Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Damascene brownies...damn!

Better call Saul.  There is a rich, fudgy gluten-free brownie that doesn't need a Get Out of Jail Free Card, and you can find the recipe here.  It's not my recipe because, after all, why the hell would I want to ruin a good thing and mess up my favorite brownie recipe?  But because I have friends that restrict gluten and because I love them, I wanted to make sure that they could eat dessert with the rest of us.  And I wanted to make sure that after offering them this brownie, I wouldn't have to leave town and assume a new identity.

These brownies kick some serious butt in the chocolate department, yo.  I do not want a cakey, dry brownie that looks and tastes as old as Hector Salamanca.  I want something moist and fudgy.  With substance.  No more half measures, these gluten-free brownies are bad ass.  They actually convinced me that I could give up [most of] my worldly possessions and follow a gluten-free lifestyle.  A kind of conversion, if you will.  Without the new identity.  Because, like Saul of the Damascene conversion, I have been fighting the need to forgo wheat gluten.

Was blind and now I see.

OK, so these look like little cupcakes because they are.

So, some rules about this gluten-free thing if you're going to do it.  Never use a mix so you can control better what is going into your food, always make from scratch because then you know your goodies haven't been sitting in a box in a non-climate-controlled warehouse for ages before they became goodies, and ALWAYS use best-quality ingredients. 

Additionally, make your own flours whenever you can.  One of the previous deterrents I experienced was sticker shock on those bags of almond flour and brown rice flour.  You can buy whole foods in bulk, grind your own flours and store in the fridge or freezer.  I milled my own almond and brown rice flours for this recipe with a blender on steroids (which is still inferior to my lusted-after Vitamix, and mind you, I WILL own one some day--when I'm in the empire business), which ensured that my flours were fresh and moist--and cost a lot less than the prepared versions at my local HEB. 

Know that if you use white rice flour, you will get a very middle-of-the-road, rather bland product that has less nutritional value than brown rice flour.  If you use brown rice flour, you not only get a boost in nutrition, you get all the richness and nuttiness of brown rice, which brings a lot of depth to things that need to be toothsome, like brownies.  Be aware, however, that rice flours produce a crumblier product and that they tend to absorb more water than wheat flours, so you will have to experiment with various recipes and techniques to get the finished result you want.  Whoever developed the brownie recipe at Ghirardelli knew what they were doing, because the dense mouthfeel, sugar and fat ratios of these little beauties is bitchin'.

How to make your own flours from whole grains, nuts and rice:

Making your own flours is easy.  To make almond flour, use whole, blanched almonds and process to a fine powder.  Making brown rice flour is less easy, but still very doable: soak brown rice in water at room temperature for at least 24 hours--I would do it for 36 hours next time--then drain well and process.  In both cases, you will have to stop your not-Vitamix machine and push the flour down into the work bowl and redistribute the larger pieces.  The beauty of a Vitamix is that all you have to worry about is that your flours are getting too hot during the milling process.

If the recipe calls for real butter, use real butter for God's sake.  And use best quality chocolate or cocoa powder.  It makes a difference.  Personal preferences for chocolate brands vary and I know I will alienate some people here but please do not use Baker's or Hershey's chocolate/cocoa for this recipe.  I find that for baking, Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger make the best chocolate.

I did this for me.  Now, say my name.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A cocktail for the January heat wave

Have you noticed that we've had a heat wave this week in Central Texas?  After biting winds and temperatures below freezing earlier in the week, the weather, perhaps realizing that it was unbecoming of a true Central Texas winter, smoothed down its rough edges and produced a hint of sunshine and warmth late this afternoon.

This warming trend is perfect weather for a refreshing cocktail.  And this cocktail was what I was concocting in my head during my wakefulness last night: the Flor de Jamaica Basil Margarita.  Made with good quality tequila, basil simple syrup, a double-strength Flor de Jamaica infusion and a little fresh lime juice, this drink tastes like sunshine and is a panacea for the winter doldrums.

The bright, tart, cranberry-like flavor of the Flor de Jamaica infusion (made with hibiscus flowers) has Vitamin C and minerals, and sources claim multiple health benefits. Will Flor de Jamaica cancel out the deleterious effects of alcohol?  I don't know, but it's worth a try.

The recipe below contains ingredients that you will need to make ahead and, optimally, chill.  Start with the basil simple syrup:

Combine 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Add a generous handful of fresh basil, stalks and all, cover and let steep until mixture is cool.  Strain into a clean jar or other container and chill, discarding basil leaves.  Makes about 2 cups; keeps for one week in the refrigerator (or freeze for later use).

Now make the Flor de Jamaica Infusion:

Combine 1 1/2 cups Flor de Jamaica (find in places like Fiesta Market or a well-stocked grocery store with a Hispanic foods section) and 4 cups water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until volume of liquid is reduced by 1/3.  Strain through a coffee filter (hibiscus flowers can be a bit gritty) into a clean jar, let cool and chill.  Makes about 2 1/4 cups; keeps in refrigerator for one week (or freeze for later use).

Now you're ready to build your cocktail...

The Flor de Jamaica Basil Margarita

plenty of ice
2 oz. good-quality tequila (try to use 100% agave)
1/4 fresh lime
1 oz. Flor de Jamaica infusion
2 oz. basil simple syrup
fresh basil leaves for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with ice.  Pour tequila over ice, then squeeze lime, adding juice and lime to glass.  Add Flor de Jamaica and basil simple syrup.  Stir gently, then garnish with fresh basil leaves.  Makes one cocktail.