Product Review: Mixes from the Heartland Microwave Brownies

>> Friday, February 26, 2010

 A couple of months ago I got an e-mail from a representative of a company called Mixes from the Heartland. They make and sell gluten-free mixes and wondered if I'd be willing to test some products. As a lover of all things free and gluten free, I was elated! I said I'd be happy to try their product and promptly sent them my address. I didn't hear anything back so I was surprised and thrilled when a big old box of gluten free goodies arrived on my doorstep about a week later. The box had a bunch of different mixes in it. I've tried the lime pound cake, roasted red pepper garlic dip and chicken noodle soup but my favorite item so far is the microwave brownie mix.
 Baking gluten free can be a real headache. If you want to bake from scratch you need lots of different flours, xanthan gum, scales and good, tried and true recipes. Even with those things there can be a lot of trial and error involved. Since I fancy myself more of a cook than I baker, I have been satisfied to use mixes and pre-mixed flours. There are many gluten free peeps out there who have embraced the garbanzo bean flour and almond meal but I am not there yet. For now, mixes that take minutes to prepare and turn out consistent results are my saviors. The one attempt I made at Gluten Free Girl's "David Leite's Chocolate Chip Cookie" adaptation ended up tasting like sodden grass clippings. I blamed the amaranth flour and gave up on trying to bake my own treats. That debacle just highlights how easy Mixes from the Heartland makes things for gluten free cooks like me.
 The microwave brownie mix required just butter, eggs, milk, a pyrex dish and the microwave. In no time I had steaming, soft, chocolaty brownies ready to top with ice cream and a little goats milk dulce de leche.
 I would certainly recommend this mix, especially for those new to the gluten free landscape. Sometimes a little comfort food can go a really long way.
Check out Mixes from the Heartland, they have a HUGE selection of tasty, safe and easy to make foods for Celiacs and those with gluten intolerance.


Kale and Blood Orange Salad with Chevre and Hazelnuts

>> Thursday, February 25, 2010

 Buckle up, this post is a doozy.

You know what they say about the road to hell? Yeah. Pretty much.
I started off the year with my healthy, clean detox and I was posting here every day. I felt great, the blog picked up some new readers and things were looking bright and shiny. I meant to keep it all up. Then I got lazy. I started cooking much less healthfully and blogging much less frequently. Both of these facts resulted in me feeling cranky and unhappy. Lucky for me, Fake Lent (I am not catholic, or religious, for that matter) rolls around just about the same time as my new years resolutions are fading to small specks in the rearview mirror*. Even though I am under no religious obligation to observe Lent, I find that it's helpful for me to take this time to retool and reboot my resolutions.

This year I have decided to give up fast food for Fake Lent. It won't be very difficult since pre-Fake Lent I only ate fast food a few times a month, but I wanted to pick something that wouldn't discourage me too much like, say, giving up butter (HA!) Knowing that I can definitely meet this easy challenge makes me feel more confident in undertaking a few other challenges. These are plans that I am not making any promises about but that I have the very best of intentions for. I intend to blog a lot more. This means that the format of my blog my change a bit. Instead of strictly recipes and recipe photos, I want to start doing more for gluten-free mankind (and the rest of you suckers) by reviewing restaurants and products and talking about the food I eat even when it isn't a photo-worthy recipe. I also intend to eat more healthfully and conscientiously. Inspired by Food, Inc, I have become much more selective about the foods I eat and where they come from. I plan to include more seasonal, local and just plain healthy foods in my recipes. OK! Now, I'll step off my soapbox and share an amazingly delicious and superbly healthy recipe that takes advantage of the gorgeous kale and blood oranges that are still in season and easy to get at any Farmer's Market in LA.
 This recipe comes from The Bitten Word who adapted it from Martha.

Oooh, wait, I have to hop back on my soap box for a second to talk about kale. Kale rocks. The "picky" in my name sometimes prevents me from enjoying greens the way those granola crunching hippies seem to. Many greens are just too strong for my palate and I avoided kale for a long time because I was afraid it would just be like all the others. It's not! Kale is super mild but has a great crunch. First timers might even try substituting it for iceberg in a plain ol salad with ranch. Don't be like me, don't you dare be like me!(read in dramatic, Lifetime movie style voice.) Try kale before you judge it. Now, back to our regularly scheduled recipe:
- 1 1/2 pounds Tuscan black kale or regular kale, stems and ribs removed, leaves shredded
- 4-6 blood oranges, supremed, juice reserved (see instructions)
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (see instructions)
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Toast your hazelnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, swirling them every couple of minutes. Toast until the nuts are fragrant and the skin is beginning to flake off and turn darker brown. When the nuts are toasted, pour them onto a towel or paper towel and make a pouch.
 Roll the pouch around in your palm or on a flat surface to remove the bitter skins.
Now roughly chop the hazelnuts and set them aside.
 Cut the top and bottom off the blood oranges.
Using a sharp knife, cut off the skin in strips leaving no white bits but also staying as close to the fruit as possible (try not to cut off too much of the actual orange.)
 Once all the skin and pith are removed, hold the naked orange over a bowl and cut out each segment, one at a time.
 Use a very sharp paring knife and cut along the membrane, just on either side of it. You want to get all orange but no membrane.
 Place the segments in one bowl and the leftover hulls in another. When you are finished, squeeze the membrane-y orange carcasses (nice imagery, right?) with your hands or through a mesh strainer to get all the juice out of them, then discard them.
 Place washed, dried, stemmed and chopped kale in a large bowl.
Drizzle with vinegar, oil, and reserved orange juice; toss.
 Add oranges, hazelnuts and goat cheese and toss again, gently.
 Season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 30 minutes before serving.
 * I am happy to report that I have thus far successfully kept my resolution to limit myself to ONE bag of Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles plus ONE 16 oz container of Ralph's sour cream per month. This is not as easy as it sounds and I am hereby giving myself a hearty pat on the back and an enthusiastic "keep it up!"


Blood Orange Vanilla Sorbet

>> Thursday, February 11, 2010

 This easy and delicious dessert is seasonal in more ways than one. The gorgeous blood oranges are at their peak in winter and the luscious red color of this sorbet is perfect for Valentine's Day.
 The tartness and slight bitterness of the fruit is mellowed by the addition of vanilla bean. If you have an ice cream maker, I implore you to make this. It is sweet, seductive and complex, a "grown-up" version of the classic creamsicle flavor.

- 2 3/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
- Juice of one lemon
- Juice of one lime
- 1/2 cup water to cook with sugar and vanilla and an additional 1/2 cup water to mix with juice
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split
- 3/4 cups sugar

First make a vanilla bean simple syrup. In a small saucepan, place sugar, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scraped. Heat over medium heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer on very low heat to allow the vanilla seeds to distribute and flavor the mixture.

Juice the citrus then strain through a fine mesh strainer. Push out all the juice, don't worry if some pulp goes through strainer, it won't affect the sorbet.
 Pour the juice, 1/2 cup water, and simple syrup into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturers instructions. (Mine was frozen and ready in 25 minutes.)
 Scoop out and serve or put in airtight container and freeze.


Secret Family Recipe Beef Jerky

>> Wednesday, February 3, 2010

OK, OK, this beef jerky isn't actually secret (it certainly isn't now that I am posting it on the internet!) but it is my family recipe. My mom and dad make this jerky a few times a year and it is the best I've ever had. Jerky is one of those things you can adjust to your taste by adding any spices you like but I wanted to make this recipe by the book on my first attempt to see if it was as good as my dad used to make. It is. It may be even better because I cut my meat against the grain for a more tender jerky versus my dad's method of cutting with the grain for chewier jerky, but that might just fall into the personal preference category.
This recipe takes a long time to make; parts of it are labor intensive and it's messy. Even so, if you like jerky or even if you just like meat, you might want to give this a try. You end up with a LOT of jerky when you're done and it could last you for months - that is, unless you are me, my sous chef and our friends - then you will be lucky to stretch it out for two weeks! It just goes to show how tasty this is. It's a great, protein-rich snack that is totally portable. Great for road trips, camping or noshing on in front of Man vs Food. It's smoky, a little sweet, salty, chewy and crunchy. Everything a good hunk of dried out beef ought to be. Thanks to my mom and dad for the recipe and helpful tips!
- 2-4 lbs lean beef (flank steak, brisket, round steak) -I used a round roast, hence all the cutting I had to do. Steaks make it easier but either will work. Also, you don't need choice meat, this was just on sale, you can use any grade you like.
- 1/3 cup liquid smoke
- 1 1/2 tsp meat tenderizer (msg)
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/3 cup gluten free tamari (or soy sauce for you wheat eaters)
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce (most made in the US are gluten free but check your labels)
- 1/4- 1/3 cup brown sugar
Trim any thick fat or silvery membrane from the outside of your meat.
 If you are using a roast like I did, cut the roast into steaks.
Mine were a bit thin, I would aim for 1" - 11/4" thick steaks.
That marbling made for some mighty fine jerky.
Cut the steaks into thin strips, with the grain for chewy jerky, against the grain for tender jerky.
Aim for about 1/4 inch thick, not much thicker, but if they get too thin they may break apart. They'll still taste good though, I promise.
Mix your marinade ingredients in a bowl until the sugar and salt are mostly dissolved.
Place meat in a plastic zipper bag and pour in the marinade. Marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.
Drain and dry meat. (I missed this step and ended up with meat juices all over my kitchen. Woops.)
Line the bottom of the oven with foil to catch drippings. This is very important. Your oven will probably never be clean again if you forget to do this!
Arrange the meat strips DIRECTLY ON the oven rack, evenly spaced.
Cook in a 150 degree oven 5 - 7 hours, 170 degrees for 5 hours if oven cannot do 150 (My oven only goes as low as 170.)
 Leave the oven door ajar for the entire cooking process. Test jerky after 5 hours to determine if you want to cook it longer for a crispier texture.
When it's done to your taste, turn the oven off and let it cool then just pop off your jerky, take out the foil and rinse off your oven racks. Snack away!