Archive | August, 2012

Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon-Breadcrumb Crust

24 Aug

As I mentioned yesterday, I was having our friend Karen and her daughter Mandy over for dinner. Mandy turned 2 this past weekend, and since our husbands were on a business trip together, I thought it would be a perfect time to have them over for a girls dinner celebration. Mandy is a cheese lover, so as a treat, I made some mac and cheese. This wasn’t any ordinary mac and cheese – this was “grown up” mac and cheese. Didn’t matter though, Mandy ate it and liked it. So did we.

I had a mix of random cheeses in the fridge and decided that together, they’d make for a rich, creamy and delicious baked pasta. Sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and the dark horse, Teleme cheese, all blended really well. The result was exactly what I was looking for. It had the classic bit of cheddar that we all love in mac and cheese, but with a nuttiness from the Gruyere and a tang from the soft Teleme cheese. If you haven’t tried Teleme, I highly recommend it. I had paired it earlier in the week with an heirloom tomato salad drizzled with balsamic and olive oil. Texture wise, it is like a combination of Brie and fresh mozzarella. Taste wise, it is like a tangier Brie or Camembert. As such, if you can’t find Teleme, you can definitely use one of those as a substitute. In fact, there is a Bon Appetit recipe that uses cheddar, Gruyere and Brie (of which this recipe is loosely based).

Anyway, back to the sauce. It was fabulous. I admit that after I had mixed the pasta with creamy sauce and put it in the baking dish, I licked the pot clean. I think I could have been happy having just a bowl full of cheese sauce, although my stomach may feel differently. The nutmeg added a comforting, subtle depth that completed the sauce. I’d say it was a success.

For the pasta, I used Ancient Grains quinoa pasta. I’ll be honest, I’ve never had quinoa pasta. Ever. Christian doesn’t like quinoa, which kind of makes me sad because I really love it. So, because I want him to enjoy what I make for dinner, I never event attempt to sneak quinoa into the mix. For pasta, I usually use a corn – rice blend that was consistently good. I’m not a fan of the brown rice only versions since they get really mushy, no matter how careful I am during cooking. Having the corn in there adds the bite that makes for great al dente pasta like I had in the old days. I must say, the quinoa pasta did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente, without any trace of being a wheat pasta impersonator.  Plus, the extra protein and other nutritional benefits that come along with quinoa made me slightly (and I mean slightly) less guilty about eating such a rich dish.

The last bit that really threw this over the top was the bacon. Did you think I’d go this long without posting a recipe without a pork product of some kind?! Sure, it isn’t the main ingredient, but in my opinion, it is a crucial ingredient that really makes this mac and cheese truly wonderful. I used a thick cut uncured applewood smoked bacon. Yum. The smokiness mingled with the crispy, buttery breadcrumbs and really complemented the creamy sauce. I mean, really, is there anything better than bacon and cheese together? I’m not so sure there is. The smell of this casserole cooking was amazing. I’d make this for the smell factor alone.

So basically, if you can’t find beauty in a medley of flavorful cheeses, rich whole milk and smoky bacon, then I’m not sure we’d get along. If you do, then you must give this a try. I imagine on a cold winter night this would be the perfect dish to warm you up. There is also no reason why someone couldn’t make this with regular pasta and flour – it is divine no matter what.

Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon Breadcrumb Crust

Serves 4 – 6

  • 8 oz gluten free pasta (macaroni, rotelle, penne, etc)
  • 1/4 lb bacon
  • 2 tbsp shallots, diced
  • 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs from gluten free bread
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbsp gluten free flour (I used 2 tbsp sweet rice + 2 tbsp all-purpose GF flour)
  • 2 cups whole milk (you can use 1%, but don’t use nonfat)
  • 3 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 3 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 oz Teleme cheese (or Brie)
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente – you’ll want to cook it for less time than the box suggests.  Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.

In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, cook the bacon. When done, drain on paper towels and set aside. Chop or crumble once it is cool enough to handle. Keep the bacon fat in the pan to cook the shallots – if there is a lot of fat, pour some off – you’ll want about 1 tbsp total.

Using the bacon fat in the pan, cook the shallots for about a minute or so over medium-low heat. Add 3 tbsp butter and saute until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes until it thickens and starts to turn brown. Turn up the heat to medium and slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the cheeses  in handfuls and stir to melt. Remove from heat and add in the salt and pepper to taste, along with the nutmeg. Combine the pasta with the sauce, then pour into an 8×8 baking dish.

Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. While it is in the oven, melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter. Combine the breadcrumbs, crumbled / chopped bacon, Parmesan and thyme; add the melted butter and stir until breadcrumbs are evenly coated.

After 15 minutes, remove the foil and evenly cover the pasta with the breadcrumb topping. Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes until topping is crispy and the mac and cheese is bubbly. Let cool for a few minutes and serve.


Pork Free Post: Sugar Cookies!

23 Aug

Christian is out of town in Honduras again, so I’ve been using my alone time to bake, something I don’t do nearly enough. Having lots of baked goods around the house is dangerous. Very dangerous. And in our efforts to get healthier, cookies and cakes don’t really fit in. But every once in a while is okay, right?

I got in the baking mindset this week when I developed a new all-purpose baking mix. I ran out of my other one, and I decided to get creative while wanting to use up some coconut flour that Christian had bought. The result was great – I’m really happy with it so far (well, I’ve only used it for the cookies, so I don’t have too much to base it on yet!). It is a mix of coconut flour, millet flour, rice flour and starches (proportions are below after the cookie recipe). The taste is very mild, with no pronounced coconut flavor, which is good.

My first baking attempt this week was a disaster. Like, a serious disaster. For some unknown reason, I thought making bagels would be a great idea. Wrong. This was probably the worst thing I’ve ever tried. It was laughable……and a total waste of 3 hours. Luckily I had nothing else to do. I made the dough, which seemed like a success – it felt like “real” dough. From there it went off a very, very steep cliff. They didn’t rise (the recipe called for putting them in an oven that had been warmed to 200 degrees, then turned off – I think it was too warm). Then, when they were boiled, they became bricks. After baking, they were gooey on the bottom, super dense inside, and not crispy on the outside. When this fiasco was over, I just stood there and laughed. Into the trash they went.

Second attempt, last night, was cookies. I’m having our friend Karen and her daughter over for dinner to celebrate Mandy’s second birthday. Mandy loves cheese, so I’ve developed a new mac and cheese recipe (will be posted, assuming it is a success – stay tuned). There’s no dessert in the house, and I couldn’t have them over without having something sweet. I figured I’d bake up some cookies. Normally this is easy, but when I realized I have no brown sugar, no butter, and no vanilla extract on hand, it made me think a bit more. While prepping for our kitchen renovation, I rediscovered my sanding sugars for holiday cookies. So, I decided I had to make sugar cookies – they don’t require brown sugar, I can use coconut oil in lieu of butter, and I can use almond extract rather than vanilla. Done.

So I whipped up a batch. Oh my goodness, yum. This is my new sugar cookie staple recipe. They roll out well, cut well, and bake up to a nice crisp golden brown. I finished some with the standard sanding sugar, and for the rest I dipped half in chocolate ganache and coconut (kind of almond joyish, I guess). I really cannot tell the difference between these and “regular” sugar cookies. So good! These are a must make. Holiday cookie time will most definitely include some of these.

I started thinking of variations. Obviously, you can use vanilla extract instead of almond, butter instead of coconut, etc. But you could also add in lemon zest / juice for brightness, or anise extract for a totally different flavor. Make larger cookies and use them for ice cream sandwiches (I’m starting to think about making some pumpkin ice cream and sandwiching it between two of these).  Basically, it is a great cookie base to play around with.

Note that the recipe uses psyllium husk. I don’t like xanthan gum, and have actually never purchased it. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I just refuse to use it. The psyllium husk works wonders to hold doughs together, in my opinion. And a bonus – it is actually good for you. There’s no harm in adding a little extra fiber to your sugar cookies. Also, if you use an all-purpose mix that has coconut flour in it, like my mix below, add an extra egg white to compensate for the moisture absorbing qualities of the coconut flour.

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on size

  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose gluten-free flour (see my mix below)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp psyllium husk powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 egg (if you use a mix with coconut flour, add another white)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • sanding sugar, melted chocolate, icing, etc. for decorating

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients together well. Add the coconut oil, egg and almond extract. Mix until well combined. The dough will be very smooth and will resemble a “normal” dough – it will come together and not be sticky. If it is sticky, add more flour by the tablespoon until you get a good dough that you can work with, using your hands rather than your mixer. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap (it is easier to split it into 2 portions for rolling out). Put in the refrigerator until well chilled, about 30 to 45 minutes.

When chilled, lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll out the dough to a thin disk, about 1/4″ or 1/8″ thick. I like to put plastic wrap on top of the dough to prevent sticking and so I don’t add too much flour to the dough. You want the disk to be even in thickness, so I use the “pie crust” method – roll the dough in one direction, then turn 1/4 of the way and roll again. Keep doing that until you are finished. Using whatever cutters you like, cut out the dough and put on the baking sheet. If using sanding sugar, sprinkle with sugar now. Stick the cookie sheets back in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes to chill.

Put cookie sheets in the oven and bake about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on the sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a rack. Once cool, you can either decorate with icing or chocolate…..or just eat them.

All-Purpose Gluten Free Baking Mix

  • 300 gms millet flour (you can use brown rice or sorghum flour)
  • 100 gms coconut flour
  • 300 gms white rice flour
  • 300 gms cornstarch (you could use potato or tapioca)

Weight out all ingredients and combine very well with a whisk. To ensure even distribution, I also sift the mix together before putting it in containers. It is best to store this in the fridge.

Note that with coconut flour, you will need to increase your liquid ingredients a bit in whatever recipe you use. Coconut flour absorbs moisture, so you’ll need to compensate for that.

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