Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gardening Greens--in Mid-November

Last night it got down to 24degrees (F), but my lettuce, carrots, beets, and spinach all survived happily. Why? The miracle of row covers. In this case, I used a simple doubled over sheet of heavy black plastic.  While I don't normally suggest plastic for row covers as it can actually backfire (the plastic doesn't breathe), I couldn't find my normal heavy row cover last night.

As some background, I planted most of the fall/winter garden in mid-September by just sprinkling the seeds over the row. I was too lazy to try rows again, and my seeds were old, so I knew that many would not sprout at all. The big reason that I even planted was that I had an open garden bed, and still had time before snow and freezing settled in.

Now that it is mid-November in the middle of New Mexico we are getting temperatures that make any leafy plant want to curl up and freeze. I have been lucky so far--low temperatures normally above 28F, which means I don't need to cover the plants. Yesterday though, I checked my trusty NOAA site and saw that the temperature was not going to be that warm. In fact it was supposed to be down to 24F and windy--bad news for uncovered plants.  Right after I saw that I hopped outside and scrambled to cover up the row. This morning when I uncovered the row, the plants were wet, and slightly squished, but very happy and not frozen.

So here is my recommendation for anyone trying to extend their garden season:
  • Check the forecasted low--if it is going to be below around 27-28, your leafy greens may suffer
  • Cover your garden plants before dark if possible--it holds the heat better--but any time is better than none
  • Covering options:
    • old sheets
    • towels
    • light blankets
    • plastic sheeting
    • for long term storage: thick layers of straw (it will cause seeds to sprout later)
    • purchased row covers
    • milk jugs with the bottom cut off (keep the lid)
    • glass jars
    • pretty much anything that you can put on before it gets cold and take off once it warms up
  • Make sure to take off the covering in the morning (if it is going to be above freezing)
    • if you have cloth covers it should be fine to leave it on a few days
    • plastic should NOT be left on any longer than necessary because the plants will sweat, and could get too hot--or that extra plant sweat could actually cause worse freezing
  • Water deep during the day before especially cold nights
    • the water helps to hold heat from during the day
  • If the plants look shriveled and sad in the morning, don't pick the shriveled leaves
    • either they will bounce back and rehydrate, or
    • they will act as a mini blanket for the plant next time it gets cold
How long till my garden dies? Who knows. High desert winter and fall gardening is never a sure thing. I don't think that I can keep my garden alive outside if it drops consistently below 20F, or if it stops warming up during the day (probably early to mid December if I am lucky).  On the other hand, there is always the option of rescuing some of the plants and bringing them inside to grow over the winter and ignore the frigid temperatures.

Growing in the high desert means that there is a long growing season, but finicky growing conditions. Temperatures swing wildly every day--24F low followed by a high of 62F is what today's forecast was, tonight's low will be 36F with no need to cover the garden. Aah the fun of gardening in the middle of nowhere!

How do you extend your garden or  do you? Do you live somewhere where you can plant a fall garden--or do you hibernate and move inside for fall and winter?

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Gluten-Free Guide

 So you have Celiac. Oh no! No food! No bread! NO PIZZA AND BEER!!!!


You can have your food (and pizza and beer) and eat it, and not suffer too!

You have options. Chances are you will have to ask questions when eating out, and will become a label-reading expert, but you can eat pretty darn normally with some hints and practice--and not get glutened at the same time.  You may also find that you have a really hard time eating dairy right now--that will happen most times after eating gluten--give it some time and you probably will have no problem with that glass of milk or bowl of ice cream (assuming the ice cream is GF, of course—no malted milkshakes allowed).

Many restaurants are becoming aware of GF needs, and have separate GF menus. You may have to ask your server specific questions to make sure that your food is safe, even at these places (do you have one frier for both breaded foods and fries/chips?).  Tip your server well and they won't mind asking the cook about ingredients of the day, and don't be afraid to send something back--better to wait than to get glutened. Be VERY careful at buffets as you can never really be sure that something is GF or has not been contaminated by other foods--I do eat at buffets occasionally, but I get to know the places and am VERY careful... and get glutened sometimes anyway.

Here are a few places that cater to GF patrons:
•    P.F.Chang's/PeiWei (GREAT Chinese food, ask for GF soy sauce)
•    Wendy's (Check the website, but they have lots of cheap GF food--the chili is really good)
•    Carraba's (ask for the GF menu)
•    Outback (ask for the GF menu, or check online first, pass on the bread)
•    Red Robin (ask for the GF menu, pass on the fries unless they have a dedicated no-gluten frier)
•    Boston Market (look online, or ask for a GF menu--they tend to be out of the menus though)
•    Chili's (ask for a GF menu, it may take them a few minutes to print one out)
•    Lone Star Steakhouse (ask for GF menu or online)

Yup, options, lots of them. Some are cheaper or tastier than others, but all are gluten free. Here are some Grocery store notes and suggestions

Grocery Stores with many GF options:
•    Sunflower Market (my favorite around here)
•    Trader Joe's (their prices are between Sunflower and Whole Foods)
•    Whole Foods (as a last resort, but they have lots of options)
•    John Brooks/Smiths (each location carries different products--they both accept requests)
• (lots of GF options—and Amazon Prime is free for anyone with a .edu email address right now)

So now that you know where you can find GF foods, what can you eat?

Here are some easy and naturally gluten free foods that are easy to keep around the house:
•    White/Brown Rice (good for use like oatmeal)
•    Corn Grits/Polenta/Masa (careful--some brands have flour contamination, but most are fine)
•    Beans, Potatoes, Corn, Veggies, millet, quinoa
•    Lettuce (as sandwich wrappers they work great)
•    All Chex cereals (except, of course, the wheat chex)**only the brand name ones are GF***
•    block cheese (except for blue cheese and other veined cheese)
•    Corn Chips (almost all brands--if you get them in a restaurant they may be contaminated from the fryer)
•    Frozen Fries/Tater Tots (Ore-Ida brand is safe, as long as fried in oil that has not had gluten products fried in it)
•    Yogurt (check for modified food starch--yoplait is okay, as is the Walmart brand and Dannon)
•    Vinegars (all except malt vinegars or flavored vinegars with "malt" in the ingredients)
•    Mayo/Miracle Whip
•    Corn Tortillas (make VERY sure they don't have flour in there as a binder)
•    Buckwheat (even though "wheat" is there...but not buckwheat pancake mix, sorry)
•    Jello Puddings and Jello (except for cookies and cream, check new flavors their starch is all corn)
•    Handi-snacks puddings (except for cookies and cream and tapioca, starch is corn)
•    Larabars--instant meal bars
•    "Imagine" Chicken Broth (and I believe their beef broth too)
•    "Pacific" broths
•    "Better Than Bullion"stock base (not the pork or seafood versions)
•    "Kraft" Brand products (all are labeled clearly if any gluten ingredients are used)—they even have some new hamburger helpers that are GF
•    Kroger Scalloped Potatoes (at last look had no gluten ingredients in it--seen at Smith's)

Easy GF Foods (and Brands when I have a preference)

•    Rice Pasta (Tinkiyada is a great brand that doesn't get mushy):
•    Bread (Udi's Whole Grain is great and not cardboard like most GF"breads", fairly affordable too, or Glutino's Raisin Bread for french toast)
•    Bob's Red Mill GF hot cereal (like oatmeal, but cheaper than GF certified oats)
•    Crackers (Glutino is good, as are the crackers at Costco/Sams though though they tend to be harder)
•    EnviroKids products (granola bars as well as flavored cereals, expensive but handy)
•    Nature's Path GF Cereals (Maple Sunrise and their Corn flakes are great, but expensive)

Frozen/Instant GF Food:
•    Amy's Kitchen (labeled clearly, and okay food, but not great)
•    India Kitchen (Very tasty Indian food)
•    Glutino (okay, and often on sale at Sunflower market)
•    Thai Kitchen Noodle Soups (the little rice noodle ones, cheap and quick food--NOT the udon soups)
•    Pamela's mini cookies (the larger cookies are not as good)

Tasty GF Mixes:
•    GF Bisquick
•    Glutino/Gluten Free Pantry Mixes (bread, pie crust, pizza crust, they all work well here)
•    Betty Crocker White and Chocolate Cake Mixes (the brownies suck, good yellow cake)**many canned frostings are also GF)
•    Pamela's Chocolate Cake Mix (Best Ever Chocolate GF Cake, okay white cake)
•    Chebe Bread (Good for breadsticks and making crackers, lousy for pizza crusts and rolls)
•    Pamela's Baking Mix (very good)

Here are some things to not buy:
•    most frozen pizzas. They are like chewing on expensive cardboard, but work if you REALLY need pizza, or a quick pizza crust (other than the recipe for home made later on here).
•    brown rice tortillas. You can find them frozen if you are really craving a burrito, but they are just not the same. I can't figure out a good homemade recipe for flour tortillas. Corn tortillas normally are GF--always check or ask.

Booze options:
If you see "malt" in the name, it is not gf (look for more info)—this includes Smirnoff Ice, B&J coolers, and Jack Daniel’s Punch

***all distilled booze is technically gluten free, but many companies add back in flavorings and non-distilled alcohols to get their products, so you might have to watch yourself VERY carefully, especially with flavored alcohols like Chambord or flavored rums/vodkas, and some people (like me) can’t tolerate even “pure” distilled grain alcohols like Smirnoff Vodkas***

•    Redbridge beer (I believe it is a Anheiser-Busch product)
•    Bard's Tale Beer (this can be hard to find)
•    Hard Ciders (check the label as usual, but most hard ciders—not flavored beers—are safe)
•    wine (not wine coolers or flavored malt beverage)
•    port/brandy/fortified wines (really sweet and tasty)
•    Capt Morgan Rums (and all non-flavored rums from sugarcane)
•    Tequila (all from Agave)
•    Mead (from Honey)
•    Sake (rice wine)—not all rice beers are safe, most use barley as a base
•    Kahlua (Bailey’s MAY be safe, but only if your system tolerates the distilled whiskey)
•    Southern Comfort
•    Frangelico
•    Vodka (made of corn mostly, and some is from wheat—rarely potatoes—especially watch the flavored ones, since they never list ingredients)
o    Smirnoff Ice is never safe—it is a malt beverage
•    Gin (should be safe, but is normally cut with other grain alcohols)
•    Whisky/Scotch (made from gluten grains, but if fully distilled they can be okay for some people—sadly not safe for me, at least not on my budget)

Okay, lets go on to the depressing list

Here are the words to look out for on menus and ingredients:
•    Flour—assume that it is wheat, whether enriched, whole, or high protein
•    Malt--usually barley malt, and seen in many cereals, teas, and drinks
•    Barley, Wheat, Spelt, Rye, semolina, Durum, Triticale
•    modified food starch (Kraft will label this if it is from a gluten grain)
•    Oats (contaminated with wheat unless SPECIFICALLY called GF—and those are really expensive)
•    Couscous (pasta)
•    Textured Vegetable Protein (it may be from soy only, but normally is wheat and soy)—the foods that can sneak in gluten without even a thought
•    Natural Flavors (can be anything from corn, to roasted wheat, to petroleum products—check online for each brand's definition)

Commonly Glutened foods:
•    Cream of X Soup--including Tomato Soup (flour thickened)
•    Ice Cream (can be thickened with flour or have flavored gluten bits) (Most fast food ice cream is okay, skip the oreos)
•    Sausages and Processed Meats (modified food starch, check label or check online for more info)
•    Soy Sauce (some are just soy, like many store brands, so check the label)
•    Krab (the fake crab)
•    Wasabe paste
•    Shredded Cheese (look for the word "cellulose" or "modified food starch" thickened sauces/soups (mostly thickened with flour--ask the cook or read label)
•    Rice Krispies (barley malt)
•    Corn Flakes (malt flavoring)
•    many rice cakes (flavorings or malt)
•    Rice-A-Roni (has pasta with the rice)
•    Flavored Tea (check bottles or bags for barley malt flavoring)
•    Mustard (check and see if it has flour, most yellow mustards are fine)
•    Red/Green Chilie sauce—many are thickened with flour (like 505 brand, and about half of the restaurants I have talked to)
•    Bacon Bits (the little fake Bac'O's are bound with flour)
•    Subway (they all touch the bread, then dive into the bins with crumbs--it is just not safe, no matter how careful you are)
•    Crisp Rice (barley malt)--ALWAYS will have barley malt unless labeled GF
•    licorice (all soft licorice has flour)
Taco Seasoning (thickener)
•    Envelope lick-and-stick glue (sad but true--just use a damp sponge instead if licking
•    no-stick spray (some contains flour as an all-in-one no-stick baking product)

Needed items for GF cooking (especially for breads and desserts)
•    fine ground white rice flour (basic grocery store)
•    fine ground brown rice flour (basic grocery store sometimes, otherwise Sunflower or Whole Foods)
•    Xanthan Gum (Bob's Red Mill at basic grocery store—needed for bread-like stickiness)
•    Cornstarch (I get the big Sam's box because it is used a lot as a flour more than a thickener)
•    Tapioca starch/flour (Bob's red mill from reg. grocery)
•    Potato Starch (not potato flour, can be substituted 1 for 1 with Tapioca/corn starch in most cases, Bob's Red Mill makes it)
•    corn meal, corn flour (basic grocery store)
•    powdered milk/buttermilk (Excellent for adding binder and flavor to cooked goods)

Good to have:
•    Sorghum Flour (Bob's Red Mill--excellent for breads)
•    powdered egg whites (good as a binder for breads, coatings, and cookies)

Helpful Cookbooks/Authors

#1 Bette Hagman "Gluten-Free Gourmet" series (my favorite so far is "More From the GF Gourmet", excellent recipes for breads and alternate forms of everyday foods like Cream of X soup base. Most of the ingredients are easy to find. The fresh egg noodle recipe is great!

#2 Donna Washburn and Heather Butt "125 Best Gluten-Free Recipes" (this is my go-to for pizza crust)

General Notes for cooking:
•    When measuring the flours (many of which are fine powder starches), lightly spoon the flours into the measuring cup--don't pack at all.
•    Use white rice flour to make a roux for thickening, just like you would with white flour, or mix cornstarch and cool liquid and add to the sauce (bring to a boil to thicken completely).
•    Use tortilla chip crumbs instead of bread crumbs for crunchy breading
•    either clean bakeware VERY well (especially those crevices on folded pans), or purchase a special set just for GF cooking, use paper liners for muffins/cupcakes
•    If people are baking/using regular flour—stay away from the kitchen until the dust settles for a while. Breathing in the flour is enough to get gluten in your system from your sinuses (I speak from experience here—took me a while to figure it out too)

If you want GF versions of specific recipes, feel free to contact me and I can see if A: I have a recipe already tested for high altitude/New Mexican flavors (like rellenos); or B: if I can approximate a starting place or find a close alternative (so far no good replacement for tortillas).

(I wrote this guide for a friend of a friend. The woman was just diagnosed with Celiac, was 21, and a mother of a toddler—the last thing she had time for was muddling through learning a new way to eat with no help. It has taken me two years to get this far in gluten-free living, so I might as well share the information that I have gained in that time.)

A few disclaimers—I am not related in any way to any of the products, companies, or brands that I have listed here except as a purchaser of their wares/services.  I am just spreading the information that I have gathered over the time I have spent gluten-free. And as always, this is not medical information and is not meant to treat or cure any condition--ask your doctor if you have questions about treating Celiac or gluten intolerance

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ode to Compost

Dirt. Soil. Organism-rich horizons.
However you put it, I like it when I can see rich black dirt and plop baby plants or seeds into it.

New Mexico has no dirt. But we do have sand. Lots. And clay. Lots--but never interspersed nicely together as that would be too nice for drainage.

Having said that, my personal weapon against the lack of dirt is through a plethora of compost.

Ode to Compost
Thou art sweeter than a summer's day
And far better than any sand or clay.
But take so long for to become
The substance that I know and love.

We get a box of fruits and veggies a week through our CSA, I have a little bit of grass at the new house, and there are all the non-seed/spiny weeds that just BEG to be food for my future crops.  Why put all that wonderful goodness into our landfill when I can lazily toss it into our compost bin and ignore it for a while?  After a few months (or many months since the compost bin is done on laziness and neglect rather than by quicker methods) I strike gold!

We just moved into a new-to-us house, with gardens out back, grass out front (more on that later) and flowers all around.  The old house had a compost bin full of scraps that had been working for some 9 months now. My dear housemate gave me the best present in the world in the form of two big bags of perfect-plant-food from the bottom of the bin.  The rest of it we just tossed back in the composter to give it some more time.  As for those two bags of goodness: one I spread over all the garden beds to give a little umph to the babies since it is warming up here again for the summer. The other bag I am saving for when we transplant three grape vines (and hopefully two fig trees) from my parent's house.

Now back to dirt--and where compost comes in.

It occurred to me when I was digging up various plots in the garden that there were definite zones in my property:
  • sandy (water runs into and right out of it)
  • clay concrete (water sits on top of it and tilling it requires lots of work)
  • fertilized soil (not much of this)
I also noticed from what was left behind that this was a gardening house that used traditional fertilizer and pesticides to grow and kill plants.  That explained why I had not seen any weeds in the property (that and it was wintertime) until the hedge mustard decided to try and take over--they were kept at bay with various sprays.

I don't mind pesticides as a last resort, but I would much rather try starting out with improving the whole area and putting in plants that are stronger than the pests to be semi-weed-free. This poses two problems--I only have one of me and  a third of an acre to keep free of spiny/sappy/poisonous invaders,  and that I want to squeeze as much produce as I can out of what I do plant...with as little effort as possible and no commercial fertilizers. 

So I spend some money now on a bale of oat straw, a few bags of commercial compost, and what I can get out of my own bin so that eventually, several years down the road I can have an easier time growing what works here in the desert...but in good soils.

Now back to that grass. I am in a desert and green grass is a bit of a pest to keep green, mowed, and not taken over by russian thistles or other plants.  I am tempted to rip it up and ... then would have open dirt with more thistles.  Instead I am going to try a method that has worked so far in the past and may work here: neglect.  I plan to occasionally toss some water on it if it looks really really sad, but otherwise ignore it and just keep it mowed--weeds and all. I do make weekly sweeps for thistles and other weeds since I am allergic to them and want them out of my property.  (Mostly I do the weed sweeps to prevent the evil puncture vine, or goathead, from invading. That plant is my arch-nemesis.)  We will see how this experiment works.

I hope to be free of frosts from here on in, even though three days ago we had a low of 34. Today the high was 90 degrees, so I am hoping that the weather makes up its mind and leaves us with a little more spring time coolness before the real heat settles in. I am prepared for the evil heat though, and the summer plants are in the ground (with watchful eyes for frost). The watermelons and squash, along with the tomatoes, up and starting to look large... the pepper plants even have their first flower buds.  Unfortunately the peas and carrots are also just starting to look good and the heat is just about high enough to kill them off before I get anything off of them!  At least I can say that the garden is a success as I have spinach, chard and radishes from it in my salads now.

As a side note on salads--I am trying an experiment by replanting the root stock of spinach plants that my CSA sent me. They were thinning out their fields for the second crops to come in (like tomatoes) so they plucked and sent me the whole plants. I chopped off the leaves (and should have left one or two on them probably, but we will see) and planted them in my garden by where the other spinach is happily growing. I am hoping that at least one of the six plants takes root so that we have more home grown spinach from what otherwise would just be tossed in the compost bin.

Well, that was a rather rambling post... oh well, at least it was a post at all! I hope to have pictures of the happy garden up here in a few days now that college classes are out for the season and moving has calmed down. Until then, happy gardening!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Garden is In!

Of course, when moving into a new home the first thing that NEEDS to be done is to put in the garden... well...maybe not need per say, but it definitely is more fun than packing and cleaning houses!  Today was my day to put in my spring garden in the nice pre-made beds.

Two of the beds were put to sleep for the winter with compost and covered, the other three needed some love in the form of weeding and tilling.  While I am far from finished planting (since I still have three beds that I can fill), today was very productive and I am no longer behind schedule.

"Behind schedule? In March? How can that happen"

Here in the high desert, spring is the very short time between February freezes (mid teens at night, 40's in day) and May sweltering (60's at night, 90's in day). It is windy, moody, and in general a wonderful time of year for being outside without a long sleeved shirt, but not quite ready for shorts--except for that whole wind and moodiness I mentioned. For example: In the past two days it drizzled, then snowed, then just went to 40mph winds--all over the lunch hour. Today it was in the low 70's, sunshine, just enough breeze to be comfortable--in short it was beautiful.  Welcome to spring in Central New Mexico.

Now that you know what spring really means here, you can probably guess that most "spring" plants don't have long to live before being blown away and dried out by the wind, or getting too hot and melting in the sunshine... unless they freeze to death...  I tend to stick with organically grown seeds when I can get them, and I attempt (though am rarely successful) at finding heirloom or non-hybrid varieties of plants. This is the middle of nowhere, and shipping can be painful for a small packet of seeds.

The garden so far has my transplanted perennials: rhubarb and artichoke, along with a chard plant that refuses to die. To the right of the photo are a bunch of snow peas (the trellis is just visible), some radishes, and the artichoke.  This little bed is only about 2 feet by six feet, but is great for these babies.
The next bed is much bigger, about 10 feet by 4 feet.
This bed was all ready to go and only needed a little tilling to get it ready for planting. It now has garlic (planted at the other house last November), spinach, lettuce, onions, scallions, beets, and radishes. I was given the onions, and leafy greens by a friend who bought too many. I babied them along till I could plant them outside. Here is a closer look at the greener side of the beds (before putting in a soaker hose)

Those babies look pretty sad now, but I think most of them will perk up

I planted most of the seeds pretty close to each other since I am not too worried about pests or having to walk between rows.  I also installed a soaker hose in the large bed so that I do not have to water from above...and can be lazy.  

I do have two more large beds to plant... something in. Carrots, peas maybe, who knows what else. I may leave them alone and just have them ready to plant the summer vines later on in the season.  In addition to those two, there is a 4 foot diameter stock pond (now filled with soil) that will be the potato and marigold place. Why marigolds? I hear that they keep away some of the pests that like to eat my taters!  I even have a bag of organic potatoes that are desperately trying to sprout under my countertop, so I figured that I could put them to good use. That will have to wait for another day, as it was plenty of work to get the garden mostly up and running.
 The two beds that still needs some loving

The best part of this garden is it is an excuse to play in the dirt outside. I remember helping (or hindering) my Great Grandfather in his huge garden long ago, now I am putting some of his knowledge to work for my own garden. (Memories of him in his garden always hit me whenever I am in a shady garden with trellises--all good memories. Tasty too!)  Maybe if he and green thumb is watching he can keep an eye on me and my garden--probably shaking his head and saying "no no, you're doin' it wrong"... but a funny thought anyway.

Are you planning on gardening this year? What are you planning on planting--or are you somewhere that you have already planted?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pi Day! (Belated)

Here in the small college town I live in, we take Pi day seriously. Now I am late, I know, but I have to share the photos of the pies that my housemate and I made for the celebration of all things round and preferably with pi (e) in the name.  All told we made 4 dessert pies, 1 spinach pie, and pizza pies for everyone at the house (including my own gluten free one since I only had enough flours to make mine).  Everything was gluten free--including the cherry pie with lattice.

So without further ado here are some photos:

The Chocolate Pie with Pecan/Chocolate Crust

The Lemon Buttermilk Pie with Homemade Butter Crust
Cheesecake (...pre-nibbled) with Nut Crust
And the Cherry Pie with Lattice Top

I am sad to say I had not tried making a lattice top pie out of gluten-free flours until this attempt and it seemed to turn out pretty darn well. The only things that made me cringe were the unfinished edges because I partially baked the bottom crust. It is really hard to treat it like glutened pie crust when half the crust is baked already!   The crust did end up nice and flaky on top, and fairly flaky on the bottom with the fresh cherry pie filling (yup--real cherries, half of which I pitted myself) sandwiched inside.

So how did I make that lattice on top? Fantastic use of the freezer and plastic wrap.

  • To roll out dough I use two sheets of plastic wrap and reposition it frequently since gluten free crusts are notoriously sticky/crumbly. 
  • While I was waiting for the bottom pie crust to partially bake I formed another circle of pie dough (thicker than you would for a gluten lattice top--about 1/8" total) about the size of the pie top.  
  • Slice into strips, once again thicker than for regular gluten dough since I was not interested in having those strips break. 
  • Here is the biggie: Freeze the long strips for at least 3 minutes before making your lattice. 
  • Form the lattice on the plastic wrap and place flat in the freezer for at least another 3 minutes or till fairly firm.  
  • After you dump your filling into the pan, take the lattice out of the freezer and invert onto the pie and filling.  
  • Trim the edges and squish the edges to form some sort of edge... this is where my pie failed
  • Brush with cream or beaten egg if the filling does not need much cook time so that it browns
  • Cook till flaky and golden or till filling is done (Cherry pie doesn't need much time, but I forgot to brush on the cream so it is rather pale, but flaky and tasty)

The next time I make a lattice top I will post individual photos, but this time all you get is finished (and slightly nibbled) works of tastiness. If anyone has any questions just give a yelp and I will try to answer them. If you have never made a lattice top pie before, they really are lovely, but the verdict is still out if it is worth it to deal with gluten-free lattices.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fishy Notes for New Fish Munchers

I just typed this up for another blogger I follow, over at Learning How to Cook...Gluten Free! and thought that it might be a good idea to post this up here. It is a work in progress and I will have to update this again as I really should be in bed and not typing right now, but here it goes anyway:

Fish can be tricky, but there are a lot of ways to cook it--pan fried (once again till "flaky"), baked, battered and fried, raw in sushi/sashimi (only from a restaurant or sushi grade please...)

If you are just starting out on the world of fish, stick to the frozen pre-filleted packets, like your tillapia. If you are really short on time you can often just cook those babies in boiling water in the plastic packaging (look at the box for ideas) and season after it is out.

I tend to be pretty plain on fish, and just have some starch like rice or potatoes and some beans, peas, or other veggie, but it really doesn't stop there... I am just lazy. You can crumble it up and put it in chowder after you cook the fish, saute with some butter and capers and serve over pasta (look online for recipes).

I have a recipe for gluten free battered halibut on my blog that works well for any thick fish, but beware--it can be a mess to make. Messy but oh so tasty.

Now onto braver fare:
If you happen to be near a coastline you might want to hop down to a fish market some day to see what is there and talk to the people. Many places have someone who is willing to show you how to cut up fish, or they will do it for you for no charge.

If you are looking for fresh whole fish, look to see that the eyes are not sunken in and the skin/meat is not discolored. If you can see cuts of the fish, look to see that the flesh is firm and not mushy or pulling apart (that means that it is old).

I live in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, so I have to stick with fresh frozen food unless I want a case of food poisoning. I have learned to ask my meat market guy if they still have some fish frozen in the back instead of what they thaw and place out as "fresh" and normally he is willing to grab me some from the back so I know it is as fresh as possible (often times frozen at the docks, before it ever sees land). This works best with whole fish, but I often find Halibut (tasty and not fishy, but meaty) and Salmon (um... firm, fishier than Halibut, and available everywhere--Pacific is much better than Atlantic for taste and texture).

Oh boy... now that I have overwhelmed you I have one more thing. Eat fish from people who cook with it, or from restaurants that cook it in ways you like. Then either ask how they did it (if a friend) or look at the menu and jot down the main words to look up later online for recipes. The internet is a great place to learn about cooking and the restaurants will give you an idea of a few places to start.

Other notes:
Cheap and tasty fish:
--Catfish (depending on where you are, can be mushy sometimes, great deep fried)
--Sole (much like tillapia, a bit fishier)
--Tilapia/Cod (cheap and hard to mess up, but not impossible)

Medium cost:
--Salmon (Pacific is all around better than Atlantic, but more expensive, flexible but good with teriyaki dishes or other sweet preparations)
--Halibut (tastes a lot like Tilapia, but firmer and a little more fishiness, good with savory flavors like dill)
--Trout (best cooked whole in a pan, or baked)

More expensive:
--Swordfish (very firm, steaklike)
--Tuna (called Ahi or yellowfin tuna, fishy taste but often used in sushi)

If you like shrimp, they are done when they turn completely pink (they start out greyish) and I highly suggest buying the pre-shelled frozen variety for new cooks... deveining shrimp is a pain in the rear.

Enough fishiness for now, please feel free to add in ideas in comments as I am sure that other people more near actual water can have more suggestions than land-locked me. I miss living near cold water oceans... the fish were so darn tasty (and crab, which the rest of my family loves and I am allergic to, is highly abundant)

On a completely different note: Sorry for the lack of updates, but I have been managing to buy a house and starting the garden while working and going to classes... and now will be moving during those activities. Posts will continue to be random... but I will have all new gardens to take a stab at, and a new kitchen to try out! Wish me luck! ... and any suggestions for a new home owner would also be appreciated!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Garlic. Winter. And Gifts.

The first time it froze hard I dutifully covered up my little garden in an effort to keep the poor garlic babies from freezing. Bah, they didn't even wilt.

Next time I decided to let them live or die without a cover. Well, they did not die. In fact, they are quite happy and thriving. If I have to pluck scapes (the flower tops) off of the tops before we even hit February I will be really confused. As it is I am hoping that the bottoms are happily growing away since the tops have stopped getting any bigger, just staying green.

Also got two new cookbooks for Christmas:
Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World's Premier Culinary College by Richard J. Coppedge Jr. 
More from the Gluten-Free Gourmet: Delicious Dining Without Wheat by Bette Hagman

I have had a chance to look through both of the books and so far I like both of them. The Culinary Institute of America book is nice and well tested BUT there are five different flour mixes and a few of them use soy flour which I abhor. On the other hand, substituting the soy for sorghum so far has worked wonderfully so I hope to continue to have promising results! There is even a recipe for GF puff pastry!

The Bette Hagman sequel is also great (just like her first book which I also like) and has many more involved recipes that I would love to try.  In this version there are lots of dinner recipes as well which have promise. I plan to try the recipe for cream of X soup in some of my more traditional casseroles (like tuna noodle!) which always have the cream of mushroom-chicken-tomato-etc condensed soup which are full of wheat.

Another gift from the holidays was Ree the Pioneer Woman's Cookbook (just like most of the bloggers that I know) which I have been drooling over and awaiting the day it would come to me! "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" is a beautiful book.
It is so pretty... and even signed just for me (arranged for me by dear friend)... I almost hate to bring it near my kitchen to start de-glutenizing the recipes and getting chocolate smudges and flours all over it... almost. But not enough to ignore the fact that I love that woman's cookin' and want to dig in as soon as possible to work on them.

And now I need to further delve into my new gifts and find out what is going to be in my kitchen later today, tomorrow, or as soon as I can find some spare sanity!