Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gluten Free Holiday Treat

Shauna, the Gluten Free Girl herself, set up her own holiday gluten free challenge in an attempt to help those with gluten intolerance find options for their holiday meals.
Even though my contribution here is outside my normal vein, not exactly gentle in the calorie department, it's almost Thanksgiving and I can't resist tossing a decadent treat in the mix.

When it comes to feeding my clients who need to keep a gluten free diet, I more often than not go with items that are naturally gluten-less rather than go down the substitute ingredient road.

One of my favorite flour free pastries is a dacquoise: layers of almond or hazelnut meringue usually layered with ganache & chocolate buttercream.
For the holiday I chose to make a pumpkin version with candied cranberries on top to add a tart, acidic counter point to the pumpkin's rich creaminess.

Dacquoise aren't really hard to make but there are a lot of steps involved. Also, they don't have the shelf life of a regular cake. You want to eat them relatively quickly, within a day or two.
That's why I don't make them all too often. For a holiday however, when you are feeding a crew of family & friends, they are a nice, decadent treat.

Pumpkin Dacquoise with Candied Cranberries

almond meal (or ground almonds) 1 cup
granulated sugar ½ cup
egg whites 10 (about 1 ½ cups)
cream of tartar 1 tsp
superfine sugar 2 cup
vanilla extract 2 tsp

Toast almond meal in 350 degree oven until golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly, 3 – 4 minutes.
Stir nuts & ½ cup granulated sugar together & set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 225 degrees.
Whip egg whites & cream of tartar in mixer on med-high speed until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually add in superfine sugar and vanilla and continue to whip to stiff, glossy peaks.
Gently fold nut mixture into meringue.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using the bottom of a 10 inch spring form or cake pan as a guide, draw 4 circles in the paper. Using a piping bag with a wide, plain tip pipe out discs of meringue in a spiral fashion filling in the circles.
Bake meringue in oven at 225 degrees for 1 ½ hours, turn the oven off and continue to dry for another 1 ½ hours. Check to make sure they are completely dry.

Pumpkin Ganache

pumpkin puree 1 cup
heavy cream ½ cup
white chocolate 12 oz chopped
ground cinnamon ½ tsp
ground cloves ¼ tsp
ground ginger ¼ tsp
unsalted butter ¼ cup (½ stick) cut into small pieces

Heat pumpkin puree and cream over med-low heat in a heavy bottomed sauce pan until close to but not quite boiling. Be sure to keep stirring to make sure it doesn't scorch.
Remove from heat and stir in white chocolate until it is melted and blended in. Add in spices then stir in butter one piece at a time until smooth. Cover & refrigerate.

Pumpkin Butter Cream

unsalted butter 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) room temperature
pumpkin puree 1 cup
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
ground allspice ½ tsp
ground ginger ½ tsp
vanilla extract 1 ½ tsp
confectioners sugar 3 cups

Cream together butter, pumpkin and spices in mixer. Add in sugar one cup at a time and beat until smooth.

Candied Cranberries
fresh cranberries 4 oz
sugar 3/4 cup plus more for coating
water 3/4 cup
Bring water and sugar to a boil until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat & pour syrup over cranberries. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Drain cranberries and toss with sugar to coat. Lay berries out on a baking tray to dry for one hour.

Lay on meringue round on a flat plate or cake circle. Using a bag with a star tip pipe a ring of buttercream around the outer edge of the meringue. Then pipe a small rosette in the center of the circle the same height as the ring.
Note: I actually forgot that last little part when I made mine. That's why the tip of the the slice of cake sunk down a little when it was cut. The buttercream adds stability as well as richness.
Now spread a layer of ganache inside the buttercream ring.
Place the next meringue circle on top of the first layer and gently press down with light, even pressure being careful not to crack it. Although it's not the end of the world if you do.
Continue the same filling procedure for the next two layers.
Top the final meringue circle and garnish with candied cranberries & toasted sliced almonds.

I used almonds for this recipe but because, I had them on hand. Given my preference and a little less laziness, I'd go with hazelnuts. They have a touch more "woody" nature to their nutty flavor that I bet would lend itself well to this dish.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What do the healthy folks do...

Some time ago I posted a quote on my livejournal blog from Jeff Ainslie, "If you want to be a thin, healthy person then live lifestyle of a thin, healthy person; your body will follow suit".
I got a little heat for posting that quote because to some people, the phrase "lifestyle of a thin, healthy person" meant being able to eat anything you want and get away without exercising.
I have to say I never saw that reaction coming, probably because it didn't occur to me to think of a fit, healthy person's lifestyle as a life of french fries & leisure. And from being somewhat familiar with Mr. Ainslie's work I can assure you that he didn't mean the quote that way either.

Sure we all of know one or two of those people, the ones that seem to be able to live on cheeseburgers & sundaes, never hit the gym and still keep that waif-y figure. I don't have to tell you that that particular branch of the X-men is the exception not the rule. No one should follow their lifestyle, not even them.
Remember, thin does not necessarily equal fit or healthy. Can you say heroin chic?

So what is the lifestyle of a fit, healthy person? The basic answer of eating right & exercising we all know. However some more specific tips are always helpful.
Well our good friend Jeff Ainslie in his podcast he does with Russ Turley pointed out an article on Diet about those who have lost weight and managed to keep the weight off and why they were successful.

The article lays out a few practices and characteristics that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. They are worth checking out.

* They include regular physical activity for at least 30 minutes, four to five days a week.
* They stay focused on improving health
and energy, with weight loss being a nice accompaniment. Focusing on weight loss as the primary outcome, especially rapid weight loss, usually results in a decreased chance of long-term success.
* Their desire to lose weight and improve health is for themselves and not someone else.
* They replace fatty and sugary foods with more healthy substitutions like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and other high-fiber foods.
* They frequently monitor portion sizes and hunger -- this is important in today's world of "super-size" restaurant portions.
* They find ways to make fitness fun. For example, they join a hiking group, a soccer league, or take dance classes. They don't fear trying new activities.
* They eat at least three meals a day and even a few snacks in between and do not skip meals.
* They use problem solving strategies when old behaviors return to haunt them. They succeed at creating and re-assessing goals.
* They recognize that it is a continuous, life-long journey to pursue better health, not a temporary diet.
* They never give up on themselves and don't allow occasional slip-ups to end their progress.
* They accept that no "miracle" weight loss diet or pill exists, and that the time-tested principles of weight loss, while not always exciting, are the only ones that work permanently.
* They separate their body size from their self-worth. They recognize that their value is about a lot more than what they weigh. When their attitude shifts to self-acceptance at any size, weight loss and maintaining it becomes more natural, and much easier.
* They have developed passions, interests, and hobbies to help them focus on things other than food.
* They have found and developed creative ways to manage stress effectively.
* They have banned the words "never" and "always" from their health vocabulary. That is, everything in moderation. It's not realistic to say you'll never eat ice cream again or that you will always exercise every day. In short, they gave up perfection, but they remain focused without it.