For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

October 16, 2011

Hurray For Your Own Way

When one doesn't really have a good reason or a special motivation to make variations or change already existing recipes, one has a harder time thinking outside the box. In fact, I'd even like to argue that it seldom happens. Could an ingredient be used differently or be replaced? Could something maybe work even better? Are not questions that come up just like that. Most people are lazy by nature and rarely do things that aren't totally necessary. A recipe is followed religiously to every detail and one doesn't need to think.

Something that I always find amusing when cooking for friends and family is the way they get astonished by the time and energy I use for turning other's recipes to my own and adding my personal touch. For me the reason is basically three fold. First of all, I have to get rid of gluten and sugar which is always an inspiring challenge. Second of all, I can't fully take pride of the dish I serve if I've simply copied someone else's creation. My ego gets more a hit than a boost if I get admiration for something that hasn't got my signature on it. Thirdly, I absolutely love to come up with new combinations of tastes. If one doesn't try one'll never come up with anything new and surprising.

There are however dishes and recipes that are harder to manipulate than others and still get great results. One of these mission impossibles is pasta. Pasta in all its forms and shapes. High quality wheat flour is a must for the right consistency, the right chewiness, for the "right" taste. I've been in search for the perfect gluten-free pasta since three years now. I've both made my own from start to finish, I've tired buying different labels, I've tried rice pasta, corn pasta, potato pasta, buckwheat pasta, you name it! There's a corn pasta brand which is actually pretty decent and after you get used to it, you even forget that it isn't the real thing. But still, real pasta is real pasta and everything else is something else.

Three days ago I bought a butternut pumpkin at the market. I thought it was the cutest thing! Pastel orange, round, a bit deformed. It caught my eye immediately. The cutie sat in the middle of the kitchen table for three days, just looking at me. Every morning as I was sipping on my tea I thought of ways of turning it into a delicious dish. The American Thanksgiving pumpkin pie I tried for the first time last year was blocking the flow of ideas. Sure it was tasty, but it didn't tingle my taste buds enough. On the third morning my thoughts went to pasta. My boyfriend loves gnocchi so I thought maybe, maybe I could replace the potato with butternut pumpkin and the wheat with some gluten-free flour mixture. I suggested the idea to my better half and he was totally in.

The butternut pumpkin gnocchi turned out to be pretty common variation of the conventional recipe. However, the recipes that I we found were all done with wheat flour. There was challenge after all. I started going through my cupboards to evaluate the different possibilities. What I came up with was almond flour, corn flour and the magic ingredient in order to get the right texture: Vietnamese glutinous rice flour! Step by step the gnocchi dough started to get workable texture. Then followed the real handwork. Cooking always makes me feel good, but rolling gnocchi made out of the cutest butternut ever made me ecstatic.

The first portion of cooked gnocchi was good, but not perfect. The dough was surprisingly tasty, but an improvement was totally doable. For the next portion, I added some truffle oil to the dough and made the gnocchi much smaller. I also fried then quickly in some butter after cooking them. Definitely a step towards the right direction. The improvement was huge! When I only had a bit of dough left, I even added a pressed garlic clove and squeezed on some lemon juice and topped it all with grayed Parmiggiano for serving. Explosions! Explosions of divine tastes! It was amazing. You could really taste the subtlety of all flavors. An experience of culinary handwork at its finest.

I'll make an exception and share this recipe with you. It would be a crime not to. Buon appetito cari amici!

Gluten free Butternut Pumpkin Gnocchi
(for about 4 portions)

1 butternut pumpkin
1 potato
1 egg
3 table spoons olive oil
1 dl almond flour
1/2-1 dl corn flour
about 300 g glutinous rice flour
(truffle oil, garlic, sage, butter)

Cut the butternut pumpkin in half and bake in the oven for 1h (or until it starts to bubble) in 200°c. Take them out and let them rest for a bit. Grate the potato and cook it for 5min in a frying pan. Add water not to make it too crispy.

Scrape off the flesh of the butternut pumpkin into a bowl. Add the boiled potato mass, the egg, the salt and the flours until you get a workable dough. Mix well.

Form pinky finger thick gnocchi balls. Use rice flour when working. Finally, use a fork to give them their right appearance.

Boil the gnocchi in a big pan. Wait until the water boils heavily. Make sure to boil them a little longer then normal gnocchi, even though they pop up to the surface. After boiling the gnocchi, you can fry them in a pan with some butter to get an even firmer texture and a nice crispy surface.

If you think the gnocchi lack in taste, give them some flavor by adding truffle oil and/or garlic into the dough or by adding sage to the butter in the frying pan.

And most importantly: Do your own variations!

October 13, 2011

Cook It Away

A dear friend whom I'll call the Fellow Rat just to make her smile, posted a picture on my facebook wall last week. The picture fit my personality to the point and inspired me to share something silly with You, dear readers. I want to tell you about my very own anger management technic! Food related, of course, no surprise there.

According to my Mother, ever since I was a little girl, I've always been one of those who eat when getting upset. When ever I've had a bad day, didn't pass an important exam, had a fight with someone or simply felt royally shitty, I indulged myself with some guilty pleasures. Something mouthwatering and lip-smacking, something rare and overpriced, otherwise it wouldn't do the trick. In any case, along the years I've become very talented in talking myself into spending a lot of money on yummy treats when I feel like the whole world is against me. ”Just this once”, ”you so deserve it”, ”it'll make you feel so much better” and it goes on and on. Sounds pretty silly, it does. Especially, when I know for a fact that in most cases, I'll end up feeling worse afterwards. I either eat way too much or end up broke. Maybe these are the kinds of bad habits you simply agree to live with and leave it at that. Or maybe not?

Since a few years back, I've progressively started trying to take advantage of my aggression and turn it into something useful and pleasant instead. It's always healthy to canalize strong emotions, I said to myself. At first, I guess I did it unaware of what I was doing. And then it came to me: What could be better than chopping meat or veggies, when the only thing you want to do is chop someone's head off? It's perfect. At least I get to chop something off. And no one gets hurt. The process of cooking is energy consuming and you can really act on your inspiration in anger. When I'm upset, my mind and body are in a fast forward mode, everything is boiling over and all the extra energy needs to come out one way or another. No wonder I always do the best and most surprising dishes when I'm nervous, under pressure or upset! Of course it's not always the case, I can tell you that, but when it works in this way, cooking is the best anger management technic ever. At least for me.

The results are great! I get rid of my aggressions, I save money and I'm treating my poor body and stomach so much better. But best of all, the people around me, my flatmates, my loved ones get to eat up the fruits of my bad mood, destroying it it as they chew. All's well that end well.

October 2, 2011

Sweet On Sugar Free

Who said pastries, desserts and sweets have to contain sugar in order to taste delicious? Most people probably, but I object! Sure, coming from someone with three years worth of experience of a life without sugar, makes it a pretty subjective argument. Of course my taste buds are used to unsweetened desserts by now, however, let me assure you, it hasn't always been a walk in the park.

Remember my post “In Bed With Baklava”? Remember what happens to me if I give in to temptation? Not a fun experience, so most of the time I far prefer fighting an extremely tough battle against my sugar cravings. Sometimes I'm even grateful of having my sugar handicap, like last weekend for instance.

Me and some friends decided to go to an apple fair in the small town of Kivik, located on the West coast of Skåne Region, in Southern Sweden. I was very excited and had high expectations of never ending stands with different kinds of apple delicacies. During the two hour journey to Kivik, I thought of all possible ways of using apples and mostly I thought about how great it'll be for me to be able to enjoy the natural, sugar free products.

Shortly after arriving my hopes were crushed. Apple sorbet, apple ice cream, apple cakes, apple pies, apple jam, apple donuts... Everything contained added sugar! Luckily, I'm used to these kinds of disappointments by now so I settled for chewing on the different apple species available. My strategy was working well until one of my friends bought this amazing, golden brown bread loaf made with apples and sirup. I'd had it! I looked at the piece of apple I had in my hand and thought why on earth do all these people need to add sugar to this! Ridiculous! I swear, it was the sweetest piece of apple I'd ever tasted. In my frustration I started walking towards the exit.

I felt tired and really needed to sit down for a cup of coffee. I remembered reading that Kivik was one of the towns on the South-Western coast famous for its biological and ecological shops and cafés. Perfect! Just what I needed. Kivik is tiny, so I found what I was looking for in a blink of an eye. I stepped into to the cosy and welcoming café called Lilla Råa (The Little Raw). I got an instant kick of enthusiasm and positive energy. Not only were there yummy looking sugar and gluten free pastry, everything there was Raw Food! Home (un)sweet Home! I heard my friends behind me: “This is an Edith kind of place”. It truly was. I'd only heard about the Raw Food concept, but never tried it. The level of excitement was sky high.

After queuing for what seemed like an eternity, it was finally my turn at the counter. “One piece of everything you've got” I said. Yes, it was very very greedy of me and I certainly had eyes way bigger than the belly, but I simply couldn't help myself. Slowly and gently my tray was filled by a slice of raspberry cheesecake, a chocolate-cachew-ficon-coconut ball, a chocolate-apple ball and freshly grounded fair trade coffee. The smell was divine! All fragrances were so fresh and so strong. Nothing was processed, nothing was cooked, all ingredients had their natural characteristics. Nothing external or alien added. And believe me, it made a huge difference. In slow motion, with birds singing in the background, I grabbed my tray and walked the two meters out the door towards the terrace. Heaven! As I sat down by the little table in the autumn sun, I only had eyes for the treat I was about to sink my teeth in. What followed was almost perverse. There are no words. 

Everything tasted amazing. Actually 'amazing' doesn't even describe it! In thirty minutes I went from not having any clue of what this food genre could possibly taste like to feeling an overwhelming admiration and appreciation for a whole new approach on preparation with relish and care. If You still haven't heard or if You've been hesitant when it comes to Raw Food, change that! It's really something.