Monday, September 27, 2010

A Sampling of Spanish Tapas

Yes, I miss Spain. Bad. Especially the food, of course. Food cost less and be much better than here in the USA. Ah, the cheese, the wine, the cured pork products are what I long for the most. I just tell myself that is not the healthiest way to live. Yeah, right.

We had some friends over for dinner before their trip to Barcelona. Only appropriate to show them what I learned while living in Catalunya/Catalonia. And more importantly, to make my gluten-free versions of the food taunting me every time I looked at them at the local tapas bars. Mostly, the Catalan standard of pa amb tamaquet (pan con tomate, bread with tomato) and the ubiquitous croquettas that looked that fried goodness that would drive me into one of those suppression dreams. You know, the dreams where you're knowingly eating gluten-filled foods, knowing you'll get sick. Then you wake up with your heart pounding, panicked.

I'll take it from the top of the plate, going clockwise. The famous pa amb tamaquet (Saveur Magazine's #1 food of this year). While in Spain, I really wanted to make my bread with a touch of flax seed meal that was not available there; which gives a rustic quality. One bonus of living in the USA. The tomato on top is simply a grated tomato innards with salt and olive oil. Then trinxat, a staple of Andorra and Catalunya. Thanks to Eric Ripert for the recipe. Trinxat is a potato, onion, and greens (kale, mustard greens, chard, etc) cooked in rendered bacon fat, mashed into a cake and pan-fried, then topped with bacon. Ah, croquettas. Yum. This variety I used chorizo and a super thick almost solid bechamel sauce made with potato starch. Formed into small cigar shapes, coated with egg wash, then a light coating of ground up seasoned potato flakes before frying. They taste so much like cheese sticks, but with no cheese. Melt in your mouth good. Finally gambas con alioli - shrimp with mayonnaise and garlic sauce. The shrimp sauteed with garlic, salt, and lemon. The sauce seasoned generously with garlic powder and spicy paprika.

Upon my friends' return from Barcelona, I had to ask them what they thought about the food, and about the restaurants they went to based on my recommendations. They claimed that my pa amb tamaquet was the best they had. Yes, it's true. Gluten-free can be better!

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's All About How You Make It: Chebe Pitas

Order of addition, batch instructions. In the chemical manufacturing world, that is what we call the actual steps of making a recipe. This "method of making" can make the difference between a desirable product and a failure. I remember a Process Department meeting (when I worked as a Process Chemist, making products in a manufacturing setting) we had split up in teams to make mayonnaise to prove this point on how important "manufacturing guidelines" are in the plant when someone else is making our stuff. We were given the ingredients, but no instructions. From there, we had to figure out our making method instructions. We scientifically proposed that we knew it was an emulsion, with a water phase (lemon juice), oil phase (olive oil), and an emulsifier (egg yolks) to stabilize the phases that keep it from separating. Sounded easy. We've made emulsions before; we all felt confident. The room was filled with brilliant scientists and engineers from around the world. Only one group out of seven teams successfully made a non-separating, stable mayonnaise. Astonishing. Clear directions with order of addition and information for each step can be critical to make the desired product. This proved to be a lesson to all of us in clearly writing up our making instructions, step by step, for success in manufacturing our products by someone who has never made it before.

Case in point: my "Greek & Gluten-Free" cooking class at The Midwest Culinary Institute. Two of the students expressed concern when they saw I had pitas made from Chebe bread mix on the menu. They said they did not like the bread due to an undesirable texture. I asked to keep an open mind, since the way the I make it probably differs. For the past say six years, I have been making Chebe so frequently, that I do not bother to read the written instructions on the back of the package. Over the years I have modified the making instructions for Chebe to optimize the end result of the bread. Minimal to no changes were made to the ingredients. These "technical" changes made a difference to win over those students who were initially not fond of Chebe. They kept asking, "What did you do different?"

Basic baking guideline: follow the nature of the ingredients that you are working with. That is, combine wet ingredients with other wet ingredients; combine all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. From there, if needed based on dough consistency, add more (tapioca) flour or liquid. Here are the step-by-step instructions for Chebe pitas:

  1. Heat up your grill, or oven to 400F.
  2. In a medium/large mixing bowl, scramble 2 large room temperature eggs with a fork.
  3. Mix in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  4. Mix in 5 tablespoons room temperature liquid (milk, water, broth, etc)
  5. Add in seasonings as desired (chopped fresh herbs like oregano, parsley, chives; garlic, onion powder - use your creativity here)
  6. Add in Chebe packet. Yellow Chebe variety will rise the most with baking powder in it. If you are using another variety, add 1 teaspoon baking powder for this quick bread to leaven for its puffiest potential. Carefully incorporate the dry ingredients with the liquids to make into a dough that is easy to handle and shape.
  7. If too sticky, add a little bit more (tapioca) flour/starch. If too mealy/powdery, add a little bit more liquid until dough is cohesive.
  8. On your working surface, lightly dust with (tapioca) flour/starch.
  9. Divide the mass of dough into 6 portions.
  10. On your floured surface, shape the dough into a round pita about 1/4 inch thick. You can use your hands or a rolling pin. Lightly dust each pita to prevent sticking and stack.
  11. Cook on grill (flip when it puffs up after 2-3 min) or in oven, gently dusting off excess flour/starch. It's ready when golden brown and puffed.
  12. Store in a tortilla warmer or in a bowl with a cloth on top.
Enjoy! I know I do each time I make these, and never even think about a "regular" pita, naan, etc. This is the preferred choice in my house amongst my family and friends. Thank you Wendy G. K. of Celiacs in the House for coming to my class, blogging about it, and providing these beautiful photographs! Let me know how it works for you.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure