October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Apple Upside-down Cake

Lately I have been finding lots of inspiration over at La Tartine Gourmande

Bea has a really beautiful website. She's a professional photographer and food stylist so her photos are always gorgeous. And I really like her style of food too. Very wholesome, with a focus on fresh fruit and vegetables. Since she's from France there's often a French influence in her food as well. 

Bea definitely has a dessert and baking focus, and it turns out that much of her baking is gluten-free. As far as  I know, she doesn't have celiac disease, but she seems to really enjoy experimenting with gluten-free flours. So far, all of her gluten-free recipes I've tried have been delicious. She uses a lot of nut flours and really likes quinoa and buckwheat.

She also often incorporates fruit and vegetables in her cakes and other baked goods, which I really appreciate. Sometimes it's great to be decadent, but if I want a little treat to nibble on and pack in my lunch, I like it to be somewhat good for me as well. Which is definitely the case with this fantastic pumpkin cake

What could be more autumn-like? An incredibly moist cake with a rich pumpkin flavour and hints of quinoa and ginger with a caramelized apple top. I would love to try this as an upside-down cranberry cake as well, and it would probably be awesome with pears. It's also great just like this ... especially with a dollop of thick yogurt.

As you can see in the photo up there, I really like using my scale to weigh flours when I bake. I think it will really help me experiment more with different kinds of gluten-free flours as well. Some of Bea's recipes have weights and some don't. This pumpkin cake doesn't, so the last time I made it I figured out what they should be. If you like baking with a scale (it is a much more accurate way to measure flours, plus you don't have to get any measuring cups dirty!), here are the flour measurements for this cake:

1/2 cup quinoa flour: 2 oz.
1/2 cup brown rice flour: 2.5 oz
1/4 cup tapioca flour: 1 oz.
1/4 cup sweet rice flour: 1.25 oz

Here are a few other recipes from La Tartine Gourmande that I've enjoyed. Go peruse Bea's site yourself, I'm sure you'll love it.

Apple and Olive Oil Cake
Multi-purpose almond crumble topping
Cinnamon tea cakes

(This cake also looks amazing!)

October 23, 2010

Osterreicher im MAK - Vienna

On August 18, I turned 26. I began my birthday in Vienna and ended it in Paris. This vacation was pretty much the best birthday present ever.

And since we flew to Paris on my birthday I ended up getting two birthday suppers out of it. Even better! The first one in Vienna was at Osterreicher im MAK. Its named after the chef, a famous guy named Helmut Osterreicher, and it's inside a museum called the Museum fur angewandte Kunst (MAK),  or Museum for Applied Arts. We didn't get a chance to visit the museum but they have an amazing shop full of super cool houseware items, books and games.

I searched for a really nice restaurant to celebrate, and this one got great reviews in our travel guide and online. It ended up being a fantastic night out, although there was a close call when it came to gluten, which made me think the kitchen wasn't really being as careful as they could be.

The space is elegant, funky and eclectic all at the same time, although you really shouldn't expect much less from a restaurant in an art museum. It's all one room with soaring ceilings covered in a beautiful flower pattern. There are mirrors and black chalk-boards everywhere. The room is divided by a kind of half-wall between the bar/lounge area and the actual dining room. Big, beautiful wood-framed windows line the walls and a massive bottle chandelier hangs over the bar.

The menu is divided between classical Austrian dishes and modern Austrian dishes, with a page for each. Among the classical dishes is, of course, wiener schnitzel, plus beef goulash and beef in aspic (shudder). Actually, it's pretty much all meat. The menu clearly changes with the seasons, since when I just checked it online the modern section looked completely unfamiliar.

One thing I noticed right away is only two pages of the menu are accorded to food - the rest of the eight go to drinks: wine, beer, spirits, cocktails and non-alcoholic choices. We enjoyed two lovely bottles of white wine and managed to get rather tipsy ... I mean, what else are birthdays for?

It was fairly easy to navigate the menu even with our limitations - only a few things would cause problems. I started with a fantastic salad with Serrano ham and cream cheese, on arugula with fresh raspberries and an aged balsamic reduction. It was the perfect combination of textures and flavours. The cheese was nothing like what we call cream cheese in North America, as you can see from the photo. It was more like soft goat's cheese but with a subtle cow's milk taste.The balsamic reduction had a deep, rounded sweetness and earthiness that added an amazing element to the whole plate.

For my main I ordered some kind of boiled beef, I can't remember exactly what it was called. The meat itself was good, nothing spectacular, but I really liked all the little side dishes and how it was presented almost TV-dinner style. It was very old-fashioned, with creamed green beans and sort-of smashed, soft yet caramelized potatoes.

This was where I did, however, discover a dumpling in amongst my meat and vegetables. It's pretty obvious in the photo, there in the top left-hand corner. I'm just happy I realized what it was before I bit into it, and quickly moved it to J's plate. It was my birthday dinner and I wasn't going to freak out about it. Maybe once I've been gluten-free for years and I know exactly what happens when I eat it by accident, I will take these things a little more seriously.

J's main was also beef - a minute steak with onions and homefries. The fried onions looked fantastic.

There were fewer dessert options for us but what we ate was great. J had what I recall as some kind of fritter with sauteed apples on the side. Mine was a frozen chocolate mousse with a few blackberries and a fruit sauce. It was a delicious texture - cold and firm and custard-like.

There was more of the restaurant to explore. When I went downstairs to use the bathroom I snuck a peek into the kitchen. I find the hustle and energy of restaurant kitchens fascinating, and I wished I could have stood and stared for hours, but of course I didn't. I also noticed a dark, swank outdoor terrace off the lower level.

Our meal at Osterreicher was long and lingering. We spent a lot of money (although we are cheap when it comes to wine), but it was totally worth it. Afterwards we looked around the fabulous design shop in MAK and then wandered the streets, through the main Viennese square, Stephansplatz, and past Stephansdom, the cathedral. Finally we made it across the bridge of the Danube canal and home to our little apartment.

The next day we got up and flew to Paris. Incredible. Coming up: my second birthday meal, at Paris' only gluten-free restaurant. No chance of stray dumplings in their food. 

Osterreicher im MAK
Stubenring 5
1010 Wien, Austria

October 16, 2010

Meierei - Vienna, Austria

We ate some fantastic food on our European holiday. Most of it we cooked ourselves, like quinoa with sausages and chanterelles, potatoes with lardons, creme fraiche and red peppers, and pasta with mushrooms, fresh soft cheese and more lardons. There were also so many amazing things to eat straight up. Thick, Greek natural yogurt, creamy with an amazing tang. Fresh sheep's cheese slathered on bread. The best pistachio gelato I've ever had in Paris. Fresh-smoked soft cheese in Denmark. Spicy, chewy, fatty and highly addictive sausages that we munched while walking around the streets of Vienna.

We only ate out a few times, and in the next few posts I'm going to tell you about some of those places. Let's start with Meierei.

Meierei is a cafe and milk bar in Vienna. (Meierei is the German word for dairy.) There are lots of great things about this place, but one of the best? Definitely its location. 

Meierei is inside the Vienna Stadtpark (city park). You can take the U-bahn line (subway) right into the park, although we walked here. Meierei is right below another, fancier restaurant called Steirereck im Stadtpark. The park is gorgeous, a long green rectangle with a canal running through it, big old trees, benches and statues. The restaurant sits overlooking the canal and the park. We didn't see where the entrance to Steirereck is, but we were beckoned down the stairs to Meierei by a big milk bottle. 

Once inside, the theme is definitely milk. Lots of milk. In fact, the walls of the foyer are covered with floor-to-ceiling photos of milk, all froth and bubbles. Inside the restaurant, there are milk bottles lining the wall behind the bar and white everywhere.  

We sat outside on the deck. It was beautiful out there, with a little shade from the awning. 

With J's lactose allergy, a restaurant specializing in milk might not seem like a natural choice. But I read about this place online and I knew they offered all different kinds of milk he could drink. They have cow's milk, goat's milk, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, and even horse milk! That last one kind of freaked us out. On top of the plain milk they have all kinds of flavoured milks, warm or cold. J ordered strawberry goat's milk and I ordered warm cow's milk with cardamom.

We enjoyed them both, although the cardamom milk was very sweet. But of course we couldn't stop there. On top of milk, Meierei offers a full cafe menu, but one of their specialties is, of course, cheese. We are not ones to turn down a good cheese plate. Because of J's limitations, we went for the cow-goat-sheep plate, although I would have loved to try the selection of Austrian cheeses or raw milk cheeses as well. 

The presentation of the cheese plate was outstanding. I really loved the way they did it at Farm in Calgary, but this plate had so much elegance and panache. The smear of apricot preserves, the pumpkin seeds tossed haphazardly, and all the tiny labels on the flat porcelain made it very luxe.

Of course the cheese was fantastic. I don't remember how they all tasted and I definitely didn't take any notes, but we loved all of them but one. You see the little dish with the runny cheese in it? That one was vile. It was the consistency of gluey cheese fondue and tasted like strong, moldy garbage. We could barely smell it.  

But everything else was delightful. Of course the plate came with a basket of bread that I couldn't eat, but we had just bought some gluten-free bread, so I discreetly slid it out of my bag and into my lap, and ripped chunks off the slices to eat my cheese with. Very convenient.

While we were eating I felt the urge to try another kind of milk, so I ordered the milk with chocolate, orange and ginger. This concoction is something I can't get out of my head, and if I ever open a restaurant (not likely!) it is going on the menu. The concept is brilliant. A glass of warm milk arrives at the table accompanied by a frozen chocolate popsicle. You dip the popsicle into your milk and swirl it around until it tastes the way you like it. You can leave it in there to melt or eat it right off the stick. Amazing! And it tasted fabulous - rich chocolate spiced with orange and ginger. The most original hot chocolate I ever drank. 

We had already eaten a lot that day and I could barely finish the three cow's cheeses on the plate (of course I tasted all the others as well). It doesn't look like much, but with all that milk in me I was full to bursting. J decided to try one of the desserts, Rhubarb Snow with Violets. I was intrigued as to what this would be, and it looked gorgeous. It was basically a granita - shaved ice with sugar and flavourings. Despite the bright pink colour it didn't taste all that much like rhubarb. The highlight was the sugared violets. They were crunchy, sweet and like nothing we'd eaten before.   

Although we didn't sample the other food at Meierei, given the cheese and milk offerings I'm sure it's good. When we are next in Vienna I hope we can visit this place again. The temptation of amazing cheese and milk plus a beautiful location is a winner. 

Meierei im Stadtpark
Am Heumarkt 2A, A-1030 Wien


October 6, 2010

A New Direction

I'm not sure what's the best way to share big news on a blog, so here goes: In July I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Of course there are two ways of looking at this. As someone who revels in all types of food, loves to cook and bake, and adores eating out in restaurants, I could see this as a major handicap. Or I could see it as a challenge. I feel lucky that I know how to cook and I already take time to do it each day. I'm happy that I've already tried my hand at gluten-free baking. I'm grateful that I was diagnosed at a time when there is more information and awareness out there about celiac disease than ever before, when I can go to most mainstream grocery stores and buy gluten-free granola bars, waffles, bread and cereal. Most of all, I'm happy to have my health back.

I was shocked when my family doctor told me back in May that he thought I probably had celiac disease. Of course, I had been getting sporadic stomach aches since I was about fourteen, but no other doctor had ever suggested this could be the cause. I thought I had already ruled out a gluten intolerance after my cleanse in 2009. My first thought was relief that it wasn't something more serious, that I wouldn't have to take any medication or have surgery. But then I began to feel despair. What about eating in restaurants? What about continuing my restaurant reviews? What about being a food writer? It all seemed impossible.

But the despair didn't last long. In the two months between my blood test and the confirmation of my illness, I had time to realize this was actually good news. Yes, I had a serious disease, but unlike most I could completely cure myself just by what I ate. What freedom! I knew it would be a challenge, but I was determined to feel better. I also resolved to continue writing about food in my job at CBC and here on this blog. Who knew where this new direction could take me?

I have now been eating gluten-free for nearly three months. Although my health isn't entirely on track, I do feel a lot better. And I'm still discovering what I can eat every day - I'm sure I'll be learning for the rest of my life. There is so much to explore and experiment with. The food we eat at home still tastes fantastic, and I've recently started my adventures in gluten-free baking, which I hope to write about soon. The internet is awash in gluten-free websites and blogs (for a few of my favourites so far, see my new GF blogroll). The amount of information out there is astounding. I can't imagine having celiac disease even ten years ago, let alone 30 years ago. It must have felt like such a struggle. Today, it is getting easier and easier.

Here is just one recent example: J's brother and his wife are planning a dinner at The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant in Edmonton, for next month. "I'll have to call them and see if they have gluten-free options," I told J. "They probably don't". He berated me for being too pessimistic and handed me the phone. Sure enough, the friendly woman at the restaurant informed me they have an entirely gluten-free menu. Every one of their fondues can be made gluten-free.

So this is our new adventure, and I plan on writing about it as much as possible. Fist up, travels in Europe. Then we'll get back to home cooking. Although this blog will now be entirely gluten-free, I'm not planning on changing the name. I might add some kind of GF sub-title, but I'm not sure yet. The main ingredient of The Little Red Kitchen hasn't changed: personal stories about cooking and eating real food that tastes fantastic.

These photos are all from our travels in Europe, and they are making me hungry! I'll be back with stories from our trip soon.