the effect of grated cheese, combine equal amounts of nutritional yeast and ground blanched almonds. I used approximately 2 tablespoons of each. To this mixture, add a pinch or two of sea salt and enough olive oil to make it resemble moist bread crumbs.

Surprisingly, this mixture actually tastes like grated parmesan cheese. You have to try it to believe it! As a preliminary experiment, I used it to top pasta it was delicious. 

There will be some more experimentation to come.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All Dressed Up and Ready to Go

Stepping away from traditional dressings can be difficult for some. Take these steamed green beans for instance. I could easily make a vinaigrette and have the side of boring with my meal. Today I decided to add an exciting ninja kick instead. 

Enter Shichimi Togarashi. Shichimi Togarashi is a Japanese spice blend meaning "seven flavour chili pepper". It is made with dried peppers, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, and seaweed. It is available in most Asian grocery stores, catering to the Japanese market, in the Greater Toronto Area.

I decided to mix the magic powder to some sesame oil. Sesame oil is commonly used in Asian cooking to enhance the taste of foods. It has a high nutritional content containing omega fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

I topped the green beans with the oil-spice mixture and a little bit of sea salt. I also decided to add a few carrot top leaves to the mix. Unknown to most people, carrot greens are edible. They have a very concentrated carrot flavour and can be used like parsley. (Don't throw them away next time.)

Problem solved. Try it next time, when you're looking for a change from the ordinary.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Today, I came home from work craving cake. I didn't want any crumbly-fall-apart or, even worse, brick-like nasty gluten-free / dairy-free wannabe cake either. I wanted the real deal. So, I was on a mission.

Here is my recipe for Lemon Olive Oil Cake.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Gather and thoroughly mix the following dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl:
- 1/2 cup finely ground corn flour (make sure that it's not cornmeal)
- 1/2 cup ground (blanched) almonds
- 1 cup white rice flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
-  zest of one medium sized lemon

Next, add the following wet ingredients:
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 4 teaspoons honey

Combine all of the ingredients together.

Note: Have greased baking pan ready (greased with olive oil).

Squeeze the juice of one medium-sized lemon into the mixture and give it a quick whisk.

Quickly pour the cake batter into the greased baking pan.

Bake the whole thing in the oven for approximately 35 minutes. (Be sure to use a toothpick to check if the center of the cake is dry.)

While still warm, flip the cake over onto a plate.

I ain't messing around. This cake is 'real' cake. It slices beautifully and has a wonderful crumb. The subtle flavours of lemon and olive oil will leave you wanting another piece.

Now, this is gluten-free / dairy-free done right!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bread-less Breading

A small disadvantage of gluten-free cooking is the inability to enjoy breaded foods. Even though the amount of bread used to coat/cover foods is minimal, it can be a nightmare for some to digest these ingredients. In any case, breaded foods are so good that it would be a total shame for people not to enjoy them.

For this reason, I have come up with an extremely flavourful, bread-free breading which, by the way, tastes even better than using breadcrumbs alone!

It's really quite simple. You will require the following ingredients for the breading:
- 3/4 cup crushed, blanched almond meal
- 3/4 cup dahl flour (yellow lentil flour)
- a dash of paprika
- a dash of chili powder
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- salt to taste (I used approximately 1 teaspoon)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar

Note: You can find dahl flour quite easily at any East Indian or West Indian grocery store.

Simply mix the above ingredients together and use it wherever you require breading.

I decided to use the mixture to make gluten-free breaded chicken.

I began with some chicken cutlets.

To bind the breading to the cutlets, I made an egg wash by combining two large eggs with 2-3 tablespoons of water.

Place the chicken pieces into the egg wash.

Then proceed to cover them with the breading.

Note: You can also bread the chicken "Shake 'n Bake" style, by placing the breading in a bag and giving the egged chicken pieces a shake.

Place the breaded chicken pieces on a greased baking sheet and bake them until the chicken is fully cooked (to an internal temperature of 182°F).

I swear this chicken is tastes better than when using actual breadcrumbs!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tequila Chicken

Contrary to popular belief, I do not spend my entire day in the kitchen. To further clarify, some days, I also get lazy. However, that does not mean that the food I make on those days has to taste bad. (There is no excuse for bad tasting food!)

For those days where you feel that you don't want to spend hours making a meal, here is my easy tequila chicken recipe.

I begin with pieces of chicken. Any part of the chicken will do. This time, I had some skinless, boneless breast pieces. They had been pre-cleaned, so there was no extra work. You can create this dish with large pieces of chicken, but I decided to cut them into bite-size pieces.

Next comes a of jar salsa. I like to use "medium", because I like the kick. In any case, I also like to use an authentic style of salsa, as these types usually contain no unnecessary ingredients or additives. So far, so good.

You can't have tequila chicken without the tequila! Generally, I add approximately one shot to the mix, but you could add more or less (depending on your taste and the amount of chicken you're making.) The tequila adds amazing flavour to the dish, while tenderizing the meat at the same time.

Simply add all of the ingredients to a pot, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked. Just make sure to cover the chicken fully in the salsa. Depending on the thickness of the salsa, you may need to add some additional water. During the cooking process, the salsa will have turned into a thick and flavourful sauce.

Note: Always remember to cook your chicken thoroughly (to an internal temperature of 182°F). 

Serve the tequila chicken with:
- hard or soft tortillas 
- in wraps
- with rice, potatoes, pasta or any starch of your choice
- with spaghetti squash, as I did below (For my easy spaghetti squash recipe,  click here.)

Now there's an easy, quick and effortless dish!