Anyone can be "the family chef". You just need good recipes and techniques! Chef Amy Fothergill shares her best recipes with you for quick and easy dishes with an emphasis on gluten-free.

Get information here about her cookbook, The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Olallieberry Crisp-Regular and Gluten-Free

Some of you might understand this; others might think it funny. Today, while I was in my exercise class, during one of the hardest parts, all I could think about was this crisp I was going to make later that day. I thought about the berries, so ripe and juicy. I thought about how I was going to take the perfect recipe I had used in the past and adapt it to gluten-free. I thought about whether I should serve it with whipped cream or ice cream. All of this while I had about 40 lbs on my back, doing squats to some great music (thank you Jodi and Joe from Fit Studio!). All I have to say is that I earned every bite of that crisp.

Olallieberries are only in season a short time (mid-June through mid-July) so I actually had to schedule our picking. We are trying to make it a family tradition to do every year. Well, it happened that some friends of ours asked us to dinner on the same evening. What better way to enjoy these delicious morsels than to share them with friends?! I decided to make a crisp. But, with my daughter's gluten-sensitivity, I had to adjust the recipe a bit. Plus, I've been trying to use slightly healthier ingredients when baking.

Now, here's a secret. When I want to cook something new, I usually look at 2-3 recipes, review the ingredients and the technique. I then take the best of the best, so to say, and design my own. That's how I created the original crisp recipe. For the gluten-free version, I checked my favorite blogs but felt like the best was the original. I did, however, get a great tip about how to incorporate the butter and flour. It's in the recipe below.

I had my recipe now all I needed was my berries! We are lucky to live so close to a fantastic "u-pick" berry farm, Swanton Farms, at the Coast Waves Ranch location. The first time I went was 2 years ago when my son was 2 and daughter 7 months. That day was particularly memorable because the three of us had such a good time together. I was picking berries while my son "helped". At some point, I said to him "You know, you can eat them." And basically after that the picking stopped and he ate his way through the rows! So yes, bring the kids and maybe even a picnic lunch.

Last year when they were older, it was even more fun. And now, I'm getting really good at it. The trick is to find a row with a good amount of dark berries, usually ones furthest from the cashier. Look for dark purple, almost black berries, that are plump. Pull gently. If it does not come right off of the stem, leave it to ripen a bit longer. When you get home, rinse gently with water. Pat dry and either place in a shallow container in the fridge, or freezer bags, keeping them as flat as possible so as not to crush the other berries. Use in pies, crisps, jam, shakes and muffins.

Now some of you, especially those from the east coast, might be saying, what is an Olallieberry?? Personally, I had never heard of them prior to about 5 years ago. According to some research I did, the olallieberry is a cross between a blackberry, loganberry and youngberry, originated in 1949 in Oregon, but mostly thriving in California -- especially on the coast.

Ok, now let's get cooking, or really baking. I thought it would also be helpful to break this recipe down a bit, since I'm providing the gluten-free variation.

The Filling:
Crisps are very versatile. You can use a mix of fruits, more or less berries and vary the sugar. Really; don't be scared to do it! Most recipes call for about 4 cups of fruit to fit into an 8"x8" pan. For that amount, I use about 1/2 cup of sugar. If the berries are sweet or if you like your crisp a bit tart, you can use 1/3 cup. You need something to thicken the berries. Most recipes call for flour but I used corn starch (but less of it). You could also use tapioca flour.

The Crisp Topping:
This is a combination of oats, flour, butter and sugar. Same rules apply. Use less sugar if you'd like. You could probably even substitute canola oil for some or all of the butter. This recipe can be used with apples, blueberries, peaches, etc.

I really hope you'll try one of these recipes! I would suggest serving with vanilla ice cream (regular or soy) or fresh whipped cream. Enjoy summer and the berries that define it.

Olallieberry Crisp

* 4 cups olallieberries, cleaned and stemmed (or you can substitute blackberries)
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 3 Tbl all-purpose flour
Crisp Topping
* 6 Tbl unsalted butter, cut into one-half-chunks (see note below)
* 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
* 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup rolled oats
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter or spray a 2 to 2-1/2 quart baking dish. Make the Crisp Topping and set aside. Mix the berries, sugar and flour and toss gently so as not to break the berries. Transfer the berry mixture to the buttered baking dish and cover with the crisp topping. Place the baking dish on a baking sheet in oven (to catch any juices that might spill during cooking) and bake until the top is well browned and the berries are tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.
Note: You can try this trick for the butter if you'd like. Freeze the butter for at least an hour. When ready to prepare the crisp topping, remove the butter from the freezer and "grate" the butter into the flour mixture using a microplane. I tried it and it was a great way to mix the butter into the flour.

Gluten-Free Olallieberry Crisp (seen above, with some slightly healthier variations)

* 4 cups olallieberries, cleaned and stemmed (or you can substitute blackberries)
* 1/3 cup organic white sugar
* 2 Tbl cornstarch
Crisp Topping
* 4 Tbl unsalted butter, cut into one-half-chunks
* 6 Tbl ground flaxseed meal (this is used to replace some of the fat)
* 3/4 cups organic brown sugar (or try succanat)
* 2/3 cup gluten-free flour mix
* 1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats, like Bob's Red Mill
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Follow instructions above.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chicken Mango Salad in Wonton Cups

Are you looking for an impressive appetizer for a summer party? Look no further. When I first heard of these, I thought it would be too much work. I had tried making these cups once and it just didn't come out right. Maybe I didn't have the right recipe (Ha! Irony!). But now I'm convinced it's a great way to add a little zing to your next gathering.

The great part about this recipe is once you make these tasty cups, you can fill with almost anything! Kids think they are fun because it's like a filled chip and most adults like the presentation. Here's how I did it:

Wonton Cups
1 package of wonton skins usually has 48 pieces. When you are preparing, think about how many people will be at the event and how much other food is being served. I would estimate each person would eat 2-3 of these so make as many as you need.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush vegetable oil (canola or peanut, for example but not olive) on one side of the wonton. Place this in a mini muffin tin, pressing down to form a cup. Brush a little more oil on the inside of the cup. Place in the oven and bake 8-12 minutes or until golden. Be careful; they can go from light to very dark quickly. Once they are done, remove from the tin quickly and allow to cool. These will keep, covered at room temp, probably 2-3 days before you need to use them (if it's very humid where you are, they may not stay crisp as long).

Mango Chicken Salad
This recipe really can be any kind of salad you want: chicken, tofu, quinoa, shrimp; use your imagination!

1 1/2 cups of chopped chicken (you can cook your own or use leftover rotisserie chicken)
1/4 cup of mayonaise
1/4 cup mango chutney (you can use more depending upon your taste)
1-2 Tbl chopped red onion
2 Tbl chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp curry powder (or you can use just curry or just tumeric; again, use more if you like)
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Optional: chopped red pepper; chopped cashew or peanuts; 1/4 cup chopped mango (fresh or frozen)

Mix all ingredients. This will taste better if it can sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. When you are ready to serve, place about 1 Tbl of filling in the wonton cup. You can garnish with a little cilantro on top.

If you have extra filling, it's great in a pita pocket or in a wrap. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Strawberry Fields Forever

It's Strawberry Time!

How could you not want to grab one of these and just take a bite? If you happen to live in an area where strawberries are bountiful from May until September, like in Northern California, this is the norm.

On this particular day, I was at the Half Moon Bay Farmer's Market. When I brought these organic strawberries home, my kids were fighting each other for them. The berries were just so naturally sweet. Luckily, I was able to get a few myself.

So, what to do with these gems besides washing and eating? Well, strawberry shortcake is always an option. Find yourself a good biscuit recipe and make sure to have some biscuits on hand. You can always make them ahead and freeze.

For the cream, I like to use the wire whisk attachment of an immersion or hand blender. I put that, along with a metal bowl, in the freezer first.

Then, take the strawberries and wash them. You won't need to dry them since some of the water on the berries will help to make the juice. Remove the stem, slice, then place into a bowl. Sprinkle with organic sugar (the sugar helps draw out the juices) and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. You can also mash gently with a potato masher to get some more juice out.

To make the cream, take your favorite organic heavy cream (1/2 cup is a good start; you could always make more) and add 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 2 tsp of organic white sugar and place in the metal bowl. I haven't tried it with agave nectar but if you did want to use it, I would suggest using 1 tsp only. It might make the cream beige-looking, though. Now take the wire whisk and attach to the hand blender and blend all of this at a high speed until you have thick peaks. That means when you pull the beater out, the peak on the cream is stiff and doesn't fall over. You can also taste for sweetness and add more sugar if necessary. Be sure not to overbeat or you will have very sweet butter!

Get ready to serve. Cut the biscuit in half. Spoon strawberries on top of biscuit and top with whipped cream. How easy and how awesome is that?! You can also use angel food cake for something with less fat (but remember, it still has sugar).

My next recipe is a family favorite. I adapted it from my friends Abby and Cesar. I like to call it the crazy shake because it's crazy to put oatmeal in a shake, right? But here it is and it works. This shake actually helped me lose 25 lbs. last year. It's very filling, healthy and delicious. Try it on your kids, too. It might take a while to get used to the oatmeal but it's worth it. Enjoy!

Crazy Strawberry Shake

¼ cup crushed ice
½ cup strawberries, cleaned and destemmed
½ cup non-fat milk
½ cup non-fat plain yogurt
½ cup plain oatmeal (instant or regular)
About 1 tsp of agave nectar
Blend together until smooth. Makes 1 large serving or 2 small servings.
Buy local and support your farmer's market!