Holiday Baking Series: Polenta & Sesame Biscotti

A season full of sweets and baked goods for those of us who are gluten-intolerant or go without refined sugar can be a bit daunting. I have made plenty of sweet treats that are not GF to send to family and friends this year. But I want to enjoy some treats too! So I have been having fun experimenting in the kitchen and making some delicious GF cookies. That is why I was really excited to find a biscotti recipe in Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina De Palma, using polenta as a base flour. The rest of the recipe is easy to convert to make it GF and refined sugar free!

Polenta or cornmeal is a staple dish in the north of Italy, and always reminds me of when we were visiting Venice and Tuscany.  Funny how eating a certain food can so readily return vibrant memories…So, I like to say these are Northern Italian inspired cookies. Venetian in particular, with the use of sesame seeds and sweetened with honey hearkening to the days of ancient Venice and the use of exotic spices and ingredients.

Making biscotti with cornmeal is very easy and the results are crunchy and delicious – probably my favorite as far as biscotti go. These are very unique and therefore special biscotti, making them great gifts. I made the version inDolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen to send to friends and family, and made this version to satisfy my own sweet tooth!

Polenta and Sesame Biscotti
adapted from Dolce Italiano

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups GF flour – try a GF baking mix, or even oat or coconut flour
1 ¼ cup fine polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup raw honey
4 large farm fresh eggs
3 large farm fresh egg yolks, plus 1 egg white for glaze
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup sesame seeds (I used a combination of white and black)

METHOD:

In a large bowl mix together GF flour, polenta, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and honey, about 2 minutes. Then add the eggs one at a time then the yolks one at a time beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low to form a soft dough. Beat in ½ cup of sesame seeds until they are thoroughly incorporated. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours, or until firm enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 325F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator. Using well floured hands(the dough is very sticky), divide it into 4 equal portions and roll each portion into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter and 12 inches long. Place 2 logs spaced 3 inches apart on eah sheet.

In a small bowl beat the egg white until frothy, and with a pastry brush glaze the surface of the logs with the egg white. Then sprinkle them with the remaining sesame seeds. Bake logs unti; the are golden brown and feel somewhat firm to the touch – about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through baking to ensure even baking.

Allow the logs to cool on the baking sheets or on a wire rack until cool to the touch – about 40 minutes.

With a sharp serrated knife slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias into ¼ inch wide slices. Lay sices on the baking sheets in a single layer and bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes more until they are toasted, dry and crisp. Cool biscotti completely n baking sheets. Store in a clean airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 6 dozen biscotti

A Truly Local Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. One reason is because it is the only harvest still celebrated by the majority of people in North America, where people enjoy a variety of seasonal foods in a ritualistic manner. Celebrating the harvest is a festival that has been going on for a very long time in our human history and humans have always loved a good ritual. Celebrating the harvest is a way to give thanks for having enough food to sustain you through the next season. Living in a rural area, and spending much of this year planting, growing and harvesting our own food, has really put us in touch with a more natural cycle. Something I am very thankful for.

This year, Roberto and I decided in order to really appreciate the meaning of this holiday, everything we were to prepare would be from local ingredients – some ingredients as local as our own backyard! We pre-ordered a heritage turkey from Applecheek Farm. On Wednesday we went to the farm to pick up our fresh (not frozen) bird and decided to pick up other items at the farmstore to create the rest of our menu. We were greeted with an array of wonderful fresh and seasonal produce – fresh cranberries, brussels sprouts, potatoes, squashes, local breads, cheeses, eggs and milk. Everything one would need for a splendid holiday meal.

Since it was just the two of us this year, we decided not to overdo it. This was our menu:

Maple Roasted Heritage Turkey*
(Local Ingredients: turkey, butter, maple, From The Backyard: fresh rosemary)
Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing with sausage oven dried tomatoes, fresh herbs and pine nuts
(Local Ingredients: Cornmeal, homemade chicken/duck stock, sausage, From The Backyard: oven dried tomatoes, fresh rosemary and sage) – recipe below
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
(Local Ingredients: butter, fresh cream, From the Backyard: potatoes and rosemary)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
(Local Ingredients: brussels sprouts, butter)
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
(Local Ingredients: fresh cranberries, honey) – recipe below
Maple and Pumpkin Crème Caramel
(Local Ingredients: maple, cream, milk and pumpkin, From The Backyard: eggs)

*note: heritage turkeys are much leaner and smaller than sedentary commercial birds. This means that fast cooking at high temperatures is a better method than slow roasting. To read more about heritage turkeys, and why you should consider one for your Thanksgiving table next year, read this short article from Local Harvest

I prepared the compound butter for the turkey (I suggest making extra to enjoy with the leftover cornbread – they are the perfect combination with a nice brown ale), the creme caramel and the cornbread on Wednesday, and then spent the morning on Thursday in the kitchen finishing up the rest.

Doing Thanksgiving this way is so much less stressful, because you just go with the flow and what it the freshest and available! So I challenge you to think about doing something like this next year!

We spent the day watching a Lord of The Rings marathon, talking to family on the phone and just relaxing by the fire with the pets. It was a perfect Thanksgiving and a great way to really relax and unwind after such a busy season on the homestead.
THANKSGIVING RECIPES:


Fresh Cranberry Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups fresh cranberries
orange zest from one orange
juice of one orange
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup dark red wine (like zinfandel, grenache, or malbec)
¼ cup raw honey
pinch of nutmeg

METHOD:

In a medium saucepan combine all the ingredients. I even put the quarters of orange in that have been zested and juiced. Turn heat to medium low and bring to a boil while stirring often. Reduce temperature to low simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced and you are left with a thick sauce – about 15 miutes.

Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs and Pine Nuts
(Recipe stuffs a 9-10 lb bird)

INGREDIENTS:

half a recipe of gluten free skillet cornbread (see below)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 TBS olive oil
½ onion, minced
1 clove garlic minced
1 TBS each – fresh sage, fresh rosemary
1 cup loose sausage (I use pasture-raised)
½ cup oven roasted tomatoes, chopped
½ – ¾ cup homemade poultry stock
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

Make cornbread and toast pine nuts and set aside. Sautee onions, garlic and herbs in olive oil until onions become translucent. Add the sausage and cook until just browned. In a large mixing bowl, break up th cornbread into small pieces, then add the contents of the pan. Stir together with the oven roasted tomatoes. Then add the stock and stir to coat all the pieces of bread – making sure everything is nice and moist. Then it is ready to stuff inside the bird.

Gluten Free Skillet Cornbread:
Ingredients:
1 cup oat flour
¾ cup cornmeal
½ cup kefir, buttermilk or yogurt
½ cup milk
¼ cup of butter, melted
2 TBS maple sugar
2 ½ tsp aluminum free baking powder
pinch of salt
2 TBS butter or lard for skillet (I used bacon fat)

Method:
Mix oat flour, cornmeal, kefir and milk in a large mixing bowl. Let sit out on counter overnight or at least 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Then mix in the rest of the ingredients, except the fat for the skillet. Heat fat in a cast iron skillet, then pour the batter in and put the skillet in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove bread from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Tuscan Inspired Grilled Polenta and Sausages in Wine

We are getting near the end of outdoor grilling season here. Of course you can grill outdoors all year round, if you don’t mind the weather. But those lazy summer days of sitting outside eating grilled foods, is past for this year, here in Vermont. To celebrate ushering in Autumn, my most favorite season, I will share with you this recipe for a Tuscan inspired grilled meal.

I also wanted to share with you, my loyal and faithful readers that for the next month, at least, I will be blogging Gluten Free. As many of my loyal readers already know, I started watching my gluten intake over a year ago, but to be honest, I only did it about 80% of the time. It has helped, a lot, however, there are a few more minor issues I want to see if being 100% gluten free resolves. So now it is time to get down to serious business and see what  life is like at 100% GF.

If I was so close why did it take me this long to go all the way? I asked myself this question a lot, and the truth was because I have been afraid. Afraid that it would be hard to lead a normal life, go out to eat with friends, or be THAT PERSON who can’t just go with the flow, mucking up the works. But then I realized, nothing about me is NORMAL! :)

Even though I have plenty of blogging friends, with GF blogs to get inspiration from, I just wasn’t ready. But I am now. I know I am ready, because instead of being afraid, I am excited!I am excited about this change because it means many new kitchen experiments with breads, pizza and baked goods. I am also excited because I will be able to share how easy, economical and delicious gluten free eating can be. I also am excited to show my readers, that eating a gluten free diet does not mean going to the grocery store and buying all new pre-made items that are part of a “gluten free” line. Instead one can just eat foods that are naturally gluten free, and there are many.

This meal is a perfect example – and I promise you will not miss gluten for one minute! We accompanied it with a garden fresh caprese salad, using the best quality fresh mozzarella we could find and a delicious glass of full bodied red wine.

*note – this is a great meal to serve to a crowd. We were expecting company for dinner, but they couldn’t make it at the last minute. So this is for 6-8 people.

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Recipe: Gluten Free Lemon, Polenta, Nut Cake with Summer Solstice Preserves

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I have been really thinking about food, health, diet, and other related topics for some months now. Yeah, I know, you thought I always think about food, and that is true, but I am talking about on a more cerebral level. I go through these stages every so often and since I have been really concerned with fitness and making my body the best body it can be, I have had to really think a lot lately.

I believe that you are what you eat, that different people have different dietary needs based on a variety of factors, and it is best for individuals to evaluate what works best for them. Once in a while you have to re-evaluate things, and make sure everything is still working to your standards.

I am always looking to improve myself, and I listen to my body, and take its advice on what may need to be tweaked and changed.

Lately I have been feeling like I need to take a bit of a break from wheat. I know this really flies in the face of my bread making endeavors , and the fact that Roberto could eat pasta and bread until the end of time. But for me, and looking over the back pages of my life and my relationship to wheat, things have been kind of shoddy between us on many levels. Therefore, I have decided to do a gluten free experiment…and when I say experiment, I mean, experiment. I get everyone in on it – like my mom (helping me make this cake). Oh and speaking of my mom, she is starting to help me with my other blog – Travel Closeup. She has written several posts and is now listed on the about page as well. Go check it out! :)

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Anyway, back from family promotion and onto the food…I am not a person that tends to be into grains very much anyway, unless it is fresh baked breads or cakes and pastries. I don’t eat cakes and pastries very often, but I do eat bread. So it is time to see if gluten free is the way to go for me. So I have been experimenting with grains like quinoa, and buckwheat (which I already love) and eating more corn and rice based things – and trying to find non GMO versions of the corn based.

However, this weekend was the Summer Solstice, and as I mentioned last year, it is an event that we like to celebrate. I always bake for special occasions, and so I decided to challenge myself by making a GF cake. I just did a google search on gluten free lemon cakes from blogs, and happened across Joy, The Baker‘s Blog where she blogged this delicious, crumbly cake recipe . She had made it in a bundt shape, but said it crumbled too easy. So I decided to bake mine in a bread baking dish.

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This cake makes A LOT of batter, and so I made a bread loaf, a round cake and 6 cupcakes! None of them fell apart! The only change I made was doing 4 ½ cups of nuts and 1 ½ cup of rice flour (because I ran out of nuts!).

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For the solstice I halved the bread loaf lengthwise and filled it with the delicious Summer Solstice Preserves and topped it with whipped cream! It was a delicious cake – VERY buttery and dense, but also so good.

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We sang Happy Birthday to summer, and feasted on this cake! I will write a post next week about what we ate besides this wonderful cake!

On a personal note, I may not be around visiting blogs as much in the next little while. Rest assured it is nothing personal. Roberto’s daughters are visiting us from Connecticut until the end of July (YAY!), and then we have family visiting from Italy during August, and so I will be spending more time with our guests than sitting at the computer! I hope everyone has a wonderful summer! Look forward to catching up with you later!

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Recipe: Three Sisters Casserole and Healthier Fry Bread to celebrate World Food Day (oh, and a new friend!!!)

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As many of you know, I spent some time living on the Navajo (Dine, meaning “The People” ) Reservation, at Black Mesa/ Big Mountain many years ago.

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It was a very transformation period in my life, educationally, personally and spiritually. I always look back on this time fondly, not only because of my own personal development, but because of the people I met, the bits of language I learned and especially how these people who really don’t have much, made delicious food based on the foods that are around and the plants and animals their people have raised for generations. If it were not for their sheep (and other livestock) and their gardens, many would be on the verge of hunger all the time, or relegated to eating foods full of preservatives and chemicals from the government. The people I lived with tried to feed the government cheese to their dogs, and they wouldn’t touch it.

Perhaps the most important food in the Dine’ culture (besides sheep) are the Three Sisters: corn, squash and beans. These three crops form the foundation of their diet and are planted together in mounds – corn in the middle and squash and beans surrounding it. The corn is planted first, once it has grown some, it provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide necessary nitrogen to the soil that the other plants need to grow and the squash spreads along the ground, using up most of the sunlight, preventing weeds. The squash leaves also act as a “living mulch,” that retains moisture in the soil, while the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests.

Pretty cool, huh?

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Well, what is just as cool, is Valli and Ivy‘s food blogging event based on, World Food Day held by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Their goal is to raise awareness through the blogosphere for “World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy.” Something that I felt driven to participate in.

Since the Dine’ are environmentalists at the core of their culture and many of them don’t even have electricity or running water where they live, I felt food that reflects their culture and relationship to the Earth and the planet would be appropriate here. For Val and Ivy’s event they are asking that we submit a recipe which represents our country (these are the first Americans) that would feed at least 6 people (check). They are looking especially for family favourites, regional favourites that uses local and perhaps seasonal ingredients (check again!)

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So in order to honor the time I spent with the Dine’ I really wanted to make a dish that incorporates the Three Sisters and serve it with some fry bread. Fry bread is a necessary part of all Dine’ meals. Sometimes there is corn bread (some of the best corn bread is made with blue corn meal), but fry bread is the most common. I know that with the family I stayed with, it was made first thing in the morning – each loaf was kneaded and then fried in a cast iron skillet. Usually enough was made to last the whole day. It took me quite a long time to get it halfway decent- as I am not a kneader by nature. Everyone always knew when the billigana (“white girl”) made the fry bread as it was usually not as soft and always oddly shaped…still is… :)

This time, I also tried to make the fry bread a tinsy bit healthier by using some whole wheat flour as well!

Hope you enjoy this Native American inspired meal! Great for the fall, especially….click through to meet our newest family member…

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Recipe: Polenta Lasagna with Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce

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I love polenta – it is total comfort food and a great base for a variety of vegetables and great with tomato sauce and cheese. My favorite way to make polenta is with sundried tomatoes, olives, cheese and spinach-  put it in the fridge until it gets hard, dust it with flour and pan fry in olive oil. Served with a hearty tomato sauce it is really one of the best things to eat. This time though, I didn’t feel like frying the polenta. I wanted something lighter but still comforting and flavorful, so I decided to use the polenta rectangles as a base for lasagna. It was really good and something I will certainly make again.

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This is also my contribution to Marie of Proud Italian Cook and Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita ‘s Event: Festa Italiana. All Entries due March 22nd. Please click on either of their links for participation guidelines!
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Polenta – Olive Oil Almond Cake with Peaches in Honey- Basil Syrup

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I know, I know for someone who claims to not like baking, I sure am featuring a lot of cakes this week. I promise you it is a coincidence, not a growing trend…or is it?….;)

This is my entry for this month’s Royal Foodie Joust. If you have not participated, think about participating in the next one! All the details can be found >here.

Also don’t forget to vote for your favorite entry! The polls are up and a new winner will be decided on August 6th. >Click here to vote!

I was asked by several of the participants to join my event this time and I have agreed, with one condition, I will not be competing in the voting process.

The ingredients which were chosen by last month’s winner, Jennifer from >…andtheeggs, are eggs (of course), honey and the season’s beautiful fruit – peaches! There are many wonderful entries already and I am happy to submit mine along with all the others!

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