Before anything, I want to get one thing off my chest. I have not posted on this blog in OVER A YEAR. I can’t rightly keep blogger in my bio anymore. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it, or wanting to. It just means, I am plum out of time. (Shame, embarrassment, guilt, and imposter syndrome slightly expunged). So now, onto the good stuff! The stuff that’s bringing me back to post. Bread. That’s right, BREAD! There are very few things in life that I love as much or more than bread. My kids, my husband, my dog, my cat… well, maybe not my cat. Don’t tell her. She’ll develop a bread complex.
However, finding gluten-free bread has been quite a challenge over the years, and finding allergy-friendly, gluten-free bread has been like seeking the Holy Grail. There is some good bread out there (Canyon Bakehouse), but it’s not easy to find and it’s expensive. There is a good Gluten-free bakery in LA, Rising Hearts Bakery, but I have to get in my car and drive there specifically for bread. Because the bread at my local grocery store just doesn’t cut it. You KNOW what I’m talking about. Dense, rocks, dry, too much yeast, bread that’s like foam or worse, styrofoam. Bread with too much xanthan gum or guar gum, that has a slimy gummy finish. It’s often been, well, just not worth it to bother. And I do have bread recipes of my own, (see my Pita), and I like some of the bread mixes out there (Luce’s bread is divine and crusty), but I am a very busy working mom and making bread from scratch or even from a mix is not in the cards most days of the week. Plus, I don’t own a bread machine. (First World Problems).
For many years, I thought I’d tackle this frontier. I’d launch bread products. Rolls, sandwich bread, pita, tortillas, maybe even bagels. However, my Cybele’s Free-to-Eat cookies have kept me occupied for more years than I ever anticipated and more years than I like to admit. Additionally, the challenges of bread and its short shelf life were daunting to me.
I’d all but given up on good bread and had settled on the passible gluten-free bread at Trader Joe’s.
I didn’t even know there was anything else out there. Until a pot of gold from the end of the rainbow in Ireland landed on my doorstep. Say what? A heaven-sent basket of bread. (Okay, it came in a cool shipper packed in dry ice, but to me it looked like it had angels singing and the wafting steam of fresh baked bread rising out of a homey tea towel.) I really said “Score!” as I opened it. There was sandwich bread, multigrain sandwich bread, hot dog rolls, dinner rolls, bagels, wraps in two flavors, and pita bread. To a bread starved free-from eater, this is truly manna from Heaven.
And I have eaten all of it. Yup, I ate it all. I shared a little bit with my family, but I hid some of it in the back of the freezer for myself. And by the way, the freezer is where they recommend you store their products if they aren’t being eaten immediately.
My takeaway? My favorite were the dinner rolls, crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, without any weird aftertaste or gumminess. Second favorite, the sandwich bread, both white and multigrain. And third, the Pita bread, which is the perfect size for a sandwich. Usually, one needs to cut the pita in half for the sandwich, and it breaks and splits and is hard to stuff. Not so with theirs – it’s the perfect size to begin with. Bravo, BFree!
For more info:
About BFree Foods
Based out of Dublin, Ireland and manufacturing for the U.S. market in Montebello, California, BFree Foods is an innovator in the wheat and gluten-free bread product category. Passionately dedicated to providing exceptional taste, nutrition profiles and performance, BFree’s wraps, rolls, bread loaves, bagels and pita breads maintain the texture of traditional bread products but are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, nuts and soy. All BFree products are allergen and vegan-friendly, low-fat and high- fiber, making them ideal for health-conscious consumers across the globe. For additional information, visit US.BFreeFoods.com or find the brand on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Tess Masters (aka, The Blender Girl) has just published her much anticipated debut cookbook, The Blender Girl: Super-Easy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts & Drinks, and it’s a beauty. This is one colorful collection of 100 gluten-free, vegan recipes that all incorporate the use of a blender. And so, it should come as no surprise, that Tess’s philosophy of life is all about blending. “Blended” is a metaphor.
For those of you who have followed Tess’s blog, Healthy Blender Recipes, you already know how dynamic Tess is both in her persona and also her food writing. What I learned from reading her book is how flexible she is on both fronts as well. While she is a self-professed zealot, she is no preacher. For Tess, “the way” is a winding path, and it winds in a different direction for each and every one of us. So, this is not a “Gluten-Free” cookbook, or a “Vegan” cookbook, just a celebration of whole foods and a really great way to coax more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.
Living in a world of fads and trends, it’s refreshing to have a cookbook author admit that there is no one diet that suits all, or even one diet that suits all of us, all the time. For example, Tess eats a lot of raw foods during the warmer months, but eats more cooked foods during the colder ones.
She puts forward the concept of bio-individuality. And while she makes no secret of the fact that she could “easily live without teeth”, this is not a prescription for others. It would be easy to assume that there would be rigidity to a vegan, gluten-free, (raw foods) cookbook full of recipes all made in a blender, but the opposite is actually true. This book will open your mind to endless new possibilities. I was delighted by the creativity and ingenuity of these recipes. “Optional” is a key word in this book, because whether you add an ingredient or not is up to you. But why wouldn’t you want to add the suggested ingredients, when what Tess has created is so perfect? I’m pretty sure that while Tess herself is not dogmatic or didactic, others will be tempted to make her their guru and follow her teachings to the “T” for Tess.
And speaking of “T” for Tess, one of my greatest takeaways from this book was the revelation that a blender-based diet is defined by the four Fs. It’s fun, fast, flexible, and forgiving.
While it might seem odd to focus so much attention on the prevailing philosophy of this cookbook, I think it’s important to recognize that it’s carving out a new genre. The blender isn’t just for smoothies anymore. It’s become a central kitchen tool in our busy, hectic, and often toxic lives, helping us create nutritionally dense, and delicious meals in a very short amount of time.
The Blender Girl: Super-Easy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts & Drinks is packed with one healthy mouth-watering recipe after another. All made with natural flavors and sweeteners, all vegan, gluten-free and many raw. Many are also nut-free, soy-free, corn-free and sugar-free.
So what’s in the blender if you’ve excluded all that? A myriad of fantastic flavors melded into all kinds of exotic concoctions.
Highlights of the book are the “Love your Blender” chapter in which I learned more about blenders than I ever knew possible, (I was delighted to realize I own 3 types of blenders!) And yes, I too am smitten with longing for a Vitamix.
I also give a nod to her instructions for dehydrating — and I learned a lot from the soaking and sprouting tips. I also just adored the “Milk it baby!” chapter in which Tess walks readers through making your own vegan milks, of which there are countless varieties.
And here are a few shout outs: hats off to the super gorgeous inventive salads. To the “butters” and jams, to the dips, the smoothies, the chips, the fruit leather, the drinks chapter (love), the condiments and sauces, and of course, the desserts. In particular, the “Key Lime” Pudding, made with the incredibly simple and inventive combo of agave nectar, lemon and lime juice, avocado, bananas, and citrus zest. I loved this recipe because it got me thinking about “dessert” in a totally new way.
Now I will share a couple recipes from the book, which are both free of the Top 8 Allergens. Please note that you do not need a Vitamix to make the recipes in this book. While it may be the dream machine, I don’t have one, and these worked just fine. 🙂
I think of this powerful blend as “field to shield.” With the antioxidant weight of these ingredients, nothin’s gettin’ the better of you! You can enjoy this booster in summer with a little sweetener and omit the trio of orange zest, cinnamon, and ginger. But, these warming spices taste absolutely incredible with the berries, really pull the other flavors together, and elevate this smoothie from good to great. The açaí and maqui are optional but provide an invaluable boost, and I always include them. If you don’t add these superfoods or the spices, you may not need the dates. However you make it, this one’s got your back.
1/2 cup (120ml) coconut water
1/2 teaspoon probiotic powder (optional; see note, page 30)
1 packet (3.5 ounces/100g) frozen açaí pulp, or 2 tablespoons dried açaí powder
2 teaspoons maqui powder
2 cups (320g) mixed fresh or frozen berries (1/2 cup each of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries)
1/2 cup (85g) red seedless grapes
1 ripe pear, skin on, cored and diced
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated
orange zest (optional)
1 cup (125g) ice cubes
1 chopped pitted date, soaked,
Throw everything into your blender and puree on high for 30 to 60 seconds, until smooth and creamy. Tweak the sweetness to taste.
watermelon gazpacho is the bomb!
The name says it all. Gazpacho rocks, and this concoction delivers a surprising taste explosion with every spoonful. A happy blend of sweet and spicy, the flavors in this chilled first course or main mellow nicely with time. In fact, the change in flavor is quite pronounced. This is particularly true of the onion. Like a fabulous sangria (see page 174), this soup is better the next day. But, it’s delicious a few hours after preparing, so don’t feel like you have to wait beyond the three-hour chill.
serves 8 as a starter, 6 as a main
4 cups (640g) roughly chopped seedless watermelon, plus 6 cups (960g) diced
2 cups (300g) diced tomato
1 cup (145g) peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber
1/2 cup (70g) diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons diced red onion, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons finely chopped basil
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced green serrano chile, plus more to taste
1/2 tablespoon natural salt, plus more to taste
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Put the 4 cups of chopped watermelon into your blender and puree on high for 30 to 60 seconds, until liquefied. Pour into a serving bowl. Add the 6 cups of diced watermelon and all the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well. Tweak flavors to taste (you may want more onion, lime juice, chile, or salt).
Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours, but preferably 12 to 24 hours to allow the flavors to fuse and the vibrant red color to develop. Before serving, tweak flavors again (if it’s too spicy, add some lime juice). Pass additional lime juice and salt at the table.
Recipes reprinted with permission from The Blender Girl: Super-Easy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts, and Drinks–100 Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes! by Tess Masters, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Photo Credit: Photo taken by Anson Smart © 2014
Romanesco Summer Salad
Laura B. Russell has done it again! Yup, that’s right, she’s made me drool. Her new book Brassicas is stunning, sumpteous, and best of all, user-friendly. I will, without a doubt, be cooking my way from cover to cover.
It’s been quite awhile since a cookbook’s jacket copy has inspired my heart to skip a beat. And so it did, when I flipped to read about what awaited me in the pages of Brassicas. I had known that Laura was working on an all-vegetable cookbook, and had filed that somewhere in the back of my mind as interesting (and something to look forward to). After all, I was a fan of her first cookbook The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen. But I had no idea how excited I would be when this cookbook finally graced my table. If you are a fan of cruciferous and other brassicas veggies, you too will feel like this book was written especially for you. It’s a veritable candy shop for those who like their greens. It’s a celebration of the world’s healthiest vegetables, of their boundless potential and rich natural flavors. From the inherent sweetness coaxed out of brussels sprouts (see recipe for Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze below) to the peppery zip of arugula and watercress salads, to the creaminess of Cauliflower Hummus, this book will take you on a journey through the wonders of brassicas, superfoods of the vegetable kingdom.
Featuring 80 recipes, Brassicas is chock-full of simple sides, salads, breakfast dishes, soups, snacks and even smoothies. Veggies aren’t just for balancing out your plate at supper, they are to be featured, as highlights, all day long. In addition to one knock-out recipe after another, Brassicas is also structured in my favorite format for cookbooks: chapters are devoted to a single vegetable or class of brassicas.
The majority of the recipes are made with recognizable and easy-to-find brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts, which is a plus for shoppers. But for those wanting a little exotic variety, there are gorgeous recipes for broccoli rabe, kohlrabi, mizuna, and collards, just to name a few. I, for one, am always looking for ways to introduce new foods to my family. And, I’ll venture to say, this is a book full of superfoods that will inspire even professed veggie-haters to gobble up what’s on their plates. Look at the glorious Romanesco Summer Salad picture, featured above. I’m sure I can convince my two boys to eat this simply based upon its other worldly resemblance to dinosaur tails. Fun food! And my husband? With its nod to Italian al fresco dining, that’s one romantic looking plate!
For those with dietary restrictions, please note that all of the recipes are gluten-free. Laura has also included a “Special Diets Table”, for identifying major food allergens. Many recipes are naturally allergy-friendly, and for those containing a major allergen, many can be made allergen-free with a substitution, as identified on this table. The two recipes I feature below are gluten-free and free of all Top 8 Allergens.
Brassicas is available for pre-order now and wherever books are sold on April 8, 2014.
Romanesco Summer Salad
Although vibrant lime green Romanesco (sometimes called broccoli Romanesco or Romanesco cauliflower) looks like the love child of cauliflower and broccoli, it is actually closer to cauliflower in terms of taste and how it is used. Its color is fantastic in this lively salad, though you can definitely use white cauliflower if that’s all you can find. Cook the Romanesco just long enough to take away the raw bite, 2 to 3 minutes tops. Normally I would suggest plunging the florets into ice water to halt the cooking immediately, but introducing extra water here will mute the flavor and dilute the dressing. Instead, cook them fast and then spread them on a baking sheet so they cool quickly.
1 cup water
1 medium Romanesco or regular cauliflower, cored and cut into bite-size florets (about 5 cups)
2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. (If you have a steamer insert, put it in the pot to hold the Romanesco. If you don’t have one, don’t worry about it.) Add the Romanesco, cover the pot, turn down the heat to medium, and steam for 2 to 3 minutes, until crisp-tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the Romanesco to a rimmed baking sheet or clean kitchen towel, spreading it in a single layer, to cool.
In a small bowl, to make the vinaigrette, whisk together the mustard, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly with a fork to form an emulsified vinaigrette.
Put the Romanesco in a serving bowl. Add the bell pepper, onion, dill, capers, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will keep well for several hours. Just before serving, taste and add more salt if needed.
Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze
Nothing tastes better with Brussels sprouts than cured pork, which is why I unapologetically offer you recipes that flavor sprouts with both pancetta and bacon (page 61). Here, the salty pancetta plays well with the sweetness from the fig jam, and you can finish the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to add a tangy note (see variations). I found fig jam near the grocery store’s cheese counter (not in the jams and jellies aisle), but you could also try apricot or peach jam instead. You may want to add a touch more jam than I suggest, but strive for a subtle sweetness rather than a cloying, sticky mess.
3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
3 to 4 ounces pancetta, diced
11⁄2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or quartered if large) through the stem end (about 6 cups)
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fig jam
1 tablespoon water
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large (12 inches or wider) frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the Brussels sprouts, keeping them in a single layer as much as possible. Having a few extra sprouts is fine, but if they are mounded in a pile, they will not brown or cook evenly. If necessary, use a larger pan, cook them in two batches, or pull out the extra for another use. Stir in the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and well browned—even charred in spots. If the sprouts are browning too quickly, lower the heat to medium.
Add the fig jam and the water and stir until the jam melts and coats the Brussels sprouts. Add the reserved pancetta and the pepper and stir to combine. Taste and add additional salt or pepper if needed. Serve warm.
Variations For a sweet, salty, tangy version, add a drizzle (a teaspoon or less) of balsamic vinegar at the end. Aged balsamic is an especially good choice. Although I prefer pancetta here (I like its unsmoked rich pork
flavor), you can use bacon in its place.
Recipes reprinted with permission from Brassicas by Laura B. Russell (Ten Speed Press, © 2014). Photo credit: Sang An.