Gluten-free, dairy-free Chinese almond cookies

Chinese almond cookies in a plastic containerThese cookies were born of disaster. I had actually made another batch of almond cookies beforehand, using a grain-free recipe. The pictures of the cookies from that recipe showed nice, firm little balls. I followed the recipe quite exactly, I thought, and put them in the oven a few inches apart, at the indicated temperature, thinking they would take 20-25 minutes to bake. Within minutes, my husband noticed they had melted and spread flat, all fused together. Because they had been in the oven such a short time at that point, I turned off the oven but left the cookies in there thinking they might need a little more time to bake properly. Not long after, I smelled something burning. Although the oven was off, it was hot enough to continue baking the now super-thin cookies, which had burnt to a crisp. Grr!

I was, however, determined to have almond cookies. I love almond cookies, though almonds are moderate in FODMAPs so I can only have a limited quantity. So I started over, consulting a number of different recipes to figure out what the problem might have been. The first thing I decided was that grain-free was out. The cookies needed more structure. The second thing I decided was to use vegetable shortening (vegetable fat) rather than butter, as that tends to produce a more tender cookie that spreads less, because it melts at a higher temperature than butter does. I also added an egg. All three decisions turned out to be right. Continue reading

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A Chinese feast

Table full of Chinese foodThe weekend of Chinese New Year, I wanted to do traditional Chinese New Year food. However, I didn’t want to work too hard at it. I thought about making dumplings (AKA potstickers or gyoza), but I’ve done that before, and while they came out delicious, it was a LOT of work. Even in my pre-gluten-free days, when I could just buy wonton wraps at the store, dumplings were labour intensive. When you factor in having to make all the wraps as well as the fillings, then form and fry/steam the dumplings, it becomes a huge undertaking. So that was out.

Next, I thought about making gluten-free barbecue pork buns, which I have also done before using more or less the recipe linked to in this sentence (I followed the directions for the bun part but made up my own low-FODMAP filling), but that too was pretty fiddly. I also rejected the idea of making turnip cake because I’d have to go to the Asian grocery store to look for rice flour and daikon, and besides, my husband is allergic to shrimp and lap cheong, with its inimitable taste, is typically not gluten-free.

The more I researched, though, the more it became clear the Chinese New Year foods that most readily popped to mind for me were far from the only ones. In fact, it seemed like almost any Chinese dish could be considered a New Year dish. So I decided to do what was tasty, easy and would create enough leftovers that I wouldn’t have to cook for a few days. On the weekend menu: kung pao chicken, gingery tofu vegetable stir-fry, mu shu duck, steamed aromatic fish, almond cookies, and “ants climbing a tree” (Sunday lunch). Yeah! Continue reading

Mu shu duck

Bowls of vegetables, duck meat and sauce; plate of crepesI feel like I cheated when I made this dish. It was so easy and yet felt so festive, what with the duck, the multiple plates and of course the wrapping up of the pseudo mandarin pancakes.

Here’s one secret: I pre-made the pancakes, so all I had to do was pull them out of the freezer and defrost them. Here’s another: they were actually just general-purpose gluten-free savoury crepes. There are recipes for more authentic-tasting gluten-free mandarin pancakes out there (The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen cookbook has one) but crepes work wonderfully and I don’t think anyone noticed the difference.

One last secret: I didn’t roast a whole duck. I bought duck legs only and roasted those. It was plenty for this dish and so much faster and easier to make than a whole greasy bird. So yeah. Here’s my recipe for a lazy cook’s mu shu duck.

Continue reading

Ants climbing a tree

Fried glass noodles in a wok with minced pork and herbsI’ll be the first to admit “ants climbing a tree” doesn’t sound very appetizing. Fortunately there are no actual ants in this delicious noodle dish, just tasty bits of minced pork and herbs clinging to the “trees” of noodles. My whole family, even the picky toddler, loves this dish. The only problem is, I keep making prodigious quantities expecting enough leftovers for another proper meal – and I’m lucky if I get a few noodles clinging to the pan. Oh well… there are worse problems. Continue reading

Aromatic steamed fish

Fish on plate with herbs, ginger and soy sauceI don’t steam fish often but since I made this, I’m keen to do it more. The fish came out succulent and fragrant due to the herbs used in the steaming process and the herbs and sauce on top really made it special.

I followed a recipe more closely than is typical for me – namely, the Chinese steamed fish recipe from Steamy Kitchen, a fabulous blog. I will therefore send you there for the full instructions. I do, however, have a few notes I’ll share with you here.

Gingery tofu and vegetable stir fry

Vegetable stir fry in a large glass bowlWhen I was growing up, one of my favourite vegetable-heavy dishes was a stir-fry my mother made using broccoli, shrimp, tofu and ginger. The broccoli was delicately infused with the flavour of ginger and the sea, making it a comfort food that was actually healthy. When I grew up, I learned to make it too, albeit not quite as well as my mother. Unfortunately, I fell in love with a man who’s allergic to shrimp and shellfish, and more recently, I developed irritable bowel syndrome and found broccoli disagrees with me because it’s high in FODMAPs.

It took awhile but I’ve since developed this tofu vegetable dish as an alternative. Sometimes I add thinly sliced chicken breast too, if I want it to be a main dish, but more often I make it as a vegetable side dish. It’s not quite what I remember but it hits the same notes – soft, saucy, gingery, mildly salty. It’s also a dish that’s easy to throw together by feel, without having to measure ingredients, so the quantities given here are approximate. Make it to your own taste. Continue reading

Kung pao chicken

A wok full of chicken and vegetable stir fryI love kung pao chicken. I make it regularly without consulting any recipes, so the following is a bit approximate. That’s OK. Kung pao chicken is a forgiving dish, the kind of dish where you get to unleash your creativity, improvise, maybe use up whatever’s in the fridge – and it’ll still come out tasty.

It might be argued that this isn’t a proper kung pao chicken at all, since it’s not spicy, or not necessarily. I have small children. If I make spicy food, they won’t eat it. Since I love hot food, I add the spice to my own plate. I don’t care what the purists may say – it’s still kung pao chicken to me. It has chicken. It has sweet peppers. It has nuts. It has kung pao chicken-y flavour. What more do you need? Continue reading