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.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Vanilla Cupcakes For Any Day

Many of you probably know I'm writing a cookbook which means I'm doing a lot of recipe testing, especially baking. One of my favorite desserts is a good cupcake. I finally created a delicious, scrumptious vanilla cupcake. It was quite the hit with the adults and 5 year olds.

Well, I'm saving that one for the cookbook. It's pretty special. It's also one that takes a bit more time and patience. What I also needed was a good, quick cake/cupcake recipe that was approachable and wholesome. Everyone is busy and wants something easy. And I prefer to make my own over a boxed mix.

What I'm learning is that most kids don't really care. It's usually the adults that like the cake. Even though my children are much more into the frosting, I still like to make my own. Making cake from scratch is less expensive and uses fresher ingredients. So, enter this recipe. Pretty darn good and easy enough to make during the week. Give it a try. And if you want the super yummy vanilla cupcake, look for it in the cookbook.

Vanilla Cupcakes or Cake
Makes 12-15 cupcakes or one 13"x9" cake

1 ¼ cups flour
¼ c cornstarch (the cornstarch replicates the texture in cake flour)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

2 lg eggs at room temp
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 c sugar
6 Tbl melted and slightly cooled unsalted butter
2/3 cups butter milk (put 1+ Tbl vinegar in a large measuring cup; add milk and fill to 2/3 cup. Let stand 5 mintues)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 1 standard-sized muffin pan with baking-cup liners, possibly a second one.
2. With a whisk, mix flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl until combined.
3. Whisk eggs and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. In steady stream, pour sugar into eggs, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in melted butter, then add buttermilk.
4. Add one-third of dry ingredients to bowl with wet. Using whisk, gently combine; a few streaks of flour should remain. Repeat twice with remaining dry ingredients. Continue to gently stir batter with whisk until most lumps are gone. Do not overmix.
5. Fill cupcake liners only 2/3 full or else cupcakes might overflow. Place cupcake pan on the middle rack, until cupcakes just begin to color and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 18-22 minutes. Cool pans on wire racks for 5 mins then remove cupcakes from pans, place back on rack, and cool to room temp before frosting, about 1 hour. Before icing the cupcakes, put them in the fridge before frosting but use frosting at room temp.
6. For cake, bake in greased 13"x9" pan for about 30 minutes.
7. If you need 24 cupcakes, make this recipe twice; do not double.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time to Try Pad Thai

Shrimp and Tofu Pad Thai

Think your family won't eat Thai food? Have you tried Pad Thai? It's basically noodles in a sweet sauce. At some point, we realized our kids liked it when they tried it in a restaurant. They are not crazy about cilantro but they love the rest.

Hmm, sauteed shrimp or chicken with some scrambled egg and tofu and a few veggies? Sounds good to me. Introduce this to them when they can eat noodles. If they aren't as adventurous, try keeping things separate for them; some kids just like it that way. Peanut allergies? Either omit or use cashews if you can.

If you can buy the ingredients over the weekend, this dish is really very quick. I use pre-shredded carrots, frozen shrimp which thaw quickly and just chop the cilantro and scallions while everything else is cooking up in the wok. I like my mini processor for the peanuts. I'm working on a pad thai sauce and will post when I've mastered it. For now, Annie Chungs is delicious and one bottle is the perfect amount.

Hope you like it.

Shrimp and Tofu Pad Thai
Serves 3-4

8 oz rice noodles
3 tbsp vegetable oil or canola oil (divided)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 small onion, thinly sliced or chopped
8-10, or about 1/2 lb, medium sized shrimp, cleaned and deveined, thawed if frozen (can also add chicken)
2 tsp ginger, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh bean sprouts (if you don't like them or don't have them, just leave them out)
1 cup shredded carrots
8 oz firm tofu, cubed
1 bottle Pad Thai Sauce (I like Annie Chung's brand)

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
3 tbsp chopped roasted peanuts
3 tbsp scallions, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Fill a medium pot a little more than half way with water. Bring to a boil. Add rice noodles and turn heat off. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Strain noodles and rinse with cold water. You can keep these in the colander while you make the stir fry.
2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in wok or pan over high heat. Add eggs and scramble, using a spoon to move around the pan (otherwise it will burn). It should cook very quickly. Once cooked, remove from pan and place in a bowl.
3. Heat remaining oil and add onion and shrimp to pan. Cook until shrimp are opaque. Add ginger and garlic and cook for one minute. Transfer to the bowl with the eggs.
4. Reduce heat to low, add sauce and noodles to pan and mix well. Then, add cooked shrimp, eggs, carrots, tofu and bean sprouts to noodles and toss. Garnish with cilantro, peanuts, scallions, and lime wedges. Serve and enjoy.

Crock Pot Corned Beef

Yes, it can be done. I mean, in theory, it should be a no-brainer, right? Well, I felt the need to test so that's what I did this week. I really like the Trader Joe's one. It's all natural corned beef, no added nitrites/nitrates, hormone free. It comes in a brine with seasonings. I put it in the crock pot, poured a bit of water on top (maybe 1/2 - 1 cup) and let it cook.

Instead of simmering in a pot on the stove, use the crock pot. Basically, you have to replicate 3 hours of a simmer. I have found that is 5-6 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high. The variation comes from how cold your meat is as well as how big it is. I like to err on the longer side to make sure it's cooked just right. If you are leaving in the morning for the day, I would suggest the longer setting on low.

Now, here's the only caveat. You have to add the cabbage, potatoes, and carrots about an hour before you want to serve it. If you tried adding in the beginning of the cooking time, you would have a bunch of mush. Make sure to give yourself that time.

You can remove the meat and allow it to rest on a cutting board, covered, while you cook the veggies and potatoes. I like to use 3-4 peeled carrots, cut into chunks, 1/2 head to a whole head of cabbage, cut into wedges and little "creamer" potatoes (count the number of people eating and multiply by 2 or 3). All of these should cook for 30-45 minutes on high or maybe 60-90 mins on low. Make sure all of the vegetables are tender, checking half way through the cooking time.

Cooking the veggies in the cooking liquid really makes for the perfect sides to the corned beef. If you really are short on time, steam the potatoes, cabbage and carrots (in that order) and then leave in the cooking liquid for 5-10 minutes to get the flavor.

So, working parents, St. Patrick's day is right around the corner. Don't let a Tuesday night deter you from preparing this traditional meal. I have a great Irish soda bread recipe. Look for that later in the week...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Not Your Mom's Tuna Casserole

The funny thing is that my mom didn't make a lot of tuna casserole. I acquired a taste for it when I lived in New England and worked in hospitals known for their all-American menus. Over the years, I never had it very often, especially after moving to California, but always liked it.

A few years back, I saw a recipe in Gourmet magazine that was a little fancier than the "boil noodles and add a can of cream of mushroom soup to it" version. I decided to give it a try. You basically make a really flavorful mushroom soup as the base. And then you add it to cooked noodles and bake. The flavor development is just delicious.

I decided to add my own twist to it as well as amounts. That is what you see below. Even if you sauté some onions and mushrooms and deglaze it with marsala or sherry and add that to mushroom soup, you'll get a much better product. If you look at the picture to the left, you may notice it doesn't look like 4 cups of mushrooms. I like to cook the wild mushrooms first like porcini, crimini and portobello and then cook the white or button mushrooms. Even if it's for 2-3 minutes, this technique seems to produce a browner mushroom because I haven't crowded the pan. Plus, those mushrooms are a little firmer and some times take longer to cook. I thought it might be too much information in the recipe so if you want to try it, adjust accordingly.

It may not seem easy (there are a lot of steps) but make it once or twice and you won't think about it again. Also, instead of tuna, you could substitute chicken or salmon; for the vegetarian option, leave out the meat. Don't have egg noodles? You can also use rotini or break up some spaghetti for a tuna noodle tettrazini. For the breadcrumbs, rather than buying something in a cardboard container, my local bakery sells dried crumbs which are definitely fresher than what is on the shelf in a store. If you don't have any crumbs, toast 3-4 pieces of bread, cool and then chop in a food processor. For an added treat, crush up a few potato chips and throw those on top as well. Wow, that's a real throwback to comfort food!

What I want you to gain from this is the technique. Making a quick cream sauce, even if you use low-fat milk, is within your reach. Just give it a try. And let me know how it came out when you do.

Amy's Tuna Noodle Casserole

6 oz dried curly egg noodles (a Pennsylvania Dutch style; about 3 ½-4 cups)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tsp oil
6 grinds of pepper (or about 1/4 tsp)
3 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
10 oz mushrooms, sliced, about 4 c total-can use a combo of white, Portobello and shitake
1 Tbl soy sauce
1/4 cup Marsala or Sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tbl all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken and/or mushroom broth
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
6 oz can tuna, drained (I like tuna packed in olive oil but use what you have)
½ cup frozen peas
3/4 c plain bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl vegetable or olive oil
Optional: 4 oz grated Cheddar (1 cup)

This tuna casserole has 4 components, any of which can be done ahead:
Cook the noodles
Cook the mushrooms
Make a mushroom sauce
Bake the casserole

Note: if you chose to prep the casserole ahead and refrigerate, you will need to adjust the cooking time. It is done when the casserole is bubbling and the top is brown.

1. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain noodles in a colander with cold water and keep near by.
2. In the same large pot, cook onion in olive oil with pepper over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 5 minutes. If onion seems dry, add a little bit of salt.
3. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 375°F. Butter or spray with non-stick spray a medium casserole dish. Set aside.
4. To the same pot which the onions are in, increase heat to moderately high and add only 1 Tbl of butter and the mushrooms. Sauté, stirring only occasionally, until mushrooms begin to brown. If mushrooms seem too dry, add a little salt. Once the mushrooms are browned, add soy sauce and continue to sauté, stirring, until liquid is evaporated.
5. Add Marsala or Sherry and simmer, stirring occasionally, until evaporated.
6. Add 2 Tbl butter to the pot, allow it to melt and then add 3 Tbl flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes. This is your roux.
7. Add broth in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil. Whisk in milk and simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in lemon juice. Flake tuna into sauce and stir gently. Add peas and noodles. Taste and season sauce with salt and pepper if needed.
8. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading evenly.
9. Toss together bread crumbs, oil, salt and pepper (or truffle salt to make it even tastier) in a bowl. Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.

Focus on Nutrition

I think I’m doing pretty good these days when it comes to what we eat. It always could be better but it’s relative. When I think about what I used to eat 5 years ago and what I eat now, it’s a big improvement. Being pregnant and having kids has opened my eyes to nutrition for both me and them. We are so lucky to have access to fresh, wonderful produce; it has changed my comfort zone of which vegetables I prepare. These two things have made a big impact on what I keep in the house and what we eat as a family.

Let me start with what I keep in the house. A few years ago, after one of the speaker events sponsored by the Coastside Mothers’ Club focusing on Healthy Fats, I started to rethink food. Dr. Endemann talked to us about partially hydrogenated fats. It made me start to really look at labels. I stopped buying products containing these fats since now I knew of the health risks associated with them. My next big change was high fructose corn syrup. I’m not sure where I learned about it but when I realized how it was made and how it affects our blood sugar, I cut it out. With the rise of diabetes in children in the US, I wanted to eliminate any risk factors I could control.

I spent extra time in the store reading labels. Some times I would buy another product and some times I would just put it back and say to myself “I’m just not going to buy that.” I encourage you to do what’s best for your family. If you are looking to make changes, make small ones and do it gradually. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Now, about the same time that was happening, I also started to frequent the farmer’s market. There was always such variety at the market. I would some times feel overwhelmed and just buy the produce I knew how to cook. I remember the first time I bought fresh beets and baked them at home. That was a leap for me! The more I went, the more I started talking to the farmers, learning the best way to prepare the vegetables and taking the produce home to experiment. In the past, kale was a garnish to me and I had never cooked with it. Now, it’s a regular part of the repertoire.

Where should you start? The buzz word these days is to eat from the rainbow; eat foods that represent the different colors to get a wide variety of the necessary nutrients. If you never have salad, eat it twice a week. If you only eat romaine, try some darker, leafy lettuces. Go to the store with the kids and let them pick out any vegetable they want. I recently discovered Cheddar Cauliflower which I let them pick. I would have never picked it because I didn’t know what it was. It is a nice alternative to the regular variety of cauliflower.

Another change you can make is increasing your whole grain intake. The recommendation is that half of our grains be whole. If you always eat white bread, rice and pasta, try some of the other ones. Worried about how long brown rice takes to cook? Try making it in the rice cooker but use a ratio of 3 parts water to part rice. Works like a charm! Have you had quinoa yet? It’s actually a seed that acts like a grain. Called a supergrain, quinoa is highly nutritious and can supply us with all of the body's requirements: carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Find it in the bulk section, cook it up like rice and add flavoring to it like cumin and coriander or feta and toasted pine nuts.

You might be reading this feeling overwhelmed. Where do I start? I want to remind you that my evolution began 5 years ago and was very gradual. It has been a process. If you are interested in changing your eating habits, start with something small. You can do it!