Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hello New Orleans Spring, Meyer Lemon Shortbread!

Like it or not, it looks like winter in New Orleans has come to a close. Spring flowers are out, and the buck moth caterpillars in the oak trees are in full armor. One of the great culinary benefits in New Orleans this time of year is the abundance of Meyer lemon trees around the neighborhood loaded down with fruit. Meyer lemons are different from their smaller cousins that are usually found in a grocery store, with an average size of a navel orange. Once native to China, they were brought to America by Frank Meyer in the early 1900's and were adopted in citrus growing climates for their hardiness and their tangerine-lemon zing. The darker flesh and sweeter flavor work well in baking, and lend a unique flavoring that can make a cookie "Pop!"

Growing up with Meyer lemon trees in the back yard, my family always found uses for the citrus fruit in pies, lemonade, and cakes. A single tree would easily supply more than needed for a family, and useful recipes were often traded between families that had a tree or two. My absolute favorite were the lemon cookies, buttery and rich, yet packed with a delicate hint of lemon that made the cookie anything but usual. I began playing with my own recipe before I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and sort of gave up after a while when I didn't believe that I would be ever making cookies again. Eight months ago, I went back to it with a fresh outlook and now I am happy to make Meyer Lemon Shortbread Cookies available for the remainder of the season at Who Dat Coffee Cafe. Enjoy!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gluten Free In New Orleans, It Is Possible!

After years now of being diagnosed with celiac disease, I remember the beginnings and wondering whether or not I would survive in a city based on roux, deep-fried foods, and the myriad of other gluten-laced standby's that make New Orleans the food capital that it is. Would I ever use the heel of my french bread to soak up the last bits of gumbo in my bowl? How could I retain the strong Italian influences from the culinary culture of my city which filled my childhood home with the aromas of baking fig cookies and lasagna? 

Two Layer Chocolate Truffle Cake with Fresh Raspberry 

For a time, and I believe it is a time that most of us go through in the early period after diagnosis, I rebelled with all my being. A little treat every now and then (more now, than then) would end up leaving me sick for weeks. I couldn't break with enjoying a meal that wasn't strictly composed of defrosted gluten free bread, boxed gluten free pasta mix, or any of the other early GF foods that I found lacking in taste, but more importantly texture. I fell into a loop of grilled meats and rice pasta with red sauce. It was time to make a change.

"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." - Julia Child

A different rebellion began, it was no longer going to be food from boxes that was also free of flavor. This wasn't a weight loss plan, this was a lifestyle change to avoid destroying my body through food. With a background in baking, the only change was "chemistry." After dozens and dozens of failures, breads billowing over the edges of the pan, sinking to an inch high, and gummy/dry textures, a true loaf was born. Then I got the pizza crust down, and I was ready to roll! Mistakes became fun, each time a learning experience of how an ingredient would interact with the others. I was building more knowledge for myself, but what about everyone else in my position?

My number one issue with gluten free items has always been the price tag. It isn't a matter of being cheap, but it is a matter of price for quality. Nine dollars for a loaf of bread that is small and crumbly is impossible for most people, including myself. Could I begin baking for people, supplying them with gluten free baked products and keep it affordable? More play, more research, finding the right ingredients and making sure they were safe. The owner of Who Dat Coffee Cafe offered me the chance to exclusively sell my products out of the cafe, so home base was set up. Everything finally was ready to roll. Whether it is freshly made savory biscuits, cookies, cakes, breads, or pizza crust shells to take home and fix up the way you want, I now offer you the fruits of my labor at a fair price with safety in mind. Bon Appétit!

Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Focaccia