Two years ago I would have given anything for the last couple days.
I was living in Kenya then, discovering a new country and trying to find myself. Those six months in Nairobi were an unforgettable and oh-so-important time in my life, but they were also very lonely. I didn't know many people and I spent much of my days in quiet solitude, writing. I spent the rest of them baking.
One of the very few cookbooks I brought with me was Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten-Free Baking. I swear that cookbook saved my life. Or my sanity, to be exact. There’s only so much self-reflection one can take before starting to go a little nuts around the edges. And so, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I found myself in the kitchen.
I spent practically every day of those six months writing in the morning and baking in the afternoon. By 3pm, if you happened to drop by, you would find me covered in some sort of gluten-free flour, dancing (probably to the beat of Mamamia!), and baking anything from muffins to scones to biscotti...to, of course, pie.
It was in the late afternoon light of that African kitchen that I discovered my first truly delicious gluten-free crust. Straight from Rebecca Reilly's book, this crust is an all-around winner, working beautifully with both sweet and savory dishes. I once made a quiche with this crust and was told by someone who didn't know it was gluten-free that it was the best crust he'd ever had. I'm not kidding. If you don't have Rebecca Reilly's book, you should get it. The woman knows what she's talking about.
I loved those long hours spent in that white-tiled kitchen, hands covered in butter and flour, lost in my own little world. I loved the creativity, the experimenting, and the discoveries that came from trying new things. I loved it all.
Except when the holidays rolled around.
The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have always been particularly special to me. Not because of all the food and presents (although those are wonderful too), but because of the time spent with family. Growing up, Mom always worked relentlessly to make the holidays special. And to her, that meant everyone working together. On Thanksgiving morning, she would gather the whole family in the kitchen and start handing out tasks and potato peelers. We would sit around the kitchen table, listening to music, talking, teasing, and laughing as we prepped and cooked together. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we would spend entire weekends baking together, filling the house with the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and cloves.
And so, two years ago, thousands of miles away alone in my kitchen in Kenya, this time of year was difficult, to say the least. I would have given anything to be in the kitchen cooking and baking, my mother next to me. Which is why I would have given anything for the last couple of days.
This Thanksgiving morning found me and my family in the kitchen, coffee in hand, ready for the day. Side by side, we sang to music and laughed as we worked, preparing mountains of food to share with each other and close friends. It was a day of warmth, joy, and love.
It was exactly what the holidays are all about.
I'm thankful to be home.
Gluten-Free Crust, from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly
1 cup Basic Gluten-Free Mix (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (omit if using crust for savory foods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
Mix the gluten-free mix, the sweet rice flour, the sugar, and the salt in a bowl. Cut up the butter into little chunks and work them into the dry ingredients with your hands to form a coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the bowl and break the egg into it. Add the lemon juice to the egg and work both into the dry ingredients with a fork until well combined. Form the dough into a ball or flat cake at the bottom of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes (or up to a couple hours if you want to prepare the dough in advance) until it is hard enough to work with (if the dough is too warm, it will be soft and difficult to roll out).
Roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper. Once rolled out, peel off the top sheet and flip the dough into a greased 9-inch pie pan. Peel off the other layer of wax paper, and form the dough into a pie crust, fluting the edges.
To prebake the crust, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Makes one 9-inch pie crust.
Basic Gluten-Free Mix
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 cups flour.
Pumpkin Pie Filling
I made this pie with pie pumpkins (pictured above), but it is just as delicious with canned pumpkin. If using pumpkin that you cooked yourself, you may need to add an additional egg than what the recipe calls for. Mine was more liquid than usual, so I added another egg and it did the trick.
1 1/3 cup mashed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Mix all ingredients together with a whisk until well blended. Pour into pie crust and bake for 45-55 minutes. This makes a lot of filling, so you may have enough to bake a little dish of it on the side.
This filling is also delicious on its own without a crust, so if you're in the mood for pumpkin custard or pudding, omit the crust!
Certain smells trail memories in their wake. Strong memories. Wonderful memories. A scent with such a world attached to it has the power to make you travel instantly, to bring you back to that first kiss under the weeping willow, the scent of freshly fallen rain still clinging to its green leaves. It has the ability to instantly whisk you back to afternoons spent with your grandfather, laughing and talking as you watched his powerful but gentle weathered hands break away the shells of pistachio nuts that he handed to you to pop in your mouth, one salty bite after another. To this day, pistachios still make me think of Switzerland and my grand-papa.
One of the most powerful scents in the world for me, the one that carries the largest suitcase of memories with it, that instantly sucks me back to my childhood, is the smell of onions slowly sizzling in butter or olive oil. For a moment, I am a little girl again, hungrily inhaling the air in my mother's kitchen and asking what's for dinner. That single smell bottles up all the comfort and security of home.
And never is it more powerful than at Thanksgiving.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my mother made creamed onions for Thanksgiving. It was always my favorite dish.
I loved the way the kitchen smelled as the onions slowly crackled and hissed in the butter, eventually allowing it to turn them to a soft caramelized gold.
I would always steal one, fascinated at how easily I could squeeze the little round bulb out of its outer layer, straight into my mouth. I would then savor the caramelized skin last, perfect in its sweet saltiness. Yes, I love onions. Unabashedly.
And so, this Thanksgiving, I am sharing one of my all-time favorite holiday dishes with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
I will say, however, that although this is a simple dish, it's one you definitely have to work for. Pealing those dozens upon dozens of tiny onions is not a task you want to do alone. Believe me, I found out the hard way. I made it this weekend to bring to work for a Thanksgiving lunch on Monday, and spent an hour Sunday afternoon sitting on my kitchen floor peeling onions. My hands still smelled of onions when I woke up the next morning.
This is a true Thanksgiving meal - one that is supposed to be prepared in a kitchen full of family and friends, all laughing, talking, and working together.
All, in turn, creating a day, and memories, worthy of thanks.
Gluten-Free Creamed Onions
2 10oz bags of pearl onions (any color will do - in this recipe I used one bag of yellow and one bag of red)
4 tablespoons butter
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
200g (about 2 cups) grated cheddar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Peel the onions, but leave them whole. Sauté in 2 tablespoons butter on low heat until soft and golden.
In the meantime, melt the remaining two tablespoons butter in a medium sized saucepan. Whisk in the cornstarch until well blended. Slowly pour in the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly so that the sauce thickens. Once all the milk has been incorporated and the sauce has thickened, stir in the cheese until well blended. Add the nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste.
Put the onions in an ovenproof container (I used a square 8X8 dish) and cover with the sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.
Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without apple pie.
Well, that's not exactly true. In my book, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but apple pie is a close second.
I've had trouble, over the years, finding a gluten-free apple pie that I actually liked. There have been plenty that have been passable, but I usually find them either too sweet, too bland, or they leave me with an aftertaste of some oddly bean-tasting or too-much-tapioca flour. So when I saw a recipe for apple pie with an oatmeal cookie crust in The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Molly Katzen, I knew I just had to try to make the gluten-free version. It seemed just different enough to hold a world of potential. And, boy did it.
People, I have a new favorite apple pie.
I mean, check out this crust:
It's a giant oatmeal cookie, only easier to make. There's no rolling out of finicky gluten-free dough. You just throw the ingredients together and then press them down into the pan, forming a deliciously thick oatmeal cookie bottom (that doesn't fall apart!). It couldn't be easier, and it goes perfectly with the tart, slightly sweet apple filling. The crust also makes a scrumptious topping. I'm already planning to use it for my next fruit crumble.
So for this Thanksgiving dinner, I give you a slice of oatmeal-cookie apple pie!
For more gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes, check out Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef's Thanksgiving Post. You'll be overwhelmed with the cascade of gluten-free deliciousness as everyone sends in their favorite recipes. There's no need to feel deprived this holiday season!
Gluten-Free Apple Pie with Oatmeal Cookie Crust, adapted from The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Molly Katzen
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used this one)
1/3 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla in with the melted butter. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix well. Press firmly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, keeping a handful of crust for the topping.
3 medium-sized granny smith apples, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Put the sliced apples in a large bowl, drizzle with lemon juice and mix well. Add the spices, lemon rind, and cornstarch and mix well again. Gently stir in the sugar until well combined.
Layer the filling into the unbaked crust and sprinkle with the handful of reserved crust.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the apples are tender and the crust is golden.
Serve hot or warm. This pie is also delicious the next day (or two) reheated and served warm.
When Shauna and Danny from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef put out a shout-out to post a gluten-free recipe for Thanksgiving, my mind started racing with ideas. I was planning on posting gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes anyway (after eight years of eating gluten-free, I’ve got quite a couple), but this was something more. This was a project I was really excited about.
Years ago, Shauna’s blog (at the time, Gluten-Free Girl) came as a godsend - it was the first blog I found that actually offered recipes for gluten-free baking. In 2006, not wanting to spend another Christmas missing out on all the cookies and baked goods that fill our house during the holidays, I turned to the internet in desperation…and there it was. A warm-hearted, funny, and delicious blog full of gluten-free recipes. I never turned back. That year, thanks to Shauna, I made all sorts of Christmas cookies.
Really, it's thanks to her that I finally decided to start a blog this year. And now, I want to help her give to others what she gave to me. If you or someone you know cannot eat gluten, check out this post (you will find all sorts of delicious Thanksgiving recipes, all gluten-free). She and Danny also just published their first gluten-free cookbook. It’s a beautiful book, bursting with love, life, and scrumptious recipes. You want this book.
So I’m happily joining the throng of bloggers out there helping to spread the word. I will be posting more of my regular gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes in the week to come, but I wanted to start out with something completely new, something I had never tried before. Finally, after much flipping through cookbooks, I found what I didn't know I was looking for.
Sweet potato biscuits.
Biscuits are the type of food people who have been recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance think they can never eat again. Well think again, my friends. In truth, you’ll find that nothing is really ever off limits (as long as you keep an open mind and are willing to experiment!).
These biscuits are soft and fluffy inside, slightly crispy outside, and they taste of the holidays. Not to mention, they are super easy to make.
Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Biscuits, adapted from The World’s Best Recipes by Sarah Ainley
1 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I used Shauna and Danny’s gluten-free all-purpose flour mix – I urge you to make a big batch and always have some on hand. It’s delicious and super handy!)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 450ºF.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the sugar and mix in well (I find a whisk works best to get all the dry ingredients uniformly blended).
In a separate bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with the milk and butter. Mix well.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the liquid ingredients into the well and mix everything until well blended.
Using a spoon, scoop mounds of batter out of bowl and drop onto a greased cookie sheet. You should have about nine biscuits. Bake until puffed and lightly golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.
Eat warm, plain or with a tad of butter. These are also delicious the next day, reheated in a toaster oven.
Makes 9 biscuits.
See that adorable pumpkin patch under the crisp blue mountain sky? (You can't see the mountain sky in the picture, but it's there and it's very blue.) That’s where Josh and I got our first two pumpkins of the season. We were driving to a campground in the mountains bordering North Carolina and Virginia a couple weeks ago (trying to get a last chance at camping before the weather made it too cold for fun) when, there it was. We didn’t even see it until we were almost passed it. It was late afternoon, that hour when the sun turns everything it touches to gold, and the pumpkins looked on fire. Without a second thought, we pulled over, made a U-turn, and went straight back to it. It was my first time ever in a pumpkin patch. I could barely contain my excitement as we walked among the twisting vines and endless sea of bright orange gourds...ideas for fall recipes were galloping through my mind. I wanted to bring home at least a dozen, but after inspecting quite a couple, we (much more realistically) settled on our two favorites.
For the last couple of weeks, those two pumpkins have been sitting patiently on the kitchen floor. This weekend was my first attempt at a recipe with one of them. It was a complete disaster. I attempted gluten-free pumpkin gnocchi. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that we ended up having tortilla chips and homemade hummus that evening. It was a sad night.
However, all was not lost. For one, I learned how to prepare pumpkin from scratch. It’s really not that different from a butternut squash; it’s just way more intimidating. So instead of sharing a recipe here, I’ll share how to prepare a pumpkin.
The first step is to get the pumpkin on the counter.
Good. Now don't get intimidated. It's just big and orange, but you've got the knife.
Next, you want to stabilize it before you start peeling it. Gently slice off the top and the bottom, so that it will hold still and sturdy when you stand it upright.
Now you're ready to start the peeling. Holding the pumpkin still with one hand, take the knife and slowly start to slice long strips of the skin off, from top to bottom. The skin is not very deep, so you only need to cut off the very outer layer. This will take a little while (and depending on how sharp you knife is, some arm power), but don't rush it. Slow and steady is the key here.
Once you've gotten all the skin off, slice the pumpkin in two. Without its skin the pumpkin is very soft, so there's no need for force here - the knife will slide right through.
Look at all those seeds! Before you take a spoon and start scooping the innards out, pull out all the seeds and set them aside (you don't have to do this, but pumpkin seeds are delicious roasted, not to mention very good for you!). Once you've gotten the pumpkin seeds safely out (if you want them), scoop out the rest of the insides with a spoon.
You've got a pumpkin ready for dicing, or slicing, to roast or sauté or whatever else strikes your fancy (just don't try gluten-free pumpkin gnocchi for your first recipe).
I wish you lots of orange pumpkin fun!!
There is a passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” that describes the feelings one starts developing towards certain vegetables by the end of the season. I think this specific passage is about asparagus – those beautiful, sensual, green stalks that start jutting out from the dark earth in April. We await their arrival with impatience, and we know that, as soon as they arrive, we need to eat them. Then and there. If you wait too long, they lose that fresh only-in-season unmistakable taste of true asparagus. So you gobble them up. You throw them in everything imaginable, from salads to pizza to pasta to bread…until, by the end of the season, you can’t imagine ever eating another stalk. Which, of course, is the whole point of seasons, isn’t it? Because just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the earth stops giving you asparagus and starts tossing baskets full of tomatoes and zucchini at you. And the whole process starts over again.
In fall, my asparagus is the pumpkin. Those hard, round, bright orange fruits that bring to mind fall leaves, holidays, and magic carriages (yes, Cinderella was my favorite book when I was a child. My mother says she must have read it to me at least a thousand times. I think she may be kidding about that number…but I’m not sure).
And so this fall, I am warning you, you will get very sick of pumpkins. It’s starting; the recipes are piling up in my mind and I can feel them just about to reach the breaking point. They will soon start pouring out and showering you with pumpkin everythings…
…starting with a creamy pumpkin-mushroom-sage sauce tossed with pasta. Talk about comfort in a bowl. You add a glass of red wine and a crackling fireplace, and I promise you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone straight to cozy heaven.
This recipe however – let me be completely honest here – was my pre-attempt at delving into true pumpkin cooking. I have two very real, very beautiful pumpkins sitting on my kitchen floor waiting for me to take a knife to them.
But, no matter how excited I get at the thought of carving my first pumpkin of the season, there is also something a little daunting about the task. Or a lot daunting. So, at 8pm on a weeknight, when I got home and got ready to start dinner, I decided carving pumpkins was really more of a weekend task. This recipe, therefore, was made with good old canned pumpkin. It’s still 100% pumpkin, but I think we can all agree it never tastes quite as good as the in-season fresh kind. So, if you have fresh pumpkin on hand, by all means, use it here. Your taste buds will do an extra little dance.
This sauce gives you a small taste of what the season has in store. Let’s call it an opening act, or an amuse-gueule, to what the real fruit of fall will soon bring to the table.
Pumpkin Mushroom Sage Sauce over Pasta
This sauce is super simple and quick to make. It’s perfect for a busy weeknight or anytime you’re in the mood for some comfort food. And your vitamin A will be through the roof!
1 package gluten-free spaghetti or linguini
10 cloves garlic, pressed
20 sage leaves, chopped
2.5 tbsps butter
10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced (you can use any type of mushroom you like, but shiitakes are my favorite for taste and health benefits)
1 15 oz can 100% pure pumpkin
1.5 to 2 cups vegetable stock (depending on how thick you want the sauce)
3 oz cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to serve with (optional)
Cook the pasta following the directions on the package.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the 0.5 tbsp butter in a heavy based frying pan and throw in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium high heat until slightly brown and cooked through (about 5-7 minutes). Set aside.
In a large pot, sauté the garlic in the remaining butter for a minute (do not let brown). Stir in the sage leaves and cook one more minute. Add the canned pumpkin and the stock. Stir everything well, bring to boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cream cheese and stir well until the cheese is melted and everything is well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately over pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.