Winter mailbag: Part I

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Yes, I do respond to e-mails forwarded by the paper, assuming I have an answer! Some of your questions are tough and I can't just guess - you'd skewer me if I were wrong.

So today, I'm catching up. If one person asks, I assume many have the same or a similar problem, so I've done some research and testing and asked a few of my go-to sources, and here are the results.

Everyday Kitchen -

Yes, I do respond to e-mails forwarded by the paper, assuming I have an answer! Some of your questions are tough and I can't just guess - you'd skewer me if I were wrong.

So today, I'm catching up. If one person asks, I assume many have the same or a similar problem, so I've done some research and testing and asked a few of my go-to sources, and here are the results.

Flourless apple crisp

Cooking without wheat products is quite a challenge, and I admire those who have accomplished ordering at restaurants when they have special diets. Sometimes, the servers, and even the chefs, don't know the answer.

This question arrived in the fall, and although I knew the topping would probably be based on rolled oats, I had to try a couple of different recipes before I was happy with the flavour and texture. This is the best I've come up with and I don't think anyone at your table will complain, even if flour is not a concern. I realize some foods contain hidden sources of wheat and you have to judge yourself accordingly - use the gluten-free products that work for you. Of course, you can substitute other fruit, but if it's juicier than apples you might want to increase the cornstarch. I tried this with pears and it was exceptional.

8 large green or other crisp, tart and firm apples, (peeled if you like) and sliced

1 tbsp. gluten-free cornstarch or tapioca starch

1 cup sugar

1 tbsp. each lemon juice and vanilla

1 tbsp. cool butter or margarine, cut into small pieces

Topping:

1-1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats

1/2 cup corn flour

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. each ground cardamom, allspice and freshly grated nutmeg

1/3 cup cool butter

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or other nuts

Toss apples with cornstarch and sugar and spread in a greased 11 X 13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle lemon juice and vanilla evenly on top and dot with butter. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. For the topping, combine oats, corn flour, brown sugar and spices. Cut in butter until crumbly, then stir in nuts. Sprinkle on top and bake another 20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly hot. Serve warm with your favourite topping.

Boneless, skinless buffalo wings

To the many who have posed this question, no, as far as I can determine, there is absolutely nothing you can substitute for crisp chicken skin so forget about it. If I had the answer for that one I'd be a millionaire. But if you are willing to do without that textural experience and settle for great flavour and the mess-free convenience of no bones, then try these. I've seen lots of recipes that call for flouring, breading and frying the chicken, but doesn't that defeat the purpose of eliminating the skin?

1-1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 or 5), cut into large strips - about the size of wings

1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper

1 tbsp. each vegetable oil and butter or margarine

1/4 cup low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce (Frank's Red-Hot is my favourite.)

low-fat blue cheese dressing for dipping

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper then fry in oil and butter in small lots until golden brown and cooked through; set aside and keep warm. Add broth and hot sauce to pan and bring to a boil; remove from heat and add chicken, stirring to coat well. Serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Best office breakfast casserole

We are a social species and we love to bring a little sociability with us to the office, especially on a Friday morning. Many of you have asked me for suggestions, and I apparently have quite a few, so we could talk about this all day, but this is the simplest, most delicious go-to casserole when you need to impress your co-workers. It is delicious at just warmer than room temperature, or can be reheated slightly. It really tastes better after sitting for 15 minutes, so pull it out of the oven, wrap it in a tea towel, and hit the road. If you can't find Fontina cheese, use all cheddar or substitute some mozzarella. No fresh herbs? Try the frozen cubed kind - just make sure you cook them in the meat mixture long enough to melt and distribute the flavours.

1 loaf sliced French or Italian bread, heel taps discarded

1 lb. hot Italian sausages, in bulk or casings removed

1 medium onion, finely diced

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes - to your taste

2 tbsp. each chopped fresh basil and Italian parsley

3 cups grated old cheddar cheese

1 cup grated Fontina cheese

12 lightly beaten eggs

4 cups 2 per cent milk

1-1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast the bread in a hot oven until golden or in the toaster if you have the patience. Set aside to cool. Fry sausage, breaking it up as you go, until brown and nearly cooked through; discard any fat. Add onion to pan and continue to cook until wilted and starting to brown. Stir in red pepper flakes and cook another minute. Stir in herbs. In a well greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish, layer half the toast. Top with half the sausage mixture and half the cheeses. Repeat layers. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper and pour over top. Cover with plastic wrap, allowing it to lay on the surface of the food. Lay another pan on top and put a few large cans of tomatoes or other heavy items from your cupboard in it - you wouldn't believe the difference this step makes so please don't skip it. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Remove from fridge for 15 minutes or so - while your oven is preheating. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until puffed and golden; allow to rest at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Louisiana, St. John's

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