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Posts Tagged ‘bread’

The Facts About Gluten

In Breads / Grains on November 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm

ZOMG. Click the pic to buy this Tom Vano print.


Talk about demonized — poor gluten. Gluten is blamed for many things — weight gain, slow metabolism, digestive problems… Most of them are not true.

“But wait,” you say, “my friend lost a bunch of weight by giving up gluten!” Maybe she did — but it wasn’t the absence of gluten. Maybe she was eating less food overall, maybe she started working out, maybe she started making healthier choices all around.

The truth is that most people will lose some weight in the first stages of a diet, only because it’s in the forefront of their minds and hasn’t become tedious yet. It takes a while to fail. But I digress — back to gluten.

There is nothing about gluten that makes you sick, makes you fat, causes autism, etc., etc., etc. Anybody who tells you any different is trying to sell you something. There is a very small segment of the population who needs to avoid gluten, but we’ll get to that. First, let’s get on the same page about what gluten is.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and related grains. That’s it, just a protein. It’s what provides the

Yup, yeast farts! (photo from Apple Pie, Patis and Pate - click the pic.)

structure and shape. You can see it at work in a slice of bread — see the air pockets? The air is gas released by yeast, and the “walls” of each bubble are made of gluten. In fact, the whole purpose of kneading is to stretch and strengthen the gluten fibers so they can more effectively trap the yeast farts inside the bread to make a fluffier loaf.

People with celiac disease (about 1% of the population) can’t eat gluten because their immune system sees it as an invader. An inflammatory reaction ensues, and tremendous pain and (possibly permanent) intestinal damage results. As the intestines get damaged, they lose the ability to absorb nutrients from food, so the sufferer begins to lose weight despite eating normally. Going gluten-free stops the process, and in most cases returns normal intestinal function. In other words, giving up gluten helps these people GAIN weight. Ha. Tell that to your friend!

There is a condition called gluten sensitivity that affects a wider swath of the population, but it’s difficult to pin down. Instead of digestive pain, it manifests as headaches, fatigue and other general yuckiness — much different from celiac disease. People with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity don’t incur any kind of intestinal damage from the gluten, it just makes them feel yucky. It’s a big range, though — some people can’t take it at all, while others can tolerate varying amounts up to a particular threshold. It’s really very individual. Many of these people quickly learn and abide by their personal threshold, but some must give up gluten entirely.

As for the rest of us, gluten poses no threat whatsoever. Feel free to give it up if you want, but any celiac sufferer can expound upon the inconvenience of the whole thing. Gluten-free food are not lower in calories or fat — in many cases they’re higher. They’re not healthier, they’re just made with a different grain.
Now if you want to give grains up altogether, that’s a different story. I have, and I don’t miss ‘em. But that’s a post for another day.


Cinnamon Scones

In Breads / Grains, Snacks, sweets, Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm
cinnamon scones


So, I’m in the process of reviewing a cookbook called Biscuit Bliss by James Villas. Since I am not a southern cook, I considered myself to be generally clueless about biscuits, and I was right. My first attempt totally failed, but you’ll have to wait for the review to hear that story. This story is about scones. Mr. Gorilla, being the Anglophile, LOVES scones, so I thought I’d try my hand.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not as scone-intensive as the next lady – every time I’ve tried them in the past I’ve found them to be quite dry and crumbly, and not sweet enough. So I had high hopes for Mr. Villas’ recipe. Even though I threw my trust in him, I still altered a couple of things about the recipe, just to hedge my bets.

1. The recipe itself is for plain old scones, but I added cinnamon ’cause I felt like it.

2. I did not knead the dough. I’ll tell you when we come to it.

3. I topped mine with loads of coarse cane sugar before baking. ‘Cause I like sugar.

4. I didn’t use a biscuit cutter, ’cause I don’t have one.

Here it is, folks – the most awesomest, moistest scone you will ever eat!

Cinnamon Scones

(adapted from Plain Scones, in Biscuit Bliss, by James Villas)


2 cups self-rising flour

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons cinnamon

1/4 cup cane sugar


Preheat oven to 425, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Feel free to add more cinnamon if you’d like.

Add the butter, and rub with your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly. MUCH more pleasant than using a pastry cutter, let me assure you.

Gradually add the milk until a soft dough forms. You may not need all of the milk, or you may need a bit more. Use your judgement.

Here is where I differ from James: instead of kneading the dough on the counter, I squish it around gently in my hands (over the bowl) for a couple of seconds, just until the dough holds together and seems uniform. So do that.

Now, swipe the parchment off of your baking sheet and put it on the counter. Place your ball of dough on the parchment, and using floured hands (yours, of course), pat the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 of an inch thick. Coat the top of the rectangle with the cane sugar.

At this point, James whips out his diamond-honed biscuit cutter, but I don’t have one, and using a glass makes them come out flat. So here’s what I do. I cut the dough into squares, but I do not separate them. I then make diagonal cuts to form triangles, but still, I do not separate them. I simply pick up the whole shebang by the parchment, transfer it to the baking sheet, and throw it (place it gently) in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.

cinnamon scones

Here's how they come out of the oven. Nifty!

I let them bake as one piece, but the cuts make them easy to separate when they cool. This method keeps them moist, and prevents the sides from overbaking. It’s great!

So yeah, these scones were amazing, even three days out. Great recipe, James.

Chicken Caesar on a Bread Platter

In Breads / Grains, Chicken, Salads 'n' Stuff on March 4, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Who needs bread with their salad if the darn PLATE is made of bread?

Okay – due to the OVERWHELMING response I got from the Eggs in Bread Bowls post, I felt I should expand the concept to the Bread Platter. It’s like a bread bowl, but it’s flat, you see, like a plate. A plate that you can eat! Awesome!

So, what does one serve on this edible plate? Well, it should be something with lots of drippy juices that doesn’t need to be cut. Juices because that way when the food’s gone, you have a nice juicy hunk of bread to eat. No cutting, because bread platters are not Chinette. They will not stand up to your steak knife. Of course, you can do like Mr. Gorilla did and cut it anyway, so you get a bite of bread in every mouthful, but most less-advanced folks tend to eat the food off of the plate, and then eat the plate. Kind of like a waffle bowl situation. Or a taco salad. Select your edible tableware of choice.

For this one, I made both the bread and the dressing myself. You need a very dense, heavy bread that won’t go to pieces. And fresh caesar dressing is always way better than bottled – this one is eggless, too, because raw chicken and raw egg is too high on the freak-out scale for one night. The whole recipe is very quick and easy, except for the bread. The bread can, however, be made the day before. Even the week before, if you freeze it. See? Awesome and convenient.

Chicken Caesar Salad on a Bread Platter


2 chicken leg quarters, skinless and boneless

1 large head Romaine lettuce

1 loaf bread (recipe below)

1 recipe Eggless Caesar dressing (recipe below)


Slice loaf of bread in half horizontally, and carefully scoop out the insides to form a hollow. It should look something like this:

Yeah, like this.

Set it aside.

Pound the chicken as thin as you can get it without totally destroying it, and put it in a Ziploc bag. Add 1/4 cup of the dressing, and marinate for about an hour.

While that’s happening, wash and chop the lettuce, and put it all in a large bowl. Set aside.

Grill the chicken about 5 minutes on both sides, or until done. Discard the marinade.

Pour the remaining dressing and the chicken into the bowl with the salad. Toss to coat, and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Eggless Caesar Dressing


5 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 can anchovy fillets, drained (flat packed, not rolled) – I know you don’t like anchovies, but you’ll like them in the dressing, I promise.

1 cup olive oil

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste


Combine the mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, and anchovies in a blender or food processor, and pulse until smooth.

While blending, add the olive oil in a slow stream, and process until smooth.

Add the parmesan, and pulse until well mixed.

This dressing will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge, but you’ll eat it before then, I promise.

This boring-looking loaf is capable of great things!

Bread for Bread Platter


1 package active dry yeast

1 cup warm water

3 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups bread flour


1 egg

1 teaspoon cold water


In a large bowl, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let sit for about 10 minutes, or until frothy.

Add the sugar, oil, salt, and 1/2 of the flour – mix well.

Stir in remaining flour to form a stiff dough.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. I use my oven with the light on – it seems to work well.

Punch down, cover, and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees – if you have a pizza stone, put it inside the oven as it heats.

Remove the stone from the oven (once it’s hot, of course), and sprinkle with cornmeal. Or, if you are not lucky enough to have a stone, grease a baking sheet and sprinkle it with cornmeal.

Form the dough into a ball and place it on the stone or sheet. Using a sharp knife, make 3 slashes in the top of the loaf, cover with the bowl, and let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled.

Mix the egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, spread the mixture all over the loaf – don’t forget the sides!

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Darlings, I know it looks like a lot of work, but it’s really not. You could use store-bought bread and dressing, really. I won’t be mad. But try the bread platter thing – I promise it will be one of your new favorite things!