Monday, January 31, 2011

Gluten-Free Gastronomy

Well this post may be cutting it close for Gluten-Free January as I've been just too busy to sit down and write, but it is January 31st and not yet midnight so I say I am still good! Anyways...I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I have a fascination for food allergies, special diets and such. I just find them so intriguing! Plus I love to cook and I want to be able to cook for anyone, especially those who have to go without and must watch everything they intake for fear of harming themselves. Plus I'll be ready if I, or one of my family members, ever develops some sort of allergy or decides to adopt a certain diet. My current interest, as you may have guessed, is celiac disease and gluten intolerance. You'd have to live under a rock to not know someone with one of these problems or at least have heard some of the buzzwords, read some of the labels, watched the news on TV. It's everywhere!!

I follow a number of blogs that are gluten-free themed and most food blogs I've visited will have at least one recipe or post on the subject. While blog following IS fun, I'm also one for just sitting down with a really good book to get my reading fill so you'll understand my excitement when I say "I just finished 2 really good gluten-free friendly books!!" The first of these books is Quinoa 365, by sisters Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming. This book combines all the popular food fads like vegetarian, gluten-free, whole-grain, healthy foods revolving around the increasingly popular grain, quinoa. I've been using quinoa in my cooking for a while now, but I've never been so excited about using it before I read this book! The recipes are simple enough for any home cook, but sophisticated enough to impress all of your foodie friends. The photography is also wonderful. I've got this book in the top of my "need to by books" (and that's a pretty long list!) so I definitely encourage everyone to check it out even if you are not on any special diet at all as the book DOES include plenty of non-gluten-free and non-vegetarian dishes as well so there's something for everyone (including a chapter on baby foods in the back!)
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I'm also SUPER excited to tell you that I JUST finished reading Gluten-Free Girl, by Shauna James Ahern. AH! Amazing book! I've been following Gluten-Free Girl's blog for a few months now, but I didn't fully comprehend or appreciate her genius for writing and her passion for food until I read her book. It's a beautiful combination of an autobiography/love story/cookbook that made me laugh, sigh, smile, hungry, and wish I lived in Seattle all at the same time!
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If you know anyone with celiac disease, this would be of great encouragement and interest to them I am sure and it's just a great read for anyone in general. After reading her recipes I always wanted to get up and start making it right. then. and. there, even if it was midnight, they just sounded SO good! I do have the ingredients for two of her recipes waiting to be experimented on, but I haven't gotten to them yet, sadly. In the meantime I continue to eagerly follow her postings and I can't wait to get my hands on her complete cookbook: Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef.
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My Future Chef adventure is coming out of Quinoa 365. Out of all the tempting recipes....there was one that I had been DYING to try: Maple Bean Tarts. You're intrigued already, no? Yep, thought so. Not only are these muffin-sized tarts gluten-free and made with quinoa flour, but the maple-pecan filling also includes a cup of navy beans! I'm already a fan of using beans in my baking, but I also REALLY wanted to see how this gluten-free pastry would come out...and maple nut tarts is something I haven't done before so, yeah it seemed like a good idea! To start, here's the recipe from the book:

Maple Bean Tarts:

Pastry -
1 1/4 cups quinoa flour
3 Tbsp white or cane sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 Tbsp water
Filling -
1 cup cooked navy beans
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
12 pecan halves


Mix the flour and sugar in a large bowl. But the butter into the mixture until it resembles small crumbs. Add the water and use your hands to pat it into a soft dough. Refrigerate for 45-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan or spray with cooking oil. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter (or a large water glass), cut 12 circles. Gently press the dough into the tart pans.
Place the beans and maple syrup in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Continue blending while adding the eggs, brown sugar, and butter. Add the chopped pecans and pulse 1 or 2 more ties. Pout the mixture evenly into the tart shells. Garnish the top of each tart with a pecan (if using).
Bake on the middle oven rack for 20 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before removing. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

I made sure to use real, good quality maple syrup and not the fake stuff my sisters like on their pancakes because that would just not do. However, though I tried once again to be efficient and cook my own dried beans...they didn't come out so great and I ended up using a cup of canned butter beans instead as I had no canned navy beans and I didn't want to ruin the color of the tarts by using black beans. I'm a big fan of beans...and with a name like BUTTER beans, how could this be a bad replacement??

Here is the puree of the maple syrup and beans...looks like baby food.

Next, I added the remaining Filling ingredients EXCEPT the pecan halves which would be my garnishes. This puree was very thin with more liquid than nuts, unlike the nut tarts I've made before. This interested me, but I decided to leave it as it was.

I made my pastry in my food processor as usual instead of by hand as the recipe describes. As I predicted, the single Tbsp of water left me with a VERY dry mixture that would not come together at all, so I added enough to made a dough, 3 more Tbsps of water. When I rolled it out between my silicon baking mat and wax paper it was a little sticky and the circles fell apart easily so I just kneaded in a little more flour and floured my surfaces well. This seemed to do the trick as the pastry rolled out fine and I could cut it easily.

I buttered my 12-cup muffin tin AND sprinkled it with some quinoa flour just to keep anything from sticking as the recipe warns that quinoa pastry is more fragile than pastries containing gluten flours.

I used a cup with a 3 inch diameter to cut out the circles, but they were still too small for the muffin tin so I just used my fingers to press and stretch the circles a little bigger (about 4 in diameter) and they fit just fine, the pastry was just a little thinner.

I filled the pastries up almost all the way, but left some room for the egg to expand and not make a huge mess.

Because the filling was so thin, I decided to bake them half-way before putting the pecan half on top so that it would not sink.

I baked the tarts until the filling was completely set and the edge of the pastry was golden brown. I was glad the pecan halves stayed in place, but the filling looks kindof cracked until it cooled down and contracted.

The end result I thought was pretty good looking, though they maybe could have used a glaze or something to spruce them up. Also I think a glaze would have added some sweetness as the maple flavor didn't come though as much as I was anticipating and the pastry itself was mostly quinoa flavored and not much butter or sugar sweetness as you would hope. I did toast the pecans lightly before adding them to the filling, but I think next time I'll add more to boost the flavor and texture. For the record, the pastry, for the most part, help together just fine and the texture wasn't too bad...a little more chewy than flaky though...

Since I rolled my pastry a little thin, I had extra left over to make a few mini tarts. awww so cute!

However, for some reason I had LOTS of filling left over even after making a couple mini tarts so I decided to try an experiment. I mixed brown rice flour with some butter, water, and white sugar to make a sort of crumbly dough that I rolled into balls and pressed up the sides of my mini muffin tin. They looked like this: 


...and baked! (I didn't garnish these ones because I was out of whole pecan halves) These, I was surprised, actually turned out quite tasty! They weren't very pretty and some of them fell apart slightly, but for the most part I thought the rice flour pastry had a nicer, mellower flavor and I liked the texture a little better. I was pretty excited since all I did was mix together some flour, butter, and sugar purely by taste and feel and it didn't COMPLETELY FAIL! I also think it would make great gluten-free shortbread so that may be an adventure in the future... :)

So my final statement about this recipe? Well it wasn't bad for my first experience with quinoa flour and my mom actually liked that the tarts were not overly sweet like pecan pie, but myself and my sweet-tooth sister thought otherwise. I think it relied TOO heavily on quinoa flour, which kindof overwhelmed the flavor of the filling. It was still a lot of fun and I'll enjoy messing around with it some more, so I encourage you to do the same and I'm sure you'll see more Quinoa 365 recipes on here soon along with some Gluten-Free Girl recipes as well! Yay for gluten-free experimenting :D

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