Tomato basil scones

This past week was all about trying out my new Vitamix blender. For my very first recipe, I made a potato soup following a blog recipe specifically intended for the Vitamix. It turned out to be the worst thing I’ve ever cooked. The thing of it is, the Vitamix’s blades go so fast that they can turn whole veggies into hot soup. However, this rapid whirring does not actually cook the soup. The internet seems quite divided on whether or not putting raw onions into Vitmaix soups is a good idea. I can say with total confidence that I am now firmly in the camp of “No freaking way, never again.”

The soup emerged as a greyish sludge (which I had been expecting since I opted to leave on the potato peels for flavor and nutrition). It was so acrid and bitter (from the half a raw onion I’d blended into the mix) that it was inedible. I should have just thrown it away, but instead I spent an inordinate amount of time cooking it on the stove, trying to mellow the onion, adding sprinkles of this and that in an attempt to recover it. The soup barely made it over the line to “edible,” but the acrid flavor stayed with me all night. Ugh.

Well, lesson learned! The Vitamix is not a place to dump raw veggies and expect them to turn into soup. Duly noted.

Luckily for me, for Disher, and for the sanctity of dinner, I had also made tomato basil scones to go with our soup. And the scones totally saved the day. They were savory and just a little bit sweet. They were moist but light, bursting with tomato flavor, and truly beautiful to behold. They were incredibly easy to make, they were undetectably both gluten-free and vegan, and they handily used up the half a bunch of basil threatening to wilt in my fridge. We ate a bunch (okay, I ate a bunch!) and then I froze the rest. They’ve reheated beautifully – I’m going to make a second batch soon and freeze them all, as they are perfect for a tired-night, no-cook supper of soup and scone.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Tomato Basil Scones
The original recipe for Tomato Rosemary Scones is from Vegan Brunch, and I found it online here. I’ve changed it a bit, reduced the sugar (maybe less is needed since basil is a sweeter herb?) and made the directions more clear. The original recipe has directions for making triangular scones – the directions here will result in drop scones, as shown above.

Ingredients
3 cups gluten-free baking mix + some extra in case dough is too sticky
(1 teaspoon xantham gum if your mix doesn’t already contain it)
2 tablespoons baking powder (or less if your mix already contains it – I used 1.5 tablespoons additional with a mix that contained baking powder)
2.5 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 (14 ounce) can tomato sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) (*see note)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and pepper.

In another bowl, combine wet ingredients and basil.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Gently mix with a wooden spoon.

Add a little extra flour if the dough seems sticky. In the bowl, use your spoon to gently divide your dough in two, and then into quarters, and then divide each quarter into thirds.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into 12 mounds on the cookie sheet (like drop biscuits).

Place scones on the baking sheet and bake 14-16 minutes or until the tops are firm. Remove and let cool a bit on plate or cooling rack. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

*Note: I made “tomato sauce” by putting a can of ground tomatoes in the blender just until the consistency was smooth and even. I recommend using plain tomatoes as opposed to a flavored pasta-sauce type of tomato sauce.

Delicious food, photographed badly

I’m trying not to let my perfectionism and general loathing of food photographed under less-than-optimal lighting conditions get in the way of telling you about yummy things to cook and eat.

It is hard, though. I don’t like coming to this page and seeing photographs taken under fluorescent light, which is what tends to happen when I cook a dinner that doesn’t yield enough leftovers for a photoshoot in natural light the following day. But hey, I don’t like coming to this page and seeing I haven’t updated it for two weeks, so compromises must be made.

Tofu Triangles with Rich Peanut Sauce on a bed of steamed spinach

So on to some scrumptious eating. A recipe that has become a well-loved standard in my repertoire comes from Nava Atlas’ great book, Vegan Express. (Another one of my Christmas treats.) The meals in this cookbook truly are fast to prepare, and each recipe is accompanied by several suggestions for other recipes from the book with which to pair it, making it a great “turn off my tired brain and just follow directions” cookbook. I cooked up a batch of her Tofu Triangles in Rich Peanut Sauce and served them over steamed spinach for a perfect healthy, satisfying meal. There’s something about the combo of Thai flavors (in the peanut sauce) and steamed spinach that I’ve always loved, and this was a perfect way to enjoy them together.

Avocado Pesto Pasta and Roasted Broccoli with Lemon Zest

Next up is Avocado Pesto. That’s right, you heard me. It’s pesto. With avocado. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before? Now that I know, I don’t see a reason to eat any other kind of pesto ever again. Avocado and lemon is already one of my favorite combinations, and adding fresh basil and pine nuts and garlic takes that combo to a ridiculous new level. Then you put it on Tinkyada brown rice pasta, one of the greatest inventions of the modern age, and pair it with The Best Broccoli of Your Life, and you end up with the most hyperbolic meal known to mankind. In other words, quite tasty. I will be making this again. To say the least.

So there you have it. Bad lighting and indifferent composition (“And what does this piece say to you?” “It says whoever took this photograph was starving and ready for dinner.”) will be no obstacle to bringing you nummy reports from the front lines of vegan, gluten-free cooking!

Pesto Potato Pinenut Pizza

Sometimes everything your boyfriend brings home from the farm is so yummy the two of you just have to cook it all up and throw it into a delicious, to-hell-with-gluten-free-eating Vicolo cornmeal pizza crust and you have to eat every bite because it’s just that darn good and you’re probably not allergic to wheat, anyways, right? Right.

What are other peoples’ secret glutenous temptations? French bread? Chocolate cake? Oreos?

potatopizza1

Mine is Vicolo cornmeal pizza crusts, which with a name like that should be gluten-free but sadly the first ingredient is wheat flour. But there’s just nothing else like them. I dream of their crunch, their heart-meltingly good flavor, bold enough to stand alone, tender enough to cradle and enhance all the lovely things Duck harvests from the ground.

Crisp slices of grilled eggplant, garlicky sauteed spinach, barely toasted pine nuts, oven-baked new potato slices, homemade vegan basil pesto, and diced tomatoes from a tin. Each ingredient on this pizza demanded its own cooking method (not counting that not-particularly-laborious stint with a can opener) but it was so worth it to have each vegetable singing out at its very best.

Pesto, pasta, wow!

One thing about summer – you get a lot of the same foods in your box, over and over again. A glass-half-empty type might yawn “Boring!” and roll her eyes at the six-millionth bag of basil, shoving it in the back of the fridge next to the other limp and blackened bunches. But a perky glass-practically-brimming-full type will see this as an opportunity to really stock up, to get ahead on the endless task of feeding her family. For the first, exhausted half of the summer I would use a few leaves from each bunch of basil, pairing them with some tomatoes or garnishing a dish, and then, sad to say, the blackening and wilting would begin in earnest. But the basil, undeterred, kept arriving each week, each bunch fuller and more bountiful than the last.

Gluten-free spirals with vegan pesto, zucchini, and tomato

Gluten-free spirals with vegan pesto, roasted zucchini, and tomato

It was time to do right by this basil, I finally decided. The thing is, I don’t like pesto that much. It’s often too oily and sticky and rich, and sometimes I even get a gross little rash around my mouth when I eat it. But that’s what you do with massive quantities of basil, you make pesto. I do like to always have pesto on hand that I’ve frozen into ice cube trays so I can throw a cube or two into soups and other things that need a little boost, so I figured I would just fill a lot of ice cube trays.

My family has a beloved heirloom pesto recipe that has been passed down to me, but I ventured out to find recipes for vegan pesto so that the basil bounty would be edible for all members of the household. I came across several versions, including some that were just the usual pesto recipe without the parmesan cheese, but Duck and I had already tried this as a basil puree and had found it too strong and sharp without the cheese to mellow things out. The one that sounded best to me was this vegan pesto recipe from the vegan blog Vegan Spoonful that uses nutritional yeast in the place of the cheese.

I was dubious at first, because everyone is always trying to claim that nutritional yeast is “just like cheese!” “Put it on your popcorn – just like cheese!” “Make vegan mac and cheeze!” But no, no, it’s not like cheese, and don’t insult me by pretending that it is. Duck was the designated pesto processor, so I had him make a small batch to start so we could taste it and see what we thought. Ladies and gentlemen – when it comes to pesto, nutritional yeast is not just like cheese, nope, it is BETTER. All the creamy, mellowing effects, with none of the greasy heaviness. This was some of the best pesto I’ve ever tasted. Duck blended it all, using bunch after bunch of basil that had been stockpiling in the fridge. We ended up with a huge jar of pesto which I resolved to get into freezer trays as soon as possible.

But my freezer plans went out the window when Duck cooked dinner that night. He prepared a batch of Tinkyada gluten-free pasta spirals, roasted chunks of zucchini in the toaster oven, cut up sweet, fresh summer tomatoes, and stirred all of it up with our shiny new pesto.

It has been years since I’ve enjoyed pasta. I don’t like simple carbs very much, wheat makes me sick, and I OD’d on it in college before I was a junior. But this Tinkyada brown rice pasta is incredible. It has a toothiness that is one of the best textures I’ve ever put in my mouth. And considering that gluten-free pasta is generally known for its horrid texture, this is nothing short of a miracle. And, combined with the yummy roasted zucchini (another vegetable that shows up week after week without mercy), the juicy tomato, and our heavenly pesto, this pasta dish is quickly becoming a dinnertime favorite. The other day I finally decided I’d better put the pesto in the freezer in case it started to go bad. I fetched the jar and looked inside – there’s about enough left from our huge jar’s worth to maybe make another bowl of pasta. Clearly I’ve been converted!

Recipe follows… Continue reading

Let’s use more tomatoes

My boxes this month have contained many, many tomatoes. And I have finally used them all! It helped that the last two boxes’ worth of tomatoes didn’t start to mold the day after arrival, but I also consider it a great personal triumph that for the first time this summer I didn’t have to compost a single rotten tomato. The secret to my tomato salvation? A chance email from Cook’s Illustrated.

Cook’s Illustrated is a luscious magazine full of little hand-drawn illustrations of how to chop an onion and how to form gnocchi, and beautiful color charts of peppers and mushrooms. The magazine is made by the same people who do a show on PBS called America’s Test Kitchen (or so I’ve read in the magazine – I don’t have a TV so I’ve never seen the show), and both are based on the same principle. They take a dish, French onion soup, maybe, or vanilla sheet cake, and they make it over and over again, testing different ingredients and techniques and equipment, tweaking every variable, until they come up with what they feel is the “master recipe” – the very best way to make that particular dish. Most of their recipes involve either meat or wheat, so I can’t actually make them, but the magazine is, for me, food porn at its very best. I subscribe to their website so I can have access to their very thorough archive of kitchen equipment testing results, and consequently I get emails from them. Called “Notes from the Test Kitchen,” these recipes and tips and menus are also usually centered on meat and wheat, but occasionally I’ll read one that is just exactly right.

Like last week’s “All About Tomatoes” feature, containing a whole passel of recipes designed to help me take care of the pile of heirlooms, Shady Ladies, Romas, and cherry tomatoes crowding my kitchen table. I decided to try the Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil, a soup with a base of pureed roasted tomatoes that then has fresh tomatoes and basil added to it. Interestingly, when I followed the directions exactly (this was a many-times tested “master recipe,” of course) the roasting tomatoes started burning with half an hour of cooking time still to go. But I once I rescued them and scraped them off the (fortunately lined with foil) roasting pan, the rest of the recipe came together with ease, and the end result made for a truly delicious summer meal.

The combination of sweet, concentrated tomato flavor from the roasted tomatoes and bright, clean tomato flavor from the fresh tomatoes was fantastic, and many notches above your average can of Campbell’s. I used heirlooms and Shady Ladies for roasting, and a multicolored assortment of cherry tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes. It was such a relief to use up what was probably my last batch of endless tomatoes for the season (I’m putting my box on hold for a few weeks while I figure things out) that I am celebrating by contributing this post to Croatian food blogger Maninas’ blog event Eating with the Seasons. Soup recipe follows… Continue reading

Summer bounty, or, my box runneth over

Week after week, my box brings the bounty of summer. Ripe tomatoes (so ripe they sometimes turn moldy within two days), fat green and yellow zucchini, paper bags full of small tender pink and yellow potatoes, and bunch after bunch of basil. All these vegetables happen to be ones that we don’t readily use so they’ve piled up as the weeks go on. We tend to go for things that can be easily steamed or sauteed, and these fellows don’t lend themselves particularly well to these techniques. (Yuck, steamed potatoes with steamed basil topping!)

Summer gratin of potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and basil

But when I searched using my beloved Food Blog Search for recipes with potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes, I couldn’t find anything combining these three. Has no one else been confronted by this particular food dilemma? I would clearly have to strike out on my own, which is never a bad thing as long as I have the energy for a little culinary adventure.

Inspired by my one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Suppers, and author Deborah Madison’s love of gratins, I decided to make a giant, summery gratin out of my collection of wayward vegetables. I found a recipe online for Classic Potato Gratin that sounded rich and filling, essential as I wanted this to be a full-meal dish. But this recipe was decidedly un-vegan, containing both butter and cream, so I searched high and low for vegan cream recipes, finally locating and adapting a recipe for a vegan creme fraiche that turned out very well.

The dish turned out delicious. The main flavoring was the garlic and basil, and the contrasting textures of the different vegetables, from chewy potato topping down into soft roasted tomato and tender zucchini and waxy interior potato, were quite wonderful. The gratin was filling but not too rich, and the colors, pink and yellow potatoes, red tomatoes, green and yellow squash, and dark green basil, were just gorgeous.

I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with a fairly elaborate and very delicious solution to my produce conundrum, so I’m submitting the recipe to Culinarty’s Original Recipe blog event. This is also a perfect entry for this month’s Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free! event, hosted by Rachel over at The Crispy Cook. The theme for this round-up of gluten-free delights is Seasonal Vegetables and well, it doesn’t get any more seasonal than a neverending summer cascade of potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and basil!

I’ve written out the recipe below (this blog is part of Food Blog Search, so now there will be at least one recipe featuring the potato-tomato-zucchini trifecta) but I have a few caveats and addenda, as usual, so be sure to read those first! Continue reading

Things are not what they seem

One of the things I miss most in my efforts to be gluten-free is pizza. Not because I love pizza so much, or ever get cravings for it. If I did, I would probably experiment with gluten-free pizza dough – the mix made by Gluten-Free Pantry is supposed to turn out quite a nice one. What I miss is the ease of it – whether it’s walking down to the corner for a slice until 2am, or picking up the phone for a pie any time at all (yes, there is 24 hour pizza delivery here in SF), or pulling one of my beloved Vicolo crusts from the freezer and filling it with caramelized onions and chard.

Zucchini-Crust Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Red Onions

Zucchini Crust Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Red Onions

I’ve heard rumors that Whole Foods, which has recently added an entire GF bakery section to some of its stores, carries pre-made GF pizza crusts, and maybe some day I’ll make a special trip there to check it out. (Or, since they’re threatening to put in a new Whole Foods four blocks from my house, maybe the pizza crusts will come to me!) But so far my food co-op doesn’t carry any easy GF pizza-like choices, so I figured this was one convenience food that was gone with the gluten.

Then the other day I was wandering around the internet and came across a recipe on the gluten-free vegetarian blog Book of Yum for Zucchini-crust Pizza. I’ve been getting a steady supply of zucchini in my box all summer, not enough to qualify as a backlog yet, but enough that I’ve been looking for new ways to use them up.

I modified the recipe a bit – it was a little heavy on the cheese for my tastes – and baked a pan of it. It didn’t come out crispy at all, so it wasn’t really crust-like, but it tasted good and made a nice, easy dish for breakfast or lunch, a sort of very flat, not overly rich quiche whose toppings I could vary each time. If I had used the amount of cheese called for in the original recipe it might have been crispier, but I don’t think I could have stomached a pan of it before it went bad. And of course, with any amount of cheese in it, I couldn’t count on assistance from Duck.

Here’s the recipe as I modified it. For the original, probably crispier version, check out Book of Yum. Continue reading