Monday, July 27, 2009

Perfect Gluten-free Tortillas

Rudy, a second generation Mexican, is one of my father's best friend . Rudy, his family and our family visited each other often. His four sons, one daughter, my brothers and I were like cousins. On the nights when our parents were enjoying drinks all seven of us kids (and sometimes other children from Rudy's extended family) ran about in the dark yard playing 'hide and seek' and 'frozen statue'.

The ultimate game and goal was to not get caught by Rudy. It wasn't that Rudy was playing the games with us, I'm not sure why he came outside, but he was there. He was the kind of parent that gave long lectures. When he was drinking he gave even longer lectures. After one of us was caught the others would snicker, feel a little sorry, and then would go on playing, running around Rudy and the poor soul that had to stand there listening to Rudy who spoke slowly and repeated himself. When I was the captured sole I felt like a kid who has to go to the bathroom. On the outside, I would be standing still, but on the inside I was dancing about, waiting to bolt, out of sight.

After I grew up and married, I realized that this close relationship with our Mexican-American friends left me with a sense of what was American food influenced by Mexico and real Mexican food. While at my mother-in-law's for dinner one evening I was surprised to find out that she bakes her Spanish rice in the oven, with meat and diced tomatoes. My mother, who learned at the side of Rudy's mother, cooks Spanish rice in a frying pan with a can of tomato juice. Although my mother-in-law's Spanish rice is very good. It's not the real deal to me.

Finding the real thing is the problem I have when I want a gluten-free recipe. I found very few gluten-free tortilla recipes online. The ones I found used ingredients that are not on my 'okay to eat' list and they tended to crack when you fold them burrito style.
So, I got down to basics and started with the white (bleached wheat) flour recipe my mom received from Rudy's mother.

Original from a 1st generation immigrant

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1tsp baking soda
1 tbs oil
½ – 1/3 cup water

No instruction on how to put it together was recorded.

I added guar gum and starches to the gluten-free flours, but after five experiments I just wasn't getting any closer to a gluten-free tortilla that acted like an old fashion tortilla. As I pondered the problem of the tortillas cracking I kept having homemade cornstarch play dough come to mind. Play dough stays pliable, but with cornstarch play dough this pliability doesn't happen until you cook it. At the time I had been reading Juice: the creative Fuel of World Class Inventors, by Evan I. Schwartz, this inspired me to go with my thoughts. I researched how play dough works.

This taught me some important things that helped. Starch has sugar and pectin. To release the usefulness of the pectin I needed to use hot water on the pectin for gelatinization to take place. This gelatinization will help make the dough pliable. Cream of tartar is used to stiffen liquids, in egg whites for meringue. In dough, cream of tartar makes it stronger, taking care of a minor problem I had with the dough of a tortilla falling apart when trying to lift it onto the griddle .

I added cream of tartar, unflavored gelatin and used hot water. A little kneading to make it congealed ball of dough. I was excited while doing this because I could see and feel that the hot water, gelatin, and cream of tartar had made a difference in making it pliable.

I conducted 3 more experiments. The recipe still wasn't working as I had wanted. The final breakthrough was apple cider vinegar, often used as a dough conditioner in gluten-free bread making. I now have a tortilla recipe that makes perfect gluten-free tortillas.

Perfect Gluten-free Tortillas
Makes 3 tortillas
¼ cup Tapioca
¼ cup bean flour or rice flour
¼ arrowroot
¼ millet
2 tsp Guar gum
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
1tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup of hot water more or less

Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Blend in the olive oil. Stir in the hot water and vinegar. Warm a griddle to 400° F. Knead the ball of dough until it is smooth and reminds you of play dough. Break dough into three balls. Keep the dough covered and warm. Roll one tortilla out and place it on the hot griddle, cooking it about one minute on each side. While it is cooking roll out the next one. When the first one tortilla is finished cooking place it between two dinner plates, with the top one upside down. While the second tortilla is cooking roll out the third. Keep working this way until all tortillas are between the plates. The plates allow the tortillas to steam and keep their moisture and keeping them pliable until ready to fill and fold. Reheat leftover tortillas between two plates in the microwave for a minute or less. Note: over-cooking will make the tortilla as hard as dried play dough.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Easy Gluten-Free Meatloaf

I'm not a high energy person. Some women do so many things in one day I'm left thinking they are super human. I am far too busy at home to ever hold down a career too. So the other day, after I mowed the lawn, went shopping, and cleaned the living room, I was not interested in making a big dinner.

This is when I discovered just how easy gluten-free meatloaf can be. I had made it before, but it just didn't quite do what I wanted. Well, this one worked. Now that I have found something that works, I want to share it with you.

Meat Loaf

2 lbs ground chuck
½ cup brown rice flour or cornmeal (cornmeal doesn't hold together as well as rice flour)
½ tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp blk. pepper
4 eggs
Annie's Natural Organic Ketchup (optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Place all ingredients except the ketchup in a large bowl and mix well. I used my Kitchen Aide on speed setting 2 for about 2 minutes. Place meat in a loaf pan forming a mound on top. Drizzle ketchup on the surface before placing the loaf in the oven. Cook for an hour and half.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Great Little Travel Book

Somewhere in my faded, blue jean past of the 1970s is a teenage girl who still wants to travel America on a motorcycle. Whether you were the proverbial child who wanted to run away and join the circus or the rebel teen, at some point, we want to take the easy way out and leave our problems behind. The same is true with this Runaway Grandpa.

Seventy year old Chuck Mason faced what to do with his life when his wife died of cancer. In his empty Michigan home, designed and decorate by his wife and filled with the memories of their 20 years together he was left unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. It was at that point he packed a few things, his new companion, a St. Bernard puppy named Bonnie and become a Runaway Grandpa.

Traveling can be a way of seeking adventure, but most often it's just a way of trying to ease your troubled mind. Above all, it has a way of being soul searching. As Chuck shares with us his travels with Bonnie he opens up a bit of his thoughts, his past, his short comings, and his dreams. He meets people with a bitter outlook in life and he meets those whose troubles are worse than his own, and yet they can still see the goodness of life itself.

In the end Chuck blames his dog for clear thinking, listens to her clues, and returns to his home and family with the same perspective we all gain when we travel, “It's good to be home.”

If you're traveling this summer and need a little good reading for that plane trip or that rest on the beach, spend a couple of hours with Bonnie, Chuck Mason and Runaway Grandpa.

To order Runaway Grandpa, for 14.95, contact Runaway Grandpa Chuck. Tell him I sent you and he will pay the shipping.
Address: 1554 S. 44th Ave, Shelby, MI. 49455
Phone: 231 861 7059

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cream Soup

In 1968 feminist burned their bras as an anti-sexist act of female liberation. In the mid 1970s my father said I was to wear a bra. No halter tops or tube tops like my friends were wearing. I don't recall putting up a fight about it. My father meant what he said, I learned to live with it.

The hardest time I had living with this standard was on cold winter mornings. We lived in a tar paper shack with wood heat. It meant my father waking up during the night to add a log on the fire. Sometimes, he was tired and slept through the night. In the morning we could see our breath and the kitchen sink pipes would be froze.

On these cold mornings my mother would wake me before my brothers allowing me to get dressed by the fire. She understood just how hard it was to put on a bra with ice cold fingers. I stood by the heat, my bra tucked into the back pocket of my jeans, holding my hands to the heat. From time to time turning around so I could warm up my bra.

Once, my father came in from heating the pipes, stopped, and stared at me. I had, 'What?' On the tip of my tongue when he finally spoke. “Well, I always said you had to wear a bra. I guess I should have said where.”

I still hate the cold and I find snow only good for looking at- through the window. And chilly, dark, wet days make me want to curl up under a lamp with a good book. Those days call for the warmth of something hot in a cup. I think rich and creamy soup has a way of hitting the spot.

This Cream soup is a universal recipe. 2 cups of a single vegetable or mixed vegetables (potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower..)cooked in enough water to cover. Add 1 tablespoons of minced onions. When the vegetable(s) are tender pour in 2 cups of milk and a thin paste of flour to make the creamy sauce. Top it all off with parsley, pepper, a touch of Tamari is optional, and garlic powder. In the spring substitute the onions with a fistful of chives or leeks, tossed in with the other herbs and spices.

Here it is all together.

Cream of Soup

2 cup vegetables

1 tablespoon minced onions

water to cover

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon dried parsley (2 tablespoon if fresh)

3 tablespoons Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)

Pepper to taste

2 cups milk (take your pick: cow, goat, soy, nut, coconut, hemp..)

3 tablespoons flour (some good gluten-free choices are rice, garbanzo bean, or potato flour) in enough water to make a paste.

Place chopped vegetables and water in a large pot and simmer until tender. Add spices, herbs, and milk. Bring to a simmer and add flour paste. If you use garbanzo bean flour you will need to simmer the soup for at least 20 minutes or your soup will have a bitter after taste and cause you a bit of gas, otherwise simmer until desired thickness.