Sunday, December 20, 2009

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blackberry Coulis

Panna Cotta is a traditional Northern Italian dessert that is light and delicate, yet heavy on the dairy. Translated it means “cooked cream”. It does not need much cooking, just enough to dissolve sugar and gelatin. Technically, this is a type of pudding. This treat reminds me of eating melting vanilla ice cream. It is softly set with a luscious, creamy texture that is absolutely divine. Everyone loves panna cotta, even if do not know what it is. Once someone tries it for the first time, they find something familiar from their childhood. Not matter what the season, panna cotta fits in well. This panna cotta does not need any fancy fussing and can be enjoyed alone. I like putting a bright color of berry fruits on top to add a lightness to the creamy goodness. Blackberry coulis is a bright berry contrast to the white vanilla panna cotta. A coulis is just a fancy name for a sauce. Tis the season when blackberries are plentiful and the color makes for a merry garnish.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blackberry Coulis
(makes 6 - 8 servings)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or ~1 inch of scrapped vanilla pod (my fave)
  • 1 cup (8-ounce container) sour cream

  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In a 3-quart saucepan, warm the cream with the sugar, salt, and vanilla over medium-high heat. Do not let it boil. Stir in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Take the cream off the heat and cool about 5 minutes.
  3. Put the sour cream in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream a little at a time until smooth. Taste for sweetness. It may need another teaspoon of sugar. Pour into ramekins, custard cups, tea cups, etc - 6 larger portions, or 8 smaller portions. Chill 4 to 24 hours to set.
  4. To serve, either unmold by packing the molds in hot towels and then turning each out onto a dessert plate, or serve in their containers. Serve alone or with the berry coulis.
Blackberry Coulis Topping
  • 1 pint blackberries
  • 1/4 cup water
  • ~1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  1. Put all ingredients into a small saucepan over low to medium heat.
  2. Allow to simmer and mash up well with spoon, masher, etc.
  3. Simmer for about 30 minutes until syrupy. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar as needed. Caution: do not make too sweet. Just make sure to cut down the tartness of the berries.
  4. Run through a sieve, strainer, china cap, or food mill to strain out the seeds. Try to pass through the pump which adds to the thickness of the coulis. Mix well and chill in fridge with the panna cotta.
  5. Generously top the panna cotta with this coulis.
This is such an easy recipe that in the culinary world, they refer to making panna cotta as "child's play." I think it is child's play to eat it, too.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Friday, November 20, 2009

Big News: I'm Going to Spain for GF/Celiac Research

Starting in January 2010, I will be living in Catalonia, Spain doing a very prestigious internship at the Alicia Foundation. My research project will be conducted over three months, returning me back home at the end of March. The project objectives will be to help and learn in the health department in its alimentary research of dishes and recipes, adapted for special techniques such as Celiac disease, and other alimentary intolerances. Experience at cooking to help and increase life quality for people with these alimentary disorders. The project I will be working on is to get a better material properties understanding of gluten free materials. From there, mapping out gluten free formulation in a smart, efficient manner and correlating the finished product properties to sensory perception. I am so excited! I want to thank my friend, best food writer ever, and true inspiration, Colman Andrews for telling me about this place while he was working with Ferran Adria. Never could I believe that a special place like Alicia exists that combines Chefs working with Scientists with the health of people foremost in mind.

Here is more information: Alícia is a research centre focusing on technological innovation in kitchen science and the dissemination of agronourishment and gastronomic heritage. It has a clear social mission in that it is open to the public, and is aimed at promoting good nourishment.

It is a foundation created by the Generalitat de Catalunya and CaixaManresa, with a Board of Trustees headed by chef Ferran Adrià and consultancy services provided by the cardiologist Valentí Fuster.

Alícia aims to be:
* an international point of reference in the field of research applied to excellence in gastronomy.
* a reference that recommends the creation of social awareness regarding the importance of food as a cultural fact and educational factor.
* a place where innovative ideas and experiences about food and cooking are created.
* a sensorial and stimulating experience that combines tradition and innovation for all its users and visitors.
* a cultural and tourist centre of attraction for visitors to Món St Benet area and central Catalonia.

Definitely, a very inspirational place.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cream Puffs & Eclairs. Gluten Free, Oh My!

My last term in Culinary School was challenging with adapting my Professional Baking class and lab to be gluten free. Kudos to my Pastry Chef Instructor for being so patient and a good about it. (Go visit her at the Cincinnati Hilton Orchids. Chef Kat Kessler is the best!) To me, it was important to get objective feedback for how it compares to the standard (gluten-filled). She was always happy to provide constructive feedback. Even provided benchmark qualities such as texture and flavor for the target finished product. For example, describing the difference between a cake and muffin texture, crumb, and flavor. Every week I did trial runs for every single recipe, adapting it gluten free before class/lab. Sometimes it induced a bit of anxiety, especially scaling with others carelessly throwing around flour in the lab. But in the end, the payoff was worth the anxiety and extra work upfront. And thankfully, I never got sick.

One of the items we were to make made me both scared and at the chomping at the bit to try. Pate a choux. Also know as eclair dough. This dough is amazing in how it is made. It works by gelatinizing the starches before baking. This was an experiment that I have been meaning to do. Now I had to. The procedure for making pate a choux calls for boiling liquid, fat, and salt. Throwing flour into the mixture and cooking it until it forms a ball. Immediately put dough into a mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until cools. Add in eggs until elastic and doughy. I figured it was just crazy enough to work well for a gluten free adaptation. What type of gluten free flour would gelatinize the most? Easy - sweet rice flour. I thought why not go for it, and just substitute out the bread flour (high gluten content) for sweet rice flour at a 1-for-1 swap? It worked so well, maybe even better. Amazing. The dough had a sweet reminiscent flavor and aroma of Cream of Rice cereal. My Pastry Chef instructor was amazed, too. Yes! The dough gave plenty of loft to fill with the pastry cream mousseline, had the strength to withstand the needed manipulation of filling and dipping in chocolate ganache. And the feedback I received from my fellow classmates was outstanding. Some of them actually preferred mine to their regular, gluten-filled eclairs/cream puffs.

So what's the difference between cream puffs and eclairs? Shape. That is all. A cream puff is round and an eclair is elongated. I decided not to post this recipe for the process of making, and it's really long. It is very involved and time intensive, about five hours to make finished product. My recipes are all based on Gisslen's Professional Baking. First step is to make the pastry cream, and chill. Second, make the pate a choux dough. Bake. Completely cool. Third lighten the pastry cream with whipped cream for a mousseline. Lastly, make the chocolate ganache and dip. Maybe, if enough of you request the recipe, I can post a holiday special entry with a seasonal twist on the filling. I am open for suggestions. Yum. It is possible to bake even more delicious gluten free. And I am on the path to unlocking the secrets. Without xanthan gum.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Friday, November 6, 2009

Battle Pineapple Gelato

A group of our friends decided to have an Iron Chef potluck dinner party. The battle: Pineapple. We all coordinated between us what course we were to make. How much fun! It was a night of camaraderie and competition with a bottle of pineapple vodka as the prize. Of course!

I chose gelato, which was a straight forward platform to incorporate all flavors I was looking to build. When I was working for a flavor company, in beverage development, fruity tropical drinks were all the rage. To this day one of those flavor profiles I cannot shake. Grapefruit pineapple basil. Thinking about it now just makes me quiver. It is sweet, tart, with a herbal basil aroma. This profile could be boosted with using light coconut milk as the base and potentiating the flavors with salt. The flavors had to steep in the fridge (for several hours), and the texture had to be like velvet. Therefore, nothing could be cut or ground to so fine to the point where I could not strain it. Garnish. This cannot be some plain looking gelato. It needed embellishment. I decided to highlight the two main flavors: pineapple, which was sliced thin and dried in the oven at a low temperature; and basil leaves, which were fried at a very low temperature in vegetable/canola oil. I put the garish in a container of granulated sugar to protect them and sugar coat.

1 whole grapefruit (juice of)
~2/3 pineapple
1 can (low fat) coconut milk (12 oz), unsweetened
1/2 cup basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into very thin strips)
*1/4 cup sugar (*more to taste if needed)
1 tsp Salt

Blend or mill very rough/coarse the fruit + coconut milk + sugar + salt. Turn into large bowl.
Add in the basil. Stir. Chill in fridge for several hours, preferably overnight.
Strain before putting into ice cream maker.

Garnish with crystallized pineapple and basil leaf.

And the end of the night I was declared champion of Battle Pineapple. Now I need to think of some cocktails using that nice Skyy Pineapple Vodka.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pan Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms

The first time I had stuffed squash blossoms was on my first trip to Greece back in 2000. The concept struck me as bizarre at the time. And then I tasted it and all of its complexity. Somehow I found it both comforting and exotic. Delicious. I consider squash blossoms a delicacy, yet very rustic. The only way to acquire it is freshly picked since they are extremely perishable. Since I do not have a proper yard, that means my best bet is from the Farmer's market. This time of year, squash blossoms are a fresh memory of late summer.

Handling them delicately while cleaning and stuffing can prove to be challenging. I usually trim them, put into a shallow pan of room temperature water to keep them fresh as possible before preparation. At best, they will survive a few hours without wilting. There are two sexes of squash blossoms: female, attached to the baby vegetable; and male, on a stem, no effect on harvest of the squash. Make sure that in cleaning, remove the stamen before stuffing and cooking. If they do tare, they tend to be forgiving in stuffing and pan frying - so do not throw it away.

There are a number of ways to prepare squash blossoms. Different cultures have different preparations for them. In Mexico, they are sauteed and put into blue corn tacos or quesadillas. In Italy, it is most common to put them into frittatas. In Greece they are stuffed with a variety of fillings and either pan fried or boiled. For these, I wanted to use everything I bought from the Farmer's market and my herb garden. For these pictured, I made a filling consisting of goat cheese, an egg, and fresh herbs such as oregano, mint, thyme, chives, salt and pepper. Make life a little easier by piping the filling into the blossoms. You can use a sandwich bag with the corner cut off. Gently twist the top of the flowers to seal. Lightly coat in seasoned brown rice flour. Cook in a medium saute pan with a small amount of olive oil over medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. As an accompaniment, I made a julienned style ratatouille of sauteed carrots, eggplant, peppers, and onions. Something to look forward for next summer.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Understanding Chocolate Mousse Emulsions

I want to further discuss my chocolate mousse emulsions. Today we are talking science. I promise to keep it mostly understandable. Just keep an open mind and roll with it. I promise that you can successfully make this at home with great results. Remember my Chocolate + Water = Chocolate Mousse posting? The purpose of that blog was to see if I could make a chocolate emulsion product that was 1:1/Chocolate:Water into a rich, decadent mousse like dessert. I did. I noticed there were some inconsistencies between by different recipes. Some were thin, some were too thick. I revisited this to get a better understanding and utilize the microscopes at school to better gauge exactly what kind of emulsions I was making. Knowing this provides insight with how thick/thin based on droplet size, and the droplet size range which tells me how well I mixed it.

When I first delved into making chocolate mousse emulsions, I looked at it more as a recipe of ingredients rather than a very precise processing with the right equipment. The right equipment not meaning some fancy expensive equipment. But rather the right equipment in terms of volume, materials, adequate mixing and temperatures. I will tell you once I get to the procedure....

I did this experiment were I kept the processing (precise making procedures) exactly the same for two very different chocolate mousse emulsions. Let's call them A and B. For A: 4 oz chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips) + 4 oz water + (sugar + salt to taste.) B:
4 oz chocolate + 4 oz chocolate soy milk. I thought that B would yield a more thicker, stable emulsion considering the soy milk is already an emulsion. Here's the Wiki definition of emulsion with some great diagrams. I define an emulsion to be a homogeneous suspension of two immiscible phases that is stabilized. To get a clear picture on my emulsions, I did some simple polarized light microscopy using the school (Cincy State) science lab microscopes. This picture is from my microscopy investigations. I thought that A would be a simple water in oil emulsion, and B could possibly be a 3 phase emulsion. That is oil droplets inside larger water droplets in the oil (chocolate) continuous phase. It turned out both A and B were 3 phase emulsions!!! I do not have any fancy high-shear mixers or controlled temperature jacketed containers in my kitchen, and yet I got some pretty amazing high-tech results. I am going to tell you know how you can do this in your home kitchen/lab. This chocolate mousse emulsion is amazing because you can make it as simple or as complicated as you would like and account for any dietary restrictions and ready to serve in 15 minutes. The most important thing about making this is having everything ready to go!

  • Scale
  • Thermometer (looking at 32F-212F/0C-100C range)
  • Rubber/Silicone spatula
  • Small saucepan
  • Stainless Steel Bain Marie (available at any restaurant supply stores for cheap)
  • Stick/Immersion blender, preferably with whip balloon attachment
  • Large ice bath for the bain marie
  • Serving cups
  1. Weigh up equal portions of Chocolate and Water (or milk, soy milk, rice milk, etc) into the small sauce pan. Add in sugar and salt as needed to taste.
  2. Slowly heat up over low-medium heat with stirring. Heat until Temperature = 195F/91C. It should appear to be homogeneous dark brown liquid.
  3. Pour/scape all contents into the bain marie and place into ice bath. Immediately start whipping with stick blender/whipper. KEY: the mixer should be significantly submerged into the liquid - if not, use a smaller bain marie/container or scale up your ingredients. Great thorough mixing here and make sure that the container is well surrounded by the ice bath. It should start to thicken about 60F and thicken more as the temperature decreases. Now it is a matter of personal preference on how thick you want it. Take it while cooling & mixing to your desired thickness. It is possible to get too thick - so watch it!
  4. Pour/scape into individual serving cups and put in the fridge to chill for serving. But this is not necessary. I have been know to serve the individual portions immediately in an ice bath. It's usually gone within a blink on an eye.
Try it! You can pretend you're a Chemist in the kitchen, too. Great Cooks are innately Chemists at heart.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Corn Fritters

Nothing says late summer / early fall than corn and tomatoes. Hm, how best to use this beautiful produce? In Southwest Ohio, we have some incredible corn and tomatoes. Lately, I've been obsessed with making fritters. They bring back some fond memories of my step father who made incredible corn fritters fresh from the farmer's market. He only bought corn and melons from Mr. Schneider from the farmers market near Lunken Airport. He only wanted the best. And so do I, even it is gluten free. Especially if it is gluten free.

First cook two ears of fresh corn until tender in salted water. Allow to cool to touch. Put into an ice bath if you tend to be impatient like me. Cut off the kernels as cleanly as possible. In a bowl, lightly beat an egg. Mix in the separated cooled corn kernels. Add in enough millet flour until the consistency of pancake batter. Season with salt and pepper. Warm a large non-stick or cast iron skillet with a small amount of oil over medium heat. Spoon out small pancake size portions into the skillet. Do not over crowd. Cook a couple of minutes until firm and cooked on edges before flipping. Cook another couple of minutes. Serve on top of a slice of tomato with thinned down sour cream with a touch of milk. Milk-free version would be tofu sour cream thinned with a little rice or soy milk. Garnish with fresh ground black pepper, ground chipotle, and fresh chives. I think my step father would have approved of these.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Monday, September 21, 2009

Baking Gluten Free in Greece

I get a kick grocery shopping while traveling. Especially in foreign countries. Everyday food products seem different in some exotic way. On my recent trip to Greece, I decided to bake for a family celebration. Gluten free, of course. When I arrived in Limnos, several relatives and friends asked me to make them delicious cookies like the ones I made last time I visited. That was two years ago. And they still remember?! Amazing. Frankly, this became an entertainment challenge factor to bake gluten free in Greece using only local products. So I decided to make peanut butter and jelly cookies to satiate their need for cookies and a special almond sponge roll cake with rich filling for the party. I made two items that I have made so often, I can recall the recipe off the top of my mind and I knew I could adjust based on availability of ingredients.

For the cookies, peanut butter and jelly cookies were the obvious choice - so comforting and familiar. Since I knew the cookies had to survive a rugged journey on rough Greek island roads, I figured sandwich style would travel the best; I used a straw for the hole on the top cookie. And I made the small, appealing to pick up and nibble for a tiny treat hanging out at the beach house. I used my usual recipe posted here. The only ingredients that differed significantly from what I get in the USA was the peanut butter and brown sugar. The only peanut butter available at the Greek groceries was Unilever's Calvé peanut butter which did not have any sugar in it. It was only roasted peanuts and salt with specks of skin apparent, ground just as creamy as the stuff we get here in the States. The brown sugar was the main differential. It was more like a turbinado sugar, large crystalline sugar that did not dissolve in the batter. The finished cookie was the Euro version of my PB&J cookie: more natural, not as sweet, and a bit of crunch to it from the brown sugar. Definitely a hit with the Greeks and our Berliner visitor, too.

For the cake, I used the recipe here, using milk instead of the coconut milk. This recipe proved to be a bit more challenging in finding almond flour, the best grade eggs, and heavy whipping cream for the filling. We went to multiple grocery stores, bakeries, and nut specialty stores to find almond flour. Everyone responded the same way to the effect of: there is only wheat flour, no other find of flour - that is crazy talk. I decided to make my own almond flour at my cousins house. I bought delicious raw Greek almonds. Blanched them, removed the peels, dried them in a low heat in the oven, and ground them in a mini processor with sugar to a fine meal. Surprisingly, cornstarch was easy to find as corn flour. Eggs proved to be a challenge based on the storage conditions. Greeks store fresh eggs at room temperature and degrade in quality very quickly. It resulted in not quite the spongy cake I am used to. The bottom turned out more thick, almost like a marzipan. It was delicious, just not what I intended. For the filling, I envisioned a decadent coffee caramel whipped cream. I bought the 30% heavy cream, only to find it would not whip. Okay. Back to a basic butter cream frosting using butter, powdered sugar, and Nescafe. Perfect.

Try it. Experiment with different ingredients. Get off the recipe a bit. You will adapt, learn, and have fun with it. Maybe you will create a new masterpiece for all to enjoy.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August in Greece

I'm currently on vacation with very limited internet connection, let alone any computer access. Believe me, I'm not complaining. I have been in Greece for over a week now, and have another two weeks enjoying this fine country. I also have a side trip to Berlin for a few days. I told myself I was going to blog more often, even queueing up future blog titles with pictures.... All in due time.

So this picture is of my capture of the town of Myrina on the Greek isle of Limnos in the North Aegean Sea. It was from my hike up to the top of the old Venetian castle at the port. I love this place: so relaxing with the most incredible landscape imaginable. The arid weather with the rich soil yeilds the most incredible grapes for white wines. Limnian muscat and the sweet white, almost like a saurtnes, are to dye for. We keep buying bottles to bring back home, but we drink them by the end of the day. The smell of oregano is intoxicating. The first thing I did was to purchase half a kilogram from a farmer who had come in town with a trailer of bagged herbs for sale. Honey is another treat on this island which is harvested from honey bees which make their honey from thyme flowers. So tasty.

Eating gluten free in Greece is easy in regards to what you see is what you get. Usually, there is no hidden gluten. Another bonus is that Greeks know how all the food is prepared and all the ingredients. Gluten free is unheard of here. Usually their response is something to the effect of "What? No bread, no pasta? What can you eat?" The truth is that it is easy to eat too much here. The produce is a colorful, concentrated flavor-packed bounty. I have never had such red and tasty tomatoes as I have had in Greece. Even the potatoes are local grown, fresh, and so fulfilling. In this picture is yemsita, which are stuffed vegetables with rice and meat with fresh seasoning, french fries, and local made wine. For dessert, there is always fresh melon and watermelon. No, I'm not missing anything exept my kitties and computer/internet. Yassou til September!

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Frittata Del Giorno

If all else fails, guaranteed I can make a tasty frittata from what I have in the fridge and freezer. And if I'm really lucky, I may have stuff from the garden. Frittatas conjure up the image of rustic Italian cooking for me. They are naturally gluten free and can easily be made without any milk products, but a little cheese packs a lot of flavor in this simple egg dish.

A frittata is a slow cooked, open version of the French omelette. The closer relative is the
Tortilla Española, also known as the Spanish "omelette."

The easiest way to make a frittata is to first sweat your fillings (whatever you have: veggies, meats) with aromatics (onions, garlic, shallots, etc) in a saute/fry pan on medium heat with some olive oil. For this one, I used shallots, mushrooms, spinach, and peas. Whip up eggs in a mixing bowl with seasonings and herbs, and a splash of milk or water. For a small frittata using an 8" pan, I use 2-3 large eggs; 4-6 eggs for a larger 10-12" pan. If you are using a significant amount of cheese, that can be added to the egg mixture. Pour egg mixture into the pan evenly over the other goodies on medium heat. Allow to set slowly over several minutes on the stove top. At this time, add on whatever you would like on top: sliced tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, etc. Once the sides have start to set, place the pan under a broiler. Watch it carefully. The frittata will puff up and turn a golden brown within a few minutes. Remove from broiler and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve it with polenta, potatoes, your choice of meat. This is an easy and economical meal where rustic Italian cuisine will make your taste buds happy.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chebe Rolls with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan Cheese

"Slightly unusual. Unusually good." That is Chebe's motto. Pronounced chee-bee, it is a unique bread product based on the Brazilian pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) made primary of manioc/tapioca flour and starch. Anyone who tries this bread instantly gets hooked on it. The texture is soft and chewy with a light and crisp exterior, but unlike any bread you have ever had before. The taste is clean and versatile. I was first introduced to Chebe bread about five years ago when I attended a Cincinnati Support Group pot luck lunch. I never had anything like it before. So chewy, tender, doughy, and delicious yet crispy on the outside. Since then, Chebe has become my first choice for bread in form of whatever go best for what I am making: bread rolls, bread sticks, naan, focaccia, baguettes, pizza, crackers, even for pigs in the blanket or beef wellingtons. Chebe has tons of recipes on their web site. So when people ask me, "If you can't bread, what do you eat?" I happily say "Chebe." It is bound to be everyone's favorite bread regardless if they need to eat gluten free or not.

Chebe Rolls with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan Cheese

2 large Eggs
2 tbs Olive Oil
pinch finely chopped fresh Chives
finely chopped fresh Rosemary
dash finely chopped fresh Oregano
5 tbs Chicken Broth/Stock (can use milk or water)
2 oz shredded Parmesan Cheese
packet of All Purpose Chebe Mix (yellow; if using red packet add 1 tsp baking powder)
2 tbs Tapioca Flour for dusting

  1. Preheat oven to bake at 400F.
  2. In a medium/large bowl, mix the eggs well with a fork.
  3. Add in the olive oil, the herbs and mix well with the fork.
  4. Add in the stock and cheese and mix well.
  5. Add in the Chebe packet slowly, and baking powder if using the red packet for extra rising. Mix with fork until all the powder is incorporated.
  6. Using a tablespoon or a small scooper, portion out the bread rolls. Roll. Lightly dust with tapioca flour. This helps to puff up the bread more.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes until a very light gold color. For best results, bake on a pizza/baking stone.
  8. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.
-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Peanut Butter Cookies Done 3 Ways

"Wow! These are the best peanut butter cookies I have ever had!" "No gluten? Who needs gluten when they taste like this?!" You will be saying this when you taste these cookies, just as my friends and family tell me over and over again. The simplicity of these peanut butter cookies are what make them so irresistible. When I first starting formulating the ultimate gluten free peanut butter cookies, I worked with a combination of different flours like white/brown rice flours, buckwheat flour, and tapioca flour. The peanut butter flavor was diluted. I conducted recipe research on different peanut butter cookies. One that looked promising was a flourless peanut butter cookie. Why have flour, butter, and like when you want the primary flavor to be peanut butter? It was super simple with a 1:1:1:1/cup peanut butter:cup white sugar:tsp baking powder:egg. I made this recipe and it was good; but I felt it needed optimization to make it perfect. It needed brown sugar to add a molasses, rich sugar character; an extra egg white to add some drying properties to the oil in the peanut butter and add in additional protein; add in ground peanuts to give some needed body to these cookies. With the eggs and no flour, there is no need to the leavening, so I lastly removed the baking powder. Over leavening will result in a deep dip in the center - not good. Lastly the method for making these cookies, the processing, I have simplified for guaranteed results. The finishing of these perfect peanut butter cookies proved to be non-committal, hence peanut butter cookies done 3 ways: rolled in sugar and fork pressed; PB&J; and peanut butter + chocolate. All = yum!

Peanut Butter Cookies Done 3 Ways

½ cup Roasted & Salted Peanuts
½ cup Sugar, white granulated
½ cup Light Brown Sugar
1 whole large Egg
1 white only large Egg
1 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
½ cup Sugar, white granulated
½ cup Jam or Preserves of your choice (I like Strawberry Preserves)
2 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 oz Creamy Peanut Butter
***Recipe makes 32 cookies (using a #70 scooper)

Preheat oven on bake to 325F.

Using a food processor (I use a mini-prep size), add in the white + brown sugars + roasted/salted peanuts. Process until finely ground and homogeneous. In a medium/large bowl, using a fork, scramble the 1 whole egg and 1 egg white. Add in the sugar + peanut mixture and blend with fork until uniform. Add in peanut butter and mix until just mixed evenly. Warning – do not over mix or the oil will start separating out. If the batter is too soupy, let sit for several minutes to thicken. Now it's time to finish it 3 different ways!

1. Sugar Dusted & Fork Pressed Peanut Butter Cookies:
Put 1/2 cup granulated white sugar in a small bowl. Using a #70 scooper (a very small ice cream scooper), portion out each cookie. Roll the dough in a ball and coat in sugar, or put the scoop of batter into a small bowl of the sugar and roll around until coated. Put onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet or cooking stone and cross-mark with a fork (12 cookies/sheet). Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly brown on edges. Sprinkle with a little more sugar fresh out of the oven for a more sugar-frosted effect. Cool on rack.

2. PB&J Cookies:
Using a #70 scooper (a very small ice cream scooper), portion out each cookie. Put onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet or cooking stone and press a dip in the center of the dough with the backside of the scooper or your clean fingers (12 cookies/sheet). Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly brown on edges. Cool on rack.

Heat your choice of Jam/Preserves/Jelly on the stovetop (~ 5 min) or microwave (30 seconds). Be careful! Allow to cool slightly, using a small spoon, stir until it thickens a bit. Place a spoonful in the dip of each cool, careful in not overfilling the dip.

3. Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies:
Using a #70 scooper (a very small ice cream scooper), portion out each cookie. Put onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet or cooking stone and press a dip in the center of the dough with the backside of the scooper or your clean fingers (12 cookies/sheet). Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly brown on edges. Cool on rack.

In a microwave safe bowl, weigh out 2 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips + 1 oz Creamy Peanut Butter. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Stir and if not completely melted, heat for another 30 seconds or less. Stir until homogeneous. Place a spoonful in the dip of each cool, careful in not overfilling the dip.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spring Rolls

I needed to make an appetizer for a foodie event. I wanted it to be fresh with a lot of vegetables. Something light; I was envisioning an encapsulated salad. Hm, how to do that? The first obvious thing that came to my mind was in form of an Southeast Asian style spring roll. After officially being trained at Smart Cook Thai Cookery School and honing my knife skills, I felt confident in making a sizable batch of these perfectly fresh, gluten free and milk free finger foods. There are a couple of tricks to make these spring rolls with ease: preparation and assembly. Preparation of the vegetables is the first step in efficient spring roll making. The smaller the cut of the vegetables, the better. The ideal cut of the vegetables is julienne - 2 inches long, and 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch. I thought it would be best to make a thick sauce and put in on the inside of the roll as opposed to having it on the side.

Let's talk about ingredients. Most importantly, you will need those round rice spring roll wrappers that are dry. To hydrate them, have a roasting/baking pan filled with warm water. The sauce I made from Panda Brand MSG Free (and gluten free) oyster sauce, brown sugar, ground peanuts, lime juice, finely chopped kaffir lime leaves, and chili paste/sauce. The filling comprises of mostly vegetables and herbs. I used what I found at the store and what looked best. For these rolls I used bib lettuce, carrots, radish sprouts, jicama, chives, mint, and basil. Looking at this recipe in the Smart Cook Thai cookbook, they call for minced tofu, glass noodles, bean sprouts. It is totally up for intrpretation, but try to keep it simple and differentiated in color and texture for a super impressive roll.

Making an efficient assembly line is kind of fun and makes the spring roll production a lot easier. In the chef world, we call in mise en place. French for "everything in it's place." In the center of my workspace is my large cutting board with a towel underneath to prevent slippage and a damp towel on top for a moist workspace for assembling and rolling. To the left: the stack of rice spring roll wrappers and large roasting pan of warm water - only put in one wrapper at a time. Then, above your cutting board, place all the veggies and herbs, as well as the sauce. The wrapper needs about one to two minutes of soaking to soften completely. The wrapper is the most difficult part of making the rolls. It takes practice to figure it out; do not be discouraged if you rip them. It is bound to happen to the best of us. Once the wrapper is completely softened, carefully grab it at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions and bring it to the center of your prepared cutting board and lay it down as smooth as possible. Now put another wrapper in the water. Time for assembly. Place a small amount of each ingredient towards the bottom center in a tight line. A tip to note: place a very small amount of sauce on the hardest ingredients like carrots so it does not get too soggy over time. Then fold up the bottom part of the wrapper to cover the filling. Fold in the sides, and carefully and snugly roll it up completely. Now your off to repeat to make more rolls. To serve it, I cut it on the basis and served in upright for a colorful presentation. Give it a try! It may be frustrating at first, but the results are worth it.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tortilla Española with Spicy Aioli

Who doesn't like tapas? These Spanish "small dishes" are tasty treats, made from simple ingredients, and are mostly gluten and milk free. Tortilla Española (Spanish omelet, or tortilla de patatas) is a crowd pleasing appetizer - a dense frittata-like dish that consists of only eggs, potatoes, onions, olive oil, and seasonings. It is simply delicious and easy to make and serve. I like to serve it at room temperature with some spicy aioli on the side. (Make sure to keep it safe, that is, leave at out for only 4 hours maximum. Any longer, please throw it out to minimize any risk for food borne illnesses.) Tortilla Española is one of the most common tapas throughout Spain and a favorite at Spanish picnics, as it can also be enjoyed cold. A tapas portion of tortilla is sometimes called pincho de tortilla as it is usually cut up into small cubes and each piece pierced with a toothpick.

Tortilla Española

1/2 cup Olive Oil
5-6 (~2 lbs) medium Russet Potatoes, peeled, and cut paysanne (cut into thin slices)
1-2 medium/large (~1 lb) Yellow Onions, cut into small dice

10 large Eggs
1 tbs Salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp White Pepper (to taste)

Spicy Aioli:
1/3 cup Mayonnaise
1/8 tsp Garlic Powder, to taste
1/8 tsp ground Chipotle pepper (or Cayenne), to taste




  1. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and add potatoes, onion, and half of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender but not colored, about 20 minutes.
  2. Drain vegetables in a large colander set over a bowl and cool 5 minutes.
  3. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Gently stir in vegetables with 1 tablespoon oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
  4. Return 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and add mixture, pressing potatoes flush with eggs. Cook over low heat, covered, 12 to 15 minutes, or until almost set.
  5. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 15 minutes. Shake skillet gently to make sure tortilla is set on bottom and not sticking to skillet.
  6. Invert tortilla onto a large flat plate or cookie sheet and slide back into skillet, bottom side up. (Alternatively, especially if top is still loose at this point, slide tortilla onto plate/sheet first. Cover it with skillet and invert tortilla back into skillet.)
  7. Round edge with a rubber spatula and cook over low heat, covered, 15 minutes more, or until set.
  8. Slide tortilla onto a serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature.
Spicy Aioli:
Put mayo into a small bowl, using a rubber/silicone spatula. Mix in the garlic and chipotle to taste, adding salt if needed. Remember, the flavors will bloom over time - so make and allow to sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

* The Tortilla and Aioli will keep well stored in refrigerator, covered for up to 2-3 days.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

POM Wonderfully Whipped - Part Nostalgia, Part Molecular Gastronomy

Last month I was contacted by the folks at POM Wonderful. As it turns out, as they were cruising the blogosphere, they stumbled upon The Sensitive Epicure and since they liked my blog so much they generously offered some POM pomegranate juice to sample and familiarize myself with. I felt it was necessary to develop a recipe with it. It took a while, needing Spring to inspire me. I knew I wanted to make some type of POM gelatin recipe that was light, clean, simple, and of course gluten free and milk free. This recipe is also egg free, too. My POM Wonderfully Whipped Gelatin recipe is light, fresh, slightly sweet, with a touch of tartness. Color was another consideration of my recipe. I wanted to the appearance to match my vision of what the flavor and texture should be - light pink. One of my favorite food blogs,, inspired me in finalizing this recipe. My first attempt was a straight-forward gelatin, but it was a bit heavy and the color was too dark. Then I saw this molecular gastronomy foam posting by fellow chemist Martin Lersch (linked in Khymos, above). I knew I had to whip the gelatin for the recipe I wanted to create for the light results I was looking for in flavor, texture, and color. Some may look at this as new, modern "foam" but I see it as recreating something similar to what my grandmother made many years ago. Makes 10 x 1/2 cup servings.

POM Wonderfully Whipped Gelatin

8 oz POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
8 oz Water
1/4 oz Gelatin (1 envelope of Knox unflavored gelatin)
1/4 cup Sugar
1 Pink Grapefruit, sectioned and cut for garnish

  1. In a small/medium saucepan, combine the POM juice with the water over medium-low heat. Add in the gelatin with stirring. Simmer until dissolved, about 5 minutes.
  2. Place into a bowl and chill until very thick. Then beat with rotary beater or electric mixer until fluffy and thick – about double in volume results in the best eating and quality flavor.
  3. Portion into ramekins, custard cups, or whatever little cups/containers you have.
  4. Place in fridge and allow to set slightly (so the garnish will not sink).
  5. Garnish the top with slices of sectioned pink grapefruit in a cute design.
  6. Cool in fridge covered for at least 4 hours before serving for best results.
-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Cincinnati Breakfast of Champions: Goetta and Tiny Toads in a Hole

This past weekend we hosted some friends in from out of town. I wanted to treat them to a lovely homemade breakfast which included one of my favorite Cincinnati foods, goetta. What is goetta? It is a German peasant type of sausage that consists of primary pork, pinhead oats, onions, and seasonings like sage and bay leaf. Slicing and pan frying goetta is the best means of preparation that yields a crisp outside with the inside remaining tender. Each of the German (immigrants from the late 1800's) butchers in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky created their own recipe, and still do to this day. Goetta is unique to only Cincinnati (proper), Newport & Covington, KY. The Cincy northern suburbanites are usually oblivious to the existance of goetta. Upon my Celiac diagnosis, I mourned for the loss of goetta. Since the presence of gluten is "controversial" in oats. After about 6 months of a strict gluten free diet, I learned that my body could not tolerate "gluten free oats", and yet I had no problem with the pinhead oats in goetta. How was this possible? Was this a Cincinnati miracle? I figured an investigation was necessary. I asked my favorite goetta artisan, Bob Lillis of Eckerlin Meats at Findlay Market, how they process their oats. He told me, "not much processing is involved. We process the oats as animal feed." Works for me!

The other treat I wanted to make were 1-eyed sailors, as my mom would call them. There are a number of names for this, where you cut a hole in the center of the slice of bread and fry an egg in it. I found another good GF bread at Whole Foods, Kinnikinnick Brown Sandwich Bread, to use for this sort of breakfast treat and it works great. I thought I would be clever and use 3 quail eggs instead of 1 chicken egg. Well, I couldn't call it a 3-eyed sailor. One of my visiting friends, originally from Liverpool, said that in England they would call these a "toad in a hole". "Tiny toads in a hole" seemed to be a perfect name for what I was making. Yum, so good! Crisp and savory goetta is a perfect complement to fried eggs in toast. Quail eggs and brown bread make it a little more special, too. Especially when this breakfast is both gluten free and milk free.