27 August 2010

Product Review - Arnel's Gluten Free Bread Mix






Arnel's Gluten Free Bread Mix came to my attention when I visited a farmers market away from home. As you can tell from my blog, I'm not on a gluten-free diet myself. But some of my friends are, and so I occasionally convert one of my recipes to gluten-free for them. I've succeeded with scones, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, cookies and cakes; but I had never tried a loaf of gluten-free bread though I make all kinds of wheat bread.

When I reached Arnel's booth and saw that she had a bread mix in her product line, I had to stop. She had samples, and it was the best looking gluten-free bread I've ever seen, and it tasted as good as it looked. Now, I've never been one to use a mix of any kind. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I just happen to enjoy the process as much as the result. The mix (no "ordinary" mix) has nine wholesome ingredients, 47 percent of which are organic. So I decided to give it a try.

I followed the directions on the package exactly. There is no need for a heavy-duty stand mixer; the dough is not too heavy for a regular mixer. The rise time was considerably longer than that indicated on the package; took 55 minutes in my average-room-temperature kitchen. My oven temperature is quite accurate, so I followed package directions to bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. When I removed the bread from the pan and tested for that hollow sound and stuck a wooden skewer in the side, it tested done. But it soon showed signs of caving at the sides just a bit, not enough to be a problem; but next time I will definitely either bake it 5 or 10 minutes longer or use just one cup of water instead of 1 1/8 cups. I set the loaf on its side on the cooling rack, as recommended by Arnel, then switched it to its other side after about 5 minutes.

Any bread should be cooled at least an hour before slicing, so I forced myself to wait a full hour. The loaf sliced beautifully. Where some gluten-free breads are hard, dense, crumbly and dry, this loaf made perfect slices of soft bread you could make a sandwich with in the morning that would be perfectly delicious several hours later. "The fact that this bread behaves like a piece of wheat bread," says Arnel, "is what makes it extraordinary." I deliberately ate less of it than I would have liked so I could see how long it would stay fresh. After four days, it was still fine!

If the color of the bread in the photo looks a little strange, don't blame it on my photography--well, not entirely! That's the buckwheat. The loaf looks very golden brown on the outside, but the inside of the loaf has a slight, sort of bluish cast. Buckwheat also has a very distinctive flavor that might take a bit of getting used to for those who don't already love it. If you haven't tried it, I hope you will. It's a unique flavor that tastes a bit flowery to me (don't ask me what that means--it's just one of my vague feelings).

Arnel's Originals, which will celebrate its first anniversary next month, also makes a gluten-free pie crust mix (71 percent organic ingredients) and gluten-free pancake mix (80 percent organic ingredients). I look forward to trying them. The three mixes can be purchased at 16 retail locations or ordered online at arnelsoriginals.com
.

20 August 2010

Afternoon Tea Review - The Tea Cozy in Cambria






As you know, my highest priority when traveling is where I'm going to eat and have afternoon tea or at least a proper cup of tea. Before setting out, I like to line up the possibilities, allowing for spontaneous deviations from the list at any time, of course! A recent stay in Cambria on California's Central Coast called for a visit, my first, to The Tea Cozy.

The Tea Cozy is a quaint, but not overly precious, tearoom housed in a charming 117-year-old cottage at 4286 Bridge Street, just off Main Street in Cambria's East Village. A British couple, the Sewells, started The Tea Cozy in 1991, then retired and sold the business in 1999 to Barry and Lee Anne Went, who are active in the day-to-day operations. Barry was our server on our Sunday visit.

So many tearooms (apart from those in posh hotels) are too froufrou for my taste, laced and beribboned to within an inch of their lives. The Tea Cozy manages to attain its cozy charm with less fuss and bother, making it altogether more inviting to those men who feel completely out of place in the over-the-top femininity of some tearooms.

My two companions ordered from the lunch menu and were delighted with their meals. I ordered the Royal Tea and enjoyed a generous array of warm homemade scones, freshly made sandwiches and various biscuits (cookies) and pastries along with two or three pots of tea (I drink a LOT of tea!). On our way out we had a look at the shop, in a third room, where one can choose from quite an assortment of British groceries and other imported goods.


To make reservations, call 805-927-8765. For tea at home, see: How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea and Tea and Scones. Also, my guest post at Anglotopia, The Ultimate Anglophile's Complete Guide to Afternoon Tea.

13 August 2010

Peach Freezer Jam with Less Sugar - Preserving Summer's Bounty






This is my last post about peaches this summer, I promise! In June I was on a strawberry kick and made vast quantities of strawberry freezer jam. Late July, early August, I've been on a peach kick (in case you haven't noticed). Up until last week, I had been buying a few pounds at a time. Then a wonderful organic farmer named Vern (also part of Homegrown Organic Farms) gave me a huge box of Zee Lady peaches.

So I froze enough for five Peach Pies with Lattice Crust, made two batches of jam and had some left to enjoy in the present. Just think how much I'm going to enjoy these luscious peaches in the middle of winter! And that's the thing about freezer jam--strawberry freezer jam tastes just like fresh strawberries and peach freezer jam tastes just like fresh peaches.

If you've made freezer jam, you know it has a softer set than regular jam. I'm okay with that, but still I just couldn't help thinking I could make it better. And I DID! I made my first batch according to directions and found that after 24 hours it was much softer than I would like--perhaps it's one of those that will take a couple weeks to "set up"--so I decided to experiment on the second batch. I heated the peaches a bit before adding them to the pectin mixture. When I tried the jam after 24 hours, I was amazed! The consistency was perfect, and it still tasted like fresh peaches!

If you'd like to experience a bit of summer in the middle of winter, break out the jam jars and make a batch or two of freezer jam. It's so easy. You can whip up a batch in under an hour. Please leave a comment and tell me what you're doing with fruit this summer.


Peach Freezer Jam
(Makes six or seven 8-ounce jars)

I used the same ingredients as the Sure-Jell recipe but made a crucial change to the method, so this is my jam.

4 cups prepared fruit (buy about 3 to 4 pounds fully ripe peaches)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 box Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes
1 cup water

1 Rinse clean half-pint glass jars and lids with boiling water. Dry thoroughly. Straight-sided jars are best.

2 Peel and pit peaches. Finely chop fruit. I can't imagine doing it without a food processor (love my Cuisinart; see the "
My Little Shop" page for a current model). With metal blade in place, add 1-inch peach chunks to work bowl and chop finely using short pulses (about ten 1-second pulses). Don't puree, though; jam should have bits of fruit. Measure exactly 4 cups prepared fruit in 4-cup glass measure.

3 Pour fruit into 2-quart saucepan. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat just to the boil (bubbling in the middle as well as around the edges). Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice.

4 In 3-quart saucepan, stir together sugar and pectin. Stir in water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Immediately add peach mixture; stir 1 minute or until well blended. Pour into 2-quart glass measure; spout and handle make it easy to fill jars neatly.

5 Fill all jars immediately, leaving 1/2 inch space at top for expansion. Wipe any drips off top edges of jars; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or freeze extra containers up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.


06 August 2010

Blueberry Muffins - With a Touch of Lemon






It's blueberry muffins today, only because my peaches did not reach the perfect stage for jam in time for today's post. I felt a bit funny about posting about peaches three weeks in a row anyway (thought I was going to have rename the blog "The Peachy Repast"). This is a recipe I developed years ago when I couldn't find one I liked. Now there are countless recipes out there, but they're all too sweet for my taste.

Hadn't made them for ages and got a brilliant idea this time around. That's my way of saying there was a bit of a problem but I think I have the solution. When I took them out of the pan, a few were just gooey with blueberries on the bottom. This may have had something to do with the fact that, instead of using the small blueberries I usually use for muffins, I used some really large ones simply because they had the most intense flavor. I think the problem would be solved though by setting aside about a third of the batter before adding blueberries to the rest of it and using this plain batter in the bottom of the muffin cups. Then you would put the regular batter on top and not end up with gooey blueberries on the bottom.

Whip up a batch today. While they're cooling off a bit, put the kettle on and make a pot of tea. Then come back and leave a comment!

Blueberry Muffins



(Makes 12)

2 dip-and-sweep cups (10 ounces/283 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg or mace
1 stick (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces/99 grams) to 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces/149 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup (6 fluid ounces/177 ml) milk
Grated zest of 1 medium lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
1 1/2 cups (about 9 ounces) fresh blueberries

1 Preheat oven to 375F/190C/Gas5. Spray standard 12-cup muffin pan (that's bun tin to those of you in the UK) with cooking spray. In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

2 In large bowl, cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Beat in eggs and vanilla, then milk. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in lemon zest and blueberries.

3 Divide batter among 12 muffin cups; they will be full. Optional: sprinkle with lemon-sugar topping (1 teaspoon zest, 2 tablespoons sugar). Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before turning muffins out of pan.


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