I can’t believe it has been a month since I last posted. Where have I been? Well, I’ve been studying for, stressing about, and taking my “preliminary PhD exams.” Basically, once I pass them, I will get to start writing my dissertation. Last weekend I took the written portion. I had 72 hours to answer 3 questions for a total of 30+ pages. Mine ended up at 33. I haven’t wanted to touch my computer, or write since. Even though I managed to sleep almost a full eight hours every night (okay the last night I only slept 6), even though I slipped out for yoga around noon on Saturday, the test was excruciating. I had no appetite, my shoulders and back hurt badly, and worst, by halfway through the second day I was exhausted mentally. Try writing ten pages when you are so tired you can’t put together coherent sentences. Not pretty.

Hopefully though, I will pass. A week from Monday I take the oral portion. That part only last two hours. I’m sure it will be challenging and intense, but I think I am ready. I am definitely ready for this to be over.

So, only the Daring Bakers could draw me back into the blogosphere in the middle of this test. But I am glad that they did. This month we made lavash, an Armenian flatbread. Better yet, the recipe was already gluten-free and vegan. We could top the crackers with whatever we wanted, as long as it was vegan. I made hummus for my Lavash. Yum. Thanks Natalie and Shel for a great challenge!

Recipes after the jump!

tibs wett

I wish I could start this post with Maureen’s drawing of the North Pole, which she made last night left-handed, blind-folded and probably a little tipsy. It looked like a shrimp wearing a cowboy hat (the hat was apparently an igloo). I laughed so hard I cried, but unfortunately, the dry-erase board has since been wiped clean and nothing remains of the drawing. So sad. But back to the food, I have been seriously enjoying Marcus Samuelsson’s The Soul of a New Cuisine lately. The book is crammed full of beautiful pictures of Africa and intriguing recipes from all over the continent, each one loaded with spices. I am a little sad that the book is not divided by region or country, or at least indexed so that if you want to make, say an Ethiopian meal, you can easily find Ethiopian recipes. I also wish that all of the photographs were clearly captioned. But when the food tastes this good, those are small complaints.

Last night, I did my best to pull together an Ethiopian meal. I made the Tibs Wett and the Injera from Samuellson’s book (he calls the Tibs Wett “Stir-fried Beef Stew,” but don’t let that fool you). The Tibs Wett was fabulous. We didn’t splurge on the tenderloin he recommended (and couldn’t find the hangar, which might have been less expensive). But it was quite good with sirloin steak, and we really want to try it with lamb. The sauce was amazing, full of flavor and nuance, though it could have possibly used a little more heat. Sammuelson suggests serving it with Awase, which is a very spicy condiment, and next time I might just do that.

The injera was okay, Sammelson provides a simplified recipe that saves the home cook from the three-day process of making and fermenting the batter. But, I think I want a more traditional recipe. This injera just didn’t have the sour tang that the real stuff has. I also had some difficulty making my injera as thin (or as big) as they should be. However, when smothered with stew, the injera was quite tasty. The pancakes did a good job absorbing the sauce, and complimented the stew, so I’ve decided to go ahead and share the recipe. Just don’t expect it to taste like the injera you’ve had at a restaurant.

Recipes after the Jump

For about six months I’ve had a large container of dried chickpeas hanging out in my pantry. So the other day it seemed time to put them to good use. I needed something to take to a party on Friday, and thought hummus would be perfect. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that after soaking the chickpeas, I would still have to cook them for an hour or two. I made up some gluten-free french bread instead, which was very much appreciated by the hostess, who is also gluten-free. Of course, when I got home, there was still a giant pot full of chickpeas crying out for my attention. So on Saturday, I made hummus, and on a whim, some pita to go along with it. I didn’t even realize how much I had missed flat bread, until I took my first bite. In a year of being gluten-free, I’ve never tried to make any flat bread, probably because it is easier to just eat rice with Indian food or just put sandwich fixings over salad greens. But now, I can’t wait to make up another batch. The hummus was very good too, much better than the stuff you buy in tubs at the supermarket, but also a little less smooth and refined. Apparently if you peel the chickpeas you can make your homemade hummus extra smooth, but I didn’t have the patience.

Recipes after the Jump

morning glory muffin

I promised this recipe last week, and I keep delaying posting it, because I have a horrible confession. I made these muffins the same day as the blueberry ones, and I still haven’t eaten a single one. I let them cool on the racks, slipped them into freezer bags and froze them. But every time I open my freezer, I hesitate for a mere second, before I reach for a blueberry muffin. I imagine that the morning glory muffins feel hurt, confused, and rejected. They are entitled to those feelings. I think, with time, I will find my way back these veggie-loaded, bran-like, standbys, but not today, and probably not tomorrow. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try them though. As I mentioned in my blueberry muffin post, these muffins were all I made in the muffin department for months, and they are very lovable.

Recipe after the jump

blueberry muffins

Having fished out the last muffin from my freezer for a mid-morning snack, I knew it was time to make more. Sometimes a batch of muffins can last me a long time, as I try to eat fruit during the day. So not having muffins in my freezer shouldn’t be a big deal. But for a quick breakfast, or a long study session, nothing beats a muffin for convenience and satisfaction, so I decided to go ahead and replenish my stash. For the last four or five months, every time I’ve made muffins, I’ve followed the same recipe, one which I will share later this week. But after reading this article in the New York Times, I decided to challenge myself and try something new.

So I started trolling the internet for muffin ideas, not sure what I was looking for. I thought about making quinoa muffins, or trying something exotic, but in the end, I decided on a classic, the blueberry muffin. I used this recipe on Simply Recipes as my base. To adapt it, I added an egg, upped the leavening, and changed the flours.

The resulting muffins are delicious. They fall somewhere between a muffin and a scone – a little denser than other gluten-free muffin recipes that I have made, but not in a bad way. These have a pleasant richness while still retaining a fluffy texture, and the browned muffin tops give a satisfying crunch. Lemon zest comes through as a subtle accent that plays off the tang of the blueberries without overpowering them. These are definitely going to be repeated, I just wish I didn’t know how much butter was in them…

Recipe after the jump

I was exhausted last night, and heading to bed, when I thought “hey, if I make up a sponge, I can try making bread again tomorrow.” I’m sure that most people would just have gone to bed… but I did some quick recipe surfing, pulled out my flours, and then realized that all of my measuring cups were dirty, and I had just started the dishwasher, so I couldn’t wash any by hand. Again, most people probably would have just gone to bed, but I scrounged around and came up with a shaker that had liquid ounce measurements on it, and proceeded to use it to measure my flour and my water. It felt a little ridiculous to be measuring flour in a shaker covered with recipes for alcoholic drinks, but it worked. I added the flour and water to my yeast and sugar, and headed off to bed, only twenty minutes or so later than I had intended.

A sponge, or preferment, is a way to give flavor to your bread. Basically, you mix some of your flour with all of your liquid and yeast, and allow the mixture to sit, anywhere from 8 hours to 24, before making your bread. Since I started my sponge last night, when I woke up this morning, I had a happy bubbly bowl full of very liquid dough (which had sat 10 hours). My plan was to cook half of it in my cast iron dutch oven (which is supposed to help give the crust a nice crunch) and then use half of it to make pizza.

The recipe I was playing with was James Beard’s “French-Style” Bread, which my parents always used to make pizza crust when I was a child. The recipe is supposed to make baguettes, and my artisanal-style loaf didn’t rise much higher than a baguette, so no sandwiches. However, the bread is tasty and would be great dunked in olive oil, or as the base for bruschetta.

My version of this bread bears very little resemblance to Beard’s recipe. He does not use a preferment, and uses all-purpose flour. I had to substitute for the flour, add xanthan gum, and add a preferment step. Some things about Beard’s recipe could probably still use some tweaking in my adaptation. I used a tablespoon of yeast, but with the preferment, I could probably cut that back to 2 teaspoons, and possibly even further. Also, the tablespoon of salt seemed a little much as well. Still, I wouldn’t post this, if it wasn’t quite good as is. As bread, this recipe is not perfect, but good. As pizza crust, it is very, very good. Probably the best I’ve had, definitely the best I’ve made since going gluten-free. Maureen agrees. She thinks it tastes like real pizza.

Recipe after the jump


As I was rushing out the door to meet Marc, I couldn’t resist grabbing a hunk of bread and then another… the flavor was great, especially right out of the oven. I felt victorious, but I also realized that a more relaxed tasting was in order. After lunch, we both stopped by my place and tasted (the now slightly deflated) Ciabatta. The bread is yeasty and has a lot of good flavor. The absence of eggs (a mainstay of so many gluten-free recipe) also removed the odious egg-y flavor that has dominated past attempts. However, the texture left a little to be desired… it was too doughy, and too moist, but a little more time might have helped that, as the middle was doughier than the outside. Still, it was great warm, perfectly edible once cooled, and great again when I toasted it and sliced it down the middle to make a sandwich. This is definitely a recipe I will continue to play with. First, I’ll try cooking it past the point of just barely golden and go for a more solid brown color (and I might turn up the oven), next I might replace all or part of the white rice flour with sorghum or teff, and finally, I might reduce the liquid just a little (a constant temptation for me in gluten-free bread recipes, and an impulse that rarely pays off.)

ciabatta bread

For the first month or so after going gluten free I didn’t really crave bread. At least, that is, after the first three days of withdrawal symptoms during which no matter how much I ate I never felt full. Instead of worrying about the lack of bread, I felt the need to convince myself that there could still be cakes, and pies, and cookies and muffins. Luckily, those types of recipes are actually quite easy to make gluten-free, and I soon had my family swearing that my lemon yogurt cake was about as delicious a cake as they had ever eaten. Then, the desire for bread asserted itself. Real bread, bread with good texture and great flavor. sandwich bread, French bread. I turned to mixes, to Bette Hagman’s books, to the internet, I played with flours and sourdough starters, but I still haven’t found the perfect bread. Some of my attempts have had good flavor, some actually rose enough to look like bread, but most have been too moist or too bland. The search continues.

This recipe, is my latest attempt. I believe the key to finding a gluten-free bread that I truly enjoy lies in some variation of the European method of making a sponge first and letting it sit for several hours before making the final dough. The longer yeast is allowed to work, the more flavor it imparts to bread, and some studies have shown that the slower rise also helps gluten-free flours create a better crumb. My intuition was already pointing me this direction, when I came across Naomi Poe’s post on exactly this topic. I decided to start with her recipe for ciabatta (changing only the flours – since I don’t own her mix).

But how does it taste? I honestly don’t know. It smells heavenly, with approximately 5 minutes left in the oven, but I magically developed lunch plans so the tasting will have to wait…

Recipe after the jump