March 25, 2009

Gluten-free muffins


As I’ve mentioned here before, J and I have been trying to eat less gluten in the past few months. We wanted to see if it would make us feel different, since we both have a few digestive issues.  So far, J is feeling better, but I haven’t really noticed any difference. The stomach aches I sometimes get don’t seem tied to gluten.

Because of this experiment, I have been doing some gluten free baking, which has been interesting, fun, and yes, expensive. Gluten-free flour is not cheap. Especially because most recipes call for several different types of flour that all blend together to become a semblance of wheat. I haven’t bought any of the gluten-free flour mixes that are on the market yet, although I’m sure there are good ones. I’ve been going solo with my chickpea flour and tapioca starch (and several others).

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I’ve made several loaves of chickpea bread from Bette Hagman’s book The Gluten-free Gourmet Bakes Bread, and they are quite good. No, they are not the same as wheat bread, but they are tasty. The texture is a bit dry and spongy, but it is perfectly fine once toasted, which is the way I usually eat my bread anyway.

Last week I tried my hand at some gluten-free muffins. I had been craving some muffins, since they are a treat that I love. In an ideal world, I would whip up a batch of fruit or vegetable-filled muffins once or twice a week so we could have a constant supply in our cookie (or muffin) tin, waiting for breakfast, a midday snack, or really any time of day. Some of my favourites are zucchini, carrot, apple and cranberry. If you have the right recipe, muffins can be both nutritious and delicious. And a homemade muffins beats most cafe or store-bought ones any day, for taste and for price.

I searched the internet for some gluten-free muffins and read many a recipe before I found a few with ingredients that I (mostly) had. I used one of those as a guide for the flours, and my favourite apple muffin recipe from a Moosewood cookbook for the rest of it. I was pretty proud of myself for adapting it, because they turned out great. They tasted like yummy apple muffins, and the only difference from the wheat version was a slightly darker brown colour and a more crumbly texture.


These passed the gluten test, too: J’s aunt and cousins, who were visiting, gobbled some up. If we stick to this gluten-free thing, I will definitely be making them again. They’re also a nice way to use some of the apples that we have been constantly eating … one of the only local fruits left. We buy our apples at the BC orchard stand at the Farmers’ Market. Lately we’ve been hooked on the Aurora variety, and they are really delicious. But … I am starting to crave some berries in this never-ending winter!

Gluten-Free Apple Muffins

Adapted from this recipe and Apple muffins from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

I made the oat flour by pulsing some oats with my immersion blender – I’d never done it before but it worked great. But I’m sure you could leave the oats whole for a slightly chewier muffin.

2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated apples
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel (optional)

1/2 plus 1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup oat flour (or oats)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1  1/4 tsp. xantham gum
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or 1/4 tsp. nutmeg and 1/4 tsp. cloves

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla. Add the apples and lemon peel and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and stir just until combined. Make sure not to stir too much, or the muffins will be dense. Add the nuts if you’re using them.

Spoon the batter into oiled muffin cups, or cups with paper liners. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. A knife inserted into the centre of a muffin should come out clean.

March 21, 2009

Sunny Boy Flour


I first heard about Sunny Boy flour from Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet. Sunny Boy is a company in Camrose, Alberta that mills its own all-purpose and whole-wheat flour. It also makes the apparently-famous Sunny Boy cereal.

Since we decided to eat more locally, we’ve also been trying to eat mainly gluten-free, so at first I wasn’t too worried about finding local wheat flour. But lately I started thinking about it more. I thought I remembered seeing some bags of the flour at Planet Organic.

So on a recent trip there I picked some up. I was actually really excited about it. The thought of local flour was extremely enticing. I daydreamed about making pasta, layer cakes, biscuits … all with local flour. After reading The 100-Mile Diet, where authors James and Alisa spent seven months looking for a flour producer near their home in Vancouver, I felt all the more grateful.


As soon as I got home from Planet Organic I cut open the bag of flour and dumped two cups into a bowl. The flour wasn’t pure white, it was more of a pale tan colour. I took a whiff of the it. It smelled … different than other flours. Almost yeasty and briney. But maybe I was imagining things. I mixed the flour with a little sugar and a little salt, then cut in cubes of butter with a pastry cutter. I sprinkled cold water over the top until the dough came together in a ball, then stuck it in the fridge.

I went to work, and when I got home that night, there was a beautifully burnished leek and goat cheese galette coming out of the oven. Here is the delicious first product made with our Sunny Boy flour.


This is a Deborah Madison recipe that is absolutely brilliant. Although, to be honest, I think that you could stick any type of tasty filling into this deliciously buttery galette dough and it would result in a bang-up supper. I’ve made a butternut squash galette and a nectarine galette with the same dough, and ev  ery one is a smash hit. This combination of leeks and goat cheese, simmered with cream and white wine, is a winner. The leeks get very soft and tender and the cheese melts in your mouth.

I used Fairwinds Farm goat cheese – another local product that we just started eating. It is delicious – very soft, smooth and tangy. And I appreciate that it comes in little tubs rather than the plastic-wrapped logs that I’ve always bought goat cheese in. It’s much easier to store this way.


Leek and Goat Cheese Galette from
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Galette Dough: see this recipe

for the filling:
6 large leeks, including inch of green
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp chopped thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
salt + pepper
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
4 oz goat cheese, less or more to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Thinly slice and wash the leeks. You should have about 6 cups.

2. Melt butter in medium skillet. Add leeks, thyme, and 1/2 cup water. Stew over medium heat, stirring frequently, until leeks are tender, about 12 minutes. Add wine and continue cooking until reduced; then add the crème and cook until it coats the leeks and little liquid remains. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Let cool 10 minutes, then stir in all but 1 tbsp of the beaten egg and 2 tbsp of the parsley.

3. Roll the galette dough out to about 1/8 of an inch thick. You can either make one large galette or six small galettes. Spread leek mixture on top of rolled galette dough, leaving a 2 inch border around the edge. crumble the goat cheese on top, then fold the dough over the filling (fold it over a little or a lot, up to you). Brush with reserved egg and bake until crust is browned, 25-30 minutes. Garnish with remaining parsley.

March 11, 2009

Behind the Scenes – Flirt Cupcakes

When I stepped into Flirt cupcakes on a chilly March morning, the seductive smell of warm sugar, cocoa and butter hit my nose. It was clear that there were cupcakes in the oven.

Soon I was in the kitchen, watching as co-owner Michelle piped buttercream frosting onto puffy cupcakes and chatted with me about the challenges of opening a new business.

One of the best parts about being a journalist is that you get to go places you normally wouldn’t. It’s like you have a license to explore – to find out how things work and who does what. And you get to take your microphone and camera along with you.

I recently got the chance to explore Flirt Cupcakes when I did a radio story on the shop. The reason I thought Flirt was interesting is because Michelle has such a storied past. She played drums in a punk band in high school, started her own clothing line, and is an avid hockey player. When you meet this perky, blonde girl selling cupcakes, you would never suspect her of doing all of those things.


The first germ of an idea for Flirt actually came after a hockey game, when Michelle and her teammate Rick Krupa were talking about cupcakes. It turns out they both had the same idea – why not open a cupcake shop in Edmonton?

Months of research and preparation later, Flirt opened its doors on Valentine’s Day. By then, Michelle had tested more than 100 cupcake recipes. The pair had visited cupcake shops, made lists of the best ones, and compared every tiny thing.

Flirt is on Whyte Avenue, in a small storefront near Gateway Boulevard. They have a couple of tables and chairs in the store, but they sell most of their cupcakes to go.

The kitchen is small too, but highly efficient. There are big bins of flour, sugar, powdered sugar, and baking soda stacked under the stainless steel countertops. On the shelves above sit bottles of Madagascar bourbon vanilla, food colouring, and sprinkles. They have three Kitchenaid mixers that are whirring all the time, mixing cupcake batter and icing.

Michelle and Rick start the day around 6 a.m. with a batch of chocolate cupcakes and a batch of vanilla cupcakes (they plan on having more cupcake flavours soon). Then they mix all eight of their icing flavours, including lemon, peanut butter and raspberry.

So far I have sampled chocolate with vanilla icing, vanilla with cream cheese icing, and chocolate with raspberry icing. The two chocolates were my favourite. The cupcake is moist with a wonderful chocolately flavour. I think the vanilla had too much icing for my taste, but since I ate that one they have increased the size of their cupcakes. The raspberry icing was divine, and I would love to try the lemon one as well.

cupcakes 1

What really struck me about this business was how friendly and warm Michelle and Rick both are. They welcome every customer who comes into their shop, and they make sure everyone leaves satisfied.

It looks as though the cupcake trend has hit Edmonton, and I hope it doesn’t die down anytime soon. Flirt is determined to succeed. And so far, it’s doing well. Business is steady, and they are baking hundreds of cupcakes every day.

And now for a little shameless self-promotion: You can hear my radio piece about Flirt tomorrow (Thursday) morning on CBC (93.9 fm or 740 am). It will be on at about 8:15.

March 5, 2009

Roasted Squash Salad

I just finished a delicious supper.

It’s rare that I blog about things I’ve just eaten. Usually I’m too lazy, or too busy, and the meals get filed into my brain to use in future posts.

But tonight, despite the dirty dishes on the counter, I am relaxed. I can also sleep in tomorrow. And, I want to write about how this meal tasted before I forget.

I often buy squash at the Strathcona County Farmers’ Market from August Organics, a stall on the East side of the market, closest to the front doors. There is usually a big pile of green and orange squash on one corner of the stand, with an info sheet about which squash is which, and how they all taste. I can’t always tell from the sheet which one I’m holding, so I have to ask one of the kind people who work there. A few times I’ve been helped by an adorably precocious boy.

Last weekend I bought quite an ugly-looking specimen, but I was told that it was dry and would be good for roasting. Roasting is one of my favourite ways to make squash, because it brings out the natural sweetness.


I remembered reading something on a food blog recently about a squash salad, so I did an online search and came up with Ina Garten’s recipe for roasted squash salad with warm cider vinaigrette.

The only annoying part of this recipe was peeling and scooping out the squash. The peel was tough and the seeds and membranes were hanging on for dear life.

Tonight I was dining alone. J had a long day and was already asleep in bed when I started the recipe (quite late, I must admit. I had a long day myself). So once the squash was done roasting, I made myself a one-plate serving with the greens, squash, raisins and cheese. When I spooned on the warm dressing, the aroma of parmesan drifted up to my nose. When I took a bite, the sweetness of the squash balanced perfectly with the sharpness of the parmesan cheese, and I tasted the tanginess of the cider vinaigrette.

I adapted the recipe quite a bit because of ingredients I didn’t have, and it still turned out great. I used mixed greens from the market instead of arugula, and raisins instead of cranberries. I left out the walnuts and the shallots entirely.

My only complaint was that the dressing had too much olive oil, since the vinegar mixture isn’t as strong as plain vinegar. I would add only a quarter cup next time.

I am looking forward to lunch tomorrow.

Roasted Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

One squash (butternut or any other dry variety), about 1.5 to 2 pounds, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon maple syrup
olive oil
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins
3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots (optional)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
arugula or other salad greens
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Toss the squash with the maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Put it in a roasting pan and roast for 20-25 minutes, until soft and browned in places. Stir once or twice during the roasting. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last five minutes (I didn’t do this, but it would probably be good).

While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup.

Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

If you are serving the entire salad immediately, place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten, and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

If you’d like to save some salad for leftovers, simply plate each portion individually. Start with the greens, add the squash, walnuts and parmesan, and spoon on the dressing.