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Cranberry Walnut Bread with Pumpkin Cream Cheese (Gluten-free & Vegan!)

From Martine Holston — Blog by
November 19, 2012

{for complete post, recipe, and pictures, click here}
I love the transition between seasons: watching, feeling, and smelling the weather change around me and anticipating the particular experiences and traditions tied to each season.

Wearing short dresses and getting an ice cream cone to cool down in summer. The 4th of July. Tomatoes. Watermelon. Making jam and pickles with the end-of-summer crops.

Drinking hot apple cider wrapped in a sweater and planning for the holidays in fall. THANKSGIVING. Pumpkin-flavored everything.

Seeing my breath as I walk down the street looking at lit-up houses in winter. Seeing smoke coming out of a chimney and reading a book by the fire. Baking cookies. Wrapping presents while watching horrible Lifetime holiday movies.

Watching the first flowers bloom in the spring. Daring to wear a short-sleeved shirt for the first time. The first glimpse of summer on Memorial Day.

Seasons give me a sense of time, knowing where I am in the year simply by the weather. And the are central to our memories – the weather dictates whether we celebrated with a sunny picnic or a warm cozy supper. I think that’s why I find living in San Francisco so disorienting – it feels like the same season year-round. You can have a BBQ in November (just did) and often wear a winter coat in July.

In the last two weeks the transition into fall has been noticeable even here. Around my office, the leaves on the trees have turned bright red. The air is decidedly crisp. The pure experience of witnessing the change of season is grounding.

Fall may be my favorite season. It holds the promise of the holidays to come and is bright with color – the reds and yellows of the turning leaves against a bright fall sky. It has a narrow window of time to enjoy it: while the other seasons are measured in months, at least in Northern California autumn is measured out in weeks. But I think that’s why I like it, because it feels precious and fleeting. Knowing that there are only a few weeks to enjoy pumpkin flavored things (even though I don’t really crave them) and drink apple cider and watch the leaves change make them even more special, almost magical. It feels like I’m racing against the clock to soak up as much of fall as I can before winter begins, which in my mind is December 1st.

So when I was at Trader Joe’s two weeks ago and tasted their sample I immediately thought to myself – I have to make this. It’s so fall that there are probably only a couple of weeks where it is acceptable: Cranberry Walnut Bread with Pumpkin Cream Cheese. But of course, I’d make it vegan and gluten-free so everyone could enjoy it.

Clicking around on Shutterbean, I stumbled across a recipe for No Knead Walnut Raisin Bread. If I substituted cranberries, it looked exactly like the loaf I had tried at Trader Joe’s. Perfect.

I followed the directions substituting Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free All Purpose Flour and adding some xantham gum to make it gluten-free (GF). After letting it rise for 18 hours, it should turn all bubbly and double in size. But mine looked exactly the same the next morning as it had the night before. Bummer.

I decided to continue with the directions and bake it anyways, because I figured it would taste good – just dense.

Indeed it did. Straight out of the oven, it was delicious – but definitely heavy.

Which made me wonder – what makes dough rise, really? Because obviously I was doing something wrong. Did the yeast need gluten?

Enter Wikipedia: If this dough is leavened with yeast, fermentation produces carbon dioxide bubbles, which, trapped by the gluten network, cause the dough to rise.

Aha! The reason GF breads don’t rise is because there’s nowhere for the CO2 created when the yeast ferments to go; it’s smothered since there’s no gluten to expand into. But I knew there had to be a way to make a light but crispy GF bread. I’ve seen it before. So I headed over to Gluten Free Girl and looked at her bread recipes to see if she had figured it out.

Shauna’s post “i am stubborn. i don’t give up.” is about one of her first successes after many trials with baking GF bread and gave me a tip to help force some air into my dough: replace the water in the recipe with room-temperature club soda. If the yeast couldn’t supply CO2, I would force it in there to make the bread more fluffy.

I gave it a go. The result? Decidedly lighter. This bread can be sliced without falling apart, has a decent crumb, and – can you believe it? – pockets of air in it. While it’s definitely still a bit denser than regular bread, it is not the thick, chewy texture that you’re used to with GF bread.

That same post by Shauna gave an awesome revelation: GF bread doesn’t need that initial 18 hour rise. The purpose of that rise is to allow the gluten strands to grow and lengthen. No gluten = no need to rise. Who knew there’d be a bonus to being GF? It dramatically cuts down the time needed to make bread.

So while this post has been ridiculously long, making the bread-making process seem long and tiresome – know this. This bread is shockingly easy to make. Stir together the ingredients, let it rest for 2 hours, bake for 30 minutes with the cover on and 10-15 with the cover off, and that’s it. Fresh, yeasted bread in two and half hours, with no kneading. Awesome!

Now on to the cream cheese… This story is pretty straight-forward. I started with the first part of the cream cheese recipe in Crazy, Sexy Kitchen and instead of adding the flavorings and spices, added canned pumpkin, maple syrup, vanilla and pumpkin pie spices. Result? Delicious! The cream cheese before the addition of pumpkin and spices was actually pretty good plain; it would be good with dip or spread on a bagel – or anywhere else you would use cream cheese. Soaking the cashews overnight requires some advance thought, but aside from that this cream cheese comes together in about 5 minutes. It’s good both chilled and at room temperature, whatever your preference is.

Together, the result is heavenly. Great with coffee or afternoon tea. A nice satisfying bread with a slightly sweet spread. Flavors of fall. Something to be enjoyed only a few weeks out of the year. Hurry up and make it quick (or just go to Trader Joe’s and buy it pre-made) before the window passes!

For the recipes, click here.

{THANKSgiving} Plan for a (relatively) stress-free T-day

From Martine Holston — Blog by
November 9, 2012

{For full blog post including pictures and access to the planning pdf, click here}

Thanksgiving is in a three-way tie for my favorite holiday, with the 4th of July and the Christmas season. I start thinking about it in July, but only allow myself to begin talking about Thanksgiving at the end of October.

I didn’t always love Thanksgiving, though. I actually kind of dreaded it.

Sometime in the early ’90s, my parents were fed up with rotating between families and locations. They told everyone that they were having Thanksgiving at home – anyone would come, but they didn’t want to go anywhere. Expecting a quiet Thanksgiving at home, we were all quite surprised when almost everyone both sides of the family joined them – probably around 30 people. My parents hosted Thanksgiving for the next 15 years.

My mother was many amazing things, but she was not a natural hostess. While she loved being around people and had a large community of friends, having people over for dinners and parties made her stressed and anxious, which in turn made the rest of us stressed and anxious. I think Thanksgiving freaked her out the most, resulting in a little fighting and a fair bit of tension, which made me ambivalent about the holiday as a kid. It seemed like so much work.

The year after my mother passed away, my father, sister and I decided to keep the tradition of hosting Thanksgiving. I was really nervous because almost two decades of watching my mother freak out about Thanksgiving had hardwired me to think the holiday was a herculean challenge.

So to calm my fears, I planned (some might say over-planned, but that’s relative).

I pulled together all my mom’s recipes, which were free-floating in a file in her filing cabinet. Sometimes I found more than one version for the same dish. For example, I found three recipes for sweet potatoes: one in my grandmother’s handwriting, one in my mother’s, and one typed (the one she finally started making in the mid ’90s that does not include marshmallows and corn syrup, and is still requested yearly by the entire family).

I scoured magazines and websites for planning advice. and committed the planning checklists from and to memory. In one spot on the counter, I had a pile of paper that I thumbed through constantly the days leading up to Thanksgiving: several different checklists (two from Real Simple – one online and one in the magazine – and one from Martha Stewart, plus a few others I had found in other magazines) plus all the recipes. It was a bit of a mess, especially once I started cooking. But I took notes of what I actually did, which involved cooking a little every day starting the weekend before.

Thanksgiving morning, I woke up nervous, unsure how the day would unfold. At noon, my dad, sister, and I stood staring at each other with nothing to do until the guests arrived… in another two hours. It was an eerie feeling, because usually we were scrambling until the last-minute and squabbling with each other. It ended up being an enjoyable, (relatively) stress-free day. And from then on its been one of my favorite holidays, because (most of) the stress is gone and it’s just about food and family. It’s still bittersweet because I wish my mom was there, but we think about her a lot when we jokingly reminisce how stressful all those Thanksgivings were. She’s definitely there in spirit.

In the five years since I took over Thanksgiving, I have finessed my system. Central to keeping things organized is my Thanksgiving binder, which houses my timeline, checklist, and recipes.

My Thanksgiving Binder

The binder has two sections: My prep worksheets and the recipes.

I took several different planning guides and checklists and merged them into one (see link to pdf, below). I also create a dish overview to have a more general idea of everything that needs to be cooked and when.

I use the MacGourmet software to house all my recipes. It has a cookbook builder, which I use to print all of my Thanksgiving recipes. You can choose to print the recipes by course (e.g. appetizer, dinner, dessert, etc.) or by order of preparation – whichever works best for you. A great feature of this program is that you can create shopping lists by dragging recipes into it. What’s useful about this is that it combines amounts of ingredients across recipes, easier than calculating amounts by hand. They have a free trial, so worth checking out if you have a Mac. I’m sure there’s comparable software for PC’s, let me know in comments if you have a good suggestion.

I put the recipes in sheet protectors – a lesson I learned after that first year, because it keeps them from getting completely soaked or covered in food.

I also keep post-its and a pen handy in the binder to write notes – what worked, what didn’t – so that I can improve next year. I try to update the binder the week after Thanksgiving – otherwise I suffer from T-day amnesia and don’t remember what I did.

I’ll be honest, Thanksgiving is still not without its stresses, squabbles, and snafus (I’m sure my sister and dad would agree). However, having this system has made me a firm believer that with good planning Thanksgiving can be really enjoyable. That’s why it turned from one of my least-favorite holidays to one of my most.

Read the rest of the post and download the timeline and checklist pdf here.

{How to Handle an Epic Fail} Basil and Brie Flatbread

From Martine Holston — Blog by
October 22, 2012

{For full blog post, pictures, and recipe, click here}

When you have an epic fail, you have three options:

Give up
Try doing it the same way again and hope for a different result (Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity).
Try something different
I had this concept for a blog post in my head. Store or Scratch – a recipe that could either be made completely from scratch or with store-bought ingredients. Brilliant, right?

I came up with the idea for a flatbread appetizer while I was picking up supplies for a family BBQ at Trader Joe’s. Since I knew I wasn’t dealing with any food allergies, I was able to buy all the pre-made ingredients there: pizza dough, white bean basil hummus, and brie cheese. I already had these pickled onions on hand and was cooking multiple dishes for a crowd, so I was all about cutting corners.

It was a huge success at the family BBQ. Since I needed to bring an appetizer to an engagement party the following weekend, I thought I would try making everything from scratch. I was also dealing with food allergies and wanted to make a gluten-free version of the pizza dough. This recipe for pizza dough on Shutterbean looked easy and amazing (seriously, click over and you’ll start drooling), so I thought I would try to make it with gluten-free baking mix.

I thought I had my content for the Store or Scratch post in the bag.

At this point, I should mention that bread and dough are my baking Achilles’s heel. For some reason, I always buy dead yeast and my breads don’t rise. Sometimes I can make it seem unintentional (unleavened bread has its place, right?), but for the most part it’s disappointing. In the case of pizza dough, it’s just ruined.

I had two balls of crumbly flour and water that broke apart in clumps instead of stretching out. I would have taken a picture if I wasn’t so pissed. I’d already thrown out two batches of cupcakes (one burnt, one a weird gummy texture), and this third disaster may have resulted in a few tears and swear words.

So, after this epic fail, which option did I choose?

I thought about giving up. I’d already spent half of one of the most beautiful days of the year in San Francisco inside. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was happening in the park, which is practically a holiday in the city. My friends had been drinking beer in the sunshine, and I wanted to join them. My friend I was cooking for would be disappointed but understand if I didn’t bring what I had promised.

But somehow I couldn’t completely give up. I wanted to make these things for her and for this blog. I wanted to redeem myself… to myself. I know no one else would care, but for me cooking is a source of pride. I felt wounded.

I thought about starting the three-hour dough-making process over again, and hoping it would work the second time around. And then I realized that would be insane. I wanted to be outside, I wanted to hear music, and I wanted to be with my friends. Given my track record, it wouldn’t work the second time either. Albert Einstein would be calling me loony toons.

Martine, you’ve gone cray cray
So I did something different. I met up with my friends in the park. I am the first to admit I was in a horrible mood, but it was still nice to be outside on a beautiful day, listening to music. I stayed for a few hours and then went back to finish what I’d started.

I went to the store and bought pre-made pizza dough, which was sadly not gluten-free but I had to make sacrifices if I was going to try this again. I warned my GF friend that she couldn’t eat the appetizer and brought a dip for her to eat. I finished making the flat bread in under 30 minutes, watched some guilty pleasure television, and got a good night’s sleep. I woke up feeling a million times better.

Choosing to try something again and change your approach requires both perseverance and surrender. You have to let go of your expectation of how something is going to go or turn out, and have the courage to feel OK with something different.

I still got a blog post out of it, just not the one I expected. The flat bread was a hit, and no one but me and my GF friend knew the difference. It all turns out fine in the end.

One day I’ll perfect the art of gluten-free pizza crusts. But I’ve accepted the fact that maybe I won’t, and there is great store-bought pizza dough waiting for me when I need it.

Note: You can buy gluten-free pizza crusts at Whole Foods and Bob’s Red Mill makes a GF pizza dough mix, but I’ve tried neither. Let me know if you have any good resources for GF pizza dough or recipes that are completely foolproof (I can’t guarantee that it will survive my curse).

So here is an awesome appetizer that comes together in minutes and will totally impress.

Click here for recipe.

Peppered Balsamic Fig Jam

From Martine Holston — Blog by
October 5, 2012

{For full blog post, pictures, and recipe, click here}

This is the jam that started my love affair with canning. And, full disclosure, my desire to make jam stemmed from daydreaming about my Thanksgiving cheese plate. In August. Because I secretly think about and plan holidays months in advance. Now you know my deep, dark secret. Hanging my head in shame.

My dad has a fig tree, and as you know, figs are one of my favorite things in life. I thought blue cheese. I thought fig jam. Done.

I scoured cookbooks for recipes, and ended up combining a couple of recipes to get the flavor I was after – not too sweet, with the full flavor of fig but a little extra depth from balsamic vinegar. It’s pretty close to the recipe in Put ‘em Up, with the addition of the peppercorn sachet that gives it a nice peppery finish.

The skins are kept on the figs in this recipe. To break them down, boil the figs in water for five minutes and then mash them with a wooden spoon or potato masher. For the sachet, you can either use a piece of cheesecloth and tie with a cotton cord, or (if you’re lazy like me) you can buy these pre-made spice sachets at a hardware store. Cook down until nice and jammy, about 20 minutes.

This jam is AWESOME. My cheese plate was a hit at Thanksgiving last year. Since then, I’ve also put it in almond butter sandwiches, slathered it on scones, put it in dessert bars, and eaten it by the spoonful. It’s also good on vanilla ice cream and stirred into oatmeal. This is probably my most popular jam – so please enjoy!

Click here for the recipe.

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